April 2008 Newsletter

The following articles are reproduced from the April 2008 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.

Becoming More Materialistic?


Radha Burnier

Reprinted from On the Watch-Tower in the March 2008 edition of The Theosophist


It is clear that the present day is one of great difficulty. Life has become more complicated, but, more than that, human activity is becoming more materialistic. It is important that we do not get caught unconsciously in this movement towards greater materialism.


Those of us who are interested in the Theosophical Society should be aware of this trend. For instance, the whole idea of profit-making is against living a spiritual life. We can make enough to live decently, and some more may come by chance, but if the aim of life becomes profit-making, in small or big ways, then it becomes an obstacle to spiritual living. Yet this is what almost everybody is taught to do: to make a profit. It would be easy for each one of us to say ‘I am not profit-minded’, but this may not be a fact. In small things we like to take advantage of situations. But ethical ideas are very important, and we have to consider carefully what is ethical and what is not, in this world which is full of non-ethical action. By being half ethical, should we feel we are on the way?


A gentleman who happened to be a Jain was conscious that ethics are important, so at home he did not eat anything which he felt was damaging to life, because life is one. But, when on business, he ate meat because his companions expected him to do so. So his standard was one outside, and another when he was with his family and friends. This may be called half ethical. The ethical way is practised when convenient, and not otherwise. We have to see, without immediately pointing our finger at these people, in what way we are, to some extent or another, following in their footsteps.


There is really no such thing as half ethical, but we tend to think that there is. In a statement by HPB (Lucifer, January 1890) quoted in the Bulletin of Singapore Lodge, she says:


A Happy New Year to all! This seems easy enough to say, and every one expects some such greeting. Yet, whether the wish, though it may proceed from a sincere heart, is likely to be realized even in the case of the few — is more difficult to decide. According to our Theosophical tenets, every man or woman is endowed, more or less, with a magnetic potentiality, which, when helped by a sincere and especially by an intense and indomitable will, is the most effective of magic levers placed by Nature in human hands — for woe as for weal. Let us then, Theosophists, use that will to send a sincere greeting and a wish of good luck for the New Year to every living creature under the sun — enemies and relentless traducers included. Let us try and feel especially kindly and forgiving to our foes and persecutors, honest or dishonest, lest some of us should send unconsciously an ‘evil eye’ greeting instead of a blessing.


It is important for us to notice that HPB says that we should send out goodwill. Real goodwill is not an easy thing (but easy to talk about), especially towards those whom we really do not like and to the non-human beings whom HPB includes in this passage.


What is Good?


Some of the worst things in the world are considered to be good. For instance, in an issue of the Guardian Weekly (9 Nov. 2007) a report says that in Oklahoma, USA, an elephant which did no harm was killed by the Director of the Park by shooting into him a cartridge full of hallucinogenic drugs (LSD). The poor animal had no idea what was happening to him. The LSD was three thousand times more than what would normally be given to a human. As soon as it entered his body, the elephant charged around, trumpeted loudly, behaved madly for a few minutes and fell down dead. It was a ‘little experiment’ to find out whether the elephant would become aggressive and secrete a sticky fluid from his glands.


Experiments like this are constantly being done. This article relates that soldiers were taken in a plane and not told of their destination. All of a sudden the pilot announced that the engine had stalled, the landing gear was not functioning, and that he was going to ditch the plane in the ocean. The men were almost sure to die. Then they were handed out insurance forms and asked to complete them. The whole thing was a drama; it was acted out to test what would be the reaction of the men. Briefly, the false emergency had made them undergo great stress. This article cites a number of experiments being carried out even today by people who think they are helping the progress of mankind. Some knowledge of this kind, providing bits of information, can be useful for coming to scientific conclusions, but is it worthwhile?


In ancient India, they believed that all knowledge comes to someone whose mind is capable of receiving knowledge. This was more important than actually getting little bits of information. Nobody can live long enough to get knowledge of all the world or worlds, if we like to think of the whole universe. Then what is worth learning? Is knowledge of ethics in general important, or knowledge of how every animal, every creature, every human being reacts to what we are doing? If ethics are important, that is, right behaviour and conduct in life, the whole problem will be solved in one stroke. Right knowledge has nothing to do with the behaviour of an elephant when a huge amount of LSD is pumped into it.


Therefore, in India they spoke of the lower, or lesser, knowledge and the higher knowledge. The lesser knowledge has to do with the few things in life that are important. But we can look at ourselves and realize that almost all of us believe in lesser knowledge. If a person has a lot of useless knowledge about various things we think that he is a special person, that he is better than other people. But is it true?


Certain important pieces of knowledge are more important than all the lesser knowledge. For instance, to know what is and what is not ethical, to know what is truly spiritual or not, is important for the human being. We are all travelling in that direction. Even those people who feel hurt go through incarnations in which they will realize that the kind of knowledge that they obtain will not help them. This will be very difficult for them, because they believe in lesser knowledge even after they are dead. It takes incarnations before they get a glimpse of what is true; every kind of life has its own value. We ourselves have had some incarnations when we were not in the same position as we are today, and tomorrow we will be in another condition. If we realize this, not just talk about it, then we have learned something worthwhile. It is very important for us, as students of life, to realize what knowledge we want. But knowledge is not limited if we gain something out of it which affects us very deeply and realize what to reject and what to understand.


The true purpose of life is the same for all people, that is, to open out what is hidden inside — the divine consciousness. That is the only thing that matters. If that is understood, everything else is arranged accordingly. So I think we have to divorce ourselves from a great deal of modern thinking. Some people have, through science and modern knowledge in general, entered into a whole new realm of understanding, but the average person has not done so. Most people are leading a foolish life, based on the idea that only the physical matters. Are we different? If the question is a real one, we will find the answer to human growth.


Clear Vision and Action


In what does rightness consist? If perception is not right, then action cannot be right. According to the Buddha’s teaching, rightness exists when action — which may be physical, mental, or verbal — brings about the well being, happi­ness, and wisdom of people. There are various depths at which this can be, understood. The teaching of Krishnaji was not very far from the core of Buddhist teaching: you see, and then you act. This refers to seeing things as they really are, not according to one’s prejudices, the images in the mind of past experiences, and so on. This is difficult, because it means not just seeing what is visible to the physical or mental eye, but what is in the subtlest, purest vision.
There are varying dimensions to things. When Blake wrote that in a grain of sand there is the whole world, it may be strictly true, although it sounds like romantic poetry. To see things as rightly as possible, it is very important to do what is right, but we do not. We may be spreading darkness and believing that we are soldiers of light. Believing is very much in one’s viewpoint, and is the bone of contention in many disputes. In the disagreement between religions, one’s religious understanding has either divided one from teachers and scriptures, or it contains the truth and therefore one believes ‘this only is the truth’. A lot of people in a subtle way believe that what they see is the truth, and this becomes one of the problems.


If we see suffering as something which is not caused by what is within, but by one or several of many outer circumstances, then we do not see correctly. The whole world looks different when we do not become conscious that the poison is within ourselves. So much of our time is spent in correcting other people, blaming them, and criticizing them. So there is need for complete tolerance. The real core of Islamic teaching is tolerance, and one of the essential points in Jaina teaching is never to conclude that one knows, even if the mind is open. Then it can see further and further, at more subtle levels, and become more sensitive. Right perception is very important, because wrong perception is one of the basic causes of wrong action.



Presidential Election


Every seven years the International President is elected by members of The Theosophical Society. The founding president was Col. Henry Steel Olcott who served from 1875 until his passing in 1907. Mrs. Annie Besant was elected as the second president of the TS until her own passing in 1933. Mr. George Sydney Arundale was elected as the third president in 1934 and held the office until his death in 1945. Mr. C. Jinarajadasa was elected as the fourth president in 1945 and served until 1953 shortly before his death. Mr. N. Sri Ram succeeded as the fifth president and held the office from 1953 until his death in 1973. Mr. John B. S. Coats was elected as the sixth president in 1973 and served until his death in 1979. Mrs. Radha Burnier has been the president of the TS since her election as the seventh president in 1980. It has been a tradition in the Theosophical Society, that all International Presidents have died while they were fulfilling their jobs although the Society’s Constitution requires an election be held every seven years. In line with this tradition Mrs. Burnier accepts the nomination for re-election. Unfortunately, there will be a contention this time as Dr. John Algeo has also been nominated as a candidate. Members who are above 18 years of age and have been members of the TS for at least two years as of 18 December 2007 are required to cast their votes for the new president. In this respect, we will conduct our election on Saturday, 19 April 2008, at 3 p.m. Letters will be sent to all eligible voters.


A president is not elected for his/her outer credentials, the number of books authored, articles and lectures given, oratorical skill or academic qualifications but for the deep spirituality, inner wisdom and dedication to the movement. In this regard, Mrs. Radha Burnier has all but renounced the secular world and has devoted practically her entire life to the Theosophical Society. She has proven herself as a worthy president in the 28 years she served the presidency. And she would, as the Master has said of Col Olcott, “endure any privation for the cause…” .


She might have suffered a minor stroke but from all accounts she has fully recovered and is fit for another and probably last term as president.

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