THEOSOPHY, Vol. 20, No. 7, May, 1932
(Pages 320-322; Size: 10K)
(Number 5 of a 57-part series)

STUDIES IN KARMA

WHY VIRTUE?

IN the days of the Great War there first came into public view that attitude upon morals which preeminently rules the present generation. It is a powerful current sweeping away spiritual intuition, not only by the impact of many minds, but by the surface presentation of a sweet reasonableness and tolerance.

"I," says the Uninhibited Person, "can understand, appreciate, and follow -- if not too inconvenient -- the ideals of honesty and unselfishness. If I take another man's property or am unkind to him, it pains him. I am a good sort of soul, and suffering makes me uncomfortable. But you and I are free-thinking people able to look facts in the face. The old church ideas about 'living a clean life' emanate from the same source as did the orders for the destruction of Jericho, the slaughter of its men and the concubinage of its women. I need not let that prejudice me against them; but certainly I have a right to demand a tangible, scientific reason for it before I deprive myself of any pleasant thing -- for we live but once, and not for long. Now these things you call 'vices' -- such an one and such an one not only gives no pain -- except to those who just don't like the sight of it -- but gives considerable pleasure to those who participate with me. I can understand the iniquity of making myself diseased, incapable, incompetent; but I don't do things that way; I 'can take it or leave it alone,' and science has beneficently furnished the means of avoiding all the physical and social consequences formerly entailed by self-indulgence. Why therefore should I not enjoy?"

The younger generation in Theosophy have daily to meet this attitude in their schoolfellows, their workmates; if passively resistant, the war is carried to them. Themselves half-educated in the book-learning of Theosophy, very young and feeble in its practice, they are exposed to constant danger from the insidious sophistry.

Now there are many minds -- perhaps the mass of those in America today -- to whom Theosophy can offer no potent argument whatever; there is nothing in them which responds to the call of virtue by reason of the intangible sensed behind it. They are amiable animals -- not so amiable if their indulgences be threatened. They are the "living dead;" and though not devoid of altruism, therefore not soulless, still their inner selves must await the agonies of coming incarnations ere the windows of intuition be opened.

All earthly joys, clean or ill-favored, are reflections. The natural state of the soul is pure happiness; not a mere quiescent peace, a pale felicity. It is a dynamic, intense state of electric activity. It has in it not only the ethereal, unearthly lift and aspiration which some read from a sunset sky; that which is wholly different in quality from sensuous thrills; but it has the most intense vitality. It is the inverted reflection of that intensity which lends to vice in any form its fascination.

Stripped of all objects of sense, stripped of the desire to enjoy external objects, the soul is wrapped wholly in its own nature, knowing the Real of which all things else are the shadows. It takes little intellect to see that no man views an object while gazing upon its shadow; it is the old case of the dog who dropped its bone in the water, trying to seize the reflection. If we were to develop properly the simple quality of self-observation, we would see that daily life is one constant round of sacrificing the real in grasping images that ever elude. We have to break clear of mundane temptation before we can even see the land of the real; and the brief moment of utter deprivation is the nigh impassable barrier which ever hurls us back into the region of the lower self. It is a barrier so thin that it can be passed in an instant's time; it is a wall so strong that "scarce one in ten thousand" ever passes it.

All who save their souls alive through the perilous vicissitudes of future incarnations, must pass it in time. Meantime our savior is the maintenance of some sort of moral standard, the retention of some kind of self-discipline, the refusal to ever yield utterly in mind or body to the worst things our impulses would have us do. It is the strong intuition of this, the recollection of spiritual duty, which makes men uneasy in the midst of orgy, even though they have shaken off, or never known, any philosophy of abstinence. So most have set themselves certain standards which they find workable without too much discomfort. They will go just so far in each of their pet vices, and no farther.

This is at best a balance on the razor's edge. It is in a religious sense an attempt to avoid the pains of destruction on the one hand and to hold to a measure of static salvation on the other. But this does not happen to be a static universe. There will be a drift from the position assumed. At some period of human evolution the drift will most probably be upward; at others -- like the present -- it is automatically downward.

One has yet to see or hear of a man adopting the middle way of indulgence as a modulus of living who did not die visibly a more degraded man than when he adopted that course; the overwhelming majority not only grow worse but fall into the depths of enervation, disease, misery, spiritual loss and despair. They seek to temporize with forces which ask only a truce in order to seize treacherous and final victory. The better types of men try ever to grow somewhat better, slightly more self-controlled; and though often gaining little, sometimes even losing externally in the struggle, the maintenance of the ideal even in thought and desire, enables them to salvage something from that incarnation, and so have a better basis for next time.

Any man can at any time take stock of himself in this respect and thenceforth know whether he is moving upward or downward. The slightest recession is danger -- deadly danger. The slightest gain brings reward and additional power -- but beware of complacency or self-righteousness! To be stationary is poor feeble compromise unworthy of true manhood. Paradoxically, the gain is seemingly no gain; successive degrees of purification bring ever more rigid standards; ordinary human life would be degradation to a Mahatma.

The principal difference between the Theosophist and the ordinary man who seeks to improve himself morally is in awareness of the situation. The Theosophist knows the underlying constitution of Man which holds him thus suspended between earth and heaven, forcing him ultimately to a final choice. To turn finally, without trace of mental reservation, from personal passions, personal ambitions, personal thoughts, is to enter a region from which there is no return. Few at this stage of civilization are able to do this; many would if they could, and millions little by little are moving toward the day when they will.

What of the average "normal" man who in the course of life, without being very bad or very good, pollutes his current in space, charges his Akasha with a slow accumulation of sensuality?

There comes a time of final choice. Matter must be stripped utterly from the Self, or absorbed into it. But the Self cannot be free until all the life it has been in contact with has been redeemed -- or has broken away utterly, to be met in future Manvantaras, as we now meet our failures of past times. Thus with the carelessly living man, the time will come at last when his eyes will open to spiritual fulfillment; he will come to love Virtue with an undying passion.


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