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Aparigraha (non-possession) and Theosophy

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The concept of aparigraha (literally: not-around-grasping) is not explicitly mentioned in theosophical literature, and therefore there exists no formal definition within the theosophical context. Theosophy never supports dogmas, and knows no prescriptions of behavior. Theosophy, or divine wisdom, is the core of universal truth of every genuine religion and spiritual system, without any prescription of rituals, articles of faith, even any doctrine one is expected to believe, but occupies itself with that universal knowledge and wisdom which can make every sincere Theosophist a creator of his own religion and pattern of behavior, as well as an adherent to any one existing religion if he chooses so, and then in the best sense of the word. One has to think and intuit for oneself, and this can only be accomplished by sincere and unwavering motivation to grasp the deeper truth beyond or underlying the phenomena of the world and the universe. Therefore every rule or dogma standing between the free man and his inner divinity, would blur the clearness of mind needed for inner research and distract the thinker from the essence of knowledge. Whatever I write here is my own understanding from what I studied and meditated upon, and is not ‘authoritative,’ because there are no authorities as to what is true or not. It is correct to say that all great spiritual and compassionate teachers of humankind were Theosophists in the true sense of the word. Through training and inner experience they had learned to look, metaphorically and truly,  behind the horizon, below the surface, beyond the skies.

These great teachers had in common that they taught ethics to the people, and because not everyone is, in our present state of evolution, able to understand the deepest truths immediately, systems with teachings and advices for behavior were designed. They all taught kindness, consideration and unselfishness. More than that would perhaps not have been necessary. But the human mind is as yet too uneducated to be clear and quiet, and it puts up questions which cause turmoil rather than simplicity and clarity. And therefore rules, as reflections of their knowledge, had to be put up as crutches. They were and are necessary at the time, but give rise to many quarrels and wars. Crutches should be discarded as soon as the patient can stand on his own.

I will here briefly discuss the concept of aparigraha in the light of the universal teachings of Theosophy, which can be found in different forms and phrasings and in various measure of emphasis in all genuine systems of thought – be it religion or spiritual philosophy.

1. One of the fundamental doctrines taught by Theosophy is the universality of cycles in nature. Everything that is born dies, everything that is ‘dead’ will be born again. There is thus a continuous repetition of interworking cycles, but never twice the same situation, and never a falling back below what has already been accomplished.

There is continuous change – nothing ever remaining the same even for a split second, and all existing things are part of that great play of dance or rhythm which involves all. We humans, too, are but the tiniest sparks of a grand whole to which no borders or limits are thinkable. Still we have in us everything that is contained in the cosmos. We live forever in our ever evolving, and never static, essence, though outer combinations of atoms may fall apart and reunite periodically. Therefore the very idea that something can be ‘grasped’, ‘owned,’ ‘possessed’ is an illusion created by the mental side of our human. The greatest illusion, it is taught, is the illusion of separateness of our egos, whereas in reality all and everything is connected and influencing one another, because they influence the whole of existence. Egos are the centers in which we focus our concentrated consciousness for the task or dharma we are engaged in to fulfill.  But the deep-rooted belief that we are completely separate entities seems to be a remainder in the human kingdom of the time when we were animals and had instincts to fight for our food and defend our territories, and when self-awareness and reflection were still latent – and it is the duty of humans to overcome their animal instincts and habits, to develop his mind and self-awareness, to ultimately become full blown divinities. Therefore, grasping, seemingly owning goods and money, lands and parts of the sea, the sky or even space, have no value if it come to real life, happiness, nobility. Through this philosophical analysis it becomes clear that grasping, hoarding, collecting something around an illusionary separated ego, is against the facts of divine nature itself. It is ridiculous to think that we can own a star a million light-years away, but is equally absurd to think that we can own even an atom – or a particular conglomerate of atoms.

2. Karma brings us in contact with all that which with we have a relation, and there we have our responsibilities – and this responsibility is never to go against nature, because that is the same as going against karma itself – and it will backfire on the actor.

3. We are a composite being, and within us reside the loftiest wisdom as well as the basest pursuits. We are, each of us and all beings, individually as well as communities, a hierarchy, where the hierarch or acme is the brahman, or ātman, or jīva, or monad, at the same tine ‘hanging down’ from still loftier hierarchies. We are everything, we have everything within and nothing of a higher nature can be ‘possessed’ or ‘grasped’ by the lower, except in the fantasies of the deluded. Every wealth than can occur to our consciousness is within us, and every possession is a limitation of that wealth. A possessionless child experiences much more joy when looking at a flower than a millionaire who is counting his money and has no eye for the simple things.

4. Everything that exists has its own svabhāva, its own fundamental characteristic nature, say the Theosophical teachings,  its own particular role to fulfill in the larger existence all life. For this we have in our hands all tools that we need at the moment. If we want to ‘have’ something to gain happiness and understanding, even ‘omniscience’, it is merely a thought figure built by our minds of limited vision.

5. There is a continuous evolution of the material side of nature, during which our essential being expresses itself and learns and evolves, followed by involution or withdrawal of matter and evolution of spirit. No thing that exists ‘now’ will ever exist in the same way in the future. It is therefore useless to try to get a hold of something and then to stick with that. It is like trying to  contain water in sieve. Our evolution is guided by our inmost self, which itself evolves.

6. There are but two side to Nature: the selfish and the altruistic. Or, to use other words, the pursuit of one’s isolated happiness, or the pursuit of ‘happiness,’ or rather the highest fulfillment, for all forms of sentient existence. That the Law of Laws is compassion is Theosophical teaching – or mercy, care for others and the totality of beings, or love and sympathy for one’s neighbor, and by practicing that we will not have shortage of anything our consciousness yearns for – or would we be mere fortunate to be busy satisfying our desirous mental ideas? Do we not see that desire for matter and power are the direct cause of most suffering in this world, including ourselves?

7. The noblest ultimate goal is to understand all, to know self-consciously that one is the all, to perceive all within ourselves, and have all power over the energies of the cosmos which can be applied and steered to help those who do not understand yet. Then we have everything a man can have, while at the same time possessing nothing whatsoever.

Aparigraha is therefore in harmony with cosmic truth and ethics, parigraha is the opposite. Because people (and animals) on earth live under the illusion of having a separate ego which can be satisfied at the cost of others, aparigraha – not accumulating anything for one’s own satisfaction, and not even cherishing the remotest wish to do so – and to live in relative material poverty and spiritual richness, is an excellent training for man to understand the real nature of the universe, in which all is built on exchange based on mutual love, and to trust it that universe.

Let it not be understood, however, that theosophists strive to live in poverty. Some may do so on an individual basis, if they find that proper for their own development. But if the motivation is ‘to be good’ it is only a more subtle grasping, a desire for recognition, of expecting some individual spiritual reward. Also, we can not expect that people, when born and embedded in a society with particular habits, abandon their habits immediately on philosophical grounds. It is a matter of growth. It is the inner theosophical knowledge that counts, and this leads of course, ultimately, to total nonattachment to whatever one has received by good karma, in the form of money, objects or ideas or powers, and using it for good only. All that with which one is surrounded, naturally, with having taken or grasped it, whether material, mental and spiritual, provides an opportunity to be of great benefit to other creatures or society. Charity without afterthought is a form of aparigraha, and is an expression of cosmic law, in India known yajña. Great things can be accomplished with money, skills, a great mind and insight, and without these the world at present could not function.

Aparigraha in its wider sense is not wishing anything for oneself, and at the same time giving whatever one can give.  It is the total abstention from every desire for oneself, materially, psychologically, and mentally, because the very self as an isolated entity is an illusion. Aparigraha is closely akin to asceticism, but without a prescribed outer form. It is no self-torture, nor yearning for psychic or other powers. It is pure altruism. It may well be that some rich men are, inwardly, greater aparigrahis than some recognized ascetics.

No one can doubt that economy should ultimately be based on harmony with the universal laws, and therefore a sustainable economy is one of giving and orderly organizing, providing opportunities to the members of its society to develop their better qualities and give up and destroy illusions.


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