It is necessary to live the life to understand the doctrine: a simple statement, but a task that has engaged the minds and hearts of the greatest thinkers and heroes of humanity! What do we mean by the inner god, the personal ego, the higher and lower self, and how do they relate to ordinary living? The inner god is the most enlightened part of us, active when we exercise the finest human qualities: tolerance, love, understanding, and compassion. Buddhists call it the living Buddha within; Hindus, Isvara or the Brahma in his Brahmapura or Brahma-city -- the cosmic spirit in the human being; Christians, the I AM or the Immanent Christ. G. de Purucker says of it:
Mystics of all the ages have united in teaching this fact of the existence and ever-present power of an individual inner god in each human being, as the first principle or primordial energy governing the progress of man out of material life into the spiritual. . . . The inner god in man, man's own inner, essential divinity, is the root of him, whence flow forth in inspiring streams into the psychological apparatus of his constitution all the inspirations of genius, all the urgings to betterment. -- Occult Glossary, pp. 66-7
This inner god is the "eternal soul" that reincarnates again and again, an inexhaustible fount of life, intelligence, and consciousness. In a previous universal cycle it gained experience in every form of life then available, becoming in the process a "god." That universe died, and when it manifested again this essence issued forth as an unselfconscious "god-spark" in a higher stage of life. This crowning achievement of the preceding evolutionary cycle is the inner god. It is relatively perfect compared to the various "vehicles" through which it is learning in the present universal cycle. Just as lesser beings provide the means for it to learn, the inner god provides the means for them to develop and grow towards it. It is a dual learning process towards a higher state of knowing.*
*See "Seeking the Self" by Armin Zebrowski, Sunrise, Aug/Sep 2001, p. 193, for a diagram illustrating the various components of the human constitution.
The lower self is associated with opposite qualities, such as self-seeking, narrow-mindedness, a limited view of one's responsibility to others, competition, separateness, and selfish ambition. It is the Dragon of the legend of St. George, the Minotaur of the myth of Theseus in the Labyrinth, Darth Vader of Star Wars, and "The Nothing" of The Never Ending Story. While most of us, thankfully, are not completely absorbed in this aspect of ourselves, unfortunately neither are we able to retain the inspiration of the higher self for long periods. We are riding a roller coaster of consciousness between the two extremes, often seeming to have little control over which aspect of our nature is dominant at any time.
Great religious and mystical teachers have pointed out that it is our responsibility as human beings to overcome the temptations and limitations of the lower self and merge our consciousness with the higher self. Through countless minor victories we allow the spirit within to emerge from where it has been quietly waiting through the ages. We must strip away the impediments to the light of the higher self, which always burns bright within but too often shines dimly without. Plato described this process as "unforgetting" our way back to the inner fountain of knowledge and wisdom. Many cultures compare this process to polishing a mirror. Mohammed said that there is "for everything a means of polishing it and freeing it from rust. One thing alone polishes the heart, namely the remembrance of God." Another beautiful expression of the process of revealing the inner god comes from Chinese Buddhism, where a Ch'an Master says:
Just as it is in the nature of a mirror to shine, so all beings at their origin possess spiritual illumination. When, however, passions obscure the mirror, it becomes covered over, as with dust. When false thoughts, under the direction of the master [the inner god], are overcome and destroyed, they cease to proclaim themselves. Then is the intellect illumined, in accordance with its nature, and nothing remains unknown. It is like the polishing of a mirror . . . -- Tsung mi
Christian mystic Meister Eckhart spoke in the same terms: "The soul contemplates itself in the mirror of Divinity. God himself is the mirror, which he conceals from whom he will, and uncovers to whom he will . . . The more the soul is able to transcend all words, the more it approaches the mirror. In this mirror union occurs as pure undivided likeness."
How can we, inhabitants of the technological world of the 21st century, begin polishing the mirror of consciousness so that our light can blaze forth upon the world? Having the spiritual will power to reach up to the inner god is of paramount importance, and no person or god outside us can do this for us. It is not suitable for the inner god to reach down to the level of the lower self, but for our everyday consciousness to constantly reach upwards. As Katherine Tingley often said, "The gods await." But if the inner god is so powerful, why is this task so difficult? The divinity within is like the sun, gloriously shining and all powerful in its own realms. But on earth its rays do not select this or that plant to shine upon. If we transfer a plant where sunbeams cannot reach, the sun will not follow it. So it is with the higher self: unless we gravitate towards it, the personal ego will have the upper hand.
The ancient Egyptians pictured growth towards the inner god as the adventures of the soul in the afterlife. One of these stories, "The Two Paths of Liberation," tells of a soul reaching a fork in the road: while both paths lead to the abode of the gods, each involves different experiences. One, passing over land and water, is that of Osiris, who represents cyclic nature, and this path involves many incarnations. The other leads through fire in a direct and shortened passage along the Road of Horus, who in many texts symbolizes the divine spark in our heart.* Many cultures speak of a pathway to heightened spiritual understanding through communion with the inner god, though such a path is usually for spiritual "warriors," the very brave at heart. Those successful along the Road of Horus became initiates of the Mysteries and were called "Sons of the Sun." This path of initiation offers the successful candidate divine union at a more rapid rate.**
*Further information is available in The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Two Ways, trans. Leonard H. Lesko, 1972; see also "Light from Ancient Egypt," I. M. Oderberg, Sunrise, April/May 1985, for more information on the Road of Horus.
**The Mystery Schools by Grace F. Knoche describes this path to the inner god pursued by the very few.
What of the majority of mankind? For the rest of us, who travel the Road of Osiris, the way is slower, progressing certainly but more gradually through the daily challenges of many lifetimes. The ultimate achievement is the same: to radiate the highest qualities of the spiritual element locked within the aspiring soul. What are some of the practical means for those traveling the Path of Osiris? Let's look at a few time-honored methods taught throughout history:
Purification: The journey to the inner self usually commences with efforts at self-purification, which may include physical techniques, such as various forms of yoga, abstinence from recreational drugs, and eating foods which will do the least harm to our fellow creatures. If we don't take care, however, these efforts may become yet another type of self-indulgence. Over time, interest may progress from the physical arena through emotional and psychic realms to spiritual development. At some stage the soul will begin to be aware of a vague glow of the inner spiritual light. In some sensitive people this experience may shake them to the core, and there is often real suffering of heart and mind. We make great vows to ourselves: "Now that I have glimpsed this light I will do my very best to change my ways and lead a more spiritual life." But everything in and around us seems to conspire against our best intentions as nature immediately presents us with tests to prove our resolve. Karma normally spread over many lifetimes may come to us over a very short time. We should remember, however, that along with opposition, our vow invokes forces which help us. As William Q. Judge remarks:
The appeal to the Higher Self, honestly and earnestly made, opens up a channel by which flow in all the gracious influences from higher planes. New strength rewards each new effort; new courage comes with each step forward. . . .
So take courage . . . and hold on your way through the discouragements that beset your earliest steps on the path . . . Do not stop to mourn over your faults; recognize them and seek to learn from each its lesson. Do not become vain of your success. So shall you gradually attain self-knowledge, and self-knowledge shall develop self-mastery. -- Echoes of the Orient 3:288-9
Exercising the spiritual will: Looking for and working with the inner god of every person we encounter, and not becoming weighed down with a limited self-centered viewpoint, allows the inner god to guide us in daily living. Katherine Tingley felt we should induce our will to flow with "that nobler part of our nature that rises to every situation and meets it with patience and courage . . . The knowledge of it comes not in any world-startling or magical way -- and is not to be purchased save by surrender of a man's passionate and lustful nature to the god within." This represents the core message of all world religions -- "Love thy neighbor as thyself." To realize how difficult this is, try not harming any person or being in thought or deed for even one hour today!
Following the daily karmic script: We are composite beings, a vortex of forces from the greater sea of life in which we are immersed. This fact explains many of the moral dilemmas and strange quirks of human behavior we all encounter. The inner god, the enduring part of us, animates the lower forms and energies and sends us forth periodically on a voyage of understanding which we call a lifetime. As we experience life's challenges, the higher self never provides a greater load of karmic lessons than we have the capacity to bear. The joys and hardships we encounter on the Road of Osiris are orchestrated by the higher self to lead us toward perception of reality. Life is our teacher, and our experience provides the exact set of circumstances which we need to grow.
We can picture life unrolling day by day as a "karmic script," for those with the eyes to see it. How can we learn to follow the signals our higher self is constantly sending us? There are many ways. Various forms of concentration and meditation accustom us to hearken to the voice of our inner god. Particularly beneficial are greeting the opportunities the day has to offer in the morning and reviewing the spiritual lessons one has learned in the evening. There is also need for silence, a precious commodity in today's hectic world, in which to hear the whisperings of the Voice of the Silence. Even if we are busy with the tasks at hand, we always have the opportunity to devote part of our mental energies to finding spiritual directions from the many choices which face us.
Further, in the words of James A. Long, we need to "make the esoteric exoteric and the exoteric esoteric"; that is, take seriously philosophical and religious teachings and apply them directly to living. The ability to read the daily karmic script will enable us to better appreciate the inner purpose of our lives that our higher self is trying to communicate to us each second as it urges our footsteps along the path to greater understanding of the oneness of Being. Nothing is stopping us here and now from trying to live a life closer to the internal example of perfection within us.
I know of no better outline of the principal practical and philosophic paths to the inner god than the Bhagavad-Gita. Arjuna or everyman stands between the opposing armies of the higher and lower self reluctant to engage in the inevitable struggle for control of our consciousness. Krishna, his charioteer, advises him on the various paths by which identity with the higher self can be achieved, including good works, spiritual knowledge, asceticism, self-restraint, spiritual discernment, discrimination between godlike and demoniacal natures, the three kinds of faiths, and others. Krishna stresses that all such paths are valid ways to the higher self, and to the extent that people sincerely apply themselves to the search, they shall be repaid spiritually. The important thing is to follow our duty without thought of results. The result will follow in the fullness of time if we do the best we can. As Krishna says: "Seek this wisdom by doing service, by strong search, by questions, and by humility . . ."
But do we need to enter into a battle with the lower self in order to identify with the inner god? The Bhagavad-Gita and many mystical writers seem to answer yes, stressing the need for absolute conquest of the lower self if we are to approach the temple of the god within. Yet this "battle" might be more along the lines of the transmutation process pictured by the alchemists of medieval Europe. They spoke of finding the Philosopher's Stone which would allow us to transmute the lead of the lower self into the gold of the higher self. According to Purucker,
the best way to overcome the lower nature is not by "battling" it and "fighting" it, thus exercising it and making it strong and vigorous, but by understanding it to be a part of yourself and by resolutely putting it in its proper place with inflexible and impersonal kindness and gentleness. Sometimes and very often indeed the best way to begin to do this is by completely ignoring it, turning the back upon it. . . . ally yourself with the higher parts of your nature, and in consequence you identify yourself thereby with the higher parts of the Universe. -- Dialogues 3:19, 21
Most importantly, on our journey of self-discovery we should pause to ask why we commenced this pilgrimage in the first place. Is this a cosmic vacation designed for our own gratification, or do we mean to offer the fruits of our discoveries to other travelers? In her Voice of the Silence H. P. Blavatsky enjoins us to be ever mindful to avoid the ranks of the spiritually selfish who seek the power and blissful peace of communion with the inner god for themselves alone. Although many schools teach spiritual development for one's own sake, ignoring the suffering of others, the path of compassion was blazed by Great Ones who, though far ahead of us, stopped to offer assistance to all those in their wake. It is also our responsibility to travel the still small path to the higher self mindful of our responsibilities to others. We can offer the lessons we learn, when appropriate, to our fellows and help uplift the crushing weight of suffering bearing down on humanity, largely caused by humanity's ignorance of the laws of life. If we consistently make this effort, our spiritual light will gradually glimmer, then shine in the world for the benefit of others, and we will begin to understand the essence of theosophy.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2002; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)
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