(Reprinted from "The Theosophist," June, 1890.)

and as republished in “Theosophical Siftings” - Volume -7- [1894-1895]

[Page 19] THE oft-quoted line, "Men* rush in where angels fear to tread", is [ * Our gentle contributor misquotes this word. Pope used a much stronger one. — Ed.] brought very forcibly before us when we are learning with difficulty one of the first needful lessons in our study of occultism. In our newly-awakened consciousness of spiritual life, we feel the zeal and enthusiasm which comes with fresh powers — the first breath of the Divine belief which will grow to the whirlwind of faith that removes mountains. We are helped and strengthened, and long to assist everyone with whom we come in contact in the same way in which we seem to have been helped. We are eager, impatient to bring our fellow-travellers into smoother paths, feeling sure we can do it, that words and thoughts, if only poured into their groping minds, will bring the light they need; we are angry when we are told that our efforts are as fruitless and impossible as bringing to perfection in one short moment the latent powers and beauty in a seed; so we go on like children, digging up our gardens to hasten our seedlings into the sunshine — until like children we too learn that nature will not be hurried; and with the enlarged knowledge comes patience and endurance. It is most difficult to realize all the slow steps of individual progress. We cannot even analyze our own development — nor watch our own growth — how little then can we judge of another, and what mischief may we not do by trying to hasten the process — what tender green leaves may not be killed by blighting frost or drying wind if brought too soon out of the friendly nursing warmth of the earth. It seems darkness to us, but how necessary to growth! The plant is not ready for full sunshine, nor for open rain, nor drenching dew. No efforts of ours can force the natural development without serious risk. A bud forced open does not make a full-blown rose. How then can half-grown budding souls be forced and pushed ? We may tend, shelter, and help within certain limits, but every one of us has to grow alone. We have, to use another simile, to walk every step of the way; we cannot be carried. In this lies the secret of true development and progress. It will naturally be asked: Is all zeal wrong, all fervour and enthusiasm to be crushed — are we to sit down resignedly and give up that greatest of all pleasures, helping others ? Are we only to be perpetually striving over self-culture, tending everlastingly our own plot of ground, as if we ourselves were alone in the vast universe and cut off from all contact with others ? For it seems to us that this is carrying to its utmost limits the worst faults of asceticism; it would nullify all the teachings of Theosophy and be the exact opposite of our aims and aspirations.[Page 19]

But let us patiently accept at the beginning of our occult studies the need for self-cultivation and self-development; meanwhile resolutely resisting all temptations to teach or help others till we ourselves shall at all events have weeded out some of the useless growths in our own minds; till we have made room for spiritual light and air, and have begun to recognise and distinguish between what is good and fruitful, and what is the reverse.

A mind devoting its energies to learning cannot, at the same time, be anxious and striving to teach. We do help our own knowledge at times by trying to teach, but we cannot be at once in a receptive and in an effluent state. We must first make thoroughly our own any truth we want another to recognise; otherwise our half-digested truth hinders and not helps that other's power of assimilation.

Imperfect knowledge, unconscious of its partial ignorance, is always accompanied by a certain dogmatic attitude, and a pride in the new truth, as one of its own finding; but when the knowledge grows clearer, dogmatism is impossible, for the ideal truth recedes ever further from our grasp, its growing clearness showing ever its infinity as compared to our finite minds.

First, then, we have to learn and to keep silent, and when we have checked and schooled our enthusiastic impulse to shout our newly-found truths from every housetop — then, and then only, are those of our fellowmen put in our way whom we can really help. When we are fit to teach any one out of our small store, he who will best benefit by the little we can do will be there ready to receive it.

As we have received, so will others receive from us. It is but a little that can be done outside each individual mind; but so surely as that mind needs and seeks, so surely will it find. We are but the conduit-pipes, the instruments, for conveying spiritual help to others: indeed our power of helping is in exact inverse-ratio to our self-consciousness and pride — the more we think we are effecting the less we really do; but provided our aim be pure, and the key-note of our life be set in perfect accord with the Divine harmony, then the more we allow ourselves to be passive instruments, the more we shall be used as channels through which spiritual life may flow.

The seeker after truth who plunges into the sea of modern Theosophical literature may well be buffeted by contrary winds and torn by conflicting currents if he allows himself to drift passively therein. For the pure water of truth is diluted with error, covered with the froth and foam of fanatical "faddists", and full of the driftwood of old prejudices, beliefs, and opinions. He must be a strong swimmer who would breast it all, and he needs a faithful soul and a single eye if he would keep from drowning. [Page 20]

It may be a good thing that a seeker should have so much difficulty, so many faults and will-o'-the-wisped to bewilder him, for a jewel that is hard to find is always most valued; but for the weak ones and those easily led into tortuous paths, there is great danger in letting young untried minds attempt the rôle of leader; that their zeal is great and their courage high, only increase the risk. The more serious side to it is one that these enthusiastic beginners scarcely if ever see until too late; for it cannot be too often insisted on that the first step into occult studies, whilst bringing fresh light also has its corresponding depth of darkness.

Temptations hitherto unknown arise to retard progress — new trials are brought before the aspirant as tests, and the dangers that had so often been pointed to in fiction, such as elementals and demons and the dreaded "Dweller on the Threshold", are very real and very terrible.

The study of occultism should never be heedlessly undertaken by any one. It is not and can never be a wonderland that may merely be peeped into by childish curiosity, hungry for marvels; he who once ventures within the portals cannot go back; here there can be no after-closing of the eyes. But there are two ways in which to go forward — the straight undeviating progress upwards and onwards, the earnest effort to regenerate the whole life; or the other path, the reverse side of the picture, which is only too easily trodden by wavering souls. And as the one reaches spiritual heights undreamed of in our most fervid imaginings, so does the other descend into depths we cannot fathom. And the Karma of this must come upon the leader of the untried soul — upon the teacher it falls, and he has to bear the burden of consequence if he teaches falsely, or in any way rashly opens the door into knowledge that may not be given to all.

Christian Theosophists have most plainly before them the example of their own great Master, who taught in parables lest those who were not ready for the truth should come to harm. Even to His own chosen few He said, "I have many things to say to you, but ye cannot bear them now" — recognizing clearly the gradual growth and development, both of the race and of the individual. Many a mind has been quite unhinged, many a spiritual eye blinded by a too sudden pouring in of light — this veil of matter is not woven around us without purpose — we cannot with impunity draw it away, though it may be now thin, and the spiritual powers may grow gradually stronger and stronger till the time comes for its removal.

Let not the Neophyte therefore be disheartened; his zeal and fervour are Divine gifts to be cultivated and cherished, but expended in a right direction, not recklessly as forces used with heedless youthful impulse, but in a steady, calm, ever-strengthening stream, united with others in the same single-minded effort to raise and help the whole human family to its destined perfect end. There is a quaint old proverb, pregnant with truth, "If everyone swept before his own doorstep, the street would be clean" — and translated somewhat and completed for the student in Theosophy we might render it — "First self-knowledge and self-cultivation, then self-abnegation and a life lived for others".

Our work for others will be of ten-fold value if we have first learned, in ever so small a way, how to know and work for ourselves.

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