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IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY

From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 70. No. 4 - February, 2000

As we enter the year 2000, there is no dearth of forecasts and predictions about future trends in various spheres. In the realm of science and technology, above all, a fresh explosion of discoveries is expected. Fast-moving science befuddles predictions, says Hans A. Bethe, as evidenced by recent discoveries and developments that would have been unimaginable a hundred years or even a few decades ago. Bethe, who is professor emeritus of physics at Cornell University and the recipient of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1967, writes in New Perspectives Quarterly (Summer 1999):

No more than a scientist at the end of the 19th century or a monk at the end of the first millennium can I forecast the developments of the 21st century or the third millennium, and how they will affect the daily lives of people alive in 2099 or 2999. …
The three scientific discoveries of the 20th century with the greatest effect on our understanding of the universe both great and small were quantum theory, relativity theory and the biochemistry of genetic information-the chemical structure of DNA. Each of these ranks with Newton's law of motion which in the 17th century was the real beginning of the scientific exploration of modern times. …
With more scientists working today than have worked through all the time man has been on earth, equipped with tools far more powerful than could have been imagined in 1950 let alone 1900, there will be new scientific principles discovered. There will be new technologies with unimaginable effects on how we live and work, on where we live and work, on our health and wealth and the quality of life. Not all of the changes will be "good," but taken together they are likely to make lives more comfortable.

More comfortable, maybe, but will the new developments make life richer in the true sense? Many thinkers and scientists themselves are concerned about the ethical issues arising out of recent scientific researches - e.g., in the realm of genetics and cloning. Science is a double-edged sword, as scientists are realizing. Sir Josiah Stamp, speaking many years ago on "The Impact of Science Upon Society," stated:

What shall it profit a civilization if it gain the whole world of innovation and its victims lose their souls? … We have spent much and long upon the science of matter, and the greater our success the greater must be our failure, unless we turn also at long last to an equal advance in the science of man.

Science, to render lasting and constructive service, will have to accept the real morality which, rooted in the essence of Nature, is not a matter of religious emotion, but a cosmic necessity. It is yet far from such a radical change. Sometimes some scientific statement mirrors a moral verity or some professor utters words that reflect universal truths. But this is not enough. A change in the inner attitude of science can be conceded only when such statements are made deliberately in full awareness of their universal philosophical background and of their ethical implications. They must, moreover, be presented by genuine scientists in an able and convincing way, in order to gain the general acceptance of their colleagues.

The Secret Doctrine contains many teachings that were denied by the science of H.P.B.'s day but were subsequently proved true, and it is quite possible that it contains hints of other truths that have yet to be accepted. Only the future will tell.


Hectic activity is going on around the world to probe the secrets of the gene. Most of the body's trillions of cells contain a nucleus with 46 chromosomes, say the scientists, each one made of a long, coiled-up strand of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Thousands of sections along every strand represent genes, which are coded instructions for making the proteins needed to construct a complete human organism. Scientists engaged in deciphering the code and mapping our genetic universe are holding out the promise of curing diseases and solving the mysteries of forensics and evolution, among other possibilities; but at the same time thorny ethical questions are arising. For instance, sperm-sorting technology improves parents' chances of choosing a child's sex, but is this desirable, and where will it lead us?

"Are we ready for the gene age?" And, "To what extent am I my genes?" asks James Shreeve, who is working on a book about the race to uncover the human genetic code. "Such questions," he writes in National Geographic (October 1999), "are hardly new":

They are the essence of the nature versus nurture debate that has perplexed thinkers for centuries. But now we are on the verge of having finite answers. Without much time to consider the implications, scientists have developed the ability to tap into the code of life and bring its power to bear on our daily lives, the way one might conjure up a spirit to intervene in some earthly affair. This eruption of genetic information is transforming the way medicine is practised, crimes are solved, and the very nature of life is understood. But its power is frightening too, even to those who understand it best. Who has a right to know the secrets written in our genomes? How much do we want to know ourselves?
"There are a tremendous number of ethical issues involved," says Steve Fodor, biotech company Affymetrix's CEO and guiding force. "People are stepping very softly in order not to blunder into an area and do things that are irreversible." …
In most of our genes - 99.9 percent of them - every human being alive is exactly the same. Moreover, most of the variations in the remaining one-tenth of a percent don't bunch up into geographic regions or racial groups but instead are spread around the globe. Put another way, the snips and snippets of code that taken together make one person unique are scattered about in other unique genomes all over the world, binding all of us in a splendid tangle of interrelationship.
That tangle doesn't begin at our evolutionary branch but spreads up from far below. All the anatomical differences between human beings and chimpanzees, and even the hallowed uniqueness of human cognition, may in fact arise from slight changes in a few genes regulating fetal development.
Nine-tenths of our genes are identical to those of a mouse. … More than a third of the genes of the lowly nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans are shared with the exalted primate Homo sapiens. Genomically speaking, even bacteria are our cousins in code.
The last and most powerful secret revealed by our genes, in fact, is the indisputable unity of everything alive.

This is an extremely important finding. Geneticists have been saying for some time that when we look at genes we find that people all over the world are amazingly similar. Now they are going further still and asserting the unity of all life.


One of the predictions for the future is that world cultures will become more and more homogenized. Globalization with its promises and perils is a trend to be reckoned with in the 21st century. Modern technology extends human life spans and levels of comfort, but it also destroys thousands of remote cultures. Loss of traditional cultures means loss of knowledge, loss of languages, loss of unique perspectives on life and of insights into nature that still defy modern science.
Francis Fukuyama, professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, gives two important reasons why globalization is here to stay:

First, there remains no viable alternative development model that promises better results than globalization. … The second reason why globalization is not likely to be reversed has to do with technology. Contemporary globalization is underpinned by the information technology revolution that has spread phone, fax, radio, television and the Internet to the most remote corners of the globe. These changes empower individuals and are profoundly democratizing on a host of levels. Today, no country can ever truly cut itself off from the global media or from external sources of information; trends that start in one corner of the world are rapidly replicated thousands of miles away. (New Perspectives Quarterly, Summer 1999)

Globalization, as Erla Zwingle states in National Geographic (August 1999), has been going on since long; the difference now is in its speed and scope. He dwells mainly on global culture and what it is all about:

Linking: This is what the spread of global culture ultimately means. Goods will continue to move. … People move. … Ideas move. …
Change: It's a reality, not a choice. But what will be its true driving force? Cultures don't become more uniform; instead, both old and new tend to transform each other. …
Global culture doesn't mean just more TV sets and Nike shoes. Linking is humanity's natural impulse, its common destiny. But the ties that bind people around the world are not merely technological or commercial. They are the powerful cords of the heart.


Way back in 1798, Thomas Malthus, the English political economist, predicted a gloomy future for humanity. Our population, he said, would grow until it reached the limits of our food supply, after which famines and disease would result. The issue is still being debated.
His forecast was ahead of its time, but will Malthus be proved right in the third millennium? asks Niles Eldredge, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History (Time, November 8, 1999). He submits that we must work now to prove Malthus wrong:

What's missing from the debate is an understanding of the changing relationship between humanity and nature. For it is how humans fit into the natural world that will settle whether Malthus was right or wrong. … Our position in the natural world is once again undergoing a sea change. …
In an economic - if not a political - sense, we have become a single, enormous population. The system in which we are living, extracting our energy and other supplies, is global: the totality of Earth's atmosphere, its waters, its soils and crust, and all its living things. This is the sum total of all the world's local ecosystems - ecosystems we have allowed to decay as we have chosen (quite successfully!) to live outside them.
We have converted woodlands and prairies to farmland virtually all over the globe. Our cities, suburbs and malls have paved over natural communities, and pollution and overfishing are rapidly destroying our rivers, lakes and oceans. As these ecosystems go down, we are losing perhaps 30,000 species of animals and plants a year, out of perhaps 10 million total species, even though we still deeply rely on at least 40,000 species for food, shelter, clothing and fuel. We rely on natural products to replenish genetic diversity in our crops and to produce new medicines. We rely on pristine ecosystems to replenish oxygen, regulate water cycles, control erosion, cycle essential nutrients and restock critical fisheries. We still need these things to sustain life - our life. The irony is that our rampant success in living outside the world's ecosystems has put them all, and thus ourselves, in jeopardy. …
The tide is running back toward Malthus. We are still not fully realizing that our own survival hinges on reducing the damage we do to Earth's natural systems. We may not drive ourselves to the complete oblivion of biological extinction, but I fear that the Malthusian spectres of famine, warfare and disease will rise in the comparatively short run (the next few centuries), coupled with an accelerating loss of human cultural diversity and, ultimately, quality of life.
Unless. We can, I think, find the inner will to wake up to our current situation, to see the grimmer outlook around the corner and to choose to do something about it. … We can, if we choose to do so, prove Malthus' direst prognostications wrong.

Those who are alarmed at the "increase" in population take it for granted that human reproduction is an uncontrolled biological process following the Malthusian law. Students of Theosophy, however, know that the changes of population are cyclic and that the number of egos belonging to this globe is fixed. As the period between two births is, for the average individual, many times greater than the life period, a fluctuation of, say, three to four percent in the average reincarnation cycle would double the population for a time - or nearly eliminate it - with a corresponding swing to the other extreme after some time. History and archaeology show that such fluctuations do occur in accordance with cyclic law.


At one stage or another, in one manner or other, pain and suffering is experienced by all. The suffering may be at the physical, emotional or mental level, but our attitude to it makes all the difference to us. Anjali Singh's observations on "The Mind's Conquest of Pain and Suffering" (The Times of India, December 21, 1999) offer some food for thought:

Suffering is a healer. Its occurrence in the life of a person need not necessarily be a negative factor. Sorrow is the outcome of the negative latent tendencies in one's subconscious, finding their way into the open. If allowed to be dealt with, not only does suffering equalize our past wrong actions, it actually cleanses us at our unconscious level within and makes us aware of our futile attachments, which cause the sorrow in the first place. All sorrow in the mind is caused by some kind of attachment or dependence on something or someone, an event or a happening that is not fulfilling itself in our expectations. It can be a trivial thing but the intensity of sorrow depends on the intensity of our wanting it. If we use the phase of suffering in our life to evaluate our relationship with the world, it can become a means for a total change in us. There is a simple exercise that can be done by the mind that can lift us out of our sorrow.
The thought pattern during the suffering hinges around I am unhappy. The exercise is to stand apart as a mere witness of the pain, if it is at the body level; of sorrow at the emotional level; and insult or non-acceptance of our ideas by others at the intellectual level. With a little continuation of this self-effort one disassociates the "I" from the unhappiness. … How long will the thoughts remain unhappy without the co-operation of the "I"? It is the mind that suffers, not I. The "I" has become a witness. …
When suffering comes in our life, we can use this chance to raise ourselves to a higher level. … If we do not make the effort to get out of the state, it will be used by others to influence our way of thinking and behaving and our dependence will continue. If we make the effort, there is no way of not succeeding. The choice is ours.



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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
2004
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 2000
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1999
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1998
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