"You'll need some tools to do that job," said the carpenter to his twelve-year-old son. Without any hesitation the master craftsman opened his own metal toolbox — the one he took with him to do jobs away from home — and began assembling a tool kit that consisted of saws, a hammer, chisels, augers and drills, rulers and squares. Everything he was looking for he found in his own shop. These were not toys or tools designed for children but instruments that had stood the test of time and experience. We will not dwell on the fact that the carpenter was a joyful giver who desired only the best for his son. The carpenter then became the teacher. "Don't cut any more lumber than you need for your box. Cut each piece exactly as you have drawn it on your plan. Bring me the pieces when you have cut them and I'll show you how to put the box together." The carpenter left his boy to do the job, scarcely taking the time to acknowledge the boy's "Thank you, Dad." With such guidance, the boy succeeded in building the "perfect" box — a measure of achievement and success he will never forget.
This story has much in common with our theme: putting theosophy to work. Whether we personally like to call it a religion, a science, or a philosophy, basically it is a tool or many tools. What makes it valuable is that it is wrought from living experience. This is the tool which, in the hands of an experienced craftsman, can change the hearts and minds of humanity and lead to brotherhood and peace on earth. It is a tool forged by generations of sages and seers, once men and women like ourselves, who have searched out and found the sacred path that leads to the heart of the universe. These great souls, for whom nature holds few secrets, form the Brotherhood of Compassion and Peace, a chain of Adept-humans who "pass down" their living experience of nature's truth, the ancient wisdom, or secret doctrine. Sometimes called elder brothers in a feeling of family affection, they are bonded to us in the spiritual parts of our natures, whether we believe we have souls or not. They are role models, standing in relation to us as the master carpenter is the "joyful giver" to his son.
Once we take theosophy into our life and accept the gift of the ancient wisdom offered by its custodians, the sages and seers who have it in trust, it is only natural and right that we want to share this gift with others. But to help humanity is not as easy as it sounds. A study of history shows how many well-meaning monarchs, statesmen, and martyrs have tried to force humanity into higher channels (so they thought), only to have their effort go off the track and end up in a tangle. The fact is that we human beings are enormously complex. Without a vision we go round and round, preferring the comfort of our cave and its darkness to the light without. As our vision takes in wider vistas and begins to comprehend a sublime destiny for ourselves and humankind, this is tempered by the desire to use our newfound knowledge to help lift the load of misery that threatens to engulf the planet. We are tempted, in short, to rush out and "do something."
The wisdom of not rushing out and doing something can be observed in the quiet way the theosophical movement over millennia has urged humanity onward to higher vistas of understanding and experience. If the universe exists for the experiencing of the soul — and every manifested life form has one — who is to deny a supreme impulse that urges every entity to come up higher?
To learn about theosophy is easy. The hundred years since The Theosophical Society was founded have given the time necessary to make theosophy a household word and allow some of its basic ideas to permeate humanity's thought atmosphere. Yet the Theosophical Society is an expression of a spiritual movement that goes to the root of universal existence, part of the very fabric of life, so that the test of any truth is its universality. As has been the case for many years, the primary requisite for fellowship in the Society is an acceptance of the principle of universal brotherhood. It is not important, at first, to go beyond our ordinary understanding of brotherhood. It is enough to want to improve the lot of human beings and to be willing to share the planet with the plants and animals. The person who lives only for himself and has no time for helping or sharing with others — what right has this person to expect special consideration from "above"? Even if the beginner thinks the acceptance of this principle a modest requirement, it still places him or her in the ranks of the hierarchy of compassion. One may, indeed, be close to the shore and the shallows of the river of life, yet truly be as much part of the river as the mighty current at its center.
If learning about theosophy is easy, what about occultism? To say that it deals with matters "hidden" does not tell the whole story, especially when the public associates this word with Satanism, voodoo, and black magic. But at the root of occultism is the thought that nothing is more familiar, more "natural," than to realize that we are nature. Let us be joyful, positive, assured of the rightness of the divine plan! When we get to the point as individuals where we would like to help humanity even more, but are well aware of the dangers of rushing out to "do something," then we are ready for a little practical occultism. William Q. Judge describes the ideal occultist in Letters That Have Helped Me:
Perhaps I see in you — I hope I mistake not — a pure desire to seek Knowledge for its own sake, and that all others may be benefitted. So I would point out to you the only royal road, the one vehicle. Do all those acts, physical, mental, moral, for the reason that they must be done, instantly resigning all interest in them, offering them up upon the altar. What altar? Why, the great spiritual altar, which is, if one desires it, in the heart. Yet still use earthly discrimination, prudence, and wisdom.
It is not that you must rush madly or boldly out to do, to do. Do what you find to do. Desire ardently to do it, and even when you shall not have succeeded in carrying anything out but some small duties, some words of warning, your strong desire will strike like Vulcan upon other hearts in the world, and suddenly you will find that done which you had longed to be the doer of. Then rejoice that another had been so fortunate as to make such a meritorious Karma. — 1:1-2
What are called mahatmas, rishis, or sages are human beings, once just like ourselves, and so they are perfectly familiar with the type of experience this period of existence affords for us. Their responsibility and duty — joyfully assumed — is to help us fulfill, in long ages of time perhaps, our spiritual destiny which will make of us gods in our own right. By their examples theosophy comes out of the book and becomes living truth, and we can understand why great souls are willing to give their treasures away. How is it possible to put a price on that which is beyond price? Knowledge, properly considered, is just a tool. So we are not surprised when an enlightened being declares in simple honesty: we would gladly share all our knowledge if it could succeed in lifting the burden of human misery. It is not wealth nor intellect, but virtue, hard-won, that opens nature's heart.
What will bring us to universality of understanding are seven jewels of wisdom, or sapta-ratnani, ideas which since time immemorial have been the ladder of ascent for unnumbered sages and seers. Each of the sacred teachings is a key that will open a door and permit us to broaden our conception of the world that is before us. If, for example, we believe that one life is all there is, our view is needlessly limited. Reincarnation is the key that will enlarge our canvas until we realize that there is more to us than our personality and more to life than the brief episode spanned by a few years. We learn that we are the product of countless lives — a unique product of our own attractions and decisions — and yet stamped with an individuality that is divine in origin. With this goes a second key: karma, the kindliest of teachers. In one sense it is judgment upon our actions by our higher selves, which we can accept when we understand it because it meets our criteria of fairness and justice.
A third concept that helps us find the path of mahatmaship is hierarchies. We may have little direct knowledge of the many kinds of lives that infill the universe, but this isn't necessary. Every year we are coming to know more and more about the interdependence of the lives that live on this planet. The seer takes this interdependence a step further and declares: everything exists in everything else.
A fourth key that broadens our horizons is the teaching of swabhava, "the essential characteristic of any entity, of any spiritual radical; the doctrine also of self-generation or self-becoming in manifestation, thus affirming one's responsibility in and for oneself" (G. de Purucker, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 189).
A fifth key concerns the ultimate aims of the twin processes of involution and evolution by which spirit and matter each gains expression in the other; the result is the aim of universal being — to eventually raise the lower by the higher. This cannot be done if each life attempts to work for itself alone. Right from the beginning, then, we confront the sixth jewel: the choice between two paths: pratyeka-yana, "the path for oneself," and amrita-yana, "the path of self-consciousness in immortality" (Fundamentals, p. 190). This moment of greatest decision, the moment of ultimate self-sacrifice, is to know that you have earned the right to become at one with the universal being and share in the bliss of that existence, and yet turn away from receiving that reward because others, struggling upwards, need a guide to show them the way. The seventh jewel is atma-vidya, "knowledge of the self" — both our individual selves and the cosmic self that is our parent.
There are more keys, but the study even of these seven makes of the concept of truth a living reality — the school being a living universe which, to know, one must become part of in all its ranges.
The key of keys, the jewel of jewels is brotherhood — the mystic lodestar of the universe. As citizens of the universe let us fulfill our true destiny. Nature accepts us for what we are as well as where we are. Once we find our place on the royal road W. Q. Judge speaks of, and are convinced of its rightness, each day, each moment, brings to us those circumstances that determine what we shall do. Each of these moments is sacred. They will test our "discrimination, prudence, and wisdom." When we put theosophy to work our life takes on new meaning, the range of which soon becomes apparent.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1992. Copyright © 1992 by Theosophical University Press)