Theosophy – May 1897

THE SEARCH FOR WISDOM: II — Katharine Hillard


At first sight it would seem that this third method of seeking wisdom were superfluous, and might as well have been omitted, for are not "questions" included in the idea of "strong search"? But there is at least one thing suggested in this clause which does not come in the former one, and that is, the help of others and the appeal to "those who know." While doing all we can for the service of our fellows, while seeking with, all our might for the truth, we must put questions, to ourselves, to our brothers, to those wiser than either. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

Nor need these questions rise out of that atmosphere of doubt which is so repellent to the bright beams of the sun of truth. What is "a working hypothesis" but a question? What is every experiment in a better way of living but a question? We formulate a theory, for instance, of our relations to our fellow-men, of what is justice, what is true charity, what is mere indulgence in the selfish pleasure we take in giving, irrespective of the real needs of the recipient of our careless bounty. Suddenly a question darts through the mind:

"Am I doing the best thing possible for my brother and for myself? Is it not easier for me to do this thing than to seek some form of help which would give me infinitely more trouble and do him more good? Is there no admixture of self-satisfaction, of vanity, of indolence in what I do? Should I be absolutely and entirely content if no mortal being ever knew or suspected that I did this good thing? Have I not a secret hope lurking at the bottom of my heart that some one will find it out, and that my merit will be acknowledged?"

Are not these, and many more, questions which might be useful to us in probing our motives while conducting that self-examination which should not be allowed to become morbid, but nevertheless, should be constant and sincere?

We must also question our fellows, for often we shall thus gain help whence we least expect it. Sometimes a student who is still at his alphabet, has nevertheless had a vision of the truth that you who are far beyond him in mere learning, have not yet attained, sometimes he will give you a word he does not fully understand himself, but which will nevertheless, give you the open sesame to the secret doors of wisdom.

Having questioned your own soul, and probed it to the core, having put yourself in the attitude of a learner at the feet of all you meet, for you have no brother so poor but that he may give you something, then come the questions that you wish to ask of "those who know." But they alone can tell when you are ready for the answers. The responses may be slow, but they are sure, and when the time is ripe and your soul ready, they will surely come to you. You may need the courage of the martyr and the patience of the saint before you reach your end, but then their reward shall be yours, when at last you have achieved. Surely knowing this, you can say with Walt Whitman, the most theosophic of poets:

"Whether I come to my own today, or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.
My foothold is tenon'd and mortised in granite;
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time."


Having sought this wisdom by doing service, by strong search, and by questions, there yet remains the crowning grace, humility. This seems to us at first a very passive thing, and yet it is a power of the soul. "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," says the first of the beatitudes. It is not a promise for the future, it is their present possession.

The ordinary idea of humility is a conscious resignation of something to which we consider ourselves entitled, and we take our pride with us to the lower seat in the synagogue which we have selected. The climax of this feeling was in the chieftain's assertion "Where the McGregor sits, is the head of the table." This was the supreme exaltation of the personality, the assertion of its superiority to place by virtue of its own supremacy.

So long as I am conscious of myself as something quite different from my brother, my attitude towards him will be apt to savor of condescension, it is only when all distinction of me and thee is obliterated, when our spiritual oneness is really recognized, that the perfume of true humility steals from the flower of the soul. And what is this conviction of spiritual unity but "the kingdom of heaven," which is the portion of the "poor in spirit"?

Humility is the fountain-head and source of contentment and serenity. When we have learned to rest in the conviction that we have no rights, and are satisfied to do the duty that lies nearest to our hand, nor long for the more glorious task of another, how peaceful life becomes, and how all its turmoil sinks into nothingness as the angry waves subside beneath a film of oil!

"Be humble, if thou wouldst attain to Wisdom," says the Voice of the Silence; "be humbler still when Wisdom thou hast mastered. For great is he who is the slayer of desire. Still greater he in whom the Self Divine hath slain the very knowledge of desire."

This humility then is not abject self-abasement, but the repose of him who has conquered self, and lives for the good of others. He has learned the great lesson that "the power the disciple shall desire is that which shall make him appear as nothing in the eyes of men," and whatever trivial duty may come to him to be done, he cheerfully performs it, and by that gracious acceptance "makes the action fine." And who can tell upon how slender a thread hangs the mighty chain of cause and effect that sways his destiny?

The scale of magnitude is not the same to divine eyes as to ours, and when we most feel our littleness we may loom largest to celestial vision. Humility is that trust in wider intelligence, in greater love than ours, that keeps us steadfast in our own place, doing service in the best way that we can, secure that by that course alone, aided by questions and strong search, we shall attain to spiritual wisdom, for the wise, who see the truth, will communicate it unto us, and knowing this, we shall never again fall into error.