Esoteric Discipline

By G. de Purucker

Coming now directly to the matter of actual discipline in esoteric training, every neophyte is taught at the outset that the first step is "to live to benefit mankind," and the second is to practice in his daily life the "six glorious virtues" or paramitas. Until he has absolutely abandoned any desire for personal profit or gain, he is unfit even to attempt to tread the path. He must begin to live for the world; and when his soul is inflamed with this desire impersonally, he at least is ready to begin to try.

Perhaps the most important thing for the would-be aspirant to understand is that although the chela path is almost constantly represented as one of gloom, sorrow, and endless self-sacrifice, this is but a manner of phrasing the truth. Actually, it is the most joyous course of life and guide of conduct that it is possible for human beings to imagine. Still, I have often thought that the difficulties have been somewhat over-emphasized for a very good reason: to prevent personally ambitious individuals from rushing in where angels fear to tread. It is well that this is so, because the dangers of all kinds which beset the untrained and half-hearted postulant for occult progress are exceedingly real, and the chances of his making a mis-step, or of having his feet befouled in the mire of his own lower nature, are so certain that the warnings given are not only humane and dictated by the highest compassion, but are likewise nicely calculated to point out the need of discipline preceding any introduction to the Mysteries.

To restate the matter more succinctly, the path of chelaship is one of ineffable happiness for those who are fit to tread it. It means a constant living in the higher part of one's nature, where not only wisdom and knowledge abide, but where there is the continuous expanding of the heart in compassion and love to include the entire universe in its enfolding comprehension. Indeed, its beauties are so sublime that a veil is almost always deliberately drawn over these so that the unwary shall not be tempted to trespass into regions whose thin and life-giving aether their lungs cannot as yet in any wise breathe. Our West has forgotten for too long a time, despite the fine ethical teachings of its accepted religion, that the life of the spirit while in the body is the only life worth while, and actually is a preparation for living self-consciously and without diminution of faculty or power beyond the portals of death.

Chelaship, therefore, is the learning to be 'at home' in realms other than the physical sphere; and it should be apparent that the untrained individual would be as helpless as a newborn babe were he to be faced with the extraordinarily changed conditions which would confront him at every turn if he were suddenly cast into these other worlds.

Esoteric training is the result of almost innumerable ages of the most careful study by the greatest sages and noblest intellects that the human race has produced. It is no arbitrary study of rules which the student is supposed to follow, although indeed he is both supposed and expected to follow certain rules; but it is likewise the making over -- or conversion in the original sense of this Latin word -- of the personal into the spiritual, and the casting aside of all limitations belonging to ordinary life, for the faculties and powers and the wider fields of action which belong to the initiate or adept in accordance with his degree of growth.

There is nothing so deceptive as the false lights of maya. Often fine-looking flowers contain deadly poison, either in bud or in thorn; the honey thereof brings death to the soul. No chela is ever permitted to cultivate any psychical powers at any time, until the great foundation has been laid in the evocation of the spiritual and intellectual energies and faculties: vision, will power, utter self-control, and a heart filled with love for all. Such is the law. Therefore not only is it forbidden for the beginner to win and use powers now latent, and to awaken faculties not yet in function within him, but those who may through past karma happen to be born with such awakening inner faculties have to abandon their use when starting their training. And this for the reason that such training is all-round, i.e. every part of the nature must be brought into harmonious and symmetrical relation with every other part before one can tread the path safely.

There comes a time, however, when a pupil is taken individually in hand and instructed how to free the soul so that the body cripples it less, how to become nobler in every way, and this by certain rules of practice and of conduct and thought. First: philosophy, knowing something about the life in the universe; second, discipline; and third, the Mysteries. There is the order; to a certain extent they run concurrently, although each is emphasized in especial when its period arrives.

To elaborate: the first, philosophy, comprises teaching, with a certain amount of discipline, and an intuition, an intimation, given as to what the Mysteries are. Next, the discipline, with which likewise there are teachings, but, above everything, the neophyte is taught how to control himself, how to be and to do, with a larger intimation of the Mysteries to come. Then, third, the Mysteries, what is called practical occultism, when the individual is worked upon and taught how to release the spirit within him and also his faculties, the while experiencing a still loftier discipline and a loftier philosophy.

Seven are the degrees of initiation. The first three are schools of discipline and learning. The fourth is similar, but greater by far, for in it begins the nobler cycle of initiatory training. It depends upon the individual alone what progress he will make. The disciple is a free man, with free will, and it is his destiny to become a god taking a self-conscious part in the government of the universe. He must therefore choose his own pathway, but beware lest, in exercising the divine faculty of free will his egoism, his selfish propensities, if he have any left, run away with him into the left-hand path. Danger lurks at every step, a danger which is not outside, but in himself.

It is often asked what guarantee can be proffered by an aspirant against the teachings being wrongfully and perhaps indiscriminately given out by him. There is no absolute guarantee. This is one reason the lines are always so tightly drawn, and why the knock given must be the right knock.

One of the protections against betrayal of the teachings of the higher degrees is the fact that the world would not understand them, and would think the man thus betraying the most sacred truth on earth is a lunatic. People always consider the things which they do not understand as foolishness -- how many geniuses in the beginning of their careers have not been thought at least partly mad!

Another protection is that every individual belonging to one of the higher degrees knows perfectly well that a single betrayal means the cessation for him of all teaching for the future, and that every new degree explains the teachings given in the previous one. Consequently a betrayal in the third degree, for example, would mean betraying a 'veil' which itself has to be explained or gone behind in the fourth degree, and so forth through all further degrees.

Hence discipline is essential all along the line, differing from that which prevails in all stages of human relationships only in this, that it is the origin of those spiritual and ethical principles which have guided the civilizations of the past and the peoples who built them. The basis of this discipline is self-forgetfulness, which is the same as impersonality; and in order to achieve this, other minor rules have been introduced by the sages and seers who were the founders of the mystical schools of former eras.

The rules are simple in themselves, so simple that the novice, unversed in the occult code, is often disappointed at not finding something more difficult to achieve, forgetting that the grandest truths are always the simplest. One such rule is never to strike back, never to retaliate; better to suffer injustice in silence. Another is never to justify oneself, to have patience, and leave the karma to the higher law to adjust. And still another, and perhaps the greatest rule of this discipline, is to learn to forgive and to love. Then all else will come naturally, stealing into the consciousness silently, and one will know the rules intuitively, will be long suffering in patience, compassionate, and great of heart.

Can't we see the beauty of no retaliation, no attempt at self-justification, of forgiveness of injuries, of silence? One cannot take these rules too much to heart; but even so they should be followed impersonally in order that there be no possibility of brooding over real or imaginary hurts. Any rankling sense of injustice would be fatal and would in itself be a doing the very thing, in a passive way, that should be avoided -- either passively or actively.

The reason for the prohibition of any effort at self-defense in cases of attack or accusation is training: training in self-control, training in love. For there is no discipline so effective as self-initiated effort. Moreover, the attitude of defense not only hardens the periphery of the auric egg, but also coarsens it throughout; it emphasizes the lower personal self every time, which is a training in the inverse direction, tending toward disintegration, unrest and hatred. Let the karmic law pursue its course. One exercises judgment and discrimination of an exceedingly high type when the consciousness of the effectiveness of this practice is gained. The more a man feels that he, in the light of his conscience, has acted well, the sense of injury, the wish to retaliate, the feverish need of self-justification, become small and unnecessary. Consciousness of right brings forgiveness, and the desire to live in compassion and understanding.

But let us not confuse the rule regarding self-justification with those responsibilities that as honest men and women we may be called upon to fulfill. It may be a clear duty actively to stand up for a principle that is at stake, or to spring to the side of one unjustly attacked. There is a kindness in being rigidly firm, in refusing to participate in evil doing. The sentimental crime of allowing evil to take place before our eyes, and thus participating in it for fear of hurting someone's feelings, is a moral weakness which leads to spiritual degradation. However, when we ourselves are attacked, preferable it is to suffer in silence. Only rarely do we need to justify our own acts.

Overcoming the eager itch of the lower part to prove that 'we are right' may seem a negative exercise, but we shall find that it requires very positive inner action. It is a definite spiritual and intellectual exercise that teaches self-control and brings equanimity. By practicing it, little by little, instinctively one begins to see the viewpoint of the other. Yet here again, there is a subtle danger, for this very practice may become so attractive after one has followed it faithfully for some time, that there is an actual risk of generating and cultivating a spiritual pride in the success thus far achieved. This is something that one must watch for and wrench out of one's soul.

I have known men who struggled and fought so hard to be good that they left a trail of broken hearts behind them, shattered hopes of other human souls -- misery brought to others by their frenzied desire to be good. They wanted to advance so greatly that they forgot to be human. Is it wrong to read a good book, to take healthful exercise, or enjoy the food that we eat? Of course not. But if one is strongly attached to something which gives extraordinary pleasure and a duty is neglected, then one should conquer that attachment, for it is doing harm; it is no longer an innocent pleasure, but has become a vice. The simple answer is to forget ourselves and do what we can to benefit others, and we shall be happy, spiritually and intellectually natural and strong, and be respected; and, above everything else, we shall respect ourselves.

This leads on to another thought: it is rare that we make our worst mistakes through our vices; and the reason is that once vices are recognized as such we are seldom swayed by them, but become disgusted and cast them off. In fact, our most serious errors both of feeling and of judgment usually arise out of our virtues -- a paradox, the psychological force of which grows upon us as we ponder it.

This can be illustrated by looking at the history of medieval Europe. I believe it is erroneous to suppose that the fanatic monks or ecclesiastical governors who incited those shocking religious persecutions were human devils deliberately excogitating ways of torturing the minds and bodies of their unfortunate fellow men who fell into their power. What they did was diabolic, sheer unconscious devilry, but it arose in their virtues which, because they were so grossly abused, became despicable vices. The most cruel persons usually are not they who are indifferent, but they who are driven by a mistaken ideal, behind which there is a misused moral force. Their virtues, now become unrecognized vices, make them seem for the time completely heartless.

Great thinkers like Lao-tse have pointed out to the confusion of the unthinking that the aggressively virtuous man is the vicious man -- an extravagant paradox, and yet one which contains a profound statement of psychological fact. The really dangerous man is not the evil man, for he offends by his intellectual and moral deformity. It is beauty misunderstood and misused that seduces -- not physical beauty alone, but beauty in a virtue which has become distorted and misapplied. Virtue itself raises us to the gods; and yet it is our virtues when selfishly applied which so often bring us to do our worst deeds.

There is a deep esoteric meaning in the old injunction: "love all things, both great and small." Hate is constrictive; it builds veils around the individual, whereas love rends those veils, dissolving them and giving us freedom, insight and compassion. It is like the cosmic harmony which manifests in the Music of the Spheres as the stars and planets sing in their courses. Love, impersonal love, harmonizes us with the universe, and this becoming at one with the universe is the last and greatest objective of all phases of the initiatory cycle.

Personal love, on the other hand, is uncharitable and often unlovely, for it is concentrated on one object; it thinks of self rather than of the other; whereas impersonal love gives itself fully, is the very soul of self-sacrifice. Personal love is self-remembrance; impersonal love is self-forgetfulness -- there is the distinguishing test. Sentimentality has nothing to do with it; in fact, it is a detriment, for it is an accentuation of the personality. The emotion of love is not love; that belongs to the psychomental and animal side of our being. When we place no frontiers or limits to the current flowing forth from our heart, when we make no conditions as to whether we shall extend our protecting and helpful hand, we shall be as the sun, shedding light and warmth on all. And when love is wholly selfless, it is spiritually clairvoyant, for its vision penetrates to the very essence of the universe.

Among other good and simple rules is to think impersonally all the time; in our daily acts to try to detach our interest from them so far as any benefit to our own person is concerned. If we can do them as a work of love, whatever they are, we shall be impersonal naturally, for we shall have lost our self-absorption in the service of others. This is the royal road to self-knowledge, for we cannot become the self universal as long as our attention and thought are concentrated on the limited point of egoity.

Another splendid rule is one that the Lord Buddha gave as a favorite teaching of his to his disciples:

When evil and unworthy thoughts arise in the mind, images of lust, hatred, and infatuation, the disciple must win from these thoughts other and worthy images. When he thus induces other and worthy images in his mind, the unworthy thoughts, the images of lust, hatred, and infatuation cease; and because he has overcome them his inner heart is made firm, tranquil, unified, and strong. -- Majjima Nikaya, I, 288

All of which means that when we are bothered, tormented perhaps, with selfish and personal impulses and thoughts, we should immediately think of their opposites, holding them steadily in our mind's eye. If we have a thought of hate, we should conjure up a picture of affection and kindness; if of evil-doing, vision a magnanimous and splendid act; if a selfish thought, then imagine ourselves as doing some deed of benevolence, and at all times doing this impersonally. I am inclined to view this as the very best rule of all. It is a fascinating study outside of the benefit that comes: the strengthening of the will, the clearing of vision, the refining of the emotions, the stimulating of the heart-forces and the general growth in strength and nobility of character.

Nevertheless, when a thought has once left the mind, it is impossible to withdraw the energy with which we have charged it; for then it is already an elemental being, beginning its upward journey. (Do we realize that every human being is the thought of his own inner god -- an imperfect reflection of that inner splendor, nevertheless a child of the thoughts of the divinity within -- even as the thoughts of evolving human beings are living entities, embryo-souls developing and moving forward on the pathway of evolutionary growth?) Still, if 'neutralizing' thoughts of an opposite character are immediately sent forth -- thoughts of beauty, of compassion, of forgiveness, of a desire to help, of aspiration -- the two then coalesce, and the effects of the evil ones are made 'harmless' in the sense that H.P.B. speaks of in The Voice of the Silence (p. 55).

However, I repeat: a thought can never be recalled. It is like an action, which once done, is done forever, but is not forever done with. By thinking a noble thought or doing a good deed, following upon an evil impulse, although we cannot recall the evil thought or action and undo it, we can, to a certain extent, render at least less harmful the evil that our wrong thought or act brought about.

We humans are personal precisely in proportion as the spiritual individuality is frittered away in the rays of the lower part of our constitution. When we lose personality, we release the hold which these unprogressed elements have upon our real being. This means a gathering together of the rays hitherto dissipated into the various atomic entities of our lower principles -- gathering them into the sheaf of selfhood and thus rebecoming our essential Self. "He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew, x, 39).

If we can try at every moment to be selfless, we shall forget our personal wants. Our needs it is a duty to attend to, but these usually are not crippling to the spirit. As we strive to become impersonal, we shall in time enter into the universal consciousness -- in these few sentences we have the secret and essence of esoteric training. But let us not kill our personality; instead let us use it, thereby changing the direction of its evolutionary tendencies so that the currents of its vitality may flow into the higher consciousness of our individuality. It is a marvelous thought that just to the degree that our individuality increases and our personality decreases, do we rise on the ladder of life towards a more intimate individual union with the cosmic divinity at the center of our solar system. This applies to the vast multitude of the human host, as well as to any other entity of equivalent evolutionary advancement possessing self-consciousness and the other attributes that make man man.

Impersonality, altruism and selflessness: these are magical in their effect upon our fellow men. When we can learn truly to forgive, and to love, the longing of our soul will be self-forgetful service for mankind. No one is too humble to practice it, and no one is so exalted that he can ignore it. The more exalted the position, the more imperative is the call to duty. Singlehanded we may have the world to battle; but even though we go down again and again, we can stand up and remember that the forces of the universe are back of us and on our side. The very heart of Being is with us and we shall win, ultimately, for nothing can withstand the subtle and all-penetrating fire of impersonal love.

In man lies the pathway to wisdom: one who knows himself, whose spiritual nature is brought forth in fuller degree, can comprehend the movements of the planets. One whose inner self is yet more evolved can confabulate with the beings who rule and guide our solar system; one whose entire being is still more unfolded can penetrate into some at least of the arcana of the macrocosm; and so on indefinitely. The higher the development, the larger the vision and the deeper the understanding. The pathway to the universal Self is the path that each individual must himself tread if he wishes to grow, to evolve. No one else can grow for us, and we can grow only along the lines that nature has laid down -- the structure of our own being.

Man is indeed a mystery: under the surface and behind the veil there is the mystery of selfhood, of individuality, a career stretching into distant eternities. Man essentially is a godlike energy enshrouded by veils.

  • (From Fountain-Source of Occultism by G. de Purucker. Copyright © 1974 by Theosophical University Press)

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