Saturday, December 18, 2010
Aspiration and Environment
by Ernest Hawthorn, F.T.S.
Originally published in "Lucifer"
Reprinted from "Theosophical Siftings" Volume 4
The Theosophical Publishing Society, England
IT has been wisely remarked that the old adage, "The truth lies between two extremes", does not necessarily imply that it lies exactly in the middle. That can only be the case where the exaggerating and the underrating have been precisely equal, which can very seldom occur, if ever. The truth will generally be found to lie much nearer to one extreme than to the other, according to the preponderance of abuse over disuse or the reverse.
With regard to the subject of this paper there are two diametrically opposed schools of thought. One—at present in the heyday of popularity — asserts that man is in the most absolute sense the creature of his surroundings, that character is merely a mechanical product of circumstance. The other — comprising most of the mystics and enthusiasts of all ages — declares that by subtle but invariable laws man is the creator of his surroundings, that circumstance is merely the fruit of character. The truth lies between the two extremes, but much nearer to the latter than to the former.
Undoubtedly we are influenced, and that most powerfully, by our environment. Until we begin to think in earnest, we have no idea of the extent to which our thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes are coloured by the conditions of our birth, training, and position in the world. Not one man in a million is able even by the most strenuous and prolonged effort to free himself entirely from these invisible chains, or so to "purge the eyes with euphrasy and rue" that he can see Truth in what Bacon calls a "dry light". On the mists of our passions and affections the white rays of the absolute break and disintegrate, and we see, not the pure Eternal Light, but the rainbow; beautiful, indeed, but partial.
(I do not forget or ignore the action of Karma. The environment with which each one starts in every fresh incarnation is determined by the net product of acquired tendencies — that is, by "character", only modified by the national and cyclic Karmas. But the self-causation of our position in the world does not affect the fact that circumstances have a powerful influence in the further development of "character", which is all for which I am contending.)
Nevertheless, that character moulds circumstance is equally patent. Books of "Good Advice to Young Men" (who are somewhat advised to distraction, by the way) abound in instances. It would be a waste of precious space to quote. Everyone knows, or at any rate has read, of scores of such cases.
Are then the two forces equal? Natural Philosophy teaches that when two opposed forces are equal the result is a deadlock. One of the two must be the stronger. And the Higher Wisdom asserts most positively that the power of aspiration excels the power of environment. For the former is of the Spirit, Divine; the latter of the body, Human. The one has the vis inertiae of dead matter ("dead", that is, relatively to our normal perceptions); the other the creative energy of the One-Life.
Very subtly does the higher force work, as is evidenced by the fact of its mere existence being so often denied; but so, for that matter, does the law of electrical affinity, which no one dreams of doubting. That the magnet, plunged into a heap of mingled sawdust and iron filings, should draw to itself the latter, is as mysterious every whit as that the spirit should draw to itself those material surroundings which best suit its present state. There are modes of action of which our physical senses can take no cognizance. But they are none the less real.
It should be observed that this force is what we call "moral" rather than what we call "mental". It is Aspiration which influences environment, rather than Intellectuality. A man's surroundings will be shaped more by his character than by his abilities. Doubtless the latter have much to do with the matter; they exert an influence analogous to the power of his muscles on a lower plane. But it is the former which is the chief factor in the equation of life.
"Like to Like!" It is the law of the universe. Our desires, impulses, longings, aspirations, if they do not influence the material world directly, do so indirectly, by constantly generating a stream of psychic or soul forces, which act upon the objects of the bodily senses. Too abstruse in its undercurrents to be easily traced, it can be seen at work plainly enough in some of its phases. That we seize or let slip this or that opportunity as it comes, depends very largely upon the frame of mind in which we are at the time. To the soul that aspires, circumstances are stepping-stones; to the soul that creeps, they are hindrances.
The application of this truth to the social life must for brevity's sake be left untouched, beyond the remark that the paramount aim of all reformers should be the inspiring of a better spirit. The paramount; not, of course, the only. It is true that little higher development is possible for those whose lives are one long drudgery, whose homes are kennels and whose bodies mere machines. Material progress and moral or spiritual must advance "pari passu", with equal steps. But the material improvements must be regarded as a means, not as an end. And it must never be forgotten that the strongest incentive to a change of surroundings is a change of spirit.
But it is in its application to the individual life that this truth is of special interest and value. How common is dissatisfaction with one's lot, not because it is particularly hard, but on account of the limitations which it imposes (or seems to impose) on one's aspirations! How frequent the cry, “O that I had more leisure, more wealth, a different station, more congenial occupations and surroundings! O that I had room to spread my wings! How I would then develop myself and grow liker to the unattainable Ideal!" Aye? That depends. It is one of the saddest but not least unfrequent sights of life to see aspirations wither away in the very atmosphere for which they craved, it being obtained; to note how the man who, poor, longed for wealth that he might have opportunities of unfolding his higher nature, rich, forget all dreams and become like Bunyan's man with the muckrake. "Set a beggar on horseback and he will — !” Why? Because he is still a "beggar" at heart. Only the clothes are changed; the man remains the same. And as a rule it may be safely prophesied, that those who have so little knowledge of themselves and of the meaning of Life as to sigh idly for an Eldorado in which they might be what they have made up their minds they cannot be where they are, will not know how to use that for which they long, if Fortune is cruel enough to answer their prayers.
And anyway, it is beginning at the wrong end. “FIRST DESERVE, THEN DESIRE." Though the restrictions inseparable from material conditions, though the injustice of others may surround us with barriers in which the aspirations cannot burst into glorious fruition, at any rate they can (as a rule) put forth the first tender shoots. And do not fear that the growing tree cannot shatter its prison walls. A seed lodged in the crevice between two blocks of hugest and most firmly cemented masonry can force them apart by sheer force of growth. For they are dead, and it is alive.
Is there not many a Theosophist who longs to enter with full consecration upon the Path, but is prevented by sheer force of his environment from gaining admittance into even the lowest rank of Chelas? Let such a one be wise. If the hindrance is indeed real and not merely apparent, no clearer proof could be given that he is not yet ripe for Chelaship. If his longing is genuine and pure, and not an emotional flash of ambition or curiosity, he will steadily set himself so to live that upon his next return to earth he may find himself environed suitably for the solemn initiation.
He who is wise will not long for better environment; he will strive rather to “better himself" in the true sense of those terribly misused words, knowing that the fitter environment will come of itself. He will leave to children the desire for that for which he is not fitted. The baby would clutch at and cut himself with the razor; the modest youth leaves it alone till he needs it! by which time, it is to be hoped, he will know how to use it.
Aspire! aspire! only aspire! Believe that matter is but the shadow of spirit; it is the truth. If you are not in that condition of life where you want to be, it is strong presumptive evidence that you are not fit for it: and if not fit, its attainment would be a curse and not a blessing. Promotion is sure, when earned; but it must be earned first. The promotion, however, may not be — seldom is — rapid; for it is only by hairbreadths at a time that we can raise ourselves — our Selves, mark; perhaps not enough in one short lifetime to bring about any very appreciable change in environment. Nevertheless, making every allowance and deduction, the truth of the matter may be summed up in one sentence: if you are dissatisfied with your lot in life, and would change it, change yourself.
Labels: Ernest Hawthorn
Thursday, December 2, 2010
The Ministry of Pain, The Meaning
of Sorrow, and the Hope of the World
by J.D. Buck
Reprinted from "Theosophical Siftings" Volume 4
The Theosophical Publishing Society, England
THE idea of the eternal and universal reign of law has hardly yet dawned on the average understanding of man. Law may indeed be called the slogan of modern physical science, yet the great majority of so-called scientists no sooner predicate the universality of law, than they limit the universe to matter and its phenomenal display. The idea of Being without phenomenal display is not only denied, but it is regarded in many places as an impossible concept, born only of the wildest fancy. It thus transpires that what is gained in one direction by the recognition of law and its display outwardly as effects, is lost in another direction by limiting the universal display to sense and time. This is equivalent to saying, "lop off one half the universe and we will admit the reign of law in the balance". Theology, on the other hand, postulates the absolute, and at once proceeds to limit and define it! The result of all this intellectual juggling, is the bewildering of man and the discouragement and despair of human life. Between the vagaries of blind faith, and the blasting negations of materialism, dense darkness reigns.
It thus transpires that pain and sorrow are borne by the great majority of mankind with piteous complaint, with mute stolidity, or with impatient resentment. The meaning of life is thus far from comprehension, and the evils keep pace with the progress of civilization.
Even where it is vaguely apprehended that ignorance is the cause of misery, education seldom mitigates the misery because of misdirected efforts equally based on ignorance. Man is thus involved in sorrow as in the meshes of a net, unable to extricate himself or to materially help his fellow-men.
The result of all this bewilderment is the almost universal determination to get rid of pain and sorrow at any cost, and this dread of pain and fear of sorrow, more than anything else, ministers to the selfishness of man.
It is true that a charitable impulse born of common suffering and common sympathy, builds hospitals and asylums for the more unfortunate of earth's benighted millions. This, however, commendable as it is under the circumstances, is, after all, an effort to save individuals from the consequences of sin and ignorance, while these very consequences steadily increase. We thus neither prevent nor cure the misery of man.
Strange to say, our religion has fallen into the same slough of despond. Powerless to prevent sin or materially to benefit the masses of human beings, it undertakes to atone for evils which it is powerless to prevent, and to remove consequences otherwise accruing in another world, which it regards hopelessly in this as due to the sin of Adam or to innate depravity. It would indeed be difficult to imagine human beings as more hopelessly bewildered.
There is no use in calling this a pessimistic view of things, and in trying to deceive ourselves by "whistling to keep our courage up". The fortunate few may thus amuse themselves while the great hungry, discontented masses mourn and lament, or growl with ominous portent at the evident injustice and inequalities of life. The records of the daily press consist largely of murders, suicides, and of crimes and casualties in every form.
Pessimism does not consist in a truthful statement of facts, nor does optimism consist in a disregard or falsification of the existing state of society. All true philosophy undertakes first, to apprehend facts, from which it seeks to comprehend both causes and results. After this, the view we take may be pessimistic or optimistic, discouraging or hopeful, according to the apparent possibility of change and improvement.
Whether or not people yet believe or apprehend the fact, the present Theosophical Society is the World's Educator. This function in no wise pertains to individuals or to the organization, as such, but to those eternal principles of truth and justice, which it is the delegated office of the Society to bear to the world. It does not in the least militate against this fact that but comparatively few persons yet apprehend it, or that it is misrepresented and reviled. No one in the society, who has intelligently apprehended and loyally laboured for its declared objects, will be in the slightest degree influenced by such considerations. Theosophists have conceived it as their mission to preach, and by all timely and just methods to promulgate these transcendent truths, whether people will hear or forbear. With results they have nothing whatever to do. The duty of another concerns them not. The first law relating to all action and involving the whole question of pain and sorrow, begins just here in the reform of individual life, by elevating human motive, and purifying all our ideals.
The task set the society is easy, owing to the desperate needs of man, the fullness of time, and the all-sufficient remedy.
The task undertaken by the individual is indeed tremendous and appalling; for he must relinquish all his selfishness, and flee from the outer darkness that encompasses him, to the inner light that redeems and soars.
It is difficult to realize to what depths of degradation the religions of the world have descended. For centuries their spiritual life waned, and thick excrescences gathered in creeds till superstition like a grinning mask concealed the skeleton or the corpse whence all spirit and life had departed. Descending step by step into materialism, religion is being slowly but surely devoured by the very genius it has invoked. To doubt the existence of the devil was considered to be as wicked as to deny the existence of God. The “scheme of salvation" being once broken, only disjointed fragments of the former superstructure remain, and though the blind or superstitious devotees fight valiantly for these fragments, as over the body and sepulchre of its dead Lord, they make no effort to recover or to reconstruct a religious philosophy or a philosophy of religion and of life.
The ideal divinity of a great majority of Christians is a being half angel half fiend, to be propitiated by flattery, burnt-offerings or the shedding of blood. The motive for right conduct is held to be the desire to avoid pain and secure happiness. The ruler of the universe is thus an Infinite Caprice, capable of both revenge and favoritism. The god of the populace is bound to “get even" with the sinner, i.e., those who neglect or refuse to praise him, and to show favour “to those who worship him”.
Of what avail is the concept of law in the presence of universal caprice?
The idea of Karma cannot be engrafted on this old stock of ignorance and superstition. Such a hybrid would be for ever barren of good results. The idea that the forgiveness of sin is in any way beneficent, and that unearned blessings are really blessings at all, will never fit in with the law of Karma. Both these ideas equally subvert the idea of exact and equal justice. That which is to be received, be it good or bad, pleasure or pain, must first be earned by conscious effort and deliberate choice; and being thus earned, it is beyond caprice, revenge, or favour. It is more the law of just compensation that leaves no room for anything else.
The result of these false conceptions, so far as they influence human action, is but to increase the sum of human misery, and still further the bewilderment of the soul of man.
The crying need of man everywhere is a knowledge of his own nature, and of the real meaning of human life. This knowledge must be based on the correct apprehension of the unalterable laws governing the universe, and followed by strict obedience to these laws in order to avoid pain and sorrow.
All speculations regarding the nature of deity and the origin of the laws of nature are worse than useless. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite, and yet the human mind reasoning logically from analogy, may conceive of a First Cause destitute of qualities, yet containing, upholding and governing all things. What we designate as law may be conceived as the “method" of creation; the relation of hearts; the orderly sequence of nature. The human mind may reason back from the phenomena of nature and the facts of consciousness to the First Cause, and the laws by which it operates. Beyond this all speculation is useless; nay, it is pernicious. While we can know nothing of the nature of Deity, or the origin of the laws of nature, the relations of Deity and law to phenomenal nature and to individual consciousness may be known.
It would indeed be instructive to consider the absurdities and the real evils that have resulted from the idea of a personal God, from trying to endow the Infinite Cause with finite attributes. If the nature of the First Cause be forever to us unknowable, and if the relations of this Cause to phenomenal Nature may be known, then it follows that to assign qualities and definite personalities to Deity prevents a knowledge of true relations that may be known, and at the same time involves us in the meshes of ignorance from the assumption of qualities, limitations, and attributes, concerning which we neither know nor can know anything. This is the meaning of man's idea of a Personal God. It is not only an absurdity, it is positively pernicious, and more than anything else the cause of bewilderment. If we add to this man's ignorance of nature and of his own being we have at once the cause of pain and sorrow. Ignorance of the true and the assumption of the false have thus bewildered the soul of man, and nothing but a knowledge of the true, getting rid of the false, and obedience to law, can lead to enlightenment and real happiness.
The reasoning mind need have no difficulty whatever in discerning an orderly sequence in Nature. Nothing comes by chance; all is under the dominion of law. Confusion reigns in man alone, and hence he suffers and mourns. Man's capricious will is at war with the beneficent reign of law and the orderly sequence of Nature; hence he suffers pain and sorrow. But even here man's confusion and caprice are powerless to take him from under the dominion of law. Soon or late, man must obey the law or cease to be. Nature never compromises, never forgets, never forgives. Everywhere the solemn mandate has gone forth, — "Not one jot or tittle shall pass away till all be fulfilled".
Those who entertain the idea of a personal God, are often heard to say that God is just. We might, indeed say that God is justice; that is, that justice is the method of law in relation to the universe. Justice as a universal relation of parts, as the invariable law of action, including the act, the actor, and the result of action, is far removed from the idea of justice as an attribute of a personal Deity, who could also be capricious.
Again, it is said — God is merciful; but mercy, as a personal attribute, pre-supposes also the opposite attribute of revenge. If ye forgive not your brother his trespasses, how shall your Heavenly Father forgive you? In other words, he who is forgiving and merciful needs himself neither forgiveness nor mercy. It is because we are unforgiving and unmerciful, that we seek forgiveness and mercy, and no true religion has ever promised forgiveness and mercy except to those who exhibit both in their lives. Their "forgiveness" consists in ceasing to do evil. The theological "scheme", however, has led man to expect reward without merit, and to escape punishment justly deserved. This is the height of injustice.
It may thus be seen how both ignorant and designing men have juggled with the concept of law and the principle of justice.
It is said that order or harmony is heaven's first law. Order is impossible without inflexible and eternal justice, and yet it is this very justice that has been conceived as capable of being bribed or cajoled on the one hand, to allow the unjust sinner to escape punishment; and on the other, to mete out the direst hatred and the diabolism of "eternal damnation" for the most trivial offences. What indeed is this but diabolical caprice? Justice it certainly is not.
The idea that Justice is blind, that her eyes must be put out to prevent her from cheating, is worthy of the same "theologia". Justice is rather open-eyed, vigilant, exact to the last poor scruple. Justice never sleeps, never tires, and is the most exact bookkeeper in the universe. To her belong both time and eternity; past, present, and future. Justice is not really a law, she is the executor of all law, and without her cosmos would instantly become chaos.
Justice is no more a human or a divine attribute than it is an attribute of nature. Nothing but the densest ignorance could have involved man in such misconceptions of Justice. Justice is the natural and orderly relation of things. This Divine messenger, this executor of law follows all processes, leads all motions from the dawn of creation to the crack of doom. It leads creation forth to the outermost verge, and leads it back to the sleep of Brahm; never missing an atom, never disturbing the harmony of the "morning stars". It seems indeed strange that man can look at Nature in any of her moods and fail to discern this Charioteer of Cosmos. It is seen in every atom that clasps hands with its fellow atoms: in every element that enters into a compound: in every crystal that reflects the light and glistens in the sun. Without justice determining law and proportion, there could be no form, no colour, no weight, no measure, no motion, no action, no rhythm, no harmony, no life.
I have dwelt thus on this principle of justice, because it is so generally over-looked, so universally misconceived, and so all-potent.
Now, does it stand to reason that so important a principle everywhere manifest in Nature, should be absent in the life of man, or be displaced by chance or caprice, either finite or infinite?
This principle, without variableness or shadow of turning applied to man as an acting being reveals the Law of Karma. Karma is the law of action; action implies change; change involves relations, and all relations change and action follow the principle of justice. Justice is neither moral, ethical, physical, intellectual, material or spiritual; for it lies above, beneath, around, and permeates all of these at once.
Justice is everywhere, at all times, and under all circumstances. Justice applied to man in every phase of his being, and in every act of his life; in past, present and future, involving the act, the actor, the cause and the consequence of action is KARMA.
In the light of these considerations, what is the ministry of pain and the meaning of sorrow? The cause of pain and sorrow may be found, first, in ignorance; second, in the will of man acting in ignorance of law. From such action arises apparent injustice, pain and misery. It is, however, rather un-justice, for there can be no real injustice. That which appears to be such is but fragmentary Karma, or incomplete Justice. We see only in part and yet imagine that it is the whole.
The conscious centre in man, that is, the Ego, or incarnating monad, enters the school of experience called earth-life. It sends its tentacles out through every avenue of the body in order that it may touch, taste, assimilate, and know the world. The fluidic body thus flows into the mould of things; Proteus like it becomes them, and the result of this temporary taking-on, or moulding-to, is sensation or feeling. If this temporary moulding tends to become permanent, so as to destroy Proteus (i.e., prevent rebound or return to itself) or if influences arise tending to disintegrate the fluidic body, the result is pain. If changes are rapid and the element of novelty is constantly present, so that sensation like a honey-bee flits from flower to flower, the result is pleasure. Pain and pleasure are therefore a transitory condition derived through the two poles of feeling. Pain is really man's best friend on this sensory plane. Pain protects the body, pleasure destroys it. Moreover these two poles, so apparently opposite, are convertible. Pleasure often reaches a point where it becomes painful, or indistinguishable from pain; and pain leads often to insensibility and syncope, that is but one remove from ecstasy, or, as in the case of martyrs, merges into it.
Pain and pleasure thus having one common root in feeling, cannot be divorced from consciousness. If the external conditions of pain or pleasure exist and the individual is “unconscious" no sensation is experienced. We must, therefore, broaden our concept of pain and pleasure, and enlarge our definition.
Pain and pleasure are the two poles of sensation or feeling in relation to consciousness. Now comes the inquiry, what is that condition of the individual that is designated as “unconscious"?
Without going into details and offering proof from large groups of experience and from analogy, we may say in brief that the ego is always conscious, and that this consciousness may be latent or manifest. It may, and often does, manifest on three distinct planes and the gap between these three planes may be more or less distinct, or it may be bridged. Syncope, anaesthetics, and hypnotism may render one insensible to either pain or pleasure. All these and many other similar processes may be shown to have one common root.
They all concern the relations of the ego to the channels of feeling in the physical body. In other words, they shift the plane of active experience. They also show the real nature of that which we call Time, the phenomena of events in relation to sensation and consciousness; the panorama of experience.
It may thus be seen that a mere modification of the conditions of consciousness renders us capable of ignoring or annulling all that we designate as pain or pleasure. We have only to recall our experience in dreams to find how void of all feeling our conscious existence, while yet active, may become. This condition comes involuntarily, but may it not also be determined by volition? Put in another form the question stands thus, can we get rid of pain? and if so, how? Can we get rid of all the pains of life, and at the same time retain all its pleasures? The answer is evident, both philosophy and universal experience answer, no. This is equivalent to asking if a clock cannot be kept running by a pendulum that swings in one direction only.
If pain is the penalty of pleasure, the account is balanced by the fact that pleasure is the compensation of pain. If we annul one we must also dispense with the other. This law of compensation is thus another form of the principle of justice. The meaning and ministry of pain are thus philosophically discerned.
The meaning of sorrow is to be logically deduced from the same principles.
As pain is the monitor of sensation and the check to pleasure, so is sorrow the harbinger of joy. A paralysed bodily organ is incapable of conveying either painful or pleasurable sensations to consciousness. If the channels of sensation are traversed by waves of feeling, pain and pleasure are the opposite or contrasted effects in the realm of consciousness. Every time this wave passes along the channel there arises the possibility of more intense sensation. It is thus that the channels are broadened and deepened by each added experience, and we learn by this experience that if we would avoid the extremes of pain we must preclude the extremes of pleasure. The wisdom of moderation is thus deduced from both philosophy and experience.
These fluctuating conditions are also transitory. In dreams, however, we find experiences void of all feeling. Even if we find exceptions to this, the rule is as herein stated. Conscious existence void of anything that may be called either painful or pleasurable is thus within our range of experience. Joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain may, and often do, supervene so directly on waking from dreamful sleep, that we may overlook the fact that these sensations and feelings belong solely to the waking state, when consciousness becomes again related to and involved in the physical body and its sensory channels. Just as pain results from disobedience of the laws pertaining to the physical life of man, and as a check or admonition of danger, leading to discomfort, to disease and death, so is sorrow the result in a larger sense of disobedience to the higher law relating the consciousness of man to the universe about him, to his fellow man, and to the powers above him. That which leads in man to both pain and sorrow is desire for pleasure and joy. Determined to enjoy these to excess man is continually cheated by the hope that he can escape the just compensation, regardless of the fact that neither group is possible without the other.
Nature is, however, more just to man, than man is to himself, and just here is the origin of both the idea and the fact of injustice. It is born of the ignorance of law , and the innate selfishness of man, and elsewhere has no existence in all this boundless universe; in all the broad expanse of space. If in the working out of law, pain is a check upon pleasure, and sorrow the check on excessive joy, it likewise follows under the principle of justice, that for every wave of sorrow there is a returning wave of joy. Shallow lives neither suffer nor enjoy, but with exquisite natures the channels are worn deep and the waves run high.
If the range of man's experience is to be complete; if he is to know and to become the highest and best, he must touch continually these two poles of being. If he understands the law and its essential justice and beneficence, he will continually moderate his pleasures and joys, in order to limit his pain and sorrow. In other words, he will control desire. This control of desire is the very exercise that most develops the will, and expands consciousness through repeated experience. Man thus becomes a centre of power, killing out desire he becomes master of himself, conscious of the universe about him, and finally a minister of justice or an agent of beneficence, an abode of peace.
The waves of feeling surging up from the body to consciousness till the soul becomes drunk with desire as with wine no longer master the Ego. Man's personal and selfish pleasures and narrow joys, disappear and with them every vestige of pain and sorrow. Man's conscious existence has moved to a higher plane, where larger joys await him. Man thus gets out of himself, and begins to live in the eternal. New powers unfold, and grander vistas open on his entranced vision.
It is thus that man is educated through experience. It is thus that his consciousness expands from the personal to the universal. It is thus that the pilgrim of passion, the slave of desire, the victim of pain and sorrow becomes a minister of justice and a co-worker with God.
The reign of law, the supremacy of justice, the triumph of right, and the meaning of life are thus revealed.
Karma is the golden thread that runs through this entire philosophy of life. It is the principle of justice, of exact and impartial compensation that lies back of all action in the life of man, and which under other names equally obtains throughout nature.
If instead of fearing it, or foolishly and vainly striving to upset or avoid it, man would learn to rely upon it, and to obey it, it would speedily endow him with power and knowledge, with wisdom and beneficence such as he little dreams of.
With the average individual the Ego is involved in the sensory plane, the bodily appetites, passions and feelings, and hopelessly bewildered. We are exquisitely conscious of every touch of pain or pleasure, and dwell with morbid pertinacity on every uncomfortable sensation as though fearing we should be unmindful of all we have suffered. We gloat over our pleasures and hug our very selves for joy over the orgies that are perpetuated in imagination.
It is true that in time many persons learn to moderate self-indulgence in order to mitigate pain, sorrow, or repentance, but this is due far less to choice or to self-conquest than to encroaching age and dulled appetite.
If you say to one who is in pain, "ignore it, cease to dwell upon it, and it will disappear", they look at you in blank amazement, and think you are joking or simply heartless; and yet recent methods of direct or indirect hypnosis under many names have often demonstrated, that many so-called diseases may be thus made to disappear.
The channels of bodily sensation are deepened by oft-repeated experience, no matter whether such experience be virtuous or vicious. So also groups of sensations constituting the pictures upon which the mind dwells may be fixed till they recur automatically; till the mind is moulded into these forms, as water takes the form of the vessel containing it.
There is nothing so fickle and so changeable as the sensory life of man, and nothing can be imagined as more miserable and more hopeless than the old age of one who has lived but to gratify the senses. Not only do the pains of age more than atone for the pleasures of youth, but with the craving for change and for new sensation still unsatisfied, Tantalus becomes no longer a fable, but a living, horrible reality; and yet this is a picture of the old age of millions of human beings.
Man is not bewildered and miserable because he cannot find the light but because he will not try. He has been led by his "teachers" and blind guides not only to believe that the quest is hopeless and that the light does not exist, but he has been assured that blindness and bewilderment are his normal condition, and that it is not only useless to seek but wicked to be dissatisfied or complain. From this point he becomes either a willing or an unwilling victim of theological jugglery, or of "schemes of salvation" that belie his reason, outrage justice, and promise peace for pence and penance. It really seems incredible that reasoning beings could be so imposed upon.
Modern pathology has little difficulty in discovering the cause, the meaning, and often the beneficent ministry of pain. A life devoid of excesses with attention to a few simple rules of hygiene, has been found to reduce disease and pain to the minimum at least. While the body has thus received ample attention, mental habits and moral hygiene have been largely ignored. The indulgence of passion, lust, envy and greed, together with the fret and worry of life; rebellion and complaint where such protests are worse than useless because the results complained of belong to the administration of justice, from which there is no escape — these are the causes of pain and sorrow, and of the continual bewilderment of man. Even where these conditions are removed, and pain and sorrow are no longer traceable to disobedience of law, man is still far from entering his birthright. Man must not only cease to do evil, he must learn to do good. In his present evil condition man by disobedience and injustice invites pain, sorrow, disease, and death. If we imagine all these conditions removed from the average man of the world, we must also imagine him left without occupation and without motive in life. Living no longer to indulge his appetites, to accumulate wealth, to gain power, or to achieve fame, the motive of life seems to have altogether disappeared.
It seems seldom to have dawned on the average intellect that there is possible to man a life on earth that is entirely above this ordinary plane, and which if it does not at once rid its votaries of all pain and sorrow, it nevertheless immensely increases the courage and fortitude of the individual, and enables him to bear cheerfully and hopefully the evils that inevitably fall to his lot in life. Such an individual is entirely satisfied that nothing can come to him that is not guided and determined by law and absolute justice, and that he has earned by his own acts all the good and all the evil that enter into his daily life. The vicissitudes of life present themselves to him, therefore, with all sufficient reason. If life thus becomes to him a very serious matter, not to be trifled with, never to be lightly assumed or frittered foolishly away, on the other hand all bewilderment disappears and he knows exactly what it all means. This, however, is rather the negative side of the problem, and only the beginning of real life. Discerning the inevitable tendency of the evolutionary war everywhere manifest in nature, he no longer drifts with the tide, a laggard to be continually pushed on by blind force, goaded by pains and penalties, and reduced to submission by many sorrows; but he strikes out boldly like a brave swimmer to reach his inevitable goal. Following thus the line of least resistance he works with nature and is rewarded accordingly. The carbon that resists the vibratory electric wave bursts into flame and is consumed. Analogy everywhere in nature reveals to the thoughtful and earnest student the laws that underly all phenomena. He therefore no longer wars against the inevitable but begins to conquer through obedience. Knowing well that if he resists, he too will be consumed, he becomes no longer an interrupter of the evolutionary wave, but finds himself a centre of power and an agent of beneficence beyond anything he had ever dreamed or imagined as possible for man. He finds that joy and sorrow, like pleasure and pain, are inseparable; and that all these are the transitory conditions of sense and time; he finds that they belong to the bodily life, and not to the soul except as it is enchained to the body by desire. He finds and enters a super-sensory world that is devoid of feeling, because it is ruled by justice, light, wisdom, and beneficence.
Theosophy teaches that this is the road over which the soul of man is designed to travel in the evolution of the human race. It is for each to determine voluntarily for himself, whether he will resist justice and universal law, multiply his evil Karma, and be goaded continually by pain and sorrow, or whether he will drop into line, and working out his own salvation, at the same time help to lift the heavy Karma of the world. Those who have listened to the voice of Atman — the God within them, and have voluntarily entered the "small old Path" are but the advance guard of that sorrowing multitude that we designate Humanity. Humble as may be their lot, it is theirs to point out the way, the truth, and the life. Brothers of Compassion, working for the help and redemption of those even poorer than themselves, they in turn are helped and inspired by those Sons of Light, those Sentinels on the towers of time, whose transcendent powers and divine beneficence represent the highest evolution of the human race the Divinity which is the goal of our common humanity.
Labels: J.D. Buck
Theosophy and Theosophical Christianity
by C.M., F.T.S
Reprinted from "Theosophical Siftings" Volume 4
The Theosophical Publishing Society, England
My first duty is to explain the vague and, I fear, somewhat misleading title of my paper, for I do not propose to define or discuss Theosophical Christianity, but rather to bring before the minds of my readers a problem that has interested me from the beginning of my enquiry into Theosophy.
The problem is this: — In the first place, why does Theosophy excite so much opposition among Christians who have shaken off many of the trammels of dogma, and from whom, therefore, Theosophy might expect a sympathetic tolerance? And secondly, why, even if this opposition be overcome, Theosophy remains, and must remain, distinct from Christianity.
Turning then to the first question, we can best enquire into the cause of opposition to Theosophy by considering a few of the objections put to us by Christians.
Primarily, its authority is a great stumbling-block alike to Christian and Agnostic.
To the Christian there is something especially shocking in accepting any authority antecedent to that of Christ, and when we make the further claim that the authority to which we give allegiance is higher than that of Christ, the torch of indignation is fairly lighted. Belief in living men whose holiness equals the holiness of Jesus, is felt to be blasphemy pure and simple. The dread too, of anything Oriental in character, the conviction so openly expressed that it is all very well for Hindus, but that it is impossible for “our own beloved countrymen" to touch Eastern philosophy without becoming lax in honesty and morals, is astonishingly prevalent even among well-meaning, kindly people. “Our beloved countrymen" would do well if their standard of life were as pure as that in countries where Eastern philosophy has held and still holds sway. These people forget that the birth-place of Christianity was in the East.
Great misunderstanding exists, moreover, as to the nature of this authority. It is said that a Theosophist is not expected or even allowed to think for himself. Now this statement is so absurdly untrue that, were it not so often made, it could hardly be believed a possible one. It is certainly made in ignorance.
Theosophists hold that there are men who possess an amount of knowledge concerning the nature of the Universe and of man, which, compared with that of the average human being, appears almost divine. Therefore are they authorities. But those who possess this knowledge, have won it for themselves after ages of toil for humanity, and after "trials passing speech". So too must the aspirant to knowledge win it for himself if he would tread in their footsteps. He must learn: he must not expect to be taught", and this rule is inflexible, as all students well know. "The teacher can but point the way,........ the Pilgrim has to travel on alone", and again, "the Path is one for all, the means to reach the goal must vary with the Pilgrims".
Only by this means is self-knowledge to be obtained. Only by such methods is the value of the authority to be gauged.
When the learner's faith is changed into sight there can no longer be doubt for him; but even then he could not impart this confidence to another. For what, after all, do we understand by authority, and what is Christian authority?
Is it not a question of internal evidence? We read the New Testament and find there something that we know to be truth: the testimony of men of all sorts and conditions has been given for eighteen centuries to the lofty Spirit that breathes through the Gospels. And why? Because deep down in the heart of every man, "at the very base of his nature, he finds faith, and hope, and love"; and by this light of his soul — by the Spirit of truth which is in him — he recognizes in the Gospels the essence of the same Spirit. If this is so with regard to the truths Christianity expresses (and what Christian would deny it?) why discredit the belief of Theosophists in other authority which appeals to the same internal evidence?
Another objection often raised is that no two Theosophists give the same definition of terms, or hold the same opinions as to their tenets; that their talk is a wild high-flown jargon; that no one can see what they "are at", and that they do not know themselves.
This attack is much less easily disposed of, indeed there is some amount of justice in it. It is quite true that there are many and varied opinions amongst Theosophists; this is inevitable, since each has to think out the problems for himself. Each one naturally brings the results of his former religious experience to be ground in the mill of Theosophy. But our differences are not in essentials. The fact that we differ on some points does not alter the fact that all Theosophists agree upon three (at least) which is more than Christians can say.
It is true that our definition of terms often appears vague. This is due partly to the fact that the English language is badly equipped for translating the terms, and partly because most English minds are untrained in such lines of thought. There have been many difficulties to contend with; but even here we are improving.
In one sense also it is true that we do not know what we are talking about. We are stumbling beginners in this boundless region of thought. But Theosophists can generally understand one another, and there is just the suspicion that the person who accuses us of unintelligible talk may not be taking much trouble to discover if there is any method in our madness.
It is not true, I hope, that we talk vain-gloriously. If we do, and if we pretend to knowledge that we have not, we deserve any blame that may fall upon us, and Theosophists are no more free from this temptation than other folks.
Again, it is said that Theosophy is too complicated, wants too much intellectual study ever to reach "the masses". The masses will answer for themselves very soon, if they have not begun to do so already. Reincarnation and Karma are essentially doctrines for the poor man: he will grasp these theories, and they will be his salvation, mental, moral and physical. Spiritual perception, not intellectual attainment, is the one thing needful in Theosophy, and the poor are in this particular not less endowed than the rich. Nor need we fear a lack of clear-headedness among those of them who have leisure for studying the philosophy. Theosophy can take its boldest stand upon this ground: and the manner in which it is received by the poor will be one of the greatest tests as to its practical applicability to daily life.
Next stands Occultism. This is, I believe, the most deeply-rooted of all objections, and the one that it is hardest to combat. Many will listen up to this point with interest, or with tolerance, but here the real battle begins. It is natural that it should be so, and if we look at the history of many a revival of Occultism in Europe we shall see that to Protestants, at least, the mention of any investigation into the hidden forces of nature, must inevitably arouse a feeling of profound distrust!
For the Church of Rome has been rightly credited with having had a hand in these revivals; the Church of Rome has learnt something of magic and believes in it, and this belief, spread by its agents among the people, has resulted in not a little fraud and superstition. Then there are the very real dangers attending the study of Occultism; dangers which none know so well as Occultists themselves, dangers which none can escape, none can overcome, save those who intend to use any power they may have for good, not evil. People are beginning to realise the dangers surrounding hypnotism and the spiritualistic séance room, the phenomena being little more than the result of ignorant use, if not actual misuse, of the forces in nature which Occultism reveals.
How is this distrust to be removed from those who do not believe in the authority we own — who have no faith in the purpose which alone can make the study of Occultism justifiable?
It cannot be done, and we can only offer a reply to some of the specific charges brought to bear against this study: as for instance, that people are asked to believe in an Occultism of which they can know nothing, because those who do know are pledged to secrecy. That it is idle to talk of Theosophy being for all, when it is only the favoured few who become "initiated" or "illumined". That only those are attracted to this study who have a love of the mysterious, and who desire to pose as the priests of a new religion, who having no capacity for real science, hope by this means for a smattering of back-door revelation which shall pander to their self-importance. Now, with regard to the pledge of secrecy, there is no getting over the dislike to it. We can only say that many honest people have taken it and have found nothing in its nature or result that could offend the most delicate sense of honour. We can further point out that the pledge of Freemasonry is equally binding, and is not, so far as I know, considered either dangerous or wicked.
We are not asked to believe in Occultism or in anything else that we do not choose to believe in. Belief in Occultism, and the knowledge of certain facts concerning it, are open to all the world, and all have ordinary means at hand on which to found such a belief. The question is, what makes the belief of those who are able and willing to pass on, sufficiently strong to induce them to take a pledge?
If they are driven forward by a force there is no resisting, namely, by the conviction that by so doing they are helping on the best interests of humanity, who shall say that they are wrong to go? Neither is it fair to say that the pledged few are " favoured" or "illumined", which means, in plain language, that they have an unfair advantage over the rest of the Society!
The number of the pledged is comparatively few, but there is no favour shown to them. We wish to strive after what we call good; to lead a pure life is certainly a sine quâ non of acceptance. Every true Theosophist would warn any person against pledging himself until he had proved to himself the reality of his intention to study seriously, and until he had pondered well his motive for studying Occultism.
Only in this sense could "the few" be accused of spiritual aristocracy, or of exclusiveness.
With regard to our reckless handling of science, enough has been written and said to show the stand that Theosophy takes: and those in the ranks of Theosophists who follow scientific research find, I believe, many a gap in their philosophies which can only be filled by occult science.
Mention must also be made of Nirvana.
People have the wildest notions about Nirvana — and if Occultism excites their horror, the idea of Nirvana is that most often singled out for ridicule and scorn. (We have only to note the flippant references to it in the daily papers to be aware of this fact.) To their minds Nirvana, means annihilation, and they maintain that Theosophy represents it as such, because Theosophy admits the loss of consciousness.
The question is — what consciousness is lost? True, the loss of personality is loss of personal consciousness. But personal consciousness is not spiritual consciousness, and only by the loss of the one can the other be gained.
In our present condition we can only be dimly and fitfully conscious of the consciousness that enters Devachan, the state of rest between two periods of earth life (in reality the Heaven of the Christians): but Nirvana, which comes at the close of the cycle of births, is a state of spiritual consciousness compared with which that of Devachan is gross. No wonder then, that we have no conception, not the remotest conception, of the consciousness of Nirvana, and no discussion as to its nature can be profitable. Further, it may be pointed out that to enter Nirvana is not the highest aim of the Theosophist — but to renounce it. He who enters is lost to humanity. He who says "For others' sake this great reward I yield" returns as a "Saviour of mankind”. Few outsiders understand that this is the supreme choice — this the "Great Renunciation", and yet it should never be lost sight of: stupendous though the ideal be, it has been fulfilled and may be again.
How is it then possible to compare the Heaven of Christianity with Nirvana?
The best of Christians has only the hope of doing good to his generation. To the best of Christians the thought of the rest of Heaven is legitimate, is sweet. However cheerfully the burden of life is borne, however lovingly he has toiled for his race, however sorely his heart has ached for the suffering he has done his best to relieve, he will leave it all behind, and enter the haven where he would be. But, with his work for humanity ended, so far as further effort is concerned, "the little done, the undone vast" is his last sad cry. The Christian ideal is beautifully expressed by Spenser:
"Is not short pain well borne, that brings long easeAnd lays the soul to sleep in quiet grave?Sleep after toil, port after stormy seas,Ease after war, death after life, does greatly please."
but this ideal is pitiful compared to that set forth in the "Voice of the Silence" with which many readers must be familiar. I do not mean to imply that no Christian would renounce Heaven if he should conceive that it was required of him to do so, but I contend that the hope of Heaven as unending reward for short pain undergone on earth is a subtle one, and must have its effect upon a man's character.
There are further objections of course — notably the rejection of a personal God, and consequent lack of humility, and absence of prayer.
To most Christians the rejection of a God is a terrible thought. To them the Fatherhood of God, the love of and for God, the sense of his presence, of sin forgiven, all go to make the sum of emotion which feeds their spiritual life, the loss of which would mean the loss of all that they understand by religion. It is easy therefore to see what their attitude is towards those who claim to have something better than their religion, whose "pride of intellect" leads them to believe that man has within him a ray of that which is of the same essence as divinity itself, and with which he may identify himself through individual effort. They cannot imagine the existence of humility without a person to humble oneself before. But surely to be humble is to have a capacity for reverence — and reverence is a quality of mind not the mark of the fervent believer.
The question of prayer is a very difficult one. Theosophists do not pray to the Christian God, but they do appeal to that God who is part of themselves, but who is as yet outside of them. But the appeal is a registration of will — a command, and not a supplication. It is "the profound obeisance of the soul to the dim star that burns within". And herein lies the difference.
We will now consider the second question, as to why Theosophy must remain distinct from Christianity, even supposing opposition be overcome.
There are many good people who will tolerate in others a freedom of thought and speculation from which they themselves abstain, and who, having the spirit of good-will towards men, will accept the cooperation of any who show a like spirit. The denial of a personal God is to them not so terrible a thought, or at least they are content to leave the discussion in the belief that the difficulty arises more in the expression than in the conception. Indeed, it is astonishing what latitude some Christians allow on this point; the veil of separation is so thin, that it seems as if it might be rent at any moment. But the veil is a reality — however thin — and is the division between Theism and Pantheism. These people can least understand why Theosophy shows so uncompromising a front. It is they who charge us with intolerance and with rushing to found a new sect (as if these ideas were new!). "What is good in Theosophy" they say, "is to be found in Christianity: the rest may or may not be true, but at any rate there is nothing contrary to the Spirit of Christ in your speculations. Why cannot you quietly accept the good in the Christian Church and leave the rest, without making such a fuss. We are quite willing to have you in our midst. We sympathise with your aspirations, we see that you are in earnest. We yield to none in our ideal of brotherly love, and by separating yourself and refusing to join our worship you fail in brotherly love, and are misunderstood where it is all important that you should be understood".
Now can we hold our own here? I think so. I think we can prove that the desire to adopt us is one of expediency and policy, and that the reasons for holding aloof are those of principle. In the first place, as Theosophy holds that Christianity is only one expression, and a blurred one, of that truth which lies at the back of all religions (to which Theosophy points the way), it is quite impossible to identify Christianity with it. Christianity is but a fraction of the whole, and holds much the same place in religion as Europe does in the map of the world.
In the second place, the time is ripe for separating genuine believers from halting adherents. If some people are so broad in their views that they can tolerate Theosophy in their Church, the sooner the Church is made aware of the fact the better. These people believe that the Church is changing rapidly and will soon sink its dogmas. I do not believe it, I believe that the Church and its dogmas will stand, though the number of its supporters will decrease. It is the old question of reform within the Church. Had Sir Thomas More's ideal of uniformity been realised, the Church of Rome might have been very different: as it is she is the same now that she was in More's day. The reason that we are free today to follow the bent of our consciences in religious matters is because Reformers and our Nonconformist forefathers broke away from the Church for what may appear to us very small matters of conscience. Toleration is a shifting expression. In More's time it resulted usually in one having one's head cut off. In this nineteenth century it brings mental ease and comfort.
Let those who desire a church and dogma declare for it boldly, and let those who do not, enquire if there is nothing else that will satisfy their spiritual wants. It is the lack of anything else that keeps three-fourths of thoughtful people in the Church. They are quite right not to pull down until they can build up again — not to the leave the company of those with whom they have so much sympathy of heart, if not of head, until they find communion of heart and head elsewhere.
Since writing this I came across an article of Prof. Momerie's in the April (1891) Contemporary Review, in which he very emphatically expresses the opinion that the Church is doomed. He is a good example of the type of Churchman I was thinking of, and I quote his words: "The Church of England is within a measurable distance of dissolution. In fifty or a hundred years' time, unless it undergoes a radical change, it will have practically ceased to exist. There may still be an institution of bishops. priests and deacons, but it will appeal exclusively to the intellectual dregs of the community, and could only therefore in bitterest irony be called a 'National Church’".
I do not know, and I should like to know, what ideal of a National Church Prof. Momerie and similar thinkers hold. Have they a desire for unity, or do they show a disposition to combine among themselves for that purpose? They are pulling down; what will they build up? A universal philosophy or a patched church, with the old orthodox Church of England as its bitterest enemy? Anything that rouses people to think must be good. But the leaders of these free-thinking Churchmen are able men, and must have gone much farther in thought than they dare admit, and it is difficult to see why they go no further. Reform within the Church cannot be final, another generation, "fifty or a hundred years hence", will be questioning quite as anxiously as today the honesty of its position with regard to the Church of the period. People will not speak the whole truth and leave it to take care of itself. Even these reformers take a very paternal attitude towards truth; they want to wrap it up in cotton-wool, to keep it from the air. It is fair to say that I am now thinking especially of English Christians. Most other religious thought, German for instance, has long been on far more philosophical lines, has indeed been largely influenced by the thought of its avowedly non Christian philosophers. Take Schliermacher, whose writings would be tabooed by most English Christians and all Churchmen; he was looked upon as a little free in his views, but when he died Court and Church alike mourned his loss as a thinker and divine. Jean Paul's books are read in every family circle, and the nation holds him in loving veneration, and with justice.
"He who seeks something higher in its own nature, not merely in degree, than what life can give or take away, that man has religion, though he believe in infinity, not in the infinite, only in Eternity without an Eternal. For he who regards all life as holy and wonderful, whether it dwells in animals, or, still lower, in plants: he who, like Spinoza, by means of his noble soul floats and rests less upon steps and heights than upon wings, whence the surrounding universe — the stationary and that moving by law — changes into one immense Light, Life and Being surround him, so that he feels absorbed in the great light and wishes to be nothing but a ray in the immeasurable splendour. Such a man has, and consequently imparts, religion......At least two miracles or revelations remain for you uncontested in this age which deadens sound with un-reverberating materials: they resemble an Old and New Testament, and are these: the birth of finite being, and the birth of life within the hard world of 'matter’”.
In the third place: while certain units among Churchmen declare their eagerness to keep Theosophists in their ranks, it is none the less true that they are but units who have the courage of their toleration, and their willingness would not receive support from Churchmen as a body, and they must know this. How would most clergy (to say nothing of their congregations) receive a proposal to lecture in their parish room on Reincarnation or Karma? Would they welcome a definition of the place Theosophy assigns to Christ?
But above all, there is a deep fundamental gulf between Christianity beyond the power of either side to bridge over — the gulf of personality.
Whittle it away as you will, the Christian belief is in a personal God. However spiritual, he believes in a Being, not in Being, a Being who loves and wills: a Spirit, not Spirit: he worships an Eternal, not Eternity. The attempt to gloss over this difference for the sake of a show of unanimity could not be right. I can see no failure in brotherly love consequent necessarily upon a definition of the points at issue. It is the Spirit of Love we desire to cultivate, and that Spirit can manifest itself among those who differ in doctrine as clearly as among those who are agreed.
By all means let us sink our differences when it is a question of practical work for others; and let us show the same tolerance as we claim for ourselves. Most of us have not long set out upon the path of Theosophy ourselves; we should do ill indeed to attack those who decline to follow us.
There is another reason for taking a distinct position; it is this: Theosophy by no means desires to attract Christians only. If it joined hands with Christianity it would have no force of appeal to people outside the pale of any creed, in whose ranks some of the noblest natures are to be found.
What of those men and women who, having no hope of personal immortality, yet spend their lives in the service of humanity with purity of motive and unselfishness that might put many a Theosophist to shame?
What of those who, having stood aloof from any definite belief, have yet felt within them a yearning for a spiritual life, and a reverence for the deep mysteries which every day discloses: who see an ordering of the universe for which they have found no explanation?
Has Theosophy nothing to say to them? It offers at least a lofty ideal, worthy of their consideration, and I venture to say that the discovery of this grand scheme of redemption without a Redeemer, or rather with man as his own redeemer, will be the giving of sight to many that are blind, and of a new lease of endeavour after good.
I used the word "discovery", because we must remember that though all this has been familiar to scholars and thinkers of every age, yet scholars and thinkers are comparatively few, nor are they as a rule popularizers of knowledge or of thought. Most of us are very ignorant, many have never even heard of Reincarnation and Karma as points in Eastern philosophy.
Theosophy has therefore come as a timely reminder of these forgotten truths, and we cannot too zealously endeavour to give to others the opportunity we have seized so eagerly for ourselves.
We have then considered the reasons why Theosophy encounters opposition from Christians; how far that opposition may be disarmed; and why, after all, Theosophy stands in such apparent opposition to Christianity.
But the real question we have not attempted to touch — why it is that. Christians hold views that lead them to attack Theosophy?
In short, the question is, really, why do not all people think alike?
Why if truth is one and indivisible, should its reflections be cast so differently?
If the hypothesis of Reincarnation cannot answer this, what other can?
For instance, as Theosophists believe the bent of our minds in this life is determined by the impulses we have brought with us from a former existence, and of the bent of our minds in the next life we are the arbiters now. We cannot, at this stage of our journey, look back and know what we have been, but we can judge of the present, and by the light of the present we may predict something of what the future will be.
Shall not we who have been drawn towards Theosophy in this life, be yet more strongly attracted in the next to whatever expression of this philosophy may have been established by that time? Shall we not pick up the lost threads more easily?
Will those who oppose Theosophy now not be less likely to look favourably upon its representative of the future? If the theory be true it must be so.
The time has not yet come for all, and we believe that therefore it is that the voice of Theosophy meets with little response in so many hearts. But with the larger hope that Reincarnation offers, we believe that the time must come, sooner or later, to every earnest seeker after truth, when he will no longer be satisfied with the fragment he has hitherto possessed, and when the philosophy of the East, with its answer to the problems of life and of death, will appeal to him as Truth.
We too have caught but a faint glimmer of that truth which is our lost heritage if we will but reclaim it; but as we know that dawn is to be looked for in the East, so we turn our eyes eastward, knowing that in that direction the Sun of Truth will surely rise.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
About the Secret Doctrine of the Initiates
From Papers on the History of Culture - translated from the Swedish
Reprinted from "Theosophical Siftings" Volume 4
The Theosophical Publishing Society, England
AMONG other things expected from candidates for initiation, was that they should be willing, fearless, industrious, patient and discreet. If not willing you cannot be fearless, if not fearless, you accomplish nothing". "He that does not work, neither shall he eat", nor can he reckon upon wages. Every sort of unnecessary care and worry must be banished from the circle of the Initiates, they must patiently wait for their time to come, resting assured, as well they may, that one day it will come. An Initiate has received instruction in the secrets of nature and of the human heart, once they are morally and psychically prepared for these teachings, which had been communicated, in the same order, to their teachers — previously. The rules for admission to the section of the Initiates are strict and immutable, and "many are called, but few are chosen". Because "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it". (Matthew vii. 14. )
But that gate is open never to be closed, and that road stretches out for evermore. So it is, so it has been from the dawn of time. The races of yore have disappeared, but their wisdom still remains, and can be gained by those who are willing, fearless, industrious, patient and discreet.
The men of the present, here in the West, may, perhaps, to a certain extent reconcile themselves to the first four conditions, but as soon as a question of silence and secrecy arises, they immediately send up a loud cry about the danger of it. This is done either out of stupidity or out of spite, — stupidity because they ignore that the Master from Nazareth, himself enjoined secrecy upon the Initiates when among those not worthy. In that well-known glorious Sermon on the Mount, he commanded his disciples: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you". (Matt. vii. 6.) On another occasion the great Master said to them, " Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables. That, seeing, they may see and not perceive, and, hearing, they may hear and not understand”. (Mark iv. 11, 12)
As pointed out by us above, the rule for Initiates has invariably been to interpret to the outsiders, solely through parables those truths which they themselves had received under the seal of silence. Therefore the Gospel goes on, "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables, and without a parable spake he not unto them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: (Ps. lxxviii. 2.) I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world". (Matthew xiii. 34, 35). In Revelation (x. 1-4.) an instance is given how Initiates were recommended to keep to themselves part of what they heard, and that the most important. "And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud; and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: and he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth, and cried with a loud voice as when a lion roareth, and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices, and when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write; and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me: Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered and write them not ". " But what is the good of all this secrecy?" some may ask. There are, of course, reasons for this. Why was the same sort of secrecy connected with the initiation into the Egyptian, Chaldean and Eleusinian Mysteries? And why, in distant India, does a Guru, up to this very day, demand from his Chela that he shall communicate what he has learnt, after probation, only to such as engage themselves in the same manner to hide what they have learnt of the holy mysteries and to reveal these in their turn to such among their disciples alone, who have been tried in the same way? It is because in the study of those mysteries are involved intensely earnest researches and experiments, it is because in occult information is contained the key to the secrets of Nature. Such things should not be placed in the hands of untrained people; one should not allow children to play with fire or explosives, for they would risk thus to do harm both to themselves and others. Once every century (according to our chronology within its last twenty-five years) the bulk of mankind is afforded a glimpse into the meaning of those mysteries, by the guardians of ancient lore, — in obedience to laws governing their acts. At those periods they send one of their pupils, a Jacob Boëhme, a Robert Fludd, a Paracelsus or a Pico di Mirandola, with the object of turning away the attention of the world from the trifling, mean, little Marthatroubles of every day sensuous life to that "narrow path” which leads to light. And these emissaries always do succeed in some measure.
During more conspicuous historical epochs, some of the Initiates go out into the world to lay the foundation of a new creed or creeds, symbolizing part of the eternal truth, fitted for the time and locality, drawing men from materialism and selfishness, and many a Moses has succeeded in persuading his own people to abandon the Egyptian flesh-pots and to set out on the toilsome journey through the desert to the glorious Canaan of virtue and truth. In the Bible, the Kabbala, the Ji King, the Vedas, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Dhammapada, the Zend-Avesta and the Koran, the Eternal Light breaks through the prism in different colours, but is nevertheless at the foundation one and the same. In the works of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Apollonius of Tyana, Philo, Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus, Plutarch, Maximos, Numinius, Ammonius Saccas, Hierocles, Philostratus, Bishop Synesios from Cyrene, Origen, Albertus Magnus, Agrippa from Nettersheim, Emanuel Swedenborg, etc., etc., portions of the Secret Doctrine are found, although the aspects taken differ somewhat from each other. During latter years the Initiates have given information about themselves and their teachings, more especially through books by A. P. Sinnett and H. P. Blavatsky. This apparently proves the greater readiness now prevalent for receiving the Secret Doctrine, about the fundamental points of which a few short explanations may here be offered.
( I ) The Divine Power is the only reality and unalterability — all else is changeable, and consequently unreal and illusory (Maya), from the Divine point of view and with regard to variety of manifestation. As to origin — or cause — all is real. We, however, although being changeable and illusory on our material side, are accustomed to look upon the purely physical as real — so long as we remain at our present stage. God is all-conceiving, but can be conceived by no one. Paul of Tarsus said in his address from the hill of Mars at Athens: "The Lord is not far from every one of us; for in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said: For we are also His offspring" (Acts xvii. 27, 28). Something similar was written by Jesus Sirach, in Alexandria in Egypt: "By Him the end of them has prosperous success, and by His word all things consist. We may speak much and yet come short, wherefore in sum — He is all” (Sirach xliii. 26, 27).
Regarding the right mode of confessing Him the Acts (x. 35) have it: "In every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him". In harmony with this stands the well-known utterance of Brahma: "I am the shrine for the whole of the human race. Those who faithfully serve other Gods worship Me unwittingly. I am the One participating in all worship and the reward of all worshippers". In the holy Scriptures of the Brahmans we read: Had the Creator of this Universe wished to give preference to any religion in particular, this one would have been reigning supreme on earth; the fact of there being several proves the sanction to it of the Highest, for He has revealed to every nation the doctrine best suited to them and is pleased to be worshipped after different forms. God is present just as much in the mosques of Islam and in the churches of Christianity, as in the temples of Brahma.
(2). Underneath all there is a hidden homogeneity, an inner relationship. "On earth as it is in heaven" — so far as a weak copy resembles its model. As below, so above, and "that which is on high resembles that which is in the deep" — so runs the inscription on the emerald board of Hermes Trismegistus. There is an affinity and a constant interchange between the divine and the human. The Hindoo followers of the Taraka Raja Yoga Philosophy hold that man consists of three earthly parts, Steelopadhi, Suksjmopadhi, and Karanopadhi, corresponding to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, the three persons in the Hindoo Trinity (Trimurti) — together with one heavenly part, Atma — or the Spirit — which corresponds to the unknown Divinity (Parabrahm). The Brahman Vedanta Philosophers divide man into four or five earthly parts — in the latter case named: annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vignanamaya and anandamaya cosa — and Atma, the heavenly spirit. Something corresponding to this division of three or four parts occurs with the Indians in Minnesota and Dakota. Le Sueur related nearly 200 years ago about the Dakota Indians having three souls — but their own holy men assert that they have four. After death one remains in or close to the body; the second settles down in a bundle of hair or clothes having belonged to the dead man, which bundle is carefully preserved by the relatives until an occasion offers to throw it away on the ground of an enemy; the third goes to spirit-land; and the fourth takes up its abode in the body of a child or animal. (See Robert Grônberger's History of Minnesota (Minneapolis, 1889) page 38) Parallels to this are found in the world of their gods. Wahkinyan, one of the higher gods, is supposed to live in a dwelling on the top of a high mountain in the far west. This dwelling has four entrances, guarded by sentinels dressed in red down. A butterfly watches at the east, a bear at the west, a deer-calf at the south, and a reindeer at the north entrance (page 20). And the god Heyoka is represented in four persons (page 21). The adherents of the Secret Doctrine divide man in seven principles and the Universe also in seven corresponding to these. The principles of man are called: Sthula Sarira (the body), Prana (the vitality), Linga Sarira (the astral form), Kama rupa (the seat of desire), Manas (the mind), Buddhi (the soul), and Atma (the spirit).
(3.) The divers principles (or stages) of the universe are rightly understood only by the corresponding principles within man. Paul says: "the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" ( 1 Corinth. ii. 14).
We — with our materialistic tendencies — are not able to understand God, and we ought not to attempt confining Him within the narrow limits; of our conditions; and attributes.
(4.) Just as there are sundry grossly material species in Creation, likewise there are many of more refined kinds of whose existence we cannot be aware under ordinary circumstances. We have to be transferred to their own plane in order to be made cognizant of their presence, by means of the oral and visual senses.
(5.) There is a root-religion, out of which all the others have sprung. The divine revelation, altogether absent from none of these doctrines, constitutes what is true in them all. The encroachments of dogma, however, have either concealed or altered most of these truths. And the motto of the Initiates is: "there is no religion higher than truth". "If you would find the origin of all religious systems, you must look for it in Tibet and Great Tartary," was the assertion of our compatriot, Swedenborg. It is in Tibet the supreme lodge of the Initiates is placed even at this moment. In fundamental religion is found a key to all the different creeds. Everyone of the ancient doctrines points to a theosophy older than all of them. "The key which unlocks one must unlock the rest, otherwise it cannot be the right one", Dr. Alexander remarks in his Eclectic Philosophy.
(6.) The whole of manifestation must pass through many stages from a lower to a higher, ever circling onward in spirals, Man is undergoing continuous development into something higher, from one incarnation to another. Like the Egyptians and the Jews in bygone days, Brahmans, Buddhists and Confucians believe up to this day in re-incarnation, which doctrine among the ignorant masses takes the shape of metempsychosis, where not unfrequently is met the notion, equally absurd and illogical, of the human soul entering the body of a beast. The theory of re-birth does not imply a retrogression from human to animal forms, but an uninterrupted evolution to something higher. In the New Testament this is taught with positive assurance in several places. Jesus speaks unreservedly of his pre-existence (" before Abraham was, I am "..... ) like what Buddha, half a century earlier, had done about his own, John the Baptist was generally supposed to be either Messiah or one of the Prophets, Elijah or Jeremiah. The Angel Gabriel had predicted about John (Luke i. 12) that he should have "the spirit and power of Elijah", and Jesus once pronounced about him: " if ye will receive it, this is Elijah, which was for to come" (Matt, xi. 14). A proof of how general was the belief in re-incarnation at the time of Christ, is furnished by the question of the disciples, when Jesus once cured a man who had been born blind: "Rabbi, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind" (John ix. 2 ).
(7.) Special emphasis is laid by the Secret Doctrine on Karma, or the immutable law of cause and effect, unfolded through successive periods of manifestation during which Karma decides of the individual's position in earth life, his temperament, etc., etc., according to merit and demerit in past incarnations. Thus it is the just law of Karma, and no injustice, that places one man in a low sphere of society, and another in a high one; all depends of themselves, of their acts in a former re-birth. " What a man sows, he shall also reap." The mechanism of the whole universe is all regularity and law.
Everything, per se, is natural and necessary — has its own "raison d'être"; it all can be explained by something else — in one word nothing on earth is independent enough not to be modified by some other thing. An effect points to a cause, this may be hidden and not easy of discovery, but nevertheless does exist. In order to produce a photographic picture, there is need of sufficiently strong light, a camera, chemicals, and a cliché prepared just the right degree of susceptibility. If all these conditions are not present and utilised after a certain manner, no picture will be produced. It is the same with everything else. All that happens or is done in this world testifies to the law of cause and effect and is subjected to its own specific regulations.
Thought-reading and thought-transmission, psychometry, clairvoyance and other phenomena, hitherto little known by the public at large, have all their own proper causes and appear under certain fixed conditions. So also with the varied electro-magnetic and hypnotic phenomena, which are now being studied with such great interest. In the lodges of the Initiates, these natural phenomena, as yet so little observed by our times, form to themselves a branch of investigation, among others.
Not all men have been born thought-readers, nor are they all gifted with the clairvoyant far-sightedness. Quite true! But no more was there ever anyone born with knowledge of English or mathematics, etc., etc. It has to be learnt — provided the capacity for learning is there. For not all were gifted by nature with linguistic talent or a knack for solving mathematical problems. There is, however, no doubt that many might be taught both, at least in a measure, if only they were persistent in trying. But trying is indispensable.
The Hindu Yogis, the Mahommedan Sufis, the "sorcerers" of Egypt, the Chaldean magi, the Kabbalists, the Essenes, the Pythagorians, and Neo-Platonists, who made natural and psychic phenomena an object of careful, practical investigation, declared a plain mode of living necessary for attaining any marked success. Liberation from attachment to the world of sense and unceasing aspiration towards the pure realm of spirit, is the most essential, from which, as an ultimate result, will follow a cessation of further rebirth. This, consequently, should be the goal and aim for which we are, all of us, struggling all the more as the struggle is, in itself, beneficial for every purpose. It brings about a quick development of all the higher faculties of the mind, the far-sightedness (clairvoyance) becomes immensely increased; new domains are opened up to the excessively sharpened senses, and the man thus endowed acquires a deeper insight into the truth which is the foundation of all. This we ought to be striving for “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. v., 48.)
A simple, natural diet is the ideal one, and its result is wonderful. We know from Moses that vegetarian food was ordained for the primary inhabitants of the garden of Eden. (Gen. ii., 18, 19.) At the time of history when human beings attained the greatest age they were vegetarians. Noah was the first to receive the command: “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things". (Gen. ix.; 3). Only the Nazarenes, those marvellous men of God were directed to take unadulterated nourishment, to lead an ascetic life and to abstain — together with their mothers — from tasting “wine and strong drink". (Numbers vi., 2-4; Judges xiii., 45; I Saml. i., 11; Luke i.,15.)
The same enjoinment regarding intoxicating drink was given to the priests of Israel (Numbers x., 9-10), and truly occult societies of all epochs have followed their example with great profit to themselves and to their members. Among other rules considered important, are love of mankind, chastity, the conquering of all the lower passions (violent temper, indolence, weakness, etc., etc.) and others of similar tendencies. The greatest stress is laid by the Initiates on ethics. Without ethical progress no spiritual insight, no real perception of the occult powers in nature.
The sketch of the Secret Doctrine attempted in these lines is, unavoidably, most incomplete. If, notwithstanding its brief outlines and short hints (maybe obscure), it could convey even the faintest notion of the Initiates and their Secret Doctrine, the object with which this paper was written would have been reached.
AN EGYPTIAN ALLEGORY
(From “The Book of the Dead")
Over the dark fields, heavy as a pall,
Lit by no gleam of sun, or moon, or star,
Hangs the dark air, nor any sounds at all
The sombre silence jar.
Still as the weed below a frozen sea,
The pale sheaves of the ghostly harvest stand,
And through the serried row unceasingly
There moves a spectral band.
All that have lived are there, and from their eyes –
Whether of king or beggar, maid or wife-
Gleam terror, and dismay, and wild surprise.
At the result of life.
For this the harvest is of all their deeds,
This “corn of Aanroo, seven cubits high";
Their good and evil actions sowed the seeds
They reap when once they die.
Gleaning their sheaves they go, with restless feet,
Each for himself plying the crescent knife;
And if their deeds were good, the grain they eat
Gives them eternal Life.
But if 'twas evil that their life did sow,
The grain is poison, and the ghostly breath
They drew in Aanroo ceases, and they go
To everlasting Death.
From "The Theosophist"
Reprinted from "Theosophical Siftings" Volume 4
The Theosophical Publishing Society, England
IN works, by classical and modern authors, treating of the Mysteries in various lands, we find very grand and thrilling pictures of the series of initiation trials the candidate has to go through. In these every resource that the human mind can imagine is employed to heighten the mystery and to give importance to the ceremony. In the older Sanskrit literature, however, we find nothing about these initiation ceremonies, just as we find nothing said about temples, though dwelling-houses are now and then described.
In India, at least, the erection of magnificent temples seems to have been a custom of later date. The great sacrifices that we read of took place on spots specially chosen for the purpose which were not used a second time. And the initiations, for there were initiations in those old days, and the adepts then produced seem to remain as giants even among their own fraternity, took place under some tree, on the top of a mountain or in some hut.
The reason why we hear so little in the books of the trials undergone by the candidates for initiation is that they were not used in the same way as in later times. The Guru knew when his disciple was fit to be entrusted with the sacred knowledge by looking into his soul, and did not need other demonstration. It was only after the initiators had partly lost the power of themselves determining whether the candidate was fit for initiation or not, that the ceremonies and great trials were introduced.
In the old times a disciple remained many years with his Guru, when the latter tried him, he did not know he was about to be tried at all. He was not, at the close of other trials which he had gone to in some sort prepared to meet and conquer, suddenly ushered into the presence of a bevy of fair houris, well knowing all the time that every action of his was watched from unseen points of vantage, and well knowing that the whole proceeding was part of a set trial of strength and endurance; but, one day when sent into the jungle as usual to get wood for fuel, the Guru would send some elemental to take the form of a lovely female and meet the unsuspecting disciple in a lonely part of the wood, and thus tempt him. If he got through a series of unexpected trials of this kind, it was pretty certain that his strength was steady and his courage firm.
Some people are always looking forward to the initiation chamber and its trials, and longing for the time when they shall enter it. The truth is, however, that the wise man makes the world his own initiation chamber, and life the threshold of the mysteries. If a man can really command himself perfectly, he can command all else. He has the strength, the exact modes of using it are but matters of detail. We ought to make use of every opportunity that occurs, and when none seems to occur, we ought to try and make opportunities for ourselves.
Those who would make true progress should look on everything that happens to them in life as an initiation trial, and so become, as it were, their own initiators.
Some seem to imagine that they can do nothing at all without some special Guru — whom they can see. Moreover they expect that Guru to do nothing but attend to their every action, and be in fact a sort of superior nurse. This is especially the idea of some Hindus. But the whole object of initiations is to make a man and not a slave, to strengthen the individual will, and to give self-reliance and the sense of strength. A constant feeling of dependence on a Guru, however great that Guru may be, is liable to end in that state of mental and moral subjection that we see so often among devout Roman Catholics, who have come to believe that they cannot possibly do anything without having some spiritual director to support their every step. "When the disciple is ready, the Master is ready", says "Light on the Path", and therefore the main thing for each of us to do is to use every effort to make the disciple ready — the rest is not our affair at all, it is already provided for. But it is very certain that neither Master nor disciple will be made ready by a constant desire for changed outward conditions, instead of earnest endeavour to make the very best we can out of our present circumstances.
Except in proportion as we ourselves make effort, no more light will be vouchsafed to us.