The Path – April 1887



The ideas these words represent lie at opposite poles of the circle. The former should stand for the philosophic calm, the minor peace, the comparative equability of Soul which the disciple has attained, while the latter implies the stagnation of Will, the death of aspiration and of all true progress.

When the first impetuous burst of feeling is over, and time with her slowly disenchanting hand has begun to blur the outlines of the first vivid creation of thought, the knowledge gained seems to be the only possession left, — the knowledge that there is a Path to thread and that no thought is worth thinking, and no word worth uttering that has not for its aim the one supreme object — the finding and the treading of this path that leads to deliverance from conditioned existence. But it is one thing to be possessed of this merely intellectual knowledge, and another to have the Will, the Courage, and the Strength to find and to tread the path.

After much uncertain questioning and many anxious thoughts about the path, remembering always that "it is not found by devotion alone, by religious contemplation alone, by ardent progress, by self sacrificing labour, by studious observations of life, that none alone can take the disciple more than one step onwards, and that all steps are necessary to make up the ladder," a clue may yet be obtained from the lines in the Bhagavat-Gita, so beautifully rendered by Mr. Edwin Arnold

                                            Some few there be
By meditation find the Soul in self
Self-schooled, and some by long philosophy
And holy life reach thither; Some by works:
Some never so attaining hear of light
From other lips and seize and cleave to it
Worshipping; yea! and those — to teaching true
Overpass Death!

Aye! "The aids to noble life are all within," — the path indeed lies there, in other words there are as many pathways to perfection as there are individual Souls.

There is no doubt a saturation point for Energy as there is for Truth in the individual; — it may come in the form of lethargic weariness, or it may come in the form of satisfaction. To the old man, weary of life, the rest of death is sweet, but even though he may seem to have earned repose, such feeling still appertains to the quality of "Tamas," and should be resisted at any cost. The feeling of satisfaction is far more insidious, — indeed it is the limit to any further possible advance placed by the man’s own deepest sub-conscious self. Around us are to be seen men in all stages of moral growth who have attained to this satisfaction. Though the mere gratification of the senses and the social amenities of civilized countries may become to the majority of the votaries of pleasure a dull meaningless treadmill, we yet see some to whom such life affords true satisfaction. They have reached their goal. And if we turn to the Religious world, who does not know one or two of the many happy Souls who have attained the complete rest of satisfaction? Burning questions do not exist for them — they deem that they have solved the insolvable — They too have reached their goal. Nor does this sphere of objective life in which we dwell alone exemplify the working of this law of nature. The realm of the Deva-lokas, could we penetrate to those serene heights of being, would show us Souls who had attained to their Saintly rest, who had reached their supreme satisfaction — rest and satisfaction however that must along with all conditioned existence come to an end some time. But to the god in the Deva-loka, as to the worldly epicure, the satisfaction he has reached is the evidence of the limit of advance, — the advance made in the different cases being merely one of degree. Each has shown an incapacity for further endurance, whether of suffering or of joy, though in most cases it must be suffering, and their progress has therefore come to an end. But man has within him the potentiality of Godhead, not the Deva (god) in his realms of bliss, but the absolute unity with the divine Spirit of Life of which nature is a manifestation, — the Being where all individuality is merged in one, — the one ever-permanent state of Nirvana — the Peace of God that passeth all understanding.

When after long years of incessant goading the goad within ceases to act, a minor peace is attained. It is a matter of wonder to the disciple, who cannot understand why it should be so, — he has had no hand in the slackening of the torture cords, — he only knows that the strain is withdrawn and that in the quietude his thought can range undisturbed. But with the removal of the pain, he seems to feel as if his search were less intense, and then follows the inexplicable paradox of the actual invocation of pain by one part of his nature, while the other part of him regards with fear and dismay any recurrence of it. Nevertheless this tranquility of contents continues. It goes without saying that this state includes the perfect content in all outward conditions. It may not have reached the transcendent light, where fear of any earthly catastrophe as well as desire for any earthly gain are alike non-existent. The disciple still remains a creature of habit, and imagination can easily conjure up situations where the equanimity would be entirely overthrown. But at least fresh desire for earthly objects has, as a rule, ceased to operate. All earthly life, indeed, stands before his mind, in its true colour, as possessing value only so far as giving opportunity of recognizing its utter valuelessness, and of stretching forward to those things which have permanence and value, and the one all-absorbing desire that remains is that, when the burden of earthly existence has again to be taken up, the progress gained in the last life may not be lost; that, in the words of Plato, we may so pass through the waters of Lethe as not to defile our souls with absolute oblivion.

In one of the early numbers of the Theosophist the aspirants for chelaship are warned against too soon undertaking a life for which they are not yet fitted, and all are advised to master first their most apparent weaknesses — their most besetting sins. The mastering of such, and the continuing to be the master until relapse is constitutionally impossible, (though this may imply a period which one life may not cover), would indeed seem to be for most the necessary entrance to the Path. While by this exercise of self restraint the aspirant is acquiring the necessary Will, Strength, and Courage for the treading of the Path when found, "new hands and new feet are being born within him" with which to scale the heights that lie beyond. The search for perfection may well find its simile in the scaling of some seemingly inaccessible peak. After journeying for long years through the dim forest on the plain, and falling into many a slough of despond, with torn garments and with bleeding feet the climber has at last emerged. The forest lies below him and he sees the dim plain stretching to the horizon, but it is only the first plateau of the mountain he has scaled, and straight in front of him rises a seemingly perpendicular face of rock. Yet up this face of rock he has to go, for there can be no turning back when it is realized that what he has undertaken is the one thing worth doing.

But while insisting on the necessity of the gradual strengthening of the character by victory over all the faults of which the disciple is conscious, the common mistake of the religious must not here be made, and the conquering of any one sin or of all sins be mistaken for the goal, instead of a mere preparation for the treading of the path. Indeed — given a sufficiently ardent desire for the ultimate goal — all sins and weaknesses that stand between the disciple and the object of his desire will by that very fire of desire be annihilated in a flash of thought. One of the most important means of keeping alive and intensifying this desire is by keeping the goal constantly in view. And as it must have been the failure of all earthly things to satisfy the heaven-born longings of the aspirant that first set his face towards the path, so the bringing back before the mind's eye the past experience of futile longings and disillusions will best serve as impetus for the next transport of Heavenward flight.

What a man sets his whole heart on, that he will undoubtedly attain sooner or later. The man whose desires do not rise above the gratification of his physical senses gets what he desires, and that, as a rule, quickly. He whose life is concentrated in the emotional nature will in time achieve his "summum bonum" in the union of love he has dreamt of with another soul. He to whom the acquirement of knowledge is the one thing needful must attain what he desires, and that in exact ratio with his energetic search for it, while the philanthropist whose aim is to do good to others — whether on the material or the moral plane, and who feels impelled to the so-called sacrifice of self in some definite course of action, — though this lies far apart from the "killing out of all sense of separateness" which constitutes the true "self-sacrifice" — will doubtless also achieve his reward, though in some less obvious way. But

"The heart that loves, the brain that contemplates,
"The life that wears, the spirit that creates
"One object and one form and builds thereby
"A sepulchre for its eternity."

We who recognize the finger of Maya in all these things, and whose search is for that intuitive Wisdom in which they are all embraced, but which transcends them all, does it not behoove us to lift our minds more and more continuously to the Supreme? and to free our thoughts more and more from all limitations? for as it was the inability to fix the soul in worship on the attributeless Deity (though he had freed himself from all personal desires) that prevented the devotee from straightway attaining Nirvana, and instead landed him in the heavens of the Devaloka, where the conditions of bliss he had pictured to his mind as the Supreme were his inevitable reward, so should we even now begin to free our minds from all limited conceptions, and strain more and more towards the infinite.

I cannot better conclude than by quoting the last few lines in Faridu-d-din Attar's description of the seven stages in the road leading to union with the Divine Essence.

"Last stage of all is the Valley of Annihilation of Self; of complete Poverty, (1) — the seventh and supreme degree which no human words can describe. There is the great ocean of Divine Love. The world present and the world to come are but as figures reflected in it — And as it rises and falls how can they remain? He who plunges in that sea and is lost in it finds perfect peace."


1. This is the common term among the Muslim Mystics for the highest degree of the contemplative life. (return to text)

The Path