The Hill of Discernment

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The Hill of Discernment

By Alfred Trevor Barker

Faith Versus Wisdom

If you search Theosophical literature you will come to realize probably, as I have, that it is very difficult to find much teaching or information upon the general question of Faith. In fact one is rather astonished to discover that in the Index to Isis Unveiled, H. P. B. describes Faith as one of the pillars of the devil; and it is rather that attitude to faith that seems to pervade Theosophical literature, for some reason. That is why we chose for our evening's reading that wonderful discourse from the Bhagavad-Gita 'Devotion by means of Faith' (chapter xii, Bhagavad-Gita); from which it is immediately clear that the most enlightened spiritual instructors are quite agreed that faith in that spiritual sense of the term is a sine qua non for the success of the Arjuna who sets out towards the goal of reaching Yoga, or union with the Supreme.

How are we to understand the Divine faith then from the Theosophists' point of view, and just what are they getting at when they throw cold water upon what the ordinary man and woman are accustomed to regard as faith? Is it a great desire to hurt, and to treat with contempt the religious views of other people? Because if so it is a denial, right at the outset, of the fundamental principle upon which our Movement is based. It may appear to be so, but if we look a little deeper we see that all the aspersions are cast, not upon Faith in its higher spiritual meaning, but upon that shadow of real faith which in two words may be summed up as blind belief, or credulity; credulity, the tendency to swallow open-mouthed any glamourous, marvelous idea that passes for truth and philosophy. There is an abundance of credulity in the world today. We all, I suppose, at some time in our lives are unduly credulous. We place our faith and trust in things and people that are not really worthy of it; but is that true faith, or is it blind belief and credulity? Obviously the latter; and it is that looking outside of oneself with credulity which is verily the "pillar of the devil" that H. P. B. speaks of. It takes from man his only hope of any illumination, because he is all the time looking outward, looking for props to lean upon. True faith must be something that is rooted in the eternal and indestructible part of a man's being. It must be something which is based upon recognition of the omnipotence of man's immortal spirit.

The whole of the Theosophical philosophy tends towards a greater and greater understanding and realization of this higher nature in man; and I venture to say that there is no faith for an individual in the sense in which Paul the Initiate uses the term, except in so far as he has had at least a glimpse within himself of the light of the higher nature. For all Truth, all Wisdom, Love, and true Knowledge flow from the higher part of our being.

Faith is the knowledge that Truth exists; it is the knowledge that there are men in the world who know that Truth; it is the certainty that if we aspire rightly and live our lives in terms of that search for the higher realities, we can know with a knowledge which is beyond any possibility of doubt. That is why I have sometimes described faith as knowledge based upon experience — experience, that is, of the higher truths and the higher realities. If we take this view of faith, is it not obvious that the title of our study tonight, 'Faith versus Wisdom,' is a bit of an anomaly? I deny that Faith can ever be set against Wisdom, for faith in the true sense of the word is an indispensable part of Wisdom. Only those who have Wisdom will have Faith, and vice versa to some extent.

Yet there is another aspect of this problem: there are many men and women who may truly be said to possess faith; and yet from the Theosophical point of view have they Wisdom? This is a more difficult problem to answer. They have faith in the sense in which I have been trying to speak of it, and this means necessarily that they have a shadow of inner illumination; but on the other hand they lack something, and that something it is which the great Theosophical Movement has come into the world to bring to men. There is nothing that is of more value to any human soul than that inner feeling of quiet, the certitude that there is a beneficent, protecting influence at the root of his being, and overshadowing, as it were, all his effort on this plane: that certainty, found in so many so-called ordinary men and women of the world, which guides them on their life's Pathway. It comes, as H. P. B. described it, from the fact that in these people the higher nature already predominates over the lower. In fact, that is how she defined a Theosophist. Whether he has ever heard the word or not, whether he has ever seen the literature or not, if the higher nature in him predominates over the lower, that man is a Theosophist.

We believe, however, that Wisdom is something more than this, because it implies the completeness, the wholeness, of one who has balanced his nature, who has achieved unity of spirit, soul, and body; and brought them into such harmony and such union with the higher pole of his being that he can at will identify himself with the Universal Mind, the Universal Soul of nature itself. But that is necessarily an exalted state of being. Wisdom, as you will find in Isis Unveiled and elsewhere, from a Theosophical point of view means the esoteric teaching as a whole. That teaching, it is true, can be found in books; however, will you have Wisdom if you know all that there is in the books? The answer is No. Books are but a means to collect the fuel, as it were, which, truly kindled by the fire of the Spirit, may one of these days burst into the flame of wisdom.

Wisdom is an interior quality, but it does imply knowledge, as distinct from a kind of subjective certainty or faith. There are many mystical people in the world who feel truth intuitively, and yet who would be sorely put to it to explain the reason, the laws, underlying the truth that they dimly perceive intuitively; and this is what the Theosophist means when he distinguishes between Faith and Wisdom. Picture a Mahatma, for example. You cannot conceive of any instance in which he would not be able to supply you with the reasons underlying the situation in which you find yourself, and in which mankind finds itself at any moment in time. He understands the laws — spiritual, intellectual, psychical, cosmical — underlying the evolution of all the kingdoms of nature, and man's relation to them, and to the planet in which he lives. He understands these laws because of his unveiled inner spiritual perception. Because of it he is able to relate any part of his own consciousness with the corresponding part of nature from which the essence of that principle was originally drawn. But for all that, will the Mahatma be an individual who because of his Wisdom is without Faith? On the contrary, he is one who knows with absolute certainty, and therefore expectancy, that when he sets his will in motion with a clear-cut picture in his mind, he will achieve that which he wills to achieve. He has absolute faith, because he has absolute knowledge in the unerring infallibility of the result that he will bring about.

I will read you a passage from the Preface of Isis Unveiled (I, vi) which rather sums up these ideas and shows the Theosophists' attitude thereto:

When, years ago, we first travelled over the East, exploring the penetralia of its deserted sanctuaries, two saddening and ever-recurring questions oppressed our thoughts: Where, when, WHAT is GOD? Who ever saw the IMMORTAL SPIRIT of man, so as to be able to assure himself of man's immortality?
It was while most anxious to solve these perplexing problems that we came into contact with certain men, endowed with such mysterious powers and such profound knowledge that we may truly designate them as the sages of the Orient. To their instructions we lent a ready ear. They showed us that by combining science with religion, the existence of God and immortality of man's spirit may be demonstrated like a problem of Euclid. For the first time we received the assurance that the Oriental philosophy has room for no other faith than an absolute and immovable faith in the omnipotence of man's own immortal self. We were taught that this omnipotence comes from the kinship of man's spirit with the Universal Soul — God! The latter, they said, can never be demonstrated but by the former. Man-spirit proves God-spirit, as the one drop of water proves a source from which it must have come. Tell one who had never seen water, that there is an ocean of water, and he must accept it on faith or reject it altogether. But let one drop fall upon his hand, and he then has the fact from which all the rest may be inferred. After that he could by degrees understand that a boundless and fathomless ocean of water exists. Blind faith would no longer be necessary; he would have supplanted it with KNOWLEDGE. When one sees mortal man displaying tremendous capabilities, controlling the forces of nature and opening up to view the world of spirit, the reflective mind is overwhelmed with the conviction that if one man's spiritual Ego can do this much, the capabilities of the FATHER SPIRIT must be relatively as much vaster as the whole ocean surpasses the single drop in volume and potency. Ex nihilo nihil fit; prove the soul of man by its wondrous powers — you have proved God!
QUESTION: What can you say to a person who says, "I have no faith in anyone"?

ANSWER: I should like to suggest this: that such a person in almost every case that I can think of, has almost certainly never come across the literature of occultism and Theosophy; and it is possible to arouse his interest and to stimulate his zeal to enter upon an experimental research for himself. Look into this literature and see if there is not a message for him there which will change that negative and destructive point of view. To believe in nothing and nobody spells ultimate death; it means that such an individual has no sure hold upon the rudder of the boat of life. But I suppose the thing that will help that person most is the perception, in regard to the one who is trying to help him: "Here is somebody who seems to have a certain inner peace, knowledge, certainty, who has certain spiritual qualities of life." Then he will necessarily begin to wonder where these things come from, and how they can be gained for himself. Perhaps others can give a more illuminating reply.

QUESTION: I have heard that if you want a thing very much and have faith that it will come, and work for it, eventually it comes. How far are we justified in wishing for a thing and trusting that it will come — because it may not be good for us?

ANSWER: Nevertheless it is this engine, this machinery, that makes the world go round; it is this that we are doing every moment of the day; it is this mechanism, or this law, which enables us, when we so decide, to walk out of this room and down into the street. How far are we justified in desiring, hoping, willing and having faith that our objectives will one day be achieved? I say — at least I believe — that we have every justification for the use of this faculty and power. If I were to say the contrary it might mean, for myself and for others, that we would lose the ability to act at all. If we did not feel and believe and know that some day, somewhere, sooner or later we should achieve that upon which we had, set our heart's desire, we would never lift a finger, we would never move a step; and therefore the problem is not as to the means, but rather as to the motive, and the ends that we have set our hearts upon. It is certain we shall achieve what we want to achieve if we just concentrate enough on it.

We have all had proof of it in our own lives: that often the thing that we thought desirable, and wished to achieve, did not come to us perhaps for many years — but it came! And when it eventually came, you remembered how you set out to get that thing many years ago. Is not this the meaning of that passage in the Bhagavad-Gita, where it is pointed out that the ways and objectives of worldly men are manifold, that they have hundreds of objectives; and therefore they only reach these objectives in a scattered kind of way? They achieve some of them, but not all of them, probably because they do not put sufficient concentration and energy into the pursuit of them. "But my devotee," says Krishna, "has only one objective," and that is the finding of union with Him; and in that pursuit, in that concentrated upward aspiration, all other objectives and pursuits eventually become merged. "For," as he says in one of the Discourses, "when one is concentrated in devotion to me, I take the responsibility for the happiness of that individual." It is just a parallel of the other statement in the New Testament of seeking the kingdom of Heaven, and all the other lower things that one needs in life will be added to them. But the great safeguard in the choice of the objectives that we pursue is always and all the time to seek the light of the Inner Self upon that which we wish to achieve. What is the meaning of the Gayatri if not just that: praying that the fire of the Supreme Will shall illumine our hearts and minds, that we may see the direct Pathway before our feet: that it will show its the pitfalls that we are about to stumble into if we set our wills upon achieving such and such a thing. But if in truth we are seeking the spiritual things, then we are always prepared to renounce as unimportant those things that do not fit in with the promptings of the Spirit; for we find that the Spirit is always pushing us in the direction where our true heart is set.

QUESTION: Is it true that when that position is reached, there is no renunciation and no self-sacrifice, because one realizes that one is doing just the thing one should do?

ANSWER: I think it is true; but at the same time the human nature of the individual aspirant is often, in fact in many cases, probably sufficiently active at times to feel the pull of having to give up personal opinion to impersonal and Inner leading as it were. There are many instances in the New Testament and elsewhere of that struggle of the individual aspirant. Nevertheless the law of it all is that if he receives the Inner guidance, then he has at all costs to follow it lest he lose it; and once it is experienced, then that is at once the most valuable and precious of all possessions.

QUESTION: Is intellectual knowledge a hindrance towards gaining true Wisdom?

ANSWER: We should say that it depends very largely upon the type of individual concerned. You know there is the type sometimes described as "stupid saint"; to such a one, some intellectual knowledge would be very valuable, because it would round out and supply the missing link in that individual! You would find that he never thinks at all, that he lives in the realms of sentiment and emotion largely — 'feeling' would be a better expression; and some good, sound, healthy philosophy would be invaluable to that individual. But to the type of person who readily reads vast quantities of literature and who becomes the armchair-philosopher, and never translates it into action, more intellectual study becomes a hindrance; and to such a person the more mystical and devotional kinds of Yoga, as set forth in such a book as the Bhagavad-Gita would tend to round out the unbalanced nature.

QUESTION: While it is a good thing to have faith, to take what we are told by a Teacher we trust, should we not always have a sort of "divine discontent," and always an urge to get something more — a feeling that that is not the end?

ANSWER: I think we should be in a very happy situation, if we realized — which I imagine we should — if we felt we had a Teacher, any of us individually, who had given us so much that it was impossible to want any more. But I venture to say that there is no aspirant or disciple who has not that feeling of what the questioner calls "divine discontent," always urging him forward and upward, always to seek and penetrate farther and farther into the depths of his own being. It must be so, because if we become completely satisfied, Nature won't let us stay there so very long. We have to go forward and upward again. If we did not feel the need of any further progress, we should stay where we are and not do very much about it!



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