THEOSOPHY, Vol. 52, No. 1, November, 1963
(Pages 12-14; Size: 9K)


[Article number (13) in this Q&A Department]

Pride seems the most insidious and powerful of human vices, probably because it feeds on human virtue. It is therefore a strong indictment when outsiders, and particularly Christians, voice the suspicion that the Theosophical philosophy, with its emphasis on man's innate divinity, does much to foster this sense of pride. Has such an accusation any basis in truth?

Theosophists, too, have tendencies toward pride in all its forms -- from that stiff pride which is almost synonymous with a fear of people to that giggling what-a-good-boy-am-I feeling which bubbles up after even the most minor good deed. Both Christians and Theosophists have this human quality to deal with, and from outward appearances it would be difficult to tell which of them deals with it best. Yet at the same time it must be recognized that there is an enormous difference in the approaches. A literal, theological Christian is convinced that he is essentially a creature of sin, a creation destined to return to the dust from which he was formed, unless through an act of divine grace he is swept from the eternal darkness of death into realms of eternal light. For him, then, humility is constantly associated with humiliation. His object is to eradicate systematically all his pride, his desires -- his "sins." It is only when he has become completely "dead to himself" and to this world that he may (in one of those beautiful turns of phrases so common in Christian literature) suddenly become alive to the world of the divine. But if this transformation occurs, it is not because man, a congenital sinner, has caused it. As Augustine indicates, it is not within man's power to know when an act of grace will occur, or even if it will occur; but to strive at all times to be worthy of that grace.

It must be admitted that such stoical self-abnegation is often impressive. One might almost say that, given a different stress or seen from a different point of view, all this would become pure Theosophy. As it is now, Christian doctrine differs from Theosophy in that it declares that man may have a relationship with God, that God's spirit may deign to dwell within the purified human heart, whereas Theosophy suggests that if man knew everything about himself, he would know God, for in essence he is God, just as a ray of sunlight is the sun. The difference is one of centering -- the Christian view being just a bit lop-sided.

In a sense, of course, there is some truth even in the separate God view, once our "point" of view -- the place where we make our moral stand -- has been slightly shifted, brought into the heart of life. For really, we are separated by an enormous gulf from the Deity within ourselves. Even when we say "I," we are not speaking from that effulgent, central position. As H.P.B. has expressed it (S.D. I, 39): "The existences belonging to every plane of being, up to the highest Dhyan-Chohans, are in degree, of the nature of shadows cast by a magic lantern on a colourless screen; but all things are relatively real, for the cogniser is also a reflection, and the things cognised are therefore as real to him as himself." And again, what Augustine says about divine grace would, within a slightly different context, constitute a most powerful expression of a Theosophical truth.

Yet that slight change in context can effect an enormous change in one's whole approach to life. A real Christian must struggle desperately to kill out sin -- and it is here that the implications of the command to become "dead to oneself" become terrifyingly clear, since to the Christian, sin is an essential, inseparable, part of man's nature. A true Theosophist, on the other hand, would not be so passionately engaged in rooting out sin, for he would know that feelings of aversion are as binding as feelings of affection. He would realize (at first perhaps only intellectually) that he is not in essence composed of sin; and gradually, with patience and dispassionate determination, he would impress this realization upon deeper and deeper planes of his being, as also the realization that "living in sin" is simply not a practical course of action from a long-range point of view. It is only when a person does not allow his errors and weaknesses more importance than they deserve, when in fact he can so live that they arouse in him no emotional reaction whatever, either for or against them, that he may forever conquer them.

But then, one may again object, it seems that our sins are to be overcome through a proud disdain for them; yet through what are we to overcome that pride?

Such an objection, however, indicates a misunderstanding of what has just been said, for pride is never needed for the overcoming of our sins -- and neither is that self-destructive humility advocated by Christianity. There is another kind of humility, a kind which is positive because it does not stop at saying that we are low hateful creatures, but goes on to add that we have the potentiality to become gods. It is positive also because it implies a tremendous responsibility. As we become stronger and wiser, we become more and more capable of helping all mankind and all life, until, having mastered all that this earth can teach, and having learned to see the meaning in every experience, we may give of ourselves completely and become the humble servants of all that lives. Then the weight of our responsibility would be balanced by the buoyant elation of our love, so that we would stand weightless, with infinity ahead of us and infinity behind us, and untold myriads of brothers at our side. Pride would be out of the question.

Such an intimate relationship with the countless forms and intelligences of life might be difficult for a Christian to achieve, since he has been taught that nature was given to man for him to use as he sees fit. In fact, there may be a broad tendency for men who are constantly humiliated through their religious beliefs to become quite harsh and Jehovah-like with the lower forms of nature, possibly even with their own families. At any rate, although a Theosophist (for once in the Christian spirit) should judge not, he might at least be justified in suggesting that the atmosphere generated by Christianity has more in common with death than with life, with human limitation than with human possibility, with authority than with individual integrity and search.

At any rate, if the Theosophical tenets really do foster feelings of pride, at least they also provide hope and a means for overcoming pride. That means is humility, but a humility which does not crush the human spirit, but rather heals and feeds it; for it is the humility of aspiration.

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(December 1963)
[Article number (14) in this Q&A Department]

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