Theosophy Northwest View

The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society

January 2015 – Vol. 17 Issue 11

News and Views

Monster Slayer's Quest – the Navaho Way

Many are the deeply moving stories of the search for truth. The Navaho version even today generates power to heal and protect those who participate in its dramatization. Combining sacred tradition with ritual and dry sand painting, their search takes the form of a ceremony, originally lasting nine days and nine nights, called "Where the Two Came to Their Father." While the context of the dramatization suggests earth's beginning and primordial struggles between the opposing forces of the cosmos, its application is always to present-day conditions. In this savior story of everyman's quest for spiritual attainment, the hero is presented as twins – a reminder that progress depends upon cooperation between our mind and heart. It follows the adventures of Changing Woman's children, the elder miraculously fathered by the Sun when she slept in its midday light, and the younger conceived when she bathed in a pool where water dripped upon her.

Even as infants, these two – variously spoken of as one individual, as brothers, and as male and female twins – were endowed with unusual power. When they were twelve they inquired about their father and determined to find him. Setting out, they stepped first on two blue crosses, then on clouds, and finally on Rainbow who carried them to a faraway place where the sand shifts downward. Here they met Sand Dune Monster who killed passersby by pulling them under the sand. But the heroes started singing songs and praying to him, and as he had never before been treated like this, he allowed them to continue their journey. Later they met the Holy People, Dawn, Darkness, and also Spider Woman who gave each a live eagle feather she had stolen from the Sun. Her boons enabled them to pass safely through a series of adventures: Cutting Reeds, Rock That Claps Together, Cat Tails That Stab, and Water Bug People.

Finally they arrived at a vast body of water that stretched into the sky and became one with it, and they did not know how or where to go. But each stood on his feather and Rainbow carried them over this ocean. In the distance they saw the House of the Sun surrounded by guardians. Walking nearer, they met Sun's daughter, who feared Sun would destroy them when he returned. She hid them, but soon after the Sun came home he discovered them. Instead of killing them, he subjected them to many tests to determine whether they were Holy People who had somehow gained entry into his House. At last he was convinced they were his children.

Now the twins assumed their divine stature and form, and in the presence of Thunder People, Lightning, Rainbow, and sun rays, Sun dressed them in garments of invulnerability. Finally he gave them their names, Monster Slayer and Child-Born-of-Water, and said, "I will give you my wisdom before you go down. You must always use it and hand it down, so that my wisdom will always be on the earth." Fortified with his gifts, the brothers returned to earth and set about eliminating the monsters that cause trouble and kill humankind. When this was accomplished they went back to Navaho Mountain and gave their people the teachings that would perpetuate the Sun's power and wisdom. Then, weak and weary from their labors, they expected to die. But the Twelve Holy Ones came and conducted the full ceremonial “Where the Two Came to Their Father” and the twin-saviors were renewed and live still, their songs and prayers bringing health and good fortune to all who listen with their hearts.

It is easy to see how closely this Indian "way" parallels other quest stories that follow a warrior or initiate through developmental experiences, first in this daylight world of conflicts and challenges; then inwards, through the shadowy regions of Dawn and Darkness where latent faculties unfold; and finally into the radiant House of the Sun. For each who is ready this journey is a joyous release from the delusions of worldly existence. The dangers, ordeals, monsters, and mentors depict factors that aid in his progress. The helpful assistants, always at hand when needed, are reassurances from within that he already has the strength to proceed. The frightening dangers are disharmonious and uncontrolled elements in nature and in himself which, once harmonized and conquered, fortify him with their vigor. According to Navaho belief, good and evil beings and conditions are relative. What appears to be hostile and confusing will become beneficent if "put in order," that is, brought under control. It was by such transformations, by treating Sand Dune Monster and the others as they had never been treated before, that the heroes escaped and were able to cross over the Great Ocean – a symbol of higher attainment. These and the other tests were given to prove the twins' power, not to destroy them. Like the challenges we face every day, they were opportunities to develop knowledge and strength until, assuming full stature, they became more than human, heroic, and identified with their spiritual Source. At that point they assumed responsibility for the protection, welfare, and instruction of their people.

The total impact of “Where the Two Came to Their Father” brings into focus that higher dimension we perceive only rarely, which has always been the goal of everyman's spiritual quest. With its attainment he walks, as the Navaho says, with beauty before him, beauty behind him, beauty all around him. – Eloise Hart (June 1918 - December 2014)

Theosophical Views

Plant Intelligence – II

By Sally Dougherty

With plant perception and communication now well established, most scientists acknowledge that plants engage in intelligent behavior. One example comes from the research of Suzanne Simard. After injecting fir trees with radioactive material, her team found that it soon spread in a network from tree to tree throughout the 30-meter-square study area. As Michael Pollan reports, “The pattern of nutrient traffic showed how ‘other trees’ were using the network to nourish shaded seedlings, including their offspring – which the trees can apparently recognize as kin – until they’re tall enough to reach the light. And, in a striking example of interspecies cooperation, Simard found that fir trees were using the fungal web to trade nutrients with paper-bark birch trees over the course of the season. The evergreen species will tide over the deciduous one when it has sugars to spare, and then call in the debt later in the season. For the forest community, the value of this cooperative underground economy appears to be better overall health, more total photosynthesis, and greater resilience in the face of disturbance.”

But for some, intelligent behavior does not imply intelligence, which leads to paradoxes. Biologist Cliffort Slayman denies plant intelligence but told Michael Pollan that “I would agree that intelligent behavior is a property of life.” A major stumbling block for many is that plants don’t have brains or neurons, though they have analogous sensitive cells that form integrated networks. The results of these networks are similar to communal insect colonies or, in fact, to neurons in the human brain. Scientists haven’t found any command center or executive “self” in the brain, which is formed of interconnected networks of cells with chemically triggered on/off switches and feedback mechanisms, just as in plants. Dr. Ted Farmer has found that plants transmit information using electrical pulses and voltage-based signaling reminiscent of the animal nervous system, concluding that plant and animal systems “obviously come from a common ancestor, and are deeply rooted.…There are far more parallels than difference.”

Still, many insist on confining certain abilities, like intelligence, learning, and pain, to beings with brains, that is, to animals or only to humans. When confronted with the possibility that plants can feel pain, Michael Pollan wrote: “Unprepared to consider the ethical implications of plant intelligence, I could feel my resistance to the whole idea stiffen. Descartes, who believed that only humans possessed self-consciousness, was unable to credit the idea that other animals could suffer from pain. So he dismissed their screams and howls as mere reflexes, as meaningless physiological noise. Could it be remotely possible that we are now making the same mistake with plants? That the perfume of jasmine or basil, or the scent of freshly mowed grass, so sweet to us, is (as the ecologist Jack Schultz likes to say) the chemical equivalent of a scream?” Plant intelligence, like animal intelligence, has moral implications.

Drs. Stefano Mancuso and František Baluška believe that the strong resistance to plants having many of the abilities that animals do goes back to Aristotle, who held that: 1) plants are confined to growth, nutrition and reproduction; 2) animals, in addition, have locomotion and perception; and 3) humans have, in addition, intelligence and reason. His views are still basic. Recent studies indicate, however, that plants and animals which are fixed in place share many adaptations, abilities and apparent limitations. Scientists may have been confusing lifestyle with evolutionary development, and so overlooking the ways fixed creatures perceive and act.

Plants and animals may be more closely related than we have imagined. Drs. Mancuso and Baluška write, “Recent advances in plant sciences have revealed that the sensory plants do not differ profoundly from the sensory animals. Close similarities in sensory and neurobiological aspects are at odds with the currently dominating evolutionary ideas about plants and animals… plants and animal share several complex and conserved features, missing from fungi and unicellular organisms, suggesting that they might be phylogenetically much more closely related. Alternatively, these neuronal similarities between plants and animals are results of convergent evolution. Irrespective…, examples of bacteria and unicellular eukaryotic organisms that enjoy cognitive and sensory complexities, underlain by numerous neuronal proteins and sensors, implicate that we need to reconsider the evolutionary origin of neurosciences” – extending such research to plants and bacteria. These new ideas are exciting but, as Dr. Richard Karban says, “Plant scientists in general are incredibly conservative. We all think we want to hear novel ideas, but we don’t, not really,” a remark which applies to most people. The full implications of all living beings evolving along one biological continuum have not been taken to their logical conclusion.

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