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