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IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY

From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 72. No. 2 - December, 2001

An exclusive faith in science, and its offspring and partner technology, appears to be the hallmark of modernity, says Wolfgang Smith, Ph. D., who has held faculty positions at MIT, UCLA and Oregon State University, U.S.A. What is lacking, he argues, is the "dimension of verticality"-meaning an inward dimension, "something spiritual." An avowed critic of contemporary scientific beliefs, he writes in Modern Age (Winter 2001):

The inner and the external, it turns out, are profoundly related. As Huston Smith points out: "A meaningful life is not finally possible in a meaningless world."

We stand in need of a new cosmology: of a cosmos incomparably more vast than the universe of contemporary physics. I am not of course referring to spatial dimension: the physical universe encompasses light years enough. I speak rather of things which cannot be measured or weighed, of things, in fact, which can only be spoken of in traditional terms: of an integral cosmos, namely, made up of distinct ontological levels, which we may picture as so many horizontal planes or concentric spheres. I speak thus of a cosmic hierarchy, a universe with an added dimension: the dimension of verticality, which has to do with value and meaning, and ultimately, with first origins and last ends. It is the dimension that transforms the cosmos from a mere thing into a bona fide symbol: into a theophany, in fact; it is thus the dimension that nourishes the artist, the poet, and the mystic in us-the dimension, as I have said, which enables us to be fully human….

Since the Enlightenment, Western man has lived intellectually in a flattened cosmos, a truncated universe of mere particles, persuaded that science had so decreed; and now one knows that we have been deceived. It was scientism, it turns out, that perpetrated the fraud; and this we know today on the authority of science itself. What, then, must be the role of science in the restoration of culture? What else could it be than to break the scientific spell.

Nothing however can be accomplished without the recovery of authentic metaphysical wisdom. Philosophy must cease to be a sterile academic discipline, marginalized by science, and must reclaim its central position….One needs to realize once again that human reason is not per se enlightening-is not itself "the true Light, which lighteth every man." And so too one needs to realize that science as such is inherently incapable of self-interpretation….It falls to philosophy, therefore, to bring into view what science discloses enigmatically. In the final count, only a restored philosophy can provide intellectual access to the true world-and in so doing, can enable the restoration of culture.

The Secret Doctrine calls metaphysics "the informing soul and spirit" of physics and other sciences. The minority among scientists who enter the domain of metaphysics "are wise in their generation. For all their wonderful discoveries would go for nothing, and remain for ever headless bodies, unless they lift the veil of matter and strain their eyes to see beyond." (I, 610)

To make of Science and integral whole necessitates, indeed, the study of spiritual and psychic, as well as physical Nature. Otherwise it will ever be like the anatomy of man, discussed of old by the profane from the point of view of his shell-side and in ignorance of the interior work….Without metaphysics, as Mr. H. J. Slack says, real science is inadmissible. (I, 588)


Animal conservationists are now recognizing what Theosophists have been saying all along, that the anthropoid apes belong to an altogether different category than other animals. Yet the treatment meted out to them by humans is truly deplorable. Animal rights lawyer Steven Wise is among those who speak out especially for the chimpanzees. While conservationists seek to protect the chimps' habitats and improve their treatment in captivity, Wise promotes a more radical approach. In Rattling the Cage, he proposes that; chimpanzees be declared "legal persons" and share some of the rights of humans, including freedom from all forms of bodily harm. Discover magazine (September 2001) reports Wise as stating:

Chimpanzees, our closest relatives, can solve problems, develop culture, even express self-consciousness, but they are struggling for survival-the wild population is 200,000 and dropping….

Today every human being who is born is a legal person under international and domestic law. But every nonhuman animal is a legal thing. There is a great legal wall that has been constructed over the centuries between the two. I think that that wall arbitrary, unfair, and irrational.
What rights do chimps deserve? First, bodily integrity. You shouldn't use them in vivisection, you shouldn't eat them, and you shouldn't do anything to them that you can't do to a three-year-old human child. Secondly, bodily liberty. You should not be permitted to enslave them by putting them in steel and concrete cages….

Any nonhuman animal who is self-conscious should not be experimented on….If you can't justify doing a procedure on a human child, then you can't justify doing it on a chimp. If someone says, "If we torment and kill 10 chimpanzees, we'll find a cure for AIDS," should they be able to do that? No, they should not, any more than if someone says, "Hey, if we just torment and kill 10 human children, we will save millions of lives of people with AIDS." Wise believes that "a strong legal case" can also be made for gorillas, orangutans, and other intelligent animals like dolphins and elephants.


Among the flying reptiles from Earth's distant past, pterosaurs are considered to be the largest and the oldest. "They were the first vertebrates to fly, and they did it long before birds and bats," says Kevin Padian, a paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley. New discoveries of pterosaur remains, found in sedimentary rocks formed at the bottom of relatively shallow, calm waters, are intriguing present-day researchers.

When first discovered, the fossil was named Pterodactylus, combining the Greek words for wings and finger. A few decades later the term Pterosaur, or winged reptile, was coined to describe the growing list of similar fossils. Pterosaurs are sometimes popularly called "flying dinosaurs," but they are a distinct lineage.

Richard Monastersky writes in National Geographic (May 2001):

Like their cousins the dinosaurs, pterosaurs stand out as one of evolution's great success stories. They first appeared during the Triassic period, 215 million years ago, and thrived for 150 million years before going extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period. Their endurance record is almost inconceivable compared with the span of humans….Uncontested in the air, pterosaurs colonized all continents and evolved a vast array of shapes and sizes….

Until recently most paleontologists would not have put pterosaurs in the same league as birds in terms of flying ability. Because pterosaurs were reptiles, generations of scientists imagined that these creatures must have been cold-blooded, like modern snakes and lizards, making them awkward aerialists at best.

In the past three decades, however, a surge of fossil discoveries around the globe has prompted researchers to reexamine their views. The emerging picture of pterosaurs reveals that they were unlike any modern reptile….Scientists reason that many pterosaurs were gifted airborne predators, built to feed on the wing….

Even with the new discoveries, the rarity of fossils leaves major gaps in knowledge about pterosaurs. No one knows how they evolved flight. When they vanished, or exactly what they looked like. Debate swirls around these reptiles like the air currents they once rode.

As to the question of origins, which to paleontologists still remains open, The Secret Doctrine has this to say:

If spontaneous generation has changed its methods now, owing perhaps to accumulated material on hand, so as to almost escape detection, it was in full swing in the genesis of terrestrial life. Even the simple physical form and the evolution of species show how Nature proceeds. The scale-bound, gigantic sauria, the winged pterodactyl, the Megalosaurus, and the hundred-feet long Iguanodon of the later period, are the transformations of the earliest representatives of the animal kingdom found in the sediments of the primary epoch. There was a time when all those above enumerated "antediluvian" monsters appeared as filamentoid infusoria without shell or crust, with neither nerves, muscles, organs nor sex, and reproduced their kind by gemmation: as do microscopical animals also, the architects and builders of our mountain ranges, agreeably to the teachings of science. Why not man in this case? Why should he not have followed the same law in his growth, i.e., gradual condensation? (II, 151)


According to two neurobiologists of the French Institute of Health and Medical Research in Lyons, humans have an empathy instinct innate in them. Jean Decety and Pierre Ruby carried out tests on subjects, using a PET scanner, and the results, they say, suggest that we understand another's behaviour by imagining him or her carrying out an action and then mentally projecting ourselves into that situation. (Discover, September 2001)

"Evolution has shaped our minds not only to express emotion but also to empathize with others," Decety says. "But aggression is also part of human nature. We have to find a balance between our instincts and the way we express them."


In an interview with the editor of Life Positive, His Holiness the Dalai Lama expressed his views on what is essential for happiness, which all crave. "Undoubtedly we need to be more compassionate," he said, not only to make our own lives happier but also to make our world a better place. The practice of compassion requires that we act with greater "awareness," he remarked, and to gain awareness we need wisdom. Wisdom and compassion go together:

I think that ignorance and afflictive emotions, called klesh in Sanskrit, give rise to unwanted circumstances. As far as ignorance is concerned, not just Buddhism, every religion recognizes it as the source of suffering….Now I see well-educated people who are so unhappy. It is because of too much desire, hatred, and jealousy. The antidote to weaken that is increasing the right kind of knowledge. I think, perhaps knowledge coupled with a warm heart brings wisdom.

Compassion, or karuna, stems from wisdom….Attachment awakens feelings of klesh. If there is less attachment and jealousy, we are able to focus within. I believe that whether a person follows any religion or not is unimportant, he must have a good heart, a warm heart. This is essential for a happy life. This is part of what I call "secular ethics."

Compassion is not being kind to your friend. That is attachment because it is based on expectation. Karuna is when you do something good without expectations, even without knowing the other person. It is in realizing that the other person is also just like me. That recognition is the basis on which you can develop karuna, not only towards those around you but also towards you enemy….

Compassion thus is the force of growth and development while anger is destruction. The Dalai Lama called the Buddha "a great psychologist because he taught the science of the mind." The following seemingly simple yet profound verses from the Dhammapada bear this out:

Cling not to the pleasant, nor to the unpleasant. Not seeing the pleasant as to see the unpleasant-both are painful.

Therefore do not be attracted to anything, for loss of a loved object is painful. No fetters exist for him who neither likes now dislikes.

From attachment arises grief; from attachment arises fear. There is no grief for one who is free from attachment. Whence, then, can there come fear? (Verses 210-212)

Likewise, goes on the Buddha, affection, indulgence, desire, craving-all ultimately lead to grief. Those who indulge in such emotions miss out the purpose of human life and move further away from the path of happiness.


Life expectancy has gone up in recent times, and so have health problems among the aged. In The Futurist (September-October 2001), Michael Brickey, psychologist and author of Defy Aging, suggests strategies for happy and healthy longevity. The biggest factors distinguishing those who age well from those who don't, he says, are mental, or what he calls the four "Be-attitudes":

1. Be optimistic for long-term health. Many people think of optimism in terms of positive thinking, such as asserting that a glass is half full rather than half empty. But optimism also affects how we think about the causes of good things and bad things that happen to us.

2. Be grateful: Gratitude builds a healthy perspective. Maintaining a sense of perspective can help us stay calm when life's irritants threaten to trigger an angry, unhealthy response….Gratitude is a powerful antidote to stress.

3. Be proactive: deal with your problems. Worrywarts are self-absorbed, playing the same mental "audio tapes" over and over. It is more helpful to get absorbed in something purposeful.

4. Be a learner: embrace life-long learning and change. You need to maintain enough ties with your past to give you a sense of being rooted, while embracing enough change to meet your needs to adapt and make life interesting. As Alvin Toffler puts it: "The illiterate of the future are not those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."

These strategies and attitudes are a product of how we choose to think. We are thought-formed. It is our thoughts that make or mar our lives.



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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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