Occultism and the occult arts is a vast subject, and one that we could talk about for weeks and yet not begin to approach the core of it. Occultism is what is hidden. The dictionary definition is good enough, but to an occultist, it is not truly satisfactory, for it leaves out the majesty involved in its pursuit. Actually, there are two faces to occultism. The one we see in the papers — "occult powers, hypnotism, astral journeys, psychism, quick, easy-to-learn lessons, for a price" — appealing to man's selfish side, has little of permanent value. The other, the spiritual one, is as close as life to man, and is everlasting, for it means putting altruism into practice, living it every day of our lives.
Today we have amassed an enormous mountain of knowledge, of data. These facts were once occult, for there was a time when they were not generally known. Indeed, all religions were once occult. Even their husks, if we study them, may still reveal to us things of the occult. When the message was first stated, it was private to the individual. A man could turn inward and apply it to his life, to his living, find the answers to his problems. But as time went on, later adherents destroyed these religions, for they tried to save them. They tried to set them down in writing: "This is the way it is, and this is how you should understand the truth."
But I do not mean that someone who follows the Christian faith, or is a Sufl, or a Brahman, cannot find within his religion the wonders that are there, for each man brings to his particular tradition exactly what he is. He will find in it what he is searching for. The Mystery schools of old were once occult. They are occult today. No one really knows what was specifically taught in them, but generally we do know that in their era they were seats of learning. Plato, Solon, Thales, attended these schools and gained their knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, physics, and so forth. These subjects were not taught as we teach them in our schools — they were not a mass of isolated facts divided into this and that category, each with its specializations.
The Mystery schools we know of in Greece and Egypt, in India and other places, presented essentially the same teachings about man, the universe, birth and death, and man's relation to all that lives. It was a study of and a search for truth and a becoming of that truth within each man, for in becoming it, he would know it. Our present divisions of philosophy, science, and religion are but ways of looking at nature, ways of expressing her functions. What do our modern men of learning understand about the universe, how it came into being, how it exists in all its worlds, inner and outer? What do we know really about the Mystery schools where man was shown how his consciousness travels through these worlds?
The ancient teachers and philosophers taught that universes, that cosmoi, worlds, periodically come into being and disappear. When such an entity — and they are all living — comes into manifestation, it does so in much the same way that man brings himself to birth. It is like a great scroll, unrolling down through the planes of universal being, quickening on each plane the life-elements of its former self, calling them into activity, awakening them; and it is the activity and growth of these lesser lives that builds the inner and outer worlds. We humans and all other living beings in nature go to make up this cosmic entity of which we are a part — materially and spiritually.
When a man dies, he casts aside his body and we say this man is dead, and is no more. In reality, it is the beginning of a process of inrolling into the spiritual seed of himself those forces that make him up. In the autumn certain plants die and withdraw their life forces into the center or seed of themselves, to await the spring to come forth and manifest once again. And when man dies, much the same process occurs. Like a scroll he too inrolls inward and upward through the various planes of his nature, leaving on each plane the garments that are his, parts of himself incapable of moving into the ascending worlds, the spiritual spheres, until at length even the higher forces disappear into the seed of himself. Then when the urge to be born is felt anew, the returning ego picks up once more in each descending world the garments that belong to it, and finally reappears as a newborn child.
Thus in the Mystery schools, when they spoke about the travels of man in initiation, it was of the soul's going into these inner worlds of which he was already a part. It was the selfsame story of the journeying of man after death — only now self-consciously going through that experience.
I would speak of evolution, too. Man is one of many billions of entities that compose a cosmic being, some of which are much lower in evolutionary unfoldment than he, others much farther ahead. A seed grows and develops to become that which is locked up in the seed. It cannot become anything that is not within itself. All these entities, seeds of life, are sparks of the divine, which will unfold through eternity what is within themselves, becoming, really, universal divinities. Yet the universe in essence is also becoming. Man has reached the place in his evolution where he expresses himself as a human being. He has awakened those powers within him which make him aware of his potential; and the lives below him will some day also reach this point. Before man lies another step in awareness which will bring to birth from within him his spiritual faculties, and eventually make of him a god.
One naturally asks: how shall this awakening be achieved more effectively? How should a man live in order that he may attain this in the most natural way? I have never yet seen any formula that we can hold up against our experience and have it tell us this is right and that is wrong. Every man must make these decisions for himself. Yet by learning to appeal to the Knower within, that Knower becomes ever more influential in his life. Then he will see clearly the choice that is right for him.
It is only in the present moment that life brings to each living soul the pattern he must follow. This is the result of his desires and consequent actions of other days and lives. It reflects what he has become and created himself to be. It is here that evolution and growth occur, for we find in the natural unfolding of the daily circumstances the greatest spiritual opportunity. Here also his dharma or duty lies, not only to himself as a spiritually-becoming entity, but to his family and friends, and ultimately to all living things. There is no way in which he can erase that which he is — as he lives day by day in all these events and relationships he must deal with them. In his reactions to these lies his fulfillment of the Law, by breaking the chains of narrow awareness and attractions and becoming greater in consciousness of spiritual responsibility.
What is the path man must follow? It has been outlined by every true savior of the race, taught in the Mysteries; it has always been with man and is today, and ever will be. For man is an ancient pilgrim, He has been here for millions of years, and for millions of years the story has been told and retold to him again and again. If I were a Zoroastrian, a Vedantist or a Taoist, I would find the same ancient Way described, only in a different form. I myself am drawn to the Way set forth in The Voice of the Silence by H. P. Blavatsky, a code of ethical living which is that followed by the northern Buddhists.
Before I speak of this, I would say that true occultism is altruism — it makes no appeal to the selfish elements within man. The compassionate Path cannot be followed for oneself: the Way of inner unfoldment, the effort toward spirituality, is for the sake of all mankind. This is why I like the paramitas practiced by the bodhisattvas so very much.
The first "virtue" or paramita is "love immortal and charity." The word charity or compassion is the strong word here, bringing the idea right down into the world of reality, where man has his relationships, not just with mankind but with all beings of every kingdom. The Sanskrit word is dana, meaning "to give," which is the key to it. The second rule is "harmony in word and act" — sila, "to serve." In the light of the first, it becomes meaningful — a life of inner harmony in word and act in the service of all things. The third rule is patience, born of the understanding of the first two. And the fourth? When I first read this paramita, it seemed to me as far away as Mount Everest. How could man put aside his own personal lot, his own joy, his own ambition; and have utter indifference to personal pleasure and sorrow? As the years went by, I found that we can't live with other people, we can't cooperate with others, we can't raise a family, there is very little that we can do, if we don't put aside our own personal life in one way or another. We are doing it all the time.
The three higher paramitas are concerned with the growth of consciousness, and the search for truth and the becoming it. The seventh and last is that coming to birth from within — which makes of man a god. This is the true face of occultism. It isn't a seeking for power; it is the ages-old journey of the unfolding of the spiritual seed that is man.
(From Sunrise magazine, April 1975; copyright © 1975 Theosophical University Press)