THEOSOPHY, Vol. 39, No. 1, November, 1950
(Pages 13-18; Size: 17K)
(Number 56 of a 57-part series)



"I HAVE been a long time in making up my mind to write this story," states Pearl S. Buck at the commencement of her article, "The Child Who Never Grew," and the courage, humility and strong humanitarian motives that prompted her, call forth the deepest sympathy and admiration of the reader. The detailed account of her daughter who "never grew," though now she is mature in years, is to be found in the May Ladies' Home Journal. We chiefly concern ourselves here with the main issues laid bare by Pearl Buck: Why are there children with subnormal minds? Is there any cure? She writes:

The first cry from my heart, when I knew she would never be anything but a child, was the age-old cry that we all make before inevitable sorrow: "Why must this happen to me?" To this there could be no answer and there was none. ... my own resolve shaped into the determination to make meaning out of the meaningless, and so provide the answer, though it was of my own making. I resolved that my child, whose natural gifts were obviously unusual, even though they were never to find expression, was not to be wasted....
Statistics disclose that almost one in a hundred children will be mentally backward, and the majority, it is believed, are retarded from non-inherited causes. "The old stigma of 'something in the family' is all too often unjust." To have such a child is usually a humiliating disgrace in Western lands. Wealthy people frequently send such children to institutions, and Mrs. Buck relates:
There is one little boy in my child's school whom I often go to see. He is little because he is only about seven in his mind. His body now is almost forty years old. He has a grave face and there is a forlorn look in his eyes. His father is a famous man, wealthy and well known. But he never comes to see his son. ... When someone approached this father for a gift for a new kind of research he banged his desk with his fist and said, "I will not give one cent! All my money is going to normal people."

Callous? He is not callous. His heart is bleeding, his pride is broken. His son is an imbecile -- his son! In these years he has thought of himself and his loss, and he has missed the joy he might have had in his child....

Eastern practices, particularly in China and Japan, are an instructive contrast. Mrs. Buck, who grew up among the Chinese, had seen the deformed accepted for themselves. Their infirmities were not ignored, and sometimes were even made the subject of nicknames, and this attitude apparently effected a sort of catharsis for the infirm. The sufferer felt no need to hide himself, for he was accepted without pretense. The Chinese believed, too, that a person who was handicapped had compensations. Thus a blind person was respected and sometimes feared, for it was thought he had a perception far beyond mere seeing. The Chinese, also, do not have institutions for the aged, the insane, or mentally defective. Such persons are cared for at home, as long as they live. But as to the West, Mrs. Buck pertinently remarks: "Ours is an individualistic society, indeed, and the state must do for the individual what family does in older civilizations."

Where lies the hope for the feeble-minded child? Where lies the cause, which our doctors have not discovered? Parents such as Pearl Buck place all their faith on further scientific research. She says: "There must not be children who cannot grow. Year by year their number must be decreased until preventable causes of mental deficiency are prevented. ... More than half now mentally deficient need not have been so. ... Such things ought not to be." She recommends private research: "Our notable scientific advance has been the result of private persons working in privately owned places. Public funds have developed very little scientific knowledge except for military purposes."

What kind of investigation will lead to a prevention of idiocy? Can gland-study, brain surgery, or similar experiments provide the cure? Can the psychiatrist eliminate mental deficiencies? And if all these efforts fail, is there still no hope? Are these lives entirely without meaning, except for the meaning we manufacture for them? The theosophist would recommend a line of research he himself is pursuing concerning the application of what he is taught are two fundamental laws of nature -- Karma and Reincarnation -- because they do conclusively provide the answer to these heart-rending problems, and afford genuine hope to all concerned.

From the viewpoint of these two concepts there is no accident in life. Every moment has meaning, since it is the exact effect of prior causes engendered in this life or in a life preceding. How, then, would the earnest theosophist view a situation wherein he finds himself the parent of a feeble-minded child? He would recognize that behind the brain that functions abnormally is a conscious age-old soul, destined for that life-time, owing to causes it has produced, to operate through an imperfect instrument. Considering the countless incarnations each soul has undergone, perhaps we have all more than once functioned through a subnormal brain. Now that experience is forgotten, save as lessons learned.

Such incarnations may be the direct Karmic result of misuse or lack of use of mental powers in former births by both the being experiencing the disability and by his present family, or could be a discipline willingly assumed by the soul. An ancient aphorism on Karma states:

No man but a sage or true seer can judge another's Karma. Hence while each receives his deserts, appearances may deceive, and birth into poverty or heavy trial may not be punishment for bad Karma, for Egos continually incarnate into poor surroundings where they experience difficulties and trials which are for the discipline of the Ego and result in strength, fortitude, and sympathy.
Who can calculate the perseverance, the patience, the appreciation for the human mind and its rightful use that may be gained through such an incarnation! And what lessons to the parents? Let Mrs. Buck speak for herself:
My helpless child has taught me so much. She has taught me patience, above all else. I come of a family impatient with stupidity and slowness, and I absorbed the family intolerance of minds less quick than our own. Then there was put into my sole keeping this pitiful mind, struggling against I know not what handicap. ... While I tried to find out its slight abilities I was compelled both by love and justice to learn tender and careful patience. ... justice reasoned with me thus: "This mind has the right to its fullest development too. It may be very little, but the right is the same as yours, or any other's." ...

So ... I learned respect and reverence for every human mind. It was my child who taught me to understand so clearly that all people are equal in their humanity and that all have the same human rights. ... My child taught me humility.

After several years of intense involvement, Mrs. Buck realized the age-old truth that she must stop thinking of herself and her sorrow, cease struggling against life, and slowly come into accord with it. "So long as I centered in myself, life was unbearable. When I shifted that center even a little, I began to understand that sorrow could be borne. ... Sorrow fully accepted brings its own gifts." The fact that Mrs. Buck can now bravely publicize her child's case (although the story is far from complete, as it stands), would indicate a major step in philosophic detachment. And who can say how much the perception and sympathy which enables her to contribute so definitely, in her books and public work, to the welfare of human society, has been developed through this deeply-moving experience? Thus all share in each other's Karma, and benefit. Mrs. Buck claims that the body of human knowledge has also been added to through patient work with the mentally deficient:
They have taught us how people learn. The minds of retarded children are sane minds, normal except that, being arrested, the processes are slowed. But they learn in the same ways that the normal kinds do, repeated many more times. Psychologists, observing the slower processes, have been able to discover, exactly as though in a slow-motion picture, the way the human creature acquires new knowledge and new habits. Our educational techniques for normal children have been vastly improved by what the retarded children have taught us.
Is there proof of a sane, intelligent being within and behind the frame of an idiot? Mrs. Buck, perhaps unknowingly, furnishes several evidences herself. These are important for society to bear in mind, for in many institutions the mentally defective have been brutally treated as animals. Mrs. Buck insists they are human beings, and that great transformations in character have taken place where they have been lovingly cared for as members of the human family. As to the evidences:

Theosophy teaches that no human being ever dies insane; that at the solemn moment of death the soul has sway over the flesh, and an intelligent review of the entire life preceding takes place. By analogy we might infer that no human is ever born insane, but at the sacred hour of his birth has a preview of the life ahead. Many have remarked upon the glance of deep intelligence the babe has at its birth. Mrs. Buck relates as to her first glimpse of her child:

Her features were clear, her eyes ... it seemed to me, wise and calm. She looked at me and I at her with mutual comprehension and I laughed. I remember I said to the nurse, "Doesn't she look very wise for her age?" She was then less than an hour old.

"She does indeed," the nurse declared. "And she is beautiful too. There is a special purpose for this child."

As further evidence of an immortal soul with a complex invisible constitution, one can point to Mrs. Buck's realization that mind is not the only avenue through which the soul expresses itself.
My child taught me to know ... that mind is not all of the human creature. Though she cannot speak to me clearly, there are other ways in which she communicates. She has an extraordinary integrity of character. She seems to sense deception and she will not tolerate it. She is a child of great purity. She will not tolerate habits that are filthy and her sense of dignity is complete. No one may take liberties with her person. Neither will she endure cruelty. If a child in her cottage screams she hurries to see why, and if the child is being struck by another child or if an attendant is too harsh, she cries aloud and goes in search of the housemother.

What I am trying to say is that there is a whole personality not concerned with the mind, and children mentally deficient often compensate for their lack by other qualities of goodness.

... Acting upon this observation, they [psychologists at The Training School in Vineland] developed the Social Maturity Scale. ... Today this ... Scale is very widely used in the armed forces, in schools and colleges, in aptitude tests, wherever normal individuals are measured. We have to thank the helpless children for teaching us that mere intelligence is not enough.

Frequently, the intelligence of these children manifests by way of the arts and handcrafts, or in a taste for music. This in itself is a comfort to the parents. Mrs. Buck tells of her child--
Above all is her never-failing joy in music. She finds her calm and resource in listening, hour after hour, to her records. The gift that is hidden in her shows itself in the still ecstasy with which she listens to the great symphonies, her lips smiling, her eyes gazing off into what distance I do not know.

She has her preferences for certain kinds of music. Church music, especially hymns, make her weep, and she cannot listen to them. ... She dislikes intensely all crooning and cheap rhythms. ... But she will listen to all the great old music with endless delight. ... By some instinct, too, she knows each one of her own large collection of records. I do not know how, since she cannot read, but she can distinguish each record from the others and will search until she finds the one that suits her mood.

So these are the children who do grow, when intelligently guided; who have their meaningful place in the scheme of things. And next life? "With sturdier limbs and brighter brain the old soul takes the road again."

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:


Though one may feel kindly toward and evince consideration for the pain, distress or difficulty of another, it is probably impossible for him to approximate an understanding sympathy if he has not had at least some personal experience of the same trouble, either in this present life or in a previous one. Let a man, if but briefly, be touched by deep melancholia and he will then be capable of genuine sympathy for those so afflicted. And, though he be a physician ministering to such afflicted persons, studying their symptoms and reading all that has been written upon the subject -- he is yet shut out from understanding sympathy if he is stranger to the feeling.

Considerations such as these should produce in us a great reluctance to criticize or condemn. They should generate in us, or uncover, magnanimity, compassion and tenderness; restraint, liberality and mercy. Irritation and impatience check or prevent the emergence of these finer, more useful and therapeutic feelings. But knowledge -- an experience in kind -- tends to dissipate irritation and impatience.

Thus it is that through pain we learn and grow, become compassionate and experience somewhat of Universal Brotherhood. An experience comes to us -- the heart contracts and the mind recoils, remembering many a similar instance of our own thoughtlessness, callousness or lack of sympathy. This should be a salutary influence on our future conduct.

After a few searing or shocking experiences, one is in a position to appreciate better the concern of H. P. Blavatsky for one whose days were untroubled. Understanding is truly a profound bond -- it is probably an Open Sesame to any door -- and for most, if not all, it is acquired the hard way. When all the pain of the Race is assimilated, it may be, one becomes a Buddha of COMPASSION.

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