from The Theosophist April 1972

To Clear a Space


Some time ago an esteemed member of the Theosophical Society wrote expressing concern at the fact that, while in the works of Bishop Leadbeater there is reference to a King at the head of an occult Hierarchy, no such King is mentioned in the writing of Madame Blavatsky.

Putting aside any consideration of the possibility that these tow writers may have been referring to the same reality in very different terms and language, a real or apparent conflict of authorities always throws us back on our existing resources and upon what we are. People want conflicts of authority to be solved for them by somebody, some further authority, because they do not feel that they really want to be thrown back in this way upon what they are.

Why, then, do we read and question and try to build up a Theosophy, a picture of life, descriptions given to us by others?

In recent years I have learned something about this from obeying a strong desire to paint water-color pictures of actual places. In so far as I can define the reason why I have an urge to engage in this particular artistic activity, I seem at the same time to get a clearer idea of what it really is that I am seeking when I read the kind of literature that the Theosophical Society has given to the world. Perhaps it may help others to clarify their sense of purpose if I enlarge a little upon this.

One evening I came upon a little moorland pond beside the road, with grass and rushes along the edge. Beyond it, empty land stretched to a near horizon over the edge of which rose the bulky summit of a mountain five a six miles away. Above was a sober evening sky, slightly touched with rose from a hidden sunset.

It was a simple and almost conventional scene, but I could not be satisfied until I had made a water-color sketch of it. What was it in the scene that made it important and significant? I have found that the real subject of any landscape painting is something which is not in the picture at all. It is space.

Space may be defined or contained by anything that one paints. It may be the vast space between sea and sky or the space among trees that might momentarily be filled by the song of a bird or the space that is filled by the immediate aura and scent of a few flowers in a bowl or the space that is penetrated by the altitude of a tall building. But every scene, for me, is an exploration of the mystery of space. One might almost say it is the pursuit of a love affair with space.

One may sketch in and lightly indicate the features which, in a particular set of circumstances, contain space or illustrate space and hint at its presence and its extension, but one cannot ever directly portray space itself.

Perhaps some people may not respond easily to space but may be fascinated by silence. Is it not possible to imagine that the fascination of music lies in its capacity to convey an intimation of a different mode of silence? Had I been musically inclined, I might have been prompted to compose music to tell of my response to the silence of that moorland scene instead of painting a picture to record the space which it held.

I have spoken to other people who paint landscape scenes, and they have agreed that what they are really painting is always a portrait of space, a revelation of a quality of space. A picture can also usually be seen can usually be seen as a mandala, an integration diagram. About this, Jung has had much to say. Sometimes we objectify very clearly in our paintings the incompletenesses, the yearnings and the evolution of the human psyche. But the criterion of reference is always spatial. Our real concern indeed is with something that is not in the picture.

What we can thus attempt to describe and explain with regard to Art is surely also true of our studies. There is an old saying that education is what we carry with us after we have forgotten everything we ever learned. This could refer to the mere conditioning that is exerted upon people by a certain type of education. But let us take it at deeper level and say that the details of curriculum, however useful and desirable, ought to serve mainly to clear a space for the emergence of something indefinable in us which is the true flowering of education or of culture.

This is how it seems right to view the value and true contents of the classics of Theosophical literature. In each case they are like somebody's sketch of a scene in which space is the true and validating presence. Some parts of the picture are quite accurately factual, like the grass and rushes in the foreground. Others are more like the rather impressionist indications of sky and distant mountain, less like the objectively outlines foreground facts and more like the thin wash of cobalt just at the line of the horizon which gives a sense of space. But the true heart of the matter is space, invisible and impalpable; and the visible features of the picture are significant only because they indicate and contain a quality of space.

This, I confess, is how I see the various Theosophies that can be found in the Theosophical Society, the Theosophies of Madame Blavatsky, of Annie Besant, of Bishop Leadbeater, of Dr. Arundale and others. Each is a picture in a very individual style. All are concerned with what can be indicated only in a very impressionist manner. Some such pictures are vast and full of baffling complexity and some can be like bright little cameos. But all have significance less in what is objectively indicated in them than in the invisible quality of space which those indications reveal.

I could not get worried about whether there was a King in one picture and not in another. Space is universal and infinite, and if space is present all is present. The artist, with his individual attitude and temperament, sometimes the prisoner of limitation, sometimes splendidly transcending them, chooses what he will attempt to portray; and we in turn, with a greater or lesser degree of response to the picture's evocation, choose what we shall see in it and to what we shall remain blind.

Sometimes people say, "That is not really a Theosophical book". Or they talk of "pseudo-occultism". One sometimes feels that there is a certain truth in this. What is usually meant is that the reader feels that the book is a constructed thing, like an attempt to organize space rather than reveal it.

It is true that one has usually to create a form before life can reveal itself through that form; and as one works at the preliminary details of painting one's picture, one is hardly aware at first of what it is that will be revealed when it is finished. Yet the end is mysteriously implanted in the means, and, even while the first indications of form are being made, the life that is to ensoul the form is already unconsciously guiding the work.

This is probably why so many people who take up various forms of yoga or meditation end in boredom and frustration. The form or discipline has been devised by a personal mental calculation or by the mind of another. True space is at one with that which anywhere contains it and so contributes subtly to shaping the vessel which contains it; but when a container is devised more as a trap than as an open shrine for space, and the space itself is conceptual rather than experienced, then the meditation leads into unreality.

As Krishnamurti has put it, "In the space which thought creates around itself there is no love. This space divides man from man, and in it there is all the becoming, the battle of life, the agony and fear. Meditation is the ending of this space, the ending of the me" (Meditation, 1969).

To understand why thought is necessarily a denial of love, we might perhaps substitute for "thought" the word "calculation". Thought which is prudential calculation based upon a self-defensive notion of myself is ultimately destructive and self-frustrating.

Sometimes in recent years, when there has been much talk of exploring "outer space, " people have described Yoga or meditation as the exploration of "inner space". But space is one, and the inner space of meditation cannot be separate from the outer space of our whole external relatedness. Meditation, in other words, cannot be a panacea which releases us from the fulfilment of relationship with wife, husband, child, parents, neighbor, employer and all the rest of mankind. Indeed it is our uncalculating concern for these that can alone give us space. We must be primarily in that state can alone give us space. We must be primarily in that state described in the Bhagavad-Gita as "desiring the welfare of the world". Otherwise, to try to cultivate an inner space for ourselves is only to try to opt our of life, to climb back into the safety of the womb. There are, of course, times in anybody's life when the "inner" seems to predominate, when it seems right to retreat like a Henry Thoreau to some Walden Pond of our interior; but from such a holiday we have always to emerge.

In any debate about "methods" of meditation, it has always to be recollected that spirituality, our intimation of inner space, has to be allowed to shape its own forms of expression, or, at least, the spirituality and the form of its expression emerge as one. Forms and techniques cannot create spirituality. Space and that which contains space are not separable.

So far as more external contacts and evocations are concerned, the spatial contents of Art or of any printed word reveal themselves only to such spaciousness as is in analytical mind which dissects and compares. It does not seem to matter whether there is or is not a King in the landscape. If there is a certain royal quality in the on-looker, the scene will reveal a quality of kingliness which permeates Universal Space.


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