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IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY

From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 69 No. 5, March, 1999

Intellectuals and researchers from all horizons gathered at UNESCO (September 16-19) "to understand, anticipate and imagine" what the 21st century will be like. Director-General Federico Mayor challenged participants to "make a lucid diagnosis of the present and shed light on the road that must lead us to the future."

Ilya Prigogine, Nobel laureate for Chemistry, reflected in his paper that "we will likely see a new conception of rationality develop in the next century, in which 'reason' is no longer associated with 'certainty,' and 'probability' with 'ignorance.'" The debates spanned a spectrum of issues, with common challenges emerging: eradicating poverty, finding more sustainable development practices, and inventing new forms of regulation at the planetary level.

The participants at the conference agreed about the need "to chart out a new social contract and to counter the dominant logic of the short-term." But whatever the field of action, the first step is to change our way of thinking, and hence of teaching, writes French sociologist Edgar Morin in Unesco Sources (November 1998):

The great challenge to knowledge, education and thought in our century - which will become even more important in the next - is the contradiction between increasingly global, interdependent and planetary problems on the one hand, and our learning processes, which are more and more fragmented, divided and compartmentalized, on the other.

We must aspire to what French writer and mathematician Blaise Pascal had already clearly formulated in the 17th century: "I consider it impossible to know component parts without understanding the whole, just as to understand the whole, we must be aware of its parts." What we need is a way of thinking capable of placing the singular, the particular and the local into context, and to a broader extent, to situate the global in relation to its component parts. Such a thought process can avoid various forms of blindness, whether they come from ethnocentrism or hyperspecialized reasoning, and the short-sightedness that characterizes our outlook on the world.

Morin speaks of the four fundamental aims of teaching: (1) To have a good head and not just a full head. (2) To teach the human condition, which is a base of any humanist culture. (3) To teach people to live - not just to gain techniques and know-how, but rather to understand human beings and how to relate to others and to oneself. (4) To form citizens not only of the nation but of the Earth.

The ambition of humanism [says Morin] is not to dominate. Its mission is conviviality on Earth. If there is a way of thinking which we must embed in education, it is the knowledge that unity contains multiplicity and that multiplicity embodies unity. Therefore, we need a humanism that is biologically and terrestrially rooted, one which inscribes us firmly on the Earth through the awareness of a common destiny among humans faced with the problems of death, whether in the form of the nuclear threat, the ecological threat, the economic threat, the intellectual threat. Blind thought leads to catastrophe. Reform in our way of thinking is not an intellectual luxury. It is a necessity, a prerequisite for the safeguarding of a humanity confronted with the terrifying forces it has unleashed without yet having found a way to control them.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by nations 50 years ago, was inspired by the message that human rights are universal and indivisible, in other words, valid for everyone and all civilizations. Though there have been some major victories, there have also been systematic and organized violations of human rights in some States.

There are today new challenges to human rights arising from scientific and technological progress. The principles of the Universal Declaration are inspiring legislation in a host of new fields, from bioethics to cyberspace, says Robert Badinter, former French Minister of Justice. (Unesco Sources, December 1998):

There can be no human dignity [Badinter writes] wherever extreme poverty, illiteracy, lack of medical care and of basic welfare protection reign. The individual is a whole, whose fundamental rights form an indivisible whole. To deprive a human being of some basic rights is to deprive that person of all rights. Still, in today's world, some 1.3 billion people are trying to survive with less than one dollar a day, and 30,000 children die each day of preventable diseases. On the eve of the 21st century - which will undoubtedly be characterized by globalization - the real question facing humanity is whether that globalization will merely be a quest for higher profits by multinationals, or a remedy for the ills that negate the pledges made 50 years ago.

We must not leave a burden for future generations. I am thinking firstly of the repression of crimes against humanity, which are the most violent and total denial of human rights: genocides, deportations, collective massacres and collective rape. ...

We must also face the new challenges of our times, such as protection of the environment. The issue was completely ignored in the post-war period, when the main goal was to rebuild what had been destroyed and to constantly increase production without any thought being given to the consequences. The right to a healthy environment is not only an imperative in terms of human rights, but also a question of survival for humanity.

Similarly, scientific progress has opened up a whole new field in the domain of human rights, whether it be in the area of genetic engineering, artificial reproduction, or the rapport between the development of new information technologies (especially the Internet) and fundamental rights. In all of these areas, the Universal Declaration provides us with a set of principles rather than the means to deal with these issues. ... Human rights are an ongoing creation.


For Western psychologists trained in the Freudian school, psychology and spirituality have nothing in common; but things are now changing and the two are converging in imperceptible ways. According to an article in Life Positive (November 1998), spirituality, or rather ancient Oriental Philosophy, is today setting the agenda for changes in psychology's understanding of man, his motivation, purpose for living, and relationship with the universe. Terms such as "spiritual psychology" and "sacred psychology" are beginning to be used. The article goes on to state:

Obviously, psychology and spirituality are compatible disciplines. But where does one begin and the other end? Would we define concerns such as helping an individual gain control over his life spiritual or psychological? Is there room for two disciplines or is spirituality only the undiscovered aspect of psychology?

Spiritual thinkers would vote for the latter. After all, they argue, the Buddha and Krishna had disclosed deep insights into human nature long before Freud came into being. What's more, they had taken human understanding to its logical conclusion by providing the way out. Look at this passage from the Bhagavad Gita, dispassionately outlining the causes that lead to mental collapse:

"If a man meditates on the objects of sense, attachment to them arises; from attachment, desire is born; from desire, anger is produced; through anger comes bewilderment; through bewilderment, wandering of memory; through confusion of memory, destruction of the intellect; through destruction of the intellect, he is destroyed." (II, 62-63)

It is no coincidence that many psychologists favour Buddhism. ... The Buddha's Four Noble Truths are well known: the inevitability of suffering in a changing world; the cause of suffering, which is attachment to desires; the fact that there is a solution; and finally the way out, through the eightfold path which encompasses right understanding, purpose, speech, conduct, occupation, effort, attention and meditation.
The prescription is complete. Suffering is part of existence. But there is a way out. In the conditional relative world of psychology, Buddhism holds out the certitude of experiential knowledge. ...

The New Age acknowledges both spirituality and psychology in its journey towards wholeness. Both are necessary, mutually enriching.

The opening verses of the Buddha's Dhammapada contain a deep psychological truth: our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Where Freud could only see the tumultuous motions of the unconscious, the Buddha had not only penetrated their root cause, but in doing so gave us the key to self-determination. Where Freud saw man as a helpless victim of the power of the unconscious, the Buddha saw him as fully capable of directing his destiny and pulling out of the mire of pain and misery and pursuing the path of happiness.

H.P.B. called ancient Psychology "the Science of the Soul," "the most important of all subjects of human study." Indeed, many of the knotty problems in contemporary psychological research were closely scrutinized by ancient Indian thinkers, not only in a theoretical way, but also with a view to finding the practical applications of the theoretical formulations. Modern psychologists would indeed be the richer if they turned to the ancient Psychology of the East for light and help. It is especially necessary for them to learn that the mind is dual and has a higher noëtic character which has till now been entirely ignored by them.


Some scientists are in favour of human cloning, and the only thing stopping them are technical problems. A small percentage of the public wants it too. But have they considered the consequences? In an article reproduced in The Times of India (January 12), Patrick Dixon, author of Futurewise, warns of some of the dangers:

Making cloned babies has real dangers. Terrible mutations could result as well as huge emotional risks to the child. ... And there are serious risks of abuse by weirdos and the powerful. ...

People imagine that scientists can clone tissues for treatment without making whole embryos, but they can't. The technology is identical, whether you implant a clone to be born, cull it for spare parts or cannibalize it before implantation to make a human tissue factory out of embryonic cells. ...

Is it always absolutely right to pursue every possible treatment option? ... Many people are deeply uneasy about deliberately creating an identical twin embryo of an existing person with the express purpose of destroying it for use of its tissues.

Human embryos are more than bags of biodata, wherever you stand, on pro-choice or pro-life. They have all the promise of a beautiful baby son or daughter.

As a doctor, I know we need gene technology to feed the world and cure disease. But we don't need human cloning. We need a biotech summit, a global ban to strongly discourage cloners from making babies and a halt on further research until debate is conducted and laws are in place. More than 170 nations have no gene laws.

Will a cloned baby have a soul, or will it be a soulless creature, a Frankenstein's monster? And what lies in store for those who assist in creating such creatures? For scientists there is no such thing as a soul; so the fact that every baby born is a returning soul is completely ignored in all the controversy that is raging over the issue of human cloning. Those who favour cloning as "just another tool of science" would do well to ask themselves, in the words of the New Testament: "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"


As we move into the next millennium, the world is facing new challenges in infectious diseases. New diseases, from AIDS to Ebola, are posing challenges to public health, and old ones, which were claimed to have been controlled, are proliferating with a vengeance. In this latter category are tuberculosis, measles and malaria. A special feature in The World and I (October 1998) looks at these infections by addressing three defining questions: What causes them? What impact do they have on society? How can we protect ourselves from them?

Under the title "Fighting the Implacable Foe," science editor Dinshaw K. Dadachanji points out that the battle against infectious diseases requires not only international co-operation but also individual responsibility. In another article, "Know Your Enemy," G. Carroll Strait says that although they are all too small, the agents that cause infectious diseases are remarkably diverse, falling into the categories of viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and worms. These micro-organisms are as resilient as they are varied, and attain new virulence through mutation and resistance to antibiotics, writes Erin Eckert in "Diseased Societies."

Clearly, trying to fight infectious diseases merely with vaccines and drugs has not proved effective enough. There is never just one cause of disease. Just as diseases differ, so do their causes and prevention. Fundamentally it is true that all disease is a state of unbalance in the body, causing lack of resistance to the onset of disruptive tendencies. But what causes this lack of resistance? A Master of Wisdom wrote as far back as August 1882: "As for those who were knocked over by cholera, or plague, or jungle fever, they could not have succumbed had they not the germs for the development of such diseases in them from birth."

There is now enough evidence, more even than previously suspected, that our mind influences our body. Mental conditions can upset normal physical functions, can weaken our resistance to infection, and, most remarkable of all, can actually cause physical change in vital organs. A study of tubercular patients, for instance, revealed that those who were emotionally disturbed had a swifter form of the disease than those free of strain.

As far as medical science is concerned, it can never conquer disease per se. Many diseases which were once prevalent have been wiped out; but new ones are developing. This fact may seem disheartening, but it is easily comprehended if one understands that diseases are but the outer manifestations of inner disturbances, that ailments are the results of causes set in motion, for the most part in the mental or moral planes of being. Unless the cause which is not physical has been removed, it is bound to come forth again under another form.


Evidence is emerging that early humans were much smarter than scientists had hitherto suspected. They made organized sea journeys more than 700,000 years earlier than previously thought - and to co-ordinate their efforts, say the experts, they must have had basic language abilities.

Palaeoanthropologist Mike Morwood and his colleagues at the University of New England in northern New South Wales made an intriguing find during their exploration of an ancient lake bed on the island of Flores, about 500 kilometres east of Bali. A technique called fission track dating showed that the layers of volcanic ash surrounding the tools were between 800,000 and 880,000 years old. Fossil plants and animals found near the tools dated from the same period. In the science journal Nature (Vol. 392, p. 173), it is stated that the tools were used by the early humans who are known to have lived in Java at the time; and from there they must have made sea crossings to reach Flores and other Indonesian islands. The evidence suggests, say the researchers, that the cognitive capabilities of this ancestral human species known as Homo erectus "may be due for reappraisal." "Homo erectus was clearly not just a glorified chimp," says Morwood.

The new findings will add fuel to a long-standing debate about human origins. If Homo erectus had the capabilities of early humans, it would seem to back the idea that modern humans evolved in several parts of the world.

One of the postulates of the Secret Doctrine as regards the origin of man on Earth is "the simultaneous evolution of seven human groups on seven different portions of our globe" (S.D., II.1). This denies categorically the theory advanced by some scientists that humanity began in one place with a single pair - the "Out of Africa" hypothesis - and then spread across the world.



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