THEOSOPHY, Vol. 36, No. 7, May, 1948
(Pages 308-311; Size: 13K)
(Number 51 of a 57-part series)

STUDIES IN KARMA

THE SOUL OF RUSSIA

TO understand is always one of the most difficult of human tasks. "I do not believe," wrote that able commentator on foreign affairs, Harold Nicolson (Small Talk, 1937), "that amity between nations can durably be based upon pleasant feelings. It can be based only upon hard thinking." That is so emphatically true where nations are divided because of ideological differences of an acute nature, as in the case of Soviet Russia and the countries that pay allegiance to the liberty of the individual vis-a-vis the State. Vilification and abuse solve nothing; they are weapons in the propaganda armoury. "I admit that the Russians are hard to get on with," said Professor Robert M. Hutchins in a lecture before the Modern Forum, Los Angeles (March 25, 1946), and he goes on to suggest, in a later address (November 18, 1946) that if we want world peace, a world community, and a world state that will last, "we must promote a moral, intellectual, and spiritual revolution throughout the world." For this, it is true that a clarification of educational ideals is needed, as Dr. Hutchins never wearies of telling us. But what if the unassailable basis for union is absent in the international field, namely, "similarity of aim, purpose, and teaching"? It is in the highest degree foolish to imagine, as so many "idealists" do, that the basic cleavage between Soviet Russia and Western countries "is one of temperament rather than of principle ... scarcely more than a difference of emphasis." This is what Mr. Edward Crankshaw does in his Russia and the Russians (Macmillan, 1947), although his work makes it abundantly clear that Stalin, the Marxist, believes in the inevitability of world revolution, and that "the ruthless destruction of innumerable minds is practised in Soviet Russia today with a single-mindedness and efficiency very much in excess of that attained by any Tsar who ever lived."

For theosophists, the issue between freedom and tyranny will always be a clear one. As against "violence, arbitrary law, sustained privation, blind trampling stupidity, and bodily slavery, with no compensating freedom for the spirit" (Mr. Crankshaw paints Soviet Russia in these particular colours), they will bear witness to the prophecy of a great Russian -- "woe to the twentieth century, if the now reigning school of thought prevails, for Spirit would once more be made captive and silenced till the end of the now coming age" ("The Tidal Wave," THEOSOPHY XXVII, 496). [Note: A link to this article by HPB has been placed at the end of this article. --Compiler.] At the same time Mme. H. P. Blavatsky made it clear as to who would be the teachers and benefactors of the masses in the present century: "those who, amidst the present wholesale dominion of the worship of matter, material interests and SELFISHNESS, will have bravely fought for human rights and man's divine nature." Only Theosophy "can gradually create a mankind as harmonious and as simple-souled as Kosmos itself."

The historical and cultural cycles that divide us from this desirable consummation are clearly to be discerned, not least by the Russian writers of last century who knew that Russia would never fulfil her destiny except by self-sacrifice. There is, however, another alternative which is significant. Mr. Crankshaw makes much of a phrase of Leontiev: "Sometimes I dream that a Russian Tsar may put himself at the head of the Socialist Movement and organise it as Constantine organised Christianity." Presumably, Marxist dialectics are to replace the dusty dogmas of ecclesiastical Christianity! Indeed, Mr. Crankshaw himself works out the identification between the young Communist world and the Catholic hierarchy when its sense of mission was strongest. He puts "Marx and Engels combined ... into the category of Buddha, Jesus Christ, Confucius, and Mohammed." Judging by the enormous hold that Communist ideology is exercising over minds in Asia, it is much more likely that we shall see one of Mme. Blavatsky's prophecies come true, with "a new invasion of an Atilla from the far East" (THEOSOPHY XXVIII, 538). [Note: This quote is from the last paragraph of her "Theosophy or Jesuitism?" article. A link to it has been placed at the end of this article. --Compiler.] The drama is still being played out in the Russian soul, as in the souls of countries and individuals the world over. Tolstoy wrote of man's freedom as consisting precisely in the fact that, while his external reactions are governed by the pattern of his own nature and the pressure of the circumstances of his daily life, he is at the same time completely unhindered in respect of the assimilation of truth (The Kingdom of God is Within You).

It was the pressure of historical events that led to the negative acceptance by the Russian masses of the gospel of Marx-Lenin-Stalin in preference to that of Dostoievsky-Tolstoy-Blavatsky -- if we may use these names as representing the forces struggling for survival in the national being. Yet, however far totalitarianism may go, the power of assimilating truth remains, even though in pralaya. The greatest Russian of them all, H. P. Blavatsky, became an American citizen, and, while always retaining her love for the land of her birth, has been ignored completely in estimates of Russian formative influences on world thought and affairs. In 1880 she delineated the tendencies making for the Soviet Revolution.(1) "We must not forget the lessons of history," she wrote, "which has more than once shown us how the very vastness of an empire, and lack of a common unity among its subjects, have proved at some supreme crisis the most potent elements of its downfall." She added that if the social ethics of then contemporary Russia were as described by a writer in an influential Russian magazine of the day, Rousskeye Ryetch, then the country "must have reached that culminating point from which it must either fall into the mire of dissolution, like old Rome, or gravitate towards regeneration through all the horrors and chaos of a 'Reign of Terror'." The occasion and the man were not wanting in 1917. Peoples everywhere today would do well to remember the old political doctrine that no laws can preserve liberty, if the people themselves have become corrupted. Even in such a ruthless work as Machiavelli's Prince, the truth is made clear:

Where the people are not corrupt, tumults and commotions cannot injure any state; but where they are degenerate the best laws and institutions will be deprived of all their efficacy.
In the Russian article already quoted, Mme. Blavatsky wrote of the black fungus of Nihilism springing from social rottenness. The "unquiet spirit of sweeping negation," represented by the character of Bazarof in Turgeniev's Fathers and Sons (published in 1862), became like a Frankenstein monster in subsequent years, "the ranting spectre of the Nihilist delirium." The other aspect of the situation, as it faced the world in the nineties of last century, and certainly confronts it today, was summarized admirably by Mme. Blavatsky in a defence of Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata (1889), which appeared in Lucifer, July, 1890: "The accepted creeds of the civilized nations have lost their restraining influence on almost every class of society; nor have they ever had any other restraint save that of physical fear, the dread of theocratic thumb-screws and hell-tortures." Both active Nihilism and the confusions of civilized mankind meet their antithesis in the teaching as to the moral responsibility of the individual, and in the re-examination of the Christian gospels, which were such marked features of the later writings of Tolstoy. His treatise On Life (1887) was commented on favourably by Mme. Blavatsky in Lucifer for November, 1887.

Will Russia return to her true dharma? Time alone will tell. But, in the vicissitudes of the years ahead, she may remember (as the rest of the world might well do) Tolstoy's words. "Immorality," he wrote, "does not consist in physical acts alone, but, on the contrary, in liberating oneself from all moral obligation which such acts impose." Further, both the true objective and the rationale of spiritual progress were indicated by him in his Diaries for 1895-99, from which the following extracts are quoted by Mr. Derrick Leon in his excellent biography, Tolstoy: His Life and Work (1944):

Personal effort, no matter how small, is the essential thing. To conquer laziness, gluttony, envy, anger and depression -- this is the most important thing in the world; it is the testimony of the divine in life, it is Karma, the development of the self.

It is essential to separate your true self from that which is offended and angry: to remember that this is neither an obstacle nor a casual misfortune which is thrust upon you, but is one of the problems of your life; and above all to realize that if you feel animosity towards anyone, or anyone feels animosity towards you, that you alone are to blame. And as soon as you recognize your fault, you become calm.

It is easier to write ten volumes of philosophy than to put a single precept into practice.

It is not without special interest to theosophical students to find Tolstoy referring to Karma, and Mr. Derrick Leon stating his own conviction that "the most interesting commentary upon On Life was written by Tolstoy's remarkable fellow-countrywoman Mme. Blavatsky." He also mentions that in the 1890's Tolstoy was sent by a Hindu admirer an "exquisite book of Hindu wisdom" (to use Tolstoy's phrase), Raja Yoga or Conquering Internal Nature, by Swami Vivekananda, which appears to have exerted a considerable influence upon his thoughts. Perhaps the Russian enigma will never be solved without the most ancient Aryan philosophy?


[Note: Here are the links to HPB's three articles, entitled "The Tidal Wave",  "Theosophy or Jesuitism?", and "The History of 'A Book'", that were quoted from and pointed to by the Editors in the above article. --Compiler.]

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STUDIES IN KARMA
"REPUBLIC OF CONSCIENCE"
(Part 52 of a 57-part series)

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ONE (1) FOOTNOTE LISTED BELOW:

(1) See "The History of 'A Book'," which appeared in the Allahabad (India) Pioneer, March 12, 1880. (Reprinted in A Modern Panarion, p. 229.) [Note: A link to this article by HPB has been placed at the end of this article. --Compiler.]
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