Man and his natural environment are inextricably interlinked. We create our environment—for better or for worse. Millions of tons of toxic pollutants, greenhouse gases, that industry releases into the atmosphere, are taking their toll. Climate scientists from around the world have been sounding alarm bells since long. Now they have come out openly with the warning that humans are to blame for global warming, and if this continues, it could lead to disastrous consequences. Their conclusions, comments New Scientist (January 27), "send a tough message to politicians who have reached a deadlock in negotiations on how to combat soaring temperatures and sea levels."
This January, scientists met in Shanghai, China, to discuss the latest assessment from UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In their final text for policy makers, they tersely say, "Most of the warming is attributable to human activities." The report cites global melting as powerful evidence that the world really is warming. Since the 1960s, there has been a 20 per cent decrease in snow cover and a 40 per cent thinning of the Arctic ice cap. The scientists predict sea level will rise by between 9 and 88 centimetres by 2100, endangering millions of people in low-lying areas.
The report also warns that temperatures will rise by between 1.4 and 5.8°C in the 21st century, depending on emissions of greenhouse gases.
We are all guilty. If we want to leave behind us a livable world for generations to come, action needs to be taken now and a restraint put on environmental pollution cased by overindustrialization and other human activities.
Scientists have found life in the unlikeliest of places—in clouds. Birgit Sattler, a limnologist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, has discovered bacteria that are not just surviving but thriving in thick cloud formations. (Discover, March 2001)
Sattler identified the bacteria after examining cloud samples collected and frozen onto Teflon plates set up on the top of Mount Sonnblick, near Salzburg, Austria. Even at subfreezing temperatures, the bacteria could take up radioactively tagged amino acids and DNA bases. This indicates the microbes were still growing and reproducing.
The bacteria could influence climate by acting as nuclei around which rain droplets form. In addition, Sattler says, finding bacteria in clouds suggests that life could exist in similarly extreme surroundings on other planets. "Why not? I've done research in glaciers, Antarctic lakes, and Alpine ice, but this is the most extreme habitat in which I've found bacteria," she says. "If anything happens to Earth, bacteria will survive."
This is another proof, if proof be needed, that microbes, bacteria, and the tutti quanti of the infinitesimally small exist everywhere in the universe. These lives, though invisible to us by virtue of their minuteness, have always surrounded us and have worked on, obedient to their own laws, and it is only as they are gradually being revealed that scientists have begun to take cognizance of them, as of the effects produced by them.
Who are the Druses? The origins of this small community, evolved in 11th-century Cairo, and spread across West Asia, still remain shrouded in mystery. Members of the community were in India recently "to trace their Indian connections." Sheikh Hussein Aburukn, leader of the delegation and member of the Supreme Board of Religious Affairs of the Druse, said: "We have a close relationship with Sanskrit because we believe that Druse culture and religion have some of their roots in ancient India. We're here to trace as much of that past as possible." Piali Banerjee writes in The Sunday Times of India (April 8):
Spread across Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, the Druse faith incorporates Gnostic and Neo-Platonic tenets. Druse history claims that the connection between Druse and Vedic culture goes back to the time of Al-Hakim. "At the time of establishing the Druse movement, Al-Hakim had several discussions with religious leaders around the world. He exchanged a number of ideas with Indian religious leaders who had been invited for the discussions," explains Hussein Aburukn, "He even exchanged religious texts. So much so that two of our books have actually been translated from the original Sanskrit to Arabic. One of them is Al Mon Frad Pedateh (One Without a Second), which talks about one Supreme Lord. The other book has a whole section on Ayurveda, where some of the words and phrases have been retained in Sanskrit since they didn't have Arabic equivalents."
The Druses claim that their religion had "existed since the beginning of the world in the hearts and minds of saints"—an interesting claim in the light of H.P.B.'s calling it "one of the last survivals of the archaic Wisdom-Religion." In her article "Lamas and Druses," originally published in The Theosophist for June 1881, she says how difficult it is to fathom "the secret of the profoundly mystical beliefs of the Druses":
To begin with: Al-Hakim is not the founder of their sect. Their ritual and dogmas were never made known, but to those who have been admitted into their brotherhood. Their origin is next to unknown. As to their external religion, or rather what has transpired of it, that can be told in a few words. The Druses are believed to be a mixture of Kurds, Mardi-Arabs, and other semi-civilized tribes. We humbly maintain that they are the descendants of, and a mixture of, mystics of all nations—mystics, who, in the face of cruel and unrelenting persecution by the orthodox Christian Church and orthodox Islamism, have ever since the first centuries of the Mohammedan propaganda, been gathered together, and who gradually made a permanent settlement in the fastnesses of Syria and Mount Lebanon, where they had from the first found refuge. Since then they have preserved the strictest silence upon their beliefs and truly occult rites....They are the Sikhs of Asia Minor, and their polity offers many points of similarity with the late "commonwealth" of the followers of Guru Nanak—even extending to their mysticism and indomitable bravery. But the two are still more closely related to a third and still more mysterious community of religionists, of which nothing, or next to nothing, is known by outsiders: we mean the fraternity of Tibetan Lamaists, known as the Brotherhood of Khelang, who mix but little with the rest.
Humans have long marvelled at the ease with which birds manoeuvre through the air, in some cases covering enormous distances during seasonal migrations. To unravel the mystery of how birds exert mastery over the air, scientists have studied their uniquely sculpted bodies and complex wing movements.
Dwight G. Smith, professor and chairman of the biology department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, U.S.A., writes in The World and I (March 2001):
Wings alone are insufficient for flight. The entire body must be appropriately sculpted to achieve maximum strength and lightness. In birds, these features govern the structures and functions of the feathers, skeleton, muscles, and internal systems....
In The Theosophist for August 1882, a correspondent asks whether the flight of birds and the swimming of fishes is produced at will, as in the case of the Yogis who can levitate themselves or walk upon the surface of the water. To this H.P.B. remarks:
Occult science explains the mysteries of bird-flying and fish-swimming on principles entirely opposed to the accepted scientific theory of the day...."If," writes our correspondent, "we take the position that birds have the power to make themselves light or heavy at will, the phenomenon of their flight becomes easy to comprehend."
Doctors have joined psychologists in making people aware of the benefits of optimism. Researchers have documented health risks incurred by a negative outlook, and benefits conferred by a positive one. A fast-growing body of studies—104 so far—is proving that optimism can help people be happier, healthier and more successful. Claire Safran outlines what researchers are saying today (Mira, February 2001):
Pessimism leads to hopelessness, sickness and failure, and is linked to depression, loneliness and painful shyness. "If we could teach people to think more positively," says psychologist Craig A. Anderson of Rice University in Houston, "it would be like inoculating them against these mental ills."
Indeed, we are what we think To a great extent, what we expect is what we get. Pessimism might seem a hard habit to break, but the dynamic power of thought and will can overcome all obstacles.
Isis Unveiled provided several instances of the skill of the ancients in various arts and sciences, among them surgery. Modern discoveries amply bear this out. A recently discovered 3000-year-old female mummy from an Egyptian necropolis at Thebes-West has a well-shaped artificial big toe, consisting of three pieces of carved wood fitted onto her foot with leather straps. This is considered to be the world's oldest known prosthesis. Skin regrew where the toe was amputated, proving that the surgery was a success. X-rays and CT scans of the mummy revealed that the actual toe had been surgically removed. (Discover, April 2001)
Truly, "modern science has little or no reason to boast of originality," as H.P.B. said in Isis Unveiled.
Misunderstanding and dead-letter interpretation of religious terms and concepts has caused much mischief in the world. Jihad is one such term which is commonly understood by Muslims to mean "religious Holy War against unbelievers in the mission of Allah and his Prophet Muhammad." In The Times of India (March 27), Sujata Ashwarya Cheema explains the true meaning of jihad:
In the literal sense of the term, jihad means "an effort or striving." ...Al-Jihad al-Akbar or "the greater warfare" is against one's own demons....The perception of jihad in this sense is subjective and has moral implications. It involves a way of life in which fleeting temptations have no place. Individuals become discerning subjects who comprehend that worldly temptations are ephemeral and have to be fought. It is also the ability to suffer virtuously the afflictions caused by the foe by following the commandments of Allah and to preach, through education, art and literature, the precepts of Islam, the religion of Allah....