I’ve been trying to get evolution recently. That is: I’ve been trying to see whether I feel that Amit Goswami, in his book Creative Evolution, solves things for me. I’ve studied a bit of quantum mechanics as a chemistry teacher, and am perhaps a bit more equipped than most to see whether Goswami stays true to his roots as a theoretical physicist. The answer is, unfortunately, that to a very real extent he isn’t. (more…)
Archive for the ‘Theosophy’ Category
The other day I visited David Reigle’s excellent web site of the Eastern Tradition Research Institute and found again his paper on “The Centennial Cycle.” In this paper he discusses the origin of the policy by the Brotherhood of Mahatmas of enlightening the “western barbarians” on a centennial basis. Here I read that the very last of the Druid mystery schools in Europe was according to H.P.B. at Bibracte in Burgundy, France.
Bibracte was the capital of the Celtic tribe the Aedui and around 50 B.C.E. Caesar conquered this important Celtic settlement during his Gallic campaigns. During the reign of Augustus its inhabitants left the place for the newly founded Augustodonum (Augustus-city, now Autun) 14 miles east and nobody else replaced them, leaving the site pristine for archeologists to uncover 1900 years later.
Apparently after this loss the Brotherhood instituted its policy of sending every last quarter of a century somebody to instruct the West in the Wisdom-Religion, with H.P.B. being the one for the 19th century cycle. (more…)
In high school, it was, unexpectedly, exposure to biology that first awoke me from the dogmatic slumber of atheism. I had taken the truth of scientific materialism as a given, assuming with the confidence of a zealot that whatever phenomena had not yet been explained by perfectly rational means would be so soon. While no doubt in part an adolescent, contrarian reaction to the christian fundamentalism that was the dominant form of spiritual expression around me, religion just seemed . . . well, silly.
However, the more I learned about how much was actually unknown in biology, concurrent with an exposure to to intellectual traditions that took spirituality seriously, theosophy and Joseph Campbell in particular, the more I realized, at the very least, how premature my verdict was. As a professor later replied to me regarding a direct question about his belief in God, “Well, a whole lot of people a lot smarter than me have taken the idea very seriously.”
So while I ‘believed’ in evolution, or rather, the ability of the theory of evolution to explain observable facts with greater clarity, simplicity, consistency and beauty than any other theory, I saw no discrepancy between such a belief and the possibility of an intelligent order inherent in the universe. In fact, it began to seem more like evidence of such.
When a classmate followed up my affirmation of evolution with what to her was an obvious and unavoidable consequential, “So you’re an atheist?”, I was surprised and thrown. Part of the reason the Theosophical Society quickly became such a home for me was that they took it as a given that evolution was both a material and spiritual story.
Does that mean Theosophy is Intelligent Design?
This is a question I’ll be exploring in my next blog post, a response to Will Thackara’s Evolution & Creation: A Theosophic Synthesis.
In the meantime, I’d like to start hearing your thoughts on the debate between evolution, creationism and intelligent design, and theosophy’s place in the discussion.
Below are a few videos from Krotona. Please pardon the quality, but they were recorded on a very small, cheap camera.
Introductory and concluding remarks from Tim Boyd during his group’s presentation:
Minor Lile’s oral report for Group42′s presentation:
A typical morning at Krotona:
Want better video? Feel free to donate a digital camcorder!
As it abundantly apparent by now, I will not being blogging every day of the Krotona invitational. And most of the video I took turned out to be unwatchable.
At one point during my Krotona group’s conversation, we got onto the subject of effort, risk and failure. I frequently see the risk of failure subverting effort. It’s a subtle process, and largely unconscious in most. Personally, I think one of the most useful practices we can take on as spiritual leaders, as humans, is becoming friendly with failure.
And with all due modesty, I can say that I am one who is on intimate terms with failure.
As has been pointed out to be time and time again, and always deservedly, I have a great, contagious enthusiasm for beginnings, but abyssmal follow through. I have a lot of great ideas, but few them ever live to the light of day. It certainly isn’t that I am unaware, it’s just that each time I get excited, it really feels like this time will be different. And I disappoint myself far more freqently than anyone else. For every eventually failed endeavor I have shared with others, there are two or three more that simply fade into the recesses of my mind with only the spark of promise.
Nonetheless, I do keep trying. Occassionally, others will join in and the collective will have more endurance that I would individually. My hope remains that this blog, despite my fits and starts, will stay just active enough that it will provide a platform for others, perhaps those for whom inspiration is in greater balance with steadiness.
My consolation is, oddly enough, found in sports. Recently, the football quarterback Brett Favre set the NFL record for career passing touchdowns. Basically, he became the most successful quarterback in football history. Shortly thereafter, he also set the record for career interceptions. In baseball, Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times. All sports stats reveal that those that succeed the most are the same who fail the most. The key is that they keep trying.
Undoubtedly, each one of us brings to our study of Theosophy our own unique viewpoints, and our own particular emphases. To ask several different people what drew them into the study is to hear several different answers. One person may be particularly interested in studying the common, esoteric threads uniting the multiplicity of world religions. Another may devote the vast majority of their study to The Secret Doctrine, coming to the fullest possible understanding of the Three Fundamental Propositions. Still others are drawn more to texts such as The Voice of the Silence or At the Feet of the Master, small but powerfully transformative tomes that illustrate the practical application of high Theosophical ideals to one’s own life. Some find expositions of psychic phenomena fascinating, opening one as they do to a world entirely beyond our everyday sense perceptions.
The Secret Doctrine teaches us that everything in existence stems ultimately from the ineffable, incomprehensible ground of being described as the Absolute. Anything below this level of being is “maya,” illusion. The Society’s motto, “There is no religion higher than truth,” points to the over-arching search that brings most of us to the study of Theosophy: The search for truth. From this it follows that to be bogged down in the illusory nature of anything less than Truth itself is to lose sight of the Path. If the highest Truth is to be found beyond all form, in this boundless Absolute, then anything containing the characteristics of form, limitation and definition falls short of Truth in some way. The logic in this line of thought is sound, but can lead to the development of a value system that looks down upon an interest in phenomena. How often is this word, “phenomena,” used in a condescending manner to describe interests deemed by the speaker to be inferior? What effect does this have?
Which aspect of Theosophical study is most suitable? Most advisable? Most fruitful? What is the yardstick by which we measure the relevance of a given set of Theosophical ideas? Whose is the task of deciding which texts are more or less relevant? What memes are propagated throughout the Society as a result of the exercising of discrimination to this end?
The group facilitators met with Joy Mills this evening to prepare for the coming week. Joy will be giving a 45 minute talk each morning, but most of the time during the invitational is given to the participants to closely examine a given topic at great depth and from a variety of angles, both individually and with a small group.
With the stated theme ‘The Relevance of Theosophy and Theosophical Literature in the Contemporary World’, Joy is actually providing a context, a loose framework, in which any number of issues can be explored.
For those of you who don’t know, Joy is more than four times my age and has been continuously active in the T.S. for six decades now. She never fails to astonish me. Few people within the T.S. are in a more natural position to have an ossified perception of theosophy, yet even fewer are as forward thinking. Joy offered up a few questions that intrigue her as possible areas of inquiry for us to discuss within our groups:
What does Theosophy have to contribute to the discourse on evolutionary theory? How should the 2nd Volume of the Secret Doctrine be treated in light of current findings? If the lost continents, such as Atlantis, are treated as actual in theosophical writings, how do we deal with the lack of evidence for them? What is the place of western esotericism within theosophy? What is the relationship between hermeticism and gnosticism? How should we approach the issues of the Masters, of the Theosophical Society’s own past, the life of HPB, the variations between the different generations’ iterations of the teachings, the schisms, etc.?
Yes, those are just a few of the ideas Joy shared with us. You know, just to get us started.
I am now at the Krotona Institute of Theosophy in Ojai, CA for an invitational: “The Relevance of Theosophy and Theosophical Literature in the Contemporary World” (more information below). The actual program begins Monday morning, hence this is day Minus 2.
I will be blogging every day while here and adding pictures and video from the event.
First impression of Ojai is one of overwhelming beauty. The institute rests up on the hill of a lush valley running east-west below. Director Nelda Samarel affirmed to me this morning that after nine years here, she still never ceases to be amazed by the view. Upon arrival after midnight, I went for a walk and was delighted to be reminded of how profoundly a truly starry sky touches the soul.
It is wonderful to see old friends. A hug and smile from Maria Parisen is worth the trip, as is a laugh with Nelda. Betty Bland, Marina Maestas and Dan Noga are here from Olcott. I have had several differences of opinion with Betty and have been an occasionally harsh critic, but my immediate reaction to seeing her is always respect and affection. I suppose we’re all like family in that respect. There is something special about theosophists, and indeed it is this community above all else the continues to keep me involved.
This morning I went for a long walk and eventually found a great little cafe with WiFi. Nice view, huh?!
Stay tuned for more!
In another post, I posed some questions about how artificial intelligence and Theosophy might fit together. The ensuing discussion was riveting, but the question is still burning in my mind. Much was brought into the discussion, including the overall progress of research in artificial intelligence, along with some insights that can be gleaned from the way humanity has evolved. I’d like to reframe the question, beginning with a quote from The Secret Doctrine:
“Apart from Cosmic Substance, Cosmic Ideation could not manifest as individual consciousness, since it is only through a vehicle of matter that consciousness wells up as ‘I am I,’ a physical basis being necessary to focus a ray of the Universal Mind at a certain stage of complexity. Again, apart from Cosmic Ideation, Cosmic Substance would remain an empty abstraction, and no
emergence of consciousness could ensue.”
I have been pondering the connection between individual and group karma lately. Specifically: what does it say about a group when it creates ecological problems at the scale humans do today. What does it say about humanity when it causes war, poverty and disease to go rampant at the scale of today, despite all the technology we have at our disposal.
And who pays? Who is responsible?
Ultimately the doctrine of karma insists that what we learn from life continues on into our Higher “Self” (not a self, but we have to call it something). Lessons learned, continue somehow.
But in the meantime we have to deal with what is.
One of the ways to deal with what is, is to prevent future bad karma, by acting right today. We are only held responsible for what we helped co-create… But I’m not sure that’s a comfort, given the trouble humanity is in. Can any of us really say we aren’t co-responsible?
What happens today was caused yesterday. We are part of a given group today, in certain circumstances now, that our previous selves have in some way ‘deserved’. That’s the past and karma. The present and karma is: how to act today, to prevent more problems in the future… All that has to do with karma and time, a fascinating subject, I think.
Group karma is a reasonably new working out of the doctrine of karma. It makes sense though: we see people suffering in groups and have to fit that into the doctrine of karma, or that doctrine doesn’t make sense any more. For instance: how does group karma deal with the economic crunch we are going through? Well – since we all impact on each other anyhow, we might as well make the best of it and help each other out. This is why the doctrine of karma is sometimes summarized as the doctrine of harmony. Only by acting in harmony with all that is can disharmony be solved.
On the upside: that Barack Obama was elected despite the color of his skin says something positive about the group karma of the USA… Do you all agree?
My life has changed a lot recently and I felt it was time I started my own blog about religion, spirituality and of course theosophy.
Many posts have already gotten commented on, which I think is just marvelous for a blog that’s been up only a week.
Check out my post about how I intend to blog and what subjects I’ll likely cover.
A reader asked me some questions (through e-mail) which I decided to answer on this blog. There’s Can a person survive on a vegan diet? and Should one be kind even if one doesn’t feel kind? (my paraphrase)
That’s not all – but you will have to check the rest out yourselves
For those of you who don’t want to check out too many different websites – I’ve made a page with all theosophical blogs (and forums) I know about. So you can easily check where there is something new going on. It also links out to the active theosophical forums and has the most recent posts on theos-talk listed. If you’re wondering why the recent posts on other forums aren’t listed: the technical reason is they don’t have a public RSS feed.
I’ll be sure to post here occasionally as well though. Don’t worry.
Never content to not understand anything related to theosophy – I looked up this phenomonoly (hope I spelled that correctly) Govert and Chris talk so much about, without ever explaining it.
Anyhow – I still don’t really understand Govert’s posts on the subject, but I did read some interesting bits on self transcendence last night. They go a bit beyond ‘Expanding our centre of consciousness‘ into a terrain I’m not personally familiar with – the centre disappears totally. This is something Krishnamurti did talk about, but to me – there always is a centre. (more…)
The policy of this blog is to not have too many posts that consist of merely dropping a link. I’m going to break that policy today because I’ve picked up where the deceased Ton den Hartog left off: put the Blavatsky Collected Writings on my website, with the permission of the Wheaton Headquarters obviously.
So without further ado: The H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings
This small essay is an initial attempt to bring to language the “lived, first-personal, experiential characteristics” of the 7 Theosophical principles of our being based on the idea that these are “subjective, introspectivley available features.” (1)
One prerequisite for doing so is to resist the use of any metaphorical or explanatory concepts, which is the major line of contention between metaphysics and descriptive psychology in the spirit of phenomenology. The use of third-person examples is acceptable as long as they can be empathetically entered and made into hypothetical first-person experiences.
Below are the names of the principles in both English and Sanskrit followed by descriptions and examples.
I) Physical (Rupa): our experience of our physical body as a physical body will show in experiences like bumping into something, when you feel the weight and pure physicality of the body, when you realize it is a physical thing among other physical things and is subject to the laws of physical causality.
II) Vital principle (Prana): our experience of our vitality, or lack thereof, will show itself in the way the physical body comes along when we go about our business. Is it nimble, fresh, rested, dynamic, or limp, fatigued and sluggish? The same would apply to our emotional and mental bodies too, or, more accurately, it is the integrated complex of our physical-emotional-mental bodies that we experience as vital or not.
III) Etheric Double (Linga sharira): our experience of the prototypical double of our physical body would be accessible when we would have an unambiguous experience of a phantom limb in the case we lost a physical part of our body, but still experience its (phantom) reality.
IV) Lower Mental Body (Kama Rupa): our experience of our lower mental-desire body is maybe most accessible for reflection in the moment when a physical intention arises and is not yet fulfilled. It’s then that we can feel explicitly the pull of a lower, projected mental-emotional body image towards its physical object for fulfillment. For example, Janet feels the temptation to keep the excessive change she received in order to pay her rent.
V) Upper Mental Body (Manas): our experience of our higher mental-desire body is maybe most accessible for reflection in the moment when a spiritual intention arises and is not yet fulfilled. It’s then that we can feel explicitly the pull of a higher, projected mental-emotional body image towards its spiritual object for fulfillment. Janet feels the obligation to return the excessive change she received for the sake of honesty and justice.
VI) The Spiritual Soul (Budhi): our experience of our higher spiritual being is maybe most accessible for reflection when conscience announces itself as a still voice calling us to self-transcendentally take care of situations of moral ambiguity when we find ourselves in unprecedented limit-situations and all our Manasic maxims and principles fail to lead us to a right decision. This might then lead to a new caring perceptive intuition of a situation and the appropriate actions implied. Janet, torn between principled obligation and ego-centered temptation, has–triggered by her call of conscience–a new intuition of the situation as involving not just herself and the cashier, but also the wider network of relations involved that are directly or indirectly affected by her decision, and therefore resolves, unambiguously, to return the excess change. Mary has had such insights already and appropriated them into her being and therefore returned the excessive change spontaneously, virtuously, without second thoughts.
VII) The Divine Self (Atma): our experience of our divine self is maybe most accessible for reflection just at the beginning and end of an experience when, first, our whole being is integrally (physical, vital, emotional, mental, intuitive, etc.) and self-transcendentally involved in a meditative action of intense spiritual significance and then the grace of consciousness-being-bliss overcomes us, uninvited, all-encompassing and for a timeless moment. This might happen in different settings. To me it happened a few times during work and while hiking in the mountains. Because of the overwhelming, intense and complete nature of the experience it will be probably quite impossible for consciousness to find the attitude and space to reflect upon itself during the height of it. But because of its intensity it will linger or sets itself in memory and then reflection can set in.
The above is an initial experiential grounding of the 7 Theosophical principles in reflective experience and made ready for a future phenomenology of Theosophy, or maybe better-stated–and paraphrasing Kant–a phenomenological prolegomena for any future Theosophy. Phenomena to be explored would be the interconnected nature of our physical-vital-emotional-mental experiences and bring out its essential structures and dynamics.
(1). John J. Drummond ”Moral phenomenology and moral intentionality” in Phenomenology and Cognitive Science (2008): 7:35-49. The examples of Janet and Mary were taken from this article, though slightly adapted to the article. Because the article is of a technical philosophical nature I can only recommend it to those with some philosophical training. For a more accessible text see “Phenomenology of Practice” by Max van Manen in Phenomenology & Practice (2007) 1: 11-30.
In a previous comment Chris asked about the theosophical model of the human constitution, which proposes the existence of a Higher and a lower self, and the statement by Krishnamurti that such a separation is “an idea, not a fact”.
In this kind of subjects, the focus of Krishnamurti and Theosophy differs—but only the focus, not the essential teaching, as I’m going to illustrate below. (more…)
In the last issue of The Theosophist ( May 2008 ) there is an article of mine. In it I examine this topic from a psychological point of view, as presented by J. Krishnamurti, and an Occultist approach according to the writings of some theosophical leaders.
My thesis is that these two approaches are complementary. What do you think?