Do human souls survive after death? In his book The Afterlife Experiments, Dr. Gary E. Schwartz, a professor of psychology, medicine, neurology and psychiatry at the University of Arizona, chronicles the experiments conducted with some well-known mediums to verify their claims of contact with the deceased. The "messages" from the deceased, which were recorded and videotaped, are said to have displayed an accuracy of between 77 to 95 per cent. Several questions arise:
But is this proof of contact with consciousness that exists after death? Or are the mediums just good guessers? Similar experiments were conducted with students, who have no claim to psychic abilities, in the medium position, and they were able to achieve only 36 per cent accuracy. So are the mediums just better at it, or are they experts at doing "cold readings," as the skeptics suggest, taking clues from the sittersą voice inflections and body language?
To eliminate this possibility, Schwartz and [his research partner] Dr. Linda G. Russek's experiments became more and more stringent, to the point where the mediums were not allowed to see or even directly hear the sitters....Even with the tightest controls, the mediums' accuracy was above 90 percent....
Are the mediums reading the sitters' minds? (This might be discounted because the mediums were sometimes able to relay information that was unknown to the sitter at that time, but was later confirmed through research.) Are the mediums tapping into the collective unconscious? Or are they contacting the dead? Even the mediums say they don't know how it works....(Purity, August 2003)
All these intriguing questions could be answered once we accept the existence of the astral body in man and the astral light in nature. Astral light—tablet of the unseen universe—is the repository of "all things that ever were, that are, or that will be." Death is not the end. But these experiments are not conclusive proofs that the human soul survives death. The claims of the mediums to hold communion with the spirits of the dead is baseless. Mr. Judge observes:
The mass of communications alleged as made day after day through mediums are from the astral unintelligent remains of men or in many cases entirely the production of, invention, compilation, discovery and collocation by the loosely attached Astral body of the living medium....The astral man...has that which seems like automatic consciousness....Its purely astral portion contains and carries the record of all that ever passed before the person when living, for one of the qualities of the astral substance is to absorb all scenes and pictures and the impressions of all thoughts, to keep them, and to throw them forth by reflection when the conditions permit. (The Ocean of Theosophy, pp. 156-57 and pp.109-10)
Modern man suffers from two great maladies—loneliness and depression. It appears that we have lost the art of being alone. Ruby Lilaowala has this to say (Afternoon Despatch & Courier, August 14):
Our finest hours are not in the hustle-bustle of our family, nor the noise and excitement of friends, but in solitude. When we're alone we enter into an intimate union with wisdom, peace and happiness. At times, during the "doing nothing" meditation, we touch divinity, so that we function later, with a heightened sense of perception.
...It's sheer bliss to be oblivious to the attributes of human nature that have caused us suffering—like gross selfishness, inevitable misunderstandings, unworthy hatreds and jealousies.
...We may spend an entire evening socialising with say, 150 people at a party and yet feel "lonely," because while bodies come near each other with "air-kissing" and "hello darlings," the hearts and minds may be so distant....
We've lost the art of being alone, and don't know what to do with ourselves in solitude. We don't know how to make ourselves happy with our inner resources. So, we switch on the radio...the TV...go to a movie or phone a friend, because we crave companionship.
However, if, by daily practice, we "learn" to be meditative while being alone, we can have peace and joy and wisdom within ourselves.
When we are other-dependent for our happiness it leaves us craving for more. To experience lasting peace and happiness, it is necessary to turn within—every day, for a few minutes. We may find this practice difficult at first, but if kept up, it would yield positive results. It is not enough to be alone, but when alone we must learn to "think away from ourselves". We have very encouraging words in Light on the Path:
Listen to the song of life....Look for it and listen to it first in your own heart. At first you may say, It is not there; when I search I find only discord. Look deeper. If again you are disappointed, pause and look deeper again. There is a natural melody, an obscure fount in every human heart. It may be hidden over and utterly concealed and silenced—but it is there. At the very base of your nature you will find faith, hope and love. (pp. 10, 23)
Although science has been able to locate various centres of mental activity in the cerebrum, mystery surrounds the exact function of the cerebellum. "Long thought to be solely the brain's coordinator of body movement, the cerebellum is known to be active during a wide variety of cognitive and perceptual activities," write James Bower and Lawrence Parsons in Scientific American (August 2003). They observe:
The cerebellum clearly has an important job, because it has persisted—and become larger—during the course of evolution....
...the cerebellum is more involved in sensory than pure motor function and in particular...it is highly active during the process of acquiring sensory data....
As the number of conditions that involve changes in cerebellar activity has grown, researchers have attributed more and more functions to the cerebellum.
Motor coordination studies suggest that people with cerebellar damage slow down and simplify their movements.... An interesting and important extension of this idea is that the continued operation of a faulty cerebellum would have more serious consequences than its complete removal. Although other brain structures can compensate for the outright lack of sensory data control, ongoing faulty control would be expected to cause continuing dysfunction in other brain regions attempting to use bad data. This type of effect might explain the recent implications for cerebellar involvement in disorder such as autism, in which patients fail to respond to incoming sensory data....
It is clear that how we think about this brain structure—and therefore how we conceive of the brain as a whole—is about to change.
In Transactions, Madame Blavatsky observes that the human brain is a complex structure. She compares the nature and function of cerebrum and cerebellum thus:
The brain is such a complex thing, both physically and metaphysically, that it is like a tree whose bark you can remove layer by layer, each layer being different from all others, and each having its own special work, function, and properties. (p. 64)
Cerebellum is the organ of instinctual animal functions, which reflect themselves in or produce, dreams which for the most part are chaotic and inconsequent. (p. 32)
With man during sleep the functions of the cerebrum cease, and the cerebellum carries him on to the Astral plane, a still more unreal state than even the waking plane of illusion.... (p. 27)
The function of the cerebrum is to polish, perfect, or coordinate ideas, whereas that of the cerebellum produces conscious desires.... (p. 34)
For a long time now, the oracle of Delphi was considered to be a myth by scholars and scientists. In the light of recent scientific research, this view has changed. John Hale writes (Scientific American, August 2003):
Tradition attributed the prophetic inspiration of the powerful oracle to geographic phenomena: a chasm in the earth, a vapor that rose from it, and a spring....
For the past century, scholars have discounted as myth the traditional explanation that vapors rising out of the earth intoxicated, and inspired, the prophesying priestesses at Delphi.
Recent scientific findings show that this description was, in fact, extraordinarily accurate.
In particular, the authors have identified two geologic faults that intersect precisely under the site of the oracle.
Furthermore, the petrochemical-rich layers in the limestone formations of the region most likely produced ethylene, a gas that induces a trancelike state and that could have risen through fissures created by the faults.
Could we attribute the prophecies to ethylene alone? H. P. Blavatsky observes that the prophesying priestess was called Pythia or Pythoness and describes her as half medium and half magician. She writes:
A Pythia, upon the authority of Plutarch, Iamblichus, Lamprias, and others, was a nervous sensitive; she was chosen from among the poorest class, young and pure. Attached to the temple, within whose precincts she had a room, secluded from every other...she had no communications with the outside world, and her life was more strict and ascetic than that of a Catholic nun. Sitting on a tripod of brass placed over a fissure in the ground, through which arose intoxicating vapours, these subterranean exhalations penetrating her whole system produced the prophetic mania. (Isis Unveiled, pp. xxxviii-ix)
Scientists have begun to question the validity of the data resulting from brain-damaged animals. Researchers who study the behaviour of rodents, at the University of Zurich, feel that the living conditions of mice affect their performance in experiments. "In a typical animal research lab, most rodents' lives are spent in shoebox-size enclosures containing food, water, bedding, and nothing else, all stacked from the floor to ceiling on uniform steel racks," writes Barry Yeoman (Discover, July 2003). Hanno Wurble, the young animal behaviourist discovered that mice living in such barren housing often develop bizarre behaviour. When observed in the night, after the experiments, they resembled patients in a psychiatric hospital. They were seen to perform useless tasks repeatedly, for example, performing the backflips, one per second, for up to 30 minutes at a time.
Mark Rosenzweig, a biological psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, found that an animal's living environment does affect the development of its brain. Hanno Wurbel has launched a crusade to improve the housing conditions for mice, arguing that scientists risk their data when they use such brain-damaged animals. He says, "I have this vision that there will be a time when we will have natural-like, although heavily managed, populations of rats or mice, maybe in big enclosures, representing whole populations. Depending on the needs of study, we can then choose our study population, as we do in human trials....it's an interesting vision to keep in mind.... If we get to the stage where we think that we need to treat the animals this way, experimenting on them will probably become impossible—because that would mean they would almost achieve the same status that we have."
It is heartening to see scientists taking a humane view regarding the animals used for research. Why do we consider animals as inferior? At the root of animal experiments is, perhaps, the belief that man being the crown-piece of evolution and superior to animals, his life is more important. It is largely accepted that animals do not have souls. Theosophy teaches that animals are endowed with intelligence and souls. The kingdoms below man look up to him for their progress and evolution. Let us hope with Mme. Blavatsky that the day is not far off when man will recognize his responsibility towards dumb creatures. She writes in "Have Animals Souls?":
For verily when the world feels convinced—and it cannot avoid coming one day to such a conviction—that animals are creatures as eternal as we ourselves, vivisection and other permanent tortures, daily inflicted on poor brutes, will, after calling forth an outburst of malediction and threats from society generally, force all Governments to put an end to those barbarous and shameful practices.
As we live our humdrum existence, we often wonder, Does life have a purpose? What is my place in the scheme of things? "Each one of us has a unique purpose in life, and in its realisation lies our happiness, growth and success," writes Anil Bhatnagar (Life Positive, June 2003):
No human is born without the potential to grow and achieve extraordinary accomplishments. Yet very few are lucky enough to identify and find the right soil, conditions and nurturing to transform this potential into a reality.... If we follow the inner voice and sustain the urge for unfoldment, we can surely fulfil our life's purpose....
The deeper inner purpose of life, as we all know, is to rediscover our oneness with the unity consciousness that is—and be with it. The more sincerely we adhere to the timeless principles that are the very nature of Nature, by virtue of which God puts this universe together, the more our own nature becomes one with that of Nature. And we cannot follow these timeless principles of Nature in vacuum—we need a context or a "field of action." Therefore, interwoven with that deeper inner purpose is an external purpose allocated specifically for this current incarnation, which provides us with a context or "field of action." You become aware of the inner purpose when you become aware of the outer one. You take a quantum leap and begin moving faster towards the inner, when you discover and dedicate your 'current life' to the outer, against all odds.
How do you find your life's purpose? The author quotes from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: "You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny." He adds: "Your ability to fulfil your life's purpose depends on having a dream that harmonizes with your endowments and the contribution you make to society and the world."
We are all here for a purpose. "If it is remembered that the purpose of life is to learn and that it is all made up of learning, the ordinary duties of everyday existence are seen to be the means by which we learn many things.... Does not the whole of life's purpose point to a realization of Unity in Diversity; seeing all things at once and as One, instead of separately and in detail?" asks Robert Crosbie. (The Friendly Philosopher, pp. 4 and 55)
How do we describe modern city life, always in a rush for achievement and survival in an aggressively competitive world? Medical professionals—conventional or belonging to alternative therapies—are equally busy. Their hands are too full to cope with their patients' problem of "stress." The causes are easily identifiable: Frustrated high expectations, artificial living, incessant striving to keep up the tempo of production and achievement. It all begins, according to Ayesha Chawla (Indian Express, July 11), with our anxiety to admit our children into top-class nursery school, and does not end with admission into elite professional colleges. She writes:
Look around you, it is everywhere—the search for a deeper meaning to life; the search for solace amidst the hectic pace of everyday life; a vent for frustration and anxiety, perhaps even anger; a thirst for spirituality with a gusto not seen before....
Alternative forms of healing such as pranic healing and reiki...yoga and meditation, are all geared towards making the individual feel in touch with his or her real self, unobstructed by the stresses and strains of daily living....
The world has become a very stressful place. One no longer has the time to meet friends and kin, to eat a decent meal at one's workplace, to spend time with children. Yet the demands made on us keep increasing, our limits are constantly stretched. In this environment it is normal to seek solace and strength in something. We need to heal our minds as much as our bodies, and if we seek that peace in "new religious movements," alternative forms of healing, meditation, dance, music or art, then so be it. Let no one judge us for the paths we choose, for we are products of the society we have created.
Can turning to outside agents—however well meaning and competent—supply "spirituality" in a package? Can there not be forces other than frustration and breakdown of health that make people turn to exotic remedies and "new spirituality"? Madame Blavatsky wrote in 1887: "In a few years the psychic idiosyncrasies of humanity will enter on a great change.... Psychologists will have some extra work to do." Her prediction in 1887 about a definite cycle of psychic upsurge is demonstrated by the fact of rapid "transition" at all levels which is now upon us. Observers will witness unusual "sensitivity," increased interest in non-conventional remedies, mushrooming counselling centres, workshops on self-development, daily religious discourses by pundits, swamis and Babas from platforms and T.V. channels, as the global phenomena.
Two things indicate weakness—to be silent when it is proper to speak, and to speak when it is proper to be silent.