The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
March 2010 – Vol. 13 Issue 1
Come and join us in friendly informal conversations that explore significant ideas which have influenced human life. Once a month at the Bellevue Regional Library we’ll take a deeper look at a topic such as universal human rights, the self, relativity, personal freedom, evolution, or the oneness of life. What are the meanings and implications of an idea, its pros and cons? Is it useful, realistic, or wrongheaded? What can we learn from it and how can these aspects be constructively applied? The first meeting, on “The Rational Universe,” will be held Tuesday, April 6, from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. We hope to see you there!
I didn’t grow up angry. But after many years I became very angry (with one person in particular) and blamed my situation on others. I wanted others’ comfort and ear to voice my anger. The anger consumed my life and affected my heart, the seat of love. I became hypertensive and was eventually diagnosed with high blood pressure. Over many years the medication strengths increased as my anger took hold of my heart and pushed out love from its proper seat. I believe my hate even began to affect the physical structure of my heart.
One day I woke up and, in an epiphany that changed my life, realized why I was angry, how it was affecting others, and what I needed to do to solve the situation. Expectedly, some-thing that takes years to do, takes years to undo. Though I took immediate steps to correct the situation, with amazing results, it will perhaps take at least the rest of my life to fully resolve the anger.
Immediately I removed the source of anger and con-fusion from my daily life. Others I have known have dealt better with the source of anger (themselves) than I did. But in my mind the situation was so critical that I could not resolve it with the source of anger in my midst. Within a few months doctors took away all the high blood pressure medication I had been on for over a decade. What a great feeling that was! But alas, it was only the beginning, and I made little connection between my immediate relief and my mental state. I put it in terms of physical presence of the source of anger. However, I still let anger into my life, though sporadically rather than constantly. For many years I searched for answers, finding none to advance my healing. Then in a conversation with a friend, the topic of anger arose, and its connection to the heart and love.
A new quest ensued. Circumstance took me to a nearby Buddhist Temple for brief lectures and meditation. Upcoming was a lecture on “Anger.” I went, I listened, I questioned, I read, and most significant, I attempted to inculcate it into my life. More relief, and a pathway to live fully without anger.
Will the structure of my heart which is still ‘broken’ ever heal? Ever change? I do not know, but the pathway is sweet. What I have learned is this: we are in control of our thoughts and passions and emotions and our very life-acts. It is no one but each of us who controls our lives, our outcomes. Don’t be angry – it will only hurt you in the end. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Stick with love, hate is too great a burden to bear.” Hate and anger go hand in hand. Find love and project it to all around you. To the ones who treat you well, and the ones who do not. Project it to your friends and to your enemies! We are all One Humanity, and One Great Universal Brotherhood. Everything we think and do affects all sentient beings! – Oscar Sanchez
The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers. — M. Scott Peck
The Annual Interfaith Program on January 24 at Camp Brotherhood near Mt. Vernon, WA, featured a wonderful presentation by Seattle’s “Interfaith Amigos” Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, and Sheikh Jamal Rahman. It addressed oneness and harmony as well as the difficulties of reaching out to those who feel their way is the only true one. For 43 years Camp Brotherhood’s vision has been “a world of peace and harmony, where members of the human family recognize in one another similar guiding principles of universal compassion and unconditional love, and act on those principles to bring about peace and reconciliation.”
On January 28 several members also had the pleasure of attending an Ashure celebration in Redmond, WA, sponsored by the Acacia Foundation. This Turkish holiday, derived from the Jewish Day of Atonement, was made memorable by a delicious Turkish buffet, meeting old and new friends, and an ornamental painting demonstration by a Turkish calligraph who is in Seattle to decorate the new Bosnian mosque.
Mark your calendar! The seventh Eastside Interfaith Fair will be held Saturday May 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Bellevue Unity Church, 16330 NE 4th Street, Bellevue, WA. Its theme is “Peace for Our Time: By Listening and Sharing, We Learn.” This is a great opportunity to exchange insights with people from many spiritual paths.
How do people decide what they should do and how to live a good life? What makes something right or wrong? In the United States and the Mideast, the majority hold that authentic morality originates in divine revelation. They find it hard to understand how legitimate ethics exist outside of revealed law and scripture, or how people could have incentive to follow standards not enforced by extreme, and often eternal, consequences. But morality built on very different principles also commands respect and at least equal obedience. Let’s look at a few of the world’s many moral systems.
In Hinduism many rituals and social laws have the force of divine revelation: the Vedas are regarded as revealed and works such as the Laws of Manu and Bhagavad-Gita carry divine weight. Religious duties are determined largely by age and social position (caste), and the consequences for following or breaking these rules often take place in other spheres or lives, with karma as the means. At the same time, a key Hindu idea is that the same universal Self forms the heart of every being. The aim of life, whether called union with Divinity or the All, or perfect knowledge of the Self, represents both ultimate bliss and liberation from the cycle of rebirth. Those who follow this path single mindedly often live outside religious rules most are expected to follow.
Confucianism also emphasized order in human life, one that seeks to make society reflect celestial harmony but not by divine decree. Human relations, presented as hierarchical (ruler and ruled, father and son, husband and wife, and older and younger sons), are clearly defined, and virtue is embodying specific attitudes and values and carrying out accepted rituals correctly. People’s status isn’t determined entirely by birth: how they act makes them an aristocrat. Consequences take place in this world and the ideal is to bring about world peace by rigidly regulating individual human relations.
Philosophical Daoism also involves acting in harmony with the underlying principle of the universe, here called Dao and rarely personified. But virtue is far from a set of rules or customs; rather, it is conforming oneself to the spontaneous workings of nature. This is hard because people want to bend life to their desires and purposes. From this viewpoint, those who follow rigid rules of behavior have already set their wills against the Dao by trying to distort themselves, others, and events to fit predetermined human ideas. The wise instead work with nature from moment to moment without preconceptions or trying to dominate.
In Buddhism, basic guidelines for behavior form the last of the Four Noble Truths. These are offered as empirical findings about how the universe works, conclusions that all beings are invited to test for themselves. Right views, right action, right thought, and the five vows Buddhists undertake (not to kill, steal, lie, engage in sexual misconduct or take intoxicants) are techniques for training and refining human consciousness. By following them, and eventually more stringent practices, rebirth will in time cease. Ethical conduct ultimately rests on the principle that the universe and all beings are fundamentally one rather than separate, which makes nonviolence and doing no harm central. In Buddhism virtue involves understanding reality and conforming to it, not worshipping or obeying gods.
Books like Morality Without God? by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Good Without God by Greg M. Epstein also argue that the supernatural is unnecessary to leading a good life. Presenting a secular morality based on doing the least harm, the first work points out that many people in practice use such systems to evaluate religious laws, as when saying that stoning someone to death for adultery is wrong even though mandated by the Bible. That people don’t need fear of God and eternal punishment to be good is illustrated by the worthwhile lives of most people who reject such views.
This focus on human life and welfare highlights that, because they usually support the status quo or at least their own privileged members, widely practiced religions are apt to present acceptance of present conditions and submission to inequalities as virtues with rich rewards in the hereafter. Such “consolations,” often justified as giving the poor hope, serve in practice to discourage people from seeking real reform.
So, what’s right and how do we live a good life? One answer might be to harmonize with the deepest reality you can envision; another, to be a constructive force in human life. Our methods and solutions may change, but a good touchstone is to trust what resonates deep in our hearts and minds, whether from religion or a personal search. By being honest with ourselves and persevering, we’ll find our way.