It must necessarily be with the greatest diffidence that any one can presume to utter one thought about the final choice that awaits at infinite distance the emancipated soul.
To the writer the very fact that such a choice would have to be made came as a revelation of the most awful import, for it points to what is but vaguely hinted at in the most mystic works, but which nevertheless we feel must be the outcome of all that we know of evolution, viz.: that there is no final or never-ending-bliss; that the great law of duality pervading the Cosmos is effective not only in the limited period open to our view, but that the alternation of the day's activity and the night's rest has through all space and all eternity its correspondence; and thus though the periods of Nirvanic or Para-nirvanic bliss are of such stupendous duration as to merit the term eternity, that even these eternities have an end when activity again takes the place of rest.
Hints, no doubt, lie scattered through the mystic writings of all ages as to this ultimate choice, but in the Voice of the Silence is the fact as bearing on each of us individually stated with a definiteness that must at once attract attention. Nothing in the realm of fiction inspires the mind with a more vivid awe than the passages descriptive of the sustained warfare waged by the pilgrim who dares to attempt the passage of the "seven portals".
This warfare is waged in a field of which man as yet has but the dimmest consciousness — the infinite field of "self", bristling as it does with all the terrors of an unknown world. The world of the senses is now well explored; oft has experience tasted its pleasures and its pains; but the world within is to most of us a yet unopened book. And when the former has been experienced ad nauseam, who can stay the explorer from fresh fields of knowledge and of conquest? But it is an exploration that needs the courage of a hero: "The path that leadeth on is lighted by one fire — the light of daring burning in the heart." And this expression is used with reference to the passage of the third gate only, the gate of Kshanti. When it is passed thy body is thy slave.
Now for the fourth prepare, the portal of temptations which do ensnare the inner man. "Ere thou canst reach that goal, before thine hand is lifted to upraise the fourth gate's latch, thou must have mastered all the mental changes in thyself and slain the army of the thought-sensations that, subtle and insidious, creep unasked within the soul's bright shrine. If thou would'st not be slain by them, then must thou harmless make thine own creations, the children of thy thoughts, unseen, impalpable that swarm round humankind, the progeny and heirs to man and his terrestrial spoils. Thou hast to study the voidness of the seeming full, the fulness of the seeming void. O fearless aspirant, look deep within the well of thine own heart, and answer. Knowest thou of self the powers, O thou perceiver of external shadows? If thou dost not — then art thou lost. For on Path Fourth the lightest breeze of passion or desire will stir the steady light upon the pure white walls of Soul. The smallest wave of longing or regret for Maya's gifts illusive — a thought as fleeting as the lightning flash, will make thee thy three prizes forfeit — the prizes thou hast won. For know, that the Eternal knows no change.
When such language is used with reference merely to the fourth, the "gate of balance", what unthinkable heights of Being must be revealed by the passage of the further portals! And yet at the end there lies the choice — on the one hand the well-earned reward — Nirvana — the glorious state of Absoluteness, the Bliss past human thought; on the other the "Great Renunciation" — the "Path of Woe" through countless Kalpas; Nirvanas gained and lost from boundless pity and compassion for the world of deluded mortals. What can man think or say about a choice to be made by beings who have passed the threshold of Divinity! Contemplation stands awe-struck in amazement, and the man can but bow his head in worship before the God.
The use of such utterly inappropriate terms as selfish and unselfish with reference to the choice seems to be a blot on the otherwise faultless expression of this marvelous little volume, for it must be recognized that a renunciation and a selflessness such as is absolutely inconceivable by ordinary men has already been attained by the aspirant, whatever may be his final choice.
Nevertheless it is very apparent which is the greater and the nobler choice. The Bodhisattva who has won the battle, who holds the prize within his palm, yet says in his divine compassion. "For others' sake this great reward I yield", accomplishes the greater Renunciation. A Saviour of the world is he.
What terrible possibilities too for Humanity are hinted at in the following description of what the self-immolation implies for one who chooses the Path of Woe.
Self-doomed to live through future Kalpas, unthanked and unperceived by man; wedged as a stone with countless other stones which form the "Guardian Wall" — such is thy future if the seventh gate thou passest. Built by the hand of many Masters of Compassion, raised by their tortures, by their blood cemented, it shields mankind, since man is man, protecting it from further and far greater misery and sorrow.
A similar passage in Light on the Path points to the same awful possibility.
Give your aid to the few strong hands who hold back the powers of darkness from obtaining complete victory.
The thought at once arises, What are these powers of darkness? Nothing, we may be sure, that exists outside our own Karma, nothing that has not been created by our own thoughts or acts, that is, by the thoughts and acts of Humanity since its evolution, for we cannot separate ourselves from the race. To the unthinking this explanation may seem to — though it does not by one iota — detract from the awfulness of the situation. Creations of humanity though they are, how terrible must they be in their semi-conscious hostility, and whatever elemental forms they may assume, it is doubtless such as they who act as guardians of the entrance of the path of knowledge.
Stress has recently been laid in some Theosophic writings on the awful nature of this journey whose stages we have been considering and which by some is called Occultism, compared with which the mere acceptance of the Theosophic teachings is an easy thing — including, though it may, the strenuous endeavor to make the life correspond with the teachings. It has been stated as an axiom that — "we may all become Theosophists, not one in ten thousand can become an Occultist". In some respects this is quite true, and it is very desirable in an address to the general public that stress should be laid upon the great gulf that separates Occultism from Theosophy. Nevertheless from another standpoint the two merge into one, and the path of Occultism is but a continuation of the Ethics of Theosophy. The former does not necessarily need a gateway of external ceremony or initiation. These will come in due time when the neophyte is ready. Even now, though he may be quite unconscious of it, the hand of a Master may be upon him, guiding him through the anguish his own Karma has merited and educating him for a higher service. And however terrible may appear to us the stages of that awful journey, there are some to whom no other path is open, for when it is felt that every phase of the ordinary life of man has been realized, until no mystery is left to probe, the unsatisfying and impermanent character of all earthly bliss is itself the finger of destiny pointing to the great attempt.
A thorough transformation of character in one life-time is doubtless a rare and a difficult achievement, but when the one central desire that alone gave life any color or meaning has been completely abandoned, the transformation may at least be said to have begun. With heart rending and in absolute despair is destiny's decree accepted — that is the first step of renunciation, and the second is like unto it save that the anguish is tempered by a subtle sense of exaltation. But when the whole nature can with the equanimity of entire dispassion and in the calm of matured conviction repudiate all desire for earthly union, may not the desire be then considered dead?
Assuredly it is a great achievement. The growing knowledge of Soul has wiped out another of the Sense-illusions, and the peace of serenity has taken the place of the vague unrest. Union — the real union — is still, as ever, the lode-star of our effort and desire, but the false and the fleeting is now replaced by the real and the abiding, for how should any earthly bridal still satisfy our longing when the heavenly bride — the soul — has once begun to lift the veil concealing her divine perfections?
By unexpected means too may the result above described be reached. Words can scarcely convey to those who have not yet passed through the battle, the awful tempest of emotion in which the first two stages are achieved, but the final one may be the result of an apparently intellectual conviction. It is, in fact, the attainment of knowledge. And this is but another illustration of that great truth so often dwelt on by the old Greek sages, — that ignorance is the prime curse on man, and that only with the attainment of wisdom will his sin and misery depart.
A great achievement it undoubtedly is, even this first little fight with the hydra-headed monster of desire, for it implies a conscious increase of strength. Concentration is strength, and when the restless diffusion of energy caused by desire is replaced by the serene survey over the fields of life, a step at least is made towards that perfect concentration which is the key to all real power.
A glorious achievement truly, if only we could be sure that the snake was slain beyond reanimation, for, as it is written, "the enemies he slew in the last battle shall not return to life in the next birth that shall be his". But remember, O Lanoo, this also is written, "Kill out desire, but if thou killest it take heed lest from the dead it should arise again". To further emphasize the terrible possibility of falling back even from the threshold, a very mystical passage, pregnant with deep meaning, may here be quoted from the Secret Doctrine. It is about the "Nameless One", also called the "Great Sacrifice", who holds spiritual sway over the initiated Adepts throughout the whole world.
For sitting at the threshold of Light, he looks into it from within the circle of Darkness, which he will not cross; nor will he quit his post till the last day of this life-cycle. Why does the solitary Watcher remain at his self-chosen post? Why does he sit by the fountain of primeval Wisdom, of which he drinks no longer, as he has naught to learn which he does not know — aye, neither on this earth, nor in its heaven? Because the lonely, sore-footed pilgrims on their way back to their home are never sure to the last moment of not losing their way in this limitless desert of illusion and matter called earth-life. Because he would fain show the way to that region of freedom and light, from which he is a voluntary exile himself, to every prisoner who has succeeded in liberating himself from the bonds of flesh and illusion. Because, in short, he has sacrificed himself for the sake of mankind, though but a few elect may profit by the Great Sacrifice.
To the great majority of men the life of action and sensation must necessarily appear to cover the field of reality; their consciousness of an inner life at all is but occasionally galvanized into spasmodic activity. To such the use of realistic language about the subjective life of thought and emotion must inevitably convey a feeling of reality. It is no doubt a far-off day when humanity generally will have transferred its energy to the field of the deeper consciousness, but there are some to whom the inner life is daily becoming the more real of the two, and to whom therefore this attempt to describe "the fierce fight between the living and the dead", culminating in the final choice, may not be without meaning.
When dealing with the higher ethics it seems impossible to state the whole question except in paradox. According to the teachings, renunciation is the watchword all up the line, but for us mortals to whom renunciation is unmixed pain there must be another side of the shield, and surely that can best be formulated by stating that nothing that we can dream of bliss but will be more than realized on the "great journey". The stages of that journey may, indeed, bring "terrible toil and profound sadness, but also a great and ever-increasing delight", and the delight to the aspirant must surely outweigh the toil and the sadness. To think otherwise seems a stultification of all evolution.
True, the thought that now has hold of us is the impossibility of our ever soaring to such heights of self-sacrificing devotion as to choose the path of woe. But there are correspondences on all the planes of nature, and very valuable inferences may be drawn from such correspondences. Most of us must look forward with some sort of satisfaction to the blissful rest that follows the strife of earth, and few would be ready at once again to begin the weary round. Nevertheless there are some who feel that they are prepared to forego the bliss of heaven and to accept immediate reincarnation for the sake of shortening the journey, though, as is well known, this is a possibility outside the ordinary course of evolution and only realizable by those who have progressed so far as to be under the direct guidance of a Master.
To choose the pathway of the great renunciation may indeed be impossible for thee now. Nevertheless hope still — what is beyond thee today may be within thy reach tomorrow. Many life-times must elapse ere the final choice has to be made. Meantime content thee to prepare for the great journey, and though every attainment of knowledge may only seem to make the mystery of thy own being a little harder to ravel, remember that the light that can illumine comes only to the bosom passionless. To reach that light the "higher carelessness" of the Sage must have been practised, the serenity of the Sage must be attained. And here is his picture from the Mahabharata.
"For richest, greatest, that one is
Whose soul, indifferent to bliss
Or misery, to joy or pain,
To past or future, loss or gain —
Sees with calm eyes all fates befall
And, needing nought, possesseth all."
The PathTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE