Theosophical University Press Online Edition
The Doctrine of Tulku
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
Occultism and Psychic Phenomena
The term Tulku is often applied, rightly or wrongly, to a lama of high rank, and often with the same conditions to the head-abbot of a monastery.
Specifically, however, and in one usage of the term, it refers to those lamas who have proved their ability of remembering their office and standing in a former incarnation, e.g., by selecting articles belonging previously to themselves, describing details of a former life, surroundings, etc., etc. Such lamas are called 'Living Buddhas' by European Orientalists, although this is not the title given to them by Tibetans themselves.
The two most important Tulkus in the Tibetan Buddhist Hierarchy are the Tashi and Dalai Lamas. Tulku is often rendered by Orientalists as 'an incarnation,' but it should be borne in mind that incarnation, outside of the many and distinct varieties of an incarnating or imbodying Power or Energy, is in popular usage a direct continuance of a previous imbodiment (as mentioned above). These 'Living Buddhas' of Tibet, therefore, are one kind of Tulku — i. e., the transmission of a spiritual power or energy from one Buddha-Lama of a Tibetan Monastery when he dies to a child-successor or an adult-successor. If the transmission is successful, the result is Tulku.
Tulku is of many different kinds, according to the Tibetan, and indeed the Archaic Tradition. Generally speaking, the doctrine of Tulku is in Tibetan Buddhist thought very closely parallel with what the doctrine of Avatara is in Hindu Brahmanism: in these cases called Avatara in Sanskrit, Tulku in Tibetan.
Another kind of tulku is where a human Mahatman or great Adept will send a ray from himself, or send a part of himself, to take incarnation or imbodiment, it may be only temporary, it could be almost for a lifetime, in a neophyte-messenger that this Mahatman is sending out into the world to teach. The Messenger in this instance acts as a transmitter of the spiritual and divine powers of a Mahatman. H. P. Blavatsky was such a tulku, imbodying frequently the very life of, and hence guided by, her own Teacher. While this incarnation of the Teacher's higher essence lasted, she was tulku. When for one reason or another the influence or the ray was withdrawn for a longer or a shorter period, tulku then and there became nonexistent.
Still another aspect of the tulku-doctrine, so highly mystical and deeply revered by those who know, is again illustrated by the case of H. P. B. Where is she now? H. P. B. has not incarnated, not yet again taken a body of flesh as ordinary human beings have. She is not yet born, has not yet been born, as a child. But she has at certain times, and for one certain individual, with that individual's consent, organized as it were tulku for that individual. For the time being, therefore, we can say that H. P. B. has imbodied, or partially imbodied, in that chosen individual for the purpose of special transmission. In all cases of tulku, they are 'incarnations,' or again 'appearances.' If H. P. B., for instance, were to make tulku of a person for a month or a year, for the time being that person would be tulku, but when that particular work was done, the influence would be withdrawn, tulku would stop.
There is again another kind of avataric incarnation or tulku, that is, a temporary physical appearance of an adept really in the mayavi-rupa. Certain Tibetan Lamas are known to be able to perform this feat, and thus they too have been properly called tulkus, which is the type of tulku that certain Orientalists have referred to as an 'appearance.'
Another type of tulku of an opposite, and indeed essentially evil, character is that brought about by a hypnotist who temporarily displaces the psychological nature of his entranced subject or victim through psychologization or even hypnosis plus mesmerism. This, however, is more often than not an act of Black Magic and fraught with grave dangers, both to the hypnotist and the one entranced. Every clever hypnotist actually makes a tulku of his victim in a black magic sense. When he puts an idea into the brain of his victim, that one week from now at three o'clock in the afternoon he is going to commit murder, or again do some essentially foolish or undignified act — for the time being that hypnotist is working a black magic tulku on that victim, and every psychologist and hypnotist knows the possibility of this fact, though the scientific explanation of the term may be strange to him. Speak to him of 'tulku,' and he will laugh because he is ignorant of the word, but not of the act. A key example of black magic tulku was what the medieval Europeans used to call werewolves, or men-wolves, and thereby hangeth a wondrous tale — nevertheless that was black magic work.
This doctrine of the tulku, however, is at heart beautiful and sublime, and hence is highly reverenced by the Tibetans. Let us take the example of Jesus the Avatara: here was a life-long tulku, a ray from a divinity: a tulku of that divinity so far as that ray goes, a divine manifestation, and hence a true Avatara in the Brahmanical sense. Again, what was the Buddha himself, Sakyamuni-Siddhartha, often called the Buddha-Gautama? He was tulku of his own Inner Buddha, otherwise of his own Inner God. The average man, however, is merely overshadowed occasionally, if he really aspires, by a touch of the divine flame from within the higher parts of his own constitution, and yet even for these fugitive instants such man is tulku. But when Gautama, later called the Buddha, attained Buddhahood, he was relatively infilled with his own god or Inner Buddha, and therefore was that god's human tulku. That was for him, Siddhartha the man, Nirvana; to speak very technically he then entered Dharmakaya and this portion of him was then known of men no more: that portion of him was a man become divine.
Finally, it should be clear enough from the foregoing that the Tibetan word tulku is one of the most comprehensive and mystically significant in the entire range of the very many important words used in Tibetan Buddhist religious philosophy; and this fact alone sufficiently accounts for the reason that travelers in Tibet, or students of its highly mystical people and their books, so often give different and often utterly mistaken meanings to the word tulku. They fail to take a sufficiently inclusive view or grasp of the subject.
It may be at first very confusing to the mind of the student to hear so much in our philosophy about so many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and Wondrous Watchers and what not. But this is merely because the student is embarking upon what is for him a new expansion of consciousness; he is entering into a new field of intellectual and spiritual activity; and it is natural enough that for the first steps upon this field he may be temporarily bewildered. But the bewilderment soon passes when he discovers that things fall into their proper places, as his studies progress, with amazing quickness and mental ease. It is all so simple if we remember the fundamental law of all study in occultism — the law of analogy. What takes place, as Hermes so nobly said, in the interior and upper spheres, likewise takes place here below in our material realm and in the world of man. The only requisite for getting a proper understanding is making the requisite changes, because of the transfer from plane to plane of consciousness and the surrounding material, and events pertaining to each. Conversely, what takes place here on earth and in our world of men, takes place on a grander and more subtil and spiritual scale in the higher and less material planes where the gods abide.
Remove the old idea out of your minds that the gods are one family of beings, and men are some other and quite distinct and different family. We are children of the gods, literally. Each man is, in his inmost being, a divinity, son of Father-Sun; and the only reason we are not manifest gods now is because we have not as yet evolved forth the god within. But this will come in the future. We are embryo-gods; and the gods who now are, were once men. What the Dhyani-Buddhas are in their relation with the Dhyani-Bodhisattvas, that the human Buddhas are on this plane in their relation with the human Bodhisattvas. The rule in both cases is the same, on the law of analogical reasoning. To understand it properly merely means a transfer of incidents and facts and living beings from above downwards to our plane, or conversely.
Every Dhyani-Buddha or Buddha of Contemplation or Meditation has his 'mind-born sons,' so to speak, his spiritual offspring if you like, who are the Dhyani-Bodhisattvas. Let me illustrate: When a Teacher arouses the soul in a man so that the man can then understand what the Teacher says, and leads that now understanding man to a greater, nobler life, so that he follows in the footsteps of his Teacher, that man or pupil is then a Bodhisattva of his Teacher; and that Teacher has transplanted into that disciple's life a portion of his own life-essence, a part of his own mind, thus awakening the Manusaputric spiritual and intellectual fires within the disciple. This is what the Dhyani-Buddhas do to other high entities on their own plane, thus bringing about the coming into being of the Dhyani-Bodhisattvas, and, later, the human or Manushya-Buddhas. These Dhyani-Buddhas on their own plane have their pupils or disciples in whom they arouse the Bodhisattvic faculty, the Buddhic Splendor.
Similarly so on the human plane. When the Manushya-Buddhas find proper human disciples, they inspire them, infill them with holy spiritual and intellectual fires, so that thus these men-pupils, when themselves successful in the race and relatively complete in spirituality, become Manushya-Bodhisattvas, on their way to become Manushya-Buddhas; and this is so because the Buddha-light is awakened within these men-pupils: each one feels the inner god within himself; and from that moment he knows neither pause nor rest until he himself attains human Buddhahood.
Take the case of Gautama-Sakyamuni, a Manushya-Buddha. In him as a man there were three or four different elements, and every one functioning: the ordinary human being who was a great and splendid man, but still a human being in the ordinary sense of the word; inspiring this human being was the incarnate Bodhisattva; yet the manasaputric essence within the human being — which belonged to that human being as a monad per se — had not yet been fully awakened in that human being, although, as said above, he was a grand man. And thirdly, inspiring and over-enlightening this Bodhisattva within Gautama-Sakyamuni, was the Buddha; and lastly over-inspiring and enlightening that Buddha a spiritual flame working through the Bodhisattva in the man was the Dhyani-Buddha of our Round, working of course through the Dhyani-Bodhisattva of this Globe D.
Now all this seems very complicated at first glance; but it really is not. We have, first, a spiritually evolved human being in whom the native manasaputric essence was awakening, or partially awakened, thus providing a fit field of consciousness for its individualization as the incarnate Bodhisattva. Then the Monadic Essence working through this incarnate Bodhisattva was individualized as the Buddha, these elements just specified forming the various monadic centers mainly active in Sakyamuni. In addition to this and because the incarnate Bodhisattva allowed the ray from the inner Buddha to manifest itself, there was the reception even into the human consciousness of the still more spiritual ray from the Round Dhyani-Buddha, in its turn traveling to the human Buddha by means of the Globe Dhyani-Bodhisattva.
This Dhyani-Buddha working through the Globe Dhyani-Bodhisattva might be described as the 'outside' spiritual influence working through the human Buddha; and the Buddha, and the Bodhisattva, and the partially awakened manasaputric essence, form the triad in the constitution of Gautama-Sakyamuni acting to produce the Manushya-Buddha. One should always remember, in studying these recondite and difficult subjects of spiritual psychology, the basic fact that the human constitution is a composite or compound thing.
When Gautama, whose personal name was Siddhartha, left his home, according to the beautiful story so well known, and went out in his search of light, i.e., for the attaining of human Buddhahood for the sake of the 'salvation of gods and men,' in time he brought first into relatively full activity the Bodhisattva within himself. The ordinary man of him, the vehicle, grand as that ordinary man was, was nevertheless utterly subordinated — to be a perfect human instrument thenceforth through which the Bodhisattva working within him could manifest itself and express its noble faculties, over-enlightened by the Buddhic ray. Yet this becoming at one with the Buddha himself, lofty as the state was, was still not enough for the purpose in mind, because this particular human incarnation — that of the man called Siddhartha — was to be the vehicle of the minor Racial Buddha.
Thus it was that finally, after striving in self-imposed discipline and spiritual yearning and inner conquest, and then teaching, under the sacred Bodhi-tree, the Tree of Wisdom, the Manushya-Bodhisattva called Gautama-Sakyamuni, as the legend runs, attained Buddhahood, which means that in its turn the incarnate Bodhisattva became the willing and perfect psycho-spiritual instrument through which the inner Buddha of him could express itself.
Thus, then, when the Buddha-state had been attained, we find (1) the Buddha, (2) working through the Bodhisattva, (3) working through the awakened Man, thus exemplifying the activity in a human constitution of the three higher monads thereof, to wit, (1) the spiritual, (2) the Bodhisattva or Manasaputra, and (3) the evolved human; and this is exactly what each one of us humans some day will have the lofty privilege and the exquisite joy to become — always provided that we run the race successfully. Everyone of you already is a feeble incarnation of an inner Buddha — and you know it not!
Now, here is another important point of thought that I must come to. When the Buddha waxed in age, and the body which had served him so well became feeble with the passing of the years so that it was no longer so perfect an instrument as formerly — a formerly perfect instrument now becoming worn — according to the exoteric teaching the Buddha 'died' at the age of eighty years. The truth of this matter was that in his eightieth year the Buddha in Gautama-Sakyamuni entered Nirvana, i.e., entered into the nirvanic state or condition, nevertheless leaving the Bodhisattva still active and working through the then aged and enfeebled physical frame. The Buddha-part of him in human speech, had 'died' to, or passed out of, the world, i.e., had done its work and had passed into the Nirvana, therein to await its next task at the end of this Fifth Root-Race, at which time that same Buddha-spirit, that same Buddha-element, would again over-enlighten a new Bodhisattva-man.
Thus much for the Buddha-element in Sakyamuni; and it was therefore truly stated that the Buddha 'died' at the age of eighty years, simply because the Buddha-element had passed out of direct concern in human affairs. Yet for twenty years more the Bodhisattva, working through the noble man Gautama-Sakyamuni, lived and taught his inner Group or School, as what we Theosophists could and probably would call a Master. We do so advisedly, because it is that composite constitution that still remained and worked which is precisely what the Mahatmans or Masters are: Bodhisattva-men, men of the 'essence of Buddha,' i.e., of Wisdom and of Love — just what in the West is often intended by mystics in their usage of the word 'Christ.' Of course it should be remembered that the Masters themselves exist in differing grades of evolutionary perfection, there being stages of advancement among them just as there are among all other classes of beings.
Then finally, in his hundredth year, the Lord Gautama laid down his aged body; he cast it off, for it was finished with, since it was too old to serve any more in the manner that was still required of it. He cast it off, as Krishna says in the Gita, as we cast aside 'a worn out garment'; and he who was known on earth first as Siddhartha, Prince of Kapilavastu, then as Sakyamuni, thenceforward lived as a Nirmanakaya, a complete man minus only the physical body and the accompanying linga-sarira which goes with the physical body.
How much more could be said about even this one theme of our thought! What mysteries could one not point to that lie latent in the constitution of every human being, offspring of heaven and earth truly, child of the gods and of man. The human constitution is a mystery of mysteries, a wonder of wonders. The ancient statement of the Delphic Oracle: Man, know thyself! contains almost infinitely more than the rather trite and platitudinous significance which is usually given to this archaic Greek injunction. Every great religious philosophy or philosophical religion that the world has ever known has, through its teachings pointed directly to man's constitution as containing not only all the mysteries in the Universe, but as containing likewise the master-key unlocking those mysteries themselves. In proportion, I say, as man learns to know himself, does he become able to unlock the mysteries of the Universe around him, which in his ignorance and folly he imagines to be outside of himself.
One of the greatest objectives of the Theosophical Society, and of our teaching, both esoteric and exoteric, is to awaken man to know himself; what he is, what is in him, what his duty in the world is, and how to live his life not merely nobly and grandly, but how so to live it that he may bring out from within himself the more than human qualities, i.e., the Buddhic Splendor, meaning essential Wisdom and essential Love, humanly and feebly spoken of as 'intellect' and 'heart'; yea, more than this, to teach him to live so that his fellow-men will look upon him as a helper, as a guide, rather than as a human scourge to his fellows, which, alas, so many millions of human beings are!
But the interest of our readers will probably centre on those who are invincibly attracted towards the 'Occult,' yet who neither realize the true nature of what they aspire towards, nor have they become passion-proof, far less truly unselfish.
How about these unfortunates, we shall be asked, who are thus rent in twain by conflicting forces? For it has been said too often to need repetition, and the fact itself is patent to any observer, that when once the desire for Occultism has really awakened in a man's heart, there remains for him no hope of peace, no place of rest and comfort in all the world. He is driven out into the wild and desolate spaces of life by an ever-gnawing unrest he cannot quell. His heart is too full of passion and selfish desire to permit him to pass the Golden Gate; he cannot find rest or peace in ordinary life. Must he then inevitably fall into Sorcery and Black Magic and through many incarnations heap up for himself a terrible Karma? Is there no other road for him?
Indeed there is, we answer. Let him aspire to no higher than he feels able to accomplish. Let him not take a burden upon himself too heavy for him to carry. Without ever becoming a 'Mahatma,' a Buddha, or a Great Saint, let him study the philosophy and the 'Science of Soul,' and he can become one of the modest benefactors of humanity, without any 'superhuman' powers. Siddhis (or the Arhat powers) are only for those who are able to 'lead the life,' to comply with the terrible sacrifices required for such a training, and to comply with them to the very letter. Let them know at once and remember always, that true Occultism or Theosophy is the 'Great Renunciation of SELF,' unconditionally and absolutely, in thought as in action. It is ALTRUISM, and it throws him who practises it out of calculation of the ranks of the living altogether. 'Not for himself, but for the world, he lives,' as soon as he has pledged himself to the work. Much is forgiven during the first years of probation. But, no sooner is he 'accepted' than his personality must disappear, and he has to become a mere beneficent force in Nature. There are two poles for him after that, two paths, and no midward place of rest. He has either to ascend laboriously, step by step, often through numerous incarnations and no Devachanic break, the golden ladder leading to Mahatmaship (the Arhat or Bodhisatva condition) or — he will let himself slide down the ladder at the first false step, and roll down into Dugpaship. . . . — 'Occultism versus the Occult Arts,' by H. P. Blavatsky, Lucifer, May, 1888
TO LAY before the intelligent readers of any modern review which consecrates at least a portion of its pages to studies in what is popularly known as Occultism and psychic phenomena, even an outline of what it is today customary to call Occultism, would involve an explication of thought filling an entire issue of such a magazine as is The Occult Review; and even then, in order adequately and properly to understand just what Occultism is and is not, such explication of thought would doubtless consist in a startling opposition of Occultism on the one hand, and merely Psychic Practices and Results on the other hand. The title of such a lengthy thesis therefore would probably be something like 'Occultism versus Psychic Practices and their Results.'
There is entirely too much confusion in the minds of people generally as regards these matters, and invariably is too faint a distinction drawn between Occultism on the one hand and psychic practices and phenomena on the other hand.
Many years ago, before the modern protagonist of Occultism, H. P. Blavatsky, began her work in the Occident with the founding of the Theosophical Society, the words 'Occultism,' 'Psychism,' and 'Psychic Phenomena,' etc., etc., were used not at all or by only a few — in fact were virtually unknown except to the bookworm or the scholar; but since the founding of the Theosophical Society at New York in 1875 by H. P. Blavatsky, Colonel H. S. Olcott, W. Q. Judge, and others, these words among many other similar terms have gained wide currency. But their very frequency of occurrence in modern literature, without adequate explanations, is the cause of the confusion that I have just spoken of.
Who indeed is the genuine Occultist of today who would be authorized by actual esoteric training and experience to give to the world a clear, full, and lucid explanation of what Occultism is; and, on the other hand, to explain the meaning of the results, mostly disastrous, alas, which follow as inevitable consequences the subjection of both mind and will to what it is today customary and popular to call 'Psychism,' 'Psychic Practices,' or the 'Psychical Arts.' There are, indeed, genuine Occultists in the world, and for the matter of that they can be found as readily in the Occident as in the Orient perchance, but they are always more or less recluse and rarely or never make themselves known to the public. The only exceptions are the profound students of genuine esoteric Theosophy whose duty obligates them and in a sense compels them to devote at least a portion of their time in unfolding and explaining the various meanings of these things.
But, setting aside these instances, the great foundress of the Theosophical Society in our modern times, H. P. Blavatsky, has left a sufficiency of literary and traditional material on hand to enable anyone who is genuinely desirous of knowing what Occultism and psychic phenomena are, to gain this knowledge by a sincere and impersonal study of her works. The extract from an essay by H. P. Blavatsky which prefaces this article is an instance in point, and I recommend it most earnestly to those would-be 'adepts' or 'yogis' who imagine and always vainly imagine that a perusal or study of the exoteric literature of Occultism of the ages is sufficient to clothe them with the responsibilities, and rights and privileges forsooth, of the genuine Occultist.
H. P. Blavatsky with her master-mind and her wonderful literary ability, has set before the world, in the literary material left by her, as for instance in the extract above named, the very heart of the whole teaching regarding genuine Occultism — what it is and especially what it is not. Occultism means the study of the hid and secret processes of the Universe and of the beings inhabiting it — of the Universe, which includes the worlds visible and invisible, and the beings visible and invisible inhabiting them, and therefore, of course, also our own visible world, and more particularly our earth, so far as we humans are concerned. Genuine Occultism, therefore, first and foremost, and before any other thing, means a study not only of the structure and operations, of the laws, of the origin, of the destiny, and, indeed, most important of all, of the moral purposes, of the Kosmos, but it also involves, as is obvious, a rigorous and continuous study of men, comprising in their aggregate one of the families or minor hierarchies of beings temporarily inhabiting this physical sphere of existence.
It is of the first importance to state here with all the emphasis and power at my command that the study of Occultism without equivalent study of morals, ethics — which are no mere human convention, but are based on the very fabric of the Universe itself and on its inherent laws of harmony — is a study which will lead the unfortunate followers of it only to Satanism, to diabolism, and indeed ultimately, if pursued bereft or divorced from morals, to the loss of the soul and a sinking lower and lower in the scale of manifested beings.
Who are we? Whence do we come? Why are we here? Whither are we going? What is the Universe surrounding us in which we live and move and have our being, and of which we are all of us and each one of us integral and utterly inseparable portions? In the answers to these questions lies the very heart of true and genuine archaic Occultism, the only Occultism that is worthy of the name, and the only Occultism which the followers of the Masters of Wisdom and Compassion and Peace have pledged themselves to. The genuine Occultism of the archaic ages has naught to do with merely weird and uncanny things, as it is commonly and mistakenly supposed to have to do — nothing at all to do with them, except to examine them and to reject them as being psychical superficialities at the best, and psychical and ethical monstrosities or corruptions of truth at the worst. Genuine Occultism has to do solely with the secrets of Universal Being, and the closer one approaches to the great beating heart of the Universe, the more does one become an Occultist, and the more deeply does one penetrate into the inner sense and nature of what genuine Occultism is.
The so-called 'occult arts' or 'occult practices' which the soi-disant magicians of all times and of all parts of the earth have followed some with relative success in small ways and some with none, lie on the frontiers only of the great truths of universal being. These so-called psychic practices and phenomena — what indeed are they? Merely the action in and through man of certain little understood and very minor powers of his constitution, and this is all that they are. They are far, indeed, from being things or objectives that we should strive after; they are not worth the game; and, what is much worse they distract the attention of the genuine student away from the great realities instead of expanding the mind and leading the heart to beat with the great Universal Heart in rhythmic harmony.
These psychic practices and the phenomena and consequences resulting therefrom, even when moderately successful, constrict the ethereal and psychical sheaths of consciousness clothing the imbodied ray of Spirit, and therefore limit our views, enclose us within frontiers of consciousness of small diameter, and for this reason work upon us and in us exactly in the opposite manner to what every genuine disciple of Archaic Occultism strives after, to wit, an expansion of the egoic or human self to become like unto its own native essence, its 'Father in Heaven.' Nay, the genuine occult student strives to become ever more at one with the Self of the Galactic Universe, our own Home-Universe — not only to become like unto it, but to be in consciousness at one with it. For verily, as the ancient Vedic Sages of Hindusthan taught so nobly, Tat twam asi: THAT, the Boundless, and thou are one!
Such is the path of the genuine Occultist; such indeed is genuine Occultism. It is an opening out or expansion of one's inner being, of one's consciousness, and a losing or etherealizing rather of the sheaths inclosing this consciousness; it is a developing, a growing, an expanding, an enlarging, a becoming ever greater: in fact, this path is a method and a training which result in an enormously quickened spiritual, intellectual, and psychical evolution of man's constitution, to become not different from the Universe in any sense or in any wise, but to become ever more and more at one with it. Yea, verily, that is what the student of genuine Occultism strives after a quickened spiritual and intellectual, aye, and psychical evolution; but this evolution, if it is to be a safe, sane, and real path, is along the path of greatness that I have just hinted at, along the path where true inner greatness is to be found, along the path of inner development and growth.
The running after psychic practices and phenomena, so-called, and a devotion of one's energies and faculties to them, amounts really to a deplorable waste of precious time; the concentration of one's faculties on these things simply reverses the inner machinery of one's consciousness, so to speak, and, to adopt a phrase that will be readily understood today, throws the psychical engine into reverse, and one goes backwards rather than forwards. The occult arts are easy to practise once one knows the secrets of them, and these secrets are easily discovered; and the causes of psychic phenomena are even more easily found out — such phenomena as the petty clairvoyance, the fallible and often fallacious clairaudience, the insignificant thought-readings. Things like these are psychical results belonging merely to our intermediate human sheath of consciousness — and the worst of it all is that these are just the things that seem to fascinate the minds of men today. People are running after them, often losing their direction in the chase, if not indeed losing their mental balance; and at the end of the frantic course there looms the insane asylum, or perchance, what is much worse, there yawns the suicide's grave. Count, if you will and can, the broken hearts and distracted minds on either hand along the way. There is naught that is spiritually and intellectually inspiring, there is naught that shines with the holy flame of impersonal devotion to abstract truth, in following these practices — naught. Contrast them with the simple grandeur of the teaching of the ancient Sages and Seers, the Masters of the genuine Occultism of the ages of old: O, man, know thyself, for within thee lie all the secrets of the Universe and therefore of destiny, for thou thyself art that Universe, and its destiny is thine, and thine is its.
The Self, the divine, spiritual Self within us, is the path which we must follow if we yearn to reach the 'Heart' of the Universe. Learn to know, O student, that thy fellow human beings and thou are in essence the same, nay, that thou and the entire Universe are essentially one. This is Occultism. This teaching contains the secrets of the things that are hid, the science of the things that are secret. This is the meaning of Occultism.
What is this word 'Occultism,' and what is this adjective 'occult' that belongs to it? They are not new; they belong historically to the medieval ages of European peoples. Petrus Peregrinus writes that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of our era Occultism meant simply the 'study of Nature,' what today would be called experimental science, the study of the things that were previously hid, unknown, secret; and the word 'occult' was then used with this meaning.
It was only later, owing to a number of converging karmic lines of destiny, that the thoughts of men in the Occident became more or less turned to strictly theological directions, and the experimental research into Nature and her manifestations and her secrets had to wait for renewed life, until about the time of the French Revolution, more or less, or until some relatively short time before that.
The scientists of today, chemists, biologists, astronomers, physicists, what not, are 'Occultists' therefore in the etymological meaning of the word; and however slightly they may pass beyond the frontiers of the known, however little they may go beyond the veil of the visible, nevertheless, etymologically speaking they are experimental 'Occultists,' i.e., researchers into the unseen, discoverers of the unknown, finders of new truth — discovering what is hid, laying bare what is secret. It is of course obvious that the mere etymological meaning of the word, while interesting enough, does not contain the sublime sense which the genuine Occultist of the archaic and even of modern times signifies when he uses the words 'Occultism' or 'Occult' — the Brahma-Vidya, the Divine Science.
The genuine Occultist of our Theosophical School is indeed also an experimental scientist because he, too, is a discoverer of hid things, and because he, too, plunges into the deep abysms of Nature's heart; but instead of limiting his work and his discoveries to the material sphere, he knows that Mother-Nature is a vast organic Entity of which our outward physical sphere is but the exterior carapace, the outer veil, or sheath, or garment, or body; and that the Great Worlds, the invisible worlds, are they which contain the causal elements of all Being, and of all beings, producing in our outer sphere whatever we see around us.
Therefore, pursuing our thought a little farther, we see that Occultism means an exploration of the inner and invisible worlds of Being, and a becoming cognisant of what therein lies, including the hosts of beings inhabiting these inner and invisible spheres; and one cannot be an Occultist unless he become exactly what H. P. Blavatsky points to in the extract with which I preface this article, an impersonal servitor of the world. This is for the simple reason that one cannot follow the Path, one cannot pursue the Road, one cannot go on to success in such sublime discovery, unless one is thoroughly impersonal, wholly devoted, to the last atom, to the grand service of all that is, and unless one's heart be filled with an impersonal love which knows no bounds and no qualifications of time or place. One cannot see into the inner worlds if one's thoughts are continuously dancing a mad dance of emotion or of mental disturbances, a veritable danse macabre, a crazy capering in the mind of little thoughts about little things, frontiered and surrounded by the limited personal human consciousness of the man whose thoughts are for self and not for the world. Forgetfulness of self, a plunging into the unknown with high courage, and with the flaming fire of the spirit lighting the path before one's feet, and complete and absolute trust in the god within, mark the genuine Occultist. It is verily so. Only the wholly impersonal man can understand this, and therefore only the impersonal man can succeed in the Great Labor. A heart washed clean of all human desires for merely personal profit and all evil things, a soul washed clean of all selfish yearning, a mind devoted absolutely and for ever to truth, utter truth, sheer truth, at whatever cost to oneself — such is the Occultist. Verily such he is!
The causes of the psychic phenomena that have been noted in all ages by intelligent observers arise in the erratic functioning of the principles of the constitution of men and women in whom these principles are more or less loosely knitted together, and which, because of this fact, often function in an erratic and imperfect manner. In such beings the principles of the constitution act irregularly, erratically, imperfectly, and produce strange and unusual effects on the human brain, resulting therefore in unusual and strange conditions and productions — 'phenomena.'
Such in brief are the psychical phenomena and their causes; and consequently a study of the psychical practices and phenomena is a study of the lower sheaths of man's consciousness; but one learns no grand truths of Nature in this study, nor is it productive of any lasting benefit either to the individual or to the human race. These arts or practices, and the phenomena accompanying them, tell us naught about the great truths of the universe; they unfold naught of the origin of things, nor about the nature of the world, nor of its character, nor of its structure, nor of its operations, nor of its laws. Nothing! In what way can a man learn the destiny of the immortal divinity shining within him by going into a darkened room, or into a room which is lighted, seeking phenomena therein, or by subjecting his individual will and brain to the utterly irresponsible and most frequently evil denizens of the astral world? All such arts and phenomena indeed exist. Their existence is not in dispute. But in what lies their value? Is there in them any irrefutable proof of the survival of consciousness after physical dissolution, to use an old phrase of our fathers? None at all. No real proof at all, because in the first place men do not know what real immortality means; they think it means unchanging continuance of the human soul as now it is — and what a hell that would be! Fancy being for ever, and for ever, and for ever what one is now!
The teaching of Occultism is just the contrary of this. Its teaching tells us of an endless growth, endless improvement, endless development, endless evolution, therefore an endless changing of consciousness, going ever higher and higher out of the human sphere into the semi-divine, and out of the semi-divine worlds into the divine, and thereafter into the super-divine, and so on ad infinitum. There is no such thing as immortality as commonly understood. The only immortal thing is the Universe itself; but even this is by no means immortal as it now is, because it itself is constantly changing, and its essence is its life, which is of the very essence of change which means growth, which means evolution.
Here again one has an idea of what genuine archaic Occultism meant, and, indeed, is and means today. The more deeply we penetrate into ourselves, the more deeply do we penetrate behind the veil of outward Nature, for the inmost of us and the inmost of Nature are essentially one and not twain. As I have said above, this is the path that the genuine Occultist follows, that small, old, still Path of the ancient Sages which traverses the limitless fields of boundless SPACE, inner space and outer space, the Space-Time of Consciousness-Substance.
No man who lives an evil life, thereby enfeebling his powers, crippling his will, constricting and materializing the sheaths of consciousness so that they enfold with an ever greater constriction or inward pressure, can ever be an Occultist. Occultism demands the highest ethics, the purest morality, as I have before stated, a heart washed clean of all selfish yearnings, a life devoted to the service of all things in the universe, of all that lives, and a constantly expanding intelligence. He indeed who can follow this path and who does so, is an Occultist.
Leaving aside with bare mention the unutterable loneliness that in the first stages assails the dauntless adventurer into these wonderful realms, leaving aside the personal wrenches that take place — a loneliness and a pain which in time disappear and are replaced with a sense of one's oneness with the All and with a glorious feeling of expanding powers — leaving these aside, I say, I point to the ineffable beauty of this life, to the incomparable and indescribable peace, the infinite peace, the great rest, the expansion of understanding, and the self-conscious becoming at one with the Great Mystery.
The old Welsh bards used to sing that to the initiate's ear there comes the audible song of the growing grass, and that the circling of the orbs in the sky was likewise heard as a great musical symphony; and verily it is so. Even our modern scientists today tell us that every smallest electron is in constant movement, and that every movement of a substantial particle is accompanied with a sound, a note, a musical note indeed, so that every smallest atom sings its own characteristic enduring hymn; and hence any combination of atoms forms a harmony, a symphony. Thus it is that even our physical bodies, had we the ears to hear it, would be heard by us as a wondrous symphonic orchestration of music, a marvelous symphonic melody of musical numbers.
"Live the life and you will know the doctrine," but you will never know it if you do not live the life in its amazing and fascinating richness, and 'living the life' means a great deal more than merely following conventional ethics. Conventional ethics are indeed good and important, for they put a rein upon man's vagrant and impulsive passions, and check his wandering and erratic mind; but 'living the life' means vastly more than this. It means, first of all things, an absolute sincerity with oneself, so that a man himself becomes his severest or first critic, then a surrender of all that is unworthy, to be replaced by whatever enriches the life, makes it fuller and vaster in reach of consciousness, thereby bringing into function and play, powers and faculties and energies which in the majority of men, alas, are but little more than dreams or even entirely unknown. And finally, 'living the life' means a determination of will and a direction of the mind towards the single objective, that naught can change, because genuine Occultism means the bringing out of the loftiest that is in a man; therefore the genuine Occultist can follow no man's mere say-so, nor can he ever subject in slavish fashion his will to the mandates or dictates of another. This does not mean, however, that the Occultist has no teachers. Quite the contrary; for one of the first rules or laws of the occult doctrine points out the absolute need to the student, however advanced he may be, of the guidance and help of others farther advanced along the path of wisdom and peace and knowledge than he himself is.
The Occultist follows the mandates of the god within, his supreme Master; but precisely because he is beginning to know self-consciously his own inner Master, he is enabled to recognise masterhood and spiritual and intellectual greatness in others, and to welcome the guidance and help of those others more advanced than himself.
I often hear it said in these days of popular criticism, even among the ranks of Theosophical students, who, alas, sometimes criticize each other unfairly and unfriendly, that it is sufficient unto a man to trust wholly to the god within him, and that teachers we need not. Alas, the statement is but a half-truth. Indeed, the statement is accurate enough as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough; for indeed every genuine Occultist needs teachers, no matter how far he may have progressed along the pathway to Father-Sun. The Occultist recognises a hierarchy of sublime beings ascending from unusually noble men in direct serial line and succession to the noblest and loftiest gods of our Universe and beyond; and he becomes exquisitely sensitive as time goes on of the existence of these lofty beings, and develops a keen sensibility of the fact that the Hierarchy of Teachers or of Masters in the world and above it forms a part of the very structure and substance of the Universe itself, and that his own progress is dependent upon the utterly faithful and loyal part which he himself takes in recognising his oneness, as an individual, with this Hierarchy, and in receiving instruction from above with the same impersonal devotion to his Teachers that he himself renders to those below him.
Yes, all students need Teachers, although, indeed, the greatest Teacher of a man is his own inner god; those who have traveled upon the Mystic Path know this and are grateful, and direct their faces with gratitude to those who in compassion and in the greatness of their souls, turn around, as it were, and offer a hand, a helping hand, to those behind them on the Path.
As regards the average man, he whose progress is not yet sufficient to have awakened within him the spiritual and psychical senses and faculties which not only merit but which will indeed command the aid of a superior Teacher, there is always the wisdom of the great Sages and Seers of the ages, and in this, with the help of the sublime Theosophical philosophy used as a key, the student-researcher can delve as in a mine and thus discover treasures worth more than all the hoarded wealth of the Golcondas of earth-life.
Now, as to the word 'psychic,' or more accurately the psyche, what is it? It is a Greek word signifying what we Theosophists, when referring to the constitution of man, call the intermediate part of that constitution, i.e., the lower human soul. James of the Christians says in his Letter, chapter iii, verse 15: "This wisdom cometh not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish"; and the Greek words are: ouk estin aute he sophia anothen katerchomene, all epigeios, phychike, daimoniodes. The word here translated 'sensual' is 'psychical' in the Greek. But the 'wisdom' that cometh from on high, which man already has inherent within the spiritual core of his being, is the wisdom of impersonal devotion, is a love for one's fellow-beings, is a love indeed that knows no bounds, a love that takes within its encompassing reach not only all mankind but the beasts and the plants and the rocks, yea, which reaches out to the very stars in the skies, a wisdom that knows no hatreds, a love that is a hater of hate, and a lover of love. This is the 'wisdom' from above, charitable, kindly, peaceful, pure, holy, clean, very sweet. It leads us into the Great Peace, the Great Peace which is the silencing of all the senses so that the inner voice may be heard for ever more. It is the wisdom which acquaints one intuitively with the profoundest and largest secrets of cosmic Nature and makes them familiar to us. It is the wisdom of selfless dedication of all that one is to the co-operative service of all that lives. This, with other things too sacred here to write of, is Occultism.
Occultism, therefore, briefly explained, is the study and investigation of the things that are secret, that are hid; but we must follow it aright, with clean heart and impersonal motives, otherwise there is every chance that we may be drawn into the side-paths, into the lower wisdom, and, at the best, waste our time in psychical practices and experimentation; and, at the worst, end in sheer sorcery. Many men will doubt this statement probably, and yet sorcery or diabolism is an actuality on the earth. Men and women are found today practising evil magic upon each other by word, by suggestion, by example, by precept, by misleading and misteaching others, thus degrading, and deliberately degrading, human souls; and if there be a worse sorcery than this, I know it not. The Occultist must have a pure soul, an inflexible will, to succeed in attaining his sublime objective, and a heart in which compassion, and love its alter ego, reign supreme; a soul washed clean of all personal desires. Then he is safe, and, what is even more important, his fellow human beings are also safe and can trust him. A Theosophist, likewise, is not one who talks about Theosophy, nor one who knows our exoteric Theosophical books by heart, nor one who can converse or lecture learnedly upon Theosophical topics; but the Theosophist is he who does it. "Theosophist is who Theosophy does," as H. P. Blavatsky once so nobly wrote; and I think that this is the test by which we may know the genuine Theosophist, or, indeed, the genuine Occultist, for the twain are really one. He practises the doctrine that he preaches.