Theosophy

The Voice of the Silence 18 (verses 281-302)

John Algeo – USA

Theosophy The Voice of the Silence 2 Verses 281-302 silence-stillness
Silence

Verses 281-302 plus commentaries

[281] Know, conqueror of sins, once that a sowani hath cross’d the seventh Path, all Nature thrills with joyous awe and feels subdued. The silver star now twinkles out the news to the night-blossoms, the streamlet to the pebbles ripples out the tale; dark ocean-waves will roar it to the rocks surf-bound, scent-laden breezes sing it to the vales, and stately pines mysteriously whisper: “A Master has arisen, a Master of the Day.” 

[282] He standeth now like a white pillar to the west, upon whose face the rising sun of thought eternal poureth forth its first most glorious waves. His mind, like a becalmed and boundless ocean, spreadeth out in shoreless space. He holdeth life and death in his strong hand. 

[283] Yea, He is mighty. The living power made free in him, that power which is Himself, can raise the tabernacle of illusion high above the gods, above great Brahm and Indra. Now he shall surely reach his great reward! 

[284] Shall he not use the gifts which it confers for his own rest and bliss, his well-earned weal and glory — he, the subduer of the great delusion? 

[285] Nay, O thou candidate for Nature’s hidden lore! If one would follow in the steps of holy Tathāgata, those gifts and powers are not for self. 

[286] Wouldst thou thus dam the waters born on Sumeru? Shalt thou divert the stream for thine own sake, or send it back to its prime source along the crests of cycles? 

[287] If thou wouldst have that stream of hard-earned knowledge, of Wisdom heaven-born, remain sweet running waters, thou shouldst not leave it to become a stagnant pond. 

[288] Know, if of Amitābha, the “Boundless Light,” thou wouldst become co-worker, then must thou shed the light acquired, like to the Bodhisattvas twain, upon the span of all three worlds. 

[289] Know that the stream of superhuman knowledge and the Deva-Wisdom thou hast won, must, from thyself, the channel of Ᾱlaya, be poured forth into another bed. 

[290] Know, O Naljor, thou of the Secret Path, its pure fresh waters must be used to sweeter make the ocean’s bitter waves — that mighty sea of sorrow formed of the tears of men. 

[291] Alas! when once thou has become like the fixed star in highest heaven, that bright celestial orb must shine from out the spatial depths for all — save for itself; give light to all, but take from none. 

[292] Alas! when once thou hast become like the pure snow in mountain vales, cold and unfeeling to the touch, warm and protective to the seed that sleepeth deep beneath its bosom — ’tis now that snow which must receive the biting frost, the northern blasts, thus shielding from their sharp and cruel tooth the earth that holds the promised harvest, the harvest that will feed the hungry. 

[293] Self-doomed to live through future kalpas [cycles of ages], unthanked and unperceived by men; wedged as a stone with countless other stones which form the “Guardian Wall,” such is thy future if the seventh gate thou passest. Built by the hands of many Masters of Compassion, raised by their tortures, by their blood cemented, it shields mankind, since man is man, protecting it from further and far greater misery and sorrow. 

[294] Withal man sees it not, will not perceive it, nor will he heed the word of Wisdom . . . for he knows it not. 

[295] But thou hast heard it, thou knowest all, O thou of eager guileless Soul. . . .  and thou must choose. Then hearken yet again. 

[296] On Sowan’s Path, O Srotāpatti [Sowan and Srotāpatti are synonymous terms], thou art secure. Aye, on that Marga [Path], where nought but darkness meets the weary pilgrim, where torn by thorns the hands drip blood, the feet are cut by sharp unyielding flints, and Māra wields his strongest arms — there lies a great reward immediately beyond. 

[297] Calm and unmoved the pilgrim glideth up the stream that to Nirvāna leads. He knoweth that the more his feet will bleed, the whiter will himself be washed. He knoweth well that after seven short and fleeting births Nirvāna will be his. . . . 

[298] Such is the Dhyāna Path, the haven of the Yogi, the blessed goal that Srotāpattis crave. 

[299] Not so when he hath crossed and won the Ᾱrhata [from the Sanskrit Arhat or Arhan] path. 

[300] There kleśa is destroyed for ever, tanhā’s roots torn out. But stay, disciple . . . Yet, one word. Canst thou destroy divine Compassion? Compassion is no attribute. It is the Law of laws — eternal Harmony, Ᾱlaya’s self, a shoreless universal essence, the light of everlasting right, and fitness of all things, the law of love eternal. 

[301] The more thou dost become at one with it, thy being melted in its Being, the more thy soul unites with that which Is, the more thou wilt become Compassion Absolute. 

[302] Such is the Ᾱrya Path, Path of the Buddhas of Perfection.

……..

VOICE OF THE SILENCE COMMENTARY ON VERSES 281-302

The seventh path (verse 281) leads to the seventh gate, that of atma or the ultimate Self within each of us. It is not “our” ultimate Self, but the One Self that manifests through us. The terms sowan, sowanee, and srotapatti are from the Buddhist tradition. HPB explains them in gloss 106: Sowanee is one who practises sowan, the first path in Dhyan, a Srôtâpatti. More particularly, sowan is the first of four stages in the Yogic practice of dhyan(a) or meditation leading to nirvana. A sowanee is one who is in the sowan stage, another term for whom is srotapatti, meaning literally “one who has entered the stream.” Those who have become sowanees or srotapattis are assured eventually of reaching the goal. They are, as verse 280 says, “safe.” That is, the passage to the sowanee or srotapatti stage is a major step in spiritual progress, one that cannot be undone or lost.

There are several such irrevocable steps in evolution. One step is individualization, when the life wave produces a separate unit of human consciousness; another step is first entering upon the Path, referred to in HPB’s statement “There Is a Path”: “I can tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that opens inward only, and closes fast behind the neophyte for evermore.” These major and irrevocable steps are comparable to those steps that mark off major stages in a person’s life, such as pubescence, “cutting the apron strings,” and so on.

The remainder of verse 281 and continuing into the following verses is a poetic and rapsodic description of the state of one who has achieved the goal of human life in this great evolutionary period by becoming more than human: a “master of the day,” a phrase explained by HPB in gloss 107, which says that day means a whole manvantara, a period of incalculable duration.

Those who have attained that state have completed the evolutionary task of the human species and are ready to pass on to new realms of evolution, which we can barely imagine. A person in that state is called “a white pillar to the west” — white because it reflects all the rays of the sun rising in the east. West is traditionally the direction of death, as east is of birth and new life. Our world is the land of the west, that is, of those who have not yet been born spiritually. We need such pillars among us to reflect the sun of reality. Those who have reached that state — who have passed the seventh path to the seventh gate, entered the stream, become pillars in the west — have a choice for their future. They may pass out of this world, having completed its course and achieved its goal, or they may remain in this world as pillars, guides, or exemplars for the rest of us. Those who choose the latter option are known as bodhisattvas, meaning “beings whose essence is Wisdom.” They are also called by many other names, such as mahatmas and Masters of the Wisdom.

The rest of The Voice of the Silence, from verse 283 onward, urges those who walk the Path to choose the bodhisattva option, when the time for their choice comes. A few comments on those verses:

Verse 283: Brahm(a) and Indra are great gods in the Vedic tradition. Brahma is the creator god and Indra is a warrior god; they are roughly like Jupiter or Zeus and Mars or Aries in Roman and Greek mythology.

Verse 284: The “great Delusion” is the illusion of separateness — that we are unconnected with one another and with the rest of the universe and so can seek our own welfare without being concerned about the welfare of others.

Verse 285: “Tathâgata” is a title of Gautama Buddha, meaning “One who has thus gone,” that is, gone over the stream of life to the “other shore,” or nirvana.

Verses 286–287: H.P.B. identifies Sumeru in gloss 108 as Mount Meru, the sacred mountain of the Gods. In Indic mythology, Mount Meru is the center or navel of the universe. It is an analog to the Greek Olympus, where the gods also live. From it flow the waters of Wisdom, as in the myth of Genesis a river divides into four branches and flows out of Eden. We should not try to dam up or divert that river of Wisdom for our own selfish use, but we should rather help it to continue to flow so that others may benefit from its life-giving waters.

Verse 288: Amitabha (Amida in Japanese) is a Northern Buddhist personification of the Buddha of Infinite Light, one of the five Dhyani Buddhas (“Meditation Buddhas”), who are so called because they are archetypal images that appear in meditation. As such, they personify aspects of the Adi-Buddha or Primal Buddha, which is the ultimate reality of the Absolute. Amitabha personifies Compassion and Wisdom. In the exoteric and theistic Pure Land school of China and Japan, Amitabha is intermediate between Ultimate Reality and the human beings who are reborn in his Western Paradise or Pure Land if they have faith in him. Esoterically, according to Christmas Humphreys (A Popular Dictionary of Buddhism), Amitabha is our own higher Self and rebirth in his Pure Land is making the choice to become a bodhisattva upon passing the seventh path and gate. HPB calls Amitabha the “Boundless Age,” and in a gloss identifies him with “Boundless Space” or Parabrahm — that is, with the Adi Buddha. The same gloss identifies the “Bôdhisattvas twain,” who are aspects of Amitabha:

Gloss 109. In the Northern Buddhist symbology, Amitabha or “Boundless Space” (Parabrahm) is said to have in his paradise two Bôdhisattvas — Kwan-shi-yin and Tashishi — who radiate light over the three worlds where they live, including our own (see verse 288, gloss 110), in order to help with this light (of knowledge) in the instruction of Yogis, who will, in their turn, save men. Their exalted position in Amitabha’s realm is due to deeds of mercy the two Bôdhisattvas performed when they were on earth as Yogis.

The “three worlds” referred to in this verse and in gloss 109 are identified by HP in gloss 110. These three worlds are the three planes of being, the terrestrial, astral, and spiritual. The terrestrial is the physical plane. The astral is not just what that term denoted in second-generation Theosophy but more broadly includes the emotional and mental worlds, especially as they are interrelated. The spiritual is best understood as the higher mental or causal and the intuitive or buddhic worlds.

Verse 289: Deva-Wisdom is divine wisdom, such as the gods possess, or literally “Theo-sophy.” Alaya is the storehouse or womb of the universe, the plenum or fullness, from which all things come, hence the source of wisdom. Those who have passed the seventh gate are the channels through which that wisdom flows to reach all humanity.

Verse 290: The expression Secret Path hearkens back to the imagery of the second fragment on “The Two Paths.” The ocean of life is salty, made so by the salty tears that humans shed. Its salty brine is to be sweetened by the fresh, sweet waters of Wisdom flowing from Mount Meru and channeled to others by those who have taken the Secret Path.

Meditation

What is the “great reward” (verse 283) that the aspirant receives after passing the seventh gate? Consider these words from H.P.B.’s passage “There Is a Road”: “For those that win onwards there is reward past all telling — the power to bless and save humanity.” Meditate on that reward.

Visualize the mountain in the center of the world, from which flow the waters of Wisdom. See yourself channeling those waters to arid lands to make the desert places become fertile and bloom.

Verses 291-295 touch on a “darker” or tougher side of the bodhisattva life — the difficulties (as they would be judged to be according to our ordinary standards of comfort and pleasure). The following verses again contrast the two paths, and verses 300-302 celebrate the supreme value of compassion on the spiritual path.

Commentary continued:

Robert Louis Stevenson spoke of life as being “a field of battle, and not a bed of roses.” We might suppose that those who have passed the seventh gate would find themselves comfortably in a bed of roses. But those who take the bodhisattva path are still in the world of life. Their period of conscription is over, but they have volunteered for another term of enlistment, and so are still on the field of battle.

Verses 291-293 provide three metaphors for the bodhisattva life. It is like being a fixed star that gives light to the planets (or “wanderers”) in the heavens, but receives no light from others. It is like being snow in a high mountain valley, which protects the seeds in the earth beneath so that they will not be exposed to the rough winds and inclement weather but will eventually be able to sprout, grow, and bear fruit — though that snow must itself bear the harsh weather. It is like being a stone wedged into a wall that protects those whom the wall surrounds but that is built only with the struggle and life’s blood of the builders.

The image of the Guardian Wall is a powerful and a traditional one. It is used also, for example, in Freemasonry, which talks about every Freemason as a living stone in the wall of the Temple. Anglo-Saxon warriors formed a “shield-wall” around their King or Lord when he was threatened in battle. A garden surrounded by a protective wall is a Medieval and Renaissance theme in literature and art. And verse 258 of this fragment talked about a wall protecting the Holy Isle from being swallowed by the ocean. The protecting wall is an archetypal image: Gloss 111, the “Guardian Wall” or the “Wall of Protection.” It is taught that the accumulated efforts of long generations of Yogis, Saints, and Adepts, especially of the Nirmânakâyas — have created, so to say, a wall of protection around mankind, which wall shields mankind invisibly from still worse evils. The kalpas during which the Guardian Wall stands are, as a note by HPB explains, immensely long periods: “Cycles of ages.” The point is that the bodhisattvas, also called nirmanakayas, are in it, not as short-timers, but for the long haul.

Verses 294-295 point out that, although life is full of dangers and inconveniences — “misery and sorrow” — against which the guardian wall offers protection, most people are unaware of the very existence of that wall. The builders of the wall, who are themselves the stones of which it is built, work quietly in the background. They seek no thanks or acknowledgment, but only do the work they have chosen for the common good.

Not everyone who has run the course and fought the good fight chooses the option of becoming a part of that wall. There are two possibilities. One is described in verses 296-298. It is the “safe” path leading to an immediate reward, which is to glide upon the stream toward the calm haven of nirvana. It is called the “Dhyâna Path, the haven of the Yogi,” that is, the way of the bodhisattva or nirmanakaya. Several terms are used in describing that path, which HPB comments on in notes: “Sowan and Srôtâpatti are synonymous terms” and “Marga — ‘Path’.”

As observed earlier, sowan is the first of the stages of those who have entered the stream in order to cross over to the “other shore,” and srotapatti is one who has entered that stage. It is said that one who has entered the stream has symbolically only seven more incarnations before arriving at the other shore. That symbolism explains the comment in verse 297 “that after seven short and fleeting births Nirvâna will be his.” Marga is Sanskrit for “path,” often used in symbolical ways, as the English word is also. The point here is that, having entered the stream, the aspirant who has decided on the path of service does not immediately cross the stream and leave it, but instead flows with it, working for the good of others.

The other option is the “Aryahata Path.” HPB explains the origin of that term in a note: “From the Sanskrit Arhat or Arhan.The arhat or arhan (the terms are just variants) is one who has attained enlightenment by the instruction of a Buddha and who does not go on to teach others, but enjoys the fruit of enlightenment by entering nirvana. Arhats are contrasted with bodhisattvas, who are so motivated by compassionate wisdom that they give up nirvana in order to assist with the evolution of their younger siblings on earth.

For the arhats both klesha and tanha are destroyed (verse 300). H.P.B. glosses those terms: Gloss 112. Klesha is the love of pleasure or of worldly enjoyment, evil or good. Gloss 113. Tanha, the will to live, that which causes rebirth.

Kleshas or “afflictions” are said to be either threefold (hatred, lust, and illusion) or fivefold (ignorance, egotism, attachment, aversion, and passion for existence). Tanha is literally “thirst,” that is, a craving for the intoxicating liquor of existence. They are negative, hurtful emotions and do not include positive, helpful ones like compassion. Indeed, verse 300 includes a paean to compassion: “Compassion is no attribute. It is the LAW of laws — eternal Harmony, Alaya’s SELF, a shoreless universal essence, the light of everlasting Right, and fitness of all things, the law of love eternal.”

Compassion for others does not bind us to the world, as the kleshas and tanha do. On the contrary, as verse 301 emphasizes, the more compassion we feel for others, the freer we become because the more we identify ourselves with the totality of “that which IS.” This compassion must not be confused with sentimental emotion, however, and particularly not with some personified divine love:

Gloss 114. This “compassion” must not be regarded in the same light as “God, the divine love” of the Theists. Compassion stands here as an abstract, impersonal law whose nature, being absolute Harmony, is thrown into confusion by discord, suffering, and sin.

To follow the path of compassion is to walk the true “Arya Path, Path of the Buddhas of perfection” (verse 302). Arya is a Sanskrit word that means “noble.” It was a term the ancient Indic peoples used for themselves. It is historically related to the name of the country Iran, whose ancient language was very similar to Sanskrit, and to the Greek term aristos “best” (which English has in the word aristocrat). (Nazi use of the term in the early twentieth century was a perversion, like other ancient terms and holy symbols they exploited.) The Buddha used the word in naming his “Four Noble Truths,” the last of which speaks of a “Noble Eightfold Path.” The Voice of the Silence says that the truly noble path is that by which compassion leads us to realize our unity with all others.

Meditation

Meditate on these parts of verses 300 and 301: Compassion is no attribute. It is the LAW of laws — eternal Harmony, Alaya’s SELF, a shoreless universal essence, the light of everlasting Right, and fitness of all things, the law of love eternal. The more thou dost become at one with it, thy being melted in its BEING, the more thy Soul unites with that which IS, the more thou wilt become Compassion Absolute.

To be continued

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