Conscience

From Theosophy Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Conscience is defined as the sense of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one's own conduct, intentions, or character, together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good.

H. P. Blavatsky stated that the source of conscience is the higher Ego:

The impressions projected into the physical Man by this Ego . . . constitute what we call "conscience."[1]

Annie Besant also placed the origin of conscience at the level of higher manas:

The voice of conscience, vaguely and confusedly regarded as supernatural, as the voice of God, is for [most people] the only manifestation of the higher manas on the psychic plane.[2]

In one of his letters, Mahatma K.H. stated that the "remorse of conscience" proceeds "always from the 6th principle".[3] However, we must keep in mind that in the letters the sixth principle frequently refers to buddhi-manas of higher manas.

Despite the fact that conscience is a manifestation of the higher consciousness, it has limitations. In the words of Mahatma K.H.:

With all the formidable importance of this moral factor, it has one radical defect. . . . Conscience may perchance tell us what we must not do; yet it never guides us as to what we ought to perform, nor gives any definite object to our activity.[4]

The reason for this, is that conscience is a manifestation of the experience already acquired by the Ego in its evolutionary journey. When an individual faces a situation that has already been encountered in past lives, the voice of conscience will warn about taking an action which was found to have lead to pain. This faculty, however, will remain silent in connection to new experiences. As Annie Besant explained:

It is from the mental images of experiences, and more especially from those which tell how suffering has been caused by ignorance of law, that conscience is born and is developed. . . . At the present stage of evolution all but the most backward souls have passed through sufficient experiences to recognize the broad outlines of “right” and “wrong” . . . but on many higher and subtler questions, belonging to the present stage of evolution and not to the stages that lie behind us, experience is still so restricted and insufficient that it has not yet been worked up into conscience, and the soul may err in its decision, however well-intentioned its effort to see clearly and to act rightly.[5]

In spite of these limitations, Blavatsky recommended aspirants to develop and follow the voice of their conscience:

No one else’s opinion should be considered superior to the voice of one’s own conscience. Let that conscience, therefore, developed to its highest degree, guide us in all the ordinary acts of life.[6]

C. W. Leadbeater recommended following our conscience, but not without first using our reason to verify its assertions:

We are always told that we must follow our own conscience. The dictates of conscience come from above and represent usually the knowledge of the ego on the subject. But the ego himself is only partially developed as yet. His knowledge on any given subject may be quite small, or even inaccurate, and he can reason only from the information before him. Because of this a man’s conscience often misleads him. It sometimes happens that an ego who is young and knows but little may nevertheless be able to impress his will upon the personality. As a general rule, the undeveloped ego is also undeveloped in his power of impressing himself upon his lower vehicles, and perhaps that is just as well. Sometimes, however, an ego who lacks development in tolerance and wide knowledge may yet have a will sufficiently strong to impress upon his physical brain orders which would show that he was a very young ego and did not understand.
We cannot but obey our conscience, yet surely we might try to check and verify it by certain broad facts which no one can dispute. It may be that the Inquisitors were acting under the dictates of their conscience sometimes, but if they had compared the great broad rules that they should love one another which their supposed leader, Christ, had given them, with the conscience which dictated murders and tortures and burnings, they would have waited and said: "Manifestly something is wrong. Let us at least take counsel before we follow our instincts in this particular matter." They would have been quite right to take such counsel, to test that conscience, by the general rules coming from One whom they themselves acknowledged as infinitely greater than themselves.[7]

Notes

  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. X (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 249.
  2. Annie Besant, Karma, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, ???), ???.
  3. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 85B (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 264.
  4. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 11 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 36.
  5. Annie Besant, Karma, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, ???), ???.
  6. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XI (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 173.
  7. Charles Webster Leadbeater, Talks on the Path of Occultism Volume 3, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, ???), ??.