from The Theosophist Feb 1989

A Cool View

Hugh Shearman

On the gravestone of the poet W.B. Yeats there is an inscription from one of his own verses:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death. Horseman, pass by.

When he was very young, Yeats found his pair of opposites in the lily and the rose; later it came to be life and death. In each case he wanted to find a way that was free from what at the time seemed a tiresome and binding pair of opposites. But what is the nature of that coldness, that detachment? Is it contemptuous, unsympathetic, even derisive? And who is the horseman. There is a passage in one of the Mahatma Letters which raises similar questions. It was addressed to one who was eager to know.

"Remember", said the writer, "too anxious expectation is not only tedious but dangerous too. Each warmer and quicker throb of the heart wears so much of life away. The passions, the affections, are not to be indulged in by him who seeks to know; for they wear out the earthly body with their own secret power; and he who would gain his aim must be cold. He must not even desire too earnestly or too passionately the object he would reach, else the very wish will prevent the possibility of its fulfilment, at best retard and throw it back".

To many this might seem a disturbing comment or at least a chilling one. But what is it that excites the heart to that warmer and quicker throb? Surely it is something quite low down in the scale of those many levels of motivation that are to be discovered in human nature. One can see it in a little dog that has been chasing something and is panting with excitement.

When we go searching for some form of knowledge that we can appropriate to ourselves the body responds with some of the instinctive reactions of a primitive hunter. Probably more adrenalin is poured into the bloodstream and there is a stimulation of many physical functions that have nothing to do with knowledge. One remembers Annie Besant's story of how, when she first tried with great determination to meditate, Madam Blavatsky intervened to point out that one does not meditate with one's blood vessels.

A doctor who worked in the psychological extern department of a hospital once told the writer that he had, on one occasion, suggested to a young man who was his patient that he should sit down each day in a comfortable chair for half an hour and just do nothing. The patient replied in great agitation, "But that would kill me!" Behind such physical restlessness there is great mental and emotional restlessness. The mind brings up an interminable series of pictures each of which is associated with some obscure desire or anxiety. Aware that all this restlessness "wears so much of life away", we are further agitated by a desire to stop it.

Watching or images, feelings and fidgets, we discover that they draw their vitality from the warmth of our own self identification with them. The images emerge from "my" memory. The feelings are "my" feelings. The body that fidgets belongs to "me". But who is "me? A cool clinical questioning raises doubts as to whether "me" may not just be another image or feeling, and whether "me" is as necessary as we think. Is it not "me" who entertains those "too anxious expectations" and that "warmer and quicker throb of the heart"? When Lord Beaverbrook entered the offices of The Express - the newspaper that he owned - he used to enquire, "Who is in charge of the clattering train?" That is what we want to know when we watch the restlessness of the human personality.

The image which the Bhagavad-Gita offers us for the true point of integration of the personality is that of the charioteer, holding in his hands the reins of his horses. Yet this is still an image and has some of the limitations of any other image invented or adopted by "me". People speak of "my higher self" in much the same way that they would speak of "my pet rabbit". The mind tends to reduce any image to a "thing " rather than follow it in to that which it represents. Only the cool view which rejects every image can make the real discovery. The human problem cannot be solved by the personal mind which is itself part of the problem, if not its cause.

There is also the possibility of illusion in connection with the notion of coldness or detachment. There is the coldness or detachment of the child or the immature person who has not yet known and accepted the anguish and tension of fully awakened adult life. And there is the coldness or non-attachment of the sage who has passed through it all and knows human life for what it is.

In the present and in other times many who have set themselves up as teachers of wisdom have reached only the coldness of immaturity but have represented it to be the coldness of mature wisdom. What sort of coldness are we talking about? The same word is used to indicate very different kinds of attitude. Here is a passage from another of the Mahatma Letters. "Men seeks after knowledge until they weary themselves to death, but even they do not feel very impatient to help their neighbour with their knowledge; hence there arises a coldness, a mutual indifference which renders him who knows inconsistent with himself and inharmonious with his surroundings. Viewed from our standpoint the evil is far greater on the spiritual than on the material side of man".

This brings us back to the horseman. What sort of fellow is he, and has he got it right? Nearly everywhere the figure of a man on a horse is a powerful symbol. Often he is armed against anything he may encounter on his cool and detached passage through life. A poem by Rilke begins with two lines which may be translated:

Forth into the roaring world.
In black steel, rides the knight.

But does life's traveller require this metallic protection and does it have to be black? He might meet a dragon and, naturally, he does not want to get hurt. So perhaps he had better keep his armour on for a while! Probably that is the position of most of us.

There is, however, a good deal in our theosophical literature about those who have become free from thoughts and ideas and are therefore able to take a cool view. They no longer have to concern themselves with thoughts about reality because they experience reality direct and not through an intervening medium of thought. Indeed they do not even have to experience reality, for they are themselves real.

Far short of this, the idea is often presented to us that it is only through entire vulnerability and openness that peace can be reached. It cannot be reached by sheltering oneself from anything or preparing for oneself any place of exclusion or privilege, however dignified or holy. "Let thy soul", says The Voice of the Silence, "lend its ear to every cry of pain like as the lotus bares its heart to drink the morning sun". And it tells us to "let each burning human tear drop in thy heart, nor ever brush if off until the pain that caused it is removed". Yet we know that to be brought into contact with the pain of other people, to be the witnesses of anguish, destruction or failure, hurts us very much, perhaps frightens us. We "lose our cool". It is easy to run away, to wince back into another sort of coldness - the coldness of immature inexperience or rejected experience.

So what shall we do? Perhaps it is a matter of temperament. Some people turn inwards or to the invisible. But we are no longer living in a devotional age. How is cool view, a stable attitude, to be found by somebody in this modern world who is looking predominantly outwards? Perhaps the first thing we have to realize is that we are looking our at far more than we conventionally suppose ourselves to be looking at. We think that we are looking out at objects, other people, and so on. But if we become alert to what we are doing we find that we are also doing we find that we are also looking out at a great deal that we have hitherto thought of as being ourselves. Our processes of thought and feeling are also something that we can watch, just as we watch the traffic and the behaviour of other people.

If we keep looking out, we find that we are able to look at more than we had thought possible, and that we are doing so from a deeper inside. By extending the range of the objective aspect of experience we are actually discovering a greater range in its subjective aspect. We find that everything we look at is all one piece of stuff, showing the same characteristics, whether it is happening outside what we used to regard as our selves or inside. For example, a surge of irritability in our personality is the same as a surge of irritability in somebody else's or a surge of wind or weather on a distant hillside. We are watching an expression of certain characteristics of material existence.

Simple observation, without analysis or the corrosive effects of thinking or putting it into words, can bring us to the experienced truth that everything that goes on, whether supposedly inside ourselves or outside, is one intricate, interconnected process - a truth which modern physics well knows. There is simply no possibility of segregation from it; yet our consciousness is nevertheless a spectator of it, able to influence the process by, as it were, wearing it as a garment, accepting it as our own.

The process seems to be going somewhere, developing in a certain direction. Consciousness in us has a choice from moment to moment as to how the drama of external existence is perceived and thereby helped along. For a recognition gradually comes that the outer world is, in its fashion, a mirror in which consciousness can see its own face. Or we might think of it as the secondary winding of a transformer in which consciousness is the primary winding.

Where we make compulsive identifications with parts of the process, getting excited or angry or animated by desire, we give vitality to limited areas of that living process and also to their opposites; and so we make what we call karma, creating shadows and a rebound. When we accept the process as one garment , not regarding a part of it as a "me", we stop giving vitality to its frustratingly reactive tendencies and hence create a new kind of freedom.

If there is understanding of the situation, we find that more and more of that apparently outer process of existing and happening is a garment for consciousness in us; that it is even an expressive capacity of that consciousness. But if we wrap just a little of it round ourselves, claiming that this is my personality, my thing, my consciousness, "me" then we achieve the coldness of immaturity towards all the rest. In time the incapacity of this temporarily appropriated area of objective existence to be segregated from the whole process of life will assert itself in those incompatibilities and conflicts which we describe as karma. For when we appropriate anything out of the whole, we also necessarily attach to ourselves all that constitutes its antithesis. If we cling to privileges and immunities, represented by the amour of black steel, we draw to ourselves the very conditions from which we seek to be immune.

There are many descriptions of those who have become free, who are able to take a cool view, but they are too often thought of in terms of their possessing exclusive knowledge, remarkable powers and exceptional immunities. In a sense they are, no doubt, the trustees of such things and have arrived at the trusteeship in the course of nature, but they do not possess or appropriate them and are not by nature possessing entities. They can be understood only through the renunciation they have made; and yet there is renounced has been abandoned because it has been seen to have no substance or reality.

So they are glimpsed from time to time; and represented in the stories that are to be found in some of the world's great scriptures. They are free form anxious or tedious expectations. Their heart develops no warmer or quicker throb. Passions do not wear out their earthly body. They do not desire too earnestly or too passionately the objective they would reach because that sort of desire is wholly unnecessary for them. Their view is a cool one. They are indeed "cold" and yet have been described as Masters of Compassion and are separated from nothing that humanity suffers. Having discovered the decentralization of consciousness, they do not have to be afraid of being personally hurt.

More Hugh Shearman

We recognize but one law in the Universe, the law of harmony, of perfect EQUILIBRIUM.