In an outpouring of his heart, Faust says: "We hunger for the revelation of truth." He had knowledge of everything that could be known in his world. He had devoted years of study to philosophy, law, medicine, and theology, and had come to the conclusion that he was just as ignorant as when he started. He wanted to know: to know was die Welt im Innersten zusammen halt -- "what it is that unites the world in its deepest essence."
What is revelation? What is the true knowledge that Faust seeks that man seeks -- after his purely intellectual powers have failed him? Does revelation come from within, or from an external source? Or does an external source serve as stimulus, an actuating impulse for the inner revelation? These are questions for all time.
There are events which I would call "guiding points of reference," experiences which accompany us in the background of our consciousness and retain their deeply pervading influence for the rest of our lives. It is as though something within us were suddenly unveiled. Is that revelation? -- the removal of something veiling our inner essence? Does reveal mean "to remove the veil"? Hasn't everyone experienced something like this? Indeed, it can happen at any moment.
One day a young girl learned in her catechism that God was omnipresent, that He was everywhere and in everything. Up to that time she had thought that God was only in the church. Now, with a child's unshakable trust in the authority of grown-ups who surely knew God, she knew that He was everywhere. All the confusing questions, what God might look like, and how all of this was possible -- these did not come into the picture. Little children do not trouble their minds with such useless thoughts. When she went outside after class the world was new; everything was different, for in the trees, in the leaves, in the air, the roof-tiles, the stones, the animals, the people -- God was everywhere. A revelation! A spark had kindled the inner fire. But it also presented a problem, for, if God was present in people, how could some of them act so ungodly? The notion of God's presence in everything remained a basic idea in her life, and the ungodly people remained an unsolved mystery. The priest never knew what he had brought about in the pure soul of that child.
Not all children experience the omnipresence of God so intensely. If this were so, the Christian world would be a world of pantheists. The revelation took place within the child, and in later life nothing has been able to disturb her conviction of God's presence in everything; not even the fact that God remained unknown.
In my own childhood I experienced the clash between truth and untruthfulness -- an event that I still remember down to the last detail, even though it happened some 60 years ago.
It was at school. I was sitting in the back of the class, having had to stay after school with a few fellow-pupils. The strict schoolmaster was busy at the blackboard. I had a piece of chalk and could not resist the temptation to throw it at a boy sitting in the front row. It literally got out of hand for, just as the schoolmaster turned, my projectile landed right in the middle of his cheek, in which -- just for a moment, but very clearly -- a depression could be seen. After all these years, it costs me not the least bit of trouble to recall the image of that depression. I was scared to death and expected the worst. Don't forget that corporal punishment had not yet been abolished!
I denied having done it, because I did not dare confess: "No, I didn't do it." Once the lie had passed my lips, I faced it out. After I had said "No," it was as if a door closed behind me and the way back to the truth was cut off. It became a long interrogation, but I stubbornly maintained my innocence.
But what a miserable feeling it was to be on the side of the lie. It made me feel sick. It was a humiliating defeat in my own eyes, unforgivable, but it had happened, and I could not get rid of the feeling that made me miserable. This was not because grown-up people, who had made efforts to bring me up as a virtuous person, had told me that I mustn't lie. The reaction sprang from within me, and it was unexpected and shocking.
This childhood suffering did have the result that I would not get into such a situation again for anything. I would sooner accept the bitter consequences of my mistakes than lie. Accepting the consequences makes a clean sweep and sets you free. The alternative is something you never get rid of, and that can be troublesome because you wake up with yourself in the morning again and again, and at night you are not exactly in nirvana with your ego!
Later I realized that the more doors of untruthfulness close behind one the more difficult it is to find the way back to that natural, original, pure feeling one begins with as a person. I am glad I threw that fateful piece of chalk. Something unknown in myself had revealed itself, and I had learned which is the better choice. That schoolmaster has been dead a long time; I can no longer confess to him. That is why I am doing it here.
The same schoolmaster was responsible for another disturbance in my life. It was a casual remark he made a few years after the chalk incident. He said that it is impossible to conceive of a new and unknown thought; everything had been thought of already. I resolved, then, to conceive of something never thought of before.
The question of how this could be checked had not yet come into the scope of my comprehension. In the years that followed, the challenge remained. Getting to know and understand a confusing world made such great demands on my attention that there was little time left to develop an original thought. Moreover, it became evident that there always are areas of knowledge still to be discovered, and I realized that my understanding was as yet too limited. As my knowledge increased, the gap became larger instead of smaller, though my belief persisted for quite a while that something new could yet be thought of by someone.
Finally, the idea began to develop that everything lives in infinite duration and is engaged in a never-ending expansion of consciousness: first, in one's own hierarchy and, when everything there has been learned, it is the turn of the next hierarchy, and then the next, and this goes on without end. At this point in my thinking, it was but a small step to arrive at the belief that there are beings who know everything there is to know on the human plane. This conviction, acquired in this manner, has far-reaching consequences in thought and life. The writings of our great thinkers have recorded everything that occurs in the human condition, from our physical to our spiritual existence. So nothing is new.
If it is true that everything in the universe is unique (and nothing makes a case for the contrary), and that every entity is on its way to uniting itself consciously with the One Life, then that which exists eternally is experienced by each entity in its own unique way.
In our personal lives, certain experiences become fixed points of reference which guide our thoughts and actions for the rest of our lives. Only later do we realize that this is so: our grasp of life is strengthened, feelings become more reliable, and our thinking becomes clearer. We notice we are on our way through an incomprehensible world, and yet a world that reveals more and more of an unsuspected reality. There are no more so-called positive and negative experiences: they are all opportunities to learn -- either we resolve not to take a course that we recognize to be wrong, or we make up our mind to keep following the way that has just become visible.
Not long after the war, in a time when no one thought about the pollution of the environment or atom bombs, and we were filled with the feeling that we would be able to work for a better world, there was a theosophical youth camp in Ommen. One sunny afternoon a game was organized. A number of posts were set out on a route through the fields and woods. Maddy and I were stationed at such a post, and we received at intervals the small groups of children who had to learn a watchword from us in order to continue on their way. The watchword was simplified for the children and was whispered to them, because it was a secret: Seek this wisdom by doing service, by strong search, by questions, and by humility. We repeated this so often that afternoon, and the words made such an impression on me that I have never forgotten them. They are from the Bhagavad-Gita. In the years that have passed since then, those words have been faithful friends; they have never lost their potency. On the contrary, their magic has continued to reveal itself.
In his Fountain-Source of Occultism G. de Purucker talks about the manner of instruction in the Mystery schools:
The method is not to fill the mind of the learner full of other men's thoughts, but to arouse the spiritual fire in himself which brings about an awakening of the understanding, so that in very truth the neophyte becomes his own initiator.
What one receives from outside in the way of ideas, of thoughts, are merely the outward stimuli, arousing the inner vibration preparing for the reception of the light within. . . . Devotion to truth, to the point of utterly forgetting oneself, opens the channel of reception, Light and knowledge then enter the mind and heart -- from oneself, from one's inner god . . . ; and it is in this wise that the man in it hates himself. -- pp. 57-8
When you read this for the first time, it is rather surprising and you have to really consider whether you can agree with it. One afternoon at the beginning of summer we were discussing this passage and, while I was busy with the coffee, my friend Menno suddenly said: "The sparrows are gone. Do you know that the sparrows are gone?!" My immediate reaction was: "Yes, you're right." Though I had not seen them for a good five weeks, until that moment I had not missed them. But I did not have to reflect: the knowledge was there at once. The gulf between that which happens in the outside world and the springing up of it in one's consciousness is bridged so quickly that it can scarcely be distinguished -- it appears as one and the same thing -- and we think that reality is outside of us. The sparrows showed me how imperceptibly knowledge is stored, knowledge that later emerges at the right moment.
Coming out of an endless past, we have stored an infinitude of knowledge in our more perfected higher principles. When we learn to tap that source, all knowledge will be within our reach. It is our "dreams of matter" that keep us from that knowledge. We mistake the road-map for the road, we take the dead-letter for the truth, and the life of our personality for the true life.
(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 1987; copyright © 1987 Theosophical University Press)