THEOSOPHY, Vol. 36, No. 7, May, 1948
(Pages 303-307; Size: 14K)
(Number 1 of a 15-part series)
MIND OF THE AGE
NOT to point with pride nor view with alarm, but to seek a clearer and more vital understanding, is the first psychological implication of the Theosophical philosophy. The Founder of the Theosophical Movement, in 1875, approached neither the typical Christian of her day, the typical materialist, nor the typical Spiritualist with an attitude of derision or personal superiority. The volumes, Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, gave successive evidence that their author regarded all peculiarities of human thought and temperament as worth meeting, initially, on their own levels. H. P. Blavatsky asserted many times in her Key to Theosophy that every Theosophist, in order to merit the name, will have to be continually open-minded, in recognition of the fact that every human impulse and tendency is a part of himself. The third fundamental proposition of Theosophical philosophy, as outlined in The Secret Doctrine, gives a philosophical basis for this perception. All beings, according to what has been called the "pivotal doctrine of the esoteric philosophy," either have passed or will pass through all experiences -- and therefore through all psychological states. In this doctrine is implicit another assertion -- that the fundamental object of human life is to learn how to participate in the conditions, both inner and outer, of any and all beings on the earth. Prejudices and distinctions, even those apparently quite virtuous, serve as a barrier against communication with others who are no less Souls than ourselves. It is for this reason that the Theosophical philosophy provides the most solid ground amidst many confused modern theories for combating every type of prejudice, disdain, or exclusiveness.
To understand "the mind of our age," is now and will forever be the problem of understanding our own minds. Just as we are demonstrably interdependent economically and politically, so are we, in the Theosophical view, interdependent emotionally, mentally and morally. There is no idea, no impulse, no tendency which is not in some measure our own, for these exist in the psychic atmosphere which our inner selves breathe daily. The mere fact that we may "resist" certain pollutions of that atmosphere does not alter the fact that even the wayward and destructive thoughts which pass into our minds, only to be immediately rejected, are none the less points of contact between ourselves and other human beings. It is also a fact in the very old story of self-discipline that the temptations, doubts, and fears which seem so easy to resist at one time and at one level of experience, may be quite another matter when encountered in a new situation. We are never too far from our brothers -- be they Catholics, Spiritualists or materialists -- and if we ever were too far from them, we would have left this earth, for better or for worse, as do the Dharmakayas of Eastern tradition when they achieve individual salvation. From the Buddha of India are said to have come the words, "I am as all these men," and somehow we know that this expression was not a maudlin sentiment but a reality of feeling. The degree to which Walt Whitman might be considered a part of the larger Theosophical Movement is specifically the degree to which he voiced the same thought. To Whitman, the most apparently depraved of earth's creatures were still close to his mind and heart.
No one finds it easy to define the characteristic problems of the twentieth century. These are problems relating to "the State," to war, to personal morality, to religion and to science. And the largest problem of all is whether we can learn to really trust anyone. Our problems are certainly related to crucial moments of decision that occurred before this century began. For the theosophist, it may be advisable to endeavor to estimate the effect of both the partial success and the "failure" of the Theosophical Movement at the close of the last one-hundred-year period. The impulsion given by H. P. Blavatsky to the work of the Theosophical Society was directed towards a reclamation of moral idealism from the confused tangle of materialized religious and social customs. To revive a pure concept of Religion which would allow transmutation of "Christian" idealism into a world view, and therefore to reform and improve the social attitudes built upon provincial forms of Christianity, were among her chief focal points of concentration.
The world always has its conceptions of morality, usually admixtures of intuitive idealism and self-righteousness. Every man has some inner desire to live a nobler and more inspiring life, yet, since his aspirations are so much beyond his immediate abilities of self-control, a psychological tendency to prove himself "at least better than some people" also asserts itself. The bigoted aspects of religions are mass defense-mechanisms, enabling one to say, in effect, "I secretly know I am not a noble man, but it makes me feel better to think I am nobler than others." No one has an "intuition" that he should be self-righteous or prejudiced, while it may be a genuine inner voice which recognizes in the example of Jesus a light on the path of soul, or which leads to the conclusion that there must be something more important than the earthly life we know. Both human characteristics paralleled the course of Christian history. Pure-minded and inspired men existed as staunch followers of the accepted faith. Side by side with them in apparent belief were numbers of bigots and hypocrites, whose only interest in any religion could be little more than self-justification.
As civilizations approach crucial cycles in social and educational development -- the case with the Western world in the latter part of the nineteenth century -- either "religion" is saved by an idealism not preoccupied with personal self-esteem, or, limited and prideful idealism and popular religious standards fall together. For men are content to fool themselves only so long; finally, they tire of hypocrisy, even though it be of their own making. The Christian religion, was not, on the whole, making the world better, because it was not helping men to be honest.
The undermining of Christian dogma by the growing science of the nineteenth century brought an opportunity for men to separate the religious beliefs which genuinely inspired them from the beliefs which were purely formal and personal. The Theosophical Movement offered a rational basis for the re-examination of such questions as man's "divine origin" and immortality, to those whose genuine religious sense was strong. Upon these matters, too, rested the significance of morality, for if man were the casually constructed animal which science seemed intent upon proving he was, then morality was nothing but social expedience. The task of first importance, in the minds of the founders of the Theosophical Movement, was the defense and vivification of morality. But the obstacles in the way of spreading a strong moral consciousness were great. Not only was the new science materialistic and amoral, but the habits of thought and action generated by secularized Christianity tended in much the same direction. From all sides poured the psychic forces generated by men who were trying to prove their doubtful moral worth by claiming that others were more mistaken than they were. Some of these crowded under the banner of science, others professed allegiance to religion, while the real scientists and those consecrated to a genuine religious life stood apart -- as do always the thoughtful and unprejudiced.
There were specific reasons why a clear and inspiring basis for morality needed enunciation. The claws of empire were growing sharper, the ambitions for domination of world trade clashing more stridently, the weapons of imperialist and nationalistic war becoming more terrible, while the increased population of the world gave all these added momentum. Huge conflicts, as predicted by H. P. Blavatsky, were inevitable, for a densely populated world cannot indulge in the emotions of greed, prejudice and fear without more serious consequences than would arise if the concentration of power were small. If man's relation to his fellows was that of an animal creature whose only hope was to bite first that he be not bitten, or a creature of God who must wash away his own guilt by crushing his inferiors, the story could be written only in the ink of blood. This was the grim fate of Kali-Yuga -- the intensification of all the externally feared forces which move men, so that finally the consequences of callous and brutal thinking would come to the fruition demanded by natural law. The seeds of World War were sown, for as men believed their salvation to be in physical force, or that "might" is a sign of divine grace, slowly but surely they worked toward a series of both offensive and defensive alignments which ultimately involved every concentrated source of power. Then came the spark and the explosion -- the Armageddon originally caused by a degrading psychology.
The significance of the individual man's sense of justice, and his right to independent choice and action, were engulfed in mass movements for Power. Individual freedom fought a losing battle -- at a time when no clear basis remained for believing the individual man to be important. This, then, was the setting for one of the most pressing dilemmas of the modern man -- a problem which, in the mind of the age, is still surrounded by confusion. Today men in all countries tend to move as automatons, caught in the national or social organizations devised to gain and hold power. Rejection of the principle of conscription was not strong enough to hold back the tide.
This is the problem of international and social morality: What shall we do about Germany, Japan, or Russia? (And they are wondering, in other terms, what to do about us.) On what basis shall we act? What is the most we can expect from whatever method we choose? Can the individual actually do anything besides accept the fact that he is hopelessly caught in a power-maddened world, fight the wars, and suffer the consequences of internal conflict which are bound to come his way? So far, this is the depressing conclusion which most people seem to have reached. They do not wish to accept this conclusion. They wish, perhaps without knowing it, for that basis for a belief in moral man which the specifics of Theosophical philosophy provide.
Politically and socially, the average man lives in a constant nightmare, from which there is no escape save in distracting dissipation. Buchenwald, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, purges in Russia and witch-hunts for Communists in the United States -- these are some of the more lurid sequences in the bad dream. It is little wonder that men seek escape, that few codes of personal morality withstand the impact. Fear of a world which apparently cannot be trusted, is not a helpful background for efforts at quiet self-discipline.
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
THE HERMETIC WAY
If a man would follow in the steps of the Hermetic philosophers, he must prepare himself beforehand for martyrdom. He must give up personal pride and all selfish purposes, and be ready for everlasting encounters with friends and foes. He must part, once for all, with every remembrance of his earlier ideas, on all and on everything. Existing religions, knowledge, science, must re-become a blank book for him, as in the days of his babyhood, for if he wants to succeed he must learn a new alphabet on the lap of Mother Nature, every letter of which will afford a new insight to him, every syllable and word an unexpected revelation.
--H. P. Blavatsky
MIND OF THE AGE
II: ATTITUDES ON "MORALITY"
(Part 2 of a 15-part series)
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