Who am I? How did I get here? Where am I from? What is consciousness? How do worlds form? In other worlds, the exciting questions, the ones which can never truly be answered, but since time immemorial have inspired great music, art, poetry, the belief in love, and all those other areas of human experience which can never be proven, only pondered. These questions are the ones that build religions, perplex great minds, and breed philosophers, but also appeal to children who, while looking at the starts, tell their own stories because they have not yet forgotten that the world is a place of wonder.
-- Leigh J. McCloskey, TAROT REVISIONDED, iv
By L. Gordon Plummer
[From THEOSOPHIA, Spring 1968, 12-13]
Whenever a musical tone is sounded, there are certain tones of other frequencies which ride on the note being struck. Although inaudible as separate sounds, they bear a definite relationship to the fundamental tone, giving to it the peculiar sound which identifies it as belonging to a violin, flute, oboe, or any other musical instrument. These overtones or harmonics are exceedingly important, for if a pure tone is sounded without any harmonics, we have a completely colorless and uninteresting sound.
We may detect some of the harmonies present in musical tones by the following simple experiment. Gently depress the E, G, and C notes on the piano, so that the strings are free to vibrate. If done carefully, the hammers will not strike the strings. Now, firmly sound the note C two octaves below middle C, and hold the key down so that this string continues to vibrate. If you listen carefully, you can hear the three higher notes, because the strings left free to vibrate are set in motion by the vibrations of the low C. This is because the notes E, G and the high C are three of the many harmonics that are present in the piano sound of the lower C string. In other words, the three strings vibrate in harmony with the lower C. Many other strings would not vibrate because they are not harmonically related to this fundamental note.
There are many ways in which this lesson may be applied to human life. All of us share certain things in common for the simple reason that we are all members of the human race. Nevertheless, we show marked differences one from another. Can this not be due to the presence of overtones of character that we have built for ourselves as we weave our own thoughts, habits, characters, and destinies?
Students who study comparative religion might also look for a lesson from the law of harmonics. It might well be that while all of the great religions of the world teach the same basic truths about man's nature, his place in the universe, and his destiny, the differences that seem to exist between them are not fundamental. They are in reality evidences of the presence of overtones or harmonies, these being in the nature of the racial characteristics of the people to whom these religions were brought. It is no doubt a broadening experience to try to grasp the meaning and atmosphere of religions other than our own, through an effort to understand, if not to experience, temporarily at least, the patterns of thought and feeling that are a part of the psychology of other peoples.
Only a step farther in this study brings us to the teachings of Theosophy, wherein one of the loftiest aspects of the Ancient Wisdom is that which deals with the appearance from time to time of spiritual leaders of the human race. What is their real work? Does it necessarily lie in the spoken or the written word? Or must we look deeper still?
A worthwhile thought to pursue would be that just as the strings of the piano are caused to vibrate by the sounding of a fundamental tone, so when the human heart is free, then, if it is harmonically tuned, it may vibrate of its own accord to the messages brought to us by the Teachers of mankind.
It is possible that, just as there was no mechanical connection between the strings of the piano as used in our illustration, so we may find that sympathetically tuned hearts and minds may be induced to vibrate in harmony with the great spiritual keynotes, even though the persons so responding may be unaware of the presence among us of anyone of a marked degree of spiritual stature. This may be one key to the spreading of H.P. Blavatsky's message, wherein we see evidences of intuitive thought in so many books and articles published in our own times.
And so we are tempted to ask: Is the world fit and ready to receive a Teacher of the caliber of HPB? What value would there be in a work such as hers being done openly? Would such a one be recognized in a world torn by one crisis after another? We have no ready answer for these questions, but there is one factor in human life that we may take into account, and we may be encouraged by it. And this is the receptiveness to which we have referred.
Leaving then the final answers as to the MODUS OPERANDI in the hands of those who know better than we do, we may nevertheless be assured that whatever the manner of work in the future, there will always be the sounding of the fundamental tones, and since this is done on the inner planes of thought and intuition, the outer aspects of the work are of secondary importance.
It is along the lines of inner communication that hearts and minds sympathetic to the universal truths will be activated, and will give utterance to lofty ideas. Thus they will be aided in the work that they undertake according to their own abilities and skills.
It would appear then that a good start can be made in studying the vast material that is already at hand, to wit, the writings of HPB and one of the ablest of her students, a Teacher in his own right, G. de Purucker. His challenge rings true: SURSUM CORDA! Up, hearts!
By Reginald W. Machell
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, April 1921, pages 373-76.]
I had sent a greeting to a comrade and he had courteously acknowledged it, thanking me in appropriate language: but the letter had a postscript: "What does your greeting mean, anyway?"
That set me thinking. I had tried to formulate my thought clearly and to express it in simple terms, but it seemed that its meaning had not reached the receiver of the note; and I knew that when that had occurred, there was good reason to suspect that the writer did not know how to accomplish his object. But on thinking more closely, I saw that it might also mean that the writer had no very clear idea of what it meant to send a greeting. And I asked myself again: "What is a greeting, anyway?"
Apparently it is a call to someone or to something capable of responding to the call; for a greeting is not a mere expression of emotion having reference alone to the one who utters it. It must be addressed to some other person or intelligence, and it can only be intended as an expression of friendliness, approval, or compliment, an encouragement, a congratulation, or a consolation, unless it be a challenge. It is more than a mere salutation or simple act of recognition. One may salute a dead body, a monument, or a flag; but such a salutation need not contain a greeting.
A greeting has in it some appeal to an inner consciousness, which may not be outwardly displayed, but which is recognized or divined by the one who pronounces the greeting. In this sense it may be said that a greeting partakes of the nature of an evocation, in that it appeals to an unmanifested spirit supposed to be latent in the person addressed.
Another form of evocation is the expression of what we call good wishes. In this form of greeting, some other power is evoked, that can bestow favors and benefits, honors, health, or joy upon the recipient of the greeting. It matters little whether the greeter actually invokes the beneficent action of some higher power, or merely expresses a hope that the natural course of events will bring about the desired result. In either case there is the recognition, however involuntary, of some sort of guardian spirit or presiding genius whose favor may be invoked. There is also an implied belief in the power of goodwill to effect an improvement in the circumstances of the person who is greeted.
Of course, in our own days, it is customary to deny any such belief; but if the denial be sincere then the greeting is not; and can at best be regarded as an empty compliment. The exchange of such empty compliments may be a general custom, but it would have died out entirely, if it were not supported by either faith, fact, or experience.
The general skepticism is itself insincere; and while faith may have vanished, superstition unavowed acts as a substitute; so that greetings are still given and received, with a lurking hope that they may carry some sort of a blessing with them, in spite of the insincerity of their utterance.
We wish each other a "Happy New Year" with a certain sincerity of desire for the fulfillment of the wish, that is modified perhaps, but not entirely neutralized, by an avowed skepticism as to the efficacy of prayer on the one hand and the possibility of happiness on the other.
Faith in the efficacy of a good wish may be spasmodic; but it is based upon a natural fact that is known to the soul, if not to the brain-mind that formulates the wish; and that fact is that the mind is dual.
There is a higher mind that can know truth in itself; and there is a lower mind, that can only reason and argue, or can speculate and hope. The higher mind sees the realities of life, whereas the lower sees only their shadows or images, of which the material world is so largely composed.
These shadows are our impressions about the unknown realities and are all that the lower mind can understand. And yet the two minds are not entirely separate. Should they become so, the individual would be so unbalanced as to be really insane. It may be a question whether this kind of insanity is not so widespread as to pass notice under favorable circumstances, while the disorders of human life are all traceable to the lack of balance in the dual mind.
To attain to happiness, self-mastery is necessary. Self-mastery means the control of the lower mind by the higher: for the higher mind sees 'the fitness of things,' and can understand the spiritual nature of the universe and the meaning of universal law; whereas the lower mind is under the influence of the animal nature in man, and can only argue, reason, and speculate about right and wrong.
As happiness results from obedience to the higher law or from an intuitive perception of the fitness of things and a willing conformity to that fitness, it is necessary that the lower mind be the faithful reflector of the light shed by the higher Self, and that there is a true cooperation between the two.
When one wishes happiness for another, one necessarily invokes the aid of the higher mind to dispel the delusions of the lower; for all unhappiness is due to delusions of the lower mind. A greeting therefore is an invocation. It is an appeal to the higher mind to come down, take control of circumstances, and assert its authority. That is to say, a greeting should be so.
But things are not as they should be; if they were, our evolution would be an accomplished fact. This being as yet but a dream to the ordinary mortal, a greeting may be no better than an appeal to the lower nature to take things into its own hands and to assert its independence of the control or guidance of the higher nature.
Such greetings usually take the form of wishes for the success of enterprises aimed at: the attainment of wealth, prosperity, honor, or fame, or such things as tend to the gratification of the passions and desires of the lower mind. They are, in fact, evocations of the subhuman, elemental nature, which constantly tries to get the higher mind enlisted in schemes for self-gratification, which, if successful, reduce the higher to a servant of the lower, as in the case of some specimens of perverted genius which so puzzle the ordinary observer of human nature.
A greeting is not always a benediction: but it would be so if people really understood the duality of the human mind and the power of the mind to make or mar the happiness that seems so dependent on circumstances or destiny. And even without this knowledge, a kind wish is indeed both a benediction and an evocation; for, however ignorantly expressed, a kind wish comes necessarily from the heart rather than from the brain-mind, and so is a ray from the higher nature; and it awakes a certain sympathetic response which in itself is a recognition, if no more, of the existence of the higher mind.
So intimately blended are the two natures of man in general, that it would be hard to decide in any particular case what might be the source of what we call good wishes. But to a student of human nature, it should be always possible to make such wishes truly beneficent, for it should be easier to such a one to distinguish between happiness and the mere gratification of desires, which latter is more generally the cause or the forerunner of unhappiness.
So I conclude that a greeting is an appeal to higher powers than those of the lower nature, an evocation and a benediction, a declaration of faith in the divine nature of man or else it is a dead form of words, used as a blind to hide the absence of the Soul, or a survival of better days, when men were not ashamed to recognize the Soul as a reality that might be evoked in ordinary life.
Perhaps materialism has nearly run its course; and if our civilization can recover from this malady, the day may come when men will greet one another openly as souls, and will not have to ask the meaning of a greeting.
By George Cardinal LeGros
[From THEOSOPHIA, Fall 1972, 7-10]
Never will I seek nor receive private individual salvation. Never will I enter into final peace alone; but forever and everywhere will I live and strive for the redemption of every creature throughout the world.
-- Kwan Yin Pledge
Among the many things in human nature that make the angels weep is the universal desire to find an "easy way" out of effort and responsibility and into comfort and contentment.
Theosophists and pseudo-Theosophists are no exceptions. In fact, we may be the guiltiest of all. Years ago, in the pages of a Theosophical magazine, I debated points of doctrine with a learned PhD who claimed to have read Blavatsky. His chief argument was that the disciplines given in THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE and LIGHT ON THE PATH were obsolete -- that in our enlightened age it was no longer necessary to be hard on ourselves. He was a dedicated apologist for the "easy way." Finally, when he attempted to justify self-indulgence as a blessing by a "loving God" for "His children," I gave up.
It still goes on. The world is teeming with fast gun Salvationists of every size and color from Krishnamurti to Billy Graham assuring us that the Way to Heaven is an easy matter of canceling Karma, abolishing Rebirth, accepting God's Grace, and spiraling right up among the angels. Liberation is ours for the asking. Nirvana now!
As long as Blavatsky lived, the little people around her, with feigned humility, watched their steps; but after her departure they revamped the teachings to make them more attractive to an "easy way" world.
Their success was phenomenal. Fanciful "commentaries" on THE SECRET DOCTRINE, mutilated editions of THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY and THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE, plus tons of rehashed Spiritualism and spooked-up science fiction pour from some of the presses like water over Niagara Falls.
Speaking of books, did you ever wonder why so many are written on THE BHAGAVAD-GITA, and none on THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE, LIGHT ON THE PATH, and GOLDEN PRECEPTS? The answer should be obvious. The GITA, sublime though it is, stresses private, individual salvation (the goal of the "easy way" dreamers) while the other three emphasize the "hard way" of self-forgetfulness and self-sacrifice. Concentrating on the GITA alone is like quoting out of context. It means ignoring the cardinal doctrine of the Hierarchy of Compassion, the giving of the self.
Says THE BHAGAVAD-GITA in a famous passage:
There dwelleth in the heart of every creature, O Arjuna, the Master -- Isvara -- ... Take sanctuary with him alone, O son of Bharata, with all thy soul; by his grace thou shalt obtain supreme happiness, the eternal place.
But LIGHT ON THE PATH tells the aspirant that "If he desires to become a Neophyte, he at once becomes a servant." (page 79) THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE states "To live to benefit mankind is the first step." (page 31) And "Can there be bliss when all that lives must suffer? Shalt thou be saved and hear the whole world cry?" (page 71)
Here we have two Paths clearly outlined: the "easy way" of doing your duty, minding your own business, and becoming so pure and holy that you tumble right into heaven, and the "hard way" of all-out service and sacrifice for others, with total indifference to personal comfort and "peace." That is still true unless you believe that the rules and disciplines of the Masters change with the weather and finally become obsolete.
The "hard" fact is that unless studied in conjunction with the other books a work such as the GITA can easily induce a Pratyeka state of mind in which the aspirant drowses away into a beatific dream and forgets about the rest of the world. He becomes like the yogi who meditates till his hair grows twenty feet long and his pride twenty feet long.
In the Spring issue of THEOSOPHIA, the editor mentions "The choice between self-complacent intellectual gratification and an intelligent, purposeful, dynamic, but kindly and self-sacrificing work for the Cause of Theosophy." That is putting it in a nutshell. It is easy to sit comfortably in an armchair turning out books and articles of innocuous whimsy with Theosophical titles, most of which, as someone said the other day, is not "writing" at all, but merely "typing."
With all the exciting allurements of our swinging age, how can Theosophical literature hope to win an audience unless it is alive, ensouled, provocative, and spiced with humor and anecdote? The heavy material was written long ago by the Adepts and chelas, enough to last the world a thousand years. We can't add to that. In fact, in THE MAHATMA LETTERS, the Master K.H. states that " ... none but those who have passed at least their third initiation are able to write upon these subjects comprehensively." (page 357) And if there are any third-initiation chelas in the present Theosophical Societies, it's news to me. There weren't any the last time I looked.
Self-complacency is the dry rot of the soul, and the easiest thing on earth to fall into. Going out into the world, widening the sphere of one's affinities, and spending time, money, and life itself for the Cause we talk so much about calls for courage, daring, self-sacrifice, and contempt for personal comfort. It means following the "hard way" that challenges manhood and spirithood and usually demands a painful price.
It all comes down to the question of whether one is to give to himself or to humanity. LIGHT ON THE PATH tells us that "Until a man has become, in heart and spirit, a disciple, he has no existence for those who are Teachers of disciples. And he becomes this by one method only -- the surrender of his personal humanity." (page 93) Note that it is by "one method only" -- not by a number of methods, among which we might find the longed-for "easy way."
And what does this surrender of personal humanity amount to? It has to mean a lot more than to give up cigarettes, pork chops, and stop telling lies. Our "personal humanity" is the whole of us, not merely a few glaring vices that common sense tells us we have to do something about anyway.
For that matter, many evil persons master their predominant shortcomings in order to become more efficient and proficient in deviltry. Years ago, Dr. Henry Travers Edge, who had been a personal pupil of Blavatsky, wrote about the individual who, finding some particular form of sensuality oppressive, conquers it in the interests of his own selfish personality. In doing so, he does not ally himself with the higher part of his nature, the Immortal Trinity, but simply strengthens his will and becomes a greater menace than before.
I have met a few men who claimed proficiency in black magic. I remember asking one of them what he would do when the psychic powers he boasted of got out of hand. With a knowing smile, be answered, "We prune our powers." What he didn't know was that eventually the Elemental Forces involved would absorb all that he was, and then it would be too late for any "pruning." He was another traveler of the "easy way."
We come back to the quotation from LIGHT ON THE PATH. The only safe and sure way to steer our boat through the deep waters of the Occult is by the total surrender of all that we are. It can't be a half-way or half-hearted surrender, nor the elimination of a few nagging faults or weaknesses. There is no compromise between the God and the Demon.
Theosophists who have not yet been confronted by the power of the Demon have no idea whatsoever of its strength and cunning. In his NOTES ON THE BHAGAVAD-GITA, Judge points out that "if we completely apprehended the enormous power of our passions and various tendencies, most of us would throw up the fight in advance; for nothing could persuade us that any power within could withstand against such overwhelming odds."
But there is a Power, the greatest in the universe, our Higher Self, the Divine-Spiritual source of our being. The Masters have allied themselves with it, and so can we because we now stand where they once stood. And everyone who has glimpsed the glory of the Path those mighty souls tread and determines to move toward it has beside him, night and day, the faithful Presence of that Higher Self.
But "He will not know thee unless thou knowest Him." The initial effort (how many times have you heard it?) must be made by us. We must make His acquaintance. The Higher Self has no awareness of the lower, animal-passional man absorbed in his pursuit of selfish gratifications (including spiritual gratifications). The lower man must be dethroned, crucified on the Cross of Renunciation and sacrifice, so that the awakened and aspiring part of him may join hands with the God, the Warrior, the Christos within-above.
As well as I can understand it, the secret of success lies in the total giving back of the self to the ALL. It isn't easy to capture the thought in words because in making the effort -- which is hardly an "effort" but a wonderful "letting go" -- one transcends the squirrel cage of the brain-mind and tastes a freedom that expands outward into a limitless "everywhere." One finds himself as part of something more than himself, something ineffable, nameless, infinite, and eternal. Individuality is on its way to Universality.
It is difficult to write on a theme such as this because the phrases one must use have been cliches for a hundred years. But the teaching about the surrender of one's personal humanity is so fundamental and all-important that unless it is taken to heart and acted upon, the rest of the Theosophical philosophy can be studied till Doomsday and at best lead only to that Sattvic complacency and quiescence which are next-door neighbors to Pratyeka escapism.
By Vonda Urban
[From THEOSOPHIA, Fall 1979, pages 14-16]
There is an urge to growth that is rooted in the very essence of Nature's unceasing evolvement to ever greater stages of unfoldment; a pull upward carrying all kingdoms of life onward to the full flowering of their species, and thence upward and forward along the spiraling ladder of life.
So it is that mankind moves onward with the momentum of a great human river, flowing swiftly here, slowly there; sometimes swirling through whirlpools of muddied turbulence, and again moving in a calm of limpid serenity, reflecting, as it journeys, all of the tides and moods of hope, joy, pain, and despair in the souls struggling to find their way.
We move together in the broad main stream of experience, within whose mighty course each one stands alone, riding the Karmic currents on which we may surge forward, or plunging into undertows that drag us down; but through it all proceeding along with the Great Evolutional Tide of Humanity that is just beginning slowly to emerge upward from the turbid bottom, rising along shafts of light that ripple down through the murky gloom, guiding us upward to the surface where we will unfold silken wings of Spirit to soar ever higher along the Luminous Arc.
The Grand Urge to Growth Spirit-ward begins with a yearning in the human heart and mind to understand the meaning and purpose of life -- an inspiration in the soul prompting us to live for others, an aspiration in the personal man to find his Spiritual Self.
This longing comes when the Heart-Light touches the mind, for we cannot "PENETRATE THE THINGS OF THE SPIRIT WITH THE EYES OF THE FLESH."
Intellectual knowledge is garnered through the mind, Kama-Manas; Spiritual understanding -- which is soul wisdom -- awakens in the heart; and unless the flame of Spiritual love ensouls the mind, it remains blind but to the eyes of flesh that can perceive only the sensory physical world.
H.P. Blavatsky explains the higher and lower aspects of mind in the excerpt quoted here from her article, DIALOGUE BETWEEN TWO EDITORS.
The mind is dual in its potentiality: it is physical and metaphysical. The higher part of the mind is connected with the spiritual soul or Buddhi, the lower with the animal soul, the Kama principle. There are persons who never think with the higher faculties of their mind at all; those who do so are the minority and are thus, in a way, BEYOND, if not above, the average of human kind. These will think even upon ordinary matters on that HIGHER plane ... This is why it is so very difficult for a materialist -- the metaphysical portion of whose brain is almost atrophied -- to raise himself, or for one who is naturally spiritually minded, to descend to the level of the matter-of-fact vulgar thought.
The habit of thinking in the higher mind can be developed ... but only with great difficulty, a firm determination, and through much self-sacrifice. But it is comparatively easy for those who are born with the gift. Why is it that one person sees poetry in a cabbage or a pig with her little ones, while another will perceive in the loftiest things only their lowest and most material aspect, will laugh at the 'music of the spheres,' and ridicule the most sublime conceptions and philosophies? This difference depends simply on the innate power of the mind to think on the higher or on the lower plane, with the ASTRAL (in the sense given the word by de Saint-Martin), or with the physical brain. Great intellectual powers are often no proof of, but are impediments to spiritual and right conceptions.
-- BLAVATSKY COLLECTED WRITINGS, X, 222-23
The heart is the center of life; it is the organ of the spiritual man, the focus of spiritual consciousness while the mind is the seat of the intellectual man, the center of self-consciousness. Both of these streams of energy are channeled through the sentient animal man whose body is made up of life atoms that correspond exactly with the quality and type of spiritual and material currents that are being transmitted into the motives, desires, and thought governing our actions in daily life.
This explains why it is so very difficult to change habit patterns or understand and accept easily that which is new and unfamiliar to our experience. Our actions and reactions follow the entrenched grooves of habit-knowledge built up throughout all of our lifetimes and function almost automatically through the reflexes and responses with which we react to experience.
Knowledge has literally to GROW into the fabric of our being; CAN BE RE-MADE. Thus the urge to character traits UN-MADE before they grow at this stage of human unfoldment is a process of pain and suffering, which is the only way we can learn to understand until the heart-light awakens and begins to guide us with a moral code of responsibility for our deeds. Motive is in the heart, thought in the head.
The quality and type of knowledge that we possess is the result of developing our mental faculties; but the use we make of it for either selfish or selfless purposes is guided by the predominance of spiritual or animal desire in control of our human nature.
A brilliant mind without compassion guiding it becomes a cold, heartless fiend of evil, and a selfless heart without the know-how to use it properly can also result in harm from misguided good intentions. So while we must "LEARN ABOVE ALL TO SEPARATE HEAD-LEARNING FROM SOUL-WISDOM, THE 'EYE' FROM THE 'HEART' DOCTRINE" we must never lose sight of our motives, for "EVEN IGNORANCE IS BETTER THAN HEAD-LEARNING WITH NO SOUL-WISDOM TO ILLUMINATE AND GUIDE IT". (VOICE OF THE SILENCE)
With heart in mind, we blend the light of intellect with the flame of Spiritual love; self-consciousness reaches into the impersonal; understanding unfolds a metaphysical perception that merges the aspirational with the practical, the intuitional with the rational, inspiring whatever mental-spiritual capacities we have to work with into Right Motive, Right Thinking, and Right Action.
By Gertrude W. van Pelt
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, March 1921, pages 286-91.]
In that wonderful ancient book of wisdom, the Bhagavad-Gita, there is a passage from Krishna which runs thus:
I produce myself among creatures ... whenever there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world; and thus I incarnate from age to age for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness.
This refers to the great tide of spiritual life, following upon the volcanic eruption of evil. One might say also stirring it, and forcing it to the light of day. The great tides rise at their appointed time and place. One who knows how and where to look can see them far back in the mists of the past like mighty outbursts of inexhaustible life, breaking over human minds, cleansing and invigorating them.
The corruption and refuse, the acids of hate, the deathly poisons of selfishness with which men saturate every layer of brain-consciousness they touch, lie relatively near the surface and are with inexorable justice thrown out. Then come terrible disturbances of all kinds; wars, famines, unbelievable cruelties. That which in the past was inhuman thoughts becomes inhuman acts. Suffering blinds the eyes. The light of the soul is lost. Many people doubt that it will ever again be found, and heavy, numbing despair settles over their minds.
Behind this noxious tide which seems to emanate from the depths of hell is the great tide of life, exhaustless, unfathomable, exhilarating, and certain to rise, in comparison with which the other is a mere boiling on the surface. It is Krishna, personating here the spirit behind all, more fully incarnating in human minds: Krishna, upon whose presence life depends, who sustains the universe, and whose home on this earth is in the hearts of men.
Everyone should lie open for the coming of THIS tide so that it may rise in unobstructed fullness in his own heart. Nothing but ignorance, delusion, and insanity could oppose or disregard it, for that would mean a painful course of self-destruction.
The tide we have to STEM is the tide of evil, and it should be stemmed not by blocking it up, but by neutralizing it. It has always been gathering and periodically breaking forth with violence, sweeping not only over the lands of earth in ruthless destruction, but over the lives and hearts of men, leaving them bitter, cruel, bereft of the sweet, pure feeling which really belongs to them.
Such an eruption this generation has just witnessed. Apparently its fury is not yet spent. Some fondly hoped the war would purify, but such has never been the effect of war. The child of war is more war. It arouses and sustains mutual, crushing disbelief in human nature. It brutalizes the finer feelings. It is the last expression of unbrotherliness, and cannot by any sophistries be represented as an advantage to humanity.
Glorious things appear in the general upheaval, of course. Great souls come to the front and shine all the more gloriously against the dark background. But, also, fierce and terrible passions are aroused; merciless wounds are inflicted; disappointments follow hopes; aspirations are wiped out by despair; dazed, amazed, bewildered, thousands wander, easy victims to the ghoul of ferocious selfishness which stalks over the earth.
It is inevitable that an upheaval such as we have witnessed, should bring to the surface buried treasures. They belong to the divinity in man and can never be lost; but it brings also buried passions -- the results of little sins which have been covered as the ages have gone, by mock pieties, by suavity, policy, or one of the thousand forms of insincerities which everyone knows -- and great crimes such as burning thoughts of revenge, cunning greed, and the whole hateful brood of selfishness.
Storms like this do not gather over night, during the life of a generation, a nation, nor even in historical times. Indeed, Madame Blavatsky traces the tendencies of today back to old Atlantean days.
We have had high tides periodically, as said, and as history shows; that is, great epochs when the forces which set in motion the old order are exhausted; when new impulses are born and races of men enter into new conditions. They are a sign of life. In themselves, they bring only blessings. They are the process by which old forms are broken and new ones built up for greater experiences. They are natural, healthy tides which lift from glory to glory.
The seeming disasters are due to the millions upon millions of barriers that have been thrown into the current during all the moments since the last great tide. We might call them unfinished works which gather, becoming more and more dangerous, and ready at any time to be ignited into a terrible conflagration of human passions.
The real work of human beings is not the manipulating of physical atoms. These furnish only the means. It is rather the gaining of the mastery of self and of the elements of life; the establishing of harmony within and then without. Every least event is an opportunity for the only real growth. An unfriendly thought or act from another is one of these.
The work to be done is so to meet this evil that it is transmuted. An enemy then becomes a friend. But this work is for the most part shirked, and thrown into the great heap of the world's unbalanced accounts. The enemy becomes a greater enemy, and the one who added to his disorder, moves on to his next mistake.
Who has not done his part toward creating confusion and unrest? Is any soul guiltless? Age after age, incarnation after incarnation, thoughts of every kind that make for disintegration, selfishness, degradation, and degeneracy have been cast into earth's atmosphere. The mental air is poisoned with such stuff.
We have acquired and bequeathed all down the centuries bodies permeated with disease. It is difficult in these days to find a really healthy body that will last to its natural term. Doctors and officials were appalled during the late recruiting to discover the actual physical condition of the race. The poverty in this rich civilization is unbelievable. It is stated that seventy-five percent of the births in some cities in the United States are of indigent parents. It is not likely that a world average would give a better figure.
The National Association for the study of epilepsy announced that there is one epileptic for every four hundred people in the United States. The numbers of prisons, and increasing and more debasing crimes, have been so often commented on that the mind grows callous to their significance. The New York City estimates of drug habitues have doubled in a period of months to 200,000. It is believed there are from one million five hundred thousand to five million addicts in this country. Only ten percent of cocaine production is used legitimately. The remainder is corrupting for the most part boys and girls of from seventeen to twenty-two years.
It is difficult to realize one's personal responsibility for this state of things. In fact, without the teachings of the old Wisdom-Religion about life, it would be impossible. But when one knows of all the lives behind him right here on this globe, and knows that no one can live without exerting an influence on the trend of life; that the souls who are here now are the same that have been coming again and again; that heart-life is in a way common soil, absorbing mental deposits as water absorbs and spreads its ingredients; and when one adds to this the knowledge that all are every moment, willingly or unwillingly, consciously or otherwise, contributing their quotas to create the powerful controller of events, known as 'public feeling,' then we cannot escape the belief that we have a causal relation to present conditions.
It may seem that if one lives quietly at home, taking no part in public activities, that the blame can be shifted upon the shoulders of those who do. But the old teaching shows that it is what one IS that really shapes events, and national and race issues are in truth decided by the composite man, as world events by the composite nation.
There are always abundant evidences that things are going wrong. It does not need a great prophet to see that sooner or later some violent general disturbance must take place.
It is the same in the physical body. Disease hints of its presence long before it becomes threatening. There are little ebullitions of the virus, and then a return of calm. They grow more frequent, more general, more various, for the life-forces work always for harmony.
It is in the human body as in the great world. Slight manifestations first; the innocent disorder termed 'a cold' appears. Poisons are thrown off and relative health returns. Then perhaps more frequent colds, more serious conditions follow, which means that the organism is making more strenuous efforts to purify and reestablish health. The more vigorous the constitution, the more energetic will be the symptoms.
The very weak will fade away with mild ones. There is no tide of health for them. The destroyers have the upper hand. For it is a fight between the builders and destroyers; illness meaning an arousing to action on the part of the former to rid the system of the poisons which have been allowed to gather there through the ignorance, mistakes, and sins of the ego who should have guarded against them.
The final result each time depends upon which side comes out of the battle the stronger and the subsequent history depends upon which of the two is reinforced by the man who inhabits that body.
There are two ways of meeting disease, namely, taking it at an advantage, or disadvantage. Most people choose the latter. They follow their desires of a lower, selfish order, consider the immediate physical comfort of the first importance; or strain and overtax their forces with a reckless disregard for the future.
Then come one or more of the inevitable occurrences of life -- an unusual exposure, an emotional strain, an extra push of work, perhaps a genuine injury to the body or one of those apparent conspiracies of circumstances to converge upon a single individual a host of minor misfortunes which block his efforts for relief at every step. Of course, more toxins accumulate, and the issue is forced for the constructive energies, which they must arouse themselves to meet, doing as well as they can under the circumstances.
There is the natural illness, so to speak, which belongs to its cycle, but which may be forced out of time, and the emergency is then weighted with a burden of precious accumulations to such a degree that the result becomes problematical. We may call it unexpressed Karma, latent disease, or a feeble constitution. But there it is, in greater or less degree, with most of the race units. Very few probably have any idea of what real health is.
The other way to meet disease is to so live and act and think that little by little the burdens of the past grow less. There will be no escaping of Karma, of course. Those old effects now become causes and will have to be endured as effects. But they can be worked off by degrees and at an advantage. One can begin to work with the Builders instead of with the Destroyers.
In the natural growth toward health, and as gradually incidents which blur the picture are eliminated, these tides can be observed, which if met, cooperated with intelligently and philosophically, will gradually diminish as an expression of disease, and finally fade, if new mistakes are not constantly committed. They may then, no doubt, be felt as a wonderful influx of vigor, fresh joy, or clearer vision. Who can dream what the natural, unobstructed tide might be?
Finally, for each life comes the great Regenerator, Death. But we interfere sadly with our lives if he comes before his time. Thus likewise in the larger world, normal tides bring joy. It is the Karma of the world which forces upheavals. There must be danger that these latter also may be precipitated out of season, like the bursting of a dam before the walls are ready, for Mr. Judge tells us somewhere that the Guides of evolution hold back the awful Karma of the world till it can break with least disaster.
But history repeats these deluges, and what wonder? Nations always nursing hatreds of other nations, marching upon them like pirates and seizing their goods; governments glorifying this conduct, and calling it patriotism -- such things have made up its pages as far back as our records reach.
The marvel is that with the wrong nations do to each other, with the injustices that individuals are guilty of toward each other, and with the crimes that people commit against themselves, the wonder is that we have even so much of beauty and happiness as we have. It is a striking vindication of the Soul.
And so it has been that century after century, the evils seething in the heart of man have come to the surface and shown themselves for the ugly things they really are, in a most DISADVANTAGEOUS way. They have got beyond control and spread like a forest fire, because they were not met and conquered in the proper place, in the individual hearts.
Warnings come like the rumblings of a volcano; there are little uprisings of the oppressed, then greater, and finally a tremendous bursting forth of the pent-up furies that have been created by man's selfishness.
The French Revolution was inevitable since the abundant warnings extending over years were unheeded by those who should have heeded them, and since no change of heart could be effected in the nation. The final dissolution of all the nations that have gone down in disgrace was always preceded by signs of disease, periodical at first, then chronic, but it was not cured in the only way and place possible, namely, by new currents generated in the human heart.
A persistence of the old habits of thought and feeling carried them, one and all, down to their doom. For all these things, if they exist, must be cast up when the Great Spirit of life begins to stir beneath the waters. The air must be purified. Humanity must be made to see itself. Following this, come the wonderful opportunities, the chances to start again in a new way. The rainbow of promise is in the sky, but its fulfillment depends upon ourselves alone.
It has been clear to many for a long time that this age was mortally sick. Carlyle wrote graphically of it many years ago. This Theosophical Movement was started in 1875 with knowledge of what was to come and for the purpose of calling the attention of the people to the remedy to be applied. William Q. Judge said in substance once that unless we could succeed in making Brotherhood an active force, we should see rivers of blood flowing in our cities. In THE OCEAN OF THEOSOPHY, he quoted this from a great Teacher:
THAT whichJust, though mysterious, leads us on unerring, Through ways unmarked, from guilt to punishment
-- which are now the ways and the high road on which move onward the great European nations. The western Aryans had, every nation and tribe, like their eastern brethren of the fifth race, their Golden and their Iron ages, their period of comparative irresponsibility, or the Satya age of purity, while now several of them have reached their Iron age, the Kali-Yuga, an age BLACK WITH HORRORS. This state will last ... until we begin acting from within instead of ever following impulses from without. ... Until then the only palliative is union and harmony, a Brotherhood in ACTU and ALTRUISM not simply in name.
In another place, he himself says:
This Yuga began about 3102 years before the Christian era, at the time of Krishna's death. ... The scientific men of today will have an opportunity of seeing whether the close of the five thousand year cycle will be preceded or followed by any convulsions or great changes, political, scientific, or physical, or all of these combined. ...
At the present time the cycle has almost run its course for this [i.e., last] century. ... [It is to be] hoped by the time the next tide begins to rise that the West will have gained some right knowledge of the true philosophy of Man and Nature, and be then ready to bear the lifting of the veil a little more.
The great movement for Universal Brotherhood heralds something possible for this century which is beyond human imagination. The cycle now upon us offers an opportunity, colossal, supernal, and over powering in its glory. But nothing is made clearer than that the seizing of it depends upon the degree to which each one seizes upon his own nature, masters it, and turns its forces in the right channels. This is the keynote to the situation, which, if found and used, will transfigure human life, make it sound and beautiful as it should be, and bring a reign of peace and happiness to supplant this age of horrors.
One can avoid being lost in the confusion by reflecting on the Higher Law, and focusing the mind on the rich pure stream of divine energy which underlies all the abortive, deformed expressions marring the world's life; by working with this deep, true, compassionate power, and becoming one of its channels to the surface.
On one of her recent lecture-tours, Katherine Tingley said:
It is a glorious work, and those who take part in it are indeed fortunate. Their responsibility is great, and the calls made upon them often heavy. But they should know that they are working with the tide of the world's life working with them. They can afford to keep in their own hearts an immense courage, an utter fearlessness, an unshakable determination. For victory is ready waiting for them. They, for their part, have only to do their simple duty.
By T. Henry
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, April 1921, 323-26.]
This saying, which is but one of many similar, refutes any statement that might be made to the effect that Theosophy is merely speculative and unpractical. It also serves to distinguish Theosophy from its counterfeits (some of the counterfeits being under the very name of Theosophy). We can surely point to the words of the Founder in definition of what Theosophy is and what it is not.
The inference is that anything which does not lead to action is not Theosophy, whatever it may call itself. The difference is the same as that between real and sham virtue, genuine compassion and mere emotionalism, merit and presumption, and, generally speaking, between all genuine things and their mere appearance.
Theosophy was never intended by its Reviver in our age to be a mere pursuit for the gratification of intellectual curiosity, love of the marvelous, or ambition; but strong efforts have always had to be made to keep it from becoming so. We may find even today people and coteries who use the name of Theosophy to designate unpractical activities of this kind; and they are in marked contrast with the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society, which alone carries on the work in the spirit of its Founder.
The teachings of Theosophy are of such a nature that they cannot be made serviceable to oneself unless one makes the sincere endeavor to apply them to one's conduct. And the application of Theosophical teachings to one's conduct implies that one shall engage in active practical work among men. As expressed by William Q. Judge:
The power to know does not come from book-study nor from mere philosophy, but mostly from the actual practice of altruism in deed, word, and thought; for that practice purifies the covers of the soul and permits that light to shine down into the brain-mind.
The Theosophical teachings, such as Karma, the septenary constitution of man, the spiritual unity of mankind, may be studied intellectually and made objects of pious meditation; but, unless put into practice, will remain in the state of all such intellectual beliefs -- that is, detached from actual life and barren of results so far as betterment of that life or the attainment of real knowledge, is concerned.
There are many people perfectly willing to change their religious beliefs and adopt any new ideas, so long as their REAL religion -- that is, the settled principles on which their life is ordered -- is not disturbed; but when that is threatened, they resist strongly and instinctively. The invariable resort of such people is to make the new ideas unpractical, to keep them in the state of merely intellectual beliefs.
But Theosophy, as is abundantly proved from the utterances of the Founder of the Society and her successors, is intended to work a reform in the very life of humanity, to supplant some of our fondest delusions, and to influence us to lay aside many prejudices in favor of broader and more unselfish aims.
This may help us to estimate the magnitude of the task undertaken by the Founder. She called in question the validity of a vast and time-grown concretion of rooted ideas. And from out the depths of this mass of conservatism there went forth a silent and determined opposition, which she had to confront. Such is the price paid by Teachers.
In a smaller way, each sincere Theosophist has to face just such a problem in his own character.
Among those who are drawn to Theosophy, we may distinguish people who merely anticipate a pleasant new belief but are not prepared to make any sacrifices for it; and those who welcome Theosophy as a herald of better achievements in the line of conduct and duty.
Calling the latter sincere Theosophists, be it observed in reference to them that there is a law of nature which is called into operation by the force of their aspirations. It is Newton's third law of motion, but in a sense less restricted than usual: to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This law, however, does not prevent progress.
A swimmer encounters the resistance of the water, which he does not arouse so long as he remains still; and in spite of this resistance, he progresses. So the aspirant, by his aspiration, arouses resistance from the inertia of his character and his environment.
Thus begins his practical work. It is the token that his Theosophy is sincere, has taken root in his character, and is accomplishing work. Theosophy leads perforce to action; otherwise what has been supposed to be Theosophy is mere intention and talk.
Obstacles, then, may be expected; but surely the wise man will hail them, not deplore. Are they not the tokens of his success?
As said in our second quotation, the practice of altruism purifies the covers of the soul. This refers to the teaching that the soul is the real knower, and the mind is one of its instruments, which should interpret it, but which in ordinary cases obscures it. Wisdom is to be attained by so purifying the mind that it is enabled to reflect the soul-wisdom. Desires and passions and wrong notions of all kinds are the great hindrances, for they throw the mind into myriad fantastic forms, and no wisdom is able to penetrate. Hence real progress in Theosophy demands practical work, for so only can we render ourselves capable of appreciating the essence of its teachings.
It scarcely needs saying that, where there is the desire for practical work, the opportunity will not be wanting. Such opportunities present themselves all the time, and there is no need to go hunting for them. We have only to use the opportunities we have been hitherto letting slip.
It is by no means an unknown experience that a student of Theosophy will, by his zeal, draw upon himself an opportunity; and then, instead of taking it, miss it. He has tested himself and failed at the test. If he is wise he will, looking back over the experience, learn a lesson that will prevent a similar mistake later on.
Suppose, for example, that the student was anxious to overcome an irritable temper and acquire thereby a more equable and judicious disposition. In accordance with certain natural laws, which begin to become evident to the practical student of Theosophy, his aspiration would before long bring a test upon him. His desire to conquer his weakness would tend to bring about its own fulfillment. Then he would either win or lose in the opportunity. Thus practical work is indispensable, for who can overcome his temper theoretically and without actually trying?
People may say they have come across several different sorts of Theosophy, but there is only one practical, and therefore genuine, Theosophy; the others are of the mere talk-and-intention kind.
Ardor and energy are the very essence of the character of the Founder. Hers was a herculean work. She had to go right beneath the surface and strike at many rooted ideas and prejudices in modern civilization. This roused a great amount of silent and determined opposition, and a character of surpassing strength was needed to stand the strain of such opposition.
Theosophy was anything but mere talk and intention for her: it was very practical indeed. And so it must always be for her pupils. If they aspire to the name of Theosophists, they must be endued with at least a portion of her spirit, however small; and this will mean that their desire is to achieve, to plant the seeds of real progress.
How, it may be asked, can we be practical in connection with such a Theosophical teaching as Reincarnation? The answer is that the teaching was promulgated for the purpose of enduing man with that new hope and self-respect which is so necessary; it was not given out for the satisfaction of intellectual curiosity or to provide food for vain and foolish speculations and claims. We are expected to prove our belief in Reincarnation by acting as immortal Souls should act.
The desire for knowledge is a worthy aspiration, and Theosophy makes a point of assuring man that he is not forbidden to try and know as much as he can. But the sincere and earnest student is not long in finding out that he cannot advance in his quest for knowledge unless he obeys the necessary conditions -- that is, unless he puts into practice what he has learned -- puts it into practice in his conduct with himself and towards his fellows.
Some of us old members were once attracted to the pursuit of vain speculations and experiments, but had our feet turned in a different direction by the Teacher, who showed us what her real purposes were and what Theosophy demanded of its adherents.
Those speculations and experiments now seem by-paths, which cannot be profitably pursued until certain very urgent reforms have been accomplished in our own nature. The work of uprooting weaknesses becomes more important than the attempt to acquire new faculties. We are too top-heavy as it is, and need to acquire more strength at the center, more poise.
Theosophists are striving to create a better standard of life for themselves and for others. And how can this be done except by continuous and strong practical endeavor? Mere talk and intention will not suffice.
By John Algeo
H.P. Blavatsky is occasionally mentioned in literary works. Such incidental allusions are of little significance in themselves, but they are evidence of her continuing influence on the modern world. The allusions occur in both fiction and nonfiction.
One example is from fantasy literature. The novel WICKED: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST (New York: Regan Books, 1995), by Gregory Maguire, is a reinterpretation for adults of several characters from the children's story THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ by L. Frank Baum. The reinterpretation involves a book called the GRIMMERIE, of which the Wizard says (p. 352):
This is an ancient manuscript of magic, generated in a world far away from this one. It was long thought to be merely legendary, or else destroyed in the dark onslaughts of the northern invaders. It had been removed from our world for safety by a wizard more capable than I. It is why I came to Oz in the first place ... Madame Blavatsky located it in a crystal ball, and I made the appropriate sacrifices and -- arrangements -- to travel here forty years ago. I was a young man, full of ardor and failure. I had not intended to rule a country here, but just to find this document and return it to its own world, and to study its secrets there.
Another example is from a biography of a prominent Canadian artist and Theosophist: LAWREN HARRIS: AN INTRODUCTION TO HIS LIFE AND ART, by Joan Murray (Toronto, Ontario: Firefly Books, 2003), kindly brought to my attention by Kathleen Hall. The biography includes a good many references to Theosophy, such as following:
Harris was keenly interested in theosophy, a synthesis of religions tied to Eastern beliefs that deal with ethics, art and aesthetics, and moral codes ... He had fallen under the spell of the nineteenth-century Anglo-Russian author Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, co-founder in 1875 of the burgeoning Theosophical Society ... Madame Blavatsky had suggested that theosophy is the primordial wisdom-religion, the secret doctrine that underlies all existing religions and scriptures ...
Harris deeply believed in theosophy, to such an extent that he wrote for The Canadian Theosophist, read papers at conventions, and gave radio talks on the subject. He bothered his friends by zealously handing out or sending them literature about the society (pp. 40-42).
HPB is alluded to in many other works of literature. If any reader knows of such allusions, I would be pleased to hear of them.
By Reginald W. Machell
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, March 1921, pages 232-40.]
Under one disguise or another, the eternal pilgrim has been the subject of innumerable legends, myths, fables, and historical romances. All the wanderings of ancient legendary heroes are fashioned upon the same foundation; and such stories are found in the great epics of all ages. In history we have the migrations of races, and in tradition these races and nations have been personified as individuals who lived through immense periods of time. The earth in its journey through space presents a cosmic version of the wanderlust or of the forced pilgrimage that is decreed by some superior power according to the fancy of the poet or the fashion of the time.
The fairy-stories of our own childhood owed much of their charm to this never-failing theme, the wandering hero or heroine in search of some apparently unattainable object, veiled perhaps by a goal of more achievable proportions, adapted to the comprehension of the public or the taste of the age in which the story was told.
In our own times the Wandering Jew has been perhaps the most popular version of the eternal pilgrimage; and the theme has been used in one form or another by almost every well-known writer of romance, and by more than one serious historian.
The popularity of a legend depends upon its power to appeal to some passion of the human heart that is common to all sorts and conditions of humanity: and there is no quality more generally admired than heroism, no theme more popular than that of a noble hero wandering in search of some elusive goal, or the accomplishment of some impossible task, to be crowned at the last with power, fame, love, wealth, the mere consciousness of mighty deeds well done, or spiritual wisdom gained.
Why is this theme so popular? Why is hero-worship universal? You may say simply because all human beings desire things more or less unattainable: that is to say, things that are far beyond the reach of such powers as they may be able or willing to exert. Things easily attainable make no appeal to the imagination, which in the ordinary man or woman is only stirred by some secret longing of the heart, such as the desire to be or appear heroic.
Why such longing should exist in people of the ordinary kind is not apparent, without a deeper insight into the mysteries of the human heart than is possible to the ordinary man. That there are unsuspected depths and unexplored heights within the heart of the most ordinary person is made evident when some unusual circumstance calls out heroic qualities in the character of one who till then seemed utterly devoid of heroism.
It is evident that many, if not all, people of unheroic character are pleased to imagine themselves capable of heroic deeds, and would be delighted to pose as heroes if there were the smallest chance of their being able to impose upon anyone. And why? Does not the desire for admiration rise in the first place from a sort of subconscious belief that the real inner man is truly noble, courageous, heroic, as well as strong and beautiful? May it not be that indeed there is in every one of us hidden beneath a mean and commonplace personality a potential hero who would behave heroically if that same personality would but give him the chance to display his beauty and his courage?
This inner, unknown, and only potential hero may be a fact; and it may be that the whole evolutionary process is concerned with the unfolding of his spiritual possibilities. It may indeed be the fact that the whole of nature exists for the purpose of the evolution of the soul. And so the soul of man, of nature, or of the universe, may be the great unmanifested reality that stands behind all the temporary and passing illusions of ordinary life.
So too it may be the fact that the unknown and unevolved soul of man is the hero who would stamp his image on the ignoble personality that so shamelessly asserts himself as the real man, and it may be for this reason that every youth, and most full-grown people, nurse in their hearts a secret conviction that under more favorable circumstances they would be recognized as heroes, both by an admiring world and by themselves. And for that reason, tales of chivalry, heroism, and adventure are always popular.
But you may say the eternal pilgrim is not a hero of romance. That merely means that the hero of romance is a variation from the original theme of the soul wandering in search of experience.
The Wandering Jew has been presented by Christian writers as a soul doomed to unending woe, wandering from land to land, without home or hope, eternally. But in this case, as in all others, the outer form of the myth changes from age to age, and is colored to suit the taste of the public for whom the story is told. The essential feature of the tale is the undying soul of man wandering through all experience in search of final liberation.
This wandering was represented as a punishment for sin by those who were interested in propounding and exploiting a definite scheme of salvation, by means of which a man could pass, with certainty and dispatch, from life on earth to eternal bliss in heaven.
In lands where the scheme of salvation was different, the pilgrimage of the soul was perhaps itself the path of salvation or of illumination; and it may have been a long tale of triumph crowned by final victory; or it may have been a path of joy that ended in undying bliss: a pilgrimage is not necessarily a period of pain.
In ages of ignorance, such as seem to come to all nations and races at recurring periods in the long story of evolution, the knowledge of Reincarnation generally dies out, or is obliterated by those who find the easiest way to rule the world is by fear. They teach the fear of death and make a horrible bogey out of the gentle presence that bears the order of release for the imprisoned or incarnate soul, the beautiful messenger of death.
But there is good reason to believe that, however black may be the dark age of national ignorance in one part of the world, some other part may be witnessing a period of the highest culture and most advanced learning: for the evolutionary waves sweep round the earth, rising and falling, but not all together. Knowledge of the Divine Wisdom, called by the Greeks 'Theosophy,' is never lost to man, though it may be for a while lost to the majority of men in some particular countries, or even apparently in all; but not by all men in all lands simultaneously.
While the western world had utterly forgotten the teaching of Reincarnation, and had almost lost faith in the existence of the human soul, such knowledge was still common property in many oriental lands; and other and much higher knowledge was still treasured by a few even in the west.
Among the more illuminated minds, the progress of the eternal pilgrim was the one great subject of thought and study. And if the people as a whole had utterly forgotten the old teachings, and were living as animals hoping to pass straight from a life of grossest animalism to one of purely spiritual bliss by virtue of a blood-offering made for them by their Savior; yet deep in their hearts remained the knowledge of the soul's existence and the conviction that the soul was truly heroic. Since the soul knows its own immortality, there was in every heart a silent witness to the truth that lay beneath the allegory of the eternal wanderer.
The function of a myth is to present a truth in a form that may, by its familiarity, appeal to the popular mind without raising the antagonism certain to be roused by dogmatic assertion of an unfamiliar teaching. So the myths of wandering heroes, or eternal exiles banished from a spiritual home, were means of keeping alive in men's hearts an intuition or an instinct of immortality that had been forgotten by the popular mind.
The myth sometimes deals with the experience of a soul passing through a single incarnation, as in the bible-story of the prodigal son, who leaves his father's house, the Father "that is in heaven," and journeys to a far land, this earth, and there squanders his substance in riotous living.
At last he remembers his father's home, his own spiritual origin, and he says: "I will arise and go to my father." He returns from his long wandering on earth, where he has groveled with swineherds and gained his experience of the unfitness of such a life to satisfy the soul's needs; and his father in heaven receives him cordially. Thus is told very briefly and symbolically the story of a single incarnation.
Other myths have a far wider range, and represent the pilgrim of life as passing through many lives on earth and in mystic worlds above or below the earth. They speak of descent into an underworld, or of translation into the celestial regions of the blessed, and of a return to earth at periodic intervals.
There is the beautiful Peri, cast out of Paradise, seeking to return, and sent back to earth to gather a gift that shall unlock the crystal bar of heaven. She looks down on the children of earth pityingly as she tries to find there some pearl that is pure enough to shine in heaven, sighs as she searches, and says: "Some flowerets of Eden ye still inherit, but the trail of the serpent is over them all."
When Madame Blavatsky began to call the attention of the world to Theosophy, the doctrine of Reincarnation was so completely forgotten by the general public that the teacher had to 'go slow' in reintroducing to the European public a doctrine that was still openly accepted in a large part of the Orient.
Even now, after nearly half a century of Theosophical propaganda, there are people who regard this self-evident truth as a questionable theory; but it would be hard to find a well-educated man or woman in the western world today who is not more or less familiar with the term, however little they may understand the teaching. Numbers of people have recognized the truth of the proposition at the first hearing, and many have expressed surprise at not having found it out for themselves. The reason for such ready recognition of a truth is probably that the soul of man is not so sound asleep within its 'chrysalis of flesh' as one might well imagine, judging men and women by their ordinary conduct.
The eternal pilgrim is the most universal fact in human life: for every human soul is such a pilgrim, traveling in search of self-knowledge and gathering experience, necessary or unnecessary, helpful or harmful, as the case may be; eternally urged onward by the evolutionary impulse, which is sometimes called the principle of desire, the desire for existence.
Without the Theosophic teachings as to the complex nature of man and the dual character of mind, a soul may answer to the call of truth, although the unilluminated mind may not be able to explain to itself the reason for its acquiescence in a doctrine that may seem strange and unreasonable at first hearing. But when Theosophy is studied in the right spirit, the complex character of man becomes self-evident; though the understanding of the true nature of the various principles may come slowly.
The great fact that man is a soul inhabiting a body, once that it is recognized, becomes the key to every problem that can possibly bewilder or assail the mind. The fact that the soul of man is an eternal pilgrim wandering in search of jewels of wisdom, once that it has become alive in him, will prove its truth to him continually in the unfolding of his character. In fact the recognition of this simple fact is the first step towards self-consciousness, in the higher sense.
Of course it may be argued that all experience is good and that all is equally desirable; but this is a deceptive play on words. To be precise, in speaking of experience, one might well say that repetition of an experience is waste of time and energy, and indeed is not truly experience, in the real sense, but merely useless repetition of sensation. Certainly something may be learned in that way, if only the lesson that such repetition is unnecessary and injurious. But is there not a better way?
When a soul begins to struggle for its liberation from the thralldom of the body and the senses, then repetition of experience is waste of time. When the prodigal remembers his father's home, he will turn in disgust from his diet of "husks that the swine do eat." He will not argue that such food is valuable experience. He has learned that lesson, in one aspect at any rate.
The legend of the Wandering Jew is interesting from many points of view. Some think it had its origin in the destiny of a people doomed to wander for a long period, preserving their traditions through the dark ages of their wanderings, to emerge at last purified and enlightened for the helping of humanity.
Others have seen in it a tale of vengeance, long drawn out, for crimes committed long ago. Many writers have used it as a theme of mere romance, not looking beyond the legendary personality condemned to live on in loneliness, till expiation of his crime shall set him free to die. Yet few have failed to realize the element of allegory in the drama even if they were unable to divine the meaning.
The key to the story must surely be Reincarnation. And it may well be that some historical initiate remembering his past lives may have been represented as speaking of the forbidden topic, and so, self-doomed to the long expiation of his fault, in boasting of his knowledge, to live on beyond the normal age of man and thus to serve as a reminder to mankind that there are higher powers, not far away behind the clouds, but close in touch with ordinary humanity, able to call them to account for profanation of the mysteries.
It is indeed most probable that some of the historical or legendary characters reported to have lived for thousands of years, were men who displayed a knowledge of events connected with their own previous incarnations, and who thus seemed to be remembering those events in the ordinary way, which would require the use of the same body and brain for the whole period covered by the supposed or pretended memory.
As to the possible limits to which man's bodily life may be extended, I do not pretend to guess -- and I am quite prepared to find that we all die long before we would do if we lived better lives. Indeed it seems to me most probable that the chief cause of death is the accumulation of memories, physical as well as mental; results of evil or mistaken causes, set up in ignorance or in defiance of the laws of health, and weighing us down with sickness of mind and body.
If a man lives in perfect harmony with all the laws of life, he must surely have nothing to regret, no wasted energies to restore, no damaged instrument to repair, and no evil consequences of mistakes to suffer. Why should he die? There would still be the habit of the race to overcome: the habit of early dying, stamped in every atom of his material body and mind: for a man cannot at will make himself separate from the race in which he chooses to incarnate, or in which his Karma compels him to abide.
Brotherhood is a fact in nature and it cannot be overlooked, nor can its claims be repudiated. So we should naturally expect that if a man had the power to prolong his own life indefinitely, he would only use the power for the service of a worthy cause, and never for his own gratification. Brotherhood is a fact in nature, and selfishness is a denial of that great natural law, which is what some call sin. It has been well said that sin is the seed of death, meaning by sin the violation of natural law.
The eternal pilgrim is the reincarnating ego of the personal man: the man who never dies, and who, in his deeper consciousness, may carry the memory (or its equivalent) of many lives. But we all know that there are many things admitted as true by our own inner selves, which are ignored or even actually denied by the personal self in its most selfish moods.
We all live in open violation of many laws of nature that we know nothing about, as well as in frequent defiance of some laws that are better known to us than we care to admit; and consequently we grow old, and look for our release from the burden of a worn-out instrument as a step towards a fresh start with a new body better suited to our needs. We are all optimists in such matters and expect each time to get a better body and fresh opportunities. Why?
What right do we have to expect a better body than the one we have so shamefully misused? For we all do misuse, or have at some time misused, these bodies. And they were probably much better than we might expect, all things considered. "Better it is to bear the ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of." Better still it is to acquire habits of self-control that will enable us to make better use of the next body that we get.
Nor can it be a matter of chance what kind of body shall be our next vehicle; for we are sowing seeds of causes all the time, and they will in due course result in just such a manner as the complexity of causes must necessitate. We may get more or less than we expect; but we may reckon on the justice of natural law to give us our due regardless of our expectations.
If we are working for the good of all mankind rather than for our own personal advantage, we shall regard events as opportunities, and not at all as either rewards or punishments. If we can live to benefit mankind, we shall not care overmuch what are the conditions of our service, nor shall we take much thought of where our lot is cast, since we have taken service in the cause of Universal Brotherhood.
It has been well said that to work for self is to work for disappointment. This refers to the personal self, the lower self, spoken of in mystical works as the illusion, the shadow, and the image. The eternal pilgrim is the real individual, the Ego, the real self. Some writers call it the soul; and I think that term is a good one for general purposes, though it may be too loose for philosophic use, unless qualified and defined; for the word has been used in many strange ways by various religious sects.
The personal self is naturally selfish, even in its most unselfish actions. It is selfishly virtuous, and selfishly proud of its own virtue. Vanity and modesty may be equally evidences of self-admiration, both being the result of an absorbing interest in the personal self and its interest or emotions. So much is this the case that to speak of a selfless personality is almost to use a contradiction in terms: selflessness being only possible to the higher self, which is conscious of its identity with the Universal Self, to whom all personal selves are but as the fruits of one tree to the tree itself.
This is not to say that a person cannot act unselfishly; far from it: but the selfless motive can only come from the selfless Self, if I may use another paradox of terms. Selflessness is beyond the comprehension of personality, but the lower or personal self can be taught to behave unselfishly: and it is a common thing to see good virtuous people falling over themselves in admiration of their own virtue, and practicing virtue for the selfish enjoyment of a sense of superiority to their neighbors, whose natural selfishness may be really more impersonal than the affectation of such a self-deceived model of all the virtues.
Selflessness is indeed a big word, and we may well leave it out of our general vocabulary and content ourselves with the more easily attainable ideal of unselfishness: for it has been well said that: "Step by step we climb to higher things." Even the most selfish virtue may be a step upward towards the Path; while an unkind criticism of a self-deluded brother may be a big step downward on the wrong road. We must remember that "Brotherhood is a fact in nature," not a mere theory to be trifled with intellectually, and what we owe to humanity is forgetfulness of personality in recognition of our common origin and eternal union.
Some critics of Theosophy complain of the coldness and impersonality of the Theosophical ideals, not finding in its teachings much encouragement for that sentimental 'gush' so dear to the emotional ones who revel in the indulgence of their own feelings, and pride themselves upon their sensibility.
The student of Theosophy must learn to distinguish between the REAL self and the FALSE; and this can only be accomplished by a constant invocation of the true self, and a continual effort to control the lower by the higher: for the lower is a usurper of authority.
But the eternal pilgrim, the real self, is nearer to the "Father that is in secret," the supreme Self of all, and knows the true self from the false; and so is not deceived by the delusions of the mind, nor blinded by self-righteousness. It seeks the pure light, in which no self-deception can exist. It sees all men as other selves, each with its separate purpose to fulfill, each with its lesson of experience to be learned. It sees its own small personality as one of the multitude to be cared for, as one of the great family of earth-born children individually weak, but accomplishing collectively a mighty purpose in the evolution of the great universe, of which no smallest atom is without its value to the whole, no single personality without its individual significance in relation to its fellows.
"To live to benefit mankind is the first step," we are told; and those who have adopted this as their attitude of mind in all life's problems know that it is possible to live a selfless life, while working in the world, accomplishing the duty of the moment and the day, but almost unconcerned as to the personal results of duty done.
The ideal is not impractical. But it will take all a man's power of will, and all his energy and enterprise, to hold that attitude of mind as his guide and make it practical. It may require many lifetimes of experience before the ideal can be fully realized, for wisdom is not a gift of the gods, but a fruit of evolution; and a man must learn wisdom by experience. Though intuition may reveal secrets of natural law as in a flash, yet the fruition of man's work on earth can be accomplished only by mastering the world of matter and illusion in which our lot is cast.
This earth is now our workshop. We must apply ourselves to learn its lessons, and to cooperate with nature and with man in order to make life beautiful. So shall the eternal pilgrim go rejoicing on his pilgrimage to the ultimate goal of Universal Brotherhood.
By J.D. Buck
[From THE PATH, April 1890, pages 10-14.]
Rest is not fitting The busy career: Rest is the fitting Of self to one's sphere.
'Tis the brook's motion Clear without strife, Fleeting to ocean After this life.
'Tis loving and serving The highest and best: 'Tis onward unswerving, And this is true rest.
Notwithstanding all that has been written on the subject, a good deal of both obscurity and confusion still remains even among professed theosophists regarding the ethics of theosophy and the objects of the Theosophical Society.
This was, indeed, to have been expected, both on account of the extent of the subject, the immeasurable ground covered, and from the fact that each individual, whether student or disciple, must not only have in himself "the beginnings of theosophy," but from first to last is himself the measure of his own understanding and progress.
The mistake is indeed very common to suppose that when once the whole truth is clearly stated, the work is virtually accomplished. But the "instructive tongue" must find an echo in the "faithful breast" ere we reach the beginnings of wisdom. The end of wisdom, understanding, is again but the beginning of knowledge and power.
Power is thus a thing of slow growth. It is never reached at a bound. It is often imagined that when one has really renounced the world, the whole work is accomplished. So long as one is in the world, and has not renounced it, his reward is in the world. Having renounced the world, one is apt to look for his reward, or to expect some adequate compensation, thus mistaking the beginning for the end. In truth, however, one does not really begin to work in the world till he has renounced the world. Henceforth his work is in the world, not away from it. This is the paradox that so few seem able to understand.
Renunciation in the sense in which it is ordinarily understood is substantially suicide. To have found the world distasteful and life on the ordinary plane a failure, and hence to renounce it, to turn from the disappointments of life because they seem to equal its successes, and so to give it all up as not worth the candle, is to make life a failure indeed.
If this were the mission of theosophy, the short cut by way of suicide is more logical and sensible.
In response to the hackneyed query, "Is life worth living," Theosophy replies, "That depends on the Life and the Living."
So long as one is involved in the life of the world, he is subject to circumstance and never master even of himself. Renunciation does not take man out of the world; it but his him to work in the world by changing his entire attitude to it.
The first result of this change of attitude is the removal of fret and friction. The result is equipoise and self-possession. Not that conceit of shallow minds that springs from egotism, complaisant self-satisfaction, the sign-manual of ignorance. This often, indeed, passes for self-possession, when it is only greed for possessing others. That cool, calculating attitude of the man of the world when seeking the best advantage with the eye always on the main chance is even nearer defeat and final catastrophe than almost any other condition that can be imagined.
Self-complacency is superficial, and beneath this mask lurks fear of the inevitable final catastrophe. This is far removed from that self-possession that follows renunciation. It is, in fact, its opposite. The first is inspired by egotism; the second by a truism. The first seeks to gain. The second is to give. The first does indeed gain a temporary power over the world, only to fall afterwards into nothingness and despair. The second gains power over self, leads upward to the everlasting, triumphs, and endures.
This is the meaning of the "vow of silence" in ancient initiations. Apollonius did not relinquish his journey or relax his labors during his five years of silence. When one stops to consider how much of speech is ill-timed and useless, if not actually pernicious, golden silence begins to be appreciated. Our judgments and condemnations of others are at best but embryonic till we give them life through speech.
In thus limiting speech, we improve judgment and mature thought. Nor does this limitation of speech by any means destroy conversation or hinder human intercourse. A good listener is often as welcome and as greatly admired as a good talker, provided he listens intelligently. When the time for conversation arises, well-chosen words, expressing clear ideas, inspired by noble sentiments, are all that is in any way desirable in conversation,
A silent example is always more potent than words. Argument is useless, and criticism of persons pernicious. One who has this self-possession, who refrains from judging or condemning others, is ready and able to engage in labors of love. He is not a reformer, but a transformer. It has often been said that reformers are men of one idea, and there is a good deal of truth in the statement.
The motto of William Lloyd Garrison was, "Immediate and unconditional emancipation of the slave." No compromise, no colonization schemes, no subterfuges; and presently the nation heard and trembled.
The transformation of society is by slow methods, like a broad, shallow stream flowing over vast territories, permeating everywhere. It is an evolution.
The reformation of society is like a mountain torrent dashing down precipitous descents, and is often accomplished by revolution. A reformer must not see too much. A transformer cannot see too much. The weakness of the one is the strength of the other. A reformer seeks by criticizing and condemning evils in others to put down abuses in the world.
A transformer seeks by the power of a noble example and rooting out the evil in his own nature, to bring out the latent good in all through the all-redeeming power of love and charity.
It makes all the difference in the world as to how we take our levels, whether we level up or level down. Say to the fond mother that she should love other children as her own, and she replies that she CANNOT, and she brings strong arguments against it. Shall she level down the love she bears to her own child, "her own flesh and blood," to the level of that common love and sympathy that she already bears toward the homeless, and yet that satisfies itself with giving the broken food and the cast-off garment to the needy? Or, on the other hand, shall she level up this indifferent charity to the plane of real mother-love, and so realize not only the human but the Divine Motherhood?
Suppose all the mothers in any community were to go to work together to level up their charity to the plane of human motherhood, would not their own children reap the first fruits of the diviner motherhood? It is true that no single mother can reform the motherhood of the world, but she can transform her own motherhood and make it really divine in its beneficence; AND THAT IS WHAT THE MOTHERHOOD OF THE WORLD IS REALLY ACCOMPLISHING, IN SPITE OF THE FATHERHOOD OF MAN, THAT CONTINUALLY IGNORES PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY AND MULTIPLIES ORPHANAGE AND BASTARDY! The work that one noble, loving woman can accomplish in any community is seldom even dreamed of, much less realized.
In relation to woman, man should begin as a reformer. In relation to woman, the average man of the world is indeed "a man of one idea." This idea is anchored in "sex" and bounded by "self." Let him declare "immediate and unconditional emancipation" of WOMAN. No colonization, no compromise, no subterfuge. Let him replace the sham of generosity by the reality of justice. Let motherhood be a free choice with full partnership in the subsidy.
Love in its truest and best sense is impossible without Liberty. The real love-labor of man and woman begins only where slavery leaves off.
Here is precisely the partition wall between love and lust. The one thrives only in freedom, giving that which is its own: the other is the degradation of slavery, the tyranny of egotism, despoiling another and taking that which is not its own.
The reformation of man must go back to the year ONE of the "Christian Era," and begin with the first chapter of Genesis. Man began by stealing the "Godhead." Let him relinquish this ill-gotten, ill-used authority over woman, and a real Christian era will begin.
The Roman Catholic Church, always "wise in its day and generation," colonized the Godhead, and by instituting Mary Queen of Heaven managed to keep possession of woman in the present world with an apparent sanction of both logic and justice. This is precisely what Constantine did when he married Catholicity to temporal power, making the man of sorrows an incomprehensible mystery, and putting creed in the place of Christos.
Let the critic judge as he will of the writings of Madame Blavatsky, her work stands as an everlasting memorial to every member of the Theosophical Society. What occurs during the eight hours from 10 pm to 6 am, no witness has ventured to declare. The other sixteen hours are amply testified to by a cloud of witnesses to the most constant and uncomplaining labor for the Society and its work, regardless of heavy burdens that would daunt the stoutest heart. Ill-health, poverty, and abuse have been her reward as men count gain. Whatever motive her calumniators may find for such labors under such adverse circumstances concerns us very little, only so far as it really impedes her work. It has been so far powerless to arrest it, however it may misinterpret and misrepresent.
Only they will understand her labors that have already within themselves the germ of that for which she toils, and whenever all of these have received the message, her work is done. The monuments which the tardy justice of her detractors and obstructers may rear to posterity will no more atone for present injustice than the monument offered to the memory of Bruno in Rome can bring him back to life or justify his murder. Her present example, however, cannot fail of its significant lesson to everyone in any way deserving the name of Theosophist.
Ask Madame Blavatsky. "Is life worth the living," and she will tell us, from all personal considerations, "A thousand times No!" Yet how many who love life for its rewards and emoluments work as she? Relinquishing every personal gain, all worldly advantage, her labors are such as no worldly ambition ever excites and no love of personal gain ever inspires.
A thoroughly sick woman at the age of sixty can demand little of the world, and cares little for future fame in the face of unfailing abuse. At that age, ambition usually cools and enthusiasm is dead, and yet through all, she WORKS and loves, and loves her work.
"My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me."
The theosophist who thirsts for knowledge and longs for power, who imagines that he has renounced the world, and who pretends to despise the "flesh and the devil," and is looking anxiously for Mahatmas, or listening for "astral bells," may learn a lesson in WORK, not only from Madame Blavatsky, but from Col. Olcott and Mr. Judge as well. Whether to these workers life be worth the living or not, they are working to make it more desirable to others.
St. Hilaire may see only the motive of selfishness in Buddhism, while the professed Christian practically apotheosizes selfishness. Yet he who knows what renunciation really means will see that work for the world inspired by love of man is neither confined to Christ or Buddha, nor to the followers of either. Man can transform the world only as he reforms himself; and man can elevate himself only through his efforts to help humanity.
The reward is in the work. To serve the truth for the truth's own sake is to give truth a lodgment in one's own soul. All falsehood will thus disappear as clouds and darkness vanish before the rising sun. Thence come peace and rest.