Theosophy

Voice of the Silence 16 (verses 230-271)

John Algeo – USA

Theosophy The Voice 2

After the preceding introductory verses, the text returns to the list of the seven Portals (verses 207-213) and describes each in greater detail. The first three Portals and keys, treated in verses 230-240, concern particularly the body or outer person.

A. Verses [230-240].

[230] Armed with the key of charity, of love and tender mercy, thou art secure before the gate of Dāna, the gate that standeth at the entrance of the Path.

[231] Behold, O happy pilgrim! The portal that faceth thee is high and wide, seems easy of access. The road that leads there-through is straight and smooth and green. ’Tis like a sunny glade in the dark forest depths, a spot on earth mirrored from Amitābha's paradise. There, nightingales of hope and birds of radiant plumage sing perched in green bowers, chanting success to fearless pilgrims. They sing of Bodhisattvas' virtues five, the fivefold source of Bodhi power, and of the seven steps in Knowledge.

[232] Pass on! For thou has brought the key; thou art secure.

[233] And to the second gate the way is verdant too. But it is steep and winds uphill; yea, to its rocky top. Grey mists will overhang its rough and stony height, and all [will] be dark beyond. As on he goes, the song of hope soundeth more feeble in the pilgrim's heart. The thrill of doubt is now upon him; his step less steady grows.

[234] Beware of this, O candidate! Beware of fear that spreadeth, like the black and soundless wings of midnight bat, between the moonlight of thy soul and thy great goal that loometh in the distance far away.

[235] Fear, O disciple, kills the will and stays all action. If lacking in the Śila virtue — the pilgrim trips, and karmic pebbles bruise his feet along the rocky path.

[236] Be of sure foot, O candidate. In Kshānti’s essence bathe thy soul; for now thou dost approach the portal of that name, the gate of fortitude and patience.

[237] Close not thine eyes, nor lose thy sight of dorje; Māra’s arrows ever smite the man who has not reached Virāga.

[238] Beware of trembling. ’Neath the breath of fear the key of Kshānti rusty grows: the rusty key refuseth to unlock.

[239] The more thou dost advance, the more thy feet pitfalls will meet. The path that leadeth on is lighted by one fire — the light of daring, burning in the heart. The more one dares, the more he shall obtain. The more he fears, the more that light shall pale — and that alone can guide. For as the lingering sunbeam, that on the top of some tall mountain shines, is followed by black night when out it fades, so is heart-light. When out it goes, a dark and threatening shade will fall from thine own heart upon the path, and root thy feet in terror to the spot.

[240] Beware, disciple, of that lethal shade. No light that shines from Spirit can dispel the darkness of the nether Soul, unless all selfish thought has fled therefrom, and that the pilgrim saith: “I have renounced this passing frame; I have destroyed the cause: the shadows cast can, as effects, no longer be.” For now the last great fight, the final war between the Higher and the lower self, hath taken place. Behold, the very battlefield is now engulfed in the great war, and is no more.

B. Comment.

Verses 230-232 describe the first Portal and its key. That Portal or gate is called Dāna, the basic meaning of which is “the act of giving.” The Sanskrit word is related to the English word donate. The key to that gate is charity, not just charity in the sense of donations to a good cause or to help the needy (though that is involved), but charity in its etymological and theological sense of “the love of humanity,” the will to help all beings reach their ultimate good. At this gate, one gives oneself. It is the gate of the dedication of one’s talents, efforts, and whole life in service to the world. That is why it is the first Portal on this Path of service. It is the Portal of the bodhisattvas (those who have dedicated themselves to this Path), of contact with Wisdom or “Bodhi,” and of the Knowledge (or gnosis) that eliminates the ignorance producing frustration or duhkha. It is a joyful Portal, for the decision to enter on the Path is one of joy.

The Path becomes, however, less smooth and easy as one progresses. So verses 233-235 describe the way to the second Portal as still green, but steep and as leading to a rocky summit clouded in mists. The approach to the second Portal calls forth doubt and fear. This observation is psychologically accurate. When we start on any new venture, the excitement and expectation carry us forward with optimism and pleasure. But as we continue, the inevitable difficulties evoke the opposite emotions. This is a time to remember that our emotional response is always conditioned. We know it will change according to a pattern, so we forge ahead, regardless of the conditioned responses we experience, knowing that they will all change and that the worth of the journey is not affected by them. The second Portal is Śila, “harmony” or “good conduct,” harmony being the basis of all good conduct. Harmonious right action is what we need to get over the rocky stretches of life.

With verse 236, we begin the approach to the third Portal, that of Kshānti, “patience.”

The dorje of verse 237, which the disciple is to keep in view, is a thunderbolt or a diamond. Its conventional representation looks something like a dumbbell. It is a weapon of the gods and so is a symbol of the power of wisdom. HPB glosses the term: Gloss 12. Dorje is the Sanskrit Vajra, a weapon or instrument in the hands of some gods (the Tibetan Dragshed, the Devas who protect men), and is regarded as having the same occult power of repelling evil influences by purifying the air as ozone in chemistry. It is also a mudrā, a gesture and posture used in sitting for meditation. It is, in short, a symbol of power over invisible evil influences, whether as a posture or a talisman. The Bhöns or Dugpas, however, having appropriated the symbol, misuse it for purposes of black magic. With the “Yellow Caps,” or Gelugpas, it is a symbol of power, as the Cross is with the Christians, while it is in no way more superstitious. With the Dugpas, it is like the double trianglereversed, the sign of sorcery.

Māra is the personification of temptation, a demon figure who tried, for example, to prevent the Buddha from attaining enlightenment. Patience and fortitude are needed to resist his onslaughts until the quality of desirelessness (Virāga) has been attained. That quality, which is the fourth Portal, is spoken of in anticipation. HPB has a gloss for the term: Gloss 13. Virāga is that feeling of absolute indifference to the objective universe, to pleasure and to pain. “Disgust” does not express its meaning, yet it is akin to it. Dispassion is, perhaps, the nearest equivalent and is the term used in At the Feet of the Master.

C. Meditation

The first three Portal keys are charity (acting for the welfare of all living beings), harmonious right action, and calm patience. In a sense, these three are aspects of the same basic quality, which is discriminative action or viveka. Think about how concern for others, harmony in action, and patience are related qualities and all require us to distinguish between what is important in life and what is not. Think of them as a triangle of behavior.

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With verse 241 we begin a long discussion of the fourth Portal, Virāga. This is not one of the traditional pāramitās, but is added in the Voice, bringing the traditional list of six up to seven. Its position, half way through the catalog of transcendental virtues, indicates its importance. It is viewed as a central qualification, marking the boundary between the first three, outward-looking virtues and the last three, inward-looking ones. Having passed Kshānti “patience” (or we might gloss it as “persistent application”), we face the need to be free from the bonds of desire, which tie us to the external world, before we can achieve the liberation represented by passing the last three Portals.

A. Verses [241-257].

[241] But once that thou hast passed the gate of Kshānti, step the third is taken. Thy body is thy slave. Now, for the fourth prepare, the portal of temptations which do ensnare the inner man.

[242] Ere thou canst near that goal, before thine hand is lifted to upraise the fourth gate's latch, thou must have mustered all the mental changes in thy self and slain the army of the thought sensations that, subtle and insidious, creep unasked within the soul’s bright shrine.

[243] If thou wouldst not be slain by them, then must thou harmless make thine own creations, the children of thy thoughts, unseen, impalpable, that swarm round humankind, the progeny and heirs to man and his terrestrial spoils. Thou hast to study the voidness of the seeming full, the fullness of the seeming void. O fearless aspirant, look deep within the well of thine own heart, and answer. Knowest thou of Self the powers, O thou perceiver of external shadows?

[244] If thou dost not — then art thou lost.

[245] For, on path fourth, the lightest breeze of passion or desire will stir the steady light upon the pure white walls of soul. The smallest wave of longing or regret for Māyā's gifts illusive, along antahkarana — the path that lies between thy Spirit and thy self, the highway of sensations, the rude arousers of ahamkāra — a thought as fleeting as the lightning flash will make thee thy three prizes forfeit — the prizes thou has won.

[246] For know, that the Eternal knows no change.

[247] “The eight dire miseries forsake for evermore. If not, to wisdom, sure, thou canst not come, nor yet to liberation,” saith the great Lord, the Thatāgata of perfection, “he who has followed in the footsteps of his predecessors.”

[248] Stern and exacting is the virtue of Virāga. If thou its Path wouldst master, thou must keep thy mind and thy perceptions far freer than before from killing action.

[249] Thou hast to saturate thyself with pure Ālaya, become as one with Nature’s Soul-Thought. At one with it thou art invincible: in separation, thou becomest the playground of Samvṛti, origin of all the world’s delusions.

[250] All is impermanent in man except the pure bright essence of Ālaya. Man is its crystal ray; a beam of light immaculate within, a form of clay material upon the lower surface. That beam is thy life-guide and thy true Self, the Watcher and silent Thinker, the victim of thy lower self. Thy Soul cannot be hurt but through thine erring body; control and master both, and thou art safe when crossing to the nearing “Gate of Balance.”

[251] Be of good cheer, O daring pilgrim “to the other shore.” Heed not the whisperings of Māra’s hosts; wave off the tempters, those ill-natured sprites, the jealous Lhamayin in endless space.

[252] Hold firm! Thou nearest now the middle portal, the gate of woe, with its ten thousand snares.

[253] Have mastery o’er thy thoughts, O striver for perfection, if thou wouldst cross its threshold.

[254] Have mastery o’er thy soul, O seeker after truths undying, if thou wouldst reach the goal.

[255] Thy soul-gaze center on the One Pure Light, the Light that is free from affection, and use thy golden Key.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[256] The dreary task is done, thy labor well-nigh o'er. The wide abyss that gaped to swallow thee is almost spanned.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[257] Thou has now crossed the moat that circles round the gate of human passions. Thou hast now conquered Māra and his furious host.

B. Comment.

With verse 241, we come to the middle Portal of the seven, the gate of virāga or vairāgya, the perception of reality uncolored by emotions, free from personal, limiting desires. Desire itself is an essential element in all life, neither bad nor good, but simply a fact of existence. It becomes bad or good according to its object and the way we respond to it. The fourth Portal is that of temptations, hence of Māra, the archetypal Tempter. With it, we leave the outer world of the body and enter the inner world of the psyche and the mind.

The great problem with desires is not our having them, but their having us — that is, our desires becoming our masters. Our passionate thoughts are constantly creating emotional entities, which are all around us, the children of those thoughts (verse 243). To make our thought-children harmless, we have to place them in perspective, to see them as they really are. To that end we are counseled “to study the voidness of the seeming full, the fullness of the seeming void.” That counsel is directly in line with the Northern Buddhist mystical tradition of śūnyatā or “voidness.”

The phenomenal world around us seems to be various and crowded with things (in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, “The world is so full of a number of things . . .”). In fact it is empty of reality, void of real substance, for everything in it is relative and nothing has an independent and permanently enduring nature. On the other hand, the Reality that transcends this world seems to us to be nothing, being void of all the properties by which we know things (which are in fact limitations of various kinds). Yet that void-seeming Reality is the unfailing source of everything that is, has been, will be, or might be. It is the true cornucopia, the real fullness.

By realizing that both our desires and the things that are the objects of those desires are all empty, that is, are part of the relative and impermanent world, without inherent reality, we can regard those desires from a proper perspective and free ourselves from being mastered by them. If we do not achieve that realization, our desires will dominate us and pull us back, making us forfeit the three prizes we have won, that is, the three Portals we have passed through. The lack of such realization will strengthen the sense of egoity in us — the illusion that we are separate selves disconnected from the rest of reality, the “I”-making faculty or ahamkāra: Gloss 14. Ahamkāra — the “I” or feeling of one's personality, the “I-am-ness.”

The great example of one who has passed, not only the middle Portal (during his tempting by Māra under the Bo Tree), but all seven Portals, is the Buddha, to whom is given the title of Thatāgata. The meaning of that title is in fact uncertain, with several interpretations having been advanced for it. HPB's interpretation is one of the traditional ones: Gloss 15. “One who walks in the steps of his predecessors” or “those who came before him,” is the true meaning of the name Thatāgata.

As explained in verse 221, Ālaya is the ultimate reality, the Real Self of all things. By centering ourselves in it, we are protected from both the assaults of desire and the illusions of the relative truth of this māyāvic world, which is samvṛti truth: Gloss 16. Samvṛti is that one of the two truths which demonstrates the illusive character or emptiness of all things. It is relative truth in this case. The Mahāyāna school teaches the difference between these two truths — Paramārthasatya and Samvṛtisatya (satya “truth”). This is the bone of contention between the Mādhyamikas and the Yogāchāryas, the former denying and the latter affirming that every object exists owing to a previous cause or by a concatenation. The Mādhyamikas are the great Nihilists and Deniers, for whom everything is parikalpita, an illusion and an error in the world of thought and the subjective, as much as in the objective universe. The Yogāchāryas are the great spiritualists. Samvṛti, therefore, as only relative truth, is the origin of all illusion.

In contrast with the secure truth of Ālaya, the relative truths of this world are like demon tempters. That is, we constantly personify them, just as Saint Anthony did when he saw his temptations as demons. The justification of the personification is that everything has life in it; so, in a sense, the thought forms of desire that we have created are living things. In the Tibetan tradition they are called Lhamayin: Gloss 17. Lhamayin are elementals and evil spirits adverse to men and [thus] their enemies.

Verses 252-257 record the attainment and passage of the fourth Portal. They begin with an injunction to “Hold firm!” That is the virtue of kshānti, patience or persistent application. The middle portal is that which divides the lower or material self from the higher or spiritual one. It is consequently pivotal. After the ellipsis following verse 255, the disciple appears to be in mid passage through this portal. And after the next ellipsis following verse 256, the disciple has crossed the moat around the passions and conquered Māra, the personification of death, whose name is derived from the root mṛi “to die,” whence also amṛta, the elixir of immortality.

C. Meditation.

Give some discursive thought to the nature of desire and to what is meant by desirelessness. Under what circumstances is desire beneficial? The fourth of the preliminary qualifications for entering the Path in the Vedantic tradition is called “intense desire for liberation” in the Viveka Chudamani, but “love” in At the Feet of the Master. How does looking at the world without emotional coloration relate to both love and an intense desire for liberation?

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Having passed the midpoint, the fourth Portal of Virāga or dispassion, the third Fragment on “The Seven Portals” continues to the final three Portals, which deal with the inner or higher self. Verses 258 to 271 describe the approach to the fifth gate, which represents the mind.

A. Verses [258-271].

[258] Thou hast removed pollution from thy heart and bled it from impure desire. But, O thou glorious combatant, thy task is not yet done. Build high, lanoo, the wall that shall hedge in the Holy Isle,* the dam that will protect thy mind from pride and satisfaction at thoughts of the great feat achieved. HPB note: *The Higher Ego, or Thinking Self.

[259] A sense of pride would mar the work. Aye, build it strong, lest the fierce rush of battling waves, that mount and beat its shore from out the great world Māyā’s Ocean, swallow up the pilgrim and the isle — yea, even when the victory’s achieved.

[260] Thine Isle is the deer, thy thoughts the hounds that weary and pursue his progress to the stream of Life. Woe to the deer that is o’ertaken by the barking fiends before he reach the Vale of Refuge — Jñāna-Mārga, “path of pure knowledge” named.

[261] Ere thou canst settle in Jñāna-Mārga, and call it thine, thy Soul has to become as the ripe mango fruit: as soft and sweet as its bright golden pulp for others' woes, as hard as that fruit’s stone for thine own throes and sorrows, O conqueror of weal and woe.

[262] Make hard thy Soul against the snares of self; deserve for it the name of “Diamond-Soul.”

[263] For, as the diamond buried deep within the throbbing heart of earth can never mirror back the earthly lights, so are thy mind and Soul; plunged in Jñāna-Mārga, these must mirror nought of Māyā's realm illusive.

[264] When thou hast reached that state, the Portals that thou hast to conquer on the Path fling open wide their gates to let thee pass, and Nature’s strongest mights possess no power to stay thy course. Thou wilt be master of the sevenfold Path; but not till then, O candidate for trials passing speech.

[265] Till then, a task far harder still awaits thee: thou hast to feel thyself All-Thought, and yet exile all thoughts from out thy Soul.

[266] Thou hast to reach that fixity of mind in which no breeze, however strong, can waft an earthly thought within. Thus purified, the shrine must of all action, sound, or earthly light be void; e’en as the butterfly, o’ertaken by the frost, falls lifeless at the threshold — so must all earthly thoughts fall dead before the fane.

[267] Behold it written: “Ere the gold flame can burn with steady light, the lamp must stand well-guarded in a spot free from all wind.”* Exposed to shifting breeze, the jet will flicker and the quivering flame cast shades deceptive, dark and ever-changing, on the Soul’s white shrine. [* HPB notes as from the Bhagavad Gita].

[268] And then, O thou pursuer of the truth, thy mind-soul will become as a mad elephant that rages in the jungle. Mistaking forest trees for living foes, he perishes in his attempts to kill the ever-shifting shadows dancing on the wall of sunlit rocks.

[269] Beware, lest in the care of Self thy Soul should lose her foothold on the soil of Deva-knowledge.

[270] Beware, lest in forgetting Self, thy Soul lose o’er its trembling mind control, and forfeit thus the due fruition of its conquests.

[271] Beware of change! For change is thy great foe. This change will fight thee off, and throw thee back, out of the Path thou treadest, deep into viscous swamps of doubt.

B. Comment.

Having passed the fourth gate, that of desire — whose key is virāga, desirelessness or seeing the world as it is, uncolored by emotional states — the pilgrim has cleansed the heart, traditionally a symbol of feelings or emotions, of “impure desires.” But the journey is not over. Next to be passed is the fifth gate, that of the mind.

Verses 258-259 change the metaphor from gates to an island in the middle of the stream or ocean of life. The mind is such a “Holy Isle” or higher Ego.

The new metaphor is appropriate because the emotions are often symbolized as a body of water that threatens to flow over and submerge the conscious mind. The pilgrim must therefore build a wall, a dam, to protect the island of the mind from being engulfed by the oceanic stream of life, and especially by the emotions of pride and self-satisfaction, to which the mind is especially prone.

With verse 260, the metaphor changes again. The mind has become, not an island threatened by flood, but a deer pursed by the hounds of thought. This metaphor highlights a concept that is foreign to the way we usually talk about our mind and thoughts and gives us the possibility of a different view. We usually imagine the mind to be a sort of machine that produces thoughts — so that thoughts are the product of the mind. This metaphor views thoughts as things that come from outside of the mind and attack it, as vicious hounds attack a gentle deer.

The metaphor of the mind as a deer and thoughts as pursuing hounds may seem bizarre to us at first. We assume that all the thoughts we “have” are “our” thoughts — that they have been created by us. But an old Theosophical tradition holds that thoughts are things, quite literally. They are realities independent of us. The mental atmosphere is full of thoughts, and if our minds are in tune with thoughts of a certain kind — if they are on the same wave length — those thoughts will be attracted to our minds as hounds are attracted to a deer. We must therefore guard against attacks by such thoughts, just as we guard the island of the mind from inundation by the emotions.

To be safe from being overtaken by the hound-like thoughts, the deer of the mind must reach a place of refuge — the Jñāna-Mārga. HPB comments upon it in a gloss: Gloss 18. Jñāna-mārga is the “Path of Jñāna,” literally; or the Path of pure knowledge, of paramārtha or (Sanskrit) svasamvedanā, “the self-evident or self-analyzing reflection.”

Mārga is a “path” and so, metaphorically, a way of living or of reaching one’s goal. Jñāna means direct insight or “pure knowledge” and is cognate with the Greek gnosis. But what is jñāna or gnosis knowledge of? It is knowledge of paramārtha, which means “the highest truth or most valuable thing in the world.” And what is that? It is svasamvedanā, which means “self-knowledge, knowing who or what we are.” So to protect itself from the hounds of thought, the mind must reach knowledge of who we really are.

To reach self-knowledge, however, requires a certain toughness about ourselves combined with a softness or sympathy for others. And so the metaphor changes yet again in verse 261, where the soul becomes a mango fruit, soft and sweet in its outer pulp, but hard as a stone in its inner core. We must be the diamond soul, concerning which, a gloss reads: Gloss 19. “Diamond-Soul” or Vajradhara presides over the Dhyāni-Buddhas.

In an earlier gloss (number 4 in the second fragment, to verse 114), “Diamond Soul” is said to be “a title of the supreme Buddha” or Ādi-Buddha (ādi meaning “first, original”). The expression also echoes the Tibetan mantra Om mani padme hum, which might be translated as “Oh, the jewel in the lotus, ah!” The combination of a jewel, specifically a diamond, inside a lotus is a striking image. The diamond is one of the hardest of all substances, and the lotus is a fragile blossom. Yet the adamantine jewel is found in the heart of the delicate flower. That image thus echoes the message of the mango fruit. We must be tough inside, that is, with respect to ourselves, but gentle outside, with respect to others.

Verses 265-270 return to the distinction between the mind and the thoughts associated with it. A distinction is made between All-Thought, that is, Consciousness itself, and particular thoughts. We are the former, not the latter. In a footnote HPB identifies the image of the “lamp . . . in a spot free from all wind” as from the Bhagavad Gitā (6.19: “As a lamp in a windless place flickereth not, to such is likened the Yogi of subdued thought, absorbed in the yoga of the Self”). But that image may also suggest the Western legend of Christian Rosenkreutz, the eponymous founder of the Rosicrucian tradition, who was said to be buried in a sealed tomb in which a lamp burned continuously in an airless vacuum without exhausting its fuel.

When the inconstant and fickle breezes disturb that flame, it flickers, casting fantastic shadows on the walls, which are mistaken by the observer for dangers and threats. They are, of course, illusions. An illusion is not a delusion of something that does not exist. Rather it is a misperception of something that is real, but is not what the observer perceives it to be. The shadows represent realities, but because the flame is flickering, they are distorted and so misinterpreted by the observer. In a similar way, when the still light of consciousness is disturbed by wandering thoughts, which come to us from outside our own minds, they distort what we see around us and lead us to respond like “a mad elephant,” charging this way and that against the flickering shadows.

In our concern to defend ourselves against the illusory threat of the shadows, we may forget the great Self, which is the very light, and thus lose what we have so far gained. The “change” we are warned against in verse 271 is the flickering changes of the shadows, when we mistake them for permanent realities.

C. Meditation.

Consider the relationship between mind and thoughts by thinking about some of the metaphors used in these verses to illustrate that relationship: an island protected from flooding waters by a dam, a deer pursued by hounds, a diamond deep within the earth where none of the surface lights can reach it, and a lamp in a place where no breeze can disturb it.

Hold any one of these images steady in your mind and let it speak to you.

To be continued

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