From Our Readers

Austria, January 22, 2001

I often think about how we can integrate theosophical thoughts into our lives. Most people who have studied the wisdom-religion would agree that it is replete with the most wonderful ideas. Within everyone's heart is hidden a key to a better understanding which each must discover for himself. Now, these wisdom teachings have been given to humanity to make this discovery easier, to provide clues about where to start the search. But only if we succeed in making ideas an integral part of our lives do they have practical value; mere intellectual study is useless.

Methods and patterns were developed for preserving and passing on these teachings, one of which was symbols. "What have symbols to do with everyday life?" I have been asked on several occasions. I find this fairly difficult to answer and would like to share a few reflections. What does it mean, for instance, that we find similar or identical symbols all over the globe? One thought that comes to mind is that they denote an interconnectedness. If symbols are so universal, there must be an inherent urge to express a common truth which does not change with time and circumstances. There must also be something within us that is the same everywhere and in everybody. If we ponder over the essential oneness of all beings, it will eventually influence our way of looking at our surroundings, of meeting situations and people, of dealing with our daily lives and duties.

One symbol, many meanings — the phrase is a marvelous picture of the human constitution, with all the various planes working together and interpenetrating each other. Placing our consciousness on one of these planes, we share in its flavor, its characteristics and possibilities — another practical point, for wherever we place our consciousness, that is where we are active. Our consciousness is like a stream, constantly moving and changing its shape. And yet this stream has the same source as these sacred symbols. So we can also look at symbols as teachers trying to tell us about our origin and innermost being. Knowing our origin helps us become masters of our lives, active architects and builders. The architect is the creator of a lifestyle; the builder forms the different bricks and puts them together into a way of living. Being our own architects and builders also has a great impact on our lives.

Perhaps another aspect of symbols concerns revealing hidden connections — each is a world in itself. Symbols can be seen from different viewpoints, as can our everyday life. Doesn't each day also have a complex nature? At certain times we are busy caring for our bodies, at others we must use our intellect to fulfill our duties. In the evening we might play the piano or listen to music, read a book or study. Playing with children or caring for friends and relatives activates still another part of us. Each of these activities demands that our consciousness be placed on a different level, that we work in another part of our composite constitution. Can't these symbols act as guides, so that we start looking at our daily lives with an ever-increasing awareness of their complexity? — ELISABETH PRENT

California, February 20, 2001

The reference in the February/March Sunrise to panspermia — the theory that the seeds of life came to earth from space — struck me particularly because of research reported January 30th from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A study found that a variety of simple chemicals exposed to harsh conditions like those of deep space, and then exposed to water, spontaneously formed hollow spherical structures resembling the cell membranes common to all organic beings. In connection with these experiments, biologist David Deamer of the University of California, Santa Cruz, noted that several years ago he had isolated organic material from a meteorite. This, when exposed to water, responded in the same way as the laboratory molecules did in this study.

The spheres created in the study exhibited two important traits of modern cells: one side of the membrane attracts water while the other does not; and they fluoresced under ultraviolet light, seeming to make use of incoming energy in a process similar to what biologists would call metabolism in a modern cell. Moreover, while scientists had expected only a few molecules more complex than the initial mix to result, hundreds of new compounds were formed each time the experiment was performed.

As the team leader, Louis Allamandola of NASA's Ames Research Center, remarked: "Scientists believe the molecules needed to make a cell's membrane, and thus for the origin of life, are all over space. This discovery implies that life could be everywhere in the universe." — LOUIS A. KIRBY

California, May 15, 2001

Several weeks ago, at Marshall Brain's Internet site I saw the perennial question posted: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Brain said, "This question appears regularly in the question file, so let's take a shot at it":

In nature, living things evolve through changes in their DNA. In an animal like a chicken, DNA from a male sperm and a female ovum meet and combine to form a zygote — the first cell of a new baby chicken . . .
Chickens evolved from non-chickens through small changes caused by the mixing of male and female DNA that produced the zygote. These changes and mutations only have an effect at the point where a new zygote is created. That is, two non-chickens mated and the DNA in their new zygote contained the mutation(s) that produced the first true chicken . . .
You can see from this description that the egg came first . . . The zygote cell is the only place where DNA mutations could produce a new [chicken], and the zygote cell is housed in the chicken's egg.

My instant reaction was "That settles that! This is so satisfying — I've never heard anyone really 'take a shot at it."' When I was in school, I not only didn't care to ask, but wouldn't have known who to ask, "Which came first?" — since every time the question came up, people would either irritatingly role their eyes or simply shrug their shoulders.

My overwhelming fulfillment at getting an answer to this long-standing question reminded me of that eureka day when I happened upon Altadena's Theosophical Library Center in 1973. As I flash back, I can't help but superimpose (in the Internet hybrid lingo) "howtheosophyworks" on "howstuffworks," because theosophy — the perennial wisdom — is a key to the perennial questions. The two librarians working that day invited me to sit down. Within minutes I was quite comfortable and found myself asking one of the oldest questions of all — the three-part question: "Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?" My hosts agreed to "take a shot at it"! I listened. My soul inflated from an Edwin Abbott two-dimensional "Flatland" to his three-dimensional "Spaceland" of wondrous vision and promise that has carried me through many years now. It does seem to be a fact of nature, however, that as soon as a mystery is revealed, another mystery comes along.

The Golden Egg of Brahma, Hiranyagharba (tempera painting, India, c. 1775-1800)

While considering "Which came first," it also occurred to me that spirit and matter mix like questions and answers, and by their complex mutations and supra-union they create a divine zygote that contains divine DNA (after all, divinity is wisdom — which is the culmination of evolution itself). Like chickens from non-chickens, wisdom evolves from non-wisdom. The divine zygote cell is the only place where the divine DNA mutations could produce new "manimals" (to ask more questions among themselves, and perhaps even have a dialogue with the cosmos as well!); and the divine zygote cell is housed in the Golden Egg — Hiranyagarbha — the luminous universe itself. In this case, too, "The egg came first!" — Wynn Wolfe

(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)

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