Explorations: The Power of Sangha in Theosophical Work

By Vicente Hao Chin

Originally printed in the SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2008 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Chin, Vicente Hao. “Explorations: The Power of Sangha in Theosophical Work.” Quest  96.5 (SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2008):186-187.


ONE ENCOUNTERS THE AGELESS WISDOM mainly through two avenues: the first is through books, and the other is through people. It is the second that I believe has a greater impact on influencing someone to walk the spiritual path. I may read a book on karma, and after reading it, nod my head and say, “Oh, yes, this is true. I believe in karma,” and end there. It is rare that reading a book alone will trigger a basic redirection of one’s life path, although this does happen. But, it is when we meet someone whose life strikes a chord of truth within us, and are continuously exposed to such a person, that we realize the power of such association in creating turning points in our lives. Allow me to share four facets of this power of long-term association with spiritually inclined people, in our case, the Theosophical sangha.

The first is the chance to begin. We are introduced to a new way of life when we meet people who embody such a life and worldview. We notice within them a different kind of inner power; one of equanimity and wisdom that goes beyond the smartness and cunningness that we normally see all around us.

My first encounter with the ageless wisdom was through a orange-robed yogi who spoke at our college. I do not remember what he talked about, but after the lecture I approached him and asked to be taught how to meditate. The following Sunday I received my introduction to raja yoga, which led me to the Theosophical Society. There I met a lady who was to have an enduring influence on my young life. I have been involved with the Theosophical Society ever since, and my life has never been the same. The first power of sangha, then, is the chance to begin our initial steps towards the spiritual path in this life. The right community can kindle the spiritual fire within.

Kindling the spiritual fire is but the first step. This flame must be sustained, and here we encounter the second power of the sangha, the power to nurture. Being with a spiritual group like the TS, not just an intellectual debating society but a living spiritual community, enables us to sustain our initial effort to tread the path toward the higher life.

It is not easy trying to live according to one’s principles. The worldly life has its own smart rules that sneer at integrity and truthfulness, at spirituality and selflessness, at meditation and nonacquisitiveness. It offers so many tantalizing experiences and sights that it is easy for one to get carried away. The sangha enables us to sustain our sight of the distant light ahead of us, or, to put it another way, to constantly be aware of this inner vision of the truer life. The spiritual community sustains and energizes this inner insight that begins as a series of intermittent sparks and becomes a tiny unsteady flame that needs to be gently fanned for it not to be blown out.

My parents were businesspeople. Being the eldest in the family, I was expected to pursue the life of a businessman after I graduated. The people around me, the immediate surrounding culture, my uncles and relatives, were of similar business minds. It is hard to say what I would be doing today if it I had not encountered yoga and the Theosophical Society. The weekly association with Theosophists had a sustaining impact in my young life, such that despite being involved in the business world, I was never fully immersed in or carried away by it. One becomes like the double-headed eagle, capable of seeing in two directions: the life in the outer world, and the life in the inner. This dual vision is one of the most crucial stages in one’s effort to live the higher life. It keeps one’s feet on the ground, cognizing one’s duties and one’s humanity, but at the same time not losing sight of the reality of our transcendent nature.

The third power of the sangha is the power to inspire. This, of course, depends upon the type of organization or group one is associated with. Speaking of my own exposure to the Theosophical Society, I may say that encountering certain individuals in the Society has pivotally uplifted my own small efforts, giving strength to my young wings. This is possible because we see embodied in certain individuals the fruits of the wisdom and the worthiness of such a life. We realize that some day, we too can reach such heights, such levels of integration.

The power of example is a very potent one. People are the highest embodiments of truth outside of ourselves. They give us conviction and certainty about the validity of the spiritual or theosophic way of life. The deep, balanced, and exemplary lives of spiritual people are the proof that the wisdom is ultimately sound and that committing our lives to the higher life is worth it. Finally, the fourth power of the sangha is the power to teach how to truly serve. Again, this depends upon which particular group one associates. When there is at least one person in the group who exhibits the quality of cheerful and spontaneous service, we may be blessed with the discovery of, perhaps, the most important activity that a human being can engage in—the life of service.

Most people are not naturally endowed with a service-oriented nature. On the contrary, we almost always start with selfishness. The budding spirituality that inclines towards selfless service needs to be nurtured in an environment that is not cynical about compassion and the giving of oneself.

It is rather unfortunate that the practical man or woman is often subconsciously nurtured to think that one should do certain things only when there is a resultant personal gain from it. In a world of competition, the aim is to get ahead, to acquire more, to gain. One even learns that it is smart to use Machiavellian ways to surge ahead. I was not lacking in such exposure, however, the timeless principles of the ageless wisdom constantly reminded me to look the other way—to be willing to lose, to give way, or to assist, if doing so would mean lightening the burden of someone. These principles taught me that there is no such thing as an enemy. We are all travelers or pilgrims in quest of a distant paradise. Let us not quarrel about precious stones or jewels that we may have picked up along the way. We will have to divest ourselves of them eventually and enter the sacred land holding each other’s hands, not jewels and stones.

Our journeys are not independent of one another, but intertwined in complex and mysterious ways so that the joys and pains of others are really shared by everyone. The spiritual community teaches us how to serve; not in the way a merchant would give his goods in exchange for something in return, but to give and serve unconditionally. It is truly a difficult lesson to learn because the encrusted ego would like to continue to strengthen itself, and is not willing to let go of its imagined treasures without a corresponding gain. The sangha has the power to soften and melt such encrustations so that one day, in one life, the soul will be ready to let go of that center called the self and awaken to the Self Universal.

The Theosophical community is indeed a blessing to those whose lives revolve around its sphere of influence. It has, first, the power to allow a soul to begin the quest; second, it has the power to nurture the flame that sustains the quest; it has the power to inspire and uplift the soul to transcending heights; and, finally, it has the power to teach how to truly serve without self.

The Theosophical sangha, while bestowing blessings and power on the pilgrim soul, does not demand for itself any allegiance to any doctrine or dogma. It is a sangha that points not to itself, but to something beyond itself. This is the transcendent power of a truly spiritual sangha. One feels truly blessed to be under its motherly wings.

For our part, let us share in nurturing the spiritual quality of the Theosophical sangha for the sake of future pilgrims to come. Let our programs, activities, and gatherings always be imbued with a wisp of the eternal. And let this begin with our tiniest actions, with the casual words that flow from our lips, with the daily fleeting thoughts that cross our minds, until our own lives have become permeated with the soundless melody of the song of life, the song of the eternal. Then, truly, every new pilgrim will be in the midst of a genuinely transformative community, the Theosophical Society.


Vicente Hao Chin, Jr. is president of the Theosophical Society in the Philippines; founder and chairman of the Golden Link School, which focuses on bringing Theosophical principles and ideals to primary school children; and editor of the chronological edition of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett. This article is from a talk given at Summer National Gathering in 2007.

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