The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
July 2009 – Vol. 12 Issue 5
There is truth in the universe. What is that truth? It is the universe itself. Its laws are the courses of action of that universe manifesting itself in cosmic terms; and a true philosophy, a true religion, a true science, attempts to interpret these essentials in formulations of thought. The illuminated human intellect can so interpret these essentials because we, as offspring of the universe, have all the faculties and powers latent in us that the universe has.
Now the faculty of understanding is something we can evolve. This does not mean that we must build up an organ of understanding much as we will build a house of wood and bricks. Our understanding is within us, not without; and as we grow in self-consciousness, we shall understand ever more clearly the manifesting of the inner light. Yet, though truth comes ultimately from within, we can learn much from the fruitage of the mature thought of another mind. Even though it is an importation into our mind and not the fruit of our own inner revelation, we can learn much if we take it into ourselves, honestly ponder over it, and seek to understand it.
But are we going to take somebody's say-so and prove all things that come to us by that? If so, we are merely testing one dogmatic declaration by another dogmatic declaration. Anything we accept from outside, we take either on trust or faith unless we have the faculties developed within ourselves of judgment, discrimination, intuition, and understanding. These we can develop by deep thinking, meditation, refusal to accept others' say-so, and by the exercise of will power in an inflexible determination to solve questions for ourselves, cost us what it may. As we thus exercise ourselves, as surely as the sun deluges the earth with light will we attain to what we are seeking: the faculty of proving all things by knowing them for true or false.
Today, as in every age, people are searching for truth, and their approach is a scientific one. But how much more is there to learn! The more we know, the more we realize there is to know; the more we learn, the more we learn that there are still greater heights to climb. Great knowledge brings modesty; increasing knowledge brings increasing reverence for truth. Only those of limited understanding who have not in themselves that burning love of truth and truth alone, as founded upon the facts of the cosmos, can establish imaginary bounds and say: "Here truth ends! Farther we may not, we cannot go." Who can place limits to the soaring human spirit?
What is needed is a radical change in human consciousness. When this takes place, and if it be directed by the forces of light and heart flowing from within, then the human race need have no fear of anything within or without. But such a change in human hearts, minds, and will is a matter of long-time education, and comes not overnight. Yet a very great help towards its coming is the acceptance of a spirit of reverence for truth so great that nothing will be held of value before it; and hence all religious and scientific discoveries would be placed as an impersonal offering upon the altar of truth. What a beautiful ideal, not alone for scientists, religionists, and philosophers, but also for each of us to follow. There would then be no more enunciations of dogmatic hypotheses or theories, but a reverent placing of a life's work on the altar of that divine ideal, everlasting truth. – G. de Purucker
The mysterious science requires great precision, accuracy, and perspicacity in observing the facts, a healthy, logical and reflective mind, a lively but not over-excitable imagination, a warm and pure heart. It also demands the greatest simplicity and complete indifference with regard to theories, systems, and hypotheses, which are generally accepted without question on the testimony of books or the reputation of their authors. It requires its candidates to learn to think more with their own brains and less with those of others. Finally, it insists that they should check the truth of its principles, the knowledge of its doctrine, and the practice of its operations from nature, the mother of us all. – Fulcanelli
"Faith, Knowledge, Experience" is our subject. We will discuss such questions as: How do we know things? Why do we believe what we do? Which should be most influential in forming our views: intellect, intuition, emotions, common sense, established opinion, authorities, introspecttion, or experience? What are valid bases for faith, and how is it different from prejudice or opinion? How important is it that our beliefs reflect reality? Is experience an adequate guide to truth? How best can we evaluate beliefs, opinions, interpretations, and the authorities who offer them? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
These subjects are currently being considered for the Monthly Discussion group. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.
August 27: Finding Balance in Life
September: The Seasons of Our Lives
October: Peace and Justice
November: The Universe Within
December: Service to Humanity
January: Collective Consciousness
What do we generally base our opinions, judgments, and actions on? How do we decide what to believe, what’s right or wrong, true or false? Does our experience, what we know, or what we believe carry the greatest weight?
We might intuitively suppose that experience would be most fundamental because it is so direct and personal. And certainly in infancy experience predominates. Babies learn from observing and manipulating, acting and reacting. In this way they gradually solidify an awareness of self as distinct from their environment, and they build up knowledge and expectations of the world.
While still learning by experience and observation, once children understand speech their experience is increasingly interpreted for them. They absorb the opinions and beliefs of family and society, and strong associations are forged with customs, ideas, attitudes, and behaviors. They are taught to accept and defer to certain values, institutions, and beliefs. This process is effective, and for the most part we take as real the beliefs and “knowledge” impressed on us before adulthood. Some people may later modify what they were taught; others break away entirely from aspects of their childhood training. Such a rejection is easier today because so many people are exposed to different types of thought and beliefs. Then too, in many places religious and social institutions are no longer allowed or able to enforce strict outer conformity.
Most of us become so dependent on external authorities that faith is the most influential factor in our life. Faith here means whatever we accept which we can’t ourselves prove. Our beliefs and opinions determine how we perceive and interpret our experiences, and they also control our knowledge – what makes sense to us, what we are willing to entertain as possible, what appeals to our intuition and common sense. The belief system we hold at any time is like a pair of glasses that filters out some things, emphasizes others, and colors our view of everything. We may recognize that someone else’s views are distorting their perceptions, but very rarely do we realize this about ourselves, particularly at the time (we may become aware of it occasionally in retrospect). Sometimes when we undergo a significant change of mindset everything looks new because we perceive and evaluate the world so differently. Having this experience often enough can result in much more empathy for those holding beliefs we feel are absurd or even destructive.
But is faith the best way of grounding our life? For religions such as Christianity and Islam, faith is a central value and the cultures springing from them tend to emphasize its merits. The Buddha, however, gave this advice: “Do not accept a thing as true just because you hear it spoken, or because it is a tradition, or because it is creating a sensation, or because it is found in our books, or because it conforms to philosophical reasoning or formal logic, or because it is in accord with your own beliefs or preconceptions, or because it appeals to your common sense, or because of the speaker’s authority, or because it is a saying of your teacher.”
This seems a tall order. We may wonder what would remain to us without reliance on others’ opinions and information. Do we really have the inner resources to prove all things for ourselves? Buddha’s statement implies that in the end our own experience is authoritative. By disciplined and systematic observation of the world around and within us we can build up accurate first-hand knowledge. During this process we must remain alert since beliefs still tend to determine how we interpret our experience: what we notice or ignore, how we frame questions and what solutions occur to us.
Most of us do not choose this arduous route. Perhaps we are less concerned about what is true than in living in a way we find meaningful or being in harmony with those around us. But when faith dominates, it’s particularly worth-while to keep looking critically at the relation of experience, beliefs, knowledge, and authorities. Doing so, we can discern when we are dealing with knowledge (what we know is true firsthand) or beliefs (what we take on someone else’s say-so). We can learn to say “I don’t know” instead of asserting things we’ve picked up at second- or third-hand. We can practice seeking the worth in every viewpoint, while recognizing the limitations of our own. We can try to be less attached to our views. After all, to progress, our beliefs and opinions must grow and change with us as we seek more satisfying ways of living and increasingly exact understandings of the world.
The object is not to convince the reason, but to attract and lay hold of the imagination. – Baruch Spinoza