Tim Boyd – USA, India
Tim Boyd, while delivering the talk on which this article is based, during the 145th International Convention. At the end of this article a YouTube link is provided for those who would like to watch this talk
I would like to consider something related to the theme of our International Convention, “Cycles of Awareness”, particularly how cycles affect us and how we can interact with them in a proactive and productive way.
Cycles affect us at every level. They are so omnipresent at the personal level that they often go unexamined. In her introduction to The Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky (HPB) discusses Three Fundamental Propositions. Cycles is the second of them. She points to specific cycles such as day and night, life and death, sleeping and waking, the seasons, as being such a common part of our everyday experience that they indicate to us the presence of a fundamental Law of the universe.
Although we are largely unaware of them, there are cycles at other levels within which we participate. There are minute cycles taking place continuously, even within the body. Most of us are not aware that during the course of any day there are more than two trillion new cells formed within the body. This process of cell replication and cell destruction, is ongoing even while we sleep, but it is too small for us to be aware of.
Anything related to the spectrum of light or the electromagnetic spectrum takes place along a range of cycles, everything from visible light to gamma rays, but some of those are so rapid and so fast we cannot even conceive of the speed at which they function. These things are micro, small, beneath the level of our perception. There are also much grander cycles — macro cycles. Just as we have a year where in 365 days the Earth makes a circuit around its center, the Sun; our solar system has a similar cycle where it circles the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. It takes a little longer than our Earth. In fact it takes 225 to 250 million years to make this cycle of a galactic year!
In our theosophical studies and in the teachings of the Ageless Wisdom, we are made aware of even grander cycles, those of pralaya and manvantara, of or universal sleeping and waking, and activity. It is described as “the Great Breath”, in which universes are drawn in and breathed out. Universes come into being, have their time, which seems eternal in our counting, but then are breathed back in and sleep. This is a grand cycle as well — too large for us to have any meaningful experience or comprehension of it.
In this Earthly life to which we are all bound, there are countless other cycles. There is an idea expressed as the bio-geo-chemical cycle. So in the biological, geological, and chemical realms there are multiple cycles involved in the circulating of the atoms that compose the bodies of every living creature.
The basic idea behind this is that the Earth’s matter, though seemingly limitless to us, is limited. It is a closed system. New matter is not suddenly coming into being. Except for those meteorites that fall upon its surface, new matter is not coming into the Earth. The same matter that was here initially is here now. Every living organism that comes into being, is composed of the recycled atoms that have been present before.
A mathematical calculation was done to answer the question: how many of William Shakespeare’s atoms does each one of us have in our bodies? The basic calculation involves figuring out how many atoms of food, air, bodily waste, and remains of the body passed through Shakespeare during his life and then were returned to the general pool of matter following his death. Next the computation was done about the total number of atoms available for recycling at the Earth’s surface. Based on this computation, it was determined that each one of us has approximately six billion atoms of William Shakespeare in our bodies.
For many people this might seem like an encouragement to write some additional sonnets, or come up with an additional act in one of his plays, but six billion atoms within our bodies is like nothing. The number of atoms in the body is a 10 followed by 27 zeros — incalculable. It makes a grain of sand on a beach look large. So each of us is composed of the same matter that was in the body of Shakespeare, the Buddha, Jesus, and in the bodies of countless saints and scoundrels who have inhabited the planet throughout history. If we were to give it some thought, it should indicate something about the interdependent nature of all life.
So far we have considered cycles in Nature. For us who are drawn to a spiritual path, two questions should come to our mind: “Is it possible for us to rise beyond these natural cycles in which we are enmeshed?” Is freedom a possibility?”, so bound do we seem to be in these various cycles of Nature.
At a certain level, it is clear that we are chained to Nature and to all of its various cycles. For any embodied being, such as the human being, Nature is inescapable. It could be said that Nature is brutal in the movement of its cycles. The weak do not survive in Nature, but then again neither do the strong. Ultimately anything or anyone that is born is engaged in a cycle of birth, growth, decline, and of what we describe as death. If we have any doubt about this fact, we can verify it by looking at the greatest among us. The Buddha came and passed through this cycle. Jesus did the same. Whether it is a human being, a tree, a star, or a galaxy, the natural cycle is identical. Every one of us passes through this. These cycles in Nature are all worthy of study and understanding, so that we can interact with that aspect of our being intelligently.
For spiritual practitioners, there are other cycles. One in particular is supremely important to become aware of: cycles of consciousness, or of awareness. In Eastern spirituality, there is a Sanskrit word that cuts across all of the various traditions typical to India, — samsâra. It literally means “wandering”, but it is very descriptive of a cycle in which we are all engaged as beings with consciousness. It describes the repetitive cycle of birth, suffering, and death that is fueled and continued by ignorance, which is not the same as not knowing.
Ignorance refers to the idea that everything we perceive as real is incorrect. This cycle is often depicted as a wheel with various stations on it. Much like the cycles in Nature, we are chained to this cycle of samsâra, with one very important difference: the reason we are so closely bound to this constant rebirth and the suffering that it entails, is because of unawareness. Awareness permits for the ending of this cycle.
As awareness arises so too does the possibility of freedom. With awareness being so important, the question we have to ask ourselves is: Awareness of what? It is not enough to merely be aware that this cycle exists. That is a beginning, because for many that level of consideration has not even been given to it. The all-important awareness is an awareness of the primacy of consciousness.
Consciousness is not bound to matter. It participates in matter, expresses itself through matter, but is not identical nor is it bound to Nature’s processes. Spiritual traditions and the Ageless Wisdom which underlies them give guidance in how we address this process — how we first see the cycle within which we are continually engaged, then how to actually find a way to interrupt that cycle. This is the basis of any valid spiritual tradition, all of which points to an important starting place for loosening the bonds of this grip we are in.
Even a casual observation of the way things work, shows us that everybody who comes into this world also leaves it. For many people this is a frightening mystery they would rather not think about. But the first step always is to become aware of impermanence. We are not here forever. Everybody comes and goes. When we become aware of that, not just as a general idea, but that this is something which universally occurs and will also happen to us, that type of thinking can lead us to next steps.
One of the interesting facts of our time is the estimate that approximately one in every eight people has had a near-death experience. Medical advances nowadays have greatly improved the ability to resuscitate people who have heart attacks — one of the more common causes of death. It used to be that if you had a heart attack, that was it! You did not have a near-death experience; you had a death experience.
The result is that now many people have had the experience of consciousness separating from the body; the body being pronounced dead; and yet they have full awareness. They find that the consciousness, upon being loosened from the body, continues to have experiences, many of which they later describe, and the similarities between these reports are quite remarkable. For people who have had this experience, it changes them. On a fundamental level, they become aware of things which previously were not part of their experience: that death is not annihilation, that consciousness exceeds the limitations of the body, and continues apart from it. People I have known have returned from this experience with different priorities in their life.
The Bhagavadgitâ tells us that at the moment of death each person goes to what was their “ruling passion” in life. Someone who was a materialist is drawn into a fixation on the material realm, which is no longer available to them. For someone who had an idea of a heaven world, they are drawn toward that. Whatever has been our ruling passion in life is what we are drawn to, or what we are propelled toward.
When we recognize this, it sets in motion the possibility that we have some choice in the matter of what passion will rule us. Just because the TV is on, because the newspaper is on the table, or somebody is telling an interesting gossipy story, does not mean that we have to give over our attention and become absorbed in it. We can choose how and where we place our attention, how and where we position our consciousness.
Part of the purpose of a spiritual tradition is to give guidelines in how to further this prioritizing of the direction of our consciousness. In Mahayana Buddhism, there is a particularly powerful approach to prioritizing the direction of our life energies. The basic recognition is that we are here for a short time, so how do we best use that time? One is advised to look around and judge for oneself what might be most productive.
In the Mahayana tradition, there is the example of the Buddha , the Enlightened One. In his earlier life, when he was seeking enlightenment he was termed a Bodhisattva, one who has pledged themselves to a vow which is a specific life direction: “I will attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.” This is the priority that is undertaken in an internal vow, intended to shape our behavior going forward.
Although we know that in such a lofty goal it is certain that we will fail again and again, the idea is that we continue to try. If, in fact, it is significant enough to us, then we may stray from it, but the strength of our commitment to the vow will always draw us back. The vow’s focus is that we prepare our consciousness, deepen our awareness, with the aim that it can be of benefit to others.
In At the Feet of the Master the young Jiddu Krishnamurti points out a similar approach when he talks about how it is we are to study, on what do we fix our attention with the intention of liberating the mind? Knowledge is infinite. Books are coming out every day. So what do we study? What will be most valuable and useful for this Bodhisattva ideal? Krishnamurti’s statement was that we study first, that which will most help us to help others.
Blavatsky, the principal founder of the Theosophical Society (TS), late in her life became dissatisfied with the growth and progress of the TS. At the very beginning of this movement she was instrumental in attracting attention to Theosophy, the Ageless Wisdom. Having been born with highly developed psychic abilities, one of the ways she did it was by producing a variety of phenomena of a “supernatural” nature: levitating and materializing objects, producing sounds from tables and walls, clairvoyance, and a remarkable array of phenomena that were witnessed.
Her initial motivation was to present these things in order to attract the attention of a “thinking” group of people. It did that. The ranks of the TS swelled with people who were fascinated with phenomena. But only very few of them had any genuine interest in what was behind the production of those phenomena.
What was the bigger picture that these phenomena connected one to? Most people were only interested in the circus aspect. So she became frustrated with the fact that there were so few who were truly looking to change, to impact the world with this fundamental idea of Brotherhood, the Oneness of all life. To find a living expression of that was the focus, and that was the very thing that everybody seemed to miss.
So she described the TS in two ways. First she said that it was a stupendous success in terms of presenting these formerly exotic ideas such as reincarnation, karma, states of consciousness, that the universe is pervaded with intelligence throughout its parts, that there is no empty space, self-responsibility, that we are instrumental in the unfoldment of our consciousness, or in constricting it. The TS was a stupendous success in terms of putting these ideas at the doorsteps of a global audience, whereas before no such consideration was possible.
At the same time she wrote that the TS was also a dead failure. It is a challenge trying to think about how these two ideas can fit together. On the one hand, a stupendous success; on the other hand, a dead failure. Both statements were true for the two different avenues of expression for which the Society was founded. The one avenue of sharing an information and conceptual source was well developed. But in its main function, to form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity that can be expressed in us, the lives of its individual parts, that was where she witnessed a continuing failure. A genuine familial relationship among TS members was difficult to establish.
Toward the end of her life, she determined that she would work with a few in order to root these principles in their consciousness. The focus of the TS was on the many. She formed her “inner group”, a small group of 12 people. She talked to all of them saying that the choice to take part in this effort was not casual, but a profoundly serious commitment.
In order to take part in this inner group, the people that she chose had to take a pledge that had six parts, but the most important one was the very first: to “endeavor to make Theosophy a living factor in my life”. This was the basis for the coming together of this group and for what she hoped would be the realization of the purposes of the theosophical movement.
It was not a pledge that was given to the fellow members of this inner group, nor was it offered to the group’s leader. The pledge was not made to an individual; it was not personal in any way. Its closing words were: “so help me, my Higher Self.” It was made to this higher self out of which all souls are emanated. She described it as “universal” and “second-less”. The aid, the flowing in of the Higher Self was the factor that would make this pledge real.
The determination of the will to link ourselves with the Higher Self to direct the consciousness sets something in motion. It begins with imagining the possibility, in this case that Theosophy can become an active agency in one’s life. Then one commits to that possibility. In whatever way that we are able, we commit. And this is really where the power comes. The Higher Self does not grant favors. It is not like the traditional approach to prayer that many people engage in, a begging for undeserved favoritism. That is not the way it works. The Higher Self pours its power and guidance into the one whose will becomes merged with its own.
This pledge is born out of a recognition that we are here for a short time, that this moment is impermanent, that all of the cycles of Nature speak to our interinvolvement. I like the expression of Thich Nhat Hanh, who talks about “interbeing”. Literally, all of the atoms of our being are continually shared with all others. Anyone who begins to see this has the capacity to imagine a unity that goes beyond the norms of our daily experience. Even a glimpse of that should draw from us a commitment to pursue that way of living.
There is a very special moment during the cycle of each day that is highly prized by artists and photographers. It is called the “golden hour” — that time right before the setting of the sun, or immediately after the its arising, when anything that is bathed in that light seems to have a special and particular glow. To the eye of the artist, it is highly regarded because seemingly ordinary things take on a different quality of being. This is the hour when everything has a radiance, but not merely from the light falling upon it. This golden hour seems to activate something so that the glow is seen as coming from within. Probably all of us have had the experience of seeing the world in these moments. This is a description of something that is revealed in Nature’s daily cycles — the natural cycle of visible light.
A similar event takes place within our cycle of awareness. It happens in a couple of ways. There are experiences of illumination that occur in the lives of all of us. Generally they are momentary, where we find that something arises within us, where the barriers that have been erected over a long time of improper thought, of misunderstanding, of unexamined living, for whatever reason, these barriers fall away, and in that moment this Higher Self can become present. It is no longer obstructed.
These experiences often happen in mysterious ways, sometimes as a result of the inner work we have been doing, to see and address our self-created barriers. In talking about the pledge, one of the things HPB stressed was that in order for someone to become sincere in their commitment, an understanding of what one is committing to is required. Of course, that understanding grows over time, but she made it clear that if Theosophy, the Ageless Wisdom, is to become an active factor in our lives, we need to have some knowledge of what it is. I think she viewed the process of deepening understanding as action-based. Whether that action be physical or mental, it was rooted in the expression of a state of awareness focused on compassionate activity.
In various circles people think in terms of service activity, but we are talking about compassion as expressed in our actions toward others, and in the silent action that takes place within our own minds of how we regard others, our quality of seeing. This golden hour makes itself known and felt by others in every compassionate act that flows from us, in every deepened understanding in which we find a way to share with others, not just intellectual understanding, but of the fabric that we are all a part of, the Oneness at the root of this whole theosophical movement.
Act by act, thought by thought, we are bringing this golden hour into being. The term that Blavatsky used was “a pledge”; it was a formal arrangement that took form within ourselves. Within us is where everything begins, takes place, and ends. In her model HPB talked about Theosophy. For someone who is involved in the Theosophical Society and this way of thinking, that is a wonderful and powerful avenue of expression. That is the reason why it is of value to all of us. But we must commit to something. If it is a friendship, put yourself in it. If it is a marriage, a relationship, a community, a nation, commit yourself to it.
One of the great scientists of the 20th century, also a profound mystic, George Washington Carver, an American botanist renowned for his experiments with plants. He was able to draw out countless previously unimagined products from various forms of plant life. He made a statement that was at the root of his whole method of scientific practice. When asked “how are you able to see these expressions that are unseen to others? he responded: “Anything that you love enough will reveal its secrets.” The commitment that is rooted in love, in an awareness of our Unity and that we function, live, and depend upon each other, is powerful and at the root of what we call “Theosophy”.
These are a few thoughts to consider concerning this cycle of a dawning awareness that we are trying to hasten. It will do us good, but, more so it will do good for others. We are here to do more than take up space in this world.
I appreciate your attention, as always, and appreciate whatever it is that you find it within your heart and ability to commit yourselves to. It will definitely open up pathways to greater and deeper things.
This article was also published in The Theosophist, VOL. 142 NO. 5 FEBRUARY 2021
The Theosophist is the official organ of the President, founded by H. P. Blavatsky on 1 Oct. 1879.
To read the FEBRUARY, 2021 issue, click HERE
To watch the talk on YouTube, click HERE