In the Light of Theosophy

Researchers claim that they are making great strides in extending the human life-span. Living past 120 with the aid of medicines is now considered more than a possibility. Such attempts at prolonging life, however, are attracting their fair share of controversy and criticism. The law of science, the critics say, is not the law of the good but the law of the possible, and its loyalty is not to humanity but to its own truth.

Dr. Donald B. Louria of the New Jersey Medical School and director of the Healthful Life Project has this to say (The Futurist, January-February 2002):

Common sense would suggest that excessive population growth could have some very unpleasant consequences. At some point, the number of people may become so large that it exceeds the carrying capacity of the planet, making life miserable for the vast majority of humans (and impossible for many other species), even sowing the seeds for our own destruction.

The quality of life for very old people may be severely diminished if changing the boundaries of aging is not accompanied by reasonably good health. Certain tissues and organs may deteriorate even as life-span is markedly prolonged, so people may live 140 years with ever-worsening sight, hearing, mental function, and musculoskeletal function....

We are now more than ever in an era of scientific domination—a period of unfettered technology that has and will produce many stunning discoveries that will benefit humankind, but some that are likely to harm our global society. As philosopher-scientist René Dubos puts it, "We must not ask where science and technology are taking us, but rather how we can manage science and technology so they can help us get where we want to go." Today, there is no evidence that we are following Dubos's admonition and first figuring out where we want to go, rather than reacting sometime in the future to the consequences of scientific discoveries that lengthen life-spans profoundly....

Attempts [at changing the boundaries of aging] should be accompanied by rigorous long-term assessment that includes evaluating the quality of life of these very old persons....

The research into aging is spectacular, but the implications and potential consequences are so profound that we cannot afford to leave it solely in the hands of the scientific community.

It is indeed the quality of life of the aged that matters more than lengthening the life-span. Aging has many aspects. In a sense, it begins before birth and is more or less predetermined for each one. The occult side of the question is hinted at by Mr. Judge in The Ocean of Theosophy (Chapter IV). The body, he says, is subject to physical, physiological and psychical laws which govern the race of man as a whole. "Hence its period of possible continuance can be calculated just as the limit of tensile strain among the metals used in bridge building can be deduced by the engineer."

It is a duty we owe to the body which is ours under Karma to keep it in good working condition as long as possible through natural means; e.g., through applications of the principle of the "middle way"—moderation in all things pertaining to individual existence, whether it be in eating, or sleeping, or work, or recreation. But clinging to bodily existence so common in our day reflects the failure to understand the purpose of life, the soul's immortality and the function of the body as a tabernacle of the dweller within. To make of the dwelling a primary entity and to prolong its existence by all manner of means appears to be a reversal of the natural state of things—though of course allowing the body to decay prematurely would imply the neglect of an obligatory duty. If the idea of many lives for the soul is grasped and this life is regarded as only one in a long series of such existences, there is immediately seen a higher purpose than physical survival, or life-at-any-cost.

While some scientists the world over are pressing ahead with plans to duplicate human beings, there are others who are gravely concerned over the prospect of cloned human embryos becoming a reality. "It's inevitable that someone will try, and someone will succeed," predicts Dolores Lamb, an American infertility expert. Many biotechnologists agree that, within a few years, news will break of the birth of the first human clone.

An article reproduced from Time in Reader's Digest (March 2002, Indian ed.) makes some scary predictions:

The meaning of what it is to be human—which until now has involved the mysterious melding of two people's DNA—will shift forever. And the conversation that has occupied ethicists for years, about how much man should mess with nature when it comes to reproduction, will drop onto every kitchen table, pulpit and politician's desk.

That has many scientists scared to death. The risk lies not just with potential babies born deformed, as many animal clones are, or with desperate couples whose hopes may be raised and hearts broken. The immediate risk is that a backlash against renegade science might strike at responsible science, impeding the chances of finding cures for ailments like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, cancer and heart disease....

In the messy middle are the vast majority of people who view the prospect with a vague alarm, an uneasy sense that science is dragging us into dark woods with no easy way to turn back....At the moment, the public is plainly not ready. In a February 2001 Time/CNN poll, 90 percent of respondents thought it was a bad idea....

The risks involved with cloning mammals are so great that Ian Wilmut calls it "criminally irresponsible" for scientists to be experimenting on humans. Even after four years of practice with animal cloning , the failure rate is overwhelming: 98 percent of embryos never implant or they die during gestation or soon after birth....Wilmut believes "it is almost a certainty" that cloned human children would be born with maladies. These kids would probably die prematurely, he adds....

It reportedly took 104 attempts before the first in vitro body, Louise Brown, was born. Imagine, say opponents, how many embryos would be lost in the effort to clone a human. This loss is mess murder, says David Byers, director of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on science and human values. "Each embryo is a human being by dint of its genetic makeup."

"The short answer to the cloning question," concludes bioethicist Arthur Caplan, "is that anybody who clones somebody today should be arrested. It would be barbaric human experimentation—killing foetuses and embryos for no purpose except curiosity. But if you can't agree that that's wrong to do, and if the media can't agree to condemn rather than gawk, that's a condemnation of us all."

Attention is invited to the item on human cloning in "In the Light of Theosophy" for March 2002. As stated there, the issue of what it is to be human requires primary consideration. Are scientists who recognize no more than the physical mechanics of human reproduction competent to make experiments whose consequences might prove disastrous for us and for future generations? The risks, both immediate and long-term, are mind-boggling.

From the beginning of time there has been light. In all its forms, visible and invisible, it saturates the universe. Our lives are built around it; our daily existence is continuously shaped by it. But what exactly is light? Joel Achenbach writes in National Geographic (October 2001):

Light reveals the world to us. Body and soul crave it. Light sets our biological clocks. It triggers in our brains the sensations of colour. Light feeds us, supplying the energy for plants to grow. It inspires us with special effects like rainbows and sunsets. Light gives us life-changing tools, from incandescent bulbs to lasers and fibre optics. Scientists don't fully understand what light is....A wave? A particle? Yes, the scientists say. Both....Usually, though, we don't see light, we merely see with it.

Light passed through the laboratory of Isaac Newton and never looked the same again. In the 1660s Newton demonstrated that white light is composed of all the colours of the spectrum....He believed that light was particulate—"multitudes of unimaginable small and swift corpuscles of various sizes springing from shining bodies at great distances one after another."....It was James Clerk Maxwell, a Scot, who in the 1860s made one of the most essential breakthroughs....Light, he concluded, is an "electromagnetic" wave. The particle versus wave debate wound up with a kind of truce, governed by quantum mechanics....

Enter Albert Einstein. It's common knowledge that Einstein, in promulgating the special theory of relativity, destroyed the mechanical, deterministic Newtonian universe....Einstein's answer—that light's speed is constant for all observers regardless of their own velocity—obliterated the classical conception of space and time....Einstein's relativity presents all manner of head-scratching implications....

What's certain is that light is going to remain extremely useful—for industry, science, art, and our daily, mundane comings and goings. Light permeates our reality at every scale of existence. It's an amazing tool, a carrier of beauty, a giver of life.

Light sets in motion and controls all in nature, from the tiniest molecule in space to man—and not just outer light. It was discovered some time back by Russian scientists that all living things glow from within. This faint light is invisible to the eye, but it is there. Scientists are still seeking answers to many questions pertaining to light.

Fire is the father of light, light the parent of heat and air (vital air). If the absolute deity can be referred to as Darkness or the Dark Fire, the light, its first progeny, is truly the first self-conscious god. For what is light in its primordial root but the world-illuminating and life-giving deity? Light is that, which from an abstraction has become a reality. No one has ever seen real or primordial light; what we see is only its broken rays or reflections, which become denser and less luminous as they descend into form and matter. (Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge, p. 115)

Light is the first begotten, and the first emanation of the Supreme, and Light is Life, says the evangelist. Both are electricity—the life-principle, the anima mundi, pervading the universe, the electric vivifier of all things. Light is the great Protean magician, and under the Divine Will of the architect, its multifarious, omnipresent waves gave birth to every form as well as to every living being. From its swelling, electric bosom, springs matter and spirit. Within its beams lie the beginnings of all physical and chemical action, and of all cosmic and spiritual phenomena; it vitalizes and disorganizes; it gives life and produces death, and from its primordial point gradually emerged into existence the myriads of worlds, visible and invisible celestial bodies. It was at the ray of this First mother, one in three, that God, according to Plato, "lighted a fire, which we now call the sun," and, which is not the cause of either light or heat, but merely the focus, or, as we might say, the lens, by which the rays of the primordial light become materialized, are concentrated upon our solar system, and produce all the correlations of forces. (Isis Unveiled, I, 258)

The fears that resulted from the attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11 have proved paralyzing for some. For others, the anxiety has led to extreme overreactions. In time, such fears can be put to constructive use if we do not let them defeat us, says Ohio State University's Brad Schmidt, an expert on fear (Psychology Today, January/February 2002):

Psychologists study many kinds of fear. There are common phobias, such as the fear of spiders, and post-traumatic stress, the fears that spring from memories of dramatic, sometimes life-threatening events....In particular, psychologists will look for symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, which creates an exaggerated fear response in people who have been emotionally scarred....

There is nothing wrong with feeling fear: We all do at some point. Fear is one of the most basic emotions and is not, in itself, dangerous; it is part of a natural alarm system designed to react to or anticipate danger....Yet some fears persist in ways that are not advantageous to the fearful. Those sorts of fears create more problems than they solve, paralyse rather than motivate. Anxiety disorders are a significant mental health problem.

Fear is a psychological inhibition and has to be exorcised by real knowledge. It is an emotion which affects the will, weakens thought and causes emotional upsets. Here in India there are fears of different kinds: the fear of Pakistanis, the fear of the Hindus on the part of the Muslims and vice versa, the fear of one State getting hold of the trade and industries of another State, and so on and so forth. Men and women individually are fearful of their own security, their life and possessions.

Yet there is a higher aspect of fear, hinted at in the Old Testament saying: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." But whether we mean by the word "Lord" the Inner Ruler or some outside force or authority makes all the difference in our understanding of this saying. One of the names of Maheshwara, the Great Lord seated in the heart of each, is "the admonisher," according to the Gita. This admonisher is the voice of conscience, which in its lower aspect is the accumulated experience or knowledge garnered by the senses and the lower mind, and, in its higher aspect, the voice of intuitive discernment or of Buddhi.

The indissoluble unity of the race demands that we should consider every man's troubles as partly due to ourselves, because we have been always units in the race and helped to make the conditions which cause suffering.

—W. Q. Judge

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