“AT THE FEET OF THE MASTER”
By George S. Arundale
Of the National Educational Service (India)
Theosophical Publishing House Adyar Chennai India, 1918
Part 1 of 2 - go to part 2
THE following chapters are reprinted from a series of Correspondence Studies on At the Feet of the Master which I have been writing for the last two years on behalf of members of the Order of the Servants of the Star.
I have left the studies practically as I originally wrote them — permitting myself only a verbal alteration here and there. There may be a certain amount of repetition, since I began writing the series in Bude, Cornwall, in 1914, and only finished them in Adyar, Madras, in 1918. And there has been no time to rewrite or even to submit them to a thorough revision.
But some of my friends think them helpful, and at least they may draw the attention of their readers to the wonderful book which inspired them. For myself, I can truly say that At the Feet of the Master is my constant companion, guide, and mentor. Ever by my side is the little copy given me by my young teacher. That which he heard, I am trying to understand; and I find in the priceless words in which the teaching is clothed all that, indeed far, far more than, I need for discipline and training. At the Feet of the Master has an appropriate message for every human being who at all strives to lead an unselfish life. [Page VI] I earnestly commend it to teachers and students of all faiths and of all races. With the companion volume Education as Service, a teacher or student has a complete guide for daily life. And the truths these two great volumes enshrine are the truths upon the recognition and following of which all true citizenship depends. At the Feet of the Master and Education as Service are Heralds of the New Age, Signs of the Coming Times, and should be carefully studied by those who seek to co-operate with the future, and who are not slaves of prejudice and custom.
GEORGE S. ARUNDALE
The Giving of the Teachings
The Qualifications for Discipleship
There is Time to Achieve Perfection
The Living of the Life
Training the Body
The Astral and Mental Bodies
The Hidden Laws of Nature
"A Small Thing"
Service as Education
The Six Points of Conduct
The Six Points of Conduct (Continued)
The Six Points of Conduct (Continued)
The Six Points of Conduct (Continued)
The Six Points of Conduct (Concluded)
Sins against Love
Tests of Love
The Growth of Love
Love and Service
THE GIVING OF THE TEACHINGS
IN many ways the little book we are going to study together is the most important gift the world has received for hundreds of years, for the words are from the lips of a mighty Teacher, known to the world as Pythagoras and to some of us as the blessed Master Koot Hoomi, the Master K. H. as He is generally called in Theosophical literature. I must take for granted that you know who Masters are— if not you will find plenty of information in such a book as Herbert Whyte's The Great Teachers, or in Mrs. Besant's The Masters and the Way to Them. Let us proceed to see how these instructions apply, so that we may follow them intelligently.
In the Preface, Mrs. Besant writes : " The teachings . . . were given to him by his Master in preparing him for Initiation." Several questions arise here: How were they given to him ? Where were they given to him ? What is Initiation ?
HOW THE TEACHINGS WERE GIVEN
Question No. 1. You probably know that some people are able to be quite useful on the astral plane [Page 2]I must leave the explanation of this term to some friend, if you do not understand it — and try to help in all good work as much as they can. Many of you who are reading these lines probably help very much when the physical body is asleep and the astral body is the vehicle in which for the time you are living and working. But there is quite as much learning as helping, and many young people, or those who are not yet very far advanced, gather round some one more advanced and learn much that is not only useful to them on the astral plane but helpful on the physical plane also. These elders in turn sit at the feet [An expression which figuratively expresses “learning from”, and in the East is literally true.] of someone who knows yet more, while a few will be receiving instructions from the Masters Themselves.
Now Alcyone — to give the name used to mark the soul apart from the various bodies he has been wearing life after life — is one of these elders, " young in body verily, but not in Soul", as Mrs. Besant tells us in the Preface. Marked out for a special destiny, he is privileged to receive instruction direct from the Master's lips, and he is told to write down each morning the phrases which sum up and express the teachings he has received during the night. Alcyone is in a special position because he was already a pupil of the Master when these particular teachings were begun, and they were, therefore, intended to help him to reach quickly the next stage of his spiritual journey — Initiation. The language, it will be noticed, is very simple, for the Master was, in this [Page 3] case, addressing Himself to a physical brain which was still very young, and so was careful to speak in such terms that the young brain might remember and understand the next day. Every sentence, indeed, is exceedingly clear, because Alcyone did not then know much English — the teachings were given in the autumn and winter of 1909—and only a very little was taught at a time, partly in order that he might remember all that was said and partly in order that he might practise each suggestion as it came. Out of the body he knew much more, of course; but each lower body is a limitation of the one next above (of less dense matter, perhaps I should say, as there is no "above" or "below"), and the teaching had to be adapted to the needs of lower bodies, so that they might be brought under perfect control.
I do not know whether the Master's physical body was asleep when He gave the teachings. Probably the Master retires early, for He can use all His bodies perfectly, and, therefore, functions as easily out of the physical body as in — perhaps more easily, since the matter of other bodies is less dense. If so, as Alcyone would not be at the Master's house until, perhaps, nine or even later, the teaching would be given by the Master in a subtle body and would, of course, be received by Alcyone astrally, i.e. on the astral plane. On the other hand, there may have been occasions on which the Master was still using the physical body, in which case you may imagine Him seated in the big arm chair in the large room where He often receives visitors, or perhaps in His [Page 4] study adjoining; Alcyone receiving the instructions "at His Feet". To the Master, all planes are equally accessible, and though awake in His physical body He would see and talk to astral Alcyone as well as He could see and talk to anyone on the physical plane. He would probably withdraw His attention from the physical plane to the astral, simultaneously bringing into play the organs of His subtle body. Physical objects would then be thrown out of focus, just as nearer objects appear vague when we are looking at objects far off. Perhaps the Master experiences no dimness with regard to objects at which He is not directly looking; I do not know. At any rate, our astral Alcyone would be as real to Him as, perhaps more real than, any physical object near Him— the sofas or the table; and He would talk to His pupil using the astral plane as the medium for His voice.
WHERE THE TEACHINGS WERE GIVEN
Question No. 2 - I have already told you that the teachings were probably given at the Master's house in Tibet. If you turn to the map of Asia and find Tibet north of the great Himalayan range, you may see the name of a town called Shigatse. In the vicinity of this town the Master lives in His physical body, and so Alcyone, living right down in the south of India at Adyar, quite close to Madras, could hardly receive the teaching in his physical body. Adyar is a village whose main distinction is the headquarters of the Theosophical Society — situated on a large [Page 5] piece of land facing the sea and bordered by the Adyar river. In this headquarters is a fine building containing rooms for various workers and, on the first floor, the abode of the President of the Society together with a few other rooms appropriated to the use of various members of the headquarters staff. Close to Mrs. Besant's rooms lived Alcyone and his younger brother, further off being Mr. Leadbeater's big room; and thence, night after night, the physical bodies were left asleep while their owners sailed away over the snow-topped peaks of the Himalayas to their Master's home — a long journey, which would occupy many days if the physical body had to do the travelling, but almost as quick as thought for inhabitants of the astral plane. No doubt our travellers stopped on their way to look at scenery, or perhaps to help some one in trouble, but it would not do to be late at the Master's house for He is exceedingly busy and must not be inconvenienced by our carelessness. Probably the teaching did not take a very long time —about fifteen minutes; so, when the party was dismissed, the rest of the night would be filled with all kinds of useful experience in the training of Alcyone's astral and other bodies for future work. At about 5.30 in the morning the physical body would be awakened by its owner, and, after a bath and some food, and then exercises and study, Alcyone would go into Mrs. Besant's room to take his seat at a table in the verandah. There he wrote out very carefully by himself that which had been taught him by the Master, the Master having summed up in a single [Page 6] sentence or so the gist of the quarter of an hour's teaching. Thus At the Feet of the Master came gradually to be written, the greater part ... a reproduction of the Master's own words; that which is not such a verbal reproduction is the Master's thought clothed in the pupil's words".
WHAT INITIATION IS
Question No. 3. "Preparing him for Initiation". What does this mean ? Well, we must begin some way back if we are to understand what Initiation means. I hope you all know that the real "ourselves", behind the bodies we happen to be using in this particular life, are immortal sparks of the flame of God, and that each little spark which is one of us has been through the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms before entering the human kingdom to which we now belong. In the early stages, millions of years ago and not on this earth at all, the little sparks were not so much separated off from one another as they now are in the human kingdom; they were not, to use a difficult word, "self-conscious" or alive to the world around them. In the mineral kingdom these little sparks were hardly awake at all. In the vegetable kingdom, however, they were somewhat less sleepy; while in the animal kingdom they really began to stir about. So much so that individual sparks began to live separated existences instead of being content, as heretofore, to share their experiences with brother-sparks and live a common [Page 7] life. You have perhaps noticed that while most animals of a particular species have many peculiarities in common, some have very distinct individualities of their own. This is the beginning of the road which is leading them direct to the human kingdom, and then comes a time in the case of each animal when it begins to live so definite a life of its own that the spark inhabiting it finally breaks off from fellow-sparks and, to use a Theosophical phrase, "becomes individualised", i.e., enters the human kingdom.
THE FIRST STEP
Now this individualisation is the first great step made by the divine spark on its way to the realisation of what divinity really means. The first definite step on the road to perfection has been taken when the soul, if I may use the term, traverses the bridge that, leads from the animal to the human kingdom, that, separates definite individual existence from a more or less conscious existence shared with other souls. In the lower kingdoms of nature, souls are joined in groups according to their kind, and the stage of separated existence, when the soul in the animal enters the human kingdom is, as I have said, the first great step on the path of evolution.
THE SECOND STEP
The second great step is when the human being at last begins to develop a definite sense of right and [Page 8] wrong and to realise, however faintly, that wrong must not be done, while right must be followed. This may be called the dawning of conscience, aroused through ages of experience that happiness follows the less selfish action while pain follows the more selfish action. At last the individual begins to realise that he cannot live for himself alone, and the God within him thankfully looks upon a vehicle gradually tuning itself to the divine harmony. The battle is by no means over. Indeed it is hardly begun; but the man's face is set towards the goal and the higher nature begins at last to receive conscious response to the training and moulding of its lower vestures, so that both become better instruments in the plan of Him Who is our world.
Each of these steps is an expansion of consciousness, the soul — from having been but an unconscious cell in the body of God — begins to awaken and to take the first definite steps towards becoming a God itself; and this is God's object in spreading self-consciousness in each part of the organism that is Himself.
THE THIRD STEP — INITIATION
Now Initiation is the third great step — another expansion of consciousness, a further growth of the soul. The second great step was, as we have seen, the awakening of conscience. But conscience had to become definitely established as the dominant factor in the man's nature, and he had yet to learn to [Page 9] realise that while self-preservation might be a necessary law at a certain stage, self-sacrifice is the only true guide for the soul eager to know itself divine. Indeed, while conscience had doubtless been aroused, the individual had yet to realise himself and his powers, had yet to assert himself and, for the time, to become entirely centred in himself and his individual growth. In other words, he had to practise his conscience in all kinds of ways. To borrow a phrase from Mr. Leadbeater, he had to become "the centre of his circle", to learn the powers of the lower vehicles and their limitations, and to apply his conscience to their use. At last, developing slowly his various faculties, and gradually coming to the conclusion that self-sacrifice brings more lasting happiness than self-seeking, he begins to live for the world instead of expecting the world to live for him. Now and again he doubtless lapses into the more selfish mode of living, but unselfishness begins to predominate over selfishness; and when the Masters see that nothing will in the long run affect his determination to serve the world, one of Them, who has been watching the man for lives, determines to give him special teaching so that he may quickly gain added power to help.
The individual then enters into an apprenticeship in the school of a particular Master and begins a series of very hard but very helpful lives. [Page 10] Perhaps you know that the government of the world is in the hands of a graded band of Mighty Brethren whom we call the Great White Lodge — using the word "Lodge" in its masonic sense of an organised fraternity. At Their head stands the Great Ruler of the world, and around Him are grouped His Ministers, some functioning as organisers, rulers, heads of the races of the world, others as teachers of religions, others guiding the various continents and countries, others influencing non-human races such as Angels and Devas, yet others acting as assistants to these Greater Ones and preparing to take Their places when They shall have passed on to still higher work. Now most of you young people belong to one or to another of these departments in the world's government, and some great Master has His eye upon you, watching for the time when you intend from your heart to give yourself to the world's service, showing unmistakable signs of earnestness. Alcyone, for example, belongs to the teaching department and will some day become a great teacher of religion. The Master who teaches him is, therefore, Himself a mighty Teacher destined to precede Alcyone in a great office in the teaching department. Just as would-be engineers enter an engineering shop to be trained by a thoroughly qualified engineer, so in the real professions of life still more scientific training is available, and the Master Koot Hoomi will train Alcyone to fulfil perfectly the destiny to which he is to be called. This training has definite stages — the first being when the Master determines to take a [Page 11] possible pupil on trial, this stage being called probationary discipleship. Passing successfully through the period of probation or trial, long or short according to circumstances, the pupil is definitely enrolled as a member of the Master's school and becomes an accepted disciple. Very often many years pass — seven or even more — before a candidate reaches this second stage, but Alcyone had in previous lives satisfied the Master as to his fitness for discipleship, so in his case these two stages and the third, sonship of the Master, a specially intimate relationship, were passed in the course of a few months, his Initiation following on January llth, 1910. The object of the Master's school is thus to prepare its pupils for the world's service, and exists partly to train them in such self-control and purity as may enable them to present themselves as candidates for admission to the lowest rank in the Great White Lodge. Such admission is the third great stage on the pathway of evolution — you remember, I hope, the other two — and is called Initiation because it not only means the entry of the approved candidate into an organised fraternity with all that such entry involves, c.f. the masonic initiation ceremony, but because the candidate is for the first time brought into touch, during the ceremony, with certain great truths of life which, heretofore, he has only dimly sensed. These truths will have been known to him intellectually long before and he will for long have striven to practise them; but not until the ceremony of Initiation will he feel them as laws of his nature, [Page 12] will he experience them as living realities. His consciousness, his touch with God, expands, and truths which were outside him, however much he may have realised them with his mind, now become part of his very being, and he can never again think or feel or act as if they were outside him.
EXPANSION OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Imagine a circle to include all you are and know. Imagine much knowledge outside yourself and a constant pressure from within the circle to include the knowledge outside. In many places the circle expands in the endeavour to touch the truths beyond. After a time some truth outside, which has persistently been touched, is drawn within the circle, and the circle increases its size by the amount of the knowledge gained. Initiation is, as it were, the moment at which some special truths notably the law of unity, pass within the circle. Until this time, the truths were accepted, their existence was admitted. Henceforth, these truths are realised as part, of consciousness itself.
THE VALUE OF INITIATION
To be accurate, I should observe that the object of Initiation is to confer upon its recipient power for service, derived partly from the added truths, and partly from the fact that the individual is now a member of a Great Brotherhood and shares, for use, the power Their unity generates. The word "Initiation" as [Page 13] used in At the Feet of the Master means admission to membership of the lowest rank in that great Hierarchy which governs the world, the ranks stretching upwards until alone in His degree towers the Ruler of our world Himself. Each rank is separated from the rank below by deeper knowledge and more selfless service, and admission from a lower rank to that next higher depends upon proved self-surrender, in the world of men, to the needs of others. Initiation is the third great expansion of consciousness, expansion meaning here an increasing realisation by the individual consciousness of the unity of all life, of the God within us as identical with the God without. At the ceremony itself the Master presents His pupil for admission, having previously satisfied himself as to the pupil's worthiness, and the candidate being approved, enters the Brotherhood, formally dedicating himself thenceforward to lives lived for the world's helping. You will notice that in the Preface Mrs. Besant calls Alcyone "brother", and you must remember that this word is deliberately used to mark the special relationship between them as both Brothers (there is no sex distinction) in one Brotherhood.
THE PURPOSE OF INITIATION
People often wonder why it is necessary to pass through the ceremony of Initiation at all. What can a ceremony do to increase our capacity for service ? As a matter of fact, I imagine that by a very slow process of growth mankind as a whole may reach the [Page 14] results of Initiation without passing through any ceremony whatever, drifting almost unconsciously through this third great step. But some people are eager to do quickly that which otherwise would take a long time, and they submit to what may be called a kind of forced growth, so as to complete within a few lives that which is usually spread over many. This involves very hard work in a Master's school, and the student needs much help. As the eagerness for progress is entirely unselfish, the student is shown, after a certain amount of training, how to wield powers which normally would come to him much later. Purity of life, and self-discipline, added to definite teaching from a Master, are the certificates entitling him to a spiritual degree which confers upon him definite powers, and these powers are explained to him during the ceremony of Initiation by a delegate from The One in whose Hands our destinies lie. The ceremony of Initiation is an official examination demonstrating the candidate's fitness so to use the new powers to be conferred on him that he may become a better helper in the world of men. Such powers are not common to the period in which the world is now living, and if an individual is to receive them he must prove his fitness before Those who alone can confer them before the normal time.
"TO THOSE WHO KNOCK"
Notice also, please, how Mrs. Besant writes of the "great Portal" as having swung open to receive the [Page 15] new brother, and in this connection see the words which precede the preface — "To Those Who Knock". The Great White Lodge — "white" because white is the symbol of purity and spirituality — is believed to be a Temple of Wisdom, entry to which is through its "great Portal", a door "which opens to those who knock" in the spirit of a great love for the world in which they live, of an eager willingness to use their powers for the benefit of others, and of a humble gratitude to Those who may deign to guide them to wider usefulness and to a love more beautiful.
LIVE THE TEACHING
Initiation, then, is the third great step, the step which many of you are now, I hope, approaching. Another great step is reached when from the human kingdom a Brother passes to the superhuman kingdom, the region of perfected Men, gains the expansion of consciousness associated with the fifth great Initiation — the one referred to in At the Feet of the Master being the first — and becomes a Master, Man who has learned all this world can teach. We need not, however, consider this step. Enough that the teachings which fitted Alcyone for admission to the great White Brotherhood have been given to us at the command of the great World-Teacher Himself. Enough that we too are privileged to know how our lives should be lived if we would become one of the band of servers and helpers. [Page 16] "But” says Mrs. Besant, "the teaching can only be fruitful if it is lived, as he has lived it since it fell from his Master's lips". So we must now try to see what this teaching is, how we are to apply it to our daily lives. Remember, as an encouragement, that we are not expected to live the teaching perfectly — to do that would need the soul of a Master Himself. But in the effort will lie the measure of success, and there is nothing in this world that we cannot try to do. Young people in many parts of the world are trying hard, and some of them have gained admission to a Master's school. The great World-Teacher needs many helpers for His work in the world. Will you not try to become useful to Him by training yourself beforehand, so that when He comes He may find a disciplined band of workers ready to go anywhere and do anything, a band bringing to Him not mere willingness to help, but, which is far more important, trained capacity to help as well ?
THE REAL AND THE UNREAL
The Samskrit verse which precedes Alcyone's own Foreword or Introduction sums up, as it were, the whole of the teaching that any Master can give His pupil. "From the unreal lead me to the real" is the cry of all who are in earnest. More than anything else we desire to distinguish between the true and the false, between that which gives pain and that which brings joy; and in every life the lessons we learn from pain are teaching us to recognise more [Page 17] unerringly, and, therefore, to cast aside, those thoughts, feelings and actions which belong to the unreal, to that which separates us from the knowledge of God. The unreal is that which does not last, it is the form which veils the soul, and if only we were better able to distinguish the self from its sheaths, there would be much less unhappiness in the world. It is not enough to know with the mind, you must know with the heart. Most of us know with our minds that the body is merely a temporary form chosen by the soul for a particular life, but so much is the form associated with the life within, that we feel we have lost the soul when the form breaks up at death. So you see we are still very much bound up in the unreal, however much in theory we may be able to distinguish it from the real. But you must not therefore think that the unreal is useless. It is through the unreal that we reach the real, which shows up the more vividly by contrast. The stars are shining on us as much in the daytime as at night, but it is because of the contrast with the darkness of the night that we are able to gaze awestruck at the splendour of the starlit heavens.
The world of matter corresponds to the blackness of night, and the souls of men may be likened to the stars. Living in the world of matter we learn to realise — from its ever-changing forms — that there is something which remains unchanged behind these changing forms. Living in the midst of change, the unreal, we are forced to seek the changeless, the real, and each one of us is gradually learning to [Page 18] understand that every changing mood and feeling is no more the full expression of ourselves than is the child-body the complete expression of the soul within. The child-body grows into the youth-body, and the youth-body becomes the man. Behind each the soul has been pressing to express itself more fully, and so it is with each mood and feeling. The mood passes, another comes, and yet another. And the soul may look back upon those that are past and say: "I was not that mood, for it is dead and I remain". So the object of all the teaching is to discover what is this "I" that ever remains, and how best it may be expressed that the form shall be the perfect mirror of the soul. Even then the form must still be unreal, for all that veils the soul is as a fleeting shadow, but the purer the form the longer it lasts, and even the coarse physical body lasts the longer if its particles are pure. We are told, indeed, that those Masters who use physical bodies may cause one body to last for several hundred years if so They choose, and this shows us that purity is more real than impurity, for our own bodies could never endure so long.
DARKNESS AND LIGHT
The second line: "From darkness lead me to light", is another form for the same idea, as is also the third : "From death lead me to immortality". We may look upon the word "darkness" as symbolising ignorance, while "light" is ever the [Page 19] sign of wisdom, as the sun is the source of all life. I write the word "wisdom" and not " knowledge", for knowledge belongs but to the mind, while wisdom is the science of the spirit. "From death lead me to immortality" — let the lower nature pass away and the higher shine forth for ever.
Much more might, of course, be written in explanation of this beautiful verse, but I must leave any difficult points for elucidation by some elder friend.
WE now come to the Foreword itself, and from the first Alcyone makes it clear that he is merely passing on teaching which has enabled him to knock successfully at the portal giving access to the Temple of Initiation.[I might note here that the actual ceremony of Initiation does take place in a kind of temple, so the simile is true literally as well as symbolically.] "These are not my words; they are the words of the Master who taught me". And then comes what is to me one of the most important sentences in the whole book. "Without Him I could have done nothing; but through His help I have set my feet upon the Path". Many people continually wonder how it is that so many earnest and selfless workers seem to be toiling day after day, year after year, and yet make no apparent progress. Surely X, or Y, or Z, who seem to practise perfectly the teachings given in At the Feet of the Master, are in special touch with some Elder Brother, are pupils of some Master, have become members of the great White Lodge. Now we must face this difficulty frankly. Mere goodness is not enough to win admission to a Master's school, else there were [Page 21] hundreds of thousands of members. Mere knowledge, however deep, is not enough, else all our foremost scientists and scholars were pupils. Not even a combination of goodness and knowledge suffices. What, then, is the standard ? A definite spiritual tone, certainly, and a record, either in this life or in those gone by, of effort devoted to the needs of the world. Also, a certain intellectual level, not necessarily that of a genius, but that of an ordinary well educated man or woman. But beyond this there must be elements of true wisdom, of a true understanding of the purpose of life. It is not for me to presume to suggest a general standard below which a Master would not look for recruits to His school but, so far as I have been taught, there must not only be a realisation of the general plan of the world's government but also an acceptance of the Elder-Brethren as Guides and Teachers. How can anyone enter a school unless he recognises its existence ? How can we expect the Masters to spend Their time in teaching the elementary lessons of life to those who could learn them from elders less evolved than the great Teachers Themselves, but at least sufficiently informed to impart the teaching required ? It is not until we have already learned, during our course of lives, many of the lessons life in the outer world teaches us, that we are qualified to enter the Masters' world — the world of realities — for which ours is as a preparatory school.
Alcyone at once proclaims his fitness for membership of the Master's school by declaring that "without [Page 22] Him I could have done nothing". Many people believe, no doubt, in the Christ, in Sri Krishna, in the Lord Buddha, in the Lord Muhammad; but either they expect some return for their belief, for example, salvation for themselves, or they regard the object of their devotion as a pillar of strength whose principal function is to stand between themselves and the mistakes of their weaknesses. In other words, the belief of most people as regards one or another of these Mighty Brethren is based rather on the longing for personal salvation than on a recognition that where These great Ones are, there we may one day stand if we gradually learn to live our lives as They lived Theirs before reaching the present summits of Their achievements. Some spiritual people are content to live their lives in feeble yet sincere imitation of the example set them by their Lord, asking nothing for themselves and giving to all who need, irrespective of creed or race, and these are drawing near to that formal discipleship which comes to those who strive, without desire for reward, but out of great love, to live as disciples in the outer world. [I think I ought to point out that in using the term “spiritual” as applied to people who are drawing near to discipleship I do not wish to suggest that they are paragons of virtue. The higher ranks of discipleship are only to be won through the constant practice of all the virtues, but the entry to discipleship and the passing through the portal of Initiation may be gained while the candidate is still very far from adequately displaying the perfect life. If you know any among the lower ranks of disciples you will realise that all have many weaknesses, while some may by no means conform to the world’s conventional standards of behaviour. Pure-minded the disciple must be, reverent at heart, loving by nature, tolerant in attitude, and eager in his Master’s service. Having these qualities in a reasonable state of development, there must be some comparatively outstanding power which lifts him above the normal level as regards usefulness to the Master. Perhaps he is a great speaker, a great writer, a great inspirer, a great artist, a great healer — possessing some force which may be employed in drawing people nearer to realities. Then Karma must be favourable, for he must have exhausted all Karma which might considerably hinder the Master from employing him. We should not be very useful if we had to spend much time in paying off our own debts. But the outstanding power may have its own outstanding weakness, and while the disciple is likely to have himself fairly well in hand, you would gain a very false idea of discipleship if you were to imagine that it involved a personality negative rather than positive and, in consequence, a somewhat turbulent disposition. You do not look for perfection in young disciples, but you will certainly see power of one kind or another.] But there must inevitably be much ignorant belief as regards the Great Teachers, however sincere it may be, before Their true place in our lives can become [Page 23] known, and where many people shut themselves off from much inspiration they might otherwise receive, is in imagining that their special Teacher is the only source of truth for all. There is a whole age of growth between the statement that Christ is the only Saviour of the world and the knowledge that there are many Saviours, and until we learn through experience that there are many roads to God, that each human being is travelling along a road as direct as our own, though he may be behind us on his pathway, we shall not have gained the power to help each person on his own road-—an indispensable qualification for admission to a Master's school. Out of goodness we may strive to bring others to our own road, but that is a narrow and ignorant goodness, and a Master's school trains its pupils to serve and honour all faiths, to help each individual to tread his [Page 24] own way according to the plan marked out for him by the God-to-be within him.
THE UPWARD CLIMB
If you understand what I have written, you will realise that once we begin to gain a glimpse of the real principles of evolution and know that others are in front of us on life's pathway, just as many are behind us, we must naturally long for the guidance of those who know more, not that we may know for ourselves alone, but that our power of helping others may increase. Struggling hard to know the truth, giving up all that the world prizes if only truth may shine upon us, we break asunder the bonds of convention, we reject the dogmas in which lies concealed the spirit of the religion to which we happen to belong. Read Mrs. Besant's Autobiography and see how rocky and steep was her pathway to the Masters. At last, clinging only to a passionate determination to serve the world as best she might, giving to it her ignorance if she can find no better offering, she wins her way to her Master's feet. She longs for power and wisdom only that she may use them for others, and when no personal sorrow or despair prevents her from giving all encouragement in her power to those who cry for protection, then at last she shows herself worthy of that true knowledge which may be given only to those who could never use it for themselves alone. Through such battle, you and I, young friends, must pass. Perhaps the struggle will not [Page 25] yet be so hard for us as it was for her, for she is at the end of her pilgrimages to a world from which she has learned all it can teach her, and has in this life for the last time re-lived within the short space of a few years the hardships of man's upward climbing. She has, as it were, recapitulated the lessons learned during many lives in the world school, so that she may stand before the Masters to prove she knows those lessons perfectly. We are still in the world school, and the lessons we learn are adapted to our powers of understanding. But, knowing of Those in front, we are sure that They live but to show us the way to eternal life, and however little we may be able consciously to feel Their guidance, in some dim way at least we know that They are with us, and that without Them we could do nothing. For the time, we may forget Their presence, and then we must still struggle on as did Mrs. Besant, but sooner or later we come to Them, and as a ray of sunlight illumines a dark room, so do we then know that without Them we could have done nothing, that all we have done is because of Them. Do not think, my young friends, that this is dependence upon another, for not only in Their service is perfect freedom, but there is the One Life ensouling us all, and They cannot do without us, reverently be it said, any more than we can do without Them. We are one in spirit; what They are we shall be; what we are They have been; and to the great Shepherd we are all sheep of His world-wide fold.
I have written on this subject at length, for I think it very necessary that you should understand these [Page 26]
important facts, since, rightly understood, they will protect you from much doubt and difficulty when you enter the outside world.
SUCCESS CONSISTS IN REPEATED EFFORT
I should like you to pay special attention to the rest of the Foreword. "It is not enough to say that they [the Master's words] are true and beautiful; a man who wishes to succeed must do exactly what is said". Again: "You must do what He says, attending to every word, taking every hint. . . . He does not speak twice". How many of us are ready to sit at the Master's feet under conditions such as these ? How often we hear Mrs. Besant, or Mr. Leadbeater, or other elders, tell us the same thing over and over again. Do we not often think that our lecturers are constantly repeating themselves, that they continually reiterate the same truths over and over again, until we are almost tired of hearing them ? Such, however, is the task of the disciple in the outer world — to recapitulate over and over again the same truths until at last we begin to live within the truths instead of outside them. The Master could not spare the time to do this, but, because the world must learn, He permits a pupil to take His teachings to the outer world and to win for them an acceptance, overcoming indifference, hostility, ridicule; gaining for them enquiry and finally understanding. On very important occasions a Master has been known to repeat directions which have not been properly carried out, [Page 27] but the circumstances were very exceptional and of vital importance. If, therefore, you desire to become a pupil of one of the Masters, ask yourselves whether, for example, you persevere in trying to make your daily life conform to the wisdom of At the Feet of the Master. This little book ought always to be at hand, so that you may constantly refer to it, and test in the light of its precepts that which for the moment may be occupying you. I may perhaps be allowed to bear personal testimony to the fact that any progress I may have made or any increased power of usefulness I may have acquired has been very largely due to my continual reference to At the Feet of the Master when in difficulty or doubt. The book is a kind of modern commentary on the Ancient Scriptures, and our gratitude goes to Alcyone for enabling us to refer many times to advice which we are not yet enough in earnest to hear direct from the Master's lips. One of the privileges of a disciple, as I have said, is to be able to repeat many times that which his Master will only utter once. But do not forget that you who have this priceless teaching always at hand, are worse off, not more fortunate, than people who have never had it at all, if you do not at least try to follow its advice. It is sad to receive no gift at all, but it is positively harmful to receive a gift from such a source and to treat it with indifference, for the result will be that in a future life you will long in vain for that which you now neglect. You are not asked to accomplish. You are asked to try not to be downcast at failure. [Page 28] The effort to attend to what the Master says may bring you within the circle of His pupils, for above all He asks for earnestness and perseverance. He does not count as failures mistakes from which springs a still stronger determination to succeed.
that the Master's teaching applies everywhere and
to all. It applies as much in the Parliament as
in the home, as much to those whom the world counts
greatest as to the humblest toiler living as an unknown
and uncared for unit in
our midst. The teaching is indeed a counsel of perfection,
but has its teaching and its value at every stage
of the upward climb; and one of the greatest
mistakes we make is to imagine that perfection cannot
be reached, Utopia is not unattainable, for some
have reached it, and if you will try your best
every thought, word and deed according to the Master's
advice, you will find yourselves much nearer your
goal than you ever imagined in your rosiest
dreams. Whatever is of noble purpose in you — ambition, love, hope,
endeavour — will come to you the more certainly for the attention
you pay to the Master's words, and one day you too
will say, with the conviction of experience
behind these words, "without Him I could have done nothing; but through
help I have set my feet upon the Path". [Page 29]
IF you are seriously taking up the study of At The Feet of the Master you will find that much of the Master's advice conflicts with conventional attitudes and opinions, and I have known people doubt the Master's capacity to understand worldly conditions, "being so far removed from the troubles and turmoils amidst which we live". Certain students, for example, who have wished to translate At the Feet of the Master into the language of their country have sometimes desired to omit or modify so-called "inapplicable" suggestions — imagining that their limited knowledge is of greater practical value than the Master's wisdom. For example, the passage: "If you see anyone breaking the law of the country, you should inform the authorities", is thought by some to be in direct opposition to conventional ideas as to loyalty and honour. The Master, it is urged, tells us to betray a comrade if we notice him breaking a law of the country in which we live !
Now I do not wish at this stage of our study to consider the important duty underlying the advice contained in the sentence I have quoted. We will consider it when it comes before us in its regular order. But I think it necessary to point out the great principle underlying the whole of the teaching [Page 30] given us. The Master is emphasising the real, and it is our business to test all that we are, and all that surrounds us, in the light of the reality as presented to us by a Master of Wisdom — One who has, through ages of hard struggle, gained the power at once to discriminate between the real and the unreal.
In taking up the study of this book we are sitting at the feet of One who knows, not of one who only thinks and judges. Take any ordinary ethical book written by the deepest thinker the world has seen, and you will merely be reading the thoughts of someone in the world like yourself, though perhaps of greater ability and deeper intuition. His line of thought need not necessarily be yours, and it is your duty to be respectfully critical though, of course, modestly enquiring. But in At the Feet of the Master, you have the wisdom of One who has learned all the world can teach, who has in the past faced in essence all the troubles and sorrows through which you have passed, are passing, and have yet to pass. He has conquered the world, and not one single difficulty the world can produce could perplex Him for an instant. He has mastered the principles of life, and whether He be living in the world of the 20th century or in that of the 50th or of the 5th, all that surrounds Him is but an aspect of these great principles, an application of the laws they enforce.
He states in very simple language certain of these general principles and does not at all limit His teaching to any particular country or to any special religion. True, he is addressing those who desire [Page 31] admission to a Master's school, but such candidates are people who know more than most others and who are expected to live in stricter honour than the majority. So all the advice He gives must be of a tone infinitely finer than that to which conventional morality vibrates.
What you have to do, therefore, is to try to understand what is the matter with your point of view when it conflicts with the Master's, rather than to think that either the Master is not conversant with the world's affairs or that His teaching does not apply to you and to your country. The Master does not ask you to accept His teaching and to follow it blindly, neither would He recommend you to reject it because it does not fit in with your scheme of life. That which you do not understand, try to understand. That which you cannot understand, leave to the enlightening power of time and of experience. If you reject the truth it will only return to you after infinite wooing, while if you merely leave it for future consideration when opportunity offers, you will find that in the meantime you have been unconsciously growing towards its understanding.
Use the world's conventions while truer attitudes are hidden from you, for the wisdom of the world is the standard for the average man and woman. But when a Master condescends to speak — listen. Come to no hasty conclusions in your eagerness to follow His precepts, for while He seeks to shatter outworn superstitions He will not undermine beliefs still necessary for the world's growth. Think over [Page 32] carefully what He says and try to understand its application to ordinary, everyday life, remembering that in far-off Shigatse He knows infinitely more of the world than our greatest statesman, our wisest philosopher, our most beneficent philanthropist, our cleverest man of business.
When you doubt — reflect; where you would oppose — suspend judgment; but when you realise — follow unflinchingly, however much convention may be against you, provided you are willing to take courage into your own hands, asking help from none, acting gently and tolerantly towards all. [Page 33]
THE QUALIFICATIONS FOR DISCIPLESHIP
WE must now consider the qualifications to be practised if we would gain that special power of service which is conferred upon all who are admitted to the great White Brotherhood — through passing the first of the great Initiations. I might just remark here that the Mysteries of Greece and Rome, of which you will find much written in ancient books, as well as modern Freemasonry, are faint imitations of the real ceremony itself and of the tests which the candidate undergoes. The Ancient Mysteries, especially in their purer form, did indeed demand from their votaries very definite qualifications not unlike those with which we are about to deal. Freemasonry in modern times has so little spiritual life that one can only honour it for its far-off origin and for its charity; but even Freemasonry admits to membership those alone who are deemed to be of unblemished reputation. And in the insistence everywhere on qualifications, in the existence of a ceremonial, and in the conferment of certain powers, you have the endeavour on the part of men to remember that there are real ceremonies, to which real powers are attached, through which entry is sought into a Brotherhood which is the nucleus on [Page 34] the spiritual plane of a brotherhood which some day shall exist in the outer world.
THE FOUR PRINCIPLES OF LIFE
The Qualifications as given by the Master are: (1) Discrimination, (2) Desirelessness, (3) Good Conduct, and (4) Love; and He adopts here the Eastern classification, probably because it would specially appeal to the understanding of His Indian pupil. Remember that in each religion mention is made of the great Path on which the successive Initiations are stages, and in each religion may be found enumerated the qualifications which alone will enable men to tread it. In Esoteric Christianity Mrs. Besant has traced for us the Christian terminology for the various Initiations and for the qualifications leading thereto, and I recommend you to read what she has to tell us on this subject. Similarly, other religions yield identical information, but we will adopt the Hindu classification as given by the Master, partly because it is so clear that we can easily understand it, no matter to what religion we belong, and partly because its' practical value has been demonstrated by the fact that others have followed Alcyone through the Portal, basing their endeavours on the counsel they have received from At the Feet of the Master. Do not think, therefore, that you are studying something of no practical application. The precepts of this little book have been brought down into practice in everyday life in the present day by comparatively ordinary [Page 35] people, and they have found their way to the Path. Remember, again, that perfection in the practice of these precepts may only be obtained by one who has passed that great Initiation which confers on Him the rank of Masterhood.
You are trying but to enter the Courtyard of the Temple itself — the Master's school; so it would be foolish to expect to accomplish now that which can only come after many lives. Keep on trying, and remember that an achievement far, far short of perfection will bring you to your Master's feet. When Mrs. Besant says in the Preface that we must live the teaching, I think she means we must take it seriously and concentrate ourselves on it. All our living is imperfect, but the more we are in earnest the less imperfect it becomes. Many people write to Alcyone telling him what beautiful teaching He has given to the world, but all the use most people make of it is to wish that others would pay more attention to it than they do. Living according to a certain standard, we are not easily shaken out of it, and when valuable advice is put before us we imagine that we are already doing our best to follow it. More vigorous effort is expected from you, my dear young friends, and you should try to realise that you have been given a higher standard towards which to strive, and that you have accordingly to revise your ideas, attitudes and actions in the clear light which has come to you. Be positive in your study of the book, and follow Alcyone's own method of "living" his Master's teaching by taking the [Page 36] various points one by one and practising them for definite periods of time.
The first two or three pages of the book itself are occupied in laying stress on the importance of the distinction between people who have real knowledge and those who have not. Some of you may wonder why the Master should have insisted upon so very obvious a fact. Of course " there are only two kinds of people, those who know and those who do not know". It is a simple matter of logic. As a matter of fact, however, this obvious truth is by no means generally applied, even by those who ought to know it, and unless you begin to apply it in your relations with the outside world you will not make much progress towards the Path on which you desire to set your feet.
The people who know have the power of discrimination. What is this discrimination ? The knowledge which enables a man to distinguish between that which is fleeting, impermanent, and that which lasts, is eternal. "Men who do not know work to gain wealth and power, but these are at most for one life only, .and therefore unreal", says the Master. And later on He amplifies this definition by stating that "discrimination must ... be made between the right and the wrong, the important and the unimportant, the useful and the useless, the true and the false, the selfish and the unselfish". So you see that [Page 37] this quality of discrimination enters into the ordinary life of each one of us.
Do not think that the Master is blaming those who do not know. Ignorance is not a crime, it is an episode of growth; and you yourself become one of those who do not know when you are impatient with ignorance. But while you do not blame, nor even pity, you must at least be able to distinguish between that which is ignorance and that which is knowledge, so that you may yourself abstain from error and may help those who know less. All knowledge is relative, and you must bear in mind the Master's words: "However wise you may be already, on this Path you have much to learn". Those who know more than you do are quite patient with the knowledge you have, but which is ignorance compared with their wisdom. They know that the blend of knowledge and ignorance which you possess is the blend appropriate to your stage of evolution, and that you can help efficiently many people who are at a lower level. But however certain you may be of your own infallibility, people wiser than yourself will never allow you to influence them as to their own thoughts and actions, except in special matters on which you have acquired information more accurate than their own. Similarly, you must be careful not to fall into the illusion that because any one speaks with conviction, therefore he is right. You must use your discrimination. Many people are very lazy, and subsist on thoughts which come to them from the outside without caring to exercise their own [Page 38] powers in determining what to accept and what to reject. "Orthodoxy" is one name for this laziness; "custom", "conventionality", are other names. I gather these under the heading "laziness", because you would be lazy were you to allow yourself to follow the smooth and beaten road trodden by the majority of mankind. If the Master speaks of a "Path" it is because it is a "Path" and not a road; because few there be that tread it. On the other hand, while using your discrimination, you will remember that the more limited knowledge of those who do not know may be adequate for the instruction of people less evolved than themselves. For example, the Master tells us that no ceremonies are necessary. Therefore we may do without them. But to some ceremonies may be necessary, and it would be very undiscriminative to think contemptuously of people who find much value in ceremonial, or of priests who inculcate it. Let others grow as suits them, only neither imagine that because "everybody" thinks in one particular way, therefore you must think in that way also, nor be so lazy in thought that because some people are positive that they are right and express themselves emphatically, therefore you allow yourself to be influenced by a nature more positive than your own. Keen and independent thinking is an essential feature in the character of one who would tread the Path, for, however much the Master may help him, in the long run his rock of certainty must be based on the God within himself, and a time comes for students who are treading the Path when all external help seems to fail, [Page 39] and strength must perforce be drawn from within. Let me finally observe that you should not rush to the conclusion that you must forswear completely all that to you is no longer necessary. It may be your duty to take part in ceremonies for the sake of others who still need them. It may be your duty to surround yourself with, many customs, conventionalities and orthodoxies, but only for the sake of others. Your primary duty is service, and you will not be a successful teacher unless you modify your teaching to suit the intelligence of your class. Neither will you be a successful teacher, however, unless your knowledge is far in advance of that of your class, and while you may yourself use crutches to show a lame man how to support himself, you will not therefore use them at other times as well. If you confine yourself within outgrown forms, except in order to help, you are indeed lazy; but there is no laziness on the part of those for whom such forms exist. So, while avoiding laziness yourself, you will remember that others find a temporary salvation in that which to you would be stagnation, and you will minister to their needs by giving them that which will help them best.
THE REAL KNOWLEDGE
Now what is this knowledge, which should mark you off from those who do not know ? I have already told you that it partly consists in being able to distinguish between that which is fleeting and that which endures. Indeed, throughout this little book [Page 40] the Master is continually explaining to us by way of contrast how the real differs from the unreal. For example: "You must discriminate between the selfish and the unselfish", "feel no anger or impatience”, "never allow yourself to feel sad or depressed". Why ? Because if you do feel anger or impatience or depression you are for the time living in something which will pass away, while in the long run serenity and cheerfulness will carry you to your goal. So the answer to my question is partly to be found in the study of these contrasts. But the Master also points out that the really " important thing is .... the knowledge of God's plan for men". All the qualities which you have to acquire are, of course, part of God's plan for men. But the qualities are to be acquired for a purpose. "For God has a plan and that plan is evolution", and the qualities you are slowly building into your nature are intended so to purify it that it may be "in tune with the Infinite", in harmony with the working of God's own nature. The laws of nature are the rules of evolution, the signs of God becoming self-conscious in every spark of His Being, and you must understand these laws so as to be "on God's side, standing for good and resisting evil, working for evolution and not for selfishness". Certain of these laws are already known to the world. We speak of the laws of science, the laws of art, the laws of literature : we know of the law of gravitation and of other laws relating to matter. These you must study sooner or later, if not in this life then in another; for you cannot help [Page 41] perfectly unless you know God's laws for His unfoldment. But we are not concerned with these particular laws at present, for the Master guides us to begin from within rather than from without. First learn something about the laws of the spirit, and the laws of matter are seen to be but their reflection in grosser form. Understand the basis of the spiritual life and you will the more easily familiarise yourselves with the principles of the arts and sciences as at present known. Moreover, the world will give you the latter, while, except perhaps in Hindu philosophy, there is as yet little science of the soul worthy of the name.
THE LAWS OF THE HIGHER LIFE
We younger souls can know but little of these higher laws — "laws of the higher life", as Mrs. Besant has called them — and I cannot, therefore, hope to enumerate even a very few. But the Master gives us several hints as to where to look for them, and His suggestions will help us to gain a general idea of the kind of laws we may expect to find. He says: "All are one, and . . . only what the One wills can really be pleasant for anyone". Here is a law of unity. "All are one". Therefore "only what the One wills can ever be really pleasant for anyone" — the law of a common purpose. We share a common brotherhood and are moving towards a common goal. If your discrimination has led you to this you are on the right road, for, says the Master, [Page 42] "this discrimination is the first step". These two laws of our being give the key to the statement that "those who are on His side know why they are here and what they should do". They are here because the God within them wills to be here, and they know that what they have to do is to combine with others in the effort to reach the common goal. I do not suggest that our knowledge of these two laws is clear and definite. We but dimly sense them, and the object of developing qualifications is that we may gain a clearer understanding. Nevertheless, when we are nearest to our higher natures, nearest to that part of the One which dwells within us, we are sure of these laws, however much we may sometimes "act foolishly and try to invent ways" for ourselves which we think will be pleasant for ourselves.
Now what evidences have we of the working of these two laws ? First, the ever-growing appreciation of the value of brotherhood as conducive to peace and happiness. I need not give examples from the outer world, for you can think of many yourselves. The world is taking slow but unmistakable steps on the road towards the goal of brotherhood, and because life is all the better for these steps we know that the One is willing us to take them. Then again, we know from the statements of philanthropists, mystics, seers, founders of movements intended to spread the spirit of brotherhood, that the moments of real and therefore abiding joy come when they share what they are and have with others. There comes the sense of a larger life, of a freer spirit, when we share with [Page 43] others and when we live for them. The selfish man gains no lasting pleasure from acts of selfishness, though he may doubtless experience temporary thrills at each successful self-seeking. But these thrills are followed by reaction, and the more the selfish man gains the less he is satisfied, until in despair at the impossibility of satisfying his increasing cravings he seeks some other road. The joy of sharing is far different from the fleeting exultation at having gained at another's expense. The joy of sharing has no reaction, is followed by no unhappiness, brings an ever-increasing peace and an ever-growing power of giving more. Unselfishness — that is to say, working for the larger self instead of for the smaller — is its own reward, while selfishness must ever seek outside itself for a reward, which becomes more and more, elusive as time goes on. Are theses facts not evidence of the truth of the statement "that only what the One wills can ever be really pleasant for anyone", since the more we live for an increasing number of others, not only do we grow the happier, but we are thereby expressing more of the One who is in us all ? The more we identify the One with ourselves the happier we become.
SERVICE IS THE HEART OF SACRIFICE
Let us try now to see a little more clearly the nature of that Will which governs the world. We see at once that the Will of the One is a perpetual sacrifice, for our own sacrifices lead us nearer to Him. [Page 44]
Not a sacrifice involving regret, but a joyful sacrifice, though doubtless involving pain, for without the contrast of pain the beauty of the joy would be the less. It is all sacrifice — willing or unwilling. The servant who ministers to the needs of the household, the tradesmen who supply us with food, the officers of government who administer the State, the teacher who teaches and the scholar who learns — all perform daily acts of sacrifice, and the degree of happiness in the sacrifice determines the nearness of the doer to the One whose great sacrifice is in training each one of us — parts of Him — to become self-conscious of His and our divinity. In the East, great stress is laid on sacrifice — and part of the regular daily duty consists in offering sacrifice to the Ancestors, to the Angels (Devas), to the animals, and so forth. Of course, we do not go through life thinking of each act as a sacrifice, for we have acquired the evil habit of imagining that a sacrifice involves denying ourselves some pleasure, and thus many try to avoid sacrifice for fear lest the joy of life be lost, when in fact the true spirit of sacrifice secures to us abiding peace. "We must make some sacrifices for our son's education" — "You must sacrifice something, if you want this or that". A sacrifice only involves the giving up of something lower, never of something higher, and if our servants, our officials, our teachers, our students, our tradesmen, above all ourselves, lived lives in which the dominating purpose was sacrifice — the sacrifice of the lower on the altar of the higher — our work would be far better done, [Page 45] and the world would be a far happier place to live in. There is no trade, no profession, no calling of any kind, no act, however trivial, which does not gain beauty if performed in a true spirit of sacrifice — as an offering to the Lord. This is indeed a difficult task for us all, but we must make a beginning, and the best way is to perform every day a conscious act of sacrifice — an act deliberately performed in the name of, and in homage to, the Great Sacrificer through whose own act of sacrifice we live and move and have our being. The Boy Scouts speak of a "good turn", the Sons and Daughters of the Empire enjoin “a daily act of service" — these are true sacrifices, for service is the heart of sacrifice.
THE HIGHER AND THE LOWER SELF
All sacrifice, if of value, must be ordered sacrifice, and the more we learn of the laws under which it acts the more effective our sacrifice will be. Many volumes might, indeed, be written by a competent authority on the principles of sacrifice, and most fascinating volumes they would be. But within the limits of these talks I must confine myself to one or two special laws of the higher life which it is essential for you to know.
In the first place, your principal duty is to realize that the individual you call "I" is only a portion of that real "I" which is a spark in the flame of God. In other words there is the eternal "I" which sends forth a feeler into this outer world to gain all that the outer world can give. The feeler is not the " I," any [Page 46] more than the root is the whole tree. There is more of you than ensouls your waking consciousness in your physical body, and it is this bigger "you" which guides you to those experiences in which your life is passed. You may call this bigger "you" your higher self if you wish, but do not identify it with the lower vehicles in which it has to live. The higher self desires only the purest form of life, has no leanings in the direction of your weaknesses, is not cast down by your failures, and above all knows on its own plane of existence all that the lower "you" has to learn down here. Many young people think that the higher self ought to have been content with its knowledge. But the sacrifice is not complete until knowledge is everywhere, until divinity is self-conscious in all its parts. God is all-knowing on His own plane, but He desires that His own self-consciousness shall awaken on all the planes of His being so that we — the cells of His Body — becoming awake to the divinity in which we share, may by the very act of awakening become Gods ourselves. First, however, we must master the various grades of matter from the highest, which is hardly matter at all but rather spirit, down to the matter of which our physical bodies are composed, and perhaps lower still.
THE FLOWERING OF OUR DIVINITY
Having mastered them, we may one by one cast them aside, until we live on the highest plane of spiritual existence, on the plane of Divinity, only to come forth when the time approaches for an act of sacrifice like unto that which God Himself is making now. This lies in the infinite future, but it is certain — so certain that even at this stage of our growth we can notice that the God within us, our higher nature, is gradually acquiring mastery over the lower vehicles through which He comes into definite contact with the lower planes. Daily He works, and while self-control takes long to practice, and the instruments do not always function as they should, nevertheless every day sees some advance for each one of us, and there is none so low or so degraded that he is not rising according to the measure of his possibility. I want you, if you will, to remember this overwhelmingly strengthening fact as often as you can — that within you is perfection undeveloped, a bud to become a flower. But the bud is there, and in your worst moments, when you feel that you have failed utterly and, perhaps, irretrievably, the perfection-to-be still remains within you and is the constant source from which fresh effort to lead the higher life must keep on coming, no matter what you do. Immersed in matter as we are, surrounded by the objects of the senses, we become confused, imagine that we are lost within their whirl. But the matter which surrounds us, of which our lower bodies are constituted, and the objects of the senses — whether mental, astral or physical — are themselves only waiting to be controlled. Master them, ray upon them your divinity, and they become powers for use instead of forces to be fought, and of which, perhaps, to be afraid.
THERE IS TIME TO ACHIEVE PERFECTION
I THINK that the truth I have endeavored to express in the preceding talk is of vital importance, for the more we meditate on it the more real it becomes, and we begin to realize that however far off we may be from the successful practice of the qualifications as given in At the Feet of the Master, perfection must some day come, and with it the happiness of perfect service.
Time for accomplishment is, indeed, necessary, but if one law of our being is that there is a divinity within us gradually unfolding into its perfect flower, another law tells us that the unfoldment takes place slowly but surely (I) in accordance with the principle of action and reaction, or cause and effect, (ii) through a continuous series of dippings down into and withdrawal from the matter of the lower planes, in other words — reincarnation. Let us glance at this law of time which, within itself, involves the opportunity as well, since time would be valueless without the possibility of making use of it. Expressing the law in other terms, we might say that the unfoldment of the divinity within us takes place under the coercion of experience — experience which is ever sifting the real [Page 49] from the unreal, the permanent from the temporary. In Christian phraseology we are told that as we sow so shall we reap, Hinduism speaks of Karma, a Theosophist might talk of the law of cause and effect. Put plainly, the law states that, as we think and act so shall we become, and, as time is needed if we are to think and act perfectly, we are continually being immersed in the densest matter of our globes in order by degrees to understand its nature and therefore to become its master. The life you are leading now, the body in which this latest immersion has taken place, are only incidents in a long series of lives, You have had , many lives before, and you have used many bodies before. Between each life you have, as it were, made up your debit and; credit accounts incurred during the lifetime on earth; and then, with an ever-increasing spiritual balance, using this word in its financial sense, you go into physical plane business again, both to pay off old debts and to acquire new ones, and thus to amass an increasing spiritual fortune, as by degrees the new debts become less and less and your wisdom grows more and more. You keep on doing this for hundreds of thousands of years, for millions of years if you take into consideration the sleep-life, the dream-life, and the dawning wakefulness in the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms respectively. God gave you the capital to start with — your spiritual possibilities; and though from time to time your capital may seem to have become very much tied up, it can never be utterly unreachable, [Page 50] since He will temporarily withdraw you from active partnership in the business in which He is engaged if you act so recklessly that you cannot be trusted to manage your (and His) affairs properly. Indeed, you might conceivably be required to make a fresh start, not, perhaps, at the beginning, but some little way back from the place at which you began to grow improvident. This is probably a comparatively rare event, for most of us are developing our capital by slow but sure degrees.
THE TWO LAWS OF THE HIGHER LIFE
The knowledge of the way in which each one of us ultimately attains perfection is of the utmost value and importance, since not only can we never be completely overwhelmed by despair or reduce the power of drawing on our capital almost to the vanishing point through an insensate accumulation of debts, but we are able to give the most strengthening assistance to those who see nothing before them but debts due and only the generosity of the great Creditor — however certain — to depend upon, if even that. And as it is so important to grasp as clearly as we can the essential features of the laws of the higher life, let me recapitulate briefly the truths so far stated. First, the unity of all. If I may be allowed to use the simile of a banking establishment, I would say that the Ruler of our world [I distinguish between the terms “God” and “the Ruler of our world”. By the word “God” I mean the divine principle animating all life everywhere — God the Father. “ The Ruler of our world, "on the other hand, is the official who is at the head of the Great White Lodge, the highest of its members, alone in His rank. Mightier than all others, not a member of our own humanity at all, He is God’s Regent upon this earth. In Hindu scriptures He is mentioned under the name of SANAT KUMARA.] is the [Page 51] supreme Director of a great family spiritual banking concern. He Himself started with capital He had developed through experience in countless previous ages, capital which originally came from God, as does all capital. His function is to enable all the members of His family to develop their capital as He has developed His. He is, as it were, pledged so to arrange His business that sooner or later every member of His family must, even though failure come time after time, eventually develop his capital to its utmost value. Herein lies both the unity and the statement of the second law — the existence of a common goal. Indeed the first law involves the second, for unity would not be complete unless our destinies were common, unless the future involves the same unity as did the past to which we trace our common source. I have called this common destiny perfection, and, using words to express the simile of the banking concern, I might say that the object of the firm is to develop for each of its partners a substantial spiritual capital, so that each partner may, in course of time, set up in business on his own account. Then comes the question: How does each partner reach this level ? The answer is as clear in the spiritual world as it is in the actual business industry on the physical plane. Through experience; in course of time; by setting up in business in a very [Page 52] small way to start with, after going through a certain amount of preliminary training; by accumulating a large number of debts which are not only hard to pay off but take time to pay off too. What was the first stage which I mentioned in the very beginning of this series of talks ? Individualisation —- the passing from the animal to the human kingdom. Before this, the partner was only a sleeping partner. He was learning the rudiments of subjects whose deeper study would come later on. He was hardly in the business at all — a shareholder, truly, but with no more conscious share in the business than has a bank manager's baby an active share in his father's affairs. But the baby grows and become a young boy with a vague idea as to what his father is. The newly individualised man has a vague idea as to the existence of a purpose in life around him, but he cares nothing for it as yet, save as it affects his personal and immediate well-being. But in time comes the second stage — the awakening of conscience. The youth becomes a clerk in his father's firm, begins at the lowest rank, has very little responsibility. By degrees he is entrusted with small portions of his capital on which to experiment, he is sent out into the world to see what he can do with the capital (conscience) of whose existence lie has been hitherto unaware. "I have a conscience, I have the power to distinguish between right and wrong. Hitherto I have shared unthinkingly in the universal conscience of which my own is a part, but now I know that I have a conscience of my own, I must use it and make as much of it as I can, so that [Page 53] it may grow big and strong". So the shareholder, now increasingly conscious of being not only a shareholder to receive dividends but a partner to produce them, goes out into the world — the lower planes — as an active agent and builder of his own fortunes.
Just as a business man goes home, after office hours are over, to rest from the day's labours, to think over what good and what bad business he has done during the day, and to enjoy happiness with those dear to him, so each one of us, after one life is over, rests in other worlds and gathers fresh energy — born of striving in lives gone by — for the life to come, for the new "day" of business on the physical plane. We cannot in one day develop all the capital required. We have to learn how to employ it, what transactions to avoid, what transactions are profitable, and the time taken is the expression of the law of reincarnation. But not only do we need time, we need also experience. We must suffer from the bad transactions and reap happiness from the good ones. Unless we see results, we shall not know how to compare the relative values of various transactions, of whose nature we know for the time being nothing. It is the result far more than the cause that tells us the nature of the cause itself. The law of cause and effect states that as the cause is, so the result will be, but in actual experience we first learn that as the result is, so the cause must have been also. It is only after experiencing many results that we either avoid their cause or set it in motion, according as to [Page 54]
whether it brings happiness or pain. Even then we are temporarily satisfied with causes which produce results whose pleasure-producing power is but very limited. We are, in other words, content with the immediate however fleeting, provided it satisfies for the moment. This is the case with most people, and places them within the ranks of those who do not know. You will remember, however, that there is a third stage — the stage at which the individual definitely pledges himself to a certain line of conduct, at which he shows himself as among those who are at least learning to know, by passing through Initiation into the wider life beyond. He is the partner who, having shown himself capable of wisely managing his capital within comparatively narrow limits, is not only given opportunities of developing it much more rapidly and widely than would normally be possible, but is allowed to share the responsibilities devolving upon the directors of the firm itself, those whose business it is, under the guidance of the Ruler, to help the junior partners to gain the necessary experience. A young director, truly, but none the less a director, though there are those above him with still greater responsibilities upon their shoulders— those who belong to the ranks of the higher Initiates.
THE ROAD OF EVOLUTION
In this way are the various stages passed, and the individual gradually learns how to develop his spiritual capital so as one day, in the far-off distant [Page 55] future, to become the head of a firm himself, a Ruler in a universe. We already know that the one class of transactions which is profitable, using this word in its best sense, is the class involving the service which is the heart of sacrifice, God is the great Sacrificer, for, instead of living on His capital, He not only shares it among us all, but trains us, through the Ruler of our world, to develop our capital to the utmost. Without irreverence may I say that even our mighty Ruler Himself is the greater for the sacrifice He makes in guiding our evolution, and grows at His exalted level into still further spiritual splendour. When we reach the level at which He made the great and supreme Sacrifice of remaining to toil when He might have passed on to enjoy, at which the development of our spiritual capital has been such as to enable us to make this stupendous outlay, we too shall make the sacrifice and win its reward. To do so, we must pass through all the intervening sacrifices step by step, the less leading to the greater; and only as we serve and sacrifice in proportion to the capital we have, can we hope to develop the capital and so increase the service. The art of service — should I not rather call it the "science" — is not, however, to be learnt in a day, or within the brief space of one lifetime. First comes the service of the smaller self. The whole tendency in modern times, as far as the West is concerned, and increasingly so in the East, has been to force the individual to emphasise himself. He has been learning through competition of all kinds, through strife, through the [Page 56] dictates of personal ambition, to consider his own welfare and that, perhaps, of those immediately dependent upon him. Personal wealth, personal power, personal influence, personal ability — all have been pursued, and the futility of all, save as used for wider service is the lesson learned. Often at the close of a life devoted to such pursuits, a man has at last seen how little true happiness they have given him through life, and hurriedly he strives to tread the other path by lavishing his gains upon a world from which erstwhile he took them. If there were no other lives, the act would be too late, for you cannot atone in a year for a lifetime of selfishness. But the future is before him, and perhaps the lesson has so been learned that in the period of rest between that life and the next he will have had the leisure (and the clearer vision the inner planes allow) to decide upon a life less circumscribed than that which he devoted to the interests of his own small self. Payment will indeed be exacted for all harm done, the debts on the mistaken transactions must be paid in full, but not only has he time in which to pay them, but also time and opportunity in which to plan fresh schemes to harmonise with the wider vision he has gained. [ Compare the growth of the soul to a house with a large number of windows and doors, most of which are closed. Outside, the sun is shining, but into one or two rooms only do the rays at first enter. Gradually, the occupier of the house — the soul — begins to appreciate the life-giving warmth from the sun, though he still lives partly in the darkness and imagines it to be all he needs. But when he goes into the rooms whose windows and doors he has opened to the sunlight, the contrast between the darkness and the light begins to strike him. Going back into the darkness, he remembers the light and looks for the windows and doors so that he may open them too. Room after room is brightened, until the house is hardly a house at all — only a number of walls between the doors and windows — and serves but the purpose of concentrating the sunlight within its limits. The house is the lower part of man — his mental, emotional and physical bodies. Each room is a power or faculty, and the owner of the house is the higher self — the ego, the soul. The darker the house, the greater the unhealthiness, the greater the dirt, the greater the sordidness. But the Masters’ “houses” are merely passage ways for the sunlight, and Their bodies are but lenses — to use another simile — from which the rays of life spread outward with concentrated intensity. Think this over and follow its symbolism if such be your temperament.] [Page 57]
Much more might be written on these great and dominant truths. Many other laws might have been mentioned, and innumerable are the ways of their application. But I can only hope that you will think over these things and fill in for yourselves the gaps I have been forced to leave unfilled. In At the Feet of the Master we are taught to discriminate between transactions which are profitable and those which are not. We are shown, as it were, how to invest our capital so that it may multiply. Invest in a kind thought, feeling, word or action, and much will come to you in return — above all, an increased power to think, feel, speak and act kindly. Invest in selfishness, and your capital — your power — diminishes. As your capital diminishes — perhaps it would be more accurate to say is increasingly neglected" —.your own happiness, as well as that of others, proportionately diminishes, until you become so barren of happiness that in despair you seek another road than that of selfishness. [Page 58]
The whole question as to the purpose of the world, as to the existence of God, as to the origin of being, is most intricate, and a fruitful source of mental confusion. A young friend of my acquaintance, hearing that God made the world, wanted to know who made God, and his question was most reasonable. On the other hand it would be better policy on the part of parents and elders to realize that they cannot expect to be able to answer every question put to them by children; it would be more honest, too. Personally I take the position that as an insignificant unit in this complex world I can only hope to understand a very limited portion of God's plan for men. All that I can hope to acquire is a comparatively imperfect working hypothesis adequate to my temperament and destiny, and though the hypothesis may be illuminative to others, they must nevertheless think out their own hypotheses for themselves — building in such features in the hypotheses of others as may harmonise with the general plan of their structure. The keystone of my hypothesis centres round the fact that there is sorrow and unhappiness in the world, and that while I may bring a certain amount of physical and emotional consolation and strength to those who are susceptible to my influence, I must also bring mental consolation and [Page 59] strength — first by trying to understand the purpose of existence myself and then by applying such understanding as I may have acquired to the helping of my fellow-creatures, both practically and in striving to assist them, too, to see more clearly the splendour of their future, however it may be hidden by the intervening clouds of ignorance and discouragement.
Let me just restate in other language the ideas that help me in establishing my hypothesis.
A God-Soul — conscious of Himself as Divine — lives only on the plane of pure divinity, is limited by no matter grosser than that of the plane or level on which He lives. In the infinite past He has been as we ourselves are now, a spark heating itself into flame through the friction of matter in all its forms and densities. Now a Flame, He showers out sparks — potential flames — and encloses them in layer after layer of denser and denser matter — itself the substance of which the flame is made. In course of time the spark burns through the layers one by one and in the process — we call it experience — gains increasing brilliance, at last bursting into a glorious Flame. A spark from a fire may, appropriately placed, become itself a fire similar to the one from which it came. The fanning of the spark is accomplished through the laws of nature, by means of karma, reincarnation, and all the innumerable actions, and reactions, connected with the world outside us, which we undergo incessantly. The very matter in which we are embedded is itself so growing that out of it shall come sparks, similar to those which are ourselves. The difference between [Page 60] the matter around me, the trees, the sea, the animals, the minerals, is that within me is concentrated sufficient of God's divine heat to make a spark capable of expansion into a separate flame, while the divinity ensouling the trees and the animals and the minerals is spread over a wider area, has not been narrowed down and focused to a point. A number of animals, a larger number of trees, a still greater mass of metals, share the heat of divinity between them, and ages must pass before any individual form shall, through the experiences of its class, have concentrated within itself such heat as may burst into a spark; and metals must enter the vegetable kingdom for further subdivision and thence pass to the animal kingdom for further subdivision still, until the human kingdom is reached, in which each unit is in itself a spark.
To reach God, therefore, we must become Gods ourselves, and no greater reverence can be offered Him, no more convincing testimony to His omniscience and omnipotence, than to ascribe to Him the will of making each one of us perfections in His own image. For He can do no more than make us as Himself. I might write much more on this, even that which I have set down itself bristles with difficulties and doubts and possibilities, but perhaps if my readers think it over they may find themselves started on a line of thought which may bring order into a world of apparent chaos and purposelessness.
THE LIVING OF THE LIFE
THE Master proceeds to point out " that of the real and the unreal there are many varieties and He has previously mentioned one variety when He observed that "it does not matter in the least whether [a man] calls himself a Hindu or a Buddhist, a Christian or a Muhammadan, whether he is an Indian or an Englishman, a Chinaman or a Russian". For " if he is on God's side he is one of us". Now you must not conclude from this statement that religion does not matter, has very little value; although we are told further on that ceremonies do not matter for those who are at a certain stage of growth. Religion matters considerably, but truth matters infinitely more, and those who know — while using some special form of the truth as displayed in a particular religion — seek the truth within the form, and know that God — who is Truth Incarnate — manifests Himself in many ways. In reality, a special form of religion is of the utmost value to those who do not yet know that all religions spring from one source— the great Head of the world's teaching department, who is even now waiting for the world to be ready to receive Him once more. Religion makes truth [Page 62] tangible to those who have still to realize that there are many roads to the One, on each of which He welcomes His devotee — to quote a Hindu scripture. Most people need rules of life to be imposed from without before they learn to evolve them from within, and great Teachers come from time to time either to frame special rules for the special circumstances under which a race is being trained, or to modify the old rules in the light of progress made. Christianity was given to the western world as a statement of the special set of ideals towards which it was to work its way. Hinduism strikes an entirely different note, but one none the less needed for the fulfilment of the universal harmony. Unfortunately, people tend to imagine not only that their own rules express the whole of the truth for all the world, but that they are appointed by God to declare the valuelessness of all other rules and to induce the followers of these to come into the true and only fold. Obviously this is a case of pride, self-righteousness. In the days of the Inquisition violent means were employed to force those who gripped another form of truth either to recant or to be destroyed. In modern times we have the missionary movements to the so-called "heathen" — admirable in their purely medical and educational work, and when directed towards aboriginal tribes, but marred by an intolerable egoism and self-complacency which imagines that God has made them His elect. If missionaries would continue to do all they are now doing along secular lines and were to combine this with an enquiring reverence for the [Page 63] religion in the midst of which their work has placed them, they would be among those who know instead of among 'the ignorant who say: "What I believe is true, what I do not believe is false".
ALL RELIGIONS HAVE ONE SOURCE
We learn from the Master's statement that the form of religion into which a man is born does not matter. In other words, we are born into a special religion either because its peculiar influences are needed for the development of our natures or to learn to break through its binding form without losing reverence for the ennobling truth. Most Christians, for example, are best advised to follow the general principles of their own religion, without, however, paying more attention to form than is helpful. Christian rites and ceremonies will probably be valuable to them, but they should gradually, through the practice of the form, find their way to the spirit within, so that ultimately the form drops away because its work is done. Look around you, at people, at animals, at trees, at flowers, at the sea in its various moods, at the towering rocks. The divine spirit is indeed pervading all, but it is the form which leads you to seek the occupier within, and small wonder that for the time the form suffices. You know that God is within the form, but God and the form are so much one to you that you cling to the form you can touch and feel, and you take God for granted. So it is with religious ceremonies — they [Page 64] appeal to the senses, and their inner significance is so much taken for granted that in course of time it becomes ignored altogether, perhaps even lost to outer view. Sooner or later, however, God can no longer be taken for granted, and it is time to begin learning the lesson that forms are but temporary sparks thrown out by God to draw attention to His nature. Play with the sparks and learn to love them —that is inevitable, for even the sparks are part of God. But sooner or later the sparks will flicker and vanish and new sparks will be showered forth, new forms will take the place of old; and in the hopelessness of clinging to forms which must inevitably die is born the desire to find something which endures behind all passing manifestations. Then do we begin to realize that the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Christian the Muhammadan, are all living within their respective portions of the truth. They are like people living in different rooms within the same house. Some are proud of their own rooms and do not know that there are other rooms as beautiful as theirs. Seeing people in other rooms, they say to them: "Come into my room. It is so much more beautiful than yours. Your room is bare and ill-furnished. See how much more habitable my room is !" And the answer is: "My room suits me. I am used to it. It is furnished in the manner most helpful to the work I have to do. It contains conveniences which yours lacks, just as yours contains conveniences for you which mine lacks". We all live in the same house. Until we can move from room to room uncritically, [Page 65] and in reverent appreciation of the arrangements of the rooms of others, each had better keep to his own room. But the time comes when it is no longer pleasant to live in one room only, and the true inhabitant of the house is he who makes himself equally at home and appreciative in all the rooms to the delight of their respective occupants, though no doubt preferring the room which is specially his own.
RACES ARE CLASSES IN GOD'S SCHOOL
Similarly, it does not matter to what race a man or woman belongs— " whether he is an Indian or an Englishman, a Chinaman or a Russian". Each race has its work to do, as has each religion, and those who know are not only without race-prejudice, able to appreciate the qualities in all races, but are thankful to help in any land to which the Master's service calls them. Respecting the customs and beliefs of those among whom their work for the time being finds them, they seek to discover the purpose for which the race exists and strive to forward this to the utmost of their power. Each race has its own note to sound in the universal harmony, as has each religion, and if we dislike a religion or a race it is probable that we shall have one day to be born within their ranks to overcome our ignorance as to the part they play in the growth of us all.
We then come to a variety of general principles on which certain kinds of discrimination are based — discrimination "between the right and the wrong, [Page 66] the important and the unimportant, the useful and the useless, the true and the false, the selfish and the unselfish".
THE MASTERS AND OURSELVES
"Between right and wrong", says the Master, "it should not be difficult to choose, for those who wish to follow the Master have already decided to take the right at all costs". Here is a great truth put in a somewhat peculiar way. Probably you wonder whether the Master was speaking of Himself. Personally, I imagine He was speaking of Those greater even than Himself, Alcyon translating the Master's thought about His own superiors into terms expressing his own relationship to the Master. The point is unimportant; but we do learn the very significant fact that the individual who seeks a Master of the Wisdom to be his guide has made the great decision which separates him from those who do not know. Truth is, indeed, our ultimate goal; but sooner or later we must inevitably unite with Those who are nearer the goal than ourselves. You will find people at various intermediate stages, and it is well to bear in mind what some of these stages are. Some people, for example, are devoted to abstract ideals, and do not for the time feel the need of a Master's guidance. Others, engaged in work involving the utmost self-sacrifice, do not in their lower bodies know of the existence of Masters and even, perhaps, deny Their existence. Some, again, desire to follow a Master [Page 67] but do not know whom to follow. Remember that whatever the attitude of anyone may be to the Masters, the Masters Themselves know each and every one of us and guide us to our destiny along the road we have chosen to tread. How could it be otherwise ? In what family, worthy of the name, does not the father, the mother, the elder brother or sister, love, protect and guide the younger members ? The purer the love, the more perfect the guidance; and in the world-family the Perfect Men — our Elder Brethren — give perfect guidance. People may wish to reject the help or rebel against an apparent interference; but they can no more avoid the Masters' care than they can escape from the unity which binds us all in one; while the Masters know full well that no man can grow into perfection save through perfect freedom. But the very brotherhood of all mankind makes Them one with us, and the guidance They give us is the outward symbol of the unity we share. If unity is a restriction on freedom, then indeed we are not free; but unity gives power to freedom and is the living witness of our divinity.
Each individual is for the time satisfied with his ideals, and people will often tell you that the idea of discipleship to a Master does not help them, or that their temperament precludes any idea of dependence or reliance on aught save the God within. If they are content, it is not your task to attempt to disturb them. They are learning the lessons their stage teaches, and, when they have really found the God within they will awaken to the fact that they cannot dissociate [Page 68] themselves from other parts of the one great whole. Then they will know the Masters as Elder Brethren and will realize that just as they themselves owe guidance to those more ignorant, so must the Masters give to them the help that greater wisdom ever owes to less. The God within is conscious of the guidance, and it matters not for the time that the lower self remains unconscious or denies. The babe sleeps safely in its mother's arms; the youth, growing into self-consciousness, seeks to gauge his power by standing alone; the man, knowing his power and limitations, begins to appreciate his mother's brooding tenderness and reverences her now as perhaps he has never done before. Looking back over his life he sees the part she played in guiding him through the troubles of the world, and he notices how in times of apparently greatest freedom her watchfulness and care were none the less active, though unrecognised and unnoticed. As with the mother, imperfectly, so with the Master perfectly, and we have all to pass through the stages from babyhood to manhood. Like little children we must learn to think we walk alone, but the happiest walks are in reality those in which we may gaze at loved Elders in front, with our friends at our side, and those younger in knowledge than ourselves treading in places made smooth by our footsteps.
"THE BODY AND THE MAN ARE TWO"
We now come to the Master's lucid summing up of the conflict through which we all must go. "The [Page 69] body and the man are two, and the man's will is not always what the body wishes". Remember that "those who wish to follow the Master have already decided to take the right at all costs". At all costs. But this decision is taken by the highest in us, and while the lower bodies are influenced by the decision, they do not always want to carry it out within their respective spheres. "At all costs" means, therefore, at whatever cost to the bodies in which the highest in us is gaining control over matter of various densities. That which is highest in us cannot help taking the decision, the decision belongs to its very essence, but ages have had to pass before the lower bodies can be taught to respond to their master's wishes, just as it takes a long time to train an animal perfectly. So the efficacy of the decision only begins when, after ages of slow evolution, the God-to-be within us at last begins to receive a conscious response from its lower nature. The response must for a long time, however, be of a very intermittent nature, for the two poles have not as yet been adjusted to produce a constant spark. So the Master explains to us various ways in which these lower bodies refrain from responding as they should. He warns us: "When your body wishes something, stop and think whether you really wish it. For you are God, and you will only what God wills; but you must dig deep down into yourself to find the God within you, and listen to His voice, which is your voice". In explanation of this He reminds us that we must not mistake our bodies for our real selves — "neither the physical body, nor [Page 70] the astral, nor the mental". "Each one of them will pretend to be the Self, in order to gain what it wants. But you must know them all, and know yourself as their master".
The difficulty consists in knowing at the moment. After some time we can look back upon the various ways in which our lower bodies have pretended to be the Self, and we say: "How stupid I was", or "what a fuss I made over nothing", or "I thought there was nothing else but that at the time." But why should these bodies pretend to be the Self ? Because it is to their interest to make evolution as slow as possible. In them the life and the form seem bound up together so that if the form perishes the life appears to have no further value or even existence. Form is their world — the world of the physical, astral, and mental bodies — and any process which tends to do away with form is an attack upon their world's existence. Think how many people there are who still believe that with death comes annihilation. Does the God within think this ? The God within knows Himself eternal, and yet the vehicles down here "pretend" that the destruction of the vehicle means the destruction of the life. It is not true, but in his lower bodies the man knows no better. The bodies are anxious, therefore, to preserve themselves for as long a period as possible, and imagine that their preservation depends upon self-seeking rather than upon self-sacrifice.
Much of the competition in modern life, much of the oppression of the weak by the strong, of the poor by the rich, of animals by mankind, has its [Page 71] origin in the very successful pretence on the part of our lower bodies to be the Self. Indeed we are all living more or less under the shadow of this pretence, for much that is luxurious in 20th century civilisation is produced by the inevitable selfishness of our lower selves. The vivisector maintains, for example, that we are justified in experimenting on animals so as to increase our own power to resist disease and thus to prolong the life of the lower bodies. I am not one to condemn the vivisector — he expresses a pretence of the lower self; and we all are victims of its cunning in one way or another. Again, we consider ourselves entitled to kill animals for food; and most of us would not hesitate to eat meat, even supposing that we have hitherto been vegetarians, if we were assured by our doctor that we had to choose between eating meat and dying. But let me for a moment disclose to you the attitude of one who no longer yields to the snare. Mrs. Besant has often told me that she would rather die than eat meat, partly as a matter of principle and partly because the introduction of coarse meat particles would hinder some of her special work. Such a declaration is no heroic outburst, it is simply the statement that while the body must be properly looked after, it cannot expect to be humoured at every turn. If it says : "Since you don't give me meat I shall die", the answer must be: "My friend, you are not my only hope. I can get another body, and though it is my duty to keep you alive as long as possible, I cannot preserve you at the expense of [Page 72] work I have determined to do. Therefore you must go". Whether any particular individual has the duty of disciplining his bodies as Mrs. Besant does hers, whether under all circumstances we must never give way to them, is not for me to say. Each person must judge his own duty for himself. Let the body have its pleasures and amusements as well as its discipline and its exercises, but see that it does not try to draw its master away from that which is the link between him and God — his principles of life. You must know your bodies "and know yourself as their master".
THE OBJECTS OF THE SENSES
I think I ought to lay stress on the fact, that we are not told to shun the objects of the senses — all that makes our physical, our emotional, our mental worlds. To possess beautiful objects and to desire them, to submit to the influence of an uplifting emotion and to seek it, to take pleasure in the things of the intellect and to strive for knowledge — all this is not only useful but essential to our growth. We have in these three lower worlds to become familiar with the objects of the senses, but we must not identify ourselves with them if we wish to qualify for admission to a Master's school. People at a certain stage of evolution do identify themselves with the world in which they live, are its slaves; were they not they could not be ready for the further stage of being its masters. Unless they have [Page 73] experienced its clutch they will be unable to sympathise usefully with those who still remain victims of their bodies pretence. But you and I must hope we have passed the earlier stage, though the young will doubtless recapitulate it as they once again grow accustomed in their new bodies to a world full of objects of the senses new since last they visited it. We must know what the objects of the senses are, with what thoughts and feelings and objects the mental, astral and physical worlds are respectively filled. And this is the true basis of the "pretence" of the various bodies concerned. The Self is indeed in each of these bodies, and so far each body may rightly claim that it is animated by a portion of the Self. To this extent in each of these bodies we must seek the objects of the senses, for in such seeking lies our growth. Unfortunately, the bodies take themselves too seriously, imagine they are indispensable, ignore the law of reincarnation which dismisses that pretence at once, and then claim that they are the Self. “I am angry", "I am jealous", "I believe this; I disbelieve that", "I am fond of such and such amusements", "I enjoy food, or special kinds of food" — these are a few of the many statements our bodies are making day after day. The real Self is never angry; the real Self is never jealous; the real Self knows; the real Self tolerates amusements but could hardly be said to be fond of them; the real Self looks upon food as a means to preserve the physical body so long as the body is needed, and cares for the purity of the food and not [Page 74] for its power of exciting the astral vehicle. Use these conventional phrases if you will, but see to it that you are able to distinguish all the time between your Self and its bodies. At least know in theory that the real "you" is not at the mercy of the objects of the senses, and you will have begun to be their master in reality. At least know in theory that the real "you" is never angry, arid you have begun to lay the foundations of a calm that can never be ruffled.
How to begin ? " When your body wishes something,, stop and think whether you really wish it." A very hard task to be continually stopping and thinking all day long. But Mrs, Besant told her hearers on the day when she first began a series of talks on At the Feet of the Master — November 27th, 1910 — that however irksome the task, it had to be faced. It is part of the preparation, she said, and only those achieve who do not get tired of trying. It means no hasty speech, no hasty action, no hasty thinking even: all must be under control. Do not feel appalled at the prospect, young friends. To gain the immense privilege of membership of a Master's school we must expect to work hard, and if you will but try you are bound to succeed. By stopping even only one hasty word, or thought or action during the week you are far nearer to your Master than those who are content to say: "I wish I could do all this, but I can't, so it is useless to try". The Master acknowledges effort; He knows us too well to expect success. [Page 75]
THE WORD "PRETEND"
word "pretend" as used by the Master in the phrase "each one of them, [the physical, astral and mental bodies] will pretend
to be the Self", seems to
suggest a deception on the part of the lower bodies,
something of an underhand nature, against which
we ought to be on our guard. I think the word was
deliberately used to emphasise the fact that the
pupil to whom the teachings
were being given was expected to live in his higher
self rather than to allow himself to be at the
mercy of his lower bodies. The desires of the physical,
and mental bodies had to be labelled as unreal with
respect to one who was learning to live from above,
and to whom the lower bodies were but as
instruments in the service of an awakened higher
consciousness. The Alcyone of the inner worlds
would fully know how to distinguish between their
the fleeting circumstances of the worlds without.
But in each outgoing into denser matter — through the mental to the physical — the higher self must needs undergo
a limitation, so that its powers will be correspondingly
weakened. In addition, while the soul of Alcyone
was old, its new bodies were young and untrained.
These two circumstances, I think, caused the choice
of the word "pretend", so
that in the lower worlds Alcyone might remember that
however real their objects might temporarily seem,
however much his bodies, still young, might long
them, yet their reality was but a pretence compared
with the realities of the Masters' world. [Page 76]
From a certain standpoint, there can be no pretence in that which God has created. Nothing is without its value in evolution, and even the most fleeting of the objects of the senses has its part to play in helping us to grow. At every stage of our growth objects of the senses surround us, and, according to our stage we ignore some, reject others, long for these, are repelled by those. We grow by experiencing objects of the senses, thus learning to reach the realities of which they are the shadows in this world of ours. Until we know the realities, as I have already said, their shadows must suffice. And the shadow's pretence to be the reality is not an unreasonable one, for after all it is a shadow of a reality and depends for its existence on the reality it represents. But you and I ought, at least so far as regards most objects of the senses in the lower worlds, to have reached the realities of which they are the expressions, and still to accept the shadow as the reality would be a pretence, an imagination, since the reality is known apart. We — in our bodies — would be pretending, and to make our position clear the Master dissociates us from our bodies and explains that only in a lower body could we imagine the part to be the whole. [Page 77]
TRAINING THE BODY
THE next few pages of At the Feet of the Master contain commentaries on the central fact that "the body is your animal — the horse upon which you ride". It may be the physical body, or the astral body, or the body in which lives the mind — all are your animals, and a very hard team to drive they are too ! The Master makes this perfectly clear in the common everyday instances in which the animals refuse to be ridden and throw their rider. "When there is work that must be done, the physical body wants to rest, to go out walking, to eat and drink; and the man who does not know says to himself: 'I want to do these things and I must do them', But the man who knows says: This that wants is not I, and it must wait awhile'. "You shall not hinder me in doing good work", says the rider to the particular steed he is specially using at the time or to the particular steed which for the moment is inclined to be restive. Now you will find that many excellent people think it their duty to drive their bodies all they possibly can. Monks and nuns who inflict self-torture upon themselves, so-called ascetics in India who hope to obtain liberation by making the body do [Page 78] that for which it is not intended — these are examples of such people. Many people in our own country think it wrong to do various really harmless actions, so that they may have the morbid, unnatural satisfaction of mortifying or starving the lower bodies that the higher may shine through more clearly because of their emaciation and weakness. The higher self asks for beauty and not for ugliness, asks for joyousness and not for gloom, asks for a well-nourished, contented instrument and not for a half-starved body beaten into submission instead of evolved into co-operation.
As the Master says: "You must treat it well, and take good care of it; you must not overwork it, you must feed it properly on pure food and drink only, and keep it strictly clean always, even from the minutest speck of dirt. For without a perfectly clean and healthy body you cannot do the arduous work of preparation, you cannot bear its ceaseless strain". We who are learning to fit ourselves for admission to a Master's school must bear these points in mind all the time. Notice that the Master nowhere condemns healthy and harmless amusements, provided, of course, that they neither injure you nor cause injury to those connected with their production. But your lower bodies must not be allowed to indulge in such pleasures at the expense of doing good work. Periodical amusements, even those which have no specially beneficent effect — are amusements pure and simple, help, I think, to keep our lower bodies in fit condition; but we must be [Page 79] careful not to lose sight of the goal before us, lest by indulging our bodies too freely we wake some day to find that we have become their slaves instead of being their masters. "But it must always be you who control that body, not it that controls you".
"You must not overwork it", says the Master. For active temperaments this seems a somewhat hard injunction. There come times of special stress, we think, when the physical body ought not to be spared in any way. Perhaps in rare instances this may be true, especially if you have to choose between sparing your body and standing firm to your principles. But most of us are not confronted by such a situation, and it may be safely taken for granted that whenever we overwork — whatever the cause — we are doing injury to ourselves and to others as well. Over-exercise, over-study, over-eating, over-sleeping, denying the body that which it needs for perfect health — all these are forbidden because they hinder your utility in the Master's service. Especially while you are young, the body, so glad to be in existence, tends to conceal from you the mischief you may be doing. You feel quite well, even though your elders tell you that the body is being over-strained, and it is not until later that the body is forced into the confession that having at the time insufficient force to meet your demands it drew upon the future, and now there is barely enough force left to keep it alive. Nothing is [Page 80] more important than to know our limitations, for, knowing them, we not only realize where the points of strain are, but we learn how to replace with strength weaknesses which in later years may give us much trouble. Apart from the obvious absurdity of competitive examinations as indications of real worth, see how much wear and tear they cause to the body, especially to the brain, and remember that though the few may be able to stand the drain on their physical resources, most of those who have taken part in competitions have definitely lowered their vitality, if they have not impaired it altogether. So it is with many features of modern life, and you must make up your minds whether you are going to fit yourselves for the world's appreciation or for the Master's.
Note that I write "appreciation", and not "service". The world is always best served by those who make themselves fit instruments for the Master's work, and though the world may ignore them, it is better for their unrecognised efforts than for the work of most of those who stand high in worldly favour. But I freely admit that young people are encouraged by the approval of those whose opinions weigh with them, and it is natural that they should find in the world an infinite number of fleeting satisfactions. Still, the glamour of the external must never be allowed to blind us to the fact that the only appreciation worth having comes from the Master, and that the approval of the world often encourages us along wrong lines. By all means enjoy life, provided [Page 81] that no one suffers through your enjoyment and that you do not allow the enjoyments of the lower bodies to interfere with the real enjoyments, if I may use the word in this connection, of the higher self. The lower needs its enjoyments as well as the higher, but most of us lives so much in the lower worlds that there is a danger of our being — in our lower selves — cruel to the higher. You are often impatient with people who say you ought not to have this, that or the other pleasure on which you have counted, but do not forget that you yourselves often deny your higher selves pleasures which they too would be glad to enjoy — pleasures of an infinitely more lasting kind than those which, in your lower selves, you have been pursuing with so much, eagerness. The greatest happiness you can give your higher self is to adapt your lower vehicles to the Master's needs, but the higher self is not unreasonable, is quite willing that the lower should enjoy itself, and only suggests that the more the lower and the higher pleasures can be harmonised and made lasting, the happier for both parties concerned. In the long run, everything will proceed so much more smoothly if both pull together and in the same direction.
FOOD FOR THE BODY
The Master continues: "You must feed it properly on pure food and drink only, and keep it strictly clean always, even from the minutest speck of dirt". The word "properly" means at regular intervals, at [Page 82] such times as may conduce to the best health, the right quantity, and the right kind — "pure food and drink only ".
Now I am not going to furnish you with a complete table of all the kinds of food you ought to eat, how you ought to eat them, and when you ought to eat them. You must find this out for yourselves, since each body reacts differently to different kinds of foodstuffs. But I must lay the very greatest stress on the necessity for vegetarianism, not because I happen to be a vegetarian, but because the Master speaks, towards the end of the book, on the "cruel superstition that man needs flesh for food". Doubtless we are all under the influence of certain kinds of superstition, but at least we must try to avoid cruel superstitions, and as meat-eating is a cruel superstition — the Master says so — we must get rid of it. I want you to look at the matter from the standpoint of reason. We inflict suffering on animals in order to provide ourselves with unnecessary food. This is the bare statement of the fact as the Master sees it. Innumerable difficulties in the way of carrying out the Master's hint will, of course, present themselves. Your body cannot stand vegetarian food. Your parents would disapprove of your becoming a vegetarian. "Are we to give up the use of all leather articles, including boots, railway trunks, etc. ? Are we to inconvenience our friends by eating practically nothing when we take meals with them ? "
Don't you think that your animals are becoming somewhat restive when you allow them thus [Page 83] to argue ? For all these difficulties should be thought of afterwards, if at all, and not at first. So many people are eager to see the Masters, to receive instructions from Them, and envy those who have the privilege. But remember that one of the conditions of receiving direct guidance is to pay prompt attention to what the Master says. "You must do what He says", observes Alcyone in the Foreword, " attending to every word, taking every hint". The Master tells us to be vegetarians. Are we trying to become vegetarians, or are we suffering our lower bodies to dictate to the higher ? Are we deceived by the "pretendings" of the bodies which ought to be subservient to us ? I do not wish to suggest that it is easy to change from meat-eating to vegetarianism all at once, partly because the physical and astral bodies suddenly lose a food which has been stimulating them and intensifying their lower aspects, and partly because relatives and friends, who have not been as fortunate as ourselves, will be unable to see any method in, to them, an apparent madness. But in the Master's service we need to start at once when a hint is given and do the best we can with the difficulties as they come along. In other words, we do not think of building bridges until we actually come to rivers which have to be crossed. Cautious people will exclaim against me here — "but surely we must see where we are going before we start. Perhaps the difficulties will be insuperable. Perhaps our relatives and friends, for example, will be unable to tolerate our new departure". To which I reply: [Page 84] "A hint from a Master involves a practicable course of action. He does not suggest impossibilities, nor is He unaware — though you may find it difficult to believe this — of the individual circumstances of us all. If At the Feet of the Master has come to us, we may take it that He knows it has come. So His words become a message to us through His young brother Alcyone."No doubt you will fail. Many lapses into meat-eating will occur, unless your nature is particularly wiry. But were serious efforts made before the failures, and will serious efforts be made again after the failures ? This is what the Master wants. Let me repeat here emphatically that He looks for effort, not expecting success until many failures and many efforts have taken place. "Rome was not built in a day".
The moment you know that the Master has condemned meat-eating as a cruel superstition and that He wishes the body to be fed on pure food and drink, you immediately begin to stop eating meat and any other form of food you think included in the condemnation. Do not quibble as to whether fish or eggs or cheese or milk are to be considered vegetarian or otherwise. Use your judgment, for the Master as a perfect Teacher merely lays down the principle and leaves you to apply it in everyday life. Personally I have very little patience with people so hypnotised by the letter that they fail to observe the spirit. They tell me that if we are to be consistent we must avoid this and that and the other article of food we use. I do not pretend to be perfectly consistent, but I am [Page 85] trying to be as consistent as I can; and if in my effort to be consistent I make the mistake of including in my articles of diet some which ought to be left out, I do not feel that I have vitally disregarded the spirit of the principles under which I have been acting, though no doubt I have violated the letter. Some day I shall do all things perfectly, in the meantime I am not going to sit idle or be unhappy because I cannot now be what I can only be later on. If you cannot be a vegetarian, be as much of a vegetarian as you can, and ignore those who do nothing because they cannot do everything.
PRINCIPLES OF LIFE
You are expected, however, to use tact and discretion — neither obtruding your principles nor concealing them. Be restrained and quiet in your actions, and above all avoid aggressiveness and feelings of superiority because you think you possess a truth not yet shared by others. Indeed, you do not possess a truth until its effect on your nature is to produce a greater understanding and sympathy than you had without it. Every additional truth you know should make you so much the more tolerant and appreciative, for you are by that truth the nearer to a knowledge of the unity which makes us one with all. If knowledge brings pride and shuts you off from your fellow-creatures you are only in possession of its intellectual aspect. You have not yet reached its spiritual essence. So, when you begin to take [Page 86] the Master's hint as regards vegetarianism, I want you to show that you have a new truth in your possession, first by manifesting a little more of the spirit of goodwill than you have previously been able to show, second by holding fast to your new truth gently and unobtrusively. I think you ought not to give way. No parent or friend with understanding would ask you to give up a matter of principle, if you show by your conduct that the principle has an ennobling effect upon you. But you cannot expect them to regard as a principle something which makes you more fussy and troublesome than before. If, on the other hand your principle is not respected, then the course of action you should take depends upon the amount of strength you possess. In India young men often write to Mrs. Besant asking her advice as to various courses of action which would involve conflict with established custom and would consequently place the individual concerned in great difficulty. So far as I remember her general position is that if advice is asked it often means that the applicant, not being strong enough to decide for himself and take the responsibility, wishes to have behind him some one who will share whatever difficulties come. Also, the advice to be given depends upon the power of the individual to carry it out, and it is useless to recommend heroic measures to a well-meaning but negative personality. People who give advice must to some extent become involved in its results, and by far the best plan is, knowing the ideal, to get as near to it as you can on [Page 87] your own account alone. By all means learn from your elders the principles of right action — you have them in At the Feet of the Master — but work them out in your own way according to circumstance and capacity, ever striving to act as truly as you can, combining thoroughness with deference to the wishes of others in all matters not involving principle.
Reading this, young people will often object that they have hardly any definite principles, and hesitate to act on those for the moment swaying them lest they make themselves a nuisance, not to say ridiculous, by upsetting the household with a zeal which may last but a very short time. I grant that this is a difficulty, but it seems to me that, first, all reasonable parents would be willing to submit to such family disturbances as might occur in the course of efforts made by young people to find their moral footing; secondly, it is better to have a temporary principle and to have lost it, than never to have had a principle at all ! Young people must inevitably feel their way. The higher self must take some time to settle down in its new surroundings; and it is most natural to expect a forceful ego to throw itself headlong into innumerable attitudes of mind and feeling, rushing from one to another until sufficient, experiences are gained to enable the choice to be made of outlooks upon life which, will last for some time. We are growing incessantly, and even the most cherished principles of the wisest among us undergo much modification as the years pass, may even in course of time be totally abandoned. So it [Page 88] is after all a matter of growth, and youth must not be blamed if it grow jerkily and spasmodically. Be as true to the reigning principle as you can, and though people may laugh at your bubbling enthusiasms, you will never in after-life regret them, for their influence is all for good. On the other hand train yourselves by degrees to approach a new principle cautiously and to discard it reluctantly, for it must be a matter of honour with you to treat it reverently — neither accepting it unless you feel sure that you can profitably follow it, nor relinquishing it without a sense of gratitude for the good it has done you. We may at least say with truth that whatever other effect a principle has had on you its temporary place in your heart will have given you the power of understanding, and of sympathising with, those who are under an influence which you yourself may long ago have passed beyond.
BE TRUE TO YOUR OWN SELF
Let me conclude this portion of our subject by warning you against people who argue that because a leader is or is not a vegetarian, therefore we ought to follow his or her example. A common line of argument is that there can be no particular harm in eating meat or smoking since the great founder of the Theosophical Society — Madame H. P. Blavatsky herself — both ate meat and smoked cigarettes. Or, to take the opposite standpoint, if Mrs. Besant and Mr. C. W Leadbeater are both rigid vegetarians and [Page 89] non-smokers, we should do well to follow them. Which is it to be, then, H. P. Blavatsky or Annie Besant? Clearly we cannot follow both !
The fact is that we are not at all concerned with the special circumstances under which all great people necessarily live. To be great, an individual must possess a peculiar temperament, and to be an occultist requires conditions quite outside the understanding of ordinary human beings. Greatness is always out of the ordinary, and rules appropriate to mediocrity are often fetters to genius. Then, again there are varying types of greatness with widely differing functions; and it is illogical to argue that because some one whom we recognise as great acts in a particular way, therefore no one is great who does not behave similarly. Further, it is quite conceivable that a pupil's work in the world is so necessary to his Master's plans that He has to submit to a special piece of karma, belonging to the pupil, which prevents the pupil's body from bearing the strain of the service required unless it be coarsened with animal food. In fact, we may reasonably imagine numberless circumstances in which rules quite suitable for us at our level, and perhaps of general suitability at all levels, have to be waived for special reasons. Emphatically this is not our business. It is a matter between Master and pupil, and, in the case of Madame Blavatsky or of Mrs. Besant or of Mr. Leadbeater, it is more seemly in us to be grateful for the beauty of their teachings than to intrude upon the conditions under which the teachings [Page 90] were given. My reply to people who want to probe into the private lives of those who teach us is that if I find their teaching inspiring I shall have enough to do in translating the inspiration into action, without wasting precious time in ascertaining whether the teacher lives perfectly — according, that is, to my own idea of perfection — the words he utters. I might add that we smaller people commit a great mistake if we venture to judge those greater than ourselves by standards which, perhaps, they have long outgrown. One of the greatest obstacles in the way of the average man or woman recognising the great World-Teacher when He comes will be that of expecting Him to limit Himself to their own conception of spiritual greatness. Each little narrow sect of Christianity or Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam or Zoroastrianism will expect Him to be its special champion as against all other little sects. Every faddist will expect Him to be an ardent disciple of the special fad from which he derives his spiritual livelihood. He must surely wear such and such clothes, eat such and such foods, proclaim such and such truths, live in such and such a way. He will live as the world needs Him to live, not as individuals want Him to live. He comes to help all mankind to live better lives, not to flatter the spiritual pride of a few. You and I know that He is the Teacher of the world, and instead of asking Him so to live when He comes that we shall recognise Him without difficulty, we should rather ask that we may so live now as to become worthy to recognise Him when He is [Page 91] in our midst. How the Greatest shall live and what He shall teach is for the Greatest to decide — -else we ourselves were greater than He, if our own standard could guide Him. What concerns us is how we shall live and what we shall teach so that He may recognise us as His servants. The world has not made so conspicuous a success of its affairs that it can afford to point out to the great World-Teacher Himself the lines along which reform and teaching are needed. He comes because we need His help, and what the world needs just now is to develop sufficient humility to receive guidance which may be diametrically opposed to all existing conventional theories of life. Devotion, Steadfastness and Gentleness — all these the world needs, but pride has in the past been the outstanding barrier between the Teacher and His generation. May it not be so in the 20th century.
The Master proceeds to lay stress on the fact that "without a perfectly clean and healthy body you cannot do the arduous work of preparation, yon cannot bear its ceaseless strain". No one who is not undergoing the discipline of preparation for a more thorough service of the Masters can have the slightest conception of the strain it involves. Every individual who deliberately places himself at a Master's disposal by that very act begins to tune his various bodies to respond to the finer vibrations of [Page 92] the Master's worlds, and to become infinitely more sensitive to the life of the world in which he lives. The disciple must not only hear the Master's "faintest whisper above earth's loudest song", he must automatically sense the misery and trouble and need of those who people the world in which he lives, and he must send out to them the Master's force in terms of courage and compassion. This means that the body must be pure, as free as possible from all coarseness, must gradually substitute particles for its composition purer than those in use among the majority of mankind. The disciple is in advance of his generation — what he now is, the world as a whole will become after many years. He must embody in his daily life a new ideal or principle of living: in other words, he must be a living example to those around him of the stage immediately in front of them, the stage towards which they now are passing.
THE CEASELESS STRAIN
In At the Feet of the Master we are given a model on which to build our various bodies, and we must expect that people who do not realise the necessity for the efforts we are making, will laugh at us, will regard us as tiresome disturbers of the soporific policy of drifting with the stream. I am often told that reformers are so unsociable that it is almost a nuisance to live with them; certainly it is almost impossible to treat them as ordinary, conventional mortals. I quite agree, and I heartily sympathise with those [Page 93] who, content with life as it is, find themselves forced to have to do with people who clash with conventional codes, the observance of which makes life so much more negative and, therefore, easy. But if you mean business, you are bound to set yourself against the majority of accepted modes of living, and herein lies part of the "ceaseless strain" of which the Master speaks. The force of habit, the pressure of public opinion, a natural tendency to comparative inertia, all combine to keep you within the narrow limits of conventional life. But then you are not fulfilling your rôle as a leader, as a forerunner, as an active force in the direction of bringing about a better mode of living than that to which for the present we are content to conform. You must stand outside the pale of "society" to a very considerable extent. You are required to guide your life by principles which do not yet appeal to the majority, and you cannot expect people as a whole to accept you for what you try to be.
You are continually warring against the lower self in yourself as well as against the lower self in the world outside. You are continually setting up a standard of living higher than that to which the world for the time being conforms, and you have to strain every nerve to live up to it yourself; for only as you yourself approach the standard will you be able effectively to champion it among your surroundings. The world is ever pressing against you and your efforts, while on your part you have ever to be striving to carry the world with you as you tune your lower [Page 94] vehicles to co-operate more harmoniously with the realities to which they are to be attuned. You are one with the world, and such unity tends to keep you within the limits of the world's average progress. On the other hand, you are trying to make that unity more living by yourself becoming an example of what the world may hope to be at no distant date, thus stimulating the whole to increase its lustre by harmonising with the special brightness of a part.
Indeed is the strain "ceaseless". Vigilance cannot for a moment be relaxed. There is every temptation from the lower to give up the struggle and to resume the far easier path of being led. Innumerable actions which the world approves are denied to you. Many pleasures in which the world indulges must be foresworn by you if you would give the world what it needs rather than what it asks. As I write these words, I can hear some of my readers exclaim: "What is the use of it all, then ? It seems so lonely a struggle, so grey a life. Are there no compensations ? When all goes well and there is no trouble, I admit that the compensations seem as if they were non-existent. When life is easy for the world or for the individual, it seems almost absurd to go out of one's way to keep up a strain for which there is apparently no call. But life is never easy for long, nor is life easy for most people; and the value of the disciple who trains all his bodies as the athlete trains only the physical, is that he is able not only to bear trouble which overwhelms the ordinary individual, but he has accumulated a reserve of courage from [Page 95] which those in trouble may draw the strength to meet disasters which otherwise might render them hopeless and crushed.
Remember that however much you and your friends may be living a life of ease and happiness, there are others near you who are struggling with care, with want, with sickness, with sorrow. Remember that no individual happiness lasts long from which the world is excluded. Who are you that you should enjoy comfort, luxury, the satiety of your desires, while others, in the moments of your supremest joy, are weighed down by the seeming hopelessness of everything. Joy which is shared endures according to the number who share it, and the disciple strives to ascertain the conditions of true joy so that, through leading others to the knowledge, peace and happiness may begin to become permanent instead of being fleeting because restricted to the few. In reality, therefore, while the strain of discipleship is great, there is an ever-increasing tendency to peace and joy because the would-be disciple is always engaged in trying to emphasise these aspects in those around him. He is learning to be a peace-bringer and a joy-bringer, and he must not complain if the process of education sometimes shuts him off from many of the fleeting joys on which his fellows set such store. A child practising a musical instrument may often long to leave his lesson and join in the happy laughter of his young companions in the garden outside, but if he can persevere in the training of his body to reproduce, however feebly, God's message through music, he will [Page 96] some day bring peace to thousands, and to himself a joy well worth the little sacrifice of the temporary happiness which at the time seemed so enticing.
It would sometimes be so much simpler to eat meat, to follow conventional habits of thought, to accept the conventional dicta of one's class, but one would be giving up the permanent for the temporary. A bird in the hand is by no means worth two in the bush, provided you know that if you try hard enough you are bound in course of time to catch those in the bush. People sometimes think that they can have the bird in the hand as well as those in the bush, but we have been clearly told we cannot serve both God and Mammon; and so far as I know the experience of most earnest students is that the search after the peace of God is only fruitful in proportion to the exclusion of all pleasures which make for selfishness and self-indulgence at an expense to others. I admit that to a certain extent it is possible to combine the two, and, as I said before, there is no reason why one should not enjoy innocent and harmless amusements. But selfishness must ever be a drag on one's efforts to lead the disciple's life, and the less selfishness one shows, the quicker the progress. Most of us are more or less selfish, and the result is that we are only more or less successful in our search for truth. It behoves us, therefore, so to order our lives, that we are continually planning for the greater welfare of our surroundings, partly by active help and partly by self-training. All such preparation [Page 97] involves strain, for we are in effect all day long, and all night long too, striving to transmute into finer forces all coarse vibrations that come to us from without. Hate, dislike, ill-feeling, suspicion, doubt — all come to us, and in return we have to train ourselves to send out goodwill. At first we cannot always do it, we cannot even often do it; but those who once have been able to return good for evil know the peace it brings to all one's bodies and the feeling of fire and vigour it imparts to one's whole being. I feel very strongly that just at present any efforts I may have made in the past are more than repaid by the strength of which I am conscious in these difficult times, and by the eagerness I experience to be of service to the many to whom the War has brought misery and trouble. The War has brought us all nearer to each other. Above all it has brought the Masters nearer to us than we have ever allowed Them to come before, and it has given some of us the happiness of knowing that Theosophy is the one great source from which it is possible to draw courage and cheer for the use of the afflicted. Such times as these are abundant evidence that the "ceaseless strain" is well worth while bearing for the power it generates to serve mankind. When life is smooth the strain may sometimes seem an unnecessary torture, but when times are hard it is known to have been the basis for a confidence which otherwise could not have existed. [Page 98]
THE "I" OUTSIDE THE BODY
The Master then shows us how the training is to proceed. "It must always be you who control that body, not it that controls you". With regard to this Mrs. Besant gave the following instruction — the words are not hers: "What you have to do is to judge for your body as you would for an animal in your charge; you must not overwork it because if you do it has not sufficient physical energy left for efforts in other parts of your work. You must give it as much sleep and food as it requires to keep it in the highest state of efficiency — not necessarily all that it wants. Many of you still give the body too much food, and this is incompatible with the highest point of efficiency, at which we should always be aiming. Young bodies, of course, need considerably more food than do elderly ones; the body must have enough, but you must not let it have more than that. Plenty of kind-hearted people make that very mistake with their animals, with the result that the animals have imperfect health and suffer when they have to walk. You must judge for your body. You ought to have such complete control over your body that you can make it wait without trouble, saying: ' This that wants it is not I. I have something more important to do at present, you must wait till I can attend to you.'
"This is the point that I should advise you to think over and to work upon . . . pull yourselves up constantly and ask: is it I, or my body, that is [Page 99] wanting this or that ? This will gradually lead you to that state of self-recollectedness which is so essential, and which is a thing that untrained people never have . . . whenever you wish something, examine if it is really you who wish it. It is one great lesson that has to be learned, this identifying of oneself with the God who is Oneself, instead of with the animal which is one's instrument".
Let me lay stress on the word "self-recollectedness". We have to remember ourselves, we have to remember to distinguish between the machine and the motive power, between the instrument and the user. In the next couple of pages the Master explains to us how we may recollect ourselves, by showing us what the astral and mental bodies respectively desire on their own account. He has already told us how the physical body tries to bring into submission the self within —" the physical body wants to rest, to go out walking, to eat and drink; and the man who does not know says to himself: 'I want to do these things'. "But we must say to all three bodies — physical, astral, mental — "You shall not hinder me in doing good work". In other words, we must recollect our higher self, however much our lower vehicles — its instruments — may strive to make themselves heard for their much speaking. People who do not know are so much occupied with their lower bodies that they identify themselves with them almost entirely, and it is only under some great moral pressure that they realise too late that the indulgence of the lower selves has meant the withdrawal of the [Page 100]
higher self from the position it might have taken, from the power with which it might have endowed its instruments. The value of the lower bodies consists in their capacity to glean the necessary experiences of the plane to which the matter composing them belongs. If they simply immerse themselves in the activities of their own plane, instead of allowing the higher plane bodies to select as far as possible such experiences as may help the growth of the individual; as a whole, the result will be that the bodies will become more and more entangled in increasingly lower strata of their respective planes and will finally with great suffering be discarded by the Self whose bidding they have scorned. The law of Karma is very rigid, and a body degraded to base uses in one life when it might have listened to the God within, becomes unable to serve its owner at some future time, and in the misery of a longing to help, united to instruments through which no work can be done, is gradually learned the lesson that true happiness and progress are alone possible when the lower acts in perfect deference to the will of the higher. How often is not the spirit willing while the flesh is weak — the result of not having yet learned the relative values of the various bodies through which we contact the many depths of God's manifested universe ? The flesh is weak when it tries to depend on itself alone, but it becomes infinitely strong when serving but as the reflection of its spiritual counterpart.[Page 101]
THE ASTRAL AND MENTAL BODIES
"THE astral body", says the Master, "has its desires — dozens of them; it wants you to be angry, to say sharp, words, to feel jealous, to be greedy for money, to envy other people their possessions, to yield yourself to depression . . . not because it wishes to harm you, but because it likes violent vibrations, and likes to change them constantly. But you want none of these things, and therefore you must discriminate between your wants and your body's".
Let me quote again from notes taken of Mrs. Besant's instructions on this paragraph: "You must exercise continual watchfulness, constant care, because it is more difficult to realize that you are not your astral body, than to realize that you are not your physical body. But if you look at the examples which the Master gives, you will see how continually you identify yourselves with your astral body. 'I am angry or irritable,' you will say. Probably you will not say 'I am jealous' if you are conscious of the feeling of jealousy; for though we may identify ourselves with our feelings, we try to veil the lower ones — so you might call this feeling, not jealousy,[Page 102] but love. ‘I am hurt because so and so whom I love 'loves some one better than me ! ' Love is such a far reaching, all-embracing virtue, that we like to shelter under it and attribute to it all sorts of things with which it has nothing whatever to do. Far better is it to examine honestly our feelings and not to play with ourselves and deceive ourselves with pretty words. In the case under consideration, you are not hurt because you love your friend, but because you desire to appropriate that friend to yourself. Wherever there is this feeling of being hurt, it springs from selfishness, which is at the opposite pole to love. You — the Self — cannot feel jealous, but your astral body can; neither are You angry or irritable: these are all moods of the astral body".
I wish to lay stress on this fact that when we feel hurt or offended we are as a matter of fact giving way to selfishness. People will tell you that it is only natural sometimes to feel hurt or offended, and I entirely agree if by the word "natural" they mean "inevitable at a certain stage of growth". We could not feel sympathy with people who feel hurt or offended had we not experienced the feeling ourselves. On the other hand we cannot show them the way to overcome the feeling unless we ourselves have more or less overcome it; and the Master emphasises the fact that the real "I" in each one of us, the "I" we express so loosely in words in daily life — continually identifying it with bodies which only last a short time — can never feel these fleeting moods. From my own experience, although I have only just begun real [Page 103] work, I can bear emphatic testimony to the fact that the more I pay attention to the "I" within, the more clearly do I realise that my moods and feelings of the lower kind are obnoxious to it. I often give way to temptations of various kinds, to moods and feelings, but I am growing increasingly conscious of a sense of strong discomfort whenever the lower has its way unchecked. Not being yet sufficiently master of my lower bodies, they often carry all before them, but I am not happy in their victory, and even while they are temporarily triumphant I know full well that I am not well — that the real "I" is, as it were, ailing. We know much about physical ill-health, but as soon as we begin to place our feet upon the path we learn the meaning of spiritual ill-health, the remedies for which are to be found within the covers of At the Feet of he Master. Spiritual ill-health is as painful as physical ill-health — I think more so; for with the eagerness to serve comes the lack of power, a lack due to giving way to the fleeting moods of vehicles which ought to have been servants and not masters. And there is nothing more racking than an inability to make the bodies obey the behests of the spirit.
I wish to lay stress on the Master's statement that the astral body wants things, "not because it wishes to harm you but because it likes violent vibrations and likes to change them constantly".
You must remember that our various bodies are made up of matter which is still on the downward arc of evolution, and the result is that this matter [Page 104] evolves by violent and constantly changing vibrations. Mrs. Besant remarks : "Students have sometimes put to me a curious question: ' Ought we not to give it the opportunity of evolving?“ No ! You can, without any fear of being selfish, refuse to give these vibrations. It can find them in savages, in animals; they need them as experiences to bring out moods of consciousness, and you must not sacrifice your higher evolution for this. The constant desire of the astral body for violent changes is a thing which should help you to realise that it is not you. Moods come over you for no apparent cause, and not approved by your reason; they have nothing to do with you, but are the independent activities of the astral body. You must realise this, and not allow yourself to be made the playground of all these changing moods".
The Master emphasises the fact that you want none of these things, and, therefore, you must discriminate between your wants and your body's. I think it is well to remember that the more we make progress the greater the force which pours through our various bodies. The result is that while our higher emotions are infinitely more powerful than they were before, our lower emotions also gain in strength. Each one of us, who has set himself deliberately to tread the path of Service, experiences the difficulty that, while he can do much better work than before, he seems to have many more obstacles than he has hitherto known of; in fact all his bodies become more highly vitalised, and the force flowing through them affects the lower as well as the [Page 105] higher. So it is only safe to make special effort when one feels sure that, however much the lower may gain in vitality, the higher will always be able to dominate.
Every one who deliberately places himself on the side of evolution, on the side of self-sacrifice rather than on that of self-seeking, must be prepared to pay the price of the deeper sympathies he will inevitably experience, by laying himself open to greater temptations than those which have hitherto come his way. If he is really in earnest, success is bound to come sooner or later, and when he feels that troubles are overwhelming him he may well say to himself: "These added difficulties are the price I am paying for the greater power of service which I have gained". Whatever happens, it is at least unwise to brood over your failures, or to imagine that a past mistake can never be rectified. It is one of the most ancient of maxims that we should not look behind. If we do look behind we feel despair, repentance, remorse. All of these moods, as Mrs. Besant tells us, are a waste of strength. The energy you put into repentance would be better spent on cultivating the emotion opposite to that which causes the repentance. "Do not look back; . . . pick out all the opposite moods and practise them all day long. If your astral body wants you to be impatient, set your mind on patience; think of patience in your morning meditation and practise it throughout the whole day. If your astral body wants you to feel jealous, do not think any more about jealousy, think [Page 106] of unselfishness and practise it hard, there will be no room for jealousy then. Your mind cannot be filled with two opposing things at the same time". In other words we must strive to be as positive as we can, as long as we can. We must strive to emphasise our better natures rather than to feel grieved at the mistakes we have made.
Personally, I believe most strongly that the past can be modified, both by the present and by the future. I think that our attitude in the present can so modify the past that we may transmute a mistake into a force for good. Similarly, by being careful in the present, the future will be made secure, and will, in its turn, react upon the past. From a certain standpoint of consciousness everything is in the "ETERNAL NOW". And all that we have done, all that we are doing, all that we shall do, is summed up in the "Now". The mischief I may have done to my friend last year, I may considerably repair by striving to be of special service to him today. The jealous thought I may have had some time ago, I may render comparatively impotent by surrounding my friend with strong thoughts of unselfish goodwill at every possible opportunity. I do not wish to suggest that every action is not followed by its appropriate karma. But who shall say where an action begins and where it ends ? Down here we see things separated off into compartments: the Master is able to see much more of the unity than we can in this world of separated existences. [Page 107]
THE MENTAL BODY
The Master proceeds to point out in what ways the mental body strives through lower thought-forms to minister to the needs of the matter of which it is composed. Pride seems to be one of the most common conditions of our mental bodies. "Your mental body wishes to think itself proudly separate, to think much of itself and little of others. Even when you have turned it away from worldly things, it still tries to calculate for self, to make you think of your own progress, instead of thinking of the Master's work and of helping others". Mrs. Besant remarks that probably the mind-body is the most difficult of all to control. In my own experience, the mind-body seems able to deceive us more successfully than the other bodies, for the mind associates itself with each individual's personal progress, and makes him think how he is getting on. "How near am I to the next definite stage on life's pathway?" is a thought which often comes to those who are striving to lead the spiritual life, and it is undoubtedly a very natural thought. On the other hand, spiritual progress depends on service to others and not upon individual growth, except in so far as it is undoubtedly true that the more you grow the greater becomes your capacity to be of use.
We must not forget the essential unity of all, and this means that no individual growth is possible save as others grow too, while the growth of those around us inevitably stimulates our own. In other words, it [Page 108] is no use thinking in terms of ourselves alone or of the few, we have to think in terms of the many, so as gradually to reach the Master's position of thinking in terms of all.
Undoubtedly the mind-body depends for the completeness of its lower aspect upon the development of its special capacities and powers, and such development begins by making these capacities and powers grow under the forcing impulse of competition and individualism. But all who read these pages should have passed this stage of growth, and should have come to the point of realising that there is no value in any power save as it is used to help the one whole. And so when the mental body wishes to think it is proudly separate, we must look upon this condition as a survival of the past, as something we have, in reality, outgrown and to which we should no longer pay attention. In my own experience, the quickest way of developing the mental faculties at our stage of growth is to use them in the service of others. A boy who is weak in any special subject of study can best stimulate what he lacks by trying to find someone even weaker than himself, so that he may find it possible usefully to employ even the little power he possesses.
one of us has the germ of perfection in him, and we are only weak in
any special direction by comparison with others who are strong. Compared
those who are weaker, we ourselves are strong. Remember, always, that
behind the apparent imperfections are the germs of perfection, enshrined
109] the God within us. We are Gods in the making, and however negligible our capacities
may seem when compared with those of our elder Brethren, they have a very appreciable
value towards those who know less than we do ourselves. And by helping those
to whom our weakness is as strength we gradually emphasise that strength and
so develop faculties hitherto
apparently of little
So you see that, in the long run, the great fact of unity is the assurance to each one of us that we have it in our power, in course of time, to become even as the Masters are. We all depend upon each other, we all grow through failures, and every weakness is but an undeveloped strength.
TEMPTATIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES
Mrs. Besant has often told us that the true server and occultist sees in all surrounding life opportunities rather than temptations. To the ordinary individual temptations must be avoided or at least guarded against. A temptation is something we may succumb to, on account of which we may stumble. But to an earnest worker who is beginning to understand the true value of life, a temptation is an occasion for the fortifying of a weak place, for the building up of a virtue, of a strength in place of a weakness. He does not try to avoid temptations, but rather to stand firm in their midst and to put forth that very strength whose absence made the temptation possible at all. I quite admit that certain people would do well to run away[Page 110] from temptations, but anyone who means business must endeavour to gain strength to surmount them from the reserve force of earnestness which will carry him through most troubles if he will only let it. Let me emphasise once more in this connection the need for self-recollectedness. Remember who you are and for what you are striving, and remember this especially when a difficulty or temptation threatens to distract an all too willing mind from its Self. The mere endeavour to remember, still more the act of memory, brings its own strength and makes you master of the difficulty or temptation instead of its slave. "You must watch unceasingly", says the Master, "or you will fail", Habit is everything in these matters, and you will either fall into the habit of succumbing to temptations or you will fall into the habit of transmuting them into added capacity. Set up a good habit and it will carry you through troubles you would never have thought it possible to endure. Set up a bad habit and it will take you a long time to unravel the knot into which you have twisted yourself — it cannot be cut! Self-recollectedness means "thinking of the Master's work and of helping others", and when you think in this way you are learning to become the alchemist of your temptations.
RIGHT AND WRONG.
We now come to a most important statement by the Master: "Between Right and Wrong Occultism knows no compromise. At whatever apparent cost that [Page 111] which is right you must do, that which is wrong you must not do, no matter what the ignorant may think or say". Who is an occultist ? To this question we have an answer in an earlier portion of At the Feet of the Master : "What religion a man holds, to what race he belongs — these things are not important; the really important thing is . . . the knowledge of God's plan for men". I have italicised the last sentence because I believe the occultist to be one who is at least beginning to know God's plan in part; no one can know it in its entirety. An occultist has begun to use his discrimination to distinguish between the real and the unreal, between darkness and light, and knows that death, is but the instrument of immortality. You who are servants of the Star, perhaps members of the Theosophical Society, are occultists in the becoming, because you know some of the truths at present hidden from the majority of mankind. So it is you whom the Master addresses when He declares that at whatever apparent cost the right must be chosen. Note the word "apparent". There is no real cost to yourself or to others when you choose the right and turn away from the wrong. Great indeed is the truth and it shall prevail, however much error may seem for the time to triumph. Pain comes because of wrong-doing, and though it is true that a right action often causes considerable pain to us in the doing, it is because we are breaking through habits of wrong-doing, and the lower nature is still striving to keep us within its grasp. The pain of the lower is but the inevitable prelude to the joy of the [Page 112] higher self beginning to feel free and unfettered. Soon the lower no longer binds, and then pain ceases — "the Master is always serene and joyous", not because He is indifferent to suffering but because He knows all that suffering can teach, because He lives in the Self liberated from a bondage the meaning of which it has grown to understand. There is only an "apparent" cost when we look at the conditions from the point of view of those more ignorant than ourselves, of those who do not understand the motive for our action. In other words, the "cost" is the effort to purify the lower nature, and this effort can only be looked on as "cost" when we identify ourselves with a lower which is losing its dominance. People are very apt to judge others and to judge them much more harshly than they judge themselves. We depend far too much upon the opinion of others with regard to ourselves; and the result is that we often act against the dictates of our consciences in the hope of shielding ourselves from the judgment of our fellows. This is what, I think, is meant by the word "compromise". Listen to Mrs. Besant's words: "You will find, if you look honestly at it, that ordinary life is a series of compromises in the outer world; people are always doing a little less than that which they know to be right, in order to make things smoother for themselves, in order to meet that deadliest of questions: ' What will people say ? ' That fear of other people's opinions is partly due to a weakness which is amiable at its root —the desire to please. . . . Plenty of people see [Page 113] what is wanted in religious and social questions, but how many will lead in reform. ... I know you cannot carry out your highest ideals immediately, any more than you can get from the bottom of a mountain to the top by taking one leap. But if you mean to scale your mountain, every step must be taken with the view of reaching the summit, every step must bring you nearer to it. Never lower your ideal. That is fatal. ' One thing is right, while the pleasant is another says a Hindu scripture, 'right unto pleasant the wise man preferreth’ "
grant you that the path thus shown to us is hard, because we have hitherto
been living in a world of compromises. But the less we compromise the more
real joy life brings to us and the more definite consciousness we gain
of the Master's world to which we all belong. Later I shall take up the
latter portion of the whole question as to right and wrong in the light
of the Master's direction as to how we reach the right, and how we may
distinguish our whims, prejudices and fancies from that which is really
right. [Page 114]
THE HIDDEN LAWS OF NATURE
I DO not want to trouble you much about the hidden laws of nature, because as you grow you will begin to find out for yourselves what these hidden laws are. Briefly, you must try to understand that the world's laws, those which we call "conventions" and "customs", are by no means necessarily binding upon you. People are far too apt to accept the world as it is, and to allow themselves to drift with it rather than to take the trouble of trying to guide. Each one of us must try to find his own footing, and take his stand on principles he has tested for himself before accepting. To do this you must not rest satisfied with things as they are, nor with the ordinary interpretation of life as accepted by the average individual. Your conscience and your reason are the God within you, and you must ever seek to give these two forces all possible opportunities to guide you to right thought, right speech and right action. If you do this, you will find that they will tell you much about nature that the ordinary person does not know simply because he regulates his conduct in life more according to that which is outside him than to the God within. You will thus come into contact with laws of [Page 115 ] nature, hidden from the gaze of most people, which will powerfully aid you in establishing yourself upon right lines of growth. For example, most people have thought that the greatest good of the greatest number should be the aim and object of all legislation and statecraft, but the law of nature is that only that which is pleasant for all can really be pleasant for any single individual, to quote the Master's statement. Under modern conditions we tend to ignore minorities, because we do not yet know how to deal with them; but to the One, minorities are of equal importance with majorities. And you and I have to learn how. to bring this as yet hidden law into operation, so as to do only those things which God wills — these being the only things really useful for all. Our hidden law, is, then, that we are concerned neither with majorities nor with minorities, but with the will of God, and if we can only understand His will we shall see how all the various modes of life — however opposed on the surface — are but aspects of Him seen from a certain angle. This will give us tolerance, while at the same time we may feel it our duty strongly to press any particular aspect of His will, seen from some special standpoint, which our conscience and our reason tell us to be of dominant value for the moment. When we come later on to deal with tolerance, I shall have much to say on the need for virility in tolerance. I content myself here with asking you to remember that however tolerant you may be of others' views and attitudes, never forget that you, too, have your message to give to [Page 116] the world — you, too, have your angle of vision to emphasise, and you need be no less tolerant of other angles of vision because you pour your whole soul through your own.
Then again, to take up other as yet hidden laws of nature, there is the knowledge as to the various bodies which each one of us possesses, knowledge as to portions of God's plan for men which the world has yet to discover, knowledge as to the existence of Elder Brethren, knowledge as to laws of health and magnetism. Much of such knowledge is at present veiled from the gaze of most of us. But you will gradually learn, as some of us have learned, and then you will be much more careful, more deliberate, more thoughtful, because you will know that, though nothing matters much and most things do not matter at all, yet the motive behind the "things", the attitude of mind and feeling towards them — these matter considerably. And you can only serve the Master truly when you think before you speak or act, or, as the phrase goes, when you "look before you leap". Hastiness and impulsiveness, however common, must not be looked upon as natural, and so excused. Hastiness is carelessness, carelessness is slovenliness, and slovenliness, from this standpoint, is spiritual dirtiness. We need spiritual cleanliness, and to obtain it we must take care to reflect beforehand on the result of the proposed feeling or action or thought. So you see how a knowledge of some of these hidden laws strikes at the root of your very being, and carries you along lines often far removed [Page 117] from the road on which the world at present travels.
THE IMPORTANT AND THE UNIMPORTANT
The Master now teaches us as to the relative importance of various courses of action, from His standpoint and not from that of the world. "Firm as a rock where right and wrong are concerned, yield always to others in things which do not matter". Or, as He has put it in another way: "Between right and wrong, Occultism knows no compromise".
The sentence I quoted just before this one acts as a commentary on it, and shows how firmness must always be preceded by discrimination — a quality which, as Mrs. Besant has pointed out, is translated in the outer world as "tact". The difficulty for most people is to decide as to what is really right and as to what is really wrong. They say: "If only we knew that, there would be no difficulty at all, and we could quite easily let all else go". Now the Master has been telling us in an earlier part of the book that we must try to realise that our bodies are not ourselves. "You must dig deep down into yourself to find the God within you, and listen to His voice, which is your voice. Do not mistake your bodies for yourself, neither the physical body, nor the astral, nor the mental. Each one of them will pretend to be the Self, in order to gain what it wants". What you have to do then is to try to be as sure as you can that any idea you may for the moment have as to right and [Page 118] wrong is not one of your bodies pretending to be the God within you so as to get something it wants for itself. If you avoid acting hastily, if you will give yourself time to do a little of that digging deep down of which the Master speaks, you will be almost certain to know whether what is wanted is really right or not. It is all a matter of practice, for, the more you practise, the bigger the channel leading to the real "you," the more quickly you can at any time travel into yourself and know the will of the God within you. Then, again, the more you reach the God within you, the more you become the master of your various bodies, instead of allowing them in turn to dominate you. Their various desires, therefore, will grow feebler and feebler, until you will at once be able to distinguish between that which they want and that which you — the real you — want. Do not expect to be able at once unerringly to discriminate between right and wrong, between the fictitious "right" of your bodies and the real "right" of yourself. At first, just try to stop, when you are about to do something apparently "right", and dig a little, that is to say, make a little appeal to the best in you. If you allow yourself to be carried away at once, the chances are that you are allowing one of your bodies to put its own interpretation on "right" and "wrong", and you begin to juggle with conscience by saying: " Well, at any rate there is no harm in doing this". Remember that nothing matters much, most things not at all; so that ninety-nine out of the hundred occasions on which you [Page 119] think you are following a principle, you are, as a matter of actual fact, simply being led by bodies which ought to be your servants and not your masters. No man can serve two masters, still less the three — astral, physical and mental. We can only serve one master — the God within us.
Mrs. Besant puts the same idea in another way when she tells us: " Give way in everything, save in matters of principle". And the fact is that while you must be as firm as a rock as far as regards the general line or principle of conduct on which your life is based, in almost every act of daily life, in almost all your relations with other people, you will be able to give way. "You must be always gentle, and kindly, reasonable and accommodating, leaving to others the same full liberty which you need for yourself". To do this is to exercise true discrimination, or, to employ the worldly phrase, "tact". But remember that tact in this sense does not mean what it is so often supposed to mean — making things pleasant at the expense of truth. It means sympathy and sweet reasonableness, "leaving to others the same full liberty which you need for yourself". You could have no truer definition of tact than that.
Listen to Mrs. Besant's words on this important point:
"You see what is important in a certain thing that has to be done, and look after that; in all the rest you let the people do exactly what they like, and you point your will to the one thing in the middle that matters. They will think what a delightfully [Page 120] yielding person you are and follow you quite happily on the important point, hardly conscious that they are following at all. You have used discrimination; you have thrown with both hands to people all the other things — the things which they think matter, and have gone steadily on to the one thing you wanted. This is the thing which the fanatic forgets, and therefore he does not succeed, while the occultist always succeeds. Yoga, you remember, is ‘skill in action'. The fanatic will not yield on things which do not matter; he does not discriminate between the important and the unimportant, so he rubs people's fur all up the wrong way, and then they will not follow him, however right he may be, and however important his main object. If, instead, you smooth the fur down, they purr and come along after you. This fact is based on an important fact in nature. In both men and animals it is an instinct to pull in opposition to anyone who is trying to pull them. Do not pull and do not push people, then they will come with you willingly. I saw a little instance of this fact here the other day. A man was trying to pull a calf along and, of course, the calf had planted its four feet into the ground, stuck its tail out, and was pulling against the man for all it was worth. If the man had been sensible he would have stopped pulling, and then the animal would have stopped pulling against him, and with a little patting he would have got it to follow him willingly. Take a lesson from that. If people will not do what you want, look for the fault in yourself. You will [Page 121] generally find that it is something in your way of acting that indisposes them. I follow this plan myself. When there is friction and trouble in a place, I sit down and think what it is I am doing that produces these, and find another way. It is no use trying to force people. You can force them to a certain extent, no doubt, but you only create opposition and trouble by doing so. But put a considerable attraction before them, and they will all come round it of their own accord. This implies a faculty of leadership, and it is a faculty which the Masters will want of you in the future, so try to develop it. The Masters will want you to know how to lead, so that you may help people along, instead of hammering them along." [Page 122]
A SMALL THING
THE Master proceeds to draw a very important distinction between that which is worth doing and that which is not. He says: "Try to see what is worth doing: and remember that you must not judge by the size of thing. A small thing which is directly useful in the Master's work is far better worth doing than a large thing which the world would call good".
In the course of a varied experience I have come across many people who wish to take part in some kind of activity, many of whom come and offer themselves for service. I have always been in a difficulty with regard to these people, for I never can tell whether they are in earnest or not. One does not want to put them off in any way, nor, on the other-hand, does one desire to have round one a number of people for whom special kinds of work have to be found. If a person really wishes to serve the Master he does not mind in the least what he does. But most people are not content to do whatever comes to hand. Either there is some special kind of work which they want to do, and they do not care about doing any other kind, or they expect that some activity shall be created for them. Again, many [Page 123] people are quite unwilling to begin at the beginning. They want to do work which shall draw to them the favourable notice of their fellows, and they desire, therefore, to begin in the middle rather than plod through the early stages through which all good work must inevitably be built up.
THE SPIRIT OF SERVICE
Now I want you who read these lines to look to see in what spirit you offer yourself for service. The Master makes the matter quite clear. "A small thing which is directly useful in the Master's work is far better worth doing than a large thing which the world would call good". Try to see, therefore, whether there is a piece of work being done which may be called the Master's work: it is for you, individually, to judge what the Master's work is. The Theosophical Society, the Order of the Star in the East, and all activities subsidiary to these are obviously the Master's work, and if you can find a little place which enables you definitely to be occupied in the service of such organisations, you are doing something which is far better worth doing than some other piece of work — perhaps more showy, but less connected directly with the Master's service. If I might be allowed to indulge in a little personal reminiscence, I began my own service to the Masters by putting postage stamps on envelopes, and writing out addresses for the Theosophical Society when its Headquarters were at 28, Albemarle Street. [Page 124] I remember being thoroughly determined to get a footing in the Office, and while of course my occupation was not very inspiring, I felt that I had put in the thin edge of the wedge, and that it rested with me to hammer that wedge firmly home. I knew that I could do that work, and that probably I should not be turned away, provided I did not show any discontent or desire for other work which might not, at the moment, be available for me. On the other hand, I was on the spot, and if any work should turn up I would be there ready to take it if no one better could be found.
One must, of course, be willing to go on with a special piece of work for an indefinite period. We ought to believe that the Master directly guides the affairs of our Theosophical Society and of the Order of the Star in the East, just as He guides many other movements in the world, and we should be able to realise that He knows who are working for Him, in however humble a capacity, and that when the opportunity offers He will give them more suitable work. As a Master-Organiser you can trust Him to make the best use of such capacities as you possess. Let me lay stress on the desirability of being on the spot. To me, in the early days, it proved invaluable, for when Mr. Keightley had to leave for India the Theosophical Society authorities had to look round for someone temporarily to take his place, and there I was at hand. I did not ask to take his place, but they knew — at least I hope they did — that I meant business, and I was not going to be turned away from the Master's service by the fact that there was not [Page 125] much for me to do. The result was that while there may have been many other better candidates for the temporary post, I was selected because they had not far to go to look for me.
Try to think how glad you are to render even the slightest little service to those whom you love. You do not want necessarily to do big things for them. It is not always possible to render big acts of service, but those whom you love are as happy with the small, kindly deeds as they would be with the big ones. Indeed I cannot help thinking it is the little things that make life go smoothly, and though big pieces of work have to be done, they generally affect people in the mass rather than individuals. So if you can bring yourself to realise that the Master is one of those whom you love with all reverence, you will then find out more clearly the meaning of the phrase, "a small thing directly useful in the Master's work is far better worth doing than a large thing which the world would call good".
BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING
It is all a question of quiet determination. If you wish to become an engineer you must begin at the beginning. Many people are able to drive motorcars, but most of those who can drive are helpless on the occasion of a breakdown. They then have to engage the services of some one who has been for years learning all about engines, and how to construct and repair them. The same applies equally to the [Page 126] Master's service. When everything goes quite smoothly we all of us can do quite well, but every now and then something goes wrong. It may be in the Office; it may be in the attitude of people either towards the work or towards ourselves; it may be there is some friction between our fellow-workers. To put things straight, you must have had experience of the way in which things work, whether they be office things, or human temperaments. Ella Wheeler Wilcox said once in one of her poems: "Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone". We can all laugh together, but Theosophists and members of the Order of the Star in the East have to train themselves to stand helpfully beside those who weep. To do this, you must try to learn wisdom through the small things before you can hope to achieve wisdom in the larger issues of the outside world.
I repeat once more, the great thing is willingness to do anything that comes to hand. During this present War many people who never used to put their hands to anything, feel they scrub floors, wash utensils, do all kinds of so-called dirty jobs, because they now must help, and because they know help is needed. It is sad that we should have needed a war to teach us this very obvious lesson. As a matter of fact, help is always being needed, and we want people who will do all kinds of simple things, which, however trivial they may appear in the eyes of the world, are little bright sparks of light illuminating the nobility of the soul who is doing them. Such actions [Page 127] immediately attract the Master's attention, and thenceforth His blessing plays upon that individual, and so from the doing simple things will come the power to be of greater service.
Remember that when we are reading At the Feet of the Master we have come out of our world into the Master's world, and in His world things seem so very different from what they appear down here in the ordinary world by which we are normally surrounded. Never think of the world's judgment about what you do or about what you want to do. Try to remember that the Master looks into your heart to see the spirit in which you are doing the work, and pays much less attention than does the outside world to the actual work in which you are engaged. Your circle of influence may be at first very much restricted, but if you do your duty within that limited sphere, the Master will take upon Himself to enlarge the circle and will give you an opportunity of doing His work in a wider field. To sum it all up: begin at the beginning, and go on at the beginning as long as you may be needed.
DISCRIMINATION IN SERVICE
Master then tells us to try and distinguish between the more useful and
the less useful. "To feed the poor" He says, "is a good and noble and useful work; yet to feed their souls is nobler and
more useful than to feed their bodies. Any rich man can feed the body,
but only those who know can feed the soul. If you know, it is your duty
to help others to know". [Page 128]
These words contain a very important truth. We, who are members of the Order of the Star in the East and of the Theosophical Society, are supposed to be in possession of truths which will help the world to grow stronger, more useful, and more able to cope with its difficulties. There are not many of us who possess these truths consciously, and the greatest blessing we can offer the world is to spread abroad that which means so much to us. As the Master says, any rich man can feed the body. We expect a man who has wealth to give his first attention to the right distribution of his wealth — that is his business. Those of us who may have riches belonging to the spiritual world have, as our first care, the duty of distributing these spiritual riches as wisely as we can. We are so apt to become slaves to the world's attitude toward things, and to forget that, though the world may not recognise the value of our riches, we, at least, have for ourselves and for many of our friends, proved their worth. Few Theosophists may have worldly wealth, but all Theosophists have a little spiritual knowledge. If they cannot spread their spiritual knowledge far and wide, they probably would not, were they wealthy people, give of their riches generously.
People sometimes say to me: "I can do so little. You see I have no influence. Money seems to be everything". My reply to them is: "What do [Page 129] you know that has helped you in life's difficulties?" The knowledge that has helped you is certain to help others. Many people may not he ready for that knowledge. For such, the voice of the Theosophist will fall on unheeding ears. But there are always some, somewhere, who need the truths we possess, and it behoves us so to spread these truths that they may reach the ears of those to whom they are necessary.
I quite grant that we can do but little without a certain amount of material prosperity. Money certainly does help, and without it life is indeed more difficult. On the other hand, we must give what we can. If we do this, then will the Master add to our work the power that money gives. Money is always ready to the hand of those who will use it in the Master's service. And while we all of us have, from time to time, to know what it is to struggle without the help of money, while we have often to see many of our schemes fail for want of money, in the long run perseverance with the little we have will bring to us all kinds of help, including financial. The run may be a long one; the length of it depends, to a very large extent, upon the training which the individual has to receive. It may be necessary that he shall go through a long course of poverty to see how far the truths he knows sustain him in trouble. But, as I have said before, he wins through his experience, and no great truth for which some part of the world is ready can ever fail to reach its object because of lack of money. It may fail to [Page 130] reach its object from lack of capacity, from lack of enthusiasm, from lack of perseverance, of the messenger. But once these qualities are present, all other things shall be added.
So take care of that which you already possess, and invest it according to your best knowledge. No possession is of greater value than the spiritual knowledge which gives us stability, peace, confidence, strength. All these things come to us by building into our characters the truths for which the Theosophical Society and the Order of the Star in the East stand. Let us, therefore, make use of these truths in our own daily life, and employ them in service among all who surround us. Life is always more or less hard and difficult. It should be less hard and less difficult to those of us who know. And we should be able to give of that which helps us to courage, to all who have a less sure source from which to draw.
At the present time, when the whole world is in the throes of war, we must be careful to see that the knowledge we possess is spread far and wide, we must be careful to see that we live it more truly than we have ever lived it before, and we must be careful to see that through our example the preaching of this knowledge may be made more insistent and attention-compelling. Personally, speaking as a General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in England and Wales, I feel it to be a special duty to do all I can to make Theosophy widely known, so that those whom the War has caused to seek help and peace, may be able to [Page 131] find something which shall give them courage to endure. I might have joined the army, had my physical health been equal to the strain. But the truths of Theosophy are everything to me, and have pulled me through many hard times. I could have given my body to my country, but I feel — I do not think I shall be accused of cowardice in saying so — that I would far rather give my soul. That which has given me strength I must give to those around me who are in need of strength. The world may call this conceit, but it is the principle of my life, and I should feel untrue to my higher self were I not, in such a crisis as this, to spread in the most helpful manner possible, truths for which the world is looking, and without which the world can make but little progress. I quite agree that the majority of the youth of the country owe their bodies to the nation, for the war is being partly fought with bodies, but I am equally convinced of the truth underlying the letter of Lord Derby to the Archbishop of Canterbury, in which he agreed as to the need of the service to the country of the ministers of religion. If a man shirk the gift of his body, how shall he offer the gift of his soul. For the soul is a far greater gift than ever the body could be. Yet, if a man feels himself to be a channel for the Master's force, and every minister of the Church should feel this, then he can ordinarily do his best work by leading a life of special purity so as to become an ever-deepening channel through which the Master's strength and blessing may pass untainted. [Page 132]
HOW SHALL WE SERVE ?
The question as to what we ought to do depends, therefore, upon the position which we occupy. It is, indeed, the duty of most to set an example to those around them, and this often involves the putting aside of occupations we like for the sake of duties we owe. I have often and often thought over this question with regard to my own special circumstances, and I have come to the very definite conclusion that so long as I can give the best of myself to my fellow-countrymen, and so long as I can maintain the highest standard of living within my power, for so long is it my duty to make as many useful channels as I can through which our Theosophical movement may spread its message. The world may not agree with me, but when I am making big decisions I strive for the time to live in the Master's world, and to make my decisions from that standpoint. With the pressure of public opinion around one, and with the strong thought-forms which press upon one from all sides, it is not always easy to keep clear the memory of that temporary life in the Master's world. But I strongly feel the truth of those words of Shakespeare’s: " To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man". Men may think you false; but that is a far different matter from actually being so. I quite admit that people often suffer their own inclinations, their own weaknesses, to enter into their judgments. They try to reconcile desire with duty, and then seek [Page 133] to persuade themselves that it is duty which is moving them and not desire. The question is one between a man and his conscience, and when once one's conscience is clear, one is bound to have adequate strength to meet any difficulties which such a judgment may entail. [Page 134]
SERVICE AS EDUCATION
THE Master remarks that: "However wise you may be already, on this Path you have much to learn; so much that here also there must be discrimination, and you must think carefully what is worth learning". He answers the thought by telling us that we must study, because "God is Wisdom as well as Love", and that we must study especially that which will most help us to help others.
This statement of the Master seems to me to be at the basis of all true education, for I hold strongly that no education can be regarded as satisfactory which does not include within it the service of other people. It is sometimes said that the great object of education is first to make a child happy in his child-life, and then to give him useful knowledge. As a matter of fact, happiness, knowledge and service are, in reality, so far as the Master's world is concerned, interchangeable terms. No boy or girl is truly happy unless he begins, even while young, to transmute his knowledge into service. In many of the more advanced schools this truth is well understood, but, on the whole, educational authorities are far too much occupied with conventional [Page 135] method and subject-matter, and pay far too little attention to the choice of method and subject from the point of view of the way in which the child may easily make use of the knowledge he daily gains in school for the helping of those less advanced than himself. In the Central Hindu College at Benares it was always our habit to encourage every single student not only to study but to serve, and, indeed, we found it to be true that any boy who lacked capacity along any special line could very considerably decrease his ignorance by trying to help along that line some one who knew even less than he did. There is no better way of growing oneself than endeavouring to make oneself useful to one's surroundings; and in helping other people we increase our own capacity to learn.
Unfortunately under modern conditions we are very often face to face with the statement that young people must not be distracted from their studies; that their time for service is not yet; that they have enough to do in learning without going into the outside world. With such statements I entirely disagree. I do not think that children are nearly as happy as they ought to be, nor is the world nearly as joyous a place to live in as it should be. There may be many reasons for this, but at least one of the reasons is that the child does not bring into the outer world the joyous childish nature that the world needs, and I long for the time when part of a child's school life shall consist in moving among his surroundings, bringing to them the song that children alone can [Page 136] sing. I do not, for a moment, suggest that children should take an active part in politics, or in the discussion of social questions. But I do say, most emphatically, that there are very definite acts of service which children alone can perform, and which are very much needed both by the elder generation, and by the young themselves.
TWO KINDS OF STUDY
The child, therefore, has two kinds of study to undertake: (1) that which vitalises and makes sensitive his mind, and (2) that which enables him to be immediately of use in his own way. There are many subjects to study; much he needs to know; partly because these things will be definitely useful to him in after life, partly because they give the mind a certain tone, partly because they give the mind a certain discipline, and partly because they bring him, through the mind, into touch with the world, past, present and future. And, on the same lines, training must be given both to the physical and emotional bodies. With these, for the moment, we are not concerned. He must also be taught to study his actual place in the world in which he lives — that which the world brings to him, and that which he exists, even as a child, to offer to the world. He has his definite note to strike in the world's harmony, as much when a child as when he as grown up. The child, therefore, who is not encouraged to turn his study into service cannot be [Page 137] truly happy. For one of the conditions of growth is that we gradually find that the less our selfishness is narrow, the more our happiness grows permanent. Children soon get tired of most of their toys, and many parents are distracted at the thought of how they are going to occupy their young people from day to day when studies are over. It is part of a child's nature that he should, from time to time, get into "mischief "— this is but the result of that groping which leads us all to covet experience of one kind or another. The child would get into mischief much less, however, if he could be made to realise that he has a power in himself which he can make use of if he likes — the power to join himself to others, and so to gain a more satisfying kind of happiness than if he were to live for himself alone. I consider, therefore, that every boy and girl who goes to school, or who goes to a University, should combine study with service of one kind or, another. I consider all education one-sided which does not provide for each student an appropriate service.
THE PRIMARY PRINCIPLE
The Master lays down the primary principle upon which all study and service must be based. He says: "You must learn to be true all through, in thought and word, and deed". He thus emphasises that the world is built upon a foundation of truth, and He shows us that this is the first lesson every one of us has to learn, [Page 138] whether in school or out of it. Truth, indeed, is the basis of all growth, and the rate at which we grow depends upon the extent to which we allow truth to permeate our thoughts, our words, our actions. All in the world that is bad, impure, wrong, unhappy, is in reality, untrue. That is to say, it is all a distortion of the true — the force of truth has been misapplied. Absence of knowledge is the cause of all the trouble in the world, and the world needs, above all things, that truth — which is the same as knowledge — should be spread far and wide, in forms suited to the varying understandings of the different stages of evolution to which the peoples of the world belong. The Master tells us how we are to arrive at the truth, and He says that we must not believe that a thing is true because many other people hold it to be true, nor because it has been believed for centuries, nor because it is written in some book which man thinks sacred. He tells us that we must think things out for ourselves, and judge for ourselves. "He who would walk upon the Path must learn to think for himself, for superstition is one of the greatest evils in the world, one of the fetters from which you must utterly free yourself".
FORM IS NOT REALITY
That is why it is so important to have as teachers people who have a certain amount of real knowledge, and who are as free from prejudice as possible. I do not for a moment suggest that forms are not valuable, [Page 139] and during childhood there are many forms with which children are to be associated. But the teacher should never lose sight of the fact that forms are but forms, no matter how beautiful the forms may be, and that the existence of the form depends upon the reality within. Young people are so much brought up to believe that the forms which surround them are the only forms of any real value that, either they rebel against them, or become dwarfed by them. In either case mischief has been done, and suffering inevitably follows any belief that form is reality. We must try, therefore, to consider all forms as signposts pointing to the reality which they enclose. In the early stages of child-life, the form attracts most, and we cannot expect any considerable effort to look through the form into the reality beyond. But, as education proceeds, forms become increasingly insignificant, and should serve but to emphasise the beauty of an underlying unity which can find expression in so much apparent diversity. All of us, therefore, have to see how much we are at the mercy of conventional habits of thought. It is, of course, the reverse of sensible to disbelieve simply because a large number of people believe, though that is the attitude of many otherwise independent thinkers. But we must be continually on the alert to see that we do not unconsciously drift, either with our surroundings or with the general current of thought along which our nation, or the world as a whole, is drifting. Those who would serve the Master must learn to think for [Page 140] themselves, and this involves a very searching analysis of the motives which precede our thoughts, our words, our deeds.
CAUSES OF MISUNDERSTANDING
The Master then remarks that we must not think of other people that which we do not know. This is, of course, one of the most difficult lessons to learn, and one of the most valuable acts of service which both young and old can offer in helpfulness to others. We are all of us far too prone to imagine, and then to treat the imagination as if it were knowledge. Much of the ill-feeling which exists among people is simply because they often think that which they do not know, and which frequently turns out to be untrue, A personal talk with someone, whom one imagines to be in opposition to one, frequently removes the misunderstanding. Indeed, most people are much more antagonistic away from their objects of disapproval than when they come face to face. As a general rule, when two people come together, a very slight effort is always made by the underlying Unity to assert itself, and with goodwill this little effort often overcomes the misunderstanding which has been largely born of distance and ignorance.
Then, again, there is in most people a very definite tendency to exaggeration, and this also causes much misunderstanding and difficulty. As the Master observes, we often imagine that people are thinking ill of [Page 141] us: "If a man does something which you think will harm you, or says something which you think applies to you, do not think at once, 'he meant to injure me'. "Nothing is more true than the fact that each soul has its own troubles, and that its thoughts turn chiefly around itself. Our attitude towards others very largely depends on the way we ourselves are getting on in the world at the moment — on the state of our physical health, on the hopes we have for the future, on our memories of the past. Generally speaking, it is not so much what someone else does that matters, as the relation of that action to the little world in which we live. A little matter which I thought nothing of yesterday, I may to-day regard as of essential importance because toothache has entered my little world, and has upset my nerves. All kinds of apparently trivial conditions may combine to make us take a very uncharitable view of the actions of other people. Mrs. Besant has often told us that to feel hurt is a condition of selfishness, because our business is what we ourselves do, and not the attitude of others towards us.
This is a hard lesson to learn, because in the past we have so much depended upon the world outside us. If we would become pupils of a Master we must become far more positive in character, and make our condition depend upon what we give out rather than upon what we take in, I often think that the lives of clerks in the City depend far more upon what happens .to their employers in the domesticity of home than upon the carelessness or cleverness with [Page 142] which they attend to their employers' business. An employer finds that his morning egg is bad, has a few words with his wife, is disturbed by the boisterousness of his children, could not find his collar stud while dressing, lost his favorite train, found his favorite seat occupied by some one else, and the result is that the office becomes unbearable, and everything his subordinates do is wrong. The subordinates may imagine that their employer dislikes them, or has some grudge against them, whereas the fact of the matter is that the whole mischief began with the loss of that collar stud ! I do not, for a moment, wish to suggest that this is always the case, but it very often is. As the Master observes: "Probably some one or something else has made him angry, and because he happens to meet you he turns his anger upon you. He is acting foolishly, for all anger is foolish, but you must not therefore think untruly of him". [Page 143]
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