Ananya Sri Ram Rajan – USA
“I listened hard but could not see
Life tempo change out and inside me . . .”
--From the Preacher, the Teacher, by Yes
Among the many thought-provoking lines in the Golden Stairs, is “a loyal sense of duty to the teacher.” So easily we, in our repetition of this recitation, may pass over this phrase as well as the others, not aware of the essence of each one. For anyone who has used the Golden Stairs as a guideline for one’s spiritual journey, the multilayered meaning of each principle can provide a student with a lifetime of meditation.
Viewing “a loyal sense of duty to the teacher” from a very superficial perspective, we may think of those in a position of authority as our teachers and through our loyalty feel a sense of duty to them. But when viewed from at deeper level, this line can give us a solid understanding as to how we can completely change our lives. One may ask the question who is the teacher? And what duty it is one should have to that teacher?
Theosophy, unlike many other paths, has no guide to tell one “this is the way.” Perhaps this is why some who come to the Theosophical Society find it difficult to understand where to start. Many paths have a set way that will tell the newcomer, “start here.” Theosophy would say “start where you are.” This can be confusing for anyone who has no idea who or “where” they are. But to walk the path, one must understand they are that path. Theosophy as a living force in one’s life is always new, always changing, and always leaving one with more questions than answers. This is no different than human nature itself.
If the line from the Golden Stairs read “a loyal sense of duty to life” versus “a teacher” it is questionable how the seeker would respond. Life is what we make of it. In its most common, base, or vulgar form it is far from the affable, almost mesmeric lines of the Golden Stairs. A life of frivolity that succumbs to every whim of the senses will leave us in a quagmire, going nowhere quickly. The term “teacher” implies that there is something or someone with more understanding and knowledge than ourselves, that with discipline we can learn things unknown to us, that there are steps to take, and that there must be trust.
The building blocks of Theosophy provide us with direction, without commanding us. We can choose to reject a concept like reincarnation or the law of karma, and some do. But as one travels on in their journey, they will find these are no longer theoretical concepts. As HPB mentions in The Secret Doctrine (vol I) when discussing the Third Fundamental Proposition which focuses on the cycle of incarnation or necessity “the pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychosis and reincarnations.” This explains quite simply that we choose our teacher; we choose what lessons will come our way based on Karma. What positive efforts we put forth in one life, will strengthen the many lives we live.
Karma holds no favorites nor judgement. It is a natural law that every individual is bound to. The actions we take in one life—which includes how we think, feel, respond, speak, or act—affect the numerous lives we live. Like a stone cast on a still pond, the ripples reach out to the edges of the pond, in essence changing the water forever. We are no different. What kind of stone would we like to cast? What kind of ripples would we like to create? Despite the saying “ripples never come back,” if there is unity in everything, the affect does come back. We can choose to welcome what comes our way, knowing we have created it, or we can continue to live a life of blame. “Life’s tempo change out and inside me.” We are our own teacher.
Dag Hammarskjöld, former UN General Secretary, wrote the “holiness of life, before which we bow down in worship.” Rarely do we see the whole of life as so glorious to bow down to. But in reality, it is the only true teacher we have. We steer the ships of our own destiny. Our “loyal sense of duty” is to commit ourselves to our dharma, whatever that may be. For those who live by the Golden Stairs or have decided to let Theosophy guide one’s way, every moment of our lives should reflect the teachings. Our duty is to trust and uphold the goodness, the That which is sacred, which in turn upholds everything.
Our loyal sense of duty must be to what each lifetime offers us, no matter what the circumstances. In the Second Fundamental Proposition of the Secret Doctrine, HPB states the “Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically ‘the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing . . .’ In one of her talks, Joy Mills found the word “playground” interesting and comments that in Hinduism the word “Leela” loosely translates to divine play. Paraphrasing here, Joy states that it is the play of the gods and that there is a joyousness in the experience of everything.
One of things we admire about young children is their innocence. Untouched and unaffected by the cynicism or finality of adults, children’s minds are free, open, playful and they often exude a sense of limitlessness. They are not fear based. Every moment is a treasure, something new and exciting to discover. This quality changes, unfortunately, depending on the conditioning of the child; but in their first few years of physical incarnation, most children are unbound by life, still connected to the divine from which they came.
Perhaps it is this we must ponder. As adults we must be so careful not to impose our nonsense upon children, and at the same time ask ourselves why we submit to the circus. We move from a world of wonder to a lack of fascination in anything. Meanwhile life stands by watching us do this to ourselves. “I listened hard, but could not see” as the quote says. Perhaps we need to stop struggling and allow. Perhaps we need to let go and experiment with playing with what comes our way; seeing what the teacher has to show us.
In her article Holiness Is in the Now, Sr. Joan Chittister tells the story of a disciple who asks an elder, “What action shall I perform to attain God?” To which the elder replies, “If you wish to attain God, there are two things you must know. The first is that all efforts to attain God are of no avail. And the second is that you must act as if you did not know the first.” This story is so similar to line from Light on the Path that states, “Kill out ambition; but work as those work who are ambitious.”
The Now is in the awakened moment, but the moment does not arrive without effort on our part. Yet effort does not mean strife. We do not need to struggle to connect with the divine. The divine lies all around us and the universe provides so many examples. We can learn from children, from the joy of a hummingbird, from the waves of the ocean, from the laughter of a friend. The teacher surrounds us every moment of every day. As we live a more “loyal sense of duty to the teacher,” the more we will see that every precious moment teaches us something. This will not only enhance our life, but more importantly, benefit all beings.