The Dual Aspect of Wisdom
Lucifer, September, 1890
“No doubt but ye are the people and wisdom shall die with you.”—JOB xii. 2.
“But wisdom is justified of her children.”—MATTHEW xi. 19.
It is the privilege—as also occasionally the curse—of editors to receive numerous letters of advice, and the conductors of LUCIFER have not escaped the common lot. Reared in the aphorisms of the ages they are aware that “he who can take advice is superior to him who gives it,” and are therefore ready to accept with gratitude any sound and practical suggestions offered by friends; but the last letter received does not fulfill the condition. It is not even his own wisdom, but that of the age we live in, which is asserted by our adviser, who thus seriously risks his reputation for keen observation by such acts of devotion on the altar of modern pretensions. It is in defense of the “wisdom” of our century that we are taken to task, and charged with “preferring barbarous antiquity to our modern civilization and its inestimable boons,” with forgetting that “our own-day wisdom compared with the awakening instincts of the Past is in no way inferior in philosophic wisdom even to the age of Plato.” We are lastly told that we, Theosophists, are “too fond of the dim yesterday, and as unjust to our glorious (?) present-day, the bright noon-hour of the highest civilization and culture.” ! !
Well, all this is a question of taste. Our correspondent is welcome to his own views, but so are we to ours. Let him imagine that the Eiffel Tower dwarfs the Pyramid of Ghizeh into a mole-hill, and the Crystal Palace grounds transform the hanging gardens of Semiramis into a kitchen-garden—if he likes. But if we are seriously “challenged” by him to show “in what respect our age of hourly progress and gigantic thought”—a progress a trifle marred, however, by our Huxleys being denounced by our Spurgeons, and the University ladies, senior classics and wranglers, by the “hallelujah lasses”—is inferior to the ages of, say, a hen-pecked “Socrates and a cross-legged Buddha,” then we will answer him, giving him, of course, our own personal opinion.
Our age, we say, is inferior in Wisdom to any other, because it professes, more visibly every day, contempt for truth and justice, without which there can be no Wisdom. Because our civilization, built up of shams and appearances, is at best like a beautiful green morass, a bog, spread over a deadly quagmire. Because this century of culture and worship of matter, while offering prizes and premiums for every “best thing” under the Sun, from the biggest baby and the largest orchid down to the strongest pugilist and the fattest pig, has no encouragement to offer to morality; no prize to give for any moral virtue. Because it has Societies for the prevention of physical cruelty to animals, and none with the object of preventing the moral cruelty practiced on human beings. Because it encourages, legally and tacitly, vice under every form, from the sale of whiskey down to forced prostitution and theft brought on by starvation wages, Shylock-like exaction, rents and other comforts of our cultured period. Because, finally, this is the age which, although proclaimed as one of physical and moral freedom, is in truth the age of the most ferocious moral and mental slavery, the like of which was never known before. Slavery to State and men has disappeared only to make room for slavery to things and Self, to one’s own vices and idiotic social customs and ways. Rapid civilization, adapted to the needs of the higher and middle classes, has doomed by contrast to only greater wretchedness the starving masses. Having levelled the two former it has made them the more to disregard the substance in favor of form and appearance, thus forcing modern man into duress vile, a slavish dependence on things inanimate, to use and to serve which is the first bounded duty of every cultured man.
Where then is the Wisdom of our modern age?
In truth, it requires but a very few lines to show why we bow before ancient Wisdom, while refusing absolutely to see any in our modern civilization. But to begin with, what does our critic mean by the word “wisdom”? Though we have never too unreasonably admired Lactantius, yet we must recognize that even that innocent Church Father, with all his cutting insults anent the heliocentric system, defined the term very correctly when saying that “the first point of Wisdom is to discern that which is false, and the second, to know that which is true.” And if so, what chance is there for our century of falsification, from the revised Bible texts down to natural butter, to put forth a claim to “Wisdom”? But before we cross lances on this subject we may do well, perchance, to define the term ourselves.
Let us premise by saying that Wisdom is, at best, an elastic word—at any rate as used in European tongues. That it yields no clear idea of its meaning, unless preceded or followed by some qualifying adjective. In the Bible, indeed, the Hebrew equivalent Chokmah (in Greek, Sophia) is applied to the most dissimilar things—abstract and concrete. Thus we find “Wisdom” as the characteristic both of divine inspiration and also of terrestrial cunning and craft; as meaning the Secret Knowledge of the Esoteric Sciences, and also blind faith; the “fear of the Lord,” and Pharaoh’s magicians. The noun is indifferently applied to Christ and to sorcery, for the witch Sedecla is also referred to as the “wise woman of En-Dor.” From the earliest Christian antiquity, beginning with St. James (iii, 13-17), down to the last Calvinist preacher, who sees in hell and eternal damnation a proof of “the Almighty’s wisdom,” the term has been used with the most varied meanings. But St. James teaches two kinds of wisdom; a teaching with which we fully concur. He draws a strong line of separation between the divine or noëtic “Sophia”—the Wisdom from above—and the terrestrial, psychic, and devilish wisdom—the Sophia ἐπιγειος, ψυχικη, δαιμονιώδης (iii, 15). For the true Theosophist there is no wisdom save the former. Would that such an one could declare with Paul, that he speaks that wisdom exclusively only among them “that are perfect,” i.e., those initiated into its mysteries, or familiar, at least, with the A B C of the sacred sciences. But, however great was his mistake, however premature his attempt to sow the seeds of the true and eternal gnosis on unprepared soil, his motives were yet good and his intention unselfish, and therefore has he been stoned. For had he only attempted to preach some particular fiction of his own, or done it for gain, who would have ever singled him out or tried to crush him, amid the hundreds of other false sects, daily “collections” and crazy “societies”? But his case was different. However cautiously, still he spoke “not the wisdom of this world” but truth or the “hidden wisdom . . . which none of the Princes of this World know (I Corinth. ii.) least of all the archons of our modern science. With regard to “psychic” wisdom, however, which James defines as terrestrial and devilish, it has existed in all ages, from the days of Pythagoras and Plato, when for one philosophus there were nine sophistae, down to our modern era. To such wisdom our century is welcome, and indeed fully entitled, to lay a claim. Moreover, it is an attire easy to put on; there never was a period when crows refused to array themselves in peacock’s feathers, if the opportunity was offered.
But now as then, we have a right to analyze the terms used and inquire in the words of the book of Job, that suggestive allegory of Karmic purification and initiation rites: “Where shall (true) wisdom be found? Where is the place of understanding?” and to answer again in his words: “With the ancient is wisdom and in the length of days understanding” (Job xxviii, 12 and xii, 12).
Here we have to qualify once more a dubious term, viz.: the word “ancient,” and to explain it. As interpreted by the orthodox churches, it has in the mouth of Job one meaning; but with the Kabalist, quite another; while in the Gnosis of the Occultist and Theosophist it has distinctly a third signification, the same which it had in the original Book of Job, a pre-Mosaic work and a recognized treatise on Initiation. Thus, the Kabalist applies the adjective “ancient” to the Manifested WORD or LOGOS (Dabar) of the forever concealed and uncognizable deity. Daniel, in one of his visions, also uses it when speaking of Jahve—the androgynous Adam Kadmon. The Church man connects it with his anthropomorphic Jehovah, the “Lord God” of the translated Bible. But the Eastern Occultist employs the mystic term only when referring to the reincarnating higher Ego. For, divine Wisdom being diffused throughout the infinite Universe, and our impersonal HIGHER SELF being an integral part of it, the atmic light of the latter can be centered only in that which though eternal is still individualized—i.e., the noëtic Principle, the manifested God within each rational being, or our Higher Manas at one with Buddhi. It is this collective light which is the “Wisdom that is from above,” and which whenever it descends on the personal Ego, is found “pure, peaceable, gentle.” Hence, Job’s assertion that “Wisdom is with the Ancient,” or Buddhi-Manas. For the Divine Spiritual “I,” is alone eternal, and the same throughout all births; whereas the “personalities” it informs in succession are evanescent, changing like the shadows of a kaleidoscopic series of forms in a magic lantern. It is the “Ancient,” because, whether it be called Sophia, Krishna, Buddhi-Manas or Christos, it is ever the “first-born” of Alaya-Mahat, the Universal Soul and the Intelligence of the Universe. Esoterically then, Job’s statement must read: “With the Ancient (man’s Higher Ego) is Wisdom, and in the length of days (or number of its re-incarnations) is understanding.” No man can learn true and final Wisdom in one birth; and every new rebirth, whether we be reincarnated for weal or for woe, is one more lesson we receive at the hands of the stern yet ever just schoolmaster—KARMIC LIFE.
But the world—the Western world, at any rate—knows nothing of this, and refuses to learn anything. For it, any notion of the Divine Ego or the plurality of its births is “heathen foolishness.” The Western world rejects these truths, and will recognize no wise men except those of its own making, created in its own image, born within its own Christian era and teachings. The only “wisdom” it understands and practices is the psychic, the “terrestrial and devilish” wisdom spoken of by James, thus making of the real Wisdom a misnomer and a degradation. Yet, without considering her multiplied varieties, there are two kinds of even “terrestrial” wisdom on our globe of mud—the real and the apparent. Between the two, there is even for the superficial observer of this busy wicked world, a wide chasm, and yet how very few people will consent to see it! The reason for this is quite natural. So strong is human selfishness, that wherever there is the smallest personal interest at stake, there men become deaf and blind to the truth, as often consciously as not. Nor are many people capable of recognizing as speedily as is advisable the difference between men who are wise and those who only seem wise, the latter being chiefly regarded as such because they are very clever at blowing their own trumpet. So much for “wisdom” in the profane world.
As to the world of the students in mystic lore, it is almost worse. Things have strangely altered since the days of antiquity, when the truly wise made it their first duty to conceal their knowledge, deeming it too sacred to even mention before the hoi polloi. While the mediæval Rosecroix, the true philosopher, keeping old Socrates in mind, repeated daily that all he knew was that he knew nothing, his modern self-styled successor announces in our day, through press and public, that those mysteries in Nature and her Occult laws of which he knows nothing, have never existed at all. There was a time when the acquirement of Divine Wisdom (Sapientia) required the sacrifice and devotion of a man’s whole life. It depended on such things as the purity of the candidate’s motives, on his fearlessness and independence of spirit; but now, to receive a patent for wisdom and adeptship requires only unblushing impudence. A certificate of divine wisdom is now decreed, and delivered to a self-styled “Adeptus” by a regular majority of votes of profane and easily caught gulls, while a host of magpies driven away from the roof of the Temple of Science will herald it to the world in every marketplace and fair. Tell the public that now, even as of old, the genuine and sincere observer of life and its underlying phenomena, the intelligent co-worker with nature, may, by becoming an expert in her mysteries thereby become a “wise” man, in the terrestrial sense of the word, but that never will a materialist wrench from nature any secret on a higher plane—and you will be laughed to scorn. Add, that no “wisdom from above” descends on any one save on the sine quâ non condition of leaving at the threshold of the Occult every atom of selfishness, or desire for personal ends and benefit—and you will be speedily declared by your audience a candidate for the lunatic asylum. Nevertheless, this is an old, very old truism. Nature gives up her innermost secrets and imparts true wisdom only to him, who seeks truth for its own sake, and who craves for knowledge in order to confer benefits on others, not on his own unimportant personality. And, as it is precisely to this personal benefit that nearly every candidate for adeptship and magic looks, and that few are they, who consent to learn at such a heavy price and so small a benefit for themselves in prospect—the really wise Occultists become with every century fewer and rarer. How many are there, indeed, who would not prefer the will-o’-the-wisp of even passing fame to the steady and ever-growing light of eternal, divine knowledge, if the latter has to remain, for all but oneself—a light under the bushel?
The same is the case in the world of materialistic science, where we see a great paucity of really learned men and a host of skin-deep scientists, who yet demand each and all to be regarded as Archimedes and Newtons. As above so below. Scholars who pursue knowledge for the sake of truth and fact, and give these out, however unpalatable, and not for the dubious glory of enforcing on the world their respective personal hobbies—may be counted on the fingers of one hand: while legion is the name of the pretenders. In our day, reputations for learning seem to be built by suggestion on the hypnotic principle, rather than by real merit. The masses cower before him who imposes himself upon them: hence such a galaxy of men regarded as eminent in science, arts and literature; and if they are so easily accepted, it is precisely because of the gigantic self-opinionated and self-assertion of, at any rate, the majority of them. Once thoroughly analyzed, however, how many of such would remain who truly deserve the appellation of “wise” even in terrestrial wisdom? How many, we ask, of the so-called “authorities” and “leaders of men” would prove much better than those of whom it was said—by one “wise” indeed—“they be blind leaders of the blind”? That the teachings of neither our modern teachers nor preachers are “wisdom from above” is fully demonstrated. It is proved not by any personal incorrectness in their statements or mistakes in life, for “to err is but human,” but by incontrovertible facts. Wisdom and Truth are synonymous terms, and that which is false or pernicious cannot be wise. Therefore, if it is true, as we are told by a well-known representative of the Church of England, that the Sermon of the Mount would, in its practical application, mean utter ruin for his country in less than three weeks; and if it is no less true, as asserted by a literary critic of science, that “the knell of Charles Darwinism is rung in Mr. A. R. Wallace’s present book,”1 an event already predicted by Quatrefages—then we are left to choose between two courses. We have either to take both Theology and Science on blind faith and trust; or, to proclaim both untrue and untrustworthy. There is however, a third course open: to pretend that we believe in both at the same time, and say nothing, as many do; but this would be sinning against Theosophy and pandering to the prejudices of Society—and that we refuse to do. More than this: we declare openly, quand même, that not one of the two, neither Theologist nor Scientist, has the right in the face of this to claim, the one that he preaches that which is divine inspiration, and the other—exact science; since the former enforces that, which is on his own recognition, pernicious to men and states—i.e. the ethics of Christ; and the other (in the person of the eminent naturalist, Mr. A. R. Wallace, as shown by Mr. Samuel Butler) teaches Darwinian evolution, in which he believes no longer; a scheme, moreover, which has never existed in nature, if the opponents of Darwinism are correct.
Nevertheless, if anyone would presume to call “unwise” or “false” the world-chosen authorities, or declare their respective policies dishonest, he would find himself promptly reduced to silence. To doubt the exalted wisdom of the religion of the late Cardinal Newman, of the Church of England, or again of our great modern scientists, is to sin against the Holy Ghost and Culture. Woe unto him who refuses to recognize the World’s “Elect.” He has to bow before one or the other, though, if one is true, the other must be false; and if the “wisdom” of neither Bishop nor Scientist is “from above”—which is pretty fairly demonstrated by this time—then their “wisdom” is at best—“terrestrial, psychic, devilish.”
Now our readers have to bear in mind that nought of the above is meant as a sign of disrespect for the true teachings of Christ, or true science: nor do we judge personalities but only the systems of our civilized world. Valuing freedom of thought above all things, as the only way of reaching at some future time that Wisdom, of which every Theosophist ought to be enamored, we recognize the right to the same freedom in our foes as in our friends. All we contend for is their claim to Wisdom—as we understand this term. Nor do we blame, but rather pity, in our innermost heart, the “wise men” of our age for trying to carry out the only policy that will keep them on the pinnacle of their “authority”; as they could not, if even they would, act otherwise and preserve their prestige with the masses, or escape from being speedily outcast by their colleagues. The party spirit is so strong with regard to the old tracks and ruts, that to turn on a side path means deliberate treachery to it. Thus, to be regarded now-a-days as an authority in some particular subject, the scientist has to reject nolens volens the metaphysical, and the theologian to show contempt for the materialistic teachings. All this is worldly policy and practical common sense, but it is not the Wisdom of either Job or James.
Shall it be then regarded as too far fetched, if, basing our words on a life-long observation and experience, we venture to offer our ideas as to the quickest and most efficient means of obtaining our present World’s universal respect and becoming an “authority”? Show the tender regard for the corns of every party’s hobbies, and offer yourself as the chief executioner, the hangman, of the reputations of men and things regarded as unpopular. Learn, that the great secret of power consists in the art of pandering to popular prejudices, to the World’s likes and dislikes. Once this principal condition complied with, he who practices it is certain of attracting to himself the educated and their satellites—the less educated—they whose rule it is to place themselves invariably on the safe side of public opinion. This will lead to a perfect harmony or simultaneous action. For, while the favorite attitude of the cultured is to hide behind the intellectual bulwarks of the favorite leaders of scientific thought, and jurare in verba magistri, that of the less cultured is to transform themselves into the faithful, mechanical telephones of their superiors, and to repeat like well-trained parrots the dicta of their immediate leaders. The now aphoristical precept of Mr. Artemus Ward, the showman of famous memory—“Scratch my back, Mr. Editor, and I will scratch yours”—proves immortally true. The “rising Star,” whether he be a theologian, a politician, an author, a scientist, or a journalist—has to begin scratching the back of public tastes and prejudices—a hypnotic method as old as human vanity. Gradually the hypnotized masses begin to purr, they are ready for “suggestion.” Suggest whatever you want them to believe, and forthwith they will begin to return your caresses, and purr now to your hobbies, and pander in their turn to anything suggested by theologian, politician, author, scientist, or journalist. Such is the simple secret of blossoming into an “authority” or a “leader of men”; and such is the secret of our modern-day wisdom.
And this is also the “secret” and the true reason of the unpopularity of LUCIFER and of the ostracism practiced by this same modern world on the Theosophical Society: for neither LUCIFER, nor the Society it belongs to, has ever followed Mr. Artemus Ward’s golden precept. No true Theosophist, in fact, would consent to become the fetish of a fashionable doctrine, any more than he would make himself the slave of a decaying dead-letter system, the spirit from which has disappeared for ever. Neither would he pander to anyone or anything, and therefore would always decline to show belief in that in which he does not, nor can he believe, which is lying to his own soul. Therefore there, where others see “the beauty and graces of modern culture,” the Theosophist sees only moral ugliness and the somersaults of the clowns of the so-called cultured centres. For him nothing applies better to modern fashionable society than Sydney Smith’s description of Popish ritualism: “Posture and imposture, flections and genuflections, bowing to the right, curtsying to the left, and an immense amount of male (and especially female) millinery.” There may be, no doubt, for some worldly minds, a great charm in modern civilization; but for the Theosophist all its bounties can hardly repay for the evils it has brought on the world. These are so many, that it is not within the limits of this article to enumerate these offspring of culture and of the progress of physical science, whose latest achievements begin with vivisection and end in improved murder by electricity.
Our answer, we have no doubt, is not calculated to make us more friends than enemies, but this can be hardly helped. Our magazine may be looked upon as “pessimistic,” but no one can charge it with publishing slanders or lies, or, in fact, anything but that which we honestly believe to be true. Be it as it may, however, we hope never to lack moral courage in the expression of our opinions or in defense of Theosophy and its Society. Let then nine-tenths of every population arise in arms against the Theosophical Society wherever it appears—they will never be able to suppress the truths it utters. Let the masses of growing Materialism, the hosts of Spiritualism, all the Church-going congregations, bigots and iconoclasts, Grundy-worshippers, aping-followers and blind disciples, let them slander, abuse, lie, denounce, and publish every falsehood about us under the sun—they will not uproot Theosophy, nor even upset her Society, if only its members hold together. Let even such friends and advisers as he who is now answered, turn away in disgust from those whom he addresses in vain—it matters not, for our two paths in life run diametrically opposite. Let him keep to his “terrestrial” wisdom: we will keep to that pure ray “that comes from above,” from the light of the “Ancient.”
What indeed, has WISDOM, Theosophia—the Wisdom “full of mercy and good fruits, without wrangling or partiality and without hypocrisy” (James iii, 17)—to do with our cruel, selfish, crafty, and hypocritical world? What is there in common between divine Sophia and the improvements of modern civilization and science; between spirit and the letter that killeth? The more so as at this stage of evolution the wisest man on earth, according to the wise Carlyle, is “but a clever infant spelling letters from a hieroglyphical, prophetic book, the lexicon of which lies in eternity.”
1. See “The Deadlock of Darwinism,” by Samuel Butler, in the Universal Review for April, 1890.