Devotion and Understanding!
Theosophical Quarterly, October, 1934
Stenographic notes, revised by Charles Johnston, of his contribution at the opening session of the New York Branch of The Theosophical Society, in 1927.
When the time comes to resume our Branch meetings, one breaks the silence of the summer with a certain reluctance. We should have learned during the summer months something of what Emerson means by solitude, what Wordsworth means by the bliss of solitude, what the Oriental teachers mean by the necessity of silence, the period in which nature herself teaches the soul of the disciple. Many of us may have learned much from solitude, finding solace and delight in the long silence of the summer. There is one side of our nature which regrets the breaking of the silence, but another part of our nature admonishes us that the side of silence is but a part of ourselves; if we were to yield to it completely, to become more and more absorbed in silence and solitude, we should be yielding to an impulse of contraction in our natures; we should be growing not greater, as we should, but smaller, and should presently shrink to a vanishing point. So there is a real necessity, as Emerson points out, for society as well as for solitude. When we are alone we are not ourselves in the fullest sense. To put it in another way, there is far more in our natures than we can reach when we are alone. And, since our purpose is to realize our real selves, it follows that we must accept and obey the conditions which will give us access to more of ourselves; and society in the true sense, such a gathering as a Branch meeting, gives exactly that opportunity. There is much of us, not in ourselves but in each other; we come together to take counsel, to contribute our common experience, in obedience to the intuition that we are not really ourselves while we are separated. We are aware of a common consciousness running through us all as we join in consideration of theosophical problems,—a consciousness in no one of us alone, not complete in any one of us, complete only when we bring all our consciousness together and use it as a single light to search after the wisdom that we seek.
On the other hand, association alone, mere gathering together, will not evoke that wisdom. Most assemblies of people are no higher in consciousness than the separate persons that compose them. On the contrary, they tend to be lower; one of the saints has said that he never went into society that he did not return the worse for it. In the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, the assembly of the forty had certain defined purposes and activities in common, yet it cannot be said that the consciousness of the united band was higher, more spiritual, more universal than that of the individuals; they were worse for their meeting, the avarice and violence of each strengthening the like evils in the others.
So we come to a second truth: we reach a true self only when we are united; yet there is much of ourselves that we cannot find by this meeting only; much that we shall find only by searching above ourselves, not in the consciousness, the minds and hearts of each other, but in the spiritual life that is within and above us. This is where the solitude has its purpose. Silence is the way of approach to this inner consciousness. If we seek with our whole hearts, and with wisdom, this life that is above and within us, we shall begin to find many treasures. This is the door of the Kingdom in the Parable, whence the seeker brought treasures old and new. Among these treasures we should find serenity by finding a deeper self, we should find a resting place, firm ground from which we can survey life passing by as a rapid river, but not carrying us with the current; we should be aware of life as to some degree apart from ourselves, we should not be caught in the swirl of things, we should not be a leaf carried along among many leaves in the tempest; we should stand serene, poised, watching the flow of life. We should find also the treasure of humility, because we shall realize that what we generally think of as ourselves is very small and in many ways very mean, with purposes that are unworthy,—forces, wishes, desires that the better part of ourselves knows to be below our true level.
We should find aspiration; because, however deep we may sink into ourselves, however high we may rise, we are always conscious of a higher and deeper beyond. It is like climbing a mountain; each ascent gained will give you added height above the valley, and a clearer view of the peaks beyond; and, as we sink within ourselves, or rise above ourselves, our horizon constantly widens and becomes more full of life. There is the drawing power of the greater life above us, constantly increasing in strength and beauty.
We should find charity, through that deeper part of us which is truly allied to all human beings, the real heart of humanity, for the most part latent; the true humane sense, the sense of humanity as a great struggling, sinning, suffering life, of which each of us is an inseparable part; a great life which draws us by its unity of being, and by an immense compassion for the suffering which humanity perpetually inflicts on itself. Therefore, we should find charity in that sense, as a deeper understanding of the striving and darkness of all those with whom we come in contact, a charity based on the common spirit that is in us all.
Finding humility, aspiration, charity, we have begun to find the spirit of the Masters. Though we may not have recognized it, this is the source through which humility and charity and aspiration are flowing into our hearts, as the lower reaches of the river come from the well-springs high up in the mountains. And we, who are students of Theosophy, should clearly understand this. The good gifts, the perfect gifts come to us from the Father of life, the life of the Logos which is active, manifested in the Masters. As, walking on the mountain side, when one comes across a rivulet, it may be one’s impulse to drink of the water, and then follow it upward to find its source, so we may, in our inner selves, refresh heart and spirit with what we can receive of the spirit of the Masters, their humility, charity, aspiration, and then follow up the stream to see whether we can find the source; whether we can come into touch with the Masters from whom wisdom, power, compassion so ceaselessly flow. If we in any measure succeed, the first proof of it will be this: that new inspiration will immediately send us back to our duties, not to dreaming or to solitude, but to our concrete simple tasks. This, for a very plain reason: the true self in us does not consist in perceiving alone. The Self is not perception only; the Self is spiritual will quite as much as spiritual wisdom. Therefore, only in the right action of the purified will, do we find that part of ourselves which supplements the part of knowing, the part of wisdom.
So we apply ourselves to our duties. For there is always the obvious duty; if none be in sight, there is the obligation to find out what our duty is. Every hour, for each of us, there is something that ought to be done. If we are slow in finding it, the good law will generally step in and find it for us. We shall set to work, perhaps listlessly and with reluctance, if we be imperfectly inspired; but, on the other hand, with zeal and joy if we be wise, understanding this: that it is precisely the Masters’ wisdom that, flowing down from above, has set us this duty, whatever it be; because our powers are symmetrical on level after level of our being, and, no matter how high a spiritual power may be, there is some quite simple power or energy in our ordinary life that corresponds to it. Counting the stars is not essentially different from counting pennies. So all our starry powers have their quite simple correspondence in our daily life, and we can only begin to arouse and evoke the higher spiritual powers by entire fidelity in using the simple powers we already possess. Therefore, the Good Law presents to us a range of simple duties which will, if we look wisely into them, give us the beginning of the exercise of all our future celestial powers. We shall find that, in many ways, in all ways, provision is made for our ultimate spiritual growth through the things of now and here; and this will grow clearer, as we realize that we are part of that immense spirit of humanity, with the tremendous burdens which it has laid on itself; with its darkness, its suffering, and its enjoyments which are often more unendurable than its sufferings. For, while failure in life has its tragedy, much of success in life is far more tragic,—much of what is esteemed to be success. Here is a potential archangel who engrosses himself in amassing real estate, of which ultimately he will be able to use only six feet. His whole heart and mind are full of it, and he is often ruthless in driving toward his goal; in reality his success is far more tragic than many a failure which may teach the man who fails splendid lessons of persistence and of courage.
So humanity bears this immense burden of its failures and successes. If we see ourselves to be an inseparable part of that humanity, we shall see that this most intimately concerns us; it is not something we can shut the door against, retiring within a cavern of solitude. The problem is inherent in our very nature. It will come in. Therefore, the Good Law is likely to put us in a position where we shall have an opportunity to try to understand our neighbour; really to understand, with the utmost charity and purity of heart, something immensely difficult always. And, if we understand in that true sense, with purity of heart and charity, we shall presently find some small ability to help. Really to help another human being is one of the hardest tasks one may undertake, a task in which one may so easily blunder and quite defeat one’s end. Yet it is possible, if we make it our aim to seek, and to work out in our relations with others, not our personal aims or theirs, but the purpose of the Masters, the purpose of the Oversoul, helping each and all so far as we can. So far, we cannot accomplish much. We are still weak and blind and stumbling, yet to some degree we may help humanity to lift that heavy burden.
These are the purposes and the tendencies of the work we seek to do, in these theosophical gatherings. The aim is, to form the nucleus of a universal brotherhood of humanity, and the nucleus is made up of those who are spiritually at one with the purposes of the Masters, in understanding first, and in action also; those who are at one with the spirit and purposes of the Masters, and who are carrying them out, or striving to carry them out. So we meet here with this explicit purpose: to try better to understand what the divine wisdom, as embodied in the Masters, purposes; what the goal is; what the aim is; what the barriers are; to take counsel together, each bringing his experience, his insight into life, his aspiration, so that these may be added together. We may build up a united intelligence, devotion, willingness to work, and set that power to search into this darkness of human life, to help to raise the burdens which are often borne unconsciously; for men do not realize the immense dead weight of their success.
We must have a right heart in the work, and a right understanding. Something was said in the late spring, at one of the Study Classes, to the effect that we have, in a measure, a right-heart in the matter. By years of effort, we have gathered together a good deal of genuine devotion, willingness to serve, to work. We need to supplement that by deeper understanding. Mr. Judge said once that while devotion will carry the disciple to the goal, the way will be long and the journey slow: Devotion needs to be supplemented by intelligence, by wisdom, by genuine insight into life: life in general, and life in particular. Neither can be valid without the other. Therefore, it is perhaps peculiarly our purpose and our aim, in this coming session, to lay stress, not so much on the devotion we already have, but rather on the intelligence that we need to increase, luminous insight into life, in general and in particular, into universal life, and into every detail of our own lives, as the Upanishads say, down to the finger tips. We need that insight, that illumination, in all our tasks, all our duties, all our relations to others.
In the coming months, we shall seek the purposes of the Masters, the work of the Masters, the devotion and humility of the Masters; we shall seek, with ardour, with persistence, with a special sense of our need, the light of the Masters.