THEOSOPHY, Vol. 36, No. 9, July, 1948
(Pages 405-410; Size: 17K)
(Number 3 of a 15-part series)
MIND OF THE AGE
III: THE PERSONAL DILEMMA
MODERN man floats in the backwash of the two great materialisms -- religious and scientific -- with which many prevalent psychological currents are associated. Conventional religion supplied the personal ideal of a mechanical austerity, to be reached by a rigid adherence to the list of thou-shalt-not's. Precisely why this ideal has been so attractive to hundreds of thousands of men -- despite its unsatisfactory and unintelligent formulations -- is a problem psychiatrists have not been able to unravel. Why, also, does "conscience" persistently intrude itself in the lives of those who are intellectually convinced that self-indulgence is appropriate and self-denial a foolish opposition to nature? Man's irrepressible conscience, incidentally, is an important factor in the winning of new converts to authoritarian religions from the ranks of those who experience some form of revulsion against continued sensuality. Yet those who adopt codes of strict moralistic restraint are not always happy or well-balanced, either.
Neither self-indulgence nor irrational self-denial seems to bring the human being to satisfactory terms with life. Only these two types of solution to the moral equation have been offered, and both, apparently, are wrong. Not only inadequate, but wrong -- in the sense that the adoption of either eventually produces, in all observable cases, an unbalanced and extreme reaction in the opposite direction. As one modern writer has remarked, "Who is more impious than a backsliding priest?" And who is more fanatically moralistic than the recent profligate?
Reasoning only from common human experience, it should be possible to conclude, on the basis of the evidence already considered, that men have always wished, and still do wish, to come to adequate terms with two different kinds of worlds at the same time; and that when they deny a rightful place to either world, they become mentally unbalanced. One of these worlds is the world of transcendent ideals, the world wherein no one can live unless he has made his personal appetites subservient to a sense of higher purpose and no longer subjects his discrimination to the merely sensory. The other world is the world of the senses itself. Men also desire to live naturally and to escape the necessity, as conceived in religious terms, of regarding all things pleasurable as essentially evil. Expressed by intuitive poets as well as in the happy physical exuberance of extreme youth is the feeling that no real solution to man's "moral" dilemma will be acceptable unless it allows nature to be enjoyed and appreciated instead of simply feared.
Every known religion has been based upon some idea of the dual nature of man. Even the popular religion of materialism, for instance, admits an existence to conscience, though conscience is conceived to be the effect of environment and usually an unnecessary evil. The Christian religion admitted the reality of the world of the senses, while condemning it as a realm from which no good could possibly arise. In both instances, present conditions of life are regarded as a state of penance. The Christian moralist hopes to escape forever from the difficulties presented by the sensuous world by his entrance into heaven. The materialist hopes to be able some day to escape the "superstition" of conscience, for he considers conscience to be an irrational barrier to full enjoyment of sensory capacities -- a barrier erected by the fears and taboos of moralistic religion. Neither alternative offers hope that conscience and the senses may be brought into harmony. One or the other, it appears, must depart. Yet man cannot escape either, whatever device he uses. The body needs the soul, and the soul needs the body.
History tells us of men whose conscience and desires agreed, in whom the seemingly impossible synthesis had been achieved. Yet we are without any philosophy which can explain these unusual beings. The confusion persists. Why does "an inevitable dualism bisect nature," as Emerson once wrote? Why are we moved by both the "morally sweet" and the "sensually sweet"? The average man, who may never have read Emerson, is confronted by the same problem. He is told that he must go to war, as an instance, for two entirely different kinds of reasons. He must fight to uplift or protect humanity. Or he must fight to protect himself, his home, his property, his presumably enjoyable "way of life." These two reasons war with one another, and each encourages different psychological reactions in the individual. He must sacrifice for others; he must fight for himself. How can he do both at the same time? Which is to be the prime mover? Or, again, he is told that the consummation of his personal life is to be in "love." But what kind of love? How is it to be generated, and how maintained? One kind of love is the wish for the welfare of another person, while another kind is the wish to possess another person.
Nowhere is the psychic confusion of the age more clearly revealed by statistics than in the area of involvement between the sexes. It is obvious that the marital relationship, especially for Americans, is under considerable stress and strain. There are many who consider that the true solution is "sex-freedom" and the elimination of all obligatory phases of marriage, thus allowing sex relations to revert to a "natural" state, while no one has a clear idea of just what a "natural" ordering of relationships at this level might be. There are others who believe that compelling a return to "old-fashioned" marital standards will solve the problem. Between these two extremes exists another group -- the most numerous -- which seems to accept the fact that there will always be semi-successful attempts to regulate personal morality, and that individuals will always be playing a cat-and-mouse game with these restrictions -- dodging them when necessary in the same way that a mouse avoids a cat, or a man the dangers of a busy intersection. Few men believe, today, in any real sense, in the vestigial remains of the marriage mores associated with a defunct religion, nor do many expect that there is or can be a solution to man's struggle with the apparently contradictory impulses of his own nature. This, in turn, is a direct result of the thought, persisting over long centuries, that morality for man is a compromise between secret indulgences and outward respectability.
During medieval times the essential psychological power of the Church was founded on the implicit contention that all human beings, because of innate qualities, were preordained to sin a little bit, but should be externally restrained from sinning a great deal. This attitude, nurtured for such a long time by revealed religion, has persisted. The scientific man expects himself to be both "bad" and "good" morally, depending upon circumstances, upon the nature of temptations placed before him, and so on. He does not expect to find a way to synthesize his morality with his daily life, and therefore, of course, he is forever unable to do so.
The basic principles of Theosophy offer a uniquely different view. The soul, the theosophical teaching implies, need not participate in any sensualism whatsoever, for the soul has the capacity of perceiving its own destiny so clearly that it can make proper and constructive use of all sensory apparatus without forgetting its own more important purposes. Intelligent incarnation of the mind in the sensory world is a necessary part of evolution. This involves rigorous self-discipline, the refinement of impulses, and the finding of balanced modes of their expression. Such a view presents the psychological opposite of sensuality, which, from the standpoint of soul, is purposelessness. When man's higher intelligence attempts to crowd into the areas properly reserved for sensory expression, and there to feed parasitically upon the energies of animal intelligence, the human ego fails to fulfill its natural responsibility by giving a higher impulse to the intelligences thus contacted.
If, instead of entering into the sensory realm when and as the purposes of his higher life require it, man allows himself to fall into it, he loses to some degree the sense of purpose which alone enables him to consciously experience on any plane. By drifting into irresponsible sensations, he is forfeiting his higher faculties of concentration and discrimination just as surely as one who seeks to escape all the "things of this world." In either case, one removes himself from the hope of acquiring a balanced mind. The mental energies, if unnaturally restricted to the sensory realm, by either positive or negative pre-occupation, produce unbalanced behavior of one kind or another. Neither the sensualist nor the believer that "all of flesh is sin" can free his mind from attachment to the purely physical, and this attachment is a bondage, since the plane of physical existence can neither contain nor express directly the powers of mind. Conventional notions derived from the religious concept of sin are thus somewhat allied to the superstitions of sensualism, for each assumes that specific actions, rather than motives, will gain the man his goal -- "morality" or "escape," as the case may be. Both attitudes make intelligent functioning on the psychic and physical levels all the more difficult.
The tolerance of sympathy may be sincerely offered to those who find themselves tragically involved in the habits of sensuality, for these habits are a world in themselves, a painful world of forever-confused emotional impulses. There is no calm, no enduring sense of purpose, no real hope of happiness. The sensualist is not really enjoying things he has no right to enjoy, as religion would state the matter -- he is not enjoying at all, save fleetingly and in bravado. The mind -- the soul -- is uncomfortable. Such men need sympathetic consideration, not vilification, for they are typical of an age of psychic unbalance and philosophical ignorance. Intelligent sympathy, and much more, can be contributed by students of Theosophy, for they are provided with a compass for pioneering in the solution of basic psychological problems. Whether or not this age will continue to foster a trend toward degradation of soul is an open question. New and better answers to eternally troublesome personal problems will have to be forthcoming, for the old, unreasoned injunctions have apparently lost all persuasive force -- their essential inadequacy revealing itself precisely when a strong moral sense is more than ever needed.
While man must solve his own psychic problems before he can create a better society, it is important for him to recognize that all his personal dilemmas are interlocked. Another related problem is, What kind of an economic life shall we lead? Shall we work to be useful to society, or to acquire the largest possible amount of wealth so that we can buy anything we may desire? A modern psychiatrist has written that the neurotic is the natural child of our culture. He is told both to acquire for himself and to sacrifice for humankind. Alternating from one position to the other, he develops a "split personality," and if he is an extremely sensitive person he may become psychotic. The greater the capacity for responding to either the moral or the sensuous world, the more completely will a man throw himself in one or the other direction. Yet in so doing he will be haunted by the world he left behind.
There is no answer -- save that man is on a pilgrimage of soul, a journey through the conditions of the sensory world. This world he needs as the medium through which he can communicate with and learn from other soul-beings like himself. But the point of orientation must be the self-realization of soul. The great men of history were those who, consciously or intuitively, integrated their lives around a conception of soul destiny and purpose, and who were therefore able to "will one thing." If this orientation is achieved, the man has ground upon which he can stand. The world of the senses is still to be used, but used selectively, according to what it may provide of lasting benefit for souls. And if the fascinating, mysterious world of feeling is used in such a manner, the psychic impulses of the sensory man may achieve an evolution of their own, become refined and more delicately beautiful.
This solution is what all men desire, whether they are aware of it or not. This is the dream of youth, the prayer of the poets, the unformulated hope of the social visionary. Yet without a conviction of the real and primary existence of the soul, the faith for its realization cannot be found.
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 BALANCE OF AFFINITIES"
Though proved unfit for further development, and, therefore, doomed in most cases to be disintegrated and, losing personal consciousness, to be worked up again in the lower worlds into new combinations, all elementaries are by no means actively wicked all round. It is quite possible for elementaries to have a perfect intellectual knowledge and appreciation of virtue and purity and enlightened conceptions of truth, and yet be innately vicious in their tendencies. We meet plenty of men who have a sentimental love for virtue, and yet whose lives are one unbroken course of lust and self-indulgence, and as the men were, so are the elementaries, their reliquiae. If we at times speak bitterly of popular modern Christianity, it is because we know that with all its other ennobling and saving tendencies just on this all-important point it leads to the destruction of myriads of souls. For it leads to the belief that it signifies little what a man does, if he only finally believes that his sins are forgiven him. But there is no anthropomorphic Lord, no vengeance, no forgiveness; there is simply the action of a natural law impressed on the universe by the Absolute -- simply a question of balance of affinities, and they, whose deeds and general tendencies are earthly, go down in the scale, rarely, very rarely, to rise again in their own identities, and those in whom these tendencies are spiritual pass upwards.
--H. P. Blavatsky
MIND OF THE AGE
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