THEOSOPHY, Vol. 40, No. 10, August, 1952
(Pages 462-463; Size: 12K)


[Article number (9) in this Q&A Department]

HOW does Theosophy reconcile the principle of the unity of all life, brotherhood, in short, with the rule of life which prevails in the vegetable and animal kingdoms -- the survival of the fittest?

Who has not at one time or another, while walking down a country road or mountain trail, been entranced by the quiet harmony which seems to pervade the scene? Perhaps, if it were in the mountains, one might hear the gentle soughing of the wind through pine trees and smell the pungent mountain smells which are to be found only there; perhaps, if it were in the country, it might have been "purple dusk, that sweet time" when a magic seems arrested in the air, and the smell of hay and the sound of crickets set one's heart at rest. The viewer might not feel separate from the scene, quite, and may feel a stirring sense of the harmony of nature; may feel that he has had a small glimpse of the unity of life. Nature seems to cooperate wonderfully in creating a deep serenity of mood.

It comes as a sudden shock to realize the undercurrent of seeming cruelty which is woven throughout the scene -- the fight for existence. In a beautiful stand of trees he will surely find at least one tree that is dying because, try as it might, it could not reach the sunshine; branches of the surrounding trees shut it out. Then there is the continual struggle between low-growing shrubs and the taller trees to take over an area. If a fire destroys a hillside of trees, rapid-growing shrubs, which before had lacked the sunlight necessary for their growth, spring up before new young trees can get a start, and shade the saplings out of existence. In the animal kingdom examples of this struggle to survive are endless and are much more "cruel" in the usual sense of the word.

Theosophy offers a basis for attempting to reconcile these opposites in the form of certain teachings about the nature of life. It says that all of life is essentially a spiritual unity, that all points of life are to that unity as sunbeams are to the sun -- not separate from it nor from each other, in the sense that they all partake of a common spiritual source. Yet we see that they are embodied in different bodies, each apparently pursuing its own ends. In the animal and vegetable kingdoms, this end is survival of the physical form, and the means employed are often cruel to see. The paradox remains.

Theosophy says that the purpose of life is to learn, no matter on what rung of the ladder of evolution a learner may be. So, from the mineral through the human kingdom, life is said to be on a great pilgrimage of learning. In the orders of nature below the man stage, the life-sparks, or monads, progress by natural impulse through the lessons to be learned. There is no moral dimension there. There are not issues concerning whether a thing is bad or not, cruel or not, fair or not. What is natural to do is done. In the man kingdom, conscious mind is at work, weighing and measuring the merit of each action. It is here that the truly cruel things are done; the motive makes them so. If the light of higher mind is obscured, one will find the instinctual struggle for existence dominating his choices. Imbued with the concentrated force of his many powers, he may carry the struggle beyond mere survival to the realms of suspicion and hate, and through the actions thus inspired, may be thought to impress the plastic psychic nature of the lower orders of life with unnecessary patterns of violence.

Man is said to be both divine and bestial in his makeup; his life is on a battlefield which, directly or indirectly, involves the whole of nature in the fight that must be waged. Man can endeavor to act as a participant in a common heritage -- cooperation with his fellows in harmony -- or can allow the unthinking part of his nature to guide his life and the life-patterns of other beings. One of the most important obligations to fulfill, for one's own enlightenment and its reflection elsewhere, is to attempt to reconcile in practice, as well as intellectually, the two opposites -- the light and darkness in the world. This is not an easy task; perhaps it is one without an end.

Are there any non-religious atheists?

It is obvious that the answer to such a question is entirely relative to definitions assigned the terms, "religious" and "atheist." The "pat" answer, "All atheists are non-religious by definition," is not valid, for the key to the matter seems to center around one's interpretation of the adjective "religious." Since orthodox interpretation of this word is too limited to render the question intelligible, it becomes necessary to search for a broader meaning of this expression in current liberal works on psychology and philosophy. But first we must accept tentatively the popular definition of the atheist as "one who denies the existence of God or gods."

Religion may be defined as the quest for the ideal life, involving two aspects: the ideal (God is one sort of ideal), and the practices for attaining the values of the ideal. If religious experience must include not only the values but also "worship" of God, religious atheists are non-existent. But this is precisely the point in question, for religious values such as "brotherly love" and "spiritual wisdom" are much more universally agreed upon than is God. This would seem to support a Freudian differentiation between religion and religious-ethical values, for, as Erich Fromm puts it, "Freud speaks in the name of the ethical core of religion and criticizes the theistic-supernatural aspects of religion for preventing the full realization of these ethical aims."

Religious values certainly can be defined, then, independently of any particular object of worship; they include man's obligation to strive for truth, morality, love of humanity, and the rendering of justice. If we now attempt to count heads in the ranks of the "non-religious atheists," it is found that there are not many, hardly any, in fact, who qualify. Even Marx, the thoroughgoing materialist, and Dewey, the leading pragmatist of our time, find themselves on the rocks of inconsistency, due to their religio-ethical interests. As Dwight Macdonald has said, "Confusion does credit to their hearts if not their heads; they are at least bothered by the problem of values, even though unable to reconcile it with their scientific monism."

Fortunate we are that but few "non-religious atheists" are to be found in the world -- fortunate that but few have succeeded in completely smothering the inherent callings of the human heart for love and justice. The distinctions involved are further clarified by an excellent passage from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

He alone is the true atheist to whom the predicates of the Divine Being, for example, love, wisdom, and justice, are nothing; not he to whom merely the subject of these predicates is nothing.
The outlook on "atheism" influenced by study of Theosophy is summarized in two sentences from The Secret Doctrine: "The Secret Doctrine teaches no Atheism, except in the Hindu sense of the word nastika, or the rejection of idols, including every anthropomorphic god. In this sense every Occultist is a Nastika."

A postulate is to be taken by a student and proven for himself. Yet how can anyone prove the first, or even second, fundamental postulate of Theosophy? Is this not a misuse of the word "postulate"?

Since this question stresses the importance of applying one of several specific definitions to the term, postulate, it likewise becomes our obligation to search out the exact words used in the original statement of the three fundamentals by H.P.B. In the Proem of her Secret Doctrine, where the fundamentals were first set forth in expository form, they are introduced: "The Secret Doctrine establishes three fundamental propositions." We need not labor the point that there is a definite difference between the meanings of the terms, postulate and proposition, but the following distinction is worth making. While a postulate claims or assumes the existence or truth of a principle as self-evident as a basis for reasoning, a proposition offers a condition or premise to be considered, a truth to be demonstrated or logically supported -- as is done in regard to the three propositions of The Secret Doctrine throughout that volume. In the strictest philosophical usage of the word, postulate, as defined in the Encyclopedia Britannica, there is a technical misuse of the term in the opening sentence of the question.

We are next led to a study of the nature of proof. It is obvious that the student who is desirous of objective evidence, demonstration, or scientific analysis for proof of the fundamentals is in for a blow, for they are subjective realities. We think that the word, prove, as used in this context, means to test by use or experience. "To be found by trial or experience" also suggests the necessity of accepting these principles as working hypotheses and testing their validity according to the strict standards of practical application. While the proof of applying the second fundamental as a basis for morality and of the third in terms of living a purposeful existence, may be rationally and intuitively understood, the first proposition is not subject to analysis of any sort. It seems at long last that the "proof" of the Divine principle of nature and man is by inward demonstration alone. For the student who by perseverance "assumes the position of the Higher Self" consistently, seems gradually to become illuminated from within, as the "Self shines forth."

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