THEOSOPHY, Vol. 41, No. 5, March, 1953
(Pages 220-223; Size: 11K)


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

BOTH young and old find a fascination in observing a skilled craftsman at work. How might young people be steered from the prevalent spectator attitude to that of an eager participant?

Education is a stimulation of the mind. In the true sense, then, the fascination of observing a skilled craftsman at work must involve the awakening of the manas of the spectator, for only then will there be a lasting impression.

Sometimes the attitude of the skilled craftsman is such as to hold the spectator off at a distance rather than one which will encourage him to come closer and try his hand at it. Certainly the sense of inferiority felt by the novice in the presence of the "Master" must be overcome before rapport between the teacher and pupil can be established. The bridging of this gap between the knower and the learner -- the very core of the learning process -- is truly amazing. The learner finds something incomprehensible, struggles with it, and, by building from the known to the unknown, by making deductions, eventually achieves an understanding and makes the learning an integral part of himself. The process, however, is not always rapid, and sometimes it is with extreme difficulty that progress is made. And the wise teacher would, realizing this, build confidence at first through simple tasks well done, and, by scaling the difficulty of successive steps, allow for the gradual increments in ability.

In any educational venture the mind of the student must be stimulated and awakened before any real and lasting impression can be made. So young people need to be taught to look beneath the physical skill and to see the problems which the craftsman is overcoming in his work -- the limitations of tools, of materials, of the medium, etc. To awaken the mind of the pupil is an intriguing challenge for any teacher and demands ingenuity in order to reach that creative part of the onlooker's nature. A demonstration may be made with the craft of basic principles: how it follows the pattern of nature and life, since anything truly skillful must have proportions and beauty that, as applied philosophically, must also apply physically. These principles, thus presented, will strike a respondent chord sooner or later in the student. His inner nature will recognize true values, because inwardly he does know them.

In order to avoid the development of the spectator attitude in the appreciation of good craftsmanship, we must beware of acquiring the habit of sublimating our own creative urges. Young people of today too often underestimate their potential, or do not allow it to develop. Our civilization's concept of achievement through competition with others, rather than through self-improvement, may be a great encouragement to the spectator attitude. True education attempts to bring the knowledge within to the surface. Children at a very young age want to try and experience things for themselves; unfortunately this attitude is soon wiped out by adults, who, since they may have more skill or experience, do not want the child to fumble through a job which they can do in half the time and with greater proficiency.

The entire question of the spectator attitude, it would seem, is a part of the present day trend to relinquish the individual's responsibility. This giving up of responsibility occurs in government, thought, action and even entertainment. If we could reveal to children and young people the importance of being self-sufficient in even one sense, a great step would be taken. Only when people encourage others to try new tasks and to endeavor in the direction of self-improvement rather than competition, will progress towards participation quicken.

In study do we take the great universal ideas and make something small, rigid and personal out of them? What is the answer to this?

The personality is, so to speak, an inverse reflection of the Real Man. And, in this sense, it contains as much and as little of reality as any reflection does. Universal ideas are useless as only ideas. They must be applied. But the applications, however complete, can never become the universal ideas. The tendency to interpret these ideas in terms of present situations is natural and necessary. But perhaps we identify the idea with the application. Perhaps we are unconsciously afraid or insecure and so cling to what seems a satisfactory understanding or interpretation of a universal idea.

It is obvious that no matter what degree of conscientiousness and devotion students embody, we are, nevertheless, bound to comprehend only a part of universal truths until we become universal beings or Mahatmas.

In regard to making "something small, rigid and personal" out of the great universal ideas, this is impossible. What happens, however, is that men are prone to take a truth and worry it until it becomes a half-truth, and the less radiant validity it has, the more belligerently will they defend it. The plainest example of this tendency can be seen in the history of organized religion. A great sage leaves for mankind certain truths, in as flexible form as is possible; before long these are seized by a self-appointed elite, which claims personal and exclusive access to The Truth. But in spite of all the dogmatizing carried on by authoritarian religions, the truth itself can never be completely hidden. This is why H. P. Blavatsky (in Isis Unveiled) was able to show the essential identity of all the world's religions. The fact that these relative truths -- even after thousands of years of misrepresentation -- still hint at the existence of universal truths, proves that it is impossible to make the great universal ideas small and personal.

Why are people prone to personalize relative truths? Undoubtedly there are many answers to this. Basically, the fact that people try to do so is evidence of their general misunderstanding of the purpose of human existence. For the quest for truth, the development of the divine powers latent in man, and the cooperation with all of life in the grand educational processes of nature called evolution, are in direct opposition to the belief that wisdom can be categorized. Theosophists should be much less apt than most to pigeonhole universal ideas; since the great mass of people are not aware of the necessity for inward growth, the natural result is that the force of personality predominates in all types of thought.

Why do lecturers at U.L.T. -- when examining the significance of the Theosophical Movement -- consistently refer to early Neoplatonism as a salient factor? [Note: U.L.T. refers to "The United Lodge of Theosophists".--Compiler]

Speaking historically, Plato linked the Eastern and Western metaphysical traditions in a grand synthesis. It was the Neoplatonists, however, who harnessed the force of Platonic ideas in crucial times of theological ascendancy by championing free thought. This was clearly a phase of the Theosophical Movement, a movement which opposed the dogmatism of early Christianity. The Theosophical Movement, then, as a semi-organized attempt to break the yokes of ignorance and superstition binding Western Man, dates back to the Eclectic Theosophical School of the fourth century.

Such a Movement can be studied under two aspects: (a) as a body of ideas known as the Wisdom-Religion, and, (b) as a completely unbiased attitude of mind in the pursuit of truth -- a method which presupposes the universal availability of truth, even though veiled by myth and symbol. The method has been called eclecticism, i.e., "the refusal to accept a single set of formulas or conventions, coupled with a determination to select from all sources that which is good and true" (Encyclopedia Britannica). Considered in these terms, eclecticism imposes certain philosophical and scientific standards of judgment, such as impartial reason in the interest of justice and morality, which, if adhered to, make sectarianism and intolerance actually impossible.

In Ammonius' school of theosophy, application of the eclectic method was a practical necessity in verifying the validity of the Secret Doctrine and the claim that all religions had sprung from it. There was an organic combination, then, of doctrine and the mental prerequisites vital in ascertaining truth. In the twentieth century the strategic necessity of practicing this unbiased spirit of inquiry is perhaps not quite so obvious. For H.P.B brought the philosophy, William Q. Judge simplified the form, and it may seem to be our task just to study it; this is an attitude held by many students. There is nothing intrinsically bad about such an attitude so long as the idea that "we special people have a special truth" does not flourish, but, after all, the obligation of understanding the present Theosophical Movement also means understanding the society it is working through, and the race-mind versions of many half-truths.

The spirit of open-minded inquiry will always be crucial in maintaining the health and vigor of Theosophy. Early Neoplatonism, it seems, stands as a "salient factor" in studying the Theosophical Movement in two ways. First, historically, it can be considered as a forerunner of the present effort. Secondly, it provides a means by which we can practically realize the need and value of exercising independent, open-minded quests for truth.

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(April 1953)
[Article number (17) in this Q&A Department]

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