Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Why do people ask questions? Because they want to know something. And why do they want to know? Because they have something within them which is desirous of consciously re-allying itself with the foundations of the universe — truth. If we did not have within us this divine instinct, this divine hunger for and instinct towards truth, we never should ask any questions at all. We should be like the senseless stone or, perhaps, having no further spirit of divine curiosity than might be expressed by the unvoiced questions of the beasts.
The asking of questions, serious questions, is an attribute which appertains to the spiritual part of man's being, and is, in a sense, the voice of his higher nature attempting to express itself through the intermediate nature and the brain-mind, the intermediate nature being what is commonly called the human soul; and this attempt to express the divine-spiritual consciousness of us through this psychic or intermediate nature, and through the latter's vehicle, the physical body, stimulates this latter or intermediate part of us into at questioning mood or attitude.
The spiritual psychology of this process is rather difficult to understand by one who has not deeply thought on the matter, nevertheless what I have just said is an exact explanation, albeit imperfectly developed here, of what takes place in the human constitution.
We question: Who am I? What am I? Whence am I? Whither go I? Why am I here? What is life? What is the purpose of life? What is death? What is the purpose of death? What are trust and love and friendship and self-sacrifice and aspiration and hope and joy? All these questions, and many more like them, arise from the divine energies in our inmost parts seeking expression through the intermediate vehicle which, sensing the inflow and stimulated by it, automatically as it were assumes a questioning mood or attitude.
It is an amazing thing that so many thinking human minds through the ages have asked themselves: Is there a soul? Is there something more of me than the physical body? Whereas they have merely to examine themselves, each man to examine himself, to find the answer written large in his own nature and constitution.
Had you not this divine hunger for knowledge, had you not this urging instinct within, had you not these aspirations for knowledge, there would be nowhither to go in thought in order to understand yourselves and the universe in which you live and of which you are an inseparable part.
Do you understand the drift of my thought? My meaning is that these inner impulses, irresistible in their force and unceasing, are a proof of an inner nature, popularly called the soul, seeking its own, and therefore proving that that thing exists; for nature never cheats itself. If there were no higher things than the physical, there would be no urge towards higher things, because nature could not have an urge towards something which does not exist. This questioning attitude, this desire or hunger for knowledge, are proofs of the existence of a spiritual nature within.
You know perhaps that we Occidentals are the worst psychologists that the human race has ever brought forth in historic times. We know nothing about what psychology really is. Our Occidental idea of psychology is that of a sort of sublimated physiology, something pertaining completely, wholly, entirely, to the physical body and the energies which move it along; whereas the physical body is but an expression and also the vehicle of these inner, psychological, and spiritual energies and powers which play through it, and, alas, often disrupt it and bring it pain and sorrow, paradoxical as it may sound. Sunlight, for instance, is a gloriously beautiful thing, but too much sunlight at the wrong time and at the wrong place can induce disease as easily as the deprivation of sunlight. Health is harmony and adjustment to environment and the coordination of the relations of the individual to the All, and where there is disharmony and lack of coordination and failure in adjustments, then what is called disease ensues.
So then, the asking of questions, even in its most vulgar form, that of mere curiosity, proves the existence of a divine instinct for something greater than the things which the physical brain cognizes around itself. The desire for knowledge is an elevating desire. Hence, when I receive questions similar to those that I have received during the last two or three weeks, it is exceedingly interesting to me to see the mental drift or bias of the minds which asked these questions; and curiously enough, most of these questions tend more or less in the same direction. People want to know who they are and what they are, and whence they come, and what life is, and questions of great problems similar to these.
I have not received a single good-for-nothing question, not a single good-for-nothing query. I have not received a single question as to, for instance, How to make money quickly, or What kind of husband shall I look for? or What kind of a wife shall I marry? and things like that. It is rather absurd for any sensible man or woman, young or old, asking questions of that kind, which a man or woman of normal capacity should solve for himself or for herself!
In asking questions of that kind of any public lecturer, you must remember that he will merely tell you in answer what he himself happens to think about the things, and nothing more; and if he does not himself understand, how can he understand you and direct your life?
But questions of great interest, questions of wide and general reach, questions which show that the querent has dipped, in his thoughts, into the very structure of the universe, which is in the inmost of the inmost of us all: these are questions which can be answered, and answered by anyone who is developed enough to understand himself somewhat, and hence these are the questions which the great seers and sages of the ages have answered in full, and it is just here that the real hunger for knowledge of the human heart lies.
In taking up the series of questions which I hope to answer today, I will first read all of them to you:
"What is death? Is it something to be feared?"
All men fear death, except the wise ones, those who know. Is this fear an instinct, a common instinct, something native to the human heart, something which it manifests because it is a truth, and therefore to be feared by us? Never! Fear is an unreasoning thing as well as unreasonable, and usually exists in human minds and hearts which are more or less undeveloped in the particular line where the fear lies. Knowledge kills fear. There are men who fear reverses in business. Such fears show ignorance and weakness; they do not show knowledge and strength, for the man with knowledge and strength is successful in business as in other things, and often successful despite the frequently severe blows of karmic destiny, and is always successful in the end.
Death. O beautiful, sublime death, the greatest and loveliest change that the heart of nature has in store for us! What is really painful about it is the loss of our physical presence to those whom we leave behind us. That alone is the pain and agony of death, but not to those who pass, but to those who are left behind. But in itself, if we poor human hearts only knew the truth, we would do as a certain ancient people did: put on white robes of gladness, and our faces would be lighted with unutterable hope, with the knowledge not only that all is well, but that the one who has passed has entered into the sublime scenes of a larger and a far greater life.
Death is change, even as birth through reincarnation, which is death to the soul, is change; and there is no difference — and please take these words of the ancient wisdom literally — there is no difference between death, so called, and life, so called, for they are one. The change is into another phase of life. Death is a phase of life, even as life is a phase of death. As Paul of the Christians said: "I die daily"; and as a theosophist might say: I die constantly, I die all the time. I am not what I was when I was a little boy, nor shall I be what I am now when I am an older man. Death is change. Some optimists call it a release. Well, yes, if you are on a bed of pain and suffering, it is indeed a release from pain and suffering.
Oh, there is so much that I could tell you about death. Death is not something to be feared. Let me tell you how the ancients looked upon it. Incarnation into a physical body — reincarnation into a physical body — is '"death" to the entity which reincarnates. And when this body, this vehicle, this lamp containing the immortal flame, passes, breaks up into its constituent parts, it is rebirth for the consciousness — the thinking, hoping, aspiring, loving heart of us, the core of us. Death is as natural, death is as simple, death itself is as painless, death itself is as beautiful, as the growth of a lovely flower.
Would you that I should describe to you the process of death? It would take me one or two or three hours, but briefly, no man, no human being, ever dies completely unconscious. The body may be still, the heart may have ceased to beat, the train of thought of recollection, of everything that the departing entity has passed through, is on its transit through the brain; but death has not yet ensued, and the dying one is conscious, even conscious of what takes place around the bed. That consciousness is a beautiful one. There is a cognition of what is coming, there is a realization of what is passing. There is a recognition of what it knew before. There is a bright promise of what is to come. These are the thoughts and the feelings of the passing one.
Therefore, as one of our great teachers has told us, be quiet, be still, all ye who assist at the deathbed of the dying; so that the entity passing into the brighter promise, into the most lovely and unutterable peace, may leave its train of thought untouched by anything of earth. Be still! Cruel is weeping to the passing one, cruel are any exhibitions of suffering and pain. Wise indeed were the ancient people, who put on garments of snowy white and with jubilant faces saluted the rising sun. Pass on! Pass on!
That is death, literally not poetically, please. Many of you who have been at the bed of one whom you loved, and who has passed out and has had that experience, will know, if you have been observant and watchful that what I have told you is true.
There are some deathbeds which are not painless. I have not spoken of these, because they are painful. They are the passings of those who have lived wrongly, and only because they have lived wrongly the separation of the passing entity from things of earth and matter is difficult.
There is the basis, in part, of the teachings of the sages of all the ages that to live aright is to live wisely. Death is nothing to be feared. Our hearts go out in tenderest sympathy to those who are bereaved, because, friends — and may I say comrades, in thought at least — it is those who love the passing one, those who are left behind, who feel the wrench of the personal separation. These are they who merit our sympathy; these are they who should be comforted.
Death is beautiful. It is a passing into another phase of life. May I go a step farther? It is a passing into a life of consciousness, after a time of sleep and repose which is more real than is this physical earth-life; for the veils of matter there are thinner, the sheaths of material substance there are not so thick as here. The eye of the spirit sees more clearly. But the life in the realms and spheres beyond is precisely as is this life, making the proper changes — to use a Latin phrase, mutatis mutandis, with the necessary changes of circumstance and time and occasion.
Please take this statement literally. You know the old Hermetic axiom, the beautiful saying of the wise old ancients: "What is above" — meaning in the spiritual spheres, and here we point upward, which is merely a symbolic gesture — "is the same as what is in the material spheres below; and what is here below is the same as what is above." Death releases us from one world, and we pass through the portals of change into another world, precisely as the inverse takes place when the incarnating soul leaves the realms of finer ether to come down to our own grosser and material earth-life into the heavy body of physical matter.
The inner worlds to the entity passing through them, as it has passed through this world, are as real — more real in fact — than ours is, because it is nearer to them. They are more ethereal, and therefore are nearer to the ethereality of the eternal pilgrim passing through another stage on its everlasting journey towards perfection; and these changes take place one after another, before the next incarnation on the returning wheel of the cycle; the pilgrim passing from one sphere to another through the revolving centuries, ever going higher, that is to say, to superior realms, until the top of that individual's cycle — I had it on my lips to say transmigration, but I knew I would be misunderstood, for I do not mean it in the customary sense — till the topmost point of the cycle of that particular pilgrim's journey is reached.
Then come into play the attractions of the lower realms to which the lower parts of the pilgrim are native, to which it still has psychomagnetic bonds; and these attractions finally pull it downwards into a new cycle of manifestation on the lower realms. This our own earth is the lowest point in the cycle of human evolutionary progress; therefore "release" if you will, death to use the proper term, is an advance upwards. Death is the portal through which the pilgrim enters the stage higher.
You ask, perhaps: Do all human beings follow this path? Normally, yes; some few, no. Who are these few, the exceptions? They are the great ones, the great seers and sages of the ages, who come into the world, not for their own sakes, because they have learned pretty much all that this world can teach them; they come into the world as saviors of their fellowmen. They have consecrated their life for the service of others, to teach others who know less than they do and are less far along the pathway of progress.
With these great ones the change of body is a different thing. The body, even of these great ones, in time wears out. Its latent fountains of vitality are exhausted, and they change a body then as an ordinary man would put on another suit of clothes — at will and when they will and how they will and where they will.
Death is the entering into unutterable peace; and with the passing of the great ones, the heroes of the race, the peace is of short duration; for it is deliberately renounced, even as our own great teacher, Katherine Tingley, who has recently passed away, has entered into her unutterable peace for it there, and then will return to take up the sublime work. We who loved her bear testimony to her life and her work.
"Is suicide ever permissible?"
Never. And why never? Because it is a coward's act. Suicide means the deliberate taking of one's own life in order to escape the consequences of what one has earned; and if any man or woman think that he can cheat nature in that way, he greatly errs. He but adds to the heavy burden that he has to carry in the future; and what awaits him on the other side I will leave unsaid. He has deliberately forced nature's hand, so to say; he has deliberately exercised his own willpower and consciousness for an unholy deed in an unnatural way, and done an act which nature, through its unerring laws, has not itself brought about; and when you break a law of nature, what happens? In suicide you break one of nature's fundamental laws, and there you have your answer. Study our theosophical books. I have no time this afternoon to go into the details of this. Study our Theosophical books, I repeat, try to understand the wonderful philosophy of life that you will find there. There you will discover arguments, statements, expositions, regarding this matter of suicide, and of what happens to the unfortunate wretch who suicides.
"Is a man who deliberately gives up his life for another, or for a high and noble and impersonal end, a suicide?"
He is not. A man who will jump into the water to save a fellow human being, and who perishes in the attempt: will you call him a suicide, from the true definition that I have just given? Obviously not. Where is your coward in that heroic act? He has obeyed one of the fundamental laws of nature which says that we are all knitted together with unbreakable bonds which nothing can ever part, and it is our bounden duty to help each other in all circumstances and at all times. There is the beauty of self-sacrifice, giving up one's life for another. As the Christian New Testament nobly puts it, "Greater love hath no man than that he should lay down his life for his friend."
And so far as giving up one's own life deliberately for a noble and impersonal end is concerned, the truth is the same. A man, for instance, who consecrates his life to the service of others, and perishes in the attempt by some disease — fatal, painful, lingering — that he may thus have contracted, does he commit suicide? The immortal gods, no! He is a hero and his reward shall be great.
You know, of course, that the annals of history tell us that a great many of the ancients, many of them great men, deliberately committed suicide, and there were also some philosophical celebrities, among them men of real capacity and power, who suicided; and even today, among one or two of the Oriental peoples, it is considered an honor to suicide under certain circumstances, to give up one's life individually, not in mass, but individually, on the theory that by so doing you offer yourselves as a sacrifice for the wellbeing of your country in times of danger. I am thinking of the Japanese idea; and in speaking of the ancients a moment ago I was thinking of the Greek and Roman idea.
Is such self-killing truly suicide? I do not think that it is so absolutely. I am positive, however, that even here it is entirely wrong to self-kill oneself in such I manner, yet it is not quite suicide. It is an error of judgment and feeling, but the motive is not cowardly and is beautiful. There is nothing cowardly about it, it has in it a touch of impersonal heroism, for it is impersonal and done for others; nevertheless it is done under a totally wrong idea. The contrary is the better: live for your country! Live to fight the battle of life! But we can admire, nevertheless, the spirit of heroism, even though we may believe it to be misplaced, even though we may disapprove.
"Do Theosophists approve of marriage?"
There have been many times in my life when I have thought that marriage was a kind of suicide. But I am not so certain, because I have seen so many beautiful marriages. At any rate I do consider it an act of heroism — for both!
Theosophists most certainly approve of marriage, decidedly so. The only trouble is that so many marriages, as our late great-hearted teacher, Katherine Tingley, has so often said from this very platform, are "merely farces." Marriage itself is beautiful; the principle is holy; and if true marriage take place, life is sanctified for those two human hearts. But all marriages? That is another matter. Oh the wrecked lives!
Marriage in my mind — and I am a bachelor: I don't know that I have any right to speak about it; I have had no personal experience of it; and therefore I will merely give you my impressions about it briefly — is a very serious problem. I think that young people usually marry too early and that older people have a greater chance for happiness; and I have an opinion that the loveliest marriages are those that take place when one is not young, because then one knows oneself. I think that a long time should elapse between first acquaintance and marriage. This doubtless might seem very difficult to many young people. The heart-strings are plucked very forcibly in what is called love; and indeed it is love — sometimes; and true love is beautiful; it is holy.
But, on the other hand, they who marry not from love, not from any purely impersonal attachment, but from mistaken ideas of romance which is one of the mental diseases of the younger people — that is not love at all, that is merely a notion of what love might be, and the notion is often distorted. I tell you that such as these don't know what true love is.
True love is so impersonal that it never thinks of itself. It is so impersonal that it thinks of the other all the time and only. Here is the highest test of all, as I, a crusty old bachelor, see it: the truly loving heart will renounce all love for the love of another and lay the sacrifice on the altar and find joy in the self-giving. Can you love in that way? Then I say that you are safe to be trusted to make for yourself a happy marriage.
Do you see the reason why in my bachelor's judgment very young people should not marry? They do not know themselves. How they regret it when they grow older, if they find that they have made a mistake! How much better it is to wait a little and to think and to reflect. Pause! The greater injustice is not to yourself, it is to the other; but the greater pain is to you. That is what I think as a theosophist about marriage.
Some of my friends have called me a woman-hater, simply because I never married. I am not a woman-hater. I have the highest admiration for the other sex — at a distance especially; simply because I am afraid of them. I know the charm that a good woman has. I know how it has attracted me; and therefore I say I have the greatest admiration for it — at a distance. There I am safe.
Here is a very profound question:
"Do we suffer unjustly? If so, how explain your theosophical doctrine of karma?"
Yes, we suffer unjustly sometimes. "If so, how explain your theosophical doctrine of karma," which tells us that there is nothing unjust in the universe, that everything that is is a natural consequence of a thing and of things that went before, the natural fruitage of one's own individual acts, and nothing else.
You know, this antinomy, this apparent contradiction, arises from the fact, as I have said before, that we Occidentals are not accustomed to real psychology. We don't know what it is, for we have no real psychology. What is called psychology in the universities, is mostly plain bunk, ninety-nine percent imagination, and the other one percent medical facts.
But psychology in its essential meaning, as the science of the constitution of man, and the working and interaction of spiritual man playing through it, of that line of thought the Occident knows nothing, except the few things that everybody knows and that are given long Greek and Latin names frequently. Did we know psychology better we should realize, first, that everything that comes to us, just or unjust, comes to us because we were originally the cause of it, and hence we are the individuals to which those coming things have been naturally attracted back to us.
But, suppose that, being in a position of responsibility — and this will illustrate my point — I take upon myself the burthen of others: not taking the burden from their shoulders, but in a mystical and a symbolic sense do more than what would be considered a good man's duty well done: deliberately resign all, and give myself to others; bring upon myself, as a buffer or shield, the blows of fate in order that others may be saved. In such case I deliberately use my willpower, my energy, my intelligence, my consciousness, to do this, and the suffering which is natural that must ensue is unjust in the sense that I have not earned it by evil action; but I have brought it upon myself nevertheless. The karmic law operates just the same, but it is, I repeat, unjust in the sense that the present personality in which I live and through which I work is not morally responsible for the suffering which follows.
Do you see the distinction that I am trying to draw? On the one hand suicide, a coward and weakling; and on the other hand the man who lays down his life for his brother gladly and willingly, because he loves him; the latter gives up his own life in order that the other may live, whereas the other gives up his own life in order that he may escape the consequences that he thinks his own evil acts are bringing upon him. The case of self-sacrifice and of resignation and of taking unto one's heart what does not properly belong there, in other words the act of the hero, was done deliberately by the exercise of will.
The suffering, whatever it may be, was unjust to use popular language, and yet it was done. Here is the spirit of all the great sages and seers. It is the spirit also of the three Leaders of the Theosophical Movement, the great-hearted Founder, H. P. Blavatsky, William Q. Judge the Holder, and she who has just passed into her unutterable peace, Katherine Tingley, whom I have always loved to call Great Heart.
These are three beautiful lives, taking unto themselves the blows and buffets that were aimed at the noble work that they loved and gave their all for. There is high nobility of soul; there is beauty of soul; there you will find heroic strength.
Often have I seen Katherine Tingley suffer; often have I seen her bear the agony and pain (being a human being) of the blows that were aimed at the Society and the work that she so loved — misunderstood, reviled by the witlings, alas! who knew no better (and therefore I judge them not), carrying the burden of a worldwide organization for which she gave everything she was and had, and into her devoted breast received all the blows and buffets — somewhat like the Swiss hero of medieval time, Arnold von Winkelried.
You know the story of the battle of Sempach between the Swiss and the Austrians. This devoted Swiss knight, in order to make a way through the solid wall of the Austrians' spears, rushed forward, and gathered as many of them as he could into his own breast, broke the way for his countrymen to enter the opening thus created by his sacrifice. As a man of German descent and Austrian origin myself, I bear tribute to this noble Swiss knight.
That is what our theosophical teachers and leaders have done. There is where you will find suffering which is "unjust" because unmerited. But oh what unspeakable reward is theirs for the heroism thus manifested!
When you think of the lives of the Buddha and of Jesus called Christos, and of the other great sages and seers like them, there in their lives you will find lessons of unparalleled heroism, and you will find things that will give you comfort and solace in times of stress and trouble — yea, peace, and happiness, and wisdom!
Vol 1, No 7