The Theosophical Forum – March 1944


We need no dictionary to define the derivation of the word "Courage." That it springs from the Latin cor we are aware instinctively: our own hearts tell us that courage has its lodging there, in the very core of our being.

Nor is it necessary to search for synonyms. The glowing significance of bravery, dauntlessness, gallantry, intrepidity, valor, heroism, is well known to all of us. Do we not honor greatly — perhaps envy — that one who possesses a stout heart?

Once upon a time courage connoted desire, will, intention. "I'd such a courage to do him good," wrote Shakespeare. In every untoward circumstance or situation that makes us faint of heart, it is clearly imperative to summon desire, will, intention — and quickly — in order to substitute pluck for weakness. Sometimes for very survival, if not for the body then the soul.

There are no statistics on the subject, but there must be few in any race of men who do not esteem and applaud courage, who do not shrink from being branded as cowards. There are innumerable instances of men in battle who might well be faint of heart — and are, by their own admission — yet rally to acquit themselves nobly. It is cynical and ungenerous to believe that they are spurred on merely by the shame of appearing as weaklings before their comrades. The valor of most men surely springs from a deeper source, where the pure waters of the spirit cleanse them of self-interest, self-protection, and charge their souls as well as their bodies with intrepid courage. Again, it is shameful to narrow down heroism to a mere action of the adrenal glands. The sudden discharge of sugar into the blood-stream is but a small part of a much greater whole. The Whole of Man is something vaster than chemical action and reaction; contained therein are such potentialities of greatness and exercise of nobility that we may well bow before them in reverence and awe.

It is natural to think of bravery in its physical aspect now that millions are demonstrating this quality as actual participants in warfare — but what of moral and spiritual courage? Not often conspicuous or loudly heralded, they may be of such high order as to merit the most glorious of accolades. Triumph of the spirit over adversity and calamity, peril and tragedy — how deeply does this move us!

On the other hand, we are prone to have small patience, even condemnation, for those who continue to groan under afflictions. Our first pity is soon mingled with contempt if they sink in the morass of self-pity, if they "can't take it," except supinely. We abhor cowardice, the pusillanimous and the weak-spirited. Who knows but what this very scorn is unconsciously directed to the thin, sleezy spots in the fabric of our own character? Within us may sound an uneasy whisper: "Could I take it? Be of stronger courage in the face of bereavement and betrayal, loneliness and homelessness?" Pertinent questions if we ask and answer them honestly, leading to farther reaches of understanding and sympathy.

Who has not an Achilles heel? A certain man who achieved renown for exceptional bravery in battle is craven before the very thought of old age. Then there is the woman valiant in the defense of the weak, who works unceasingly for the establishment of justice and good-will among men — but quails miserably at the idea, quite remote, of poverty overtaking her. The heel of Achilles. There are those who keep cool heads and stout hearts in fire and flood, typhoon and earthquake and other so-called "acts of God," yet cannot speak the brave word in defense of the unjustly accused. Timorous and dry of mouth, they remain silent when finding themselves of the minority opinion, the unpopular. The list of weak tendons is, unhappily, a very long one. We all know the vulnerable points in others, but do we recognize our own? And if we do, and have the will, desire, and intention to rid ourselves of such obstacles to healthy growth, how do we go about it? How acquire true courage?

Not by living and thinking in the first person singular. Positively, as Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick phrases it, a man must get himself off his hands: must change the mirrors of his room, in which he sees only the reflection of himself, to windows through which he can look out upon objective objects. Theosophy gives a name to this exchange of mirrors to windows, and it is Impersonality.

The weapons of the spirit are the old fundamental values, truth, honesty, integrity, selflessness. By the exercise of these virtues we learn to be of good courage. Like Bunyan's Christian, we may be "hard put to it" at times, but we can everlastingly try — and who wants to be a miserable Faint Heart in his own Pilgrim's Progress?

To admire and honor the courage of another is a step that leads toward emulation. Youth is fired by the very name of Richard, the Lion-Hearted. The adult heart must be flimsy and apathetic indeed not to be stirred by the same appellation given so rightly to H. P. Blavatsky: stirred and moved forward by the power of her example.

Every book of Scriptures has its counsel of perfection for the nurture and maintenance of courage. "Wait on the Lord: be of good courage and he shall strengthen thy heart." Or this: "If thou hast tried and failed, O dauntless fighter, yet lose not courage; fight on, and to the charge return again and yet again."

There is strength for the sinews of mind and heart in the words of Katherine Tingley: "There is no nobility in fear; it is a thing born wholly in the realm of personality, smallness, and selfishness, and has nothing to do at all with the Higher Self which is the Hero in man."

Theosophical University Press Online Edition