In presenting a brief summary of this engaging and profoundly moving conference, I have chosen to focus on those aspects that seem to me most relevant to our commitment as TOS members. Indeed, the conference had "Practising Theosophy" as its overarching theme, a delightfully ambiguous title that invited either an exploration of the tenets of theosophy, or the exploration of theosophy 'in action'. Not surprisingly, most talks straddled both nuances.
In his opening address entitled 'Actorless Action' Ravi Ravindra reminded us that humans are essentially social beings and that our task is to engage in conscious, mindful action and interaction with others. Paradoxically, however, he pointed out that since we cannot foretell the outcome of action, we should not expect or demand 'right' action from others. Instead, we should act with focused awareness, remaining free from attachment to the fruits of our actions, or indeed from expecting any outcome at all. In a final salvo Ravi Ravindra warned us against delaying action while seeking perfect motivation. The important thing is to start action from where we currently are.
Vic Hao Chin's talk 'Mainstreaming Theosophy' addressed the vast societal changes that have occurred since the TS was founded in 1875, and the ensuing need to redefine our vision of theosophy. Whereas the ageless wisdom continues to offer us a pathway through individual transformation, he sees this as a necessary step to larger-scale social transformation where theories are translated into practice. Thus he suggested that it is imperative to engage with and harness the power of social media and websites to create a so- called theosophical academy, which would promulgate and popularise the premises of theosophy. (This was also the focus of Pedro Oliviera's interactive talk on 'Challenges and opportunities in making Theosophy more widely known').
Such engagement, however, is but the necessary foundation for practical action in pressing social issues, be they of an educational, political or other social context. As examples of such practical theosophy he spoke of the ethos and values inculcated at the Golden Link schools in the Philippines, as well as TS engagement at the government's request, in providing peace education for soldiers engaged in sectarian warfare. Vic Hao Chin provided us with a blueprint for action:
- 1. Identify key ideas or social issues that need to be addressed.
- 2. Develop an appropriate transformative self- preparation or training of those who would be engaged in social action.
- 3. Act with synergy and determination within the context of long-term planning and commitment.
- 4. Start small, but start. Be ready for failure, and start again.
Several speakers expanded on the themes outlined above. In his talk entitled 'Practising Theosophy: Knowing and Being', S. Sundaram spoke passionately about the need to internalise theosophical values in order to live not just 'side by side' but together, actively and consciously. Only such internal transformation will ensure proper relations with others, and enable us to address some of the pressing problems before us. Brother Sundaram posited a progression in which heart and head combine in a threefold engagement with others through sensitivity, commitment and social action.
In a symposium on the relationship between TOS and TS Vicky Jerome reviewed the history of the TOS, reminding us that Annie Besant originally launched it as the Theosophical Society Order of Service, with widespread engagement in education (especially of women) and political activism based on inner transformation through action. This point was concisely summarised by Jean Carroll in her three-step journey of progression from Awareness to Action and Altruism. There need be no dichotomy between spiritual engagement and social action. This was powerfully illustrated by Rosal Santos' talk on broad-ranging and dynamic practical initiatives in the Philippines. Two other presentations focused on detailed regional accounts of theosophy in action: Isis de Resende blew our minds with the breadth and energy of theosophical activism in Brazil; while Ng Ay Na spoke about theosophy in Malaysia.
In addition to the topics discussed above, there were four historical presentations: Dianne Kynaston reviewed the evolution of the TS in the participating countries of the Indo-Pacific Federation; Michelle de Jong attempted to unravel for us the complex Hindu-Buddhist history of Bali, starting with the exile of the Majapahit kingdom to Bali following the coming of Islam to Java; S. Sundaram outlined the evolution of the TS in India, while Sanne Chong presented a fascinating insight into theosophical engagement in China under the almost solo activism of one Dr Wu Ting Fang in the first two decades of the twentieth century.
In conclusion I must repeat that I have limited this brief review to those presentations that I thought might be most appropriate for our TOS publication. In the end, of course, this is a silly point of demarcation as the whole tenet of the conference was that true theosophists express their internalised spirituality through action. How could I then not have addressed Ravi Ravindra's two other talks: 'Knowledge and the state of unknowing' and 'Mindfulness in action and mindlessness in love'? Or Vic Hao Chin’s. The power of awareness' and Linda Oliviera's 'Discovering the diamond: inner disarmament'? The answer is simple: I did what I could in the space allocated! It was a wonderful conference and I thank Jean for the opportunity to reflect and share with those unable to attend.