THEOSOPHY, Vol. 52, No. 8, June, 1964
(Pages 237-239; Size: 9K)

YOUTH FORUM

[Article number (20) in this Q&A Department]

Theosophical writings, although they help one gain invaluable perspective on life, present somewhat of a problem to the student, since they speak a great deal about invisible processes and supramental states of being and are therefore likely to be incompletely or incorrectly understood. The teachings are said to appeal directly to the soul of man, yet at times the student may read about such concepts as the "Higher Self" or the "Nirmanakayas," and find himself unable to feel any deep response. How can one reach beyond the words and in some way grasp the reality underlying them?

Jung tells a story about a student who came to a rabbi and said, "In the olden days there were men who saw the face of God. Why don't they any more?" The rabbi replied, "Because nowadays no one can stoop so low." Such words may at first sound strange to students who have become accustomed to thinking in terms of a "higher" and a "lower" self, or who have pondered about the mantram, "As above, so below." And yet on further reflection it becomes clear that the old rabbi's answer does not necessarily contradict theosophical principles, but implies an unusual and perhaps searching approach to them. Essentially it seems to be a warning against reliance on metaphors, against the mind's tendency to think in spatial terms, and to evade metaphysical realities. To many of us, as a result of this tendency, it seems that the Higher Self is "up there somewhere," and "above it all." We think we want to know the great truths of life, and may even do a great deal of studying, but there seems always to be a part of ourselves (well yes, the "lower" part) which is working to prevent a full realization of truth and truth's implications. Our capacity for self-deception is great and subtle, and becomes all the greater since we deceive ourselves as to how strong it really is. At the center and immortal essence of our being, of course, we do want the whole truth about ourselves and life, but our personality, the person we take ourselves to be and which is therefore practically all-powerful on this plane (and even in some after-death states), is absolutely determined that we shall not know the truth. This is because in one sense truth would mean death for the personality -- and torture before that death. Some of the theosophical terminology seems very abstruse to us; words like "Nirmanakayas" strike no response within our hearts. But let us realize that we have unknowingly yet skillfully arranged for that lack of response.

But more specifically -- what have we done? The little things (and most of our evasions have to do with little things) are difficult to catalogue because they are practically innumerable, and because each person has his own particular set. We put off duties, indulge our whims, reject new and uncomfortable ideas, or even reject familiar ideas as being "old hat," unaware that we label them thus in order not to have to consider them seriously. Sometimes we even accept ideas for that same purpose of being able to disregard them; for it is only in the moment of direct confrontation that our complacency is threatened. And having become skillful in avoiding these minor confrontations, it becomes easier to avoid major, even potentially tragic, encounters. We use the word God, for instance, and find ourselves looking up in the sky, as though He were "up there"; and we unconsciously create images of Him, perhaps suddenly realize we are creating images and censure ourselves for it, then begin creating more images; yet all the while forgetting to try to look deeply into the eyes of our own children who are standing in front of us.

And it is not only ideas, and not only other people, that we refuse to meet halfway, it is also our guilt. There may be a pattern to the universe, but it is certainly not such a patent pattern as the eighteenth century conceived of. Indeed, the idea of the Absolute is terrifying in more ways than it is reassuring. And man, an emanation from the eye of this universal vortex, is potentially enormously powerful -- and when self-deceived or self-concerned, enormously dangerous. Evil in man is real. We must not try to muffle this fact by imagining evil to be merely the absence of good; for if we do, we are giving it all the more chance to grow in insidious ways. For instance, by rejecting the possibility of there being evil in ourselves (which usually means just that we don't have the guts to do something forthrightly evil on our own), we may tend to become self-righteous, and feel inclined therefore to attack the external evils of society, not realizing that these are just straw tigers, easy targets by which we are diverting our criticism from ourselves.

It is likely that we would be far more sensitive and kind than we now are if we were willing to recognize that to be human is in some sense to be "guilty" -- responsible for pain, at least. Even if we were saints, we still would kill thousands of plants and animals just by walking through a field, or driving a car to town. We may of course excuse ourselves on the grounds of physical necessity, but that kind of reasoning seems a step away from one kind of reality and significance, leading to further rationalizations. But if we do take upon ourselves this onus of responsibility, we may discover new and deep possibilities for beauty and goodness. We destroy and mangle and maim, and the guilt is ours to bear; but by the same token we can create, we can pour our pity and love, like balm, into the very wounds in life which we have inflicted; and by shaping life into art, instinct to intelligence, we can raise the quality of the whole world's life.

We dislike extremes these days, and at the same time wish we could feel more deeply the significance of our daily life and our philosophical conceptions. Yet significance does not come from conservatism or rationalization but from a full-blooded acknowledgement of all our potentialities, for good as well as for evil. Only when we truly realize that we could become an Eichmann do we have any chance at all of becoming a Christ. Such a realization is not very pleasant, and most of us have so far succeeded in avoiding it. But if we are serious in our aspirations, we must learn to face life head-on, to ascertain the relative strengths of our search for knowledge and our desire for comfort, and ask ourselves quite simply: Do we place truth first or second?


COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

Great ideas come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope. 


--ALBERT CAMUS

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