In the Light of Theosophy

This article has been transcribed from the January 2001 issue of "The Theosophical Movement," a publication of Theosophy Company (India).

Writing on "Two Cultures" (New Scientist, October 7), Michael Snowden argues that science thrives where people learn to confront authority and reject religion.

The philosophical base for modern science [says the author]--the pursuit of knowledge through deductive reasoning and facts--has often been attributed to the Renaissance of Western Europe. W.T. Jones made this point in 1952 in his book A History of Western Philosophy: Hobbes to Hume in which he argued that the pursuit of science emerged from a society that became increasingly disillusioned by religion. I'd go even further than Jones and argue that a desire for pure science might actually depend upon that historical development. Thus countries...that did not experience the Renaissance do not have the cultural attitudes--such as willingness to confront authority and status quo--that are necessary to the pursuit of pure science.

There is in reality no conflict between true religion and true science. Reconciliation between the two was urged by H.P.B. in her article "Is Theosophy a Religion?" Both are important elements in the social wisdom of mankind. They are not opposed but mutually complementary. Conflict arises when religion is equated with "churchianity" and science with crass materialism. Says H.P.B.:

The modern Materialist insists on an impassable chasm between the two, pointing out that the "Conflict between Religion and Science" has ended in the triumph of the latter and the defeat of the first. The modern Theosophist refuses to see, on the contrary, any such chasm at all. If it is claimed by both Church and Science that each of them pursues the truth and nothing but the truth, then either one of them is mistaken, and accepts falsehood for truth, or both. Any other impediment to their reconciliation must be set down as purely fictitious. Truth is one, even if sought for or pursued at two different ends. Therefore, Theosophy claims to reconcile the two foes. (U.L.T. Pamphlet No. 1)

In some countries, including India, the belief persists that watching a solar eclipse may be so stressful that it is bad for one's health. British researchers Omar Mian at Manchester University and Rubina Mian and Doug Thake at Coventry University were skeptical of tales about eclipses making people sick, and even causing deformities in unborn babies. To find out if there was any evidence either way, Rubina Mian took her graduate students to a field in Briey, France, to watch the 1999 summer eclipse. By analysing their blood samples with a luminometer, the researchers found that leukocyte activity increases by 8.7 percent during the eclipse. These white blood cells usually help our immune system, but if overstimulated they can damage DNA by releasing free radicals. Experiments after the eclipse showed that darkness, silence and temperature had no effect on leukocyte activity. But in other studies being prepared for publication, Rubina Mian has found that stress can have a big effect.

If watching the eclipse was stressful, by her own admission, for impartial researchers, then, she says, "it must be worse for those who don't understand what an eclipse is, or who believe legends about the phenomenon."

There are other "legends" relating to the phenomenon besides its effect on physical health. Referring to solar and lunar eclipses, The Secret Doctrine states that their "mythical explanations...we find to this day in India and Ceylon, where anyone can study the allegorical narratives and traditions which have remained unchanged for many thousands of years" (II, p. 380). The Secret Doctrine goes on to explain the mystic meaning behind the mythological tale of Rahu, a Daitya, a demi-god, the upper part of whose body represents a Dragon's or Serpent's head, and the lower part the tail; the two being the ascending and descending nodes. He is said to devour the Sun and Moon occasionally, thus causing eclipses. (II, p. 381)

So little does Christian theology understand the paradoxical language of the East and its symbolism, that it even explains, in its dead letter sense, the Chinese Buddhist and Hindu exoteric rite of raising a noise during certain eclipses, to scare away the "great red Dragon," which laid a plot to carry away the light! But here "Light" means esoteric Wisdom, and we have sufficiently explained the secret meaning of the terms Dragon, Serpent, etc., etc., all of which refer to Adepts and Initiates. (S.D., II, 94 fn.)

Scientific researchers have yet to recognize that physical phenomena often mirror circumstances or conditions of quite another sort--developments of a moral, intellectual, or spiritual nature, or all combined.

Many decades of thought and experiment have been devoted by researchers in animal behaviour to the question: Do animals think? In his book Wild Minds, Marc Hauser examines what makes animals behave the way they do, and whether they have any mental abilities and emotional lives. Do they have a sense of self? Can they learn or teach? "Humans," he argues, "may be the only species to have evolved the mental tools for imitation and teaching," Hauser concludes that animals are not moral agents; they are not responsible for their actions, do not know right from wrong, and feel neither guilt nor shame. Yet he does believe that some animals have thoughts, though they are without language, or at least language as we characterize it.

The animal is certainly endowed with intelligence, but intelligence in kingdoms lower than the human is of a general or class order, Animal intelligence, though seen now in a new light differs from human intelligence in kind, not merely in degree. H.P.B.'s article, "Have Animals Souls?" (The Theosophical Movement, March, April and May 1970), raises some interesting points on animal consciousness, that consciousness being hierarchical rather than individual as in man. In The Secret Doctrine (II, p. 525 fn.) H.P.B. makes this suggestive statement: "The monad of the animal is as immortal as that of man, yet the brute knows nothing of this; it lives an animal life of sensation just as the first human would have lived, when attaining physical development in the Third Race, had it not been for the Agnishwatta and Manasa mind in man. Earlier in The Secret Doctrine, H.P.B. explains the mystery of, and the gap between, "the informing principle in man--the Higher Self or human Monad--and the animal Monad, both one and the same, although the former is endowed with divine intelligence, the latter with instinctual faculty alone." (II, pp. 102-3)

Scientists see man as just another animal, leaving out the thing that makes him special, writes Kenan Malik in The Sunday Times, London. The barbarous history of the 20th century has left many people disillusioned about what it means to be human. Such pessimism has also helped shape scientists' views of what it is to be human.

However much we learn about our brain, our genes, or our evolutionary history [writes Malik] we will not learn fully what it is to be human. Because humans are not simply natural creatures, and cannot be understood as if they were. A paradox of science is that its success in understanding nature has created problems for its understanding of human nature...

Humans do possess consciousness and will. Most of us are happy to view human bodies as machines; but what we value about our fellow human beings is that they do not act as animals or machines but as people. Humans are unique because, alone among organisms, we are both objects of nature and subjects that can shape our own fate.

We are biological beings, and under the purview of biological and physical laws. But we are also conscious beings with purpose and agency, the possession of which traits allows us to design ways of breaking the constraints of biological and physical laws.

This is another way of saying that human beings are transcendent, not in a religious, but in a very human way. We are able to transcend our immediate circumstances, break free both from our culture and our nature. We are shaped by our genes, as we are shaped by our environment. But we also have the capacity to transcend both our genetic and our cultural heritage. It is this transcendental quality that makes us human, not animal.

It is our Mind, Manas, the self-conscious Thinker, that makes us unique among all creatures. It is "our tempter and Redeemer, our intelligent liberator and Saviour from pure animalism" (S.D., II, p. 513). It can make us rise higher than the gods or make us sink lower than the worm or gnat. The choice is ours.

"Manas is dual--lunar in the lower, solar in its upper portion," says a commentary. That is to say, it is attracted in its higher aspect towards Buddhi, and in its lower descends into, and listens to the voice of its animal soul full of selfish and sensual desires; and herein is contained the mystery of an adept's as of a profane man's life. (S.D., II, pp. 495-96)

The phenomenon of "phantom sensation" in amputated limbs is not uncommon and has been the subject of medical and psychological studies. The amputees retain the feeling of still having the lost extremity and sometimes experience pain which remains undiminished for years. Neuroscientists believe this is because neurons in the brain that used to receive sensation from the limbs are still firing. "Most people think sensory representations of ourselves do not develop in the brain unless there is sensory input," says Peter Brugger of the University of Zurich Hospital. If we have never had an arm, goes the theory, "we never develop the neurons that 'feel' an arm." (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 97, p. 6167)

But some people born without limbs also say they feel "phantoms." These claims, once dismissed as fantasy, are now being taken seriously. "This is an intriguing observation," says Vilayanur Ramachandran of the University of California, San Diego, a leading researcher on phantom limbs. "It shows that the brain's map is genetically specified," he adds.

What scientists call the "innate sensory map that we are born with," is in Theosophical parlance the astral body. It is possible to feel arms and legs even though the physical limbs have been amputated or are missing from birth, because the real seat of sensation lies in the astral form. In some rare cases, when one is born without physical arms and legs and yet "feels" them, the astral counterparts are evidently still intact, and for some physiological reason the molecules did not have the chance to make the physical limbs.

Scientist have known for some time that bacteria can exist even under the most inhospitable conditions--in the interior of the Earth's crust and underneath the ocean floors. The latest discovery is that they can be revived from suspended animation even after millions of years. Bacteria in a salt crystal have been reawakened lately after a 250-million-year sleep. (The Express Magazine, November 5)

The bacterias's age beats longevity records set by other organisms. Scientists say that this could open a window onto a prehistoric world "that was both dying and being reborn." DNA tests indicate that the prehistoric germ is related to the present-day bacillus, found in soil, water and dust, says Russell Vreeland, a study author and biologist at Pennsylvania's West Chester University.

Not only is Life everywhere, but it is also eternal. It never was not, nor shall it ever cease to be, from the beginning till the end of a Manvantara or life-cycle.

Let tolerance be the world's religion, suggests Feodor Starcevic, Director, United Nations Information Centre. In a talk on the International day of Tolerance, November 16, in New Delhi, he said:

Tolerance, as defined by UNESCO Declaration of 1995, is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of the world cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is the virtue that makes peace possible and it contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace...

There is potentially no greater agent of tolerance than religion. All religions preach morality, civility, kindness, compassion, love, tolerance and peace. So prominent is the teaching of universal love among all religions that it could be taken as a common goal to them all. Yet, people have been persecuted, tortured and killed in the name of religion throughout history. Religion has been misused in the cause of division, discrimination and death...

But one thing should be clear: religion itself is not to blame. As UN secretary-general has said, the problem is usually not with the faith, but the "faithful." All great religions are equal streams of civilized human co-existence, parallel depositories of spiritual wisdom and complementary sources of social guidance. All must therefore learn to give due respect to each other, and to each other's view of human life. The key to it is to foster knowledge, understanding and profound respect for all the world's spiritual traditions...

The question is not whether the religious communities and their leaders should co-operate. The question is only how best they will co-operate, for co-operation is an imperative if religious intolerance is to be kept in check and hopefully eradicated in this 21st century.

The question is also how to prevent religious intolerance through education, in schools and elsewhere. How do the individual communities in their religious education view other religions? How is religion treated in the education curricula of shools in the country? Do textbooks reflect the diversity of the society and do they impart sufficient, equitable, unbiased and sympathetic knowledge about every religion, leaving no room in young minds for bigotry later? And if they do not, how can religious leaders co-operate in improving curricula and textbooks? And many more questions.

Everything in space is in motion, heading somewhere. Even galaxies trudge along--giant packages of stars moving in unison toward unknown places, or sometimes toward other galaxies.

According to an AP report, when two galaxies collide, the collective gravity of all the stars and other matter in each causes a colossal interaction that forces the creation of new stars. A newly-released Hubble telescope image shows such an interaction. A large spiral galaxy is stipped into an odd shape while its central area hangs together. The wispy edges of the galaxy are pulled across space toward a smaller passing galaxy, only partly visible in the image.

From atoms to galaxies, everything is in continuous motion--not just at the physical level. The Secret Doctrine refers to "the philosophical metaphysics of a beginningless and endless series of Cosmic Re-births."

The immutable law of Nature is ETERNAL MOTION, cyclic and spiral, therefore progressive even in its seeming retrogression. The one divine Principle, the nameless THAT of the Vedas, is the universal total, which, neither in its spiritual aspects and emanations, nor in its physical atoms, can ever be at "absolute rest" except during the "Nights" of Brahma. (S.D., II, p. 80)

Outside the boundaries of the solar system, it is other Suns, and especially the mysterious "central Sun" (the "Abode of the invisible deity" as some reverend gentlemen have called it) that determines the motion of bodies and their direction. (S.D., I, p. 673)

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