The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
November 1999 Vol. 2 Issue 9
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, when the family gets together to share each other's company and a festive meal. Most cultures have a festival celebrating the harvest, which often includes expressing gratitude to a god or goddess. This "giving thanks" aspect has always puzzled me. To be grateful to the plants and animals involved, to the human laborers, perhaps to the earth as the source of sustenance, makes sense to me. But what about a Father, Mother, or Lord on a gigantic scale, responsible for micromanaging material outcomes? Cheerful or jealous gods demanding obedience, gratitude, prayer, love, and sacrifices, rewarding or exacting vengeance? Are we "creatures" dependent on such superhuman - yet very human - personalities and their minions for our collective and individual wellbeing? I believe this idea is not spontaneous, but learned, and stems from human beings projecting their own consciousness, limitations, feelings, and motivations onto even the greatest aspect of the universe that they can imagine.
But then what does cause our good fortune or tragedies, the quality of our harvest? Are we victims of outside forces, or are we as human beings individually and collectively responsible for whatever befalls us? From a theosophical viewpoint each person is united at his or her core with the ground of universal being. This deepest self - sometimes called our inner god - is the mainspring of life. As the most aware aspect of us and the repository of our past, it orchestrates the circumstances of our birth and the situations in life through which our ordinary mortal self has the opportunity to learn. Even though the limitations of our everyday awareness generally prevent our being in conscious touch with this inmost self, it is the most real part of us. The path of human progress lies in becoming increasingly aware of the universal aspect of ourselves, and more open to its impulses. One way to do this is by becoming increasingly sensitive to situations and people around us, so we can discern more clearly and use constructively the karmic threads our inner self weaves into the pattern of our life.
Thanksgiving seems a good time to take stock of the positive aspects of our life, and to rededicate ourselves to those around us and to sowing thoughts and actions in consonance with our inner self, which will insure a bountiful harvest in years to come. -- Sally Dougherty
New at TUP Online
Theosophical University Press is adding the text of The Hill of Discernment by A. Trevor Barker to its website. This collection of the articles and speeches of the transcriber and editor of the Mahatma and Blavatsky letters to A. P. Sinnett addresses many very interesting subjects and throws light on daily life and on theosophic teachings. TUP is also adding Sir Edwin Arnold's inspirational book-length poems, The Song Celestial and The Light of Asia, to its online publications.
Monthly Discussion Group
"What Are the Seven Jewels of Wisdom?" is our subject. We will be discussing some of the basic teachings of theosophy, including:
These concepts can be found in different forms in the various religions and philosophies of the world. Come and share your ideas about them!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge.
December 9: The Sacred Seasons of the Year
We do not see the universe as it really is. We do not understand or see the true reality. This is because we are made of matter, and matter is by nature finite, while reality is beyond matter and by nature infinite. Also, we perceive the universe through imperfect human senses, rooted in our astral and physical bodies, and interpreted by our human mind. Thus we are beings with flawed, finite senses trying to perceive an infinite universe. The result is a distorted interpretation of reality. This distortion or illuion is termed in Sanskrit, maya. Maya means literally that which is limited, transient, or non-enduring. Maya implies that, compared with the infinite nature of reality, all else in the universe is transient, short-lived. Our lifetimes on earth are but short bursts into manifestation, which we perceive as reality, but which ultimately are illusion.
What actually is reality? Reality is the unknowable all - as the Hindus would say, it is parabrahman, "beyond Brahman" or the highest manifested God. It is life, energy, pure consciousness, though it is not a being or an entity. It is endless duration and boundless space, beyond the understanding of both human and divine consciousness. Reality can also be thought of as the cosmic mind, with all of the manifested worlds existing as a dream arising from that mind. These worlds are real, since they are derived from reality. But compared to the infinite nature of reality, they are transient, an illusion.
Absolute reality is our cosmic source. We evolve from it, unfolding our principles of spirit, mind, and body. As we evolve and descend into matter, to learn the lessons offered by material existence, we grow further and further from our spiritual source, the source of pure truth. And the descent into matter brings with it the senses and illusions of the material world.
In what way is what we see an illusion? Because of our five imperfect senses and imperfect mind, we see things that are not there, and we do not see things that are there. For example, we see material objects as being solid, though they are really "full of holes," according to both science and theosophy. Matter is not the "infinite, substantial essence of reality" we perceive it to be. It is a temporary manifestation of the absolute. On the other hand, to us space is empty, yet it is truly filled with beings on different planes, and of different materiality. Since we cannot perceive things that do not exist on our own plane, we do not have a full understanding of the wealth of differences in life and form. Our senses are truly limited: we cannot smell emotion, or sense shifts in the electromagnetic fields, or discern our location on the earth - all things which our fellow animals can do. Much later in our evolution, it is said we will have seven senses.
Our perception of time is itself an illusion. As H. P. Blavatsky says, "Time is only an illusion produced by the succession of our states of consciousness as we travel through eternal duration, and it does not exist where no consciousness exists in which the illusion can be produced; but 'lies asleep.' The present is only a mathematical line which divides that part of eternal duration which we call the future, from that part which we call the past" (The Secret Doctrine 1:37).
The senses are a small part of our understanding of the universe. We supplement them with intuition and inspiration, which originate in the higher aspects of us. But our understanding of reality recedes from us as we try to grasp it - we can never reach it, since it has no bounds. But all things are relative, including maya, and though reality may be an ever-receding vista, the maya for one hierarchy of being is the truth on another.
To see the truth, to perceive what is real in the universe, can only be done by developing our higher selves and refusing to dwell in earthly illusions. As we become more evolved, as we become more at one with our higher selves, more clearly do we perceive the universe as it truly is, and the less we become lost in our living dream-state of illusions and self-deception.