THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 9, July, 1950
(Pages 420-423; Size: 12K)
(Number 9 of a 24-part series)

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



ONE of the most interesting paradoxes of the third chapter of the Gita is also the supreme moral and psychological paradox of all philosophy or psychology. Toward the end of the discourse we find Arjuna expressing a grave concern for the fact that man is often "propelled to commit offences, seemingly without his will and as if constrained by some secret force." Krishna informs Arjuna that it is "lust which instigates him. It is passion, sprung from the quality of rajas; insatiable, and full of sin." And then Krishna presumably supplies the remedy. "Therefore, O best of the descendants of Bharata, at the very outset restraining thy senses, thou shouldst conquer this sin...." This seems simple and clear enough, and is a familiar theme of all moral counsels. Krishna is telling Arjuna to fight against those influences which spring from nature.

Yet, but a page previous, Krishna has told Arjuna that the "wise man also seeketh for that which is homogeneous with his own nature. All creatures act according to their natures; what, then, will restraint effect?" Obviously there are two kinds of restraint, or, rather, two meanings of the word. When Krishna unequivocally states that restraint will be unavailing, he is disparaging repression, since repression can be advocated only by a man whose philosophy holds forth no hope of turning the forces presently at work "for evil" into forces that can move towards righteousness. The ecclesiastics of the Middle Ages were not the first to make an imposing dogma of a presumed need for "repression" of evil. The flagellant-ascetics encountered by Buddha, and with whom he remonstrated, represented another form of the same belief -- that one must escape even the proximity of the world of the senses, and that the only relationships possible between man and the sensory world are either submission or escape.

It is small wonder that leading psychologists of the twentieth century have developed a persevering antipathy to the doctrines of soul, for "soul" is still widely interpreted as "that pure part of us which must learn to leave the present world, in toto, behind." Whatever the psychologists' failings, they are possessed of a true conviction when they assert that happiness and maturity for a "soul" (if there be one), are logically impossible unless it has learned to come to terms -- intelligently and sympathetically -- with the world in which it presently lives. Hence that portion of the average psychologist's philosophy which is "theosophical": the recognition that nothing and no situation may be regarded as entirely evil, but that in the sphere of morality we deal rather with relative enlightenment and unenlightenment. Some of the work of the psychologists is therefore akin to the labors of Socrates in his unsettlement of conventional morality, which, in ancient Athens as in all other times, had perniciously established rigid categories of "goodness" and "badness."

The second meaning of "restraint" is closer to, though not identical with, the psychologists' definition of "sublimation." The worth of the sublimation concept is in its implicit avowal of the necessity for individual moral choices through which man may gradually improve his physical and psychical impulses. The Inner War, on this view, is to be waged against one's own faulty attitudes of mind, not against personifications of evil represented by either individuals, rival religious groups, or rival nations. We may conclude that when Krishna tells Arjuna to fight against "lust," he is not talking about fighting against the "qualities of nature," but about refusing to let the energy of consciousness be dissipated in non-purposeful motions; that is, actions generated by the turbulence of the confused lower self.

One of the subtle signs of genuine Theosophical moral counsel is that it encourages men to enter -- mentally and with deep sympathy -- into the problems of the world. The "secret doctrine" of Theosophy, for instance, as contained in what are called the devotional books, implies a higher goal than that of the Dharmakaya. "Dharmakaya" is the Sanskrit term for the man who first wins the right to choose release from the troublesome associations of earth life -- and then so chooses. It is the Nirmanakaya, not the Dharmakaya, who represents the Theosophical Mahatma -- the man who perceives a deeper meaning in identification with all selves than in separation from "unworthy" selves. Therefore, we find Krishna explaining to Arjuna that "all classes of men" may "involuntarily worship" the Self if their devotion includes the welfare of others. This must have been calculated to help Arjuna see that he must not seek superiority over others, but must instead learn to penetrate the illusory distinctions which separate the greatest man from his humblest counterpart in the lower ranks of society. The opening of the Gita discovers Arjuna ready to renounce all connection with a battlefield which, we may say, is peopled by men less intelligent than himself, and when Krishna tells him that the very principles of his nature will impel him to engage, the Teacher asserts a fundamental tenet of Theosophical evolutionary doctrine -- that there is no real separation from any form of intelligence in the universe. Krishna's appearance as a battle companion, moreover, may be taken as a reminder that one is not likely to find such a being as Krishna ready to assist if one has sought only the company of the elect and shunned the battle; that is, disregarded obligations to those less enlightened who can be helped forward.

The student infers that an aspirant to the company and counsel of a Great Teacher must seize firmly the opportunities of his own karmic situation before any help from "on high" can be expected. The seeking of Great Teachers and leaders, if not preceded by this resolve, results only in blind selfish worship of some source of power which one hopes will partisanly mediate between himself and his karma. According to the presentation of Buddha's teaching in the Dhammapada, also, this line of reasoning is held to be the best sort of sensible advice. Buddha instructs his disciple to ascertain wherein his own good lies, and not to deviate from it for the "good, however great, of another." Yet these admonitions might be to ensure preparation for seeking the company of the wise, rather than to recommend merely solitary endeavor. The Dhammapada also has this to say:

It is right to serve a wise and intelligent man, one who shows where treasures lie hid; one who reveals the shortcomings in others.... Even the gods aspire towards those who are enlightened and mindful, who are wise and devoted in meditation. Therefore (let a man follow) the steadfast, the wise, the learned, one pre-eminent in character (Arhat), the fulfiller of vows and the noble man.
This would seem to indicate, in turn, that when one fully accepts the interpenetration of his life and destiny with that of humanity in general, he then needs to seek the most intelligent companionship. This is because help to the innumerable human beings who possess but a spark of mind can often come best through examples of sustained, fitting relationships among more responsible individuals. Seldom, for example, can a Great Teacher benefit others by direct personal involvement, since the ties natural to a perfected man might throw too great a strain upon the capacities of a "younger" and more distracted soul.

We have, then, to accept in both heart and mind our relationship to the heterogeneous world; we yet must seek, too, for what, under our present karma, is homogeneous to our natures and within our "natural" orbit. This raises a new complexity, which cannot be fully solved by saying that we must attach ourselves to that which is homogeneous to our "higher nature" and struggle against all that our "lower nature" represents. In the context of any conception of universal soul evolution, we can only conclude that the man who avoids association with those whom he considers less than his equals will not come to terms with that "general" lower nature of all mankind, which -- in himself as in others -- so needs alteration and improvement. The answer must be that the wise man, seeking further wisdom through association with either "equals" or "superiors," will also be ready to "associate" with those who seem presently "less" than his "equals" -- whenever called by karmic request, spoken or unspoken. These are distinctions which the aristocracy of earth has habitually failed to make. The abstract question is further complicated by the fact that association with those who are "not our equals" is often because of a desire to escape from the moral responsibilities of our fullest maturity, through the pretense of belonging to a sphere of lesser responsibility where acts and pleasures uncongenial to a life of higher perception can be indulged.

Achieving synthesis between ourselves and all classes of men and experience would seem the goal for any philosophy intending to encourage Universality. Yet this must be "with wisdom and discretion" -- and by karmic need -- accomplished.

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