The Theosophical Forum – March 1936


QUESTION 298 (Questions 298 and 299 were answered by the Leader in Liverpool, January 6, 1933.) To the ordinary man in the street it sometimes seems strange that man should have to go through all the sorrow and suffering he has, in order to reach perfection, and that it should have to last such a long time. I should like an answer from you so that I may pass it on.

G. de P. — Why is it that sorrow and suffering are in the world, and that they are so enduring? My answer may seem a little hard, but some things in life at first blush do seem a bit hard; yet when understood we find that the 'hardness' is merely the strong hand of the Law guiding our footsteps. Here is the explanation: All growth is attended with growing pains; a change of condition is a change of state and of consciousness, and human nature in its weaker parts, such as we human beings possess, is so constituted that it rebels at changes; it likes to remain in the old ruts, to run along the familiar lines which humanity has followed for so many ages. But sorrow, pain, suffering, even sickness, are among our best friends.

Now this seems like a hard saying, a dark saying; but how true it is! Consult your own lives. What is it that has put steel into your characters? What is it that has opened your hearts to compassion, rendered perhaps hard and unkind by prosperity and slothful ease? It is the jars and the knocks of misfortune. It is sorrow that teaches us fellow-feeling, sympathy, pity, compassion, that teaches us to help others, so that we now understand their tribulations, so that we now understand after we ourselves have suffered and sorrowed, what they are going through. It is sorrow and pain and suffering that refine us. We are like the ore cast into the molten furnace, into the melting heat; and sorrow and pain purify us so that we come out bright and glittering gold.

Be not afraid of sorrow; be not afraid of trial. They are our best friends; and see what a manly doctrine this is. It is a doctrine of compassion; it is broad-minded, it is human, it is humane, it is sympathetic, it is full of wisdom and quiet peace. The heart which has never been wrung with sorrow has no fellow-feeling for others. The mind which has never been tormented with sorrow and doubt has a veil before it. Sorrow and doubt awaken us, quicken our intellects, open our hearts, and expand our consciousness; and it is sorrow, suffering, sickness, pain, which are among the gentle agents, the merciful ministers, of the evolutionary process. The man whose heart has never been wrung with sorrow cannot understand the sorrows of others. The man who has never sorrowed, knows no greatness. He is great neither in heart nor in mind. Greatness, ethical majesty, spiritual and intellectual power, spring forth from trial.

QUESTION 299. Your words come from a temperament that has undoubtedly found peace, but my dilemma is this: and I should like your opinion regarding the universal scheme of things. There is no doubt that we are part and parcel of the Universe; but when we come to think that the scheme of creation that you have been eulogizing is based on universal slaughter, and pain and anguish, I as a man who believes that our lives should be a peaceful transition from youth to old age, and that our life should be a period of enjoyment and happiness and joyI would very much like your opinion on the origin of evil. This terrible intelligence, this wonderful power, this horrible force, that governs the Universe, whatever it may beto me it is diabolic. It fashions the tiger, it gives the unfortunate animals no opportunity to get away from the danger that surrounds them. What gives the poison to the snake, the fangs to the tiger, the idea that men should fight each other and slay each other, if it is not that we are nothing but a conflicting hierarchy of conflicting ideals, destined some day to rise out from this cosmic turmoil, and to enjoy celestial bliss?

G. de P. — What you have pointed out is of course something that occurs to every student of life and of the things around us. I remember that when I was a boy, this very question was the first one of a serious character that occurred to me, and it was only when my eyes were opened that I learned that happiness without contrast cannot exist; that there is no peace which has not been earned. How many times have I not as a child, as a young man, said to myself: They talk about Almighty God, a merciful Father, and yet the Universe is filled with strife and pain! Evil sometimes prevails over good, at least temporarily; what a monster God must be, the Maker of it all, to have made things thus!

Your thoughts are very natural indeed and have my deepest sympathy; but we must accept things as they are, and the explanation of the problem is this: that no 'God' is the maker or creator of the iniquities of which you speak. Beside the poison is its antidote; beside disorder is order; dishonor proves honor; darkness could not exist except for light. We cannot at once change our portion of the material universe with all its evil phases; but these are only events in the marching army of beings passing forwards and upwards through space-time. As I said, it is out of suffering that we learn; and thank the immortal gods that the Universe is so constituted that we can learn. Fancy a Universe so constituted that there was nothing in it but peace and happiness, and dull, inactive sloth lasting unto eternity! It would be a hell. There is something within me which yearns to bring light to those who have it not; there is something within me which yearns to give the compassionate hand; there is something within me which is more precious than my own being, which makes me yearn to help my fellows. Fancy what it would be if I were deprived of this exquisite joy of doing my bit to raise the world's burden.

Mark you, we cannot make the Universe different from what it is, and it is what it is because of karman — the intricate and intertwined karman of uncounted multitudes of beings learning through growth and suffering and pain to take part in the Cosmic Labor guided by Compassion, infinite Sympathy, and Love for all that is, to join the hosts of the bright gods. The horrors that the gentleman speaks of most certainly exist; but ineffable beauties exist also. Why not likewise speak of the beauties in Nature? Why not speak of its orderliness, its law, peace, growth, and the expansion of consciousness that all beings undergo throughout the cycling periods of time? Why not speak of the beauty of natural being as well as of its horrors? Disease exists indeed, but so does health. Crime exists, but so do men who are no criminals. Horrors exist, but so likewise are they counterbalanced by the beauties, and by the symmetrical, shapely, and holy things in life that are an eternal joy.

The Universe is as it is; and these horrors I now will explain, giving you the Theosophic teaching of the origin of evil. Briefly, then, all these things exist in and from evolving creatures, imperfect entities, innumerable multitudes of them, all learning through suffering and sorrow and pain to become orderly, to be loving, to be compassionate, to be peaceful, to be inwardly and outwardly beautiful — in the original sense of the word beauty.

All this reminds me of the old Christian idea of Heaven. I remember what my dear father, who was a clergyman, taught me about Heaven: If I were a very good little boy, when I died I would surely go to Heaven and sit on the right hand of God and sing songs eternally. That course of life did not appeal to me at all. It did not answer anything in my own being; and when I grew older and heard the arguments that were given to men, and likewise the philosophical ideas current among men concerning so-called immortality I rejected the immortality as presented, because this immortality was merely a speculative immortality of the personal man with all his imperfections, manifold and sometimes monstrous; and I could not stand the thought that if that doctrine were true, I was destined to pass eternal aeons without end as an imperfect entity; no matter how much I might change, I was supposed to be always the same egoic being. No, I wanted to grow in a different manner; I wanted to become greater, and to give vent and expression to the locked-up spiritual and intellectual and other powers within me. I discovered that there is no immortality for the personal man, because if there were, then the personal man must remain relatively unchanged. If he changed in the remotest way, he was then no longer the same — and the supposed immortality vanishes. Do you see my point? Instead of immortality of the personal man, we Theosophists say that there is eternal, endless evolution, endless growth, endless expansion of faculty, of power, always bringing out more and more what is locked up within, passing from the low and evil regions of the Universe up into the higher; and when there, turning and extending a compassionate hand in help to those in the lower darkness. I learned the great and profound truth that even the ego changes, that even the spirit evolves to vaster things, so that the immortality of the ego, or what is called the personal man, was but the vain dream of an obscured imagination.

Evil certainly exists in the world, but it arises out of the fact that the world is filled full with imperfect beings and entities — just as there are likewise innumerable hierarchies of relatively perfected and godlike beings. Because the former are imperfect, they act in consequence in distorted and what we men call evil ways. This produces the disharmony, the preying of entity upon entity, and the consequent suffering and pain. Follow out this profound teaching. As just stated, above these multitudes struggling in the lower realms, there are the great regions of the gods. It is quite possible that they may have their problems too, and personally I think they have; but they are regions which to us human beings are incomparably light, holy, majestic, and our inner spiritual and intellectual natures are native there. From there, come into our minds and our hearts our noblest impulses to do deeds of good; our noblest intellectual aspirations are born in these inner divine and spiritual realms. In fact, our spirit is native there.

QUESTION 300. Explain multiple personalities, if true.

H. T. Edge — I cannot call to mind any authoritative pronouncement on this topic, and do not feel learned enough (or ignorant enough) to be dogmatic on my own account. The first step to explaining a thing is to have a clear-cut idea of what it is one is seeking to explain; and one feels that it would be better to have a definite case of the disease before one, instead of having to prescribe for a mere term. That term may cover more than one different kind of disorder, erroneously grouped under one definition but being differently caused. The dictionary defines multiple personality as a psycho-pathological derangement wherein two or more different 'personalities' compete for self-expression through the physical instrument; and adds that these personalities may be struggling together at the same time, or may alternate in their possession of the field, and that they may have no knowledge of each other, or that A may have knowledge of B, while B has no knowledge of A, etc. It seems clear that such a condition is a morbid exaggeration of what exists normally in the average man, who is painfully aware of the existence in him of several psychic elements contending for the dominance in that mysterious composite which he calls 'I myself.'

Passing from this, we come to various degrees of dementia, such as may occur in disturbed sleep, in delirium, and similar pathological derangements. Here we may find what may be called a change of personality, with varying degrees of loss of memory. Still further, we have the rare cases, produced by hypnotism, insanity, amnesia, and the like, where the sense of one's original identity is quite lost for the time. A certain Dr. Morton Prince has written a book describing his experiences with a young lady, whom he treated hypnotically for such an ailment. His theory was that the normal personality was a blend of elements which had become dissociated and able to occupy the field alternately, thus producing different personalities acting in the same body. The case might perhaps be diagnosed as obsession by psychic entities of some sort, possibly the cast-off remnants of deceased human beings; yet there is considerable ground for recognising, in some of these subordinate selves that appeared, the manifestation of certain elements in the girl's character which she had suppressed.

It is clear that we cannot talk intelligibly on such a subject without analysing somewhat deeply the nature of what is known as personality, its relation to memory, to the sense of identity, and kindred psychological topics. It would also be necessary to have a better understanding of the functions of the brain and nervous systems, and especially of the connexions and interactions of the psychic with the physical. Some help may perhaps be found in the idea that what we know as personality results from an interaction of psychic and physical elements, and in comparing the body to a musical machine into which cardboard tunes are fed, so that the same instrument plays various tunes. But this does not solve the whole question. I may be under the influence of a false self, and yet be aware of my condition; or there may come a moment, a stage, at which I cease to be aware that I am deluded, and the delusion becomes a reality. How define that stage? Is it not likely that there is some particular center in the cerebro-spinal system, whose derangement marks this change? When the foreign influence ceases upon that center — it is then that I lose my sense of identity, my memory of my normal self.

One suspects that this is a subject upon which definite knowledge, such as is looked for in books, is not available, on account of the dangerous abuses which would certainly be made of it; and it is surely wiser to eschew such questions of morbid psychological anatomy. Whether occurring in oneself or in someone else, they should be treated as a disease and dealt with accordingly; and the remedy is of course self-control, physical, mental, emotional.

QUESTION 301. Can the camera catch a picture of a being invisible to the human eye, and record it upon a film? If so, of what will it be a picture?

I. L. H. — If you mean by 'a being invisible to the human eye' one that exists on a plane above or below the physical, the answer is a distinct no; and all claims made for alleged photographs of that kind may be set down to trick photography or legerdemain; for the camera is a physical instrument responsive to physical light and it functions on the physical plane only. Of course, by means of invisible X-rays, infra-red rays, and long exposures, etc., the camera can record photographs of things to which the human retina is not responsive; but these are purely physical and mechanical methods of aiding the physical senses: they are in no sense to be classed with so-called 'astral' or 'spirit' or 'fourth-dimension' photographs, etc., of claims regarding which it is wise to be extremely skeptical.

The Theosophical Forum