All of us understand to a greater or less degree that the cycle of a year is a symbol of the life of man, of the life of each one of us, as well as of the life of the universe. We know also something of the symbology of the four sacred seasons, beginning with the winter solstice, followed by the spring equinox, the summer solstice, and the autumnal equinox. The winter solstice represents birth; the spring equinox the period of growth; the summer solstice is the time of adulthood, and the autumnal equinox the time of passing on toward a new birth.
Let us think a moment about the summer solstice and its meaning to you and me. We have said that it represents a time of adulthood or of full growth and power in the year. Each one of us is of a different age, and we individually have our own objective birth, adolescence, maturity, and death. If we can become conscious of being part of nature, we have an opportunity to partake of her assistance four times each year, to grow as nature would have us grow, and to expand the horizon of our consciousness with each seasonal experience.
As we touch, even lightly, the universal currents of life, we soon come face to face with the fact that no true spiritual growth is possible, no enlightenment can be received, by any one of us without our giving up something. In the cycle of esoteric thought and in the tone of the ancient Mysteries the period of the summer solstice is known as the Great Renunciation. At this time of year someone somewhere is undergoing the greatest of all temptations that can be met on this globe: that which calls for the renunciation of all individual progress toward spiritual adulthood, the renunciation by the initiant of all further degrees of attainment.
Let us not suppose that there is only one initiation involving the Great Renunciation, for there are many, but this sacred season is held to be the highest of the four in each of its degrees. It is the greatest of all initiations because, through its successful fulfillment, mankind and every living entity on the planet benefit because another Great One adds his stone to the Guardian Wall around humanity. But renunciation does not mean abandonment — it is just the opposite. The Great Ones, when they renounce their progress, do not abandon anybody or anything other than their own individual advancement. What they do, in fact, is add to your strength and mine, so that we too might some time consider the renunciation of our own individual spiritual progress for the benefit of others.
Each of us in our respective ways has been and is a renouncer, and we have had the good fortune to learn that the best preparation for the greater renunciation is found in the ordinary experiences of our lives. Our position in this whole process of unfolding the esoteric currents of life is in principle no different from that of the silent and solitary Watcher, of whom H. P. Blavatsky speaks:
He is the "Initiator," called the "GREAT SACRIFICE." For, sitting at the threshold of LIGHT, he looks into it from within the circle of Darkness, which he will not cross; nor will he quit his post till the last day of this life-cycle. Why does the solitary Watcher remain at his self-chosen post? Why does he sit by the fountain of primeval Wisdom, of which he drinks no longer, as he has naught to learn which he does not know — aye, neither on this Earth, nor in its heaven? Because the lonely, sore-footed pilgrims on their way back to their home are never sure to the last moment of not losing their way in this limitless desert of illusion and matter called Earth-life. Because he would fain show the way to that region of freedom and light, from which he is a voluntary exile himself, to every prisoner who has succeeded in liberating himself from the bonds of flesh and illusion. Because, in short, he has sacrificed himself for the sake of mankind, . . . — The Secret Doctrine, I, 208
True, the Silent Watcher is the highest representative on this globe of the great renouncers, and is at the center of the circle of humanity as it manifests through this globe. While we may be on the outer edge of that circle, nevertheless we have at present and will have increasingly in the future, a host of lesser aspects of life for which we are responsible. Thus in fact our position and our responsibilities as individuals are in principle the same as theirs. The currents from the wellspring of divinity that flow through the life and sacrificial example of all great renunciators of the past — as well as the one or more who are now experiencing somewhere in this world the awesome trials of this initiation — flow likewise through all of us, and link us individually with our own inner renunciator who has made the great sacrifice in order to be the monitor of you and me.
The following sacred season, the autumnal equinox, is referred to as the Great Passing and, as such, it represents what might be called the magnificent paradox as it provides a harvest of two types: that of Pratyeka Buddhas (aspirants to nirvana) and that of Buddhas of Compassion. At this critical time in the world's history, it will pay us well to think about the significance of the choices we human beings are daily making and which culminate in the ultimate decision: to enter either the pathway of personal salvation or the pathway of a humanly compassionate pilgrim.
This does not imply that every person is experiencing an initiation, literally and formally, at these sacred seasons. Nevertheless, his consciousness in reality is faced with the pressure to expand, and he with his own will and choice can help it expand or not; and he with his own will and choice can guide that expansion, if he allows it to occur.
Why is the autumnal equinox referred to as the Great Passing? Simply because in this experience the initiant wholly dies, in all his parts, and completely and fully disseminates, in the proper places, every aspect of his entire constitution, from the lowest to the highest. He does not merely descend into the Underworld and conquer it; he must ascend to the upper worlds likewise. To the degree that the initiant succeeds in his experience, in both the lower and the upper worlds, to that degree has he passed this great initiation. And here is the crossroads where the path divides. The initiant whose whole past experience was devoted to the spiritualization of his entire constitution for the benefit of his own progress and his own attainments, at the moment of that final step — which I prefer to call dissemination rather than dissolution — has his final choice: either to slip, as the dewdrop into the shining sea, into nirvana for the remainder of the manvantaric period [planetary lifetime] — to enjoy the bliss of his accomplishments; or to renounce that unimaginable bliss. If the latter, then he makes the supreme choice: to return over the whole route he traversed during the initiatory cycle in the dissemination of all of his parts, to return by the same course consciously, willfully, and pick up everything that he had left from where he left it, and again robe himself with the elements of a human being so that he might utilize this glorious attainment, which he had earned, for the benefit of everyone but himself.
It should be obvious, however, that something very potent of a spiritual nature must also obtain on the path of the Pratyeka. Because he has slipped into nirvana and thereby to a degree re-enhanced the brilliance of the cosmic consciousness in spite of himself, he has provided something in the larger sense to brighten the pathway of mankind. But he does not know he is doing it. He has not tried to do it. It is one of those natural things that happen: if you light a match in a darkened room so that you can see, you light that room and all others in the room can see too. That is the way the Pratyeka contributes his part.
The Buddha of Compassion, on the other hand, by his return helps others to light a light, helps the rest of mankind in ways so subtle and so impenetrable that we can only mildly conceive of the far greater contribution of the Compassionate Ones to the progress of the whole.
Now none of us will be ready to take these great initiations for a long, long time to come. Karma has placed us where we are, but we do have the opportunity naturally from day to day, without trying, to be truly compassionate pilgrims on this path of service to our fellowmen. There is something deep within which we all feel when we approach the actions and the thoughts of our daily lives with the attitude of sacrifice purely felt.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 1987; copyright © 1987 Theosophical University Press)