THEOSOPHY, Vol. 36, No. 6, April, 1948
(Pages 256-263; Size: 22K)
(Number 50 of a 57-part series)
STUDIES IN KARMA
II: THE WAY OF THE EGO
[Part 2 of 2]
HAROLD MAINE, in If a Man Be Mad, pursues his autobiographical study of a mind in transition with a certain dry humor, and his narrative -- despite its necessary grounding in self-revelation -- is possessed of a valid impartiality. This quality is evident from his stress upon the larger analogy of his experiences. He could see, for example, "the masked insanity of a world rushing toward war as surely as I rushed toward my debacles with alcohol," and he could not erase the notion that his cure, when found, would not be simply an individual triumph: "I couldn't help feeling that perhaps the alcoholics, neurotics, and psychotics were a little like those canaries miners carry in cages to give warning of the first approach of dangerous gases. It seemed to me that a vigilant society might itself take warning when we fell and learn that sensitivity is not essentially weakness."
It is well to consider what may be the constructive function of sensitivity, or heightened psychic reception, for this quality will become more common in human nature, especially during the next few decades. As a mode of perception, it is the instrument of compassion, when directed and controlled. The control and direction of sympathy -- as of all other faculties -- comes, in the completely sane or "perfected" man, from the center of consciousness variously called the Thinker, the Perceiver, the divine Ego, or Buddhi-Manas. The sensitive, when swayed by the influences to which his brain is open, responds passively to outside forces, just as the masses of men take direction from social patterns established without reference to their individual needs, desires or ideals. The treatment of psychic unbalance, therefore, reflects the ethical standards of society in general, and this is one of Maine's chief contentions. What he is also saying, parenthetically, is that criminal neglect of the mentally ill should be documentary evidence that our ignorance of the cause and cure of insanity is equal to -- and the result of -- our indifference about the problem, both states of mind having their origin in irresponsibility.
Reading Maine's book, or the case histories in Out of Sight Out of Mind,(1) one is struck by the measureless tragedy of man's inhumanity to man. The blatant horrors of war are not less frightful than the subtler cruelties and individual terrors to which the mind may be exposed by its own insanity, capped by heartless and heedless "care." Almost it seems as if simple kindness and good faith are the lost chord in psychological therapy. Treatment of the insane, like any form of teaching, requires an inherent talent with people, an uncommon degree of selflessness -- qualities more important than intellectual training in "theories" of education and psychology. But when will statistical studies be made of the efficacy of kindness, and where is a basis for ethics on which to establish the therapy of good will? A significant incident, probably representing a typical rather than an exceptional occurrence, if the truth were known, is reported in Out of Sight Out of Mind:Mental patients -- so-called "crazy" people -- are extremely sensitive. No one can work with them for any length of time and fail to become convinced that this is so. Regardless of their present condition, regardless of their immediate response, mental patients very often know exactly what is happening to them....To be conscious of the actions of the body, and unable to direct it or communicate through the physical brain -- what better proof of the independent reality of the inner man? To be insensitive to the existence of an inner Ego, and without faith in the "better half" of every man, however obscured -- what stronger evidence of the insanity of materialism? Readers of If a Man Be Mad will probably not forget the old Chinese "lunatic" who, with a tolerance greater than that of his keepers, excused their brutality with the remark that theirs was the "top kind of crazy"!
A well-built man finally snapped out of the childish, baby-state in which he had lived for several months. He had babbled incessantly, and had been completely out of reach of doctors and attendants. Now he was well again. On the ward he saw two of the attendants who had cared for him. "You're the man who fed me so patiently," he said to one. To the other, he said, "And you're the tough guy who beat me up every time you gave me a bath."
Only grossly insensitive minds can be "adjusted" to the callousness of a society permeated by materialism -- which in some measure accounts for the fact that drunkards are often the most "human" members of a community, those whose weakness for drink seems to follow from a more delicate receptivity to the impalpable influences of human sorrow. Maine, studying books and observing techniques, found that the best an honest psychiatry could offer was utter conformity, a hopeless prospect, because--Society, our allegedly well-adjusted society, with its false beliefs that must be wholeheartedly accepted, its vague destination which can never be seen or believed in unless after the fact and historically, offers a sensitive man nothing but discomfort.So we return again to the first battleground -- the mind -- and the unresolved conflict between high aspirations and destructive inertia. In theosophical terminology, the feeling for unsentimental self-dependence may be considered the inspiration of Buddhi, an intuition of moral individuality. Pondering the "Power" believed in by Alcoholics Anonymous, and attempting to deceive himself into prayer, Maine had discovered that--
There is nothing to do, apparently, but adjust ourselves to the very beliefs that isolate us; to stop fearing our individual bents and renounce all society stands for, should it go against us as individuals. Each hero will have to be his own lonely spectator and become something less than a hero because of that. He will have to be certain, beyond a doubt, for each doubt is a shadow wherein lurks a fear, a phobia, a mania. Who but a genius can do that? And what genius has ever sustained at that level?as always and with everything, a mind within my mind was coolly watching, clinical and arrogant. It was the eye within the eye that only alcohol could blind. By its presence I was being told, "If anything happens there is a psychological explanation for it. You are tricking yourself in an attempt to break your isolation and destroying the very core of the principles that give you all you have that is worth while. ... The peace of your own bitter integrity is all you'll ever find.Since insanity is a condition in which the higher and lower mind have been dissociated, and alcohol accomplishes a temporary "schizophrenia" by paralyzing the higher centers of the brain, it is of interest that Maine came to what he called a "major piece of insight" when he realized "how neatly the thinking and feeling parts of me were separated." He defines a basic element in psychosis when he examines the alcoholic's "reasoning": "We are the axis of the universe, we alcoholics and neurotics. A muddled and sick translator sits between experience and conscious thought. Every event is gauged by the personal imbalance it inflicts, not by the lack of balance that causes it."
Self-analysis and concentration, the ability to hold the mind to an elected course, depend upon the knowledge that in man himself is a power greater than mind and therefore capable of reviewing and controlling mental action -- but of this Maine lacked conviction. "My mind," he writes, "was in no condition to fix itself upon an idea that might inspire an emotional rebirth or change my motive forces from little jerking needs to deep, driving desires. ... I was incapable of deep meditation, afraid of it. Of course I was incapable of the renunciation that must always take place before one solitary star is allowed to dominate the course. I guided on a churning galaxy and wondered at the epileptic nature of my emotions."
Maine's audience may wonder what he thought unusual about this picture of a mind at large -- and some perhaps will have a bleak moment of wondering if their "churning galaxy" is a form of insanity, too. This illustrates a valuable effect of If a Man Be Mad. Not that all men should focus on the evidences of their own insanity, but that insanity be recognized as an unnatural extension of ordinary mental processes. Condemnation of the mentally ill is itself a psychosis betraying an unhealthy ignorance (and, in extreme instances, fear) of a common human liability. Unless the universe is a chaos of irrational "justice," the insane mind is a karmic effect accruing to those who have, in this or previous incarnations, drastically weakened their position as self-conscious egos, and differ only in degree from other men. The struggle for sanity is not over until, as Maine well (if doubtfully) conceived, true and natural genius is achieved and maintained; that is, until one has a clear and unfailing perception of the factors of experience and a judgment balanced in impersonal moral law.
Maine stops just short of righteous indignation in exposing the "constitutional liar" in collective America. He apologizes for looking at his nation "through the distortions of his own pathology," and for being "raucous and childish" about the overwhelming evidence of a sacrosanct immorality in the social scheme, but his catalogue of modern superstitions cannot easily be gainsaid. The myths of justice, of reward for honesty, of education, of patriotism, each conceals an uglier reality. Maine indicts the community which itself maintains irrational fictions, and yet tries to banish from its midst those unfortunates who are hopelessly ridden by individual fictions, or who cannot preserve their mental balance in the presence of flagrant social hypocrisy. Perhaps it is natural, in view of this ethical schizophrenia, that a double standard of "reality" should also be the root inconsistency in modern psychology. On this point H. P. Blavatsky's comment is still pertinent:The modern psychologist, dealing as he does only with the superficial brain-consciousness, is in truth more hopelessly materialistic than all-denying materialism itself. ... The psychologist devotes to soul his whole time and leisure. He is ever boring artesian wells into the very depths of human consciousness. ... [He] is not even a mortal, or even a man; he is a mere aggregate of grouped sensations, or "an integration of sensations." It is all relations of subject and object, relations of universal and individual, of absolute and finite. But when it comes to dealing with the problems of the origin of space and time, and to the summing-up of all those inter- and co-relations of ideas and matter, of ego and non-ego, then all the proof vouchsafed to an opponent is the contemptuous epithet of "ontologist." After which modern psychology having demolished the object of its sensation in the person of the contradictor, turns round against itself and commits hara-kiri by showing sensation itself to be no better than hallucination.It is, of course, only the "self-evolving ascetic" who can be expected to preserve "calm indifference for, but a just appreciation of everything that constitutes the objective and transitory world in its relation with, and to, the invisible regions." On the average, we still depend upon general human nature for example and sustaining power. So constant a force is the cultural atmosphere that it is said: "Were every person to pay close attention -- in an experimental and scientific spirit of course -- to his daily action and watch his thoughts, conversation and resultant acts, and carefully analyze these, omitting no details, trifling as they might appear to him, then would he find for most of these actions and thoughts coinciding reasons based upon mutual psychic influence between the embodied intelligences."
The characterizations by Maine of society's compromise with reality bring him to a judgment made by H. P. Blavatsky: "Slavery to State and men has disappeared only to make room for slavery to things and Self, to one's own vices and idiotic social customs and ways." No wonder, as Maine declares, "the reason of sensitive men balked, tottered, and then fell. Maybe we weak ones, we drunks and neurotics -- those despised by the strong -- could eventually show that destiny has a way of taking everything into account in spite of false fronts, sweet lies, and noble gestures." The moral cleavage in the "respectable" majority Maine could no longer excuse in himself: "I knew, too," he continues, "that I wouldn't need drink or have to play 'as if' games as long as I kept myself aware of that. I'd have to understand the quicksand of my own human frailty; the cleavage between my own bright ideas and my own dull, driving instincts." The expanding sense of individual responsibility -- the key to moral law -- may be considered the central philosophy of If a Man Be Mad.
The long road out of alcoholism gave Maine the conviction that "only those who forget freedom are likely to gain it," and, forgetting himself in the overpowering necessity to protect the helpless insane from the senseless cruelty and stupidity of many keepers, he was startled to observe "the undramatic way alcoholism ended." His zeal for others accomplished the unsought-for result: "Within me the criminal had become the judge and sentenced the court of his own conscience to eternal perdition"--It was all very much like war and peace and at the same time like every man's struggle. ... Always I was thrown back on myself, back to the lonely job, back to the responsibility of individuality which neither I nor any man could delegate. Within me, and fairly clearly defined, was everything I had seen in the external world of the institution.Facing dishonorable and unjust discharge from the Veterans Administration Hospital where he had striven as an attendant to lessen the almost incredible horrors of government "care and treatment" of the insane,(2) Maine found himself "for perhaps the first time in my life inwardly free of guilt. ... I felt a sudden emancipation not only from the moral man with an institution behind him but from any guilt other than I should know in myself. No chemical had ever brought about a sensation or experience such as I was having; no emotion I had ever felt had such scope or surety."
It would be presumptuous to attempt to define the emancipation Maine experienced. But it is certain that each man will, in this or some future incarnation, come to an inner crisis when, as a theosophical teacher has written, "the varnish of conventionalities which 'civilization' overlays us all with must come off to the last coat, and the Inner Self, naked and without the slightest veil to conceal its reality, be exposed. The habits of society which hold men to a certain degree under moral restraint, and compel them to pay tribute to virtue by seeming to be good whether they are so or not, these habits are apt to be all forgotten, these restraints to be all broken through...."
This represents a test of sanity which few men would care to undergo without considerably more self-knowledge than they can at present lay claim to, for "none of us know the darkness which lurks in the depths of our own nature until some strange and unfamiliar experience rouses the whole being into action." The signs of insanity, represented in every mind by automatic brain action, depict by contrast the creativity of the higher mind. The insane man's abandonment to meaningless ritual -- ludicrous as his automatism may appear -- is a fair warning to any "creature of habit." Perhaps no image better renders the metaphysics of what we call sanity than H. P. Blavatsky's metaphorical reference to the divine Monad which either illumines or is forced to abandon the human being. The Monad, she writes in The Secret Doctrine (I, 174-5 fn.)--is not of this world or plane, and may be compared only to an indestructible star of divine light and fire, thrown down on to our Earth as a plank of salvation for the personalities in which it indwells. It is for the latter to cling to it; and thus partaking of its divine nature, obtain immortality. Left to itself the Monad will cling to no one; but, like the "plank," be drifted away to another incarnation by the unresting current of evolution.The way of the ego is of each man's choosing, but the ultimate alternatives of the human struggle are only two, depending upon the karma of affinities which the soul of man creates and embodies from stage to stage in its self-development and evolution. "Real self-development on the esoteric lines is action," and since karma literally means "action," the study of oneself is the study of karma.
Writing of Dostoevsky as one who "spoke boldly and fearlessly the most unwelcome truths to the higher and even to the official classes," H. P. Blavatsky suggested that "most of the administrative reforms during the last twenty years are due to the silent and unwelcome influence of his pen." She went on to remark:Whether Theosophists, in the present or future, will ever work out a practical application of the suggestion is doubtful. To write novels with a moral sense in them deep enough to stir Society, requires a great literary talent and a born theosophist as was Dostoevsky. ... Yet, even in the absence of such great gifts one may do good in a smaller and humbler way by taking note and exposing in impersonal narratives the crying vices and evils of the day, by word and deed, by publications and practical example.If a Man Be Mad is one such impersonal narrative, pervaded by a moral sense deeper than "morality," for Harold Maine himself has carried his convictions beyond mere statement or argument. He confesses, in another connection, to "a strange and perhaps masochistic streak in me that keeps me from bringing up matters that might be of embarrassment to another person." His book, while designed not to embarrass specific individuals, should be a source of embarrassment to the conscience of Society, which means to every man whose ignorance or indifference contributes to the conditions he describes. His own integrity -- which prevented him from ever completely relinquishing his own judgment or adopting unreservedly someone else's theory of reform -- is his best argument for individual responsibility. By a kind of non-violent direct action, he demonstrates the "power of the initiatory," at once the sign and goal of sanity.
STUDIES IN KARMA
THE SOUL OF RUSSIA
(Part 51 of a 57-part series)
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TWO (2) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:
(1) By Frank L. Wright, Jr., published by the National Mental Health Foundation, Inc. Philadelphia: 1947.
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(2) Maine's article in the Satevepos, November 15, 1947, "We Can Save the Mentally Sick," reports a hopeful experiment recently inaugurated by Dr. Karl Menninger in Topeka, Kansas: Winter VA (Veterans Administration) Hospital. In this "largest psychiatric-teaching hospital in the world," the chief instructor is the individual patient, for he supplies attendants, nurses and doctors with the psychological "leads" to be followed in guiding his recovery.
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