Mystery Schools, and the Mysteries, are facts in Nature. The records of all ancient religions and philosophies that have come down to us would be meaningless in this respect if this were not so. Memory of these great facts, however, had become so dimmed for the race of men that it became the lifelong task of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky to rekindle a knowledge of their existence, and the work of the Theosophical Society in the modern world to spread far and wide not only an appreciation of the fact that Mystery Schools still exist, but also to teach those doctrines and ethics by which alone mankind can aspire upon the upward way of spiritual evolution, eventually to attain perfect humanhood.
Wherever one seeks one can find indications of deep occult teachings, though these are invariably carefully and cautiously stated, for the Guardians of the Ancient Wisdom conform to unalterable rules, one of the most important of which is that the Teachings in their fullness shall be given only to those who are worthy to receive them and who, receiving them, can be depended upon to use the knowledge and power which the Teachings confer for the good of all that lives — never for self, never for harm.
Mystery Schools as distinct centers of esoteric training, have existed as such from the time of the Fourth Root-Race, though their origin as laya-centers of occult force is almost coincidental with the founding of the Brotherhood in the Third Root-Race. Since then many pupils have studied and been loyal to the precepts and doctrines taught, and have already attained a high degree of human perfection as Masters of Life, as Christs, as Buddhas, and so forth.
During all recorded history there have been, sometimes in one country, sometimes in another, centers widely and publicly known as Mystery Schools, such as those of Pythagoras at Crotona, of Plato at Athens, of Ammonius Saccas at Alexandria, those of Denderah and Abydos in Egypt, that on the Island of Samothrace, that of Eleusis, and many other schools in both the eastern and western hemispheres. Each such school received its inflow of pupils from the outside world; each had its responsibility, not only of helping its pupils strive towards true initiation, but also of teaching the general populace as much of the Ancient Wisdom as the circumstances of the age permitted.
A great decline in the Schools had begun thousands of years before the opening of the Christian era. The progressive coarsening of the spirit of the age compelled the gradual withdrawal of the Mysteries from public notice, fewer aspirants offered themselves at the Temples. Finally the great Teachers withdrew from Schools which in earlier times had been the adornment of various lands. True occult teaching, however, is never withheld from humanity, and while many publicly known Schools closed, instruction among men by allegory, myth and parable became more complete. Open references to the hidden teachings became yet more veiled in all the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Conditions in the world are such today that a greater measure of inner wisdom is being given out, both in lecture and by the written word, than at any time since the decline of the ancient Schools began. The teachings which are merely hinted at in the New Testament, for instance, are elaborated and often explained in great detail in our Theosophical literature, books which are available for any man who walks the face of earth to read. It is not suggested, of course, that the totality of the hidden wisdom is being taught openly today; unquestionably the same conditions apply as of old, and will forever apply, conditions perfectly expressed in Sir Edwin Arnold's inspired poem, The Light of Asia:
Veil after veil will lift — but there must be
Veil upon veil behind.
The thoughtful student of Theosophy knows that anyone who, in a former life or lives, had contacted the Mystery Schools will feel a deep yearning for reunion with them again in this lifetime. The sureness of their intuition, however, will be tested sometimes for long years by their inability to find that which they feel certain exists somewhere, namely, a finer, purer teaching than any they have thus far contacted in their present incarnation, as also by their avoidance of all lesser and therefore impure teachings in the meantime. It is a truism that water finds its own level, and in nothing is this more true than with the "waters of spirit." Those who formerly had contacted a lesser teaching will be content to find its equivalent in this life; those who knew a finer teaching in former lives will search until they find that finer school of thought again in this present incarnation; each, from that point, can then take up again the task of spiritual evolution through self-directed effort.
The pathway to the gaining of spiritual knowledge is beset with countless pitfalls each of which tests the discernment, the purity of motive, and the endurance of the aspirant to the full. These impediments on the path are often so like the pure truth that even advanced pupils can be deceived by them. During the ages many public statements of the Wisdom-Religion have been given by great Teachers, and each of these has eventually degenerated; it is the fact of the decay of religions and philosophies that calls for the periodical restatement of the Ancient Wisdom. But all teaching that degenerates has much of truth still embedded in it, and the aspirant can easily be deluded by some aspects of a religion or philosophy that appeals to him, and cease the search for the source of illumination for the time being, content with his particular prison.
Again, it is a sad fact that some pupils of the Schools have tired of the discipline of the Teachings or the Teacher, have left the School, and have gone out into the world to live; usually their mouths have remained sealed, but sometimes they have divulged, betrayed, the Teachings which they had thus far received. Many of the pseudo-occult schools and doctrines have been derived from teachings betrayed by pupils of genuine Mystery Schools. Far from being sought by aspirants upon the path, such sources of knowledge should be avoided for the reason that they are degenerating through lack of the pure "force" that flows in and through and out from the great Schools and the true Teachers. Truth cannot be gained from these decaying fragments of the Ancient Wisdom; let the aspirant beware!
How, then, did men in former times find the Teaching and the Teacher? The only method, followed from time immemorial, is stated clearly and simply in the so-called Sermon on the Mount, a practical statement, meant to be taken literally. Since first inscribed upon scrolls, thousands of millions of Christians have read these words, have heard them in sermon and lecture, have perhaps wondered awhile what they meant and passed them by without understanding them. Yet here was an Avatara teaching the multitude in explicit language the only way to find "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." What was the procedure?
Ask and it shall be given unto you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
A veil has been thrown around this factual statement, which is the reason why the truth it embodies has been so completely disregarded. A simple transposition of the phrases makes the meaning and procedure transparently clear:
Seek, and ye shall find;
Knock, and it shall be opened unto you;
Ask, and it shall be given unto you.
He who felt the urge to find the Mystery Schools had to seek them. In thus seeking he heard much to encourage his further search, all the evidence he could wish of the existence of a School, perhaps near at hand, perhaps in some distant land to which he must travel. But the time came when he stood gazing at the Temple which he felt certain housed a School of the Mysteries. If in his search he had been actuated by mere curiosity, his search, whether he knew it or not, ended then and there; useless to ask the multitude if they knew what was taught within the sacred precincts, for the multitude did not know; worse than useless to ask any of the pupils he might meet. The most such a pupil might do was to indicate the Temple and advise the inquirer that he must approach, knock, and then make his request. It was traditional that the explanation of the mysteries be kept within the School and not spoken abroad, and therefore any question asked of a neophyte in public was in fact an invitation to him to betray the mysteries, than which there could be few more reprehensible actions.
If, however, the aspirant had been moved by a sincere longing to study the mysteries, the impulse to enter the School had to come from himself alone. No one was ever invited to enter; no one came out from the Temple to welcome and conduct him in. Not as one of a group, each member of which hoped to derive moral support from the others; but as an individual, alone, with sincerity, courage and modesty in his heart, he approached the door of the Temple and knocked.
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock." This is a paradox! The aspirant's Higher Self, the Christ within, had brought him to the threshold of the most splendid event of his age-long series of lives, and urged him to knock that the doors of the Temple might be opened unto him. As the doors swung wide he was asked who he was, to which he gave suitable reply. Next he was asked what he wanted from the inmates of the Temple. Then came the grand moment when he asked that he might be taught the mysteries of life.
If found worthy he was received within, and the doors closed upon him. If he were found unworthy — and there were few such, for unworthiness came only through crimes against humanity — there were other lives during which he could atone and purify his character and thus become worthy to approach the School again and be received. Entering the Temple, the aspirant lived according to the rules of the order, and the culmination of his training, after who knows how many lifetimes as a chela on the path, would be his union with his own Higher Self, the Inner Christos, that "Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world."
But first, he had to seek and find; he had to knock before the door could be opened to him; he had to ask before he could receive. Then followed lifetimes of learning, loyalty, purity and altruism with, some day, eventual attainment.
Through these Mysteries alone can peace and surcease from the trials and difficulties of incarnation in the physical world be gained, for none but they teach the sons of men to redeem their past wrong actions and cease from further wrongdoing. All other teachings are mere palliatives at best.
Down through unending time the Great Ones have taught selflessness and impersonality, and the call of the Teacher to every member of the human race has always been, and will forever be, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
At that moment when the aspirant, utterly alone, stood before the Temple door and knocked, he did so with the superb assurance of the Inner Buddha, the Inner Christ:
"Lo, I am with you alway,
Even unto the end of the world."