In the seething cauldron that is the world of thought in our times, it is possible to discern two whirlpools, the one turning towards the right, towards truth, integrity, and the spiritual verities; the other towards the left, away from truth, into the shadows that beget prejudice, confusion and error. It is ourselves, of course, the human family, who have created these counter-currents of thought. They are a man-made thing, and they exist because human nature is itself dual, and capable of moving in right or wrong direction. Apart from the intellectually honest thinking that seeks for truth along religious, philosophical and scientific lines, there also exist what might be called pseudo-science, pseudo-philosophy, and — pseudo-religion.
What is this "pseudo"?
It is a counterfeit of the real thing; something put forth as truth that is not based on accurate knowledge and research, which nevertheless takes unto itself the procedures or the outer forms of science, philosophy, or religion, to name these as the three broad divisions of human thought. This counterfeit, of course, could not exist if it were not accepted at face value by a multitude of minds who habitually fail to think deeply and comprehensively enough, who are too easily satisfied with hearsay, and who thoughtlessly indulge in flash judgments based on prejudice or incomplete information.
There is nothing new about this situation; it is as old as the history of human thinking, at least since humanity was on its own, and was no longer under the immediate guidance of its divine instructors during the childhood of the race. But today, caught as we are in the tide of profound changes affecting all life on this planet, we are actually ready for a clarification of all our ways of thinking. With our fast-maturing minds, we are prepared to face far more of truth than we have ever done before.
When Alexander Pope reminded his generation that
A little learning is a dangerous thing,
he also added the warning,
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring —
for he knew, with a poet's insight, that you cannot stop at half-truths; it must be all or nothing in the soul's quest for the Real.
How are we, the great average unassuming public, to know the difference between the false and the true; how are we to detect half-truths given in high-sounding language, or in smooth platitudes that have made their invisible entry into our minds before we are aware of their real nature?
Well, we could begin by realizing that within ourselves is a touchstone of Truth, which could we only discover and make use of it, would more and more often respond to whatever rings true to our waiting minds. This touchstone resides in the discriminating faculty, highly praised in Oriental philosophy as of great worth to a man. This power of discrimination transcends the ordinary condition of our minds, and in fact belongs to a higher order of being than that of our lesser selves. You cannot say exactly that it hands down judgments as between alternatives of opinion or resolve; but it sheds light on the situation, sometimes like the lightning-flash that suddenly reveals a landscape in startling vividness; most times like a friendly lantern that guides our footsteps in the dark. It is closely allied to the intuition we so dearly covet; it gives the mysterious "know-how" in the events of life, something we recognize as beyond mere reasoning.
This reaching into the interior of ourselves for something that is beyond and yet within us is part of our pattern of growth. But these finer faculties are not remote from us. The discriminating power manifests in our ordinary life when our hearts warm to anything that is essentially honest, generous, and fine. It is as close to us as plain common sense — a drab and homely quality that does not strike us as being particularly spiritual, and yet is rooted in reality. Discrimination, judgment, common sense — we are in this world to learn these things, and it is through them that, in our most familiar human roles, we form the habit of truth-seeking and cultivate the factual sense.
It is interesting in this connection to observe the genuinely scientific mind at work: it weighs every step in an experiment with dispassionate clarity, and in the light of all known facts; but it will make no conclusion that is not in utter accord with those facts. A lesser mind will indulge in wishful thinking, skip over considerations not in line with the desired result; but in such a case the result is stultified, and again leads only to — the "pseudo."
Then welcome, world-eyed Truth!
But there are other eyes men better love
Than Truth's: for when we have her she is so cold,
And proud, we know not what to do with her.
We cannot understand her, cannot teach;
She makes us love her, but she loves not us;
And quits us as she came and looks back never.
Wherefore we fly to Fiction's warm embrace,
With her to relax and bask ourselves at ease. . . .
Thus Philip James Bailey in his Festus nutshells the thing for us. The Fiction that is all too easy to embrace — what is it but the Oriental Māyā, illusion, bewildering the mind with deceptive appearances, veiling the Reality. Yet we can pierce the veil. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the "pseudo" science, philosophy or religion that are offered are defective in logic, and a little careful consideration and hesitancy in accepting them will show this. All frauds and all half-cocked theories carry on their face the insignia of their own falsity or deficiencies.
As a child I wandered into my grandfather's study and saw on his table a volume of Jeremy Taylor with the page lying open to the text: "Great is Truth and mighty above all things." The words spoke to my childish understanding and awoke something there that has remained warm and living to this day. Candor and sincerity, keeping faith with others: if we have these as companion-ideals in our growing years, there comes a time when we realize that we are capable of an interior self-reliance that is very far from being mere headstrong inflexibility, but that will make it impossible for any purveyor of thought, be he friend or foe, commentator or columnist or propagandist, to lead us by the nose into tangled thickets of prejudice and misconception.
I am more than half persuaded that one of the secrets of the immense popular enthusiasm for Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, both the play and the moving-picture, was this same interior self-reliance on the part of Cyrano, his complete devotion to truth, even to the abandonment of fame and preferment and fortune. And his ringing words were spoken by our own souls had we only known it:
Never to pen a line that has not sprung
Straight from the heart within. Embracing then
Modesty, say to oneself, 'Good my friend,
Be thou content with flowers, — fruit, — nay, leaves,
But pluck them from no garden but thine own!'
Was he not treading the same ground as Browning's Paracelsus, who spoke of
an inmost center in us all, Where truth abides in fulness . . . ?
When we gravitate toward that inmost center in ourselves we can always recognize the insignia of truth: the fundamentals underlying all the changes of life, that are the key to all its situations; the universal verities that are at the heart and core of every philosophy and every religion.
The era of choice is upon us: that we know; but we are not without guidance. It is greatly a matter of enlightened watchfulness from our own inner citadel, in the course of which we shall find a new insight coming into being: the anciently fostered faculty to see things as they are.
It has been wisely said that "The upward progress of the soul is a series of awakenings." We do not need to wait for the Judgment Day to glimpse the Reality; it is with us from moment to moment when we simply turn our eyes to the light.
(From Sunrise magazine, November 1951; copyright © 1951 Theosophical University Press)
All the strength and force of a man comes from his faith in things unseen. He who believes is strong; he who doubts is weak. Strong convictions precede great actions. The man strongly possessed of an idea is the master of all who are uncertain or wavering. Clear, deep, living convictions rule the world.
— James Freeman Clarke