A Plea for a Personal God
Theosophist, October, 1883
Notes by H.P.B. on a Letter by P. *** T. *** S. ***
Can the Editor please enlighten me as to the following:—
1. It is said that the solar system is the evolution of Mulaprakriti according to the latent design, inherent in Chidakasam. Now two things (if they may be so called) are evolved—man and the external cosmos.
(a) The duty of man is to choose between good and evil—to seek the means of making an involution into the state of Nirvana or to seek the means of his total destruction. What is this destruction? Matter is eternal.1
1. Matter is certainly eternal; and no one has ever said that man was destroyed or annihilated in his atoms, but only in his personality.
(b) What is now man—was in an imperfectly developed state some ages back or in the previous “rounds,” not so fully responsible for his acts as he is now. Let us go back to the most imperfectly developed state of what is now man. Whence did this state come? If there is only one Life, and if the progress of humanity is to make a series of evolutions or rather involutions from this most imperfectly developed state through the state of the present man to the Nirvana state, there must have been a contrary series from the Nirvana state through the state of the present man to have arrived at the most imperfectly developed state. Is it so?2
2. Before our correspondent’s query can be answered, he ought to obtain a sufficient mastery over his ideas to make himself intelligible. We are afraid that his “evolutions” and “involutions” are rather involved in darkness and obscurity. We beg his pardon; but there hardly seems to be any sense in his question. When was it ever stated that there was only one life for man? Our correspondent has evidently mixed up personal human life with the One Life or Parabrahm? Perhaps he will kindly let us know the short meaning of this very long sentence?
(c) Are there any such “rounds” in the life of external cosmos?3
3. We are not aware of having ever discussed about the “rounds” of any but the “external cosmos” and its many habitats of the septenary chain. What can the writer mean?
2. Mr. T. Subba Row concurs with J. S. Mill’s conclusion that matter has no noumenal existence but is a permanent possibility of sensation.4 Do the Theosophists hold that there is no substratum5 underlying all external phenomena?
4. The present reference to Mr. Subba Row’s “Personal and Impersonal God,” and to his remarks upon J. S. Mill has not the slightest bearing upon what is said in that article. We offer a premium to him who will find any connection between the two.
5. The Theosophists are many and of various and many creeds. Each of them believes in whatever he likes, and there is no one to interfere with his private beliefs. The Theosophical Society is no school of sectarianism and holds to no special dogmas. But if, by “Theosophists” our correspondent means the Founders, then all they can tell him is, that “the substratum underlying all external matter,” they believe in, would rather clash with that on what the querist seems to hang his faith—if the two were compared.
3. A “chapter of accidents” is, it seems, allowed by The Theosophist in the course of life, and this idea is pushed to such an extent as to say that nature will not be cheated out of its course by accidents, although accidents may intervene and prevent the immediate rewarding of good or punishing of evil by nature. This statement is extraordinary. Whence these accidents?6
6. From previous causes, we should say, as every other result is supposed to be.
4. Some western philosophers of now-a-days, recognizing the fact that there are fixed laws governing the universe as pointed out by materialists, do still hold that a personal God is the author of those laws. Granting the validity of Mr. Subba Row’s argument that a conscious Iswar’s ego must itself be the effect of a previous cause, we meet with a difficulty presenting itself to our mind, when preparing to receive the doctrine of an unconscious God as truth. There are many events happening in the course of life, referred ordinarily to “chance” as their cause. Now, believers in a personal God account for what is called “chance” as the conscious exercise of the will of God for the good of his creatures—arrangements done by him for their happiness. I shall illustrate what I mean by a fact. G—— was one day sleeping in his room. It is his custom always to sleep with a lantern and a staff by. At about midnight he awoke (but nothing had roused him) mechanically, felt for the lantern, lighted it, leaped out of his bed staff in hand, and looked up. All this without any motive whatever—quite unconsciously; and when he looked up, he perceived a snake right above the place where his head had lain. The snake then dropped down on the floor and he soon dispatched it. This extraordinary phenomenon,7 as well as similar ones, which have come under my notice (but a few days back, my infant nephew was found one day with a snake wound round his waist) can be easily explained away on the theory of a personal God watching over men (and as G—— believes, appointing angels to watch over them). How would the Theosophists explain these?8 True it is there are fixed laws of nature reigning in this universe, but these gaps called accidents, must be filled before the theory of an impersonal God can become tenable.
7. Nothing “extraordinary” in this at all, considering we live in India, a country full of snakes, and that people awake unconsciously very often at the slightest noise. To call the occurrence an “extraordinary phenomenon” and see in it the “protecting hand of God,” is positively childish. It would be far more extraordinary, if, granting for the sake of argument, the existence of a personal God, we should be attributing to him no better occupation than that of a body-guard for every man, woman and child, threatened with danger, when he might by a simple exercise of his will, either have kept the snake away without disturbing the poor man’s rest, or, what would have been still better, not to have created snakes at all. If St. Patrick, a mortal man, had the power to banish all the snakes from Ireland, surely this is not too much to expect of a personal protecting God that a similar act should be performed for India.
8. Simply that the snake was not inclined to bite. Why does not our correspondent refer to cases where poor innocent children were bitten and died? What had they done not to have been equally protected? Is he prepared to maintain that the thousands that are yearly bitten and killed by snakes in India have offended the deity like Laacoon, whose innocent children shared his fate? Simple assumptions will never do in a theosophical argument. We are not in the least inclined to interfere with our correspondent’s belief, and welcome and invite him to believe in anything he pleases. Only if he would remain undisturbed in his faith we would advise him not to meddle with the theosophical literature. That he has not grown up to its intellectual standard—is quite evident, “B. A.” though he may be, and thus signs himself.
5. What is the moral standard of the Theosophists? Is it utility? What sanction of morality do they acknowledge? These can be easily found out on the theory of a personal God.
You will oblige me very much if you can publish this and remove my difficulties.
Editor’s Note. [H.P.B.]—To the rather impertinent (No. 5) question of our Negapatam inquisitive correspondent, we answer: The “moral standard of the Theosophists” is—Truth—and this covers all. Whether those who believe in a personal, or anthropomorphic deity, or those who call themselves Agnostics, or Atheists, or Buddhists or even Materialists, once that they have joined the Theosophical Society, they are bound to present to the world a far higher “standard of morality” than that which is developed merely through fear of hell or any other future punishment. The love of virtue for its own sake does not seem to enter in, or agitate the centres of our correspondent’s reflective faculties. If he would know more of theosophy and its ethics, we would refer him to the Rules of the Theosophical Society, its Objects and Principles.