THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 10, August, 1950
(Pages 469-472; Size: 12K)
(Number 10 of a 24-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 24 articles have the same name.]
"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS
ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONSThis exhaustless doctrine of Yoga I formerly taught unto Vivaswat; Vivaswat communicated it to Manu and Manu made it known unto Ikshwaku; and being thus transmitted from one unto another it was studied by the Rajarshees; until at length in the course of time the mighty art was lost, O harasser of thy foes! It is even the same exhaustless, secret, eternal doctrine I have this day communicated unto thee because thou art my devotee and my friend!AT the outset of Chapter Four we encounter one of the many reminders that Theosophic philosophy differs radically, in its fundamental assumptions, from both determinist scientisms and conventional theology. The teaching of Krishna, as of H. P. Blavatsky, is that humanity's understanding was once clearer than it presently is -- a conclusion which follows if we assume that human evolution begins with the descent of spiritual beings into complex material conditions. The expression "Evolution begins at the top" arises from a teaching entirely unique to Theosophy.
[Vivaswat, first manifestation of divine wisdom at the beginning of evolution.
Manu, generic title for the reigning spirit of the sensuous universe.
Ikshwaku, the founder of the Indian solar dynasty.
Rajarshees, Royal Sages.]
In contradistinction, evolutionists who are principally concerned with biological mutations, fall into the habit of assuming that man must progressively attain a clearer vision with each century. The view of the Christian is not essentially different from that of the biologist, incidentally, for man is supposed to be gaining a "spiritual" status of sorts as he slowly works for liberation from original sin.
The thought that men have now less spiritual vision than they had in some former age may not be appealing, especially for those whose introduction to the "Wisdom Religion" has been recent. Such an impression may understandably occur if the Theosophical teachings on evolution are not grasped in their entirety. The new inquirer might also dislike any tendency among students toward what appears to be "blind worship" of the Ancients and disdain for the Moderns, for this view, also, seems to imply that things are going downhill. Here we may sympathize with the critics. Looking to the glory of the past does appear a negative view. There is, at first glance, something patently absurd about maintaining that man is presently less in stature than he once was, if we maintain at the same time that he is a being of divine potentialities.
The difficulty can be resolved only by making a distinction between Clarity of Vision and Cycles of Human Evolution, which may, however, be done rationally. The child, for instance, is not "greater" than the adolescent, simply because the adolescent encounters, with a new influx of psychological energy, a host of problems he cannot immediately solve, and consequently appears more confused. The adolescent may have even less clarity of vision, although he has undoubtedly acquired considerable new knowledge since the days of childhood, and is further along on the road to becoming a mature human being. Similarly, the story of almost every genius is the story of a man who found life infinitely complicated, who was puzzled, confused, disheartened and apparently neurotic -- at times when his later-to-be-proven lesser associates were blithely enjoying life in an easy fashion. Often do the great gains of understanding follow turmoil of indecision.
The incarnation of Spiritual Man into the field of sensuous perception is but the beginning of a period of complication. The present human being who strives to solve some of the universal problems may well look back at the glories of great civilizations -- in the same manner in which he might look with profit at some of the clarities of feeling and idea experienced in his own youth. Not because the egos of early civilizations were greater than he -- he was of them, too -- but only because the conditions of evolution obtaining in those early epochs allowed some truths to shine through clearly. They did not shine through, however, in the precise ways that will be necessary for the reaching of full "illumination" in our own time.
But to return to Krishna's statement of the progressive loss in purity of teaching during transmission from Vivaswat to the Rajarshees: An origin of spiritual insight is suggested by William Q. Judge's explanatory comment on Vivaswat -- the "first manifestation of divine wisdom at the beginning of evolution." Then comes, apparently, an adaptation of "divine wisdom" to the problems of the sensuous universe, with which the sense-world Manu is identified as the "reigning spirit." Here, we might infer, is the origination of Moral Philosophy, serving as orientation for man enmeshed by the enforced interrelationships between the sensuous and spiritual realms. The next stage refers us to the incarnation of an Indian solar dynasty, the period of Ikshwaku, representing, perhaps, an enlightened time of wise rulers, naturally and universally accepted, who taught specific "moral laws" for men to follow -- based on universal principles. We might speculate that the "reign of Ikshwaku" is behind Plato's idea of philosopher-kings, whose greatness is naturally recognized and trusted, and who need no outward authority to buttress whatever moral counsel they provide. Subsequently, however, we come to the stage where the "inexhaustible doctrine of yoga" was studied and appropriated by the royal sages. Interesting, is it not, how the phrase "Royal Sages" brings to mind a bit of the pontifical, and of the speculative claims to special knowledge of men who are maneuvering a presumed moral authority derived from Doctrines? In the time symbolized by Ikshwaku there were probably no Doctrines at all, in the sense of commandments, yet the Rajarshees certainly produced these, as did the Brahmins who came after them -- and to whose order the Buddha later brought reformation.
Certain it is that the degree of moral perception is always inversely proportionate to acceptance of the principle of authority in this realm. Authority, by classifying and itemizing "good" and "evil," detracts attention from matters of principle and attitude. Therefore we see historical transitions from times of philosopher-kings who needed to give no commandments -- because their vision penetrated directly into the vision of all others -- to times of argument, debate, and "decision" as to what is and what is not moral. Last, by way of warped derivation, but not least for the twentieth century, we then arrive at Politics, an "art" based upon the assumption that there is such a thing as the "social good," apart from the enlightenment of individuals, and that men may be coerced or cajoled into proper beliefs.
A long way, indeed, from Ikshwaku to Nationalism. Even so, this sort of apparent retrogression in spiritual understanding is not necessarily a process which calls us to despair. The derivation is still from a spiritual idea of interdependence. Even in politics there is a conception, however distorted, of an organic relationship between man and his fellows, and when international and social relationships reach to a certain necessary stage of complication, we can then reasonably hope for a re-creation of synthesizing vision, reducing the complexity of human affairs through recognition of common ethical principles.
Enough is implicit in Krishna's description of the "loss of knowledge" to excuse many sincere psychologists and educators for their distrust of all moralisms. These critics of all that is most conventional in theology may be those who are turning back toward "divine wisdom," after the arduous passage through the complicated misunderstandings of intervening epochs of evolution. Often, it must be, crusading humanitarians of non-religious persuasion are trying to force their way back to philosophic clarity through the channel of iconoclasm. Those who are religiously minded, on the other hand, who will not renounce illogical dogmas, may perceive intuitively some ancient truth hidden in the modern husks and remnants -- with which they will not part until they know better how to begin again their journey of the soul.
In this Discourse, we find Krishna saying, "in whatever way men approach me in that way do I assist them; but whatever the path taken by mankind, that path is mine, O son of Pritha." Full application of the social psychology suggested by Krishna's words is indeed difficult in an age when superficial distinctions are made between people on the basis of current propaganda. But Krishna can mean nothing less than that the Nationalist, the Priest, and the Sensualist, despite their exemplification of some of the worst characteristics of modern civilization, still derive their peculiar illumination from some mode of thought once possessing spiritual meaning -- that is, if they are trying to find their way back to some truth which exalts the human spirit. All, of course, are not of this sort. When man is inspired only by the desire to dominate others, when his motive is security, and his false protection a hostile belligerence, he certainly does not approach Krishna in his Divine Form. Yet all others must truly be "beloved by Krishna," and he by them, even though they know not their own spiritual lineage.
"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS
ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
(Part 11 of a 24-part series)
"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS
ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
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