THEOSOPHY, Vol. 42, No. 5, March, 1954
(Pages 219-222; Size: 13K)


[Part 8 of a 29-part series]

THE foregoing article, in repeating H.P.B.'s insistence on the need of the West for a philosophical language, invites reflection upon the paucity of philosophical terms in our dictionary vocabulary. For instance, if one browses through words beginning with "b," he will be hard pressed to find terms of much use to the philosopher. The pages are full of such designations as "bourbon whisky" "bowie knife" and "bordello," but these suggest other than philosophical interests. A slight bow to conventional piety is received by virtue of the inclusion of "boy scout," but even a boy scout is not expected to be, nor helped by Christianity to be, much of a metaphysician. There are, indeed, words having some religious connotation -- but note what they are.

"Belief," earlier discussed, has connotations of value, but in common usage relates chiefly to unphilosophical, sectarian attitudes. Belief has become, in fact, closely related through usage to bias, the adverbial form of which means "obliquely, diagonally; hence, awry." For the philosopher a belief is a projection of his heart's aspiration; for the average Westerner a form of prejudice. The word bigot also appears in close proximity, and here again we see the deterioration of meaning which has resulted from the dogmatic proclivities of Western peoples. Joseph Shipley's Dictionary of Word Origins provides an interesting footnote:

Bigot: This word is suggested as a corruption of the exclamation By God, applied to those that often used it. But it is tangled in its history with the religious orders of the Beguines and the Beghards "and the Bigutts" -- all of them originally terms of derision.
The Beguines -- if the origin of bigot -- seem to have done little to merit this slur, for they were simply "women united in piety," living communal lives, but unattached to orthodox convents. At this point it is difficult to determine whether their contemporaries disliked genuine piety so much that they made the "bigutts" objects of derision, or whether the movement actually exhibited closed-minded views. If bigot derives from By God, we can, however, certainly reason that a saving grace among philosophically impoverished Westerners has been an ability to detect and deprecate excessive closedmindedness -- even if not the personal brand possessed by the critic. How often does "common sense" penetrate the veils of typical cultural delusions, yet recoil, because of a lack of positive philosophical faith, from the strenuous activity involved in turning the critical gaze inward! And, to deride other people's biases or bigotries does not help matters much, unless suggestions along positive lines are offered at the same time, as in the writings of H. P. Blavatsky. James Hastings' Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, by the way, contributes an excellent passage on bigotry:
... denoting the moral characteristic which combines strong will with narrow intelligence in its direction. It appears sometimes in that lack of moral perspective which distinguishes the stickler for trifles, exalting trivial and variable forms into equal rank with the immutable principles of moral and religious life. Sometimes a strong will may grasp tenaciously even a doctrine or line of conduct that is wrong, and then we may have the cruel intolerance of an inquisitor or of the leaders in the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. When a strong will is supported by religious enthusiasm, bigotry is well described as "a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge."
A further scanning of Webster's reveals that the only words under "b" suggesting positive, philosophical conceptions come to us from the East (with the possible exception of "brotherhood," and even here the term often denotes a partisan affiliation -- "as a society of monks; a fraternity, guild, etc.; the whole body of persons engaged in the same business or profession; as, the legal brotherhood"). On page 102 of Webster's New Collegiate edition, we discover a good discussion of a philosophically conceived deity in definition of the word Brahma; "The supreme soul or essence of the universe, immaterial, uncreated, illimitable, timeless [but] often described as being, intelligence, and bliss." Webster's also makes clear that this conception of deity is entirely "neutral," an "impersonal spirit."

A "Brahmin" may be a doctrinaire and presumptuous person, but is supposed to be simply "a highly cultured person; an intellectual," whose refined subtleties of mind enable him to embody the philosophic temperament. The essence of Brahminism is said to consist of "pantheistic conceptions," while the caste system of India may be regarded as a cultural growth of secondary importance, since in any of its rigid forms it has no pantheistic justification.

Here are involved issues pertaining to the various shades of feeling attached to the championing of "intellectualism" or "anti-intellectualism." The original meaning of Brahmin suggests that, rather than distrusting the acute intellect, the man of average mental powers was originally disposed to regard "intellectuals" as rightfully belonging to the highest natural class of society. But when intellectuals became priests, as did the Brahmins, and began to evidence self-gratulation and pride in the possession of special knowledge, there arose a need for revolutionaries like Kapila, who warned against accepting guidance from members of a self-seeking sacerdotal caste. So, today, general respect for "the intellectual" is offset by distrust.

The word Buddha finds encouraging definition in Webster's:

Buddha. The title of an incarnation of self-abnegation, virtue, and wisdom, in the form of a religious teacher of the Buddhists who has been deified, esp. Gautama Siddhartha (563-483 B.C.), founder of Buddhism.
We are not quite sure what is meant by the "deification" of Buddha, since in its purest forms Buddhism recognizes that Gautama was but one of a long line of highly advanced yet entirely human teachers, yet in any case we do have here, quite clearly, a more philosophical definition of an Adept than that provided in respect to Jesus by Christians.

Such dictionary perusal, therefore, effectively highlights the contentions presented by the preceding article "The Waiting Vehicle," and makes less puzzling such sentences as the following:

Sanskrit will one day be again used by man upon this earth, first in science and in metaphysics, and later on in common life. Terms now preserved in that noblest of languages will creep into the literature and press of the day, crop up in reviews, appear in various books and treatises. The language has been enriched by ages of study of metaphysics, for Sanskrit, in the days when it was a living tongue, was also the living vehicle of thought. [Note: For those who might like to read it, once you have finished reading this article, I've placed a link to "The Waiting Vehicle" article, which is "Collated mainly from Theosophical sources", at the end of this one.--Compiler]
Even in such abbreviated volumes as Shipley's we discover that the etymologist must know something of Sanskrit in order to trace many psychological and philosophical terms to their ultimate origins. Thus the "pure" meaning -- and the most useful meaning, from a theosophical point of view -- is often suggested by study of the original Sanskrit word. "Desire," for instance, discussed in an earlier installment of this series, had in Sanskrit a neutral, psychological meaning. Only in the terms provided by Christian theology has "desire" been associated exclusively with "corruptions of the senses," with evil or degradation.

Noting the increasing attention now paid to the teachings of Eastern philosophies and religions by Western psychologists, we may predict that a greater number of Sanskrit terms will find their way into English usage with each decade, and that dictionaries will consequently be enlarged in a manner calculated to encourage a philosophical attitude of mind. We have read numerous elaborations of theory by anthropologists in regard to the growth of the human mind, holding that thought is the creation of language, entirely dependent upon language, and in one sense this contention would certainly seem to be valid. From the perspective of the etymologists, anthropologists and semanticists, an idea which cannot be expressed is no idea at all. That alone is Wisdom which can be communicated. Thus all sectarian utterances merely increase the amount of "bias" and "bigotry," and communicate nothing that widens the vision of man's spiritual brotherhood.

Albert Einstein once wrote that "restricting a body of knowledge to a small group deadens the philosophical spirit of a people and leads to spiritual paucity." Whether referring to the Brahmins, a medieval priesthood, or to a chosen few of atomic scientists, the truth of this statement is historically demonstrable. Whenever one leaves the conduct of affairs to the experts, unless these "experts" be those with whom one can hold daily communion, a situation finally develops in which the average man, apparently quite justifiably, disclaims responsibility for existing conditions. For this condition both the prideful "experts" and the common herd are to blame, though, and while the first group suffers all the results of arrogant isolation, the majority suffer from lack of philosophical terms as well as from the delusion of irresponsibility.

Whenever one discusses Karma or Reincarnation with a friend, he will find himself capable -- if the listener is sufficiently interested -- of endless reasonings and illustrations to bring out the subtle implications of these concepts. But when a theologian defines "doctrine" it is simply "defined," and there is an end to the matter. All of the copious intellectualizations of medieval times proceeded within the limits of arbitrary definitions, and did not encourage the participants to follow out truly original lines of speculation. Every Sanskrit word finding present usage in our own language can, on the other hand, be made a vehicle for original thought.

[Note: Here's the link to the collated article entitled "The Waiting Vehicle", that was mentioned and quoted from in the above article by the Editors.--Compiler]

Next article:
[Cant. Canting. Hypocrisy.
Pretentiousness. Posing. Pride.
Bigotry. Catholicity. Catholic.
Incantation. Chant. Compassion.]
[Part 9 of a 29-part series]

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