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Modern Language and Theosophy

 
 
George Orwell Examines the Degree of Sincerity
and Right Thinking in Our Everyday Language
 
 
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
 
 
 
 
George Orwell
 
 
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The following text reproduces Chapter Seven of
the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical
Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline,  The
Aquarian Theosophist, Portugal, 255 pp., 2013. 
 
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“There is no religion higher than Truth.”
 
(The motto of the theosophical movement)
 
 
“Political language (…..) is designed to make
lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and
to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
 
(George Orwell)
 
 
“…In the ideas of the West, everything is
brought down to appearances even in religion. (…)
 
 ‘Thou shalt in lying, stealing, killing, etc. avoid being
detected- seems to be the chief commandment of the
Lord gods of civilization - Society and Public opinion.”
 
(An Eastern Master of Wisdom)
 
 
 
George Orwell - the pen-name of Eric Blair (1903-1950) - was an idealist thinker and a man of action. He proved to be ready to give up his life for the Cause of human brotherhood. He also dedicated to it his main efforts as long as he lived.
 
The outward structure of Orwell’s thought was influenced by his aiming at social justice, and the times he lived were difficult. There is a sort of pessimism floating in the atmosphere of his books. Yet the depth of his vision and his talented truthfulness were such that his writings still have two or three core lessons to teach materialistic societies of the 21st century.
 
Orwell developed a direct approach to Western hypocrisy and mind-manipulation techniques. He shows the way these mental mechanisms impede citizens’ relationship to truth. His analysis of the problem is similar to the one made by Helena P. Blavatsky and the theosophical Mahatmas.
 
Orwell was a truth-seeker. Born in India, he lived some time in Burma. He went to Spain as a volunteer soldier to fight fascism.  He wrote about Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy and William Shakespeare. But most of his writings are dedicated to identifying and fighting the various forms by which the process of thinking is voluntarily or involuntarily faked for the sake of political aims or other personal interests and feelings, often idealistic. This process of wishful (and fearful) thinking he called “doublethink” and “newspeak”. 
 
In his best-selling novels “1984” and “Animal Farm”, Orwell makes a lucid examination of mind-control activities developed by power mechanisms of industrialized society. His views can be easily applied to conventional religions and certain “new age” groups.
 
Orwell’s analysis is not merely useful in esoteric circles: it may be badly needed. For those who are willing to apply the Law of Analogy, his essays on the use of language have special interest. In them he discusses the real degree of truthfulness one can hope to find while in dialogue with other people - or, perhaps, while thinking by oneself. The issue is of critical importance for the theosophical movement, whose motto says “there is no religion higher than truth”. It must show humanity that truth, not hypocrisy, opens the way to wisdom and to self-liberation from suffering.
 
Orwell coincides with Eastern philosophies in saying that the decay of a civilization can be seen in the declining levels of sincerity in the words and minds of its citizens. He describes this process with frankness.
 
In the theosophical literature, one sees the same viewpoint defended in the Mahatma Letters, in H.P. Blavatsky’s texts and in the books by a few other authors, including Robert Crosbie, John Garrigues and B.P. Wadia. 
 
We saw in Chapter 5 these words by HPB:
 
“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…”[1]
 
In Buddhism, as in Theosophy, right thought is an essential part of the Noble Path. On the other hand, the state of mind in which hypocrisy occurs is a result of an ethical decay in thought habits and the use of language. Such a trend is profoundly anti-evolutionary. Theosophists should fight it both individually and collectively. 
 
Orwell describes the decline of language in his essay “Politics and the English Language”. He has a feeling that in previous centuries words were more often used to show people’s genuine thoughts than they are in the 20th century. Orwell tries to demonstrate that decade after decade words came to be increasingly used to conceal the truth instead of expressing it.
 
An analysis of the growingly dishonest astuteness in the use of language, alongside with the decreasing presence of sincerity and real openness of mind, permeates most of George Orwell’s writings. He made a life-long study of language and an analysis of the process by which words can be used to hide one’s real thought, and to manipulate minds instead of promoting a true dialogue. His portrait of modern hypocrisy is in harmony with the teachings of the original theosophical literature, and expands some of its key passages. One finds in the Mahatma Letters a paragraph where a Master of Wisdom examines the levels of sincerity in the mind of the average contemporary citizen. The Eastern sage wrote, in a message to a British theosophist:
 
“Can (…..) 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 seemed so surprised, if not affected, whenever you find a person, who will tell you bluntly truth to your face…”[2]
 
At this point, we must admit that the 21st century theosophical movement is not entirely above such criticism. Future improvement will depend on its individual members. 
 
In the same paragraph of the letter, the Master writes:
 
“…In the ideas of the West, everything is brought down to appearances even in religion. A confessor does not inquire of his penitent whether he felt anger, but whether he has shown anger to anyone. ‘Thou shalt in lying, stealing, killing, etc. avoid being detected’- seems to be the chief commandment of the Lord gods of civilization - Society and Public opinion.”
 
Let’s see now how George Orwell expands the issue raised by the Mahatma - the question of how language is used in the West:
 
“Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent, and our language - so the argument runs - must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.”[3]
 
According to Orwell, getting involved with an untruthful or confusing use of words is similar to getting drunk; and developing an addiction to such use is comparable to becoming a drunkard, for in both situations lucidity and right thinking are given up.
 
He writes:
 
“…It is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influences of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.”[4]
 
Habits are related to what theosophists call elementals.
 
One can see in the daily use of language, says Orwell, “a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.”[5]
 
To give an example of the soul-less kind of language he refers to, Orwell translates “a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort.”
 
He takes a verse of Ecclesiastes, which says, in good English:
 
“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth.”
 
The same sentence, translated into “modern English”, gets to be this:
 
“Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”
 
And Orwell adds: “this is a parody, but not a very gross one.”[6]
 
What would be a solution for the social (and karmic) problem of mental vagueness and absence of real thinking? What is the alternative to the blind routine by which people, instead of thinking, merely repeat well-known phrases? Orwell says one must have the courage to think by oneself: 
 
“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”
 
Yet the temptation is always there to give up thinking by oneself and to let the same old ideas arrange themselves in one’s mind:
 
“…You are not obliged to go to all this trouble [of thinking by yourself]. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you - even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent - and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.” [7]
 
On a collective level, ideas and phrases often organize themselves according to “politically” oriented energy-patterns and versions of reality. This, of course, happens inside and outside the theosophical movement. The process is stronger when there are organized bureaucracies or ritualisms, and when the individual search for truth is not a priority.
 
In the final paragraph of his essay, Orwell mentions “political chaos”; but his views can be applied also to the difficulties faced by the theosophical movement and by individual theosophists in their own lives, for language is but an expression of thought:
 
“…One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language - and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists - is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.  One cannot change this all in a  moment, but one can at least change one’s  own  habits
(..…).” [8]
 
Correct thinking opens the way to esoteric wisdom.  The individual effort to which Orwell invites the reader corresponds to the daily practice of:
 
1) right understanding;
2) right thought; and
3) right speech, or right word.
 
And these are the three first steps in the Noble Eightfold Path taught by Buddha.
 
For this to be accomplished one needs to develop, perform and adopt also right actions, right livelihood, right mental effort, right attention and right concentration, which are the other steps in the Eightfold Path. George Orwell practiced them all. However, not every theosophical editor has had the same degree of honesty as Orwell, as we will see in the next Chapters.
 
NOTES:
 
[1] H.P. Blavatsky, in her article To the Readers of ‘Lucifer’, published at “Theosophical Articles”, H.P. Blavatsky, Theosophy Co., Los Angeles, 1981, volume I, pp. 279-283, see p. 279.
 
[2] “The Mahatma Letters”, TUP, Pasadena, California, 1992, Letter XXX, p. 232.
 
[3] “Politics and the English Language”, an essay included in the volume “Why I Write”, by George Orwell, Penguin Books - Great Ideas, England, 1984, 120 pp., see p. 102.
 
[4] “Why I Write”, George Orwell, pp. 102-103.
 
[5] “Why I Write”, p. 106.
 
[6] “Why I Write”, p. 110.
 
[7] “Why I Write”, p. 113.
 
[8] “Why I Write”, p. 120.
 
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On the role of the esoteric movement in the ethical awakening of mankind during the 21st century, see the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.  
 
 
 
Published in 2013 by The Aquarian Theosophist, the volume has 255 pages and can be obtained through Amazon Books.
 
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Modern Language and Theosophy




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