The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
November 2013 – Vol. 16 Issue 9
The Druids were the priests of certain Celtic peoples in antiquity. They and their religion preceded Christianity in Gaul (France), Britain and Ireland; their headquarters was in Britain where the training colleges for the priesthood were. The first reference to them in Classical literature is from Sotion, about 200 BC. He speaks of a belief common in Greece that philosophy came to the Greeks from certain foreign peoples: the Brahmins, Magi, Egyptians, and Druids. The time came, however, when Rome was at war with the peoples whose religion was Druidism. First was Caesar's conquest of Gaul, said to have brought about the death of some three to five million Gauls. It is on his misleading account of the Druids that the popular view is based. When the war was finished, after 150 years, the supposed dark side of Druidism was forgotten and we get references again classing the Druids with the possessors of a high wisdom.
Naturally, the Romans forbade the practice of Druidism during their occupation of Gaul from BC 50 say to AD 450, and of south Britain from about AD 70 to 410. But they never went to Ireland and their occupation of Wales was very partial. There was little to prevent Druidism from persisting on the quiet in Wales throughout the Roman occupation.
The cardinal doctrine of the Druids, according to the classical writers, was reincarnation, an idea familiar enough in the Roman world as one of the principal teachings of Pythagoras. But the way the Celts held this doctrine struck the Romans with surprise. To the Romans, as to us, death was a rather important event; you might speculate as to what lay beyond it, yet you weren't quite certain. But to the Celt, death was not any interruption in the long course of his life. You could even borrow money from him, to be repaid in some future life, as the borrower and lender might agree.
After the Romans left England in 410, Welsh literature soon began to be created. One of the first poets was Taliesin; we have 77 poems attributed to him. If there is one central idea in them, it is reincarnation: “I have been in many a shape before I attained my congenial form. I have borne a banner before Alexander; I was in Canaan when Absalom was slain. My original country is the Region of the Summer Stars. I was formerly little Gwion – now I am Taliesin.”
Welsh literature is haunted with the memory of a real knowledge as to the inside of the universe, the secrets of life and death, once possessed in great fullness, now to be mentioned only with bated breath, to be only hinted at. When European civilization was at its depths in the Dark Ages, a light shone out into it from Wales through the Normans who came conquering. It was chivalry, centering about the Arthurian legend, at the core of which was the legend of the Holy Grail. This legend from Wales drove out the English and French national heroes, and people all over Europe tried more or less to model their lives on the knightly ideals of Arthur's court, purity being the centermost one, which might enable them to have vision of the Holy Grail. What was that Holy Grail? It was supposed to be a vessel which held the blood of Christ. But in the old Welsh stories it is called Pair Ceridwen and Pair Dadeni: the Caldron of Ceridwen, the Caldron of Rebirth. It took the place in Druidism that the cross does in Christianity; it was the symbol of Religion. Religion existed to bring human beings to the Caldron of Ceridwen, which was regarded as a “second birth,” dadeni, initiation, which made of the neophyte a Bard.
No doubt there was an Arthur, a Welsh prince who died in the year 540 after winning some striking victories over the Saxons. But unquestionably that chieftain came to be identified with one of the old Gods of Druidism. Scholars have identified Arthur with Hu Gadarn, Hu the Mighty, the chief God of Druidism. In 15-century Welsh poetry there are many references to Hu Gadarn, hymns to his praise; also a poem by Christian priest-poet Sion Cent, which says that there were then two religious influences in the world: one from Jesus Christ, and the other from Hu Gadarn among the bards of Wales. Thus even in the time of Joan of Arc, the Wars of the Roses, and early Tudors, Druidism was still alive in Wales.
There is an ancient poem called the Spoils of Annwn. The Arthur it tells of is the earliest stage we have in his metamorphosis from the Leader of the Gods to chivalrous king. He voyages through the deep, descends into the underworld – the manifested universe – in quest of the caldron of initiation. What does it mean? Wisdom, experience, rebirth. For the caldron, the sacred symbol of Druidism, means life, the world. Sublime thought, this, of the evolution of the god-spark in each one of us into at last the fully self-conscious god, through endless life, successions of experiences, of entries into the caldron of rebirth, until from human beings we shall become bards and gods.
Caesar was inspired to attack and conquer, and tried to stamp out the last pure light of Druidism, to break its power. But though he forced it underground, he could not quench its power and influence. In Wales it lived on; and as Wales inch by inch was conquered by the Normans, its influence, spiritual and uplifting though strangely metamorphosed, spread out into Christian Europe, with the ideals of chivalry, the vision of the Holy Grail. – Kenneth Morris
The most central pillar on which the Jain system rests is ahimsa, i.e. nonviolence, harmlessness. It is truly the spiritual principle of Jainism. One can be a Hindu, a Christian, a Muslim, and still in some way support and defend the idea of violence. One cannot be a Jain and at the same time support and defend violence.
For an ecology based on Jainism, all forms of life need to be respected. Ideally, no jīva or living being should ever experience obstruction and suffering as a result of its dependence on others. Think of the consequences: no wars, no hunting, no meat consumption, no cruel thoughts, no capital punishment, no terrorism. There exists no good that can justify evil. Jains cannot serve any god by causing harm to any living being because the very essence of divinity is harmlessness. There would not even be mining, tapping of oil from the earth, or pollution of water, air or earth so that neither the water-bodied, air-bodied and earth-bodied lives would be harmed nor those who are dependent on them.
Therefore Jainism can form the basis for the most perfect understanding and practice of ecology: Study nature from the perspective of consciousness and universal wellbeing. Respect all and cause no harm. Don’t kill to study life. Live in and with nature, be her servant and she will be your servant and your spiritual teacher. It is predicted allegorically that a time will come when a lion will drink from the same cup as a cow or lie down with a lamb, or that different human characters will understand that, despite their varying viewpoints, they are all brothers in their souls, dependent on each other and on all other living beings. The Jain system of thought is like a refined, pure and beautiful temple of the mind – with Nonviolence as its greatest image and purity as its walls. It will take many centuries before utter peace is reached among all creatures, but today let us start and build a scientific ecology and attitude on these beautiful thoughts.
Nonviolence is almost the same as compassion, but it includes only abstaining from harm and does not include cure or benefit for others. Active or positive compassion is less emphasized in Jainism. Some sects even reject it because they say that even a compassionate action is “violence of the soul” and attracts karmas which hinder the actor in the future. But most Jains agree on the importance of compassion. In fact, Mahāvīra’s statement that “all living beings are there to help each other” is identical to active compassion.
Compassion is more emphasized in Mahāyāna Buddhism and Theosophy: Buddhists see the Buddha-nature – wisdom and compassion as opposed to blindness and selfishness – inherent in all manifestations of nature. One of the highest deities in Mahāyāna Buddhism is Avalokiteśvara, the Lord of Compassion, who forms the essence of our Innermost Self. According to Buddhism everything serves a higher purpose in order to reach the final goal of evolution. Everything helps everything else because that is the real meaning of compassion. Evolution will lead us to the unsullied awareness of the essence of all Being, unspoiled by any illusory or erroneous mental perception. The ultimate sacrifice in Mahāyāna Buddhism and Theosophy is to give up one’s own attainment of nirvana, total liberation from pain and self-centered activity: at the threshold of entering this highest state of consciousness, a person can choose to reject it for a long time to come, if his compassion for all who still suffer in and from ignorance is greater than his desire for his liberation from all his own difficulties. It is also the duty of a theosophist to gain wisdom, practice compassion and be peaceful.
Finally I would like to mention another high principle of Jainism, aparigraha or non-grasping. It holds that nobody should take what is not given freely by other people or by nature. No one should engage in commerce out of self-interest. No one should strive for his own benefit. Our “thought color” (leśya) should be one of accepting only what nature with her divine essence gives us. That is always better than man-made gadgets. If aparigraha were implemented, it would be the death-blow of our present economy. But a transition towards new ways of life would be peaceful and nonviolent only if it flowed forth from understanding and wisdom. Never can it be forced by the more selfless on the less selfless. The human stage must have reached the proper state of evolution or awakening. This always begins from within and then comes to the surface of our consciousness. It will come with the cosmic cycles of existence. Still, today we can do something, step by step, concerning our behavior towards our living planet – this is something almost everyone has come to understand. We must strive for this cause with our mind in continuous ahimsa, utter peace