Ali Ritsema – The Netherlands
The Theosophical Society has existed since 1875. We are now in the twenty-first century, 135 years later. This article is meant, not to look back to the past, but as a stepping stone to the future, to reconsider the role or the task of the Theosophical Society.
Obviously, the members of the Society determine its future, whether locally, nationally, or internationally. Consequently, when members have conflicting opinions about the Society’s role or task, the result will be confusion and chaos, and thus the Society will be weakened. This does not mean that there cannot be differences of opinion or different approaches—that is something else. But in order to build a strong future, it is important to have a clear idea about the central purpose or task of the Society. That’s why I would like to share what I have found in The Mahatma Letters about the task of the Society and to explore some aspects of it.
A passage in chronological letter 112 (number 81 in the 3rd ed.) from Koot Hoomi is relevant. As most readers will know, Koot Hoomi, or KH, is one of the Mahatmas who agreed to enter into correspondence with Mr. Sinnett and Mr. Hume in the 1880s. In this letter, KH talks about “a stifling grey fog – a moral meteor – [covering India as] the odic emanation from her vicious social state.” I assume that we can relate this not only to India in those days but to the whole world today. And then KH says, and this is the central theme of this article: “Here and there twinkles a point of light which marks a nature still somewhat spiritual, a person who aspires and struggles after the higher knowledge. If the beacon of Aryan occultism shall ever be kindled again these scattered sparks must be combined to make its flame. And this is the task of the T.S.”
As H. P. Blavatsky puts it in Collected Writings (9:243): “Theosophy . . . alone can furnish the beacon-light needed to guide humanity on its true path.” Humanity certainly needs an orientation point, a beacon, because, as The Secret Doctrine (1:208) puts it so beautifully, “the lonely, sore-footed pilgrims on their way back to their home are never sure to the last moment of not losing their way in this limitless desert of illusion and matter called Earth-Life.” HPB makes it even more urgent when she says in CW (14:27): “Occultism must win the day . . . before the end of the twenty-first century.” This means there is work to be done for the TS and for all students of Theosophy! What can we do to kindle again the beacon of KH’s Aryan occultism?
KH’s statement about the scattered sparks who aspire and struggle after higher knowledge might remind students who are familiar with The Secret Doctrine of stanza 7 in Anthropogenesis (2:18), where it is said: “The Sons of Wisdom, ready for re-birth, came down . . . . Those who entered [the forms] became Arhats. Those who received but a spark remained destitute of [higher] knowledge; the spark burned low.” I think it is very likely that it was we who then received but a spark and thus remained destitute of higher knowledge; but, hopefully, it is also we who are now aspiring and struggling after it.
In CW 14:249, HPB explains that what is said in the stanza quoted above refers to the moment that incarnated humanity showed the weakness of selfishness, born out of desires and passions hitherto unknown. This was the beginning of the struggle for life and death between the divine nature of human beings and their lower nature. Those who conquered their lower nature, and thus became master over their body, joined the “Sons of Light.” They are the Arhats, they are the “worthy ones,” having attained the fire of wisdom. They see clearly; they are the seers. “Those who fell victim to their lower nature became the slaves of Matter” (SD 2:272). Their inner light was veiled. Their spark burned low.
To do what is pointed out by KH, we have to fan and feed the low burning spark to make it a flame, individually and collectively. KH is talking about higher knowledge. Where can we find that? Clearly The Secret Doctrine can be of great help to get a glimpse of higher knowledge. The SD is not only a synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy but also a guide to living the life and walking the path. I have found some points that can be used as a guide and would like to share these with you.
The SD teaches us that we all live in a world of illusion, called maya, because all is temporary with ever-changing forms. Maya or illusion is an element that enters into all finite things, for everything has only a relative, not an absolute, reality. When we grow in awareness, we begin to understand that, during the stages we have passed, we mistook shadows for realities; every broadening of consciousness makes us think we have reached reality. But only when we have reached the absolute consciousness and blended our own consciousness with it, shall we be free from the delusion of maya.
The “Summing Up” of the SD (1:275) says that every being in the universe “either was, or prepares to become, a man,” an evolutionary stage that is necessary to achieve full consciousness. This means that human beings have the possibility to break through the illusionary nature of maya.
But we have a problem, namely that “Alone the Initiate, rich with the lore acquired by numberless generations of his predecessors, directs the ‘Eye of Dangma’ toward the essence of things in which no Maya can have any influence. It is here that the teachings of esoteric philosophy in relation to the Nidanas and the Four Truths become of the greatest importance; but they are secret” (SD 1:45). Now we can do either of two things: say they are secret, so we should not go on, or take what I believe is the right action and follow the Master’s advice—“TRY”—knowing or believing that all that is given will help students of Theosophy to get to a better understanding.
We have seen that maya is the world of illusions we live in, but what are the nidanas? Stanza 1, sloka 4 (SD 1:27) says: “The seven ways to bliss were not. The great causes of misery [nidana and maya] were not, for there was no one to produce and get ensnared by them.” We certainly do not live in a world of bliss but are obviously ensnared by the great causes of misery, and obviously we produce them.
Exploring further we find (SD 1:39): “The twelve Nidanas or causes of being . . . belong to the theory of the stream of catenated law, which produces merit and demerit, and finally brings Karma into full sway. It is based upon the great truth that re-incarnation is to be dreaded, as existence in this world only entails upon man suffering, misery and pain; death itself being unable to deliver man from it, since death is merely the door through which he passes to another life on earth after a little rest on its threshold—Devachan. . . . [Humans] may escape the sufferings of rebirths and even the false bliss of Devachan, by obtaining Wisdom and Knowledge, which alone can dispel the Fruits of Illusion and Ignorance.”
The commentary on stanza 1, sloka 4 (SD 1:39) says that “the sum total of the Nidanas [is] based on the four truths.” About the four truths we find in The Voice of the Silence (verses 94-97): “Hast thou not passed through knowledge of all misery—Truth the first? Hast thou not conquered the Maras’ King at Tsi, the portal of assembling—truth the second? Hast thou not sin at the third gate destroyed and truth the third attained? Hast thou not entered Tau, “the Path” that leads to knowledge—the fourth Truth?” Here we read about the Path that leads to knowledge, one of the requirements to dispel the fruits of illusion and ignorance.
Now I want to go back to the quotation of KH in which he is talking about Aryan occultism and to the quotation of HPB that occultism must win the day before the end of the twenty-first century. According to HPB (CW 9:254), “true Occultism or Theosophy is the ‘Great Renunciation of SELF,’ unconditionally and absolutely, in thought as in action. It is ALTRUISM . . . . ‘Not for himself, but for the world, he lives’.” But KH is talking about Aryan occultism. What is meant by the word “Arya”? The Theosophical Glossary explains that “Arya” is a Sanskrit word literally meaning “the holy.” TG also says that it was “originally the title of Rishis, those who mastered the [four truths] and entered the . . . path to Nirvana . . . the great ‘four-fold’ path. . . . [A]s the four paths . . . can be entered only owing to great spiritual development and ‘growth in holiness’, they are called the ‘four fruits’.”
Interesting! Because stanza 6, sloka 7 of SD (1:33) gives the same advice in exactly the same words: “Reach the fourth ‘fruit’ of the fourth path of knowledge that leads to Nirvana and thou shalt comprehend for thou shalt see.” The fourth path and the fourth fruit: what do they refer to? We have just read that there are four paths, four degrees or stages of development to Nirvana corresponding to the four classes of Aryas and that the fourth degree is the Arhat, who is called (TG s.v. Arahat) “the worthy one . . . deserving divine honours. . . . The Arhat is the one who has entered the best and highest path, and is thus emancipated from re-birth.” In other words, the Arhat has reached the fourth fruit of the fourth path of knowledge that leads to Nirvana. It is he who comprehends and sees.
We are in the twenty-first century; a beautiful network of the Theosophical Society lies all over the world. What are we going to do with this network in this century? Will we be able to give shape to the task that KH points out so clearly? Do we combine all scattered sparks, thus all somewhat spiritual persons, to make the flame? Do we indeed aspire and struggle for higher knowledge? Will occultism, thus altruism, win the day over egoism, selfishness, exclusiveness?
It is worthwhile trying! We are not left with empty hands. Although what I have said so far might sound very theoretical, that’s what words always are. Words become practical the very moment that we try to live the guidelines that they give. And of guidelines there are plenty. But the essence of the guidelines is to take us to the secret path, the path of Wisdom, prajna. This is the path of Aryan occultism. This is the path that needs to be entered if we want to kindle the beacon of Aryan occultism again.
Daring? Yes! Challenging? Yes! Impossible? No!
The Mahatmas have proven that it is possible. It lies in front of us if only we would comprehend and see. It is here and now in every day life and not somewhere up in the sky. It is within the reach of every living human being but it must be made known. Humanity is in need, is looking for a beacon, an orientation point. It is Theosophy that truly points the way, and without this beacon, how can that way be found? It is up to us, members of the Theosophical Society, to combine the scattered sparks that will make this beacon shine.
Let not its flame burn low!