THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 7, May, 1950
(Pages 299-302; Size: 12K)
(Number 7 of a 24-part series)

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

"THE BHAGAVAD-GITA" -- INFORMAL ESSAYS

ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS

CHAPTER third makes that unequivocal judgment on the comparative values of "action" and "inaction" which is typical of the whole Bhagavad-Gita. "Do thou perform the proper actions. Action is superior to inaction. The journey of thy mortal frame cannot be accomplished by inaction."

We are all familiar with the counsel, "When in doubt, abstain," and there is sure value in the counsel. There are times when our precipitate action is nothing more than a prideful refusal to admit that we don't quite know what is the best thing to do. This sort of pride can be particularly harmful, too, for precipitate actions often bring about unnecessary complications in the lives of others, causing untimely suffering. It might be that much of religion has been built upon a recognition of this fact. The counsels of specific creeds and rules may serve as partially beneficent restraints on actions which would otherwise be too impulsive for good. But here, as in so many other instances, the basic orientation of the Gita is directed against the over-simplifications of conventional religions, whether they be the Vedas, the Ten Commandments or the accepted "rules" of any society. Caution, by itself, is not a virtue, since in isolation it is transformed into slothfulness, indifference and cowardice. Only the man who has developed the capacity to act decisively will know what to do with the virtue of caution, for he combines its mediating influence with the capacity to fill the Kshatriya role. The message of Krishna is to all human beings who tend to gravitate, by natural impulse, from adolescence in youth to the often superficial conservatism of middle and old age. The warrior soul must retain its warrior qualities and not lapse into a life directed at the attainment of security. And, as such, the Gita is not for those who prefer the heaven of religion, but only for those who are determined to battle through its half-truths to a recognition of man's active rather than passive destiny.

A sometimes perceptive Christian, Pascal, once wrote that "if one were to do nothing except for a certainty, one would do nothing for religion, for it is not certain." The healthy disregard of complete security implied in this sentence accounts, perhaps, for Pascal's measure as a man against the background of tradition, which always stultifies innovation. And it has been elsewhere remarked that if one waits for a certainty he will "sit and wait in his armchair forever." Krishna helps Arjuna to see that he is between the horns of a dilemma, both tips of which turn around to point in the same direction: "The very principles of thy nature will compel thee to engage in action," says the teacher, and therefore he says in effect, "why not act as the divine being you may become, by grasping the reins of the chariot and guiding the horses -- before you are pulled into motion inadvertently?"

Much of human suffering is very certainly of that prolonged variety which accompanies indecision. Why do we suffer from indecision? The primary cause must be that persistently, over a considerable time space, we are bound down by the necessity of recognizing our own inadequacy. Our failures to be what we might be are never so apparent as during such a time. Probably, then, as has been suggested, the past karma of many men would tell the story of a developed habit of escaping from the torments of indecision by turning over the power of decision to someone else. Whether this be one's parent or spouse, one's priest, one's physician or one's psychiatrist, the result is psychologically always the same. There is not an easy way to get rid of indecision, for there will always be areas of our lives which our parent, priest, physician or psychiatrist has no rule for. Then we will face the same "torment" again, weaker rather than stronger because of the role others have played in directing our lives, while the indecision will last a greater time in proportion to this weakness.

The philosophical over-simplifications of the problem are much less dangerous, therefore, than authoritarian ones. A typical philosophical over-simplification is to say "one need never suffer if one has the right attitude." This is perfectly true, but seldom sufficiently useful when the well-being of others, their likes and dislikes and needs are ultimately involved in the decision we have to make. In the Gita it is not the religious teacher who over-simplifies, we will note, but rather his easy-way-out pupil, Arjuna. Arjuna excuses himself from action by calling attention to the many people who will be hurt by his continued decision to fight out the field. "Well," Krishna replies, in effect, "choose this if you must, Arjuna, but do not so choose and still call yourself Kshatriya; one cannot sit back and go forward simultaneously."

As a corollary to the Gita's emphasis that "action" is superior to "inaction," it is interesting to note the absence of all the various altruistic precepts associated with the golden rule. We may recall that Mr. Judge, in The Ocean of Theosophy, makes a distinction between the nature of Krishna's function as an instructor and that of Buddha and Jesus. Why is it that Krishna says so little about the need for devoting oneself to the welfare of others? Why does he not talk about the "realization of universal brotherhood"?

The only implications of brotherhood in the Gita are apparently metaphysical. When Krishna speaks of himself in the first person singular he is usually, as Mr. Judge points out, referring to himself as one whose spiritual nature is identified with the spiritual nature of all. But this is a subtle way of calling attention to the first fundamental of Theosophical philosophy. The Theosophical Society used the phrase "universal brotherhood" as a keynote of its platform. And the Dhammapada, while indicating that Buddha provided many more ethical precepts than Krishna, also is primarily an appeal to the individual. If, however, Buddha's and Krishna's teachings stress the need for individual salvation through self-discipline and action, and if Jesus' doctrines were primarily directed at awakening a sense of universal brotherhood, we might expect the East to be more individualistic and the West more brotherly. As we know, the reverse is the case. Not only does Western history bring us an unparalleled account of ceaseless wars, but the religious tradition growing up around Christianity has always stressed "private, individual salvation." And in the West, how many more have been content to "move toward heaven" as a member of a group without giving too much attention to personal status.

Perhaps the only thing we can conclude from this sort of paradox is that the various races and groups of men need a particular sort of admonition at a particular time of their cycle, and that the teachings most needed are the ones least likely to take root. This is what may be called the perverse side of the story of the Theosophical endeavor. Groups, like individuals, will probably always tend to resist most strongly an understanding of the very truths their lives require for clarity and purpose. At least, in the Theosophical Movement of the present era, it is possible to make a universal rather than a regional or racial appeal. In the writings of H. P. Blavatsky one discovers vital encouragement to becoming a Kshatriya, and also much that compels Buddhi-Manas to recognize the interdependence of all beings.


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:

"EXPERIENCE FROM WITHIN"

The higher a man's station, the more arduous and full of peril his duties, the more comprehensive should his foresight be, the more rooted his tranquility concerning Life and Death. But these are gifts which no experience can bestow, but the experience from within; and there is a nobleness of the whole personal being, to which the contemplation of all events and phenomena in the Light of the Master Ideas, announced in the foregoing pages, can alone elevate the spirit. Says Giordano Bruno, and let the sublime piety of the passage excuse some intermixture of error, or rather let the words, as they well may, be interpreted in a safe sense:

"A wise spirit does not fear death, nay, sometimes (as in cases of voluntary martyrdom) seeks and goes forth to meet it, of its own accord. For there awaits all actual beings, for duration eternity, for place immensity, for action omniformity. We pursue, therefore, a species of contemplation not light or futile, but the weightiest and most worthy of an accomplished man, while we examine and seek for the splendor, the interfusion, and communication of the Divinity and of Nature, not in meats or drink, or in any yet ignobler matter, with the race of the thunder-stricken; but in the august palace of the Omnipotent, in the illimitable etherial space, in the infinite power, that creates all things, and is the abiding being of all things.

"Thence was man entitled by Trismegistus, 'the great Miracle' inasmuch as he has been made capable of entering into union with God, as if he were himself a divine nature; tries to become all things, even as in God all things are; and in limitless progression of limited States of Being, urges onward to the ultimate aim, even as God is simultaneously infinite, and everywhere All!" 


--S. T. COLERIDGE

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ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
(Part 8 of a 24-part series)

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ON EVERYDAY QUESTIONS
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