Copyright © 1965 by Theosophical University Press.
Shortly before Christmas a letter was received from a ten-year-old girl,
asking some questions which seemed best to answer by talking directly with her.
You tell me now, in your own words and in your own way, just what you would like me to talk about.
Question — Well, Mother said something about the four special seasons. I'd like to find out about that.
Comment — The four sacred seasons? Well now, for centuries the beginning period of each season was considered sacred because the sun at that time, in relation to the earth, is at a definite point of changing from one position to another. For instance, about March 21st we have what is called the spring equinox, and in the fall about September 21st there is the autumnal equinox. The word means "equal night" because then the days and nights are equal in length, with as much daylight as there is darkness.
When we move from spring to summer, about June 21st, we have the longest day and the shortest night when the sun is farthest north in the northern hemisphere. At this period, midsummer, the sun appears to remain stationary for a day or so before beginning its journey south again. That is why we call it the solstice, the word meaning the "sun standing still." Now we are at the end of December when autumn becomes winter and have just passed the shortest day of the year and the longest night on or around December 21st. This is the winter solstice because the sun having reached its farthest point south seems again to "stand still" before it starts north once more.
So you see, the two equinoxes and the two solstices are the four points of the year when the ancients recognized that the whole world feels something different, and so they called them sacred seasons. You might wonder, what makes those periods sacred? Is it just because the sun happens to be north or south or on the equator?
In ages past, because the earth is part of the solar system — and this goes for the other planets also — many peoples knew that the earth gets its life from the sun. That is why they spoke of him as Father Sun, for without the sun nothing would live. Scientists today are saying the same thing, only using scientific terms, for they tell us that most of the vitality and energy from outer space comes to the earth through the sun.
Let me give you an example: you have to plant seeds during certain months of the year so that they will have a chance, during the longer days, for the sun to help them come out of the ground and bring forth the fruit and the harvest. That may not seem too important here but it is connected, for the ancients felt that at the change of the seasons a certain quality of solar energy comes in that affects the whole constitution of man. Especially at Christmas and the New Year a new, fresh life-force radiates from Father Sun into the world, and man, because he is the highest developed being on the earth, can consciously take advantage of this and help himself grow.
All of this taken together is very sacred. You see, we are completely dependent upon the sun; and the more we understand about the life-currents that flow to the earth — remembering that the ancients believed the sun to be a divine being at its heart just as we are, only much greater — the more we can try to live our lives in such a way that we will naturally benefit ourselves and those around us by taking advantage of the sun's special help at these seasons.
Now your letter mentioned your Jewish friend. Yes, they too have their own holy days, such as Rosh Hashana which is their New Year, and Hanukkah, and the Passover, and various other ones — just as we have ours at Christmas and Easter, and so forth. As we study other religions, we find there are many traditions and legends among the different peoples of the world which are connected with what takes place at these sacred periods of the year.
Take the story of Jesus: we have virtually the same story in every religion, about how a babe was born at Christmas time, which means that at the winter solstice there was the birth of a Savior. Whether the Savior was actually born on that exact day is unimportant; the fact remains that the New Testament did portray symbolically that a new virgin life-force came through for mankind at that period of the year, and coinciding with the turning of the sun northward again it has its own particular significance.
Then comes Easter after the spring equinox, which is the time when the story says they nailed Jesus to the cross. That is also symbolical. In those days, as you will learn when you study history, they used to punish criminals by nailing them on a cross and leaving them to die. So the ones who are supposed to have written the gospels used the crucifixion as a symbol. However, many people today really believe that Jesus was physically crucified. But in the mystery legends of antiquity, we are told that we must begin to crucify ourselves — that is, get rid of some of the lower elements in our characters and in our own lives.
In the autumn we have the harvest, the time when the farmers in the fields gather their crops. A similar thing happens with us. We have the opportunity each year, if we have done our work in life satisfactorily up to the harvest period, to get the benefits of the good that we have accomplished. Just as the seed brings forth the fruit, so we will have produced the fruit of our own worthwhile efforts — maybe nothing tangible or objective, like money or food, but there will be something of spiritual value. Then, when the winter solstice comes around, we have the birth of a new year all over again.
That is very simply stated, and only in part, as I cannot go into a lot of related thoughts all at once. I don't want to burden you. But now why don't you tell me if there are any other aspects that you want me to talk about, and I will try to explain them so that this whole picture will become clearer for you.
Question — Another thing I wanted to know was this. I'll use as an example the Jewish people. Their religion is in Israel. Now is there any certain place where these ancient teachings you mentioned got started, or was it just all over?
Comment — At different eras in the history of our world, these great truths flourished in various centers all over the globe — at one time flowering in India and China, at other times in Egypt, Persia and Greece, in ancient America, in Britain and Northern Europe. This has been going on for a very long time because the age of the earth and of man is far, far greater than a few thousand years. The Christians used to believe that the earth was only some 6,000 years old, and that when the Bible said it was created in six days it meant "days" as we understand them. Of course, the ancient Hebrews did not think that, for they knew that their sacred books were always written in symbols which had to be understood properly. And, as you know, science has now proven that the earth is millions and millions of years old, and that the age of man is also many millions of years. So you can see that we as human beings have had a very long experience on our globe.
Sometimes there were civilizations which were very spiritual, and at other times there were those which lost touch with these noble ideas and became very material. But whenever mankind as a whole was in need of more understanding and help, a great teacher would come, at the right time, to explain once more the age-old truths. And these teachings were always the same in principle.
Sadly enough, human nature being what it is, the followers of these great teachers again and again made a religion out of each new inspiration. For example, not long after the Buddha died, the Buddhists made a formal religion out of his teachings; the Muslims did the same thing with the message of Muhammad; the Jewish people made set religious practices and rituals out of the inspiring example of Moses, and Christians have made a formal creed out of the beautiful teachings of Jesus. Now then, where did these ancient truths originate? We can only say, "all over the world" — in a different place each time. Does that help at all?
Question — Yes, very much.
Comment — You see, the great problem with religion of any kind is this: when you hear something from which you get a new understanding you begin to say, "this is it," and pretty soon you close your mind to a further glimpse of truth. That is an unfortunate thing because nothing throughout the universe remains forever the same. Everything is constantly growing, becoming better, man included. But when the followers of any faith keep on clinging to their particular view of truth, after a while it loses its vitality; it loses its living inspiration and therefore its helpfulness. So sooner or later, another teacher has to come in order to present the same "god-wisdom" in a fresh form.
Question — I am certainly glad that I feel the way I do about all these things, because I did attend church when I was quite small — well, six or five — and they kept telling me all those terrible things, that if I wasn't good, then when I died I would go to all this fire and everything. I was just real scared. I didn't believe it, you know, really . . .
Comment — That's the difficulty. It is the wrong interpretation of what the great teachers have said all down the centuries that has caused more trouble in the world and more fear in people's lives than any other thing. From my own studies I have come to believe that hell and heaven are states of mind, states of consciousness. There is no place where you go and are thrown into fire and brimstone and burn up, as they say. And there is no heaven as a place, with streets of gold, where you stay for all of eternity — who would want to be always walking up and down the streets of gold!
Question — I should think if I had to be up there forever and ever and ever, well, I would be extremely bored.
Comment — Of course you would, and everybody else would. But you know that those ancients we spoke of believed in and accepted the doctrine of reincarnation. In fact, there are very many young people today who feel sure they have lived before and that they will live again, and that they are here now on this earth in order to learn more and more. That is where a study of the older teachings comes in, because they give us the basis of our existence: why we are all living today and what we are to do about it, and where we go when we die. Not to a place called heaven or hell, but we do have a rest period during which we can get the benefit of all that we have learned during life. And then, we are told, with each return to earth we have the chance to go a little bit higher in the school of life. The more experience we have, the wiser we become and the better we can make our character, so that ultimately we too will be helpers of humanity, helping those who need help.
Question — Speaking of reincarnation, I had an experience last year when I was in fourth grade. My school teacher — I forget now the subject she started on — told us that some people believe in reincarnation. But she had it all wrong, because she said they believe that when you die you come back to earth in animal form, you know, or like a ghost or something. She said that. She had it all wrong.
Comment — Yes, I think that is wrong because, in the evolutionary growth of all living things, once we become a human being we cannot go backwards. We will always be a human being until we become something finer and better, like a god, or a divinity of some kind. Maybe a lower grade first, and then a higher and a still higher grade of divinity, until one day in the long, long distant future we might become like a sun, just as helpful as our sun, because, as I said earlier, the sun that we see is only the manifestation of a very highly developed spiritual entity, a supreme being, and the whole of the solar system is its vehicle of expression.
You will find, of course, there are many of these ideas that the children around you in school don't come in contact with. For instance, many of them would think you were crazy if you would talk about reincarnation. Your teacher certainly expressed only a partial view. We don't come back as animals, no; but we do come back as human beings and with a little more experience so that we can do better in each new life. But you, as the personality, will never come back again. You understand that, don't you?
Question — Oh, yes.
Comment — But what is now inside of you, that you know is there, and is using you as its temple, as its residence for this lifetime, will come back again. That part has lived before, and has had many personalities and many names. It is the immortal part, the real you, that comes for experience, that needed you this time — just as the real part of me needed my personality in order to do its work. Next life you might be a boy, you cannot tell; we have all been boys and girls. It is possible that we might even be the parent of our parents. In other words, they might be our children some day. We cannot know, but we don't need to worry about it. Karma, the good Law, takes care of all of this in a very positive way.
Question — Does a family stay together? I mean, could I be my father's grandmother or something?
Comment — A family may, but doesn't necessarily have to stay together. A lot depends on what lessons we came into this life to learn and how many of them we have learned when we pass on. But all those whom you come to love now you will meet again sometime, but maybe they won't always be a part of your family. We don't know. We cannot nor should we even try to cut life apart with scissors or make an analysis of it. One thing we can be sure of: each one of us comes into this world with a certain background experience from the past. We are born into the environment which will give us the circumstances, the problems and difficulties that we need to further our growth. We are drawn to the family which will give us the very quality of love and challenge that we have earned, and which will help us achieve our goals. We should not expect to be together with the same ones all the time. It may even be we will not have the same parents or relatives for one or two or possibly more lifetimes; but, later on, they may need some quality of experience that we have to share, and so we will be attracted to each other again.
Now you see what can happen: take your parents or mine, while their personalities and names will disappear, next time we may indeed have some contact with them, but not necessarily in a family relationship. It might be as close friends. There will be some kind of an attraction, maybe brief, maybe longer, for true love and friendship belong to the higher, the real part of us, and we will never lose any of the good that we have gained in the past.
Practically everybody, no matter how little or much he knows, wants to be a little better than he is today. It is only natural, because there is that spark of God, that light from the sun, that little bit of the Divine Intelligence in the heart of every living being, which is trying always to get us to become more and more like it. It is this that is the overseer, the guardian angel of each one of us . . . Go ahead, what were you going to say?
Question — There's a boy I play with sometimes. He always seems sort of scared about everything. If he does anything wrong, he is petrified about what might happen. And then my girl friend was talking with me. She was upset because she had not had a very happy time. She was afraid to do what she really wanted to do for fear she'd make a mistake, because this was her only chance. They think this is their only life.
Comment — That's wonderfully stated, and it is a pity that more young people do not have the bigger concept of what life is all about, instead of this narrow feeling of fear and being petrified that if they make a mistake or do anything wrong, this is going to be the end of everything for them. Don't go out of your way to do so, but when your friends talk to you about these things, just say you don't believe in hell and fire or that you burn forever and ever. You believe that we have more chances in which to learn about life.
If we try to do the right thing we will get the right answers, but if we do the wrong thing, of course we will feel the reaction — just as our finger will burn when we stick it in the fire. If we are really sincere, we know inside when we have made a mistake, but once we realize it, we don't need to make the same mistake again. No, we make our own heaven and our own hell, and there is no one who can say truly that you or I will go to hell or to heaven because we did this or that.
The important need today is for us to try to eliminate this awful fear that has been instilled in us. I had it when I was young, but I think it is a terrible thing to teach a child to believe that way. Naturally, I was not satisfied with such a cruel view and I kept on asking questions and looking around until I found what I considered to be the answers, just as you are doing. You are fortunate that you have parents who are not narrow-minded, and that you have others with whom you can talk over these things.
Now is there anything else?
Question — Yes, I have another question. It's about other lives on other planets or some place, like Mars and Venus. That has always interested me.
Comment — Well, . . . let me put it this way. The good Law has brought us back to earth, where we will continue to be born time and time again until we have learned all that this planet has to offer. When we are finished here, then we will be born elsewhere, to learn all that is to be learned on a higher level of experience, call it a planet, if you want.
Question — What is so nice about it is that you know that you keep on going, instead of having one chance and then going some place and staying there forever and ever.
Comment — That is the beautiful thing about the truth and the wonderful thing about nature, and about our infinite possibilities for growth. And not only that. After we reach the point at which we are a sun, let us say, way off in the future, and we have done our task well and have experienced all that we can as a sun, even that is not the end, because from there we go on still further. We are told that the Divine Intelligence that is the real heart of our sun, and in a sense is the higher part of our solar system, imbodies in it only until the sun-being learns all that is to be learned as our sun. Then the solar entity has to go higher still — there is no end to growth — to become after many ages what some have called a Raja-sun, meaning a "kingly sun," which is the sun over many suns.
Question — I like that!
Comment — Our solar system is not the only one in our galaxy or Milky Way; in fact, there are numerous suns, you see, attached to one Raja-sun. And when our own sun has achieved all it can in its family of planets, it may become the sun of another, greater system, a more highly advanced one, until it becomes a Raja-sun with many sun families as part of its constitution.
Question — It just keeps going on — our sun brings light to the earth, and then there are other suns, higher than this one, that . . .
Comment — . . . bring life to our sun. That's right, that's how it goes, ad infinitum. It is an endless chain of sharing the divine life-force with everything that is living in space.
Question — I understand a lot more now. And the Bible and God and Jesus — that sounds just like these old teachings, only put kind of in story form, like God giving life to the earth and giving life to people.
Comment — That's right. We can, of course, take all of the statements in the Bible literally; but if we did, then we would have to believe the world was made in six days of twenty-four hours each, and we would also think there is a heaven and a hell, all of which we feel is not correct. But when we interpret it spiritually, we read the stories in it as symbols of the real teachings about life, symbolic expressions of spiritual principles operating in nature, and then we get the true answers. As you come to study the Bible more, as well as the sacred writings of other peoples, which you will some day, you will understand better how to apply these principles.
There is no end to the possibilities and opportunities of growth, no end whatever. Space is infinite, so there is room for universes beyond universes and galaxies and still more galaxies. And all these universes and galaxies have their life periods and their rest periods, just as human beings. Our solar system will have a rest period some time when all of its life and consciousness will be withdrawn. Then it will be born again, and perhaps the Divine Intelligence behind the sun will imbody itself in a different aspect from the one we see now. That all depends. Now, the period when a sun is in life has been called a manvantara, which is the Sanskrit word for such a cycle of activity, while the rest period is called pralaya. When the solar system is born again, this will be another manvantara or life period, just as we have our lifetimes. In a limited way our days of activity and our nights of sleep are very similar. Somebody has said: Sleep is a little death, and death is a big sleep. And that is the way it is.
Question — Don't you think that when the Bible was written it was really meant to be read to get the idea? Of course some people read it literally, and then you get all these things that are hard to understand. I guess it depends on the person.
Comment — The great teachers themselves never wrote anything, and that is what makes it so difficult. Some people think that God wrote the Bible, but God did not write it. Take the Old Testament. Some great teacher expressed these teachings orally and then someone else wrote them down later; and the same thing is true with the New Testament. It was the disciples, or possibly even their followers, who wrote down what Jesus was supposed to have taught. So when the teachings are finally written, we have only others' interpretation or understanding of them which is not necessarily what the teacher really meant. Thus, when we study the scriptures of any religion, it is essential to try to get the spirit behind the words of what was said.
Every human being will one day realize that what he is inside is the important thing, and that the best answers are those we work out for ourselves. It was never intended that any creed or any person should stand between you and your Father within, between you and that divine spark of Intelligence, because that is sacred to you. Just so, you shouldn't believe anything I say unless it rings true to you and something inside of you says: "That is what I think." If it does not, then don't believe it.
I certainly appreciated your questions, and I hope that what I have said has been of some help. Perhaps we can get together again some time.
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