". . . There is a Road, steep and thorny and beset with perils of every kind, but yet a Road, and it leads to the Heart of the Universe . . ."
Could there be found a more beautiful motto, drawing in one stroke, so to speak, the character of the old, old Chela Path, which each one of us here sincerely hopes to tread sooner or later?
The Path is narrow. It is thorny. But it is a Path; it can be trodden, however great the obstacles and dangers may be to the weary pilgrim, who, spiritually speaking, exerts himself to the utmost to tread firmly this holy Path.
Nor is it the only Path to go. At each step it is crossed by other pathways, which seem broad and well-paved. The pleasing foliage of the spreading trees of self-sufficiency afford plenty of shelter against the dazzling Light of Truth and Self-knowledge, which blinding light shines right into the eyes of the pilgrim on the narrow Path. The pleasantly sloping broad and easy roads lead downwards, unperceived by the traveler, so that he, perhaps without realizing it, enwraps himself more and more in the poisonous vapors rising from the swampy land of the lower selfhood. The other Path, narrow and steep, leads on high. It demands the utmost of the pilgrim's powers. Each moment threatens the danger of making a false step and sliding down the road again, either to tumble down into an abyss, or to sink deeper than the point where the rising had begun.
This narrow, thorny, steep Path is the Chela Path and it must be traveled with bleeding feet. Where does it lead to, this upward Path, that there are those who choose to steadfastly walk it with inexorable earnestness, free from fear of the troubles and dangers that lurk at every cross-road; free from selfishness and the lower personality? What is the final purpose of it? And who are those Pilgrims who have chosen to travel it?
We know what the final purpose is, and we know whither this Path will lead, ultimately. It is to the Heart of the Universe.
But where shall we find it? And how to tread the Path that leads to the Heart of the Universe? Who are they, who have the courage and the strength and the perseverance to commence upon that steep Path? Are they super-men, liberated from human weaknesses? Are they gods or semi-gods, exempt from human qualities?
No indeed, Companions. The chela is a human being, like all of us. His nature, which has a dual aspect, a higher and a lower, places him before contradictory objectives. The chela, too, knows the flashlights of personal desires and temptations, the delusions of self-conceit. He knows them all, as they arise in the lower nature of man. He knows them all, but he is not confused by them; they do not get hold of him. There is a secret, invisible guide, safely leading the chela along the marsh-lands of impurity. And this guide is the chela's own knowledge that he must travel his thorny road without paying attention to his lower personality. The only yearning infilling his thoughts and his very being, is, to approach nearer and nearer to that wondrous Heart of the Universe whose steady pulsation is echoed in the deepest recesses of his own heart. His attention is focused on the great self of the Universe, in which he has found again his own deepest Self. Thus he treads the Path, blind and deaf to the temptations and the sorrows of the lower personality, in which he, too, being human, is clothed. He does not fight. He does not attempt to kill his lower nature. All violence is strange to him. He does not grieve at the faults that lie behind him any more than a little child regrets its last fall when it is intent on learning to walk, but just rises again, ready and strong for new endeavors.
Nor does the chela in a personal sense rejoice at his own progress. He knows that all personal ambition will distract him from the lofty goal he has in view. He does not pride himself on his attainments; no more does he grieve at his failures. There is but one aim, one wish, and that is to tread the Path which will bring him nearer and nearer to the Source of all Being.
If we ask the pilgrim whether it is not a difficult road to follow, he will smile at us pityingly and answer that not his Path is difficult to walk, but ours, in so far as it leads us away from the Light. And if we point at his bleeding feet he will look down in surprise, for certainly he had not noticed the wounds, and they do not harm him. In fact there is nothing of the personal man in him that can be hurt or harmed. He keeps aloof from ambition. He does not know of jealousy. Hatred and anger are incapable of disturbing his inner peace and balance. Thus he advances on the Path, which is rough to the personal man only, but is like a broad high-way, like a flowery plain for him, who, while renouncing the personal self, finds himself in the Universal Self.
Truly, how could it be otherwise? We read in Golden Precepts of Esotericism:
In living the Chela-life you simply exchange things that you detest inwardly, that you hate, for things that are beautiful, helpful; exchanging weakness for strength, ugliness for beauty, blindness for vision, darkness for Light.
So indeed is the revolution which takes place in the inner life of him who steadfastly and courageously places his feet on the Chela Path.
Where is this sacred Path to be found? How can we tread it? The Chela Path lies within ourselves. Yea, we ourselves are the Chela Path. "Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become that Path itself," says H. P. B. in The Voice of the Silence, and likewise say all the great Teachers of Humanity.
The Path lies within ourselves, within each one of us. For that very reason we all can tread the Path, as the possibilities lie hidden in each and all of us. Every human being knows of precious moments in his life, during which he lives in his higher nature. Do let us keep in mind continuously that what is needed to raise ourselves to the higher, spiritual plane is not to acquire new faculties, but rather to let the obstructions of our lower nature fall off quietly, like waterdrops fall off a swan's stainless wing. The confusion of the lower desires, the passions of anger, the braggings of ambition, the false smile of self-sufficiency, the whisperings of jealousy, the clamor of unbrotherliness, all drown the still small voice of the Higher Self. Silence their noise, and we find ourselves face to face with our own inner divinity. As soon as we consciously strive to attain this purpose we find ourselves on the Chela Path. But even beforehand we had a vision of the wondrous possibilities that lie hidden in man. For isn't it true, Companions, that we all of us know the blessed moments of inspiration in which the great, the good, the beautiful, is born from within us, the moments of self-forgetfulness and grandeur, in which we can perform deeds and can think thoughts of which later on we can hardly understand that they were our deeds, our thoughts? And rightly so, for we had outgrown our lower personality, be it even for a short while. They are the moments of sacred emotion, during which the grand secret of the Universe reveals itself to us in the beauty of a flower, in the smile of a little child, or in the sparkling of a dewdrop. They are the blessed moments in which we experience that there is no such thing as segregation; that all separateness is an illusion; moments in which the true One-ness of all being opens itself as a glorious verity before our enthralled vision. It is the whisperings of the Divine within ourselves, the comprehension of which will come home to us when the lower voices are silenced. It is the reflexion of the inner Light radiating through the lower principles now become transparent for a while.
These spiritual experiences may serve as guides to the Chela Path. From the very moment we consciously determine to do our utmost to continuously raise our whole being up to this high plane of thought and living we have placed our feet on the sacred Road.
The Chela Path is open for all who long to tread it; for all who have the vision to recognise it; for all who do not fear the sharp thorns that will tear the Pilgrim's human feet.
O wondrous Chela Path, Path of growth, it is said. Yet verily the Path of growth is not a difficult one, though none can tread it but on wounded feet. How are we to understand this strange paradox? Is it the Path of Growing Consciousness? Then whereby is this growth obtained?
There is one word, weighty with significance, and it will give us the answer. It is self-forgetfulness. Self-forgetfulness coupled with continuous self-renunciation. For the Chela Path is the path of renunciation of the personal selfhood. The thorns and the wounds belong to the personal selfhood only. He who pays attention to them while walking the path, will be racked and tortured. But the Chela does not heed it. What he is aiming at is growth of the consciousness of the Higher Self. A growth keeping pace with the Chela's success in losing sight of his personal self. Thus and not otherwise can he proceed along the Pathway. But there is a danger threatening him at every step. It lies in looking back on the personality and getting entangled again in past faults and failures. They will make him slide down and fall. And if he with the greatest exertion stands up again, he will find that he must travel anew part of the road he had already covered before his fall.
The Chela Path consists in rising and falling. In this sense too, it is a Path of growth, along which the chela progresses ever more steadily so that his stumblings become fewer and fewer.
This is spoken of in The Voice of the Silence, where it says:
No Arhan, 0 Lanoo, becomes one in that birth when for the first time the Soul begins to long for final liberation. Yet, 0 thou anxious one, no warrior volunteering fight in the fierce strife between the living and the dead, not one recruit can ever be refused the right to enter on the Path that leads toward the field of Battle.
And even if he does stumble and fall down, even so the effort is not lost, for as H. P. B. says:
And if he falls, even then he does not fall in vain; the enemies he slew in the last battle will not return to life in the next birth that will be his.
When the chela, guided by his holy perseverance, equipped with the armor of the seven Paramitas, succeeds in traveling the Pathway to the very end, then not far from the ultimate goal a cross-road awaits him. The Path divides itself and becomes the Two Paths. The one is called the Open Way. It leads to the ultimate goal: Nirvana. But the other, the Secret Way, leads him back to the world as a Buddha of Compassion. Guided by his Compassion and his self-forgotten love, he renounces even the state of perfect bliss and once more descends to the earth, saying: "As long as there is one soul left in anguish yet, I will not enter upon Nirvanic Bliss."
Thus, Companions, is the lofty Choice of the Lords Buddha. And so, too, is the Choice, be it on a small scale, put to any one who commences upon the Chela Path, at each moment of his life. For at each step we are placed before the Choice of the Two Paths, one leading up to Delivery and Bliss, the other to Renunciation, also called the Path of Woe.
As H. P. B. says in The Voice of the Silence:
Behold! The goal of Bliss and the long Path of Woe are at the furthest end. Thou canst choose either, O aspirant to Sorrow, throughout the coming cycles!
Companions, it is not a choice of one single moment. They who desire to tread the Path, have to make a choice at each new step. Ultimately all will travel the Path of Woe, the only Road possible to him who has attained to perfect self-forgetfulness and all-embracing Compassion. The Goal seems endlessly far ahead when the Chela sets out on his Great Journey. Countless are the opportunities to choose the Open Path, the one leading up to ultimate Bliss. But his eyes will compassionately fall on those who walk behind him in the valleys of suffering and ignorance, and his ears will listen to even the faintest sigh of unhappiness and sorrow, and in this way he will arrive at the Great Self-Renunciation.
1. Address at the European Convention of the Theosophical Society, Visingso, Sweden, 1937. (return to text)