Duty is a concept abhorred by many today, yet we find ourselves curiously touched by the life of William Q. Judge, which exemplified its true meaning. Judge sacrificed both his personal life and health for the cause of theosophy. To run his small office in the early days, he not only worked long hours as a lawyer, but labored into the night on his theosophic writings. It was not easy, as we find from his letters to Damodar, to be left to build up the edifice of theosophy in America, while H. P. Blavatsky and H. S. Olcott were in old Aryavarta, homeland of the ancient wisdom. He once lamented to Julia Keightley, during illnesses which plagued his later years, about his unprepared lectures and stacks of letters which must be answered. Today we look with awe upon his voluminous correspondence which extended nearly to his date of passing. In his final years he urged those irritated by the attacks upon him to get on with the work, writing:
I am swamped in work, but my courage is up, and I feel the help sent from the right place.
Let us go on from place to place and from year to year; no matter who or what claims us outwardly, we are each the property of the self. -- Letters That Have Helped Me 2:32
William Q. Judge
For Judge, duty was the "royal talisman . . . Selflessness. Duty persistently followed is the highest yoga" (Ibid., 2:3). The term "talisman" stems from the Greek word telein, which means to be initiated into the Mysteries -- a kind of consecration (telesma), not just an object or magical omen. In theosophical terms raja yoga is the "royal or kingly yoga," which has little to do with the postures or breathing exercises of hatha yoga. The science of raja yoga recognizes that vibration is the key to all. We become chelas. We raise our vibratory state to that of the teacher, the greatest teacher being our higher self, which is the true self shining in all. The guru is only the guide or readjuster. The student prepares for chelaship by facing his own day-by-day life, not by avoiding it. Hindu aspirants to chelaship at times have been ordered to go home and attend to the household life. The yoga or skill in action comes through deciding which of many duties to fulfill -- to mankind, to family, or to nature? Clearly the web of life affects all planes of action and great discernment is needed.
Even if we do not know our duty, that in itself is a karmic disability to be overcome. All efforts to improve ourselves and others cultivate merit in the sense of future opportunities to serve, and involve simply doing that which lies in front of us. Firstly, we work in and on ourselves, with the aim of self-enlightenment for the good of others. In the Bhagavad-Gita -- a daily devotional for Judge -- Krishna advises Arjuna: "Even if the good of mankind only is considered by thee, the performance of thy duty will be plain; . . ." (ch. 3).
Katherine Tingley, one of Judge's closest associates in his last years, wrote regarding the reconstruction of humanity:
How shall we set about it? The first step, I hold, is to declare to man: You are divine! There is within you soul-life, and if you will to bring out that life it will reveal to you the truth: it will make clear every step that you take. Greatest of all, it will reveal to you your duty. -- Theosophy: The Path of the Mystic, p. 23
One can find the hidden way to true knowledge only through the door of life. All nature exemplifies life evolving through effort and, we might add, by sacrifice. In man, one form of sacrifice is self-restraint. For example, on the plane of mind we should refrain from negative thoughts which, when released, will affect others more inclined to vice. An early theosophist wrote that addicts and criminals "are only the focal units in the general human consciousness to which converge and where accumulate the tendencies to those things existing in many men" (The Angel and the Demon, Theosophical Manuals, No. 12, 1920, p. 3). Our duty is to plant wholesome seeds in the thought worlds.
Such restraint, as we revamp our thought life, leads to a focus on liberation for others, not for oneself alone. H. P. Blavatsky defined duty as that which is owed humanity:
Duty is that which is due to Humanity, to our fellow-men, neighbours, family, and especially that which we owe to all those who are poorer and more helpless than we are ourselves. This is a debt which, if left unpaid during life, leaves us spiritually insolvent and moral bankrupts in our next incarnation. Theosophy is the quintessence of duty. -- The Key to Theosophy, p. 229
If duty is what "is due to Humanity," we have to orient our lives along new lines. And while it is our duty to help all, that doesn't mean running around aimlessly, but helping those nearest us.
What are the signs of duty in a practical sense? Duty is a performance of that which presents itself, not just what we would like to do. This is the yoga factor. It remains the highest union spoken of in the Bhagavad-Gita: that equanimity in facing all which comes our way. Krishna upholds to Arjuna, "When in every condition he receives each event, whether favorable or unfavorable, with an equal mind which neither likes nor dislikes, his wisdom is established . . ." (ch. 2). We need not go around long-faced with solemn countenance, or condemn the pleasures of those who cling to them. A constant account of all we must do can only bore our family and friends. Rather we may be active, yet at peace within.
In this regard duty is opportunity to work off old karma. Each event confronting us can be seen as an occult blessing in disguise, preparing us for loftier duties and a higher work, a consecration preceding the Mysteries. Duty then becomes that devotion which places all our deeds on the altar of the heart.
This higher work, this highest yoga, this union with nature's purpose, is the only reward on the occult path, as it reaches the greatest number of fellow beings and permits us to help in a more enlightened fashion as we pursue the raja yoga path. This path places us in harmony with nature. This was ably expressed by Mohini M. Chatterji, who considered an adept as a real "co-worker with nature," for "You cannot be one with All, unless all your acts, thoughts and feelings synchronise with the onward march of nature." Mohini also states that many yogis err in supposing a human being can escape the law of karma by rigid abstinence from physical acts. They forget the ongoing activity on higher astral and spiritual planes,
the inherent inclination of the mind to work. There is a tendency, in every department of nature, of an act to repeat itself; so the Karma acquired in the last preceding birth is always trying to forge fresh links in the chain and thereby lead to continued material existence; and that this tendency can only be counteracted by unselfishly performing all the duties appertaining to the sphere in which a person is born . . . -- "Morality and Pantheism," in H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings 5:338
As mentioned earlier equanimity is an idea expressed frequently throughout the Bhagavad-Gita. In chapter two Krishna speaks of letting the "motive for action be in the action itself, and not in the event." He advises Arjuna:
Firmly persisting in Yoga, perform thy duty, O Dhananjaya, and laying aside all desire for any benefit to thyself from action, make the event equal to thee, whether it be success or failure. Equal-mindedness is called Yoga.
A clue to this "mindedness" is provided in a manuscript attributed to Judge in which he wrote:
The true student of Raja Yoga knows that everything has its origin in MIND; that even this Universe is the passing before the Divine Mind of the images he desires to appear.
. . . All the various changes in life, whether of a material nature or solely in mental States are cognizable because the presiding Spirit within is not modifiable. . . . All objects and all states of what Western philosophers call mind, are modifications. -- Echoes of the Orient 3:262-3
To overcome these modifications calls for the more difficult practices outlined in Judge's interpretation of The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali. His preface refers to the hatha yoga practices familiar to Indian ascetics as being limited to their physiological training and having benefits which do not persist into the next incarnation. Raja yogis seek to control the mind itself by following the rules of the greatest adepts. Patanjali's rules engage the disciple in the practice of all virtues by overcoming the modifications of the senses and even at a certain point lower mental images. Only thus can we gain pure concentration, which is defined by Patanjali as "the hindering of the modifications of the thinking principle" (Bk. 1.2).
Thus we come to that firm dispassion which lifts us to the state of true meditation where one sees that the universe "exists for the sake of the soul's experience and emancipation" (Yoga Aphorisms, Bk. 2.18). Permeating this universe is the spirit, this one consciousness pervading a vast kosmic production, the very foundation for both detachment as well as right action. The true state of raja yoga is expressed in that beautiful precept: "The soul is the Perceiver; is assuredly vision itself pure and simple; unmodified; and looks directly upon ideas" (Bk. 2.20).
Judge has a great deal to say about the esoteric meaning of raja yoga, warning of the dangers of hatha yoga practices without a guide. Our current need is to gain the raja yoga training which our daily path affords with all the karmic pebbles strewn upon its way. Would that on a higher level the practice of our duty might become as natural as breathing, as we learn to live in harmony with the larger duty or yoga which allows the mind to embrace the universe, beyond the illusions of time or space. It is that dharma which hastens the heart to
Follow the wheel of life; follow the wheel of duty to race and kin, to friend and foe, and close thy mind to pleasures as to pain. Exhaust the law of Karmic retribution. -- H. P. Blavatsky, The Voice of the Silence, p. 36
(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 1999; copyright © 1999 Theosophical University Press)