The sequencing of the human genome—the "book of life" as it is called—is proving to be as much a cause for concern as for celebration, as its implications are being realized. An individual's genetic make-up is now an open book for all to read, and discrimination based on such reading is already a reality. In some countries like Britain, for instance, insurance companies have the right to access the results of genetic tests for certain diseases, and the persons concerned can be hit by higher premiums or refused coverage. The door now open to insurers will lead the way for others, such as employers; and there can be many other discriminations.
As was clear at a recent UNESCO conference, the issue is a real Pandora's box, giving rise to several questions. The March issue of Unesco Sources states editorially:
In part these questions may be resolved by the nature of the genome itself. The fact that we have fewer genes than first thought (about 31,000 according to the public Human Genome project consortium, less than half the initial predictions) gives rise to optimism. It means that we are not just the simple sum of our genes. It also indicates that our cultural, social and physical environments and histories have more impact on shaping who we are and how we function than our genetic makeup. And it proves, once and for all, that there is no genetic basis for racism. "Overall, there are more differences in the DNA of two Caucasians than between a Caucasian and an African," says Craig Venter, the boss of the private company, Celera Genomics.
The Universal Declaration of the Human Genome and Human Rights, adopted by UNESCO's General Assembly in 1998, provides a set of principles which have achieved broad international consensus:
Article 1. The human genome underlies the fundamental unity of the human family, as well as the recognition of their inherent dignity and diversity. In a symbolic sense it is the heritage of humanity.
Scientists reported recently that the planet Mars may have been a land of lakes in its earliest period, with layers of earthlike sedimentary rock that could harbour the fossils of any ancient Martian life. NASA's Mars global surveyor spacecraft captured images with its Mars Orbiter Camera of these sediments in craters and chasms that look very much like Earth. The images and scientific findings were published in Science journal.
The sedimentary rock on Mars is said to date from the earliest span of Martian history, between 4.3 billion and 3.5 billion years ago. The images show many uniformly thick layers of sediments, which, scientists say, more than likely means water was present. This latest evidence of possible water on Mars in the past has fuelled interest in the planet, seen by many as a virtual twin to Earth. Liquid water is seen as a prerequisite for life.
Almost nothing is taught in Theosophy regarding the nature of life on other planets, though what little is said is highly significant. It is for one thing indicated that most of the planets of the solar system bear conscious intelligent beings. The question of whether "life" exists or not on this or another planet is of no importance to Theosophists who know that the planets themselves are alive, for the reason that all matter is alive. Nature is not in the habit of duplicating basic patterns. Throughout the evolution of the earth, the same fundamental plan of life-forms is found in all kingdoms, but that plan necessarily varies with each globe. Says The Secret Doctrine:
"The Spheres of Being, or centres of life, which are isolated nuclei breeding their men and their animals, are numberless; not one has any resemblance to its sister-companion or to any other in its own special progeny." (II. 33)
Easter Island, the world's most remote inhabited island in the South Pacific, is dominated by gigantic stone statues called moai. The tallest exceed 30 feet, and statues in the range of 12 to 20 feet are commonplace. Some are estimated to weigh as much as 80 to 90 tons. How they were built and moved to their present locations still remains a mystery to scientists and locals.
Fred J. Eckert writes in The World and I (March 2001):
Who built the moai of Easter Island? Why? How did they do it? And how were the moai moved and erected? No one knows for certain. It is accepted that these majestic statues were built to honour Polynesian gods and deified ancestors such as chiefs and other figures important in the island's history....They were likely meant to look out over a village or grave as protectors. They may also have been status symbols for villages or clans.
While experts are buffled and have only theories to offer, many inhabitants of the island believe that the moai were erected and moved by mana, a magical force.
The Secret Doctrine answers many of the questions over which scientists, not cognizant with the history of the early races of humanity and their civilization, have racked their brains. Easter Island with its wondrous gigantic statues has been called by H.P.B. "a speaking witness to a submerged continent with a civilized mankind on it." The most ancient traditions and literature of various and widely separated peoples corroborate what the Esoteric Philosophy maintains, that, ages ago, there existed in the Pacific Ocean a large continent occupied by the Third-Race Lemurians, which by a geological cataclysm was engulfed by the sea. Most of the islands from the Malayan Archipelago to Polynesia are fragments of that once immense submerged continent. Ages later, because of an uplifting of the ocean floor, portions of this submerged continent, which may have been mountain peaks or high plateau, reappeared on the face of the ocean, among them Easter Island. It was subsequently occupied by the Fourth-Race Atlanteans, who had escaped from the cataclysm which overtook their own land, only to perish here from volcanic fires and lava.
As for the giant statues to be found on Easter Island, The Secret Doctrine states that their workmanship is of a high order and that the men who made them were no savages of the stone age. How were they built? Archaeologists say that there is no reason to believe that any of the statues have been built up, bit by bit, by scaffolding erected around them. How then could they have been built except by giants of the same size as the statues themselves? "They (the Atlanteans) built great images, nine yatis high (27 feet)—the size of their bodies," states one of the "Stanzas" from the Book of Dzyan. H.P.B. explains: "One has but to examine the heads of the colossal statues, that have remained unbroken on that island, to recognize in them at a glance the features of the type and character attributed to the Fourth-Race giants."
All this may be regarded as fiction by modern archaeologists and geographers; to the Occcultists it is history. Modern science has today accepted many facts that at one time it refused to believe; and the time may not be far off when it will be forced to the conclusion that in other respects too it is Esoteric Philosophy that is right after all.
In the Spring 2001 issue of Dharma Life (published by Windhorse Publications for the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order), Subhuti argues that democracy's power to improve society is limited; higher values must be spread by individual example. Democracy is widely upheld as the ideal form of government, and most would agree. It has, however, limitations "which lie in the moral, and even spiritual, quality of the electorate," says Subhuti:
A democracy is as good as its people and tends, in the modern world, to promote a moral and cultural mediocrity....It is often said that for a democracy to work effectively there must be an educated electorate that knows and understands the issues of the moment and can evaluate arguments in political debate. But this is not enough. With such knowledge each citizen can simply fight his or her own corner, pushing for his or her own interests, asserting his or her own rights. Democracy remains then merely a system for orderly negotiation and adjudication between competing interests. That is a considerable advance, likely to make it harder for any one factional interest to predominate entirely. However, it offers little more in terms of cultural, moral and spiritual value, unless citizens want more....
A sound social morality or true democracy can rest only on the spiritual concept of the unity of all life and the brotherhood of humanity. The concept of universal brotherhood is dynamic; its energy flows as a steady, beneficent stream for the good of all. On the other hand, the idea of partial brotherhood of a group or nation, as a separate from or opposed to the rest, can wreak havoc as a destructive force. The foremost thought in a true democracy should be not of rights but of duties.
In Britain, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been running a powerful campaign against hunting foxes, deer, mink, hares and other animals for sport, as it is "cruel and unnecessary." At the same time, reports New Scientist, campaigners opposed to animal testing came close to closing down one of the country's largest contract-research companies, which test drugs, pesticides and other chemicals on animals. Both the hunting and testing activists have a large Web presence.
Alternatives to using animals in laboratories are now being tried with success. U.S. doctor Jerry W. Vlasak, now in India, advocates the need to replace the use of animals in medical education as well as in research experiments carried out for testing the compatibility and effectiveness of new medicines. Speaking to reporters, Dr. Vlasak, M.D., who is a diplomat on the American Board of Surgery as well as a Fellow at the American College of Surgeons, said that the process of modernization of medical education in the U.S. has done away with the use of animals. In fact, all medical schools and prestigious medical universities are now employing modern "non-animal methods" for instruction and hands-on experience which are less expensive, more accurate and more humane.
Disclosing that around 12 million animals were being killed annually in the U.S. for dissections, etc., Dr. Vlasak said that there is simply no need for this. The new wave of computer software is cost effective, provides accurate models of human systems and allows multiple use. He informed that stressed animals used for experiments provide unreliable results, besides wasting time, money and personnel. Also, every medicine has to be ultimately tested on humans as tests on animals cannot accurately predict the effect on humans.
Pointing out that a string of medical breakthroughs have been achieved without using animals, Dr. Vlasak drew attention to the fact that many industries, too, are thinking twice before using animals for testing their products because of the growing concern of consumers in this regard.
A glowworm shines so long as the light-bringer has not arisen. But when the shining one has come up, its light is quenched, it glows no longer. Such is the shining of the sectarians. So long as the rightly awakened ones arise not in the world, the sophists get no light, nor do their followers, and those of wrong views cannot be released from ill.