THEOSOPHY, Vol. 21, No. 4, February, 1933
(Pages 145-148; Size: 12K)
(Number 4 of a 12-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 12 articles have the same name.]

THE PURSUIT OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE

THERE is in every man and in every being a kind of knowledge which does not depend on memory or experience, on inference or evidence. Knowledge, in the customary understanding and use of the term, is finite and fallible, a term of relation which varies constantly. But the other kind of knowledge is absolute -- independent of all relativities. It can be applied or misapplied, in the sense that it can be adopted or ignored as the basis of conscious conduct, but its integrity is in no wise affected in the one case or the other.

To this knowledge we give, as an objective abstraction, the name of Truth, and to its use the name Wisdom. Now, as in all times, men are perpetually asking themselves and others the question propounded by Pontius Pilate in his interview with Jesus: "What is Truth?" Jesus, according to the recorded tradition, made no reply -- in which he showed his own wisdom.

In fact, each being is its own definition of Truth in every sense, and this definition is constantly confused with the reality of which it is but an ever-changing expression. The absolute is, the relative exists. Life is, beings exist. Yet the two are one, for every being and every thing is fundamentally life. The whole of manifested existence in all its variety and diversity can be reduced to a trinity of terms, action, being, and state of being; and these three can be perceived as indissolubly united with each other in one Life or Nature. Action is not conceivable apart from being, or being apart from some state or condition, nor can any of them be imagined apart from Life itself. This trinity in unity, this unity in diversity, is the reality. The perception of the fact in some degree is what we call knowledge; its realization by the individual being makes him the embodiment of Truth, the Master of Wisdom in action and condition. From this point of view the doctrine of the omnipresent Self and of the individual self becomes something other than a teaching believed, to be adapted to one's own advantage. It becomes the conscious life of the individual, from which he is "constitutionally incapable of deviating," as runs the sacramental phrase.

Theosophy regarded as a teaching is but one among many systems of philosophy, religion, and science. It, like they, is but an expression, an outcome, a partial presentment of the Wisdom-Religion. Its sole advantages in that regard are that it is as yet uncorrupted by human fancy and imagination; is accessible to all men in its original transcription; is nearer to us in terms of our own intellectual and moral evolution; and so, in all these respects, does no violence to the presently active principles and elements of our own being, because wholly consistent with them all. It antagonizes neither the conscience, the reason, nor that desire for enduring happiness which are the motive power as well as the objectives which inspire all human conduct.

To hold on to his philosophy, his religion, his "science" as a theory of life, each man has to ignore or exclude some facts in his own experience, some principles in nature, some elements of his own being; has to exaggerate or minimize others. Thus every man is ceaselessly at war, with nature and within himself. At best he only succeeds in "obtaining a happiness which comes and goes." His existence is a perpetual arena of contending and unbalanced forces, against which he knows, by this inner and supreme Wisdom, that he cannot at any moment prevail, and to which he must succumb at last. Nowhere in all literature is there to be found a more tell-tale picture of human life in detail and in the round than that put into the words of King Duryodhana in the opening scene of the Bhagavad-Gita: "This army of ours is not sufficient, while the forces of Krishna-Arjuna are sufficient." All our forces of experience, synthesized in the prevailing ideas of mankind, are not sufficient to yield us peace and prosperity on earth, or any knowledge of our antenatal or post mortem existence, while yet they inspire or compel us to continue what we know to be a hopeless struggle. And all the time there is in us the recognition of another kind of knowledge, another use of power, another basis for conduct whose "forces are sufficient" to achieve the longed-for goal! This is the contradiction of all life, as life is so far known to us in terms of human consciousness and experience.

Self-knowledge as theoretical science is the recognition of the primary forces and powers which pervade and control all in nature, and of which all nature is but an ever-changing objective expression. This recognition will come to any man who has even the momentary strength of will to use his own power of direct perception divorced from preconceptions -- the mental deposits of Soul-memory. The same recognition comes to every man over and over again without his will, by virtue of the daily experiences of contrasts which upset all his preconceptions. The reign of Law throughout the whole of nature is the first fundamental axiom in the pursuit of self-knowledge, as it is the primary postulate in all physical science, but the materialistic conception of law is as devoid of a reasonable basis, a moral basis, as is the religious conception of lawlessness in nature and in man. The man of science never attempts to explore the nature of law as he explores the nature of matter, any more than the man of religion attempts to explore his "Will of God" in the same spirit that he explores his mundane experiences. Although the scientist's "laws of nature" are as immaterial as his "forces," he neither knows nor seeks to know them in any other direction than in their effects on matter. Although the religionist's God and his "will" exist apart from man and nature, and operate on both from beyond an impassable gulf, he never studies the revelation in which he believes as itself the evidence of something common both to his God and himself, of something common both in his own will and the Will of his God. Thus man, both the religious and the scientific man, are perpetually in a state of conflict. The one strives with nature in order to subject it to his own will. The other wrestles with his own will in order to subject it to that of his God. Each is necessarily "a house divided against itself." Nature and self being in fact one, these basic misconceptions induce violence in him who attempts violence on great nature, while the other in doing violence to himself as necessarily attempts violence on nature. There is no possibility of self-knowledge for any man along either of these two lines. Our greatest scientists and our greatest theologians travel away from the light of self-knowledge until it remains but a spark in them, equally with the depraved, the dissolute, and the heedless. In all these cases, which include the majority of our existing mankind, the difficulty is fundamentally that of the Soul-attitude, or point of view towards Nature and Self.

All disharmony in nature, all discords among men, all unhappiness of the individual man, spring from what Patanjali calls Soul-ignorance -- not ignorance in our sense of nescience, but that ignorance which all recognize under such terms as belief, opinion, prejudice and preconception in their countless forms and manifestations, and sanctified by each of us in his own case as his convictions of Truth and Wisdom. Whether a priori or a posteriori, these convictions are in no case due to ignorance in the sense of any actual void or lack either in experiences or the ability to understand them. Whether dormant, partially aroused, or fully active and dominating, all these characteristic qualities of the human consciousness represent the negative pole of spiritual Karma -- Soul-memory as the antithesis of Soul-knowledge. Evolution in the spiritual, intellectual, and psychic meanings of the term not less but more than in the physical sense, imply progression, not standing still. The same evolution that is represented in the human and in still lower orders of being is also represented in the Masters of Wisdom and still higher preterhuman beings. Evolution, or progress in any direction is ever and eternally motion from a given point toward a given point; and that "point" is the motive or attitude which constitutes the spiritual polarity of any and every being or order of beings.

Genuine Chelaship, or the pursuit of self-knowledge, is, then, a fundamental change in point of view, in attitude of mind. It may originate to all appearance in the total upsetting for the moment of all preconceptions or "convictions" so that the individual is for an instant literally "thrown back upon himself" by fate or circumstance -- only a blind way of stating the precipitation of spiritual Karma. Or it may ensue from a deliberate act of the individual's own will -- which in its turn is but a translation, in the field of ideas, of Soul-action on a higher and more transcendent plane than can be reached by the human mind.

All purely human consciousness, and therefore all purely human conduct, is based on the sense of separateness -- between man and man, between man and nature, between man and God. All divine consciousness, and therefore all divine action, proceeds from the sense of Unity -- of the unity of all and everything in nature, known and unknown. This is the first of the "seven spiritual senses" to awaken in man. On its use depends the flowering and the fruition of the others.


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