[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]
Huxley the English biologist, once wrote in substance that there must be beings as far above man as man is above the black beetle. Kenneth Morris thus completes the same idea:
Below us are innumerable grades of consciousness: the infinitesimal electron is a world: amoeba and protozoon stand at the summit of aeons of evolution. Above us, must there not be grades as infinite? Who shall say where humanity ends, and Godhood begins? It is a Jacob's ladder is evolution.
The Great Sages are intermediate links in the endless chain of evolution between men and spiritual beings (to us, incorporeal) of whom all sacred literatures tell, but of whom few of us can have definite knowledge save to the degree that we raise ourselves in aspiration and consciousness towards their lofty estate. The Great Sages are the Fine Flowers of human evolution.
The most important single fact in the history of humanity is the existence of Great Sages and Seers, Spiritual Teachers. They have been the fashioners of most that is noblest and finest in the civilizations of the past and of the present: Krishna, Gautama the Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Confucius, Pythagoras, Plato, Quetzalcohuatl, Jesus the Christ — not to mention others of less renown though perhaps not always of less spiritual stature.
Why should we imagine that lofty spiritual beings ceased incarnating on this earth thousands of years ago? Is it not obvious that what Nature has produced once, Nature can produce again? Discipleship did not end with the Last Supper, nor did the Spiritual Guardians of Humanity forget their task when the Great Syrian's divine efforts failed to avert the plunge of Mediterranean civilization down the Gadarene Slope.
Because the Buddha and the Christ lived and taught, because Lao-Tzu and Confucius revealed and labored, because Pythagoras and Plato penetrated behind the veils of the outward seeming into the inner worlds and brought back to mankind the truths there learned by them through experience and initiation, have we not ample evidence that such as these Great Ones can live and teach and reveal again?
Should such come among us, how may one recognise them? "By their fruits shall ye know them": by the doctrine that they teach, by the life that they live, by the compassion that they show, by the light that they shed about them: by these insignia majestatis shall you know the real spiritual Sage and Seer. But you cannot recognise him unless there is something akin to his spirit stirring within your own soul. If one is puffed up with egoism, soured with jealousy, blinded with self-righteousness, or "cribb'd, cabin'd, and confined" within the iron shell of his brain-mind prejudices and preconceptions, one would not recognise a spiritual Teacher though he spoke with the tongue of an angel and came with a direct mandate from the Great White Lodge itself.
Who can set bounds to the possibilities of man? Once inhale the upper air, being admitted to behold the absolute natures of justice and truth, and we learn that man has access to the entire mind of the Creator, is himself the Creator in the finite. This view, which admonishes me where the sources of wisdom and power lie, and points to virtue as to
"The golden key
Which opes the palace of eternity,"
carries upon its face the highest certificate of truth, because it animates me to create my own world through the purification of my soul.
— Emerson: Essay on Nature
The Great Sages are the forerunners in the eternal pilgrimage which all of us are making. They blaze the trail for their less evolved fellow-men to travel. In this present stage of evolution here on earth man stands supreme over all the visible kingdoms of Nature below him. Yet the thinking man knows intuitively, as did Huxley, that there must be beings as far above man, as he is above the black beetle. It is these highly evolved men that the Esoteric Philosophy refers to as constituting the Great Brotherhood of the Masters, or the Mahatmans, or the Elder Brothers of the human race, who, in ages past, in former incarnations, occupied positions along the evolutionary pathway corresponding to our own at the present time; and we are destined in future ages, if we run the race successfully, in our turn to become Elder Brothers, Spiritual Leaders, Guides and Helpers, to those entities now trailing along behind us — in the human kingdom or the kingdoms below the human. This chain of beings evolving ever towards greater heights of spirituality, wisdom, and compassion, of whom the Great White Lodge is but one link, was called by the ancient Greeks the Golden Chain of Hermes, or the Hermetic Chain, and is generally known in Theosophical literature as the Hierarchy of Light or Compassion.
In chapter xxxi of The Esoteric Tradition, whose title as well as much of whose contents we have borrowed in this present study, Dr. de Purucker gives the following tentative scale of stages or degrees of evolutionary development: (a) First Elemental Kingdom, (b) Second Elemental Kingdom, (c) Third Elemental Kingdom. 1. The Mineral Kingdom. 2. The Vegetable Kingdom. 3. The Beast Kingdom. 4. The Human Kingdom. 5. The Great Ones. 6. Quasi-Divine Beings or Lower Gods. 7. Gods. He thus summarizes their most salient characteristics:
. . . most important of these salient characteristics is the growth or rather progressive unfolding of individuality or individualized beings, as we ascend rung after rung or degree after degree of the Ladder of Life, that is perceptible even here on our Mother Earth. The relatively perfect unism of the rocks slowly passes into the growth of individuality which becomes faintly perceptible in the communism of the superior Kingdom of the plants; and as we leave the plant-world and follow the evolutionary picture as it ascends into the Beast-Kingdom, we notice the tendency towards individualization increasing steadily and even rapidly. When we reach the Human Kingdom which in the Esoteric Philosophy is considered a separate and entirely distinct kingdom from that of the Beasts, because of the typically human attributes which mark man so sharply off from the beasts, such as the moral sense, intellectual power, spirituality in its own ranges, etc., etc., we find that the rise towards individualization has resulted in the appearance of characteristically distinct Individuals, human beings, who, because of the spiritual and moral and intellectual faculties and attributes inherent in them, are at once distinct units in themselves, and yet equally distinct and self-conscious units in a social structure, which social structure is the more keenly and profoundly recognised in proportion as the human individual is the more developed. — pages 936-7
We can get some conception of this evolutionary Ladder of Life and the place of the great Spiritual Sages in the Cosmic Hierarchy, by comparing a diamond or a gold nugget with a Buddha or a Christ. The diamond may be said to be the most perfect imbodiment of a monad or evolving consciousness-life-center in the Mineral Kingdom. It is so perfect, not merely because it is beautiful and rare, but because it is closer to the high spiritual plane from which it started its great evolutionary journey in this period of manifestation as an unselfconscious god-spark. But beautiful and exquisite as the diamond is in its mineral imbodiment, how much more inspiring and potent for good is the "diamond-heart" of a Buddha, who has passed through all the lower kingdoms, become thoroughly individualized as a man, and then, by his own self-devised and self-induced efforts, merged his individual consciousness into the consciousness of the whole, deliberately chosen the path of compassion, and acquired thereby relative omniscience! As the diamond is to the piece of charcoal, though both are composed of identically the same chemical carbon, so is the Great Sage to the average man, though both are builded of the same principles.
What is a Great Sage? The achievement of a wondrous alchemy, whereby fallen star-dust is ensouled with human consciousness and kindliness, wrought into a clear crystal of genuine worth in the crucible of experience and service, cut and polished into noble symmetry by education and thought — -a precious jewel that shines by its own light in any setting. And then, through such jewels, as Emerson wrote:
From within, or from behind, a light shines through us upon things and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.
Now, these great Sages have not blazed a trail for us and traveled so far ahead of us merely for our wonderment and to dazzle us by their great light, so that, instead of following in their footsteps we crawl like worms in the dust and worship them personally, thereby crucifying them after they have passed out of our sphere even more than too often, alas, we do while they are in our midst in the flesh. Does this mean, then, that we must not love and reverence the true Spiritual Teacher, however much like ourselves he may be in his merely human parts? Carlyle answers:
No sadder proof can be given by a man of his own littleness than disbelief in great men. . . . A man embraces truth with his eyes open, and because his eyes are open; does he need to shut them before he can love his Teacher of truth? He alone can love with a right gratitude and genuine loyalty of soul, the Hero-Teacher who has delivered him out of darkness into light.
Surely the Great Sages intended that we should follow along in their footsteps, becoming in our turn ever more and more like them, in degree sages and seers and guides to less progressed beings. This view, far from arousing egoism, is one of the most chastening thoughts that could possibly come to a sincere aspirant, because, using the Roentgen rays of utter candor in introspection, he realizes how far behind he lags in the evolutionary journey that is ahead of all of us.
How may we know whether we are following in the footsteps of the Great Ones or not? Here is a simple test: Do we fashion our lives by thought and will and aspiration, or do we merely react to the environing circumstances and people about us? Do we think or do we merely react? If the latter, we have gone only a little farther than the beasts. If, on the other hand, we consciously direct our evolution along the paths pointed out by the Great Spiritual Sages and Seers, we may be sure that we are drawing constantly nearer and nearer to them.
Let us turn now to some of the signposts that they have left behind them to aid us in climbing to the sunlit heights from which they are ever beckoning us to "Come up higher"! We shall find that these sign-posts are universal in their application to life. They are as true for the American as they are for the Japanese, as true for the German and the Italian as they are for the Spaniard and the Russian. Though placed along life's eternal highway in some instances thousands of years ago, they are as true in their guidance today as they were when first erected — as constant as the Pole-Star, and the traveler who sets his course by their compass is sure to reach his goal in time. They overleap all the frontiers of nationality, race, creed, or epoch. They make a direct appeal to the Son of the Sun that every human being is in his highest part. They are, as Mohammed said about Allah, "nearer to thee than thy jugular vein."
Victor Hugo, in one of his most brilliant flashes of intuitive perception of truth, wrote:
We are as unwilling to submit to a leadership or dynasty of thought as to any other. This, however, is to misunderstand and to be frightened by a word when the thought is reassuring. The very law which requires that mankind should have no owners, requires that it should have guides. To be enlightened is the reverse of being subjected. The march forward requires a directing hand; to rebel against the pilot scarcely advances the ship; one does not see what would be gained by throwing Columbus overboard. The words "This way" never humiliated the man who was seeking the road. At, night I accept the authority of the torches.
At some future time, we hope to point to signposts left by the Great Spiritual Sages and Seers of the past; but here let us observe some of those erected for the guidance of the present Theosophical Movement by the Masters M. and K. H. in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett. (We do not waste time discussing who wrote these Letters. It is their intrinsic worth which makes them worthy of a Master — not what ostrich-like men without vision refuse to recognise in them that disproves their authoritative Message).
The Chiefs want a "Brotherhood of Humanity," a real Universal Fraternity started; an institution which would make itself known throughout the world and arrest the attention of the highest minds. — p. 24
Does anyone imagine that the prime purpose of the founding of the modern Theosophical Movement was to develop and exploit our psychic powers, or even to give us intellectual knowledge or a wide scope for metaphysical speculation, and that service to our fellow-men was only a secondary consideration of the Real Founders? Then behold the signposts left by them in their own words:
. . . we might justly maintain that it is . . . "the business of "magic" to humanise our natures with compassion" for the whole mankind as all living beings, . . . For it is "Humanity" which is the great Orphan, the only disinherited one upon this earth, my friend. And it is the duty of every man who is capable of an unselfish impulse, to do something, however little, for its welfare. — p. 32
The term "Universal Brotherhood" is no idle phrase. Humanity in the mass has a paramount claim upon us, . . . It is the only secure foundation for universal morality. If it be a dream, it is at least a noble one for mankind; and it is the aspiration of the true adept. — p. 17
Has anyone so fooled himself as to believe that he can travel far along the road of discipleship towards masterhood and yet cherish illwill in his heart towards a fellow human-being? The Master's finger points to the following signpost:
Beware then, of an uncharitable spirit, for it will rise up like a hungry wolf in your path, and devour the better qualities of your nature which have been springing into life. Broaden instead of narrowing your sympathies; try to identify yourself with your fellows, rather than to contract your circle of affinity. However caused . . . a crisis is here, and it is a time for the utmost practicable expansion of your moral power. It is not the moment for reproaches or vindictive recriminations, but for united struggle. — p. 367
Does anyone ask for the secret of happiness?
Happy the man who helps a helping hand. — p. 88
Do we believe that elaborate ritual and punctilious regard for form are the gates to masterhood?
. . . it is men not ceremony-masters, we seek, devotion, not mere observances. — p. 11
Do we perhaps feel that the ordinary duties of life and personal obligations already assumed disqualify us for treading the path of discipleship?
Does it seem to you a small thing that the past year has been spent only in your "family duties"? Nay, but what better cause for reward, what better discipline, than the daily and hourly performance of duty? Believe me my "pupil," the man or woman who is placed by Karma in the midst of small plain duties and sacrifices and loving-kindnesses, will through these faithfully fulfilled rise to the larger measure of Duty, Sacrifice and Charity to all Humanity — what better path towards the enlightenment you are striving after than the daily conquest of Self, the perseverance in spite of want of visible psychic progress, the bearing of ill-fortune with that serene fortitude which turns it to spiritual advantage — since good and evil are not to be measured by events on the lower or physical plane. — p. 372
Or are we perhaps impatient to know deeper secrets of life's arcana than have yet been revealed to us?
"Many are the grains of incense destined for one and the same altar: one falls sooner into the fire, the other later — the difference of time is nothing," remarked a great man when he was refused admission and supreme initiation into the mysteries. — p. 17
Do we belong to the ranks of the Theosophical (?) defeatists or literalists or cyclic fatalists, who are sure that the Masters have deserted their own child, the Theosophical Movement, and will have nothing more to do with it in the West until the hands of the Cosmic Clock strike 1975?
Only those who have proved faithful to themselves and to Truth through everything, will be allowed further intercourse with us. — p. 264
Does not the above signpost contain the implicit promise, that those who do prove faithful to themselves and to Truth through everything, shall be allowed further intercourse with the Masters?
In The Voice of the Silence, H. P. Blavatsky tells us:
Help Nature and work on with her; and Nature will regard thee as one of her creators and make obeisance.
And the Sage of Concord, enlarging on the same theme, in his Essay on Nature, wrote:
In private places, among sordid objects, an act of truth or heroism seems at once to draw to itself the sky as its temple, the sun as its candle. Nature stretcheth out her arms to embrace man, only let his thoughts be of equal greatness. Willingly does she follow his steps with the rose and the violet, and bend her lines of grandeur and grace to the decoration of her darling child. Only let his thoughts be of equal scope, and the frame will suit the picture. A virtuous man is in unison with her works, and makes the central figure of the visible sphere. Homer, Pindar, Socrates, Phocion, associate themselves fitly in our memory with the geography and climate of Greece. The visible heavens and earth sympathize with Jesus. And in common life, whosoever has seen a person of powerful character and happy genius, will have remarked how easily he took all things along with him — the persons, the opinions, and the day, and Nature became ancillary to a man.
That is the place of Great Sages in the Cosmic Hierarchy.
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