The Path – March 1890


The inquiry so frequently made in the Theosophical Society as to what constitutes the duty of a Theosophist in any particular instance, as, for example, when he encounters the victims of poverty and suffering, shows a peculiar lack of apprehension of the higher Theosophical teachings. A call for a simple rule of action that may be applied in every case at once shows that the person from whom the call emanates has not grasped the fundamental teaching of Occultism, that everything in the manifested world is necessarily dual in its nature. A unitary rule of conduct is no more possible than a stick with only one end. In all things we perceive duality, the "pairs of opposites", as the Hindus say; thus we speak of subject and object, cause and effect, pleasure and pain, light and darkness, spirit and matter, good and evil, etc. In seeking by any intellectual process to resolve even the most abstruse philosophical or ethical questions into their ultimates, we can go no farther than the "pairs of opposites." Take, for an instance, the doctrine of karma. It includes both free-will and predestination, the "pairs of opposites" for that subject. For if each individual reaps only the effects of causes set in motion by himself, and thus may create his own future, he evidently has perfect freedom of will, and his destiny is held in his own hands. But, again, since each thought and motive he has is the result of preceding thoughts and motives, and these again of others, he is evidently proceeding inevitably upon a line marked out in the beginning. If we inquire when was this beginning, we come to a consideration of time and eternity — another "pair of opposites". Could we penetrate this duality and realize the underlying unity of nature, we would thereby escape the curse of reincarnation and pass from the world of illusion into the realm of reality; but so long as we are Baddhas, souls in the bondage of illusion, and not Jivanmuktas, souls emancipated, this duality forever confronts us, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the subject under discussion this evening — the application of Theosophy to daily life.

No system of thought attaches less importance to physical existence than does Theosophy, which declares it to be only a passing illusion, a shadow thrown upon a screen. The Neoplatonists spoke of their bodies as "images"; and the Theosophists of the present century attach far less importance to the physical organism and the actions of the material plane than they do to the mental attitude and intellectual activities. As said in a private letter of H. P. B., "To yield to personal physical weaknesses and passions is a lesser crime in Occultism than to yield to mental and intellectual weaknesses. To prostitute one's body is to desecrate only an old rag, an evanescent principle. To prostitute one's thought, even the lower Manas, connected with and emanating from the Higher Manas or Ego, is to pollute that which is immortal." Constantly we are urged to estrange ourselves from the objects of sense, and to attain to such freedom from all worldly desires that they will awaken in us only a feeling akin to disgust.

To attempt to put in practice these teachings only, disconnecting them from the whole body of Theosophical doctrines, would result disastrously; and for a majority of any race to do so would bring about an era of ignorance, filthiness, laziness, and depravity such as Europe was plunged into during the Dark Ages from the same Cause. For, mark well, this is but one of the "pairs of opposites", and the other is even more distinctly inculcated in Theosophical teachings, which insist rigorously upon the performance of every worldly duty, upon active participation in the world's work, and upon the most scrupulous moral and physical purity. Theosophy holds out no hopes of advancement to those who do not work for the cause of Humanity right here in this work-a-day world, and regards as a species of imbecility the mental condition of those who seek "interior illumination", or "soul unfoldment" as they term it, by abandoning their worldly duties and devoting themselves to psychic rhapsodies and visionary speculations, yielding, in fact, to their mental and intellectual weaknesses, and thereby, as H. P. B. declares, polluting immortal thought.

It is therefore no contradiction in theosophical doctrines that all things are declared illusory, unreal, and yet a course of action insisted upon seemingly making this the world of reality. It is but a recognition of the duality of manifested life, the polarity of existence or being, and the further recognition of the fact that it is not by following either pole alone that we can pass beyond the confines of duality and illusion to the realm of unity and truth, but by diligently considering both poles of existence we may make of the duad a unit, pass from time to eternity, from mortal to immortal, from being into be-ness. Consequent upon this duality, the life of a man is a process of unfoldment from within, and also of infoldment, or adjustment, from without. No unitary rule of action can be framed for a being who is himself a duad; for, being thus dual in his nature, he must follow a dual course, and in a question of action he must while acting remain inactive. One part of his nature acts, the other remains inactive; and when the lower and higher nature of man become one, then action and inaction must also become one. Says the Bhagavad-Gita, "He who perceives action in inaction, and inaction in action, is wise among mankind." And in that old book, itself an equilibrium of opposites, so profound in its simplicity, so homely in its grandeur, so ancient in its newness, as applicable to the care-worn Western man of modern times as it was to the quiet Eastern people of olden days, — we find no single rule of action, but this dual course of action laid down clearly and with exactness. Perform conscientiously every duty encountered in this busy world, but have no interest in the results, leaving them to the Supreme; as said in Christian Scriptures, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's." And the more a man separates the two worlds, that of the material from that of the spiritual, the more closely they come together, tending to merge into one, the light of the spiritual shining down into the material, so that even in the personality of the man may be seen a shimmering of the divine light, making his every action nobler and truer; whereas he who ignorantly seeks to confound the two worlds, rendering unto God that which is Caesar's, and unto Caesar that which is God's, say, by healing his body through the powers of his soul, as some do in this age, or tortures his body as a sacrifice to his soul, as do some Eastern zealots, finds the two worlds grow wider and wider apart. This is no contradiction; it is the necessary polarity and duality of manifested life.

The Path