THEOSOPHY, Vol. 37, No. 2, December, 1948
(Pages 61-67; Size: 20K)
(Number 8 of a 15-part series)
MIND OF THE AGE
VIII: "RICHER BY ASIA"
IT is perhaps difficult to conceive of Western civilization as reflecting a more damaging pessimism than has ever been indigenous to the East. Yet despite our bright adventurings and romantic tradition, the doctrine of Original Sin still lurks in unsuspected niches of the Occidental mind. The psychological atmosphere surrounding a conviction of man's essential depravity impels us to expect the worst from our fellowmen, however much we may say we hope for the best. As nations, men have habitually armed themselves to the teeth, hoping that their neighbors will not precipitate warfare, yet convinced that they must not expect too much of good will and brotherhood -- even from across the street. So many fears and suspicions are born from a doctrine of expecting the worst in human nature that the psychological history of Western culture is in many respects like the spreading of a fungus, held in check only partially by liberal interpretations of Christian theology which proclaim "the innate dignity of the human personality." Also, both the liberal Christian and the irreligious social psychologist have much unconscious pessimism, tending to regard the energies and passions of the physical side of man's nature as unalterable, and unassimilable to the goal of human progress.
In India, the land of "mysterious religions," this is apparently not so, for the Indians have been Pantheists, trying to love and understand every form of life and energy. As Pantheists, they have not felt obligated to fear the works of the "devil" nor to accept the "fact" that man is an evolved animal. And this despite a decline in physical comforts which has convinced many Asiatics that "loving life" is so difficult a task that release from its travails should be encouraged to come as soon as possible.
As a study of the cultural opposition between East and West, Edmond Taylor's Richer by Asia(1) (already referred to in this series) [Note: In the 6th of the 15 articles. --Compiler.] is one of the most important treatments on Asiatic psychology published in recent decades; for Mr. Taylor, sensing that the meaning of Hindu Pantheism is trust and reverence for Nature and man, was able to view the many varieties of Western negativism from a unique vantage point. He came to feel that the Western world-view was destroying us even though we did not look destroyed, and that the Eastern world-view was saving the East, or at least certain portions of it, when the East appeared to be destroyed. With the analytical terms used by Western scientific psychologists, Taylor writes about what may be learned from a better philosophy and religion than our own. When the Hindus accept the spirituality of "Nature" rather than proclaiming its depravity, they lay a solid foundation for the brotherhood of man -- they become appreciators rather than detractors of all energies in the universe, whether material, psychological or social, which seem to conspire against man's well-being. The forces of nature and of society may be assimilated, given sufficient time, and with this philosophy the individual has a dignity never accorded him in religions which are based on fear of innate weakness.
By reason of a Pantheistic view, Mr. Taylor was well-equipped to diagnose vast Western ailments of the psyche, and in the following extracts he brings out with remarkable clarity the interrelatedness of our fears, our protective maneuverings, and our insecurity. We, who justify the atom bomb, could, with a little more practice and under different circumstances, come to justify using the methods of the Nazi concentration camps described by Hannah Arendt (see the November "Mind of the Age"). [Note: This refers to the 7th of the 15 articles in this series. --Compiler.] Nothing less than the lengthy quotations which follow will give an adequate idea of Mr. Taylor's contribution:We did not feel -- even those of us who strongly disapproved of the Bikini tests -- that we were committing a really serious offense against peace, therefore the deep feeling of guilt we had seemed slightly superstitious to us, and we brushed it out of our minds, falling into an unnatural apathy. The Indians could have explained to us why our guilt was real and not superstitious, why Bikini, though it lacked the element of sadism, constituted the same basic blasphemy which is what really shocked us the most in the showerbaths, the gas-chambers and the crematoriums of Belsen, in Goering's grotesque experiments with frozen prisoners and naked gypsies, in the researches of Nazi medicine aimed at discovering the ideal poisons for injecting through the eardrums of children. The Indians would have told us that our blasphemy, like the Nazi ones, arose from an idolatrous worship of the techniques of science divorced from any ethical goals, that the man-made cataclysm of Bikini was a black mass of physics as the German experiments were a black mass of medicine, that it was a mob-insurrection against the pantheist sense of citizenship in nature, which we share with the Hindus in our hearts, but consider a childish foible.Mr. Taylor has not renounced his country. He feels that many Americans, and Englishmen too, are often close to recognizing their complicity in all institutional conspiracies against human personality. We can, he still thinks, understand, before it is too late, the meaning of pantheism, and belatedly appreciate words of moral criticism which the East might have directed to the "leading powers."
Moreover, the Indians, whom history has rendered sensitive to all the nuances of imperialism, would have pointed out to us that in uprooting the Bikini natives from their homes in a kindly manner to make these tests, we were not abiding by the laws of humanity but only following the code of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, that instead of treating a backward people as cattle for the slaughterhouse, as the Nazis did, we were treating them like the members of a valuable milch-herd, but without the reverence for the dignity of manhood which the Hindus feel for the dignity of cowhood.The Russians could not talk to us in this way [Taylor writes], for they share our science-idolatry and the lacunae in our sense of human dignity. The Indians could have so talked -- had they possessed the means of expression available to an independent nation -- and our guilt was so close to the threshold of consciousness, we were so near to admitting to ourselves what the Indians would have pointed out, that I think their words might have been dramatically effective....These words of Mr. Taylor's presage the only sort of realization that will save Western peoples from destroying themselves, and it should be of particular interest to theosophical students to note that his susceptibility to the "wisdom of the East" made him neither a pacifist nor a non-pacifist. Instead, aided by his environs and by a study of the Bhagavad-Gita, among other Indian scriptures, he discovered for himself a genuinely non-partisan attitude of mind. In this achievement, Taylor was doubtless encouraged by the rare form of tolerance displayed by the Hindus: "Indians -- at least the Hindus -- I decided, were more successful than we are at dissociating their feelings about a human being from their feelings about his ideas." He devotes a chapter, "The Delusion of Rightness," to the faculty -- so curious by Western, dogmatic standards -- which makes it emotionally possible for the Indians to fight and negotiate at the same time, and he commends their "almost paradoxical gift of being able to compromise without compromising principle." Mr. Taylor rightly links this Eastern advance toward the sanity of disinterestedness with the Indians' non-theological attitude toward truth and heresy. He observed that "for many Indians political action and social reform had become a personal discipline of the spirit, a kind of social yoga." The fountainhead of this enlightened vision of "Kshatriya duty" he clearly assessed in the philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita:
Had India, the real India, been psychologically integrated into the victorious wartime coalition, had she been really an ally instead of the prisoner of an ally, we would have heard an ally's voice tell us in August, 1945, what we knew but could not comprehend: That in dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki we had committed a crime against all nations, comparable to the crimes for which the surviving leaders of Nazi Germany were hanged at Nuremberg. We could not rationally justify our guilt to ourselves because it was an ex post facto guilt, remorse for something that we did not know was a crime because it had never until then been committed by man. What we had done, of course, was mass-murder, but seemingly the conventionalized mass-murder called war, and therefore legitimate. Because we had apparently only done on a larger scale the things that all nations do to gain victory in war, we could not understand why we felt like the Biblical Cain, like the inventor of murder. We have killed more human beings than have ever been killed before in a single air-raid, we told ourselves, but really we have saved lives, even Japanese lives, by so doing. A landing would have been much worse.
That should have made us feel all right but it did not. It did not make us feel all right because our guilt was not for the hundred thousand or more Japanese that we had killed -- though that was grounds for guilt in itself -- but for having invented biological and even chemical crime, as the Nazis had perfected social crime. It was for having made ourselves the ancestors of the end of the world, as Cain, the first murderer, made himself the ancestor of all the murders which will ever be committed.
That guilt still lies buried in American conscience as a neurotic guilt, because it is unrecognized, unavowed, and unatoned. That guilt is making us sick. If anyone could have made us understand our guilt, we would have suffered but we would not be sick. I think the Indians might have made us understand it, not because they had any clear idea themselves of what Hiroshima and Nagasaki meant, but because their mystic pantheist philosophy instinctively made them react as to an irreverence, a blasphemy, a horror, rather than as to merely another inhumanity of war. The Indian comments which I heard or read on Hiroshima did not seem to me particularly profound, but they had a different ring from any protests uttered in the West, and in my mind they lit a slow fuse, which exploded at last in realization.Because it is primarily a philosophic poem, the Bhagavad Gita is not always thought of as a story, yet it contains a story in the Western sense of the word, and the plot or theme of this story provides a significant context for the metaphysical reflections woven around it. The background of the story is the great civil war among the early Aryan settlers in India which is the subject of the epic Mahabharata, of which the Gita is a part.The supreme value of Edmond Taylor's Richer by Asia, then, lies in its analysis of Western delusions of national and cultural superiority which were exposed clearly to his own personal vision in the setting of modern India. We English-speaking peoples do not believe in "soul-force." Gandhi believed in it, as did many of his principal assistants in the movement toward Indian unity. Taylor discovered that unless one does believe in "soul-force," one must believe in the artificial superiorities of cultural and racial segregation, and in the equally artificial superiority of military might.
The hero of the poem, the dispossessed prince, Arjuna, is called upon to do battle with his kinsmen and friends for the recovery of his rightful heritage. Like Hamlet, like many confused liberals of modern times, Arjuna is torn between contradictory ideals and duties, and falls into a state of neurotic depression upon the eve of battle. The god, Krishna, appears and, somewhat in the manner of a modern psychiatrist, teaches Arjuna to reconcile his inner conflicts, to accomplish his duty as a warrior without betraying the more spiritual values of Hindu culture, including the idea of nonviolence. Depending upon what element of Krishna's teaching one considers the most essential, the poem can be read as a tract in favor of integral nonviolence or as a dialectic for justifying violence in a righteous cause.
Today millions of Hindus are turning to the Bhagavad Gita to seek inspiration for a life of effort, struggle, and even conflict. Like the scripture's legendary hero, Arjuna, they are asking the gods how they can reconcile the modern idealism of combat in the worldly arena with the ascetic values of the Vedic sages, and the gods are replying to them -- as, according to the text, they appear to have replied to Arjuna -- that the reconciliation lies not in the rejection of worldly participation but in the renunciation of selfish gains, not in the avoidance of struggle but by preserving inner serenity while engaged in struggle, not in the refusal of combat but in refusing to hate the adversary one opposes.
A high point in Taylor's drama of the mind is his recital of how he worked out, in his own consciousness, a way of observing and experiencing the principles of karma and reincarnation. Isolated in an airplane "on a night between peace and war," he moves, as Arjuna did, from futility and gloom, through "a Nirvana-like feeling of tranquillity," and on to a re-living and assimilation of certain unfathomed incidents of his war career. His contemplation, lasting, as he later realized, "four hours and only a few lives," fused into one perception many hitherto unconnected intimations. The power of Taylor's unvarnished recital of this moment of synthesis cannot be reproduced out of context, but the theme may be suggested by one affirmation in his narrative of thought: "There can be no absolute separation between thoughts and feelings and things, and there is no valid distinction between public and private acts, for history is not a play put on by a professional cast, it is the interaction of all men upon all men."
Following upon this realization, Taylor comes to what may well have been the final catalyst in his Indian experiment in understanding -- a Gandhi "prayer-meeting," where he saw demonstrated a new mode of political-ethical discourse. For Gandhi, Taylor realizes, the philosophy of non-violence was a constant incentive to direct personal action, and the American "psychological warfare" expert singles out the Indian leader's use of "non-verbal symbols," chiefly "exemplary acts that are like propaganda and sermons in action." Indian patriots who adopted the Gandhian philosophy became effective "political" workers by applying a principle of decentralization: "Help all you can on the big things but do some little thing yourself." Gandhi's genius, in Taylor's estimate, was his ability "to choose so infallibly the significant gesture -- the small literal act which has a great symbolic meaning, the one which generates soul-force in the person who makes it at the same time that it contributes to achieving a tangible result."
Richer by Asia may be considered as contributory to the present theosophical movement, although Taylor's passing reference to "theosophy" suggests an acquaintance with only some bizarre distortion of theosophical tenets. Taylor himself, however, is "richer by Asia" in spite, or because, of a disinclination -- almost a distaste -- for so-called "occult" powers and psychic phenomena. This skepticism (a natural reaction, perhaps, from Catholic miracles and superstition, which he had "outgrown") served him well, in that he was not content with merely a psychic response to the land of marvels: he embarked on "adventures in self-understanding." His book is a searching study of the reasons for human differences, and inspires the quest for a philosophy which will make the dynamics of spiritual growth far more important to citizens of the world than the dynamics of political or economic advancement. If the "concentration-camp world" should continue to spread, blighting the growth of the moral individual, there will yet be no power of destruction so strong as to engulf students devoted to the philosophical view recommended by Mr. Taylor, and characteristic of the teachers of the Theosophical Movement.
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:
FACULTY OF KARMALESSNESS
There is a faculty of the human mind, which is superior to all which is born or begotten. Through it we are enabled to attain union with the superior intelligences, of being transported beyond the scenes and arrangements of this world, and of partaking the higher life and peculiar powers of the heavenly ones. By this faculty we are made free from the dominations of Fate, and are made, so to speak, the arbiters of our own destinies. For, when the most excellent parts of us become filled with energy, and the soul is elevated to natures loftier than itself, it becomes separated from those conditions which keep it under the dominion of the present every-day life of the world, exchanges the present for another life, and abandons the conventional habits belonging to the external order of things, to give and mingle itself with that order which pertains to higher life.
MIND OF THE AGE
IX: PSYCHOLOGICAL EQUIVALENTS
(Part 9 of a 15-part series)
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(1) Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts: 1947.
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