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From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 73 No.12 - October, 2003

The phenomenon of interchangeability of the senses has fascinated scientists since a long time. "The brain is so adaptable, some researchers now think, that any of the five senses can be rewired," writes Michael Abrams (Discover, June 2003). Paul Bach-y-Rita, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is carrying out experiments to prove that our senses are interchangeable. In one such experiment, a blindfolded man—who was fitted with a camera and some electrodes on his tongue—reported that he could see with his tongue. "We don't see with our eyes," says Bach-y-Rita, "we see with our brains." He is of the opinion that similar to sight and touch, sound and touch could also be swapped.

It is generally believed, even by some neuroscientists, that sight is a complicated phenomenon and that the eye is an astonishing organ that cannot be replaced. Bach-y-Rita counters this by saying, "There's nothing special about the optic nerve. The brain doesn't care where the information comes from. Do you need visual input to see? Hell, no. If you respond to light and you perceive, then it's sight." Already, attempts are being made to take advantage of this discovery. "The Navy SEALs are working with him on a system that will allow them to see infrared through their tongues and to find their way through murky waters, leaving their eyes free for other tasks. NASA has worked with him to develop sensors to enable astronauts to feel things on the outside of their space suits."

Madame Blavatsky has this to say:

...the senses are to a certain extent interchangeable. How would you account, for instance, for the fact that in trance a clairvoyant can read a letter, sometimes placed on the forehead, at the soles of the feet, or on the stomach-pit? ...The sense of seeing can be interchanged with the sense of touch....One sense must certainly merge at some point into the other. So also sound can be translated into taste. There are sounds which taste exceedingly acid to the mouths of some sensitives, while others generate the taste of sweetness; in fact, the whole scale of senses is susceptible of correlations. (Transactions, pp. 43-44)

Americans are debating the morality, legality and practicality of physician-assisted suicide. Is it legitimate to deny someone a right to die with dignity, especially when pain-relieving medicines prove ineffective? This and allied questions are being debated at Oregon, which passed the Death with Dignity Act (1997), making it the only state to permit physician-assisted suicide. "Although Oregon's law has strong safeguards against misuse, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has strenuously opposed it, threatening that any physician who prescribed lethal doses of medicine would lose his license to prescribe medications as well as serve a twenty-year prison sentence," writes Lawrence Rudden (The World and I, May 2003). Gerard V. Bradley explains why the government has an interest in preserving life. He writes:

A doctor's calling is always to heal, never to harm....The scandal created by doctors who kill is great, much like that caused by lawyers who flout the law, or bishops—shepherds—who do not care about their flocks....

When someone commits the crime of murder, all we can say is that the victim's life was shortened. We know not by how much; the law does not ask, or care....

Some risk to life is acceptable where the risk is modest and the activities that engender it are worthwhile....We might instinctively step in front of a car, or jump into a freezing lake to save a loved one, or a stranger's wandering toddler. We might do the same upon reflection, but we do not want to die. We do not commit suicide....

This distinction between intending and accepting death is...real, as real as space shuttles....

Some critics feel that such a law would result in driving the terminally ill patients to end their lives, out of guilt for being an emotional and a financial burden upon their relatives. It is feared that such a practice could be misused and may quickly become a norm. Cathy Cleaver of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops points to the Netherlands, where physician-assisted suicide has been legalized for years—supposedly only in cases where desperately ill patients have unbearable suffering. However, now the Dutch policy has expanded "to allow the killing of people with disabilities or even physically healthy people with psychological distress; thousands of patients have been killed by their doctors without their request."

A little reflection shows that this amounts to "suicide." The soul is deprived of its opportunity to go through the experience of coping with the illness and learning its lesson—what it is to work through an extremely sick body. By trying to end life, we leave behind unexhausted karma—which is like leaving a debt unpaid—so that in some future life we will be placed in a similar situation by the unerring law of Karma, till the lesson is learnt. It is perhaps an opportunity for the family members also to learn something in attending to a terminally ill patient, and be willing to suffer along with him, helping him in bearing his suffering. Madame Blavatsky writes in "Modern Ignorance of Life and Soul":

No man...has a right to put an end to his existence simply because it is useless. As well argue the necessity of inciting to suicide all the incurable invalids and cripples who are a constant source of misery to their families....There is a vast difference between the man who parts with his life in sheer disgust at constant failure to do good, out of despair of ever being useful...and one who gives it up voluntarily to save the lives either committed to his charge or dear to him....One takes away his life, the other offers it in sacrifice to philanthropy and to his duty. (H.P.B. Series No. 15)

We generally try to look for a support outside of ourselves. It is this tendency to readily accept as a "saviour" any person promising to provide an immediate solution to our problems, which is at the base of the New Age "guru-cult." "The stereotype of the saffron-clad sadhu is out. The New Age gurus are trendy, young people dispensing a designer manual for modern living," writes Surya Swami (India Today, July 14, 2003):

In the past five years, a plethora of new gurus has sprung up across the country and unlike the earlier, older masters, they are trendy, urbane and educated. They are bending and blending ancient wisdom and modern techniques to concoct a novel millennial spirituality. For them wellness is the buzzword and they are more likely to discourse on relationships and career stress than the Upanishads and Vedas....The new generation teachers aren't deified, remote saints but accessible, aware buddies-cum-psychiatrists who help navigate through the minefield of modern life. It is the age of anti-guru.

The Guru-chela relationship has been considered sacred, occupying a central place in Theosophy. Thus:

One of the missions of Theosophy is to rescue and re-elevate the chair of the Guru to its noble height. It is most likely that immediately after her arrival in India, H.P.B. publicly spoke of the existence of the Great Gurus for the purpose of drawing a distinction between the Teachers of Universal Divine Wisdom pointing to the Path of Real Renunciation and those many others who taught numberless ways to personal emancipation or mukti....

The bond between Chela and Guru of the true Gupta Vidya, the Secret Science, is a purely spiritual one....Beyond the physical and the psychic worlds is the spiritual world, the Hall of Wisdom, and there only the Guru of soul-life awaits the aspiring Chela....

Make yourself dry of the moisture of the personal and human feelings and then the wood will catch fire. Within the heart the Guru is to be found. (The Theosophical Movement, Vol. 8)

Madame Blavatsky describes the "true guru" thus:

...the real Guru is always an Adept in the Occult Science. A man of profound knowledge, exoteric and esoteric, especially the latter; and one who has brought his carnal nature under subjection of the WILL; who has developed in himself both the power (Siddhi) to control the forces of nature, and the capacity to probe her secrets by the help of the formerly latent but now active powers of his being:—this is the real Guru. (Raja Yoga or Occultism)

Geologists are debating whether the Black Sea is the place of Noah's flood. According to the current theory, ten thousand years ago, the Black Sea was a freshwater lake. But, some 7500 years ago when the ice age ended, the world's climate warmed, raising the water level six inches each day, causing the flood, writes Eve Conant (Newsweek, July 14). Geologist Robert Ballard, who is investigating the Noah's flood theory, says, "I am convinced that there is more history in the Black Sea than in all of the museums of the world combined." Robert Ballard and his colleagues are exploring the Black Sea for any evidence of human settlement. Many scientists are skeptical and feel that it would be difficult to prove the occurrence of such a flood and that it was indeed Noah's.

In The Secret Doctrine Madame Blavatsky mentions several deluges and cataclysms. She observes that Noah's flood is allegorical.

What we object to is the literal acceptation of Biblical chronology, as it is absurd, and in accord with neither geological data nor reason. Moreover, if Noah was an Atalantean, then he was a Titan, a giant, as Faber shows; and if a giant, then why is he not shown as such in Genesis? (S.D., II, 265)

Noah's Deluge is astronomical and allegorical, but it is not mythical, for the story is based upon the same archaic tradition of men—or rather of nations—which were saved during the cataclysms, in canoes, arks, and ships. No one would presume to say that the Chaldean Xisuthrus, the Hindu Vaivasvata, the Chinese Peirun—the "beloved of the gods," who rescued him from the flood in a canoe...are all identical as a personage. But their legends have all sprung from the catastrophe which involved both the continent and the island of Atlantis. (S.D., II, 774)

The "Deluge" is undeniably an universal tradition....Stockwell and Croll enumerate some half dozen Glacial Periods and subsequent Deluges—the earliest of all being dated by them 850,000 and the last about 100,000 years ago. But which was our Deluge? Assuredly the former, the one which to this date remains recorded in the traditions of all the peoples, from the remotest antiquity: the one that finally swept away the last peninsulas of Atlantis....The little deluge, the traces of which Baron Bunsen found in Central Asia, and which he places at about 10,000 years B.C., had nothing to do with either the semi-universal Deluge, or Noah's flood—the latter being a purely mythical rendering of old traditions....(S.D., II, 141)

According to the story of Kaliya daman lila from the Srimad Bhagavatam, when Krishna found that the venomous serpent Kaliya had been contaminating the river water with his poison, he jumped into the river and after a long struggle, subdued him. Amishi Dhanuka interpretes the symbology of the story (The Times of India, July 8):

Kaliya symbolises many aspects of Kaliyug. Kaliya is black, the colour symbolising demoniac characteristics very similar to the inherent nature of contemporary man who is devious, proud, arrogant and envious. Kaliya imagines himself to be invincible, like many of us do today as we glow in the deceptive light of our false ego....

The story of Krishna and Kaliya the Snake is the story of how, ultimately, good triumphs over evil.

H. P. Blavatsky has something definite to say on the subject of Good and Evil, and especially on the symbology of this tale.

As there is far more evil than good in the world, it follows on logical grounds that either God must include evil or stand as direct cause of it, or else surrender his claims to absoluteness. The ancients understood this so well that their philosophers...defined evil as the lining of God or Good.... If evil disappeared, good would disappear along with it from Earth. (S.D., I, 413)

We must not forget that Krishna does not destroy Kaliya, but asks him to retire into the fathomless depths of the sea.

Does not the permission granted [by Krishna] to the serpent [Kaliya] to betake himself to the fathomless depths of the sea, indicate that, though we may purge our individual natures of evil, it can never be extirpated but must still linger in the whole expanse of the Kosmos, as the opposing power to active goodness which maintains the equilibrium in Nature—in short, the equal balancing of the scales, the perfect harmony of discords? (U.L.T. Pamphlet No. 26, p. 15)

Most of us are curious to know our pedigree. Where do we really come from? "A new generation of DNA genealogists stand ready to unearth our ancestors. We may not like what they find," writes Kathleen McGowan (Discover, May 2003). For $150 to $500, and by sending one's cheek swab or hair sample, one can know one's line of descent. It all started with tracing the roots of Melungeons in the United States. Could their ancestry be traced back to Portuguese sailors shipwrecked in the 16th century, or to Gypsies, or to the ancient Phoenicians? Geneticist Kevin Jones seeks to unlock the mystery, using genetic analysis. Thus:

Most of the time, the three billion nucleotides in the human genome reproduce just fine. Occasionally, though, one of the nucleotide base pairs that make up the molecules gets switched, or a short stretch of genetic code is duplicated. Figuring out who is related to whom, scientists have realized, is just a matter of comparing these mutations. People with recent ancestors in common will have many of the same mutations. Distant relatives will share fewer of them.

Anthropologists now isolate the Y chromosome DNA or mtDNA from the rest of the cellular gunk and feed the purified, prepared DNA into a machine. They then read out the nucleotide sequence of A's, C's, T's, and G's that comes out on the other side and compare the pattern of mutations with those in various public genetic databases. These patterns are known as haplotypes, and sets of similar haplotypes are organized into haplogroups. A haplogroup tells where a given line came from on a global scale (sub-Saharan Africa versus eastern Asia, for example). Often...a haplotype will point toward a more specific geography, like Japan or southern India.

Besides the uncertainty of the results, geneticist Jones realized that there is also the human side to this research, when he received a death threat from a Melungeon repelled by the possibility of having African-American blood. "I don't think many of us have a sense of how dangerous this is," he says. "It stirs the hornet's nest. We are driven, through the purity of science, to support or reject hypotheses, but it's a terribly naïve, pure, God-like approach..."

Is it enough to know our earthly pedigree?

We think we know our earthly pedigree when we have looked at the genealogical family-tree; science thinks it knows the physical pedigree of man and humanity, having traced his form from the protoplasm, and its growth from savagery. Neither the modern philosopher, nor the scientist, has traced the links of heredity, psychic, intellectual and spiritual; in the absence of that knowledge, it is not surprising and is very natural that the modern estimate of the human form is altogether a mistaken one. (Studies in the Secret Doctrine, Book I, by B. P. Wadia)

The "easy" and happy times are the periods of rest; the "hard" times are the periods of training—opportunities for gaining strength and knowledge. —Robert Crosbie  

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