from The Theosophist July 1979

The Theosophist in Politics

Hugh Shearman

Most people think that the test of anybody's assertions of belief, aspiration, inner experience or enlightenment is how he acts in what we call a "real life" situation. We do not, perhaps, always think it quite fair to apply that test to our own selves, because, while our beliefs and aspirations are certainly admirable, they do not, for excellent private reasons best understood by ourselves, always come to the surface and find expression in action! But we do usually consider that it is a fair test to apply to other people.

So what can we look for in a member of the Theosophical Society if he finds himself in the world of politics? How will a person behave who has studied the things he has probably studied in the Theosophical Society and thought about the things that he has thought about?

For many people, political life is only a world of fantasy. IT is so remote from them that they cannot think about it in realistic terms. During World War II, Dr. Arundale, then President of the Theosophical Society, set up what he called a Peace and Reconstruction Department and asked members of the years after the war and to write and give him their views. What came to him was very discouraging. People wrote advocating many kinds of panacea, expatiating on the immense importance of various dogmatic cure-alls, presenting plans and blue prints of how humanity ought to be organised. But what was lacking was humanity itself. Very soon Dr. Arundale said that it was time to close the Peace and Reconstruction Department and, he added, to put nails in its coffin.

Politics concerned with power

The writers of those sententious expositions that discouraged Dr. Arundale had not understood the real political and social world. Perhaps some of them had so long studied diagrams in theosophical books that they had come to imagine that human society itself is a sort of diagram, a mechanical structure that can be objectively adjusted, rather than a living organism that has to be intuitively apprehended and sensitively lived with.

Politics is not concerned with blue prints for the future or with moralizing about what other people ought to do. Politics is concerned with power. Power will be used according to the quality of those who grasp it and according to the limiting circumstances in which they have done so. Particular stated policies are expressions of the power pattern that emerges at a particular time. They may fulfil hopes and even promises, but it is often discovered that they do not.

To put this in another way, the advocacy of some plan or policy will not bear fruit if there is not a collective karma ready to sustain it. The good intention involved in the advocacy - if there is good intention - is in itself a contribution to the future; but the karmic forces for its early implementation in a particular country or set of circumstances may not be available.

Although he may handle power, the prominent statesman is far more circumscribed and even less powerful than people imagine or than he himself dare reveal. It is often said that a country gets the government it deserves. Its government, or lack of it, is a nations's karma; and those who embody the power of government are expressions of karma, as is also any opposition to that government. But the karma that members of a government find themselves expressing is not necessarily the karma that they would personally choose. Often, for example, those who want in some form to be the embodiments and expression of national success find that they are condemned to express failure instead.

How, then, is the thoughtful and well intentional person, who perceives these truths, to act if he finds himself involved in political life? If he has looked on political life only from the point of view of the person who has read newspapers or listened to radio programmes and has approved and disapproved from some vantage point of personal opinion, he is likely to be shaken at first when he received the direct impact of the psychic and psychological forces that work through human society. He will find sweeping round him the passionate forces of hope and fear, clinging and antipathy, and he will, above all, encounter the heavy burden of inertia. How is he to find his balance and sense of direction? He thought perhaps that he already had these in the form of some doctrine or system of values; but, our in the greedy, anxious, unjust world, most people have no interest in his doctrine or system.

To understand what has to be done, it is useful to consider first, not the political life of a country, but the problems and interactions of some relatively small group of people, perhaps the problems and tensions that may arise among those who work in an office or even in a lodge or branch of the Theosophical Society.

Political life of a community

What a sensitive person realises about any group of people who are thrown together in some activity or situation is that they consist of something more than the aggregate of their separate personalities. They have a collective life which is largely unconscious, as well as the various conscious separate outward-turned and demanding personalities by which we know them. When some problem arises that concerns them all, the answer is to be sought somewhere in that collective life rather than in a mere balancing of the various separate personal forces that are involved. No doubt that answer will have to be expressed outwardly in terms of the separate personalities and their demands; but, if it is to be stable and useful, it requires a root in the collective life of the group as a whole.

So also in the larger political life of a whole community there is a collective being, out of which fresh potential is constantly emerging from the unconscious life of that community into its conscious life. If the intuition is awake it becomes possible to sense in any situation a source of fresh life, a development point; and the statesman tries to reach towards that source and draw his effectiveness from it.

One of the characteristics of a true statesman is that, whatever he may seem to do outwardly, he does not, inside himself, compulsively approve or disapprove. What has to be done, whether in great or little things, is to deal with what is here and now, in its wholeness, assisting its transformation, as far as we can, into something more fully alive and more fully expressive of its finer potential. The immature person, instead of dealing with the whole of what lies before him, compulsively approves or disapproves of it or parts of it.

Compulsive duality of attitude, such as, psychologically, personal approval and disapproval, is a sign of incomplete understanding. The Theosophist has at least entertained the notion that life is one and that no part can be rejected from that unity, however much it may require to be transformed. In any situation which involves an apparent conflict of opposites, he will realise that both are part of one whole and that the one implies the other.

The attitude through which we can proceed effectively towards the resolution of a conflict of opposites may be symbolised by a triangle. Imagine that the two ends of the base line of the triangle represent the two irresolvable opposites. If we rise to the apex of a triangle erected on that base, then we are in a position which comprehends both those opposites in one complete recognition and understanding. From its apex it always fully contains and integrates the contradictory extremities of its own base. And since most situations involve many pairs of opposites, we may add a dimension and think of the triangle as a cone. The apex of that triangle or cone may serve to symbolise the outlook of the person who is able to move with psychological freedom through the complexities or political life.

Political detachment

In practice an essential prerequisite for survival in politics is not so much, as many might suppose, the capacity to pay attention to what is important as the capacity to ignore what is unimportant.

Every really successful political personality has an ability to ignore, to discount, to brush aside. The anxious person, who fears, who becomes indignant, who worries, and otherwise reacts to everything that confronts him, tears himself to pieces and cannot stand the bruising confrontations of politics. Some are able to discount through cynicism, others through the depth of understanding and wholeness of acceptance that is symbolised by the view from the apex of the triangle. Either type of political temperament makes the individual, in his detachment, liable to be felt at times to be unsympathetic, even immoral, by those who are emotionally fixated with respect to particular issues. Yet what is said about the path occultism in a well known passage in one of the Mahatma Letters can also be said about politics - "Too anxious expectation is not only tedious but dangerous too. Each warmer and quicker throb of the heart wears so much of life away - He who would gain his aim must be cold".

So there are these two kinds of detachment. There is that which arises from an accurate, mature and comprehensive understanding or that which comes from calculation and a premature hardening of the heart. It would be invidious in an international publication to point to what one thinks may be examples of each, either in current public life or in history".

In the apparent chaos of human life, then, the perceptive person, if he can hold himself steady, can always find a centre and development point in every situation in which he is authentically involved. The involvement has to be authentic. There are many who try to involve themselves effusively in the problems and circumstances of others because they have failed to cope with the problems and circumstances that are truly their own. But there are also occasions when we find ourselves able to bring the fruit of karma to birth for a collectivity of people in some situation great or small, when we know that that really is our dharma, not "the dharma of another". Then we have the opportunity to open a door, letting something new, however slight, enter the social or personal world and change it.

Those who have spent a period of effective work in the political life of any country will have found many of these development centres in many different situations that they will have encountered on their way. True perception of such growth centres in human life always comes from those apices of insight within ourselves. Effective response is not so much the imposition of some plan or opinion as a co-operation with life. No such situation is ever static. It is always in a process of change. Frequently such a growth centre, having fulfilled its potential, closes again and is gone. Others remain until they are almost institutionalized, at which point they too usually have to close.

Probably most of us will never touch the forms of activity which are conventionally described as political; but we shall have many opportunities of becoming aware of that formless and (from our point of view) largely unconscious reality which is the substratum of every human situation. Within that substratum, that invisible infrastructure of our lives, lies the dormant but potential karma of the future; and out of its apparent formlessness something fresh is always seeking to emerge and take form in our lives and circumstances. If we have not blinded and paralysed ourselves by fixation to static images in the mind, we can become impersonally aware of what is emerging. We personally do not decide what is going to emerge. It may be that, in a sense, a statesman imposes his will on a situation; but we ought in this connection to remind ourselves of Dr. Arundale's definition of will as our memory of the future.

If in any situation, large or small, national or closely personal, we can recognise intuitively the imminent emergence of the future and can, in whatever way may from time to time be appropriate, stretch out a hand of help and welcome to that unknown, that will be statesmanship enough wherever we are. Those who do this well are truly creative artists in a difficult and sometimes dangerous form of art.


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