The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
January 2011 – Vol. 14 Issue 11
Once again Branch members enjoyed fellowship and delicious cuisine at the Acacia Foundation's Ashura Dinner held at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse on December 14. This folk holiday takes place on the 10th of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, when people cook Noah's Pudding to share with family and neighbors. It commemorates the landing of the ark, when at the end of his journey Noah made a dish from the few miscellaneous remaining supplies. Therefore this dessert has at least seven ingredients, including grains, beans, fruit, and nuts. As a holiday that has always included Muslims, Jews and Christians, it is often chosen by Turks living abroad as an opportunity to host interfaith gatherings where they serve this unusual and tasty dessert. Sharing it symbolizes peace, unity, mutual love and respect.
One of the precious gifts we humans possess is the ability to take a good look at ourselves and discover what is worthwhile and what is better discarded. If we cooperate with the dynamic universal impulses that are occurring around the winter solstice, our New Year's resolves are given added impetus as we carry over the essence of what we find most fruitful from the year's harvest and make room for fresh growth in the newborn year. Certainly many individuals undergo a kind of inner transformation, a constructive change in priorities and values.
An example of this type of awakening was related by an executive who in an interview gave a moving account of his "crashing into truth" and how through self-examination he turned his life around. What led to his first shock and desire to change was the sudden awareness at age forty that he could die. With this realization it came to him that, although extremely successful by outward standards, he had not really lived. He looked back over the years in which he had been in a kind of Rip Van Winkle dream: "My God," he said, "what was happening to me all this time?" He admitted, however, that nothing had suddenly happened; that life is a process of evolution, and that at some point we move "from square one to square two, and cross an invisible line of enlightenment"; that we gradually walk from the "darkness of ignorance" and false superficial influences into "sunlight." One of his important deductions was that "being a full human being is being candid with yourself." This he termed "first-level awareness of reality." He noted the tragedy of allowing "our image of ourself to be what we see in the reflective gaze of others."
Initially he could not be alone, because he found he was unable to relate to himself – "there was nobody there." Before crossing that hurdle he first had to feel comfortable about death. Confronting this fear and facing the finiteness of his life, he then questioned: Who am I? What kind of person am I? What are my values? Gradually he developed a dialogue with himself. He never doubted that he was smart, but he wondered if he would ever be wise. "And now, I think, I'm beginning to touch the hem of wisdom."
This man turned an inner crisis into a positive experience. But how many more individuals remain self-centered and unfulfilled, unborn in a spiritual sense to the end of their days, encountering an unhappy, empty old age? While the light of the real self is always shining within, sometimes as time goes by it becomes deeply buried and is allowed to "fade into the light of common day." The prison house built by our selfish desires and thoughts closes around the heart and mind in the maturing years, as Wordsworth intuited, depriving us of the companionship of soul which is our birthright. We have a legacy of garnered wisdom, and we are challenged to use that wisdom to the best of our ability, to gain a fuller perception of ourselves and life's intent.
It would seem that "first-level awareness of reality" does begin with honest self-examination. Observing oneself each day, scrutinizing one's motives, gradually becoming alert to shortcomings, trying to feel in harmony with the grander rhythms of the universe, can indeed lead on to greater wisdom. All scriptures emphasize the theme that it is we ourselves who must awaken the soul-light through individual initiative, desire, and will; that we must through self-conscious effort bridge the gap between our knowledge of the phenomenal world and the reality which is felt but unseen and little understood. Just as the flower's bloom is implicit in the seed, the butterfly in the caterpillar, so godlike possibilities are innate in every human being.
The New Year is a propitious time to sow finer seeds of thought and endeavor. It is a natural time to look within ourselves, confronting issues that we have been carefully side-stepping, and make a new beginning – not impulsively nor with an overzeal that soon dissipates, but with a quiet, deep resolve. There is indeed no limit to what we can be and do when we permit the sunlight of the spirit to enter into our being: we begin to come alive, to be reborn, to touch the hem of wisdom. – Ingrid Van Mater
It would be foolhardy to suggest what forms of religion might emerge in the next two or three centuries, but perhaps we may suggest what could be the new expressions of the religious spirit. We can look back at the development of religious and related systems of thought born and developed during the 2,155-year period identified with the zodiacal sign Pisces, one-twelfth of a larger cycle of approximately 26,000 years known as a Platonic Year or Messianic Cycle. Significant developments at the transition to the Aquarian cycle include the widespread sharing of hitherto hidden or esoteric traditions from many parts of the world. This includes Tibetan sources as exemplified by Pabongka's Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. This massive book is an English translation of a lecture series delivered in 1921. Pabongka (1878-1941) was a Tibetan Rinpoche so highly regarded among his peers that auditors flocked from many parts of Tibet to hear him. His theme was Tsong-kha-pa's masterpiece Lam-rim Chen-mo, or "Stages on the Path to Enlightenment," now also available in English translation. These lectures provided an intense study dealing mainly with expositions of tantric texts and practices used in the Vajrayana, a path called by some "the highest level of practical Mahayana." However, the goal or crowning achievement, enlightenment, is the outcome only of becoming one with and the embodiment of the "Six Perfections."
H. P. Blavatsky presented her distillation of Buddha's message in The Voice of the Silence. This work charts the path to enlightenment through the portals of the Buddhist paramitas, virtues or perfections. Her text advises avoiding the practice of psychic powers, and also the dry area of intellectualism, into which the spirit of the quest cannot enter without being stifled. As the Voice states: "To live to benefit mankind is the first step. To practise the six glorious virtues is the second." Through these essential qualities is the sustaining presence of the "Soul of the Universe," which is compassion itself. To the extent we embody it – are compassionate in all our relationships – we enable it to manifest throughout our cosmos. If we ask ourselves, what can best lead to the goal of human betterment? a suggestive answer is conveyed in the Buddhist term bodhicitta, or enlightenment achieved by "altruistic resolve" – our dedication to achieve the goal for the sake of all beings and not merely for ourself alone. This is the foundation of Mahayana Buddhism.
Another tradition's "hidden" teachings are becoming increasingly available through the efforts of a few Qabbalists. They feel that ours is the time for sharing previously secret and well-guarded material with those who are prepared to study and reflect upon the meaning of the Jewish heritage. Despite advertisements that there are shortcuts to acquiring special knowledge, study is still necessary and also commitment to the good of mankind. The way was opened up by Dr. Gershom Scholem, whose books present the Zoharic or theosophic tradition. Other scholars, such as Dr. Moshe Idel, are exponents of the Merkabah or "Chariot" lineage, symbolized by the fiery chariot that wafted the prophet Elijah heavenward. Both traditions concern the oral teaching known to provide keys for understanding the Hebrew Bible.
Dr. Philip Berg, head of the Research Centre of Kabbalah, has been issuing good English translations of seminal works going back to the Middle Ages and even earlier, when they were studied and protected by scholars. They include texts stemming from Rabbi Isaac Luria, who taught first from Spain then from Safed in Palestine (now Israel), and also from successors such as his brilliant follower Rabbi Hayim Vital, author of the Tree of Life – the Sephirothal Tree setting out the interconnections of the elohim, architects and builders of the cosmos and humanity. Dr. Berg stated that as it is the beginning of a new cycle it has become his responsibility to make available the texts to which he has access.
Another scholar in this field is Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi whose Kabbalah: Tradition of Hidden Knowledge is more than a mere introductory. He opens his treatise with a quote from Pirke Hekalot, Babylonia, 6th century AD: "Rabbi Ishmael said: All the companions [the initiated] liken it to a man who has a ladder in the midst of his house whereby he can ascend and descend without anyone to prevent him. Blessed art Thou Lord God, Who knowest all secrets and art the Lord of hidden things." Halevi explains in his Preface that "Kabbalah is the inner and mystical aspect of Judaism. It is the perennial Teaching about the Attributes of the Divine, the nature of the universe and the destiny of man, in Judaic terms." In this book he gives the usual diagram of the Tree of Life, showing the permutations thereof to yield various meanings applicable to a human being, a planet, and so forth. (To be continued.)
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