THEOSOPHY, Vol. 21, No. 11, September, 1933
(Pages 481-485; Size: 14K)
(Number 11 of a 12-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 12 articles have the same name.]

THE PURSUIT OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE

OCCULTISM, in the practical sense, is the control of the mind, or astral man, or lower self. That self-control is unknown to our humanity. Rightly regarded, every man's religion or science or philosophy is neither more nor less than his method or system for acquiring self-control, of maintaining it, of regaining it when lost. Every man has some measure of self-control, but under strain more or less intense, more or less prolonged, loses his balance. Then, during his striving to maintain equilibrium or regain it, he commits actions whose effects upon himself and upon others are far-reaching indeed. Self-control of such a nature as to be unaffected by any imaginable contingency is not even dreamed of in Western psychology and, for the man in pursuit of self-knowledge, is and for a long time must continue to be an ideal only. It is much, however, even to glimpse such a possibility; much more to determine to attain to it. The fruits which flow from such an attitude and effort become something other than those hitherto regarded as supremely desirable. They become an ever-increasing inspiration, a source of energy, a fountain of the will, so that the student perseveres on his chosen path despite all failures, learns from them, is restored to poise and strength by the very vicissitudes which upset and daunt other men, or lead them astray into the "forbidden path."

Little by little the aspirant learns to study not only the workings of his own inner nature but to study "the hearts of men" in all the shifting panorama afforded by human life. He comes to see that no amount of self-introspection will do more than to carry him into the ranks of the intelligently selfish if he regards himself as in any way separate from his fellows. He soon learns that no being can "go it alone" either on the good or on the evil path, and that every other man, like himself, presents a different equation of the known and unknown factors in "human nature." Almost insensibly the sense of "thou" and "I" loses its iron hold, and the personal attitude in dealing with the problems of life begins to fade out as the day-time moon becomes but a silver shade as sunlight fills the arena of space. In time he more and more regards his own earthly existence and that of all others as an identical and vital problem in the mathematics of the Soul -- a problem which must be worked out on firmly established principles if it is ever to be solved by any man. The solution of that problem becomes the one thing worth while. Neither by self-dissection nor by self-vivisection is it to be undertaken, whether on himself or on others. These are "the temptations which do ensnare the inner man," and to which so many succumb in their pursuit of "occultism" and "mysticism," if they do not fall before the temptations which entrap the earthly man -- the fruits of the "lower Iddhi" or psychic powers used for one's own aggrandizement in mortal life. How, then, is one to proceed? The query is forever being made and repeated.

The question has been answered in precept and example by every great Teacher who ever walked this earth, but the understanding of their reply is the very object of Self-knowledge. It grows to an assured certainty that the abstract and impersonal world of Self-knowledge from which the Teacher comes, and some of whose Light radiates from him, is one and the same world of Soul-Wisdom without distinctions of the kind made by us. In that world, however much there may be to learn, there is absolutely nothing to un-learn. Each great Teacher varies from all the others only in the externalities of his mission, which are necessarily adapted to the tribe or race or humanity which he enters, "becoming in all things like one of them" -- in their sight, and until he begins his self-imposed task of instruction. Not until the learners appear can the relation of Master and pupil be set up.

Really to become a learner in the school of human life is a study very few men undertake. They are soon diverted into one or another of the thousand channels of self-interest or self-gratification, and knowledge to them soon becomes merely a matter of sophistication. A man must have learned something of the lesson of life as it is lived, enough to know for himself that it can never satisfy the Soul, before he can be induced to take more than a sophisticated or curious attitude toward the possibility of Self-knowledge. There are many of these latter inquirers in every generation, as in every age, and from them come the betrayers and perverters of Teaching and Teacher, as also the betrayers and perverters of their fellow men. But those who have found that unintelligent and misdirected unselfishness are not enough to feed either him who receives or him who gives -- these are the natural soil in which the seeds of wisdom have a chance to germinate and grow. It is the Altruism which is the object of the Teacher in coming, and of the learner in seeking instruction, which is the common bond of union between them, and which at all times determines the degree and the strength of the relation thus mutually entered into.

Every casual contact of any being with any other involves some intermixture, some interchange of natures. How much more this is the case in all intimate relations and actions is common knowledge as to the fact, little studied as to its significance. The food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the light by which we move -- not merely in our bodily well- or ill-being, but its very existence and our own in it are contingent upon this interchange of all the elements of physical life. So in the human relations of husband and wife, of parent and child, of brother and sister, as in many others, the relations established contain within them both the essential elements of their existence and the possibility either of the greatest good or the greatest evil in human life. And in the larger family of the community, the nation, the race, the same law or principle obtains. In all these associations any member or members may be moved by devotion to self-interest, to the interest of another or others, or by a devotion which excludes nothing and no one from the amplitude of its interest because it is with an eye single to see service in any direction and in any way that subserves the unit-whole. These propositions placed before any man will meet with his instant affirmation, nor will there be found one to doubt or dispute which kind of devotion is the true or the ideal, or to refuse to avail himself of its benefits. But when it is attempted to be put into actual practice by anyone, it is himself who soon comes to doubt and weaken in his devotion, if he does not meet with some recognition for his efforts.

But of all intimate relations in its potentialities for the greatest good or the greatest evil, for life and for lives, that of teacher and pupil stands supreme. This is true in secular as well as religious education, for there is far more involved than any physical or mental interchange. Just as the home has in all too great part ceased to be a home in the true sense, so in more appalling degree have our schools ceased to be in any true sense a hall of instruction in living the Higher Life. From the standpoint of the truth accepted by all men as the ideal, the home, the school, the temple, and the state alike have become places of Spiritual prostitution -- for human nature has been changed scarcely at all, unless it be for the worse, among the civilized as among savages, generation after generation, age after age, in all the centuries of traditional and recorded history. With prevailing ideas and conduct in all the relations of human life the most intimate and essential, and which the more they are regarded the more they will appear sacred, it is unmistakable that the barriers to the relation of teacher and pupil, of Master and Chela in Occultism can only be surmounted as self and all its attachments are set aside. Otherwise, the taint of self-interest must lead the aspirant to instructors of the same hidden motive as his own and in the end land him irretrievably among the practitioners of the black art of deceiving others -- their victim or their pupil or their competitor, as may be. Self-deception as to one's own purity of motive is the opening through which all are deceived who become in their turn the deceivers of others.

The fundamental requisites to the pursuit of Occultism or Self-knowledge are in fact so extremely clear and evident that no one can be deceived in regard to what they are. They have been endlessly repeated in all times, and moreover every man, by virtue of the fact that he is a Spiritual being, however ignorant or depraved, recognizes them the moment his attention is called to them as an ideal. It is not, then, any lack of the power to see the ideal life, but the failure of the will to act in the direction of the realization of that ideal which debars so many men from undertaking the pursuit of Self-knowledge. The barriers of these lie in the hold upon their minds of prevailing ideas -- the dust and leavings in the school of life. The generous-hearted by nature have their barriers in the selfishness of the religion preached to them, the prudential morality inculcated in the school and the home, the advantage taken of them by the sophisticated, and above all in their inability to probe to the depths of their own consciousness and so purify their own motives. These have learned to love their fellow men, but not wisely, and so are apt themselves to come to believe that they have loved "too well" when they find themselves stripped and forsaken by the very ones to whom they have given their all, or when overtaken by the death or disaster of the one they loved.

The Bhagavad-Gita names the four classes among men in whom lies the potency of genuine Chelaship in the School of the Masters of Wisdom: "Those who are afflicted, the searchers for truth, those who desire possessions, and the wise." These only have experienced to their "heart's content" the ups and downs of human life, and who, despite their experiences, have acquired from them sufficient stamina to undertake a new and unknown venture for the "elixir of life," let the perils be what they may. Their very greatest hazard is incident to finding that, in Robert Crosbie's words, "all experiences have to be lived out in the mind."


COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

THE SMALL OLD PATH

The path to Occult Sciences has to be trodden laboriously and crossed at the danger of life; every new step in it leading to the final goal, is surrounded by pit-falls and cruel thorns. The pilgrim who ventures upon it is made first to confront and conquer the thousand and one furies who keep watch over its adamantine gates and entrance -- furies called Doubt, Skepticism, Scorn, Ridicule, Envy and finally Temptation -- especially the latter. He who would see beyond has to first destroy this living wall; he must be possessed of a heart and soul clad in steel, and of an iron, never-failing determination, and yet be meek and gentle, humble, and have shut out from his heart every human passion that leads to evil. 


--From A Master's Letter.

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