The Theosophical Forum – April 1948

HOW DO YOU KNOW? — A. Birch

There is a question in the Bulletin of the Corresponding Fellows' Lodge (England, Jan. 1948) which is perennial in its interest.

"Have any of my fellow Lodge members had the disconcerting experience of after making what one feels to be a good point following some enquirer's question, having him say with a cold searching voice, and a cold cod-like eye, "How do you know?" "

The favorite opening gambit of a famous London philosopher is, "It all depends on what you mean by. . . ." Here also it all depends on what you mean by knowing. We have often been told that the doctrine of the Seven Principles of Man is a dry-as-dust bit of philosophical pedantry, but without it we could not go very far. The knowing of the animal is instinct. The animal "knows" and acts upon its knowledge with advantage many times in its daily life, but if you asked it how it knows, it could not tell you. Then there is the knowing with the brain mind, the lower intellectual knowledge. This is often brilliant and perhaps unanswerable, yet from a certain high standpoint may be quite wrong. For instance, we all know that murdering murderers stops murder. So we have been arguing for a few million years. But does it? Do we not see almost daily the foolish headlines calculated to tickle the lowest parts of our emotional nature all about someone slaying or being slain. For some thousands of years we have known that "death" ends everything, but now that the doctrine of reincarnation of the private schools of philosophy has seeped somewhat deeply into the luminous zone of the public mind, we are not so sure.

For many centuries we have "known" of the brilliant but somewhat uncomfortable region imagined as heaven, but now people are beginning to ask themselves and not their appointed teachers if it is really anything much more than a dream or a poem, or at best an allegory.

In our vast Arizona desert there are mirages. We have there seen a lake forty miles long by about ten wide, the sand becoming shiny, then wet, then the water. From the train a group of travellers watched, fascinated. It was explained that there was no lake there; all was merely desert sand. One of the group began to take off his coat in a very aggressive way. "I know water when I see it!" he exclaimed. "If anyone tells me that isn't water, I'll fight him!" Maybe he was from Missouri, but it was not water and there was no fight. But he knew. That was the knowledge of the brain mind and the emotional nature. The emotional nature sees many mirages.

Higher than all that is the knowledge of the Nous, the Higher Manas, the genuine "Intuition." But who has it? Everyone. Who uses it? Not so many.

For hundreds of years it was the chief aim of Theosophists in the past to clear their intuition. It would hardly be right to say to acquire intuition. They sought to live in the Higher Manas or even the still clearer Buddhi. If they could do that they KNEW. We have all heard of the Adepts, Those who Know.

It is the same today. Many quiet, genuine, that is, not brain-mind Theosophists or Theosophical students have the beginnings of an unveiled spiritual perception. They are convinced that they know. But not yet being perfect (Initiated), they are liable to error, though less so than most, and even what they know they are forced to express very much in terms of their own technical experience of life, which may differ from that of others. That is why if a man saw an angel he would hardly be convincing to a Hindu, who would have quite a different conception as to what an angel looks like.

Now that the Dialogues of G.de P. have been published we may be permitted to call attention to the astonishing clearness of mind of "one who knows." We had a previous example in the case of The Mahatma Letters. Are such people then perfect? Not necessarily. We have already shown that their language may mean more than we are capable of understanding clearly. Also there is another very important consideration. They are not always acting in the realm of pure thought. Sometimes they may be acting as ordinary men. Again, if they are Teachers, they may often be a mirror of their public. A man asks a question, vague, woolly, dimly conceived in outline, loaded with popular misconception, not highly intuitional. Why should he expect an answer not in accordance with his question? A famous case is that of a would-be occultist who asked an occult astronomical question and received an answer which was correct as far as it went but was completely misunderstood. Something is said about it in The Mahatma Letters.

Another asks a question direct from the heart of compassion and the answer is responsive. That is the ancient method, still in use in 1948, without doubt.

There, then, is the answer to the original question. How do you know? By using my intuition. ""That is no good to me, what do I know of your intuition?" may be the cod-eye retort. The answer obviously is, "Develop your own intuitive perception and then you will know and will not have to ask anyone else." The usual retort or a usual retort is, "I haven't time." This especially from the get-rich-quick school of theosophy and philosophy. There is no more to do than to leave it at that. It is not much use trying to force a man to see what he is not looking for.

But it is very pleasant sometimes to see with what brilliant brain-mind arguments we can smash the other fellow, though there is always the risk that he remain "unconvinced still."

If you say you know it by intuition, the other man is quite likely to taunt you with the gibe that other people have as much intuition as you and you need not set yourself on a pedestal. He is more likely to say this if he has no intuition, so here again the answer is silence.

The man who is convinceable and convinced by brain-mind argument is the man who half-knows already. In such a case it may not be waste of time to argue. But in very many cases there seems to be no better formula than to tell the man to acquire the sense of perception of truth for himself, then he will need no one to tell him.

Even with, or especially with, Theosophical teachings, the same applies. There is hardly a Theosophical teaching which does not require intuition to understand it, and the man who says he knows usually finds out that he has still much to learn. It is not the business of a Theosophical teacher to spoon-feed tots and teens but it is his business to start the intuition working.


The Theosophical Forum

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