The Voice of the Silence 6 (Verses 59-79)

John Algeo – USA

The last group of verses considered in this series ended with an assertion that, to walk the Path, we have to become the Path, an apparently paradoxical statement. But a paradox has been defined as a Truth standing on its head, so that assertion is also a Truth. In addition, it is said that the opposite of a little truth is a falsehood, but the opposite of a Great Truth is another Great Truth. This assertion is a Great Truth.

The verses continue by explaining what walking the path involves: “[59] Let thy soul lend its ear to every cry of pain like as the lotus bares its heart to drink the morning sun. [60] Let not the fierce sun dry one tear of pain before thyself hast wiped it from the sufferer’s eye. [61] 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. [62] 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: “[63] Kill out desire; but if thou killest it take heed lest from the dead it should again arise. [64] 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. [65] 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”: “[66] Help Nature and work on with her; and Nature will regard thee as one of her creators and make obeisance. [67] 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. [68] 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 6.25–9): “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”: “[69] 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. [70] Kill thy desires, lanoo, make thy vices impotent, ere the first step is taken on the solemn journey. [71] 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”: “[72] Silence thy thoughts and fix thy whole attention on thy Master whom yet thou dost not see, but whom thou feelest. [73] 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. [74] 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. [75] 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”: “[76] 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. [77] The rose must rebecome the bud born of its parent stem, before the parasite has eaten through its heart and drunk its life-sap. [78] The golden tree puts forth its jewel-buds before its trunk is withered by the storm. [79] 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, we must 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.

MEDITATIONS. 

Visualize yourself as walking up a path that leads to a distant mountain top. As you walk, you come to an injured person lying beside the road. Like the Good Samaritan, you pause to give the injured person whatever assistance you can. You wipe the tears from that person’s eyes and render such help as you are able to provide, taking that person to a hospital or first-aid station. Then, having seen the injured person being taken care of, without hesitation and without looking back you continue on your journey.

Review your life history, beginning with the present time and remembering back, time before time, one event back before another, all the way to your childhood, as early as you can go. In what ways do you experience those earlier stages of yourself as the same as or as different from your present-day self? Think about re-living your innocent, open early ages.

 

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