By Betty Bland
Originally printed in the Spring 2010 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Bland, Betty. "Applied Science." Quest 98. 2(Spring 2010): 48.
In 2002 at fourteen years of age, William Kamkwamba could not return to school because of extended drought and impoverishment in his small village in Malawi, Africa. Discouraged but not defeated, this entrepreneurial boy continued his education in the local library whenever his chores permitted. Some spark of hope prompted him to dream about using ideas he read about to solve problems for his family and village. He began collecting scrap plastic, bicycle and machinery parts, and scouring the dump for all sorts of odd pieces of junk.
As the villagers scoffed, his contraption grew into a sixteen-foot high curiosity—which he called his "juju" or magic. Ridicule turned to amazement when he was able to power a light bulb from the power generated by his improvised windmill. From this humble beginning, his project grew to power all the needs for his family's meager household and to pump precious water for his and other families' needs. Following the law of attraction, the more successful he was with his project, the more visitors and benefactors contributed to help his efforts. Now at twenty-three, Mr. Kamkwamba has collaborated with journalist Bryan Mealer for the 2009 publication of his story, titled The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, and has traveled extensively for speaking engagements. He is continuing his education through a number of unique opportunities.
What began as a defeat was transformed into a heartwarming success story not because of outside help, but because this young man determined to make use of all the knowledge and opportunities he had at hand. He opened his eyes and saw the possibilities, and then committed all of his energies to developing the possibilities into realities. There was nothing earthshakingly new about what he did, but for him it was a major accomplishment. He absorbed all the knowledge at his disposal, internalized it, and acted on it in order to address his problems.
This is one of the reasons we are so fascinated with science. It provides a way of looking at our world as it is in order to understand it more fully, and by understanding to see windows of opportunity more clearly. However, factual knowledge by itself is no more than a temporary relief for an obscure mental itch unless it is transformed into usefulness through analysis, synthesis, or analogy. Without some application it will just be buried in the seas of time. We are responsible to make the best use of whatever knowledge we have available to us. It is not sufficient just to let information pass through our brains, unused, on the way to the oblivion of uselessness.
Consider how little funding is currently available to explore ways to treat chicken pox now that the vaccine has all but eliminated it—or to develop better iron lungs for polio victims—or to develop quieter typewriters now that they have been displaced by computers. Although these developments were important at the time, once their usefulness is over, they fall by the wayside. On the whole, funding for research and development follow the threads of applicability. We want to understand so that we have better control. Science is valued because it delivers facts that can make a difference in feeding the hungry, curing ills, or inspiring the dreams of possibilities in young minds.
Because in a world of measurable things, people will believe and abide by measurable things—even to the degree of hand washing and use of seatbelts. If statistics or research indicates the efficacy of a practice, we will tend to abide by those findings. Otherwise we are not convinced, nor do we change our behavior. Perhaps this is part of the reasoning behind KH's statement, "Modern science is our best ally" (Mahatma Letters, no. 65). Most of us want tangible proof. Science can convince us of deep spiritual truths if nothing else can.
Since the time that statement was written, KH's statements "that we recognize but one element in Nature (whether spiritual or physical) outside which there can be no Nature since it is Nature itself . . . and that consequently spirit and matter are one" (ibid.) have been vindicated time and again. He was saying that unity and interrelatedness permeate the universe and that universe is an interrelated whole of "spirit-matter" at every level of existence. Although such ideas seemed an impossibility at the time, through science we have come to accept that energy and matter are convertible, the consciousness or spirit of an observer influences the physical outcome of an experiment, and action on one atom can affect another, no matter the distance between them. Every day science confirms the seamless nature of our universe, and realizing this she convinces us of this reality.
These insights are not idle fancies to tickle our intellect. They have implications that translate to the personal responsibility of each one of us to recognize our innate unity with all, and in doing so we have the basis for applying altruism to every aspect of our lives. This knowledge of the unitive nature of the universe should convince us to apply these principles in active altruism. If we are so connected in every fiber of our being, then whatever we do or think impacts all others, since in the deepest sense they are not separate from us.
As Madame Blavatsky wrote in The Key to Theosophy (section 4):
The one self has to forget itself for the many selves. Let me answer you in the words of a true Philaletheian, an F. T. S., who has beautifully expressed it in the Theosophist: "What every man needs first is to find himself, and then take an honest inventory of his subjective possessions, and, bad or bankrupt as it may be, it is not beyond redemption if we set about it in earnest." But how many do? All are willing to work for their own development and progress; very few for those of others. To quote the same writer again: "Men have been deceived and deluded long enough; they must break their idols, put away their shams, and go to work for themselvesâ€“nay, there is one little word too much or too many, for he who works for himself had better not work at all; rather let him work himself for others, for all. For every flower of love and charity he plants in his neighbour's garden, a loathsome weed will disappear from his own, and so this garden of the gods—Humanity—shall blossom as a rose."
Let us be like the young man who took advantage of every piece of information available to him and apply that practice to our life issues. If something is missing in our spiritual life, if life seems meaningless, or if we simply wonder what it is all about, then perhaps the elixir resides in putting into practice those things we already know. If we accept the scientific reality of wholeness, of our intrinsic relationship with all others, then we need to begin applying the resultant implications. If unity is a universal law, then brotherhood/sisterhood is its logical application.
Take the parts and pieces of understanding we find in our minds and hearts and use their full range of possibilities. Begin the process of building altruism into every thought and action—even if it seems out of step with the rest of our culture. Our mandate as Theosophists is altruism. Through its practice we will be able to harness untold power for the benefit of all, one flower of love and charity at a time.