THEOSOPHY, Vol. 34, No. 6, April, 1946
(Pages 201-204; Size: 12K)
(Number 4 of a 12-part series)

THE CYCLE'S NEED

SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS

THE institutions of an epoch are the visible and concrete embodiments of the intellectual, psychic and moral attributes of the people whose lives they shape and bind. If a student of occultism wishes to gain some appreciation of the way in which the images of the astral light affect the choices of human beings, he would find unending analogies of this process in the influences exerted in their daily lives by the established institutions of society. In the series of articles, "Conversations on Occultism," William Q. Judge discusses at length the action of elemental forces on human conduct, and in one place identifies the astral light as "the keeper of the mistakes of ages past," pointing out that though men may suppose themselves free, actually "we are walking about completely hypnotized by the past, acting blindly under the suggestions thus cast upon us." These invisible bonds are objectively mirrored in the all-pervasive influence of social institutions.

Knowledge of cycles gives opportunity to break the spell of past action. When the astral light is young, men may set in motion causes which are free from the taint of ancient delusion and wrong, but later in the cycle of a civilization, the possibilities of free choice are circumscribed by throngs of elemental intelligences which haunt the subjective planes of man's psychic life, inclining his choices to monotonous repetitions of past action. Exactly the same sort of limitations are created by accumulating customs and habits of thought. The last stages of a civilization are always marked by completely crystallized social forms, in which the lives of individuals are confined to a rigid pattern which is accepted by all as though it were an immutable part of the natural order. A growing, expanding culture may be described as the dynamic expression of a system of ideas; a dying culture, however, is no longer expressive of an idea-system, but is held together by the dead hand of institutions -- the collective social skandhas of a race.

The evolutionary possibilities of a civilization, at a given point in its development, may be measured by the practical effects of its institutions on men as souls pursuing their cycle of egoic development. What are the major influences commonly exercised on parental attitudes? How is the act of bringing a child to birth regarded? What common experiences will the young most certainly meet during their formative years? Which psychic tendencies will receive added impetus from the home and neighborhood environment? Which tendencies are likely to be denied expression?

And the growing boy or girl: the games they play, the friends they make, the books they read and the songs they sing are crucial formative influences. If the awakening intelligence and psychic nature of the child finds in its environment that which suggests habits of self-reliance, of courtesy to others and respect to elders, these qualities will be acquired as part of the "growing-up" process -- almost without notice; but likewise with their opposites. The direction given to the first flush of adolescent idealism: will it blight or elevate?

What about the general morality of adult society? Is practice separated from profession, and if so, how? Where, in the society, is hypocrisy practiced most frequently? Is intellectual honesty characterized by a sense of wholeness, of fitness, or does honesty mean for the most part a kind of brutal realism and cruelty to the simple and naïve?

Is there any analogy between the way men make their livelihood and the search for soul-knowledge? Do their occupations create contentment and satisfaction in work well done? What are the most dramatic symbols or "slogans" to the people at large? By what are the masses stirred?

What does the average man most want of life? What are his principal fears? To what or whom does he look for guidance?

All these questions relate to the institutions of human society, for it is impossible to supply the answers without a study of the structure of custom which has grown up through centuries. In some lands and times, the institutional influences are so fixed that nearly all individuals seem stamped out by the same die of psychic causation. It is as though the uniformity of species natural in the animal kingdom had been raised to a higher evolutionary level and made to apply to the psychic attributes of the human kingdom. The same predictable "elemental" responses are obtained from the people of such environments as from the conditioned reflexes studied in animal psychology. These uniformities of the psychic nature may be identified also in modern civilization in the so-called "psychological tests" of the personnel department of any large employer. Here the various classes of "constants" in human nature have been abstracted and made the basis of the placement of individuals in jobs suited to their psychic idiosyncrasies.

The effect of rigid institutions in shaping the individuals of a society is best seen among groups which have been isolated from external or disruptive influences. Societies made up of egos with little manasic development will be found to be docile followers of the autocracy of custom and easily controlled by the absorbing influence of ceremony and rite. The institutions may have been corrupted by self-seeking rulers, thus becoming instruments of injustice and oppression, or they may be the appropriate instruments of wise teachers. The latter forms are illustrated by the elaborate initiation ceremonies of the tribes of American Indians, often by Tibetan Lamaseries, and by the Mysteries of antiquity.

"Hold fast to that which has neither substance nor existence" is the adjuration of the Adept to the Disciple, meaning that the time has come in the disciple's cycle of individual development when he must renounce all psychic dependence on custom and form. It is the moment of egoic birth into true freedom, into a life of spiritual reality and self-dependence. All minor initiations are but analogues of this great choice. The steps on the path to perfection are each one degrees of mastery over the tendency of matter to run to form -- a law which affects the psycho-physical and psychic instruments of the immortal ego. There is no freedom for embodied self-conscious beings except through control of their lower principles, and there can be no control except through knowledge of the lesser intelligence which animates these principles and of the laws of their evolutionary development. Initiation, there, marks the beginning of both knowledge and control. The source of these powers and their sustainer through the trials of discipleship is that sense of spiritual unity called Brotherhood in human relations, through which the individual ego attains to will-born action for the good of the whole. Before he can become "a God," the disciple must gain the faculty to slay his lunar form at will. This means final emancipation from the "habits" of matter, from all the psychic tendencies brought forward from the past. It means that no affinity of the forms used by self-consciousness can be allowed to affect the choices of the spiritual and manasic being, who must be able, at will and at once, to declare his independence of every partial alliance, every personal preference. This is the paralysis of the personality, necessary to the Adept, of which H. P. Blavatsky speaks.


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:

CONDITIONAL IMMORTALITY

Perhaps one reason for the falling-off of belief in a continuance of conscious existence is to be found in the quality of life that most of us lead. There is not much in it with which, in any kind of reason, one can associate the idea of immortality. Selling bonds, for instance, or promoting finance-companies, seems not to assort with the idea of an existence which can not be imagined to take any account of money or credits. Certain other of our present activities might be imagined as going on indefinitely, such as poetry, music, pure mathematics or philosophy.... As far as spiritual activity is concerned, most of us who represent this present age are so dead while we live that it seems the most natural thing in the world to assume that we shall stay dead when we die....

We all know that life has to be the subject of pretty close management; if we do not adjust ourselves to our physical environment, our physical bodies die pretty promptly; and it is conceivable that a failure to adjust ourselves to our spiritual environment might result similarly. Organized Christianity has always represented immortality as a sort of common heritage; but I never could see why spiritual life should not be conditioned on the same terms as all life, i.e., correspondence with environment. Assuming that man has a distinct spiritual nature, a soul, why should it be thought unnatural that under appropriate conditions of maladjustment, his soul might die before his body does; or that his soul might die without his knowing it? There seems to be a pretty good analogy of nature behind the idea that spiritual existence, if at all possible, is possible only as something to be achieved by purposeful effort. Perhaps relatively very few human personalities will survive physical death -- granting that any do -- and the great majority simply disappears. Perhaps this survival awaits him alone who has made it rather strictly his business to discern his spiritual environment and bring himself into adjustment to it; perhaps it is only he who at death, with "all his battles won, Mounts, and that hardly, to eternal life." 


--ALBERT JAY NOCK

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"NEW INSTITUTIONS"
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