In the Light of Theosophy

How old are civilized human societies? Dates are constantly being revised by newer archaeological findings. Four years ago, the discovery of the Harappan site of Dholavira in Gujarat pushed back the dates by a few thousand years; and now has come the dramatic finding of a submerged site in the Gulf of Cambay, off the coast of Gujarat. Archaeologists date it back to 7500 B.C., and proclaim it as the earliest known urban settlement in India—and maybe the world—"changing the starting point from where the history of our civilization is tracked." (India Today, February 11)

After spending weeks dredging the site and picking up over 2000 artefacts, the team of oceanographers from the National Institute of Ocean Technology in Chennai made some astonishing revelations. It found that the ruins under the sea showed signs of what was once a masonry dam, also a large granarylike structure, and another construction with sunken steps that looked like the Great Bath of Mohenjodaro. Also discernible were outlines of a drainage system, mud roads, and foundations of crumbled homesteads. The artifacts recovered included polished stone tools, ornaments, figurines, broken pottery, semiprecious stones, ivory, and fossilized remains of human bones.

The findings have triggered much interest and controversy among leading historians, archaeologists and others throughout the world. Many are of the view that the discovery is important enough to launch an international collaborative study. Dilip Chakrabarti, an expert on ancient Indian archaeology, goes so far as to say, "If the dates are true it would be revolutionary in terms of understanding the growth of villages and cities in the world....It could completely alter all our notions of history."

There are many questions that still remain unanswered: Where, for instance, did the people of Cambay come from? Were they natives or did they come by sea from West Asia? When and how did they become agriculturists and go on to build a mature urban settlement? The notion still persists that early humans were hunters and later became farmers, and archaeologists are hoping that the sunken city of Cambay which was once part of a predominantly agricultural society will reveal the "missing links" connecting the two.

There is general agreement that those who preceded the Vedic Aryans in India, like the people of the Indus Valley, belonged to a highly civilized race.

It is yet far from being proved who were the original and primitive masters of India. That this period is now beyond the reach of documentary history, does not preclude the probability of our theory that it was a mighty race of builders, whether we call them Eastern Ethiopians, or dark-skinned Aryans (the word meaning simply "noble warrior," a "brave"). They ruled supreme at one time over the whole of ancient India. (Isis Unveiled, II, 435)

Kenneth L. Woodward's comparative study of the Bible and the Qur'an an (Newsweek, February 11) attempts to establish that the two have a "real kinship." Each book says much more than what a literal reading can possibly capture; each claims to be "divine revelation"; each insists that God is one. As the Prophet himself insisted, "God reveals himself through signs whose meanings need to be deciphered." "Here, it would seem," says Woodward, "lie the promising seeds of religious reconciliation." There is more misunderstanding than points of disagreement between the two.

Like the Bible, the Qur'an is a book of divine revelation [writes Woodward]. Between them, these two books define the will of God for more than half the world's population. Over centuries, the Bible fashioned the Hebrew tribes into a nation: Israel. But in just a hundred years, the Qur'an created an entire civilization that at its height stretched from northern Africa and southern Europe in the West to the borders of modern India and China in the East....

But since the events of September 11, the Qur'an and the religion it inspired have been on trial. Is Islam an inherently intolerant faith?....What seeds of reconciliation lie within the Qur'an and the Bible and the traditions that they represent? Does the battle of the books, which has endured for centuries between Muslims and believers in the West, ensure a perpetual clash of civilizations?...

Compared with the few and much quoted verses that call for jihad against the infidels, the Qur'an places far more emphasis on acts of justice, mercy and compassion.

Indeed, the Qur'an is better appreciated as comprehensive guide for those who would know and do the will of God. Like the Bible, the Qur'an defines rules for prayer and religious rituals. It establishes norms governing marriage and divorce, relations between men and women and the way to raise righteous children. More important, both books trace a common lineage back to Abraham, who was neither Jew nor Christian, and beyond that to Adam himself. Theologically, both books profess faith in a single God (Allah means "The God") who creates and sustains the world. Both call humankind to repentance, obedience and purity of life. Both warm of God's punishment and final judgment of the world. Both imagine a hell and a paradise in the hereafter....

In Islam's current political conflicts with the West, the major problem is not the Muslims' sacred book but how it is interpreted. Muslims everywhere are plagued by a crippling crises of authority. Like freewheeling fundamentalists of every religious stripe, any Muslim with an agenda now feels free to cite the Qur'an in his support.

Much of the misunderstanding of the Qur'an message stems from the word "jihad," a word often misinterpreted by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Jihad means, literally, "effort." "Often it describes the personal struggle merely to be a better, more pious Muslim," writes Christopher Dickey in the same issue of Newsweek. Muslims often justify "defensive holy war" against "infidels"; but is it mere physical warfare that the Qur'an refers to? There are dead-letter interpretations of the Gita, too, and the war of Kurukshetra is often not understood as a symbolic representation of the war within, between the higher and the lower self in each one of us. The "holy war" is an inner war; the "infidel" is an inner foe; the goal is an inner goal. Is this not a more meaningful interpretation of jihad than a literal rendering?

The sense of smell is perhaps the most mysterious and least appreciated of all the senses. Researchers are now discovering that smell plays an important role in memory and mood.

The correlation and interchangeability of the senses has long been known, and now the theory is being advanced that smell can arouse powerful emotions. Health and Nutrition (November 2001) reports:

It's easy to see how a keen sense of smell can enhance life's pleasures. Could the reverse also be true? Could depression and other mood disorders—in older people and smokers, for instance—be linked to an impaired sense of smell? Researchers are only beginning to address those questions, but they've already found a fairly significant relationship between smell and mood. People who completely lose their sense of smell, for example, often become anxious and depressed. Psychologists at Brown University have found that odour can even reinforce the negative feelings associated with failure....

The link between smell and mood is actually at the heart of aromatherapy...Even more intriguing is the possibility that the gradual decline of the ability to smell can contribute to memory problems. No one knows for sure, but it seems clear that difficulties with the sense of smell are associated with memory loss. Last year, researchers at Columbia University found that a subtle decrease in the olfactory sense may precede the onset of Alzeimer's disease.

The effect of colour and music on emotional and even physical health is well known. Colour, music, scent, all have their vibrations which produce direct effects on our psychological nature; the elemental lives also are affected by these means. It is for each one to observe his own nature and thus learn how sense impressions affect his emotion and his health.

There are thought-provoking hints in Theosophical literature about scent, its rationale, its significance and its correspondences, and the interchangeability of the senses. Attention may be invited, for example, to the statement in Transactions (p. 94): "An orthodox Occultist goes so far as to say that the smell of a flower emanates from it 'consciously'—absurd as it may seem to the profane." Also to John Worrell Keely's discussion of the non-physical character of the "substance" of odour, and its extreme tenuity (S.D., I, 565). Mr. Judge's Echoes from the Orient implies that odours can be impressed upon the astral light and that they can be carried thousands of miles through it (p. 53). Experiments have proved that scent affects even the growth of plants.

Though it is a well-recognized fact that all beings, including men, animals and plants, have a specific odour, how it is produced is a question not easily answerable by science. Scent is correlated with sound and colour and all are in terms of vibration as far as their immediate cause is concerned. A note in The Theosophist for July 1883 suggested that the odoriferous element inherent in the protoplasm or vital substance is "one of the links which connects the life principle with the physical body." That seems to be borne out by the resistance of distinctive bodily odour to the most scrupulous physical cleanliness; for scent is an expression from within without, which it is not easy to alter.

While "globalization" is much talked about today, it is mainly applied to the process of bringing goods and services, products, markets and national economies under the umbrella of large corporations, thus shrinking the world.

Is our world really a family? An unsigned article in Purity (February 2002) touches on the practical implications and responsibilities of the concept of the global family:

It means that the context of faith, nationality and culture is unity, oneness....

The key to reawaken the understanding of the holistic and united nature of the human family is to begin from within, to understand the self first. First and foremost, I am a soul and that I play the part of being a Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, a Buddhist, an atheist or, that I belong in India, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Korea, in USA, etc. The field of action is not the identity. The cultural norm is not the personality. In fact, like any drama, the actors are wonderfully attired and expressed in a range of characters, with certain inflections of personality and humour to match those actors.

This is what it means to be a family—to enjoy and laugh at the differences—to accept individual and separate identity whilst being a part of the colourful whole.

Let us play together a singular symphony of love and happiness as one world family. This is one magnificent composition created by the same Composer, the One Supreme.

According to WHO study, increasing air pollution in India is responsible for the premature deaths of about 750,000 people annually. The report also says that premature deaths and illness caused by environmental factors account for one-fifth of all diseases in South Asia—more than the toll taken by any other preventable factor.

Atmospheric pollution is caused by human activities, propelled by greed. There is a price to be paid for every act of indiscretion, but we are slow in learning the lesson.

Instances of animals caring for the young of other species are "baffling," yet not uncommon. In a recent instance reported by Earth Environment Service, a full-grown lioness in Kenya's Samburu Game Reserve took oven an oryx calf separated from its mother at birth. The lioness became inseparable from the young oryx, which normally would have been prey for big cats. The pair ranged side by side, with the lioness fiercely protecting the frail calf, chasing off leopards and cheetahs. Park workers reported seeing the lioness lay down to nap with the frail oryx curled up next to her. Exhausted from a vigilant two-week watch over her unlikely ward, the lioness slept as a male lion pounced on the oryx and dragged it away. The grief-stricken lioness howled "in pain" upon awakening and circled the area before departing.

Could not humans learn a thing or two from such instances?

IF we continue to speak of other animals as less mysterious than ourselves, if we speak of the forests as insentient systems, and of rivers and winds as basically passive elements, then we deny our direct, visceral experience of those forces. And so we close down our sense and come to live more and more in our heads. We seal our intelligence in on itself and begin to look out at the world only as spectators—never as participants.

If, on the other hand, we wish to recall what it is like to feel fully a part of this wild earth, then we shall have to start speaking somewhat differently. It will be a difficult change, but it will also be curiously simple, and strangely familiar, something our children can help us remember. If we really wish to awaken our senses, and so to renew the solidarity between ourselves and the rest of the earth, then we must acknowledge that the myriad things around us have their own active influence upon our lives and our thoughts (and also, of course, upon one another). We must begin to speak of our sensuous surroundings in the way that our breathing bodies really experience them—as active, as animate, as alive.

—George MacDonald

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