John Algeo – USA
Following the ten verses on the ladder of the mystic sounds, the next verses take up the theme of dying, being slain, or being cleansed and merging. It is important to keep in mind that the language is metaphorical and to look for the meaning beneath the symbol: “ Before that path is entered, thou must destroy thy lunar body,29 cleanse thy mind-body30 and make clean thy heart.  Eternal life’s pure waters, clear and crystal, with the monsoon tempest’s muddy torrents cannot mingle.  Heaven’s dew-drop glittering in the morn’s first sunbeam within the bosom of the lotus, when dropped on earth, becomes a piece of clay; behold, the pearl is now a speck of mire.  Strive with thy thoughts unclean before they overpower thee. Use them as they will thee, for if thou sparest them and they take root and grow, know well, these thoughts will overpower and kill thee. Beware, disciple, suffer not, e’en though it be their shadow, to approach. For it will grow, increase in size and power, and then this thing of darkness will absorb thy being before thou hast well realized the black foul monster’s presence.”
The “lunar body” of verse 51 is reminiscent of the silver cymbal of verse 43, which also had lunar associations, both representing one of the seven human principles. Note 29 to this verse introduces an interesting link between principles, involving some terminological confusion between early and later Theosophical literature: “The astral form produced by the Kamic principle, the kama-rupa or body of desire.” Blavatsky generally used “astral” to refer to the linga sharira or what was later called the “etheric double.” However, she also used the term more generally and indefinitely to refer to ethereal or less dense vehicles of consciousness. Here she uses it specifically for the emotional body, a usage adopted by second generation and later Theosophists. There is also, however, a link between all the lower principles, from the physical body through the “lower” mind, which collectively form the personality. As a whole they contrast with the “higher” mind or buddhi-manas, in this verse called “mind-body” and also called the “causal body,” which is the individual reincarnating entity: Note 30: “Manasa-rupa. The first [lunar body] refers to the astral or personal self; the second [mind-body] to the individuality or the reincarnating Ego whose consciousness on our plane or the lower manas has to be paralyzed.”
The mind, properly speaking, is the reincarnating individuality. Its reflection in the personality is “lower manas,” which is not a separate principle, but manas operating through the brain. This verse and the glosses to it identify the three principal elements in our being: the transitory personality (lunar body), the enduring individuality (mind body), and the intuitional perception (heart), which we are to “make clean.” They are the vehicles through which the higher self (atma) functions in us. All of the talk in the following verses of slaying the lunar form (the personality) is a metaphorical way of saying that we must identify, not with the personality, but with the individuality and ultimately with the one Self, the divine spark within us. As long as we are on this plane, we must have a personality—it is the way we function here. But if we do not wish to be entrapped by this plane, we must not suppose that the vehicle we use to function on it is the real “I.”
The verses continue: “ Before the mystic Power [‘Kundalini, the ‘Serpent Power’ or mystic fire’]31 can make of thee a god, lanoo, thou must have gained the faculty to slay thy lunar form at will.  The self of matter and the Self of Spirit can never meet. One of the twain must disappear; there is no place for both.  Ere thy Soul’s mind can understand, the bud of personality must be crushed out, the worm of sense destroyed past resurrection.”
Verse 55 tells us that once we have “gained the faculty to slay thy lunar form at will” (that is, to transfer our sense of identity, of who we are, from the personality to the individuality), then the “mystic Power” can make a god of us (that is, we can take the next step, which is realizing that even the individuality is not “us” but that we are in fact the divine Self, and thus “a god”). That “mystic Power” (identified in a footnote incorporated into the text above) is described in Note 31: “Kundalini is called the ‘serpentine’ or the annular power on account of its spiral-like working or progress in the body of the ascetic developing the power in himself. It is an electric fiery occult or Fohatic power, the great pristine force which underlies all organic and inorganic matter.” Annular means “ring-like” or “circular” (from a Latin word referring to a finger ring) and is applied to kundalini because of its circulation through the body and the cosmos. Earlier (note 24 to verse 38) we were told that kundalini is buddhi considered as an active principle. Here it is connected with fohat. This suggests that buddhi and fohat are, if not identical, at least aspects of the same thing. In some forms of Western esotericism, God has a feminine aspect, Sophia or Wisdom, which creates the world. In Hinduism, the Shaivite school says that the divine Shiva has a female shakti or power through which he creates. Those seem to be allegorical ways of talking about the relationship between atma and buddhi, the latter being also the principle of wisdom and, in its active kundalini aspect, one of creative power.
Verse 56 asserts that the “self of matter” and the “Self of Spirit” can never meet; one of the two must disappear. We must identify with either the mortal personality or the divine individuality—we have to choose. Hermann Hesse’s novella, Journey to the East (in German, Morgenlandfahrt, literally “journey to the land of morning”) ends with an image expressing this idea. The narrator in the story has been on a quest, in the company of a band of seekers traveling to the East, led by a mysterious and wise figure named Leo. They arrive in a great hall where the narrator is told records are kept of everything about each of the travelers (the akashic records, although they are not so called in the story), and he is shown the place where his records are to be found. He goes and consults them, to find that the only object in the drawer where his records should be is a curious, transparent glass double figure, with a fluid circulating inside it, like a serpent. The fluid is flowing from one of the two joined figures to the other. The figure from which it flows is an image of the narrator, and it is withering away as the fluid leaves it. The side to which the fluid moves is growing stronger and greater, and it represents Leo. There the story ends. It is an ending that must puzzle many readers, but viewed Theosophically and in the light of The Voice of the Silence, its meaning is clear. The narrator is the personality, with which we habitually identify. Leo is the greater Self, the leader, our individuality, the lion or king of beasts, astrologically ruled by the sun (as the personality is represented by the moon). The serpentine, circulating (annular) fluid is kundalini, which is taking the life energy from the personality to the individuality. If we identify with the lunar personality, we will fade away. But if we realize our true identity, we will be the immortal sun of the individuality.
Next comes one of the most memorable verses of the poem: “ Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become that Path itself.32” This verse is one of the great paradoxes of the Theosophical tradition. A paradox is said to be, not a contradiction, but a truth standing on its head. Note 32 points to a resolution of this paradoxical truth: “This Path is mentioned in all the mystic works. As Krishna says in the Jnaneshvari: ‘When this Path is beheld . . . whether one sets out to the bloom of the east or to the chambers of the west, without moving, O holder of the bow, is the traveling in this road. In this path, to whatever place one would go, that place one’s own self becomes.’ ‘Thou art the Path’ is said to the adept guru and by the latter to the disciple, after initiation. ‘I am the way and the Path’ says another Master.”
On the one hand, we are told “There is a road” and there is “Light on the Path.” On the other hand, it has also been said that “Truth is a pathless land.” How can there both be a path, and yet truth be pathless? Verse 58 with its gloss is the key to unlock that paradox. The Path exists, but it does not exist apart from us who walk it. We are the path. If we think of it as something existing apart from us, we will misunderstand it. If we think that it has no existence, we will also misunderstand. William Butler Yeats talked about this same paradox under a different metaphor, when at the end of his poem “Among School Children,” he asks rhetorically, “Oh body swayed to music, oh brightening glance, how can we know the dancer from the dance?” There is no dancer without a dance, nor any dance without someone who dances it. There is no path apart from the one who walks it, and by walking the path, we make it. We are the path. The same idea is expressed by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, when in the last chapter of that work (18.66) he tells Arjuna, who has been struggling to know what his dharma is and what he should do: “Abandoning all dharmas, come unto me alone for shelter.” Our dharma is our duty; it is also the teaching we follow; it is also our own inmost nature; it is who we fundamentally are. Krishna tells Arjuna not to be concerned about any dharma outside of himself, but instead to realize who he really is. Arjuna is Krishna, just as the narrator in Hesse’s Journey to the East is Leo, and just as we are the divine Self within ourselves.
The verses continue by explaining what walking the path involves: “ Let thy soul lend its ear to every cry of pain like as the lotus bares its heart to drink the morning sun.  Let not the fierce sun dry one tear of pain before thyself hast wiped it from the sufferer’s eye.  But let each burning human tear drop on thy heart and there remain, nor ever brush it off, until the pain that caused it is removed.  These tears, O thou of heart most merciful, these are the streams that irrigate the fields of charity immortal. ’Tis on such soil that grows the midnight blossom of Buddha33 more difficult to find, more rare to view than is the flower of the Vogay tree. It is the seed of freedom from rebirth. It isolates the Arhat both from strife and lust, it leads him through the fields of being unto the peace and bliss known only in the land of silence and non-being.”
Verses 59–62 may seem to be a change of subject, but they are extensions of what has just been said. They are a call to the Bodhisattva life of dedication to the welfare of all beings. When we have realized our true identity in the atma, we know that all life is our life, and hence to work for others is the same as working for ourselves. Note 33 to verse 62 identifies “the midnight blossom of Buddha,” which is “Adeptship—the ‘blossom of Bodhisattva’.” The term Arhat literally means “deserving (of respect), venerable.” In Southern Buddhism it is used for someone who has become enlightened through the teaching of a Buddha. In Northern Buddhism it is thought of as a lower state than that of a Bodhisattva (“one whose essence is knowledge”), because the latter has taken a vow not to enter nirvana until all sentient beings can enter too. In the Theosophical tradition the Arhat is one who has taken the fourth initiation (or, as the Buddhist tradition puts it, has passed through the fourth stage on the way to enlightenment), and the adept is one who has taken the fifth initiation.
The next verses return to the theme of “killing” or restraining and purifying the personality: “ Kill out desire; but if thou killest it take heed lest from the dead it should again arise.  Kill love of life; but if thou slayest tanha,34 let this not be for thirst of life eternal, but to replace the fleeting by the everlasting.  Desire nothing. Chafe not at Karma, nor at Nature’s changeless laws. But struggle only with the personal, the transitory, the evanescent and the perishable.” Verses 63–65 might be compared with the first rules of Light on the Path: “1. Kill out ambition. . . . Work as those work who are ambitious. 2. Kill out desire of life. . . . Respect life as those do who desire it. 3. Kill out desire of comfort. . . . Be happy as those are who live for happiness.” As those rules suggest, killing out desire and love of life is not a matter of withdrawing from the world, or being morose, or scorning life. It is rather a matter of priorities and of confidence. That is made clear in Note 34, which defines “love of life” or “tanha” (a Pali word corresponding to Sanskrit trishna, which means “thirst” and hence “craving, desire”): “Tanha―‘the will to live,’ the fear of death and love for life, that force or energy which causes rebirths.” These verses should lead us to think about who we are. How do we define ourselves? In relation to other people? In relation to things we do to earn a living or amuse ourselves? In terms of our sensations, emotions, thoughts? In terms of how we “feel” about ourselves? Is there perhaps another “us” quite apart from all those? We should try to get in touch with that other self—in stillness.
The following verses fall into four groups, each with a different theme, the first of which (66–68) we might call “wu-wei”: “ Help Nature and work on with her; and Nature will regard thee as one of her creators and make obeisance.  And she will open wide before thee the portals of her secret chambers, lay bare before thy gaze the treasures hidden in the very depths of her pure virgin bosom. Unsullied by the hand of matter, she shows her treasures only to the eye of Spirit―the eye which never closes, the eye for which there is no veil in all her kingdoms.  Then will she show thee the means and way, the first gate and the second, the third, up to the very seventh. And then, the goal―beyond which lie, bathed in the sunlight of the Spirit, glories untold, unseen by any save the eye of Soul.”
The Chinese Sage Lao Tzu is the legendary author of another spiritual guide book like The Voice of the Silence. It too is filled with paradoxes, one of which is echoed in the three verses above. The name of Lao Tzu’s work is the Tao Te Ching, or “The Book of the Way [tao] and Its Power [te].” The concept of the tao appears in many forms of Chinese philosophy and mysticism. The word means “way” or “path,” a literal road, but can refer metaphorically either to a way of acting and practicing (like the Theosophical “Path”) or to the Ultimate Way—the underlying reality of the universe. In the sense of a way of acting and practicing, Lao Tzu’s Tao is to live according to wu-wei, which literally means something like “do nothing.” But wu-wei is not simple inactivity; it is rather not striving to accomplish, and thus is first cousin to the principle of right action in the Gita: nishkama karma “desireless action” or action without concern for the results. The idea is that, if we do not try to impose our will on events, but “go with the flow,” we can accomplish great things. In the words of the Tao Te Ching (The Guiding Light of Lao Tzu, trans. Henry Wei [Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1982], 141): “To produce things and nourish them, / To produce but not to claim ownership, / To act but not to presume on the result [or the fruits], / To lead but not to manipulate— / This is called Mystic Virtue [or Power, that is, te].”
In sum, if we follow the way of acting without striving (“Help Nature and work on with her”), which is the tao of wu-wei, we will have the power or te that comes from selfless action. This concept is, of course, not just Chinese or Indian or Tibetan. It is universal. Consider these words from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6.25–29): “Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body [more] than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Remarks like these are easy to misunderstand or to twist into an excuse for inaction (as Arjuna tried to do in the Gita). The sense in all cases is that we should not strive for our personal benefit, but “help Nature and work on with her” as a result of which, as Jesus said, “all these things shall be added unto you.”
The second group of verses (69-71) might be called “Tough Row to Hoe”: “ There is but one road to the Path; at its very end alone the Voice of the Silence can be heard. The ladder by which the candidate ascends is formed of rungs of suffering and pain; these can be silenced only by the voice of virtue. Woe, then, to thee, disciple, if there is one single vice thou hast not left behind. For then the ladder will give way and overthrow thee; its foot rests in the deep mire of thy sins and failings, and ere thou canst attempt to cross this wide abyss of matter thou has to lave thy feet in waters of renunciation. Beware lest thou shouldst set a foot still soiled upon the ladder’s lowest rung. Woe unto him who dares pollute one rung with miry feet. The foul and viscous mud will dry, become tenacious, then glue his feet unto the spot, and like a bird caught in the wily fowler’s lime, he will be stayed from further progress. His vices will take shape and drag him down. His sins will raise their voices, like as the jackal’s laugh and sob after the sun goes down; his thoughts become an army, and bear him off a captive slave.  Kill thy desires, lanoo, make thy vices impotent, ere the first step is taken on the solemn journey.  Strangle thy sins, and make them dumb forever, before thou dost lift one foot to mount the ladder.”
These are not verses to delight our hearts, because they stress both the difficulty of the Path and the need to develop basic moral virtues before we pass on to greater things. The language of these verses is exceptionally vivid and strong, but the sentiments are echoed in spiritual traditions around the world. In the practice of Yoga, there are eight “limbs” or practices, which were mentioned earlier. Of these eight, the first two are lists of things we must not do and things we must do. They are moral directions for living rightly. Similarly, the four qualifications for entering the Path given in the Viveka Chudamani (Crest Jewel of Discrimination) and echoed in At the Feet of the Master begin with three that are moral imperatives: discrimination, desirelessness, and good conduct. The third consists of various points of right behavior.
Modern people especially do not like dreary and tiresome directions on how to behave. We have the idea that “if it feels good, do it.” And we don’t like the prospect of a hard time. We would prefer enlightenment in the form of a pill that is not too hard to swallow, a small sugar-coated pill. But, as these verses tell us, there is no smooth-paved royal road to our goal. The road is steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind. But yet, there is a road.
The third group of verses (72-75) might be called “Lot’s Wife”: “ Silence thy thoughts and fix thy whole attention on thy Master whom yet thou dost not see, but whom thou feelest.  Merge into one sense thy senses, if thou wouldst be secure against the foe. ’Tis by that sense alone which lies concealed within the hollow of thy brain, that the steep path which leadeth to thy Master may be disclosed before the Soul’s dim eyes.  Long and weary is the way before thee, O disciple. One single thought about the past that thou hast left behind, will drag thee down and thou wilt have to start the climb anew.  Kill in thyself all memory of past experiences. Look not behind or thou art lost.” The last two of these verses (74-75) can be seen as echoing the story of Lot’s wife, as told in Genesis, chapter 19. God had decided to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but would spare Lot, who was a good man. Lot was told to leave the cities of the plain and go to the mountains (that is, to leave the ordinary life of the world and seek a spiritual path): “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee.” But Lot’s wife could not bear to depart without glancing backward. When she did so, she was turned into a pillar of salt. Clearly, these verses do not mean that we should literally not remember the past. Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Rather they mean that we should not live in the past, that we should not carry the past with us into the future, that we should not be bound and limited by the past.
The final group of these verses (76-79) might be called “Become as a Little Child”: “ Do not believe that lust can ever be killed out if gratified or satiated, for this is an abomination inspired by Mara. It is by feeding vice that it expands and waxes strong, like to the worm that fattens on the blossom’s heart.  The rose must rebecome the bud born of its parent stem, before the parasite has eaten through its heart and drunk its life-sap.  The golden tree puts forth its jewel-buds before its trunk is withered by the storm.  The pupil must regain the child-state he has lost, ere the first sound can fall upon his ear.” So we do not misunderstand verses 74-75 about not remembering the past, verses 77 and 79 tell us that we must rebecome the past. The rose must rebecome the bud from which it bloomed. The pupil on the path must regain the lost state of childhood. These verses echo another bit of Christian scripture (John 3.3): “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The icon of the child is pervasive in the world’s religions. The name “Lao Tzu” means “the old boy.” The head of the adept hierarchy on our planet is called the Sanat Kumara, which means “the eternal youth.” And the baby Jesus is one of the most popular images in Christian art, as the baby Krishna, the darling little butter-thief, is in Indian art. These all represent the child state we are to rebecome.
Although these last two groups of verses may seem to be opposites, in fact, they are saying the same thing. We must not live in the past, that is, not try to bring the past into the present. Instead we must start anew, be reborn, rebecome the bud, regain the lost child state. Indeed, all four groups of verses in this paper are talking about the same thing. They all instruct us (remember that The Voice of the Silence is a collection of instructions according to verse 1) to give up our personal ambitions, our dearly held vices, our attachment to what was, and instead to work on with nature and regain the fresh, unspoiled state that childhood represents.
To be continued.