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IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY

From The Theosophical Movement
Vol 73 No. 8 - June, 2003

With the growth of terrorism in the world, there has been a rush to identify and explain it on the basis of Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis, expounded in his well-known book under that title. The reality, writes N.S. Rajaram in The Hindu open page, is that "terrorism represents no civilization and follows no boundaries." He examines aberrant behaviour like terrorism or megalomania from the Vedantic perspective:

The major drawback of geopolitical theories, like Huntington's clash of civilizations, is their failure to account for human behaviour, especially aberrant behaviour. Ancient Indian thinkers on the other hand have made a profound study of this aspect of conflict. It is surprising that Indian humanities scholars have by and large failed to take advantage of the vast body of knowledge available to them in their own tradition. Yoga, Vedanta and many other sources provide alternative visions based on insights into human behaviour. A study of Indian sources shows that conflicts like what we are faced with were not unknown to the ancients who had made a profound study of the causes and effects that underlie them. They analysed them from the viewpoint of human tendencies rather than as reflections of geopolitics. They characterized them as Daivic (divine) and Asuric (demonic) traits and saw conflicts as resulting from the clash of values (or dharma) deriving from them. In this context, it is a serious error to interpret dharma as religion or sect. Seen from this Vedantic perspective, what we are witnessing around us is no clash of civilizations, but a clash of values or dharmas. This is an age-old conflict, between the material and the spiritual. Most evil in the world is due to excessive preoccupation with material wealth and power. This tendency is called Asuric by the ancients. The spiritual or the trait that seeks harmony is called Daivic....The Daivic leads to freedom and the Asuric to bondage. [cƒ. The Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter XVI]

How are we to account for these traits, or what they stem from? The Vedantic view is that there are three fundamental tendencies (or gunas) that control human behaviour; the combined action of these on the people, especially the leaders, leaves an imprint on the history of any era. These tendencies are: sattva (light or purity), rajas (power or aggression) and tamas (darkness or ignorance). Any combination of these determines the history of an epoch. Particularly dangerous is the combination of tamas and rajas—aggression driven by ignorance. This is what we call fanaticism. Tamas sees sattva or light of knowledge as the enemy. Its goal is to destroy sattva and plunge the world into a Dark Age. This has happened many times in history. This is what forces of fanaticism are trying to do to the world today....It is no clash of civilizations but a clash between Daivic and Asuric forces. For civilization to survive, the Daivic forces must combine to defeat the Asuric combination of tamas and rajas. This is the message of Vedanta.


The subject-matter of psychology is the "mind." It focuses upon how we perceive, attend, think, remember and use language, emotion, motivation and social interaction. But what is mind, and is the subject-matter of psychology within the domain of scientific investigation? Dr. Sarah Eaggar, writing from London, focuses on the problems psychology faces (Purity, April 2003):

Psychology, as it stands today, is more a collection of disparate disciplines than a conceptually ordered and unified research programme. The notion of a superparadigm to link these models would have to unify all the current philosophical and conceptual languages.

Methodologists and philosophers of science have been endeavouring to find an acceptable of studying "mind." It is not clear whether psychology as a scientific type of inquiry is a suitable means of gaining knowledge about the mind. For example, the special nature of mind with its inability to be directly observed makes it difficult to examine it "scientifically." To do so requires making quite large conceptual leaps by reducing it to other more observable things such as brain states or patterns of behaviour. Despite all these efforts, the "mind" remains in its own special conceptual and language domain. Words like intention, motivation, love and experience sit awkwardly in a physicalist paradigm.

Upon reflection, the question "is the mind fit for science" could be better answered by asking "is science fit for the mind"? If whatever knowledge we have, or seek about the mind, remains largely unscientific, what does this imply about the scope and nature of science? Does psychology need repositioning within a larger framework of knowledge?...

Given that psychology attempts to unify the domain of mental phenomena with that of observable behaviour, it has to involve itself in metaphysical decisions about the relationship between mind and body....

It would not appear that artificial intelligence or any other materialistic explanation of mind is able to answer the current philosophical questions about what it means to be human....In an era of increasing violence, it appears that the important problems left for the world to solve concern the nature of human beings themselves.


H.P.B. called psychology the "Science of the Soul," and her article under that title is a vigorous critique of the psychological conceptions which resulted from the materialistic assumptions of the science of her day. Even today most psychologists believe that mental phenomena are caused by the brain, that brain states cause consciousness. Occultists, says H.P.B., believe otherwise:

We have sought far and wide for scientific corroboration as to the question of spirit, and spirit alone (in its septenary aspect) being the cause of consciousness and thought, as taught in esoteric philiosophy. We have found both physical and psychical sciences denying the fact point-blank, and maintaining their two contradictory and clashing theories.


The concerns of "cosmic preservationists" go further than those of environmentalists. They believe that even rocks have rights and should not be abused. The natural world, in general, they say, has some intrinsic value that we should respect beyond those values that we humans find useful. New Scientist (January 4) has this to say:

This idea of "environmental ethics" entered the mainstream with the publication in 1975 of an essay by none other than Holmes Rolston III. He believes that nature possesses value independently of people, and that we therefore have a duty to respect it and protect it for its own sake. He wants us to get away from the anthropocentric view of the environment held by most people in the West, a view he sums up thus: "For them, humans can have no duties to rocks, rivers or ecosystems, and almost none to birds or bears; humans have serious duties only to each other, with nature often instrumental in such duties."

Have his ideas caught on? Yes, they have spawned entire movements, such as Earth First, a radical green activist group, and the Deep Ecology Movement, whose members seek a relationship with the natural world as "deep" as the relationship they have with people. Deep ecologists believe in a sacred relationship between humans and nature. As Arne Naess, the Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer who founded the movement, puts it: "We need to get rid of subject, object and something in between, the 'me-it' relationship. All is one. This is about feeling rather than thinking."


With the CD ROM market booming and TV channels beaming war footage round-the-clock, Gulf War II made its mark on young minds. Violent video games have become more popular with children than ever before, reports Anubha Sawhney (Bombay Times, April 3). For some adult minds, however, this trend is rather disturbing.

Psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh explains that children's fascination for war games is an external expression of an internal problem. Parents should try to understand the minds and feelings of their children in order to give them proper guidance. Says Chugh:

Chances are that if a child sees and plays games involving war and brutality continuously, he or she will fail to realize the gravity of the situation. Such children are more susceptible to committing acts of violence.

Those who allow children to watch violent video games, or give them weapons for toys and regard with amusement their play with such weapons, are incurring unthought-of Karmic responsibility. "The capacity of children for the storing away of early impressions is great indeed," wrote H.P.B.


Inclusion of the study of ethics in the medical curriculum has raised a controversy. Bombay Times (March 31) reports both sides of the debate.

Dr. Jyoti Taskar, President, Indian Medical Association, Mumbai, is of the view that no purpose will be served by including ethics in the curriculum. Each person has his or her own sense of ethics. It is something that comes from within, she says, and cannot be forcefully learnt. Besides, how does one decide what is ethical and what is not?

Dr. S. M. Sapatnekar, Administrator, Maharashtra Medical Council, takes the opposite view:

It is very important that ethics is taught. Medicine is a learned behaviour, and every profession has its ethics. And its role is maximum in medicine, given the high level of mutual confidence and physical proximity between doctor and patient.... The inclusion of a curriculum consisting of the sociology of medical ethics will assist doctors to be better health solicitors and decision makers. They also need to understand that they can't always have a consulting-room approach. Even the Hippocratic oath is only a declaration; there's no undertaking involved. As a result, there's no mutual commitment. Mere utterance of an oath will not solve the problem. Once inducted into the profession, a doctor is not only responsible for his deeds to his own conscience, he is accountable to his profession as well as to society. Studying ethics will help.

The "moral dilemma" in the medical profession, highlighted from time to time, came in the wake of technological advances in medicine all over the world. As Dr. C. Gopalan, president of the Indian Council of Medical Research, once remarked, doctors in a sense gained the world but were in danger of losing their soul. The nobleness of the profession, the concern and compassion among medical men, the doctor-patient relationship that gave a physician a unique role in society—these were fast disappearing. Medicine is no longer humanitarian, but has become technological and "doctors are dancing to the tunes of machines." The need of the hour is recapturing the lost philosophical foundation of medicine.

Despite the great technical advances of our day, the future of medicine may well depend upon the training of physicians who will once more be humanists.


Who does not want to be happy? Yet few seem to understand what true happiness is. Here is one way of looking at it, as outlined in Mira (March-April 2003).

You can't pursue happiness and catch it. Happiness comes upon you unaware while you are helping others. The philosophy of happiness is pointedly expressed in the old Hindu proverb: "Help thy brother's boat across, and o! thine own has reached the shore."

Happiness is like perfume—you can't spray it on others without getting some on yourself.

Happiness does not depend upon a full pocketbook, but upon a mind full of rich thoughts and a heart full of rich emotions.

Happiness does not depend upon what happens outside of you, but on what happens inside of you; it is measured by the spirit in which you meet the problems of life. Happiness is a state of mind. We are as happy as we make up our minds to be.

Happiness comes from putting our hearts in our work and doing it with joy and enthusiasm.

Happiness does not come from doing easy work, but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.

Happiness grows out of harmonious relationships with others, based on attitudes of goodwill, tolerance, understanding and love.

Happiness comes from keeping constructively busy; creative hobbies are the keys to happy leisure hours...

Happiness is not to be striven after with energy or trapped by tricks. That for which the majority of men and women give up so much of their life is to be found within their hearts if the proper mental attitude be formed. Happiness or Bliss is an inner harmony, contentment of the Soul. It is brought about neither by what we have or have not; nor by what we do or leave undone. Nor is it caused by our environment, which is but the outer manifestation of our inner state. Mistaking cause for effect and vice versa, we seek to achieve happiness by changing our surroundings instead of setting to work on ourselves. There lies the trouble. The force of outer circumstances is fixed; it is we who vary in our reaction.

To be happy is not the goal of life. Happiness is to be found only in ceaselessly becoming, in an endless series of progressive awakenings which purify our affections.


Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli's parable of three stonecutters building a cathedral in the 14th century, though often quoted, is a good reminder even today that it is our attitude which makes our occupation in life, whatever it is, either lowly or exalted:

When he asks the first stonecutter what he is doing, the man replies with bitterness that he is cutting stones into blocks, a foot by a foot by three quarters of a foot. With frustration, he describes a life in which he has done this over and over, and will continue to do it until he dies.

The second stonecutter is also cutting stones into blocks, a foot by a foot by three quarters of a foot, but he replies in a somewhat different way. With warmth, he tells the interviewer that he is earning a living for his beloved family; through this work his children have clothes and food, he and his family have a home which they have filled with love.

But it is the third man whose response gives us pause. In a joyous voice, he speaks of the privilege of participating in the building of a great cathedral, so strong that it will stand as a holy lighthouse for a thousand years. (Life Positive, April 2003)

Indeed, work is worship. It is within our power to make drudgery divine.


The phrase "the great orphan, Humanity," has a deep significance for me. An orphan may also be one who had no parents, as the state of orphanage is that of being without father or mother. If we imagine a child appearing on earth without a parent, we would have to call it an orphan. Humanity is the "great orphan" because it is without parents in the sense that it has produced itself and hence from itself has to procure the guidance it needs. And as it wanders in the dark valley of the shadow of death, it is more in need of help and counsel than the mere body of a child which is the ordinary orphan. The soul is parentless, existing of itself from all eternity, and, considered as soul, mankind is hence an orphan. Plunged into matter, surrounded on every side by the vast number of intricate illusions and temptations that belong to earthly life, it stands every day and hour in need of protection as well as guidance. —W. Q. Judge  



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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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