A newcomer attending a Theosophical meeting – particularly a meeting held by the United Lodge of Theosophists, a group devoted to the original Theosophical teachings as presented by H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge – might be struck by the frequency and emphasis of references made to “the personality” (used in Theosophical terminology as a term for the personal self; one’s sense of personal ego-consciousness along with the desire and physical nature) and to “desire,” and how both of these are more often than not spoken of with negative connotation, equated with selfishness, and insinuated to be something to be silenced in one’s life, if not eradicated.
It could be said that the basis for such an approach is derived from some of the key Theosophical texts themselves, such as “The Voice of the Silence” (translated by HPB from the Book of the Golden Precepts) and “Light on the Path” (recorded by Mabel Collins under the inspiration of an Adept and said by HPB to be derived from those same Golden Precepts) in which one can read such injunctions and directions as:
* “Before that path is entered, thou must destroy thy lunar body [“The astral form produced by the Kamic principle, the Kama rupa or body of desire.”], cleanse thy mind-body and make clean thy heart.”
* “The Self of matter and the SELF of Spirit can never meet. One of the twain must disappear; there is no place for both. Ere thy Soul’s mind can understand, the bud of personality must be crushed out, the worm of sense destroyed past resurrection.”
* “Kill out desire; but if thou killest it take heed lest from the dead it should again arise. Kill love of life. . . . Desire nothing. . . . Kill thy desires . . .”
* “Kill out ambition. Kill out desire of life. Kill out desire of comfort.”
* “Ere thou canst settle in Dnyan Marga and call it thine, thy Soul has to become as the ripe mango fruit: as soft and sweet as its bright golden pulp for others’ woes, as hard as that fruit’s stone for thine own throes and sorrows, O Conqueror of Weal and Woe.”
“The Voice of the Silence” recommending the Bodhisattva or Nirmanakaya Path – the Path that has been followed by all those who we call Mahatmas, Masters of Wisdom, and Adepts – we find HPB explaining that “a Nirmanakaya . . . leaves behind him only his physical body [i.e. at death], and retains every other “principle” save the Kamic – for he has crushed this out for ever from his nature, during life, and it can never resurrect in his post mortem state.” (“Theosophical Glossary” p. 231, Entry for “Nirmanakaya”)
What is being described is undoubtedly a strict and ascetic path and unsurprisingly does not appeal to many people, including many students of Theosophy.
It seems important and necessary to thus point out that these books which talk about “killing out” and “crushing out” all desire and personality etc. are ones which specifically state that they are written for disciples and would-be disciples and not for Theosophists at large (although all can of course benefit from the wisdom contained therein), let alone all spiritual seekers.
“The Voice” makes clear that it is “FOR THE DAILY USE OF LANOOS (DISCIPLES)” and that it is “Dedicated to the few.” The context of the whole book shows undeniably that these instructions are aimed at people who are consciously undergoing a process of initiation and often at a much higher level than most of us can presently even comprehend.
The author of “Light on the Path” clarifies, “The whole of “Light on the Path” is written in an astral cipher and can therefore only be deciphered by one who reads astrally. . . . All the rules contained in “Light on the Path” are written for all disciples, but only for disciples – those who “take knowledge.” To none else but the student in this school are its laws of any use or interest.”
And even amongst those who do wish to become disciples and pupils of the Great Ones and to enter upon a journey of initiation towards becoming a true helper of humanity are many who also still feel that they are not yet ready or simply not yet able to live such a life as outlined in these particular texts.
And nor is there any reason why they should do.
Despite the apparent implication that the Kama principle – that component of our inner constitution relating to desires and passions and bound up with our personal self – should eventually be crushed out beyond possibility of reanimation, we find other statements from HPB and her Teachers which state that “in the coming seventh Race, at the close of this Fourth Round, . . . our four lower principles will be fully developed” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 167). That must include a full development, evolution, and raising to perfection of the Kamic nature of the human being…which could not be achieved were it to be literally killed and excised from one’s inner being.
It is very easy yet very undesirable for the way we present Theosophy to be coloured by and filtered through the way in which we personally – at the time of writing an article or giving a talk or whatever – approach and relate to the teachings; to be able to truly do otherwise must be what impersonality really means.
In his article “Hypocrisy or Ignorance” Mr Judge writes:
“The doctrines of Theosophy do not ask for nor lead to the cutting out of the human heart of every human feeling. Indeed, that is an impossibility, one would think, seeing that the feelings are an integral part of the constitution of man, for in the principle called Kama – the desires and feelings – we have the basis of all our emotions, and if it is prematurely cut out of any being death or worse must result. It is very true that theosophy as well as all ethical systems demands that the being who has conscience and will, such as are found in man, shall control this principle of Kama and not be carried away by it nor be under its sway. This is self-control, mastery of the human body, steadiness in the face of affliction, but it is not extirpation of the feelings which one has to control. . . . In no place does [Krishna] say that we are to attempt the impossible task of cutting out of the inner man an integral part of himself.”
The following are some thoughts and comments on this subject shared by email amongst several ULT associates in recent times:
“Light on the Path” and “The Voice of the Silence”, are couched in a poetic, hence metaphoric language. The first chapter of “The Voice” is on meditation; the third (“The Seven Portals”) is on initiations.
“Light on the Path” is described (on the main ULT website) as “a guide to the world of psychic experiences.”
As far as altered states go we can only be in one state of consciousness at a time, so we have to metaphorically “kill off” the everyday one – in the sense of disconnect from it – but only temporarily, while the altered state lasts, then we have to return to fulfil our tasks in this life. “Cutting off” from the lower self occurs in this sense when talking of meditation. It’s like changing gears.
“Light on the Path” is written as an “astral cipher” which can only be understood by those at a certain advanced level.
William Judge, in his article “Through the Gates of Gold,” says;
“Instead of crushing out the animal nature . . . we must learn to fully understand the animal . . . The animal in man, elevated, is a thing unimaginable in its great powers of service and strength . . .” (in “The Path” March 1887, reprinted in “Light on the Path” and “Through The Gates of Gold” joint publication by Theosophical University Press, p. 113).
Apart from this, general principles apply; there is evolution; we are intended to both develop all our faculties so we can reason, apprehend, assess etc. for ourselves and also to apply ethics and fundamental principles to work things out for ourselves. It cannot be the case that at some point we go retrograde, anti-evolutionary and self-destructive. It does not make sense rationally, ethically, developmentally.
Neither can we separate principles, as the human constitution is a whole, not a set of separate layers.
If suicide is frowned on I’m sure self-mutilation is!
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What you say about “Light on the Path” makes sense to me…and it occurred to me that if the opening statements in that book (such as “before the eyes can see, they must be incapable of tears”) are meant to be understood metaphorically rather than literally (i.e. in the comments, the author says that this does not mean literally ceasing to cry ever again) then the other statements which follow directly on from those (such as “kill love of life,” “kill desire” etc.) are more than likely meant to be understood in a more metaphorical and deep sense also. Some of us students of Theosophy have been prone to taking some of that book’s injunctions metaphorically and others literally, i.e. presumptuously assuming that we know which of its injunctions are meant metaphorically and which are meant literally…which we (or at least I, as I can only speak for myself) do not have sufficient knowledge and insight to do.
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It’s easy to take a statement and attach to it a single concrete meaning, interpreting it in the literal and dead-letter sense where there’s no room for divining deeper meanings as our understanding gradually grows. The zealot’s path may be difficult to walk, but it’s simple to understand – you simply take the most extreme, austere interpretation in every case – the hardest path must be the true path. But the middle way is what the Buddha taught, which must involve nuances, allegories, metaphors, paradoxes and contradictions, and balance too.
We’ve been taught that you can’t kill out personal desire by indulging it, and that makes sense of course, for you’d be reinforcing that pattern. But the extreme of that position is to deny our personal desire and strive to crush it out, which as you say, creates the very real danger of suppressing and forcing it deeper, rather than truly transcending or transmuting it. The extreme ascetic path could therefore be counter-productive if held too firmly, or if adopted before one was ready. . . . this line of thinking does have the ring of truth and common sense to it, and it doesn’t seem to be mentioned a tenth as often as the crushing and killing out route, with its accompanying dangers.
But of course, to maintain the middle path, we need to be equally mindful and vocal about the dangers of swinging too far the other way – from a zealous asceticism that suppresses our desires, to an excessive self-indulgence.
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“Desire … with regard to the personality, is the cause of all sin, sorrow, and suffering. Such desire is based on selfish thought; it is not what others desire; it heeds not any other urge than its own.” (Robert Crosbie in “The Cause of Sorrow” article)
Those opening words from it could be seen as potentially problematic, in that – depending on how absolutely, strictly, and literally, one takes them – one could end up “demonising” one’s personal self and in a way that results in suppression of the personality rather than the ideal which is – eventually – transcendence.
This is a point that has been raised recently in some ULT meetings, with it being said that there is such a thing as attempting to “crush out” and “kill out” (to use the phraseology of “The Voice of the Silence” and “Light on the Path,” both from the Book of the Golden Precepts) the personal nature and personal desire prematurely, before one has truly and genuinely overcome all wish for personal experience, personal existence, and personal exploration.
Where the latter things do still linger, we ought not to “internally victimise” ourselves for it or even hinder or delay our own inner evolution by denying ourselves those things. Many of us who are strongly drawn to Theosophy have a heartfelt wish to reach the stage of being a direct disciple or chela of the Masters…but it can perhaps be helpful to keep in mind William Judge’s final words: “There should be calmness. Hold fast; go slow.”
Adopting a too rigidly ascetic stance with ourselves in this present lifetime can prove detrimental rather than beneficial; besides which, it is not requested or even expected of us, as can be seen by the healthy and reasonable approach and attitude taken by HPB in “The Key to Theosophy” when answering questions about celibacy/chastity, marriage, vegetarianism, ascetic practices, etc.
Having said all that, I suppose the question we could ask about what Robert Crosbie is saying here is…is every single personal desire that a person could have selfish and harmful and if so how?
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It’s refreshing to be able to discuss life and personal interests sometimes, without feeling obliged that every conversation with a fellow student must always be Theosophical. I hold a similar view . . . namely that too strict an adherence to the path… and taking a too ascetic position before being quite ready for it, can be unhealthy, and can cause suppression rather than transformation etc. In fact it’s liberating in a sense, knowing that we can discuss anything, and that nothing is taboo.
I’m sure such freedom, or informality, or whatever you might call it, would only be wrong if a tendency to “wallow” in personal subjects were to develop. . . . I think it’s probably healthy and perhaps necessary to speak our mind, and I think we’d be forgiven by our elder brothers for doing so, if not congratulated for our use of common sense, and for taking a balanced and healthy approach to life. And unburdened by such bottled up thoughts and feelings, so are we released from their distraction, to focus with renewed clarity upon the teachings once again. Or so it seems to this student.
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I think there is a potential danger in people becoming self-restricted and self-suppressed – in the wrong kind of way – by feeling compelled to be “impersonal” at all times when they have not yet naturally reached that state and condition of perpetual impersonality. A forced or premature “impersonality” could end up making a person very unhappy or even unwell, especially if they anticipate reproof from other students for expressing themselves in a personal way, as if it’s the gravest of sins in which no student should ever indulge unchecked.
. . . Some have said that some Theosophists in their efforts to be impersonal and to limit and correct “personality” in others come across more as de-personalised and cold. . . . Whilst the personal self is of course by no means our Real Self, it is still a self in which we live and function on the lower – and more immediate to us – planes of being.
As “the personality is the working off of defects” (as Robert Crosbie says) a question is whether one works off those defects by ignoring, neglecting, suppressing them and giving them no thought or attention, or by recognising and acknowledging them and giving them a certain amount of expression by which means they should hopefully eventually wear themselves out, having run their Karmic course. Otherwise, unless one is very spiritually skillful, one may not actually be eliminating those defects but rather just hiding them through an unwillingness to accept that one even has a personal self which is a valid – albeit evanescent – part of one’s being.
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“Light on the Path” is not entirely written in the direction referred to above. For example, on p. 5-6 (Theosophy Company edition) we find this:
“All steps are necessary to make up the ladder. The vices of men become steps in the ladder, one by one, as they are surmounted. The virtues of man are steps indeed, necessary – not by any means to be dispensed with. Yet, though they create a fair atmosphere and a happy future, they are useless if they stand alone. The whole nature of man must be used wisely by the one who desires to enter the way. Each man is to himself absolutely the way, the truth, and the life. But he is only so when he grasps his whole individuality firmly, and by the force of his awakened spiritual will recognizes this individuality as not himself, but that thing which he has with pain created for his own use, and by means of which he purposes, as his growth slowly developes his intelligence, to reach to the life beyond individuality. When he knows that for this his wonderful complex separated life exists, then, indeed, and then only, he is upon the way. Seek it by plunging into the mysterious and glorious depths of your own inmost being. Seek it by testing all experience, by utilizing the senses in order to understand the growth and meaning of individuality, and the beauty and obscurity of those other divine fragments which are struggling side by side with you, and form the race to which you belong. Seek it by study of the laws of being, the laws of nature, the laws of the supernatural; and seek it by making the profound obeisance of the soul to the dim star that burns within. Steadily, as you watch and worship, its light will grow stronger. Then you may know you have found the beginning of the way. And when you have found the end its light will suddenly become the infinite light.”
Later (p. 18-19) we discover this elucidation:
“Seek it by testing all experience, and remember that when I say this I do not say, Yield to the seductions of sense in order to know it. Before you have become an occultist you may do this; but not afterwards. When you have chosen and entered the path you cannot yield to these seductions without shame. Yet you can experience them without horror; can weigh, observe and test them, and wait with the patience of confidence for the hour when they shall affect you no longer. But do not condemn the man that yields; . . . be wary lest too soon you fancy yourself a thing apart from the mass.”
A much needed cheerful and light approach to “impersonality” is demonstrated by Robert Crosbie, founder of the ULT, when he writes:
“Impersonality isn’t talking; it isn’t silence; it isn’t insinuation; it isn’t repulsion; it isn’t negation. Above all, it isn’t a diplomacy which masks ambition.
“Impersonality means freedom from personality, but none of us are going to attain that, right away; we are doing well enough if we are persistently, albeit slowly, overcoming.
“For practical purposes: if we are developing the child-heart; if we are learning to love things beautiful; if we are becoming more honest and plain and simple; if we are beginning to sense the sweet side of life; if we are getting to like our friends better and extending the circle; if we feel ourselves expanding in sympathy; if we love to work for Theosophy and do not ask position as a reward; if we are not bothering too much about whether we are personal or impersonal – this is traveling on the path of impersonality.” (“The Friendly Philosopher” p. 127-128)
From 1887 to 1888, Mr Judge published in his monthly magazine “The Path” a series of articles entitled “Some Teachings Of A German Mystic,” which mainly recount how an occultist referred to by the name of Mohrland managed to help a young woman to free herself from negative unseen influences which were at times possessing her and making her life a misery. Some of Mohrland’s advice to her seems appropriate to repeat in this article:
“The spirit of man is a unity. You have sub-divided your forces, and therefore you are unable to maintain the conflict. Collect them under one standard, under the manifestation of the Self that speaks in your heart, and then you are free. . . .
“You have forsaken the altar of your life and fled to the dome. The heart is the place where our nature gains certainty and freedom; you must learn again to speak and feel there, else there is no help for you. The head is the last instance of our activity; not until our nature has had experiences of friendship and love may the head reflect upon them. If we seek results of our thoughts before we have had the experience, phantoms will come into being which take root, bud, flourish, and at last entirely envelop us. Withdraw from the head the activity of your thoughts, sink sight, hearing, smell, and taste down into the body, permit the invisible, spiritual pores to regain their natural tendency and not be directed upwards, and then you will see what a force will be developed therefrom, and how according to nature we give ourselves freedom and attain the means to maintain it.”
“Man must possess himself wholly; this is the end of all teaching. Not alone in the heart or in the head; but throughout the entire body man must learn to perceive and recognize. Otherwise he mutilates himself and becomes worthless for a perfected life.
“Herein lies the mistake of persons who ascribe more holiness to one part of the body than to another part, though their daily experience teaches them that no member is without use and that each must necessarily exist in order to fulfill the intention of the Creator.
“Seek to receive that which thou hast and consider where thy life most plainly manifests itself; there thou art nearest to God. But be not partisan with thy functions, and hold to the conviction that perfection must possess all powers.
“In the deepest tones of music the higher tones are contained. Therefore descend into the lowest chambers of the body and bear in mind that Christ also descended into hell in order to arouse all souls and powers into life.
“Rest not until thou hast in all parts formed in thyself a lense through which thou canst look into eternity. Do not be led astray when the world takes only thy head into account and endeavors to fill it with all possible facts until it threatens to set up for itself and to secede from thy emotions. Remain steadfast and contain thyself wholly; else thou art like to one crucified, whose bones have been broken on the cross, and therefore may not be taken down.” (bold and underlining added to emphasise some of the most relevant points)
It can be all too easy for those of us who are spiritually and Theosophically inclined to “forsake the altar of our life” and “flee to the dome,” in other words to endeavour to separate ourselves as much as possible from the activities and experiences of everyday life and occupy ourselves as much as we possibly can with spiritual thoughts, spiritual study, etc., more or less shunning and trying to avoid what the majority of the human race calls “real life.”
The “dome” here can be a reference not only to a monastery or place of religious sanctuary but also to the head, the “dome” of the human body, in which it is possible to be so entrapped with one’s thoughts that one loses sight of everything else. If all life is sacred, precious, and divine, as we so often maintain, then our everyday “ordinary” life is in itself an altar and can be viewed as something spiritual and sacred rather than something to be mentally, if not bodily, cut away from.
No doubt some of us Theosophical students were monks, nuns, or other types of ascetics, in previous incarnations. But in this incarnation we are not and the advice here seems to be to not allow oneself to be drawn back towards monkish and reclusive tendencies. At least this is what was indicated by Mohrland, who WQJ quotes approvingly.
He goes on to say that we are in no position to form thoughts and mental conclusions, ideas, and attitudes, towards aspects of the personal self and personal life – such as “friendship and love” – until we have truly had experience of them in this present life. If for example without ever having experienced romance we start thinking “I’ve gone through all that in previous lifetimes; I want nothing to do with it; it’s all illusion and suffering, etc.” is that a truly spiritual approach, one that honours all of life as divine, and allows heart-feelings of love, sympathy, and understanding, to be really developed? According to Mohrland that is an example of living “in the head” and trying to always direct all inner forces “upwards” as if wishing to escape from the fact that one even has a body.
The paragraph about some people mistakenly ascribing “more holiness to one part of the body than to another” could well be a reference to sexual life and the quasi-revulsion that the ascetically inclined can take towards the corresponding parts or organs of their body. This is discussed in more depth in our new article Theosophy on Sex and Sexuality.
Whatever Theosophists reading this may think of Mohrland’s advice – which seems to be encouraging the cultivation of body-consciousness as something in harmony with and not to be separated from spiritual-consciousness – here are Mr Judge’s comments on these paragraphs, quoting the following statements from “Through The Gates of Gold,” which was another book written under inspiration by Mabel Collins and today still published and available from the United Lodge of Theosophists:
“Courage to search the recesses of one’s own nature without fear and without shame.”
“The chief point of importance is to explore no more persistently on one line than another; else the result must be deformity.”
“Forget no inch of your garden ground, no smallest plant that grows in it; make no foolish pretence nor fond mistake in the fancy that you are ready to forget it, and so subject it to the frightful consequence of half-measures.” To this particular aphorism, WQJ remarks, “The garden is the personality; the plants are the attributes that compose it, and whose potentialities must be developed.”
In closing, here are some further words from this closest colleague and friend of HPB, excerpted from his article “Hypocrisy or Ignorance”:
“It seems to be time, then, that no theosophist shall ever be guilty of making pretension to any one that he or she has attained to the high place which now and then some assume to have reached. Much better is it to be conscious of our defects and weaknesses, always ready to acknowledge the truth that, being human, we are not able to always or quickly reach the goal of effort.”