In the Light of Theosophy

In our civilization, science and the idea of progress are so closely related in practice and in concept that most people can hardly think of one without immediately calling the other to mind. Standing as we do at the beginning of a new century and a new millennium, writes David Glasner (Modern Age, Winter 2001), anyone who cares deeply about this civilization of ours and its fate in the centuries to come is bound to give some thought to science and its future progress.

In thinking about progress [writes Glasner] one must also recognize how fraught with ambiguities that idea now appears to us. We certainly continue to believe and expect material progress in objective, conventional measures of human well-being, like wealth, output, population, and life-expectancy. But seemingly fewer people accept today that those conventional measures are the only, or even the best, ways by which to gauge human progress....

It could easily be argued that in many not insignificant areas of life we have for some time not been witnessing progress or even stagnation, but decadence, degeneration, and headlong retrogression....It seems undeniable that there are ample grounds for arguing that the past century has produced not musical, literary, or artistic progress, but a palpable retrogression. Nor are the signs of retrogression limited to the aesthetic realm. Signs of what many would regard as a social decay abound; increases (until recently) in violent crime, a general breakdown in the family, increases in births out of wedlock, and a glamorization of violence and pornography are deeply troubling to a wide section of the public. There is undeniably a widespread unease with the direction in which modern culture, in the most comprehensive sense of the term, has and continues to develop. Ours is a culture that is getting less and less serious, more and more superficial, less thoughtful, more violent, and more intent on shocking our sensibilities....

Why have we grown so uneasy about progress in science?....Rapid social change, driven by scientific and technological progress, inevitably threatens the kind of community life in which traditional values are preserved, enforced, and transmitted. But adding to the unsettling social instability that progress in science leaves in its wake, recent advances in genetics and genetic engineering are raising disturbing concerns about our power to use science not just to control our external environment but to control who and what we are, in short to recreate ourselves as individuals, even as a species....

With science putting into our hands powers to recreate not just our environment but ourselves in ways that not so long ago we could not have imagined, and after the moral constraints that used to inhibit our conduct have lost their binding force, we cannot but tremble at what kind of a future we may be creating for ourselves and our children....I do believe that it is appropriate to question the extent to which the quest to understand has been tied and perhaps subordinated to an effort to control....Big Science has become the handmaiden of Big Government and Big Business....

We may have unwittingly entered into a Faustian bargain that makes it impossible for us to shift to a slower rate of technological progress and economic growth than we have become accustomed to without incurring greater sacrifices than we are willin to bear. Our challenge in this century will be to find some way of coping with this dilemma. Before we can cope with it we must first acknowledge it.

There is no consensus of opinion on what constitutes true progress. It can mean one thing to one person and another thing to another person. The article "The Struggle for Existence," first published in Lucifer, April 1889 (reprinted in THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT, June 1969) has this to say:

The path of right progress should include the amelioration of the individual, the nation, the race, and humanity; and ever keeping in view the last and grandest object, the perfecting of man, should reject all apparent bettering of the individual at the expense of his neighbour. In actual life the evolution of these factors, individual, race and nation, are so intimately interblended, that it would be wrong to assume any progression from one to the other; but since it is only possible to see one face of an object at a time, so it is necessary to trace the course of progress along some particular line, both for its simplification and general comprehension.

With archaelogical discoveries and better dating methods, evidences of long-buried ancient civilizations are emerging in various parts of the world. Archaelogists are now saying that native Americans were building cities nearly five thousand years ago. Some go even further and say that the city of Caral in Peru was built about the same time as the great pyramids of Egypt. Caral is 23 kilometres from the ocean in central Peru's Supe Valley. The age and nature of Caral challenge established theories. New Scientist (May 5) has this to say:

The settlement may give us the earliest view yet of the pristine development of complex society, says Jonathan Haas, an archaeologist at the Field Museum in Chicago, who did the dating....

Haas's carbon dates came as a surprise. "Nobody anticipated these sites could be as big as they were and as early as they seemed," he told New Scientist. The dates show Caral was occupied for about 600 years.

The new dates could also turn theories of how civilization emerged on their head. Archaeologist Michael Moseley proposed that cities first grew on the coast, where people made a living from the sea. However, Caral was some distance from the coast. Residents irrigated land by the river to grow crops....

This is really very exciting," says Dan Sandweiss, an archaeologist at the University of Maine in Orono. Caral's size and distance inland are "really startling."

Haas thinks Caral was the centre of a larger culture that included smaller settlements such as Aspero. All are believed to be a similar age to Caral...."I don't know of anything like it in the whole world, where you have this density of sites in one small valley," said Haas.

H.P.B.'s four-part article "A Land of Mystery" (reprinted from The Theosophist in THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT for May, June, July and August 1943) gives us a glimpse into the antiquities of America—"mute records of a mighty past":

There, all along the coast of Peru, all over the Isthmus and North America, in the canyons of the Cordilleras, in the impassable gorges of the Andes, and, especially beyond the valley of Mexico, lie, ruined and desolate, hundreds of once mighty cities, lost to the memory of men, and having themselves lost even a name. Buried in dense forests, entombed in inaccessible valleys, sometimes sixty feet underground, from the day of their discovery until now they have ever remained a riddle to science, baffling all inquiry, and they have been muter than the Egyptian Sphinx herself. We know nothing of America prior to the Conquest—positively nothing. No chronicles, not even comparatively modern ones, survive; there are no traditions, even among the aboriginal tribes, as to its past events. We are as ignorant of the races that built these cyclopean structures, as of the strange worship that inspired the antediluvian sculptors, who carved upon hundreds of miles of walls, of monuments, monoliths and altars, these weird hieroglyphics, these groups of animals and men, pictures of an unknown life and lost arts....

As regards prehistoric buildings, both Peru and Mexico are rivals of Egypt. Equalling the latter in the immensity of her cyclopean structures, Peru surpasses her in their number....Of the long generations of people who built them, history knows nothing, and even tradition is silent. As a matter of course, most of these lithic remains are covered with a dense vegetation. Whole forests have grown out of the broken hearts of the cities, and, with a few exceptions, everythintg is in ruin. But one may judge of what once was by that which yet remains....

Having well defined ideas as to the periodicity of cycles, for the world as well as for nations, empires, and tribes, we are convinced that our present modern civilization is but the latest dawn of that which already has been seen an innumerable number of times upon this planet.

Sometimes people have a hunch, a premonition, a feeling that something is going to happen. Researchers suggest that this is not just paranoia. "It may be an entirely accurate 'gut feeling' based on subtle, unconscious comparisons with past experiences," which we may consciously have forgotten. (The Sunday Review supplement of The Times of India, October 5)

The report goes on to say:

According to Dr. Edward Katkin of the State University of New York, sometimes, when people get a hunch, it's not mysterious. It's because people are in a situation that has been associated with some event in the past—they might not consciously remember it but their guts do. And so they get a sense that something is going to happen.

In their research, Katkin's team tested whether or not gut feelings might accurately predict events, and which sensory cues worked to provoke such hunches. While the association between accurate gut feelings and subconsciously registered stimuli may ultimately involve other additional influences, the connection appears to be clear and substantial.

Do "sensory cues" provoke hunches? A hunch is more accurately an inner prompting—either an instinct or an intuition, though the two can by no means be equated. H.P.B. called instinct "the universal endowment of nature by the Spirit of the Deity itself," at the expense of which, she wrote, "reason, the outgrowth of the physical brain, develops." Elsewhere she wrote of instinct and intuition as "two faculties completely opposed in their nature, two enemies confronting each other in constant conflict....each having a different seat in the brain."

H.P.B. said in her Five Messages that "the latent psychic and occult powers in man are beginning to germinate and grow." To this the development of extrasensory perception, premonition, etc., in our day bears witness. She described the development of psychic capacities as "inevitable" in our race and evolution-period, but she also warned strongly against the dangers from letting these faculties run riot, "controlling instead of controlled."

Not all video games, so popular today especially among children, are as harmless as parents take them to be. Two Iowa State University psychologists, who have conducted a comprehensive review in this field, have come to the conclusion that violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, aggressive feelings and psychological arousal, and this can lead to aggressive behaviour. Dr. Brad Bushman avers that playing violent video games also decreases the likelihood of the person helping another person. The psychologists cite recent school shootings in the U.S. where the shooters were reportedly fans of the video game "Doom." (The Sunday Review, August 19)

Researchers have argued for decades that watching violence on television and in films is linked to an increase in aggression, and are now extending that assertion to the video games industry. Yet many parents do not think twice before letting their children view whatever they take a fancy to.

"The capacity of children for the storing away of early impressions is great indeed," wrote H.P.B. (Lucifer, December 1888); and these impressions are sure to colour all their after-life.

"We are both actors and spectators in the great drama of existence," says Neils Bohr, echoing ancient Indian teachings. Working on this proposition, K. M. Gupta writes in The Times of India (October 14):

The soul, the I, is a "two-in-one"—the actor I and the spectator I. The actor I is the I that goes through One's roles in life, the agent, sowing actions and reaping fruits. The spectator I is the pure self, pure consciousness, atman, the silent observer or the sheer witness....

Normally we lump the two together, not teasing the actor and the spectator out. The educational and career grooming we go through does not prepare us to differentiate the two I's. This is our spiritual illiteracy and poverty. This spiritual privation strains and spoils relationships, scuttles skills, gifts and faculties, muddles attitudes and behaviours and we end up looking for stress-busters and peace capsules.

All the weight that sits on us and is crushing us by way of stress and peacelessness is the weight of a lumped up I. Separate the two I's and the weight goes. The essence of spiritualism is the separation of the actor I and the spectator I and the resultant freedom for the latter from emotional involvement in the roles of the former. That is the gist of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita, the Yoga Sutras and all. The Ashtavakra Gita and many such other works are exercises in awakening the spectator self to the knowledge and remembrance that he is just the witness and it is not his business to lose himself in the actor self emotionally. The spirit is the spectator standing by the actor and watching the latter going through his roles and functions. Practising spiritualism is training oneself to identify oneself with the spectator and keep aloof from the actor.

The reality of the person is in the creative will. When we deny the clamour of emotions, stay the stream of things, silence the appetites of the body, we feel the power of self within our own being. Again, the delusion of self leads man to strive to profit himself and injure others. The passionate sense of egoism is the root of the world's unhappiness. To be egoistic is to be like a rudimentary creature that has grown no eyes. It is to be blind to the reality of other persons. We begin to grow only when we break down our clinging to the envelopes of the body and mind and realize that we have our roots in a state which is untouched by the familiar dimensions of this world. Detachment from ego means a gentler, profounder sympathy with all sentient creation. It is the recovery of wholeness, of an ordered nature in harmony with the cosmos.

—S. Radhakrishnan

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