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IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY

From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 70. No. 9 - July, 2000

"Miracle stories are central to each faith and there are millions of people worldwide who believe in them," writes Kenneth L. Woodward in his Book of Miracles, excerpts from which are published in Newsweek for May 1. No doubt there are many scoffers-those who look upon such stories as superstition or mere coincidence-yet the belief in "extraordinary events that are the result of special acts of God" is strongly entrenched.

Every week of the year [writes Woodward], somewhere in the world, believers gather to celebrate the miraculous deeds that God or gods, a saint or a sage, worked on behalf of the faithful. Many Jews and Buddhists, as well as Christians, Hindus and Muslims, still look for -and, by their own accounts, experience-miraculous interventions in their lives...

For the believers, the real question isn't one of fact but of faith. Whether the story is a sacred event like the parting of the Red Sea or a contemporary account of a healing, the impulse is to ask, "Did this miracle really happen?" The important issue, however, is not if a miracle "really" happened but what believers make of the stories of miracles, whether the miraculous took place on the journey to the Promised Land 3,000 years ago or in Philadelphia in our own time... So if we are to grasp why so many people hold fast to these stories, we have to know the tradition in which the story unfolds and how miracles are understood in each faith.

Most people who pray for "miracles"ask for cures-for themselves or for loved ones." Indeed, in all the world's religions, says Woodward, the most common miracles are those concerned with prayers offered anonymously at shrines; and he goes on to give instances of "miracle stories" derived from different faiths and traditions.

Well over a century ago, H.P.B. proclaimed the reality of an unseen world governed by laws and forces subject to the control of the will of man. At the end of Isis Unveiled is a terse summary of the fundamental propositions of Oriental philosophy which, though unacknowledged today by psychic investigators, are none the less gradually gaining ground, albeit in different words. For anyone really interested in the subject, a study of the laws governing these realms is necessary, and the masterly survey of the subject in Isis Unveiled forms an excellent starting point.

H.P.B.'s first bold proposition is: "There is no miracle." Super-physical or psycho-spiritual phenomena do take place, but to establish the truth that such phenomena occurs is not necessarily to understand them. There is nothing outside the ambit of law. The ancient Asiatics knew the laws of psychic and spiritual realms, and, therefore, rejected all talk of miracles.

What says Theosophy about cures which defy any physical explanation? Just as the mind has power, acting through the astral body and the desire nature, to injure its physical body, so it has most remarkable power to heal; and instances of such healing are dubbed "miracles."

Healing to deserve the name, requires either faith in the patient, or robust health united with a strong will, in the operator. With expectancy supplemented by faith, one can cure himself of almost any morbific condition. The tomb of a saint; a holy relic; a talisman; a bit of paper or a garment that has been handled by the supposed healer; a nostrum; a penance; or a ceremonial; the laying on of hands; or a few words impressively pronounced-either will do. It is a question of temperament, imagination, self-cure. In thousands of instances, the doctor, the priest, or the relic has had credit for healings that were solely and simply due to the patient's unconscious will. The woman with the bloody issue who pressed through the throng to touch the robe of Jesus, was told that her "faith" had made her whole. The influence of mind over body is so powerful that it has effected miracles at all ages. -(Isis Unveiled, I. p. 216.)


In 1998, British scholar Bruce Lloyd initiated a "Wisdom of the World" web project in conjunction with the World Future Society. In the May-June issue of the Futurist, he discusses humanity's fundamental problem of understanding what wisdom really is and how little of it is either taught or learned.

Today, the widespread use of computers has created new challenges from what is known as the "information explosion." It is natural to ask what we are learning, and, more importantly, what we need to learn. At the same time, says Lloyd,

There has been the influence of the new millennium itself. This event is probably the greatest learning point in human history. Never before has so much intellectual effort been focused on reflecting on-and learning from-our history. In essence, that reflective learning should start by trying to define what has been distilled into wisdom. This effort has focused on exploring three key questions: Where have we come from? What are we doing here? and, Where are we going?

If learning is critical, we then have to ask ourselves: What is wisdom? How do we learn it? and, How can we pass it on more effectively? ...It is quite justifiable to argue that knowledge is information in use and wisdom is the combination of knowledge and values...

Wisdom is one thing; being wise is quite another. Being wise is certainly more than the ability to recycle wisdom-it involves the ability to apply wisdom in practice...

We may assume that if we have learned the right things, we ought to be in a position to do the right thing with that knowledge. If that is the case, then we probably need to revisit the messages of wisdom to ensure that we give a higher priority to those that reflect the importance of meaning and motivation in human behaviour.

This is not an academic exercise. Our future is critically dependent on what we learn, and, unless this subject is given much greater attention, it is extremely unlikely that we will progress, however you want to define it.

Esoteric Philosophy differentiates between two kinds of knowledge-the unreal and the real, the terrestrial and the divine, head-learning and soul-wisdom. Not only in the Voice of The Silence is this distinction drawn, but H.P.B.'s article "The Dual Aspect of Wisdom" goes into the matter fully. In the Mundaka Upanishad this dual aspect of knowledge is called Para and Apara Vidya. The Christian scriptures also draw the distinction:

St. James teaches two kinds of wisdom; a teaching with which we fully concur. He draws a strong line of separation between the divine or noetic "Sophia"-the wisdom from above-and the terrestrial, psychic, and devilish Wisdom...For the true Theosophist there is no wisdom save the former...With regard to "psychic" wisdom, however, which James defines as terrestrial and devilish, it has existed in all ages, from the days of Pythagoras and Plato, when for one philosophus there were nine sophistae, down to our modern era. (H.P.B. in U.L.T. Pamphlet no. 32)


As genetic science advances, fears are being expressed that acting on incomplete knowledge may well yield unforeseen, disastrous consequences. Some scientists argue that nothing be done to irreversibly alter the genome of a species because we simply cannot know all the functions of a gene that developed over millennia of evolution, and what its forced mutation might mean. Genetic pollution, and abuses ranging from the creation of "genetically correct" people to the monopolization of seed supplies, might occur. (New Perspectives Quarterly, Fall 1999)

As former UNESCO chief Federico Mayor sees it, "where human reproduction is concerned, as with technology in general, we must be guided by respect for three basic and interdependent principles-dignity, freedom and solidarity. "

For human dignity to be respected [he says] each person must be regarded as unique. This position has far-reaching consequences for human procreation. First of all, it rules out cloning as a means of reproduction because this technique, which is almost upon us, involves genetically "duplicating" and existing person. More generally, predetermining the basic characteristics of a future person, notably trying to enhance their future physical or mental capacities, violates the very essence of human individuality. This kind of engineering would end up depriving individuals of that which is theirs alone-the mysterious processes whereby their unique genetic heritage emerges and interacts in its own unique way with their environment.

Advances in prenatal scanning and testing techniques may confront parents with grave new decisions. The danger is that various kinds of pressures or even regulations will develop which only allow "genetically correct" people to be born. This would be totally unacceptable. No authority-be it political, social or economic-should be able to enact such a "genetic order," still less impose it...

The risk of uncontrolled, unmonitored genetic engineering increasingly looms over us. But we are starting to see the emergence of a new "responsible" form of genetic engineering in which the power of science is subjected to the power of ethics-an ethics that benefits everyone, not just a few, and looks toward future generations, not just short-term interests.


Mass extinction of species may no longer be associated only with the distant past. A paper released by the International Botanical Congress has reported that extinction rates have reached levels on par with the five known mass extinctions of the past. According to the report, between one-third and two-thirds of all plant and animal species will be lost by the end of the 21st century. The extinction rate over the past few centuries is almost 1,000 times higher than the background rate, or the rate at which species have become extinct for the past 65 million years. If current trends continue, this may climb to 10,000 times the background rate.

Too bad for the species-and especially for man, who is an integral part of nature. Saving nature's species is tantamount to saving ourselves.


The concept of globalization in various spheres of life is catching on, and now experts are talking of the globalization of disease. According to Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director General of the World Health Organization, in the years to come the health of everyone across the globe will be more tightly linked than ever before. Writing in New Perspectives Quarterly, she says:

An antibiotic-resistant strain of tuberculosis can already travel more quickly on an airplane from Africa to California than panicked financial capital can flee from Thailand, Brazil or Russia to New York and London.

If we don't make the necessary investments in health care systems so that tuberculosis or "hot zone" diseases such as the ebola virus can be properly treated and eradicated in the poor tropics, they can easily infect all continents, as HIV/AIDS has...

In short, as the planet becomes smaller and warmer, "world health" will become a reality as never before. As never before, the well-being of poor and rich alike will be intertwined. In the 21st century, the globalization of disease will mean the interdependence of health.

The world is becoming small indeed! We are interdependent in many ways -for good as for ill. It is no longer enough to say that poverty is the main reason for disease and suffering, and that ill health in turn is the cause of so much poverty. As Brundtland observes, there must be an understanding of the real conditions that breed disease and a commitment to change them by all-the poor and the affluent alike.


A UNESCO study -"The killing screen: violence on television and its impact on children" -says that the world's children spend an average of three hours daily in front of the TV screen. That is at least 50 per cent more time spent with this medium than with any other out-of-school activity, including homework, being with family or friends, or reading. In other words, television dominates the lives of children in urban and electrifies rural areas around the world. This is the largest ever intercultural study on the impact of media violence on children.

Audiovisual media in particular [says the report] are more graphic in their depiction of violence than books or newspapers; they leave less freedom in the individual images which the viewers associate with the stories.

We have leap-frogged an era in our exposure to media...The sheer volume and density of this media explosion is frightening. Statistics may be boring and seldom tell the entire story. However, they do help establish the fact that a child's exposure to violence on television-real or fictionalized is very high. We have to ask how much violence must there be before we say enough, no more!

Much can be said against the quality and type of television programming; but does it not indicate that there must be something radically wrong with a society which demands and supplies such programmes? What make children as well as adults accept such inferior entertainment? What makes them turn to a fantasy world for escape and accept violence in a matter-of-fact way? Cannot enlightened public opinion make television networks and sponsors realize what they are doing to the impressionable minds of the rising generation and get them to see the wisdom of featuring better programmes? Is is wise on the part of parents to leave their children free to make unlimited use of the television set? Or should the elders decide what they want the youngsters to see and what they want to keep them from seeing? These are the questions that need to be probed.


Where lies the center of the Universe? Sadhu Vishwamurtidas has this to say:

Scientists say the physical universe has no objective center because the universe itself is expanding in all directions as a four-dimensional space-time continuum. Space-time itself is in the process of expansion. Therefore there can be no fixed background or in-build co-ordinate system against which to chart the ballooning cosmos and extrapolate even a hypothetical central point of origin.

Such may be the case from a technical point of view, but from a pragmatic perspective, each and every living person is the center of the universe, since for each person the universe exists only because he or she is there to observe it...The spokes of the great cosmic cartwheel emerge from you and merge back into you. You are the center-wherever you are...

The two milestone theorems-Godel's Theorem and Searle's "Chinese Room" prove that mere information processing is not enough for divine knowledge. Self-awareness or consciousness is a pre-requisite. So where does this leave us? For purely survival and propagation purposes, not only is the human being over-endowed with information processing capacity, he or she also possesses consciousness. Why are we human so over-endowed with intelligence? What is the purpose? The answer is clear and inevitable.

The purpose of human life is to search for the Ultimate Truth. But which Truth? The Truth behind the culmination of all truths-physical, philosophical, and psychological; the truth behind every word, concept or dream that may or may not be listed in all the dictionaries and encyclopaedias of the world; the truth of everything, including ourselves....

The true purpose behind human life is not sensuality but spirituality. If we do not utilize our special ability to contemplate and understand ultimate truths, it means we have lived lives parallel to those of other animals in the galaxy-oblivious of everything but the here and now.
- (The Times of India, April 3).


Cease not to think of the Universe as one living Being, possessed of a single Substance and a single Soul; and how all things trace back to its single aliveness; and how it does all things by a single impulse; and how all existing things are joint causes of all things that come into existence; and how intertwined in the fabric is the thread and how closely woven the web. -MARCUS AURELIUS



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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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