The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
February 2010 – Vol. 12 Issue 12
How do we adjust the lens of our perspective, shifting our focus away from egocentricity to something more beneficial to ourselves and others? We must alter not only our perceptions but the process by which we perceive. This entails casting off old prejudices and conditioning from our particular society, class, religion, ethnicity, cultural tradition, etc., to look at life anew in the purest light possible. It means throwing the best light on a situation, finding benefit even in hardship, and focusing on Unity in every aspect of our daily lives, throughout our existence. It involves not only our reaction to incidents and the words we choose to use in conversation (particularly the adjectives), but even our thoughts and the emotions we associate with them, how we label them. Is a day sort-of-sunny or partly cloudy, overcast, comfortable or creativity inspiring?
The disposition with which we approach the use of our perceptive faculties is pivotal to the outcome of that use, as Grace F. Knoche brings out in To Light a Thousand Lamps. She refers to our departure from the current vehicle as “the still beauty of death,” and to birth and death as phases in an ongoing cycle of constant movement: “all is transformation, change, flux, ebb and reflux.” This constant movement, this perennial transformation, the very evolution of the soul, is facilitated by the universe which sends us – even as we draw forth and attract them – the very situations and circumstances needed to acquire the tools necessary to complete this work we have undertaken. If we remain mindful that all we experience is transitory, our outlook will evolve, becoming more far-reaching and universal, as opposed to short-sighted, centered around the identifications created by the ego from the imaginings of the mind. In other words, while the essential value of an experience is eternal, the conditions and circumstances surrounding the experience are accidental except insofar as they are relevant to our inner growth. Whether we regard any instant as pleasurable or as suffering, it will only last a finite time.
How can this experience be used to progress on our evolutionary journey and help others develop their awareness so that they might recognize their own capacity for inner growth? Can it be utilized, at the least, to plant a seed that may in time be brought to fruition? The virtues essential to this, as explained by Robert Sardello in The Power of Soul: Living the Twelve Virtues, are: equanimity, patience, selflessness, love, compassion, devotion, balance, faithfulness, courtesy, truth, courage, and discernment. Diligence in these traits is required as we prune our qualities of character that they may bring forth more abundant spiritual fruit. In the process, we transform current egocentric perspectives from an intellectual to an experiential understanding of universal brotherhood. – A. Danté
On January 17 several Branch members attended the World Religions Day ceremony held in Sammamish, WA, organized by the Bahá'ís. In the spirit of unity speakers from local faith communities shared aspects of their religions that had particular meaning for them. There were songs, a video showcased how world religions are fundamentally one in their support for love, the golden rule, and the oneness of humanity (you can watch this video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpFvuGZteKo&feature=related), and a Hindu social worker visiting from India told how harmony among religions was being fostered in his Tamal state. Afterwards people enjoyed visiting and refreshments.
The purpose of this annual celebration, held on the third Sunday in January, “is to promote understanding and dialogue between the followers of all religions, to call attention to the common foundation of their spiritual principles, and to emphasize that ‘Religion must be the cause of unity.’” Bahá'ís believe in the oneness of God, the oneness of mankind, independent investigation of truth, the common foundation of all religions, the essential harmony of science and religion, the equality of women and men, elimination of prejudice of all kinds, universal education, and a spiritual solution to economic problems. The celebration’s website states that: “through World Religion Day observances, dedicated towards encouraging the leaders and followers of every religion to acknowledge the similarities in each of our sacred Faiths, a unified approach to the changes that confront humanity can be agreed upon and then applied on an ever-expanding scale to permeate the very psyche of mankind, so that it can be made to see the whole earth as a single country and humanity its citizenry.”
Numberless waves, lapping and momentarily reflecting the sun – all from the same sea. – Halki
What causes prophesies of catastrophes and world-changing events to be so popular? Claims for the imminent end of the world, transformation to a new age, or the coming of a spiritual messenger have a long and unbroken history of credulity and disappointment. Yet even in the information age many continue to be intrigued by such predictions. Take 2012. The movie gives the thrill of watching the earth convulsed and many world landmarks destroyed, but why such widespread interest in an ancient Maya date?
The Maya used at least twenty calendars based on various human and natural cycles. One of these, the Long Count, begins with the start of the present world, which the Maya calculated to be August 11, 3114 BC. One of its large time units is the baktun of 144,000 days or just over 397 years. Some experts in the 1960s thought inscriptions implied that on the date 13 baktun (December 21, 2012) the calendar reset. This is a date where all smaller time units are at zero, similar to the way the year 2000 has the hundreds, tens, and ones columns at zero. However, Mayanists Schele and Freidel in the 1990s disagreed and calculated the date when the Long Count would end as about 3 quintillion times the current age of the universe. The ancient Maya themselves recorded dates as far in the future as the year 4772. Interestingly, the date 2012 holds no significance for present-day Maya people.
How did this obscure date enter general culture? In the November 2009 Sky & Telescope, astronomer and archeoastronomy researcher E. C. Krupp lays out the history and flaws of this phenomenon. Popularizing this date began with two books in 1975 but took off with José Argüelles’ 1987 The Mayan Factor. It linked the Maya date to a “beam” from the center of the galaxy that would contact the earth on December 21, 2012 and advance the evolution of all DNA-based life forms. (Such a beam is not known to science or found in Maya traditions.) Then a 1995 book by John Major Jenkins claimed that during a 36-year period around 2012, the winter solstice point would exactly align with the centerline of our galaxy and bring about a spiritual new age. Meanwhile, the catastrophic angle has been popularized by History Channel programs that Jenkins himself characterized as "45 minutes of unabashed doomsday hype and the worst kind of inane sensationalism." Such melodramatic fare puts forward other 2012 claims, such as an alignment of the planets producing devastation, a catastrophic reversal of the magnetic poles triggered by solar flares, the solar system being pulled into a black hole, or an unknown planet hurtling toward earth. Scientific evidence contradicts all these theories.
Why are people so eager to embrace such prophecies, especially when past ones have repeatedly failed? Perhaps because we fashion our own identity as a story, ideas in narrative form are especially appealing, whether in spiritual works or elsewhere. After all, we each organize our memories into a personal tale, adapting and changing them to fit our currently favored storyline about ourselves. Dramatic stories that allow people to cast themselves in great events or heroic roles have a natural attraction, especially those which involve overcoming death. Such stories can give meaning to suffering and frustration or to large impersonal events.
We get most of our beliefs, opinions, and information from others, whether experts or people we happen to know. This tends to make us gullible because we’re used to accepting secondhand reports without much investigation. The stories we accept depend on the intersection of authority and personal bias. Scriptures, teachers, scientists, experts, ancient civilizations: each of us has a different combination of authorities we accept – if what they say conforms to what we already believe. Brain researcher Andrew Newberg points out that the human brain isn’t very good at knowing what is really out in the world, but is very good at self-consistency. So what one person finds convincing, another may consider incredible because their preconceptions are not the same.
Catastrophes also function as morality plays. Most who accept such ideas feel they are among the chosen, aware, or obedient who will be saved or enter into the new golden age, those in the vanguard of human life. Such scenarios play to people’s egoism and self-righteousness. While some scenarios are clearly revenge fantasies, others represent magical thinking that wants transformed conditions without the long work needed to bring them about by human action. Both cases look to superhuman solutions for current problems.
Most religions include cataclysmic or millenarian events, set both in the past and future. Because of the very structure of the human psyche, 2012 and similar extraordinary predictions will no doubt find devotees for a long time to come.