True Occultism or Theosophy is the "Great Renunciation of Self," unconditionally and absolutely, in thought as in action. It is Altruism. — H. P. Blavatsky: Studies in Occultism
The very word — Occultism — sets up vibrations in the soul that are felt as a yearning for spiritual adventure. The god that dwells in the inner chamber of the Self — the god that possesses unimaginable faculties and powers — presses to be free to expand its energies "for the benefit of the world and all creatures." Genius, the power to save, protect, harmonize and inspire, is this inner god finding some measure of expression, and heaven knows its work is needed in a world of scrambled motives, courageous but confused, a world headed it knows not where — our world of 1949.
To some minds "occultism" is merely hocus-pocus. But among countless others perhaps Occultism means something different for every aspirant: to some it means magic; to others psychic power, hypnotism and the like; to still others, a knowledge of symbolism, or of color and number, with the powers attaching thereto, or of astrology, or even of healing in its various forms. But whatever knowledge of any one of these occultism may confer, it is in itself none of them. It is simply the hidden wisdom that sheds the lustre of significance upon commonplace events and conditions as well as giving insight into the sublimest operations of the Universe. It is skill in living. It is also the self-existent school of training into which all aspirants enter, consciously or unconsciously, and through which all must pass who would be of real use to their fellowmen.
The spirit of the hour in the hearts of all lovers of humanity is altruism — the giving of the self in service, as a means of offsetting the menacing and disintegrative forces that make the downfall of our civilization no longer a remote contingency, but a very present possibility. We all want power to do the good that we would. We want "the knowledge of what is good to do, as to the right discrimination of good from evil . . . that power through which [a man] can do the good he desires, often without even apparently lifting a finger," as H P. Blavatsky eloquently puts it.
It is the training in occultism that will help us to attain these powers if we are worthy The minute a man desires with all his heart to give his best to the Cause of Humanity, the polarity of his life alters. His whole resolve and purpose turn, like the compass needle, to the spiritual north. Something that is a part of himself, yet almost a stranger to him, emerges from the background of his consciousness, and thenceforth is forever at his side, urging to altruistic action Never again can this silent Companion be banished into the background, and the door wholly closed upon it. Life takes upon itself the aspect of a training for something higher. Casual incidents can no longer be matters of indifference. In course of time the aspirant inevitably finds his Teacher. But the training experienced in association with the true Teacher is always in harmony with the inner urgings of the silent Companion (the Higher Self), and is not viewed with aversion, or as something too difficult to be undertaken.
Let us then not delay; neither should we make rash vows, but rather seek balance and find happiness in the thought that we have made a beginning and are every day nearer to the goal. Instead of drifting, let us direct our lives in harmony with our intuitions — do this, and we have already stepped across the fine line that divides the ordinary life from the inspired life. Those who have the courage to do this make a surprising discovery. They find themselves, not, as they might have expected, moving in a world of mists and mystery. They find themselves bathed in the clear light of common day. As they proceed, the light clarifies. It is the light that enables them to see things as they are — one of the basic laws of occultism. They find themselves in the world of causes, thrown back upon themselves to learn the very essence of self-reliance, for it is the possession of self-reliance — "the steadfast power within" — that is the first step and the last in fitting them to give their lives to others.
The training in occultism is surrounded by natural safeguards, not devised by man, and no one can advance to greater powers until he has proven himself wholehearted, and no trace of selfishness or vacillation is left in his nature. The real occultism therefore is so simple that those who have their eye on some outer pageantry of magic and phenomena do not see this simple training as occultism at all, or as necessary. Yet it is as important as five-finger exercises for a future piano virtuoso.
Then why are we warned of the dangers of occultism? It is because the true occultism has so many counterfeits, leading to a search for power or powers for merely selfish ends, which bring about a disintegrative process in the character, because they are divorced from ethics. Ethics, the simple, time-honored virtues, are inseparable from, indeed form the very heart and core of, the real occult wisdom. The elemental strength of human nature, difficult to restrain and subdue, must be taken account of, but it need not daunt us.
Must we then steer clear of occultism because of the warnings? No; for this simple system, based on natural laws of right and fitness, is safe and beneficial to follow, and actually "delivereth a man from great risk," as Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita (1) The danger is present when the limpid stream of consciousness is colored by thoughts of self, thus drawing in to the nature all other evils that follow in their wake.
But you would not refrain from buying an automobile because of the dangers that attend its use. You willingly take the somewhat exacting training in learning to drive, and when you go out on the highway you are safe as long as every sense is alert, and every moment is watched for its possible situations. This alertness soon becomes second nature, as every driver knows; and so it is in every other kind of training, likewise, toward whatever end one is working, success depends on putting self aside and concentrating on the effort of the moment.
The most difficult thing of all, apparently, is this idea of renunciation of self: it seems like a sort of death, a forsaking of all that is warm and natural and dear to us. But we all know this is only an illusion. It is a temporary impression, due to the reluctance of the limited human self to keep moving, in crossing the bridge of life. Yet we know there are those who have pressed on, and reached the other side, "the other shore " We desire to be in their company, be their co-workers, because in them genius has blossomed and in their mastery of power and faculty, in their disciplined and impersonal charm, they are the best company in the world. They have "got that way" by the very means we now must make use of in order to reach their side.
Those who have the good fortune to work in the company or under the direction of teachers dedicated to Altruism learn much from observing how they proceed by unbreakable laws, never intruding upon the consciousness of their pupils, but leading them out of themselves and awakening their unsuspected virtues and talents. We see the results of their own training in practical occultism, in that they are "able to do the good they desire, often without even apparently lifting a finger." Unless they had become proficient in setting aside the self and considering first the good of others, they could not deal so skillfully with the human problem in individuals nor make the wise and far-reaching decisions that react to the benefit of all. Unless they had learned "to see things as they are," to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, they could not have the ready judgment as to what is best to do. Unless they were firmly fixed in Self-reliance, they could not so completely give themselves to the service of others. And unless they had formed the habit of listening for the voice of the intuition in each detail of life, they could not have the sense of timing that tells them when, as well as why and how, a move should be made. But among thousands who are as yet aspirants "on the way," there will be a few who have crossed "to the other shore," relatively speaking, within this present world of action and karman. These now responsible ones, taking leadership to help on the general good, cannot attain their ends single-handed. They must have support and help. The opportunity of working with these helpers of the race is the answer to that "yearning for spiritual adventure" felt by the aspirant. It offers the perfect setting for a training in practical occultism, whose object is work, here and now, "for the benefit of the world and all creatures."
1. Textbooks for those wanting specific instructions in practical occultism are: The Bhagavad-Gita, The Voice of the Silence, and Studies in Occultism, by H. P. Blavatsky, Golden Precepts of Esotericism, by G. de Purucker; W. Q. Judge's Letters That Have Helped Me and The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett. The teachings of "technical" Theosophy are an indispensable background to this study, because they give the fundamental reasons for ethics and altruism. (return to text)