(Talk given at the Theosophical Library Center, Altadena, on April 1, 2005.)
There is a hunger in the human heart which can only be said to reflect a "divine dissatisfaction" — a stirring of the monadic center within towards its further destiny. This is not a static or ultimate destiny, but an ever-expanding evolutionary sweep in which the whole wave of human egos is expressing itself, at present on this earth but eventually in other worlds beyond.
A life of sheltered peace is not sought by stronger souls. Such souls are fortunate in their quest to go forward and upward into the depth of their own being, and often a healthy disgust with our limitations can be translated into steps to overcome them. The followers of Pythagoras held that all beings have an inherent divine afflux of reason. This Rational Essence is to be witnessed only in those who hold to the soul's immortality, won through birth after birth, where a zeal for virtue and truth is an inevitable outcome. However lost in past failings which cause souls to fall into bodily encasements, those who discover the Rational Essence can raise themselves to the stature of "divine men," and from divine men to gods. Hierocles, in his Commentaries on the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, tells us: "Whatever tends to the perfection of the soul and that leads it to the felicity suitable to its Nature is truly virtue and the Law of Philosophy." G. de Purucker voices it another way: "The urge behind evolution, and the objective which this urge is impelling us towards, is simply the divine hunger in the Universe to grow greater, to advance, to unfold . . . It is innate in the Universe" (The Esoteric Tradition 1:303).
The Stoic Seneca's life exemplified "divine discontent" as a form of detachment: "Never did I trust Fortune. . . . All those blessings which she kindly bestowed on me — money, public office, influence — I relegated to a place from which she could take them back without disturbing me. Between them and me, I have kept a wide gap, and so she has merely taken them, not torn them from me." After Caligula's rise to power, Seneca was exiled for eight years on the Isle of Corsica, until recalled to tutor the future Emperor Nero. Fifteen years later, when that Roman despot was determined to suppress him, Seneca turned to his beloved philosophy for solace. He knew he could not stop the debaucher and murderer, so accepted what he could not change. Exiled again to Corsica, he was granted three years of life upon his resignation from Nero's court. Applying the philosophy of his Consolations, he devoted his remaining time at that remote island to the study of nature and to writing, among other things, a work of scientific deductions. That we today might consider it quaint is beside the point: he was dealing with forces he felt powerless to change by making the best of what he could change. Like Socrates, Seneca accepted his death, writing: "I owe my life to [philosophy], and that is the least of my obligations to it"; and "That which you cannot reform it is best to endure."
While Cicero's Tusculan Disputations praised scholarship as a sweet occupation in which to spend our lives without discontent or vexation, the French writer Montaigne disputed this favoring of scholarship. He observed peasants in their villages living more contentedly than those intellectuals Cicero praised. Even animals who had never heard of Cicero could, he felt, seek out solutions to their miseries without the help of reason: goats could pick out dittany from a thousand other plants when wounded, or tortoises find origanum when bitten by vipers. Only man is forced to rely on expensive doctors who perhaps never follow the maxim "physician heal thyself." Montaigne held that, without study, tuna can swim together in the shape of a perfect cube, observing a different kind of knowing than intellect.
Oriental religions urge us to curb the mind, forever restless and grasping. In the West we observe the urgency to grasp more knowledge, even to know the best web site and be the quickest to find it. William Q. Judge once compared the mind to a finger which seeks out what one needs to know. Yet he qualified this constant seeking to a range limited by what we need to know, not just what we want to know: "The wish to know is almost solely intellectual . . . the desire to Be, is of the heart" (The Path, January 1888). Elsewhere his letters warn of the dangers of doubt, especially self-doubt, as well as the doubt that others have anything to offer or teach us.
There is a Golden Chain of sympathy between the gods and men, as immortalized by Homer, but embraced in the philosophy of Plato. According to G. de Purucker, "It is called golden because it leads to the golden heart of Father Sun and thence onwards, to the very heart of divine Being where the gods are . . ." At each link there stands a teacher to aid the wayfarers. This hierarchy of teachers binds us to those we aspire to above and those we may inspire below. As Purucker states it: "Some of us are not happy to be stumblers always, nor to be laggards on the path, but desire to move more quickly forwards and upwards to . . . take ourselves in hand, and let the inner and higher part of us rule our lives" (Wind of the Spirit, pp. 293-4). This form of discontent helps us become aware of the tremendous willpower it takes to rise above all the past tendencies, as well as the passivity of drifters and fellow beings who prefer the status quo. Judge speaks of the forces aroused by a student when he attempts to rise above his present follies, faults, and circumstances. Nevertheless he urges: "we ought to set up a high ideal at which to aim, for a low one gives a lower result at the expense of the same effort" (Essays on the Gita, pp. 161-2). Even were we to die in such an effort, scriptures such as the Gita gives us great hope that in reassuming a body in some future life the progress gained would not be lost.
Once long ago, an elderly headmaster of a Dutch school came to visit us in California. We were walking up a steep hill and discussing the problems of the world. I remember sighing that we must be "patient." "Nonsense," my friend said, "We will never change the world's situation if we become stagnant by accepting it passively." Similarly, during the 1999 Parliament of the World's Religions in Cape Town, South Africa, the Dalai Lama urged attendees to do more than offer prayers for world peace. This recalls how Nehru urged India's ascetics to get up off the roadsides, give up their yogic postures, and work for India. The Dalai Lama surmised that "New ideas and visions will become useless in the New Millennium if they do not lead to change." Even in the absence of any positive change from the Chinese, the Nobel Peace Prize winner maintains his commitment to calm dialogue with his adversaries, while appealing more urgently to members of the international community, as the next step in winning support for his people. His form of action is like the slowly-moving but powerful glacier cutting away the obstructions to justice. Above all, according to the International Friends of Tibet Newsletter, the Tibetan leader never fails to thank the government of India for sheltering his homeless people with "unsurpassed generosity and support during these past forty years of our exile."
In one sense, like the Tibetans, we are all exiles. We are exiles from that spiritual ego which longs to rejoin its unifying center within. Purucker spoke of the smug self-satisfaction of a man who thinks he knows it all, as a form of spiritual suicide. We should be spurred instead by a constant hunger for truth and light, the eagerness of our eternal spark on its majestic journey through rounds upon rounds and worlds upon worlds. Along that journey through the material veils, we are constantly trying to perfect them. This might engender a divine disgust with ourselves as we are, rather than divine discontent. But there is a more impersonal scale with which to measure the apparent evils against the relative good, a way to see "evil" beyond shortsighted philosophies which consider it an unmitigated and unsolvable necessity, an everyday reality. Evil is not some monster called Satan; it is we who divert the interior energies to ill usage. The Esoteric Tradition states it concisely:
Evil is disharmony, because it is imperfection; and good is harmony because it is relative perfection. Again, these two, human good and human evil, apply almost solely to the particular hierarchy in which we humans move and live and have our being. . . . Abstractly speaking, [evil] is the state or condition of an evolving being or entity which has not yet fully placed itself in accord and concord with Nature's fundamental laws: the condition or state of a being or an entity . . . opposing the forwards-moving evolutionary Stream of Life. Evil may also be called that course of action brought about by the individual . . . which has not . . . yet evolved forth the latent divinity within, and therefore is always traceable to its origin in the misuse and abuse of will and intelligence by a being or entity which finds itself in temporary inharmonious condition with its environment because of its own imperfections. — 1:481
A footnote quoting Plotinus's Enneads (V.i.1) goes on to clarify that self-will leads to evil (or imperfect good), in that the soul's urge for self-expression produces embodiment. This engenders a longing by the soul, through its very freedom to do things its own way, to follow its own notions. As it pursues this course, it forgets its primordial home and its own intrinsic spiritual character. Eventually after opposing the laws of the universe, perhaps for many lifetimes, the human ego feels this divine discontent with the futile struggles brought about by conflicting wills which temporarily obstruct the full expression of Divinity. It begins to harbor thoughts of divine possibilities and honor those Great Ones who have preceded us. In his essay on "Intellect," Emerson wrote:
I cannot recite, even thus rudely, laws of the intellect, without remembering that lofty and sequestered class of men who have been its prophets and oracles, the high-priesthood of the pure reason, the Trismegisti, the expounders of the principles of thought from age to age. When, at long intervals, we turn over their abstruse pages, wonderful seems the calm and grand air of these few, these great spiritual lords, who have walked in the world — these of the old religion — . . . I am present at the sowing of the seed of the world. With a geometry of sunbeams, the soul lays the foundations of nature. The truth and grandeur of their thought is proved by its scope and applicability . . .
While that calm and grandeur admired by Emerson is worthy to behold, for those of us struggling here Master KH boldly reminds us that "discord is the harmony of the Universe. Thus . . . each part, as in the glorious fugues of the immortal Mozart, ceaselessly chases the other in harmonious discord on the paths of Eternal progress to meet and finally blend at the threshold of the pursued goal into one harmonious whole, the keynote in nature" (Letter 85). Or as G. de Purucker expresses it:
Everything grows and yearns to grow greater, to become grander, to rise, to advance, to evolve, and the objective is to become at-one self-consciously with the Boundless — something which never can be reached! Therein is infinite beauty, for there is no final ending for growth in beauty and splendor and wisdom and love and power. The Boundless Universe is our home. — The Esoteric Tradition 1:303
The heart doctrine pleads that the only real sin is that of separateness. When we truly work for that brotherhood of men, our every breath will flow for that greater good and our divine dissatisfaction will be only for that which separates the part from the Whole.
(From Sunrise magazine, December 2005/January 2006; copyright © 2005 Theosophical University Press)