The Hill of Discernment

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The Hill of Discernment

By Alfred Trevor Barker

Theosophy and Christian Science

In the Theosophical Society we make it a practice to hold out the hand of friendship to every religious body, to every body of students who are working along lines, different though they may be from our own, which nevertheless have ultimately for their aim and purpose the spiritual elevation of mankind, to some degree at any rate. It is this very attitude we hold to the movement known as Christian Science, and also to the individuals in that great movement, including in its ranks, as it does, some millions of people. Therefore anybody who comes to hear what Theosophy has to say about the particular doctrines which are believed in and practised to a very large extent by Christian Scientists, will please understand that we examine these views very impersonally, very sympathetically, and purely with the object of trying to understand what the ancient Wisdom-Religion of mankind that today we call Theosophy has to teach about the particular science which Christian Scientists claim to practise.

As a matter of fact I have personally had many conversations with Christian Scientists, and it has been my experience that in many ways they are an extraordinarily open-minded body of people; and I think it is just to say that for those who take it seriously the spiritual life is for them the main thing. The sincere among them are seeking the religious life, and the way they go about it certainly brings results to some degree. At any rate they are decidedly not a materialistic body; they do care for the things of the spirit, and what we are going to examine tonight is how their ideas and their philosophy and their so-called metaphysics work out in practice.

The ideas of Theosophy, the ideas of the Wisdom-Religion, upon the whole question of metaphysical healing, as indeed upon other questions, are not the ideas and speculations of any single individual, but they are the great Truths that have been stated and restated by all the great Sages and Seers of antiquity. You will find them in the teachings of the great Buddha; you will find them in the teachings of Confucius and Lao-Tse; you will find them in the teaching of Plato and Plotinus; and in the teachings of the Syrian Sage Jesus. Therefore do not think that these ideas have sprung from any limited personal viewpoint. Not at all. They are a statement of the very laws and fundamentals not only of our own nature, but of the relationship of man to the Universe of which he is a part. Understand that to be in brief what the great doctrines of Theosophy are. Therefore the first thing that we have to grasp in connexion with Theosophical teaching is this: that it is primarily a metaphysical and ethical system which is designed, by bringing about a purification of the lower nature of man, to inculcate right thought, right living, and, as a consequence, that correctness of action which ultimately results in liberation from not only all physical disease, but from all suffering.


We may well ask ourselves: Is there anything of real spiritual value in the teachings of Christian Science? Well, unhesitatingly, as a Theosophical student I would say decidedly there is. Its adherents have many of the great Theosophical truths, which they not only believe in but which they practise to a considerable extent. As said, it is always one of our objectives, not merely to seek differences between the Theosophical viewpoint and the viewpoint of other people, but by comparative study to strive to see what there is of truth underlying the ideas of other religions. We strive to apply the principle of the Buddha as declared by the Emperor Asoka, the great Buddhist Emperor of India: that there shall be no decrying of other sects, no depreciation of others without a cause, but a rendering of honor to whatever in other sects is worthy of honor. It is in this spirit that we shall approach our subject of study.

In asking ourselves what there is of value, let us apply the old Christian teaching "By their fruits shall ye know them." It is a fact that today many of our most efficient business executives in England and America are Christian Scientists. There are many people all over the world in high positions who, without saying much about it, actually believe in the doctrines of Christian Science and practise them. It is a curious but interesting fact which I have myself observed, that in the lives of these men there are certain spiritual factors. I have noticed that they believe first of all that the great life of commerce and business is not something which should operate on the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth — not at all. They believe that the life of commerce and business is primarily an activity of service on the part of each business organization to the whole as a unit. They believe that in the conduct of their business affairs, if they do not treat those with whom they are entering into business relationships in the same manner in which they would like to be treated themselves, they realize, I say, that one day it will come back to them. They realize the wonderful truth of the Sermon on the Mount: that if you would have men act towards you in a certain way, you must act in that way towards them. They practise it in their business, and they will tell you that as a result they are phenomenally successful. The accounts they give of their success are absolutely amazing. They will succeed where another man will starve.

I have often heard from them similar stories to this one: "Yes, you know, I was finished, down and out. My business had gone to pot, and I had no religion. I had had a big business and I held a big position; but I always believed (and I took a pride in it) that if I could put the other fellow out of business — well, I should be doing something. I put many of my opponents out of business, and finally I was put out of business myself. That was the result; and when I was finally down and completely out, somehow the great ideas of Christian Science came to the rescue, and I got up and I began to apply those principles in my business. Then a great change came over my attitude, and I gained a certain faith, a certain strength, a certain security of outlook; and the result was that little by little those men I had fought in commerce became my friends; we worked together, and I found business where previously I had found nothing." Thus they built up little by little even their material business without injuring anybody; conducting honorably and fairly all their enterprises, and the results were good in every way.

I think if Christian Science produces that profound effect in people's minds, there must be a certain amount of good in it. That same good is to be found in the lives of those who really practise the great truths of Theosophy; for remember, the ethics in every religion are practically identical. They are presented in a different form, but that is the only main difference. I have related that story simply to illustrate to you that we do not look upon this problem from an unsympathetic point of view.


Now I want to turn to our understanding in the light of Theosophy of this whole problem of metaphysical healing; for we do differ from the Christian Scientists upon certain rather fundamental things. We agree with them in many things, but we differ from them in others; and it is absolutely essential (and we should not be doing our duty if we did not do so), from time to time to make it quite clear what those differences are. I do believe this: that Christian Scientists would be probably the first to have an open mind and to listen to the ideas of the Wisdom-Religion upon this subject. Certainly one Christian Scientist friend of mine said to me: "By Jove! what wonderful ideas there are in Theosophy; there are beautiful things in it; I wish I knew more about it." And he said: "You know, if you could show the Christian Scientists a better way to do what they are doing now, they would be the first to take it up."

We differ from them upon the question of the application of the mind to the healing of the diseases of the body; upon the whole question of affirmation and denial; and to some extent on their attitude to money and the taking of money in connexion with healing processes that they claim to be spiritual. What is the teaching of Theosophy upon the cure of diseases of the body by the influence of one mind upon another? First of all we must consider the cause, according to the ancient teachings, of the diseases of the body. Primarily, they are rooted in the mind, they are rooted in wrong thinking, they are rooted in wrong action, because wrong action is always the result of wrong thinking.

Immediately I can hear my Christian Scientist friends saying: "Well, but that is exactly what we say." It is true, they do say it, Wherein then is the difference? First of all, just think for one moment and you will probably be able without any difficulty to remember many cases of invalids who have been born with mortal or chronic diseases; at least they have acquired them so early in life that there cannot be the slightest doubt that these individuals, as children, did not do any wrong thing to bring upon them such diseases. Moreover often they cannot be traced to the parents, because there are many cases on record of physically sound and particularly high-minded and good parents who produced such an unfortunate child. Here you have one example where the Christian Scientist's idea of all physical disease being caused by wrong thinking is not explicable by their science, but is nonetheless explicable in the light of Theosophy. We say that the disease of the baby is caused in the long past by wrong thinking, and the truth is that so-called right thinking, even spiritual thinking and spiritual living here and now, is quite incapable of wiping out the more serious physical effects of wrong thinking and living in past lives. In other words our present physical diseases,* and in particular the malignant ones, are not amenable to treatment by altering any thinking process here and now; because the roots, the seeds, of thought which have eventually come to fruition in the disease of the body actually were planted or sown in the long past, in preceding lives. Theosophy, remember, teaches the evolution of the soul through a long series of reincarnations, from body to body: that is the way that the soul gradually learns the lessons of life, rising step by step to perfection.

*For the sake of completeness it should be emphasized here that modern psychological research has demonstrated that many real physical diseases such as the common cold, lumbago, rheumatism, pneumonia, etc., can be the result of a deep psychological neurosis. Such manifestations are an exception to the general rule above mentioned. Cure the neurosis and the recurrence of these physical symptoms disappears.

You will see that once you get the idea that the joys and sorrows of our present life are the fruits very largely — not entirely but very largely — of the thoughts and actions of a previous birth, it immediately throws a different light upon the cure of physical disease, because the Theosophical teaching is that those physical diseases that we see manifested in our own bodies here and now, are the results of this wrong thinking working downward and out of our system for ever. It is the final demand and retribution of the karmic law: "As ye sow, so shall ye reap." Those actions of disharmony or wrong are evil, and inevitably they will work out, not only in disease but in other ways. Therefore when they reach the final stage, which is the physical, they are in the nature of a purgation and you will get rid of them. The actual pain, the suffering, and the discomfort, are all things that to the man with the spiritual point of view can in a very real sense be accepted and welcomed in a truly Theosophical spirit, because he knows he is getting rid of the evils; they are on their way out; he is clearing a debt to himself and nature.


Now then, let us look at the other side of the picture: What happens and what is the effect of the practice of so-called mental healing upon the diseases of the physical body? We may put ourselves in the hands of the Christian Science practitioner, or one who practises mind cure, or mental healing, or hypnotism: whatever the different categories may be, they all come back to the same main method and principle. First of all, then, we have to consider the effect upon ourselves of treatment by another — a practitioner — and then the application of the same principles to ourselves. When we put ourselves in the hands of a so-called mental healer, what happens? He applies his psychological power of suggestion and will to the mind of the patient, and to the inner or astral body of the man, which is an exceedingly sensitive mechanism, the frame-work upon which the body itself is built. This astral body retains its structure and remains throughout the whole of the life with practically no change at all, whereas the physical body is constantly changing and in a state of flux. It is through the astral body that impressions and thought are actually conveyed to the human brain. In it and through it play the life currents and nerve forces which feed the physical body with life and heat and energy.

It is upon that astral body, by the action of thought, that the Christian Science practitioner, unknown to himself, begins to work; and the first thing that happens is that by conversation and by his own mental practice, which is called I believe "absent treatment," and by similar methods, he actually teaches the patient to deny the reality of the diseased condition of his mechanism; and not only for some particular disease, but he teaches him to deny the reality of the material element of his being altogether. The practitioner says that matter has no existence at all; that it is pure illusion of our senses and is therefore evil; that the only reality is Spirit, which he calls God or Good; and he quotes and interprets many passages of the Christian Science scriptures to show that all bodily ills and all the ills of the flesh were never meant to be at all, that they are all resolvable by simply identifying ourselves with this principle of good, and denying the existence of what we all know to be a fact.

We have bodies; there is not the slightest doubt about it. Look out in the solar system and you see the great planets and stars, and you know that there is a material Universe. It is built of matter. The great Theosophical teaching is that matter and spirit are one substance; they are only different in their different degrees of manifestation, and only during manifestation. The ultimate root substance is one; but during the whole period of a manifested universe there are three factors, three principles, that we cannot get rid of. One is Spirit, another is matter, and the third factor, friends, is consciousness or intelligence; and remember that consciousness or intelligence would be unable to function and to know itself as I-am-I without that same despised matter, which the Christian Scientist denies.

This statement of fact which you will find in the great religions of antiquity is one that carries with it a corollary, namely, that the mind or consciousness in man is dual in character and nature. It can identify itself with the material pole of its being, or it can identify itself with the spiritual pole. As it identifies itself with the higher, the lower is transformed and raised into divinity. As it identifies itself with the lower, man becomes more brutal, more animal, more selfish, more separate. Matter is a fact; and in every atom, in every point of boundless space, matter exists, even though you cannot see it; and in every point of that boundless infinitude pulses the great rhythm of life, the Great Breath as it is called in the esoteric philosophy. That Great Breath, that Spirit of Life, which pulses in the heart of you and of every created thing, pulses likewise in the very core of every atom of this vast Universe: even so-called dead matter is radiant with life.

Therefore good and evil are purely relative terms. They are purely relative to our consciousness; and that which we call evil is merely the activity, the pull, of the material pole of our being: that material substance which is absolutely necessary to the divine consciousness as a means of expressing itself in this material world. In order to contact this material universe we have to have a body of flesh and blood through which to act, and that body is composed of lives and atoms which have not been raised to the level of conscious thinkers as we have ourselves. They have their own nature, their own existence; but while recognising that the animal nature is good and right and proper and necessary for our activities here, we can identify ourselves with the spiritual nature in us, and shall thus be able to separate ourselves in consciousness from that material thing in us so that it has no power over us.

That is the truth that the Christian Scientist is trying to get at. He denies all power to what he calls mortal mind, or the material aspect of his being, and he strives to identify himself with the spiritual pole of his being. To the extent that he is successful in merging his intellectual consciousness with his own Divine Spirit, he is living in terms of the Theosophical philosophy; he is living in terms of the highest ethics that have been taught by the Sages and Seers, but — and here is where the rub comes — in striving to perfect himself spiritually and physically he says to himself, "Well, it may be that my body is an illusion, but I have a very diseased body, and it does not suit me. I am not going to endure it; it is all wrong. God is good; I am trying to live a spiritual life, and I am going to get rid of this disease." So what does he do? He gets to work with his mind — or the practitioner does for him! — and he denies the diseased condition. He says that it is no longer there, and he goes on denying it, and any manifestation of pain he denies. He says: "No! Away! This body is perfectly sound; it has no reality at all really, and I am going to be well right here and now." And he continues this in such a concentrated fashion that if he has a successful mental practitioner, and if he is determined himself, the result is, friends, that even a malignant disease may disappear.

Now you may say: "But, surely, that is what we want." Well, now, is it? This is the secret of the great attraction of Christian Science for humanity. What do we want out of life? We want health and the material needs of existence to make life worth while; and therefore if someone will come along and say, "This is the very thing, you will get all the money you want and lose all the disease that you have," it must be a very attractive proposition if you have never heard of any other teaching — most attractive. That is the secret of its success. But what happens in this process of mental healing? The mind actually seizes upon that inner sensitive mechanism upon which the body is built, the inner mind of man, and the actual physical effect is forced back — so strong is that mental force — it is forced back where it came from. It is forced back to the germ of thought from which it originated and it is replanted in the mind as a thought of evil, as a thought of disharmony, of disruption, carrying with it also the evil and selfish intention of the individuals concerned therein. Now that is a mighty serious matter.

On the other hand, a little patience and the original disease, with the help and assistance of a competent physician, would probably have eventually worked out of the body. Do Theosophists believe in doctors or medicine, shall we say? Why, if good physicians, decidedly yes; in a good system of medicine, yes; and in fact we advocate most decidedly that the diseases of the flesh should be treated by physical means; and the object of every good physician should be to find a means to guide and help the body to throw off the poisons which are the root of the disease. It has reached its last stage; the cause of it has already left the mind and is present in the body.


You may say to me, "It is all very well, but healings do occur." It is quite true — they do; and they occur in three categories. The first is by means of this process of inhibition or damming back, which is a replanting of the diseased condition for future births — and remember that those seeds of thought will come to fruition in this or a succeeding birth plus compound interest of course. It is very like putting your finger upon the end of a garden hose-pipe with the water turned on: you know how the pressure gets greater and greater, and eventually the water comes out with added force. That is what happens in the case of damming back the disease.

There is another way that healings do take place, and we must say this in justice to the Christian Scientists. There are many diseases which are actually caused in this present life very largely by imagination. So powerful is human imagination in its effect upon the human body that it can and does actually cause the derangement of the life forces; and many ills, many nervous troubles, can actually be cured by directing the thought of the patient to higher things, by the practice of the ethics of all the great religions, by a forgetting of self in the practice of kindness, tolerance, brotherly love, sympathy, compassion. Any good physician will tell you that the effect for good upon the bodies of his patients of these human qualities is enormous. If you can get people's thoughts off themselves, and get them to study the great Theosophical philosophy, you will immediately begin to do something for them. Healings do occur in that way, and it is a perfectly legitimate healing there is no damming back. Take yourselves: you may have all sorts of ailments — dyspeptic and general derangement, that you suddenly begin to find mysteriously leave you when your mind becomes energized with spiritual things. Now actually do you think about your body under those conditions? No, you don't. You forget yourselves in the service of the human race. You raise the mind to its spiritual pole; you study the great teachings of all the great Sages; and little by little you find that this mortal self of yours becomes purified and translucent, and the many troubles that you had disappear. Your whole being and mind begin to open, begin to expand; you begin to widen your sympathies, and the result is enormously beneficial. But don't confuse that method of healing with the other one of deliberately denying and damming back the cause of the disease — that is a different matter.

The third category which we must mention is that of the healing that took place by the agency of the great Saints — a Buddha or a Christ. There are records in the New Testament of how Jesus, for example, did heal many diseases, many sick people. Do you ask how that is possible if these other things spoken of are true? Well, friends, many things are possible to a great Sage that are not possible even — shall we say — to a Christian Science practitioner? Show me anybody today of the stature of Jesus of Nazareth, and show me his healings, and I will believe when I see. Actually a great Master of Wisdom is alone capable of knowing the inner causes that have led to any particular condition of any individual. He is a knower of the law of Karma; therefore where he has in authenticated cases completely healed one who was blind from his birth, where he has raised the sick, cured the lame, and so on, there are two things to bear in mind. One is that he can know when that original cause has reached its final stage, and then he can by the application of his own knowledge of the laws of nature hasten that process; and you will find in the Theosophical philosophy that it is nearly always by physical means that he does it; by a transference of physical energy. You remember the case — I think it was a woman — in the New Testament, who tried to get near to the Christ, and finally touched the hem of his robe, and he knew that something had happened, because he perceived that virtue had gone out of him, as he said. Well, it is merely a transference of the physical life energies, and no interference with the mind at all.

Those are the three categories of healing. So you see it is both true that "healings" occur and it is not true. It is true that there is something that looks like a healing, but actually is something which is more potent for evil than the original disease — in fact the last stage of the man who is healed by the damming back process is far worse than the first.


And so we come now finally to the message of Theosophy to those who, whether by disease, whether by poverty, whether by any of the circumstances of life, need help, who feel that they have reached the end of their tether and that there is nothing to be done. Well, friends, Christian Scientists would say that the condition of anybody is not hopeless. Theosophy says exactly the same thing. Both have remedies and they are very similar in some respects. Both appeal to the spiritual nature of the individual; but you will probably find that ultimately the Theosophical appeal is the nobler one, because it is founded upon an absolute knowledge of the laws of every man's own being. It is founded upon a knowledge of the laws of the relation of man to the Universe, and therefore we would expect that Theosophy would be able to give something vital, give something practical, to everybody under all conditions of life: that it would have a solution, in other words, for every problem; and, friends, it has. There is not the slightest doubt that if you go about it in the right way, if you look for the light of the Universe, the light that lighteth every man who cometh into the world; if you look for it where Christ the Galilean Sage told us to look, namely within our own hearts, you will find something.

You remember that marvelous Sermon on the Mount. You remember how Christ drew attention to the facts of Nature: to the birds, to the growing things, to the beasts of the field, and so on; and he pointed out how their needs were supplied by nature; and then he said, "Ye of little faith, do ye imagine that your Father in Heaven [your own spiritual higher nature] does not know that ye have need of these things?"

Theosophy first of all is the quintessence of duty, and the living of the spiritual life is first and foremost the performance of duty in your own place, the doing of that task which lies next to the hand of every individual in the sphere of life in which he was born — not the neglect of it, not the running away from it, but the effort to perform every aspect of duty that he finds before him simply from day to day in the light of the spiritual nature within him. I will venture to say that the man so living never will find himself "down and out"; and I would say to the man who is down and out: let him get the spiritual point of view; let him get a new mind; let him turn his material mind toward the Higher Nature within himself. He will be amazed at the result. He will set forth in the morning with that complete confidence that having performed every known duty that he has to the very best of his ability, that which he needs will undoubtedly be forthcoming; but he has to work for it — it won't come miraculously. He has to do the simple things in the simplest way with that faith in his own higher nature that will illumine every step of the Path he takes in his day's work. Friends, it is a simple thing, but it is a profoundly true one. It is possible of practice to each one of us. It works as a living benediction in the lives of those who practise it and it can be brought about by invoking the aid of the Higher Self, that Spiritual Self in us.



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