THEOSOPHY, Vol. 43, No. 2, December, 1954
(Pages 70-75; Size: 17K)


[Part 17 of a 29-part series]

AN examination of the controversial word intellect is particularly appropriate to this issue of THEOSOPHY, in view of the lengthy quotations from Edith Hamilton's The Greek Way which appear as a featured item in Lookout. For Greece was not only the seat of Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy and, in H. P. Blavatsky's terms, a meeting ground for profundities in both Eastern and Western thought; Athens was also a place ennobled by the glorification of the mind. Miss Hamilton gives the word intellectual a lofty meaning in the following description of what "thinking" meant to the Greek philosophers:

Something new was moving in the world, the most disturbing force there is. "All things are at odds when God lets a thinker loose on this planet." They were let loose in Greece. The Greeks were intellectualists; they had a passion for using their minds. The fact shines through even their use of language. Our word for school comes from the Greek word for leisure. Of course, reasoned the Greek, given leisure a man will employ it in thinking and finding out about things. Leisure and the pursuit of knowledge, the connection was inevitable -- to a Greek. In our ears Philosophy has an austere if not a dreary sound. The word is Greek but it had not that sound in the original. The Greeks meant by it the endeavor to understand everything there is, and they called it what they felt it to be, the love of knowledge.
This passage will be of particular interest to Theosophists who have noted an apparent contradiction between the familiar statement of William Q. Judge to the effect that "intellect left to itself is cold and selfish," and H. P. Blavatsky's approval of Plato's description of the "rational soul" as the highest, spiritual self. She quotes Plutarch when she speaks of Plato's philosophy as holding that "that part of the soul of man which is rational is eternal; and though it be not God, yet it is the product of an eternal deity, but that part of the soul which is divested of reason dies." H.P.B. also cites Anaxagoras, who speaks of "the mind or spirit, self-potent, as the primary material of all" -- thus echoing the Pythagorean definition of the soul as a self-moving unit, key principle in the soul-triad being. Spirit and mind are identified in the Platonic classification by the one term Nous (as by H.P.B., Key, p. 96), and thus we see that here, as throughout the whole theosophical tradition, the active thinking principle receives greatest attention.

Of course, to a student of the seven-fold classification of human principles proposed by H.P.B., the confusion caused by the foregoing, plus statements about an inner deficiency of "reason alone," and the deprecation of the latter as "cold and selfish," is resolved by delineation of two manasic embodiments, higher and lower. This division the Greeks also understood, as H.P.B. points out in the Key to Theosophy:

"Man," says Plutarch, "is compound; and they are mistaken who think him to be compounded of two parts only. For they imagine that the understanding is a part of the soul, but they err in this no less than those who make the soul to be a part of the body. For the understanding as far exceeds the soul as the soul is better and diviner than the body. Now this composition of the soul with the understanding makes reason; and with the body (thumos, the animal soul) passion; of which the one is the beginning or principle of pleasure and pain, and the other of virtue and vice...."
What is involved here is clearly a matter of emphasis, and the duality of manas reminds the eager student that he must not consider intuition as a separate and a higher principle. Only in conjunction with Mind does Buddhi transcend instinct, and, without a development of the higher powers of thinking, no evolution of the soul can take place. This, incidentally, is suggested by the derivation of the word intelligence. As Joseph Shipley explains in the Dictionary of Word Origins, "to choose among, to discriminate, is to show intelligence (L. intelligere, intellectum, from intellegere, from inter, between+legre), or to be intellectual." Webster's definition (unabridged International) is also interesting:
Intellect -- The power or faculty of knowing, as distinguished from the power to feel and to will; sometimes, the capacity for higher forms of knowledge, as distinguished from the power to perceive and imagine; the power to perceive relationships, to judge and comprehend; also, ability to think; understanding.
Webster also makes clear that the salient feature of the Greek doctrine in respect to the mind was that the rational faculty had both an active and a passive aspect, "the giving and receiving powers of the mind." It therefore seems that the deprecation of intellect, rather popular in our own culture, derives from the tendency of many scholars to glorify the accomplishments of memorization. Thus the word intellectual most frequently calls up the vision of an absent-minded professor whose attention is focused upon routines of academic thought, but such usage of the word is a perversion; the intellectual person, actually, is one who relies upon memory and tradition the least, and chooses for himself most frequently.

It is also rather necessary for Theosophists to protest popular "anti-intellectualism," since anti-intellectualism vogues and the ascendancy of irrational religion go hand in hand. The priests of every age have taught that man's salvation cannot be gained by the efforts of his own intelligence; a higher power must be invoked to insure salvation of the soul, and revelation, not reason, is to be regarded as authentic. The democratic conception of government, though, derives from faith in reason as opposed to faith in either despotic authority or blind tradition. A "government of laws" is a symbol of rational man's faith that true justice may be comprehended in principle, by everyone, making it possible for each citizen to stand equally "before the law" -- we depend upon the inherent capacity of men to perceive the principles involved in laws and their enforcement. We can therefore conclude that, in a pure and strict sense, it is impossible for anyone to be too intellectual. The highest development of the manasic principle makes possible the further incarnation of intuitive perception, even though conversely, intellect cannot be developed in a vacuum. Spirit unfolds at the behest of mind, and expanding ideas correlate with an intuitive soul-willingness to view wider horizons.

Two interesting statements by H.P.B. on this subject may be noted. The first appears in Lucifer (III), September 15, 1888. Here we have an implicit avowal that Theosophists must ever believe in the ruling power of ideas -- in other words, the rule of reason. To those who argue that no precept or teaching can be true or beneficial if proffered by a man of questionable character, she replies:

The most mischievous tendency of society is to confound general principles with individual merit, and to excuse oneself for disloyalty to these ideals on the score of shortcomings in individual representatives of those aspirations. Frequently the aims and objects of the Theosophical movement have been quite ignored when it was a question of the merit or demerit of its conductors. Of course it would be but a waste of time to point out the inconsistency of those who would stretch it upon this bed of Procrustes, while ready to protest indignantly against the same test being applied to religious movements and scientific advancement. The immorality or virtue of a theosophical leader no more affects the truth of theosophical ideas, than the mendaciousness and dishonesty of Francis, Lord Bacon, do the intellectual value of the contents of his opus magnum. Theosophists are all aware of the fact that the birth and development of our Society trace back to alleged hidden springs of influence and surveillance. Yet the vitality of such a source neither adds to, nor depreciates in the smallest degree the value of the ideas, principles and facts which have been spread throughout the world within the past fifteen years through various literary channels.
It is well to ask ourselves why H. P. Blavatsky makes this point with such insistence. Surely, not because she holds that the personal lives of Theosophists are irrelevant to the welfare of the Theosophical Movement, nor because she denies the great and compelling power of ethical example. The reason is clearly that one must, in the proper development of the higher intellectual life, depersonalize his thinking and consider every thought or suggestion on its own merit, so that one is neither swayed by friends nor foes when making a value-judgment. Theosophy, in other words, is not to be accepted because of the personal excellence of its devotees, but because of the inherent truth of its teachings.

H.P.B. elsewhere remarks that although one may be entirely opposed to the deductions and conclusions of a philosophical writer, still, "something can be learned from that adverse philosophy" -- which carries the same point to an even more impressive extreme. For this suggests that truth, to the mind, is a great mosaic in which various shades and degrees of verity and falsity must constantly be balanced one against the other. Only thus does the essential principle involved stand out with clarity. Therefore, in a sense, the Theosophical Movement depends, above all else, upon the further incarnation of Manas among Theosophists. This for the reason that only those students determined to learn from disagreements as to teachings and precepts can present an enduring, united front in regard to a philosophical basis from which their studies are undertaken.

False unities of opinion were never solicited by H. P. Blavatsky, and the basis of the original T.S. made this very clear by making the one unforgivable sin of a T.S. member "the forcing of one's opinion upon another." Similarly, the greatest virtue which can be claimed for the basis of association which represents the present United Lodge of Theosophists is a determination to be unconcerned "with dissensions or differences of individual opinion." Here it is implied that the basis of theosophic study is so broad that all viewpoints can find supplemental or complementary meanings in the minds of students. Above all, one here senses a faith in the higher manasic power of each individual, in his own capacity to "distinguish between" contrasting values and principles so that he need not rely upon "party lines" or official doctrine.

One sentence in the Preface to the Key, often commented upon, is always worth pondering. H.P.B. writes that "to the mentally lazy or obtuse, Theosophy must always remain a riddle," and also makes the puzzling statement that in her own transmission of teachings "it is hoped that the obscurity still left is of the thought not of the language, is due to depth not to confusion." This seems to be a flat way of saying that Theosophy is anything but simple, and that a lifetime is required to understand the subtleties and complications which an application of its basic principles reveals. What is simple and "of the heart" is an intuitive faith in the three basic philosophical propositions -- also faith of a similar nature in the worthiness of a great Theosophist to be our teacher. But this faith of itself should be considered little more than a spur to the development of higher Manas, a guide or sign-post pointing in the direction of further universal understanding. For universal understanding is not attained by a sudden flash of illumination, but rather by a slow process of synthesizing, in one grand scheme of meaning, all of the differing experiences and ideas that come our way during evolutionary experience.

It is, after all, the mind itself which must distinguish between the representations made concerning the role of intellect in human evolution, pro and con. It is not the living mind, the true, choosing intellect, which grows "cold and hard," but rather patterns of thought which the living mind should have long ago outgrown. The opinionated intellectual, to use the word in its invidious sense, is simply one in whom intellect has ceased to function. The husks of past thoughts are glorified and defended, the soul retreating from the challenge of new horizons, even as Arjuna backed away for a time from the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

Among Theosophists, perhaps, the danger is not so much that the intellect may come to be developed "too much," but rather that the nature of intellect may be misconceived. Robert Crosbie warns, as did Judge, against the false notion that memorizing doctrines, teachings and sayings leads to the wisdom of the Adepts. In the Friendly Philosopher he writes that "the general tendency is toward 'intellectualism' and it is easy to follow that line of acquisition." But this is the road of those who neglect using their minds, substituting the false assurances of arbitrary statements, clichés, memorized tenets, etc.

Macneile Dixon, in his Human Situation, helps to clarify the nature of the issues revolving around intellect, first by attacking the provincial view that intuition is mere fantasy, then by suggesting that without reason there can be no judgment or communication -- no means for knowledge to grow:

You enthrone the measuring, weighing, calculating faculty of the human creature. His remaining attributes are irrelevant. But who told you that nature had drawn this line? Where did you learn of this preference? Nature has no preferences. If she has given us deceiving souls, how can you argue that she has given us trustworthy intellects? It was the opinion of Coleridge that deep thinking and deep feeling were inseparable, and that the "Euclidean understanding" failed, and must fail, to comprehend in isolation the sum of reality. If nature misleads us in the one case, she very probably misleads us in the other, and if that be so, it were best to wind up the debate, and turn our attention to stocks and shares. We should at least, then, aim at a conclusion which the intellect can accept and the heart approve.
On the other hand:
Innumerable attempts have been made, in the interests of the spiritual life, to find a substitute for reason, to discover another than the intellectual path to the sanctuary, an inner way. Reason may, indeed, itself acknowledge that there are regions beyond its powers of exploration, veils it cannot lift, and that knowledge may reach us by channels other than its own. The heart, as Pascal said, has reasons of its own. Yes, indeed, but every heart has its private and incommunicable secrets. There is no common ground. And here we perceive the intellect's grand prerogative and advantage. And remember its magnificent hospitality. Reason keeps an open house for all comers. It introduces us to a noble partnership. As men who speak the same language can communicate with each other, so in her domain mind answers to mind.

Next article:
[Fallible and Infallible.
Moral Infallibility.
Ethical Motivation.
Moral Excellence.
Mahatmas. Sages. Adepts.
Never Found Wanting.
Absolute Authority. The Pope.
Papal Infallibility. Mistakes.
Errors. H.P.B.. Ghandi.]
[Part 18 of a 29-part series]

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