The Path – August 1892



Now the object of all religion seems to me to be the union of man with Deity, by whatever means and in whatever sense we understand these terms. The most important part of religion, and the part most easily comprehended by all men, is its ethical teaching. Why this should be so we have hitherto been mostly in ignorance; in fact scepticism has run to such lengths in these latter days that some men of great ability and intelligence deny that there is any scientific basis of ethics, and most assert the impossibility of our ever knowing why we should carry out any particular ethical precept. These teachings are for the most part merely dogmatic commands, or the reasons given are not of an explanatory nature, but rather of the nature of promises or threats. Do this, for otherwise you will not obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of light, and so on.

Now the higher science of the soul is rich in manifold compelling reasons for living a purer and more unselfish life. Asserting, as it does, the possibility of rolling up the dark curtain of sleep, and rending in twain the veil of death while still we live, in the very statement of the method whereby these things are to be accomplished, and of the instruments which man has to use to effect this purpose, it shows that morality is the indispensable preliminary training. Man has to look his own nature squarely in the face before he can look in the face of Nature. If he would tread the solitary path of Yoga whereby he steps out from the ranks of his fellow-beings and becomes a self-appointed pioneer of humanity, he must equip himself with fit instruments and, as the Scripture says truly, "gird himself with the breastplate of righteousness". Without these requisites it is useless to volunteer for this pioneer work.

The track to be followed leads through strange lands, peopled with strange inhabitants, an inner path that, at the beginning, passes mostly through the country of our own creations that we have at each moment been busily bringing into existence ever since we have had bodies and minds. If we attempt to enter this country unarmed, that is to say, before we have prepared ourselves by a most careful scrutiny into the very recesses of our moral nature, and by a most rigid discipline that never relaxes its vigilance for a moment, then we are like a general in a fort at the head of a mutinous army in league with the enemy outside, and we shall find that in very truth our foes are "they of our own household" and that like attracts like by an unavoidable law of nature.

There is much talk among certain religionists about "conversion", and there is a great truth hidden under the strange externals that so often clothe the idea. Perhaps some of you do not know that the Greek word for repentance, found in the New Testament and in the writings of the many mystical schools of the early years of Christianity, means, literally, a change of mind. The theory of this change and the history of its mystical degrees are elaborately treated of by some of these schools, and that which takes place unconsciously in a lower stage of the ordinary conversion, takes place consciously in a higher stage in Yoga. This is the real new birth spoken of by Christian mystics, and this is why Brahmins (which really means those who are at one with Brahma, the Deity) are called the twice-born. You will understand by what I have said about the importance of the mind in Yoga what this change of mind or repentance means. Now this repentance is of a very mystical nature and one difficult to comprehend. Suppose we look upon the whole series of lives of an individual as a necklace of pearls. The one that hangs lowest in front will represent this turning-point in the whole cycle of births, when the great change of mind occurs which shows that the soul is beginning to shake off the attractions of matter. In each succeeding birth this change will repeat itself on a smaller scale, and those may rejoice to whom it comes early in life. Only let us remember that there is no respect of persons, no aristocracy, no privileges, no monopoly. The path of self-knowledge, self-conquest, and self-devotion is open to everyone of us at every moment of time. It is idle to say: "What you tell me is very fine, but it is not for me!" There is no time but the eternal present. It is idle to put off to the future when none of us know what our past has been. How are we to be sure that we may not have gone some portion of the way before, and that the incidents we have lived through in our present birth are only the representation on a small scale of the lives we have lived before; that once we have reached the turning-point we shall again repeat all those strivings upwards which have characterized those of our past lives which have been on the ascending path of our soul pilgrimage?

No man can say what power for good may not lie latent in those who are commonly supposed to be most distinctly vicious, once the force of their character is turned in the right direction.

There is nothing historical in religion nor in Yoga. "Choose ye this day what gods ye will serve" is applicable to every moment of our lives. There is no time but the present, and only the ignorant pin their faith to historical events.

Of course this is no new thing to hear. It is very old, very ancient, but what I wish to insist upon is that it is practical and scientific in the best sense of the word; not, however, that I by any means believe that a thing must needs be scientific in the ordinary sense to be true, but because Yoga can claim everything that is best in the scientific method and at the same time immeasurably transcend it. It is necessary to state and restate this, for people are beginning to go in fear and trembling at the term "scientific".

And now if any one asks whether I recommend him to study Yoga, the answer is: If a person honestly tries to live a moral, clean, and unselfish life, he is unconsciously training himself for the practice of this science, and he will thus gradually develop a consciousness of his spiritual nature which will grow into direct cognition, if not in this birth, at any rate in a succeeding incarnation. But I would also go beyond this, for I believe that neither goodness alone nor knowledge alone makes the perfect man, but that the two must join hands to bring him to perfection. I would therefore add: By all means study the theory of Yoga, and as for the practice of it, subject yourself continually to the most searching analysis in order to discern the secret of your motives of action; watch your thoughts, words, and acts; try to discover why you do this or that thing and not another; be ever on your guard. I do not mean to say, use your head only. By no means: use your heart also to its full capacity. Learn to sympathize with all, to feel for everyone; but to yourself be as hard as steel, never condone a fault, never seek an excuse. We need none of us retire from the world to do this; we need not shun association with others; we need not even make a "Sunday in the day", as we make a Sunday in the week, in which to turn our thoughts to higher things and for the rest of the time be off our guard. But at the same time it is a most salutary daily practice to try and definitely concentrate the mind on some thought, or on some imaginary object in order to learn how to steady it, and to cultivate at the same time a continual aspiration towards and contemplation of the highest ideal we can in any way conceive. Perhaps some of you may think this the advice of a mere mystical platitudinarian, and that you could hear something very much resembling it from the nearest pulpit. Maybe; but my answer is still, Try! Try to find out why you do any particular action, or think some thought; try to fix your mind even for sixty seconds; and try to meditate on some high ideal when you are quiet and alone, and free from all hatred and malice; believe me, you will not repent the endeavor.

Perhaps you have noticed that I have said nothing of the farther practices of the higher Yoga. My reason for the omission is that the subject is too lofty and too sacred for any student like myself to attempt. Its practices are so marvellous and its attainments so stupendous that they absolutely transcend all words and all descriptions; and this is why they are invariably treated of in symbolical and allegorical language. But I need hardly tell students of Theosophy that the Yoga is the most important key to the interpretation of the world-scriptures, a key that even our teacher H. P. Blavatsky refrained from giving. But none of us need feel surprise or resentment at this omission if we reflect that it has been the immemorial custom to withhold the key until the pupil is ready to receive it. It is not withheld for any caprice, for it cannot be kept back when the pupil is ready, and they who hold the key are such as give their life-blood to guard mankind from even greater misery and sorrow than they are at present plunged into — though, indeed, mankind knows not of their ceaseless sacrifice.

It is easy to see that the subject I have dealt with is one of enormous difficulty; I could have presented you with a long treatise, full of technical terms gleaned from difficult works in a vast library of literature, but my purpose has rather been to try and show that in itself the science of the soul is not beyond the reach of any, and that it is the most practical and important branch of knowledge that man is heir to.

In conclusion, it is well to remember there is one indispensable condition of success in this science, without which our efforts will be as Dead Sea fruit. It must be undertaken solely for the service of others; if it is attempted for ourselves, it will prove nought but an illusion, for it will pertain to the "I am I", to the personal human animal, whose characteristic is selfishness, whereas the nature of true spiritual Yoga is that of devotion to all beings, of love to all that lives and breathes, and the duty of the disciple becomes like that of the stars of heaven who "take light from none, but give to all".

Companions, may we all tread the path of peace!

The Path