Theosophy, Biosophy and Bioethics
Originally printed in the July - August 2003 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Fox, Michael W. "Theosophy, Biosophy and Bioethics." Quest 91.4 (JULY - AUGUST 2003):136-140.
By Michael W. Fox
THEOSOPHY IS ALL TOO OFTEN REGARDED BY the general public ass some esoteric cult or abstract intellectual discipline€”and is dismissed accordingly. Thiss regrettable, since it has much to offer every religion in its affirmation and every secular school and profession, from law and medicine to agriculture and economics, in its clarification of human place and purpose.
Here, I look at Theosophy through my own prism as a veterinarian and bioethicist, deeply concerned about the suffering of all sentient life and the future of earthly creation. Through this prism the light of Theosophy can be divided into three rays€”biosophy, biophilia, and bioethics€”connecting mind and heart with the life-creating Reality of all in all.
Biosophy (life wisdom and wise living) was rudimentary but evolving during much of our existence as gatherer?hunters. Relative to urban consciousness today, our ancestors had a profound understanding and respect for various plants€”their nutritional, medical, and psychic properties€”and a reverence for fellow creatures, and respect for their spiritual and imaginative powers.
This understanding and reverence was the knowledge base and ethico-spiritual foundation for all sustainable human communities, from the farming villages of preindustrial Europe, the Americas, and Africa to the Australian and Amazonian gatherer-hunters, the fishermen of Polynesia, and gardeners of South-East Asia.
From biosophy grew biophilia, a love and appreciation for plants, animals, and one's bioregion that gave one identity, physical and spiritual sustenance, a sense of power of place, and the template for a unique culture,
art, music, poetry, and religion. And from this understanding and love grew our ethical and
moral sensibility that I call bioethics, because it includes all life and not just human rights and interests.
As a species with the power to transform Nature€”to turn forests into fields for genetically engineered cows to produce an analogue of human milk€”we possess a degree of autonomy and power unequalled by the rest of the animal and plant kingdoms.
Our place and purpose on Earth and in Nature are becoming increasingly unclear, ill-defined, and confused. If this were not so, then the legal, medical, and agricultural professions, among others, would not be facing a world in crisis to the extent that we see today and desperately seeking solutions. It is an extensive crisis because we have evolved technologically at such a rapid pace that many human-caused diseases, and anthropogenic climatic perturbations, are global. They are threatening our future security and the beauty, biodiversity, and vitality of the Earth€”so vital to our physical and spiritual well-being.
Theosophy in these times is of great practical, social, and political relevance. It does not offer to save our souls from sin and punishment like some Christian, Islamic, or other fundamentalist cult. Rather, it views so-called sin and punishment as disturbances of cosmic harmony and the inevitable restitution of the harmony in their wake. Theosophy gives no other coloration. The enlightened Self is the god of forgiveness in our own awareness, humility, compassion, and understanding. It is not external to our own being. This rediscovery of the Self is the way of Theosophy.
It could well be that many who instinctively subscribe to Theosophical principles have never heard of Theosophy. These people are deeply involved in such issues as environmental and animal protection, sustainable agriculture, social justice, political egalitarianism, and holistic preventive medicine. If some of the basic principles of Theosophy were to become more available to the public, especially in our educational curricula from grade school to graduate school, human progress would be enhanced. Through greater understanding of our place and purpose in Nature and the cosmos, the realization of human potential and its actualization is enhanced. Without such understanding, we continue to suffer and to harm others.
The Theosophical Society's first Object is to promote understanding and brotherhood among people of all races, nationalities, philosophies, and religions. But we will never enjoy the true brotherhood of humanity if we do not express our kinship with all subhuman interdependent life with reverential respect. We need to protect the natural world that sustains us all, and share those resources equitably. This desire is met by embracing the bioethics of biosophy and through biophilia, which are dimensions of Theosophy that have gained greater clarity and significance in these times and in ways this essay explores.
Theosophy is a quest and discipline as ancient as our first conscious breath. As a veterinarian and ethologist I have often wondered whether other animals share with us some divine understanding or God-realization. Perhaps they do not seek such conscious awareness because unlike we humans, they are not aware: not aware of being separate, and therefore have neither need nor desire to feel connected by way of divine understanding.
From a parientheistic perspective, all creatures are in God and of God. So are we humans, but we are not always aware of this because we do not feel and act as if we are part of the One Life. If we did, then we would avoid harming animals, each other, and desecrating Nature. Because of the way we structure reality, we mistakenly believe that we are separate and independent from the whole, so we objectify "things." This is a legacy of Aristotelian rationalism and Cartesian dualism. This belief is as erroneous and as harmful to us spiritually as the belief that animals are irrational, unfeeling, and devoid of souls and any inherent spark of divinity. These two beliefs, combined with the third one that holds that animals and nature were created primarily for man's use, have led to the desecration of the Earth and to the holocaust of the animal kingdom.
The founders of the Theosophical movement realized that our health, spiritually, emotionally, and physically was determined by our awareness of the quality of our relationships with animals, plants, the soil, and the whole of Nature, as well as with each other. Theosophical classics proclaim with one voice that all life is one and even its humblest forms enshrine divinity.
From millennia of living close to Nature as gatherer-hunters and much later, and as agrarians and sheep/cattle farmers, our ancestors developed religious traditions based on a largely symbiotic relationship and a spiritual communion with the natural world. Various animals and plants became totems, intermediaries, or interlocutors between the expanding dimensions of human consciousness and the Absolute. Through close association, careful observation, and empathic inductive and deductive reasoning, we were able to harness and direct some of these powers and forces of creation to satisfy our own expanding curiosity and multiplying needs and wants. We now have reached the point where we can genetically engineer animals, plants, and micro-organisms. Through this technology we have the power to direct the entire evolutionary process and change the face of creation forever.
From an esoteric perspective, our evolving intelligence has taken us to a new threshold and a new horizon with two paths. One is a path of reverential and co-creative participation€”the one that Theosophy has always signposted. The other, a path of rational egotism, was signposted by the likes of Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and Ayn Rand, as well as by contemporary economists, scientists, industrialists, and legions of other rational instrumentalists. This path has lead to a technocratic dystopia, rather than some hoped-for scientific-industrial utopia, where the means to the meaningless end of materialism is total overconsumption. There are no sacramentalists, parientheists or Theosophists anywhere on this path that encourage and lead humanity to make enlightened, empathic, and ethical choices. Beware of the reductionists, the logical positivists, the moral relativists and dualists, as well as the therapists who are not environmentalists, and the doctors who are not priestly healers of the soul and the Earth.
Theosophy, biosophy, bioethics, and the scriptures of all the world's major religions advise and instruct a wise and gentle use of these demigod powers. Secular materialism €”whose theology dismisses reverence for trees and animals as pagan pantheism€”uses these powers to recreate the natural world into its own image of industrial utility, directing the evolutionary process of earthly creation to satisfy man's own pecuniary ends. Secular materialism is the mutant `runeme' or belief system that turns Homo sapiens into Homo technos: technocratic man.
Homo technos treat all of Earth's creations as a collection of potentially exploitable objects and resources, rather than as sacred entities and processes. He rules over a dysfunctional, technologized world where the life-support system of the planet€”its atmosphere, climate, oceans, forest lungs, and life-sustaining soils and ecosystems are becoming dysfunctional and starting to deteriorate. As biological diversity is obliterated by industrialism, so cultural diversity is lost in the homogenizing process of global consumerism. The global economy, security of nations, and integrity of communities are now beginning to disintegrate. More technological 'fixes' are sought. Crime, violence, and a host of diseases, physical and mental, are spiritual disorders, symptomatic of our diseased condition; of our not living in right relationship. The sickening condition of the natural world mirrors the human condition, and is a product thereof, The death of Nature will be the death of the human spirit. Only Homo technos may survive, and to what end except the loneliness of an arrogant narcissist and the terror of never being able to trust life; to love Nature as provider.
Technocratic man is now busy creating a global industrial technopolis. As he unconsciously but determinedly mutates into Homo technos, he makes science his religion, and the technocracy his authority, parent, and provider. Through GATT, the World Bank, and World Trade Organizations, the biosphere or natural world is being turned into an industrialized wasteland. This is not the technosphere that visionaries like Teilhard de Chardin saw in the evolution of Homo sapiens into Homo cosmos or Homo pan sapiens.
But a technosphere that is in harmonic co-creative resonance with a restored and healthy biosphere is still within our creative capacity, provided we have the will and time. It is the only way to help ensure human well-being, world peace, and an ecologically sound, sustainable, and equitable global economy. We can create this future now only by basing all of our relationships on the bioethics of reverential respect for all life on Earth. Humility, compassion, and ahimsa (nonviolence) are the essential heart-mind principles and bioethical criteria for right livelihood that Theosophy has long recognized and promoted.
We then treat animals humanely, giving them citizenship legally and morally because they are part of the same life community and creation as we, and are thus worthy of equal and fair consideration. And we revere, respect, protect, and restore nature for Nature's sake€”the natural world, biodiversim ecosystems, the oceans, lakes, rivers, forests, swamps, savannas, and all the myriad and diverse wonders of divine conception and manifestation.
Theosophy gives the key to new ways and new days by pointing us away from the nemesis of Homo technos, and toward the way to heal ourselves by healing the Earth Soul or anima mundi. It is difficult to have sympathy for self-inflicted human suffering when it is humans who bring so much evil into the world and are the only source of evil in nature. But there must be empathy, otherwise there can be no understanding, reconciliation, or healing. Nor should we become so preoccupied with the spiritual that we neglect the physical and our everyday responsibilities, or vice versa. And we should not look to more laws and punishments, or scientific and medical breakthroughs, to help improve our condition when the basic problem is spiritual and ethical.
Regrettably, the mechanistic and reductionist approach of western conventional (allopathic) medicine focuses on the physical plane. This narrow approach to the "diagnosis"(interpretation) and treatment of human disease and suffering, though highly profitable for the multinational pharmaceutical industry, has done little to prevent human suffering. Nor can it be expected to since it is part of the diseased state of mind that is unable to realize, from a more empathetic and holistic view, that the origin of much human suffering is the result of our not being aware of our connections with all things. We all suffer and cause great harm to all sentient life when we act without any respect, feeling or sense of these sacred connections. We bring suffering and sickness upon ourselves when we harm the environment and fellow creatures. The good healer teaches panempathy, and reverential respect for all life, even life that we may fear.
The patron of animals and nature, St. Francis of Assisi, had a sacramentalist resonance with God's creatures and creation which moved him to interpret the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in a deeply empathetic, transcendental or gnostic way. This way was anathema to Rome's patriarchal and Aristotelean church of Thomas of Aquinas. He threatened the power and authority of Rome by teaching that divinity was not simply in their churches but everywhere in nature and in a life of compassion, simplicity, and service. Yet for political reasons, the pagan heresy of St. Francis, the first Christian, if not the last, was accepted by the Church of Rome.
Just as St. Francis, as a panentheist, was radical to the theocracy of his time, so must we, as Theosophists, become radical to the technocracy of our time. As Sr. Francis lived his truth, so must we discover and live ours.
A Muslim friend of mine used to observe, "All animals are Muslim because they are obedient to their Creator." Animals are thus superior to most of us, and they can be our teachers, healers, guides, companions, and source of delight and wonder. They enrich our lives, giving us a reference point that immediately takes us out of our egosphere and humanosphere into the biosphere and the noOsphere or realm of great mystery and revelation that St. Francis knew and shamans enter. St. Francis said that through communion with animals and nature we find God, and that by the ways of animals and nature, divinity is revealed to us. I call this the way of biosophy€”the path of curious naturalists who combine biophilia with bioscience. It is also the primal path of Theosophy, its most ancient root. Nature, animals, and plants were the source of human sapience, of our self-definition and self-realization; of our awareness of a creative process beyond our comprehension€”the mysterium tremendum; and they were a source of artistic and musical inspiration, physical sustenance, and even miraculous healing powers.
A TV news bulletin on February 17, 1995, announced that a Maryland Senator wanted to legislate caning as the "way for delinquent teenagers to see the light." That we have regressed to this level of responding and relating to each other, and have such a dim, moralistic view of the "light"€”of enlightening others through punishment and not by example€”is a sad and significant commentary on the human condition in these times. But what examples of right livelihood does the adult world set for younger generations? Can we not have greater empathy for disturbed teenagers who are not unaware of the corruption, violence, and inhumanity of a dysfunctional adult world in which they are expected to participate and play some meaningful role that their education barely helps define?
It would seem that we are, collectively, stuck at a stage somewhere between the morality of a demanding and dependent infant, and the shameless sexual impulsivity and self-centered arrogance of adolescence. Such a condition may be a fair if harsh characterization of an overly consumptive, materialistic society where nothing but matter€”money and things€”matters. Breaking free from these conditioning constraints and self-limiting values of industrial, consumer society is difficult when we are dependent upon it for our material sustenance. Mistakenly, some believe they have found spiritual sustenance in fundamentalist religious cults, while others seek enlightenment in world-negating and escapist "new age" trivial pursuits, that are at best a short-term fix and distraction for lost and suffering souls.
Theosophy is one school or way that should be in every school. It is like a coming home for the pilgrim soul. It puts our lives in focus, and through its clear lens our perceptions are enhanced. This heightens our awareness of our feelings, awakening our empathetic and intuitive powers of healing and understanding. Also our appreciation and enjoyment of life is intensified. Theosophy enables us to realize our full potentialities, giving a deeper sense of purpose and meaning to our everyday lives, relationships, experiences, and "coincidences." And it is good for the animals and all of Earth's creation under our domination.
For students whose education is broken into "disciplines," like biology, theology, philosophy, social studies, humanities, and the arts, Theosophy can serve a vital integrative function. Linking biosophy, bioethics, and aesthetics with a diverse curriculum of subjects from the arts, sciences, and humanities, Theosophy could and should be the cornerstone of an enlightened and enlightening educational system. Prevention is the best medicine, and such an education would be good medicine and our best investment for the future. New ways and new days through Theosophy are possible for us all in our personal lives, as well as in our professional lives, and for generations to come. I can think of no better quest.
Michael W. Fox serves as chief consultant and veterinarian for India Project for Animals and Nature, (IPAN). He is author of The Boundless Circle (Quest Books, 1996). This article is adapted from The Theosophist 120 (July 1999): 850-6. For more information on Dr. Fox and IPAN please visit: http://www.gcci.org and link to IPAN.