THEOSOPHY, Vol. 51, No. 11, September, 1963
(Pages 316-318; Size: 9K)
[Article number (11) in this Department]
It is likely that this question has been asked and commented upon a number of times previously, though I am not, myself, able to recall any such occasions. In H. P. Blavatsky's statement of the Third Proposition of The Secret Doctrine, she speaks of an "obligatory pilgrimage" of the soul. This compound term sometimes seems to have unwelcome connotations, since "obligatory" often carries with it the thought of being forced -- and, in this instance, "forced" in a predetermined direction. One phrase of the Gayatri speaks of a return back to the Sacred Seat, and, since each one of us tends to labor to preserve individuality, the question arises as to whether that individuality is simply on probation, so to speak, preceding a return to the All -- the fully harmonious state of being.
Discussion might well begin, in an only apparently roundabout way, with a consideration of the word "harmonious," as applied to states of consciousness. In the language of music, nothing is inharmonious in and of itself. A dissonant is dissonant because of its relationship to preceding chords or notes. If one is composing a musical score, the true "obligation" is simply to the theme which various chords will substantiate or set off in relief, but the point of departure is, so to speak, a choice or selection. In terms of the philosophy of karma, one undertakes his own obligations with the initiation of every action, because he will continue to compose until the end of a manvantaric period -- or, on a smaller scale, until the end of a physical life. Neither death nor Pralaya amounts to a time for a formalized inspection of a composition of a life or lives, but both are occasions when the author, one might say, has temporarily run out of paper and ink.
There are, actually, two different connotations to "obligatory." The first and most common meaning signifies a coercion by circumstances which demand that a certain task be faced and performed. We might consider the analogy of a writer whose profession will involve him in the necessity of fulfilling a contract for a promised manuscript -- and to complete it by a certain deadline. The other and more subtle meaning of obligation may derive from an entirely different kind of compulsion, which originates internally and without any reference to immediate external factors. The musician, the artist who paints, or the writer who writes because he cannot help himself, from a burgeoning drive toward expression, is also "obliged." The impulsion, however, comes from the center of his own being.
It is in this sense, we may believe, that the words "obligatory pilgrimage" are employed in Madame Blavatsky's statement. The "pilgrimage" is not toward a predetermined goal, since every Pralaya is followed by a succeeding Manvantara. If the destiny of man were ultimately in some heaven or Nirvana, and particularly if the destiny were set by an omniscient intelligence -- a God who has the wisdom to tell individual man what he should become -- human existence would, of course, become an arbitrary testing, rather than a matter of self-directed evolution.
There is no doubt, though, that H.P.B. has a fondness for employing the term "pilgrimage" in relation to the journey of the soul. In The Key to Theosophy, under the discussion of "Annihilation," she speaks of "that pilgrimage which we call 'the cycle of re-births'." She refers to the intervals of post-mortem life as simply being interruptions, so far as the true progress of the "thread soul" is concerned, and continues:Such intervals, their limitation notwithstanding, do not prevent the Ego, while ever perfecting itself, from following undeviatingly, though gradually and slowly, the path to its last transformation, when that Ego, having reached its goal, becomes a divine being. These intervals and stages help towards this final result instead of hindering it; and without such limited intervals the divine Ego could never reach its ultimate goal.The content of these statements, in a chapter dealing with questions on "annihilation," suggests an emphasis on "prevent," for H.P.B. is not saying that every ego proceeds towards a predetermined goal, inevitably -- simply because she does say that the ego may "follow undeviatingly, though gradually and slowly" the path to becoming a divine being." And "last transformation" and "ultimate goal" need not be taken to mean a predestination -- rather to suggest the emergence of man's state of consciousness to one that is so much higher that the typical after-death state of our humanity no longer exists. Further, the "interruptions" are not only those caused by wishful or dreamy thinking, resulting in a prolonged post-mortem state called "devachan," but are occasioned by whatever "unharmonious" choices the individual makes regarding the opportunities for refinement and transformation which life offers him.
As has been said so many times, the perfected being is simply one who has accomplished all that may be accomplished in a certain cycle of evolution. And this Theosophical interpretation may be applied to the closing passage of The Dhammapada:Him I call a Brahamana who knows his former lives, who knows heaven and hell, who has reached the end of births, who is a sage of perfect knowledge and who has accomplished all that has to be accomplished.But how is one to accomplish "all that has to be accomplished"? Certainly not by plotting his progress as one would by checking each day's distance on a road map. It is the "traveling while at rest" that counts on this journey, and there is always some element of personal unrest when one is self-conscious of his progress or tries to define, in terms of an achieved status, the "goal." It is this awareness which we find expressed in the paradoxical sayings of Lao-tse. As for instance:Other men have plenty, while I alone seem to have lost all....The true progression is certainly a subtle one. We find an intimation of its nature in the last writings of Carl Jung ("Retrospection," in Memories, Dreams, Reflections). Jung writes:
I am unsettled as the ocean, drifting as though I had no stopping-place....
Lonely though I am and unlike other men, yet I revere the Foster-Mother, Tao.It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown. It fills life with something impersonal, a numinosum. A man who has never experienced that has missed something important. He must sense that he lives in a world which in some respects is mysterious; that things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated. The unexpected and the incredible belong in this world. Only then is life whole. For me the world has from the beginning been infinite and ungraspable.
[Article number (12) in this Department]
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