September 2007 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the September 2007 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
Answers to Some Questions
By Annie Besant
Reprinted from The Theosophist, November 1917
IF you read the sacred books of the East you will find that it constantly happens that you come across a passage which, on the first reading, seems to be quite of the nature of fancy or legend or allegory. But if you realize the facts, as you learn them in the Theosophical teachings, you will find that the truths appear veiled to some extent in popular language; the reason for that being that a very large number of these books were written for the sake of helping those who were, generally speaking, unversed in religious knowledge.
Many of the Purāna-s, for instance, were specifically written in order to convey definite knowledge of science and of history to people who were not thoroughly educated, and so you have much put in the form of a story. A simple illustration of that would be where three of the early avatāra-s of Vishnu were represented in the form of a fish, a tortoise, and a boar.
To the Western mind, and to the Eastern mind which has been trained in the Western way, that sounds a little absurd at first. People in the West are accustomed to think of God in the form of a man. That does not shock them; but to realize that God might manifest in any form below the human is to them somewhat revolting. Perhaps that feeling is not as strong now as it was before the evolutionary teachings became so widespread; but in the earlier days to take manhood into God was thought reasonable, and a kind of concession to the greatness of the human race. But to take the whole world into God, with all of its manifestations, mobile and immobile, was regarded as blasphemous to Divinity.
In India that has not been the case. ‘There is nothing movable nor immovable that can exist apart from Me’, says Sri Krshna. It is therefore included in that belief, that everything is a part of God. Under those conditions it was a perfectly natural and intelligible thing that the great stages of evolution, as we call them, where there was a great transition from one type of life to another, should be marked by an incarnation of divine life specifically in the typical form of the epoch, or stage, or age, which was thus entered into. So you may notice that these successive avatāra-s of the animal type marked the distinct stages now recognized by Science as the great progressive stages of the long evolution of forms upon our world.
Hence you have, first, the fish. Of course, Science recognizes perfectly that when the whole of the surface of the world was covered with water, the fish (the earliest of the vertebrate kingdom) was the first in the evolution of forms. As the waters retreated, some earth was left, but for a long time the earth was in an exceedingly muddy and slimy and marshy state; therefore you naturally come to the reptile, and so the tortoise was taken as a symbol. Later on, when the solid earth formed a large part of the surface of the globe, the mammalian kingdom appears, and that is symbolized in the form of a boar.
To the ordinary uneducated person, you could not teach scientifically this truth that the kingdoms of Nature succeed each other in a very definite order, but you could put this idea of the divine life taking a new step forward in this symbolical way, which is absolutely true. And it was sufficient to remind them that, in every stage of life, God was the one upholding force.
That wider view of life, which has come to the West by Science climbing up to it by observation, and then by classification and synthesis, was put in all the ancient religions as part of the religious teachings. There was then no distinction made between the knowledge of God which came through God-illumined men (so-called ‘revelation’), and the knowledge of god which was found by observing Nature, which is equally a form of revelation, only by a different method. Hence there was no antagonism between the two, and the whole world was enveloped in this divine atmosphere.
Therefore in reading these books, which were intended more for the populace, you have to remember that much of it was put in the form that we should now call allegory or myth. But that does not discredit it, for the old myth is very much truer than history; the myth is the embodiment of a spiritual and universal truth which unfolds itself down here in many aspects and different phases, and those aspects and phases are called ‘history’. But the myth lies below them all and they are only expressions of the myth. Naturally, people who know nothing of that larger analysis of life have translated all these myths as they might translate, say, Aesop’s Fables.
They have done so with even less knowledge, because they have less literature of other kinds with which they can compare these symbols and ideas. It is on that point that so much of the difficulty of the translation of ancient books turns. When you come, for instance, to the Hebrew, there is practically no early literature there except the Scriptures of the Jews. The result is that, in translating, they have not a mass of literature with which they can compare the words and so get a knowledge of the whole content of the words. Hence it has been said of Hebrew that there is no grammar and no lexicon, thus making the whole of it exceedingly uncertain as regards translation.
When you come to Samskrt it is not the paucity of the literature which causes difficulties, but it is that in the early days the whole of the literature was religious, and therefore you have not the same amount of varied comparison that you have, say, in the Greek. Hence for those to whom these languages are foreign, there is a great deal of difficulty in translating them fully and accurately; and because of that, it is of great value that we have the tradition that is embodied in the pandit-s. It is that which we must have and be familiar with, in order to have a rational and intelligible translation of the old Samskrt. The Orientalists complain that they cannot use that tradition thus handed down orally from age to age; yet without it a true knowledge of Eastern literature is impossible.
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You know how often the question is asked: Is any given life-period a fixed period? If by that question is meant: Does a person die out of the physical body at a fixed time? The answer is: No. Other causes may be brought in. There are certain causes which work towards that point; several times in the course of a person’s life-period his past karma brings him to what you may call a rather critical stage. According to the force then brought to bear upon him will depend whether he passes out of the physical body at that time or not. But the whole life under physical conditions is a fixed period, and if he passes out of earthly life before that period is fulfilled on the physical plane, he has to live on for the remainder of it under what you may call partly-earth-life conditions in the astral world. His physical body has been struck away before its life-period is over. But the normal period after death only begins when that earthly life-period is exhausted; that is the point you have to remember. Here in India you are very often asked that question, because there are a number of verses in the Śāstra-s which imply that death only comes at a certain time. Normally death does so come. You remember the verse in one of the books: that before the period comes ‘a lance will not kill; when it comes a blade of grass is enough to kill’. The ordinary person reading that will naturally think only of the physical body. If you take it in a little wider sense and take the blade of grass as a symbol, then you would have the entirely true conception that, when the time comes, the smallest cause will bring about the striking away of the physical body. If that time has not come, then even a violent cause — the lance — cannot alter the life-period; but still it may strike away the physical body.
People sometimes get puzzled over this matter and they ask a mass of questions which lead to very undesirable results. For instance, they say: ‘Oh well, if a person’s life-period is fixed, if the death hour is fixed, what is the good of nursing him or of bringing a doctor? Leave him alone; if he dies, it will show that it is his time to die; if it is his karma to live, he will live.’ And you do occasionally get cases where that is actually carried out. Now that is a serious mistake; you are bound to do what you can, for at a critical period you may change the result by your present activities. Yet people sometimes refrain from those activities because of the mistaken idea that the physical life-period is fixed; and it leads to undesirable results.
The fact is that the period of life under physical conditions is fixed: the period of striking off the physical body is not fixed. At one point or another death may come. There will be times when, because of the karma, death cannot be averted, but there may be other periods when an added force may turn it away like any other kind of karma. There are points that are certain, and there are those that may be varied by exertion.
This illustrates the important fact that because right conduct is so enormously important to people’s happiness and progress, it is necessary to use great discrimination in telling them things which, while of themselves true, may mislead them and make them act in a wrong way.
Clairvoyant Diagnosis of Disease
The phenomenon of clairvoyance or supernormal cognition in man has presented itself continuously throughout the whole range of human history. Geoffrey Hodson was one of the renowned seers in the twentieth century who devoted seventy years of his life to service for the Theosophical Society. He has used his clairvoyance to aid research in various fields, such as scientific research as well as to help humanity understand more about the occult causes of health and disease. This talk focuses on six cases which he studied in detail, using his varied psychic abilities. They give us deeper insights into the occult causes of tumours, dementia, subnormal mentality, sleeping sickness, dipsomania or alcoholism and last but not least, that affliction which is so widespread today - cancer. The after-death life of one of the cases was studied, giving us a glimpse into the nature of that life for one who was physically handicapped when alive.
New Members Fraternity Night
The Singapore Lodge Theosophical Society invites all the new members to come to the lodge on 22/9/07 for a programme dedicated to them. We shall present Diplomas of Fellowship issued by the HQ to those who have not received them. This will be followed by a Q&A session chaired by the president and a party for all members. Let’s fraternize!