Monday, 28 January 2019

Theosophy Basics: Principles of Action and Work

1- Actions speak louder than words.
But no Theosophist has the right to this name, unless he is thoroughly imbued with the correctness of Carlyle's truism: "The end of man is an action and not a thought, though it were the noblest" — and unless he sets and models his daily life upon this truth. The profession of a truth is not yet the enactment of it; and the more beautiful and grand it sounds, the more loudly virtue or duty is talked about instead of being acted upon, the more forcibly it will always remind one of the Dead Sea fruit.(Key 230)

2- Modest concrete actions are better than sophisticated theories with no application.
However insignificant, and however limited the line of good deeds, the latter will have always more weight than empty and vainglorious talk, and will be theosophy whereas theories without any practical realisation are at best philosophy. [...]Therefore, when we are told that "the question for consideration is not whether the Theosophical Society is doing good, but whether it is doing that kind of good which is entitled to the name of Theosophy" -- we turn round and ask: And who is to be the judge in this mooted question? We have heard of one of the greatest Theosophists who ever lived, who assured his audience that whosoever gave a cup of cold water to a little one in his (Theosophy's) name, would have a greater reward than all the learned Scribes and Pharisees.

[The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society, Ostende, October 3, 1886]

3- Unwise activity is better than none at all.
Better unwise activity, than an overdose of too wise inactivity, apathy or indifference which are always the death of an undertaking.

[The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society, Ostende, October 3, 1886]

4- Working together in a spirit of unity and cooperation is essential.
Let the encouragement we draw from a survey of the results accomplished in the year that has fled serve to spur us on to greater efforts and more strenuous exertions. Let it make all feel that there is a power behind the Society which will give us the strength we need, which will enable us to move the world, if we will but UNITE and WORK as one mind, one heart. The Masters require only that each shall do his best, and, above all, that each shall strive in reality to feel himself one with his fellow-workers. 
It is not a dull agreement on intellectual questions, or an impossible unanimity as to all details of work, that is needed; but a true, hearty, earnest devotion to our cause which will lead each to help his brother to the utmost of his power to work for that cause, whether or not we agree as to the exact method of carrying on that work. The only man who is absolutely wrong in his method is the one who does nothing; each can and should cooperate with all and all with each in a large-hearted spirit of comradeship to forward the work of bringing Theosophy home to every man and woman in the country. (Letter II — 1889 - Third Annual Convention — April 28-29)

5- Theosophical work is based on fraternal, sympathetic collective cooperation.
Theosophy teaches mutual-culture before self-culture to begin with. Union is strength. It is by gathering many theosophists of the same way of thinking into one or more groups, and making them closely united by the same magnetic bond of fraternal unity and sympathy that the objects of mutual development and progress in Theosophical thought may be best achieved.
[The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society, Ostende, October 3, 1886]

6-Participating unselfishly in work for the good of others is advocated.
Though free to pursue whatever intellectual occupation pleases him the best, each member of our Society must, however, furnish some reason for belonging thereto, which amounts to saying that each member must contribute his part, small though it be, in mental or other labour for the benefit of all. If he does not work for others, he has no reason for being a Theosophist. THE NEW CYCLE [La Revue Theosophique, Paris, Vol.  I, No.  I, March 21, 1889, pp. 3-13]

7- Besides study and research, one is encouraged to participate in practical theosophical work.
Every lay member is entitled to general instruction if he only wants it; but few are willing to become what is called "working members," and most prefer to remain the drones of Theosophy. Let it be understood that private research is encouraged in the T. S., provided it does not infringe the limit which separates the exoteric from the esoteric, the blind from the conscious magic. (Key 24)

8- For doing good works, knowledge is required; a double activity of doing and learning is necessary.
None know more keenly and definitely than they that good works are necessary; only these cannot be rightly accomplished without knowledge. Schemes for Universal Brotherhood, and the redemption of mankind, might be given out plentifully by the great adepts of life, and would be mere dead-letter utterances while individuals remain ignorant, and unable to grasp the great meaning of their teachers. To Theosophists we say, let us carry out the rules given us for our society before we ask for any further schemes or laws. To the public and our critics we say, try to understand the value of good works before you demand them of others, or enter upon them rashly yourselves. Yet it is an absolute fact that without good works the spirit of brotherhood would die in the world; and this can never be. Therefore is the double activity of learning and doing most necessary; we have to do good, and we have to do it rightly, with knowledge.
("LET EVERY MAN PROVE HIS OWN WORK" Lucifer, Vol. I, Np. 3, November, 1887, pp. 161-169)

9- Wisdom is important in determining how to help others.
But, in recognising this, he also makes another discovery. He sees that it takes a very wise man to do good works without danger of doing incalculable harm. A highly developed adept in life may grasp the nettle, and by his great intuitive powers, know whom to relieve from pain and whom to leave in the mire that is their best teacher. The poor and wretched themselves will tell anyone who is able to win their confidence what disastrous mistakes are made by those who come from a different class and endeavour to help them.
("LET EVERY MAN PROVE HIS OWN WORK" Lucifer, Vol. I, Np. 3, November, 1887, pp. 161-169)

10- Studying, learning, and spreading Theosophy is fundamental; setting an example is the most important.
ENQUIRER. How do you expect the Fellows of your Society to help in the work?
THEOSOPHIST. First by studying and comprehending the theosophical doctrines, so that they may teach others, especially the young people. Secondly, by taking every opportunity of talking to others and explaining to them what Theosophy is, and what it is not; by removing misconceptions and spreading an interest in the subject. Thirdly, by assisting in circulating our literature, by buying books when they have the means, by lending and giving them and by inducing their friends to do so. Fourthly, by defending the Society from the unjust aspersions cast upon it, by every legitimate device in their power. Fifth, and most important of all, by the example of their own lives. (Key 248-49-12)

11- Theosophical work is aimed encouraging free, enlightened thinking and overcoming dogmas and superstitions.
All of us must work for the liberation of human thought, for the elimination of selfish and sectarian superstitions, and for the discovery of all the truths that are within the reach of the human mind. This goal cannot be attained with greater certainty than through the culture of solidarity on the plane of mental work. No honest worker, no serious seeker, has ever returned therefrom empty-handed; and there are hardly any men or women, however busy they may be thought to be, unable to lay their moral or pecuniary mite on the altar of Truth. (THE NEW CYCLE [La Revue Theosophique, Paris, Vol.  I, No.  I, March 21, 1889, pp. 3-13])

12- Theosophical work strives to reduce social strife and discord.
After all, every wish and thought I can utter are summed up in this one sentence, the never dormant wish of my heart, "Be Theosophists, Work for Theosophy!" Theosophy first, and Theosophy last; for its practical realization alone can save the Western World from that selfish and unbrotherly feeling that now divides race from race, one nation from the other, and from that hatred of class and [from] social strifes, that are the curse and disgrace of so-called Christian peoples.(Letter IV — 1891 -  Fifth Annual Convention — April 26-27)

Monday, 21 January 2019

Charles Taylor - The Challenge of Regressive Democracy

Charles Taylor - The Challenge of Regressive Democracy
McGill University Beatty Memorial Lecture    October 12, 2017 

Taylor is McGill University Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Philosophy.  Born in Montreal in 1931, Taylor earned a B.A. in history from McGill and as a Rhodes Scholar studied political science, philosophy and economics at Oxford University where he obtained a Ph.D. in 1961 under Isaiah Berlin. Taylor has taught in numerous institutions and has written 20 books, including Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (1989), The Ethics of Authenticity (1992),  and A Secular Age (2007) His research focuses on modernity, pluralism, multiculturalism, the question of identity, secularism, and language.  Taylor is the author of a now classic essay “The Politics of Recognition” (1992), and in 2007 Canadian Premier Jean-Charest appointed Taylor and the sociologist Gérard Bouchard to Co-Chair a one-year Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d’accommodements reliées aux différences culturelles to study and explore the widespread, highly charged debate centering on the social accommodation of religious and cultural minorities in Québec. The commission published its 300-page report in 2008.

Abridged Transcript - The Struggle for Democracy: Three Vulnerabilities to Regression
The Escalator View of Democracy is an Illusion

In the last century, we’ve had moments when we really believed in this, when this seemed to be plausible. I’m thinking of 1919 at the end of the First World War, the war to protect democracy or to defend democracy. 1945 – after 1945 various decolonization movements in the various European empires also encouraged this thought. More recently, in 1989, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of communist regimes really gave it a fresh impetus, and it looked in the 1990s that “We’re on a roll!”  And it didn’t happen. On the contrary, we’re in a rather grim situation today. I think we have to recognize that this hope – let’s call it the escalator view that somehow things are moving that way – is really an illusion.    So, democracy is not an escalator going up. Democracy is a perpetual struggle to maybe keep what we have and maybe advance a few more inches and not suffer retreat.
1- The Drift Towards Elite Control
So, the first one of these I want to talk about is democracy can begin to lose its quality as democracy if we drift towards elite control or, to put it in other terms, if the non-elites play less and less of a role in society. Non-elites. Well, that’s of course translated into Greek, demos. What the Greeks meant by the demos was not the whole population, but the non-elites of the society. So, to keep ourselves from being confused we have to see there are two meanings of democracy.  In one, when legally and by the established law and so on, power, the ultimate power to elect, is in the hands of the whole people, as against aristocratic, oligarchic or dictatorial rule. .  
 But, in another sense, the notion of a demos comes in and people can ask the question, “Well, are the non-elites really playing the role that they ought to be playing? Do they have their share of power which goes with their numbers?”  There, as against the first concept of democracy which is pretty well an on-off – either the laws give the vote to everybody or there’s some mode of control from on top. You can say, “This country is a democracy. That country isn’t.”  Among the countries we think of as democracies in that sense, there are big issues arising as to the degree of elite control. This is something which can never be resolved once and for all.

In the early 19th century, in America, property and commercial success is what made you part of the elite. Then there were movements, the Jacksonian rebellion and so on, in which there was a push-back against this. But then the economy changes and we get an economy based on large industry, large corporations, robber barons, and we get a situation of great inequality arising. Then, in the 20th century in the ‘30s and the aftermath of the Second World War, there’s a push-back against this overwhelming power, and we have trade unions and social democratic governments and so on. Then, after 1970, we find ourselves slipping back again. One of the indices of this is that the distance between the rich and poor becomes greater and greater. We get the power of finance playing a role.

So, there isn’t a lever B, a final resolution of the problem of equal distribution of power. What there is – and that I think is very important – is a sense people have of what the direction is. Are we moving towards – in this sense of an equal distribution of power – a more democratic society? Or are we being pushed away from it?  It’s very clear that in the 30 years after the Second World War, what the French call Les Trente Glorieuses, the years of great prosperity after the war and of various gains of popular legislation, welfare state and so on, people had a sense that we’re moving towards [democracy]. [But] since 1975, 1980, the sense is very powerful that we’re sliding away.

The Loss of a Sense of Citizen Efficacy
This sense of citizen efficacy has been slipping, and this kind of move can have a self-feeding quality. That is, if people feel they can’t really do anything serious in politics, they will both tune out more and more and, in many cases, stop voting.  So, we see a steady direction in all western European democracies, since roughly the ‘70s or ‘80s, for a lesser participation in the vote. Up and down, but the general trend is clear.  But, of course, that enhances the imbalance of power. That – the non-voting of a large part of the demos – gives greater power to those who are in the elites. 
  Then the tuning politics out in general gives a much greater power to money because you need money to reach people through television and so on and then, again, the imbalance of power gets intensified. So, we have here a real danger. It’s not something that can just be easily reversed. It’s a trend towards degeneration, the lowering of democratic morale which can feed on itself.

2- Membership: A Narrowing Definition of the People
The second one is the notion of the plebs, of the people, in the sense of the demos, is captured by a restricted definition of who the people really are. So, we get a discrimination between the real people and certain others in the population who are really outsiders and don’t belong to the real people. That’s of course what we see today in contemporary populism – almost everywhere in the western world, that kind of development of a narrowing definition of the people to the real people, to the core.
And it happens for various reasons. An important part of many western societies has been immigration. Particularly in European societies that weren’t used to immigration, and therefore there can be this reaction: “They’re not really part of us. They don’t really belong to our culture.” And to some extent in Québec we’ve got something similar.  But I think we have to see that that flip, that move toward a kind of nativist outlook is, in a sense, built into modern democracy for a reason I don’t think we adequately focus on normally.

Democratic Societies Require a Common Bond/Identity
That is, democratic societies are a peculiar kind of society. They require a very strong sense of common identity. We are linked together because we have important common moral beliefs about democracy and so on; and, because we have a history together of forging and upholding these democratic principles. There’s usually a sense of identity, a level of principle and a level of identification of us as a particular project – an American project, a French project – of realizing democracy. Now that is essential. You couldn’t have a democracy without a very strongly felt common bond. Just look at places where it doesn’t exist. The attempt to get a vibrant democratic life with elections in the European Union has not got off the ground because there isn’t a European people, there isn’t a people who identify primarily, and have a strong identification, with that whole. 
Or there can be societies which are split as was threatened in the case with Canada between two segments. One segment was French and many people were saying, “We don’t belong. We’re not really respected. We’re not part of this.” So, we had a great movement for independence in Québec.

Moreover, democratic societies really require a certain amount of solidarity and help, that those in a good situation give to those in a bad situation. Even in the United States, where I suppose the sense of solidarity is the weakest of any western society, it has – when you get these huge catastrophes, hurricanes and so on – the sense that we should help each other.  But most of all, democratic societies need to generate trust in the sense that I can trust all of you that, when we’re deliberating together to think about the general good, you’re including me, and not simply you.  So, it’s very important to have this emotionally powerful sense of the people as the whole people. But that emotionally powerful feeling can easily slip into being the people are the original people, the real people or the people who are originally here.

Conceptions of Inherent Hierarchy
Or, they can be infected by – this is something very hard to pick up on but I think it’s eminently working – conceptions of inherent hierarchy or precedence. Take the fact – extraordinary to our children – that in the whole development of democracy, male universal suffrage came well before the extension to women, and in a very conflictual way at different times and in different places. Only very recently in the Swiss cantons and only in 1940 in Québec and so on.

Because there’s an inherent hierarchical sense that the real operative agent in the family is the man. That hierarchical sense somehow just, as women say today,  blinded people to the fact that democracy, as manhood suffrage, was incomplete.  But you can see how other notions of hierarchy, or precedence, operating today, like very powerful notions in the United States, which you see being exploited by Trump and that movement. It’s a very subtle notion of hierarchy. It’s a notion of precedence that certain people need to be served first. Natives rather than people who just arrived. In the South, whites as against blacks. Still, for many people, men as against women. Original Americans, etc., original Anglo-Saxons, Scotch-Irish Americans versus others, and so on.

So, when these begin to play a role, the basis for the very thing democracy thrives on – which is a strong sense of common identity – gets captured and narrowed, and becomes something destroying it from within by dividing people. So, put these two things together, which is what we’re living with today. That is, the neglect of non-elite power, and the lessening of non-elite power, and the sense of dissatisfaction arising from the lack of felt citizen efficacy, on the one hand; and, on the other, the sliding of the sense of who is lacking in efficacy, who is the demos, into a narrower confine. And you get the basis for the kind of mobilization Marine Le Pen pulled off in France, Trump pulled off in the United States and in Holland.
3- Misinterpreting Majority Rule
So, let me mention a third one, the third mode of decline. It’s when democracy gets misinterpreted as majority rule. You can see this can arise easily along the second slide. If you’re thinking of the people as this group and then you think that this group, which is the demos which must be ruling, then there’s no need to think of negotiation or discussion or sawing off certain differences with the rest of the society that isn’t really belonging to the people. So, the successful democracy gets reinterpreted as majority rule in the sense that this majority movement is now in power. But the others are not treated as fellow citizens, as people you have to negotiate with. An obvious manifestation of this is a decline in civic language where you get extreme language, branding people as enemies, they can’t be talked to, and so on.

Now, in a sense, you’re seeing in the West a kind of perfect storm, if I could put it that way, in which these three kinds of degeneration are, as it were, working together. Certainly, the sense of loss of citizen efficacy is feeding the various modes of populism that is defining the populists as narrow. That, in turn, is feeding the idea that what we’re dealing with here is enemies, outsiders, so what we need is the people to rule, and for them to ride roughshod over these outsiders. Whereas a real democracy, in the proper sense, is a deliberative community in which we nourish the sense of mutual recognition that can allow for a real discussion in which people respect each other and so on and can arrive at some kind of general conclusion, for the moment – a conclusion that may be determined by the majority, but it is understood that the discussion goes on with these other people. They aren’t enemies. They are people who have temporarily lost the battle.

What Are We Going to Do About the Triple Slide?

The first is we have to look at what produced the discontent on the economic level in places like the Rust Belt or various parts of England that voted for Brexit, and so on. The Rust Belt is perhaps the major factor here. Parts of the French working class that rolled over from communism to support Le Pen are precisely from areas that are de-industrializing.

We may have to look at something much more radical. I don’t mean in the sense of rallying people on the barricades. But much bigger changes than we have thought of before. Is it going to be possible -- in an age of globalization and extreme automation -- to insure self-respecting jobs for everybody without changing very considerably the way we remunerate work, the way we can help to support voluntary work, the way in which communities can determine their own needs and set up programs of contribution, [volunteerism and preservation] which are funded from the center but which are not necessarily paid work?

The second very important feature of any real solution is the recreation of a sense of deliberative community, which requires working seriously on our public sphere – the sphere in which we discuss with each other, exchange ideas, and exchange propositions and so on.  The public sphere is really in a very sick condition for two reasons, which we all recognize. One is that we no longer have media that are read and contributed to by the whole spectrum. We have media now which constitute kinds of echo chambers, Fox News against MSNBC, etc., where like-minded people get their information, get their opinions and so on – and never hear what happens elsewhere.

 Well, if you believe in the escalator it sounds devastating. If you cease believing in the escalator -- things are automatically going up – it could even be exhilarating. Because these are things that can be fought against, you can fight back against. And in some cases, as in the Macron election, it can be faced and defeated. But we have a lot of hard thinking to do if we’re going to move the needle back so people have a sense that, yes, we can, and we are moving towards a more democratic society as against sliding away.  

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Through the Gates of Gold, Chap. 5 The Secret of Strength, p.2b

The second half of part two is an eloquent musing on the idea of what today we call self-care as tending a garden:

Paradoxically this self-care is based in selflessness,"“Give up thy life, if thou would’st live.(Give up the life of physical  personality if you would live in spirit.)” Voice of the Silence, I:
Some might say, to his own destruction. And why? Because from the hour when he first tastes the splendid reality of living he forgets more and more his individual self. No longer does he fight for it, or pit its strength against the strength of others. No longer does he care to defend or to feed it. Yet when he is thus indifferent to its welfare, the individual self grows more stalwart and robust, like the prairie grasses and the trees of untrodden forests. It is a matter of indifference to him whether this is so or not. Only, if it is so, he has a fine instrument ready to his hand; and in due proportion to the completeness of his indifference to it is the strength and beauty of his personal self.

“Vigilance is the path to Immortality (Nibba’na); negligence is the path to death;
vigilant people do not die, those who are negligent are like unto the dead.” (Dhammapada 2.1):

This is readily seen; a garden flower becomes a mere degenerate copy of itself if it is simply neglected; a plant must be cultivated to the highest pitch, and benefit by the whole of the gardener's skill, or else it must be a pure savage, wild, and fed only by the earth and sky. Who cares for any intermediate state? What value or strength is there in the neglected garden rose which has the canker in every bud? For diseased or dwarfed blossoms are sure to result from an arbitrary change of condition, resulting from the neglect of the man who has hitherto been the providence of the plant in its unnatural life. But there are wind-blown plains where the daisies grow tall, with moon faces such as no cultivation can produce in them.
Cultivate, then, to the very utmost; forget no inch of your garden ground, no smallest plant that grows in it; make no foolish pretence nor fond mistake in the fancy that you are ready to forget it, and so subject it to the frightful consequences of half-measures. The plant that is watered today and forgotten tomorrow must dwindle or decay. The plant that looks for no help but from Nature itself measures its strength at once, and either dies and is re-created or grows into a great tree whose boughs fill the sky. But make no mistake like the religionists and some philosophers; leave no part of yourself neglected while you know it to be yourself.

However, this vigilant self-care needs to be done with the detachment that the mindfullness of death gives:
While the ground is the gardener's it is his business to tend it; but some day a call may come to him from another country or from death itself, and in a moment he is no longer the gardener, his business is at an end, he has no more duty of that kind at all. Then his favorite plants suffer and die, and the delicate ones become one with the earth. But soon fierce Nature claims the place for her own, and covers it with thick grass or giant weeds, or nurses some sapling in it till its branches shade the ground. Be warned, and tend your garden to the utmost, till you can pass away utterly and let it return to Nature and become the wind-blown plain where the wild-flowers grow. Then, if you pass that way and look at it, whatever has happened will neither grieve nor elate you. For you will be able to say, "I am the rocky ground, I am the great tree, I am the strong daisies," indifferent which it is that flourishes where once your rose-trees grew. 

This constant attention to the lower self can only be relaxed when one has reached the Gates of Gold:
But you must have learned to study the stars to some purpose before you dare to neglect your roses, and omit to fill the air with their cultivated fragrance. You must know your way through the trackless air, and from thence to the pure ether; you must be ready to lift the bar of the Golden Gate. Cultivate, I say, and neglect nothing. Only remember, all the while you tend and water, that you are impudently usurping the tasks of Nature herself. Having usurped her work, you must carry it through until you have reached a point when she has no power to punish you, when you are not afraid of her, but can with a bold front return her her own. 

She laughs in her sleeve, the mighty mother, watching you with covert, laughing eye, ready relentlessly to cast the whole of your work into the dust if you do but give her the chance, if you turn idler and grow careless. The idler is father of the madman in the sense that the child is the father of the man. Nature has put her vast hand on him and crushed the whole edifice. The gardener and his rose-trees are alike broken and stricken by the great storm which her movement has created; they lie helpless till the sand is swept over them and they are buried in a weary wilderness. From this desert spot Nature herself will re-create, and will use the ashes of the man who dared to face her as indifferently as the withered leaves of his plants. His body, soul, and spirit are all alike claimed by her.