THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 11, September, 1950
(Pages 488-491; Size: 12K)
(Number 11 of a 24-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 24 articles have the same name.]

"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS

ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS

SEVERAL passages in Chapter Five serve as interesting illustrations of the way in which the teachings of Krishna throughout the Gita yield an esoteric significance often at variance with their apparent, exoteric connotation. For thousands of years, men have discovered, by reflection on the psychological structure of the Gita, that what appears to be said is different from what is really meant. And this is often less due to any deliberately "mystical" construction than to the special meanings men have come to associate with familiar words and phrases. Do not all of us tend, at first inspection, to translate everything in terms of the symbols and associations peculiar to our own conditioning?

A chapter entitled "Devotion by Means of Renunciation of Action" certainly seems to imply the desirability of the soul's separating itself from the world of the senses. In the concluding portion, for instance, Krishna states that "enjoyments which arise through contact of the senses with external objects are wombs of pain, since they have a beginning and an end." Further, "monasticism" is apparently recommended when Krishna praises the wisdom of the sage who "doth not rejoice at obtaining what is pleasant, nor grieve when meeting what is unpleasant." But here we must remember, again, that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Krishna's teaching is the absence of moralistic preachments. While we, by cultural habit, identify strivings to find release from a "tyranny of the senses" with our worry about the problem of good and evil, Krishna's terms may not fit ours -- he is not speaking a moralistic language. The terms used in Chapter Five, for example, might well be subjected to literal scrutiny -- not assumed to be familiar generalities on "morality." Consider the sentence already quoted: What Krishna has actually said implies only that enjoyments which arise through the contact of the senses with external objects "are wombs of pain." This does not mean that the senses are to be destroyed, nor that enjoyment flowing through the appropriate sensory channels is unreal or to be shunned. But one species of enjoyment "arises" from the contact of the senses with external objects, even though, in this day of evolution, the species is overcrowded. A course of action may be initiated by a higher aspiration of the inner man, and the impulsion of an assimilated idealism can produce enjoyments which are not "wombs of pain." Krishna is saying, then, that all enjoyment is illusory unless originating in Buddhi-Manas, and thus having a thread of meaning or purpose which enables the experience to live, transformed, in a world of ever higher and wider meanings.

The aspirant to occult wisdom is required to recognize that pain and pleasure are never more than emotional states, and that all experience of a psychic or emotional nature must be translated into terms of purpose. It is, however, only those possessed of "the subtle sight" who are able to discern that all the foregoing is implicit when Krishna asserts that the "Sankhya and the Yoga" doctrines are identical. The goal is freedom from delusion -- not cessation of life -- to be obtained by living in this world while holding a state of equal-mindedness towards experience; experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant, is of itself always something less than meaning or purpose. The "Lord within" creates purpose when he marshals the strength of his highest powers, and the man who "can resist the impulsion arising from desire and anger" uses the vital energies of his nature as fuel, not for the "lower" or less significant "fires," but for greater and brighter ones.

When Krishna speaks of the illuminated sage seeing all creatures as alike in their imperishable natures, he means that such a wise one entirely dispenses with classifications of good and evil. He sees, in all, the Indwelling Spirit -- and, perhaps, translated into the terms of intercourse between beings, he perceives wherein the evolutionary "good" of all persons and ideas resides. And because everything must represent one of two conditions -- either growing or retarded intelligence -- with the dividing line constantly shifting according to the aspirations of each individual being, he makes no moral pronouncements.

"The truth is obscured by that which is not true, and therefore all creatures are led astray." When ignorance is dispersed, the devotee lives in an expanded universe; his "asylum" becomes ever more the self of all. He is not isolated, however -- rather, he can identify himself in understanding with anything or anyone. In setting out on this path it is most necessary for the devotee to recognize that the things men call "good" are not good, in themselves, and that the things men call "evil" are not evil in themselves; that he who sees good where there is no good, and he who sees evil where there is no evil, are both alike deceived, for the Supreme Spirit resides in neither of these appearances. And the Lord within, the center of spiritual perception, knows that there are evolutionary meanings and purposes which are not "brief and changeable" in the manifested world.

For those who find it most natural to follow the path of religiously-ordained strictures in attaining discipline, the meaning of the Gita's Chapter Five can be the obvious one. But for those who pursue studies still further -- who are perhaps candidates for the goal of "high indifference to those doctrines which are taught or yet to be taught," another meaning emerges -- one at variance with all the foreshortened views holding the absolute aim of life to be in "renunciation." We are to renounce, indeed, the inadequate and unworthy objectives of our action. Yet this is for attaining the vision which brings us close to all who live. "Assimilation with the Supreme Spirit is on both sides of death for those of thoughts restrained; and who are acquainted with the 'true self'." [Italics ours.]

There is another way, also, by which we can approach a study of "Renunciation." In the writings of H. P. Blavatsky and of Mr. Judge we sometimes encounter statements to the effect that suffering has great value as a teacher. But if the Theosophical aim were simply to escape the turbulence of an unsettling physical world, such statements would never occur. Instead, we might logically expect to find advice akin to that supplied by Mary Baker Eddy to her disciples: refuse to admit suffering, and when you no longer worry yourselves over the things men call suffering, you will have escaped. What H.P.B. and W.Q.J. say, in effect, is: "Think and ponder over that which upsets or nearly crushes you. The worst catastrophe can be a gateway to that variety of wisdom which will finally encourage intelligent action."

Some extremely interesting discussion invariably accompanies the statement that "Theosophy is the philosophy of those who suffer," or that, as H.P.B. writes in the Key to Theosophy, "it is only through the latter [suffering] that we can learn. Joys and pleasures teach us nothing; they are evanescent, and can only bring in the long run satiety." Much depends upon the interpretation of such statements, for it is clear that Theosophy may not legitimately be identified with the worship of pain and suffering per se. In The Bhagavad-Gita Krishna discourses on the necessity for transcending all the opposites, including those of pleasure and pain. Certainly the fundamentals of Theosophic philosophy make it impossible to give priority and premium value to any emotional state. Suffering and happiness must be considered as equal, in any abstract, ultimate sense.

It is apparent that H.P.B. is speaking of those joys and pleasures unduly relished as such and made ends in themselves, for this is the implication of a context incorporating the word "satiety." Yet enjoyment of life in its broadest sense could mean nothing more than a full appreciation of its inexhaustible opportunities. H.P.B. herself, despite her physical difficulties and those tribulations associated with her betrayal by fellow theosophists, was certainly one who appreciated rather than bemoaned the striking elements of any situation she encountered. Nor is the picture we get of Buddha, Krishna, or Christ one of men preoccupied with "suffering." It would truly be more accurate to say that they were happy men. Perhaps the distinction is that they were never made "happy" by any one particular thing, but rather lived in the harmony of a sense of proportion -- which is something different from being devoted to the attainment of "joys and pleasures."

There are no ultimate, philosophical reasons for placing a premium on "suffering," any more than on "renunciation." Only, in this particular stage of evolution, it is next to impossible for men to learn as much from a transition through intense enjoyment as from a transition through intense suffering. We need very little prompting to discover a way to leave some particular sort of suffering behind -- but nothing save the philosophy of a Buddha is sufficient to pry us loose from any familiar "enjoyment." If we could leave suffering and enjoyment the moment these states achieved their purposes, never lingering, but always pressing on, we would then, and only then, perhaps, be "men of mind complete."


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ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
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ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
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