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IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY

From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 70. No. 11 - September, 2000

Shimon Peres, former prime minister of Israel and one of the Nobel Peace Prize winners in 1994, views the 21st century as "an invitation to a new era." While the major part of the 20th century was laden with wars and saturated with blood, toward the end of the century "history started its ascent to new horizons," writes Peres. He attributes this to the advance of science and technology, which have changed the way we live. In New Perspectives Quarterly (Spring 2000), he has this to say:

It is amply clear by now that once the world moved from an economy of the land to an economy of the mind, armies became obsolete. Wisdom, after all, is not attired in uniforms and technology is not spread by the sound of cannon fire….

Of course, no one can guarantee that there will be no more wars. But it can be said with utmost certainty that wars are no longer necessary. The benefits anticipated from scientific peace exceed by far the profits expected to be gained from costly armies. This is not to speak of the damages of war, which include moral and material damage to the aggressor, not only to the victim. Historically speaking, there are no win-win wars and there is no lose-lose peace….

There is an invitation by history to people that comes not from the side that is lacking, but from the side that is promising; not from the reserves of revolt, but from the potential of growth, from the belief that the day has arrived when it is possible to hope rather than to rebel, to enjoy new expanses, rather than become entrenched in narrow and tortuous paths strewn with setbacks and mines.

We have parted from a century of sorrow, but we part from it without sorrow. Thank goodness it has ended. We have an invitation to a new era.

The coming centuries might restore a little of the taste of the Garden of Eden. This time, we should remain wary of the snake, but still eat, yes, eat, from the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

Can knowledge alone lead humanity's ascent to new horizons? Mere head-learning, with no Soul-wisdom to illuminate and guide it, is worse than ignorance. Nor is there any hope for humanity until it changes its direction from unbrotherliness, the "insanity of the age," to brotherly co-operation. True ideas are the crying need if this new century is going to prove any better than the previous one. In this Kali Yuga, men and women no longer follow their spiritual intuitions. Instead of acting from within, they ever follow impulses from without-those produced by their physical senses and gross selfish body. H.P.B., who could perceive where this would lead man and what future was in store for him, also gave the means to ameliorate it, if it were not possible entirely to avert it:

….the only palliative to the evils of life is union and harmony - a Brotherhood IN ACTU, and altruism not simply in mane. The suppression of one single bad cause will suppress not one, but a variety of bad effects. And if a Brotherhood or even a number of Brotherhoods may not be able to prevent nations from occasionally cutting each other's throats - still unity in thought and action, and philosophical research into the mysteries of being, will always prevent some, while trying to comprehend that which has hitherto remained to them a riddle, from creating additional causes in a world already so full of woe and evil. (The Secret Doctrine, I, 644)


As in the realm of science, so in the sphere of religion, adherents of different faiths are turning their thoughts toward the new century and what it holds in store for us. In the Buddhist Publication Society's Newsletter (No. 44), Bhikkhu Bodhi ponders the question of what Buddhism can offer the world in the years ahead:

From one angle it could be said that what Buddhism can offer humanity today is exactly what it has been holding out for the past twenty-five centuries: an acute diagnosis of the human condition and a clear path to final liberation from suffering. But while this statement is correct as far as it goes, it is not yet sufficient; for it does not take account of the fact that in any age the aspects of the Dhamma to be emphasized, and the way they are to be expressed, must address the particular problems faced by the people living in that age….If what the Buddha taught is "only suffering and the cessation of suffering," then the starting point for any convincing presentation of the way to suffering's end must be the specific forms of suffering characteristic of our time.

In the last decades of the twentieth century, two manifestations of suffering have become so prevalent that they seem almost the defining characteristics of the modern era. One is an invidious sense of meaninglessness, feeling of alienation from life, now becoming almost as common in the more modernized quarters of Asia as in the West. The other, most marked in the Third World, is collective violence. The first problem has its locus in the individual consciousness, the second in the relationships among communities at different levels of social order. If the Dhamma is to benefit humanity in the coming years and decades, it must show us a way out of the abyss of meaninglessness and offer guidelines for reducing the frequency and severity of collective violence.

The sense of meaninglessness as a widespread social phenomenon set in with the rise of modern industrial civilization….Our existence did not embody any higher purpose than the brute struggle to survive. The loss of meaning was further aggravated by the breakup of traditional forms of social order under the impact of industrial capitalism. Altruism and restraint were eclipsed by the new creed of self-indulgence, which gave precedence to wealth, power and conspicuous consumption as the supreme goals of life. Today the sense of meaninglessness has reached a truly global scale….

For those adrift in the sea of meaninglessness, the Buddha's teaching offers a sense of meaning stemming from a profound spiritual tradition that combines metaphysical depth with psychological astuteness and the highest ethical standards. Without calling for blind faith in dogmatic creeds or speculative postulates, the Buddha points directly to the invariable universal laws that underlie happiness and suffering. He insists that we can discover these laws for ourselves, simply by clear reflection on our own immediate experience, and he offers us methods of practice by which we can gradually dig up the buried roots of suffering and cultivate the causes culminating in the highest happiness….

The second type of suffering that has become so pervasive in our time is social violence, which still wreaks so much misery across the globe…. What is necessary for true peace and harmony to prevail among human beings is not the hammering out of a comprehensive treaty by which the various parties to a conflict compromise their hard and volatile demands. What is truly required is a new mode of perception, the ascent to a universal consciousness that transcends the narrow standpoint of ego-centric or ethnocentric self-interest. This is a consciousness that regards others as not essentially different from oneself, which detaches itself from the insistent voice of self-interest and rises up to a universal perspective from which the welfare of all appears as important as one's own good.


Some researchers believe that body language, or communication through gestures, dates back to a time in humanity's distant past before spoken language came to be used. Even today people use gestures to get a message across, or use them unwittingly as they speak. Recent studies suggest that there might be "a deep evolutionary link between speech and gesture" (New Scientist, April 8). Laura Spinney writes about the growing interest in how early humans communicated:

To Michael Corballis from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, our gestures are not only an adjunct to speech. They may have been our earliest method of communication. Early humans communicated using their whole bodies in a form of mime. Speech evolved out of this ancient body language, and gesture is all that remains of it today, he says. Gesture and speech have co-evolved, and the connection is so close that we can't do one without the other….

Corballis doesn't see mime and speech as separate channels, more as a progression of forms….Gesture one carried the whole linguistic burden. Nothing else, he believes, can explain the huge amount of information that can be conveyed by gesture alone….

Gesture may perform many functions. But if Corballis is right it could help resolve a long-running debate about whether language emerged gradually or all at once, in a "big bang." Some linguists have argued that grammar is not something that could have evolved slowly-you either have it or you don't-and that therefore it must have exploded onto the hominid scene at some point in our history, perhaps with the emergence of Homo sapiens.

The earliest races, before the development of Manas or mind which turned man into a thinking being, were indeed "dumb," yet could communicate as there is more to communication than words, and many different ways to get message across, as we notice even among animals and birds. One of the Masters wrote:

Long ages of silence were required, for the evolution and mutual comprehension of speech, from the moans and mutterings of the first remove of man above the highest anthropoid (a race now extinct since "nature shuts the door behind her" as she advances, in more than one sense)-up to the first monosyllable uttering man….

Intellect has an enormous development in this [the 4th] round. The dumb races will acquire our human speech, on our globe, on which from the 4th race language is perfected and knowledge in physical things increases.

The Secret Doctrine (II, 198-201) traces the evolution of speech, which developed only after the manasic element dormant in primitive man was fructified and awoke to life.


Some psychologists promote the idea that giving vent to one's feelings can prove useful. Thus, if one is angry, he should "let it out" by punching a pillow or slamming a door. But this advice is more harmful than helpful, according to other psychologists.

"Expressing anger actually increases aggression, "says Dr. Brad Bushman, Iowa State University psychologist. Psychology Today reports the experiments carried out by him and his colleagues. The subjects who were allowed to give vent to their anger became even more aggressive-"and that's most worrisome," says Bushman.

Instead of trying to simmer down, he suggests, just turn off the heat altogether. "Count to 10-or 100, if need be-and the anger will pass."

Mr. Judge offers sound advice when he says:

Your going into the street and seeing a street brawl creates an impression. Your having a quarrel last week and denouncing a man, or with a woman and getting very angry, creates an impression in you, that impression is as much subject to cyclic law as the moon, and the stars, and the world, and is far more important in respect to your development-your personal development or evolution- than all these other great things, for they affect you in the mass, whereas these little ones affect you in detail. ("Cyclic Impression and Return and Our Evolution": U.L.T. Pamphlet No. 24 )

Mr. Judge goes on to speak of a friend who was suffering from depression, and the advice he have him is equally applicable to those prone to anger or other harmful emotions: "Do what the old theosophists taught us; that is, we can only have good results by producing opposite impressions to bad ones." Thus, when a person notices anger arising in him, he should at once implant in himself the opposite impression-that of self-restraint, amiability, charity, love, forbearance, leniency, gentleness, patience. This is the best remedy for changing one's mood and preventing its recurrence.


A problem that is beginning to grow insidiously and alarmingly in India is teenage alcoholism. Society is changing, old taboos are fading, and drinking is no longer regarded as an evil. Doctors and psychologists are now reporting an alarming spiral in the falling age of alcoholics. "True, this is a new age," writes Robin Abreu, Principal Correspondent of India Today (April 10), "but when teen drinking increases dropout rates, even crime, and affects family life, it means things are out of control."

"Alcoholism is becoming a lifestyle for teenagers," says Delhi psychologist Dr. Achal Bhagat. At Chennai's Apollo Hospitals, Dr. Gopalakrishnan warns that it would be folly to pass it off as mere youthful indiscretion. The problem is much more serious: "alcohol routinely destroys brain cells," and can even kill.

The malaise [writes Abreu] is rooted in the societal acceptance of alcohol and society's indulgent view towards teenagers knocking down the odd peg….According to studies done by the De-Addiction Centre at AIIMS in Delhi, every fifth teenager in the 15-19 age group in the capital drinks regularly and around three lakh are addicted. Another one lakh, it is estimated, need medical attention for alcohol-related disorders….

To alter established mind-sets, to convince a generation that the buzz that comes with a beer has dangerous implications, requires a mammoth effort. Counsellors stress that parents must start communicating with their children and identify reasons for their stress….Also, a society that merely smirks at underage kids trying to find some machismo in a beer mug needs to understand there's nothing amusing in it. The journey from recreation to addiction, or to death, is not a long one.

Perhaps the best way to control the problem is to educate both youngsters and their parents. Alcoholism, like some other evils, is part of a larger social problem. Mr. Judge suggests "healthy and interesting occupation" as cure for such a habit. Youngsters, as also adults, need recreation centers. Recreation in a wider sense includes a taste for literature, art, music and other healthful creative pursuits which will keep youngsters away in a normal and natural manner from the curse of alcohol.

For alcohol is indeed a curse. Theosophy asserts that apart from its physiological consequences, drinking is still more prejudicial to the moral and spiritual growth of man, "for alcohol in all its forms has a direct, marked, and very deleterious influence on man's psychic condition. Wine and spirit drinking is only less destructive to the development of the inner powers than the habitual use of hashish, opium and similar drugs." (The key to Theosophy)



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