The Great War and the Great Initiation
Theosophical Quarterly, January, 1919
Readers of the THEOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY who are acquainted with the Bhagavad Gita have been struck, again and again, with the likeness between the events portrayed in that most martial of Scriptures and the happenings of the World War: the opposing armies, drawn up in battle array; on the one side, Arjuna and his brothers; on the other side, the forces of the Kurus. The one army, Arjuna and the Pandus, ill-equipped and poorly organized; the other army, the Kuru forces, magnificently ranged in order so strong as to fill even Arjuna with dismay, so that, valiant warrior though he was, he sank down broken-hearted in his chariot, ready to give up the fight; the typical “defeatist” of the Kurukshetra field.
Here are the prototypes of the armies of the Allies and of Germany, as they faced each other on the new Kurukshetra, the battle plains of France and Flanders. And, to complete the parallel, with the armies of the Pandu Allies was Krishna, the Avatar, the plenary Incarnation of the Logos, the visible representative of the Lodge of Masters, Supreme Agent, for that decisive war, of the invincible White Lodge; inspiring, dominating, leading, as the White Lodge, through its present Agents, has dominated the present war.
It would be of high value to push the comparison in detail, for this comparison would bring into relief the spiritual forces in the present war; while, on the other hand, since the details of recent fighting are fresh and living in our minds, it would give to the doings at Kurukshetra a new reality and significance. But there is another aspect of the matter that more vital. The Bhagavad Gita has, without doubt, as its first of nucleus, a cycle of war-ballads, dating, in all likelihood, from the days of the contest itself, and thus presenting an authentic record of that momentous struggle. But the Bhagavad Gita is something more than a “war book” of Ancient India; it is a “war book” also of another sort, a Scripture of the eternal spiritual warfare, the conflict of the Soul with the Powers of Evil. The original nucleus of war-ballads has been taken and worked over by those who were masters of these high themes, It has been so remodeled and dramatized, in the light of the authentic experiences of those who had passed through the eternal conflict and won the victory, that it represents, not only a history of the battle of Kurukshetra, but a history also of the supreme mystery, which has been called the Great Initiation.
The best explicit account of that mysterious ceremony, which is, at the same time, something far more than a ceremony, is, perhaps, that which is contained in the closing dramatic chapters of The Idyl of the White Lotus. That account, tradition says, was dictated to an Initiate, by a still higher Initiate, a Master. The Idyl of the White Lotus, so far as the writing of it is concerned, was begun by a candidate for discipleship, who, later, strayed far from the true path into the dangerous by-ways of psychism. But this candidate-disciple was unable to complete the task of writing down what the Master, who inspired the story, dictated; the work, therefore, was taken up by H. P. Blavatsky, who wrote the concluding chapters under the direct guidance of the Master who later inspired the golden sentences of Light on the Path.
Those who know The Idyl of the White Lotus will remember—and those who do not would be well-advised to ascertain—that the candidate for the Great Initiation passed, as a preparation for it, through great trials, great temptations, through grave moral failure and valiant spiritual recovery; until the point was reached for the final and decisive struggle between that disciple’s Soul and the mighty and arrogant Forces of Evil. When the disciple, having passed through the earlier trials, with many failures and many brave recoveries, saw clearly the impending contest and determined to enter it—to overcome or die—the hour for the Great Initiation struck. The scene that follows is one of great splendor and solemnity, a high water mark in theosophical literature, containing sentences that every student of Theosophy should know by heart; should, indeed, inscribe upon the tablets of his heart, against the trials of the Great Day.
There appear to the candidate for Initiation the Souls of those who have already passed through the gates of the death of self into the world of the Eternal, and the candidate enters into reverent communion with them. This scene, it is said, represents the central fact of the Great Mystery, in which the Soul of the candidate is united with, and shares the full consciousness of, not only his own immediate Guru or Master, but also of that Guru’s Guru, of the greater Guru above both, of all the Masters on that ray, in ascending series, up to, and beyond, the holy portals of Nirvana; sharing, thus, during the ceremony of Initiation, the full consciousness of the Logos, the host of the Dhyan Chohans. During the ceremony, it is said that full sunlight of splendor irradiates the disciple’s consciousness, so that he perceives even his final goal, the highest conceivable attainment in the life of the Eternal. But, when the ceremony is ended, there is a sudden narrowing of the horizon: the disciple now sees only that part of the path which is immediately before him; his consciousness is limited to a clear vision only of his proximate goal—with the terrible toil, the hard trials which must be overcome, before that proximate goal is reached. When that new victory is won, after prolonged and courageous fighting, there will dawn the holy day of a new Initiation, a new and plenary revelation of the splendid vision of the Eternal. And thus, by arduous step after step, the mountain of the Eternal will be climbed.
This same vision of the Eternal is the theme of the central episode of the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna, after many heart-breaking trials, is vouchsafed the revelation of Krishnu’s everlasting Being; is caught up into the vast and splendid spiritual life of his Master, and, through that Master, becomes one, for the time being, with the full consciousness of Avalokita-Ishvara, the august life of the Logos manifested, which, in the mystical language of the Himalayan Schools, is called the Host of the Dhyan Chohans. It would be profitable, perhaps, to study these great and mystical chapters of the Bhagavad Gita precisely in this light: as an unveiling of the mystery of the Great Initiation, and of its central event, the blending of the consciousness of the disciple with the full consciousness of that disciple’s Master, and, through the Master’s consciousness, with the plenary conscionsness of the Logos, the manifested Eternal. And it would be well, perhaps, clearly to understand that this blending is possible solely because the Soul of the disciple is, in the ultimate analysis, one with the Logos; the Great initiation rests on that supreme dogma: “the identity of all souls with the Oversoul.” The Great Initiation is simply the revelation of that already existent reality, bringing into the consciousness of the disciple that supreme and ultimate oneness, which has been from all eternity; the fundamental reality, through which alone that Soul, that disciple, has real and spiritual Being. Therefore the Great Initiation, while it is a ceremony, is also far more than a ceremony. It is the revelation of the final spiritual reality, the great and everlasting rock on which the Universe rests.
But if the Bhagavad Gita, and the conflict which it depicts, be a representation of the Great Initiation; and if there be a deep and fundamental likeness between the war at Kurukshetra and the great World War, through which all the more vital nations of the world have passed; then it would seem to follow that there must be certain deep and close relations between the World War and the mystery depicted in the Bhagavad Gita, the mystery of the Great Initiation.
And, as we look closer into the World War, we shall see the analogies multiply; the fundamental likeness stands out clear. There were the preliminary temptations, humiliating failures; valorous recoveries. There was the supreme vision of the Eternal, of the Logos, the Lord, as the true combatant. And it would seem that not so much the individual leaders, or even disciples in the Allied armies were the candidates in this Initiation; but rather the collective soul, the logos, of each of the allied nations. It is quite true that there were individuals—such a one, perhaps, was Marshal Foch—who quite clearly recognized, each his own Master, as Protagonist in the conflict, and with full consciousness united his will to the will of his Master, throughout the struggle. So, perhaps, we may think that, if, among the large were disciples, these men may have consciously and quite rightly recognized the leadership of Masters of the Indian Lodge; so also with forces from Egypt, or from territories within the sphere of influence of the Far Eastern Lodges.
Yet it would appear to be true that, if these possible exceptions be excepted, the real candidates in the Great Initiation of the World War were the logoi of the Allied nations, their collective souls. And if this be true, and it is well worth considering, as a good hypothesis, then we shall have a new clue, and one of the highest value and interest, to the purpose of the Lodge of Masters, in allowing the World War to take place, and in guiding it as they did. We may in this way gain a most valuable insight into the further elements of that purpose, as it affects the time to come.
There is one prospect which is is of the utmost importance dearly to see and understand. In what was said of the tradition of the Great Initiation, it appeared that, after the solemn ceremony is ended, there remains in the consciousness of the candidate, no longer the clear vision of the Eternities, the immensity of the Supreme Soul, but rather a strictly limited view of the proximate goal, the next immediate objective of that disciple’s effort, the task immediately in hand; yet with the haunting presence of the greater vision, as a well-spring of perennial inspiration. But, in the concrete, there is a clear view only of difficult problems, of serious dangers, of grave trials and temptations. And tradition affirms that these temptations must be immediately faced and fought. And here lies the gravity of the danger: of our own danger, as embers of the Allied nations, the logoi of which took part in this Great Initiation.
Perhaps the most formidable danger, as it is the most subtle temptation, is—vanity. Let each of us look well to this; seeking to clothe ourselves in the armour of humility. But there will be. also abundant temptation to the latent materialism in each one of us, and to all the persuasive passions and appetites in us, by which that materialism expresses itself. Temptations, also, of cowardice, suspicion, unfaith; all the batteries of the lower self and the Powers of Evil. Let us not, because of this, suffer the least discouragement; nor for a moment lose the haunting memory of our vision; for the instant incidence of these temptations shows this and this alone: that we have already begun the inevitable contest, the necessary advance, towards our proximate goal. The trials on the way are our best guide-posts. And, if we fight our way valiantly forward, and win that goal, this will mean victory and a still more splendid regaining of our vision of splendor, a new and higher Initiation into the Eternal Good.