The Theosophical Society in America

President’s Diary

Printed in the  Summer  2017   issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Boyd, Tim, "President’s Diary" Quest 105:3(Summer 2017) pg. 42-43

Tim BoydThe annual international convention at the TS’s world headquarters in Adyar, held each December, is a hyperbusy time, but the activities don’t end with the closing of the convention. Every year, immediately after, we have a meeting with some of the new members. It is an event that I have come to love. The new members gather in the main hall of the headquarters building. They are seated together in the front row. Behind them and on both sides are longtime members, family, and well-wishers. The program is focused completely on these newest members of the TS and involves an address by the international president (me), the awarding of their diplomas of membership, expressions of goodwill from the members gathered, and always some photos. Coming as it does at the close of the convention, with its accumulated energies, the welcoming of new members is always a powerful and uplifting occasion. It is also a special moment for me. The opportunity to talk to these members at this fresh and open moment of idealism and hope, to remember with them the unclouded vistas of my own introduction to the TS, to talk about the road ahead—its joys, its obstacles, and its future possibilities—and to bless them on their journey has been one of the peak experiences for me year after year.

This year there was a twelve-year-old girl who joined. I had been seeing her and her family at convention every year since I first started attending. As a little kid she was so cute and so friendly. I have photos of her from my first visit to Adyar. To see her sitting in the front row, feet dangling, not yet long enough to touch the floor, with her proud family arrayed behind her, was a beautiful moment. In India it is not at all unusual to have third-, fourth-, and even fifth-generation Theosophists.

After the close of convention, the cleanup following Cyclone Vardah continued. The cyclone had struck Chennai just three weeks before the start of convention, and the devastation to the city and our campus was intense. Our first job was to clear the fallen trees from the impassable roads and from the convention areas—in such a short time, that was the best we could do. Since then, every couple of days another truckload of wood has been loaded and taken out. Our estimate is that, at this writing, there are another thirty truckloads still to be cut and carted. We lost a lot of trees.

At the beginning of February it was back to the U.S. for my last board of directors meeting as TSA president. With this dual presidency, which I have been juggling for the past three years, the level of activity has been constant, with meetings and communication spread across twelve time zones. While it has been great for enhancing a sense of global citizenship, the sheer busyness of it all has made it difficult to reflect on the culmination of this phase of service. While it will certainly be good to go from two more than full-time jobs to one, I will miss the creative routines of planning, meeting, and working with the exceptional staff, directors, and members that make the American Section function so well. Over the last six years we have done a lot together. The beauty is that there is always more.

  Naarden
  A circle at the closing of a public program at the International Theosophical Centre in Naarden, the Netherlands.

The beginning of March found me feeling a little conflicted. I had called for a meeting of the General Council of the international TS and other invited members to be held at the International Theosophical Centre (ITC) in Naarden, the Netherlands. It was to be a meeting to brainstorm and plan for the TS’s future—not just administratively or financially, but in regard to the propagation of the teachings, the health of the Society, and our impact on society at large. The meeting was to begin on March 4 and was to last for five days.

But back in November we had met with a contingent from the Women’s Indian Association (WIA) to arrange for the celebration of their hundredth anniversary at Adyar. The WIA had been founded there, and Annie Besant and a number of other TS women were prominent in its founding. At that time we had agreed to have the event in March. During the meeting the WIA president, Padma Venkataraman, commented that they intended to invite the president of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, as the special guest. It seemed like a nice idea. Who wouldn’t like to have the nation’s president to attend their event? When I first heard it, it sounded like a noble, if slightly unrealistic, wish. It was only as the conversation progressed that I came to know that Padma’s father was a past president of India, and that for her the current one was just a phone call away.

Padma very much wanted for me to be on hand for the occasion, as did I. Having already scheduled the Naarden meeting, we decided to invite Mr. Mukherjee for the second half of March. In my work for the TS, when events, meetings, and appointments are scheduled, the timing has to conform to my availability. Somehow those who schedule the president of India failed to realize how important I and my schedule are. Mr. Mukherjee was available on the exact day that I was scheduled to be in Naarden. Because that was when he was available, that was the date that the event would occur. So the question for me was whether to be in Adyar for the president’s visit, or to be in Naarden for the meeting I had called, to which twenty TS members from around the world were coming. To be or not to be. That was the question. Of course I chose Naarden. The president and I will meet another time.

The Wheel of Life  
 Pranab Mukherjee, president of India, speaks at the TS’s Adyar headquarters  

The preparations for Mr. Mukherjee’s visit were intense. Every level of Indian security force, from the local police to the president’s secret service, were involved. Numerous meetings and walk-throughs had to be staged; the roads and staging had to be altered; new phone lines direct to the Delhi capital had to be installed; and bomb-sniffing dogs and metal detectors were brought in.

Initially Padma and her board had planned on having around 500 invitees gather in our Headquarters Hall. After being informed that the space between the president and the audience had to be a minimum of fifteen to twenty meters, the potential audience size dropped to a hundred. When we found this out we switched the venue to our Adyar Theatre, where the convention is held. During our convention we seat around 1000 comfortably. Security requirements meant that 350 would be the limit for Mr. Mukherjee’s visit.

The event went off without a hitch. The security people commented that they had never had such a low-stress, beautiful setting for their work. Our residents and staff, who had been involved in the planning and execution of it were tired, but proud.

Meanwhile, back at Naarden, twenty-one members from thirteen countries had gathered for our brainstorming and planning meeting. The reason for holding the meeting was that each year the TS General Council meets for one day before convention to go over the administration and activities of the international organization. In such a brief time the focus is always on informing the council about international activities and the administration of the Adyar headquarters. Very little attention is given to planning for the future, propagating the teachings, or impacting the world at large. In Naarden, our time was solely focused on these things. For five days we explored a variety of avenues. It was more than an idea session, because teams of members had taken on the responsibility for developing and implementing the projects.

  The Wheel of Life
  A School of the Wisdom group poses in front of the historic Blavatsky Bungalow at Adyar.

The planning had two broad areas of focus—matters that are internal to the TS and matters that are external. Under these two headings a number of priorities were determined for initial attention. They included such things as harmonizing the core Theosophical teachings (the HPB, Sinnett, Besant, and Leadbeater systems); developing training centers in Sections; holding more frequent meetings of the General Council; giving more attention to younger members; finding avenues for applying the teachings; increasing TS membership; and exploring Theosophy as an university academic discipline.  Look for more to come.

In April a new vice-president for the international TS was selected. The way the process works is that the president nominates and the General Council votes to approve the VP. I nominated Dr. Deepa Padhi, an educator who has been extremely active in the Theosophical Order of Service in India. She has founded and promoted numerous projects focused on women’s education, care, and protection; orphanages; mental-health facilities; and shelters for abused women. Some of you will remember her from 2012, when she addressed the international TOS conference, which we hosted at Olcott. The General Council was unanimous in their vote of approval.

And finally, the long-awaited beginning of the Adyar Renovation project kicked off in May. The first building to tackle is Blavatsky Bungalow—an Indian Heritage (landmark) building that is the regular home to our School of the Wisdom. Look for more in days to come.

Tim Boyd