The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
April 2010 – Vol. 13 Issue 2
Meet people from many spiritual paths at the seventh Eastside Interfaith Fair on Saturday May 1. This year’s theme is “Peace in Our Time: By Listening and Sharing, We Learn.” Participate in small-group discussions, enjoy a stimulating panel featuring Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Baha'i representatives, and visit information tables of local spiritual groups. The keynote speaker will be Ann Holmes Redding, a Seattle Episcopal priest defrocked last year for affirming that she was both Christian and Muslim.
The Fair will be held at the Bellevue Unity Church, 16330 NE 4th Street, Bellevue, WA, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission and parking are free, and a vegetarian lunch catered by My Sweet Lord Café will be available for $5. More information and directions are available at www.interfaithfair.org.
Religion: just the word conjures up a plethora of reactions within each of us. In some it brings back childhood memories, good or bad; in others it gives a feeling of warmth or security, and in still others it evokes a sense of tragedy, betrayal, or even prejudice. I separate religion from spirituality, which I see as a sense of the true. Spirituality is the basis of everything that exists, and because we are an integral part of it we are able to know it without any intermediary.
Religion is manmade. It doesn’t emanate magically from somewhere beyond. Many great sages have come to teach us the true nature of things, and it is their followers, their proponents, who gather their teachings and crystallize them into codified law, requiring unswerving obedience unless you want bad things to happen to you. Spiritual teachers came to humanity in different parts of the globe at different times to restate those primal truths of life to those who were confused or dismayed about their place in the scheme of things. Using the words and concepts of the times, they attempted to bring out of us what we already knew inherently – the truths of the universe.
When these truths were institutionalized, the things of man became more prevalent than the original message. Politics, fame, fortune, power – all became enwrapped in the message, and many times overtook the essence of the teaching, accreting all around it mansions of glory and stories of life and death which, as the centuries rolled on, little resembled the import of the original. Thus disagreement naturally evolved, mincing words and forgetting concepts which are central to all the major religions. Strip away the dogma, the accretions of political nonsense, and look at the original teachings of the major religions with an eye to similarity, and I think you will find them in hearty agreement.
Muslim scholar Ingrid Mattson was asked: Some people wonder – if God wanted harmony, why did he create more than one religion? Her thought was that inherent in various religions is the opportunity for all humanity to learn tolerance. I would add, for us also to be able to respect others’ choices and be nonjudgmental, to live the concept of universal brotherhood, the oneness of life. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “In nature there is fundamental unity running through all diversity we see about us. Religions are given to mankind so as to accelerate the process of realization of fundamental unity.” Swami Vivekananda wrote: “We know that toleration is not sufficient toward another religion; we must accept it. Thus it is not a question of subtraction, it is a question of addition. The truth is the result of all these different sides added together. Each religion represents one side, the fullness being the addition of all these.” Again, Krishnamurti said, “When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence.”
Let us therefore look for the commonality, the agreement among religions, and not focus on their separateness. Let us look for the common thread which binds us all together as one humanity, one world, all struggling for common understanding of the truth which lives all about and within us. – Scott Osterhage
May 4: Universal Human Rights
June: Self / No Self
August: Do No Harm
Surely there is no reason why knowledge replacing ignorance should rob us of the capacity for wonder. It comes closer to the truth to see that the modern mind is uncomfortable in the presence of the unknown, and it is the unknown suddenly revealing itself, hinting at its nearness, that arouses us to wonder, if and when we let it. A spectacle of nature, a new dimension of the universe, an unsuspected nobility or baseness in human nature – what these revelations essentially do is to pull aside the veil from reality and hint forcefully how much vaster and deeper existence is than our previous knowledge or experience had grasped.
Still, we know Socrates was right 2400 years ago when he said, “Wonder is the beginning of all wisdom.” What do we have in mind when we speak thus of wonder? It is much easier to say what it is not that what it is. We certainly know what we suspect and reject about it. We rightly guard against simple-minded, slack-jawed credulity, against the readiness to believe anything that is told us with an air of authority and an aura of mystery. We will not stand in awe of mere bigness or power or antiquity. Not for us the foggy thinking that often passes for mysticism or bears the title of occult wisdom!
The persistent difficulty facing us here is that when people try to express in words their awareness of life, their words always prove inadequate. Yet words must be used. The work of good writing, whether prose or poetry, is to use the tools of words to cut through the surface of things to the reality behind them, to an awareness of the depth, the richness, the glory of existence and the world and people and experience. William James called it a feeling of “the mystery of fact, the wildness and pang of life.” He may have had in mind the idea that truth is always deeper than appearances, that the experiences we have never carry their full meaning on their surface, that people’s true selves are seldom on view but are always to be patiently sought for beneath their words and acts. He may also have been referring to our feeling of dependence on a natural order beyond our control or knowing.
Often it is nature and contact with her range and power that stirs the sensitive human spirit; sometimes it is a deeper awareness of people. As Dr. Samuel Miller has said: “All I can say is that if you can live in this baffling world and never ask why you live; if you can breathe and watch your pulse beat and dream and never ask unanswerable questions; if you can see one die whom you love, and never ask why he died and not you; if you can live knowing you too must die, though when you do not know, and never ask what then; if while you live you love and others love you, and you never wonder how it came about; if in life and love you think of this, that and the other thing, and never ask why you think or what your thinking and your loving and your living mean – then I should say that life has no meaning for you”
Why should we begrudge recognizing the glory of existence, even with all of its miseries and frustrations – this infinite existence of which we are a tiny but comprehending part? Of what use is our power of comprehension, our science, our philosophy, unless we use it to pay tribute to the daily, the momentary miracle of life, the marvel of just being alive? As Ralph W. Sockman said, “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” The more a wise and sensitive person knows, the more he knows that he does not know. With this humbling awareness goes naturally a sense of the unplumbed depths of life. This is no vague mystical mood, but an attitude with intensely practical consequences, as Albert Einstein made clear: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
Perhaps one reason many of us go through life half blind to its true range and depth is that is never breaks upon us all at once. The tapestry of existence has been unfolded to us so gradually as we have grown up that we have been able to take it in stride. We get used to life’s daily glory and take it as routine until something happens to remind us how lucky we to have love and health and minds to use. It takes an occasional Dante to prod us to awareness, saying, “Heaven calls you and revolves around you, displaying to you its eternal beauties, and your eye looks only on the ground.” But we can learn to look up. As rabbi-scholar Abraham Heschel said near the end of his life to a group of younger colleagues: “I was not born yesterday – but I am still surprised at life. The real sin is to take anything for granted. The crime against life is to lack a feeling of gratefulness for just being alive.”
When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. – Walt Whitman
Sato-Kaiseki was very much disturbed by the implications of Copernicus’ heliocentric theory, which, of course, was inconsistent with the old Buddhist cosmology in which Mount Sumeru occupies the center of the universe. He reasoned that if the Buddhist view of the cosmos were proved false, the triple world and the twenty-five forms of existence would be reduced to nonsense, resulting in the negation of Buddhism itself. Immediately he set about writing a book in defense of the Mount Semeru position, sparing himself no effort as a champion of Buddhism.
When he had finished the work, he took it at once to Master Ekido and presented it to him triumphantly. After leafing through only the first few pages, however, the master thrust the book back and, shaking his head, said, “How stupid! Don’t you realize that the basic aim of Buddhism is to shatter the triple world and the twenty-five forms of existence? Why stick to such utterly worthless things and treasure Mount Sumeru? Blockhead!” Dumfounded, Kaiseki shoved the book under his arm and went quickly home. – Zen Anecdote
Let’s begin with Einstein’s famous quote: “The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible.” Why should we have mental access to the utterly remote cosmic realms? Some cosmic themes have seemed almost too familiar to be credible. The young Universe, for example, shifted through rainbow-colored skies and was filled with harmonic, semi-musical sound! This is suspiciously human and raises the depressing possibility that our cosmological story reflects more our inner, imaginative world than the outer, objective world. Perhaps we’ve “made the Universe in our own image.”
I want to explore a different perspective that suggests we can have authentic access to Nature and might (Continued on back) even expect to find familiar things in remote places and times. Here’s a simple fact: The world we experience is not the real external world, but a reconstruction of the external world inside our heads. This situation has arisen through adaptive Darwinian evolution. Evolution generates organisms with an inner, experienced world that corresponds well to the outer, objective world. If they develop sentience, then they can comprehend Nature locally. But how does this terrestrially evolved intuition extend to the cosmic realm? Because the laws of physics are everywhere, and there is much that is cosmic even here on Earth. For example, we’ve evolved within Newtonian space and time, which is identical to 99% of cosmic space and time. Evolution occurs in a cosmic context, on a planet under a star, so terrestrially evolved brains are well equipped to construct a rich and accurate cosmological story. We began worrying that we had made the Universe in our own image, but it may be the other way around. The Universe has, in a sense, made us in its own image – meaning we’ve evolved with a natural ability to understand Nature. – Mark Whittle
. . . the scientific method for ascertaining "truth" is far from natural to the human mind. Indeed, if it were natural, one would have expected it to emerge thousands of years ago rather than just a few centuries ago. Often the "explanations" of physical phenomena provided by religions have seemed more plausible to the average person's cognitive apparatus than have scientific ones, which are often counterintuitive. This has been the case even though the religious explanations have almost invariably been proven wrong with the advance of science. – Solomon Schimmel
. . . we looked at matter with a big microscope. The more we looked, the more we enlarged, and the less we found. We ended up with a void, permeated by pulsating energy fields. Even the most "solid" matter dissolved into a vortex of pulsating fields. Thus, we found a void to be the common denominator of all matter – its ground substance. . . . We have heard of this void before – that is how we have described the absolute.
. . . the ripples on the surface of the sea of the absolute are so small and of such a high frequency as to become invisible. The absolute is both in a state of rest and at the same time of enormous potential energy. Similarly, we have seen how infinite velocity has become a state of rest, how the birth of matter occurs simultaneously and in the same place as its death. . . . In short, we find that there is a level in Nature at which all extremes become reconciled and merged. It is on this level that black and white, good and evil merge into one "Is"-ness. This is also where ultimate truth lies. The truth is not black or white; it is both. The pairs of opposites of the lower levels merge on the highest level. – Itzhak Bentov
Scientists are fiercely proud of the empirical nature of what they do. Scientific theories do not become accepted because they are logical or beautiful, or fulfill some philosophical goal cherished by the scientist. Those might be good reasons why a theory is proposed – but being accepted is a much higher standard. Scientific theories must, at the end of the day, fit the data. No matter how intrinsically compelling a theory might be, if it fails to fit the data, it’s a curiosity, not an achievement. . . . [but] the worst possible scientific theory would be one that fit all possible data. That’s because the real goal isn’t just to “fit” what we see in the universe; it’s to explain what we see. And you can explain what we see only if you understand why things are the particular way they are, rather than some other way. In other words, your theory has to say that some things do not ever happen – otherwise you haven’t said very much at all.
The introduction of a particular beginning to spacetime, especially one that apparently defies easy understanding, creates a temptation to put the responsibility for explaining what went on into the hands of God. . . . Hopefully, one of the implicit lessons of this book has been that it’s not a good idea to bet against the ability of science to explain anything whatsoever about the operation of the natural world, including its beginning. The Big Bang represented a point past which our understanding didn’t stretch, back when it was first studied in the 1920s – and it continues to do so today. We don’t know exactly what happened 14 billion years ago, but there’s no reason whatsoever to doubt that we will eventually figure it out. Scientists are tackling the problem from a variety of angles. The rate at which scientific understanding advances is notoriously hard to predict, but it’s not hard to predict that it will be advancing. – Sean Carroll