The Theosophical Forum – May 1936

THE TWO PATHS — Helen Savage

The Two Paths: the teaching of the sixth 'Jewel of Wisdom,' of the Right-hand Path and the Left-hand Path: the path upwards, and the path downwards; the path of unselfishness and the path of selfishness; the path of ultimate joy, and the path of ultimate sorrow; the path of immortality, and the path of annihilation.

We see these two paths everywhere in life, but many people think it is just a matter of chance. The spiritual teachers of the human race say that this is not a matter of chance, but is based on the structure of the universe. There is the spiritual side of the universe, and the material side; not meaning by this that the spiritual on the one hand and the material on the other are really divorced: there is no more a dividing line between the spiritual and the material than between the colors in a rainbow. Take red and orange, for instance: they are two distinct colors, but when you see them in the rainbow it is impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends.

So it is with the spiritual and material sides of the universe. There is a gradation of beings from the unevolved to the evolved — from the less perfect to the more perfect: from the unconscious to the fully conscious. Therefore, in a general way, we speak of the matter-side and the spirit-side of the universe. The beings living in, or rather composing, the material side of the universe are not evil if that is where they belong; they are simply unevolved. But if a higher being identifies himself with this matter-side, with something less than himself, then he is relatively evil.

Man stands between the spiritual and the material. If he turns his eyes to the material, stops his climb upwards and retraces his steps, he is going on the downward path; if he turns toward spirit he is going on the path of light. This latter is the natural path for the human race to follow at the present time, that is, it is according to nature. We have passed through the matter-side of being as centers of consciousness, and now as higher beings we find it useful to express ourselves through it, but we are not it. It is only through ignorance that we imagine we are, and act accordingly.

This Sixth Jewel of Wisdom is very difficult to understand in all its reaches, from its loftiest heights to its vastest depths. This is true of all the Jewels of Wisdom that we have studied. Reimbodiment, for instance, means not only coming back into earth-life, but it includes in its meaning all the grand experiences that the spiritual part of us passes through after death, taking up body after body, reimbodying itself, each body fit for the sphere in which it expresses itself. Can any but the Seer penetrate into the mysteries of these lofty peregrinations? Or again, thinking now of the Second Jewel of Wisdom, who of us has the eye of the Seer that can envisage the more intricate weavings of the Web of Destiny?

The Sixth Jewel, then, we are told, cannot be understood in all its vast reaches: we would have to be Masters of Life, for only such a one can know fully what it means to travel the Path of Light. Suppose a solar being, a solar god, should come to earth to try to explain to us even what the interior of the physical sun was like! He would have to speak in terms understandable to us, and about all that he could say would be that the sun is a tremendous vortex of life, pouring forth floods of energy. Much more than that we could not understand. But if we had the solar consciousness we could. So in times to come we shall have a consciousness that will understand the great heights the human race will attain to on this Path of Light. Nevertheless, because the small mirrors the great, because every experience in life touches upon the greatest mysteries of being, therefore we can know something of this Sixth Jewel of Wisdom. For the upward path is not a path to be trod only when we become Adepts; we can begin to tread it right here and now.

What are the qualities that will help us along the way? They are the qualities that every man admires. Ask one hundred men what qualities they consider an ideal human being should have and all the answers would probably be something like this: He would have courage; self-reliance, at the same time realizing that he is fundamentally interwoven with all other beings: sympathy for all that lives; spiritual wisdom; vision. Now we all have within us just these qualities, and it is for us to bring them out and thus consciously and intelligently follow the path toward the light.

To speak of it as the path 'upward' is to discourage many, for the word 'upward' suggests the idea of a constant strain and struggle. We can think of it in another way: as a path, by following which, we are working with the forces of the universe; by turning our backs upon it, we are working against the forces of the universe. If we could become convinced of this, we would forget that it is a difficult path. We would say: "The forces of the universe are with me: I will go forward!"

Nevertheless, we cannot get away from the fact that ordinary human beings find it difficult to travel upwards at all times. Perhaps we can understand better why this should be if we know a little about the meaning of the technical terms used in Theosophy for the Right-hand Path and the Left-hand Path. And let it be said here that we use Sanskrit words not to confuse the student or impose difficulties upon him, but as a matter of fact to make the teaching simpler. This we know is done in all lines of work: terms are chosen and adopted that will get at the key-thought of the idea to be expressed. So for the two paths we use the Sanskrit terms Amrita-yana and Pratyeka-yana. Yana means 'path,' and Amrita and Pra-tyeka describe these paths: Amrita, the path of Individuality, and Pratyeka, the path of Personality.

Now man has within him both an individuality and a personality — the former his real Self, the latter the undeveloped part of him which, like most small things, usually imagines itself to be the 'whole show.' The personality has its place; nobody would want to get rid of it; but it should be the servant and recognise its superior in the individuality. Surely we can use this personality without identifying ourselves with it. One can think of a man going out to the hills for a walk with his dog. If the dog sees a rabbit and dashes after it, that does not mean that the master must also dash after it. No, he pursues his ramble, and if the dog becomes too obstreperous he whistles for him to follow at his heels.

So it is with us. We are the individuality, we are the Amrita-yana. We are not the personality, however much we may think we are; and we can make the personality serve and follow us. This is what mankind in large part has forgotten. Supposing himself to be less than he is, he finds the upward path of Nature difficult to travel.

Sometimes the meaning of the word pratyeka is given as 'each one for himself.' He who follows the pratyeka path, the path of each one for himself, divorces himself from the rest of the universe, deprives himself of the strength that the spiritual forces of the universe can give him. The teaching of the Ancient Wisdom is that if he follows this downward path consistently through many lives, he finally meets annihilation. This is not a strange teaching but another truth of Nature. For what being can set his strength against the mighty universe — and survive?

I am reminded of a tale, told in Danish folk-lore, of a spider who tried to build his web without the thread from above. He built it, indeed, but since it was not held by a strand of the great Web of Being, it was destroyed in the first storm. The thread from above is the individuality, and as long as there remains one slenderest strand of it stretching down to support the feeble web of the personality, there is hope for that personality. Fortunately, we are told, there are few who allow this thread to snap entirely — very few who break away from the universe.

It is this thread of individuality that we must search for in the hearts of our fellows. He who thus searches and finds is the true humanitarian. Dickens was such a one. He loved his fellow-beings and could see beneath the often ugly exterior. When he wrote Oliver Twist — it appeared first as a magazine-story — many of his friends criticized his portrayal of the character Nancy, for, they said, she is a contradiction; no such depraved creature would have shown the selfless and devoted love that she did — though indeed the object of her love was unworthy. When the story appeared in book-form, Dickens mentions this criticism in the preface, and says:

It is useless to discuss whether the conduct and character of the girl seems natural or unnatural, probable or improbable, right or wrong. It is true.

And he goes on to say how many of such objects of our pity he came across in his first-hand studies of human nature, who manifest still

the hope yet lingering behind; the last fair drop of water at the bottom of the dried-up weed-choked well. It involves the best and worst shades of our common nature; much of its ugliest hues, and something of its most beautiful; it is a contradiction, an anomaly, an apparent impossibility, but it is a truth.

In Bill Sikes, the object of Nancy's love, Dickens pictures a creature who showed no spark of divinity, one of the type who "would not give, by one look or action of a moment, the faintest indication of a better nature." In these two characters, he touched two great truths: first, that there is hope of 'salvation' for the personality by the individuality except, (and here we have the second truth) for those very few whose lower nature, through a course of evil-doing persistently followed, has severed all contact with the higher.

But in discussing this Sixth Jewel of Wisdom, one does not like to dwell on the darker side. All of us love the sunlight; we love to turn to the sun; we do not care to turn our backs upon it and follow our own shadows. And for our further encouragement we can remember that on this path to the light we are not alone. If it is true that for every step we take backwards we pull back weak and vacillating souls, it is equally true that for every step we take upwards we raise others with us. Furthermore, as we help those behind us who are less strong than we, so there are those ahead of us, the Masters of Wisdom, who have blazed the trail for us. It is they who lead, who light the way, although they themselves cannot tread the path for us; but when we begin consciously and intelligently to travel towards the Light, they extend a helping hand and bid us ever "Come up higher!"


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