Individuation and Global Responsibility: The Subtle Magic of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Mandela — Part two

James Tepfer – USA


The author lecturing at Adyar 

III. “Statesmen as Magicians of the Heart”

We are now going to invoke the blessings of the râja rishis of ancient times; the king-initiates referred to by Krishna in the Bhagavadgitâ when he points to the guruparampara, the sacred, spiritual lineage of enlightened teachers of which the râja rishis are an integral part. The king-initiates of ancient epochs exemplified the divinity as well as the dignity of true royalty, of enlightened rulership for the welfare of all. These eminent Kshatriyas exemplified all the sublime virtues and cultural graces which we yearn for in our turbulent times. Despite our authentic longings, we might easily doubt that such selfless individuals could actually exist untarnished in the political realm. Is it possible, we wonder, for even the most sincere politician to be both a wise witness and a just participant in the complex world of modern politics? Yes, it is possible as we will see.

Each of the three exemplary leaders that I have selected for our consideration this evening, Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Mandela, seem to qualify as statesmen who intellectually and morally individuated to such a remarkable degree that they became unconscious magicians in their own right. While they made no claims of being wise — much less of being magicians — they met many of the qualifications for having a heart transforming effect on the lives of others.

All three were unconditionally committed to a compelling vision of a better world. And their respective visions became the “thrice-sacred flame” that illuminated and guided them over the arc of their extraordinary lives. Lincoln, for example, saw America as a living experiment in democracy and was wholeheartedly pledged to extending the principles enunciated in its forgotten “Declaration of Independence”: namely, the propositions of liberty and — most especially — equality. Eisenhower foresaw the emergence of “a new global order of the ages” in which the yoke of colonialism was to be cast aside and the United Nations was to become the primary civilizing agency for universal justice between nations. Mandela was committed to racial reconciliation and he consciously risked alienating both black Africans and white Africanas in his conscientious efforts to bring about racial accord in South Africa.

All three leaders were humble before their respective visions and all cared deeply for the common man. All three were selfless when it was most needed and all were — at all times — fearless. Finally, what former president Nixon said of Eisenhower can equally be said of Lincoln and Mandela. When Nixon was asked to specify the quintessential quality of Eisenhower, the former Vice President under Eisenhower said: “It’s simple. Ike loved everybody. And, with rare exceptions, everybody loved Ike.”

Let us turn to President Lincoln first. As we know, Lincoln — and the brave white and colored soldiers of the Union Army — freed six million slaves from lives of misery and degradation. But what is very little known is that Lincoln was more than a man of political action; he was also a gifted thinker. He was that rare breed — a moral thinker in the realm of politics. By the time he assumed the mantle of the presidency, he had individuated to a high moral and intellectual degree. He believed fervently in the “politics of responsibility”, of objective idealism. As he once told a friend, “I clarified my ethical principles by studying the teachings of Jesus, strengthened my ability to reason clearly by studying Euclid’s geometrical propositions, and improved my understanding of politics from a careful reading of Shakespeare’s plays.”

It is evident to the perceptive student of Lincoln, that he had not only an alpha heart but an alpha intellect as well. Therefore, it should not be surprising that his focused compassion, when combined with his versatile intelligence, could indeed be magical in its transforming effect on others. His magic, his alchemy, often manifested itself through the art of timely storytelling and not only through acts of political self-transcendence. His stories, witticisms, and perceptive accounts of imagined and actual life-incidents were numerous and diverse.

Sometimes humorous stories or incidents were told to diffuse an atmosphere of hostility. Sometimes stories and tales were told by Lincoln to release the accelerating tension of disagreement; sometimes as a substitute for the logic of argument; and, sometimes, to restore sanity when it could so easily have been lost during the most depressing periods of the Civil War — of which there were many. Lincoln’s timely storytelling can be seen as “magic” of a democratic kind; magic that all of us do at times — especially with dear friends and in moments of soul serenity. It involves no special psychic powers. It springs from intellectual integrity and moral purity.

Beyond his gift for taletelling, Lincoln engaged in a subtler magic, that of purifying prejudices embedded in the public mind, that is, all Southerners are evil due to the “Cain-mark” of slavery. On one particular, historic occasion, Lincoln was able to use inspired “word-magic” to transmute the attitude of Northerners toward their Southern brothers and sisters. The specific transformative moment was when Union supporters gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the Union Army’s turning-point victory over the Confederate Army on the battlefield at Gettysburg.

The brief commemorative that Lincoln finished writing on his way to Gettysburg and delivered amidst the controlled chaos of that festive occasion no doubt had little immediate impact on his bustling audience. However, when it was later read by multitudes in the comforts of leisure and the quiet of solitude, the reverential tone of the “Gettysburg Address”, its invocation of pristine principles, and its universal sentiments enlightened the hearts and purified the minds of many — then, and thereafter. The ten sentences that make up Lincoln’s two minute “Gettysburg Address” are truly mantramic; like the verses of Shelley’s poetry or the meter of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Lincoln’s address is intuitively expressed in a cadence and rhythm that seem to faithfully mirror healing celestial harmonies.

Indeed, Lincoln’s eloquent peroration of the Gettysburg battlefield is truly a humble consecration, an offering to the “gods” of reconciliation, a eulogy to the nobility of all those soldiers who sacrificed for the Cause in which each fervently believed. (Heaven, by the way, is completely indifferent to the color of the soldiers’ uniforms. It celebrates their valorous human spirit not their personal allegiances.) It is noteworthy that when Lincoln’s tribute is read out loud today, we are so moved by its unexpected reverence, poignancy, and its compassionate embrace of soldiers from both sides of the conflict that our painful images of Civil War battles momentarily subside and, strangely perhaps, we feel cleansed and uplifted by those unknown soldiers on both sides who each gave “the last full measure of devotion”.

Dwight David Eisenhower, too, did his own magic both as the Supreme Allied Commander of allied forces in World War II and as a two-term President of America. Eisenhower drew out the best from the common man as well as elicited more than the best from the very best when it was most needed. There are numerous testimonials to the peculiar magnetic effect that many felt while being in the immediate orbit of Eisenhower’s pulsating presence. Many noted an energy emanating from him that was almost palpable. Fortunately, his etheric efflux was not charismatic, seductive, or domineering in its effect. It was benign, warm, and welcoming.

When he turned his full mental attention to you and spontaneously gave you his incandescent smile, it was simultaneously charming and disarming. But, more than this, Eisenhower had the true magician’s ability to immediately win over your trust. He was easy to trust because he was so willing to give you his full, open-ended, sympathetic attention. Furthermore, he was unusual in that he was able to suspend the complex colorations of previous interactions and listen to you afresh. It was like a perpetual first meeting. Past judgments were suspended and prior disagreements were of no real consequence either. Every encounter was, in some sense, an original.

At the moment of personal engagement, a bridge was welcomingly extended across the spaces between you both and he was already crossing it to sit with you a while and discuss matters trivial or troublesome. Temperamentally speaking, the supple light of dawn was almost always within and around Eisenhower. It was rarely nighttime. He was fundamentally an optimist who sloughed off moments of discouragement with relative ease. His inner luminosity drew friends a little closer, and made enemies less distant and more receptive. He was, in a Buddhist and Socratic sense, that rarest of individuals; he was one who was “morally awake” not only to conscience and to principles, but to the hopes, aspirations, and felt-needs of the diverse peoples he met and served.

The litmus test of Eisenhower’s natural magic was his series of private meetings with Stalin at the end of World War II. Stalin, the most suspicious and paranoid of men, was notably struck with Eisenhower’s character and conduct during the war and, after the defeat of the Nazis, Stalin invited Eisenhower to visit Moscow. He accepted the invitation and flew to Moscow with General Zhukov — the brilliant Russian general who Eisenhower felt was the primary reason the Allies defeated the Germans. He spent a week in Moscow and, in addition to private conversations with Stalin, was feted by the dictator in public. In fact, during a parade in Moscow, Stalin insisted that Eisenhower stand on Lenin’s tomb, a privilege no non-Communist or foreigner had ever been accorded. When Eisenhower left Moscow later that week, Stalin told Avril Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador:

General Eisenhower is a very great man, not only because of his military accomplishments but because of his human, friendly, kind, and frank nature. He is not a coarse, brusque man like most military.” (Eisenhower: Soldier and President, Stephen E. Ambrose, p. 218)

Clearly, there was magic in Eisenhower’s way of relating to Stalin. His inner radiance, trust, and ability to instill trust — even in the most distrustful of men — was extraordinary. Most importantly, his ability to suspend judgment and treat Stalin as a human being who was just as much interested in peace as he was, made Stalin relax and confess to him how much Russia needed the help of America after the war — not only monetarily but in terms of the assistance of American scientists and technicians. Eisenhower was sympathetic and put Stalin at ease as very few could. For a magical moment, the two leaders became “co-conspirators for the good” — of the world as well as of Mother Russia.

Nelson Mandela was a great admirer of President Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi. He studied both their lives meticulously. Like Gandhi, Mandela affected a revolutionary change of heart in the soul of a nation. In his case, it was a simultaneous transformation in the attitudes of both the black South African and the white Africana. Mandela successfully exorcised the self-pitying demon of revenge in blacks and non-violently slayed the hydraheaded snake of fear in whites.

Interestingly enough, Mandela unwittingly laid the basis for his future “soul magic” while in prison. Several years before he was released from Robben Island prison, he decided to study and master the Africana language. He wished to better understand Africanas, learn their history and, if possible, communicate with them in their native tongue. As he entered into the complicated mindset and history of the white minority, he realized that he had to understand — of all things — the white rulers’ passion for rugby! Rugby, as he discovered, could be a relatively easy means of engaging in nonpolitical, non-confrontational conversation prior to discussing volatile political issues such as the black vote and the inevitable dismantling of apartheid in the years ahead. So, accordingly, Mandela studied the history of rugby, learned its rules, and memorized all the names of past legendary as well as current team players.

The South African rugby team was called the “Springboks” and they were revered by the white Africana. Understandably, they were hated with a passion by black South Africans who continually rooted against them whenever they were allowed to attend rugby games. Not only did the average black citizen disparage the team, but the African National Congress party in South Africa managed to get the Springboks disqualified from participating in international competition. As a result, the Springboks could not compete for any world rugby title.

Mandela’s occasion for creative magic did not form clearly in his mind until shortly after he was elected president. But, from that point on, he began to consciously visualize, carefully think through, and progressively assemble all the characters necessary for his “Great Play”; it would be a deep drama of the human spirit, one worthy of an Aeschylus or a Shakespeare. And, like the latter with The Tempest, Mandela was intent on bringing about a convergence of events that could conceivably transmute the lead of mutual hatred and distrust into the gold of respect and understanding. He wanted to awaken the conscience of the nation in different senses, and bring about racial harmony and active tolerance.

In brief, President Mandela managed to get the Springboks rugby team reinstated and eligible for international competition. He then managed to convince World Rugby to let South Africa host the next world cup in Johannesburg, South Africa. Just as importantly, Mandela, by degrees, won over the Springbok team. In particular, he won the affection and admiration of the Springbok’s captain, Francois Pienaar. He did so by telling him with uttermost sincerity that his team was representing the whole nation and that the entire country was behind him and his fellow Springboks.

Mandela also raised a question for Pienaar to ponder (the same one he said that he pondered every day): “How do we get the loyal people around us to exceed their own expectations of what they can do? In other words, how do we elicit the extraordinary from others?” Pienaar and Mandela were able to do just that — each in his own way. Slowly, thoughtfully and with great respect for each member of the team, Mandela earned the trust of the Springboks. In time, as journalist John Carlin reported: “He (Mandela) had won their hearts.” And, to the surprise of the rugby world, the Springboks earned their way to the World Rugby finals, held in Johannesburg.

What happened next is best expressed by Richard Stengel in the biography, Mandela’s Way:

In his most famous gesture of reconciliation, Mandela wore the Springbok jersey and cap to the rugby finals at Johannesburg’s Park Stadium in 1995. When he strode out before the game to greet the team captain, the mostly white crowd began to chant, “Nelson, Nelson!” It was one of the most electrifying moments in the history of sport and politics. Tokyo Sexwale, who had been imprisoned with Mandela on Robben Island, told [the journalist, John] Carlin, “That was the moment when I understood more clearly than ever before, that the liberation struggle was not so much about liberating blacks from bondage, as it was about liberating white people from fear.”

Mandela had attempted the seemingly absurd in order to achieve the almost impossible. He had affected a change in the soul perceptions of both blacks and whites. They each began to see each other in a more accepting light, and, in so doing, they unconsciously expanded and enriched their own sense of selfhood.

IV. The Buddha’s Magic: The Conversion of Angulimala

One of the most paradigmatic occasions in recorded history of high human magic (of accelerated mind transformation) is that of the Buddha’s conversion of the robber and assassin, Angulimala. The epic, non-violent confrontation between the Magus-Teacher, Buddha, and the merciless bandit, Angulimala, took the form of an intense dialogue. The latter occurred immediately prior to Angulimala’s plan to single-handedly attack a small town and humiliate its raja [nobility title]. The Buddha’s fearlessness, his serenity, good will, and compassion were all operative and worked their magic on Angulimala. The latter realized that he was in the presence of a real warrior and he uncharacteristically and progressively deferred to him.

In this dramatic historical encounter, we can readily discern the two opposite poles of human potential — the Selfenlightened and the self-deluded. The Sage (Buddha) is beyond even our most exalted conceptions of “individuation”. He is para-individuated. He is suffused with transcendent wisdom and unconditional compassion while the deluded bandit is steeped in spiritual ignorance rampant passion, and overflowing ill will. The Buddha’s mind is as luminous as a thousand suns while Angulimala’s mind is defiled, obscured, lunar, and destined for states of woe.

Fortunately for Angulimala, he had the good karma to come into personal contact with the Buddha; an individual who had conquered the ego and could instantly understand the degraded condition of the disfigured and depraved brigand, who. was suffering from acute “soul sickness”. As a consummate spiritual physician, Gautama Buddha saw the medicine needed and the self-transmutation required. If Angulimala would take the medicine offered by the Buddha, then self-regeneration was possible, but was by no means guaranteed.

At the end of their extraordinary dialogue, Angulimala, chastised and humbled, came to see that he must attempt the seemingly impossible. He must attempt to visualize the possibility of enlightenment while inhabiting a debased mind. He must, somehow, see beyond himself. His initial act of self-transcendence was to place his trust in the Buddha and to be humble before the Teaching. But he must also awaken his mind; he must arouse his rational and moral awareness. How could he do this? How could he overcome the inertia of lives of self-indulgent passions and of mental sloth? It is not enough that the Buddha’s compassion was at work on the inner planes, fertilizing the seed of intuitive intelligence within Angulimala.

More was needed. The bandit’s mind must, in some way, be stimulated, challenged, and inspired. This is where the confrontational dialogue between the Buddha and Angulimala proved pivotal. The latter could not initiate a spiritual conversation with himself. The Buddha knew this and so he initiated a dialogue between them by giving Angulimala a vision of a battle more glorious than all other battles. That battle was for spiritual freedom. Through Angulimala’s initial ego-centered questions and Buddha’s frank but encouraging answers, Angulimala became more authentically focused and sincere about the path of transfiguration.

Interestingly enough, Angulimala’s and Buddha’s “dialogue in the jungle” is surprisingly Platonic because it is so existentially genuine. Each is in dead earnest. Their intense, pointed dialogue is spiritual engagement at a high level. Each questions the other. However, unlike Angulimala, the Buddha’s speech is surcharged with logoic light. It is illuminating, healing, and purifying. He points Angulimala toward spiritual North and challenges him to undertake the perilous quest. Accordingly, Angulimala is inspired to do so and, on the spot, takes the vows of a Buddhist monk. By the end of his long life, he earned the deep respect of many members of the Sangha and was highly praised by the Buddha before the latter’s death.

V. Closing Thoughts

Magic is ubiquitous. It is in Nature and in man. It occurs wherever and whenever spirit and matter creatively coalesce through the agency of a purified intelligence. If this is true, then is it not a wonderful thought, my friends, to think that at this very moment in time there are literally hundreds of millions of magicians on our good globe? Who are they, you ask? They are the babies of every culture. Every baby is a natural, unconscious magician. Babies are pure vehicles of the light of the immanent spirit, of the Âtman. Their personality is incipient and cannot impede the undulating flow of the spirit. Babies radiate the sweet efflux of buddhi through their spontaneous laughter, their delightful curiosity, and their sympathetic responses to their mother’s happiness and sorrows. Babies breathe purity and goodness.

And what of the child between the ages of three and seven, before the higher faculties begin to incarnate and long before the onset of puberty and its disorienting effects? The growing child is engaged in the holy activity of learning and the power that comes from knowledge. Think of it. To the young boy or girl, the world has just been created. “Let there be Light” is today and every day. Every discovery is an original to the young child. The growing child cares not for history or for ego. It is full of love and trust, and possesses an unblemished imagination. Parents and teachers are held in awe.

What is more, young children freely and willingly embrace diverse legends and stories of human bravery and selfsacrifice. They live in a Golden Age for a while and wise parents do their best to help them carry that attitude forward when they enter formal education. All in all, to young children, magic is existentially real. It does not need any explanation.

And what of adults? We are more blessed than we often realize. The Great Brotherhood of Bodhisattvas (the greatest of magicians) are ever at work in multiple orbits across the globe. In addition, there are secular exemplars among us as well. There are unknown Lincolns, Eisenhowers, Mandelas, and Gandhis hidden in plain sight. They are content to live their lives in ordinary roles this time and, like Odysseus in Plato’s “Myth of Er”, quietly go about their sublime dharma unnoticed. If we look with an open mind and a heart untainted by cynicism, we will see them.

There is another class of individuals whose very bhakti, or devotion, makes magic possible. What I mean is that enlightened minds can help awaken unenlightened minds and imprisoned hearts across cultures and historical epochs when unconditional devotion is present. Time and geography can be mayavic, deceptive. For example, when the true devotee of Jesus turns daily to the New Testament to replenish his spirit and purify his mind, he is unconsciously declaring that Jesus is living, vital, and present in the words and images of his teachings.

Such an earnest devotee is not only rising above time and culture, but, more importantly, he is rising above the gravitational pull of his own mindset. In doing so, he is engaging in an act of pure communion with the spirit of his Teacher. For a precious moment, the devotee is bringing Jesus forward into the present, into his own mental world, and letting Jesus‘ teachings shed their revelatory light on the complex labyrinth of his daily obligations. Millions of dedicated devotees of the world’s diverse religions experience this daily even though they might not consciously think of it as magic. But it is magic because it cleanses the mind and regenerates the heart.

Beyond these millions of bhaktas (religious devotees) across the globe, there are those innocents among us who are inexperienced in the perverted and torturous ways of the world. They are spiritually vaccinated and immune to the cynicism and dystopian thinking of the worldly wise and politically ambitious. They are patient and trust that the best is yet to be. They look forward, not backward, and they look beyond the miasma of the present.

Whatever its form, ordinary human alchemy reflects the highest spiritual theurgy of the Bodhisattvas. The latter’s magical emanations are spontaneous, benevolent, and uplifting. They touch the hearts of the ready, reverential, and receptive at every level of life and in every condition whatsoever.

This article was also published in The Theosophist VOL. 144 NO. 9 JUNE 2023

The Theosophist is the official organ of the International President, founded by H. P. Blavatsky on 1 Oct. 1879.

To read the JUNE 2023 issue click HERE 

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