54 Interviews with Westerners
on their search for spiritual fulfilment in India

Compiled, Edited and Mainly Photographed by
Malcolm Tillis

  1. Vijayananda
  2. Melita Maschman
  3. Brahmachari Gadadhar
  4. Bill Eilers
  5. Simonetta
  6. Swami Jnanananda
  7. Bill Aitken
  8. Bramacharini Atmananda
  9. Jamie Smith
  10. Martha Smith
  11. Radheshwari
  12. Omkara Das Adhikary
  13. Gopi Jai Krishna
  14. Ellen Schector
  15. Paul Ivan Hogguer
  16. Giorgio Bonazzoli
  17. Anil Bhai
  18. Russell Balfour-Clarke
  19. Norma Sastri
  20. John Clarke
  21. Peter Hoffman
  22. Dhruva
  23. Maggi Lidchi
  24. Sz. Regeni
  25. Baruni
  26. Michael Zelnick
  27. David and Sally
  28. Wilhelmina van Vliet
  29. Norman C. Dowsett
  30. Father Bede Griffiths
  31. Matthew and
    Joan Greenblatt
  32. Lucy Cornelssen
  33. Doris Williamson
  34. Lucia Osborne
  35. David Godman
  36. Hamsa Johannus de Reade
  37. Sir
  38. Joachim Peters and
    Uli Steckenreuter
  39. Richard Willis
  40. Chitrakara das Adhikary
  41. Aviva Keller
  42. Ma Prem Leela
  43. Swami Prem Pramod
  44. Ma Amanda Vandana
  45. Swami Anand Bodhisattva
  46. Swami Nadama
  47. Sister Arati
  48. Francis Reck
  49. H.H. Giriraja Swami
  50. Jean Dunn
  51. Raymond and
    Maree Steiner
  52. Bhikshu Ngawang Samten
  53. Ani Tenzin Palmo
  54. Kate Christie



John Clarke

The Theosophical Society, Adyar

20th January 1981

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New Lives - Malcolm Tillis

I am looking for the bungalow of John Clarke. He spends much of his time doing literary work for the Society and appears to be one of the younger members living here on a permanent basis. He serves me fragrant South Indian coffee, and speaks so softly and confidentially that I wonder if his voice will be caught on tape.

After a few minutes there is a pause, a chance to check, and we find a musical bird hiding in the lush surrounding gardens, perhaps curious, perhaps offering encouragement, singing full throttle with such lyrical abandon, such compelling ardour, the Interview is developing into a duet of Schoenbergian intricacy.

Could this delightful obliging creature be delivering a message from one of the Great Masters in the Beyond?

Interview 20

You edit “The Theosophist” the Society’s magazine, but can you tell me how you were drawn to the T. S.?
I have been a formal member for the past 12 years but I certainly knew many of the teachings long before that. I remember at College in Dublin picking up second-hand books which turned out to be Theosophical manuals and thinking they rang bells. And I know when I went to my first Lodge in Dublin I wasn’t very impressed as they seemed to be concerned with obtuse things, not particularly interesting. A number of years ago when I was teaching in London, my friend John Coats who was the President of the T. S., asked me to come to work here. So I have been here over 3 years now.

You are Irish by birth?
Northern Irish. Presbyterian background leading to University in Dublin. As a youngster I was conscious of other dimensions – insights – which didn’t always fit in with one’s background. I suppose that is why when I first came across these teachings they seemed familiar. After I had become a member of the T. S. I came across the Liberal Catholic Church, and for a number of reasons I found it very attractive. That came out of the reorganization of the old Catholic Church at the beginning of the century, and most of the members were from the T. S. It was another way of expressing Christianity – esoteric Christianity as opposed to exoteric Christianity. It is liberal as it allows members to interpret Christianity according to their own development – it’s not dogmatic.

Does one take a form of initiation to join these Societies?
No. You have to be proposed and seconded.

Have you been ordained as a priest of the Liberal Catholic Church?
Yes. But it has no formal connection with Theosophy.

Can you explain the aims and principles of Theosophy?
You know there are 3 aims (See Interview with Russell Balfour-Clarke). They must have been extraordinary 100 years ago, certainly the first one about brotherhood, particularly in an Indian context when one has to look beyond caste and creed. But they are outer exoteric objects, although they express the unity of man.

What about the esoteric side? Do you have a meditation practice?
There isn’t a particular one. One has to find one’s own way. The T. S. is not keen on a teacher. It deprecates running after gurus and going from one system to another. But we are encouraged to find our way.

But do the members of the Society living here follow a particular sadhana?
No. Once more, one makes one’s own programme. As you know, there are certain things you may not do: smoke, eat meat, drink liquor, have illicit sex, as they call it, and so on. That’s the way of life here. But most people living and working here no doubt follow a system of meditation and study, certainly.

Does your work include lecturing outside?
The residents are quite often invited by individual Lodges to go and talk to them. And the International Officers of the Society frequently go round the world taking part in conferences and conventions.

So Theosophy is a way of life?
Above all. And it includes many ways of looking at life, just because it embraces Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, everyone. It must be said that one’s own religious outlook is modified by Theosophy.

Since Madame Blavatsky and Col. Olcott founded the Society 100 years ago have the original principles been modified in any way?
No. There have always been schools – ways – of looking at Theosophy. There are still small groups within the Society that claim that the only valid teachings are those found in “The Secret Doctrine” and other writings by Blavatsky, and tend to shy away from the writings of say Leadbeater, particularly when he writes from his clairvoyant point of view. The basic teachings have not changes in emphasis.

When the Society was founded it created a tremendous impact and influence on Western thought. Has the membership increased in proportion to the spiritual awakening that is taking place?
It’s odd, it’s remained very much the same. There was a steep increase at the time people were concerned with the World Teacher, the early Krishnamurthi period. The membership has never been very large

Members come here for short visits?
There are Centres all over the world. Yes, they come usually for 2 to 6 months.

Can you speak about your work as the editor of The Theosophist?
The magazine has been produced for over a 100 years – every month – and is the chief link between Adyar, the International Headquarters and the membership. I should explain that the President by virtue of being the President, is the editor and has the final say about everything, but the putting-together is left to the assistant editor – so that’s my work. The policy is also laid down by the President. John Coats, the last President, tried to make the magazine more popular to sell at book stalls, book shops. It was given a wider appeal, but it never has had a wide appeal. The new President, Mrs. Burnier, realizes that so we are going back to the old idea of it being intended for the serious Theosophist. The articles – not enough – means I have to write around. They cannot have a political flavour and we don’t print things that are sectarian. English is the international language of the T. S. so the magazine is printed in English.

How many subscribers do you have?
About 2,500 – that’s guesswork. But every Section has its own magazine as well.

Do you see yourself staying here permanently?
That I don’t know. I had a definite feeling – knowledge – that I had to come here. The inward things are good here. Adyar is a place of peace and beauty, a great power centre, one can feel it. I don’t think one must always know what one is doing or going to do: things have a way of opening out for one. I have given up making plans.

Since becoming a member of the T. S. do you feel it has brought you nearer to God?
Oh, yes. I am sure of that. Before there were many difficult questions that could not be answered in one’s orthodox religion – many things never hung together. Theosophy makes it all one piece. It doesn’t mean that one knows the answers to everything, but there is a unifying basis. One might say one is more integrated with oneself. One’s conception of God has changed also. The Theosophist is less of a bhakta, he is more of a student. Of course, all the yogas must come together, mustn’t they? Just like all the religions.

By the way, have you had time to see the shrines yet? Our Church, Temple, Gurdwara? Bhakta devotion is there. I will take you now – I think you should see all that, and the library.

John Clarke’s health rapidly declined after a nervous breakdown from which he apparently died.


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© Malcolm Tillis 2006