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Why Does Pain Exist?

To admit, as do certain ignorant fatalists, that the Universe was

created by the stroke of some magic wand, and that each planet,

kingdom, and being is condemned, so to speak, to a definite

crystallisation in the state in which it has pleased God to fix it; to

admit that the mineral will remain a mineral throughout eternity, that

the vegetable will ever reproduce the same types, that the animal will

definitely be confi
ed to his instincts and impulses, without the

hope, some day, of developing the superior mentality of his torturers

in human form; to admit that man will never be anything but man,

i.e., a being in whom the passions have full play whereas the

virtues are scarcely born; to admit that there is no final

goal--perfection, the divine state--to crown man's labour; all this is

to refuse to recognise evolution, to deny the progress everywhere

apparent, to set divine below human justice; blasphemy, in a word.

It has been said by unthinking Christians that evidently God created

human suffering, so that those might gain Heaven who, but for this

suffering, would have no right to it. To speak thus is to represent

the Supreme Goodness in a very unworthy aspect and to attribute the

most gratuitous cruelty to Divine Justice. When, too, we see that this

absurd reasoning explains neither the sufferings of animals, which

have no right to enjoy the felicity of heaven, they say, nor the

fact[10] that "there are many called but few chosen," nor the saying

that "outside the Church there is no salvation," although for ages

past God has caused millions of men to be born in countries where the

Gospel has not been preached, we shall not be astonished to find that

those who arrogate to themselves a monopoly of Truth bring forward

none but arguments of childish folly in support of their claims.

Generally, however, it is original sin that is advanced as the cause

of suffering.

The absurdity of this doctrine is so apparent that it has lost all

credence by enlightened members of the Christian faith. First of all,

it does not explain the sufferings of animals, which have had no

participation in this sin, nor does it account for the unequal

distribution of pain amongst men themselves. This sin being the same

for all at birth,[11] punishment ought to have been equally severe for

all, and we ought not to see such frightful disproportions as are to

be found in the condition of children who have not attained to the age

of reason, i.e., of responsibility. Saint Augustine felt the weight

of this consideration; he reflected long on this torturing problem:

"When I come to consider the sufferings of children," he says,

"believe me, I am in a state of terrible perplexity. I have no wish

whatever to speak only of the punishment inflicted on them after this

life by eternal damnation to which they are of necessity condemned if

they have left their bodies without receiving the sacrament of Christ,

but of the pains they endure in this present life, under our very

eyes. Did I wish to examine these sufferings, time would fail me

rather than instances thereof; they languish in sickness, are torn by

pain, tortured by hunger and thirst, weakened in their organs,

deprived of their senses, and sometimes tormented by unclean beings. I

should have to show how they can with justice be subjected to such

things, at a time when they are yet without sin. It cannot be said

that they suffer unknown to God or that God can do nothing against

their tormentors, nor that He can create or allow unjust punishment.

When men suffer, we say they are being punished for their crimes, but

this can be applied only to adults. As children have in them no sin

capable of meriting so terrible a punishment, tell me what answer can

be given?"

The answer, indeed, cannot be made that original sin is capable of

explaining this unequal retribution; but then, ought not the very

absurdity of the consequences due to such sin to justify one in

refusing to examine this argument? What soul could admit that the

innocent should be punished for the guilty? Does human justice, in

spite of its imperfection, punish the offspring of criminals? Can the

millions of descendants of the mythical Adam have been chastised for a

crime in which they have had no share? And would this chastisement,

multiplied millions of times without the faintest reason, never have

stirred the conscience of the Church? Saint Augustine could not make

up his mind to accuse God of injustice; so, to avoid disputing the

truth of the Christian teaching in which he wholly believed, he

invented his famous theory of "generation," often called


Men suffer because of original sin, he says, but it would not be just

of God to punish them for this, had they not shared therein[12];

this, indeed, they have done, for the soul of a man was not created

directly, by God, at the moment of the birth of the body; it is a

branch taken from the soul of his father, as the latter's comes from

that of his parents; thus, ascending the genealogical chain, we see

that all souls issue from that of the common father of mankind:


So that Saint Augustine preferred to deny the creation of souls and to

derive them from the soul of Adam, through a successive progeny of

human vehicles, rather than to allow God to be charged with injustice.

We are not called upon to demonstrate the falsity of his hypothesis,

which the Church has been forced to condemn, though without replacing

it with a better theory; all the same, if human souls suffer from a

sin in which they have not individually and consciously

participated--and such is the case, for even granting that translation

be a fact, these souls existed in Adam only potentially, as

unconscious, undeveloped germs, when the sin took place--their

punishment is none the less arbitrary and revolting. Saint Augustine

believed he was justifying Providence; he succeeded only in deceiving

his own reason and revolted sense of justice, but he preferred by

suggestion to deceive himself to such an extent as to believe in the

reality of his desire rather than enrol himself against the Church.

In order to reconcile divine Justice with the injustice of punishing

all for the fault of one alone, the theologians also said: "Adam

sinned, his sin has been distributed over the whole of his race, but

God, by sending down his son, instituted baptism; and the waters of

the sacrament wash the stains of original sin from the souls of men."

This reply is as childish as the former. As a matter of fact,

according to the Church, about four thousand years intervened between

the sin of Adam and the coming of the Redeemer, and so only after that

interval did the souls of the just, who were waiting in the Life

Beyond for the coming of the Messiah, enter Paradise!

Would not this delay in itself be an injustice? Ought not baptism to

have been instituted immediately after the sin, and should it not have

been placed within the reach of all? Besides, do we not see that even

in our days, two thousand years after the coming of the Christ,

millions of human beings are born and die without ever having heard of

the existence of this sacrament. This part of the argument is too

puerile to dwell upon at length, but we will spend a few moments on it

to show definitely how powerless this theory is to explain evil.

Before teaching the doctrine of "Limbo," the Church accepted the idea

of the damnation of children who died without being baptised, as we

have just seen in the case of Saint Augustine.[14] Bossuet, with

incredible blindness, also accepted it; and, sad to relate, his reason

did not feel called upon to furnish an explanation which would justify

Providence, as was the case with Saint Augustine. He rejected

"translation," and discovered nothing with which to veil the


On this point the following is a faithful resume of his letter to

Pope Innocent XII.:

The damnation of children who have died without being

baptised must be firmly believed by the Church. They are

guilty because they are born under the wrath of God and in

the power of Darkness. Children of wrath by nature, objects

of hatred and aversion, hurled into Hell with the rest of

the damned, they will remain there for all eternity punished

by the horrible vengeance of the Demon.

Such also are the decisions of the learned Denis Petau, the

most eminent Bellarmin, the Councils of Lyons, of Florence,

and of Trent; for these things are not decided by human

considerations, but by the authority of tradition and of the


Such logic makes one really doubt human reason, and reminds one of the

spirit with which the courts of the Holy Inquisition were inspired.

Where in Nature can there be found such lack of proportion between

cause and effect, crime and punishment? Have such arguments ever been

justified by the voice of conscience?

Official Christianity remains powerless to explain suffering. Let us

see what we can learn from the philosophies and religions of the past

and the greatest of modern philosophers, as well as from the admirable

resumes of Teachers of theosophy.

The problem of suffering is one with that of life, i.e., with that

of evolution in general. The object of the successive worlds is the

creation of millions of centres of consciousness in the germinal state

(souls) and the transformation of these germs into divinities

similar to their father, God. This is the divine multiplication,

creating innumerable "gods," in God.

To produce divine germs, homogeneous Unity must limit its immensity

and create within itself the diversity of matter, of form. This can

be obtained by the creation of "multiplicity" and by the "limitation"

of what might be called a portion of Divinity. Now, limitation implies

imperfection, both general and individual, i.e., suffering; and

multiplicity implies diversity of needs and interests, forced

submission to the general law i.e., suffering again. That the divine

germs may evolve, their potentialities must be awakened by their

surroundings; in other words, by the action of the "opposites," and

sensation must come into being; the action of the opposites on

sensation is also a cause of pain.

Outside of the unknown Being--which will be known at the end of

evolution--nothing can be. Everything is in Him. He is all; the

worlds, time and space are "aspects" which He assumes from time to

time[15]; for this reason it has been said that the Universe is an

illusion, which may be expressed more clearly by saying that it is an

illusion to believe that what exists is not one form of divine

activity, an "aspect" of God.

That anything may exist, or rather that aspects of God may appear,

there must be manifested in Him a special mode of being, to call

forth what we designate as multiplicity.

That multiplicity[16] may be manifest, differences must be produced in

Unity; these differences in the world are the "pairs of

opposites"--the contraries. These contraries are everywhere.

Matter is the fulcrum of force--both of these terms being "aspects" of

God--and without a fulcrum no force can manifest itself; there is no

heat without cold, and when it is summer in the northern hemisphere it

is winter in the southern. There is no movement that does not depend

upon a state of rest, no light without shadow, no pleasure without the

faculty of pain, no freedom that is not founded upon necessity, no

good that does not betoken an evil.

The following are a few examples of duality taken from nature. The

current of electricity is polarised into a positive and a negative

current. It is the same with the magnet; though you break a bar into a

hundred pieces, you bring into being a hundred small magnets, each

possessing its positive and negative side; you will not have destroyed

the "duality," the opposites.

Like the magnet, the solar spectrum forms two series, separated by a

neutral point, the blue series and the red one, united by the



Indigo. Yellow.

Blue. Orange.

Green. Red.

The terms of the two series are respectively complimentary to each

other; the violet dominates the two groups of opposites and is a

visible member of the axis formed by the colours that might be called


Duality appears in every shape and form.

Symbolically, we may say with the Hindus that the Universe begins and

ends with two opposite movements: an emanation from Brahma, it is born

when the breast of God sends forth the heavenly outbreathing, it dies,

reabsorbed, when the universal inbreathing takes place. These

movements produce attraction and repulsion, the aggregation and

dissolution to be found everywhere. It is the attraction of a

force-centre, the "laya centre" of Theosophy, which permits of the

atomic condensation that gives it the envelope whose soul it is; when

its cycle of activity ends, attraction gives place to repulsion, the

envelope is destroyed by the return of its constituent elements to the

source from which they were drawn, and the soul is liberated until a

future cycle of activity begins.

Even the rhythm of pulmonary respiration, the contraction and dilation

(systole and diastole) of the heart, the ebb and flow of the tides, as

also day and night, sleeping and waking, summer and winter, life and

death, are all products of that law of contraries which rules


These "opposites" are the very essence of cosmic life, the twin

pillars of universal equilibrium; they have been represented in

Solomon's symbolical temple--here, the Universe--by Jakin and Boaz,

the white and the black columns; they are also the interlaced

triangles of "Solomon's Seal," the six-pointed star, the two Old Men

of the Kabbalah, the white Jehovah and the black Jehovah; Eros and

Anteros, the serpents of Mercury's caduceus, the two Sphinxes of the

car of Osiris, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, the

Chinese "Yang" and "Yin," the goblet and staff of Tarot, man and

woman. All these images represent the same law.

Multiplicity, the fruit of the contraries, makes its appearance in the

forms born in infinite, homogeneous Being; its goal is the goal of

creation; the production, in infinite Being, of centres which are

developed by evolution and finally become gods in God. These centres,

or "souls," these points in the supreme Point, are divine in essence,

though, so far, they have no share at all in the perfection

"manifested" by God; they are all "centres," for God is a sphere,

whose centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere, but they have

not developed consciousness which is as yet only potential in them.

Like cuttings of willow which reproduce the mother-tree, these points,

veritable portions of God, are capable of germinating, growing up, and

becoming "I's," self-conscious beings, intelligent and endowed with

will-power, and finally gods, having developed the entire

potentialities of the All by their repeated imprisonment in the series

of forms that make up the visible and invisible kingdoms of nature.

Every form, i.e. aggregate of substance-force, reflects within

itself one of these points of Divinity. This point is its Monad, its

centre of consciousness, or soul; it is the cause which is manifested

as qualities in the envelopes, and these give it the illusion of

separateness for a certain period,[18] just as a soap-bubble

momentarily acquires a fictitious individuality and appears separate

from the atmosphere--of which it forms part--so long as its illusory

envelope endures.

Thus do men imagine themselves separate from one another, when all the

time their soul is nothing more than a drop of the divine Ocean,

hidden momentarily in a perishable body.

The "contraries" are the anvil and the hammer which slowly forge souls

by producing what might be called sensation in general, and sensation

is a fertile cause of suffering each time the vehicles of

consciousness receive vibrations that greatly exceed their fundamental

capacity of sensation. Without sensation however--consequently without

suffering--the body could neither walk,[19] nor see, nor hear, nor

show any disturbance brought to bear upon it; there would exist no

possible relation between the Universe and the "I," between the All

and the parts, between bodies and souls; there would be no

consciousness, or sensation of being, since no vibration from without

would find an echo in the incarnated "centres" of life; no knowledge

would be possible; man would be, as it were, in a state of

nothingness; and, without suspecting it, his body might at any moment

be crushed to the ground by the forces of Nature.

But these material necessities are not by any means the only ones that

demand sensation; without it, one of the principal objects of

evolution--the development of "Egos"--would be impossible. As an

example borrowed from the domain of physical sensation, we need only

call to memory a well-known experience in childhood.

All who have been at a boarding school know how heavy and fetid is the

atmosphere of a dormitory in the early winter morning, when fifty boys

have been breathing the same air again and again during the whole of

the night. And yet, who suspected this until he had gone out for a few

minutes and then returned to the bed-room? It needed the "contrary,"

the pure outside air, to make known the state of the atmosphere

inside. The contrast produced sensation--that nauseous, suffocating

impression of foul, mephitic air; suffering[20] generated knowledge of

the vitiated air; as the result of this influence, the "centre of

consciousness" felt itself an "I" distinct from its surroundings, and

its "self-consciousness" received a slight increase.

What might be called passional sensibility--desire, emotion,

impulse--is, like physical sensation, another indispensable factor in

evolution; it is the special element in the development of the animal

kingdom as well as of the less evolved portion of the human kingdom.

The young souls of mankind must receive the comparatively simple lessons

of sensation, desire, and passion, before beginning the far more

complicated study of mentality. But for desire, a host of needs could

not be manifested, numberless functions would remain inactive; the body

would not feed itself, and would die, were it not for hunger; danger

would not be fled from, but for the instinct of self-preservation; nor

without this would there be any propagation of the species. None the

less is this life of sensation the source of many evils; desire and

passion amongst human beings create terrible misery, fill prisons and

hospitals, and are at the root of all kinds of moral suffering. In its

turn, intelligence--that sensation so characteristic of the human

state--is both an indispensable necessity and the most fertile source of

evil, so long as it has not experienced a yearning for that inner

"divinity," deep in the heart of man, which calls to it. A powerful

lever of progress, it might convert this earth into a paradise, whereas

it is the weapon which the strong, in their egoism, use to crush the

feeble, a terrible weapon which either creates or intensifies all the

evils under which the people writhe in despair. Once it becomes the

instrument of a regenerate humanity, that is to say, when men have

become compassionate, loving, and devoted, then the social question will

cease to exist, and the old instrument of torture will become a pledge

of general happiness.

Even spiritual sensibility is a cause of suffering to some noble souls

who have developed it, for however deep the joy of loving and giving

oneself, intense too is the pain of witnessing the cruel drama of

life, that fratricidal struggle in which passion strikes without

mercy, whilst illusion and ignorance deal blows even more terrible,

for into the wounds they make they instil the poison of revolt and


The action of multiplicity, and of its creators, the "contraries,"

engenders still other causes of suffering. Every being lives both for

others and at their expense. For instance, physical bodies are obliged

to replace with food and nourishment those particles which the various

functions of life cause them to lose. The vegetable kingdom takes its

constituent elements from the mineral kingdom, and itself serves as

food for large portions of the animal kingdom; up to this point

physical pain has not manifested itself, though there is a momentary

arrest of evolution for the animistic essence which represents the

individual in the destroyed vegetable. A portion of the animal kingdom

feeds on its own members; man, too, extorts from this same kingdom a

very heavy tribute; here, the arrested evolution of the victims is all

the more important, inasmuch as their stage of evolution is higher,

and the existence of a nervous system brings the possibility of

suffering, suffering which certain influences[21] either diminish or

suppress altogether, when caused by animal destructiveness, but which

may become intense when it is man who is the sacrificer.

Among the causes of pain, arising from multiplicity there is also the

physical, mental, and moral action exercised by the solidarity of all

beings. By exchanging, with those that come into contact with us, the

products thrown off by our visible and invisible bodies, we are the

dispensers of good or ill-health. Everyone, for instance, is aware of

the far-reaching effects of an evil intellectual and moral example;

physical contagion, in spite of the torture it inflicts, is far less

to be dreaded than moral contagion. The spiritual qualities alone do

not form a leaven of evil; they are not the double-edged instruments

we meet with elsewhere. The reason of this is that they belong to the

plane of Unity. But it is none the less true that, though the

presence of a highly developed soul is a help to younger souls within

its reach and influence, its powerful vibrations may, from certain

points of view, prove fatiguing to those still at the foot of the

ladder of evolution. This is one of the many reasons that have given

rise to the saying that it is dangerous prematurely to enter the

"circle of the ascetics."

But the most powerful causes of pain, due to multiplicity, are the

ignorance and the will of beings who have reached the human stage. Man

can employ his mental faculties for good or evil, and so long as he

does not know definitely that he is the brother of all beings, i.e.,

until his divine faculties have been developed, and love and the

spirit of sacrifice have taken possession of his heart, he remains a

terrible egoist, more to be dreaded than the criminal dominated by a

momentary burst of passion, for he acts in cold blood, he evades or

refuses to recognise the law of humanity, he dominates and destroys.

This man is at the stage of ingratitude; he no longer possesses the

harmlessness of childhood, nor has he yet acquired the wisdom of

advanced age. Our Western race has reached this critical stage,

whereof the menacing demands of the suffering masses are a striking

testimony. Here, too, God could not do otherwise; He might create

bodies blindly obedient to his law, mere automata, but it would be

impossible for Him to cause divine germs to evolve into "gods" without

pulling them through the school of evolution which teaches them,

first, of the "ego," the root of all egoism, then knowledge by

ignorance, liberty by necessity, good by evil, and the perfect by the


It may at this point just be mentioned that though human egoism

appears to have free play and to be unrestrained in its cruelty,

divine Law never allows innocence to suffer for the errors of evolving

souls, it punishes only the guilty, whether their faults or misdeeds

be known or unknown, belonging to the present life or to past ones.

Such, briefly, is the cause of pain and suffering in evolution; in the

following pages we will set forth the causes of the unequal

distribution of this suffering.