THEOSOPHY, Vol. 83, No. 8, June, 1995
(Pages 235-242; Size: 16K)
(Article number 4 of a 7-part series)
ANCIENT AND MODERN SCIENCE
ASTRONOMY: PART IV
IF CHEMISTRY reveals that there is no such thing as "dead" matter; if physics demonstrates that the properties, correlations, and interactions of matter are related to consciousness; and if biology proves the interdependence and oneness of life; then in moving forward, modern scientists have rediscovered the same fundamental truths of nature that were known to ancient scientists. Having considered these basic earth sciences, we can now turn our gaze away from the atom to the infinitudes of space.
The study of ancient astronomy, in the light of Theosophy, corrects many misconceptions including the modern belief that the ancients were either ignorant or superstitious in everything regarding the sun, planets and stars. Indeed, there was much in ancient astronomy that anticipated the discoveries of modern astronomers. No less than the earth sciences, astronomy, in any age, records the operations of the laws of nature which are the physical manifestations of universal and metaphysical truths. In ancient times, astronomy was taught during the sacred initiations of the Mystery Schools and preserved in the allegorical myths and symbols of the sacred scriptures.
In this study of astronomy, the theories of the ancients and moderns will be placed side by side to give justice to past and present.
Astronomy is considered to be perhaps the most ancient of sciences. It begins as soon as we look up at night. As we look up, at first the starry sky seems motionless. But if we continue to make observations night after night, the sky appears to be moving in a regular and predictable fashion. The constellations shift a little bit westward each successive night. The moon drifts west to east, changing position in the sky relative to the stars. Five other shiny objects wander predictably through the sky. These are the planets.
All the ancients are held to believe that the earth was the center of the universe. True enough, in the scheme of Ptolemy, the earth was surrounded by successive shells upon which the Sun, Moon and five planets moved around the earth. Beyond these was the crystalline spherical vault of fixed stars attached to this sphere. The stars on their vault moved in unison around the earth. Indeed, this geocentric model of the universe was accepted by many astronomers for 1700 years, until Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo finally proved that the earth and other planets moved around the Sun.
However, some of the ancients taught this heliocentric system. Among the Greek astronomers, Aristarchus presented evidence that the earth and planets moved around the Sun. As early as 700 B.C., the schools of Thales and Pythagoras taught the rotation of the earth and the heliocentric system. The Hindu Vishnu Purana, book II, refers to the central position of the Sun: "...people speak of the rising of the Sun where they see it; and where the Sun disappears, there, to them, is his setting. Of the Sun, which is always in one and the same place, there is neither setting nor rising."
Today's astronomers usually credit the apparent ignorance of the ancients to their lack of modern instruments. They also tend to underestimate the age of astronomy. Just how old is astronomy? To answer this question a little knowledge of astronomy is needed. The earth's axis is tilted 231/2 degrees from the vertical so that a line drawn from the south pole through the north pole points to the North Star -- Polaris. The star positions, as we see them, change very slowly. Even the position of Polaris is changing. Several thousand years ago, according to the Egyptian astronomical records, the star Thuban, in the constellation Draco, was the north star. In other words, the imaginary line drawn through the earth pointed to Thuban; not Polaris.
As the ancients recorded such changes in the direction of the earth's axis over many ages, they observed that the relative position of the constellations repeats a cycle every 25,868 years. This cycle is called a sidereal year. The zodiacal records on the Zenderah Zodiac in Egypt record 31/2 sidereal years -- or 87,000 years. The Hindu calendars record astronomical observations for 33 sidereal years -- or 850,000 years. Their records suggest a great antiquity for astronomy.
How is it that some ancient astronomers seemed ignorant of the truth, while others possessed knowledge that anticipated the discoveries of modern astronomers with all their instruments? A partial answer is that astronomy remained for ages a secret science in the East. Great astronomical initiations took place in Egypt. The initiations in India were even more ancient. Not all the ancient astronomers were initiated, but the knowledge of the Initiates addressed mysteries still unsolvable, such as the origin of the Moon.
Contrary to popular conception, astronomers no longer accept the theory that the Moon broke off from the earth. Nor is it accepted that the Moon and Earth formed from the same swirl of cosmic dust and gas, or from two different swirls. Scientifically, the Moon should not be here at all. Since it is, there must be another explanation. The secret teachings on this mystery, as well as other aspects of astronomy, are discussed by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, which was published in 1888.
The Initiates taught that there were milliards of star systems with planets of their own. Yet, it was only a few years ago, that astronomers announced the possible discovery of a planet in a solar system different than our own. Ancient science acknowledged more than five planets in our solar system and knew of Uranus and Neptune, but by other names.
These Adepts taught that the visible Sun is a reflection, the glowing shell of the real Sun within. The real Sun was said to be a center of universal life or electricity; the physical Sun being the focus and reservoir of the Divine Radiance. This Divine Radiance or life becomes manifested on the physical plane as atomic energy. The visible Sun is a bundle of electromagnetic forces. The elements, known and unknown, were said to be in the "outer robes," or chromosphere. The sun spots, still observed in every eleven year cycle, were held to be due to the contraction of the "solar heart" which throws out life energy into the solar system.
Ancient teachings on the nature of the physical Sun are identical in essence with the theories of late 20th century astronomy. According to current astronomy, the Sun is powered by a practically inexhaustible supply of atomic energy. The Sun is now considered to be 75% hydrogen and 23% helium. The hydrogen atoms fuse to form helium which generates energy. The powerful magnetic field of the Sun is now shown to repolarize every eleven years, throwing out increased amounts of charged particles and radiation. This throwing out of radiation is strongest during Sun Spot activity. The dark spots are now thought to relate to areas of solar contraction where there is less activity.
The study of ancient and modern astronomy demonstrates that both contain teachings which are expressions of the universal truths contained in the fundamental principles of Theosophy. The first fundamental principle of Theosophy refers to the absoluteness of the Causeless Cause of the manifested universe. Changeless, eternal, omnipresent space is a useful symbol to aid the mind in its attempt to grasp that which is truly unknowable -- the One Absolute Reality -- Deity. All that manifests from that one absolute principle has the twofold aspect of consciousness and matter. The homogeneous primordial substance eventually manifests as the complex heterogeneous physical matter known to the physicist. Scientists are still searching for that primordial substance they intuitively accept.
Modern astrophysicists believe that all the stars and planets evolved from a primordial substance. At a certain point that primordial substance condensed into whirling clouds of cosmic dust and luminous gases called nebulae. Instruments such as the spectroscope have been used to analyze the light of several nebulae. However, the idea of the origin of worlds, solar systems, and stars out of nebulae is a very ancient teaching. The theory of the existence of primordial matter, or "World Stuff" diffused throughout space in a nebulous condition is found in the most ancient scriptures.
On the basis of the ancient teaching that the Sun and planets developed from the same nebular condensation of primordial matter, H. P. Blavatsky rejected the nebular theory as it was originally advanced by Kant and Laplace in the 18th Century. The original theory taught that the planets were formed as they spun off from the Sun. The modified nebular theory of modern astronomy, formulated in 1944, states that the Sun and planets formed from different condensing nebulae of one large nebula. Besides the similarity in the ancient and modern teachings, they both point to the origin of the universe from a homogeneous substance-principle.
The second fundamental proposition of Theosophy states the universality of the law of periodicity or cycles. Today's astronomers have not only observed the cyclical orbits or rotations of the earth, moon, planets, and comets, but also teach that even solar systems, galaxies and clusters of galaxies revolve around a central point. Ancient astronomers taught that the star cluster, the Pleiades, was the center of the galaxy around which our sun and solar system revolve. Since 1914, astronomers have observed many star clusters in various constellations. One of these star clusters is the Pleiades. Astronomers now believe that the Sun and our solar system is revolving around a central point in the Pleiades and that this point is the center of the galaxy. It is not only interesting that the ancient and modern astronomers agree on this point, but that their independent investigations verify the doctrine of the universality of cycles.
Another aspect of this universal law is Karma -- the unerring tendency in nature to restore equilibrium and balance where it has been disturbed. A fundamental ancient astronomical teaching is that all forms are the resultant of the balance between centripetal and centrifugal forces. The equilibrium between these forces determines the rotation of the spheres. In modern astronomy, the three laws of astrophysics, which explain the formation, rotation and orbits of all worlds, solar systems, and galaxies, are expressions of the universal law of karma manifesting as the equilibrium of opposing forces. The first law of astrophysics is the Law of Gravity. The force of attraction of one object for another is related to its motion around that object. These laws of celestial mechanics were worked out by Kepler and Newton. The second law of astrophysics relates to the balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces. The third law, the conservation of angular momentum states that as a mass contracts it spins faster.
The doctrine of reincarnation is based on the law of cycles. On the physical plane, this process is called re-embodiment. It is the continuous re-embodiment of the same pre-existing substance in different forms. In the ancient teachings, the Sun was considered to be the storehouse of the elements from which stars, planets and other celestial bodies would be produced. Using the spectroscope, astronomers have analyzed the atmosphere of the Sun and have compared those findings with the chemical analysis of other stars and nebulae. The elements are essentially the same.
According to another ancient teaching, when a sun explodes, it throws out into space all these elements. These elements eventually settle down to form new stars and planets in a different solar system. According to modern astronomers, when a star explodes, forming a nova or supernova, it throws out into space its energy and substance which goes to form new worlds. They believe that our Sun is a second generation star. In other words, it was formed from a star that exploded at an earlier time. Once again, it is note worthy that the ancient and modern teachings point to the principle of continuing re-embodiment.
The third fundamental proposition of Theosophy relates to the universal process of evolution. According to ancient teachings there is a natural progression in the evolution of a world. Briefly stated, a nucleus of primordial substance (nebula) is energized by the freed principles of a just deceased sidereal body. The nebula condenses into a comet that wanders through space aggregating more cosmic substance to its mass. In its course it will either continue accumulating matter from other masses or it will be drawn into them. Faster moving comets assume a parabolic path as they approach a large mass and are able to avoid destruction. A slowly moving comet assumes an elliptical orbit that results in its assimilation into the larger mass. The cometary mass eventually becomes a star if successful in its wanderings, if unsuccessful, absorbed. At a later stage, when that star completes its evolutionary cycle, it "explodes" sending into space fragments which wander, collect material, and eventually settle down to form planets. A planet completes its evolutionary cycle, dies, and forms a moon. The energy it throws off fires up a new nebular mass. Our moon at one time was a planet. When it died, having reached the end of its evolutionary cycle, the energies thrown into space resulted in the formation of our earth.
The growing agreement between the teachings of ancient and modern astronomy is truly remarkable. However, it is important to recognize that these astronomical observations are the physical expressions of universal philosophical principles. The Adepts recognized that the celestial phenomena were concrete symbolic expressions of eternal truths. They referred to astronomical observations and used them to instruct disciples in these philosophical ideas and the code of ethics based on natural law and universal truths. Astronomical observations, now as in the past, can be used to demonstrate the harmony and interdependence of life, the law of cause and effect, and the cyclic rise and fall in the affairs of individuals, nations and races. Ultimately, the study of ancient and modern astronomy impresses one with the idea that as we look upward and without, we may also look below and within. In doing so, one may gain a greater understanding and conviction of these truths.
Ancient and Modern Science
Geology: Part V