[In this section we seek to answer frequently asked questions, at U.L.T. meetings or during private conversations and discussions with people who seek the answers in the light of Theosophy. Answers given in this section are by no means final. Only a line of thought is being offered by applying general principles of Theosophy.]
Question: People sometimes take advantage of us—unjustly use us, intimidate us, cheat us—if we do not speak out or defend ourselves. Should we, student-seekers, allow others to take us for granted?
Answer: The psychology of the above situation is lucidly expressed by the psychoanalyst, Dr. Erich Fromm, in his book, Man for Himself, by describing character traits of four "personality types." These are: Receptive (dependent and yielding); Exploitative; Hoarding (greedy and possessive) and Marketing (looking upon oneself as a commodity). All these traits are used to manipulate others to one's own advantage! The oppressor as well as the one who "does not speak out" may both have some internal need arising from one of the above character traits.
At a purely worldly level, a few positive steps recommended are: To adopt persuasive means (Sama); offer a compromise or alternative devices or compensation to end rivalry (Dama); to adopt cunning but legitimate strategy (Bheda); and as a last resort, use strong or authoritative but harmless damage-control measures, without loss of balance (Danda).
However, there are a few people in the world—the pure "pacifist"—who can overcome the temperamental weakness, mentioned above; have a strong moral stamina, and are wedded to spiritual discipline. They sincerely believe in the adage: "Blessed are the meek," and heroically prefer to suffer silently than use aggressive or other means of offence and defence against "enemies" who have no scruples.
Generally, we seek to resolve the conflicts by the traditional "rules of the game," worldly wisdom, or through "fight or flight" instinctual response. None of these responses really end the conflict. As the Budha suggests:
Although, on the surface, the issue may appear to be one of claims, rights, justice, cheating, exploitation, etc., largely, beneath it all lurks the "prestige-issue" or egotism! In such a case the student-seeker should subordinate his so-called prestige, his hidden pride, and instead, intelligently seek to resolve the dispute, to the best of his ability. To "give-in" in an argument is not a mark of weakness, as one is doing it to improve human relationships.
On the moral ground, the answer is simple and straightforward, if we accept that as student-seekers, we have chosen to live the life of probity, devotion and service, and sincerely wish to preserve peace in the world—beginning with our own consciousness. Peace or Kshanti is a transcendental virtue and naturally calls for a certain amount of sacrifice.
The ideal response is one recommended by the great heroic soul, Mr. Judge: "To forgive, forgive and largely forget"; to "let go" in order to preserve peace even at a cost of personal sacrifice; firmly "holding the reins" and allowing the divine will to take charge. The course of action enunciated by Mr. Judge is worth emulating, although it may appear cowardly to modern man. Mr. Judge advises:
Not all of us may be ready yet to put it into practice, but all can keep it at the back of the mind and inwardly allow one's actions to be guided by it, to the extent possible. Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita mentions "the gentle but fierce Krishna." Traditions speak of merciful but terrible Durga when confronting real hostile "asuric" powers. If Karma draws us into the battlefield, like Arjuna, in defence of Truth (honour), and not just for personal advantage or pride, let us be considerate but brave warriors.
Question: Is it possible for man to achieve liberation in his present physical life? What are man's limitations to shed the fetters of lower worlds?
Answer: Theosophy teaches that Liberation or Moksha is not the highest goal of spiritual life. Our motive must be to achieve liberation from the chain of births and deaths, reach perfection, and renounce the peace and bliss of Nirvana in order to help other suffering beings. This is described as the Path of Renunciation. In this sense, is it possible to achieve liberation? Yes, certainly. What a man has done, others too can do. We have shining examples of Buddha, Shankaracharya, Jesus, Mahavira and many more. Perfectibility is inherent in man, teaches Theosophy. Man is not born in sin. We are like a king asleep, and dreaming that he is a beggar. He only has to wake up to re-become the king that he is, in reality.
To become liberated is to become karmaless. As the Bhagavad-Gita says, we are all the time acting. And every action must bring its result, good, bad or indifferent, depending on the nature of action, the motive behind the action and the inner state of the man. All our actions have a motive and a sense of "doership." "All actions performed other than as sacrifice unto God make the actor bound by action" (Gita, III). Naturally, then, results must come back to us—the centre of action. It is just like a stone thrown into a pond which causes ripples that reach out to the shores and return back to the centre of disturbance, going back and forth, again and again, till equilibrium is established. To become liberated is to so act as to offer no individual focus to which results can come back. As Shri Krishna advises:
This discipline is the line of life's meditation. It is said that even Buddha, before he was born as Prince Siddhartha, in one of his prior lives was only a sweeper. But when as a sweeper he saw a Tathagata—Buddha Deepankara—he was impressed by his calm and compassionate appearance and decided to emulate the Tathagata. After that it took him the effort of many lifetimes to become a Buddha. The Voice of the Silence explains that in one's spiritual development, after reaching a stage called Srotapatti, it takes seven lifetimes to reach Nirvana. Thus:
What we call "fetters of the lower world" are the chains of gold [to us] which we have with our own hands placed on our feet and are now unwilling and unable to throw off. We are like the foetus, cozy, content and happy to be in the mother's womb, now wanting to emerge from this world to some unknown "real world" outside. But let us take courage that there are far fewer still-borns as compared to living, kicking millions in the world. There is that stuff in us that encourages us to march on.
"A lay chela is but a man of the world who affirms his desire to become wise in spiritual things," says H.P.B. (Raja-Yoga or Occultism). But he does not become one, overnight. There is a vast store of unexpended karma or past actions that need to be liquidated. It may take us one, seven or several lifetimes, and that depends on our Karmic stamina. As Mr. Judge explains:
Thus the disciple moves on, passing test after test, meeting many trials, now failing and now victorious, but never giving up until the final goal is reached.