THEOSOPHY, Vol. 41, No. 6, April, 1953
(Pages 267-270; Size: 12K)


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

WHAT is the psychological meaning of competition in sports such as baseball, football, etc.? Is not competition conducive to personal triumph?

(a) It seems that competition in the ordinary sense is taken to mean rivalry, but this is really a corruption of the word. Its real meaning is "to seek together," and the definition commonly applied to it shows a definite need of revising our attitude towards it. Any ill effects derived from competition merely indicate weaknesses of the individual, and the immaturity of the soul engaged in the competition. It is entirely within the means of the individual to make of competition either a medium of self-discipline or a medium of petty jealousy. What the individual should make of it is a process of learning. We have to get used to the idea that life is not a bed of roses, but has its ups and downs, successes and failures, just like a sport.

(b) The attendant evils of big-time competition in sports have prompted several colleges, notably the University of Chicago, through the influence of Dr. Robert Hutchins, to banish intercollegiate sports competition, and to substitute and expand intra-mural athletics. This is done in the belief that intercollegiate big-time sports cater to the abilities of a few handpicked and trained athletes who bathe in a kind of bloated and frenzied glory, while the mass of students are relegated to that condition which we may call "spectatoritis." Intra-mural sports, on the other hand, have as their purpose a more complete kind of physical training for all students, including the "non-athletic," in its program.

In this connection the second object of Theosophical Pathfinders speaks of the importance of all its members developing sound bodies. And it also follows that certain conditioning sports like gymnastics and track lend themselves by nature more to individual effort.

(c) As soon as more than two individuals are involved in a game the element of cooperation becomes evident. It is impossible to achieve success in a team sport without the active, conscious unity of all members. Due to this unity and interdependence, the attitude toward defeat and victory does not have to be one of individual personal triumph, or disgrace, but rather one of united action which is either good enough to win, or requires improvement. Although competitive sports may have certain disadvantages, it seems that if played by teams the lessons learned would over-balance the harmful factors.

In order to consider the effect of competition on individual sports, one first has to decide wherein the faults found with competition lie. Is it with the game, or the individual? Can competition be of value? If competition can serve a useful purpose then it is the individual participants who are responsible for the loss of moral values -- rather than the method. Competition can be used as a means of instruction in acquiring a skill.

The Gita says, "He who is of equal mind in pain and pleasure, Self centered ... such an one hath surmounted the qualities."

Therefore, if we have a desire to improve and change our attitude towards sports, it will be necessary to equip ourselves with moral values and attitudes that will not sour. Trying to improve one's own individual record -- self-competition -- has many advantages.

(d) The difference in degree between people would seem to indicate the difficulty with which competition could be eliminated. Then again, it may be questionable whether competition would need to be eliminated in order to do away with personal triumph. Any sport can be competitive, whether it be a team sport or otherwise, and competition is not itself really either good or bad. What could be considered the most competitive sport is not necessarily harmful -- it is the feeling of the player that counts. Games are part of working and learning together and should lead all contestants to work better with themselves and with others. Personal attitudes will show themselves, if they be present, no matter what kind or type of game is played. The task is to eliminate selfishness at every opportunity.

(e) Seeking to beat another (team or person) at anything, whether or not it is a game or anything else in life, seems to stem basically from a desire for security. Everyone wants to be able to match up to or at least strive to match up to his brother's seeming superior achievements. As far as competition being conducive to personal triumph is concerned, it would seem to be so only in the sense that it makes that person who enjoys such triumph feel, happily, that he is that much more ahead of all the others in the race with the bugaboo that threatens to cast him out if he does not keep up. In this sense he may flaunt his triumph egotistically, with the fear of insecurity in the back of his mind. If an attempt were made to present security in its truest sense and not in the sense accepted by the world, much of this would be eliminated.

Is a familiarity with current trends in psychology and philosophy necessary, (a) in furthering Theosophic first principles, (b) in "understanding the meaning of the present Theosophical Movement," and (c) in gaining a truer perspective on Theosophic Doctrine?

We may be grateful that there aren't ready-made answers to questions of this nature easily available in a U.L.T. Rulebook of prerequisites for membership. [Note: U.L.T. refers to "The United Lodge of Theosophists".--Compiler.] The conspicuous lack of such answers is but another indication of the wise, broad, and "self-respecting" basis for association which the U.L.T. Declaration provides. This statement of policy calls especial attention, we think, to the fact that differing karmic situations require varying expressions of Theosophy; hence the "necessaries" in any given situation also vary. The clause of the Declaration, "independent devotion to the cause of Theosophy," suggests that the individual strive to disseminate Theosophy, comprehend the significance of the Movement, and achieve a newer, broader viewpoint of doctrine in whatever terms are most natural to him. With some Associates, promulgation and comprehension are best accomplished through the intellectual media, while with others promulgation occurs mostly by exemplification, or comprehension through intuitive realization. Of course, many students tend to over-emphasize either the speculative or intuitive, and in a final sense the Theosophic ideal regards a balance (resulting in synthesis) between these aspects as the only worthy goal. Realization of such a balance, however, is recognized as a work of lifetimes.

For those students intellectually inclined, to become familiar, not only with current psychological and philosophical thought, but as well with important contributions to Western thought throughout history, is undeniably useful. Moreover, the Neoplatonists, Spinoza, Leibniz, and some of the great German philosophers are Theosophically important. Spencer, Hegel, and Schopenhauer are instructive to read, as are such men as James Mill and Thomas Paine. Such learning need not be limited to "literati," but can be encompassed by many students over a period of time, if the worth of such a program is recognized.

Awareness of current thought-trends served H.P.B. well. The eclectic and comparative method of developing theosophic ideas is found in Lucifer, and the pages of Lucifer were open to the speculations of Spiritualists, Atheists, Socialists, Materialists, and Idealists alike. Thus, by contemplative comparison, a theosophic attitude was promulgated by this publication. And always those individuals who keep in touch with the pulse of the time can bring about constructive discussions with non-theosophists which wouldn't be possible otherwise.

The Theosophical Movement is primarily a movement of transcendental ideas opposed to the forms and dogmatisms which enslave men's minds. Since U.L.T. supposedly serves as a focal-point and vehicle for the stimulation of this movement, the meaning of it must be understood if U.L.T. is to remain as one of the focal-points. According to Robert Crosbie: "There are many kinds of bodies, and work has to be done in each, in accordance with the possibilities afforded by its nature"; and "The Theosophical Movement is greater than any society or organization." It must be necessary to relate the efforts of U.L.T. to the world of ideas at large -- just as H.P.B. identified the T.S. with the spirit of free-thought in Lucifer -- if the present Theosophical Movement is to be understood. Being aware of the advances of psychotherapy or philosophical trends toward synthesis of Eastern and Western thought, for instance, tends to develop a more dynamic conception of the impact of Theosophic ideas on the world.

It seems safe to say that full appreciation of Theosophic doctrine becomes possible only with a background in Modern and Western thought. "Full" appreciation stems from understanding and breadth of perspective; if other trends of thought are not known, how can Theosophy as a doctrine be carefully evaluated? Were the innumerable references made by H.P.B. in Isis and the S.D. to thinkers and thought of the past mere eloquence? As an example, how can the statement (S.D. I, 628), "...were Leibnitz' and Spinoza's systems reconciled, the essence and spirit of esoteric philosophy would be made to appear," be appreciated without background? Is it not significant that both of these seventeenth-century philosophers are receiving increasing attention? Similarly, no one will dispute that the opening pages of The Key to Theosophy cannot be completely understood unless one's perspective includes some direct knowledge of Plato and Neoplatonism.

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(May 1953)
[Article number (18) in this Q&A Department]

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