I was recently engaged in a good-natured public discussion with one or two people through my local newspaper via the letters page. It started with a front-page report that a local clergyman considered the Harry Potter books and film as "worse than porn" in their influence on children due to their themes of magic, wizards, and the occult in general. Subsequently letters were published from children and adults alike, either supporting the clergyman as an upholder of morals and the common good or decrying him as an ignoramus. Some dismissed the "occult" as nonsense and imaginary. It was ironic to find out that the clergyman hadn't read any of the books, nor had he seen the film. Half a dozen or so letters later, I felt compelled to write a letter pointing out that the word "occult," which had been bandied about willy-nilly in almost every letter, actually means "hidden" and that it really is a neutral word that has unfortunately been given evil connotations. I went on to say that Divinity itself is occult, a force shared by every genuine spiritual movement; that there are definite proven, reasonable, and logical dangers associated with experimenting with hidden forces; that motive rather than effects determines whether an act is good or evil; and that tolerance of others' beliefs is paramount in gaining an understanding of each other.
My letter brought about a prompt rebuke by one man, saying in staunch pro-Christian language that the concept of "the Oneness of all life"— a phrase I had used — is rehashed Paganism and contrary to all teaching in the Bible (but certainly not contrary to the underlying Christian message, I thought to myself). I responded that the Oneness of all life is NOT rehashed Paganism. The root idea behind all religious thought is that Divinity is pure unalloyed awareness and the living source of us all. It is indeed at the heart of all life, a teaching which underlies the Hebrew Creation story as well as numerous other creation myths around the world, not least that found in the Rig Veda which pre-dates the Hebrew. Additionally, I stated that there are benefits in having alternative systems of belief for those who feel hemmed in by the dogma of established religious regimes and are not satisfied with "Establishment" explanations of what life is all about. I added that the concept of "inner" divinity, as well as teachings such as karma and reincarnation, did not feature in Church doctrine as a result of agreements made among the early ecclesiastics. To finish I suggested that rather than use a newspaper for debating, private correspondence might prove more fruitful. Another letter from my literary friend was published further extolling the virtues of his brand of Christianity, together with an invitation to visit his Church and a comment about having nothing to fear from healthy debate, a comment I agree with and salute him for.
I declined to reply, feeling that I'd said enough. Better perhaps to agree to disagree and let life roll on. However, two things then happened which surprised me. The first was that within two days I received a phone call from an elderly man wanting to know where karma and reincarnation are mentioned in the Bible, and how and why these teachings had been taken out. He recounted how he'd been driven to question life and his Catholic faith more seriously following personal difficulties, but had reached an impasse and now desired more insight. In one of my letters I'd given a web address to a site that chronicles early Christian teachers and history. He said he didn't have access to a computer, so we had an enjoyable chat on the phone, and the next day I sent him a couple of articles on the subject that I thought might offer him some clues. He phoned to say thanks once he'd received them, and I haven't heard from him since.
The second thing that happened was that a further letter on the subject of the occult and its relationship with Christianity appeared in my local paper. It was from someone not connected with those of us involved in the main thread of discussion. He was short and to the point, saying that despite the conception that the Christian God is a Being external to man, it is a relatively new idea. There have been Christian mystics since shortly after the time of Jesus, of which he listed many, who have had intuitions about the inner residence of God and have sought and experienced inner union with it/Him in the silence of their souls rather than seeking it through dogma or absolution by the clergy. No other letters on the subject have appeared in the newspaper since.
This whole chain of events got me thinking about larger patterns. It is rare, in my experience at least, to see such subjects discussed frankly in a public forum. And yet these are unpredictable and changeable times we live in. We can be so insular, thinking we know what people are like. Yet the world is full of surprising people who have hidden depths in their capacity to do both good or evil. The world is also full of those entrenched in their own thought patterns who are waiting for a veil to lift, although they are not aware that they are waiting. Sometimes it takes only a well-placed word or two, spoken or written, to act as a catalyst and help the eternal truths that reside within the heart of each of us to escape into the mind and cause a spiritual revolution in the life of any one of us! We can wait and let karma do its job. But then again, from a certain point of view, we are karma, we have the power and the free will to create, and if our motive is unselfish our efforts will contribute to the great sway of compassionate forces working throughout the universe.
Why should we fear the disintegration of established exoteric regimes when nature allows us constantly by the law of karma to realize our aspirations to communicate spiritual ideas in ways that we may not have thought possible or probable? Do we really have anything to fear even when that regime exists only in our minds as crystallized thoughts? We all often cling to our own perceptions like a loving parent clings to a dying child. It is my belief that two of the greatest obstacles in life are our fear of and reluctance to accept change when we feel comfortable in ourselves and our surroundings. Very often this is fear of the unknown. But is what we fear really unknown? The future is unknown to our minds but not to our hearts. Theosophical teaching has it that as a race we have passed the lowest, most material phase of our cycle of human development and the tide of involution is now sweeping us upwards towards our point of origin — spiritualizing us every moment. But we must assist this process by making the right choices. And even if we don't make the right choices, all is not lost. There is a consoling passage in the Bhagavad-Gita which says: "With thy heart place all thy works on me"— Krishna, the Christos principle, the inner voice of understanding, conscience, and intuition —
prefer me to all else, exercise mental devotion continually, and think constantly of me. By so doing thou shalt by my divine favor surmount every difficulty which surroundeth thee; but if from pride thou wilt not listen to my words, thou shalt undoubtedly be lost. And if, indulging self-confidence thou sayest "I will not fight," such a determination will prove itself vain, for the principles of thy nature will impel thee to engage. Being bound by all past karma to thy natural duties, thou, O son of Kunti, wilt involuntarily do from necessity that which in thy folly thou wouldst not do. — p. 101 (Judge recension)
If we can enter into a new experience with our awareness grounded in our hearts rather than in our minds, then perhaps we will fear less and understand more, and even enjoy it. Life's for enjoying as well as for suffering, I think.
My heart goes out to all those who, driven by conscience or intuition, face their fear of change in the small and great daily duties with the courageous intent of riding the storm that those sacrifices often inevitably bring. Whether failure or success follows is irrelevant in my view. Life is a process of constant becoming and nature does not reward us for achieving success as man measures it. It is the trying that defines the measure of a man.
So long live the ideals of freedom of speech, healthy debate, and the courage to engage in change!
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2002; copyright © 2002 Theosophical University Press)