I should not be surprised if [Damodar] ... came when HPB, reincarnated and, like himself, changed beyond all recognition, shall resume the world-work she had to drop on "White Lotus Day" in 1891. It would be too unreasonable to imagine that the Lords of Karma would keep any one of the best workers of the Theosophical movement idling about on the other planes of existence, when the cry of the suffering world for light and guidance is rising to their celestial abodes. Their chief desire and paramount duty is to help our human race to climb the path to the highest levels, where delusions, born of spiritual ignorance, wither away in the blaze of Wisdom like flowers bitten by a frost.
-- Henry S. Olcott, OLD DIARY LEAVES, III, page 279
By B.P. Wadia
[From LIVING THE LIFE, pages 108-12.]
The Vishnu Purana is said to be "equal in sanctity to the Vedas." In response to his pupil Maitreya, Parasara tells the tale of all evolution. It is a great work, and HPB makes use of it to explain deep esoteric teachings.
Parasara is the son of Saktri or Sakti, and the grandson of the holy sage Vasishtha. In the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata, the story of the birth of Parasara is given. King Kalmashapara, meeting with Sakti, the son of Vasishtha, in a narrow path in a thicket, desired him to stand out of his way. The sage refused, on which the Raja beat him with his whip; Sakti cursed him to become a Rakshasa, a man-devouring spirit. Having become a Rakshasa, the Raja not only killed and devoured Sakti, but also his brothers. But at the time of his death, Sakti's wife was an expectant mother; Parasara was her son and was brought up by his grandfather Vasishtha. The son came to know of the manner of his father's and his uncles' death, so he instituted a sacrifice for the destruction of all Rakshasas. Thereupon the great sage spoke to his grandson:
Enough, my boy. Let thy wrath be appeased. The Rakshasas are not culpable; thy father's death was the work of Karma. Anger is the passion of fools; it becometh not a wise man. By whom, it may be asked, is anyone killed? Every man reaps the consequences of his own acts. Anger, my son, is the destruction of all that man obtains, by arduous exertions, of fame, and of devout austerities, and prevents the attainment of heaven or of emancipation. The chief sages always shun wrath: be not thou, my child, subject to its influence. Let no more of these unoffending spirits of darkness be consumed. Mercy is the might of the righteous.
Self-evident is the truth of these noble words of the holy sage. The Purana records the gift bestowed by the high gods on Parasara because of his non-violent act. "You have exercised clemency; therefore you shall become learned in every science."
Anger is named as one of the three gates of hell. (Gita, XVI, 21) An angry man lives in hell or kamaloka in waking life. A mad man does not recognize his lunacy, nor does an angry man remember the saying of Horace, "Anger is momentary madness, so control your passion or it will control you."
There are men who suffer from irritation born of impatience or discontent, and these soon gain strength and turn into wrath. The ultimate effect is that such a person becomes one who, in the words of Shakespeare, "carries anger as the flint bears fire." Then there are those who feel indignation (and some salve their consciences by naming it "righteous indignation") but refrain from expressing it in words. The Christian scriptures have a telling proverb, "Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned?"
The world is full of the force of violence, and anger is a pronounced and formidable expression of it. There is anger hotly expressed by words and with fists and kicks. There is cold anger, like hard ice, which burns. From its expression in slight displeasure that is merely shown by the face, to the extreme variety that produces apoplexy -- the human kingdom suffers from anger. For all such, Gandhiji's precept and example are excellent. He says:
It is not that I do not get angry. I do not give vent to anger. I cultivate the quality of patience as angerlessness, and generally speaking I succeed. How I find it possible to control, it would be a useless question, for all must succeed in forming this habit and cultivate it by constant practice.
If wrath is bad for the ordinary mortal, it is one of the greatest of hindrances for him who attempts to live the higher life. The violent shaking up caused by anger in a practicing neophyte is spoken of by W.Q. Judge in his "Culture of Concentration." He concludes, "Anger must be strictly avoided, and it cannot be avoided unless charity and love -- absolute toleration -- are cultivated."
Those who study that article carefully and attentively will naturally wish to know what is the force and the substance of anger. "Force or energy is a quality; but every quality must belong to a something, or a somebody," says THE SECRET DOCTRINE. (I, 509) To say that it is disorderly motion, tending towards inertia, hardness, darkness, and tamas, or that the nature spirits or elementals act as the agents who arouse our anger, is not an adequate explanation. The force of anger belongs to the dark side of Nature and emanates from the mysterious source symbolized as Mara, Ahriman, and Devil. The dark intelligence pervasive in material Nature or Prakriti colors the Kama principle in man, and something of this dark intelligence and its progeny can be understood if we brood over these words of THE SECRET DOCTRINE (I, 260):
It is not molecularly constituted matter -- least of all the human body (sthula-sharira) -- that is the grossest of all our "principles," but verily the MIDDLE principle, the real animal centre; whereas our body is but its shell, the irresponsible factor and medium through which the beast in us acts all its life. Every intellectual theosophist will understand my real meaning.
But all this is not as graphic as the words of Mr. Judge who refers to the progressing neophyte, "you may soon begin to get the attention of the Black Magicians, who then begin to try to knock you out, so beware." How is this knocking out done? "Attempts will be silently made to arouse irritation and to increase it where it now exists." (LETTERS THAT HAVE HELPED ME, page 115) Again, "No irritation should be let dwell inside. It is a deadly foe. Sit on all the small occasions that evoke it and the greater ones will never arise to trouble you." (page 137)
Irritation springs from impatience and grows into anger. The root and the remedy are revealed by Mr. Judge. The statements quoted above should provoke thought in every earnest student-server.
The Mahatma KH has written,
It is a meritorious act to extirpate with the roots all feelings of anger, so as to never feel the slightest paroxysm of a passion we all consider sinful.
Here anger is designated as a sin, and in the Science of Occultism, sin is a step to soul-less-ness. In that strange story, Vathek, by the highly eccentric William Beckford, there is a statement about the sin of anger. Vathek is an Oriental story of a megalomaniac, an Arabian Caliph, who sells himself to Eblis, Satan. From crime to worse crime, he moves; the tragic end of his burning heart, we will not speak about. But at the very beginning of the story occurs this:
When he was angry, one of his eyes became so terrible that no person would bear to behold it; and the wretch upon whom it was fixed instantly fell backward, and sometimes expired. For fear, however, of depopulating his dominions, and making his palace desolate, he but rarely gave way to his anger.
The Old Testament wisdom should be remembered, "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city."
Better that we close this outline study of anger with a reference to the patient, spiritual eyes that bring peace and enlightenment. Says the pupil to his Guru:
Master, obeisance to thee. Save me sunk in the sea of life, bending on me thy steadfast glance, which rains down righteousness and compassion.
By K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar
[From THE ARYAN PATH, October 1949, pages 435-40.]
January 19, 1809 -- October 7, 1849
Anything approximating to a just appreciation of Edgar Allan Poe has been slow to crystallize in America, where he has suffered more derogation than, say, in France or even in England. To the French "Symbolists," Poe was a major prophet. Mallarme translated his verse, and Baudelaire his prose. M. Paul Valery salutes the "world-wide glory" of Poe and describes him as a pioneer "who considered the things of the mind and, among these, the production of literature, with an exactness, a sagacity, a lucidity, which had never before been found in a mind endowed with poetic inventiveness."
On the other hand, Emerson dismissed Poe as the "jingle man," and Lowell found in Poe an odd mixture of genius and sheer fudge. If his admirers are idolatrous, his detractors are irascible. Yeats's categorical assertion that Poe is "always and for all lands a great lyrical poet" is counterbalanced by Brownell's no less categorical asseveration, "Poe's banquet is as bereft of wit as it is destitute of love. He lacked humor and he lacked heart ... as literature his writings are essentially valueless."
Much has been written about the influence of Poe on the French "Symbolists," but it is still one of the open questions of literary history. It might be that Poe in his critical theories and in treatises like "Eureka" did no more than catch up stray rays from Coleridge and Shelley, and refracted them through the prism of his own lurid temperament. But in France, the doctrine of "art for art's sake" came to be associated with Poe more than with anyone else, and Baudelaire, apostle of aestheticism like Gautier and Flaubert before him, quickly seized Poe's juggled conceptions and integrated them into his own aesthetic philosophy. As Matthiessen points out:
Poe, in spite of gross crudities and lapses in taste, was the first man (in America) to declare that practice must not be separated from "the theory that includes it"; and it was his strict if brittle insistence on the principle of art that helped free Baudelaire and the French Symbolists from the effluvia of romanticism, and so cleared the way in turn for the emergence of Pound and Eliot.
It might be true that Poe created no tradition in America, and rather moved in a narrow groove of his own making. But his "William Wilson," an audacious imaginative study of the dual personality, was without doubt the original of Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," and Poe was obviously cofounder with Gaboriau of the modern detective story. Besides, Poe's influence on Henry James, Ambrose Bierce, and Hart Crane, on the one hand, and on Rossetti, Swinburne, and Ernest Dowson on the other, is at least an arguable proposition. Further, there was much in Poe's life to excite pity, admiration, and contempt by turns; and so the critic is often swayed, now this way, now that, by the biographer. To dissociate poetry from poet-olatry, to distinguish the man from the influence, to discriminate between the intrinsic and the historical value of his writings, and above all to extricate the man from the legend, all this is certainly a most difficult task. But the occasion of the Poe Centenary should prove auspicious for such a salutary undertaking.
Walt Whitman wrote:
In a dream I once had, I saw a vessel on the sea, at midnight, in a storm ... On the deck was a slender, slight, beautiful figure, a dim man, apparently enjoying all the terror, the murk, and the dislocation of which he was the center and the victim. That figure of my lurid dream might stand for Edgar Poe, his spirit, his fortunes, and his poems -- themselves all lurid dreams.
Like the hero of his unfinished blank-verse tragedy "Politian," Poe too was
... a dreamer and a man shut out From common passions.
From his parents, both itinerant players, whom he lost early, Edgar Poe inherited his "Wanderlust," and the chronic discords in the home of his foster-parents, John Allan and his wife, were likewise duly reflected in his star-crossed life. It is possible too that Poe as a child sustained a psychic trauma that rendered him incapable of normal healthy relationship with women. Already, at the age of fifteen, Poe was a shy, morbid, high-strung lad, consumed by his unearthly love for the mother of one of his classmates, the immaculate "Helen" who was to inspire two of his famous lyrics:
All -- all expired save thee -- save less than thou: Save only the divine light in thine eyes -- Save but the soul in thine uplifted eyes ...
Helen, thy beauty is to me Like those Nicaean barks of yore, That gently, o'er a perfumed sea, The weary, wayworn wanderer bore To his own native shore.
Poe had his early schooling in England and after his return to America with the Allans proceeded to the University of Virginia, where he ran into debt, gambled heavily, and got into a thorough mess. He then joined the Artillery division of the United States Army; then entered West Point, but, for all his erratic brilliance, he was court-martialed in 1831. Drifting to journalism, he published in quick succession a number of reviews, essays, poems, and stories, which came to the notice of a widening circle of readers and gradually stabilized his position as a writer. In the meantime, he married his cousin Virginia Clemm, then barely thirteen, and set up house with his wife and her mother. Virginia was the "Eulalie" of the lines:
I dwelt alone In a world of moan, And my soul was a stagnant tide, Till the fair and gentle Eulalie became my blushing bride Till the yellow-haired young Eulalie became my smiling bride.
She was, besides, the inspiration behind the short story "Ligeia" and the poem "Annabel Lee." And yet, neither in his life nor in his love, neither in his habits nor in his occupations, neither in his hopes nor in his fears, was normality ever a constituent. Alcohol and opium held him fascinated; he alternately drank himself to oblivion and solaced himself with laudanum. Edgar Allan Poe was indeed playing a reckless game for impossible stakes -- and he was foredoomed to lose all the way.
After a brief agitated interval at New York where he made the acquaintance of Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant, Poe settled down at Philadelphia for five years (1839-1844), easily the most peaceful and fruitful session of his terror-driven, wasted life. "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque" came out in 1840, "The Gold Bug" and some of the Dupin stories came out one by one, each a marvelous essay in detection, while his essays in criticism gave him a certain standing among his contemporaries.
Poe was not the man to flirt with success for long. He would be drowned, and nobody could help him! Emasculated by the corroding sense of his own fatality, he dreamily took off from the hard ground, he clawed somnambulistically into the air, he wildly flew at shadows, he moaned melancholy tunes, he spiraled uneasily in midair, and he suddenly gravitated to the ground and crashed into atoms.
From Philadelphia to New York was a mad shift, made worse by Virginia's consumption and lingering agony. Fame and poverty kept house together; specters hovered above, and tragedy was, as it were, round the corner. Virginia withered, Virginia died. Relieved at last from Virginia's strangely powerful hold, Poe embarked on wilder courses than ever. Intermittently the disturbed sky brightened for a brief second or two -- there were lightning flashes -- but all was lowering darkness again.
Making a final frantic effort to redeem himself, Poe got engaged to Mrs. Shelton, but it was no use; a few days later he was picked up inexplicably delirious near a saloon in Baltimore, and died soon afterwards of pneumonia in his fortieth year. The fitful fever of his life was spent at last, and Poe was now gathered into that "hollow vale" and its eternal rest.
Such a life as Poe's was in all conscience a nightmare mixture of tragedy and futility, itself a blend of the macabre, the grotesque, and the arabesque. Normality and actuality repelled him -- he knew them not -- and he therefore minimized them into zero and cantered into the regions of abnormality, unreality. Says Professor C.M. Bowra:
For Edgar Allan Poe and for Gerard de Nerval, the other world was always the real world, and actual phenomena a source of trouble and confusion which they refused to accept. The result was a search, conscious or unconscious, for some anodyne that should enable them to maintain their dreams.
In his life, Poe found the anodyne in alcohol, in opium; in his art, he found it in the determined contemplation of dying beauty, in the vivification of charnel houses and torture-chambers, in the laborious elaboration of crime and detection. Poetry, according to Poe, is concerned, not with Truth, but with Beauty (as though Truth and Beauty were contradictories!) -- especially Beauty that must die. Thus, the most suitable, the most poetic, of all themes is the death of a woman who is adored but dies in the full flush of her beauty and bathed in all the radiance of her lover's adoration. A long poem, then, is a contradiction in terms; consistency of tone can be maintained only over a poem of 100 lines or less -- or in a story that can be read through at a single sitting. And rhythms, now nervous and mild, now aggressive and bold, should fuse into a jet of melody that incarnates the tragedy at the heart of all supremely beautiful things.
While all this may very well be an authentic summing-up of Poe's own practice as a poet and literary craftsman, it rather empties of significance the world of art and reduces it to a ghost-gallery devoid of life and even of beauty. The beauty that Poe manages to evoke is but a pale bloodless beauty, a mere simulacrum of the rich seething beauty in God's wide world. "The Raven," Poe's most famous poem, is a technical achievement of a high order; it creeps into one like an infection, and the fever waxes with each stanza until one comes to the very last:
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting -- still is sitting On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door; And his eyes have all the seeming of a Demon's that is dreaming, And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor; And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted -- nevermore!
Then, suddenly, the spell is broken; the ague is gone -- and one returns to life, sanity, and health. Poe's remarkable technical gifts as a poet were nevertheless largely thrown away because he would not -- perhaps he could not -- come to terms with ordinary reality.
Poe's stories, again, granted all their excruciating power and craftsmanship, hold little commerce with the flesh and blood of actuality. Ideas are pushed to their logical conclusion; formulae are inflated into persons; moods are evoked with a terrifying vividness and particularity; complicated problems are posed and solved with a pontifical solemnity -- but, although they stimulate our interest, although they extort our admiration, they never overwhelm us. In stories like "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "Ligeia," and "The Black Cat," detail is added to detail with an uncanny astuteness. The "tone" is preserved with a diabolical consistency, and the contours of this crepuscular and sinister world are made to stand out in all their poisoned clarity before our awed, unbelieving eyes.
Afraid or contemptuous of the familiar, the traditional, Poe sought refuge in the ugly, the fearful, and the bizarre. Trafficking with terrors, he exchanged the pulses of humanity for the phantasmagoria of Lucifer's dream-kingdom. And yet what astounding craftsmanship has gone into tales like "The Assignation," "The Cask of Amontillado," "Manuscript Found in a Bottle," and "A Descent into the Maelstrom." Poe is rather like the ingenious inventors of our own day who mobilize all the resources of their trained intelligence towards the construction of more and yet more destructive weapons of war.
On the other hand, as the creator of M. Dupin and as the author of "The Gold Bug, " Poe holds his own against scores of recent practitioners in the genre. But even here, Poe's eminence is subject to an important qualification. "The detective story, as created by Poe," says T.S. Eliot, "is something as specialised and as intellectual as a chess problem; whereas the best English detective fiction has relied less on the beauty of the mathematical problem and much more on the intangible human element." M. Dupin is apt to assume that life is a simple rule of three, but there are undreamt-of accidents -- there are vast imponderables -- there are unpredictable spurts of circumstance, and these must forever defy the mere logician in search of Truth. Modern detectives like M. Hercule Poirot and Inspector Maigret, Father Brown, and Lord Peter are more in the Sergeant Cuff than in the Lecoq-Dupin-Holmes tradition. Poe, as usual with him, as was inevitable with him, went the whole way when he invented the story of detection, and by pumping in too much ratiocination, he emptied it of human significance.
Edgar Allan Poe was poet and critic of poetry, daring experimenter and innovator, master of the macabre and the grotesque, wanderer between the physical and supra-physical realms, flawless craftsman and adroit thinker, wayward genius, and devotee of Beauty. He so mixed the elements that he was fated to become yet another of the "inheritors of unfulfilled renown," one of the anguished, intoxicated denizens of the world of poetry and art. He suffered intensely, his fragile nerves were keyed to an unbearable pitch, but as his suffering was often self-forged and his nervous tension but derived from his exotic sensibility, Poe surfeited himself with diseased abnormality and soul-destroying despair, and presently he loomed immense, a severe hooded figure, the Laureate of shadows, dank chambers, and improbable possibilities.
He created a world of his own, a nightmare dream world that not seldom glows with the poignancy of authentic tragedy. As a creative writer, he blazed the trail in many directions, but what he achieved himself fell short of the promise held out by his extraordinary gifts. His flaw-fissured personality no less than his ingenious inventions and striking achievements inevitably created a legend that for a time overflowed the bare truth and almost threatened to engulf it. But the danger is past. It is now possible to evaluate Edgar Allan Poe with a greater approximation to the truth of things and to hail him, in the centenary year of his death, as a very considerable artist in prose and verse and as a pioneering and powerful force in modern literature.
By United Lodge of Theosophists
[Following is a letter to friends and associates of the United Lodge of Theosophists. This voluntary association of students of Theosophy exists "to spread broadcast the Teachings of Theosophy as recorded in the writings of H.P. Blavatsky and W.Q. Judge." The ULT issued the letter June 25, 2006 under the letterhead of the Los Angeles Lodge (245 West 33rd Street, Los Angeles CA 90007). The letter is signed, "With best wishes to all who share a similar 'aim, purpose and teaching,' Fraternally, The United Lodge of Theosophists."]
Being in sympathy with the purposes of this Lodge, as set forth in its "Declaration," I hereby record my desire to be enrolled as an Associate, it being understood that such association calls for no obligation on my part, other than that which I, myself, determine.
The "ULT Day Letter," sent annually to Associates, Lodges, Study Classes, and Friends, is a small matter in the larger world of thought and action. Yet, one may hope that it arrives as a token of comradeship in what can be a lonely -- and in some places a dangerous -- endeavor. Students of Theosophy hopefully gain perspective and support from this reminder that connections, both visible and invisible, exist among their fellows, "wherever and however situated."
In a time of global change, of shifting alliances and boundaries, of threats and fears, of emerging yet still unclear ideas, we may pause until the fog lifts, as William Q. Judge might advise. The attentive student, however, sees when the way is clear, and determines to act. Study groups sprout on the simple basis of "a few of us have decided to meet in each other's homes and read THE OCEAN OF THEOSOPHY." Outreach using new technologies gains sophistication and allows broader participation. Internet communications connect newcomers and older students, sparking dialogue. The discoveries of science are analyzed and discussed in the light of Theosophy. Workshops and new class formats are devised, as the invisible network of study, application, unity, and harmony become visible in the world.
The United Lodge of Theosophists assumes that humanity can best be served when authority is inherently INTERNAL. As problems arise, students may wonder, "Who is in charge?" and, based on conventional methods of work, look for -- and want -- external guidance and structure. The quiet reminder of self-determination found in the ULT Declaration and the statement of as "I, myself, determine" throws us back on our own freedom to choose responsibility. A silence comes over the striving personal nature when the "unassailable basis" for choice, work, and union is seen to be simply -- and only -- studying and applying the teachings of H.P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge. Individual stances and opinions, no matter how compelling, dissolve as each node of work, no matter its size, becomes a crucible for our transformation from the human to the Divine.
Robert Crosbie developed the methods of ULT 97 years ago in recognition of this divine nature. The ensuing years and their accretions provide different challenges, however, from those present in 1909. Worldwide, countries and cultures faced with self-governance realize that reliance on internal authority demands discipline and skill. Individually, the same requirements prevail. Vital methods need to be culled from outgrown traditions. To confer with others and listen to their views takes time and may be uncomfortable. Giving up the reassurance of "we've always done it this way" perhaps is seen as disloyalty to valued friends of the past. The needs of newcomers may be misconstrued after years of talking and listening only to fellow-students.
To maintain ULT as a living force requires work, attention, patience, and resolve. The formation of a new study class, the examination of a new train of thought in the world in the light of the Teachings, the willingness to work in harmony with fellow-students who may see things slightly differently than we do, revivifies and renews the ULT principle. Unity is aided by the reminder that we are not exempt from human tendencies nor history, but can expect the same challenges to arise in work for Theosophy as arise in all human endeavors. Humbling though this is, a gentle reminder that kindness and compassion provide an unseen leaven keeps discouragement at bay, as we examine ourselves and see, as Arjuna came to understand in the BHAGAVAD-GITA, that all battles are within.
The United Lodge of Theosophists presents a principle of work that springs not from outer organization but from the human heart and mind. The growing awareness that the world is one, physically, morally, and mentally, and that even the smallest action reverberates globally, is reflected in the international face of ULT. Efforts in Greece, Brazil, Portugal, and Australia, for example, stem from the determination of a few individuals who have had the courage to recognize the value of a non-sectarian, non-dogmatic approach to the teachings of Theosophy. The decision to work -- to translate Judge's writings into Russian, to translate HPB into Portuguese, to advertise in different venues, to create new ways of study -- in short, TO TRY, begins with individual students, and not from any central authority. Reflecting upon the meaning of ULT Day, we think this is what Robert Crosbie may have had in view as he considered how best to further the Theosophical Movement.
By Henry Travers Edge
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, November 1916, pages 417-22.]
Why do both individuals and communities so often find themselves debarred from the attainment of desired knowledge? It is because of their unfitness to receive it due to their failure to observe the conditions necessary for its possession.
If a man has in his constitution the seeds of wasting disease, it is no use pumping vitality into him, because the deadly germs will waste it all; nay more, it is worse than useless, because the destructive malady will be fed and its destructive work hastened. People who despoil flowers cannot be allowed in gardens; property has to be guarded against thieves (whereby the honest share in the deprivation); and information is withheld from those who would abuse it.
In the present order of society, there is no adequate safeguard against the abuse of knowledge. Our resources of knowledge are at this moment being ransacked for contributions to the service of mutual destruction, and in times of peace, the same resources are often utilized to the utmost for purposes purely selfish. We live under an order wherein it is possible for private concerns to send out agents for fastening an injurious habit upon a population in order that commercial profit may be reaped. Refraining from discussing the morals of this fact, and regarding it simply as a fact, we make the point that it is enough to explain why knowledge should be withheld.
The position of a teacher, such as H.P. Blavatsky or any other teacher who might come, can be understood in the light of the above considerations. There have been those who have sought to pervert Theosophy to personal ends, the result being coteries and cults that mimic Theosophy as the parasitic fungus on the roots of the yerba santa mocks the violet blossoms of the real plant.
When the subordinate vital processes of the human body escape from the balancing and controlling power of the central vitality, wasting diseases set in, and the resources of the constitution are burnt up. But these destructive ailments begin in the mind. Our prevalent mental condition today exhibits a predominance of the destructive (or "catabolic") forces, whose symptoms are a tendency to wastage and dissipation of resources. Knowledge, under present conditions, is either public property or the perquisite of a privileged coterie, and neither of these conditions satisfies our ideal of what is desirable.
Many writers hail the divorce of science from religion as a triumph for the progress of thought; but it is pertinent to consider what the causes of that divorce were. One or both of the partners must have been unfaithful to the trust, the result being disunion and the determination to try to live apart and pursue separate ends or contract other alliances. The divorce was the first stage of decomposition, resembling the separation of the synthetic and analytic processes in the body from one another, and resulting in the gradual deterioration of both.
Doubtless there is a boundless ocean of knowledge latent within man himself and readily available as soon as the requisite conditions can be observed. Man himself, by his own action, shuts off the supply, as a racing engine turns off its own steam.
It may be doubted whether it is possible for a wise teacher, under the conditions of his status as such, to withhold knowledge from a competent inquirer, or to impart it to an incompetent one; which, if so, throws on the inquirer the responsibility of making himself competent. A student, attracted to a certain line of inquiry, might find that certain unfavorable conditions prevailing in his own internal anatomy (mental or otherwise) rendered the further pursuit of that inquiry undesirable; in which case, if wise enough, he would postpone the study in favor of more profitable pursuits. A teacher, responding to an appeal, might feel disposed to give information that was valuable, instead of information that was desired; thus quite undeservedly incurring the resentment of the applicant, unless (as before) that individual happened to have enough wisdom to see the point.
We shall not extort much knowledge from either God or Nature unless we fulfill the conditions, the first of which, as all wise teachings declare, is to eliminate covetousness from our nature. As long as we harbor the propensity to kill the goose for its golden eggs, to bleed the cow, or to hang the roc's egg in our dome, we shall have to remain content with what we can get by such behavior. Wastefulness is certainly characteristic of our civilization; though there is constructive work, the total effect probably leans to the destructive side. The same condition is observable in the vitality of civilized communities: there is an increasing preponderance of degenerative diseases. These conditions threaten disaster unless checked and counteracted.
The remedy is obviously to build up a stable and well-balanced organism -- using the word "organism" both in the individual and in the corporate senses. This is what the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society is doing. Its Raja-Yoga education does it for the growing generation, and the organization of its student-life does it for the older people. This Theosophical work is to be regarded as a beginning, a seed, a model. It will grow and spread as its efficacy becomes manifest.
The attainment of knowledge is usually regarded as a process of accretion and accumulation; but another view represents it as the attainment of a position of equilibrium. It is to be compared with the ascending of a mountain, in order to command the view, rather than to the garnering of riches. Not by piling up erudition or multiplying accomplishments, but by simplifying our own nature is knowledge according to this second view to be attained. The process is in some respects a contrast to the other, for it lies in a process of simplification rather than of complication.
The word "silence" is always associated with the Mysteries, and is indeed synonymous. "Mystery" is derived from a word meaning to close the eyes or the lips. This silence, though referring principally to the secrecy sealing the lips of the candidates, can also be construed in a wider sense; and then it means the self-restraint which the aspirant for knowledge finds it necessary to observe, not merely in his speech, but in his acts, and even more in his thoughts and emotions. Without such self-restraint, anything he might receive would be frittered away and the gate closed against further reception.
The immense advance in applied science is a favorite theme, but it has failed to make good in the desired sense. This is an instance of knowledge acquired without the previous acquisition of a superior kind of knowledge that is needed in order to render serviceable our possession of the other kind. It is an instance of Manas under the power of Kama -- that is, of mind led by desire. Great quantities of things are invented simply to employ the active mind of the inventor, and many more are invented with the view of bringing wealth to the inventor. Thus, new wants are actually created. This state of affairs is compelling us to attend to matters that are more urgent in order to restore the balance. The body politic is like an individual who has over-developed his nerves, muscles, and brain until they have depleted his constitution, leaving him weak at the center, unbalanced, and shaky. He needs to go slow and build up his stamina.
That there is urgent need for the knowledge that can enable us to control our affairs cannot be denied; but the urgency seems merely to breed more and more theories and systems. Political economy is largely based on the principle of regulating jarring interests by a system of checks and counter-checks; but ingenuity can get around any such system. Appeal to conscience instead of self-interest. Let public reprobation check transgression. Recognize the higher nature of man. This higher nature is the source of knowledge; the kind of knowledge that proceeds from the lower nature misleads us, as we see. The common divinity of man is the basis of universal solidarity and is wider than nationalism. If, then, nations desire the wisdom that shall bless their counsels, they must invoke the God in man and place more reliance on the power of hallowed motives. Similarly, an individual seeking wisdom to guide his life must rely on his higher nature as the source of wisdom for him and must trust in the efficacy of right motives.
Among the various inadequate motives for seeking knowledge, we may enumerate personal aggrandizement and other well-recognized desires, but must speak more particularly of a less easily defined incentive that is variously described as curiosity and the love of knowledge for its own sake. This leads people into sidetracks and wastes their time. The extreme case is that of the crank who spends half his life in the elaboration of some wonderful system, and produces a book about it, which is quite incomprehensible to anyone else. Less aggravated cases, in whom the malady takes acute forms instead of chronic, or the ailment is benign and seasonal, are those who follow these useless pursuits as a hobby. Their efforts are not linked up with any of the main objects of their life; and to this extent their intellectual faculties can be described as being more or less idly spent or frittered away.
The imagination is a very competent thief of our wealth; habits of daydreaming are sometimes indulged to the point of a serious disease. Such a condition might seem a harmless eccentricity to ordinary vision, but not to keener vision. The victim is slowly accumulating a great force -- gradually transferring installments of his vitality to another plane. He is building up the destructive side of his nature at the expense of the constructive side. His case is not unlike that of the man addicted to the use of a narcotic drug. By suchlike inordinate uses of the mind, this function of the mind becomes predatory and acts as a waster of substance and energy.
The mind is often compared to a lake, whose still surface can reflect, but which is quite opaque when ruffled; or to a mirror which may be either burnished or tarnished. The attainment of knowledge is therefore likened to the stilling of ruffled waters or the cleansing of the bronze face of a mirror; and it is said that unruly emotions create the turbidity that blots out vision. Certain it is that trembling is a symptom of emotion, and that calmness is conducive to wholesome reflection. This may stand as a lesson for the individual aspirant to knowledge, but we must not forget the application of the principle to corporate mankind. Man the corporation is truly in a turbid condition at present; and we are afflicted by the presence of that greatest of all possible magpies, the periodical press, which does for the public at large what the gossip over the teacups and pipes does for private coteries. Silence is surely called for, whether in the individual or the community -- silence, not only of the tongue, but also of those inner gossiping tongues of our minds, and of the emotions.
As said before, knowledge is not to be regarded as the piling up of an accumulation, but as the opening of an eye. The most important thing in education is to equip the pupil with the ability to learn whatever may be necessary. It is better to endow him with a capital digestion than to place large quantities of assorted viands in his interior. It is said that, despite the inordinate distension of the curriculum, the amount of pabulum actually digested by the average pupil is quite small; if this is so, the cause must be non-assimilation and malnutrition, consequent upon the exhibition of excessive doses of food upon a debilitated stomach. The more robust digestions are able to extract the nutriment from the mass and dispose of the portion that cannot be assimilated. These are our scholastic successes.
After all, for what is knowledge? Knowledge what to do with our lives is the kind that counts. Since we have minds, we must learn how to use them; life cannot be, for us, a mere drifting, as it might be if we were mindless. Wisdom is the getting rid of delusions, and it is familiar enough that the attainment of wisdom has been compared to a letting out of the imprisoned splendor within the Soul, rather than to the putting in of something from without. SILENCE is the condition of attaining knowledge. The lack of this quality prevents the attainment.
By James A. Long
[From EXPANDING HORIZONS, pages 154-59.]
As a Pennsylvania boy, I was proud that my home state could boast of some of the biggest forests the earth had ever known. It did not matter that they had disappeared; the fact that they were once there was wonderful to me. Of course, they flourished millions of years ago, in some Carboniferous Age, but it was a thrill to realize that the carbon dioxide that those trees had absorbed so long ago had gradually been metamorphosed under the pressure of soil and rock and time into coal.
It seemed obvious to me even then that nothing really dies. Things changed form, but the energy that made them live simply went somewhere else. For all I knew, the force that had once caused the sap to flow through those pines might still be around, perhaps making our present forests green while underground their ancestral trunks, now transformed, had become a means of livelihood for thousands. Miners for generations had been digging out the coal, oil drillers pumping crude petroleum from shale beds, geologists had painstakingly gathered plant and animal fossils, while along the rivers and valleys we boys searched for tomahawks and arrowheads left by our Indian predecessors.
Mineral, plant, animal, and man -- four kingdoms of nature, all closely interrelated, yet each evolving within its own life cycle of birth, growth, and death. Here the conifers and ferns had taken their substance from soil and air, and now after tremendous periods were returning it as coal, graphite, gas, and oil -- to warm our houses, provide our pencil lead, cook our food, and fuel the furnaces of industry. Stored carbon -- in its elemental form one of the softest of minerals and opaque. Yet with just a little difference of internal structure wrought by the accumulated pressure of the ages, it yields pure carbon still, but now in crystal form, the hardest of minerals, the most beautiful and transparent, and now a many-faceted diamond.
One in essence, different in body -- so the world, after all, from mineral to star is of the same basic stuff. It is simply a question of what is done with 'matter,' how its particles are arranged or combined, to make at one stage a weed, at another a stone or a man, or again a sun. The durability and versatility of the life force -- I have never lost that youthful flash of conviction. There is a brotherhood that embraces the whole of cosmos, not only human beings but also everything from electron to nebula. And all the peoples of the globe are kin literally, and neither their color of skin nor the languages they use can make or unmake that fact. WE ARE ONE: chemically, fashioned of star-stuff cosmically diffused; spiritually, sparked with the flame of a divine element that ignites every point in space into an evolving unit.
If there is indeed "a divinity that shapes our ends," how account then for the sickness of the times? In nearly every direction, there is upheaval, discouragement, a tragic lassitude of spirit. Why should this be so, when never before have we had such magnificent opportunities for development? Are we really heading toward disaster? Or is there some aspect we have neglected because of our absorption in the dark side of human affairs?
"Where the night is blackest, there the stars shine brightest." The old Spanish proverb was rarely more apt. Perhaps we have grown a little too tall too soon. Exploration of outer space has suddenly brought down on us a completely new set of problems that we find ourselves ill equipped to handle all at once. We are being forced to assume the responsibility of a higher adulthood, and we have not yet fully recognized, let alone accepted, the challenge. But we are learning fast and well. The very upheaval so universally felt is the mark of a strong inward stirring, the struggle of the soul of mankind in the process of shedding an outgrown chrysalis.
Of course, we have problems, and serious ones, but I have as little use for the hawking of the perennial gloom-peddlers as I have for the peace-of-mind addicts who sugar-coat every difficulty. Let us have a realism of the spirit that is not afraid to face life as it is. If we would keep pace with the scientists as they send out their probes, we should be probing the reaches of the inner space within the heart of man that is his link with the divine inspiration that brought the cosmos into being.
We may appear to be little more than developed animals, but given some understanding patience and a little time, we shall find our wings and know that no power in the universe is mightier than the divine essence embedded within us. Mentally and spiritually, we are indeed giants in embryo, coequal in potential with the great Intelligence that inspirits the galaxies and suns. That realism will prove far more dynamic than the so-called realism of the negative-minded.
So let us have done with over anxiety and doubt. No one ever succeeded by feeling sorry for himself or by constantly downgrading his inherent capacity to achieve. Certainly, we cannot pray away evil any more than we can deny that disease, sorrow, and death are part of human experience. But health, joy, and growth are also part of living. Viewed from the outer roll of events, the lives of many may seem to be a failure; but seen through the eyes of our highest self, there can be no failure. No matter how many battles we lose, the immortal Warrior within us is invincible; it will lead us repeatedly to the field of human endeavor until full victory is ours.
If Divine Intelligence does pervade every particle of Infinity, then every single human being has at his command all the power and creative initiative to work with it and its constructive elements in nature. We may have plenty of coal and crude oil in our make-up; but we also have the potential of a diamond. That is why the Buddhists, particularly in Tibet, spoke of the Lord Buddha as the "diamond-heart," he whose whole being had through the pressure of the ages and the intensity of experience been metamorphosed into the purity and strength of the diamond. From the most opaque in quality, Gautama became through the crucible of trial the most translucent: as perfect a reflection of the Light from within as of the sorrow of man from without. An exemplar of compassion in very truth, because so adamantine in will and purpose, yet so responsive to the heart-cry of the world, that he refused the bliss of Omniscience that he might return to earth to share the radiance of his triumph with all mankind.
Coal or diamond -- we too are compound of both.
By Andrew Rooke
Twenty-five years ago, British Professor James Lovelock electrified the scientific world with his concept that the earth is a self-regulating mechanism that shows many features of being alive! He used the ancient Greek name for the Goddess of the Earth, Gaia, to describe our home planet as a living entity.
Over the years since his first book, GAIA: A NEW LOOK AT LIFE ON EARTH , the idea that the Earth is similar in many ways to a living being has become known as the 'Gaia principle.' It is a shock therefore, to read his latest book, THE REVENGE OF GAIA: WHY THE EARTH IS FIGHTING BACK , which says that due to pollution and global warming, humanity has no future as we understand it from our lives today. In his own words from a recent interview,
When we look back at the past events of history 55 million years ago, which seems to be our fate now, most of the Earth's surface, the great continents, were overheated and turned into scrub and could only support a very few people. The people who are in those regions now will just not be able to survive.
-- Interview with the ABC, May 30, 2006.
Environmentalists like James Lovelock tell us that global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels creating waste from cars, factories, coal-fired power stations, etc. poisoning the Earth's atmosphere with carbon dioxide gas. Every year, we inject into the atmosphere enough carbon dioxide that if you froze it solid to dry ice, it would make a mountain one mile high and 12 miles around in circumference!
Along with this, humanity is destroying forests at an unprecedented rate. Forests are one of the 'self-regulating mechanisms' by which Gaia reprocesses carbon dioxide into life-giving oxygen and maintains the capacity for life on our planet. This combination could possibly mean, according to Lovelock, that most of the earth will become unlivable within a comparatively short period. The future remnants of humanity will retreat from the current population centers to the Arctic and Antarctic areas of the world for the 100,000 to 200,000 years it takes for Gaia to recover from her present fevered state.
What does Theosophy say about this developing global crisis? Do we have a future?
Descriptions of current environmental problems bring to mind sacred histories from many cultures that speak of cycles of general decline in moral standards including environmental depredation related to an increasing emphasis on externals and the pervasive influence of materialism.
The VISHNU PURANA, an ancient Indian religious text, long ago described the present cycle in humanity's evolutionary history as the Kali Yuga or 'Black Age.' This age began 5,000 years ago with the death of Krishna, and it is 432,000 years long. Such times, whilst terrible in their assault on the finer human aspirations, are a testing ground for our inner mettle. More spiritual progress can be made in such an adverse moral atmosphere that at times when conditions are easier.
A wise friend once described the challenge and opportunity of this present age by saying: "You don't build your muscles by pushing against the air." Instead of throwing our hands up in horror at the state of today's world, we are living in the situation that enables us to realize that there are myriads of opportunities for us as individuals and as a society to come up with technological and attitudinal solutions to the problems that face us.
Further, a crucial teaching of Theosophy is that Gaia and its inhabitants have progressed beyond the halfway point in our spiritual evolution in this incarnation of the Earth. In the grander scheme of our evolution, we have completed the downward drift and we are beginning the 'ascending arc' out of matter to spirituality. Kali Yuga is a cycle of descent within a grander cycle of ascent. If we keep focused on this fact, then we can have faith in the glorious future predicted by Theosophy for humanity, and we can have the confidence to contribute to its realization -- each in our own special way.
As Grace Knoche says,
In a letter to Allan O. Hume written in 1882, HPB's mentor K.H. explains that when humanity passes the "axial point", the midpoint in its septenary course, "the world teems with the results of intellectual activity and spiritual decrease"; and that it is in the latter half of the long evolutionary arc that "the spiritual Ego will begin its real struggle with body and mind to manifest its transcendental powers." He closes his long letter by asking: "Who will help in the forthcoming gigantic struggle? Who? Happy the man who helps a helping hand." (THE MAHATMA LETTERS, Letter XIV, page 88.) Who indeed will -- put their shoulder to the wheel -- in this contest of the ages?
-- TO LIGHT A THOUSAND LAMPS, page 161
Aspects of this contest of the ages are beginning to unfold even now with the problems described by environmentalists like Professor Lovelock. Are we all prepared to lend a helping hand?
Ghanaian musicians Osibisa put our current situation beautifully in a song made famous by Art Garfunkel in 1973:
We are going, heaven knows where we are going, We'll know we're there. We will get there, heaven knows how we will get there, We know we will. It will he hard we know, And the road will be muddy and rough, But we'll get there, heaven knows how we will get there, We know we will. We are going, heaven knows where we are going, We'll know we're there.
-- Woyaya, from Art Garfunkel's album, ANGEL CLARE
By G. de Purucker
[From WIND OF THE SPIRIT, pages 204-7.]
How marvelously does our Theosophy, the ancient God-Wisdom of mankind, reduce all the phenomena of Nature to a majestic generalization, so that all things fall within the compass of a single law understandable to human beings! For our God-Wisdom shows us that just as we are born and live our little sphere of life and die, so do the worlds likewise, and the suns in those worlds, and the planets and the various kingdoms of the different suns, and the atoms which compose all things, and the electrons in the atoms. All are periodic, not only in the sense of being cyclic, but also in the sense of having periods. There are beginnings, culminations, endings, and rounding out the cycle of invisible worlds a new beginning, a second culmination, a subsequent passing merely to vanish again into the worlds invisible, there to experience new and vastly greater adventures than those that our smaller solar system can give to us.
All things function alike because Nature has one Law, one fundamental law that is at its source, a divine source, all energy. Habits, courses, and procedures are all governed by the same cosmic powers and intelligence, which simply means that all things follow these same fundamental laws in similar manners, all under the governance of the cosmic life, ringing all the possible changes that Nature so lavishly provides for our admiration and utmost reverence. For while all things, all beings, follow the same fundamental laws and courses; every unit, precisely because it is a unit and an individual, has its own modicum of will -- call it free will if you wish -- and therefore can more or less change, modify, its own courses, but always within the encompassing energy of the universe.
This means that while all beings follow these general rules, or what we Theosophists call analogical procedures -- analogy being therefore the master key of life -- yet all beings, precisely because they are beings, by their own innate power drawn from the cosmic source, more or less modify the details of the procedures and movements. Thus, the sun is born as a child is born, but the details are different. Details are not as important as the main fact. The birth, the growth, the death, the invisible worlds, the new adventures, the coming again to a new embodiment, a new culmination on a plane somewhat higher, a new death to be succeeded by the same round on the wheel of life -- but always advancing, always growing, always enlarging. Step by step all things progress.
Actually, as our occultism, our God-Wisdom, points out, if you wish to know the destiny, the birth, the origin, and the temporary ending of a sun, then study a man from birth to death. And if you can, study him after death in his adventures, and you will see what the solar divinity undergoes, but of course on enlarged and higher planes in the worlds invisible. Why, the visible world of ours is but a shell, is but the body, the exterior carapace, the skin of things. The life, the individuality, the power, the will, the thought, the real entity, is not this outer shell. Whether a man, or sun, or solar system, or galaxy, or an entire universe: the reality is within. And the body more or less expresses, although feebly expresses, what the inner powers produce on this outer plane.
Those of you who have followed the experiments undertaken in scientific ways will understand this more clearly than those who have not studied them. But all of you, if you think a moment, will know that you shed your strength from hour to hour, physical strength and mental strength. The man who produces a great thought shakes the foundations of civilization. The man who produces a majestic system of cosmic philosophy and definitely guides mankind -- does not his vitality move men? These are facts. The only difference between a sun and a man is in the details, some of them majestic, very admittedly majestic; but it is only in the details that the procedure differs. The main principle of fundamental law is the same for all. Every man in fact is but an embryo sun, a sun in the making for the distant future -- not his body, for that is not the man. His body is but the skin of him, the clothing of skins spoken of in the Genesis of the Hebrew Bible. A man is the power within, the spirit or the monad. It is this energy or power that makes the man be the same from birth until death. This power makes the sun retain its form and follow its functions from its birth to its death. An atom, a flower, a tree, or a beast -- all are subject to the same cosmic law of similarities if not positive identities. It is but the detail that changes.
The wisest and greatest men of antiquity pointed out that Father Sun was indeed Father Sun, but likewise our elder brother; our parent and yet our brother. The beast and the plant are in a sense our children because they look up to us as we look up to the Gods. They are, in a sense, our children and they follow in our footsteps towards mankind, towards the status and stature of humanity. The beasts are slowly crawling up towards us, as we look unto the Gods, our parents and grandparents. When we find our souls infilled and inspirited with their life force and with a spark of their shining intelligence, then we become on this earth like God-men, because our thoughts are godlike, our feelings are godlike, and our actions following our thoughts and feelings become godlike too.
Thus, the atoms of the body and the molecules and protons and electrons that make up the physical stuff of the body are in a sense its children, and they feel the impact of our thought and of our feeling. They suffer for our sins in proportion, and they are raised by our virtues, so closely are all things knitted together, a web of life of which each strand is a production of spiritual magic.
I tell you that we are responsible for the very atoms that compose our bodies, whether we dirty their faces or cleanse them. Some day, if we dirty the faces of the atoms composing us, they will return to us to be washed, washed clean of the sin we put upon them. And the same is true with all the interior realms of man's constitution, the vehicles of his mind, feeling, and thought.
Birth and death: what are these changes? A birth in the body is a death to the soul. It leaves its own inner spheres, its own inner arrangements of its life there, and as it were descends or falls like a star to earth, and is born in the physical body of a helpless human babe, tasting for the time being the karmic retribution for all its past. When we die, aye, when we die, then are we released, then we spring forth, upwards, and onwards on the wings of our soul. Those strong pinions carry us through all the planetary habitations to the very throne of Father Sun. It is rebirth to the soul, as rebirth on this earth is death to the soul. So with the sun, so with the worlds that are born and that die. The sun when he embodies on this plane is shorn of greatly much of his splendor. When the sun's hour shall strike and he passes from this plane, he springs like a divine thought right into the invisible realms, taking off into grandeurs only very dimly imagined by us. The flower expressing its soul in scent and beauty but repeats the same cosmic law in its birth from the seed. Little brothers of men are the flowers. Some of them are to us venomous. In some way in past time, we envenomed them. Now in karmic retribution, they envenom us.
The birth of a man from ordinary manhood into mahatma-hood is an interior birth. The growth of the mahatma into Buddhahood or Bodhisattva-hood, or as the Vedantists say, the becoming one with the Atman: this growth is in your hands to achieve, and in the hands of none else. You have it in your power to become god-men on this earth. You also have it in your power so to ruin and blast your life that you shall become like the fury-driven victim of Greek legendary story, driven by unspeakable remorse and haunted by the feeling: I have played my play and I have lost. Too late, it is too late! But Theosophy says, never too late. If you have played your game awry, re-assemble your cards and play like a man, play with the devil for the salvation of your own soul, the devil of your own lower self, and win! If you win, divinity lies ahead of you. Over the peaks of that mystic East, the East in the heart of every human being, dawns the sun of truth that carries healing in its bosom. The truth shall make you free!
By E.A. Coryn
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, October 1916, pages 336-40.]
The question really underlying all other questions is that of the purpose of life, and any theory of that must call up for consideration our relationship to the Worlds of Life, not only on our own plane, but also on the planes of life above and below us in the scale.
And beyond the question of that relationship, there is the further question of our relationship to the infinite host of life in the past and in the future -- our relationship to posterity and our relationship to the unborn generation.
These are questions which neither science nor religion answers. Science postulates the upward march of life from the lowest forms, each kingdom merging into the next, becoming the next; it sees in each plant, each animal, and man himself the outcome of ages of evolution from lower forms -- and so far it sees the unity of life. But there it stops -- to the question of what has become of the million generations in the past who have made the race what it is, it has no more answer than it has as to the future of the generations who today are carrying it yet higher.
It sees the Race, whether of plant, animal, or man, as an entity growing in function and structure; it sees that growth made by generation after generation of the individuals composing the race -- but it sees only the race.
We, today, it says, are the result of numberless generations that have passed; our functions -- our physical, mental, and moral equipment -- are the heritage of the struggles and experiences of our ancestors of a thousand generations. But what is our relationship to them, what theirs to us, and what their and our relationship to the race?
Here science is silent and unconcerned. It sees the race but knows nothing of the beings that made and make it up. Did they merely step into the race, carry it forward higher, and then fall out when their usefulness was over? Do we ourselves run for a time merely as items in the race, inheriting what we are from other items in the past, and handing our inheritance on to the newcomers, and in our turn falling out, having no further concern with the Humanity of which we are a part for the few years we are here?
While science sees only the race and ignores the individuals composing it, so religion knows only the individual, and is unconcerned with the race or with the other forms of life, past and present, surrounding us. We are born, live and die, and pass out into some other form of existence. We have no relationship to the past or to the future of the race. Today we are a part of it, tomorrow neither it nor humanity any longer concern us.
It seems we are faced with an unthinkable hypothesis. Nature's whole aim is to make an abstract perfection called a Race. Our only, most pitiful ideal is to contribute our mite to produce in the future a race of mankind possessing every attribute of perfect humanity. The race will possess all virtues and full wisdom, but only as a child possesses clothes which its parents place upon it. It will have self-control without effort and strength of character without achievement. Its virtues are not the outcome of experience, of self-conquest, but rather an unearned and undeserved heritage.
Normally we stand negative, unplaced between these conflicting theories. Religion claims us on one side, science on the other, but we rarely, if ever, definitely face the problem and demand a philosophy of life.
Is there no common ground that will include both these positions, which will give us a philosophy?
In the Theosophical scheme of life, we can find a place wherein both schemes will find their standing-ground. Evolution, in Theosophy, is the growth not of an abstract Race, but of the beings making up that race, and the evolution of successions of human beings unlinked save by their racehood, would produce nothing worth the having. We made up the Race in the past; we compose it now; the past of the race is our own past; the present is the fruitage of our own sowing. It is not "mankind" but "man" himself who has evolved -- the outcome of an eternity of growth, passing life after life through kingdom after kingdom up to the point reached today.
We are linked with the past because it is our own past. We are linked with the scheme of evolution because we are the beings that have evolved; and to evolve, we must persist. Evolution without the persistence of that which is being evolved, reincarnation, is a meaningless play with words.
Looking so at life, we start to comprehend the present; a conception of a "purpose" or philosophy of life becomes possible.
We can take the theory of heredity, or heredity as it is commonly understood; but how if it is our own heritage from our own past which we "inherit?" How if the conditions we "inherit" are the conditions we ourselves helped to provide, if the taint in the germ-plasm is the taint we ourselves contributed to effect, if the physical deterioration is of our own making, if the adverse social environment is of our own creation, if the international relationships are our own handiwork? Grant heredity, but of whose making? Who sows and who reaps?
There science and religion are both silent. Neither knows anything of the individual past. Let us take each as far as it will go. Science is entitled to assert a theory of heredity on the facts it possesses. We do not invading its domain by asking whose heredity. The present is the child of the past, but of whose past is that? Is it a child of our past or of another's?
In answering the question from the Theosophical standpoint, we are giving a new and pregnant meaning to the utterance of science; we are making possible a philosophy of life; we are able to discern a meaning and purpose of life. The past is seen as OUR past and the present the outcome of OUR doings, not of another's. The future lies in our own hands. It is our own thinking and doing that comes over to us as heredity. We reap our heredity hereafter from our current sowing.
Nature is truly evolving a perfect race, but we are the ones being evolved, life after life in long pilgrimage, to be hereafter that perfect race.
Cannot we assume that the laws that govern our lives now are the same laws that governed them in the past? When we find that any growth of character or function is only attained by experience and effort, we may reasonably assume that this applies also to such growth and power as we have already attained. Lacking self-control, we know that it cannot be attained without effort and pain, but that it CAN be attained by striving. With a tendency to passion, to self-indulgence, or what not, we know that we can overcome it by effort, and that it can only be overcome by effort. In short, we know that we can grow and we know that experience and effort are essential to growth.
Are we unreasonable in asserting that this applies not only to future growth, but also that the position with which we start life was governed by the same laws? Our characters, powers, abilities -- our mental and moral stature, in short -- is the outcome of effort and experience in the past. As we have passed up the ladder of Being, so by our acts and thoughts we have created the conditions which surround us at each stage; we have reaped what we have sown; we have sown what we reap.
The qualities, abilities, virtues, and weaknesses mark not our endowment, but the place in life that we have reached, the road we have traveled. The conditions under which we -- the nation -- live are what we have made for ourselves. The conditions under which we -- as individuals -- live are the conditions that we have made. They are the conditions that, while we are responsible for them, are also the means whereby Nature teaches us.
Nature is not an outside force, and the cure for our misdeeds is the consequences of the misdeeds, and through the pain of the results of evil, we are taught to avoid the evil, not by any arbitrary punishment from outside.
In regarding the conditions under which we live as being created by ourselves, we mean that by wrong living in the past, we have put into operation the causes through and by which we shall learn the error. This is not to say that the slum-dweller has directly created the slum, or that the ruined victim has as terribly injured another. In each case, our action in the past is the means whereby Nature remedies the wrong causes through its effects now. Nor does this involve the assumption that we are always able to see or even to suggest the cause of suffering. Either we must start from the basis, as an axiom, that the Universe is built on justice, or the very talk of a philosophy is foolish. The only achievement of an ideal based on such a negation would necessarily be a success at the cost of some other life. Either there is justice in suffering and we reap our own sowing or there is injustice and we reap what others sowed. On that basis, no edifice is to be built and no philosophy is to be founded. "God's in his Heaven, all's well with the world." Somehow, some way, whether we see the working or not, deep in our hearts is the knowledge, absolute, certain, that the Universe is not built on morality lower than that which we know to be the highest in ourselves. An evolution that produced a consciousness that justice is of divinity is not falsified by the very power that has evolved it.
Our social ideals are then built on that final basis. What we reap -- good or evil -- is both the outcome of what we have sown and is the means taken by Nature to remedy the evil in us that caused it. Let us build our social edifice then well and strong. If it is to stand, it must be built in accordance with this final law of the Universe. To build however finely, while the causes which have brought us to the pass we are now in remain, is simply to build into it the germs of rot and destruction. The disease may show itself on another plane, or in another way, but it is there. For the conditions of life do little to produce vice or wrong, but rather the vice and wrong within us use the conditions.
But, further, the assertion of the underlying basis of justice involves the further step. The earning must have been done before we were born. This clearly cannot be the beginning, and death cannot be the end. The diseases of humanity are deeply rooted in character, of slow growth stretching over long periods and as slowly cured.
Our ideals are high and we look to the future not with hope but rather with certainty. We fight with the aid of forces leading upwards, seeing in even the most adverse conditions the ceaseless efforts of Nature to bind men together in a consciousness of a wide Brotherhood, seeing the effort of Nature to teach, and seeing men not as bodies, but as fellow-souls traveling along diverse paths leading to the one goal. The goal may be far off. Whether it is near or far, we can see on every hand the guiding of "that power which moves to righteousness." This power works through all the Universe, transmuting the very wrongs men do to the purposes of the soul within, binding men closer and closer in the bonds of mutual need and dependency, and urging them ever forward to the certain goal of a Universal Brotherhood.
By John Algeo
[revised from Yahoo site Masonic Outer Court paper 0.13]
Codes have come to be much in the public attention recently as a result of Dan Brown's novel called THE DA VINCI CODE and the motion picture based on that book. Many critical appraisals of those works, both book and movie, have been dismissive, yet some churches have been alarmed at what they perceive as a threat to their foundations if readers and viewers take as historically accurate the proposition that Christ married Mary Magdalene and they had children whose descendants are still living.
As a result of the alarm associated with THE DA VINCI CODE, the very concept of a "code" has become emotionally charged for some members of the public. Codes, however, are pervasive in human culture, so the concept deserves some attention. What follows is a presentation of some definitions and a discussion of the concept of "code," particularly as applied to several forms of humanity's effort to relate to the world around, inside, and "above" us.
Almost all words have more than one meaning. So we talk about "a code of laws," "the moral code," "the Morse code," "a computer code," and "the genetic code." In one sense, all human language is a code by which one person (the encoder) conveys ideas, intentions, feelings, etc. from that person's mind to the mind of another person (the decoder) by means of a message in their shared code or language. So the Anglo-Saxon utterance "Hwut we gardena in geardagum theodcyninga thrum gefrunon" is meaningless to anyone who does not know its code. In our English, these opening lines of the epic poem BEOWULF would be "Lo, we have heard of the glories of the kings of the people of the Spear Danes in olden days." But our code would have been just as incomprehensible to the Anglo-Saxons of a millennium ago as theirs is to us today.
In the sense that is of particular relevance here, a CODE is a system of signals, signs, or symbols representing meanings that, for one reason or another, are often secret. The reason for secrecy may be that the encoder wants to keep the information represented by the code from persons (potential decoders) that the writer believes are not entitled to that information. Military codes and Internet commercial codes (used, for example, to conceal your credit card number when you order something on line) are examples. Such secret codes fill an important role in wartime and in commerce, among other uses.
However, there is another kind of "secrecy" stemming from the fact that what the code represents is not directly observable to our ordinary senses. This sort of "secrecy" is not imposed by the encoder to keep the information from others, but instead is inherent in the nature of perception. So we need briefly to consider the limitations on our perception.
Our senses all serve dual purposes. They are both our windows to the world around us and a shield from that world. For example, there are colors frequencies, such as infrared and ultraviolet, that we cannot see and that consequently are not colors for us at all. Yet those colors can be picked up by color-sensitive machines and transformed into something we can see.
Similarly, our hearing allows us to perceive vibrations in the atmosphere that are within a certain range of frequency. That ability makes human speech possible, and speech is our most important form of contact among ourselves. But there are sounds we do not hear. It is well known that dogs, for example, can hear sounds at a higher frequency than human beings can. Bats use a sort of radar involving the emission of sounds that are beyond human hearing. Various animals can hear low-level sounds emitted from the earth in advance of an earthquake, and respond to them by fleeing or seeking safer ground. But even human beings vary; older men especially tend to lose the ability to hear the upper registers that they heard in their younger years. But all humans loose hearing in the upper range as they age. Recent news reports concern a cell-phone ring that escapes the hearing of adults but that teenagers have no difficulty hearing; that ring is being marketed to the teenager who wants to use a cell phone where it is prohibited, for example, in school.
It is clear that the ranges of colors we can see, sounds we can hear, and other sensory data available to us make it possible for us to exist in the world. And so the ability of our senses to give us information from such sensory input is obviously of primary survival value. However, the reverse of that is not always equally clear. Namely, limitations on our senses are also of critical survival value. Our inability to perceive everything is a blessing.
Imagine for a moment what it would be like if we had no sensory limitations but instead could perceive every possibly perceptible input around us. Suppose we could hear all sound vibrations, see all the vibrations of an extended color spectrum, etc. -- even pick up all the vibrations for which we have no sensory organs at all, such as radio and television vibrations, x-rays, beta rays, gamma rays, and who knows what else may be out there. What would it be like to have all that input constantly bombarding our minds? Surely we would be overcome by it. If we perceived everything, we would be immersed in a vast, buzzing, whirling, chaotically confusing universe. We would have sensory overload. So the limitations of and on our senses are vitally necessary.
Yet, are there occasions when we may benefit from perceiving something to which normally we do not have direct access? Do we, in fact, have indirect access to some nonsensory data that is otherwise "occult" (that is, literally, "hidden," as when the sun is "occulted" or eclipsed by the moon)? Obviously, yes, we do. We cannot directly perceive certain electrical waves, but we can perceive them when a television set converts them into light and sound. Are there other sorts of potential information that we can access only through some kind of intermediary "machine"? The ancient Greek philosopher Plato thought so, and so did the modern Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung.
Plato proposed that everything in this world is a reflection or embodiment or shadow of a transcendent "idea" or "archetype." And Jung proposed that, in the course of evolution, our species developed certain primordial concepts that are embedded in a portion of our unconscious mind that is common to all human beings as the "collective unconscious." Those concepts he called "archetypes." We cannot perceive an archetype directly because, Plato said, they are part of the transcendental world and so we see only their shadows, or because, Jung said, they are part of our unconscious, which by definition we cannot be consciously aware of except as they are reflected into symbols by dreams, reveries, or other such mechanisms.
An ARCHETYPE is thus an original pattern or model, and specifically an inherent idea derived from the early history of our species and present in the unconscious of every individual. Theosophists might say that the archetypes are part of the structure of our minds as the human mind was formed by the Lords of the Flame some eighteen million years ago. Those archetypes are not directly accessible but can be perceived only as they are expressed by a symbol. Such archetypal symbols vary in their form from one culture to another, but all symbols of the same archetype have a family resemblance that makes it possible to identify them. For example, one of Jung's archetypes is that of the Great Mother. That archetype is expressed by the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf statue, Mother Mary, Ceres, Juno, Isis, Kwan Yin, Durga, and a host of other embodiments of the fecund and caring female. Other such Jungian archetypes are of the Hero, the Wise Old Man, the Trickster, the Shadow, the Eternal Child, the Helpful Beast, the Sacred Mountain, the Hidden Treasure, and so on.
Archetypal symbols are, however, not just isolated expressions of separate archetypes. They can also form an interconnected web of related concepts. And that brings us to the connection between codes and archetypes. An ARCHETYPAL CODE is a system of interrelated symbols representing a complex of archetypes in the collective human mind. How archetypal codes come into existence is not known to psychologists, but they exist all over the world in a variety of forms. As suggested above, a possible Theosophical explanation is that they are the manasic structure imparted to nascent humanity by the Manasuputras.
Archetypal codes are used specifically in all the great mystical traditions of the world, such as Gnosticism, Alchemy, Kabbalah, and Freemasonry, to mention a few. But they are found also in certain forms of fantasy fiction, such as the Oz world of L. Frank Baum, the Middle Earth of J. R. R. Tolkien, and the world of Harry Potter by J. R. Rowling. These various codes, both mystical and literary, differ from one another, but the archetypal complexes they represent are in common to all of us, and the different codes are clearly linked together.
Each archetypal code tends to have a single dominant image to which elements of the code relate directly. In Freemasonry, that image is the Temple built by King Solomon in Jerusalem, reputed to have been the most magnificent structure of its kind and to have awed all visitors, such as the Queen of Sheba. In Kabbalah, it is the Tree of Life, whose branches are said to extend to all the worlds and on which all beings live. In Alchemy, it is the Philosophers' Stone, which could be used to convert base metals into gold and to prolong life indefinitely. In Gnosticism, there were several such images rather than one only: a celestial dance, a search for a lost pearl, the donning of a robe of glory, a sacred marriage, etc., all of which relate to the attainment of a direct experience with transcendental reality. The fictional dominant image tends to be a quest by an orphan -- to return home to Kansas, to destroy the Ring of Power, or to discover his own identity and nature as a Wizard.
It is noteworthy that these dominant images of the various archetypal codes are not just static icons. All of them involve action on the part of any decoder of their message. Thus Gnostics did a ritual dance, they went on a metaphorical search for the Pearl of Great Price, they clothed themselves in the Robe of Glory, or they sang a wedding song for the marriage of their lower and higher selves. Alchemists spent long hours in their laboratories experimenting with mineral and vegetable substances as analogues of the substances needed to produce the Philosophers' Stone, and in the process, they became themselves the alembic from which modern chemistry and medicine were distilled. Kabbalists explored all thirty-two paths on the Tree of Life in all four of the worlds in which the tree was said to grow. Freemasons set out to build a new Temple on the model of Solomon's, but a temple "not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5.1), a Temple of humanity, fit to be the dwelling place of the Divine. Dorothy Gale, Frodo Baggins, and Harry Potter all traveled "there and back again" seeking the object of their quest.
Returning to the opening remark of this paper, about Dan Brown's novel THE DA VINCI CODE and the movie based on it -- whether you like that story or dislike it, find it fascinating or boring, believe it to be based on history or to be fiction masquerading as fact -- THE DA VINCI CODE is definitely not an archetypal code. Archetypal codes have no known authorship; even the literary examples, whose book-authors are well known, use traditional archetypal symbols of primordial origin. But all those archetypal codes embody great insight and wisdom. They are about humanity at its deepest level, a level where human concerns merge with cosmic concerns. They are not stories about mysteries; they are Mystery myths. That is, all archetypal codes have the same subject as do the ancient mysteries of Eleusis, of Orpheus, of Isis, of Mithra: they are about humanity and the cosmos, about life and death and transformation.