The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
November 2006 -- Vol. 9 Issue 9
The secret of conflict not only among men, but even in the universe, is in the existing degrees of ignorance, selfish-ness, and lack of altruism -- the noblest emotion that can possibly enter the human heart. It is only in altruism, in thinking of others, in putting others before ourselves, that we forget ourselves, and in the forgetting lose the pains and sorrows and the little happinesses that we hug so close to us and call our selves.
Don't you see that the only pathway to wisdom and universal peace and utter happiness is putting the whole before the insignificant, the many before yourself; and therefore living in the universal life instead of living only in your own small compass of vital comprehension? There is the secret of it all; and it is precisely this secret that the modern world has forgotten. It has forgotten that in self-forgetfulness is greatness, peace, and happiness; that our lack of peace and our unhappinesses come from hugging our little pettinesses and worries close to us; for these anxieties and hatreds gnaw the very fiber of our inner being, and then we suffer, we are hurt, and we raise our eyes to divinity or to the gods and exclaim: "Why has this happened to me, to us? What have I done? What have we done?" Yet the merest cognizance of spiritual and natural law should tell us that everything that happens in the great and in the small -- because the small is included in the great -- happens according to divine law; and that misery and unhappiness and conflict and wretchedness and poverty and all the array of accompanying ills, arise out of human negligence to obey the cosmic law. It is as simple as that.
Fortunately there is another side to this. Our most wondrous teacher, the greatest friend we have, is our sorrow. What is it that softens our heart so that we can understand the suffering of others and feel with others? Sympathy, feeling together. It is when we suffer ourselves that we grow. Nothing softens the heart like one's own suffering. Strange and beautiful paradox, it puts steel into our character likewise. It makes us stronger. The person who has never suffered is without feeling, is a very "involved" person indeed -- he is "turned in" upon himself.
Who is the great human being? The one who has never suffered? Or the one whose sufferings have given him strength, inner power, vision, who knows what suffering is, and because of his own recollection of it, never will bring suffering upon others? With him the heart has begun to awaken. Consciousness is once more aroused to these simple cosmic verities.
Shall we continue these interminable conflicts? I think they will pass away. I think that beauty and respect are in the offing even now. The way to begin is with ourselves: I with myself, you with yourself. -- G. de Purucker
On October 12 two Branch members represented the Theosophical Society at the Acacia Foundation's festive and friendly 2nd Annual Interfaith Dialogue Dinner held in Bellevue. Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, and secular speakers shared their thoughts on "Respect for the Sacred," followed by Lyn Lambert's account of a trip to Turkey sponsored in part by the Acacia Foundation. The evening ended with a charming demonstration of ebru, a Turkish technique of painting on water to produce marbled paper.
The Acacia Foundation was established in 2002 by local Muslims, most from Turkey, to "help create a better society where individuals love, respect, and accept each other as they are regardless of religion, race, or culture." As Foundation president Davut Karabay explained further in his invitation, their interfaith efforts are based on the idea that "love is the essence of creation" and that the universe is a manifestation of divine compassion. "God created all humanity as noble and we believe that treating each and every human being with dignity is a way of life shaped by the belief in God and his compassion."
This month "Suffering and Sacrifice" is our subject. We will be discussing such questions as: Why do we suffer, and how can we best cope with it? Are pain and suffering the same? Is indifference to pleasure and pain desirable? Is human suffering inevitable? What of sacrificing oneself to help others as a response to the world's suffering? What is the value of sacrifice? Does it make a difference if a sacrifice is done unwillingly or cheerfully? How is sacrifice related to the sacred? Why in religion and myth have so many divinities sacrificed themselves? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
These subjects are currently being considered for the Monthly Discussion group. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.
December 14: Religion and Theosophy
January 2007: Living Well and the Paramitas
February: Who Are We?
March: Health and Healing
We seek to avoid suffering, yet it is through suffering that we so often learn life's lessons and develop compassion. Suffering and compassion lie at the heart of Buddhism. Born a prince in northern India, Gautama was so disturbed when he witnessed old age, disease, and death that he left his palace to become a wandering holy man, seeking the cause and cure of human suffering. When by his own efforts he became Buddha or "Awakened," instead of immediately entering the bliss of nirvana he chose to remain on earth to share his insights with all who would listen and thus give each of them the means to end suffering. What are the Buddha's core teachings? That the cause of suffering is attachment and the thirst for life, and that people can end suffering by following the Noble Eightfold Path: right (in the sense of best or highest) views or understanding, right belief or insight, right thought or aspiration, right speech, action, and means of livelihood, right effort or exertion, and right contemplation and concentration. In this way we can work toward liberation from ignorance.
The Buddha's self-sacrifice is especially emphasized in Mahayana Buddhism which reveres the bodhisattvas, beings whose hearts are so moved by suffering and ignorance that they are willing to give up their own spiritual progress and bliss to help others. Their compassionate attitude is expressed in the Kwan-Yin vow: "Never will I seek or receive private, individual salvation; never will I enter into final peace alone, but forever and everywhere will I live and strive for the redemption of every creature throughout the world."
Suffering, compassion, and sacrifice intertwine in other traditions. The ancient Greeks told of Prometheus who, out of compassion for human suffering, tricked the gods and stole divine fire. As a result he was chained to a mountain by the gods and tortured for millennia. Finally Hercules, symbolizing the ideal human being, frees Prometheus. In one interpretation this story indicates that eventually our everyday self will evolve to the point where it can liberate our spiritual aspect which, out of compassion, remains chained to material life so that we can grow. This tale is reminiscent to the theosophical myth of the manasaputras or "sons of mind" who sacrificed themselves by incarnating in early mankind in order to bring self-conscious mind into activity. Such stories personify various aspects of ourselves in order to dramatize the nature of human consciousness and how it evolves.
Christianity focuses on God sacrificing Jesus on the cross out of compassion for suffering mankind. Looking at the Garden of Eden story, human suffering arose when Adam and Eve gave up innocence for knowledge of good and evil, that is, awareness of duality and deliberate moral choice. We each go through this process from infancy to adolescence, becoming conscious of ourselves as separate lives and assuming increasing responsibility for our choices. Why in Christianity does the choice of humanity to journey toward spiritual adulthood require the crucifixion of Christ to atone for it? In one sense, Eden was paradise because there was no conscious realization of separateness and distinctions; with knowledge of good and evil (duality), human awareness separated itself from the divine and from other beings. This can be remedied only by at-one-ment, a conscious re-joining with divinity through a compassionate sacrifice on the part of both the spiritual and psychological parts of ourselves.
Christian symbolism draws heavily on animal sacrifice, and many people worldwide continue to use blood sacrifices in rites and imagery. Traditions such as the Buddhist and Jain avoid ritual slaughter as a means or metaphor for sacrifice because of the suffering it causes the victims. On the other hand, people who find ceremonial bloodshed horrifying may have no problem with animals being killed commercially.
A milder metaphor is the seed, which must sacrifice itself and die as a seed if the plant is to be born. This reminds us of Christ saying that if we wish to save our life we must lose it, or the Hindu idea of sacrificing the self to the Self, the limited to the universal. We are often aware of giving up the smallness of ourselves so that we can become something greater through self-transformation. By sacrificing our more restricted aspects to our universal divine self, we transcend personal suffering by becoming at one with the divinity within us, thereby freeing it from the chains of our ignorance and selfish attachments. We will then face the Buddha's decision: to leave terrestrial suffering behind, or to dedicate ourselves to helping other beings end their own suffering.