THEOSOPHY, Vol. 41, No. 2, December, 1952
(Pages 64-68; Size: 15K)
(Number 14 of a 20-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 20 articles have the same name.]
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
THE two "Practical Theosophy" sections entitled "Theosophy for the Masses" and "How Members can help the Society" involve some crucial areas of debate and concern. In the first place, repeated use of the word "masses" of itself indicates a definite variance between H.P.B.'s Theosophical presentation and orthodox "liberalism." Ever since the dissemination of eighteenth-century revolutionary philosophy, the trend of opinion has been toward what is usually called "democracy," and has involved an ideological leveling of classes. During this period, consequently, any inferences to the effect that there are natural leaders in every society have been regarded as dangerous reactionism.
H.P.B. has shown a great sympathy for the struggles of the majority to overthrow hereditary aristocracy, as well as political theocracy, her spontaneous alliance with democratically inspired "peoples' movements" being illustrated, perhaps, by her early support of the war for Italian independence from Austrian oppression. But it is also apparent that the whole structure of the Theosophical philosophy, as outlined in the Third Fundamental proposition of The Secret Doctrine, affirms the inevitability of a hierarchical principle in human evolution. The Secret Doctrine is full of references pertaining to the "lighting up of Manas," all of which implies the absolute necessity for the presence of "divine instructors" at the beginning of each term of mankind's cyclic progress. In this context she also refers to the "masses," the following sentence on the subject being one of the most provocative:Those who were "half ready," who received "but a spark," constitute the average humanity, which has to acquire its intellectuality during the present Manvantaric evolution.Between the various degrees of intellect, H.P.B. indicates, there are always tremendous gulfs. She speaks of "prematurely developed intellects (on the spiritual plane)" which "in our race are abnormal; they are those whom we call the 'Fifth-Rounders'." Then, to emphasize the discrepancy between the most advanced intellectuals and "average humanity" she states that "Even in the coming seventh Race, at the close of this Fourth Round, while our four lower principles will be fully developed, that of Manas will be only proportionately so." H.P.B.'s classification of Plato as an "Initiate" implies certainly, too, that Plato's doctrine of "philosopher kings" is an inevitable corollary of Theosophical teachings on evolution.
On page 247 of the Key, H.P.B. refers briefly to this hierarchical -- or, as it has sometimes been called -- "aristocratic" principle, and in a very pointed manner. The inquirer has asked whether the Theosophist maintains that all this "metaphysics and mysticism" is of direct importance to the majority. H.P.B. replies:To the masses, who need only practical guidance and support, they are not of much consequence; but for the educated, the natural leaders of the masses, those whose modes of thought and action will sooner or later be adopted by those masses, they are of the greatest importance.It is very difficult for the Theosophist to explain, in the context of prevailing opinion, why such statements are neither snobbish nor disparaging of the "average man." The chief difficulty lies, we may think, in the fact that all political doctrines involving the positing of "higher" and "lower" classes of intellect have involved the claim of special rights and privileges, reserved for the elect. The most penetrating modern work on this subject is unquestionably Ortega y Gasset's Revolt of the Masses. A sociological historian of note, and an able writer, Ortega nonetheless found it difficult to explain what he meant by the "aristocratic interpretation of history" without encountering immediate and violent antagonism. Ortega, like H.P.B., attempts to explain that he is not talking about political organization, but rather about the nature of human society. These passages from The Revolt of the Masses will illustrate:What I have said, and still believe with ever-increasing conviction, is that human society is always, whether it will or no, aristocratic by its very essence, to the extreme that it is a society in the measure that it is aristocratic, and ceases to be such when it ceases to be aristocratic.Ortega brings to fruition another synthesis suggested by H.P.B. in further clarifying his thesis, when he recognizes that some of the most "nobly disciplined minds" -- who are, perhaps, truly representative of Plato's Philosopher Kings -- come from the classes of working men:
When one speaks of "select minorities" it is usual for the evil-minded to twist the sense of this expression, pretending to be unaware that the select man is not the petulant person who thinks himself superior to the rest, even though he may not fulfill in his person those higher exigencies. For there is no doubt that the most radical division that it is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort towards perfection; mere buoys that float on the waves. This reminds me that orthodox Buddhism is composed of two distinct religions: one, more rigorous and difficult, the other easier and more trivial: the Mahayana -- "great vehicle" or "great path" -- and the Hinayana -- "lesser vehicle" or "lesser path." The decisive matter is whether we attach our life to one or the other vehicle, to a maximum or a minimum of demands upon ourselves.The division of society into masses and select minorities is, then, not a division into social classes, but into classes of men, and cannot coincide with the hierarchic separation of "upper" and "lower" classes. It is, of course, plain that in these "upper" classes, when and as long as they really are so, there is much more likelihood of finding men who adopt the "great vehicle," whereas the "lower" classes normally comprise individuals of minus quality. But, strictly speaking, within both these social classes, there are to be found mass and genuine minority. As we shall see, a characteristic of our times is the predominance, even in groups traditionally selective, of the mass and the vulgar. Thus, in the intellectual life, which of its essence requires and presupposes qualification, one can note the progressive triumph of the pseudo-intellectual, unqualified, unqualifiable, and, by their very mental texture, disqualified. Similarly, in the surviving groups of the "nobility," male and female. On the other hand, it is not rare to find today amongst working men, who before might be taken as the best example of what we are calling "mass," nobly disciplined minds.The Theosophical teaching, clearly, is in no sense a political doctrine, any distinction or division between "classes" of men or "classes" of mind meaning primarily that some are born with a greater charge of responsibility than others. According to the usual connotation of "privilege," as meaning "license," the most ignorant of men are the most privileged, in the sense that their infractions of moral law can be likened to the naughtiness of children, whereas the more enlightened man must be held accountable to a much greater degree.
Also, at this point, it is well to call attention to H.P.B.'s emphasis on personal exertion in all works of charity. She repeats the same theme in "How Members can Work for the Society," stating that the Theosophist is one who follows the Buddhist precepts "to do their work themselves and not by proxy." One who follows these counsels can hardly be disdainful of "the masses," since he feels responsibility for contacting directly the lives and aspirations -- however limited -- of those less fortunately endowed. It is in this context, too, that the perennial counsel for "setting an example with one's own life" takes on its most vivid meaning, for if it be recognized that the majority of mankind are imitators rather than originators in the field of behavior, morality becomes less a private matter than it would be among one's peers. Whatever course of conduct is personally decided upon must then be regarded in its relationship with constructive trends in conduct in the world at large.
We now come to a curious sentence: "It is only by means of the philosophy that an intelligent and educated man can avoid the intellectual suicide of believing on blind faith; and it is only by assimilating the strict continuity and logical coherence of the Eastern, if not esoteric, doctrines, that he can realize their truth." This passage at first glance seems to apply only to minds devoted to the arbitrary doctrines of theology, but since the age of "free thought," burgeoning into obstreperous as well as aspiring life at the very time of H.P.B.'s writing, also took a materialistic bent, we can wonder if "blind faith" and "intellectual suicide" might not also be concomitants of mechanistic determinism. If so, we must question the fitness of both religionists and mechanists as "leaders."
Neither unquestioning aceptance nor unqualified denial can possibly lead to positive and constructive convictions, and no one can be a "natural leader" of the masses unless essentially creative and constructive. While men of great intellectual capacity can involve themselves in crusades against this or that belief or ism, they are simply by that means reinforcing the power of tamas over the minds and emotional natures of the majority. All negative or destructive judgments are of necessity tamasic, and we have seen, since 1875, the effects of "all-denying" materialism in freezing the mind in a kind of doctrinal skepticism. Once again, then, the obligation of the Theosophist is quite evidently to rise above the dead level of conventional opinions, in order to point the way to transcendence of status-quo thinking.
Why do the Eastern "esoteric doctrines" provide such an immediate inspiration? H.P.B.'s words here would seem to refer directly to the broadly encouraging perspective on evolution which Theosophical teachings outline. To use a homely simile, it is only when a man "feels that the game is worth the candle" that he can become fired with the creative spirit, and here we have an essential difference between "Prometheus bound" and "Prometheus unbound." Our own Titan is chained by a lack of a sense of direction. Without the perspectives of karma and reincarnation, for instance, men first feel forced to accept an indifferent existence, and often end by losing the inclination to hope and aspire. The most extravagant claim that can be made for Theosophical teachings is also the truest -- that any form of conviction which is not based upon Theosophical principles leads to stagnation, whereas Theosophical convictions, if truly based, ever beckon onward. With this background we may appreciate why H.P.B. uses the word "enthusiasm" so often on pages 247-8:Conviction breeds enthusiasm, and "Enthusiasm," says Bulwer Lytton, "is the genius of sincerity, and truth accomplishes no victories without it"; while Emerson most truly remarks that "every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is the triumph of enthusiasm." And what is more calculated to produce such a feeling than a philosophy so grand, so consistent, so logical, and so all-embracing as our Eastern doctrines?The duty of "intellectual leaders," then, is to "impart enthusiasm" to the masses. That this may be accomplished is suggested by the subsequent reference to the spontaneity and energy by which Buddhism was once adopted -- a Buddhism which contradicted all minimizers of innate human strength. Edwin Arnold's Buddha, true to the message of the Dhammapada, did not decry ordinary joys and pleasures as sins, but simply indicated that there are far higher, nobler and more worthwhile treasures to be reached when man's comprehension is sufficiently advanced. Enthusiasm, not fear, thus becomes the spur.
It must be the affirmative message of Theosophy which is above all things important, and it must also be the duty of intellectual leaders among Theosophists to carry a message of affirmation to the majority. The truths that men "dimly feel but cannot formulate" -- at least the most important ones -- are their aspirations, while aspirations have much to do with seeing hope and promise in the future, and with "enthusiasm."
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
(Part 15 of a 20-part series)
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