from The Theosophist Sept 1961
Thought-Forms (Their Limitations)
It has long been thought and believed by many who are interested in psychism that thought produces objective forms in a refined and normally invisible state of matter.
IT is hard to prove that such forms are not subjective and created, as it were, in the minds of those who see them. It does not, however, require a very highly developed degree of psychic capacity to get occasional glimpses it is hard to believe that the forms seen have not some degree of objective reality.
Experience often leads the balanced and thoughtful psychic to admit that there is also a subjective element in such phenomena. For example, a psychic who told the writer that she often saw a square and compasses appearing above the heads of persons who were Freemasons, freely accepted the That is to say, she became aware, in some psychic fashion, that a person was a Freemason and then proceeded by some unconscious process to objectify her awareness to herself in this symbolic form. Nevertheless, the objectivity of certain large classes of "thought-forms" is strongly believed in by many who see them.
The difficulty of proving the objectivity of such a form is really exactly the same as the difficulty of proving that the solid-seeming material world about us is objective. We believe that solid objects are objective; but, if invited to prove it, we get caught in some Kantian paradox and cannot do so. And here we come to another extension of this subject, often lost sight of in our interest in those things which we have set apart as "psychic". Even the most solid material objects and all those things which make up our world, the tangible and the intangible alike, are all in their own way thought-forms.
In her early days before joining the Theosophical Society, Annie Besant wrote a hymn in which she described the whole universe as "God's Thought of Himself". Within such a universe all natural organisms are expressions, more or less limited, of the thought of a Thinker. Their fulfillment as organisms lies in their submitting themselves, with a completeness which is all the more unrestricted for their being unconscious of it, to the moulding of that thought. It is the business, in the view of this natural theology, of all living beings to be expressive thought-forms.
Man, however, has a peculiar place in this universe, for he himself deliberately creates forms. Any artifacts, from primitive stone implements to electronic computers, from the play of children to the most profound systems of philosophy, are thought-forms. And "the world" as we read of it in our newspapers or experience its impact upon our lives - the terrestrial scene in its social, political, cultural and all other aspects - is all made up of the amassed thought-forms of the past and present generations. The nature and quality of the thought that has produce these forms makes it a treacherous world, seething with conflict and full of stresses seeking to release themselves.
The explanation offered of this tragic condition is that man is working under two systems of thought creation at the same time. He is to some extent a thinker and is making his own thought-forms; but he is also himself still a thought form, moulded by the compulsive instinctual urges proper to wild Nature. Spasmodically using his power of thought creation to magnify and distort some of these urges and to deny others, he gets the worst of two worlds and lives in a state of great disharmony. The solution offered by the elders of our race is that man must achieve his full stature as a thinker in his own right. In doing so he learns that he can submit himself consciously and confidently to the great Thinker as wild Nature does unconsciously. In other words, when man learns to think completely and responsibly for himself he will discover that the great Thinker is thinking in and through him and that in all thought there can be no other thinker than He. "God shall be all in all". Only then can "thine eye be single".
Something of this conception is conveyed in all the great religions, variously expressed according to the circumstances and variety of culture of those who shaped the teachings of each religion. In different ways this solution of the problem of a world of discordant thought-forms has likewise been propounded in the Theosophical Society. Do we, then, know the answer to the world's problem?
The reply must be that we do not know it. For the teachings and explanations of modern Theosophy and of the great religions and of all the wise men have this in common that they too come to us only as further thought forms. They are but further furnishing - albeit graceful and useful furnishings - of that world of thought-forms in which we are so unhappily imprisoned. The imprisoning character of that world lies in the fact that it perpetually presents, us with reciprocal contradictions. So long as ideas, teachings, expositions, come to us from outside, they always convey the implication of their contrary opposites. It is an odd paradox, and one not conventionally admitted, that there is nothing more imprisoning than freedom of choice, for it necessarily entangles us with the opposites of what we choose. It is as if we stood at a cross-roads. We think that we can walk along one of the roads, but no sooner have we started to walk along it than we find ourselves mysteriously walking in the opposite direction. To turn outwards is to call up forces from within us; to turn inwards is to involve ourselves in external circumstances. To fight for freedom is to create many bondages. To seek the Gods is to face the devils. This is what we sometimes call the law of Karma, whereby, if we take something to ourselves, we must also accept its opposite. By grasping riches we bind ourselves to poverty. By grasping to ourselves the highest and holiest things we call into activity the darkest shadows.
It is proposed to us that that element in us which causes us to make these choices and grasp things to ourselves is quite unreal. There is no such self. But, when told this, we still remain ourselves, and the utterance of this truth is again only a thought-form in a world of other thought-forms.
What, then, is to be done? Obviously there can be no ending of karma by karma, no ceasing of thought-forms by the creating of counteracting thought-forms. The only effective thing to do is to come self-consciously awake at the point within ourselves at which thought itself is set in motion, to discover in ourselves the thought-producer, to find the fundamental answer to the question, "Who am I?"
This aim is described in different ways in different traditions of wisdom. The famous second aphorism of Patanjali describes this aim as the stilling of the changes in the thinking principle. The Christian is told: "Be still and know that I am God". The difficulty is that anything that can be said about this birth of true self-consciousness is necessarily untrue; for that birth takes place outside the four-square world of thought-forms, yet anything said is necessarily a thought-form and is said within that world. Efforts have often been made to give a name to a perceptiveness, a state of self-consciousness, which is shadowless and does not create thought-forms. Krishnamurti used the word "awareness," and it has become so popular in use that it has already become quite experience of a life beyond thought-forms is liable to suffer this fate, and its poetry quickly becomes hackneyed prose as it is used in the world of those who live by thought-forms.
All this is not to deny the reality and convenience of thought forms And it is often necessary to have great thought-forms for the purpose of tidying away little thought-forms and so leading on to the simple naked reality, formless, shadowless and unentangled. One can see that that was the purpose of the great thought-forms offered to us in the Theosophical Society in the teachings of its earlier leaders and those great word-pictures of universal processes. They have exerted a continuous influence, breaking up little incoherent thought-forms and replacing them by a few that are large, simple and comprehensive. Yet these are still thought-forms, structures outside our real selves. Those who sigh for future great leaders for the Theosophical Society probably often think of them as being necessarily people who will give us more great thought-forms, more inspiring teachings. But future times may not call for that type of activity. And to think of great people only in terms of the thought-forms they have left is inadequate and unjust.
Beyond each of those great thought-forms there is the originating self, formless self - arupa as we sometimes say - a power with the majesty and pervasiveness of sunlight. Should we be ready to recognize and respond to a leader or teacher in whom that self shone forth and yet expressed itself very little in terms of the creation of thought-forms - who did not lecture, write or organize? Yet there is among us a tradition that the welfare of the world is gradually expanded and moved on by the silent power of a few who do none of these things.
More Hugh Shearman