Looking around the world today, we observe a rapid increase in so-called religious, psychic, and pseudo-mystical movements that have their origin, in part, in the Far East, but also in the United States, with an accompanying increase of psychic, metaphysical, and occult practices. Such developments in themselves are not startling. As H. P. Blavatsky wrote in 1891:
Psychism, with all its allurements and all its dangers, is necessarily developing among you, and you must beware lest the Psychic outruns the Manasic [mental] and Spiritual development. Psychic capacities held perfectly under control, checked and directed by the Manasic principle, are valuable aids in development. But these capacities running riot, controlling instead of controlled, using instead of being used, lead the Student into the most dangerous delusions and the certainty of moral destruction. Watch therefore carefully this development, inevitable in your race and evolution-period, so that it may finally work for good and not for evil. — H. P. Blavatsky to the American Conventions, p. 35
People hungering for answers to life's mysteries, and no longer satisfied with the answers of established institutions, are attracted to psychic and pseudo-mystical movements — also represented by certain traditional Oriental sects. Their teachings are generally baited with personal benefit, and their members aspire for the most part to attain the lower siddhis or inferior occult powers. The secrets of the different nadis, chakras, or nerve centers, for example, exert a strong fascination on some people. But many are unaware of the grave dangers to themselves in such techniques and powers — especially when sought for advantage and influence over others. Leaving aside harmful psychological effects, disease may result from awakening the chakras to abnormal activity, thus disturbing the balance of the pranas or life forces. Again, many people know about hatha yoga practices — or think they do. I do not refer here to relatively harmless physical exercises, which may be of some benefit, but to psycho-astral exercises which usually involve particular body positions in connection with breath-control practices. These not only can influence consciousness in a disturbing way, but can also interfere with the normal circulations of forces in the body. From these facts we see the great demands made on our judgment, which we must train through spiritual study and a corresponding life.
A related area that attracts great interest is mental or faith healing. In 1890 Blavatsky wrote:
As the preparation for the new cycle proceeds, . . . the latent psychic and occult powers in man are beginning to germinate and grow. Hence the rapid growth of such movements as Christian Science, Mind Cure, Metaphysical Healing, Spiritual Healing, and so forth. All these movements represent nothing but different phases of the exercise of these growing powers — as yet not understood and therefore but too often ignorantly misused. Understand once for all that there is nothing "spiritual" or "divine" in any of these manifestations. The cures effected by them are due simply to the unconscious exercise of occult power on the lower planes of nature — usually of prana or life-currents. — Ibid., p. 28
How can we evaluate such therapies? In giving his views, W. Q. Judge explained that
diseases are gross manifestations showing themselves on their way out of the nature so that one may be purified. To arrest them through thought ignorantly directed is to throw them back into their cause and replant them in their mental plane.
This is the true ground of our objection to metaphysical healing practices, which we distinguish from the assumptions and so-called philosophy on which those methods are claimed to stand. For we distinctly urge that the effects are not brought about by any philosophical system whatever, but by the practical though ignorant use of psycho-physiological processes. — The Path, September 1892, p. 190
Illness, then, should be understood as a process of purification. The symptoms of disease — all too often mistaken for the disease itself — represent the efforts of healing powers to expel harmful elements from the body. However, many people believe in healing disease by shutting the gates for its exit through the body. But such damming back allows the roots of the disease to become established, to spread and gather energy for a stronger reaction on the body later on — stronger than it would have been if the disease had been allowed to manifest initially. In cases of suppression, the disease comes back with interest and compounded interest — if not in this life, then in a future one.
A reliable preventative for all diseases — physical as well as psychological — is practicing the precepts of the ancient wisdom of mankind, such as the paramitas. These emphasize the evolution of spiritual qualities, not psychic or intellectual ones. In her Voice of the Silence, H. P. Blavatsky gives the paramitas as:
1. DANA, the key of charity and love immortal.
2. SHILA, the key of Harmony in word and act, the key that counterbalances the cause and the effect, and leaves no further room for Karmic action.
3. KSHANTI, patience sweet, that nought can ruffle.
4. VIRAG', indifference to pleasure and to pain, illusion conquered, truth alone perceived.
5. VIRYA, the dauntless energy that fights its way to the supernal TRUTH, out of the mire of lies terrestrial.
6. DHYANA, whose golden gate once opened leads the Naljor [Adept] toward the realm of Sat eternal and its ceaseless contemplation.
7. PRAJNA, the key to which makes of a man a God, creating him a Bodhisattva, son of the Dhyanis. — Part 3, pp. 47-8
Spiritual perception and wisdom arise as a natural result of daily practice of such principles. As Jesus taught: Seek first the kingdom of Heaven, and all other things will be added — not only physical needs, but also psychic powers, energies, and faculties will fall into place naturally and safely when enlightened and guided by the spiritual sun within. Heal your soul, and you will heal your body.
People may also try to cure diseases with hypnotism. I believe that such healing, even if the patient really feels better, is at best a temporary relief from pain because hypnosis is not able to abolish the cause of a disease. It may also have harmful side effects. In some cases, for example, the influence of will in hypnosis drives the disease from one organ to another, so that in the beginning the sufferer thinks he is cured. But after a while the disease comes back in another form, perhaps in a different organ. The person then believes he has a new disease, but it is actually the same one afflicting him in a new guise. In any case, hypnotism is hazardous, even when practiced with the best of intentions. Frequent exposure weakens the will, opens one to strange influences, and predisposes to the development of mediumship in a particular way: the hypnotized person loses his spiritual independence and so becomes abnormally open to outside influences.
This brings up a particularly dangerous subject: seeking connection with the astral world, especially through mediums and mediumship. Some people wish for the ability to leave their body at will or long for a guide in the inner worlds. But the "guides" in these so-called spiritual realms are almost invariably elemental beings, sorcerers, or the remains of dead persons on the lower astral plane. These would-be spirit guides often pose as famous or familiar people and give answers to their devotee's questions. In extreme cases, involvement with these beings goes so far that they demand to be consulted on all questions, even those concerning the simplest matters of daily life. They may issue direct orders which, among other things, strengthen the spiritual zeal of the devotee, leading him to attract credulous people and appear himself as a "spiritual" teacher or healer. But the guidance of such a teacher does not help the spiritual seeker to progress. Each individual's real spiritual guide or guardian angel is his own higher self, the inner master.
Through various means a medium can cause his astral body to leave his physical body. While the medium is in a trance, other creatures use his physical and astral body for their own purposes, and the medium does not generally realize that messages are being revealed through his body. Elementals or individuals who have died are attracted whenever there is the wish to get in touch with astral guides. Strong emotions, excitement, selfish wishes or desire can be sufficient to attract such astral beings. Because all thoughts have their particular shape and color in the astral world, they are noticed by these beings, who can effortlessly trace them to their producer and then try to influence and harm him. They dominate the devotee with their own passionate vibrations, causing him to indulge his inclinations, desires, and evil impulses more strongly. The devotee's tormentor may go further and press him to dire resolutions and actions. In some cases, resisting these influences leads to a lasting loss of nervous strength, and therefore to neurosis and a life overshadowed by unwholesome influences. For when the gate to the astral world is opened, it is very difficult or impossible to close it again.
Wisdom and self-knowledge may be as little transferred to us from these inner planes as they can be transmitted to us in the ordinary world by a gimmick. Everyone has to find wisdom on his own path of evolution — by experiences, looking within, interior elevation, and the unfolding of his innate qualities. Connection with such astral guides makes us helpless and creates lasting dependence. Such a person may become a slave of "spirits" his whole life.
We should seek instead to become a mediator, one who does not let himself, voluntarily or involuntarily, be ruled by astral beings, but who is able to control them. Such a person is the master; he is self-ruled; he thinks independently; he is impersonal; he has wisdom, knowledge, and the power of discrimination. He does not use the higher, spiritual energies flowing through him for himself, but for the welfare of mankind. When a spiritual entity speaks through him, in contrast to the medium, he remains fully conscious.
Many people desire occult powers without satisfying the necessary preconditions. To possess and control such powers beneficently requires selfless service to mankind over many lifetimes. Anyone who meddles with occult powers without adequate preparation risks becoming involved with mediumship or black magic. Through mediumship he becomes a slave of external forces and beings. By the misuse of occult powers, which divests him of his judgment and perception, he becomes the blind tool of the destructive powers in nature. Tradition holds that ages ago whole nations were ruined by corrupted pseudo-occultism, and the same danger threatens mankind today if the expansion of such arts continues unchecked.
Pseudo-occult arts do not give lasting contentment and joy, nor do they help us reach true humanhood. According to G. de Purucker:
He who enters the path with the hope of gaining powers of any kind, regarding them as something of paramount importance, is destined to failure. Indeed, he is embarking upon a very hazardous and questionable road, which at worst could lead to sorcery and black magic, and at best will bring to him only the Dead Sea fruit of disappointment. Powers as such, whether spiritual, intellectual, or psychic, will develop in due course and in a perfectly natural way as we progress, provided that we have the unflinching determination to achieve, and, above all, that our heart is forever brightened and filled with compassionate love, a love that is even now a distinguishing characteristic of the spiritual soul within. — Fountain-Source of Occultism, p. 10
To unfold his higher spiritual and occult powers, a person needs to constantly work on himself and seek the well-being of mankind. It is as fruitless to force inner growth by external means or exercises as to violently force open a bud: the flower will be destroyed and the seed killed. In the end, untimely and violent occult awakening represents a type of destruction, for evolutionary growth takes place from the inside out, and not the opposite.
We are able to grow only from within, impersonally and without premeditation, because all that is great and beautiful is born in the silence. The inner realms open to the one who has recognized the laws of life in his heart and acts in harmony with them. His consciousness reaches farther and farther the more he rids himself of the chains of personality and the temptations of the passing phenomena of life. And as a true occultist, he contributes continually to the divine plan of evolution in the spirit of brotherhood.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2002; copyright © 2002 Theosophical University Press)