Essays from "The Theosophical Path" by Talbot Mundy


By Talbot Mundy

June 1924
"HE who knows, is unafraid and is therefore too wise to threaten; because a threat is an admission that the cause he has at heart is unjust. He who knows not, threatens; and accordingly the knowing are forewarned. Justice has a sharp sword, and its sheath is Silence." -- From the Book of the Sayings of Tsiang Samdup

Blackmail is a predominating evil of this age and generation. We are largely governed by it, in private and in public life, nationally and internationally. Our views of history are warped and obscured by a process of so-called education, of which blackmail is an intrinsic principle. Business is limited and hindered by it. Our law courts are in countless instances its unintentional agents. All altruism is restricted by the dread of what the blackmailers may say or do to discredit anyone who dares to act with true nobility.

The blackmailer is one who fears that his own tricky interests cannot be served except by unjustly accusing another, and who threatens infamy, loss, or violence in order to compel compliance with his arbitrary will or concession to his plots.

The system, which is practically universal in this generation, draws its strength and pertinacity from the fixed conviction that the life of a man is only three-score years and ten; in consequence of which, all calculations are based on an absurdly narrow supposition that immediate profit and loss are the only waymarks of success or failure.

Extreme instances sometimes provide the simplest illustrations, and the broadest are the easiest to understand. A nation, for instance, more powerful than another threatens war unless the weaker shall comply with a peremptory demand. That is blackmail in a sense in one of its crudest and most cruel forms, although it is sometimes glorified under the deceptive name of patriotism.

Or, a group of individuals, having what they believe to be interests in common, threaten their elected legislators with political oblivion unless they shall vote as instructed, whether or not the legislators think that course is right. The legislators, yielding to the threat in fear for their own pockets and careers, form a caucus and refuse to pass just laws proposed by the representatives of other interests unless their own requirements shall have precedence. In this way the evil multiplies itself and a small body of expert politicians frequently blackmails a whole nation; but the system is glorified under the misused title of Right.

An institution or an individual receives a substantial bequest, from someone who, perhaps, made during his lifetime such provision for his immediate relatives as he considered just and who wished the balance of his fortune to be used for the general good of humanity. But the testator's body is hardly decently disposed of before lawsuits are begun to set aside the will on the trumped-up excuse of undue influence, the theory being that the legatee will rather settle out of court than be put to the expense and inconvenience of defending the lawsuit, or the indignity of having to disprove false accusations. This is legal blackmail, increasingly common, and glorified under the astonishingly misused name of justice.

The simpler forms of blackmail are all outlawed, but are none the less effective in a host of instances. The commonest, and all too frequently successful method, is to discover some discreditable fact, or one that appears discreditable, in an individual's career, and to threaten him with exposure unless he pays a sum of money. There the process is unable to disguise itself but stands out raw and hideous; the victim who yields to it is reckoned cowardly; the blackmailers themselves, if caught, are punished drastically and regarded with loathing.

But there is no essential difference between the blackguardly motive of the blackmailer who extorts money by threat of exposure, and that of the lawyer, for instance, who 'earns' a fat fee by using the courts to extort money from individuals or institutions who, by force of accident, may be unable at the moment to defend themselves against insinuation and false evidence. Nor is the self-styled 'reformer' or religionist, who threatens organized boycott of individuals unless he shall have his arbitrary way, one degree removed in lack of principle from the merchant who threatens to withdraw his advertising unless a newspaper shall color its news and editorials to comply with his opinions.

As for the victims, who shall separate them? Who shall elevate them one above the other in the ranks of the unwise? Whether or not Helena Petrovna Blavatsky coined the word 'flapdoodle' to apply to spineless folk who yield to the threats and to the stings of organized ill will, it is sure she used it freely; and the name fits. She never yielded. She earned by her courage and honesty the full right to unmask weaklings to themselves and to deny their claim to be respectable, however much she pitied them. She stood unfrightened, and defied such batteries of blackmail as in all recorded history have not been aimed more cruelly at any individual. And she died unconquered, her nerves and body racked by the persistent malice of those whom she strove to help, her heart triumphant, her mind clear and active to the last. The good she did lives after her; her tortures were cremated with her bones.

But Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was not short-sighted, which accounts for some part of her courage. She was not obsessed by the absurd belief that cause and consequence, aim, effort, and attainment, all must be confined within the span of one short human life. Her whole ambition was to serve humanity by reviving in its consciousness the Wisdom that was in the world from the beginning, and she knew that the cause she served was mightier than that of all the hosts of selfishness.

It needs no exploration into occultism, nor any somersaults of intellect to find that supreme selfishness is the only medium in which the principle of blackmail can exist. The victim is as selfish in degree as the criminal who makes threats in order to enforce his own will or advantage. Selfishness and short sight are inseparable, and the only remedy for either is the patient exercise of all the faculties in continuous effort to apply, in the thinking and acting of daily life, the purest philosophy we know. We can never prevent evil, in ourselves or others, except by deliberately and continuously doing right.

The putting into practice of what small philosophy we do know, inevitably leads to our learning more and is, in fact, the only way in which we can learn; for it should not be overlooked that the mere study of philosophy as something abstract and impractical is only one of the subtiler forms of selfishness, which leads to the slimy quagmires of hypocrisy and cant. An old, old proverb, familiar in the dawn of history, when latter-day perplexities, perhaps, were still discernible as simple problems uninvolved by the millions of mixed considerations that have crept in during the course of time, lays down the law -- the true law -- that Experience makes wise. There is no wisdom but is gained in actual experience. There is no reason for our being in the Universe, except that we may meet experience and learn from it, and so evolve forever upward in the endless cycles of eternity into the grandeur that is our destiny.

It is well to consider blackmail from that viewpoint, and to govern ourselves accordingly. Deprived by moral blindness of the broader view that recognises this earth-life as but an incident in an eternal chain of lives, we become hypnotised by the apparent dangers or advantages of any given moment, and so we succumb to the temptations of the lower nature. But the fact once recognised, and stedfastly retained in thought, that we are here to build the character on which an endless series of future lives inevitably will be based, then the absurdity of yielding to threat or immoral suggestion becomes evident, along with the equally clear understanding that to threaten others, in order to enforce our own will or to obtain an unjust 'profit,' is at least as harmful to ourselves as to them. The perspective changes when we take the broader view. The advantage of a moment assumes very small proportions as against the grand panorama of eternally progressing lives in which, with utterly unerring justice, each succeeding life is, in every detail, conditioned by the character we have evolved by our own effort in the lives lived previously.

The apparent paradox that we can only help ourselves by continually serving others, and that therefore sheer unselfishness is the only form of selfishness we can afford to entertain, is an eternal truth. At first sight, we being what we are and face to face with effects whose causes lie hidden in the unremembered past, it may sometimes be difficult to grasp the fact that threats of momentary loss, or promises of momentary gain, are unimportant. But the only question of real importance at any moment is, whether our own action shall, or shall not, be based on our highest sense of justice and our highest concept of unselfishness. It is not easy to be unselfish, until the habit takes firm hold of us, and that habit never comes except from constant practice. It is absolutely impossible to act justly until we have first acquired the habit of considering each daily problem with the eternal law in mind, that we can only benefit ourselves by benefiting all the universe.

We flatter ourselves when we suppose that this is an enlightened age. It is fashionable nowadays to sneer at the bygone era when ecclesiastically-minded tyrants used to impose their notions of what conduct should be, by threatening hell-fire to whoever dared to disagree. But that medieval attitude of mind was only simpler -- is only easier to analyse at first glance, than our modern systems of politics, business, education, religion, and psychology. There were brave, broad-thinking men in those days, even as there are now; and the persecution to which brave men and women are subjected in this twentieth century, if now and then more subtil, is no less torturing, and no less cruel and illogical, than were the penalties imposed during what are so inaccurately named the 'middle ages.'

The difference is this: that while we hunt through the pages of history for light on human nature we can easily discern the processes of blackmail striving to throttle honesty and all the grandeur of the higher nature; but the moment we turn to latter-day conditions those same processes, that blinded our 'medieval' ancestors, making victims of them, blind and victimize ourselves. We can laugh at or pity those who trembled when a bishop threatened them with hell unless they paid outrageously unrighteous tithes; but we permit our children to act like libertines, lest they accuse us of old-fogeyism or disturb our lethargy with irritating clamor -- we submit to extortion in a thousand ways, from fear of slander and inconvenience -- we condone (with our votes or our silence) the crimes of the ambitious men who intrigue in behalf of war, lest we be accused of lack of 'patriotism' -- we sometimes refrain from doing what is right, lest the advocates of what is wrong should hold us up to obloquy or ridicule; -- and we fail to see that we are in no way better or more wise than were the pitiable victims of blackmail of whom we read with such unjustified sensations of superiority in the pages of comparatively ancient history. Morally, and in the main, we are a spineless generation. It will do us no harm if we recognise the fact instead of further poisoning ourselves with flattery.

We can never learn to guard ourselves against the unsuspected blackmailer, whose subtilty escapes detection in our present state of self-approving ignorance, until we first accustom ourselves to dealing bravely and in protest and at once with those immoral methods of oppression and suppression that a moment's thought makes obvious. Nor can we ever cease to be the unconscious agents of oppression and suppression until we first refuse, in hourly intercourse with others, to impose our will on them by means of threats in any form whatever.

Katherine Tingley, Founder of the Raja-Yoga system of education, has set the true example in this, as in so many other ways; and as the Leader and Teacher of the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society, in common with all true examples, hers is magnificently simple. The pupils at the Raja-Yoga College and Schools are never punished or discouraged. There is no threat hanging over them to dull their inspiration and deprive them of their divine privilege to grow and develop as the flowers grow, in sunlight and fresh air -- to grow, that is, into awareness of their own divinity. They are given encouragement, not nagging and repression; example, not temptation; opportunity to learn for themselves the difference between unselfishness and selfishness, between the joy of being useful, moral, and constructive and the dreary discontent of being drones and disintegrators.

There is an infinite gulf between the honor-system that confers intangible rewards which increase the individual's self-respect, for doing good, and the commoner method of threatening with punishments for failure. The first and almost instantly attained result of Katherine Tingley's educational system is, that the pupils themselves adopt it and no longer threaten misbehavior in order to force concessions from their teachers. The system evokes their self-respect; they neither look for nor would they appreciate material reward for spiritual progress, but, by putting all their enthusiasm into their studies and by exercising self-control they earn the right to study in a wider field.

This system is the opposite of blackmail, which is why it is successful. Like begets like -- a law no natural scientist would gainsay. The ancient proverb that the child is father to the man, is just as true today as centuries ago; and the child who has been threatened and coerced into obedience grows up into a man, or woman, who coerces -- or else, who submits to coercion because the habit has become ingrained. The child who has never been threatened or bribed, grows up into a wholly different and grander type of citizen.

Our lower nature is a blackmailer by instinct. It threatens inconvenience unless we yield to it. All other arguments failing, it proceeds to terrify us with the threat that we shall be ostracized as cranks by our immediate acquaintances and by society at large unless we submit to its impositions. But whoever yields to that threat has descended to the plane on which all other threats are powerful; one concession leads inevitably to another and all liberty of thought or action vanishes, obliterated by the tyranny of popular opinion and the clamor of the lower senses.

Like begetting like, it follows that whoever seeks to enforce his will by threats, himself becomes amenable to threats. The story of the little fleas, with lesser fleas to bite 'em, and which in turn have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum, has its universal application; the threatener is threatened; the coercer is in turn coerced; and so the vicious chain is forged that binds humanity in an intolerable grip, which chokes and hinders until spiritual death ensues and all society goes down in one of those catastrophes that mark the carnage-trail of history.

The world agrees (with its tongue in its cheek undoubtedly, but it agrees) that reputation is the choicest gift at its disposal and that it is better for man or woman to lose life than an unsullied name. High, very high among its list of attributes on which a fair repute depends, the world ranks courage, honesty, clean living and magnanimity, at any rate pretending to regard those as the proofs of true manhood and true womanhood. What then shall be said in favor of the men and women who make use of utterly unproved allegations to destroy the reputation of an innocent person, either for the sake of greed, self-advertisement, or to strangle the life-work of the individual whom they accuse? What shall be said in favor of any liar who circulates false stories, simply to quiet his own consciousness of inferiority by slandering someone whose conduct, he intuitively knows, is nobler than his own? The pitiable criminal, who offers to abstain from libeling and slandering provided he is paid a sum of money, cowardly masking his threat under a pretense of give and take, is not much worse, and no more pitiable, than the slanderer who hides in anonymity, repeating hearsay allegations for the purpose of discrediting another's reputation and thereby ruining a cause, and for gain for his personal desires.

If it is true, as the world agrees, whether hypocritically or not, that an unsullied reputation is superior to life itself, then slander is at least as bad as murder and those who blackmail others by attacking their reputations are committing a more cowardly crime.

But the truth is, that the world is obsessed by a conviction that it has only one short life in which to experience the whole of its emotions and to grasp the temporary pleasures that it yearns for; consequently it does not hold reputation as superior to life, except as something that may be destroyed in order to pursue advantage. It does not value magnanimity, except as a peculiarity of certain rare individuals that makes them rather easier to rob. When it encounters moral courage, to which it renders so much hypocritical lip-praise, it is only to denounce it by whatever catchwords of opprobrium may be fashionable at the moment. Honesty, to escape the slander of the world, must appear to compromise and be conditioned by a thousand subterfuges that have crystallized into accepted custom. Clean living, which of all the essentials to spiritual progress the world hates most, is made the butt of ridicule, if not of cowardly attempts to ruin by means of slander those who practise it.

The upshot of it all is this: that we cannot afford to yield even to attempts at blackmail if our purpose is to serve humanity and to make that gradual, well-balanced progress of the Soul to which our destiny entitles us; nor will we yield to it if we remember that the business of existence is the patient building up of character -- our own first -- the world's by our own example.

There is sanity and calm assurance in the knowledge that we reap exactly as we sow. The Theosophical teaching of Karma is the friend of honesty ---- the enemy of crime. The law of retribution and reward is utterly infallible and absolutely just; it knows no haste, no hindrance, no exceptions; least of all is it confined within the limits of an earth-life, which is no more than a moment in an endless chain of objective existences interspaced with periods that we call death -- existences each of which is in every way conditioned by the character evolved in previous lives.

We are now the sum-total of what we have been. According to the doctrine of Reincarnation we shall be -- this, conditioned by the exactly measured consequence of every deed we do in each life. Deeds being the result of character, it is inevitably only character that really counts; but character is weighed by deeds, whose quality depends entirely on the motive that provides their impulse. No hidden motive, even though so subtilly hidden that it is totally unperceived, can escape detection by the unerring eye of Karma; each concession to the lower nature is against us; each self-identification with our Higher Nature, that inevitably leads to conquest of the lower, is placed to our credit and can never be forgotten or expunged.

Alertness in detecting wrongs and weighing them, leads to a progressive habit, that in turn evokes a readier skill and firmer constancy, until the subtiler forms of blackmail that have victimized us hitherto, become uncovered to our mental vision. Courage employed in withstanding the more obvious and superficial threats, or in refusing to be party to them, leads to the greater moral courage needed to withstand the more evasive and dangerous forms of mental blackmail that increasing spiritual vision lays bare. Thus, by deeds done through conscience, spiritual progress is achieved.

And an attribute of spiritual progress is increasing magnanimity, associated with a decrease of the instinct for revenge. Enriched by our own experience, increasingly we understand the nature of the pitfalls into which those less experienced have blundered. Savagery, envy, and slander aimed at ourselves excite in us less resentment and more sympathy; and, as that change takes place in our own attitude, there gradually grows in us the wisdom necessary to the just determination of each problem in true, theosophical living as it actually comes up for decision.

True solutions of a difficulty must be totally unselfish. Retaliation is no remedy, but only serves to increase the ultimate amount of evil by adding to the ill will already in circulation. To repay the blackmailer with threats, to silence slanderers with slander or money, to oppose ill will with self-stupefying anger, is to court the whole savagery of the animal in man. By admitting anger and the spirit of revenge into our own motive, we have lowered the only shield we have, and have dulled our only weapon.

First and foremost, we may safely be assured of this: that any problem whatsoever, any threat, and any slander, is an opportunity to exercise such wisdom as we have, and to learn more wisdom by attaining nobler character. There is no other problem, and no other duty, in the last analysis. But wisdom is never selfish. The motive of revenge is no more vitiating than the equally unmanly subterfuge of cowardice, that offers peace under the pretense of piety.

Theosophy and Courage are one. We have not to defend ourselves, but to uphold a Principle. Our persons and our profits are a very small consideration in the endless evolution of the Universe. The only real profit we can make is in the increase of our spiritual growth; the personalities, in which in future lives we are to make our new experience, will correspond exactly to that growth; we jettison that prospect, corrupt and undermine it, if we value temporary benefit and our momentary mask more highly than the duty to do service to humanity.

Accordingly, the theosophical reply to every threat, whatever motive may be ambushed under it, is fearless and is aimed at evil, not at individuals. The accuracy of its aim depends entirely on its truthfulness; its force is gaged by its unselfishness; its consequences will be measured by the quantity of contribution that it makes to the spiritual welfare of humanity.

Infallibly, those consequences will provide grief -- and they may bring ruin -- to the unwise individuals who have preferred to take the side of slander and identify themselves with animal- and evil-nature. But the consequences are exactly measured by the Law of Karma, which will judge ourselves and others with impartiality. If we act justly, in the general interest, devoid of any sense of personal retaliation but equally unsubmissive to the claims of lethargy and cowardice, we need have no fear that the consequences will not serve the common welfare, whatever the immediate appearance may be.

Patience is a Godlike attribute; but there is a lower patience: it degenerates into a sort of fatalistic lethargy and ceases then to be a virtue. It is hardly possible to set a limit to the amount of patience we may wisely use in keeping silence as to what we know, or think we know, that is discreditable to other individuals. Silence and strength are one, when no more is at stake than our own personal emotions; envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness, both in ourselves and others, are easiest to smother and destroy by never lending them the dignity of speech. In silence, as to personal emotions and the merely personal aspects of temporary loss or gain, we gather strength and courage, as well as wisdom, to act downrightly and nobly, without fear or favor, at the measured moment, when the opportunity arrives to act in behalf of Principle and thereby benefit the human race.

It is always unwise to support the claims of personality, by asserting or opposing them. But it is also unwise to submit to blackmail, because it is the enemy of Principle. Wisdom is the inseparable companion of Principle; and in Wisdom lie the very roots of strength.