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IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY

From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 73 No 7 - May, 2003
Did climatic upheavals, such as scorching droughts, bring about the collapse of civilizations in the past, or was it cultural factors? Recent studies have revived this old debate. Daniel Grossman writes in Scientific American (December 2002):

For decades the dominant view has been that cultural factors—war, religion trade, palace intrigue—explain civilizations' ups and downs. According to this view, if the climate changes, humans adapt. "People cope with remarkable tenacity," explains Karl W. Butzer, an archaeologist and geographer at the University of Texas at Austin.

Now the pendulum is swinging back to an earlier view that emphasizes geophysical factors. The shift is fueled in part by discoveries about the climate since the end of the last ice age, a period known as the Holocene....The discoveries encouraged researchers to seek detailed regional climate information by drilling sea and lake sediment and glacier cores around the world. Archaeologists began matching up important transitions in civilizations with these climate records....But many researchers are unwilling to cast climate in a starring role again.

There is more to decline of civilizations than just climatic and other physical factors. Cyclic laws are ever at work, and what Mr. Judge says about the dying out of races is equally true of the collapse of civilizations. In his article "Why Races Die Out" (reprinted from The Path for October 1891 in THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT for September 1968, he wrote:

The theory outlined by H. P. Blavatsky is that when the Egos inhabiting any race have reached the limit of experience possible in it, they begin to desert that race environment and seek for another, which, in the sure processes of nature's evolution, is certain to be in existence elsewhere on the globe. The Egos then having left the old families, the latter begin to die out through sterility attacking the females, so that fewer and fewer bodies are made for inhabitancy. This goes on from century to century pari passu with mental decay....

At the time when the first steps toward old age and decrepitude are taken by such a race, the eternal cyclic laws that always bring about a universal correspondence between the affairs of man and the operations of cosmos cause cataclysms to happen, and even in the seeming height of a nation's power great numbers of bodies are destroyed....After the lapse of more years the natural cataclysms will increase in violence and extent, engulfing more and more millions of bodies and preparing for other cycles....

Hence I conclude that, like families, Races disappear when they are of no further use in the gaining of experience by the great pilgrim soul.


Nature renders service to humans in innumerable ways. There are powerful economic reasons for protecting the natural environment; but, argues Edward O. Wilson, evaluating individual species solely by their known practical value is "business accounting in the service of barbarism" (Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2002). There are deeper moral reasons as well which should compel us to take responsibility for the natural world, says the writer, who is Pellegrino University Research Professor and Honorary Curator in Entomology at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology:

Over the past half-billion years, the planet lost perhaps one species per million species each year, including everything from mammals to plants. Today, the annual rate of extinction is 1,000 to 10,000 times faster. If nothing more is done, one-fifth of all the plant and animal species now on earth could be gone or on the road to extinction by 2030. Being distracted and self-absorbed, as is our nature, we have not yet fully understood what we are doing. But future generations, with endless time to reflect, will understand it all, and in painful detail. As awareness grows, so will their sense of loss....

A much greater dependence on artificial means—in other words, environmental prostheses—puts at risk not just the biosphere but humanity itself. Most environmental scientists believe that the shift has already been taken too far, lending credit to the folk injunction "Don't mess with Mother Nature." The lady is our mother all right, and a mighty dispensational force as well. Ancient and vulnerable, she will not tolerate the undisciplined appetite of her gargantuan infant much longer....

Perhaps it is enough to argue that the preservation of the living world is necessary to our long-term material prosperity and health. But there is another, and in some ways deeper, reason not to let the natural world slip away. It has to do with the defining qualities and self-image of the human species. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that new species can one day be engineered and stable ecosystems built from them. With that distant prospect in mind, should we go ahead and, for short-term gain, allow the original species and ecosystems to be lost? Yes? Erase Earth's living history? Then also burn the art galleries, make cordwood of the musical instruments, pulp the musical scores, erase Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Goethe, because all these, or at least fairly good substitutes, can be re-created.

The issue, like all great decisions, is moral. Science and technology are what we can do; morality is what we agree we should or should not do. The ethic from which moral decisions spring is a norm or standard of behaviour in support of a value, and value in turn depends on purpose. Purpose, whether personal or global, whether urged by conscience or graven in sacred script, expresses the image we hold of ourselves and our society. A conservation ethic is that which aims to pass on to future generations the best part of the nonhuman world. To know this world is to gain a proprietary attachment to it. To know it well is to love and take responsibility for it.

It is in man's own interest to become a co-worker with nature instead of ever trying to exploit it.


In the coming year, NASA and other space agencies are expected to intensify the search for life on Mars and elsewhere in the solar system. But the search is complicated by the fundamental question: What is life? (National Geographic, January 2003)

NASA has been using the definition: "Life is a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution." Other scientists have circulated their own definitions, such as, "Life is a chemical system able to replicate itself through autocatalysis and to make mistakes that gradually increase the efficiency of the autocatalysis." Still others say that life tends to elude capture by any single definition. They are of the view that "We will never have a good definition of life as long as we have only one example, Earth life."

The idea of universality of life is now gaining increasing acceptance among scientists. At the same time it is admitted that life on other stars cannot be judged by the standard of terrestrial life. What then is life? Is it just a chemical system? Says an Occult Commentary: "From the ONE LIFE, formless and Uncreate, proceeds the Universe of lives" (The Secret Doctrine, I, 250). "LIFE....radiates from the summits of the Unreachable, to become a universally diffused Essence on the manifested planes of Existence" (S.D., I, 59). H.P.B. wrote in an Editor's Note in The Theosophist for August 1883, under the title "Transmigration of the Life Atoms":

Life, the occultist says, is the eternal uncreated energy, and it alone represents in the infinite universe, that which the Physicists have agreed to name, the principle, or the law of continuity, though they apply it only to the endless development of the conditioned. But since modern science admits through her most learned professors that "energy has as much claim to be regarded as an objective reality as matter itself" and that life, according to the occult doctrine, is the one energy acting Proteus-like under the most varied forms, the occultists have a certain right to use such a phraseology. Life is ever present in the atom of matter, whether organic or inorganic, conditioned or unconditioned—a difference that the occultists do not accept. Their doctrine is that life is as much present in the inorganic as in the organic matter: when life-energy is active in the atom, that atom is organic; when dormant or latent, then the atom is inorganic. Therefore, the expression "life atom" though apt in one sense to mislead the reader, is not incorrect after all, since occultists do not recognize that anything in nature can be inorganic and know of no "dead atoms," whatever meaning science may give to the adjective. The alleged law of Biogenesis is the result of the ignorance of the man of science of occult physics. It is accepted because the man of science was hitherto unable to find the necessary means to awaken into activity dormant life in what he terms an inorganic atom: hence the fallacy that a living thing can only be produced from a living thing, as though there ever was such a thing as dead matter in Nature! (She Being Dead Yet Speaketh, pp. 134-35


The love of freedom is innate in man, but conceptions of freedom differ. We need to enlarge our conception of its nature and functions, says Manoj Das (The Times of India, February 18):

The 20th century has been one of the most memorable periods in history. Imperialism, colonialism and feudalism folded up and monarchy died a natural death, showing that however powerful a tradition may be, it becomes redundant once its role in social evolution is over. The driving force and the foremost objective of that process is greater freedom for mankind.

If the time-spirit introduced democracy and socialism in several nations, others imbibed them spontaneously. Science and technology made difficult tasks easy, allowing us more time. Feminism paved the way for half of mankind's emancipation from ancient taboos and prohibitions. What the 20th century clearly established is, in fact, the essence of a bio-psychological need inherent in humanity.

The struggle for freedom begins in infancy. The urge behind the child striving to walk is an urge freedom of movement; behind its efforts at articulation is the urge for freedom of expression. As we grow, we also realize that much of what we understand as freedom is a state of mind.

Freedom, therefore, is a relative experience. Freedom at the physical plane is far less significant than freedom at subtler planes....Freedom without the right kind of knowledge can be ridiculous as well as dangerous....

True freedom is liberation from ego, and not its licentious demonstration. It cannot be tasted unless one transcends one's ego, or at least becomes conscious of the inevitability of this process.

Sooner or later one has to achieve this transcendence. For most of us it is a long and painful process. For some, nature accelerates the process through disenchantment with one's ego....

Most values we live by today can be different if we achieve freedom from ego and ignorance. The 20th century blessed us with freedom external. Should there be a collective aspiration, the current century could well reveal to us freedom internal, which alone can render the former meaningful.

Individual freedom grows out of individual self-control. Liberty is different from licence. There could not be any real freedom except through self-mastery. Says The Voice of the Silence: "The way to final freedom is within thy SELF. That way begins and ends outside of Self."


It is hoped that the ban on human cloning in the U.S. will encourage other nations to do the same. A news report reads:

After a lengthy debate on science and human life, a bill endorsed by president George W. Bush has been passed banning human cloning and sentencing violators to prison and fines as high as US$ one million. US legislators decided to ban all cloning even as some urged for an exception so researchers can continue to work towards cures for diseases such as Alzeimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes.

Lawmakers in the House maintained that all human cloning research must be banned because a cloned embryo is a human even before implantation in a womb, and to destroy it for research would be immoral.


In a previous book, Rattling the Cage, Steven Wise argued the case for giving animals legal rights. His follow-up, Drawing the Line: Science and the case for Animal Rights, is an answer to the questions often asked him about which animals would qualify.

Wise draws a parallel between the fight for animal rights and the formidable obstacles that faced the opponents of human slavery. Slavery is not a term applied to animals, but they are considered property and that is enough for Wise to remark that, "non-human animals are enslaved by everyone." His thesis seems to be that the more intelligent an animal, the more it is entitled to rights.

But even where less intelligent animals are concerned, can there be any justification for cruelty? The laws framed to prevent or minimize the cruelties meted out to animals have many loopholes and man's viciousness continues unabated. The apathetic attitude of people towards this problem is shocking. Even pet owners often ill-treat their pets. Animals trained for circuses are also subjected to much cruelty. However, international co-operation and support has resulted in many successes against the animal circus industry, reports Animal Defender (No. 28).

Cruelty is always bad, under whatever attempted justification, and in every case among the injured is the perpetrator himself of the cruel act. H.P.B. pointed out in Lucifer for May 1888, answering a question as to why animals suffer, "Every philosophical Eastern system....inculcates kindness and protection to every living creature."



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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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