The Theosophical Society (Adyar)

When the Winter Refuses to Let Up
By Preethi Muthiah

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Life is inherently cyclical. Mother Nature is inherently cyclical too. The seasons come and go; everything is in a passing state eternally. Spring gives birth to summer, summer to autumn and autumn to winter. When people were wiser, they moved along with these seasons and led their lives attuning themselves to the passing cycles of their lives. Thus we have in the Vedas and the Taoist texts the ideal way of leading our lives. In Spring, when the soul is fresh into birth, one learns of the ways of life and people; in Summer, when the soul has matured a bit, one learns to bear responsibilities for the future, to marry, to have a household, to bring forth fresh life; in Autumn, one begins to give way to the fresh life (one’s children) to prepare for their summer; and in Winter, when the soul has been through an entire journey in life and has grown old, feeble and tired, one moves out of activity into contemplation of the divine, of God, and provides guidance for the springs, summers and autumns in one’s life.

In Adyar, today, however, the winters are refusing to let up, to let go, to pave and make way for the other seasons to flower and bear fruit; creating thus an unwholesome and unhealthy atmosphere totally against natural law and the cycles of life. This article proposes to look at some of the problems rooted in the unwillingness of older and elderly workers at Adyar to let go of their lust and greed for not only life, but also for position, power and authority.

Having been at Adyar since 1994, I have seen Adyar changing from a green, life- and youth-filled Adyar to the Adyar of 2009, with a drab, dead atmosphere. It is not only the dilapidated buildings, but there is a certain air of sadness or death that permeates the atmosphere in Adyar. The white ants run havoc on buildings and trees, building their anthills wherever it occurs to them to build one. Unoccupied rooms at Leadbeater Chambers – which at one time housed about 7 or 8 workers from around the world throughout the year – has now only Bernice living in it. It is common to find annual visitors complaining about the state of the building and the hike in the rates. And a recent comment from the Superintendent herself indicates the state of affairs. At the end of the February session of the School of the Wisdom, when all the guests had gone, Uma Nilakanta commented that the entire place – not just Chambers – looked and felt so desolate. Most buildings on the Estate are vacant, because there are no workers to fill them. Most departments function with piecemeal staff; some departments have no heads to run them and some people run more than one department. Looking at the sorry state of affairs at Adyar, one would wonder why in a place that is only 133 years young, and that likes to claim that it is the international headquarters of a worldwide organization, and which had among its membership stalwarts like HPB, HSO and Annie Besant, there is today such a paucity of workers, such a dead, desolate look. The entire place resembles a home for the aged, where those who are too old to go anywhere else have settled in.

And these are the oldies that are permeating the atmosphere of Adyar with their entrenched attitudes to life, to people, to relationships, and perhaps worst of all, to the work of the Society; because even though they are old, they continue to work. The great number of octogenarians is soon going to join the nonagenarians; the septuagenarians will soon make up the octogenarians. And they constitute the majority of the population of Adyar. Being of that physical or chronological age, they are low in energy, high in memory loss, but also stubborn, unwilling to change their gutted ways, preferring to do things the way they were done in days of old. The proverbial generation gap is in large evidence at Adyar today, for the younger workers who worked there in the past will always find when they bring in new and fresh ideas an older person who disapproves of it, and tries to traditionalize these ideas. Thus, Shailendra Agrawal who works as Superintendent of the Garden Department is daily insulted and abused and belittled by Mr Harihara Raghavan, General Manager of the Estate who is about 70 years old, while Shailendra is a little over 40 and the youngest worker on campus today.

Another aged member, Mrs Helen Jamieson, doesn’t understand the basics of computers and is dependent on younger workers to help her out with Adyar Newsletter. At one time, before the election results were announced, the President wanted to ease Helen’s workload and thought she could share the Newsletter with Preethi, only for Preethi to find that Mrs Jamieson is not open to help. She will not let go of responsibilities because that makes her anxious and insecure. At the Editorial Office, a similar situation exists. Older members are unwilling to learn computer skills, though younger workers are willing to teach these. So they create a web of dependency such that accomplishing work goals is almost always obstacle-filled, because position matters much more to Subha Nilakanta, Sundari Siddhartha, Saraswati Anand than the accomplishment of goals and targets. Old as they are, with failing eyesight, the likelihood of their missing out on errors in text is higher, but being proof readers and copy editors, they will not appreciate a younger worker correcting that error, all because the younger worker works as a typesetter.

As a youngster, were you to try to meet the President with suggestions, she most likely will tell you that there is no need for change because after all, things have been going on like this for 133 years. She refused to let Elvira make a map of the Estate for visitors to have easy access to the different places on the huge estate of Adyar. That was on the pretext of making it difficult for sandalwood thieves to enter the Estate. Who can explain to the President the unreasonableness of such thinking? For the sandalwood thieves have not stopped coming into the Estate; in fact, most of them come at night and are most probably not literate enough to read a map with its different points indicating buildings on the Estate. Yet to date, no map of the Estate exists and most members who come to visit go about asking for one so that they can get from place to place on the campus. But of course, one can suggest nothing to the President if she is not open to those suggestions.

But one will notice that there are those who can suggest even the silliest of things and those get accepted by the President. So what decides whether one’s suggestions will be heard or not? One factor is the willingness of the other to play the President’s game. Like, for example, Shailendra once suggested getting a golf cart to take aged members from place to place on the campus. According to Shailendra, the President approved of the suggestion. Pedro Oliveira, Keshwar Dastur and Radha Muthiah can almost always get what they want from the President. Uma and Subha Nilakanta can get away with almost anything on campus. But even these are not fixed. After you have worked with the President for a while, you will have to admit that she is rather whimsical. Today, if she is in a good mood, you can get away with murder. If she is, on the other hand, in a bad mood, even the best you can do will meet with criticism of the worst kind. If she likes you, you are God. If she doesn’t like you, you are the Devil incarnate. And once you have entered her bad books – does not matter at all whether due to your fault or not – she will not forgive you easily. In fact, she never forgives. She will constantly remind you – either directly or through her pets – of your past mistakes. She will keep it in the back of her mind every time you meet her face to face. She will also use that information to initiate gossip and an entire coterie of ‘enemies’ around you. And this is a President who will call you immature when you go to her with the sword of honesty and truth. She will call you and shout at you, berate you and denigrate you.

One of the toughest things about Adyar is for one to recognize that in order for everyone to live in peace at Adyar, one has to give a lot of leeway to the President, even though she is older than most of us, we must adjust to her, we must understand her, we must obey her, we must forgive her, we must overlook her flaws; for she will never do any of these with us. She will speak about compassion, but that is what you have to give her; not the other way around. In fact, it is never the other way around. So we have essentially a taking President, not a giving one. The only thing that freely flows out of her is criticism of your ways and anger that you don’t speak her language.

But coming back to the topic of seasons and cycles, let us look at what the unwillingness of the President to let go of position, power and authority does to the younger members and workers. Over the years, an abundance of elderly workers on the Estate of Adyar has meant that the younger generations feel a lack of expression in their need to do something for the Cause. And if they do, then they must of a necessity compete. Thus, greedy Helen, Harihara Raghavan, N. Muthuswamy or possessive Radha Burnier have given birth to competitive (though not necessarily competent and efficient) Uma Nilakanta, Subha Nilakanta, Radha Muthiah, Keshwar Dastur and such others. Competitive 55-70 year olds like the ones mentioned here and many others have given birth to competitive Maithreya, Pedro Oliveira, Jaishree, Geetha Jaikumar, and younger still, competitive Sushama, Juliana, Pablo, Lokesh. That is where all this competition being so talked about these days springs from – an entire older generation (the elders of Adyar) unwilling to let go of power, position and authority, unwilling to work in an entirely advisory capacity rather than heading departments that need younger and fresher ideas and energies. Instead of spending time preparing for death, or contemplating their lives thus far, these elderly spend time doing that which the youngsters ought to be doing.

And what does competition have to do with Theosophy, or with Brotherhood? Virtually nothing. In fact, competition is opposed to the ideal of realizing a nucleus of Universal Brotherhood. This is one of the reasons why there is no longer any fresh life in Adyar, because the older ones have not learned to or are unwilling to learn how to let go. So one of the things that I would suggest to readers of this article is to bring in a rule in the Constitution of the TS regarding the maximum age limit at which a person can be working at Adyar and limit it to 75. Anyone above that age ought to work at Adyar solely in an advisory capacity, rather than working as a head of a department. This anyone also includes the President of the TS.

What Adyar and the TS movement worldwide need urgently is fresh ideas, fresh ways of looking at and practising Brotherhood, because the current leadership and her assistants at Adyar are not capable any more of practising the First Object of the TS. We need elders willing to understand, rather than all the time seeking to be understood and obeyed. We need a leader who is rooted in life, has a deep insight and understanding into causes of events or happenings, is empathetic rather than whimsical, someone who is morally strong and can lead and guide those who work with her or below her upwards on the Path.


Last update: August 2009
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