The Path – June 1889

THE PRACTICAL ETHICS OF THEOSOPHY — Em'ly

Let us be practical, my friends; let us be practical, I say. I shall touch today only upon the practical ethics of Theosophy, and in a very simple, colloquial style.

My general experience among the classes interested in and leaning on Theosophy, Mental Science, Christian Science, Mind Healing, — and, indeed, all students of psychics, and of those silent and invisible forces in Nature which move with a solemn stillness, and yet which are invincible, — is that they are too dreamy, too theoretical, too vague, and too hysterical, to meet the trials of this commonplace, work-a-day life.

Many of us who call ourselves Theosophists proceed to repeat the fundamental teachings of this science-religion, without ever troubling ourselves to sift them to the bottom of their meaning, or satisfying ourselves that we apply them to our own lives.

I recall a few cases which illustrate this point, and I may safely relate them as convincing proof of what I have said.

The first is of a lady who believed herself a devoted Theosophist; so did others. But, when a marplot of a dressmaker failed to deliver her new gown while she waited to don it for a dinner party, her impatience grew to such a fume that it boiled over in a flood of petulant tears, while she threw herself, face downwards, on a couch. Now, if a woman's theosophy, superior will, Divine wisdom, or whatever you choose to call it, does not serve her at times of such frivolous disappointment, it is not worth much.

The second is of a lady who became enamored of Mental Science; enamored! mark you. For the time being she was enraptured with the group of ideas represented under this title, as a child is with a new doll, or a suitor with a fresh sweetheart. These subjects are not matters for amorous jugglery. They are to live by, to study as a science, and to rest on as a companion, in whom you feel a deeper confidence and higher solace day-by-day. She was a gifted elocutionist; coughs, colds, and sore throat had been her mortal dread and worst enemies. After her first few lessons in Mental Science, she boldly and persistently denied the existence of influenza or catarrh; and believed this positive attitude of mind a bulwark against the inheritance of generations and the indiscreet habits of years. But the colds continued to come; crowding thick and fast upon her, making her so hoarse she could hardly speak, while she bravely fired off her ammunition of denials from behind a great fortress of catarrh. Do you not think she would have better shown divine wisdom by keeping out of draughts, changing wet stockings for dry ones, and wearing sufficient clothing? I do.

One more illustration, and I have done. Not long since I was regretting the existence in life of those little, far away, desolate Inlands where a seeming fate hurls us and then leaves us to stand all alone, while we feel the ground slipping away from under our feet: a waste of dark waters around us, and no human help in sight. A friend turned on me and upbraided me severely for not believing in Universal Brotherhood. It was useless for me to protest. By and by an emergency came into my life. I needed twenty-five dollars instantly, to save a near friend from disaster. It was five o'clock in the afternoon, and I sought his aid at his place of business — and it is a large importing house. I explained the grievous circumstances, and that my bank was closed. He simply replied. "I am sorry I can't help you. But you are unnecessarily excited. I guess you can bridge over your worst anticipations tonight. It's not so long to wait until the Bank opens in the morning." Later on a question of moment came up relative to matters in which we both had an interest. Certain movements of my own had been sat upon in uncharitable judgment by a dozen critics. I had not been present at the assembly; so he wrote me ten pages of gossippy scurrility, trusting "that in spirit life I had advanced beyond the world's superficial judgment", and signed himself a loyal, sincere, and faithful friend. This is an instance of how Universal Brotherhood may be talked most beautifully. But in this sordid, selfish world, cannot each one of us try to form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood by practising a material and spiritual philanthropy in our own little circle?

If we are going to drift into the desperate and deplorable cant about our existing as perfect beings emanating from the Divine, and therefore incapable of sickness, sorrow, strife, sin; if we are going to audaciously assert that we today are living in the harmony of a Universal Brotherhood; if we are going to occupy our time straining our spiritual eyes after astral bodies, the joys of DEVACHAN, and the luminous tableaux of NIRVANA; if we are going to find happiness and solace in these thoughts alone; we may as well return to the old and misty creeds of pulpit orthodoxy.

That we are still only sons of God, and not gods unto men, is proved by the fact that we have not shaken off our old conditions of sickness, sorrow, strife, sin. If we were living today a practical universal Brotherhood, we should not have an Alaska St., Philadelphia; a Five Points, New York; a Seven Dials, London; with their struggling, sinning, squalid, starving populations. If we were all awake spiritually, we would gaze clearly, confidently, fearlessly, and without effort, on the astral phenomena crowding the very atmosphere about us; and until the psychic vision is completely unembarrassed, it is as useless to sit in wonder-gazing expectation as to try to read the headlines of the Morning "Press," while the fleshly tissue of the eyelids is still sealed by slumber.

What is Theosophy? Well, Webster and Worcester define it as "Divine Wisdom;" but it is something more. Theosophy appears to me to be that form of philosophy that links God and Nature in man: a human pantheism. If God and Nature be linked in man as the highest expression of Divine power, our work begins with ourselves; that is, the attainment of human perfection through personal effort.

What we want is not to talk Theosophy, but to live it. Live it as the man Jesus did, walking in the ways of Eternal Truth, from which he was surnamed Christos.

If Theosophy is to serve any purpose in elevating the ALTER EGO; if Theosophy is to teach man the Divine Wisdom which he may achieve along lines of worldly practice and experience, and so ultimately lift him on to new heights of manhood; then the very beginnings of it are rooted in laws which may apply to the homely worries of every day life, and their practical remedy.

Do not let us regard the argument for the study of cosmogony and the essential nature of man which has come to us under the name of Theosophy, merely as a beautiful poetical picture; not much more than a charming dream of what might be in some intangible state of existence, and in an indefinite, nameless somewhere, quite out of mortal reach.

The Theosophic life is not a mere theoretical speculation. It is neither a species of clap-trap mysticism, nor the dreary scheme of visionary philosophers with the vain hope of delivering themselves from the evils and troubles of life, — from all activity, self consciousness, and personal existence.

The exactions of the Theosophist's life — the life, I say, are real. It demands the constant repression of the gross animal passions; the subordinating of fleshly desires and tempers to the higher spiritual behests: the eradication of selfishness; the fostering of broad, generous sympathies toward our fellow man; the cheerful performance of the duty that lies nearest to us. The Theosophic life requires pure thought, noble aspirations, high and holy ideal for the inner life; it teaches the love of right for righteousness sake; it distinguishes between good and evil by the light that shines within; and it develops the spiritual essence of man by meditation.

You see, it is an arduous, patient, uphill journey that each one must climb for himself; and only by strength of will and grace of holiness may we poor mortal pilgrims hope to attain final glory.

There is no shifting responsibilities; no shirking tomorrow's result of today's action, whether it be good or evil; there are no vicarious atonements. If we would be sound in soul, we must be our own spiritual surgeon and lay the axe to the root of the fungous growth of sin, just as the surgeon of the body lays the scalpel to the cancer on the human breast.

The process of the practical Theosophic life is entirely within ourselves; the motive, the effort, and the consequences being distinctly personal.

If you fail in an undertaking, blame no man. The cause of failure is a deficiency in yourself. Remember the law of the survival of the fittest. All our blunders and suffering in life are the result of our own ignorance or wilful error. For the law of KARMA is the law of life. What ye sow. that shall ye also reap. Byron fully illustrates this order of things when he says, "Love and liquor are both ecstacies; after one the heartache, and after the other the headache." If you plant thistle seeds, are you very surprised if strawberries do not grow? And if you lead a profligate, indolent life, should you be greatly amazed if honor and acclaim do not single you out?

Each one is positively the Truth, the Light, and the Way unto himself. Each one of us is an individual unit, — a fragment of the Great Whole, — travelling over the mountain paths of life, en route to the Golden Summit.

The ways are steep and narrow, they are entangled with thorns and thickets and brambles and briers which smart and lacerate. And when we meet a great jagged boulder, which fate seems to have rolled as a test of our strength into our pathway, let us not stand kicking against it, wounding ourselves: it is as useless as when the gentle sea-mist endeavors to caress the cruel rocks, which tear the phantom lover to shreds. Let us not pause in despair before these boulders, and so deter our own progress. Our object is to surmount the obstacle. Climb over it; walk around it: plough through it; only let us be sure to get it behind us.

And let us act. Action is effort, action is growth. Growth is divine pain. All nature travails and groans in growth. Remember, we never stand still; if we do not endeavor to advance, we retrograde. For feelings which end in themselves and do not express themselves by fulfilling a function, leave us feeble and sickly in character, debilitated in mind and soul. Believe me, spiritual excellence and the scheme for human perfection do not come to any one of us in a windfall. Whatever measure of success we may obtain in Theosophic growth is won by unflagging toil and pre-eminent psychic endowments.

Don't be too confident of yourself. Salvation is wrought out in fear and trembling. Seek out the truth; there is no goal higher than truth. But the search is not without its trials; and there are few who are fitted by temperament and research to lift the veil of Isis.

Spirituality is only possible of development by retiring within one's self where lies the higher world of thought, and sympathy, and instructive culture. The unfoldment of this ineffable life and its marvelous lessons are of gradual growth, but they are everlasting. Spirituality is the culture that issues from discipline, and the courage that springs from the brow of pain, and that dares all dangers.

So we are again brought face to face with the bald fact that the Theosophic life means unshrinking, incessant, untiring desire combined with efficient exercise. Prayer in operation: prayer in operation carried through every movement of our waking day, — every second of our sleeping hours.

You may say this is impossible. I say it is not. You will say it is hard work. Yes! But practical Theosophy wasn't made for lazy people.

When you once come to realize that prayer in operation means only to work for the love of your work, it will not be so difficult. Whatsoever your calling may be, lofty or humble; whether it be to preserve human life or carry a hod; whether you are making the thought of future generations or washing dishes; perform your duty to the utmost measure of your ability, to the glory and satisfaction of your own highest self. There is no such thing as accomplishing great results without work; and spirituality makes no apology for indolence.

Remember:

"The spark divine dwells in thee; let it grow.
That which the upreaching spirit can achieve
The grand and all creative forces know;
They will assist and strengthen, as the light
Lifts up the acorn to the oak tree's height;
Thou has but to resolve, and lo! God's whole
Great universe shall fortify thy soul."

The Path

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE