from The Theosophist Nov 1990

A Problem of Our Time

Hugh Shearman

Vwey early in the 1920s a young member of the Theosophical Society wrote a letter to The Theosophist raising a serious question. His name was Christmas Humphries, and he was later to achieve eminence in England as a lawyer and as the founder and leader of the Buddhist Society there. The theme of his letter was that leaders of the Theosophical Society threw no light on the problems of sex and that no guidance was offered to people who were floundering in those problems. A glance through subsequent issues of The Theosophist shows that his letter drew no effective response in print.

Since those days little has been said or written on that subject within the Society, while at the same time we have seen the huge social revolution that has taken place through the widespread availability of contraceptives, an innovation in which Mrs. Besant played a pioneering role. It is true that several prominent members of the Society have expressed themselves in print on this subject, but in rather generalized terms which have been of little help to those struggling to cope with their own personal sexuality.

There are several reasons why a reticence tends to surround the subject. Individuals do not want to advert to it because in doing so they may reveal some thing of their own inadequacy to deal with it. There must be very few intelligent and self-aware people who are not secretly conscious of having in some way mad fools of themselves in the sexual area of life, in thought, feeling or attitude if not in act, and are therefore instinctively unwilling to express themselves on the subject.

It is also a matter of experience that, if we try to expound rules and principles for other people, we may be doing more harm than good. People who try to impose upon themselves behavior patterns received on the authority of others can tragically damage themselves. The authoritative assertions of elders and particularly of religious bodies about sex have led to much private unhappiness and to a good many juvenile suicides.

In theosophical literature, however, principles have been expressed which offer some illumination. For example, the stanzas which provide the basis of The Secret Doctrine describe the beginning of creation by saying that “Father - Mother spin a web”. The term used is “Father - Mother”, not “Father and Mother”. This implies that the one contains, as it were sexes.

From “below” and at the ordinary human level, the same principle is asserted, particularly in Jungian psychology. Each of us, in effect, carries, within and unconsciously, the other sex opposite to our overt physical sex. Each male has his “anima”, each female her “animus”. In truly creative living, these two, the conscious and the unconscious, can combine to give rise to something quite new.

Most people, however, fail to establish an adequate fulfilling relationship with their inner and unconscious other sex. That other sex then emerges in uncontrolled ways, producing the unreceptive but sentimental and self-pitying male or the too strident female. Often we are attracted to people of the opposite sex because they can give expression to something that we have not succeed in expressing for ourselves.

There is a key here to many emotional problems into which sex enters. But what about physical sexual relations? With the breakdown of older structures of social values and the wide availability of contraceptive devices or chemical means to inhibit ovulation, sex has come, in the more developed countries, to be no longer a procreational activity but largely a recreational pursuit, regarded by many much as they might regard having an alcoholic drink, smoking a cigarette or eating a chocolate éclair.

People from Hindu or Islamic backgrounds who come to Britain are horrified at what their children may be exposed to among young teenagers in British schools, as horrified as Western people are at the arranged marriages of the East. A quarter of all children born in Britain in recent years have been born outside wedlock, and a high proportion of couples live and sleep together without marrying.

There is indeed a rising level of propaganda, on television and in print, conveying the idea that it is right, proper and healthy for young people to be constantly climbing into other people's beds and even that not to do so is somehow an indication of failure or inadequacy.

In creating this sort of social climate and indulging in its permissiveness, what are people doing to themselves and to others?

Most of those who, in past times, in the Theosophical Society, have given descriptions of psychic or clairvoyant experiences in which they observed the hidden side of other people's lives, have referred hardly at all to this aspect of life, treating it only with a passing distaste, assuming perhaps that their readers or hearers accepted as axiomatic certain approved standards of behavior. Many would sincerely like to be told what invisible effects like to be told things they do, but over this our seers and teachers have almost unanimously drawn a veil.

However, the writer of this article once had a most illuminating discussion on this subject of the inner effect of people's sex habits, with the late Dr. Laurence Bendit, then General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in England. Dr. Bendit had much experience as a clinical psychologist and had been able to observe what occurred in the private lives of many of his patients. He also had access to the observations of his clairvoyant wife, who will be well known to students of the literature of psychism by her maiden name under which she wrote as Phoebe Payne.

Dr. Bendit said that many of his emotionally disturbed or unstable patients had sought escapee from their problems by promiscuous sexual indulgence. Indeed their disturbed condition was itself closely associated with their indulgence. Every physical sexual encounter created a bond or link or fixation at an unconscious level. These links, as they increased in number, caused increasing tension, conflict and confusion and made the patient worse. To escape from this condition, the patient then pursued further sexual adventures which made the condition worse again.

The only escape that people find from conflict and uneasiness at an inner or unconscious level is to keep their lives shallow. The writer has observed this in other people that he has been acquainted with. When they take to a course of sexual self-indulgence they tend to become more shallow. They become more out of touch with their own “insides”, less interesting to know, more mentally dismissive of anything that implies depth or impersonality of thought or experience. And, what is surely very important, they do not seem to be really very happy. This is perhaps because, like other attempted escapes from reality, sexual indulgence is atavistic, an attempt to get back to some amoeba-like condition of our evolutionary past, and is therefore unsuccessful, leading to pointlessness and absence of fulfillment. It is felt somewhere inwardly to be grubby and untidy and aesthetically inadequate.

There is scope in this area for much self-deceiving casuistry. One recollects an individual who claimed that every woman he slept with enlarged his sensitive human sympathies and understanding; but, when one had to do with him personally, one did not somehow seem to encounter much evidence of these beneficial effects. In The Mahatma Letters there is a passage sharply rebuking the promiscuous behavior of one of the Society's early members, whose lifestyle was making him quite ineffective as an aspirant to occult pursuits.

In our world today one does not have to be a clairvoyant or an adept to discover a great deal about other people's lives. More and more statistics have become available from which a much clearer idea of what is happening can be obtained. One set of statistics that is increasingly touching the public awareness records the rapid increase of sexually transmitted disease. From one African country it was lately reported that one person in every sixteen of the population was infected with a prospectively fatal venereal ailment. There are many other health hazards of which we are becoming increasingly aware, such as cervical cancer.

Other statistical indications are more subtle and indirect. The effect on children of their parents' lifestyle emergences in the figures for infantile mortality. Children who do not have a stable family background, with a parent of each sex, tend, even in countries with advanced social services, to have a higher than average mortality rate. This has been attributed to a lower standard of responsible care and nurture to be expected in a single-parent family.

Latterly, however, it has become possible in Britain for both parents of a child born out of wedlock to register the birth. This would imply two people cohabiting though not married, and it was expected that this situation would show the lower statistical level of infant mortality which existed among the children of ordinary married couples. But it was found that this kind of situation, where two unmarried parents registered their acceptance of responsibility for a child, also gave, like thee single-parent family, a higher infant mortality rate, suggesting that the lack of a full mutual life commitment by thee parents is adverse for the child.

In Western countries many young couples now live and sleep together for some time before they formally marry. On the surface this would seem very reasonable, for it appears to involve an experimental period before a permanent commitment is made. But here again the statistical results do not justify the expectations. Such couples, having married, have a substantially higher record of subsequent marital breakdown or divorce than couples who waited until they were married before having a physical sexual relationship. Is there here a case of the mind slaying the real?

It used to be said that a good marriage should be made in heaven. To the student of Theosophy this would imply that such a marriage should come about through two people getting a glimpse of the “higher self” in one another. It would appear that those who think that a marriage can be made in bed instead of in “heaven” are mistaken.

From those various indications it would seem that traditional morality has been right in holding that it is best that physical sexual relations should take place exclusively within a mutual life commitment between two people.

Traditionally, too, an appropriate degree of chastity has been held to be indispensable as a prerequisite for any kind of spirituality or inner life. We are not here discussing the standards prescribed by, say, Patanjali for those aspiring to exalted levels of self-realization. We are concerned only with social patterns appropriate for ordinary responsible people trying to have a right relationship with the world they live in.

Certainly it does not seem possible for anybody to pursue an inner or spiritual life and at the same time pursue casual or temporary sexual relationships. Indeed the past history of the Theosophical Society has seen a number of tragic cases of people's lives going to pieces as the result of such attempts. In other cases people seemed to fall far short of their potential. The first item on Madame Blavatsky's list of necessary qualifications for approaching “the path” was “a clean life”. It is impossible to imagine that there is any exception to this.

Occasionally older people, who are perhaps left some experience uncompleted in their own lives, have been known to speak recklessly and in a euphorically permissive sense about sex to young people in the Theosophical Society. In one such case described to the writer, the authoritative but irresponsible words of a much respected elder resulted in young people behaving so that there was an unwanted pregnancy and then a hasty and possibly equally unwanted marriage.

In presenting our Theosophy to the world in which we live we have heavy responsibilities and need to respond to them. In a corrupt and unstable social scene, Theosophists ought to try to raise the standards of perception and practice. This ought not to involve condemnations. Perhaps what we need is a permissive society in which people are too wise to avail themselves of most of the permissions.

But all this does not give an adequate answer to the individual who, on the sexual side of life, is beset by powerful compulsions. The way of liberation does not lie in nay narrowly prescribed code of action or in a course of mere repression. The question that has to be asked is “To whom are these things happening?”

During a vastly long evolutionary past we have identified consciousness in us with this personality. When people have problems and conflicts, they think of them as happening to “me”. But “me” is only a physical organism, with a memory and a mind fixated to its perpetuation and defense. Once the organism dies, the personality will lose its present form and break up. What has to be discovered is whether consciousness in us may not have an extended reality quite outside and beyond the “me”.

On this question no other person's word can finally satisfy us. Each has to experiment and find out what happens if that personal mind and its self-defensive motivations are stilled. The answer to our problems is not at the authority of nay other person but from the vertical and intensive. It opens for us as we become open to a higher order of experience. But nobody else can tell us about it in the language of this lower conventional order of experience.

There are, of course, barriers and difficulties. As soon as we embark on any course, we have to face a “dweller on the threshold” consisting of everything in our natures that is incompatible with this new turn in our lives. There is also a powerful momentum from the past. We shall have to watch and wait many times for the high wind of past habit to blow itself out. Many times we may be blown off course. But the individual who knows that he must seek out the truth of creativity and relationship must find something deeper and deeper inside in practical ways, disengage himself from what he feels and knows is morally and aesthetically inappropriate by becoming its silent watcher.


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