(september 2000)

Spiritual Life and Action

Katinka Hesselink

So well has the lesson that good thought is important, taken root in our spiritual culture, that sometimes it seems people forget about the more difficult: right action . prayer-groups, meditation-groups and healing-groups all make use of the fact that thought works actively in the world. There is nothing wrong with that. But I think we tend to forget that action is important too. Right action is a terribly difficult thing. It is easy to rely on hard and set rules in this department, because knowing what to do in specific situations is very difficult. This is probably the reason that so many members of theosophical societies emphasize being a vegetarian and not drinking alcohol as important for their spiritual life. These things make them feel they are at least doing their best. But right action does not always include being a vegetarian. In practicing theosophy it is not easy to realize the truth of what Buddha says in the Dammapada, verse 252:

The fault of others is easily perceived, but that of oneself is difficult to perceive; the faults of others one lays open as much as possible, but one's own fault one hides, as a cheat hides the bad die from the gambler.

There are very concrete things all of us can do, if we only stopped complaining of other peoples wrongs and started looking to see what we can do ourselves. Pestering a coworker, for instance, is a widely known phenomenon. This practice, often by the whole office, makes a good working relationship impossible. The effect is to isolate the worker that is teased and it also works to boost up the ego of the leader of the pestering. Assuming that no such pestering-leader is among the readers, still the other co-workers also play a part. They either do not protest to the pestering or they protect their own status in the group by not reaching out to the victim of the abuse. Thereby they do nothing to change the status-quo and keep the isolation of the victim in place. Both protesting and reaching out to the victim, are a risky business. The pestering may turn on me, I may also be isolated, are logical and realistic fears that stop people from acting in cases like this. Still, if we want to consider spiritual practice, this is probably one of the places to start.

On the upside: good example is usually followed. Once the dictatorship (which emotionally it is) of the pestering leader is broken, others usually follow in discontinuing the abuse. Also, if defending the people and learning to reach out to those who are not popular, becomes habit, we become more watchful of peoples needs, and less focused on our own happiness. Again, this is risky business, because it means we have to learn to rely on our own judgment and not on the group. With all our modern talk of independence, usually we still conform in seemingly unimportant issues to what the group thinks is logical. The problems come when the acceptance by the group is paid for by the betrayal of our own consciousness. This is very common, but if we truly want to live a spiritual life, it has to stop. Only when we learn to stand apart in this way, can the voice of the group be replaced by the voice of our best selves. And only when that voice can count on a hearing in our consciousness, can it start acting outwardly, without us seeming to do a thing about it.

In her Esoteric Instructions, part 1, (CW XII, p. 533,534), H.P. Blavatsky writes the following on this subject of the importance of action, as opposed to prayer:

Our prayers and supplications are vain, unless to potential words we add potent acts, and make the aura which surrounds each one of us so pure and divine that the God within us may act outwardly, or in other words, become as it were an extraneous Potency. Thus we have Initiates, Saints and very holy and pure men been enabled to help others as well as themselves in the hour of need, and produce what are foolishly called 'miracles,' each by the help and with the aid of the God within himself, which he alone has enabled to act on the outward plane.

It is said somewhere: the mahatma can act without seeming to lift a finger. But what we forget when reading that is: we have first to learn how to act, before we can expect nature to help a hand.

In the TS-Adyar, often people talk about motives as being a prime factor in spirituality. I think this is true. When the motive for good action becomes reincarnation in better circumstances, for instance, then we are not being very spiritual. On the other hand, motive just isn't enough. As said in the Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnet, letter 4, p. 25

Motives are vapors, as attenuated as the atmospheric moisture; and, as the latter develops its dynamic energy for man's use only when concentrated and applied as steam or hydraulic power, so the practical value of good motives is best seen when they take the form of deeds.

Again we are reminded of the importance of deeds. Motive is important, but action is more important. Without right motive, nothing good would happen. But without action, good motive means nothing. It reminds me of the way in which the whole world becomes full of goodwill, around Christmas. But since this goodwill is hardly translated into action, the goodwill ends the day after. A lot of people pray for peace, but unable to see the relation between the small wars in the working place and the large wars on the television-screen, they keep acting the same. The spirit of strife remains, competition is paramount and guerrilla-wars keep our news-reporters busy.