The Theosophical Forum – July 1948

PARADOX — A. Birch

Many use the word paradox without quite knowing its exact significance. A useful definition is that a paradox is a statement which looks contradictory until further information reconciles it and shows both sides to be parts of the same whole. Theosophy is a philosophy where the last word is never said and dogmas do not belong, unless you call Universal Brotherhood a dogma. That is all that is required of a candidate for membership in the Theosophical Society, a belief in Universal Brotherhood.

Here at once we have a striking paradox. It is declared that Universal Brotherhood is a fact in nature and yet it is perfectly obvious that brotherhood is about the last thing to be found in the world in general today; or for that matter in brotherhoods. How is the paradox to be reconciled? The truth is that Universal Brotherhood is a fact in nature, we are all interdependent whether we like it or not; we all have to hang together or hang separately, as someone expressed it when striking a bold blow for freedom. But nature includes many planes or levels of thought and consciousness. The one plane where brotherhood is conspicuously absent is the intellectual plane, the mind plane, and that is what it is our work to do — to make it a reality on that plane.

As an Eastern scripture says, we are made up of our thoughts. We live in the brain-mind and emotional nature, most of us, and we see the reflection of our inner selves in the outer gray of the everyday. Nothing whatever prevents us; except ourselves, from making the outer life what we think it ought to be.

A kind of paradox with which we are familiar often seems to make mental conclusions inevitable. There was a willing but brain-mind assistant in Mr. Judge's office who was absolutely convinced that the solemn but absurd charges made against his chief were true, as many others did. His intuition, that higher sense than the brain-mind thought or psychic notions, was not in operation. But loyalty to some who had intuition gave him the power to respond instantly when they told him that the segment of vision subtending his view was not the full circle and he realized through his loyalty what the truth really was. In this case loyalty had its rich reward at least for the time. Genuine loyalty, whether to a vow or to leader, is often the same thing as clear vision, if that vow or leader represents the higher part of one's nature. The wide sweep of spiritual vision can see all round our paradoxes, the lower vision cannot.

The ancient oracle often spoke in paradoxes. The general rule was that enough was said in reply to a question to give spiritual help provided that the inquirer used his intuition. It may seem a little childish to us who do not understand the spirit of the thing that one of the famous oracles answered three applicants that the first of them who should embrace his mother should obtain what they each desired, the succession to a kingdom. Two ran off home but the third knelt down and kissed the earth. He was the successful one. But then he deserved to be; he showed intuition in embracing Mother Earth. Spiritual things are often as simple as that; the child could understand them while the man of the world is not simple enough to do so.

Another Temple paradox was that the power of money was not always spiritual power, if ever. An evil man suffered in his eyes as the direct result of his evil ways. He was rich, so he went to the Temple of healing, offering a rich reward for treatment. He stayed the night in the usual fashion but in the morning he was not told of any favorable oracle delivered during the hours of sleep. He was given his money and told to go and live a better life. They did not want his money. We may smile at the simplicity of the tale, but there are moneychangers today who would buy the things of the spirit with money, and they are simpler than the man who recorded the tale. It cannot be done. Rather the contrary. The truly spiritual Teacher has no property of his own whatever; he gives all, he takes nothing. It is another paradox. The more he has the less he has. The widow's mite is more than the rich man's fortune when she gives her all.

There is much that is paradoxical in human nature. The reason is simple. Human nature is compound and it is quite possible for one thing to look different from itself when viewed in the light of a different "principle" or aspect of that compound nature.

Of this kind is the solemn mystery-scene of the initiant praying that the bitter cup may be taken from him. It is the "human" soul who speaks. But it adds: "Nevertheless not my will but thy will be done." This "my" is of the personal soul, the "thine" refers to the spiritual or divine soul in the same man. The lower man complains of the burden; the higher man willingly takes it up.

Another paradox is that in which we learn utter humility. We are too small to matter; we are so humble that we cannot do anything; we must not assert our personality. In the same breath we say we are gods; we are divine, how dare we degrade our divinity by being so humble. Many a sincere heart has been troubled over this paradox. Many a priesthood in antiquity and later has exhibited an arrogance beyond bearing and in doing so has taught and demanded that the layman shall be miserably humble. And the layman has often so forgotten how to think, if he ever knew, that he, and perhaps more often she, humbly follows a priest who is no priest, worshipping a personality, when the great flaming soul within is flouted. In many a Theosophical Society there has been personality worship by negative members and they have always found those who are ambitious for followers, often to the neglect of the genuine spiritual leader.

Let the soul be humble before the divinity within and before no outside priesthood whatever, however garbed. There may be respect for a genuine spiritual teacher, an immense respect, but it is precisely that teacher who always insists that in the end there are no gods but God and all the Teacher can do is to point the way within to the finding of the God in the heart of all things.

Life itself is a paradox and someday we shall all find the seeming contradictions reconciled when we have a wider sweep of experience, even though that experience often comes to us in a bitter cup.

Theosophical University Press Online Edition