LOOKING AT THE WORLD

by Radha Burnier

The Theosophist 1988

BUDDHISTS state that both Nirvâna, the state of freedom and blessedness, and Samsâra, the state of bondage and suffering, are both here in the present moment. When we look rightly (which means that we are in a certain kind of relationship with all that exists), there is joy and a sense of liberation. But if we cannot see rightly, if we see illusions, then there is suffering. To put it in another way, when we look at the world through the screen of egoism we experience Samsâra; when the mind is purged of egoism we experience Nirvâna. The world outside us is the same but the world we experience is different.

This brings us to the realization that the ‘world’ is not one thing; it is what thought makes of it. There are different worlds, so to speak, the world of nature, the world of sensation and so on, all of which thought converts according to its predilections.

Let us consider the world of nature, comprising all that is not created by man. Mr Krishnamurti made a distinction between reality and actuality. If we adopt this terminology, the world of nature is actuality because it is there. We cannot change or dissolve mountains or streams, trees or birds. They are not Mâyâ in the sense that they do not exist, but they are Mâyâ because we do not see what actually is, but only something else which is the ‘reality’ of our experience.

What is real to a person has often nothing to do with actuality. Someone finds a shadow frightening and it takes many forms; there are people who see ‘the dragon in the sky’. To us the ‘dragon’ is only clouds, but to them it is a dragon. So not only do clouds become dragons and shadows become robbers, but everything — the sky, the stream, or nature in general — takes on different appearances in our minds. Our reactions, emotions and thoughts are provoked by what we see, and we get into tangles. And we suffer because of the way we see the world.

Our former President, N. Sri Ram wrote:

Life is an extraordinary thing. But what is extraordinary in it we ignore, deny or suppress.

Now, let us take ‘we ignore’ first. Many people live in the midst of the wonders of nature. But how much of it do they see? Do they see the variety of plants, how they grow, what is extraordinary in them? Everywhere there is something extraordinary in nature.

The occultist is not a person who performs miracles or engages in strange rituals. He is one who sees what is hidden to other people. H.P.B writes in The Secret Doctrine:

Science teaches us that the living as well as the dead organisms of both man and animal are swarming with bacteria... But science has never yet gone so far as to assert with the Occult doctrine, that our bodies, as well as those of animals, plants, and stones, are themselves altogether built up of such beings; ... chemical science may well say that there is no difference between the matter which composes the ox, and that which forms man. But the Occult doctrine is far more explicit. It says: Not only the chemical compounds are the same, but the same infinitesimal invisible Lives compose the atoms of the bodies of the mountain and the daisy, of man and the ant, of the elephant and of the tree which shelters it from the sun. Each particle — whether you call it organic or inorganic — is a Life (I. 304-5)

In other words, life is throbbing in every particle; it is in dynamic movement everywhere; it is not inert. If it were, it would not be life. But there are more mysteries than that. All of life — every individual existence — is full of significance. All around us a mystery is being unfolded and a purpose is being worked out. A tree which we pass by, stones lying by the road, the ocean with its rolling waves—all this around us is not what our eyes see, but much more.

What do we mean by a Theosophist? A Theosophist is one whose actions embody a certain wisdom, which means that he must be in right relationship with the world. So he must be in right relationship with the world of nature. If he ignores it he is not in relationship with it at all; if he denies it and says it is all Mâyâ or illusory, he may destroy it or not care for it. By ignoring or denying it, he misses a relationship which can bring about goodness. So when a Theosophist looks at the world of nature he must see in such a way as to put himself in communion, not merely with the outer aspects — the beauties of nature — but with the creative force which is performing a kind of a miracle everywhere, every moment, all the time. To look at nature is an art; to be related to it rightly is a form of religious communion. Reading Wordsworth or anyone else who had a profound relationship with nature, we see to what sublime levels the consciousness can mount and what it can experience.

Generally when we say ‘world’ we think about what the Russians and the Americans are doing, the latest disaster which took place or the increasing corruption. That is the world, no doubt. But it is not the entirety of the world, for as well as the world of nature there is a whole world of objects which man manufactures or constructs. This world is becoming more and more prominent in people’s lives. Many people’s minds are almost all the time occupied with objects. In fact, they replace the world of actuality that we spoke about. For instance, a paper flower may become more attractive than a real flower on a plant, or a painted picture may be more interesting than the wonderful views which the night sky presents. So objects which men produce fill their minds to such an extent that they cannot think of anything except how to manufacture more objects, where to buy them, how to acquire and keep them, how to get the greatest profit out of them. There is no limit to these preoccupations. Recently, striking examples of this were published in the papers, showing that a person can accumulate hundreds of shoes, handbags, dresses and so forth, just because the mind is addicted to objects. There are many who spend their lives shopping. Their world is the world of objects.

There is another kind of a world — the world of events — which, too, can be a preoccupation of the mind. Some little incident happens in a neighbour’s house; somebody goes out or comes in, and although this has nothing to do with ourselves, we take an eager interest in what they do or say. Our avidity for newspapers often shows not so much a concern for the condition of humanity but a trivial preoccupation with what we call ‘news’, which means murders, deaths, marriages, useless information. The gossiping mind loves ‘incidents’.

People who are mentally active live in a world of concepts. These concepts become terribly important, leading to ideological wars and hatreds. These sorts of worlds exist only in the mind; the actuality is very different. Interpretations are being made all the time by the brain which, so to speak, creates images out of nothing.

In addition to the world of nature, of objects, of events and concepts, there is also a world of people. People are usually my people and other people. ‘My people’ may be a small and variable group, based on personal interests. A Hindu may regard all other Hindus as ‘my group’ as opposed to Christians and Muslims. But if he has a dispute over property with a neighbouring Hindu, then ‘my group’ becomes ‘I and my family’ and the ‘others’ include the Hindu who happens to be in the opposing party.

H.P.B pointed out that one of the effects of meditation should be that the world is no longer divided into friends and foes. When it is so divided, there is no awareness of the actuality of things for it is through concepts that these judgements are arrived at. The judgements are conditioned by religion, by politics, by wealth, social standing — all kinds of things. The world, divided in this way, appears so great a reality that there are strong prejudices, antagonisms and conflicts all the time. The judgements of the mind are quite distorted. If my child does mischief he is only an innocent little child. If somebody else’s child is mischievous he is a wicked boy, not properly trained, and his parents are wrong. Reactions become quite different according to the conditioning of our mind because, as we said, the mind is the divider. So we come to judgements on the basis of certain interests or reactions which we have within ourselves.

How do we arrive at concepts of the ‘world’? The concepts and reactions are born of several factors. One is blind acceptance, unthinking assimilation of whatever the pattern is around us. We can describe it by the simple world ‘conditioning’. A person who is in a milieu where everybody is madly acquiring things is very likely to adopt the same habit. If he is in surroundings where people have no regard for nature, probably he will share their unconcern.

It was reported that because there was an unprecedented drought in the United States in America, there was a shortage of vegetables and grain, and farmers were trying to make the maximum profit out of livestock being slaughtered. This is an example of the conditioning to make profit on every possible occasion and it exists all over the world. It is very easy to absorb that attitude because the world may think you are a fool if you do not make profit.

Thus conditioning takes place all the time and it is part of the screen of egoism. It involves concepts according to its convenience. There are many circumstances where people will argue according to what is advantageous to them for the time being. It may be thoroughly irrational but they do not see the irrationality of it. For instance, some argue that the unemployed are poor only because they do not want to work. But it is a fact that although there is a growing prosperity in certain countries there are numerous homeless people on the streets of the big cities. But people find arguments and theories which suit their convenience. A person may think that he must have twenty million dollars in the bank even if he cannot do anything with them; it is just an irrational instinct or urge to make himself secure. The poor man also finds arguments to suit himself.

Ultimately, the way man looks at the world is an expression of Avidyâ and asmitâ or ignorance of the real nature of life and the self-centeredness and self-interest which arise out of it. So greed arises in relation to nature and also towards objects. Acquisitiveness is one way of looking at the world. Another is indifference. Thirdly, there is alienation — the feeling of having nothing to do with our surroundings and being completely divorced from them. There is also the utilitarian attitude which seeks to extract the most out of everything, that makes friends with people in order to use them in some way. In all this Avidyâ there is self-interest and self-centeredness.


The Theosophist must look at the world in a totally different way, not with the eyes of Avidyâ or asmitâ, not through a veil of ignorance or egoism. In theosophical literature, human beings have been described as ‘gods in the becoming’ because there is in every man a divine potential. There is indeed something extraordinary everywhere in nature. Humanity is also part of nature, but in humanity that potentiality has a vaster scope. It can grow, expand, to a much greater extent than in other things. ‘The soul of man is immortal and its growth and splendour have no limit’. Within human consciousness are latent all the magnificent qualities of consciousness as a whole.

So a Theosophist must train himself to look at the world in a different way. In order not to be obtuse, he must cultivate his senses by paying attention. The reason why people do not pay attention is because they are so preoccupied with their own mental images and concepts, so much under the compulsion of their own reactions. But if a person trains himself to look calmly and carefully, then gradually the clouds of obtuseness dissolve. It is important to free the mind from the dullness which is the result of conditioning. If a person sees somebody, if he has a strong idea about the other man, even if that person is friendly he may not be prepared to look at the fact. The mind is loaded with many ideas about people and things, and it must become free.

Conditioning can be dissolved by observation and through enquiry into the basis of our reasoning or lack of reasoning. When the mind is clear inside there are no more different worlds of objects and persons. There is only one world. Only when the mind is clear and free from its ignorance and its egoism can there be a sense of unity with all things and a real relationship.

When a Theosophist looks at the world, he must be related to it in a way which makes his actions beneficial to everybody and to himself. He who does not act rightly is not looking rightly. So it is important for the Theosophist to learn to look clearly and to put himself in communion with the real nature of things.


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