THEOSOPHY, Vol. 89, Issue 3, March/April 2001
(Pages 103-108; Size: 12K)


[Article number (13) in this Department]

What is the meaning in seeking grace or refuge for a theosophist?

If the universe looks kindly upon us, we have reason to believe we can seek help along the path. Forms of sanctuary are common to faith. Even before Moses came face to face with his God, the religious sought a self realization, i.e., the experience of unity, that required access to "god." Though the expressions vary widely from the eternal, absolute consciousness to Mother Nature and Father God, the one source of origin whose grace is sought was identified by mystics with a certain commonality of vision, usually unfolding from the depths of inner contemplation. The question ponders a phase of spiritual development deeply rooted in the scriptures throughout history.

Like Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, as he explores his despondency over the war that has commenced, we can call on our Krishna as charioteer and the source of courage to fight on against the forces we face and the faults we have accumulated. And in addition to all he learns, in the end, Arjuna still requires grace: "Take sanctuary with him alone, O son of Bharata, with all thy soul, by his grace thou shalt obtain supreme happiness, the eternal place" (Gita, chap. 18, p. 131).

Is that so different from seeking salvation in the grace of a god or in taking refuge in the teacher, the teachings, and those taught (Buddha's three jewels)? Are we the "prodigal son" seeking parental deliverance? Can the "Self be attained only by those who the Self chooses" (Katha Upanishad II, 23)? Several students explore this aspect of devotion along differing facets of inquiry:


Grace is a clumsy word for students of theosophy. Why? Because at the core of this philosophy are the principles of intelligent causation and universal justice (the reign of law). The exoteric religious idea of grace rules this out and makes "The Almighty," no matter how merciful, a being of whims as can be demonstrated by the arbitrary unfairness of life. The way the "cards" are dealt only makes sense if in fact there is a previous causal factor before the present circumstances are dealt out. Theosophy presents the ancient doctrine of reincarnation, the only rational explanation for the outrageous injustices found in physical existence. This leaves room for previous cause as well as future redemption.

If we had to give the idea of grace a theosophical complexion, it might look something like this: As we elevate our consciousness into the realm of our Buddhic or spiritual nature, purifying our motives and better understanding the "chains of causation," we begin to free ourselves from the self-created shackles of duality and consequently reach a state of relative grace. H. P. Blavatsky makes a statement in her Secret Doctrine, (I, p. 639) that sheds some light on what we're trying to say: "Yes; 'our destiny is written in the stars!' Only, the closer the union between the mortal reflection MAN and his celestial PROTOTYPE, the less dangerous the external conditions and subsequent reincarnations -- which neither Buddhas nor Christs can escape."

The only real grace we experience while on earth is that which we bestow on each other as human beings. Forgiveness is at the heart of all true spiritual presentations. Theosophy, like the teachings of Jesus and Buddha, admonishes us to look within to solve the riddles of life. Jesus said that, "The kingdom of heaven is within." So why do we tend so often to look to others to "fix us up"? Maybe it is due to our preconditioning with an all too materialistic viewpoint of who and what we really are. Theosophy holds that we are "gods in the making."


In most of us the lower thoughts and desires are dominant in our consciousness. These lower thoughts and desires seek refuge in the finite, the things of this world: Status, money, personal power, sensual pleasures. It is there, we mistakenly believe, that satisfaction, contentment, happiness and ultimate peace will be found. This course leads to misery in two ways: First, because we are infinite beings and ultimately cannot find satisfaction in anything that is finite. Second, because it takes us farther and farther away from our true goal and destiny -- union with our higher self, the god within.

Our task is to sacrifice our attachment to the things of this world and seek refuge instead in the higher self. This means gaining control over our lower thoughts and desires. It means transforming them so that they are in harmony with the higher thoughts and desires. It means complete union between the lower and higher self. As this union is gradually accomplished, the powers of the higher nature begin to flow into the lower. We gain such spiritual rewards as peace, tranquility, courage and selfless love. This flow of the higher powers into the lower self is grace.

Some people think that grace is a gift that comes from that which is ultimately deserving, God, to that which is ultimately undeserving, Man. But that is not the theosophical view. Grace and its powers come only to those who by their actions, their thoughts, their feelings, have earned it. A man may have an empty glass in his hand and yearn for water. If the man holds the glass away from the pitcher of water when it is poured, the water will fall to the ground, the glass will remain empty and the man will thirst. But if the man places the glass beneath the pitcher, the water will flow into the glass, the glass will be full and the man may drink. So it is with grace. If a man seeks happiness in the things of this world, he will stand with his back to the higher self. Grace will flow (for grace is always flowing), but it will not flow into him. But let that man -- by his own efforts, by his own will -- turn around towards the higher self, let him place himself under its influence, let him listen to and follow its behests, and grace will flow into that man and fill him with the peace that passeth all understanding.


The theological definition of grace is generally found to be one of unmerited love and favor of God toward humans or of Christ, especially as shown in the salvation freely provided for people (hence, free gift). Implicit in these definitions is the idea of an external Superbeing that holds sway over all of life and may at will, bestow favor or punishment arbitrarily to any part of that life. If this idea is taken further, it implies the inequality of life with no opportunity to guide one's thought and action through self-reliance.

The theosophist considers the principle ideas proposed in the Secret Doctrine ("Proem," p. 17), as guiding lights for the illumination of this question. "The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul -- a spark of the former -- through the Cycle of Incarnation (or 'Necessity') in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law, during the whole term. In other words, no purely spiritual Buddhi (divine Soul) can have an independent (conscious) existence before the spark which issued from the pure Essence of the Universal Sixth principle, -- or the OVER-SOUL, -- has (a) passed through every elemental form of the phenomenal world of that Manvantara, and (b) acquired individuality, first by natural impulse, and then by self-induced and self-devised efforts (checked by its Karma), thus ascending through all the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest Manas, from mineral and plant, up to the holiest archangel (Dhyani-Buddha). The pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations."

This would suggest a divine origin and absolute potential for every soul to progress by equal opportunity to a conscious realization of spirituality as identified with the whole of life. There being no gifts or privileges suggests that we are in fact responsible for our consciousness and that we may learn through our unawareness by and through our self activated opportunity. Herein lies the element of mercy that might be thought of as the higher meaning of "grace." Although we cannot erase our karma (according to Judge's Reincarnation and Karma: Aphorisms on Karma, No. 13), "The effects may be counteracted or mitigated by the thoughts and acts of oneself or of another, and then the resulting effects represent the combination and interaction of the whole number of causes involved in producing the effects."

The self conscious awareness to take responsible action is further indicated when (Aphorisms on Karma, No. 27), "Measures taken by the Ego to repress tendency, eliminate defects, and to counteract by setting up different causes, will alter the sway of Karmic tendency and shorten its influence in accordance with the strength or weakness of the efforts expended in carrying out the measures adopted."

The appeal for special privilege is sought by the personality, a limited expression of unfinished business from previous lives. The realization of an opportunity for greater illumination is a higher manasic perception and signifies a consciousness in degree, of one's divine origin and the need for the additional unfolding of absolute potentiality.

[Note: Here's the link to WQJ's article, entitled "Aphorisms on Karma", that was mentioned and quoted from in the above article by one of the students.--Compiler]

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