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'Theosophy - What's it all about?' - Chapter 10, The Way to Understanding
by Geoffrey Farthing
'A brief summary of a wonderfully exciting and vitally important subject.'
The beginning of the way to understanding is the desire for it. This of course applies to anything. If we really want something we do what is necessary to get it. Understanding has a number of meanings but what we are concerned with is to "perceive the significance or explanation or cause or nature of', and the meanings given to perception include "intuitive recognition (of truth, aesthetic quality etc.)". These definitions give an idea of the aspect of under- standing we shall try to deal with.
First, then, how does a desire for understanding arise? Probably two words answer this, observation and thought. From these arise questioning and the will to seek for answers. Until questioning has arisen within us, answers that we might come by in books or conversation will either go unheeded or be of incidental interest only. We may be stimulated to interest by someone who can fire our imaginations by scintillating talk or a mastery of his subject but, unless the urge to know for ourselves wells up inside us to the point of compelling us to some action, our interest will die when the stimulation is removed. The subject would have no more significance than it would have as a topic of ordinary conversation. Unless our interest is strong enough for us to make sacrifices in time and effort for it, we shall get little. We cannot by any magical means come by understanding. We cannot, for instance, hope to know Theosophy by merely reading what is here set forth in digest form. The answers to many potential questions may have been given, but unless thought and real interest have been aroused it is all no more than a story, maybe an unusually provocative one, but little more.
While true understanding uses faculties higher than the mind, these higher faculties are developed by mental efforts
to understand. The mind as an organ grows like any other with use. Thinking is a function of the mind. So we must learn to think. To think we must have something to think about. A study of a subject of interest like The Secret Doctrine will provide the necessary food for thought.
An important distinction we must make now is that between intellect and intelligence. This distinction is not easy, but from the words themselves we can almost feel the difference. Intellect is a kind of machine-like thing, devoid of feeling, in itself a 'dead' thing, however developed and brilliant it may be. Intelligence .is live, fluent, perceptive, open, creative. The one can bog us down in sterile argument, complexity, maybe mere cleverness, sometimes cunning; and it is concerned with ideas and the 'letter of the law', as if these were realities. The other in its degree is simple, direct and candid, concerned with real situations, with the true nature of things. It admits sympathy.
Even though we are drawing a wide distinction between intellect and intelligence without some of the one we cannot have the other. The intellect is, however, a sort of mental machine, albeit often of great capacity. Its possessor can become identified with it to the exclusion or neglect of the other aspects of his nature. On the other hand, intelligence might be regarded as enlivened and illuminated intellect with which the man is not identified. Itis a faculty which functions freely for him sometimes, even surprising him with its direct insight, accuracy and economy of expression.
All things in nature have their form side and life or spirit side. Intellect is of the form side. Intelligence is a spiritual faculty, of the life side.
Intelligence underlies understanding. Understanding might be said to be of three kinds, intellectual understanding, understanding by sympathy arising from identification, and understanding by sympathy but with detachment.
Intellectual understanding comes from a perception of the nature of and relationships between things known to, or forming part of, intellectual knowledge.
Sympathy by identification is the kind of understanding most of us have when for instance, we identify ourselves
with the characters in a film or play. Our emotions are aroused sometimes even to the point of uncontrollability as when we weep in the moving scenes. We are not at all concerned that what we are actually seeing is a counterfeit of real life, maybe a mere shadow on a screen.
Sympathy with detachment is sympathy that arises when we know from experience or through some quickened responsive faculties what the feelings of others are but we do not identify ourselves with them. We maintain our awareness of ourselves and, while we may feel pity or compassion, we are not moved to the point of losing self- possession; we retain control.
Imagination plays its part in understanding. If we cannot sympathize from our own experience, we can use our imagination. Now the development of this ability to sympathize by imagination is, in spite of what we said earlier about putting the meaning into words, a powerful quickener of understanding. It works in this way. When a person thinks, changes take place in the matter of the mental plane such that another person operating on that plane can 'see' what the original thinker is thinking about. Imagination also makes forms in this mental matter which have a being and persist according to the strength and definition of the imagined image. Now there are some images, like religious symbols, that occupy the minds of many people. These become charged, so to say, with the thought forms of the people using them and also with associated emotion, so that another person dwelling long and intensely enough on that symbol can become aware of what has been inbuilt into it, that is all the ideas and feelings associated with it. National flags and anthems and school songs, regimental colours and so on, are examples of these charged symbols. So are the effigies and names of deities and saints. The symbols of Jung's "collective unconscious" are also of this kind.
In magical rites such symbols are knowingly used. The practitioners dwell on the symbols of the 'power' they wish to contact. By their response to feelings and awareness so evoked in themselves they build the qualities of the evoked 'power' into their own characters. This is, in the more
reputable and traditional systems, a means of progressively modifying the consciousness of the 'magician' until he can operate at very high levels of being. The system. based on the ancient Kabalah is such a one.
There is yet another factor of primary importance on the way to understanding, and that is devotion, devotion to the goal we set ourselves. We shall obviously set our target very high. The highest is Truth itself. Ifwe associate this with Reality, that is that Reality in and behind everything, including our very selves, as we showed earlier, there can be nothing higher for us to aspire to. We cannot possibly know absolute Truth, but we can become its devotees. We can feel towards it. We can engender a love for it, for its own sake. We can dare to aspire towards it. This devotional aspiration after Truth applies equally whether what we are after is so-called scientific truth, sociological truth, psycho- logical truth, philosophical truth or religious truth. All real truths synthesize into the One Truth.
This brings us to the last important point. If we would avoid on this path the innumerable dangers, delaying byways and much suffering, we must never forget the absolute necessity of loving Truth and aspiring after it for its own sake. This means we do not seek for any personal gain that it may bring us. If our motive is pure this will not enter our heads. The extent to which our own self-advancement does enter our heads is a measure of our unfitness for Truth and Power. These may seem hard words before we have even started and they may even rob us of all incentive to start, but they must be said. This does not mean that the following of the path to the best of our ability does not bring great happiness and its own rewards. It does, but those should not be the motives.
What then should be our motive? None other than love if we can attain to that. If we cannot, we can remember the welter of suffering in the world and the ages for which it has persisted. We can cultivate the will to be a means of alleviating that condition a bit. We will find that this quest for Truth will in itself pull our lives straight and into some- thing of a state of real sanity. Many fears and psychological
limitations can be shed, but this in turn demands the courage to be ourselves and to be free.
Before we leave this subject of the way to understanding we must say something more about what we called individuality. We said this arose from the association of our higher mental (or manasic) principle with the intuitive principle (Buddhi) and ultimately thereby with the Spirit. Now Cosmically, the intuitional vehicle is the Universal Soul, the World Soul for us. It is the vehicle of Spirit. When, in us, it is associated with our higher Manas, it is our Spiritual Soul.
We said earlier that higher mind was the realm of abstract ideas whence sprang the comprehension of underlying principles. The distinction between its operation and those of the lower mind is that the lower mind deals in things, things of form and matters relating to the personality, whereas those of the higher mind are formless and impersonal in essence. Intuition is the source of those flashing insights of certainty, of direct synthesizing knowing. The dawning of its entering our consciousness is accompanied by moments of exquisite calmness, peace, joy and feeling of powerful and all embracing Love. It is the plane of Love and Wisdom. Pure Spirit is the plane of Will and Power. Higher Manas is the realm of 'pure' Thought.
The way to understanding is then also the way into these lofty levels of consciousness which are those of the faculties of our own essential Being, our individuality, our Self. Paradoxically one of the ways to knowledge of the Self is through the mind. There is an immediate difficulty here. The mind has been called "the slayer of the Real". So it is, it throws up its own conceptions. It is full of information, data, remembered impressions from experience. It is conditioned by precept and pain. It is full of preconception and prejudice. These contents of the mind, obscure, nay completely shut out, Truth which, for present purposes, can be regarded as synonymous with our subjective higher Selves. These contents of mind are our psychological riches that we must psychologically part with if we are to open up a way for consciousness to ascend to the higher realms of our being. The opening up of this way is, so far as we consciously
are concerned, a lower mind function, but a higher mind response is aroused and this totally eclipses the reasonings and doubts of the lower mind. Then we know and are free.
Now Buddhi is 'above' even higher mind. It is the realm of compassion; for us this means love consciousness. Hence the inestimable value of love for our fellow beings, even if it not at first of the highest, and also of our love for Truth. It may be difficult at the start to love Truth when it must seem to be merely an abstraction. The use of symbols at this stage is legitimate, but it must never be forgotten that our object of devotion is in fact a symbol and that we must eventually outgrow and discard it. To cling to it, however sacred it may become to us, will retard further progress. It is said "The Truth shall make you free". If we want Truth we must dare to be free.
Let us now introduce a word not used here before, occultism. This frightens some, but the occult is that which, for the time being, is hidden from us. This word is used in the following quotation from one of H. P. Blavatsky's writings. "This last word (occultism) is certainly misleading, translated as it stands from the compound word meaning 'Secret Knowledge'. But the knowledge of what? ... There are four kinds of Esoteric Knowledge or Sciences given ... There is ... ( 1) knowledge of the occult powers awakened in Nature by the performance of certain religious ceremonies and rites. (2) the 'great knowledge', the magic of the Kabalists and of the Tantrika worship, often Sorcery of the worst description. (3) knowledge of the mystic powers residing in Sound (Ether), hence in the Mantras (chanted prayers or incantations), and depending on the rhythm and melody used; in other words, a magical performance based on knowledge of the Forces of Nature and their correlation. And (4) ... 'Knowledge of the Soul', true Wisdom … but which means far more. This last is the only kind of Occultism that any Theosophist … who would be wise and unselfish, ought to strive after. All the rest is some branch of the 'Occult Sciences', i.e. arts based on the knowledge of the ultimate essence of all things in the Kingdoms of Nature- such as minerals, plants and animals - hence of
things pertaining to the realm of material nature, however invisible that essence may be, and howsoever much it has eluded the grasp of Science". All the other arts "may be mastered and results obtained, whether good, bad or indifferent; but 'true Wisdom' sets small value on them. It includes them all and may even use them occasionally, but it does so after purifying them of their dross, for beneficent purposes, and taking care to deprive them of every element of selfish motive."
This may sound a counsel of perfection, and indeed it is, for Theosophy ultimately is that and in the limit it demands no less. The aspirant who would attain it is required to sublimate all the urges of his lower nature, his personal self.
If, all at once, he cannot aspire to this, can he not go on? Indeed he can. Says H. P. Blavatsky in the same article, "Let him aspire to no higher than he feels able to accomplish. Let him not take a burden upon himself too heavy for him to carry. Without ever becoming a 'Mahatma', a Buddha, or a Great Saint, let him study the philosophy and the 'Science of the Soul', and he can become one of the modest benefactors of humanity, without any 'superhuman' powers."
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