For Better Understanding . . .

By Sarah Belle Dougherty

"I am a human being: nothing human is alien to me" — this statement by the ancient Roman playwright Terence is accepted by many as a commonplace, and by still more as a desirable ideal. But human relations show how often we are alienated from each other and at what cost, not only nationally and internationally, but to our families, neighborhoods, and workplaces.

Brotherhood implies that we share a common origin and ancestry, and so are intimately related to one another by virtue of our humanity. While our physical similarity is obvious to the eye as well as to genetic analysis, our invisible aspects are still more closely united. Our inner self extends from us as the many physical sheaths and fields — atmospheric, electromagnetic, and gravitational — extend from a planet's core to the farthest reaches of the universe. We are bathed in an ocean of human thoughts and feelings upon which we draw and to which we contribute, influencing and being influenced by people around the globe whom we most likely will never meet face to face.

And, while psychologically we interpenetrate one another, spiritually we are indivisible. When we go as deeply into ourselves as we can, we experience a oneness at the root of all, as mystics throughout the ages have confirmed. Conversely, if we probe outside of ourselves to the utmost limit, we approach a unity at the frontiers of human understanding. The separateness so apparent to us turns out to be an attribute of our everyday consciousness, dependent as it is on sense perceptions and caught up in its own sense of egoity. Hindu philosophy expresses this idea in the concept that all lives are fundamentally identical because the inmost essence of each is atman, the one universal "self," source and foundation of being. Unfortunately, very few of us live at this hub of our being, but rather on the outer edges of ourselves where superficial factors such as physical appearance, place of birth, social status, and beliefs assume undue importance.

Nonetheless humanity's thought-life is expanding, despite the many glaring instances of selfishness and violence. Today many people would feel comfortable enlarging on Terence's idea by claiming, "Nothing in the universe is alien to me." Our intimate connection with all on earth is widely recognized, practically and scientifically, and our imagination increasingly accepts other planets, stars, and galaxies as associated with us in a very real way. Why is this so? Perhaps because we are each a universe, a miniature but full reflection of the whole we help to form. From a planetary perspective human beings, as conscious cells in a living system, together form one organ of the earth. Our individual differences fade into insignificance. The earth in turn is part of a solar being — a conscious cosmic atom, not a lifeless grouping of matter. This living chain continues through galaxies, galactic clusters, and beyond. Turning from telescope to microscope, as a universe on a smaller scale each person is formed of living, conscious cells, atoms, and particles, and so on ad infinitum.

To seek to understand ever more about the universe, ourselves, and our fellow beings is to discover both our place in the cosmos and what it means to be truly human. As founding editor James A. Long wrote in October 1961:

Dedicated to help bring about a better understanding among peoples of all faiths, nations and races, Sunrise has endeavored to present simply and directly those foundation principles in the religions, sciences and philosophies of past and present that have proven to be the basis upon which right thought and action are built. . . . We have attempted to build bridges — bridges to span the gulf between inquiring minds and the archaic principles of an enduring Wisdom which we believe was once the common heritage of the human race. The ultimate word about man, both in his three-score-and-ten aspect and as a potential divinity going through his cyclic experiences, will never be written. But we feel sure that a sound and workable philosophy of life — and of death — is attainable for each individual within his own natural environment.

As Sunrise begins its 49th year, it will continue to pursue this course. It will discuss the many fields of learning and the human condition, highlighting the oneness of life and the fundamental unity of the world's great systems of thought — derived from "that fountain of true wisdom that springs from the bedrock of mankind's very existence" which has so often been obscured by dogmatism, sectarianism, and materialism. Such an examination of ideas ancient and modern is an intellectual exercise only when we forget that every insight into reality is practical if we know how to apply it — and make the effort to do so in our own lives. It will seek to provoke thought and encourage independent investigation into the wondrous possibilities locked up within every human being which leads toward a "sound and workable philosophy of life." We look forward to the day when a majority of mankind can declare: "I am a cosmos: nothing in the universe is alien to me."

(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1999; copyright © 1999 Theosophical University Press)

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Today as I was reading an article, I had one of those sudden, unsuspected "ah ha!" experiences. The author was calling attention to the role of complementarity in bridging seemingly unreconcilable dichotomies, such as the wave-particle duality encountered in quantum phenomena. Introduced in 1927 by Neils Bohr, complementarity is the principle that description of reality in mutually contradictory terms is incomplete, but that the combination of such descriptions creates complete and satisfactory depictions of the aspect of reality under consideration. Bohr concluded that life and cognitive processes can only be satisfactorily explained in these terms, and that the complementarity exhibited by life may be expressed most fundamentally between structure and behavior.
This turned the lights on for me. Here was my favorite fundamental, inseparable, and complementary pair: form and function. Cause and effect marched before my mind's eye soon after, as a similar pair of fundamental inseparables. Then thinking and thought suggested themselves as another pair.
Ah so! Of such is ah ha! — Hugh H. Harrison