At what shall I aim? Is there any one thing that matters more than all else? Is there an order of importance in the uses I can make of my intelligence and energy? You may say with the books that the practice of love and charity comes first. But can love be "practiced"? Does one practice when one falls in love? To fall, in any sense, is not to practice anything: it is to be borne, for better or for worse, by something beyond oneself. One does not move: one is moved. Is love not practiced only when one has ceased to love? And the thing that is practiced — is it really love, or some extraordinary synthetic which, being unmoved by love, we have created and with which we endlessly deceive ourselves? Considering the long history of violence culminating in the recent world catastrophe, there must be about our thinking something that is terribly wrong. Surely it is more than urgent that we begin to think anew, with fresh interest, about love; and even more, about the absence of love. For it is the latter, not the former, that we know — and one must begin with the known. If I assume from the start that I know love, obviously I open myself to enormous error. No scientist begins by assuming that he already knows the answer; if he did, his research would have no meaning. One must first recognize the problem: the absence of love. And not in others — but in oneself.
Will charity ever begin at home — in my own heart — as long as I am content with voluntary goodness, which is the mere imitation of an idea? If I am deliberately brotherly, does my action produce brotherhood — or pleasant hypocrisy? Does insistence upon harmony really produce harmony — or does it bring about the artificial calm of conformity, which is stagnation? We make love into a policy which we adopt; naturally it is a mere shell, unproductive of joy. This premeditated love always turns to violence, open or concealed, when sufficiently provoked. It inevitably defeats itself. It gives rise to so-called righteous indignation — that marvellous refuge of the righteous when they feel called upon to act in an unrighteous manner. That is why, while believing in brotherhood, we continue to bring forth disunity and war in their many forms. By assuming virtue we perpetuate vice.
The point is this: If I desire something for myself, however much I may be steeped in thoughts of love, I will automatically resent anyone who prevents or threatens my having it. Though I may suppress the resentment, conceal it from myself and from others under the cloak of my philosophy, it is inescapable because it is all of a piece with the original desire. Frustration of desire creates the enemy; and since desire can always be frustrated, as long as I have desire I am contributing to disunity and war. If this is true, my talk of brotherhood has very little value. The problem is not how to create brotherhood, heal disunity, or prevent war, but how to be free of desire. If I can really be free of desire, perhaps love will arise normally, without my having to pursue it.
How am I to be free of desire?
If a man suffering from hallucinations sought to cure himself only of the unpleasant ones while retaining those which he enjoyed, surely he would never be free of his illusions. To be free, he must understand the whole complex process of his self-deception, the high as well as the low. Is it not the same with desire? One cannot accept certain desires because they are noble, and reject others because they are base — not, at any rate, if one is to be free of desire. This choice of desire creates an endless flight from the base to the noble, from hatred to conceptual love — all within the field of desire. It is a futile race. Hatred moves along with conceptual love like a man and his shadow. To pursue love is still to be caught in desire.
If love cannot be known by seeking it, desire, on the other hand, can be known, can it not? We need not preconceive or seek desire, for it is always with us: it can be directly observed. It is a strange trait of human nature that we seldom know desire although we constantly experience it. We imagine that we love, then suddenly feel jealous. We act, as we think, for the benefit of others, then feel hurt or angry when our efforts are criticized or overlooked. These things are a common experience, yet how much thought is given to them? When they are sufficiently acute, we are painfully forced to take cognizance of them. Then we find a drug-like solution, or just suffer until time renders them impotent. But as a rule they are mild; being well schooled in righteous behavior, we are able to brush them off and continue as before until they occur again. In spite of our philosophy of love and truth, this process goes on year after year until we are numbed by age. If evolution will cure it, why does it continue after years of effort? If it happens after a score of years, what is to prevent it happening after a score of lives?
To be free of desire, obviously one has first to see it — which means that one cannot cover it up with dreams of wisdom, or with any preconceived notion of one's spiritual stature. It is difficult and very unsettling, if one has lived at all in the assurance of assumed virtue (and I think many religiously-minded people unconsciously do), to break up this preconception of oneself and begin to see, without condemnation, cynicism or refuge, the subtle, philosophy-concealed movements of desire. It is difficult: but is there really any other way? Have we not sooner or later to face this thing? Must we not individually awaken into direct, non-theoretical perception of the ego and its many illusions? Surely, being caught in the separate self, we cannot forever cling to the inspiration derived from exalted beliefs, or even from known facts.
The sunset on a mountain is spoiled by a shadow in my heart. In the dust of humble self-knowledge there may lie the seed of wisdom and the root of love.
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE