The Subtleties of True Compassion

“The Voice of the Silence” is a book translated by H. P. Blavatsky from the Book of the Golden Precepts and she says of those precepts that “The knowledge of them is obligatory in that school, the teachings of which are accepted by many Theosophists.”

The “school” referred to is the Trans-Himalayan Esoteric School, also called the Trans-Himalayan Lodge or Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood, although this is a purely geographically descriptive name rather than its real name. It is to that School of the real and pure Esoteric Buddhism that HPB and the Masters most closely connected with the modern Theosophical Movement belong.

And among the many memorable and poetically rendered aphorisms in “The Voice of the Silence” are these:

“Sow kindly acts and thou shalt reap their fruition. Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin.” (p. 31, original 1889 edition)

“Self-Knowledge is of loving deeds the child.” (p. 31)

“Compassion is no attribute. It is the LAW of LAWS – eternal Harmony, Alaya’s SELF; a shoreless universal essence, the light of everlasting Right, and fitness of all things, the law of love eternal.” (p. 70)

However, real compassion also includes wise discrimination (in the sense of discernment, rather than prejudice) and an awareness that, strange as it may seem, for some people their suffering and misfortune has in fact become a sort of morbid and familiar comfort for them, regardless of how much they may appear to complain and bemoan it. In fact, “kindness and gentle treatment will sometimes bring out the worst qualities of a man or woman,” asserts HPB in her article “Let Every Man Prove His Own Work.”

It’s important to bear in mind that this is only the case for a great minority and that the majority of people do want to be helped and will become all the better for it. As is explained in the article just mentioned, a tremendous amount of wisdom is required to “know whom to relieve from pain and whom to leave in the mire that is their best teacher.”

At our stage, not being Adepts or Mahatmas, it seems that Theosophy is encouraging us to willingly offer help and service to all but to be prepared to observe and take note that occasionally there are people for whom our help and service only brings out or sustains their worse qualities and negative side.

We should not feel compelled and obligated to keep helping those who prove by their actions and behaviour that they do not genuinely want to be helped. Time and experience will show us whether or not this is indeed the case in a particular situation. For some people, the most truly compassionate thing we can do is to do nothing other than to wait for them to eventually awake and arise of their own accord.

The following extracts are from HPB’s “Let Every Man Prove His Own Work” and may be found helpful and informative.

It also responds to the question of why the Theosophical Movement does not directly engage itself in practical works of charity and material assistance to the needy, the reason being that “ideas rule the world” and that the teaching and learning of Theosophy – which is in fact Divine Ethics – is the most important line of work that the Movement can engage in, although students of Theosophy are indeed encouraged to engage as individuals in charitable and altruistic endeavours.



“Of late it has become the fashion for friends, as well as for foes, to reproach the Theosophical Society with doing no practical work, but losing itself in the clouds of metaphysics. Metaphysicians, we are told, by those who like to repeat stale arguments, have been learning their lesson for the last few thousand years; and it is now high time that they should begin to do some practical work. Agreed; but . . . It must not be forgotten that practical charity is not one of the declared objects of the Society. It goes without saying, and needs no “declaration,” that every member of the Society must be practically philanthropic if he be a theosophist at all; and our declared work is, in reality, more important and more efficacious than work in the everyday plane which bears more evident and immediate fruit, for the direct effect of an appreciation of theosophy is to make those charitable who were not so before. Theosophy creates the charity which afterwards, and of its own accord, makes itself manifest in works. . . .

“Life-long philanthropists . . . have, though never relaxing the habit of charity, confessed to the present writer that, as a matter of fact, misery cannot be relieved. It is a vital element in human nature, and is as necessary to some lives as pleasure is to others.

“It is a strange thing to observe how practical philanthropists will eventually, after long and bitter experience, arrive at a conclusion which, to an occultist, is from the first a working hypothesis. This is, that misery is not only endurable, but agreeable to many who endure it. . . .

“The Theosophist . . . sees that it takes a very wise man to do good works without danger of doing incalculable harm. A highly developed adept in life may grasp the nettle, and by his great intuitive powers, know whom to relieve from pain and whom to leave in the mire that is their best teacher. . . . Kindness and gentle treatment will sometimes bring out the worst qualities of a man or woman who has led a fairly presentable life when kept down by pain and despair. May the Master of Mercy [i.e. Gautama Buddha] forgive us for saying such words of any human creatures, all of whom are a part of ourselves, according to the law of human brotherhood which no disowning of it can destroy. But the words are true. . . .

“As soon as he begins to understand what a friend and teacher pain can be, the Theosophist stands appalled before the mysterious problem of human life, and though he may long to do good works, equally dreads to do them wrongly until he has himself acquired greater power and knowledge. The ignorant doing of good works may be vitally injurious, as all but those who are blind in their love of benevolence are compelled to acknowledge. . . . For it is not the spirit of self-sacrifice, or of devotion, or of desire to help that is lacking [i.e. amongst Theosophists], but the strength to acquire knowledge and power and intuition, so that the deeds done shall really be worthy of the “Buddha-Christ” spirit. Therefore it is that Theosophists cannot pose as a body of philanthropists, though secretly they may adventure on the path of good works. They profess to be a body of learners merely, pledged to help each other and all the rest of humanity, so far as in them lies, to a better understanding of the mystery of life, and to a better knowledge of the peace which lies beyond it. . . .

“None know more keenly and definitely than they that good works are necessary; only these cannot be rightly accomplished without knowledge. . . . To Theosophists we say, let us carry out the rules given us for our society before we ask for any further schemes or laws. To the public and our critics we say, try to understand the value of good works before you demand them of others, or enter upon them rashly yourselves. Yet it is an absolute fact that without good works the spirit of brotherhood would die in the world; and this can never be. Therefore is the double activity of learning and doing most necessary; we have to do good, and we have to do it rightly, with knowledge.”

The entire article can be found in “H. P. Blavatsky Theosophical Articles” Vol. 1, p. 69-78, and HPB Pamphlet #3 “Basic Questions about Theosophy,” both published by Theosophy Company and available from the United Lodge of Theosophists.

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