For millennia, large numbers of people have been killed, persecuted and ill-treated in the name of religion; and this is going on even today. The Millennium World Peace Summit of leaders representing all religious traditions held recently at the UN heaquarters in New York has been called "a meeting of minds." There is a growing realization that if lasting peace among peoples and nations is to become a reality, then the defences of peace have to be built first and foremost in the minds of men and women worldwide. Almost every speaker at the summit stressed that the ethical and spiritual core of every religion can and must provide the basis to banish fear and want and the debilitating scourge of intolerance from the hearts of people everywhere.
From Anglicans to Zoroastrians, the Peace Summit participants sent out the message that "all religions are equal," that truth, salvation and redemption are not the monopoly of any organized religion, of any sect, of any particular brand of clerics. The seeker is free to drink at whichever source he chooses. The Times of India (September 1) commented editorially:
The messages that emanated from the summit might sound naive to ears attuned to the cacophony of diplomatic mumbo-jumbo and the rhetoric of realpolitik. But the very fact that Muslim clerics, Hindu priests, Jain munis, Christian prelates, Buddhist monks and many others speaking from within a variety of other faiths were able to affix their signatures to a document that affirmed the equality of all religions, condemned all forms of violence in the most unambiguous terms, upheld gender equality, lambasted poverty and gave pride of place to environmental protection should demonstrate that religion need no longer be the opium of the masses.
How far religion will contribute to world peace will depend to a large extent upon how far the religious leaders themselves exemplify the policy of peace and brotherhood in their own life and action, and upon the extent to which their example is followed. The realization of brotherhood is the essence of all true religions. Without the spread of that realization, the orthodox in all religions will continue to be fanatical followers of their respective creeds, and mutual intolerance and recriminations and worse will persist.
Darwin suggested that natural selection operates not only among individuals but also among groups of organisms. A group of people who are kind and helpful to one another may not do so well individually, but as a team they may do better than other groups of people, and so the tendency to work as a team spreads through the population. The group selection idea has had its opponents and was at one stage rejected, but at present it is experiencing a revival. It is now generally admitted that evolution is more caring and sharing than hitherto believed.
In New Scientist (July 8) Lynn Dicks, ecologist and science writer based at the University of Cambridge, speaks of the power of the team spirit not only among humans but in all evolution:
The newly emerging view of evolution, proposed by John Maynard Smith from the University of Sussex and Eors Szathmary from the University of Budapest, Hungary, describes the entire development of life as a series of major transitions in which successively more complex levels of organization have become dominant. Each transition was a point when individual entities began working together in a group and natural selection kicked in at a higher level. When cells joined forces to make multicellular organisms, for example, cells that co-operated fared better than cells that exploited the resources of the group, because all the cells in an organism have a single, sealed fate. In this new "multilevel selection" view of life, group selection is a natural progression....
Co-operative behaviour has existed throughout nature, since the beginning of life. Altruism and co-operation have proved a successful strategy for species to get through very long stretches of evolutionary time in the presence of numberless other creatures with whom they are obliged to interact. Humans are a conspicuous exception. We have tended to exploit and to cheat whenever such behaviour seems to provide a short-term advantage. This is our worst mistake, for we are delaying and putting obstacles in our own evolutionary march. "United we stand, divided we fall," is a principle of life and applies at all levels of the evolutionary process.
There is growing evidence that humans have been using fire for an incredibly long time. This, say palaeoanthropologists, calls for radical revision of current scientific thinking about human evolution.
The popular theory of human mental evolution, writes John McCrone (New Scientist, May 20), paints our early ancestors as nothing more than smart bipedal apes. It was only around 40,000 years ago, goes the theory, that they made major advances in lifestyle, tool use and vocal communication, and were transformed into modern Homo sapiens, a species driven by language and culture. Even throughout the 1980s and 1990s palaeoanthropologists denigrated early humans at every turn. But now a more detailed picture has begun to emerge and the theory of "dumb ancestors" has been turned upside down. Evidences of their knowledge of the use of fire have been uncovered by several researchers, and only intellectually advanced humans could have been capable of that.
A major breakthrough came this April when at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society of Philadelphia Brian Ludwig from Rutgers University reported the results of an exhaustive analysis of flint artefacts and the debris of tool-making. He personally inspected around 40,000 pieces from over 50 sites in Africa, some going as far back as 2.5 million years. There were clear signs of intense heat being applied to these tools, which considerably broaden the claim for early fire.
Other scientists say that if early humans had enough mental development to control fire—whether for warmth, protection, cooking or tool-making—they must also have had communicative skills which require the use of language. Language was needed to transform their daily activities "from the duly practical into something where every slightest act became socially expressive and personally meaningful."
The Secret Doctrine states that early man was not left to his own resources but had his Instructors—more evolved beings from other spheres who became his guides and put him in the way of his mental evolution. Among the first things taught by them was the use of fire and the methods by which it could be kindled (S.D., II. 373). Fire was never "discovered"; it existed on earth since its beginning, and the earliest humans knew its uses. "The assumption that primitive man lived ages on earth before he was made acquainted with fire, is one of the most painfully illogical of all." (S.D., II, 523-24)
H.P.B.'s very first work, Isis Unveiled, furnishes sufficient proofs that in various spheres modern knowledge has little or no reason to boast originality. "Whenever in the pride of some new discovery, we throw a look into the past, we find, to our dismay, certain vestiges which indicate the possibility, if not certainty, that the alleged discovery was not totally unknown to the ancients." (I, 526)
Who invented the telescope? According to Bob Temple, the Greeks knew of it more than 2000 years ago. This is one of the many provocative conclusions in his recently published book, The Crystal Sun, a thoroughly researched study of the ancient science of optics. Temple reviews the massive archaeological and literary evidence for the use of lenses in antiquity—for burning, magnification and correcting short sight.
Isis Unveiled further informs us:
Some modern writers deny the fact that a great mirror was placed in the light-house of the Alexandrian port, for the purpose of discovering vessels at a distance at sea. But the renowned Buffon believed in it; for he honestly confesses that "If the mirror really existed, as I firmly believe it did, to the ancients belongs the honour of the invention of the telescope." (I, 528)
For centuries, India's Untouchables, now known as Dalits (literally, "broken people") have had a raw deal. In the Hindu caste system, they are at the very bottom of the social scale, and are often victims of humiliation, harassment and violence from the upper castes.
Newsweek for July 3 carries a special report on this caste struggle. Carla Power writes:
The Indian Constitution long ago outlawed discrimination against Dalits. India has a Dalit president and more than 100 Dalits in Parliament. But despite quota systems in government jobs and education, members of the upper castes like Brahmins and Kshatriyas have a monopoly on power; they dominate business, the media and government.
The struggle continues. It is not enough to pass legislation condemning caste distinctions to root out the evil. It is necessary first of all to sweep away the "cobwebs" from men's minds through right education. And let no one plead the virtues of the original caste system now; for caste based on the birth of the body is far indeed from the varnashramadharma of ancient India. Justice demands the wiping out of these false distinctions, which Gandhiji rightly regarded as "the greatest blot on Hinduism."
In the early years of the Theosophical Movement in India, the courage shown by Damodar K. Mavalankar, while still a youth, in obeying the dictates of his conscience and coming out of his Brahmin caste to be "worthy of being called man" and to make "the perfection of his spiritual self a grand object of his efforts," is worthy of emulation by young people today. Damodar's statement explaining the reasons for leaving his caste appeared in The Theosophist for May 1880 and was reprinted in U.L.T. Pamphlet No. 4, He wrote:
The glimpse I have got into the former greatness of my country makes me feel sadly for her degeneration. I feel it, therefore, my bounden duty to devote all my humble powers to her restoration....
Involved as we are with the outside world, few among us have given thought to the value of mindfulness. Because of this, we do not know how to subdue or ignore the constant reactions that spring up in the mind. In the August issue of Mira, Nergis Dalal writes:
Mindfulness is the cure for this unthinking manner of living. It is, in fact, a continuous 24-hour meditation. It means living with alertness, being aware of and fully conscious of every experience, moment by moment. And at the same time, while being alert and watchful, mindfulness means to be non-judgemental. Mindfulness is attention free of evaluation.