In the Light of Theosophy

The publication of the findings relating to the decade-long Human Genome Project—analysis of the complete set of human DNA—has fuelled unprecedented interest in genetics. The findings have many implications, but the most important one is that all human beings share 99.99 per cent of all genetic material. From the genetic perspective, therefore, there is not much difference between one human being and another. Race has no scientific basis, despite the manner in which it has been used for narrow political ends. Unity is in, bigotry is out, says Mani Subramanian, one of the senior scientists working on the project.

Genes do not explain everything. Genetic inheritance, scientists now believe, contributes less to behaviour than was thought at one time; environmental factors count for more. Neither nature nor nurture determines behaviour on its own; the two interact.

"We stand on the brink of a continent of new knowledge," writes Matt Ridley in Discover (January 2001):

The medical possibilities and ethical fears that dominate the debate are by no means trivial. But there is a larger philosophical truth missed. The genome represents an unprecendented draft of self-knowledge for humankind with implications that stretch far beyond medicine. It promises to tell us new things about our past as a species, and it promises new insights into philosophical conundrums, not least of which is the puzzle of free will....

Science has a habit of addressing problems raised by philosophy. It may not be too much to claim that the mystery of free will has been recast by recent discoveries in genetics, which have exposed the myth that genes are puppet masters and we are their puppets....In attempting to answer the question of whether we possess free will, the Scottish philosopher David Hume impaled himself on the following dilemma: Either our actions are determined, in which case we are not responsible for them, or they are the result of random events, in which case we are also not responsible for them. But the CREB (cyclic-AMP response elements binding protein) genes show how to escape this fix. If genes are at the mercy of behaviour, but behaviour is also at the mercy of genes, then our actions can be determined by forces that originate within us as well as by outside influences. The will is therefore a mixture of instincts and outside influences. This makes it deterministic and responsible, but not predictable....

The human genome opens a world of medical opportunity, of commercial promise, of ethical danger, and of social challenge. It is also a cornucopia of scientific possibilities that ranks alongside the revolutions wrought by Euclid, Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein. It is a fitting bang with which to start a new millennium.

Studies in human genetics have still a long way to go and raise more questions than they answer about what makes man what he is. Matter alone is not operative in the process. The physical, Theosophy maintains, evolves from the spiritual, the mental and psychic. There is a permanent conscious Force within matter which by the evolutionary process strives for ever fuller self-expression and self-realization. Science tells us that DNA transmits the hereditary pattern, but that pattern, Theosophy insists, is not mechanical and is instrumental rather than causal.

The series on science and religion presently being published in the American journal The World and I reflects the current perception that we can enrich our lives by blending scientific genius regarding the physical world with profound religious insights into the nature of man and God. In the February issue, Carl Feit presents science and religion as two worldviews with one unified vision. Feit, who is a cancer researcher and occupant of the Ades Chair of Health Sciences at Yeshiva University in New York, as also an ordained rabbi and a Talmudic scholar and teacher, believes that "the full coexistence of two rich but somewhat different worldviews can lead to creative interaction and mutual enrichment":

Unquestionably, modern Western society has been enormously influenced by the scientific worldview. We have come to envision the universe as governed by mathematically based principles, and we believe that nature's most intimate secrets will ultimately yield to our conscientious probing....As we score ever-accelerating technological breakthroughs, many of us see in the here-and-now world of our senses the totality of human experience.

For others, however, this is hardly a complete story. The outstanding public issues of the day point to the need to resolve moral quandaries, express internal values, and explore spiritual meanings. Solutions to such daunting problems as corruption, poverty, racism, and violence will not come with more powerful microscopes or particle accelerators but require a more powerful vision of what it means to be human. Knowing how to clone a human being does not help us decide whether we ought to do so.

Thus in the course of human history, both science and religion have provided important models to help us understand and relate to our universe. At times, the two worldviews have been at odds with each other, each jockeying for primary attention. At other times, they have worked hand in hand....

A recent survey suggests that roughly 40 percent of active scientists attest to some sort of belief in a personal deity. Nevertheless, many respected scientists are outspoken atheists and use their science as the basis for disbelief. Are they misguided individuals, perhaps so blinded by an a priori commitment to a materialistic philosophy that they don't see what is right before their eyes? Why don't they see the Designer behind nature's design?....

In conclusion, it is entirely in accord with our human nature to explore the natural world and have dominion over our environment through scientific and technological endeavours, and to couple them with our pursuit of inner communion with the transcendent Being. Indeed, to fulfill our potential, we must harmonize these tendencies in our lives. A religious perspective helps us understand the spiritual dimension of science, and grappling with scientific questions provides deeper insights into religious traditions.

Indeed, the time has come to view science and religion not as antagonistic but as complementary to each other. As W. Q. Judge wrote at the very outset of his Ocean of Theosophy:

No science is complete which leaves out any department of nature, whether visible or invisible, and that religion which, depending solely on an assumed revelation, turns away from things and the laws which govern them, is nothing but a delusion, a foe to progress, an obstacle in the way of man's advancement toward happiness. Embracing both the scientific and the religious, Theosophy is a scientific religion and a religious science.

Questions pertaining to the origin of the universe are being debated. How, when, why and out of what it arose, is arousing interest as never before. Human beings alone can raise such questions about the universe and therefore have a unique role to play. What is that role? asks Swami Sunirmalananda (The Times of India, February 15), and answers:

That unique role is to know. We humans alone can know....We can think of God, we can think of the Infinite, while other living beings cannot. But what's the use of knowing? Knowledge brings liberation from existential suffering.

How do we know? There are two methods: one of science, and other of religion. Science is the study of the external; religion is the study of the internal. The first is objective while the second, subjective....Scientists thought they alone were right, but many are differing now. Consciousness and universe, they say, are interwoven. Down the centuries, science has accumulated much knowledge about the earth, solar system, stars, and galaxies.

And it has propounded many theories. However, yesterday's theory is today's junk! Why, because the more we study, the more it is confusing, and more is left unknown. Secondly, the instrument, the mind, can't find answers to all our questions through the five senses.

This leads us to the second path—religion. Religion has declared that the universe is only an objective manifestation of the subjective....Religion is the study of man—an in-depth study....It was Swami Vivekananda who expressed the grandest truth that "the microcosm and the macrorosm are built upon the same plan." To know the human being is to know the universe. But to know the human being you don't need instruments. The fine instrument called mind will suffice. Using it, we have to dive deep into ourselves: we should meditate. Meditation leads us to the hitherto unseen universe within. The inner universe, say saints, is astounding. This universe will reveal all the knowledge we need. This, again, will free us. The knowledge of why, who, how, what, etc., will all become perfectly clear once we look within. Sri Ramakrishna declared: "A man attains everything when he discovers his true Self in himself. That also is the purpose of assuming a human body."

The idea that animals panic before earthquakes is an old, old one. While the recent Gujarat earthquake has sparked interest in the ability of animals to predict natural disasters, scientists say that the evidence remains inconclusive. "The possibility, however, remains very much wide open," says Asad Rahmani, director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). The BNHS has been compiling information on earthquake-related behaviour of animals for the Union ministry of environment and forests. (The Times of India, February 17)

The BNHS's call for information from natural history amateurs in Gujarat elicited a mixed response. While some noticed no changes in the behaviour of animals before the quake, others recounted stories of agitated dogs and birds. In Teras, 80 km. to the west of Bhuj, it was noticed that peacocks were screaming hysterically the night before the big quake, and donkeys were braying and dogs barking prior to smaller tremors later in the day.

The details of this phenomenon of animal behaviour have been well studied by Chinese scientists in particular, and a booklet published some time back by the Seismological Office of Tientsin, in China, states: "It is easy and simple to use animals to predict earthquakes....In general certain organs of animals acutely detect various underground changes before earthquakes. Both historical and recent surveys of large earthquakes prove that animals have precursory reactions."

There is a mysterious sympathy between all things in nature, and animals being psychically more sensitive than humans can feel the pulse of the Earth more clearly. The Astral Light is a reflector not only of past events but also of events to come, the causes for which are sufficiently well marked and made, and it is not surprising that animals with their instinctive clairvoyance, of which there is sufficient evidence in other respects as well, can sense a natural calamity hours before it actually takes place.

Blind people can pick out the meaning of a spoken sentence more quickly than those who are sighted, researchers in Germany and the U.S. have found. This adds weight to the notion that the blind can hear better than others, their hearing compensating for the loss of their sight. (Neuropsychologica, Vol. 38, p. 1482)

"They process language faster than sighted people," says Brigitte Roder from the University of Marburg, Germany, who discovered the effect with her colleagues at the University of Oregon in Eugene. She says it may explain why some blind people are so fast at "reading" books recorded on tape.

"This, to me, is a very remarkable finding," says neuroscientist Steve Hillyard at the University of California, San Diego. "I would have thought that language is such a highly over-learned skill in both sighted and blind individuals that the timing of their language processes would be similar."

The researchers also found that in blind subjects, areas at the back of the brain normally devoted to sight were taken over in part by auditory information processing. Roder suspects this might be partly responsible for speeding up blind people's ability to process language.

Experiments have repeatedly shown that those deprived of one sense have other senses more acutely developed, bearing out the Theosophical teaching of the correlation and interchange of the senses. Mr. Judge states in his Notes on the Bhagavad Gita:

The eye cannot see nor the ear hear, of themselves. In the Upanishads the pupil is asked: "What is the sight of the eye, and the hearing of the ear?" replying, that these powers reside solely with inner organs of the soul, using the material body as the means for experiencing the phenomena of material life. Without the presence of this indwelling, informing, hearing and seeing power—or being—this collection of particles now deified as body is dead or blind. (p. 12)

The variety and number of micro-organisms that inhabit the body of a healthy human being are truly mind-boggling. They are known as the normal microbial fauna and come in two different types—those that are permanently resident and those that are transient. Any number of nasty parasites can also join this microbial community and make the human body home.

In his work Life on Man, bacteriologist Theodor Rosebury gives a full biological and historical account of the microbes that live on the average human body. He counted 80 distinguishable species living in the mouth alone and estimated that the total number of bacteria excreted each day by an adult ranges from 100 billion to 100 trillion.

Rosebury estimates that 10 million individual bacteria live on the average square centimetre of human skin, while inside the body, on the surface of the teeth, throat or alimentary tract, these concentrations can increase a thousandfold. However, while the total number of organisms living on us appears huge, when one considers the volume of the human body, the volume of species using us as home is not so great.

Barring a few nasty ones, these micro-organisms and parasites are not our enemies and their role and intimate relationship with their hosts needs to be understood.

Science, dimly perceiving the truth, may find bacteria and other infinitesimals in the human body, and see in them but occasional and abnormal visitors to which diseases are attributed. Occultism—which discerns a life in every atom and molecule, whether in a mineral or human body, in air, fire or water—affirms that our whole body is built of such lives, the smallest bacteria under the microscope being to them in comparative size like an elephant to the tiniest infusoria. (The Secret Doctrine, I, 225 fn.)

We are taught that every physiological change, in addition to pathological phenomena; diseases—nay, life itself—or rather the objective phenomena of life, produced by certain conditions and changes in the tissues of the body which allow and force life to act in that body; that all this is due to those unseen CREATORS and DESTROYERS that are called in such a loose and general way, microbes. (Ibid., I, 262)

If a man does away with his traditional way of living and throws away his good customs, he had better first make certain that he has something of value to replace them.

—Basuto Proverb

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