The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
September 2015 – Vol. 18 Issue 7
The other evening at an informal discussion, a theme was touched upon that struck fire. One of those attending spoke convincingly of letting the Messiah come into one's heart, a force that would calm anxieties and transform ill feeling into love; and further, that the Messiah mentioned in the Bible would "come" only when all people felt his presence in their hearts. Such an event would mark the end of the human adventure, for there would be no further need for suffering or striving, mankind having become '"karmaless," that is, no longer sowing the causes of its own misery.
Reflecting later upon this statement and the discussion that ensued, I felt that in many respects these ideas reveal both the limitations and the hope of our religious quest today. For one thing, those of us raised in the Christian tradition should realize that this story of the Second Coming is not without its parallels, for nearly every religion speaks of a future Savior who is to come and renovate the world: the Brahmans have their Kalki-avatara, the Zoroastrians their Saoshyant, the Buddhists their Maitreya Buddha and, of course, the Hebrews their own Messiah.
We find that people everywhere are, like ourselves, weary of suffering and war, longing for inner and outer peace, searching in their hearts for wisdom and love. We also discover that peoples of all lands have been blessed by a galaxy of teachers, philosophers, mystics, who, though they spoke in many tongues and used varied imagery, uttered the same universal truths. It would seem that the pulsations of civilization are accompanied by the regular, indeed cyclic, appearance of these great souls, around whose lives and precepts the religions of the world have formed.
All of this is most natural, for if the cosmos has a certain origin, structure and destiny, those who have probed deeply into its mysteries would surely have to speak in closely similar ways about . . . the same Reality. The net result is a fundamental wisdom which underlies and unites all faiths, no matter how far each may have specialized along particular lines. The oneness of truth also applies to the findings of science, which seeks to probe nature's functions and devises theories to explain the world around us. All of which means that, insofar as Truth or Reality is concerned, no group, school, or scientific discipline can claim exclusive rights.
If down the ages teachers of wisdom have appeared, dedicated to pointing out the way to mankind, there is every likelihood that others will come in the future, of various grades and kinds, marking perhaps the opening or closing of cycles in human history. Yet some religions speak in rather final terms about a coming Savior as imminent, as though when he appears all mankind (or all believers!) will be "saved," and thereafter enter into perfect joy for the rest of time. It is the implication of utter finality that is hard to picture. Assuredly eternal bliss frozen in our imperfect human state would be a kind of hell rather than a heaven. Such a thought seems against all natural processes, which involve ceaseless motion and many beginnings and endings. When we think of an infinite number of worlds in boundless Space, it is difficult to imagine humans, even perfected humans, as the consummatum est – any more than one can picture a last moment in time with no more moments to come, or a point in space beyond which there is no more space.
In view of this, there must be a sound basis of truth in the ancient cosmologies which describe the birth and death of worlds, and their reappearance again, as they and the greater and lesser lives composing them gradually make their way upward along evolution's infinite pathways. Against this larger background one can visualize a time when a world might be about to conclude its life period, when all the beings of its various kingdoms would perforce enter their nirvanas or heavens, until the next appearance of that world, at which time they would, perhaps, embody again, some on higher levels, others to finish what they had only partially achieved in the former cycle. This explanation appeals on the basis that it does not limit salvation to any race or religion, depending solely upon an individual's intrinsic nature. Also it does not bypass the rule of law, because its fundamental premise is cause and effect, not the capricious acts of deity – if such can be imagined.
"Messiah in my heart" – perhaps this is the best way to summarize it all. Many teachers have aided mankind, and there will be many more, but so far as you and I are concerned, it is only when we allow a place in us for a grander and more generous spirit that we become truly human. The Christs and Buddhas explain by precept and inspire by example, their lives a reminder that nothing in the world can "save" a person except he open his consciousness to his own higher self. A step in this direction is taken each time a person concerns himself with the welfare of others, responds to a noble impulse, or in a hundred ways brings into his inner and outer life the influence of the divinity within. Such a course is one of deliberate, continual choosing in day-to-day experience. The time will arrive, we are assured, when we shall know without any doubt that our own Messiah does not have to come to us as though from outside, for he has always lived here, in our hearts. – John P. Van Mater
The mighty task of bringing together the various factions and of revitalizing the great philosophy underlying the ancient Vedas was undertaken by two great luminaries born in the line of Kshattriyas (the warrior/ruler caste), who vehemently revolted against animal sacrifice and the ritualized Vedic religion. These two sons of India were Vardhamana Mahavira and Gautama Sakyamuni, both godless and yet most godlike, both endeavoring to save mankind from the trammels of samsara or the cycle of repeated earth-existences.
Vardhamana, a contemporary of Gautama the Buddha, was born in Magadha in the sixth century BC. He was the son of a chieftain who ruled the principality now known as Northern Bihar, and received his early education from the royal preceptors who instructed him in all branches of the Vedas, Atma-vidya and other sciences. At the age of thirty, when both his parents died, the prince renounced all worldly possessions and retired into the forest. For twelve years he practiced rigorous self-mortification and meditation and at last realized the highest truth. After having completed a systematic course of severe austerities and penances prescribed for a Jain prophet, he became a jina or conqueror, the 24th tirthankara in a succession of spiritual teachers, and was henceforth known as Mahavira, “great hero.”
The first tirthankara was Rishabha-deva who probably lived in the Rig-vedic period. He was described as the incomparable saint, higher than the highest deity of the Hindu pantheon. The 23rd tirthankara was Parshvanatha, a historical person who lived 250 years prior to the birth of Vardhamana. Jain narrative litera¬ture extols the unexcelled virtues of the twenty-four tirthankaras, a word literally meaning “ford-maker,” one who guides the souls to the opposite shore of the ocean of transmigration.
Like his predecessors, Mahavira dedicated his life to the propagation of the ethical philosophy based on the principle of ahimsa (non-injury). The followers of Jainism abstain from causing injury even to the tiniest creatures, and always strictly adhere to the command that one should not kill. There are hundreds of didactic ballads in the vast Jain literature which illustrate the predominance of this virtue over all others; for example:
The king of hills may waver,
And cold the fire may grow,
The rock may swim in the water,
And the moon send forth rays of heat
The sun may rise in the West
But in the killing of beings Religion can never consist.
Many early European Indologists erroneously stated that Jainism was an offshoot of Buddhism, misled by the fact that some doctrines were common to both systems. But when they delved deeper they discovered the fallacy of their assertions. Jainism teaches the doctrine of the soul and Buddhism teaches the doctrine of the non-self. Jainism explains the permanence of matter, whereas Buddhism maintains the impermanence of every compound. Reality according to Jainism is something which is characterized by continual appearance and disappearance in the midst of permanence; the underlying substantiality of matter is eternal, while the various forms and modes of substance undergo transformation and change. On the other hand, Buddhism holds that all compounds are subject to change and dissolution, whether they are animate or inanimate.
The terminology of the Jain metaphysics greatly differs from the Buddhist. Jainism upholds the atomic structure of the universe, and its philosophy advocates a pluralistic realism. According to modern physicists matter has no substantiality other than being a center of energy from which radiation and waves of light travel – which closely approaches the Buddhist definition of matter – whereas the Jains strongly argue that matter has permanence. It is substance, dravya, that which can be seen, felt, smelled or tasted. At the other end of the scale is jiva, the “life” or noncorporeal entity involved in every object or being. The entire phenomenal universe may thus be divided into two major categories, namely jiva and pudgala, the latter term denoting primordial matter, the aggregate of atoms. In Jain philosophy the universe with its jiva and non-jiva categories is called maha-skandha, the great aggregate.
In Buddhist terminology, on the other hand, this term skandha is used to indicate the five groups of mental and physical phenomena of existence: corporeality, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. And while the word pudgala in Jain metaphysics means gross matter, throughout Buddhist literature it had quite an opposite meaning – a person or individuality, soul or even atman.