March 2015 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the March 2015 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
The Present Need
Public Lecture delivered
by the International President at the international Convention in the
Headquarters in Adyar on 30 December 2014
I would like to share a few thoughts about this present moment and what might be the need. Can we recognize it and respond? What is the opportunity of this time, given our particular stage of development? Our initial understanding of the meaning of ‘Theosophy’ was largely given to us through H. P. Blavatsky. Her work was difficult. During the course of her life she lived without much in the way of material riches, yet she was able to participate in founding what has grown and now finds roots in seventy countries, with resources ranging from finances to land to its most important one — 26,000 members who have found meaning and value in Theosophy.
HPB was not suffering from any delusion that her work would be readily accepted. This is fortunate, because during her lifetime she found rejection and accusation that would stop normal people in their tracks. As angrily as she may have spoken, she was continually willing to pick up and try again. She said that the world to which she was speaking would not understand Theosophical teachings, and that it would not be until the twentieth century that the teachings she gave could begin to be understood. There was a certain growth that would have to take place in the human scene. Some of that growth has been in the scope of the scientific worldview. Thus the Theosophy she presented and the movement that began through her efforts was directed towards the future. From what can be seen, it looks as though that future is now, as the possibility for these teachings to take root in a way that is meaningful to the world at large is this moment we now inhabit.
There is an African expression that says: ‘The disease that is hidden cannot be cured.’ I would like to examine some of the hidden obstacles to the full expression of this Theosophical world-view, recognizing that wherever we find obstacles, we necessarily find opportunities. Over the past four or five hundred years the way we see the world has shifted. Our present worldview has become so all-encompassing that we do not notice it, but it guides our every decision and has become worldwide in its scope. It has its roots in the development of the contemporary view of science. The scientific worldview is relatively new. Four to five hundred years ago the particular way of seeing the world that we describe as ‘scientific’ was relatively unknown. Today’s prevailing approach to science has been called ‘reductionism’ or ‘materialistic reductionism’. This worldview that has been embraced and promoted is reductionistic because, by definition, the scope of consideration for contemporary science is the material realm. The cosmos as examined, observed, and studied is the physical realm. Thinking of what is Divine, or consciousness, is not measurable. Its effects may be, but consciousness itself has been excluded from the reductionistic world-view. This is one of the factors that have had a very limiting effect. It would not be such a difficult problem were it not that, in reality, this narrow worldview has become so dominant, that it is now almost the religion of the world.
One of the difficulties with a view that looks at the physical world as the total universe, is that we find ourselves now in a condition that has never existed earlier. There has never been a time in human history where the cosmos has been regarded as anything but sacred. That is no longer the case. It has been described as a ‘desacralized’ cosmos, and this has implications. The main way we tend to arrive at our decisions about anything is impelled by the values we have cultivated. These values have been diminished.
A further stream that has coalesced with reductionism also had its beginnings five or six hundred years ago. It was started during the time of the Protestant Reformation in Europe, when the Church had the final say. With the tumbling of that sense of center and value that Luther (who began that whole movement) set afoot, something spread abroad. What has developed is a misshapen interpretation of the fundamental concept ingrained in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, that ‘all men are created equal’. It has not isolated itself to the West. It is engulfing the world.
This trend is beyond mere individualism, which is part of the natural spiritual cycle in which the individual is able to establish its own central core and to operate from it. In its ideal form the individual develops this core so that it can then be turned over as conscious service to the whole. As someone who grew up as a student in US schools, I had to learn this Declaration by heart: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ This is a profound statement if it is understood from the level at which it is intended. In terms of our Divinity every one of us is equal. We share the same Source: there is no separation, no division. From the divine perspective even equality is an inadequate term. All is one. There is nothing to be divided, to compare or contrast. At the level of popular discussion, this understanding has been lost.
We all know that in the world there are great beings whose wisdom, experience, knowledge, education, and development far exceeds the norm. Yet, we are at a stage where ‘all men are created equal’ has come to mean, ‘Why should I listen to this person when I am equal to him?’ Hopefully this is a mindset that we do not find so active in ourselves, but it is certainly active in the world. In the early days of the prophet Mohammed’s work, one of his followers was asked a question along this line: ‘What’s so great about Mohammed? He’s a man just like any other man.’ The response of this wise person was: ‘The prophet is like other men in the same way that a ruby is like other stones.’ We have to reawaken our sensitivity to these inner qualities. In the face of the prevailing current of thought, this sensitivity has a way of slipping away from us.
Thus you have these two trends active in the world today: the materialistic reduction of our worldview, coupled with a self-centred individualism. This way of seeing the world produces a long list of obvious consequences. There are a host of crises in the world that we are all having to face which have become pronounced. Some of the problems that we see around us such as global warming, climate change, deforestation, rapidly growing deserts, water shortages, rapid uncontrolled urbanization, pollution of the earth, air, and water, are all increasing at an alarming rate. In 64 countries around the world, 600 different groups are waging war at this moment. These are just simple facts. This is the world we are living in and the problems we must address. If we choose not to, then we will experience consequences and will pass them on to future generations.
Without having to develop some new theory or new technology, every one of these pressing problems has a solution available now! The knowledge required is here. That should cause us to ask a question: ‘If the knowledge is available for their solution, why are these problems not solved? Why do they persist?' It seems that however great our knowledge might be, perhaps knowledge alone is not enough. It is a bit too small for big problems. Something that exceeds mere knowledge is required, something that was part of the reason the TS was founded.
I would like to share two quotes — one is from Albert Einstein and the other from H. P. Blavatsky. The first one is: ‘No problem can be solved on the level of consciousness at which it was created.’ Another way of putting it is: ‘We don't know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t a fish.’ We swim within the confines of an ocean of thought — a particular narrow band of thinking and emoting that we identify as ‘the real world’. We are those fish, and we just do not know. The HPB quote was in answer to a question about ‘What is the world?’, and she said: ‘The world is man living in his personal nature.’ They are similar quotes. What we perceive as the real world is merely the reflection of our collective personal natures. But it is a world with very clear limitations that need to be addressed.
As an example of the limitations of mere knowledge, let us take the case of the wars that are going on around the world, violence, terrorism, and so on. What is the solution that we apply today? We all know that the solution is greater violence, and if this is not enough to quell the adversary, we resort to levels of violence so extreme that there can be no response at that point. This is what we imagine to be a solution, that peace can come from war. Obviously the history of the world demonstrates it does not work. That has not meant that we do not keep trying!
Basic logic would tell us that if we do harm and destroy the lives of the loved ones of another, it cannot produce positive results. The daughters, sons, family, neighbours, friends of those people cannot feel kindly towards us. Such means may temporarily suppress further violence, but they cannot create a genuine peace. From the theosophical point of view we are aware that with the sudden deaths that occur in war, the body dies, but the consciousness does not disappear. It goes on to become part of the pervading atmosphere, the ocean in which we fish are swimming, a consciousness now marked by fear, anger, and hatred. Is this the solution to peace? It just does not work.
We can apply this same analysis to our approach to spiritual study and the path. Initially most of us are attracted to the pursuit of the spiritual because within ourselves we experience intense suffering in different ways. For some it is physical, for others it is emotional, and for some it is in the mind, but suffering is universal. When we start to find out that perhaps there is some glimmer of hope along this line of spiritual practice, how do we approach it? It is said that at the root of all of our problems is a fundamental and profound ignorance. With regard to this ignorance our problem is not that we do not know, we know many things. The problem with this fundamental ignorance is that what we know and see is wrong.
The example often used is that of a man who sees a coiled rope in the road, but thinks it is a snake. His heart starts beating fast; he gets ready to run because of his fear of snakes. His thought and bodily processes respond in this way because the ‘reality’ he perceives is wrong. When he realizes the error of his perception, his responses change. In our effort to address this ignorance, what is the approach that we take? Our normal thinking tells us that ignorance is remedied by more knowledge. Our sense is that we need to study more. So we pick up the right books. After we finish one we need to study another, and another, and another, in the hope that there is a quantitative solution to the qualitative shift in perception that we are pursuing. When we reduce the world to a material one, then the answer to the problem is ‘more’. Clearly something needs to change with this approach.
Annie Besant told a story about a time when she was going to Chicago on a train. She was half asleep, when all of a sudden some heavy sense of gloom and despair awakened her. She had not come into Chicago yet and did not know what it was that caused this feeling in her. Chicago at that time was called ‘the slaughterhouse to the world’. Animals by the millions were being slain. She realized that what she was feeling was this overarching atmosphere that breathed out from the city. It was well known that in the neighbourhoods of those slaughterhouses crime rate and violence were much higher. Very often the crimes that were committed were with the very weapons used in the slaughter industry! The atmosphere we live in affects us.
So how do we address the types of problems that we have in the world today? Mr A. P. Sinnett, one of the early Theosophists and recipient of many of the letters from the Mahatmas, wrote several books, one of which was Esoteric Buddhism. In it he describes the traditional teaching methods for occultism and the spiritual life. He wrote that those methods sought to impress every new idea upon the mind ‘by provoking the perplexity’ that this new idea ultimately relieved. It is a nice way of saying that the learning experience in terms of the life of a person who commits to a spiritual path is through the progressive creation and resolution of crises. This is true for us in our individual cycle of unfoldment. It is equally true for the planetary cycle. The world is in a period of crisis, a perplexity that has been provoked by a narrow line of thought that has been imposed on the planet and its inhabitants, which by now has gone about as far as it can go. The fresh idea that is to be impressed upon the mind of humanity is fresh only in the sense that our current crises are preparing us to see it and embrace it. It is as old as humanity itself. This is the idea that oneness, unity, and brotherhood can be experienced.
For us as Theosophists, how do we move beyond this particular stage we are in, where we are rich in knowledge but poor in solutions? The first thing is to realize that knowledge in and of itself will not be enough. There is something greater that we know as ‘wisdom’. This wisdom is not the sole possession of great ones who live outside of our realm. By its very nature it is part of our being — ‘nearer than breathing, closer than hands and feet’.
In The Voice of the Silence HPB describes the pāramitās, the perfections, of which the greatest and final one is prajñā, or wisdom. It is said that each of these perfections is an antidote to various conditions of mind and heart. Patience, one of the pāramitās, is an antidote to anger, violence, and so on. It is also said that wisdom is the antidote to every possible ill that there is, and that a little bit of a realization of wisdom is sufficient to alleviate many problems. We all speak about wisdom. This is probably the best we can do because we do not know. Wisdom could be described as the perception of what is real. It is not foreign to us.
I will share a poem about one man’s experience. It was written by a great poet who was also a member of the TS: William Butler Yeats. When he was fifty years old he had a brief experience. He described it in a beautiful short poem. It is an experience which probably all of us can relate to:
My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
An open book and empty cup
Upon the marble table-top.
While on the street and crowd I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.
This poem is one man’s experience of a descent of buddhi, the intuition. The twenty minutes of this blessed awareness was life-changing. I think all of us have experienced some measure of this. Maybe we did not get our full twenty minutes, or it was just a brief moment where for whatever reason our normal self-absorption disappeared and in that vacuum something came to fill it. Looking back on the experience we might call it a wonderful moment. We might say, ‘I was happy’, ‘I was peaceful’, but the basis of that experience is that somehow we had a moment where the gnawing, constantly crying voice of self-grasping died away. And it is enough to last a lifetime. This is an intimation of the wisdom that Theosophy speaks about.
To quote from the Bible, there is a Psalm that describes this type of experience. One line from it says: ‘He utters his voice and the Earth melteth.’ Those moments that are most real in our lives, are those when the seemingly solid Earth disappears from view, and we encounter something profound that defies our later descriptions, yet we still try to describe. This is the basis of the answer to this present need. Whatever it is that we know will not be enough. Whatever our specific talents may be will not be enough. Whatever we have in terms of finances, resources, will not be enough to meet the need that is upon us. But whatever we have, whether it is a grain of sand or a million dollars, when it is touched by the blessing of this illuminating consciousness within all of us, and that we have all experienced to some degree, then it becomes transformed. That is the transformation that takes place, the need that is before us.
What we have to do now is to learn to live at our limits. All of us feel as if we are limited beings and we try to confine ourselves within these limitations, never straying too far. How do we know where our limits are? Because where we are among people we do not know, and we start to feel uncomfortable, we become aware that maybe this is a wall that we were not aware of. Where we see various types of sufferings and feel like turning away, we recognize there is a wall. When we sit in our meditation practice and on this particular day, unlike other days, some sense of an unfamiliar expansiveness starts to invade the border of our consciousness, and we quake at its approach because we do not know what it might hold for us — another limit, a boundary appears. These are the places where we have to learn to live, because what we will find as we approach these limits, is that they recede. None of them can confine us. In the process of facing one limitation, we develop our capacity to face the very next one.
There is a need for something
that the Theosophical Society came into being to provide: we find the means to
accomplish within the hearts of every one of us. Nothing is missing, nothing is
lacking, nothing more is needed. What I would ask for each of us is that the
compass we apply to our living needs to be a reliable one. The tools of science,
of our various training and talents are useful in their way, but the only clear
point that will guide us is our own experience of that which we have perceived
as profound, as true. What I would ask for all of us in facing the ever-present
need of this world, is that we refer continually to that inner centre. That is
what links us with one another, and that alone will bring solutions that will
lead us to the next turn in this cycle of the growth of humanity.