The Society

The Piano Revisited

Jan Nicolaas Kind – Brazil

[Editor’s note: This article was published in April 2009, during Theosophy Forward’s very first year on the Internet. Time flies, but it is available for all to read in TF’s archives. While I was going over some of the earlier issues of the magazine, this piece caught my attention again because of its relevance. I have rewritten some parts and updated it for a 2014 publication].

To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”Marilyn vos Savant an American magazine columnist, author, lecturer, and playwright who rose to fame through her former listing in the Guinness Book of World Records under “Highest IQ.”

Playing the piano with three fingers.

The Piano Revisited 2 

The core of Theosophy is to think for oneself, and in order to learn how to do that, one sets out to collect information and instructions, so that the process may begin.

Learning how to think for oneself is like learning to play a musical instrument. That skill doesn’t come on a silver platter, wonder children (German Wunderkinder, “child prodigies”) are rare, and it takes years of profound and dedicated study to develop the skill. Just sitting behind a piano does not develop the skill of playing it. How do we learn to play the piano? For many it’s a lot easier to have others do it, to sit prominently and proudly behind a shining Steinway, but have someone else play the score.

The Piano Revisited 3
Wunderkinder are rare

With the coming of the new international president of the TS-Adyar, new energies and new hopes have unquestionably come about, although there is some division still. Those who push themselves forward and want to think for us make it seem that Theosophy and its organization are mainly about persons — their private matters, characters, failures, or even their suspected manipulative conduct. Others go further, they also want to influence our mind-set and conclude that basic Theosophical principles, the old wisdom, reintroduced through the writings of H. P. Blavatsky, are to be reconsidered or dismissed. Even H.P.B. could have had it all wrong because she lived in another era. Those ardent thinkers — often presenting themselves through amateurish writings, both in style and substance — make statements that seem to be universal truths but in reality are just matters of vague definitions including pompous ipse-dixits.

According to intellectualist chatter from an ever active but minuscule contingent and other oracles, Theosophy and its doddering vehicle urgently need facelifts with firm silicone injections. We need to do away with the Objects and replace our Lodges with virtual communities and primarily get together through the Internet. We must throw overboard most of our ideas and structures and even the very word Theosophy. Some, and here we are dealing with the real doom thinkers, state that the Society is an emotionally fortified artifice, slowly crumbling away; soon it will be dead. Others suggest that Theosophy, in the eyes of the world, is an “artificially concocted 19th century religion,” erroneously claiming that it is as old as the world is, and that it has now turned into a messianic cult with missionaries or evangelists trying to spread its message.

Next to the voluminous classical and contemporary Theosophical literature, other books are available, often excellently written, and backed up by a lot of research and background material, dealing with typical Theosophical subjects. In such works, however, the authors may be either reinventing H.P.B or her Masters and placing unfounded question marks behind certain historical occurrences or describing her as some dubious medium whose words are to be taken not with a pinch, but with kilograms of salt. It’s such a pity that those authors are trying to do our thinking for us, and never get anywhere near to the essence of the teachings. The result is that in spite of all the hard work, fragmented and faulty descriptions are given of what the Society and Theosophy are about. To use this article’s metaphor, too often such well-meant publications end up being nothing more than futile attempts of a first-year piano student to use only three fingers in playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto in C minor, opus 18, one of the most complicated pieces of music ever written, which of course cannot be done. The music might sound somewhat like a honky-tonk Rachmaninoff, but there would be awful dissonance, and the total musical richness and panorama would be hopelessly missing.

The Piano Revisited 4 sergei-rachmaninoff in the early 1900s in Moscow
Sergei Rachmaninoff in the early 1900’s in Moscow, studying at the conservatorium there

Another interesting sign one can clearly perceive is that it seems unthinkable for some people that good things are happening at all. Interestingly new and ground-breaking initiatives in the Theosophical movement — yes it is on the move — are met with scepticism and irony, downplayed as being inapt. Theosophists — being happily and brotherly together, inspired through direct intercommunication and self-reflection, a fundamental component in bettering our world which is so terribly divided by brutal violence and greed — call it Brotherhood in action, which may be incomprehensible and impossible to grasp. Why should Theosophists be happy and content anyway?

In summary, one could say that it looked as if ignorance, lack of wisdom, and compassion were prevalent; harmony turned into cacophony. I tend to think that lack of serious and properly guided study might have caused this. Many students, somewhere along the line, apparently got lost and started to follow ideas and currents, just picking up some bits and pieces left and right, which are in contradiction with basic Theosophical thought. Some connected with the organization have undeniably spoken about brotherhood, tolerance, freedom of thought, detachment, humility, and altruism; but they had seemingly turned it into a playground for self-inflated egos, all proclaiming truths, instead of searching for it, severely blasting those who dared to stand up and raise questions. That is definitely changing now, step by step, and while most probably not all are able or willing to come on board yet and be a part of that change — because for them it’s easier to firmly hang on to the old notions and views — we know that time is the binding factor and ever-patient helping hand. Intention is all that matters, so if good examples are set, it will be just a matter of time.

Our world is the way it is because we are the way we are, so the Society is the way it is because we are the way we are. If there is egotism, it is because we are egoistic, if there is division, it is only because we are divided from within, and if we fail, it is our collective failure, and not that of the Society. We cannot change anything significantly because we claim to know what’s best for the Society or because we want things to change, and wish and pray for it. Real change only surfaces when there is deep understanding.

One of the ways to achieve understanding is to take a deep breath, stand still, be silent, and, above all, study and learn. Instructions passed on to us, while we are making our quest, are never to be followed blindly, but must function solely as pointers along the way.

Obviously not all of us need to become concert-pianists, giving master classes at conservatoriums, or go on concert tours, but in our studies we should perhaps go deeper and be more investigative, critically probing what H.P.B. left us; thus in musical terms, looking behind the score. Knowledge we may obtain, but wisdom must come to us through observation, moments of silence and restraint. To learn to think for oneself is a lifelong and often painful process, but it can be done. After some time, endlessly ploughing through those wondrous teachings, it will be like sitting behind that piano again, its keyboard within hand-reach, patiently waiting for that moment when the fingers softly touch its ivories. Then there will be harmony, no longer dissonance.

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