In Lascaux, France, 15,000 years before Christ, early man painted bulls and other images deep inside the walls of caves. His underlying belief held that such representations would bring the living animal within their grasp, and so guarantee a successful hunt.
Despite considerable advances in the physical sciences, their gift of organization and their monumental art and architecture, the Egyptians still lacked the means to reverse the internal decay of their society. Beset with immorality and decadence, they were soon too enfeebled to resist the onslaught of Rome.About 10,000 years ago, the early Hindu philosophers were also wrestling with life’s most basic questions. Their revelations were first recorded in poems and hymns in the Veda.
The doctrine of transmigration (the ancient concept of reincarnation) – that life is a continuous stream which flows ceaselessly, without beginning and without end – initially seemed to explain much of what plagued India. With the prospect of many lives, it was reasoned, a man had just as many opportunities to achieve self-knowledge.
But such a belief offered little succor to the multitudes of impoverished. And so, as that misery continued to spread, concerned religious leaders began to challenge traditional doctrine.
Siddhartha Gautama, son of a wealthy Hindu rajah, declared that man is a spiritual being who can achieve an entirely new state of awareness which he termed bodhi. For this reason, he is remembered today as the Buddha, revered for civilizing most of Asia. Unfortunately, however, he left no real means for others to actually attain those states of which he spoke.
In Persia and much of the ancient world, philosophers and religious men continued their quest to divine the true nature of man, even studying the movements of the sun and stars in hopes of unlocking the mysteries of life.
In the seventh century B.C., Zoroaster, born into a priestly family, came to believe himself a prophet. Forced to flee his native land for what he taught, he found asylum with King Vishtaspa in eastern Iran. There, the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism was born around the belief that only by defining “good” and “evil” could one hope to free himself of ignorance and achieve true happiness in the afterlife.
A century later, the Chinese philosopher Lao-tse believed the world moved according to a divine pattern, one reflected in the rhythmic and orderly movements of nature. Saddened by the corruption of politicians and general social decay, he saw man striving to be good, rather than let his inherent goodness come naturally from within. Eventually, so great was his disillusionment, he called for a return to a simpler golden age, and set out for the secluded countryside. Yet upon reaching the city’s edge, Lao-tse was beseeched by the gatekeeper not to leave before recording his ideas for posterity.
His manuscript, the Tao Te Ching, became the basis of Taoism and held out yet another hope of higher states to which man could aspire.
Tao means simply “way” or “way to go.” It is the way the universe moves – a universe to which man is inextricably linked. When men are most natural, they move according to the laws of interdependence and interaction of all universal laws, and so maintain a perfect harmony and balance. According to the Tao, it is the way – there is no other.
Unfortunately, Taoism too did not provide a workable means to reach that perfect harmony. Nor was any attempt made to provide such a means. For intrinsic in the Way, was the conviction that its basic truths were beyond words and could only be experienced. Hence the principles remained in the realm of esoteric knowledge.
When the Delphic Oracle proclaimed the Greek philosopher, Socrates (470399 B.C.) to be the “wisest man in the world,” Socrates countered that he was wise only in that he knew that he did not know. He believed man had a right to search for his own truth and that through increased understanding would become happier and more tolerant.
Socrates believed himself charged with a mission from God to make his fellow men aware not only of their own ignorance but also that knowledge could redeem them.
Socrates held that neither he nor anyone else had the right to force opinions on others. Rather, through systematic questioning, he sought to lead others to cast aside preconceptions and reach their own conclusions. He challenged falsehoods and pomposity, but his ironic criticisms and intellectual honesty were misunderstood by the authoritarians of his time.
Like many philosophers before him, Socrates’ methods challenged established beliefs. As a result, in 399 B.C. he was convicted of both “denying the gods” and corrupting youth. Sentenced to drink a cup of hemlock, a bitter poison, he chose to die rather than compromise his stand against tyranny and suppression of the truth.
Prejudice and a general deviation from the road to philosophic truth about man sent even the highly learned Greek civilization to an inevitable and untimely end. First conquered by the Roman Empire, its cities were then mercilessly sacked by barbarians.
Like the philosophers of Greece, India and China, the Hebrews, too, sought to define the meaning of life. According to Jewish tradition, it was Abraham who first gained a special understanding of what lay at the heart of the universe and from that revelation came a belief in a personal god. He further believed that beneath the seemingly endless variety of life lay a single purpose, a single reality.
Judaism is the mother religion of both Christianity and Islam – the three dominant faiths in the Western world.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth brought new hope to man by preaching that this life was not all men might hope for, that man was more than only flesh and would continue to live, even after death. Implicit in his message was the promise of salvation from suffering and a promise of eternal peace.
At odds with the teachings of Jesus was traditional rabbinical belief that salvation would not come until the advent of a distant Messiah. Hence, the special appeal of Christ’s message that the Kingdom of God was not only at hand, but lay within all those with faith.
Long fearing popular revolt, the Romans equated Christ’s words with political insurrection. Rome had decreed that nothing should be held above imperial order and thus viewed Christ’s wholly spiritual message as dangerously revolutionary, particularly his talk of the coming Kingdom.
Though crucified, the hope that Christ brought to man did not die. Instead, his death became symbolic of the triumph of the spirit over the material body and so brought a new awareness of man’s true nature.
The Romans, however, continued to insist that man was just a material object. The psyche (a word meaning “spirit” or “breath of life”) was thought to be given up when the man “himself,” his body, had perished.
For all their military strength, the Romans never acknowledged or found ways to develop man’s true potential and so, as did so many empires before them, they too perished.
About the same time Christ was teaching in the Middle East, the first Buddhist monks arrived in China. The Buddhism that first became popular in China during the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220) taught the indestructibility of the soul, the theory of karma and the values of charity and compassion. Buddhism spread through China, incorporating some of the practical and this-worldly philosophy of ancient China. It taught man a way to spiritual enlightenment despite resistance from the Taoists and later suppression by the state, when hundreds of monasteries were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of monks and nuns were forced to return to lay life.
Despite such suppression, belief in the spiritual nature of man received even more impetus in the sixth century when the prophet Mohammed preached that there was only one God and attempted to civilize an entire nation. He taught about the supremacy of the spiritual over the material, and beseeched man to seek his own salvation. His message was seen as a threat to the revenues of Mecca, and eventually led to his banishment.
Within eight years, however, he returned triumphant and began his “Holy War” against infidels. He built the great Islamic Empire, which eventually reached from Spain to the borders of China.
The Crusades, the subsequent wars “in the name of religion” which swept Europe for hundreds of years, involved tens of thousands of people in continuous bloodshed.
Nonetheless, with the Crusades came a vital cultural exchange.
Toward the end of this period, in 1215, English barons forced King John to sign the famous Magna Carta. This historic document, a formal recognition of the rights of others, was built on the belief that the basic nature of man was good, not evil, and that he was capable of determining his own destiny.
The provisions included the guaranteed freedom of the church, respect for the customs of towns, protection of the rights of subjects and communities, and what would later be interpreted as a guarantee of the right of trial by jury. These represented the triumph of law over king, and thus reason over force.
But the late fifteenth century ushered in the Inquisition, which again sought to quell man’s sense of reason and his reach for spiritual enlightenment. Those subscribing to beliefs unacceptable to the Catholic church were tried and tortured until they renounced their “heretical views.”
Anyone thought to have “strange” or “different” ideas could be labeled a blasphemer or even a witch, then burned at the stake if they refused to accept the established beliefs.
But man’s desire to understand himself and the world around him could not be stopped and men like Leonardo da Vinci pursued their studies in the hope of finding the answers. A brilliant painter, engineer, astronomer and botanist, Leonardo helped launch the Renaissance and a new age of scientific discovery in the face of ridicule from the ignorant and bigoted. Even the most seemingly innocuous studies had to be undertaken with discretion, as the watchful eye of the Inquisition was ever present. In fact, many of his notes were written out so they could only be read in a mirror.
In the sixteenth century, Galileo dared to challenge long-held beliefs by publicly endorsing the Copernican theory that the Earth revolved around the sun and not the reverse. This was considered heresy by the still-active Inquisition.
Galileo was sentenced to an indefinite prison term by the Catholic church for his “crime.” Only when he subsequently renounced Copernican theory was he allowed to return to his villa where he lived out the remainder of his life under house arrest by authority of the Inquisition, a broken man.
Fleeing suppression and intolerance in Europe, pilgrims of several faiths set sail for the New World where their aspirations of freedom were probably best summed up by Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. He wrote, “. . . that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The light of spiritual freedom was once again burning bright.
There were some however, like Charles Darwin, who had a very different message: Man was but another rung on the evolutionary ladder, and could never hope to raise himself to greater levels of awareness. Darwin’s man-from-mud theory, the idea that life was a chance happenstance resulting from a chain reaction in a sea of ammonia, soon took hold in the scientific community. Ironically, however, that very same theory may be traced to an ancient Egyptian myth wherein man was seen as emerging from a primordial ocean.
Professor Wilhelm Wundt, a German psychologist and Marxist at the University of Leipzig, proclaimed that man’s soul – if indeed he had one – was irrelevant, as man could only be understood in terms of physically observable phenomena. A search for the spiritual nature of man, he reasoned, was a waste of time as there was no psyche. Thus psychology became the study of the spirit which denied the spirit. The subject of psychology thereafter became prevalent in universities.
Sigmund Freud further reinforced this “modern” concept of man, arguing that all impulses stemmed from his repressed and uncontrollable sexual desires. Such impulses were then “analyzed” as primitive and instinctive, not that different from those which drive an animal.
Although Freud himself broke new ground with his recognition that man could overcome physical ills through addressing the mind, the real value of his work was soon buried in a hodgepodge of theories from others.
In Russia, former veterinarian Ivan Petrovich Pavlov served the dictator Stalin with experiments to discover how man could be controlled to better serve the state. He reasoned that if dogs could be made to slaver on command, so could human beings. Man had now been reduced to the level of a mindless animal – and thus psychiatry was born, as a tool for tyrannical governments.
Convinced that man is only a body, psychology and psychiatry have forwarded the idea that there is no soul, merely a physical brain, an aggregation of tissue and nerve cells.
Like this ancient man with his primitive spear, in his attempt to conquer the raging bull, human beings have been trying to understand themselves and their relationship to other living things and the physical universe for countless eons. That which has been recorded in cave paintings, on stone tablets and in ancient myths stands as a testament to this search.For all the mystery surrounding himself, one of the first things man has innately known was that he was more than merely another beast of the forest, more than mere muscle and bone, but that he was somehow endowed with a spark of the divine, a spiritual being.
Such wisdom formed the basis of the first great civilization – the Egyptian, whose culture endured for twenty-seven centuries. As the earliest people to conquer man’s deep-rooted fear of ancestral spirits, they were also among the first to propose that each man must provide for his own happy afterlife.
And since man no longer has a soul, he can be degraded still further through all manner of barbaric “treatments.” In fact, the array of primitive methods dreamed up by “modern” psychiatrists includes hypnotic drugs, lobotomies, electric shock and bolts to the brain while a person is drugged and comatose – each of which leaves a person little more than a vegetable.
The psychologist believes in materialism. This is the principle that all is purely matter – hopes, dreams, love, inspiration – all just chemical reactions in the brain. Following from this theory, he has attempted to create a society where the body is glorified over the spirit, and where material possessions are more important than one’s spiritual well-being.
In such a society, where spiritual values are no longer given credence, man soon loses touch with both his past and his future. Religion, then, becomes an “opiate,” while the new high priests of psychiatry, handsomely supported by taxpayers, conduct worthless government studies that provide no solutions.
Even today, new ideas are fought by totalitarian states, and learning is restricted to the privileged few, in an attempt to keep the majority ignorant. Book burnings are another phenomenon of our own time, reminiscent of the Inquisition.
But wisdom and spiritual values cannot be suppressed. All men at all times have sought spiritual release. All individual quests and all philosophies and religions have one goal and one goal only: to discern the true essence of man and his relationship to the universe.
Unfortunately, the humanities have failed to keep pace with scientific developments. A preoccupation with all things physical has left the humanities far behind.
Science advanced to where it could send rockets into space. But, until now, the greatest challenge of all was ignored, the improvement of man himself.
At this point in the history of our civilization we have, frighteningly enough, developed the capabilities to destroy all life on the Earth.
One madman in a position of power could wreak the ultimate destruction for all living things. Lacking a real understanding of man or a workable technology to improve man, governments are unable to forge their own destinies and the potential for chaos is very real.
Perhaps it has taken the potential for ultimate destruction to bring about the ultimate in hope for mankind: a twentieth-century religion, utilizing a truly workable technology to bring man to an understanding of himself and his fellows. Both the atom bomb and this technology were born at the same time – in the crucible of the last world war. Fortunately, we can now end not only war, but crime and insanity on Earth, once and for all. We can reverse the dwindling spiral of life on this planet.
Man can find answers to his timeless questions and gain true spiritual freedom – with Scientology.
October 17, 2007 at 5:52 pm