The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
March 2004 Vol. 7 Issue 1
In April we will begin reading and discussing the Tao Teh Ching by Lao-tzu one evening each month (generally Thursday) from 7:30 to 8:45. Those attending are encouraged to bring any translation of this Chinese classic that appeals to them, and we will compare the various versions when they differ. For those without a translation in mind, there are many currently available, including those by Richard Wilhelm (with commentary) and Gia-Fu Feng with Jane English. Henry Wei (with commentaries) and Isabella Mears editions are available used on Amazon.com.
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
The pineal gland, or epiphysis, is described as a rounded, oblong body, about one-third of an inch long, of a deep reddish color, connected with the posterior part of the third ventricle of the brain, and intimately related to the optic thalami which physiologists find to be the organs of reception and condensation of the most sensitive and sensorial incitations from the periphery of the body. Thus this organ is in central relation to the coordinating organs of all the senses and sensations, and to the thinking brain which perfects and coordinates ideas. Its purpose, however, remains a mystery to the medical profession. A standard anatomy says: "The ancients had a grotesque theory that the epiphysis is the favorite and peculiar abiding-place of the human soul. Modern morphologists have shown it to be the homologue of the third eye which some reptiles possess."
H. P. Blavatsky, repeating the ancient belief, says that this concealed third eye is the "seat of the highest and divinest consciousness in man -- his omniscient spiritual and all-embracing mind." She sketches the evolutionary history of this Deva Eye (Secret Doctrine 2:294 et seq) which was the only seeing organ in the beginning of the present human race, when the spiritual element in the then humanity reigned supreme over the as yet unawakened intellectual and psychic elements in the nature. Later on, as the ethereal and psycho-spiritual early races became self-conscious and physicalized, they used their spiritual and intellectual powers and faculties for selfish and sensual purposes. Meantime, the third eye withdrew into the central cavity of the developing brain. There it has remained until the present -- a symbol of that past spiritual vision which we will regain as we progress consciously along the upward arc of the evolutionary cycle.
Descartes reasoned that the seat of the soul was the pineal gland which, he said, though it was tied to the brain, was yet capable of being put into a kind of swinging motion by the animal spirits that cross the cavities of the skull. He was right about the cavities being open during life, and about the organ's response in oscillations; and what the ancients called animal spirits, is otherwise expressed in theosophical literature as circulating currents of the nerve-aura. In adepts, the third eye is aroused by aspiration and concentration of their human will upon the attainment of union of their mental with their spiritual faculties. By this conscious effort, they rise to the higher powers of will which, in its ordinary automatic and emotional phases, is usually diffused throughout the activities of the animal body and brain, by way of the main organ of will, the pituitary gland, the psychic associate of the pineal center. Imaging techniques may yet reveal ethereal em-anations of nerve-aura in the human brain, as living evidence of the interrelation of mind and matter. Meantime, concrete examples of such interaction are found in the pineal gland, in the form of "brain sand." -- Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary
Our topic this month is "Being Truly Human." We will be discussing such questions as: What makes us human, as compared with animals or with beings more evolved than we are? How can we live a more human and humane life? What can we do to realize our potentials more fully? If great teachers such as Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and Krishna are examples of truly human beings, how can we become more like them? Is there a goal or purpose to our evolution? Do humans have a particular role to play on earth or in the cosmos? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge.
The topics for the monthly discussions are chosen by members of the Northwest Branch. If there is a subject that particularly interests you, or if you have ideas or suggestions about the meetings, please do not hesitate to email or mail them to the Branch or to mention them after the meetings.
"The Tao that can be stated is not the Eternal tao" – so begins the Tao Teh Ching, traditionally attributed to Chinese sage Lao-tzu, said to have lived in the 6th century BC. The title is usually translated "The Classic of the Way and its Virtue (or Power)." Tao, however, means not only way or path, but also the unknowable, indefinable Principle or source of all. Beyond duality and reason, beyond positive and negative or yin and yang, this primordial Non-Being or Mystery cannot be encompassed by thought or language; it can only be experienced. This book acts as a pointer toward this deeper level of consciousness as well as being a practical guide to applying illuminated insights to everyday living.
Taoism is a philosophy "which grew out of the personal existential experience peculiar to persons endowed with the capacity of seeing things on a supra-sensable plane of consciousness through an ecstatic encounter with the Absolute [Tao] and through the archetypal images emerging out of it." (Toshihiko Izutsu, Sufism and Taoism). In this respect Taoism is rooted in China's long shamanistic tradition. It invites us to perceive the limitations of the rational mind with its hard-and-fast distinctions. By restraining the senses and stilling the mind, seekers may transcend their ego-bound ordinary consciousness and experience the Tao directly. Because people are apt to over-emphasize the active, aggressive, masculine aspect of life and of themselves, Lao-tzu stresses the opposite, extolling what appears humble, feminine, weak, and inactive. His counter-intuitive assertions often suggest elements beyond the realm of thought.
Teh generally means "virtue" or "power," but Lao-tzu does not mean by this word qualities such as kindness, piety, or generosity. While useful in daily life, these values reflect the duality of our mind which divides the world into good and bad, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly. Encouraging people to fasten on such distinctions as fundamental to reality or to human nature, as the Confucians did, is simply to accept the ordinary mind or ego as our spiritual teacher or guide in life. It is precisely this type of commonsense thinking, how-ever, that needs to be recognized as relative and limited in comparison to the Tao. The essence of all the "ten thousand things" is the unity of the ineffable Principle, which contains no judgments or oppositions and is beyond the control and comprehension of the ego-mind. Jesus makes a similar point concerning our Father in Heaven who "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" and who "is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked" (Matt 5:45, Luke 6:35). Teh in one sense represents the differentiated or particular aspect of Tao found in all beings and things – the essential individuality, power, or "virtue" that makes each uniquely itself.
Another key term in the Tao Teh Ching is wu-wei, "non-doing." Its Chinese characters also imply "possessing not the action." Rather than inaction, wu-wei is "abandoning all artificial unnatural effort to do something, and identifying completely with the activity of Nature which is nothing other than the spontaneous self-manifestation of the Way itself" (Sufism and Taoism). This spontaneous action in concert with nature and one's surroundings is the teaching of Taoism that perhaps receives the greatest attention today. In some aspects wu-wei also resembles of the idea of nonattachment to the results of our actions that is found in the Bhagavad-Gita.
The objective of the Tao Teh Ching is enlightenment, not worldly success, learning, or establishing an intellectual system: "He who knows others (external objects) is a 'clever' man, but he who knows himself is an 'illumined' man." Tao is our original nature, sometimes symbolized as an infant or unworked piece of wood. Teh is the means for rediscovering and rebecoming this inner simplicity. The enlightened human being, according to Lao-tzu, "has not a rigidly fixed mind of his own. . . . while he lives in this world, he keeps his mind wide open and 'chaotifies' his own mind toward all. Ordinary men strain their eyes and ears (to distinguish between thing). The sacred man, on the contrary, keeps his eyes and ears (free) like an infant." Completely identifying with cosmic processes of change or transformation, the sage pervades and becomes all. He experiences the unity of the Tao which, because it recognizes no boundaries, seems utterly chaotic to the rational mind. Lao-tzu, writing from the perspective of someone who is already illumined, manages to convey in his poetic 81 verses something of the ineffable and mystical to the ordinary person.