THEOSOPHY, Vol. 40, No. 12, October, 1952
(Pages 559-564; Size: 18K)
(Number 12 of a 20-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 20 articles have the same name.]
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
THEOSOPHISTS often remark that it should be possible to discuss any subject, no matter how controversial, from a Theosophical perspective -- even politics. Yet realization of the ideal, in this particular, especially, is remarkably difficult, politics in general appearing to be so deeply enshrouded in factional miasmas that philosophy is an alien language. H.P.B.'s opening sentences in "The Relations of the T.S. to Political Reforms" imply, however, that the Theosophist is obliged to seek understanding of all political positions, be they "Capitalistic," "Socialistic," "Communistic," "Anarchical," "Democratic," "Monarchical," or even "Totalitarian." For she writes that the aim of the Society is to be "international in the highest sense, in that its members comprise men and women of all races, creeds and forms of thought."
The determination to avoid any partisan grouping of Theosophical students under one of these slogans or banners is the same determination, in Theosophical terms, which inspires sympathetic understanding of each -- the mantram, "The true Theosophist belongs to no cult or sect yet belongs to each and all," being double-edged. Some time, it may happen that politics and religion will be regarded as twin incarnations, since in either of these fields we find both the power of worthy ideals and that distorted idealism which supports coercive force, as well as both worthy and unworthy methods utilized for achieving proclaimed ends. Just as there has been an enormous amount of hypocrisy in respect to political pronouncements, so have there been innumerable like instances revealed by attempts to promote sectarian religious interests; and, conversely, if one has studied religious differences with both sympathy and profit, why may he not essay the same in respect to "politics"?
The key to an approach for such study might be taken from H.P.B.'s statement that "political action must necessarily vary with the circumstances of the time and with the idiosyncrasies of individuals." While it may often be difficult for the devoted social reformer or political visionary to see in such a Theosophical attitude anything more than indifference to the social and economic needs of exploited peoples, the Theosophist is fully entitled to press the argument that until an attitude of mind is developed which is willing to synthesize the best of all approaches to political problems, no cooperative solutions will be possible. Further, fundamental humanitarian sympathy must precede a willingness to appreciate whatever valid points of emphasis are selected by divergent political movements and, in turn, it is only from such synthesis that agreement upon a few basic principles can be reached.
In this respect, the Eastern world has been far ahead of the Western -- a fact persuasively attested by Edmond Taylor, author of Richer by Asia. Taylor discovered that Indians of the most widely divergent political opinions could meet socially, discuss courteously and with profit all sorts of matters, even though their political affiliations led them on other occasions to the most vehement partisanship. The Americans, Taylor reflected, tended strongly to make personal vendettas of political differences. Why? The Indian statesmen of Taylor's acquaintance were no less serious about their beliefs -- perhaps more so, since impersonal detachment freed them from loss of energy through childish name-calling and accusation and helped keep their thinking straight. At the cultural root of this endowment Taylor found the old Vedic scriptures and The Bhagavad-Gita. In 1947, a time of great stress and trial for India, Taylor wrote: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, not in the refusal of combat, but in refusing to hate the adversary one opposes. For many Indians political action and social reform have become a personal discipline of the spirit, a kind of social yoga, as well as a patriotic duty.Taylor continues with a remarkable statement of the dynamics which obviously must implement full realization of the First Object of the Theosophical Movement:As I found for myself in Asia, the study of the causes of man's disunity becomes an adventure of the mind and a discipline of self-knowledge when it is used to discover the roots of disunity in ourselves, to lay bare the resistances, the hesitations, and the contradictions hidden beneath our own verbalizations of the ideal of human unity.Few Westerners are able to see that this attitude of mind, far from being impractical, is the only practical way for advancing the hope of political accord. This is philosophical politics rather than religious politics; the philosopher seeks the impartial truth, while the typical authoritarian religionist, bound forever to his conviction of personal superiority, fanatically attacks or defends without devotion to the principles of reason. The same holds true with many Western programs of social reform, alike suffering from the cultural Karma of a "personal God" type of authority. H.P.B. writes:
Such discoveries are sometimes painful but they have a peculiar liberating effect and tend to make the discoverer feel at peace with the earth upon which he walks and with the other living creatures who walk with him, to feel that this planet upon which he dwells is his home, the home of man, and that he himself is at last a member of the tribe of man. This feeling is, of course, a purely personal acquisition, yet it is a useful feeling to have because if we have it strongly enough we may find the strength to solve the problems of realizing one world, while if we try to solve them without it, the result is very likely to be no world at all.In most of the panaceas there is no really guiding principle, and there is certainly no one principle which connects them all. Valuable time and energy are thus wasted; for men, instead of cooperating, strive one against the other, often, it is to be feared, for the sake of fame and reward rather than for the great cause which they profess to have at heart, and which should be supreme in their lives.The lesson of the new India is a profound one in many respects, for both the career and assassination of Mohandas Gandhi illustrated graphically the two polar opposites of orientation present in political movements. It was the philosophic heritage of a great past which enabled so many millions of Hindus to become understanding followers of Gandhi, true appreciators of the fact that political action and social reform must become "a personal discipline of the spirit" -- a kind of social yoga. Gandhi's assassination, on the other hand, was the result of religious fanaticism. Here, as if pictured on a screen for all the world to see, was the history of all "politics" since the beginning of time. In every country, both philosophical men of vision and religious fanatics have contributed to the course of history, nor can we say that any one of the usual political designations has a monopoly on either quality.
Even with those who believed or still believe in some form of Fascism, there may be some slight ground for finding a bond of sympathy. The chaotic and undisciplined behavior of most societies may easily lead to the belief that man can never find his strength unless he is forced to follow the most stringent of disciplines, the most intense channelling of energies towards the development of perfect order. Plato has often been called a fascist because he frequently emphasized in his Republic the necessity for a political view which transcended ordinary personal concerns, and in which duty and obedience to law would prosper.
We must remember, however, that Plato's Athens was an Athens striving for some form of unitary government, some point of stability, while our own age is one of approaching totalitarianisms. This latter fact makes it especially easy, now, to understand the cry of the anarchist, who believes that only freedom from all forms of external compulsion can bring to fruition the development of man's highest and noblest qualities. The anarchists are concerned, though often with an uncompromising fanaticism of their own, with preventing what H.P.B. calls the "slightest invasion of another's right," and are convinced, with her, that "the whole present system of politics is built on the oblivion of such rights, and the most fierce assertion of national selfishness."
These are the polar extremes, Anarchism and Totalitarianism, yet elements of both are included in the writings of the great Plato, whom H.P.B. called an Initiate. The opening section of Isis Unveiled devotes some ten pages to Plato, pointing out, in particular, that:It is the Platonic philosophy, the most elaborate compend of the abstruse systems of old India, that can alone afford us this middle ground. Although twenty-two and a quarter centuries have elapsed since the death of Plato, the great minds of the world are still occupied with his writings. He was, in the fullest sense of the word, the world's interpreter.In the Platonic dialogues, reaching their most dramatic climax in the recounting of the trial and death of Socrates, Plato enunciates the great paradox. Socrates refused, again and again, even on the threat of death, to abstain from speaking his mind freely in opposition to the will of the lawmakers of Athens. Yet he also refused to escape from the punishment decreed, when his friends prepared an avenue of flight. He expressed, at one and the same time, complete independence of the State and complete acceptance of its decrees. He proclaimed, for all Western history to hear, the inviolability of the individual conscience, but at the same time proclaimed an obligation to measure one's duty to law even though it be externally imposed. Laws, he held, however, had only to do with actions, never with thought.
We wonder how many have reflected on why it is that Plato, dramatizing a Socrates who would not bend one fraction of an inch towards modifying his opinions to fit the dogmas of his time, could still portray the advantages of a State regulated in a totalitarian fashion? A few Platonists have speculated -- correctly, we think, from the Theosophical point of view -- that Plato's intent was simply to dramatize the need for discipline in human life, and that the real summum bonum is the ordering of vagrant desires and impulses by the stern command of the higher mind. But even if Plato's respect for authority in politics were taken literally, the student must grant that it was not the advocacy of contrary ideas that was to be outlawed, but only the failure to follow the patterns set by the "Philosopher-Kings." The most vicious aspect of totalitarianism, obviously, enters when conformity of thought is demanded, and when unpopular opinions are punished and persecuted. Even in the modern "democracies," we sometimes find an unintelligent persecution of minority opinions which rivals the thought-control programs of the most fanatical totalitarian states. In fact, there is a special kind of horror involved when private citizens can so easily persecute one another, for they thus corrupt their own perspectives and take on themselves a vast load of political Karma. As H.P.B. has elsewhere written, "we never forgive those whom we have wronged."
There can be no doubt of the existence of great values in the democratic experiments. H.P.B. spoke of her love for America "because of its noble freedom," and here we see another aspect of the essential truth embodied in the position taken by the Anarchist. Yet it is a karmic law that unless men become devoted to self-discipline, to a "kind of social yoga," external disciplines of a dangerous and destructive variety will be foisted upon them by the ambitious and power-mad. Freedom, according to the old saying, "must be won anew each day." Freedom is a precious condition, a delicate balance, which cannot maintain itself unless utilized for the inauguration of action beneficial to others. Otherwise the kama-manasic mind is likely to become entrenched in conceptions of privilege and superiority.
All these factors may be seen working behind the century-long struggle between "Capitalism" and "Socialism." The Theosophist will find himself believing with H.P.B. in "Socialism of the highest and noblest sort," but he will conversely believe in the karmic right of individuals to exercise custodianship of wealth. We need the "social-order" vision of Edward Bellamy to the extent that we need a natural and universally acclaimed recognition of worthy leaders; but we must also resist coercive control by systems, parties or groups. No one, moreover, can appoint any individual to either a higher or lower position -- the "appointment" must come through Karma, and its rightness be indicated by grateful acceptance. If such grateful acceptance is not present, the karmic condition is simply not right, and anyone who assumes power to control social or economic forces at such a time becomes a tyrant, whether he be capitalist or socialist.
The hidden element in Plato's politics is the implication that men may only serve as leaders of their fellows when they have been called upon to so lead, and to serve the cooperative interests of the whole society rather than to wage warfare against an opposition party. Monarchies were overthrown -- however much appeal this application of the natural "aristocratic principle of nature" had for the populace -- whenever men connived either for the perpetuation of dynasties or their overthrow. Similarly, democracy fails when it becomes but a symbol for partisan conflict. Governments by kings and parties alike are "untheosophical" to the extent that they have to do with manipulative power, the power that the sage shuns. It should be remembered, though, that there is a kernel of philosophic truth in every political idea, and it should be the task of the Theosophist to ferret it out, just as he seeks the "ounce of gold in a ton of rubbish" in the religions and philosophies of the world.
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 individual is the ultimate yardstick; but he cannot develop fully or freely except in an organized society. Nor is any one individual the yardstick. His freedom and opportunities must obviously be limited by the need for guaranteeing freedom from interference to his fellow-individuals.
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
(Part 13 of a 20-part series)
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