THEOSOPHY, Vol. 37, No. 8, June, 1949
(Pages 360-362; Size: 9K)

YOUTH-COMPANIONS ASK--

[Article number (21) in this Q&A Department]

HOW should we interpret the phrase, "forgetfulness of self"? Sometimes this sort of thing appears to be more pious than really altruistic.

The answer to this question perhaps lies in the paradoxical way our minds work. All, no doubt, have had the experience of trying so hard to forget some unpleasant experience that we fixed our whole attention on it! The same thing may happen when we resolve to "forget ourselves" -- and enter into the process so vigorously that all our thoughts are centered on that "miserable personality" we are determined to remove from our mind.

The nature of this attention is certainly different from the pampering we have before given our personal self, but it is nevertheless attention, and therefore a source of nourishment. The Light of Asia tells how Buddha encountered ascetics who were filled with loathing for the body, and sought by torturing it to free themselves of it. Here were lifetimes spent in "forgetting" self according to one interpretation of that phrase -- but did not these lives become veritable monuments to the power of the false self? Again, some of the saints of the Middle Ages who have been canonized by the Church for living lives of devotion to the greater glory of their God actually did lead lives of great martyrdom, physically speaking, and most sternly repressed the "calls of the flesh," but they spent all their time on proving themselves, and had no concern left for actual, altruistic deeds on behalf of their fellows.

How can one forget the personal self, except by forgetting it? Is it any use to sit down and concentrate on forgetting each personal desire as it arises in the mind? Or is "sitting down" the last thing we should do, in fact? Why not work for others, and forget about "forgetting" ourselves? If a man concentrates on trying to put all his powers, whether "personal" or not, at the service of his fellows, in no long time he will find himself leaving the personal self out of his calculations, and he will begin to think of himself as a cell in the great body of Humanity whose needs he is serving to the best of his ability. This is an approach to true self-forgetfulness.

People look at you suspiciously when you praise someone for being a "radical." Now, while this word covers a lot of persons who are admittedly more unbalanced than anything else, it also includes all those who have made a mark on history. Jesus and Buddha were radicals, for instance. How are we to distinguish between "good" and "bad" radicals?

An "embittered radical," whose efforts on behalf of a certain group or class are darkened by intolerance of other groups or classes shares a disability with the exploiter -- though they appear to be at opposite poles. The disability is that of the idea of separateness. Partisan efforts parallel the action of diseases in the human body: Mr. Judge remarks in "The Synthesis of Occult Science" that "Disease of the very tissue of man's body is neither more nor less than the 'sin of separateness'."

The distinction between "good" and "bad" radicals can best be given, perhaps, from H. P. Blavatsky's discussion of political reform in The Key to Theosophy. There she speaks of reformers who, instead of cooperating, strive against each other; and of panaceas which have no guiding principle in them. When asked what principles would make for true social amelioration, she answers, "Let me briefly remind you what these principles are -- universal Unity and Causation; Human Solidarity; the Law of Karma; Re-incarnation. These are the four links of the golden chain which should bind humanity into one family, one universal Brotherhood."

From this it would seem that the "good" radical can be distinguished from the "bad" (not morally bad, but ultimately less effectual) radical if his work is examined for evidences of partiality. The reformer who works with the betterment of all men for his aim, though his actual efforts are necessarily confined to a certain group, is aligning himself with the ideal of universal brotherhood and human solidarity, and thus may be said to be working with the plan of Nature; but the man whose efforts, no matter how brilliant and attractive, are to the advantage of one group of men at the expense of the whole, is partially "disabled." Still, as H.P.B. very clearly points out in "The Fall of Ideals" (THEOSOPHY XVII, 559), the partisan reformer is far ahead of the complacent, though respectable, man.

How can you help someone develop self-confidence? It seems that if a person has this, "all other things shall be added unto him," and if he does not, all his other talents and capacities are driven into hiding.

There is no doubt that self-confidence is a key quality of the human being, but we would seriously question whether it is possible for anyone to help another to develop it. This, of course, flies right in the face of the how-to-develop-a-radiant-personality books, but from the theosophical standpoint, it seems to be true. That is, the real and abiding self-confidence is not to be sought in the transient personality, but in the soul itself, and in the powers of soul. The confidence springing from the realization of soul is not to be developed by any tricks or teachers -- it is, and it manifests itself when it is called forth by the efforts of the person himself.

"Seek this wisdom by doing service, by strong search, by questions and by humility" may be taken as a guide in the quest for self-confidence. Like most other things that really matter, including happiness, self-confidence becomes our companion, not when we seek it directly, but when we seek to help our fellow men. Even an attempt at "devotion to the interests of others" draws out inner strength. The best help we can render ourselves and others along this line is to increase in everyday life the power of the idea of soul, of karma and of reincarnation. Anyone who thinks seriously of these concepts can hardly fail to take a good grip on circumstances and on himself.

The most humble and ignorant man can show as much self-confidence as the most brilliant; and "perfections" of body, personality and intellect are no shield against the ravages of a feeling of inferiority. Because man is gifted with the faculty of imagination, he has the power to make himself appear in his mind's eye as a being lower than the most evil, ugly and ignorant man there is -- and then, perhaps, condemn himself to acting the part for a time. But he can always and in an instant obliterate this picture and become in his mind a gloriously wise being. Simply to know that one has this power -- is not this a source of fundamental confidence?


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