Theosophists frequently refer to the various "Pairs of Opposites" perceived through the senses, such as hot and cold, waking and sleeping, male and female, positive and negative, force and matter, etc. They are innumerable.
Our ideas of life and our conduct are largely based on the recognition of these contrasting principles and their operations, and we, generally, are satisfied in accepting this dualism as a full explanation of phenomena being observed.
Yet the Ancients taught that all Nature partakes of three qualities instead of two. They are referred to in the Bhagavad-Gita, the sacred scripture of the East, and are called — using their Sanskrit names — sattva, light or truth; rajas, action, passion or desire; tamas, indifference or darkness.
Accepting merely the two antagonistic elements — a partial truth — or using certain words or ideas in the sense of their being pairs of opposites, when actually they are not, might be the cause of much of the error, confusion and perplexity which exists in our conception of Life and Nature and in our subsequent action and conduct. By treating this theme from different angles, an attempt will be made to clarify it to a certain extent.
All the Christian Kabbalists understood well the Eastern root idea: The active Power, the "Perpetual motion of the great Breath," only awakens Kosmos at the dawn of every new Period, setting it into motion by means of the two contrary Forces, (1) and thus causing it to become objective on the plane of Illusion. In other words, that dual motion transfers Kosmos from the plane of the Eternal Ideal into that of finite manifestation, or from the noumenal to the phenomenal plane. Everything that is, was, and will be, eternally is, even the countless forms which are finite and perishable only in their objective, not in their ideal form. They existed as Ideas, in the Eternity, and, when they pass away, will exist as reflexions.
Many phenomena, observed superficially, appear as single actions or forces — as, for instance, the act of walking! We are apt to overlook the fact that the tendency of a youngster, when crossing a street, is to run. It may be a matter of years before he is able to restrain himself to a walk. The impulse of the aged, on the contrary, is to step back when alarmed by an approaching vehicle. The alert and mature, only, manifest the necessary balance of these two inclinations.
A similar theory applies in locomotion. In automobile driving, the brakes are of equal importance with the motor, and equilibrium has to be maintained in their use to meet constantly changing conditions of terrain and also to avoid coming in contact with other vehicles or pedestrians.
Again, in nature, we note the falling rain, only, and do not see the counter action of the evaporation of moisture. Winds near the surface of the earth are perceived blowing from one general direction, but higher up there is a contrary movement. The warm ocean currents flow, mainly, towards the Poles, and unnoticed are the currents of cold water near the bottom returning towards the Equator and thereby completing the circuit.
Furthermore, Nature has two aspects, a positive and a negative aspect. . . . "Nature" has these two poles or sides: the positive pole or side and the negative pole or side. Examine yourself closely, and you will find that even your mind is dual, like everything else, for it mirrors Nature. It has its passive side, its "unconscious reflexes," just as the body has, just as Nature has. It has also its positive or active side. There is a great difference between the conscious will and the unconscious will. — G. de Purucker, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 171
Another familiar phenomenon of nature is being discussed somewhat in detail as a number of analogies will be drawn from the same later on. This is the daily alternation of daylight and darkness in the yearly cycle.
As we all know, there are twenty-four hours of daylight at the North Pole at the summer solstice. Latitudes towards the south show a gradual recession from this absolute of daylight possible and at the Equator a point is reached where the day is evenly divided between daylight and darkness.
During the same time, conditions in the southern hemisphere are reversed, with the quality of darkness being in the ascendency.
At the winter solstice, we find twenty-four hours of darkness at the North Pole and the same hours of daylight at the South Pole.
The following aspects of this phenomenon might be emphasized:
In human nature, evil denotes only the polarity of matter and Spirit, a struggle for life between the two manifested Principles in Space and Time, which principles are one per se, inasmuch [as] they are rooted in the Absolute. In Kosmos, the equilibrium must be preserved. The operations of the two contraries produce harmony, like the centripetal and centrifugal forces, which are necessary to each other — mutually inter-dependent — "in order that both should live." If one is arrested, the action of the other will become immediately self-destructive. — The Secret Doctrine, I, p. 416
The philosophical view of Indian metaphysics places the Root of Evil in the differentiation of the Homogeneous into the Heterogeneous, of the unit into plurality. — The Secret Doctrine, II, p. 421, footnote
Years ago, when horses were more in evidence than they are now, one often witnessed a team passing by. Occasionally, it might happen that one of the horses would drop back a pace while the other advanced correspondingly. This would cause them to fall out of the straight line in which they had been advancing and thereby they would draw the wagon to which they were hitched from what might be designated as positive and negative positions. Invariably, the driver, in anger, would whip the horse which appeared to be lagging, being under the impression that this horse was not pulling its share of the load.
No doubt, such a driver labors under an illusion, for, presumably, both horses are performing equal work. The thought that "They offset and balance in Nature — like all other "pairs of opposites'" would, undoubtedly, apply here!
Misconceptions like the above have given rise to much of the error existing in our ideas as to what is good or evil. As finite qualities, these are, likewise, a pair of opposites and relative only to the beneficiaries or victims of the same.
Limiting Nature to only two qualities and accepting the positive as good and the negative as evil is more common than is generally realized! Consider such opposites as light and darkness, day and night, summer and winter, hot and cold, etc. It is customary to use the positive poles of the above pairs as synonyms of what is desirable and the negative poles as synonyms of what is undesirable. The same distinction has at times been applied to the sexes; some religions taught that the woman was by nature evil or inferior.
Regardless of whether an opposite be designated positive or negative, the fact remains that either is good when it mitigates an extreme condition existing at the time, and evil when it aggravates that extreme condition. To illustrate from physical nature: In this eastern section of the U. S. A. during the extremely hot and humid days of summer, a cold fresh northwest wind is greatly welcomed. The same kind of wind blowing in winter is the cause of much hardship.
Intuitive individuals have grasped such ideas as are contained in the above illustrations. They have given expression to the same by such common sayings as "One man's meat is another man's poison"; "A half truth"; "Everything has two sides"; "The law of averages"; "The law of compensation."
RAJAS TAMAS daylight darkness motor brake force matter hot cold waking sleeping male female positive negative
Two painters each painted a picture to illustrate his conception of rest. The first chose for his scene a still, lone lake among the far-off mountains. The second drew on his canvas a thundering water-fall, with a fragile birch-tree bending over the foam; at the fork of a branch almost wet with the cataract's spray a robin sat on its nest. The first was only Stagnation, the last was Rest. For in rest there are always two elements — tranquillity and energy, silence and turbulence; creation and destruction; fearlessness and fearfulness. Thus it was in Christ. — Henry Drummond, Pax Vobiscum
. . . Looking back on my own experiences, they all converge towards a kind of insight to which I cannot help ascribing some metaphysical significance. The keynote of it is invariably a reconciliation. It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity. Not only do they, as contrasted species, belong to one and the same genus, but one of the species, the nobler and better one, is itself the genus, and so soaks up and absorbs its opposite into itself. This is a dark saying, I know, when thus expressed in terms of common logic, but I cannot wholly escape from its authority. I feel as if it must mean something, something like what the Hegelian philosophy means, if one could only lay hold of it more clearly. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear; to me the living sense of its reality only comes in the artificial mystic state of mind. — William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 387
In The Secret Doctrine, Volume II, page 153, H. P. Blavatsky states that "Analogy is the guiding law in Nature, the only true Ariadne's thread that can lead us, through the inextricable paths of her domain, toward her primal and final mysteries."
This article, so far, has been chiefly confined to a consideration of matters pertaining to physical nature but it is accepted that a parallelism exists with the metaphysical and further arguments will be made according to this belief.
Henry Drummond, in the quotation which appears above, shows that the genuine Virtues, appearing as unities, are composed of diverse qualities! In confirmation of his idea, remarks follow regarding some of them. Comments will also be made under succeeding headings about additional Moral and Ethical characteristics of man.
One of the definitions of temper is: "A due proportion of different qualities or ingredients." In the tempering of steel, skill is required as, otherwise, the treated metal may turn out to be either too soft or too hard. As regards man, the word Temper is similarly used. This substantiates the assumption that Virtues are compounded of unlike properties.
Vigilance is considered a Desirable attribute. This is defined: "Attentive to discover and avoid danger." Two attitudes can be inferred here, an offense and a defense.
Innocence is often mistaken for unsophistication, but the former is a potent Virtue. Innocence does not harm others; and there is an inner strength which wards off evil.
The Just man will not take advantage of the abject. He also has sufficient vigor to resist being taken advantage of by the despotic.
The Helpful or Accommodating individual willingly helps others. He possesses sufficient self-restraint not to intrude in their private affairs. One who lacks this check is merely officious.
The Liberal will advance when circumstances warrant it, but he has an added attribute — Self-control — which prevents him from going too far. Here might be used as an analogy the idea of locomotion previously mentioned. The brakes on an automobile might be used to illustrate the quality of conservatism and the motor that of radicalism. The Liberal holds these two elements in Equilibrium.
In the Law of Inertia, as taught by Physics, we find this stated in two parts, as follows: "A body at rest tends to remain at rest and a body in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force." Perhaps the idea herein contained might be extended to the domain of Metaphysics. Note, for example, the act of working. We find the lazy or debilitated worker possessed of a similar quality to that mentioned in the first part of the Law of Inertia. Then there is the one who works hurriedly and intensively. He is often given credit for being a model workman, yet it seems that this might not be the case. His actions are automatic. The second part of the rule might apply to him. The Steady worker exhibits both of these characteristics and is in addition Self-controlled.
RAJAS SATTVA TAMAS hardness Temper softness offense Vigilance defense sophistication Innocence unsophistication despotic Just abject officious Accommodating, Helpful unaccommodating radical Liberal conservative intensive, hurried Steady, Self-controlled debilitated, lazy
. . . we say that from the moment when manifestation begins, it acts dualistically, that is to say, that everything in Nature from that point onwards is crossed by pairs of opposites, such as long and short, high and low, night and day, good and evil, consciousness and non-consciousness, etc., — and that all these things are essentially mayic or illusory — real while they last, but the lasting is not eternal. It is through and by these pairs of opposites that the self-conscious soul learns Truth.
What is the basis of morals? This is the most important question that can be asked of any system of thought. Is morality based on the dicta of man? Is morality based on the conviction in most men's hearts that for human safety it is necessary to have certain abstract rules which it is merely convenient to follow? Are we mere opportunists? or is morality, ethics, based on Truth, which it is not merely expedient for man to follow, but needful, necessary? Surely upon the latter! — G. de Purucker, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 21
In the remarks about the opposites, daylight and darkness, it was noted that the distribution of these might be placed in three categories. For six months of the year, one of them predominates in one hemisphere while the other is in the ascendency in the other. But at the Equator these diverse qualities are always in Equilibrium — the day being composed of twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness.
By correspondence, the same law would apply to metaphysical phenomena. And it is therefore assumed that what we designate as Virtues, Moral or Ethical characteristics, are the various pairs of opposites manifesting in Balance! This, of course, is the doctrine called the Middle Way by the Ancients.
They taught that True Morality never varies, but is ever the same, yesterday, today and forever. Conventions and customs change, following the cycles of the opposites, but the Virtues remain "fixed." A relevant thought appears in Light on the Path:
The condition of the soul when it lives for the life of sensation as distinguished from that of knowledge, is vibratory or oscillating, as distinguished from fixed. — p. 42
To the gullible, patronage may be mistaken for Benevolence, but the dispenser of the former places the recipient under obligation and the favor will have to be repaid, oftentimes at usurious interest. The Benevolent individual, making a gift, does so impersonally and does not calculate on or expect a return.
The writer was in the army during the Great War and often talked with other soldiers who had been called upon for service at the front. Some confided to him the emotions they experienced while under danger. A number of the latter confessed that at first they felt great fear, but later there came a reaction and then they charged the enemy. They admitted that this latter emotion was self-preservation. Spiritual Courage or Bravery faces every duty without apprehension for there is the realization that "Verily never was I not, nor thou, nor these rulers of men; nor shall any of us hereafter cease to be" (Bhagavad-Gita).
Recklessness — the positive aspect of another quality — is indulged in, it is thought, more through a non-realization of possible danger than through the taking of a risk deliberately. When and
if the reckless person meets with an accident, he will react to over-cautiousness. The Cautious consider all the factors involved, strike a balance between the above pair and act accordingly.
Passion or rage is an active emotion which only one with a "superiority complex" can afford. The person with an "inferiority complex" has to be content with its passive counterpart, moodiness or sullenness. Equanimity and Equality might be used in designating the Sattva qualities of the foregoing.
RAJAS SATTVA TAMAS patronage Benevolence obligation self-preservation Courage, Bravery cowardice reckless Cautious over-cautious passion, rage Equanimity moodiness, sullenness superiority Equality inferiority mock-pity Compassion self-pity cultured, polite Courteous, Gentle uncultured, boorish
The universal force, which is one, is really composed of positive and negative electricity and the unnamable Something behind it which the West is trying to grasp. Should they not be humble in reflecting that thousands of years ago the wise men of China taught that it was the Yin and the Yang, the positive and negative principles, the masculine and the feminine principles, which are one and, being one, drive the universe? And this is Law — and Love. — L. Adams Beck, The Garden of Vision, p. 345
. . . The One, can, when manifesting, become only 3. . . . The "Deep" is Space — both male and female. — K. H. in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 347
Words or ideas are often used in contrast which, actually, are not pairs of opposites. This error, it is believed, is caused by the conception that there are only two qualities manifesting in Nature. It is, of course, proper to use phrases as Spirit and matter, Higher and lower nature, Virtue and vice, Desirable and undesirable human attributes, etc. Here we have opposed properties of the Noumenal World and the phenomenal. But it must be remembered that the latter are bi-polar so that, in fact, three qualities are being inferred.
One often finds, for example, optimism and pessimism used in the sense that the former is a Desirable characteristic and the latter is an undesirable one. But such a definition would constitute a philosophical absurdity on a par with contrasting a horse with half of a cow. For if Optimism be used as a Virtue, pessimism would merely be the negative pole of its finite reflexion.
In The Theosophical Forum, issue of January 1940, Christmas Humphreys defines these two words. He writes:
It follows that optimism and pessimism are alike unhealthy forms of phantasy for the one undervalues and the other overrates experience. The wise man therefore values honestly, and accepts experience at the value found.
An example is also given by Dr. G. de Purucker. He states that "It is an error in logic to contrast life and death. The opposite of death is birth and to life there is no contrast. Life is infinite." Life simply changes its forms, periodically, in the two words mentioned.
Humble and haughty are used in a like sense many times. But the haughty react to obsequiousness. Real Humbleness is a Firm Moral characteristic.
In The Saturday Evening Post, issue of November 26, 1938, the Editor makes some relevant observations as regards an imputed antagonism between democracy and dictatorship, as assumed by many persons. In the first paragraph, he says: "The danger is not that the principle of popular government will be overthrown by the opposite principle in battle; the danger is that it will defeat itself beforehand." Further on he mentions that "It is an axiom of history that great human institutions must first be weakened within before they can be destroyed from without, which means that, in fact, they destroy themselves." Towards the end of the editorial he states that "To meet dictatorship in battle — if it were that — we should have embraced dictatorship ourselves."
His remarks support the contention being made that to the genuine Virtues — in this case that of Pure Democracy — there can be no opposition.
Incidentally, our American government follows a form which might be considered as being patterned after the three qualities of Nature. This refers to the distinct branches: judicial, executive and legislative.
RAJAS SATTVA TAMAS optimism Enthusiasm pessimism birth Life death haughty Humble, Modest obsequious autocrat Democrat communist executive Judicial legislative license Liberty prohibition politician Statesman henchman
"Harmony results from the equilibrium of contraries." . . . The truth must be whole and single; yet the ratiocinative function of our understanding is unable to present it as a unity, and can present it only as a series of pictures.
The old idea of a purely objective universe, outside the spectator, the same for all observers, always the same for any observer, is no longer tenable. What each man calls the universe is the interaction between the outer physical world and the inner private world; scientific truth is relative to the mind of the observer. — The Theosophical Forum (H. T. Edge)
It is quite commonly assumed that there is only one mode of perception — that phenomena are discerned the same by all. But, in further corroboration of the ancient doctrine that all Nature partakes of three qualities, it may be noted that this universality applies here also. L. L. Wright's "Paradox," below, can be used to illustrate this on the physical plane.
Think for example of a brass curtain-rod. If it is held lengthwise before the eye it looks like a straight line; if held end-on the eye sees it as a tiny disk; if it is slanted a little it becomes a line which appears shorter than its true length. But by co-ordination of eye and brain these deceptive appearances are instantly combined into a single mental image.
The idea herein contained from the field of the senses can by analogy be extended to the intangible faculties of perception. Cognition in certain persons is colored by their emotions. In others, it is tinged by their mental bias. The brain-mind is considered by many as being the faculty par excellence, yet, the "Intellect without a guiding light can be ruthless in manipulating ethics to fit its purposes." Figuratively, the emotional would only see the curtain rod end-on and the intellectual would see it lengthwise. The Intuition is the Spiritual faculty of "co-ordination" for "the intellect compares while the intuition realizes."
Emotions and impulses operate through the animal body; instinct and intellectualism through the human brain-mind; while intuition and innate intelligence act through a Spiritual vehicle.
In the domain of psychic investigation the universal law of the three qualities of Nature applies also. We find, on the one hand, the negative medium; on the other hand, the positive control or hypnotist. In the dangerous, lower psychism, in order to perceive phenomena, these two types act together. The Higher Clairvoyance operates only through the Spiritual, Self-controlled individual. He does not need to become negative to the influence of another and is therefore able to guard himself against malignant evil influences which might be contacted on other planes of perception.
RAJAS SATTVA TAMAS instinct Intuition impulse intellect Intelligence emotions brain-mind Spirit body personality Individuality animality hypnotist Clairvoyant, Clairaudient medium thought Illumination, Ecstasy feeling human-nature Higher-Nature animal-nature
"Man know thyself," saith the Delphian oracle. There is nothing "improper" — certainly in such a curiosity. Only would it not be still more proper to study our own present personality before attempting to learn anything of its creator, — predecessor, and fashioner, — the man that was? — K. H. in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 145
All that we know of anything is that it is not this and it is not that. We gain experience in terms of opposites.
We are all familiar with the law of Magnetism: "Unlike poles attract each other; like poles repel each other." In human relationships, the same rule applies — in so far as this is confined to the finite world of the opposites.
Here, the above law can be stated thus: "Persons of unlike temperaments attract each other; those of like temperaments repel each other." It would probably be quite simple to predict the reactions of others were their experiences of life confined entirely to the sensual world. But this is not the case, for all individuals contact, though in varying degree, the Higher planes.
When reference is made to a dictionary one often finds words like dishonest or untruthful listed as antonyms of Honest or Truthful, respectively. From this, one is apt to infer that any pair of synonyms and antonyms completely covers the specific characteristic being considered.
But it may be noted, for instance, the dishonest person takes advantage, not of the Honest, but of the gullible. Similarly, the untruthful are only able to influence the credulous, not the Truthful. And, by what may appear as a peculiar quirk of human nature, the gullible and credulous seem to "like it." Honest and Truthful individuals may meet with cold receptions if they try to convey to the latter types that they are being imposed upon.
Tolerance and intolerance are listed in like manner. Yet, there is a pseudo-tolerance; tolerance allied with condescension. This is a passive property and, it is believed, exists only because of its impotence, due to adverse conditions prevalent at the time. Should conditions become favorable, it would become active intolerance. Real Tolerance is a realization that the beliefs of others may be right for them at their stage of evolution.
In attempting to demonstrate the actions of the pairs of opposites and their intensity or degree, three different examples are offered.
First, consider the two sides of a triangle formed by the swinging of a pendulum. The two lines could be used to represent a pair of these. At the apex, where the two lines meet, is the point where they melt into unity. The farther the distance from this center, the greater the sweep of the pendulum, and the greater the intensity of the opposites.
A second illustration. The positive vibrations from a Broadcasting Company are received through negative receiving sets, when tuned in to the same wave-length. In like manner, there is a different vibration for each pair of opposites and action takes place between those of identical wave-lengths.
It was noted that, as regards the opposites, daylight and darkness, a cycle exists between every latitude on the northern hemisphere and its corresponding degree in the southern hemisphere and, also, that the greatest variation is found at the poles. In other words, any of these two contrasting points are parts of one whole. Similarly, as regards the finite human characteristics, it can be inferred that their oscillations follow the same law.
We are all prone to flatter ourselves in believing that we always stand at the Equator where the antagonistic forces are equally balanced. But if we find ourselves in opposition with another located some distance from it, it might be well to consider whether we are not located the same distance away in the opposite direction.
Between individuals in whom the Sattva quality is operating, the law of Magnetism does not prevail. Action here may be called Sympathy.
Perhaps the two distinctions made might help explain some of the paradoxical statements so often met with and which puzzle us all, as, for instance, "It is desirable that persons of opposite characteristics should marry," and "People with like aims, only, should marry." Presumably there is no contradiction, for in the former the law of polarity would apply. The latter would be more of a platonic union. Here attraction and repulsion would be harmonized and a state of Sympathy would obtain.
RAJAS SATTVA TAMAS repulsion Sympathy attraction lust Continence fascination abandon Chastity prudery intolerance Tolerance pseudo-tolerance dishonest Honest gullible untruthful Truthful credulous greedy Provident improvident
That man who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction is wise among men.
He is considered to be an ascetic who seeks nothing and nothing rejects, being free from the influence of the "pairs of opposites." The truly devoted, for the purification of the heart, perform actions with their bodies, their minds, their understanding, and their senses, putting away all self interest. The man who is devoted and not attached to the fruit of his actions obtains tranquillity; whilst he who through desire has attachment for the fruit of action is bound down thereby. — Bhagavad-Gita
In man, the pairs of opposites manifest only through his lower nature. At one period of his evolution — the Higher Nature still being latent — they operated automatically, within certain set limits. But, with the advent of Self-Consciousness, problems of Morality have arisen. The former condition of irresponsibility has long since passed and humanity is now entered upon a phase of evolution which is Self-directed. His duty now is to bring into Equilibrium the various pairs of opposites acting through him. To accomplish this, a position must be taken outside of them.
Some assert that — living in the finite world — it is impossible to separate oneself from the different forces which may prevail at the time, and that one must therefore always choose one of two sides. Presumably they belong to the type who still are considerably enmeshed by their lower natures. But, in our illustration from physical nature, we noted that at the Equator there always exists a zone of Equilibrium as far as the opposites, daylight and darkness, are concerned. Similarly, there is a center within each one of us where each of the conflicting elements of our lower nature can be brought under control.
And as an outside force is needed to bring the earth's axis perpendicular to the plane of its orbit and thereby creating, so far as that phenomenon is concerned, universal Harmony on our earth, so, likewise, in man, a force outside the pairs of opposites is required. This is the Spiritual Will which can be invoked through right Aspiration.
It was stated that the finite problem of good and evil was largely relative, but with the advent of the Higher Nature, the seat of such attributes as Self-Consciousness, Free Will, Conscience, etc., this is no longer the case. A conscious choice has now to be made as to which of two paths is to be followed.
Now, an identifying of oneself with the lower nature intensifies what were formerly merely animal propensities. This is the road which leads to black magic.
The truly Wise will no longer allow the innumerable pairs of opposites to make a playground of their minds but will strive to bring them into Equilibrium. The materialist may consider this course as leading to negation but the Ancients held that this was the way to Freedom of the Self.
RAJAS SATTVA TAMAS desire Aspiration satiety willful Spiritually willed willess conceited Wisdom ignorance science Philosophy theology self-seeking Brotherhood self-sacrifice pleasure Serenity pain creation Preservation destruction
1. The centripetal and centrifugal forces, which are male and female, positive and negative, physical and spiritual, the two being the one Primordial Force. — H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, I, p. 282, footnote. (return to text)