THEOSOPHY, Vol. 37, No. 4, February, 1949
(Pages 170-172; Size: 9K)


[Article number (17) in this Q&A Department]

IT'S easy to talk about not developing inferiority complexes, but how do you avoid it, since there's always something that you just can't learn how to do, while everyone else goes through it with hardly any effort.

In the first place, banish the idea that it is possible to be the only one of your kind in the world. No matter how inefficient you are in some task, there are plenty of other human beings undergoing similar difficulties in some phase of their existence -- or else they're just drifting along on past merit, and that's worse. Remember the remark that restored some perspective and balance to the man who was groaning loudly, "I'm the worst sinner in the world"? It was something like, "Vanity, my little man, you're nothing of the kind." Just by removing our gaze from the fascinating subject of ourselves -- our shortcomings are often as engrossing to us as our supposed virtues -- we can overcome any tendency toward an inferiority complex.

Among any group of children, for instance, we will discover some who have an uncanny ability in their fingers, but just can't seem to read their ABC's. And, conversely, literate children are often the least coordinated, physically. If these natural variations are not treated correctly, they may become sources of great discomfort to those children all their lives, perhaps, for the undermining of a person's confidence in his ability to learn closes all doors to progress.

Suppose every teacher was equipped with a knowledge of the doctrine of reincarnation. Would not all these frustrations and complexes be easily banished? It is simple to see that, on the basis of many lives on earth, some people will have spent much time in the past in intellectual pursuits like reading, and therefore be born with an innate understanding of the printed word. Poor readers in this life are not inferior to those others; they simply have not practiced as much in prior incarnations. Their concentration has been on other phases of life, in which they have become correspondingly proficient. The doctrine of reincarnation should take all sense of shame and inadequacy from the mind of a person contemplating his limitations.

A farmer who was busy with other chores does not regard with a sense of inferiority his neighbor's fields which have already been cultivated and made ready for seed, while his own are still covered with weeds. He realizes that he is making a late start on that particular task, but finds no cause for discouragement in this. We, too, can realize that our defects and inabilities are fields we haven't taken time to cultivate yet. Learning, with this philosophy, becomes an experience completely free from strain, while inferiority and superiority become, in an ultimate sense, words without meaning.

How can we be sure that we get what we have earned? There's no sense in working hard if we're not going to get the reward.

There are certain things which we must take as premises if we ever expect to come to any conclusions. Now there are two premises open to us on this question. Either we do get what we have earned and only what we have earned, or we do not. If we do not, then the universe is a meaningless chaos in which there's no sense in living -- let alone working; or it is a world presided over by a whimsical deity who bestows favors on those whom he inexplicably likes, and punishes those whom he has taken it into his head to dislike. The First Article of the Lutheran Catechism ("How the Master of the House Is to Explain It as Simply as Possible to His Household") settles the problem on this premise. "I believe that God has created me and all other creatures ... and that daily He supplies in abundance all needs and necessities of my body and life, and protects me from all perils, and guards and defends me from all evil. And this He does out of pure fatherly and Divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I am bound to thank Him and praise Him, and, moreover, to serve and obey Him."

We have a choice between such premises and the theosophical one. Let us consider, for instance, how far science could have progressed had it not accepted implicitly the fact that law reigns without exception throughout the physical universe. We merely have to do in the moral realm what the scientists have done in the physical -- accept the basic fact that no energy is ever lost. This is karma -- the conviction that none of the causes we set up ever go astray.

How much reality is there in the idea that heredity and environment make the man what he is?

Perhaps this will answer itself if we consider that heredity and environment are scientific expressions for observed effects accruing to an individual. The theosophical term which includes both heredity and environment is Karma. Heredity is physical karma; environment is emotional and mental karma. The philosophy of the soul tends to reverse the usual dictum that environment makes the man: man makes the environment -- by his attitude toward it. That is to say, the physical conditions which surround a man are not his significant environment; they simply affect the condition of his physical instrument unless he identifies himself with those conditions or that instrument, in which case mind and emotions alike are strongly influenced by the poverty or wealth, difficulties or distractions, which surround him.

This, incidentally, may explain why so many philanthropists are disappointed in their efforts to provide the poor with decent living conditions. They too often find the extra facilities ignored or abused; and the clean new house after a couple of years comes to resemble closely the one from which the "underprivileged" were so optimistically removed. This does not mean that such people are incapable of appreciating the good things of life. It probably means that they were not educated in any way to transcend their lifelong identification of themselves with poor conditions and facilities.

Success might be more often forthcoming from such efforts if, instead of being transported from one condition to a ready-made better one, people were helped and guided in improving their own circumstances or environment. Giving them incentive and money to paint their own homes, for instance, would serve the double purpose of improving their conditions and also improving their attitude toward those conditions. By some such device, they might be helped to raise their own standard of living, and then further reforms would follow naturally from an awakening perception that improvement is possible and that a kind of dignity is attainable by even the poorest of men. The need for "self-induced and self-devised efforts" in philanthropy as well as philosophy cannot be disregarded. Unless a person has a hand himself in improving conditions, he will not be able to appreciate the improvement.

Next article:
(March 1949)
[Article number (18) in this Q&A Department]

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