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IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY

From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 70 No. 10, August, 2000

The 20th century has been an age of science. Since H.P.B. wrote Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine in the latter part of the 19th century, there have been major revisions in nearly all departments of modern science. Though the time-tested Occult teachings remain the same, modern science. is in a state of flux. It is important for students of Theosophy to know in what direction the race-mind is tending and how the leaven of Theosophy has been working, transforming the world of thought. In this column, a small attempt is being made to acquaint readers with what the scientists and thinkers of today are saying and doing.

The Natural Science section in the journal The World and I keeps nonspecialist readers abreast of developments in the field of science. In its May issue, the essay "Milestones of Twentieth-Century Science and Technology" offers a schematic overview of some of the important advances made during the past century and their impact on our lives. V. V. Raman, emeritus professor of physics at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, dwells on the idea that knowledge of and control over nature that humanity has gained can have profound consequences for both benefit and harm:

The twentieth century will be remembered for consciousness-raising and scientific/technological breakthroughs. This century made racism a shameful practice; recognized gender oppression as a social evil; proclaimed human rights as transcending race, caste, and religion; pleaded for international economic justice; began to celebrate diversity and to care for the disabled; and condemned exploitation of the young. It released millions from colonial shackles and established world organizations in which free nations join to solve problems of food and health, promote trade and education, and resolve political differences through discussion.

The twentieth century also made more scientific discoveries, introduced more technologies, and launched more assaults on the environment than all previous time spans combined.

The author's bird's-eye view of some of the milestones in science and technology include: changing concepts of space and time, of matter and energy; the undisputable evidence of multiple billions of stars strewn throughout the vastness of space; understanding DNA and the secrets of the gene, which has opened up undreamed- of possibilities for manipulating organisms; penetrating the innermost depths of matter and coming upon a whole new microcosmic world of atoms, electrons, quarks and the like; identifying the specific roles of different parts of the brain; seeking to unscramble the mystery of consciousness. So much for pure science. Milestones of science in action include not only the use of countless cars and trucks and jets, but also the development of rocketry and missions both to distant planets and beyond our solar system. Advances in telecommunication made possible telegraphy, radio, TV, videos, computers, artificial satellites, lasers, etc. Efforts to prevent and cure diseases have led to the discovery of new drugs. Harnessing of nuclear energy has proved a double-edged sword. Computers and the Internet have transformed civilization.

With all this, the twentieth century has also created stupendous problems and a perilous passage lies ahead, warns the author:

A population explosion in the face of diminishing oil reserves and farmable land, environmental pollution through automobiles and industrial effluents, perilous nuclear wastes, depletion of the rain forests: These are challenges of great magnitude. Then there are social and human problems, ranging from ethnic hatred and religious bigotry to poverty and malnutrition. So, though there is much to look forward to in terms of new technologies, increasing economic opportunities, interplanetary adventures, and possible cures for deadly diseases, we will be living in a fool's paradise if we are indifferent to the problems that will face mankind in the decades ahead.

The possibilities are immense and unpredictable, for the good and the bad….Recognizing these possibilities, let us join hands in our efforts to induce the positive and snub the negative potentials. Now, as never before in human history, we feel we are all passengers in the only spaceship we have. Fortified by the knowledge and power that come from the science, we may build on the finer values and wisdom of the ages and make our planet an even more rewarding place to be.

Knowledge and power wisely used can prove beneficial to humankind; misapplied, they can bring destruction and misery in their wake. Only the future will reveal what direction it will take.


The philosophy of Epictetus, as presented in his Manual, is simple and direct-e.g., his psycho-spiritual analysis of the nature of happiness and the way to attain it. Arvind Nagarkar writes in The Times of India (May 23):

Is true happiness attainable in this world of strife? Yes, says Epictetus, provided the mind is trained by rigorous discipline to adhere to certain basic spiritual principles.

According to Epictetus, happiness is the "ongoing dynamic performance of worthy deeds." The secret of happiness lies in having an enlightened attitude and response to external events and people's behaviour. The springs of happiness are, therefore, not outside of us but lie within us.

Happiness is built on the fundamental knowledge of what is within our control and what is not. On analytical reflection we find that the mind alone can be brought under our control. Everything else, the world of events and people's behaviour, is beyond the scope of our control. Any confusion between the two results in misery. We will be less miserable if we learn to come to terms with the truth that what is beyond our control will happen, whether we like it or not-so it is better to recognize this and remain unperturbed, fully cognizant that there are certain things in this world that we cannot exercise control over.

It then becomes our paramount duty to control the mind and practise total unconcern to externals. "When something happens," says Epictetus, "the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it." To accept an event is to rise above it; to resent is to be overpowered by it. With acceptance comes happiness; with resentment, misery.

Acceptance of an event is not to be mistaken for a life of passivity or submission to fatalism characterized by laziness and a sense of helplessness. "Simply doing nothing does not avoid risk, but heightens it." Epictetus exhorts us, therefore, to brave the storms of life with planned action born of clear thinking….

We are advised to look for lessons even in painful events. We have inner wells of strength from which we can freely draw to meet any adverse situation, and thereby turn a negative happening to a positive character-building experience. Epictetus says, "Your will needn't be affected by an incident unless you let it. Remember this with everything that happens to you."

No man is an island. No one live in isolation, and social interaction is unavoidable. But no matter how others behave, we have to maintain our inner tranquility, with unwavering attention on keeping to our own higher purpose. For, we are told:

The way of inward peace is in all things to conform to the pleasure and disposition of the Divine Will. Such as would have all things succeed and come to pass according to their own fancy, are not come to know this way; and therefore lead a harsh and bitter life; always restless and out of humour, without treading the way of peace. ("Musings on the True Theosophist's Path": U.L.T. Pamphlet No. 36, p. 1)



In New York Times Magazine (May 7) Andrew Delbanco presents another way of defining and attaining happiness. In our times, he says, pursuit of happiness has become an overwhelmingly private and personal undertaking. Personal growth is for many the aim, while terms like commonweal, public good and private obligation are considered archaic.

The surest way to promote one's private happiness is "to do publicly useful actions." It was believed at one time that

Happiness could be attained only if and when one could look back on one's life and see that it had good effects on the lives of others. To believe this was not merely to wish that virtue should be its own reward. It was to make a universal claim that human beings are born with a "moral sense," an impulse to altruism that atrophies if it is not exercised. People, as the cybernetic metaphor now has it, are "hard wired" to do good in order to enhance their own happiness. In its 18th-century version, this theory about the inner life paralleled emerging scientific theories about the outer world: it said that a happy person existing alone without exchanging the energy of benevolence with other people is inconceivable, like a celestial body orbiting around nothing.

Even today not all are self-seekers. That happiness can best be found in selfless service remains a driving motive in many lives. "When people spin faster and faster in the pursuit of merely personal happiness," observes Delbanco, "they become exhausted in the futile effort of chasing themselves."


The year 2000 has been declared as the International Year of the Culture of Peace. But what is peace? There can be no lasting peace in the outside world unless individuals are at peace within themselves. It is said that "wars begin in the minds of men." So each one has first to work in and on himself. As stated in Purity (June 2000):

The original state of the inner self is peace. However, individual peace gets disturbed when actions become motivated by negative values, attitudes and emotions, such as anger, greed, ego, jealousy, prejudice and selfishness. The statement applies to the individual, the community and the state. The manifestation of these practices is conflict, violence, abuse, crime, discrimination, exploitation, war destruction and moral degradation. Human being affected by these conditions start living under severe stress, with constant tension. Stress-related diseases and conflict in relationship create unhappiness in the family and the neighbourhood, whether they are materially well provided for or are poor. In these circumstances, people lose their peace of mind and cannot find their way back. On the other hand actions which are based on positivity and motivated by such values as humanity, love, understanding, respect, tolerance, co-operation, simplicity, humility, generosity and non-violence, lead to solidarity, equanimity, contentment, wisdom, fairness and altruism. In this way, one is able to sustain peace and stability. If one's actions are sometimes negative and sometimes positive, then both the depth of peace and its stability world be reduced. Thus the promotion and development of a culture of peace must encourage individuals to live by positive values in their thoughts, words, deeds, attitudes and relationships.

The attainment of a lasting peace will depend on how much the individual is prepared to accept shortcomings and be dedicated to reform and change. The best way by which we can remove the ills of society and bring about reform for a culture of peace, is by reforming our own thinking, speaking, doing, looking and relating to others. This would then attract others to follow similar reforms, to change their lives and move towards a more peaceful and contented state of mind. The examples of personal reform of leaders and the institutions which they control along with the positive changes of betterment and wellness would be the greatest catalyst towards the establishment of a culture of peace….

It is said that there were more wars and acts of violence in the twentieth century than in the previous 19 centuries put together. With the rapid advancement in science, technology and information systems, it should be possible to change from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace and non-violence in 20-30 years, provided there is enough global will and determination….A culture of peace is not a dream; it will become a reality.


Nalin Nirula, a practitioner of alternative medicine, believes in understanding the whole gamut of events in a patients's life, his relationships and beliefs, his struggles and aspirations, before attempting to heal him. In an interview with him reported in The Times of India (June 2), he said:

Our inner universe manifests itself outwardly in sickness and health, in joy and sorrow, and in peace and stress. If we want to change externally, it must first take place within us. Otherwise it is only a mechanical patch-up job. External repair is also needed, but it is more important to bring about radical inner change. The desire for change should come from within….

Much of modern medicine involves correcting the chemical conditions within the body. This approach is of limited use because before any chemical or pathological changes take place, there is a mental or emotional condition bringing about these conditions causing organic disorder or disease pathology….

As we think, emotions are generated within us and as we feel certain emotions they filter down to the body and affect it. If the emotion is negative, for example, arising out of anger, hatred, etc., then some corresponding biochemicals are released into the body. These biochemicals convey the quality of that particular emotion to the body and if the emotion is of a negative nature, then the quality is embodied in those biochemicals and conveyed to the various body parts. These elements accumulate in our bodies and are not digested, eliminated or discharged. Accumulation of toxic biochemicals originating from unhappy negative thoughts then leads to disease.


Medical drugs that have a potency to heal can also harm if taken indiscriminately. Doctors and health officials have been warning for years that disease-causing bacteria are developing resistance to even the strongest antibiotics. A World Health Organization (WHO) report on infectious diseases states: "If people do not stop misusing antibiotics, new 'superbugs' that resist all drugs could take the world back to the time when minor infections killed." Dr. David Heymann, executive director for communicable diseases at WHO, called on the world "to mobilize a massive effort to make better use of these powerful weapons before the window of opportunity closes and before we move further towards the pre-antibiotic age."

If people use antibiotics when they do not need them, as, for instance, to treat a viral infection such as influenza, the bacteria naturally present in their bodies develop resistance and can spread. In some countries, patients have strains resistant to the most powerful medicines used to treat diseases like tuberculosis.

This is disturbing news. "Of the so-called exact sciences," said H.P.B., "medicine, confessedly, least deserves the name." New drugs are not going to solve the problems raised by the old drugs. Are medical practices being resorted to that will perhaps affect the bodies of the race in such a way that the future generations will suffer? Our responsibility is great. The fixation on drugs is so strong that the severe limitations of drug therapy are often overlooked. We may remind ourselves that if it were within man's power to remove all the illness in the world today, the root of illness would not be affected. The whole man, including his mental- emotional nature, has to be taken into consideration and treated.


PROPONENTS of holistic health believe that the time has come to give serious consideration to the spiritual dimension and to the role this plays in health and disease. Spiritual health, in this context, refers to that part of the individual which reaches out and strives for meaning and purpose in life….It includes integrity, principles and ethics, commitment to something higher, and belief in concepts that are not subject to "state of the art" explanations.

For a discipline that has in recent time promoted, in theory and practice, an excessively gross and physical view of human health and thus, of the human being himself, this realization of the importance of the spiritual dimension in modern medicine is indeed a welcome change. However, this is only a small beginning and there is a long way to go.

-World Health Forum (Vol.17, No.4)
(International Journal of the W.H.O.)



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A section in the monthly magazine: discussing current developments in science and the world and relating them to the teachings of Theosophy
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