The Path – May 1889

WHY A GURU IS YET PREMATURE – Alexander Fullerton

The first step on the Theosophic path is naturally acceptance of the Theosophic doctrine. But this is by no means a dry and lifeless creed; it is a spirited, vitalizing scheme, so permeated with a final cause that its acceptance almost spontaneously generates some measure of purpose, hope, endeavor. To realize the conception is well nigh to echo it. So noble is the theory of the universe presented, so rich the picture of what human life is and means, so elevated and pure the motive which is everywhere insisted on as the condition of all progress, that natures at all sympathetic with the spiritual respond at once to its disclosures, are fired with its genius, aspire to its privilege. As this impulse develops into a purpose, as larger reading gives shape to the conception and fuller meditation clarifies it, there is born, almost of necessity, a wish for a guide along the intricate and darksome path which has just opened, some better-instructed spirit who knows the way from having trod it, and can save from disappointment and from wasted strength. I suppose that there is no sincere Theosophist, perceiving something of the measureless work before him and yet resolved that it be undertaken and pursued, whose first heart-cry is not for a Guru. Such a teacher seems the imperative, the indispensable, pre-requisite to any advance at all.

Nor, when we look somewhat more closely at the conditions around it, does a demand like this appear unwarranted. Here, let us say, is a genuine aspirant. He has a fairly accurate idea of the goal to be attained, but no idea of the means to its attainment. He desires spiritual illumination. But the faculties thereto, he is told, are as yet dormant in him. He asks how he is to become conscious of their existence, how arouse them to action, how assure himself that their action is normal. There is no reply. He reads that the first duty of the student is embodied in the maxim "Know thyself." He struggles with the question whether this means to know himself as a specimen of analyzed human nature, peering into the mysteries of biology, physiology, mind, and the psychic nature, — in which case a lifetime would be too short, or whether it means to know himself in his individual peculiarities, tendencies, weaknesses, desires. A mistake here might hopelessly mislead him. Yet the books which give the dictum do not settle the question it excites. He inquires if any particular diet, habit, daily observance is requisite to progress, and hereto, indeed, answers abound, but they are variant, opposite, and contradictory. He peruses the Manual which, both from its title and its teachings, is believed by all Theosophists to throw light upon the path, but much of it is enigmatical, and its explanations have to be explained. Somewhat disheartened, he asks its author, "How am I to eradicate selfishness from my nature?", and receives this reply, — "That is what every man must find out for himself."

These difficulties are largely external. But others quite as serious encompass any attempt at internal action. In the Manual to which I have referred, he is told, among other directions towards "Seeking the Way" to "seek it by plunging into the mysterious and glorious depths of your own inmost being." What is the meaning of this; indeed, has it any: Meditation is also recommended. But meditation must have some topic and be conducted on some plan. Neither is vouchsafed. Most of the prescriptions for developing the spiritual senses, even when intelligibly expressed, pre-suppose a familiarity with abstruse interior processes which are the very things as to which a beginner, in our land, is particularly ignorant. If he is to reverse his whole mental habitudes, think on different lines, invoke a new set of thought appliances, he must have, it would seem, some hint of the first steps and stages, some competent instructor to start him, some voice which shall be distinct in either the silence or the Babe — in other words, a Guru. And thus, whether we look at the general fact in regard to beginners, or at the causes producing the fact, it appears that demand for a Guru is the earliest cry of the new-born Theosophist.

On the other hand, however, it is just as certain that no such Guru is provided. In one sense, indeed, it may be said that any one who has more information is Guru to him who has less, and that any author, any friend, any speaker may thus sustain quad hoc this relation. But in the specific, technical sense, Gurus, whatever may be our desire for them, are not accorded us: and if there is justification for the desire, there must be justification for the denial to it. It may not be amiss to look into the grounds on which that rests.

A Guru, be it remembered, is not a teacher of general learning, but a teacher of a particular science. His teaching presupposes an adult mind, some educational advantages, and a moderate attainment in principle, self-knowledge, and self-discipline. These things are the preparation, the basis, the needful foundation for his work. It is in this spiritual science as in secular education. A child, it is true, has a teacher from the beginning, but this is because there is nothing to go upon; he has to start with the alphabet, and that must be communicated to him. Through his later Course he has the two resources of ability to read and to reflect — the condition of all advance — and of aid from masters, and with these he completes his general studies. Then comes that specific training which would be impossible without the preliminary. If he is to be a lawyer, a physician, a clergyman, he applies for and receives the distinctly professional instruction he needs, just so, it would seem, is the case in Occult Science. A Guru for a person just devoting himself to Theosophy would be as much out of place as a Professor of Law or Medicine teaching the alphabet in an infant school. His functions begin where antecedent attainments make them possible, and as we expect to find in a Medical College only such students as have laid the foundation for a specific training in a general training, so we expect to find under Gurus only such natures as have reached the point where their directions would be either intelligible or efficacious. For, obviously, they could not be understood if their terms, their meaning, the line and mode of thought were wholly unfamiliar: nor could they be operative if the faculties addressed, the motives emphasized, the powers incited were yet in abeyance. On the purely intellectual side there must be some reasonable acquaintance with the truths from which the whole system starts; and on the purely spiritual side there must be a facility of apprehension and an incisiveness of intuition which are the result, not of a brief aspiration, but of years of systematic effort. It is noticeable that, in such expositions of Esoteric methods as have been given us, it is distinctly stated that it is the developed faculty of intuition in the student upon which his teachers rely. But this is the very faculty of which we beginners know least, and to give us a Guru whose main work would be its employment would be precisely the same thing as to address a syllogism in logic to a child who had no idea what logic meant and who was wholly unable to reason.

But this is not the only consideration. In secular studies the successful instructor is he who most consistently acts upon the meaning of the word "education," — an educing, a drawing-out of what is in the student. Education is not so much a pouring in of information as the eliciting of the aptitudes, forces, vigors, which lie within. Very much of the whole process is in the encouragement to independent action, the cultivation of that spirit of energetic enterprise which does not shirk difficulties but surmounts them, the fortifying of that manly resolve which, not refusing assistance or disdaining experience, yet feels that the most satisfactory triumphs are those which one wins oneself, and that a gift is not comparable to an achievement. There is a vast difference in morale between the classical student who works out a difficult passage and the one who cons a translation, just so in that developing process which, we are given to understand, precedes and constitutes a fitness for Guru guidance. A Theosophist finds himself encompassed by perplexities. It would be comfortable to be relieved by another. But would it be best? The old classic fable of the cartman and Hercules is the answer. No; the ingenuity, the patience, the strength aroused by the need would all be lost if the extrication came from another. We are better men, finer men, stronger men, and we are far more capable of subsequent advance, if we work out these problems for ourselves, getting light by seeking it, not by asking for it, capturing truth, not accepting it. This is the type of men the Masters want for the future custodians of the mysteries, and why should they thwart the supply by spoiling it?

Then, too, there is still another consideration. We most assuredly have no right to demand further privileges till we have exhausted those now given. If any man has fully read, — and not merely read, but digested, — the best attainable literature in the main features of Theosophic truth; if he has a fairly accurate conception of the spiritual philosophy; if he has his carnal nature well in hand and is not seriously disturbed by tumultuous revolts which have now become hopeless; if the personal element, the selfish element, is so far refined away that it but slightly taints his motive and his work; if his duties are as much a matter of principle as his aspirations; if he has overcome mind-wanderings and gained the power to think with intentness and continuity; if he has made all the attainments possible to unassisted zeal; if, in short, he has used up all the material provided and hence can do no more; — then, surely, he is in a position to claim a Guru. We may surmise, indeed, that in such case the Guru would already have arrived. But if not one of these things is true; if the reading is imperfect, the conception thin, the passions strong, the self vigorous, the duty scant, the concentration poor, the attainment insignificant, the material hardly touched; what possible need for an advanced teacher? And if we can picture to ourselves a disciple thus feebly-equipped accosting a Guru (supposing such an official to be recognizable) and, inviting guidance, is it not inevitable that the Guru should reply, smilingly, that the disciple was not yet ready for him?

This may seem a discouraging state of things. But I do not think that it is really so. We have never been promised Gurus at our very early stage of progress, and, if we expect them, it is because of a misapprehension for which we have only to blame ourselves. To get out of illusions, to correct errors by examining them, is part of our necessary experience, and quite as much so in the department of theoretical development as in the department of practical life. Nor is the deprivation of present hope for Gurus so serious a drawback as might appear. It no doubt throws us more upon ourselves, but this is the very thing which we most need, for it is the arousing of self-help, self-energy, se/f-effort which is iterated all through the scheme. Nor is it the fact that there is no objective aid except from Gurus. There is plenty of it. In the small Library of the Aryan Society we have enough intelligible direction for more needs than any of us, its members, are likely to feel. I do not say that they are always explicit, or always copious, or always systematized, but perhaps the necessity for extracting the clearness and the fullness and the proportion gives an important exercise to the faculties which we are striving to expand. To illustrate: We are told in Esoteric Buddhism that there are seven principles in the composition of a man. Of course it is not claimed that these are all sharply separated, but there is a distinction and we ought to frame some idea of it. Suppose, then, that a student, having carefully read the chapter thereon, determines to give fifteen minutes to close thought on the difference between the fourth, the Animal Soul, and the fifth, the Human Soul. Here is a definite subject for meditation, and abundant material for the process. If now he turns to Patanjali, he finds that Concentration is the "Hindering of the modifications of the thinking principle," — in other words, a stoppage of wandering thought, or of all thought on other subjects than the one before the mind. What he has to do, therefore, is to check by the will all roaming of his mind, and fasten it simply and solely on the distinction he would realize. The process is twofold, — an exercise in concentration and an exercise in imagery. He will almost instantaneously experience the extreme difficulty of restraining the natural wanderings of the mind, and form some estimate of the task which lies through years before him, — that of making his mind as docile and as manageable by the will as are his hands or his eyes. Before the fifteen minutes have passed, he will perceive, as he never perceived before, the distinction between the mind and the will, and that, before thought can be effected, the mind must be broken in, subdued, put under curb and rein. But also he will have begun to discriminate, though imperfectly because of the yet imperfect process, between the elements making up the fourth, and those making up the fifth principle. He will have taken one step towards disentangling and grouping under their appropriate heads the desires, loves, tastes, qualities, as these have a physical or an intellectual basis. In fact, his introduction into this mere vestibule of Theosophic schooling will have accomplished a triple effect, — some suspicion of the vastness of the curriculum awaiting him, some admission that the matter already furnished for him is most copious, some perception that within him he will find the true, the ever-widening field for his most careful and persistent effort. I might add a fourth, — resignation to the obvious consequence that a Guru is yet a very long way off.

Take one more illustration, — this time of interpretation. One of the first rules given in Light on the Path is — "Kill out desire of comfort." This statement is extreme, and, like all extreme statements, untrustworthy. Theosophy is nothing if not reasonable, and it could not be reasonable if it enjoined the extirpation of an innocent wish as if it were a vice. Moreover, if desire for comfort is to be treated as a vice, its opposite must be treated as a virtue, in which case the desire for discomfort ranks with honor and truth and justice. This is so absurd that some qualified meaning to the words is dictated by common sense. When we think out the topic, observing Patanjali's rule of Concentration, the thought clears up. As conduct is directed by will and will is moved by desire, the main conduct of life follows from the main desire, and if this is for physical luxury, spiritual upliftings and exercises will be subordinated. Nor is this all. So far as the two are antagonistic, the physical should be depressed, and the rule would therefore seem to formulate this principle, — that wherever a bodily craving is incompatible with the growth of spirituality, it must be made to give way. Thus interpreted, it is harmonious with reason and expressive of truth.

It might even be said, and, I fancy, with no little correctness as to most of us, that we are not yet at the stage when so mild a use of the meditative power as that indicated in these two illustrations is needed. There is a consensus of all authority, from the Bhagavad-Gita to Theosophy, Religion, and Occult Science, that the very first practical act in Theosophy is the seizing hold of the reins over oneself. If a man is irritable, or mean, or slothful, or censorious, or greedy, or exacting, or selfish, or ungenerous, — qualities which are not crimes, but which are really as fatal to any high standard of character, — he has his Theosophic work at hand. So long as any one of these or like pettinesses exists, that first work is unfinished. It is far from improbable that some of such blemishes remain on those Theosophists who cry out for a Guru. And yet would there be anything more ludicrous than a Guru for a man who is peevish because the weather is bad, or who gives less to the Theosophical Society than he does for his tobacco?

Looking over the whole subject impartially, I doubt if we should greatly err in stating thus the rule, — that no one has a right to expect a Guru until he has exhausted all other and attainable resources. He certainly cannot demand new powers if neglecting those possessed, and if not new powers, why new opportunities? Similarly as to books, duties, exercises, and privileges. And if this is the fact, then the desire for Guru guidance which so many feel and not a few express, is less an evidence of mature purpose than of immature perception. It needs revision rather than stimulus, correction rather than approval. Should that wholesome process give a chill to Theosophic zeal, such consequence would be the surest proof that the zeal had been but a subtle form of that ambition which we are told is a curse. For, evidently, the desire would not have been for truth or fact, but for a phase of self-importance, for a chance at self-display. And self-love as an element in spiritual development is not favored by Theosophy more than self-love in secular life.

Yet there is a corollary to the rule. Walt Whitman has stated it in one line which we beginners can only trust, but which more advanced students can surely verify, — "When the materials are all prepared and ready, the architects shall appear."

The Path