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From The Theosophical Movement
Vol. 69 No. 2 - December, 1998

According to an opinion poll commissioned by India Today, an increasing number of the young and the restless in the country, as they seek to come to terms with a society in flux, are turning to religion as a source of emotional and moral support. In the October 5 issue of the magazine, Madhu Jain comments on the findings of the survey of people between the ages of 16 and 30, in the country's five metropolises-Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai and Bangalore:

Religion is back in vogue. As much as 94 percent of the people surveyed said they believe in God. A substantial majority (86 per cent) categorized themselves as very religious. Rituals, pujas and pilgrimages are now the in thing. Among Hindus, one out of two said they had performed a ritualistic puja at home this year apart from paying regular visits to temples and an occasional pilgrimage. Among Muslims, a third of them performed namaz five times a day. And another third at least once. And in all, three-quarters of the people surveyed felt that religion had become an essential part of their lives....

"The youth are beginning to lose their moorings. It's like they're feeling a blast in their lives," observes Father Ignatius Mascarenhas. "So a search is now on for something more permanent, a certain stability." ... Parents are no longer role models, hence the cults they follow are not good enough. In the India Today survey, almost half of the respondents said that religion offers the best solace today to the problems they face. And a third said they took to religion because of a general insecurity....

Many sociologists believe that spurring the return to faith are problems of identity which crop up more frequently in the turbulent and changing times, specially during rapid urbanization when old standards and morals take a beating....Nor does education have answers which the youth are looking for today. Therapist Rani Raote believes that this generation has been taught to ask questions the answers to which neither their parents nor their teachers can provide.... "So it's easy for the younger generation to get caught in rituals for immediate relief since they can't depend on anything from their family, institutions or any social system."...

Religion is a wand to banish the fear and sense of hopelessness and loneliness besieging many of today's youth. But many who have got it all now wonder if this is all. A question troubles many of them: how do you reconcile the materialism of today with spirituality? Can you have both? How do you grapple with money, power, corruption, technology and an inner quest?

Where will all this religiosity lead to? Theosophy would say to today's youth seeking for their moorings in an unsettling world: Substitute a religion of knowledge for that of mere belief- knowledge which brings enlightenment to the mind and conviction to the heart. Real faith is born of knowledge and understanding, and by wisdom one is purified. Even the prophets and saints can but point the way which we ourselves have to walk. Without knowledge, mysticism would be emotionalism, devotion would be sentimentalism, and unearthliness would result in a total disregard of the path of duty and service of this world. With knowledge, which Theosophy offers, men and women can change the course of their lives, endowing them with an inspiring meaning and a superb purpose.

Unless religions are discarded in favour of Religion, ceremonial in favour of Ethics, priest-reliance and vicarious atonement in a variety of forms in favour of Self-Reliance-doubt, dissatisfaction and misery, the offspring of selfishness and passion, must continue to flourish. The youth, seeking solace and solutions to the problems they face, must take an enlightened line, not only in thought, but also in conduct.

A wave of new research is making scientists veer round to the view that life begins not at birth, but much earlier in embryonic development-according to some, at the moment of conception. Armed with highly sensitive and sophisticated monitoring gear, Johns Hopkins University psychologist Janet DiPietro and other researchers are beginning to understand more about the life and behaviour of the embryo and the foetus. Psychology Today (September/October 1998) reports:

Scientists are creating a startling new picture of intelligent life in the womb. Among the revelations:
· By nine weeks, a developing foetus can hiccup and react to loud noises. By the end of the second trimester it can hear.
· Just as adults do, the foetus experiences the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep of dreams.
· The foetus savours its mother's meals, first picking up the food tastes of a culture in the womb.
· Among other mental feats, the foetus can distinguish between the voice of Mom and that of a stranger, and respond to a familiar story read to it.
· Even a premature baby is aware, feels, responds, and adapts to its environment....
The roots of human behaviour, researchers now know, begin to develop early-just weeks after conception, in fact. Well before a woman typically knows she is pregnant, her embryo's brain has already begun to bulge. By five weeks, the organ that looks like a lumpy inchworm has already embarked on the most spectacular feat of human development: the creation of the deeply creased and convoluted cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that will eventually allow the growing person to move, think, speak, plan, and create in a human way.
At nine weeks, the embryo's ballooning brain allows it to bend its body ....At week ten, it moves its arms, "breathes" amniotic fluid in and out, opens its jaw, and stretches. Before the first trimester is over, it yawns, sucks, and swallows as well as feels and smells. By the end of the second trimester, it can hear; toward the end of pregnancy, it can see.

The new findings will undoubtedly have an impact on the abortion issue, for the essence of the abortion debate is: When does life begin? Though many of the scientists engaged in studying the foetus choose to remain detached from the abortion controversy, their research is bound to strengthen the convictions of right-to-lifers.

From the occult viewpoint, the issue involves considerations other than purely physical. What are the forces at work in the formation of the foetus? This, says H.P.B., is one of the chief difficulties of the science of embryology which has never been properly answered; nor will it ever be solved "till the day when scientists condescend to accept the Occult theories" (The Secret Doctrine, I, 223). An unknown influence radiates from a focus in the incipient embryo, multiplying and differentiating the cells as it proceeds. This invisible factor is absolute master of the materials and of the future form. There is a pattern body, says Theosophy, which exists prior to the physical, and it is not of physical matter. What forms this "astral body"? Doubtless skeptics will refuse to concede that consciousness is the governing factor in embryology. But they cannot successfully deny it. Till such time as scientists are prepared to go beyond the mere physical explanation of embryonic development, some of the mysteries connected with it must continue to remain terra incognita to them.

Is it heredity or environment, nature or nurture, that shapes us and our behaviour? Molecular biologists around the world are seeking an answer to the question. Life magazine (April 1998) throws light on what scientists are saying today:

Does the key to who we are lie in our genes or in our family, friends and experiences? In one of the most bitter scientific controversies of the 20th century-the battle over nature and nurture-a wealth of new research has tipped the scales overwhelmingly toward nature....And yet new findings are also shedding light on how heredity and environment interact. Psychiatrists are using these findings to help patients overcome their genetic predispositions....

Even the most zealous behavioural geneticists admit that genes are not-quite-destiny....In any case, if genes are not commands but nudges, we can nudge back. We are the only animals on earth that can overrule our genes. And we do so constantly-whenever an alcoholic chooses not to drink or an obese person diets....

Bethesda psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan is one of a growing number of therapists who have incorporated the findings of behavioural genetics into their practice. "When a trait appears to be influenced by genes, people assume it's not changeable," he says. "Well, we can't change the genes, but we can change the way genes express themselves. We can change behaviour."...Greenspan's work illustrates an idea at the heart of behavioural genetics today-that heredity and environment are entwined, always reacting to and building on each other.

In other words, no matter what genes we inherit, they do not by themselves dictate specific behaviours. Our self-effort and free will, support from others and a conducive environment, can help tip the balance. We are not bound; our traits and tendencies are not irreversible.

That rhythms, or cycles, govern the lives of all living beings has for long been observed by scientists. Some among them believed at one time that plants, animals and humans respond to the cosmic rhythms of the external world, reacting to the cycles of day and night, of the seasons, of the waxing and waning of the moon, etc. Others, however, held to the theory that in all living things there is an internal biological clock, which works independently of external factors. Evidence in this direction has been accumulating for years.

In the magazine Discover (October 1998), Mark Cladwell writes of the latest findings on the nature and location of internal biological clocks:

Partisans of the internal-clock theory could cite suggestive evidence. Cells can, for example, keep time on their own, showing regular cyclic activity even when they're isolated in lab cultures, cut off from outside stimuli like sunlight and temperature variations. No one knew, though, how such cells maintained their cycles. "What was lacking," says biochemist Jay Dunlap, "was a plausible mechanism."

Now researchers finally seem to have uncovered one....Teams at Harvard, Brandeis, Rockefeller University in New York, and the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, as well as labs at Dartmouth, have teased out many of the clock's secrets. They have come up with a reasonably complete blueprint for a system that seems, with some variations, to hold true across a wide spectrum of organisms, from fungi to fruit flies to mammals....

DNA is the mainspring in these submicroscopic timepieces....Each cellular beat of time begins in the nucleus, where special initiator genes are always in the "on" position, making proteins that switch on "clock" genes in another region of the cell's DNA. In turn, the clock genes activate the construction of distinctive clock proteins in the cytoplasm of the cell, outside the nucleus....The whole cycle takes between 22 and 26 hours, never varying, even when the cells are isolated from all day-night stimuli.

While most scientists are seeking for an explanation of the timing mechanism within living beings at the biochemical level, perhaps the more intuitive among them may be led toward a non-mechanistic theory of causation. Where there is life there is consciousness or intelligence, and as life is everywhere, so is consciousness-intelligence. "Where is that daring man," asks The Secret Doctrine (I, 277 fn.), "who would presume to deny to vegetation and even to minerals a consciousness of their own?" All he can say is, that this consciousness is beyond his comprehension." Every atom is an "independent entity" and every cell a "conscious unit." H.P.B.'s article "Psychic and Noetic Action" (reprinted in Raja-Yoga or Occultism) throws further light on this question of the cell's consciousness and memory-or call it instinct.

The contemporary world has seen a mind-boggling revolution in science and technology. There has also been an upswing in the economic development of some countries. The setting up of the United Nations Organization with its auxiliary agencies has been another significant feature of the contemporary world. Freedom from war was not the only aim; freedom from hunger, disease and ignorance was also sought. So was all-round social and economic development. And with a view to making the international system more equitable and just, quite a few high-level commissions were appointed.

In spite of all these measures and advances, all is not well with the present-day world. Jagmohan, a Lok Sabha M.P., lays his finger on the cause and suggests a cure (The Times of India, October 7):

Why, with phenomenal knowledge and skill at mankind's command, should things be falling apart?

Why, despite unprecedented affluence in the present-day world, should there be widespread hunger, disease and death? Why are the UN and its agencies failing to attain their objective? Why, in spite of repeated warnings, is ecological disequilibrium growing? And why are political and economic ideologies unable to provide solutions?

Clearly, the current complexities and contradictions have arisen because the post-world-war world has continued to be guided by old attitudes, values and reflexes, because the Earth is not being viewed as an integral part of a cosmic web; and because the sea, the soil, the forests, the clouds, the mountains and the teeming millions are not being treated as intermeshed items of the same organic entity.

The world's dominant powers refuse to take a holistic view of reality and help develop a system in which the requirements of body, mind, intellect and soul are integrated in a balanced and harmonious pattern and in which human societies function, not as separate, but as the complementary and mutually reinforcing unity of the same universe. They do not understand that if one or two aspects of the human personality or one or two arenas of human society alone are catered to, or are not accompanied by a proportionate advance in complementary spheres, then negative results will accrue. For example, as we know, knowledge, a desirable item in itself, cannot bring happiness or harmony unless accompanied by a corresponding advancement in the spiritual field. As Bertrand Russell puts it, "Unless man increases in wisdom, increase in knowledge will be increase in sorrow." The Gita elucidates the same phenomenon: The mind that runs out, following the pull of the senses, gets despoiled of its wisdom and is lost, like a ship on the ocean in the gale. But the self-controlled and self-regulated man, on the other hand, freed from selfish desire and anger, attains tranquillity.

If the world genuinely wants to replace the contemporary scientifically, technologically and materially advanced, but socially and morally retarded, civilization by a truly just, humane and enlightened civilization, then it has to include integral humanism in the core of its ideology and work for the development of integrated, balanced and harmonious individuals, societies and states, operating within an international order which is organized on mutual understanding and an underlying unity.

FACED with the challenge of establishing genuine world peace and preserving the bountiful earth, what can we do? Beautiful words are not enough. Our ultimate goal should be the demilitarisation of the entire planet. If it were properly planned and people were educated to understand its advantages, I believe it would be quite possible. But, if we are to have the confidence to eliminate physical weapons, to begin with some kind of inner disarmament is necessary. We need to embark on the difficult task of developing love and compassion within ourselves. Compassion is, by nature, peaceful and gentle, but it is also very powerful. Some may dismiss it as impractical and unrealistic, but I believe its practice is the true source of success. It is a sign of true inner strength. To achieve it we do not need to become religious, nor do we need any ideology. All that is necessary is for us to develop our basic human qualities....
We all want to live a good life, but that does not mean just having good food, clothes, and shelter. These are not sufficient. We need a good motivation: compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy, just understanding that others are our human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity. That we humans can help each other is one of our unique capacities.

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