by Hugh Shearman

WHEN we speak of a problem we are usually thinking of a conflict in which one factor lies within our own selves. At the present time problems are rapidly increasing as more and more conflicts are seen to have their origin partly within us.

There was a time, for example, when war was not a problem. It was an external predicament like the weather. Now war is a problem, for its causes are seen to lie in ourselves; and, as time goes on, we are going to discover more and more how subtly we create war from within ourselves.

Those who can solve their problems are called wise; but nobody, however wise, can make another person wise. We cannot solve another person’s problem for him.

One thing, however, we can sometimes do to help another in his problem if he is seeking for help. We can reinterpret his problem for him and so give it back to him, looking different, presenting a new aspect, so that he may perhaps make more effective progress with solving it for himself.

Theosophy is an interpretation of the human problem. It is an interpretation of the problems of the universe. Since the world problem and the problem of the individual are one, and since man is the microcosm of the universe, Theosophy’s interpretation of the universe and of great cycles of events and experiences can serve also to reinterpret the problems of the individual.

To interpret, however, is to do something more than to explain. To reinterpret the problem of another person does not necessarily mean that we have to rush in and explain his problem to him in words. If we understand his problem, our understanding will often convey itself without words. A multitude of words often marks a failure of understanding. Often the sympathetic listener gives much more help towards the solution of a problem than the individual who hastens to offer advice.

Theosophy has been described as “the science of life and the art of living”. A science of life there must be, with laws and explanations; but living is the supreme art. When we engage in interpretation within the field of one of the arts of civilization, when, for example, we interpret music by playing it or a scene by painting it, our interpretation is no mere explanation, no mere affair of words and laws. How much more, then, must the interpretation of the art of living be beyond words and explanations.

Theosophy has also been defined as “the body of truths which forms the basis of all religions and which cannot be claimed as the exclusive possession of any”. If we look at the scriptures of the world we certainly find that the great religions have teachings which they share in common, explanations which they offer alike, doctrines in which they are in essential agreement. But these alone are surely not the body of truths which forms the basis of such religions nor are they the highest interpretation which religion has to offer of life and its problems.

If we look further into the scriptures of the world, we shall find that a great part of them consists of efforts, not to convey teachings and explanations, but to convey a sense of the presence of the Teacher. By anecdotes, by symbols, by subtle modes of intimation, they try to give us the rare fragrance, the freshness, the essential quality and power and impact of the Teacher himself. Many religions also try to make available by sacramental means some immediate experience of a real Presence.


To reinterpret, in a truly Theosophical way, the problem of the world, or of the individual, is thus something very much more than to explain it. It is also something very much less, for, when such a true interpretation is given, it is very much simpler than an explanation. It does not preclude explanation; but, even if it is a task of exposition, it is also and inseparably a work of art, the creation of a presence and a freshness.


A problem, then - whether one’s own or a problem which another chooses to reveal - is an opportunity for the creation of a work of art in thought, feeling or act. In a problem or conflict there is duality; and the moment in which that duality is glimpsed has pregnant solemnity, for it is the symbolic equivalent of the moment when the One becomes Two and the Two are about to create the great work of art which we call the Universe. Perhaps, at some level of being, the Universe itself is the answer to a Problem.


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