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Re: Inner Certainity

May 16, 1995 06:48 PM
by jrcecon

Response to Eldon:

[NOTE: This is a long post.]

>Your comments regarding karma -- that we can't really know it, or
>perhaps can't really communicate a knowledge of it -- are
>understandable. They represent one viewpoint or approach to
>Theosophy that is held by many. There are, however, many
>different theosophical worldviews, and that uncertainty is not
>found in all of them.

Well, I'm not sure if its a "Theosophical" point of view, and it
certainly doesn't seem to be held by many in the TS.  Some sort
of doctrine of "karma" is probably one of the core *beliefs*
among most Theosophists, with the only substantive arguments
being definitional.  There is a large difference between assuming
the "truth" of karma, and then proceeding to attempt to discover
(whether by rational, dialectic, or intuitive modes of thought)
the details of that truth, and beginning by presuming that a
"law" of karma is nothing more than a hypothesis, and insisting
that it be subjected to rigorous examination before it is
accepted ...  especially as a guide for behavior.  The second
approach seems very rare in the TS.

>We are dealing with assumptions about the nature of knowledge,
>and of how experience relates to what we know. Consider
>something that is not in our personal experience. Say we're not
>convinced that it is true, but others hold it to be real
>according to their experience. Whom has the final say? With
>metaphysical matters, where the proof is in the experience, and
>the experience is not universally had by all, how do we proceed?

Agreed that it is an epistimological question, but Theosophy (or
at least most Theosophists, and most definitely the Theosophists
who I was questioning in my post about Certainty) do not speak of
karma as being a "metaphysical" truth (whatever that means), but
rather as a *universal law*.  If it is a universal law, it is
*not* dependent upon personal experience.  It doesn't matter
whether someone believes in gravity or not, one still falls off a
cliff.  Aristotle's most basic principle of metaphysics was
"A=A", that is, a thing is identical to itself.  A thing cannot
both be and not be.  If there is a "law" of karma, and it is
"universal", how can it *not* be in *everyone's* personal

I am perfectly willing to accept that there may exist something
like the "metaphysical" truths that you speak of ...  (that
Christians believe in the "truth" of Christ, and in some form of
heaven and hell, for instance).  If someone holds they know a
truth about their own life ..  well, no problem.  If someone,
however, holds that they know a truth that not only applies to my
life, but that is held to be of so powerful and dramatic a nature
that, if true, it ought to substantially condition my thoughts
and behavior, then yes, I want something far more powerful than
"I feel, intuitively, that its true" as demonstration of its

If there is a universal "law" of Karma, *why is it not
universally accepted*?" Why has the process of evolution not, by
now, thoroughly integrated such a truth into behavior? (As it has
with the "law" of gravity ...  we may be the first animal that
has consciously framed it as a law, but every life form, animal,
plant or human, behaves as though there is no doubt about its
existence).  Why is it that there are large numbers of the human
population that would *not* admit it as a truth? That it is
really only held as a truth by those who operate within
particular religious/philosophical traditions ...  and even among
those its details are vehemently disputed?

>When we subject what we know, feel, or experience to severe
>scrutiny, it starts to break down. Krishnamurti, for instance,
>attempted at times to reduce everything to the basic motivation
>of fear. Does this mean that everything is constructed of fear?
>No. Freud reduced everything to a sexual drive. Is everything
>sexual? Again: No.
>    After a certain level of reductionism, things break apart into
>their component elements, and they "die", the higher order
>disappears, and the life has departed. Six basic questions, if
>asked enough time, will do this: Who? What? Where? When? Why?
>How? Consider how quickly we run out of answers for a child that
>continues a series of Why's, eventually leaving us without an

When you do this, you may arrive at the results you mention, but
not when "we" do it.  The reductionism of Krishnamurti, Freud,
and for that manner, countless others, is not what I was doing
with karma.  Krishnamurti *began* by assuming fear, Freud *began*
by assuming sex to be a thing that everything could reduce to ...
and in doing so, I believe, made a mistake that you so well
illustrate ...  the *same mistake made by those who begin by
presuming "karma" to be a premier operative law and proceeding
then to explain all sorts of events by reference to its

It is, IMO, when I have *failed* to subject what I know, or feel,
or experience to severe scrutiny that thousands of roads full of
enticing illusion open before my eyes.

>    Pushing an idea, an understanding to its limits, it starts to
>break down. Does this mean that the idea is flawed? No, it means
>that the idea has room for growth, that there is more for us to
>learn about it. With continued study, deep though, contemplation,
>the idea comes together again, and we can push it farther. Our
>ideas, including the deepest mystical insights, have their
>limits, and fall apart when pushed beyond those limits. But when
>we study the mysteries that open up to us, as our ideas break
>down, we learn more, and the ideas are unified again.

But as often as not it most definitely *does* mean that the idea
is flawed.  The sun does *not* revolve around the earth.
Drilling holes in a lunatic's head to "let the evil spirits out"
does *not* cure neurotransmitter imbalances.  Sometimes pushing a
concept used to frame what is believed to be a truth does cause
it to fall apart to the extent that a much wider appreciation of
that truth becomes possible ..  as with gravity, where Einstein's
equations didn't disprove Newton's, but merely showed Newton's to
be a partial understanding of what General Relativity explained
much more fully.  But Einstein didn't request that people simply
*believe* his insights.  Upon framing the General Theory, he
himself proposed three tests ...  telling the scientific
community that if they were not passed, he himself would refute
his own theory (which resulted in Sir Arthur Eddington travelling
to South America to view an eclipse, and to observe the light of
an occulted star being distorted by precisely the magnitude
Einstein's theory had predicted).

Subjected to severe scrutiny, some ideas dissolve to reveal much
larger scales of truth hidden within them, but *others are
exposed as simply untruths, or superstitions*.  If Theosophy,
where "There is no religion higher than Truth" is not willing to
subject its own core concepts to rigorous examination, is not
willing to push its own ideas to that limit you speak of, is
willing to accept things on the basis of personal, subjective
experience alone, then it becomes simply another religion (an odd
amalgam of Hinduism and Buddhism sprinkled with a dash of western
occultism) asserting its "truths" in the same way, and upon the
same foundation, as any other religion (which is, incidently, the
way the general population ...  at least those parts of it that
have heard of Theosophy ...  tends to see the Theosophical

>It is possible to throw everything open to doubt and uncertainty.
>A healthy dose of skepticism is necessary in order to support
>frequent reality checks. There are different forms, though, of
>certainty, and not all are bad. It's wrong to be certain in the
>rigid, unthinking adherence to external rules, formulae, and
>words. But certainty grounded in experimentation and personal
>experience is a healthy thing.
>    With the study of Theosophy, that personal experience is in
>using a different way of thinking, sometimes called higher Manas.
>It is not difficult, and does not require vast training. It
>represents a form of inner experience that is different from
>visions, psychic experiences, OOBE's, or dramatic external events
>in life. With it, it is possible to explore and have experiences
>in a metaphysical sense, in our theosophical studies. This type
>of experience leads to a conviction, a certainty that comes from
>a dynamic process, from an inner living link to a source of
>learning, sometimes called one's Inner Teacher. One goal of the
>Theosophical Movement may be to encourage people to discover and
>appreciate this manner of contemplation, study, and knowing about

Well, I hate to keep harping about this, but its been years since
there was really any such thing as a Theosophical "Movement".
The tone of these two paragraphs is that of a Teacher speaking to
a Pupil, or of a Guru speaking to a Chela (sometimes called
Condescending).  This attitude is (unfortunately, IMO) a terribly
common one throughout the current TS, and may be a chief reason
why so many from my generation that have touched the TS leave it
after a very short period of time.

I had a good friend who was, as far as I can tell, born with the
instinct towards service within her ...  it was automatic.  She
had little use for "techniques" and still less use for religions,
but after some persuasion, I convinced her that Theosophy might
be a place where kindred souls, sharing the service ethos, and
non-dogmatic about their pursuit of truth, might be found (I had
recently joined, and was rather a tad idealistic about this).
Despite the fact that the First Object raised her hackles, she
still agreed to attend a meeting (not all that comfortable with
notion of supporting a "Brotherhood" ...  and for all those who
still think gender language does not matter, please understand
that the women ...  and many of the men ...  of my generation are
*not* going to let go of the issue).  The meeting was discussing
Karma (I won't say which Branch) and after listening for a little
while, she raised a couple of simple questions.  She was answered
with an attitude that she framed afterwards as composed of a
couple different aspects: First, that she was lacking in the
"mystical insight" necessary grasp the real truth, but with study
and discipline she might be able to reach the "level" of the wise
persons in the group; and second, that rational thought and the
desire for empirical forms of investigation were considered the
marks of "unenlightened" minds.

She *rightly* concluded that these two attitudes are pretty much
parts of the core definition of a *cult* (albeit a relatively
harmless one), and she never returned.

>We have a dynamic process of inner reflection that paradoxically
>increases our sense of uncertainty as we learn and grow. This
>uncertainty represents growth pains, where our attention is drawn
>to ponder those areas of our understanding that are ripe for
>reflection, reexamination, and exploration. Picture a circle
>that contains what we know. Outside the circle is the unknown.
>We're aware of what we don't know by the boundary that the circle
>marks off. As the circle grows, and we know more, the boundary
>is also larger, and we are made more aware of how much there is
>that we have yet to know. How do we transcend this? When we
>transcend the sense of personal self, make the boundary fuzzy,
>and embrace the outside. But that is a whole other topic of
>discussion ...

Again this predilection to universalize.  Why "our" instead of
"my"? And this is not a personal attack, but is at the core of
the point I was trying to make about inner certainty.  This
paragraph contains, possibly, part of a description of *your*
particular configuration of how growth takes place.  Along its
particular line of unfolding, *you* may start by assuming
something called "karma" to be an operative principle.  You may
unfold into greater and greater circles of the unknown, and at
each stage, gain what you feel to be a deeper and deeper
understanding of what you call karma.  This is your personal
road, and your understandings are your personal understandings,
and no one has any grounds upon which to question the validity of
your insights or the intensity of your belief in them.  When,
however, someone *universalizes* their insights, when they claim,
either explicitly (as everyone from the Pope to David Koresh has)
or implicitly (by such means, for instance, as calling a belief a
"law") that the particular formulation of a principle that they
happen to hold at some particular time holds for *everyone* in
*all times*, then (IMO) something considerably more than "inner
certainty" can, and should, be required from them.

And I hold this opinion *because* of Theosophical studies.  The
only thing "we", as Theosophists, are really encouraged to
accept, is the Three Objects.  The study of comparative religion
is included in those objects, and I have, over the years,
attempted to understand both the philosophical foundations as
well as the outer activities of most of the world's major (and
many of the minor) religions.  Religion has contributed many
remarkable things to the lives of humans, but it has also engaged
in deeds foul beyond imagination ...  and if there is any one
idea that seems present among some in almost every religion, and
is (arguably) the most lethal, dangerous, idea within them, that
has lead to more suffering and bloodshed than almost any other
single idea, it is the idea that could be formulated:

"*I* know the truth, and that truth is universal".  This
sentiment was, and is, at the foundation of every crusade, every
inquisition, every "holy war" in the recorded history of our
race.  (I should add, however, that I believe it to be a
necessary, but not sufficient condition for atrocities ...  I do
not mean to imply that anyone that universalizes their personal
truths does evil, only that there is subtle, but very definite
danger in not knowing when it is being done).

For whatever its worth, I believe there may be two general ranges
of truths, the universal and the personal.  Personal truths come
about through the agency of the human ability to condition their
perceptive reality.  Integrate a belief structure deep enough
into the unconscious, and it will become the equivalent of an
operative archetype that then conditions what a person perceives
(and doesn't perceive) and how the person evaluates the
perception.  If a person believes an evil spirit called "Satan"
is alive on earth, its easy to see how a multitude of different
and completely unrelated events will all appear to be "acts of
Satan".  An entire perceptual world may then unfold out of that
belief-complex.  Different people may come to be seen as "tools
of Satan".  The perceptual world will differentiate into the
forces of "good" and the forces of "evil".  The person may pray
or meditate on "Satan", and will, predictably enough, begin to
receive deeper and deeper "insights" about Satan and the way he
works.  Anyone, however, that has not entered that belief
structure, will most definitely not accept the "truths" of those
insights ...  and will likely see them as superstition or
madness.  Plato's Noble Lie was a recognition of this principle,
and an attempt to use it towards a positive end.

Universal truths, on the other hand, arise out of the most basic
qualities of existence itself, and are not at all dependent upon
the will or perception of any of the beings concerned.

The philosophical search for truth, I believe, is the search for
those universal truths, for the understanding of those basic
qualities of existence, and nothing is as destructive to this
search than failing to differentiate between the personal and the
universal, than, in fact, arriving at *premature* "Inner
Certainty" (the greater the person's Inner Certainty about
"Satan", the less chance that person would have of discovering
the actual principles and causes behind the events blamed on
Satan).  The scientific method of the last couple of centuries
has greatly aided this search ...  but I believe it was used by
genuine occultists for millennia prior to its appearance in the
general population: If the "Masters" can, for instance,
precipitate objects and letters, or perceive events and
situations at a considerable distance from the location of their
physical bodies, they must have learned how to do it, must have
gradually developed the abilities, must have, in essence, done
some (to most of us, unknown) things, checked to see the results,
refined what they were doing, tried again, etc., etc.  The
knowledge and abilities of these beings could not have been
arrived at without a clear differentiation between the personal
and the universal.

Most religions don't even begin to distinguish between the two,
and simply speak the personal as though it is the universal.
"Karma" is a concept that is spoken of as a universal principle
by some, but definitely not all, religions on earth.  Those that
accept it as a truth certainly do seem to gain continuous
insights about it, and many events in their lives certainly are
conceptualized as the operations of its principles, but none of
this means it is a universal truth, and if it is not, then the
Certainty it is spoken with in the posts I was questioning is
*not* positive, but is a means of maintaining the operations of a

The Theosophical Society has contained within itself a
fundamental contradiction ...  it is composed of Three Objects,
that describe a society composed of people encouraged to work
towards creating (or revealing) the interconnectedness of
humanity, its religions, sciences and arts, and committed to the
exploration of latent human potential, but it also contains a set
of writings that introduce concepts from a couple of eastern
religious traditions.  It is possible to fully accept the Three
Objects without in any way accepting (at least not a priori) any
of the religious truths of Hinduism or Buddhism.

The more I have thought through the concept of "Karma",
especially in the light of modern physics, and with the
understandings coming from complexity and chaos theories, the
more it is beginning to appear as a personal, rather than a
universal truth.  It assumes a determinism that is only possible
in a closed, entropic, conservative system ...  but in a world in
which it is coming to be increasingly understood that even the
most basic particles of matter don't always behave in a
deterministic fashion (which leaves out the agency of "free will"
that might be expected to be present in human behavior, and would
suggest even greater indeterminacy), a world which even the most
materialistic of scientists are beginning to describe with the
equations of non-linear fluid dynamics and probability theory
rather than with simultaneous linear equations, in which simple
concepts are having an increasingly hard time explaining the
stunning complexity of human life at both the individual and
collective levels, its becoming harder and harder for me to
accept the notion of Karma as a universal truth, at least as it
is framed in the metaphysical texts of the Piscean age.

I also consider it at least possible that it is a sort of moral
dogma, introduced deliberately by members of the inner kingdom
for the benefit of human civilization.  Throughout books such as
the Mahatma letters (and many others, including even the
Christian bible) there are continual hints that the "Masters"
consider the average human to be rather childish, both in motives
for behavior and capacities of understanding.  They refer to
themselves as "Elder Brothers", and claim both the rights and the
duties of guidance.  I do not question their motives, but I also
believe them fully capable of using white lies (even really
*huge* white lies) as a means of guidance.

In short, I have *no* certainty, inner or outer, about what Karma
is, or even whether it actually exists as a principle in lives
other than those who have internalized it as an operative
paradigm.  And when I observe someone speaking with total
certainty about its truth and even its minute characteristics,
speaking as though it is not merely a personal belief but is a
universal law, then I cannot help but ask about the source of
that certainty.

There really *is* no religion higher than truth.

Regards,               -JRC

PS: And I second the sentiments already expressed by others, this
*has* been a positively smashing discussion!

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