The Theosophical Forum – May 1940

THE CHELA PATH — J. M. Prentice

From the time that H. P. Blavatsky restored to the Occident the conception of the life of utter service there have not been wanting those who have aspired to live the Chela life, to enter upon the true path of Discipleship. It is a noble ideal; such an one as has been a dim and oftentimes misapplied inspiration in the lives of men and women down through the Christian centuries, producing characters who have profoundly affected their own and subsequent generations, characters who, had they known more fully and in greater clarity of thought just what was implied by utterly impersonal service to Humanity, might have moulded history nearer to the heart's desire. Today, with the illumination of Theosophy to direct us, there are many who have caught the vision and who cherish forever afterwards the memory, who are working steadily and without any publicity for the betterment of the Great Orphan — Humanity. To be able to do this is, as it should be, the crowning glory of the Theosophical Society; the most enduring memorial to the lion-hearted Messenger who struck the spark and kindled the flame from which in turn the Theosophist kindles his torch and goes forth, a veritable light-bringer, even though those who are guided thereby may never know, and still less thank, the treader of the Chela Path. . . .

It is one of the curses of modern life that everything is expected to be done in the full glare of publicity; that each shall strive that his light, so far from being hidden under a bushel, should be a miniature bonfire. Unless such publicity is gained there is a tendency to regard life as incomplete; the liver of life as a failure. Rewards of wealth and fame are accepted as the sigil of success. Yet men and women by the thousands have borne witness to the ultimate hollowness of such rewards. In many cases this has been regarded as a kind of mock modesty, or even as a new and more exciting form of publicity, whereas it is the expression of a truth recognised.

To escape from this into the silence and service of the Chela Path is one of the greatest experiences that can befall an individual. To work from day to day, from year to year if need be, with no recognition and no visible reward, becomes for some an irresistible goal. Yet herein is an even subtler temptation; to suddenly awake to the fact that one is experiencing a personal pleasure in the thought that one is working for Humanity, albeit without reward, is an almost brutal experience. It is not sufficient that there must be recognition of the fact that that power which the Disciple has to aspire to is that which will make him appear as nothing in the eyes of men (vide Light on the Path); there must be the conscious use of that power without even the consciousness of its possession. A paradox, you say? But of course; the whole Chela life is a paradox.

This Inner Life, which is the subtlest joy as well as the subtlest temptation, is not a haven of refuge from the duties of the world, nor is it a sort of hidden garden into which we can retreat when the world is too much with us. Rather is it the constant effort to do all those duties which have devolved upon us with care and precision, but without any deliberate seeking for reward or even recognition, yet at the same time with due cognisance that such is indeed the pathway to the stars — sic itur ad astra. Nothing is so insignificant as to be beneath notice; no task is of such magnitude as to cause the Chela dismay. Each is done with due economy of effort; when concluded it is dropped from notice and as far as possible from conscious memory. Not for the Chela is even the satisfaction that is supposed to be derived from the consciousness of a thing well done. . . .

There is involved also the ability to live alone, in the world but not of it. Yet the Chela is denied any pleasure in the thought that he is living alone. He must not assume thereby or therefrom that he is being trusted above others; that he possesses a strength to them denied. He must be ever watchful for others who are treading the same Path, so that he may help them when and where possible, for they too are of the salt of the earth. Yet if none such are encountered he must go on, steadily and without looking back (what an allegory there is in the Biblical legend of Lot's wife!), never tiring and never discouraged. To meet such another chela is a spiritual joy, but only because it means the greater service, the strengthening of the mighty Wall that shields Humanity. When two Chelas can meet and work together the amount of work that can be done is geometrical rather than arithmetical; there are probably many such working close to us, if we only knew. Was it not Charles Dickens in Bleak House who puts the words into the mouth of the half-mad woman Harriet Ware (this is being written in a Military Barracks and far away from all books of reference)?:

In our journey through life we shall meet those people who are coming to meet us, on many strange pathways and by many strange roads, and what is set down for them to do unto us, and what is set down for us to do unto them, will all be done.

Not for the Chela is it to seek for a world within the world if thereby any spiritual selfishness (another paradox!) is to be generated. When the blinding splendor of the unexpected prospect falls upon him, as it fell upon Saul en route to Damascus, he must go on just as before as far as the world around him is concerned, more thoughtful for others, less exacting for himself, more charitable to the weakness of others, but more than ever before censorious of his own faults; sharing the common lot, but seeking nothing that he can claim for himself. The old axiom "A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved; a joy shared is a joy doubled" becomes his motto. Every joy that he can share with others he shares, hoping only thereby that the store of joy which he is administering will increase. Every joy of another he shares also, that that person's pleasure therein may be added unto. The sorrows of others he shares that their burdens may be lightened but his own sorrows are never paraded to the world. He becomes a center of peace in a warring community. Serenity is his key-note; he is the embodiment of those unforgettable lines in the Bhagavad-Gita — the text-book of all warrior souls as well as of all other castes:

In peace there comes the ending of all sorrows, for the soul of inspiration speedily enfolds him whose heart is full of peace.

Let no one think that this is to be achieved suddenly and without effort. Only in very special cases can this happen and even then it is probably the fruition of many lives that has suffered a temporary retarding. For the average it means struggle almost to the point of defeat. Despair and the temptation to give up will constantly assail us; the clearer our perception of the Vision, the greater our ever-present recognition of our failure to achieve. Yet we go on, unmoved by failure or success, because it is not given to us to be the final judge as to what constitutes the one or the other. Not in outer approbation, even though it come from the Master Himself, is the reward to be found; this must come from the deepest center within us. When all else fails we can wait for the Voice of the Silence that speaks within; in that soundless sound will be heard the words that will glorify us and extend our field of service. In the noble words of Sir Thomas Browne, the Norwich physician of three hundred years ago, we shall realize that "Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us."

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