Occultism today, the source of so much controversy, generally refers not to genuine occultism, but to a feverish search and longing for phenomena intended to awaken the lower siddhis (powers) or to obtain contact with more or less dubious astral beings. Unfortunately, such pseudo-occultism, occult tricks, and addiction to psychophysical and/or mental phenomena — essentially selfish practices — have discredited all occultism in the public mind.
We tend to deny or deliberately ignore that there is a lower, selfish occultism and a higher, selfless one. The higher occultism implies pure selflessness and sacrifice. The Bhagavad-Gita tells us that "rain comes from sacrifice" (3:14). Sacrifice here means letting go of everything connected with the personality or lower self.
Some people already long to tread the joyful but laborious spiritual path. But first we have to acquire the qualities of which the spiritually wise are made. This includes sacrifice, the abandonment and renunciation of all that is low, selfish, and transient, as well as the rousing of the spiritual will. As a result of our present life-style — encouraged by the world around us — we have disturbed our lower nature so much that it no longer obeys our will and often seems to use our will against our consent. But if we struggle to our feet again and again and take up the battle with renewed strength, little by little the resistance of our lower nature will decrease and eventually fade away.
H. P. Blavatsky encouraged the student "to follow the highest moral ideas. . . . to strive to comprehend his unity with all human beings, and to work continuously for others." When combined with self-improvement, over the years we will become more suitable and willing tools for encouraging the spiritual life of mankind. Self-realization, so in vogue nowadays, is open to question from this point of view because we immediately have to inquire after our motive: is my endeavor in the final analysis selfish or does it serve humanity and the world? Many people like to fantasize about a future utopia, but very often forget that the future can be built only on the present.
Each second of our life constitutes the present. As soon as it has slipped by, it is the past, useless for any further action. Have we learnt to use each second consciously? We don't think about the importance of these short spans of time because all our knowledge and efforts are directed to the manifested world. Unaware of the interblending of the spiritual and the tangible, we overlook an important fact of life because we have focused only on the development of the intellect and not the development of our inner spiritual abilities.
Generally, one second in the materialistic world has no particular value for the shaping of things, and yet if we examine the situation carefully, even seconds are of enormous importance for the progress of life. If we also take the power of thoughts into consideration, seconds cannot be disregarded. Every instant we are influenced by streams of thoughts and generate streams of thoughts ourselves. Is our lower self enough under our command so that we can guide and control these incoming and outgoing influences?
In Patañjali's Yoga Aphorisms we learn that people's thoughts and minds are continuously modified by outer pictures and impressions, that they are constantly reshaped into changing forms. The mind resembles a lake which is being whipped by the storms of passions and longings. If we succeed in bringing tranquillity into our restless mind and wandering thoughts then — and only then — shall we be able to gain a real understanding of the essence of things, of truth, and of the connections between all the events that affect us. Silence, the medicine of the soul, can help us. Only in silence can the innate vitality of every living being bring all disordered thoughts and the soul into harmony with the cosmos and its great laws.
Another aid in controlling thoughts and even habits is cyclic law. The New Testament advises: "Resist not evil." Negative thoughts and habits gain power over us when they enter our soul. To fight against them entails constantly thinking of them, inviting them again into our minds. Far better than to resist undesirable thoughts and habits is to ignore them. We must not give them any room, for thoughts become habitual — cyclic — if we yield to them repeatedly. We should substitute or exchange them for opposite thoughts and actions until these have become habits. We break the cycles by meeting thoughts and habits with other more desirable thoughts and habits. Again, we often find that this or that little thing about people, events, or circumstances bothers us all too easily. We are prone to irritation which only needs a minor impetus to bring it to life. We may feel a certain aversion towards others: we talk about their character and their habits. We find a reason for this antipathy even at the expense of truth and justice. There is indeed a reason, but we should look for it within ourselves because the cause is to be found in a lack of self-control and in unfriendly thoughts. If we realize this we will no longer allow ourselves to feel offended immediately and blame people and circumstances for our situation. Others are instruments of karma and sometimes help expose our weaknesses. Unfriendly feeling is like a disease which only needs an outer stimulus to come to life — but the causes of disease or weakness lie within us.
The revelation of our weaknesses gives us the opportunity to overcome them. How often when we overcome an aversion towards a certain person who has made us feel angry, we find that another person takes his place so that our antipathy is as vehement as ever. This shows that the real difficulty is to be found within ourselves and that this is an opportunity for our own weaknesses to be exposed and overcome. We have to force ourselves to stop thinking continuously about real or imaginary injuries, to acquire instead the habit of looking for the cause of negative thoughts in ourselves and not in others. Rage and anger can unbalance soul and body and keep us tied to the circumstances that make us angry until the reason for their existence has ceased. As the sage said: "Do not torture your soul with things that are unavoidable. Do not ponder on sorrows of times to be. Do not talk constantly about unpleasant things. Do not even listen if other people keep pestering you."
If we strive after purity, even the flow of our thought emitted in one second will have a life-creating effect. It is in our hands to give the energies that emanate from us destructive or constructive qualities. It is up to us whether we concentrate and preserve our powers and energies or whether we scatter and waste them. The importance of this is obvious not only for our health and life expectancy, but also for the corresponding effect on our surroundings.
Rather than misuse, waste, and dissipate our energies, let us use them for nobler purposes. Avoiding unloving thoughts, let us practice thought-discipline, focusing our efforts in such a way that we shake off the chains of our thoughts through systematic and intensive self-control and self-discipline in order to obtain conscious connection with the pure powers and energies of our true selves and spiritual egos.
(From Sunrise magazine December 1992/January 1993. Copyright © 1993 by Theosophical University Press; condensed from an address given on July 21 at the Theosophical Friendship Meeting held under the auspices of The Theosophical Society (Pasadena) at the Volksabdij, Ossendrecht, The Netherlands, July 18-23, 1991)