THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 10, August, 1950
(Pages 445-449; Size: 14K)
(Number 2 of a 10-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 10 articles have the same name.]


"One affliction is better than a thousand exhortations."--Turkish
PROVERBS and maxims are not merely nice sayings, or left-over remnants from what some erroneously believe to be an inferior antiquity. They are the accumulated wisdom of centuries, the assimilated experiences of many generations of thinkers, and are based upon law and fact. The simplicity of language in which a maxim is expressed should not mislead a person into believing that for this reason its value is small. The simplest statements are often the most profound. The very ability to cast great ideas in plain words is itself proof and testimony of the experience and understanding of the author. Ideas simply expressed represent lessons well learned.

That one affliction is better than a thousand exhortations does not mean that the advice given by men is of no value. It only means that Karma, after all, is the best teacher -- especially in Kali Yuga. An exhortation may embody the highest wisdom, and be spoken in words of poetical beauty, and yet fail utterly to touch the inner real life of the listener. Counsel seldom penetrates the inner layers of consciousness to the extent an affliction does. Why is this so, do we ask? It is because men live in their personalities instead of in their minds. It is because they follow the rules of Epimetheus instead of Prometheus, and thus learn only through reaction and suffering. Few men stop to think before they act. Few seem to have the insight or vision that will enable them to relate principles to their particular problems, even after having been exhorted and shown the way. Thus it is that we learn chiefly through suffering. Affliction demands the attention that counsel should have received.

"Woe to those who live without suffering," says H. P. Blavatsky. Suffering is the great prompter of progress. Without affliction to spur men on, they would stagnate in their nests of emotional enjoyment. The average man does not realize the need of food until he gets hungry, nor that he has been breaking the laws of health until he gets sick. One may exhort on diet and the need of rest until the end of time. It will make little impression upon the healthy man. The soil must first be prepared before seeds of advice can take root and grow. The mind must be made receptive through suffering.

That exhortations fail to instruct is not due alone, however, to the fact that they fall upon unreceptive minds. A large part of the difficulty is traceable to present-day methods of education, where instruction is largely a thing of books and is conducted in class-rooms -- out of all relation to nature and life. How can lessons on agriculture, for example, impress the minds of students while sitting in lifeless city school-houses? What good is advice on swimming to a man who lives in the desert? Of what possible value are preachments on sex control to a child five years of age? H. P. Blavatsky held that instruction should be geared to the Karma of the individual, that each child should be dealt with as a unit, and that his early education should consist in teachings that will prepare him to carry with fortitude the burdens allotted him by Karma. The idea behind Gandhi's system of basic education is the same -- that is, that instruction should proceed in co-operation with Karma, not separate and apart from it. The best time and condition under which to teach geometry and architecture, for example, is not at just any moment the teacher may choose, but when Karma brings the need of a new building, or a new table, while the pupil helps in its construction. The best time to teach meteorology is likewise a time determined by Karma -- when the Law presents unusual weather conditions that have an effect upon the life of the community -- when the child, in other words, is conscious of weather. This does not mean that laws and principles cannot be taught at other times, but simply that teachers should be awake to Karma and its relation to the student, should use each situation as it arises for a definite end in view. Is it not true that seeds sown at the proper time have tenfold advantage over those sown out of season? Basic education, to be effective, must be conducted co-operatively with Nature and its Law. Its root is in the home, where children share the family Karma, where they see the application of principles to actual life -- not just theoretically -- and where their natural field for learning is through helping with necessary tasks.

In bringing suffering into a person's life, Karma does not do so with any intent to punish. Karma has no motive of itself. Being impersonal Law, it only follows the lines of causation established by the being himself. Karma adjusts effect to Cause and relates both to the Producer. In so doing, it arouses the attention of the Ego and reveals the need of a truer basis for thought and action. If men would study effects instead of simply enjoying the pleasant, and attempting to avoid the unpleasant, they would soon come to know themselves. If they trace all effects to their proper source -- within -- they would discover the Causes of their woe, and would know that the virulent breeder of pain and affliction is rooted in some false idea or dark emotion, or in an uncharitable attitude of mind.

Those who know something of the beneficence of Karma stand appalled before the difficult task of helping the afflicted. How often do unwise philanthropists literally rob a person of his opportunity by relieving him prematurely of an unpleasant trial! How common it is for friends and relatives, in moments of emotional sympathy, to deprive the sufferer of his one chance, perhaps, in this incarnation to learn the lesson he needs most to learn! Suffering to the soul is a sacred matter -- not to be interfered with unlawfully without serious consequences to all concerned. Those whose interest in the welfare of a sufferer is genuine will have little difficulty in determining their duty in regard to him. Is it not true that the baby chick is left to itself to peck its own way out of the shell unhelped? Is it not a known fact that attempts to assist the butterfly in its struggle to break through the chrysalis result very often in death? The struggle is a necessary part of its evolution, and builds strength and stability. So it is with man. The purpose of the wise and beneficent Law in bringing pain is not to inflict unnecessary suffering. It is to enable the person to adjust his inner life, to give him time to think things over, to seek for truth, or that which is implied in exhortation. Affliction gives the incentive for breaking through the shell of encrusted idea and emotion which bar the path of progress. Unlawful interference from the outside is a crime against Nature. "The duty of another is full of danger."

The visiting of the sick has long been held to be a necessary part of religious devotion. And true it is that an important element in the recovery of the afflicted is the sympathy, understanding, and kind treatment of those they love and on whom they depend for help. Also, fitting occasion thus comes to kith and kin to render gentle service to those in need. But this, like other rituals, seems to have undergone a change and become perverted. The real meaning of affliction as decreed by Nature has been lost sight of by the race as a whole. The purpose of disease is to relieve the inner man of a load of sin, not to make him expectant of favor nor to provide the occasion for sociability or open-house visiting. It is a time when Karma seeks to strike a balance in man's nature, to bring about coordination between the principles of his being, to provide opportunity for quiet reflection. Why should the process be interfered with unnecessarily? Beyond the necessary care and help of those whose Karmic duty it is to help, the afflicted in most cases may well be left in beneficent solitude. Illness is more inward than outward, is an extremely private affair between man and the Law, and it requires rest and repose. When experienced with dignity it is actually an event of "initiation."

Lest the above statements be misunderstood, and theosophists be accused of being cold and heartless, it is necessary to recall H. P. Blavatsky's definition of a theosophist:

The first rule of theosophical life is that one must fit himself to be the better able to help and teach others. But true fitness requires something more than emotional sympathy and a weak heart that cannot bear to see suffering. The theosophist must ever hold himself in the attitude of eagerness to help his fellow man, else he is no theosophist, but he needs first to know how to help, to understand the difference between honest help, which is sometimes very painful, and emotional palavering over the afflicted, which is more often a hindrance than an aid. Karma will not keep the sufferer in misery longer than is necessary. The very moment adjustment is made, the hand of the Law will be lifted. But Karma must be satisfied -- ideas must be sifted, feelings tempered, attitude enlarged -- and no one but the sufferer can do it. If proper inner adjustment is not made, any relief obtained will be only temporary, and the whole experience will have to be repeated in this or another life.

If one would accept counsel he should not need affliction. It is quite possible, by assuming the position of soul, to live an experience out entirely in the mind. This, the true disciple does at all times. He acts from a higher plane of consciousness than does the ordinary mortal, and thus heeds the words of wisdom before affliction falls. He knows that present circumstances, however painful, are the result of his own thought and action in the past, and that future conditions will shape themselves in strict accordance with what he really is in mind and heart. The awakened soul, therefore, values advice, and uses each situation, whether of pain or joy, for the inner real work of improving, controlling and mastering the self. Until this position is attained, men must needs have suffering to remind. They must undergo the lash of pain and affliction to arouse them from their state of languor and indifference.

Man is essentially a spiritual being, whose real plane of action is the mind, and the time must come when ideas will assume greater importance than actions, when advice will take precedence over impulsiveness. It is not necessary that self-conscious thinkers continue to engulf themselves in a sea of horror and woe. Mankind has a line of Elder Brothers whose one purpose is to help and advise. The present-day Message of Theosophy is Their great Exhortation to the whole human race. But Masters do not demand acceptance. True advice is never forced, but the wisdom of the recipient is proved by the direction taken -- that is, whether he chooses to accept the advice given or to neglect it.

The old Turkish aphorism that one affliction is better than a thousand exhortations is a genuine Kali Yuga truism. But the builders of a better age turn the phrase around, and say: One exhortation acted upon may eliminate a thousand afflictions. Remove one Cause and you destroy a multitude of effects.

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"A bad workman quarrels with his tools."
(Part 3 of a 10-part series)

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