Becoming by Harvey Tordoff

Notes for a talk presented at the Blavatsky Weekend, Tekels Park, 11 March 2001

"So cling not to that which was but look at what is to be" (O Lanoo! ~ Epilogue)

Preamble

When I was a businessman, in what now seems like an earlier incarnation, I used to travel regularly to the USA. Our headquarters over there were just outside Philadelphia. When I had time (which wasn't often) I liked to drive out to the part of the countryside known as Pennsylvania Dutch, the home of a farming community called the Amish. You might have seen Harrison Ford in the movie Witness depicting Amish community life.

The Amish were German settlers who, back in the early part of the 18th century, decided that modern life wasn't for them, and they turned their back on any invention more modern than the button. They still drive by pony and trap, dress in sober clothes (without buttons!) and shun electrical luxuries like televisions. Although we are talking about a number of villages over quite a large area, there is a strong sense of community. If something needs doing, like building a new timber barn, everyone joins in. They have retained traditional values which in many ways are far more attractive than modern values. Which is the whole point. The essence of Amish life is maintaining traditional values. Consequently, within this large area of 21st century Pennsylvania, crime, violence and vandalism are almost unknown ~ except as perpetrated by outsiders, or 'English' as they still refer to people from Philadelphia. But is this social experiment a success?

Not really. The Amish communities are dying. The young are being drawn more and more into modern America, to the bright lights, the Internet, the excitement of travel, the challenge of modern careers. Why did it fail?

The Amish set themselves against nature. They didn't recognise that everything in nature is in a state of evolution. The Amish thought it was enough just to be, but nothing is static; everything is in the process of 'becoming'. And so they became ~ they became an anachronism, and like the Shakers they will probably not survive.

Theosophy

So what has this got to do with Theosophy? Everything. The whole story of God, Mankind and the Universe is about 'becoming', and something can only 'become' out of the essence of what is already there. By trying to maintain traditional values, rather than develop them, the Amish sowed the seeds of their own failure. As with yesterday, we are concerned with essence, but this morning I want to talk about the evolution of essence, or becoming.

Even the Universe could only 'become' out of the essence of the universe contained in the 'Long Night of Rest'. HPB tells us over and over: "as above, so below". We are given many opportunities to watch what is happening elsewhere so that we can apply it to other things. As Geoffrey Farthing will tell you, our greatest teacher is Nature. If we study nature we should not be surprised by anything, because we human beings are governed by natural laws. Even the Law of Karma is a natural law. If nothing is static we should not expect our lives to be static. If everything evolves we should not assume that our evolution has stopped. If every action sets up a chain reaction we should expect each of our actions to have a consequence. If I drink too much, get up in the morning with a hangover, frighten my children over breakfast, crash the car on the way to work, I can expect the chain of consequences to go on and on. I may not be able to anticipate their precise nature, but I would be a fool to think there won't be any.

It is natural for us to become something else. The more we understand this very natural phenomenon the easier it is for us to accept change in our lives. If we sit on the shore by the Sea of Time and try to stop the tide from coming in we will have no more success that King Canute. In most cases what we are responding to is fear ~ fear that we won't be able to cope with change. We become comfortable, even with unpleasant things, and we like the familiarity. We want to hang on to the things that make us comfortable ~ our possessions, our relationships, our roles, our identities. Then we become over-attached to these things, setting up a Karmic vibration that ensures the fear of change becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Whatever we do, though, we can't stop change. In the above example we become comfortable, we become over-attached, and then we become distressed when (as is inevitable) we lose the objects of our attachment. None of this 'becoming' has been in our control, but as we gain in wisdom we should be able to influence the nature of our becoming.

So what is there to understand? What we are today came out of our actions yesterday. Our essence is a seed which when nurtured will grow, but our actions are also seeds, and liken weeds, they can stunt the growth of our essence. Unaware actions are governed by our emotions, and so we need to understand our essence and we need to become aware of our actions. Going back to Geoffrey Farthing's model for everything ~ Nature ~ the young apple tree has within it the essence of fruit-bearing. If the right actions are brought to bear (in this case, beyond the control of the unaware tree) ~ rainfall, sunshine, heat, nutrients, pruning, then the tree will become laden with fruit; apples, not pears or anything else, because that is the nature or essence of an apple tree. Unlike the tree we have the capability of bringing the right actions to bear at the right time.

So what does this mean in our everyday lives? Common advice is to take time to just 'be'. After all, we are human beings, not human doings! But this is just the beginning of four stages.

1. Whilst meditating, or being, try to identify our inner essence.
2. Take time to recognise the broad chain of events that led to where we are now.
3. Identify the direction our lives must take from here to give our inner essence greater fulfilment.
4. Be aware of our thoughts and actions, and try to encourage those that move us in the right direction.

Direction

I am a great believer in 'direction. Many problems are so big that we cannot imagine a solution, and so we tear our hair and rant and rave and the problem becomes even bigger. But if we can identify some of the steps that will begin to reduce the problem we don't need to imagine the whole solution ~ that will become obvious along the way. If you are planning a trip to a small town in up-state New York you need to be quite specific about check-in arrangements and departure time at Heathrow, but you only need a general idea of buses and trains that will take you up-state. And you don't even have to think about the cab that will take you the last few miles. You can deal with those matters as the journey unfolds.

The Essence of Becoming

Last night I suggested a definition of our essence: "Nurturing spiritual growth in self whilst encouraging and facilitating spiritual growth in others"

The essence of becoming involves looking at our each and every thought and action and deciding: does this thought or action lead to spiritual growth in me or someone else? If it doesn't, why do it? If it does, do it with love and an open heart. As simple as that. Well, not that simple. We inhabit these physical bodies which bump around on this physical plane, and so we have to do a certain amount of housekeeping and maintenance which in themselves might not seem to have anything to do with spiritual growth. So we might have to divert a little time to seeing to our physical needs as part of our daily practice. And we shouldn't neglect our emotional needs. Joy can be a great source of spiritual strength. When you watch the Dalai Lama giving a talk or being interviewed, just notice how much laughter there is. Sometimes we can have fun just for the sake of having fun.

Bigger Picture

So what of the bigger picture? We are individuals (temporarily) and we are doing our best to achieve spiritual growth in ourselves and in others by right thoughts, right actions, etc. I know that Buddhists like to break this down into eight 'rights', or the eight-fold path, but thoughts and actions cover most sins. And by using the word 'thoughts' I am not suggesting we have to be clever thinkers, it is more about opening our hearts.

Hopefully, then, as individuals we are growing spiritually, but what about the wider community? What is the world becoming? With all the floods, famine, war and pestilence, it feels like all the disaster movies ever made. But that is probably inevitable, as the human population continues to grow and more and more people compete for the same land and resources, and we set up more chain reactions that affect the environment. If this trend continues, then like the Atlanteans before us we may destroy ourselves. Trends can be reversed, and HPB suggests that our Race is not destined to go the way of Atlantis. But we cannot rely on prophecy ~ we have to work to achieve our destiny. If we fail then we might, despite the predictions, contrive to destroy ourselves.

One other thing to note is that the world is becoming smaller, and instant communication is reaching more and more people. It took several hundred years for the message of Jesus to travel beyond a continent, but if the President of the USA makes a speech, within minutes it will appear on millions of television and computer screens all over the world. If we are not happy with what the world is becoming, and we want to help the world become a better place, we can take advantage of this technology to spread the message.

Theosophical Society

Why did HPB write The Secret Doctrine? Why did the Masters think it was such a vital mission that they prolonged her life? Why was the Society formed? Was it simply to preserve the teachings? Surely it had to be more than that. The teachings were already preserved ~ they had been since Atlantis, since Lemuria. It boils down to two facts:

1. Before the SD the teachings were preserved but secret.
2. After the SD the teachings were in the public domain.
I can draw only one conclusion: The Masters had decided that humankind was ready to receive the teachings.

I believe that the Theosophical Society was formed to play a part in the salvation of the world. It has been entrusted with the Wisdom of the Ancients. What are we doing with it? Studying it. Fine, but what else? What is the Society becoming? Like the Amish of Pennsylvania, it is becoming old. Are we, like the Amish, simply trying to preserve what we have? If the Society fails then HPB's sacrifice could have been in vain. We must be vibrant, develop, evolve. We must continue what HPB started: making the Ancient Wisdom more accessible, more understandable, more available.

In the last few years a number of web sites have appeared promoting the teachings of Blavatsky, and this is a start. But for the most part they are aimed at students of theosophy. Somehow, we have to put theosophical ideas into the mainstream. HPB started the process by publishing what had been occult for millennia. But her words, however beautiful and meaningful, are not reaching the man in the street. We have to stop thinking of ourselves as guardians of the teachings. We have to teach, by passing on those ideas in simple form; in parable, poetry, newspaper articles, pop songs, plays, and by example in whatever way we can. Somehow, some way, we need to get these ideas into millions of hearts all over the world. Not just as a single Divine Message of Cosmic Importance, which might simply be rejected, but by sowing the seeds of the divine message as we go through life. These seeds will bear many flowers: reincarnation, karma, unity, immortality, etc. And don't stop to wonder if the ground is fertile or stony; these flowers are quite hardy, and can bloom in the most unlikely places.

The Collective Unconscious

There is a story about potatoes and 100 monkeys. I'm not sure whether it's true or apocryphal, but never mind. A troupe of monkeys had managed to survive on a small island, even though there was not much in the way of traditional food. Their staple diet was potatoes. A troupe of scientists thought it would be helpful to study the monkeys to see what they could learn about adaptation. So for several months they observed the monkeys grubbing about for potatoes, eating them and spitting out the soil. One of the scientists thought he would help by washing the dirt off a few potatoes, and this became a daily routine. Sure enough, the monkeys showed a preference for clean potatoes, and one monkey in particular watched the scientist closely. Eventually, the scientist was amazed to see this monkey digging up potatoes, taking them to the river and washing them. After a few weeks some of the other monkeys started doing the same, and soon the entire troupe of about 100 monkeys washed their potatoes before eating them. Then the scientists had a call from another group of observers on a neighbouring island. "We've just seen the darnedest thing ~ the monkeys here have started washing their potatoes!" In other words, it takes 100 monkeys for a message to become embedded in the collective unconscious.

Unfortunately, we humans are no longer so in tune with the collective, and we have to work a bit harder on more mundane levels. But there are 30,000 theosophists. Surely we can achieve what 100 monkeys achieved!

Tibet

At the summer school in Ripon last year I referred to the font of knowledge in Tibet, which the lamas kept to themselves by making it almost impossible for outsiders to even visit the county. It took a Chinese invasion to spread Tibetan Buddhism far and wide. Let's not wait for an external force to break down the barriers of our Society.

Messengers of the Gods

We set ourselves up as an elite brotherhood, and so I am reluctant to stroke our collective egos by calling us "Messengers of the Gods". Perhaps "Messenger Boys" is a better description.

My message to you is that the Secret Doctrine is not something to be frightened of. Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. We talk about needing keys to unlock the Secret Doctrine, but the SD is itself the key ~ the key to unlocking the secrets of our lives. It doesn't matter that you don't understand every word, every passage. Read with an open heart and some of the teachings will lodge in your heart. And then share your knowledge, your wisdom, not just in your lodge, in the Society, but in every walk of life. Carry on the work started by HPB.