The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
April 2015 – Vol. 18 Issue 2
We continue our examination of some of the ideas in Sacred Seed, published in 2014 by the Golden Sufi Center, Navdanya, and the Global Peace Initiative of Women. Many contributors address the seed in connection with diversity and social justice, responding to corporate efforts to monopolize crop seeds and encourage the planting of only a few varieties. Worldwide, economic interests increasingly demand the planting of specified monocultures, often patented genetically engineered seeds. They also outlaw saving seeds by farmers, in the most extreme case engineering seed that produce only sterile seeds (so-called “terminator seeds”). These policies have real human costs: the high expense of fertilizer, herbicides and buying seed yearly have caused 284,000 Indian farmers to commit suicide since 1995. The writers in this collection offer many spiritual insights related to these issues.
Sufi Rehman Muhaiyaddeen gives an Islamic viewpoint: “The creatures of the Almighty exist in a variety of life-forms on the planet Earth. They are part of us, and we are part of them in the divine scheme of biodiversity. According to the divine format, the number of species of plants, animal, and microorganisms within their enormous diversity of genes, along with the different ecosystems on the planet … have preserved planetary life in such a way that they support one another and enable the rest of the life-forms to sustain and evolve. In this regard each natural seeding is precious and every seed is sacred because of the indispensable role they play in Nature…. By tampering with seeds for commercial gain and to claim property rights for profit, biotechnology companies are both tampering with nature and also depriving farmers of their divine right of preservation. The rapid loss of crop diversity due to this practice during the past century is one of many evidences of its crucial outcome.”
A Christian perspective from Terry Pirri-Simonian emphasizes social justice: “The ‘sacred seed’ is God’s gift to humanity. Poverty and economic injustice are evidence of the mismanagement of this gift. In the biblical narrative of creation, God orders all animals and herbs to become ‘fruitful and multiply’ through their seeds. He then creates men and women in His own ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ and delegates to them the responsibility of taking care of His creation … Today, particularly in poor countries, transnational business organizations dictate what sort of food will be consumed and the nutritional value of that food. These enterprises seek to maximize the production of crops for export by forcing small farmers to give up their indigenous life-giving agriculture and buy genetically modified seeds for higher yields. Human dignity is being sacrificed as God’s economy of creation and distributive justice is replaced by an economy of greed and the accumulation of wealth by the few. How far should enterprises be allowed to manipulate the cycle of the ‘sacred seed’ and transform it into a dead-end ‘stunted [terminator] seed,’ thereby destroying the ‘image’ of the human person created in the ‘likeness’ of God? This situation is a challenge to spiritual communities and they are called to respond!”
Turning to Hinduism, Swami Omkarananda reminds us that “From a yogic point of view, nature is not dead matter to shape to our will, but the expression of sacred Self in the physical world.… Ideally we should understand the unfolding of our karma as an opportunity to experience our inter-connectedness with the conscious Universe – we need to live the life of a soul that is one with all life. We urgently need to respond to the evolutionary message of our karma by taking responsibility for our actions and seeing all creatures as our own Self, remembering that the Self in all is eternal and not subject to ‘genetic modification’! Thus, a number of yogis are now seeing their discipline connected to that of permaculture, the science of respectful relation in the physical universe.”
Vedantist Swamini Svatmavidyananda agrees: “For us, there is only God. … Therefore, every atom of this creation is sacred…. the relationship advocated between humans and the natural world is one of harmonic interdependence, whose guiding tenet is ahimsa, non-injury. The Vedas, which reveal the interconnectedness of everything, teach us to revere all life-forms by doing our part in preserving this creation.… The seed represents the storehouse of knowledge and diversity and contains the blueprint of life on Earth. Extreme genetic engineering, leading to ‘terminator seeds,’ making them incapable of reproduction, is a rank example of self-sabotage. … let us together heed the timeless call of the collective wisdom of ancient cultures that speak the common tongue of oneness and compassion, of diversity and mutual interdependence. In so doing, we participate in the steady flow of a cosmic ecology of reciprocity and sacred exchange. Such a lifestyle expresses itself by celebrating diversity at all levels – religious, cultural, and biodiversity. This is the best defense against the tyrannical reign of monopolizing cultures.”
This compilation of spiritual viewpoints challenges us to make positive responses to how our food is grown, what types of seeds are produced, and whether and how the diversity of life should be preserved. It encourages us to look within and discuss with others. For consumers will decide these issues by what they choose, tolerate, and demand.
The Theosophical Society is centered on the oneness of life, which includes the kinship of humanity. The only idea people need to accept to join the Society is “a recognition of the principle of universal brotherhood” and they are asked to aid in the furtherance of the Society’s objectives. Two of its five objectives are “to promote the knowledge of the essential unity of all that is, and to demonstrate that this unity is fundamental in nature” and “to form an active brotherhood” among humanity. When the Society proposed the goal of universal brotherhood in the 1880s, some members felt it was wrong. They truly believed their ethnic group was superior to or more evolved than the rest of humankind, and similarly that society’s elite dominated by innate right or fitness, part of a divine plan or natural order. Fortunately, the equal worth of people as fellow human beings, all one species, is more widely accepted today, though very far from universally so.
The modern concept of rights that all persons have by virtue of being human has existed for only a few hundred years. At the dawn of human societies, agriculturalists who produced food surpluses eventually formed cities. Leading warriors ruled society along with religious leaders, and soon hereditary classes arose. Whether in the Hindu caste system, European class system, or the Confucian hierarchy of ruler-ruled, men-women, old-young, the commonality of all humans was played down and differences reinforced. Through the ages egalitarian reforms did occur: Buddhism rejected caste, wealth, and priesthood; Sikhism and Baha’i were founded on the oneness of God and the essential equality of every human being; the early years of both Christianity and Islam emphasized egalitarianism. But it is difficult to be a society-wide religion without supporting the privileges of powerful elites – or becoming those elites.
The West has seen a gradual and often hard-fought expansion of rights, starting with freedom of conscience and religion, moving to equality under the law and democratic participation, and after World War II the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Man. Many of the rights in this last document are not yet accepted worldwide, including in the US. What then is the basis of universal human rights, and where do they come from? The Pacifica Institute, a west coast organization for cross-cultural awareness and dialogue (with which the Acacia Foundation has merged), addressed these issues in a program at its new Bellevue center on March 21. Bill Talbott, professor of philosophy at the University of Washington, involved the audience so thoroughly that the presentation became a dialog rather than a lecture. Most attendees agreed there were universal human rights, but how do we know what they are and how are they established? A common view is that they are “self-evident,” as stated in the Declaration of Independence. But the rights put forward by the Founders were revolutionary rather than widely held, which is the case with most rights when first proposed. Some people never accept particular rights, some even hold that the concept of human rights itself is not valid.
Perhaps universal rights originate from decrees by religious authorities. Unfortunately, such authorities have been among the strongest opponents of modern movements for human rights, although many believers have worked for these causes. Religious authorities are innately conservative. Not only do they generally support the status quo and its power relationships, of which they are a part, but their sacred texts perpetuate social and ethical standards of hundreds or thousands of years ago – though these may also include egalitarian principles, some very radical.
Dr. Talbott proposed that human rights are discovered by fallible, ordinary people who become sensitive to certain kinds of injustice and who work together from the bottom up to create change. Rights evolve over time as people expand their empathy and ideas of what is fair and just. Audience members proposed rights that they felt might in the future become universal, such as the right to a job and a living wage, to clean water, or to make one’s own end-of-life decisions. Which proposals will be recognized as universal rights depends on the feelings and actions of each person. So it is vital for each of us to keep working for what we believe in.
We live in a time of rapid change where forces of selfishness and separation clash with those of compassion and oneness. Seeking to enlarge people’s sympathies, foster independent thought and create better understanding among all people, the Theosophical Society encourages compassionate concern for all and a growing awareness of the oneness of our world and its people. Trying to make universal human rights a reality in our own lives, while working to expand their reach, is a vital part in the evolving effort “to form an active brotherhood” and recognize “the unity of all that is.”