The lure of a secret is strong. Doubly so when it holds out the promise of something for a person's well-being or advancement. Many people believe just as strongly today in the Fountain of Youth and the transmutation of base metals into gold as they did in the Middle Ages. The proof of this is to be found in the advertisements regularly appearing in our magazines and newspapers. These advertisements are set forth under alluring titles with inducements to gain "esoteric" knowledge that will give to all new, and usually mysterious, powers, or courses in realizing our "inner" selves (at so much a head); and sometimes with startling promises to reveal the future and not only save us from all dangers, but help to chart our course to the golden land of our desires. Some are even more blatant in their appeal to the selfish and egotistical sides of our personalities — they will teach us how to "control" others, how to be masters of our Fate and thereby win fame, fortune and happiness. The fact is that many of these advertisers are sincere and well-meaning, but therein lies an even greater trap for the applicant in that neither are prepared for the very real dangers they will have to face.
There must be enough people caught to repay the advertisers' expenses — for there are many in the category toward which the ads are aimed: those who have been badly hurt by losses, disillusionments or disappointments. These advertisements are very subtle in their appeal to the searcher. Few of this type carry the message of Jesus Christ to which most of the readers have been exposed — they rely on pseudo-occult hints and star-gazing. The true occultism as taught by Jesus would put them out of business.
No amount of "secret" lore or "occult" powers will strengthen anyone or develop his character and ability to meet the events of each day. It never has been true that tools, no matter how fine, are of any value except in the hands of an experienced operator who knows when and where to use them. Tools are created and discovered by men who have developed themselves to the point of needing them; if given to a "child," that undeveloped person will inevitably destroy not only whatever is in the way, but probably himself as well.
Few will deny the existence of greater powers and knowledge, but most happily recognize that the acquirement of them has to parallel the development of the man. The merchandisers of "secret" lore do not find a market for their wares here. But what of those who, not finding their desires of the world gratified, or cast down by losses and failures, grab desperately at the promise of the powers to conquer held out by these salesmen-teachers? Perhaps they may learn something about powers not generally cognizable, but there is a world of difference between hearing about them and using them. Can anyone teach the requisites for their use — will-power, strength of character and self-control? No. These are fundamentals that have to grow unaided in every man. There is no short cut, particularly for those unable to use the ordinary powers of everyday life to keep afloat. In what fields of human endeavor can these teachers point to a "success story" based on their wares? Yet the psychic and pseudo-occult glamor and tinsel of the teachers and schools of the "hidden side" has a seemingly strong attraction to the unwary and gullible.
All the great Teachers and Helpers of mankind have pointed out the key to use in arriving at the value of any teacher or school: Is the appeal to the personal, to realization, to the acquirement of and power over the things of this world? Then beware, for the clear stream of the life-force does not run in this direction. Apply these same aims to the person or school offering them, and it may well be that the student is merely submitting himself and possessions to this teacher's control for this teacher's benefit! In the process the student may feel varying degrees of seemingly unexplainable mental and psychological "transports," but it is unlikely that these will be of much help in meeting the problems of life. On the contrary, its only result can be an escape mechanism, which will finally react on the seeker much the same as the taking of dope, and result in the collapse of the mind and psychological nature.
In the light of these warnings well may we beware those agencies whose only basis for "opening doors" is their claims to be the possessors of secrets and short cuts — secrets and short cuts condemned by such Teachers as Jesus, Buddha and Confucius. Condemned because such knowledge and powers are only to be found and used by the man who has first conquered himself and secondly has sacrificed himself for the benefit of all. The noblest of men are a long way from doing either; and most of us are a long way from even realizing what it means.
Fortunately for the human race most of its members are so busy making a living and contributing their efforts towards general progress in one aspect or another, that they have little time to worry about their own "inner" advancement and "occult" growth. Life itself is developing them to better meet and cope with all obstacles, both inner and outer. The more enlightened of them are following the guide-posts and laws of the true Wisdom of the Ages as outlined by the world's great philosophers and teachers. Guideposts and laws, available to all, which they have made integral parts of their characters, and hence they are to a greater or less extent in tune with the inner forces of the Universe. They don't have to study how they operate and what they are in order to use them — for they have joined forces with them, they have "become" them by being channels and agents. They are living proofs that the only true short cut is in 'living the life" and never in trying to by-pass it. Many have tried to by-pass the main highway, but the beckoning side-roads have all been found to end in an enclosed valley which is soon discovered to be a very small world in which to exist cut off from their fellows.
The man who puts up the signposts at these forks from the main road may sincerely believe that he is helping a struggling brother or he may be a victim of the byway trying to add to the population of his valley kingdom. In either case he is at best only pointing out a refuge from life and hence defeating the very purpose of existence. He offers servitude to the powers of darkness — the complete destruction of the manhood of each victim as he becomes more and more immersed in his world of concretion, resulting from his attempts to make the world about him a part of himself. For this concretion can only result in his building a cocoon of selfhood vegetating in an isolated valley. All the great natural processes of Nature, consisting as they do of birth, growth and expansion, and periods of rest, are diametrically opposed to this would-be conqueror who blindly overlooks the mastery of himself and would reverse the order of Being.
True occultism as found in the Sermon on the Mount of Jesus and the Noble Eight-fold Path of the Buddha, and others like them, outlines clearly the rules for "living the life," but unfortunately, to many, they don't have the appeal of "esoteric" secrets and courses in pseudo-occultism. To some, "living the life" may perhaps be deemed too practical and down-to-earth, but more often they are overlooked because they demand self-control and selflessness — two things which cannot be studied or taught; they have to be practiced and made a part of the individual through his own unrelaxed efforts. Lucky the man who can find an example to inspire him in these efforts, but exemplars are not to be found waving banners and promising secret powers to all and sundry.
(From Sunrise magazine, August 1952; copyright © 1952 Theosophical University Press)
Sorrow overmuch is suicide of the heart, and as in Silesia the self-murderer is buried with his face downwards, so the man sorrowing overmuch lies in the same manner with his face upon the earth, and yet without being in it; instead of raising his eyes towards the present and future heavens, which he has lost. Lift thyself up, look around, and see something higher and brighter than earth, earthworms, and earthly darkness. — Jean Paul Richter