The state of the Real Self is within reach of those alone who are full of austerity, virtue, and truthfulness. Those, indeed, find that entirely pure condition, in whom there is not the remotest trace of fashionable lies or deliberate falsehoods, nor any hypocrisy whatever.
There is, in truth, an inner alliance between the soul who would fain give and the soul who is in need. Nature has well provided that not one golden ray of all our thoughts is sped ineffective through the dark; not one drop of the magical elixirs love distills is wasted.
us consider how this may be. There is a habit we nearly all have
indulged in: We weave little stories in our minds, expending love and
pity upon the imaginary beings we have created, and I have been led to
think that many of these are not imaginary, that somewhere in the world
beings are living just in that way, and we
merely reform and live over again in our life the story of another life. Sometimes these faraway intimates assume so vivid a shape; they come so near with their appeal for sympathy that the pictures are unforgettable; and the more I ponder over them the more it seems to me that they often convey the actual need of some soul whose cry for comfort has gone out into the vast, perhaps to meet with an answer, perhaps to hear only silence.
While some of my theosophical colleagues have been arguing amongst themselves, I've noticed that online Blavatsky is often linked to Nazi ideology. I wrote a short piece on that: Was Blavatsky a Nazi? The link between Ariosophy and Theosophy
"Ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
Matt. xxii, 23
"Learn to look intelligently into the hearts of men. Regard most earnestly your own heart."
Light on the Path
It is a fact well known to those having to do with criminal statistics that the foundation of a criminal career is usually laid in youth, when the passions are hot and the powers of resistance are but little developed and when one has not acquired wisdom enough to see that conformity to the rules of society is the only safe way. In the period of what is known as sowing wild oats many of us come dangerously near to it. Sooner or later most of us reach a definite parting of the ways. At this point there are two sign-posts. One of these says "This Way to Becoming a Hardened Sinner," while the other bears the legend "This Road to Becoming a Hardened Saint."
And this reminds me of the two sign-boards which Alice saw in the land behind the looking-glass - "This Way to Tweedledum's House," and "This Way to the House of Tweedledee."
Now, don't slam down the paper and say that I claim that there is no choice between these roads. It would not be worth my while to prove that virtue is better than vice, for nobody denies it, at least on this side of the Atlantic. But we may overlook certain points of vital importance if we think that in the long run there is a huge difference between these paths. The fact is that apart from certain temporary advantages to the individual and to society, very good in their way, to be sure, both ways lead to pretty much the same place.
By a hardened sinner I mean one to whom anti-social actions have become easier than social ones, one who has acquired vicious habits. By a hardened saint I mean one to whom moral actions, or abstinence from immoral actions, have become a habit and to whom it is easier to be "good" than "bad."
Now a good habit is not to be laughed at simply because it is a habit, but from the ethical standpoint there is no more merit in doing what you can't comfortably help doing than there is in a good digestion. A good character, which is usually nothing more than a collection of virtuous habits backed by a conscience which makes one dreadfully uncomfortable if one goes wrong, is an excellent basis to build on, just as rock makes a better foundation than sand. But it is as easy to become the slave of good habits as of bad ones. Thrift, regular hours and a vegetarian diet are good habits which may be carried to an excess. You have heard of the two Englishmen who were wrecked on a small island and who would not speak because they had not been formally introduced. The very existence of society as it now is assumes and depends on certain behavior, but conformity to these rules takes no account of certain very important matters. The hardened saint overlooks the fact that in refraining from anti-social actions, he is but backing up the present state of affairs; he is taking no account of progress.
Nobody, however, should fail to see that the present state of society is a transient one, that there are evolutionary forces at work which are quite beyond our control and which are constantly putting new problems and new conditions to the front. ...The man of tomorrow, or a hundred years hence will be very different from the man of today; the saint of a hundred years hence will be a very different sort of Saint from the saint of today. In an earlier stage of affairs many things which we regard as vices were accounted virtues, and they were really so because they tended to give stability to society as it was then. I have often called attention to the fact that what we call virtue and vice are very largely conformity or non-conformity to certain standards of temporary and passing value. Polygamy and indiscriminate sex relations for instance were once virtuous, when life had many risks and keeping the race alive had to be considered above all things. Even today, when the population is being slaughtered much faster than the normal birth rate replenishes it [1917 - Ed.], we hear certain customs palliated which are usually accounted immoral. At a time when every man was ready to seize his neighbor's property, laws protecting property rights were regarded as even more important than life - men were hung for theft. Today our views are rapidly changing; it is ceasing to be moral to place the right of acquisition above everything else, and to whatever extreme we may go, it is quite obvious that the society of the future will hold very different views as to the right of the individual to acquire or hold property by means which act detrimentally on his fellows. Set your hardened saint of today down in the midst of society a thousand years hence and the probability is that he would be looked on as we look on the hardened sinner of today. Or put the hardened sinner of today back among the cave men and he would have passed as a first class saint.
The hardened saint is he who takes no account of progress, who assumes that the utmost that is required of him is conformity to the rule, law and custom of today, and who fails to keep himself in that flexible condition which admits of growth. While he may be a pillar of society as it is, he is often but a clog on its becoming what it should be. He is the conformist who, like the Pharisee of old, pays tithe of mint, anise and cummin, and omits the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith. And as such, while he is not the enemy of the society of today he is the enemy of the society of the future; he is as pernicious to posterity as the hardened sinner is to his contemporaries.
And further, the hardened saint is one who can look neither forward nor backward. He is often not only ready to persecute, yes, even to imprison or crucify the man of the future, but he accords the same treatment to the man of the past, the criminal who is out of tune with the present, but who is living according to the schedule of a previous age. He is the man who regards the sinner and the sin as something wholly abhorrent and worthy only of brutal suppression instead of rational cure.
Intolerance, that is the vice of the hardened saint, the inability to see the root of good in things evil, the soul of manhood in the criminal, the truth which lies in the opinions of others with whom he may disagree. He is unable to look intelligently into the hearts of men and see the motives which influence them, and to compare them with his own.
... There can be no doubt that the sign "This Road to Becoming a Hardened Saint: drives many to the opposite path. There is something as unlovely about the narrowness of the hardened saint as about the frankness of the hardened sinner, a sort of hypocrisy, a smell of pretensions not lived up to, which frightens the youth into the opposite course. Youth loves tolerance, it desires to be understood. But the virtuous yet intolerant parent or teacher, the man who preaches down, who claims that "he never did such things when he was young" - usually an out and out lie - tends to drive the youth upon the other road; I do not blame him. The hardened saint is a constant warning to others. One may have this or that theory as to Christ, but can any one overlook the splendid example of his associating with sinners, or the sentiment conveyed in the words "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone?"
How to keep from becoming a hardened saint? It is not an easy matter, especially if your position in life is such as to shield you from temptation to make virtue profitable, to guard you from want. It is easy enough to think that you are doing enough when you walk straight, when you have no compelling motives to do otherwise. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why? Not because there is any sin in being rich, but because heaven is a place for the ideal saint, not for one of the hard boiled variety. The thing for you to do is to get out somewhere where you will be tempted. Better slip up now and then than to lose your flexibility. Many a man accounted too bad to associate with has preserved his flexibility to a greater extent than those who have always walked straight - there is more hope for him. How to scrape off the crust of hardened saintship which is beginning to accumulate on yourself? There are many ways, but all involve a broadening of your interests and your sympathies, especially of your sympathies. It may be well enough to have an academic interest in the other half of the world, the part in which you do not move socially or in a business way. But really, it is quite "insufficient." You must learn to know these men and women; you must learn to take a personal interest in them as you would in a member of your family or a friend who is "socially your equal." To read about them, to hear lectures, to sit in committees, to take part in charitable entertainments, these are well enough, but they carry you but a short way. ...Christ did it; he was never tired of talking of associating with sinners and commending those who would do it. He knew what he was talking about; you do not have to take my word for it. And your reward will be, not in having performed an unpleasant duty, for it is not that, but in having your viewpoint broadened, in being placed on the firing line in the great battle on which the future of the race depends.
... If you find it difficult, first ask yourself whether the fault lies in the fact that you have been hardened by your environment, that you yourself are lacking in the flexibility which is the basis of all spiritual progress. The difficulty should be a warning to you not to yield to a process that is slowly converting you into a hardened saint.
I'm glad to finally review Fohat in a positive light after the defense of my own person I felt obligated to make last month. This isn't to say I agree with everything in this issue, but that points made are (this time) well argued and give me the opportunity to clarify my own position a bit. Also I have to be grateful that my name isn't mentioned once.
There are three subjects in this issue that warrant something of a recounter. First a letter by Radha Burnier is discussed on opening the Adyar archives. Second an article on occultism and truth makes some very good points. Third, and from a historical perspective most interesting, a report on a meeting in Germany in the 1960's on changing books written by Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater. This last article is also interesting as in it I see the first sign of a recognition that members or even leaders of the Theosophical Society Adyar are not clones of one another, but may actually represent different viewpoints on what theosophy is and how one should act. I'm glad to see that fact shine through in Edmonton, Canada.
The issue of the opening of the Adyar Archives is one that I have also tried to raise consciousness for (Fohat Fall 2006, p. 67, 68). The editors of Fohat went one step further and actually wrote Radha Burnier personally. They also got a short reply. The reply doesn't deal with the openness of the archives at all. Instead Radha Burnier goes into the question of leadership and how it is her responsibility, not theirs. She stresses that there is brotherhood in the Theosophical Society everywhere, something I have also experienced in my more limited travels (including sisterhood). Both are valid points, though not really to the point of discussion. Fohat is equally off the point by quoting Ernest Hargrave from 'The Judge Case', Part 1 on what Besant did at one point. All of this is ancient history by now, and really doesn't mean anything about today. So about those archives. From a theosophical historian that will remain nameless I hear that perhaps not as much is 'hidden' in the Adyar archives as those wishing for its opening might hope. Yes, its library system is very much outdated - there are no digital catalogues. On the other hand, it is quite usual for archives of note to only be accessible through a librarian. This is only right, as one would not want valuable documents to disappear. So perhaps the issue of opening the Adyar archives is really just about making sure you befriend a librarian.
There is an ongoing discussion in the field of theosophical history on the question of Blavatsky's veracity. Fohat addresses this from the theological perspective in the article on truth in occultism (Fohat Fall 2006, p.54-58). It points out that Blavatsky was a chela and therefore as theosophists we should expect her to speak the truth wherever she could. Mahatma Letter XLVII, p. 272 is quoted:
The Old Woman [Blavatsky] is accused of untruthfulness, inaccuracy in her statements. "Ask no questions and you will receive no lies." She is forbidden to say what she knows. You may cut her to pieces and she will not tell. Nay - she is ordered in cases of need to mislead people; and, were she more of a natural born liar - she might be happier and won her day long since this time.
This is good stuff. It brings the issue right back to the source. We also have G.R.S. Mead's testimony of Blavatsky's inherent truthfulness and trustful nature. So as theosophists we can conclude that whatever lies she told were for a good cause.
Great. Now what? As a something of an amateur historian this doesn't get me anywhere, I'm sorry to say. Historians have to judge every source by its inherent merits. Theological arguments on the value of truth (which is what the rest of that article amounts to) don't mean much. That is, we can be reasonably sure that Blavatsky tried to live by those standards, but since we also have pretty good indication that on some occasions she was forbidden to say the truth - what have we got? Again as a theosophist I would tend to just trust her and leave it at that. That would work pretty well if I could turn to Blavatsky right now for spiritual instruction. Trust your teacher. But I can't, because obviously she's gone. So what I'm left with is the uncertainty of not knowing which parts of her writings were the truth as she knew and understood it - and which were 'necessary lies'. Blavatsky often mentions the esoteric habit of using blinds, when the truth can't be told in a way that the profane will be able to understand it and misuse it. Unfortunately there is no list of blinds available, no list of subjects that the Mahatmas and Blavatsky were not allowed to speak the truth about. Even if we assume - as I would tend to do - that most of her writing are simply the truth as she knew it, on the historically tricky subjects one just can't assume that.
One of the points where Paul Johnson may very well have a point is that her vow of silence wasn't just about doctrine, but also about protecting her teachers. That vow of silence just leaves too many questions open. Historians have to look at the motives behind every statement and will assume that any source is partial. The question a scientist always has to ask is: what don't we know? Given Blavatsky's vow of silence, we can be pretty sure there is a lot we don't know. One thing a historian can't do is to use theological arguments to prove practical historical points. The rift between theory and practice is usually, in any religion, pretty large. The question is: in what way is that rift large in this case. I don't know - apparently some people associated with Fohat do feel they know.
This leads me nicely into the next article I want to discuss 'In 1966, Adyar Leaders Openly Discuss Tampering with Their Own Literature' (p. 64-66, 71). The opening paragraph puts the discussion in the context of the recent controversy around 'The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky', volume 1 (2003), in which letters were included that theosophists generally believe to be forgeries. I think that to assume a connection between the two is misleading. The main part of the article is concerned with the minutes of a meeting in 1966. The meeting discussed whether the more extravagant claims (that is what it amounts to) in the books by Leadbeater and Besant could and should be deleted in future reprints. It is interesting to see that this meeting included two theosophists that are now prominent: Radha Burnier (current president of the Theosophical Society Adyar) and Joy Mills, who are indeed almost the same age and now in their 80's. The article shows quite clearly that there were (as there are) two opinions on the Theosophical Society Adyar: one is that it is alright to change the words of books, if the essence remains. The other is that this is quite unethical. As discussed in this meeting that point isn't made yet. The meeting mainly discussed that certain parts might be deleted, because they are outdated. Carlos Cardos Aveline rightly notes that at the time it wasn't seriously discussed to change the words in Blavatsky's writings, though I'm sorry to say that there is by now in fact a Quest edition of the Voice of the Silence of which the language has been 'updated'.
My gut reaction in this debate is that it is quite simply unethical to change the words used by an author and then publish it under his or her name. On the other hand, I am also aware of the relative advantage readers in foreign languages have: translations get updated quite regularly. A new translation of the Voice of the Silence into Dutch, for instance, is done every 30 years or so. This is true for Bible translations as well. So there is a slippery slope. For me Blavatsky's English is quite legible, whereas Besant's English has become tedious. This is paradoxical, because Besant was a native speaker of that language, whereas to Blavatsky English was at best a second language (probably third, her French was likely better). The more literary a person is, the more likely one is to be able to read the books as they were and also to appreciate reading the original. For less literary people, language may well be a hindrance. So the question becomes: which readers does one cater to. Quest books, like Quest magazine, has chosen to cater to the relatively less literate. This is contrary to theosophical tradition as generally speaking theosophists have come from the educated classes. Theosophists are readers. Theosophists love books, in general. I know of few exceptions to this rule - nor did I meet exceptions to this rule when I was in Wheaton this summer.
The article on that 1966 meeting is very interesting from a historical perspective. For present day readers I want to add a few points on present day publications. I pulled out the books I could find by Leadbeater and Besant in my own collection. I found four. Though this is a small selection, I think a preliminary conclusion is possible. First Annie Besant's Esoteric Christianity. I own a Quest edition and an Adyar edition. In the Quest edition there are slightly less words on a page than in the Adyar edition. The Quest edition is called 'abridged'. The Adyar edition is called a reprint, so I should assume nothing was changed or taken out. It has 285 pages. The Quest edition has 277, including index. The text ends at page 263. So all in all at least 7 pages have been deleted in the Quest edition, which may amount to some 20 passages having been edited out. I have an Adyar edition of Annie Besant's 'A Study in Consciousness'. This edition is called a second edition (of 1999). It does not mention that it is edited or abridged, so this is probably merely a case of retypesetting. Then I own an Adyar edition of 'The Chakras' by C.W. Leadbeater. It's called a Twelfth Reprint (1987), but also includes a note by the publisher which deserves to be quoted in full as pertaining to this discussion:
In preparing this edition for publication, a few explanatory footnotes have been added and a few sentences have been omitted which were relevant only at the time of the original publication. Except for minor editorial corrections, the book appears in the same form as when it was first published in 1927.
Unfortunately that note has not been dated.
From this one can conclude, I think, that generally Adyar has stayed closer to the original writings then Wheaton. Still both have felt the necessity of making 'minor editorial corrections'. In fairness though, Quest Publications is also (mainly) responsible for the Blavatsky Collected Writings where the claim is that no editorial changes (except in spelling and footnotes) have been made. Aside from the previously mentioned version of The Voice of the Silence that has been edited, Wheaton also published a facsimile reprint of the 1889 version of The Voice of the Silence in 1991. So a geographical division of the Theosophical Society into an Indian group that is more 'authentic' and a US-group that is more popular, is also a simplification. To go from this idea to the next one, that the Wheaton division is less authentic and that this is the cause of the inclusion of those controversial letters in 'The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky', is a stretch. It is pretty obvious that the reason those letters were included is that John Algeo is a trained scientist of note, who could therefore not be expected to sensor his book. He chose to err rather on the side of inclusiveness. As I've said before I quite understand that choice, though it would have been better if the controversial nature of the source had been noted in the explanations.
A recurring theme in theosophical and new age thinking is the question of 'positive thinking'. I've recently put an article online that answers that question positively: Why Think Positively? by Donald Martin. Radha Burnier discusses a similar question, or rather the more absolutist interpretation of that question, as it can be embedded in theosophical thought: those that ask shall have, which is a quote from Light on the Path. Radha starts by going into various problems with this: if we ask for the wrong things, we may get them, but we may not like the byproducts. For instance, we may get wealth in this or a future life, if we really want it, but we will also get the accompanying 'problems, tensions, and anxieties that go with possessions'. She quotes the saying that 'When the gods want to punish somebody, they listen to his prayers'.
Light on the Path continues with: 'But though the ordinary man asks perpetually, his voice is not heard, for he asks with his mind only.' Those who make it their life-purpose to spread the art of 'positive thinking' would phrase this slightly differently. They would say that most people have conflicting thoughts, so the results are conflicting as well. Radha puts it like this (p. 4) 'Real asking is characterized by whole-heartedness. Mind and heart and soul must all long for what is asked for. As the mind is only one aspect of a person, and at any time confusion may be caused by conflicting desires, all internal contradictions must end, and then the asking is integrated and its force is greater. Even if money is the one thing a person asks for wholeheartedly, he will get it and suffer from it; but he will learn that to ask and have, one must really turn all of one's energy to the task.'
From this Radha goes on to consider the question whether what we think we want is real at all. This brings us straight to the problems of Indian (and Buddhist) philosophy and metaphysics, though Blavatsky also wrote about the issue of Maya (illusion). I found this Blavatsky quote on Maya:
When, therefore, people express a desire to "see a MAHATMA," they really do not seem to understand what it is they ask for. How can they, by their physical eyes, hope to see that which transcends that sight? Is it the body--a mere shell or mask-they crave or hunt after? And supposing they see the body of a MAHATMA, how can they know that behind that mask is concealed an exalted entity? By what standard are they to judge whether the Maya before them reflects the image of a true MAHATMA or not? And who will say that the physical is not a Maya? Higher things can be perceived only by a sense pertaining to those higher things. And whoever therefore wants to see the real MAHATMA, must use his intellectual sight. He must so elevate his Manas that its perception will be clear and all mists created by Maya must be dispelled. [Blavatsky, Mahatmas and Chelas; More by Blavatsky on Maya]
Radha Burnier continues with
We must learn through the practice of reflection (vichara), not coming to quick conclusions, or getting unconsciously attracted to certain ideas or theories. Reflection, thoughtfulness, quiet observation are all necessary to find out whether what appears real to our minds is in fact real, or whether it is only an aspect of the illusion existing in the form-worlds - at the physical, astral, and mental levels, where there are many illusions. 'Under every flower a serpent coiled', The Voice of the Silence says. If we are aware and able to remain undeceived by these lower-world illusions, there may be subtler illusions on higher planes. So awareness and alertness must be sustained'. This reflection has to be turned to ourselves, to our thoughts, our illusions about ourselves and our world and to our desires. 'The sheaths that enclose the true Self must be uncovered before we know what is within, not only in ourselves but everywhere.
conclusion is that only when
there is self-knowledge can we really expect to get what we want and be
reasonably happy with it. Donald Martin in his article
Why Think Positively? comes to a similar conclusion though from the opposite direction. He concludes that the very practice of trying to think positively will make us more productive and therefore closer to whatever goals we have set ourselves. This has apparently been confirmed by research. I do wonder though: is it the act of thinking positively, or is it the accompanying self-knowledge that really leads to more success? Radha's article shows how self-knowledge is a necessary quality in order for us to be able to think so clearly and one heartedly to have the results we want.
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