|How the universe came into being is a question
that is intriguing scientists and the public alike.
That it began with a Big Bang—a gigantic explosion
with matter and radiation created out of nothingness—has
been the theory advanced so far; but where in the
universe did the Big Bang happen, if at all it happened?
Edward L. Wright, professor of physics and astronomy
at the University of California at Los Angeles,
has this to say:
The simplest answer is, nowhere or everywhere.
Astronomical observations allow two possibilities:
Either the universe is the same everywhere,
or it is centred exactly on one location. If
the Big Bang occurred at what is now the Milky
Way, galaxies should be receding from this spot,
and there should be more of them close to us
than there are far away. Observations of the
universe do in fact show that galaxies are receding
from us in all directions, making the distant
universe appear broadly the same, no matter
where you look. But the density of galaxies
appears to be independent of their distance,
so we reject the Milky Way-centred hypothesis.
When cosmologists try to make simple models
of a universe that is the same everywhere and
in all directions, we find three forms such
a universe could take: a saddle-shaped, curved
infinite space; a flat infinite space; or a
spherical, curved finite space. In all these
models, the universe has no unique centre. If
the universe in infinite, then by definition
it cannot have a centre. If the universe is
spherical and finite, the Big Bang would have
been an explosion of space that took place everywhere
at the same time—and thus every location
in the visible universe could be called the
centre of the Big Bang. (Discover; December
The universe, with its "centre everywhere
and circumference nowhere," could not have
had merely a mechanical origin, and cosmologists
are beginning to admit this, though they cannot
explain all its mysteries. Life takes on a new
meaning when viewed from the perspective of the
vast expanses of space teeming with galaxies and
universes, with new ones appearing or re-forming
from time to time, and old ones dying out. "This
process," says Isis Unveiled (II, 265), "has
been going on from all eternity, and our present
universe is but one of an infinite series which
had no beginning and will have no end."
The irony of our times is that
advances that are supposed to make life more comfortable
also make it more dangerous. Technology and progress,
it is claimed, have helped eradicate disease,
but they can also exacerbate it. Geoffrey Cowly
writes in Newsweek (May 5):
SARS, Ebola, Avian flu. The parade of frightening
new maladies continues, each one confirming
that our species, for all its cleverness, still
lives at the mercy of the microbe. It didn't
seem that way 30 years ago—not with smallpox
largely defeated, AIDS still undreamed of and
medical science evolving at an unprecedented
clip. But even as optimists proclaimed victory
over the germ, our megacities, factory farms,
jet planes and blood banks were opening broad
new avenues for infection. The dark side of
progress is now unmistakable....Some 30 new
diseases have cropped up since the mid-1970s—causing
tens of millions of deaths—and forgotten
scourges have resurfaced with alarming regularity.
"Infectious diseases will continue to emerge,"
the Institute of Medicine declares in a new
report, warning that complacency and inaction
could lead to a "catastrophic storm"
of contagion. So what's to be done? Is preparedness
our ultimate weapon? Do we know enough about
the genesis of new diseases to prevent them?
As scientists study the causes of disease emergence,
they are finding that human activity that disrupts
the natural environment is a significant force.
Thoughtlessly interfering with ecosystems in the
name of progress can be hazardous to our health.
Nature always strikes back.
Other contributing factors mentioned by Cowly
include medical technologies like transfusions
and transplants, which raise the risk of spreading
bloodborne diseases. Air travel also helps spread
the bugs. "We are interconnected in ways
that weren't true a century ago," says Dr.
Mary Wilson of Harvard. At the same time a breakdown
of social traditions is affecting us adversely.
Will physical measures alone—like checking
the spread of microbes, improving basic health
care, stockpiling antiviral drugs, etc.—wipe
out diseases or prevent their recurrence in new
forms? That diseases have psychic roots is now
being recognized to some extent, though not fully.
What is needed is knowledge of the sevenfold constitution
of man, and especially of the activity of one
factor, Kama—desires and longings—which
plays a major role in tracing the cause and cure
As with other processes and phenomena in life,
diseases follow a cyclic course. Just as fast
as old diseases disappear, new ones spring up.
As far as medical science is concerned, it never
can conquer disease per se. This fact may seem
disheartening, but it is easily comprehended if
one follows the teaching that physical diseases
are but the outer manifestations of inner disturbances;
ailments are the results of causes set in motion,
for the most part, in the mental or moral planes
of being. These causes are merely working their
way out from within, and when they reach the physical
plane they manifest themselves as diseases. This
final manifestation may be made to disappear for
a time. But unless the cause which is not physical
has been removed it is bound to come forth again
under another form. Many diseases that were prevalent
in decades and even centuries gone by, have now
been wiped out, but new ones are developing.
As with disease, so with pain—doctors
are saying that it has not just physiological
roots, but also "spiritual, cultural and
emotional ones." Dr. Sherwin Nuland's musings
on the complex problem of pain (Newsweek, May
19) contain food for thought. The clinical professor
of surgery at Yale has this to say:
As long as humans have kept records, they have
reflected the awareness that there is far more
to pain than mere discomfort at the site of
injury or disease. To the Babylonians and to
the most modern of neuroscientists alike, the
evaluation and treatment of pain have been understood
to require methods that deal not only with the
origin of the noxious stimulus, but with emotions
as well. Nowadays, the International Association
for the Study of Pain defines the subject of
its research as "an unpleasant sensory
and emotional experience associated with either
actual or potential tissue damage," but
Plato's description was not much different:
he said that pain is physical while also an
experience in the soul. Thus, both ancient and
modern sources leave wide latitude not only
for understanding the complex origins of pain
but for seeking clues to help deal with them.
Still, even such generalized words as "physical"
and "emotional" encompass far more
than merely the site of origin, the neurological
pathway to conscious awareness and the psychological
accompaniments. Pain when sufficiently severe
is capable of setting off a cascade of biochemical
actions that affect hormone and enzyme production,
circulation, voluntary and involuntary muscle,
and reactive tissues in numerous organs of the
body. The unpleasant consequences of all these
responses are multiple and additive...
Not only that, but pain's accompaniments and
effects vary from individual to individual,
for a combination of reasons that are only partially
organic. When we invoke a word like "psychological,"
we include in its components an entire set of
cognitive factors that are different for each
person, including past experiences, cultural
influences and the setting in which the stimulus
occurs. Even if a jolt of pain were a purely
physical phenomenon, it would have a specific
meaning to the individual who feels, it, and
would accordingly be interpreted in ways that
increase or descrease its many effects....
It is for reasons such as these that the specific
pain experienced by any given person is so difficult
to evaluate. Pain is notoriously resistant to
efforts aimed at objectively measuring it, largely
because its degree and its consequences are
People in general are illiterate about pain.
They have no educational or emotional background
for comprehending it or coping with it. Pain,
like all frustrations and disappointing happenings
of life, has lessons to impart without which we
should never learn dispassion, compassion and
discriminative action. One of its important services
is to arouse questioning. The whole question if
viewed in the light of Karma and Reincarnation
takes on a new angle which is almost completely
ignored by medical and public debate on the issue.
A state of chronic pain may, in fact, be needed
by the soul to learn some lesson, to discharge
The Buddha's doctrine of Dukkha (pain) and its
ceasing can prove enlightening for all. The universality
of the experience of pain needs no proving.
The Law Commission in India
has initiated a debate on the most humane way
of carrying out the death sentence. But should
there be the death sentence at all? The pros and
cons of the issue are discussed in the View-Counterview
column in The Times of India (May 5). While there
are those who argue that some criminals cannot
safely be allowed back into society lest they
cause further harm and destruction, the arguments
against the death penalty are more weighty:
There can be no humane way of carrying out
the death sentence, which is a brutal act of
revenge. Advocates of the death penalty almost
always cite deterrence as a justification....Several
studies have shown that the death penalty is
not a deterrent. Albert Camus in his Reflections
on the Guillotine says: "Capital punishment
is the most premeditated of murders to which
no criminal's deed, however calculated, can
be compared." As for those who commit premeditated
crimes, such as professional killers or "hit
men," they are even less likely to be deterred
by the thought of death, for the simple reason
that for them any penalty, including capital
punishment, is a risk already taken into account.
The death penalty is society's revenge on
an individual, and this cannot form the basis
of a civilized polity....Does it not amount
to legalizing murder? Indeed, by sanctioning
violence, the death penalty brutalizes society
as a whole. Who can bear the burden of having
taken the life of someone who later may be proved
to have been innocent? The system is neither
fair nor efficient. There's no certitude if
justice has been or in fact undone. The latter
possibility alone dictates against the death
The barbarism of capital punishment reacts adversely
on those living on earth. Mr. Judge wrote in The
Theosophical Forum for May 1895:
He [the executed criminal] is dead so far as
the body is concerned, but is astrally alive.
Worse than a suicide he is filled with hate
and revenge which he must wreak on someone.
At first he is not able to do much, but soon
he finds that there are sensitive persons on
the earth who can be filled with his vicious
raging passions. These poor souls are then influenced
to commit crimes; being filled mentally—from
the inner planes—with the ideas and passions
of the criminal, they are at last moved to do
what their mind is filled with. The executed
criminal does not have to know what is going
on, for his raging passions, untouched by the
executioner, excite and influence of themselves
whoever is sensitive to them. This is why many
a crime is suddenly committed by weak persons
who appear to be carried away by an outside
force. It seems hardly possible that anyone
could believe in theosophical and occult doctrines
and at the same time commend capital punishment.
The 20th century has been said
to be the most violent in recorded history, notably
for its two World Wars and innumerable conflicts
within and between nations. We are barely into
the 21st and already the world has witnessed first
hand the full-scale horrors of violence and war.
If there is one ideal that humanity has collectively
dreamt of, it is of peace and harmony in the world.
Some hints on how to make peace a reality are
offered by Suma Varughese in Life Positive (May
Peace is not an abstract concept, or a theoretical
ideal to be spouted at conferences and seminars
and relegated to the briefcase. Peace has to
be worked upon and wrought—moment by moment,
piece by piece...
When it comes to peace efforts mankind has
traditionally favoured two ways. One, which
is external, focuses on creating political,
economic, and social systems that favour peace,
and establishing a network of checks and balances
that discourage abuse of the systems. The other,
favoured by the Orient, is to go within and
root out the disquiet there. "Wars begin
in the minds of men," observed Victor Hugo.
Accordingly, the effort should be to eliminate
the root cause of the malaise. Both efforts
are necessary and mutually supporting....
What stops us from being peaceful? According
to the spiritual wisdom of the East, the root
of suffering is desire....When we take responsibility
for our reactions and choose to favour peace
and happiness, regardless of circumstances,
we will have won the inner war. We will then
radiate peace, joy and love. When we do so,
we exude a rare alchemy that converts the negativity
around us to positivity. This is the stage when
we can actually help transform the outer world....
There are various levels of peace. There is
the basic level, which is the absence of war.
But one has to go beyond that and take the peace
from the peace of the graveyard, to that of
sustenance for life. This requires the formation
of a socioeconomic fabric by reducing inequities,
inculcating trust between sections of society,
and actively working for welfare. The final
stage will be when the fabric is activated to
create a new society with new relationships
and new ethics. Transformation, in short.
To create peace, one must be pro-peace, not
anti-war. Anti-war is reactive, pro-peace is