Compass Newsletter Summer 2018, No.36
If we thought our actions belonged to us alone, with no account for anything or anyone else, this selected piece from Talbot Mundy’s book Om, the Secret of Abhor Valley presents a lightly humorous illustration of the complexity of our actions. Coupled with karma it shows each individual an agent for effect through our ‘seemingly’ innocent actions. The book was written in the early part of the 20th century and features the character Cotswold Omonny, a bureaucrat employed in the administration of the time in India and seeking entrance to the ‘Club’ frequented by the businessmen of the day. On joining the Club there is a discussion about the death of a former member, Willoughby. Ommony hears the story of Willoughby’s demise and his successor, Jenkins. The tale goes…
“… But everybody knew the ins and outs of that news. A fat babu in a dirty pink turban that would have scared any self-respecting horse, driving a second-hand Ford, with one eye on the Punjabi”constabeel” at the street crossing, bumped into and broke the wheel of Willoughby’s dog cart, setting any number of sequences in motion. The horse bolted, tipped out Willoughby, who was killed under a tram-car, and crashed into Amramchudder Son and company’s open store-front, where blood from the horse’s shoulder spoiled two bales of imported silk. A law-suit to recover ten times the value of the silk was commenced against Willoughby’s estate that afternoon. (Mrs. Willoughby had to borrow money from friends to carry on with.)
The babu put on full speed, naturally, and tried to escape down a side-street, of which there are as many narrow ones in Delhi as in any city of its size. He ran over a Bengali (which nobody except the Bengali minded very much), knocked down two Sikhs (which was important, because they were on their way to a religious ceremony ; righteous indignation is very bad stuff when spilled in the street), and finally jammed the Ford between a bullock-cart and a lamp post, where the pride of Detroit collapsed into scrap.
The owner of the bullock cart, a Jat (a community in Northern India) with a wart on his nose, which his mother-in-law had always insisted would bring bad luck (she said so at the trial later on, and brought three witnesses to prove it), was carrying, for an extortionate price, a native of a far-northern state, who had recently arrived by train without a ticket, and who knew how to be prompt and violent. The man from Spiti (which is the name of the northern state) descended from his perch at the rear of the cart, picked up a spoke that the collision had broken away, and hit the babu with it once between the eyes. The babu died neatly without saying anything; and a hot crowd of nine nationalities, that was glad to see anybody die with politics the way they had been for a year or two, applauded.
The man from Spiti vanished. The ‘constabeel’ arrested the owner of the bullock-cart, who turned his face skyward and screamed “Ayee-ee-ee !” once, which was duly noted in the memorandum book for use as evidence against him. Seventeen onlookers, being questioned, all gave false names and addresses, but swore that the Jat with the wart had attacked the babu; and a wakil (which is a person entitled to practise law), who knew all about the Jat’s recent inheritance from his uncle, offered legal services that were accepted on the spot. Presently, in the jail, a jemadar (junior officer in the forces) and two ‘constabeels’ put the Jat through a hideously painful third degree, which left no marks on him but did induce him to part with money, most of which was spent on a debauch that ended in the jemadar being reduced to the ranks since the wakil objected on principle to sharing the loot of the Jat with any one and therefore righteously exposed the jemadar’s abominable drunkenness.
Meanwhile the native papers took the matter up and proved to nine points of decimals that the incident was wholly due to British arrogance and the neglect of public duty by an “overpaid alien hegemony” demonstrating among other things that the British are a race “whose crass materialism is an insult to the spiritual soul of India, and whose playing fields of Eton are an ash-bed from which arises swarms of Phoenixes to suck the life-blood of conquered peoples.” (Excellent journalese conceived on the historic principle that if you make sufficient smell you are sure to annoy somebody, and he who is annoyed will make mistakes, which you may then gleefully expose.)
The Sikhs who had been knocked down by the Ford accused the “obsequious servants of alien tyranny “ – meaning the police – of having tried to prevent them from attending their religious ceremony ; the fact being that the police had taken them to the hospital in an ambulance. The entire Sikh community in consequence refused to pay taxes, which set up another sequence of cause and effect, culminating in a yell of “Bande Materam !” as three or four thousand second year students, who were not Sikhs, rushed foaming at the mouth into the Chandi Chowk (which is a business thoroughfare) with the intention of looting the silversmiths and putting the whole city to the torch. A fire-engine dispersed them ; but the stream of water from the hose ruined the contents of Chanda Pal’s drug store.
Chanda Pal called in an actuary who possessed a compound geometrical imagination, and sent in a bill to the government that is still unpaid ; and, having failed to collect immediately, he wrote to a friend who was an undergraduate at Oxford, with the result that a Member of Parliament for one of the Welsh constituencies asked at Question Time whether it was true that the Viceroy of India in person had high- handedly confiscated without compensation all the drugs in the Punjab; and if so, why?
The answer from the Treasury Bench was “No, sir;” but the foreign correspondents omitted to mention that, so the French, Scandinavian and United States newspapers had it in head-lines that ”British in India inaugurate new reign of terror. Goods confiscated. Revolution threatened.” A bishop in South Africa preached a sermon on that subject; thirty seven members of the I.W.W., who were serving a term in San Quentin, went on a sympathetic hunger strike and were locked up in the dungeon; and a Congressman from somewhere in the Middle West wrote a speech that filled five pages of the Record. Stocks fell several points. Jenkins stepped into Willoughby’s official shoes.
However, clocks continued ticking. Roosters crowed. The sun appeared on schedule time. And Willoughby’s funeral was marked by dignified simplicity…”
Of course we have to engage with the world physically, mentally and emotionally but we do so not in isolation, so maybe before we do…
The Unity of Life
Luke Michael Ironside (from a lecture delivered at a Theosophical Inquirers Study Group, June 2017
The First Fundamental Proposition, as put forth in the Proem of H. P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, posits “The One Absolute Reality which antedates all manifested, conditioned being,” which she says is: “An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception…”
This is the Absolute, the One Reality, often referred to in Western philosophy by the term “First Cause”, and yet it is better understood from the theosophical conception by the term “Causeless Cause” – that which is infinite, unmanifested, and unmanifestable whilst yet the source of from which all else springs forth.
Whilst yet the Universe is pervaded by the duality of apparent forms, the opposite poles of subject and object, spirit and matter, are merely aspects of the fundamental unity which underlies them. The Absolute Itself is neither manifested nor manifestable; it is alone infinite and eternal; the Universe of form being but a passing appearance, or Maya.
This proposition asserts the unity and oneness of all life. It suggests an original, homogenous Source, from which the differentiations of substance come into existence. The One manifests as the Many – from here arises the multiplicity of forms in Nature and the diversity of cosmic life.
The Secret Doctrine goes on to affirm “The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over- Soul, the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root…”
All existence is one, at the most fundamental level. Differences and separations are but apparent, having no true basis in reality. Whilst, in the midst of the constant changes and fluctuations of daily life, this fact is an easy one to forget, the truth of unity remains ever existent before the surface; a single thread running throughout the variety of forms. The task of the theosophist is to seek the One in the Many.
Our daily experiences tend to reinforce the sense of separateness which pervades our outlook on life. The forms of life which surround us differ greatly from our own, and our tendency of thought is to focus on the differences – on our sense of individuality – and as such we too often fail to recognise the unifying source that binds us together as one.
Yet we each of us also experience fleeting moments of unity, where our focus of identification shifts from the personal self to that of the Universal. This is the mystic experience referred to in the writings of the mystics of all ages and religious persuasions – most often captured in poetry, song, and art for the fact of its experience transcending the limits of words. Looking beyond the tapestry of forms, the seeker may yet behold the unity beneath – the essence of the One.
And so, we have established that underlying the world of form, there must be a One Reality – the essence of Life and Being – which transcends both mind and matter. To speculate further upon this Ultimate Principle is impossible, as it surpasses the reaches of finite speculation. In the words of Spinoza, “to define God is to deny him”. The only statement that can be made regarding the nature of the Absolute is that IT IS.
Everything in the Universe is alive – there is no dead matter, in truth. The entire cosmic play is an emanation of the Absolute as expressed in the Universal Life; by which is brought into form the countless varieties of life and activity in the phenomenal world. Even in the world of inorganic things is manifested that One underlying Life – in every atom and particle may be found its animating spark.
The active principle of this Universal Life is the Creative Will, which is forever at work in the creation and building up of new forms, shapes, and combinations, and the subsequent tearing down of such, for the purposes of recycling the material for use in new combinations of form. The Creative Will thus has a threefold function – that of creator, preserver, and destroyer – the changes taking place, however, being merely in the reorganisation of forms, the fundamental substance remaining ever the same; the change being but an outward appearance. The Universal Life is a great ocean of Being; the depths of which remain ever still and undisturbed, the real essence of which is unmoved by the chaos of the crashing waves and billows that break upon the shore; the constant play of the Creative Will upon the surface of Life.
The One Universal Life is thus the grand manifestation of the Absolute, in which the variety and multiplicity of forms are centres of Consciousness – each expressing some aspect of the One Life whilst remaining vitally connected with all other such centres of Energy or Consciousness by the bond of unity underlying each and all. This idea is fundamental to arriving at an understanding of Theosophy, and must be taken as the proposition upon which the edifice of theosophic thought is built. Without such unity, all would be Chaos – correlations between things would be but a fiction, and Law, Order, Science, and Cosmos would be as shadows in the dusk of the chaotic night. That all Life is One – that of forms of manifestation exist in harmonious unity with one another – that all diversity is but apparent and must fade before the light of Truth – this is the great teaching of Theosophy, from which the well of wisdom springs forth.
It is the tendency of the human intellect to report that Life, in its many forms, is characterised by variety and separation – that there can be no unity amidst such diversity and that such a concept would be opposed to the facts of Nature. Yet from the higher reaches of the mind is revealed the knowledge of an underlying oneness, that, in spite of the appearance of duality and diversity, affirms the deeper truth of our connection to the One. Thus do we become aware of the illusion of separateness – the “working fiction of the Universe” – which veils the fact of Unity at the heart of our existence.
Arriving at a consciousness of this unity is something that must be experienced before its truth can be properly realised. Intellectual speculation can only bring the seeker so far; the remainder of the path must be walked along the experiential road. This Cosmic Knowing is not always an immediate acquirement; for many, it is a gradual process whereby the seeker unfolds progressively into an awareness of the Oneness of All Life and the fact of his being a centre of consciousness by which the Universal Life is made manifest. He thus recognises himself as a centre – a sun around which the whirling planets revolve – and it is only then that he may arrive at that fuller conception of the One Life.
This shifting conception of the place of Man in the grand scheme of cosmic existence is fuelled by a realisation in the hearts of those so illumined as to the changing of the tides of human interaction. We have thus far found ourselves tied, as a species, to the vicious cycles of incessant violence and conflict – and yet in turning his gaze towards the horizon of the future, Man perceives a bright beacon of hope upon the mountain peak of the coming age – a turning away from the primitivism of ages past in the light of a grader and nobler unfoldment of consciousness.
Unity is the war-cry of our current age. With each rising Man looks anew upon the circumstances of his life, and, failing to perceive the underlying order beneath the seeming chaos, finds himself standing at a crossroads – between a new dawn or a fateful and final slide into the gaping chasm of despond. It is into this scene that we must emerge, as students of the Ageless Wisdom, to carry forth the Banner of Brotherhood unto the world. In facing the tides of darkness, the theosophist conquers by the light of love and service. He charges joyously into the fray, ever willing to stand up for the cause of Unity. Such is the theosophic life; the practical promulgation of unity by the means of faithful service.
The realisation of the Oneness of Life thus brings us, at the last, to a shift in our conscious outlook on life. No longer can we turn from the injustices and terrors of our world; the conflicts and struggles that so afflict our current age. We must each play our part in the creation of a better world built upon the foundation of Brotherhood, in whatever capacity that role may be. Theosophy offers us the means whereby we may fulfil such a role by shedding a light upon the often darkened path, to reveal, in part, the road ahead. All that falls to us is to continue along the way – through thickets and thorns, brake and brier – to the sunlit clearing that lies beyond the tangled path. Here we may bask in the light of Unity – brothers and sisters all – united in common cause for the building of a world founded on the ideals of justice.
Millions of people today are carrying a burden of private sorrow and asking themselves why — why was this child born defective and fated to early death, while its siblings are normal and with every chance of fulfillment? Where is the justice and mercy in a universe supposedly administered by an all-loving God? It is cold comfort indeed to anguished parents to be told it is God’s will, the decree of Allah, or the working out of old karma. Even if this is in part true from the vantage of one’s inner god, the cause and cure of suffering reach to the core of mystery and will remain such until, beyond the words of all the teachings humanity has received from Buddha’s day to the present, we can feel with every atom of our being the compassion of divine purpose behind everything that happens.
Last week we received a letter from one of our readers which contained this paragraph:
Somewhere in one of the issues I picked up an idea that I don’t particularly like. I may be misinterpreting, but I think the notion was that it’s possible to view some congenital affliction as punishment for some transgression in an earlier (previous?) reincarnation. That proposition strikes me as highly unfair. The human being can’t know anything about his previous life, and what good is punishment if the punished doesn’t even know that he/she has, in some remote way, committed a crime? I fully believe that nature (whatever that is) is neither cruel nor kind, only indifferent. And I assign congenital afflictions to the category of a consequence of that indifference.
The question, what good does it do to punish a person in this life when he doesn’t know what he has done wrong in a former one, is a puzzler. It also raises a second question: “Why don’t we remember our past lives?” It might seem simpler if we did, for if we knew where we had gone astray we wouldn’t object so strenuously to meeting the consequences. Also, we could see where to make amends. Fortunately, nature — by which we mean the universe in its totality as a living being, an organism — is wiser and more merciful than we are. Supposing we did have full awareness of our past, our lives would become intolerable: lingering memories of follies and outrages could cast a terrible shadow, while the remembrance of our accomplishments could make us lazy and smug! Worse still, flashbacks of the weaknesses and strengths of former families, friends, and associates could have a devastating effect on present-day relationships.
The fact is, however, that we do remember our past, for the past is ourselves: we are the karma, the fruit, of our aeons-long experience unfolded in the present. True, our physical brain, being newly formed for this life, has little power of recall, but this is not all we are, The Vedanta teaching of sutratman — from the Sanskrit, sutra, “thread,” and atman, “self” — is pertinent here: on a “thread-self” are strung as beads on a cord the series of personalities we assume from life to life. While the beads or personalities are only partially conscious of the radiant self linking them together and from which they draw their life-force, our individual atmic self or sutratman does remember and benefit from the experiences of its personalities. Something of the aroma of awareness carried over into each new personality can be intuited in moments of inner quiet.
The ancient teaching that the record of ourselves leaves its ineffaceable seal on our character, our essential selfhood, appears in diverse forms in practically every culture. Plato writes of this in his “doctrine of reminiscence”: that the soul ought to re-collect to itself its “inborn wisdom,” the innate knowledge of “the truth of all things [that has] always existed in the soul,” and that although before each return to earth we are obliged to drink of the waters of Lethe — Unmindfulness — those who are wise will not drink more than needful! Nature may be “neither cruel nor kind,” but her ways are protective. We see a divine forethought in this enforced “forgetfulness” until we have grown sufficiently in soul maturity to live consistently and consciously in our spiritual nature. For as Buddhist texts remind us, the time will come in the future when we will be expected to gain knowledge not only of our immediately preceding life, but of several lives past. By then we will handle such knowledge without injury to ourselves and others and will have earned the boon of instantaneous recall of the wisdom that is natively ours.
But let us turn again to the observations of our correspondent: first of all, I don’t think anyone can say categorically that a child born with a congenital affliction is paying for some misdeed in a previous life or lives. It may well be the case; but equally it may not be so at all. Is it not possible, for example, that a returning entity — for we are primarily spirit-souls, not bodies — could be far enough advanced interiorly to “choose” the karma of severe malformation in order to gain a profounder sympathy with human suffering? There is also the possibility that the reincarnating ego might need a temporary respite from the hurly-burly of certain mental and emotional pressures and select a “retarded” vehicle. Again, it could be that cruelty or selfishness had been so engrafted in the character that the surest means of removing the stain would be to take birth in an impaired body; the lesson of compassion could then be burned deep and the nature gentled.
The universal law of karma, of action succeeded by corresponding reaction, may seem simple when applied to physical happenings; but it becomes exceedingly complex when we try to follow the intricate meshing of karmic strands of even one person, let alone that of the billions of our fellow humans each with ages of past experience. “Judge not that ye be not judged” — only one able to read the spiritual history of an individual would be able to determine just what lines of karma had been traced in lives long gone that culminated in the precise conditions which the reincarnating ego finds itself handling — or not handling — in this life. All of us have been weaving grandeur and baseness into the tapestry of the soul; but when we intuit, as many do, that we are linked with our divine parent and that whatever we experience of joy or pain is an intrinsic part of our destiny woven since the beginning of time, then we know there is a fitness and a beauty in even the most heart-rending of circumstances.
A letter from a friend received last November bears this out. It was typewritten with a mouth-stick by one who from birth has weathered the trauma of severe disablement. She earns her living as an artist, and also devotes what time she can to working with children and young adults who are more incapacitated than herself. She is not concerned with what they can’t do; she focuses on what they can do. In this way she energizes their will and creative energy to actualizing whatever potential they do have. She wrote: Please promote erasing the false idea that people get about the word “karma.” Neither I nor others handicapped have been “punished” by being in damaged bodies (brains, or . . . ). No! In fact, once one’s consciousness has sprung past the illusions of faulty education, then in a flash one changes one’s attitude about the disability — changes and realizes once and forever that the damaged form is not a punishment but a holy privilege, through which one is at last permitted to “work” on a conscious (awakened) level. It’s like wearing a proper costume to “go to work” — the damaged vehicle is a necessary and self-imposed outer draping. Our own inner mechanisms permit the current “body” and momentary circumstances so that the teaching-learning conditions may be met. Each of us has in some moment of time had to “pay” for past errors in thought or deed. Able-bodied people are not purer than cripples; they “pay” for their errors via a different cause-and-effect situation. . . .
Karma — the word should be explained as meaning “circumstances currently the soul chose as the best opportunity for the soul’s growth and for teaching others.”
A powerful response to the question, “Is life fair?” by one who refused to stay bitter and has consecrated her gift of courage and love to all in need of hope and self-esteem. Dare any one of us do less? Let us honor and respect each other, in full recognition that every human being who has the stamina and compassion to assume challenges beyond the norm is adding his “building stone” to the ageless temple of the soul.
There is a life spark, a seed-spirit, in every human being. Each is like a tongue of flame, while God is the consuming blaze. The Psalms say, “Ye are gods: and all of you are children of the most high” (82:6). Call the life spark what you may, that which sustains life in every human being is always on its journey towards complete reunion with its source.
For a tongue of fire to blaze like its parent flame requires self-purification, which expands our little seed- spirit to almighty Spirit. Before a drop of water can be like an ocean, it must become part of the ocean. So it is with us: for a human being to become one with God, he must completely lose his personal being. We are all gods, suns, great divine lights in the making, but we must free ourselves of all material illusions before we can fully express our divine potentials.
The journey of the human seed-spirit starts from Divinity, the reality on which every pair of opposites is balanced. The path is an immense circle which can be pictured as descending and ascending arcs. On the descending arc the seed-spirit passes through spiritual hierarchies into the grossest levels of matter. On the ascending arc it awakens and rises from the material life back to the heights of spiritual attainment and reunion with the Divine.
The main task on this journey is purification and growth. Reincarnation is an opportunity for the individual to try repeatedly, since it is impossible for anyone to become perfect in a period of only seventy or a hundred years. Rebirth gives us the chance to outgrow deficiencies in the pattern of our evolution and be better fitted to become at one with our spiritual source.
Divine love is the source of all light. As the planets revolve around the sun, so the spiritually inclined revolve around the light left behind by the messengers of truth and love. Such messengers have, from time to time, visited the various races of the human family. As the sun illumines our days, so the rays of the great spiritual light-bearers brighten the inner aspect of every human being. From these light- bearers have arisen the great religions of the world. People are sometimes tempted to ask, Which of the light-bearers brought the greatest truth? My friend, there is no small truth. The important thing is to extract as much truth and love as possible from
the exemplary lives and works of those who, in their own time and race, have kindled the inner light that illuminates humanity’s path to the Oversoul.
These great repositories of light, held in esteem by one or another culture, are the paths of life as expressed in such works as the Bhagavad-Gita, Tao Teh Ching, Voice of the Silence, Bible, and Koran. All these books are based on the ancient wisdom, the path to truth, love, and union with the fountain- spring of life. Nonetheless, there will be no end to divided families and religious problems as long as those in religious groups continue to maintain that only their scriptures hold all the wisdom in the world. The totality of truth and wisdom is contained only in Divinity.
Man in essence is spirit and matter. His journey in the inner realm is an individual affair. That life ends is an illusion. A suitable body awaits anyone in any state of being in which he finds himself. In our Father’s house are many suns, just as there are many mansions. But the one indestructible self is the spiritual sun, the breath of God, the light that burns in every sun in our Father’s mansions. To unveil our inner light requires no force of arms, but knowledge of light and love of the Divine.
Newsletters received from our colleagues in America, The Netherlands, Australia and South Africa. Copies are available on request by email or standard post. Please contact the editors.
A colleague is ‘thinning’ their library and has a number of books available for distribution. If interested you may contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss this.
There are a number of Skype on line courses;
European Theosophical Skype Study Classes
Skype support team. Mrs Marian de Keijzer and Mr. Jelle Bismarck
Free copies (postage only). Secret Doctrine Centenary. Report of Proceedings, Pasadena 1988. Please request.
TUP is pleased to announce that a PDF eBook of HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky by Sylvia Cranston and Carey Williams, Research Assistant, is now freely available on our TUP Online website.
Sylvia Cranston was the pen name of Anita Atkins, well-known author of 4 books on Reincarnation (TUP publishes 2 of them), who died in 2000. Her literary estate was handled by long-time friend and assistant Dr. Caren M. Elin (aka Carey Williams). Caren died unexpectedly of a stroke last March 3rd, and shortly thereafter her estate trustee, Vera Meyer, asked if TUP could prepare an eBook version of HPB and announce its availability at Caren’s “Celebration of Life” memorial last Saturday, May 5, in Santa Barbara, CA. This of course we did, and is it not fitting that we can so honor HPB and her at this special time.
Pat & Sandy Powell. National Secretaries 43 Stephenson Grove