Pomba Mundo
What Classical Theosophy Says
About Self-Knowledge and Impersonality
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
“… Bear always in mind these lines of Tennyson:
‘Self reverence, self knowledge, self control,
These three alone lead life to sovereign power’.”
(An Eastern Master of Wisdom)
According to an exoteric view of the classical teachings of theosophy, the very idea of having a personal existence or an individual identity is selfish and unspiritual in itself,  and a  product of profound ignorance.
One should therefore hide such a terrible heresy as much as possible, and by eliminating it from the conscious level of one’s own mind, one could perhaps get rid of it.
However, a deeper view of theosophy will show that it is the very roots of the “personal idea” – and not its outer leaves or fruits – which the student must understand and transcend.  While transcending his personality, he must also respect, and take care of it. The feeling that one is at a certain level a “person” is not “bad in itself”.  It corresponds to a fact which must be acknowledged as such, and not superstitiously denied.
According to theosophy, human consciousness is septenary. None of the seven human principles, or levels of awareness, is bad in itself.  The idea of an “I” exists in the intermediary principles, which are Kama (personal feelings) and Manas (thoughts).  These principles are not selfish or separative in themselves.  They may work as if they were, in the present stage of many a human being.
If having the sense of an “I” were bad in itself, the Eastern Masters of Wisdom, having attained adepthood, could never speak of themselves as having any individual characteristics, or human and personal feelings.  Yet they do that throughout the Mahatma Letters. They show anger regarding fraud, they express revolt regarding hypocrisy, and experience many other “personal” emotions. They freely speak of their individual characteristics. The Master of the Himalayas who wrote most letters to Western students was warned at least twice by the Chohan himself – the “Master of the Masters” – for going too far in self-sacrifice during his attempts to help the theosophical movement.  Because of his personal inclination to self-sacrifice, that Mahatma forced the limits of Karma in a few occasions and had to be stopped.
Self-forgetfulness, loyalty, frankness, honesty, courage, and an essential namelessness, or detachment regarding any names or words, are all personal characteristics. They belong to one’s character, or will belong in due time, if one makes a persevering effort in the right direction.
While being essentially impersonal, Helena Blavatsky and Damodar Mavalankar – two advanced disciples – express their emotions in what they write. Robert Crosbie (1849-1919) worked hard and well for the theosophical movement to have a deeper view of impersonality.  He did the movement a great service in that regard.  If Crosbie had a naïve vision of this issue, however, he would not have written his now well-known autobiographical notes. [1]   
If John Garrigues, another great theosophist, had an ill-advised view of what is and what is not impersonality, he would never have published a “record of Crosbie’s lifetime and work”,  in the form of the 416 pp. book  “A Friendly Philosopher”. 
Another and more “worldly” example might be useful, in trying to understand the mystery of impersonality. If we have a car, we must see and pay due attention to the difference between the car we drive and every other car in the streets. If we decide to pretend that “all cars are one according to theosophy”,   or that “differences among cars are illusions” – there will be trouble in streets and avenues. 
One’s character and personality is one’s vehicle. It is not bad in itself.  On the contrary. It is good. It is a valuable instrument.  It is part of Life.  Our personal names are worldly labels which help identify our outer vehicles. Having personal names is useful, just as we need documents and words to describe and to identify our cars. 
Mahatmas have names. Every wise man or woman in the past,  including  Hypatia, H. P. Blavatsky, Socrates, Crosbie, Mohandas Gandhi, Plato, Seneca and Epictetus, had a personality; but none  of them was unduly attached to it. There is, therefore, nothing wrong with vehicles in themselves, whether we refer to cars or personalities.  The issue to be seen is what one does, and does not, with his vehicles.
While it is no use to pretend that people do not have or should not have personal individualities, it is also a source of illusion and suffering to make personality the center of one’s life,  or to make one’s  car – or any other physical instrument or gadget, even cell phones –  the priority  in life.
The task regarding impersonality is not to hide the “personal” principles of our septenary nature.  That would only make us behave like whited sepulchres, as beautifully expressed by Jesus, that meek Master of the New Testament:
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. (…) Ye are like whited sepulchres …” (Matthew, 23: 25-27)
This is perfect theosophy.
The dharma and duty of every theosophist is to gradually dedicate the whole of his septenary consciousness to live in an impersonal understanding of the universe. Thus his own passing existence on Earth will be seen from an entirely different viewpoint. He will naturally work for mankind’s evolution, since he now knows that there is absolutely no separation between one’s higher self and humanity as a whole, or our solar system – of which each human is a slowly self-perfecting miniature.
It makes no sense trying to amputate one’s personality, or destroying one’s car in the garage. It is worse than useless to blame one’s tools and vehicles – physical and emotional – because one may have failed to use them in a proper way. One must drive and use one’s vehicle with care and discernment. It is our privilege to use our personalities to perform and promote right actions. Personalities are like students who learn from listening to the voice of their own inner conscience. There is an “animal soul”, as there is a “spiritual soul” in human beings, and animals must be respected. They can learn and they do learn to cooperate with humans, and with their Masters. In the way humanity relates to animals, there is a karmic key to the way humans relate to the realm above.  It is good to have a kind consideration for animals and animal souls, so as to learn to appreciate and see the realm above ours, too. Life is symmetrical, and the old axiom says: “as above, so below”.
Each individual must understand his own personality and its workings, and kindly place it into the broader context of a vision of life that is both self-responsible and altruistic.  The idea of “destroying” one’s personality, which is to be found in theosophical literature, is but a metaphor. Dogmatism and blindness emerge from taking metaphors literally.
Having an Open Mind and studying universal wisdom leads one, step by step, to an inner and essential namelessness – not to a merely decorative and outward imitation of it.  
An open mind is not brainless.
The idea behind the concept of impersonality was never to stimulate psychological self-violence, or an attempt to “suppress the personal idea” in mechanistical ways.   Theosophy says, instead, that a calm self-observation should be made from the point of view of one’s divine potentialities. This practice enables one to attain a deeper self-understanding. The resulting self-knowledge leads to self-respect, and culminates in self-forgetfulness. Thus one works and lives in increasing harmony with the One Law.  
A Master wrote:
“… Bear always in mind these lines of Tennyson:
‘Self reverence, self knowledge, self control,
These three alone lead life to sovereign power’.” [2]
Having a long-term view of life is essential, and a complete lifetime is but a passing moment in the journey.
On the other hand, even the short term effects of an altruistic vow – however probationary and challenging they may be – are better than anything else one’s lower self could possibly obtain in life.
[1] See in our associated websites the article Transcript of Autobiographical Notes”, by Robert Crosbie.  
[2] “Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom”, Edited by C. Jinarajadasa, First Series, TPH, Adyar, India, 1973 edition, p. 151.
On the correct view and attitude of theosophical students regarding their personalities, see also the article “Respect for the Lower Self”, which is available in our associated  websites.
In September 2016, after a careful analysis of the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to form the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose priorities include the building of a better future in the different dimensions of life.