UPBRINGING OF CHILDREN.
The grasp of life given
by Theosophy is in the highest sense practical. The light it throws
on questions of education will be deeply useful to humanity long before
people are clairvoyant, and long before a person attains to direct vision
he can convince himself that in Theosophy the truth about life is to
Once he is born, the human
being enters on a new life, and his various bodies develop in different
ways and at different times. The educator should always bear this in
mind. The period from the first to the seventh year is very different
from the second seven-year period from the seventh to the fifteenth
or sixteenth year — earlier with girls, later with boys. Then there
is a change again after the sixteenth year, or shall we say after puberty.
We can properly understand how a human being grows to maturity only
if we keep before our eyes the different ways in which the various members
of his being develop.
From birth to the seventh
year it is really only the physical body that parents and educators have
to consider. At birth the physical body is released into its environment;
before birth it is part of the maternal organism. During the whole period
of pregnancy the life of the mother and of the human embryo are
intermingled. The physical body of the mother surrounds the physical body
of the child, so that the outer world has no access to the child. At
birth, things change; only then can the child receive impressions from
other beings in the physical world. But the child's etheric and astral
bodies are still not open to the external world; up to the seventh year,
indeed, the external world cannot influence them, for they are inwardly
absorbed in building up the physical body. At about the seventh year the
etheric body begins to be free to receive impressions from outside, and
it can then be influenced. But from the seventh to the fourteenth year no
attempt should be made to influence the astral body, or its inward activity
will be disturbed. During the first seven years it is best to leave
the etheric and astral bodies quite unmolested and to rely on everything
happening of its own accord.
The best way to influence
the child during his first seven years is through the development of
his sense-organs. All the impressions they receive from the outer world
are significant, and everything a child sees or hears affects him in
terms of his sense-organs. The sense-organs, however, are not influenced
by lesson-books or verbal teaching, but by means of example and imitation.
The most important thing during the first seven years is to nourish
a child's sense-organs. He will see with his eyes how people round
him are behaving. Aristotle was quite right in saying that man is the
most imitative of all creatures; and this is particularly true during
the first seven years. Hence during these years we must try to influence
a child's senses, to draw them out so that they become active
on their own account. That is why it is such a mistake to give a child
one of those “beautiful” dolls; they hinder him from setting
his own inner powers to work. A normal child will reject the doll and
be much happier with a piece of wood, or with anything which gives his
imagination a chance to be active.
No particular method of
teaching is needed for the etheric and astral bodies, but it is extremely
important that the subtler influences which pass over to them unconsciously
from their environment should be favourable. It is very important that
during these early years a child should be surrounded by noble-minded,
generous-hearted and affectionate people with good thoughts, for these
stamp themselves on the child's inner life. Example, therefore, in thought
and in feeling is the best means of education at this stage. It is not
what we say but what we are that influences a child during his first
seven years. Because of the extreme sensitivity of the inner members
of a child's being, his surroundings should be kept free from all impure,
immoral thoughts and feelings.
From the seventh to the
fourteenth, fifteenth or sixteenth year — that is, until puberty
— the etheric body goes through a liberation, just as the physical
body is thrown open to its environment at birth. During this period,
then, we must direct our efforts to the etheric body, the vehicle of
memory, of lasting habits, of temperament and inclinations and enduring
desires. Accordingly, when the etheric body is set free we must take
every care to develop these features; we must influence a child's
habits, his memory, everything which will give his character a firm
foundation. The child will grow up like a will-o'-the-wisp if
care is not taken to imbue his character with certain lasting habits,
so that with their aid he will stand firm against the storms of life.
This, too, is the time for exercising his memory; memorising is more
difficult after this age. It is at this time also that a feeling for
art awakens, particularly for the art of music, so closely associated
with the vibrations of the etheric body. If any musical talent exists,
this is when we should do all we can to encourage it. This again is
the time for stories and parables; it is wrong to try to develop critical
faculties so early. Our age sins greatly in this respect. Care must
be taken to see that the child learns as much as possible through stories
and analogies; we must store his memory with them and must see to it
that his power of comparison is exercised on concepts drawn from the
sense-world. We must bring before him examples taken from the lives
of the great men of history, but there must be no talk of “this
is good” or “this is bad”, for that would make a demand
on his judgment. We can hardly place too many such pictures or examples
before the child; these are the things which act on the etheric body.
This, too, is the age when stories and fairy tales, which represent
human life in the form of pictures, have a powerful effect. All this
makes the etheric body supple and plastic and provides it with lasting
impressions. How grateful Goethe must have been to his mother for telling
him so many fairy stories at this age!
The later the power of
critical judgment is aroused in a child, the better. But children ask
“why?” We should answer such questions not with abstract
explanations but through examples and images. And how infinitely important
it is to find the right ones! If a child asks questions about life
and death, and the changes that accompany them, we can use the example
of the caterpillar and the chrysalis, and explain how the butterfly
arises from the chrysalis to a new life. Everywhere in nature we can
find such comparisons, relevant to the highest questions. But quite
specially important for the child of this age is authority. It must
not be an enforced authority — the teacher must gain his authority
quite naturally, so that the child will believe before it has knowledge
to go on. Theosophical education demands of the teacher not only
intellectual knowledge, not only educational principles and insights; it
demands that the type of people chosen to be teachers must be those whose
natural gifts show promise of their becoming “an authority”.
Does this seem too much to ask? Surely we cannot fail to get such
teachers, since the future of mankind depends on it. Here a great
cultural task for Theosophy opens up.
When the child enters
the third period of seven years, the age of puberty, the astral body
is liberated; on it depends the power of judgment and criticism and
the capacity for entering into direct relationships with other human
beings. A young person's feelings towards the world in general develop
in company with his feelings towards other people, and now he is at
last mature enough for real understanding. As the astral body is liberated,
so is the personality, and so personal judgment has to be developed.
Nowadays young people are expected to offer criticism much too early.
Seventeen-year-old critics can be found in abundance, and many of the
people who write and pass judgments are quite immature. You have to
be twenty-two or twenty-four before you can offer a sound judgment of
your own; before then it is quite impossible. From the fourteenth to
the twenty-fourth year, when everything around him can teach a person
something, is the best time for learning from the world. That is the
way to grow up into full maturity.
These are the great basic
principles of education; countless details can be deduced from them.
The Theosophical Society is to publish a book for teachers and mothers
which will show how from birth to the seventh year the essential thing
is example; from the seventh to the fourteenth year,
authority; from the fourteenth to the twenty-first year the
training of independent judgment.
This is one example of how
Theosophy seeks to lay hold of practical life through all its stages.
Another example of practical
Theosophy can be drawn from a study of the great law of karma: a law
which really makes life comprehensible for the first time. The law of
karma is not mere theory, or something that merely satisfies our curiosity.
No, it gives us strength and confidence at every stage in life, and
makes intelligible much that would otherwise be unintelligible.
First of all, the law
of karma answers the great human question: why are children born into
such widely differing conditions? For instance, we see one child born
to wealth, perhaps endowed also with great talents and surrounded by
the most loving care. And we see another child born to poverty and misery,
perhaps with few talents or abilities, and so apparently predestined
to failure — or a child may have great abilities but no chance
to develop them. These are serious problems, and only Theosophy gives
an answer to them. If we are to face life with strength and hope we must
find an answer. How then does the law of karma answer these riddles?
We have seen that a man
passes through repeated lives on Earth, and that when a child is born,
it is not for the first time: he has been on Earth many times before.
Now in the external world the rule of cause and effect prevails, as
everyone recognises, and it is this great natural law of cause and effect
which we see, carried over into the spiritual realm, as the law of
How does the law work
in the external world? Take a metal ball, heat it and put it on a wooden
board. It will burn a hole in the wood. Take another ball, heat it but
throw it into water before you put it on the board, and then it will
not burn a hole. The fact that the ball was thrown into the water is
significant for its later behaviour. The ball goes through a sort of
experience, and its behaviour will vary accordingly. Thus the effect
depends on the cause. This is an example from the inanimate world, but
the same law holds everywhere. Animals gradually lose their eyesight
if they go to live in dark caves. Now suppose that in a later generation
such an animal were able to reflect: why have I no eyes? It would have
to conclude that the cause of its fate was that its ancestors had gone
to live in caves. Thus an earlier experience shapes a later destiny,
and so the rule of cause and effect holds.
The higher we move in
the scale of nature towards man, the more individual does destiny become.
Animals have a group-soul, and the destiny of a group of animals is
bound up with the group-soul. A man has his own Ego, and the individual
Ego undergoes its destiny just as the group-soul of animals does. A
whole species of animal may change over the generations, but with man
it is the individual Ego that changes from one life to another. Cause
and effect go on working from life to life: what I experience today
has its cause in a previous life, and what I do today shapes my destiny
in my next life. The cause of different circumstances at birth is not
to be found in this life; nothing immediate is responsible for it. The
cause lies in earlier lives. In a previous life a man has prepared his
Surely, you might say,
it is just this that must depress a man and rob him of all hope. But
in fact the law of karma is the most consoling law there is. Just as
it is true that nothing exists without a cause, so it is equally true
that nothing existing remains without its effects. I may be born in
poverty and misery; my abilities may be very limited; yet whatever I
do must produce its effect, and whatever I accomplish now, by way of
industry or moral activity, will certainly have its effect in later
lives. If it depresses me to think that I have deserved my present destiny,
it may equally cheer me to know that I can frame my future destiny myself.
Anyone who really takes this law into his thinking and feeling will
soon realise what a sense of power and of security he has gained. We
do not have to understand the law in all its details; that becomes possible
only at the higher stages of clairvoyant knowledge. Much more important
is it that we should look at the world in the light of this law and
live in accordance with it. If we do this conscientiously over a period
of years, the law will of its own accord become part of our feelings.
We verify the truth of the law by applying it.
At this point all sorts
of objections may arise. Someone may say: “Then we should certainly
become sheer fatalists! If we are responsible for whatever happens to
us and cannot change it, the best thing is to do nothing. If I am lazy,
that is my karma.” Or perhaps someone will say: “The law
of karma says we can bring about favourable consequences in our next
life. I will start being really good in a later life; for the moment
I will enjoy myself. I have plenty of time; I shall be returning to
Earth and I will make a start then.” Someone else says: “I
shall not help anyone any more, for if he is poor and wretched and I help
him I shall be interfering with his karma. He has earned his suffering;
he must look after changing his karma by his own efforts.”
All these objections reveal
a gross misunderstanding. The law of karma says that all the good I
may have done in this life will have its effect, and so will everything
bad. Thus in our Book of Life there is a kind of account-sheet, with
debit and credit sides, and the balance can be drawn at any moment.
If I close the account and draw the balance, that will show my destiny.
At first this seems to be a hard, unbending law, but it is not so. A
true comparison with the ledger would run as follows: each new transaction
alters the balance and each new action alters the destiny.
After all, a merchant
does not say that since every new transaction upsets his balance, he
can do nothing about it. Just as the merchant is not hindered by his
ledger from doing new business, so in life a man is not hindered from
making a new entry in his Book of Life. And if the merchant got into
difficulties and asked a friend to lend him a thousand marks to help
him to recover, it would be nonsense if his friend replied that he really
couldn't do anything because it would mean interfering with the state
of his friend's account-book. In the same way it would be nonsense if
I refused to help another man in order not to come into conflict with
the law of karma. However firmly I believe in the law of karma, there
is nothing to prevent me from relieving any misery and poverty. On the
contrary, if I did not believe in the law, I might doubt whether my
help would have any effect: as it is, I know that my help will have
a good effect. It is this aspect of karma which can console us and give
us energy for action. We ought to think of the law of karma not so much
in its relation to the past as in its bearing on the future. We may
indeed look back on the past and resolve to bear its karma, but above all
we should be positively active in laying a foundation for the future.
Christian clergymen often
raise the objection: “Your Theosophy is not Christian, for it
ascribes everything to self-redemption. You say a man must work out
his own karma quite alone. If he can do this, what place is there for
Christ Jesus, who suffered for all mankind? The Theosophist says he
needs no help from anyone.”
All this indicates a
misunderstanding on both sides. Our critics do not realise that free-will
is not restricted by the law of karma. The Theosophist, on his side,
needs to see clearly that because he believes in karma he does not depend
entirely on self-help and self-development; he must recognise that he can
be helped by others. And then a true reconciliation between the law of
karma and the central fact of Christianity will not be hard to find.
This harmony has always existed; the law of karma has always been known
to esoteric Christianity.
Let us imagine two people:
one is in distress because of his karma, the other helps him because
he has the power to do so, and in this way the karma of the former is
improved. Does this exclude the law? On the contrary, it confirms it.
It is precisely the working of the law of karma which makes the help
If someone has more power
than this, he may be able to help two or three or four others if they
are in need. Someone still more powerful may be able to help hundreds
or thousands and influence their karma for the better. And if he is
as powerful as Christianity represents Christ to be, he may help the
whole of humanity just at a time when it is in special need of help.
But that does not make the law of karma ineffective; on the contrary,
Christ's deed on Earth is effective precisely because the law of karma
can be built upon.
The Redeemer knows that
by the law of karma His work of redemption will be available for everyone.
Indeed, He accomplished that deed in reliance on the law of karma, as
a cause of glorious results in the future, as a seed for a later harvest
and as a source of help for anyone who allows the blessings of redemption
to act upon him. Christ's deed is conceivable only because of the law
of karma; the testament of Christ is in fact the teaching of karma and
reincarnation. This does not mean that each one must bear the consequence
of his own actions, but that the consequences must be borne by someone,
no matter whom. If a Theosophist maintains that he cannot understand
the unique deed of Christ having been accomplished once only for all
mankind, this means that he does not understand karma. The same is true
of any priest who declares that karma interferes with the doctrine of
redemption. The reason why Christianity has hitherto failed to emphasise
the law of karma and the idea of reincarnation is bound up with the
whole question of human evolution and will be dealt with later.
The world does not consist
of single “I's”, each one isolated from the rest;
the world is really one great unity and brotherhood. And just as in
physical life a brother or friend can intervene to help another, so
does this hold good in a much deeper sense in the spiritual world.