Season of new hats, spring-cleaning, eggs and hot-cross buns! And in his agony a great Teacher said to his disciples: "What, could ye not watch with me one hour?"
Long before the time of Jesus, called the Christ, the spring equinox was hallowed as one of the four sacred seasons of our year's cycle. It is the time when the earth in its egg-shaped orbit traverses one of the four points of the cross in space at which cyclic changes take place in our relationship with the sun and other members of our solar system. At each of these four points, the solstices and equinoxes, fresh impulses of life in its ever-changing phases are felt throughout nature's kingdoms. The vernal equinox brings us growth, fragrance, and the beauty of fertility. Nor are these restricted to physical manifestations. The newness that we sense at the dawn of a spring morning is a token of the awakening that is also taking place in the soul of man, bringing added impetus to all his endeavor.
At this time, the human being who is aware of his inherent divinity and capable of withstanding personal desire receives within himself the radiance of the spiritual sun and imparts it to his surroundings. This experience takes place when a man is ready to face and conquer the lower, and ally himself consciously with the god within. The "chosen ones" who undertake this task are "crucified," and in their "descent into hell," meet and overcome their hidden weaknesses, and rise again, "resurrected from the dead." Only the absolutely selfless man can survive and emerge from these trials as a god in a human frame.
The Christian church chose two of the four sacred seasons to commemorate the Teacher Jesus. His birth is said to have occurred at the time of the winter solstice, his conception and death at the time of the spring equinox. The legend of his life corresponds perfectly with that told of other great teachers, who almost without exception are recorded as having been born at the Christmas season, the mystic period known from antehistoric times as the Great Birth; for at that point in the cycle governing the seasons of our earth the saviors of humanity undergo their major trial, emerging as teachers of humanity, self-reliant perfect men, and at the end of the trial period appear "clothed with the sun" — called by the Christian the Epiphany.
The Easter season, or spring equinox, is spoken of as the Great Temptation, and many are the symbols attached to its sacred events. The mothers of many great teachers, said to have immaculately conceived their divine sons, are linked with the lily or lotus flower, symbolic of perfect man, rooted in the soil of matter, traversing the water of psyche or soul, and blooming in the sunlight of the spirit. The birth of a savior of men is referred to as immaculate in that the spiritual teacher is born from the man's own nature without intervention: a virgin birth indeed. The symbolic egg is broken, as the hard lower self of the initiate is shattered to permit the emergence of the living spiritual entity.
Jesus has been purported to be an initiate of the Essene mysteries, and the story of his trials and temptations is recorded for others to follow. He is justly honored as one who succeeded in overcoming himself; nor is he alone, for, though few of the teachers of his and the Buddha's caliber are known to us, who can say how many go their ways unknown and unrecognized among men? Not all initiates have a public mission to perform, yet their very existence forms an impregnable Guardian Wall of protection for humanity.
In their function to awaken and foster the spiritual impulses in men, they are assisted by any one who consciously and willingly places himself under their aegis, desiring ardently to help alleviate the sufferings of his fellows. When one so places himself in a direct line to receive, channel and pass on the impulses to selfless altruism emanating from the brotherhood of Great Ones, he brings upon himself in degree the trials of initiation in his daily living; but not until he has so purified his own nature that there remains no selfish dross, is he subjected to the more severe tests that come upon a willing candidate for master-hood at the sacred seasons of the year.
For lesser men these seasons pass practically unnoticed, except for a conscious upsurge of goodwill at Christmas and Easter. Yet somewhere on the face of our earth earnest souls are struggling for their very life in the dread throes of their private and personal trials, and, if they succeed in their endeavors, return as living gods to participate quietly and unobtrusively in the regeneration of humanity. Eternal vigilance is needed in one who aspires to join in their labors; and fortunate is he who, after repeated failures perhaps, at length receives the opportunity to manifest the radiance of his own inner divinity for the benefit of others.
Three of the four Christian gospels mention that Jesus, in the midst of his Great Temptation, returned to find his disciples asleep. What reason could there be for so much emphasis on what seems a trivial matter, unless that laxity were indeed a point of importance? Let us profit by their tragic loss of opportunity so that when the time comes, in this or some future period, the Master may have no cause to say: "What, could ye not watch with me one hour?"
(From Sunrise magazine, April 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)