The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
March 2005 -- Vol. 8 Issue 1
What is the will, and who or what exercises it? According to the dictionary, will is a mental power deliberately used to decide what course of action to take. Philosophy describes it as a faculty of choice, wherein we have decision-making capacities in which to exercise our freedom of action. In the theosophical description, will is a neutral power that can be directed upwards or downwards by the mind. It belongs to the plane of consciousness and intelligence where we find faculties such as altruism, compassion, love, and forgiveness. In theosophical literature will is not limited to humans, but is found everywhere in the universe.
Free will exists for every monad, however great or small, in infinity. A monad is a center of consciousness, an immortal emanation from the heart of the universe. In this view the universe is ensouled consciousness, and consciousness is omnipresent.
We can look on free will as the amount of spiritual energy and intellect that the evolving monad has grasped through inner growth. It can be increased, and the monad can change its future through choosing to modify its future conduct.
The old Hermetic saying, "Behind will stands desire," implies that will is a force set in motion by desire. Desire is central to the human constitution, and depending upon a monad's spiritual development, desire can either ascend to the spiritual or descend to the bestial. For example, desire in animals is an instinctive force because they have not yet developed their self-awareness sufficiently, while in humans it can be either an intuitive or an intellectual force. The majority of mankind seems to live in and by desire, and often mistakes it for will. Desire is continually changing and unstable, however, whereas will is steady and constant, a spiritual force in our being. In our daily living we often don't have enough will power to follow one path for a week at a time, let alone a year. Because we generally depend on out-side assistance, our inner self or spirit has no chance to emerge and soar. Therefore, to succeed in life it would be wise to discriminate between desire and will, and make will the leader in our efforts.
Both will and desire are creative forces, forming us and our environment. We make ourselves in the image of our desires, but we could create ourselves in the likeness of the divine through use of our will. We have a twofold duty: first to awaken and strengthen our will by taming and using it, making it the absolute ruler within the body; and secondly to purify our desire. To achieve this we need tools to work with: knowledge and will. Knowledge gives us a basis for growth and attaining wisdom, and will stimulates spiritual growth when applied unselfishly.
Will is truly everywhere for all to use, and we should use it with intelligence and learn to control our desires. For who is responsible for the way we are? No one but ourselves.
We are universally bidden to practice high ethics for their own sake, since they bring good into the world and give birth to the godlike powers of the human soul. Sermons may do for the hour or so that they are listened to, but in the teachings of the ancients -- the practice of pure morality and the development of will power -- lies the key to the Absolute. The will has a lot to do with which direction we are going. -- Nivard L. Vas
Thursday, April 7th, we will continue reading and discussing the Tao Teh Ching by Lao-tzu, starting with verse 47. Feel free to drop in at any meeting!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
Following meetings (at Newport Way Library):
Thursdays, May 5 and June 2, 2005
How Free Is Our Will? is our topic this month. We will be discussing such questions as: Why is it so important to most of us? How much control do we have over ourselves? Over events and other people? Is life determined by external influences, whether material or spiritual? Can we exercise free will psychologically even if much of our existence seems determined? Can we increase the amount of free will we have or use? What is the relation of free will to opportunity and happiness? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
The topics for the monthly discussions are chosen by members of the Northwest Branch. If there is a subject that particularly interests you, or if you have ideas or suggestions about the meetings, please do not hesitate to email or mail them to the Branch or to mention them after the meetings.
A Multi-cultural and Interfaith Fair will take place at Bellevue Community College on Saturday, April 9th, 2005, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Its theme will be "Unifying Our Communities."
The Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome sought to bring the individual into harmony with the whole of nature. This is possible, they thought, because each being at the root of its being is a seed of Divinity. Stoics believed that people are essentially good and act wrongly primarily through ignorance and mistaken judgment, seeking the Highest Good in their body, possessions, power, and other things outside their true being. In reality, the Good is harmony with the universe and resides in our interior self and the products of its will. The difficulty is that everyone feels that he already knows what is good, what is right and wrong, the proper way to look at things, and resists any challenges to his habitual views.
To those who seek inner harmony, the philosopher Epictetus stressed distinguishing sharply between what is "ours" and what is "not ours." Those things which we can control -- and are truly our own -- are our opinions, impulses, our choice to pursue or avoid, all that is of our own doing and subject to our will. In respect to these things we are free, no one can hinder or compel us, we can do as we wish. Those things that we cannot control include other people, circumstances, reputation, possessions, authority -- whatever is not wholly of our own doing. Unhappiness lies in mistaking for our own what is controlled, partly or wholly, by other wills: we fear death and bodily harm; we are irritated when people and conditions do not conform to our wishes; we worry about the future, possessions, and so on, because we wish to impose our wills on what is beyond our control.
What we can control is our opinions, attitudes, and approach to whatever happens. We can meet any situation with inner cheerfulness and equanimity, or not -- the choice is ours. Once we realize that things outside our control are not really part of us, and accept that we have no power over them -- or they over our inner self -- we free ourselves emotionally and can deal with situations without the destructive edge of personal attachment. This inner detachment does imply indifference, lack of sympathy, or thoughtlessness. Human feelings are appropriate as long as they do not conflict with the love of the All and overwhelm the inner self with turmoil.
Epictetus addressed himself to the inner person, rather than the physical or emotional being, and emphasized becoming conscious of our relationship with Divinity. The Stoics viewed each person fundamentally as a seed of divine fire or cosmic mind. As such, each person has a direct link to divinity residing deep within him. If we remained aware of the divinity within us, how different our thoughts and actions would be. Our ordinary perceptions come from the shell of our being, our personality. But if we reflect on our initial reactions, we call upon the deeper part of us which has a natural affinity with the divine harmony which informs the cosmos and which remains calm and poised in the face of pain, grief, or adversity because it is unaffected by them. Again, this aspect makes us brothers with all the rest of man-kind. When we identify with this divine-human seed within us, we will still feel the entire range of emotions but, having a more universal perspective, will not be swept away by them; we will direct them instead of being controlled by them.
From another angle, the world and all in it is a manifestation of divine will, and if we would work with divinity, we must accept with good grace whatever may occur if it is beyond our power to change it. Epictetus exhorted his students "to be like-minded with God, and to blame neither Gods nor men," and to desire "to become a God from a man." When we work with the divine, with things as they are rather than against them, we are happy and successful, what-ever may befall and however it may appear from a worldly perspective. Epictetus held that unless we look only to Divinity and harmonize ourselves with its manifestations, we will spend our lives following "with groaning and lamentation whatever is stronger" than we are, seeking happiness in things outside ourselves and not finding it.
We are each wrapped in a world of our own making, in perceptions interpreted and colored by our attitudes, emotions, and desires. What our philosophy really is, is shown by the way we live, react, and treat others day by day. As we form the habit of turning to the eternal center within where truth abides and the distortions of the personality do not reach, its benign influence begins to stream into our everyday self, which becomes attuned to its divine perspective. With time and perseverance we can become in harmony with the divine which is both within and all around us, and be a benefit to all mankind.