Printed in the Fall 2012 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation:Smoley, Richard. "Mainstreaming Theosophy: An Interview with Vicente Hao Chin, Jr." Quest 100. 4 (Fall 2012): pg. 130-135.
by Richard Smoley
Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., is one of the world's most distinguished Theosophists. Past president of the Theosophical Society in the Philippines and founder and chairman of the Golden Link School. He is author of Why Meditate? and The Process of Self-Transformation: Mastery of the Self and Awakening of Our Higher Potentials. He also compiled, edited, and published the chronological edition of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett and is editor of Theosophical Digest, published in the Philippines, and associate editor of Theosopedia: The Internet Theosophical Encyclopedia. This interview was conducted during his visit to the Olcott campus in February 2012.
Richard Smoley: Could you begin by telling about some of the work that you and the TS have been doing in the Philippines? What are your most successful efforts, do you think?
Vicente Hao Chin: Well, it has been many years, a period of twenty to thirty years. We have entered into various facets of publication, education, social work, and other things. One of the major areas we went into in the past few years was the establishment of schools. We have four schools right now. They start from kindergarten and go up to the bachelor level. We have five courses: two in education, one in psychology, one in information technology, and one in business administration. But what is probably unique in these courses, including in the high school, would be the Theosophical element. For example, all college students will go through one semester of courses on Theosophy, on comparative religion, on self-transformation, then on marriage and parenting. Then they go through an annual youth camp. These are all for character building. And so they go through an "atmosphere"; for several years they are actually exposed to a way of life instead of simply academic courses.
Next year we are going to open up a fifth school in another place, because a lot of our members have shown a deep interest in this area of work. We think that is a major direction of TS work, because there is a general perception that we don't give as much attention to young people. But they will be the adults of the future. If we don't give attention to them, their conditioning, the way they are being brought up will be the traditional way, and this would just bring us to the same kind of society we have been complaining about. So we must start from a young age. We'd like to expand this work, even to youth development. Not just education, but go out into the society and have youth centers or youth camps—or education sponsorship programs that will gather young people into a certain community such that they will receive very wholesome influences, even if they're not our students.
Now this requires a lot of qualified manpower resources. And this is the part that is not easy. It will take years to nurture and develop the people who will be able to do these things.
Smoley: What is the spiritual climate of the Philippines today?
Chin: There is growing interest in spirituality, but, as in most countries, it is the normal religious culture that prevails. We are 85 percent Catholic, 10 percent Protestant, and 5 percent Muslim and others. So the influence of the Catholic Church is dominant. But fortunately, because of the dissemination work of the TS in the Philippines, primarily through the Theosophical Digest, the perception of the public, especially the Catholic Church, has changed towards the TS. Twenty or thirty years ago, they would think of us as a cult. But now generally they don't. We get a lot of invitations from religious orders and Catholic colleges and universities. They invite us to give seminars for their faculty members and students and training programs for their teachers, and they subscribe to the Theosophical Digest.
In fact, there is a very large Jesuit university in the Philippines called Xavier University. Every year for the past eight years, they have asked us to conduct the first part of their six-month program for international workers, social workers, priests, and so on. And we always have a segment on self-transformation.
Smoley: Could you tell us a little bit more about the self-transformation project?
Chin: This was developed more than twenty years ago. It was initially meant to bridge the gap between Theosophical principles and daily life. I remember one time my lodge, which is a very big lodge, was discussing brotherhood. The way it was being discussed was quite unbrotherly, and I realized that if these concepts are true, they must be applicable to daily life. Not just when one becomes a disciple, but now, with family—with wife or husband and so on. The whole self-transformation program was built up in order to address practically all facets of daily life, serving as a foundation for the spiritual life. Because it's not possible to pursue the spiritual life if I'm overwhelmed daily by anger, resentment, hurt, or depression. We need to deal with these psychological barriers, because if my mind keeps on going to my hurt or resentment, I have no energy for meditation or spiritual things; my energy is occupied with all these things that draw me uselessly in certain directions.
These seminars have been able to help numerous people who are depressed, who have phobias, who have problems in relationship, who have fear of failure, fear of the future, fear of death, and so on. A lot of people have asked us to conduct the seminar for them, and we actually offer it for free. We don't charge anything. They just take care of the venue, the food, the place they are going to stay. And we do this for almost anybody. We have conducted the program within the Society and shared it with schools, institutions, groups, businesses, even the military, and of course colleges and universities, as well as religious orders. We have conducted this program for a national gathering of Carmelite sisters, and they felt that it helped their spirituality. Now that's a very high compliment, coming from the Carmelite order.
For young people we have converted this into a youth camp. The seminar itself is three days long, but for the youth camp we made it four days because we put in a lot of activities for young people. We call it Golden Link Youth Camp. We've been running it for more than ten years. And it works so well that in four days' time we have had an impact on young people. Formerly they would be black sheep or problems to their families. After the four days the parents would tell us that something happened to their children, and that they feel very proud of what their children are now.
After these many years of feedback, we decided if young people can be affected in four days' time, what more could happen if they were with us for a whole semester, or a whole school year? So we began to look into putting up a regular school. And this led to Golden Link School. That's why it's called Golden Link, because it started with Golden Link Youth Camp. After about seven years, we were able to start a college department for tertiary levels. We offered, first, bachelor degrees in education. We like to focus on education, because we feel it's very important to introduce another way of teaching to the normal educational world, one in which we don't put in things that are harmful to young people. When they threaten, when they punish, when they humiliate, they think they are motivating, but they are actually harming young people, making them lose their self-confidence and self-esteem. We don't have those things in our schools. We don't even have competitions or contests. We don't use fear. We don't punish students, and yet our level of self-discipline on the campus is, I think, much better than the average school.
In fact, we have developed a reputation among parents that if somebody has a son or daughter who is really a problem, send them to Golden Link School. And they feel we can handle it and do something about it. That's a nice reputation, because we accept students who are expelled from other schools and find it hard to enroll in other schools, but we accept them. So long as they don't harm others, we don't expel them. Even if academically they're doing very poorly.
Smoley: What's your impression of the TS in America? How do our efforts resemble yours and how do they differ?
Chin: During this trip I learned a lot of things from my sessions in Krotona and here. For example, I realized that Theosophical work must consider the differences in culture. Words that may be OK in the Philippines or in India may not be all right in the U.S. Certain concepts, certain ways of doing things may be all right in Asia but not here. So I realized that while the principle is common, we must be sensitive to the differences in culture.
Second is that I think the TS in America is leading in practically all facets of Theosophical work. You are doing things that many of us are not doing at all, like Webcasting, Webinars. This is the wave of the future. Because, in the Philippines, we are talking about 97 million people; in the U.S. you have 300 million people. The only way to reach them now is not to bring them together in one place but to reach them through their computers. I think you are setting the example for ways of doing this effectively. I spent some time today learning about these things because we'd like to experiment with them in the Philippines. We can't afford your equipment, but we can do it in a more modest way.
Smoley: You were instrumental in publishing the chronological edition of the Mahatma Letters. I'm wondering if you could say a little bit about what the Mahatma Letters offer to the seeker today.
Chin: The Mahatma Letters are a unique body of information and wisdom that's not found anywhere else. Here are adepts, mahatmas, Masters of the Wisdom—those who have already reached the apex of human growth and development—writing not just on lofty spiritual subjects but on daily issues. This gives us a glimpse about the way that these great personages think and act. And in those letters, we find some of the profoundest statements about the wisdom that we cannot find in any other literature, not even The Secret Doctrine. Hence, while some people have reservations about their publication, I believe it has been a great blessing to the Theosophical world.
Smoley: How did the chronological edition come about?
Chin: At the time I felt that these letters must be organized in a different way than they had been. I felt first they must be organized according to the dates of the letters. Second, there must be some explanation of what they are talking about in a given letter. So that led to the chronological edition. We are now planning to put this all on the Web, and we think this will be a revolution in the study of the Mahatma Letters. And this will be up, I suppose, within this year. I am very excited about making available, not only the Mahatma Letters, but also the facsimiles of the original letters. That's a tremendous development.
Smoley: Could you say a little bit about your own personal search? How did you come to Theosophy, and what has it meant in your life?
Chin: I suppose my restlessness for these things came from previous lives because I already felt this even when I was young. I lived in a city far from Manila. And in that area, nobody talks about these things. There are no books on them. I had to order books that, to me, were so valuable but were so expensive because sometimes I had to write to the U.S. to order them.
It was after I was exposed to yoga—through a certain organization in the Philippines, where I learned raja yoga, meditation, and mantra yoga—that one of my companions said, "Oh, there's a library over there with all these books." I was in Manila at the time. And I was so excited to hear about that, and the next day I went there. It was closed and I had to return. It was the TS library. And when I went there, I met the people. Just the first few times, I saw photos of people—I didn't even know who they were. But somehow, there was a sense of this is home.
In fact, at that time I said something to myself quite personal, which was strange because I was new to the building and the TS. And yet in later years it proved that it was true. While I became active in other movements—spiritualism, Buddhist groups, Taoist groups, and other things; psychic surgery, psychic healing—it was the TS that I actually gravitated towards. I felt an affinity with this kind of a world. And it's made a tremendous difference in the way I have lived.
It's fortunate for me to have encountered this when I was about twenty-one because I was still malleable—to change my own character, personality, worldview. And I feel very fortunate that I encountered Theosophy because it was nondogmatic. I felt free to agree or disagree—to search from a wide variety of literature—and then arrive at my own convictions. I realized I couldn't live under an authoritarian organization that imposes dogmas. I couldn't. I grew up a Catholic, and there's no way I could survive under such an atmosphere. I can't believe in hell, I can't believe in a vindictive God, I can't believe in a God that repents. Or a God that massacres humans, entire cities. So what does that make of me? Am I still a Catholic?
When I went and joined a yoga organization, I was also being asked to believe certain things. I think what they were asking me to believe in was quite OK, but still I wasn't sure at the time. And so I felt hesitant. I couldn't be untrue to myself and say I believe when I have doubts. It was in the TS that I had this room and freedom first to be myself as I am right now. Maybe I'm still ignorant, but I'm not being asked to believe. That's what I like about the TS. It has this profound wisdom, yet it has enough faith in this wisdom to leave people free. And it has affected the way I have become a husband, a father, a businessman, a person involved in society—the way I've dealt with my own conflicts and emotions, my own depression, my own fears. All these were changed because of my exposure to Theosophy.
For this reason I believe Theosophy really has a tremendous message for the world. I've studied Christianity, studied Buddhism and other things, and in all of these traditions, there is this core teaching that should really be brought out to the public to the outer world. To me it doesn't matter if you call it Theosophy or Catholicism. But there is such a wisdom, and it must be taught in schools. That's the reason why we felt we should have schools that would combine academic subjects with life skills and wisdom, and introduce these to other schools, in some way or the other.
Smoley: I'm wondering if you have anything you want to say or add in addition to what we've already spoken about.
Chin: On Theosophy and the TS, one of the things that has been coming back constantly to my mind is our work in the future. Most of us have spent twenty, thirty, forty years in the work, and one of these days we will die, we will just leave all of this behind. And we need to prepare the next generation of people in our respective sections about the future work of the TS. Looking back not only in the Philippines but also in many of the mature sections, I believe that we now have the means, the literature, and the wisdom to be able to start mainstreaming Theosophy. What I mean is, let this applied wisdom be part of common public consciousness, not just among Theosophists. So this is one way in which we should try to bring Theosophical insights to the world and mainstream them—into education, into magazines, Web sites, even television. And how do we do so?
The first facet is to correct any misimpression about what the words "Theosophy" or "Theosophical Society" mean. A lot of people may have a wrong impression, and because of that they don't want anything to do with Theosophy. It is our obligation to correct this impression. Hence we must have a collective effort to broadcast what Theosophy is in one or two sentences, so that people who may not be interested in Theosophy in depth will at least have a correct idea about what we are.
Then, because impact must come from practice, from a way of life, we must go into the second stage. What are the things that we have to offer to the world, to family life, married life, to social conflicts, to depression, to problems and internal conflicts of people? We have a lot. Why don't we offer these and make them a part of mainstream society as practices, part of institutions, part of schools, part of the value system of society? People may not follow them, but at least they will know that there is such a thing. To do so, we ourselves must translate Theosophical principles into practice. And I think we will have to do this for many decades. Putting up a school, for example, is very difficult, it demands decades of commitment. And yet until we do so, we cannot demonstrate that Theosophical education works better than standard education.
So the introduction of these practices to the fabric of human society, I think, is a task that all sections must do, in all their countries. And in our own small way, we are doing this in the Philippines. We just opened a vegetarian restaurant a week before I left.
The third part is we must prepare ourselves. Neither of these two things will ever be done effectively unless we have the people to do so. We must live in a certain manner that will be a model to other people. We're not perfect, but at least we may be just one notch better on the average because we value this outlook and way of life and we try to live it. If we cannot do so, then Theosophy has no value at all. If we are internally always squabbling, quarreling, and doing injury to one another, then we are not the best examples of the wisdom.
In addition would be the development of a core of advocates, workers, speakers, representatives of the TS. There is a dearth of these all over the world. In the Philippines, we have a lot of demands for seminars and youth camps, but we are only a very small group. Ten years ago we said, "We are going to train a hundred facilitators!" We found that we couldn't do it. So I realized that we have to look at this in terms of decades and generations. Whatever we do, it must not stop when we die. It must go on. This way of working must be institutionalized in the sense that it must be part of the system and not dependent on a very active leader. It should be something that goes on whether you have a bright, brilliant leader or just an ordinary, average leader. I believe that is one area we must look at for all of us in the future. The more we synergize, the more effective this will be.
And that's the reason I value trips like this. I have discussions with people, and we help each other and share resources. There is no point in dividing ourselves between the TS in the Philippines and the TS in America because it is a global work. It is the work of people who are concerned about humanity, about the future, about peacefulness and harmony. And this is not just of the people of the TS but all people who have similar dreams about the future world. The name "Theosophical Society" is just a name for this century. Maybe in another century it will be something else. There was no TS 140 years ago, but the wisdom has always been there. So it's the way of life and the wisdom that we must try to embed into the fabric of regular society. I think that's our work for the future.