THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 6, April, 1950
(Pages 254-256; Size: 10K)
(Number 6 of a 24-part series)

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



EARLY in the third chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita is found a passage of immeasurable psychological importance. "He who remains inert, restraining the senses and organs, yet pondering with his heart upon the objects of sense, is called a false pietist of bewildered soul." These words embody a conception of good and evil which is virtually foreign to most notions of Christian morality. The recommendations of "asceticism" in orthodox Christian theology, it must be remembered, are all based upon a tremendous and unquestioned first assumption -- namely, that any suppression of the senses is moral achievement, regardless of motive and circumstance. Behind this specific dogma, of course, lie the twin ideas of original sin and the localization of sin in the impulses of the body. And, from the time when this conception of virtue -- equivalent to a despising and flagellating of the physical man -- became deeply ingrained in the Western mind, we have seen a constant and unnatural warfare between those who follow the doctrine sufficiently to consistently distrust life and those who, from one reason or another, loved life in spite of the influence of the dogmas of "sin."

Fanatical Christian ascetics -- and there are probably a still greater number living today than is generally realized except by psychiatrists and theosophists -- have established virtue as an equivalent of physical restraint. While it is evident throughout the Gita that no true virtue is possible without the capacity for restraint, and without its exercise at the behest of "mental devotion," nothing may be regarded as of superior morality which rests on a foundation of negation. But the fanatics have seen no other course of moral achievement open to them than fighting against sin. Even their almost inevitable succumbing to "pondering with heart upon objects of sense" while "restraining the senses and organs" has been due to the conviction that the senses and organs contain a persistent, malevolent power. Further, the man who presumably does "restrain the senses and organs" is not thought to be fit for the task of practicing full restraint without the help of divine grace and the fortifying influences of church and ritual. An educator has succinctly termed this view "anti-life," while Macneile Dixon has said that "such men pay life the supreme compliment of regarding it with horror and loathing."

With this in mind, is it not surpassingly easy to see how the setting was laid for the Renaissance of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries? Though we usually think of the Renaissance in terms of aesthetic accomplishments, these might be regarded as but the accomplishments of a strong determination to combat every thought and belief which "disowned" a full and happy life. As has been pointed out by numerous scholars, the alternation from one extreme to another was likewise inevitable. The Renaissance was riotous, ribald, and crudely sensual in many of its forms, because of an unbalanced view which gave the pent-up psychic energies of man an over-valuation after they had for so long been denied natural expression. Small wonder, then, that what we presently call The Scientific Tradition has been accompanied by a prevailing opinion that all pleasant sensations are the chief desiderata of intelligent living.

On the outskirts of this struggle between men who "loathe the senses" and those who ask nothing more than to live in their realm forever, have been the many who have sought to bring some powers of reasonable analysis to bear on these two extremes. Therefore, much has been written about the implications of the word "sensual," and many distinctions essayed between "sensual" and "sensuous." We find echoes of this struggle in Webster's International Dictionary, which assigns moral failing to the "sensualist" and absolves the man who exercises a right to justly appreciate all pleasurable things in the material world, so long as such enjoyment does not involve callousness towards others' needs. These distinctions are theosophically sound, and may even be regarded as indications of the persistent nature of currents of theosophical thought.

It is of especial interest for theosophical students to note the emphatic attention given to this problem by Buddha, as recorded in the Dhammapada. Siddhartha, we recall from the legends brought to us through Edwin Arnold's Light of Asia, felt that the flagellants and extreme ascetics of his time had lost all claim to being moral human beings, so persistently did they despoil and debase a body which should be regarded as a wondrously constructed and useful tabernacle for the soul. In the closing portions of "The Canto of Hell" in the Dhammapada, Buddha insists that not only are the thoughtless and heedless sensualists failing to exercise their status as divine beings, but also consigned to hell (or mental obscuration) will be all those who "see something to fear where there is nothing to fear," who "see as perverse that which is not perverse" -- and who "see evil where there is no evil."

The energy in every impulse of the psycho-physical man must, apparently, be incorporated to serve the purposes of the soul. No "impulses" can be held in absolute suspension. They must either be expressed through action, or they must be transformed by thought in some way that makes action seem finally possible and desirable. No impulse may, on Krishna's or Buddha's terms, be considered pure evil in itself. First, every thought or impulse, however vagrant, presents us with much from which we may learn, and, secondly, every impulse is compounded of a score of conscious, modifying thoughts from the past, as well as a surge of emotion.

It is by the discipline of the mind through philosophy that we may separate into their component parts the "impulses" which move us, and relegate each one to its best sphere of expression. Some elements may be converted into immediate and beneficial action. Others must be taken to the plane of mind, if unsuitable for immediate expression, and there we may discover their relevance to the discharge of present duties "to all life and all beings."

"The false pietist of bewildered soul," inversely, may also include those who indulge in day-dreaming. Every man must be ready for the plane of action each moment of his life -- which means ready to put into use all thoughts and energies.

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:


Restraint is the accommodation of the senses to the nature of the mind, with an absence on the part of the senses of their sensibility to direct impression from objects. Therefrom results a complete subjugation of the senses. Thus the mind becomes prepared for acts of attention. 


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