Understanding the pace of development
If the purpose of life on earth be a wide and deep spiritual growth, and if one attends above all else to that purpose, then whatever the future may bring it could only bring fresh material for such growth. Its own uncertainty cannot dissipate this certainty. One's growth is guaranteed, whether the future be pleasant or unpleasant, so long as one lives in the present strictly according to his dedicated ideal.
Life is a struggle and man is frail. Hindrances are around him on every side and limitations are within him on every occasion. Therefore, what is essential is that right direction should always be present, and what is important is that the ideal of the quest should never be abandoned.
The direction in which we are to move and the purpose which is to engage our striving are more valuable, more important, than program and plan. They are more flexible, leave one freer.
Such aims are not going to be achieved in a single day. They will take years, nay an entire lifetime, even to approach. The defects inside himself and the hindrances outside himself may in the end prove too much for a man. What then is he to do? Shall he show his humility and realism by renouncing these lofty aspirations altogether and give up trying to improve himself? Or shall he carry on with a hopeless fight, one foredoomed to unbroken defeat? He should do neither. He should inwardly hold to his aspirations as firmly as ever but he should outwardly defer his attempts to promote them until the next birth. He must fix them before his eyes as something to work for one day or he will not get nearer them at all. A sound aim, a right intention, is of the first importance. Let personal limitations and external circumstances create what delays they will, he will know at least that his feet are planted on the right path, his movement headed in the right direction.
In most cases this quest requires a change in the way of life, both mental and physical. But the aspirant may set his own pace if he is unwilling or unable to make the change more drastically or more rapidly. The essential point is that he knows and accepts the direction and the ideal--both.
The aspirant who gets discouraged because no light falls upon his path, no Glimpse flashes into his mind, no mystical experience comes to delight his heart, no revelation opens secret doors, may make a last attempt to secure one by threatening to leave the quest altogether unless it is received quickly! A neophyte I knew practised a certain exercise for about a year, then gave it up, folded his tent, and left; another delivered a challenge to the higher power, giving It two months in which to appear. Otherwise he, too, would abandon the quest, which he did when the time passed. What was this second man doing but dictating to the Overself and demanding that It conform to his little ego's requirements? The correct attitude would have been to declare that even if he died before any encouraging experience occurred, he would still be faithful to the quest. It is still worthwhile for its own sake, quite apart from its rewards. If these impatient aspirants really understood its preciousness, they would then understand that it is not the distance travelled but the direction taken which really matters!
He may believe that, with the material he is born with, his quest is unlikely to come anywhere near success. But that is not the point. That is where grace enters the picture. What he is concerned with is the attempt itself.
Why become miserable because you have not realized any or all of the hopes for your inner life, or experienced the joys of its successful fruition? Is it nothing that you have learnt the truths, found the direction, and taken the first steps on the road to such realization?
The intuition cannot be completely cultivated in a few weeks, the passions cannot be overcome successfully in a few months, the thoughts cannot be brought to a standstill finally in a few years, the ego's deeply rooted point of view cannot be changed permanently in many years. The disciple's growth needs time and therefore needs patience. If he cannot shake the old Adam forever out of his mind and heart as quickly as he would like to, there will be other births in which he can take up the work again and continue it.
What is important is to move in the right direction, for then two things are happening. First, one is moving and, secondly, one is moving near to the correct goal. But those who are stuck fast in the worship of material values are doing neither one nor the other.
This Quest requires him to set up certain standards. They are ideal ones, of course, but at least they give him right direction. If at times looking at them and at his actual state he gets a sense of failure, let him use this sense as a reminder that the standards are ideal, are at the peak of the mountain, and that he has yet to climb.
To the man tied to a variety of desires, aware of his personal shortcomings and ignorance, hindered by circumstance, environment, society, and despondency, this may seem an unachievable goal. All the same it is there and some--admittedly only a small number--have achieved it. But I have said it often before, that even if it were true that the feat is not possible for us, that complete peace of mind is not within our personal reach, either a partial or intermittent peace is. This is why direction is important, be the starting-point however unpromising.
The image of the sought-after goal which the aspirant is taught to strive for may, after a certain effort of trying to attain it, require revision downward. It may need adjustment to become more in alignment with the reality of his present state of development. The most important point is to get the right direction towards a noble goal, his higher self.
To ask a man to act with complete disinterestedness, think with utter impersonality, and feel with perfect selflessness is to ask what is close to the impossible. But to ask him to polarize himself towards these goals so that he has direction, is to ask what is both reasonable and desirable.
The way to spiritual attainment is admittedly difficult and lonely but there are compensations; inner blessings and glimpses of the goal will be given one from time to time. And one should never forget the all-important fact that he is progressing in the right direction.
With all humanity's limitations, it is enough for him to know that he is moving in the right direction regardless of the rises and falls and of the periods of inner storm and stress. The path is tremendously difficult and the Gita reminds us that few succeed in finishing it successfully. It is enough to know that we have found it and that we are making valiant efforts to overcome the adverse influences which surround mankind and seem so determined to keep us from the goal. However, philosophy teaches that every sincere seeker finds a certain compensation--in a beautiful and ethereal world after death--for the failures, disappointments, and miseries which make up so much of the stuff of the human story.
What is more important than progress in meditation is one's fundamental attitude toward life itself. If one can develop a sense of right direction, plus some amount of aspiration towards a better and Higher Self, one need not be concerned about the speed with which he travels in that direction.
Let us not say that the aspirant has set himself an impossible task. Let us say rather that he has set himself a task whose accomplishment is so distant that it must be looked for in a later incarnation.
The aspiration is a praiseworthy one but the attempt to realize it is a premature one. The timing is wrong.
Many are the aspirants who complain that they have had no mystical experiences, no rapt ecstatic exaltations, no great awe-inspiring enlightenments. "Give me just a single Glimpse," they cry disheartened, "and I will then be sure that your path is correct, your way is the one for me. Otherwise . . . " Some of them drift away to join sects, teachers, cults, or to embrace new doctrines, techniques, systems. Some remain but are halfhearted, apathetic, and often critical. A few concern themselves with fundamental issues and work patiently on, holding the view that this quest must be followed to the end for its own sake, whether Glimpses do or do not come.
Always at the beginning, at intervals on the road, glimpses are given us of this far-off state. Thus we are guided as to the direction we are to pursue: "He gives us some token of His immediate presence, as if to assure the soul for a moment, that He was with it in its tribulation. I say for a moment, for it is of no service subsequently as a support, but is rather intended to point out the way and invite the soul to further loss of self," writes Madame Guyon, the French mystic.
There will always be opportunities for the follower of this path to put his philosophy into practice. Whether pleasant or unpleasant, they should be welcomed! The more he tries, the more he is likely to accomplish. He should take care not to depend upon his personal judgement alone. If he makes the beginnings of a right (that is, impersonal and egoless) response to each problem, help may mysteriously appear to guide him to a right solution. Even tests and trials will provide him with the chance to grow spiritually, and to bring him closer to his goal.
He will be delighted when he feels that he is starting to make inner progress and that spiritual currents are beginning to stir within his consciousness. But this is only a beginning. The road before him has its ups and downs, its shine and shadow, and there is no such thing as a mechanical, straight-line progress.
Whilst we are walking by the broken lamp of personal thought and sensuous intelligence, it is inevitable that our journey shall be troubled by slips and falls, by mistakes and even disasters. Impulses from below will masquerade as intuitions from above. Desire will even meddle with the authentic promptings of the Overself and thus lead us into mixed deeds and tainted results. At best we shall only half-know whither we are going and only when pain comes shall we understand how we have gone astray. Hence when we are uncertain we must learn to wait. Perhaps intuition is trying to tell us what we have to do, but other voices, like blind self-interest or reason's inability to understand, are interfering with the transmission. We have then to wait a day or two, a week or two, sometimes a month or two, until the situation becomes somewhat clearer, as it usually does.
The path may be long and hard, and he may lose much time in negotiating its boulders, pitfalls, snares, and obstacles. The chances for a quick sprint forward will be few and rare. Nevertheless, he must continue to travel it. He should let no person and no event involving another person turn him from the quest's straight course. Is he to abandon hope and discard an ideal because its realization seems too remote? Is the finest element of human character doomed to acknowledge defeat? For what does it really matter if the ideal is not realizable during his own lifetime? Is not the struggle merely to approach such realization part of a worthwhile way of living? Were these the only considerations, they would be enough to justify his continuance, but they are not. Man's story is a serial one. It proceeds through body after body, birth after birth. But the fact is that once he really absorbs the spirit of this quest he will be unable to desert it for more than an interval, even should he wish to. He will be inexorably driven back to it by mysterious forces within his own psyche, made to re-engage himself in it--however unwillingly--by a deep, silent, recurrent, inner void.
The good in him may bring him to the mount of wisdom, but the evil in him may take him away from it. Man is a complex creature: this is why his inner life is marked by different phases of rise and fall.
They will then find, as Himalayan climbers often find, that after they have mounted what seemed the steepest cliff and reached what seemed to be its peak, the real summit suddenly appears before them. It was hidden because it was set back by an ice-covered ridge. Once again they must bestir themselves to arduous climbing and of a somewhat different kind. For theirs was an inconclusive achievement, a partial and transitional result. This need not disappoint them, for if their further climb brings them a new and wider view, the pseudo-summit can still be seen because it still exists, even though it will now appear smaller and less important.
The notion that there will be a steady advance is not correct or at least is not reflected by the cases exhibited in life itself. Development is often slow and always uncertain, enlivened at long intervals by brief spurts of growth in knowledge and mastery in power but retarded by retreats, setbacks, failures, frailties, and shortcomings.
Progressive Stages of the Quest.
1. Glimpses and flashes of insight.
Consciousness is the unique element in every experience.
Once we learn the secret of our true nature we begin to perceive.
A ray from the Overself will shine upon our normal mind and transform and transfigure it. But moments of spiritual ecstasy are heralds of the high state which is yet to come when the Overself is taken fully into our councils and we have let go of the terrestrial ego with its dwarfed personal viewpoint.
2. Surrender of the ego.
To give up the "I" is very hard, yet that is our one and only task. The right attitude eclipses the ego and brings peace, whereas the wrong attitude enhances the ego and brings pain.
Habitually if unconsciously we split all experience into the world that is known and the I that knows it, into the "not I" and the "I."
Consider what happens when we become intensely interested in a story unfolding itself on a cinema screen. What happens during the deepest points of such concentration? For the time being we actually forget ourselves, and we drop the whole burden of personal memories, relations, desires, anxieties, and pettinesses which constitute the ego. Temporarily the "I" is transcended. The attainment of the Overself is nothing more than the ability to detach, not destroy, the ego at will.
Our sufferings arise out of our own failings, out of our inability to pass tests unconsciously invoked by our entry into the orbit of this quest. But even those sufferings, like all which come out of such contacts, carry tremendous spiritual lessons, and we can, if we will, turn them to great profit and inner progress. For what is progress after all? It is movement from the standpoint of the ego to that of the non-ego, the Overself.
The personality is but a transient shadow; a shadow presupposes a light; the light of the real self exists; renounce living in the shadow and move over to the light.
Personal bias is often quite unconscious and constitutes a hindrance on the path to truth.
Jesus said, "Except ye become as little children ye cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven." What did he mean? Consider the minds of children in whom the ego is but little developed. How egoless they are. How spontaneous and immediate is their knowledge of the world around them.
The giving up of thoughts leads to the giving up of the personal self.
In his quietest moments a man hears in the depths of his being a voice which tells him that he comes from a country to which one day he must return.
3. The lonely nature of the path.
Some complain that this quest makes them feel inwardly lonely and isolated. That is true. In one sense the study of philosophy will condemn the student to a forlorn solitude, for he will find few that care for it and many who despise it. But the loneliness is to help him to find and feel the presence of the best companion, the Overself. This brings him into sympathetic touch with all mankind through its revelation of unity. The feeling of isolation is only the inevitable differentiation from the self-deceived, the superficial, and the intuitionally backward.
4. Preparation and tests.
Preparation must precede enquiry. No student can profitably undertake Vedantic enquiry who skips through this earlier stage. His enquiries will always be limited in depth and scope as well as ineffective in final result if he lacks the sound training of intelligence which should come first.
Do not be impatient. For you are learning the alphabet of a higher life. When you have mastered that you will begin to form words, and later sentences, and in time whole paragraphs. You must prolong through years, if needs be, this disciplining of mind and mood.
Teak, which is among the hardest woods in the world, is cut from what is one of the slowest growing trees in the world. Perhaps the teak tree which we have seen growing in the Far East and nowhere else has picked up something of the Buddhistic atmosphere of those lands, with their wonderful patience, as befits a faith which perceives life to be beginningless and endless; we do not know. Anyway, the moral is that the higher the goal the longer it takes to reach, and that the better the goal the more patient the aspirant must be in his struggles to reach it.
An authoritative Tibetan text says, "The best sign of spiritual progress is the gradual lessening of passions and selfishness." But the emphasis should be laid on the word "gradual." The student, like most earthborn mortals, may suffer from sporadic outbursts of sudden passion or shameful anger. But this is insufficient reason for abandoning the quest. The sincere student will always be conscious that the path must be followed despite the grey hours of despondency and failure. It will always call him back with such insistency that he will now know life will grant him rest only when the goal is attained.
We may well feel that we fall far short of that standard which should be attained by enlightened people, but this does not mean that the quest is too difficult for us. It means rather that we must patiently pursue our way undeterred by failures, knowing that what is not achieved during the present incarnation will surely if gradually be achieved during coming incarnations. It means that we are never to permit hope to desert us but only to temper it with understanding.
Most of us cannot help being mistaken at times, but all of us can help being stubborn after our mistakes have been pointed out to us, either by our own experiences or by another human being.
We start with psychology, proceed to epistemology, and end with ontology. In other words, we start with what is given to consciousness, we proceed to what is really known, and we discover that knowing must end in being.
Realization is not a mere feeling because feeling is sub-rational. It is not a mere concept because concepts are finite. Yet it fulfils the demands of both feeling and reason inasmuch as it contains both categories. Paradoxically, however, it also transcends them. The flux of life is transformed into diviner shapes.
If he remains loyal to these ideals, then, through both dreary lapses and bright spurts alike, his spiritual life will grow in strong intensity and quality.
The man who announces his readiness to go upon this quest usually looks forward to its exhilarations and illuminations. Does he understand that he must be ready also for its vicissitudes, must expect its depressions and darknesses?
Since the whole of the human entity has to be developed and not merely a part of it, there is no possible way of skipping the unfinished development and leaping to the goal at a single bound. Those who offer shortcuts deceive themselves.
The expectation that progress will be constant and steady fills many beginners until time and experience teach otherwise. They have failed to allow for the possibility that there may be steps back and aside as well as interminably long pauses. Some go still farther and expect Grace, whether direct or through a master, to come prematurely or to work some spiritual conjuring-trick and change their nature almost overnight. The error of these egoistic expectations should be replaced by the correct attitude, which is hope. This is inspired by nothing less than the Overself. It is a genuinely intuitive leading. But it must be followed in patience and without imposing the ego's false emotions upon it.
It would be welcome indeed to learn that an aspirant could accomplish this at a single and sudden bound. But neither life nor the quest is so easy as that. There must be a linked continuity between the goal and his preliminary efforts. The talk of Satori or sudden enlightenment in Zen Buddhism often leads to misunderstanding of this point.
It is true that the inner life of most aspirants usually proceeds after the first stirring awakening on a somewhat monotonous flat ground. The advance, if any, is slow. But it is also true that certain times come at the end of these long intervals when it is possible to make a definite spurt forward, rapidly and decisively. The aspirant has to watch vigilantly for such opportunity and make the most of it when it does come. The most noteworthy sign of its presence is a sudden, unexpected surge of determination and resolution to bring about certain changes in the inner life. With this emotional arousing there comes some or all of the strength to effect the changes. The utmost advantage should be taken of these feelings while they temporarily manifest themselves. For the extent of the advance will depend upon the jolting force, the spiritual violence, and the positive and affirmative character of the thoughts held at the time, which are used to implement the new resolve. Quite often it may involve making a revolutionary decision requiring some courage or at least enough to desert an old standpoint for a new one. Naturally the emotions which enter into such a change will be the higher ones. These energetic spurts arise from a brief arousal of the force called Spirit-Fire by the Orientals and are induced by the accumulation and release of favourable karma or by the gracious contact with an adept. They stimulate effort and energize the will beyond the ordinary. Every advantage should be taken of these stimulations while they last for they usually pass away after a time.
If a man has been following the Quest, but subsequently deserts it, he will lose whatever control he has over his personal welfare until he returns to the path again. The more he refuses to heed the sacred call, the more will he move to his own destruction. His only hope of mending his fortunes is to return to the path which he has deserted.
The sudden acceleration of progress which comes at certain times should be fully exploited by humble prayer, by further effort, and by resisting the tendency to rest complacently in it.
The highest spiritual opportunities come only one time in a man's life. Although other opportunities may come, they will not be of the same magnitude nor will the man be able to take advantage of them with the same force.
Progress is not constant from one year to another. Rather is it an erratic movement. This is because human feelings are the raw material being worked on, not wood or iron. It moves over long monotonous plateaus where, apparently, no upward ascent is happening, as well as over steep hills where height is gained with every step.
No philosopher has ever turned away from these teachings. No student of philosophy has ever done so without returning again after, with time and experience, he had more thoroughly tested its comparative worth or truth against whatever else he had tried.
There are long stretched-out intervals of spiritually impotent, inspirationally lifeless existence.
It is important to let everything happen naturally, not to try to force an inner mystical experience, not to be anxious about its non-arisal.
He may walk haltingly on this path and come into view of its more meaningful phases only belatedly.
If blunders and falls appear in his own spiritual career, he may remember that they do so in the career of many other aspirants.
There is no universal experience which makes the spiritual progress of all aspirants exactly the same. With some it is slow and steady; with others nearly imperceptible or apparently absent; with a third group it is quicker but followed by lapses and losses; with a fourth group it is slight for long periods and then dramatically advances by series of forward leaps and abrupt awakenings; with a fifth it shows haphazardly and erratically; with a sixth it is a powerful climax to aspiration and discipline, releasing new and added energies for achievement in a particular desired direction.
We make growth only by degrees because we separate ourselves from the ego only by degrees. The notion that any man can annihilate the ego overnight is an illusory one. He only seems to do so. What actually happens in such a case is that the annihilation is the final culminating event of a long, hidden process--hidden, that is to say, in former incarnations and abruptly pushing its way into the surface consciousness of the present reincarnation. No man flies to such Himalayan altitudes; he can only climb to them.
We do not ordinarily develop at an even, steady pace. Most of us, alas! do not even feel for long stretches that we are developing at all.
Once the quest throws its spell over him, he is its prisoner for life. He may escape from time to time. He may shun its disciplines and deny its self-denials when fatigue or circumstance prompts him to do so. But always its mysterious fascination will force him to return eventually. The length of the period of his desertion may be a month or a dozen years; that is irrelevant.
It is possible by a single day's sudden and excessive reversal of the way of life to lose part of the good results so far obtained.
Progress on this path ought not to be imagined as moving in a direct, uninterrupted line. In practice it follows a wavelike course. The mind rises vigourously to the crest of its powers for a time and then, tired, sinks into the trough. Here it remains for a while resting and then begins the same alternation.
The path is punctuated by both setbacks and advances. It is human to feel an upsurge of alarm when reverses occur, but it is philosophic not to let this become panic. It is natural to feel depressed when bad news comes, but it is philosophic not to let this develop into despair. The student must not permit himself to be bowled over by first reactions. The personal self must lay its tribute at the feet of the Universal Being, and it must do this no less during times of misfortune as during times of happiness.
The process which leads to this attainment is a long one. Those who teach or believe otherwise, who see it as a sudden and magical one, dependent on the arbitrary grant of some master's grace or involving only a single stroke of effort, are refuted by the facts of experience and observation.
The aspirant should not expect that the enthusiasm which he feels in the beginning will stay with him all the time. There will be moods when a cooler attitude will prevail and when even the whole jargon used in mystical and religious thought and discussion seems meaningless.
Yes, the Quest is a lengthy affair, and its slowness sometimes dries up the sap of enthusiasm.
We all have karmic debts to meet, self-earned penalties for sins and errors committed in former lifetimes if not in this one. Therefore, the philosophic student should not be surprised if a cycle of pleasant karma is followed by a difficult cycle. This doesn't mean the student should resign himself and do nothing about his troubles. On the contrary, he must seek every practical means of overcoming them. By so doing, and if he does the best he can, then there is a possibility that the debt may be modified--sometimes even cancelled. He may always cling to hope.
He will find in the course of time that amid all the advances and relapses, the progressions and regressions, there will be a permanent remainder of real growth.
He must learn patience in the greatest of all quests. However, he must remember that there are compensations for protracted periods of wearisome waiting, that periods of progress into which he will enter will be quite rapid by comparison. Above all, he should know that a sound basis for mystical development must be built in the character. It must be stable, sound, moral, determined, enduring, balanced, and reliable.
A person may be unconsciously if intermittently aware of a sharp fall, a terrible contrast between what he once was and now is. There may be a resultant feeling of unused potentiality, of not being in his original status, of not having found himself. These moods of thought and fits of feeling are most potent after he lets himself sink too deeply and too vehemently into personal life, personal emotions, and the dynamism which may be a part of his natural temperament. What may such a one do about his trouble? He is a sick soul and needs a soul physician. However, it is most advisable that during the periods of productive effort, of electrifying energy, he should try to moderate his actions, deliberately tone down his feelings, and calm his thoughts. This stormy intensity should be displaced by abruptly remembering its existence and breaking off into momentary self-recollection, standing back suddenly from his tremendous immersion in the egoic life and holding in his thought its transience and evanescence. Such concentrated power is a tremendous asset when directed rightly, but he has to pay the price of its possession when the personality is unintegrated. He should not work too hard, neither in quantity nor so intensely in quality. He should practise habitual relaxation in the very midst of his productive periods.
The ups and downs through which some must pass are partly in the emotional sphere and partly in the sphere of reality. The emotional upheavals and melancholy moods are the natural reactions on the lower levels to what has happened on the higher ones.
It is not only that every thing, every activity, should be put in its proper place, graded to its proper level, but also not done prematurely or belatedly, but with proper regard to the time-scale.
The theory of perpetual infinite and automatic progress is found to contradict itself.
He can always begin anew, clear of the negative thoughts and disturbed emotions which beset his past. But he cannot always sustain the endeavour.
The quest follows both a zigzag course as well as an up-and-down one.
It has been said that too many of the younger questers, in their early enthusiasm, undertake too much too fast, and later end in disappointment and discouragement, so that they abandon the Quest or else suffer deeply. There is some truth in this criticism.
Stagnation may be mistaken for contentment or resignation.
Although he must travel this path at his own pace and under his own initiative, there will be special periods when the movement forward must be quickened, when the effort made can be intensified. Destiny may provide these periods through terrible hurt or tremendous good fortune or through a guru.
Facing the problems of development
From the first moment that he sets foot on this inner path until the last one when he has finished it, he will at intervals be assailed by tests which will try the stuff he is made of. Such trials are sent to the student to examine his mettle, to show how much he is really worth, and to reveal the strength and weakness that are really his, not what he believes are his. The hardships he encounters try the quality of his attainment and demonstrate whether his inner strength can survive them or will break down; the sufferings he experiences may engrave lessons on his heart, and the ordeals he undergoes may purify it. Life is the teacher as well as the judge.
The tests show whether he has become sufficiently strong to translate his ideals into action, whether he has conquered his passions and ruled his emotions at the bidding of those ideals, whether he will be willing to take the path of self-denial when the lower nature seeks to lure him away from the path.
Those who have much faith in the benevolent intentions of the Mind behind the universe, sooner or later find that faith severely tested. For the calamities of human life come to all of us.
Life itself is today the hierophant who tests his character and mentality, his power and endurance and responsiveness to intuitions. Life itself will sooner or later provide its square and compasses whereby his character may be measured, his earnestness proved, and his aims known. It does this for all men in a general sense, but it does this for disciples in a special sense. Whoever engages himself to tread this path, in our own times, will find that every important event becomes a sign of the activity of either good or evil forces. He must be forewarned that, at certain stages, he will be examined by his higher self and tested by the beneficent forces or tempted by the adverse ones. From this epoch-making date, the major episodes of an aspirant's life are purposely sent into it. Both good and evil powers pay special attention, within his personal karma, to his affairs. Once he has committed himself to this quest, he will find that events so arrange themselves as to indicate his sincerity, examine his motives, display his weaknesses, and find out his virtues. His devotion to the philosophic ideal will be tested, his loyalty to the goal will be tried.
Another danger of going astray at an early stage does not come from the obviously evil things. This mystical journey passes through a region where charlatans enter in pursuit of dupes, where quacks seek whom they may deceive, and where mental hallucination is often mistaken for divine vision. Hence, danger emanates from those men who take the name of God in vain, who seek to exploit or enslave inexperienced neophytes on the claim of Divine attainment. The quest should lead to greater freedom and not less, freedom to obey the voice of the soul inside rather than the voice of man outside. Yet few beginners realize this and false guides sedulously sap them of what little realization of it they may instinctively possess. The seeker must learn to beware of this type, especially of those occultists who, unburdened by ethical principles, try to conquer weaker minds by the perverted power of hypnotism. They are in ugly contrast to true sages, who try to liberate people by compassionate and competent service. Christ's warning against false prophets and unauthentic pretenders is apposite here. Thus, if the quest calls for keen discernment, metaphysical profundity, and moral earnestness to conquer the opposing force, it also calls for much prudence and more vigilance.
It is not only that new circumstances or new surroundings may draw out latent desires but even familiar ones may change sufficiently to do so.
Conflict not only tests the quality of our inner life, it also enables it to assert the higher will and develop its latent possibilities.
Tests. The manner in which he will approach trying, painful, or hostile situations will also betray the true measure of his spirituality, his devotion to higher values, and his comprehension of what he has undertaken. He has to show, by the way he meets these events and faces such conditions, what he really is and wants to be. He will adjust himself to such problems only according to the degree of maturity attained.
At certain times, during his exterior life, a crisis may occur which, though it may cause agony, will also provide opportunity. The challenge of opposition and adversity, of difficulty and suffering, provides opportunities to make progress through the struggle of overcoming them. But the art of rightly using these opportunities, instead of bungling them, is not easy to acquire.
The calamity, the bitterness, the despair, and the fatigue, which he may have to endure during these probationary years can all be turned to spiritual account, can all be made profitable in terms of better self-control, ennobled character, and truer values. Experience can be turned into a source of strength, wisdom, and growth; or it can remain a source of weakness, foolishness, and degeneration. It all depends upon the attitude he adopts toward it and the way he thinks and feels about it. Men have their faults in temperament and their defects in intelligence. Mistakes in action and errors in judgement, although never acceptable, are originally excusable. But continuance of the same mistakes and the same errors, despite repeated warnings in the shape of their results, is always inexcusable.
It is a painful process, this disentanglement from the lower human and merely animal natures, but it is a necessary one if inner peace is ever to be attained. Observation of other students' lives will be helpful in lessening its painfulness. The lessons he learns from the analytic contemplation of his own errors are excellent but costly, whereas those he learns from the contemplation of other men's errors are excellent and free. The chance to overcome difficulties and fight temptations is the chance both to test character and promote growth. The hours of trouble or distress shake up his psyche and, by enabling him to detect his weaknesses, by drawing attention to his faults, by forcing him to practise a stark self-examination, afford him the chance to get rid of them. All through this quest, but especially at certain critical periods, events will so happen and situations will so arrange themselves that the aspirant's weaknesses of character will be brought out into the open. The experience may be painful and its results may be saddening, but only by thus learning to know and discriminate against his bad qualities can he set out to submit them to the formative discipline of philosophy. Only so can he realize vividly what are the weak places in his character and strengthen them. If these incidents make him aware how pitifully slender are his own resources, if they bring him to realize how weak and faulty his character really is, then there is compensation for their painfulness. It is easy for him to believe he is virtuous or perceptive, but it is for life itself to reveal how far he is above temptation or error. Therefore, those experiences and events, contacts and persons, who afford the opportunity for this to be done, are indispensable. He may be strong in moral sincerity, but weak in critical judgement. It is his business now to become aware of this deficiency, to set about remedying it by attending to a co-equal cultivation of the different sides of personality.
If he succeeds in passing this probation, he will emerge stronger in the particular quality at stake than before. For it will have found fuller expression--it will have affected his practical will, his emotional feelings, his logical thinking, and even his capacity to receive and respond to intuitional guidance. Thus, to the extent that he is successful, to that extent will he bring the quality to a higher pitch of development. He may even learn to be grateful to time which brings healing, to afflictions which bring wisdom, and to opposition which elicits strength. If he is properly oriented, every external experience and every emotional and intellectual adventure will then help him towards a fuller and truer attitude towards life. If he obeys the injunctions of philosophy, in spirit as well as in letter, those very situations which before aroused his lower nature will now awaken his higher one. Each trouble can become a challenge to provoke the response of that serene detachment which can handle it more wisely. Each temptation can sound a call to be active in that penetrative analysis which can master it more effectually. If this inner life can sufficiently possess him, he will gain an independence of external things and events which can carry him unaffected and undisturbed through the severest ordeals. But this inward detachment will not be the correct kind if it weakens his sense of responsibility or causes failure in the carrying out of duties.
If a man cannot be wise, let him not therefore be foolish. No statement in the foregoing pages should be misconstrued as an injunction to go seeking either temptations on the one hand or tribulations on the other. No one is called upon to become either an experimental hedonist or a sentimental martyr. It is enough to ask anyone who thinks otherwise: What guarantee is there that he will be able to stop at the point where he proposes to stop?
He who has once embarked on this quest, may be diverted from it for a while, but he can never be driven from it forever. His eventual return is certain. Every fresh manifestation of human wrong-doing and human wickedness of which he is the sufferer, every new reverse of fortune and loss of possession, should only strengthen his determination to follow this quest and cultivate its calm detachment because it should strengthen his realization of the futility of basing his happiness on earthly things alone. He needs always to remember that the ordeal is transient but its prize is permanent, that if he succeeds in emerging from its tests still loyal to the ideal, he will also emerge with ennobled character, greater power, and increased faculty. When he wins through, in the end, then the long sufferings of past failures will bloom into pity for others and into strength for himself.
Hitherto, he has always been liable to miss his steps or fall by the wayside. But when he is established in the final stage, he is established in security. The roots of evil have been totally destroyed within him. Never again will they have the chance to grow and yield bitter fruit. When memories of his past life recur, he will find it hard to believe that they did not happen to someone else rather than to himself. He will look back with astonishment at the man he formerly was, at the ignorance and weakness which held him in bonds.
Reaching this final paragraph and casting about in mind for a valedictory thought, it is a fact, and a most extraordinary one, that after this beautiful entry into the higher level of his being, the past loses its capacity to hurt him, memory can no longer depress him, and the host of old blunders, sins, or tragedies are blotted out as though they had never been. Thus, at long last, those trying years of toilsome exercises and studies, hard sacrifices and disappointments, show their pleasant, satisfying result. By his success in passing these recurring tests, he has thereby shown that he fully deserves the higher and holier consciousness which now follows them.
From these reasons alone, we may see why philosophy declares that the mystical achievement of peace is not enough and why we have to go much farther than that and unfold wisdom also. The mystic's peace does not protect him from the path's pitfalls, which are set at intervals along its sides.
The glamour which surrounds occultism, continues, even as in remote antiquity and in medieval Europe, to draw numerous human moths. They flutter agitatedly around its cheap sensationalism and want to become twentieth-century wizards or wonder-working Oriental fakirs--only to live for years self-hypnotized in vain hope rather than in actual satisfaction. Would-be mystics have thus been sidetracked from their original purpose, have gradually lost sight of the diviner destination which once formed their goal, and have bestowed the time and energy of half a lifetime, perhaps, in dangerous dabbling and futile striving to attain (for them) unattainable powers--an effort which, if put forth towards loftier aims, might have brought worthwhile mental possessions such as inward serenity. There are even cases where people have spent twenty years trying to find out pseudo-secrets that are not worth the trouble of learning or which are even utterly non-existent, when they might have gathered imperishable life-giving truths into the nets of their minds within as many months. The wise seeker will leave this tempting but dubious pursuit alone--not all are fit to pry into dark occult corners or to grapple with shadowy, eerie forces, which Nature has wisely veiled from the unready.
Many waste their time and energies seeking extraordinary states of consciousness when they have not done the requisite preparatory work upon their ordinary state of consciousness. Without such preparation, it is either impossible to achieve their goal or, if partly achieved, it will be in so unbalanced a form that they will harm themselves and spread error amongst others. Instead, therefore, of meditating upon the higher consciousness, let them look to their lower faults of conduct, their undeveloped intelligence and unawakened intuition, their ungoverned passions and uncontrolled thoughts. Let them ruminate over the causes and consequences of these defects, meditate over the proper remedies, and cultivate the opposite qualities. They must improve self before they can really illumine self. They may not shirk this duty, which is nothing less than a full-time job in human engineering. Just as some of the alluring temptations will try their sincerity of purpose to the uttermost, just so some of the inevitable tragedies of life will test the quality of their character to the limit. Just as they will have to learn how to overcome temptation, so will they have to learn how to endure tribulation.
He should not desert the quest in resentment because earthly sufferings have come upon him. For if he does so, then he is inviting still further sufferings to come as a consequence of infidelity. Let him rather look upon them as mostly of his own making, through which he may learn lessons for the ultimate perfecting of his character, and always as tests of the sincerity with which he embarked on the quest. He must use these trials as opportunities to show forth endurance, steadfastness, and faithfulness, as well as to increase his wisdom. They do not come by chance. Earthly sufferings are as useful to him if not more so than the earthly joys which he so readily welcomes.
Compulsory association with a disliked or irritating person can be met in the ordinary way with negative emotions or in the philosophic way with constructive ones. It is to be regarded as a provocation to deny the former ones at the very moment of their rising and show forth later those of opposite character. The instant practice of a Spiritual Declaration is a useful help for some persons and the immediate concentration of attention on the needed virtues is a help for others. The longer the trial has to be suffered (and it is there under the law of destiny), the more deeply and firmly rooted will be the qualities and controls developed by the correct attitude. The test itself will pass away into a fading memory but those benefits will remain permanent.
In many situations you may put Truth to the test, but in others Truth may put you to the test.
This quest holds situations hidden in its eventual course which will stun him with their paradox and amaze him with their contradictions.
There is a period in the lives of some aspirants, but not all, when they look back at the results of entering the Quest and become dissatisfied with them. They still have no satisfying mystical experience to record, or if they have it is too far back in time and too transient in nature. They are definitely unhappy about their present situation, afflicted by morbid discouragement and tormented by intruding doubts. It is a testing period, a dark night not of the soul but of the emotions and thoughts.
If a man is seriously embarked on this quest, he will understand that when a desirable object is being put into his possession, or torn away from it, his sincerity will be tested by the impersonality with which he regards the event and deduces its meaning.
Why not apply creative imagination to these testing periods? When you know that you are about to enter one of them, imagine that you will pass through it quite successfully, see yourself in your mind's eye measuring up to ideal conduct.
If he wants to keep his earthly outlook and his animal desires, all society will come to his side, to support and even strengthen them. It has plenty to offer that will help him do so. But if he wants to make them subordinate to his higher quest, then it moves into opposition. Every kind of stimulus will be provided to get hold of his heart and mind; attention will be drawn outwards.
He finds himself confronted with a critical choice: either imposing control to eliminate wayward thoughts or confining himself to theoretical interest only.
Whenever he comes to a crucial turn in the road, where a personal choice must be made with serious consequences, he finds a warning waiting for him.
From the day when the resolution forms itself to live up, however partially, to the philosophic ideal, until the day when he is near the threshold of its full realization, the aspirant will have to face and overcome the opposition which this very attitude has aroused not only in himself but also in those outside, not only through weaknesses in his character and promptings in his heart, but also through troubles or temptations in his environment.
It is easy to stray from the path, hard to keep faithfully on it. Sometimes a thread's width alone separates the straightway from the deviation.
In each test there exists the chance, through success, to gain strength and pass up in Initiation to a higher level or, through failure, to display weakness and fall in conduct to a lower one.
The tests will come, inevitably. Can he keep his serenity amid crushing trouble, in destructive loss, under sore bereavement?
Sometimes he will be warned in some way, and thus prepared for it, that a test is impending. At other times he will not, and then his danger of being unsuspectingly led astray from the path will be greater.
In the Egyptian Mysteries, his capacity to resist a sexual temptation was deliberately tested. If he failed, the initiator would dismiss him, after addressing him thus: "You have yielded to the attraction of the senses. Whoever lives in the senses remains in darkness." If he succeeded, he would be granted leave to attend the temple college and receive instruction for some years in the mysteries of man and the universe.
Every test successfully met is rewarded by some growth in intuitive knowledge, strengthening of character, or initiation into a higher consciousness.
What are the different kinds of tests which the disciple may reasonably expect to undergo at different times of his spiritual career? There will be the test of his faith. This will take different forms, some of which will be easy to detect but others harder; some will be very obvious but others extremely subtle. Through the spoken voice or the printed word, esteemed authorities will tell him that the objects of his faith are mere chimeras, utter delusions, or worse. During periods of distress and suffering he will tell himself, through the emotions of discouragement and misgiving, the same thing. If the criticism of these enemies cannot dislodge him from his beliefs, the ridicule of his friends may do so. His trust in the truth of philosophic teaching, in the wisdom and virtues of the spiritual guide, in the necessity of following moral ideals, and in the likelihood of advancement on the spiritual Quest, will be tried in a crucible of fire.
It will depend largely upon the disciple how long his term of probation lasts. It is true that periods of one, three, five, or seven years have been mentioned in this connection historically, but it would be quite arbitrary to hold a man to any such period, irrespective of his character, circumstances, and karma. When he is able to pass the basic requirements of the Quest in morality and loyalty, in intuition and comprehension, his term will come to an end. The ego will not hesitate to use even a pretense of spirituality in order to keep its hold over him. It will persuade him flatteringly to believe that he is better than he really is. If he falls into this trap, he will not only become ensnared in spiritual pride, but also fall into various mistakes of judgement and conduct because he will be blissfully unaware of serious defects in himself.
These issues must be faced and mastered. If he evades their recognition he merely confesses his complete failure, and if he delays dealing with them, he only aggravates the consequent danger. The karmic forces which are at work in such a test are like an irresistible tide. He must make up his mind to adjust himself prudently to them or else submit to the certain fate of being injured by them.
Quite often, the aspirant will not be aware how far he has grown in virtue until some crucial test arises in the sphere of everyday living. Then, to his surprise and pleasure, he may note the ease with which he passes it.
The test will come with every major crisis, every minor ordeal. If his inner work has been well done he will be surprised at the calmness with which he meets and passes the event, astonished at his strength.
Both wisdom and prudence call for an exact appraisal of such situations; he cannot afford either to under-assess the forces to be dealt with or to over-assess them.
Before passing into a higher phase of his development, the disciple is usually confronted by life with a situation which will test his fitness for it. His success in meeting this test will open a gate leading to the next degree.
In most cases ill-health troubles are traceable to ordinary causes, but in other cases their origin must be largely sought for in the tests and ordeals to which advanced students are subjected at some time or other. This does not mean that every advanced student has to experience ill-health but that he has to experience great ordeals as well as great temptations towards the end of a phase of his development or after the beginning of a new one. The former may and do come in the shape of ill-health, but they may also come in quite different shapes.
If he is to become a philosopher in the real sense, he must look upon the trials and tests of these years as a means of helping him to do this. There are of course other and pleasanter means too. But, as Light on the Path says, all steps are necessary to reach the goal.
He who has given his allegiance to this quest, must be prepared for the sudden shocks of revelation which may come to him before, during, or after these tests. He will find that, spiritually viewed by his own true self, his inner life is not as he has thought it to be. He will find that the ego has tricked him in the most important things, whilst giving him the deceitful satisfaction of victory in the trivial ones.
The most important ones come mostly as soon as an important development or change happens in his life, his worldly fortunes, or his inner quest.
Every test is a teacher to guide us to a higher level, a providential friend to give us the quality we most need.
A test need not necessarily come on the physical plane of the event only. It may also come on the mental one through imagination or memory or even in dreams.
We may take refuge in escapism from a situation that is a sharp test of character. The ego may even lead us into failure to recognize it properly or to overcome it rightly. But if we are on the Quest we may be sure that one day it will return and trouble us later, even if in another form.
The tests will necessarily have to come in various ways. One situation will have all the circumstances which provoke a passion like anger while another will have all those which provoke an emotion that is equally undesirable.
In every test he has the possible chance to reveal himself as he would like to be, as well as the certain chance to reveal what he already is.
Each test not only gives him the chance to distinguish between truth and error, to discern reality from illusion, but also the chance to move beyond his present moral vacillation into moral firmness.
He accepts this welcome penitence but he does not trust this new-found allegiance. That will need time to prove itself.
The test represents the vanities, the passions, the greeds, the delusions, and the hatreds of those to whom it comes. It can be looked upon as a test only by people in whom these things are themselves lying latent or half-present. Hence it would be wrong to consider it as an utterly isolated phenomenon in connection with their personal history. It is the logical culmination of the demand to enter the quest. If it be argued that they are innocent people led astray, then it should be answered that there must have been some weakness in their character which itself tended to take the direction of the path down which they went astray. If not then, it would have shown itself at some later time.
Those who take to this spiritual road have to endure its tests. It is not enough to have faith or feel spiritual when life's course is smooth and fortunate. They must learn to hold their faith and feeling when its course runs through difficulties and sickness also. If the test reveals that they lose their hold at such times, then it shows their need of doing further work on themselves. For this failure shows that they want good fortune and good health even more than they want to fulfil the higher spiritual purpose of their incarnation.
It is a curious fact and at first an incredible one that whenever an aspirant makes some effort and gets a little gain in consequence, and certainly whenever he makes a great effort and seems near a great gain, something happens in his outer life to defeat his purpose and deprive him of his gains unless he displays much discriminative prudence and more impersonal strength. In this way the evil forces and adverse destinies are permitted to test him. If they succeed in hindering him he fails. If they fail to turn him aside from the immediate objective of his quest, he succeeds in it.
At the very gate of this higher quest, you will find certain obstacles obstructing your entry. They are not alien to you, they are in your mind. Your primary duty, therefore, is to overcome them.
If a beginner is conscious of his weakness, then it would be prudent for him to avoid those things and those people who emphasize it.
The twelve trials of Hercules correspond with the twelve stages through which the Egyptian candidate had to pass. The fable openly admits that before the last and most difficult trial Hercules was initiated into the Eleusis Mysteries.
If after some years of constant yearning but fitful striving, he believes that no concrete results have been obtained he may easily get tired and admit defeat. Much courage and more patience must be exercised during such a rehabilitation period, and most of the time without any concrete help appearing. But this is part of his test.
The forces set in operation by his determined attempt to approach the Overself in every phase of his living habits eventually produce a vigorous effort on the part of his subconscious mind to cleanse itself of ancient accumulations of negative animalistic and egoistic tendencies. Although the process produces disagreeable and evil symptoms, it is not to be regarded as other than a self-purifying one, a natural way of vomiting debris from the depths, removing and expelling it. The more earnestly he takes to this quest, the more will his latent evil qualities be stirred up and then make their appearance in his character or conduct. He, as well as others, may be surprised and perturbed at this result. Yet it is only an effort on the part of the inner forces to throw up the good for further development and throw out the morbid qualities for ultimate expulsion. It may be an unpleasant method, its symptoms an unpleasant surprise, but it is essential if these tendencies are to be eradicated at all. Otherwise they will appear one by one in their own time and periodically block his path to the goal. Ordinarily they are suppressed in self-defense by the conscious mind, and their existence hidden because it has quite enough to deal with. But the candidate for illumination has flung out a challenge to vigorous war.
The Overself will take him at his word and will let his destiny bring him not only those experiences which he earns but especially those which he needs. If he comprehends this situation impersonally he will realize that he must welcome them all, and not single out the pleasant ones alone for his favour. All can become his teachers if he will let them, so all should be received rightly and attentively. Rebellion and resentment merely shut out the lesson they have to teach him: if he misses this lesson he will have to go through the same experience again at some future time and repeat the same suffering so needlessly.
Those who have previously made satisfying spiritual advance often find themselves pulled up and unable to go farther, sometimes for years. This is because the undeveloped and imperfect parts of their natures offer obstruction to further progress. If the higher forces were to descend on them while they are purified only in parts and developed only in some faculties, these forces would prove harmful instead of helpful. Consequently, these parts are brought up by events to the surface of his life in order that they may be dealt with.
There are those who possess a cozy feeling of what they take to be spiritual peace. They may have arrived at this through various means, but life will put them to the test whereby they can discover for themselves whether this peace is the genuine article or whether it is pseudo-peace which breaks down when the blows of fate hammer the person.
In one sense troubles are our teachers and the greater the trouble the greater the teaching impressioned upon us.
The test must be whether he can withdraw at will from his external activities, and especially from those to which he is most attached, or those which yield him the most pleasure or the most success. It is for him to decide how much that he is in the habit of doing every day should really be allowed to take up time that could be given to higher things. He should pick a time of the day when he can go into retreat, putting aside all earthly interests, no matter how busy, how filled, the remainder of that day is. If he fails to devote to meditation the time allotted to it, only because he submits to the pressure and haste which tend to kill finer qualities in modern life, he fails, to that extent, in his quest.
He may have to pass through a period when the idols in his mind have to be broken up, or when the image he carries of God or guru has to be given up.
Any inner excellence which is used to glorify the man's ambition and self-flattery may become his test.
There is protection, there is guidance for the sincere, earnest, and sensible quester; but it is not always apparent. Or, if perceived, it is so only long after the event. Both these statements are true of some questers, but not true of those others who recognize the warning for what it is, and who heed it in their subsequent actions.
The changes within and without through which one is often called upon to pass usually are not unexpected. The aspirant, himself, involuntarily calls them into being as a result of his work and study. They are useful as they test the spiritual growth so far attained, revealing how much of it is firmly established, and in what directions one should apply deeper effort toward building a steadier foundation.
It is unfortunate but true that the spiritual path is beset with dangers, pitfalls, tests, and oppositions. They never bear any placard to announce their real nature, but, on the contrary, bear a deceptive appearance. The average seeker is usually unaware of them and quite often becomes their victim.
The aspirant must never give way to excessive grief. Any period of grave difficulty may be regarded, perhaps, as a test of his faith. At such a time, he should constantly practise his philosophy, while also praying for greater strength and understanding. In the Overself there is no agony or pain; these belong to the sphere of illusion.
When one is up against an especially difficult situation for which no immediate solution can be found, it will help him if he will use the time while waiting for the change--which will come--in order to deliberately cultivate greater patience and forebearance, as well as a more objective attitude.
A difficult or frightening situation must be considered a challenge. At such a time, the student should seek even more intensely through prayer, meditation, and faith--while also practising self-control to the best degree he is able--to achieve the needed spiritual strength and understanding in order to endure and overcome his troubles. In times of actual danger, the calm remembrance of the Overself will help to protect him.
He challenges the gods who takes the Quest so seriously and, let him be warned, it will ferret out his weakest spot and expose it for his ultimate benefit. However, all the anguish through which he must pass can be converted into peace and strength if only he will learn from it and not allow himself to be bitter towards the man who caused it.
There are serious and even tragic tests on this path, the results of which are sometimes different in the end from what they were in the beginning. We all need Grace. The way is so hard, the gloom so thick, and the adverse force so strong.
When a great crisis comes, he should always try to remember the spiritual teachings which the teacher has tried to impart to him, together with the indissoluble character of the inner tie that binds student and teacher together. Amidst all the dangers and hardships of the coming crisis, let him strive to keep open the inner channels of inspiration, protection, and guidance with the Divine Power. It will be very hard to do so under great outer pressures but even two or three minutes' thought of it each day will be a help in this direction. The importance cannot be overestimated of simple recurring remembrance of (a) the Overself and (b) the teacher, and of trying to carry on in the atmosphere of such remembrance. It is a yoga path of its own and is as good in its way as any other. But if he cannot do more, even mere recollection for a minute of the mental image of the teacher will be a help.
His troubles may at times leave him with a sense of frustration and defeat. This is natural. It simply means that a difficult hand is being dealt out to him by fate. He should appraise it philosophically as a general indication of the unsatisfactoriness of earthly life in the Buddhistic sense. On this path he gets all kinds of vicissitudes and ups and downs, partly to demonstrate vividly that the inner reality is the only unchanging value and thus compel a resort to its quest, and partly to bring out latent qualities. But he will not be tried beyond what he can bear.
There is no need for pessimism when his career seems to meet with insuperable obstacles and when he seems to come to an impasse which brings out nothing but a feeling of great frustration. At such times, he must remember that karma may begin to work out her own plans and that a reorientation of activities may be indicated. He should do all he can to create his specific opportunities and thus shorten the waiting time. The developed aspirant does not fall into conventional categories and that is why he has to strike out on a new path for himself. It needs courage, faith, imagination, intuition, and the ability to recognize karmic opportunities and make the most of them.
Having found his spiritual path he should stick to it and not be tempted aside by paths which may suit other people but which are not for him. For snares, pitfalls, illusions and betrayals, tests and temptations are set at important or critical periods and he needs his intelligence, intuition, and loyalty to overcome them. It is easy to stray onto sidetracks and then waste years before finding the way back again.
Now and then karma unloads trials and troubles which are not pleasant to endure. All the same they have something to teach us--if only the ancient lesson of the need to find a more satisfactory inner life to compensate for the transiency and the vicissitudes of the outer life. He cannot escape from these so long as he lives upon this earth but he can hope to understand them and eventually to master his mental reactions to them. Therein lies peace and wisdom.
Although worldly desires are all right in their place and may be legitimately satisfied, they must remain subordinate to the spiritual aspiration for self-realization. To help the individual to agree voluntarily to such subordination, the Overself, which has been invoked, deliberately arranges experience (under karma) in such a way as to underline spiritual values. Once he is able to bring feelings into accord with such values, he will find that the very things which eluded his grasp when he sought them, now come to him of their own accord. Thus sacrifices demanded turn out to be merely temporary, whereas the happiness obtained is double--both earthly and spiritual. This is why Jesus said: "Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and all these things shall be added unto you."
In terrible times of suffering and anxiety it is more necessary than ever to cultivate receptivity to the divine forces within ourselves through spiritual studies and meditation.
The path is veritably a "razor's edge." One with limited awareness cannot know how grave his situation may be nor how narrow an escape he may, at some time, have had. If, at such a time, great efforts are put forth for him by someone highly advanced, satisfactory results may still be achieved, notwithstanding the student's mistakes. When his weaknesses are counterbalanced by earnest aspiration and faith, if he never deserts his Ideal no matter what happens, if he clings to his desire for conscious attainment of unity with the Overself as the highest goal life offers and measures all other rewards accordingly, then the student may always count on the assistance which brought him safely through his time of crisis.
Enjoy your successes but study your failures.
The profit of errors comes in when, and if, they are used to redraw the pattern of living.
An experience which ended in disillusionment is not necessarily a wasted one. It may have its positive side: it may have contributed certain ideas.
It is the belief, indignantly repeated in complaint, of some disappointed persons who have lost money and years or failed to regain health by following such leaders or teachings, that their aspiration and faith should have protected them. But they do not see that behind the deception or incompetence of the leader, or error of his teaching, was the fault of wrong judgement in their own mentality which led them to him. Merely to have prevented them from giving their allegiance would not have removed this fault from them, and would have hidden its existence from them. One day it would have led them into the same mistake again. If their aspiration for self-improvement was quite earnest and their faith in the higher power quite sincere, then a warning against the attachment they were about to make must have come to them through some person, book, happening, or inner feeling of doubt and unease, but they disregarded it.
If their delusion collapses, their chance to win mental profit from their shattered hopes and disappointed ideals is good--but only if they examine into the causes within themselves which led them into the situation. If they fail or refuse to do this, then the same causes will operate and still another delusion will rise up, first to capture, and later, to punish them.
He will be tested by experiences which will show how far, or how little, he has travelled above emotion and beyond ambition.
Nothing but a great and unexpected upheaval will precipitate a change in their mental habits or impel a deviation from their physical habits. If it does come, they look upon it as a disaster, although when time gives them a longer perspective they look upon it as an enlightenment.
The particular problems which life has presented him with are exactly the ones suited to his own personal development. In their solution by his own efforts and his own thinking, lies his own advantage and growth. To turn them over to someone else is an evasive and undignified action, harmful in the end.
Some are not deterred by opposition or obstacles, but actually stimulated by them.
He may be sure of one thing, that his fidelity to ideas and ideals, to teacher and teachings, will be tested. This is inescapable if his will is to be surrendered to the higher will, if his character is to be purified and his attitude cleansed of its egoism.
Meet your trials and temptations in the name and strength of your master, if you have one, or of the Overself, if you have not. Do not depend on the little ego alone.
The aspirant may expect all kinds of tests and trials on his path, no less than temptations at unpredictable times, but invariably when he is successful enough so as to near the gate of illumination he will be subject to severe attacks by the adverse elements in nature which seek to prevent his attainment. In the old Indian books it is said that divine knowledge-consciousness is very difficult to attain because even when one has got near to it, adverse spirits make it their work to prevent one's entry into that state.
It is during the periods of test that he must hold on to balance more than at other times.
A missed chance or a failed test in one year may lead directly, if the lesson be heeded, to a used chance or a successful test in a later year.
Defeat is only an alarm clock calling you to get up and get going once more.
At every important turn on his path the aspirant will find a choice awaiting him. He will find himself facing a set of circumstances which test his motive, strength, and attainment. These periodical tests can be neither evaded nor avoided, and often they are not recognized for what they are. Temptation may camouflage them under attractive colours. Nevertheless the student's conduct in regard to them will decide whether he passes onward and upward, or falls back into pain and purification.
Long after the naïveté of the novice has left him, he may yet fall victim to teachings or teachers of an undesirable sort.
He who has had to bear a great trial in the course of conducting his worldly business must, at such a time, look more than ever before to the higher power for sustenance and comfort. The more he is tried the greater the inner reward will be if he holds to the faith that is in him.
When one hits upon tragic times and difficult circumstances, the essential thing is to try within his power, however humbly that may be, to live the spiritual Quest. This is harder to do than ever before, yet it is almost more necessary than ever before. He must keep up his endeavours to understand and to practise what is right. Although great patience is called for during such times, great benefits will also show themselves in the end.
He is sometimes taken at his word and made to undergo what Light on the Path refers to as the keenest anguish, which is brought to bear upon the disciple in order to lift him or her finally above the oscillations of experience. The path is no joke. It is as terrible as it is beautiful at other times.
There are times when a man is thrown back on his own inner resources. If they are few and weak, fear spreads itself in him. But if he has taken the trouble to cultivate them, he will show a hard front to whatever the trouble is and meet it with more calm and less distress than others would.
In painful or trying hours he should make it a serious point to remember that glorious moment when the skies parted, the veil was rent, and the Soul showed its lovely face to him. He should recall it in worldly distress or emotional darkness and it will sustain, comfort, and guide him. From this secret source he will derive a strength to bear whatever may happen to him, an understanding to lead him aright throughout life.
Learn to penetrate within yourself, your deeper, almost unknown self. It will need patience to return day after day, not stopping until the truth is reached, the peace is felt, the blessing descends. It will need perseverance until the source of strength is found. Thereafter it will take you over: this is grace. But remember--with each return from the day's efforts you will be confronted by the world again, by its harsh reality yet glorious beauty, its stark conflicts yet benign interludes. So--know this world in which you have to live, its petty minds and noble souls. Learn from both. And when you have seen enough of the world's surface ask for its tremendous secret.
To produce a great result, a great effort is needed.
It is a truth which can uphold the heart of a man through the bitterest adversity or the direst affliction. There is no situation, however bad, in which it cannot give help.
As the aspirant progressively follows the pattern of this teaching two, three, and four times over, he will find the answers to many questions which arose in his mind at the first study. Those philosophical statements which were meaningless at the first reading, may now seem meaningful at the tenth. Time and trial and familiarity will help solve this abstruse doctrine.
When Jesus declared, "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you," he did not declare that this would happen after a single knock, nor even after a hundred knocks. If he meant anything at all, he meant ceaselessly repeated knocking.
The more successful type of Quester is the one who can keep his interest, enthusiasm, and practices in a stable, unwaning condition.
Let him persevere in efforts along the spiritual path, continue endeavours towards self-improvement and character building, and keep up the regular practice of meditation and prayer--all these are essential to development. Every effort he puts forward calls forth a corresponding aid on the part of the Divine Grace.
He may have his doubts, hesitations, criticisms, and even rebellions later--they may stretch out far in time--but in the end they cannot alter his course. For the quest he was born; to the quest he must surrender. The obligation is a lifelong one.
If the aspirant discovers after several years that Nature is still resistant, that the leopard spots are too deeply dyed to change easily, and that his character keeps its weaknesses despite all his efforts to dislodge them, then the hopes with which he began the quest may begin to fade in this grey dawn. He realizes that they were over-exultant and over-optimistic. He despairs of ever remaking himself successfully. He even has thoughts of abandoning the quest entirely. But does this discovery really call for such defeatism and such despondency? No, it calls for a resigned acceptance of the situation as it is, for a realistic measurement of what can be done within the limits of a single lifetime, for a recognition of the wisdom of Nature in providing him with numerous future reincarnations in which to achieve his purpose. He must refuse to follow the common error and identify himself with this one physical body of the present incarnation. Rather, he must identify himself with his mental being and feel this as something immortal, something reappearing on earth time after time and coming closer and closer, with each appearance, to the goal. He must believe in the truth of evolution, even while he perceives that it takes time, plenty of time, for such evolution to become a fact. He must admit that he is not left without signs by the way, nor without glimpses to inspire him, nor tokens to encourage him. Against the pessimistic moan that the leopard cannot change his spots, there is the optimistic teaching of Socrates that "virtue can be learned." Against the worldling's sneer that the quest sets itself an impossible task, there is the encouragement of every religious prophet and seer history has known. The last gift that lies waiting with cheerful patience in Pandora's box, the voice of hope, is for him. Admit that the discipline is hard, attainment is rare, and few are in a position to turn their minds away from the pressure of environment and circumstance in which they find themselves. However, glimpses, intuitions, uplifts do come at times, even if after long intervals. Most people can and should get a correct sense of general direction for the course of their inner life. This alone is a great gain.
What things oppose his quest? In the end they all lead back to himself. Habits of thought, directions taken by natural energies, turn him outward through the body's senses. Release from past tendencies, return inwards, needs tremendous sustained determination.
A man who sets out to wage war against his own thoughts and to constrain his own impulses may properly be called a warrior. Let him not look for peace until the enemy is defeated, and since the enemy will not yield for a long time, but will resist with the utmost desperation, the man will need all the patience he can gather and all the endurance he can muster.
If he is not willing to wait, this quest does not offer much for him. It is not only in meditation--although primarily in it--that patience is a requisite, but also in the work of purifying and ennobling character.
Pursue the quest, practise its exercises, and undergo its disciplines with a patience that does not halt for an instant. If you do this, the time will come when the Overself can hold out no longer. It will then no longer dwell in secret but in your heart.
If he will remain steadfast in his faith and unshakeable in his ideal, the quest will become easier than it seems and more rewarding than it appears to be.
You must never give up the quest; no matter how long drawn out or how painful or how many disappointments and deceivings, you must still keep up the search after God or after a Master; this determination will receive its reward ultimately. Even a man who has practised meditation all his life and apparently got no results, may very likely be given the reward at the moment of death.
Aspirations should not be put into cold storage. He need not stop trying because something-or-other that is either very pleasant or else very unpleasant has happened.
Even if you have to wade year after year through all the spheres of doctrinal illusion, through all the false ideas of men about Truth, only to find disappointment in the end, yet you must keep up that burning longing for it. You have to be unhappy about it, to grumble and rage and despair, and the next day go on with the Quest. If you can do this you are fit to find Truth in the end.
He must expect to err, as so many other human beings will err, in ideas and actions. But he will pick himself up and learn, will let himself be corrected, simply because he is on this Quest.
"Hitch your wagon to a star" was the advice of that smiling optimist, Emerson. It probably looked well on paper, and even better in print, but some of us grow impatient, and get a little tired of sighing for distant constellations. Ideals have an exasperating way of eluding us. We begin to pursue them with fiery enthusiasm; we end with empty hands and calloused feet. We rise rapidly to lofty purposes, but before long the parachute of inspiration makes a sad descent. The student must strive to keep his judgement unaffected by hectic enthusiasms, biased propaganda, axe-grinding advertisements.
You may feel and think that such glory is for others, not for you--that the common humdrum days remain unshining in your life. But try to quieten thoughts every now and then. Remember that patience is a necessity in this inner work, remember too that it is a moral work also. Do not abate hope because the Glimpse did not come so far. Find out what more is asked of you.
If he perseveringly works at trying to understand the teaching of true sages, however difficult this may be in the beginning, time added to the perseverance must bring some positive result. Total success requires an inborn capacity but partial success does not.
No matter how difficult the Quest may sometimes appear, nor how far down on its scale the student feels himself to be, he may draw hope and courage from the fact that his feet are on it. He must have faith and patience. The Divine Overself is well aware of his problems and takes into account his deficiencies.
If one sticks to the Quest, come what may, he can be certain that his perseverance will eventually bring results. Some of the metaphysical studies and mystical exercises seem hard at first, but if one persists with them, the time will surely come when much which was hitherto obscure will suddenly become brilliantly clear and meaningful in a single instant before his eyes.
An aspirant on this Quest must hold on to his determination to improve and discipline himself even amidst all the different temptations and difficulties which he comes up against from time to time. For this is the way he builds the foundation for his future. Students are often apt to forget that it is their present thoughts, feelings, and actions which are predetermining the favourable or unfavourable conditions of incarnations to come, as well as the remainder of this one.
The aspirant should not give way to feelings of despair about the long road ahead of him. He may go far in this incarnation, particularly after he begins to recognize his "failures" for the stepping-stones they are, and to use the knowledge and discrimination gained from these experiences to safeguard his future progress from similar mishaps. Besides, he is not alone in his efforts and help is available.
The aspirant must remember that even if he is deterred seventy times from achieving higher ground and is seventy times swept back by a flood of opposition, he must try again a seventy-first time and even again and still again, until at last he succeeds. At the same time, he must take care never to give way completely to feelings of despair or to thoughts of failure. By holding on in this way, the day will come when he will receive the miraculous Grace of the Overself.
The aspirant must remember that it is the constantly applied efforts to improve himself--seemingly so tedious and unending--which provide the prerequisite conditions for the later, more dramatic illuminations.
It is hard to get at the pure Truth--harder still to find a reliable teacher whose conduct is a worthy testament of it. Perseverance is necessary in both cases.
Mind puts great powers within our reach, but we have to work for them if we are to obtain them. They are not given free, nor provided arbitrarily by a capricious Creator or supernaturally by a holy man. I have quoted Emerson before and it is worth quoting him again on this point: "Take what thou wilt, but pay the price."
If he will do the exercises regularly and carefully, apply the mental and emotional disciplines honestly and perseveringly, his personal history will hardly be able to escape a change for the better.
It is inevitable that depressing failures and wearisome defeats should harass the pilgrim on this quest. He may grieve over them but he must not fall before them. He should accept their practical lessons but not their negative effects. An intelligent patience, a deep faith, and a quiet hope must fortify him.
Whoever wants quick results had better not begin this path. A man is willing to spend five years to prepare himself to master engineering, but he is frequently unwilling to spend more than five weeks to master mind itself.
He has to strive tediously and seek loyally for an end which he cannot exactly describe and for a goal which he can only believe does exist.
Philosophy asks the aspirant to strive earnestly and constantly to endow himself with these qualities, but it does not expect him to be perfectly equipped with them. If he were, he would himself be a full-fledged philosopher and not a novice seeking to master its wisdom. Almost every mystical aspirant at first falls far below the philosophical level, but he who tries to keep himself on it and who succeeds in doing so, even only partially, will find sufficient reward in the proportionate measure of wisdom, strength, calmness, and divine love that will accrue to him.
Patience is the twin of hope.
To keep to this inner work steadfastly and persistently, to make of its exercises and practices a regular routine, is to make the undertaking easier for oneself in the end, as well as more successful in its results.
If the aspirant deserts the quest in sheer fatigue or outer despair, he loses his way. For the world will satisfy him only for a limited time, and then discontent with it will erupt afresh. If, however, he continues to persevere, then holy visitations will come more frequently and remain longer. He will lose nothing in reality unless and until he loses heart. For that is in the realm of secret causes, while things are in the realm of visible effects. So long as failure does not get inside a man, so long is the road to victory still open before him. The patience which is required of the aspirant is often tremendous. He will be tempted again and again to give up in despair. Although conscious of his ignorance, sensitive to his inadequacy, and recognizing his incapacity, he will not escape falling into moods of despondency. He will need the rare quality of endurance where even repeated defeats will not make him give up the struggle. He will probably pass through various phases of enthusiasm for philosophy and antipathy for it, but despite these alternations he will know in his inmost heart that he can never forsake it. Eventually, he will get the philosophic outlook which, although it sees his own human limitations and knows his own human possibilities, will refuse to despair.
If he is patient enough in the end the truth will clear his mind. But patience is not to be coupled with idleness.
This search will not be given up so long as thought inquires into its own existence, so long as consciousness is continuously making itself known and felt, and so long as the queries remain unanswered to our satisfaction.
Whoever begins to seek in the mind for that divine Reality which supports the mind will have to feel his way very carefully, very prudently, and very patiently. At first he may get nothing back but his own thoughts and this may go on for quite a long time. This is one of the reasons why great patience is needed. He may be led astray by feelings or thoughts which are not true evidences of the divinity, and this is why prudence is needed.