California, August 6, 2001
It is one of those full-of-joy mornings. I watch birds, particularly female grosbeaks (males have already gone south), feeding at the seedling fig tree consigned to our wildlife. My mind, however, turns to a statement made by a participant in a theosophical study group. She said, "My mother says, I know that I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing." That small bit of wisdom, both simple and profound, is as true for birds as for humans. Each species, each individual, knowing, sensing, when and where to arrive — in this case for the ripening figs.
Some years ago I met a baby grosbeak. She had become lost in some deep ground cover. Rather than rescue one who needed no rescue, we did
not answer at once those imperious cries. Finally wading into the cover, I came forth with a delightful companion for the next few weeks.
Profiting from a friend's experience, I knew I must be careful not to keep my bird captive when grown. Her bird was caged by a window. When night came and it could see the stars in the dark August sky, her grosbeak became frenzied. There was a message in the mysterious, compelling arrangement of those heavenly bodies. The message: it is time to fly south and we will guide you.
My bird, when released, took up residence on a clothesline outside the kitchen window, where I fed her enormous appetite. Suddenly she was gone. I was sad, asking what must be her fate with no experienced parent to guide her?
When do grosbeaks return? Like enough it was mid-March of the following year. In any case I was at work in the kitchen. I looked up as I heard strong taps at the window glass. It was a female grosbeak, my grosbeak, giving me a sign that nature had guided her to be where she should be, doing what she should be doing.
It was also a goodbye. From then on she was a grosbeak among grosbeaks. Perhaps even she is, at this very moment, feeding in the seedling fig. — Barbara Curtis Horton
Australia, October 17, 2001
In view of recent world events which have emphasized the differences between peoples and religions, the following development in Russia might be of interest. I am speaking about the construction of an unusual building dedicated to the unity of peoples and religions: The Temple of All Religions, currently being built in Russia on the shore of the great River Volga, about 500 km east of Moscow.
Il'dar Khanov dreamt of creating this building from his youth. He sought guidance from spiritual mentors, including the famous mystic and artist Nicolai Roerich. But he did not receive sufficient signals from within to proceed with this project until many years later, in 1992. He then started work on planning the building immediately. Many helped with the building work, and business people have provided financial support.
In his estimation, there are twelve general religions in the world, so there are twelve paramount small towers on top of the Temple of All Religions. A telescope for viewing the mysteries of the planets and stars will be installed in the central tower. The Temple building will provide space for the religious celebrations of all faiths, and will be a Temple of culture and truth. It is the only such building in Russia, and one of perhaps four such large structures in various parts of the world. This is an exciting development in Russia, where freedom of religious expression is still a relatively new experience for most people. — Lev Bernshteyn
Oregon, October 30, 2001
A recent Sunrise article mentioning organ donation led me to reread Claire Sylvia's memoir, A Change of Heart, which centers on a fascinating aspect of this issue. A dancer and single mother dying in her early 30s, she accepted the heart and lungs of an 18-year-old male killed in a motorcycle accident. After a few months she had a vivid dream where, when she started to leave, a young man named Tim called her back and kissed her. With that kiss she felt he had given her something of himself. This dream made her curious about her donor, but releasing further information was prohibited by law. Gradually she began to experience unexpected urges, choosing unfamiliar food and different colored clothes; sometimes she was impelled to walk at a pace too energetic for her age and gender. Eventually she became so familiar with her donor that she was able, without official help, to trace his family and visit with them. Of course, not every recipient is as sensitive as this author, and many do not notice any foreign influences; but her book relates other recipients' similar stories, tells of the organization founded to address their needs, and offers several possible explanations of these experiences. They should not be too surprising, however, because although the donor is dead, the organs remain vital and are filled with memories. The full implications of this phenomenon have yet to be explored.
Hoping for more insight, I turned to a collection of essays, The Ethics of Organ Transplants, edited by Arthur L. Caplan and Daniel H. Coelho, only to be dismayed. Most of the contributors from medical fields exhibited an almost frenzied focus on finding ways to encourage or coerce more people to become donors. Even now hospital staffs are required to notify a transplant surgeon as soon as a patient dies who has not supplied a written refusal. Then the cover words "assumed consent" are applied, making the body public rather than private property. Some surgeons want to remove the organs of anencephalic neonates (infants born with meager or damaged brains) while they are still alive, saying that such babies are short-lived and, having little or no consciousness, would feel no pain. Only one contributor decried the present plan to breed animals to supply organs suitable for humans. Then there are the abuses when organs are sold for money, whether by living donors or other parties.
Contributors Renee Fox and Judith Swazey, who have become disillusioned after many years' involvement, sum up their discomfort this way:
In the final analysis, our departure from the field in the midst of such events is not only impelled by our need and desire to distance ourselves from them emotionally. It is also a value statement on our part. By our leave-taking we are intentionally separating ourselves from what we believe has become an overly zealous medical and societal commitment to the endless perpetuation of life and to repairing and rebuilding people through organ replacement — and from the human suffering and the social, cultural, and spiritual harm we believe such unexamined excess can, and already has, brought in its wake. — p. 339
Ancient and modern religions teach that humans possess immortal spiritual elements that do not perish with the physical body. Reincarnation and karma explain that, like nightly sleep, death is merely an interlude of rest. During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt reassured people by saying "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." An apt alteration today would be to assure people that the only thing to fear about death is the fear of death itself. — Enid Brandon
Australia, November 6, 2001
The outpouring of public grief following the tragic events of September 11th in New York and their aftermath, demonstrates the power of grief and the fear of death. We all have to face loss in our lives, but most of us prefer not to think about this as a reality, and are thus ill-prepared for these tough learning experiences. We are fortunate, however, in the 21st century to have people who have dedicated their lives to helping ordinary people cope with grief and loss. Based on the pioneering work of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in the USA and Dame Cecily Saunders in England, specialist doctors and nurses now operate Hospices and Palliative Care centers around the world, allowing people with terminal conditions to die a dignified death with minimal pain. More recently, centers for grief studies and counseling have been established in many western countries. In 1996 one such organization, the Centre for Grief Education, was established at the Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne, and it has helped hundreds of people work their way through difficult times while in the process educating counselors working in hospitals, funeral parlours, and other institutions.
At a recent lecture in Melbourne, sponsored by the Theosophical Society, the Director of the Centre for Grief Education, Chris Hall, provided fascinating insight into the human response to grief and loss. He described the classic models of grief as proposed by Kubler-Ross (1969) and J. William Worden (1991), emphasizing, however, that these are now seen to be lacking in many ways: like much of modern psychiatry, they do not incorporate a spiritual element which is often fundamental to a person's encounter with death. He also said that the small percentage of people who have a strong sense of "meaning" in life and what follows, cope much better compared to people with no such framework for comprehending life and death.
This modern observation is reminiscent of statements by Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita. In the second chapter, Krishna admonishes his student Arjuna that the Wise do not grieve, for the spiritual Essence of a person cannot perish but merely changes its form following the death of the physical body: "Just as a person casts off worn garments and puts on others which are new, even so does the embodied soul cast off worn-out bodies and take on others that are new. Weapons do not cleave this self, fire does not burn him, waters do not make him wet; nor does the wind make him dry . . ." This advice finds a western parallel in Plato's Phaedo. When Crito asks Socrates before his death: "In what way shall we bury you?" Socrates answers in sum: "In any way you like, but first you must catch me, the Real Me. Be of good cheer, my dear Crito, and say that you are burying my body only, and do with that whatever is usual and you think is best."
Even for those with an understanding of the continuum of life after death, it is natural to feel a gigantic hole in their lives after a loved one has died and to long for communion with them. As witnessed recently, people from desperation or curiosity may seek the assistance of psychics to contact the deceased, a practice harmful to both the living and the dead. Even when genuine, such mediumship almost never connects us to the "Real Me" Socrates alluded to, but only to the lower psychological energies of the deceased which are bound to the earth. Being stimulated by psychic contact simply prolongs the existence of this disintegrating psychological corpse.
Instead, the link with our departed loved ones is maintained by true and impersonal love. As G. de Purucker wrote:
Love is immortal; it continues always; and, mark you, the more one loves, of course impersonally, the nobler he becomes. . . . I mean that inexpressibly sweet, divine flame which fills life with beauty, which instills thoughts of self-sacrifice for others. Love of that kind, impersonal love, is the very heart of the Universe. Therefore, I say, the one who loved and who died, loves still, for it is of the fabric of his soul. — Studies in Occult Philosophy, pp. 619-20
We need to recognize the right of our loved ones who have died for rest and recuperation away from the stresses of this world, and to realize that death is a wondrous journey for the soul — one which we on earth should not attempt to disturb because we are overcome by our personal grief and longings. — Andrew Rooke
(From Sunrise magazine, December 2001/January 2002; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)
We have, each one of us, something deep within which is our essence, our spiritual guide. Jesus called it the Father within, theosophy terms it our higher or universal self. Everything comes out from within. Our physical body is the last portion of us to develop. Ever more material principles of our constitution aggregate around our finer principles until the physical plane is reached. These denser principles we build around our spiritual self are the channels of intuition, intellect, instinct, emotion, and the senses with which we experience the world around us. Most of these vehicles are not permanent, that is, do not carry over from life to life through reincarnation. They form the personality, as opposed to the deathless spiritual individuality.
Our spiritual self has us descend into material life to absorb and assimilate the lessons before us. Through self-directed evolution we sink into denser realms of life to self-consciously experience and express the ethical structure of the kosmos. Our spiritual essence, then, is our base, our home, our inmost self, from which we derive comfort and strength. It guides us through the labyrinth of life, creating the life before us from our past actions and thoughts according to the law of karma. It is our touchstone and constant companion through the easy times — and especially through the rough times — that we transit on our incredible journey to live within it fully and self-consciously. — Scott Osterhage