Radha Burnier – India
[Recognizing regeneration as the kernel of all Theosophical work, the International Theosophical Centre at Naarden, the Netherlands, jointly with the Federation of Theosophical Societies in Europe, organized two seminars in July 1990, with a number of office bearers, workers and members of the Society from different countries as participants. Proceedings of the seminar were published as a book under the title Human Regeneration: Lectures and Discussion (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij der Theosofische Vereniging in Nederland, 1990). This chapter (discussions) is here slightly revised.]
When we talk about a fundamental change, do we imply an immediate, total change, or is it a process?
RB: None of us can give an authoritative answer on this or any such subject. Let us explore. Are there many different changes culminating in a fundamental change? Is there a process in the sense that whenever the self expresses itself, one is aware of it? To use the imagery of The Voice of the Silence, whenever dust falls on the mirror, it is wiped away. When there is no dust at all, it may be a totally different kind of change. Perhaps there are dimensional changes, like the leap from animal consciousness to the self-consciousness of man. There may be a similar fundamental change, which takes the human being, into quite a different sphere. There may not be a contradiction, for the dimensional change as well as the process consisting of many little changes might be part of the scheme.
CB: As I see it, what happens in a process and in a greater change is the same thing. We see something, we eliminate it and free the way for something that comes from within. That may happen in small things continuously, or it may happen in a much more spectacular or bigger way. What happens in the process, is that we suddenly become aware of what we are doing, how we are; that is itself a change which comes from within, because something is eliminated. If it is a small thing coming now and then, we call it a process; if it comes very suddenly and to a very great extent, we may call it a big change.
RB: There is another element. Even if a big change is experienced for a time, it may not be a total change if the consciousness reverts to its previous condition. Quite a number of people have now and again, or at least once in a lifetime, experienced what is called an altered state of consciousness. They step out of the normal consciousness and the whole world seems different, full of love and light. But this does not remain; the consciousness comes back to the humdrum world. Wordsworth and other poets have written about this. The total change is not reversible; it is a new awareness of the whole nature of life, and its unity. There is a qualitative difference which cannot be obscured any more.
RB: It is important to realize that potentially everybody is a Mahatma. Mahatma literally means “great spirit.” A Mahatma does not have a limited mind but an unlimited consciousness. The door to freedom is open for everybody, in fact every being. That is why the Buddhists say “The Buddha nature is in everything,” which is also the Theosophical view. Perfection is not reserved for any privileged people; everyone will come to it. If we think of fundamental change as a far-away event, there is a danger of putting it out of our minds.
EA: There is another aspect which we should not pass by. Beyond or maybe parallel to spiritual transformation, a physical or some other transformation has to take place. We can see this in Krishnamurti’s life. It can also be found in the scriptures. There must be a transformation of the physical body, perhaps of all the bodies, if we hold to the Theosophical ideas, so that the spiritual transformation can be stabilized and the energy can flow freely into this world. I do not know if it is a process, but I should like to point this out.
RB: From the scientific point of view, function alters form, the organism. If the consciousness functions in a different way, there will be transformation at the physical and other levels. The transformation may not mean that we get three eyes or four ears, but the vibrations of the physical body, its sensitiveness, its capacity to respond to the consciousness, the brain capacity, all that may change. We see people changing as a result of the life they lead. When a person is young he is attractive, innocent looking, but as he ages he may look hardened and unattractive. The opposite may also happen. A young person who looks quite ordinary, later on shows light and grace in the face. There are people who become beautiful in old age because of the life they have lived. Because the inner makes an impression on the body, a Mahatma looks beautiful.
Why do fundamental changes take place only in some people and not in all?
CB-W: We could also ask ourselves why some people are miserable and others are not.
GW: It may have to do with the stage of evolution a person has reached. Some have not reached the stage of fundamental change and must go through more experience and suffering to obtain an understanding of the causes.
AH: Geoffrey Farthing once said in a lecture: Imagine I have a case here with Nirvana in it, and if you really want it you can take it. Do you really want Nirvana now? Do we want to give up all those little things which we know are of no importance and can have no place in a regenerated mind, but to which we still hold on? Do we really want to give them up, our little greeds, our little acts of selfishness? Probably some people are really hungry for liberation, but most of us are not.
MD: The answers to the two questions appear to be exact opposites. “Why are we unhappy in this world?” must have as an answer “because I am a personality and suffer from my own karma.” Only when the personality is empty, void, making room for whatever is, then the real change may take place.
CB: If we are content with our thought-patterns, and we do not feel that there is something beyond that, we are far from fundamental change, because it is beyond the limit of thought patterns. If we add to the thought-patterns by trying to improve them, it makes change more difficult. We must reach a point where we sense something beyond all thought.
RH: The fundamental change is from selfishness to selflessness, the ripening of the human soul and the awareness that happiness is not to be found in the pursuit of happiness, that one unfolds by seeking the happiness and the good of all beings, human and non-human. When one begins to live for the happiness of others, the petty self still comes back It is shed slowly, and after some time it will not dare to show itself any more.
RB: In an interesting book about animals, the author tries to answer the question: 'What is an animal?' It is a difficult question, because the borderline between one kingdom and another is not always clear. There are animals so primitive that they are like plants, and yet they have some features which entitle them to be called animals. When considering the borderline between animal and human there is a problem that does not exist elsewhere. The evolutionary process has gone on through the millennia, from mineral to plant, to animal, to human being, accompanied by the awakening of consciousness. A Sufi poet referred to dl.is by saying that life sleeps in the mineral, stirs in the plant, dreams in the animal, and awakens in the human being. For long ages, both the physical evolution and the awakening of consciousness take place by themselves; the evolutionary force pushes on, Minerals, plants, and animals do not need to do anything about bringing about changes They change slowly of course, very slowly. The color of an animal may change only after a millennium.
All animals and birds teach their young to things. The eagle builds its nest in little crevices on high cliffs and teaches its young to leave the nest when the time comes. The young ones do not want to try, but the show them and nudge them, and finally they take off. If the parents do it a little too soon, the young ones would fall down. How do they know the right moment to give them the impetus? Obviously there is knowledge in them which comes by itself. They do not fry to get it or read books about raising their young. There is no educational theory at this level, and yet there is education. Evolution finally pushes all creatures into the human stage, which means first a human body, but does not necessarily imply a truly human consciousness. The is still very vague, and there is much of the animal in the human being. He is strongly conditioned (HPB called it the “animal man”) into self-preservation, to dominating the herd, and so on. This conditioning is part of the human brain which has evolved through millennia to its present condition.
But there is one great and clear difference between the human being and the animal: it consists in the potentiality of self-awareness. HPB says man is the only free agent in nature. He can judge between right and wrong. For human beings, it is necessary to think about what is progress, because we are self-conscious.
People have various ideas of progress, based on the conditioning of the animal brain. So, progress is taken to mean subjugation of other people, ensuring own security, acquiring all that is possible, etc. It is an atavistic urge into which man's brain has put other meanings than in Nature. From this point of view, humanity has not advanced much, it is still near the borderline of the animal kingdom, and the animal urges are strong. The truly human capacity for using freedom with maturity and intelligence has not unfolded very much. But the evolutionary process is at work to make the human being exercise his heritage. Nature takes care of that in an extraordinary way, through the process of karma. He experiences disappointments, pain, and so on, incarnation after incarnation, and realizes there is something wrong in what he is trying to do or aim at. He begins to understand that dominating others does not bring fulfilment, getting money does not make one happy. A person pursues money life after life. In one life a child dies, in another he loses his reputation, in a third his wife deserts him, all sorts of things happen, and he asks himself: “What is this money worth? It does not bring me the happiness I need.” Then he begins to enquire: “What is real happiness?” Thus, the evolutionary power pushes him until he begins to use rightly the freedom which is his birthright, not physical freedom, but the freedom to become aware and act in accordance with that awareness. That freedom is inseparable from intelligence.
We think we have freedom, but it is illusory. Only when we start using our powers of perception and intelligence to understand what life is about, when we glimpse what is real progress, the change begins to take place. And the more we learn to use our capacity for awareness, the more quickly change takes place. Presumably we are all to some extent aware that a fundamental change must take place, but we are not deeply aware. We are quite willing not to exercise awareness or intelligence when something offers an immediate advantage, when the long habit of self-preservation or sexuality urges the mind to unintelligent and uncontrolled behavior. But if we really begin to act as free agents, then we have to look into the meaning and implications of our acts and attitudes. Human beings are not under compulsion to go through all experiences in order to understand them. We can watch others and learn quickly.
We know that selfishness must end, but we are unable to sustain interest in this question. We are too apt to say: I am like that, I cannot do anything or, it is human nature to be selfish or, human beings cannot change, so war is inevitable. We often hear this. It means we are still very conditioned by animal reflexes, but we are human enough to rationalize and justify them. But when we really apply our intelligence, then change begins. In the few people in whom a fundamental change has taken place, the animal nature is not at work. They have gone ahead of us because the human consciousness is fully awake in them and they are truly free. Though most of humanity is still too much conditioned, the possibility of total change is in front of every one. If only we could apply ourselves and give our energy to basic questions, we might start changing, not if we drop the matter for the next three or four years, till we come to another seminar. In yoga teaching, in the Bhagavad Gita and elsewhere it is said that there are two things necessary for spiritual progress: to wake up, that is to use discrimination and intelligence; and to be persevering.
RH: We should not despair that only so few are able to make this fundamental change. We should hope and believe, on the basis of logical induction, that when there are enough intelligent people at the crest-wave of civilization who are altruistic and set an example, other people will follow in the new way, because altruism and generosity are such radiant qualities.
To be continued