Tim Boyd – USA
The International President of the TS Adyar, Tim Boyd
In H. P. Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine, before she introduces the actual work itself, she takes some time to point our attention in a specific direction. She states that everything that is to follow must be built upon a basic understanding: the writing of The Secret Doctrine was based on the Stanzas of Dzyan, and for the reader to have some appreciation of the consideration of the Stanzas, there are some basic ideas which she listed as the Three Fundamental Propositions.
The first Fundamental Proposition presents “an Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible”, described as “unthinkable and unspeakable”. The second Proposition speaks about periodicity, and that is the one I wish to discuss. The third Proposition relates to “the obligatory pilgrimage” of every soul. This strikes much closer to our experience and to the level of our present understanding.
In the second Fundamental Proposition HPB states that there is a certain observation that has been made in every department of Nature, a fact that is undeniable and universal, the Law of Periodicity. She gives some of the many examples such as the alternation between day and night, life and death, sleeping and waking, and so on. These periodic occurrences are so universal that she describes periodicity as “an absolute Law of the Universe.”
We also experience periods, larger combinations of day and night, and have the cycle of the year, the annual cycle in which the Earth goes around the Sun. It begins at one point, returns to that same point in relationship to the Sun, and that is a solar year, during which many lesser alternations occur, such as 365 periods of day and night. The same concept of periods applies at all levels from small to large. So there are cosmic days and nights, the day of Brahma, the night of Brahma. We speak of the life of a planet as one of these “days”, and its obscuration as one of those “nights.” These are vast spans of time of which our understanding is necessarily limited.
This idea is expressed in various ways in all of the world's spiritual traditions. In Christian scripture, in the Book of Ecclesiastes, there is an often quoted expression of this second Fundamental Proposition. It reads in part, “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”. The author then provides a lengthy list of some of these “seasons.” “A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance . . . “ Everything has its season. As long as there is manifestation, there is alternation. Much of what we recognize as cycles in Nature is also reflected in our own psychological cycles. These interior cycles are the subject of deeper explorations into the nature of the human experience expressed in the scriptures and spiritual approaches of the world.
There is a particular cycle on which the Buddha's life and teachings specifically focused, a continually repeating wheel upon which humanity is trapped, through which we pass without relent – the cycle called Samsära – the wheel that leads from birth through life, to death, to rebirth. Intimately linked to Samsära is another distinctly psychological cycle known as the Twelve Nidänas, or interdependent links of origination, that lead us into Samsära and hold us fast. It has as its beginning ignorance, and as its end death and rebirth, leading to the cycle's renewal in ignorance. In the absence of any other factor these cycles would doom humanity to an endless repetition of an unsatisfactory state of being.
However, there is another factor which comes into play, the factor of consciousness, and particularly that consciousness which has attained a degree of self-awareness. The possibility to interrupt the cycle and “step off the wheel” presents itself at that point in one's unfoldment, where the statement that “Each man is his own absolute lawgiver” begins to have meaning. Rather than a continuously repeating circle without break, the application of an unfolded consciousness lifts it out of the plane of this constant repetition of an ignorance fueled existence. Viewed from above, there is a circle; viewed from another angle with the unfoldment of consciousness, what we see is more of a spiraling nature. The pattern is still circular, but more. It takes place on different levels. Something more profound is added as consciousness is unfolded.
Seasons of inner activity have been enshrined in social, religious, and spiritual practices of the world. In India there is the well-known framework for the stages of life known as the four ashramas – the four seasons of each incarnation. It begins with youth, the brahmacharya äshrama, where learning, listening, hearing, is the activity suited to that season of life. It is progressive in the sense that the learning period allows for the expression of that learning within the next season. It does not differ from what we perceive of seasons in Nature. One prepares for the activity of the next.
After the learning phase comes the application of what has been learned in the season of the householder, grhastha, where family, career, and community responsibilities are emphasized. Having completed the householder phase, then comes a period of withdrawal, much like spring leads to the summer, which leads to the autumn. It is a period in which the strength that has been generated during that life begins to draw down toward the roots in a time of quiet, of contemplation, of withdrawal from the world of activity. In classical India it was seen as the season of the forest dweller or hermit (vänaprastha).
The time for withdrawal allows for the experience of moving toward a fundamental center whose fullest expression is stifled during the normal course of life. This forest-dweller period leads to the possibility, not normally engaged in by many now or in the past, of the renunciate, the sannyäsi, the one who gives up all the connections with the worldly life, to focus solely on unification with the Divine. These are expressions of seasons within an incarnation – a cycle within another cycle – of which we are aware.
The great question that was posed by Ramana Maharshi – “Who am I?” – is our constant question. How we answer determines how we behave in the world. There are many ways in which this is expressed. “Who I am”, from an occult definition, means that every human being is an expression of highest spirit and lowest matter, linked together by mind. That is not merely the individual human being, but the human stage; all of us share this threefold nature, its laws and guiding powers. The connecting link between highest spirit and lowest matter is always the mind. To come to understand the workings of the mind in relation to these other two streams is fundamental and seems to be the quest that we are on at any time we are responding in an awakened manner.
In our process of unfoldment of consciousness, always the mind is the primary component involved. An understanding and an ability to work with its capacities is a necessity if we are going to be effective in this process. The mind has its seasons. What might those seasons look like? How might they be described, and, more importantly, how might we experience those seasons and interact with the seasonal nature of the mind? In many ways, the scriptures of the world come into being to address this fundamental problem. One of the spiritual jewels of humankind is a very small section of the great epic poem, the Mahabharatha. Within it we find the Bhagavadgitä. This particular text is an inexhaustible source for accurate, powerful, and usable descriptions of some of these seasons of the human mind and its potential for an expanded expression.
The potential for the human mind is described in The Secret Doctrine as the “mind to embrace the universe.” In the Gita we have the dialogue that takes place between the warrior prince, Arjuna, and his charioteer, Krishna, the inner Divine, which is an attempt to communicate to us something of this higher potential. Its meaning is diluted if we regard it as a historical conversation, although that might have its value. It is, as all deep truths, more in the nature of a myth. A fact is a very small thing. The world is full of meaningless facts. However, a myth is the great story that draws on symbolic expressions, those symbols that connect themselves to the deeper aspects of our consciousness, which then admit us to an experience at a much deeper level.
Whenever we have a prince in a story, he is necessarily not yet a king. Although of a kingly nature, the unfoldment required for their true regal stature and rulership of a kingdom has not yet occurred. we have the prince, we have the immediate idea that there is more still to come. The Bhagavadgitä story begins with prince Arjuna at the commencement of a great battle. The first chapter talks about a particular season of the mind that is rich in terms of its potential. It is also rich in terms of the way it influences us to fry to avoid its experience. It is not the place we choose to go in daily life, or in our efforts at expansion and understanding.
This is because the first chapter in the Gita talks about the profound and life-altering experience of Arjuna's despondency, his despair and depression. It is only out of this initial season of his mind that the dialogue was even able to occur. In the absence of the shattering experience of despondency no dialogue would take place between the outer self and the Divine. This is something we need to value. No one who describes themselves as having a healthy mind seeks out despair or despondency. The fact is that we also do not seek the spring, the summer, or the winter. value. No one who describes themselves as having a healthy mind seeks out despair or despondency. The fact is that we also do not seek the spring, the summer, or the winter. They have their time, and they come upon us regardless of our seeking.
Normal intelligence would require us to prepare for that which we know lies ahead. Just as during life we make preparations for the moment when we no longer will be there: we pass on our belongings, give away our house, sign a will. That is normal behavior and preparation At a deeper level we also prepare for that moment during the course of a lifetime by experiencing what it means for consciousness to operate apart from the body. We take time for meditation, for a proper perspective on the relationship of consciousness to its vehicle, and, in that process, experiences necessarily ensue, which if rightly understood, tend to ease the process of transition. Anyone who has had the experience of the life that lies beyond the body, at the moment of death, rarely finds themselves craving the limitation, pain, and suffering that come from life within a body. That is part of the practice.
In Arjuna's case, he was ready for something for which his entire lifetime had prepared him. As a member of the warrior caste, it was his makeup, his training, and experience that his life, his dharma, was to do battle. Particularly when such a righteous and noble battle stood before him, the choice in terms of his dharma was obvious. But the choice in terms of this particular season of his mind was in contradiction to his very makeup, his dharma, and so the conversation ensued. Of course, the nature of that conversation went beyond the battle that was ahead of him. After speaking with Arjuna initially, much as happens with a parent and a child, the child has a moment of fear or uncertainty based on an incorrect view of the world. And what happens? We take the child in our arms and talk to them. Divine parent that he is, Krishna says to his troubled child: “It is all right, don't worry, there is more to this than you see. There will come a time when you will recognize that none of these people you are going into battle with will die, neither will they come to life. Nothing is born, nothing dies, all of it is an expression of the nature of the Divine.”. As Arjuna's mind becomes settled, then a deeper possibility presents itself, and so the teachings of the Gita begin to unfold. But for our purposes, this seasonal aspect of the fluctuations in our own consciousness is what we should explore. When we become aware of a thing, then we can do something about it.
I used to have a teacher whom a group of us young people would gather around and listen to him speak. He would talk about many profound things, much of it linked to his own life experience, being significantly older than we were. Sometimes he would stop talking and would ask us: “Do you understand what I'm saying?” From time to time he would directly ask me, and because I always tried to listen intently to what he was saying, my response would be: “Yes, I do, I understand.” He would pause for a moment, look at me, and then he would say: “No, you don't!” I would argue, “Yes I do”, and I would repeat exactly the words he had just said. He would still look very kindly at me and shake his head and say: “No, you heard me, but you do not yet understand. But, you will. The season will arrive when the understanding that lies behind these words and the unfoldment of your own awareness and capacity to understand will run their course and at some point these two points will meet, and you'll understand. For now, you have knowledge. In that moment ahead lies the possibility of understanding, something that exceeds knowledge, as space exceeds sky.”
This is the possibility. At this moment, our work, our capacity allows us to attempt to understand, knowing that by effort some things can be accomplished, but understanding is not one of them; wisdom is certainly not one of them. In the moment where we find ourselves now, we give effort. Our responsibility, our dharma, for those to whom a spiritual path has any meaning, is to try. Over and over again in The Mahatma Letters, in the writings of HPB, one thing is constantly emphasized – we must try. Success is not guaranteed, neither is it insisted upon, but trying and effort lies within the capacity of every person, without exception. To withhold that effort is to behave in a manner that is not serious. A certain seriousness, which does not equate to humorlessness, is a requirement in every season of the mind.
[This article was previously published in the December 2017 issue of The Theosophist, Vol. 139 N0. 3]