[Reprinted from THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT, November 1961.]
With this issue begins a new volume of this monthly devoted to the living of the higher life. For years it has tried to bring some knowledge and inspiration to its readers so that they may learn the art of better living for themselves and of spiritual service of their fellows.
Many are the men and women in the East as in the West who are desirous of changing and improving their own mode of living, of making progress in the higher or spiritual life. Ancient Philosophy teaches that human happiness and human progress are not dependent on social reform, or on religious institutions, any more than on political legislation. These cannot bring about the true inner reform and make a man noble and unselfish. The only true reform is that of the individual by himself, through his own efforts. The higher life begins with thought and ideation, and THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT is dedicated to helping men to think nobly and to awaken those divine intuitions which form the unseen foundations of the human heart.
He who lives for himself stagnates, and so the essence of the higher life is devotion to the interests of others. The aspirant to the spiritual life is told to respond "to every sigh and thought of all that lives and breathes"; and yet he is required to remain cheerful under all circumstances. How this seemingly double role can be played has been a matter of confusion for some.
Ordinary personal sympathy for others' suffering is not true compassion. Compassion is the crown of the spiritual life and the mother of all the virtues. It can never be separated from soul-joy or ananda. Wrong teachings are sometimes given out in the name of Theosophy and these lead to wrong practices. One such practice is pulling "a long face," which some fancy denotes their sympathy with suffering humanity. This has led to the belief that Theosophy envelops people in gloom and forbids joy! The real student has to learn to be cheerful and to radiate the active peace which is joy on all those he contacts. But this is not frivolous hilarity.
This does not mean that he is unresponsive to the cry of woe. The sympathy of the ordinary man is derived very often from the principle of Kama and is therefore emotional. His thrill in response to the suffering of humanity is but a feeling, temporary and short-lived. When it is aroused intensely it overpowers him. For example, great calamites, individual and collective, almost benumb him and imprison his mind to such an extent that he refuses to seek the rasson d'être for the catastrophe or for his own mood. With his mental vision clouded and knowledge absent, the "sympathizer" is left without any intelligent means of rendering help.
This is not the kind of "sympathy" required of a student. True compassion is divine. It wells up like a spring fed by the Higher Self. It grows through a series of lives. It is strengthened by Renunciation of the Perfected Soul. How can we develop this higher sympathy which is compassion?
Gaining some understanding of the laws of Nature, one recognizes that suffering has a purpose and appreciates what is said in The Secret Doctrine:
A comprehension of this teaching produces inner equipoise; if there is real heart comprehension, then sympathy with others' woes is deeply felt, but without the loss of that equipoise. These two, sympathy and equipoise, give birth to wisdom, to the power to judge how to act for the benefit of others. By the light of this wisdom and right judgement the Soul perceives the cause of any particular suffering and then its cure. When this is experienced by an earnest student-practitioner, his passive sympathy has become active and enlightened compassion—the higher feeling. The service prompted by the higher feeling is spiritual service, which is very different from ordinary social and other kinds of service though it may include practical, tangible help; and the joy experienced by the server is also different from and superior to the "high spirits" that people sometimes equate with joy.
Sympathy must therefore always be expressed and help rendered without emotionalism and with proper judgement. It needs to be recognized, for instance, that poverty in itself is not necessarily bad Karma. The want of money is not as great a cause of trouble as the desire for money is. We may help and sympathize with others who have no money; but it should be on account of their failure to see that within themselves is the realization of happiness and that in fact they should not depend upon anything outside for true enjoyment.
The higher sympathy or compassion is also poles apart from namby-pamby toleration of everything in its holy name. Compassion is mistranslated as the wish to avoid giving pain under any circumstance. The surgeon's knife gives pain, but withholding it when needed may be cruelty.
It was not for nothing that H.P.B. stressed knowledge and wisdom, unbiased and clear judgement, side by side with selflessness, earnestness and devotion, as necessary to those on whom the guidance of the Movement would depend. For, the closer the adherence in motive and in conduct to impersonal justice, the nearer the approach to true compassion. One is not possible without the other. Service indiscriminately performed will not save the individual or the world; discriminative service, in the spirit of the compassion which is justice, may.
In rendering service we recognize that we are being served. This unfolds the virtue of gratitude, not only to those who sacrifice on our behalf, but also to those who give us the opportunity to make our own sacrifices. The student has also to learn the graciousness of receiving. Generously giving and graciously and gratefully receiving, he is full of enjoyment and satisfaction.
The spiritual servant of humanity does not seek happiness. Cheerfulness is the natural outcome of spiritual contentment "with whatever cometh to pass." That contentment is not passive resignation to the ills of existence or personal enjoyment of the good things of life, but an active response to both. Thoughtful sympathy is a spiritualizing influence. The attitude of thoughtful sympathy begets insight and courage to cope with all things, including the ills of life, with a cheerful attitude. Rightly has it been said: "He who smiles achieves."