Questions We All Ask — G. de Purucker

No. 9 (November 26, 1929)


(Lecture delivered August 11, 1929)

Beautiful are the pathways, sublime the goal, and quick the feet of them who follow the way of the still small voice within, which way leadeth to the heart of the universe. This is one of the sublimest messages that the ancient wisdom-religion, today called theosophy, gives to the men and women of the present era. It lies at the core and is the core of the messages of the great Mysteries of antiquity — the union of the simple human being with his divine source, with the root of himself, linked as that is with the All, for that core is a spark of the Central Fire, a spark of Divinity; and this spark is in each one of you.

Changing the figure of speech, it is what we theosophists speak of as the inner god — not the human soul: not the poor, striving, loving, hating, failing, falling, rising, aspiring, human soul, but that sublime entity which is the core of every human being and of every living thing and even of every so-called inanimate thing, and union with which means entering into full and complete knowledge of all the secrets of the universe. What a sublime thought this is! A union with this inner god, friends, self-conscious identification of the personal with the impersonal, of the merely human with the divine, is the pathway of initiation and the pathway of wisdom and of knowledge and of peace and of bliss, which pass all understanding of ordinary men and women.

The questions that I have received and am continually receiving and which I am always delighted to receive, all turn more or less around subjects or matters of deep moment to the human heart, all of which signifies in what direction the thoughts of human beings today are tending. Men seek knowledge; they seek solace, and surcease from pain, they want to know, and to know with hearts at rest.

Is it not a sublime thing to be able to feed them — to change the metaphor again to the parabolic saying of the New Testament — to give the food that will feed these hungry souls? This our ancient wisdom of the ages can do. It is based on no one's say-so. It rests on no ordinary proof; it reposes on no dogmas of any kind, but is provable by each human being, if he or she go into the recesses of his or her own self in the search for reality — the sublimest adventure that human beings can follow!

I am going to read all these questions that I have received during the week and then try to answer them one by one. They have a wide range from how the worlds come into being, up to the nature of the soul and how man is to conquer his faults and failings. This is the first question:

"In what way does theosophy illuminate this subject of the origin of worlds, which is said to be under constant discussion at the present time?"

"People generally are very much confused in the use of the word soul. [Quite so!] Even Plato generally speaks of soul in a very exalted sense — as the source of all virtues, etc., — but in The Laws, Book V, par. 9, Plato says: 'The greatest evil to men, generally, is one which is innate in their souls, and which a man is always excusing in himself and never correcting . . . the excess love of self is in reality the source to each man of all offenses.' What soul does he speak of in these different cases? Can theosophy unscramble these souls of Plato?"

It can, easily. Next question:

"If a man has habits which he cannot control and which make himself or others trouble, what can he do about it? How can he cure them?"

"I have heard that Madame Tingley regarded all bad habits and faults and the tendency to crime as diseases. How simple and charitable this! But what is its basis? How can this be true?"

"I have heard that Madame Tingley spoke of criticism, pessimism, and the habit of making complaints and fault-finding as diseases of the mind. What do you think about it? What do they spring from? My observation is that the people who have these habits often seem to regard them as an act or a sign of superiority."

So they do. Next:

"The theosophical ideals are certainly lofty and sublime, but how can a man make them work? Are they abstract ethics, a sort of pulpit oratory, or concrete facts in human life? If they are facts how can we realize them? Are they workable?"

Friends, I am not an orator, I am simply a lecturer; but I will try and answer these questions — perhaps the better in that I never take refuge in meretricious figures or ornaments of speech. I try to talk to my audiences from my heart as well as from my head.

The next question in my hand is marked "Question," but in it I have counted many questions. When I read it, it made me think of the saying in the Bible about "our name is legion."

"How far is the human brain involved in memory? Where are the impressions of past events registered? What is the difference between remote and recent events in regard to memory? How is it that as people pass fifty years of age they remember early impressions more vividly than recent ones?"

Another question: and this other comprises three in one. It is like the holy Trinity!

"What is the organ of will? How is it that there is no part of the brain devoted to it? How many kinds of will are there?"

The kind friends who send me these long and complex questions seem to think, as I remarked a week or two ago, that I am a perambulating encyclopedia or a sort of walking dictionary. But I am both happy to receive these questions, and delighted in trying to answer them, because theosophy can give answers to them all, and if the answers are not satisfactory, it is my fault, not that of the theosophical teachings.

"In aspiring to the stars beyond the Milky Way, is there not the temptation to consider lightly the tiny wild flower under our feet, when that flower may contain within itself all the potentialities (in miniature) of the most powerful, most distant, suns and constellations? 'As above, so below.'"

This questioner is a true-hearted mystic, shown not only by the thought in the question, but likewise by this illusion to the ancient Hermetic saying: "What is above is the same as what is below, and what is below is the same as what is above" — the meaning of which is that nature is not at battle with itself nor one part controlling any other part. It is a vast organism throughout: one consistent, coherent whole, and therefore what takes place in any one part of it takes place everywhere in all parts, making the necessary changes of time and circumstance. I beg you to think about it.

"In what way does theosophy illuminate this subject of the origin of worlds, which is said to be under constant discussion at the present time?"

Well, I do not know on how many occasions I have talked to you on this very subject of thought: it is indeed very important at the present time. Theosophy throws a brilliant light not merely on the question of the origin of worlds, but on the causes of the manifestation of worlds.

Has this thought ever occurred to you? It is all right, perfectly proper, very interesting, to ask: How is the world? How is it constructed? What are its different parts? But have you ever stopped to ask yourself: Why is the world? That is a much more difficult question to answer. Theosophy throws a brilliant light on these matters, as I have shown in many and many a lecture given from this platform. It shows how the worlds came into being, why they came into being, what they are at the present time, what they are destined to be in the far distant aeons of the future.

Are these thoughts mere speculations of high-minded but unilluminated men? They are not. They are the dicta, the findings, of the great seers and sages of all the ages who have sent their spirit behind the veil of the outward appearances: who have penetrated into the arcana, the mystic secrets, into the very womb of Mother Nature, and brought back the knowledge of what they saw, and therefore they taught; and what they taught was the foundation teaching of the great Mystery Schools of antiquity, to which belonged in all cases and in every country the noblest intellects, the mightiest minds, and the loftiest spirits of the ages. That is a significant fact. The greatest men of antiquity were all graduates, initiates, of the Mystery Schools of antiquity, those men who have left so deep, so profound, a mark on their own time, on the annals of history, that their teachings, as well as their names, have come down to us men of the present time not merely as symbols of wisdom and human knowledge, but as the very exemplars of spiritual and ethical conduct.

They were taught by others greater than they, spiritual beings with whom they had confabulated, exactly as the men of the far distant future, when evolution shall have wrought its wondrous, its mighty, work upon the human stock, will confabulate with the gods. These men were simply the evolutionary forerunners of us.

Think about it. See how logical it is, how coherent it is! The truth is in you. If it appeal to you as truth, dare to follow the call of your own souls. Do not take someone else's say-so. Be true to yourselves! That is one of the first messages that theosophy gives to us: find your own spirit, the god within you, the source of all illumination and genius, and follow that lovely light, that unspeakable splendor, forever.

If you want to know more about the theosophical teaching of the origin of worlds, friends, I refer you to our theosophical monthly magazine, The Theosophical Path, which contains all my lectures on this subject printed in extenso, one lecture each month.

Now, this question about Plato: and in this I am asked to unscramble two souls. Unscramble is an odd word, I think, but it is expressive. I rather like the word, because in a large sense it expresses just about what men's ideas of souls are. They are more or less scrambled like two or three eggs mixed up together — and I refer here of course to the various so-called souls of the human constitution. Men don't know how to separate one egg from another after the eggs are scrambled, nor does the average man know how to study out the different principles of his constitution.

Plato speaks, as all mystics do, of the duality of the human constitution — of the upper nature, the higher, the superior, which theosophists speak of as the spiritual soul. He likewise speaks of the inferior nature which we may call the animal, or rather the human-animal, and this is not the body. The body is the mere instrument or vehicle containing the human-animal; and that which impulses the body, which gives it life, which gives it movement, acting through the human-animal, is the human soul as this in turn is inspired by the spiritual soul.

It was the custom among all teachers who had doctrines of great moment to give — and mostly to people who had not been initiated as they had been and who would therefore very likely distort and misuse these wonderful archaic teachings for purposes of profit or for ambitious aims — to hide, to conceal, the mystic truth, albeit giving it open-handed under words having ambiguous senses which those who had the eyes to see and the ears to hear and the minds to vision could understand, but which the evil-minded would pass by.

Would you wear your heart on your sleeve, wherever you go and on all occasions? Would you expose the noblest impulses of your heart to all and sundry? It would not be a wise thing to do. Reserve your strength! No man can possibly tell all that is in him; no man can possibly give to others all the foundations of wisdom lying latent in his own spiritual nature. It simply cannot be done. And this is the main side of the secret of the reticence of the sages of antiquity.

The word soul was one such enigmatic word. It was used in the two senses of the spiritual soul, the vehicle of the god within us, the vehicle or garment in which that inner divinity enshrouds itself; and it was also used of the merely human soul: that poor, falling, failing, aspiring, passionate part of us which we call the human being. When you trust a man, do you trust him on account of his merely human qualities, or do you trust him because there is that within him which you know and can see and have tested to be lofty and true? Which is the nobler part? The latter surely.

The god within him has answered the call of the companion-god within the other. The god in one sees the working of the god in the other. Knowing it is there, he can trust his brother; and this essential divinity is in all of us.

So I have unscrambled the two souls of Plato. He speaks in one place of the spiritual soul: the source of all inspiration, and of noble love, and of high, impersonal ambitions of selflessness, of purity, of light, of compassion, of peace, and of happiness, that none can understand who have not experienced them.

And, on the other hand, he likewise speaks of the human soul in which the excess of self-love so blinds the eyes of its unfortunate victim, the victim of itself, that alas! this victim cannot even see or understand truth when it is before his vision. Excess of self-love is the root of all evil, the cause and source of selfishness, of mean and ignoble ambitions, of mean and ignoble objectives and aims. It is as Plato says: excess love of self, the lower self, is in reality the source to each man of all offenses, not merely to himself but to his fellows: the source of all crime, of all misery, of all poverty, of all wretchedness.

Now I turn to the question of habits. We all have habits, and there seems to be abroad among men a general idea that because a man has a habit, he is to be excused. I wonder why. I don't see any reason for excusing a bad habit. I can understand it, and condone it, and perhaps pardon it, if the habitue is such a weakling that he has to be fed like a baby; but I fail to see anything lovable or high or noble in an ignoble habit, and am I going to give that man, my brother, another shove on the downward path? Nay. Here is the question:

"If a man has habits which he cannot control and which make himself or others trouble, what can he do about it? How can he cure them?"

A man can control himself, he can control his habits, he can change them if necessary. The strong man can and will root them out. And the weakling? Even he can change them if he will. The secret is in the will, and in the love of something loftier than the habit. Set your gaze on the heights and forget the mud in which you stand. Don't remember your past failures, don't brood over them; forget them!

Rise and be! Use your will and intelligence! Lift your soul! Read good books; aspire! These are simple things that are taught to every child. But they are so true, so true; and anything can be done by following this pathway to the gods.

Nothing, friends, can withstand the working of the indomitable will of an illuminated mind. It will conquer anything, the indomitable will! If you cannot conquer your habits, your bad habits, shall I tell you why you cannot? It is because you don't want to conquer them. Forgive me: I don't mean to be harsh; but ask yourselves if it is not true. Is the habit then in the lack of strength? No, you have the strength. Is the habit then rather in the appetite for the habit itself? I think so. But you can conquer that also; you can learn to will to be what you yourselves inwardly are.

"How can you cure bad habits?"

I have told you simple, beautiful old truths, and there are none others of value. I sometimes think that a lesson I saw once given to a little child might be taken to heart by grownups. This child was raising a howl fit to lift the roof, and it was an ugly thing with a great big open mouth and the tears pouring down its cheeks; and its shouting and yelling were frightful. The mother simply took it in front of a mirror and said: "Just look!" The child looked and immediately stopped crying: it did not even peep again. A clever mother! A good psychologist! I warrant you that that child learned a lesson that it will never forget. It was a girl! But I think boys in other ways are just as susceptible.

"I have heard that Madame Tingley regarded all bad habits and faults and the tendency to crime as diseases. How simple and charitable this. But what is its basis? How can this be true?"

I ask you: How can it be false? Disease is something which leaves you ill at ease; you are not in peace, your body is not harmonious with itself. Is not that disease? Are not all bad habits productive of misery and unhappiness and ultimately of pain and disease? And are not all bad habits the offspring of false and evil thinking? There is the basis.

The next question is just like it:

"I have heard that Madame Tingley spoke of criticism, pessimism, and the habit of making complaints and fault-finding, as diseases of the mind. What do you think about it? What do they spring from? My observation is that people who have these habits often seem to regard them as an act or a sign of superiority."

So they often do. I think that they are mental diseases. They leave the victim of these faults dis-eased, for if you can see anything in pessimism that makes you happy, or in picking faults with your fellows that leaves you contented, or in making complaints about others or fault-finding or criticism that leaves you in a happy and harmonious state of mind, in other words — in a mood that strengthens the fiber of your moral being — I would like to know it. They are diseases of the mind in very truth.

And really, all physical maladies as well have their ultimate origin in a faulty outlook on life, in a faulty direction taken by the individual will. All diseases therefore ultimately, not as they exist when once they exist in the physical body and wreak their work of suffering and pain, but as they exist in their origin, have this origin in the mind — in this or another life. Weakness of will, the giving way to bad habits breeding seeds of thought which leave thought deposits in the mind, enfeeble the character. You see how it works. An evil or false thought manifests in a body and ultimately ruins it by bad habits. Think it over and I know that you will agree with me.

We theosophists are not Christian Scientists, nor are we mental healers. We are not deniers of any kind. Nevertheless, a truth is a truth wherever it exists, and long before the Christian Scientists, and mental healers, and faith-curers, knew anything about these things, knowledge of it all existed ages and ages ago in the past: and with respect to our present thought every sage and seer has taught the same thing: Cleanse the Temple of the holy Spirit, drive out the demons of the lower nature.

What are these demons? One's own thoughts. The word demon belongs to the Christian phraseology, but I employ it here because it is a word which is known to you and therefore will make an appeal to you. It is a word used by the Christian church along lines of the thoughts that I am trying to give you to think about, in order that you may accept them if you find them true, and to reject them if you think I speak falsely. But please think.

Of course the real sign of inferiority is shown by the man or the woman who thinks that he or she is superior. On the contrary, it is greatness only that recognizes greatness, because only greatness has the capacity, the largeness, the understanding, to recognize greatness in others; and the truly great man never willfully condemns. He understands and forgives. It does not mean that he condones or that he has any wish to avoid helping, but he does not condemn.

"The theosophical ideals are certainly lofty and sublime, but how can a man make them work? Are they abstract ethics, a sort of pulpit oratory, or concrete facts in human life? If they are facts, how can we realize them? Are they workable?"

I leave it with you. Are the things that I have told you workable? Have I told you falsehoods? Have I told you something impossible to do? Have I suggested a pathway which none may follow and which none has ever followed, or have I simply told you the same old principles of the wisdom-religion taught by the seers and sages of all the ages? They are workable, and the sign of the great man, and of the noble-hearted woman, is in the measure that he or she follows the pathway leading to the god, the inner god, within each one of you. Oh! that I might bring this truth to the understanding of men and women today — that wonderful truth, holy, sublime, inspiring as none other is — that within each one of you there is an unspeakable fount of strength, of wisdom, of love, of compassion, of forgiveness, of purity. Ally yourselves with this fountain of strength; it is in you, none can ever take it from you. Its value is more excellent than all the treasures of the universe, for knowing it, being it, you are all.

Now I come to this seven-in-one question. I am going to answer these included questions item by item.

"How far is the human brain involved in memory?"

According to our theosophical teachings, the brain is not involved at all, and yet is involved — a lovely contradiction apparently, but it is not, because it is a paradox. The physical brain is merely the organ, a thing of pure matter, a temporary phase of material stuff used by the energies — or forces, a word I prefer — which flow through it; forces coming from that center I have spoken of as being within, and which center can manifest itself through this physical organ only in degree as this physical organ has been trained and brought up to some at least mediocre possibility of manifesting the sublimity within. The physical brain registers the vibrations that pass through it, and therefore receives, as it were, a record on its own substance, somewhat as the phonographic record is made.

Therefore we have the mere physical automatisms of memory such as are sometimes seen in dreams, felt in dreams, where the brain automatically registers, works as it were like an automaton, and repeats parrot-like what the vibrations of the preceding hours had impressed on its substance. In that sense the brain registers memory, but only in that sense.

Memory is an inner and nonphysical faculty and it is one of the faculties of this inner self of which I have spoken.

"Where are the impressions of past events registered?"

I have just told you: in this inner self, in this inner organ, in the self, an entity composite of spirit and of spiritual substance, as the physical body is composite of material substance and of energy. Nature works below as it works above: as above, so below. As the English poet Spenser says:

For Soul is form and doth the body make.

And this inner entity is in that high sense form and doth the body make: the brain among the other organs of the physical body.

"What is the difference between remote and recent events in regard to memory?"

I don't quite understand this question. I suppose it means as regards the facility of reminiscence, remembering. Well, the only difference is one of freshness. What is the difference between an old pain and a new one? There is the same idea. A man takes a hammer and tries to drive a nail and strikes his thumb. He has done the same thing before. What is the difference between the former pain that he felt and the present pain? The one remains in the memory, in this inner organ, and the more recent one is freshly impressed on the brain substance. That is the only difference.

"How is it that as people pass fifty years of age they remember early impressions more vividly than recent ones?"

This part of our complex question I am not able to answer in full, because the full answer pertains to esoteric matters which we do not give out in public, for the simple reason that training is required in order to understand — not that we are selfish and keep something hid that we don't want the whole world to know of, for the whole world could come to us seeking knowledge and we are waiting and ready to give the answer to the proper applicants. Until people come and are ready to accept some modicum of training, there are certain teachings which we cannot give out publicly. These teachings would not be understood; they would be misunderstood. Is not this position a fair one?

I can say this: that not all people who pass fifty years of age have a more vivid reminiscence of early years than of recent ones. Usually I think that such is the case; and the reason is that after fifty years there is more introspection than extraspection, more looking within than gazing without, as the child does who has not yet understood himself or herself. As a man grows older, the noble, the beautiful, qualities of his own nature come likewise more fully into manifestation: they become more clear and grow manifest to his own consciousness, and he is infallibly, inevitably drawn to these more beauteous things, the things of his own heart and soul, the things which he himself is. That is all there is to it. Age brings these in the riper years when memory has stored full its treasure house and when above everything else the spiritual soul, this inner self, has reached a larger degree of power of self-expression and manifests itself more splendidly within.

We all love beauty; we all love those things which inspire us. There is the secret. Consequently the impressions from outside do not affect the individual over fifty as readily and as deeply as they affect the plastic minds and thinking apparatus of a child. A child in many ways is an unblown bud, psychologically speaking. It has not yet unfolded itself.

"What is the organ of will?"

Now, I do not understand this question. I think the question implies that will is something which works through an organ. What is this organ? But I protest against this view. Will is a force, not an energy. It works as an energy, and working through the intermediate nature of man it becomes energetic; but in its essence it is a force, to use the language of the ancients. It is one of the forces flowing forth from the core, from the heart, of this inner god of which I have spoken. Its physical organ — if that is the meaning of this question — is what? Shall I tell you? It is the pituitary body in the brain.

The next question is:

"How is it there is no part of the brain devoted to it?"

Well, the reason that this has not been detected is simply because our psychologists know nothing of what will is really. They ascribe it to some automatic or clemical action of the brain itself; but the will is a force flowing through that part of the brain, the pituitary body, and now our physiologists and scientists are beginning to see that when the pituitary body is abnormal in function you have cases of acromegaly, of gigantism, and other similar things; and when it is subnormal, you have cretinism and dwarfs. Growth of the body itself is largely dependent on the automatic action of the willpower flowing steadily through life through the astral or model-body and thence into the physical.

Will, therefore, is of two kinds: the conscious, directed willpower; and the automatic will which governs growth and the functioning of the organs such as the heartbeat. Think of the wonderful engine that the heart is — for it works steadily day and night through many years without ever stopping. That fact suggests what I mean when I speak of the automatic action of the will.

"How many kinds of will are there?"

There is but one will, one kind, but it works in divers ways. Generally speaking we can say that the will takes various forms: we can speak of the spiritual will and of the emotional will and of the human will and of the animal will and of the physical will — which last two are this automatic will which functions through the physical organs. But there is but one will, and these various other things are merely its various typical actions through the organs in which it is working.

Now, the last question that I have before me today is a beautiful one:

"In aspiring to the stars beyond the Milky Way is there not the temptation to consider lightly the tiny wild flower under our feet, when that flower may contain within itself all the potentialities (in miniature) of the most powerful, most distant, suns and constellations?"

The man who asked this question is a true mystic. His question contains a divine truth and what he says is verily so, as I have already pointed out in the beginning of our study this afternoon. One bright intelligence pervades all things; and what is in the star is in the flower under our feet; and it is the instinctive recognition of this thing of beauty which has led the poet to speak of the flower as a star of beauty. The same life-force pours through it as through the star; the same bright flame of intelligence gives to it its exquisite form, shape, color; and this is the same bright flame of intelligence that controls the passing of the stars along their cosmic ways. There is beauty in understanding, and understanding springs only from an understanding heart, paradoxical as that may sound at first hearing. It is the understanding heart that has vision. Oh, these brain-minds of ours with their doubting, skeptical tendencies and ideas, fascinated by their transitory thoughts of the hour, so that men who live thus feed on husks — these poor, mean, aspiring fellow creatures of ours — and pass unwitting by the feast at the master's table!

Carlyle's beautiful words exemplify what theosophists speak of as the divine light of the tathagatas, the Christ-light in the heart of us all: that bright and splendid luminary within us which lighteth the feet of us all on the pathways of life. Carlyle's words are as follows:

Poor, wandering, wayward man! Art thou not tried and beaten with stripes even as I am? Ever, whether thou bear the royal mantle or the beggar's gabardine, art thou so weary, so heavy-laden: and thy bed of rest is but a grave. Oh, my brother, my brother, why cannot I shelter thee in my bosom, and wipe away all tears from thy eyes!

That is the spirit of a true theosophist.

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