The Occult Path

By Sarah Belle Dougherty
The kingly science and the kingly mystery is devotion to and study of the light which comes from within. The very first step in true mysticism and true occultism is to try to apprehend the meaning of Universal Brotherhood, without which the very highest progress in the practice of magic turns to ashes in the mouth. — W Q. Judge, Echoes of the Orient 1:

Occultism is the study of that which is "hidden," of the interior worlds which vivify and organize what we perceive with the physical senses. Although most of human life takes place in inner realms — thoughts, feelings, desires — the impact of sense perceptions dominates our minds so completely that we often identify ourselves with our body and our experience with the physical world. Occultism attempts to transcend this superficial, sense-based view in order to arrive at a truer understanding of ourselves and our surroundings. It is an ancient path: there have always been those impelled to look beneath the surface, to explore themselves and seek out the hidden realities of the universe. Their findings have been incorporated into all the world's religions, as well as forming the basis of various mystic schools and associations.

William Q. Judge encouraged occultism as a study of the "workings of the Universal Mind." (Echoes of the Orient 3:264 -- a collection of Judge's writings in three volumes, compiled by Dara Eklund, Point Loma Publications; all quotations are from these volumes unless otherwise indicated). In his writings he explored methods useful in this task as well as pointing out possible pitfalls. His thoughts provide criteria for evaluating the many techniques for spiritual and occult development so widely available today.

In considering occultism, Judge and H. P. Blavatsky stressed two main points with their private students. First, "that man is identical in spiritual and physical essence with both the Absolute Principle and with God in Nature, . . ." (3:41.6). This proposition implies the essential oneness of all beings with the spiritual source of the universe and with each other. Thus brotherhood is a fact embedded in the structure of nature, not a noble sentiment or a utopian scheme, and those who wish to penetrate hidden realities must conform themselves to this fact. As Blavatsky writes in The Voice of the Silence:

Help Nature and work on with her: and Nature will regard thee as one of her creators and make obeisance.
And she will open wide before thee the portals of her secret chambers, lay bare before thy gaze the treasures hidden in the very depths of her pure virgin bosom. . . .
Then will she show thee the means and way, . . . And then, the goal — beyond which lie, bathed in the sunlight of the Spirit, glories untold, unseen by any save the eye of Soul. — pp. 14-15

Another implication of Judge's and Blavatsky's first statement is that the cosmos is inspirited, a conscious whole animated by one all-pervading life. Here life is not an aberration or mere by-product of complex material structures, but a fundamental property possessed by the universe and all its parts. And like the rest of existence, human beings partake of the full range of universal being — its consciousness, life, and substance.

The second point they emphasized in their exposition of occultism was that in man "are the same potential powers as exist in the creative forces of Nature. . . . each man is potentially a God because in him are the vast powers of Nature" (3:416). The capacities of the whole lie latent within, and by will and active study they can be developed. Judge believed that because we are in essence divine creative centers, it is counterproductive to dwell upon limitations or past mistakes. Rather, once we have recognized the lessons learned, we should go forward without regret or self-doubt, striving to embody more fully the core of our being, universal consciousness.

For most people, looking within is the most immediate path available for understanding and consciously participating in the higher aspects of nature. Self-analysis leads to self-knowledge: we realize that we are both an apparent multiplicity and an essential unity.

There is only One Life, One Consciousness. It masquerades under all the different forms of sentient beings, and these varying forms with their intelligences mirror a portion of the ONE LIFE, thus producing in each a false idea of egoism. FORM, as such, is nothing; phenomena are not realities per se; all must be referred to the Self. Rely upon the One Consciousness, which as differentiated in Man, is his Higher Self. By means of this Higher Self he is to strengthen the lower, or that which he is accustomed to call "myself." — 3: 263

Our essential consciousness or self, the core of our being, is universal, linking us with the cosmic principle. The self expresses itself through various types of substance or modes of being: spiritual, mental, emotional, vital, astral, physical. To form a complete being, in each of these modes the essential self focuses a reflection of itself — an evolving soul or monad. We can easily perceive ourselves as a triad of body, soul, and spirit. On closer examination, we can observe within us divine, spiritual, human, animal, vegetable, mineral, and elemental centers, corresponding more or less to the kingdoms of nature. These various centers of consciousness, separate though cooperating and interdependent, together form a complete human (or other) being. But however we classify our inner being, through all the modes and monads acts the one universal selfhood: "All these so-called bodies and appearances are for the purpose of enabling the ONE — the Self to fully comprehend Nature and 'bring about the aid of the soul"' (3: 265).

Self-analysis allows us to separate the essential unity from the multiplicity through which it expresses itself. Realizing that our inner structure is compound lets us recognize the various aspects of ourselves for what they are. We can choose what parts of us we will identify with and where to focus our consciousness. By this means we can free ourselves from habits and appetites by refusing to identify our sense of self with every passing impulse that arises in us. On reflection we can see that some impulses originate in our emotional nature, others in the mind, body, or intuition. Once we refuse to identify our "self" indiscriminately with our assorted desires, thoughts, and sensations, they cease to attract us and lose their hold over us.

We can also use the realization of being one and many to make positive changes:

A person can have no attachment for what he does not think about, therefore the first step must be to fix the thought on the highest ideal. . . . This Self must be recognized as being within, pondered over, and as much as possible understood, if we are to gain any true knowledge. — 3:262-3

Through this process the individual approaches the universal mind which is at the root of his being. But to identify more fully with this universal consciousness, "it is necessary to withdraw our consciousness gradually and persistently from the illusion of the senses" and raise the plane of our consciousness. Thus one may eventually "come to know the super-sensuous world precisely as he knows the things of sense and time; viz., by experience" (3:263).

In learning of inner realms by experience, people often encounter new sensations and abilities which they believe are spiritual. Almost all of them, however, belong to the psychic or astral sphere which is composed of matter only one grade more ethereal than physical matter. Our physical senses are rooted in interior sense organs, most directly in those of the astral plane. If we are sensitive to these elements, when our astral senses are stimulated their perceptions enter our awareness. Whether these psychic impressions occur spontaneously or are deliberately induced, there is a definite risk that our attention will become engrossed, and we will be as completely distracted from reality by our astral senses as we were by our physical senses.

Judge distinguishes very sharply between occultism and the acquisition of "occult" powers. He admits "the existence of hidden, powerful forces in nature," but holds that they are neither easy to control nor safe: "in our view the attainment of true wisdom is not by means of phenomena, but through the development which begins within" (1:4). These powers are particularly perilous because they appeal so strongly to the selfish, egotistical side of human nature. People seek them to feel important and special, or to help them succeed personally, professionally, or financially. But "If there be one unfailing test, one sure proof of error, it is to find material advantage of any kind mixed up with spiritual development," for "Only psychism can go hand-in-hand with material gain or allurements — psychism of the left hand order such as ruins perpetrators (even the self-deceived) and victims, in other lives or in this" (3:261).

As we travel along the path of development, eventually a choice must be made between using our powers to work with nature and for others, or using them to work against nature and for oneself.

the line of demarcation between these two ways . . . is very thin. It is like the hair line which the Mohammedan mystic says divides the false from the true. One has to be very careful so as to know if his motive is really so unselfish as he pretends it to himself to be. But it can always be tested by the reality of the feeling of brotherhood that he has in him. A mere intellectual longing to know and to discover further in this field is selfish and of the black variety, for unless every desire to know the truth is in order that one may give it to others, it is full of taint. — 3:91

For this reason ethics and motive are the most crucial area in occult study. If one disregards ethics, it "is the beginning of black magic and it means that one has started on an enterprise wherein he must succeed against the entire Cosmos, must be the enemy of everything but himself, or else he shall fail" (3:478). Selfish motive leads inevitably to the dark side of nature, because like attracts like.

To those who would approach occultism safely, Judge recommends seeking to adapt "your thoughts to your plastic potency" — the power of creative visualization and imagination. Each thought-energy, he explains, molds the "soul substance" into forms which last as long as the energy inheres in them. These "energic pictures" react upon the inner being of the producer and that of others.

The importance of regulating our thoughts, in view of the plastic potency of the soul and its imaginative power, hence becomes apparent. As thought is dynamic, these pictures — often themselves an agglomeration of lives, for the atomic substance of the ether is, every atom of it, a life — these pictures are felt far and wide. It has frequently been said that a man could be shut between prison walls, and could yet work for Humanity, by the simple means of right thinking. — 3:267-8

We are so used to considering thoughts as peripheral because immaterial that we do not take seriously the responsibility of regulating our thoughts and feelings. But their effects are powerful both on us and on our surroundings.

What, then, are the primary means of acquiring a greater understanding of reality? The first is practicing unselfishness and compassion in our daily lives. "A man must live what he knows. Until he has lived it he cannot know it; he must be that higher vibration, (3:267). In this process unselfishness is essential:

Those of us who think knowledge can be acquired without pursuing the path of love, mistake. The soul is aware of what it requires. It demands altruism, and so long as that is absent, so long will mere intellectual study lead to nothing. And especially in those who have deliberately called on the HIGHER SELF does that SELF require active practice and application of the philosophy which is studied. — 3:450

The second key to occult study is self-knowledge, for "we must know ourselves before knowing things extraneous to ourselves." Why is this path of selflessness and inner reflection so little advertised and so difficult to recognize? Perhaps it is because

This is not the road that seems easiest to students. Most of them find it far pleasanter and as they think faster, work, to look on all these outside allurements, and to cultivate all psychic senses, to the exclusion of real spiritual work.
The true road is plain and easy to find, it is so easy that very many would-be students miss it because they cannot believe it to be so simple. — 1:46-7

This "simple" road of self-knowledge and altruism is hidden only to the lower, self-centered ego. Our inner divinity knows well this path, which in long-past aeons it staggered and groped its way along. The love it learned, the compassion for its brother-selves, is the sunlight of the spirit that our higher self pours forth so abundantly to help guide our understanding. Our everyday consciousness may see this light as no more than the dim flickerings of intuition and conscience. Yet if we persist — striving ever to forget our own advantage and to live to help others — we will see more and more clearly with our inner vision. We will then have found the true occult path within ourselves.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Theosophical University Press)


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