The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
May 2009 – Vol. 12 Issue 3
Once we realize that all of humanity is connected, we start playing around with the concept of what that all means. For me, it means asking people I encounter, “What can I do for you?” And while that is sometimes a scary thing to ask, most people respond with something that is pretty benign or easy to do.
I started volunteering at a food bank a few months back, and whenever I ask the question, no one tells me that they want a job, a house, or better teeth. Instead they tend to ask for extra cans of evaporated milk. At first I would simply hand out the cans of vegetables that were in the bins in front of me. Gradually I started sneaking things off the shelves behind me when I saw a client eying a particular item. My stance changed from “this is what they told me to give you” to “what do you see that you would like?” Seeing their eyes light up when they realized I cared enough to ask, and when they got their hands on that coveted item, it made for a wonderful connection. Now I often see people searching the shelves with their eyes when they approach, knowing that they just need to ask for what they see. And when they can’t find anything that catches their eyes, I ask them, “What do you want? What can we find for you?”
When the owner of the organization told me that I bring a sense of community with me when I volunteer, I realized that she witnessed what I was doing and was okay that I broke the rules. And while we can’t give all 500 families we serve special orders, she is okay with my need to connect with the people who we are helping. Now I have others help find those coveted items, and this brings my sense of community and connectedness to my coworkers as well. The quick search for tomatoes or chocolate cake mix brings a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that cannot be felt when handing everyone the same thing (especially when it is as horrible as canned peas).
A few years back I worked with a man who, whenever he saw me carrying something heavy, would take it and carry it for me. He would always walk me wherever I was going and never ask for anything in return. After a while he disappeared, and I never knew where he went. Last week I saw him in line at the food bank, and I was finally able to repay him for his past kindness.We never know who we will end up helping and what they will ultimately end up needing, and even though the question is sometimes scary to ask, and to answer, we always need to ask the question “What can I do for you?” – Karen Leonard
Do new concepts of nature call for new ways of picturing the world and ourselves? The sciences increasingly reveal a universe formed of multidimensional networks of interdependent beings acting through complex feedback loops. Such systems cannot be accurately represented by linear symbols like hierarchies, chains, circles, or tiers, yet we continue to project such forms onto reality because that’s how humans automatically simplify the world. It is becoming ever more obvious that such intuitive, easy-to-grasp symbols are inadequate to portray the way nature actually self-organizes and operates, and are often misleading.
We find the same problem in picturing the invisible world, not only in hierarchies such as God, angels, men, animals, and plants but in the ways we describe human nature and society. Rigid, static, two-dimensional understandings of the human and the spiritual hold back recognition of the fundamental oneness and interdependence of all existence. They have also been used to reinforce and justify subjection of others and have disguised the full potentials of individuals and groups. Through exploring new ideas about nature, such as those in today’s sciences, perhaps in time we will develop a more accurate symbolic shorthand that will exert a constructive influence on human life by breaking down old habits of thought and action. – Sally Dougherty
This month "Science and Spirituality” is our subject. We will be discussing such questions as: What do we mean by spirituality? Are science and spirituality compatible? How do we harmonize our intellectual and spiritual lives? On what basis do we accept facts, ideas, and beliefs? What authorities and proofs convince us, and why? Is a universe defined solely by empirical physical laws convincing? Should ethics influence scientific research? Can we be comfortable with uncertainty and change in our spiritual life? How do we deal with mystery? What are the philosophical, spiritual, and practical implications of such scientific findings as relativity, chaos, quantum mechanics, dark matter, evolution, the web of life, DNA, and mind-body unity? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
These subjects are currently being considered for the Monthly Discussion group. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.
June 18: Is Anger Justified?
July 9: Faith, Knowledge, Experience
August: Finding Balance in Life
September: The Seasons of Our Lives
October: Peace and Justice
November: The Universe Within
December: Service to Humanity
Civilizations are often measured by their material progress and, in part, this is fair since improved living standards often decrease human suffering. It is the inner life of a people, however, that guides its material prowess; and altruism and compassion are the cornerstones that mark a truly great civilization. The twin behemoths of modern civilization – science and technology – have indeed brought wonders into our lives. Yet we continue to suffer, in some cases because of science and technology, for while they bring benefits, they also challenge our humanity and can threaten our very existence.
Some feel religion may act as a safeguard against the moral abuse of scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, the contentious relations between science and religion since the end of the Dark Ages has divorced, among other things, a sense of ethics from science as a discipline. It is important to remember, however, that technology, science, and religion do not cause the problems or create the solutions of civilization; it is we who are the problem and the solution, and scientists must look to their own thought and standards for moral guidance.
From time immemorial people have sensed that they are more than their bodies. That the transcendental experience, well documented throughout the ages, is not within the purview of modern science does not mean that it does not exist. Invisible phenomena are an accepted arena of science, and the unseen 95% of the matter in the cosmos and the 90% of an iceberg below the surface suggest that the invisible is at least equal in importance to the visible. Consequently scientists in their search for ethical bearings would be well advised to consider the unseen and transcendental. Most scientific theories omit consciousness as a causative factor, but it is difficult to conceive of law and design, so obvious from the "beginning," without it. As scientists begin to explore consciousness in earnest and continue to work toward a unified understanding of all natural phenomena, the day will come when consciousness and matter are seen as essentially one, and this one will be seen as the heart of manifestation.
In recent decades, despite its exclusive concentration on matter, science has continued to broaden its approach and findings. Gaia, the web of life, and other biological and ecological conceptions present the idea of oneness as integral to nature. The search for a unified field theory in physics is also an acknowledgment of interdependence and an underlying unity. Oneness has many implications for science, not the least of which is moral; for a connection of all things with each other, and all things as reflections of a fundamental One, changes how we consider our actions.
The world of randomness where human beings descend from animals, live one life, and then cease to exist, recognizes no grand destiny or ethics, and sees evolution as related to bodies not beings. Contrast this scientific/technological worldview with the wisdom tradition, where all beings are sparks of the One, continuously unfolding their infinite capacity in a purposeful universe, subject to causes and effects over countless lifetimes. How differently might these two viewpoints approach cloning, stem-cell research, in-vitro fertilization, vivisection, abortion, and similar issues. Rather than stopping the advancement of science, let us look at where we are going. Do we really want to support the torture of animals? If we are ever-evolving consciousnesses, how does engineering our physical forms advance us? Is finding ways to control nature more important than finding ways to live in harmony with her? Do we diminish our humanity when we proceed down some avenues of exploration?
The human mind approaches meaning in many ways. Sometimes it proceeds by searching and studying nature in a systematic manner conforming to particular rules; sometimes it gathers and coordinates natural or intuited truths intellectually; sometimes it plumbs the depths of inner reality, exploring through its mystical and transcendental capacities. In their lower expressions these three – science, philosophy, and spirituality – can all be divisive and dogmatic; in their purity of expression all three can lead toward truth and have the capacity to uncover and encourage a universal ethic. Perhaps combined, a synergy benefiting humanity may far exceed any one discipline alone. Today, as always, science stands on the verge of an enormous divide: whether to see its role as an agent solely for the material betterment of society or instead for the far-reaching betterment of humanity and all nature, inner and outer.