Of all the four sacred initiatory seasons of the year, none perhaps is so difficult to describe as the events and trials and success that belong to the initiation of the Autumnal Equinox, technically called the Great Passing. As the Winter Solstice is connected with the event called the Great Birth, and the Spring Equinox connected with the event technically called the Great Temptation, and the Summer Solstice with the sublime event called the Great Renunciation, so is the Autumnal Equinox connected with the event called the Great Passing, the recondite and in some cases dread mysteries of death.
As it has been pointed out, the Pratyeka Buddhas, great and holy men as they are, exemplify one aspect of the events belonging to the autumnal equinoctial initiation, for there comes a moment in the life cycle or esoteric history of a Pratyeka Buddha when he makes the final decision as between two paths that he must take: the one being to return among men as a Buddha of Compassion, or to advance steadily along the path of individual achievement for himself, with the light of eternity indeed shining upon his brow, but with his heart closed to the cry of misery and often of despair welling up from the multitudes of the struggling pilgrims on the path behind him.
The Pratyeka Buddha definitely chooses the Great Passing, dies absolutely, and for the term of a cosmic manvantara it may be, out of the world of men and sentient beings traveling behind him — and returns no more. He has become at one with his divine and spiritual parts, but in an enclosed and self-sufficient manner, so that although his being shines like the sun and he is sunken in the ineffable mystery and bliss of nirvana, his range of consciousness is limited to his own auric egg, widely spread or diffuse though this may be. There he remains plunged in the deeps of cosmic consciousness but, alas, oblivious of all except himself. Strange paradox, is it not, that though a part of the cosmic consciousness of the solar system, he realizes this and senses it only insofar as it pertains to his own perceiving essence.
Yet even the Pratyeka Buddha, by the very fact of his being and existing, exercises a steady although silent influence throughout the cosmic sphere of which he has become an integral albeit inactive part. Yet this influence is negative, not active, steady but diffuse; whereas the influence of the energies flowing forth from the heart of the being of a Buddha of Compassion is active, constructive, building, stimulating, and directly encouraging, by its vital fire.
The difference, as it is thus easily seen, between the Pratyeka Buddha and the Buddha of Compassion, is simply immense. The Buddhas of Compassion, like the Silent Watcher of our planetary chain of which they are the copies, renounce the unspeakable glories that the Great Passing confers, and become vibrant spiritual energies in the world's life and all that the world's life contains — energies vibrating with spiritual potencies, most of them too subtil to be described in words.
The Great Passing is the fourth and concluding initiation which every Master of Wisdom must go through, and the glories of which he must renounce. In this particular phase of the initiatory cycle leading to complete mahatmahood, the initiant must indeed, as in the preceding three initiations, pass through the Underworld; but in this, the fourth, the passage is but fleeting and is, as it were, like a traveler in a train rushing through scenes which have become familiar from other stoppings there; and instead of lingering in the Underworld, the energies are bent upon achieving cognizance of and intimate, individual acquaintanceship with, and indeed mastery of, the Upper Worlds.
Here then, in this initiation, are learned all the intricate and very mysterious secrets connected with death, some of them sublimely beautiful, and some of them dreadful beyond any ordinary human imagination. The entire framework of the constitution of the initiant must be ruptured and torn apart for the time being, so that the divine monad may be utterly free and without shackles or trammels of any kind impeding its movements, to the end that it may ascend to and move among the starry spaces comprised within the encircling zone of our own stellar galaxy, our home-universe. There among the stars, and among the planets in orbital movement around those stars, must the freed divine monad of the initiant roam, free as a thought of a freed god, to become at one with — in stellar sphere after stellar sphere — all the different and differing phases and conditions not merely of stellar substance, but also of the cosmic consciousness.
To put the matter in other language, the divine monad returns to its own stellar parent and passes from star to star, ranging and wandering among them, familiarly and fully at home. What takes place in the case even of the ordinary human being when he dies, and which to such ordinary individual is blank unconsciousness because he has not evolved far enough to understand what he is undergoing, must to the freed divine monad of the master-initiant be made fully conscious and clear. Every phase of the process of death that takes place in ordinary human beings is undergone by the initiant at this time: sheath after sheath of the soul is dropped and abandoned, cast aside and for the time being forgotten, until the naked divinity stands alone, a living fire of energy in self-consciousness and self-cognizing memory.
Once that the shackles of the lower personal man, once that the enshrouding and crippling sheaths of the lower consciousness, have been cast off, then step by step, stair after stair, up the ladder of life, the monadic energy wings its lofty way. It must pass through every one of the twelve houses of the zodiac, the one after the other — or, if the words are better understood, undergo and experience the particular and peculiar influences flowing forth from each one of the twelve houses of the zodiac — until, when the round has been made and familiarity has been self-consciously achieved with what therein is, the descent begins, and downwards step by step, stair after stair, the hitherto freed monad clothes itself again with the sheaths of consciousness and with the various spiritual and ethereal and astral bodies that it had previously thrown off and forgotten. Finally, reaching our own earth again — the body lying entranced — it re-enters this world, raises its body anew and reappears among men, shining with a supernal light even more ethereal and marvelous and dread than that which clothes the successful initiant at the time of the rising from the trials of the Winter Solstice. The initiant has died, he has been dead in every sense of the word; but owing to the marvelous, magical processes and the protecting care and help of the great seers and sages who watch over and guard their younger brother, he is enabled to return from beyond the portals of death: he is literally "raised from the dead," and becomes a man again, but a man now glorified, sanctified, purified, in every part and portion of his composite constitution. He has passed beyond the portals of death, and has returned. He is fully reborn.
This is no case of renunciation as it is at the time of the Summer Solstice. The initiant is enabled to pass through these terrible trials precisely because the Great Renunciation had previously been made at the time of the initiation of the Summer Solstice, and he has gained the strength to die completely and fully and yet to return to human physical existence.
Just here, spiritually and ethically speaking, do we discern the difference between the Pratyeka Buddha who dies with a will, and dies gladly and joyfully for his own spiritual bliss, and the one who has made the Great Renunciation like the Buddhas of Compassion and their followers, who die indeed for the experience that it gives, for the great increase in knowledge that it brings with it, but who return to life in order to offer up themselves as a sacrifice in service to the world.
It is not easy to die completely. Men die daily, but imperfectly, at night when they lay themselves on their bed and fall asleep. But deliberate dying is a very difficult thing, for it is contrary to nature's customary law and processes. In any case, death is not immediate or sudden, not even in the case of the average man who dies. For long months preceding physical dissolution there is an adjustment for it which is an interior arrangement of the auric egg preparing the monadic parts for the postmortem peregrination. And at the end, for a short time preceding death, the consciousness hovers between earth and star, between the physical body and the sun, flashing sunwards and then back again a number of times, until finally the golden cord of life is ruptured, and unconsciousness — instant, immediate, and unspeakably sweet and soft — descends upon the dying, who thereafter is what men call dead.
I have hitherto been speaking of the fourth of the four grand initiations as it applies to the cases of the Great Ones who undergo it and who return among men; but there are the many other cases of those who take this initiation deliberately after the manner of the Pratyeka Buddhas and die from the world and return no more until aeons have passed and dropped one by one into the ocean of bygone time. These last are the cases of those who are on the way to becoming Pratyeka Buddhas, perhaps unknown to themselves, paradoxical as it may sound; and I doubt not that you would be astonished were you to realize how numerous are the human souls who crave the unspeakable peace and bliss of the nirvanic rest — clinging to life, longing for its continuance, they yet, strange paradox, choose the pathway of death.
The Great Ones undertake this fourth initiation in order to have firsthand experience in every respect, not only of the Underworld but more especially of the Upper Worlds, and of what every monad leaving incarnation must undergo in the ordinary course of dying.
In the initiation of the Winter Solstice the planets visited usually are the Moon, Venus, Mercury, and the Sun, and then there is a return; whereas in this fourth initiation of the Autumnal Equinox these same planets are passed through — during the process of what we may perhaps justly call a dissolution of the constitution — and the superior planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, are likewise visited, and thence the freed monad wings its way outwards into the kosmic spaces. The return journey is made along the same pathway, and the sheaths or veils of consciousness that the monadic pilgrim dropped during these peregrinations in each one of the planets and in each one of the planes, are again picked up and reassumed, and thus the monadic ego clothes itself with its lower selves again and returns along the pathway by which it had ascended. The order of the planets as just above given must not be understood to be the order of the planets regularly followed.
It becomes obvious from the preceding teaching that man has in himself not only a physical or Earth-body, but a Lunar body, a Venusian body, a Hermetic or Mercurial body, a Solar body, a Martian body, a Jovian body, and a Saturnian body, as well as being clothed with the essences of kosmic space. Not only has man in his constitution these various planetary sheaths, but also his consciousness itself contains color-shades, as it were, or energies, or qualities, derivative from the various celestial bodies with which he is constitutionally in such strait and intimate union. This is the reason why the various bodies or elements of man's constitution are shed by the initiant as he traverses any one of these spheres, and why he must return to each one of the spheres in order to pick up such veil or sheath or clothing formerly shed, in order to become on earth once more a complete man. Man, therefore, as you see, is a child of the universe, composite of all its elements, and therefore is in very truth a microcosm, or little world. His very thought touches with ethereal fingers the most distant star, and the tiniest vibration of the most distant star has its reaction upon him.
Death, we may then see, in the majestic ceremonies of the fourth initiation of the autumnal equinoctial period, is but an ascension, a resurrection, out of certain grosser elements into elements much more ethereal; but the center of consciousness, the fiery spark of being, the monadic essence is a god, and remains untouched and unstained through the aeons, no matter what its children — which are its vehicles and sheaths of consciousness and inferior monads through which it works — do or undergo or suffer and enjoy.
Mark then, these two distinct but not conflicting elements of the teaching regarding the autumnal equinoctial initiation: (1) All the greater initiants must pass through this initiation, but they return. They taste in it of death and vanquish it; and in the words of the Christian scripture they may say: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" because the initiant rising successfully as an initiate has truly conquered death, and its mysteries in all their various phases are to him mysteries no longer. (2) The second element of the teaching is the fact that armies, multitudes, crowds, of human beings, at some time in their evolutionary pilgrimage, choose this initiation with deliberation for the sole purpose of passing out of the world and ken of men, to return no more. Such are the Pratyeka Buddhas, and those who, like them, prefer the bliss of individual nirvana to the self-sacrificing but sublime life and destiny of a Buddha of Compassion.
Remember this teaching in its elements. Try to carry the thoughts of it in your mind, for they are helpful and, when properly understood, the consciousness of these truths will wrap itself around you like a protecting buckler and shield. Or, to change the figure of speech, these teachings will become a light unto your feet, and will guide you along the path that humanity's greatest and noblest flowers of perfection have chosen to tread.