THEOSOPHY, Vol. 41, No. 4, February, 1953
(Pages 173-176; Size: 12K)


[Article number (15) in this Q&A Department]

IS it possible to set up standards adequate for judging moral conduct?

Morality is dealing with the "right" or "wrong" in a course of action. "Standards" are derived by experts in given fields, such as physics, biology, and even economics. Standards rest on authority. The important question becomes, however -- are there authorities capable of judging every man's moral conduct?

To approach the problem, it first becomes necessary to make a distinction between two types of authority. The main danger in one type of authority is that it practically defies the idea of cumulative truth. When a group of individuals who constitute authority combine into an institution, there is a strong tendency toward dogmatism. Authority is then negative or restrictive, and often followed from fear.

Are dangers in authority remote in present-day occurrences? Not too many years ago in the history of the United States -- approximately from 1865 to 1900 -- seven states of the South barred from public office any candidate who questioned the existence of God! Pennsylvania did the same, and, in addition to this, required its office-holders to profess belief in some future life, with rewards for virtue and punishment for sin. When this type of authority becomes a part of government -- authority which states what and how a man should believe or think -- authority becomes a clear danger.

Perhaps, then, only one "standard" can be developed on which we can base all action, a standard of self-control. There have been many formulations along this line and the most notable, of course, is the Golden Rule -- "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you." Confucius tried to give this rule a more practicable form by making it negative. "Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you." Immanual Kant tried to formulate it more perfectly in his categorical imperative, "So act that you could will the maxim of your action to be a universal law." These standards refer to principles in a course of action, and do not pronounce moral judgment.

A moral standard cannot be a judgment of a past action or a command to a future one. We may have "authorities," in the sense that H. P. Blavatsky, as far as we are concerned, is an authority on Theosophy, but in this light, authority still involves appeal to reason. We use the teachings of Theosophy as a background for the consideration of problems upon which we, as individuals, have to make decisions.

Does the disciplined aspirer, who has devoted his disciple energies towards complete self-mastery over the lower principles of man in himself, experience pleasure, satisfaction, or reward? If so, what is the nature or quality of these experiences?

The answer to the first question -- if we postulate the doctrine of Karma -- is, obviously, yes; for in these terms what a man sows he also reaps. The interesting problem then becomes: What is the nature of this reward, pleasure, or satisfaction as contrasted with our own conceptions of these experiences? The answer, we think, is to be found in the philosophical dimension of value-judgments. To understand the "temper or quality of these experiences" (as the ideal aspirer knows them), each individual who discusses the matter would have to define his own values and compare them with the value-judgments of the aspirer.

What values, on the other hand, determine the "aspirer's" basic attitudes, his aspirations, what is held by him in highest esteem, and what are his conceptions of reward? Is life worthy of understanding and participation, or should he seek for bliss in another realm?

In terms of twentieth century Western civilization, the ideal aspirer appears, to us, as one who participates in the affairs of everyday life, who strives to understand the moral and philosophical significance of the situations he finds himself in, and enjoys living for the innate values which he is constantly discovering (as the poet does) in life. Being a practical person, too, he is not satisfied with the slogan: "the purpose of life is to learn," but is ever seeking to establish deeper relationships and expend his energies in activities with his fellows. He embodies self-reliance, responsibility, and grows to a joyous participation in "the oneness of all life." The purpose of life is a problem which demands continual solution in terms of one's relationships, the whole of life being the basic relation from which all other relations are determined.

Soul emancipation necessitates freedom from the limitations of scope -- the biases -- caused by desires of the personal nature. Full utilization of the faculties of perception, discrimination and will is also a necessary function toward achieving. Undoubtedly a course of action thus based would include, besides the elimination of personal desire, exclusion of the anticipation or attachment to the outcomes of desire. This is indeed a difficult tendency to overcome, but inevitably a part of realizing total soul-freedom.

The characteristic overtone pervading the mind of one suffused by this sort of attitude and aspiration is the remaking of finite, personal man into universal "divine" man. The aspirer experiences "reward, pleasure, and satisfaction" in new terms, yet pleasure and reward are more fully his as love for the innate nobility in every other man increases.

"Final satisfaction," as well as love (compassion), will never be realized until humanity reaches the Golden Age. In the meantime, better value-judgments are reached through the continual attempt to transform, through universalization, the purely personal qualities and ambitions. This is the process of soul growth, and its tokens, refined types of satisfaction, are received as but milestones along the way.

The old illusion that it is possible "to get something for nothing" is still evident around us. Basically, this illusion seems to stem from Christianity, in short, from de-emphasis of Karma and over-emphasis of the salvation-by-faith-in-God dogma. At any rate, the widespread misconception of capricious, unearned gifts as opposed to natural law has worked at the corruption of man's English words by connotation. It seems hard to find better examples of this word-coloring than "satisfaction" and "reward," for they directly pertain to getting something.

The Theosophic teaching on the subject of reward and salvation should be made clear. It is conceded that salvation (Nirvana) is possible through practice of the virtues and strict adherence to the great law of Karma after many lifetimes of emulation; but those who choose Nirvana are known as Buddhas of Selfishness. The other of the two alternatives for the perfected man is that of following the Law of laws, divine compassion. Such men are known as Bodhisattvas, the "Buddhas of Compassion," the masters of wisdom who discard salvation of self in order to guide all life toward spiritual enlightenment.

What is the relationship of Patriotism to Theosophy?

A question of this nature is difficult to answer because the word "patriot" has become so confusing. It has been used as a name for those who uphold civil liberties, and, again, for individuals who disregard other peoples' civil liberties in the name of "national defense." One might say that patriotism often has been reduced from the liberal ideal to a convenient political cliché.

Upon examining the nature of patriotism in its usual modern-day usage, we find that it is largely connected (in Theosophical terms) with the personality. The personality is highly emotional -- that is, it can be indignant, feel hurt, prideful, and have numerous reactions. We notice in everyday situations that people will rarely admit that they are wrong, even though it may be plainly evident that they are, because of the old fear -- loss of pride of self-esteem. When a man transfers his personality to the national personality, the form of the dispute transfers from "I'm right and you're wrong" to "We're right and they're wrong," regardless of what the circumstances may be. The family, also, can be easily representative of this transfer. A family may quarrel constantly, but if an outsider comments that this is a bad family situation, he will have the whole family to quarrel with.

In Answers to Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy, Robert Crosbie sums up these points and also presents a positive side of patriotism:

By "family duties" and "national duties" is not meant false attachments to family or nation as a means of pride, pleasure-hunting or sensuality, but cultivating and elevating the higher sentiments and emotions of ourselves and of our family and utilizing them for the performance of our duty to the nation and humanity in general.
Patriotism, defined, means "love of country." But if a man declared such love he would be speaking of the people in that country, and not of a piece of land. "People," however, are not restricted by boundary lines which divide countries, but are spread throughout the world. A true patriot, then, is one who "loves humanity." It is true that a man may have personal sentiments for his own people, but let us consider, for example, the early American settlers. These settlers were very much attached to their own individual colonies. In the same sense that today people are patriotic in respect to the United States, so it was with each of these small colonies. The people of the different colonies regarded each other with a measure of dislike or suspicion. Then a crisis arose which demanded unity. This was enough of a basis for a common tie to mold the colonies into a nation.

It is here, perhaps, that Theosophy has its most important relations
hip with patriotism. It offers a tie that is universal in its scope.

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(March 1953)
[Article number (16) in this Q&A Department]

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