“The Self is the Friend of Self and also its Enemy”
Branch Paper No. 5, August, 1890.
This sentence in the Bhagavad Gita has been often passed over as being either meaningless or mysterious; on one hand worthless to consider, and on the other hand impossible. Some students have, however, made good use of the teaching contained in it. It is a verse that bears directly upon Theosophy as applied to our daily life, and therefore may well be scrutinized.
It indicates two selfs, one the enemy and also the friend of the other. Evidently, without the suggestions found in Theosophy, two selfs in one person cannot seem otherwise than meaningless, except in those cases, admitted by Science, where there is a aberration of the intellect, where one lobe of the brain refuses to work with the other, or where there is some cerebral derangement. But after a little study of the constitution of man—material and spiritual—as we find it outlined in the Wisdom-Religion, we easily see that the higher and the lower self are meant.
The next injunction, to “raise the self by the self,” clearly points to this; for, as a thing cannot raise itself without a fulcrum, the self which will raise us must be the higher one, and that which is to be raised is the lower.
In order to accomplish this task we must gain an acquaintance with the self which is to be raised. The greater and more accurate that acquaintance is, the quicker will proceed the work of elevating the being who attempts it.
Let us for a moment look at the obstacles in the way, the reasons why, with so many, their understanding of themselves is so plainly deficient.
Everyone knows that he can see the defects in the actions and character of other men better than his own. Some, of course, there are who do not allow that they have defects.
St. James says that a man looketh in a glass and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he is. While I have often doubted this, yet it is true in respect to that looking-glass which is often by others held up to us to see ourselves in. We see for a moment our appearance and then forget it.
There are some things, however, as to which it is often impossible for us to know ourselves. Such of our tones as are harsh or disagreeable we often cannot hear as others do. For there is hardly anything so difficult as to really hear our own voice in its entirety of tone and accent. We are so accustomed to it that we cannot tell whether it be pleasing or repellent, musical or discordant. We have to rely upon the statements of those who hear it. Indeed, I doubt seriously if anyone can ever fully hear, in the way those to whom we speak do, the tones of his voice, because it is conveyed to us not only through the medium of the outer ear which receives the vibrations made without us, but we receive it in addition through the vibrations made within all through the skull, and hence it must ever be a different voice for ourselves. So it would not be profitable to pay too much attention to the sound of our voice if we do so to the exclusion of that inner attitude which nearly always determines the tone in which we speak; for if our feelings be kind and charitable, it is more than likely that the vocal expression of them will correspond. The cultivation of the voice, so far as it is possible, can safely be left to those teachers who aim to soften and polish it.
By taking a few examples from among the many about us and assuming that they represent possible defects and peculiarities of our own, we may arrive at something useful in our Theosophic life.
Here is one who will constantly tell you that several others are always very fond of talking of themselves and their affairs, and appear to take no interest in the conversation unless it has themselves for center. And after thus depicting the failings of the others, this person—man or woman—immediately proceeds to show that that is his own particular fault for from that moment the burden of the conversation is “I” or “my” affairs.
Our next subject is one who talks a great deal about altruism and brotherhood, but would not give a dollar to any good cause. Not perhaps from intentional niggardliness, but from sheer habit of not giving and not helping.
Here is another who exemplifies the prominent defect of the century, inattention. He listens to you, but only hears a part, and then, when repeating what he says he heard you say, he gives a version entirely at variance with yours. Or, listening to an argument or discussion, he only attends to that part which being familiar to him strikes him favorably.
Next we have the bigot who, while exalting freedom of thought and the unity of all men, displays most frightful bigotry.
Then there is another who illustrates a variety of the first to which I referred;—the man who wishes apparently only to impose his own views upon you, and is careless about knowing what your opinions may be.
Now all of these are only samples; but in some degree every one of us has them all, perhaps slightly, but still there. They are all the result of the predominance of the lower self, for they all show a disposition to put the personal I to the front. They are the present triumph of the lower self over the efforts of the higher. They may be abated in some degree by attention to their outer expression, but no real progress will be gained unless work upon the hidden plane is begun. Such a defect as that one of not listening long to another man’s views, but hurrying to tell him what you think yourself, is one that affects the acquiring of new ideas. If you constantly tell others what you think, you are gaining nothing. For your experience and views are your own, well known to you. The repeated expression of them only serves to imprint them more strongly on your mind. You do not receive any of the new lights that other minds might cast upon your philosophy if you gave them the opportunity.
There are other factors in our constitution which are powerful for the production of faults. Every man has two lines of descent. One is that which comes through his parents and has to do with his mental and physical makeup. This line may run back into the most strange and peculiar places, and be found winding in and out among manners and minds not suspected by us. Suppose your physical line of descent comes through Danes or Norwegians and mine through the French. There will be to some extent a want of sympathy and appreciation on the mental plane between us. Of course this effect will not be apparent if the period of time is long since our blood ran in those bodies, but still there will be left some trace of it. There will be a tendency always for the physical, including the brain, to show the characteristics which result from the preponderance of inherited faculties and dispositions. These characteristics belong wholly to the physical plane, and are carried down from the centuries past by inheritance, affecting the particular body you may inhabit in any one incarnation. It is your Karma to have that sort of physical environment about our inner self. Now the obstacles to the perception of truth and to the acquirement of knowledge of self which are in consequence of the physical inheritance, are difficult to perceive, involving much study and self-examination for the bringing them to light. But they are there, and the serious Theosophist will search for them. These differences in the physical body, which we will call for the time differences in inheritance, are of the highest importance. They resemble the differences between telescopes or microscopes made by different opticians, and tend to cause us to see truth clearly or blurred, or surrounded by many-colored mists. What we most desire to have is mental telescope that is not only powerful, but also devoid of the colors which achromatic quality only will dispel.
The second line of descent is that one which belongs purely to the inner man; that is, the psychical line. It is obscure, and, indeed, can only be discovered and defined by an adept or a trained seer whose clairvoyance permits him to see that intangible yet powerful thread which has so much to do with our character. It is just as important as the physical descent, in fact more so, because it has to do with the ever-living man, whereas the physical tenement is selected by or follows upon the actions which the inner man compelled the former body to perform. So it may be altered at any time with ease if we live in obedience to the higher law.
Passing from the broad line of descent in a nation, we find each individual governed also by the family peculiarities and faults, and they are not as easy to define as those that are national, since few men are in possession of any facts sufficient to ascertain the general family tendencies.
Coming down now to ourselves, it is almost axiomatic that each one/s mind acts in a way peculiar to itself. There is a tendency that daily grows stronger after our earlier for the mind to get into a rut, its own rut or mode of looking at things and ideas. This is of great importance. For the man who has freed his mind so that it is capable of easily entering into the methods of other minds is more likely to see truth quicker than he who is fixed in his own ways.
We must then at once constitute ourselves our own critics and adversaries, for it is not often that anyone else is either willing or capable to take that part for us.
Our first step and the most difficult—for some, indeed impossible—is to shock ourselves in such a manner that we may quickly be able to get out of, or rather understand, our own mental methods. I do not mean that we must abandon all our previous training and education, but that we shall so analyze all our mental operations as to know the certainty, to easily perceive, the actual difference in method between ourselves and any other person. This is a thing seldom undertaken or accomplished by men nowadays. Each one is enamored of his own mental habits, and disinclined to admit that any other one can be better. When we have become acquainted with this mental path of ours, we are then in position to see whether in any particular case our view is false.
This is the psychological and metaphysical equivalent of that scientific process which classifies and compares so as to arrive at distinguishing differences in things in order that physical laws may be discovered. For while we remain in ignorance of the method and path of our mind’s actions, there is no way in which we can compare with other minds. We can compare views and opinions, but not the actual mechanics of the thought. We can hear doctrines, but are unable to say whether we accept or reject from right reasoning or because our peculiar slant on the mental plane compels us to ratiocinate wholly in accordance with a mental obliquity acquired by many years of hurried life.
The value of thus understanding our own mental bias to that we can give it up at will and enter into a bias of another’s mind is seen when we consider that each of us is able to perceive but one of many sides which truth presents. If we remain in the rut which is natural, we pass through an entire life viewing nature and the field of thought through but one sort of instrument. But by the other practice we may obtain as many different views of truth as the number of the minds we meet. When another human being brings his thoughts before us, we may not only examine them in our way, but also take his method and, adopting his bias for the time as our own, see just that much more.
It is very easy to illustrate this from ordinary life. The novelist sees in the drawing-rooms of society and the hovels of the poor only the material that may serve as the basis for a new book, while the social schemer drives thought of hovels away and sees in society only the means of gratifying pride and ambition, yet the artist can only think of the play of color and arrangement of figures, the harmony that delights his artistic sense.
The plain man of affairs is not attracted by the complex events of every day which have no relation to his business, whereas the student of Occultism knows that very obscure events point to other things yet in the future. In every stratum of society and every art or profession we constantly have it brought home to us that each man looks at any subject from but one or two standpoints, and when a well-balanced mind is found looking at events and men and thoughts freely from all sides, everyone sees at once a superiority in the person, albeit they may not be able to explain it.
But it is in Theosophic study especially that it is wise for us to constitute ourselves our own critics and to adopt as far as possible the practice of leaving our own mental road and taking up some other. The truth is simple and not so difficult to arrive at if we will follow the advice of the Hindu Upanishad and cut away error. Error grows largely out of notions and preconceptions educated into us by our teachers and our lives.
The influence of these preconceptions is seen every day among those Theosophists who are seeking for more books to read upon Theosophy. Their minds are so full of old notions which are not violently expelled, that truth cannot be easily perceived. But if they read fewer new books and spent more time in re-reading those first attempted, meanwhile studiously endeavoring to enter into all of the author’s thought, much more progress would be gained.
Take, for instance, the Key to Theosophy. It is full of all the main doctrines of the Wisdom-Religion, and of hints towards others. Many persons have read the book and then sought another. They say they have mastered it. Yet if you put to them some questions or listen to their own, it is apparent that only that part of the work which in some way coincides with their own previous training and line of thought has been grasped. Now this is just the part they need not have dwelt upon, because, being like to themselves, it may at any time be understood. But if one will ever stand as one’s own critic, then those parts which seem obscure will be attacked, and, being viewed from all sides, may be soon turned into a possession. And just because such has not been the practice, it has come to be the fact that some extremely valuable presentations of doctrine and philosophy remain buried in earlier Theosophical books and magazines, while those who once read them have gone feverishly on to other works and forgotten that which have enlightened them.
The Theosophist who delights to call himself practical and logical, an abhorrer of mysticism, should try to see what the mystical Theosophist means, and the mystic one should read carefully the words of the practical member to the end that he may counterbalance himself. A wholly practical or entirely mystical mind is not well balanced. And as long as the logical and practical man in our ranks scouts mysticism and never reads it, so long will he remain deformed and unbalanced in the eyes of those who see both sides, because he is wrapped up in ideas and methods that are only right in their own domain. The attitude of mind proposed is not to be observed only toward our literature and the philosophy studied; it is to be that of every hour and applicable to our dealings with our fellow-men. It will lead us to discern the common failings of refusing to consider the thoughts expressed by another because his or her personality is disagreeable to us. Often in our ranks we can find those who never pay any attention to certain other members who they have decided cannot reason properly or talk clearly. Now aside from all considerations of charity and politeness, there is an occult law much lost sight of, and that is that everyone is led insensibly by Karmic law to address others on these topics and to afford an opportunity to the person addressed of taking a leap, so to say, out of his own favorite way, and considering life as seen through the eyes of another. This is often brought about, if we permit it, through the endeavor to control the irritation or dullness caused by the way in which the other person presents the thought in his mind. But if we refuse to use the opportunity, either by absolutely running away or by covering our minds with a hard coat of indifference, the new and bright idea just trembling into the field of our consciousness is thrown back and lost in the dark recesses of the mental plane. Or, taking another view, we may under Karmic law be the one and only person just then fitted to elucidate our brother’s ideas, and we remain still the debtor to him if we do not accept the opportunity. On either hand the result is demerit.
Let us, then, conquer self in the field indicated, and thus turn the inward insidious enemy and deceiver into the friend and guide.