Esoteric Philosophy and Outward Courtesy
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
Theosophy students must beware of wishful thinking. This sort of mental illusion results from an intense personal desire to be kind and spiritually-minded towards all.
Inspired by this idealistic attitude, it often occurs that when we see someone is making a mistake, we forbid ourselves even to think about that.
We do not want to hurt that person’s feelings. We sense we can’t cause suffering to his outer personality or “shell” by telling him the truth. We take it for granted that such a person is attached to his favourite illusions, and it seems unacceptable for us to destroy any fancies of our friend’s outer shell.
Perhaps one or two of our friends do the same favour to us. They see all our mistakes – they may even invent some extra shortcomings – but since they are spiritual people, they are kind enough to make believe they don’t. It could be insane to provoke our anger.
Consciously or unconsciously most people sense that truthfulness is a dangerous thing. At every moment, any extra amount of sincerity may seriously violate the rules of social courtesy, breaking an implicit but forceful agreement for mutual respect and equilibrium among different personality masks.
H.P. Blavatsky never accepted such social rules, and she paid the price for that. The Old Lady looked at the movements of the soul – not at those of the shell. She couldn’t help it: she was far from being politically correct. Perhaps her honesty was part of the reason why so many people found her personality rather strange and unconventional.
When one has his consciousness centered in the heart, his sincerity undergoes a process of growth and he finds it increasingly difficult to share selfish goals, or to lie and say falsehoods in order to keep a kind attitude towards people. There seems to be a greater self-confidence, on an inner level, and an absence of short-term astuteness or cunning, outwardly. The student tends to say what he thinks – and hence dozens of problems emerge. He may be hated or persecuted for that higher degree of sincerity. He is often caught in the midst of an iron contradiction between the need to be courteous and the need to be sincere.
How can one best face that challenge? Sooner or later, a growing degree of self-sacrifice will be inevitable. Remaining silent is only a partial solution which cannot solve all problems in every occasion. According to the “Golden Stairs” given by HPB to her students, making a brave declaration of principles is one of the main steps in the inner path to the Temple of Truth. This is no rhetorical recommendation. For truthful people, defending truth tends to be a practical necessity. If they don’t do that, they may gradually cease to be sincere without ever noticing it. Accepting lies or illusion destroys mental clarity and hence severely reduces the possibility of identifying our own mistakes. Then one can’t even know one is going astray.
On the other hand, as we try to be sincere and to defend truth we are likely to be accused of being intolerant of other people’s views. If, for instance, we take some steps to put an end to a specific absence of ethics within our field of action, our attitude can be easily construed as intolerant. We are then accused of being aggressive towards the emotional shells of others. But what exactly are the limits between real, heartfelt tolerance – and merely social courtesy?
A few basic principles might help us in the task of making such a distinction.
1) While outward courtesy may have nothing to do with ethics, tolerance is certainly inseparable from it. Tolerance is the willing acceptance of change and contrast among different views and aspects of life. It emerges without effort from an open mind and a pure heart. Yet it is naturally limited by the sense of truthfulness towards all and of full responsibility for one’s own actions.
2) Tolerance can only take place where there is a common respect for truth. Liberty of thought should not be seen as a license to lie and to slander, for instance. Passive or active support to any wrongdoing is no tolerance, but sheer complicity, even when disguised under the elegant masks of open-mindedness and spiritual generosity.
In short, duality and diversity are part of external life. We must accept and even celebrate them, but this is not the same as welcoming obvious lack of truthfulness – or leaving it unchallenged.
Since its creation in the 1870s, the theosophical movement has been an open battlefield for testing truth and error. Decade after decade, we have been painfully trying to identify our collective mistakes, to learn from them and finally to correct them once for all in order to go ahead. Unidentified mistakes tend to repeat themselves, while those same mistakes, once corrected, become part of our common wisdom and help us along the way.
Probation does not come from within ourselves only: we also have to face it in the outer world – and to decide what to do about it. In a sense we are all Arjunas before the battle, in conflict with ourselves. We resist to act as warriors. It is not easy for a student to choose between the duty to his own conscience and his old habits, or between the eternal truth and his friends and colleagues. When the student sees the actual need to do something which will cause suffering to those most dear to him, or if he realizes that he may be utterly misunderstood and rejected by his loved ones, he can grasp in a deeper sense what Arjuna felt before the battle:
“The advent of feelings of peace (...) completely overlaid the warrior qualities of Arjuna. His fortitude was gone and he was full of melting sentiments. He said to Sri Krishna: ‘I see on two sides, determined on a bitter war, all my relations and friends and tribesmen, but the very idea of this fighting shakes me up to the root.’
A little later Arjuna says to Krishna:
“I cannot stand here for a moment more. The very idea of killing these men makes me tremble. I cannot see any good in fighting. I do not want triumph in war. Nor do I want a kingdom. (...) I see before me every one with whom I can claim human relationship. I shall not raise my hand against them even for an empire.” 
Indeed we all want peace, physically and emotionally. More: we want peace based on routine. We do not want to be warriors.
Perhaps it was to avoid outer dissension and disharmony and to attain peace in the realm of appearances, that along the 20th century some theosophical circles got used to accept a strange mixture of true ideas and absurd fancies, all put together as part of a naive conception of universal brotherhood, in which implicit rules of courtesy forbid people from being frank and honest with their words.
How can that happen, if the uncompromising search for truth has been from the beginning an essential part of the theosophical ideal?
First of all, many people are slaves to appearances and have no real interest in searching for truth or testing its descriptions in their lives. They prefer the easy way of belief.
Secondly, for those who really try, having access to truth is never easy. The student has to undergo a certain death to selfishness in order to be born in unconditional wisdom and happiness. Gradual acceptance of truth brings with it a painful inner transformation which can be successfully done by the student only after he has learned to become relatively independent and to take entire responsibility for his own life.
Since childhood human beings are taught to disguise and to repress their real emotions. Throughout life, people suffer strong pressures to renounce their sincerity and to develop highly socialized personality shells which feed mainly on fancies and appearances. This trend – which leads to hypocrisy – is accepted and perhaps intensified in some theosophical circles.
HPB wrote about such spiritualized masks:
“No ‘cultured’ man or woman will ever show anger in Society. To check and restrain every sign of annoyance shows good manners, certainly, but also considerable achievement in hypocrisy and dissimulation. There is an occult side to this rule of good breeding expressed in an Eastern proverb: ‘Trust not the face which never shows signs of anger nor the dog that never barks.’ Cold-blooded animals are the most venomous.” 
What do the Mahatmas say about such a challenging relationship between inner life and outer form? In one of the “Mahatma Letters”, an Adept-Teacher explains the way the enemies of Truth work, and he compares it to the methods used by the teachers of Universal Truth. Reading such a letter is a stimulating experience. After patiently comparing the two paths – the easy one of lies and the difficult one of truthfulness – the Master kindly says, using most simple words in an attempt to be understood by his ‘lay chela’ (lay disciple):
“... You have to remember that our Eastern ideas about ‘motives’ and ‘truthfulness’ and ‘honesty’ differ considerably from your ideas in the West. Both we believe that it is moral to tell the truth and immoral to lie; but here every analogy stops and our notions diverge in a very remarkable degree. For instance it would be a most difficult thing for you to tell me, how it is that your civilized Western Society, Church and State, politics and commerce have ever come to assume a virtue that it is quite impossible for either a man of education, a statesman, a trader, or anyone else living in the world – to practice in an unrestricted sense? Can any one of the above mentioned classes – the flower of England’s chivalry, her proudest peers and most distinguished commoners, her most virtuous and truth speaking ladies – can any of them speak the truth, I ask, whether at home, or in Society, during their public functions or in the family circle? What would you think of a gentleman, or a lady, whose affable politeness of manner and suavity of language would cover no falsehood; who, in meeting you would tell you plainly and abruptly what he thinks of you, or of anyone else? And where can you find that pearl of honest tradesmen or that god-fearing patriot, or politician, or a simple casual visitor of yours, but conceals his thoughts the whole while, and is obliged under the penalty of being regarded as a brute, a madman – to lie deliberately, and with a bold face, no sooner he is forced to tell you what he thinks of you; unless for a wonder his real feelings demand no concealment? All is lie, all falsehood, around and in us, my brother; and that is why you seemed  so surprised, if not affected, whenever you find a person, who will tell you bluntly truth to your face; and also why it seems impossible for you to realize that a man can have no ill feelings against you, nay even like and respect you for some things, and yet tell you to your face what he honestly and sincerely thinks of you.” 
Masters admit that truth is “a too powerful tonic which can kill as well as cure”. It has to be therefore “cautiously given out, and bit by bit”.  Both HPB and the Masters wrote about the practical importance of this old kabalistic motto: “To know, to dare, to will and to remain silent”. 
Yet it is the truth which must be gradually given out – not illusions. As the path to wisdom is dangerous, students must have courage. Hence, earnest aspirants are described as ‘Warriors of Truth’. 
We have the right to refuse Krishna’s lessons to Arjuna and decide not to be warriors. But we should know that this is not a way leading to peace, as every attachment to a pleasant routine provokes greater danger in the future. Writing about the subtle mechanisms by which selfishness can infiltrate itself in a ‘spiritual’ group, a Teacher wrote, while evaluating the reality of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society, in the early 1880s:
“ (...) This is also the reason why, the British T.S. does not progress one step practically. They are of the Universal Brotherhood but in name, and gravitate at best towards Quietism – that utter paralysis of the Soul. They are intensely selfish in their aspirations and will get but the reward of their selfishness.” 
The validity of this sentence is not restricted to the 19th century. Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves whether an Adept-Teacher, examining in 2005 the whole of the theosophical movement, would get to the conclusion that we or our groups are free from that mistake, in this first decade of 21st century.
What can we do with regard to this?
For 130 years now, a living chain of theosophical workers have taught to us a practical lesson which is as old as human kind, and which comes from all wisdom traditions. The lesson says that selflessness in the action is one of the best ways of preventing and fighting both “spiritual” selfishness and tamasic immobility.
The “Bhagavad Gita”, commented by Dnyaneshvar, explains:
“Those who turn their back to their duty (Dharma), who are filled with the pride of achievement, or who are absorbed in objects of enjoyment, will fall a prey to acute unhappiness. (...) Performance of one’s duty is the only means of securing happiness in the next birth.” 
Dnyaneshvar also says:
“You need not absorb yourself in religious ceremonies. You need not pain the body. Nor go upon long journeys of pilgrimage. You need not practice physical Yoga (Hatha Yoga), or give devotion with any motive. You need not to equip yourself with any charms or incantations. You need not worship the minor deities or engage in any fussy activities. Your obligatory duties are the one sacrifice (Yadna) you should offer. Do your duties cheerfully and without desire for fruits (...). The performance of duty is the only sacrifice worth practising.” 
We must always sow before we harvest. And the seed sown must necessarily be of the same type and substance as that which we hope to harvest one day. There are, therefore, more than one indication that being truthful is a central duty, a basic step for us – if we have the intention to tread the old steep road leading to Truth.
 “Gita the Mother”, a commentary by Dnyaneshvar Maharaj, translated in English by Manu Subedar, Kalyani Publishers, New Delhi, India, 2000, 318 pp., see p. 58.
 “From the Note Book of an Unpopular Philosopher”, by H.P. Blavatsky, in “Collected Writings”, TPH, 1960, vol. VIII, p. 137. Published for the first time in the “Lucifer” magazine, October 1887.
 “Seemed”. The THP third edition of the “Mahatma Letters”, revised by Christmas Humphreys and Elsie Benjamin, changed “seemed” into “seem”.
 “The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett”, Transcribed by A. T. Barker, facsimile edition, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, California, 1992, Letter XXX, p. 232.
 “Mahatma Letters”, T.U.P., Letter XXXIV, p. 245.
 “The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett”, Theosophical University Press, compiled by A. T. Barker, facsimile edition, Pasadena, California, 1973, Letter XVII, p. 36. See also “Letters From the Masters of the Wisdom”, Second Series, TPH/India, 1973, Letter 65, p. 118.
 See, for instance, “Mahatma Letters”, Letter LV, p. 322.
 “Mahatma Letters”, T.U.P., Letter XXVIII, p. 210.
 “Gita the Mother”, a commentary by Dnyaneshvar Maharaj, Kalyani Publishers, New Delhi, India, see p. 74 (first sentence of this quotation) and 78 (last sentence of this quotation).
 “Gita the Mother”, p. 73.
This article was first published in the Canadian magazine “Fohat”, volume IX, Number 3, Fall 2005, pp. 60-62 and 71.
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