Experiencing the Teachings

Pablo Sender – USA


Photo of Pablo taken while he was working at the International Headquarters in Adyar, India

The practice of meditative study and self-exploration, as well as the application of Theosophical teachings in daily life, are of utmost importance. Only in this way can we begin to experience something of what we learn in our studies. This is vital because by intellectual study we may know and understand many relevant teachings, but without some level of personal experience these teachings will fail to produce a change in us. Then, Theosophy becomes a mere system of thought, with very little relevance in how we live. Annie Besant expressed this as follows:

Concrete thought finds its natural realization in action, and if you do not act out a thought, then by reaction you weaken the thought. Strenuous action along the line of the thinking must follow the thought, otherwise progress will be slow. (A Study in Karma)

Meditative inquiry and practice gradually opens the door to higher states of consciousness. I am not talking about psychic perceptions or so-called mystical experiences, but very simple states of stillness, peace, and selflessness, which come as a result of moving beyond the common activities of our minds and emotions. These simple states may come in meditation, in a walk in nature, or unexpectedly during our daily life, bringing into the realm of direct experience the knowledge of inner states that are not driven by fear, desire, anxiety, and so on.

Even if these states are fleeting and present themselves only in certain moments, they are meaningful to give us an indication that there are other possibilities for daily living than the ones we normally entertain. For example, suppose we experience for a few moments a state of just being, where worries are gone for the moment; where there is a sense that everything is fine, in which there are no desires or needs. After the state is gone, we should carefully examine it so as to have a clear understanding of its nature (it is important not to try to do this while we are in that state, because it will most probably bring it to an end).

Most people assume that being without desire, without ambition, would leave us empty, apathetic, depressed. This is because most of us don’t take into account the fact that, behind the veil of desire, fear, and egoism, there is a rich spiritual nature, ready to come to the forefront the moment a rent appears in the veil. The simple experiences mentioned above, when examined, may show us that in a state of desirelessness, there still can be empathy, caring, etc., which can be the source of a different kind of action.

Now, in examining these experiences, one must be careful not to fall into some common errors. For example, at the beginning, these experiences typically come when we have temporarily retreated from the world of our daily activities. In fact, this state may seem incompatible with daily life, where we have to be actively engaged with thinking, acting, relating to others, and so forth. But are these two areas of experience really incompatible? It is important to ponder over this, because throughout history there have been religious people who have come to the conclusion that the only way to be at peace is by retiring from the world. The Theosophical tradition, however, encourages the spiritual aspirant to stay in the world and be of service. So, one may ask, what is the relationship between a state of stillness and a life of engagement with the world? Perhaps the answer is in the following quote from Light on the Path:

Live neither in the present nor the future, but in the Eternal. This giant weed [of the lower ego] cannot flower there; this blot upon existence is wiped out by the very atmosphere of eternal thought.

The very experiencing of a state of stillness, which is beyond the always-changing thought and emotion, purifies our lower nature. Then, whatever we do in daily life comes from a higher perspective than before, because the personality gradually becomes less loud, less demanding. In its turn, as we give room in daily life to an action that is less centered on the lower nature, the door opens for further experiencing of that state. Eventually, the two areas of experience can merge, and there can be “action in inaction and inaction in action,” as we read in The Bhagavad Gita (ch. 4, v. 18)

In modern times, we tend to think of spirituality as a collection of techniques. So a natural question in the mind of the reader may be, “Very well, then, what is the best method to experience these states?” Unfortunately, this is not as simple as applying a technique. What is required, as stated at the beginning of this article, is a more organic practice that includes the study of Theosophical teachings, meditation upon them, exploration of our inner life, and application of the teachings to our daily life. By means of this, we will gradually come to discover the truths behind many of these teachings, and this direct experience has the power to produce a change in ourselves.

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