Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Karen Armstrong: 3rd Global Conference on World's Religions after September 11

Karen Armstrong OBE is a historian of religion, whose books on the traditions of India, China, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been translated into forty-five languages. They include, A History of God, which was an international bestseller; The Battle for God, A History of Fundamentalism; Islam: A Short History, Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time; Buddha; The Great Transformation: The Origin of Our Religious Traditions and most recently Fields of Blood; Religion and the History of Violence. In 2007 she was appointed by Kofi Annan to the High-Level Group of the UN Alliance of Civilizations with the task of diagnosing the causes of extremism. In 2008, she was awarded the TED Prize and began working with TED on the Charter for Compassion, created online by the general public, crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. It was launched in the fall of 2009 and has become a global movement. Also, in 2008 she was awarded the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal. In 2013, she received the British Academy’s inaugural Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding and in 2015 the ISESCO prize for educators. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Trustee of the British Museum.
Below is a transcript of the introduction of her talk:
I am told repeatedly in eerily the same number of words every time, religion has been the cause of all the wars in history, and that’s a very odd remark because we know that the two world wars were not fought for religion but for secular nationalism. Military historians tells us that we never go to war for a single reason; there are always multiple factors, interlocking factors involved, territorial, political, cultural and above all, economic, the competition for scarce resources. And similarly, experts in terrorism tell us that, whatever the motivation for a terrorist atrocity, terrorism is always inescapably political, and yet it seems to me that we make a scapegoat of religion, piling all the blame on that and not examining all the factors that are before us, and at this very dangerous moment in history, we need clarity.
Part of our problem is that we in the west have developed a very peculiar view of religion, dating back to the 18th century enlightenment, when we separated religion from politics. Before the enlightenment, what we called religion, spirituality permeated all aspects of life. So by trying to take politics, for example, out of religion, would be like taking the gin out of a cocktail. So when people thought politically in religious terms, this wasn’t because they were too stupid to distinguish things which were essentially distinct, rather questions such as injustice and inequity, human pain, poverty, suffering, these are matters of sacred import.
And the prophets of Israel, for example, would have had no time for people who said their prayers nicely in the temple, but did not address themselves to the plight of the poor or allow their rulers to get away with war crimes and other atrocities. Now, similarly, when we’re looking at a situation today, it’s often said, if only people would stop mixing religion with politics, and Islam in particular is seen as something inherently violent. This is a myth that has taken deep root in the western world since the time of the crusades, when it was actually Christians inflicting a gratuitous violence on the Muslim world, rather a projection of their own unease about their behavior onto the enemy.
But we really must try to avoid all these stereotypical ways of looking at Islam, we can’t afford that kind of myopia. People are always saying, well, we had a reformation, they need to reform themselves as we did. This shows an absolutely embarrassing ignorance of Islamic history, which is punctuated continually with movements of renewal and reform, just like any other faith. There are many political factors that are involved in the distress in the region in the middle east, not least, the colonialist. The French and the British, who set up the nation states that we have in the region today, they almost set them up to fail, making them inherently unstable.
Now we’ve got plenty evidence about the role of Islam in the atrocities that we’ve been thinking about all day, but they don’t get much traction in the west. Gallop, for example, did the biggest poll that it had ever undertaken after 9-11 in 35 Muslim majority countries and they discovered that, when they asked the question, were the 9-11 attacks justified, 93% of respondents said, no, they were not justified. And the reason they gave for this were entirely religious, they quoted the Koran which says, to kill a single person is to destroy a whole world. The 7% who said they were justified, their reasons were entirely political.
If religion is not all about violence as the myth says, then what is it about and what should religion be doing to counter-balance this appalling state of affairs. In 2008, I won the TED prize and TED gives you a wish for a better world which they promise to make happen and I knew at once what I wanted because I got absolutely sick and tired of hearing religious leaders coming together and pronouncing on some abstruse point of doctrine, condemning this or condemning that and they never mentioned compassion, even though my studies showed me that whatever I was writing about, whether it was a history of God, a history of Jerusalem, a history of fundamentalism, I kept being drawn back inexorably to the issue of compassion.
Every single one of the major world faiths has developed its own version of what is called the golden rule, never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself, and said that this is the essence of faith, the test of true spirituality; and if the world needs anything at the moment, it is compassion.
Check out the full lecture:
Check out her Compassion Charter:

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Golden Rule in 20 World Religions

1- Hinduism:
"This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you." (Mahabharata, 5:1517)
"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." (Udana-Varga 5:18)
3- Jainism:
"A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated." (Sutrakritanga 1.11.33)
4- Taoism:
"Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss." (Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien)
5- Confucianism:
“What I do not wish men to do to me, I also wish not to do to men." (Analects 15:23)
6- Shinto:
"The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form." (Munetada Kurozumi, Opening Way 57)
7- Ancient Egyptian:
"Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do." (The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, 109 - 110)
8- Zoroastrianism:
"Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others." (Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29)
9- Judaism
"...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Leviticus 19:18)
10- Ancient Greece:
"What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either." (Sentences of Sextus, 179)
11- Ancient Rome
"What you would avoid suffering yourself, seek not to impose on others." (Epictetus, Fragment 38)
12- Christianity
"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." (Luke 6:31)
13- Islam:
"None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." (Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths,13)
14- Sikhism:
"Don't create enmity with anyone as God is within everyone." (Guru Arjan Devji 259)
15- Sufism:
"Human beings are members of a whole, In creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, Other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, The name of human you cannot retain." (Saadi, Gulistan 1, 10)
16- Ancient Incas:
"Do not to another what you would not yourself experience." (Manco Capoc, Testament, 11))
17- Native American:
"May all these people and all their generations walk together as relatives." (Black Elk, Sacred Pipe 37)
18- The Yorubas of West Africa:
"He who injures another injures himself." (The Juvenile, vol.1, 176, 1853)
19- Moroccan tribesmen:
"What you desire for yourself you should desire for others." (Wit and Wisdom in Morocco, Westermarck, 236)

20- Tamil Tradition:
"Do not do to others what you know has hurt yourself." (Tirukkua, Tiruvalluvar (Chapter 32, k. 316)

21- Theosophy
"To all, whether Chohan or chela, who are obligated workers among us the first and last consideration is whether we can do good to our neighbour, no matter how humble he may be; and we do not permit ourselves to even think of the danger of any contumely, abuse or injustice visited upon ourselves. We are ready to be "spat upon and crucified" daily — not once — if real good to another can come of it."(Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, 86)

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Tibetan Mindfulness of Death Meditation 2

From Chapter 9 of Tsong Khapa's Stages on the Path of Enlightenment (aka The Nine-Point Death Meditation)

2. The time of death is uncertain.
If  you think every day, “I will die today,” or at least “I will probably die today,” you will act for the benefit of whatever next life you will go to, and you will not make preparations to remain in this life. If you do not have this thought, you will see yourself as staying in this life, and you will make provisions for this life rather than act for the benefit of your next life. For example, when you plan to stay someplace for a long time, you make preparations to stay there. If you think that you are not going to stay there, but are going elsewhere, you make preparations for leaving. Hence, every day you must develop an awareness of the imminence of your death in the following way.

a- The life span in this world is uncertain.
Bear in mind the cases you have seen or heard concerning the gurus and friends who reached the end of their life span but died without fulfilling their intentions, suddenly dying because of external and internal causes. Be aware of death, thinking over and over, “I too am subject to such a death.”

b- The causes of death are very many and the causes of life few.
Furthermore, there are no causes of staying alive that no not become causes of death. In other words, you seek such things as food and drink, shelter, and friends in order not to die, but even these can become causes of death. For instance, you may consume the wrong food and drink, or consume too much or too little. Your shelter could crumble, or your friends could deceive you. Thus, it is clear that there are no causes of staying alive that cannot become causes of death. Since life itself is headed toward death, the conditions for life would offer no security even if they were numerous. (156)

c- The body is very fragile.
The contemplation of the uncertainty of the time of death is the most important of the three roots. This is the very thing that will redirect your mind, so work hard at it. (158)

3. The contemplation that at the time of death nothing helps except spiritual practice

a- Friends will not help.
When you see that you must go to your next life, no matter how many loving and very worried relatives and friends surround you at that time, you cannot take even one with you. (158)

b- Resources will not help.
No matter how many piles of beautiful jewels you have, you cannot take even the slightest particle with you.

c- Your body will not help.
If instead you seek only to find happiness and to avoid suffering up until your death, then you are going to need a course of conduct which surpasses animal behaviour, since animals are better than humans at temporal happiness. (159)

Therefore, although it is quite hard to produce this mindfulness of death, you must work at it because it is the foundation of the path. (159)

Friday, 30 June 2017

Tibetan Mindfulness of Death Meditation1

From Chapter 9 of Tsong Khapa's Stages on the Path of Enlightenment (aka The Nine-Point Death Meditation)

The faults of not cultivating mindfulness of death.
If you are thus seduced by the hope that this body and life will last for a long time, you will create a strong attachment to goods, services, and the like. As if swept away by the current of a river, you will be immersed in strong hostility toward what prevented you, or what you fear might prevent you, from having these objects of attachment; in delusion that is ignorant of their faults; and, as a consequence of these two, in afflictions such as pride and jealousy, as well as strong secondary afflictions. (145)
The benefits of cultivating mindfulness of death
Therefore, the thought that you will not die is the source of all deterioration, and the remedy for this is mindfulness of death, the source of all that is excellent. Consequently, you should not think that this is a practice for those who do not have some other profound teaching to cultivate in meditation. Nor should you think that although this is something worthy of meditation, you should cultivate it just a little at the beginning of the meditation session because it is not suitable for continuous practice. Rather, be certain from the depths of you heart that it is necessary in the beginning, middle, and end, and then cultivate it in meditation.(147)
The kind of mindfulness of death you should develop
Thus, when you contemplate impermanence again and again, you think, “I will undoubtedly separate from my body and resources soon,” and you stop craving that hopes not to leave them. Consequently, you will not fear death out of the distress of leaving.  (148)
How to cultivate mindfulness of death
By way of the three roots, nine reasons, and three decisions. The three roots are:
1. Death is certain
a- Death will definitely come and therefore cannot be avoided
The wise know that all
Who have come and will come perish,
Leave this body, and go to the next life.
Therefore, be sure to engage in pure behaviour by abiding in the teaching. (The Collection of Indicative Verses)(149)

b- Our lifetime cannot be extended and constantly diminishes
At the end of this life, the Lord of Death will destroy you and you will pass into the next world. Until then, there will never be a time when your life span does not diminish, whether you are going somewhere, walking around, or lying down. Thus, starting from the moment that you enter the womb, you do not remain for even an instant, but go headlong toward the next lifetime. Therefore, even your intervening life is exclusively consumed in a procession toward death led by messengers, sickness and aging. Consequently, do not rejoice in the thought that while you are living you are stationary and not moving toward the next lifetime. For example, when falling from the top of a high cliff, the time of falling to earth through space is not enjoyable. (150)

c- The certainty of death is such that even while you are alive, there is little time for spiritual practice
Even if you could live for the longest period explained above, it would be wrong to think that you have time. Much of your life has already been wasted. Half of what is left will be spent in sleep, and many of your waking hours well be wasted with other distractions. Further, as youth fades, the time of aging arrives. Your physical and mental strength deteriorate such that even if you want to practice religion, you lack the capacity to do so. Consequently, you have no more than a few chances to practice the teachings. (152)

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Through the Gates of Gold, Chapter 1, part 4

Here the question  is considered how one is to know what the Gates of Gold are, or is it possible to gain a conception of them? And a certain number of keys are given. First of all by concentration focused on any one idea, knowledge will be gained. Second, by seeking, one can come closer to them. And third, the answer lies within.
“If, therefore, instead of accepting the unknown as unknowable, men were with one accord to turn their thoughts towards it, those Golden Gates would not remain so inexorably shut. It does but need a strong hand to push them open. The courage to enter them is the courage to search the recesses of one’s own nature without fear and without shame. In the fine part, the essence, the flavor of the man, is found the key which unlocks those great Gates. And when they open, what is it that is found? “
It is possible to get an idea by scanning accounts of written testimonies. These can help to awaken one’s intuition and develop the conviction one needs to make the efforts.
“What is to be found within the words of those books is to be found in each one of us; and it is impossible to find in literature or through any channel of thought that which does not exist in the man who studies. This is of course an evident fact known to all real students. But it has to be especially remembered in reference to this profound and obscure subject, as men so readily believe that nothing can exist for others where they themselves find emptiness.
Hidden behind the thin yet seemingly impassable veil which hides it from us as it hid all science, all art, all powers of man till he had the courage to tear away the screen. That courage comes only of conviction. When once man believes that the thing exists which he desires, he will obtain it at any cost. The difficulty in this case lies in man’s incredulity. It requires a great tide of thought and attention to set in towards the unknown region of man’s nature in order that its gates may be unlocked and its glorious vistas explored.”
Some relevant passages from Light on the Path:
Close to the central heart of life, on any plane, there is knowledge, there order reigns completely; and chaos makes dim and confused the outer margin of the circle. In fact, life in every form bears a more or less strong resemblance to a philosophic school. There are always the devotees of knowledge who forget their own lives in their pursuit of it; there are always the flippant crowd who come and go — of such, Epictetus said that it was as easy to teach them philosophy as to eat custard with a fork.
He serves humanity and identifies himself with the whole world; he is ready to make vicarious sacrifice for it at any moment — by living not by dying for it. Why should he not die for it? Because he is part of the great whole, and one of the most valuable parts of it. Because he lives under laws of order which he does not desire to break. His life is not his own, but that of the forces which work behind him.
He is the flower of humanity, the bloom which contains the divine seed. He is, in his own person, a treasure of the universal nature, which is guarded and made safe in order that the fruition shall be perfected. It is only at definite periods of the world's history that he is allowed to go among the herd of men as their redeemer. But for those who have the power to separate themselves from this herd he is always at hand. And for those who are strong enough to conquer the vices of the personal human nature, as set forth in these four rules, he is consciously at hand, easily recognized, ready to answer.  (Comment 4)

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Astrology: Summer Solstice June 21 2017 12:24 pm

Burning Down the House
As the Sun passes from Gemini to Cancer at the Summer Solstice, it is joined in a strong conjunction from Mercury, ruler of Gemini, also in conjunction with the Mid Heaven – this is good for new business ventures, sharpness of mind but also self-absorption and restless tension. Moreover, it makes for very strong-wills and brings much attention from authority, for better or worse, and public recognition from work, reputations can thrive or fall.
Sun/Mercury - Chiron - Mercury T-Square
However this high profile, upbeat energy gets a serious reality check from Saturn, which brings a sense of alienation and inhibition and possible negativity, gloominess and hypercriticism. Indeed, Chiron enters the scenario and will form a Sun – Saturn – Chiron T-Square making for a very intense focus on personal identity, self-esteem, repressed feelings and childhood wounds as well as difficulty getting a message across.
A very sensitive period for ego-based issues as weaknesses can be brought to the fore that may require attention. The Sun-Uranus Trine should help alleviate things with a sense of open-mindedness, self-awareness and intellectual creativity. Surprise sudden events can occur. And the long-standing Saturn-Uranus Trine should also help stabilize the new changes.
Mars-Jupiter-Pluto T-Square
If the previous T-Square represented significant personal challenge, there is also the strong Mars-Jupiter-Pluto T-Square, which is a continuation of the Spring Uranus-Jupiter-Pluto T-Square, signifying the ongoing call for radical socio-political change. Now the Jupiter-Uranus opposition has temporarily faded, replaced by a series of volatile Mars-Saturn and Mars-Pluto Oppositions and an upcoming Mars-Uranus Square. The effects of these can be noticed so far with high-profile terrorists attacks in the UK and political intrigues and turnarounds in the UK and the US. Except for the intense Pluto-Uranus Square, these volatile aspects will eventually fade by the end of October, when we will finally see some smoother sailing.
So we have a Mars-Pluto opposition which brings severe power struggles, authoritarianism and fierce oppositions. The Mars-Jupiter Square brings tendencies over-extending oneself, ego inflation and over-optimism. The Jupiter-Pluto Square can bring conflict with power, obsession and fanaticism. The Moon-Pluto Trine can soften some of the sting of Pluto here. This powerful T-Square can represent a very ambitious, productive energy for change and restructuring, with the power to overcome obstacles.
Venus-Mars-Neptune &  Venus – Neptune – Pluto Minor Grand Trines
Fortunately, there are a couple of interesting Minor Grand Trines that help channel the volatile energies in a peaceful manner. The Venus-Mars-Neptune Trine brings a sense of altruism, charity, strong friendship and creative intellectual imagination to the mix.
There is also a Venus – Neptune – Pluto Minor Grand Trine symmetrically overlapping the other one, making a kind of butterfly formation of Trines and Sextiles. This brings depth to relationships, a sense of renewal  and mind-expanding introspection. These two aspects have a kind of beneficial hippy-trippy “Make love not war” vibe and Venus is kicking up quite a storm or sensual and romantic passions. Additionally, the Venus/ Neptune sextile forms a Yod with Jupiter, placing Jupiter at the apex of a very complex , symmetrical figure composed of a T-Square, Minor Grand Trine and a Yod (call it a Hyper-Yod, to coin a term, or maybe an X-Wing Fighter).
It is hard to say if there is a larger significance, but I think it shows the pivotal role of Jupiter (in Libra) this year and the important Jupiter-Uranus Opposition. The key to solving the Jupiter tendency for over-indulgence and deluded optimism would be the Venus/Neptune Sextile acute sensitivity to the needs and feeling of loved ones and the willingness to put them before our own. The Mars/Neptune (Service, Charity) and Venus/Pluto (Profound relationship insights) Trines can possibly figure as effective keys in resolving this complex formation. This chart has some very difficult Pluto and Saturn aspects, but it also has some well-placed complementary easy aspects that gives it a very interesting complexity for dynamic evolution.

Robert Hand, Planets in Transit

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Theosophy Basics: The Doctrine of Cycles, part 2

More from Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled vol. 1, chap. 1:
Sacred Mathematics are key in understanding the evolutionary process, which has an involutionary phase from spiritual to material; and an evolutionary phase from material to spiritual, a return to the spiritual origin.
The sacred numbers of the universe in their esoteric combination solve the great problem and explain the theory of radiation and the cycle of the emanations. The lower orders before they develop into higher ones must emanate from the higher spiritual ones, and when arrived at the turning-point, be reabsorbed again into the infinite. (8)

Misconstrual of the esoteric concepts of the computation of cycles has lead adventist religious sects and all kinds of misguided apocalyptic prophecy theories.
This method of calculating by the neroses, without allowing any consideration for the secrecy in which the ancient philosophers, who were exclusively of the sacerdotal order, held their knowledge, gave rise to the greatest errors. It led the Jews, as well as some of the Christian Platonists, to maintain that the world would be destroyed at the end of six thousand years. Gale shows how firmly this belief was rooted in the Jews. It has also led modern scientists to discredit entirely the hypothesis of the ancients. It has given rise to the formation of different religious sects, which, like the Adventists of our century, are always living in the expectation of the approaching destruction of the world. (34)

The ancient cycle of the Great Year is a cycle of creation and destruction characterized by a formation period followed by a dissolution phase mark by a cataclysm and a changing of the earth poles.
At the close of each “great year,” called by Aristotle — according to Censorinus — the greatest, and which consists of six sars* our planet is subjected to a thorough physical revolution. The polar and equatorial climates gradually exchange places; the former moving slowly toward the Line, and the tropical zone, with its exuberant vegetation and swarming animal life, replacing the forbidding wastes of the icy poles. This change of climate is necessarily attended by cataclysms, earthquakes, and other cosmical throes.*
As the beds of the ocean are displaced, at the end of every decimillennium and about one neros, a semi-universal deluge like the legendary Noachian flood is brought about. This year was called the Heliacal by the Greeks; but no one outside the sanctuary knew anything certain either as to its duration or particulars. The winter of this year was called the Cataclysm or the Deluge, — the Summer, the Ecpyrosis. (30)

An explanation is given of the traditional Hindu concept of the Four Yugas, a key concept that is closely adopted for theosophical purposes.
The Neroses, the Vrihaspati, or the periods called yugas or kalpas, are life-problems to solve. The Satya-yug and Buddhistic cycles of chronology would make a mathematician stand aghast at the array of ciphers. The Maha-kalpa embraces an untold number of periods far SHAPE back in the antediluvian ages. Their system comprises a kalpa or grand period of 4,320,000,000 years, which they divide into four lesser yugas, running as follows:
1st. — Satya yug — 1,728,000 years.
2d. — Tretya yug — 1,296,000 years.
3d. — Dvapa yug —— 864,000 years.
4th. — Kali yug —— 432,000 years.
Total ————– 4,320,000 years.
which make one divine age or Maha-yug; seventy-one Maha-yugs make 306,720,000 years, to which is added a sandhi (or the time when day and night border on each other, morning and evening twilight), equal to a Satya-yug, 1,728,000, make a manwantara of 308,448,000 years;* fourteen manwantaras make 4,318,272,000 years; to which must be added a sandhi to begin the kalpa, 1,728,000 years, making the kalpa or grand period of 4,320,000,000 of years. As we are now only in the Kali-yug of the twenty-eighth age of the seventh manwantara of 308,448,000 years, we have yet sufficient time before us to wait before we reach even half of the time allotted to the world. (32)