Copernicus did not have it all figured out. Neither did Galileo. They had the right instincts but got caught up in circles. Kepler refined it by thinking elliptically but it took Sir Isaac Newton to finalize the heliocentric view of our solar system with the discovery of gravity.
Why did it take so long for human beings to consider that the earth was not the center of the “known” cosmos? It could be argued that telescopes were needed, but Copernicus who died in 1543, came to his revolutionary thought well before the invention of the telescope. Clearly, it was a mindset—a belief that the planets (including the sun) were rotating around the earth. In the human assessment of reality we always start from the person centric view.
In the Tree of Life, the Sefirot rotate around a center point—that being the Sefirah of Tiferet—usually translated as beauty or harmony. Each of the Sefirot have an associated color and in the color system we teach, Tiferet is the color yellow. The Tree of Life then is also heliocentric.
While the heliocentric view of the planets is now embraced by all when it comes to religions we are still stuck in a pre-Copernican point of view, each religion purporting that it is the “center.” Pick the religion—it is the truth. Other religions are either in elliptical or erroneous orbits around the “true” religion.
In a less religion centric view each religion can be viewed as a planet orbiting around a center star. What then is that star? If we take the Tree of Life as a metaphor the yellow star in the center is Tiferet, with its meaning of beauty and harmony. The inner dimension of beauty and harmony—how those energies or qualities are seen in human relationships–is compassion. If we extend this to the planetary model of religion we could then suggest that all religions orbit around compassion. Compassion is what provides warmth, healing energy, and nurturance.
In order to have true religion one has to first be compassionate and to be compassionate one has to first see the other as equally deserving of concern and care whatever planet they may be rotating on. How many times have humans turned the other way, or worse inflicted suffering, on those that deserved care and concern, and all too often in the name of religion?
All religions are just planets orbiting around a star of compassion. The closer the orbit the better to appreciate what is at the center.
Note: Copernicus, Darwin, Freud and Einstein are among those who challenged the accepted notions of science in their day—Copernicus was challenging
This view of the universe, cumbersome as it was, survived, virtually unchallenged, for thirteen hundred years, until the early sixteenth century when the Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, put forward a radically different model. The reason the stars appeared to orbit the earth was, he suggested, because the earth itself was moving, rotating on its own axis once every twenty-four hours. The apparent movement of the heavens was an illusion, caused by the movement of the observer.
Suggesting that the earth moved was heresy enough. But Copernicus went on to argue that the wandering motion of the planets could be explained if they were orbiting the sun rather than the earth. This led to the theory that the earth was itself just another planet also in orbit around the sun. (This was not a totally new theory. A little know Greek philosopher, Aristarchus, had advanced the idea that the earth and the other planets moved around the sun in 270 BC. If his views, rather than those of Plato and Ptolemy, had held sway, history might have taken a very different course.)
Being a distinguished churchman, Copernicus knew the views of the Vatican on the earth’s all important position at the center of the universe, and how tenaciously it held to that view. In proposing his theory, he was not just challenging orthodox science; he was challenging the established religious view of reality — which in those days held even greater sway than the scientific view. So, fearing the wrath of the church, he kept his ideas to himself for thirty years. Only as he was nearing death, and feeling that he did not want to take this important knowledge with him to the grave, did he finally decide to publish his little book On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. When it was eventually published, in 1543, (Copernicus first saw a copy on the day he died) it was immediately placed on the papal index of forbidden books.
So it remained, ignored and forgotten, for nearly eighty years, until the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei took up an interest in planetary motions. Utilizing the newly invented telescope, he found convincing evidence in favor of the Copernican model. He saw that Venus had phases, just like the moon, when only half, or just a crescent, of it would be lit — which is what would happen if Venus orbited the sun. He also found that Jupiter had its own moons in orbit around it, dispelling the idea that everything went around the earth.
After publishing his findings, Galileo was contacted by Pope Paul V, who demanded he retract his heretical ideas. Fearing for his life, he did so. But a few years later, unhappy that so important a truth should remain suppressed, he published a brilliantly composed dialogue in which he defended and supported the Copernican theory. Again, under threat of torture, he was forced to “abjure, curse, and detest” the absurd view that the earth moves around the sun. He was then put under house-arrest so that he could be watched and prevented from causing any further trouble — and remained there till his death.
At the same time as Galileo was making his critical observations of the planets, a German mathematician, Johannes Kepler, was putting into place another key piece of the puzzle. Copernicus had argued that the sun, not the earth, lay at the center of things, but he still adhered to the Platonic ideal of circular motion, and although his model explained planetary movements much better than the old geocentric model, there were still unexplained irregularities, which Copernicus tried to account for with various epicycles. Kepler had the good fortune to be a student of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who had accumulated volumes of accurate astronomical observations. Brahe set Kepler to work on the motion of Mars, the planet with the most troublesome orbit. Kepler’s breakthrough was the discovery that the movements of Mars, and all the other planets, could be accounted for, without any need for epicycles, if their orbits were ellipses rather than circles. But as to why the orbits should be circles rather than ellipses, he had no idea.
The final piece of the puzzle was put in place some 50 years later by the English mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton. He realized that heavenly bodies were governed by exactly the same laws as earthly objects; the force that causes an apple to fall is the same force that holds the moon in its orbit around the earth. Working out the resulting equations of motion he established that any orbiting body would indeed move in an ellipse — just as Kepler had discovered