THEOSOPHY, Vol. 36, No. 5, March, 1948
(Pages 219-221; Size: 9K)


[Article number (6) in this Q&A Department]

WHAT'S going to bring hope back into human society? It seems as if the world will never be light-hearted again. And why do the "optimistic" philosophers like Emerson leave as faintly resentful, even though we would like to share their enthusiasm?

The only trouble with the enthusiasm of other people is that they cannot give it to us. We have to generate our own. But is that so difficult? The widespread depression in the world might even be a source of hope to us, because it marks the equally widespread conviction among men that something is wrong. When religions are no longer able to drug mankind into a stupor with irrational panaceas, then there is hope -- for recognition of a philosophy of the rational explanation of things.

"Life is a contest of smiles, if we really know our business," said Mr. Judge. That is worth thinking over, for it may reward us with the answer to our individual depressions, and thus give us the key to a hopeful society.

First, of course, we have to find out just what "our business" is, and only then are we really able to go about doing it. The man who knows what he is doing his work for, and has reasoned faith that his efforts will have beneficent effects on his fellows -- is a happy man, and he alone. The worst kind of depression is not the result of the frustration of our personal desires, but of our inability to fulfill what we, unconsciously, perhaps, recognize as a worthwhile function. It has been said that salvation is, among other things, the right use of pain. Depression, it would seem, is pain of which we make no use. There are many times, especially these days, when the tenuous magic of the joy of living eludes us. These are opportunities for us to substitute the moral for the psychic "elation" -- and grasp the joy of living rightly.

The lower kingdoms have a natural impulse toward perfection. What has man to help him on, in addition to his "self-induced and self-devised efforts"?

Man has all "natural impulse" translated to a higher, intellectual or self-conscious level, where it may become a part of his inspiration in strivings upward. Then, too, man is enabled to perceive a goal at the end of his efforts, which fact alone is worth a hundred natural impulses. Can we think, if man can help the lower kingdoms to progress, there is no help for man in turn? Do not the legends of Great Saviors, such as Buddha and Christ, indicate that there may be higher beings who assist in kindling the spiritual aspirations of the ordinary human being?

The Upanishads teach that the universe exists for the "experience and emancipation of the soul." This gives us a clue to the distinction between the task of man and that of his younger brothers. To gain experience in matter is the object of the three lower kingdoms. As men, we have gone through all possible experiences as to matter itself, it is said, and what is now needed is emancipation from them, or understanding, which is the emancipation of the soul.

Are all instincts animal?

In one sense, we can see that they are, for instincts are lessons learned in previous periods of evolution. That is, we, as self-conscious manasic beings, never learned an instinct -- instincts are the heritage of the total and undifferentiated experience of "lower" monads. We call them animal since it is in that kingdom that they become most manifest, although the evolution of the mineral and vegetable is directed in a similar manner. At the same time, what we may term an instinct may be in reality an intuition -- the other form of direct consciousness, proceeding from the Buddhic, rather than the Kamic principle. Also we should remember that much of our vaunted "rational-thinking" is the product of the "animal" man. H.P.B., for instance, speaks of "the ephemeral and animal, though intellectual man."

To some, the word "animal" implies something evil, but this is true only in a limited and relative sense. If we watch, we will see that the pull of instinct is always centripetal -- tending to ourselves as the center and point to be protected. Men will often act against instinct at the behest of intuition or self-conscious thought. Instincts are not evil, however; they simply represent stages of development through which we have already passed.

There are a lot of nice, pleasant things we would like to do which don't hurt anybody else. Surely they're not "wrong," are they? Are there not some personal desires which are not selfish?

The questioner sounds as if he's been too often exhorted to eat sour grapes because they're good for other people. This is unfortunate -- and unnecessary. We ought not to forget that it is entirely possible for a duty or obligation to be a "nice, pleasant thing" to do. An act should receive justification from its positive value, not from some labored rationalization to the effect that it "hurts nobody else." The implication of such a phrase is that it hurts nobody -- but ourselves. If there is any question about the value of a specific personal desire, we have a possible first hint as to its deceptive nature.

It is not difficult to recognize that there are no neutral acts. Everything we do and think has its inevitable effect in molding our character, and hence has an influence on our fellow-men. An act can do no harm only if it does active good. Modern physics supplies us with an analogy. The nucleus of an atom was supposed to contain, in addition to positively-charged "protons," a number of uncharged particles or "neutrons" which had weight but no electrical energy. Scientists have now discovered, however, that the electrical charge of the proton is constantly shifting from one group to the other, making protons out of neutrons and vice versa.

Neutrons, then, may represent acts which produce no observable effect either for good or evil at the time. But, according to the new theory, this neutrality may be only temporary, lasting until the latent character of the act eventually emerges. The Secret Doctrine (I, 511) states that inertia is the "greatest of occult forces." The personality, weighted by seemingly amoral acts -- the things which apparently do us no harm (and therefore no good) -- might be compared to the "stones, minerals, rocks, and even chemical 'atoms'," which, H.P.B. says (S.D. I, 626 fn.), "are simply organic units in profound lethargy. Their coma has an end and their inertia becomes activity." In the same way, we must some day bring to an end all the temporary "comas" in which we indulge, and transmute the inertia of purposeless acts into a constant moral "charge." When we stand still even temporarily, we lose some contact with the rest of nature: "nature" remains not a moment inactive.

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(April 1948)
[Article number (7) in this Q&A Department]

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