Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Contemplating Santa Claus and the World Christmas Traditions

”Joulupukki, joulupukki,
valkoparta, vanha ukki.
Eikös taakka paina selkää,
käyppä tänne, emme pelkää.
Oothan meille vanha tuttu,
puuhkalakki, karvanuttu.
Tääl on myöskin kiltit lapset
kirkassilmät, silkohapset."

Finnish people are very fond of Santa, ‘Joulupukki’(yo-lu-puk-ki) as we call him. Every year I am asked why I still believe in Santa and what does Christmas mean to me. Most years I end up giving a talk or being interviewed about the Finnish Christmas traditions. Every year I do a little research to the subject of Santa from the metaphysical or perennial wisdom point of view.

I have a special connection with Christmas as I was born just on the verge of the Christmas Eve, which is the foremost celebration day in the Scandinavian Christmas tradition. My grandfather was born just a day before me and a very close friend who then lived right next door right on the Christmas Eve. I always connected the birthday cake as a part of the Christmas tradition. It only occurred to me to ask my mother about in when I turned 40. She assured me that the cake was for me and not for Jesus as I had suspected. I should have known that as our Christmas always started on my birthday with the tree decorating.

Being born right at the Arctic Circle, in the city where much of the the winter tourism is reliant on the experience of Santa Claus and the image we have on the old elfin traditions and where my father was very involved in the development of the representation of the Arctic Circle Cabin (Napapiirinmaja), it is not a wonder why I feel so strongly about Santa and his presented reflection in the world.

The Christmas celebration is a serious business in Lapland. Next year the Rovaniemi University of Applied Sciences will offer a year long course on Christmas Elf profession. The Ear Fell Mountain as a preferred place of home for Joulupukki was already established during the 1920’s through the children’s radio program Uncle Markus, where he declared this location ideal for Santa’s secret abode. From there he could hear if the children would be naughty or nice.

In 1950 the first Arctic Circle Cabin (or Roosevelt’s Cabin) was built in honour of Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit to Rovaniemi and then on served to encourage tourism to Lapland where the war had destroyed everything. I once (1986) organised a Barbie Doll Exhibition at Napapiirinmaja and one year (1994) I was even employed as the Mother Santa up at the Ear Fell Mountain where the eco-tourism brings people to experience an alternative Christmas. I can still smell the smoke on my coat from the hearth and the coffee we served to the appreciative tourists on the -40°C freezing cold mountain.

My metaphysical thought process on the spirit of ‘Yule’ (Joulu in Finnish) or Joulupukki (Santa) started quite early in my life. One boost was a discussion I had with my then 5-yearold son in the early 1980’s. He asked me how long I thought that Santa would live. Since I was on a philosophical mode I answered that as long as he thought to believe in him. His response was: “Ah, that’s just like God!” No more discussions needed on that subject, I thought.

During the 1990’s, I once picked up a book called God. What the Critics Say? One of the quotations that pricked my mindscape is from a writer, P.J. O’Rouke and it states:
“GOD is an elderly or, at any rate, middle-aged male, a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal and great believer in rules and regulations. He holds men strictly accountable for their actions. He has little apparent concern for material well-being of the disadvantaged. He is politically connected, socially powerful and holds the mortgage on literally everything in the world. God is difficult. God is unsentimental. It is very hard to get into God’s country club.

SANTA CLAUS is another matter. He is cute. He’s non-threatening. He’s always cheerful. And he loves animals. He may know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice but he never does anything about it. He gives everyone everything they want without thought of a pro quo. He works hard for charities and he’s famously generous to the poor. Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: there is no such thing as Santa Claus.” (Wroe, 1992)

Interestingly Patrick (O’Rouke) agrees with my son that God and Santa Claus can be discussed in the same context. I myself was shocked to the core the first time, after moving to Australia, I witnessed the Santa Claus singing ‘Hallelujah’ with angels on the Sydney Opera House stage. I have always felt that Joulupukki is a separate but similar spirit. Apparently O’Rouke is also suspicious and skeptical about the possibility of empathy and compassion in the human world as defined by his threatening and powerful image of God. Further on it seems that he is only acquainted with the Coca Cola image of the Santa Claus and doesn’t believe in the possibility of the real spirit underlying the concept. This is all fine but let’s just for the arguments sake discuss the Joulupukki (Santa Claus) I know.

Let’s start with the Finnish and the Scandinavian Joulupukki or Jultomte (in Swedish). The Scandinavian folklore blends into the traditions of ‘Yule Buck’ (Joulupukki), the threatening figure of the Norse god Thor riding the sky in a chariot of two goats demanding cooked goat flesh as gifts from people and the God Odin (the father of all gods) in his long blue-hooded cloak riding the skies on his eight legged horse bearing gifts to the needy.

In Finland ‘Joulupukki’ retained his name while in Sweden he changed to ‘Jultomte’ (Yule Elf) or in Norway to ‘Julenisse’ again blending with the old elemental elfin folklore traditions. In the Finnish tradition sometimes he would be dressed in goat skins as Nuutipukki with horns to frighten people, judge the behavior of the children, sometimes giving them sticks instead of gifts. In December there would be big festivals to ward off him. Nuutipukki who carries on the tradition of killing the goat on the last day of Christmas, is still well blended to the Joulupukki imagery in Finland. In Sweden it is now mostly represented by popular ‘julbock’-decorations made of straw.

The fact that Santa actually visits the homes of the Scandinavian people during the Christmas Eve gives a possibility for everyone to observe his (and possibly his wife’s and elves’) appearance personally and from that evidence state that there are great varieties presented in that field, from the old fur coat tradition to the newest freshly designed and commercial Santa outfits. Even the odd Father Frost representing the Russian tradition might be observed. But whatever the appearance the personal experience of receiving gifts from Santa overrides the possible threat of the unknown.

One reason for the diminishing status of the old Scandinavian pagan traditions came from the long reigning Lutheran Church in Scandinavia, where Martin Luther at the same time as rejecting the Catholic imagery of St Nicolas wanted to strengthen the role of Jesus as a centre of the celebration and as a gift bearer. The tradition tells a tale (not true, but efficient) that Luther was especially fond of the tree as a centre piece. He brought one home and decorated it with candles to represent the stars on the sky.

Clara M Codd wrote in her book The Way of the Disciple:
“Once define an ideal in words and it loses its reality; once figure a metaphysical idea, and you materialize its spirit.” (Codd, 2000)

The development of the imagery of spirit of Santa Claus took a life of its own and slowly changed to what we know now. We can look at that reality from what I know of Santa Claus, Joulupukki, Nuutipukki, Jultomte, Julenisse, St Nicholas, Knecht Ruprecht and others.

While taking into consideration the Christian imagery of St Nicolas, the picture of the Santa we know now in the world is mostly flavored by two popular artists, namely Thomas Nast and Haddon Sundblom, the first a creator of jolly Christmas cards in 1880’s and the second the creator of the red-cloaked Coca Cola Santa of the 1930’s.

In Scandinavia Jenny Nyström was the one single artist who blended the old Scandinavian elfin folklore and the Norse Edda tradition into the popular leading character of the Jultomte during the 1940’s. The modern design of the Arctic Circle’s Joulupukki’s outfits also bears resemblance to the Russian Father Frost’s attire.

The Santa we know has borrowed qualities from everyone of his inspirational ancestors and modelled them to suit his modern day image in whichever country he is residing. It seems though that influential global images are working on the Santa very strongly.
But it is still possible to detect the trends:

• Compassion and gifts come from Odin, St Nicolas and Christ
• The eight reindeer resemble the Odin’s eight legged horse
• The sleigh comes from the Thor’s Chariot
• Riding the skies also comes from the Norse myths, both Odin and Thor (sky gods)
• The intricate attire is from the Odin’s cloak just changed colour
• The elfin tradition carries on from the elementals that build the atoms from the protons and neutrons to create matter and can thus create any gifts, a kind of elemental nano-technology
• The fear the Santa carries on from our respect to the higher spirits or gods that were felt being volatile and from the Yule Buck as a goat pagan tradition
• The Christmas tree is the symbol of fertility
• The red colour of the Santa’s cloak is the colour of fertility
• Excessive eating comes from the great variety of fertility traditions

I cannot really agree that an idea we as humans have spent ions in shaping into an agreeable image for our use, an idea that compasses compassion, charitability, goodwill, generosity, laughter and love towards those who are underprivileged, especially children is nothing. It certainly is something to believe in and develop further. It should be seen as work in progress rather than a non-possibility. Just because it also encompasses our modern day materialistic ideals in the need to actually physically buy gifts, create beautiful luscious and otherwise perhaps useless decorations and live in excess for a while, doesn’t mean that it should be dismissed without deep contemplation.

The conclusion to this comes again in the words of Clara Codd:
“Thus the mind is the creator of thought-forms, symbols. A true symbol – as the Greek derivation of the word suggests – is a pointer, a signboard, indicating where, if we have the intuition to follow, we may discern something of that Reality which the symbol depicts.” (Ibid)

Let’s commemorate the old and create something new in our own Christmas this year. Let the spirit of ‘Yule’ connect us to one another and the world we live in once more.

CODD, C. M. 2000. The Way of the Disciple, The Theosophical Publishing House.
WROE, M. (ed.) 1992. God. What the Critics Say?: Hodder & Stoughton Religious.ä+voi+opiskella+tontuksi/1135231558458 accessed 13/11/2010

Also some other worthy sites:

The Santa Pictures in this blog are from:
1. Arctic Circle, Santapark, Finland
2-5. Different types of Santas visiting my home over the years
6. Nuutipukki from Satakunnan museo, Finland
7. Swedish Julbock
8. St Nicolaus
9. Father Frost, Moscow
10. Nast Santa
11. Coca Cola Santa
12. Nyström's Jultomte
13. Santa from Ylläs, Finland

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Celebrating Childhood Memories Contemplated in the Light of Sciences and History of Ideas Versus Modern Film and Literature.

“A history of science is rich in the example of the fruitfulness of bringing two sets of techniques, two sets of ideas, developed in separate context for a pursuit of new truth, into touch with one another.”
(J. Robert Oppenheimer)

For the last week on Facebook (FB) people have been celebrating childhood memories. FB users have been encouraged to change their profile to their favourite childhood characters, either from literature, art, films or cartoons and such. Many of my friends have taken up the challenge. I have had a number of interesting discussions about our memories with my colleagues and friends, starting from “I don’t remember any of my toys or characters” to “such a wonderful childhood we had!” My friends are displaying a variety of characters on their profiles. I am noticing some culturally bound adaptations, though. But apart from that, this great multiplicity just proves that as people are individual as personalities, so are their childhood memories as represented by the characters they choose.

Lately I have also been reading a lot about the function of the brain and neuroscience in how our worldview keeps changing in accordance of how we experience our reality. Applying my new knowledge on brain neurons and their effect on our development and the role of childhood memories on our lives I am asking myself how the childhood characters we grew up with have influenced what we have became as adults.

I would say that over the years of maturing I have moved from Astrid Lingren’s Pippi Longstocking and Tove Janson’s Little Myy (because of the Finnish voice of the actor) combined with Mary Poppins as a movie character as my most memorable figures to Moomin Mum’s contemplative approach and Mrs Banks’ determination to save the world. However, much of it is still in relation to yet another memorable character, namely their ‘bag of tricks’.

I distinctly remember that sequence of the Mary Poppins’ musical where Mary opens her bag and takes out the lamp and other furniture to decorate her room. This similar scene was nearly copied by Hermione, in the last instalment of The Harry Potter movie series, where she opens her small beaded handbag and takes out the whole tent and camping equipment. I particularly have always admired the Moomin Mom’s handbag, where she finds what is necessary to fix anything and everything from sorrows to fun. Pippi’s bag of gold coins given to her by her father is the strait forward, no nonsense, representation of the modern world where money can short-circuit a lot of efforts for survival. No magical trick needed except for perhaps the adventurous spirit to find a historical shipwreck full of treasure. This kind of endeavour might not prove to be an easy task any more in the world where everything is already mapped quite extensively.

However, the bag of tricks remains in my mind a metaphor for daring to reach into the subconsciousness and look for out of the box ideas for new approached to solving problems presented to the world we live in.

It was a wonderful week to focus on such things from the childhood memories point of view. Now that Christmas is coming we might find a new ways for compassionate attitude to spread around the world. Here are some references on Pippi Longstocking you might be interested in:

Gaare J and Sjaastad Ø. 2002, Pippi & Sokrates, Filosofiska vandringar i Astrid Lingrens värld. Smedjebacken, Sweden. Natur och Kultur


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Remembering the Finnish Women Migrants to Australia during the Last 60 Years

Recovering old archives of my research to Finnish women’s life stories and their assimilation process in Australia

The original reason of why I came to Australia in 1995 was to conduct research on the Finnish women migrants to Australia. I had been accepted to do PhD studies with the University of Helsinki, under Professor Anto Leikola’s supervision in the General History Department. My accepted research title was A Comparative Study on the Situation of Scandinavian Born Women’s Assimilation to the Australian Society. A Study on how they keep their ethnic and cultural identity. (Vertaileva tutkimus Australian suomalaisten naisten sopeutumisesta ja suomalaisen kulttuurin säilyttämisestä).

For ten months we, my daughters and I, travelled around Australia interviewing mainly Finnish women and collecting hard data in a way of questionnaires. We landed in Cairns and visited Tully and Townsville. From there we went to Mt Isa for a month, then to Alice Springs, Adelaide and Melbourne. We stayed two months in Wollongong and Sydney area and then after another month’s stay at Mt Isa, we settled to Brisbane.

I interviewed 63 women, mostly from the Finnish background, spanning well over 40 years of immigration in Australia, conducted seven group discussions, had approximately 90 questionnaires filled, connected to other researchers, held seminars about my work and sang in every city to various groups of people who were willing to participate in my research project. In April, 1996 I presented a study paper on my research to that date at the 6th International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women in Adelaide.

Then we decided to stay in Australia permanently, and after a year, I deemed the distance to Finland too far to travel to and from, and boxed my research while waiting for new opportunities to carry it further. The new life took over and I shelved the research in my mind as well until a couple of years ago when the subject of my research came up in relation to my work and return to university. I ransacked our garage and took out the boxes and the floppy discs, the cassettes containing the interviews and related materials. It is amazing how quickly the technology of last decade gets old and outdated and it is hard to recover old research materials. But I did start to do it anyway.

Recently the subject came up again in relation to further studies and I was asked if I had in fact done some research for my PhD studies. So, out came the boxes and amongst it all I found a recording of the talk I gave when presenting some of my research at the 6th International Interdisciplinary Congress for Women in Adelaide on April the 26th, 1996. The title of my paper is: Some Experiences of the Nordic (Finnish) Female Migrants in Australia; how they have survived and keep up their ethnic identity. The paper includes ten life stories of the women I found interesting and who had emigrated from the Nordic countries to Australia during the 1950’s to 1964.

I was really curious of what I had said fifteen years ago as I didn’t even remember there was a recording of the presenting of the paper. So, I loaned a cassette player from an old friend and scripted it out and here it is. I have shortened it and modified the language. My paper might be of interest to someone currently doing research on immigration or collecting stories of women who have migrated to Australia or other countries as a comparison. It might be of interest to know that there have been others doing such research not so long ago.

Here are the basics of my talk in 1996 [April, Adelaide]

I’ve done a study on the Nordic women’s experiences in Australia. The reason I chose to interview particularly the Finnish women was because I was captured by their pioneering flavoured stories during the 70’s, when I was living in Mt Isa and also because no-one else has bothered to do so, so far.

When I first came to Adelaide to interview the women here, the notion of lesser importance was expressed by a woman who said to me [1995]: “Are you really interested in us women? Wouldn’t the male storied be more appealing?”

On the research method

At first when starting with my research, I thought that I could tell the Nordic women’s storied as a group but quickly found that it is not possible. I’ve grouped them according to their time of arrival to Australia. I’ve named them the 50’s [1951-1964], the 60-70’s [1967-1975] and Newcomers [thereafter], according to the ethos of the times when they arrived. (Now a days I could categorise the later group as the 80’s-90’s).

In this paper I am concentrating on the women from the 1950’s. And why is this? Because I was particularly captured by the early storied from Mt Isa and their inspiring character.

In my research I have mainly used the in-depth interview method [63 single interviews and 7 group interviews]. I have also collected hard data by the way of questionnaires [89].

At the same time, it has been somewhat of an anthropological study. [With my daughters and my family, we settled to Brisbane and went through the process of becoming Australian citizens.] I can compare my experiences in Australia as a teenager and now.

Who are these women?

In the group of women included in my paper [the 50’s], I have 41 interviews from the Finnish and Swedish speaking women migrants to Australia [1950’s to 1964].
The Finnish community in Australia is very close knitted and their experience has not been recorded because they do not cause any major problems. This is to say, from the government’s point of view.

There are about 17000 Finns and their descendants in Australia. Most of them came here between the years 1950-1975. Then the laws changed [the Australian government financial assistance schemes ceased to exist] and the newcomers have a completely different experience from the earlier arrivals. The whole Nordic ethnic population in Australia amounts to around 50000.

The common appearance makes it easy for the Nordic people to settle to Australia. We pass off as British if we don’t open our mouths. We have fair hair and blue eyes. The Swedish speaking learn English very quickly, except for the pronunciation of the letter j. The community holds close ties to each other and do not feel they need help from other groups. They are quite invisible as a group and as a whole when it comes to migration research.

A very brief historical background to Finland and migration and the position of women there

The area we now call Finland has been under Swedish rule until 1809 and then it became autonomy under the Russian rule. In 1917 when Finland declared independence the Finnish women had had a vote in local government since 1899 and in federal government since 1901.

Until the 1950’s Finland was characteristically an agrarian society. It was the last Scandinavian country to be industrialised. This quickly occurred after the WWII and during the 1950’s.

Every time during the history, when the times were ‘bad’, the Finns would emigrate. Presently, there are around 5 million Finns around the world. Many of the Finnish communities are quite old. Approximately 200-year old communities can be found for example in Ingermanland, Sweden, Norway, USA and Canada. They often keep their Finnish language up to the third and fourth generation and also preserve their Finnish customs.

How about the sample of the Australian immigrant women?

Most of the women in the 50’s group I interviewed come from the rural Finland, only two are from the city. They all have had their primary education [except the children] and are literate. Compared to many other groups immigrating to Australia, they are well educated. Two have secondary education. Most of them followed their husbands to Australia in order to keep the family together.

‘Tuovi’ (name changed for privacy reasons) is a typical one. She still can’t understand why her mother was so angry with her when she moved to Australia with her eight children. The morning after our interview, she came to further discuss the issue with me saying that she had been thinking about that question all night.

“I mean I had no say. My husband, who rarely did anything [meaning that he usually never showed any initiative for anything] decided that we would go after reading an article in a magazine about this other family who had moved. Within two months, he had organised it all, sold our house, and everything we owned. I didn’t even get to take my rug mats with me, only one suitcase per person. My mother stopped talking to me for two years. I mean, she should have understood. She never had any say herself. That is the way we were brought up, to follow our husbands.”

One of the main deciding factors for emigration to Australia was the articles published in the Finnish papers and magazines about the families leaving for Australia. Many families settled to Brisbane because during the Melbourne Olympics a famous Finnish sports commentator referred to Brisbane as the best place in the world. For many, that was their only information about Australia.

Although the decision to leave Finland was not theirs, the women were no victims to their faith and eventually took control of the situation. ‘Tuovi’ says: “Well I said to him, [husband] after we moved to Mt Isa and he was working in them mines.” Her husband had tried all kinds of jobs in several locations around Australia, from cane cutting to factory work while she lived in Brisbane with their eight kids. “Now we stay”, she demanded. “I put my foot down and said that we are not moving anywhere, before our children are out of the school. The pay check, every fortnight, was a real comfort. We never had that on the farm in Finland.”

Two thirds of the women I interviewed took a positive view after the move and many felt that anything is better than working the farm in Finland.

What did the women do in Australia?

They surely cleaned a lot of houses and businesses. They have worked in the factories and they have made sausages. Most of them [28] were at home taking care of their children. Each family had from 3-8 children and then there were other people’s children to care for.

Their efforts and they interests are all concentrated on the Finnish community, and their church, either the Pentecostal church or the Finnish Lutheran church or the various Finnish Associations. They job has been to maintain the Finnish heritage for their families, and do a lot of handicrafts.

English language skills

Their children have learned the English language and lost their Finnish skills in the process. This has generated a huge gap between the generations.

The Finnish conversations have often been limited to ordinary daily utterings like “would you like more milk” and such. The children’s Finnish is really bad and the parent’s English is if possible even worse. And I am talking about today [1995]. These women and their husbands never assimilated in a social sense to Australia. They for example never read Australian newspapers. They have lived all of their lives in Australia relying to the knowledge of their children or someone else who could speak English.

But of course for example in Mt Isa, where there were over 2000 Finns in a community of about 25000. And this was so the whole time between 1964 and 1974, at least or even longer (I left from there in 1975). So you didn’t have to speak English. Everywhere someone could be found who would speak your own language. And I remember how after coming to Mt Isa at the age of 16, after two weeks, I was interpreting for people who had lived there for 30 years. My grandfather never learned English; his daughter has never learned much English and her husband and their children spoke very poor English and Finnish.

How are they now? [In 1996]

Of the women I interviewed most are happy now. Except for a very few, they are widows and have survived their husbands and can do what they want. This they feel is a real blessing. They concentrate on their grandchildren and can freely visit Finland whenever they want. After 40 years, they have unanimously decided that their life was a good experience. They are not the same women who left Finland. They have learned unselfishness along the way and feel that if they had stayed in Finland they would have been more selfish.

The impact of the Finnish migrants on Australian society

The Australian community near where they live has learned to eat ‘pulla’. That is the Finnish sweet bread. And they have also learned that there are these people who, despite + 40° of Celsius, heat up this little room to + 80° and sit inside of it, naked and trow water on hot stones and think that it is wonderful.

I look at these women and see that they are just like everybody else who adjust to their situation which in many cases was intolerable.

In closing I’ll tell you ‘Anni’s’ story:

She came to Australia, through Finland from Karelia in the early 1950’s. She had been forced to leave her original home because of the war, when Karelia was overtaken by the Russians [Soviet Union]. She already lost everything she had once before coming here.

In Australia, she and her husband recreated their Karelia. Her house looks exactly like the houses there before the war. Singlehandedly, she built here house here, restored all the furniture and sewed the five meters tall red velvet curtains.
She has a dog, called Nelli, who is the size of a tea cup and has a velvet cushion. She also bakes the best Karelian rice pies I’ve ever eaten.

As her occupation she tells me, a cleaning lady. She cleaned in a nearby factory and everyone called her by her first name. Her job description is a little peculiar for a cleaning lady, though. Besides cleaning the factory, she also built the factory museum because she deemed it important for everybody that the history of the factory be told. There also, she restored furniture, built all the display cabins for the artefacts. She even restored the old saws and the woodworking tools.
Because she decided that the men who were supposed to do the interior painting in the factory did not do a good enough job, she also did the paining.

She told me that the ovener of the factory was happy with her and basically let her do what she wanted. She also told me what her wages were. I can only say that the director seemed to be a very honest and wise man when it came to his relationship with Anni. He employed her as a ‘cleaning lady’ and paid her very high wages. Her work was never acknowledged, though. She wasn’t looking for recognition. Her husband was well recognised as an artist in the community.

It gives me great pleasure to tell you about her in this conference. Here we can celebrate her and other gifted immigrant women who have come to this country.

As a conclusion to this posting I’d like to say that...

If anybody is interested in this kind of research, please tell me. I am really honoured to have been able to interview so many interesting women of Finnish background who have lived in Australia. Many of the people I interviewed have passed away, just like the people in the accompanying photographs but their memories linger on and are shared by their descendants, even though the next generation might not speak their language so well.

So, if you suddenly find that it is the melancholy tunes you like, it might be your Finnish background lurking, trying to tell you to find out more about your ancestry.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

“Mun mummuni muni mun mammani ja mun mammani muni mun”...

... ja
minä munin sun mammasi ja sun mammasi muni sun.

Ainakin tämän tulisi nykymummun tietää sukupolvien välisestä kulttuurinvaihdosta ja kielenkehityksestä

Lapsenlapsi, viisi kuukautta, istuu äitinsä sylissä Skypen edessä ja ‘puhuu’ isoisoäidille Suomeen. Aivan selvästi hän jo ymmärtää sen, että isoisoäiti puhuu suomea. Jo aikaa olen huomannut sen, että hän ymmärtää, että mummulassa puhutaan suomea ja lauletaan suomeksi ja, että mummulla on kova ääni. Hän istuu mummun polvella tai seisoo ja haluaa pomppia ja me pompitaan ja lauletaan.

Körö, körö kirkkoon, papinmuorin penkkiin
ruskealla ruunalla, valkealla varsalla
kirjavalla kissalla, kolipäällä koiralla

Meillä on meneillään sellainen kilpa, että kumpi sana ‘mummu’ vai ‘mum’ tullee ensiksi lapsen suusta, siis suomeksi vai englanniksi. Se on mummun oma hassutuskilpailu. Sen takia, olen etsinyt ‘mummu-lauluja’ jopa Facebookin kautta ystäviltä ja nettitutuilta. Ideoita onkin tullut:

Polkupyörän lainasimme, sillä näin me ajellaan,
mutta minne, vaikka sinne, missä tie vie mummulaan.
Minä poljen, sinä ohjaat, niinkuin tanssimatka käy,
mummulaan kun pyöräilemme, pilvenhattaraa ei näy.


Mummo kanasensa niitylle ajoi, pienet kanaset ne hyppeli.
Mut’ metsästä hiipi sen hiljainen kettu, niin viekas ja pitkä häntäinen.

Ja vielä

Hopoti, hopoti, hopoti hoi, varsa hypäten juokse,
lopoti, lopoti, lopoti, loi, vie minut mummuni luokse.
Yli vuorien laukataan, poikki merien kahlataan.
Mummu kakkuja paistaa. Tekisi mieleni maistaa

Muitakin lauluja kyllä löytyy, mutta ne ei tässä vaiheessa ole vielä ajankohtaisia lapsenlasta ajatellen. Muuten kyllä mummuista saisi laulaa vaikka enemmänkin.

Pienen lapsenlapsen kannalta nykymummun, varsinkin tällaisen, joka puhuu ainakin kahta kieltä joka päivä, tulisi päivitää tietonsa muutamista asioista. Ensimmäinen niistä on se, mitä nykyään tiede sanoo kaksi- ja monikielisyyden kehityksestä ja toinen on se mihin tutkimus on päässyt neuropsykologiassa. Moni mummu varmaan tulee yllättymään siitä, miten paljon uutta tietoa on saatu siitä kuinka lasten aivot toimivat ja kuinka ne kehittyvät. Näiden perustietojen pohjalta on hyvä lähteä tukemaan omia lapsia ja heidän kasvatusmetodejaan.

Esimerkiksi lasten kielenkehityksessä on tultu siihen tulokseen, että jo neljän kuukauden ikäiset lapset pystyvät tunnistamaan eri kielialueet ja kielen rytmit. Dr Bruce Perryn kirjan Born for Love mukaan niiden vauvojen, joille puhutaan useita kieliä, neuroonit kehittyvät omalla laillaan valmiiksi monikielisyyteen aivan erilailla kun yksikielisten lasten neuroonit. On siksi tärkeää puhua lapselle paljon ja hartaasti ja niin paljon kuin mahdollista niillä kielillä, joilla lapsi tulee puhumaan. Toiset tutkijat ovat havainneet, että jo nelikuukautiset vauvat pystyvät erottamaan kielet toisistaan vain seuraamalla sanatonta keskustelua TV:stä. Se, että heille pitäisi välttämättä yhden ihmisen puhua vain yhtä kieltä on vanhaa tietoa. Lapsilla täytyy vain olla mahdollisuus kunkin kielen rakentamiseen ja kehittämiseen. He tarvitsevat siis sanastoa kommunikointiin.

Tässä muutamia ehdotuksia siitä, mitä kannattaa lukea:

BOSCH, L. & SEBASTIÁN-GALLÉS, N. 1997. Native-language recognition abilities in 4-month old infants in monolingual and bilingual environments. Cognition, 65, 33-69.

SCALAVITZ, M. & PERRY, P. D. 2010. Born for Love: Why Empthy Is Essential - And Endangered, William Morrew, HarperCollins Publishers.

SEBASTIÁN-GALLÉS, N., BOSCH, L. & PONS, F. 2008. Bilingualism. In: MARSHALL, M. H. & JANETTE, B. B. (eds.) Encyclopedia of Infant and Early Childhood Development. Oxford: Academic Press.

Tässä myös linkki Soili Perkiön New Yorkissa At the Learning Overtunes, Finland session ja siellä pidettyyn:

Hands-on session 1: Elementary Music Education videoon

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Where do the foundations of charitable and philanthropic thinking processes lie? – Looking for answers though the scientific approach.

Brief reflections and realisations gained at Dr Bruce D. Perry’s seminar on Transforming Childhood Trauma: Connecting with Empathy and Compassion held in Brisbane, 15/09/2010

A friend and I shared a very wonderful day at the Brisbane Convention Centre listening to Dr Bruce D. Perry’s insights on childhood trauma and recovery models. The auditorium was full of his fans from far and wide. Dr Perry certainly can take his audience to an exciting trip though the human brain development. The research and the case stories he shared with the spectators were extremely well streamlined within his presentation.

I was immediately captured by his comments on the age old practice of having your child sleeping next to you and his declaration that the modern preference to separate the children from their parents is not respecting the natural children’s brain development which is dependent on the building of a close nurturing relationship between the primary carer and the child. The closer and the more fostering this relationship is the better for the future of the child’s ability to feel empathy and be compassionate towards other human beings. Coming from a culture where this is a widely accepted practice, his declaration felt good to hear.

The other most remarkable comments by Dr Perry were that 65% of all the calories a newborn takes with food are consumed by the brain and a four-year old brain has already created 90% of all its functions, including the primary sense of being.

For me it is interesting to note how the brain works in practice by following my own memories that relate to philanthropic, charitable and humane thinking processes in my own life. It is also fascinating to analyse my own attitudes and through self analysis get to know what determined my world today. I have heard this saying so many times in the context of consideration about the rising consciousness: “if you look at yourself now, you know what you were in the past and if you look at your thoughts today, you know what you’ll be in the future.” These types of comments are often articulated in such discussions that conclude to consider words things. This process is concerned of realising an idea in the material world. The thoughts solidify into words and these words solidify into actions and ultimately may materialise as things.

I have two vivid memories that relate to developing as a humane human being, the other voiced by my own mother, with a long career as a teacher in Lapland, Finland and the other a friend in India, with a long career as a doctor and lately a director of Kristnamurti Educational Centre in Bangalore. Both are concerned in educating children to become compassionate human beings. My mother says that we should be learning to eat with a spoon from an early age and sit up properly on our chair as it is part of our culture. My Indian friend says that the two most useless inventions by humans are the spoon and the chair as when we eat with our fingers, our touch is also stimulated and when we crouch, our posture is kept firm and we keep healthy. Both are occupied and agree in bringing up healthy and able human beings. It is remarkable how human beings can start from two totally opposite directions and be of the same mind on the whole. To me this is a demonstration of how unity can be created from diversity. There is not only one way to do things, but many as long as the goal is agreed upon.

Listening to Dr Bruce Perry, who is an expert in brain plasticity, for a day on childhood trauma and recovery models, helped me to realise that we can also take a scientific approach and use our current knowledge of how the brain develops and functions as a tool to enhance and aid the transformation of the human consciousness.

A few thoughts clearly stood out for me on the day in relation to my search for the philanthropic thinking models:

1. The initial quotation Dr Perry used, from W.R. Inge, namely: “The best time to influence the character of a child is 100 years before they are born.” – This relates to longtime hereditary approach.
2. “Our brain allows us to absorb the accumulated and distilled experience of thousands of previous generations in a single lifetime.”
3. The utmost plasticity of the brain, which allows us to rebuild and re-organise the brainstems, diencephalon, the limbic system and the neocortex of the brain from the basic stems to the more complex systems and the other way around from the cortex to the basics. – This leads to that we can influence the brain in positive ways by providing ‘pattern repetitive inputs’.
4. The utmost co-dependence of the organisation of our brain to the close human relationships we have initially formed or the lack of them – The power of human relationships.
5. “From the neural developmental perspective, we need to be respectful of our biology in the process of inventing our reality.”
6. Being born a human does not ensure that a child has the capacity to care, to share, to listen, to be empathetic and have values or to be compassionate. This develops from being cared for. - “Humans become humane.”
7. Human mind pays more attention to the negative comments than to positive. The negative responses we get from our relationships outnumber the positive by 3:5 – “Everybody needs their rewards bucket filled every day.”

It is very comforting and positive to know that Dr Perry’s ‘Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics’ is producing results in the ‘treatment’ of trauma in children. The knowledge that it is possible to work closely together with the traumatised children and their families by using this model by first mapping and then re-organising the brain that has been maltreated in the past, brings with it new realisations of the possibilities imbedded in the utmost plasticity of the brain. What is incredible is that even though the human beings when creating our world seem to have little respect of our neurobiology and instead mostly work against it, it is never too late to re-organise and re-create our reality to better suit the natural environment.

Thinking of the model and the information I got from the seminar, through the handout reading materials and some additional research I could easily draw a direct line to philanthropic thinking models. The same realisations could be used in determining that people with little empathy or inclination to charitable or philanthropic thinking or action have some trauma to recover from. If we would think that a fully mature humane human being does possess the capacity to be compassionate and empathetic, then there must be a way to re-organise the brain to realise this aim.

Many practices aiming at raising human consciousness that we are accustomed to are based on repetitive impulses, yoga-practice for example and mediation, music and movement, prayer and much of singing, particularly traditional folk singing and dancing, even some traditional ways to create art. These practices have been developed during many centuries. We find them comforting and often revert to them when in need to ‘fill our rewards bucket’. All this practice requires close human interaction and relationships in the community to learn.

Lot of what Dr Perry said during the day is something that I knew before, scattered in little bits of information here and there. There has been much scientific research done on following young children to adulthood and through this it is evident that the brain takes longer to develop to its full mature capacity than thought before. The latest research says that we can only expect a 27-year old brain to be fully mature. Other topical interesting research concerns hypothalamus and its functions in sorting out human emotions and the blends of emotions. Our day with Dr Perry brought this research in sharper focus for me. I am really looking forward to reading his book Born for Love; Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered, written with Maia Szalavitz. The reading material that was handed out has been a great source of information. Lots of it can be found in the Child Trauma Academy Website as well. It is well recommended.

I greatly appreciate all comments for future development.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lyhennelmä Brisbanen teosofisessa seurassa heinäkuussa 2010 pitämästäni puheesta

Helena Blavatsky ja hyväntekeväisyys (filantroopia) ajatuksen historia teosofisen maailmakuvan mukaan. - suomenkielinen versio

Puheeni käsittelee hyväntekeväisyys(filantropia)ajatteluprosessien juuria ja sitä, kuinka teosofisen maailmankuvan voidaan katsoa auttavan ihmiskuntaa rakentamaan maailmanlaajuisen veljeyden/sisaruuden ytimen.

Puheen pääosat:
1. Helena Blavatsky inspiraation alkuperänä.
2. Hyväntekeväisyysajattelun lyhennetty historia.
3. Filantropiakonsepti kehittyy.
4. Teosofinen seura elävänä esimerkkinä finaltrofisesta toiminnasta maailmassa.
5. TOS -työjärjestö esimerkkinä filantropisesta organisaatiotoimintamallista.
6. Hyväntekeväisyysajatuksesta organisoituihin kriisipalveluihin.
7. Kuinka itsekästä hyväntekeväisyys (filantropia) on?

Puheeni alkaa Helena Blavatskyn esittelyllä. Hän on ollut suuri inspiraatio elämässäni. Blavatsky syntyi Venäjällä vuonna 1831 ja oli yksi alkuperäisiä Teosofisen seuran perustajia vuonna 1875. Isoisäni lahjoitti minulle hänen Salainen Oppi-kirjansa, joka oli julkaistu vuonna 1888, ollessani 16-vuotias. Hän sanoi että se todella hyvä lukuelämys. Tietysti kirja oli liian vaikea minun ymmärtää niin nuorena ja sensijaan luinkin ensiksi kokonaan hänen Hunnutettu Isis-kirjansa. Se oli julkaistu jo vuonna 1877. Tein jopa Blavatskyn ideoista Aate-ja oppihistorian yliopistotutkielmani.

Helena Blavatsky on jäänyt yhdeksi suurista vaikuttajista elämässäni. Olen aina mielelläni kertoillut hänen saavutuksistaan ja toistanut tunnettuja juttuja hänen hyväntekeväisyystoimistaan. Monet tarinat ovat yksittäisiä ketomuksia hänen toisiin ihmisiin kohdistuneista teoistaan. Monesti nämä hyvät teot aiheuttivat kärsimyksiä hänelle itselleen. Esimerkiksi Sylvia Cranston (Cranston, 1993) on tallentanut monia tällaisia tarinoita Blavatskysta. Hänen koko elinaikainen toimintansa oli täynnä käytännön esimerkkejä filantropiasta tai hyväntekeväisyydestä teosofiselta näkökannalta. Filantrooppisten ajattelyprosessien lyhennetyn historian käsittely tältä kannalta haastaa meitä monella tavalla.

Ensimmäinen viitaus tähän asiaan löytyy Kahlehdittu Prometheus-nimisestä klassikosta, jonka kirjoittajaksi nykyään hyvin perustein esitetään kreikkalaisen Aiskhyloksen (525-456 eKr.) poikaa, Euphorionia (Sulek, 2010).

Prometheus on klassinen esimerkki jumalasta, joka auttaa ihmiskuntaa sen kehityspolulla tietämättömyydestä ymmärrykseen. Hänen kauttaan olemme saaneet filantropisen toiminnan konseptin. Toiset jumalat, erityisesti Zeus syyttivät häntä jumalien tabuja rikovasta ihmisystävällisyydestä. Zeus määräsi Prometheuksen kahlehdittavaksi vuoren kylkeen, jossa hän kärsi ihmiskuntaan suuntautuvista hyvistä teostaan. Blavatskyn mukaan Prometheus oli petturi ainoastaan jumalia kohtaan, mutta ihmisiä kohtaan hän harjoitti filantropiaa (Blavatsky, 1979).

Mikä sitten on filantrooppi-käsitteen merkitys?

Amerikkalainen tutkijakollegani julkaisi juuri kaksi artikkelia filantropiakäsitteen merkityksestä sekä klassilliselta että modernilta kannalta. Lainaan tässä niitä oletuksia, jotka hän esitti. Marky Sulek (2010) on myös kerännyt kuvassa olevat määritelmät (oma käännös):

1. Filantropiakäsitteellä on useita merkityksiä: akateeminen ja kansanomainen, nykyaikainen ja historiallinen.
2. Filantropiakäsitteen akateeminen merkitys on suppeampi kuin sen kansanomainen merkitys.
3. Filantropiakäsiteen kehityskaari on historiallisesti määritelty.
4. Filantropiakäsitteen kokonaiskäsittely voi helpottaa ymmärtämään sen erilaisia määritelmiä.

Tutustumalla siihen, kuinka kirjailijat Payton ja Moody (2008) lähetyvät filantropiakäsitettä on helposti ymmärrettävissä, että filantropiakäsiteellä voidaan tarkoittaa paljon erilaisia asioita. Niitä on esimerkiksi (oma käännös):
• Vapaaehtoinen rahalahjoitus silloin, kun lahjoitamme rahaa hyväntekeväisyyteen.
• Vapaaehtoistyö tai toiminta silloin, kun lahjoitamme aikaa tai taitojamme ilman palkkaa.
• Vapaaehtoinen organisoituminen yhdistyksien kautta (Payton & Moody, 2008, p.

Filantropialla on eri tilanteissa muitakin merkityksiä. Tällaisia on esimerkiksi:
• Kun kysymyksessä on ‘inhimilliseen problematiikkaan’ kantaa ottava moraaliin perustuva toiminta
• Filantropia moraalisen ajattelun sosiaalihistoriallisena määrittäjänä
• Filantropia on keskeistä vapaassa, avoimessa ja demokraattisessa yhteisössä (Payton and Moody, 2008)

Filantropinen käyttäytyminen ilmenee myös:
• Satunnaisina hyvinä tekoina
• Organisoituna toimintana
• Järjestelmällisinä toimina
• Kun yritetään vähentää mailman kärsimystä
• Kun halutaan parantaa ihmiskunnan elämisen tasoa (Payton and Moody, 2008)

Voiko teosofinen maailmankatsomus auttaa meitä ymmärtämään hyväntekeväisyysajattelun perusprosesseja?

Kirjassa Mestarien kirjeet A.P.Sinnetille, Koot Hoomi Lal Singh, joka oli yksi Blavatskyn opettajia, kirjoitti: “Todellinen teosofi on filantrooppi (Hao Chin Jr., 1998).” Hän viittaa lauseellaan Teosofisen seuran ensimmäiseen objektiin, joka käsittelee ihmiskunnan veljeyden ja sisaruuden ytimen rakentamista. Voimme löytää viiteen siitä mitä hän näillä sanoillaan tarkoittaa hänen ilmoittaessaan Buddha ilmentymän olevan prototyyppi todellisesta filantroopista. Chohanin määritelmä filantrooppikäsitteelle on ‘jumalallinen ystävällisyys’. Yhdessä nämä ajatukset voivat antaa paremman kuvan siitä, minkälaisen ihmiskunnan veljeyden ja sisaruuden ytimen rakentamisesta on kysymys.

Modernin Buddhismin kannalta altruismin (pyytettömyys, epäitsekkyys, lähimäisen rakkaus) käsite ja sen suhde filantropiseen toimintaan voi edelleen selventää tätä tarkoitusta. Minulle lähettämässään sähköpostissa Marty Sulek muistutti siitä, että Aukuste Comte ensimmäisenä toi esille tämän käsitteen kirjassaan System of Positive Polity (1851). Dalai Lama puolestaan ottaa tämän modernin altruismin käsitteen ja selittää sen suhdetta klassisen budhismin bodhichitta käsitteen kautta. Hänen mukaansa bodhichitta on korkein altruismin muoto, joka käsittää (oma käännös) ‘myötätunnon tunteen kaikkia olevaisia kohtaan ... [ja] halun saavuttaa valaistuksen tila kaikkien heidän puolesta (Dalai Lama, 2003).” Voin hyvin tunnistaa tämän ajatuksen klassisen filantroppikäsite keskustelun yhteydessä. Mielestäni tämä tarkoittaa juuri samaa kuin Chohanin ‘jumalallinen ystävällisyys’. Dalai Lama usein puhuu siitä, että ihmiset etsivät onnellisuuden tilaa.

Immanuel Kantin (1724-1804) mukaan onnellisuudella ei ole mitään tekemistä tämän asian kanssa. Hän painotti velvollisuuden merkitystä ja väitti, että koska onnellisuus on kuviteltu tila, sitä ei voi pitää järkiperäisenä toimintana. Koot Hoomi oli hänen kanssaan aivan eri mieltä ja väitti puolestaan, että länsimaiset ajattelijat eivät asettaneet filantropiakäsitettä universaalisen lain yhteyteen vaan tekivät siitä vain ‘vahingossa tapahtuvan ilmentymä’. Miten tahansa tästä asiasta ajatellaankin, Kantin ajatukset ovat paljolti sanelleet länsimaista ajatuksen kultua, ainakin reformistisen ajatuksen kulkua. Monet ihmiset, jotka tunnistavat luterilaisen etiikan muodot omakseen eivät kovin hyvin osaa käsitellä onnellisuutta, intohimoa ja itsetäyttymystä (tarkoittaa sitä, että asia valtaa ihmisen kokonaan) omassa elämässään.

Teosofisen seuran toinen objekti kehoittaa meitä tutkimaan asiaa edelleen eri uskontojen ja tieteen kannalta. Mitä sellaista voimme sieltä löytää, joka auttaa metä paremmin ymmärtämään filantroopisen ajattelun kehitystä?

Buddhalaisena esimerkkina on boddhisattva, joka kieltäytyy vastaanottamaan ‘jumalallista kaapua’. Sen sijaan hän jättäytyy osaksi sitä veljeyden ja sisaruuden ydintä, joka tajunnan kautta auttaa ihmiskuntaa saavuttamaan korkeamman tietoisuuden asteen. Lama Govindan (1969) kirjoista voi löytää lisää selityksiä tästä filantrooppisesta esimerkkitapauksesta. Hindulainen esimerkki löytyy Bhaghavad-Gitasta ja sen kahdeksastatoista kappaleesta, jotka kukin esittelevät yhden joogan muodon, jonka avulla etsijä voi kehittyä toimettomuuden tilasta automaattisen sisäisen toiminnan tilaan. Modernin tieteen esimerkki tulee aivotutkimuksesta, joka käsittelee Hypothalamusta. Sitä voidaan kutsua ihmisen aivojen aivoiksi, koska sen tehtävänä on toimia sellaisena työkaluna, mikä eroitaa ihmisen erilaiset tunteet ja tunteiden kerrostumat toisistaan. Se avulla voimme edistää psykologista ymmärrystämme ihmisen tunteman empatian ja myötätunnon kehittymisestä. Se kuinka tajuamme psykologisen prosessin siitä, mikä käsittelee toisen ihmisen näkökulman ymmärtämistä, on myös osa modernia filantropian tutkimusta. Kristillisenä esimerkkinä voin esittää Raamatun kehoituksen käsitellä lähimmäistä kuten haluaa itseään käsiteltävän ja ortodoksi ajatuksen ‘yhteityöstä Jumalan kanssa’ filantropian käsitteen selventäjänä.

On mahdollista löytää paljon sellaisia voittoatavoittelemattomia organisaatioita, jotka ovat ottaneet filantropian omaksi perustoiminnakseen. TOS-työjärjestö, jonka perustaja oli Annie Besant on teosofinen esimerkki käytännön filantropian toteuttamisesta nykymaailmassa. TOS-työjärjestön toiminnasta on tullut vieläkin tärkeämpää nyky-yhteiskunnassa, jossa täytyy ymmärtää mitä globaaleja ratkaisuja globaali ekonomia tuo tullessaan kun on kysymyksessä taistelu epäoikeudenmukaisuutta, köyhyyttä, väkivaltaa ja syrjintää vastaan ihmisoikeuksien puolesta. Vuonna 1948 kirjoitettu YK:n Ihmisoikeuksien julistus kehoittaa meitä toimimaan “veljeyden hengessä” saavuttaksemme ihmisoikeudet kaikille.

Itse työskentelen sellaisessa yhdistyksessä, jonka missiona on varmistaa se, että yhteisön kaikilla jäsenillä: vanhuksilla, vammaisilla, perheillä, lapsilla ja muuten heikko-osaisilla on inhimilliset oikeudet ja mahdollisuus täysipainoiseen yhteisöön osallistumiseen. Niitä moniä ilmentymiä, jolla kriisipalveluja nykyään tarjotaan yhteisölle, voidaan pitää esimerkkinä järjestäytyneestä hyväntekeväisyyden ajatusprosessista ja filantrooppisena toimintana omassa yhteisössämme.

Puheeni loppuu siihen loogiseen ja tieteelliseen päätelmään että filantropia ja hyväntekeväisyys kannattaa. Se on osoitus korkealentoisesta itsekkyydestä. Tekemällä työtä toisten ja koko maailman hyväksi varmistaa sen, että omakin hyvinvointi kasvaa ja kehittyy. Näen tästä todisteita omassa työssäni päivittäin. Ihmiset, jotka yhdessä työskentelevät hyvien asioiden puolesta ovat onnellisempia ja elävät kauemmin. Positiiviset tulokset ovat selvästi nähtävissä. Kehotankin kaikkia ottamaan osaa filantroopiseen toimintaan missä ja milloin se vain on mahdollista.

Lopuksi kaikki kuitenkin huipentuu kolmeen suureen sanaan. Ne ovat myötätunto, vakaumus ja yhteistyö.

BLAVATSKY, H. 1979. The Secret Doctrine Vol II, Madras, The Theosophical Publishing House.
CRANSTON, S. 1993. HPB, The Extraordinary Life & Influence of Helena Blavatsky Founder of the Modern Theopsophical Movement, New York, G.P. Putnam's Sons.
DALAI LAMA, T. 2003. Transforming the Mind, Teaching on Generating Compassion, Thorsons, HarperCollinsPublishers.
GOVINDA, A. 1969. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, Boston, WeiserBooks.
HAO CHIN JR., V. (ed.) 1998. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, Adyar: The Theosophical Publishing House.
PAYTON, R. L. & MOODY, M. P. 2008. Understanding Philanthropy: its meaning and mission, Bloomington, Indiana Univercity Press.
SULEK, M. 2010. On the Classical Meaning of Philanthrôpía. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 39: 385 originally published Online on 13 March, 2009

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Overview of my talk on Helena Blavatsky and the History of Charitable (Philanthropic) Thinking – A theosophical worldview

This talk was given at the Brisbane Theosophical Society in July 2010

The talk is concerned about the roots of the charitable thinking processes and how a theosophical worldview can be seen as a vehicle in aiding humanity in the process of building the core of the Brother/Sisterhood of humanity.

Discussion segments:
1. Helena Blavatsky as inspiration.
2. The brief history of charitable thinking as an idea.
3. The concept of philanthropy in development.
4. Theosophical Society as a vehicle for Philanthropy in Action.
5. Theosophical Order of Service as a philanthropic organisation in action.
6. From charitable thinking to emergency relief.
7. How selfless is our charitable/philanthropic action?

My talk starts with the introduction of Helena Blavatsky as a major inspiration in my life. She was born in Russia in 1831 and was one of the original founders of the Theosophical Society in 1875. I was introduced to her thinking by my grandfather, who gave me her book The Secret Doctrine published in 1888 as a 16-year old and urged me to read it. Of course it went a bit over my head then and instead of finishing it I first completed her The Isis Unveiled, published in 1877. I studied Blavatsky’s ideas as my special subject of study in my university History of Sciences and Ideas studies.

Helena Blavatsky has remained a major influence in my life. I have always liked to talk about her achievements and recite the stories I know about her charitable acts towards others. Many of her actions were just natural random acts of kindness towards people in need, often resulting in a great expense to her own comfort. To know more read for example Sylvia Cranston’s biography of Blavatsky (Cranston, 1993). She was continuously engaged in introducing the world to what would be a philanthropic or charitable action in practice from the theosophical point of view. A brief history of the charitable/philanthropic thinking processes in this light challenges us to talk about several ideas taken from different sources.

The first reference is to Prometheus Bound, a classical book, now convincingly argued to have been authored by a Greek author Aeschylus’ son, Euphorion (Sulek, 2010).

Prometheus is our first classical example of a god who has reached out to advance the humanity in its struggle from oblivion to understanding. Through him we get the concept of philanthropy as an action as he was accused of being a philanthrôpos, a friend of humankind, by other gods and Zeus bound him to a mountain and he suffered for his kindness. Blavatsky referred to this by stating that Prometheus was only a traitor in reference to other gods. In relation to humanity he was a philanthropist (Blavatsky, 1979).

How can we define the word philanthropy?

A colleague of mine, a researcher in America has just published two articles on the meaning of the word philanthropy from both classical and modern references. I shall quote from the hypotheses included in his presentation and the pictures here give you the dictionary definitions arranged by Marty Sulek (2010):

1. Philanthropy has (had) a variety of meanings, academic & common, contemporary & historical
2. The academic definition of philanthropy is more narrowly focused than common usage
3. The meaning of philanthropy has evolved along a discernable historical trajectory
4. Understanding the meaning of philanthropy as a whole can grant insight into its constituent parts

If we further look to understanding philanthropy through authors Payton and Moody, we can see that philanthropy can mean a lot of things:
• Voluntary giving, when we give our money...
• Voluntary service, when we give our time and sometimes our talent…
• Voluntary association, the organized activity…(Payton & Moody, 2008, p. 6)
Philanthropy has an assortment of meanings in other ways as well
• A moral action in response to the ‘human problematic’.
• ‘A social history of the moral imagination.”
• Essential to free, open, democratic, civil society.
• Tradition in jeopardy… (Payton and Moody, 2008)
The philanthropic action includes
• ‘Random acts of kindness’
• Organized action
• Systematic efforts
• Seek to reduce suffering
• Seek to improve quality of life (Payton and Moody, 2008)

How can a theosophical worldview aid us in our aim to understand the charitable thinking processes?

In the letter 45 in the Letters of the Masters to A.P.Sinnett, Koot Hoomi Lal Singh, one of the Blavatsky’s teachers wrote: “A true Theosophist is a philanthropist (Hao Chin Jr., 1998).” His reference is to the first object of the Theosophical Society which involves building a core of the Brother/Sisterhood of humanity. There is a hint of what it means in his declaration that a Buddha is the real philanthropist. The Chohan’s definition of philanthropy as ‘divine kindness’ (Ibid. p. 479) brings more clarity of what they might indicate in terms of what philanthropic action is expected of this core of the Brother/Sisterhood of humanity.

From the modern Buddhist perspective the concept of altruism and its relationship to the philanthropic action can further clarify this underlying meaning. In a resent email Marty Sulek reminded me that the concept of altruism was only brought to our vocabulary by Augustus Comte in his System of Positive Polity (1851). The Dalai Lama takes this modern concept of altruism and explains it in relation to the classical Buddhist concept of bodhichitta as the highest possible charitable action by a candidate, “the compassion towards sentient beings... [and] the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the sake of all (Dalai Lama, 2003).” I can well draw a straight line to philanthropic action in the classical sense. In my mind this matches with the definition of ‘divine kindness’ very well. In his talks the Dalai Lama often states that everybody is seeking for happiness.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) on the other hand did not think that happiness has anything to do with it. He stressed the principal of duty and said that since happiness was based on imagination, this did not qualify as rational action. Koot Hoomi disagreed with him and stated that the western thinkers were not putting the concept of philanthropy in a context of universal law and that they just made it to an ‘accidental manifestation’(Hao Chin Jr.,1998). However that may be, Kant’s thoughts have dictated a lot of western thinking processes, particularly the reformist thinking. Many people following the Lutheran ethics do not handle the notion of happiness, passion or self-fulfilment very well.

The second object of the Theosophical Society urges us to further research in the realms of religions and sciences. Can we find anything there that can enhance this understanding?

The Buddhist example contributes with the idea of Bodhisattva who refuses to take on the ‘divine ropes’ and instead stays as a part of a core of brother/sisterhood in consciousness to aid the rise of the awareness of humanity. Lama Govinda (Govinda, 1969) is a good author to read for further explanation on this philanthropic action model. The Hindu example is in the Bhagavad-Gita with its 18 yoga chapters and different yogas to aid an aspirant from ‘non-action to in-action’. The modern scientific example comes from the brain research in Hypothalamus, the brain of our brain with its ability as a tool to sort out the many layers of our feelings and emotions. With the help of this we can aid the psychological understanding of what relates to the development of empathy and compassion. Our ability to see the others’ views is also a part of the modern study of what is involved in philanthropic action. The Christian view is brought in with the urge to treat the others as you want them to treat you and with the orthodox idea of ‘go-working with God’ as a definition to philanthropic action.

We can name plenty of nonprofit organisations who have taken this kind of action as their core business. The International Theosophical Order of Service was founded by Annie Besant to take on the practical adaptation of theosophical ideas in the real world. The work of the TOS has become even more important in today’s society where there is a real need to understand that the global economy needs global solutions in the fight against exclusion, poverty, abuse and corruption in its aim for the equal human rights to everyone. The US nations 1948 Human Rights Declaration urges us to work towards this goal “in the spirit of brotherhood.”

I myself work in a community care organisation with the aim of making sure that all the members of the community, the elderly, disabled, families, and children and otherwise underprivileged are assured human dignity and equal possibility to community participation and services. The many faces of emergency relief can now be seen as the organised continuation of charitable thinking processes and charitable action in our modern society.

Basically my scientific conclusion is that the charitable/philanthropic action as such is the highest selfish action we can take. On the whole it pays to be charitable and enhancing others will work towards enhancing yourself and your own wellbeing. Working in an organisation which heavily relies on voluntary contribution in service delivery, I see this every day. It brings people happiness and self-satisfaction to work together towards common goals. The positive results that come from being able to help are blatantly visible. I urge everyone to join in the brother/sisterhood of the charitable philanthropic action wherever and whenever possible.

What it all comes to is in the end is the three C:s: Compassion, Conviction and Cooperation.

BLAVATSKY, H. 1979. The Secret Doctrine Vol II, Madras, The Theosophical Publishing House.
CRANSTON, S. 1993. HPB, The Extraordinary Life & Influence of Helena Blavatsky Founder of the Modern Theopsophical Movement, New York, G.P. Putnam's Sons.
DALAI LAMA, T. 2003. Transforming the Mind, Teaching on Generating Compassion, Thorsons, HarperCollinsPublishers.
GOVINDA, A. 1969. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, Boston, WeiserBooks.
HAO CHIN JR., V. (ed.) 1998. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, Adyar: The Theosophical Publishing House.
PAYTON, R. L. & MOODY, M. P. 2008. Understanding Philanthropy: its meaning and mission, Bloomington, Indiana Univercity Press.
SULEK, M. 2010. On the Classical Meaning of Philanthrôpía. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 39: 385 originally published Online on 13 March, 2009

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Introducing Jimboomba Park Retro Exercise Trail from the 80’s

An exercise trail in Jimboomba Park demonstrates that public health has been in focus for quite a long time with the community capacity builders.

Previously in a few of my blog postings I have introduced the concept of Senior Park and LifeTrail for community sports and recreation enthusiasts. At the same time, I have been pondering what is it that seems to stop me from actively implementing my awareness that regular exercise is crucial to my wellbeing and actually take it up as part of my daily activities. Also, I have been investigating what kind of play/exercise areas we need to develop to enhance public health for all ages through our community care organisation.

I can say that I am seriously interested in my own and other people’s wellbeing. I can be relatively easily persuaded to group activities and anything energetic that would relate to my work as confirmed by my interest in travelling around and investigating what is available. Yet, somewhere there is a wide gap between this interest and actually doing it. I would like to help everyone, including myself to close this bridge. I feel that I now have to start from the nearest and easiest park available to me at

Jimboomba Park is situated right next to the Caddies Community Care Centre, where I work. I drive past it every day and sometimes I have taken part in some events, like The Vibe or other youth events organised by my own staff. I know there is a walking group organised by us that uses the park early mornings. Our Community Service Delivery Coordinator is doing everything she can to get people enthusiastic about healthy lifestyle, food and activities. There is a scooter and skateboard track there, which is often full of young enthusiasts. On a weekday I very seldom see any other people in the park or the playgrounds. So, I decided to go there on a Saturday instead.

The concreted retro trail is approximately 120m long. There is an exercise station at every 20 meters. I couldn’t really call them equipments in a modern sense, except maybe for the monkey bars. Rather, they are small items placed on soft surface to help those who complete the trail to do a particular exercise, like hopping over a log or walking a plank for balance. There is even a two train monorail that was a popular feature in the 90’s parks. Unlike modern outside exercise equipments these items are not designed to actively aid with the exercise itself. Rather they are there to provide a platform for a movement or action. However, similarly to modern trails, a good trainer or physiotherapist can do a lot in guiding people to do a right exercise with the help of a particular station to enhance and keep their physical abilities in good shape longer. The difference is that the new equipment and playgrounds are designed to enthusiastically help to attain results. It is a further developed concept from what is provided here that applies the modern efficiency approach to sports and recreation standards. The new playground equipment comes complete with the research results about how efficient they are in aiding the exerciser’s goals.

Yet, I had a very good half an hour walking down the trail and trying all the stations and so did the few families, I did encounter. I am quite convinced, though that with some deep analysis of what is needed and suitable for particularly set aims, we will be able to develop a suitable activity area for both young and old to have professionally guided activity groups that really enhance our physical wellbeing.