THEOSOPHY, Vol. 52, No. 4, February, 1964
(Pages 108-109; Size: 7K)

LETTERS-QUESTIONS-COMMENT

[Article number (16) in this Department]

I noted in Manas for October 9 a somewhat appreciative commentary on psychologist B. F. Skinner, whose utopian novel Walden Two has been provocative of so much discussion since its publication in 1948. Dr. Skinner, as an avid and "utter" materialist -- that is, one who believes a better ethical life must be conditioned into existence by environmental manipulation -- is automatically criticized by Theosophists. Actually, though, H. P. Blavatsky makes a strong statement in The Key to Theosophy on behalf of those who seek to improve the condition of humanity through the "planned environment" approach: "True evolution teaches us that by altering the surroundings of the organism we can alter and improve the organism; and in the strictest sense this is true with regard to man."

The nineteenth-century conception of human evolution is still dominant today and, philosophically, it is in one sense a further projection of those political schemes for betterment which began at the ideative level in the seventeenth century and reached active political formulation in the nineteenth. This view is that human beings become "better" collectively, that the species should evolve step by step toward a nobler conception of justice, a keener sensitivity to truth, beauty, and goodness. The Theosophical view is concerned with the evolution of the individual soul, and emphasizes each man's capacity to alter and transform his attitudes toward learning, whatever the adverse nature of the circumstances in which he finds himself.

In the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita, we note a description of the "Tree of Life," that mysterious symbol which pictures the process of creation as having "roots above and its branches below." One application of this means of depicting the course of evolution as proceeding "from the top downward" is to look for that in every human being which is presently capable of knowing an ideal far beyond the capacity to make it manifest in daily life. In other words, the soul, because it is soul, has timeless vision. Immersed in the conflicting impulses which arise from incarnation in material circumstances, the brightness of this vision is dimmed. On rare occasions, when the soul lives on its own plane, so to speak, we are reminded of the innate ability for self-forgetfulness, for impersonality in relation to devotion to justice, etc. Every human being at his highest and best moments becomes something more than merely human; he is Christ, he is Buddha, he is an Adept or Mahatma.

So, as the Upanishads put it, he cycles upward and downward through dreamland, now rejoicing and now grieving -- but as a part of this cycle he also is for a while beyond joy and beyond grief, living in the "timeless state." Furthermore, again in terms of the Dhammapada and the Vedas, every night of normal human existence opens the door to "the timeless state." In dreamless sleep, and at a moment following the death of the body, and at another moment preceding the birth into a new body, the same state of being momentarily prevails. The visions of the ultimate sort, then, are not reached by arithmetical progression as the "species" becomes "better," but are presently within the man; no one must lead us by the hand forward to the Promised Land, for "the promised land" is a way of looking at things, and the determinant is our own capacity to look within and establish psychological residence.

According to Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion, the word "soul" stands for the Theosophical view: "The word 'soul' in its primary meaning, designates an entity conceived as the cause or vehicle of the bodily life and psychical activities of the individual person." B. F. Skinner feels that religious and metaphysical speculations have turned men's attention away from the need to build the "Heavenly City" here on earth, as, for instance, when he remarks: "All differences are physical. We think with our bodies, too." This language is understandable as a reaction to too much religion based upon the thought that the good life is to be reached after the present life has been discarded. But the Theosophical teaching, the teaching of the "soul" as the real man, intimates that we can improve a society only as we find out how to nourish and sustain man's spiritual intuitions. We have the moments of spiritual vision, but cannot keep them. We need to know how to interpret them, how to practice the meditative and contemplative disciplines which link our times of highest perception with a philosophy that will sustain us during the "downward" phases of our eternally recurring evolutionary cycles.


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