The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
February 1999 Vol. 1 Issue 12
Theosophical University Press has begun publishing online the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary as a work in progress at www.theosociety.org/pasadena/tup-onl, starting with letters A and B. This work defines most terms found in the writings of Blavatsky and other theosophical writers. Comments and suggestions are welcomed by its editors.
With the coming of New Year, our thoughts often turn to renewal and change. Many people associate this season with making resolutions to break old habits or become a better person. It seems a natural time for reexamining ourselves and trying once again to reflect our values more fully in daily life. With all this, New Year's resolutions are rarely taken seriously. They justly have a reputation for being perfunctory acknowledgments of a level of behavior we have no real expectation of attaining, or short-lived bursts of enthusiasm which soon wear away as we settle back into our accustomed grooves of thought and activity. Because it is so difficult to change and become that which we hold as an ideal, particularly when part of us is really just too comfortable to give up the old routines without a struggle, we sometimes become rather cynical and despondent about the whole process of self-improvement.
Interestingly, though, throughout history people the world over have sought to find a way to live their thoughts and ideals, as if it were an urge springing from the very nature of humanhood itself. Surely these people, many of whom were among the greatest minds and characters humanity has produced, must have had what they considered reasonable grounds for these persistent efforts, efforts which they themselves called the most difficult open to us. Much of our knowledge concerning these human strivings in past eras has been preserved in the symbols and writings of the various world beliefs. The religious symbolism of many ancient civilizations, for example, embodies not only cosmic principles but also the experience of every individual as he seeks to expand or universalize his consciousness. While the details of this symbolism are fascinating in themselves, it is certain simple maxims, giving the essence of the practical teachings, that are most striking because they can be applied directly to ourselves.
One such thought distilled from the ancient Egyptian texts stands out particularly: "Match thyself" -- that is, strive to equal in your everyday consciousness that which you already are in the heart of your being. This implies that when we endeavor to change ourselves, we are not seeking to conform to some outer standard, whether of god or man; nor are we setting up objective goals for ourselves to reach. Rather, we are seeking to become in our personality that universal essence which we are in our inmost.
So often we emphasize the external forces, forgetting the internal. We tend to see ourselves as a body vitalized by a personal ego, and nothing more. Some have gone so far as to insist that human consciousness is only a by-product of our physical apparatus. In contrast, this Egyptian saying suggests that our whole being flows forth from a divine center of consciousness which focuses itself on many different levels. Self-improvement in this context means that we have to "match" or align all these levels of awareness with the qualities present in the source of our being by a continuing use of the human will. Assuredly this task is often filled with disappointments and setbacks. However, when we think of ourselves as essentially godlike, we discover that change is not a question of imposing something on ourselves from outside, but of letting that which is already within us come forth, just as the growing child gradually unfolds from his consciousness the attributes that make of him a mature human being. By realizing that every person is a universal being, no matter how poorly expressed through his personality, we should gain confidence in our power to become ever more fully the divine sun which is the heart of each one of us. -- Sarah Belle Dougherty
"Psychic Powers -- Dangerous or Beneficial?"is our subject this month. What are psychic powers? How are they related to our evolution? To our emotional, mental, and spiritual being? What about psychic healing, channeling, spirit guides, second sight? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge.
March 11: Have We Lived Before?
April 8: Are There Guardians of Mankind?
May: Why DO Bad Things Happen to Good People?
There is a wide difference between psychic powers and occultism. Psychic powers include such phenomena as telepathy, clairvoyance, psychometry, kinesthesia, channeling, and trance mediumship. Their development is often undertaken by those who are naturally psychic; or a person may be curious, ignorant of what he may be getting himself into, for the psychic world is far more illusory than the physical world we are familiar with. Such powers, however, are most definitely not spiritual powers:
When a student starts upon the path and begins to see spots of light flash out now and then, or balls of golden fire roll past him, it does not mean that he is beginning to see the real Self -- pure spirit. . . . Nor are psychical splashes of blue flame, nor visions of things that afterwards come to pass, nor sights of small sections of the astral light with its wonderful photographs of past or future, nor the sudden ringing of distant fairy-like bells, any proof that you are cultivating spirituality. These things, and still more curious things, will occur when you have passed a little distance on the way, but they are only the mere outposts of a new land which is itself wholly material, and only one remove from the plane of gross physical consciousness. - W. Q. Judge, Echoes of the Orient 1:45
Encouraging this type of phenomenon usually has a deadening effect on our higher aspirations, just as physical indulgence does. Judge spoke of the danger of "astral intoxication":
The power that Nature has of deluding us is endless, and if we stop at these matters she will let us go no further. It is not that any person or power in nature has declared that if we do so and so we must stop, but when one is carried off by what Böhme called "God's wonders," the result is an intoxication that produces confusion of the intellect. Were one, for instance, to regard every picture seen in the astral light as a spiritual experience, he might truly after a while brook no contradiction upon the subject, but that would be merely because he was drunk with this kind of wine. -- Ibid. 1:46
As human evolution goes forward, psychic powers will increasingly appear as the natural development of inner faculties as new senses and organs come into active functioning. But any attempt to force this process prematurely is perilous to health and even sanity. At times like the present, when the barrier between ethereal inner worlds and our physical world grows thin, we can expect an increase in psychic sensitivity. In such eras it is vital to give a positive direction to the resulting tide of phenomena by moving human thought-life towards spiritual realities.
Occultism is often confused with psychism, and so people shy away from it. The picture of occultism in the public consciousness is that of the charlatans, wandering gurus with claimed powers, black magic -- all things which are rampant today. But occultism in reality is the study of the hidden parts of nature. In its widest application it is sometimes called the esoteric philosophy, which deals with the structure and operations of the cosmos and with the origin and destiny of the beings that compose it. A fundamental axiom of occult philosophy is that all things are alive and parts of a living whole; that universes, galaxies, suns, planets, are all living beings composed both inwardly and outwardly of hosts of greater and lesser entities. In the same way atoms, molecules, cells, and organs of our own bodies together with the thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and understanding emanating from the higher parts of our nature -- form this living universe that we call a human being.
The three propositions given by H. P. Blavatsky in her Secret Doctrine are the very essence of occultism, for they awaken the godlike in us and show the universe as a vast organism of which all the kingdoms are the integral evolving parts. The first proposition describes the infinite, unknowable source from which all things flow. The second describes the universal law of periodicity, the life, death, and rebirth of all things. All these come forth periodically: there are times of rest and times of activity or manifestation. The third proposition asserts the essential oneness of every soul with the universal oversoul. It also describes how each divine spark evolves through every form of the phenomenal world, eventually attaining individuality. It achieves this through an almost infinite series of reimbodiments, ascending over cosmic time through all degrees of intelligence.
This grand process is what is implied by the word occultism: how the visible comes forth from the invisible; how the smallest spark of divine life becomes in time a human being; and how we may become gods. How far this majestic vista is from the paltry powers associated with psychism and the "occult" arts! Let us instead turn our attention toward the spiritual heart of this vast universe surrounding us, which is also the spiritual heart at the core of our own being, as we aspire to become like the gods.