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How Theosophy Affects One’s View Of Life
by [?]

–A Paper Read Before the Dublin Lodge.

In asking you to consider with me the influence of the system of thought called Theosophy upon one’s view of all the things which are included in the term Life, I have to preface my remarks by the confession that I have not extracted my ideas from portly volumes, or indeed, engaged in any great research; and I have further to ask you to believe that what you will hear is the most unbiased statement, as far as possible, on the subjects which will necessarily come under notice.

The outlook of any individual mind is not a constant quantity; it is to some extent determined by education, environment, and the innate tendencies; but it is always subject to alteration; it is constantly feeling the influence of subtle forces and circumstances, and it changes with every fresh experience and every new sensation. Still these influences seldom evince their presence by a great reversal of the mental attitude, and we are best able to sense them by seeing how the actions of the individual, which are very largely the voluntary or involuntary expression of his standpoint, represent at different times changes in that standpoint. Indeed, one’s own experience will supply plenty of material to work upon; for, I daresay no one will insist that his present attitude towards the rest of the universe is identical with that of ten or five years ago, or even one year. A little examination will show that the mental processes which precede some definite action are altered in some important manner from those of 1890. The question which is of importance is to find out how the change has come about, and whether one is to allow extraneous events to mast his mental conclusions, or one is to become, through wisdom acquired by effort, the conscious master of his destiny.

Theosophy has for its leading tenet the absolute unity in essence and correlation of all life, whether visible, invisible, material, intellectual, spiritual, and this affords at once a clue to the consideration of the present subject; for, according to the view which the individual thinker takes of the powers and relations of the mind itself will be his view of the duties and responsibilities which these powers and relations involve; in other words, Ethics or moral philosophy must be based upon metaphysics. Now, I wish to be as brief as possible in pointing out the theosophic view of the mind, and soul, and their powers and relations; and were it not that it is necessary for the unity of my remarks, I would take refuge in referring to the numerous able, intellectual, and forcible expositions of this matter which you have heard in this room.

Theosophy, to put it as concisely as possible, accepts the universe as “the unfolding of a Divine life, functioning in every form of living and nonliving thing.” Man is viewed as a compound being, a spark of this divine universal spirit being clothed with the body. The immortal indestructible part of man consists of this spark of universal spirit, its vehicle the human spirit, and the mind or intellectual faculties. It uses as a dwelling the body, with its animal life, its passions and appetites, to which mankind is so prone to attach tremendous importance. The connecting link is the mind, which, being full of agitation, strong, and obstinate, senses all the material existence, is moved by the hopes and fears, and the storm of existence. The lesson, ever insisted on as having to be learnt, is that the lower part of man, the body, and its attachments, have to be conquered and purified; and the only way to teach it its true functions is by suffering; and when this is done, we shall have got somewhere nearer the goal, when we shall identify our consciousness with our true self, not with the illusion. The powers of the mind to sense all existence, and its relations towards the rest of our being as the connecting link, bearing the contact with external things towards the soul, and at times being the vehicle of the Wisdom which is one of the attributes of that which has no attribute: I say, then, these powers and relations of the mind, which one finds everywhere treated of in Theosophical literature, are the determining factors in the formation of our Ethics. And since, from Socrates down, we are taught that self-knowledge is necessary for guidance of one’s conduct, the knowledge of the mind and its capacities is at once shadowed forth as of immense value. It has at least three elementary powers–viz., the power of knowing, the power of feeling, and the power of acting. These powers, though distinguishable, are not separable; but rather when we distinguish knowledge, feeling, and action, what we call by these names will be found, when accurately examined, to be combinations of the three elements, differing only in respect to the element which preponderates. Locke would have us suppose that when I say “I know,” it means that an object is inserted into my consciousness as into a bag. But no bag could produce the phenomenon of knowledge. To produce it requires the putting forth of an active power, which we call intelligence. The knowledge of an object always produces in the mind some emotion with regard to it: this emotion is normally pleasure. Sometimes the difficulties which beset the acquisition of knowledge are so great and cause such dissatisfaction and pain that the mind is tempted to banish them, together with the object which excites them, from its consciousness. Knowledge and the emotions to which it gives rise induce those actions which are the result of the inherent activity of the mind stimulated by them. Thus we see that the antecedents of all action include intelligence as an active power: and Ethics, more particularly Theosophical Ethics, are seen to have practical value, and not merely a speculative interest.