At the Feet of the Master

Tim Boyd – India, USA

Theosophy TB 2 419 Students Tim

Tim Boyd poses with seventh- level students at the Olcott Memorial High School 

Over time little books like the one by J. Krishnamurti (Alcyone), At the Feet of the Master (AFM), and by H. P. Blavatsky (HPB), The Voice of the Silence, find us returning to them again and again. One of the beauties of these short texts is their richness and that although small in size they seem to be inexhaustible in their potential to convey a new sense of meaning. They give us a multilayered approach to the spiritual life.

In Tibetan Buddhism one of the foundational texts is called The Graded Path to Enlightenment, also known as the Lamrim teachings. It is quoted by HPB in The Secret Doctrine and elsewhere. The basis for the Lamrim is that there is a progressive and ever-deepening “path” to wisdom, a graded path. At its beginning we enter it with a minimally developed level of understanding and unfoldment. But as we work with it that unfoldment deepens and broadens. In the words of the Bible: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child, but when I became a man [or a woman] I put away childish things.” With the extension of awareness our understanding has a way of altering.

One of the things that makes AFM precious is that it is the unelaborated expression of a young mind trying to transmit the teachings given to him by an elder, by his Master, in a form that could be understood by a 14-year-old boy. Its author went on to become an utterly unique spiritual influence in the world. When we think of him today we tend to call to mind the unfolded person that he came to be in later life. But at the time AFM was written he was a young boy, a highly evolved young boy, but yet with the capacities of a 14-year-old. So the language is simple and the expressions are not complicated or overly elaborated.

The material that comprises the book was communicated to Krishnamurti over a period of five months. It is said that at night he would be taken in his astral form by his Master and given instructions. Each night the teachings would be summarized. Upon awakening, the boy would write it down. These writings were compiled and published as AFM. Krishnamurti lived another 77 years after writing the book. One of the beauties of this little book is that we have been able to witness his unfoldment from this initial seed.

Superficially, his teachings in later life bore no resemblance to this first work. However, on closer examination, we find that the life and thought he came to embody was an elaboration of this very early first teaching. What he spoke about in his later life had ever-increasing, nuanced, subtle, and original depths on the subjects of Freedom, Love, Right Perception, recognition of and liberation from habitual patterns, the same things we find expressed in a different form in AFM.

When he was nine years old, Albert Einstein had a dream. In it he was on a sled going down a snowy hill. The sled kept going faster and faster, ultimately approaching the speed of light. He looked up and saw the starry light of the night sky refracted into a brilliant spectrum of unearthly colors he had never seen before. Filled with a sense of awe and reverence, he intuitively understood he was witnessing an event that contained his calling in life — all the answers, as well as questions he would need to ask. He said “I knew I had to understand that dream . . . and I would say that my entire scientific career has been a meditation on that dream.”

With Krishnamurti we witnessed a similar process. AFM, his first book, has four sections: Discrimination, Desirelessness, the six points of Good Conduct, and Love. He describes those four things at ever-deepening levels. When he talks about Discrimination, there are various levels of it that the Master communicated to him. Ultimately it is about discrimination between the real and the unreal, but he writes that “of the real and the unreal there are many varieties.” Similarly, with Desirelessness it is not just the base passions that constitute desire, it is desire for recognition, to do good, but to be known for doing good — all of the ever-increasing subtleties which describe a spiritual path.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali one encounters a curious expression, that we must “Avoid the misery that is yet to come”. What does this mean? This misery is not here, and yet somehow we must avoid this thing that we have no immediate knowledge of. Patanjali’s admonition relates to karma. HPB more than once made the point that an understanding of the teachings on Karma and Reincarnation would be the salvation of humanity, that a deep grasp of these two teachings would have a liberating effect on our mind and behavior.

Karma is described as having a threefold nature: (1) Karma which has ripened. It is the effects of past actions we experience in the present: the pains in the body, the habits of the mind, the many different factors that are ripe for their expression. This is the most familiar aspect of karma for us. (2) There is a stored karma, the one for which the conditions are not yet provided for it to ripen. It is like the seed in the ground. Until it is given the proper moisture, sunlight, and nutrition, it lays dormant beneath the surface. (3) This is the karma that we are in the process of creating in this moment. The classic example given is of an archer. Ripened karma is like the arrow which has been shot from the bow. Stored or latent karma is like the quiver of arrows the archer carries on his back. The karma we are currently creating is like the arrow we are preparing to shoot.

“Avoid the misery that is yet to come” relates to this stored karma and our current behaviors. In Buddhism there is the idea that there is nothing one can do that is so wrong, so bad, or so evil, that it cannot be purified. In the Buddhist tradition, probably the worst thing one could do would be to kill a Buddha, yet that also can be purified. The great Milarepa, an enlightened being, was poisoned by a jealous Geshe (Buddhist sage). Milarepa took the poison knowingly, sat, and gave a spiritual teaching to the Geshe who had poisoned him and, in doing so, the pundit became a great disciple after Milarepa’s death.

Everything can be purified if we approach it with the proper knowledge and motive. The Art of War is a book whose title would suggest that it is about military strategies, which it is to a great extent. But it is also a treatise on the spiritual life. It teaches that the greatest warrior is not the one who conquers cities and wins 100 battles, but the one who can conquer cities without fighting any battles.

In the Introduction to one version of the book (Shambhala Pocket Classics edition) there is a story about three brothers who are known to be healers. The question is asked of one of the brothers, a doctor renowned throughout the empire: “Who among you is the greatest healer?” His answer is instructive: “My oldest brother sees the spirit of sickness before it takes form and cures it. His name is not known outside of our home. My next brother sees illness in its minute stages, and he cures it. His name is not known beyond our neighborhood. I, on the other hand, prescribe pills, puncture veins, massage skin, and my name is known by all the Lords in the kingdom.”

Similarly, the teachings we have been given, that we understand as Theosophy, function on many levels. The great doctor, the one known throughout the land, was the one who worked in the visible realm, with the forms of the material world, so his fame was universal in the worldly realm. His effectiveness only came into being when diseases had been manifested. Theosophy provides cures at that level.

As we become increasingly aware of our tendencies before they manifest — habits of thought, reactions to people and situations, hidden desires, and so on — we are able to witness these ongoing processes, observing them much like we witness the weather: now cloudy, now sunny, now stormy. In the same way we are able to witness the ever-changing climate of our thoughts and emotions, and adjust accordingly. At its minute stages we can recognize and adjust.

The highest level of healing coincides with the most profound level of awareness. In the example of the brothers, one sees the spirit of sickness before it has assumed any form, in its formless, or arupa, state. That is the level of perception from which the Masters speak to us. They try to describe the world and its governing processes as they exist, even without their physical trappings.

This is the practice that is described in the four sections of AFM. It is a practice of attenuating, reducing, or diluting the force of humanity’s fundamental illness, of recognizing imbalance in its nascent state, and so “avoiding the misery which is yet to come”.

The Buddha often described himself as a doctor. According to him he came to minister to the causes of suffering that we continually generate for ourselves and others. His method was to heal at the level of the mind. All of the practices, philosophies, and techniques that have been passed on relate to a process of attenuating the potential for this misery producing seed to take root and flower.

What is the agent that is added to dilute these negative tendencies? Often we think of it as teachings, the instruction handed down to us through the great teachers. At a certain level this is correct. As we become exposed to a particular approach to the wisdom, it has its effects. But the alchemical agent that is added to this mixture of consciousness that changes everything is awareness. Every genuine teacher has given instruction to students. Particularly in the initial stages of unfoldment instruction is our need. In essence, AFM was a repetition of instructions the young Krishnamurti had received. The basis of his later teachings was 77 years of exploration and application of an ever-unfolding awareness.

As awareness grows, we see more and more clearly. The actual meaning of the word “clairvoyance” is clear seeing. People who have not made the effort over the years to increase their level of awareness necessarily encounter difficulties in relationships of all types. For example, they only become aware of their anger after the explosion. Once the arrow has left the bow and is headed toward its target, or once the focus of their anger has been struck, do they become aware and respond with remorse or self-righteousness.

There is an expression: “Speak when you are angry, and you will make the greatest speech you will ever regret.” Once the arrow leaves the bow, or the angry word leaves the mouth, it cannot be taken back. One of the things that seems to occur with the practice of awareness is that we move closer and closer to the present moment. At an early stage we become aware that the anger is expressing through us. This has its value.

As we deepen in this practice, we begin to become aware before our anger is expressed. Before its components have come together and assumed a form, we see it. At that point, because of our awareness, we have choices. In many ways this is the purpose of Patanjali’s statement that we must avoid the misery that is yet to come. We must be evermore-deeply aware to perceive the movements that occur within us and choose to give direction to these energies. Whether we find ourselves at the beginning, middle, or advanced stages of the path, we come back again and again to the simple, but inexhaustible AFM teachings on Discrimination, Desirelessness, Good Conduct, and Love.

[From The Theosophist, September, 2019]

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