Signposts on the Path of Theosophy

Reproduced from "The Theosophist" August 1996 issue

In an article entitled 'Unity and Differentiation' Damodar K. Mavalankar states:

Words can merely clothe the ideas, but no number of words can convey an idea to one who is incapable of perceiving it. Every one of us has within him the latent capacity or a sense dormant in us which can take cognizance of Abstract Truth, although the development of that sense, or more correctly speaking the assimilation of our intellect with that higher sense may vary in different persons, according to circumstances, education and discipline. That higher sense which is the potential capacity of every human being is in eternal contact with Reality, and every one of us has experienced moments when, being for the time en rapport with that higher sense, we realize the eternal verities. The sole question is how to focalize ourselves entirely in that higher sense.
So this focalizing is the sole question that has to be answered as we progress along the path of Theosophy. In other words this is the spiritual path in a nutshell. It is a refocusing of our consciousness away from the gross material world and inwards to the real world of Spirit. Everyone has to make this journey for himself or herself. There are countless wise people and myriads of wise words to guide us, but ultimately the Truth has to be experienced in the heart of the aspirant. If one puts too much emphasis on intermediaries then disappointment is sure to follow. People rarely live up to what is expected of them and it is true to say that the images that we have formed of great religious figures throughout the ages are largely man-made. No one knows what some of these persons were really like and in many cases the descriptions we have were given by over-zealous disciples. It is obvious from the example of mother and child that love allows us to see the beauty in another and become blind to any faults. This may be a good thing in many ways but to those who do not share the high degree of love of the mother or disciple there may be a rude awakening when brought face to face with the harsh truth! It is the same with writings. They can never convey a feeling, any more than the taste of strawberries can be communicated in words. Only the experience is of any value in the end.

Certainly doubt and vacillation will assail us if we do not learn how to assimilate the teachings and make them a part of our being whilst at the same time exercising our powers of discrimination, finding similarities and casting out differences, separating the wheat from the chaff. There are so many different presentations of the same Truth that it is no wonder our minds become confused. Although the inner man or woman intuitively knows what is right, the same cannot be said of the human mind which is often confused by apparent contradictions of teaching in various philosophies and religions. Perhaps this is why many of these systems of thought and meditation insist that the aspirant follow their way and no other to avoid this confusion, but then we may be led into the equally pernicious trap of sectarianism. So it is obvious that we need to look at these teachings in a different light and not be too taken up with the externalities. We need to focus our attention on the similarities which even the lower mind can discern. In fact this practice can be successfully applied to life in general, always seeking for the points of agreement in any situation.

When Masters give out teachings to mankind they do so in a form that will appeal to the civilization of that particular time. They are very much aware of the psychological state of humanity as a whole and are aware of just how much to give out and in what form it must be presented. In the early days of the Theosophical Movement, society in general was deeply entrenched in the ideas of materialistic science and dogmatic religion, so ideas had to be introduced carefully so that they would not appear as gibberish to the minds of the most 'enlightened' men and women of the time. So certain concessions had to be made whilst being sure that the teachings reached us in all their purity. Yet many theosophical students of the time still insisted on mixing up the teachings with their own ideas concerning a personal God and certain rituals that were used to invoke the 'blessing' of that God or at least some of his 'messengers'. The fact that in reality there is nothing sacred and holy but only natural law was beyond their comprehension. The things that were regarded as being beyond the ken of mortal man are the birthright of every living being and are as natural as breathing. It was not due to a reverential awe that they were kept secret from man, but because knowledge of certain facts would lead the undisciplined aspirant to make serious errors that would endanger himself and others around him. Also if certain of these teachings fell into the wrong hands they would be used to the detriment of society in general and so great discrimination had to be applied in deciding exactly what humanity would be able to cope with. Of course this is only a generalization; certain people as a result of the way they lived and their enthusiasm to learn these truths for the good of all, merited receiving deeper insights into their own nature and the workings of the universe.

It is true that all the teachings are within us and that what we are in fact doing is returning to our natural state of mind. If we see the Truth as merely a set of dogmas then there is something very wrong with our perception of Reality. If we see Reincarnation, Karma, Rounds and Races, Cosmogony, the Principles of Man, and so on as separate teachings concerning the spiritual path then we are not seeing clearly enough. There is only one Truth seen in different ways. Man has erected the barriers between himself and the Divinity in him and it is he who has formulated something that is as natural as breathing into a definite intellectual doctrine. The reason for this is that because of our materialistic education system and the church's dogmas our minds have been tainted and we need to try to frame things in the language of the society we have been born and bred into. In other words instead of rising up to a direct understanding of spirituality we have to try to drag it down to our level. This may be a necessity as a result of the way the world has gone, but it does not give us an accurate picture of things as they are.

It must have taken a great effort for the Masters to try to express themselves in the language of modern 'civilization', given that their modes of communication are much more refined and do not rely on the clumsy medium of the written word: especially the written word of the materialistic West. But it is necessary to try to use the tools at hand if a job has to be done. In their desire to help humanity they reached the conclusion that whatever gives mankind a foothold on the stairway that leads to true understanding is useful. So they adapted the Ancient Wisdom to suit the time when it was given out. Most of the meaning was lost in translation but at least a few intuitive minds, the few 'real mystics' in the Theosophical Society, were given a chance to exercise their faculties and, like the mythical swan, separate the milk from the water. It must have been clear to them that many would be satisfied with a mixture of milk and water and some with just plain water!

There are those who like to juggle with concepts and believe that to get these right means that they have reached some kind of enlightenment. H.P. Blavatsky told us that we should 'feel with every fibre of the heart that one is ceaselessly self-deceived'. Therefore we should not consider that the written word can convey to us anything that is in the slightest bit spiritual. If the writings of great Adepts is in any way useful spiritually, it is because of what is behind the words, the aura of the work. The intellectual concepts can satisfy only the intellectual mind. This may be an essential prerequisite to true understanding for some, but it should be seen in perspective and not as anything final, as preparatory and not authoritative. In the end words do not matter; it is what we experience that is the only thing of any importance. It is useless to feed on the words of others as we are not learning to see for ourselves, we are not using our own intuitions. It is the development of these intuitions that is the whole purpose of the spiritual path and the reason that the scriptures were written. It is Orientalists and intellectuals who started to try to analyze these teachings and relate them to historical events, scientific theories and so on.

If one is given a hammer to do a job then one should get on with it and not stand around 'philosophizing' on the construction and history of the tool! In the same way too much pontification regarding the spiritual path does no good whatsoever and simply wastes precious time. If we have taken hold of the message of the Masters then we should understand that unless we can apply the teachings towards the alleviation of the sufferings of humanity, then they are of no value whatsoever. The development of altruistic love and the appreciation of moral beauty should be our main aim and these should lead us to a realization of our oneness with all things and set the foundations for a true brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity regardless of race, creed, sex, caste or color.

The alchemical process takes place in the heart of the aspirant and nowhere else. We must regard the spiritual path as the only thing of any importance to our lives. Nothing must come between us and total absorption into the Divine part of our nature. If we have studied and meditated rightly then we will understand that there is no difference between our guiding Self and that of all other beings. This will help us develop compassion as we will begin to realize that it is not possible to achieve total bliss whilst one living thing suffers. Some will argue that many of the world's great mystics have achieved total absorption into 'God' or the One Self without this regard for their fellow man and woman but, according to theosophical teaching, there are many different states reached by aspirants as a result of their meditations and practices and some of them are just 'fool's paradises' which pass away in a relatively short space of time. As H.P. Blavatsky writes:

He who would profit by the wisdom of the universal mind, has to reach it through the whole of humanity without distinction of race, complexion, religion or social status. It is altruism, not egoism even in its most legal and noble conception, that can lead the unit to merge its little self into the Universal Selves. It is to these needs and to this work that the true disciple of true Occultism has to devote himself, if he would obtain theo-sophy, divine Wisdom and Knowledge.

Occultism vs. the Occult Arts

So our quest is a deeper understanding of our fellow human beings and a concerted effort to gain some understanding of the workings of the collective heart of humanity. This can only successfully be realized if we develop within ourselves an unselfish love for all that lives and breathes. To do this we need to try to live in the presence of our Spirit twenty-four hours a day. Our whole lives have to be consecrated to the Divinity in us and we have to love the Good, the True and the Beautiful in all its aspects, inner and outer (so-called).

A return to an appreciation of the true nature of humanity is required if we are to be able to restore to the consciousness of mankind some semblance of the Golden Age of Light and Love that has slipped from our mental grasp, but nevertheless is as alive as it has ever been. Only our 'mind-forged manacles' hold us back from roaming the wide fields of Elysium. A study of true Theosophy opens our souls and minds to the possibilities of Life and, if followed rightly, the guidelines will lead us well along the road of compassionate action. There is no shortage of help on the theosophical path. It is only we who often feel that we are alone because we shut ourselves off from the help that is given to us by our Higher Selves and by fellow seekers. The world is teeming with literature and with teachers willing to guide us. If we stick to the original signposts on the path of Theosophy then we will at least know that we are going the right way and will attract to us those influences that will best help us in our efforts. If we allow the teachings of H.P. Blavatsky and the Masters to sink into our consciousness then we will find that we are unconsciously guided. This is because we have formed a definite link with the Hierarchy to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon our enthusiasm and our efforts to live the life of brotherhood and morality that will attune us to the vibrations given out by the brotherhood of Light.

Mere book learning is pointless in the end and if we pursue this course we may find ourselves confabulating with the intellectual hierarchy of the dead letter. All the esoteric schools connected to the great world religions or philosophical systems agree that a period of book learning must be followed by a period of practical experience. This is not to say that one will not return to book learning on a higher level at some stage, or to oral instruction (depending upon circumstances); but in the end we will transcend the need for any formulated instruction and meet our 'Maker' face to face. This means that we will gain instruction from our own higher Self. It is usual for a teacher to guide us through the preliminary stages, either visibly or invisibly or both, as we are like children learning to walk or visitors to a strange country. However it is we ourselves who have to face the trials and overcome the obstacles on the Path.

There is never any real reason to be pessimistic. Pessimism is very much a development of a materialistic society. If we could have just one tiny glimpse of things as they really are there would be no reason at all to be anything but optimistic. Turning the mind away from its tentative involvement with the ever-changing kaleidoscopic images of the world and refocusing it on the permanent Self 'within' we can soon escape the 'coils of the serpent of illusion'. This is standard practice for all students of the esoteric Wisdom. What Theosophy has in addition is a unique world view based on an impartial brotherhood (and sisterhood!) of Humanity regardless of race, creed, sex, caste and color. It can also reveal to those who have 'eyes to see' that the golden age of humanity has never left us, and is still alive in many ways. Spiritual leaders live it, poets, musicians, and artists give us glimpses of it in their works. As long as we collectively hold the spark in our hearts, it is always possible to fan it into a fire. It will take just a few 'believers' who refuse to listen to the moaning and groaning of the majority of our earth's denizens and who go about the business of awakening their fellow human beings to the truth of their Divinity, come what may.

Wayne Gatfield

Mr. Gatfield is President of the Bolton Lodge in England.

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