THEOSOPHY, Vol. 39, No. 1, November, 1950
(Pages 34-38; Size: 15K)
(Number 13 of a 24-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 24 articles have the same name.]
"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS
ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
SINCE the theosophic philosophy is primarily concerned with the varying degrees of enlightenment which the soul may gain, it should not surprise us to find a fundamental discussion of what is usually called the problem of "good men" and "evil men" in a chapter entitled, "Devotion by Means of Spiritual Discernment." One class of men, says Krishna, "the wicked among men, the deluded and the low-minded, deprived of spiritual perception..., and inclining toward demoniacal dispositions, do not have recourse to me." Such do not, in other words, presently belong to the progressing brotherhood of humanity. Who are these? How extensive their numbers?
In order to determine just what sort of man is meant, we must eliminate all who are said by Krishna to "have recourse" to him, in his Divine Form. A subsequent passage defines the exceptions: "Four classes of men who work righteousness worship me, O Arjuna; those who are afflicted, the searchers for truth, those who desire possessions, and the wise, O son of Bharata." Since most men assuredly belong in one or the other of these groups, if not to all, this passage seems to imply that the majority of human beings have at least some knowledge of "Krishna."
Students will find it interesting to attempt description of each class for themselves, and subsequently to question just why those who belong to the first three classes -- who are less than "wise" -- nevertheless are close enough to Krishna to be called by him "worshippers." For instance, why are the "afflicted" among those who are assumed to have "recourse" to Spiritual Sustenance -- for Krishna may be regarded as symbolizing this, may he not?
The Afflicted are those who are aware that they are being plagued by trials and tribulations. The man who does not know he suffers is either close on the last stages of the path to adeptship or sunk so far in spiritual oblivion that he knows not nor hungers for anything higher than his present lot. But the man who knows he suffers is immediately impelled to some kind of action designed to move him into the sphere of a new influence. "The very principles of his nature impel him to engage," providing he can recognize his present situation as undesirable. He is moving from "here" to "there," at the behest of an inner impulsion, even though the consolidation of his will may have been hastened by a disagreeable environment. True, the man who merely moves a little ahead on the path of knowledge, and who only slightly decreases the amount of affliction he must suffer, may be a long way from wisdom. Yet, since the Soul is in motion, since obstacles are recognized and at least partially overcome, such men learn a fragmentary bit of the nature and meaning of spiritual evolution -- which H.P.B. called a "series of progressive awakenings." And whatever they understand of spiritual evolution, they understand of Krishna, the One Divine Self incarnated in all experience. Few become Helen Kellers, in this incarnation or the next, but all whose afflictions are dire have the opportunity for gaining perspectives of great value for future births, and few waste all opportunities presented.
It is not difficult to explain the presence of the "searchers for truth" on Krishna's list, though it may seem puzzling that Krishna implies as great a distinction between the "searchers for truth" and "the wise," as between the "searchers for truth" and the "afflicted." We might here reflect that it is fashionable to attribute many of the historical advances of Modern Civilization -- that Civilization correctly called amoral -- to Curiosity. Yet, having no moral tone of its own, curiosity, like an affliction, may be simply a prompting to enlarge experience. Not just a search for any "truth," but search for the sort of truth which illuminates the path of soul is the way for one who would acquire wisdom. The aspirant to Wisdom, moreover, initially distinguishes between constructive and destructive knowledge, whereas the man of curiosity may find any puzzling thing an adequate challenge to his personal ingenuity. Most of our clever inventions have been but partial, unsynthesized illuminations. Indeed, this is perhaps to be expected if the "truth-seeker" focusses his concentration on the intellectual plane alone. As in the case of the afflicted, such a soul "moves," and thus keeps some contact with the current of all awakening consciousness, but often the movement is tangential to wisdom of purpose and aspiration.
What of the men "who desire possessions"? How can these be said to worship Krishna? Even a desire for possessions is an aspiration, an ambition to achieve a new relationship to one's surroundings. The acquisition of possessions involves, for instance, the responsibility of custodianship, and whether this responsibility be discharged in noble or ignoble fashion, some opportunity for learning is thereby presented. The man who desires possessions may be searching for a stable place, a relationship between himself and "possessions" which will give him an inner feeling of significance. Only the man who is satisfied with possessions is without vestiges of spiritual perception. Those who have labored to create vast industrial systems may be tyrants, and frequently are, yet are usually also builders and creators, and, from the building and creating, they approach the final lesson that possessions avail nothing in terms of happiness of soul.
Then, on a simpler scale, we might reflect that the love of beautiful objects is but a materialized expression of man's innate appreciation for that Beauty which is one with Truth and Goodness. Yet another sympathetic explanation might be that the attachment to certain objects is an immature reflection of man's intimate contact with all lesser forms of life, with the elemental kingdoms of the phenomenal world. The "collector" establishes a psychic rapport between himself and the objects he loves, and while such rapport may not be balanced, it still indicates man's capacity to feel a bond with lower orders of nature. There is a "poison" in possessions, but there is also much that may be learned, if no "status quo" is ever accepted.
In any case, whether or not these arguments are convincing, Krishna says that all -- the afflicted, the searchers for truth, and those who desire possessions -- are his "worshippers." "Excellent indeed are all these." Why? Because, if within such there burns the slightest fire of spiritual aspiration, these worshippers are on avenues that may lead onward. The "consciously afflicted" may begin to discover the universality of suffering, and how suffering may be transcended by the will to learn and to love, despite obstacles. The intellectual "searcher for truth" may learn that information does not bring happiness, and that greatness is never a matter of intellect alone, though all that he has gained through the discipline of pursuing the course of intellect is a foundation for greater and more significant efforts in the future. The "man who desires possessions" may grow to use such holdings wisely and to serve his fellow men by intelligent custodianship of property. In all these, can we not see, there may have taken place self-directed discipline? This is the bond with "Krishna," for the spiritual nature of all things can be revealed to those alone who have undertaken discipline.
Who, then, are the Bad men, the unenlightened, who are not among Krishna's devotees? They are those who do not aspire. They are "low minded," "the wicked," because they do not aspire. They are few, for they are completely satisfied with their lot and yearn for nothing -- and this is contrary to the natural condition of man. This and nothing else is what is meant by being "demoniacal" or sub-human. These are the living dead, desiring nothing new, but living as parasites upon that which they presently have.
Is it not clear, in the whole development of thought suggested by Krishna's classifications, that only the men who heed no Call to Action may be regarded as lost to the fellowship of souls in evolution? And here, too, perhaps, is the secret of the dangers of authoritarian religion. The man who is preoccupied with his status in terms of "goodness" and "badness" is forever preoccupied with the past, never truly with the present or future. When he "sins" he is repentant, but what is repentance? Little more than an acceptance of one's present capacity, or incapacity, for right action. Repentance does not call for improvement; hence, the repentants may move from irresponsible action to irresponsible action, feeling properly guilty most of the time, yet never seeking that entirely new basis for action which is needed. This is why all historical struggles for the freedom of thought have had theosophical significance, even when many of the accompaniments, as with the Renaissance, seem crass and immoral. "The Paths are two," says the Voice of the Silence. Both of these paths are consummated by a state wherein he who was once ordinary man "desires nothing." Yet desiring nothing may mean the loss of soul, as well as adeptship. The difference between the adept and the "depraved," incidentally, is that the adept once desired spiritual illumination and persevered with that desire until it became something better than itself.
We might try applying a maxim furnished by William Q. Judge to Krishna's classification of his "worshippers": "To make our will strong we must have fewer desires." The "worship" of the afflicted is often weak, because concentration is usually directed towards effecting, first one specific improvement, then another, rather than a change of attitude. The intellectual truth-seeker desires to know innumerable things, all at once, desiring not the one thing he needs -- the ability to synthesize. The man who desires possessions is likely to find a part of his concentration entangled with each thing possessed. But one who, thinking his universe is complete, desires nothing, either for himself or for others, has his concentration not just partially, but completely dissipated, in a spiritual sense: no aspiration exists to serve as focus for further learning.
Yet no one need fear this fate, for all may well ponder the fact that the classes of men depicted by Krishna, are in measure, and at specific points in time, ourselves.
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:
ABOUT CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
W. Q. Judge.-- My view is that capital punishment is both useless and injurious. It is as great an injustice to the world of beings left unexecuted as to the one so violently sent out of life. They used to kill men in England for stealing a ten-penny nail or a loaf of bread, but thieves and thieving did not lessen. Murders have not decreased. In the country districts executions are means for brutalizing the people, who make a hanging an occasion for a gala gathering in order to see a man legally killed. But theosophically it is far worse. The fact that the sudden killing is legal makes no difference with the laws of nature. The man is suddenly cut off from his body, and, just like a suicide, is condemned to be a "spook." He is dead so far as the body is concerned, but is astrally alive. Worse than a suicide he is filled with hate and revenge which he must wreak on some one. At first he is not able to do much, but soon he finds that there are sensitive persons on the earth who can be filled with his vicious and raging passions. These poor souls are then influenced to commit crimes; being filled mentally -- from the inner planes -- with the ideas and passions of the criminal, they are at last moved to do what their mind is filled with. The executed criminal does not have to know what is going on, for his raging passions, untouched by the executioner, excite and influence of themselves whoever is sensitive to them. This is why many a crime is suddenly committed by weak persons who appear to be carried away by an outside force. It seems hardly possible that anyone could believe in theosophical and occult doctrines and at the same time commend capital punishment.
--The Theosophical Forum, May, 1895
"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS
ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
(Part 14 of a 24-part series)
"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS
ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
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