The fundamental teaching of occultism is that he who would become an occultist must first live the life — a life of spiritual self-discipline, impersonal love, constant devotion to duty, and unswerving loyalty and obedience to the teacher — and right here I would like to say that unswerving loyalty and obedience to the teacher is absolutely necessary in treading the Occult Path. Once we disobey and decide to go off on our own, we lose contact with the teacher, thus becoming in danger of losing the power of discrimination between true and false.
Any subject spoken or written is confined to the limitations of the mind and understanding of the speaker. Each gives the picture as he himself sees it.
In meditating on the symbolism of the Occult Way, or path, I have always pictured to my mind a white gate at the entrance; a gate such as we see at the entrance of any public park. Just as in the case of the gate to the park — this gate also is locked, and only at certain times is it possible to unlock it and pass through. We may pass it day after day, and year after year, we may have the idea in the back of our minds some day to open the gate and see what lies beyond it, but we keep putting off that day. Of the thousands who pass that gate, some in their preoccupation with their own worldly affairs, and others with the idea of sometime in the future opening the gate, there are few who consciously and of their own volition actually open it and walk through. The only key necessary to open it is, of course, the unselfish desire within ourselves to dedicate our lives to the service of humanity.
Once within this gate, straight ahead we see what appears to be a rocky, rugged, apparently barren and lonely path. Right at this point he who would tread the path to chelaship must choose. Few actually choose the rugged path. Some smell the fragrant flowers of Intellectualism to the left and wander off in that direction — others see the vivid foliage of psychic phenomena on yet another path and wander off in that direction. Those who do either never actually enter the Path of, or towards, Occultism, known to Theosophists as the Chela Path, although they may in their psychic or intellectual opium dreams delude themselves in the belief that they are on the Path. True they entered the gate, but they failed to step onto the path itself.
Our teachers have spoken of this path as "steep and thorny," and as a "lonely path." Both are right in a sense, for first of all it is the path of self discipline, not discipline of our companions, our neighbors, of our friends, or even of our so-called enemies, as some seem to believe. At the very first step on this path we must give up entirely the personality, the self we have been, for we no longer belong to ourselves alone, we can no longer let the lower physical self dictate to us what we will say, where we will go, what we will do, or even what we will think. Our lives, once we enter the Path are dedicated to doing the Masters' work. We go, and I am speaking geographically now, where they direct us to go. We also do what they wish us to do. Even though we inwardly know this is so, we sometimes deceive ourselves into believing that we go to a certain country, city or town because we want to go. Once there, we realize the purpose of the change in location, we recognize once again the touch of the Masters, and see before us the work we are to do. And we also know there is no escape until the job is finished and we once again receive our orders for change of station. I do not mean to imply here that the Masters contact personally, or through correspondence, all who tread the Occult Path. However, those in the Theosophical Society are taught by teachers who have been trained by the Masters.
In the vocabulary of the Army, entering the path is like unto being called to active duty, and these sometimes bewildering moves to places we had no intention of ever visiting, can be compared to a change of station. The orders received, although not written and signed as they are in the army, are nevertheless just as clear, and to disobey them can bring more severe discipline or punishment than any court martial could deal out to us. Any soldier with a minimum of intelligence soon learns that life flows along quite harmoniously in the Army, if he obeys the orders of his superiors — so it is on the Occult Path — we follow the rules of self-discipline laid down for us by those who have trodden the path before us. It is not too hard. We do not become saints overnight and sometimes it seems to us after years of trying, that we have made little progress.
I have always identified the rocks and thorns seen ahead on the path as our own weaknesses and bad habits which we must overcome before we can go farther. With some of us, it is a bitter gossiping tongue, with others it is malice and jealousy, or a vicious desire to meddle in other people's affairs, still others fight laziness, and the tendency to let the other fellow do the hard work while they dream. There are so many such rocks along the way. However, the sharp rocks are not so serious; we are ever aware of them. The treacherous pitfalls hidden deep in the brush and foliage of self are pride, vanity, desire for praise, and delusions of grandeur of either the spiritual or earthly variety. Few of us are free of these. A sense of superiority is present in some form in almost everyone. Few of us can truthfully say we do not consider ourselves socially, spiritually, or intellectually superior to anyone else. Often it takes the form of a private hunch that we are quite a bit smarter than the rest. Or that no one else could possibly do our particular job as well as we are doing it. In fact some of us are convinced that should we cease doing the work we are now doing, our particular department would have to fold up and close its doors. We cannot bear the thought that anyone else could do the job as well and perhaps more efficiently than we are able to do it.
In England in 1944, during the worst of the buzz bomb blitz, an Army Chaplain spoke to a group of about 500 soldiers and officers. The tension caused by the constant bombings brought out the very worst, or the very best that was in all of us. There had been many reports of unjust treatment of the men by some of the officers, who in turn reported lack of discipline among the troops. This chaplain spared neither; he started with the officers:
"Who do you think you are?" he shouted. '"Do you fancy that you, the real you is Major Smith, or Captain Jones? Only for a little while has fate given you the army title you now wear. Only for a little while perhaps, will you even have the name of John Smith which was given you at birth. Do you think you won your rank because you were actually superior to your fellow men? If you do, allow me to disillusion you. A power higher than any Bureau in Washington put you in the position you are now in. You were probably not the best material that could be had, but you were given the chance to become a leader of men in a small way. Death is very close to us all here at this moment. This may be your last chance to be remembered, and live in the memory of the men who serve under you, as a grand leader; or you may die unregretted as the failure you now are. Only a second in time, perhaps, and all you have of earthly things may no longer belong to you." To the soldiers he said, "How can you expect life to go right with you, if you spend all your time figuring out ways to disobey the rules and regulations? Think more of doing the duty that lies nearest to you, and you won't have so much time to think of the ill treatment you may, or may not, be receiving!" That particular talk was what we all needed; we left the assembly much chastened.
In Light on the Path we read,
And that power which the disciple shall covet is that which shall make him appear as nothing in the eyes of men.
That is the hardest hurdle for most of us to cross. We cannot bear to be considered as nothing in the eyes of men, we must everlastingly stimulate the ego with reminders of our importance. It is hard for us to realize that none of this is ours, none of these things actually belong to us, that all will be taken from us eventually, and that the moment may be much nearer than we realize.
Some who are young now feel quite superior to their elders. There is nothing unique in being young — all living beings have youth at one time in their lives.
And some who are older are apt to feel that their years give them a cloak of virtue in which to wrap themselves while they sit in judgment on the young, deaf meanwhile to the rattling of the skeletons of their own youthful indiscretions in the closet behind them.
Some feel superiority in the form of the martyr complex — I've heard so many remark that they had sacrificed their lives, or many years of their lives to this or that. To dedicate one's life to anything worthwhile is not a sacrifice — it is a privilege.
And so it is in following the occult path — it is not a sacrifice of anything that really belongs to us — it is rather a coming into our rightful heritage.
It may seem to you that I've dwelt too long on the obstacles to be overcome on the path, but not until we set our own houses in order, so to speak, and clear out the things which clutter up our lives, can we gain the vision and the strength to carry on the work of the Masters. We cannot do much to help others while we are all muddled up and confused, ourselves. And what is worse — we hamper the Teacher's efforts to help and teach us, until we clear the channel between ourselves and him.
In time, constant practice of self-discipline will give us the strength to go on undaunted and not disillusioned by the selfish, personal axe-grinding of those whom we wish with all our hearts we could respect. As the contact with the higher self grows firmer, we learn to walk alone, unmoved by the conduct or criticism of those around us.
As Kahlil Gibran, the Persian poet, so aptly expresses it in his Sand and Foam,
I have learned silence from the talkative,
Toleration from the intolerant,
Kindness from the unkind;
Yet strangely enough —
I am ungrateful to these teachers!
Each treads the Path in his own way, for each has his own destiny or Karman to work out — it cannot possibly be the same for all. And — to put it bluntly — it's really none of our business how another may be following the path.
The time is so short — there's so much to be done, and so few are willing to do it.
We must grow strong and sure of ourselves — millions need the strength and help we can give. For too long we have pampered ourselves, deliberately and through indolence delaying our spiritual evolution. For too long we have received. It is high time we started to give — not alone of our possessions — that is simple — but of ourselves. For then, and only then, are we living the occult way.
In closing, I want to pass on to you something that has exerted the strongest influence in my life and has given me more courage than any one thing for many years — it long ago filled the place left empty by the omission of the prayers which had comforted me as a child. It is from the Bhagavad-Gita. Many of you are familiar with it, of course, but in all imaginable situations it has never failed to recall me to my duty, or to comfort me when comfort was sorely needed — it is this:
Therefore perform thou that which thou hast to do, at all times unmindful of the event; for the man who doeth that which he hath to do, without attachment to the result, obtaineth the Supreme.
1. Address delivered in the Temple at Covina, September 29, 1946. (return to text)