Copyright © 1974 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
Coming now directly to the matter of actual discipline in esoteric training, every neophyte is taught at the outset that the first step is "to live to benefit mankind," and the second is to practice in his daily life the "six glorious virtues" or paramitas. Until he has absolutely abandoned any desire for personal profit or gain, he is unfit even to attempt to tread the path. He must begin to live for the world; and when his soul is inflamed with this desire impersonally, he at least is ready to begin to try.
Perhaps the most important thing for the would-be aspirant to understand is that although the chela path is almost constantly represented as one of gloom, sorrow, and endless self-sacrifice, this is but a manner of phrasing the truth. Actually, it is the most joyous course of life and guide of conduct that it is possible for human beings to imagine. Still, I have often thought that the difficulties have been somewhat over-emphasized for a very good reason: to prevent personally ambitious individuals from rushing in where angels fear to tread. It is well that this is so, because the dangers of all kinds which beset the untrained and half-hearted postulant for occult progress are exceedingly real, and the chances of his making a mis-step, or of having his feet befouled in the mire of his own lower nature, are so certain that the warnings given are not only humane and dictated by the highest compassion, but are likewise nicely calculated to point out the need of discipline preceding any introduction to the Mysteries.
To restate the matter more succinctly, the path of chelaship is one of ineffable happiness for those who are fit to tread it. It means a constant living in the higher part of one's nature, where not only wisdom and knowledge abide, but where there is the continuous expanding of the heart in compassion and love to include the entire universe in its enfolding comprehension. Indeed, its beauties are so sublime that a veil is almost always deliberately drawn over these so that the unwary shall not be tempted to trespass into regions whose thin and life-giving aether their lungs cannot as yet in any wise breathe. Our West has forgotten for too long a time, despite the fine ethical teachings of its accepted religion, that the life of the spirit while in the body is the only life worth while, and actually is a preparation for living self-consciously and without diminution of faculty or power beyond the portals of death.
Chelaship, therefore, is the learning to be 'at home' in realms other than the physical sphere; and it should be apparent that the untrained individual would be as helpless as a newborn babe were he to be faced with the extraordinarily changed conditions which would confront him at every turn if he were suddenly cast into these other worlds.
Esoteric training is the result of almost innumerable ages of the most careful study by the greatest sages and noblest intellects that the human race has produced. It is no arbitrary study of rules which the student is supposed to follow, although indeed he is both supposed and expected to follow certain rules; but it is likewise the making over — or conversion in the original sense of this Latin word — of the personal into the spiritual, and the casting aside of all limitations belonging to ordinary life, for the faculties and powers and the wider fields of action which belong to the initiate or adept in accordance with his degree of growth.
There is nothing so deceptive as the false lights of maya. Often fine-looking flowers contain deadly poison, either in bud or in thorn; the honey thereof brings death to the soul. No chela is ever permitted to cultivate any psychical powers at any time, until the great foundation has been laid in the evocation of the spiritual and intellectual energies and faculties: vision, will power, utter self-control, and a heart filled with love for all. Such is the law. Therefore not only is it forbidden for the beginner to win and use powers now latent, and to awaken faculties not yet in function within him, but those who may through past karma happen to be born with such awakening inner faculties have to abandon their use when starting their training. And this for the reason that such training is all-round, i.e. every part of the nature must be brought into harmonious and symmetrical relation with every other part before one can tread the path safely.
There comes a time, however, when a pupil is taken individually in hand and instructed how to free the soul so that the body cripples it less, how to become nobler in every way, and this by certain rules of practice and of conduct and thought. First: philosophy, knowing something about the life in the universe; second, discipline; and third, the Mysteries. There is the order; to a certain extent they run concurrently, although each is emphasized in especial when its period arrives.
To elaborate: the first, philosophy, comprises teaching, with a certain amount of discipline, and an intuition, an intimation, given as to what the Mysteries are. Next, the discipline, with which likewise there are teachings, but, above everything, the neophyte is taught how to control himself, how to be and to do, with a larger intimation of the Mysteries to come. Then, third, the Mysteries, what is called practical occultism, when the individual is worked upon and taught how to release the spirit within him and also his faculties, the while experiencing a still loftier discipline and a loftier philosophy.
Seven are the degrees of initiation. The first three are schools of discipline and learning. The fourth is similar, but greater by far, for in it begins the nobler cycle of initiatory training. It depends upon the individual alone what progress he will make. The disciple is a free man, with free will, and it is his destiny to become a god taking a self-conscious part in the government of the universe. He must therefore choose his own pathway, but beware lest, in exercising the divine faculty of free will his egoism, his selfish propensities, if he have any left, run away with him into the left-hand path. Danger lurks at every step, a danger which is not outside, but in himself. (1)
Hence discipline is essential all along the line, differing from that which prevails in all stages of human relationships only in this, that it is the origin of those spiritual and ethical principles which have guided the civilizations of the past and the peoples who built them. The basis of this discipline is self-forgetfulness, which is the same as impersonality; and in order to achieve this, other minor rules have been introduced by the sages and seers who were the founders of the mystical schools of former eras.
The rules are simple in themselves, so simple that the novice, unversed in the occult code, is often disappointed at not finding something more difficult to achieve, forgetting that the grandest truths are always the simplest. One such rule is never to strike back, never to retaliate; better to suffer injustice in silence. Another is never to justify oneself, to have patience, and leave the karma to the higher law to adjust. And still another, and perhaps the greatest rule of this discipline, is to learn to forgive and to love. Then all else will come naturally, stealing into the consciousness silently, and one will know the rules intuitively, will be long suffering in patience, compassionate, and great of heart.
Can't we see the beauty of no retaliation, no attempt at self-justification, of forgiveness of injuries, of silence? One cannot take these rules too much to heart; but even so they should be followed impersonally in order that there be no possibility of brooding over real or imaginary hurts. Any rankling sense of injustice would be fatal and would in itself be a doing the very thing, in a passive way, that should be avoided — either passively or actively.
The reason for the prohibition of any effort at self-defense in cases of attack or accusation is training: training in self-control, training in love. For there is no discipline so effective as self-initiated effort. Moreover, the attitude of defense not only hardens the periphery of the auric egg, but also coarsens it throughout; it emphasizes the lower personal self every time, which is a training in the inverse direction, tending toward disintegration, unrest and hatred. Let the karmic law pursue its course. One exercises judgment and discrimination of an exceedingly high type when the consciousness of the effectiveness of this practice is gained. The more a man feels that he, in the light of his conscience, has acted well, the sense of injury, the wish to retaliate, the feverish need of self-justification, become small and unnecessary. Consciousness of right brings forgiveness, and the desire to live in compassion and understanding.
But let us not confuse the rule regarding self-justification with those responsibilities that as honest men and women we may be called upon to fulfill. It may be a clear duty actively to stand up for a principle that is at stake, or to spring to the side of one unjustly attacked. There is a kindness in being rigidly firm, in refusing to participate in evil doing. The sentimental crime of allowing evil to take place before our eyes, and thus participating in it for fear of hurting someone's feelings, is a moral weakness which leads to spiritual degradation. However, when we ourselves are attacked, preferable it is to suffer in silence. Only rarely do we need to justify our own acts.
Overcoming the eager itch of the lower part to prove that 'we are right' may seem a negative exercise, but we shall find that it requires very positive inner action. It is a definite spiritual and intellectual exercise that teaches self-control and brings equanimity. By practicing it, little by little, instinctively one begins to see the viewpoint of the other. Yet here again, there is a subtle danger, for this very practice may become so attractive after one has followed it faithfully for some time, that there is an actual risk of generating and cultivating a spiritual pride in the success thus far achieved. This is something that one must watch for and wrench out of one's soul.
I have known men who struggled and fought so hard to be good that they left a trail of broken hearts behind them, shattered hopes of other human souls — misery brought to others by their frenzied desire to be good. They wanted to advance so greatly that they forgot to be human. Is it wrong to read a good book, to take healthful exercise, or enjoy the food that we eat? Of course not. But if one is strongly attached to something which gives extraordinary pleasure and a duty is neglected, then one should conquer that attachment, for it is doing harm; it is no longer an innocent pleasure, but has become a vice. The simple answer is to forget ourselves and do what we can to benefit others, and we shall be happy, spiritually and intellectually natural and strong, and be respected; and, above everything else, we shall respect ourselves.
This leads on to another thought: it is rare that we make our worst mistakes through our vices; and the reason is that once vices are recognized as such we are seldom swayed by them, but become disgusted and cast them off. In fact, our most serious errors both of feeling and of judgment usually arise out of our virtues — a paradox, the psychological force of which grows upon us as we ponder it.
This can be illustrated by looking at the history of medieval Europe. I believe it is erroneous to suppose that the fanatic monks or ecclesiastical governors who incited those shocking religious persecutions were human devils deliberately excogitating ways of torturing the minds and bodies of their unfortunate fellow men who fell into their power. What they did was diabolic, sheer unconscious devilry, but it arose in their virtues which, because they were so grossly abused, became despicable vices. The most cruel persons usually are not they who are indifferent, but they who are driven by a mistaken ideal, behind which there is a misused moral force. Their virtues, now become unrecognized vices, make them seem for the time completely heartless.
Great thinkers like Lao-tse have pointed out to the confusion of the unthinking that the aggressively virtuous man is the vicious man — an extravagant paradox, and yet one which contains a profound statement of psychological fact. The really dangerous man is not the evil man, for he offends by his intellectual and moral deformity. It is beauty misunderstood and misused that seduces — not physical beauty alone, but beauty in a virtue which has become distorted and misapplied. Virtue itself raises us to the gods; and yet it is our virtues when selfishly applied which so often bring us to do our worst deeds.
There is a deep esoteric meaning in the old injunction: "love all things, both great and small." Hate is constrictive; it builds veils around the individual, whereas love rends those veils, dissolving them and giving us freedom, insight and compassion. It is like the cosmic harmony which manifests in the Music of the Spheres as the stars and planets sing in their courses. Love, impersonal love, harmonizes us with the universe, and this becoming at one with the universe is the last and greatest objective of all phases of the initiatory cycle.
Personal love, on the other hand, is uncharitable and often unlovely, for it is concentrated on one object; it thinks of self rather than of the other; whereas impersonal love gives itself fully, is the very soul of self-sacrifice. Personal love is self-remembrance; impersonal love is self-forgetfulness — there is the distinguishing test. Sentimentality has nothing to do with it; in fact, it is a detriment, for it is an accentuation of the personality. The emotion of love is not love; that belongs to the psychomental and animal side of our being. When we place no frontiers or limits to the current flowing forth from our heart, when we make no conditions as to whether we shall extend our protecting and helpful hand, we shall be as the sun, shedding light and warmth on all. And when love is wholly selfless, it is spiritually clairvoyant, for its vision penetrates to the very essence of the universe.
Among other good and simple rules is to think impersonally all the time; in our daily acts to try to detach our interest from them so far as any benefit to our own person is concerned. If we can do them as a work of love, whatever they are, we shall be impersonal naturally, for we shall have lost our self-absorption in the service of others. This is the royal road to self-knowledge, for we cannot become the self universal as long as our attention and thought are concentrated on the limited point of egoity.
Another splendid rule is one that the Lord Buddha gave as a favorite teaching of his to his disciples:
When evil and unworthy thoughts arise in the mind, images of lust, hatred, and infatuation, the disciple must win from these thoughts other and worthy images. When he thus induces other and worthy images in his mind, the unworthy thoughts, the images of lust, hatred, and infatuation cease; and because he has overcome them his inner heart is made firm, tranquil, unified, and strong. — Majjima Nikaya, I, 288
All of which means that when we are bothered, tormented perhaps, with selfish and personal impulses and thoughts, we should immediately think of their opposites, holding them steadily in our mind's eye. If we have a thought of hate, we should conjure up a picture of affection and kindness; if of evil-doing, vision a magnanimous and splendid act; if a selfish thought, then imagine ourselves as doing some deed of benevolence, and at all times doing this impersonally. I am inclined to view this as the very best rule of all. It is a fascinating study outside of the benefit that comes: the strengthening of the will, the clearing of vision, the refining of the emotions, the stimulating of the heart-forces and the general growth in strength and nobility of character.
Nevertheless, when a thought has once left the mind, it is impossible to withdraw the energy with which we have charged it; for then it is already an elemental being, beginning its upward journey. (2) Still, if 'neutralizing' thoughts of an opposite character are immediately sent forth — thoughts of beauty, of compassion, of forgiveness, of a desire to help, of aspiration — the two then coalesce, and the effects of the evil ones are made 'harmless' in the sense that H.P.B. speaks of in The Voice of the Silence (p. 55).
However, I repeat: a thought can never be recalled. It is like an action, which once done, is done forever, but is not forever done with. By thinking a noble thought or doing a good deed, following upon an evil impulse, although we cannot recall the evil thought or action and undo it, we can, to a certain extent, render at least less harmful the evil that our wrong thought or act brought about.
We humans are personal precisely in proportion as the spiritual individuality is frittered away in the rays of the lower part of our constitution. When we lose personality, we release the hold which these unprogressed elements have upon our real being. This means a gathering together of the rays hitherto dissipated into the various atomic entities of our lower principles — gathering them into the sheaf of selfhood and thus rebecoming our essential Self. "He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew, x, 39).
If we can try at every moment to be selfless, we shall forget our personal wants. Our needs it is a duty to attend to, but these usually are not crippling to the spirit. As we strive to become impersonal, we shall in time enter into the universal consciousness — in these few sentences we have the secret and essence of esoteric training. But let us not kill our personality; instead let us use it, thereby changing the direction of its evolutionary tendencies so that the currents of its vitality may flow into the higher consciousness of our individuality. It is a marvelous thought that just to the degree that our individuality increases and our personality decreases, do we rise on the ladder of life towards a more intimate individual union with the cosmic divinity at the center of our solar system. This applies to the vast multitude of the human host, as well as to any other entity of equivalent evolutionary advancement possessing self-consciousness and the other attributes that make man man.
Impersonality, altruism and selflessness: these are magical in their effect upon our fellow men. When we can learn truly to forgive, and to love, the longing of our soul will be self-forgetful service for mankind. No one is too humble to practice it, and no one is so exalted that he can ignore it. The more exalted the position, the more imperative is the call to duty. Singlehanded we may have the world to battle; but even though we go down again and again, we can stand up and remember that the forces of the universe are back of us and on our side. The very heart of Being is with us and we shall win, ultimately, for nothing can withstand the subtle and all-penetrating fire of impersonal love.
In man lies the pathway to wisdom: one who knows himself, whose spiritual nature is brought forth in fuller degree, can comprehend the movements of the planets. One whose inner self is yet more evolved can confabulate with the beings who rule and guide our solar system; one whose entire being is still more unfolded can penetrate into some at least of the arcana of the macrocosm; and so on indefinitely. The higher the development, the larger the vision and the deeper the understanding. The pathway to the universal Self is the path that each individual must himself tread if he wishes to grow, to evolve. No one else can grow for us, and we can grow only along the lines that nature has laid down — the structure of our own being.
Man is indeed a mystery: under the surface and behind the veil there is the mystery of selfhood, of individuality, a career stretching into distant eternities. Man essentially is a godlike energy enshrouded by veils.
It is in the silence that the soul grows strong. For then it is thrown back upon its own energies and powers, and learns to know itself. One of the finest ways of getting light on a problem quickly and certainly, of cultivating intuition, is by not passing the trouble of solving it on to someone who you believe can help you. Seeing solutions and solving problems are a matter of training, of inner growth. One of the first rules that a neophyte is taught is never to ask a question until he has tried earnestly and repeatedly to answer it. Because the attempt to do so is an appeal to the intuition. It is also an exercise. It strengthens one's inner powers. Asking questions before we have ourselves tried to resolve them simply shows that we are leaning, and this is not good. To exercise our own faculties means growth, the gaining of strength and ability.
Certain questions, however, come with a force that compels an answer. They are like the mystic knocking on the door of the temple; they demand the giving of more light, for they come not from the brain-mind, but from the soul striving to understand the light flowing into it from the perennial fountains of divinity. Ask and ye shall receive; knock — and knock aright — and it shall be opened unto you. If the appeal is strong and impersonal enough, the very gods in heaven will respond. If the individual is very much in earnest, the answer will come to him from within, from the only initiator that any neophyte ever has.
Meditation is a positive attitude of mind, a state of consciousness rather than a system or a time period of intensive brain-mind thinking. One should be positive in attitude, but quietly so; positive as the mountain of granite, and as serene and peaceful, avoiding the disturbing influences of the ever-active and feverish mentality. And, above everything else, impersonal. Meditation in the better sense is the bending of the consciousness, and the raising of the mind to the plane where intuition guides, and where some noble idea or aspiration is native, and the holding of the consciousness in thought there. But one can meditate also on evil things and, alas, many do just this.
It is possible so to meditate before falling asleep that one's soul ascends to the gods, and is refreshed and strengthened by its confabulations with those divine beings. But it is likewise possible to brood before sleep comes so that when the bonds of wakefulness are broken, and the brain-mind is silenced, the soul is dragged downwards, and is thus degraded and weakened. One should never sleep until one has sincerely forgiven all injuries done unto him. This is very important not only as an ennobling practice, but as a much needed protection. Fill the heart with thoughts of love and compassion for all, and the mind with some lofty idea and dwell on it calmly, with the higher, impersonal brooding that is effortless and still, and then there will be a rest of all the senses, and quiet in the mind.
One reason for the need of strict impersonality, without the slightest thought of any destructive or morally offensive element intruding into the heart, such as hate, anger, fear or revenge, or any other of the horrid progeny of the lower self, is that when sleep steals over the body and the ordinary brain-mind consciousness drops away, the soul now released automatically follows the direction last given to it. Thus the practice of calming the mind before retiring can elevate the soul.
Meditate all the time — nothing is so easy and so helpful. Far better is this for most students than to have a set period: quiet, unremitting thought on the questions you have, continuing even when the hands are busy with the tasks of the day, and the mind itself quite absorbed by other duties. In the back of the consciousness there can still be this steady undercurrent of thought. It is likewise a protecting shield in all one's affairs, for it surrounds the body with an aura drawn forth from the deeper recesses of the auric egg, which is akasic, and through which, when condensed by the will of one who knows how to do it, nothing material can pass.
Yet even in the profoundest meditation, when one has lost all sense of surrounding circumstances, the trained chela is never in the condition of having lost his spiritual and intellectual grip. He is always alert, always aware that he is in control of the situation, even while the consciousness is passing in review the myriad phases of the subject under contemplation. It is highly inadvisable, as a general rule, to allow oneself to be on another plane in thought so greatly that one becomes a psychic or physical automaton.
There are two kinds of meditation: first, the keeping of some beautiful idea clearly in the mind as a picture, and letting one's consciousness enter into that picture; and second, the casting of the consciousness into higher spheres or planes, and taking in and absorbing the experiences that flow into the consciousness by doing so. But if we set our teeth and grip our hands and mentally hammer this or that point of thought, we are not meditating at all. If we do this, we won't succeed, because such exercise is merely brain-mind cogitation, which is often exhausting, uninspiring and uninspired. There is a difference between just thinking concentratedly on a subject, especially if it means using the brain-mind, and a concentration or absorption of the consciousness in following the ennobling direction along which the spiritual will is guiding.
Meditation, then, is the holding of a thought steady in the mind, and allowing the consciousness to work interiorly upon this thought, easily and with delight. Let it dwell there; let the spirit brood over it. There is no need to put the physical or psychical will on to it. This is true meditation and is really the fundamental secret of yoga, meaning 'union' of the mind with the ineffable peace, wisdom and love of the god within. If one practices this simple rule of jnana-yoga, after a while it will become natural, a part of the daily consciousness. Concentration or one-pointedness of mind is merely taking this thought into our consciousness more clearly, and centering all our attention upon it — not with the will, but with ease.
All other forms of yoga which depend more or less upon exterior aids, such as posturings, breathings, positions of hands and fingers and feet, etc., belong to the lower parts of hatha-yoga and are little more than crutches, because distracting the mind to these exterior methods and away from the main objective of true yoga itself, which is a reversal of the mind from exterior to inner and spiritual things. Thus all forms of the lower yoga, now become so popular in the West through the 'teachings' of itinerant and wandering 'yogis,' usually do more harm than good.
The hatha-yoga system is a fivefold method of attaining control of the lower psychic faculties through various forms of ascetic practices, requiring a scientific paralyzing of the physical and psychic parts by violent methods. The yogi effects this complete self-absorption by suspending his vital processes and causing a short-circuiting of certain pranic energies of his astro-physical body. As should be obvious, this practice is mentally and physically perilous as well as spiritually restricting, and hence is unequivocally discouraged by all genuinely occult schools. Certain powers can indeed be acquired by these means, but, I repeat, they are powers of the lowest kind, and have no lasting benefit, and, moreover, will greatly hinder one's spiritual progress.
In this connection, William Q. Judge wrote:
. . . progress will be made. Not by trying to cultivate psychic powers that at best can be but dimly realized, nor by submitting to any control by another, but by educating and strengthening the soul. If all the virtues are not tried for, if the mind is not well based in philosophy, if the spiritual needs are not recognized as quite apart from the realm of psychism, there will be but a temporary dissipation in the astral realms, ending at last in disappointment as sure as the shining of the sun. — "Answers to Correspondence," December 1893
On the other hand, the raja-yoga and jnana-yoga systems, embracing spiritual and intellectual discipline combined with love for all beings, have to do with the higher portions of the inner constitution — the control of the physical and psychic following as a natural consequence of an understanding of the entire sevenfold man. True yoga controls and raises the mind, thus effecting the communion of the human with the spiritual consciousness, which is relative universal consciousness. The attaining of this union or at-oneness with one's divine-spiritual essence brings illumination.
In certain very exceptional circumstances where a chela has advanced relatively far, mentally and spiritually speaking, but has still a very unfortunate and heavy physical karma not yet worked out, it is proper to use the hatha-yoga methods to a limited degree, but only under the master's own eye. I may add that the Yoga Aphorisms (or Sutras) of Patanjali is a hatha-yoga scripture, but one of the highest type. The terse instructions contained in this small work are well known to Western students, largely through the interpretation of W. Q. Judge and later writers.
Real yoga is meditation, as said, and this obviously includes the centering and holding of the mind with fixity on a point of noble thought, and a brooding upon it, pondering upon it. Patanjali in his Sutras (i, 2) wrote: Yogas chitta-vritti-nirodhah — "yoga is the preventing of the whirlings of thought." This is very clear: when the ever-active brain-mind, with its butterfly-like wandering from thought to thought, and its fevered emotions, can be controlled into one-pointed aspiration and intellectual vision upwards, then these 'whirlings' of thinking vanish, and the aspiring organ of thought becomes intensely active, manifests intuition, sees truth, and in fact makes the man whose organ of self-conscious thought is so occupied, an imbodiment of wisdom and love — and this is the true yoga. It is the manas, the mind-principle, which is thus active and is, so to speak, turned upon itself upwards instead of downwards, becoming the buddhi-manas instead of the kama-manas. The chitta of the Sanskrit phrase, i.e. the 'thinking,' becomes filled with wisdom and intuition, and the man becomes virtually, when expert in this sublime spiritual exercise, one with the divinity within.
In the next sloka Patanjali goes on to state: "then the Seer abides in himself," the meaning being that the man then becomes a seer, and abides in his spiritual self, the god within him.
Contrariwise, when the mind is not so restrained and directed upwards, then the "whirlings (activity) become assimilated mutually," as the 4th sloka has it — a very concise statement meaning that when the mind is fastened in lower things, its feverish activities enchain the higher manas, which thus becomes temporarily 'assimilated' with its lowest elements, and the man is in consequence no more than the ordinary human being.
An occult secret in connection with the mind is that it takes the form of the object contemplated or perceived, and so molds itself into the objects of thought, whatever their quality. If the mental picture is divine, the mind becomes similar to it because it flows into the divine and molds itself accordingly; and likewise, when the mind is held in the lower things it becomes assimilated to them, because flowing into their form and appearance. (3)
It is precisely the desire to know, not for oneself, not even for the mere sake of knowing in an abstract sense, but for the purpose of laying knowledge on the altar of service, which leads to esoteric advancement. It is this desire, this will for impersonal service, which purifies the heart, clarifies the mind and impersonalizes the knots of the lower selfhood, so that they open and thereby become capable of receiving wisdom. It is this desire which is the impelling force, the driving engine, carrying the aspirant forward, ever higher and higher.
In Buddhist as well as in modern theosophical literature a great deal has been written about the 'glorious virtues' or paramitas, but unfortunately they have been too often looked upon as being merely a noble but relatively unattainable code of conduct, which indeed they are; but they are more than this. They are actually the rules of thought and action which the would-be chela must follow, in the beginning as best he can, but later in completeness, so that his entire life becomes governed and enlightened by them. It is only thus that the disciple can reach what the Lord Buddha called the 'other shore' (4) — the spiritual realms which have to be reached by crossing the stormy ocean of human existence, and doing so under one's own spiritual and intellectual and psychical power, with only such help as can be given him in view of his own past karma.
The idea of going to the other shore is commonly supposed to be typically Oriental, but this seems unjustified, as many Christian hymns speak of the mystical Jordan and of reaching the 'shore beyond,' a conception which appears to be more or less identic with that of Buddhism. 'This side' is the life of the world, the usual or common pursuits of men. The 'other shore' is simply the life spiritual, involving the expansion in relatively full power and function of the entire range of man's nature. In other words, to reach the 'other shore' means living at one with the divinity within, and hence partaking of the universal life in relatively full self-consciousness. The teaching of all the great religious and philosophical systems has been to urge upon their followers the fact that our real goal is to learn the lessons of manifested existence and to graduate from this experience into the cosmic life.
As the Dhammapada (verse 85) has it:
There are few people who reach the other shore;
The others run wild on this shore.
A short Buddhist writing called the Prajna-Paramita-Hridaya Sutra or "The Heart or Essence of the Wisdom of the Passing-Over," closes with a beautiful mantra which runs as follows in the original Sanskrit:
Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha!
O Wisdom! Gone, gone, gone to the other shore, landed on the other shore, Hail!
Wisdom in this context may be taken as referring to the cosmic buddhi, otherwise called Adi-buddhi or 'primeval wisdom,' and also in an individualized sense to the supreme Silent Watcher of our planetary chain, Adi-buddha. The one addressed is he who has arrived at the other shore, the triumphant pilgrim who has become self-consciously at one with the god within him and thus has successfully perceived through the maya or illusions of the phenomenal worlds. The highest ones who have attained this are jivanmuktas, 'freed monads'; those less high belong to the different grades in the several hierarchies of the Hierarchy of Compassion.
The discipline of the paramitas as H.P.B. gave them in The Voice of the Silence (pp. 47-8) is as follows:
DANA, the key of charity and love immortal.
SILA, the key of Harmony in word and act, the key that counterbalances the cause and the effect, and leaves no further room for Karmic action.
KSHANTI, patience sweet, that nought can ruffle.
VIRAGA, indifference to pleasure and to pain, illusion conquered, truth alone perceived.
VIRYA, the dauntless energy that fights its way to the supernal TRUTH, out of the mire of lies terrestrial.
DHYANA, whose golden gate once opened leads the Narjol [Naljor] toward the realm of Sat eternal and its ceaseless contemplation.
PRAJNA, the key to which makes of a man a god, creating him a Bodhisattva, son of the Dhyanis.
The manner in which these paramitas are to be practiced is well illustrated by the following extract from the Mahayana Sraddhotpada Sastra (5) which, however, mentions only six, although they are given elsewhere as seven and, when more fully enumerated, as ten:
How should one practise charity (Dana)?
If someone comes and asks for anything, disciples, as far as they are able, should grant the request ungrudgingly and in a way to benefit them. If disciples see anyone in danger, they should try every means they have to rescue him and impart to him a feeling of safety. If any one comes to disciples desiring instruction in the Dharma, they should as far as they are able and according to their best judgment, try to enlighten him. And when they are doing these acts of charity, they should not cherish any desire for recompense, or gratitude, or merit or advantage, nor any worldly reward. They should seek to concentrate the mind on those universal benefits and blessings that are for all alike and, by so doing, will realise within themselves highest perfect Wisdom.
How should one practise virtuous precepts (Sila)?
Lay disciples, having families, should abstain from killing, stealing, adultery, lying, duplicity, slander, frivolous talk, covetousness, malice, currying favor, and false doctrines. Unmarried disciples should, in order to avoid hindrances, retire from the turmoil of worldly life and, abiding in solitude, should practise those ways which lead to quietness and moderation and contentment. . . . They should endeavor by their conduct to avoid all disapproval and blame, and by their example incite others to forsake evil and practise the good.
How should one practise patient forbearance (Kshanti)?
As one meets with the ills of life he should not shun them nor feel aggrieved. Patiently bearing evils inflicted by others, he should cherish no resentment. He should neither be elated because of prosperity, praise, or agreeable circumstances; nor depressed because of poverty, insult, or hardship. Keeping his mind concentrated on the deep significance of the Dharma, he should under all circumstances maintain a quiet and equitable mind.
How should one practise courageous vigor (Virya)?
In the practice of good deeds one should never become indolent. He should look upon any mental or physical suffering as the natural following of unworthy deeds done in previous incarnations, and should firmly resolve that henceforth he would only do those things which are in keeping with a spiritual life. Cherishing compassion for all beings, he should never let the thought of indolence arise, but should ever be indefatigably zealous to benefit all beings. . . .
How should one practise meditation (Dhyana)?
Intellectual insight is gained by truthfully understanding that all things follow the law of causation, but in themselves are transitory and empty of any self-substance. There are two aspects of Dhyana: the first aspect is an effort to suppress idle thinking; the second, is a mental concentration in an effort to realise this emptiness (sunyata) of Mind-essence. At first a beginner will have to practise these separately but as he gains mind control the two will merge into one. . . .
He should contemplate the fact, that although all things are transitory and empty yet, nevertheless, on the physical plane they have a relative value to those who are cherishing false imagination; to these ignorant ones, suffering is very real — it always has been and it always will be — immeasurable and innumerable sufferings. . . .
Because of all this, there is awakened in the mind of every earnest disciple a deep compassion for the suffering of all beings that prompts him to dauntless, earnest zeal and the making of great vows. He resolves to give all he has and all he is to the emancipation of all beings. . . . After these vows, the sincere disciple should at all times and as far as his strength and mind permit, practise those deeds which are beneficial alike to others and to himself. Whether moving, standing, sitting or lying, he should assiduously concentrate his mind on what should be wisely done and wisely left undone. This is the active aspect of Dhyana.
How can one practise Intuitive Wisdom (Prajna)?
When one by the faithful practice of Dhyana attains to Samadhi, he has passed beyond discrimination and knowledge, he has realised the perfect oneness of Mind-essence. With this realisation comes an intuitive understanding of the nature of the universe. . . . he now realises the perfect Oneness of Essence, Potentiality, and Activity in Tathagatahood. . . .
Prajna-Paramita is highest, perfect Wisdom; its fruitage comes unseen, without effort, spontaneously; it merges all seeming differences whether they be evil or good into one perfect Whole. . . .
Therefore let all disciples who aspire after highest, perfect Wisdom, which is Prajna-Paramita, assiduously apply themselves to the discipline of the Noble Path for that alone will lead them to perfect realisation of Buddhahood.
In order to understand and spiritually to feel the true nature of prajna, it is necessary to abandon the 'this side' view, and in spiritual comprehension to go over to the 'other shore' (para), or other manner of looking at things. On 'this side' we are involved in a sphere of consciousness of brain-mind analyses and particulars, which becomes a world of attachments and lower-plane distinctions. When we achieve this inner 'reversal,' this shifting of our consciousness upwards to the mystic 'other shore' of being, we then enter more or less successfully into a world of transcendent realities, from which we can view things in their original and spiritual oneness, beyond the maya of the deceptive veils of multiplicity; penetrate into the essential nature of these realities and cognize them as they truly are.
This condition of inner clarity and of accurate spiritual and intellectual apperception is so different from the familiar operations of our 'this-side' consciousness in our everyday world of transitory appearances, that untrained minds associate it with the conception of emptiness, vacuity. Emptiness (sunyata, to use the Buddhist term), in its true metaphysical meaning, however, should not be confounded with 'nothingness,' implying an absolute negation of real being and thus annihilation. Nor is it to be understood through the ratiocinative faculties of the brain-mind, but rather by the direct or immediate perception belonging to the high spiritual-intellectual state called prajna, which is above the mayavi distinctions of being and non-being, of particular and universal, of the many and the one.
Indeed, this high state is the intuitive knowledge and penetrating insight of the spirit-mind in man, his buddhi-manas, which is immeasurably more powerful and penetrating than is mere intellection. Such intuitive knowledge and insight lie ever active in the loftiest and most universal recesses of our consciousness. It is through the gradual awakening of the lower man into self-conscious realization of this spiritual-intellectual consciousness — which in its active manifestations is identic with prajna — that we arise from the lower realms of our consciousness and escape from the bondage of ignorance and nescience (avidya), and thus become liberated from the various kinds of both inner and outer pain. This release is the attainment of supreme enlightenment and of emancipation (mukti). In brief, prajna may perhaps best be translated as intuition, signifying that instant illumination or full knowledge which verily is godlike.
In the Prajna-Paramita group of Buddhist scriptures, prajna is regarded as the directing principle of the other paramitas, pointing to them as being the method of reaching reality. It is compared to the perceiving and understanding eye that surveys with perfect clearness of vision the horizons of life and designates the path to be followed by the aspirant. Without prajna, the other paramitas would be devoid of one of their highest elements; it guides their progressive development, somewhat as the earth provides the fields of sustenance for the growth of vegetation.
All beings in the universe possess prajna, although it is not functioning self-consciously except when the evolving entities in the course of their evolutionary pilgrimage have become at one with it. The animals have prajna, including bees and ants, as instances, but any self-conscious awareness thereof is lacking, because such self-realization of union with prajna begins only with man — at least on this earth. In its first feeble workings prajna in the human being manifests as aspiration towards illumination, love and wisdom; blossoms in the bodhisattva, and is in full bloom in the Buddhas and Christs, which is the state of perfect enlightenment.
The high chela or initiate who has successfully reached the stage where he has become the paramitas, with his consciousness crystal clear and relatively boundless, his whole being attuned to the spiritual soul of humanity, having given up his self to the selfless glory of living for all that is, is technically called a bodhisattva — 'one whose essence (sattva) is of the very nature of wisdom (bodhi).' The motive which prompts the true disciple to realize within himself supreme enlightenment is never personal gain, however exalted and spiritualized, but the urge to benefit the whole world, to raise all beings from the chains of ignorance and pain, to arouse within himself a compassionate heart for all that lives, so that every sentient being may in time attain to perfect emancipation. (Cf. Fo-Mu Prajnaparamita, Fas. 14, Chapter "On Wise Men.")
In the Mahaprajnaparamita the question is asked of Sariputra whether the bodhisattva should pay respect only to other bodhisattvas, and not "to all beings generally." To which the sage answers that he should in fact "revere them with the same feeling of self-abnegation as he does the Tathagatas." He then goes on to say:
The Bodhisattva should thus awaken a great compassionate feeling towards all beings and keep his mind completely free from arrogance and self-conceit, and let him feel in this wise: I will practise all the skillful means in order to make all sentient beings realize that which is the foremost in themselves, i.e., their Buddha-nature (buddhata). By realizing this they all become Buddhas, . . . — Hsuan-chuang, Fas. 387, Chapter xii, "On Morality."
Prajna in the individual entity, such as a human being, holds pretty much the same position that Adi-buddhi or mahabuddhi does in the universe. One of the axioms of the esoteric wisdom is that our universe is an entity; hence we can figurate its individual universal mind or consciousness as a vast ocean of self-conscious buddhi-manasic energy points. From this standpoint, prajna may be described as the spiritual individual consciousness of every member of the hosts of dhyani-chohans or cosmic spirits. Thus when one has attained prajna-awareness, he is in self-conscious communion with the buddhi-manasic mind of the Wondrous Being of our hierarchy.
From the foregoing it should be clear that there are numerous differences in grandeur of accomplishment as among the members of a hierarchy, for there are differences in grades of attainment between the chela beginning the path and a mahatma, followed by still higher beings having an even larger realization of prajna on the ladder of achievement that extends steadily upwards until the Wondrous Being is reached. The prajna is the same in all; the differences among individuals lie in their respective manifestation of it.
There are also differences of another kind, such as that between one who has attained a relative realization of prajna and who enters nirvana, and another of similar attainment but who renounces nirvana. Here we have an important distinction based on cosmic ethics: the one who has won nirvana yet renounces it in order to turn back and help the world stands far higher ethically than does the one who enters nirvana for his own bliss. Each has reached a sufficiency of at-onement with prajna to have gained the nirvanic state, but the one who renounces it has achieved a self-conscious realization of prajna on a higher buddhic plane than the one who won nirvana and enters into it.
The key to this mystery lies in the fact that every one of the seven principles in the human constitution is septenary, and hence buddhi, which is the seat of prajna, is sevenfold. We thus see that the one entering nirvana has reached what we may define as kama-buddhi, but has gone no higher in the quality of his realization of prajna; whereas the other one who renounced nirvana has attained that condition of buddhic prajna which we may describe as either buddhi-buddhi or manas-buddhi. The buddhas and mahabuddhas are those who hold what we may call the atmic state of buddhi — and thus feel themselves absolutely and unqualifiedly self-identified with the universe.
The seven paramitas as given contain the gist of the code of conduct imbodied in the fuller enumeration of ten paramitas, or the complete ethical decalog of occultism. The three additional paramitas are: adhishthana, upeksha, and prabodha or sambuddhi. Of these adhishthana, meaning 'inflexible courage,' not merely awaits danger or difficulty, but when enlightened by intuition or prajna 'goes forwards' and 'stands up' to it. Its natural place follows virya or 'fortitude.' The next, upeksha or 'discrimination,' searches for and finds the right method of applying the paramitas, and appropriately comes after dhyana. Two terms are given for the tenth paramita: prabodha, meaning 'awakenment of inner consciousness,' bringing knowledge and foreknowledge, thus opening up glorious visions on the pathway; and sambuddhi, 'complete or perfect illumination or vision' or self-consciousness of one's identity with the spiritual, the culmination or crown of all. Otherwise phrased, it is 'union with buddhi.'
Other 'virtues' are occasionally included by other schools of esoteric or quasi-occult training in the Orient. As examples, satya or truth, and maitra or universal friendliness or benevolence; but when analyzed these are seen to be already imbodied in the ten paramitas. Also it may be mentioned here that in many parts of the world there are various systems of training, most of them futile, for on careful examination they will be found to be more or less modifications of hatha-yoga, and, as pointed out, these are extremely dangerous even at the best, and at the worst will produce insanity or loss of the soul.
Strength is born from exercise, and it is the exercising of our strength in the tests and experiences of daily life that in time leads to the treading of the path. Unless the student follow the inner discipline, which is the continuous and never-failing practice of the spirit of these ten glorious virtues or paramitas as his inflexible rule of thought and of action from day to day, he will never succeed in his endeavors. It is just this discipline, this exercising of his will power and of his intelligence and of the love which should fill his heart, which eventually bring the neophyte to the new or 'second' birth, which produce the dvija, the 'twice-born,' the initiate, finally to become the master of life and of death.
The reader may be wondering just what connection the paramitas have with the much more familiar teachings of Buddhism, known respectively as the Four Noble Truths and their logical corollary the Eightfold Path. The connection is both historical and intimate, for both contain the same root-ideas, only in the more popular teaching so phrased as to furnish a code of conduct which the average worldly man is capable of following, if he desire to avoid the harassing mistakes attendant upon human life, and to attain the peace and intellectual detachment which accompany a life well and nobly lived.
Briefly, the Four High Truths are: first, that the cause of the suffering and heartache in our lives arises from attachment or 'thirst' — trishna; second, that this cause can be made to cease; third, that the cessation of the causes productive of human sorrow is brought about by living the life which will free the soul from its attachment to existence; and the fourth truth, leading to the extinction of the causes of suffering, is verily the Exalted Eightfold Path, to wit: "right belief, right resolve, right speech, right behavior, right occupation, right effort, right contemplation, right concentration."
Now this course of endeavor was called by the Buddha the Middle Way, because it involved no useless or fanatical asceticism on the one hand, and no laxity of principle and of thought and consequent behavior on the other hand. It is a code, as said, that is within the reach of every man or woman, calling for no special conditions or circumstances, but able to be practiced by anyone who yearns to better his life, and to do his part in helping to bring about the surcease of the world-misery surrounding us, and of which sensitive human hearts everywhere are conscious.
It must not be supposed, however, that the chela neglects the ethical injunctions of the Eightfold Path, for this would be a misapprehension of their import. In fact, he not only practices them, but does so with far greater concentration of mind and heart than the average man, because at the same time he is striving with all his soul to raise himself to the sublime altitude of the paramitas by which he should live.
It is perhaps necessary to weigh somewhat strongly upon this point, because there is a totally erroneous idea current among some half-baked mystics that it is a part of the chela's life to ignore normal human relations, to take small account of them, and to imagine that he is freed from his duties, even of a worldly kind, towards his fellow men. This last supposition runs directly counter to all the teaching of occultism.
The principle behind the Four High Truths and their eight corollaries is this: if the root of attachment — desire — can be cut, the soul thereupon becomes freed, and in thus liberating itself from the chains of desire which bring about attachment, the cause of sorrow is made to cease; and the way of cutting the root of attachment is by so living that gradually the thirst of the soul for the things of matter dies. When this happens, the individual is 'free' — he has become a relatively perfected jivanmukta, a master of life. Once he has reached this stage of utter detachment, he is a bodhisattva, and thereafter devotes himself completely to all beings and things, his heart filled with infinite compassion and his mind illuminated with the light of eternity. Thus it is that as a bodhisattva he appears again and again on earth, either as a buddha or as a bodhisattva, or indeed remains in the invisible worlds as a nirmanakaya.
The common idea regarding the bodhisattva, that he has only one more incarnation to undergo before he becomes a buddha, is correct as far as it goes, but as thus expressed is inadequate. As a matter of fact, the ideal both of esoteric theosophy and esoteric Buddhism is the bodhisattva, even more, perhaps, than the buddha, for the reason that the bodhisattva is one whose whole being and objective, whose whole work, is the doing of good unto all beings, and the bringing of them safely to the 'other shore'; whereas the buddha, while the same thing in an extended degree, nevertheless, by the very fact of his buddhahood in the present stage of spiritual unfoldment of the human race, is on the threshold of nirvana, and usually enters therein. It is, of course, quite possible for a buddha to refuse the nirvana and to remain on earth as a bodhisattva or a nirmanakaya; and in this last case, as a Buddha of Compassion he is at once a buddha by right and a bodhisattva by choice.
Too much stress cannot be laid upon the great need of understanding the inner significance of the bodhisattva doctrine, imbodying as it does the spirit of occult teaching running throughout the cycle of initiatory training as well as in the nobler schools of the Mahayana. It is at once seen why in northern Buddhism the bodhisattva is so greatly honored and occupies so lofty a position in the reverence of human hearts. For the Buddhas of Compassion are such because they themselves imbody this ideal when they renounce the spiritually selfish bliss of nirvanic buddhahood in order to remain in the world to work for it. Even the humblest and least educated can aspire towards this ideal.
In future aeons one must choose whether he will become one of the Buddhas of Compassion or one of the Pratyeka-Buddhas. When the choice comes, it will come as the karmic resultant of lives previously lived, for it results from the bent of one's character, the spiritual faculties aroused, the will made to be alert, responsive to command: all these will govern and in fact make the choice when the time for choosing arrives. Therefore the training starts now: becoming great in small things, one learns to become great in great things.
As a final thought, one must not be heavy in living the life which the High Eightfold Path, or indeed the paramitas, enjoin. He should joy in so doing. For I sincerely believe that everyone who practices these noble rules to some extent at least will be enormously bettered by them. Nor can we be oblivious of how greatly such consistent practice will increase the will power, strengthen the mind, enlarge the sympathies of the heart, and bring about a glorious illumination of soul, all of which in their final stages produce the mahatma — the true bodhisattva.
The core of our being is pure consciousness, and in proportion as we ally ourselves with our inner god, with that pure monadic consciousness, shall knowledge come to us naturally. Our understanding will expand, and finally become cosmic, and we shall then realize that there is another cosmos still grander of which our cosmos is but an atom. This is the path of evolution, of growth, inner and outer; it is the pathway of initiation, the pathway to almighty love and compassion.
The word initiation comes from a Latin root meaning to begin, and esoterically it connotes a new becoming, an entering upon a course of life and study which eventually will bring out all of the spiritual and intellectual grandeur that the individual has within him. It is in fact a hastening of the evolutionary process: not in the sense of omitting any stage, but in condensing within a short period what in the natural course would take aeons of striving to attain.
Esoteric training, therefore, is often painful, for it means accelerated growth, doing rapidly and vigorously what in nature's ordinary procedures would take many, many tens of thousands of years, millions perhaps. It is painful at times because, instead of slowly growing to see the beauty and harmony of life everywhere, one must learn to master oneself with an iron will; to forget oneself utterly, to serve all: to give up one's self for the universal self, to die daily so that one can live the cosmic life.
I suppose that every human being takes it for granted that from the time he first issued forth from the bosom of the Infinite as an unself-conscious god-spark until he reattains divinity as a self-conscious god, he will fail, and fail many times, but that ultimately he will achieve — if he rises and presses forwards. The failure is not so much. It is the going backwards, the stopping and allowing the evolutionary current to sweep by, leaving one in the rear: this is morally wrong. It is our duty to go forwards, to become impersonal, self-forgetful. Obviously, the expression 'going backwards' does not imply an actual retrograde motion of a body. The idea is adapted from human experience. We may set out with high courage and leaping ambition to do something, and then discouragement overtakes us and we turn back, leaving the deed undone. Strictly speaking, going backwards is impossible, for nature closes the door behind us at every instant; nor does it mean undoing what evolution has brought to pass. Rather it denotes plunging farther into matter instead of rising more fully into spirit; in other words, changing the direction of our evolutionary journey.
Never was there a mahatma who had not failed and failed many, many times. Failure is unfortunate, but it can be remedied; and by the will of the strong turned into victory. To quote the words of W. Q. Judge:
We may "fail" in specific acts or endeavor, but so long as we continue to persevere such are not "failures" but lessons necessary in themselves. Through resistance and effort we acquire fresh strength; we gather to ourselves — and by occult laws — all the strength we have gained by overcoming. Entire "success" is not for us now, but continuous, persistent effort is, and that is success and not the mere carrying out of all our plans or attempts. Moreover no matter how high we go in Nature, there are always new rungs of the ladder to mount — that ladder whose rungs are all mounted in labor and in pain, but also in the great joy of conscious strength and will. Even the Adept sees fresh trials before him. Remember also when we say "I have failed" it shows that we have had and still have aspiration. And while this is so, while we have before us loftier heights of perfection to scale, Nature will never desert us. We are mounting, and aspiring, and the sense of failure is the surest proof of this. But Nature has no use for anyone who has reached the limits of, or outlived, his aspirations. So that every "failure is a success." At the outset the greater your aspirations the greater the difficulties you will encounter. Forget not then that to continue to try even when one constantly fails is the only way to come to real success. — Answers to Correspondence, September 1892
The aim of initiation is to ally the human being with the gods, which is begun by making the neophyte at one with his own inner god. It means not only an alliance with the divinities, but also that the initiant, the learner, if he succeed, will pass behind veil after veil: first of the material universe, and then of the other universes within the physical-material one, each new passing behind a veil being the entering into a grander mystery. Briefly, it is the self-conscious becoming-at-one with the spiritual-divine universe; enlarging the consciousness, so that from being merely human it takes unto itself cosmic reaches. The man in his thought and consciousness thus is at home in every part of universal Being — as much at home on Sirius or the Polar Star as he is on Canopus or on earth, and even more so as regards the invisible worlds.
Initiation is a quickening of the process of evolution, an enlivening of the inner man as contrasted with the outer physical person. In its higher stages, it brings with it powers and an unfolding of the consciousness which are verily godlike; but also does it imply the taking over unto oneself of godlike responsibilities. No one becomes an esotericist merely by signing a slip of paper; he cannot become such unless some gleam of buddhic light shines in his heart and illumines his mind. A natural esotericist is one who is born with at least a glimmer of the Christ-light shining within. Such a one sooner or later, as surely as the working of karma pursues its invariable course, is attracted to the path, for it is the working out of his destiny, trained and shaped in the past, into his character as it now is, and in its fruition blossoming forth into an instinctual recognition of truth. (6)
The least and virtually negligible part of initiation is the ritual. No initiation can be conferred upon another. All growth, all spiritual illumination, takes place within oneself. There is no other way. Symbolic rites and outer paraphernalia are but aids to the learner, aids to the developing of the power of the inner vision, the inner eye. Therefore any initiatory trial, no matter where had or what the arrangements may be, is in essence an individual inner opening. Were it not so, there could be no initiation except as a hollow ritual, much as are the sacraments of the churches today for the most part; even so, they are reflections, however faint, of once living experiences of chelas undergoing initiation.
The ancient Mysteries of Greece, for example, those conducted by the State at Eleusis and Samothrace, or at Delphi, or again those which took place at the Oracle of Trophonius, were largely ceremonial. Yet in all of them, even in the degenerate days, there was also a certain amount of actual spiritual experience. I might add that the hints found in literature of the ordeals to be faced and overcome should not be construed too literally; they are not imaginary exactly, but are symbolic representations of what the initiant has to meet in himself. For thoughts are mental entities and therefore have form and power of their own, and the individual must win over his lower nature, or fail.
There are actually ten degrees in the initiatory cycle, but only the seven that pertain to the seven manifested planes of the solar system need concern us — the three highest being utterly beyond present human understanding; and they will remain so until our consciousness will have become virtually universal, ultrahuman. These seven degrees are the seven great portals through which the pilgrim must pass before he attains quasidivinity. Between each of these portals there are seven smaller doors through which one must pass, each being a step in training, in schooling, so that all in all there are forty-nine stages, just as there are forty-nine planes in our solar system: seven great planes and seven subplanes or minor spheres or kingdoms in each of the primal seven.
The first three grades or degrees are concerned with study, with unceasing aspiration to grow spiritually and intellectually, to evolve and become greater; and also with living the life. These are symbolic, i.e. dramatic in form so far as the rites go. There is likewise teaching (which is the main part of these rites) about recondite secrets of nature, teaching which is rarely given in a reasoned and consecutive form because that is the brain-mind way, but suggested by a hint here, an allusion there. The method is not to fill the mind of the learner full of other men's thoughts, but to arouse the spiritual fire in himself which brings about an awakening of the understanding, so that in very truth the neophyte becomes his own initiator.
What one receives from outside in the way of ideas, of thoughts, are merely the outward stimuli, arousing the inner vibration preparing for the reception of the light within. Transference of ideas is but a method of speaking. Impressions are made, which set up the corresponding vibratory chord in the recipient's psychological apparatus, and instantly the corresponding knowledge flashes from the recipient's own mind above. Devotion to truth, to the point of utterly forgetting oneself, opens the channel of reception. Light and knowledge then enter the mind and heart — from oneself, from one's inner god, which thus is awakened or, more correctly, begins to function, temporarily though it be; and it is in this wise that the man initiates himself. The whole process is based on nature's laws, on the natural growth of understanding, of interior vision.
With the fourth initiation begins a new series of inner unfoldings — that is to say, not only are the study, the aspiration, and the living of the life, continued in the future stages, but with this degree something new occurs. From that moment the initiant starts to lose his personal humanity and to merge into divinity, i.e. there ensues the beginning of the loss of the merely human and the commencing of the entering into the divine state. He is taught how to leave his physical body, how to leave his physical mind, and to advance into the great spaces not alone of the physical universe, but more especially of the invisible realms as well. He then learns to become, to be, to enter into the intimate consciousness of the entities and spheres he contacts.
The reason for this is that in order fully to know anything, one must be it; temporarily, at least, one must become it, if he would understand precisely what it is in all its reaches. His consciousness must merge with the consciousness of the entity or thing which he is at that instant learning to know the meaning of. Hence the quasi-mystical stories of the 'descent' of the initiant into 'hell' in order to learn what the life of the hellions is, and what their sufferings are; and also partly in order to bring out the compassion of the one experiencing what these entities go through as the karmic result of their own misdeeds. And equally, in the other direction, the initiant must learn how to become at one with the gods and to confer with them. To understand their nature and their life, he must for the time being himself become a god; in other words, enter into his own highest being.
Thus beginning with this fourth initiation the neophyte slips into new realms of consciousness; the spiritual fires of the inner constitution are most potent both in character and in functioning; the spiritual electricity, so to speak, flows with far more powerful current. One cannot really put these mystical things into everyday words. In addition to the teachings and the symbolic or dramatic ritual, the neophyte — and he is always such, no matter how high the degree may be — learns how to control nature's forces and become able to accomplish such wonders as consciously leaving the body, leaving our planet in order to pass to other centers of the solar system.
The fifth degree is along the same pathways of experience, when the man becomes a master of wisdom and compassion. In this degree there comes the final choice: whether, like the great Buddhas of Compassion, one will return to help the world, to live for it and not for self; or whether, like the Pratyeka-Buddhas, one will go forwards on the pathway of self — merely self-development.
The sixth initiation runs to still loftier realms of consciousness and experience; and then comes the last and supreme initiation, the seventh, which comprises the meeting face to face with one's divine self, and the becoming-at-one with it. When this occurs, he needs no other teacher. It also includes individual communication with the supreme Mahachohan who is practically identical with what has been called the Silent Watcher of the human race.
Each degree stands on its own basis of rule and training. Nevertheless, the one rule runs through all, to wit, that the supreme guide for the neophyte is the god within himself, which is his final spiritual and intellectual tribunal, and in second order only comes his teacher. To such the disciple gives glad allegiance — but in no case blind obedience — for he knows by this time that his own inner god and the inner god of the teacher are both sparks of Alaya's self.
I might add that the higher the degree, the more informal and less ritualistic become the relations between teacher and pupil, and the more is the pupil expected to strive to live in and to be at one with his inner divine monitor. Further, in the more advanced stages no record of any kind is made. It is solely the memory of the auditors which is trained to receive and to retain what has been impressed upon it, a training which a dependence upon written notes could never bring about. Neither in writing, in paint, in cipher nor in engraving, are the teachings committed to visible record; they are carried in the mind and in the heart alone.
The whole endeavor is to arouse the will power, the individuality, and the native faculties of the inner god. The transmission of intelligence, therefore, passes at low breath and with mouth to ear, to use the old saying. In the highest degrees not even this is permitted, for the neophyte, the recipient of esoteric knowledge and wisdom, has become so trained that he can receive by thought-transference, as it were, and need not even be in the presence of his teacher. More and more the teacher communicates through the soundless sound, the voice of the silence, the voice in which the teachings 'uttered' opens the spiritual vistas within the disciple.
Every step forwards is a going into a greater light, in comparison with which the light just left is shadow. No matter how high one stands on the ladder of evolution, even as high as the gods, there is always one other just ahead, one who knows more than he; and ahead of him there is a constantly ascending range of entities of progressively vaster cosmic consciousness. The hierarchical stream is nature's basic framework; hence, none of us is without a teacher, for there is the infinite universe above us — hierarchies of life and of evolutionary experience far superior to ours.
Consequently, when the monadic essence of a man, after leaving our own hierarchy, advances into the sublimer realms of cosmic Being, he does so as an embryo-entity, therein beginning his next upward climb on the first round of that new ladder of life, when perforce he will need someone to guide his steps. And that need for guides and teachers will remain until, in the course of the cycling ages, he will have climbed higher and higher to the topmost rung of that ladder of life, when again he shall become at one with that still sublimer mystery of the inmost of the inmost of his being. And to this sublimer mystery what name can we give? Human language fails, and only the spiritual imagination can soar into the spheres of the divine. Thus the evolving entity passes continually from one to another range of life, from one to another hierarchy of ineffable experience — and thus forwards forever. Is it not self-evident that one is always a learner in the school of life, for there are veils upon veils covering the face of eternal Reality?
When once the spiritual understanding has come, forgetfulness can never thereafter ensue. It is precisely in the inability to wipe out from the memory the glory seen and almost touched that lies the wretchedness of failure undergone by the unsuccessful aspirant. He who has never experienced heaven, yearns toward it, and with hope of success; whereas he who has skirted its boundaries and had a glimpse of the supernal through its portals, and then fails to pass within, will remember enough to fill his soul with agony and even despair at the remembrance of the vision seen and lost.
When it comes to the severe tests, terrific as they are in the more advanced degrees, the mentality must be such that it will repel outside influences of the most persuasive character. Such influences arise in impressionability, at once a great virtue, but in many respects a fatal weakness; and another psychological factor to be carefully watched is the too strong and too quick logical faculty of the brain-mind. The mentality must be rigidly subordinated to the nobler attributes and not usurp the place of mastery; if it is made subservient, then it is of genuine value. The higher mind rooted in the buddhi principle has an infallible logic as well as an infallible intuition of its own, of which the brain-mind procedures are pale and usually distorted reflections, and because of this are often most dangerous enemies.
One cannot trifle with occultism with impunity. The entire nature is aroused, and the battle with the lower self at times may take on the character of desperation, for the neophyte instinctively feels that he must conquer or fail. But if he perform faithfully the first duty that comes to hand, no matter how humble and simple, that is his path. In conquering our own weaknesses, we help not only our own nature, but all mankind; more, we help every sentient, living thing, for we are at one with the very forces which are the circulations of the universe.
To achieve the bond of union with one's essential Self is the supreme aim of initiation. (7) It is the pathway to the gods, which means making of each one of us an individual divinity. The following of this pathway is a most serious, a most sacred undertaking. It will call forth every particle of strength, of will power, that one's nature contains, if one wishes to go forward to the sublime ultimate. How to achieve this is by totally ignoring the knot of personality, thus passing into the smooth, orbital movement of consciousness existing around the central core of one's being, and then finally to blend and become at one with the sublime wonder, the divinity within.
Behind every veil there is another, but through them all shines the light of truth, the light that liveth forever within every one of us, for it is our inmost self. Every human being in the core of the core of his essence is a sun, destined to become one of the starry hosts in the spaces of Space, so that even from the very first instant when the divine-spiritual part of us begins its peregrinations throughout universal Being, it is already a sun in embryo, a child of some other sun that then existed in space. Initiation brings forth this inner, latent, stellar energy in the heart of the neophyte.
Aham asmi Parabrahman, I am the boundless All — beyond both space and time. This idea is the very keystone of the temple of ancient truth. It is mother nature in her divine, spiritual, psychological, ethereal, and physical reaches that is our universal home — a home having no specific location because it is everywhere.
Here, then, is the pathway by which any son of man may ascend, if he have the inflexible will to do so and the yearning for a greater light. He may rise along the different stages of the hierarchy, taking each step upwards through an initiation until his being finally becomes at one with the Silent Watcher of our globe. Then, at a period still more distant, his monad will become at one with the Silent Watcher of our planetary chain and, at a period still more remote in cosmic time, he will become identified as an individual monadic life-center with the hierarch of our solar universe.
The inmost of us is the inmost of the universe: every essence, every energy, every power, every faculty, that is in the boundless All is in each one of us, active or latent. All the great sages have taught the same verity: "Man, know thyself," which means going inwards in thought and feeling, in ever-greater measure allying ourselves self-consciously with the divinity at the core of our being — the divinity which also is the very heart of the universe. There, indeed, is our home: boundless, frontierless Space.
Main Table of Contents
1. It is often asked what guarantee can be proffered by an aspirant against the teachings being wrongfully and perhaps indiscriminately given out by him. There is no absolute guarantee. This is one reason the lines are always so tightly drawn, and why the knock given must be the right knock.
One of the protections against betrayal of the teachings of the higher degrees is the fact that the world would not understand them, and would think the man thus betraying the most sacred truth on earth is a lunatic. People always consider the things which they do not understand as foolishness — how many geniuses in the beginning of their careers have not been thought at least partly mad!
Another protection is that every individual belonging to one of the higher degrees knows perfectly well that a single betrayal means the cessation for him of all teaching for the future, and that every new degree explains the teachings given in the previous one. Consequently a betrayal in the third degree, for example, would mean betraying a 'veil' which itself has to be explained or gone behind in the fourth degree, and so forth through all further degrees. (return to text)
2. Do we realize that every human being is the thought of his own inner god — an imperfect reflection of that inner splendor, nevertheless a child of the thoughts of the divinity within — even as the thoughts of evolving human beings are living entities, embryo-souls developing and moving forward on the pathway of evolutionary growth? (return to text)
3. This great fact of occultism has therefore a high as well as a low aspect; and this faculty of the mind it is which is used by the adept of either the white or the black class in order to produce, when required, magical effects. Indeed, it is not too much to say that the powers of avesa, the entering into and using the body of another, as well as the Hpho-wa, or the power of projecting the will and intelligence to other parts, sometimes to incredible distances, depend largely upon this attribute or characteristic of the fluid mind. (return to text)
4. Paramita and paragata (or its equivalent paragamin) are Sanskrit compounds denoting 'one who has reached the other shore'; paramita (the feminine form) is used for the transcendental virtues or attributes which one must cultivate in order to reach that shore. There is a shade of difference in meaning to be noted here: paramita carries the idea of having 'crossed over' and therefore 'arrived,' while paragata (or paragamin) implies 'departure' from this end and thus 'gone' in order safely to reach the other shore.
Another word of frequent use in Buddhist writings which also imbodies both subtle distinctions of the above term is Tathagata, a title given to Gautama Buddha. This is a Sanskrit compound that can be divided in two fashions: tatha-gata, 'thus gone,' that is, departed for and reached the other shore; and tatha-agata, 'thus arrived or come,' the significance of the term Tathagata being one who has both 'departed' for and 'arrived' at the other shore, as his predecessor-Buddhas have done. (return to text)
5. Often translated as "The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana," but this very inadequately conveys the significance of the original Sanskrit. Sraddha means certainty or confidence based on an unfoldment of inner experiences, the proof of which lies both within and without the self, and implying here a continued process of inner unfoldment, a connotation which is utterly lacking in the word 'faith.' As to utpada, this carries the same idea of continuance and progressive unfoldment, an awakening or rising towards an awareness or realization of wisdom, culminating in the mystic renunciation of the fruits of emancipation and the attainment of buddhahood. This scripture belongs to the Prajna-Paramita family of writings, and is usually credited to Asvaghosha, a notable Buddhist scholar who lived during the latter half of the first century A.D., and whose outstanding work is the Mahalamkara or "Book of Great Glory." (return to text)
6. There are occasional cases of individuals who have been chelas in past lives, but who have stumbled on the path and broken the link in some very unfortunate way for themselves with their teacher. Yet because of past excellencies, when the next or possibly a second incarnation occurs, they come into life endowed with unusual powers or faculties; they enter with a reservoir of garnered inner spiritual, intellectual and psychical experiences which give them light, and help them to keep touch with the god within.
H.P.B. has called these the nurslings of the nirmanakayas, and points to Jacob Boehme as an instance. There was an individual who through some willfulness of a serious character had broken the link, yet had advanced sufficiently far so that he did not lose the spiritual attainments he had made. Although no longer a direct chela, he was nevertheless watched over, aided, and his future progress gently stimulated, so that in the next life (or even at the end of the life he last lived as Jacob Boehme), he may again make or have made the conscious link. In other words, Boehme had spiritual experiences; he initiated himself from the fountain of light within himself, gained in former days when he was an accepted chela. In reality, as said, all initiation is self-initiation, self-awakening. A teacher merely guides, helps, comforts, stimulates and supports. Cf. The Secret Doctrine, I, 494. (return to text)
7. For some reason there has been a singular misapprehension among a few to the effect that the highest initiations are denied to women. This is not the case. There is nothing in the world that prevents a woman from reaching the noblest pinnacle of attainment, from passing successfully the most severe tests of initiation. However, those who take the highest initiations usually do so in a man's body, simply because it is easier, the psychological and physiological apparatuses being better prepared for passing those initiations. But it is downright foolish to suppose that initiation in any age past or present has been or is the prerogative or especial privilege of men.
One has but to recall the long and uninterrupted line of prophetesses, even in the anthropomorphic and materialistic civilizations of historic Greece and Rome, to realize that women had their place in the temple schools and achieved high and outstanding honors in the esoteric training. The Oracle at Delphi is perhaps the most widely known; other examples are the Celtic Druids and the Germanic peoples who were famous in antiquity for their women leaders, their seeresses and prophetesses. However much women initiates may have kept behind the veil of seclusion, their inner capacity and power to achieve were universally recognized. (return to text)