The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
April 2012 – Vol. 15 Issue 2
Sometimes our awareness of entrenched selfishness and amorality is almost overwhelming, particularly when it is found in so many organizations – local, national and international, governmental, commercial, nonprofit and religious. Faced with powerful, widespread greed and exploitation, manipulation, brutality, and indifference to individual welfare – cloaked at times under appealing slogans – it is easy to become cynical. Yet shrugging off such behavior as "human nature" is by so much supporting and insuring its continuation. Is there anything we as individuals can do to change practices that take place on such a large scale?
I believe that at bottom it is humanity’s collective inability or unwillingness to love one another that allows us to ignore, if not promote, the behavior that makes human life so tragic. Of course love has many meanings, depending on how we view ourselves and others. With a sense of separation as our psychological default, we each perceive ourselves as the center of our own universe, a view our culture accentuates even though scientific research increasingly shows that all lives exist in overlapping webs of interconnection. Love arising from this limited sense of self is apt to bring with it fear, exclusivity, possessiveness and other negatives. A more comprehensive sense is set out in the Biblical commandment to love our neighbor as ourself, which asks us to expand our self to include those around us. The parable of the Good Samaritan makes clear that by our neighbor is meant whoever we come in contact with, and that it is our responsibility to actively support the well being of all those we encounter. With expanding global awareness and communications, our neighborhood today may span the entire world.
But the New Testament goes yet further. It asks us to love our enemies and those who hate us and do us harm, just as God “makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust.” From this viewpoint our perception of reality is unaffected by self-centered emotions, opinions, and preferences. Carrying this out would require expanding our ego to universal scope, so that we did not judge or act on the basis of our personal feelings, advantages or limitations. The verses go on to imply that in doing so we become “perfect” or complete as God is. Buddhism also recommends this progressive enlarging of self as a way for individuals to help end the suffering of all sentient beings and bring inner peace.
What then about claims that enlightened self-interest is an engine of social good, particularly for organizations? Self-interest can be "enlightened" only when our self includes all humanity, indeed all the planet. We fool ourselves if we think that in the long run people can make positive changes to society by seeking only their own personal advantage. Unless it deliberately includes mitigating factors, building on a foundation of greed and self-seeking will not have as its byproduct the good of most people. Unrestrained economic development, for example, has resulted in polarizing inequality and environmental degradation again and again. Although adopting an altruistic course won’t guarantee success, basing decisions on the worldly wisdom of selfishness and fear often turns out to be the most foolish and imprudent course of all.
Changing our own way of living and thinking may seem an inadequate response to large human problems because individually we seem so insignificant. But we all have opportunities to make a difference by our actions at home and work, as members of organizations, and as local, national, and international citizens. Just who we are has a profound influence on human life. Humanity exists in a psychological environment of its own creation that everyone draws on and contributes to. In this way we all influence for good or ill countless people we will never know. When we aspire toward the best within us and encourage the best in others, we strengthen the positive elements in this psychological atmosphere. Conversely, when we are selfish, fearful, or uncontrolled, we strengthen the negative energies available to all.
Individually and as groups, we become what we think, feel, and do, and by our choices shape our own future and contribute to the destiny of mankind. We each bear the moral consequences of the actions of the various groups we help to form, and by our consent, opposition or indifference take part in their decisions. We cannot expect organizations to act on principles that we are unwilling to practice in our own lives. If we wish to have organizations and governments of compassion and good will, then we each must do our part by striving to live up to our own ideals and by refusing to become apathetic or cynical so that practices and policies go unexamined and unchallenged.
It takes courage to practice what we believe, yet love does cast out fear. With love of our fellow human beings at the center of our aspirations we can find the resolve to keep trying to forward the betterment of all, wherever we find most of our opportunities: in the sphere of family and neighbors or society at large. Only when enough people make a conscious effort to rise above egoism and fear and to embody their compassionate values will we see a reduction in institutionalized amorality and selfishness and a real, lasting improvement in the lot of humankind. – Sally Dougherty
Who was Orpheus? Obviously the figure who inspired the strictest purity of thought and act was far more than the Thracian bard who charmed with his lyre animals, rocks and men; who followed Eurydice into Hades and lost her again because he looked back, or who supposedly died a martyr's death at the hand of avenging Maenads. Who and what he really was is as difficult to say as it is to prove historically that Jesus ever lived and taught in the manner of the Gospels or that Krishna sang forth his "Song Celestial" to Arjuna. The fact remains that Orpheus left a monument as spiritually powerful and ennobling as the Sermon on the Mount or the Bhagavad-Gita – an ideal which inspired the awakening soul with its potential of unending growth.
In the late 19th century, eight tablets or scrolls of very thin gold, no larger than a lady's brooch yet closely inscribed in Greek characters, were found in tombs in Italy and Crete. Scholars agree that they represent portions of an ancient Orphic poem which gave instructions for the "dead" for safe passage through the Underworld. The first to come to light reads in part: “Thou shalt find on the left of the House of Hades a Well-spring, and by the side thereof standing a white cypress. To this Well-spring approach not near. But thou shalt find another by the Lake of Memory, cold water flowing forth, and there are Guardians before it. Say; ‘I am a child of Earth and of Starry Heaven; but my race is of Heaven (alone). This ye know yourselves. And lo, I am parched with thirst and I perish. Give me quickly the cold water flowing forth from the Lake of Memory.’ And of themselves they will give thee to drink from the holy Well-spring, and thereafter among the other Heroes thou shalt have lordship.”
In another tablet, note the parallel to the experience of Christ at Easter: “Hail, thou who hast suffered the Suffering. This thou hadst never suffered before. Thou art become God from Man.” From a third tablet: “Out of the Pure I come, Pure Queen of Them Below, . . . For I also avow me that I am of your blessed race. And I have paid the penalty for deeds unrighteous, whether it be that Fate laid me low or the Gods Immortal . . . I have flown out of the sorrowful weary Wheel; I have passed with eager feet to the Circle desired; I have sunk beneath the bosom of Despoina, Queen of the Underworld; . . . And now I come a suppliant to Holy Phersephoneia that of her grace she receive me to the seats of the Hallowed.” The reply: “Happy and Blessed One, thou shall be God instead of mortal.”
Some two thousand years have elapsed since the tablets were interred. Inscribed a good deal later than the period when Orpheus was believed to have lived, they confirm the far-reaching, profound impact of the regenerating movement initiated by him. Archeologists date them from the 3rd and 4th centuries BCE to the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE – an era of transition when the Mystery-religions that had blossomed in such abundance in Egypt, Asia Minor and the Greco-Roman world were undergoing a tremendous upheaval.
Death was central to the Mystery-schools of every land, and while we today understand little about it, a study of its processes and their sensitive bearing on our lives could provide a clue to our own pressing need how better to live and – how to die. Orpheus and the whole of the ancient world were convinced that the soul has within it an immortal element that will return it to earth many times until at last it has "grown to be divine." It is not what a person professes but what he is that counts. Thus there may be as many ways of 'dying' as there are individuals living. Many scriptures confirm the entrance of the soul after death into spheres not of this earth for purification and judgment. Those deemed worthy enter heaven or the Elysian Fields. Of one thing we can be sure: as we live we shall die. If we sow corruption, we shall reap corruption; if we sow unto the spirit, we shall reap beauty and refreshment of soul.
There is a way, however, to die consciously, a self-conscious descent into the House of Hades and the emergence from it in triumph that the Saviors of all time have under-gone. That is the ideal these tiny gold tablets hold before us: to so purify the soul by self-discipline and self-knowledge that one day we may qualify for the supreme trial: "death," with full awareness of things seen and heard and, if successful, to rise as one "reborn." Then will the Goddess of Memory offer cooling waters of wisdom and to the question: "Who art thou and whence?" the soul will answer: "Out of the pure I have come; I have paid the penalty for deeds unrighteous; I am son of Earth and of Starry Heaven." His divinity established, he will be welcomed as one who has "suffered the Suffering" and become "God from man."