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From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 70. No. 2 - December, 1999

What we all need as we approach the new millennium is an enhanced sense of universal responsibility, says the Dalai Lama in his essay on “Spirituality for a Better World” (Asiaweek, August 20-27). “Self-interest lies in considering the interests of others.” To achieve true success, material progress needs to be balanced with the sense of responsibility that comes of education and inner development. The more we pursue profit and material improvement, ignoring the contentment that comes of inner growth, values will disappear from our communities.

As the new millennium approaches [states the Dalai Lama], our world requires us to accept the oneness of humanity. In the past, isolated communities could afford to think of themselves as fundamentally separate. But nowadays, whatever happens in one region eventually affects many other areas….
Many of the world’s problems and conflicts arise because we have lost sight of the humanity that binds us together as one family. We forget that despite the diversity of race, religion and ideology, people share a basic wish for peace and happiness. These will not be achieved, however, by talking or thinking about them, nor by waiting for someone else to act. We each have to take responsibility as best we can within our own sphere of activity, using our unique intelligence to try to understand ourselves and our world….
In my own experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove fears or insecurities and gives us the strength to cope with obstacles. As we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development. The key is to develop inner peace.
We need to embark on the difficult task of developing love and compassion within ourselves. By nature peaceful and gentle, compassion is also very powerful. Some may dismiss this as impractical and unrealistic, but I believe its practice is the true source of success - a sign of inner strength. To achieve compassion we do not need to become religious or ideological. We need only develop our basic human qualities….
The quality of our actions depends on our motivation. From my Buddhist viewpoint all things originate in the mind. A real sense of appreciation of humanity, compassion and love are the key. Once we develop a good, altruistic heart - whether in science, agriculture or politics - the result will be more beneficial.

By focusing on wealth creation we are failing to protect what we have, says John Gray, professor of marine biology at the University of Oslo, Norway. Politicians pay lip service to environmental problems at international conferences. The agreements reached do little to slow global climate change and lead merely to endless discussions rather than action to save the world’s biodiversity. Writing in New Scientist, Gray stresses that looking after what we already have - wealth protection - should be a key goal.

Increasingly I am coming to believe that protecting the environmental riches we already have is, in economic terms, far more important than seeking growth and creating industries. Sadly, preserving what we have seems to be unfashionable….
For governments at least it seems that finding out more about the world we live in is worth doing only if it generates wealth. But wealth creation has to be seen in the context of globalization of the economy, and the globalization process pays scant regard to the environment…. An eminent Oxford political scientist says of environmental consequences of the globalization process: “More and more of the Earth will become less and less habitable.”…
Decision-makers should be trying to protect the environmental riches that we have rather than just stressing wealth creation.

One side effect of the infotech and communications revolution is the rapid disappearance of minority languages around the world, since only a few majority languages are viable in a globalized, information-based economy. Many linguists predict that at least half of the world’s 6,000 or so languages now spoken will be dead or dying by the year 2050. In the August-September Futurist, Rosemarie Ostler, a linguistic specialist, explores the factors producing language death and the dangers of losing linguistic diversity:

Languages are becoming extinct at twice the rate of endangered mammals and four times the rate of endangered birds. If this trend continues, the world of the future could be dominated by a dozen or fewer languages….
Language diversity is as important in its way as biological diversity…. Andrew Woodfield, director of the Centre for Theories of Language and Learning in Bristol, England, suggested in a 1995 seminar on language conservation that people do not yet know all the ways in which linguistic diversity is important. “The fact is, no one knows exactly what riches are hidden inside the less-studied languages,” he says.
Woodfield compares the argument for conserving unstudied endangered plants - that they may be medically valuable - with the argument for conserving endangered languages. "We have inductive evidence based on past studies of well-known languages that there will be riches, even though we do not know what they will be. It seems paradoxical but it’s true. By allowing languages to die out, the human race is destroying things it doesn’t understand,” he argues….
Language extinction is accelerated today for some of the same reasons as species extinction. These include population pressures and the spread of industrialization.

The World Future Society is exploring the implications of the disappearance of languages around the world. These are some of the possible effects its staff has identified:

As languages fade, the cultures that nourished them decline. Ethnic legacies of music, history, literature, and folklore may be lost. Social scientists - anthropologists, sociologists, etc. - will have fewer cultures through which to study human behaviour….
Speakers of the languages will gradually lose their connections to ancestral customs because their history and rituals cannot easily continue when the languages that contain them die. Succeeding generations may never learn the full story of their heritage unless extraordinary efforts are made to recruit young apprentice speakers.
From their sickbeds, people in all cultures may face diminished prospects: The medicinal value of uncounted native plant species may remain beyond the reach of scientists if the aboriginal people who use plant cures pass away before communicating their knowledge.

The death of a language is an irretrievable cultural loss for the world. However, just as certain animal as well as human forms now extinct will return again in their own cycle, so also “certain human languages now known as dead will be in use once more at their appointed cyclic hour.” (The Ocean of Theosophy, p. 129)

“Automatic writing,” or the production of written matter without the conscious volition or direction of the writer, has often been claimed to be a communication from the “spirit world,” or “astral plane,” or “other dimensions” or whatever. The mechanism, it is said, is essentially the same as a traditional séance, except that the person who was formerly known as the medium is now called a channel. Mukul Sharma examines what New Agers have to say on the subject (Life Positive, September 1999):

Mediums implicitly believed that all the communications received were coming from discarnate spirits. New Agers, on the other hand, say that while a lot of the material could be the product of the writer’s unconscious mind, there are also a number of examples that, they maintain, transcend the mental and literary abilities of those who have produced them, or incorporate information that could not have been known to them by normal means….
So, if automatic writing cannot automatically be credited to spirits, what is it? How can just holding a pencil and concentrating produce reams of writing - some of which is not only coherent but appears to be beyond the capabilities of the writer?
The answer lies in a little known aspect of cognitive psychology called “automatism.” Automatism is defined as “a state in which the individual performs simple or complex actions in a skilled or relatively uncoördinated manner without having full awareness of what he or she is doing.” It includes well-developed skills such as playing a musical instrument, where the individual can carry out highly complex movements without detailed awareness of what is being done.

In Lucifer for December 1888, H.P.B. published “The Dirge for the Dead in Life,” and remarked in an editorial note:

The fragments that we publish below form one of the most remarkable instances of so-called automatic writing when the medium, without any previous knowledge of the subject, is impelled to set down upon the paper that which is not in the brain. The medium here is a young lady who knows nothing about this dirge, but we know that it is a portion of the chant which was sung over the entranced body of the neophyte who was about to become an initiate…. Spiritualists may say it is something from the “spirits,” but we hold the view that it is a reminiscence from past incarnations of the one who wrote. These recollections are not so rare as is supposed, and while frequently they are not recognized as such, they nevertheless account for many strange things heard at séances with mediums and psychographic writers.

In The Harvard Mental Health Letter, Dr. Robert A. Hahn explains what is known as the “nocebo effect”:

Derived from the Latin (“I will harm”), a nocebo is the opposite of the placebo (“I will please”). While the placebo relieves symptoms of illness by creating expectations of improvement, a nocebo does harm by creating the opposite expectation. The harm may be subjectively or objectively measurable, transient or chronic. It can even be fatal - for example, surgical patients are reported to die on the operating table because they expect to die.

Experts concede that the placebo/nocebo phenomenon is one of medicine’s “thornier problems.” The power of “suggestion” or “expectation” has, however, been revealed substantively in several psychological experiments. In one study, says Dr. Hahn, investigators found that those who expected a heart attack were 3.7 times more likely to die from a coronary condition than those who did not expect one - independently of other known risk factors.

Ultimately, researchers say, the extent and manifestation of the nocebo effect differs from culture to culture.

That a patient’s psychological make-up will greatly influence how he or she is affected by disease is well known. Extreme examples are cases of voodoo death. In one instance, after having eaten some fruit, a Maori woman found that it was from a tabooed place; she was dead within 18 hours. A young African bushman was deceived into eating wild hen, absolutely forbidden to his tribe. When he learned the truth later, he was dead within 24 hours.

The helpful effects of placebos are not unrelated to effects such as voodoo death. Both are instances of the subtle links between expectation and reality.

William B. Carey, director of Behavioural Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, brings important research to the public in his book Understanding Your Child’s Temperament. Unlike many approaches to parenting that view children in relation to just one particular trait or behaviour, the book offers a way to look at the child in his or her totality, as a combination of nine inborn temperamental traits: activity, regularity, initial reaction, adaptability, intensity, mood, distractibility, sensitivity, persistence and attention span. Temperament is an individual’s unique way of reacting to people, things, and situations - at home, at school and in social life.

Carey contends that a child’s temperament is partly inborn and not something caused by “good” or “bad” parenting. Genetics only plays a partial role. Parents, he says, can learn to work with their child’s temperament to prevent and reduce problems.

It is even more important for parents and child behaviour specialists to learn the role that reincarnation plays in determining a child’s temperament. Children are old souls in young bodies and bring their dispositions and characters from a prior life to this one. But disposition and character can, now and here, be changed - for better or for worse - by the child’s own efforts, helped by his or her parents, teachers and other understanding elders.

Charles Swindoll’s thoughts on “Attitude” (The Saturday Evening Post, September-October 1999) have a message for all of us:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is, we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.…
And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.

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