The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
February 2012 – Vol. 14 Issue 12
[The Bahá’ís celebrate World Religion Day on the third Sunday in January, to call attention to the unity of all faiths.]
While I embrace enthusiastically my Christian underpinnings, and delight in the guidance, companionship, and encouragement of my Presbyterian faith-family, I also seek divine wisdom found in other traditions. Along the way I have become a Theosophist, so if we choose to label them, these are thoughts from a Theosophical Christian perspective.
Some may wonder why one firmly rooted in Christianity would be on a quest for greater understanding through an appreciation of other faiths. After all, the Gospel of John (14:6) informs that Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” I take that to heart, trying to fully understand its meaning, and I strive to live in the way that Jesus lived, to seek the truth Jesus taught, attempting to express the compassion Jesus exemplified with such great passion. Elsewhere in John’s Gospel (17:20) we read that Jesus prayed to God thusly, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for those also who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one” – that they may all be one . . . those words resonate with me.
Through his words and by his works, Jesus didn’t pray for unity of administration. Rather he prayed for a unity of personal relationships. It is a unity of love for which he prayed. It’s pretty certain that people will never organize their worship in the same way, nor will we ever all hold precisely the same beliefs; but I firmly believe that it is possible that in all of our diversity we shall enjoy that unity of love.
One of the best known quotes from the Bible sums up Jesus’ ethical teachings in one short sentence: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love requires relationship. So, can we love our neighbor if we don’t know our neighbor? And, I wonder, can we truly love our neighbor if we relate only on a mind/body level and have no appreciation of our neighbor’s spiritual qualities? Understanding and appreciating other religions is a means of transcending differences and joining people together in love. Gandhi went so far as to say that “the friendly study of all religions is the sacred duty of every individual.” Events such as the Bahá’í World Religion Day help us move from tolerance to respect, from mere acceptance to love and compassion for all humankind – a good and proper path to unity.
In our own spiritual life, it is good to explore, to enjoy, to utilize our chosen belief system to our heart’s content and to share it with others should they express an interest. But if we are to pursue a unity of love, we must go beyond our concepts and formalities, which tend to divide us. Then together we can build a platform upon which we can establish a kinship that is solid enough that persons of goodwill, regardless of their beliefs or lack thereof, can feel drawn to join us, “that we may all be one.” Interestingly to me, developing kinship with people who follow other wisdom traditions, a goal of Theosophy, enriches my understanding of my own Christianity. For example, I regularly do business with a devout Muslim. Often he graciously takes time to share his enthusiasm for his faith with me. One day he told me that his wife was reading a story about Jesus – Prophet Isa, whose name in Arabic means “Spirit of God.” The story related that Jesus had only two possessions, a comb and a cup. Jesus decided that he didn’t need a comb – he could comb his hair with his fingers – so he gave it away. My friend’s wife’s response to the story was, “Oh my gosh, I am such a hypocrite! Think of all that I have in my possession!”
I’d like to leave you with a benediction, a charge, which has encouraged and sustained me, particularly in times of despondency, from the time I was a child hearing it growing up in an Anglican church: “Go out into the world in peace. Have courage. Hold on to what is good. Return to no one evil for evil. Comfort the suffering. Strengthen the weak. Honor all persons. Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Amen! – Lyn Lambert
We all have different ideas as to why there is suffering, but nature knows no more beneficent way to alert us to our limitations or to the wrongs we do than by permitting us to meet the precise effects of our foolish and selfish acts – just as we benefit by the results of every truly unselfish thought and deed. This whole process accents the selfless facet of nature, which acts and reacts as impersonally as the sun and the rain. So let us watch the daily unfolding of events in the light of the promptings from within and without, and we may perceive through the maze of action and reaction, of giving and receiving, an Ariadne thread of guidance. If the works of the Divine are manifest through all things, then there is not a person we meet or an event that occurs but represents an opportunity for growth and a positive guide in the conduct of our lives. The same law that burns us when we touch the flame operates on the moral and spiritual planes, and it will continue to bring pain and sorrow of one kind or another until we awake to the fact that our better self is trying, desperately at times, to tell us something. And as we observe what is transpiring within our souls, we shall recognize that the quality or focus of our concern is gradually being raised from a lower to a higher level of consciousness. – James A. Long
We have been looking at developments in the religious systems of thought that have flourished during the 2,155-year period identified with the sign Pisces (Latin for “fish,” Greek ichthys, a term adopted by very early Christians as a symbol for their Savior). The marvel of the last hundred years has been the publication of formerly esoteric works for all to see, read, and try to grasp – the revelation that within many religious traditions there is the secret sacred heart.
Islam, for example, has its Sufi lines. Omar Khayyam, a former astronomer-royal of Persia, is now best remembered for his quatrains, the Rubaiyat. He was a Sufi and instilled the Sufi philosophy into his verses in coded language. Other Persian poets such as Rumi also expressed in their verses mystical interpretations of the Quran and the Hadith, collections of the sayings, acts, and opinions ascribed (whether correctly or wrongly) to Muhammad. There are modern streams, some well known in the West such as that of Idries Shah and his followers and those tracing back to Hazrat Inayat Khan, and others less known that stem from old Persia or other traditional Sufi centers in the Islamic world.
The esoteric roots of Christianity are also coming to light as the public is introduced to its earliest material, written before crystallization set in. That material has been given new life with the publication of the gnostic books found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945, two years before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Against the onslaught of the Orthodox party whose religion was based on blind belief, a gnostic Christian sect hid the main texts of its library in the desert, among them the Gospel of Thomas. For the most part, the texts of the gnostic Christians are not antagonistic to the New Testament, only to certain dogmatic interpretations of it. In many respects, they add to our understanding of the essence of the original teaching. The New Testament's importance lies not in its historicity, but in the fact of its being the story of every human being who seeks to evoke the real human qualities locked up in all of us. Jesus is reputed to have said, in effect: carry out my teaching, then greater things than I do shall you be able to do.
The New Testament narratives take on new life if we relate them to events transpiring within ourselves, while the characters can be seen as facets of our nature. As for the central figure of the New Testament, we see that inexplicable happenings relate to the initiation into a stage of self expression, i.e., of the innate spiritual/divine qualities locked up within. When Jesus called upon his followers to benefit from his presence by beginning to live his teachings before the close of the Aion (a Greek word meaning “age” or “period of time”), he referred to the end of his Aion – not the Doomsday of the whole planet, but to the ending of the Piscean Age, after which would be "a new Dispensation," a new presentation of the ever-living ancient wisdom.
What is yet to emerge in the Age of Aquarius, not yet fully born out of a past swamped by religious and other dogmas? New expressions might well follow the germination of seed ideas and concepts contained in such works as H. P. Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine. The thrust of her message is that the universe is ensouled and that humanity is spiritual in essence, and the objective of her work was to initiate another attempt to elevate the spirit and mind of the human race. Whatever it may be, a fresh presentation of ancient wisdom will emerge more fully in years to come, expressed in the language of the new period now still in its gestation stage, clothed with the psychology of following generations.
The newly flowing stream associated with Aquarius has been merging with the old waters of the Piscean cycle. What will be distinctively "Aquarian" in form will be recognizable as such only in the coming centuries; only then will the seeds sown in our own times and years before have germinated, sprouted, and begun to show their own characteristics. What has been happening during the last century resembles what follows after a plowing of an old and tired soil, to enable the new seeds sown to take root and grow sunward. The growth will be colored by the qualities of the particular cycle: in the present case, the Aquarian slowly coming out of its chrysalis. Instead of the old era of competition that has bedeviled human life in our age, perhaps we are entering an era of cooperation, dependent upon our recognition that we all belong to one family. These words of Blavatsky strike a keynote for such an era: "No one is so busy or so poor that he cannot create a noble ideal and follow it. Why then hesitate in clearing a path towards this ideal, through all obstacles, over every stumbling-block, every petty hindrance of social life, in order to march straight forward until the goal is reached?"