Hypocrisy

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Hypocrisy has been defined as the claim or pretense of holding certain beliefs, feelings, standards, qualities, virtues, or motivations that one does not actually hold. It is also the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity that one disapproves in others.

This trait of modern society has been severely criticized in Theosophical literature. Mme. Blavatsky wrote:

Oh, the unspeakable hypocrisy of our age! The age when everything under the Sun and Moon is for sale and bought. The age when all that is honest, is just, noble-minded, is held up to the derision of the public, sneered at, and deprecated; when every truth-loving and fearlessly truth-speaking man is hooted out of polite Society, as a transgressor of cultured traditions which demand that every member of it should accept that in which he does not believe, say what he does not think, and lie to his own soul![1]
We live in an age of prejudice, dissimulation and paradox, wherein, like dry leaves caught in a whirlpool some of us are tossed helpless, hither and thither, ever struggling between our honest convictions and fear of that cruelest of tyrants—PUBLIC OPINION. . . .
No person need in our modern day be honest, sincere, and righteous in order to curry favour or receive recognition as a man of worth. He need only be a successful hypocrite, or have become for no mortal reason he himself knows of—popular. In our age, in the words of Mrs. Montague, "while every vice is hid by hypocrisy, every virtue is suspected to be hypocrisy . . . and the suspicion is looked upon as wisdom".[2]

The Masters saw this as a prevalent feature in Western society. For example, in one of his letters, Master K.H. referred to people's practice of hiding their real desires "under the polished insincerities of civilized Western life."[3] In a letter to two Englishmen, he remarked the difference between the Eastern and Western cultures of the time in this respect:

You have to remember that our Eastern ideas about “motives” and “truthfulness” and “honesty” differ considerably from your ideas in the West. We both believe that it is moral to tell the truth and immoral to lie; but here every analogy stops and our notions diverge in a very remarkable degree. For instance it would be a most difficult thing for you to tell me, how it is that your civilized Western Society, Church and State, politics and commerce have ever come to assume a virtue that it is quite impossible for either a man of education, a statesman, a trader, or anyone else living in the world — to practice in an unrestricted sense?
Can any one of the above mentioned classes — the flower of England’s chivalry, her proudest peers and most distinguished commoners, her most virtuous and truth speaking ladies — can any of them speak the truth, I ask, whether at home, or in Society, during their public functions or in the family circle? What would you think of a gentleman, or a lady, whose affable politeness of manner and suavity of language would cover no falsehood; who, in meeting you would tell you plainly and abruptly what he thinks of you, or of anyone else? And where can you find that pearl of honest tradesmen or that god-fearing patriot, or politician, or a simple casual visitor of yours, but conceals his thoughts the whole while, and is obliged under the penalty of being regarded as a brute, a madman — to lie deliberately, and with a bold face, no sooner he is forced to tell you what he thinks of you; unless for a wonder his real feelings demand no concealment? All is lie, all falsehood, around and in us, my brother; and that is why you seem so surprised, if not affected, whenever you find a person who will tell you bluntly truth to your face; and also why it seems impossible for you to realize that a man may have no ill feelings against you, nay even like and respect you for some things, and yet tell you to your face what he honestly and sincerely thinks of you.[4]

This letter is a response to A. O. Hume's complaints that Master M. was rude. Master K.H. conceded that M. was "certainly very apt sometimes to become angry, especially if he is opposed in what he knows to be right", but them asked Mr. Hume:

Would you think more of him, were he to conceal his anger; to lie to himself and the outsiders, and so permit them to credit him with a virtue he has not? If it is a meritorious act to extirpate with the roots all feelings of anger, so as to never feel the slightest paroxysm of a passion we all consider sinful, it is a still greater sin with us to pretend that it is so extirpated.[5]

This view of Western society was was not held only by the Russian-born Blavatsky and her Eastern Masters. American H. S. Olcott also wrote in similar terms:

Hypocrisy is another thing for us to purge ourselves of; there is too much of it, far too much among us. The sooner we are honest to ourselves the sooner we will be so to our neighbours. We must realize that the theosophical ideal of the perfect man is practically unattainable in one life, just as the Christ-idea of perfection is. Once realizing this, we become modest in self-estimate and therefore less inflated and didactic in our speech and writings. . . . Let us keep, cling to, defend, glory in the ideal as such; let nothing tempt us to debase it or belittle it; but let us have the manly honesty to admit that we do not embody it, that we are yet picking the shells on the beach of the unfathomed and uncrossed great ocean of wisdom. . .[6]

And this is precisely part of the problem with hypocrisy--it comes from a self-centered attitude and a lack of humility. In Mme. Blavatsky words:

Selfishness is the chief prompter of our age; Chacun pour soi, Dieu pour tout le monde [everyone for himself and God for us all], its watchword. Where then is the truth, and what practical good has done that light brought to mankind by the “Light of the World,” as claimed by every Christian? . . . In our days the latter Light has only succeeded in raising the pride of Christian nations to its acme, in developing their self-adulation, and fostering hard-heartedness under the name of all-binding law. The “personality” of both nation and individual has thrown deep roots into the soil of selfish motives; and of all the flowers of modern culture those that blossom the most luxuriously are the flowers of polite Falsehood, Vanity, and Self-exaltation.[7]

Even though this hypocrisy may be widely accepted and can bring some material benefits, it will produce a karmic cause that will have to be worked out in some future incarnation:

The man who all his life acted hypocritically and passed for a good man, but had been in sober reality watching like a bird of prey his chance to pounce upon his fellow-creatures, and had deprived them of their property, will be sentenced by Karma to bear the punishment for hypocrisy and covetousness in a future life. What will it be? Since every human unit has ultimately to progress in its evolution, and since that "man" will be reborn at some future time as a good, sincere, well-meaning man . . . notwithstanding his real, good, intrinsic qualities, he will, perhaps during a long life, be unjustly and falsely charged with and suspected of greed and hypocrisy and of secret exactions, all of which will make him suffer more than he can bear.[8]

Mme. Blavatsky said that part of the mission of Theosophy is "to fight intolerance, prejudice, ignorance and selfishness, hidden under the mantle of hypocrisy".[9] However, this is not an easy task. Because hypocrisy is a way to protect the selfish attitude prevalent in society, historically there has been a strong reaction against those who uncover the truth, as it was, for example, the case of Socrates. However, this is an act of self-sacrifice required in all true reformers. Mme. Blavatsky wrote:

If one would fight prejudice, and brush off the ugly cobwebs of superstition and materialism alike from the noblest ideals of our forefathers, one has to prepare for opposition. “The crown of the reformer and innovator is a crown of thorns” indeed. If one would rescue Truth in all her chaste nudity from the almost bottomless well, into which she has been hurled by cant and hypocritical propriety, one should not hesitate to descend into the dark, gaping pit of that well. No matter how badly the blind bats—the dwellers in darkness, and the haters of light—may treat in their gloomy abode the intruder, unless one is the first to show the spirit and courage he preaches to others, he must be justly held as a hypocrite and a seceder from his own principles.[10]

Politeness

Politeness is the application of good manners or etiquette as defined in a particular culture. Although the goal of politeness is to avoid offending the feelings of other people, it may degenerate into a form of hypocrisy:

Sincerity is true wisdom, it appears, only to the mind of the moral philosopher. It is rudeness and insult to him who regards dissimulation and deceit as culture and politeness, and holds that the shortest, easiest, and safest way to success is to let sleeping dogs and old customs alone.[11]
To obtain a glance into the future cycle we have thus but to examine the situation around us in the present day. What do we find? Instead of truth and sincerity, we have propriety and cold, cultured politeness; in one plain word, dissembling. . . .
Who, in this century, would presume to say what he thinks? It takes a brave man, nowadays, to speak the truth fearlessly, and even that at personal risk and cost. For the law forbids one saying the truth, except under compulsion, in its courts and under threat of perjury. Have lies told about you publicly and in print, and, unless you are wealthy, you are powerless to shut your calumniator’s mouth; state facts, and you become a defamer; hold your tongue on some iniquity perpetrated in your presence, and your friends will hold you as a participator therein—a confederate. The expression of one’s honest opinion has become impossible in this, our cycle.[12]

Flattery or adulation is another perversion of politeness. Referring to the common "mutual exchange of compliments" that common in our society, Mme. Blavatsky wrote:

Expressions of delight and other acting in cultured society are the fig-leaves of the civilised Adams and Eves. These “aprons” to conceal truth are fabricated incessantly in social Edens, and their name is—politeness.[13]

Notes

  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 40.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XI (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 1-2.
  3. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 122 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
  4. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 74 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
  5. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 74 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
  6. See "T.S. Solidarity and Ideals" by Henry Steel Olcott
  7. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XIII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1982), 133.
  8. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 112.
  9. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 174.
  10. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VIII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1990), 7-8.
  11. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 6.
  12. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XI (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 187-188.
  13. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VIII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1990), 46.