from The Theosophist Sept 1966

The Open Mind and Positive Teachings

Hugh Shearman

On the surface there appears to be a contradiction when we have a Theosophical Society which is based upon the principle of complete freedom of belief and opinion and at the same time have within it a very strong tradition of specific teachings about man and the universe.

This apparent contradiction is resolved when we appreciate one them that runs through all these teachings, one thought that they all offer for our consideration. We have had in this Society many Theosophies - the Theosophy, for example, of Madame Blavatsky, the Theosophy of A.P. Sinnett, of Bishop Arundale, and so on. Some of these are, at least superficially, in conflict with one another at various points and also occasionally in conflict with the findings of contemporary science. But if we examine them there is one thing that they all tell us. They are at one in declaring that reality, both in ourselves and in the world about us, is above or beyond the personal reasoning mind. Some have expressed this in some sort of diagram in which various qualities of consciousness are shown in an ascending scale; and in that scale the personal reasoning mind is given quite a low position, while the greater potential of life above or beyond it. Others have expressed it, as Madame Blavatsky did, in the blunt statement that the mind is the "slayer of the Real".

This teaching of all Theosophies ancient and modern - that life's true reality is beyond the scope of the personal mind - is often asserted by people who then immediately act as if it were not really true at all. They go on to speak or write as if reality could after all be contained within some sort of mental system. Yet it is this ancient teaching - that reality is greater than the rational mind can comprehend - which has made Theosophy such a great source of comfort to humanity in all ages.

The shallow and immature personality is at first satisfied with the world that the mind can survey, the world that the mind can argue about and can submit to analysis, comparison and other rational processes. When we are young and are urged on by economic or sexual ambition and those other motives that are appropriate to youth, the world that is grasped by the personal mind seems not only very adequate but indeed full of infinite promise. But for most of us a certain disillusionment presently sets in, and we begin to wonder, "Is this all?"

It is then that the Ancient Wisdom can speak to us and tell us that indeed this is not all, that life is not limited to what lies within the purview of the personal reasoning mind, that, in fact, life is not, as we had begun to suspect, a dead end or a cul de sac. What Theosophy proposes to us is that there exists within us a higher order of experience, a capacity for knowing our world in an entirely new way, no longer limited by the reactions of the personal mind.

When people talk about having an open mind, what they usually mean by this is a mind that avoids committing itself. They look upon choice as the main characteristic of mind; and the open mind is one which is, at least, going to be very cautions in choosing. From a worldly and practical point of view there is clearly much to recommend such an attitude; but, on the other hand, it can be used to evade responsibility and to bring one's life virtually to a standstill. A sceptical neutrality can be intensely separative and can almost dissociate a person from the experience of living.

In the context of what Theosophy proposes to us, however, the open mind is something very much more than this. Certainly it is much more than an irresponsible machine, perpetually conditioned to preserve its own neutrality and inertia.

Several times in past years our President, Mr. N. Sri Ram, has used the expressions "the deepening of the mind". The idea of "depth" is widely current today. We read often of "depth psychology". The word "depth" in these connections always seems to imply a greater degree of wholeness, a movement in the direction of universality.

An open mind or a deepened mind, then is no longer wholly occupied with making - or even refusing to make - endless choices among a multiplicity of external objects. It is a mind which has become sufficiently mature to be directed to some extent by a higher or deeper order of experience. It is less concerned with those activities, such as argument, comparison, analysis and choice, which are the sole resource of a shallow mind giving all its attention to an external world of things. It is more concerned with the unanalysed wholeness of any situation.

A deepened mind does not fundamentally need to engage in the perpetual evaluation and assessment which occupy the shallow mind. If we try to know the truth by a process of judgment, we necessarily bring to it a personal criterion or standard of judgment - even if only unconsciously - and this criterion stands between us and the truth. But the mature mind is open, neither accepting nor rejecting, neither clinging to nor repudiating. It comes to know any situation in its unanalysed wholeness, not broken down into separate parts for purposes of judgment. When a situation is thus known, it becomes quite clear what the individual has then to do. There is no problem of choice. When one sees clearly one knows what to do.

If such a mind encounters a variety of positive teachings, a variety of theosophies such as we have in the Theosophical Society, what does it do or not do? Obviously it seeks quite simply to know them for what they are, not rejecting one and clinging to another.

A true Theosophy is not a system or a mental structure, even though some kind of system or structure may be used in trying to express it. Its true source is in that order of experience which lies deeper than the personal mind. It is not embodied in this teaching or in that teaching but emerges through the whole life work of the Theosophist who gives it to us. It is like a great work of art.

At the level of words or facts, the level of the argumentative mind, the teachings or theosophies of various people clearly contradict one another from time to time. They are not always wholly consistent with one another, and they are not always consistent with the facts of Nature as revealed by science. Does this worry anybody?

Surely it is clear that these different theosophies, given to us by different people, cannot be true theosophies unless, to some extent, they do contradict one another at the verbal and factual level. The point of reconciliation of those differences, the point of convergence, must lie in that higher order of experience which is deeper than the personal mind.

To put various Theosophical teachings to their best use requires that we should ourselves seek to become open to that order of experience which originally gave rise to those teachings, that we should cease to protect ourselves against that experience.

The great classical exponents of Theosophy were all attempting the impossible. They were trying to express in terms of a more limited order of experience something which can be known only those who live in a higher and wider order of experience. We treat their writings and their lives with great injustice if we act as if they were concerned only with the limited mental standards in which so much of our daily lives are involved, if we regarded them and judge them only as a source of facts and information, criticising them adversely for not according with one another or with the data of contemporary science. That is not really what they are for. It is perhaps evidence of a certain poverty in the Theosophical Society that so many hours and words are spent in discussing the writings and experiences of other people now long dead, while so few seem to respond to the invitation, which all Theosophical literature makes, to outpass the mind barrier and know for oneself.

In a number of countries people have been engaging in what is described as "Theosophical research". Some of this takes the form of comparison, reconciliation, the confronting of one authority with another, efforts to form a consistent synthesis of teaching upon particular subjects. But it seems pretty certain that such efforts will not be really fruitful or interesting until the minds engaged in that research have become open to an entirely new order of experience through a breaking of the mind barrier. To express this in the language of a Theosophical textbook, real Theosophical research can begin only when causal consciousness has begun to awaken in us. Sometimes it has been said that one can take different Theosophical teachings as theory or hypothesis. But this suggests that they are merely to be considered by a tepid and cautiously isolated intellect and not responded to with the whole of our natures. Theosophy is not a mere intellectual experiment but a love affair, an ardent commitment of the heart.

The open mind indeed follows upon the open heart and cannot precede it. It is the closed and immature heart that gives to the argumentative personal mind its false standards of assessment. But in that higher order of experience, that state of greater reality of which the mind is so often the slayer, there cannot be an antithesis of mind and heart. Truth and brotherhood are known as one.

The Theosophical Society was never intended to be a body expounding some one system of teachings, though it has offered to the world many insights given in the form of teachings. It is constituted rather to be a field of experience in which individuals may break through the barrier of mind and begin to know the truth of life in its aspect of wholeness. It is not constituted to encourage personal minds to argue and pick and choose for themselves but to encourage hearts to discover their deeper unity with one another, so that through that discovery an entirely new quality of truth may come into the world and a new humanity.