Theosophy – April 1897

THE SEARCH FOR WISDOM — Katharine Hillard


In the fourth chapter of the Gita after saying that every action without exception is comprehended in spiritual knowledge, Krishna tells Arjuna how to gain this spiritual wisdom. "Seek this wisdom," he says, "by doing service, by strong search, by questions, and by humility; the wise who see the truth will communicate it unto thee, and knowing this, thou shalt never again fall into error."

We all read this many times, but it will bear more pondering than in the rush of our hasty lives we are apt to bestow upon it. "The way to the blessed life," to use Fichte's phrase, is here most clearly and perfectly set forth, and the steps are fourfold, like the steps of the Self. The first step is that one which is of all the most important, and it is therefore given precedence in the list, for this is not a matter of time and space, but of individual consciousness, and individual necessities. All the steps are necessary to perfect acquirement of the spiritual wisdom, and to some the second lesson may seem to be more easily learned, while others find the last one the least difficult, but to all mankind the first step is most necessary. "By doing service."

Jesus said that by doing the will of the Father, we should know of the doctrine, that is, we should gain a knowledge of the teachings that were given to the disciples, not to the world at large. But there is one thing to be remembered always; that this service is to be rendered in little things, to those nearest us, in all the ordinary duties and ways of life. "Despise not the day of small things," and do not feel that doing service means rushing into the slums of a city, to the neglect of home duties, or girding one's loins for battle with some distant foe, when the real enemy lurks within. It is so hard to realize that a kind word, a loving glance, may mean the happiness of a whole day to some neglected member of our household, and that the gleam of sunshine that has brightened that life will radiate into other hearts, carrying its blessing with it.

People so often ask: "What can I do for Theosophy? I have no talent for speaking or writing, no money to give, no influence to exert; what is there for me to do?" Is there no one that crosses your path for whom you can do little deeds of kindness now and then? An errand done, a book lent, a flower given, a visit paid, a loving word spoken, will often weigh more in the eternal balances than many of what the world calls "heroic deeds." If you are so utterly alone that you have no opportunities for such service (which is hard to believe), then make of your own heart such a source of loving kindness, that your atmosphere will be filled with a sweet and gracious sunshine of good will, in which all who meet you may bask and give thanks. It is impossible, if we have a strong will to do service, that we should not find many opportunities to express it, and they will grow with the exercise of our desire.

Nor should we fail to remember that it is thus we are to begin to acquire wisdom. Earnest souls, attracted by the light that suddenly gleams across their path, try to begin at once to grapple with the most difficult problems of philosophy and occult knowledge, and want to know all about the loss of the soul, or the formation of the mayavi-rupa, or the characteristics of the Seventh Race, before they have thoroughly mastered the A. B. C. of the matter. "Do the will of the Father, and ye shall know of the doctrine," but do not expect to begin at the top of the ladder. Many a would-be nurse, filled with a glorious enthusiasm for the service of suffering humanity, enters the hospital with the idea of rendering distinguished assistance to the doctors from the very first, and sometimes utterly disgusted, when she finds that for weeks, and perhaps months, she has nothing nobler to do than the scouring of pots and pans, and the washing of floors and clothing.

"By doing service," not necessarily the service we delight in, but often quite the reverse; so that we shrink from the wearisome, the trivial task, and long to do something more worthy of our powers, or what we think our powers. For often it is by our own opinion of ourselves that we measure the work we think we are capable of doing, instead of realizing that when we are fit for a greater place, those who know will surely put us there. In the meantime, let us stand in our lot, and do what we can to make it beautiful, and a centre of love and joy for all who come in contact with us. Let us try to be like Lowell's ideal, who

     "doeth little kindnesses
That most leave undone or despise;
For naught that sets one heart at peace,
Or giveth happiness or ease,
Is low-esteemed in her eyes."


The second thing necessary to the gaining of spiritual wisdom is strong search. This search may be pursued, of course, on both the intellectual and spiritual planes, for man must be made perfect in both ways. Let us take the intellectual first. Certainly strong search on the mental plane does not mean the cursory reading of a few books, or a little scattered and interrupted thought, but an earnest and steadfast pursuit of our aim through months and years, and perhaps, many lives, made up of months and years. Sometimes a student says, "I wish I could find out something definite about the Elements (let us say), but their order is so confusing, and I cannot understand the Secret Doctrine."

One is tempted to ask, "Did you ever really try?" There are eighty places, at least, in the Secret Doctrine, where the word element occurs, besides all the separate references to Fire, Air, Water, etc. Take up the book and turn it over leaf by leaf, keeping a note-book by you, and whenever you see the word Element, make a careful note of volume and page. Then take each of the five elements in turn, and do the same for them. When you have gone through both volumes carefully in that way, turn back to the beginning of the first, and copy out in your note-book every item of information you have found. Then read them over very carefully, and where you think you have found conflicting statements, read the context again, and see if you cannot find, or think out, an explanation of the seeming contradiction. Carry the dark saying about with you in your memory, think of it at intervals during both night and day, and some time or other the solution will surely flash upon you.

When you have collected all these notes, then write a paper on the subject, not necessarily to be read or published, but simply to see how much you can tell another person about what you have learned. For we do not really understand a thing until we can explain it to some one else; and that is why we learn so much by teaching; we are obliged to clarify and formulate our ideas in order to communicate them to others.

Lord Dufferin, who has just retired from active diplomatic service at the age of seventy, has always been known as a remarkably ready and brilliant speaker, perhaps the most admired orator among the English diplomatists. He gained this power by "strong search." When the necessity for his speaking first arose, he would write out his ideas on the subject given him, and having finished his paper, tear it up without re-reading it, and write another. And this process he repeated ten and twelve times for each speech, so that he not only became thoroughly familiar with his subject, but was saved all danger of hesitation and waiting for a word, because he had formulated his ideas in so many ways that he was sure to remember some one of them. And by dint of this most laborious and tiresome method, Lord Dufferin became the easy, fluent, and brilliant speaker that every one loved to hear.

This is only one example of many that might be cited but it is a recent and a very striking one. For here there was not even some great scientific discovery involved, with its intense interest and possible enormous profit to the discoverer and to the world at large, but the simple acquirement of an individual accomplishment for social purposes. But Lord Dufferiu carried out Robert Browning's idea when he said:

"Let a man contend to the uttermost
For his life's set prize, be it what it will."

Let the search be strong, whatever we may be seeking, and then we shall at least not add weakness and vacillation to our other sins.

"The kingdom of heaven is taken by violence," we are told, which is but another way of saying that spiritual wisdom is gained by strong search. But how few of us realize what this means! "The kingdom of heaven is within you," and this strong search is to be pursued upon the inner planes, spiritual as well as intellectual.

We must learn to analyze our own nature, to explore its depths and pluck out its hidden sins, to fix the will steadily upon some point that must be gained, to concentrate every energy towards that end, to keep up a slow, gradual, never-relaxing push of every faculty in the one direction, day after day and year after year, to strive after the goal by study, by meditation, by aspiration, by the purification of every part of our threefold nature. And this goal is ever shifted as the runner approaches it, and still before him gleam the gates of gold, and still his eager feet press on.

And surely this consciousness of endless aspiration and attainment was the thought in Walt Whitman's mind when he wrote those magnificent lines:

"This day before dawn I ascended a hill and looked at the crowded heaven,
And I said to my Spirit, 'When we become the enfolders of those orbs,
and the pleasure mid knowledge of everything in them, shall we
be filled and satisfied then?'
And my Spirit said: "No, we but level that lift to pass and continue beyond."

(To be continued.)