THEOSOPHY, Vol. 39, No. 10, August, 1951
(Pages 449-452; Size: 12K)
(Number 22 of a 24-part series)

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

"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS

ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS

STUDENTS of the Gita may have often reflected on the two principal varieties of contemplative opportunity presented by Krishna's discourse. Sometimes, as was the case with the Ashwattha tree symbolism of Chapter the Fifteenth, a single mental image recommends itself as a seed for meditation -- from it one is able to develop all manner of pertinent psychological and moral analogies. This type of study may be called aphoristic, for it begins with a single phrase rather than a complicated concept. Mantrams and symbols belong to this category, and provide points of departure for protracted contemplation. Yet it is doubtful if a Gita student ever penetrates the deepest meaning of a particularly significant phrase unless some previous attempt has been made to grasp the broad philosophical significance of an entire chapter or section. We need a frame of reference to aid our reflection about the mantram or symbol. Few Roman Catholics, for instance, would make much of the Ashwattha symbol, so far from Krishna's mode of thinking would their habitual theologizing have taken them.

This and similar illustrations are but "personal" reminders of the meaning of some of H. P. Blavatsky's statements in The Secret Doctrine --as that in our thinking we always must proceed from the macro-cosmic view -- the general -- to the micro-cosmic, or particular. But Mme. Blavatsky also insists that Theosophy is a discipline in inductive as well as deductive reasoning; finally, that until we have mastered the essential ingredients of both methods we can pursue neither with clarity.

Chapter the Sixteenth, entitled "Devotion Through Discriminating Between Godlike and Demoniacal Natures," especially enjoins comprehensive rather than particularized thought. It leads us to ask ourselves broad questions far more easily than it leads to specific answers, though this, in turn, can subsequently deepen our passion for investigating the more detailed considerations of psychology.

Turning the pages of Chapter Sixteen in even the most cursory manner should reveal the existence of an intriguing large-scale puzzle: why does Krishna occupy but a single lengthy sentence with enumeration of the godlike qualities, and devote the remainder of the chapter to a discussion of the demoniacal? This treatment is, of course, not restricted to Krishna's presentation of psychology, since the development of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy have carried to a much greater extreme the tendency to formulate a science of man's errors. The "normal" or "good" is, in Western psychological parlance, left entirely undefined, unless we assume that, by inference, the "normal" or "good" is simply the absence of perversions and distortions of man's capacities.

This comparison between points of emphasis selected by Krishna and those selected by many psychiatrists indicates that the excessive preoccupation with abnormality among students of human nature may have some kind of historical precedent more valid than the traditional Christian preoccupation with evil. But what is the logic of such apparently unbalanced treatment? Why does Krishna talk more about evil than good? May it not be because the godlike qualities are never accurately definable? It could be said that the godlike qualities are all living potentials of inward growth in beings, and there are no definitions, however we strain semantically, which accurately fix and delineate "the Mysterious Powers of Becoming" in man.

The demoniacal nature, on the other hand, is fixed -- can easily be defined and examined -- since it is dependent upon material attachments. Thus we see, on the second page of Chapter the Sixteenth, that the demoniacal is described as a materialistic view of nature and man:

"Those who are born with the demoniacal disposition ... deny that the universe has any truth in it, saying it is not governed by law, declaring that it hath no Spirit; they say creatures are produced alone through the union of the sexes, and that all is for enjoyment only."
But why does Krishna go on and on about the "gates of hell" that stand waiting for these materialists? Surely a Sage should not ideally be conceived as inclined to waste time fulminating against "sin," as have so many un-sage-like Christian ministers? Or is Krishna telling us that each man, however excellent his ideals, is both godlike and demoniacal, and that we need to recognize those deviations from "spiritual normality" which prevent us from attaining full stature?

At the time of Krishna, incidentally, there were no fulminating Christians, and the unnatural emphasis upon sin -- something often amounting to what a popular writer once called "fascinated loathing" -- had not yet saturated our culture. If we grant some claim of sage-like stature to Robert Crosbie, by the way, we will be interested to see that his comments on Chapter the Sixteenth in Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita reverse Krishna's emphasis. Mr. Crosbie talks almost exclusively about the godlike qualities, and though he can define them no more clearly than Krishna did, his remarks amount to variegated re-assertions of the existence of god in man. This stress may be regarded as another attempt to help balance man's moral outlook -- Krishna's object, too -- and must have something to do with the needs of a time in which the majority have been taught, through sin-occupied religion, to expect far too little of themselves.

These considerations finally lead us to recognize, despite a natural aversion for too much talk about "sin," that some "warning against the ways of evil" actually has a rightful part in every religion; more, that one of the natural functions of uncorrupted religion has been to provide reminders of the frequent and disastrous errors of human ways. (Cf. H.P.B.'s Voice of the Silence, directed to her pupils, rather than to the Christian-conditioned public.) The concluding paragraph of Chapter Sixteen speaks well of the Vedas, probably because they represented in this respect, natural religion. The Vedas were not sin-preoccupied, enabling a teacher like Krishna to say, in effect, "Do not scorn the Vedas, for if you do it means only that you think yourself above error -- a state of mind which can be productive of very great mistakes."

Yes, the theosophic philosophy is concerned with sin, as was Krishna, but in a different way from that to which we are accustomed. Each man must learn to pick out his own errors, no formula sufficing for their eradication. "Hold sway over thyself" is the only constant moral mantram, and for man to see the full significance of the idea of self-control he must have faith in the majestic extent of his powers -- something not provided in Christianity. The broad outlines of emphasis in the Gita, despite the devotion of the largest portion of Chapter Sixteen to man's demoniacal nature, are all in support of a high and noble concept of what human beings may become. Robert Crosbie's commentaries expand this theme vigorously, in recognition of the great drought of spiritual aspiration which always follows the pernicious doctrine of "unworthiness." Seeing all men as Krishna saw Arjuna, Mr. Crosbie is saying: "Forget the accursed notion that you are too weak, too inferior, too small, and rise to your stature as beings who can do and become far more than you presently dream."

The obviously different emphasis of Western Theosophy is worth much philosophic reflection. H. P. Blavatsky's title for her magazine, "Lucifer," indicates how definitely she conceived the need of freeing all minds she could reach from the Christian idea of a Devil. That Devil was but the crude personification of the weak-and-sinful-is-man psychology which had so long haunted the Christianized world. It was the intention of Lucifer and Isis Unveiled as well, to indicate that the independent, rebellious, doubting and curious elements of the human mind were indications of the wide range of perception each man could reach, if he but learned to see the Divine within himself. The Christian God was but half of man, representing, in terms of the Three Qualities of the Gita, only one aspect of tamas, one aspect of rajas, and one aspect of sattwa. Satan, or Lucifer, was the other half, the "proud," self-originating, fearless aspect of individuality. Man needed to know this part of himself in some other light than the murky one inspired by the Original Sin dogma.

The principal reason why the Vedas were less concerned with evil than the Christian testaments are, was that, in the more philosophic religions of Krishna's time, evil was seen to be always corrupt thinking, feeling or acting, rather than corrupt beinghood. The power to act is never corrupted, though man's Arjuna-nature may put spiritual powers to evil uses. Thus the problems of Evil did concern all men who sought that greater wisdom which brings ability to perform "right action." Krishna spoke to these, the voluntarily concerned, of these dangers of "the lower Iddhi." Once having asserted the divine potential within all Arjunas, having made his resounding plea for each to recognize his own great heritage and strength, he proceeds quite logically to talk about Error and Evil in human thought. But never does the Gita imply basic distrust of man, as is the case with the Old Testament. The distrust of the lower self Krishna enjoins is, simply, distrust of error. Here, too, we may note once again, the tone of presentation is philosophic and psychological, rather than moralistic.


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ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
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