The method of study pursued today consists mainly in storing the mind with as great an array of miscellaneous information as it can well hold — let alone digest. The art of printing has placed in book form, for the reach of all the various departments of information which our civilization absorbs into its life.
Most of that which we call knowledge is but the tabulation or classification of the phenomena of external life; we understand but little of the essence of things, or the causes at work behind the changing panorama. And so we have come to connect the idea of knowledge or wisdom with the study of books, with colleges, libraries, and museums, and mentally picture a student of one of the deeper sciences as a pale-faced individual, wearing glasses and given to burning the midnight oil over ponderous volumes. In short these are times of intellectual inquiry, not of soul knowledge.
Hence it is natural that many should regard Theosophy as something requiring a great deal of intellectual study to comprehend. But it is possible for one with a good memory to turn himself into a walking encyclopedia of Theosophical information, yet to know little or nothing of it from actual experience. It is possible to talk Brotherhood from morning till night and yet for the heart to be barren of real love for humanity.
The study of books is but one part of the real study of Theosophy — it is necessary to some extent because without a clear mental conception of its fundamental principles, the student will fail to grasp its practical bearing on his own life. But real study commences only when the mind turns inward to the real self — the knower — and comes face to face with those silent forces which have caused him to be what he is.
A mere intellectual study of Theosophy opens up such a vast field for the mind to roam through and appeals to so vital a part of man's nature, that it would seem that he must be callous indeed who, after grasping its fundamental ideas, does not feel the inspiration it gives toward a higher life, and make some effort toward testing its truths by practice. For it is the science of life and the art of living. To study it one must study oneself.
Material science spends much intellectual energy in peering into every accessible corner of the Cosmos, picking it to pieces to see what it is made of, analyzing and weighing, and deducting its philosophy therefrom — a noticeable fact being that fresh discoveries constantly upset previously established theories. Moreover the physical senses are themselves subject to error and deception and hence are not sure guides even on their own plane of action. But it is acknowledged that even if all were discovered about the physical universe, supposing that to be possible, even then all the facts collected would be but of the objective world, the world of things as it appears to man's present consciousness. There would still remain the greater subjective world of consciousness, embracing man's mind and soul. Besides the thing perceived there is the perceiver. Western psychology proposes to deal with this, but, as it hitches its chariot to the wingless steeds of material science — concerning itself mainly with states of brain consciousness, and being at present engaged with the phenomena of hypnotism, etc., it is unfortunately unable to give us much knowledge of man's soul nature, not being even sure of its existence.
Theosophy but revives again the old, old system which points man to the truth hidden within himself, the "light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world," showing him that within himself there are higher powers and functions — those of the soul — which only await the purifying of his nature in order to illumine the whole being — and through these inner soul powers only can he really know by experience. For these inner soul powers correspond to the spiritual planes of the Cosmos upon which the causes rest — here on this plane we sense but the effects, of forces we do not understand. The light is more ready to come to man than he is to come to the light. Why is this? Simply because the desires of physical life, or for new mental sensations, allure us from this true self who is within.
There is much attention paid to self-culture in these times. The self of man is viewed as some rare plant which with due cultivation and fertilizing through esthetic studies will presently blossom forth a set of brilliant accomplishments. The technique of the arts, music, painting, literature is perhaps studied more widely than ever before (with more or less ambitious motives) but after all when the faculties of expression have been trained into expertness there is but little original soul force to flow through them. At most we get but crude realism, or a remodeling of past creations. In all our Nineteenth Century art, though charming to the senses, there is but little of the creative soul quality — so the deeper critics tell us. Only when some great soul comes down among us, and, breaking through the barriers of conventionality, infuses new creative impulse into the established order of things, do men awake to the greater possibilities ahead of them. Then a new school of thought grows up until custom hardening it into a creed, it awaits the arrival of another hero. In a recent theosophical publication the following is in line with these ideas:
"But in the higher light of Theosophy what do we learn about self-culture? The real self is divine, bright, bodiless, free. What then can it have to do with culture? It requires no culture, for it is itself perfect and the source of all true culture — but owing to the barriers of the lower personality, selfishness, the sense of separateness, it is prevented from flooding the mind with its light. True culture, then would seem to consist in so clarifying the lower nature that it may become subject to the uses of the higher in bringing it into harmony with the behests of its 'Father in Heaven.'" Therefore, for the deeper study of Theosophy, one has to face the difficulties of the lower nature which are met with in the mind. The mind, instead of being the playground of the senses, acting outwardly, must be turned inward to become the instrument of the soul in the attainment of self consciousness.
"The mind is like a mirror," says the Voice of the Silence. "It gathers dust while it reflects. It needs the gentle breezes of soul-wisdom to brush away the dust of our illusions. Seek, O beginner to blend thy mind and soul."
Or it can be likened to the ocean, sometimes calm, sometimes lashed into fury by the elements, and which, in its agitation, breaks up the sunlight into distorted fragments of light. Only when calm and clear can the image of the sun be seen unruffled. So with the mind, it must be subdued and calm, clarified of its cravings and desires ere it can be used by the soul. This requires training. And it is here on the threshold of his own nature that the student of Theosophy encounters his greatest difficulties. For one's worst enemy is within — in his mind are the contending forces of good and evil, and so as Buddha taught, "within thyself deliverance must be sought. Each man his prison makes."
We first begin with our thoughts, striving by controlling and directing them to raise them so as to respond to the god within. This is very difficult for most of us, and we are apt to give up discouraged when, after one or two attempts, we realize how hard it is to concentrate the mind upon some high interior subject and to enter into the silence of the soul. For our civilization is so full of distraction, hurry and bustle, and so much of the time has to be spent in the struggle for existence, that no sooner do we attempt quiet thought and meditation than hosts of fleeting fancies, emotions and desires, chase through the mind. But if the effort at meditation be persisted in with regularity, even though there seem to be but little progress made, it must certainly in time affect the whole nature for good, its tenor will be changed and the current of being will be set towards the path of true knowledge. Looking back after weeks or months, or perhaps years of effort we shall behold our former selves with a kind of compassionate contempt.
Many have little time for the study of books, but all can study themselves. Too often we are apt to do too much reading and too little thinking. Through constant reading alone, we may get into a negative, sponge-like state of absorption and yet do no positive thinking. Yet only by the latter can we truly progress. And there is another consideration comes in here. Knowledge is a trust — especially Theosophy; we are responsible for its use. Theosophy is for all men, and is our possession to be passed on to others. We can each of us in our measure, serve as a channel for the spreading of this Divine Wisdom among men. Only by giving it out to others, can we receive more and keep the stream sparkling and pure.
Books are only useful in that they awaken inquiry and aid in the discovery of Truth in oneself. To be really useful, it would seem that book-knowledge should be referred to one's inner experiences for verification, otherwise it is but a parrot-like process of learning by rote, — for true knowledge is based on experience — we can never know but through experience, and all that the books can do is to awaken the latent knowledge in each of us, derived through vast experience in the past, and so enable us to classify it for present and future use. All mankind are students in this great school of experience, though comparatively few gain the true lessons to be learned or discern the real use of life.
The Theosophist seeks in each experience he undergoes, whether of inner or outer life, for the lesson it contains, for nothing happens by chance, all is pregnant with meaning, and each is an opportunity for progress. The problems of life offer themselves for our solution at every turn and corner, and it is often in the humdrum affairs of every-day life that the deepest lessons can be gained. We are sometimes tempted to envy the opportunities of some favored individuals with vast resources, occupying perhaps a more or less theatrical position in the world, and to fancy that with such chances we should be much better off, and have a greater power for good; quite forgetting that the lesson which the soul has for us is exactly where we are. If we fulfill our present duties unselfishly, for the purposes of the soul, we shall presently find greater opportunities unfolding themselves.
It seems to me that we can learn much, and come nearer to our real selves, by keeping a constant watch over our every day doings, even the smallest personal habits, tendencies of thought, feelings and emotions, especially in analyzing our motives for action, whether selfish or unselfish; in other words by trying to discover the keynote to our nature, the mainspring of our actions. By watching our weaknesses and failings, whether of anger, jealousy, vanity, etc., we can see how easily our dominant traits find expression, without our being aware of them, and that much of what we condemned in others was due to our own attitude towards them. Thus will feelings of brotherhood and charity towards others be engendered, since we discover the beam in our own eye. Much more true progress will be made by this brotherly and charitable attitude towards others, though accompanied by but small intellectual attainments, than if one was selfishly laden with the learning of the ages.
A well-known Theosophist has written, "The world at large seeks the facts of Occult Science, but the student who has resolved to attain, desires to find the true road. What may seem to others as mere ethics is to him practical instruction, for as he follows it he soon perceives its relation to facts and laws which he is enabled to verify, and what seemed to him the language of devotion merely is found to be that of Science; but the Science is spiritual, for the Great Cause is pure Spirit." The world follows the "Eye Doctrine," or the letter — the devoted aspirant, the "Heart Doctrine," or that of the Spirit.
It is sometimes objected against Theosophy, that its insistence upon such simple, well-known ethical teachings as unselfishness, high-thinking and the like, does not justify the existence of a vast philosophy like "The Secret Doctrine." "We have heard all this before," they say. "We do not need to study Theosophy to know that." But though these simple teachings are so well-known, they are the hardest to practice and lie at the foundation of all spiritual progress. Many wish to acquire occult knowledge so as to use it for the purposes of the lower personality — to use the vast powers of the God to minister to the ambitions for place and power of the animal. It is well for such, and for the world, that much of the secret knowledge of occult forces, — the Mysteries, — is kept only for those who have so purified their natures from all selfish motives that they can be trusted to use these powers for the good of humanity alone. One has but to witness the rush of foolish people after those who are going about the country professing to teach psychic powers, hypnotism, etc., (for a consideration) — to be assured that the world is not ready to be weaned from Ethics. And it might be said here that no real occultist will ever accept money for his teachings.
Unselfishness, altruism, pure thinking and morality, are but the avenues which lead man to a higher knowledge. Until he practise them it is useless for him to demand more teachings, for they are the first step to be mounted, and this all religious systems, in their purity, have taught. There is enough knowledge in the world today, to make of it an earthly paradise, if it were but practised. Theosophy enforces these simple truths because, as it demonstrates, they are laws of nature and cannot be ignored if mankind is to progress — thus coming as a saving power at a time when skepticism and materialism are rampant, and when old faiths and religions are in decay, and have lost their hold on national life.