Dorothy Bell is well known as an international educator in Theosophy. She considers that it is the way we each see life that influences our understanding of our world.
We enter this life by the gateway of birth and after spending about 70 years on this planet under all kinds of circumstances we disappear by the gateway of death. This procession of living beings has been going on for thousands of years and yet it does not occur to many people to ask the very pertinent questions as to where we have come from, where we are going, and why we are here. I.K. Taimni.
These types of pertinent questions are basic to the human quest to make sense of the world we live in – and this relates to having a worldview. In this introductory article, exploration of the following questions will plough some ground on the nature, origins, importance and power of worldviews.
- What is a worldview? Where do worldviews originate?
- What are some key elements in their make-up?
- How can your worldview be expressed as a snapshot?
- What does a worldview ‘snapshot’ based on Theosophy look like?
- How do you measure the worth of a worldview?
What is a Worldview?
A person's worldview is the centre from which he or she views the world and universe – the Whole. In this sense, we each experience every aspect of our lives through the window or projector lens of our set of beliefs – which is our unique worldview. The concept is from a German word, ‘Weltanschauung’: an outlook on all of the world and the whole of life; or a system of philosophy relating to it. Other definitions focus on specific attributes:
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world. James Sire, Naming the Elephant
The truth is that a worldview is like coloured glasses; it colours everything at which we look. It is a grid through which one views all of life. As such it helps form our thoughts, values and decisions. The tragedy is that most people do not even know what their worldview is, how they got it, and how important it is in their lives. Norman Geisler, Making Sense of Your World
These definitions raise further issues about worldview. That everyone operates uniquely with one, is accepted. However, many of us are unaware of it because it is so deeply embedded below the threshold of our everyday consciousness. We believe that what we see – interpret – through our subjectively coloured glasses is what everyone else sees. And even when we think we know what our worldview is, we find that we may be deluding ourselves: our actions may contradict expressed public beliefs and reflect subconscious ones.
In the interests of self-knowledge, personal development and interpersonal relationships, it appears desirable to have some understanding of how worldviews originate and who and what is involved in the design of our own coloured glasses.
Where do they come from?
An unconscious process that relates to the development of different worldviews, unfolds from birth – termed socialisation or acculturation. For the individual, this process continues through childhood and various life phases, providing beliefs, attitudes and skills necessary for participating within a group or society.
For the society, the minds of its members are shaped into its moral standards, values, customs and laws, usually with the support of an all-pervading, sometimes subtle, system of reward and punishment. Together with social and gender roles – and language – this is the way by which its cultural features are carried on from generation to generation. Parents are primary influences; family, schools, teachers, peer groups and community, religion, science, the arts, the Internet, social and mass media, authorities; the workplace and the government – all contribute to the process.
However, within this evolutionary context, individual members are not passive. They impact on – and respond to – their environment in unique ways. Whatever their attitudes and actions, they reflect the nature-nurture theory of psychology where behaviour is the outcome of the interaction between genetic inheritance (‘skandhas’ or personality traits) and environmental social programming – and not the outcome of just one of these factors.
Seeing ourselves as a story, as a product of our past, our ancestry and the religious history of our society and culture, reminds us of Krishnamurti’s words: We are second-hand people. If we are seekers after our own truth, we would want to explore the ‘second-handedness’ of the worldview that is embedded in our subconscious mind – which may activate a new phase in the journey of our lives.
What makes up a worldview?
The challenge is to identify components or elements that comprise a worldview. Different models or examples have been developed but the following set of beliefs offers a useful basis for analysing and comparing worldviews:
- epistemology: beliefs about the nature and sources of knowledge
- metaphysics: beliefs about the ultimate nature of Reality
- cosmology: beliefs about the origins and nature of the universe, life, especially humanity
- teleology: beliefs about the meaning and purpose of the universe, its inanimate elements and its inhabitants
- theology: beliefs about the existence and nature of God
- anthropology: beliefs about the nature and purpose of humanity in general and oneself in particular
- axiology: beliefs about the nature of value, what is good and bad, right and wrong.
From Ken Funk, Oregon State University, What is a Worldview?
The discipline of psychology may also be considered for insights and beliefs about the nature and workings of the mind.
How can you express your worldview as a snapshot?
Not very many people are philosophers, theologians, or have studied these fields of knowledge. Nevertheless, basic questions that allow a personal worldview to be expressed in the form of a snapshot of simple propositions can be generated by these elements. Many questions have been developed using different bases, and the following life questions are adapted from those designed by James Sire in The Universe Next Door:
1. What is prime reality – the really real?
2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
3. What is a human being?
4. What happens to a person at death?
5. How do we know what is true and false? What is real knowledge?
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
7. What is the purpose of life on Earth? Human history?
8. What personal life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?
While other questions may be asked – at different levels of detail, and with different emphasis – this grouping is useful as an introduction to how a worldview may initially be expressed. It does not ask for definitions, long explanations or arguments – just indicators, or key ideas expressed as propositions. It is a starting point, a working tool to achieve a purpose. And as an experiment, it will be used to produce a snapshot of an individual worldview based on the Wisdom teachings.
What are some elements of a worldview based on Theosophy?
The following worldview comes from individual perception and an evolving understanding of Theosophy. It does not claim to be an academic analysis of the teachings, or a theosophical worldview to end all theosophical worldviews – or all worldviews. Just as each person has their own ‘take’ on reality in general, each one keeps on arriving at their own interpretation from working with the Wisdom teachings and the worldview they express.
Snapshot of a worldview – based on a perception of Theosophy1.
1. WHAT IS PRIME REALITY – THE REALLY REAL?
It is beyond human comprehension. Everything is rooted in the invisible Cause, the Source, the One divine SUBSTANCE-PRINCIPLE – Absolute Essence, Spirit-matter as One; indivisible, eternal, boundless, omnipresent, unchanging, ever Unmanifest; called the Absolute, or the Ultimate Reality; the impersonal ‘Presence’, because it is All and is contained in all; concealed, vibrant, pure energy – hidden Life, Light and Love.
2. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF EXTERNAL REALITY, THAT IS, OF THE WORLD AROUND US?
A manifestation of this unknown Absolute Essence from which Spirit and matter – Consciousness and form – combine to produce life as we know it, in living Nature. Life is consciousness conditioned by the form it inhabits; immutable universal laws of Nature govern the workings of the Universe that evolves from within outwards, guided by super-physical hierarchies of beings. It is ever changing, impermanent. All-that-is is interconnected in one Whole, in the fundamental Unity of all Existence. As above, so below – with different levels and dimensions of consciousness, but all is One Reality.
3. WHAT IS A HUMAN BEING?
A magnificent, divine spiritual entity-energy, experiencing through a temporary personality – dual-natured; gifted with mind; a localised, individualised unit of divine universal consciousness in a physical body or vehicle; on an obligatory pilgrimage in accord with cyclic and Karmic law; to awaken, know itself while in incarnation, develop all qualities, powers associated with its seed of Divinity – Truth, Wisdom, Love-Compassion, Beauty, Goodness, perfect Justice... All souls are divine and equal, of the One Source. Physical senses and Earth programming of the mind reinforce illusory beliefs in separateness and death – binding entities to the wheel of rebirth.
4. WHAT HAPPENS AT DEATH?
Final withdrawal of consciousness from its physical vehicle, into a higher state beyond sensory experience. Then: purification, review, planning, and organising experiences with higher ones, on Life Plan of next incarnation for soul’s growth. Spirit not concerned with death – temporary and false ‘I’ personality-ego, identifying with body and separateness, sees and fears termination.
5. WHAT IS TRUE AND WHAT IS FALSE? WHAT IS REAL KNOWLEDGE?
Inspired ‘wisdom-religion’ teachings that underlie all religions, passed down by rishis, sages, to be shared, examined and directly experienced to be understood and verified by seekers of Wisdom. No proof of intellect can determine proof of spiritual truths; real knowledge is a state of consciousness, ‘knowing’ spiritual truths and primal causes, from true perception and direct experience of the truth and the hidden Reality of all things. Truth is a vibration – resonance with the soul; directly beheld in a penetrating spiritual perception – the higher spiritual intuition that illuminates the mind, variously termed Krishna, Buddha or Christ consciousness.
6. HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT IS RIGHT AND WRONG?
Right action is in harmony with nature: wrong action generates disharmony. The only cause of disturbance of harmony is selfishness, self-centredness, in one form or other. The educational Law of Karma restores harmony in the moral world and the balance of equilibrium in the universe. All things that happen are the effects of past actions, past causes, and in turn become causes. Everything that happens is perfectly accurate and appropriate – perfect divine justice, with no right or wrong, good or bad; no injustice or favour.
7. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF HUMAN HISTORY? THE PURPOSE OF LIFE ON EARTH?
The Earth is a stage – a free will planet; a co-operative schoolhouse of learning-from-experience for the implementation of the Divine Plan of Evolution of Consciousness. To understand universal laws and grow the seed of our Divine Essence in one lifetime is impossible – human history provides reincarnation opportunities in different countries and cultures, circumstances. Karma, the all-embracing law of cause and effect, makes us the maker of our destiny – joyful, peaceful or miserable – to be liberated from, or bound to, the wheel of rebirth.
8. WHAT PERSONAL LIFE-ORIENTING CORE COMMITMENTS ARE CONSISTENT WITH THIS WORLDVIEW?
Love of truth for its own sake, and altruism; reverence for all life forms in Nature; acknowledging the hidden Reality, spiritual ground of the material world, the laws and orderliness of the universe; problem-solving from this universal standpoint; seeing adversity as education for growth; seeing uniqueness and unlimited potential in every human being to become enlightened; respect for all religions and pathways on the journey to higher consciousness; compassionate understanding of the human condition.
Other answers could have been given, other questions asked. Therefore the ‘snapshot’ is limited, it does not give a comprehensive picture of all the main ideas of Theosophy found in classical Theosophical literature. The point is that the purpose of the tool has been achieved: it has drawn out some major aspects of an evolving individual worldview based on Theosophy in order to convey a general flavour, orientation and focus.
How do we consider the worth of a worldview?
Worldviews are powerful: they influence every aspect of our experience – our perceptions, attitudes, decisions and behaviours. Therefore they affect other people and the energy of the atmosphere in which we move. They impact on the collective consciousness. Worldview literacy is of fundamental importance in understanding ourselves and others, in building and maintaining effective human relationships – personally or globally. More people are beginning to see worldview literacy as a fundamental human responsibility – some even echoing Socrates’ gallant statement that “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Given that worldviews are powerful and pervasive, what criteria might be used to assess their relative worth? In ‘The Great Master’s Letter’, published in Lucifer in 1896, the Mahachohan declared a powerful measure of the true religion and philosophy:
The true religion and philosophy offer the solution of every problem… the right and logical explanations on the subject of the problems of the great dual principles, right and wrong, good and evil, liberty and despotism, pain and pleasure, egotism and altruism.
Does a worldview based on Theosophy have the capacity to solve life problems? The Mahachohan goes on to say that
“…if our doctrines will show their competence to offer it, (the solution), then the world will be the first to confess that there must be the true philosophy, the true religion, the true light, which gives truth and nothing but the truth.”
An unspoken challenge has been issued here by the Mahachohan to Theosophists: “Resolve the problems of duality by walking the truth of who you really are, by growing the living power of Theosophy in your lives – and then the world will see.”
And what would they see? What would reflect the worth – and therefore the power – of the practice of any worldview? The following questions are suggested as a concluding reflection:
- Does it inhibit or enhance the fulfilment of human potential, to become fully human in this Earth field of consciousness in the way of Krishna, the Buddha and the Christ?
- Is it a way of thinking and acting that benefits humanity in general?
These reveal the keystones of a worldview based on Theosophy and the Divine Plan of evolution of humanity where our destiny and spiritual growth is firmly placed in our own hands.
1. Perceptions of Theosophy come from writings of H.P. Blavatsky, Mahatma Koot Hoomi (Letters), Annie Besant, as well as others, including I.K. Taimni, N. Sri Ram, C. Jinarajadasa and Emily Sellon.
Dorothy Bell BA, MEd., Fulbright scholar in education; trained in corporate governance and counselling, joined the TS in 1999, served on the Australian TS national executive committee and education unit, and has presented theosophical programmes and published articles internationally. Her special interest is transformation of consciousness: experimenting with ways of building the bridge from ‘there to here’ in becoming who we already are, and growing Theosophy as a living power in our lives.
Article published in TheoSophia, December 2015.