Copyright © 1986 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
There is but one occultism, one truth. The fountain of wisdom on this earth is the Brotherhood of adepts, the spiritual heart of the world, from which streams unceasingly a flow of inspiration and enlightenment. It is the one supreme source from which have derived all the facets of truth that the religious and philosophical systems of the world contain. From there come forth not only the great sages and teachers from time to time as the guides and instructors of men, but also envoys or messengers, whether known or unknown, who work in the world for the benefit of mankind.
This fountain-source of wisdom is formed of the noblest spiritual and intellectual giants that humanity has ever produced — men who have become at one with the god within. Knowing each other they band together and thus form the great school of light and truth, the great Brotherhood. Called by various names in different ages, the higher ones are known in Buddhist countries as Dhyani-chohans; the ancient Persians referred to the members of this solar hierarchy as Amshaspends. Jewish mystics and Qabbalists spoke of them as Bnei 'Elohim, Sons of the Gods; and in other countries they were called Sons of Light, or Sons of the Sun as in ancient Egypt.
Innumerable schools of occultism, all derivative from the mother-school, have existed in the past, exist presently, and will exist in the future. The Mysteries of the Greeks were one such school, as were those of the Persians and the Egyptians; the Mysteries practiced in the ancient Americas, such as among the Peruvians and the Mayas, were schools in the same sacred tradition. Both the Lamaism of Tibet and the Vedanta of Hindustan are essentially schools of occultism, although they are also systems of exoteric philosophy. The Rosicrucians of the mediaeval ages were originally a mystic theosophic and quasi-esoteric body; and the Martinists of France, existing even today, form one of the 'occultistic' schools. Then there are the so-called alchemical bodies, whether in India, Asia Minor, or in Europe, whose adherents, while possessing a modicum of spiritual aspiration, nevertheless yearn even more for powers or phenomena.
There are, moreover, in the Orient a number of quasi-occult groups, some larger, some smaller, which study in their own way the different remnants of mystical literature which past ages have brought into being in those countries. In Persia, Egypt, Syria and in parts of Turkey, similar bodies exist, often very exclusive, and usually nothing is heard of them.
All such associations, in every country and every age, do a certain good work in their way in proportion to the amount of the ancient wisdom that they teach. But such truth as they do impart is too often seen through the distorting mental prisms of those who have wandered from the fountain-source. Only as they pass on faithfully the splendor originally received from the mother-school can they rightly be called schools of occultism. It may be added that there are in the world at the present time, in every one of the great continental masses, a few — a very few — genuinely esoteric schools connected with the Brotherhood.
A few intuitive scholars have suspected the existence of esoteric teachings in the archaic Mystery schools, but these have never yet been found in a coherent body. In the different literatures of antiquity we find an allusion here, a reference there, but a reasoned and explicit series of such teachings exists only in places to which no uninitiated student has hitherto consciously penetrated.
In recording the deeper truths for later generations, the ancient sages and seers adopted the use of metaphor or figures of speech, often in fantastic and curious tales: legends, fairy stories, mythological romances. Plato, for instance, through the use of myth gave out many guarded hints regarding matters taught in the Mysteries; but because he himself knew what he was about and had received permission to do this, and did it under the cloak of metaphor, it was not a violation either of the letter or of the spirit of his oath.
It is actually by so using esoteric terms that the great teachers of past ages wrote letters to each other, and composed their books, passing them from hand to hand. Those who were initiated could understand what they read; to them it was intelligible and clear; but to the man who had not been received within the 'temple walls,' the teachings were merely speculative philosophy, or perhaps meaningless jargon.
These wisdom-teachings have come down in direct succession from sage to sage, ever since the Mysteries were first instituted among men in late Lemurian and Atlantean times — a step which became essential because mankind had lost the power of direct and conscious communion with their divine ancestors. Men were thus taught to raise the soul by an effort of the will combined with intense aspiration so that they might be brought into direct intercourse, spiritually and intellectually, with their own inner god — or with some other divinity. It was in this way that the noblest truths about man and the universe were originally perceived, and thereafter 'sung' — to use the word of the Veda — i.e. formulated into human speech.
Why is it that in practically all the ancient literatures spiritual teaching was given in the vernacular of the battlefield? The Bhagavad-Gita, for instance, tells of the conflict between the opposing armies of the Kurus and the Pandavas. In the Germanic and Scandinavian mythologies there is the constant battling between the gods and the heroes; so also in the Greek, Egyptian, Persian, and Babylonian mythologies — all are alike in this respect.
The question is easily answered: to little children we give storybooks; to those who cannot understand the meaning of peace and quiet and the enormous strength that lies in these, we talk of battle and of fighting, because there is always a victor and a vanquished. Thus in the literatures of the world secrets of mystic truths were written in the epic vein in order to meet the mental characteristics of those ages. But behind all this there were the esoteric schools (1) which taught truth and compassion more directly, such as did Lao-tse of China: "The way of Tao is not to strive." This is the contrary of quietism, for quietism is usually spiritual stupefaction, whereas the whole effort should be to imbody in one's life and in every fiber of one's being an active spirit of compassion for all mankind.
Just as the original esoteric bodies became the great religious and philosophical schools of the past, just so the present theosophical movement was intended to be the spiritual-intellectual nursery from which will be born the great philosophical and religious and scientific systems of future ages — indeed, the heart of the civilizations of the coming cycles.
In every important age, theosophical movements in various parts of the globe have been founded. A few succeeded; most of them lived for a while, did some good, achieved a certain amount of the work that was to be done, and then failed, becoming a church, a sect, a dogmatic set of beliefs. Such periodic efforts to instill into men's hearts the ageless verities will continue throughout future time, until human beings shall have so evolved that they will welcome light when it comes, and will honor it as the most precious gift that they have.
Thus it was that in 1875 two men of buddha-like soul took upon their shoulders the challenge of making themselves karmically responsible in a sense for the sending out of a new message which, by the force of its innate vigor and the persuasive power of its truths, would induce men to think. From then on science began to have stirrings of new ideas; fresh impulses were injected into the thought-atmosphere of the world and, not least, the ideal of working toward an eventual universal brotherhood among all peoples took firm hold. The chief objective was to have these ancient spiritual principles work as a leaven in human thought, in the religious and philosophical strata and, ultimately, in the social structure itself. H. P. Blavatsky was inspired to write her masterworks, Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine — not for the purpose of founding another religion, but to restate once again and in fuller measure the archaic wisdom-tradition of mankind in its more esoteric aspects. As such, she was one of the links in the serial line of teachers who come at certain stated periods for the passing on of esoteric light and truth. She came at the beginning of a new Messianic cycle and the ending of an old one, and thus was the messenger for the age to come.
This succession of teachers, the one following the other, has continued through countless centuries. There is nothing amazing about it; it is simply an illustration of one of nature's laws, that just as generation succeeds generation, and one genus in evolutionary time comes after some other genus, so is there a chain of wise men continuing the flow of truth down the ages. In Sanskrit writings this is called the guruparampara, of which there are two kinds: first, those sages who rise one above the other, as it were, in progressively greater wisdom and spiritual dignity; and second, those who follow each other in time, and in one line of succession in the outer world of men.
The same pattern was known to the Greek poets and philosophers, Homer and Hesiod both speaking of the Golden Chain connecting Olympus and earth, and later Greek mystical writers referred to it as the Hermetic Chain. This passing on of the torch of light from hand to hand has always been, and always will be — as long as the call comes from the hearts of men. When that call dies, the chain of succession remains intact, but the teachers no longer work openly.
The guardians of mankind — name them as you will, masters, mahatmas, adepts or elder brothers of the race — work wherever they see the slightest chance to do good, to cultivate the spiritual nature of their fellow human beings. Obviously, any society or group of people, or any individual, who tries to follow a noble pathway in life will receive their help, if worthy of it. Worthiness is the test, the sole test. Whenever the right call is made, it will be answered. But any call merely for self-benefit most emphatically is not the 'right call.' The only call they recognize is that given by those whose hearts yearn for light, and whose minds seek wisdom and whose souls are swayed by compassion. And further, the call must be made solely in order to lay such wisdom and light as may be received on the altar of service to humanity. There is not a single earnest heartbeat that remains unanswered, not a single soul-aspiration to help that is not faithfully registered.
Thus is the Brotherhood of adepts the guardian and custodian of the primeval wisdom, whose members are sworn to preserve it in secrecy and in silence until someone knocks at the portals with the right knock. They in turn receive light from others higher than they; and so on forever is this theosophia — the wisdom of the gods — transmitted to men along the Golden Chain of Mercury, the interpreter.
Spiritual and astral forces are at work continuously, and have been so from the very earliest ages of the earth. But there come certain times in human history when the doors between our physical world and the inner realms are partly open so that men become more receptive to these subtle influences. We are leaving an era of materialistic life and thought and are entering a more spiritual one. At the same time, the world is full of evidences of an outbreak of psychical influences, and these are always deceptive, always dangerous, because the astral realms belong to a lower range of material existence, filled with evil emanations, human and other.
Such indeed is the present period, one wherein not so much the spiritual and astral energies are quickened as that we are at the junction of two great cycles, the ending of one and the beginning of another; and, concordantly with this transition of cyclic periods, the minds of men are rapidly changing, becoming more psychically sensitive. There is great danger in this, but there is also a larger chance more quickly to progress, if man's consciousness is turned towards higher things, for this accelerated movement of change is especially potent in so far as spiritual forces are concerned.
There is nothing unique about this; it has taken place in the past. An immense effort was made at the time of the downfall of the Atlantean race — an effort which culminated in the establishment of the Mystery schools which long ages afterwards found expression in the various mystical, religious and philosophical centers of the ancient world. When we examine the world's sacred literatures, we find the oldest of them containing the fullest measure of the archaic esoteric teachings. The reason for this is that from about the time of the submersion of the last island of the Atlantean continental system — recorded by Plato as having occurred some 9000 years before his day — there has been a steady increase of materiality in the world, and a consequent and equal recession of spiritual impulses. But this cycle, as indicated, has recently come to an end. The one we are entering is a very unusual one, in that it does not belong to the so-called Messianic era which is 2,160 years long, but covers a time span of some ten to twelve thousand years.
Great events are in the making, for the entire civilized world is approaching a critical point in its history. There is literally a battle proceeding between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and it is a matter of very delicate balance as to which side of the dividing line between spiritual safety and spiritual retrogression the scales of destiny will fall.
In a letter written shortly before her death, H. P. Blavatsky warned:
Psychism, with all its allurements and all its dangers, is necessarily developing among you, and you must beware lest the Psychic outruns the Manasic and Spiritual development. Psychic capacities held perfectly under control, checked and directed by the Manasic principle, are valuable aids in development. But these capacities running riot, controlling instead of controlled, using instead of being used, lead the Student into the most dangerous delusions and the certainty of moral destruction. Watch therefore carefully this development, inevitable in your race and evolution-period, so that it may finally work for good and not for evil. (2)
Unfortunately, as is always the case in an age which has lost touch with spirituality, people today yearn for powers, for the development of suspected but scarcely accepted higher faculties; and in their blindness they search outside of themselves. Their hearts are hungry for answers to the enigmas of life, and so they take what they can from self-advertised teachers about how to gain and use psychical powers, and such 'teachings' are always baited with personal benefit. It is difficult to speak of these things without hurting many trusting souls who, not knowing the truth, follow what seem to them to be glimpses of a greater life than that which they have; and this accounts for the many so-called psychical and quasi-mystical movements (3) presently existing which, in many cases, are leading people away instead of toward the light emanating from their own inner god. We have to be ever watchful in these matters. The waves of the astral light are exceedingly unreliable, and thousands and thousands follow the will-o'-the-wisps of psychic light instead of the steady burning splendor of the divinity within.
The plain fact is that the West is being misled by psychical teachings which in themselves have nothing permanent in them. And those who follow these practices are, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people of untrained spiritual and psychical fabric of character who are thus easily caught by the maya of psychism. This does not mean that such faculties and powers are evil or are not natural parts of the human constitution; nor that they are useless. The meaning is that they are very hazardous to one without spiritual vision and the power of intellect and spiritual will to guide and control the psychical nature in which these faculties inhere.
Dangerous also are the hatha-yoga practices of a psycho-astral type, usually connected with physical posturing, etc., to which certain individuals are addicted in their attempt to gain for themselves powers of a lower kind. These practices not only can affect the mind and even dislodge it from its normal seat, thus producing insanity, but also can interfere with the proper pranic circulations of the body. Religious fanatics often go insane; and in certain sensitive instances become the so-called ecstatics, believed by the ignorant to be exemplars of a holy life merely because their skin may bleed, and their hands or feet show wounds supposed to represent the nails of the Cross. The same may be said of the fakirs and lower type of yogis of the Orient. Results can be produced which endanger both the mind and the health, as well as the life itself. In all these practices there is not a breath of spirituality.
He who enters the path with the hope of gaining powers of any kind, regarding them as something of paramount importance, is destined to failure. Indeed, he is embarking upon a very hazardous and questionable road, which at worst could lead to sorcery and black magic, and at best will bring to him only the Dead Sea fruit of disappointment. Powers as such, whether spiritual, intellectual, or psychic, will develop in due course and in a perfectly natural way as we progress, provided that we have the unflinching determination to achieve, and, above all, that our heart is forever brightened and filled with compassionate love, a love that is even now a distinguishing characteristic of the spiritual soul within.
There is immense hope and spiritual beauty in the teachings of the esoteric tradition. In them is the path along which we may evolve, but it depends upon the individual whether or not he ascends along the ray which is living and working within him. While it is true that fully to understand the deeper reaches of the philosophy requires high intellectual power and a spiritual vision, it is often very simple natures who see a great light. Light passes everywhere. We have but to open the closed doors of our personality and the light of itself will come in, and we shall then understand instinctively the most recondite secrets of nature.
Jesus the avatara, so ill understood in the Occident, taught the same truths. Seek first the treasures of the spirit, of the kingdom of heaven, and all other things will be added — all the psychical powers and energies and faculties will fall into place naturally and safely, enlightened and guided by the spiritual sun within.
Now what are these treasures of the spirit? None other than those spiritual and intellectual faculties and energies which make us godlike in thought and deed: will power, vision, intuition, instant sympathy with all that lives. There is no reason why we human beings should not begin to use our heritage. All powers and qualities and attributes are in us, even now, but they are latent for the most part, because we have not yet learned to bring them forth. In reality, it is we ourselves in our ordinary lower mind and feelings who are 'sleeping,' whereas our higher nature is not dormant at all, but intensely active.
For instance, when the spiritual will is evoked and active in a man, he becomes supreme over himself so that he has absolute self-command, and not even the denizens of the astral world can in any wise control him. Will in action is a current of energy, which means a current of substance, precisely as electricity is both force and matter. Back of will lies desire. If the desire be pure, the will is pure. If the desire be evil, the will is evil. Back of desire lies consciousness. Therefore will originates in consciousness through desire. We desire, and instantly will awakens intelligence which directs this will, and we act — or refrain from acting, which sometimes is nobler still.
There is divine desire (4) which in men is called aspiration, and also its material reflection. How many of us allow our will to be directed by the egoistic and selfish impulses of the lower aspect of our desire-nature, the kama principle! Consequently, as the human will is rooted in buddhi-manas, it is the intuition and the higher manasic principle which should guide our human will to the nobler acts which it is in our province to do: deeds of brotherhood and of impersonal service; and this is the very nature and characteristic of the spiritual ego, the buddhi-manasic principle in man.
Intuition expresses itself as instant vision, instant knowledge. But there is a great difference between wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom may be called the knowledge of the higher ego, the spiritual soul, and knowledge the wisdom of the personality. In each case it is a storing up in the treasury of experience of what has been learned and unlearned — a treasury that is not a chamber, small or vast, but ourself. Each experience is a modification of the understanding self; and the repository of memory is filled with the record of the ages, precisely as the personality is stamped and impressed with the karmic record of all the personalities preceding it which made it.
Wisdom, knowledge, inner power, all are faculties of the spirit, signifying the fruits of evolutionary unfolding of the inherent power of the spirit-soul. Intuition per se is spiritual wisdom and garnered knowledge, gathered in the treasure house of the spirit-soul in past lives. Instinct, on the other hand, may be called the passive side of intuition, which is the energic, the will-side, the alert and active aspect. Instinct expresses itself all through natural being: the atoms move and sing by instinct, even as man using his consciousness and will, may do likewise; but the song and movement of intuition are incomparably loftier than the song and movement of instinct. Both are functions of the consciousness, the one vegetative, automatic; the other, energic, awake.
The spirit is all-permeant, living and moving everywhere for it is universal. Spiritual clairvoyance, of which the psychical clairvoyance is but a dancing shadow, enables one to see behind all veils of illusion, to see what is transpiring on some distant star in the fields of space. It is the power to perceive the truth of things at a glance, and to know the hearts of men and understand their minds. It is the faculty of visioning with the inner eye, not so much a seeing of forms as a getting of knowledge, and because this acquiring of knowledge comes in a way that closely parallels the way of seeing with the physical eye, it is called direct vision. (5)
So it is with spiritual clairaudience, which is not the power of hearing with the physical ear (or of seeing, for sometimes sounds are seen and colors heard, there being an interrelation between sense and sense), but of listening with the ear of the spirit. The sounds that are heard with the ear of the spirit are heard in the silence and with the repose of all the senses. Such spiritual clairaudience will enable one to hear the movements of the atoms as they sing their individual hymns; to hear the growing of the grass, the unfolding of the rose — to hear it all as a symphony.
Socrates used to say to those around him that his daimon, his inner monitor, never told him what to do, but always what not to do. (6) This daimon was the 'voice' of the higher ego, which in great men is often very strong in its energy; and in some hypersensitive constitutions may be heard as a 'voice.' It is not really a voice (although that is its effect at times on the physical brain), but rather is an urge from within, manifesting also, perhaps, as flashes of light and inner vision.
We cannot understand ourselves and others unless we have evolved the understanding heart. The key is sympathy, and the method is to look to the divine being within. As we aspire to become more like it in every moment of our lives, light will come and we shall know truth when we find it. We shall become compassionate and strong — qualities that are the true insignia of the self-illumined man. The first lesson, then, is to seek the light of our own inner god, and trust it alone. When we follow this light and are warmed by its sublime and life-giving rays, then we shall see the same god-light in others.
By going to the fountainhead we find the clearest water, so why drink from the muddy waters hundreds of miles from the spring? If a man would know himself and the wondrous powers and faculties that are his, let him see himself in the universe around him, and study that universe as being himself. An epigram, possibly, but a true master key to wisdom, and containing the essence not only of all initiation, but of all future growth.
All esoteric schools have taught as the very foundation of their being: "Man, know thyself!" It has ever been thus, and the key to this lies in many things. It lies in the study of the suffering that the knot of personality experiences before its intricate labyrinth of selfishness is overpassed; it lies also, on a more exoteric plane, in the perusal of the majestic literatures of past ages: the brain work, the heart work, the work of the soul, of the seers and sages of every era. Greatest of all, it lies in the study of love for others and utter forgetfulness of self. Therein rests the mystery of Buddhahood, of Christhood: forgetfulness of self, absorption in love all-encompassing, unbounded, frontierless, of all that is.
Some people imagine that the path of spiritual attainment is far away over the mountains of the future, almost unreachable, when in reality there is a relatively narrow frontier between ordinary life and that followed by the neophyte or chela. Essentially the difference is one of outlook, and not of metaphysical distance. It is the same difference that exists between the one who falls under the sway of temptation and thereafter becomes its bondslave, and the other who successfully resists the temptation and thereafter becomes its master.
Anyone can enter upon the path, if his will, his devotion and yearnings are directed toward being of greater service to others. The only thing that prevents him from taking that most beautiful step is his convictions, his psychological and mental prejudices which distort his perspective. We are all learners, all of us have illusions. Even the mahatmas and adepts have illusions, albeit of an extremely subtle and lofty character, which prevent them from going still higher — and this is one of the reasons they are so compassionate towards those who are seeking to tread the very path along which they have successfully advanced in former days.
The quickest way to overcome these illusions is to cut the root of them, and that root is selfishness in its multimyriad forms. Even the yearning for advancement when it is for self alone is based on selfishness which in turn produces its own subtle and powerful mayas. Therefore every ambition to succeed, unless it be washed clean of all personality, will inevitably defeat itself, for the way of inner growth is self-forgetfulness, a giving up of personal ambitions and longings of any and every kind, and a becoming an impersonal servitor of all that lives.
It should be stated, however, that the purpose of genuine occultism is not to 'produce disciples' or to turn refractory human material into individuals striving for mere self-advancement. Rather is it to regenerate our imperfect human nature into becoming at first nobly human, and finally godlike — and this along the archaic and traditional lines of teaching and discipline which have been recognized and followed for ages past.
Chelaship is a vision, out of which arise conviction and definite action. All the rules of moral conduct that one may read about in the great literatures of the ancient philosophies as well as in theosophical writings, are simply powerful aids to help the aspirant cleanse himself of selfishness. The real code of ethics is an unwritten one, and therefore not subject to dogmatisms, not easily enslaved to conventional notions or misconstruction by minds debating and quarreling about mere words. In essence it is of the extremest simplicity, for the most beautiful and the most comprehensive truths are always the simplest. There are times when I throw my pen aside and say to myself: let us have just the simple truths that the little ones with their unspoiled natures and their direct and quick perception can grasp. It is difficult permanently to deceive a child. But when it is said that the neophyte must regain the child state, this does not mean childishness or stupidity! It is the child's heart that we need — trusting, intuitive, and alert.
Intellectual training is very valuable and a great help, but to become as a 'little one' is the most difficult lesson for human beings to learn. The brain-mind is a good instrument when guided and trained, but is a tyrant when left to its own devices and impulses, for it is always selfish; its vision is necessarily limited to the swirl of the lower and restricted field of consciousness of the manasic knot of personality. In the higher nature lies the higher understanding, and it alone can arrive at the inner meaning of the teachings. The lower mind can achieve some success in the brain-mind comprehension of them, but only when helped from the inner understanding. An individual may be quite sincere, quite willing to know, quite ready to experiment and to investigate, but the buddhic splendor may be completely absent. The only test of fitness is that which is given by the individual himself. If the light of buddhi be shining even by so much as a fugitive glimmer, that is enough. There is then in that individual the esoteric right to know.
Self-conquest is the path of growth. The whole truth is contained in these few simple words. It is a slow growth as with all great things; and if it is to be attained, it must be an unfolding of the man himself. There is no other path than that of inner development, no easy way: the one who cannot control himself in the affairs of daily life and does not know who or what he is, cannot control the events and experiences that inevitably arise around anyone who succeeds, even in small degree, in approaching that "straitest of all gates."
Here is a strange paradox: if one would be master of himself he must be utterly selfless, and yet he must be himself utterly. The lower self must be wiped out — not killed, but wiped out, which means withdrawn inwards and absorbed by the higher self. For the higher self is our essential or real being, and the lower is but a ray therefrom — soiled, rendered unclean, so to say, because it becomes attached to this world of multimyriad illusions.
The man most easily deceived is the man most infolded in maya; and such are often the so-called worldly-wise. You cannot deceive an adept, as he would instantly see the attempt at deception; and the reason is that you cannot, as it were, throw hooks of personal attachment into his being. Nothing one can do or say will affect him or attract him to your thought if it is in the slightest degree selfish, nonuniversal. He is above those illusions, has fought through them, found them out and rejected them. Yet the masters feel, even before we ourselves would realize it, the slightest moving of the true chela spirit. The call upon them is tremendous, and a quick magnetic sympathy is thereupon established.
Taking the thought a step further: when a neophyte makes a deliberate and actual choice with all the strength of his being, he kindles a light within, and this is the buddhic splendor; and, as said, it is sensed understandingly and watched and cared for by the teachers, and thus he is an 'accepted chela.' How long will he remain such? None is picked out by perambulating magicians wandering the world, selecting whom they may think to be proper material — not at all. The choice is in the individual: he chooses his path; he makes his resolve; and if the buddhic light is seen, be it only a spark, he is accepted, although that fact may be unknown to himself for the time being. Thereafter all depends upon him, whether he succeed or fall by the wayside.
It is a matter of the rarest occurrence for one immediately to know that he has been accepted, for the usual rule is that he is tested in a hundred thousand different ways, these tests arising out of the ordinary events of life and the aspirant's reactions to them. Once, however, that he becomes cognizant of his teacher, the path becomes both easier and more difficult — easier because there is the new conviction that at least a certain success has been attained, and also because of the courage and self-confidence that arise out of this fact; vastly more difficult because from now on he is under more direct training and guidance, and small lapses and little backslidings, for which large indulgence is allowed in the beginning, have henceforth very serious consequences.
Moreover, no teacher makes himself known to his disciple without the latter's having previously received many instructive premonitions from his own inner being. The reason is clear: no one ever becomes accepted, until he has actually been accepted by his own inner divinity, i.e. until he has become more or less aware of the stirring within him of a wondrous mystery.
A certain stage of progress is of course necessary before such a choice can be made; but every normal being can make such a choice, because in him spirit and matter have attained a more or less stable equilibrium. In other words, chelaship may be undertaken at any stage by anyone who can arouse the Christ-light in his mind and heart. His resignation of the lower selfhood on the altar is what counts; and no human cry for help ever passes unheard, if that cry for more light be impersonal. The test is impersonality.
Let us not imagine, however, that, because the words renunciation and sacrifice are often used, these imply the loss of anything of value. On the contrary, instead of a loss, it is an indescribable gain. To give up the things that belittle, that make one small, petty, and mean, is to cast away our fetters and take on freedom, the richness of the inner life and, above everything else, self-conscious recognition of one's essential unity with the All.
It should be clearly understood that this training, which is one of study and of discipline arising in the spiritual and intellectual movements of the student's own soul, has never included and never will include any interference with or encroachments upon his family rights or duties. Chelaship is nothing weird, nothing queer or erratic. If it were, it would not be chelaship. It is the most natural path for us to strive to follow, for by allying ourselves with the noblest within we are allying ourselves with the spiritual forces which control and govern the universe. There is inspiration in the thought.
The neophyte's life is a very beautiful one, and grows steadily more and more so as self-forgetfulness comes into the life in ever-larger degree. It is also a very sad one at times, and the sadness arises out of his inability to forget himself. He realizes that he is very, very lonely; that his heart is yearning for companionship. In other words, the human part of him longs to lean. But it is just the absence of these weaknesses that makes the master of life: the ability to stand alone, erect and strong in all circumstances. But never think that the mahatmas are dried-up specimens of humanity, without human feelings or human sympathy. The contrary is the case. There is a far quicker life in them than in us, a far stronger and more pulsing vital flow; their sympathies are enlarged so greatly that we could not even understand them, although some day we shall. Their love encompasses all; they are impersonal and therefore are they becoming universal.
Chelaship means trying to bring out the master living in our own being, for he is there now.
There will come a time, however, if one progress far enough, when even the family duty will have to be dropped, but the circumstances then will be such that the dropping will actually be a benediction to the individual as well as to the one towards whom the duty formerly lay. Yet let no one be deceived by the dangerous doctrine that the higher a man goes, the less is he bound by the moral law. The direct converse of this is the truth; the doing of wrong to another is never right.
At no step along this sublime path is there ever exterior compulsion of any kind; only such lofty compulsion as springs forth from the aspirant's own yearning soul to advance ever farther and farther inwards and upwards forever. Each step is marked, during its earlier course, by dropping something of the personal shackles and imperfections which keep us enchained in these realms of matter. We are told with reiterated insistence that the grandest rule of life is to foster within one's own being undying compassion for all that is, thus bringing about the winning of selflessness, which in its turn enables the peregrinating monad ultimately to become the Self of the cosmic spirit without loss to the monad of its individuality.
In the above lies the secret of progress: to be greater one must become greater, to become greater one must abandon the less; to encompass a solar system in one's understanding and life one must give up, which means outgrow and surpass, the limits of the personality, of the mere human. By abandoning the lower selfhoods we pass into the larger selfhoods of selflessness. No one will progress a single step to the more expanded selfhood which already is his own higher nature, until he learns that 'living for self' means descending into still more compacted and restricted spheres, and that 'living for all that is' means an expansion of his own soul into becoming the larger life. All the mysteries of the universe lie latent within us, all its secrets are there, and all progress in esoteric knowledge and wisdom is but an unfolding of what is already within.
How little our human troubles which plague us so greatly — such a burden of sorrow — seem when we allow our minds to dwell upon these infinitely comforting realities. No wonder the Christian writer declared that not even a sparrow falleth from heaven without its being known to the divine; not even a hair of our heads but is counted and cared for. How much more so then we ourselves. Even this world of phantasmagoria and shadows is an intrinsic and inseparable part of the Boundless from which we sprang, and towards the divine heart of which we shall one day return on the wings of the experiences that we have been through, wings that will carry us over the valleys to the distant mountain peaks of the spirit.
It sometimes happens that very sensitive natures when first coming in touch with the chela-path are shaken to the very core, and there is often real suffering of heart and of mind. This is all very natural. It is really the voice of the soul within that has caught a glimpse of the spiritual light, but because the brain can neither contain nor understand it, the resultant manifestation is an agony of soul. But there comes at times also, as twin sister of this interior suffering and pain, an agony of joy, an exultation so keen, that it may be even more difficult to bear.
Most of the cases where the aspirant finds himself involved in emotional or mental trials and stresses are typical of what H. P. Blavatsky has called pledge-fever. Unfortunately, few understand exactly what this is, even though many people experience it, unconsciously or only half-consciously. It can best be described as a fevered state of mind and feeling, often acting adversely on the body, and this arises out of a stirring up of the inner part of one's being, usually of the kama-manasic portion of the constitution.
Pledge-fever can have a noble side as well as an ignoble one. As pointed out by H.P.B. (E.S. Instructions, I), as soon as anyone pledges himself to give his life in service to others, "certain occult effects ensue. Of these the first is the throwing outward of everything latent in the nature of the man: his faults, habits, qualities, or subdued desires, whether good, bad, or indifferent. . . . You all know your earthly pedigree, but who of you has ever traced all the links of heredity, astral, psychic, and spiritual, which go to make you what you are?"
Commenting upon H.P.B.'s statement and the effect that pledge-fever has upon the earnest student, William Q. Judge wrote:
. . . it is a sort of heat in the whole nature which, acting like the air in a hothouse, makes all seeds, whether of good or evil sort, suddenly sprout and show themselves to the person . . .
The field in which it works is that offered by the entire being, and therefore will include the hidden, unknown part of us which in all ordinary cases lies back awaiting other incarnations and circumstances to arise in new centuries and civilizations. — "Suggestions and Aids"
And in a further Circular issued in 1890, he added these remarks:
Nor must it be forgotten that the taking of the pledge (7) brings into the field forces that help as well as forces that oppose. The appeal to the Higher Self, honestly and earnestly made, opens up a channel by which flow in all gracious influences from higher planes. New strength rewards each new effort; new courage comes with each new step forward. . . .
So take courage, disciple, and hold on your way through the discouragements and the successes that beset your earliest steps on the path of probation. Do not stop to mourn over your faults; recognize them and seek to learn from each its lesson. Do not become vain of your success. So shall you gradually attain self-knowledge, and self-knowledge shall develop self-mastery.
There are many kinds of pledge-fever, but most of them are rooted in the same cause. For instance, an excessive and unwise enthusiasm without proper mental and emotional balance is a distinct kind of psychomental fever. Outbursts of energy, followed by severe reaction; states of mind in which the student desires to abandon everything except the one objective, to cast aside as worth nothing at all even those things which he should value as a man; the unfounded conviction that everyone else other than oneself is to blame when difficulties arise — all these are conditions of pledge-fever, a fever arising out of an over-enthusiasm with which the heart is filled and a lively sense of the responsibility that one has sincerely undertaken.
Pledge-fever is a sign of honesty; it is also a sign that the heart has been deeply touched, and the mind profoundly impressed. It means actually that the disciple is beginning to view the circumstances of his life, whatever they may be, from a radically different aspect; and further, that he is striving to burst the old bonds of selfhood. Thus it is a good sign in one way, because it shows that the nature is being stirred, that the aspirant is progressing; and anything is better than coldhearted, dead indifference, which is a spiritual and intellectual sleep.
The blank, hopeless chill and 'dead' feeling that sometimes is experienced is simply a reaction, a part of the pledge-fever cycle; precisely as a fever in the body leaves the patient for the time feeble, exhausted and cold. But pledge-fever is dangerous too, even as are the fevers which arise from nature's effort to throw out poisons from the body in order to cleanse and purify it. Far better is it if the student is able to bring back by aspiration and inflexible will the true poise and the calm confidence of invincible strength that are imperatively required. One thinks of Horace's words in one of his Odes (Bk. Third, III): Justum et tenacem propositi virum . . . "an upright man, tenacious of his purpose" — one whose steady mind is shaken neither by the threats of tyrants, nor the thunderbolts of Jove, the clamor of mobs, nor the movements of the great sea in storm. None of these can shake him of steady and upright mind.
In dealing with these situations, one must find the division line of safety and hold to it between cultivating unwholesome emotionalisms on the one hand, and, on the other hand, turning the cold shoulder and being unsympathetic to those undergoing the fevered trials of aspiring souls who are seeking light but who, nevertheless, are still involved in the blinding veils of emotions and therefore may at any moment be in real danger of wandering from the path.
Once our feet are set upon the path, we can never go back. That is impossible; the doors have shut behind us. We can fail and either fall asleep or die, but thereafter forward we must go. When inner disturbance comes, and the fevered condition is intense, the student should use his spiritual will and draw upon the divine wisdom in the higher parts of his being. For will is an energy, and functions, as do all energies, both actively and passively. The active will is the will consciously set in motion by the directing intelligence and the innate life. The passive will is the vegetative will, those aspects which govern the automatisms of the body or mind. (8) Anyone can develop the spiritual will. As W. Q. Judge wrote:
It is developed by true unselfishness, a sincere and full desire to be guided, ruled, and assisted by the Higher Self and to do that which, and suffer or enjoy whatever, the Higher Self has in store for one by way of discipline and experience; by sinking as much as possible, day by day, little by little, the mere personal self. — "Subsidiary Papers," September 1894
In one sense the great teacher is life itself, and the learner is he who lives each day with its varied experiences, temptations, attractions, and ups and downs of mental activity and emotional feeling. The way of meeting these tests is by equanimity, a steadiness of both mind and soul that nothing can shake; also by magnanimity, unfaltering courage, and a positive refusal to be discouraged by failure.
Whenever there is any feeling of ungoverned vaulting enthusiasm, or again of blank despair, the student should simply wait and do his utmost to regain the calm consciousness that he is a spiritual being in his inmost. For all anyone may know, his past karma may have been so noble that, like a burst of sun from behind black clouds, he may suddenly one day be illuminated, and realize that his feet are on the path.
It is a curious paradox that the outer teacher works with entire harmony and in rigid accord with the intimations arising in the neophyte's own consciousness of the presence of the inner teacher — the greatest one of all so far as he himself is concerned. Sometimes these intimations are like flashes of dazzling light breaking into his consciousness, illuminating what seems to be the dark, gloomy night of his being; and at such moments he has a realization of being on the path that is almost painful in the intensity and reality that accompany it. But these flashes of inner recognition of one's steady advance should not and, indeed, can never be mistaken for the flickerings of the brain-mind which to the unwary or unprepared are often mistaken, because of an overweening confidence and personal egoism, for signs that he already has set his feet on the path. In truth, such would-be chela is very far from it, for he has not yet attained that development of his inner nature which can withstand the temptations of daily life.
One may think perhaps that because the operations of the universe move in the silences and make no immediate and visible impression that nature may be played with. She may not be played with. Whereas a large degree of toleration — and this is the precisely exact word — is allowed in the beginning for human failings, the rules become stricter and more rigidly enforced the farther one goes, for the aspirant has taken a holy vow of obedience to his higher self. In the more progressed stages, there is the obedience of the willing heart and of the understanding mind, for the neophyte soon comes to feel that as he becomes like unto the gods, the more necessary is it to work in harmony with nature's laws, which means obedience not to one's own conceptions but to things as they are. And this is the meaning of the expression that the mahatmas never will nor do they dare interfere with karma. They are the servants of the law, the obedient instruments of the supreme spiritual teacher of our globe — the Silent Watcher of humanity — and the higher the mahatma is, the more willingly and joyfully obedient he is.
It is false pity as well as an esoteric crime for any so-called teacher to mislead aspiring students by promising them anything that is not the truth of the ages: there is no short path, no easy way; for inner growth, inner unfolding, inner evolution, is a matter of time and, above all, of self-effort. There are moments when the truth may seem to be cold and unacceptable, but this is the fault of the neophyte and not the fault of the teacher, and only proves that the student is not yet sufficiently awakened to recognize the true from the false, the right way from the left.
It should be obvious that no master living could make a chela out of unchela-like material, for that would be like saying it is possible to set something on fire with an element that is not fire. Even were it possible to transform, by some feat of magic, an average man into a successful chela, it would be a work of the worst kind of black magic, because it would in no wise help the man, but merely make of him a created mechanism without interior strength, without interior light, without interior ability to go farther on the path. There is no attainment unless the individual makes the progress himself. Hence it is that the mahatmas will not interfere in the slow unfolding of the inner faculties of the chela's constitution; if they did, it would be an interference with growth and would lead to a crippling and a weakening of the chela, which is exactly the opposite of what is needed. (9)
The treading of the path leads to those higher spiritual and intellectual levels of consciousness whereon the masters live and have their being, but it is utterly impossible to approach them unless indeed one does just that, and breathes the rare spiritual and bracing intellectual atmosphere that they breathe. Those who would lead others should continuously remember this, for an injury is worked upon their souls if at any time they are misled by false hopes on the one hand, or, on the other hand, by the siren songs of personal ambition or the erroneous notion that the path can be followed by leaning. If anyone believes he can shoulder off responsibility for his thoughts and acts upon another, whether that other be a hypothetical god or demon, a human or an angel, from that moment he begins to follow the downward path. He gives up his own will to salvation, his will to achieve, his will to conquer.
How did the masters become the great and noble men they are? Through many ages by self-directed evolution. No one can succeed, can follow the path, unless his own strength is developed, unless his own inner powers and faculties are evolved, unless his own vision breaks through the veils of illusion which surround his consciousness. It is a long process, but a glorious one.
Some students have puzzled over a statement made by W. Q. Judge regarding an age limit of forty-four years beyond which "it is hard to enter through the gate" of the inner world, and impossible for those who have only recently given thought to these matters. ("Subsidiary Papers," October 1895.) This is because around middle age the veils of selfhood so enshroud the inner being that the light from within cannot easily penetrate the brain-mind; and one beginning the study of esotericism at this stage finds it more difficult than if he had started thinking along these lines in youth, or better still in childhood. But exceptions to this are very numerous.
Actually there is no need for anyone to think that because he enters upon the path late in life, no progress is possible for him in the future. Nothing can stay the imperious energy of the spiritual will, and the very fact that an individual in middle or even in advanced life is desirous of entering upon the pathway of splendor is in itself evidence that there are working through his being a will and a determination, an enthusiasm and an intuition, which themselves are proofs of the possibility, almost certainty, of the receiving of light. Coming events cast their shadows before, and so it is here, because the light is breaking through, is behind the future events, and heralds their coming.
Chelaship is exchanging the darkness of personality for the glorious sunlight of impersonality. It is a passing out of the mire of material existence, with its phantasms of thought and emotions, into the clear splendor of the inner spiritual sun, leading ultimately to a becoming-at-one with the soul of the universe. It is the age-old path that will lead the aspirant to become at one with his own spiritual essence, which means the attaining of an enormously increased range of consciousness and life. As our spiritual nature in a sense is universal, it is at once seen that chelaship is a continuous growth towards universality in thought and in feeling, a pressing forward along that wonderful path to the outermost veil of the inner confines of the universe.
Marvelous thought: we travel without advancing, we progress without any movement. We reach the heart of the universe by losing ourself in order to gain the cosmic Self seated in our inmost essence. The pathway that we travel is long and may be arduous, but it is also bright with joy, and lighted with the fires of the spirit. The 'travel' is really a changing of consciousness, a spiritual alchemy. The heart of the universe is at an infinite distance and yet is nearer than our own soul, for it is our Self.
Path of Compassion Menu
1. Every system of religio-philosophical thought has had its own term for this universal esoteric doctrine. In the Hindu scriptures of the pre-Buddhist era it is referred to as brahma-vidya, atma-vidya, and gupta-vidya, meaning, respectively, knowledge of the supreme, knowledge of self, and secret knowledge: also as rahasya, a word signifying mystery and bearing the same connotation as the mysterion of the Greeks, and the gnosis of Neoplatonism and the Gnostic schools. In Buddhism, it was and still is known under such terms as aryajnana, noble or exalted knowledge, and bodhidharma, wisdom-law or path. (return to text)
2. From a letter dated London, April 15, 1891 to the Fifth Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society, American Section, held at Boston, Mass., on April 26-27. (return to text)
3. With a three times 'very' few exceptions, all these bodies more or less hunger after the lower siddhis which H.P.B., using the Pali term iddhis, speaks of in The Voice of the Silence (p. 73). In India they are represented by the different schools of yoga practice.
Siddhi, from the Sanskrit verbal root sidh, to be fulfilled, to attain an object, means 'perfect attainment.' There are two classes of siddhis: those pertaining to the lower psychic and mental energies, and those pertaining to the intellectual, spiritual, and divine powers, both types of which are possessed by the spiritual initiate, who uses them only for the benefit of mankind and never for self. The personal name of Gautama the Buddha, Siddhartha, means 'one who has achieved his objective.' (return to text)
4. The saying in the old Veda: "Desire (kama) first arose in IT" and then the world sprang into being means that Brahman, sleeping in its aeon-long pralaya, first felt stirring within, the seeds of divine desire to become. Consciousness was behind the desire; desire arose in it and brought will into being, and will acted on the sleeping atoms and produced the worlds. (return to text)
5. In regard to normal vision, W. Q. Judge in his Preface to Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms speaks of the mind issuing through the eye and adopting the form and the qualities of the object seen. On its return, it reflects the information acquired to the soul. This is the ancient explanation, which was also propounded by Plato, among others. The theory was that a force issues from the eye which we may call the 'visual ray,' this force or ray being a projection of the consciousness or the mind; that normally its rate of projection or travel is very high, which rate actually can be increased by the will or by thought; that the ray or force darts forth from the eye, meets the object concerning which knowledge is desired, and returns accompanied with light; and when this combination re-enters the eyeball, the message that it carries is transmitted to the brain and thence into the receiving mind or consciousness.
Now when a study of a very distant object, such as a star or a planet, is required, this visual ray, which is akasic in essence, leaves the eye and darts with the speed of thought to the object, and all its conditions of travel and return, of impressions and of reception, are governed by the known laws of optics as well as by other laws at present unknown. It is not at all the mind which projects a tentacle of itself; though curiously enough this notion, wrong as it is, is an intuition of what the organ of vision was in earliest humanity. Then it was not an eye, but was actually more like a tentacle, and received its sensory impressions by touch; and through innumerable millions of instances of this kind of sensory experience the eye was gradually evolved, increasing in power and delicacy of function, until actual physical contact was no longer required.
(As a matter of fact, practically all the senses that we now have originated in a similar way; and the student of biology can gain many hints of how they began in the first, second and early third root-races from studying some of the strange sense-apparatuses of the lower beings.)
It is precisely this visual ray leaving the eye — which ray in normal function is of electromagnetic character — that also carries with it the man's magnetic atmosphere when the will is behind and propelling the personal auric magnetism; and it is also thus that in the cases of psychologization, commonly called hypnotism, a subject is held and fascinated so frequently by the eye. Allusion here to the question of hypnotism is not an approval of the practice, but an explanation of it and of the danger one incurs in allowing oneself to be subjected to another's will. Looking a person straight in the eye is always admired, and justly so, because it signifies a certain amount of character and poise; perhaps in this there is an unconscious understanding of the battle of magnetisms, friendly or unfriendly, as the case may be. (return to text)
6. There is an interesting reason why these intimations rarely are of a positive type, being almost invariably urgings to pause, to reflect, or to not do thus and so. When a man is in a state of indecision, his mind makes pictures which are transmitted by sympathetic vibration into the inner consciousness; and because the inner consciousness has this contact with the brain-mind, if the pictured action be wrong, the answer comes back, No. (return to text)
7. Any vow, any pledge, it should be remembered, is taken to one's higher self, the spiritual master within, and admonitions from this source take precedence over everything. However, let us also remember that very, very few of us can claim to be in hourly communication with the god within, much less under its sublime inspiration for lengthy intervals of time. (return to text)
8. Sleep is due to the automatic action of the will, in degree at least. The circulation of the blood, the beating of the heart, and the winking of the eyelids, in fact, growth — these are ultimately derived from the automatic or vegetative part of the will, the passive side; and this acts not only in man, but in all lower things. Likewise it is the will which has been taught, through repetition after repetition; to work in grooves, properly, easily — usually unconsciously to the perceiving mind. (return to text)
9. Everything is karmic. Whatever happens is the resultant of the many karmic energies working to find expression in a life, the strongest of these coming into manifestation first, while the less strong are not turned aside but are dammed back, to await their turn. In certain very unusual circumstances it is possible for an adept or teacher with the full consent of his pupil to prevent the appearance of the strongest karmic energy first, or so to smooth its action that other karmic energies or elements can appear almost simultaneously. These rare instances are always for the benefit either of the pupil or for some great and impersonal work for humanity, and can take place only in circumstances or conditions which are actually within what may be called a higher karma of the one so submitting himself to the destiny thus modified. But even here the karma so affected will find its expression just the same, and with its precisely normal condition of power and with precisely normal results. (return to text)