In the Light of Theosophy

The past gives us knowledge and experience, and the present gives us the power to change things; but, together, do the past and the present allow us to envision and shape the future? The future does not exist and cannot provide us direct knowledge of what will happen, points out World Future Society President Edward Cornish; but there is a "continuity of pattern" which makes the future a little more knowable (The Futurist, July-August 2001). The future, he explains, is an idea, not a physical reality. All of our information about the future comes from the past, but we can use this information to know some things about the future.

It is important to recognize very clearly [writes Cornish] that our ideas about the future cannot come from the future itself because the future, by definition, is not a physical reality. The future exists only in the ideas we have about it....

The most important ideas of all—for individuals as well as organizations—may be those that make up a vision of the long-term future. Visions are the invisible blueprints that we use in building our lives. We refer to them again and again as we shape our personal and collective destiny. Our visions give birth to our goals, energize our efforts, and guide out strategies. If the right visions could be placed in the heads of the world's poorest people, they might become the richest in a single generation....

Basing our ideas about the future on information from the past is possible because the future world emerges gradually from the world of the past and present and is continuous with it. This continuity gives us a basis for thinking about what will happen in the future.

Cornish mentions four types of continuity between the past and the future: continuity of existence, continuity of change, continuity of pattern, and continuity of causation. The continuity of causation, he says, is fundamental to our understanding of the world. "Without this bedrock continuity in the nature of reality—the continuity that gives us such things as the medium of time and cause-effect relationships—we should be totally lost if we tried to anticipate the future."

The past, the present and the future have been called "the ever-living trinity in one." The future lies in the present and both include the past. Says The Secret Doctrine (I, 43-44):

The three periods—the present, the past, and the Future—are in the esoteric philosophy a compound time; for the three are a composite number only in relation to the phenomenal plane, but in the realm of noumena have no abstract validity. As said in the Scriptures: "The past time is the present time, as also the Future, which, though it has not come into existence, still is," according to a precept in the Prasanga Madhyamika teaching, whose dogmas have been known ever since it broke away from the purely esoteric schools. Our ideas, in short, on duration and time are all derived from our sensations according to the laws of Association. Inextricably bound up with the relativity of human knowledge, they nevertheless can have no existence except in the experience of the individual ego, and perish when its evolutionary march dispels the Maya of phenomenal existence. What is time, for instance, but the panoramic succession of our states of consciousness? In the words of a Master, "I feel irritated at having to use these three clumsy words—Past, Present, and Future—miserable concepts of the objective phases of the subjective whole, they are about as ill-adapted for the purpose as an axe for fine carving.

As regards the evolution of humanity on Earth, The Secret Doctrine postulates a polygenetic origin—"the simultaneous evolution of seven human groups on seven different portions of out globe" (II, 1). A contentious debate has been raging among anthropologists, one side believing that Homo sapiens descended from a single pair, or a single female "Eve," whose progeny spread around the globe, replacing more archaic species; and others taking the opposing view that humanity emerged in many places as people colonized the world and gradually evolved to their modern state.

Milford Wolpoff of the University of Michigan, U.S.A., is one of those scientists who support the latter view. In an interview with Discovery magazine (June 2001) he said:

I think the evidence, both anatomic and genetic, has been there a long time. It tells us that the Eve theory is wrong. For instance, various skeletal features show continuity of form, from ancient to modern, in several parts of the world. The Eve theory predicts abrupt change.

Some people have interpreted Wolpoff's theory to mean that certain races are more evolved than others. His response to this is:

I get deeply upset to think that I've ever contributed to racism, even if it is only by people misquoting me. What people are generally quoting is the idea that modern humans arose in one place and then went around interbreeding with everyone else, which opens itself up to a racist interpretation. What I've actually said is that modern features developed everywhere and spread everywhere because they were helpful....

There are no pure races. Our populations are throughly mixed, and we are related to everybody. The idea that one race could be better at something than another race makes no sense. If a trait is important, everyone has it.

The Secret Doctrine (II, 610) states categorically:

Mankind did not issue from one solitary couple. Nor was there ever a first man—whether Adam or Yima—but a first mankind. It may, or may not, be "mitigated polygenism." Once that both creation ex nihilo—an absurdity—and a superhuman Creator or creators—a fact—are made away with by science, polygenism presents no more difficulties or inconveniences (rather fewer from a scientific point of view) than monogenism does.

The interconnectedness of all life is true at all levels, including the biological level. Our health depends on a healthy planet. In other words, improving human health is inextricably linked to ecological well-being—that is the message from a new movement—of doctors, scientists and activists. Kenny Ausubel writes in Utme Reader (May-June 2001) about the coming age of ecological medicine:

There is a new understanding of health and illness that has begun to move away from treating only the individual. Instead, good health lies in recognizing that each of us is part of a wider web of life. When the web is healthy, we are more likely to be healthy...

The first step toward a healthier future, I belive, lies in ecological medicine. Pioneered by a global movement of concerned scientists, doctors, and many others, ecological medicine is a loosely shared philosophy based on advancing public health by improving the environment. Its central idea is that industrial civilization has made a basic error in acting as if humans are apart from rather than a part of nature. Human and environmental health are inseparable. And in a biosphere that is rampantly toxic and woefully depleted, a mounting number of our health problems can only be understood as part of a larger pattern....

Ecological medicine suggests first doing no harm to the environment, then going further, creating a medical practice that itself minimizes harm. Like virtually all earlier healing traditions, it emphasizes prevention, strengthing the organism and the environment to avoid illness in the first place.

In addition to instructing healers first to do no harm. Hippocrates also instructed them to "revere the healing force of nature." By looking to the principles of ecological healing to restore the Earth and ourselves, we create not only the conditions for individual health, but also the basis for healthy societies.

Are altruism, generosity, fair play, willingness to share, innate in us or acquired? To find out where our moral sense comes from and how we can shape it, a group of investigators questioned university students in cities all around the world, as also people belonging to some of the most remote, traditional societies on earth. The same question was asked to all: If you were given a bundle of cash equivalent to a week's earning on condition that you share the money with someone else you know, how much would you offer the other person? New Scientist (10 March 2001) reports:

The results reveal that people appear not to share a common sense of fairness. Instead, what people from industrialized societies consider fair is just one of a broad spectrum of perspectives. "The way people play these games relates consistently to the way they live their lives," says Herbert Gintis, an economist from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. To put it another way, our social environment shapes our sense of morality. As the anthropologists look deeper, they are beginning to understand what makes one society generous and another selfish. And that, in turn, raises the possibility that we can shape our societies to favour fair play....

The most co-operative society is also the most generous, while the least co-operative is the meanest. Could there be a pattern emerging? After all, a society's level of co-operation is central to the way it runs its economy. The researchers suspected that this and other economic variables might be the crucial factors that determined people's behaviour in the ultimatum game...

It might all sound rather academic, but the work has important practical implications. If our moral values are shaped by our lifestyle rather than by human nature, then we should be able to promote good social behaviour in the correct social context.

In brief, the results of the investigations seem to show that society, not the individual, is what counts. But what is society made up of if not individuals? In our age, self-centredness, acting for one's own benefit, rather than for others, is considered normal and natural, yet people go out of their way to help others, even strangers, and to share with them, much more often than is normally believed. There is an innate sense of fairness, reciprocity and sympathy in all; its roots lie in the basics of human nature. The capacity for empathy, for deriving pleasure from other people's pleasure and distress from their distress, is bred in each human being. Its opposite is "an abnormal, unnatural manifestation, at this period of our human evolution."

A Reuters report from London should be an eye-opener for those who hanker after what are commonly looked upon as the "good things of life." Fast cars and designer labels may be the dream of many, but research released recently shows that craving material possessions can cause depression and anger. Australian academics found a positive correlation between materialism—or an "excessive concern" for material things—and negative psychological conditions.

Shaun Saunders, one of the authors of the report from the University of Newcastle, Australia, said that it came as no surprise to discover that money cannot buy you love. But what researchers are looking for is "scientific evidence" to support the truism. "While there is growing concern over the environmental effects of materialism and global consumerism, little attention has been paid to its psychological effects," he said. Saunders explained that one source of depression among dedicated consumers was the fact that what they acquired tended to lose its value quickly.

"If your self-worth is invested in what you own, as can be the case in our market-driven society, then these things may not hold their value very long," he said. In most cases materialism is based on people using possessions to define their place in society. "People want to compare themselves to others. In our society the criterion tends to be what you own."

"This is the 'keeping up with the Jone's' idea. It can be a very frustrating experience trying to stay ahead of others, which can be a precursor to anger expression." It also leads to conformity, based on the notion that the self in a market-based society is treated as a commodity whose value es determined externally.

That animals have intelligence of their own kind has long been known, and now some behavioural scientists claim that they also have culture. Scientists define "culture" as behaviour, skills or knowledge—a way of life—that one shares with and acquires from others of one's species but that differs from the way of life practised by those of the same species living elsewhere. Just as immigrants adopt the accent and customs of the country that they move to, so animals copy the local customs when they join another group. This behaviour is neither acquired genetically nor compelled by the environment. By this yardstick, researchers are finding evidence of culture in chimpanzees and macaque monkeys, in killer whales, humpbacks and birds—throwing into doubt the centuries-long contention that humans are the only cultured creatures. "There is so much resistance to the idea of animal culture," says primatologist Frans de Waal, "that one cannot escape the impression that it is an idea whose time has come." Newsweek (May 21) reports:

Pooling data on how chimps dig for termites, gather ants, use leaves for seats and engage in other behaviours, researchers identified 39 traditions that qualify as cultural variations. The behaviours range from ways of greeting to ways of eating, tool use to courtship...."We had long thought that culture marks us as distinct," says chimp researcher Andrew Whiten of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "But now we look across the animal kingdom and find whole suites of traditions that we must recognize as cultures." If culture is not uniquely human, then neither is it some deus ex machina that descended from on high. Culture, instead, evolved. What fosters it? Intelligence matters, of course—there had to be a first monkey to figure out potato washing. But just as crucial is having the young stay with their mother for years, giving them time to learn the group's ways.

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