The story is told of a famous Yogi whose disciple returned to civilization with reticent knowledge and much power, although the teacher spoke hardly a word, even of courtesy, to the disciple over a period of years. In the company of the Yogi, the pupil found himself in an abode of silent unconcern for all things material, including himself as a person. This trial brought humility, fortitude, the control of personal resentment; isolated him from idle chatter and meaningless activity; forced his thoughts inexorably within; and the rest followed. Upon learning that which was to be learned, the disciple bade farewell to him who, having become independent of all things and fit to give all, needed no thanks.
Such food for thought is for spiritual maturity, unpalatable to the mind of the Western peoples, which demands to be urged, flattered, and cajoled, and is ever sensitive to "neglect" or lack of "appreciation," easily discouraged by mental labor, and wont to regard philosophy as diversion rather than a way of life. Yet there is a median way of teaching that does not tend to keep the child forever in childhood. It is to be sought.
"To help and teach others" is the Theosophic aim of life, in exact opposition to that of many notable figures of the day. It is so obviously laudable as to be somewhat too disarming, perhaps, to self-examination.
Naturally, the project involves a conviction of one's ability to help and teach others. Often, this further involves a feeling of our own superiority, which can insensibly glide into (a) a conviction of our own superiority in all respects, and (b) a conviction of the inferiority of those to be helped and taught. This is a very real danger. Have we not seen devoted theosophists go about their work with an air — quite unconscious — of settled smugness well adapted to infuriate rather than instruct the beneficiaries of their devotion?
In the world at large are discernible innumerable instances of material "help" through which the moral decay of the victims proceeded proportionately to the help extended. It has been seen on a large scale in recent years in the hands of those ignorant of the spiritual nature and responsibilities of man, but he is a fortunate theosophist who cannot regretfully recall similar errors in his own career. Sometimes the victims of overmuch help are really the subjects of a kind of benevolent cannibalism in which the ego — or the political fortune — of the "benefactor" swells apace with the drained spiritual vitality of the subject. Similar effects can be produced by methods or attitudes of teaching in which nothing is left to thought, and which paralyze the will by the restful panorama of all things made clear, simple, and final. This would not be good even were the understanding of the teacher as clear, simple, and final as he thinks it to be.
Not impossibly, that student who seems resistant to obvious truth may merely be reserving some corner of the universe to explore for himself, or mayhap he is suspicious of so much knowledge being so easily come by.
It is a common failing of Western teachers, including theosophists to tell all they know and often noticeably more. The method of the Mahatmas, on the other hand, is to arouse as intensely as possible the passion for knowledge, and then to desist from clogging the mind of the student with anything he may be able to find out for himself. Thus, the learner follows his own path, without at last encountering the necessity of coming all the way back from a blind alley on some one else's path in order finally to start his own.
How may one who essays to teach, avoid the creeping rot of superiority and authority? Simply by being really a teacher and nothing else. It does not occur to a teacher in a grade school to feel any lordliness over a child because the latter is six years old and the former thirty. He knows well that the child may be a renowned genius or head of the nation on a future day when he himself is withering away on a meagre pension. There is no special merit in being born a decade or two sooner than someone else. It is also helpful to remember that none of this knowledge began with any one of us, and that our passing will leave its sum total undiminished. Nor is the Portion of it in our possession in any wise equal to that which is not. The Theosophic world, like the world at large, endured our absence with notable fortitude for many years before our arrival.
Above all, one who is not in the habit of thinking of himself is not in the habit of thinking about his superiorities, real or otherwise. Such a man places no obstacles between the seeker and the light.
1. Reprinted from Theosophy, Los Angeles, December, 1944. (return to text)