The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
November 2010 – Vol. 13 Issue 9
Imperfect beings actually do learn through suffering and pain because they do evil things. See how beautiful and kindly Mother Nature is. She lets us learn even when we break her commandments or laws. But when we do so, we reap pain, our hearts are broken by the misery that we ourselves have sown. . . . [but] we can learn without doing evil, and then we suffer not, nor do we undergo pain. – G. de Purucker
Suffering is any aversive, though not necessarily unwanted, experience and the corresponding negative emotion. As the Roman poet Horace wrote, “Suffering is but another name for the teaching of experience, which is the parent of instruction and the schoolmaster of life.” Aeschylus concur-red, saying: “Wisdom comes alone through suffering.”
Sacrifice is the act of making a sacred offering of something to a deity in propitiation or homage. This often included the ritual slaughter of an animal or person. Madeline Clarke wrote: “Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher, pointed out that ritual tended to fall into disuse as the people grew in spiritual power. That would be when the outer form was no longer significant, because the spirited and positive approach to life would have made every act, consciously or unconsciously, an offering to the Supreme. For every man's life and character are his own altar and ritual …”
Sacrifice or “sacred offering” is what we do when we offer our lower self to our higher self. We make an offering of our animalistic tendencies to those of a more spiritual character in order to become more fully human. The blood sacrifice is a symbol or allegory for our real work within, sublimating lower desires and aspects to higher ones. The aim of self-directed evolution is to build ever fitter vehicles for self-expression, and growth for those vehicles tends toward the spiritual. We suffer through ourselves, enduring the pain of the lower self that comes with growth. None other causes us to suffer.
The Buddha showed a way to eliminate suffering from our lives, the Four Noble Truths. They are, first, that life is suffering. Second, that the origin of suffering is egoistic craving and attachment. Third, that there is a way to the cessation of suffering. And fourth, that this way is the Eightfold Path: right understanding, thinking, and speech, right attitude, livelihood, and effort, right mindfulness and concentration. His path sought a self-achieved result that is everlasting.
Theosophists have emphasized another Buddhist course for the elimination of suffering, the Paramita Path. The first step is to live to benefit humanity. Its elements are love, harmony, patience, indifference to pleasure and pain, energy in seeking truth, contemplation, and wisdom. Both these paths speak from a selfless and compassionate viewpoint. Each informs us of a middle way, never too ascetic, never too indulgent, with the spiritual always in mind. These paths are not ladders, in that we need not master one aspect before tackling the others. The steps are to be practiced all together, each reinforcing and complementing the rest synergistically.
Suffering is a self-imposed condition from our lower mentality desiring impermanent things or conditions. Sacrifice is a sacred offering, moving out of our lesser self to the permanent portion of ourselves. In following our higher aspects we walk both the Paramita Path and the Noble Eight-fold Path. We are sacrificing impermanent aspects of our-selves and our desires to achieve a higher result. Sacrificing is what we do to end suffering! The Bhagavad Gita teaches us not to do this for the result but rather because, as an integral part of all that is, it is in our nature. Let us make a sacrifice, then, a sacred offering of our lower self, to show those more spiritually advanced that we have learned and inculcated their teachings and the lesson of our karmic life. Such a choice is not only our sacred obligation, but truly an expression of universal love and compassion. – Scott Osterhage
Interfaith Discussion: Tending Adam’s Garden Study/ Dialogue Circle continues Sunday, November 7, with “What Is Integrity and Good Character, and How Are They Achieved?” It meets from 3:30 - 6 p.m. at Temple B’nai Torah, 15727 NE 4th Street, Bellevue. For more information or to RVSP, email firstname.lastname@example.org. (flier)
Join us one Tuesday a month for informal conversations exploring major ideas that have influenced human thought and actions through the ages. This month our topic is The Oneness of Life. We’ll be discussing such questions as: How are all things related? What is more basic, unity or diversity? What do the sciences and philosophic and religious systems say on this issue? Where do we perceive oneness on cosmic, terrestrial, human and atomic scales? Does evolution proceed to unity again or to ever greater diversity? Are there fundamental discontinuities in nature? Are cultures and religions unifying or divisive forces? If there is an underlying oneness, why is there so much conflict and suffering? Are we as individuals essentially composite or single? (Quotes on this topic.) We hope to see you there!
December 7: Gods / God / No Gods?
January 18: DNA and Genetic Engineering
February: The Bill of Rights: The First Amendment
There can be little doubt that the very life and perceptions of humans are deeply entrenched in our terrestrial environment. One of the first fundamental elements of that environment which must have struck early man indelibly is the result of the rotation and of the orbit of the earth, that is, the succession of day and night, warmth and cold, the change in seasons. Human life was therefore influenced from the beginning by duality, a view from a light or a dark side.
This dual mechanism wired into our brain must have been reinforce by the life process itself. The learning of life by each newborn individual is a process of trial and error, of finding what is “right” and “wrong,” be it in movements, foods, thoughts, beliefs, or sentiments. The history of civilization is to a large extent the sum total of this learning process by peoples all over the planet, transmitted from generation to generation. Since humans were scattered over the earth living in different environments without much communication with each other, pockets of civilization developed which have both common and distinctive characteristics.
One of the most fundamental events of our own time is the convergence of all these life experiences and civilizations and the extraction therefrom of common denominators of what is good or bad for the entire human race. It is the great question of unity in diversity, complicated by the natural tendency of each group to believe that it is the best. The human race is now torn between its diverse identities and powerful tendencies towards greater unity, and we are only beginning to find out what is “good” or “bad” for mankind as a totality.
There is another reason why the problem of good or bad has acquired staggering proportions. During the past few hundred years, and especially since World War II, humanity has extended tremendously its physical and mental awareness and capability through the opening up of the cosmos to us by technology. As a result we have uncovered an immensely complex reality, which always existed around us but which had remained hidden to our senses. Hence the bewildering number of new problems unlocked for us by our own discoveries and physical transformation of the planet. For example, are the thousands of new chemical compounds good or bad for the nutrition of our body? Are new ideas, beliefs, writings, media, communications, and advertising good or bad for the nutrition of our mind? If we change the planet at the present rate, what will it look like and how will human life fare in the future?
What then must we do to go forward? I believe that first we must emerge successfully from the shock of the complexities engendered by scientific discovery and proliferating human activity. Secondly, we must realize that we are living in one self-contained, interdependent, highly complex, and fragile planetary unit. Thirdly, we must outgrow the increasingly erroneous notion of good and bad as seen by any particular group, be it a race, nation, faith, ideology, or business, and define new concepts of what is good or bad for the entire human race. This is absolutely essential. The discovery of the interdependent wholeness of our planet must be accompanied by recognition of the interdependent wholeness of the human race. Finally, we must continue to sharpen our inborn instincts for the positive, for survival and human fulfillment at ever higher levels of consciousness. We must turn to the mysterious self-generating powers of hope, creative thinking, and life affirmation.
It is not the first time that humans have been confronted with a bewildering complexity. For primitive man the surrounding awesome and hostile world was at least as frightening as the complexities of today. The human eye receives at every moment more than one hundred million bits of information and yet the optical ganglions, the brain, and the heart reduce this baffling complexity to simple notions and objects, to feelings of bad or good, useful or harmful, ugly or beautiful. Humans will always find new simple means and syntheses to help them surmount any conceivable complexity. The most urgent need today is to restore the magic powers of love, confidence, and belief in the further ascent and perfectibility of humanity.
For the first time the human species has assumed a collective responsibility for the success of planet earth in the universe. Interdependence, globality, and a total view of our planet and the environment are now a fact of life. But more is needed: the human being is also entrenched in a universal environment, the cosmos, the total flow of time. We must feel part of time and space. Perhaps this will become the new spirituality and morality of the human species.
The universe and I came into being together; and I, and everything therein, are One. – Chuang Tzu
No man is an island, entire of its self: every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main: if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a Promontory were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind . . . – John Donne
Pass away –
then you'll find
the eternal shore.
To reach the Friend,
you have to go beyond yourself.
One day a bubble was wondering
about its existence –
When it popped,
it finally rejoined
the sea. – Fikri Khurasani
-------------------One and Many
The Sun's shining essence
is always just one;
but its rays spread out
and show it as “many.”
Each created thing
is like a colored lamp
of the Sun –
The essence is one,
but the attributes many.
– Ibn Muhammad Hadi Rida Quli Hidayat
The whole creature is always much more than the sum of its parts. It contains structures and exhibits behavior which cannot be predicted from a study only of the known ingredients. . . . however we look at the world, we should bear in mind that fragments are illusory; things are surprisingly well connected, and reality can best be understood as a whole, which changes all the time. . . . If reality flows like a stream, then knowledge of such reality also becomes fluid, a process rather than a set of fixed truths. . . . So, in the end, intelligence turns out to be part of the flow. It is not grounded in cells or molecules, but drawn from the same moving stream as reality. In other words, mind and matter are ultimately inseparable. Everything is indeed connected to everything else, in the best traditions of ecology, but it goes further than that. Everything is everything else. – Lyall Watson
Jainism teaches to look upon all living beings as upon oneself. – Virchand Gandhi
It may be one of our greatest challenges to develop such an integrated cosmological perspective that celebrates the human as arising from and dependent on the universe. . . . We will [then] be able to appreciate the primordial unity of origin of every being. Through this unity of origin, every being in the universe is kin to every other being in the universe. This is especially true of living beings of Earth, all of which have descended through the same life process. Through this sharing in a common story, we come to recognize our total intimacy with the entire natural world. An impenetrable psychic barrier is removed. We are no longer alienated objects but communing subjects. We will now recognize that the universe itself is the only self-referent mode of being in the phenomenal world. Every other being, including the human, is universe referent. Only the universe is a text without a context. Every particular mode of being has the universe as context. In this manner, we circumvent the problem of anthropocentrism, which is at the center of the devastation we are experiencing. We recognize that in every aspect of our being, we are a subsystem of the universe system. – Thomas Berry
The great man regards Heaven and Earth and the myriad things as one body. . . . Even the mind of the small man is no different. Only he himself makes it small. Therefore when he sees a child about to fall into a well, he cannot help a feeling of alarm and commiseration. This shows that his humanity (jen) forms one body with the child. . . . Again, when he observes the pitiful cries and frightened appearance of birds and animals about to be slaughtered, he cannot help feeling an "inability to bear" their suffering. . . . when he sees plants broken and destroyed, he cannot help a feeling of pity. . . . even when he sees tiles and stones shattered and crushed, he cannot help a feeling of regret. . . . This means that even the mind of the small man necessarily has the humanity that forms one body with all. Such a mind is rooted in his Heaven-endowed nature, and is naturally intelligent, clear, and not beclouded. For this reason it is called the "clear character. . . . Only when I love my brother, the brothers of others, and the brothers of all men can my humanity really form one body with my brother, the brothers of others, and the brothers of all men. When it truly forms one body with them, then the clear character of brotherly respect will be manifested. – Wang Yang-Ming
From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things . . . Thus all things were kindred, and were brought together by the same Great Mystery. . . . This concept of life and its relations was humanizing, and gave to the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of living; it gave him reverence for all life . . . – Chief Luther Standing Bear
The main thing is, I’m not separate, I only think I am. I’m one of the jewel-like nodes in Indra’s Net, that vast spiderweb of the universe. I’m not a thing at all, I’m an intersection where filaments connect. Pluck me out and the whole thing falls apart, like a knitted shawl unraveling from one dropped stitch. The universe holds me and the universe needs me. No way is the universe going to leave me for a younger woman. – Susan Moon, This Is Getting Old
Not one of the Masters came with the thought of forming an exclusive community or to give a certain religion. They came with the same Message . . . that God, Truth, Religion are one: duality only a delusion of human nature. Think, then, what a great service lies before this Message – at this time, when nation is against nation, race against race, when the followers of one religion are constantly working against the followers of another religion, class working against class; competition, hate, prejudice prevailing everywhere. … Life is one continual battle, and only one thing can ease this battle – consideration for others, reciprocity, unselfishness instead of selfishness. In the world's progress, with selfishness as the central theme, progress will never lead to the soul's desire and aim. . . . For life is not only to live, but to ennoble oneself and reach that perfection which is the innate yearning of the soul. The solution to the problem of the day is that the consciousness of humanity may be awakened to the divinity of man. The undertone of all religions is the realization of the One Life which culminates in the thought of Unity. – Inayat Khan