The Hill of Discernment

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The Hill of Discernment

By Alfred Trevor Barker

The Problem of Evil

In one of our recent studies we made an attempt to deal with the Theosophical teachings on the nature of God, and as to whether there existed, according to our philosophy, that which the theologians call a Personal God. You will remember our conclusion was that such a conception as the orthodox theological conception of an extra-cosmic deity was seen to be a philosophical absurdity, and that the Teachers who sent H. P. B. forth were endeavoring to cast their teachings on this vastly important subject in a form that would give a shock to the preconceptions that we in the Western world have, based upon the dogmatic conceptions that we have been brought up under in our orthodox training. Closely related with the right understanding of the teachings about God, is the great mystery of the origin of evil — one of the most difficult philosophical problems, I suppose, that the mind of man can possibly tackle; one which it is utterly beyond me to understand completely; and I think the majority of Theosophical students would find a similar difficulty in putting into any comprehensible shape the immense amount of material that H. P. B. gave in The Secret Doctrine on such questions as Satan, the Curse, the Church doctrine of original sin, and so on.

I personally have never mastered all the infinite complexity of the relationship, for example, of Jehovah, Adam Kadmon, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and their relationship to the Twelve Tribes, and so on and so forth. It is most complicated. Therefore I will not attempt to do more tonight than to stay within the limits of those aspects of the teaching which one can make some kind of attempt to understand. In order to understand this problem of Evil, we shall have to use certain of what they call the Golden Keys, or the Seven jewels — those principal and fundamental doctrines of esotericism which really comprise in their full exposition, you may say, the whole fabric or groundwork of Theosophical teaching.

The particular jewels or Keys that we have to try to use are those of Reincarnation and Karma. These are the keys to an understanding of the problem of Evil. We are particularly concerned with the teaching as it is given in The Mahatma Letters. There is not a great deal of space devoted there to this subject; but what there is is pretty powerful. I am going to begin by reading you probably one of the most controversial letters that was ever given in the early days of the Movement. It is known as the letter to the Theosophists of Prayag, and it gives us a number of very arresting statements on this subject of Evil, God, and a few other things.

First of all, I must say that this particular letter is signed by H. P. Blavatsky, addressed to the Prayag Theosophists, and purports to be a message or a resume of teaching given by Master M. to H. P. B. on this subject, to hand on to the Theosophists of that time. In the quotation, all remarks in parentheses are H. P. B.'s comments on the Master's words. He says (and this is his attitude to almost all orthodoxy):

What have we, the disciples of the true Arhats, of esoteric Buddhism and of Sang-gyas to do with the Shasters and Orthodox Brahmanism? There are 100 of thousands of Fakirs, Sannyasis and Saddhus leading the most pure lives, and yet being as they are, on the path of error, never having had an opportunity to meet, see or even hear of us. Their forefathers have driven away the followers of the only true philosophy upon earth away from India and now, it is not for the latter to come to them but to them to come to us if they want us.
The reference there is to the Hindus driving Gautama Buddha out of India.

Which of them is ready to become a Buddhist, a Nastika as they call us? None. Those who have believed and followed us have had their reward. Mr. Sinnett and Hume are exceptions. Their beliefs are no barrier to us for they have none.
This is interesting, showing that blind belief is not a necessary or a right approach to the study of the Divine Wisdom. An open mind, yes; purity of heart and motive, also yes; but blind credulity or belief or slavish dependence upon external authority? No!

They may have had influences around them, bad magnetic emanations the result of drink, Society and promiscuous physical associations (resulting even from shaking hands with impure men) but all this is physical and material impediments which with a little effort we could counteract and even clear away without much detriment to ourselves.
You may think it is irrelevant, but note the comparison that he is immediately going to draw from that:

Not so with the magnetism and invisible results proceeding from erroneous and sincere beliefs. Faith in the Gods and God, and other superstitions attracts millions of foreign influences, living entities and powerful agents around them, with which we would have to use more than ordinary exercise of power to drive them away. We do not choose to do so. We do not find it either necessary or profitable to lose our time waging war to the unprogressed Planetaries who delight in personating gods and sometimes well known characters who have lived on earth.
I think one of the most striking phrases is this: "erroneous and sincere." If we put this together with another passage in which he says "There is no more potent barrier to arriving at the Truth than a sincere and erroneous belief," it is a thing that rather shocks us. Sincerity by itself is nothing, carries us nowhere. It is, of course, an indispensable necessity, a sine qua non to any progress; because obviously its opposite, hypocrisy, is something which will be a barrier to anybody who seeks Truth; but the mere fact that a person holds certain ideas with sincerity is no excuse if, for example, those ideas are destructive. This is something that we need, I think, to pay a certain amount of attention to.

There are Dhyan-Chohans and "Chohans of Darkness," not what they term devils but imperfect "Intelligences" who have never been born on this or any other earth or sphere no more than the "Dhyan Chohans" have and who will never belong to the "builders of the Universe," the pure Planetary Intelligences, who preside at every Manvantara while the Dark Chohans preside at the Pralayas. Explain this to Mr. Sinnett (I CAN'T) — tell him to read over what I said to them in the few things I have explained to Mr. Hume; and let him remember that as all in this universe is contrast (I cannot translate it better) so the light of the Dhyan Chohans and their pure intelligence is contrasted by the "Ma-Mo Chohans" — and their destructive intelligence. These are the gods the Hindus and Christians and Mahomed and all others of bigoted religions and sects worship; and so long as their influence is upon their devotees we would no more think of associating with or counteracting them in their work than we do the Red-Caps on earth whose evil results we try to palliate but whose work we have no right to meddle with so long as they do not cross our path. (You will not understand this, I suppose. But think well over it and you will. M. means here, that they have no right or even power to go against the natural or that work which is prescribed to each class of beings or existing things by the law of nature.
In other words, it is perfectly all right for the tiger to kill and the bird of prey to seek its food. Nature does not hold them in any way criminally responsible. The Law of Retribution or Nemesis does not overtake them for exercising their natural function.

The Brothers, for instance could prolong life but they could not destroy death, not even for themselves. They can to a degree palliate evil and relieve suffering; they could not destroy evil.
The Masters themselves, for instance, we are told, live an inconceivably long time, even centuries; but they cannot conquer death — that is, for their physical bodies. Death is not regarded as an evil at all, but merely as a liberator, opening a door into a further progression and to a return to earth. Actually, they conquer death by achieving their immortality, but as far as the body is concerned, they can do no more than prolong its life. Similarly, they can to a degree palliate suffering, but they could not destroy evil.

No more can the Dhyan Chohans impede the work of the Mamo Chohans, for their Law is darkness, ignorance, destruction etc., as that of the former is Light, knowledge and creation. The Dhyan Chohans answer to Buddh, Divine Wisdom and Life in blissful knowledge, and the Ma-mos are the personification in nature of Shiva, Jehovah and other invented monsters with Ignorance at their tail.
Now we have to make some kind of effort to understand this point of view about the psychic and spiritual harm that dependence upon what he describes as God and Gods does to the human individual. Remember first of all that he is writing to Easterners — to Hindus, whose whole outlook has become degenerate by belief in the crores of gods in the Hindu Pantheon, gods propitiated, according to the instruction of the priesthood, by all kinds of ceremonial rites, and by the liberal handing over of large sums of money to the priests, and so on. It is from this point of view, I think, that the Master is writing: the dependence upon ceremonial rites as a means of purification, the dependence upon any other human being — be he priest or any other — to intercede for you that you may be saved from the result of your own transgressions. The essence of it is that in looking outside yourself to an external deity or to the lesser beings, called the gods in this sense of the term, the individual attracts around him hosts of unprogressed planetary beings of one sort or another (and they can be very much below the level of human beings) who thus masquerade with all kinds of high-sounding names and titles, leading their victims to do all sorts of rather ridiculous things, as the history of the Spiritualist Movement has shown.

There is a passage in The Secret Doctrine, it is only a few lines on page 389 of Vol. 2, where H. P. B. says:

There is no Devil, no Evil, outside mankind to produce a Devil. Evil is a necessity in, and one of the supporters of the manifested universe. It is a necessity for progress and evolution, as night is necessary for the production of Day, and Death for that of Life — that man may live for ever.
Elsewhere she gives an illustration of a flower or a plant that is bathed during the daytime in the scorching heat of the sun, but the night-time is an absolute necessity for the life of the plant. Under cyclic law night follows day, death follows birth, darkness follows light, and light follows darkness, for ever and ceaselessly.

Let us try to look at this problem of evil for a moment from the Cosmic point of view. The believers in a personal God must necessarily believe in a personal Devil — they call it Satan, the Adversary, the Evil One — an entity which I suppose every sincere Christian or Roman Catholic would believe in quite definitely. The Theosophical teaching simply has no place for either of these two entities at all. It proceeds to show that Light or Spirit fructifies matter and brings forth the Universe. All beings come into existence, not at the same level, but at whatever level they left off at the close of their last existence. Even at the commencement of the Universe the germs or seeds of these entities that existed in past Manvantaras come over with their potentialities at this, that or the other stage of unfoldment and development. Now the Manifested Universe, which is a material phenomenon — that is to say it is built of substance or matter — is obviously composed of a graded series of beings from the lowest forms of life such as those you find, for example, in the mineral Kingdom, up to the highest God or Dhyan-Chohan or Planetary Spirit that you can conceive of. Now the point, as I see it, that we have to grasp in order to understand something of the problem of Evil, is that the higher Spiritual beings are the motivators, as it were, those who supply the energy, the direction and in certain rungs of the Hierarchy of Being even supply the Government — the external government — of the Planet. But all the spiritual beings have to work through lower beings, and the lower beings through lower beings still, in exactly the same way as the Spirit in us has to manifest through the vehicles of matter of the personality.

Now then, Evil can be understood as the shadow of Light. Our personalities, what are these but the shadows of the Light within? We have to have personalities in order to express ourselves through and contact the sphere of matter in this world! Evil comes about as the sum total of the strivings of all the personalities in the Cosmos: beings whose consciousness is embodied in personas, masks, and more or less buried there — not aware of the Light. It is only by entering on the Path of Light which leads to Knowledge and Wisdom and union with the Light, that they cease to be in conflict with other beings. Then they cease to recognise Evil at all. Evil simply is the result of not understanding the Law. Human beings who do not practice the first law of the Universe, which is that of harmony in their relationship with their fellows, are generating Evil from the point of view of this philosophy. Then Karma steps in — Karma-Nemesis in fact — and brings them suffering as inevitably as the wheel of the ox-cart follows the hoofs of the ox that draws it, to use the words of the Buddha. This suffering does not come as a punishment, but simply as the natural result of the performance of the deed which upsets the balance and harmony in that particular sphere of life.

I want to read you some passages from The Secret Doctrine about this, because they are intimately connected with a doctrine so very important to the Theosophical Movement: the doctrine or the principle of Brotherhood. In a little while I shall read you a passage from The Mahatma Letters which states that the origin of Evil, or two-thirds of the causes of evil that beset humanity, is to be found in various existing forms of orthodox religions, and the Sacerdotal castes, the Priesthood of the Churches, in the sense — I can only give you my understanding, as I tried to explain just now — in the sense that it kills man's own self-reliance. This is the main point.

Now let us turn to page 642, Vol. I of The Secret Doctrine:

KARMA-NEMESIS is the creator of nations and mortals, but once created, it is they who make of her either a fury or a rewarding Angel.
What exactly is the connexion between that and the other statement I am going to read you in a little while, that two-thirds of the evils are caused by the Sacerdotal caste of the priesthood of the Churches? If you put the two together, remembering Katherine Tingley's statement that unbrotherliness is the insanity of the age, I think we have got the key to our problem. The whole purpose of the Theosophical Movement is thrown into confusion, in fact it fails of its purpose, if we do not understand what is meant by harmony in this sense. See what the Master says here — or H. P. B. it is writing:

This state will last till man's spiritual intuitions are fully opened, which will not happen before we fairly cast off our thick coats of matter; until we begin acting from within, instead of ever following impulses from without; namely, those produced by our physical senses and gross selfish body. Until then the only palliative to the evils of life is union and harmony — a Brotherhood IN ACTU, and altruism not simply in name. The suppression of one single bad cause will suppress not one, but a variety of bad effects. And if a Brotherhood or even a number of Brotherhoods may not be able to prevent nations from occasionally cutting each other's throats — still unity in thought and action, and philosophical research into the mysteries of being, will always prevent some, while trying to comprehend that which has hitherto remained to them a riddle, from creating additional causes in a world already so full of woe and evil. (p. 644)
If evil comes from human action, and the human action comes from an identification of man's consciousness with his vehicles, the matter of which he is composed, we understand Katherine Tingley's further injunction — I think it is an amazingly significant statement: "If you want to conquer yourselves you have to unite in brotherhood. You cannot do it by yourselves." I believe that to be true. There is no success in the study of occult science except in a spiritual brotherhood, where men and women act together in true spiritual solidarity. It is the meaning, the basis, of our Theosophic work.

Shall I take time to tell you something about what is called the Curse and the doctrine of Original Sin, which when I was a boy I was taught began with the actions of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden — and that was supposed to be four or five thousand years ago? According to the Esoteric teaching, the Curse was not some feat of Deity, a rigid Deity; it did not come about because of the exercise of the procreative and natural powers given to man; but it did come about as a result of the abuse of the same powers.

I am going to read you a page (56) in The Mahatma Letters that deals with the origin of evil, and you will find one or two references there which will take us to The Secret Doctrine, I think:

Evil has no existence per se and is but the absence of good and exists but for him who is made its victim. It proceeds from two causes, and no more than good is it an independent cause in nature. Nature is destitute of goodness or malice she follows only immutable laws when she either gives life and joy, or sends suffering [and] death, and destroys what she has created. Nature has an antidote for every poison and her laws a reward for every suffering. The butterfly devoured by a bird becomes that bird, and the little bird killed by an animal goes into a higher form. It is the blind law of necessity and the eternal fitness of things, and hence cannot be called Evil in Nature. The real evil proceeds from human intelligence and its origin rests entirely with reasoning man who dissociates himself from Nature. Humanity then alone is the true source of evil. Evil is the exaggeration of good, the progeny of human selfishness and greediness. Think profoundly and you will find that save death — which is no evil but a necessary law, and accidents which will always find their reward in a future life — the origin of every evil whether small or great is in human action, in man whose intelligence makes him the one free agent in Nature. It is not nature that creates diseases, but man. The latter's mission and destiny in the economy of nature is to die his natural death brought by old age; save accident, neither a savage nor a wild (free) animal die of disease. Food, sexual relations, drink, are all natural necessities of life; yet excess in them brings on disease, misery, suffering, mental and physical, and the latter are transmitted as the greatest evils to future generations, the progeny of the culprits.
In connexion with certain passages in the above, study what is said in The Secret Doctrine, in that part which deals with the myth of Prometheus, and the abuse of the procreative powers, the creative functions, in man by the races in the fourth Root-Race, "when," says H. P. B., "the spiritual part of man's being was still the master," or had still got the upper hand, or could have had it. It was at this time, when man had full intelligent consciousness, and therefore responsibility, that the intelligence was used simply to degrade the temple of man's divinity by the most wholesale animal indulgences in every way, beyond our conception today; and it was also at this time that the so-called Curse was pronounced. That curse, as Master K. H. says in this passage here, resulted in man's being, instead of the healthy king of animal creation, the wealthiest heir on the Globe to every scrofulous and hereditary disease. It all goes back to that period; and we, the present humanity, are those who were the Egos incarnated at that time. That is why, presumably, we live in the kind of civilization that we do today. You can see where evil has come in just on that one score alone.

H. P. B. points out (I think it should be drawn attention to) that the creative force, for example, in the animal kingdom is not abused at all. They have their annual seasons, and they use them correctly; but man uses intelligence, and degrades the Divine power. There is nothing — what shall I say? — wrong or incurring retribution in the rightful use of the creative powers, but in their wrong use, in their abuse. Then Nature steps in and humanity pays the price. There is no evil or devil outside of conscious, self-conscious, thinking man.

Ambition, the desire of securing happiness and comfort for those we love, by obtaining honours and riches, are praiseworthy natural feelings but when they transform man into an ambitious cruel tyrant, a miser, a selfish egotist they bring untold misery on those around him; on nations as well as on individuals. All this then — food, wealth, ambition, and a thousand other things we have to leave unmentioned, becomes the source and cause of evil whether in its abundance or through its absence. Become a glutton, a debauchee, a tyrant, and you become the originator of diseases, of human suffering and misery. Lack all this and you starve, you are despised as a nobody and the majority of the herd, your fellow men, make of you a sufferer your whole life. Therefore it is neither nature nor an imaginary Deity that has to be blamed, but human nature made vile by selfishness. Think well over these few words; work out every cause of evil you can think of and trace it to its origin and you will have solved one-third of the problem of evil. And now, after making due allowance for evils that are natural and cannot be avoided, — and so few are they that I challenge the whole host of Western metaphysicians to call them evils or to trace them directly to an independent cause — I will point out the greatest, the chief cause of nearly two thirds of the evils that pursue humanity ever since that cause became a power. It is religion under whatever form and in whatsoever nation. It is the sacerdotal caste, the priesthood and the churches; it is in those illusions that man looks upon as sacred, that he has to search out the source of that multitude of evils which is the great curse of humanity and that almost overwhelms mankind. Ignorance created Gods and cunning took advantage of the opportunity. Look at India and look at Christendom and Islam, at Judaism and Fetichism. It is priestly imposture that rendered these Gods so terrible to man; it is religion that makes of him the selfish bigot, the fanatic that hates all mankind out of his own sect without rendering him any better or more moral for it. It is belief in God and Gods that makes two-thirds of humanity the slaves of a handful of those who deceive them under the false pretence of saving them. Is not man ever ready to commit any kind of evil if told that his God or Gods demand the crime?; voluntary victim of an illusionary God, the abject slave of his crafty ministers. The Irish, Italian and Slavonian peasant will starve himself and see his family starving and naked to feed and clothe his padre and pope. For two thousand years India groaned under the weight of caste, Brahmins alone feeding on the fat of the land, and to-day the followers of Christ and those of Mahomet are cutting each other's throats in the names of and for the greater glory of their respective myths.
It is a terrible indictment, but it is also terribly true.

Remember the sum of human misery will never be diminished unto that day when the better portion of humanity destroys in the name of Truth, morality, and universal charity, the altars of their false gods.
The letter concludes with the Master saying: Well now, after writing all this, you will say to us, who claim to be judges, "What about you? You have your priesthood; you have your Bhikkus; you have your Buddhist monks"; and he says: Yes, but they do not teach dependence upon an external Savior nor upon an external God. He says: Moreover, although they are supported by the people, they never accept money; our Bhikkus accept only food, and spend their lives in the service of the people; and then he ends up by saying that the ethical teaching of Gautama Buddha is the surest way to overcome misery, evil, and suffering.

It is the very essence of these ethics that we have in the Theosophical philosophy.



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