[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]
RELIGION IN MODERN SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT
While confirmed materialists, so-called "rationalists" in many cases, are disconcerted at the attitude of many modern scientists in apparently abandoning the old materialism in favor of a more enlightened materialism with a suspicion of something like a cosmic mind or intelligence immediately behind physical phenomena, other thinkers are worried lest certain leaders in physics are leaning too far toward theological dogmatism! An article by Dr. Max Schoen, Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology, Carnegie Institute of Technology, in the October Scientific Monthly, deals with this problem in a manner that is most interesting to students of Theosophy, for his main point is in perfect agreement with the Theosophical fundamental — the divinity of man.
Dr. Schoen identifies "speculators in the realm of physics like Eddington, Jeans, Millikan and Arthur Compton" as wandering far beyond their legitimate range and speculating, not as scientists, philosophers, or religious thinkers, but as theologians with a preconceived notion which they are bolstering up by the inferences they draw from physics, and claiming validity for it on the ground that it is scientific. He claims that they are not impersonal, but that they are making unqualified statements which go far beyond the evidence at their command.
In support of this, Dr. Schoen defines the two varieties of Religion — the one being a belief in God, the other and true one, the experience of God within. The first is represented by organized religions, the second is personal or private. The first calls for priestly aid and intercession, and results in a number of rival creeds with their enmities, suspicions, and intolerance. Listen to Dr. Schoen's purely Theosophical definition of "true" religion:
Religion as experience of God is the religion of creative experience, with God the creative spark in man urging him on to grow in creativeness, in manhood. In this religion there is no room for sin other than ignorance of one's real self and no room for virtue other than knowledge of this self. So God becomes the highest self of mankind in whom man is to find his real welfare. Salvation for man is no easy attainment by accepting certain beliefs and engaging in certain mysterious practices, but is to be a constant seeking within oneself for that spark of divinity, which, as it is being found transforms the finder into itself. For this religion God has no being apart from man, and man has no being apart from God. As man is growing in manhood he is growing in Godhood, and thereby discovering God . . . the religion of a belief in God is a distortion of religion because it is a distortion of man, spreading confusion and enmity among men, while the religion of experience of God is true to human nature, for if it were in operation it would spread peace on earth and good-will among men. And it is this distorted, unscientific view of religion that current science is alleged to support . . . An objective God is not a religious experience but a theological dogma, and when science begins to support dogma it ceases to be science, for science and dogma cannot keep house together.
Without expressing complete agreement with everything in Dr. Schoen's article, and with the hope that the position is not so alarming as he fears, there is certainly much truth in it, and he is not the first who has felt the danger. It has been very encouraging to students of Theosophy to see leading scientists moving away from the crude materialism of the past toward more spiritual views of the universe, and taking the desperate step — to most of them — of accepting such "heresies" as telepathy, clairvoyance, and prevision, but it would be a disaster if austere Science was cajoled into supporting medieval "supernaturalism."
LIFE IN THE STARS
It is one of the most far reaching teachings in the Ancient Wisdom that the Sun is not merely the "lamp of day," a mass of atomic particles, radiating away its physical energy in various forms, a minute portion of which is utilized by the film of life on the surface of the earth, and possibly on other planets, but that, like everything else in the universe, it is alive! H. P. Blavatsky summarizes the teaching in The Secret Doctrine, I, 479, in the words: "the true Occultist believes in "Lords of Light"; that he believes in a Sun, which . . . is, like milliards of other Suns, the dwelling or the vehicle of a god, and a host of gods." (1)
She continues by saying that in this question, of course, it is the Occultists who will be worsted and considered ignoramuses for declaring that the "Sun is matter and the Sun is Spirit," the bright God of Spiritual and terrestrial Light. This will be denied by modern materialism, which has no place for Deity, Spirit, Soul, or any intelligence beyond the mind of man. But she also said that in the twentieth century scholars would begin to recognise the truth of the teachings of The Secret Doctrine, and there are still some of her old students living who are rejoicing in being alive to see this coming to pass.
The latest evidence of the accuracy of her prevision comes from Dr. Knut Lundmark, a well-known Swedish astronomer and professor at the University of Lund, Sweden. In a long article in the Goteborgs Handels- och Sjofarts-Tidning, October 2, 1936, on "The Last Solar Explosions," after describing the strange phenomena connected with the tremendous outbursts of so-called novae or "new" stars, and discussing the possibility that such an explosion represents the closing phase of a great solar system and the establishment of conditions which will eventuate in a new one, he makes the startling suggestion that the stars are living entities. Criticizing the claim that "after all, man is the mightiest of all," he says:
No, indeed, man is not so mighty in the presence of a solar explosion. We understand only a very, very small particle of what really happens when a star explodes. Perhaps Aristotle will receive honorable recognition again, as has happened often before. It may be that the stars are ensouled Super-Beings, whose soul-life is beyond the possibility of any hint of comprehension by us. With our gross senses and our imperfect instruments we can only try to follow the outer physical processes in that tremendous laboratory, the universe around us. In Whose hands or in the hand of What do they lie?
Such a statement is surely a striking sign of the advancement of science toward an understanding of the hierarchical nature of the visible universe and of its habitation by conscious entities of infinitely varied ranks. If the suns are vehicles of High Intelligence transcending our comprehension, why not the planets also, in lower degree? And how did such Beings evolve to those great heights? Why should there not be innumerable myriads of invisible hierarchies of conscious beings inhabiting systems as real as our familiar Solar System but unseen because we are out of tune with their vibrations?
THE INFLUENCE OF THE MOON
Within the last few months several contributions by scientists have appeared in Science on the unorthodox subject of lunar influence on terrestrial conditions. N. E. Stevens calls attention to the almost total disappearance of the marine flowering plant "eel-grass" (Zostera marina) during the years 1930-32 from Atlantic waters both in Europe and America. This has happened on two scientifically recorded previous occasions, 1894 and 1913. These eel-grass periods approximate very closely with the periods of extreme north declination of the moon. The contributor rather dryly remarks:
One of the surest ways to incur ridicule among scientists is to suggest a relation between some natural phenomenon and the moon. So strong is this feeling and of such long standing that it is of record that Galileo, in comment on Johann Kepler's suggestion that ocean tides were influenced by the moon, expressed regret that so acute a man should have produced a theory which seemed to reintroduce the occult. With this clearly in mind, I am venturing to call attention to a correlation which if accidental is at least interesting.
Perhaps Mr. Stevens does not know that Kepler, the extraordinary genius who discovered the laws of planetary motion that bear his name, was an occultist to the degree at least that he believed in high spiritual Beings or Genii whose vehicles were the planets. Will Dr. Lundmark, mentioned above, be also reprimanded for venturing to suggest "occult" Mighty Beings whose vehicles are the Suns? Mr. Stevens' suggestion of lunar influence in connexion with eel-grass is related to changes in ocean currents.
In Science for November 29, Dr. Harlan T. Stetson of the Institute of Geographical Exploration, Harvard University, displays his independence of the smiles or frowns of his colleagues by suggesting the need of study of earthquakes in regard to their possible connexion with the varying positions of the moon. From a study of 122 deep-focus earthquakes whose epicenters are not less than 100 kilometers below the earth's surface he finds "a surprisingly striking correlation between the frequency of these deep-focus quakes and the horizontal components of the lunar tidal forces in operation at the time." The physical force is so small that he feels obliged to suggest the "trigger" action, in which a minute force may release a strain or latent energy; or perhaps, he says, we may have to look for some other unknown causes dependent on the lunar period. According to the Ancient Wisdom there are many obscure effects produced by the moon; some of these were symbolized in the mythologies, and as science gradually finds them out it will have to recognise the profound scientific knowledge taught in the Mystery-Schools.
This weird subject cannot be kept out of mind, it seems, and not all the scientists are satisfied with the utterly illogical and mutually destructive "explanations" of the problem. The Associated Press published on December 6 an account of the performance of the fire-walk at Raiatea Island in the Society Islands. The special point of interest lies in the fact that the native "priest" conducted a party of white people from the Yacht Stranger, belonging to Mr. F. Lewis, a Southern Californian rancher. The pit was 12 feet wide and was filled with stones which glowed white-hot at night after they had been heated all day in preparation for the evening ceremony. Mrs. Lewis, who crossed the incandescent stones barefoot, like the rest, was quite skeptical at first, but was nonplussed by the event. She is quoted as saying:
I can't explain it. While Tane [the young priest] led us, our feet did not even feel warm, but one scout who arrived at the pit after the priest had left was burned badly when he tried it alone.
Tane had touched each rock with a ti-leaf while chanting, before the ceremony. This account, so similar to many of which we have reports in our collection, tells of the phenomenon which has been reported many times — the immediate burning of rash individuals who try to cross the fire after the protective period has expired. The conventional theories, such as leathery soles, hardening solutions applied to the skin, quick-stepping over well-cooled stones or charcoal, and other "explanations" which do not even explain the physical facts, are completely destroyed by this phenomenon which the skeptics are unable to face. The cases — more than one — in which a fire-walker who turns back is immediately burnt, belong to the same class. The psychological explanation of self-hypnotism or hypnotism by the priest, which has been suggested in regard to the immunity from pain, does not touch the fact that delicate soles of white people used to wearing shoes are not even singed, and that flimsy clothing and anklets of leaves are completely unaffected in a temperature which melts the solder of a thermometer held six feet above the surface of the fire-walk. The hypnotic explanation is unsatisfactory for other reasons as well. Mrs. Rosita Forbes, the well-known writer and explorer, has just described her experiences among the fire-walkers in Dutch Guiana in the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia). She first saw some curious fire performances which struck her as being partially jugglery and partially hypnotic, but at last she succeeded in reaching a village, buried in the jungle, where the real ceremony took place. To an extraordinary and rhythmic beating of drums the firewalkers, or more properly, fire-dancers, flung themselves into an immense roaring fire, bathed in it as if it were the most refreshing stream of water, and rubbed the blazing embers on their limbs and bodies. A girl stood near the fire and apparently controlled the proceedings. Mrs. Forbes says:
I saw the people of the flame in a state of perpetual motion, with one figure immobile among them. The girl had not moved . . . By contrast with the figures thrashing round her, maddened by the immunity from pain which deified them, she might have been an image carved in the wood of the forest. . . . I gathered the girl played the part of medium. If for one moment she relaxes, immunity passes from the dancers. Blind to what is happening around her, she stands there, tense as a charged wire. More apposite, perhaps, is the simile of a generator from which a current flows. At any moment she can cease to produce it. At her sign, the dance ends, and however mad the participants, they know when she gives the signal.
It seems that these fire-priestesses — for only women conduct the fire orgies — are not trained to the work, but are naturally born with the knowledge of controlling fire! Mrs. Forbes' account brings to mind the feats of the celebrated medium, D. D. Home, who could extend his protection against coals of fire to others. Mrs. de Cres-pigny describes a recent case in which a blazing log was placed in her hands by a "fire-medium." She held it for several minutes and felt no burning. The Listener (London) lately published an account of a Hindu yogi who stood outside the fiery pit and controlled the conditions while men, women and children walked many times across it. Their immunity only lasted as long as he kept up his meditation. H. P. Blavatsky touches on fire-magic in Isis Unveiled, I, 379-80, 445-6. There appears to be more than one way in which immunity from both pain and injury can be obtained, though it may be that at bottom there is only one basic principle.
ADVANCED MATHEMATICS IN ANCIENT BABYLON
When the Egyptian "Mathematical Papyrus" was discovered about ten years ago, Professor Struve in Russia announced that it indicated that the Egyptians possessed mathematical knowledge that had only been rediscovered a few hundred years ago in Europe. Rather later, Professor Louis Karpinski (University of Michigan) said:
Touraeff in 1917 gave from the "Moscow" papyrus the volume of the truncated pyramid as ⅓h (a2 + ab + b2) and Struve adds an equally amazing formulation for the surface of a hemisphere as 2πr2. Heretofore no historian has suspected that the empirical knowledge of these formulas was not the undisputed achievement of Greece . . . Dr. Neugebauer makes the most significant and almost revolutionary announcement of the discovery among the early Babylonians of the numerical solution of a type of complete quadratic equation. . . . Today . . . it is certain that the indebtedness of Greece to Egypt, often affirmed by Greek writers, is no figure of speech, no rhetorical gesture, but rather an assured fact.
And now comes Dr. Morgan Ward, associate professor of mathematics, California Institute of Technology, saying:
We are now convinced that the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians 2000 years before the beginning of our era sedulously cultivated pure mathematics, and in one branch of this subject, pure algebra, far surpassed the best efforts of the Greeks. At one time when our European ancestors had just emerged from the stone age and prowled in little bands of savage hunters through the endless gloomy forests of northern Europe, the Babylonian mathematicians had pursued their subject to such good effect that a major part of the content of mathematics known to our average high-school graduate would be quite familiar to them.
Babylonians constructed a table which has come down to us containing quotients of the number of 19 trillion, 595 billion, 520 million by various multiples of 60. — Pasadena Post, Dec. 7.
We might give evidence that all our northern European ancestors were not savage hunters in the early Babylonian period, but will merely remark that the existence of such remarkable mathematical ability at least 2000 b. c. demands a very long period of development and a very high civilization for many previous ages. "Pure mathematics" is not too popular today among the masses, unfortunately, and its exponents are an almost immeasurable distance from the "missing link."
1. Also see The Esoteric Tradition, 450, etc. (return to text)
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