Mini–interviews May June 2011

Opinions and ideas expressed in the mini-interviews are exclusively of those who are being interviewed. They don’t necessarily represent the ideas and opinions of the compilers of Theosophy Forward.

The responses of the interviewees are not edited for content. Some contributors give short answers to the questions while others touch upon the subject more elaborately.


Rob van Vloten and Mercedes Vila Robusté in front of the Besant Hall at the ITC in Naarden-The Netherlands

1.    What’s your name, where are you from and how long have you been a member of the TS?

My name is: Robert van Vloten, from The Netherlands, now living at The International Theosophical Center (ITC) at Naarden. (besides Adyar and The Manor one of the three main Centres of the TS) I have been a member since 1949 (with a short interruption).

2.    Are you active in your Lodge/Section and if so, what do you do?

I’m president of the Annie Besant Lodge at Naarden.

3.    How did you first learn about Theosophy or come in contact with the Society?

I came in contact with Theosophy when I was a student at the Delft University, just after the last war. I was wondering: "why is there this mess in the world?" and Theosophy gave a direction to find answers to understand the effect of our human actions.

4.    What does Theosophy mean to you?

Very much indeed. I went to the European Theosophical Congress at Montcatini, Italy, where I met Mercedes Vila Robusté from Barcelona, Spain. We married in 1952. She is now active for the TS and the Round Table in Spain, just as I’m active at the ITC. Theosophy is in our hearts.

5.    What is your favourite Theosophical book and why?

The Inner Life of J. Krishnamurti is one of my favourite books. But books by H.P.B., Krishnamurti, Radha Burnier, and Taimni, Victoria LePage I love to study too. There are quite some Theosophical books I read and all are worthwhile. These books point us to the immensity of the "system" of which we are an integral part and what is our task in it.

6.   What in your opinion is the biggest challenge the TS Adyar (as an organisation) is facing at the moment?

How to keep a Spiritual Center like Adyar as it is now and save it, in an expanding city, is a great challenge indeed. With regard to the TS Adyar as an organization a great challenge is that we are inclined to follow our own petty ideas. We did not found this Organization. Others did, INSPIRED BY THOSE WHO ARE STILL BEHIND IT.  It is a challenge to inspire others to understand that and feel it is a great privilege to work for the Society.

7.    Is there anything you would wish for the future of the Theosophical Movement?

One of the greatest difficulties is our egocentric attitude and that is a great threat for the TS. What I would wish for the TS is that its members will become aware of that and understand that Theosophy can only flourish when we are non-egocentric and try to realize that Love should be the motive to promote Theosophy among our fellow men.

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Dorothy Bell

1.    What’s your name, where are you from and how long have you been a member of the TS?

I am Dorothy Bell from Melbourne. I have been a member of TS Australia since 1999, also member of TS America   since 2007.

2.    Are you active in your Lodge/Section and if so, what do you do?

In earlier days at Melbourne Lodge and National level, activities included talks, workshops and lectures on a range of theosophical topics, as well as membership of management and executive committees. The talk-work expanded overseas and to the international TOS where I assisted in an organizational review and forward planning. As an American TS member, programs have been given at Olcott, Krotona, and the Ojai Valley TS Lodge, and articles for Quest magazine.
Presently I am planning for a Lodge weekend Retreat in Queensland [Australia], and then evenings with four study groups in the area, focusing on the theme of “Living to Die and Dying to Live”.

3.    How did you first learn about Theosophy or come in contact with the Society?

In the 1970’s there was a boom in New Age type bookshops in the Melbourne CBD – and the TS Bookshop became a part of the ‘circuit’. Eventually, ideas underlying “Hindu” philosophy were explored in the Brahma Kumaris organization, and after visiting their HQ in Rajasthan India in 1998 and 1999, I attended some lectures at the Melbourne TS and membership was a natural progression.

4.    What does Theosophy mean to you?

The word has a pedigree that is well known. I used to see Theos as the male aspect of ‘God’ and Sophia as the female aspect. Put them together and you have…. the One, no separation: Theosophy as Oneness. And this triggers something beyond thought, something palpable and vibrant that exists everywhere, penetrating everything in the universe, always flowing and creating - the creative intelligent energy of the One, our Source - life sustaining and life transforming.

Annie Besant captured this in her beautiful mantra “O Hidden Life, vibrant in every atom” and so on, to “O Hidden Love, embracing all in Oneness….”

So what can one say about something that gives such awesome and beautiful meaning to our sojourn on this planet? The Ancient Wisdom is liberating – it expands perceptions, experience, consciousness and reality. It seems to follow that Theosophy as Oneness - means a state or mode of being. But to begin to walk the way of the Wisdom, to be one with the One, and to be who we truly are, is another matter. As HPB says, it is a slow, long, ‘steep and thorny’ road, and this arduous and painful path is the only way we know to liberate the Life outwardly, to clear away the impediments to the unfolding of our divine nature from within - whether that Life is named as the expression of the Christ, Krishna or Buddhic consciousness, I really don’t think it matters.

5.    What is your favourite Theosophical book and why?

Different books have shaped different phases of the journey.

Inspired in 1973, after reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull – a story, by Richard Bach, I searched many nooks and crannies in my spare time in the 1970s and 80s.

First, Krishnamurti and The Tibetan in Alice Bailey’s early books fell into my lap - were fascinating- but the research by Raymond Moody and Helen Wambach impressed me more by bringing the scientific method into the ‘unscientific’ area of investigation of past lives, near-death and reincarnation. I also ventured into popular books on channelled teachings from sacred sites, other worlds and dimensions and the possibilities that these books opened up in my mind helped to break the shackles of conditioned beliefs and prejudices.

In 1999, when I joined the TS, a friend gave me The Voice of the Silence. I read and re-read and re-read it – it was always in my bag. It held the keys, but the locks – and the actual fitting and turning were frustratingly elusive.

The Secret Doctrine played an important role, with The Key to Theosophy being more accessible for main ideas, as was the Bhagavad-Gita. Annie Besant saved the day with her earlier works, as she ploughed many fields of application of the Wisdom – including education and the arts. She triggered the beginning of a new journey about walking the talk and how to begin to see through the illusions that cause us so much pain. “We are blinded by form” [AB]

6.    What in your opinion is the biggest challenge the TS Adyar (as an organization) is facing at the moment?

Who can better respond than she who could see through the ‘smoke and mirrors’ of the planet?

“You must remember that all our members have been bred and born in some creed or religion, that all are more or less of their generation, both physically and mentally, and consequently their judgment is but too likely to be warped and unconsciously biased by some or all of these influences. If, then, they cannot be freed from such inherent bias, or at least taught to recognize it instantly and so avoid being led away by it, the result can only be that the Society will drift off on to some sandbank of thought or another, and there remain a stranded carcass to molder and die.”  [From The Key to Theosophy by HPB]

7.    Is there anything you would wish for the future of the Theosophical movement?

I wish all beings well in searching for their truth and that inner peace that passes all understanding. The Ancient Wisdom will always be.  And, like water, it will find its own level; it will find vehicles and ways of operating – even underground, if necessary, as it has done in the past. There will always be builders and there will always be blockers and destroyers. This is not a good thing or a bad thing: it is how it is. And we all believe that we are doing “the right thing” in playing out our roles on this stage of smoke and mirrors.

But there is a growing underground spiritual movement, an inner union of those who are slowly laying foundation stones of unseen spiritual structures and networks for the future as they move to the beat of a different drum. May their light shine even brighter.

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Theodor Katsifis

1.    What’s your name, where are you from and how long have you been a member of the TS?

My name is Theodoros Katsifis. I am a Greek and I have been a member of the T.S. since 1993.

2.    Are you active in your Lodge/Section and if so, what do you do?

Being active since that year, I currently serve the Movement as General Secretary of the Hellenic Section.

3.    How did you first learn about Theosophy or come in contact with the Society?

I first learned about the T.S. when I came across a copy of ILISSOS, the Theosophical magazine of the Hellenic Section.

4.    What does Theosophy mean to you?

Theosophy is a good start for a long journey into the search for real life.

5.    What is your favourite Theosophical book and why?

My favorite theosophical book is The Key to Theosophy, because I believe that intellectualism goes hand in hand with esotericism.

6.    What in your opinion is the biggest challenge the TS Adyar (as an organization) is facing at the moment?

I think that its biggest challenge is to prove that Krisnamurti was wrong in his judgment about organizations.

7.    Is there anything you would wish for the future of the Theosophical Movement?

I wish that more people join the Theosophical movement and become Theosophists.

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Dan Noga, the force behind The Theosophical Community

1.    What’s your name, where are you from and how long have you been a member of the TS?

My name is Dan Noga and I am originally from Chicago, IL in the United States. I've been a TS member since October, 2006.

2.    Are you active in your Lodge/Section and if so, what do you do?

I worked at Olcott, the National Center for the American Section, for about three years as Member Services Coordinator. During that time, I also conducted a class, gave some talks, and helped with the TSA's internet outreach. I am also moderator for The Theosophical Community, the social network sponsored by the American Section.

3.    How did you first learn about Theosophy or come in contact with the Society?

I learned about HPB in relation to her involvement with the Spiritualist movement when I was a young boy studying ghosts and the paranormal. My interest in such subjects grew over time to include metaphysics, philosophy, spirituality and the occult, and books published by Adyar TPH were often part of my studies. I found that they resonated very strongly with me and helped me to understand many experiences that I've had. I have an aunt who lives within walking distance of Olcott, and often ventured onto the campus during my visits to her house in my teen years to explore and to visit the Quest Bookshop there. Once I had a car of my own and could come and go as I pleased, I joined the TS and have been involved ever since.

4.    What does Theosophy mean to you?

Theosophy is very important to me. To me, its literal translation, “divine wisdom,” is the most relevant of the several ways that one can interpret the word. The tradition of esoteric teachings that flows from the wellspring that was HPB is, as far as such teachings go, the most comprehensive and meaningful that I have yet discovered and when I found them, I felt like I had “come home.” Nonetheless, such teachings are at their best when they help us to awaken that inner light of wisdom that dwells within us all. A person who has begun to awaken this light can shine it upon everything that they behold, including these teachings, and truly see them for the first time. It is a journey, not a destination—but I have never regretted beginning it, and I am indebted to all who have carried this light for the sake of sharing it with others like me.

5.    What is your favourite Theosophical book and why?

It's a tie between Thought Power by Annie Besant and Thought Forms by Besant and C.W. Leadbeater. I find their message to be practical, simple, and relevant. They draw attention to the connection between our thoughts and our actions, between our mental activity and the way the world takes shape around us. They help to shed light on the creative powers of humanity and suggest what responsibilities come with that power. They also helped to explain experiences that I've had.

6.    What in your opinion is the biggest challenge the TS Adyar (as an organization) is facing at the moment?

In short, that of finding its place in a rapidly changing world. It is ironic, because the work of people such as HPB, W.Q. Judge, Henry Olcott and many others served to catalyze much of that change. Now, collectively, we must continue our work amidst the waves—and perhaps learn how to harness their energy rather than resist their influence.

7.    Is there anything you would wish for the future of the Theosophical Movement?

Healing, so that we can work more cohesively as a united front. This is as true within the TS-Adyar as it is amongst the various branches of the TS that exist. Our own First Object demands this of us. If we cannot make its practice a reality amongst ourselves, we cannot effectively influence humanity at large in a positive way. Our best gift to humanity should be our living example--”Be the change.”

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Marja Artamaa

1.    What’s your name, where are you from and how long have you been a member of the TS?

My name is Marja Artamaa and I am from Finland. I have been a member since 1979, but knew about Theosophy since childhood as my parents were Theosophists and my grandparents from my father’s side were also. My grandmother was among those who founded the TS in Finland in 1907.

2.    Are you active in your Lodge/Section and if so, what do you do?

I have been active in many functions during decades, and currently I serve as the General Secretary for the Finnish Section.

3.    How did you first learn about Theosophy or come in contact with the Society?

As mentioned, I was born into a Theosophical family, but made my independent decision after acquainting  myself with some other spiritual movements, with respect to them.

4.    What does Theosophy mean to you?

Widening our view to life with open minded great people. Through Theosophy I can understand why things go as they do better, and it gives basis to grow as a human being. The main thing is to serve, whatever that means for each individual.

5.    What is your favourite Theosophical book and why?

At the moment it is I.K. Taimni’s Science of Yoga, because it is so incredibly wise and gives ground to understanding the mind and the inner process in all levels.

6.    What in your opinion is the biggest challenge the TS Adyar (as an organization) is facing at the moment?

The TS has basically a great structure, which makes it possible to manage the worldwide organization well. The challenge is to build such communication practices within leadership and between members, which support the work worldwide and creates inspiration through sharing. There is a lot of knowledge and wisdom within the TS on all the continents and in all countries in order to create and build a brotherly, interactive, and at the same time a “meditative” Society, which carries on true Theosophy.

7.    Is there anything you would wish for the future of the Theosophical Movement?

An open mind to the surrounding world, so that Theosophy becomes a respected view and movement for the ordinary public.

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Roselmo Doval Santos

1.    What’s your name, where are you from and how long have you been a member of the TS?

I am Dr. Roselmo Z. Doval Santos from Manila, Philippines.  In November 2010, I was elected President of the Theosophical Society in the Philippines [TSP]. I have been a member of the Theosophical Society since my teens. I am now 54 years old, so that is about 4 decades of membership in the TS.

2.    Are you active in your Lodge/Section and if so, what do you do?

I am the President of the TSP.  I was Vice President for more than 20 years under our dynamic leader, and former President, Mr. Vic Hao Chin Jr. I have been involved in the publishing work of the Theosophical Publishing House Manila and in the Philippine Theosophical Institute as a lecturer and course designer. We pioneered two national radio programs on Theosophy and have engaged in Theosophical Order of Service (TOS) work through micro-finance projects for the urban poor as well as community organizing work among our indigent countrymen. Recently our board has been active in the field of education and peace work.

I worked with Sandra Hodson, my mother (Esther Zapata-Doval Santos), my aunt (former TSP President Cleo Gregorio) and TS New Zealand’s Michael Eden in editing Light of the Sanctuary: The Occult Diary of Geoffrey Hodson, and Mr. Hodson’s posthumous works, Illumination of the Mystery Tradition and Yogic Ascent to Spiritual Heights.  Recently, I edited the collected articles of Geoffrey Hodson with John and Elizabeth Sell, Sharing the Light.

Other areas of work:
Editor, “Theosophical Digest”, a quarterly publication of popular articles on Theosophy.
Editor, “Philippine Theosophist”, a quarterly journal of articles on theoretical and practical   Theosophy, addressing the members of the Theosophical Society.
Founding Director of Stellar Books, later to become Theosophical Publishing House-Manila.
Radio Commentator, “In the Light of Theosophy [Sa Liwanag ng Teosopiya] Radio Program”,
Manila and “Golden Lessons in Living [Gintong Aral ng Buhay] Radio Program” Manila.

3.    How did you first learn about Theosophy or come in contact with the Society?

In the 1920s-30s, my maternal grandfather, Ismael Zapata, started organizing the Philippine Section of the Theosophical Society and was elected as the first TSP national president. He was a student of Charles W. Leadbeater. I first became interested in Theosophy at age 4 when I met N. Sri Ram in Manila. He struck me as a very noble, silent yet powerful person. A few years later, I met Geoffrey Hodson during one of his second of four visits to Manila. 

My interest in Theosophy gradually grew over the years due to weekly exposure to Lodge meetings. During our childhood, my sisters and I were encouraged by our parents to listen to the Manila Lodge meetings in our grandmother’s sala. I was fascinated by the concept of Mahatmas, as well as with stimulating discussions on Cosmogenesis, auras, devas, Adepts and discipleship.

When Geoffrey Hodson returned to the Philippines to conduct the School of the Wisdom in Manila, our family was assigned to attend to Geoffrey and Sandra’s daily needs. We interacted with them every day for three months. This had a deep impact on my life. At about this time, in my early teens, I picked up a copy of J. Krishnamurti’s At the Feet of the Master in the TSP Headquarters library.  I read it from cover to cover, in one sitting, twice. I was never the same again. I immediately applied for membership in the TS.

4.    What does Theosophy mean to you?

Theosophy is a way of life, an approach to Truth and a gateway to the deepest secrets of Nature and of the Spirit. At the same time, it is a call to action, to service and to self-mastery.
Only through self-culture can the student of Theosophy unravel the deepest mysteries of the Cosmos. Only in the silence of one’s deepest center can one lift the “veil after veil” that leads to the light. Theosophy points the way to that center.

5.    What is your favourite Theosophical book(s) and why?

The following books had a tremendous influence on me:

Meditations on the Occult Life by Geoffrey Hodson
Talks on the Path of Occultism, Vol 1-3: Commentaries by Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater on At the Feet of the Master by J. Krishnamurti, Voice of the Silence by HPB, and Light on the Path by Mabel Collins
The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett: Chronological Edition, Edited by Vic Hao Chin, Jr.
Light of the Sanctuary: The Occult Diary of Geoffrey Hodson Compiled by Sandra Hodson
Sharing the Light: Collected Articles of Geoffrey Hodson Compiled by John and Elizabeth Sell, Edited by John & Elizabeth Sell and Roselmo Doval Santos
The Secret Doctrine by HPB
Thoughts for Aspirants by N. Sri Ram

Every individual is searching for something. These books provided the roadmaps for my search.  At the same time, there is a different kind of energy that is stirred inside me by the words contained in these books. They have this ring of truth as far as I am concerned. This is “the truth that compels” that Sri Ram talked about.

6.    What in your opinion is the biggest challenge the TS Adyar (as an organization) is facing at the moment?

I prefer to think of them as challenges and opportunities for growth.

Bring Theosophy into the mainstream of global consciousness. We need to find new ways of making Theosophy relevant to all aspects of daily life.

Deepen the sense of brotherhood and strengthen the organization within. The various branches of the Theosophical Society can better serve the needs of members if there was a sense of community among the members of the individual associations. The Theosophical Society was never meant to be mere academies of learning but was intended more to be ashrams of disciples and seekers. Hence we must seek to establish Theosophical communities or living and modern ashrams in Lodges

Address the challenge of bringing Theosophy to the audience on the internet. Theosophical internet libraries, theosophical internet classes, cyber-communities, social networks and the various internet websites are all areas where the Theosophical Society has to be active.
Create a culture of work synergy among Federations, Sections and Lodges. This was the topic of the talk of Mr. Vic Hao Chin Jr. to the Indo-Pacific Federation Convention in Manila a few years ago. He said that if Sections and Lodges decided to work together, much greater impact would be created.

7.    Is there anything you would wish for the future of the Theosophical Movement?

My wishes:
That Theosophists of whatever grouping in the Theosophical Movement be engaged in collective action for Peace;

That we establish a culture of meditation among Theosophical communities;

That we bring back the days when the Mahatmas and their work were the center of Theosophical life (instead of the varieties of psychological and phenomenological interests we see today in some areas);

That we study and adopt the proposal of Geoffrey Hodson- a Fourth Object for the Theosophical Society- “To Affirm the Continuance  of the Mystery Tradition”  [The Theosophist, Vol. 97, August 1976, p. 158 in Sharing the Light: The Collected Articles of Geoffrey Hodson, Vol II, p. 559-569.]

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Joe Fulton

1.    What’s your name, where are you from and how long have you been a member of the TS?

Joe Fulton, originally from Akron, Ohio, and a member of the Adyar TS since 1984.

2.    Are you active in your Lodge/Section and if so, what do you do?

Currently, the focus of my efforts is with the website Theosophy.Net.  We have members from all traditions or none.  We seek to redefine the boundaries of the theosophical tradition and engage the religious, scientific and spiritual communities at large.  We conduct original research and archive important documents relating to the Theosophical and other traditions.  Finally, we promote an open-source theosophy which emphasizes that our information and research should be made freely available to all.  Our motto is “embrace * compare * explore.”

I help out the Theosophical Society in America (Wheaton) with some internet/social networking issues.  I am not active in a local group at this time.

3.    How did you first learn about Theosophy or come in contact with the Society?

My aunt was a member of the TS, Adyar since 1960.  She had a hard time getting me to go to a meeting.  It felt too much like a church.

4.    What does Theosophy mean to you?

Theosophy is more of a search, a dynamism versus a static set of teachings.  My fundamental approach to Theosophy is that it is a continual exploration and that all of us are engaged in the very same search as Blavatsky and others before and since.

5.    What is your favourite Theosophical book and why?

The Masters Revealed by K. Paul Johnson.  The Masters Revealed paints a picture of the early Theosophical movement that is not so nearly fantasy/belief based as the standard histories indicate.  Although Paul’s writings are presented as speculations rather than definitive statements, there is a reality that is missing from many of the Theosophical writings.

6.    What in your opinion is the biggest challenge the TS Adyar (as an organization) is facing at the moment?

The TS Adyar is bound by its traditions and it needs to either embrace those traditions and play them for all that they are worth or adopt a completely different path.  What this looks like I don’t know.  The major issue with Theosophy in the West (Europe and the Americas) is that there is way too much emphasis on individual ‘advancement’ and not enough reaching out.  The ‘movement’ is a victim of memes established throughout its history which hamstring its actions today.

7.    Is there anything you would wish for the future of the Theosophical Movement?

Either it recovers from Krishnamurti or it goes away.  The TS, in order to be a force in our culture has to do several things:
It has to play well with others.  It has to intelligently form alliances with other groups/organizations that strategically benefit its Objectives.  It cannot slavishly hold on to the neutrality declarations and use those as an excuse not to work with others.

The movement needs to become savvy in regards to its marketing, both of local groups and in its internet presence.

In the organizations, especially the Adyar TS, the concept of membership has to be re-thought as to allow the maximum amount of participation by the largest number of people.

There has to be a general renaissance of Theosophical thought and a willingness to accept new interpretations and expressions of that thought.  Other trains of thought, whether they originate from the pre-TS Brotherhood of Luxor, Aurobindo, Alice Bailey, Ken Wilber and others need to be integrated and a broad vision encompassing the entirety of human experience needs to be explored.

The cant about the Masters must quietly, but firmly put down.

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