THEOSOPHY, Vol. 41, No. 11, September, 1953
(Pages 489-492; Size: 12K)


[Part 2 of a 29-part series]

OF the terms expressing religious ideas, more than half, it seems, have acquired "double" or contradictory definitions. This is most easily illustrated by the word religion itself, which connotes both "to bind together," as in a brotherhood, and to "bind fast" -- to force, or hold by compulsion.

Even the words meant to be employed only in the description of doctrinal abstractions often lead the mind in opposite directions. Take, for instance, "Absolute." The metaphysical definition of "absolute reality," as contained in Webster's, we note, indicates why H.P.B. uses the term so frequently in suggesting what is meant by the first fundamental proposition of The Secret Doctrine. Webster says this of "absolute reality":

Ultimate reality as it is in itself, sometimes conceived as unknowable, as by Kant and Herbert Spencer, sometimes as containing nothing which cannot be known, as by Hegel, but always as unaffected by the perception or knowledge of any finite being.
The Latin root of Absolute is that from which "absolve" also comes, and is meant to indicate that which is freed or disengaged from any particular involvement. This meaning is carried by the usage of absolute in the field of grammar, in the discipline of logic, in the science of physics and in the contemplation of philosophy -- but we also discover that synonyms for absolute are given as "arbitrary, peremptory, categorical, downright and unconditional." Now, how did a word originally meant to suggest "beyond the range and reach of human thought" come so often to stand for the rigid categories of doctrinal assertion? It has been the religionists presumably concerned with speaking to the "Absolute Mind" who have insisted upon the acceptance of predetermined conclusions in all speculative fields. Yet, it is free thought, actually, which is "absolute," and those who truly know what "free thought" is never claim possession of ultimate knowledge.

Thus, H.P.B., while using "Absolute" in its pure sense, is careful to make clear that there is no such thing as absolute truth, so far as the human mind is concerned. Her article "What Is Truth?" begins with the question put by Pontius Pilate to Jesus, and H.P.B. points out the significance of Christ's disinclination to answer. "The truth which he did not divulge," she writes, moreover, "remained unrevealed, for his later followers as much as for the Roman Governor."

The silence of Jesus, however, on this and other occasions, does not prevent his present followers from acting as though they had received the ultimate and absolute Truth itself; and from ignoring the fact that only such Words of Wisdom had been given to them as contained a share of the truth, itself concealed in parables and dark, though beautiful, sayings.

This policy led gradually to dogmatism and assertion. Dogmatism in churches, dogmatism in science, dogmatism everywhere. The possible truths, hazily perceived in the world of abstraction, like those inferred from observation and experiment in the world of matter, are forced upon the profane multitudes, too busy to think for themselves, under the form of Divine revelation and Scientific authority. But the same question stands open from the days of Socrates and Pilate down to our own age of wholesale negation: is there such a thing as absolute truth in the hands of any one party or man? Reason answers, "there cannot be." There is no room for absolute truth upon any subject whatsoever, in a world as finite and conditioned as man is himself. [Note: For those who might like to read it, once you have finished reading this article, I've placed a link to HPB's "What is Truth?" article at the end of this one.--Compiler]

Turning again to Joseph Shipley's Dictionary of Word Origins, quoted last month in the first article of this series, we see another emergence of dual meaning for "absolute." Shipley explains:
If you are absolved you are set free (from sin and guilt, in church use), from L. absolvere, absolut--, from ab, from, + solvere, solut--, to loosen. But if you are loose, free from ties, you are acting wholly by yourself; hence the sense of absolute monarchy and the like. The solution of a problem is that which loosens it -- especially if it be a knotty one; then of course you have solved it. Chemical solution is aphetic for dissolution, a loosening apart (L. dis, away, apart); the verb still retains the full form, dissolve.
Do we see how many intriguing issues are here involved? There are, quite evidently, two kinds of freedom for man, and, as has so often been pointed out, these may be described as "license," or freedom from all restraint, and that higher freedom which means full maturity and self-reliance. When "acting wholly by yourself," you are a despot. This is no genuine form of self-reliance, but simply a vainglorious declaration that you are not accountable to anyone for motives and actions.

The Church doctrine of absolution was the poorest of substitutes for the necessary absolution from authority which must be attempted by the self-governed sage. The Church proposed to extract from a man, and for a price, his sense of wrong-doing. But if it be recognized that at the heart of the sense of wrong-doing is the "still small voice of spiritual consciousness" -- the conscience -- man absolved by the Church is man emasculated. The dissolution of guilt can only take place by internal absolution, never by a pouring on of water from above. Man must not be prevented from wrestling with awareness of his own trust as a moral agent. Thus, dissolution becomes a much more appropriate term for describing what the Church called absolution. And Man's conscience, watered by tepid theological showers which dilute his sense of individual wrong-doing, gradually softens and loses its natural resilience.

Turning from scholarly considerations to the world of affairs, we find that in political history the polar opposites of temperament and proclivity are described as "anarchistic" and "totalitarian." What truth is the anarchist seeking to represent? This depends, of course, upon what sort of anarchist is meant. To some degree, however, anarchism has correctly represented itself as an idealistic philosophy, and devotees who so conceive it have claimed there is an ultimate moral necessity in learning to live beyond externally imposed restraints. However distorted an anarchist's methods and doctrines may have been, the fact remains that the anarchists have sometimes glimpsed a partial vision of man's absolute nature -- that he needs no commandments, no doctrines, no coercion to encourage growth into his full stature. The strength and the glory of the anarchist is that whatever else he may become, no matter how many subversions of government and authority he may plan or carry out, he is at least not an oppressive moralist. He does not condemn his fellow human beings, but only certain patterns of action -- mostly the stereotyped ones -- which, he claims, keep people from being fully themselves.

The totalitarian, on the other hand, whether political or religious, is the living embodiment of moralizing and condemnatory tendencies; i.e., people should see this, do that, believe in this and no other truth. Therefore, for "their" own good, conformity will be sought through any means likely to prove effective. There are many more devotees of totalitarian psychology among us than we are likely to realize. For instance, the modern advertising executive, whether he knows it or not, often turns "absolutist" in this sense. That is, he applies a formula designed to activate the emotional and mental impulses of men in a predetermined direction. Men who have become accustomed to the essentially conscienceless life of arbitrary religious commandments are thus easily bilked by advertising propaganda. It is not hard, in other words, to become "bound fast" to the habit of thinking and responding in patterns.

H.P.B.'s provocative remarks about the final struggle which may be expected to take place between the principles of Theosophy and the principles of Jesuitism have obvious pertinence, here. Is it not possible that this is an equivalent of saying that, with the coming to the human race of more complete moral responsibility, all will have to choose between the two definitions of "absolute" here briefly discussed, after understanding all the concomitants and associations these oppositely oriented meanings invoke?

Since H. P. Blavatsky uses both "absolute" and the word abstract in development of her first fundamental proposition of Theosophy, we might also give some attention to this latter term. In the first place, "abstract," like "absolute," has acquired a few derogatory connotations, especially in colloquial usage. To abstract means "to draw away from" -- the opposite of "drawing toward," but does not mean that whenever thought moves into abstract realms, it escapes from reality. To "draw away" from the physical may also mean drawing closer to a realm of perceptions which gives increased meaning to physical experience.

Our most valuable and self-correcting insights come from acquiring new perspectives, and new perspectives come only when we relinquish older frames of reference. We are, for instance, forever involved in "motion" -- the motion of that principle of desire signified in Sanskrit by "kama-manas." The perception of abstract motion, on the other hand, is an awareness that the whole of existence is a vast "turba" from the standpoint of matter, while from another perspective motion represents necessary ingredients of universal striving. The first thing to be learned from a study of genuine psychology, Eastern or Western, then, is that all men are the same in kind, differing only to the degree they are aware of and able to control their own "turbulence."

We are thus members of a universal brotherhood in two ways: first, we share chaotic motion with all animate life; but, second, as mind beings, we also share a capacity for inducing centripetal motion. The latter capacity, when fully developed, becomes the stability of the sage.

[Note: Here's the link to HPB's article, entitled "What is Truth?", that was mentioned and quoted from in the above article by the Editors.--Compiler]

Next article:
[Academy. Academic. Academia.
Academician. Agnostic.]
[Part 3 of a 29-part series]

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