THEOSOPHY, Vol. 21, No. 10, August, 1933
(Pages 433-437; Size: 14K)
(Number 10 of a 12-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 12 articles have the same name.]
THE PURSUIT OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE
"LONG and weary is the way before thee, O Disciple. One single thought about the past that thou hast left behind, will drag thee down and thou wilt have to start the climb anew."
"Thus the first Path is LIBERATION. But Path the second is -- RENUNCIATION, and therefore called the 'Path of Woe.'"
It is long before the man in pursuit of Self-knowledge is able to rid himself save at interval moments from the race-conceptions of the purpose of life. Liberation, in that conception, means exemption from the common lot by virtue of superior knowledge and power. This is the root of all exploration in science. Or liberation is held to be escape from the vicissitudes of life by virtue of the knowledge, power and compassion of some superior being. This is the root of all popular religions. Opposed as science and religion may seem, they are identical in origin and basis, merely opposite directions taken by Souls in pursuit of the same object -- salvation for self.
Having exhausted the idealities of both, seeing them for what they are, mirages, illusions, maya, the aspirant who has had within himself a glimpse of the Higher Life is certain to assume that the hold of race-ideas is forever broken so far as he is concerned. So he pursues his quest with his eyes on the far summit of his dream, his mind lost in "trailing clouds of glory", until his animal feet, his human nature, forgotten and neglected, stumble and fall, bringing him back with a rude shock to the "realities" of earthly existence. With what loathing and regrets these rude awakenings are received, all men are aware, but they come with peculiar intensity to him who longs to live the life of the Soul -- "pure, bright, bodiless, and free." In time and through experience oft-repeated the practical lesson is learned to bear with the body that bears him; that it has its own nature and needs no less imperative than his own; that these are indissolubly conjoined for the period of mortal life. Some practically acquired sense is gained that "spirit" and "matter," "body" and the "soul" are not independent; that the potencies and potentialities of each reside in the other; that neither in waking, nor sleeping, nor dreaming can he ignore any fact, physical, metaphysical or other, in the pursuit of Self-Knowledge. The limitations which mind and body seem to impose on each other are more truly seen to be supplemental powers and possibilities, not antagonistic relations. Thus seen, whatever necessary adjustments will restore equilibrium are administered by Soul to both body and mind. The true freedom of both being attended to, Soul is itself at liberty to pursue its own path of evolution by means of their counterpoise. How delicate each is as an instrument of Soul can be grasped by pondering the simplest facts of human experience. Thus, the body is stable within an oscillation of only two or three degrees of internal heat or fire, up or down. Beyond this range there is fever at best, death, or the loss of the body, at worst. Applying the same analogy to the mind, the slightest variation in its temperature, called by us our "feelings," at once disturbs the other elements of the mind, upsets the equilibrium of the whole, reacts upon the body, and the Soul is thrown from its bearings, its whole universe out of focus. It is still the Perceiver, but its vision is disordered; it is still the Actor who goes by what it sees, but its actions are of necessity misjudged and misplaced. It is still the Creature, the worse than blind sufferer from its own creations.
In cases of physical fever all men at once take ameliorative measures, well- or ill-advised as the case may be, but in cases of mental derangements of temperature -- or "temper" -- physicians with even a modicum of empirical knowledge are hardly to be found. It is as true today as ever that no one has found an answer to the question, "Who can minister to a mind diseased?" Mind-fever may range all the way from momentary outbursts of anger, fear, envy, jealousy, despair, and all the evil brood of "dwellers on the threshold," during which, even if only of an instant's duration, the Soul's sole impulse is to destroy or to escape what is seen in its hallucination. In that instant, crimes are committed, in intention or in action, by which Soul may condemn itself to many lifetimes of expiation or compensation of the wrongs inflicted on others, before it can regain the poise forfeited in a moment's failure in self-watchfulness. One has but to look about him to observe the numbers of those who have lost all power in this life but the power to suffer -- and to suffer blindly, ignorant of the self-imposed liabilities brought forward from the bankruptcy of self-discipline in the forgotten past. One has but to glance around to see, even in the merely worldly sense, the many whose efforts, whose assiduities, whose talents, yield them no other recompense than the blasting of their hopes in the very hour of fulfilment. Neither our science nor our religion can explain these "failures of nature," nor can our philosophy endue us with the patience to endure this "toothache" of timeless Karma, if the hapless and helpless victim is ourself. The experiences of one in pursuit of Self-knowledge impress ever more directly the vital truth expressed in "The Voice of the Silence":"Learn that no efforts, not the smallest -- whether in right or wrong direction -- can vanish from the world of causes. E'en wasted smoke remains not traceless. 'A harsh word uttered in past lives is not destroyed, but ever comes again.'"So, in time, the searcher for truth comes to self-watchfulness of the temper of the mind more than of the body. Difficult as may be and is control of the body, its senses and tendencies, they are as nothing compared with the control of the mind, its senses and tendencies. Each feeds the other and both dissipate the energies of the Soul so that will and faith give way to weariness and doubt -- doubt of the great Purpose, doubt of one's self. "The Despondency of Arjuna" becomes very much other than a poetical picture -- it becomes the silhouette of self. Nevertheless, although he knows it not, the aspirant has by his efforts, however futile they seem, roused to action not only the hitherto latent dark side of his own nature, but also the dormant principles of his own inmost being -- principles one with the impersonal Higher Life. He may be willing to surrender to the odds against him, but he finds that it is true of him as of Arjuna that "the principles of his nature impel him to engage." The issue having been joined, he returns again and yet again to the seemingly hopeless combat.
Whence this renewal of the "will to live" in its Spiritual meaning and power? From the Higher Self in Nature; from the Higher Self in his own nature; from the resistance offered to his efforts by the inferior side of nature and his own being. The idea that the resistance of the "lower self," or human nature, is a necessary factor in Soul-evolution; that the "trials of life" are indispensable to the acquirement of Self-knowledge -- this may appear incredible; but the scepticism will vanish when one reflects that in the physical sense also, motion or progress in any direction would be impossible without friction. One more of the paradoxes of life, its incessant "pairs of opposites," is well exemplified here. For friction, which in the end prevents further progress, is also the means of all progress. Yet the "perpetual motion" of nature and of all in nature is not thereby interfered with. The "frictions of life" which derange the temper of body and mind, like the undue frictions of mechanical instruments, call for the interjection of a frictionless medium between the working parts. That medium is altruism in motive, good-will in the mind, brotherhood in actu in all the relations of human existence. Sickness of the body, disease of the mind, is going from bad to worse, but ill-will is the fever of the Soul itself. External friction cannot be avoided with one's fellows until all men regain by conscious effort the lost heritage, but even so, it can be in large part reduced and avoided by the simple method of subrogating one's own desires to the wants and wishes of others, one's own needs to the necessities of another. In comparatively few things do duties of our own conflict with the desires of others. What so often assumes the guise of principle is in fact nothing but preconception. Hard and fast conclusions as to men, things, or methods, have no place in the pursuit of Self-knowledge. There is no more difficult lesson to learn in human life. Is it to be wondered that the lesson is not quickly learned?
In all these respects, and in many others, the searcher for truth finds out by dear experience that he has to be his own physician before he can undertake to prescribe in any sense to others or for them. He begins to lose both pride and vanity -- two of the most deeply entrenched short-circuits of the will that have to be faced and overcome. In essaying to dig them out he is apt to fall into the pit of their shadows, self-pity and the thirst for sympathy.
But all the time he is in point of actual fact gaining direct perception and experience in the knowledge of self, i.e., of "human nature," and learning that there is nothing "personal" about it, except the personal point of view in regard to it. In ceasing to make overmuch of his own successes and failures, to be either elated by the one or cast down by the other, he insensibly comes to make the same "allowances" for his fellows that he makes for his own shortcomings. He finds out the fact that human nature in one man is fundamentally the same as human nature in another and in all others -- and acts on the perception of this unity. This is to have the chief cause of friction die a natural death, in himself and in degree in those about him in their relations with him. Friction in himself being gone, the higher vision of duty becomes the natural mainspring of conduct, with its resultant "flexible tenacity" of the Spiritual Will. "Liberation" for self loses its glamour and is seen for what it is, the maya of Spiritual selfishness; and the "Path of Renunciation" is likewise seen for what it is: the "Path of Woe" for the lower self, but the Highway of Souls for the reincarnating Ego.
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:
FROM THE TAO TEH KING
It (Tao) is unseen because it is colorless; it is unheard because it is soundless; when seeking to grasp it, it eludes one, because it is incorporeal.
Because of these qualities it cannot be examined, and yet they form an essential unity. Superficially it appears abstruse, but in its depths it is not obscure. It has been nameless forever! It appears and then disappears. It is what is known as the form of the formless, the image of the imageless. It is called the transcendental, its face (or destiny) cannot be seen in front, or its back (or origin) behind.
But by holding fast to the Tao of the ancients, the wise man may understand the present, because he knows the origin of the past. This is the clue to the Tao.
THE PURSUIT OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE
(Part 11 of a 12-part series)
"THE PURSUIT OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE"
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