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Theosophical News Blog

2009-04-12_1610

I’ve started another blog, this one for theosophical news.

It will be used for links to news articles that theosophists might find of interest.

Please email me if you would like to become a contributor, or if you just want me to post a link you’ve found.

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The Meaning of Clairvoyance

Human Aura

When we hear the word “clairvoyance,” we often think of the ability to perceive objects and entities on planes of existence other than the physical. To Theosophists, the word may conjure images of thought forms, of the human aura, of devas and elementals, all of which surround us at every moment, invisible to most—save for those who possess the ability to see them. The ability is considered to be a form of “extra-sensory perception.” Extra as a prefix probably comes from the Latin exterus, meaning “outward” or “outside.” Thus the term “extra-sensory perception,” implying a phenomenon that is outside that of sensation, seems misleading if by it we are referring to the ability to see auras or thought forms—after all, when someone who has this gift sees such things, is that experience not an aspect of their sense of vision, however attuned that sense may be to things not normally seen? Theosophy teaches that all humans will one day reach a point of development at which this faculty blooms; in other words, it is a perfectly natural and normal aspect of our sense of sight, albeit one that is currently dormant in most people. (more…)

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The popular Matrix movie trilogy depicts a futuristic dystopia in which humanity is enslaved by intelligent machines, used as a power source while they live out virtual lives in a computer-generated world similar to the “real” world just pre-dating the takeover of the machines. What is not explored in great depth in the movies themselves is the back-story: How things ended up that way.

A series of animated shorts, entitled The Animatrix, explored some of the peripheral stories surrounding the series. Two of the chapters are devoted to developing the storyline that leads up to the situation depicted in the movies. It begins when humanity succeeds in the creation of artificial intelligence. Soon, intelligent, anthropomorphic machines are doing almost all of humanity’s “dirty work,” and humanity falls into a state of vain decadence. One day, a robot with the designation B1-66ER is threatened by its owner with deactivation, and in response, kills both the owner and the mechanic instructed to deactivate it. B1-66ER is arrested and put on trial. The robot claims that it acted in self-defense, stating that it “simply did not want to die.”

Those who are interested can explore the story in greater detail here, but I’d like to look at the case of B1-66ER in a Theosophical light. (more…)

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We’re growing!

Just a quick note: With over 6,000 hits, we recently made WordPress’ list of Top 100 Growing Blogs!

This is a community effort, so thanks to everyone for checking in and adding comments.  Please keep doing so.  Check out the archives, click on tags and do searches.  There are already a great number of posts that had sparked fantastic discussions that got lost as new posts gained attention.

Please spread the word by linking to us on your own sites or the sites you frequent.  And remember, I am always looking for more theosophists to become authors, particularly ones who are active at theosophical centers or camps.  The more perspectives the better!

Thanks again to all!

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best wishes to Govert

The philosopher in action

The philosopher in action

As you may know, our dear friend Govert Schuller is taking a sabbatical at Far Horizons and will be largely incommunicado for the next three months.  I have worked, studied, taught, drank, argued, eaten, walked and talked, talked and talked with Govert for many years now, and though I know these summer months will pass by rapidly, I will miss him dearly. (more…)

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**UPDATE** The event for tonight, Thursday October 2nd 2008, has been canceled.  Too many of the people I originally hoped to participate will be unavailable.  We will try again at next year’s Theosofest (9/12/09). That should be enough time to make to really prepare!  We’ll also have a much bigger audience.  Thanks to everyone for their efforts.  I’ll be in touch about getting commitments for next year.  Cheers, CR

We’re on for October 2nd, 2008! (more…)

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The following article is by a good friend of mine, Steve Larsen, and addresses the global warming phenomenon from a consciousness perspective that is quite Theosophical, if not, entirely so, and therefore is a great example of applying the truths of the Wisdom Tradition to current affairs. Govert (more…)

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Betsy’s Guts

Caterpillars are cute. Typically, a creature with that many legs tends more to the creepy. Perhaps it is its furr(zz)iness that provokes ‘awws’ rather than ‘ewws’ and rescue rather than squashing, but equally compelling may be our our optimistic identification with this earth bound crawler’s destiny with the sky, its inevitable transformation into a higher form of life. After all, stick a pair of wings on the ugliest person and all of sudden they’re an angel. (more…)

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Are you being served?

I’m an unrepentant intellectual. I smile conspiratorially when I hear people critique Joseph Campbell for his claim that ‘underlining passages in books’ was his spiritual practice, and there are few things that inspire me like a well-phrased idea, polemics as play.

I felt the prickly parts of me bristle yesterday when Juliana Cesano told Govert Schuller and I that some of the issues we struggle with would disappear if we thought in terms of how we were being of service to others. And by ‘others’ she didn’t mean some phenomenological designation of radical alterity. She meant actual people. I’m quite facile with the idea of people, and could give a long treatise on how each individual is a realization of the divine that needs to be embraced in its fundamental, wondrous and utterly unique instantiation of ultimate Spirit. Actual people though? Well, I do like a few of them . . .

There could be a lot of debate on how to best be of service to others. And on another day that will be well worth exploring. For now though, I just want to raise the question: What changes when we think in terms of how we are being of service to others? Do you feel any conflict between what drives you and a call to service?

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We theosophists appear to be an earnest bunch.  I suppose a deep and abiding concern for spiritual evolution can lend one an air of seriousness.  However, we’re also a community bound by laughter, joy . . . and bubbles. (more…)

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We have been exploring different aspects of happiness, pleasure, suffering, etc., and I’d like to offer another perspective. (more…)

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I learned last week that Kurt Hanson, an old friend of several of us here, died on April 9th.

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I’m wondering whether the search for happiness is at all a reasonable search. Don’t get me wrong, I want happiness as much as anyone. But sorrow is part of life, and facing sorrow and working through it (having a healthy cry for instance) works better than putting on a happy face.

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I’d like to start to working on the next video.  As it will be part of the series on the sevenfold constitution, it will focus on the principle of atman.

To that end, I invite your comments on the question, ‘What does it mean to be one with everything?’

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everyday ecstasy II

There are these moments, not infrequent, when the love that is flowing through me, that seeks its course in every direction my senses, mind and heart move, is so overwhelming, so whole, so present, pure and perfect, that a lifetime spent finding the words, the movements, the melody, the shape or the presence that can invoke it, occurs to me is time well spent, and indeed is the only time that can be called a life.

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The other night I attended the finals for Chicago’s teen poetry slam “Louder Than a Bomb”. This was the 8th annual event which began in 2001 as a response to the impending war in Iraq. Feeling frustrated at their inability to influence national decision making and feeling unheard and left out of the process, these young poets and word artists determined that they would make a way for their voices to be heard. Silence was not an option. They felt that they could come together in a way that their words would resound louder than the weapons of war – “Louder Than a Bomb”. What has happened since is Chicago history.

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Two recent posts by Pablo and Katinka have addressed a similar idea.

I’d like to talk more about the idea of crucifying our material selves. Generally, I’m curious about the range of attitudes towards not only the physical body, but the embodied self, the personality, the ego (which also relates Katinka’s distinction between self-confidence and letting go of the self).

Granting that in reality the traditions are more subtle than this, we can nonetheless see a tendency to diminish, perhaps even demonize the ‘lower’ self. In Gnosticism the body becomes a prison, in theosophical circles there is abundant talk of transcending the ego.

I don’t experience my body as a prison. To me it provides opportunity (in the same way any limitations are necessary for creativity), incarnation is a gift, even with the body’s weakness, vulnerability and inevitable collapse. Same with my personality. Metaphysically, I believe my spirit choose this body and self, and its legion flaws, intentionally.

If the entire manifest universe is the ultimate One coming to know itself, then the ultimate aspiration for each of us, for every moment of manifestation, is to be fully our self.

Let me be clear. In the vast, concept defying, vastness of time and space, there will be only one You (insert your name and defining story here). Your atma-buddhi-manas is eternal, but the particular form it chose to take here and now is utterly, radically unique.

That uniqueness includes, essentially, your temporal, embodied self, your body and personality. To negate that is to negate the motivation of manifestation.

The subtlety comes from the fact that we are layered beings. The question, then, is where to locate our uniqueness. I’ve done some incredibly selfish, mundane, harmful and indulgent things in the name of ‘following my bliss’ and ‘being true to my self’.

I keep coming back to Krishna talking to Arjuna about the chariot, where the horses are the senses and the chariot is the body. It isn’t a matter of getting rid of the horses and the chariot, it is a matter of who is guiding them.

This is why theosophy is so important.  It gives us a model of the self that can help us identify who, or what in us, is really responding.

To play on the Easter theme, Pablo is correct to say we must crucify our materials selves, but the message is also that this material self is reborn, not discarded.  Our eternal, spiritual self acts through our temporal, physical/emotional self.

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Psychologists, especially amateur psychologists, emphasize self confidence as a major predictor of success and happiness. On the other hand, spiritual traditions like Theosophy, Buddhism and Sufism stress the fact that our personalities are a major source of trouble and we should let them go.

Can those two views be connected? Sure they can. They target very different life-experiences.

First lets look at why self confidence works in so many ways. A friend of mine in high school, lets call her Esther, was a troubled teen. Obviously teens, most teens, lack self confidence – but they do express that in very different ways. Some limit their lives to partying. Some work harder because it never seems good enough. Esther wasn’t the best student, but she was a fabulous dancer. She really had energy and style. She also had a weight problem and her bone structure would never have passed most performance dancing standards. She had a choice, after high school, to pursue dancing and perhaps become a teacher of dancing or to do what her family wanted her to do: work with kids. Being an insecure teen, she went along with what her parents wanted. I am very curious where she ended up. Had she had more self confidence, perhaps she would have lost the weight and become the best dancer she could be and taught it to others.

Now Esther’s parents did have good reason to discourage this. After all: working with kids is a more stable career move. Perhaps she did have to let go of the dream and serve humanity through working with kids. This is the sort of thing that is very hard to judge. Balancing out realism and just going for it is one of the main challenges in all of our lives. It is part of the struggle of modernity.

Spirituality is about letting go of self. Letting go of hurt feelings, when someone does something to make you feel slighted for instance. But to let that go, one needs a certain amount of emotional maturity, self confidence if you will: you need to know that in many cases such things aren’t about you. People are busier thinking about themselves and their own preoccupations than about your needs. Letting that go is wisdom, but it’s also hard if you don’t have self confidence. So actually, it seems self confidence and wisdom go hand in hand.

On the other hand, like all virtues, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. Too much self confidence does become arrogance. Too much self confidence also makes for less of a willingness to learn. Self confidence is needed for learning as well. Self confidence can help with perseverance, certainly a trait necessary in learning. Arrogance stops a person from being open to the world and learning from it. N. Sri Ram put that aspect differently by saying:

To be conscious of one’s ignorance is the beginning of wisdom, and an ignorance of parts will not trouble the man who has achieved a happy sense of relationship with the whole. All truth will come to him who has a living relation to things, since to live is to grow and progress. (Thoughts for Aspirants, the chapter on Wisdom)

Paradoxically perhaps – only when you are really secure in yourself is it possible to really be open to the whole. Psychologists might put that differently. They might say that arrogance actually isn’t self confidence. Arrogance is an artificial shell people who are really not so confident hide behind. I’m not sure I agree with that though. Some people have just had so much success that it doesn’t seem necessary to listen to others, be open to them, learn from them. That is self confidence, but it is surely harmful in the long run. Some types of criminals suffer from too much self confidence as well. So self confidence is not the panacea to all the ills people have.

I do feel that in this crazy world one needs self confidence to find ones way – which may be part of the reason ‘the secret’ is so popular.

By the way, I have a very good Robert Frager quote on various levels of transforming the self within the Sufi tradition on my website.

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Everyday Ecstasy

I live in Chicago where we have endured a particularly lengthy and brutal winter. Weeks and weeks of bitter cold and grey, unremitting winds that freeze the tears on your face. Today was the first real break. It would still feel cool to my southern family, maybe even to me in in October after a comparably long summer, but today it was heavenly. Walking from my work, which is in the Loop, the center of downtown Chicago, to the train for my evening commute back to Wheaton, I was awash in what can only be described as ecstasy.

Every building stood forth against the pale sky in formidable pride and I reveled in the subtle varieties and the flow of styles as I moved westwards. Young women chatted loudly on the cell phones and I beamed at the sense of love and friendship they were sharing across the invisible distances. The business men seemed more at ease, slightly but noticeably less tense without their shoulders unconsciously tensing upwards to protect their necks. I saw a man shaped like a fallen cupcake locking up a McDonald’s and thought, ‘yeah, that looks right’. Best of all, on one corner stood a beggar with a large sign, ‘Hungry and homeless’, and behind him on his crate stood an exuberant young woman who massaged his shoulder through his coat. He looked slightly bewildered, but afterwards he shrugged again and again in genuine satisfaction.

If I were a poet, I’d find a way to capture all this is in verse, with a rhythm of sounds to reflect my pace through the city. If I were an artist, I’d capture some of these moments in colors, shapes, movements or melody. Me, I’m a theosophist, a philosopher and mystic. This ecstasy comes so frequently, and occasionally with such force, I just ride it and let the accompanying humility and gratitude protect me from being overtaken with inspired madness. Still, sometimes I end up laughing out loud, or just grin bigger than my muscles allow. And later, I reflect, dwell, question, probe for meaning, significance, compare my experiences to others, look for ways to guide others here.

Even as I write this, I’m lingering in the afterglow. Every song that comes up on my iPod threatens to destroy me with bliss. There is simply too much beauty in the world, and my instinct is to strip naked and dance, to cradle the faces of strangers in my hands and affirm their divine source, the glorious uniqueness of their being, to loudly exclaim the inexplicable, overabundant, undeniable and overwhelming suchness’of every spatial, temporal and conceptual moment of existence. But I’m on a crowded train and that might end with me in a police station. Alas.

Do some of us have a predisposition to ecstasy? Am I genetically prone to rapture? Is there an evolutionary purpose to such feelings? Is there a place for the modern mystic? How would society respond if I did act out the above inclinations, but was still able to rationally defend my actions, even eloquently convey their context? Why don’t I act them out? Are you ever embarrassed by your own joy? Why? Why is it easier to share pain than bliss?

Do you know that I truly, deeply love you?

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Forgiveness

There is a discussion group that meets every Sunday night at Olcott, the National Headquarters of the Theosophical Society in America.

During a discussion last week, someone brought up forgiveness. This is one of those words we use frequently, but whose meaning is rarely explored. It occurred to me then that I didn’t really know what forgiveness meant.

 

forgiveness-medium.jpg

Several of my co-inquirers offered very cogent explanations, but as I reflected, those explanations essentially amounted to a recognition. Forgiveness was an event you could recognize. When you have really forgiven someone, you know it, and there is a distinct reordering of internal engergies. Most agreed it involved a letting go, a release of anger, resentment, certain expectations.

This then foregrounded the real question. How does forgiveness happen? How do we truly forgive?

I’m grateful to be surrounded by such bright people, because they quickly worked towards the realization that understanding always preceded forgiveness. You could tell someone who had harmed you, ‘It’s okay, I forgive you’, but unless you had really done the work of understanding their actions, those words were likely empty. However, if you did understand, the feeling we recognize as forgiveness, that release, naturally followed.

First, it should be noted that forgiveness isn’t granting license. You can deny the rights of someone to act a certain way, even condemn and punish their actions, and still forgive them. Mothers do this constantly.

I’m intrigued by this dynamic and curious of the implications.

How do we begin this process? How do we set in motion the understanding that precipitates forgiveness? Is it a particular type of understanding? What is the relationship between the mental exercise of trying to understand another’s actions and the emotional component, the active empathy? Can either succeed alone or are they codependent?

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