The Theosophical Forum – November 1940


In choosing this subject, I was reminded of the old story told of Charles Darwin when he was at the height of his fame. (The same story, by the way, has been told making one or more others the hero of it!) Two boys thought they would play a practical joke on him, and they collected various parts from several different insects and small creatures and very cleverly glued them together to resemble a complete creature. They took this to the Naturalist and asked him to examine it and tell them what it was. Darwin looked at it very closely and examined it, and then asked: "Does it hop?" The boys answered: "Yes," delighted that he was falling into their trap. "Then it is most certainly a bug. Does it hum?" he asked. "Yes," said the boys. "Then it must be a humbug," answered the scientist.


And that tale has two morals to it in the present instance. You can't fool an adept in the line in which he is skilled, and above all not in spiritual matters can you fool one "who has attained." And the second moral is that I feel somewhat of a humbug myself in trying to talk to you on such a subject. But the fact is that one does not always need to be fully skilled or adept in the things one talks about and shares with others, as long as one realizes, of course, one's shortcomings. For instance, I am no god and could not create a sunset. I am not even an artist and could not paint one. But I can call a friend from a busy day at his desk and ask him to come out and share with me the beauties of a sunset and gain inspiration from it.

So it is in the studies we pursue along the Path. We do not need to wait until we have attained Adeptship before sharing what we have learned. The very essence of the teachings is that they must be given. They lose their true value if they are not given. For instance, the purpose of a pane of glass in a window is to be the medium through which light can come. Suppose that pane of glass decided it would no longer give the light that came to it, but would store it up for itself. Soon the many vibrations of light, and the images, etc., coming to that window would become so thick that the window would no longer be transparent, and its usefulness and very reason for existence would be destroyed.


What is this Path that we speak of, and who tread it? We call it technically "The Path," but it could be better described perhaps as "A way of Life" or of living. Let us take a diagram to illustrate our idea, remembering of course that this is only a diagram and not an exact picture.


We have at the bottom of the diagram the large mass of humanity, good, bad, and indifferent, who for generation after generation drift and live, making little or no purposeful evolutionary progress. But in every age there are those who feel an upward urge and start "treading the Path," or at least begin to turn their faces towards it; because there is a vast difference between yearning to lead a higher life, and actually conforming to its requirements in every particular. These who are turning their faces towards the Path are represented by the lines marked A.

There are three general classes of beings who are definitely on the Path. When a man, after many lives of sincere striving for self-improvement and self-progress — please note that I say self-improvement and self-progress — has finally succeeded in planting his feet irrevocably on the Path, he goes on and on, upward and upward, casting aside one by one the heavinesses of this earth which would drag him down. He finally reaches a state of unalloyed freedom and bliss, which we call Nirvana, and he no more has to worry over the problems of this earth, nor of the many souls struggling beneath him.

How does that picture appeal to you? Theosophy calls such a Nirvani a Pratyeka-Buddha. He has sought spiritual advancement for himself. There is nothing ugly or degrading about him. He is holy and spiritual. In fact many religious systems teach the beauty of such a goal. But he is spiritually selfish because he has advanced alone; not at the expense of his fellows it is true, but disregarding them and not being impeded by them or their sufferings.

The second type who travel the Path, but travel it in the opposite direction, we call Sorcerers or Black Magicians, in contradistinction to those who travel on the upward way who may be called White Magicians. As in everything else in life and the universe, there are always the opposites, such as day and night, black and white, good and evil, positive and negative. We need not concern ourselves much with this second class today, except to point out that they do exist, and that their goal is not reached by merely a sudden step in the wrong direction, but by life after life dedicated to evil-doing, to selfishness at the expense of others and because of a love of evil. I do not believe the number of such travelers on this Path is large.

The third class are those we call the Buddhas of Compassion, who win their title because the very essence of their journey on the Path is that they shall help others. They are ready at any time to delay their own progress if they can stop to help a fellow human being; and, as beautifully expressed in The Voice of the Silence, they seek out him who knows still less than they, and give him hope and consolation and let him hear the Law. These we consider the greatest of all beings known to us on earth.


But let us consider ourselves, all of us here in this Temple, ordinary human beings. We have, let us say, become dissatisfied with merely drifting as the large mass of humanity does. We are beginning the journey on the Path. Let us turn to the diagram again. There is the Path, and below, the mass of humanity. From time to time an individual here, a body of people there, feel an urge to hasten their evolution. On the diagram the lines marked A all converge on to the Path itself. But all too often our aspirations do not lead us immediately in the right direction. We wander around vaguely, searching and seeking (I was unable to procure the expensive cut for the diagram which would have shown this); and thereby often give the opportunity to pseudo-teachers to start their various sects and gain a following. But it is also the opportunity for a true Teacher to come among men and act as a genuine Spiritual Guide.

We have heard that it is in times of spiritual darkness that a Teacher appears among men. True, because if all men were spiritually awakened and treading the Path, they would not be in so great a need of a Guide. On the other hand, there must be some at least who are looking towards the Path, searching for wisdom; because only when a Call is made can a Teacher respond. What happens? He finds truth-seekers, searching sometimes in vain for the true Path. He comes among them, if he is of the Order of the Buddhas of Compassion, because he forgets his own self-advancement and lives only to help others.

So the Teacher appears (at the point marked C in the diagram let us say,) to lead men back to the Path, and men follow him as they followed the Buddha and Jesus Christ. But in their blind eagerness, when the Teacher has gone they continue too far in the direction set (represented by the continuation of C marked B), and instead of going upward when they reach the Path, they are led astray again, until another cycle comes around, and another Teacher comes among them to turn their faces forwards to the Sun again. This shows us why it is that from age to age, although Truth is one, and all great Teachers teach that same Truth, it is necessary for the Great Lodge periodically to send out its Messengers to teach mankind.

In our yearnings towards the Path, I am reminded of a good illustration I read in H. P. Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine:

the rays of the Sun, which contribute to the growth of vegetation, do not select this or that plant to shine upon. Uproot the plant and transfer it to a piece of soil where the sunbeam cannot reach it, and the latter will not follow it. So with the Atman: unless the higher Self or EGO gravitates towards its Sun — the Monad — the lower Ego, or personal Self, will have the upper hand in every case. — Vol. II, p. 110

It is a long and arduous journey we are undertaking. Every Teacher has warned us that it must not be viewed lightly. What shall be our equipment, our luggage so to speak? I have selected four qualities or attributes to begin this journey with. You may choose different ones. It doesn't greatly matter, as long as you feel well equipped. I have chosen Courage, Spiritual Discernment, a Sense of Humor, and Selflessness. Let us examine each of these and see in what way it will prove a useful part of our luggage.


I name this quality first because I believe it is the first requisite. Every student of occultism should know that a difficult task is ahead of him. It is a serious undertaking. Mistakes made on the Path are fraught with more dire consequences than those made by ordinary men. The higher you climb a ladder, the more dangerous is a fall therefrom. I would like to read part of a letter written personally by Madame Blavatsky to one who started to tread the Path. It is reprinted in THE THEOSOPHICAL FORUM for July, 1939:

I am always delighted to be brought into relation with a new seeker after truth, and only wish I had hours enough in the day to take each by the hand and lead him the long journey through that ends at the door of Esoteric Wisdom. But it has been decreed, from time immemorial, that each one must be his own sufficient pilot and body-guard so far as visible things are concerned. The "Kingdom of Heaven," which I need not tell you is but the dominion of man's immortal spirit over the inner force of the Universe, must be taken by violence. I am sorry to be compelled to tell you, that the prize of Wisdom and Power must be won through danger, trial, temptation, the allurements of sense and all the besetments of this world of matter which they counterpoise, hence antagonist of spirit. Broad, smooth and flower-sprinkled is the way to the world's rewards; narrow, hard, sorrow beset the path to the Temple of Truth.

Do not take the above, pray, for literary flourishes, or an attempt to throw a mysterious coloring over our correspondence What I say is simple and naked truth. . . . Your greatest need you have yourself stated; it is Will-Power. There never was either Adept of White Magic, or Sorcerer of the Goetic Art without that. . . .

To help those who need it is the object of all my life and my most sacred duty.

There was a phrase that caught my fancy in an article in The Reader's Digest by Dorothy Canfield, entitled "We Just Live," in which, speaking of a fine old woman, she called her "a general in the army of spiritual forces." That is a good vision to hold before us. When life seems to be particularly hard and perplexing, let's picture ourselves as generals in the army of spiritual forces, and I believe our tasks will become easier.

I think that one thing that will help us to make the courageous attitude our own is to think differently about suffering. We are too accustomed to thinking of the happy life, the easy-flowing life, as the desirable one. We wish our loved ones "a happy and peaceful future." A more useful wish, I should imagine would be "May you always have courage and strength to meet what life has in store for you."

I agree with Shaw Desmond, writing in his book, Reincarnation for Everyman, when he speaks thus of suffering:

There is another way of looking at suffering. Suffering is a privilege reserved for those who are advancing on the Path. It is the power to suffer which makes us tender to the sufferings of others and helps us to relieve those sufferings, and with them our own. — p. 168


This is our second attribute, and I chose it because I have often thought that if some "good fairy" came along and gave me a choice of one wish to be granted, I should choose the gift of Spiritual Discrimination because it is so easy to strive vigorously towards some goal in life, and after years of futile effort find that we have been going in a wrong direction; and this is particularly important in one's relations with others, when one may, with the best intentions in the world, be "helping" a person one loves to his own detriment. But Spiritual discernment is the function of two very important parts of man's nature, his mind, Manas; and his spiritual nature, Buddhi, that part which illumines the mind and urges man to noble action. The spiritual part alone is not enough, not for functioning in this world. One of my favorite passages in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett is that which tells us that

the supreme energy [of man] resides in the Buddhi; latent — when wedded to Atman alone, active and irresistible when galvanized by the essence of "Manas." . . . — p. 341

It is true that needful warnings must be given the student not to let his brain-mind rule him, but the urgency of these warnings has, I fear, made us sometimes lose sight of the necessity for using one's mind, and I think that perhaps nowhere as acutely as in spiritual or occult matters is keen intelligence needed. Mr. J. B. Priestley seems to recognise this when he says in his Rain Upon Godshill that persistence along any line of action must be coupled with intelligence, otherwise we might be persisting along stupid or wrong lines.

I would like to quote again from Madame Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine, Vol. II, p. 80, to show what an important part Mind plays in man's life, (or should play!):

. . . we find primeval man, issued from the bodies of his spiritually fireless progenitors, described as aeriform, devoid of compactness, and MINDLESS. He had no middle principle to serve him as a medium between the highest and the lowest, the spiritual man and the physical brain, for he lacked Manas. The Monads which incarnated in those empty SHELLS, remained as unconscious as when separated from their previous incomplete forms and vehicles. There is no potentiality for creation, or self-Consciousness, in a pure Spirit on this our plane, unless its too homogeneous, perfect, because divine, nature is, so to say, mixed with, and strengthened by, an essence already differentiated. It is only the lower line of the Triangle — -representing the first triad that emanates from the Universal MONAD — that can furnish this needed consciousness on the plane of differentiated Nature.

However, having put up a brief for the use of our minds, I do not mean to infer that the mind is all-important. How easy it is for men to use their discriminating faculty without spiritual illumination. The great heresy of the age is separateness, and see how it manifests in all walks of life! Men are continually creating divisions. We make a distinction between the old and young, forgetting that the old can be young in spirit and the young can be old in knowledge. One hears stupid questions asked about whether women can become adepts — as if sex had anything to do with spiritual development! Don't trust any religion or philosophical school which lays emphasis on sex, because it is not dealing with the higher, the lasting part of man's nature.

So greatly have we emphasized the difference between East and West that for centuries in the West, the East was looked down upon as being beneath us on all lines of progress. Then in revolt against this narrow-minded view, people began looking towards the East as though everything that came from there was an imbodiment of wisdom, and the itinerant yogis and swamis reaped a rich harvest.

But perhaps the most insidious of divisions men make is in their religion. What should be the highest and most unifying force in men's lives is all too often used to make the greatest breaches among them. I have even heard people divide mankind into Theosophists and non-Theosophists and ask: "Can a Christian travel the Path, or must he become a Theosophist to do so?" Here is Madame Blavatsky's definition of a Theosophist:

Any person of average intellectual capacities and a leaning towards the metaphysical; of pure, unselfish life, who finds more joy in helping his neighbor than in receiving help himself, and who is ever ready to sacrifice his own pleasure for the sake of other people; and who loves Truth, Goodness, and Wisdom for their own sake, not for the benefit they may confer — is a Theosophist.

That is a high ideal and one that few of us measure up to; but you will notice that it does not exclude believers in other forms of thought than the strictly Theosophical. It is not a sign of greatness when a man makes dividing lines in any walk of life. The younger and the more inexperienced the student, the more intolerant and exclusive he is likely to be. Who is so self-righteous as the reformed reprobate? It is an unfortunate fact that one of the first dangers on the Path that besets the student is the tendency to see others who differ from him and who perhaps have not taken the steps he has, in a bad light, and to set himself above them and to dogmatize. The adept on the other hand, widens his sympathies.

I have tried to illustrate on the diagram the absurdity of expecting all men to follow exactly the same lines and to hold that one path only leads to Truth. The lines A are all running towards the path, but are also running in different directions. If one on the right side faces the path, and then expects a fellowman on the left side to face in the same direction as he is, he is merely directing his brother away from Truth.

As a final word on the necessity of spiritual discernment, I will call attention to two pieces of practical advice or warning given to the student by Dr. de Purucker. He says that splendid as honesty and sincerity are, they are not sufficient in themselves and can often even lead us astray, for a time at least. But honesty must be illumined by wisdom, else it often becomes harsh. And showing the need of using our intellectual, discriminative faculties, he points out that there is nothing that leads so quickly to fanaticism as blind faith. Certainly there is nothing that can so easily lead us into the queer by-paths of pseudo-occultism.


I was almost tempted to put this quality first, as it is so very important, I should say a sine qua non, and in fact embraces a multitude of virtues, pre-eminently common-sense, and a sense of proportion, of the fitness of things — indispensable qualities. Keeping our feet firmly planted on earth, we can let our vision and inspirations soar to the farthest star. Also, to make of spiritual endeavor a lugubrious affair does not encourage mankind to travel the Path with us; but a true sense of humor does prevent our doing some of the ludicrous things that the uninitiated think are necessary to become adepts.

A sense of humor prevents us from having too magnified an idea of ourselves, but it also prevents our having that equally grave fault, an inferiority complex. One is as bad as the other. In a machine, for instance, if one necessary part of the mechanism becomes swelled with its own importance, it will no longer fit, and will have to be discarded, or at least chiseled down. But if one becomes so self-centered and conscious of one's own shortcomings, that one feels like shrinking into insignificance, the likelihood is that one will no longer be large enough to fit into the mechanism of the whole, and will therefore likewise have to be replaced.

The idea is to fill sensibly and whole-heartedly whatever position life's duties have given one, and to attempt to live up to one's highest principles. But please mark that each one of us must live up to his own highest principles; and we should neither go through life trying to make our conduct measure up to some other person's idea of what we should do, nor should we try to make other people shape their conduct according to our pattern. Observance of this one simple rule would save a lot of needless heartache, and perhaps enable us to make much quicker progress — if that is what we are seeking!

To me one of the most fascinating aspects of the life of any great Teacher is his sense of humor and of the appropriateness of things. I should like in this connexion to recommend for reading, Edward Thompson's delightful and beautiful book The Youngest Disciple which gives such a wholesome and lovable picture of the Lord Buddha.


This fourth quality I placed last because I think it is the most difficult, because by selflessness I mean vastly more than being unselfish. Mr. Judge puts it very neatly, I think, when he says that the true selfless disciple is not even concerned about himself being the one to render service. He is just as happy if to some other one comes the opportunity for self-sacrifice and service to the world.

I think it is appropriate to illustrate here the difference between the Buddhas of Compassion and the Pratyeka-Buddhas, in terms of their relationship to other men. The Pratyeka-Buddha follows strictly the upward path, without deviation. His course might be shown on the diagram as a spiral ascending upwards, but so small a spiral that there is no danger of its reaching beyond the confines of the Path. The Buddha of Compassion on the other hand, though firmly rooted on the Path, keeps on widening his circle of consciousness, so that it extends not only higher and higher, but also wider and wider and lower and lower, encircling within his compassionate embrace all the toiling pilgrims behind him.

That is one of the first lessons we must learn: not to exclude others, and in our realization of the faults we (hopefully) have left behind, not to dismiss from our consciousness those whom we consider (very probably mistakenly) to have evolved less than we have. In other words, we should avoid Spiritual Pride as we would the plague.

One of the finest things I have read recently along this line, was in a book-review written by H. A. Overstreet in the New York Herald Tribune. The book itself has nothing to do with my argument, so I will merely quote the pertinent passages from Mr. Overstreet's review. He says:

___'s tendency — like that of many another disillusioned western mind — is to go oriental. The oriental way, however, is always easy because it does not involve relationships to other people. It asks only for a sustained occupation with one's inner powers. One may well doubt, however, whether our human evolution is to be accomplished by an absorbed occupation with our own consciousness. It seems far more likely that the way of evolutional advance is that of losing oneself; in short, of caring so much about other people that one's ego, unwatched, redeems itself from egocentricity.

____'s book is a fascinating and instructive account of man's efforts to storm the citadel of his mind. It is highly probable, however, that this is not the way the mind is to be released. For the point is that the mind, to release itself, must forget itself. It must aim not at its own expansion, but at the expansion of life around it. Meditation is good, but better than meditation is active love of one's fellows.

And Mr. J. B. Priestley states somewhat the same idea more succinctly in his Rain Upon Godshill: "Nobody ever saved his soul by perpetually worrying about it."

In the foregoing I have attempted to show that the way to adeptship is not essentially following some course of instruction given to us, but it is living one's own life and conquering one's own faults — in other world self-discipline from beginning to end. And whatever part outward observances or initiatory rites play in it, they are not the essence of what is needed. But equipped with the virtues I have mentioned, when we have taken full possession of them, many other virtues will have been added unto them, and our circle of consciousness will be so enlarged that we will truly have "set our feet upon the Path." It is a slow journey, and it is difficult; but with courage that admits of no discouragement, with keen intellect illumined by the spiritual light above, a sense of humor that keeps us traveling the Middle Way, and with a selflessness that is devoid of Spiritual Pride, we are bound to succeed.


1. Address delivered in the Temple, Point Loma, March 17, 1940. (return to text)

The Theosophical Forum