THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 1, November, 1949
(Pages 24-26; Size: 9K)


[Article number (26) in this Q&A Department]

WHAT prompts people to "take chances," and seek dangerous adventures beyond the "call of duty"? It seems to be a universal inclination. Is this the only way to test one's courage and nerve?

One of the promptings must be that suggested by the questioner -- the desire to test one's strength and stamina, and, perhaps, to find means of increasing both. Any tendency which is so universal must have a basis, but it is for us to examine it carefully before we act on it, to see that its original values have not been perverted in its progress down through our various principles from the spiritual through the psychic and out to the physical. That is, the originally spiritual prompting to grow in strength and wisdom is apt to be taken up by the psychic nature and passed on as an urge toward experience for its own sake, with no thought for what lasting values may be derived from it. Every eye is attracted by the man who does not fear to take chances and to undergo all kinds of dangers, but the "man of mind complete," the philosopher, sees no great virtue in this capacity unless it is allied with a discrimination which can decide between needless and necessary risks, and unless the motive is service to others rather than glorification of self. Alexander Pope had a glimmer of this difference in viewpoint and motive when he wrote, "Fools admire, but men of sense approve."

Why are there so many people who like to take chances "just for the thrill of it," and wherein lies the thrill, we may ask. Must it not spring from a spirit of defiance on the part of those who, though they intuitively sense the existence of law, both moral and physical, yet feel an irrational desire to challenge its power, even as a child might from sheer perversity flout his father's guidance? Perhaps, too, there are many who sense that they are in a way superior to the law and who feel that they can bring to pass whatever they set their minds and wills to, no matter how impossible it may at first seem. It is surprising how many people have this feeling deep in their hearts. The experiments at Duke University in "psychokinesis" -- "mind over matter" -- do their part at one level to support this notion. For the theosophist, of course, this does nothing to prove man's superiority to the Law, but only further confirms the dictum that for all causes set in motion, the effects cannot be lost, but will accumulate and eventually bring to pass that which at first seemed almost impossible of achievement.

As to taking chances, though, there is one "chance," or uncertainty, that the wise man would never leave open, and that is in his motive and his intent. No matter how his outward acts may appear, there is never any "fuzziness" in his moral purpose. The man who takes a chance on his motive is a man who is sure to lose.

One of the most frequently heard excuses for a mistaken course of action is, "I didn't know at the time that it was wrong." How true is this, in the light of the statement in theosophical books that we have been through all experiences?

Well, we haven't been through all experiences, in the real sense of that word, since we haven't learned the lessons embodied in those experiences. One can ride for thousands of miles in a car, and at the end of the journey know no more how to drive than he did when he started. "Only contemplated experience," wrote Spinoza, "is real." The statement referred to by the questioner is probably the one on page 268 of Volume I of The Secret Doctrine. But while it is to be inferred that we have been in a position to undergo all experiences, we seem to have "slept" through most of them.

The excuse that we "didn't know any better," can be evaluated, perhaps, by the way we feel after the mistake has been made. If it was made in honest ignorance, we may feel regret at the results of our error, but that is all. If there is the slightest feeling of remorse -- a much more uncomfortable sensation than regret -- we probably knew better inside but chose to disregard our knowledge.

What is it that makes a person see a forbidding and foreboding System behind every metaphysical idea or proposition?

Maybe the fact that for the past thousand years and more, most metaphysical ideas have been evolved in, or rapidly swallowed by, the religious System of Christianity in one or another of its varying aspects. Several particularly unpleasant centuries of such domination were in large part responsible, it seems evident, for the out-and-out materialism with which Science made her bid for freedom. It should not be remarkable that there are individuals who carry on them the stamp of that forbidding System -- possibly from a former incarnation, if they have not tasted dogmatic authority in this.

Did we ever stop to consider that it is only metaphysical ideas or propositions which can be converted into dogmas for the subjection of a man? Any statement which has to do with the actual realities of life can be proved or disproved by any person to his complete satisfaction. Should anyone try to tell us that grass is red, we would not hesitate to dub him a fool. But let enough men concoct the theory that death ends all and that the soul ceases with the body, and there will be thousands too hesitant to trust their own convictions who will believe the "majority opinion."

Now, a man held prisoner by iron chains or within the walls of a fortress is not nearly so securely held as is the man who has been made to believe in God -- the principal prop in the System known as Christianity. In the first place, the prisoner in chains can remember what freedom felt like, and can plot and plan ways of regaining it. But the man who believes in God has forgotten what it was like to be a free soul, and this memory must be re-awakened before his struggle for independence can commence. When the mind is imprisoned by dogma, the soul must be as helpless as a man who has locked himself in his house and thrown away the key.

When one has had the fortitude and the good fortune to extricate himself from this "metaphysical" predicament, it is understandable why he should be wary of any suggestion of metaphysics. He may, just to be on the safe side, set himself to deny even the possibility of the existence of metaphysical realities. Here he goes too far, for as F. H. Bradley remarked, "the man who is ready to prove that metaphysical knowledge is wholly impossible is a brother metaphysician with a rival theory of first principles. To say that reality is such that our knowledge cannot reach it, is a claim to know reality." The harder we try to convince a man -- or, rather, to try to get him to admit -- the truth of this remark, the more he will resist our persuasions, in all probability. The only way we can assist a "cure" is by carefully eradicating in ourselves any tendency to dogmatize or force a conviction -- and we will see many such tendencies, incipient at least, if we keep as keen an eye out for them as does our wary friend.

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(December 1949)
[Article number (27) in this Q&A Department]

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