THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 6, April, 1962
(Pages 258-260; Size: 10K)


[Article number (19) in this Department]

ONE of the central themes in Erich Fromm's excellent book Psychoanalysis and Religion, is that there is a vast psychological cleavage between "authoritarian" religion and "humanistic" religion. The trouble with authoritarian religion, Fromm points out, is that all strength and goodness are thought to reside outside of man -- in God: a man "slavishly dependent on God becomes a man without faith in himself." On the other hand humanistic religion, Fromm writes, is centered around man and his strength. "Man's aim in humanistic religion is to achieve the greatest strength, not the greatest powerlessness; virtue is self-realization, not obedience. Faith is certainty of conviction based on one's experience of thought and feeling."

In The Voice of the Silence, H. P. Blavatsky speaks of the necessity for making "of pride and self-regard bond-maidens to devotion," and suggests that for more of us, though we cleave to existence, the extinction of "pride and self-regard" constitute the "first step" on the path that leads to adeptship. We are apparently dealing, in recounting these paradoxical emphases, with two different kinds of "pride," and the distinction seems to be one of considerable psychological importance.

There will be, we think, no disagreement on the statement that the great man, the noble man, may stand alone whenever it is necessary to do so -- to withstand the temptations and the fears that are the lowest common denominator of his society. And the man of inner nobility is often spoken of, too, and with evident justification as a "proud" man. From the standpoint of Theosophical psychology, however, the conviction of one's own integrity and strength, which expresses itself in this sort of "pride," is but a reflection of an even higher self-sufficiency which has passed beyond the need of self-esteem. But even the reflection mirrors the greatness of human potentiality and tells the story of the hero in every age of human history.

Let us for a moment consider another implication of the passage from The Voice of the Silence: What are the consequences of allowing devotion to be a bond-maiden to "pride" and "self-regard"? We here move into a deeper understanding of what Fromm means in his insistence of the difference between authoritarian and humanistic religion, for the man who is prideful in respect to his particular "devotion" -- that is, his particular conception of truth, is the man who feels that such truth is his own possession, superior to the truths which other men may think they apprehend. It is possible for a man to be prideful in respect to his capacity to endure suffering without complaint, to withstand the buffetings of vilification, and still in no way feel prideful of his apprehension of the truths he holds most dear. The man who is proud of his devotion soon becomes the unthinking partisan, the ambitiously patriotic politician, the self-seeking aspirant to religious or occult status. It takes, in fact, a special kind of "integrity" to realize once and forever afterwards that truth can never be "possessed," that devotion can never be a legitimate ground for self-exaltation or gratulation from others.

The history of the Theosophical Movement from 1875 until well into the twentieth century unfortunately reveals a complex series of involvements with "pride" and "self-regard" -- and whenever this has been the case egocentricity has always expressed itself in terms of a claim of possession of exclusive or superior doctrine. Ordinary ambition is dangerous enough in the affairs of men, for it so often leads to a numbing of conscience in regard to interpersonal relationships and the taking advantage of devious means for maneuverings to preferment. But when the competitive surge of the purely personal man flows along the channels of special claims to truth, complete psychological imbalance is apt to result. It seems, indeed, absolutely impossible to compromise between devotion to truth and devotion to one's own self-esteem. And whenever an individual, no matter how capable or originally well-intentioned, feels pride in what he knows of the truth, a revelatory sect is in the making, even if it passes under the name of Theosophy. How else account for the number of promising persons who, after their initial response to the impersonal message of Theosophy, began to look strenuously for the mote in other people's eyes while neglecting a beam or two in their own?

This has certainly been the story with organized Christianity, just as in the centuries immediately preceding the advent of Buddha it was the story of the Brahmins in India. Either a man serves the truth or the truth is adapted to fit the man. Once the adaptation begins, of course, every relationship between a religious teaching and the opportunities for power or control of the moment causes the teaching to be handled as Procrustes treated the victims who stumbled across his path. Doctrine is lopped off here, pared down there, and gradually whittled away until the meaning is wholly transformed. This was the situation in which H.P.B. found herself as she dealt with both Eastern and Western religious doctrines from the standpoint of esoteric philosophy. She saw that only those who possessed the keys which Theosophical philosophy applied to the misshapen doctrines were afterwards able to render truth from the peculiar mixtures of religious construction. But she also hoped that the Theosophists of her time and of generations to follow would learn, from her numerous examples of mutilated doctrine in the past, the lesson that personal partisanship would place a bushel over every philosophical light.

It is difficult to see how a workable union among Theosophists of different organizational or societal backgrounds can be achieved unless such perceptions become widely pervasive. For the question is not that of "broad-mindedness" or "tolerance" towards those who espouse the emphases of different Theosophical teachers -- rather it is that of realizing that no man can be a devotee of truth and a partisan at the same time. No particular formulation of doctrine can yield its maximum harvest of psychological truths until it is studied in what may be truly called an esoteric manner -- that is, for itself, without an excess of dependence upon its form of transmission. Doctrine must be viewed "from within, without." In her article "What Is Truth?" H.P.B. clearly delineates the line between doctrines about truth and perception of truth:

In every age there have been Sages who had mastered the absolute and yet could teach but relative truths. For none yet, born of mortal woman in our race, has, or could have given out, the whole and the final truth to another man, for every one of us has to find that (to him) final knowledge in himself. As no two minds can be absolutely alike, each has to receive the supreme illumination through itself, according to its capacity, and from no human light. The greatest adept living can reveal of the Universal Truth only so much as the mind he is impressing it upon can assimilate, and no more. Tot homines, quot sententiae -- is an immortal truism. The sun is one, but its beams are numberless; and the effects produced are beneficent or maleficent, according to the nature and constitution of the objects they shine upon. Polarity is universal, but the polariser lies in our own consciousness.
In the atmosphere conveyed by such a passage, the student is encouraged to pass beyond all partisan viewpoints -- which inevitably involves the relinquishment of the "pride and self-regard" which typically invest themselves in the external layers of the personality.

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(May 1962)
[Article number (20) in this Department]

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