Trails of doubt

THEOSOPHY, Vol. 14, No. 5, March, 1926
(Pages 207-209; Size: 9K)
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IT is conceivable that a being from other spheres -- perhaps the conventional Martian -- might arrive in the midst of our civilization, skeptical of all our religions, philosophies, and sciences; skeptical, but open-minded to their consideration as avenues to knowledge. In what spirit would such a being approach, for instance, the study of chemistry? There would be two possible attitudes: one to test out the accessible portions of the new system, and by that judge whether or not the rest were good; the other, to proceed step by step with endless skepticism, convinced by force, as it were, at every stage; and unbelieving of everything which lay beyond the range of personal experiment. In course of time, he who followed the latter path would find himself at the end of life, within a small lighted area of personally proven certainties -- a lighted area rendering only more opaque the darkness of the unknown beyond; unknown, because the investigator has feared to step outside the narrow circle embraced by the reach of his own arms. To the earth-born practitioner of the science, this attitude would be ludicrously cramped and timid; fruitless likewise. The comparison is hypothetical in form, but eminently practical in bearing, for with regard to the ancient Theosophic Science, the Occidental stands in precisely the position of our visitor from Mars.

Many understand that there is something more in Theosophy than a "new religion"; that it has, in short, a visible and comprehensive relation to the facts of life and of nature; and that it covers, in some of its phases, much of the ground investigated by modern science. Martian-like, they place Theosophy on trial, not at the bar of their own experience -- usually of small range -- but before that of "modern science" as a whole. They balance its doctrines against the theories of scientists -- and forget that more is at stake than theory. There is the relative validity of two totally different methods of obtaining knowledge. A hypothesis cannot stand alone. It is the lineal descendent of the method used in elucidating it. Obsessed by the modern scientific method of analysis and separation, they endeavor to apply it to the teachings of Theosophy, which have but little meaning except in their complete form. A piece-meal Theosophy can no more be considered Theosophy than can a series of disconnected links be regarded as a chain. It is Theosophy as a coherent body of knowledge which has to be tried, and any lesser process is about as judicial as trying the right hand of a thief for larceny. Yet the scientific -- rather, pseudo-scientific -- method is exactly to dismember the philosophy and test it piece-meal. True, every segment meets the test if time enough be given; but in the very nature of things, if scientific doctrines are to be made the criterion of the Theosophical, the utmost which can be gained in Knowledge is at best simply the limit of verification attainable by those sciences. All else must remain a pale hypothesis which would move no sensible man to a change of course. What self-centered man ever made himself a martyr for truth and humanity as a result of reading Einstein's equations or the putative genealogy of Homo Neanderthalensis?

The metaphysics of Theosophy are infinitely more important than its physics; but these metaphysics are beyond the reach of intellectual proof; and by no possible process can a hopeful aspirant find himself upon a verified spiritual path through material correlation and experiment. He has to test in making, and make in testing, that path for himself, guided only by the transcendental light which shines through the deep embrasures of the half-revealed doctrine.

It is inevitable that those who timorously rely upon the scientific way walk forever on shifting sands. Physical science is wholly experimental, therefore essentially changeable. Making it the test of a doctrine which never changes, one can but find himself bound on an ever-rolling wheel -- believing this, rejecting that -- believing that, rejecting this by turns; and future cycles will bring no greater certainty. The tendency set up will only react with the environment of every successive reincarnation, and the knowledge attained in each will be but that of the masses, ruled by times and cycles -- a knowledge ranging from voodooism to the most refined intellectuality, and back again, with the ebb and flow of the human tide.

Fear of "authority," fear of public opinion, fear of risking belief in something which may be found untrue, instinctive dread of acquiring too positive convictions which may call for self-sacrificing action: such are the tamasic snares which bind the feet of men in this path. It is not the path of certainty in the doctrine; it is not the path which leads to action both wise and devoted; it is not the "small old path which leads far away." That path may be approached by this, but the leap from one to the other is not made by any amount of treading on the circle of doubt.

The way of the true student is to test philosophy against philosophy, method against method, with patience and care and obedience to the best ethical light within his own soul; to compare as systems, the methods of science, religion, Theosophy. The weights for the balance are all there. It is merely a matter of labor to determine which system tips the beam against the greatest weight of visible fact; and then sooner or later must come the time for the neophyte to "put fortune to the test, to win or lose it all." Risk? Yes, from the standpoint of the timid skeptic, risk of all, indeed; not only risk of believing in a doctrine which may not stand the test of time -- so the skeptic thinks -- but also risk of standing under the mocking jeers of vindicated orthodoxies, if the doctrine be wrong; not risk, but certainty, of long periods of misunderstanding, laughter, and contempt, from those orthodoxies whose fallacies have not yet become apparent; risk, if the doctrine be wrong, of staking material happiness and worldly welfare upon a "diseased imagination"; risk, if the doctrine be wrong, of substituting for the solid lures of physical enjoyment, a spiritual future which may prove but an empty hope.

What motive, therefore, can lead men to abandon all the seeming securities of conventional thought, in order to plunge into a subterranean river, upon the off-chance of emerging at some undetermined point in the midst of greener fields under a brighter sun? The continued and eternal reassurances of the Masters of Wisdom, Those who fearlessly took that plunge in ages past, are conducive factors, but not moving causes.

The true cause is the presence of That within, whose hidden knowledge and buried memories forever gravitate towards another state of ideals than that which rules human action; toward a destiny hidden from the masses of mankind. It is useless to speak to those in whom the leaven of the Hidden Self has not yet worked to the surface of diurnal life. To do so is to court laughter as a foolish dreamer and sentimentalist, or a devotee of blind faith, if not worse.

How shall the man of doubtful mind be known from the determined aspirant to knowledge? The doubtful man argues, the determined asks; the doubtful man reads, the determined studies; the doubtful compares theories, the determined compares facts; the doubtful man sinks shallow prospect holes in every accessible location, while the determined mines for the hidden ore in a single shaft; the doubtful man talks, endlessly, the determined acts, continuously. The doubtful man seeks the solution of intellectual puzzles, while the determined is intent on the problem of helping others.