The Theosophical Forum – June 1942

THE MYSTERY OF PERSONALITY — H. Percy Leonard

Although undivided It appeareth as divided among creatures
      — Bhagavad-Gita, chap xiii

The strong illusion of the separated self casts its illusive glamor even upon the deepest students of their own nature. It is comparatively easy with the intellect to grasp the thought of Universal Life concealed in stones, in plants and animals and filling those apparently void spaces that extend between the starry population of Immensity; but to apply this theory as a rule of practice in our daily life, we sometimes think it difficult. This much at all events is plain, that just so far as we concern ourselves with bodily sensations and material things, so does the selfish thought of separated life fasten its grip upon our minds, while in proportion as the senses are ignored and sympathy wells up and overflows to forms of life outside ourselves, do those confining walls expand and set us free.

The masses of humanity are so enamoured of that pole of feeling known as "pleasure" that they spend their days in madly plunging in life's stormy waters in its vain pursuit. Time after time experience proves that every vivid pleasure draws its reaction in its train, as every wave on which the swimmer mounts, inevitably lets him fall into the following trough; but yet the fatal glamor is so strong that till the winter of old age abates desire, they lavish all their energies upon the chase. Some keen observers have declared that pain as well as pleasure has a fascination for deluded man. To throw a light on this strange doctrine one may observe his mind in leisure moments and take note how the poor fool drags out some long-forgotten grievance from its lurking-place and revels in the misery its memory recalls. Not till the final bitter drop is drained with eager thirst, is the stale sorrow cast aside, and even then the mind is just as much disposed to choose some other cause of pain, as to select a pleasant subject for its contemplation. The tactful compliment, the acrimonious attack, the lively hope of personal ambition and the dread of disappointment, our likings and disliking, both the pairs of opposites are brought to mind, for both serve to preoccupy the mind with thoughts of self and both are equally of value to contract the consciousness upon the point of personality, and check that yearning for expansion that would set us free. It seems in fact that just as prisoners long-confined are said to cling with strange affection to the old familiar cell, so do we crouch within the personality and oscillate alternately between the poles of pleasure and of pain. We hide within our prison walls and fear to venture on the larger world outside ourselves. The poet Wordsworth, it is said, when as a boy he walked along the road to school, was sometimes overpowered with such a sense of vastness and expansion that he would touch the nearest wall or tree in order that the shock of contact with material things might call him back to his lost sense of personality.

Most people who have wandered lonely among natural scenes of an unusual grandeur and sublimity have had to some degree a kindred feeling, and the alacrity with which they mingle with society on their return is often prompted by no higher motive than to recover by association with their fellows the sharp outlines of their own familiar egotism which had become a little blurred and faded by the solitude.

Some characters on reaching to a certain point in their development are strong enough to seize and grapple with their lower natures and by determined effort once for all rob them of independent life and place them in their true position — that of obedient servants for the soul's use in daily life. This is the method of self-conquest by a slow starvation. The personality is stinted by degrees and not permitted to absorb such large supplies as formerly of mental substance and of vital force, for its unbalanced and luxuriant growth. For as the personality is made the subject of our constant thought so does it fatten and grow strong; but as we cease to feed it and engage the mind in wider fields, its independent life begins to weaken and its fierce insistant self-assertion to decline.

Silence has always been commended by the sages as a specific agent for dissolving the hard crust in which the selfish ego is confined. But silence from the theosophic point of view means vastly more than simply to refrain from uttered speech, which can avail but little if the mind is not restrained as well. Silence of voice may co-exist with great activity of mind which may exhaust itself in weaving pictured webs of thought in which our virtues and accomplishments stand out in brilliant coloring against a somber background of the failings of our neighbors. But to control all lower forms of thought, to still the vehemence of our desires, and by the effort of a steady will to rise into the outer quiet where all mental agitation dies — this is an enterprise that calls for men. In the deep peace of the eternal silence our encrusting shell disintegrates. There the harsh voice of criticism never comes to drive us back into our citadel and strengthen our defenses in reply to the attack. There no impinging wave of love or hate reminds us of our boundary line, and thus insensibly it melts away and sets the captive free — a pure impersonal force in Nature which has found its home at last.

Christians who long to enter Heaven should bear in mind that those celestial fields, however wide their bounds, must still be looked upon as a locality with limits and a line of demarcation fencing it from Hell. The "place" sought after by theosophists is nothing less than the Infinitude itself, the freedom to its ample spaces being gained by the mere breaking loose from those enclosing walls in which we find ourselves confined — in fact, by living from day to day, faithful to duty and following conscientiously the path of unselfishness.


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