Compass Newsletter Autumn 2008 No. 8


From a Talk by James Long
From Grace F. Knoche 1980 European Tour
Gold Medallists
The English Surgeon

From a Talk by James Long

to Members at Pasadena, October 1958


……….Science has done much in discovering not merely physical facts – but in unveiling principles of conduct and life, of circulation, attraction and repulsion, that give a marvelous picture of the operations of the constitution of the larger being of which we, on this earth, and in this solar system, are merely a small part. They are indeed drawing close to meta-physics – in the original connotations of the term, and not in the rather fuzzy sense in which many who follow the blind alleys of pseudo-occultism employ it.

………With the great progress science is making in discovering even a little of the relationship between the vehicle or the small ‘atom’ of this world, earth, and its larger self in which it lives and moves and has its real being, why isn’t it just as scientific a matter for us to put our thoughts toward discovering a little more consciously and a little more intelligently and practically some of the functions that point to our relationship with our own higher self?  If we are miniatures of the universe, and the universe is a replica of ourselves – “As it is above, so it is below”; and if the deepest esoteric sense of the ages says: “Know thy self“  implying that if we know our real self we should know everything throughout the Kosmos; then why should we not study our relationship with our own higher self – which higher self we should know is a mere particle of the higher self of this earth, of this solar system, of the home universe and of the greatest of the great?

The guiding light of our solar universe is the sun whose higher self and our higher self are made of the same stuff. We trust the sun to come up every morning, never doubting. Do we ever stop to realize that our own sun likewise rises every morning in our conscious life? If we, without the instruments of analysis that the scientists use but with the open heart of a humble spirit, will try to live as unselfishly as the sun lives, and will work along those lines of thought with trust, then we will know that our higher self will never let us down. And as we develop that trust, it will act as the foundation upon which we can build that spiritual self-reliance that is the only sure answer to the world’s needs, now and in the future. The sun shines on the just and the unjust; so does the light of our higher self shine alike on our just and unjust thoughts and deeds. It is up to us as to how long we take to make the balance of the just overpowering to the unjust, the balance of the right overwhelming to the wrong. We are all Arjunas indeed.

Now that may not seem like a very scientific task, but I can assure you that just as Father Sun, as the result of his own solar karma, is in his particular point in orbit and in his specific orbit in a greater system, so accurately fulfilling his responsibilities that the scientists can predetermine the moment that part of his constitution will hide his face from this earth, just so scientifically will karma do its work in our own lives, bringing us messages from our higher self day after day, year after year, which will help us do our respective tasks as impersonally and unselfishly as the sun itself.  ….while we have indeed made great progress in material and physical development, we shall find as theosophists that we are expected to learn far more along inner and spiritual lines of growth and expansion. But there is no call for anxiety, for as we understand more fully our own particular setting in the larger, universal pattern of experience, we shall observe that the circumstances and opportunities that arise day by day operate so scientifically, so accurately, in the light of karma, that all those we contact are an absolute necessity, brought to us by our higher selves, or by their higher selves, for us to learn or to receive, and vice versa. If we can, without becoming fanatics, calmly think about this and work with it, we will begin gradually to read more intelligently the unfolding karma of our lives. The trouble with most of us human beings is that we try to do everything too rapidly. We try to anticipate the day’s needs, with the result that we get it all fumbled up. Time and again we have spoken about signposts of karma, yet right here is another scientific principle to consider. If we go looking for signposts of karma as they unfold in our lives, we shall never find them. But if we take the natural approach, it will simply be a matter of recognising a signpost while not looking for it. There is the difference; when we anxiously look for something, we usually find only what we want to see. But karma does not always bring us what we look for; it brings us what we need, not necessarily what we want.

Therefore, let us work scientifically with ourselves in the atmosphere of our daily responsibilities. “Do the duty that lies before you;”  “there is danger in the duty of another,” That is why the Gita also reminds us that the “unsought battles” carry the real value.  Let us try to feel the currents with their plus and minus qualities as they flow through our lives right in the midst of our ordinary duties, with no thought of the fruit of our acts. Then only then will we observe that we gave without knowing it, or have received and did not at the time realise it, but we will begin to recognise every other human being as part of ourselves, and each of us as part of the whole, cells of responsibility in the body of humanity, which body of humanity is again a child of the sun.

If we as aspiring theosophists could grasp the concepts in our consciousness that we are as powerful as the sun, yet as humble; as mysterious as the sun, yet as revealed, we would feel the warmth of our own inner sun,  streaming through our whole being, and we would then be able to share the higher principles of our tradition far and wide – without lifting a finger. ……………..”

Grace F. Knoche 1980 European Tour

Excerpt from Report of the European Tour, Liverpool, May-July 1980


“…That each person has an invincible power within him to meet his true destiny is one of the strongest messages of Theosophy.  And it is so necessary for our youth today because they are confused. Many of them do not know in this very difficult period what is basically right and what is wrong. So many drastic temptations are thrown in their way that we were preserved from as children, that it is all the more creditable when they come through unscathed. But even more so is it when those who have been hurt, or who have hurt themselves, want to pick up the pieces of their lives and go forward again. Those who do that are stronger and more understanding for the temporary setbacks. There is no real failure in failure; actually it is a necessary element of growth. Part of our task is to give assurance to human beings that, even though disaster may strike in their lives, this is not the end; it is a lesson, a learning experience, something essential for the soul for which later they will be grateful.

Is there one of us who can look back over the years and not feel that our most trying ordeals were the very best experiences we went through? Yet we say, “I wouldn’t want another to go through it, though I’m glad for it all.” Now we shouldn’t feel that about others. Our children and our loved ones no doubt have as much strength as we have;  we should trust their intregrity and in their capacity to meet their own challenges. We met ours; they will too, but as yet they are still inexperienced and they need our trust and our confidence.”

Gold Medallists


The triumph of the Olympic medalists deservedly received proud congratulations. Imagine the hours, days and weeks of sheer hard slog behind each performance; the will power, concentration and perseverance needed to keep up the relentless training and practice. These same essential qualities are also found beyond the floodlit, public arena of super sport.

Everyday life can be a training ground for character building. Added skills such as patience, tolerance, and selflessness have to be practised over and again. Enduring and surmounting painful and difficult challenges or the constant care of another strengthens and increases inner growth and refines consciousness. These are the torch carriers whose lead is followed. I know quite a few such gold medalists in this category and I expect you do too.

– Renée Hall

The English Surgeon, BBC2


Maybe you also saw this moving film following brain surgeon, Henry Marsh to the Ukraine where he operates for free in a KGB run hospital with discarded NHS equipment. He believes hope is the key. “Hope is the most precious drug. If you don’t give people hope, even when the situation is dire, you’re not a very good doctor,…we must all help others,” he says.

Obituary – Robert Kirby Van Mater (June 15, 1916 – July 8, 2008)


Shortly after his 92nd birthday Kirby Van Mater died in Altadena, CA, after spending 70 years as a member of the headquarters staff. A deep and original thinker, he loved discussing theosophy, and his insight and genuineness allowed him to connect with people in a very direct way. Kirby was born in Vallejo, CA into a Navy family. He and his brother John, 10 months his junior, were like twins and spent their lives dedicated to the same cause. For his first decade the family lived in St. Helena, CA, near his grandfather’s ranch, and then moved to San Diego. After finishing his secondary education there at Boydens Preparatory School, Kirby spent two years at Pomona College studying science and math.  In the mid-1930s his mother became a theosophist after attending lectures by G. de Purucker at nearby Point Loma. Although her sons initially scoffed at theosophy, by 1938 both had become members of the headquarters staff, working while attending Theosophical University, where Kirby also taught math.

When WW II broke out, to their parents’ disappointment, the brothers along with Larry Merkel took religious exemptions so that there would be some young people left to do the heavy work at the headquarters, which soon moved to Covina, CA. As members of the TS Cabinet all three participated in the Cabinet Administration after GdeP’s death in 1942. In 1945 Col. Conger became Leader. The Colonel was largely paralyzed from Parkinson’s disease, and Kirby was one of the principal persons who took care of him physically, a demanding duty he considered a highlight of his life. Kirby was also manager of the publications department. In 1948 he was appointed Secretary General, an office he held until 1998. In Jim Long’s administration (1951-1971) Kirby worked mainly in the Press, responsible particularly for printing and bookbinding. He had married Jean Vaughan in 1946, and in these years family played a major role.

Under Grace F. Knoche (1971-2006) he was able to turn the Press work over to younger staff in order to more directly assist her. While he had been Archivist for many years, he was now given the opportunity to thoroughly reorganize the Archives in a new site. He also undertook projects relating to TS history, such as the “Historical Perspective” printed in
H. P. Blavatsky to the American Conventions. He was Chairman of the Cabinet from 1988 to 1998.

Over the last few years Kirby’s health forced him to relinquish his day-to-day headquarters responsibilities, but he continued to contribute to activities there with his dedication, good humor, and kindliness. He will be missed by his family and many friends.