The Theosophical Forum – May 1947


How nearly do we approach hidden truths when, with an open mind, we seek to understand the ancient religions? What secrets can we rediscover in myth and legend? What, indeed, were the early shrines sacred to the gods of prophecy? Why, when man asked foreknowledge of these gods, should he be enjoined to know himself?

To have knowledge of himself was to know his relation to everything around him, and to understand that all these things — himself included — were lives in a still greater life. Man, the Earth, other worlds and solar systems were parts of a vast Universe, and this was but a child of other and greater universes. To comprehend the workings of his own consciousness was to have the power to extend that consciousness until it should embrace the Universe itself, and to feel with the sure touch of sympathy the pulse-beat of every living thing within that Universe. Thus, if he could not be his own prophet he was, at least, better fitted to interpret the words of those who were the messengers of the gods. Still more important — if he knew himself, knew his motive, the hidden purpose of his desires, and the strength of his own will to direct those desires for the good of all, he could make no mistake in the answer given to his questions. Had Croesus really known himself, Lydia would have not been lost to him.

Again: do we moderns understand the attitude of the ancients toward prophecy? Do we not judge them by our own standards, even by our own limitations? And does this not account for our somewhat cynical attitude toward the supposedly ambiguous replies of the oracles? A man wishes converse with the gods. Unless the individual were unusual — that is, highly intelligent or, more important, spiritually developed — this would be possible only through some mediator (the oracle). Even then, the message that came would mean nothing to the man unless he were fit to understand it — the gods do not rule a man's life; they merely gave him a greater opportunity to rule it for himself. And therefore, the injunction at Delphi — Man Know Thyself.

What is it to know oneself? Which self? Shall one concentrate on the failings of the imperfect human self, seeking thus to be armed against them and, little by little, shrink into a still smaller self? Or, shall one reach out to the greater Self within him, and by constant aspiration come to associate, and be one, with it, thus raising the imperfect self? There is magic in the thought of interpreting the oracle in the light of the greater understanding of that Higher Self. Delphi was sacred to Apollo, the sun-god. Man, in his inmost being, is a "son of the Sun." What wonder, then, that he was enjoined "to know himself"?

If we know so little about ourselves, how then, shall we have the temerity to "sit in judgment" upon others? The more we have plumbed the depths of our own natures, the less shall we be likely to assume such an attitude, for comprehension brings compassion. Perhaps this quest for knowledge of our real Self is for the express purpose of making us more understanding of others, of their real Selves. It is something to think about, anyway. And, after all, what is Man? A universe in little, and an atomic life in the Universe surrounding him.

Theosophical University Press Online Edition