The glory of virtue consists entirely in action. — Marcus Tullius Cicero 1
No Theosophist has the right to this name, unless he is thoroughly imbued with the correctness of Carlyle’s truism:
“The end of man is an action and not a thought, though it were the noblest” and unless he sets and models his daily life upon this truth. The profession of a truth is not yet the enactment of it; and the more beautiful and grand it sounds, the more loudly virtue or duty is talked about instead of being acted upon, the more forcibly it will always remind one of the Dead Sea fruit. Cant is the most loathsome of all vices.
— Helena Petrovna Blavatsky 2
Under the sway of maya, personal desires polarise the soul in spurts and fits towards either of two feelings proper: pleasure and pain.
Polarity is universal, but the polariser lies in our own consciousness.3
Feelings are not mere “forms” or “aspects” of self, they are “degrees” of self as Bhagavan Das points out. That is why pleasure is perceived as a feeling of increase, expansion, growth, moreness; and pain, as a feeling of decrease, contraction, decay, lessness.4 Commenting upon Chrysippus’ definition of suffering, Galen of Pergamum says that distress is
“a shrinking at what is thought to be something to avoid,” and he says pleasure is “a swelling up of what is thought to be something to pursue.” “Shrinkings and swellings,” of course, and “expansions and contractions,” which he sometimes mentions as well, are affections of the irrational faculty that result from opinions.5
Thoughts and emotions are one and the same
Away from the unity and impartiality of One Life and Self, the “desire to be an individual” begins energising and specialising pleasure-pain into lovehate, attraction-repulsion, and their endless modifications, variations, and permutations that tie the soul to woes unspeakable. Says HP Blavatsky:
The main cause of pain lies in our perpetually seeking the permanent in the impermanent, and not only seeking, but acting as if we had already found the unchangeable, in a world of which the one certain quality we can predicate is constant change, and always, just as we fancy we have taken a firm hold upon the permanent, it changes within our very grasp, and pain results.
Again, the idea of growth involves also the idea of disruption, the inner being must continually burst through its confining shell or encasement, and such a disruption must also be accompanied by pain, not physical but mental and intellectual.1
Bhagavan Das in his eye-opening treatise demonstrates that Emotion is essentially a desire to perpetuate a situation if pleasurable, or to escape out of a situation if painful. And the prospective fulfilment — or defeat thereof — of the desire in expectation and imagination gives, the foretaste of pleasure or pain. In other words, Emotion is life and its pabulum. Cicero concurs:
The body rejoices just so long as it perceives a present pleasure; but the mind perceives both the present pleasure, along with the body, and foresees the one that is coming without allowing the past one to flow away. Hence the wise man will always have a constant supply of tightly-knit pleasures, since the anticipation of pleasures hoped for is united with the recollection of those already experienced.2
Physical impulses always act without within; metaphysical promptings, the other way around:
Responding to the touch of both a physical and a metaphysical Force,3 the impulse given by the psychic (or psycho-molecular) Force will act from without within; while that of the noetic (shall we call it Spiritualdynamical?) Force works from within without. 4
Still, regardless of its provenance, if a desire-thought is genuine, strong, and persistent, it will act out as motion away from a painful prospect, or towards a pleasurable one. Those who hide how they feel may appear unmoved, un-emotional. Even so, involuntary body movements, the so-called body language, will give away their true intentions to the trained eye. Eventually, all will be revealed as truth has to come out one way or another.
Hermes Trismegistus was instructed by “the Egyptian Prometheus and the personified Nous or divine light” 5 to liken pleasure and pain to psychic “juices” that stain the soul:
For the Mind is the Benefactor of the Souls of men, and worketh to the proper Good.
And in unreasonable things it co-operateth with the nature of every one of them, but in men it worketh against their Natures.
For the Soul being in the body, is straightway made Evil by Sorrow, and Grief, and Pleasure, or Delight.
For Grief and Pleasure, flow like juices from the compound Body, whereinto when the Soul entereth or descendeth, she is moistened and tinctured with them.
As many Souls, therefore, as the Mind governeth, or overruleth, to them it shows its own Light, resisting their prepossessions or presumptions.1
Plotinus refers to emotions as fountains of pleasure and pain:
There are two fountains whose streams irrigate the bond by which the soul is bound to the body; and from which the soul being filled as with deadly potions, becomes oblivious of the proper objects of her contemplation. These fountains are pleasure and pain; of which sense is indeed preparative, and the perception which is according to sense, together with the imagination, opinions, and recollections which accompany the senses. But from these, the passions being excited, and the whole of the irrational nature becoming fattened, the soul is drawn downward, and abandons its proper love of true being. As much as possible, therefore, we must separate ourselves from these.2
The Koran, as “sweet and salty seas”:
. . . He it is Who has made two seas to flow freely, the one sweet that subdues thirst by its sweetness, and the other salt that burns by its saltness; and between the two He has made a barrier and inviolable obstruction.3
What is primal motive then, and what moves men to act? It is Kama-Eros, the parentless parent of every Desire-Motive, the Individualiser and Intensifier of I-ness to a degree of excellence. It fastens to the mind, excites it, and propels the body to action. It unites, mingles with, and moves the mass. 4 Every thought, whether great or small, is a pursuant Desire waiting to be enacted, animated in the theatre of life. Duality adds infinite choice of colour, variation, and complexity to the drama, so that everyone can be “individual” and play his unique role.
Every desire is a veiled prayer, and every satisfaction a concealed and confused taste of Ananda.5
A mind, focused by the empire of Will and empowered by Imagination, prompts thoughts to principled action most effectively and, in the process, interacts creatively and constructively with other minds. Otherwise, aimless activity and duplicity yield to intemperance and insincerity.1 Shri Das’ reflections on the motivator proper are a fitting end to this brief digression on the nature of desire-thoughts:
In that time of vairagya 2 and desolation which comes on the jiva, when the desire that guided it onwards down the Path of Action, fails and dies, all Sensations and Emotions — the highest, noblest, grandest, which can dazzle and enchain the mind, or the lowest, vilest, meanest, which can disgust and revolt it — are all, without exception, seen to be on the same level, seen to be mere emptiness and dream. In that time all the old motives fail, because the very fount of all such motives, the desire for experiences, is exhausted. But the one motive, the one desire, if it may be so called, remains, viz., the desire for Selfpreservation, for Self-understanding. This desire is the instinctive grasping by the Self of Its own immortality in Its abstract aspect as Pratyagatma. Such is the supreme Love and Compassion of the Self for the Self that It always blesses Itself, “May I never not be, may I always be.” 3 . . . Out of this desire rises inevitably, necessarily, without fail, the understanding of the universal nature of the Self. This understanding is the essential liberation of which it has been said: “Moksha is not a change of conditions but of condition”; it is a change of the attitude of the jiva to its environment.4
Action speaks louder than words
A typical sophism, probably coined by a lower mind to justify dodging some onerous action, is the celebrated “it’s the thought that counts.” Since desire-thought is the noumenon of action, of course thought counts provided that it is fulfilled by action and not wasted as wishful thinking. For equating fleeting thoughts with imaginary deeds is delusion, if not bare hypocrisy — regardless of whether the sin was hidden in thoughts or words:
When Nature’s end of language is declined, And men talk only to conceal the mind.5
. . . Look like the innocent flower But be the serpent under’t.1
Man’s secret thoughts and passions are fouler than the deeds he performs.2
Such pain the mere desire to sin incurs. For he who inly plans some wicked act, Has as much guilt, as though the thought were fact.3
Therefore is the wise man blest, because he is in God’s keeping. ’Tis not his speech that is acceptable to God, but his deed.4
Here on Earth, the plane of evolution of consciousness through action, inaction is a mere impossibility. Regardless of whether the latter stems from indecisiveness, or from a deliberate decision to forsake a brother in his hour of need, as is often the case, its spurious neutrality cannot circumvent Karma-Nemesis. For altruism is neither wishful thinking nor sentimentality: it is the Spirit of Truth, the Cause and Aim of the Theosophical Movement: 5
Right thought is a good thing, but thought alone does not count for much unless it is translated into action. There is not a single member in the [Theosophical] Society who is not able to do something to aid the cause of truth and universal brotherhood; it only depends on his own will, to make that something an accomplished fact.6 . . . This is true Theosophy, inner Theosophy, that of the soul. But, followed with a selfish aim, Theosophy changes its nature and becomes demonosophy. That is why Oriental Wisdom teaches us that the Hindu Yogi who isolates himself in an impenetrable forest, like the Christian hermit who, as was common in former times, retires to the desert, are both of them but accomplished egoists. The one acts with the sole idea of finding in the One essence of Nirvana refuge against reincarnation; the other acts with the unique idea of saving his soul — both of them think only of themselves. Their motive is altogether personal; for, even supposing they attain their end, are they not like cowardly soldiers, who desert the regiment when it goes into action, in order to protect themselves from the bullets? In isolating themselves as they do, neither the Yogi nor the “saint” helps anyone but himself; on the contrary, both show themselves profoundly indifferent to the fate of mankind whom they fly from and desert. . . . Gautama the Buddha only remained in solitude long enough to enable him to arrive at the truth, to the promulgation of which he devoted himself from that time on, begging his bread, and living for humanity. Jesus retired to the desert for forty days only, and died for this same humanity. Apollonius of Tyana, Plotinus and Iamblichus, while leading lives of singular abstinence, almost of asceticism, lived in the world and for the world.1
It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.2
Referring to Lord Buddha’s “unintentional mistake” in failing “to conceal certain dogmas, and trespassing beyond the lawful lines,” Blavatsky notes:
. . . Karma little heeds intentions, whether good or bad, if they remain fruitless.3
Theosophy does not aim to make adepts out of ordinary men. Not during the short span of a single life-time, at any rate.
Theosophy considers humanity as an emanation from divinity on its return path thereto. At an advanced point upon the path, Adeptship is reached by those who have devoted several incarnations to its achievement. For, remember well, no man has ever reached Adeptship in the Secret Sciences in one life; but many incarnations are necessary for it after the formation of a conscious purpose and the beginning of the needful training. Many may be the men and women in the very midst of our Society who have begun this uphill work toward illumination several incarnations ago, and who yet, owing to the personal illusions of the present life, are either ignorant of the fact, or on the road to losing every chance in this existence of progressing any farther. They feel an irresistible attraction toward occultism and the Higher Life, and yet are too personal and self-opinionated, too much in love with the deceptive allurements of mundane life and the world’s ephemeral pleasures, to give them up; and so lose their chance in their present birth. But, for ordinary men, for the practical duties of daily life, such a far-off result is inappropriate as an aim and quite ineffective as a motive.4
Forsaking action particularly “in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin.” 5 It is neglect masquerading as neutrality. Blavatsky lost no opportunity to emphasise the pre-eminence of altruism not in thought alone:
[Lord Buddha] says “seek nought from the helpless Gods — pray not! but rather act; for darkness will not brighten. Ask nought from silence, for it can neither speak nor hear.” 1
When asked “Do you believe in prayer, and do you ever pray?,” she replied: We do not. We act, instead of talking. 2
And to another long-winded question, “We are told that ‘Aum should be practised physically.’ Does this mean that colour being more differentiated than sound, it is only through the colours that we shall get at the real sound for each one of us? That Aum can only have its spiritual and occult significance when tuned to the Atma-Buddhi-Manas of each person?,” 3 Blavatsky signalled the importance of action even more clearly:
Aum means good action, not merely lip sound. You must say it in deeds.4 . . . Better unwise activity, than an overdose of too wise inactivity, apathy or indifference which are always the death of an undertaking.5
Asked whether Christianity if rightly understood and carried out is as “Theosophy is the quintessence of duty,” she answered thus:
No doubt it is; but then, were it not a lip-religion in practice, Theosophy would have little to do amidst Christians. Unfortunately it is but such lip-ethics. Those who practise their duty towards all, and for duty’s own sake, are few; and fewer still are those who perform that duty, remaining content with the satisfaction of their own secret consciousness. It is
“ . . . the public Voice Of praise that honours Virtue and rewards it,”
which is ever uppermost in the minds of the “world renowned” philanthropists. Modern ethics are beautiful to read about and hear discussed; but what are words unless converted into actions? Finally: if you ask me how we understand Theosophical duty practically and in view of Karma, I may answer you that our duty is to drink without a murmur to the last drop, whatever contents the cup of life may have in store for us, to pluck the roses of life only for the fragrance they may shed on others, and to be ourselves content but with the thorns, if that fragrance cannot be enjoyed without depriving someone else of it.6
Apathy is a vice that stands in the way of virtue, says John Ruskin:
This intense apathy in all of us is the first great mystery of life; it stands in the way of every perception, every virtue. There is no making ourselves feel enough astonishment at it. That the occupations or pastimes of life should have no motive, is understandable; but — That life itself should have no motive — that we neither care to find out what it may lead to, nor to guard against its being for ever taken away from us — here is a mystery indeed.1
You will find that the mere resolve not to be useless, and the honest desire to help other people, will, in the quickest and delicatest ways, improve yourself. Thus, from the beginning, consider all your accomplishments as means of assistance to others; 2
Praise is an infirmity of weak minds, continues Ruskin:
Practically, then, at present, “advancement in life” means, becoming conspicuous in life; — obtaining a position which shall be acknowledged by others to be respectable or honourable. We do not understand by this advancement in general, the mere making of money, but the being known to have made it; not the accomplishment of any great aim, but the being seen to have accomplished it. In a word, we mean the gratification of our thirst for applause. That thirst, if the last infirmity of noble minds, is also the first infirmity of weak ones; and, on the whole, the strongest impulsive influence of average humanity: the greatest efforts of the race have always been traceable to the love of praise, as its greatest catastrophes to the love of pleasure. 3
Blavatsky always judged Philaletheians, the “lovers of divine truth,” by their conduct. And so do we.
There is but one way of ever ameliorating human life and it is by the love of one’s fellow man for his own sake and not for personal gratification. The greatest Theosophist — he who loves divine truth under all its forms — is the one who works for and with the poor.4
And even succeeded in summing up Theosophists in five words:
Theosophist is, who Theosophy does.5
Finally, this is how WQ Judge articulated the Theosophical Society’s prime objective and the twin obligations of its Fellows:
This first object means philanthropy. Each Theosophist should therefore not only continue his private or public acts of charity, but also strive to so understand Theosophical philosophy as to be able to expound it in a practical and easily understood manner, so that he may be a wider philanthropist by ministering to the needs of the inner man. This inner man is a thinking being who feeds upon a right or wrong philosophy. If he is given one which is wrong, then, becoming warped and diseased, he leads his instrument, the outer man, into bewilderment and sorrow.1
Higher versus lower altruism
In our increasingly fragmented communities, social care and philanthropy are becoming dehumanised. The traditional ways and means of looking after the disadvantaged and the dispossessed are depersonalised, sanitised, formalised, professionalised. They are farmed out to civil servants, nongovernmental organisations, private agencies.
Today, charity is big business. It even accepts rides on the back of gambling. Its only difference from public provision is that it relies on tax deductible donations. Brotherly love through standing orders, commendable expression of social concern as it may be, cannot be compared with Compassion-Sacrifice any more than alleviating poverty by “income support” or pain by anaesthetic drugs, for example, can be said to be charity proper. So long as we live in a material world, material assistance will always be needed and must be provided freely. But without tackling the underlying causes, hand-outs alone foster dependency as neglected causes bend acute situations to recurrence and chronicity.
Even virtue itself cannot remain unalloyed under the sway of maya: 2
Every virtue has its defect. The defects of great virtues must be accepted. As the Hindi proverb says,
“the kick of the milch-cow is a caress.” 3
Every act of Kindness has a tinge of Selfishness in it. And so, there are lower and there are higher altruists. The former may help out as long as it feels good and convenient to do so, and there are no personal risks involved. The latter, lay service above self or, rather, instead of self. Since mercy delegated is not mercy proper, institutionalised philanthropy is a low form of altruism. Only souls nourished by Universal Truths can arouse Universal Sympathy and bring true love down to earth. Only hearts softened with Devotion can feel solidarity with All. What men long more than anything else is spiritual sustenance — although they may not always be mindful of such a vital need, or able to vocalise it. Goodwill and kindness soothe hearts and souls, and lend far more riches than money can ever buy.1 Food for thought, therefore, is as important as ministering bodily care. Inner faculties should not be neglected in the temple of god.
And as with personal responsibility, there is no surrogate for personal action either. Boundless Love of Humanity or Philanthropy proper can only be born out of the charred logs of personal desires. What is mandated to third parties neither outlives death nor counts as altruism in the eyes of the “Recorders of the Karmic ledger,” 2 who are probably tearful at the general wickedness and hypocrisy of the times. Blavatsky’s wise thoughts underscore once more the significance of right attitude and direct action:
Act individually and not collectively; follow the Northern Buddhist precepts: “Never put food into the mouth of the hungry by the hand of another”; “Never let the shadow of thy neighbour (a third person) come between thyself and the object of thy bounty”; “Never give to the Sun time to dry a tear before thou hast wiped it.” 3 Again “Never give money to the needy, or food to the priest, who begs at thy door, through thy servants, lest thy money should diminish gratitude, and thy food turn to gall” 4 . . . The Theosophical ideas of charity mean personal exertion for others; personal mercy and kindness; personal interest in the welfare of those who suffer; personal sympathy, forethought and assistance in their troubles or needs. We Theosophists do not believe in giving money . . . through other people’s hands or organizations. We believe in giving to the money a thousand-fold greater power and effectiveness by our personal contact and sympathy with those who need it. We believe in relieving the starvation of the soul, as much if not more than the emptiness of the stomach; for gratitude does more good to the man who feels it, than to him for whom it is felt.5
Master KH affirms that the overriding aim of the Theosophical Society is to advance the wellbeing of humanity as a whole and not to serve the interests of a select few in a “special study of occultism” as it had been suggested:
“To our minds then, these motives, sincere and worthy of every serious consideration from the worldly standpoint, appear — selfish. . . . They are selfish because you must be aware that the chief object of the T.S. is not so much to gratify individual aspirations as to serve our fellow men: and the real value of this term ‘selfish,’ which may jar upon your ear, has a peculiar significance with us which it cannot have with you; therefore, and to begin with, you must not accept it otherwise, than in the former sense. Perhaps you will better appreciate our meaning when told that in our view the highest aspirations for the welfare of Humanity become tainted with selfishness if, in the mind of the philanthropist there lurks the shadow of desire for self-benefit or a tendency to do injustice, even when these exist unconsciously to himself. Yet, you have ever discussed but to put down the idea of a universal Brotherhood, questioned its usefulness, and advised to remodel the T.S. on the principle of a college for the special study of occultism. This, my respected and esteemed friend and Brother — will never do!” 1
Charity is a debt of honour
There now follows an anthology of defining thoughts on charity proper:
Theosophy creates the charity which afterwards,
And of its own accord, makes itself manifest in works.3
In things essential, unity; in doubtful, liberty; in all things, charity.4
There can be no greater arguments to a man of his own power than to find himself able not only to accomplish his own desires, but also to assist other men in theirs; and this is that conception wherein consisteth charity.5
Charity is a virtue of the heart, and not of the hands.6
Charity itself fulfils the law, And who can sever love from charity? 7 Be charitable and indulgent to everyone but thyself.8
For this I think is charity, to love God for himself, And our neighbour for God.1
Who well lives, long lives; for this age of ours Should not be numbered by years, daies, and hours.2
Why number years? His years man oft outstrips. ’Tis deeds give age: let these be on your lips.3
A life spent worthily should be measured by a nobler line, — by deeds, not years.4 He who bestows his goods upon the poor, Shall have as much again, and ten times more.5
A benevolence loses its grace, if it clings so long to the hand of the giver that he seem to part with it with difficulty, and gives it at last as though he were robbing himself.6
Charity is never lost: it may meet with ingratitude,7
or be of no service to those on whom it was bestowed, yet it ever does a work of beauty and grace upon the heart of the giver.8 T
he worst of charity is that the lives you are asked to preserve are not worth preserving.9
Charity, decent, modest, easy, kind, Softens the high, and rears the abject mind; Knows with just reins, and gentle hand to guide, Betwixt vile shame and arbitrary pride. 10
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