Theosophy

The Sphinx of Theosophy, Part 2

Annie Besant

Theosophy 212 d AB Besant Olcott und Judge in London

Annie Besant, Olcott and Judge in London, May 1891

Remember what I said to you about the seven planes of existence. Go to the fifth plane where the mind is working. Pass from the third, which is matter as you know it, to the fifth where the mind is in its own environment and living in its own life. There what to you is immaterial becomes material to it, for matter there is not identical with matter here, and that is visible and audible to the mind that is invisible and inaudible to the coarser senses of the body.

We learn from this dry science of the lecture hall, from our Western thought. We learn from this how the Occult Thought is justified by modern science, how that which has been taught for centuries in the Eastern schools is now becoming a matter of experience in the Western hospitals. If from that and from many another scientific proof of this real existence of thought and of mind, an existence other than we have known on our own earth, and within our own normal and daily life, if we once realize what that means, we learn that Man's destiny will indeed unfold itself before us as something loftier than poets have chanted, something mightier than ever prophets have dreamed.

That which is abnormal today shall be general tomorrow. That which is only beginning to bud here and there amongst us shall blossom in a future, which is not far off as the time in Eternity is counted. That which now only gained by careful study and by careful living shall after a while become the inheritance of every child who is born into our world and to a higher life.

Do you desire to prove the reality of something more than hypnotism can give you to yourselves? Do you desire to follow out your own evolution and try to climb upward beyond mind into spirit, into a plane of consciousness higher yet? Then seek the constant conquest and subordination of the lower nature, until that which is done by the hypnotized person in trance and unconsciously is done by yourself with full consciousness of your doing, and without losing hold of yourself from the beginning to the ending.

You can only do this by rising for yourself and climbing upwards by your own endeavor. If there were intelligences on those higher planes, you cannot drag them down to you; you must climb up to them. The consciousness that you would share with them must be the consciousness that is theirs, and not the endeavor to degrade them to your lower life. You can only do this by uttermost effort, by perfect self-devotion, and by nobility of heroic life.

If the athlete to climb a mountain-top must train himself for many a week and many a month, and then as he climbs must strain every muscle, must use every power of body, if he would reach the mountain-top that he covets to scale. Do you think that if physical mountains can only he climbed by effort, it is without effort that these mountains of the mind and of the spirit can be scaled? For, mind you, as you climb upwards, fresh powers pass into your hands, and with wider knowledge comes greater power over Nature.

The student of physical science gains fresh power to control Nature as he learns more of her secrets and the student of psychical science also gains the natural powers that lie hidden from the majority today, but are open to those who know how to study and how to attain.

Some say, "There is too much mystery in your Theosophy. These powers that you are hinting at, these powers over Nature -- why not throw them open to the world and let men everywhere know how to learn and how to win?" Do you give your children dynamite to play with? Do you let your schoolchild play with poisons in the Laboratory? Do you not say that only with manhood's knowledge comes manhood's power, and that that which is potent for use and for service may be potent for mischief and for destruction of life? It is so in the past as in the present.

These higher natural powers can only be gained by those who are willing to work for many a year constantly at patient study. They come as an appendage of the development of the higher life. They come as the natural growth of the human being as he evolves upwards in this long climb; not followed for themselves, not gained for themselves, but only as the natural blossoming of the higher humanity, which gradually grows within the men and the women who study and who live for others.

Such powers bring with them vast responsibility. Such powers bring with them ability for service, but also ability for mischief. I ask you, would it be wise that they should be thrown everywhere amongst a people, men and women of the world, men and women of today, women who would lose their temper if their dress did not fit, or men who would swear if their coachman made them late for a dinner party. Are those people to be entrusted with powers that with a thought are able to cure, but are also able to slay? Are those people to be trusted with ability that gives mighty power for salvation but power also for destruction, at the mere will of the evil desire?

So that side of Theosophy is not thrown open to the multitude, and when you hear talk of phenomena, and when you see foolish excitement from the people who desire to see something wonderful, like a conjuring trick, then the answer is: Those powers are only interesting as signs of the growing spirituality, and they are not to he used for the amusement of a moment, nor as mere platform tricks to spend an hour in some fresh excitement.

You will read of them, and they exist; but they exist only for those who are worthy to wield them; aye, for any one of YOU, who is willing to go through the discipline, who is willing to give the time and have the patience for study. They are not supernatural. They are wholly natural. They can only be won, as Nature's powers are won, by those who have patience to study, who have courage to investigate and to act.

From that side, I point you to the light that there is in man's destiny; reminding you how it shows the time when man shall indeed be royal over Nature, because he is first royal over himself; that Nature shall be his servant because he is his own master; having conquered himself, he conquers everything; and when that victory has been won, man's destiny will be perfect and complete.

You may well say, "How can life give time for such attainment, how can one brief life find space for the evolution of which you speak?" No one life would be enough for such growth or in one brief human life is such attainment possible. Theosophy teaches that it is not one life but many lives through which you pass. You who are here today are not here for the first time. Far behind you stretches a vast human experience. The abilities that you have, the faculties that you enjoy, and the powers that you exercise are the trophies of your past victories. They are the signs of the fashion in which you have used the lives of the past.

Not one, but many lives, come to every human spirit in its pilgrimage through Time and Space. Not once, but often, does man renew his experience, gathering more of knowledge with every life, adding fresh pages of experience to the book of his existence, and so writing line after line of that human story that at last he will be able to read. So, we are taught, man is reborn according to the past that he has made by his own effort.

What you are, Theosophy tells you, you have made yourself. The life that you have and the powers that you exercise, that life has been molded by your own past, those powers have been won by your own endeavors. For the ethics of Theosophy grow out of this view of man; the ethics of Theosophy tell you of a law that none can escape, of a destiny that none can avoid. That law of moral causation is universal, molding for each the life that his previous existence has deserved. According to that law of Karma, that law of ethical causation today is the result and the fruit of the past. Your past molds your present. Your future shall be the outcome of your present.

Shadows thrown upon a wall, Professor Draper tells us, leave an impress there, so that if you use the rightful means, you can evolve once more the shadow from the wall over which it has passed. If that were true of matter, shall it not also be true of spirit? If the suitable means could evolve from the wall the shadow that your passing figure has cast upon it, shall not the shadow of your acts cast upon your character be evolved by the mighty alchemy of Nature and change it, and leave an impress that nothing can take away? So we believe that men are born as they have prepared for themselves the life into which they come.

If you say to that, "Well, but look at the rich and the poor, look at the varieties of human circumstance, the varieties of human happiness. Would you tell us that all who suffer poverty have ill-used their previous existence, that the prosperous and wealthy are only reaping the reward of some past life?" Then we answer you, in dealing with human life, you must look not only on the surface but also below it. Lives of yours are but moments in the great life through which you pass; each life but as an hour out of the many years of your pilgrimage through the ages.

When you judge of wealth or of poverty, you must measure them in the scales of the eternal life, and not only in those of the transitory present. It may be that those who are most miserable and most poor, whose fate has flung them into some slum of this vast city, may there be expiating only some trifling error, and by the self-denying of their living, by the glory of their charity to their fellows, by that nobility and unselfishness that you find more among the slum-dwellers than the palace-dwellers, it may be that they are molding for themselves the most glorious future, and making progress more rapidly than they could dream of in their darkness now.

It may be that some wealthy man or woman, thrown into that position by some event of a previous life, it may be that in the selfishness that grows out of comfort, in the isolation that grows out of wealth, in the indifference to other lives that comes out of ease to one's self, it may be that they are losing, spiritually and mentally, far more than they are winning with their mere bodily ease, and they are further back in their pilgrimage by reason of the very ease of their daily life.

Mind you, the worst crime in man is selfishness; that which isolates him from his brothers, that which separates him from the common lot, that which puts him apart and separate, is oft-times the worst curse that can fall upon a human life. For if it be true, as we teach, that all men are brothers; if it be true that in this vast human family there is one great tie of brotherhood, that goes from life to life and from heart to heart; then I ask you, what can do more to degrade the whole life of man than to live in selfish and easeful isolation while others are in misery and wretchedness at your very doors?

Think not that the poor suffer alone; think not that the brutality and the misery, the degradation and the crime of one part of London leave unpoisoned the atmosphere of the rest. I spoke of the bearing of Theosophy on human conduct; the one message Theosophy brings to the Western World, is the message of brotherhood, a brotherhood that is blasphemed every day in this metropolis, and that is merely a word and an empty phrase in the mouth of most.

We who believe in this Universal Brotherhood, we recognize and understand that no progress in the spirit can be made unless there be self-devotion to the general good of humankind. That any idea of progress by the intellect, that any hope of attainment by means of the mind, that those are but as dreams beside the progress that can be won by self-devotion to humanity, and the service that is done to our brothers when we sacrifice our own happiness to their good.

The final message of Theosophy is one of ethics rather than even of philosophy or of science. It has its philosophy of which I have suggested to you some outline; it has its science of man to some points of which I have alluded; and I have suggested the line of study along which we may go. More vital than its philosophy, more essential than its science, is that ethical duty of brotherhood between all members of the human race, which sees misery only to relieve it, and suffering only to lighten the pang that it inflicts.

It teaches us that none can rise alone. The degradation of one is the degradation of all. While some are miserable, none can be truly happy. While there are poor to succor, there ought to be no rich to waste. While there is starvation on one side, there ought to be no idle luxury on the other. That message of brotherhood is most wanted in our selfish Western Civilization. Here luxury has reached its highest point. Here the purely material rules over men's minds more than ever before.

In this nineteenth century, in its race for wealth, in its triumphs of material science, in its pride of material advancement, here more than ever before in the world's history, has been wanted this message of brotherhood from man to man.

Sometimes I have thought, in their far-off Eastern home, those whom we call Masters and Teachers, in that they are wiser by their study than we are, that they have broken what one of them has called the silence of centuries, because of the sore need of our Western World. We may progress in science and in wealth, we may progress in knowledge and in intellectual attainment, but useless is this, nay, worse than useless, mischievous, if it widens the gulf between rich and poor and makes more impossible the Brotherhood of Man.

Together we must climb or together we must fall. No one of us can save himself by his own efforts unless his brother rises side by side with him. Our work is the work of a common salvation; our work here is the work of a common duty to common human need; and in doing that, in devoting ourselves to that, we shall be true Theosophists, working out the spirit of the Philosophy, and climbing upwards towards the Higher Life.

To you, who, for one brief hour this evening, have come from gayer scenes and brighter lives to listen to this message from the East, my last word to you, which is the central word, shall be this word of "Brotherhood." To be rid of selfishness, to win but to serve, to use your education to help the ignorant, to use your training to help the untrained, to use your voices to make articulate the sufferings of the voiceless; that is the command that Theosophy gives to the rich of the Western World.

If you would learn its Philosophy, you must bear its moral yoke. If you would learn its Science, you must accept its ethical teaching. Ethics come before Science, and Duty comes before attainment. Accepting the one, the other likewise shall be yours. Then all together, not apart and individually, all as one vast family bound in bonds of love, we shall climb together that ladder of Humanity whose foot is set in the slime of animal life, but whose summit is lost in the eternal light -- the ladder on whose rungs our feet are set today, but up which we cannot climb, save as we bear our brethren with us, and use our strength to help their weakness, and our powers to make their helplessness strong.

[From LUCIFER, August 15, 1890, pages 450-60.]

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