Essays from "The Theosophical Path" by Talbot Mundy

The King Can Do No Wrong

By Talbot Mundy

November 1923

Truth is King, and is never in the least concerned about the passions of the moment. With all eternity ahead and to look back upon, serenely autocratic in an everlasting Now, Truth rules impartially all the universe including this temporary world of ours.

And the world is quite full of a number of things, not least of them, proverbs. Proverbs are the oldest crystallizations of human thought, and some of them are diamond-hard, reflecting the fires of Truth in whatever light, from whichever angle they are studied. Such proverbs persist. Some fall by the way because men grow weary of them, seeing deeds so short of the ideal. Some lapse into disrespect because other proverbs, with meanings apparently exactly opposite, come into more general use. But all proverbs were originally efforts to express a glimpse of Truth and, however contradictory their meanings seem, all proverbs still are windows, as it were, through which some aspect of infinite Truth may be seen by discerning eyes.

From the dawn of recorded history men have always sought to coin short phrases that should be imperishable guides of conduct -- brief, indisputable interpretations of the Higher Law, by use built into the familiar speech. And one of those proverbs was, that familiarity breeds contempt. Popularization of a proverb brings it into eventual disrepute, exactly as the dogmatization of religion foretells its disintegration and collapse. For it is the habit of the human mind to seek to standardize, and to obstruct spiritual progress by legalizing the dead letter of the proverb or the creed.

But nothing stands still; not even Truth. The more determined the effort of man's lower nature to produce inertia by literal enforcement of the dry husk of a truth, the swifter is the proof that evolution must prevail and that inertia is delusion.

The proper study of mankind is man. In the last analysis there is nothing else that man can study. He must be conscious of himself; and, as consciousness grows, its horizons widen until the task of self-knowledge becomes all-absorbing and all-useful. Not the least interesting discovery to which that study leads is the constant effort of man's lower nature to smother those rare glimpses of the Higher Law from which it cannot escape, and to corrupt their meaning, by substituting the letter for the spirit and by decreeing "Thus far shalt thou go and no farther."

This method of the lower nature is that so anciently and frequently denounced, of setting up false gods, whose 'image and superscription' differ hardly, if at all, from a superficial glimpse of Truth. The lower nature is nothing if not hypocritical. It will denounce most fervently those crimes it most loves to commit, and all the worst atrocities are perpetrated in the name of righteousness and progress, the secret of which is simple: evil being the reverse of Truth, as darkness is the opposite of light, it is impossible for evil to exist or to find expression without consciousness of Truth with which to contrast itself.

Evil has no originality, it imitates; and all false gods are counterfeits of true ones. The invention of a lie is contingent on the existence of Truth to be lied about. It is possible to invent a lie about any of the infinite and glorious aspects of Truth; it is possible to believe that lie, and to legalize the belief in it. But the belief is a delusion of the lower nature, subject to the lower law that governs both. It moves as Truth moves, though the action is reversed. As Truth evolves in realms beyond the comprehension of "such stuff as dreams are made of," ever ascending to higher and rarer being, the lie about Truth disperses and descends to irrecoverable chaos; until a new glimpse of Truth makes new lies possible and the habit of self-delusion rebegins a downward path.

There was a King of England who proclaimed a truth, to his own undoing, seeking to use Truth for his own ends, instead of letting Truth use him. Whoever is used by Truth is in the everlasting arms of absolute infallibility. Truth being King, there is no error in the formula "the King can do no wrong." But he who sets out to reduce the King to human blood and bones and to confine Truth within the limits of a proclamation, levying blackmail in the name of pure Truth, is a traitor whose head is forfeit.

Charles the First, proclaiming that the King rules by divine right and that the King can do no wrong, quite likely believed his own words, but by applying them to his own person he nevertheless betrayed Omnipotence. Belief is quite another thing from knowledge, as the writers of the New Testament strove so diligently to make clear by the discriminating use of words that their translators subsequently bungled. Accident may cause belief to stumble on the right Path, but nothing less than Knowledge holds us there; it is belief -- blind faith -- that seizes on the letter of the law; the spirit of the law is only grasped by understanding, leading on to Knowledge.

Even in ermine robes and panoply of state Charles the First was not so unlike the rest of us that he was King-less. Had he understood the truth he uttered; had he allowed that royal Higher Nature, that is ever ready to govern every one of us, to take control of him it is likely he would have been less worried about his personal importance and less inclined to make use of phrases that might be too easily misunderstood; instead, he would have found his true royalty appealing to the Higher Nature that exists in every man. His body and his stupid senses then might not have been a target for his outraged countrymen. They charged him with treason to the State; but the treason he committed was to his own King, by permitting his lower nature to usurp the title of the Higher.

The old Priest-Kings, of whom dim records still remain, made no such error. They strode like Gods among men, and it may be that the crowd mistook their persons for the Truth they served, but the Priest-Kings had no ear for flattery. It was not until the lower nature swamped the Higher and usurped precedence -- not until the letter of the Law was reckoned higher than its spirit -- not until flesh and bones and the convenience of a moment grew to be considered more important than true Vision, and the pomp and circumstance of earthly power blinded them to the promptings of passionless Truth, that the Priest-Kings disappeared.

Kings are not different from other men, and other men not different from kings, except that the law of Karma, adjusting balances, has cast us each into our proper temporary orbit. All are prone to make the same mistakes. The King's head fell, but the King's mistake remained. Men said he needed no successor, seeing they all were kings by a right as divine as that one he had claimed. They spoke the truth, believing and not knowing, many of them doubtless tossing the mockery of the truth from lip to lip in jest. Belief, so vague it hardly yet amounted to belief, was crystallized into a lie more swiftly than running water changes into ice; and on to the ice the snow of dogma fell. The stream still flowed beneath the ice, as beneath every creed flows everlasting Truth; but the surface, like the letter of the law, proved barren, comfortless, unprofitable, cold needing the sun of true Vision to penetrate and melt it.

In very truth we all are Kings, if we remember who and what we really are; but in our lower nature we are nothing multiplied by all the ills that flesh is heir to. Times beyond number in human history the doctrine of the divine right of kings has changed into the formula Vox populi vox dei -- and back again by way of grim dictatorships -- glimpses, both of them, of royal Truth immediately clouded over by the noxious fumes of ignorance. The clamor of bribed majorities, in place of one man's personal opinion, is labeled the accepted voice of God; and under such manipulated tyranny of ignorance men have even voted that the earth is flat -- have insisted on the lie so vehemently that their priesthood dared not contradict them -- even as today they vilify and loathe whoever dares to tell the truth in spite of massed opinion, and smother the voice of Truth with noise. Yet the world was never flat; twice two were never five; the truth, and nothing but the truth, is true. We are Kings -- by divine right -- and our Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom. But the pity of it is that we allow our lower nature to usurp the throne.

The King can do no wrong. That is a positive statement of absolute fact that has been known since the beginning of the world. But it is equally true that whoever is governed by his lower nature can do no right. The lower nature has no vision, no far-sightedness, knows nothing of causes or of the ultimate; it seeks only to escape the consequences of its own wrong-doing and to perpetuate and justify itself. The lower nature is a vortex of ignorance into which we are plunged for our experience, and if we leave it as we find it we are not Kings, for we have not ruled, we have not conquered. If we increase the ignorance and add to the chaos of passions, as we surely will do if we serve the lower nature and let that make itself the King, we only pile up difficulties for ourselves to meet. The law of Karma, faithfully adjusting balances, is inescapable; "for whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath."

The divine right of the real Man is to leave the world a little better than he found it, careless of his own advantage since he is the heir of all the ages; and therein lies the secret of the law laid down by Teachers of the Mysteries in the very dawn of time. As they revealed to chosen individuals the 'might, majesty, dominion, and power' of all who recognise their own divinity, they stipulated that never in any conceivable circumstances should the consciousness of power be used for personal advantage, whether for fame, reward, money, or mere contentment; for those are the means by which the lower nature seeks to usurp the throne -- the means by which it blinds itself to the truth of being.

Human opinion and the senses being the fons et origo and the channel through which evil operates, to yield or to pander to either of them is to apply the old dishonored policy of setting thieves to catch thieves, seeking to destroy one evil with a greater, doing ill that good may come of it -- a policy, as distinguished from a principle. So-called good policy, too often a convenient fraud in disguise and at best an expedient, bears no relation to true Principle, which, being Truth in one of its infinite aspects, can do no wrong, can lead to no wrong, and must infallibly produce results that impartially benefit everyone and in consequence, if only in minute degree, the Universe.

We are blinded by the temporary nature of this sense-delusion into which we are plunged. The 'three-score years and ten' that have been sung and standardized as the limit of a man's life have no real bearing on the problem that confronts us. Truth applied knows nothing of any limitations, least of all limits of time, and in no circumstances does Truth afford benefit to one, to the exclusion of any others. The King who can do no wrong, the immortal, real, spiritual, royal man is too far-sighted to suppose that temporary personal convenience can condition Truth. Knowing that the sense-delusion is as sure to be destroyed eventually as the fog is sure to be dispersed by wind and sun, he thinks on higher planes and acts without fear.

All of the world's kings, rulers, statesmen -- all of these whose names are held in honor long after they are dead, were men who abode by Principle; the good they did lived after them. There was a Roman once, named Regulus, who was taken prisoner by his country's enemies. After long years of barbarous ill-treatment he was sent by his captors to Rome to mediate for a convenient peace, and, knowing he was an honorable man, they accepted his word that, if he should fail to negotiate peace, he would return to Carthage to be put to death. There was nothing new in that condition; the lower nature, recognising the royal power of the Higher, forever seeks to take advantage of it for its own perpetuation.

But Regulus went to Rome and told the truth. He urged the Romans to make no peace with men, whose only object in negotiating temporary peace was to gain time for Rome's eventual destruction. Having persuaded his countrymen to take the course he knew was best, but that could only mean hideous death for himself, he kept his word and returned to Carthage, where the Carthaginians also kept their word and tortured him until he died.

If Regulus had let his personal convenience or his personal advantage govern him, there were no doubt scores of specious arguments he might have used and scores of men high in the public esteem who would have condoned those arguments. He could have died, perhaps, in comfort, not dishonored by the countrymen whom he chose, instead, to serve by upholding his own highest standard of true honor. Unquestionably, at the moment, by the mob, he was regarded as an altruistic fool, and it is not likely that the Carthaginians thought any better of him until they reaped the consequences of their own attempt to misuse a true man's honesty.

Regulus had served the whole world by ignoring his own personal safety. It may have made no difference in the long run whether Rome or Carthage won the war for control of the world's trade. What mattered was, that Regulus had raised a standard of good faith, true patriotism, and adherence to the highest glimpse of Principle. Of Carthage there is nothing left but legend, not too savory; and it is fashionable, too, to speak and to write of Rome as the Wolf of the Tiber, decadent and drenched in blood. None praises Rome for her debauchery.

But Rome survives in law, incorporated into all the statute-books of all the nations. Rome's new standard, manfully upheld by Regulus, became a measure by which men judged their deeds -- so much so, that when Rome fell short of that high ideal, those who had seen her at her best were scandalized. Rome's legionaries laid all the known world under tribute, and wrought evil that reacted on them in the end and ruined Rome; but who forgets the manliness of Regulus? What nation has not benefited by the force of his example and by the spirit of loyalty to a high ideal with which he imbued his countrymen? -- a spirit that marched with the conquering legionaries, surviving them and all their sins. More than two thousand years after Regulus made his supreme self-sacrifice, school-children, on continents of whose existence Regulus was unaware, speaking languages whose synonyms -- Honor, Fidelity, Devotion, Constancy -- are rooted in the speech of Regulus, are thrilled, as no story of ill-faith nor any history of conquest can thrill them, by the record of how Regulus stood up alone and played the man.

The good, that Shakespeare says is "oft interred with our bones," survives in spite of death and all the "ills that flesh is heir to." All good is rooted in unselfishness, and self-consideration is a thief that stalks by night to undo what can never be undone -- the Truth of Being.

Truth is King. The Way is to be loyal to the King. The time is now. The question is not, what does the world think? or what is convenient? or what will the consequences be to me personally? But what do I know? What is my own individual highest understanding of the Truth? And what do I, now, free heir of all the ages, mean to think and do? The King can do no wrong, and he who is obedient to the King can do no other than the highest right, injuring none, not even himself, although unselfishness may cause a husk of imitation-life to fall away.