The Theosophical Forum – September 1936

PREPARATION FOR THEOSOPHIC STUDY (1) — H. N. Stokes

May 15, 1923

Dear Mr. G___

I was glad to get your letter and apologize for delay in replying. The chief result so far of my enthusiasm for the study of The Secret Doctrine — an indirect one, of course — is a broken leg, which has brought confusion to all my undertakings. Let me advise you to shut off your meditations on pralayas when you are crossing a street; else some automobile may teach you a practical lesson on the subject, as it did me. . . .

But to come down to brass tacks, what is the use of all this study and is one really a theosophist in proportion to his familiarity with The Secret Doctrine?

Your name is a German one; perhaps you can read the following from Goethe's Faust, which presents the matter in a nutshell. It is part of a dialogue between Faust, the philosopher and dreamer, and Wagner, his pupil, a semi-desiccated bookworm, Faust speaking. Lest I be mistaken I append what is perhaps the best, although an inferior. English rendering:

Das Pergament, ist das der heil'ge Bronnen,
Woraus ein Trunk den Durst auf ewig stillt?
Erquickung hast du nicht gewonnen,
Wenn sie dir nicht aus eigner Seele quillt.

(Is parchment, then, the holy fount before thee,
A draught wherefrom thy thirst forever slakes?
No true refreshment can restore thee,
Save what from thine own soul spontaneous breaks.)

I once knew a man who thought he was studying botany — as an avocation, for by vocation he was a chemist, and a noted one — while in reality all he was doing was filling his head with Latin names and pressing and drying and labeling specimens of whose life history, whose evolution, and whose role in the great factory of nature he did know one thing and cared less. This modern Wagner once took me on a fifty mile excursion in Switzerland to find what he claimed was a most interesting plant, a specimen of which he wanted for his herbarium. Arrived at our destination I happened to pluck what was to me one of the most beautiful wild flowers I had ever seen and asked him about it, why it was built as it was, and why it grew in such a lonely spot, seemingly wasting its beauty. "Oh, pooh," he replied, "that's nothing but a common ——a Latin name which I am glad to have forgotten. Whereupon he espied the plant he was after, plunged into the water without thinking to remove his clothing, and brought out something which looked to me like a decayed spatterdock, but to which he gave a huge Latin name and assured me it was very rare — all he could tell me about it. But he was perfectly happy in having a new specimen for his collection.

Now, I have not the least antipathy to Latin names and herbaria. I admit the value of systematic botany and wish I knew more about it. But I do not desire that knowledge at the expense of other matters. You may have a head large enough to harbor a Latin dictionary, and at the same time to understand and love the things you work with, not as mere "specimens," but as living beings related to all other lives. If you cannot accommodate both, you will do well to trouble yourself less with these details and think more of the greater. The letter killeth; it is the spirit which giveth life. To my mind the despised dandelion is one of the most beautiful of all wild flowers. The very sight of it starts me to thinking on the big problems. What is beauty, for example? why is it that the bright flower appeals to me? We know that the object — one object — of the bright color is to attract insects for the purpose of cross-fertilization. But why are they attracted, otherwise than by the desire to find honey? Why would white do as well, as it often does? Why is it that these insects are themselves not only brilliant, but adorned with the most elaborate and beautiful patterns which cannot be ascribed to protective mimicry? Is it that they have the same power of seeing beauty in each other, as we have when a beautiful face or voice attracts us? Is this sensing of beauty, either in the insect or ourselves, of sexual origin only, or connected in other ways with race-preservation? Or is it the beginning, in the insect and the flower, of what is more highly developed in us, of a really esthetic trend in nature, which goes far more deeply down to the root of things? Is it not possible that there are more highly developed beings who not only discern beauty where we do, but who even find it where we see only ugliness? May there not be a Power to whom the crocodile, the rhinoceros and the warthog are truly beautiful, and which regards them with something akin to love? Is it not possible that we may best emulate this Power by trying to see the beautiful in all the so-called ugly things in nature, even in those of our fellow men whom we are prompted to despise?

These are some of the thoughts which come to me when I give way to them, and the more I have considered it the more I have become convinced that beneficence, beauty, and most of all, Love, are the ends towards which the universe strives. It may be all wrong, a mere dream, but to my mind it is the only sane solution of the world riddle. I am not giving you anything original; many a writer has hinted at it or stated it fully. But I did not get it out of books; most of all I did not get it out of The Secret Doctrine or any other work with a theosophical title. I found it in the poets, in Swinburne (for all his sensuousness), in Browning, in Walt Whitman, in Keats and many another. But, and this is the moral of my citation from Goethe, I could have read these poets ad infinitum, and would have been held only by the trivialities, by the narratives, or by the music of the verse, had it not been in myself to do more. To the truth that Love is the end — the end, not a means — of creation, I should have been stone blind and deaf had it not been already in me to perceive it. Let me quote you a few lines from Browning's "Reverie," in Asolando, which, by the way, you will not find in any volume of selections, so little is he understood:

Then life is — to wake not sleep,
     Rise and not rest, but press
From earth's level where blindly creep
     Things perfected, more or less,
To the heaven's height, far and steep,

Where, amid what strifes and storms
     May wait the adventurous quest,
Power is Love — transports, transforms
     Who aspired from worst to best,
Sought the soul's world, spurned the worms.

When I read those lines, years and years ago, I saw the whole thing at once; because conscious of all that is truly worth while in Theosophy; gained a standpoint which I sorely needed and without which life would not have been worth the going through. But it was hidden in my own soul; it had but to respond; the poet simply evoked what was already there. Deep calls to deep; I knew that I had known it already.

If you cannot get this attitude the study of The Secret Doctrine will be the mere study of a "parchment." You must strive for the lofty altitudes where "Power is Love." The study of The Secret Doctrine will help you to keep out of the many byways and left-hand paths which a pseudo-occultism would have you follow; it will give you a noble philosophy; it will strengthen and confirm your convictions; it will discipline your mind so that you will not become unduly mushy or sentimental in your ideas, it will help you to be plodding and patient. But, you must do other reading if you would not hunt for a needle in a haystack. Get next to the great poets, for they most of all have the inner light, have seen the vision and have been able to express it. Prepare for each reading of The Secret Doctrine by a few minutes with one of them. Try to infuse into your studies the spirit I have mentioned. Do not be over-critical of your fellow-students if they appear to be one of the Wagner type; who knows? Don't hide your light — if you have one — under a bushel, but help them to see as you do, as I am sure they expect of you.

And don't forget, . . . that no amount of realization of this, no amount of worshiping at the shrine of celestial beauty, no amount of recognition of the law that "Power is Love," will profit you in the least unless you make them part of your own nature, unless you build them into your daily thoughts and acts. If God loves the ugliest and most venomous beast, and nurtures it, if He loves what we call the sinner, how can you expect to become godlike unless you do the same to all beings, especially to those fellow mortals on whom you look with indifference if not disdain? The light is within you; you must find it there; and equally you must learn to see it in others. That Inner, or Higher, Self is something wonderfully beautiful, and it exists in everyone you meet, however veiled. For wise purposes nature has provided that perhaps once or twice in a lifetime and for a brief period, alas, most of us get such glimpses more or less distinctly; we see through the veil of another soul. This must not be misunderstood. It is commonly ridiculed as an illusion, as self-deception. It is nothing of the kind; it alone is the truth, the permanent; it is our common vision which deceives us. All of goodness and beauty which you see in another actually exists, and more, you see it because it exists in yourself likewise; else you would be blind to it. I admit that powers which pertain to the buddhic plane must be carefully controlled here. But if you can get and keep this vision, can see the beauty in everyone, free from the fumes which arise from your lower nature and which tend to distort it, free from the selfish idea that you must at the same time possess or control or dominate, seeing that selflessness only gives you the right to it, without being blinded or led into the unreasonable, then you will have gained the most priceless jewel that Theosophy has for you; then, you may safely proceed ad libitum with the study of The Secret Doctrine; you will never become a Wagner.

Cordially yours,

Editor of the Critic

FOOTNOTE:

1. Reprinted from The 0. E. Library Critic, June, 1923. (return to text)


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