Newsletter of the Theosophical Society (Pasadena) Australasian Section
No: 96 December 2008
A mountain lookout overlooking Lake Bellfield, in the Grampians mountains, southern Australia
Obituary: Kirby Van Mater
What are hierarchies? Part 2: What lies beyond the human level of spiritual evolution? – Andrew Rooke.
Poetry corner: To the Teacher – Roza Riaikkenen.
Two paths of spiritual development: Pratyeka Buddha and Buddha of Compassion – Stefan Carey.
Sri Ramakrishna: a wonderful example of spiritual life.
Wading into The Ocean: a Companion to ‘The Ocean of Theosophy’ - Ann Forsyth Danno – Reviewed by Heathclyff St. James Deville.
My stroke of insight: a brain scientist’s personal journey – Jill Bolte Taylor.
Mindfulness, bliss, and beyond: a meditator’s handbook – Ajahn Brahm.
Questions we all ask: Why do good people suffer?
Is Karma always punishment?
From our readers: The golden rule is not so simple!
Strange blue clouds appearing around the world.
One of the most enduring themes of human history is the adoration of heroes. From the trials of Hercules to the recent Batman craze, hero stories are universal. We read of heroes in books of mythology and they stalk the silver screen, but where are the real heroes today?
Theosophy teaches us that 18,600,000 years ago Humanity emerged from the ‘cloud of unknowing’ to the responsibilities of self-directed evolution. As the Bible puts it humanity, ‘ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’. In those early days, advanced beings walked amongst men, taught the basic sciences of civilization, and founded schools of wisdom before withdrawing to the inner planes of being. From then onwards we have been guided by the wisdom impressed upon the plastic minds of nascent humanity and assisted by the servants of Truth who work quietly to urge mankind along in our journey towards true humanhood. These heroes work mostly unknown in every continent encouraging Man’s tardy footsteps towards perfection at the human level. At the time of the Northern Winter solstice celebrated as Christmas, one or more of such worthy ones may undergo the necessary trials to join this exalted effort more self-consciously.
But where are such heroes when we need them out on the streets today? At an everyday level, we are surrounded by the heroic efforts of ordinary people yearning for the eternal ideals of peace and brotherhood. The selflessness and sacrifices universally demanded by family life instil the soul-learning of qualities that keep this world going amidst the madness of conflict and intolerance that tends to fill the headlines. Hopefully these same qualities will eventually lead to a more harmonious world one day in the future. These quiet heroes of daily life, like the ‘Great Ones’ of the Brotherhood of Compassion, show that we are all on a hero quest to awaken the Godlike essence within us. Let us take the opportunity that the Christmas sacred season provides for each in his own way to reach beyond the personal self to the real Self within.
Joseph Campbell the famous mythologist said of the heroic quest: “…a hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than themselves.” William Quan Judge, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, said of the quiet heroes: “…hiding themselves away under an exterior which does not attract attention, there are many of the real disciples in the world. They are studying themselves and other human hearts. They have no diplomas, but there resides in them a consciousness of constant help and a clear knowledge of the true Lodge which meets in real secrecy and is never found in any directory. Their whole life is a persistent pursuit of the fast-moving soul which, although appearing to stand still, can distance the lightening, and their death is only another step forward to greater knowledge through better physical bodies in new lives.”
OBITUARY: (Robert) Kirby Van Mater: June 15, 1916 – July 8th, 2008
Shortly after his 92nd birthday Kirby Van Mater died in Altadena, CA, after spending 70 years as a member of the headquarters staff. A deep and original thinker, he loved discussing theosophy, and his insight and genuineness allowed him to connect with people in a very direct way.
Kirby was born in Vallejo, CA into a Navy family. He and his brother John, 10 months his junior, were like twins and spent their lives dedicated to the same cause. For his first decade the family lived in St. Helena, CA, near his grandfather’s ranch, and then moved to San Diego. After finishing his secondary education there at Boydens Preparatory School, Kirby spent two years at Pomona College studying science and mathematics.
In the mid-1930s his mother became a theosophist after attending lectures by G. de Purucker at nearby Point Loma. Although her sons initially scoffed at theosophy, by 1938 both had become members of the headquarters staff, working while attending Theosophical University, where Kirby also taught math. When WW II broke out, to their parents’ disappointment, the brothers along with Larry Merkel took religious exemptions so that there would be some young people left to do the heavy work at the headquarters, which soon moved to Covina, CA. As members of the TS Cabinet all three participated in the Cabinet Administration after GdeP’s death in 1942. In 1945 Col. Conger became Leader. The Colonel was largely paralyzed from Parkinson’s disease, and Kirby was one of the principal persons who took care of him physically, a demanding duty he considered a highlight of his life. Kirby was also manager of the publications department. In 1948 he was appointed Secretary General, an office he held until 1998.
In Jim Long’s administration (1951-1971) Kirby worked mainly in the Press, responsible particularly for printing and bookbinding. He had married Jean Vaughan in 1946, and in these years family played a major role. Under Grace F. Knoche (1971-2006) he was able to turn the Press work over to younger staff in order to more directly assist her. While he had been Archivist for many years, he was now given the opportunity to thoroughly reorganize the Archives in a new site. He also undertook projects relating to TS history, such as the “Historical Perspective” printed in H. P. Blavatsky to the American Conventions. He was Chairman of the Cabinet from 1988 to 1998.
Over the last few years Kirby’s health forced him to relinquish his day-to-day headquarters responsibilities, but he continued to contribute to activities there with his dedication, good humor, and kindliness. He will be missed by his family and many friends. – by Sarah B. Dougherty.
The following is an extract from a tribute to Kirby sent to our headquarters on behalf of the Australasian Section members and friends:
A philosopher once said that all we can try and do is to 'leave the world a better place' than when we arrived in it, and certainly Kirby did just that in the many and varied fields of his endeavours. Most of our members here in Australia have heard the details of Kirby's contributions and achievements to the work of our Theosophical Society. Checking back over the literature of our TS for the past 60 years, Kirby, his brother John, and the Van Mater family generally, have featured in many roles as writers, teachers, administrators and editors…
In 1977, Kirby and Grace visited Australia and made a tremendous impression on the members here. Kirby was always there assisting Grace, quietly helping to guide meetings and interviews in his own highly effective style. Later in the 1980s and 90s Kirby was a guiding presence at the Secret Doctrine Centenary in 1988 and contributed to that most excellent publication An Invitation to the Secret Doctrine, as an author, and Archivist of the Society.
What a fine example he has provided of the requirements of this high calling to those who carry on the Work in the 21st century. His passing certainly causes us to pause and remember those ‘Quiet Heroes’ on whose shoulders we stand in this Work, and the example we have to measure ourselves by.
‘Vale’ old friend and mentor, your companions in Australia will do the best they can to keep the ‘flame’ burning here as you did through all those years.
As the ancient Romans would say when a respected friend passed to greater light - ‘Gaudeat in astris’ - 'He now rejoices amongst the stars'. – by Andrew Rooke, National Secretary, Australasian Section.
New on Theosophy Downunder website: New articles added to our website http://www.theosophydownunder.org/ recently under the menu item ‘Theosophy Downunder Library’ include: The Divine Language of Vibrations by Roza and Margarita Riaikkenen, the following articles by Stefan Carey: The Two Paths, The Nature of Thought, Places of Power, What is Truth?, Breaking the Moulds of Mind, Coping with Life: some perspectives from Theosophy; Spirituality and its place in counselling by Heathclyff St. James-Deville; Canberra: capitol city of Australia: esoteric aspects of its design compiled by Evelynne Brown; the following lectures by Amanda Rooke: Sacred birds, The divine twins: Gemini, Dioscuri, Kabiri; Some thoughts on presenting Theosophy by Frank Walter; Flood legends by Sam Duband; the following by Bernard Parsons: The case for reincarnation, Man’s responsibility to the animals; What are Hierarchies? by Andrew Rooke. Also, a complete listing of the magazines held at our Melbourne library is now available at our website and our complete library catalogue of books and AV materials will shortly be available online.
Introduction to Asian Philosopies and Basic Concepts of the Ancient Wisdom courses available in 2009: courses giving an introduction to Asian and Indian philosophies and religions, followed by a course on basic concepts of the Ancient Wisdom will be offered at our Melbourne Centre on Wednesday mornings between February and October 2009. These courses are run in association with the University of the Third Age. Please contact Tony Downey on 0400942613 for further information.
Exploring Theosophy booklet available: a new 60 page introductory booklet on Theosophy is available free of charge to anyone seriously interested in theosophical ideas. Subjects covered include: What is Theosophy?, Man’s search for truth, Karma. Reincarnation, Spiritual progress, Occultism versus psychic powers, and many other intersting topics. A study sheet is available to go with this book for those who want to study it in detail. Please write to the editor if you are interested in obtaining a copy.
Lo Guest’s book Random Thoughts and Dialogues now available: copies of Lo Guest’s book Random Thoughts and Dialogues are now available at $10 per copy by contacting our Bookshop Manager, Tony Downey. Lo was our late Treasurer, lecturer and co-ordinator of the U3A courses who passed away in 2007. Her book is a collection of stories based on her extensive travels, and life experience of raising a large family dealing with life issues which affect all of us. This is a ‘must have’ book for all theosophists interested in putting theosophical ideas into action in daily life.
WHAT ARE HIERARCHIES?
The concept of Hierarchies is one of the corner-stones of the Ancient Wisdom. In this series, we discuss what this means and how we can apply it to our understanding of how Nature works and how we fit in with the divine plan of Universal Nature.
Part 2: What lies beyond the human kingdom?
What of the beings "above" humanity, the angels and gods of religion and folklore that so fascinate us? H. P. Blavatsky wrote that the universe is "guided from within outwards" just as human actions are:
“The whole Kosmos is guided, controlled, and animated by almost endless series of Hierarchies of sentient Beings, each having a mission to perform, and who — whether we give them one name or another, and call them Dhyan-Chohans or Angels — are "messengers" in the sense only that they are the agents of Karmic and Cosmic Laws. They vary infinitely in their respective degrees of consciousness and intelligence; and to call them all pure Spirits without any of the earthly alloy "which time is wont to prey upon" is only to indulge in poetical fantasy. For each of these Beings either was, or prepares to become, a man, if not in the present, then in a past or a coming cycle . . .”
— The Secret Doctrine 1:274-5
Theosophy refers to the more evolved beings as the Hierarchy of Compassion, which extends from good and noble human beings on upwards through masters of wisdom, gods, and super-divine intelligences to the ineffable source of life in our universe. Here cosmic intelligence and divine substance, emanating from the boundless Unknowable, together produce all phenomena belonging to the spiritual or conscious side of nature.
In theosophical literature, the Hierarchy of Compassion of our solar system from the lowest to the highest is given as:
1. Men - the human kingdom - This is the midpoint of evolution between elementals and the gods. We have reached some degree of self-consciousness and evolved the capacity to think and make independent moral judgements. With these divine capacities we can choose to go on to join the gods, or languish with the lower kingdoms of life - it’s up to us here and now!
2. Boddhisattvas - those spiritually and intellectually advanced human beings who leave the Nirvana of Buddhahood in order to remain on earth for their sublime work of aiding, stimulating, and guiding those hosts of entities, including humanity, trailing along behind them in spiritual evolution. The Masters of Wisdom who in one or more incarnations will become a Buddha.
3. Manushya-Buddhas - meaning human Buddha born in a human body for compassionate work amongst mankind. They usher in each of the 7 root races on each globe and one appears at the mid-point of the root race before the global natural disasters that eventually destroy it. Gautama, commonly known as ‘the Buddha’, was such a Manushya-Buddha being the second racial buddha of our 5th root race.
4. Dhyani-Bodhisattva - a Bodhisattva of Contemplation. They supervise each of the 7 globes of each round of planetary life. The Dhyani-Bodhisattva of this Glode D or our earth is also known as the Silent Watcher of our globe. The Silent Watcher is the supreme head of the hierarchy of Masters of Wisdom attached to our globe.
5. Dhyani-Buddha - meaning the Buddhas of Contemplation. The divine architects who brought forth our solar system. There are 7 Dhyani-Buddhas so that for each round of the 7 rounds of planetary life there is a presiding Dhyani-Buddha. Our present 4th round is under the care of a Dhyani-Buddha belonging to the 4th degree of this celestial hierarchy because we are in the 4th round.
6. Sons of Light - rays of the manifest or Third Logos. The originants of all phenomena attached to the light side of nature. In our solar system the 7 “rays” emanating from the sun and working in its kingdom as the parents of the planetary spirits of the 7 sacred planets.
7. Daiviprakriti - divine or original evolver, original source, divine matter or original substance. The Second Logos.
8. Mahabuddhi - great cosmic mind, intelligence. The basis and fundamental cause of the intelligent operations in and of nature considered as an organism. The Logos.
9. Adi-Buddhi (Primal Wisdom) - the mystic universally diffused essence. The source of the fountain of light running through all subordinate hierarchies and thus the supreme lord and initiator of the wisdom side of our universe.
As self-aware human beings we stand midway between the gods and the elemental lives. Having nascent divine capacities, we each can choose here and now whether we will strive to join the gods or be content to remain among nature's lower kingdoms. As pupils in the school of life, our aim must be to graduate one day, along with our classmates, to other schools of higher learning in the cosmos. Our teachers from the hierarchy of compassion call gently, encouraging us to apply ourselves to our studies and one day join them in guiding the kingdoms of lives ever onward up the cosmic ladder of life.
TO THE TEACHER BY Roza Riaikkenen
If you don’t have any burden on your shoulders,
How can you teach me to carry my burden?
If you refuse to face your burden,
How can I trust you?
If you drop your burden,
You should know – it will land on my shoulders.
If you carry your burden with dignity,
If you acknowledge, accept and carry on,
Then you overcome,
And I am learning your lesson.
TWO PATHS OF SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT: Pratyeka Buddha and the Buddha of Compassion
At work there is a desk calendar with a profound quote from the Indian spiritual classic, The Bhagavad Gita: “Perfection is not attained by inaction”. For a lazy bones like me, what was required was a day of complete rest and dare I say inaction. So, I swung into action and took the day off – to think about this awful challenge. “Perfection is not attained by inaction”.
Perfection. Buddhahood, Nirvana. To achieve these good bottom-line results of spiritual development it looked like I had my work cut out for me! I sweated over the prospect of no more sloppy thinking and behaving. No more drifting. Perfection, Buddhahood and Nirvana are important goals, I’d always seen that, but never paid much attention or made much of an effort. Why not want to be there when the gold medals are being handed out? Let’s get serious I thought, after all, the pressure is on for impressive achievements material and otherwise.
But, how to reach there? And then an important, uncomfortable question arose in my otherwise sloppy thinking. “Who is spiritual development for?” If Buddhahood and Nirvana means losing the grip of self, i.e. all the things in me that say this is “Stefan” or “Henrietta” in the next lifetime, when I have reached a relative perfection and lost the “Self”, who or for what part of “Stefan” or “Henrietta” will I have got there for? Who is this for if there is no Self left? Questions, questions, questions!
This article is about deciding for ourselves which of the two main pathways of spiritual development we want to tread: Buddhahood and Nirvana. In simple terms, the point at which we do not need to learn any more on earth in a physical body. And the question I want you to consider is will you develop spiritually for yourself only, or for the rest of humanity? That is assuming the rest of humanity has nothing to teach you first! Of course there is no pressure from anyone to do either.
In technical terms the two paths of spiritual development are about your choice about being either a Pratyeka or a Bodhisattva Buddha. At the end of the day, you will choose one or the other. It will be fairly obvious by the end that I recommend one pathway. But don’t take my word for any of this or anyone else’s – for a start I have only read about these things, and these are just my opinions, my interpretations.
The journey of spiritual development and who you are making it for is a decision only you will make. The Theosophical Society attempts to put the right knowledge about this in our hands as best as it can. The Theosophical Society has no authority. None. The real authority and responsibility rests with you.
I wonder perhaps you are thinking now as I would “How can I ever reach Nirvana, some sort of “perfection”?”, A wobbly term at the best of times, but let’s take it to mean the point at which the human part of you does not need to learn any more. “How can we be thinking and talking about these abstractions if we are so bogged down in the day-to-day to develop spiritually?”
We feel – at least I do – too busy and too imperfect to even start any serious sort of spiritual development. One day you will have more time, more time to concentrate with fewer distractions. My sincere apologies, it won’t happen like this.
Spiritual development happens when you are not looking. Development is the slow unfolding of the limited consciousness to unlimited consciousness, it is limited consciousness to unlimited consciousness, it is a natural process. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary gives us at least two definitions of development: “1. to expand by a process of growth, to cause to grow and differentiate along lines natural to its kind, e.g. rain and sun developed the grain, or: 2. to become gradually manifest.”
Picture this: our spiritual growth, is like a tree growing and reaching out into the fabric of humanity, the earth around us, the oceans, the mountains, the night skies, the planets, the atoms – tiny movement by tiny movement, nourished and prompted by the divinity within. The paradox is the connections were always there.
Slowly, as pure consciousness or intelligence, we will become self-consciously infinite. And sometimes you will go backwards, but mostly forwards.
So, I expect there are no excuses for putting this off for too long. No excuse for inaction for what is in fact a very natural process that can be accelerated by the application of the will in the right direction, a will hopefully directed to the purpose of building Universal Brotherhood, now the main purpose of the Theosophical Society.
Let’s go back again to the two main spiritual paths of spiritual development, the two main choices. The first is the Pratyeka Buddha or the path of the one who decided it is “everyone for himself” – the spiritual ‘economic rationalists’ if you like. The term Pratyeka is not important, but is a Sanskrit term meaning ‘towards one’ or ‘each one for himself’.
The Pratyeka, after eons of self development and no more to learn on earth readily accepts a long rest, a blissful rest in Nirvana.
It is the thought behind the term Pratyeka Buddha that is important, because the thought behind it is like a compass of spiritual development, guiding the individual. This Pratyeka Buddha is on a, what we theosophists call the right-hand path, or a path of light. There is no darkness associated with the Pratyeka Buddha path.
As Dr. de Purucker says of the Pratyeka Buddha in Fountain Source of Occultism: “He raises himself to the spiritual realms of his own inner being where he enwraps himself, not heeding the call to return and help mankind. He is a very pure and holy individual otherwise he could not possibly reach Nirvana.” (Fountain Source of Occultism, p.517).
Pratyeka Buddha is still a great wondrous achievement. But it benefits no-one but the Pratyeka Buddhas themselves. My interpretation is that it is an intellectual self-interested form of spiritual attainment.
And I can understand why Pratyeka is an option. Can you picture yourself as having learnt all you can on earth, relatively perfect, ready to step over the threshold into one of the many kinds of Nirvana? It is only natural and fair I suppose, that you would like something like a Nirvana at the end of all this hard work.
However, I admit I feel this seems to be out of accord with nature, out of accord with the fundamental precepts of Universal Brotherhood, something we could use a lot of right now. To be honest, I am surprised you can get this far, walk into Nirvana, stop incarnating and ignore the rest of humanity. This is something for us all to ponder upon.
The other direction on your spiritual compass is the great path, a noble path, much, much harder path. I feel it is more in tune with nature - it is the path of the Bodhisattva Buddha [in Sanskrit the ‘Amrita Yana’ or the Immortal Path]. This is the Buddha who on the verge of the end of incarnating on earth, looks back and says “No”. “He puts all that lives before him”. (Fountain Source of Occultism, -.518). Nirvana will have to wait. Cancel the ticket, forget the refund. By the way, ‘Bodhisattva’ literally means “one whose essence has become intelligence”, imagine your essence becomes pure intelligence – what a concept!
This Bodhisattva ideal is the path of the one who entirely forgets the self, expects no reward at the end of a seemingly endless road of incarnations. Such a one’s spiritual development is undertaken for the benefit of others. Again the term is unimportant. The thought behind the word is what counts – living for the benefit of others.
The Bodhisattva Buddha, after cancelling the ticket to Nirvana and dumbfounding the travel agent at Nirvana travel agency, then waits patiently for the rest of a confused unhappy and misguided humanity to catch up them, prompting, eventually invisibly helping, understanding, teaching and guiding. This is the key.
In the theosophical literature there is a fair bit of technical explanation about all the different kinds of Buddhas, and what happens to the various aspects of the human constitution and above, if you happen to become a Bodhisattva Buddha in some future lifetime. To get yourself ready for this moment I suggest you read pages 517 – 528 of the Fountain Source of Occultism before then. This eleven pages is an inspirational and eye opening read about Bodhisattvas, and about Gautama the Buddha. We are very fortunate to have this information in such an easy to read form and a record of one who has done this. It helps us to understand and prepare.
And did you realise we are on the road to being Buddhas of one kind or another already? You may not think so. As Dr. de Purucker says in his book Fountain Source of Occultism: “Each one of us is an unexpressed Buddha”. (p.519) It is up to you – no one else in the universe – to decide what kind of Buddha you will express… Pratyeka or Bodhisattva.
As we said earlier it does not seem we are anywhere near any kind of spiritual development. Yet, there are training grounds in daily life we overlook. As an example parents and spouse forego themselves daily, in the smallest trivial ways that you would expect lead to anything terrifically glorious like becoming a Bodhisattva. Having a family with children is like this. Daily sacrifice over many lifetimes, trains you, refines you, tests you. Every human being is tested in many ways in one day, in millions of moments each lifetime.
Another example of a training ground is that of someone in public office whose main interest is that of the public – a selfless teacher, a community lawyer, an inspirational politician or an environmental activist. All around us we see examples of self sacrifice, from the small to the great. All is preparation for the noble ideal of the Bodhisattva.
Spiritual development is the awakening gently of the higher nature and allowing its influence to get stronger in daily life. Small steps of self sacrifice – small steps slowly weaken and transform your passionate and lower self. Allowing the splendid self the compassionate Buddha nature to shine forth, the inner teacher made external to the world.
But remember compassion to be real, to be genuine is not an intellectual fantasy and something we do only when we are in public – it must be a personal and private too.
To end I would like to repeat - small acts of kindness light our faltering steps on the path of spiritual development. Grandiose moments do not occur along the way. Enlightenment is a slow sunrise. Nirvana is not attained in a weekend. Buddhahood is not obtained over the Christmas holidays or even a few lifetimes.
In each human being there is a small point, a spark of light shining, burning, sitting with you and us today in your room as you read this, trying to raise the rest of your nature. Trying lifetime after lifetime to awaken and elevate a stubborn passionate human nature to the reality of the golden fire inside that it is infinite nature. In this process of raising ourselves to a higher level of consciousness, we may self consciously become at one with the universal self.
The world will see in due course what you will turn out as a Pratyeka Buddha or Bodhisattva Buddha. But today is as good a day as any to start thinking about who and what you will develop spiritually for. And remember, as the Bhagavad Gita reminds us: “Perfection does not come from inaction.”
SRI RAMAKRISHNA: a wonderful example of spiritual life
On February 18, 1836 a man of God was born in India, who has come to be known as Sri Ramakrishna – a name which spontaneously evokes in the minds of millions of Hindus heart-full adoration and love. (p.1)
Absolutely trustful of the Divine Providence, who hears even the footfall of an ant, he lived from moment to moment depending upon God and without worrying as to what he should eat and drink the next day. His life became a perfect example of resignation and self-surrender to a Higher Power who ever cares for our needs. (p.13)
Sri Ramakrishna was no preacher of the ordinary type. He did not move from the little village of Dakshineswar, did not mount upon a public platform to preach his message and did not advertise himself in the Press. He used to say that “…the bees come of their own accord in search of honey when the flower is in full bloom…” (pp.19-20)
God, Sri Ramakrishna has taught us, is not the monopoly of any religion or creed but the common property of all. He is the loving Father of mankind. He is not only an extracosmic Being, but He permeates the entire universe as intelligence and consciousness. He is present everywhere, from the blade of grass to Brahma as the inmost essence of all. He is the Life and Substratum of all entities, from the atom to the highest Prophet. The same infinite expanse of water forms the basis of the froth, bubbles and mountain-high waves. The difference between man and man, and between other animate and inanimate objects, lies in the degree of divine manifestation. When God is involved, He is the grain of sand (pp.25-26)
The greatest contribution of Sri Ramakrishna to the modern world, torn by theological quarrels, is the Harmony of Religions.
Each great ancient religion has three steps, namely, ritual, mythology and philosophy. The first two are the externals of religion, and philosophy is its basis. (pp.31-32)
Therefore Sri Ramakrishna’s attitude towards other religions is not that of toleration which implies viewing faiths other than one’s own as if they were inferior. His ideal is that of acceptance. To him all religions are the revelation of God in His diverse aspects to satisfy the manifold demands of human minds. (pp.33-34)
Great Prophets like Sri Ramakrishna are born now and then to demonstrate the eternal truths of religion. There may be nothing new in what he preached and taught. Without him Hindu religion would have been equally valid today as it has been for the past thousands of years. The spiritual texts, without him, would have carried equal weight with students who care for them. But in Sri Ramakrishna we have the revealer and modern interpreter of the spiritual truths about which our minds may be in doubt for want of actual demonstration. (p.38)
This Prophet of the nineteenth century did not found any cult nor did he show a new path to salvation. Sri Ramakrishna, by his own life, demonstrated the validity and truth of the Prophets and Saviours of the past and thus restored the falling edifice of Religion upon a new and more secure foundation. (pp.38-39)
He passed away in 1886.
Text from TALES AND PARABLES OF SRI RAMAKRISHNA and kindly sent to us by Heathclyff St.James-Deville.
Wading into The Ocean: a Companion to ‘The Ocean of Theosophy’ - Ann Forsyth Danno Point Loma Publications, Los Angeles 2002. Reviewed by Heathclyff St. James Deville.
I recently came across this book and have found it to be of inestimable assistance in clarifying a lot of areas as presented by William Q Judges ‘The Ocean of Theosophy” due to the copious notes that the author has compiled. It is keyed to both our Theosophical University Press edition of Judge’s book of 173 pages, and to the Theosophy Company edition having 153 pages.
For those new to Judge’s book, it is an excellent adjunct as the author presents a wealth of information that can only add depth, as was the intent, to Judge’s “Ocean.” For those who are older students, her book can only create a deeper desire to go back to, and wade into, the “Ocean.”
The book will certainly be useful for study classes and, indeed, there is included two pages of ‘Some Quotes on Group Study.’
My stroke of insight: a brain scientist’s personal journey by Jill Bolte Taylor – Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-340-98049-1. $27.99.
Many of us have had the distressing experience of witnessing the devastating results of stroke on relatives and friends. When we visit the hospital, we can struggle for words wondering what the experience must be like for our friends or relatives who have had their lives suddenly turned upside down in an instant. We are fortunate to have a new book by a brain scientist who suffered a stroke herself and lived to tell the tale. It is not only an important medical record and recommendation of how to treat someone who has had a stroke, but it is the tale of the author’s spiritual transformation through serious illness. The book is full of remarkable observations that resulted when the author’s ‘left-brain’, the seat of everyday consciousness, closed down as a result of the stroke and she became newly aware in her ‘right brain’ the seat of intuitive awareness as in the following example:
“…My entire self-concept shifted [after the stroke] as I no longer perceived myself as a single, a solid, an entity with boundaries that separated me from the entities around me. I understood that at the most elementary level, I am a fluid…I was no longer isolated and alone. My soul was as big as the universe and frolicked with glee in a boundless sea…” page 69.
The author, because of her Western scientific training, tends to interpret her experiences as arising from her brain chemistry. However, in the light of theosophical teachings on the complex inner constitution of Man, and how gateways can be opened to other universes of experience that lie within, this is a must read for students of theosophy with an interest in the practical applications of theosophy.
Mindfulness, bliss, and beyond: a meditator’s handbook by Ajahn Brahm – Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2006. ISBN:0-86171-275-7. $28.95.
Last issue we featured a review of Ajahn Brahm’s book, Who ordered this truckload of dung?, which has proved a popular title for loan from our Melbourne library. The companion volume Mindfulness, bliss, and beyond, is a very different and more advanced treatment of Buddhist meditation techniques. In this fast-moving and stressful world, there is an increasing interest in meditation. Besides that, Ajahn Brahm indicates that knowledge of meditation is fundamental for serious students of the Buddhist tradition. This book takes the student from basic meditation techniques through the vast array of experience that awaits serious meditators through to heightened states of awareness and blissful visions to full enlightenment itself! The book has flashes of Ajahn Brahm’s famous good humour and colourful turn of phrase, but basically it is a serious guidebook to the fascinating journeys that await the dedicated meditator from a self-confessed ‘meditation junkie’. Ajahn Brahm summarizes the importance of meditation as a technique of spiritual learning in his own unique way: “…meditation can well be summarized as going to the centre of things. One goes first to the centre of time, called the “now”. Then into the centre of the now that is free of all thought. Then into the centre of the body with one’s breath. Then into the centre of the breath, which is the beautiful breath. Then into the centre of the beautiful breath, where one experiences the nimitta. Then into the centre of the nimitta to enter the first jhana. Then into the centre of the first jhana, which is the second jhana, and so on. This is yoniso manisikara, “work of the mind that goes to the source’. As one goes deeper into the source of body and mind, one comes to the source of will, the seat of the doer, the citadel in which the potential doing abides. And one sees it all empty of a self.” – page 199.
New on Headquarters website: our international headquarters in Pasadena, USA, including the Theosophical University Press and Theosophical University Library, is available online at: http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/ There you will find a host of interesting resources including the full text of most of the classic theosophical books and many titles unavailable in print. New on the website is a section called ‘The Perennial Wisdom’, which includes quotations drawn from the collection of the Theosophical University Library. They were chosen to illustrate the universality of the perennial wisdom and its most basic concepts: the oneness of all life, and the essential divinity of all that exists. Also on the website is the full text of the following rare theosophical magazines: The Path 1886-1896, Theosophy 1896-1897, Universal Brotherhood 1897-1899, Universal Brotherhood Path 1900-1902, and The Theosophical Path 1911-1935. These and many other fascinating resources are available on the web – why not take a look!
Kali Yuga Rag online: one of the most interesting newsletters published by our Society is the Kali Yuga Rag published by The Great Lakes Branch of the American Section available online: http://home.centurytel.net/theosophy/ArticlesTIM.html This newsletter has many articles reflecting this Branches interest in helping prisoners, and also some excellent study group materials on The Bhagavad Gita and other subjects by Alex Rau.
Dick and Rick Hoyt – an inspiration for us all: Father and son sporting duo Dick and Rick Hoyt are featured on several You-Tube videos. Not unusual you might say until you realize that Rick Hoyt is completely disabled and his father Dick does all the physical work to give his son the experience of competing in a wide range of sporting events. What an inspiring example to people everywhere, and for fathers in particular. Check out the following You Tube video and you’ll see what we mean:
The Solar System is an egg shape: echoing the teachings of the ancient wisdom, recent research from NASA indicates that the solar system is asymmetrical, not a sphere as thought for so long. The heliosphere, or area around the sun and its planets dominated by the ‘solar wind’ of particles streaming constantly from the sun, is ovaloid like an egg, according to the latest information from the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts reported in Nature magazine.
The latest issue of the British Section newsletter Contact for Autumn 2008. As usual it is full of interesting articles and news from our friends from England. The group in Exeter had a lecture from our friend Nivard Vas of the Dutch Section, and a visit from Alice Yetman of the South African Section. Meetings and study groups are held in many other parts of the country. Why not visit their wesite for more information on the British section:: www.theosophical.org.uk
The European School of Theosophy was held in Venice, Italy in October covering a wide range of interesting subjects including: The myth of the beginning of time; Essential principles and practices of theosophical work; Pythagorean principles of music; An unlikely sage: Richard Wagner; The Mahatma letters, and many other talks by theosophical lecturers including the theosophical historian Michael Gomes.
The latest Contact newsletter from South Africa includes a very interesting article on guardian angels that is really worth reading. Discussion groups are held in Durban, the Western Cape and from September in the Gauteng area. Contact newsletter is available from our library in Melbourne and by emailing Alice Yetman at email@example.com
QUESTIONS WE ALL ASK
Why do good people suffer?
Picture a good person in their late adulthood stricken down with diseases caused by the dissolute lifestyle of their youth. Equally, we may be paying the price for the ‘sins’ incurred many lifetimes ago, the balancing karma appearing much later when we have learned in the meantime to be a better person. Karma has to find the right combination of environment and people to be able to balance disharmonies, and this may not occur for many lifetimes after an ‘evil’ deed. What about children suffering and dying in wars and natural disasters – were they all evil in the past? It may be that they have chosen to work out difficult karma in one short life with others of similar karmic background. Equally, they may well be very advanced souls who sacrifice themselves to elicit compassion in others. Outwardly difficult circumstances may be impulsed by the Higher Self to bring about an ‘initiation’ of individuals or groups into the finer qualities of human nature that we might normally take many lifetimes to achieve.
Is Karma always punishment?
When we think of karma we tend to think of punishment inflicted on us from the outside for evil deeds in this, or previous lifetimes. However, there are different ways of looking at karma as awakener, friend, or certainly an opportunity to restore balance. In reality, karma is an out flowing of our very self, and can provide us with the opportunity to learn new life skills, or settle old debts with others, but it is up to us how we react to these opportunities. We therefore can view outwardly difficult life situations as ‘punishment’, but more accurately as opportunities to restore balance and learn valuable ‘soul’ lessons at the same time; eg. serious illness can be a time when we learn forbearance, patience, and concentrate our attention on spiritual realties rather than our everyday concerns.
FROM OUR READERS:
The ‘Golden Rule’ is not so simple: Roza Riaikkenen, from Melbourne has written recently in response to the editorial from our August 2008 newsletter which dealt with the ‘Golden Rule’ – do unto others as you would wish them to do to you. Roza offers a different perspective on this subject:
“In the editorial to the August 2008 issue of Theosophy Downunder newsletter, “A Reservoir of Spiritual Force”, we are shown a practical way of filling the reservoir of spiritual force by the “power of simple spiritual energy coming from the heart”. We should only practice the “Golden Rule – doing unto others as we would have them do unto us”. This is a “Golden” rule indeed, but unless we apply it correctly by putting ourselves into the shoes of these “others” it turns into hypocrisy. When a priest preached the “Golden Rule” of Jesus and molested a child, he could think that he didn’t do anything that he wouldn’t like to be done to him. If he imagined himself in the child’s shoes, he would feel the child’s horror and possibly never dare to do this.
We often breach the Golden Rule just by ignorance going from the lack of experience. When we as a nation approved of the detention camps for the “boat people”, we could think like this: “we don’t come to them and break their state laws – let them also leave us alone and not break our state laws”. But these people were in a different condition and their wishes were different from ours. If we could imagine ourselves in the shoes of a person who is trying to rescue his or her children from the lawlessness of a state in war and give them a better future, we would be much more compassionate. [From the editor: this decision has recently been overturned by the new Australian federal government and, in the main, refugees in detention are free to join the Australian community whilst their residency claims are processed.]
The same with the Iraq war. We could think that we sincerely wish to free the Iraqi people from a dictator, in a way that we would like them to do unto us. We should have been imagining ourselves in the middle of a war, losing our family and becoming an invalid, living in fear and distress, and then ask ourselves: “Is this that what I would like to be done unto me?”
Thus it appears that instead of adding to the “reservoir of spiritual force” we often add to the “reservoir of karma” and will be suffering the consequences. There is a reason for this. Perhaps, to be able to fill in the shoes of a suffering person we should have an experience of suffering, and we receive this experience to be better prepared for our future choices.
It appears that the “Golden Rule” is not so simple to follow. We sometimes do cruel things to others, even to our own children, because we don’t understand what they really need. And we don’t do that what we ought to do because we don’t learn what it means to be in their shoes.”
Our reader with a particular interest in astronomy has recently written to us about:
Strange blue clouds appearing around the world: ‘Noctilucent’ clouds are strange brilliant blue clouds right at the edge of space 83kms above the Earth’s surface. People first noticed them in 1883 after the eruption of the volcano Mt Krakatoa. Since then, these hauntingly beautiful clouds have persisted mainly in far northern latitudes but in recent years they have been seen in mid-latitudes in such areas as Washington, Oregon, Turkey and Iran. The formation and spread of these clouds is a mystery which the US Space Agency NASA is currently investigating. Also symptomatic of changes in our solar environment is that sunspot activity on the surface of the sun is at a 50 year low and the sun is the dimmest it has been over the same period. The solar ‘wind’ that protects the solar system from incoming radiation has recently been found to be 20% less than at any time since measurements were first taken in the 1960s. Perhaps these developments observed in the greater solar environment, together with global climate change on the Earth, signify some impending change in the cycles of the Earth’s life – Who knows? Do you have any ideas on this?
Noctilucent clouds over northern Iran July 19th 2008.
We wish to extend our thanks and appreciation to friends from around the world who send us their newsletters. We encourage you all to read them as they are kept in our library in Melbourne, or photocopies can be sent. They include: Impuls (Netherlands), Contact (South Africa), The 21st Century Path (USA), Theosophy North-West View (USA), Kali Yuga Rag (USA), Compass (England).
Theosophy Downunder is issued three times per year in April, August, and November and is edited by Andrew Rooke. We can be contacted at the Theosophical Society (Pasadena), Australasian Section, 664 Glenhuntly Rd., South Caulfield, Melbourne, Victoria 3162, AUSTRALIA. Tel : 0400942613 Email : firstname.lastname@example.org World Wide Web homepage at: http://theosophydownunder.org/
Our International Leader is Randell C. Grubb.
A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers!