The Theosophical Society in America

Thinking Aloud: A New Millennium of Awareness and Action

By Radha Burnier

[From the Presidential Address to the 124th Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society, Adyar, December 26, 1999]

Radha BurnierMuch is said about the new millennium and the new century nowadays, but humanity is stubbornly persisting in its old ways. How can the millennium be new when the human mind is entrenched in old patterns? What will be new? Improved models of gadgets? Cloned monsters? Every such thing will be the product of stale minds filled with prejudices and ambitions. Human consciousness must break with the past in order to usher in a new dawn. It must obtain a new view of life, a new vision. Madame Blavatsky wrote in her article on "What Are the Theosophists?" published in the first volume of the Theosophist magazine (CW 2:98–106):

Once...a student abandons the old and trodden highway of routine, and enters upon the solitary path of independent thought—Godward—he is a Theosophist; an original thinker, a seeker after the eternal truth with "an inspiration of his own" to solve the universal problems. [102–3]

Present-day humanity has by and large lost the art of contemplation. When life was simpler and closer to Nature, people were relatively free of the restlessness and pressures which are so characteristic of the present times. No one was shy about silence or made to feel guilty because he or she spent quiet moments watching, contemplating, and learning about life. Such reflection was encouraged in several ancient cultures, but that is not the case now. Some years ago when I was sitting quietly under a tree during a summer school in Europe, someone came up to ask, "What is the matter with you? Are you sad or in trouble? Why are you sitting alone?" People are conditioned to believe that solitude is unnatural or undesirable. Everybody is expected to be busy all the time. Even in the East, contemplation is beginning to be regarded as a synonym of idleness and people are pressured to be visibly active and occupied.

The contemplative life of the Taoists gave them profound insights. Let us listen to the wisdom of Lao Tsu:

Heaven is eternal, Earth is durable.
The reason why they are eternal and durable Is that they do not exist for themselves.
This is why they can long endure.
Therefore, the Sage putting himself behind,
Finds himself in front;
And placing himself beyond his concern,
Finds himself well preserved. Is this not because he is unselfish?
For the very reason that he is unselfish,
He is able to find Self-fulfillment.

A man of the superior type resembles water,

Whose goodness lies in benefiting all things without contention.

Contemplation is a form of tapas or austerity--a purification of consciousness, cleansing it of motivation and of its many aims and objectives. Then it becomes open to the truth, to the depths in life. The modern contemplative Henry David Thoreau relates an experience of solitude:

To be alone was somewhat unpleasant. But, in the midst of a gentle rain...I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sight and sound around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once, like an atmosphere, sustaining me....Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again.

Religious traditions recommend opening the heart to the one divine Reality that is everywhere. In the article referred to above, HPB declares:

For to be one [a Theosophist], one need not necessarily recognize the existence of any special God or a deity. One need but worship the spirit of living nature, and try to identify oneself with it. To revere that Presence, the invisible Cause, which is yet ever manifesting itself in its incessant results; the intangible, omnipotent, and omnipresent Proteus: indivisible in its Essence, and eluding form, yet appearing under all and every form; who is here and there, and everywhere and nowhere; is all and nothing; ubiquitous yet one; the Essence filling, binding, bounding, containing everything; contained in all. [102]

The quiet, attentive mind alone comes into touch with the Real, not the restless, distracted, busy mind. To the self-preoccupied, agitated person, the superficial appears real because the senses find objects to distract and satisfy the mind, and make it feel important. Captivated by sensory and worldly objects, many today are like the people in Plato’s cave, hypnotized by shadows. In the future there might be millions so glamorized by computer and television screens that the whole earth might become a grand version of Plato’s cave!

The word "holism" has become popular, but those who follow the so-called holistic philosophy are often only superficially aware of the interlinking of life forms. To be real, the wholeness of life must be experienced, and this happens through contemplation, when the mind is at peace and begins to sense the Presence which HPB mentions--the Presence which is the divine Immanence or God. Within our Society there are some persons who object to the word "God," but HPB used it! God is universal Life which embraces all, sustains all, and is the origin and end of all.

Annie Besant stated that every religion has two parts, an inner and an outer; so has Theosophy. They correspond to the higher and lesser knowledge (para and apara vidya) of Vedanta. The higher is knowledge of God; it is Brahmavidya, God-wisdom or God-science. One may belong to any religion or none and yet be truly religious by virtue of this wisdom.

The lesser Theosophy is a body of truths concerning God, humanity, and the universe which the sages and seers of all races and ages have proclaimed to guide people, to the extent they are receptive, giving them the inspiration for ethical living and religious aspiration. These truths can be communicated, at least in part, through words, while the experience of Eternal Life cannot. It is important for all of us to realize that words and explanations sound empty, dogmatic or unconvincing if we repeat them by rote. They have the power to touch people’s hearts only when we have contemplated and assimilated them, and opened ourselves to some extent to the divine Presence. "I know and others do not know" is the attitude of orthodox religious people, while Theosophists encourage enquiry and search leading to direct perception. Conceptual Theosophy can become divisive, like the tenets of any other sect. Therefore, let us take to heart the warning that when the Theosophical Society becomes a sect, it will have no future.

The contemplative life demands refinement of body, brain, and mind. A clean life, an open mind, a pure heart, compassion towards all living beings, sensitivity to beauty, consideration for others’ needs are all necessary in the quest for Wisdom. Ethics is the soul of Theosophy. In Annie Besant’s words, "Members of the Theosophical Society study the truths, and Theosophists endeavour to live them."

The new dawn will begin to illumine our world when the faculty of intuition, insight, buddhi, or whatever name we like to use, awakens within us and takes charge of our lives. This faculty sees the One in the many, the Whole which is greater than the parts, the divine Music in sounds, and the meaning of the cosmic processes. If we do not work towards this awakening, who will? Awareness and action are inseparable. Our awareness of the unitary nature of life is sterile if we fail to be compassionate and care for our fellow human beings and all living creatures.

The work of the Theosophical Society will have to go on for many more centuries. At times people ask, "What has the Society done in the past 125 years?" not realizing that a century is insignificant with reference to the change in the consciousness of humanity on which the Society is engaged. For millennia, the ego sense has been developing until at present it has reached such proportions that enormous harm is being done to the planet itself, along with all its inhabitants. This trend cannot be reversed in a short period. Let us continue to work therefore with patience and faith in the ultimate destiny of humanity, knowing full well--by intuition rather than reason--that goodness must triumph and truth will conquer. Humanity will transcend its present unhappy stage and pass into the bliss and light of the worlds of perfection, and we are privileged to share in however small a measure in bringing this about.