THE CHANGING FACE OF THEOSOPHY
And other Articles
Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras 20, India
document consists of reprints of articles contributed by Dr. L. J. Bendit.
The Changing Face of Theosophy and
The Mysteries Today appeared first in The Theosophist, and
The Need for Scepticism, in The Theosophical Journal.
The Publishers express their thanks to these journals for permission to reprint the articles.
The Changing Face of Theosophy
SINCE the beginning, man has never been left without the means by which he might discover the laws of his own life and of the universe in which he lives. Despite the somewhat supercilious beliefs of modern anthropology and other branches of science, stating that it was only step by step and painfully that he evolved a philosophy of life and discovered how the world behaves, this knowledge has always been available to the serious seeker; and, indeed, it goes far deeper and is much more detailed than anything which modern science has yet discovered. Sages, Rishis, wise men whose consciousness was ahead of the average run of humanity, have always stood behind the crowd as rulers and teachers, ready to show the way to the Mysteries; but what they knew was made public only in cryptic form. Knowledge, passed on by world of mouth from one disciple to another, was supplemented by myth and scripture, symbol and allegory, depicted in graphic form in buildings and statuary containing a key for the one who really meant to unlock the door. But it was only towards the end of the nineteenth century that something like a direct, factual and explicit exposition of the secret doctrines was published in a form available to all. Obscure and difficult as the text of such books as The Secret Doctrine still is, it nevertheless represents a considerable step forward in giving hoi polloi material hitherto kept hidden. That the true Secret remains secret still, despite all that is revealed, does not minimize the importance of what is given out. It seems today, some eighty years later, that this was only a beginning. It was written in one human era, in the language of the times now past, and its value is that it serves as a bridge between the two eras—separated by two major wars and the vast expansion of knowledge both theoretical and practical which came with them. It also serves to link the inner world of wisdom with the outer one of knowledge.
Times, however, alter the climate in which serious study takes place. And in the last decades this has been marked by a subtle yet far-reaching change in the way in which intelligent man tries to tackle the problems of life. Gone is the dogmatism and certainly of the kind of science which replaced equally dogmatic and equally materialistic religion at the beginning of the century. Uncertainty, probability, indeterminacy—in short, movement—prevails today in the scientific field, while the manner in which we look at ideas put before us has been categorically changed by discoveries made about the very instrument which knows, the mind itself.
It is worth looking at the factors which have brought about the revaluation of doctrines and ideas put forward even as recently as the end of the last century and the beginning of this one. For recent discoveries about the human mind mean that a good number of ideas, previously accepted at face value, and as stated, demand a fresh appraised in the light of modern knowledge. This in no way implies that the basic truths are in the way in which they are both presented and thought of has been subjected to the mutability of time: the Perennial Wisdom, which is not so much ancient, but of all time, remains, yet its outer face changes with the times. This has always been the case, as civilization succeeded to civilization, and keeping pace with the technological and scientific revolution, there has also been a revolution in our ideas about the very source of that revolution, which is the mind of man.
The main things which affect our thinking today can be listed under a few main heads. First is the realization of the richness of the inner mind even of ignorant and uneducated man. Second is the vastness and power of the unconscious field, and of the kâmic or desire aspect of man, particularly in this field. Thirdly there is our knowledge of the dramatic power of the mind, and of its power to project its contents into and onto the world around it. Fourth comes a realization of the importance of the immediate present, the “here” and “now” as against the past, the future or the yonder. A combination of these leads to a very different world picture or Weltanschauung from that derived from the belief that facts were facts for ever true and things were as they appeared to be to a fully conscious and hence controlled mentality. It is this which must, sooner or later, force us to rethink our theosophical philosophy, if we wish it to become something more than merely another ideology or religious creed among many: in other words, to bring out the wisdom which lies behind the knowledge in what we call Theosophy.
It was C. G. Jung who, following William James, brought to our notice the existence of the vast storehouse of true wisdom in the mind. James took religion seriously: an unfashionable thing when he wrote his Varieties of Religious Experience. He realized that he was not dealing merely with the vapourings of diseased mind, but with a force which could transform the individual. Jung, however, entirely empirically, discovered that there were levels of the unconscious mind where principles and ideas were expressed in a form which completely overlapped onto that of myth and its symbolism.
Myth has ever been the basis of religious and spiritual expression, sometimes passed on in the form of a tale, sometimes acted out in great rituals, as in some of the western Mystery schools. It has the quality of universality and is beyond the reach of time. True, new myths arise, the old ones sometimes receding into the background, according to the needs of the times and to what is taking place in the depths of the collective mind; but, however new the form, its roots—if it is a valid myth—lie deep within, the formal expression being some aspect of archetypal, enduring principles which do not themselves alter as time goes on. Dr. Besant realized something of this, when she told us that myth contained far more of the truth than mere history. Jung elaborated this theme when he showed us how the whole past and future of man was to be found in the language of the mythology on which every Scripture is based, even at the expense of actual historical fact.
He showed us, too, that a historical event often became the focal point of a particular mythological expression, the history gradually becoming lost in the myth, as in the case of the historical as against the universal Jesus-Christ story. The weaving of myth round such an event denotes a mental and spiritual need belonging to the times in which it becomes formulated. Such a scientific absurdity as the recent dogma of the physical assumption of Mary, the mother of Jesus (one may well ask: where is that body now?) becomes live and intelligible when seen as myth. In this case, it shows a certain inner need to give the feminine or yin aspect of life, a position of as much validity as the masculine or yang, represented by the figure of Jesus: a thing also expressing itself more materially in the feminist movements of the century.
This detail in the mythical—i.e, spiritual evolutionary—history of mankind is relevant in that it indicates, on one aspect, the turning away from the supposed superiority of the masculine which has overshadowed—and in a certain sense bedevilled—Christian times. But as far as we can be judged yet, the change is not the swing of a pendulum from one extreme to the other, putting woman above man, so much as a realization of the need to balance and integrate the two. And since, in general terms , the feminine or yin side of the human mind stands for the range of feeling which runs from passional animal instinct to the highest spiritual, intuitive appraisal of life, and the masculine (yang) for the outward-turned, active and logical function, it suggests that the present movement stands for a combination of the two into a new synthesis where logic and common sense blend into inward, non-logical, more-than-commonsensical understanding. It seems as if the principle known as manas, pure, unconditioned mind, were being sought as the central point of that integration so that logic and hard fact, and a feeling for value and meaning together would be the focus from which consciousness were in future to work. In other words, this suggests that artist and scientist, intuitive and thinker, mystic and occultist, rationalist and believer will no longer stand as rivals but tend to be blended in the person who is seeking for Truth: in other words, a Theosophist in the real sense of that word.
There is, however, another side of this realization of the place of myth, which is that, however much may be expressed in every ancient scripture, however many stories are told, whether in the Bible or the Gitâ or in any other writing of that kind, none of these is essential to understanding. Every man is capable, during the process of integration and evolution, of producing myth from inside himself. It thus struck Jung that comparatively ignorant Swiss people, at a certain stage, began to dream and envision dramatic episodes which coincided very closely with the then untranslated Chinese scripture, The Secret of the Golden Flower. This was only the first glimpse of something which has since been found to be no unique phenomenon, but a general power of the mind. One can say, then, that man evolves his own religion and spiritual truth from within himself at least as much as he has it presented to him if he studies ancient books and lore.
This raises once more the ancient puzzle as to which of two related things came first, in this case, the man or the written or spoken myth: a riddle impossible of solution by any simple answer and, in any case, of comparatively little importance in the practical search for enlightenment. For, from whatever source a myth comes to make its impact on the conscious mind, it brings into the field of awareness something of the deeper forces which flow through it. That is, since those forces belong to the more-than-personal, spiritual aspects of men, contact with myth in any way affects the mind of the one who perceives it.
These forces are always potentially forward-moving and integrative, helpful to man’s spiritual progress, but—Nature having in itself neither good nor evil as man has devised them—they can equally well be turned to destructive ends if not properly understood and handled by the conscious mind. They need to be controlled by Will—which plays into the mind through the conscious part of it—supported and directed by understanding.
It should be added here that the concept “myth” is capable of extension into many fields where it does not normally apply. Any system of symbology which derives from archetypal sources has the quality of myth, so that we have not only stories but hymns and poems, works of art, such mathematical systems as are called “higher,” as well as much more simple ones like the mathematics and relationships of the Platonic solids (about which one person who had no conscious idea of the mathematical side exclaimed, “But this is a perfect expression of music!”) and even so trite a subject as Euclidian geometry (the 47th Proposition of which, that relating to the squares on the hypotenuse and on the sides of a right-angled triangle, occurring in a dream, showed the dreamer that here was a complete glyph of the physical world). We have as well as symbols in alchemy, ceremonial magic (every true ceremony being a dramatization of myth, acted out), and so on.
This long discussion may seem irrelevant to the study of matters theosophical in a smaller sense. But in fact it is perhaps the most important factor in bringing one towards a deeper understanding of the teachings put before us. Not only does it show us how much can emerge from within the mind itself, it also tells us how to look at diagrams, how to read books, how to try to understand speakers, not through their words but by penetrating behind the outer forms, into the rich world of the Real which should be the background to anything with spiritual validity.
It also tells us that we are entering a new period of mental growth, creating a new mental climate. This is bound to affect our attitude, however individualistic and independent we try to be, towards things read, expressed in any outward form, both now and in the past and in time to come. For a major difficulty may arise when we consider what have now become the earlier of classical teachings put forward in theosophical books. If we take them entirely at face value, we regress into a state of mind which tends to crystallize, formalize and to give permanent value to a form: to create a creed and a catechism, embalming what should be living and dynamic truths. At the same time, however, to reject these older statements is to throw out the soul with the body without harvesting the truth which that body had enshrined while it was still alive and contemporary. What is needed is intuitive ability, combined with rationality and logic, to extract the archetypal, mythical values in the tritest of expressions; or, alternatively, to realize the meretriciousness of those which, however flowery and outwardly attractive, have failed to penetrate the arcana of the world of the Real.
The second of the factors mentioned earlier is easier to understand. It is, however, just as important, in that it warns us of the dangers of the unconscious desires which so often motivate our thoughts and actions.
This unconscious can operate from two different levels. One, the “superior” affects us at times by making us do things which we do not understand, but which are nevertheless in line with the deeper purposes of our lives. It is true that we are often “guided” from within by transcendental powers emanating from our deeper selves. Many people have seen this and realized the need to obey the inner command, but many others distort the intuition of the same thing by a form of self-surrender to forces which arise not from the super-conscious field, but from the more or less subconscious region of Kâma, instinct of “desire”.
The first are healthy energies, and, as we go on, we can often learn to see how a spontaneous, and seemingly irrational act, may have been the first step in a highly progressive stage of life. But the other is apt to lead us into a morass of confusion and self-deception, in which what is and what one would like to be become inextricably mixed.
The colloquial phrase, “wishful thinking” expresses the situation very well. Often, the wish is conscious and accepted, and so rendered less insidious than when it is not realized. More dangerous is it when it represents some unacceptable aspect of the individual, such as sex to the frustrated, hatred to the would-be Christian, envy or malice to the one who thinks of himself as a lover of his kind. For then it goes underground, and emerges in distorted forms such as are well known to the student of psychology.
If the emotional charge is strong, the third fact or comes into operation, and the contents of the mind become projected out of its immediate field onto the world around. In this way, a person with a sense of guilt feels himself constantly being watched, spied on, perhaps persecuted; one who feels himself “impure” sees obscenity everywhere; while, in the converse direction, the loving person finds everything lovable, the artists sees beauty in the most squalid; and the devotee sees God in all that he perceives. In other words, emotion colours the whole world. The perceiving mind sees its surroundings through its feelings, and evaluates it in terms of these.
We now come to a process less well understood, yet known both to orthodox psychologists and to clairvoyants who have achieved at least some measure of accuracy. That is what is technically known as the creation of eidetic images. The word “eidetic” derives from the same root as “idol” or the making of “graven images” which are worshipped at the expense of the truth which they embody. It is well known that a thought creates in the mind a form, an image of that which is thought of. Most of these forms are transient, but when a person thinks constantly of a particular situation or object, the form tends to persist or to re-form with increasing ease, gaining strength and definition as times goes on. Thus habits are created.
If, however, the thought is sufficiently highly charged with feeling, it tends to become isolated, detaching itself from the main body of the mind and acquiring a certain independent life of its own. Novelists often tell of how the characters they have created seem to take charge of the story and play it out without the conscious direction of themselves. Pirandello’s famous play, Five Characters in Search of an Author is a dramatized version of this process, turned back on itself by somebody who evidently realized what takes place, and is, with the peculiar twist which makes it interesting, entirely true to life.
From the point of view of the student of Theosophy, the principle applies in two directions. When the idealistic individual turns his back on “the world” he is also often apt to repudiate those sides of himself he thinks are shameful. He “controls his thoughts,” “purifies his emotions”—or so he thinks—not in any true sense, but by repressing them and refusing to allow himself to be aware of them. So they are never consciously faced and dealt with. The personality which he is told to “kill out” is buried, but remains a very live corpse, the “self” of which he is told to rid himself remains very active, but, being denied direct outlet, resorts to subterfuge and is highly ingenious in getting back to the centre of the stage from which “higher” impulses believe they have ousted it.
In any case, the gradual effect of thus trying to split the personality and repudiating part of it, is that thought-images sometimes become detached and disowned by their creator. So when he does perceive them he thinks himself to be faced with some independent “elemental,” “black magician,” or other enemy of what he wishes in his conscious mind to be.
This, the negative aspect of eidetic imagery, has been put first because it is comparatively easy to see the mechanics of it. There is also another side to the process which is both more difficult and yet just as potentially dangerous, where the image is not that of an enemy but of a spiritual superior: the Buddha, the Christ, a Master, a Deva of a high order.
These are, evidently, highly acceptable to the student and yet they stand in the same relation to him as the negative, rejected ones. That is, they behave as if they were external and independent entities. One reason for their not being known as aspects of oneself may even be true humility: how can a humble aspirant create an image of so great a Being out of himself? It must surely be a visitant from the heavenly spheres who has deigned to show Himself to the disciple, honouring him in so doing.
We have here a somewhat complex situation, basic to which is the devotion of the student. For there is no doubt that great spiritual Beings, such as the Buddha, the Christ, Masters, Saints, or great Devas actually exist in their own right and that They may actually be perceived by human beings. But this human being must somehow have learned to tune himself in to Them by constant thought and whatever form of meditation or prayer he used. So he creates an image of his Guru out of his own mind and apart from the Being Himself, filling it with his own feelings.
Were these feelings entirely impersonal, the thought-form created would be an exact replica of the Teacher Himself, but this is rarely the case: the desires of the personal self, and hence a distortion due to “wishful thinking,” enters into process, so that when the eidetic image is perceived in dream or clairvoyant vision, it is only partly “true,” and any communication between the percipient and the image will be inspired by his personal desires. The sense of being honoured by the vision in itself shows that the personal ego is involved and receiving a flattering boost.
This, however, is not the whole of the matter, for the majority of average but sincere and devoted theosophical students bring into the aspirations something of the genuine, spiritual quality which is that of the Teacher Himself. Indeed, it might be said that what makes a Master or a Buddha what He is is that he is an incarnation, an avatâra, of a spiritual or archetypal principle, so that if one were to find oneself in the presence of such a Person one would be meeting the archetype itself, unveiled by personal elements.
It follows from this that an eidetic image of a Master will bring into play as much of the true, archetypal spiritual quality as it is capable of containing. This, as always, gives it a quality of life which calls forth all the devotion of the disciple—without, however, eliminating the “wishful thinking” which is still his. Indeed, the spiritual influx is so powerful that it tends to add to and inflate the personal element. Thus whatever the Master “says,” and however much distorted by the percipient, acquires an authority which seems absolute, however trite or trivial the actual words, and however much they take on the form which the wishes and preconceptions of the perceiving mind would like. The net result is that entirely unconscious self-deception arises, not only when people are neurotically guilty or feel themselves polluted, but equally when they are sincere, genuine, aspirants to a deeper form of life.
The fourth and last factor is one which is a corrective for all that has been described before. It shows by a subtle and gradual change in the attitude of modern thinkers towards the problem of history on the one hand, of anticipation and hope or fear of the future, on the other. The same idea has been current for millennia in Taoism, Zen, the School of Dhyâni Buddhism; and, indeed, in Christianity, where the Teacher told people to “Let the morrow take care of itself: sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (the word evil being probably mistranslation of something subtler and deeper), as also to “Let the dead bury the dead” while the living get on with living. Today the language is in terms of time, and is very simply described. For the usual and primitive instinctive attitude towards time has been to think of the past and, more or less unconsciously, to reflect the past into the future:
The modern intuition, however, is to think of the immediate moment as the dynamic centre of life. It is not merely the junction of past and future, but the point at which past and future can be resolved and (absurd as this seems with regard to the past) completely changed. But one has to discover how to do this if one is to live effectively, and that is the great difficulty since it is not a thing which can be learned from books or teachers except indirectly.
However far short we may fall of achieving the power of living in the immediate instant, we can, however, start on the process by discovering where we fail to do so, and by seeing how much we are entangled in mental habit and feeling patterns: how much our personal ego is identified and involved in any situation. Then we can gradually free ourselves from the automatic habit of doing this. The process is through self-discovery and self-awareness, by becoming increasingly conscious of what one is doing and how one is reacting. This, indeed, is the modern yoga for the western mind. It differs from the purpose of all other systems of yoga only in its emphasis and its simplicity. It involves a certain training and technique, just as the yoga schools do, but, also, as in all the genuine ones, it is realized that there comes a point where the technique itself becomes a fetter and has to be dropped before the last step is taken.
We have, then, of late years, discovered a great deal which is of value to our aspirations toward enlightenment. Much that was held sacrosanct is seen to need reassessment and reconsideration, but much also is left to us. We have before us principles which can help us to bring out the truth from the outer forms when truth is there, but we see also the need to carve off the superfluous excrescences which veil that truth. The process is similar to that of carving a statue out of a block of wood or stone, or of washing away the grit in which the gold dust its embedded. The modern way is open, though it needs discrimination to discover which is the true road, which the blind alley.
It may now be useful to look at a number of ideas current in theosophical circles, and see how the above principles apply. In all cases, where these ideas have been set forth at length, it is of prime importance to understand the probable bias of the writer or speaker. This results from his past experience, whether in this life or an earlier one. A person brought up as a Hindu, an orthodox Christian, or in the tyranny of Victorian morality rarely, if ever, becomes clear of his early conditioning. Antagonism to Catholicism may stem from being once a victim of the Inquisition. A mind which leans towards Chinese, Greek or Indian philosophy, may reflect its past experience in its tastes.
At the same time, vigorous prejudice against a thing, be it capitalism, orthodoxy and conventionality, or any other bête noire represents the reverse side of the same conditioning which in another causes conservatism of thought and feeling.
In the same category comes the fear or hatred of communism or (at one time at least, when Social Credit was in fashion) of bankers, of Jews and Negroes or any of the other ‘enemies of society’. It stems from projection of one’s shadow side onto the community, finding in it a scapegoat for one’s own sense of guilt and wrongness.
It is easy enough in many cases to realize the bias of others. But it has also to be remembered that the student is little different from his fellows. Hence, he has his kinks and prejudices, and so distorts his own vision. But, while he can do nothing for others, he can do a great deal for himself. As he looks at himself starkly and honestly, and discovers his emotional reactions for or against a matter or a person, he can teach himself to eliminate this personal bias and slowly learn to see things truly and objectively. Self-awareness is the great cure for self-deception, here as in all other aspects of life.
Revealed Truth, Messages from Masters, etc. Of late years such things as messages supposedly from high spiritual sources have not been circulated within the Movement, but there was a time when they were very current. Nowadays others have started movements which virtually depend on the link of a mediumistic individual with what he believes to be a Master, a great Being from outer space, etc.
It would be foolish to repudiate the gamut of these communications as a whole, but the same examination of them will serve all through. One needs to consider the individual through whom these things are put out: what kind of man is the channel, how much does he stand to benefit either financially or otherwise, how much of an egotist, overt or covert, is he? And so on.
Then, realizing that a very imperfect human being may yet serve as the vessel for something worth while, one needs to consider the messages themselves. If the idea of any high spiritual authority as their source is eliminated, do they really say anything which has not already been said many times? Is it sensational “information” about celestial spheres? And so on. In other words, is there any real value in them?
It can be safely said that, taking the large majority, there is nothing of particular interest or value in them. They are either general in their approach to ethics and morals, giving good advice to the reader, they sometimes flatter (“You are called to this work”), there are promises for the future development of a Mystery School or a world religion, and they sometimes use the chance of the writer disclaiming authorship in favour of supposedly higher being—human, angelic, earthly or from outer space—to criticize an individual or group in a way an ordinary person would usually not dare to do.
Apart from these, we have statements of occult cosmogony and anthropogenesis which, if they are not direct paraphrases of H.P. BLAVATSKY’s The Secret Doctrine and other books, taken without acknowledgement to the latter, and others which, resting on the background of her statements, embroider this background with supposedly inspired information about occult matters.
How is the student to judge? Only intuitively, and after he has scanned his own mind to try and detect where his feelings and his personal egotism may incline him either to acceptance or rejection.
Clairvoyant Investigations. These have played a large part in the post-Blavatskian period of the Theosophical Movement. In some people they rouse awe and wonder, hence perhaps credulity, in others the very reverse.
In some cases, moreover, the investigation confirms contemporary science and knowledge, in others it does not. In some instances, as science progresses, it finds that certain researches were based on a scientific system later proved false; hence that at least in some aspects the investigator was not objective, but was influenced by contemporary ideas: though the deeper aspects of his work, beyond the reach of science, may be entirely sound.
It is a serious mistake here not to accept the fallibility of the investigator, however honest he is. His personal bias invariably influences his vision, which is why a deva or angel is seen with a human face, rather than as a weaving vortex of forces, directed by intelligence, as a few of the more objective “psychics” see them. The face is projected out of the seer’s mind because he finds it difficult to think of intelligence otherwise than in a quasi-human being. In the same way he humanizes elemental or transient fairy forms out of his own mind, thinks of the “men” of other planets in terms similar to those of the earth human, and so on.
In short, the seer often perceives things as he would like them to be, without being aware of the distortion he introduces into the picture, nor of how much he accepts of suggestion, direct or indirect, from others. Of course, things may actually be, at times, precisely as the clairvoyant describes them as it would be unwise to cast doubt on them too quickly. But there are some matters where vision becomes symbolic rather than describing an object or situation as it is. Here we enter not only the religion of dream, but also that of the mythological and archetypal.
This region lies “beyond” or “above” or “deeper than” that of ordinary clairvoyance but the latter imperceptibly fades into this realm as matters under study become more and more of a transcendental and spiritual order. To express what is perceived, words have to be used and, as we have seen, words are inadequate to convey it. But words woven into a tapestry by the function of dramatization which enables us to tell the story of a myth bring with them some measure at least of the quality of the transcendental experience.
Indeed, in a more general context it is the conveyance of archetypal or transcendental ideas in any form which makes the difference between a work of art and the commonplace, emotional or sentimental things which are often taken for art. The power to imagine is the source of all such creation, but in the case of the artist, the spiritually awakened speaker, writer, creator in any sphere, this imagination penetrates into the higher realms of being and serves as the shaper of what is eventually made objective in the physical world as a work of true art and of spiritual worth.
In other words, both vision and imagination can take us out of the mundane, into some degree of realization of the transcendental; and the higher they rise, the more they come close to one another and, indeed, sometimes become indistinguishable.
Thus some aspects of clairvoyant investigation and research may be anything but factual in the ordinary material sense. They are expressed through the imaginative channel in symbolic form but, because of there being a real link between the outer form and the inner reality, they lose none of their spiritual impact, and they tell us of truths which belong to the world of the spirit. This, however, can only happen fully when wishful thinking, prejudice, mental conditioning, are reduced to nothing, or as near to it as human beings can come.
To make this clear, let us consider four books or sets of writing which it may at first sight shock the reader to see put together. I refer to the legend of the emergence of Man in Genesis I ; Nietzsche’s Zarathustra; Tolkien's Lord of the Rings; and C. W. Leadbeater’s and Annie Besant’s Man: Whence, How and Whither.
Genesis is pure myth and contains in rich abundance a summary of how Man became what he still is. The absurdity of the literal historical interpretation of the story need not be stressed, but as myth it opens the door to deep mystery teachings. Tolkien's fantastic story, even though not to everybody’s taste, has had a wide vogue because it seems somehow to touch a level deeper than that of mere storytelling: it is a myth, even if a very small and personal myth, far from being as wide and deep as Shakespeare's plays. Zarathustra, the product of a diseased mind and body, yet, drives straight through the fog of disease and affects the reader at levels far beyond the purely personal: it too has an archetypal touch.
What then of Man: Whence, How and Whither, which is put forward by the writers, humbly and without claiming authority, as supposedly the result of exploration of past and future by means of what we would now call extrasensory perception? There are two possible views, one that we have here an extension of man’s physical history far beyond the bounds of ordinary knowledge, both backward and forward in time, giving actual facts and events as they occurred or will occur. The other extreme view is to see the whole book in terms of “fiction”: an imaginative production with no basis in historical fact. But, if so, it is the result of the work of minds with an imagination far beyond the normal and which, to many people, brings through the book an impact of the Real even though there may be no time-history basis for what is told. In other words, it would then have the reality-quality of myth just as much as the passages in Genesis, and much more extended in form.
I am expressing no opinion either way on this book, nor on the older ones of H.P. Blavatsky, which may be held to be in the same category. In both these cases the personal idiosyncrasies of the writers are very apparent: but whether or not they affect the reality element in the writings each one must judge for himself, as well as what kind of reality it is, whether of history in the ordinary sense, or of myth. In either case, it may release some element of intuitive understanding in the reader, and that is what counts. It does not matter how we discover truth, whether through fact or “fancy,” provided we discover it.
Occultism. Theosophical study is almost universally coupled with occultism in the minds of most people. There is no real need for this. The early Theosophists—the Neo-Platonists, and others—were perhaps more mystical than practitioners of occultism, more concerned with intuitive experience than with laws and facts.
The word “occult” merely means “hidden,” and a penny which has rolled out of sight under a bed is every bit as “occult” as the highest gods. But when used in theosophical circles it has the connotation of the things hidden being on non-physical, psychic or spiritual levels.
Occultism, hence, is “the science of things hid”. In practice, it involves two main factors: ideas on the one hand, and a way of life on the other. The theosophical philosophy gives us the ideas, the “devotional” books tell us of the ethical and moral code of behaviour expected of the student of occultism if he wishes to find the light.
If one takes the ideological side in a wide sense, it covers everything from the most trite and trivial superficialities to the deepest of cosmogonic or anthropogenetic principles. Hence “occultism” can be anything from quite misleading or catering for the seeker of sensation and excitement to the other extreme of pointing directly at Truth.
In the practice of living, rules of conduct, diet, hygiene, etc. are laid down, often dogmatically and stated to be sine qua non for the disciple. This is a dubious proposition when it comes to such a matter as diet when one considers both historical and geographical conditions. For, if the rules were absolute, it would be tantamount to denying certain places and certain epochs in history the possibility of having had truly spiritual people there. It is likely that these rules, sound enough in general terms, as ideals, are much more elastic in daily life, provided the student does his best with them.
One of the great mistakes which the beginner, at least, is apt to make, is to believe that he can change and purify his mind from the physical end. It can safely be stated that the purest of diets never changed a person’s character. What it can do, however, is to alter the amount and quality of what emerges into physical consciousness out of that mind, so that less anger or less anxiety, and more of the deeper awareness shows through into physical consciousness. But the result will depend on what is already in the mind, which remains the same until individual will and understanding are brought to bear on its problems. To become vegetarian and expect thereby to find Truth is to be on a par with the Hatha yogi who believes that by controlling and exercising his body he will find Moksha or liberation.
A further modification in our views is when we are told to “control” emotions or thoughts, to refuse them admittance, and so on. We know now that these thoughts do not demand to be admitted: they are there already, and remain in the mental field until dealt with. At best the student may refuse them a place in consciousness, but they will stay in the unconscious mind until he does deliberately bring them before his conscious eye and finds out how to handle them. He inevitably has to learn to deal with what depth psychology calls the Shadow, and occultists sometimes name the Dweller on the Threshold, not by repression but by transformation.
In the same way, the sound advice to become unselfish, to eliminate all thought of oneself, can only be put into force as one discovers the endless shifts and tricks which the personal self plays on one. Even the devotion of a pupil to his Master may be merely a form of vanity, giving his personal self a fillip and establishing it more firmly than ever in the saddle.
It is here that all that is said about initiation, pupilship, etc. can be one of the many snares of which the occultist is repeatedly warned. For, while it may be said to encourage a student to be told that he has taken a certain step, if he feels the least pride in this (assuming it to be genuine) he automatically erects around himself a barrier to further progress. On the other hand, the person who is simply not interested in occult ranking, his own or another person’s, may be much nearer to his heart’s desire than the enthusiast blinded by his own egotism.
These traps are endless for the individual student. But when a group of like-minded people come together in an “occult centre” or community, there is even more danger, for group dynamics come into play. The average student is likely to be at once more deeply in touch with inner reality than the man-in-the-street, but he is also much like him in his human failings. And the law that “Where two or three are gathered together” there is a plus in the collective aura, is true both ways. In other words, in a community both the positive and the negative qualities are emphasized, and, while a quasi-monastic community may indeed be a source of inspiration in the world, it also readily becomes a place where egotism, malice, envy, are apt to get out of hand when things go wrong. In any case, if a group contains the slightest hint of feeling superior to, or more exalted than others, the same thing happens as in the case of the individual. A wall is built which sterilizes even that which is good in the work of the group. The community becomes a prison, not a shining centre of force.
Obsession and Possession. It is worth considering this matter as a sequel to that of occultism, and in the light of modern knowledge, if only because of the endless harm done by well-meaning people to those who think themselves the victims of “black magic” or hypnotism from afar.
The traditional view that actual “black magicians” exist in their own right is logical if we accept the principle that there are also “white” Elders among the denizens of Earth. One pole cannot exist without its opposite. But the role of the “blacks” is very much exaggerated and misunderstood.
In any case, there is a saying that “no harm can touch the pure in heart” which, in psychological terms, tells us that it is only when an individual has that in him which responds and re-echoes to “evil” that anything can affect him. It is the same here as in the other direction, where nobody can receive into himself more spirituality than he has room for: if he is no way “spiritual” in his orientation, he deprives himself of what would be his by right if he were willing and ready.
The unfortunate individual who thinks himself to be under attack is, in every case, primarily a victim of his own shadow side. But he has projected this onto somebody else, probably some entirely innocent person who has no interest whatever in the sufferer and has never thought of him or her for years; whereas the “elemental” of which some people complain may be real enough, but is self-created and self-produced as an eidetic image which can only be destroyed by being faced, its nature realized, and by reabsorption into its creator.
It follows from this that for another person to encourage the victim in what is a false attitude to the problem is merely to strengthen his fixed mental habit. And exorcism or such practices enhances rather than cures, unless it is directed at the hope that the person obsessed will realize that he has to accept his responsibility for what is taking place, to “shut the door to his psyche” by dealing with that in himself which keeps it open, and so allows the evil to enter.
It may be added here that many such cases are so much split in their minds that the hope of any personality-level help is a forlorn one. Straight denial of the “Nonsense!” order is worse than useless, the only hope being to align oneself with the sick person in so far as one says: “ Yes, true. But what are you doing to let this thing happen to you? And what are you prepared to do about it for yourself?” At the same time, the idea should be held by the would-be helper that even if the personality is inaccessible directly, the spiritual Ego may perhaps be invoked to help “from above”.
I have here taken a very few headings of subjects to which the new knowledge of the mind can be applied, and suggested very sketchily how to use it. Many other important matters also call for the same kind of examination. The far-reaching one about life, death and reincarnation has been treated at length in The Mirror of Life and Death, while the work of the English Science Group of the Research Centre is constantly considering matters from the angle of the physical world, and finding new light when the “revealed” material is linked to what we now know. In no case is it suggested that a final answer is or ever will be found, since, as the mind develops, so should points of view also develop.
It should, moreover, be made clear that so to re-examine the subjects discussed in older books is in no way to diminish the value of those older teachings or of those who set them out. The times when they were written or spoken, as has already been said, were very different from those of today and it is, in fact, to add credit to what has been done to point out how without the verbal equipment, these older books pointed to the future so that we can still learn much from them. These teachings *[I should make it clear that the word “teachings” refers only to doctrines and ideas, and does not include any proclaimed statement about the position or occult rank of any individual whatever.] have become “classical” in the sense that they belong to another historical period but keep permanent value even in the up-heaved conditions of the present day.
On the other hand, if we fail to follow the wave of change in the deeper outlook of man, it is only too easy to make of the old teachings a system of crystallized ideas quite out of keeping with modern knowledge of the factual side of life, superficial as this may be.
Perhaps the best background from which to think is that given us by Paul Tillich. Tillich is certainly one of the leading thinkers of the day, and is variously described as a theologian, a psychologist of religion, a Protestant, an existentialist; and all of these titles apply. What he has to say about religion, and this includes any religiously based philosophy such as that of Theosophy, is highly important. He sees religion as being capable of division under two heads. First, there is that which defines true religion, which, in his view, is “concern for ultimates,” with all that implies in practice. The other, and lesser form of religion is that of an organized group, comparable with any other social group, political, sporting, artistic, and the rest. The religious group professes concern with ultimates and so differs from a political party, a financial or commercial association or a tennis club. Otherwise it tends to the same basic behaviour. It evolves rules, customs, rituals, a creed: forms which may be useful in practice, but which, in the case of a church, may only too easily replace the quest for ultimates, and so oust true Religion from what should be its predominant place.
Tillich puts it that when ultimate value is given to things which are not ultimate, the church becomes “demonized” and idolatrous. To give absolute or ultimate authority to a Pope, to exalt the ruler of a country to a quasi-divine position, to put articles of faith before inner experience, are all forms of this decadence. And, he goes on, the role of the Protestant (somebody suggested that the stress ought to be on the second, not the first syllable, indicating one who protests) is to try always to remind the members of his group of the true and ultimate purpose for which a church or Society such as the Theosophical exists.
Such is human nature that there is always a strong urge to fall into a state of formalized belief. The mind is entropic in much the same way as the rest of Nature, and automatically seeks the comfort of definite, fixed thought patterns, frozen into immobility. This is the tendency which has to be constantly fought by a vigilant reconsideration, time after time, of one’s views. It is much too easy to take things at face value, much more difficult to keep the mind flexible, moving, and constantly in the insecurity of trying to progress towards every deepening truth.
In the Theosophical Movement, as in other religious schools, there has been no exception to the general rule. The “Back to Blavatsky” movement, discarding anything since her times, or the tendency to exalt out “Leaders” into positions of authority which they themselves repudiated, is a sign of “demonization” in the Movement. With it comes the inevitable growth of a certain form of idolatry centering around both personalities and ideas. When this happens there is a corresponding loss of life and reality, which is reflected in lack of public interest and a falling membership in societies.
Modern knowledge of how the mind works, and of the ingenuity of the unconscious in constantly bringing the personal ego to the fore, provides us with the tools by which this process can be reversed. This does not occur merely by rejection of what has become an article in a creed, but by trying to discover the truth which lies behind that belief. This needs to be done with the same austerity and lack of sentimentality as that which the physicist uses about the physical universe. If we merely discard and reject, the “demonization” process takes place just as much as if we are credulous and personal. The idols are stood on their heads, but they remain idols.
As one student put it: “Theosophy is as wide as the great outdoors”: it cannot be confined in a form of teaching, and what “teachings” there are are wide open. Nothing in Theosophy is conclusive, for the word “conclusion” implies a shutting in; and the moment relative truth is enshrined, Theosophy disappears as completely as life vanishes from a dead body. On the other hand, “teachings,” however badly expressed, accepted as suggestions to be considered and mulled over in the quietness of the mind, often show a remarkable revivification because the mind of the student pours its own inner life into the old forms.
The motto of The Theosophical Society is: “There is no religion higher than Truth”; it should be that also of every member, whatever the personal cost in disillusionment, humiliation, insecurity of mind may come. Idolatry and spiritual death are the result of laziness of mind, of wishful thinking, of trying to preserve and enlarge that aspect of selfhood which derives from instinctive life. A really alert mind and “an unveiled spiritual perception” (to quote H.P. BLAVATSKY), can never become idolatrous, as it is forever tearing down the endless veils between itself and Truth. If we can realize the archetypes even in some degree, we are by that much nearer to this Truth. But to do so means using the mind in what is paradoxically, a constructive iconoclasm whereby we discover that the more we tear down, the more we have, the more we lose, the richer we become. Only so can we as individuals, and the group to which we may belong, live and go on living more and more deeply and with ever-widening awareness.
The Mysteries Today
Ever since man became man, there has at all times been a direct road between him, at whatever stage of consciousness he was, and the deepest spiritual levels of his being. He has always, in theory, been capable of treading that road as a result of his unaided efforts, but he has also had the help of a more or less explicit philosophy of the facts concerning the universe, himself, and the relation between the two. This is often referred to as the Mystery Tradition or Teaching and is a permanent heritage of mankind. Passed on in writing or by word of mouth, this perennial philosophy remains basically unchanged by time, but its expression has varied very markedly. Moreover, there seems always to have been a dual line of approach to the innermost. One of these was through meditation and contemplation and was subjective. The other, outward turned, gave rise to observances, rites, ceremonies carried out in action. The two were complementary and supplementary to each other..
In the West, Egypt and Greece stand out as two main civilizations in which the Tradition was organized into Mystery Schools each with its own rituals, each with its own symbolism and pomp. Some of the ceremonies were public, as were the great processions in Egypt and those between Eleusis and Athens. They still exist in the West in such things as the rites of the Roman and other churches which have public displays and festivals. Behind the outer shows, however, there lay esoteric ceremonies open only to initiates of the proper grade. Freemasonry, in our time, is a survival of these, adapted and modernized.
There are, however, a number of enthusiasts today who are anxious to revive the ancient Mysteries of Greece and Egypt in their old form. But, apart from the decadence which led to their being eventually outlawed in Rome, there is an important question as to whether this recall of the past is healthy and suitable. Would any success be a forward or a retrograde step in the search for deeper understanding and greater awareness of the meaning of life? This is the problem which prompts the reflections which—without claiming any authority other than my own thoughts—I want now to consider.
Greece, the most recent of the places where the Mysteries flourished on a great scale, lies over two thousand years behind us. Egypt goes much further still. In the interval, man in general has made vast strides, none more rapid and extensive than in the last two centuries. The mânasic (pure mental) principle has developed, hardened, become more positive than it ever was before in historical times. (If the myth of Atlantis is actually a fact, then it belongs not to history but to prehistory.) Modern man is, therefore, very different from his forebears. Hence, what will be useful to him in furthering his evolution is something very different from what was of use in the days when man was not so mânasic.
Ancient man (taking this to mean not the primitive but the civilized man of historic times) was collectively not intellectual and critical. He responded to feeling and intuition, he was much more “psychic” and sensitive, if only in a passive way, than his modern counterpart. But this was counterbalanced by a much closer and more direct link with people who were much in advance of the ordinary and whose function it was to guide, direct and rule from a standpoint of true spiritual eminence. We see today traces of this tradition in the place we, sometimes rather unwillingly, allow even today to crowned kings, to popes and bishops, as well as in the high-sounding titles—which once meant something—used for instance in Masonic bodies. It seems as if, in old days, there was a hierarchy in the Mysteries, which made an open and unbroken link between the deepest, innermost and most spiritual levels of life and the most mundane public festivals and religious rites open to hoi polloi. The highway between extremes was barred by gates of an initiatory nature which opened only to those who were ready to pass them, but nevertheless, it was well known that the Mystery path existed for all to follow if they would. The esoteric teaching and symbolism was the same from first to last. What changed was its interpretation, values, and in the understanding of the disciple.
Things are not the same today. If there are genuine Mystery Schools, they are hidden and arcane. There are, it is true, many bodies which claim to be Rosicrucian or to belong to some esoteric tradition, but all of those which make their claims public are spurious. Even if they use genuine old rituals derived from papyri or manuscripts, it is most questionable if they are in any way linked with the Temples to which the rituals belonged. Their position is as if, in the Catholic Christian churches, the Apostolic Succession which links the modern priest with the furthest origins of the Church were broken and not to be retrieved. Freemasonry seems to be the only genuinely descended semi-public organization, however emasculated its present-day forms. In any case, the average man today ignores, when he does not scorn, these bodies. And even the more studious usually fails to grasp the inwardness of what is presented to him in church, lodge or chapter.
In other words, it seems at first sight as if, with the disappearance of the true Mystery Schools, the Mysteries themselves had also died. But if we reconsider the matter, a different picture seems to emerge.
Manas, in every sphere of life, functions both as a link and a barrier between inner, spiritual consciousness and that of the personality. It is the focus of selfhood and of the field of self-conscious awareness. It acts as a barrier when it ousts intuition and confines consciousness below, or outside itself, in the form of material, pragmatic, detailed knowledge. It is a link when, the intellect being given its proper place, it opens the way to non-intellectual, more-than-rational experience such as that which transforms intellectualism into intelligence—a quality often lacking in the so-called scientific intellectual.
The duality of manas also shows in action when, at different times in human history, it swings between introversion and extroversion. We are now surfeited with the latter and its perilous technical achievements, and there is a marked tendency to turn inward and to seek out the meaning of things, no less scientifically, but in the subjective and not the objective field. The result is a tendency for the deepest intuitive thinkers to withdraw from ceremonies and rituals towards a more meditative, quietistic way of life. Otherwise said, it looks as if the modern Mysteries took place, not in outer ceremonies and rites, but in the rich inner world of the mind where myths and visions, lead to intuitive insights, satori, “Gestalts” which are in effect initiatory and transformative to the one who has them. True, some will take part in rituals and outer forms. But the emphasis nowadays lies more on the mythological, spiritual meaning embodied in them than on the forms themselves, for true and valid rituals are no more than the dramatic expression of myth and, when properly performed, bring with them from the archetypal, spiritual world, the powers which flow through that myth. The principal part of any rite, therefore, is now that which takes place within the mind, not outside it.
If this is so, it appears to contradict, or at least modify, some of the things which have been said about the “Seventh Ray,” often describing it as that of ceremonial. If this is indeed the “Ray” which is coming into prominence today, when the tendency is to do away with outer ritual, it seems as if its quality were really that of the mental orderliness of what we call Culture (including science) in its true sense. The “ceremonial” takes place as the mind becomes organized and ordered as a temple in which myth is played out and, as it is understood, enriches and enhances the spiritual understanding of the individual. This takes place in each one in an individual and unique way despite the common significance of any myth for all mankind. Conscious self-understanding is the dynamic quality which enables each person to tread the mythological ladder between heaven and earth. Man today, in contradistinction to man in ages past, is able to do things for himself and by himself which, in the past, required at least some help from wiser and senior spiritual teachers and gurus.
It looks as if the older ceremonial initiations at the hands of the high-priests and hierophants helped the weakly developed mânasic aspect of the disciple to overcome a gap in his make-up. His mind was not yet strong enough to do this for himself; and some wisely applied occult and magical lore was able to help him on his way. Yet even then it seems worth considering whether in the ultimate stages, when the disciple became in the full sense a member of what is known as the Great White Lodge, he did not have to take that step and initiate himself by his own unaided efforts. One can conceive of his progress as requiring less and less help from his teachers, as he comes closer and closer to the true and final event, when he stands on his own feet entirely and steps through the portal alone. The Initiation, when it comes, is the greatest of all Gestalts, a break through in consciousness into a sphere hitherto only seen through some degree of veiling but now entered in full conscious perception and awareness.
a view calls into question the exact nature of the ceremonial initiations described
in certain books. It suggests that they refer, not to the full Initiation, but
to something less, however near it may approach to the Reality. For this Reality
is something intimate, completely secret as far as any outer showing is concerned,
an opening of consciousness from within. And it is something which none can
confer on another, however exalted the giver may be. Nor can it be denied to
the one who is ready, since it is something he does for himself. It says in
the Book of Amos: “Unto him that overcometh will I give a white stone;
and in that stone a new name written, which none knoweth saving him that
receiveth it.” The Giver, in this case, is God: the human spirit,
the Ãtman. The “new name” is the keynote, the mantram
which expresses the man as reborn. The part italicized contains two significant
matters: that the individual feels the expansion in himself; the other, that
nobody in the outer world is held to be aware of what has taken place, and hence
cannot tell him that he has reached this or the other stage on the occult path.
It should be added here that sudden minor expansions of consciousness are frequent
occurrences in daily life. Sometimes, moreover, they are part of a destructive
process in the mind, a step towards unbalance and insanity, which is why so
many would-be occultists claim to have become high initiates when they have
in reality lost some of their balance and stability and, above all, humility.
For, as it has been said, the true Initiate “is as nothing in they eyes
of men,” and only the quality of his life and personality gives any key
to his stature.
One of the difficulties in making a real assessment of things today is that we are in a stage of transition between two human eras; and rapid movement inevitably leads to confusion. In the matter under discussion, the confusion has found expression of the descriptions of psycho-spiritual life, given as a result of psychic investigation. This is in no way to decry the value of these investigations. They were, after personal bias, often very strong, is discounted, a magnificent piece of pioneer work. Indeed, one may see them as laying a foundation for future research, using extrasensory perception as the means of discovery. But when most of this work was done, we had only a vague idea of the dynamic importance of myth—and its external expression in rituals. Dr. Besant tells us that myth is truer and deeper than historical accounts whether about the universe or about man. She did not, however, realize as we do today, the power of myth itself as a channel of redemptive forces within the human mind. It took the genius of C. G. Jung to bring out this aspect of the matter and to show us both how it operates and how to make constructive use of what it brings.
In the psychic investigations even of some very competent people it seems as if actual events, physical or psychic, and myth , had not been fully differentiated. Objective ceremonies and events may well take place in the psychic realm, but that realm is also the one where dreams and visions and the expression of myth originate. If we study some of the descriptions of such matters—and the Wesak, as described by C.W. Leadbeater is an example—it is quite clear that it contains a reference to symbols which belong to the mythological level and which are to be found not only in the occult tradition but also present themselves in the important dreams of the individual student of life. The question thus arises as to whether the ceremony described is one which actually occurs physically, or near-physically, or whether in fact Mr. Leadbeater did not, in the account of the Wesak, and elsewhere embody something very real but which took place only in the form of a symbolic dream.
As to this it would be foolish to dogmatize, and each one has to make his own judgment both about this and a great deal else. It is, however, a part of the whole question of the Mysteries today. Hence is one which is important to the Theosophical student who is not content to let others do his thinking for him. The latter may have been in order in olden days, before man had learned to think. It is today out of place—as much out of place as any revival of the Ancient Mysteries as such. Man has always needed the Mystery Tradition. He needs it today and he will need it tomorrow. It still exists; but unless we allow ourselves to be misled it has to be sought in the right place and in the right form. Manas, pure mind, is the key today and Truth has to be sought through but not in it. It no longer exists on the higher side of the mind considered from an evolutionary viewpoint. But by learning to use this mind properly we are led into the new world of intuition and direct apprehension of Reality which lives on the further side of it, and this is the realm of enlightened, personal intuitive knowledge.
This, it appears to me, are the Mysteries of today.
The Need for Scepticism
RECENTLY published material had brought into the open several questions which many of the more critical older members have long been considering. The newer members may wonder whether there is any point in reviving ancient history; but it has happened, and from it we may learn something which is today of as much importance as it should have been yesterday and as it will be tomorrow. That is, the need for very clear objectivity and discrimination, particularly where revelation of occult matters is concerned.
It is useful, taking the material under discussion, to see how major mistakes can arise, however sincere and honest people may be. We have it forced on us once again that what those we used to call “our Leaders” repeatedly told us (but we did not listen) is true: they were not infallible. They were, like ourselves, human, therefore imperfect. But, rather than consider what would be required for infallibility, it is perhaps more practical and useful if we look at the causes of the errors they—and we, in common with them —may make. For if we watch for the cause and understand its working, we are in a better position to judge both what we ourselves perceive, and what we hear from others.
Briefly, the source of error can be summed up in two headings: wishful thinking and the misuse of precedent in forecasting the future.
1. Wishful thinking. We may, if we care to, use the term “unconscious Kriyashakti” for the creation of mental images. The energy known as Kriyashakti can work from any level, through the feeling aspect of the mind. It can be in the octave known as Buddhi, when true creation of images based on what we would like to be told. Normally, the thought images remain within the field of the individual mind. But they can also, if powerful enough, become eidetic: that is, they become seemingly detached, figures existing in their own right, “idols” (the word eidetic stems from the same root) and hence appear to be entities, superhuman, human, or subhuman, “elemental” or devilish, which come before the conscious mind as if from outside and perhaps talk or act as if they were “real”. In all cases, however, they are in fact created by the one they come to: they are yourself or about something which deeply concerns yourself.
This is the safe way of looking at all such things, whether they are perceived directly by oneself or whether they “report back” indirectly through mediums, entities from outer space, on in any other way.
The cure? Deep self-knowledge which, if it does not eliminate the possibility of self-deception, at least shows us how it works, and hence enables us to discount it. But self-knowledge also helps us to realize that such seemingly eidetic and self-produced images may be in reality what they purport to be: a Master, a Teacher (other than the supreme teacher, our own inner selves), the soul of a dead person, an angel or an “elemental”. But if we know ourselves we can apply to them certain tests, chief of which perhaps is that no spiritual Being flatters our vanity any more than he talks down to us; while no “devil” or “black magician” can ever torment us unless we have something in us of the same evil quality he represents.
2. Precedent. Historical time moves on, and human consciousness changes. Hence, to expect history to repeat itself exactly is fatal, especially when it comes to such a thing as the Coming of a World Teacher or Avatar. The whole purpose of such an event is not to carry on an old tradition in its old form, but, on the contrary, in a sense to shock mankind into a new outlook. This inevitably makes the Teacher into a reformer and an iconoclast.
What little we know about Gautama and Jesus proves this. Gautama, the prince, threw up his royal future and became a wandering sannyâsi. Jesus, seemingly born at the other end of the social scale, upset the Jewish pundits, who had a ready-made scheme of behaviour for their Messiah. He refused to conform to it.
Why then expect any Coming today—if such was ever really intended—to follow a traditional line? And when we hear that it was said that “things went wrong,” is this not repeating the same argument as the Pharisees and Sadducees used over Jesus? Certainly, the recent forecast was not fulfilled. But might it not be the forecast which was wrong? That is a matter which cannot be judged today. In some centuries to come we may be in a better position to look back on present day events, perhaps to pick out an individual or individuals who originated a new step forward in human consciousness. Indeed, it might well prove that the plural, “individuals” is the more applicable, for we are said to be entering the Aquarian era, one of whose features is team or group work rather than separate individual achievement. It seems possible therefore that, however outstanding one or two people may be, the actual “Coming” is taking place, or will do so, in the form of a wide movement of intuitive thought occurring in many forms all over the world, in more or less pure and pristine form, but all with a common background. Thinkers, true scientists, philosophers who are not glamoured by words, artists—real ones—poets, musicians, theologians, psychologists may all be vessels of the new “Coming”: there are some whom one feels one can pick out as having an outlook which is new and belongs to the future rather than the past, while others, perhaps more famous in their sphere, clearly belong to the past and the present only. (Though this choosing may be as much a matter of wishful thinking on my part as the expectancy of a repetition of past events by others.
There is also another difficulty in using the past as a pattern for the present. It always happens that the Teacher becomes the nucleus of myth. We know practically nothing of the actual historical events in the physical life of Jesus, and perhaps the Gautama story may be just as unhistorical as his Successor’s. In any case, the history has minimum importance to the myth, for (as Dr. Besant said and modern psychologists realize) myth contains far deeper reality than history. It represents the timeless truth and the spiritual heritage of man, whereas history is of the earth and of events in the physical world. What makes the teachings of Gautama or Jesus live is that they belong to this high spiritual level, cast into a form suited to the state of mind of mankind at the time the Teacher lived. It was this more than anything else which differentiated them from the thousands of prophets and yogis who lived at the same time. They started a chain reaction which established a new religion, taking man a step further in evolution. It seems that this was not sufficiently thought of when certain prophesies were made, myth being taken as history, at the expense of the deeper truth.
How then can we be sure of anything? We cannot. We are in no position to be sure of anything except perhaps an inner sense of something which can never be expressed or named, even to ourselves. As to the things we read or hear or see, we can only try to judge as impersonally and as truly as we can, realizing always that we may, however hard we try, be deceiving ourselves. And if the great people who “led” us were liable to be carried away by their own wishful thinking, how much more likely is that to be the case with us?
This may seem to some to be a kind of nihilistic philosophy, which they are afraid to embrace because, they say, they would have nothing left. True enough! But if one once has the courage to question, to doubt, to shed one’s preconceptions, there comes after a while a beautiful sense of relief, of lightness, of freedom, which no fixed creed can give. In the words of one of the happy songs of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, one finds then that
“I have plenty of nothin”
And nothin’ is plenty for me.”
And this is a state of bliss where there is room for ever-increasing vision and of certainty acquired by and for oneself, where personalities come in only as co-workers, co-students, not as godlike beings who turn out to have, if not feet of clay, at least the human weakness of an Achilles’ heel.
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