THEOSOPHY, Vol. 53, No. 2, December, 1964
(Pages 48-51; Size: 12K)
[Article number (26) in this Q&A Department]
[Part 3 of a 3-part article -- the opening question
in italics is the same as in Part 1 and Part 2.]
Far beneath the anxious or the smiling surface of our normal lives, so far indeed sometimes that we ourselves do not suspect it, there exists in many of us (not all, no doubt, for some of us must be sane) a kind of disaffection, a dark and subtle self-contempt. But if men are really immortal, and potential gods, as Theosophy has declared, why should such feelings exist at all -- or at any rate, why so deeply?
"Who has twisted us like this?" cries the exquisite German poet, Rilke, and in one unscientific phrase focuses and elegizes the unique agony of modern man: a being lost in a labyrinth of his own construction, knowing too much to believe in the simple religious threads which were supposed to have led him back to paradise, yet at the same time knowing so little that he can scarce bear looking at his own ignorance in the mirror every morning. Man, feeling himself jilted by divinity, "left standing alone all day on the beach," turns in jealous hatred away from life, and runs with the hatred of lust after whores of diversion, comfort, entertainment, or even, sometimes, education. But in all these things what he hates most is himself, what he runs towards is his death.
A solution, suggested last month, is the simple one of "living," of letting life happen before our sentient eyes, and trying, by the basic adamic act of being conscious, to discover (and thus endow) meaning to all things. But is "living" enough? Put differently, is there more to living than just spectating, or appreciating? Clearly, there is more. There is sacrifice. H. P. Blavatsky calls it the law of life, and certainly we can see at least that it is the process of life. The mysterious crucifixion of every human being's incarnation into flesh must surely be considered a sacrifice, as well as a privilege, as must even our many (and often selfish) self-deprivations for the sake of some future "good." And even the empathetic act of seeing -- as opposed to the passivity of mere spectating -- involves a real and seldom recognized sacrifice, for in a deep sense it is possible to say, "I am not I when I see." I am momentarily robbed of myself, and am at the same time somehow enriched, as though discovering in the ocean or painting or person in front of me new aspects of myself unknown before.
But sacrifices are seldom pleasant things. The infant screams in protest at his birth, and the passage from adolescence to parenthood is often painful. Yet, conversely, most of us, it seems, live out our lives disconsolately and safely because we recoil from some never-spoken-of and yet ultimate sacrifice of attitude that might have made us gods. Call it, if you will, the sacrifice hinted at as early as the third century by St. Augustine, when he said that it is not within man's power to determine when Grace will be accorded him, or how, or even if the Grace should come; but to be always prepared to receive that Grace, to remain in a taut state of readiness -- that and that alone is within his power. But it must not be imagined that this Grace, or Satori, or foretaste of Initiation, is easy to prepare for, even if we had the prerequisite moral credentials, since the aspiration and courage required must stand tests as harrowing as climbing a mountain in a rainstorm and then standing naked at the top, waiting for lightning to strike!
It's a lot easier not to try at all. The trouble is, though, that it is sometimes difficult to avoid trying. The ancient myths have been with us for too long -- that of the Phoenix renewed through fire, of Jason searching for the fleece, of Jacob wrestling the angel, of Job on his ash-heap challenging the Deity to appear and instruct him. All these are myths of resistance; they portray man resisting the forces of inertia within himself and the forces of nature outside, just as the filament in a bulb resists the current, and in the process produces light. Paradoxically, therefore, it is one's resistance to the "life force" which brings about a constructive union with that force, one's reaching towards the gods which makes one truly a man.
We cannot know exactly what happened during the earliest of the Grecian rites, nor what the steps in their general degradation were, nor the stages of their great subsequent upswing and sublimation into the titanic art of tragedy. But we can say what generally does happen, and may still be happening, when the soul's deep beneficent impulse towards self-sacrifice and self-surrender becomes dislocated, and grounded in physical actions and concerns. To put our suspicions more bluntly, there seems to be a tendency imbedded in our society (especially noticeable in cities), a sort of unspoken undercurrent, traversed and partially counteracted by a number of constructive cross-currents, but one which seems nonetheless to be gathering strength and which can only be described as evil. Call it a tendency to regulate our "readiness for life" to others -- a tendency, for instance, to search out heroes, not in order to emulate them, but to use them as wish-fulfillments, as substitutes for actions on our own -- a tendency, too (on the other side of the coin), to search out anti-heroes, the ordinary Joes of our world, perhaps in order to reassure ourselves that our own mediocrity is normal, commendable even, and that we need reach no higher in life than to the aerial of our second TV. All this represents a single tendency, at once a trend towards over-intellectuality and anti-intellectuality; that is to say, an almost total reliance on intellect for all the comforts we hold dear, yet a reliance which is almost totally centered upon the intellects of others -- of specialists, of scientists, of political experts. We read, for example, in the New York Herald Tribune (Sept. 1) over breakfast, that "Life, say the scientists, is essentially protein molecules -- long chains, lumpy balls and curlicues that collectively make muscle and brain, virus coats and bacteria tails, antibodies and hormones," but we seldom make an effort to inform ourselves well enough, or to meditate deeply enough to effectively fight such a verdict against "spiritual reality," and take it to higher courts of appeal.
What twists us into such passivity? It is our fear, a fear of being cut down by criticism, fear therefore springing from pride, and equally from feelings of inferiority -- a deep self-love and a deep self-hatred existing simultaneously in our hearts because we secretly think ourselves separate from the rest of life.
But do we see where this is leading us? After all, tendencies are by definition not stationary. The conjecture of this student is that the ultimate degradation is not destruction, but in a perverse delight in destruction -- in other words, this is evil. For when the soul's innate urge towards self-sacrifice becomes twisted by separativeness, the urge remains, only it becomes destructively self-centered, just as the expression through procreation of the life instinct, or love, when twisted to lust, becomes a vehicle of the death instinct, and is often accompanied by hatred or disgust.
It seems strange that it should be easier, even in the short run, to work against the laws of nature than to work with them, but it nevertheless appears that evil is in one sense the easy way out, for no matter how active its machinations, it reflects an implicit moral passivity -- and it is for this reason that many of life's cowards will turn to an evil, which will eventually destroy them, before they will turn to the courage that would save them and everyone else. Sometimes it is just the courage of simple, large-hearted laughter that is needed, and yet for some that seems a harder sacrifice to make than accepting the warping of their personality, for it requires an honest, "daylight" view of the world, a clarity of perspective which allows all the humorous incongruities (even those within oneself) to be openly recognized. It is fear that furnishes the nocturnal world of the neurotic, for in that half-seen world (half-seen because one eye is always lovingly on oneself), one is able to assume himself to be the central and most important point in the universe, and be "omnipotent" as far as the eye (his eye) can see.
Thus, as mentioned earlier, it is real seeing that involves a sacrifice. It lets the world in. It shifts the fulcrum of existence from ourselves to the Self of All. It destroys us and yet holds out the only hope of our salvation, for it involves a sharp joy, a meeting of the world heart-on, to discover that sight itself can be communion.
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:
PHILOSOPHY AND MORAL JUDGMENT
We have no right to assign for the actions of our neighbor any other motives than those which ought in similar circumstances to guide our own. But because we are not able to discern the processes of thought, to see the soul -- it were very ridiculous to doubt or deny that any beings can. It is not incredible that the thoughts of the mind are the subjects of perception to some beings, as properly as the sounds of the voice, or the motion of the hand are to us. Indeed, every man's feeling may be appealed to on this question, whether the idea, that other beings can read his thoughts, has not appeared so natural and probable, that he has checked sometimes a train of thoughts that seemed too daring or indecent, for any unknown beholders to be trusted with.
[Article number (27) in this Q&A Department]
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