Every people has borne the sacred burden of the Divine in its deepest heart. How strange, with this wondrous heritage, that we should ever feel "widowed of the presence of the gods," as though the link with our divine source had become frayed, no longer assured. We are not the first civilization to feel lost and bewildered, nor will we be the last, but this does not mean there is no remedy. Help has always been within our grasp: to ally our whole being with the building energies of the universe and to refuse to strengthen by default — certainly never by design — the destructive forces that are ever alert to attack the irresolute soul.
Probably everyone has had the experience that when we determine to alter our habitual ways of thinking, everything and everybody appear to conspire against us. This is inevitable, for intensity of aspiration challenges the gods who are "jealous" of us humans who venture unprepared into their domain. Only those who have become near to godlike may enter. And since the gods are in a profound sense ourselves, the response to our importunate demands may be a release upon us of an avalanche of unexpended karma from past lives. This could be shattering to the personal self, but not to the part of us that knows deep within that we have longed to be tested to the limit of our endurance.
The higher self is our real teacher, our inner buddha. This is a time-honored truth: it places responsibility for growth, for inner advancement, squarely on ourself. We have no one but ourself to blame for our fumbles, no one on whom to shift our burdens. We are our own awakener, our own savior, for we are the steps we must travel and the truth we so long to find. Yet few of us feel adequate to fulfill the demands of our dharma, or self-disciplined enough to meet with equanimity the impact of daily karma. Trust is the key: to trust karma is to trust ourselves and to trust that we have the inner resources to handle whatever befalls. Having made the choice to live mindfully, there can be no turning back. We are not required, however, to take more than one step at a time; this is our protection, for by meeting life's challenges one day at a time we gather strength and sufficient wisdom for the daily need.
Once we grasp the fact that we are the path before us, never again will we know that aching loneliness of despair, for we shall have come in touch, if ever so fleetingly, with our light-source. Should periods of despondency return, they need not take firm hold, for a part of us, having entered into companionship with our higher self, remains en rapport with the larger fraternity of the spirit that touches every aspirant on the path. In proportion as we allow our buddha-nature to illumine our ordinary self will the Tathagata-light, the Christos-sun, irradiate our being and the path ahead. Since we are one humanity, the lighted path of a single individual makes the path of all others that much clearer.
Every aspiration must be sustained by self-discipline. Today people are stretching their souls, longing to rise above their ordinary little selves and glimpse a vision of what is beyond and within. Many of us, however, are so filled with our own ideas of what life is all about that we are like the student who came to the Zen monk seeking knowledge. "Teach me, Roshi, what Zen is." The Zen master invited him to tea. He started pouring tea into the teacup, and he poured and poured and poured until the student could stand it no longer and almost shouted: "But the cup is full. Can't you see?" The Roshi quietly said: "That is what your mind is like. You are so filled with your own ideas and opinions that there is no room for even one drop of wisdom. Empty yourself, empty your mind of all your preconceptions, empty your heart and your soul of all unbecoming thoughts and feelings, and you will be filled to abundance."
All of us know what is unworthy of ourselves. Striving to gentle the untamed propensities in our character is a type of purgation, a purification we can go through every day. This is what Paul meant when he said to the people of Corinth, "I die daily" — day after day he sought to be "reborn" interiorly. This is the "daily initiation" — life itself, with its manifold joys and sorrows. Both have their temptations and trials, good fortune so called being often more difficult to handle than are the day-by-day frustrations and disappointments. The constant demand upon us to choose between the greater and the less, the selfless and the self-centered, brings us face to face with ourselves.
It is a matter of getting back to first principles: we start from within, from our central self. What is our motive? We tend to think of initiation as far removed from everyday happenings, but every time we conquer a weakness, every time we have the courage to see ourselves as we are, we undergo the testing by our higher self of our lesser self; we are proving the mettle of our character. "Fire tests gold, adversity proves strong souls" wrote Seneca, 1st-century AD Roman statesman and philosopher. Any form of intense suffering, particularly when self-caused — through weakness of will, emotional instability, or being caught in a vortex of thought beneath our private inner standard — may become an initiatory experience. The word initiation means "beginning," the conscious turning of a new leaf in our Book of Life. To have penetrated the darkness of our individual hell and come up into the light of our radiant self, able to meet its demands, is a kind of initiation.
When we inwardly take a stand, we are forearmed for whatever comes; if we avoid doing so, when faced with really severe challenges we are unprepared to act responsibly. Using the wheel as a metaphor: by living in thought and aspiration as close as we can to the hub of our being, the turning wheel of karma will not crush us; but if we live on the rim or circumference of our lives, we are at risk of being ground down under the karmic wheel. This can and does happen more than is necessary; and it's a cruel thing to witness — and to experience. Nevertheless, we learn invaluable lessons in humility and compassion: not only do we gain immeasurably, but hopefully through it all we become sufficiently sensitized to help others see that if they ascend the radius of their being toward the hub of themselves, they will find guidance, strength, and a light upon their path. One of our noblest opportunities is to give confidence to our fellow humans that, no matter how fragile we may be or think we are, all of us have sufficient power to live our lives in an honorable, thoughtful, and self-disciplined way. We must allow our higher self to take charge of our life's destiny. Is there any greater gift one can offer than assuring another he has what it takes to handle his karma, with head high, regardless of how many times he may be knocked down? We are not alone in our struggles. Everyone has some cross to bear, some weakness of character to overcome; just so everyone has his or her strengths to build on. Simply put: if we have the fortitude to "hang in there" no matter how often we stumble or how far we fall, there is no failure, only triumph.
We are transcendent beings, cosmic in power, using human vehicles for growth and expansion of consciousness. Every man, woman, and child is here on earth as the result of aeons of experience, each of us entering life on earth as an ancient soul for a divine purpose. There isn't a single avenue of experience or duty that cannot be viewed through the eyes of our cosmic self. This puts a totally fresh perspective on our experience here on earth. Henceforth we know that, whatever our circumstances, we need never be downed by karma because the long perspective of many lives is a persuasive reminder of the unlimited resources on which we can draw.
Nature demands the utmost of her children to bring into flower their full potential. Every moment, day in and day out, we humans with our marvelous faculties of mind and intuition are contributing either to the well-being or ill-being of the human race, and by so doing leaving our impress on the noumenal or causal realms. Of course, no one should expect perfection from himself or another. Our goal is not to attain self-perfection; rather is it to emulate the life of service of those who come forth time and again as light-bringers, bearers anew of the ancient wisdom teachings. Whatever our role — laborer, housewife, professional — when we give the best of ourselves to fulfilling our particular dharma in order to advance the whole, our weaknesses take second place. We still have to handle them, but there is no call to focus undue attention on them.
We and the whole of humanity need to lift our consciousness from that which is disintegrative and dispersive to the level of the creative and constructive part of our nature. The most effective way to grow is to forget ourselves while getting on with our responsibilities. This seems rather ordinary, and yet it works because when we are absorbed in giving full attention to the task at hand, for that span of time we automatically put aside our worries. When we come back to them, often to our surprise we have a clearer view as to what approach to take.
In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali of ancient India urged control of mind and the myriad thoughts and images that willy-nilly pass through our consciousness: when we pour the fluid of our mind into a vessel, our mind takes that shape, indicating that we must be mindful where we focus our attention. A collateral thought is ascribed to another ancient Indian sage, Yaska: "Whatever body (or form) a divine being longs for, that very body (or form) the divine being becomes." Inevitably, our consciousness will flow into the vessel of thought or emotion for which we have the greatest affinity. To modify and expand our present norms, we must modify and expand the existing vessels or break out of them. This takes courage and will. As we open ourselves to the light within, the light streams through us. As everyone in his or her own way is a light-bearer, so everyone who has the flame of brotherhood burning in his heart is bringing hope and courage into this world.
When we reach above the brain-mind to the heart of those with whom we have differences, a give-and-take of feeling and attitude by both parties occurs, and in no long time even the most intractable situation becomes possible to resolve. So it is in our ordinary dealings with our family or at work: when we spontaneously appeal to the greatness of the other person from the greatness in ourselves, we are naturally clairvoyant and recognize each other's inward need. There is beauty and magic in this, for we are aided by nature herself. As Katherine Tingley reminds us:
Our strength lies in keeping positive; in holding a steady joy in our hearts; in a momentary meditation on all floating great ideas till we have seized them and made them ours; in a meditation with the imagination on the life of humanity in the future, and its grandeur; in dwelling on the conception of brotherhood. — Theosophy: The Path of the Mystic, p. 21
Those floating great ideas that continuously circulate in and through the thought consciousness of humanity are the source of our innate wisdom. We need simply to recover them, to recollect our inborn knowledge of them, and they will be our inspiration.
Every human being has full right to his own way of feeling and thinking, to his own idiosyncrasies. We need to respect each other's inner quality as much as we want ours to be respected. Assuredly, the most lasting contribution we can make toward bringing about a recognition of the dignity of every human being is to begin quietly within our own soul. Every person who really feels every other individual to be not only his brother, but his very self, is adding his quota of spiritual power to the moral force of the brotherhood ideal. We are not separate — we are one life-wave, one human family.
How and where do we begin? All of us have our home and professional responsibilities. These come first: we owe our family the fullness of our love, devotion, intelligence, and support. We take each day and trust that we shall read the karma of it with sufficient clarity to allow us to move forward as we should. Everything starts as a seed. Yet the miracle is that the tree is already patterned within the seed. Every phase of growth is matrixed in the seed-essence, in the invisible space within the heart, that resides equally in the core of a star as in the nucleus of an atom. We need to live to the full every moment and give each person and every smallest circumstance the wholeness of our heart and thought so that only the purest and truest quality of karma will eventuate. Only then can we be responsive to the inner call of each individual or event. Even more than avoiding regrets or the feeling of having let another down by inattention or thoughtlessness, there would be only constructive, vitalizing energy flowing between us and those with whom we associate. Keeping in mind the reality of thoughts and their circulation in the astral light, were every one of us conscientiously to throw his heart into every moment of every day, holding fast to the ideal of service, the spiritual and mental consciousness of humanity would be touched with light.
— Condensed from To Light a Thousand Lamps, ch. 16
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2005; copyright © 2005 Theosophical University Press)