July 2006 Newsletter

The following articles are reproduced from the July 2006 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.

Self-Restraint and Civilization


By Radha Burnier

Reprinted from On the Watch-Tower in the June 2006 edition of The Theosophist


The principle of restraint is to be found at work everywhere in Nature, in the growth of the body and of the mind. It manifests as limits imposed by Nature to maintain order and balance. The scientist E. W. Sinnott points out in his book titled The Biology of the Spirit:


Roots on a cutting do not grow indefinitely, but only until the normal ratio of root to shoot has been restored. Somehow in this little budding tip there is in miniature the making of the whole. But this capacity is never manifest unless the tip is isolated from the rest. What it will do depends on where it is, but ever and persistently the outcome is not a heterogeneous medley of leaves and stems and roots but a series of orderly whole plants. As every soldier in Napoleon’s army carried the potential baton of a marshal in his knapsack, so each branch of a geranium carries the possibility of a whole plant in itself.


From this we learn that the root and every branch and part of, let us say, a geranium, contains energy or power to grow and expand, but that power is restrained in a very mysterious way until it is necessary for it to come into action.


Many other examples of limits set by Nature are around us, but often we miss the marvel because we are too familiar with the phenomenon. The coconut tree and other trees which grow very tall do not keep on growing, but stop at a certain point before they risk losing balance and topple down. In fact, every time we see a coconut tree rising straight up to even sixty feet in the sky, we should be provoked to wonder how it manages to preserve its centre of gravity. When and how does Nature communicate to it: ‘This is the time to stop growing.’ All things that are growing stop when it is the ‘most sensible thing’ to do, if such a phrase may be used.


Nature’s system regulates all life and mutual relationships on earth, bringing about balance, which has of course been much talked about. When a species proliferates and breeds too fast, a natural solution arrives and the population of the species begins decreasing for one reason or another. If for example rats, squirrels, snakes, and other creatures which breed in large numbers are kept in check by predators, generally both predator and prey are benefited. But usually balance is lost when humans intervene, rashly confident of their own superior knowledge.


Among various urges built into the body for the survival of the individual and, through the individual, of the species, is hunger. But all wild creatures have built-in brakes that limit this urge and prevent damage to the environment. Rarely do animals overeat; they know by instinct when to stop, even if there is plenty of food available. They do not suffer from temptation like human beings, who gorge themselves in this age of vast and varied food production. Obesity is said to be assuming epidemic proportions, because of people’s uncontrolled eating habits. The sex urge is also a necessary part of the survival system, but in pre-human creatures it is confined to a particular season, and they are not victims of the vicious problems that afflict human society — unnatural sex, the flesh trade, diseases, and so forth.


Although much more can be said about the natural order which creates a balance between growth and restraint, we will pass on to the matter of culture, and civilization exhibiting a high level of culture. Culture is not synonymous with talent or genius. Highly talented artists and geniuses in the field of science or literature may be boorish and without culture. This is because culture implies self-restraint, and self-restraint must arise out of self-observation and awareness, which they lack. Man is the only free agent in Nature, declared Madame Blavatsky. This freedom may be uncontrolled, unwise, and destructive, or when properly used with restraint, prove a valuable asset for the development of the individual and society. In the human being, who has for the time being alienated himself from Nature, there is no instinctive self-restraint. It has to be fostered through self-awareness. The cultured person knows how to speak, act, and relate, and therefore he is considerate, not prone to enter into disputes or cause hurt to his family, his society, or the environment in general.


The distinguished scientist Charles Birch states in his book, Confronting the Future:


If we are to continue to inhabit the earth, there will have to be a revolution in the relationship of humans to the earth, and of humans to each other, and to other species which share the earth with us. A society committed to growth as the only solution to its problems, not only pits itself against the natural world, but also humans against humans because of the inherently competitive nature of the experience.


All of humanity must learn to practise restraint, which implies that the individuals who compose human society must be truly cultured, and not turn into reckless seekers of pleasure and profit, smugly satisfied about their ability to invent and enjoy.
Our so-called modern civilization does not encourage restraint. On the other hand, innumerable incentives have been found to induce craving of every kind — for food, entertainment, excitement, money, power, and other things, adopting almost any means to fulfil the desires. Therefore cruelty is being practised on an unprecedented scale, the environment is getting devastated, and the diversity of the earth rapidly brought down. The acute problems that exist today are to a large extent the result of not wishing to accept ‘limits to growth’. ‘Greed’ is the watch-word of present-day human society, and it is doubtful how far we can regard the present competitive age as a civilized one.
It is also worth remembering that a basis of culture, which means, as we have already said, restraining ourselves in order to have order and grace in relationships, is essential for spiritual advancement. Many of our religious texts regard self-restraint as an important qualification to proceed on the spiritual path. In Vedānta, dama is one of the six spiritual endowments or sampatti-s. In the Dhammapada also, emphasis is put on self-restraint for travelling on The Way. Similar statements exist in all the great scriptures and religious texts. Self-restraint confers multiple benefits, being important for preserving the balance of Nature, for building a cultured society, and functioning in a civilization where spiritual living can flourish.



The Asala Festival


Bishop C. W. Leadbeater wrote in The Masters And The Path, which was first published in 1925, the following account of the Asala Festival.


“Besides the great Wesak Festival there is one other occasion in each year when the members of the Brotherhood all meet together officially. The meeting in this case is usually held in the private house of the Lord Maitreya, situated also in the Himalayas, but on the southern instead of the northern slopes. On this occasion no pilgrims on the physical plane are present, but all astral visitors who know of the celebration are welcome to attend it. It is held on the full moon day of the month of Asala, (in Sanskrit Asâdha), usually corresponding to the English July.


This is the anniversary of the delivery by the Lord Buddha of His first announcement of the great discovery—the sermon which He preached to his five disciples, commonly known as the Dhammachakkappavattana Sutta, which has been poetically translated by Rhys Davids as “The Setting in Motion of the Royal Chariot Wheels of the Kingdom of Righteousness”. It is often more briefly described in Buddhist books as “The Turning of the Wheel of the Law”. It explains for the first time the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, expounding the great middle way of the Buddha—the life of perfect righteousness in the world, which lies midway between the extravagances of asceticism on the one hand and the carelessness of mere worldly life on the other.


In His love for His great predecessor the Lord Maitreya has ordained that, whenever the anniversary of that first preaching comes round, the same sermon shall be recited once more in the presence of the assembled Brotherhood; and He usually adds to it a simple address of His own, expounding and applying it. The recitation of the sermon commences at the moment of full moon, and the reading and the address are usually over in about half an hour. The Lord Maitreya generally takes His place upon the marble seat which is set at the edge of a raised terrace in the lovely garden just in front of His house. The greatest of the Officials sit close about Him, while the rest of the Brotherhood is grouped in the garden a few feet below. On this occasion, as on the other, there is often an opportunity for pleasant converse, and kindly greetings and benedictions are distributed by the Masters among Their pupils and those who aspire to be Their pupils.


It may be useful to give some account of the ceremony, and of what is usually said at these Festivals, though it is, of course, utterly impossible to reproduce the wonder and the beauty and the eloquence of the words of the Lord Maitreya on such occasions. The account which follows does not attempt to report any single discourse; it is a combination of, I fear, very imperfectly remembered fragments, some of which have already appeared elsewhere; but it will give to those who have not previously heard of it some idea of the line generally taken.


That great sermon is wonderfully simple, and its points are repeated over and over again. There was no shorthand in those days, so that it might be taken down and read by every one afterwards; His disciples had to remember His words by the impression made on them at the time. So He made them simple, and He repeated them again and again like a refrain, so that the people might be sure of them. One may readily see in reading it that it is constructed for this special purpose—that it may be easily remembered. Its points are arranged categorically, so that when it has once been heard each point reminds one of the next, as though it were a kind of mnemonic, and to the Buddhist each of these separate and easily remembered words suggests a whole body of related ideas, so that the sermon, short and simple as it is, contains an explanation and a rule of life.


One might well think that all that can be said about the sermon has been said already many times over; yet the Lord, with His wonderful eloquence and the way in which He puts it, makes it every year seem something new, and each person feels its message as though it were specially addressed to himself. On that occasion, as in the original preaching, the Pentecostal miracle repeats itself. The Lord speaks in the original sonorous Pâli, but every one present hears Him “in his own tongue wherein he was born,” as is said in the Acts of the Apostles.”


In addition to the account by C. W. Leadbeater we also have the testimonial of Geoffrey Hodson (1886-1983), a renowned theosophist and clairvoyant and also a priest of the Liberal Catholic Church, regarding the Asala Festival. In his occult diary, his wife Sandra Hodson wrote on July 7, 1976, “Geoffrey recorded to me verbally that on one or more occasions he remembered, on awakening, an out-of-the-body experience following the Asala Festival, of attendance at the home and garden of the Lord Maitreya. Geoffrey stated, “As far as my memory goes, not only Adepts, but a considerable number of aspirants to Adeptship—devotees of the Lord Buddha, the Lord Maitreya, and the Masters of the Wisdom—were also present and listened to the discourse. Most of them, in physically influenced memory, were floating in their subtle bodies, as it were, in the air above the Lord’s garden on the southern slopes of the Himalayan Mountains.”


The Asala Festival

For those who would like to observe the Asala Festival this year, you may wish to take note that the time of full moon is around 10:00 p.m. Singapore time on Tuesday, 11 July 2006


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