THEOSOPHY, Vol. 41, No. 10, August, 1953
(Pages 458-462; Size: 14K)


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

WHY are so many successful artists and writers, although they are valuable to society, so unhappy?

(a) If one were really successful, could he be unhappy? It would seem that the only fully successful people in this world are Masters of Wisdom -- balanced geniuses. They have succeeded in developing every part of their natures, and their perspectives are free from the distortions of doubt. And here would seem to be one secret of the question -- so many artists and writers are proficient in their particular field and lacking in other fields, but must sense and regret the consequences of too much specialization. For lives, it must be, they have continued to follow the path of their talent -- the path of least resistance, so to say -- to the neglect of other qualities. Now, many lives later, we see a person extremely brilliant in one line of endeavor and definitely lacking in other essential character traits. From the perspective of the Higher Self this must be disturbing. Such people's unhappiness would seem to arise from a certain realization within that there is this unbalance. They must often find themselves among others who fail to appreciate their talents, or whose they cannot appreciate.

One also has to consider what is normal. What most people consider normal is far from true sanity. Normal is often considered to be merely what the majority of people exhibit as characteristic. So from such standards any soul actually "striving for perfection" might be considered abnormal. To achieve lasting happiness it would seem necessary to maintain a higher standard than that widely prevalent in the world today. To maintain a standard such as Theosophy offers, one tries to acquire that happiness which can only come from improving our capacities for every task presented to us.

(b) This is an age when happiness is the exception to the rule, and pretense of happiness the rule. People live a life centered in changeable and unstable realms -- passions, desires and a carload of things. Yet only when they focus upon unchanging or universally purposeful values will they begin to let go the unhappiness of clutching at shadows.

Can we expect to find artists and writers above these confusions? Of course, they often do have a facility of thought and expression which should carry them to an examination of unseen basic themes of life. Yet, even so, good artists and writers need to be inspirational and have high ideals, always looking for an expression of things as they truly are (not as they seem) or as they would exist in a perfect plan. Lacking these, it is possible to be caught in a swirl of feelings and impressions, and having missed the "plan of life," there is only unhappiness.

If writers and artists have a greater than average facility for feeling, (sensitivity), this might also increase unhappiness. For unusual skills and abilities can be the means of strengthening the lower personal man as well as the higher ego. Also, a great writer may not appear happy in the way we think of happiness, for wisdom and vision bring on a sorrow for the ignorance abroad in the world. So we might question what a "successful" person is and what our idea of happiness is. But we may learn from any who have obviously had the experience that the greatest happiness is in and working for "all," leaving the just Law to manage results. The Masters of Wisdom, it is said, have learned such happiness. Such beings have apparently developed all their faculties to their fullest, and in a balanced way they are the truly great artists, writers, etc., who are most valuable to society.

(c) It seems necessary first of all to establish a standard by which such relative conditions as "successful" and "unhappy" can be analyzed and to some extent understood in terms of their relative importance. If we can determine what creative efforts are truly "valuable to society," or rather the qualities which (depending on their predominance) make an artistic work either "a little" valuable or very much so, it then becomes possible to decide, at least speculatively, what sorts of writers and artists are apt to be "successful" and "happy" -- or "unhappy."

The establishment of such a standard was evidently considered necessary by H.P.B., for in 1880, in her article, "The Tidal Wave," published in Lucifer, she posited that "a new race of authors," valuable authors, was springing up, and that they could be distinguished from "those fogies of yore ... who repeat obstinately and parrot-like the old literary formulae and hold desperately to publishers' traditions." The former are to be recognized, she said, as those who see the "new intellectual needs" of society -- the thoughts which can vitalize much needed "spiritual and psychic changes." Second, the valuable and in a sense successful writer is he who "lifts boldly and carries on unflinchingly the standard of the Future Man."

Perhaps all those ideals are yet realities deep-seated in the heart of every one, and proclaim man a being of infinite dignity, rights, and beneficent strength, if and when he realizes his divine nature. He can, looking at things this way, become a living power -- a constructive force for good in the world. Thus any creative artist, deriving his faculties of expression and to some extent his inspiration from the "higher" aspect of every man's nature, who fails to participate at least to some degree in "the Tidal Wave" of further awakening, may easily feel an unhappiness and uneasiness of considerable proportions.

How can Theosophists guard themselves against the danger of becoming too "intellectual"? It may be that it is just as bad to be not "intellectual" enough as to be too much so. But how can one tell when the line of balance is passed in either direction?

The intellect is definitely a necessary part of man's evolution and could not possibly dominate a man's nature if it is always used as an instrument, a servant of the soul. One may lapse into an acceptance of the philosophy of intellectualism, which depends upon the premise that knowledge is wholly derived by the exercise of reason -- that reason is the only decisive expositor of reality.

It is said of the soul that it "has reasons of its own, of which reason knows nothing." The 7th chapter of The Ocean of Theosophy designates that the intellect is the lower aspect of dual Manas, the Thinker, the higher aspect being the intuitional, which knows, and does not depend on reason. The intellect is nearer the principle of Desire, while intuition has an affinity for the higher spiritual principles. So we see that the "line of balance" becomes that subtle field of battle which we encounter daily in our activities and relationships.

Perhaps the key lies in the use of intellect as an instrument rather than in the attitude of intellectuality. Surely the correct use of the intellect is in enlarging one's understanding of other beings. One of the means of doing this is by developing sympathy, by identifying oneself with others, without losing the perspective that is more or less natural to the observer. Perhaps the function of intellect is to make the distinctions relative to this perspective, then to apply what is learned at one level of experience to other levels. H.P.B. maintained that the use of correspondence and analogy were fundamental in the mastery of the Wisdom-religion. In other words, intellect, properly used, is creative, so that we feel that our thinking is increasing our sphere of understanding and our ability to help our fellows. "Intellectuality" is characteristically not creative. It is preoccupied with distinctions, rather than concerned with live human beings and with applications.

What might be the value of giving one's life for a principle? What factors might enter the case in deciding?

Value for one's self? Value for others? In either case, what nature and level of value? If affirming allegiance to one's Higher Self be the "level," a person can hardly separate himself from others, for, to quote a theosophic maxim: "The Higher Self of one is the Higher Self of all." Another dimension of value to be considered, however, is that of self-interest or self-salvation -- the "dynamic" of Christian theology. In George Bernard Shaw's Androcles and the Lion, for example, the prospect of martyrdom as viewed by Christian heretics, even though it meant violent, savage death by hungry wild beasts in the great arena of Rome, nevertheless represented the straightest route to eternal bliss at the right hand of God. Theosophically speaking, the "value" or merit thus gained was devoid of bountiful "soul-benefits," excepting, perhaps, in terms of strong will-development. For no matter how impressive the sacrifice seemed, it was nevertheless subtly motivated by self-interest. Thus purity of motive is a prime factor in the true giving of one's self.

It is the trial of Socrates (see Apology and Crito), if interpreted esoterically, which offers a theosophic orientation on the subject of self-sacrifice. For to Socrates -- who had based his long life of over seventy years on principled action -- the actual giving up of life was a bit irrelevant, or at least beside the main issue. The important thing while in a body was "to fulfill the philosopher's mission of searching into myself and other men...," a command issued to Socrates by "the inner God." There could be no compromise on this, for as Socrates addressed his accusers at the ancient court of Athens: "A man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong -- acting the part of a good man or of a bad." Such consideration was aided in his case, he admits, by "a kind of voice, first come to me when I was a child; it always forbids but never commands me to do anything which I am going to do." Since compromise to secure personal survival would mean a form of self-interest, Socrates calmly accepted the alternative penalty of death, proving himself equal to a final test of the sage by facing the decree serenely.

From a theosophic view, "the God" of Plato represents man's common heritage, the divine, intuitive light within, focussing through intuition. This beacon must be sought out and cognized, for it points to the mission and karma before each man. The calm or "security" of Socrates can thus be achieved by all men, through a recognition and working out of the particular tasks at hand in this life, and a reliance on karmic law regarding the future. We speak of the "sign" or "voice" which guided Socrates as conscience, and of course it is of real importance to listen to this voice.

The story of Socrates is related here, among other reasons, to indicate that it is not just a question of "giving one's life" through one single and final act for a principle. It's just not that simple. In the first place it takes lots of practice of will to be able to consciously give up life, a practice in altruism to do it for the right reasons. The second thing is that in terms of value to one's Self and others, the returns will surely be best if one can live for a principle instead of dying upon it, although we must admit it is much tougher to live by principle all the time -- at least it takes more endurance. Should our modern culture place us in a "life-or-death situation" depending on moral choices, an honest decision would be based on two criteria. First: Where, in rational terms, does one's supreme duty lie, where is one's Karma, where can the greatest good be accomplished? Second: Does the first answer check with the "voice" of Socrates -- the standard of pure motive?

In the final analysis, then, value does not exist in the physical acts of living or dying. The value is in terms of being able to give up that which is most dear. Thus with one individual the lesson necessary for soul-growth might be the relinquishment of a desire to give up life. An example of this would be the "Buddhas of selfishness," who seek escape from all earthly imperfection by gaining nirvanic bliss. We hardly need an example for the converse of this, for we all know of the man who fears death and thus is eternally seeking material security.

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(September 1953)
[Article number (22) in this Q&A Department]

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