A phenomenology of contemporary Syncretism. The re-interpretation of Oriental Ideas in Western movements.
Michael Fuss, Dean of the Department of Missiology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
March 17, 1997
"In India, a follower of reincarnation would say: 'I am forced to come again, woe is me!'. In the West, he would say: 'I desire to come back, I have a chance to come again"'. The Christian faith keeps to the promise of the Johannine Christ: 'I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (Jn 14:3).
This pointed quotation from Adolf Koberle may introduce a working hypothesis that might ring heretical to some ears, at least for the Christian side. Reincarnation and resurrection are both "myths", clusters of symbols, and in the post-modern Western culture the myth of reincarnation obviously is on the winning side. Without doubting the historical reality of resurrection as the foundation of Christian faith, in this paper I consider the two contrasting concepts in a broader sense as cultural realities, which have shaped their respective worlds and therefore deserve a contextual approach. By myth, in a larger functionalist understanding 2, I intend a narrative tale concerned with the gods and the nature and meaning of the universe and man. This "thick description" (Clifford Geertz) includes the whole world picture held by a social group, and the value system anchored in that picture. Myths have an etiological function of explaining the whence and whither of human existence.
In a similar way, recent statements by the magisterium affirm this functionalist role of religion as the very "heart' of culture. The social function of myths, in traditional cultures as well as in the post-modern technological civilization, provides the overall framework according to which all relevant data become meaningful. In a cosmological perspective, extended between protological and eschatological speculations, myth has always provided a rational interpretation of the human condition with scientific plausibility, although its single affirmations may not be scientifically evident. Following the theory of a current paradigm shift in the basic pattern of Western culture, the models of reincarnation and resurrection can be explained as such contrasting basic orientations in Western culture that stand in a dialectic of waxing and waning. With regard to the "myth" of reincarnation this approach would insinuate that its so-called 'scientific proofs" are of less objective validity than one might expect, and that they imply a lot of implicit faith options instead, - as there are, on the other hand, no "scientific proofs" for resurrection either. With regard to the "myth" of resurrection our approach may illustrate at what extent the plain truth of the historical resurrection is wrapped with elements of cultural plausibility so that the very fundament of the Christian faith seems to shake whenever its surrounding cultural paradigm changes. The renewed affirmation of the universal Lordship of Jesus Christ in the approaching Great Jubilee necessitates therefore a deeper study of the upcoming "myth" of reincarnation.
A further presupposition is that the discussion of a Western adaptation of Eastern models of reincarnation reveals primarily a historical and psychological and not a geographical perspective. Rather than moving people towards a genuine encounter with foreign cultures, a ''myth' places them in a universe of value and meaning while remaining at home. The adaptation of the concept of reincarnation from East to West cannot be simply exhausted with a passage from a negative (infinite chain of samsara) to a positive meaning (evolutionary and optimistic fulfillment). In its resurgence in Western culture it became the vehicle for a re-interpretation of the idea of religion itself, which appears primarily as re-interpretation of the Indian notion of karma from a passive to an active meaning. In line with Ernesto Balducci's studies on the Western interest in the Hare Krishna movement it seems appropriate to speak of anti-occidental rather than oriental tendencies in new religious movements, because they bear ideas inherent to the occidental subculture and do not constitute a genuine encounter with the East. Especially the idea of reincarnation as it is found in the postmodern Western culture, has evolved from its own occult underground, and as such, confirmed by a significant re-interpretation of Oriental ideas, become part of neo-Hinduist modernization, too. "The gods of the underground occupy the public square. This is the public dance of the archetypes", observes Balducci and expresses his conviction that the new spiritualities of the postmodern Western areopagus have evolved from its own vital and elementary religiousness, decorated in a fascinating Oriental garb. Thus, the borrowing from Eastern religions has only corroborated a stream of counterreligion that in the name of gnosticism for centuries had accompanied the Christian culture as its shadow. In a similar way, the Jungian psychologist of religion Peter Bishop, examines the Western fascination by Oriental ideas as a complementary "anima image in the West's discovery of the unconscious".
If many observers express surprise at the fact that, although based on the disenchanting rationality of the Enlightenment, our secular age actually is producing a wealth of new religious movements, one should perhaps call to mind that this dominating paradigm of pure rationality had been followed right from its beginnings by a shadow of esoteric and theosophic traditions. Both its heralds, Kant and Swedenborg, could be considered the Immanuels of philosophical systems that in the name of scientific logic brought forth a basic critique of traditional religion. After the dominance of the Enlightenment, the post-modern spirituality appears to be largely characterized by a renewal of cosmic and occult traditions, the matrix of which is modern Theosophy. Probably no other movement has made several generations of Westerners familiar with such concepts as astrology, karma, reincarnation, together with the general idea of spiritual masters and their new revelation.
The Theosophical Society
There are two contrasting forms of Theosophy. While Christian theosophy humbly explores the hidden riches of the divine revelation and thus stands at the root of Christian mysticism (1 Cor 2:10), by contrast there is also a "evocative theosophy" which conjures the experience of a "perennial religion" from the basis of any religious tradition, indifferent towards any doctrinal content. It is neither correct nor sincere when this second stream of theosophy claims its roots from Biblical sources. Theosophy in the modern sense pretends to form "the essence and the core, the fruit and the goal of all religions". By its hermeneutic principle "Know yourself'' (the ancient: "gnothi seauton'') theosophy aims at the construction of a universal religion, based on a spiritual science of human self-perfection. Thus evocative theosophy appears as a pare-religious movement, a virus that spreads within a host religion, reclaiming its doctrines for its own inclusivism by twisting their interpretation.
The name and program of the Theosophical Society, founded 1875 in New York by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, has been inspired from the spiritist theosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg . "Intellectualiter intrare in arcane fidei", is engraved over the portal of the Swedenborgian Cathedral at Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, and in this gnostic principle lies the key of a modern religion which attributes the achievement of salvation to the intellectual capacities of the human mind. The ideas of Madame Blavatsky have been shaped by Western occultism with the declared intention to combat Christianity. Her great encyclopedia "Isis Unveiled" (1877) is a grandiose summary of the Western Hermetic traditions. Already in her first doctrinal article Blavatskaia had affirmed the following key ideas:
"This planet is a place of transition where we prepare for eternity. There is eternal progress for every living being. Elementary spirits are often mistaken for those of the dead. Reincarnation [in the spiritualist theory of Allan Kardec; M.F.] is a modern misunderstanding. Oriental philosophy denies the existence of Satan. The Jewish religion is derived from the pagan Mysteries. Ancient Cabalists knew as much as modern scientists. Egyptian initiation took away the fear of death. The Scriptures are full of secret meanings. With the Hydesville rappings, the door is ajar. Now occultism needs to explain and alter much of spiritualism".
The term "reincarnation" was not yet current in the early Theosophical teaching, it had even been denied in Isis Unveiled. However, under the corresponding( term metempsychosis Blavatsklaia refers only to the Western occult tradition; initially even the term "anastais" had been used with an occult meaning. Her illustrations draw heavily from Western sources (mainly Egyptian) with a very positive undertone, and only later had been supported by quotations from Oriental sources 15. Although Blavatskaia later on took efforts to show that all her teachings proceeded from the same source of the "Adept Brothers", her explicit teaching of reincarnation appears first in 1882, 16 and may be summarized in her own words from the Theosophical Glossary (1892):
"Reincarnation. The doctrine of rebirth, believed in by Jesus and the Apostles, as by all men in those days, but denied now by the Christians. All the Egyptian converts to Christianity, Church Fathers and others, believed in this doctrine, as shown by the writings of several. In the still existing symbols, the human-headed bird flying towards a mummy, a body, or "the soul uniting itself with its sahou (glorified body of the Ego, and also the kamalokic shell) proves this belief. "The song of the resurrection" chanted by Isis to recall her dead husband to life, might be translated "Song of Rebirth", as Osiris is collective Humanity. "Oh! Osiris [here follows the name of the Osirified mummy, or the departed], rise again in holy earth (matter), august mummy in the coffin, under thy corporeal substances", was the funeral prayer of the priest over the deceased. "Resurrection" with the Egyptians never meant the resurrection of the mutilated mummy, but of the Soul that informed it, the Ego in a new body. The putting on of flesh periodically by the Soul or the Ego, was a universal belief; nor can anything be more consonant with justice and Karmic law. "
Generally can be concluded that the Theosophical teaching of reincarnation draws primarily from Western sources which are given a new interpretation from the evolutionary perspective of modernity; the Eastern models have hence been adapted to Western culture in the attempt to create a primordial pre-Christian religion and because of their claim of greater scientific character. In her later attempt to explain the uncertainties about this belief, Blavatskaia illustrates the sevenfold constitution of man according to the Eastern model to clearly delineate what part of human beings is reborn l8. According to this model the individual soul migrates through many different "bodies" or personalities to learn the lessons that culminate in its union with the divine spirit, "the Christ within". It is therefore the Western Hermetic tradition itself that provides the key to re-interpret Christianity on a global scale, positioning it at parity with other religions; a key that is equally applicable to make Eastern religions compatible with the modern world 19.
The "religion of Karma"
What is really at stake in the theosophical 20 meeting of East and West is the importance given to the law of karma as vehicle for reincarnation. A new religious orientation has been forged which has shifted the traditional understanding of karma from the negative to a positive, and from the passive to an active interpretation
"The reincarnationists and believers in karma alone dimly perceive that the whole secret of life is in the unbroken series of its manifestations.... Those who believe in karma have to believe in destiny, which from birth to death, every man is weaving thread by thread around himself, as a spider does his cobweb.... This law whether Conscious or Unconscious - predestines nothing and no one.... Karma creates nothing, nor does it design. It is man who plans and creates causes, and Karmic law adjusts the effects; which ad justment is not an act but universal harmony.... Karma has never sought todestroy intellectual and individual liberty" 21.
While on the one hand karma as the eternal law of cause and effect seems to establish absolute justice 22 by relegating all responsibility for one's own destiny to nobody but the individual itself, it raises, on the other hand, human activity to the level of divine autonomy. Hegelian and Darwinian evolution use the metaphors of the ascent of humanity. Modern Occultists adopted this image in terms of spiritual evolution, and hence the "Ascended Masters" of Shangri-La were considered the peak of religious consciousness. By their revelations humankind finally has gained insight into the scientific laws of spiritual life. Applying the evolutionary cosmology to the cyclical view of Indian philosophy, karma becomes now the only theater for human perfection. "The ancient doctrine has begun to acquire rights of citizenship in the speculations of the scientific world" . It is man himself whose activities, in harmony with the laws of nature, build up his own fulfillment. The new element which Theosophy has inculcated into Western Hermetism is therefore karma, not reincarnation, and one should speak of a "religion of karma" that celebrates human autonomy in matters of salvation against the doctrine of vicarious atonement.
Karma, literally: "action", considers the inherent qualities of human activities as the moving force of the helix of life. Contrary to its passive interpretation in Hinduism, the Western understanding of karma gives it a positive meaning as the supreme exertion of human liberty 24. The eternal pilgrim, the human individual, is called to develop at most his own intellectual and physical capacities. While not recurring to an external instance, man reaps the fruit of his merits, and thus creates his own future by mastering the scientific laws 25 of the cosmic mystery:
"We may assume that merit, or Karma, is the corner-stone of religion. This is both a logical and scientific proposition, for the thoughts, words and deeds of a man are so many causes which must work out corresponding effects. 26
This new "religion of karma" straightforward challenges the belief in a transcendent origin of the world. Blavatskaia's occult cosmology embraced both a geological time scale and an evolutionary view of development . Against the prevalent materialism of her days, Blavatskaia recurred to an all-embracing divine mind which infused each particle of matter with a divine spark. The universe, then, evolved through a cycle of emanations. Lower orders emanated from higher orders, and then the lower orders became increasingly dense and gross until they reached a turning point after which they became increasingly spiritual until they will be reabsorbed into the infinite deity. This secret "plan" of natural processes has substituted the idea of a transcendent God, although there is place for the gods of the traditional religions at an inferior level. Illuminated by an esoteric knowledge of this cosmic mysteries, humans are to behave accordingly in view of their self-perfection. The modern mystery schools offer a wide spectrum of spiritual techniques for its achievement. It must be critically remarked, however, that this vision is founded on an outdated anthropology of a dualistic perception, while biblical and buddhist philosophies envisage the wholeness of the human person as one with his body.
Karma becomes thus, in its Western adaption, an expression of autonomy in religion which permits the human person to assume full responsibility for himself 28. While former conditions of injustice are explained away under the law of cause and effect, the present moment can be grasped as a unique chance to work out one's own perfection. The idea of karma fits well into the rational and scientific mythology of evolutionism: "Karma has provided the West with an important vessel within which to enact its fantasies about a religious science, and a scientific religion" 29. By mastering the laws of karma the Buddha became a spiritual superman and the Buddhist theory was considered as the apex in the evolution of spirituality. In the theosophic interpretation of Buddhism by Christmas Humphreys karma builds up the character of a person and offers a new worldview:
" Karma applied destroys: 1. Any need for the concept of a Personal yet Almighty God. 2. The search for authority of any kind, least of all that of a Saviour who is in all things the supreme and unquestionable Authority.... Karma applied creates: 1. The complete acceptance of all conditions and events. 'It's ALL RIGHT'. 2. The ability to stand on our own feet at all times. 3. Unlimited strength of purpose and hence the power to achieve in time awareness of Enlghtenment" 30.
Similarly, in his very popular The Gospel of Buddha, the theosophist Paul Carus stated "the very being of man consists in his karma'' 3l, and over the last century this interpretation of man changed with the progress of the scientific models: "A shift has also occurred from karmic mechanics to karma's relationship ~ relative space and time, from karma as individual Will to universal field theory" .
The religious system of karma seems to be very democratic, as it acknowledges the full range of individual freedom within the organic whole of society. As a personal declaration of independence within the narrow limits of individual rights, it offers the chance to ennoble one's own character and achieve personal fulfillment. Without the need to respond to a personal God, the Western understanding of karma expresses the self-creation of man as the first monographic study on reincarnation in the Western tradition puts it:
"God places all the powers of the universe at our disposal, and the handle by which we use them to construct our fate has been and always shall be our own individual will. Action (karma) of the spirit, whether in the inner consciousness alone, or by vocal expression, or in outward act, is the secret force which directs our journeys through infinity..." .
However, the overall realization of the karmic worldview will inevitably lead to a "karmocracy" 34 - the elite of those having insight into the unfolding of karma will exercise the function of communal organization. The neo-gnostics who "know" the evolution of the cosmic "plan", would not engage in affairs of society but only in the search for truth by spreading the appropriate techniques. They take delight in utopian thinking o-f a future 'restoration of all things, a collective reincarnation in the consciousness of the dawning Aquarius. The neo-theosophical movement of the Arcane School of Alice A. Bailey (1880-1949), which depends on new revelations from the Ascended masters, has focussed on the re-appearance of the Christ in the form of a new world teacher or era, prepared by guided meditations. From their headquarters in Geneva an invocation is distributed which shall be quoted here as a fitting summary of the religion of karma:
"From the point of Light within the Mind of God Let light stream forth into the minds ofmen. Let light descend on Earth. // Prom the point of Love within the Heart of God Let love stream forth into the hearts of men. May Christ return to Earth. // From the centre where the Will of God is known Let purpose guide the little wills of men - The purpose which the Masters know and serve. // From the centre which we call the race of men Let the Plan of Love and Light work out And may it seal the door where evil dwells. // Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth" 35.
Some elements for a Christian response
The quotation of this solemn hymn of contemporary New Age thinking recalls a similar hymn in the New Testament which has been composed from many allusions to gnostic religiosity in the surroundings of the early Christian community. By quoting from it, I want to highlight the changes St. Paul has adopted to make it one of the most profound hymns on the cosmic Lordship of Jesus Christ:
"He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Col 1:15-20).
The exegetes assume that the hymn originally had been recited in a non-Christian surrounding at Colossae in honor of a divinity which animates the cosmic body. Humans are victims of their decaying bodies, they look out for a cosmic principle that would grant them eternal tranquillity by re-animating their lives. These yearnings are not far from the deepest implications in the reincarnation theory: to take refuge in an indestructible principle of individuality which would overcome the frailty of this perishing body. The hymn expresses as well the craving for a cosmic restoration of all things in which individual reincarnation finds its collective fulfillment. Precisely in this context appear some guiding principles of a Christian discernment of these gnostic ideas.
(1) The general tendency is not to disregard these widespread beliefs; the author of the Christian hymn responds rather positively to this challenge by applying the non-christian terminology to the person of Christ. Rather than looking out for a new cosmic age to come, Christians have already the courage to celebrate the "new advent" 36 of the incipient fulfillment: "Time is indeed fulfilled by the very fact that God, in the Incarnation, came down into human history. Eternity entered into time: what "fulfillment" could be greater than this?" . As the literary genre of the hymn indicates, this courageous conviction has its place in the liturgical celebration, not primarily in a dogmatic reflection, because it touches a holistic dimension. This gives us sufficient reason to situate a Christian response to the threat of reincarnation within a liturgical dimension of celebrating a meaningful Christian initiation into the mysteries of life.
(2) The hymn of a small fringe group of believers in the "Christian way" in midst of the pagan surroundings at Colossae does not just touch some marginal questions, but tackles the central issues of our faith. It reclaims the "catholicity" of the Lordship of Christ over the entire cosmos as well as over the life of individuals. Thus the hymn lays bare a basic principle of our faith: its claim for universality within a particular culture. Recalling, at this point, the initial remarks about resurrection as a comprehensive "myth" which unfolds into all dimensions of culture and holds them together, I want to stress this dynamic tendency of the revealed message to create an ever new equilibrium from all elements of historically and geographically changing cultures; one historical example has been the "catholicity" of medieval culture, which, by the way, was largely based on a commonly shared Christian interpretation of death 38. "Resurrection" as historical fact and objective revelation would be the intercultural constant in this ever-changing pattern, while the "myth" of resurrection would mould the modalities of contemporary culture into a Christian worldview. Considering that this "myth" today is going to pass towards a New Age vision of reincarnation, one could express, in a play of words, the hope that in view of a former "catholicity" which actually has shifted towards an extra-ecclesial "catholicity", Christians should regain a more coherent regain a more coherent and authentic "catholicity".
(3) In this dynamic process of inculturation the hymn to the Colossians offers a hermeneutic of a Christian re-interpretation of the gnostic New Age beliefs versus a salvific "New Advent" theology. The gnostic belief in cosmic powers and the eternal authority of a dark destiny is turned into a relation with a personal God who became manifest in Christ, and thus personalized. Further, Christ is not another "cosmic power"; he is actively present in the community of his believers. Since his cosmic body is visible in the Church, it is no longer a universal divine fluid but the power of the Word and the apostolic witness of the Christians that pervades everything. The recapitulation of all things does not take place in a mysterious pleroma of cosmic entities, but in the miserable suffering. From this unique historical event springs the source of peace, and in the Firstborn the new birth of all humanity is granted. Thus, the Christian reading of central tenets of gnostic faith follows a threefold methodology of personalizing, socializing, and historicizing . By personalizing I mean the attempt to relate impersonal cosmic forces to the loving concern of a personal God; socializing intends to describe the process of transposing a cosmic bio-centrism into a social web of personal relations ("Church"), and the aspect of historicizing expressesthe incarnational dimension of linking a cyclical recapitulation of all things to the historical event of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. By these three principles the hymn has paved the way for a discernment which determinates limits as well as chances for a responsible dealing with contemporary belief in reincarnation.
(4) From a comparative point of view the theology of this hymn may be labelled syncretistic, and here appears the ambiguous use of this term. Surely, if we look at the contemporary religiosity, one has to deplore the increasing attempt to create an individualistic set of beliefs centered around the desire for self-fulfillment. Paul Heelas 40 has called these movements "self-religions", and the sociologist Robert N. Bellah contributes the observation about "Sheilaism" as one of possibly "over 220 million American religions" ). Of course, the dangers of religious indifference and ethical relativism 42 constitute a serious threat to the Christian faith; yet, in line with the Colossaean model of relating cosmic religiosity to the mystery of the Lordship of Christ, there would be even a positive challenge of such syncretism, if the Church develops a greater sensibility for the corollary elements of a personal faith.
The way of a personal vocation in faith proceeds along a dialectic process of amalgamation and purification of many elements. In this positive perspective, syncretism expresses the maturation of a very personal faith, a gradual sanctification of the multicolored web of life by a communitarian and personal process of trial and error. According to the principles of religious liberty, Dignitatis humanae has envisaged the entire history of Christianity as a history of God's loving respect for man's sincere search for truth:
"God calls men to serve him in spirit and in truth. Consequently they are bound to him in conscience but not coerced. God has regard for the dignity of the human person which he himself created; the human person is to be guided by his own judgement and to enjoy freedom. This fact received its fullest manifestation in Christ Jesus in whom God revealed himself and his ways in a perfect manner" 43.
In considering this high esteem for the personal exploration of truth, the Church ought to consider her theology, in the words of Johann B. Metz, as "biographical dogmatic theology", in which the mystical biography of religious experience in the concealed presence of God is written into the doxography of faith.
"Biographical theology introduces the subject into the dogmatic consciousness of theology. It does not in any sense propagate a new form of theological subjectivism. 'Subject' is not a term that can be exchanged at will in this context for any other. It is man involved in his experiences and history and capable of identifying himself again and again in the light of those experiences. Introducing the subject into dogmatic theology therefore means raising man in his religious experience and biography to the level at which he becomes the objective theme of dogmatic theology. In other words, it means that dogmatic theology and biography can be reconciled with each other and that doxography and mystical biography can be brought together" 44.
In a climate of an increasing subjectivism as exemplified in the religion of karma, a renewed attention to personal biographies may call to mind the dialectic complementarity between "coming down from heaven" and being "born of the Virgin Mary" in the mystery of salvation. The evangelizing mission of the Church has emphasized the descent of the revealed Word, yet cannot disregard to pay equal attention to human collaboration. Mary, the indispensable human partner in God's saving economy, may teach the Church today to keep a greater sensibility to the human reality of the painful birth of a personal faith out of the many vain attempts in realizing humankind's own fulfillment 45. The mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God embraces both the divine descent and the human ascent; similarly, the process of inculturation will be complete only by a greater awareness of the receptivity of the human soil into which the divine seed is going to be planted. The dawning of the new "myth" of reincarnation should turn the concern of the various pastoral ministries to those many people who are in labor with their faith, and urge them to stay by their side with a healing touch.
If on one hand the Church in her theology has to take this anthropological turn very serious, on the other hand she should not forget that Christianity has always been a "biographical religion" where people have shaped their own personal biographies along the saving biography of Jesus Christ. In such a dense identification 46, the initial "myth" of his resurrection turns into the confident witness that the fragmentary dialogue of one's own life will be fulfilled in a "dialogical immortality" . In the practice of this existential dialogue appears even today a renewed corporate identity of Christianity.
Applying these pastoral guidelines to the modern myth of reincarnation, we should draw inspiration from the conference design by the Indian artist Jyoti Sahi (1944). Framed by the cyclical life of nature and the cosmic symbolism of the Uroboros, it shows the personal encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus (Jn 3:1-21) who gradually leads the dialogue on rebirth from a physical dimension to the baptismal fountain and its healing grace.
1. Koberle, A. Universalismus der christlichen Botschaft Darmstadt 1978, 96.
2. King, A.R., art. Myth, in: Gould - Kolb (Eds.). A Dictionary of Social Sciences. London: Tavistock 1964, 450; Ibid. quote from B. Malinowski. Magic, Science and Religion and other Essays. Glencoe IL 1948, 79: "Myth fulfills in primitive culture an indispensable function: it expresses, enchanges, and codifies belief; it safeguards and enforces morality; it vouches for the efficiency of ritual and contains the practical rules for the guidance of man."
3. Centesimus annus (1.05.91) 24: "At the heart of every culture lies the attitude man takes to the greatest mystery: the mystery of God. Different cultures are basically different ways of facing the question of the meaning of personal existence"; Dialogue and Proclamation (30.05.91) 45: "Religion can be said to represent the transcendent dimension of culture and in a certain way its soul".
4. Kuhn, Th. The nature of scientific revolutions, and its subsequent cultural interpretations.
5. The same contextual importance to the phenomenon has been given in Tertio millennio adveniente, 9, when John Paul II envisages two kinds of "fulfillment" that are mutually exclusive: "Time is indeed fulfilled by the very fact that God, in the Incarnation, came down into human history. Eternity entered into time: what "fulfillment' could be greater than this? What other "fulfillment" would be possible? Some have thought in terms of certain mysterious cosmic cycles... Some have considered various forms of reincarnation... Christian revelation excludes reincarnation, and speaks of a fulfillment which man is called to achieve in the course of a single earthly existence."
6 It seems necessary to invert their respective role as carriers of meaning as traditionally attributed to either concept. Rather than reincarnation carrying forward karma, it was the law of karma that provided the focus of interest to the Western theosophists.
7 Balducci, E. I7 ritorno degli dei, in: Bartolomei, G. - Fiore, C. I nuovi monaci. Milano: Feltrinelli 1981. 24.
8 Ibid., 24: "Gli dei sotterranei occupano la piazza. E la danza pubblica degli archetipi".
9 Bishop, P. Dreams of Power. Tibetan Buddhism and the Western Imagination. London 1993, 40. Cf. 19: "I am concerned with the neglected or ignored underside both of the religious system and of the fantasies which have reconstructed it [i.e. Tibetan Buddhism] in the West. Tibetan Buddhism has a great capacity to engage with the darkness and the depths of the psyche as even the briefest glimpse of its place in Tibet will show".
l0 Eliade, M. Die Sehnsucht nach dem Ursprung. Wien 1973, 58ff; Cf. M. Muller. Theosophie oder psychologische Religion. Leipzig 1895, XVI.
11. Fuss, M. Una visione nell'essenza di tutti i mondi, in: Centro Aletti (ed.). Dalla Sofia al New Age. Roma 1995, 201-231.
l2 Godwin, J. The Theosophical Enlightenment Albany NY: SUNY 1994. 296.
13 Discussion in Cranston, S. HPB. The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatskaia, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement New York 1993, 165f; Cf. Blavatsky, H.P. Theories about Reincarnation and Spirits, in: Path, November 1886; According to Blavatskaia's own statements, the term "reincarnation" had not been adopted in order to avoid the popular understanding of an immediate rebirth as taught by Allan Kardec.
l4 Blavatskaia's first ever published declaration that reincarnation was an essential element in Theosophical belief occurs in the leading article of the Theosophist 1 (1879) 3: "Theosophy believes also in the Anastasis or continued existence, and in transmigration (evolution) or a series or changes in the soul [In a series of articles entitled "The World's Great Theosophists", we intend showing that from Pythagoras, who got his wisdom in India, down to our best known modern philosophers and theosophists - David Hume, and Shelley, the English poet - the Spiritists of France included - many believed and yet believe in metempsychosis or reincarnation of the soul; however unelaborated the system of the Spiritists may fairly be regarded] which can be defended and explained on strict philosophical principles; and only by making a distinction between Paramatman (transcendental, supreme soul) and Jivatma (animal, or conscious soul) of the Vedantins"; H.S. Olcott in his old Diary Leaves. New York - London 1895, 285f, correctly clarifies that anastasis, contrary to reincarnation, means the raising from the dead of the same person. and adds that the promised articles never appeared.
15 Cf. the art. Pre-existence and Metempsychosis in the same Glossary, ibid., 261 f: 214.
16 The Theosophist August 1882. 185-189.
17 Theosophical Glossary. Los Angeles: The Theosophy Company 1973. 277.
18 The three lower ones invariably die. They are: 1. physical body (sthula-sarira), 2. life-principle (jiva), 3. astral or vital body (linga-sarira). Two principles of the "personal Ego" survive for a time, then die, reincarnating only in the circumstances of abortion, infancy death, idiocy: 4. body of desire (kama-rupa), 5. mind or animal soul (manes). Only the two remaining principles of the individuality are eternal: 6. spiritual soul or intelligence (buddhi), 7. pure spirit (atman). Cf. J. Godwin, op. cit., 341 f.
l9 Cf. Godwin, J. op. cit., 368.
20 The same holds true for other leading figures of Neo-hinduism as well, especially Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo.
21 The Secret Doctrine 2: 305; quoted in Cranston. op. cit., 351 f.
22 The Secret Doctrine 2:305-306: "It is a doctrine which explains the origin of Evil, and ennobles our conceptions of what divine immutable Justice ought to be, instead of degrading the unknown and unknowable Deity by making it the whimsical. cruel tyrant. which we call Providence."
23 The Secret Doctrine 1:104.
24 Blavatsky, H.P. The Secret Doctrine, 2, 305: "Karma has never sought to destroy intellectual and individual liberty.... It has not involved its decrees in darkness purposely to perplex man, nor shall it punish him who dares to scrutinize its mysteries. On the contrary, he who unveils through study and meditation its intricate paths, and throws light on those dark ways, in the windings of which so many men perish owing to their ignorance of the labyrinth of life. is working for the good of his fellowmen..."
25 Among them the ethical principle "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" (Ex 21:24).
26 Olcott, H.S. Theosophy. Religion and Occult Science. London: G. Redway 1885, 102; Cf. ibid., 103, his alternative of the truth in religion between Christianity and (neo-) Hinduism: "A religion that can only be propagated at the point of the sword, or upon the martyr's pile, or under instruments of torture, or by devastating countries and enslaving their populations, or by cunning stratagems seducing ignorant children or adults away from their families and castes and ancestral creeds - is a vile and devilish religion, the enemy of truth, the destroyer of social happiness.... If I stand here to defend what is good in Hinduism, it is because of my full conviction that the good exists, and that however fantastic, and even childish, some may think it is tangled overgrowth of customs, legends and superstitions, there is the rock of truth, of scientific truth, below them all. On that rock it is destined to stand through countless coming generations, as it has already stood through the countless generations which have professed that hoary Faith, since the Rishis shot from their Himalayan heights the blazing light of spiritual truth over a dark and ignorant world".
27 Bevir, M. The West Turns Eastward. Madame Blavatsky and the Transformation of the Occult Tradition, in: Journal of the American Academy of Religion 62 (1994) 753.
28 H.S. Olcott in his inaugural address as president of the Theosophical Society has expressed the issues succinctly: "To the Protestant and Catholic sectaries we have to show the origin of many of their most sacred idols and most cherished dogmas; to the liberal minds in science, the profound scientific attainments of the ancient magi. Society has reached a point where something must be done; it is for us to indicate where that something may be found"; Quoted by R.S. Ellwood in Miller, T (ed. America's Alternative Religions. Albany NY: SUNY 1995, 317).
29 Bishop, P. op. cit., 82.
30 Humphreys, C. The Search Within. London 1977, 89f.
31 Carus, P. The Gospe1 of Buddha. Illinois 1915, x.
32 Bishop, P. op. cit., 81.
33 Walker, E.D. Reincarnation. A Study of Forgotten Truth. London: Ward, Lock & Co 1888. 299.
34 In his critical evaluation of Sri Aurobindo's thought, V.P. Varma (The Political Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. London 1960, 428) adopts the term "Yogocracy".
35 Distributed by Lucis Trust, CH-1211 Geneve.
36 Dominum et vivificantem 53.
37 Tertio millennio adveniente 9.
38 Aries, P. L'homme devant la mort Paris: Du Seuil 1977; Jezler, P(ed.). Himmel, Holle, Fegafeuer. Das Jenseits im Mittelalter. Zurich 1994.
39 Here I gratefully acknowledge suggestions by Hollenweger, W. Pluralismus als Gabe und Aufgabe. Die Zukunft des Christentums in multireligioser Gesellshaft, in: Lahnemann, J (ed.). Das Wiedererwachen der Religionen als padagogische Herausforderung. Hamburg 1992, 65-76; Cf. Rossano, P. Lordship of Christ and Religious Pluralism, in: Bulletin, n°. 43, 15 (1980) 17-30.
40 In: Sutherland, S. - Clarke, P (eds.). The Study of Religion, Traditional and New Religion. London 1991, 167: "Self-religions offer participants the experience of god. What they experience is themselves, the god within. The self itself is divine."
4l Bellah, R.N. Habits of the Heart Berkeley CA 1985, 221: "One person we interviewed has actually named her religion ... after herself. This suggests the logical possibility of over 220 million American religions, one for each of us. Sheila Larson is a young nurse who has received a good deal of therapy and who describes her faith as 'Sheilaism'."
42 Tertio millennio adveniente 36.
43 DH 11; Cf. GS 10, 22.
44 Metz J.B. Faith History and Society. New York: Seabury 1980, 220.
45 Cf. Fuss, M. Dharma e vangelo: due progetti di salvezza, in: Dharma e vangelo. Assisi: Cittadella 1996, 63-85; Cf. Rom 8:19-23 on the cosmic dimension of these birth-pains.
46 Cf. 1 Cor 13:12.
47 Ratzinger, J. Eschatolgie - Tod und ewiges Leben. Regensburg 1978, 127ff; G. Nachtwei. Dialogische Unsterblichkeit Leipzig 1986.