The Naivete of Some Mystics Often
Paves the Way to Hypocrisy and Violence
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
Ivan A. Il’in (left) and Leo Tolstoy
A few uncomfortable questions confront esoteric circles and citizens who want to live in peace. These are a few examples:
* From an ethical point of view, how far should one oppose fraud and hypocrisy, and fight terrorism, and anti-Semitism?
* Wouldn’t it be easier for friends of peace to wash their hands and pretend they are too spiritual to ever defend life or ethics? And – what sort of peace can nations obtain by using good-willing falsehood?
All that glitters is not gold.
The history of a materialistic civilization is often an ugly thing to see. Theosophy invites us to look at life in all its aspects – and take lessons. It’s no use denying the presence of cruelty and butchery: we also cannot wish them away in press conferences and diplomatic talks held in elegant luxury hotels.
In 1875 Russian thinker Helena Blavatsky founded the theosophical movement, whose main goal is to promote universal brotherhood regardless of one’s religion, ideology, sex or social condition. Yet Blavatsky didn’t pretend she was blind before ethical questions. She had clear words to say on the violent conflict in human history between noble impulses and the worship of selfishness. And she was not afraid of opposing Islamic-inspired cruelties. In an article entitled “Turkish Barbarities”, she wrote during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878:
“Let me say (…) that during this campaign the Turkish troops have been guilty of such fiendish acts as make me pray that my relatives may be killed rather than fall into their hands.” [1]
Blavatsky then describes in detail various massacres perpetrated by Turkish troops, which there is no need to reproduce here. She mentions the hypocrisy of Western powers, including the Vatican, which were secretly more inclined to cause harm to Christian Russia than to help the fight against Muslim terror:
“Russia is surrounded by false neutrals, who but watch the opportunity to fly at her throat; and, shameful fact!, the blessing of the Pope rests upon the Muslim standards, and his curse against his fellow Christians  has been read in all the Catholic churches.” [2]
Blavatsky concludes:
“I regard this war not as one of Christian against Muslim, but as one of humanity and civilization against barbarism.” [3]
There is nothing new under the Sun.
In their disrespect for human lives, the Turkish troops were then behaving much like the 21st century Islamic Terrorists do. Western Europe had little to say in that situation, and its inability to act was denounced by Russian author Turguenyev among others. [4]
A few decades after the 1870s war against Russia and other Slavic countries, the Turkish policy of systematic cruelties would culminate in the Armenian Genocide of 1915, with at least 800,000 defenseless victims assassinated.[5] Since hypocrisy is still not hard to find in politics, the obvious fact of the Armenian Genocide is even today denied by many.
As time passed, the difficulty of Western Europe to fight evil got more serious. During most of the 1930s, the old continent did not even try to stop the militaristic hysteria promoted by Adolf Hitler.  In 1938 England make a Pact with Nazism. Such a blind love for short term peace condemned Western Europe to unutterable disaster. It had to be Russia and the United States to defeat Nazism in the 1940s.
By then Europe was largely destroyed, its population reduced, and a Jewish Holocaust, much larger than the Armenian one, had been perpetrated by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi war machine. In our century, the same sort of challenge has surfaced again. Islamic terror and its organized nonsense have their chance to deceive naïve peace-lovers in the West. Many of those who deny the Armenian Genocide also deny the Jewish Holocaust, and several political and religious leaders in the West insist in appeasing anti-Semitism and terror-sponsors, just as their predecessors did regarding Mussolini and Hitler in the 1920s and 1930s.
Theosophy has clear statements to make regarding the problem of large-scale, systematic cruelty. The Eastern Masters of Wisdom who inspire the theosophical effort teach that ethics is the inevitable foundation of peace.
One of them wrote:
“Every Western Theosophist should learn and remember, especially those of them who would be our followers – that in our Brotherhood, all personalities sink into one idea – abstract right and absolute practical justice for all. And that, though we may not say with the Christians, ‘return good for evil’ – we repeat with Confucius – ‘return good for good; for evil – JUSTICE’.” [6]
And justice is sometimes severe.
People of good will often think organizations which support terror or boycott Israel should be treated as if they were peace-loving and politically correct groups. But some disciple asked Confucius, various centuries before Christianity was born:
“What do you think about the principle of rewarding enmity with kindness?”
And the Master answered:
“With what, then, would you reward kindness? Reward enmity with just treatment, and kindness with kindness.” [7]
On another occasion, a disciple asked:
“What should I do to ensure the contentment of the people?”
Confucius explained:  
“If you promote the upright and dismiss the ill-doer, the people will be contented; but if you promote the ill-doer and dismiss the upright, the people will be discontented.” [8]
For many centuries, the question of resistance to evil has been a central issue in the agenda of those who love Life and respect mankind. The issue was well addressed by Russian philosopher Ivan A. Il’in.
N. O. Lossky says in his “History of Russian Philosophy” [9]:
“Il’in’s inquiry into ‘Resisting Evil by Force’ is a valuable piece of work. He sharply criticizes in it Tolstoy’s doctrine of nonresistance. Il’in says that Tolstoy calls all recourse to force in the struggle with evil ‘violence’ and regards it as an attempt ‘sacrilegiously’ to usurp God’s will by invading another person’s inner life which is in God’s hands. Il’in thinks that Tolstoy’s doctrine contains the following absurdity: ‘When a villain injures an honest man or demoralizes a child, that, apparently, is God’s will; but when an honest man tries to hinder the villain, that is not God’s will’.”
Inaction before injustice is not good. What should one do, then, in order to stop or prevent evil actions? Lossky writes and quotes from Il’in:
“In order to prevent the irremediable consequences of a blunder or of an evil passion a man who strives after the good must in the first instance seek mental and spiritual means to overcome evil by good. But if he has no such means at his disposal, he is bound to use mental or physical compulsion and prevention. ‘It is right to push away from the brink of a precipice an absent-minded wayfarer; to snatch the bottle of poison from an embittered suicide; to strike at the right moment the hand of a political assassin aiming at his victim; to knock down an incendiary in the nick of time; to drive out of a church shameless desecrators; to make an armed attack against a crowd of soldiers raping a child’ (54). ‘Resistance to evil by force and by the sword is permissible not when it is possible, but when it is necessary because there are no other means available’; in that case it is not only a man’s right but his duty to enter that path (195 f.) even though it may lead to the malefactor’s death.”
One should carefully examine the ethical challenges implied in such a situation, and Lossky asks himself:
“Does this imply that the end justifies the means? No, certainly not. The evil of physical compulsion or prevention does not become good because it is used as the only means in our power for attaining a good end. In such cases, says Il’in, the way of force and of the sword ‘is both obligatory and unrighteous’ (197). ‘Only the best of men can carry out this unrighteousness without being infected by it, can find and observe the proper limits in it, can remember that it is wrong and spiritually dangerous, and discover personal and social antidotes for it. By comparison with the rulers of the state happy are the monks, the scholars, the artists and thinkers: it is given to them to do clean work with clean hands. They must not, however, judge or condemn the soldiers and politicians, but be grateful to them and pray that they may be cleansed from their sin and made wise: their own hands are clean for doing clean work only because other people had clean hands for doing dirty work’ (209). ‘If the principle of state compulsion and prevention were expressed by the figure of a warrior, and the principle of religious purification, prayer and righteousness by the figure of a  monk – the solution of the problem would consist in recognizing their necessity to each other’ (219)”.  
From a theosophical perspective, every citizen must combine in himself the substance of a warrior who fights for justice, and of a monk, who maintains a contemplative attitude towards life. [10]
N. O. Lossky closes his text saying that “the possibility of situations that inevitably lead to the contradiction between a good purpose and imperfect means is man’s moral tragedy, as Il’in and other thinkers sharing his view express it”.
For the citizen of 21st century, one practical lesson from the above is that it is wrong to think one must be outwardly kind to all in each and every situation. Unilateral meekness often paves the way to subconscious sadomasochism and other forms of continued aggression. Balance and justice in relations among people are not a goal one can abandon.  
In the Torah, Deuteronomy, 16: 18-20 says:
“You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes (…) and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue…”. [11]
Confucianism, Judaism, the best of Christianity, the highest aspects of Islam, true philosophy and real theosophy, all point to the same direction of righteousness and ethics based on an active sense of Justice, not on surrender to evil. Right action is inseparable from mercy, and compassion includes the necessary measure of severity.
Regardless of religion, nationality, political ideology or social condition, the duty of those who want peace on Earth includes unmasking and eliminating the causes of disrespect for life.
[1] “Turkish Barbarities”, H.P. Blavatsky. The article was first published in New York in August 1877. See “Collected Writings”, H.P.B., TPH, Volume I, p. 256.
[2] “Turkish Barbarities”, H.P. Blavatsky, “Collected Writings”, Volume I, p. 259.
[3] “Turkish Barbarities”, H.P. Blavatsky, “Collected Writings”, Volume I, pp. 259-260.
[4] See Turguenyev’s poem “Croquet at Windsor”, translated by H.P. Blavatsky from the Russian, at “Collected Writings”, H.P.B., TPH, Volume I, pp. 253-254.  The poem is a vigorous denunciation of the Turkish-Muslim atrocities.
[5] See the article on the Armenian Genocide at the Wikipedia.
[6] “The Mahatma Letters”, TUP edition, Pasadena, CA, Letter LXXXV, p. 401.
[7] “The Analects”, Confucius, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1995, 128 pp., see p. 88, Book XIV, chapter (or paragraph) XXXVI.
[8] “The Analects”, Dover Publications, Inc., p. 8, Book II, chapter (or paragraph) XIX.
[9] “History of Russian Philosophy”, N. O. Lossky, London, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1952, 416 pp., see pp. 387-389. We adopt the transliteration of Il’in’s surname into our alphabet according to its use in the recent Western editions of his books.  His name is also transliterated as “Ilyin”, among other options.
[10] See for instance the article “Moral Strength in Judo and Theosophy”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline. It is available in our associated websites.
[11] “Tanakh, The Jewish Bible”, The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia-Jerusalem, p. 301.
The above article is reproduced from our theosophical blog at The Times of Israel.
Its initial draft was published in the February 2016 edition of “The Aquarian Theosophist” as an editorial note to the article “Ivan Il’in: On Resisting Evil by Force”, by N. O. Lossky: see pp. 7-9.