Morality and Pantheism
Theosophist, November, 1883
Questions have been raised in several quarters as to the inefficiency of Pantheism (which term is intended to include Esoteric Buddhism, Adwaitee Vedantism, and other similar religious systems), to supply a sound basis of morality.
The philosophical assimilation of meum and tuum, it is urged, must of necessity be followed by their practical confusion, resulting in the sanction of theft, robbery, etc. This line of argument points, however, most unmistakably to the co-existence of the objection with an all but utter ignorance of the systems objected to, in the critic, as we shall show by and bye. The ultimate sanction of morality, as is well known, is derived from a desire for the attainment of happiness and escape from misery. But schools differ in their estimate of happiness. Exoteric religions base their morality on the hope of reward and fear of punishment at the hands of an Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe by following the rules he has at his pleasure laid down for the obedience of his helpless subjects; in some cases, however, religions of later growth have made morality to depend on the sentiment of gratitude to that Ruler for benefits received. The worthlessness, not to speak of the mischievousness, of such systems of morality, is almost self-evident. As a type of morality founded on hope and fear, we shall take an instance from the Christian Bible. “He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord.” The duty of supporting the poor is here made to depend upon prudential motives of laying by for a time when the “giver to the poor” will be incapable of taking care of himself. But the Mahabharata says that, “He that desireth a return for his good deeds loseth all merit; he is like a merchant bartering for his goods.” The true springs of morality lose their elasticity under the pressure of such criminal selfishness, all pure and unselfish natures will fly away from it in disgust.
To avoid such consequences attempts have been made by some recent reformers of religion to establish morality upon the sentiment of gratitude to the Lord. But it requires no deep consideration to find that in their endeavors to shift the basis of morality, these reformers have rendered morality entirely baseless. A man has to do what is represented to be a thing “dear unto the Lord” out of gratitude for the many blessings he has heaped upon him. But as a matter of fact he finds that the Lord has heaped upon him curses as well as blessings. A helpless orphan is expected to be grateful to him for having removed the props of his life, his parents, because he is told in consolation that such a calamity is but apparently an evil, but in reality the All-Merciful has underneath it hidden the greatest possible good. With equal reason might a preacher of the Avenging Ahriman exhort men to believe that under the apparent blessings of the “Merciful” Father there lurks the serpent of evil. But this gospel has yet to be preached.
The modern Utilitarians, though the range of their vision is so narrow, have sterner logic in their teachings. That which tends to a man’s happiness is good, and must be followed, and the contrary to be shunned as evil. So far so good. But the practical application of the doctrine is fraught with mischief. Cribbed, cabined and confined, by rank materialism, within the short space between birth and death, the Utilitarians’ scheme of happiness is merely a deformed torso, which cannot certainly be considered as the fair goddess of our devotion.
The only scientific basis of morality is to be sought for in the soul-consoling doctrines of Lord Buddha or Sri Sankarâchârya. The starting point of the “pantheistic” (we use the word for want of a better one) system of morality is a clear perception of the unity of the one energy operating in the manifested Cosmos, the grand ultimate result which it is incessantly striving to produce, and the affinity of the immortal human spirit and its latent powers with that energy, and its capacity to co-operate with the one life in achieving its mighty object.
Now knowledge or jñâna is divided into two classes by Adwaitee philosophers,—Paroksha and Aparoksha. The former kind of knowledge consists in intellectual assent to a stated proposition, the latter in the actual realization of it. The object which a Buddhist or Adwaitee Yogi sets before himself is the realization of the oneness of existence and the practice of Morality is the most powerful means to that end, as we proceed to show. The principal obstacle to the realization of this oneness is the inborn habit of man of always placing himself at the center of the Universe. Whatever a man might act, think or feel, the irrepressible “I” is sure to be the central figure. This, as will appear, on the slightest consideration, is that which prevents every individual from filling his proper sphere in existence, where he only is exactly in place and no other individual is. The realization of this harmony is the practical or objective aspect of the Grand Problem. Practice of morality is the effort to find out this sphere; and morality indeed is the Ariadne’s clue in the Cretan labyrinth in which man is placed. From the study of the sacred philosophy preached by Lord Buddha or Sri Sankara, paroksha, knowledge (or shall we say belief?) in the unity of existence is derived, but without the practice of morality that knowledge cannot be converted into the highest kind of knowledge or aparoksha jñâna, and thus lead to the attainment of mukti. It availeth naught to intellectually grasp the notion of your being everything and Brahma, if it is not realized in practical acts of life. To confuse meum and tuum in the vulgar sense is but to destroy the harmony of existence by a false assertion of “I,” and is as foolish as the anxiety to nourish the legs at the expense of the arms. You cannot be one with ALL, unless all your acts, thoughts and feelings synchronise with the onward march of nature. What is meant by the Brahmajñâni being beyond the reach of Karma, can be fully realized only by a man who has found out his exact position in harmony with the One Life in nature; that man sees how a Brahmajñâni can act only in unison with nature and never in discord with it: to use the phraseology of our ancient writers on Occultism a Brahmajñâni is a real “co-worker with nature.” Not only European Sanskritists but also exoteric Yogis, fall into the grievous mistake of supposing that, in the opinion of our sacred writers, a human being can escape the operation of the law of Karma by adopting a condition of masterly inactivity, entirely losing sight of the fact that even a rigid abstinence from physical acts does not produce inactivity on the higher astral and spiritual planes. Sri Sankara has very conclusively proved, in his Commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, such a supposition is nothing short of a delusion. The great teacher shows there that forcibly repressing the physical body from working does not free one from vâsana or vritti—the inherent inclination of the mind to work. There is a tendency, in every department of nature, of an act to repeat itself; so the Karma acquired in the last preceding birth is always trying to forge fresh links in the chain and thereby lead to continued material existence; and that this tendency can only be counteracted by unselfishly performing all the duties appertaining to the sphere in which a person is born—that alone can produce chitta suddhi, without which the capacity of perceiving spiritual truths can never be acquired.
A few words must here be said about the physical inactivity of the Yogi or the Mahatma. Inactivity of the physical body (sthula sarira) does not indicate a condition of inactivity either on the astral or the spiritual plane of action. The human spirit is in its highest state of activity in samâdhi, and not, as is generally supposed, in a dormant quiescent condition. And, moreover, it will be easily seen by any one who examines the nature of occult dynamics, that a given amount of energy expended on the spiritual or astral plane is productive of far greater results than the same amount expended on the physical objective plane of existence. When an adept has placed himself en rapport with the universal mind he becomes a real power in nature. Even on the objective plane of existence the difference between brain and muscular energy, in their capacity of producing wide-spread and far-reaching results, can be very easily perceived. The amount of physical energy expended by the discoverer of the steam engine might not have been more than that expended by a hard-working day-labourer. But the practical results of the coolie’s work can never be compared with the results achieved by the discovery of the steam engine. Similarly the ultimate effects of spiritual energy are infinitely greater than those of intellectual energy.
From the above considerations it is abundantly clear that the initiatory training of a true Vedantin Raja Yogi must be nourishing of a sleepless and ardent desire of doing all in his power for the good of mankind on the ordinary physical plane, his activity being transferred, however, to the higher astral and spiritual planes as his development proceeds. In course of time as the Truth becomes realized, the situation is rendered quite clear to the Yogi and he is placed beyond the criticism of any ordinary man. The Mahanirvana Tantra says:—
Charanti trigunâtîte ko vidhir ko nishedhovâ.
“For one, walking beyond the three gunas—Satva, Rajas and Tamas—what duty or what restriction is there?”
—in the consideration of men, walled in on all sides by the objective plane of existence. This does not mean that a Mahatma can or will ever neglect the laws of morality, but that he, having unified his individual nature with Great Nature herself, is constitutionally incapable of violating any one of the laws of nature, and no man can constitute himself a judge of the conduct of the Great One without knowing the laws of all the planes of Nature’s activity. As honest men are honest without the least consideration of the criminal law, so a Mahatma is moral without reference to the laws of morality.
These are, however, sublime topics: we shall before conclusion notice some other considerations which lead the “pantheist” to the same conclusions with respect to morality. Happiness has been defined by John Stuart Mill as the state of absence of opposition. Manu gives the definition in more forcible terms:—
Sarvam paravaśam duhkham
Sarvam âtmavaśam sukham
Idam jñâyo samâsena
“Every kind of subjugation to another is pain,
and subjugation to one’s self is happiness:
in brief, this is to be known as
the characteristic marks of the two.”
Now it is universally admitted that the whole system of Nature is moving in a particular direction, and this direction, we are taught, is determined by the composition of two forces, namely, the one acting from that pole of existence ordinarily called “matter” towards the other pole called “spirit,” and the other in the opposite direction. The very fact that Nature is moving shows that these two forces are not equal in magnitude. The plane on which the activity of the first force predominates is called in occult treatises the “ascending arc,” and the corresponding plane of the activity of the other force is styled the “descending arc.” A little reflection will show that the work of evolution begins on the descending arc and works its way upwards through the ascending arc. From this it follows that the force directed towards spirit is the one which must, though not without hard struggle, ultimately prevail. This is the great directing energy of Nature, and although disturbed by the operation of the antagonistic force, it is this that gives the law to her; the other is merely its negative aspect, for convenience regarded as a separate agent. If an individual attempts to move in a direction other than that in which Nature is moving, that individual is sure to be crushed, sooner or later, by the enormous pressure of the opposing force. We need not say that such a result would be the very reverse of pleasurable. The only way therefore, in which happiness might be attained, is by merging one’s nature in great Mother Nature, and following the direction in which she herself is moving: this again, can only be accomplished by assimilating man’s individual conduct with the triumphant force of Nature, the other force being always overcome with terrific catastrophes. The effort to assimilate the individual with the universal law is popularly known as the practice of morality. Obedience to this universal law, after ascertaining it, is true religion, which has been defined by Lord Buddha “as the realization of the True.”
An example will serve to illumine the position. Can a practical student of pantheism, or, in other words, an occultist utter a falsehood? Now, it will be readily admitted that life manifests itself by the power of acquiring sensation, temporary dormancy of that power being suspended animation. If a man receives a particular series of sensations and pretends they are other than they really are, the result is that he exercises his will-power in opposition to a law of nature on which, as we have shown, life depends and thereby becomes suicide on a minor scale. Space prevents us to pursue the subject any further, but if all the ten deadly sins mentioned by Manu and Buddha are examined in the light sought to be focussed here, we dare say the result will be quite satisfactory.