According to various spiritual traditions, the reason we are here is to remember a powerful force at work in our lives. Its power is exemplified by a very special friend of the modern spiritual movement: a great seer who has shared her vision of the truth with us. We know her through her works and through those who were close to her. They tell the story of a person so remarkable that she continues to attract more and more serious attention — and yet she still remains a mystery. Regardless of how well acquainted we are with the accounts that describe her, we often get the feeling that we will never really know her because she was so different. Was her ability to see a larger reality so distinct from ours? Or does her gift point to a potential that all of us have? If we could focus on what enabled her to develop the true greatness of her nature, a brief survey of her life may help us recognize this great force within ourselves.
Our story begins with an extraordinary child who already has what many believe to be supernatural powers. She can sense intelligent beings beyond the veil of matter. She can speak to them in their own language, and they show her how strongly they influence the material world. Her phenomenal powers of perception can hardly keep pace with her passion for exploring the unknown, for seeking the knowledge of what causes things to be. Driving this passion is an indomitable will that is determined to free the spirit, and rebels with heart and soul against all that tries to confine it. But one thing never fails to soften her rebellion: she is so sensitive to human kindness that it always delivers her from intolerance and anger.
This protective sensitivity is closely connected to a most beneficent presence that often guides her and keeps her safe from harm. She recognizes this presence as the Master who continually appears to her in the visions of her childhood. Her Protector embodies a compassionate wisdom beyond her conception, and has the finest qualities such wisdom can achieve. This benevolent sage has a dominant influence on her inner growth, and as she reaches maturity she meets him as a living human being.
What is brought to light at this meeting is the most important mission of her life. Her cooperation is needed in a work which will lead to the forming of an active brotherhood that has the highest interests of humanity at heart. To prepare for this, she sets out to explore the world to gain firsthand knowledge of the mysteries of being. There are those who know these secrets and who teach them to her because they recognize her ability to discern the truth. She is able to see through the mass of prejudice against the folklore and religions of other nations: to uncover the wisdom tradition that underlies them all.
How far must she travel to recognize this tradition? She has only to align herself with the great chain of seers who have gone this way before and who still come back to guide us. These are the guardians of our common journey. They watch over us through the clarity of stillness, in a hidden sanctuary surrounded by the highest ranges of contemplation. Her greatest longing is to find them and to become their true disciple. In realizing this, she becomes the intermediary between these spiritual guardians and the materialistic world.
Returning home after these many years of study, she undergoes a remarkable change in the development of her powers. She gradually succeeds in freeing her personality from the attraction of the undesired elementals that would surround her. She stops their phenomena at will and brings them under her own control. This takes place during a great deal of inner training and discipline, for she is learning the self-control that is needed to work with her higher nature.
Our friend is now prepared to start unveiling some of her knowledge to the world, and it is here that she is severely tested. The wisdom she holds dear is often misinterpreted, called into question, denied, and even ridiculed. Time and again she is imposed upon to create phenomena to convince those who would judge only by appearances, and most of those seem interested only in physical manifestations. Finally she is guided by her Master to a few truly devoted students, and with their help a philosophico-religious society is formed. The underlying purpose of the society is to promote the idea of universal brotherhood. By studying ancient and modern religion, science, and philosophy and making their fundamental truths known to the public, the members of this fellowship work to demonstrate the essential unity of all that is. And most importantly, these members strive to be personal examples of the highest morality and spiritual aspiration.
Forming such a society becomes the most trying test of all. The great soul behind this modern movement attracts many people who are not ready to live up to its high ideals. She is soon subjected to misinterpretation, doubt, and denial from within her own fellowship. There are those in whom she trusts who eventually turn against her and what she stands for. These disappointments are used by her detractors to support the derisive claim that for all her so-called powers she does not have the discrimination to know her enemies from her friends. She has answered this in terms that move us to look beyond her rebellious and explosive temperament to an underlying core of patience, tolerance, understanding, and forgiveness:
"Who am I that I should deny a chance to one in whom I see a spark still glimmering of recognition of the Cause I serve that might yet be fanned into a flame of devotion? What matter the consequences that fall on me personally when such an one fails, succumbing to the forces of evil within him — deception, ingratitude, revenge, what not — forces that I saw as clearly as I saw the hopeful spark: though in his fall he cover me with misrepresentation, obloquy and scorn? What right have I to refuse to any one the chance of profiting by the truths I can teach him, and thereby entering upon the Path." — Countess Constance Wachtmeister, Reminiscences of H. P. Blavatsky and The Secret Doctrine, p. 5.
This statement can be taken as a prophetic description of the rest of her life. As she helps to build her fellowship around the world, the attacks against her, the "obloquy and scorn," intensify. But her statement also reveals the spirit of compassion in which she perseveres through many years of anguish, which takes its toll upon her failing health. It sustains her long enough for her to leave a monumental legacy of writings from which we continue to draw knowledge and inspiration. At the time of her passing there are centers all over the world where people are committed to studying the ideas she reintroduced into the thought-life of humanity, and the new spiritual impulse has carried over to this century to awaken more and more interest in the essential oneness of life.
This brief sketch has focused on certain highlights in the life of a great servant of mankind. How does one realize such greatness? If the truths she taught can help us enter upon the same path toward spirituality, there must be a close relationship between her development and ours. Instead of setting ourselves apart from her, we might try thinking of her as an example to be followed.
The major obstacle to accepting this is the belief that she was born with supernatural powers beyond our understanding or capability, and that these gave her exclusive access to the Masters and their knowledge. Yet nothing could be further from her teachings, whose very purpose is to help us understand life as a whole — and this includes the nonmaterial world. What is thought to be "supernatural" is just as much a part of nature as what we sense with our physical perceptions. In fact, many ages ago at the dawn of humanity we were all born with the ability to see beyond the veil of matter. But in the course of our physical and intellectual development, we have grown so overly dependent on these faculties that their exclusive use obscures our deeper sensitivity. Rediscovering our higher senses now depends on much more than the changing circumstances of our birth — we must change the way we think.
We have the power to reflect on the unified vision that the great sages and seers have passed on to us. If we would follow their example, we will set out to verify these teachings in our lives — on our own inner touchstone of truth. As reflection and experience convince us of the oneness of existence, the mind begins to foster a true reverence for the whole of the natural world. Nature comes to life in our thoughts, and we begin to perceive a much larger reality. We have a growing sense of invisible but intelligent beings interacting with everything we know. We speak to them in silent wonder as we commune with what we love. And they invite us to explore the great Mystery within every living being.
What force gives us the will to free ourselves from exclusive points of view? How do we soften the stubborn attitudes that override our finer feelings? When we open ourselves to any form of kindness, we are touched by a powerful presence that always brings us closer to our true self. We recognize this presence in our communion with life: it is the one who gives us our most precious insights into who we are and why we are here. It is our inner Guide, the embodiment of our highest aspirations. In truth we are the student of our inner Master, and our purpose is to emulate our teacher.
How can this Master be a living being whose example we can follow? The answer lies in how well we are prepared to forge a living link between our highest self and our own humanity. Can we manifest the noblest side of us and ensoul it with life? Are we willing to embrace this life and let go of all that is mean and selfish? . . . When the student is ready, the Master appears.
Here is the pathway to our inner source of wisdom. It is a journey that takes us to the secret reaches of human nature: to the roots of prejudice, intolerance, impatience, and aversion; to the source of pride, arrogance, disrespect, and scorn. All of them stem from our illusions of separateness and the false sense of self that make us think we can gain from them. But with the help of our compassionate Guide, we can learn to see through every attitude we have against the personalities of other people — to the hidden Master within each of them. This is where our true interest lies, for it is the way we align ourselves with those who have a knowledge of things divine. With such a vision we gain access to the Guardians of mankind — in the sanctuary of our deepest contemplation.
Would we be trained in developing our latent powers? There is nothing powerful in being attached to the prowess of achieving visible effects — there is only weakness. The training that is needed most to work with nature is the self-control we have to learn. The mission for which the Masters need our cooperation is that we learn to work with one another and with all of our environment. Paradoxically, true disciples are trained by allowing them to be deceived: to be prejudiced against appearances, to think others are unworthy, and to look down upon them. This system of training is used to draw out the whole inner nature, to expose every aspect that the ego has concealed and put it to the proof — so the disciple can discover how he is deceiving himself.
The same kind of discovery has guided many of us to associate with other like-minded students to help keep the theosophical movement alive. But its life does not depend on how much we study philosophy and religion or how well we can explain the teachings. It depends on how devoted we are to following the example of the movement's greatest friend. Instead of prejudging the karma of another, we would be sensitive enough to let something of the true person call forth our essential humanity. We would have understanding for the trials that all of us have in exposing our own self-deception. And we would remember why we are really here — to make the spirit of compassion a living force in our lives.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Theosophical University Press)