The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
June 2010 – Vol. 13 Issue 4
What a rich contribution to the religious freedom we now enjoy has been made by interest in comparative religion. First this interest strikes a blow at religious intolerance. The comparative point of view is solidly opposed to the single-track mind which assumes that God has given the peoples of the world but one way of salvation, one path to happiness, one avenue to the truth about life. Secondly, this approach aids the growth of free religion by urging people to move beyond mere tolerance, with its frequently condescending attitude, to an active, eager appreciation of the richness, the beauty, and the moral splendor of the world’s great religions. A minor revolution in attitudes has been called for by this way of looking at our own religion and at the faith of others.
This point of view is well symbolized by the old fable of the forester and the lion. Walking through the woods, discussing “Which is stronger, a lion or a man?” they could come to no agreement. They happened on a statue showing a man throwing down a lion, and the woodsman cried, “There, you see, the man is stronger!” “Yes,” replied the lion, “but their positions would have been reversed if a lion had been the sculptor!” Naturally, religious “sculptors of history” have placed their own faith in the superior position. From the Christian viewpoint, for example, only human obstinacy and sinfulness keep the rest of humanity from embracing their revealed faith. But the lesson of comparative study is that no single religion in the world can be taken as the standard for all the others, no matter how nobly it seems to excel in the eyes of its own believers. Each human faith must be studied and appreciated in its own right as having grown from its own special soil and its own set of experiences.
I believe that a universal religion of mankind is in the making today wherever people in the various faiths and of no traditional faith are looking eagerly and questingly beyond the limits of their own religions and cultures for wider truth upon a broadly human basis. Those of us seeking such a free, growing faith would build our religious house of the finest materials that the entire human race, with its vast experience, has hewn out, and we would keep the doors of that house forever open so that new insight and sharper challenge might enter to keep its dwellers alert, alive to the adventure of being human. There will be no welcome there for the spirit which elevates itself in spurious superiority and demands obeisance of all others because it alone has the divine trademark upon it. In such a universal religion mankind will be more eager to search for new truth than merely to contemplate the old. People will ask not “How is my faith better than yours?” but rather “What can I learn from you that is truly human, and therefore mine?” There people will hold before them relentlessly the question which all religions must struggle with if they are to survive: “How shall human life be made happier, more secure, and more responsible upon the earth?” Only a faith which can effectively answer such a question is, in the end, worthy of people’s devotion. – Peter Samsom
According to some schools of religion or philosophy, there is in us an individuality which endures unchanging, exemplified in the Christian teaching of the personal soul created by God which lasts for eternity as that soul and never can be other than what it is. The implication is that, as such, it is not an integral part of the Cosmic Life, because such orthodoxies postulate that the universe is but a temporary creation of a supposititious God and that the unchanging soul finds itself in the universe as a guest, a learner. There is no such abiding and eternally unchanging ego or soul or even spirit in us which is different in essence in each person from what it is in any other, nor is there any such abiding and unchanging individuality which is different in some god from what it is in some other god. All change; everything grows, the universe itself as well as all within it. Out of the same vast kosmic womb of consciousness-life-substance, unitary and one, we all flow forth; and as persons we are illusions by comparison with the Eternal, for that is everlastingly Itself. Whatever phases of growth its innumerable parts may experience, whatever differentiations may take place, the Eternal is the Eternal; and the essence of each one of us and of all beings and things is THAT. – G. de Purucker
Join us one Tuesday a month for informal conversations exploring major ideas that have influenced human thought and actions through the ages. This month we’ll be focusing on Self / No Self. Who are “we”? What gives us our sense of identity? Do we have a permanent self or center of consciousness, or is our sense of self a process, misinterpretation, or byproduct of brain function? Does our self already exist at birth and subsequently learn to express itself? Or is it something we create and develop with time and experience? How does this self relate to the totality of who we are? (Here are some quotes to get the discussion started.) We hope to see you there!
July 6: Evolution
August 3: Do No Harm
The giant oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico dramatizes what is often ignored: the tremendous destructive impact of human beings on the world’s oceans. Increasing economic exploitation of this vast and little understood ecosystem is bringing about major changes that generally remain invisible. Two recent books, Seasick by Alanna Mitchell and The World Is Blue by Sylvia A. Earle, sound an alarm by bringing together the latest scientific findings on human ocean impact and highlight the interdependence of planetary life.
What are some of these impacts? In the Caribbean beyond the inflow of the Mississippi is a seasonal “dead spot.” Covering more than 6,500 square miles, it contains so little oxygen that it supports no oxygen-breathing creatures. There are more than 400 such dead spots worldwide, and their number has doubled every decade since 1960. They form from climate change affecting ocean currents or, as in this case, from pollution, here fertilizer runoff: plankton feed on these nutrients, their population explodes, dead plankton fall to the seafloor where they are eaten by bacteria, whose numbers also increase exponentially. This feeding frenzy continues until all oxygen in the water is used up. Because water there does not mix easily, the condition persists, with serious implications for sea life and those dependent on it.
While oil spills grab headlines, an enduring problem involves another form of petroleum: plastics. Sylvia Earle brings out how plastic of all sizes and types are flooding the ocean, impacting many forms of life. Larger pieces are consumed by sea mammals and large fish. One whale that washed ashore in California in 2007 had 400 pounds of plastic in its stomach. Smaller pieces are eaten by both fish and birds: “Scientists studying nesting albatross and other seabird colonies on Midway Island … found thousands of dead chicks, their feather-fluffed corpses stuffed with hundreds of plastic bits. Ninety-five percent of fulmars carcasses washed ashore along the North Sea coast were stuffed with plastic, an average of 45 pieces per bird.” The smallest pieces are consumed by tiny creatures like krill, as well as filter feeders like shellfish and rays. Plastics “kill by physically obstructing, choking, clogging, or otherwise stopping up the passage of food.” (p. 104) Besides containing additives not meant for consumption and endocrine disrupting chemicals that affect reproduction, “small pieces of plastic attract and concentrate toxins that are in the ocean – mercury, fire retardants, pesticides” (p. 105), which when eaten have effects all the way up a food chain which reaches to humans.
Other serious issues are overfishing and excess carbon in the atmosphere. Mitchell reports that: “the populations of every single large predatory fish across the global ocean fell by 90% in the fifty years after industrialized fishing began.” (p. 84) In fact, species everywhere are disappearing at a rate not seen since the last mass extinction over 50 million years ago. Excess carbon in the atmosphere is raising the pH of the ocean itself. The multitude of one-celled creatures floating near the sea’s surface produce 50% of atmospheric oxygen, and many are pH sensitive. If pH change continues at current rates, it will likely have a disastrous effect on sea, land, and air.
Science is revealing the many connections among life on earth. Humanity, with its growing numbers and powerful technology, now is able to change basic features of the marine ecosystem, even its chemistry. Such change is unintentional and unanticipated, a byproduct of our current way of life, our values, our calculation of costs and benefits, our focus on short-term advantages and convenience and, perhaps most of all, our collective ignorance and indifference. Scientists studying these issues feel the situation is approaching a tipping point beyond which the earth system will become destabilized and then make whatever adjustments are needed to reach a new equilibrium. “Many of the scientists I interviewed set the drop-dead point for effective action to halt the planet’s slide toward chaos somewhere between 2015 and 2030. Others said emphatically that if the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises above 450 parts per million by volume, that will represent a point of no return. Today it is 387 and rising faster than at any time since humans appeared on the planet.” (Mitchell, p. 135)
Both authors stress that it is not too late, but that time is short. Will we transform ourselves into a responsible part of the earth community, recognizing our essential unity with the planet? Can enough people free themselves from routine to demand change and end destructive activities despite their short-term payoffs? Never has a realization of the oneness of life, and acting upon it, been of more critical importance.
There is a self-existent Reality, which is the basis of our consciousness of ego. . . . That Reality is the knower in all states of consciousness . . . That Reality pervades the universe, but no one penetrates it. It alone shines. . . . Its nature is eternal consciousness. — Shankara
Whatsoever is originated will be dissolved again. All worry about the self is vain; the ego is like a mirage, and all the tribulations that touch it will pass away. They will vanish like a nightmare when the sleeper awakes.
He who has awakened is freed from fear; he has become Buddha; he knows the vanity of all his cares, his ambitions, and also of his pains.
It easily happens that a man, when taking a bath, steps upon a wet rope and imagines that it is a snake. Horror will overcome him, . . . If the true nature of the rope is recognized his tranquility of mind will come back to him; he will feel relieved; he will be joyful and happy. This is the state of mind of one who has recognized that there is no self, that the cause of all his troubles, cares, and vanities is a mirage, a shadow, a dream. . . .
Self is a fever; self is a transient vision, a dream; but truth is wholesome, truth is sublime, truth is everlasting. There is no immortality except in truth. For truth alone abideth forever. – The Buddha
. . . it is not you who are subject to death, but your body. For your outward form does not reveal what you are. But the real man is each individual's conscious mind, not the external shape that one can indicate by pointing a finger. Know, therefore, that you are a god, if indeed deity is that which energizes, which senses, which calls to mind, that which has foresight, and that which rules and regulates and moves the body that it oversees, in the same way that the Supreme Deity rules and regulates the universe. — Cicero
Experiment after experiment has shown that any given experience can endure for about ten seconds in short-term memory. After that, the brain exhausts its capacity for the present tense, and its consciousness must begin anew, with a new stream. As the modernists anticipated, the permanent-seeming self is actually an endless procession of disjointed moments. . . . But how does the self arise? How do we continually emerge from our sensations, from the “scraps, orts and fragments” of which the mind is made? . . . the one thing neuroscience cannot find is the loom of cells that creates the self. If neuroscience knows anything, it is that there is no ghost in the machine . . . And yet, if the mechanical mind is denied the illusion of a self, if the machine lacks a ghost, then everything falls apart. Sensations fail to cohere. Reality disappears. . . . Deprived of the fictional self, all is dark. – Jonah Lehre, Proust Was a Neuroscientist
We seem to have numerous 'I's. There is the I of “I want,” the I of “I wrote a letter,” the I of “I am thinking.” But there is another I that is basic, that underlies desires, activities and physical characteristics. This I is the subjective sense of our existence. It is different from self-image, the body, passions, fears, social category – these are aspects of our person that we usually refer to when we speak of the self, but they do not refer to the core of our conscious being, they are not the origin of our sense of personal existence. When you introspect you will find that no matter what the contents of your mind, the most basic ‘I' is something different. Every time you try to observe the ‘I' it takes a jump back with you, remaining out of sight. . . . The core ‘I' of subjectivity is different from any content because it turns out to be that which witnesses – not that which is observed. The 'I' can be experienced, but it cannot be ‘seen.’ ‘I' is the observer, the experiencer, prior to all conscious content. – Arthur Deikman
Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence. When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature, which is unbounded Consciousness. . . . — Patanjali
The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interest upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance. Thus we demand that the world grant us recognition for qualities which we regard as personal possessions: our talent or our beauty. The more a man lays stress on false possessions, and the less sensitivity he has for what is essential, the less satisfying is his life. He feels limited because he has limited aims, and the result is envy and jealousy. If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change. In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody . . . — Carl Jung
. . . the whole field of the finite is inherently limited, in that it has no independent existence. . . . We can see this dependent nature of the finite from the fact that every finite thing is transient. . . . We are in this way led to propose that the true ground of all being is the infinite, the unlimited . . . In this view, the finite, with its transient nature, can only be understood as held suspended, as it were, beyond time and space, within the infinite. The field of the finite is all that we can see, hear, touch, remember, and describe. . . . The essential quality of the infinite, by contrast, is its subtlety, its intangibility. This quality is conveyed in the word spirit, whose root meaning is "wind, or breath." This suggests an invisible but pervasive energy, to which the manifest world of the finite responds. This energy, or spirit, infuses all living beings, and without it any organism must fall apart into its constituent elements. That which is truly alive in the living being is this energy of spirit, and this is never born and never dies. — David Bohm
The heart of the heart of a human being is a god, a cosmic spirit, a spark of the central cosmic fire; and all evolution is merely bringing forth into a more perfect manifestation the infolded energies, faculties, organs, of the evolving entity. Man per se is an invisible entity. What we see of him in and through the body is merely the manifestation of the inner man, because man essentially is a spiritual, intellectual, and psychomaterial energy. He is a pilgrim of eternity. He came forth from the invisible part of cosmic being, in aeons far bygone in the past, as an unself-conscious god-spark, and after wandering through all the various inner worlds, passing at different stages through our own material sphere, he finally became a self-conscious entity; and here we are. Future aeons of time will bring forth even on this our earth the locked-up faculties and powers existent in every human being. – G. de Purucker
And where am I? I am in the present, this imperfect moment, trying to remain vulnerable to its intense specificity. There is no other time for me to be or place to go, no cosmic consciousness nor facile mysticism into which I can retreat. In order to see this moment as the fulcrum of all existence, no detail, no imperfection, no impediment of guilt or resentment can remain unacknowledged. I am the witness of this reality . . . In the love of the mundane, the openness to exploration, the play of imagination, the sublimation of aggression into creative activity, the need to communicate with and love other people lie the source of all great poetry, art and science and my private hope for the liberation of the species. — Heinz Pagels