Printed in the Summer 2016 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Boyd, Tim, "Viewpoint: The Scale of Our Vision" Quest 104.3 (Summer 2016): pg. 98-99
Tim Boyd, President
Not long ago I had a visit from Pete Pedersen, a longtime member of the Theosophical Society. Every two or three months he stops by my office unannounced. Whenever I see him or hear his voice outside the office, I stop whatever I am doing and call him in to talk. Although he would certainly argue the point, he is a fascinating man. On his next birthday he will be ninety-nine years old. His mind is superclear. Three times a week he drives an hour each way to oversee a service project he heads up here at the TS. I am told that when he was in his seventies, he used to play touch football with the young guys during lunch breaks. He is that rare combination of right living, high thinking, and good genetics that points to greater possibilities for the rest of us.
One of Pete’s most refreshing characteristics is his unrelenting interest in what is going on in the world, particularly the Theosophical world. He doesn’t tire of hearing me tell stories about places and people, about trends and movements. And I don’t tire of asking him about the people he has known, the places he has been, his experiences working for the TS, and his life. Always I learn something new.
The last time we talked, I was describing a trend I was witnessing within the consciousness movement—those groups working in various ways toward the unfoldment of consciousness. The idea I was expressing was that for so long, small groups of people had been working in seeming isolation, largely unaware of the growing movement of fellow workers around the world. But, I added, one of the features of this time is that these groups are becoming aware of each other and finding points of connection to pursue what many are perceiving as a shared effort. Necessary links are forming at the same time that technology is facilitating the broad dissemination of these powerful ideas and practices. My main point was that even though it is not something that would appear in any popular media report, the network of conscious people and groups necessary to move humanity to its next level of functioning is rapidly forming. He was intrigued by this view, which contradicted the information he received from newspapers and nightly news reports, and found it hopeful.
While speaking about the variety of events and changes he had witnessed during his ninety-nine years, he shared with me what he felt was his greatest challenge. He said that at this stage in his life his greatest difficulty is to stay interested —to maintain a vital involvement with the things going on in the world. For me it was a revelation that was initially surprising. It seemed so contradictory to the way I viewed him. His engagement with life was one of his outstanding characteristics. As we talked, his meaning became more clear.
During his life he had witnessed changes, great and small. He was born at the close of World War I—the war that was fought “to end all wars.” Instead of witnessing the end of war, he went on to see millions more lives destroyed in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the war in Iraq, and countless others around the world. He had seen changes from dictatorships to democracy, communism to capitalism, “liberation” movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. He had also seen new social, political, and economic structures that seemed to change only the identity of the oppressors. He had seen the shift from a rural America to an urbanized nation, as well as technological breakthroughs that with time resulted in the unforeseen consequences of pollution, displacement of workers, and carcinogenic impacts. Even within the Theosophical Society he had seen great ideas flourish and motivated people appear and disappear. After almost one hundred years of watching, it all seemed repetitive. The specific movements, technologies, or ideas were all significant and different. It’s just the results that looked the same.
“The more things change, the more they remain the same” is a popular saying that suggests that as human beings we have a tendency to reduce even great things to the limits of our understanding. The great French writer, philosopher, and wit Voltaire famously expressed this idea in a different way. He wrote that “If God made us in his image, we have returned the favor.” Even the highest, most all-encompassing, and potentially most ennobling features of existence we have reduced to a human scale, and a petty one at that.
H.P. Blavatsky, in her introduction to The Secret Doctrine, points our attention to certain key ideas. She says that a clear understanding of the Ageless Wisdom tradition would be impossible without some acquaintance with these “Fundamental Propositions.” In her words, “it is absolutely necessary that he [the student] should be made acquainted with the few fundamental conceptions which underlie and pervade the entire system of thought to which his attention is invited. These basic ideas are few in number.” One of these relates to cycles in nature. She makes the point that our awareness of cycles such as “Day and Night, Life and Death, Sleeping and Waking, is a fact so common, so perfectly universal and without exception, that it is easy to comprehend that in it we see one of the absolutely fundamental laws of the universe.”
The great difficulty for us is that during the course of a lifetime we clearly see movement within some of the smaller cycles, but the grand cycles are too vast for the scope of our vision. Although the discoveries of science take us a long way, they have yet to envision the dimensions of the cycle HPB describes as “the appearance and disappearance of worlds . . . like a regular ebb of flux and reflux.”
Glimpsing the nature of these larger movements requires a faculty of vision that exceeds normal knowledge and history. Just to give some perspective: the cycle of one planetary year here on earth occurs when the planet completes one revolution around the sun. During that time each of the seasons—winter, spring, summer, and fall—appear and disappear—one time. In a similar manner our entire solar system is circling around the center of our galaxy: the Milky Way. One galactic year for our solar system takes 200–250 million of our planetary years. The nature of the “seasons” of each galactic year is beyond our comprehension. Similarly, here on earth there are creatures whose entire life span lasts a few weeks. The life of a mayfly lasts a total of one day. It is literally “here today, gone tomorrow.” For such creatures, the scale of human perception is incomprehensibly vast.
There are things that we cannot know in the normal sense—realities that exceed our intellectual grasp but still are known at deeper levels of our being. In 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a speech that included the much quoted statement, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It was a statement of a profound truth about one of the grand cycles that we all intuit, but which at times seems to conflict with our day-to-day experience. The original source for this statement was Theodore Parker, a Transcendentalist minister and abolitionist who died in 1860. Parker stated it this way: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
There is an important distinction between the eye, which “reaches but little ways,” and the “conscience,” which has the capacity to “divine” the direction and end of the cycle. In The Voice of the Silence these two ways of seeing are termed the Doctrine of the Eye and the Doctrine of the Heart, with the eye being the organ of outer, illusory perception and the heart being the organ of spiritual perception. It is only through the intuitive capacities of the heart that we grasp the grand cycles and the Greater Life within which we live and move. For most of us, that vision is fleeting but powerful. Once seen, it changes us.
A thousand brushstrokes go into making a painting. A thousand notes make up a symphony. Taken in isolation, the few strokes that we see standing close, or the few notes that we hear in passing, convey no meaning. It is in the whole, the grand network of relationships, where meaning is found. Our role is to be guided by our immersion in an ever growing vision of the whole.