Essays from "The Theosophical Path" by Talbot Mundy


By Talbot Mundy

April 1924

Most of us pride ourselves on being sincere and reasonable. Modern systems of government are based on a theory that reasonable men and women shall elect their representatives, who, after reasoning out the issues of the day, shall reach decisions reasonably applicable for the common good. Nothing more annoys an individual than to be told he is unreasonable and insincere. International irritation is the invariable consequence whenever one nation's press and politicians charge the government of another nation with adopting an unreasonable attitude. Criticism that a creed or dogma is unreasonable induces frenzy and such rawly irreligious bickering as recently has broken out between the self-styled Fundamentalists and so-called Modernists. And we pride ourselves that our irritation is due to our sincerity.

Just how sincere and reasonable really are we? Man, catalogued by the scientists as homo sapiens, concedes himself to be the crowning glory of creation because his reason is developed, whereas, it is asserted, animals have only instinct and -- it is again asserted -- flowers, sun, moon, stars, and the imponderable universe have no intelligence whatever. But can this egoistic claim by homo sapiens be supported by evidence, in the light of the very reasonableness, which he asserts is his own exclusive attribute?

Will this vaunted reasonableness bear sincere scrutiny? How much of our thinking and our conduct of ourselves and our affairs is due to what in animals we arrogantly term 'blind instinct'; how much is due to what in nature we term 'blind forces'? And just how open-eyed and open-minded are we ourselves, as compared to the nations, sections of society, animals, vegetables, minerals, and unknown stars, which we regard as 'inferior' because devoid of that ability to reason of which we boast?

Webster's dictionary defines reason as "the power or faculty of comprehending and inferring." What is it that we comprehend? What is it we infer? Where are we, as a consequence? And whither is the process leading us? The question requires to be faced.

Do we reason from cause to effect? Do we comprehend causes at all? Or do we infer imaginary causes, and try to justify the inference by seeking, from a thousand different motives, to manipulate the effects of our wrong thinking? In the event that the latter should appear to be true, are we brave enough, and sufficiently reasonable, to reverse our mental processes and to face the issue? And if we refuse to face the issue, in what way are we superior to 'the beasts that perish' or to the vegetables, which we and the animals eat?

It is true that we can kill the animals. But they can also kill us. It is true, we have invented methods for butchering hecatombs of beasts, which place the beasts at a considerable disadvantage and appear to make it improbable at the moment that the beasts will ever gain the ascendancy. But it is also true that organized hosts of creatures, so small individually as to be almost, if not quite invisible under the most powerful microscope, can kill us with much more deadly certainty than we can massacre, say, elephants or rabbits. Consider the microbe.

We can, and we do kill one another; and we do it with more ingenuity, more cruelty, and more hypocrisy than can by any stretch of the imagination be charged against the animals to which we claim to be superior. We try to exterminate some animals on account of their alleged ferocity; but if their ferocity is bad, is not ours worse? Therefore, if they should be destroyed, should we not also be destroyed? It would appear, judging from the news in the sensational newspapers, that all humanity is surging forward to destruction; and although we do not like to believe that, but prefer to solace ourselves with the delusion that our particular nation, our particular political system, ourself and our circle of friends are immune from what we see, more or less clearly, to be impending on the 'inferior' peoples of the earth, it would likely do us no harm to consider wherein our alleged safety lies, and whether the causes that we are agreed endanger others are not also at the root of our own thinking.

It is fashionable nowadays to denounce as a 'knocker' everyone who discerns and dares to mention faults in the conduct of private, local, or national affairs, and the imputation is that all such individuals belong to the undesirable class of selfishly carping critics who loathe to see prosperity in other people. Alternatively, whoever cheers noisily for conditions as they are is called a 'booster,' and is supposed to belong to that respectable class of honest citizens who always loyally fulfil their obligations and on whom prosperity depends.

But that fashion is not new. The system of labeling oneself and one's opponents, with the absurd notion of monopolizing all the credit and assuming none of the responsibility, and with the criminal intention of masking one's own selfishness, while attributing ill-faith to one's opponents, is as old as savagery. The fact that these labels, religious as well as political, are as often as not chosen for the purpose of self-deception makes no important difference; it is just as criminal to deceive oneself as to deceive others, because self-deception is the underlying cause of all crime.

No one would commit any crime whatever, unless he were first self-deceived; the inevitable outcome would be too obvious. Unless first self-deceived, we could never be deceived by others, nor could we ever be induced to practise deception. We all know this. The very children know it. The first principle of banking, and of every other successful business, is to be on guard ceaselessly against self-deception, and the great majority of failures are attributed to lack of judgment, which is only another name for the same thing.

There are two outstanding peculiarities of human nature, which anyone can recognise who dares to examine his own thought processes; but although we like to pride ourselves on daring, we are seldom prone to it when we ourselves are to be the objects of experiment. The two peculiarities are these: that we always seek to transfer the blame for any sort of evil consequences, from ourselves to others; and that we will accept any makeshift, any harbor of refuge, rather than be radical, admit that our philosophy is wrong, and face the issue bravely reasonable. We pretend to, and to some extent we do hate insincerity (as for instance when we think we recognise it in the arguments and acts of others); but it remains the king-pin, so to speak, of our own and of all the world's calamities. Until we learn to be sincere, there is no hope whatever of relief from distress, whether individual or national. And the process must begin at home. We can never be sincere with others until we are first wholly sincere with ourselves.

It is an indisputable axiom, discernible in every circumstance of nature, that like begets like. In Bible-phraseology, we cannot gather figs from thistles or obtain both sweet and bitter water from the same spring. Nevertheless, we pretend to try to abolish crime by hanging criminals; we seek to abolish pain by permitting vivisection; we pretend to aspire to peace, while openly boasting of our preparations for 'the next war'; we prohibit alcoholic drink and censor plays, books, motion pictures, but insist that our newspapers shall print sensational reports of every abominable crime. In law we hold each individual responsible for his own acts, unless it can be proved he is out of his mind, in which case we lock him up and make ourselves responsible for him; yet we seek 'salvation' through 'vicarious atonement,' and try to substitute a 'profession of faith' for downright honesty, as a solution of the mystery of life after death.

These are only a few of our more obvious absurdities; anyone who cares to look about him frankly can discover countless others for himself. They are all due to our besetting sin of insincerity, which is the armor of ignorance.

The process of insincerity is easily illustrated, and the arguments by which it propagates itself will occur to everyone the moment the illustration is given. Consider the question of international rivalry and what has happened recently in that connexion. Weary of a sort of warfare that exhausted all the combatants and left none with a perceptible advantage, the rival governments sent representatives to a conference, at which it was agreed to limit the more costly and 'out-of-date' engines of destruction. There has been a great deal of mutual suspicion since then, as to whether the governments who agreed to the contract have loyally obeyed its terms; but there is absolutely no question that every government concerned is working day and night to supply itself with cheaper and much more deadly means of making war!

That is no secret. It is openly discussed in the newspapers; and there are very few newspapers that do not urge their own government to assume the lead in deadly preparation. The excuse is, that unless this government is fully prepared to do wholesale murder on a scale never before dreamed of, that government will take the initiative and will seize the upper hand by means of ruthless butchery.

A nice new label has been made for this comparatively ancient form of international mistrust. But Xenophobia is nothing but another mask for insincerity -- another way of deceiving ourselves and imputing the blame either to others or to a psychology over which we are supposed to have no control. It would be amusing, if it were not so disastrous, stupid, and yet simple of solution. The apparent helplessness of individuals takes all the humor from the situation. The individual who feels inclined to sneer would do better to remember that the acts and methods of governments are no more than a large-scale illustration of the workings of the human mind, his own included.

From the pulpits of a million churches the command is thundered: "Love ye one another!" There lies the solution certainly. But without sincerity it is impossible to love.

We are all afraid. Our lower nature, which persists in every one of us (or we should be invisible to mortal eyes and functioning on vastly higher planes of being) dreads its own destruction and deceives us -- even the best of us -- with arguments of ever-increasing subtilty, of which a favorite one is that we should be at the mercy of the lower nature of others unless ready at all times to use dishonest methods for our own defense. But the truth is that the only absolute protection against treachery is honesty. The slightest compromise with dishonesty provides an opening through which the darkest forces surge and gain control of us. It is not the other man's dishonesty, but our own that endangers us as individuals. In other words, if we admit one trace of insincerity into our reasoning the effect is similar to that of poison introduced into a well; it does not poison one part of the water, but all of it; and the more colorless and unnoticeable it is, the more deadly the results.

It is not possible to exaggerate the inevitable consequences of continuing in insincerity; because the lower nature of every human being is capable of limitless evil and, if left to its own resources, is totally incapable of anything but evil. The lower nature of nations is a multiplication of the lower nature of individuals in the mass. It is what the churches call the devil. It possesses a sort of intelligence, which amounts to a keenly alert instinct of self-preservation combined with mercurial subtilty. It knows no more of the higher nature than a stagnant pond knows of the sun that sterilizes it. And it is no more useful as a foundation on which to raise a spiritual edifice than a desert-mirage would be as a source of drinking water. Every concession to the lower nature is of the nature of a bargain with a heartless, conscienceless, 'blind force,' and is of the very essence of insincerity.

The common mistake is to regard sincerity as an emotion. Glimpsed through the mist of that mistake, it would appear to be the consequence of action, a variable product subject to the judgment of opinion, possessing qualities that differ in degree with individuals. Accepting that fallacy, we find ourselves at a loss for a word with which to define that stark, uncompromising habit of watchful self-analysis, which alone insures right activity.

It is customary (perhaps because we like to be respectful) to speak of the sincerity of politicians, churchmen, and (undoubtedly because of a desire for self-respect) particularly of ourselves. And yet, in whichever direction we look, we see in our own actions, and in the acts of others, the unquestionable effects of insincerity. A world-wide plebiscite for or against the Golden Rule would certainly produce an overwhelming, and possibly unanimous, vote in favor of it, but the vote would be perfectly insincere, and its only possible result would be a temporary smug self-righteousness and a delusion that the world was better than it is. Ignorance knows nothing of sincerity; and sincerity cannot be attained by protesting allegiance to a creed, whose tenets are obscure and incomprehensible.

Sincerity is impossible without knowledge. We must understand what we profess before there can be the remotest chance of putting the profession into practise. And it is surely obvious that we must understand ourselves before we can hope to understand others or be qualified to criticize them.

The occult, that is to say the concealed, inmost, meaning of sincerity is Self-knowledge. It is the only guide to right action. To wait for sincerity in others before striving to attain it in oneself would be as useless as to wait for the harvest without troubling to plant the seed. The Millennium will come when we have learned sincerity. We shall find it within ourselves -- or nowhere.

The world's problems appear intricate and overwhelming. The more they are studied, the more impossible it seems that any of the plans for their solution can provide relief. It is beginning to dawn on businessmen, and even on the legislatures, that no nation, and no individual can live unto himself alone but that a disaster to one section of humanity is sure to be felt eventually in the remotest corners of the earth. But the converse of that is equally true, and is immensely more important to consider, because on it depends the redemption of the human race.

Improvement in any one individual must eventually benefit the whole world. Therein lies the solution of the whole difficulty, extremely simple, yet, in common with all simple things, prodigiously more difficult to do than may appear at first sight. Sincerity must be the watchword, or the effort is waste. Sincerity, which knows no thought of compromise, insists that the sole motive for self-improvement shall be that others may be the beneficiaries; and that is the exact opposite of all of the methods of self-improvement that the world endorses.

The Ancient Wisdom, which is the mother of all religions, teaches that man is the microcosm of the macrocosm, and we can prove this for ourselves, if we only examine ourselves fearlessly. Within our own consciousness we may discern every one of the motives that govern and misgovern all mankind. As individuals we have no resources and no virtues that are denied to other men; we are immune from none of the temptations that waylay others; we have the same destiny, whether or not we recognise it, the same broad duty to our fellow-men, the same Law for our guidance. And the only way in which we can obey the Law is by applying it in every instance to ourselves.

Our lower nature is incapable of comprehending, and consequently utterly incapable of obeying, the Higher Law. Our Higher Nature knows the Law. Which of the two is to govern us, which is to direct our thinking and the acts that are the outcome of our thinking, is the only real problem we are called on to decide.

We are. Each one of us knows that, if nothing else. In phraseology that is epochs older than the Bible that is commonly supposed to be its origin, "it doth not yet appear what we shall be." Very few are in agreement, even for five minutes at a time, as to the extremely recent past; and human memory is silent as to what preceded our birth into this particular existence.

We are; and we are now. Now, and our own consciousness, are the limits within which we function. Now, is the immeasurable point where past and future meet. Our consciousness is the immeasurable point at which the Higher and the lower nature meet. The only important difference between us and the animals is, that while the whole universe, ourselves and the animals included, is subject to the law of evolution, we, as human beings, have reached the stage of self-direction. We are no longer 'at the mercy' of what the scientists prefer to call 'blind forces,' but have the privilege of controlling our own individual destiny by the exercise of will. We may choose, that is, between the Higher and the lower. We may control and discipline our lower selves, or we may let our lower selves continue to deceive us. In either event we shall receive the full, logical, exactly just, inevitable consequences of our choice.

In other words, our consciousness -- that of which we are conscious -- will continue to be better or to grow worse in exact proportion to our effort to be governed by the Higher Law, by recognising it, or our submission to the dictates of the lower nature. The problem is individual in every instance.

Our lower nature is dependable in one, and in only one respect: it is invariably a deceiver. Never, in any circumstances, does it tell the truth; because it does not, and cannot, know the truth. It presents expediency in the disguise of principle and, when that fails, it flatters us with the suggestion that we are making sacrifices when we forego personal advantage for the universal good. It is obvious at once to anyone who communes with his Higher nature even for a moment, that the universal good inevitably must include each individual, not excepting him who makes the 'sacrifice'; it becomes at once obvious that the only sacrifice that could entail the slightest, even momentary disadvantage would be to let go the Higher for the sake of the lower, foregoing the universal for the sake of the personal. But the ridiculous delusion of self-sacrifice persists and propagates the subtilest forms of vanity.

Another favorite method of the lower nature is to frighten or to flatter us with the belief that we must struggle terribly in an incessant warfare before the Higher Nature can prevail. But the Higher Nature knows absolutely nothing of any struggle. The illustration is at hand, in nature. The moment the light appears, the darkness disappears; there is no struggle between them. In the bright light of the Higher Nature the darkness of the lower vanishes; but as long as one prefers the lower there will be a struggle to cling to it, and the dawning of the Light into the consciousness will hurt.

The delusion of struggle is due to insincerity in the attempt at self-analysis. It means that one of the subtilest forms of personality is masquerading as a virtue. A sense of humor is the readiest solvent of that obscure condition, since whoever can laugh at himself is in a fair way to become impersonal. He is likely to discern that he has been struggling to benefit his personality by posing as a student of the Higher Law; whereas the first axiom of the Higher Law is that no degree of selfishness can possibly be beneficial, and that the only way in which we can really benefit ourselves is by first benefiting others.

Sincerity insists that the sole purpose of self-directed evolution, its only motive, and its constant care shall be, so to discipline, govern, and improve ourselves as individuals that we may be, not only not a handicap to the rest of humanity, but an assistance to it by becoming fit to bear at least our full share of the load. That is the law of Universal Brotherhood. Recognition of the Law -- confession to oneself that the law exists -- is the first step. Sincerity soon follows; and the first stage of sincerity appears when we find ourselves, even while continuing a certain course, admitting to ourselves that the course is wrong, instead of deceiving ourselves that it is right. In the second stage we discontinue doing what we know is wrong, for the simple reason that by injuring our own character we are committing a sin against our fellow-man. In the third stage we see clearly what the right course is, and from that moment we become a positive force for good.

We are our brother's keeper; but, like the sentinel on duty at the gate, we keep him by guarding ourselves against the enemy -- our lower nature.

All the great teachers of whom there is any record have laid down the law that we must purify ourselves before we may hope to help others. Jesus of Nazareth is quoted as saying: "Cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye"; and that, with characteristic human insincerity, has come to be accepted as authentic doctrine by a civilization whose foremost characteristic is delight in condemnation of its neighbor while continuing its own self-indulgence in immorality.

But the reason is not far to seek. The two essential facts -- Duality and Reincarnation -- have been overlooked. The 'three-score years and ten' that statisticians and a prophet have assured us is about the limit of a human life, have so circumscribed our view that the task of raising the general standard of morality appears hopeless, if not useless. The old Latin proverb Cui Bono -- in colloquial modern English, 'What's the use?' -- must occur in some form or another to every man who assumes that he was 'born in sin,' lives for something less than a hundred years, dies, and 'that's the end of it.'

Reincarnation instantly changes the aspect of things and events. The moment we realize that no effort can possibly be lost, that no thought and no deed can remain uncompensated, that full and perfect justice is unavoidable, and that we return into the world again, and again, and again, to meet exactly the conditions that our former efforts have deserved, we begin to discern the purpose and the joy of evolution and to take our part in it with a sincerity that has no use for self-pity and laughs at adversity as an experience whose sublime and encouraging purpose is that we may learn from it self-mastery -- the Key of Life eternal.