THEOSOPHY, Vol. 36, No. 5, March, 1948
(Pages 211-218; Size: 22K)
(Number 49 of a 57-part series)

STUDIES IN KARMA

I: THE ELEMENTS OF SANITY

[Part 1 of 2]

A CENTRAL problem in the postwar world, in the present cycle of psychism, and in the larger whole of civilization itself, is insanity. Not insanity as confined to a certain minority whom society prefers to have drop out of sight, but insanity as a human reality touching every man where he lives, that is to say, in his own mind. The struggle for sanity is not limited to a few men here and there, who have in some mysterious manner contracted a degrading disease: the struggle for sanity is the battle all men wage in the degree of their existence as mind-beings. Further, it is a battle which -- by one of the paradoxes constantly presented in mental phenomena -- can never be won alone, although it must be faced alone. Victory is the achievement of a subtle balance: it is to understand the difference between individuality and egotism, and to make individual moral integrity the center of gravity in life. The only absolute defeat is entire oblivion to the fact of fellowship -- a condition which cannot be completely maintained except by the soulless man.

Theosophists can explore, in the writings of H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge, the rationale of psychic, mental and moral phenomena, for these teachers discussed the nineteenth-century cycle of psychism in terms of principle, and unfolded a philosophy and science dealing with the psychological forces involved. It is to be realized, however, that in the twentieth-century unfoldment, the responsibility of theosophists is more than academic. By informing themselves on the nature and powers of mind, they will be prepared to help, with every means in their power, to build an informed public opinion on the needs and rights of a tragic minority -- the mentally ill.

Learning from H.P.B.'s "Psychic and Noëtic Action," that "the metaphysics of Occult physiology and psychology postulate within mortal man an immortal entity, 'divine Mind,' or Nous, whose pale and too often distorted reflection is that which we call 'Mind' and intellect in men -- virtually an entity apart from the former during the period of every incarnation" -- is quite different from confronting a human being in whom that separation has caused a fearful inner isolation. In "A Case of Obsession,"  she writes:

Near the Earth's surface there hangs over us -- to use a convenient simile -- a steamy moral fog, composed of undispersed exhalations of human vice and passion. This fog penetrates the sensitive to the very soul's core; his psychic self absorbs it as the sponge does water, or as fresh milk effluvia. It benumbs his moral sense, spurs his baser instincts into activity, overpowers his good resolutions. As the fumes of a wine-vault make the brain reel, or as the choke-damp stifles one's breath in a mine, so this heavy cloud of immoral influences carries away the sensitive beyond the limits of self-control, and he becomes 'Obsessed'.... [Note: Links to both of HPB's articles that were quoted from above have been placed at the end of this article. --Compiler.]
This is a vivid description -- but the actuality is a human crisis. Alcoholics Anonymous, the official publication of the A.A. organization, has to strike hard again and again at a fixed idea about alcoholism which knowledge of the process of obsession could long ago have demolished. This book is written by those who came to the realization that alcoholism in some people cannot be controlled by good resolutions, nor even by fear of death. An unrealized factor which defeated their most sincere efforts to overcome alcoholism was their susceptibility to involuntary impulses. The "incurable" alcoholic, one who can never safely take a drink, has no protection against the random thought which impels him to take the first drink and begin again the inevitable cycle he may strenuously desire to avoid. Many such instances would be avoidable if the philosophy of the dual mind were more widely known.

It is a sobering thought that the ignorance of non-alcoholics and "self-controlled" drinkers has served to perpetuate the key delusion in the mind of the alcoholic victim: that he is a self-conscious victim, when the fact of the matter is that he has succumbed, willingly or unwillingly, to the mediumship of drink -- a "control" no less arbitrary than that imposed by the hypnotist.

The psychic disturbances overtaking modern civilization can hardly be exaggerated, but the growth of understanding is appallingly retarded. The term "understanding" is not used glibly: what is needed for a real cure of any psychic disorder is a perception of the underlying basis in consciousness for the mental aberration displayed. This fundamental vision of the workings of mind is not characteristic of modern psychology or psychiatry, whatever these sciences may have accomplished in other ways. One of the last articles by H. P. Blavatsky (actually a manuscript left unfinished at her death), was on the subject of Psychology, the science of the soul, and contained a despairing observation: "Alas, and thrice alas! Soul, the Self, or Ego, is studied by modern psychology as inductively as a piece of decayed matter by a physicist." In the fifty years since that observation, the need for a science of the soul has pressed unremittingly and increasingly on a mankind whose diseases bid fair to confine themselves to psycho-somatic, if not to purely psychic, maladies.

By way of pointing to a different mode of investigation, H.P.B., in the same article, drew attention to "the Higher Self or Buddhi-Manas, which in the act of self-analysis or highest abstract thinking, partially reveals its presence and holds the subservient brain-consciousness in review." A recent autobiography, If a Man Be Mad, by Harold Maine, is one such self-analysis. "Harold Maine" is the pseudonym of a poet and novelist, once an "incurable" alcoholic and now (although the term might make him wince) a confirmed humanitarian. His story is the record of thought and inquiry during his search for integration and mental freedom. Its setting is that "other world" to which the insane are -- even at this late date -- condemned, but its powerful effect is not due to the institutional fantasia revealed by the author's personal experiences in mental hospitals.

If a Man Be Mad is an exceptional human document because it is a study in conscionsness. Persons, places, and conditions are secondary, and have almost without exception been disguised beyond recognition. Students of Theosophy can be especially grateful to Maine for the spirit of his voluntary research. Whether one knows something of the actual treatment of mental patients or not -- and particularly if one does not know why he should be acquainted with the problem of insanity -- this book should be read and read carefully. Not alone in extended commentaries (which we shall review), but in innumerable random notes, Maine goes to the heart of the human situation. Where another mind, concerned with unassimilated details and unexamined experiences, leaves the reader overloaded with incoherent information, and a discouraging sense of futility, Maine proceeds with an honest self-respect and emerges with a natural dignity which does more to recommend his conclusions than any "expert" opinion could do.

One does not gather from If a Man Be Mad the notion that experience is the only requisite for understanding. Among thousands of alcoholics, an extremely small percentage can preserve the "bitter integrity" which Maine would not give up. Nor would the utter loneliness of that self-reliance have sufficed, except for an instinct of sympathy and a sense of the suffering of others, which was the Ariadne's thread out of his own labyrinth. He may be said to illustrate a theosophical (and therapeutic) injunction:

In order that one should fully comprehend individual life with its physiological, psychic, and spiritual mysteries, he has to devote himself with all the fervour of unselfish philanthropy and love for his brother men, to studying and knowing collective life, or Mankind. Without preconceptions or prejudice, as also without the least fear of possible results in one or another direction, he has to decipher, understand and remember the deep and innermost feelings and the aspirations of the poor people's great and suffering heart. To do this he has first "to attune his soul with that of Humanity," as the old philosophy teaches; to thoroughly master the correct meaning of every line and word in the rapidly turning pages of the Book of Life of MANKIND and to be thoroughly saturated with the truism that the latter is a whole inseparable from his own SELF.
While the mysteries of lower manas --mind allied to personal desires and the physical brain -- are infinite, the elements of sanity are always the same. Individual minds may become disordered for many reasons, but it invariably means that devotion to the interests of others seems no longer possible or desirable. "To be lost in one's own abyss is insanity," wrote J. P. Mowbray, at the turn of the century. Mowbray, an overwrought Wall Street financier, was compelled by the imminence of heart failure to terminate abruptly a successful business career. He found peace of mind, re-established his life in a normal tempo, and described his successful experiment in A Journey to Nature. Nevertheless, it was not Nature alone, or chiefly, but other human beings with and through whom he accomplished his renascence. He and Maine are about as far away in mood as can be imagined -- Mowbray's book being virtually an idyll beside If a Man Be Mad -- and yet the healing interplay of independence and communal sympathy is the background of both accounts. However distilled, the elixir of selflessness is indispensable to sanity.

Harold Maine's purpose is expressed in his description of the first asylum he entered voluntarily in the search for relief from alcoholism: "I was sure that among the insane I could hold my own, and equally sure I would discover some truth about myself and my fellow men. I felt a horrible loneliness, though, for I realized that I was to become one little floating island of individuality among hundreds of other little floating islands, all equally individual."

Maine's first experience of the irrational brutality inflicted on the mentally ill was had in this hospital, but "by chance" he drew the attention and the friendship of a resident Chinese surgeon, and gained "insight into the point of view of an institutional doctor with a conscience." Maine was shortly moved to the open ward, called the "Psycho Club," where patients with mild and harmless mental troubles lived together and tried to take care of each other. The chief rule of the club was simple: "The best thing to do is humor anyone you think is acting queerly and don't humor yourself." The Psycho Club was by way of being a unique experience for Maine, who, since his Army days, "and then only through drunkenness," had never adjusted himself to any group of human beings: "When I entered any social group I would have to improvise in order to seem to belong to it. Then I would feel shaken and unreal for days."

This analysis of too little real individuality bears evident relation to the phenomena of mediumship, and in fact many of Maine's observations reveal how astral images impinge on a brain made passive through one or another form of psychic excess. The phenomena of obsession in delirium tremens and the curious reality of hallucinations are extreme phases of mediumship, but the early signs of this tendency are also recorded by Maine. He traces from early childhood a habit of inventing fictitious existences in which to hide his loneliness and fear. As a young man, for instance, he found in drink, in reading books, and then in writing poetry, a release from reality. Writing might have been a discipline, but it was not: "Words, phrases, ideas, images and poems ready to come out in one lump, made a carnival in my brain. My poems jeered, challenged, explained, exclaimed, discovered, rejected, and worshiped; they were tender and tough, cruel and saintly -- a world in themselves, nothing less. One line might have in it the sinewy toughness of the Wobbly jargon, the next the sensual softness of love talk."

The psychic indulgence of such "free" verse did little to eliminate his mental unease, and he continued to avoid the necessity of control by resorting to "more of the same," in the usual way of human nature:

When reality began to slip and every act of the day became like some portion of a play quickly learned and badly acted; when I dared not release myself in poetry or dreams for fear I would never return from them; when there were no memories but of things undone and of things done wrong, I would commit myself to the discipline of alcohol. ... Drink was not only a discipline but a religion and a padded cell. Drink was the whole of my future, the cancellation of my past, and the constant need of my present.
Later he remarks that the roles he played when drunk were never the product of conscious daydreams: "I simply heard them coming from me as from a stranger and I would let them flow, caught between shame and the ecstasy of finding something that would place me, I thought, upright in the eyes of men." He also reports the statement of a psychiatrist, head of a mental hospital, who told him, "It has at times been my theory with alcoholics that their periodicities are almost within the realm of posthypnotic behavior" -- an example, writes Maine, of "psychiatry with insight." Further it is difficult not to see in Maine's words on the inner world of the insane a direct intimation of what theosophical teachings refer to as the astral realm, "the great picture gallery of the earth, where the seer can always gaze upon any event that has ever happened, as well as those to come." In Echoes from the Orient, William Q. Judge relates that "as an enormous screen or reflector the astral light hangs over the earth and becomes a powerful universal hypnotizer of human beings." The inversion of clairvoyance (see The Ocean of Theosophy, p. 142) is well conveyed by Maine:
The whole battle of Midway or the Coral Sea could easily take place within my few inches of brain. Anything could happen there with even more verisimilitude than actual events the eyes and ears were circumscribed from capturing. One has only to sample a little of the hallucinatory world to realize just what a vast thing it is potentially. It is limitless and that cannot be truly said of anything else. Even the universe may be bounded but the mad mind is not. It is challenged by borders; lured onward by the end of distance. Superlatives are dropped from the vocabulary once one enters that world; miracles are the rule.
It may be said in passing that what the hallucinator experiences passively, without his will and against his reason, the trained seer can evoke with purpose and consciously. The cycle of psychism in which the world is again involved is marked by many excursions into the astral realm, mostly belonging to the first category. Preoccupation with forms and images, the spinning out of sensations, the overly emotional histories and case histories, the cult of "frustration" draining art and literature of content and achievement -- these are widespread psychic phenomena. A mind not prepared for the new influences and impulses of the cycle is in danger of being overwhelmed by the unfamiliar, unless the manasic habit of thoughtful observation is strong. It is noteworthy in this connection that Harold Maine's book is distinguished throughout by concentration on meaning and purpose, rather than on the reproduction of sensation.

Maine reverts several times to the idea of "the greatest of all loyalties, that of a common vice," evidently because he considered that people bound by such a tie "couldn't be other than honest with each other." His real concern, however, is with honesty, for he found the maudlin self-abasement of some members of Alcoholics Anonymous repellent. An instinct for impersonality is strongly marked in the word-picture of "Bill," the founder of A.A.:

As a person he [Bill] was trying not to be there. Only as an impersonal experience was he asserting himself.

I always mistrust men who have an immediate effect on an audience. I mistrust spine-tingling reactions, unless they are aroused by art, the way some symphonies, paintings, poems, and books arouse me. I feel that a reputation, based largely on folklore, tradition, or publicity, is asserting itself. I try to remove the man from this and see what he has. I also try to remove the name of an artist in the same way so that I can have his creation directly. If the name of the great Shakespeare in itself makes me respond, then I lay him aside until he no longer has that effect. It's the only safe way. I didn't mistrust Bill. I knew why he had selected the word "Anonymous" for the organization as soon as he spoke.

Maine's innate resistance to undue personal influence made it inevitable that the second step of the A.A. method -- belief that a "Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity" -- would give him pause. This unfortunate excursion into the weakness of religion is thought by perhaps most A.A. members to be the secret of their success, and it is obvious that any device which will dissociate the man from his habit will produce results of a sort. As Mr. Judge phrases it, "The desire is not in [the drinker] unless he is foolish enough to identify himself with the desire. Once he ceases to so identify himself, the desire will lose more than half its power over him."

Alcoholics Anonymous has encountered, interestingly enough, a more than occasional opposition to the concept of an extraneous Power, so much so that A.A. workers issue an immediate disclaimer to prospective members, explaining that no particular image of God is required, but simply God "as you yourself conceive him." The fact that a man, even when apparently given over to the "outside power" of drink, can manage to conceive of a being higher than himself, and hold to that conception, has not struck psychologists as unusual, so far as we know. Yet it is a remarkable demonstration of the spiritual mind. How could thought rise higher than its source? In the principle that only a high spiritual being can imagine the existence of a high spiritual being will someday be found a lasting cure for the habit of dependence in any form.

Maine was comparatively untouched by the religious atmosphere of A.A., perhaps because his own desire to help others like himself carried with it no element of benevolent condescension; as he points out in another connection: "What I wanted to do was immerse myself in the lives of people who seemed to be like me and emerge with self-knowledge." The God-idea is superfluous in such a scheme. Seeking refuge from his still-unconquered alcoholism, he determined to become an attendant in a mental hospital, watch the doctors treat men like himself, and penetrate whatever knowledge they had. After that, he thought, he would be able to cure himself: "I knew positively that if I helped one man who was like me I had then helped myself to the same degree."


[Note: Here are the links to HPB's articles, entitled "Psychic And Noëtic Action", and "A Case of Obsession", that were quoted from by the Editors in the above article. --Compiler.]

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STUDIES IN KARMA
II: THE WAY OF THE EGO
[Part 2 of 2]
(Part 50 of a 57-part series)

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