Book Reviews 2008 January - June

Modern Physics and Ancient Faith
Stephen M. Barr
University of Notre Dame Press, 2005. Paperback, $18.00, 312 pages.

Taking liberty with the Three Objects of the Theosophical Society, we could say that this book covers the Second Object completely. Anyone that is scientifically, theologically, and philosophically oriented will find this book to be one of the most rigorous in recent years. Even though it is from the Notre Dame press, a liberal reading allows it to be of any faith, including Theosophy. To establish academic credibility we are told that Dr. Barr is a professor of theoretical particle physics at the Bartol Research Institute of the University of Delaware.

Just as Copernican revolution upset popular thought during the 1500s, the introduction of non-materialistic quantum mechanics in the 1920s transformed the static world of materialistic Newtonian mechanics. Today we are on the verge of finding out if unified field theory and our scientific model are complete, or if there is more to come.

The Standard Model of physics has allowed us to unify three of the four fundamental forces of the universe: electromagnetism, the strong force, and the weak force. The fourth force, gravity, is currently the "missing link" in the Standard Model. To bring gravity into the fold will require the newest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is located in Switzerland and is scheduled to go on-line in September 2008. Scientists are hoping for constructive data by the end of the year. The LHC will be trying to create the predicted and hoped for Higgs boson. If observed, the Standard Model would be verified and would help to explain gravity's role in unified field theory.

If the elusive Higgs boson is produced, Barr's book will help in understanding the excitement. If no Higgs boson is found and the theory remains incomplete, this book will still provide a more fundamental understanding of what is at stake in future models.

The science, as presented by Barr, is quite complete with the more difficult parts found in the well-written Appendices. Dr. Barr probably comes from the Roman Catholic tradition and his sophisticated understanding of Christian theology is very apparent. I imagine that a few philosophers will take issue with some of his arguments, but they are well-presented and well-defended.
The book is arranged into five parts: "The Conflict between Religion and Materialism"; "In the Beginning"; "Is the Universe Designed?"; "Man's Place in the Cosmos"; and "What is Man?" As you can see, by replacing the word religion with Theosophy, these divisions could also appear in any Theosophical book.

However, I have come up with my own arrangement of the material. I feel that organizing the sections as: "The Big Bang--A Discussion of First Cause"; "How Nature Fine Tuned Its Constants"; "The Failure of Materialism"; "How Gödel Showed That the Mind is Not a Computer"; and "Quantum Physics Requires a Non-physical Observer" more accurately reflect the contents of the book.

In summary, presently, religion (Theosophy) offers a more credible and coherent understanding of the universe than the scientific materialists. As experimental data is reported and analyzed, there may a convergence of the non-materialistic quantum school of thought and the Theosophical. Only time will tell.

Ralph Hannon

The reviewer is a retired Professor of Chemistry at Kishwaukee College, a long time T. S. member, and past co-editor, with the late Dora Kunz, of the Theosophical Research Journal.

 

Reflections Along the Path
Robert Bonnell
New York: Vantage Press, 2006. Paperback, $10.95, 89 pages.

Spiritual reading is a centuries old component of a seeker's daily practice. Such reading materials are derived from many sources, including sacred scripture, the lives of the saints, commentaries on scripture and the life of Jesus, the journals, essays, the lives of holy men and women, and books devoted to specific spiritual topics.

For many who cannot attend a daily liturgy or prayer group, this is a significant source of spiritual sustenance. For all, it is a highly valued way of supplementing one's personal prayer to help maintain an open heart and expanded consciousness in the face of the difficulties and pains of any given day.

Theosophist Robert Bonnell's, Reflections Along the Path, provides, as its subtitle states: Brief Commentaries on Various Aspects of the Wisdom Tradition. These reflections offer a form of spiritual companionship enabling an experience not unlike that of the disciples, who, while on the road to Emmaus in the presence of Jesus, were in dialog with him and were so touched that their hearts burned within. Indeed, making an inner connection with spiritual truth and wisdom can affect us physically, rationally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Each chapter of this little book begins with a quotation. And what a wonderful selection of quotations Bonnell has made. Some are classic, familiar gold pieces from the treasury of the wisdom tradition, for example, "Study the past if you would divine the future" from Confucius; or "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" by Babcock. Others are gems from the Theosophical tradition, including H. P. Blavatsky's "One cannot travel the path until one becomes the path itself." Many quotations, however, are less well, or even unknown, and introduce a fresh idea or perspective "The goal of philosophy is to find that secret and to lose the seeker in the secret found" from Carlyle; or Zoroaster's "The number three reigns everywhere in the universe."

Bonnell writes with a simple clarity that leads the reader to a deeper level of trust and meditation. Consider his reflection on Leigh Hunt's idea that "There are two worlds: one we measure with line and rule; the other we feel with our hearts and imagination." Bonnell comments: "Spiritual aspirants are able to enjoy the best of both worlds. They can participate in the varied accommodations of the material world with a minimal degree of trepidation, for they have the realization that this world is, at best, a fleeting image of eternity. They may not conquer it, but they participate in its purpose."

Will and Ariel Durant's quote "The only real revolution is the enlightenment of the mind and improvement of the character; the only real emancipation is individual," echoes the theme of this book. Namely, emancipation comes from the personal encounter with the light within. For anyone on the journey to authentic self-awareness, Bonnell offers a sage's simple guidance about connecting with the light that illuminates life's most profound truths.

David Bishop

This reviewer teaches Philosophy and Religion at Pima College and the University of Phoenix, both in Tucson, Arizona.


Into the Interior: Discovering Swedenborg
Gary Lachman
London: The Swedenborg Society, 2006. Paperback, £7.95, 138 pages.

I have tried to read the works of the eighteenth-century scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg several times, without great success. Most of the help I located was either far too complex for introductory purposes, or uncritically adoring. Thus, I was delighted to discover Gary Lachman's new book on Swedenborg. As he has done with Rudolf Steiner and P.D. Ouspensky, Lachman has given us an accessible introduction to Swedenborg from the viewpoint of an outsider who is nonetheless sympathetic.

Lachman achieves his goal admirably well. He provides us with an engaging picture of Swedenborg as a person, and enough of an introduction to his spiritual work to send the reader looking for more. Illuminating footnotes and an annotated bibliography of Swedenborg's works provide the needed guide-rails for further exploration.

Swedenborg's scientific training and his phenomenological approach to the spiritual worlds—going into other states of consciousness and describing his experience through vivid pictures—will doubtless appeal to many in our own time. I was intrigued to discover his teachings regarding the body and sex, with a balance unusual for a "religious" teacher of his time. As Lachman says:

The soul had not created the body in order to torment it. . . . Swedenborg himself was a sensually aware man living in a sensual age. . . . Swedenborg was also a very practical man, with an eye for the use of something, and desire and the less carnal appetites has their uses too. A mind enlightened as to the proper means of gratifying the lower appetites could, with discipline and discrimination, harmonize the yearnings of the animus so that it no longer sounded a raucous call for immediate satisfaction, but instead lent its voice to a well-rounded experience of life.

In the spiritual worlds, there is no longer any hiding from ourselves or others. "There, you really are what you are. Appearance and being are identical." Heaven, hell, and all other spiritual states reflect "our 'true affections,' our real loves and affinities." If we are wise in this life, we will work to know what our true affections are, and to achieve at least a measure of the sincerity which will be thrust upon us in the inner worlds.

Lachman does not engage in any extended discussion of Swedenborg's theological views, and notes that he will not be addressing this aspect of his work. However, he acknowledges the importance of such work to Swedenborg: "Swedenborg himself saw his esoteric reading of Scripture as his true task—so important that it announced the revelation of the true meaning of Christianity. . . ." Having worshipped with Swedenborgians at the New York New Church in Manhattan, and at the stunningly beautiful Bryn Athyn Cathedral outside Philadelphia, I am perhaps more confident than Lachman of the continuing importance and vitality of Swedenborg's theological vision. Perhaps Lachman will eventually provide us with an equally accessible guide to this aspect of his subject. In the meanwhile, I will be eagerly recommending Into the Interior to all who are interested in the history of western esotericism.

The reviewer is a member of the Theosophical Society currently residing in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a freelance theologian, and the author of several books and articles on independent sacramental churches and esoteric Christianity.


 

The Taliesin Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright & the Taliesin Fellowship
Roger Friedland and Harold Zellman
NY: HarperCollins, 2006.Hardcover, $34.95, 704 pages.

Roger Friedland, a cultural sociologist, and Howard Zellman, an architect, have written a very good book about a strange and little known subject, the Taliesin Fellowship of Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright, himself, is certainly well-known through his buildings, his writings on architecture, his autobiography, and a number of other biographies. Oddly enough, however, until Friedland and Zellman published The Fellowship, little was known of the school that Wright set up in the depths of the Great Depression, ostensibly to train the cream of American youth to be "organic" architects.

Building had come to an abrupt stop across the country as America sank into the great economic depression of the1930s. There was no architectural work to be had anywhere by anyone, and to Wright, with his extravagant ways and adverse publicity and notoriety of his personal life, the Depression was an unmitigated disaster. But Wright had an answer, an answer perhaps born of desperation and unlikely coincidence, but a brilliant solution for all of that. Wright had toyed for several years with the idea of opening an architectural school at Taliesin, his estate in Wisconsin. After all, his spinster aunts had made a living from the old Hillside Home School on the Taliesin property. As it turned out, however, the "Fellowship," would not be an ordinary school, not even an architectural apprenticeship under his direction, as Wright had at first thought. It was to be indirectly, but inextricably, linked to the ideas of that other extraordinary man, G. I. Gurdjieff.

Gurdjieff seems to have been an incomprehensible mixture of self-appointed messiah, visionary genius and mystical seer. Acquainted from an early age with the magical beliefs and powers of the peasants among whom he was raised, he was absorbed in all aspects of the occult. There is little doubt that he possessed remarkable magical powers, which were carefully cultivated throughout his life. He was, in fact, a magus, or magician in the old sense of the word and he had a messianic message, simple in essence. We are all asleep, he taught, lost in the mechanical repetition of response patterns of behavior. Freedom is to be found in awakening, in becoming aware of who we are, and what we are. This may be achieved through "the Work," a system of constant mental and physical challenges whereby a student may be shaken into a state of higher awareness. An essential part of the Work was the performance of sacred dances that were designed to align the dancer with the mathematical laws of the cosmos. One of the students and dancers that had followed him on his long journey from Tiflis to Paris was Olgivanna Hinzenberg, who eventually became the third wife of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The authors point out that Wright and Gurdjieff had much in common, and there were "uncanny correspondences in their thinking." Both, for instance, used the term "organic": Gurdjieff to refer to a harmony with cosmic forces and Wright to his architecture. Both were also inspired by forms found in nature, and both were devoted to the beauty of Gothic art. Moreover, Wright was already aware of Gurdjieff and his ideas through Zona Gale, a Gurdjieff follower.

Wright was desperate for money to pay his debts, hold on to Taliesin, and continue to enjoy his lavish life-style. He capitalized on the beauty of his estate and his fame and reputation as an architect, by offering "apprenticeships" to those who would pay for the privilege of living at Taliesin and working under his direction. The students came and paid, and the scheme proved highly profitable. However, the school now called the Fellowship was not what many of them had been led to expect. For one thing, an apprenticeship implies the presence of a master with whom one works and learns, but Wright, at that time, had no work. Olgivanna, however, was eager to incorporate the ideas of Gurdjieff into the structure of the school. What resulted was a curious amalgam whereby the total reeducation of the students along lines established at the Priory somehow became the primary goal.

The great strength of the book lies in the way Friedland and Zellman build up a picture of life as it was lived in the ivory tower that the Fellowship became for both the Wrights and the apprentices. Through the stories of the apprentices as they reacted to Taliesin and interacted with the Wrights and through a careful description of the succession of events, both within the Fellowship, and in the outside world, that shaped and influenced life within the walls, we begin to sense what a strange place the Fellowship must have been. Most of the apprentices were young men and it seems that the women applicants were largely discouraged. Wright was similarly an outspoken anti-Semite, but depended upon Jewish clients and Jewish apprentices who deny ever experiencing discrimination at Taliesin. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Wright urged the apprentices to resist the draft. Most of them did out of loyalty to Wright while an unquestioning acceptance of whatever he said or was even believed to think, became an absolute requirement for those who wished to remain at Taliesin.

Gurdjieff died in October, 1949, but nevertheless continued to be a force in the Fellowship through Olgivanna and her daughter Iovanna. As Wright's health declined in his last few years, Olgivana moved to take more and more control of the Fellowship. Immediately after her husband's death, she seized control of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, under which the Fellowship was organized. The Foundation, under Olgivanna, continued the architectural practice, but her chief interest was forwarding the ideas of her master, G. I. Gurdjieff. The death of her husband gave her the free hand that she always wanted to teach Gurdjieff's principles as she understood them, and the authority to shape the lives of those within the Fellowship as one who had received the light directly from the master.

The authors point out that the Fellowship—with all its faults and problems—and Wright—with the enormous ego that the Fellowship fed—were justified by the buildings designed and constructed in the last decades of his astonishing career. Friedman and Zellman cite Fallingwater, the Johnson Wax Administration Building, and the Guggenheim Museum as great architectural icons that could not have come into being without the emotional and financial support of the Fellowship and the Gurdjieffian philosophy that influenced Wright through his wife Olgivanna.

Herbert Bangs

This reviewer is a retired architect and author of The Return of Sacred Architecture (Inner Traditions 2006). He also met Frank Lloyd Wright while visiting Taliesin during the heyday of the Fellowship.


Nicholas and Helena Roerich: The Spiritual Journey of Two Great Artists and Peacemakers
Ruth A. Drayer
Quest Books, 367 pages, Softcover, $23.95, 367 pages.

The great Russian mystic Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) is today more known in America for his art than his other many accomplishments. A great philosopher, explorer, archeologist, adventurer, Theosophist, and man of peace, he was the first Russian to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Even less is known in most American households of his wife Helena (1879-1955), who matched him in intellectual and spiritual intensity. Ruth Drayer's book on the travels, writings, lectures, and teachings of this extraordinary couple provides a great service in bringing them into the spotlight.

Although Russian by birth, Nicholas and Helena were also relatively unknown in their homeland because of the ban placed on them by the KGB in the 1930s, a ban that lasted until the fall of Communism in 1989. Almost immediately thereafter, all things Roerich became the rage in Moscow. With Russia's newly rich entering the international art market, the price of a Roerich painting soon increased from five or ten thousand dollars to well over a million. During his lifetime, he is thought to have created almost seven thousand paintings, making him one of the most prolific artists in human history, and the collective value of his work valued in the hundreds of millions.

Fleeing from the Communists, the Roerichs traveled widely through Asia, Europe and the Americas. In 1923 they established the Master School of United Artists in New York and in their early years in America took the country by storm. Nicholas's lectures around the country met with universal acclaim. His Roerich Peace Pact, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt and two dozen world leaders, became a cornerstone of the American peace movement, and won him the public praise of Albert Einstein.

It might seem that this early success in America would have placed him high in the American consciousness. However, like so many foreigners of his generation, the fear of Socialism–of which he himself was in fact a victim–saw him banned from re-entering the United States. He settled down in the Kulu Valley of Himalayan India, and spent the reminder of his life writing and painting in his mountain hermitage at Nagar. Americans, with the short attention spans of the forties and fifties, soon forgot his name.

In 1907 amongst their many other activities, Nicholas and Helena also met and studied with the great Buriatia lama Agvan Dorzhiev. Known in British literature as Tsenzhab Dorjiev, this great master was a guru to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, and also became a spiritual advisor to Tsar Nicholas II. When the Tsar was unable to conceive a male heir, Lama Agvan Dorzhiev suggested that His Majesty send an offering to the Great Thirteenth and request a healing and fertility rite. This indeed came to pass. The Great Thirteenth performed the ritual from Lhasa, and soon thereafter the Tsarina gave birth to a prince. The Tsar instructed Lama Agvan Dorzhiev to build a Kalachakra temple in St. Petersburg, and the young Nicholas Roerich was commissioned to create the stained glass windows on the second flow.

Lama Agvan Dorzhiev was an adherent of the Kalachakra School of Tantric Buddhism, with its emphasis on the mystical land of Shambhala, and it is from this time that Roerich became fascinated with the Shambhala legends. The theme appears repeatedly in his art and writings. Dorzhiev believed that if the young prince who was born from the blessings of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama would survive to maturity, he would become a great world leader and usher in a thousand years of a golden age. This, alas, was not to be; World War I saw the depletion of great stores of the good karma on the planet. In 1917 the barbaric Communists overran Russia, and the entire royal family was murdered. Russia was plunged into the depths of darkness under Lenin and then Stalin and the rest of the world entered a century of mass warfare, economic chaos, and social unrest. This in turn produced a culture of fear and greed, from which we still have not emerged.

Nicholas and Roerich were strong believers in the powers of beauty and vision, in the ideal that these two forces can unite mankind, end conflict, and usher in a golden age. They probably were right.

This being so, their message is as relevant today as it was three generations ago. In fact, it is perhaps even more desperately needed today, when mankind seems poised for another world conflict, when greed has surpassed even the instinct of basic survival in its obsessive rape and pillage of the earth, threatening the very life of the very planet on which we live, and when humans have become even more polarized and insulated from one another than ever before.

Ruth Drayer's book is a timely infusion of enlightened thinking into a world desperately in need of simple solutions to complex world problems.

Glenn Mullin

This reviewer is author and translator of over a dozen books on Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. He lectures internationally and in May 2007, he led the Theosophical Society's pilgrimage to Blavatsky's Tibet and Mongolia.


Chartres: Sacred Geometry, Sacred Space
Gordon Strachan
Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K.: Floris Books, 2003. Paperback, $30.00, 111 pages.

Among the many great religious buildings in the world, Chartres Cathedral ranks among the most analyzed and most interpreted. Gordon Strachan joins a host of other professional and amateur writers who try to make sense out of the many mysteries contained in this great Gothic edifice in his book Chartres: Sacred Geometry, Sacred Space.

Unlike Adolf Katzenellenbogen, (The Sculptural Programs of Chartres Cathedral, 1959) Strachan does not attempt to describe or interpret the symbolism surrounding the portals of Chartres. He also says little about the famous stained glass windows or about the history of the construction of the church. One is never told, for instance, that while most of the building was built between 1194 and 1220, the north tower was not completed until the sixteenth century. He does not describe what Hans Jonas (High Gothic, 1957) thought was essential for the invention of the Gothic style: the heightened columns of the nave so that there is no gallery above the arcade.

Instead, what Strachen does emphasize is the probable borrowing of the pointed arch from the Muslims. His theory is that the Templars were influenced directly by Sufis in Jerusalem and brought back to Europe aspects of both Islamic mysticism and architecture. Along with the pointed arch, they also imported an emphasis upon geometric proportion to replace the arithmetical proportions of the Romanesque as a way of emphasizing symbolically the mystery of God's transcendence.

In the last chapters, the author turns to the influence of the Christian mystical tradition, as embodied in Dionysius the Areopagite (in his first, third, and fifth century forms) upon the aura and message of Gothic architecture.

This work is relatively brief and clearly written for the general reader and what the author says may be largely true. It is difficult, however, to demonstrate with any degree of assurance that the Templars were ever influenced by Sufis (can we, for instance, name one Sufi who lived in Jerusalem while the Templars were there?) or that the French architects could not have invented the pointed arch on their own. The borrowing of "geometrical proportions" seems perhaps more convincing, though there are, as the authors acknowledges, reputable scholars who cast doubts upon the whole matter. Louis Charpentier, (The Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral, 1975) who also explores the same structure, shows how a wholly different reading of proportions can be developed.

So, like most other books about Chartres, this one is very speculative and by no means definitive. Still it is an interesting, even absorbing, study that, for those interested in Gothic churches, sacred mathematics, or Christian mysticism, deserves a place on the bookshelf. Although I remain unconvinced about many details, I find it a very provocative book.

Jay G. Williams
Hamilton College


Kindness, Clarity and Insight, the 25th Anniversary Edition
By the Dalai Lama
Snow Lion, Hardback, $19.95, 261 pages.

Although today books on Buddhism by the Dalai Lama can be found in most bookstores throughout the Western world, and several of his titles have even hit the New York Times Bestseller List, his success as a literary figure came slowly. His first title, The Opening of the Third Eye, was published by Quest Books in the early 1960s. Nothing more was to appear from him for almost two decades, when in 1981 Snow Lion in Ithaca, NY, published Kindness, Clarity and Insight, a collection of essays drawn up from his public lectures during his first two tours of North America.
The essays themselves are brilliant, and that 1981 edition went a long way in making the Dalai Lama a household name in America. It introduced the Dalai Lama as the humble Buddhist monk and spiritual teacher that he is, taking the gentle flow of his spoken words to a living audience and molding them into a captivating and inspiring work. For those who thought that the art of essay writing is dead, here is proof that it is alive and well.

The individual essays deal with the fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism, and each has a title reflecting its focus: "The Luminous Nature of Mind," "The Four Noble Truths," "The Medicine of Wisdom and Compassion," "Altruism and the Six Perfections," and so forth. The Dalai Lama treats each subject in depth, and with the basic simplicity that has become the hallmark of his teaching style.

Prof. Jeffrey Hopkins, who was the translator of the oral discourses, along with the editors at Snow Lion who wove the tread of oral teachings into a coherent literary volume, did a wonderful job twenty-five years ago in bringing the Dalai Lama to a modern reading audience. This new edition, however, is not merely a reprint of the old book, which has been out of print for some years. Editorial and printing improvements lift it far above what it had been. Kindness, Clarity and Insight was one of Snow Lion's first titles, and that small but dedicated publishing house has come a long way since that time.

Jeffrey Hopkins' Preface to the new edition does make one claim that strikes me as a bit off. The Dalai Lama first visited the United States in 1979. The rumor for this tardy entrance was that he could not get a visa. Hopkins tells the story of a meeting that he and the Dalai Lama's representative in New York had with Joel McCleary, an advisor to President Jimmy Carter and an old friend and student of Prof. Robert Thurman. Jeffrey suggests that this meeting was the reason the Dalai Lama finally was issued his first American visa.

In 1977, the Dalai Lama returned to Dharamsala from a visit to Europe. I was asked to edit some of his lectures from the tour for a pamphlet to be published by the Tibetan Library in Dharamsala. During the course of the work, I asked someone in his Private Office why he made so many visits to Europe, but none to America.

"He can't get an American visa," was the reply, which struck me as rather odd, in that all kinds of world leaders visit America regularly. Although there is no doubt that Joel did meet with Hopkins and the Dalai Lama's representative in New York, that meeting was not especially relevant to the visa problem. The solution of the Dalai Lama's visa quandary came from another direction altogether, and required no such high level interference. And that would be a story for another book.


Esoteric Christianity
Annie Besant
Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2006. Paperback, $16.95, 245 pages.

More than a century after its original publication in 1901, Annie Besant's classic text on the Christian mysteries has been reissued in an attractive new edition with an introduction and notes by Richard Smoley, author of Inner Christianity. Contemporary interest in such approaches to Christianity should guarantee renewed attention for this book. Besant writes:

We begin to understand the full truth of the apostolic teaching that Christ was not a unique personality, but "the first fruits of them that slept" (I Cor. 15:20), and that every man was to become a Christ. Not then was the Christ regarded as an external Saviour, by whose imputed righteousness men were to be saved from divine wrath. There was current in the Church the glorious and inspiring teaching that He was but the first fruits of humanity, the model that every man should reproduce in himself, the life that all should share.... Not to be saved by an external Christ, but to be glorified into an inner Christ, was the teaching of esoteric Christianity.... (132-33)

Besant, who was once married to a conservative clergyman and came to new understandings of Christianity through Theosophy, offers a guide to this path in her engaging and inspiring style. She can only give us a certain amount in a small volume—and much of any true mystery is only revealed in living experience. Nonetheless, like Clement of Alexandria (whom she quotes in the epigraphs), she may not have fully unfolded the mystery, but she has indicated what is sufficient.

Toward the end of the book, Besant states: "For the visible and the invisible worlds are interrelated, interwoven, each with each, and those can best serve the visible by whom the energies of the invisible can be wielded." The dynamics of such service are explored in her chapters on the sacraments, which I found to be the most enduringly insightful part of the book. Besant sees a sacrament as "a method by which the energies of the invisible world are transmuted into action in the physical.... a kind of crucible in which spiritual alchemy takes place." She makes many interesting points regarding the importance of the spiritual knowledge of the priest on the "operative power" of the sacraments. She also anticipates later theological developments in seeing a sacramental aspect to scripture: "These Books, indeed, have something of a sacramental character about them, an outer form and an inner life, an outer symbol and an inner truth." One might well follow this book with the later works of Besant's colleagues, Charles Leadbeater (e.g., The Science of the Sacraments, available through Quest Books) and James Wedgwood (e.g., The Collected Works of James I. Wedgwood, San Diego: St Alban Press, 2004), to see further development of her perspective.

Besant's book inevitably reflects her time and culture. Scholarship and sensibilities have moved and changed since her day. Richard Smoley's notes and introduction provide extremely valuable context in this regard. Despite the passage of time, Esoteric Christianity is not simply an interesting relic from a past century, but a vibrant and inspiring vision for renewal of the mysteries hidden in Christianity. May this new edition bring Besant's vision to a wider audience.

John Plummer

The reviewer is a member of the Theosophical Society currently residing in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a freelance theologian, and the author of several books and articles on independent sacramental churches and esoteric Christianity.


Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives
Dr. Jim B. Tucker
NY: St. Martin's Press, 2005. Hardcover, $23.95, 256 pages.

Dr. Tucker is a child psychiatrist connected with the University of Virginia Medical Center who, in addition to his professional duties, has taken over, from his colleague Dr. Ian Stevenson, the investigation of children who claim to remember their immediate past lives. Like Stevenson, Dr. Tucker has traveled to various countries to interview the children who tell of their previous life. In his book, he occasionally makes reference to some of the cases Stevenson published in his several books, but more importantly discusses details of his own investigation of new cases. Despite his caution in identifying these cases as merely suggestive of reincarnation, there is no doubt whatever that the children he interviewed remember their previous incarnation and are able to give details which only the previous personality could have known. There are also birthmarks and other physical marks on the "present personality" which relate to something that happened to the "previous personality" (to use Stevenson's cautious terminology). This furthers Stevenson's publication of such evidence in his two volume book Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects, a copy of which is in the Olcott Library.

As Stevenson writes in his introduction to the book, Dr. Tucker "asks, almost requires" readers of this book "to reason along with him as he describes and discusses each objection to the idea of reincarnation." Stevenson did the same in his book Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, pointing out the difficulties of each alternative hypothesis to account for the cases. In fact, for members of the TS, who already are predisposed to accept the idea of reincarnation, this caution seems quite unnecessary in light of the quantity of evidence.

Since I have read all of Stevenson's books—and have corresponded with him and have met and talked with him personally—I found Tucker's caution curious. The evidence for reincarnation is overwhelming, not only from Stevenson's and Tucker's careful investigations, but from several other books as well, some of which have been published by the Theosophical Publishing House. I suppose Tucker felt his caution necessary, since the opposition to the idea of reincarnation is so strong from materialist scientists and philosophers as well as fundamentalist Christians and Muslims. But those people are unlikely to read this book anyway. So it seems to me the caution is quite unnecessary.

TS members may want to read this book, but may also, as I did, find its caution curious—perhaps even irritating—in light of the evidence he presents. The book is well written, even if somewhat "clinical." And it is but one more support for the theosophical teaching about reincarnation.

Dr. Richard W. Brooks

 


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