The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
March 2015 – Vol. 18 Issue 1
Spiritual thinkers increasingly call on us to address modern realities by bringing our actions into line with nature, inner and outer. One such plea focuses on seeds and the diversity of life they represent: Sacred Seed published in 2014 by the Golden Sufi Center, Navdanya, and the Global Peace Initiative of Women. This small book presents 35 essays by representatives of a wide variety of spiritual traditions. They are responding to challenges to our agricultural system, as corporations monopolize crop seeds by genetically altering them in ways that allow them to be patented, often by combining genetic material from different species, even different kingdoms. In the introduction Dr. Vandaha Shiva points out that India alone had 200,000 rice varieties before global agribusiness replaced them with a few monocultures. This month we’ll explore the writers’ insights into the inviolability, wonder and sacredness of seeds and how they have helped us picture the universe and our spiritual journey.
Since the agricultural revolution millennia ago, many cultures have made a connection between seeds and our inner development, as Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee notes: “For many centuries the planting of the seed in the earth symbolized the mystery of life and the journey of the soul – through a descent into the underworld, life was regenerated. Through the darkness we are reborn into the light. In our current supermarket life of pre-packaged products, far removed from the cycles of planting, we may have forgotten this mystery; and yet it remains within our psyche as one of the most symbolic and nourishing stories of the soul, a connection with the deeper meaning of our existence. And now as the integrity of the seed is threatened, so is this story and its primal meaning … that nourishes our inner self as much as the fruits of the seed nourish our body.”
This image was central in ancient Greece, found in the Eleusinian mysteries where the holy object of revelation was an ear of grain. To these people, Christoph Quarch writes, “it was obvious that the constant come-and-go of appearance and disappearance was directed by the divine intelligence of life itself – an intelligence they called nous.… divine Nous restlessly arranges and stabilizes the inner harmony of the kosmos: the one and beautiful universe. And they also thought that within everything having come to existence there is a spark of this cosmic intelligence … a self-organizing principle that preserves the inner structure and arrangement of every single entity. The physical manifestation of the nous spermaticos – as it was called by later mystics – was assumed to be the seed. Therefore the seed was considered to be sacred: a sacred embodiment of the omnipresent cosmic intelligence, which by the nutrition and care of Gaia unfolds and grows into the world of existence”
Speaking for Judaism, the other tradition at the root of Western culture, Rabbi Rami Shapiro observes that “Human beings are the earth becoming self-aware…. Each generation of flora contains the seeds of promise for the next, and it is our task to preserve that promise by protecting those seeds.” The Bible uses many seed-based images, but today “the metaphors that have come to replace them reflect an other-worldly reality independent of seeds, allowing us to entrust earth and sky, seed and harvest to biotech corporations whose ‘person-hood’ is soulless, who do not speak for the earth or midwife her abundance, and whose seeds are scarred with ® and $ rather than the ! that reflects the wonder of life.”
The Vedic religions use the metaphor of the seed, as Swami Atmarupananda tells us: “A seed is the transition between life and life, the bridge over death, the denial of non-existence. A seed is the involution of organism. It’s the collected wisdom of hundreds of millions of years of evolution; cultivated seed is that plus the collective wisdom of thousands of years of human experimentation.… In the Hindu tradition, the universe itself is reflected in the seed. At long intervals, the universe enters a seed-state, a profound state of involution, of simplicity, out of which once again the in-finitely diverse universe springs forth. But there is the ultimate Seed beyond even that: Truth, satyam; pure, luminous Being. That is the Seed of all, and the foundation of wonder.”
Several Buddhist writers use a symbolism where our being is the field and our potentials and qualities are the seeds we choose to sow, cultivate and reap. The Buddha’s word for meditation was “cultivation,” a term drawn from agriculture. Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje writes: “It is essential that we awaken the seed of compassion in ourselves and make ethical choices that minimize the suffering of others, … It is very important that we emulate the Earth’s attitude of generosity towards us. Just as we would do when receiving a precious gift from someone we love, we need to nurture what we have been given. This includes the Earth’s many wonders and biodiversity, as well as our relationship with all sentient beings. It also includes our own minds and our own Bodhicitta seed. We should nurture this precious seed of com-passion and give it all the light and nourishment it needs to grow. If we are able to do this, we will no longer simply be a burden upon the Earth but a source of relief.”
As a culture, we need to appreciate the profound significance of seeds and their deeper meaning for humanity.
One afternoon several years ago, my doorbell rang unexpectedly and when I opened the door, I saw an old woman standing outside, a child of four or five clutching her skirt. She was shapeless as a bale of cotton. Her voice was a piteous wail: did I have any old clothes for her or the little one, she was too poor to buy any. Indeed, her coat had seen seasons innumerable and whatever the color might have been originally, it now was a light purple with a greenish shine and so threadbare as to be practically useless against the cold. A few strands of unwashed hair had worked their way out of the greasy scarf she wore around her head, adding to the unkempt overall picture. Her swollen feet were spilling over the edges of her shoes. She and her grandchild apparently had been trudging from house to house for hours though, judging from the almost empty bag, without much result. The little boy was pale and tired, and someone should have wiped his nose a long time ago.
Though the sun was shining, it was still quite cold: a typical northern spring day. An icy gust of wind engulfed all three of us while I was still debating how I could help, and I said: "Won't you come in for a moment while I look for something you could use?" That did not fall on deaf ears and soon the grandmother was settled in a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee, and the child provided with a glass of milk and a handkerchief. But if I had thought I might search my wardrobe in the meantime, I was quite wrong: once seated she began to talk and obviously nothing would stop her.
The prevalent affluence tends to pacify our conscience with the thought that everybody is so much better off nowadays; yet here I was face to face with a reality that totally belied such a rose-colored premise. More pitiful than her material poverty, however, was the old woman's account of moral degradation, and of the abuse and insults she had to endure from her own family and from the people at whose doors she went begging.
As she was well on in years, her mind had evidently lost a little of its grip. She repeated herself a few times, and my attention was slowly beginning to wander. Only half listening now, I looked at her more closely. Allowing for a general state of neglect and the ravages of time and a hard life, you could still see she had once been quite handsome: the bone structure of her face was fine and her eyes were an unusually deep blue. Even if misery were all that was left in her old age, surely she too must once have experienced some happiness and joy.
Suddenly there was a pause in the soliloquy as my visitor took a few sips of coffee. Our eyes met for three intense seconds and, as in a flash, I realized I was not seeing a poor, battered old woman I had never laid eyes on before, but myself. Differences in age, circumstances or personality became ephemeral, yes, even laughable. Outwardly it might seem that we walked divergent paths, but in the depth of both of us burned the same flame of divine spirit. In that brief moment of understanding I knew that the inner identity I perceived was a reality; our separate individuality, to which we attach such importance, only a fleeting illusion. Because we were one, nothing could touch her without some part of myself being aware of, and affected by it. Moreover, I saw that I was each of the uncounted billions of myselves on this earth and, in turn, they found their reflection in me. A cry of anguish or a shout of joy uttered by any one of them must, I felt, reverberate through the inner realms of the entire human kingdom – for we are all one.
The worn-out garment of the old woman, the shocking facts she related – they all faded into the background as so many badly painted props when a great actor takes the stage. Behind the mask of the persona, I had sensed, for a moment, her true self and could only salute it for having had the courage to select this difficult part: however inglorious, it had taught her things for which many whose lives run more smoothly might envy her. The inner self cares nothing whether its role calls for coarse rags or a velvet cloak.
Soon my visitors left, warmed and rested, and with a bag that was a little heavier to carry – but they did not mind that. At the door I involuntarily said: "Thank you." That puzzled the old woman, though not for long for she knew people were odd. Then she gave me a big smile, and the whole bright blue sky of that windswept March day reflected itself in her eyes.
“Even though apparently awake, one is still asleep if one sees multiplicity. Wake up from this dream of ignorance and see the one Self. The Self alone is real. . . . This world today is, tomorrow is not – empty as a dream, shifting like a circle of fire. There is but one consciousness – pure, transcendental – though it appears as multiple in form.” – Srimad Bhagvatam