Monday, November 22, 2010

My Visit to the Golden Link College
(de facto Day 4 of the TSP Trip for Me)

It’s only 4:12PM as I write this.  I’m at the house in Anonas and it’s raining outside.  I’m in the guest room (since I don’t hold residence here) with the air-conditioning unit cranked up all the way.  It’s warm even though it’s raining.  I guess, with climate change and all, the usual notion of “it’s raining therefore it must be cold” doesn’t apply these days anymore.

I just got here from SM City Fairview in Novaliches (a mall) where I had lunch with the group after our wonderful trip to The Golden Link College.  I arrived here five minutes ago and I haven’t relieved my suitcase yet.  The only thing I could think about right now is that utterly wonderful experience we had at that school.

I discovered last night that the National Headquarters of the Theosophical Society is actually being used as a Kindergarten school on weekdays.  Wow!  It happened when I returned there after dinner.  One always has to pass through the conference hall on his/her way to the upper floor office.  When I did pass, I was surprised to see that it had tiny chairs and tables in place of the normal-sized ones we used for the convention.  Also, when I got out of the room this morning—ready with my suitcase to head straight to GLC—I met the pupils.  It was an amazing morning greeting for me.  They all said “hello” and introduced themselves without hesitation.  There wasn’t a trace of aloofness in their eyes.  Their smiles were all real and I could see that they were genuinely happy.

With normal traffic, it takes about an hour by car to get to the school and I usually fall asleep in car rides.  However, I must say there is no conversation with fellow Theosophists that would cause you to retreat into such a state—no matter how many hours you lack.  I even found out just then that Ahmad and Resha, our Iranian Shia-Sufi members from Cebu were Freemasons.  More dads!  Hurray!

We got to the school at about a quarter after 10:00.  Bebot and Dad Vic were already there waiting for us.  We were, however, greeted by much smaller people before we could get to them.  The students did not hesitate to offer to shake our hands while they were free.  A number of them even gave me hugs.  I was completely wowed!  I didn’t think there was anything that could top my greeting earlier this morning.  I was feeling very jubilant and I wanted to live there.

A random thought:  “Why is it so hard to build a community of grown-ups like these children?”

Dad Vic toured us around the school for a couple of minutes.  Everywhere I turned, someone was smiling at me like they’d known me for years.  We paid a visit to Rekha, the school administrator’s office.  That was reputedly one room unlike any of its traditional counterparts anywhere in the country.  Dad Vic related to us, when a child would feel uneasy and in need of a break from class, the teacher would ask him/her if he/she wants to pay a visit to Rekha’s office.  The child would then say yes without second thoughts.  They say it’s a happy room where one is given the chance to express his/her creativity as an outlet for emotional burden.  There was a huge carpet with pillows; there were piles of blank paper and crayons to draw with; there was even a wall full of colorful drawings posted on it—obviously by the students who paid visits.  In a normal kind of school, a place like that would have been turned into an excuse to leave class at any given moment.  Then again, in the class setting of GLC, I doubt if any of them would want to leave without a particularly pressing reason.

After the tour, we sat down at their mini-auditorium where they gave us a couple of presentations.  First, they sang a beautiful song that I later found out had been rehearsed only the previous day.  After which, a few of them gave gratitude speeches to the TS, and then they performed a traditional dance for us where we were encouraged to join in.  Who could say no when asked with a genuine smile?  I didn’t waste the opportunity.  I hopped right in and started hopping.  A teacher sang for us a song originated by Lea Salonga called Special Memory.  It turned out we had the same idol.  She did very well at that, too.  To end the little concert, a number of college students performed one last song for us and stepped down for more hugs.  That school had an aura of real love all over it.  I promise I’ll be back there even if we’re building a branch in Bohol.  One could never forget an experience like that.  It doesn’t matter if less-than-positive things happen tomorrow, my memory of the Golden Link College will always give me something to smile about.

Upon leaving GLC, we stopped over at SM City Fairview for a vegetarian lunch, and then parted ways.  And now I'm here.  It’s still raining outside, but it doesn’t matter; there isn’t an ounce of gloom.

I’ll be spending tonight here as well as tomorrow night.  On Wednesday, I’ll be heading to the Sulo Riviera for the URI Southeast Asia-Pacific Regional Meeting.  I’m anticipating more enlightenment.  I know it will be just as wonderful an endeavor as the TS Convention.

That entire conference was something I’ll never ever forget.  True, I attended one three years ago, but I wasn’t as emotionally and intellectually mature as I am today.  I made so many new friends and greeted old ones with hugs.  It’s a joy knowing that I call such people brothers and sisters of mine.  I’m so full of love right now that I can’t stop smiling.  However, I need to end this entry.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Theosophical Society in the Philippines National Convention 2010 - Day 3

Today was the last day of our three-day-short national convention.  It was sort of depressing to go through the whole day thinking it would be the last.  I wanted the whole thing to last a little longer, but most of the other participants had obligations in the outside world to attend to.  How can one pursue his/her search for truth when one doesn’t have the resources to go places?  I would normally argue, “Come on, this just happens once-a-year,” but, then again, a day’s loss is a day’s loss.  I can’t argue with that.  I’m not one with the right things to say about how business could be treated in a lenient manner.  Why am I even talking about business operations?  I should be talking about my awesome experience.

Anyway, this final day was an absolute blast.  Of course, we started with a meditation session.  A normal person would consider an entire hour of “Au Shanti” all the way such a boring experience, but not one who really knows its true significance.  So many things go through one’s head upon getting off the road.  It’s easier for some than others to forget about the heavy bumper-to-bumper Metro Manila traffic they had to endure or the depressing sight of poverty along the roadsides they passed by to get to 1 Iba Street.  It’s a much-needed hour even for people who spent the night in the next block or for me who spent the night here.

At 9:00, we began loosely with the new national board elections, but that’s not interesting so I won’t delve into it.  After which, we were asked to pick one of 12 social issues we could say something substantial about.  To mention a few, there was education, peace-building, physical and psychological health, human rights, and religious “tolerance.”  I chose the latter because it was something I had much to say about.  In fact, I was the only one who chose it and since we were supposed to be grouped into teams with the same choice, I was merged with the peace-building people and we were also asked to pitch-in the topic of human rights since no one was picked it.  I was adamant against using the term tolerance so I stressed on it at the outset.  My rationalization is that tolerance is a character you develop towards something you don’t like.  In a society so diverse, one would blow up if he/she simply tolerates other religions without any knowledge about them.  I advocate religious understanding in place of simply tolerance.
I had a friend from the URI once.  Her name was Lillian.  She was a Roman Catholic religious sister who had been in the organization since its early years and she decided to leave it for a reason best described in how she stated it.  She said, “I’m leaving because we are clearly only tolerating each other here.”  That statement of hers meant that she did not truly grasp what the organization advocated.  The URI’s aim is for grassroots to meet and understand each other’s beliefs and accept diversity.  Even if you don’t accept things as your own, take the initiative to learn why other people do things differently and accept them for it.  That’s the true meaning of religious understanding.  I have been stressing these statements so many times already.

Of course, it isn’t the society’s fault—not even of the one who created that list.  He/she was merely confused.  Who knows?  He probably thought that tolerance and understanding are essentially the same.  Well, they aren’t.  They are very different words.  In fact, they are inverses of each other.  That incident prompted me to suggest that the topic be discussed in next year’s convention by the right authority to talk about it.  I’ll work on it when I get to the URI convention this Wednesday.

So let’s get back to the TS convention.  I’ve strayed again.  Of course, that divergence was necessary.  After the group discussion, we presented a slideshow of our plenary steps towards achieving our collective goals related to the topic.  The other groups presented, too.  For the team who talked about education, the presenter was a teacher; for health, it was a doctor; and for our team, the presenter was a lawyer who advocated peace-building within the military.  They were all authorities in their own right, but I was a little down that the topic on religious understanding wasn’t stressed on very much.

After everyone finished, Ate Cora, my fellow Bohol Lodge delegate had to leave.  Her son had arranged for them to watch a ballet show that evening in Batangas so she left early to avoid traffic.  The next seminar was to be conducted by Dr. Roselmo Doval-Santos about the convention’s main theme:  Living the Spiritual Life as an Agent of Social Change.  My first impression of this person was not quite good.  He’s the type who aims to make everyone laugh with his antics.  That type of behavior generally annoys me superficially so I didn’t vote for him to be elected into the board.  That was a decision that later proved to be regretful since I was so inspired with his lecture.  That served as a lesson for me to never judge people based on superficial observations.  Of course, I was not worried whether or not he would win.  I knew he would.  I think I was the only one in the entire room who didn’t allow intuition to rule over logic.  Thankfully, I was right the second time!  He did win and I’m still rejoicing about it up to now.

Before the final part was the announcement of the new national board.  When the woman who was tasked to announce the results took the microphone, I knew, somehow, that it wouldn’t be a boring couple of minutes despite the fact that there was nothing inherently lively about her stance or her task.  It was all bureaucratic stuff at first until she cracked a joke by stressing the complete absence of fraudulence during ballot-counting.  It’s something that we, Filipinos, always find humor in.  The Theosophical Society is an institution where benevolence and spiritual development are priorities over bureaucracy.  Thus, since each is aware of his/her connection to the other, fraudulence is virtually impossible.

There were more than a hundred attendees, but there were only 72 who voted.  The rest were probably unqualified at the moment.  I was astonished to learn that one of us did not vote for Dad Vic since he had only 71 votes.  I felt nearly compelled at initiating an investigation.  Later, however, I realized that it was he himself who did not write his own name.  Earlier during the day, he appealed to all of us that he did not wish to be voted as National President anymore since he has served for more than a score.  Of course, we still wanted him to hold the position but we respected his request.  He was okay with being voted into the board, though.  That was enough for all of us.

We ended the conference like all other years—with the induction of new brothers and sisters into the secret society (which, apparently, isn’t very much of a secret anymore).  The shaking of hands is something I always look forward to.  There were tears of joy shed, experiences of journeys shared, and every such expression of rejoice that they have been recognized as our brothers and sisters in the society.

Shortly after, it was time to say goodbye.  A lot of photos were taken, hands shaken, and hugs exchanged.  I was wondering where to go, though.  I didn’t know who I was going to be eating dinner with.  At that time, of course, that concern didn’t rule my mind.  I only realized I had that dilemma when over half the people evaporated.  I was fortunate that Dad Vic smiled at me and invited me to dinner with some of our brothers and sisters who chose to stay.  He chose “Greens,” a vegan restaurant somewhere in Quezon City.  It was a great opportunity for all of us to bond—especially with the new inductees.  I had such an amazing conversation with people whom I wouldn’t have given regard were it not for the society.  Obviously, that kind of outlook is wrong.  Everyone is a brother/sister since we are all basically connected in oneness in the embrace of the hidden Love.

This conference has taught me so many things—some of which are revisited insights which I have come across in the past but never moved to adopt.  It is said that everything has its time.  Well, I believe now is the time.  I can feel intuitively that now is the right time.

Tomorrow, I will be visiting the Golden Link College with Dad Vic and a few others.  I’ve heard so many wonderful things about the place.  It’s about time I get to see it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Theosophical Society in the Philippines National Convention 2010 - Day 2

If yesterday was awesome, today was way awesomer!  I know there isn’t such a word, but I’m going to use it anyway.

So, here’s my account of the day:

I woke up to the sound of my phone’s alarm.  I had set it to go off at 6:45AM, but I kept putting it off until I allowed it to ring a final time at 6:55 before finally deciding to shut it off completely.  The cold air made me want to sleep more.  I have yet to discipline myself into obeying my set alarms.  At exactly 7:05, I woke up to the sound of my phone again.  This time, it was a text message.  It was from Ate Cora telling me to walk over to the teachers’ residence—where she’d spent the night—to grab breakfast with her.  It was just two blocks away, and I would have gone but I didn’t.  That was typical of me.  Anyway, she called me soon after and I picked up saying I was about to take a shower and that I was going to head there right after.  I dozed off dreaming I had actually gone down to do just that.  Has that ever happened to you?  Not very nice, is it?

The very thing that woke me up was the sound of my phone’s message alert consecutively screaming twice.  When I opened it, there were greetings from both my parents.  It was already 8:10.  In addition, I received another message from Ate Cora telling me that she was already downstairs.  I thought to myself, “If I don’t get cleaned up and dressed very quickly, I’m going to miss something,” so I headed to the shower room to take one freezing drizzle.  It took the heater time to heat the water so I didn’t wait for that.  I settled for the cold, flew upstairs, got dressed, and went down to greet everyone.  Thankfully enough, I didn’t miss anything.

We started the day with a meditation session and began the day with getting to know more members who weren’t there yesterday.  We had about 50% more in attendance today.  After which, each lodge was given the opportunity to give a progress report of the year’s events.  By the way, we use the term “lodge” to mean branches.  There are several in the country—typically one for each major city.

When it was our turn to present our report, Ate Cora called me up to share the joy of facing everyone on stage.  We figured since we were the only two delegates from our lodge that we would share the experience.  She wanted me to present it with her since she has been doing it for the last how many years.

After every lodge had their time, we had former Supreme Court Justice Flerie Romero introduce one of our guest speakers for the day.  I believe the man is her idol since her intro was practically as long as what he had to say.  From his achievements to his accolades to the things that made him tick, she said it all!  She held him in esteem so high that we just kept wowing the whole time she was on stage.  It was of proportions nothing short of epic.  True to word, the man really has achieved great things.  He was none other than fellow Theosophist and dad’s fellow mason, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno.

His talk was centered on the major social problems of the world.  I’m not going to delve into it very much right now since he left us to come up with our own solutions.  To be frank about his talk, it was inspiring but to such a miniscule degree compared to the next speaker who was a woman from Brazil.

Our dazzling South American speaker, Isis Resende, happens to be a member of the National Board of Trustees of the Theosophical Society in Brazil.  She comes from a family of Theosophists of which she is in the third generation.  Her family runs a beautiful 800+ hectare Theosophical institute which I so want to visit next year!  Forget going back to China!  I’m heading to Brasilia!
Isis came to the Philippines to stay for over a week before heading to the world headquarters in India.  During her lecture, she talked about how the society works in Brazil and their programs and how they are influencing a lot of people by employing mass media to convey their messages.  One particular note she made mention of that I liked was when she related her experience of how a prison warden had once come up to her and told her she had caused trouble among his inmates after having allowed them to watch her television program.  When she asked why, the warden told her that because he introduced them to Theosophy, they had now collectively been asking for a Yoga teacher and natural food in prison.  Her brand of humor in recounting the story cracked everyone up.  Not long after that, the TS in Brazil was made by their government a reference point for Human Rights and appropriate treatment of prisoners.  She ended her talk with a short forum where she addressed the queries of the likes of Ambassador Soliven.

The presence of such wonderful people and the idea of being in arms reach of such advanced souls is giving me spine chills.  All this, especially Isis’ talk, has made me realize that great aspirations aren’t as far-fetched as I used to believe.  And also, because of her talk, she is now fully-booked for the week.  Several lodges in Metro Manila have booked her to hold lectures and seminars.  We haven’t got such privilege yet, but I know one of these days something like that will come.  She is just such a shining flare of hope.

And, oh, she came here with her husband and it was very sweet to see him fetch her a glass of water even without her asking for it.  Can you say “love”?

So, after Isis, we had three symposiums.  Two delved on Mindanao’s peace-building process through inter-faith dialogue—which I found interesting because inter-faith dialogue is going to happen next week for me with the URI.  That’s a different story, though.  The final symposium was conducted by Rekha Nahar, a Bangladeshi Muslim woman whose ideas empowered the realization of the Golden Link College, which I’m to visit on Monday.  Rekha’s talk was the most striking among the three since it was a nurturing practical application of the principles of compassion and peace.  The Mindanao peace-building process topic talked about healing wounds and repairing damages, which is amazing in itself, but Rekha’s ideas talked about sowing seeds of peace tragedies would completely be avoided in the growth of today’s young.  I’m not saying I didn’t appreciate the Mindanao part.  I did and I still do—very much, in fact.  I just want to stress that Rekha’s visions comprised the biggest slice in the pie of solutions.

Towards dinner time, we headed over to Vic’s place to celebrate his 60th birthday.  No, it wasn’t today.  It’s on the 22nd.  He just wanted to celebrate early for us.  He took us to his palazzo of a house.  We were awestruck by his beautiful garden and the vast collection of Theosophical books in his library.  Come dinner time, to say that the food was absolutely splendid would be an understatement.  It was a vegan feast!  It was culinary heaven in there.  The food was perfect.  It was utterly perfect!  Gosh!  I don’t know what adjective surpasses perfect!  If there’s any I’m not aware of, it’s what should be used!  You could tell with every single bite that it was made with love.  Everything was also natural and organic and completely… family friendly.  There wasn’t a drop of alcohol anywhere near.  There wasn’t even a bar in the house.  What for, anyway?  Everything in that house had a smile on it.  There was nothing in sight that provoked anything negative.

When everybody had stuffed his/her stomach, then came the gleeful explosion.  Tita Norma sat on the bench and played the piano while everyone danced and sang.  We delved into nearly every sensible genre from pop anthems to ballroom tracks to Christmas carols to Philippine folk songs to musical theater.  After her, Dad Vic even showed us just why the piano existed in his home.  He graced our aural senses with his performance of Sarong Banggi, a famous Filipino folk song.  It was the perfect ending to a day that was beautiful beyond the mundane expressive capability of words.

I love this day!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Theosophical Society in the Philippines National Convention 2010 - Day 1

I had such an awesome day.  Today was the first of a three-day-long national convention for the Theosophical society in the Philippines.  I’m in Quezon City right now specifically for two reasons.  One of them is this.

What we had earlier today was the retreat part handled by none other than Dad Vic Hao Chin.  He’s such an awesome person.  Believe me.  He’s more spiritually and intellectually evolved than anyone I have ever met.  He’s one of such a few people in existence whom we would call genuine mystics.  I believe it’s safe for me to conclude that he’s the kindest, most generous, most benevolent human being in the Philippines.

You may be wondering why I call him “Dad.”  Well, here’s the thing:  Dad Vic is a Freemason and so is my very own father.  That makes them brothers, which makes him my uncle in their brotherhood.  It wouldn’t be nice to call him uncle, though, since tradition tells me I should address every other Freemason as “Dad.”  Don’t ask me why.  That’s just it.

Anyway, back to what happened during the day.  I enjoyed it very much, but it’s a bit of a bummer that I came in a little late.  You see, the retreat started at 9:00AM, but my flight was scheduled at 11:25 since there weren’t any more options for me.  I purchased my ticket a bit late since my participation in this convention wasn’t really planned.  My father practically asked me to attend on the 11th hour, ergo, no more early flights.  Despite that, I was eager to attend the afternoon session.  However, circumstances were not in my favor upon arrival.

My cousin Trisha, whose birthday happens to be on the 22nd of this month, picked me up at the airport.  To my surprise, her friends, who happened to be in the van, told me that her party was actually today.  I knew for certain that I was going to miss it since I had a prior commitment, so I told her about the conference.  She was a little disappointed and I couldn’t leave her with the sad look on her face so I decided to join her for lunch instead.  We left NAIA at a little before 1:00 and it took us nearly an hour to get to the restaurant we were supposed to eat at.  We ate and chatted for about an hour and left at 3:00.

My thoughts calmed down for a moment, thinking that I was finally going to make it to the headquarters.  This is when the next dilemma came into the picture.  To my dismay, her chauffeur didn’t know where the place was despite the address given.  We went around New Manila thinking it was there.  We made several stops to ask for directions only to find out we were either in the wrong direction or we’d missed the place.  I made several phone calls to my dad and to Ate Cora, a member of the brother/sisterhood also from Bohol who arrived in the city several hours before me, to ask for directions.  My dad’s responses were unacceptable to the chauffeur and Ate Cora wasn’t picking up anymore.  It was okay, though, since I was aware that she was already immersed in the retreat.  My last resort was to call the landline number of the HQ.  I had them stay on the line until I got here.  That finally did the job.  It crippled my airtime, but at least I got here before dark.

I am really glad I’m participating in this.  It doesn’t matter that I came in late.  The moment I stepped inside, everyone greeted me with smiles that were so inspiring that every undesirable happening had stopped to matter before I realized it.  They were eating vegan pasta when I arrived.  I was just in time for Dad Vic’s lecture on mysticism.  I don’t have the words to use for it at the moment since I am not one to lay down remarks other than “it was inspiring,” and “I loved every moment of it.”  It was the day’s last formal activity.  After which, we all headed to a vegan restaurant to socialize and eat dinner.  The food was very good and the people were nothing short of amazing.  I’m very proud to call them my brothers and sisters, not because of the positions most of them hold in society, but because I could tell that they’re genuinely good people and that they have come here to broaden their wisdom together with every other Theosophist in the constant search for truth.

After dinner, I headed back here and I’m in the HQ right now about to hit the hay.  I have a nice room with a nice bed and an air conditioning unit.  I’m actually the only person sleeping here other than the caretaker (who, by the way, also happens to be a member of the society).  This is an old house and there are a lot of etheric residues.  Yes, I mean ghosts.  I’ve seen three so far.  They’re nice.  You can bet they’re of good people whose causal bodies are awaiting reincarnation in Devachan.  I’m not afraid.  Earlier, I found out that the water dispenser in the kitchen had run dry so I was compelled to go to the hall to fetch some.  I saw two there after turning the light on, and the third one at the corridor I passed on my way back to the room.  They’re completely harmless.

Anyway, I think I’ve written enough.  I shouldn’t consume my words.  I have a full day ahead.