Compass Newsletter Summer 2005 No.3
British Section National Meeting on June 11
Extract from the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre from Vera Morgan, North Wales
Extract of a letter from Beryl Cowper, Liverpool
Theosophy in Everyday Life Alison Sheen, Exeter
Anna Karenina – Tolstoy page 760 Part V111
To Light a Thousand Lamps, G.F. Knoche, Chapter 17
Expanding Horizons, James Long, pp 238/9
At midday on June 11, members and friends from various parts of Britain gathered in a large airy room at the Friends House in central Manchester. There were happy reunions, new introductions and chatter over cups of tea and then we settled down to listen to our guest speaker from the Netherlands – Bas Rijken van Olst. He was cordially welcomed and introduced by the National Secretary who gave a brief sketch of his interesting background. For those readers who were unable to be with us, here is more or less what was said:
Bas lives and works in the Hague where the Dutch section of the TS Pasadena own a property which houses the theosophical library and provides a venue for meetings. Bas who shares the job of National Secretary with Magriet van Veen, is engaged in translating TUP literature including Sunrise into Dutch. To date he has completed 20 titles and is eager to start on Isis Unveiled. With an MA in comparative Indo-European languages – a large part of which was Sanskrit, he is ideally qualified for this work.
A PhD in economics was followed by a spell in the Bureau of Statistics. This position may well have been the propitious impetus to his now preferred and valuable role.
After Bas’ talk John Dutton took the chair and invited comments and questions from the audience. Here then is Bas’ complete talk:
Thoughts on Religion in the Future
Satyât nâsti paro dharmah
‘There is no Religion higher than Truth.’
This is the motto of The Theosophical Society as it is found on the title page of H. P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine. Perhaps it is interesting to analyse it a little further, because terms like ‘truth’ and ‘religion’ may have different connotations for different people. ‘Truth’, satya, comes from the root as, ‘to be’, and has the meaning ‘that which is’, or ‘reality’, or ‘Nature’; nâsti is a contraction of na, ‘not’, and asti, ‘there is’; paro dharmah means ‘higher than dharma’. Dharma is from the verbal root dhri, ‘to hold, to bear, to keep, to maintain, to practice’, therefore ‘to behave in a certain way’. In established traditions dharma came to mean ‘prescribed conduct, customary observance’, and therefore ‘religion’. A paraphrase of the motto therefore could be: To act in accordance with Nature is the best way to behave.
Following Cicero’s etymological derivation G. de Purucker says ‘the word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin religio and means a careful selection of fundamental beliefs and motives by the higher or spiritual intellect, the faculty of judgement and understanding, and a consequent joyful abiding by that selection, the whole resulting in a course of life and conduct in all respects following the convictions that had been reached. This is the religious spirit.’
– The Esoteric Tradition, p.22
Both in the motto of the TS and in de Purucker’s definition the word ‘religion’ is used in a timeless and universal way. In this conception religion forms an integral part of our human activities. ‘Behaving in accordance with Nature’ or ‘selecting the best possible beliefs and motives’ is a dynamic process. As our understanding grows religion will grow with us and encompass not only all humans, but all other beings as well, on earth, in the solar system, in the entire universe. This is a dynamic view of religion; it expands with us as our understanding of the universe we live in continues to grow. In the past, however, in different countries and periods, such views have frequently become fixed sets of beliefs and dogmas. Religion per se then becomes a religion; it becomes static, emphasising only certain ways of approaching truth. Sometimes free research of ideas and facts became restricted or forbidden and people had to follow prescribed ways and ceremonies to express their religious feelings. In India however there is a saying, ‘The different religions are nothing but gates to the same city’, which points to the fact that the search for truth allows no lasting barriers.
What then would be the best way to behave in life, now and in the future? The 21st century has just started, and in this age more information is freely available to mankind than for thousands of years, both in books and on the internet. The future looks bright for religion, using the word in its broad and universal meaning. The different religions of the world can now be studied and compared and analysed. With so many religious and philosophical systems competing for our attention let us try to get to the core of each one of them. There can be only one truth – the facts of the universe – although their interpretations may differ. Let us then attempt to reconcile these various religious systems. Some two thousand years ago Ammonius Saccas, who lived in Alexandria, had the same idea when he started his Eclectic School, reconciling ideas from India, from the Greeks, from Judaism, from the Hermetic and other traditions. H.P. Blavatsky says in this respect:
“The ‘Wisdom-religion’ was one in antiquity; and the sameness of primitive religious philosophy is proven to us by the identical doctrine taught to the Initiates during the Mysteries, an institution once universally diffused. ‘All the old worships indicate the existence of a single Theosophy anterior to them. The key that is to open one must open all; otherwise it cannot be the right key.”
– The Key to Theosophy, p.4
Paul, when speaking of faith, refers to the ancients, the great sages of old: ‘Faith is the reality of things hoped for [intuitively discerned], the evidence of things invisible. This is what the ancients were commended for’ (Epistle to the Hebrews, 11:1-2). The Greek word for ‘faith’, pistis, does not refer to blind faith, but to a deep instinctive knowledge.
Faith and religion were never intended to be blindly accepted or copied. Fixed expressions of truth tend to become fossils, thereby losing the living spirit. What the major religions of the world have in common will probably endure; the rituals and ceremonies in which they differ will not last that long.
What is the difference between the religion of the future and the religions of the past? Today people are very individualistic. This has both positive and negative aspects. The positive aspect is that they will not so easily become a member of organisations where people lean on priests or religious leaders; they will not blindly believe this or that system of thought, but will take from the heritage of mankind those thoughts and ideas with which they feel at home and comfortable. Ideally this means that they will become more dependent on their own inner resources. They will learn to follow their own inner light, become independent in their search for truth.
The negative aspect is that individualism may lead to too much materialism. In the past people were consumers of religion in churches and while attending rituals. Now they are becoming consumers of religious ideas in books and on the internet. But there is another factor needed. One has to become whole again by becoming producers instead of consumers. The reservoir of wisdom from which people drink, must be kept full by good acts, by putting into practise the things they have learnt. G de Purucker summarises what is needed:
“The simple doctrines of brotherhood and kindliness, of universal love, of duty, of compassion, of self-sacrifice, which train the will in the way of these noble and beautiful things which the individual must practise – these are a beautiful and sublime religion in themselves because they are natural, spiritually natural. Any exoteric religion, any religion of forms and ceremonies with a priesthood to carry on these things – whether such a religion be of the barbarian or of the civilised European – distracts the attention away from the real things of the spirit living in the heart and soul of man.”
– Dialogues of G. de Purucker, 2:59
If we live according to the ethical guidelines indicated above, we will automatically create a society in which the social needs of the sick and the elderly are taken care of. If people act in this way, it will bring them together on inner lines. The Golden Rule, perhaps the best known rule of conduct, can be found in almost every religion: Do not do to others what you would not wish to suffer yourself.
If this one rule were kept by the majority of humanity, the world would already be a better place. It implies respect for other individuals, respect for other views, and would reduce violence in the world. If a major disaster strikes in one part of the world, as for instance the tsunami in the Indian Ocean on December 26th 2004, people from all corners of the earth feel the urge to help, financially or practically, because there is an immediate empathy for those who suffer. In such a case it doesn’t matter to which religion one belongs. An unseen but unifying bond is immediately felt. This is an expression of how Religion, not a religion, is protecting society. It is not just an ideal, it is very practical.
The Golden Rule is the cornerstone of justice; it strengthens man’s higher instincts. If this Rule is ever present in the minds and hearts of people it will influence the whole community. Ideas rule the world, they say. People who increasingly feel responsible for the world should strengthen its thought atmosphere, or begin by doing so at home, in their office, etc.
In December 1887 H.P. Blavatsky published her article Lucifer to the Archbishop of Canterbury. In it she says:
Theosophy is not a religion, but philosophy at once religious and scientific; and . . . the chief work, so far, of the Theosophical Society has been to revive in each religion its own animating spirit, by encouraging and helping enquiry into the true significance of its doctrines and observances.
. . . A religion is true in proportion as it supplies the spiritual, moral and intellectual needs of the time, and helps the development of mankind in these respects. It is false in proportion as it hinders the development, and offends the spiritual, moral and intellectual portion of man’s nature.
– Collected Writings, 8:268-9
The religion of the future will be based on the same animating spirit that has been behind all the world’s religions. Its outer form will reflect this inner spirit. It will not come about by bringing together and merging various religious churches or institutions. It is no use putting old wine in new bottles.
The new religion will take shape in spontaneous actions like those following the tsunami disaster when many people instantly feel the urge to act. The future will see more possibilities for like-minded people to communicate, to strengthen their bonds of friendship and to cooperate no matter where they are on this planet.
Today the world’s religions have formulated various precepts. Will the same precepts continue to be of value in the religion of the future? In the above quote Blavatsky has already answered this question by saying that a religion should respond to the spiritual, moral and intellectual needs of the time.
In the Dhammapada (The path of religion), a book with precepts and sayings of the Buddha, we find the following verses:
As the monsoon rain does not enter a well-thatched house, so lust does not enter a well-disciplined mind. – 14
Let a man conquer anger by love, let him subdue evil by good; let him overcome the greedy by liberality and the liar by truth. – 223
Be ever vigilant; keep close watch over your thoughts; extricate yourself from the mire of evil, as does an elephant sunk in the mud. – 327
Although these verses are clear enough and relevant for this age, in two of them reference is made to the monsoon rain and an elephant; both are common enough in India, but not for instance in Europe. Precepts will always show something of the flavour of the country and the time of their origin; their phrasing will probably change in the future.
Many of the precepts in the various ethical systems of the world have to do with the concept of karma; the idea that every act has its appropriate effect. The future will be the result of seeds sown in the past. Good deeds therefore hold a promise for the future. This is illustrated by the following fragment entitled The Hidden Treasure taken from the Buddhist Pâli cannon: *Khuddakapâtha 8:1-10,14,16, translation by R.C. Childers, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1870, pp.321-3.
“A man buries a treasure in a deep pit, reasoning thus within himself, ‘When occasion arises this treasure will be of use to me, if I am accused by the king, or plundered by robbers, or for release from debt, or in famine or in misfortune.’ Such are the reasons for which men conceal what in the world is called treasure. Meanwhile all this treasure, lying day after day concealed in a deep pit, profits him nothing. Either the treasure vanishes from its resting place, or its owner’s sense becomes distracted with care, or Nâgas remove it, or malignant spirits convey it away, or his enemies or his kinsmen dig it up in his absence. The treasure is gone when the merit that produced it is exhausted.
There is a treasure that man or woman may possess, a treasure laid up in the heart, a treasure of charity, piety, temperance, soberness. It is found in the sacred shrine, in the priestly assembly, in the individual man, in the stranger and sojourner, in the father, the mother, the elder brother. A treasure secure, impregnable, that cannot pass away. When a man leaves the fleeting riches of this world, this he takes with him after death. A treasure unshared with others, a treasure that no thief can steal. Let the wise man practise virtue: this is a treasure that follows him after death. A treasure that gives every delight to gods and men . . . Wisdom, enlightenment, tranquility, . . . all these this treasure can procure. . . . Thus this possession of merit is of great and magical effect, therefore are good works praised by the wise and learned.”
What can we do to help people to accumulate such a treasure of the spirit; what can we do to spiritually enlighten our fellowmen? A master of wisdom wrote in Lucifer (Jan. 1888, p. 346):
“The problem of true Theosophy and its great mission are, first, the working out of clear unequivocal conceptions of ethic ideas and duties, such as shall best and most fully satisfy the right and altruistic feelings in men; and second, the modelling of these conceptions for their adaptation into such forms of daily life, as shall offer a field where they may be applied with most equitableness.”
The religion of the future lies very much in our own hands. The better able we are to form a clear picture in our minds of our ‘ethical ideas and duties’, and set an example by applying them in our lives, the sooner there will be a world in which people will naturally help each other wherever and whenever they can. If we regularly think about the best way to behave in life, and then try more and more to act accordingly, we will tread a path where karma will become our friend.
As we progress along this path we have the opportunity of becoming vortices of heart-force. H.P. Blavatsky quotes this description of a period in the future of mankind: Then . . . ‘the world will have a race of Buddhas and Christs, for the world will have discovered that individuals have it in their own power to procreate Buddha-like children – or demons.’ ‘When that knowledge comes, all dogmatic religions, and with these the demons, will die out.”
– The Secret Doctrine 2:415
If we are really eager to find truth, our search will lead us ever further inwards to our spiritual roots; eventually we can become a race of buddhas and christs, and our religion will be truth.
I think I have wasted a great deal of my life waiting to be called to some great mission which would change the world. I have looked for important social movements. I have wanted to make a big and important contribution to the causes I believe in. I think I have been to ready to reject the genuine leadings I have been given as being matters of little consequence. It has taken me long time to learn that obedience means doing what we are called to do even if it seems pointless or unimportant or even silly. The great social movements of our time may well be part of our calling. The ideals of peace and justice and equality which are part of our religious tradition are often the focus of debate. But we cannot simply immerse ourselves in these activities. We need to develop our own unique social witness, in obedience to God. We need to listen to the gentle whispers which will tell us how we can bring our lives into greater harmony with heaven.
Thank you for the invitation to the National Meeting in Manchester on June 11….. The topic to be discussed promises to be an interesting one. As regards the theme of religion in the future: my late cousin, not long before his death on January 16 of this year, asked me if I thought religion would survive in the future. I replied that I thought it would but that it would have to evolve. On a previous occasion, knowing my interest in Hindu beliefs as a theosophist, he photo-copied an article by a French journalist on the subject….I was struck by a passage emphasising that “committed Hindus regard every simple action, including the most ordinary routine ones, as a sacred ritual and perform every act accordingly……As a person who formerly disliked housework, I have come round myself to this way of thinking for a long time. Now I find every simple daily chore a source of great satisfaction and, indeed, immensely therapeutic psychologically……I read a comment in words to the effect that even the smallest action performed well contributes to the harmony of the universe……….
Last month the Exeter study group decided to combine their meeting with an afternoon at one of our local beauty spots, Killerton Gardens. We enjoyed the fragrance of trees and flowers while we sat in the warm sunshine discussing the topic of summer and the still to come solstice.
There is, of course, no formula, no set rules or regulations for the application of Theosophy to daily life. However, Theosophy does offer universal precepts. For my part trying to apply these principles to daily life seems to be a way of attempting to develop a more understanding attitude to daily events.
Instead of looking for an escape from the difficulties and problems of daily life, I try and make the effort to understand, experiment, experience and express what I have learned from Theosophical ideas. It is much easier to fall back into old habits which is the effortless way out of familiar situations.
As an ordinary individual with the usual human encumbrances, such as ego, my understanding of Theosophy albeit small, is helpful in dealing with each day’s activities. We have many aspects to our personalities which can obstruct truth but we are still mere humans on a tough journey. It’s a comfort to realise that our finer Selves are immortal.
Below is a paragraph by W Q Judge:
How shall we apply Theosophy in daily life ? First, to think what we are in reality, on arising; to endeavour to realise what this small segment of our great existence may mean in the long series of such existences; to resolve to live throughout the day from the highest of our realisations; to see in each event and circumstance a reproduction in small or in great of that which has been; and to deal with each and every one of these from that same high point. Resolve to deal with them as though each had a deep occult meaning and presented an opportunity to further the successes of the past, or undo the errors. Thus living from moment to moment, hour to hour, life will be seen as a portion of a great web of action and reaction, intermeshed at every point, and connected with the Soul which provided the energy that sustained it. If each event is so considered throughout the day, be it small or great, the power to guide and control your energies will in no long time be yours.
“Reasoning had brought him to doubt and prevented him from seeing what he ought to do and what ought not. When he did not think, but simply lived, he was continuously aware of the presence of an implacable judge in his soul, determining which of two possible courses of action was the better and which was the worse, and as soon as he did not act rightly, he was at once aware of it.”
To Light a Thousand Lamps, G. F. Knoche, Chapter 17
Everyone counts. Intuitively we know this, but do we grasp sufficiently the profound implications of this powerful truth ? It is self-evident that thought and feeling move us to action, yet few of us are convinced that our private feelings and thoughts really do count in the totality of mankind. In this we err. It is no trifling matter that our merest emotion or thought affects to some degree not only our brothers of every kingdom, but also the universe. Truly, the magnetic interchange of responsibility and destiny among all living beings within the sun’s domain is awesome: there is not a moment of our waking hours or during sleep ( albeit in a different manner ) when we do not exert some type of influence upon the auric atmosphere surrounding our globe in which the whole of mankind partakes.
Expanding Horizons, James Long, pp 238-9
The present confusion of ideals has brought us to a dangerous pass- and I am not referring to the perils from missiles and rockets, satellites or bombs. These are symptoms, and alarming ones in the hands of the wilfully destructive; but they are symptoms only and do not constitute Man. Should the much -feared destruction of civilisation eventuate- which I very much doubt will occur- we will have to rely on the simple yet all-inclusive truth that you may destroy the body but you cannot kill life. Man will survive; he will face and surmount every cataclysm that may be in store, whether by flood, fire, outer space-or himself!
Nations and races, as such, have time and again passed out of existence, but the egos that once inhabited them incarnate anew, in other lands and in other racial strains. If we can grasp the larger vision as far as is humanly possible, this will not remove the dangers, but it will help us to meet whatever comes with fortitude.
So let us take courage and join hands with those clear-sighted and strong individuals in every country who are quietly working to keep the wheels of progress moving forward.
Our Fond Farewell to Ron Lewis 1920-2004. From a letter by Arthur Lewis, Ron’s brother:
Ron Lewis who was loved by all who knew him, died in a hospice in Sheffield last November. Members of the Manchester group may remember how he took over the reins of chairmanship at very short notice. He also ran a Theosophical study group at his home in Sheffield for several years. His thoughtful talks were always worth listening to and one or two were included in Sunrise.
Born in Nottingham just after world war one, his outstanding sportsmanship became apparent at Grammar school when he played for the 1st eleven team in football and cricket. On leaving school he played professional football for Bradford until the outbreak of the second war. While in the army he visited Cape Town en route to Palestine and Egypt. Even during the war he played cricket and football for the forces, fielding at silly mid-on for the legendary Jim Laker. Subsequently, while working and supporting a family, Ron switched to Crown Green Bowling, winning many competitions and trophies for over 40 years.
Married to Jean in 1949 they brought up 3 sons and a daughter. Stephen and Andrew are now living in New Zealand with their families.
The London Blavatsky Branch
After much thought and consultation with key members, it has been decided to cancel a meeting scheduled for October 8 at John Adams Hall this year. Hopefully members will keep in touch with each other by phone, email and letters.
Requests for the TUP catalogue and information regarding the Theosophical Correspondence Course continue unabated. TUP book sales are healthier than ever. Our website attracts visitors who often follow up their findings by embarking on the correspondence course, subscribing to Sunrise and sometimes also wishing to join the Society.
Local Study Groups
If you know one or two people in your area or neighbourhood who would like to know more about theosophy, you may feel like inviting them to meet at your home for an initial discussion. If there is a consensus of enthusiasm to continue on a regular basis, do contact the National Secretary for further guidance. Studying Theosophy with like minded souls is a rewarding pursuit for all concerned.