THEOSOPHY, Vol. 39, No. 7, May, 1951
(Pages 317-321; Size: 15K)
(Number 19 of a 24-part series)

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



THE Thirteenth Chapter of the Gita, "Devotion by Means of the Discrimination of the Kshetra from Kshetrajna," encourages the student to refer both to other portions of the Gita and to correlative texts and notes while pondering the central philosophical, psychological and moral issue of Egotism. That "Ahankara" may be expected to remain one of the crucial and immediate problems in the ordering of one's thinking about one's self, is certainly indicated historically by the fact that alternating cycles of religiosity and materialism have really been based on arbitrary or over-simplified "solutions" of the Egotism problem. For example, the escape-from-the-world impulse of all flesh-mortifying cults, whether located in India or represented in the history of the Western churches, has been the conviction that the body, or Kshetra, must be expunged from the spirit, or Kshetrajna, before there can be peace of mind. With such, the "crushing out of desire" becomes identified -- and confused -- with the slaying or crushing of one's natural physical or emotional structure. On the other hand, the materialists who are determined to fully enjoy the beauties afforded by the senses and feelings engage themselves in attempts to eliminate the Kshetrajna -- that voice of spiritual intuition which they know under the term conscience. Both such religionists as those mentioned and the materialists desire to destroy Antaskarana, but for the wrong reasons, prematurely, and in the wrong way. They remain much involved in Ahankara, one might say, because they are not ready to learn from Ahankara.

One characteristic difference between the more conventional forms of Eastern occultism and that occult synthesis presented by H. P. Blavatsky is that while both accept the necessity for escaping the bonds of maya or illusion, Theosophy insists that this must be done through action, and that the greatest reward of escaping Maya is literally a greater freedom in action.

At this point we may speculate upon the aptness of the word Theosophy, itself, for the term suggests a divine -- i.e., permanent -- center of every conscious being, and in a sense Theosophy may be regarded as the one and only doctrine of immortality. If there is truly something "divine" -- indestructible -- within man, individuality is not to be escaped, but can only be extended. If, on the other hand, one assumes that everything in the manifested world is illusion per se, reality is only to be attained when one eliminates his own center of individual perception entirely. Submergence in the "all," as a final goal, is often recommended by those who either cannot or do not wish to believe in the immortality of the soul. Similarly, those who exclusively exalt a life of the senses cannot or do not wish to believe in the immortality of the soul. If the soul be real, it cannot be ignored during life, the voice of spirit stilled, without destruction of even what we call "happiness." Of course, if we claim the "soul" to have no existence beyond death, attempts to ignore the inner voice would be sensibly conceived.

Neither praising egotism, nor condemning individuality and originality in persons, the theosophist is encouraged by all Theosophical devotional books to approach the matter in quite a different light. We might say that the Theosophical approach, being essentially integrated with the concept of soul evolution, leads one to consider any quality of man's nature from the standpoint of function. What is the function of egotism? Is it only to be considered as a blight destroying the spiritual harmony which might otherwise prevail? Is it an instinct prompting us to find the most in that limited happiness which the emotions promise us?

There are many ways in which we could actually conceive of egotism as having a function. As Chapter Thirteen indicates, Ahankara is one of the "great elements" which make up the bodily vehicle. We might also say that it is the great element, for it expresses, among other things, all those "lower" forms of intelligence which collaborate to produce the feeling that newer and greater experiences may come for the psycho-physical man. The energy of egotism is supplied by forms of life within the body which are aspiring, in their own way, towards wider horizons of experience. The evils of egotism do not arise because of the presence of these energies, but through our failure to find ways for using and controlling them, ways sufficiently purposeful to serve the needs of both body and soul.

Modern psychology assists us at this stage of the discussion by indicating that the full expression of both the physical and emotional man may be suppressed, twisted or disturbed by an "ego-complex." Exaggerated egotism, we are told, gives rise to such complex delusions as those of paranoia, and the paranoiac not only distorts the meaning of his relationship to his fellows, fearing persecution and hate -- and feeling these emotions himself toward others -- but also the body itself may be led to develop tangible illnesses via the psychosomatic effects generated. And yet, unless there is the possibility of egotism within man, he does not exist as a man. To put it in another way, unless all the elements which naturally conjoin soul and body are present, and unless man is able to make those moral choices which revolve around the problem of self-centeredness, he no longer exists as a human being. Egotism, because it is "functional" in the special sense described, is certainly a rewarding subject for study. At one extreme, egotism demonstrates man's tremendous powers of self-determination, by indicating how narrow one mind can make the confines of our universe, while the same power of self-identification raised above its lower or instinctual forms of expression may furnish the soil out of which universal compassion may grow.

In Chapter the Thirteenth, one of the most helpful sentences in respect to egotism occurs on the second page, where we find egotism equated with a "self-identifying attachment for children, wife, and household." The term self-identifying, as rendered from the Sanscrit by William Q. Judge, is particularly interesting if we consider something other than its extreme. Unless we are able to "identify" ourselves with other beings, with their aspirations and their failings, their hopes and fears, we shall never have direct understanding of the world of persons in which we live. The power of self-identification is invaluable, providing it is not made absolute in terms of attachment. If one is completely bound up in a feeling, an idea, or a person, he loses that very perspective which enables him to learn from the self-identifying power as used consciously by the spiritual self.

The second portion of the same sentence is also worth special consideration. That "self-identifying attachment" for one's home or family is dangerous precisely because it destroys self-awareness, our immortal perceptiveness. We cannot have the "constant unwavering steadiness of heart," which this chapter further recommends, unless we make our judgments on the basis of something more than the shifting demands of intra-personal life. Those who live chiefly in their children, or only in their husbands or wives, do not live as completely intelligent beings, since they allow themselves to be controlled, so to speak, by the actions and thoughts of another. Yet, conversely, the parent, husband, or wife who is completely unable to identify himself or herself, through understanding, with the problems of intimate associates also lives in an isolated world. The soul, then, needs one kind of "isolation" permanently, and another kind of isolation, never.

We might recommend passages occurring in Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms, the Dhammapada, and The Voice of the Silence as extensions of the development that is here suggested as characteristically Theosophical. In the Dhammapada's "Canto of Mind," Buddha instructs in this way: "He who possesses a mind untouched by evil, a mind serene, that has risen above merit and demerit, will have nought to fear as he is vigilant." Here the implication is clearly that we are able to rise above merit and demerit to control of the mind, and may then live in the great happiness of truth in the freedom truth brings. This state is not stipulated as being out of this life, away from the sphere of egotism, but the implication is rather that it may be within our familiar rounds of activities and relationships. In Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms, we discover that ignorance is listed as the source of all evil:

"Ignorance is the notion that the non-eternal, the impure, the evil, and that which is not soul are, severally, eternal, pure, good and soul.

"Egoism is the identifying of the power that sees with the power of seeing."

i.e. It is the confounding of the soul, which really sees, with the tool it uses to enable it to see, viz., the mind, or -- to a still greater degree of error -- with those organs of sense which are in turn the tools of the mind ...."
Here again is a discipline designed for controlling the energies of Ahankara, something which would be entirely unnecessary if Patanjali held that all one had to do was mortify the flesh and pass away from bodily existence.

In The Voice of the Silence, finally, we are told not to destroy the lower self, but to "destroy the path between the two" selves -- the higher and the lower -- which is "antaskarana." How does one destroy the path between? There are two ways. One is by obliterating one of the two areas joined, which makes the path superfluous, and thus no longer a path. Or one can obliterate the path by merging the area of lower and higher self in a synthesis dictated by awakened spiritual perceptions. These spiritual perceptions, however, we are ceaselessly reminded by H. P. Blavatsky, are never awakened but only thwarted by escapism and isolationism. The true Isolation, as described in the last of the Yoga Aphorisms, is "the reabsorption of the qualities which have consummated the aim of the soul, or the abiding of the soul united with the understanding of its own nature." Thus Isolation becomes, from the point of view of soul, an aspect of universal brotherhood or compassion.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


"If another by altruistic service benefits one, is not such action vicarious and inconsistent with Karma?"

W.Q.J.--A common error, which arises from incompletely viewing the doctrine of Karma, is the idea that we interfere with Karma when we benefit another. The question is equally applicable to the doing of any injury to another. It cuts both ways; so we might as well ask if it is not inconsistent with the law and vicarious for one to do any evil act which results harmfully to a fellow creature. In neither case is there vicarious atonement or interference. If we can do good to our fellows, that is their good Karma and ours also; if we have the opportunity to thus confer benefits and refuse to do so, then that is our bad Karma in that we neglected a chance to help another. The Masters once wrote that we should not be thinking on our good or bad Karma, but should do our duty on every hand and at every opportunity, unmindful of what may result to us. It is only a curious kind of conceit, which seems to be the product of nineteenth century civilization, that causes us to falsely imagine that we, weak and ignorant human beings, can interfere with Karma or be vicarious atoners for others. We are all bound up together in one coil of Karma and should ever strive by good acts, good thoughts and high aspirations, to lift a little of the world's heavy Karma, of which our own is a part. Indeed, no man has any Karma of his own unshared by others; we share each one in the common Karma, and the sooner we perceive this and act accordingly the better it will be for us and for the world. 

--The Vahan, August, 1891

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