from The Theosophist July 1952
Integrity and Values
HERBERT SPENCER, the English Victorian philosopher, perceived three stages in the attainment of enlightenment. These three stages were, first the unanimity of the unwise, then the lack of unanimity of those who are seeking wisdom, then thirdly the unanimity of the wise.
We can see these three stages in many experiences and many cycles of action. We can think of the unanimity of the unwise as representing the mass mind and the uniformity of primitive people. We can explain some of our difficulties in the Theosophical Society by saying that they arise from the lack of unanimity of those who are seeking wisdom. And we can see in the unanimity of the wise something which we sometimes speak of as the Great Brotherhood.
Lack of unanimity expresses itself in differences of opinion. It is impossible to give utterance to an opinion without implying a set of values. If I say, “It is good to perform ceremonies,” I am speaking the truth within a system of values according to which it is good to perform ceremonies. If I say, “It is harmful to perform ceremonies,” I am speaking the truth within a system of values according to which it is harmful to perform ceremonies. All opinions are true with respect to the values which their expression implies. All opinions are false with respect to values contrary to those which their expression implies. Opinion thus ends in paradox and absurdity.
Those who have sought to help humanity to move on into the unanimity of the wise have therefore refrained from concerning themselves mainly with opinions. Living in a world in which opinions are tangible things which fly about, they cannot, of course, ignore opinions. But they have given their main attention to helping people to discover for themselves the source of values.
We see the whole world in terms of values which we ourselves project onto it. These values imply the separation of objects into classifications of likeable and unlikeable. These values are withdrawn or dissipated, and reality is seen, when we become able to know that objects are not separable nor are they likeable or unlikeable. They are.
This is not to say that values do not exist. Values and opinions are as natural to present human existence as leaves are natural to the trees. We do not outgrow them by mentally asserting their unreality.
Of those who have outgrown and dissipated their systems of values, so as to know the real, it is said in the Bhagavad-Gita (Mrs. Besant’s translation), “Sages look equally on a Brahmana adorned with learning and humility, a cow, an elephant and even a dog and an outcaste.” And, to such a one, “a lump of earth, a stone and gold are the same”. But this does not mean that, when values have been dissipated, all things are the same, so that it is then as good to do murder as to engage in meditation. It does not mean that one liberated from values and pairs of opposites will become completely anti-social and enter a lunatic world of antinomian nihilism.
On the contrary it is when the sage has let go his system of self-centred values, his prudential morality, his mentally conceived rights and wrongs, that he becomes completely responsible, orderly and socially constructive. For it seems that in the reality of things there is no value but a perfect harmony. The sage who is at one with that harmony, which is the very nature, the indwelling life, of the whole of things, knows what he has to do; and what he does is harmonious.
In the world in which the liberated sage lives, there are still values and opinions, the values and opinions of other people. These are real and living factors, an expression of life proper to those who create them. The sage does not have to despise or attack these systems of values and opinions. He can cope with them and use them without being bound by them, not offering premature and demoralizing disillusionments to those who are still attached to them and who are still requiring and using them. As it is said in the Bhagavad-Gita, “Let no wise man unsettle the mind of ignorant people attached to action, but, acting in harmony with Me, let him render all action attractive.”
A person who acts rightly is often said to have the quality of integrity. Integrity comes from the Latin world integer which means whole, and the word integrity has implications of completeness and wholeness not unlike the meaning of the world health.
We often think of integrity in action as meaning that the action is consistent with some respected system of values. But integrity in action could mean that the action is in harmony with the wholeness of things. When there is action in harmony with the wholeness of things there cannot be “my integrity” or “his integrity”. There is integrity.
The values of life and the harmony of life have become separated. In wild nature they are at one. In the unanimity of the wise they are at one. Among us who live in the midway state of the lack of unanimity of those who are seeking wisdom, values and harmony are separate. When we know that there is harmony and that it establishes of itself all values that are necessary, then we can refrain from anxiously projecting values with our own separate minds.
The unanimity of the wise cannot be a unanimity of opinion. When somebody asked Disraeli what his religion really was, he replied: “All wise men have the same religion.” And when asked what that was, he said: “Wise men don’t tell.”
It is impossible to tell; for we can speak to other people only in terms of the experiences which we have in common with them. perhaps appealing to that experience by metaphor and simile, perhaps portraying new ideas very skilfully by analogy, but still bound by the fundamental limits of the experience that we have in common with those to whom we speak. Language is shaped by experience, and our human speech is still that of a world of values and opinion. To tell, therefore, would be to express and opinion. This is not necessarily an improper thing to do, but it will not convey the nature of the unanimity of the wise and of life divested of projected values and opinions.
In the Theosophical Society we tell, and we surely do well to tell. But it is not in the words alone that we can find the subtle fragrance of the truly esoteric, of that which cannot be told yet about which all wise men are unanimous, even though they can have no opinions about it.
More Hugh Shearman