The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
October 2010 – Vol. 13 Issue 8
Earlier, on August 6th, one of our Branch members joined 650 other people at the Bellevue Hilton to enjoy the fifth annual banquet of the Washington State Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR’s mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil liberties, en-courage interfaith dialogue, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual under-standing. Its community outreach programs forge partner-ships with local and national institutions that have proved exceedingly beneficial, and it was encouraging to see these efforts appreciated by so many.
UPCOMING: Tending Adam’s Garden Study/Dialogue Circle, an interfaith, intergenerational, and intercultural program, is holding monthly discussions on Becoming Fully Human. The first, “What Can We Learn about ‘Being Human’ from the Great Teachers of Humanity?” will take place Sunday, October 3, from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at Temple B’nai Torah, 15727 NE 4th Street, Bellevue. (flier)For more information or to RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the action of one reacts on the lives of all, then it is only by all men becoming brothers and all women sisters, and by all practicing in their daily lives true brotherhood and sisterhood, that the real human solidarity, which lies at the root of the elevation of the human race, can ever be attained. It is this action and interaction, this true brotherhood and sisterhood, in which each shall live for all and all for each, which is one of the fundamental principles every Theosophist should be bound to carry out in his or her individual life.
Contrast the lives not only of the masses of the people, but of many of those who are called the middle and upper classes, with what they might be under healthier and nobler conditions, where justice, kindness, and love were paramount, instead of the selfishness, indifference, and brutality which now too often seem to reign supreme. All good and evil things in humanity have their roots in human character, and this character is, and has been, conditioned by the endless chain of cause and effect. Progress can only be attained by the development of the nobler qualities.
Now, true evolution teaches us that by altering the surroundings of the organism we can alter and improve the organism; and in the strictest sense this is true with regard to man. Every Theosophist, therefore, is bound to do his utmost to help on, by all the means in his power, every wise and well-considered social effort which has for its object the amelioration of the condition of the poor. One general test may be given. Will the proposed action tend to promote that true brotherhood which it is the aim of Theosophy to bring about? Once he is satisfied of this, his duty will lie in the direction of forming public opinion. – H. P. Blavatsky
Join us one Tuesday a month for informal conversations exploring major ideas that have influenced human thought and actions through the ages. This month our topic is Whose Good Counts? in light of Utilitarianism and its idea of “the greatest good of the greatest number.” We’ll be discussing such questions as: Whose pleasure and suffering counts? What is more important: the absolute amount of happiness in a society or how equally it is distributed? Are people primarily motivated by pleasure and pain? Is suffering itself an evil? Which has more weight: the individual or society? How seriously should the welfare of non-human beings be taken? Does the morality of an act lie mainly in its consequences or in the motive behind it? How can we determine what is best when different ‘goods’ conflict? Was John Stuart Mill right that the greatest source of pleasure is the free exercise of our abilities in a society of equals? How can people bring about a better distribution of happiness and suffering? (Quotes on this topic.) We hope to see you there!
November 2: The Oneness of Life
December 7: Gods / God / No Gods?
January: DNA and Genetic Engineering
An old Buddhist scripture, the Tevijja Sutta, relates the experience of two young Brahmans, who after pondering the views of several distinguished and wealthy Brahmans became confused and got into a dispute as to which was the “straight path” leading to union with Brahman. Finally, having heard that Gautama was nearby, they decided to put the problem to him. By parable and metaphor Gautama drew out their native wisdom until they themselves came to realize that those who bear anger and malice toward others, who are impure of thought and without self-mastery, “versed though they be in the Three Vedas,” will arrive “only at despair, thinking the while that they are crossing over into some happier land.” For such wisdom is of the mind only, “a waterless desert.”
What, then, is the “saving path” toward union with the self universal? In the closing chapter Buddha points to the disciple of the compassionate path: “And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of love, and so the second, and so the third and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with heart of Love, far-reaching, grown great and beyond measure.” Just as the trumpeter makes himself heard in every direction, so should one regard all beings “with heart of pity, sympathy, and equanimity.”
Before the Buddha and since, luminous figures of greater or less brilliance have lived and taught, each giving a new impetus to the questing spirit. To shatter religious orthodoxy, change a world psychology, and redirect the course of human destiny demands a quality of soul not ordinarily manifest. And when such a one revivifies the sacred principles of right living, should we not pay heed? Yet time after time, with the passage of years, the oasis thus opened has become “a waterless desert” – philosophical doctrines have become atrophied, ethical codes mere ritual, while human living has lost direction.
Today, however, the ideal of love, empathy, oneness with our brothers and sisters, human and all other, is again seizing the imagination and firing the heart of people in every country. We are well aware that forces of opposition are working as hard as always to nullify every forward effort, but equally we can be assured that hate, terrorism, greed, and the whole evil brood of selfishness will flourish only so long as we give them life. The shadows would not be, did not the light cast them.
Still, will love alone have power to free humanity from the self-made fetters that have been millennia in the making, fetters which bind the soul in subtle and pervasive ways? The love of a Buddha or Christ is all-encompassing, able to penetrate in an instant to the core of an entity or circumstance. With ourselves, love is fractionated and must be made whole. This is the perennial challenge: the search for truth about ourselves, who we are and what is our role in the universal design, is a continuing experience of growth, yet it must be in concert with the heart – unless we have charity or love, we have nothing. And as we each succeed in widening our mental and emotional sympathies, humanity will benefit, for it is a truism that world renovation comes about in proportion to individual character change.
The ultimate destiny of mankind, therefore, rests directly in the choices made by every human being: whether we ally ourself with the sun-element within, the source of interior light and splendor, or with the shadow-self, the seedbed of turmoil and destruction. Which shall have dominion over our souls we alone decide. But once we will to channel the cur-rent of our being toward the light, we are moving with rather than against the evolutionary sweep of progress. In Mahayana Buddhist lands, two are the ways of progress outlined: the path of individual salvation, where the boon of wisdom is won for self alone; and the path of compassion for all who sorrow, the way of renunciation of personal advancement, of forgetfulness of self to the endless end.
The path for all is ever the same, yet ever unique in that each is the path he must tread, the way and the truth he must live. Head knowledge, skill in the precepts of scripture, are indeed valuable in giving structure to our study of the conflict of wills between our spiritual and material desires. But unless we have soul wisdom, the gift of empathy beyond the call of the self, we shall be offering little of the love the Buddha embodied – the understanding and sympathy that reach out to enfold all beings everywhere. When the heart is true and the will unflagging, and love “grown great, and beyond measure,” who knows what magic may be wrought in interior spheres to affect for good the whole wide world?
What everyone wants from life is continuous and genuine happiness. – Baruch Spinoza
One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to. – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols. – Aldous Huxley
It's the flock, the grove, that matters. Our responsibility is to species, not to specimens; to communities, not to individuals. – Sara Stein
J. S. Mill’s philosophy is radically empirical. But still more basic to his point of view is what may be called his “reasonablism,” his conviction that no proposition of whatever sort should be exempted from criticism and that for any dictum that may properly claim our assent reasons may properly be asked which should be capable of “determining the intellect.” The root of all authoritarianism and absolutism, which Mill regards as the greatest remediable source of human misery, is the exemption of certain propositions from such review. If these evils are to be removed, then no belief, however deeply felt, can be regarded as infallible. The growth of human knowledge and wisdom, upon which the progress of mankind chiefly depends, is the pooled result of innumerable individual observations and speculations, criticisms and countercriticisms. So long as any proposition is exempted from the demand for reasons, that growth is fatally impaired, and the whole case for freedom of thought, which for Mill is the essential liberty, is placed in jeopardy. – Henry D. Aiken
The day has been, I am sad to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing, as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?" – Jeremy Betham
Suffering and joy teach us, if we allow them, how to make the leap of empathy, which transports us into the soul and heart of another person. In those transparent moments we know other people's joys and sorrows, and we care about their concerns as if they were our own. – Fritz Williams
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
Utilitarianism is the doctrine that decisions should promote good consequences. It is a normative theory, meant to guide conduct and to serve as the basis of sound evaluations. It does not assume that actual decisions or judgments always satisfy that standard. . . . Utilitarians have generally favoured social reforms (because, for example, income transfers from rich to poor are supposed to promote welfare overall), and they have championed political rights and personal liberty (because, for example, paternalistic interference is supposed to be counter-productive). Critics charge, however, that utilitarianism lacks principled commitment to all such values: it cares only how much good is produced, but not about equitable distribution, respect for personal desert, or the security of freedom and individual integrity. – David Lyons
Bentham [the founder of Utilitarianism] maintained that what is good is pleasure or happiness – he used these words as synonyms – and what is bad is pain. Therefore one state of affairs is better than another if it involves a greater balance of pleasure over pain, or a smaller balance of pain over pleasure. Of all possible states of affairs, that one is best which involves the greatest balance of pleasure over pain. . . .Bentham held not only that the good is happiness in general, but also that each individual always pursues what he believes to be his own happiness. … His gradual evolution towards Radicalism had two sources: on the one hand, a belief in equality, deduced from the calculus of pleasures and pains; on the other hand, an inflexible determination to submit everything to the arbitrament of reason as he understood it. His love of equality early led him to advocate equal division of a man’s property among his children, and to oppose testamentary freedom. In later years it led him to oppose monarchy and hereditary aristocracy, and to advocate compete democracy, including votes for women. His refusal to believe without rational grounds led him to reject religion, including belief in God; it made him keenly critical of absurdities and anomalies in the law, however venerable their historical origin. He would not excuse anything on the ground that it was traditional. From early youth he was opposed to imperialism, whether that of the British in America, or that of other nations; he considered colonies a folly. … Throughout the middle portion of the nineteenth century, the influence of the Benthamites on British legislation and policy was astonishingly great, considering their complete absence of emotional appeal. – Bertrand Russell