Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Perspectives > Chapter 11: The Negatives
In every human difficulty there are two ways open to us. The common way is familiar enough: it consists in reacting egoistically and emotionally with self-centered complaint, irritability, fear, anger, despair, and so on. The uncommon way is taken by a spiritually minded few: it consists in making something good out of something bad, in reacting selflessly, calmly, constructively, and hopefully. This is the way of practical philosophy, this attempt to transform what outwardly seems so harmful into what inwardly at least must be markedly beneficent. It is a magical work. But it can only be done by deep thought, self-denial, and love. If the difficulty is regarded as both a chance to show what we can do to develop latent resources as well as a test of what we have already developed, it can be made to help us. Even if we do not succeed in changing an unfavourable environment for the better, such an approach would to some extent change ourselves for the better. We must accept, with all its tremendous implications for our past, present, and future, that we are ultimately responsible for the conditions which stamp our life. Such acceptance may help to shatter our egoism and that, even though it is painful, will be all to the good. Out of its challenge can come the most blessed change in ourselves.
The lower nature is incurably hostile to the higher one. It prefers its fleeting joys with their attendant miseries, its ugly sins with their painful consequences, because this spells life to it.
Whoever seeks to tread a path such as the one shown here will sooner or later find that these forces set themselves in opposition to his interior journey. His way will be blocked by external circumstances that entangle him in hopeless struggles or heart-breaking oppressions and enslavements, or by psychical attacks which seek to sweep him off his spiritual feet and destroy his higher aspirations. Persons in his immediate environment may be moved by these invisible forces to work against him, causing uprisings of hatred and misunderstanding; one-time friends may turn into treacherous enemies more virulent than the poison of a cobra. Public critics will appear and endeavour to nullify whatever good he is doing for humanity, or to prevent its continuance. The single aim and object of all these attempts will be to prevent his alignment with the Overself, to render mental quiet impossible, or to keep his heart and mind crushed down to earth and earthly things. He must needs suffer these things. Their power, scope, and duration may be diminished, however.
Evil arises only when an entity goes astray into the delusions of separateness and materialism, and thence into conflict with other entities. There is no ultimate and eternal principle of evil, but there are forces of evil, unseen entities who have gone so far astray and are so powerful in themselves that they work against goodness, truth, and justice. But by their very nature such entities are doomed to eventual destruction, and even their work of opposition is utilized for good in the end and becomes the resistance against which evolution tests its own achievements, the grindstone against which it sharpens man's intelligence, the mirror in which it shows him his flaws.
Pessimism is practical defeatism and psychological suicide. It is the child of despair and the parent of dissolution.
In a negative situation, where negative criticisms and negative emotions are rampant, other persons may try to involve him in it, or at least get him to support their attitude and endorse their criticism. But a feeling may come over him preventing him from doing so. If so, he should obey and remain silent. With time the rightness of this course will be confirmed.
Because of what he is and what he seeks to do, the quester has special trials, special experiences and temptations, apart from the ordinary ones which accompany all human activities.
Elaborate traps are set at intervals along his road, made up of a combination of his own weaknesses with persons or events related to them. He must be wary of relapsing into complacency, must be prepared for tests and temptations in a variety of forms.
The risk is greater because a human emissary of the adverse element in Nature will automatically appear at critical moments and consciously or unconsciously seek hypnotically or passively to lead him astray as he or she has gone astray. Our own world-wide experience, embracing the written reports and spoken confidences of thousands of individual cases of mystical, yogic, and occult seekers, both Oriental and Occidental, has gravely taught the need of this warning.
Whenever a strong impulse becomes uppermost and inclines him toward some deed or speech of a negative kind, he had better scrutinize its source or nature as quickly as he can.
What lies at the root of all these errors in conduct and defects in character? It is the failure to understand that he is more than his body. It is, in one word, materialism.
The things which hamper the student's progress are varied, and although they may bring despondency and discouragement, impatience and rebellion, they need not and should not be permitted to bring the loss of all hope. Difficulties there must be, but they need not make us cowards. The times of swift progress are generally followed by times of slow moving; success alternates with failure as day with night. He must go on with the faith and trust that obstacles are not for all time, that fluctuations on the path are inevitable, and that his own inner divine possibilities are the best guarantee of ultimate attainment. The trials of the path, as indeed the trials of life itself, are inescapable. He should endure the tribulations with the inner conviction that a brighter world awaits him; hope and faith will lead him to it.
Why does God allow the evil and suffering when the same result of spiritual advantage could be got in other ways? There are some questions to which there are no answers because God alone can answer them, and this is one. We can however find what human intuition, human mystical revelation, has to say about these things and accept such contributions at their own value.
The dark and destructive forces show themselves in Nature and life. To leave them out, unaccounted for and ignored, is to leave a weak place in oneself.
These sinister figures seek, and often get, key positions in politics, organized groups, etc., and from there manipulate the mass and use them as blind unwitting tools.
What may be true on the ultimate level--the non-existence of evil, the reality of the Good, the True, the Beautiful--becomes false on the level of duality. Here the twofold powers, the opposites, do exist, do hold the world in their sway. To deny relative evil here is to confuse different planes of being.
It is a man's own internal defects which often conspire against him and which show their faces in many of the external troubles that beset him. Yet it is hard for him to accept this truth because his whole life-habit is to look outwards, to construct defensive alibis rather than to engage in censorious self-inquisition. Sheikh al Khuttali, a Sufi adept, addressing a disciple who complained at his circumstances, said: "O my son, be assured that there is a cause for every decree of Providence. Whatever good or evil God creates, do not in any place or circumstance quarrel with his action or be aggrieved in thy heart." Therefore, the aspirant who is really earnest about the quest should develop the attitude that his personal misfortunes, troubles, and disappointments must be traced back to his own weaknesses, defects, faults, deficiencies, and indisciplines. Let him not blame them on other persons or on fate. In this way he will make the quickest progress whereas by self-defending or self-justifying or self-pitying apportionment of blame to causes outside himself, he will delay or prevent it. For the one means clinging to the ego, the other means giving it up. Nothing is to be gained by such flattering self-deception while much may be lost by it. He must bring himself to admit frankly that he himself is the primary cause of most of his ills, as well as the secondary cause of some of the ills of others. He must recognize that the emotions of resentment, anger, self-pity, or despondency are often engendered by a wounded ego. Instead of reviling fate at each unfortunate event, he should analyse his moral and mental make-up and look for the weaknesses which led to it. He will gain more in the end by mercilessly accusing his own stubbornness in pursuing wrong courses than by taking shelter in alibis that censure other people. Like a stone in a shoe which he stubbornly refuses to remove, the fault still remains in his character when he stubbornly insists on blaming things or condemning persons for its consequences. In this event the chance to eliminate it is lost, and the same dire consequences may repeat themselves in his life again.
The faith of the lower ego in itself and the strength with which it clings to its own standpoint are almost terrifying to contemplate. The aspirant is often unconscious of its selfishness. But if he can desert its standpoint, he shall then be in a position to perceive how large an element it has contributed in the making of his own troubles, how heavy is its responsibility for unpleasant events which he has hitherto ascribed to outside sources. He shall see that his miserable fate derives largely from his own miserable faults. He is naturally unwilling to open his eyes to his own deficiencies and faults, his little weaknesses and large maladjustments. So suffering comes to open his eyes for him, to shock and shame him into belated awareness and eventual amendment. But quite apart from its unfortunate results in personal fortunes, whenever the aspirant persists in taking the lower ego's side and justifying its action, he merely displays a stupid resolve to hinder his own spiritual advancement. Behind a self-deceiving facade of pretexts, excuses, alibis, and rationalizations, the ego is forever seeking to gratify its unworthy feelings or to defend them. On the same principle as the pseudo-patriotism which prompted the Italians to follow Mussolini blindly throughout his Ethiopian adventure to its final disaster, the principle of "My country! right or wrong," he follows the ego through all its operations just as blindly and as perversely, justifying its standpoints merely because they happen to be his own. But the higher Self accepts no rivals. The aspirant must choose between denying his ego's aggressiveness or asserting it. The distance to be mentally travelled between these two steps is so long and so painful that it is understandable why few will ever finish it. It is only the exceptional student who will frankly admit his faults and earnestly work to correct them. It is only he whose self-criticizing detachment can gain the upper hand, who can also gain philosophy's highest prize.
If the ego cannot trap him through his vices it will try to do so through his virtues. When he has made enough progress to warrant it, he will be led cunningly and insensibly into spiritual pride. Too quickly and too mistakenly he will believe himself to be set apart from other men by his attainments. When this belief is strong and sustained, that is, when his malady of conceit calls for a necessary cure, a pit will be dug unconsciously for him by other men and his own ego will lead him straight into it. Out of the suffering which will follow this downfall, he will have a chance to grow humbler.
So what are depressions and sadnesses but the ego pitying itself, shedding silent tears over itself, loving itself, looking at itself and enwrapped in itself? What is a happy calm but a killing of such egoism?
His failure follows inevitably from his attempt to serve two masters. The ego is strong and cunning and clamant. The Overself is silent and patient and remote. In every battle the dice are loaded in the ego's favour. In every battle high principle runs counter to innate prejudice.
The root of all the trouble is not man's wickedness or animality or cunning greedy mind. It is his very I-ness, for all those other evils grow out of it. It is his own ego. Here is the extraordinary and baffling self-contradiction of the human situation. It is man's individual existence which brings him suffering and yet it is this very existence which he holds as dear as life to him!
What are the blockages which prevent the soul's light, grace, peace, love, and healing from reaching us? There are many different kinds, but they are resolvable into the following: first, all negative; second, all egoistic; and third, all aggressive. By "aggressive" I mean that we are intruding our personality and imposing our ideas all the time. If we would stop this endless aggression and be inwardly still for a while, we would be able to hear and receive what the Soul has to say and to give us.
You must plant your feet firmly on one definite purpose. Opposition will whirl around you, but hold on. Perverted Man is full of prejudice, and ninety-nine out of every one hundred you meet will unconsciously or consciously attempt to deflect you from your divine purpose.
It is tantalizingly hard to effect the passage from the lower to the higher state. For between them lies an intermediate zone of consciousness which possesses an ensnaring quality and in which the ego makes its last desperate effort to keep him captive. Hence this zone is the source of attractive psychic experiences, of spiritual self-aggrandizements, of so-called messianic personal claims and redemptive missions, of great truths cunningly coalesced into great deceptions.
The path is beset not only by the pitfalls arising out of one's own human failings, but at critical times by unconscious or conscious evil beings in human form who seek to destroy faith through falsehoods and to undermine reliance on true guidance through sidetracks and traps.
The storms of violent passion are to be resisted as the smoothness of inner peace is to be invited.
We may regret the existence of these faults in others, but we may not refuse to recognize them if practical dealings are involved.
If he finds himself brought by circumstances into the society of evil-minded people, the first step to self-protection should be to switch the mind instantly into remembrance of the witness-self and to keep it there throughout the period of contact. To turn inwards persistently when in the presence of such discordant persons is to nullify any harmful or disturbing effect they might otherwise have on our thoughts.
Until such time as each member of a community, nation, or society practises sufficient self-control to bring about his own inner peace, it is illusory to expect outer peace in the world. This is why history is a record of conflict.
There is no perpetual peace anywhere on this planet, only perpetual strife. But it is open to man to take the violence, the murder, and the war out of this strife. He may purge it of its savage beast qualities.
The malign powers of evil in the world, which have been so widely spread, so active and so violent in our own generation, are not to be ignored by dreaming optimism.
The world's evil and untruth are plainly there. The saint may not want to see them, because he does not want to think badly about other people; but the philosopher must distinguish them and harms no one by doing so, because he sees the Good and the True behind everything at the same time.
If he must hate something, let him hate hatred itself.
Yes, there is odious evil in the world--much of it petty but some of it quite monstrous. It takes its genesis in the thoughts of men.
The nihilistic nature of Existentialism is shown by its founder, Sartre, holding the opinion, according to Simone de Beauvoir, that if there was nothing to attack and destroy, the writing of books would not be worthwhile.
The Existentialists have given pessimism and nihilism a morbid prestige.
He should never allow the actions or words of ignorant men to arouse in him reactions of anger, envy, or resentment.
Throw out negative thoughts as they would hinder the uplift of your mind. Replace them by frequent and positive remembrance of the Overself.
What we see around us in the world today--poison in the air, water, soil, food, even in the stratosphere, and destroying the human body through disease--is but a reflected crystallization of poison in the human mind and heart. If the invisible evil were not present, the visible one would not have come into existence. Even those whose faith can not stretch so far, can trace the direct lines of connection by the use of reason alone.
What is the opposing quality to the violence of today? Not merely nonviolence--a negative one--but gentleness--a positive one.
Mentalism says that most of one's misery is inflicted on oneself by accepting and holding negative thoughts. They cover and hide the still centre of one's being, which is infinite happiness.
Long ago Buddha said that if we make room in our minds for negative, bitter thoughts of complaint, outrage, or injury against those who mistreat us, we shall not be free and will remain unable to find peace.
Their faith in a higher purpose of life having failed, it is not long before the labour of correcting and purifying human nature will seem unnecessary.
The sinister spread of black magic, witchcraft, sexual perversion, and drug addiction in our own time is menacing. Some of their votaries are consciously worshipping demonic powers, evil as such, others only because they have been misled into the belief that it is the Good.
We would not allow full freedom of movement to plague-carrying rats in our kitchens and homes. Yet we allow these human carriers of mental plague the freedom to print and publish, declaim, and propagate their poisonous suggestions and negative ideas, their pornography and violence, their hates and moral subversion, their evil.
The evil forces working through mediums are cunning enough not to show their true ultimate aims all at once. These become clear to the observer only by successive stages, only gradually. Whoever has critically studied the ways of evil spirits will know that they first lure their mediumistic victims or gullible public along the path of self-injury or even self-destruction by winning their confidence with a series of successful predictions or favourable interventions. When this confidence has been well established, these dark forces then reveal their real intent by persuading their victims, through gigantic lies or false predictions, to commit a final act in which everything is staked on a single throw. The unhappy dupes invariably lose this last throw and are then overwhelmed by shattering disaster. This occurred in Hitler's case with his sudden attack on Russia in 1941. He then stated his belief that Moscow would be reached within six to seven weeks. But his soldiers never reached Moscow. His invisible guides had indeed betrayed him. How true are Shakespeare's words from Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3: "But 'tis strange:/ And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,/ The instruments of darkness tell us truths,/ Win us with honest trifles, to betray us/ In deepest consequence."
Do not gaze overlong upon that person, that thing, that place, whose history is evil, whose nature is evil, lest you imperil yourself, or your health, or your fortunes. Better, avoid them if you can.
As that esteemed Indian yogi and philosopher, the late Sri Aurobindo, more than once mentioned, those who are working for the survival of Truth in a truthless world thereby become targets for powerful forces of hatred wrath and falsehood. Whoever publicly bears a deeply spiritual message to humanity, has to suffer from evil's opposition.
When men who have spent their whole lives harbouring destructive ideas are given a constructive teaching, they are naturally impermeable and unreceptive to it. There are materialists who are impatient at hearing philosophic truths and even irritated by them. Such persons may even become quite violently abusive. This happens because they have completely lost their capacity to practise calm unprejudiced abstract thinking, and because they have crushed the feeling of veneration before something higher or nobler than themselves--whether it be a beautiful landscape or God.
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