The title Man Must Make His Choice is a quotation from Mohandas K. Gandhi. It was noted in my journal the day after I had attended one of the famous prayer meetings in New Delhi. The date of the entry was the day before Gandhiji's assassination, two days before I saw the flames from the sandal-wood funeral pyre consuming the slight body of the man who had led India to her freedom.
Specifically the little Indian leader was speaking of the freedom of the press at the time he made the above utterance. As bad as current journalism often is, thought Gandhi, it would be infinitely worse to have an imposition of censorship in regard to the written word. "The useful and the useless must, like good and evil," he said, "generally go on together and man must make his choice."
Gandhi perhaps more than anyone of our times knew the divine assurance of freedom and the character building power that comes from the exercise of choice in every day matters. From childhood to mature manhood he made choices that strengthened the inner fiber of his nature, choices that led successively one into the other. It might seem a far cry from a decision to keep a promise to his mother when still a boy, and the choice that made him turn from the prosperous life of a successful barrister in order to become the impoverished leader of a nondescript group of misery-ridden people in South Africa. But without the completed exercise of the first, the courage it took to make the latter choice would have been impossible.
But the pattern of Gandhi's career was molded on other choices — made both by him and by other people. Early in his young manhood Gandhi was in London. There he chose two friends who were theosophists and who invited him to attend a theosophical meeting one night. (1) It was through these theosophical contacts that the young Indian became interested in the deeper meaning of the Bhagavad-Gita, and although he never joined the Theosophical Society he began in earnest a study of the Gita.
It has seemed to me of more than passing importance that the two friends Gandhi chose in London chose in turn to speak of Theosophy to him and to invite him to a theosophical meeting. Of perhaps greater significance was the fact that members of the H. P. Blavatsky Lodge made the choice of attending the meeting that night, of adding to the Lodge force of the two friends. The Bhagavad-Gita influenced, guided, and quickened his spiritual nature more than any other one thing, he said. If there were nothing else to tell of the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi, the fact that the millions reading of his life and death in the periodicals at the time of his passing were acquainted for the first time with the title "Bhagavad-Gita," would be significant. Excerpts from the third chapter — Devotion through the Right Performance of Action — were actually cabled from New Delhi to presses in America. If you believe in the occult power of words and thought, you cannot overlook the spiritual influence that must have been derived from this action on the part of foreign correspondents covering the event. Because of the quickened interest in Gandhi who was unswerving in his devotion to truth and duty as he saw it, theosophists have been able to speak more effectively at times of the spiritual importance of the Gita. It is a refreshing experience to be able to witness the light of interest on the faces of persons hearing for the first time an intelligent presentation of that part of the Hindu scriptures so well beloved by a man like Gandhi.
The pendulum of time swings in a mighty arc, and great events appear often far spaced from each other. Yet, there is not a point on the curve that is skipped. Indeed, it appears to be a single line of destiny from the initial starting point to the "final" dot on an upward curve, so rhythmic and unhesitating is the swing of the pendulum on the arc. The coming of the manasaputras and the moment of final choice are separated by millions of years, and theosophists have perfect faith that they participated in the one event and will take part successfully in the second. But too often the drama of the two great events obscures the importance of making the right choices on the line the pendulum is marking at present.
Of such glamor are the hues of distant events that we often deem it "too difficult," "too strenuous," or "too premature" to strive immediately for perfection in theosophic life. Yet every one of us overlooks the plain injunctions of all our Teachers when we merely "try" to lead theosophic lives. "Each one of you is an incarnate god. Be it." Thus spoke G. de P. (Don't try to be it, just be it.) We waste too much of our lives in explaining to ourselves chiefly that we have a "long way to go" before we can reach important goals.
Either this is silly sophistry on our part, or what our Teachers tell us is straight-out deception. We know the rules: serious meditation morning and night, and for that matter, all day long; strict adherence to personal duty; thinking of others first; tolerance; forgiveness; love so overwhelming that only divinity can be seen in the eyes of the people who may disagree with us; compassion so great that pity instead of scorn is uppermost in our hearts at the mistakes of others; impersonality and nonattachment. We should not have to worry about "reaching people" if we put into practice those rules.
We have been taught that each person is a sphere of influence, and that in proportion to the amount of Truth that we have heard we are responsible for the alleviation of suffering. We love our Teachings and we want to do "something for Theosophy." But this is an absurdity. We cannot do anything for Theosophy. Theosophy is Truth. We can only promulgate that Truth and build it into our lives to shine like beacon-lights in a world of darkness.
We long to do something big for our Lodges and study groups, and we devise schemes to "get people to our meetings." When empty halls and indifference confront us we say too often, "People aren't ready for the spiritual truths we have to offer." This is sheer nonsense and bigotry on our part. People are ready! Millions are longing for more light than the wee specks they are holding on to in the form of membership in religious organizations of various kinds. The real trouble is that so few of us are ready! Most of us have pinned too little importance to living the life and teaching by example.
The saddest experience in the life of any theosophist is to have it said, "Your philosophy sounds so grand, but how can theosophists act so, embracing as they do these noble Teachings?" It is sad because such a thing could never have been said to one whose life exemplified the theosophic truths. By his own inner light brought forth by his daily efforts in right choices and right conduct — in thought, word, and deed — he would have stilled the critic's tongue before he had uttered a word. Our Lodges and study groups will grow by the law of natural attraction, if we as members make ourselves purified centers of devotion which will draw the confidence of those seeking light. One person who "lives the life" has more power to assuage the pain of human suffering than one hundred with faith so weak there is no practice in their preachments.
"No man ever resteth a moment inactive," says Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita (Chapter iii). "Every man is involuntarily urged to act by the qualities which spring from nature. He who remains inert, restraining the senses and organs, yet pondering with his heart upon objects of sense, is called a false pietist of bewildered soul. . . . Do thou perform the proper actions: action is superior to inaction."
That is plain enough. We have a choice: action or inaction. We have three qualities of nature from which to choose our action: that of truth or wisdom, that of muddled emotions, that of dark ignorance. We need not deceive ourselves that we do not know — or cannot learn — which quality is which. We have been taught to develop the discriminating principle and use it. Our choice of doing just that, or not doing it, indicates the direction our path is taking at that moment.
In a civilization that is sick because of lust, greed, vanity, power-ridden ambitions, and dissensions, theosophists cannot afford to be anything less than their higher selves. The whole thing is too serious. Every one of us has a responsibility too great to overlook, any minute of the day, too great for us to perform any action "other than as a sacrifice to God." Only the god-enlightened will be able even to "save the pieces." There is no time to fritter away. The theosophist must truly make his choice.
1. H. P. Blavatsky was present at this meeting. (return to text)
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