The Theosophical Forum – October 1936


Be impersonal. Be self-forgetful

Consider the Sun and you will know what the Teacher means. Or if you cannot yet consider the Sun, then study yourself and you will gradually come to realize the great wisdom of impersonality and self-forgetfulness.

Perhaps you are one of those who believe that self-preservation is the first law of nature. There is sense in such belief of course, but you must spell Self with a capital "S"; for as soon as all the centers of consciousness are focused on the preservation of the personal self this entity oddly enough becomes destructive to its own nature. It is only through living a self-less life that even the little self is preserved for unless it grows its energies are eventually disrupted. It is only through living for things outside itself that it survives. Like a child it needs coaching and training, for it is ever growing and expanding, never the same yet with an unchanged identity. It is only the indefinable Self in it that is immortal.

You may be ambitious. Perhaps you desire above all things to be successful. You should know first then that true success is not measured by the accomplishment of a day, a month, a year, or even one lifetime. True success constitutes ages of endeavor to understand natural laws and to work unceasingly with them. It is said that success is attained by "quenching the personality" — a most difficult thing to do when the fires of ambition sizzle ceaselessly in one's soul. It is this fire threatening to consume the life and endeavor of untaught souls that must be quenched, for personal ambition if left to the devices of its own nature will destroy even the prize it set its heart on attaining. It is the steady white flame of impersonal living and giving that one should cultivate to be truly successful. This gives warmth to the heart and light to the eyes. It is a torch that illumines "even the farthest corners of the earth." The winning, the attaining does not necessarily mean that the success one thinks he has won will stay on for ever. Men who have risen to high success in their chosen fields through the relentless discipline of their sometimes bothersome personalities have fallen to devastating failure and degradation through no more tangible a cause than a personal desire. Napoleon, who through his clear vision and great force of character might have grown into a greater "success," robbed himself and the world he lived in of happiness and peace through personal ambition. Washington, across whose path were flung the temptations of greater position and power, remained steadfastly impersonal in the execution of his duties, and today, instead of being anathematized by the nation he opposed, is revered as a noble example of great leadership and lofty ideals.

Those who covet the emoluments of personal glory most assiduously are usually those who are bereft of them. The very nature of their covetous desires plunges them into a disgusting state of misery that militates constantly against the attainment of the things they most desire. It is only those who have freed themselves of personal ambitions, whose actions are without thought of the personal advantage of the results, who never feel the pangs of personal disappointments, yet appear to be so personally happy. These are personalities that have outgrown their personal attributes and have become impersonal channels through which flow the life-giving currents of love and devotion and self-sacrifice.

This idea of personality and impersonality is builded of many paradoxes. Here is one: the most impersonal people most often have the most delightful personalities. Take the "most delightful" individual you know. He will likely have what is called a "charming personality." Although he has never actively sought them he has many friends who actively seek him. He is fun-loving, yet temperate in his play. He is industrious though he does not slave. He is fearless, yet tactful; dignified yet gracious; firm yet kindly; frugal, but not miserly. He thinks of others but he also recognises himself as an entity in the scheme of things and knows well that he can be of no service to anyone if he does not respect himself first and treat others as though they were himself. He is a success personally because he is so effectively impersonal. He is not disturbed — either angry or jealous — when other men are given places of high honor, for the greatness in him makes him recognise the greatness in others. He knows that his own job however humble is as necessary as that of the highest potentate. And when he reaches a high position — as he will by the very power of his developing capabilities — except for the appreciation of his responsibility, he will never feel that this new duty is more important than the others he has had.

Before you can be truly successful you must raise the personality to a position of impersonal strength and honor. It is not only pride and bigotry, covetousness and anger that must be weeded out; fear, and timidity its offspring, are likewise vitiating influences in the education of the growing personality. They stultify the inner expansion so that even the will does not operate and nothing is left to direct the outward efforts but a feeling of inferiority which, when analysed, most often means a grudging recognition of the superiority in other people and a covetous desire for a similar position. (Usually a generous circle of enthusiastic admirers is in the mental picture.) Impersonal courage is action for its own sake. Impersonal action of any kind is in reality a giving with wisdom. Fear and timidity have no place in the impersonal life because they are always concerned with self. Life demands — and it is especially so in this age — strong courage and selfless thought and action.

There are those who believe in impersonality so much that they don't do anything about it. Theosophists do not believe in a philosophy of this kind of inaction. Impersonality, on the other hand, must be distinguished from a lack of vitality. The development of the impersonal attitude actually means a vigorous exercise of will and a constant application of all lessons one has learned on the subject. There is nothing spineless about realizing that "silence must be cultivated on all subjects which tend toward personality"; or about trying to allow "those immediately around you to win their own victories in self-control" even though you feel their decisions are leading them into situations fraught with danger. Conscientious Theosophists try to do all this and more.

A distinction must likewise be made between impersonality and heartlessness, for the truth is, that horrors have sometimes been committed in the name of impersonality. The most truly impersonal hearts are the most understanding, the most compassionate, but they have also developed in themselves a splendid sense of discrimination which separates the impulsive hand of emotionalism from the sure, steady hand of helpfulness. The more personal one is, the more danger there is in his becoming bankrupt as to judgment.

The ideal of every Theosophist is to become one of the Helpers of Humanity. These wonderful individuals have developed within themselves a deep and wondrous leadership based on impersonal living. This does not mean that they have made their natures impervious to the sorrows of men. On the contrary, their compassion is the mark of their greatness. Their pure, compassionate hearts cannot be consumed by the thirsty fires of emotional reactions. They serve humanity because they love humanity and understand that each member of that orphan family must "quench" its own thirst. They lead because of their great judgment. Their courage insures for them the steady, inner flame of wisdom which sheds its encouraging radiance impartially and impersonally on all! Once they were atomic entities who suffered through the restrictions of the personality, until through unflagging effort toward impersonality they became valiant assistants to Nature with vast reservoirs of privilege and power at their command.

Now consider the Sun and the glorious radiance it sheds on the universe in its keeping. Is it any wonder the teacher never tires of enjoining us to be impersonal and self-forgetful?

Theosophical University Press Online Edition