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IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY

From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 70. No. 6 - April, 2000

The need for an ethical 21st century is the main theme of the January issue of Unesco Sources. For many people, writes Editor-in -chief Sue Williams, the new century simply means business as usual. Nonetheless,

The passage into 2000 is symbolically charged. The 21st century has been built up in the collective consciousness as a science fiction era in which technology reigns supreme. There are undoubtedly elements of truth in this vision, exemplified by the rise of the internet and the "virtual" worlds it is opening….
The dazzling technology which has become a sort of emblem for the 21st century, can be a powerful tool in achieving a more harmonious, sustainable development, and to redress the glaring inequalities between peoples and nations. But it is only a tool. And it can only be an effective one if its use is rooted in strong, ethical foundations.
Increasingly, people everywhere are demanding that this dimension be taken into account, whether it be in the area of trade relations, the environment, the application of scientific developments, or the sharing of knowledge…. Perhaps this is the real revolution that will mark our entry into the third millennium, and define the age.

A report on the round table on ethics and the future appears in the same issue of Unesco Sources. It addressed three major issues facing the world today: "Ethics of the Future and Policy-Making," "Bioethics and the Future of Life," and "Development in the 21st Century." French philosopher Edgar Morin, who examined the relationship between ethics and politics, said:

Ethics are not necessarily unrealistic, just as utopia is not impossible….Good utopia is based on possibilities that we have not yet achieved. The idea that humanitarian principles might win out over political rules belongs to the future…. Ethics must strengthen the dilapidated state of democracy. The relationship between mankind and the individual requires that we move toward global citizenship, citizens who feel responsible for the earth and concerned for others.

Ryuichi Ida, the Japanese president of UNESCO's International Bioethics Committee, showed how advances in genetics force us to address the definition of life. The concept of human dignity provides the foundation of bioethics. An urgent task, he said, given that human dignity, which is based on the sanctity of human life, on the principles that human beings are equal, and that manipulation of human life is forbidden, stands to be eroded by scientific progress. "We must also take up the issue of animal and plant life," he stated, as human dignity is closely associated with all life.
Lord Meghnad Desai, the British economist, in his presentation "Development in the 21st Century," called for equity and the rule of law in international relations and took the rich countries to task for not giving enough assistance to the Third World and wanting to slow industrialization there.
Again and again and in various ways it is brought home to us that without ethics material progress is not only meaningless but even dangerous. Ethics is the only solid foundation on which globalization, which is so mush talked of today, can rest.


In "Nature Your Nature: Daily Actions for Future Success" (The Futurist, December 1999), Jim Cathcart shows how to guide our own future by assessing the kind of person we would like to become and analyzing what we would like to do. The author, who is a psychological researcher and author of many books on professional and personal development, reassures us that our future is in our own hands:

Success is not a contest, not is it a mountain you must struggle to climb. Success is your birthright. It is your natural state of being.
Sure, you'll have to work at it. You may even have to develop some new habits. But personal growth (the natural process that creates a successful life) is not drudgery. It is fun! Ask anyone who is living a highly productive and happy life, "What is it like to develop new abilities and bring out your best?" He or she will pause, then smile and tell you, "It is great! I can't imagine living any other way!"…
The people at the top of every field have a different way of looking at life from those who are still struggling to keep up. It is not a difference in talent. It is a difference in outlook….
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Desire is possibility seeking expression. "The essence of your nature is expressed in your true desires. Once you have described the person you'd like to be, you can begin to shift your focus to the areas you should emphasize today in order to make your dreams a reality tomorrow….
The seed of your future successes already lives within and around you. The seed's only job is to grow, to live fully. The oak sleeps within you. Growing season is here.

"The way gets clearer as we go on," says W. Q. Judge, "but as we get clearer we get less anxious as to the way ahead."


A disturbing trend today is the steady increase in youth crime in many parts of the world. Reducing juvenile crime may depend more on the steps that parents and teachers take than on law enforcement officers. The best way to prevent misbehaving children from joining the criminal ranks is to teach them how to respect other, says Gad Czudner, a clinical psychologist who works with troubled children and juvenile offenders. (The Futurist, December 1999)

I have found that neither punishment nor reward are effective methods for teaching morality [writes Czudner]. To change problem behaviour, the concept of arousing moral feeling -namely, empathy and guilt-is essential….
Since self-centredness is the primary factor in the development of a budding criminal, all activity reducing self-centredness must not only be encouraged but continually reinforced.

Czudner identifies seven warning signs of potential criminality among children: self-centredness, lying, low frustration tolerance, lack of empathy, lack of discipline, stealing, and power and control. Because young children depend heavily on the approval of parents and other adults, Czudner's approach to children's bad behaviour calls for parents to forge strong relationships with their children as a foundation for teaching values. Teachers can encourage respect in their classrooms among children who need to experience empathy as a first step toward learning how to behave responsibly.
In his book Small Criminals Among Us, Czudner offers these practical suggestions to adults responsible for children:


1. Assert control. It may take many battles and tantrums, but a child must learn that certain rules are not negotiable.
2. Accept no excuses. There is no excuse for stealing or lying. The adult must refute all rationalizations and the child must accept full responsibility for what he does.
3. Describe the criminal behaviour. Explain what right and wrong are. Make the child realize the effect his actions have on others; help him develop his capacity for empathy.
4. Instill a sense of guilt. A young criminal should feel appropriate guilt when he harms other people. This is not the negative emotion of guilt toward oneself, but is focused on others as a guide to moral action.
5. Promote moral behaviour. As an alternative to punishment, require the child to engage in positive actions that help others.
6. Build a good relationship. Foster a relationship of trust and honesty with the child. Be consistent and persistent.

Early intervention can indeed deter the development of adult criminality. But often it is the parents who need to reform themselves before they can reform their children.


The God-idea has been expressed differently in different traditions, some at variance with the Theosophical concept and others coming close to it. Here is one way of expressing it. S. H. Venkatramani writes in The Times of India (January10):

We, as human beings, instinctively sense deep down in our minds and marrow the existence of a deeper power governing the destiny of the universe…. Subliminally we seem to catch a fleeting glimmer of a power beyond and beyond and behind all that we perceive, a power that guides the course of all that is around us and determines all that ever will be. It is this universal backdrop that man has traditionally referred to as God….
But can God be understood, comprehended of even vaguely glimpsed by the human mind? Can the aspen sensors of the most subtle mind even tentatively grip, albeit for an evanescent moment, the delicate petal of that universal essence that we call the divine?
Historically one of the arguments that theists who were rationalists have advanced for proving the existence of God is what is called the first cause argument. Every event, we find, is a caused event; and the cause itself is the result of a prior event. The history of the universe can therefore be traced back in an effect-cause sequence. Going back thus in time from effect to cause, we should, theoretically, be able to arrive at a first cause. This first cause is the original uncaused cause, which is God.
However, this historical and intuitive argument poses an interesting and serious problem. The problem is that it makes out God to be as much a creature of time and space as anything else. God as the culmination of the process of going backwards down the history of the universe in a temporal effect-cause sequence is circumscribed by the boundaries of the universe of time and space But should not God be beyond time and space? If everything around us is God's creation, are not time and space as much God's creations as everything else?…
It is this transcendental nature of the divine that the Upanishads evoke in vivid metaphor. The universal spirit, the purusha, "is all this, what has been and what will be; he is also the lord of immortality," says the Svetasvatara Upnishad. The human symbolism is carried farther: "It hands and feet are everywhere, its eyes and head are everywhere, its ears are everywhere, it stands encompassing all in the world."…
Therefore, while God may be immanent, he is also transcendent. "He is beyond all the forms of the world and of time, he is the other, from whom this world moves round." To adapt what Albert Camus said in a different context, God may be with the world, but he is not of the world. Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity makes the profound point that to understand the effects of gravitation, we need to view the universe as a four-dimensional space-time continuum; we need to transcend our traditional historical perception of the universe as a three-dimensional world coursing through time. Similarly, to experience the divine, we need to grow into a supra-mental and spiritual dimension.


The widespread belief that everything can be made right with a pill obtains as much among psychiatric patients as among those with physical conditions. Paul R. McHugh, Henry Phipps professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, deplores this belief and writes on how psychiatry has lost its way (Commentary, December 1999):

With help from the popular media, home-brewed psychiatric diagnoses have proliferated in recent years, preoccupying the worried imaginations of the public…. Most worrisome of all-wherever they look, such people find psychiatrists willing, even eager, to accommodate them. Worse: in many cases, it is psychiatrists who are leading the charges, But the exact role of the psychiatric profession in our current proliferation of disorders and in the thoughtless prescription of medication for them is no simple tale to tell….
Indeed, many of the profession's troubles, especially the false starts and misdirections that have plagued it from the beginning, stem from the brain-mind problem, the most critical issue in the natural sciences and a fundamental obstacle to all students of consciousness….
Psychiatrists have for too long been satisfied with assessments of human problems that generate only a categorical diagnosis followed by a prescription for medication. Urgently required is a diagnostic and therapeutic formulation that can comprehend several interactive sources of disorder and sustain a complex programme of treatment and rehabilitation….
That is not all. In its recent infatuation with symptomatic, push-button remedies, psychiatry has lost its way not only intellectually but spiritually and morally. Even when it is not actually doing damage to the people it is supposed to help, it is encouraging among doctors and patients alike the fraudulent and dangerous fantasy that life's every passing "symptom" can be clinically diagnosed and, once diagnosed, alleviated if not eliminated by pharmacological intervention. This idea is as false to reality, and ultimate to human hopes, as it is destructive of everything the subtle and beneficial art of psychiatry has meant to accomplish.

Modern psychiatry derived from Freud the assumption of the basically animal nature of man, and this bias of animalism remains in greater or lesser degree with the majority of psychiatrists. There are, today, good psychiatrists-men and women qualified by temperament and thoughtful study to give successful treatment to sick minds. But who is working on problems of tracing and eliminating from our culture the causes of psychiatric ailments? This is the real social problem, and it cannot be solved unless philosophical rather than purely statistical analysis is employed.

Plato would seek the cause of mental illness in failure to understand correctly the contradictory impulses of two parts of ourselves-the "nous" and the "psyche" (the soul-mind and the psychic center of animal, sensory intelligence). This is also the Theosophic teaching -that the Ego must subordinate the lower self to its purposes and understand why this is done, in order to be completely "sane." The soul, psychiatrists must come to learn, is a reality. Treatment of psychiatric disorders should be modified and relieved of dogma by making allowance for the soul.

Despite their lack of belief in the soul, some practicing psychiatrists have discovered the need for a better, a more basic morality, than that offered with the pretensions to virtue which overload our hypocritical mores.


THALES was asked what was most difficult to man; he answered: "To know one's self."

-DIOGENES



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