The Theosophical Society in America

Too Much of a Good Thing

By Betty Bland

Originally printed in the NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2006 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation:Bland, Betty. "Too Much of a Good Thing." Quest  94.5 (NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2006):186-188.


"Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it," we often hear. In the middle of July, we wish for cold, and in mid-February, we long for hot summer days. If we are suffering a drought, we long for rains, but in flood conditions we cannot bear to see any more rain. This also is true for rest and work, depending on whether we are fatigued or bored. And so the list goes on. We are rather like Goldilocks when tasting the three bears' porridge. Papa Bear's was too hot; Mama Bear's was too cold; but Baby Bear's was just right, not extreme in either direction.

There is truth to the saying that evil is an exaggerated virtue. Knowledge is good, but too much theory without practical understanding leads to either dullness or fanaticism. Balance and proportion are crucial for the welfare of the whole. Although the underlying unity of the cosmos is undeniable, the list of apparent opposites in this manifested universe is endless: pliable and rigid, dark and light, strength and gentleness, etc. The tension between these opposites holds the whole system together and provides the field for our consciousness and growth.


The Secret Doctrine, Stanza III, sloka 10

Our universe requires a dynamic and complementary tension between the opposite forces called yin and yang, as illustrated by the Chinese symbol. Each of the equally pided dark and light portions of the revolving circle contains a germ of the other within its segment, showing that each aspect depends on the presence of the other in their eternal cosmic dance.

These energies, yin/yang, female/male, receptive/assertive, negative/positive, etc., are a part of this grand drama in which we, as participants, have to figure out how to find harmony and balance. Each of us has both types of qualities, but manifesting as male or female; we express one or the other more strongly. Yet either quality requires the mitigating presence of the other. This is true within our selves as well as in society. Protective fortitude is as necessary as sustaining nurturance. Because the masculine aspect has been overemphasized for several millennia, today, the need for finding balance through increased appreciation for the feminine is gaining expression.

Consider the image of the potter and clay. Being the clay or material to be shaped unto a useful vessel, we have to undergo the molding process. So that we may contain the feminine aspect of receptivity, we are shaped into a hollow that is open to spirit. Yet our substance has to be strong and resistant enough (a masculine quality) to be able to form and maintain a sturdy shape. When the clay is too wet and soft to be worked, it will collapse in on itself and be unable to function as a vessel. A balance in strength and pliability is needed.

We cannot promote one aspect of our nature over another. We have to be receptive to pine spirit, but we also have to present robust material for the potter's use. Therefore we need to develop a self-responsible, self-reliant strength that does not crumble under whatever energy happens our way. In order to be whole in our development we require strength of identity and purpose, while at the same time maintaining a gentle receptivity. If one day, we are to serve as teachers and masters of wisdom, we need to balance equally the masculine and feminine qualities within.

The chalice, a symbol of the feminine because its concave shape provides it with a potential for being filled, has always been a part of the Christian tradition. In spite of its importance in the sacrament of communion, however, the chalice has not held a prominent place in religious iconography. Possibly the chalice's low visibility has been symptomatic of the Church's limited acknowledgement of the feminine.

In fact, the West's long love affair with the Arthurian grail legends may have been spawned by this lack of feminine empowerment. The stories abound with brave and gallant knights charging in quest of the elusive grail. Nevertheless, it turns out that it is not bravery which wins the goal, but a receptive, purity of heart. Moreover, woven throughout the tales of adventure are encounters with powerful women who must be reckoned with along the way. The knights were seeking and being challenged by the feminine.

In the Hindu tradition, we find another story which prompts the audience to rethink and honor the feminine. Long ago there was a young aspiring yogini who longed to be the disciple of a great teacher. She approached him several times but was not even allowed past his outer devotees. In spite of rebuffs and ridicule, she persisted and finally gained audience with him. He promptly dismissed her youthful enthusiasm with the pronouncement that he did not accept females as his students. After persistent supplications on her part however, he accepted her argument that "all humanity must become feminine, or receptive, to pine spirit." He recognized in her argument a truth that resulted from an inner experience of wholeness and spiritual maturity.

Consideration of the feminine principle does not mean that we should promote one quality over the other, but that we should enhance that quality which has been most lacking in empowerment and acknowledgement. In doing so, we can achieve greater balance, in both our personal lives and in society around us. Equal appreciation of both qualities generates wholeness and encourages the full expression of humanity. Just as we would not choose to use only one eye, one leg, or one hand, so we should not choose to strengthen one of these aspects over another.

Whichever quality is less in your comfort zone is the one to pursue. Honor the receptiveness within your self, that you might be open to others, to nature, and to the Spirit that pours its power into our inner sanctuary; develop your strength of character, self-assertion, and action so that you might be of greater service to the world. Develop the mettle to hold the form, and the emptiness to become the receptive hollow. Be whole in both weakness and strength.

In Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart, edited by Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield, on page 283, the following illustration is given in a repertoire of the Dalai Lama's parables. Once, the spirit of a famous guru appeared in order to heal a small, discordant community of monks. All the monks had seen the spirit come out of the wall long enough to utter just one word. But each monk had heard a different word. The event is immortalized in this poem:

The one who wanted to die heard live.

The one who wanted to live heard die.

The one who wanted to take heard give.

The one who wanted to give heard keep.

The one who was always alert heard sleep.

The one who was always asleep heard wake.

The one who wanted to leave heard stay.

The one who wanted to stay, depart.

The one who never spoke heard preach.

The one who always preached heard pray.

Each one learned how he had been

In someone else's way.

Originally told by Pierre Delattre

That which makes us whole, will be neither too much nor too little, but just right.