THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 5, March, 1950
(Pages 212-215; Size: 12K)
(Number 5 of a 24-part series)

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



THE Arjuna who meets Krishna on the battlefield suffers from one weakness greater than all others -- the Achilles heel of despair. What is despair? A study of philosophy encourages one to seek many definitions by contrast, and thus we might ask ourselves another question at the same time: What is the opposite of despair, since all tendencies or qualities are supposed to alternate with their opposing extremes? Emotional elation is the misguided conviction that we have achieved, or are achieving, more than is actually the case. Despair is the misguided conviction that we have achieved less than our actual accomplishments indicate. The man who struggles through a heavy surf to shore will know of "alternations" which provide an exact physical counterpart for such a psychological cycle. A swell of water will suddenly thrust a swimmer twenty feet closer to his destination. He will feel strong and masterful as accelerated progress is felt by his driving body -- but when the water returns from its onward rush towards the shore-line his greatest efforts will not prevent his loss of all that was gained save that won by his own efforts, independent of the previously auspicious current.

Our actual position is not in space and time, for we all alternately ride forward on, or are pulled back by, the cyclic recurrence of the waves of emotion. Our position is not, we can come to see, dependent upon these waves at all, but upon the amount of progress we can make in relation to the whole ocean, not just to its moving surface. The man who allows himself to be unduly elated relaxes his energy; his body and mind cease to function in the rigorous harmony he had meant to compel. If he despairs at seeing his over-estimated gains eliminated, he similarly relaxes his vigilance. And it is eternal vigilance in the battle of life which makes the Kshatriya quality of such tremendous importance. It is this quality that Arjuna must first attain before he can hope to have enough steadfastness of purpose to regain his lost kingdom.

In the second chapter of the Gita, we find interesting commentary on a claim of many theosophists -- that a universal belief in reincarnation and karma would speedily bring about the moral regeneration of humanity. It appears from what Krishna says, on the contrary, that the least commendable of persons may yet consider "Reincarnation and Karma" as principal articles of their faith:

The unwise, delighting in the controversies of the Vedas, tainted with worldly lusts ... pronounce, for the attainment of worldly riches and enjoyments, flowery sentences which promise rewards in future births for present action, ordaining also many special ceremonies the fruit of which is merit leading to power and objects of enjoyment. But those who thus desire riches and enjoyment have no certainty of soul and least hold on meditation.
In other words, it is entirely possible for believers in reincarnation to cherish that belief principally because they wish to extend their involvement in the area of the senses beyond the gap of death. We must learn, though, that no belief can ever quite be a static thing. Any idea about reincarnation will either work upon the manasic nature of its professor in such a way as to ever widen its implications, or else the implications of rebirth will seem fewer and fewer until it remains only as a symbol of unfulfilled wishes. If a man reaches this latter point, he is a logical candidate for forgetting about reincarnation entirely or accepting some belief such as that of the conventional Christian heaven. Any one who concentrates upon a sensual life will slowly materialize his nature to the point where his imagination will have no focus for anything beyond the physical realms. Thus overburdened by the impulses of matter, he cannot possibly see beyond one life. Perhaps many of those described by Krishna as the "unwise" were the forerunners of later sensual materialists who pride themselves on their disbelief in any future life.

This leads us to recognize, does it not, that no "idea" can suddenly transform the nature of man. The noblest ethic can merely suggest a different way of conduct to the man who hears its formulation. His actual behavior patterns may remain unaltered for days, months, years or lifetimes. But, sooner or later, it can be expected that he will either lose the idea entirely or, instead, if he is diligent in meditating upon it, he can satisfactorily change his habitual patterns of behavior.

Of the many worthy philosophers who have defended Plato's tenet that "ideas rule the world," there are probably few who have not, at times, recognized that this Platonic belief must not be oversimplified. We are constantly presented with anomalies in the form of persons who seriously profess an ethic which seems to have little or nothing to do with their behavior. We are all familiar with religious hypocrisy, which means to us that a great many Christians have professed belief in the superiority of gentleness, kindness, and self-sacrifice over passion, hate, and a desire to subject others to the dominance of their own superiority -- yet what has been called the Christian world is, manifestly, the most viciously competitive world, both economically and politically, that is presently known to history.

Another interesting sort of anomaly is presented by the man who preaches the law of the jungle and lives like a saint. Innumerable "materialists" deny anything except biological significance to man, and yet live strictly according to a code completely at variance with the ethics implied by the "survival of the fittest." So we can see that the real man is not any collection of ideas he may be presently entertaining, but rather the habits of character which predispose him to being brutal or kind, loving or hateful, fearful or courageous, under the pressure of difficult circumstances. Still, it does not follow from this that ideas do not rule the world, for all of these "character attributes" are, in Theosophical terms, crystallized thoughts. Once upon a time, each habit had its origin in a conception of what would be the most intelligent or logical or satisfactory way to act. Years -- or reincarnations later -- the suggestive power of the ideas bears fruit, and their character is more plainly seen.

Today, as in Krishna's time, it may be that the most materialistic of men show the greatest concern in an after-life, and the men of spiritual determination -- whether they be statesmen and educators like Gandhi, or physicists and educators like Einstein -- are obviously concerned very little with what happens to them after death. Of such Krishna says, "those who are united to knowledge and devoted, and who have renounced all reward for their actions, meet no rebirth in this life and go to that eternal blissful abode which is free from all disease and untouched by troubles." It would seem that one's interest in securing a guarantee of a future life on earth is proportionate to his lack of internal security. Most men desperately need thought of reincarnation, the doctrine of intelligent hope. But the wisest men probably do not think about reincarnation at all; rather, they think in terms of the continuity of all life, all aspirations, and all spiritual achievement.

We are elsewhere informed that it is possible for the man who reaches the state of Adeptship to pass through the after-death conditions of Kama-loka and Devachan in full consciousness -- which means, of course, that these states cease to exist in their usual sense for him. Similarly, the Adept, unlike most of us, will never reach a state of despair; he need not pass through those repetitive cycles of psychological death and rebirth which are so familiar to most of us. Our persistent struggle to maintain continuity of motivation and will is undoubtedly the greatest tribute we can pay to the philosophy of reincarnation.

So it should be obvious that we cannot classify human beings morally according to their present professed beliefs. The Theosophist is devoted to the preservation of the current of philosophy. He can judge the qualities of that philosophy in comparison with others, but he cannot judge the moral value of persons according to their theoretical affiliations. This, we might say, is the central root of the necessity for impersonality in all attempts to promulgate Theosophical doctrines. No affiliations between Theosophists are of any extra value because the name Theosophy is accepted as a common denominator. The real common denominator shows itself in habits of action deeply ingrained in men, though the ideas may provide an extension of the capacity for sharing and understanding which makes group creativity possible.

It is the common lot of a humanity in which soul-mind is not yet fully incarnated to undergo innumerable "rebirths in this life," and for those who have set their hearts upon a particular result to suffer the interruption to learning and concentration whenever an alteration in events occurs. Man must escape from the endless cycles of psychological death and rebirth in this life before he is ready to move into a realm where truth, goodness and beauty cease to be represented by static forms and flow as steady currents in the river of evolution.

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