[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next]

Thoughts on Morals

Aug 21, 1994 08:26 PM
by Gerald Schueler

          Jerry H-J is upset about the ethical
          standards of the younger generation of
          theosophists.  Although I am in the older
          generation (TS member for 25+ years), I
          disagree.  First of all, I have yet to hear
          anyone advocate unethical behaviors.  Jerry,
          thanks for the quote, but rest easy, everyone
          agrees that a theosophist should be ethical.
          The disagreements only come into play when we
          try to define ethics.  Our forefathers (from
          the Piscean Age) saw the world as black or
          white.  Everything was either good or bad.
          Every person wore either a white hat or a
          black hat.  Ethics was defined in terms of
          Thou Shalt Nots.  Today we are entering the
          Aquarian Age and people are now realizing
          that the world has shades of grey in it.  In
          fact, there is precious little of purely
          white or black in today's world and virtually
          everyone now wears a grey hat.  I see this as
          an evolutionary improvement.  So how do we
          define ethics today?  Perhaps the definition
          given in the Sanatana-Dharma (An Advanced
          Text-Book of Hindu Religion and Ethics,
          published by Adyar) is still pertinent:
          "...the measure used in Ethics at the present
          stage of evolution, by which the rightness or
          wrongness of an action is decided, is the
          tendency of the action to promote or to
          hinder Union."  (p 265)  Also on the same
          page is "...the object of morality is to
          bring about happiness by establishing
          harmonious relations."  While noone is likely
          to argue with this definition, who wants to
          set themselves up as a judge of whether
          someone's particular action tends towards
          Union or not?  While I like the definition, I
          feel that monitoring or measuring its
          efficacy would be impossible.  If by ethics
          we mean establishing a code or set of
          regulations, of Thou Shalt Nots, then I am
          against ethics.
               I wrote the following short article some
          time ago.  It was published by a European
          magical group (can't recall the name) a few
          years ago and I trust they won't mind my
          reprinting it here.

          MORALS AND MORAL DEVELOPMENT.  The Path from
          Amorality, to Morality and Immorality, and
          Back Again.

               Morals are terribly important for any
          progress along the spiritual path.  Theosophy
          teaches that morals are absolute
          requirements.  H.P. Blavatsky goes so far as
          to say, "The basis of morality and virtue are
          weak so long as morality and the course of
          virtue is not shown to be the necessary means
          for soul development, spiritual immortality."
          (C.W. Vol XIII, p 3576).  Thus moral
          development is essential for the immortality
          of our souls.  Lets take a quick look at
          morals and how they are developed.  I will
          use two modern psychology texts as aids:

          1.  Philip Zimbardo, (1988), Psychology and
          Life, 12th Edition, (Glenview IL:  Scott,
          Foresman and Co.).  For simplicity, I will
          call this reference PAL.

          2.  Grace J, Craig, (1989), Human
          Development, 5th Edition, (Englewood Cliffs,
          NJ:  Prentice Hall).  For simplicity, I will
          call this reference HD.

          First, a brief definition:

               "Morality is a system of beliefs,
                         values, and underlying judgments
                         about the rightness or wrongness of
                         acts."  (PAL p 87)

               Morality has to do with a sense of right
          and wrong, and with what psychologists call
          the conscience.  Piaget, a famous cognitive
          psychologist, defined morality as "an
          individual's respect for the rules of social
          order and his sense of justice," where
          justice is "a concern for reciprocity and
          equality among individuals."  According to
          Piaget, moral sense develops in two stages as
          follows:  (1)  The moral realism stage is
          where all rules are obeyed without
          distinction.  There is no weight given in
          this first stage to intent.  (2)  The moral
          relativism stage is where rules are created
          and agreed to cooperatively by individuals.
          In this second stage, rules can change -
          there is no absolute right or wrong.

               The entire concept of moral development
          must concern itself with child development
          and how morality is acquired during the
          developing stages of life.

               "There is considerable debate as to
                         how children acquire morality.
                         Social learning theorists believe
                         that children learn it by being
                         rewarded or punished for various
                         kinds of behavior and by modeling.
                         Psychodynamic psychologists believe
                         it develops as a defense against
                         anxiety over the loss of love and
                         approval.  Cognitive theorists
                         believe that, like intellectual
                         development, morality develops in
                         progressive, age-related stages."
                         (HD p 352)

               There are three main schools of thought
          concerning moral development in modern
          psychology:  social learning, psychodynamic,
          and cognitive.  Social learning theorists are
          concerned with behaviors and suggest that
          moral development is primarily a matter of
          reward and punishment.  Children model the
          behavior of adults, and learn morals through
          rewards and punishments, a well-documented
          process called operant conditioning.

               Psychodynamic theorists are concerned
          with emotions and suggest that moral
          development comes about by unconsciously
          avoiding the disapproval of others.  Freud
          was a psychodynamic theorist:

               "Freud argued that most people
                         behave morally most of the time
                         because of the inhibiting effects
                         of their consciences or the guilt
                         they feel when they do something
                         wrong." (PAL p 87)

               Cognitive theorists are concerned with
          thinking and they suggest that moral
          development has definable stages that
          everyone goes through to some degree.
          Lawrence Kohlberg presented six stages of
          moral development which, although criticized
          by some, is accepted today as a useful model.

               "According to Kohlberg's original
                         formulation, people can fit into
                         one of the six stages or moral
                         development.  Since then, he has
                         theorized that an even higher moral
                         stage (stage 7) exists, although it
                         is rarely found."  (PAL p 88)

          Because of its importance, lets briefly look
          at Kohlberg's Model of Moral Development:

          LEVEL 1.

          Stage 1.  Punishment and obedience.  Rules
          are obeyed to avoid punishment.

          Stage 2.  Naive instrumental hedonism.  Rules
          are obeyed to obtain rewards and to have
          favors returned.

          LEVEL 2.

          Stage 3.  "Good-boy" morality of maintaining
          good relations and the approval of others.
          Rules are obeyed to avoid disapproval or
          dislike by others.

          Stage 4.  Authority-maintaining morality.
          Rules are obeyed to avoid censure by
          legitimate authorities and to avoid guilt.

          LEVEL 3.

          Stage 5.  Morality of contract, of individual
          rights, and of democratically accepted law.
          Rules are obeyed for social or community

          Stage 6.  Morality of individual principles
          of consciousness.  Rules are obeyed in order
          to abide by universal ethical principles.

               Kohlberg has been criticized by other
          psychologists including women for various
          reasons (Kohlberg's study subjects, for
          example, were males), and Kohlberg himself
          has reviewed his findings and has
          acknowledged the importance of some of his
          critics' arguments.  But his six stages still
          remain as an important psychological model
          for moral development.  One of his critics is
          Carol Gilligan:

               "Gilligan argues that there are
                         essentially two methods of moral
                         reasoning.  One is based on
                         concepts of justice and the other
                         on caring for others.  These
                         methods can be sexually
                         differentiated.  The justice
                         perspective is characteristics of
                         male thinking, while caring for
                         others is common to women's moral
                         reasoning.  Men focus on rights and
                         think in highly individualistic
                         terms, according to Gilligan.
                         Women, by contrast, see moral
                         issues in terms of human
                         relationships and concerns for the
                         need of both sides in a moral
                         dilemma.  However, Gilligan notes,
                         some women make moral judgments
                         from a justice perspective and some
                         men from a caring one.  It results
                         from the socialization process.  As
                         a consequence of their
                         predispositions, however, men tend
                         to base their judgments on abstract
                         moral principles and women
                         generally on human needs in
                         concrete situations ... Gilligan
                         argues that Kohlberg's stages
                         theory needs to include the female
                         perspective along with the male's."
                         (HD p 354-355)

               With the above discussion in mind, it
          would appear that the doctrine of karma, of
          universe justice, was first taught by a man.

               Virtually all psychologists agree that
          babies are amoral - neither moral nor
          immoral.  They cannot understand people's
          responsibilities to each other.  Various
          stages of moral development are entered as we
          grow.  But it is well known that children are
          egocentric - they see the whole world as
          wrapped around themselves and are unable to
          view life from another's perspective.  The
          egocentric character of the child matures in
          early middle childhood.  This allows the
          child to see another's point of view and to
          develop friendships.

               We can summarize moral development
          according to modern psychology as being
          somewhat indecisive, although Kohlberg's six
          stages are widely accepted as a general
          model.  Basically, morals are the result of
          our developing from an initial state of
          amorality to obtaining a conscience - a sense
          of right and wrong.  How this development
          occurs is debatable, but it is generally
          accepted that morals have to do with
          acquiring a sense of right and wrong.
          Virtually all psychologists agree also that
          morality is culture-dependent, and what is
          right in one culture may be wrong in another
          culture.  Right and wrong are relative,
          rather than absolute, terms.

               Now lets look at a more occult or
          esoteric view of morality.  One of the best
          descriptions of morality from the viewpoint
          of Adepthood or the spiritual path, was given
          by W.Y. Evans-Wentz in the excellent
          introduction to his classic 'The Tibetan Book
          of the Great Liberation' (London:  Oxford
          University Press).  In his introduction to
          the life of the great Tibetan magician and
          saint, Milarepa, Evans-Wentz says that evil
          "is that which impedes self-realization."
          This is a very enlightened Buddhist
          viewpoint, and has important ramifications in
          other areas.  The idea is that anything which
          impedes spiritual progress is evil or wrong,
          while anything which hastens or assists
          spiritual progress is good.  He writes,

               "Good and Evil are the two-forked
                         trunk of the Tree of Life, sprung
                         from a single Seed.  Each fork
                         alike has its support in the root-
                         system of the One Tree.  The same
                         flows to and nourishes both forks
                         equally.  Or Good and Evil may be
                         viewed as being like twins,
                         offspring of one Father-Mother."
                         (p 55)

          And again,

               "Good and Evil, when viewed
                         exoterically, are a duality,
                         neither member of which is
                         conceivable or capable of mentally
                         existing independently of the
                         other.  Being thus inseparable,
                         Good and Evil, when viewed
                         esoterically, are intrinsically a
               (p 56)

               Here Evans-Wentz (who, I believe, was a
          theosophist) presents us with an extremely
          difficult concept to grasp - the dual nature
          of good and evil, right and wrong.  We all
          want to hold tightly to the good and somehow
          cast out the evil - embody only goodness, and
          avoid evil.  This desire comes to us at a
          very early stage in our lives, when we are
          praised for being good and punished for being
          bad.  It is reinforced through our lives by
          repetition.  Whether this is done by our
          parents, our care-givers, or whoever, we all
          try, most of the time, to be good and not to
          be bad (albeit for different motivations).
          We try to hold onto one side of a duality,
          and throw away the other side.  As we well
          know, this never really happens.  Our
          struggle is never successful.  Life is
          neither black nor white - it is various
          shades of grey.

               An Adept or enlightened person, who
          finally grasps the meaning of the duality of
          good and evil, reverts to the childlike state
          of amorality.  As far as morality is
          concerned, such a person becomes as a child
          again.  Most people, including theosophists,
          have a hard time accepting this - they would
          prefer to think that the Adept is all
          goodness and light having thoroughly
          conquered evil.  The truth is difficult to
          come to grips with - evil cannot ever be
          conquered or cast out.  Wrongness is as
          permanent, in this world, as rightness.

               Morality, in the sense of right and
          wrong, is entirely an exoteric concept.  The
          esoteric teachings of morality is a "bitter
          pill" for many to swallow in some ways,
          because although true, it is a terribly easy
          concept to take advantage of, and to abuse.
          Therefore, it is a very dangerous concept to
          try and teach.  I realize this, even as I
          write these words, but I still feel strongly
          that they must be said (as I am sure, Evens-
          Wentz did also).  First of all, only by
          understanding that the spiritual pathway is
          one of a reversion to amorality, rather than
          from immorality to morality, can we hope to
          understand the outlandish actions of some
          historical figures such as Madame Blavatsky
          herself.  Evens-Wentz presented the esoteric
          view to lay the background for understanding
          the immoral-appearing actions of the Great
          Guru, Padma Sambhava.  Because most people
          either cannot understand the esoteric
          concept, or refuse to accept it, such
          historical figures are usually cast as rogues
          and/or charlatans.

               We should not behave in such a way as to
          gain personal awards.  Many people go to
          church every week, not because they enjoy it
          or feel benefitted by it, but rather because
          they hope such actions will assist to get
          them into heaven, or because they desire the
          approval of friends and neighbors.
          Theosophists, by and large, would discourage
          such an attitude.  One should attend church
          to help others in the community, or because
          one simply wants to learn, rather than for
          personal gain or social status.  But to act
          in this way, to be good simply because being
          good is the right thing to do, requires a
          separation from one's past as well as a new

               We learn right and wrong at a very early
          age, and society encourages its development.
          We cannot do good simply because such actions
          are expressive of our spiritual natures,
          unless we first develop an enlightened self-
          image and then cut ourselves off from the
          moral sense that society has instilled into
          us.  We must see ourselves as being
          spiritual, and then dissociate ourselves from
          the moralistic schemas that are imprinted in
          the way that we look at ourselves and at our
          world.  Such a task is not easy - it is the
          task of an Adept, and when accomplished, the
          Adept will act without any sense of right or
          wrong, without any desire for reward, in
          short, without karma.  To do this, the Adept
          overcomes, in a sense, his social sense of
          right and wrong - and thus transcends the
          society in which he or she was born and
          raised.  The Adept becomes universal.
          Society, in turn, sees at least some of the
          Adept's actions as antisocial, and thus
          dangerous.  The true Adept is often a danger
          to society, or at least some significant part
          of it.  The Sermon on the Mount, for example,
          could be viewed as a call to Hippies and
          malcontents, and after all, Jesus was killed
          solely because his teachings presented a
          danger to his society.

                                    Jerry S.

[Back to Top]

Theosophy World: Dedicated to the Theosophical Philosophy and its Practical Application