from The Theosophist July 1996
In the early years of Mrs Besant's membership of the Theosophical Society she lectured often with the title "The Insufficiency of Materialism". That title summed up the major discovery which had led to her becoming a member of our Society. She had been immensely active among people who had been satisfied that all we have to cope with in this life are the material physical things of which that life seemed to be made up. She had believed that survival of consciousness after the death of the physical organism was an impossibility. She had even advised correspondents against joining a body called the Theosophical Society because she understood members of that body to believe and teach the survival of consciousness after death.
Then she had come to a crisis in her thinking, when that kind of materialism had been found "insufficient". Something more was needed. There followed her discovery of a "hidden side of things", of unseen forces, higher planes and higher beings. Everything fell into a changed perspective. Materiality came to imply a "spiritual" counterpart. Indeed everything material came to be seen as a secondary effect of a primary reality which - at least in the language of that time - could not be described as material.
This is largely what modern Theosophy declares and teaches, and for many it has brought great comfort and satisfaction and has removed the emptiness and bleakness of a merely materialistic notion of existence. Many are happy with this replacement for materialism and carry it with them as a sort of philosophy of life, a sufficient explanation of things. But for others there is a further sense of insufficiency, a feeling that this kind of informative Theosophy, too, is not enough.
In Mrs Besant's case we can see that her move away from the limits of the materialism of her day was only the first of a succession of moves or enlargements in her life or thinking. She quickly turned to the wider kind of unitive understanding which India made available to her. Later she wrote of the Theosophy of books and lectures as only a "secondary theosophy", the primary being Reality itself.
Among others, who have traveled with perhaps less speed and urgency than she did, there has also sometimes been a haunting doubt about the sufficiency of a life lived only in terms of merely adding to visible reality a mental image of invisible spirituality. We have not yet discovered the esoteric basis of our lives. Our kind of journey has not reached anything like a satisfying terminal point, and we know it.
About sixty or seventy years ago there appeared a very entertaining book entitled 1066 and all That. It made fun of history as taught to school children and of how children see the history they are taught. Past events were described in comically simplistic terms, and there were solemn moralistic comments about complex subjects such as parliamentary reform or the French Revolution. The authors, having given a lumbering and ludicrous simplified account of such an event, would solemnly say, "This was a Good Thing" or "This was a Bad Thing". The whole point of the book was that the motives of grown up life are esoteric to a child. There is an incomprehensibility about them, a woodenness that does not come alive for a child. Adults use standards of reference to which the child does not have access.
Could not a rather similar book be written about a certain kind of exposition of Theosophy? And how many people could find it funny? Or how many might feel threatened or offended by it?
A mystery was broken into and something esoteric discovered when we moved on from the old fashioned kind of materialistic outlook into a recognition of a "hidden side of things". It was a step into the unknown, the discovery of quite a different scale of reference. But are there not further steps to be taken?
A hint of the direction in which we can move can be found if we consider how what we call Theosophy is currently communicated. It is often represented as a system and described in words, in visual images and sometimes in diagrams. It is put into the language that has been formed by our traditional ways of thinking. For some people that is enough, but for others there is a need to pass beyond these forms of presentation.
Language, systems, images, diagrams, all presuppose a certain kind of consciousness that is very much associated with "materialism", with perceiving things in their separateness from us and from one another, with dividing everything into the two opposites of self and not self and then into many other opposites that are derived from that primary pair of opposites.
What Theosophy asserts, if we can at all understand it, is that there is a kind of consciousness that is unitive kind of consciousness that is unitive and not dualistic, that does not function as self and not self, subject and object, a consciousness in which the knower, knowledge and the unknown are one. To many people this is incomprehensible. They are so accustomed to thinking of "me" as the self. This "me" that we think of as "myself" is made up of this physical organism and the memories, feelings, desires, instincts, values and mental images associated with it.
For many people this is enough, and they can go through life relating everything to that "self". Some of this relating is socially and psychologically benign and some is not; but, whether it is to be approved or disapproved of, it is the result of a dualistic view and is subject to karma. It involves reactive effects, some agreeable, some not.
This is where many of us stand with regard to some of the things that we read about in theosophical literature. Through book Theosophy there has been for a while a satisfying escape from the materialistic world into a larger scene. But after a while there can again arise that sense of insufficiency. A world of higher planes, evolutionary schemes and so on, raised the same questions as are raised by the world of physical materiality.
The writer well remembers the strange atmosphere of perplexity and concern that invaded the Theosophical Society and its periodical publications from the beginning of the 1930's , as Krishnamurti pointed to this further layer of insufficiency. Was there really a qualitative difference, s he asked, between a desire to have some kind of relationship with a Master of the Wisdom and a desire to have a Duke on one's visiting list? Was a concern with reincarnation not just a way of evading a present problem by projecting it into a past or a future?
Perhaps he could have explained this more clearly or in a way that seemed less confrontational. But Krishnamurti was certainly addressing a real human problem, not to be solved by any balancing of opposites. Many things that he said revealed a man with a largely unitive view.
People wanted to get specific answers from him and force him to say. "Yes" or "No", but those opposites are not part of the language of a mystical or unitive perception. When they asked him, " Are you the Christ come back again?" he said, " I am all things, for I am Life". By the rules of dualistic thought, this seemed a negative and evasive answer, but it was a characteristically unitive one. The question was in the circumstances a wrong one, expressed in terms which might be suitable if one were addressing one's bank manager but irrelevant to what was being spoken about. Where the criterion of truth is its capacity to respond to individual need and experience, questions of authority are beside the point.
When people asked for something positive, Krisnamurti advised what he called "awareness", an awareness unconditioned by any of the habits and values of the personal mind which embodies the past, values such as approval and disapproval, advantage and disadvantage. It had to be an unconditioned awareness of that which is, with no personal projection of values. The dualistic view and its limitations arose from approaching all objects and all forms of otherness with a mind which distorted them with a supposition of separateness and so necessarily denied the wholeness of all that is and of all that happens.
The writer well remembers paying a visit in 1963 to Ommen in the Netherlands, where Krisnamurti used to address gatherings of people, and finding from conversation with other people that there was an element of tension and incompatibility between valued and opinions at Ommen and values and opinions at the contemporary Theosophical Centre at Naarden, also in the Netherlands.
Yet nearly everything that Krishnamurti said, in those days and subsequently, had already been said or implied in theosophical literature. The insufficiency of the dualistic mind had been the major theme of Patanjali and had had a prefatory place in Light on the Path. The unreality of the limited selfhood of human personality had also been repeatedly expounded in theosophical books. The suppositions induced by living in a materialistic society, and by coping with it in materialistic terms of thinking, had often been noted and described.
But, even as we read the sort of information or teaching that is often presented as Theosophy, we continue to bring to it the mind of our past, the mind of "us" and of "me" as we have been in the habit of supposing "us" and "me" to be.
No calculated effort can change this, for calculation always originates within that state of mind which is to be outpassed. Only "grace", a pure unitive awareness emerging from the wholeness of life, seems capable of liberating consciousness in us from our imprisonment in the world of dualistic and separative thinking and hence of insufficiency. And if offers no "quick fix", for the burden of the past that remains to be dissipated from moment to moment is very great. In Krishnamurti's word it is a "strenuous" work.
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