The Anxieties of a Seeker

[This article appeared in the June 2012 issue of The Theosophical Movement. For more articles published in this magazine follow this link:]

WHO is a seeker? What does he seek? Why does he seek? These are three inter-related questions. There are seekers and seekers. Not all are seeking knowledge; not all are seeking God; not all are seeking lasting happiness. It all depends upon “why” or what it is that sets them searching. A person suffering from a fatal disease or a huge financial loss, or strained relationship is seeking relief from pain. In case the one suffering from an incurable disease finds the cure or relief in one of the alternative therapies, he may seek to learn and use the same for others. Such a person, while he/she was in the
process of finding the solution, briefly turns to books, institutions, teachers and different philosophies.

Such a person may be temporarily interested in Karma and Rebirth, in God and prayer, but once the disease is cured, the interest may fizzle out, and the search may come to an end. The same holds true of others who are afflicted. Their concern is narrow and so the search is temporary. After a while, such a “seeker” begins to drift away from the system which provided the solution, or he might maintain a superficial connection—just in case, there might be need in the future! But sometimes pain and suffering may give birth to a “seeker” whose search goes beyond the immediate concern of relieving the pain. He wants to learn the cause and cure of sorrow. But, even then he may not be interested in going too far in his search. He asks questions, and studies in some depth the doctrines of Karma and Rebirth, seeks to learn meditation technique, such that suffering could be kept at bay. Then there are seekers who never cease seeking,because they never commit themselves to a single system of thought.

Are they really aware what they are seeking? They are certainly fascinated by the terms, “Self-realization,” “moksha,” “nirvana,”“enlightenment,” and may even claim to be seeking one or all of these. But begin to tell them what God really is, and they will be bored.

Then, there are genuine seekers, who might have been driven tosearch due to suffering, or due to emptiness in life, or due to satietyand over-abundance of pleasures. They wish to know the “why,” for all that happens. They wish to understand the relationship of man with man, of man with God, of man with whole of nature.They may seek to understand with heart, choosing the path of devotion; or they may seek to understand, first, with mind, choosing the path of knowledge; or they may seek to understand by working for others. Sooner or later there must be a realization that all three paths must combine, that ethics and metaphysics must go hand in hand.The Gita classifies the “seekers” into four categories. “Four classes of men who work righteousness worship me, O Arjuna; those who are afflicted, the searchers for truth, those who desire possessions, and the wise….Of these the best is the one possessed of spiritual knowledge, who is always devoted to me,” says Shri Krishna.

Each seeker begins to feel at some point in time, the anxiety, am I stagnating? The one fascinated by knowledge, may begin to feel anxious, “when will I finish knowing all that is to be known”? In general, most seekers feel the anxiety for progress.

When the earnest desire to be better is accompanied by the earnest desire to do good works for humanity, then there is growth and progress. But it may not be a continuous growth that is visibly seen. Mr. Crosbie explains spiritual progress by an analogy. There are trees in nature which denude and remain expressionless for a long time, while the others continually renew themselves, putting forth, flowers, fruit or leaves. Thus, there seems to be two ways of making progress. In some cases, the progress is by fits and starts, while in other cases, there is continual progress, with un-relaxed efforts. At times, there might appear to be “growth” and “retardation,” but what appears to be “retardation,” is really speaking the process of “solidification.”

There is the story of a person who was fed up with life because nothing exciting or significant happened in his life. So he decided to quit life. He went to God to have one last word with Him, and asked to give one reason why he should not quit. God asked this man to look around and see fern and bamboo. God said that when He first planted fern and bamboo seeds and watered them and gave them light, He found that the fern grew quickly, and spread across the ground, producing a green cover on the floor. But nothing came from the bamboo seed for the first, second, third, and the fourth years, and it was challenging. And yet, He did not quit. Only in the fifth year, a tiny sprout merged from the earth, and it was very small and insignificant as compared to the fern. But in the next six months the bamboo plant grew a hundred feet tall! It had spent all these five years patiently growing its roots, making a solid base and gathering strength it needed to survive. Likewise, the man was told that all the while when he thought nothing happened, as he struggled, though there was no visible or obvious progress, he was building the foundation for the future growth. 

When we are anxious we seem to assert, in a subtle way, our own will. We want things to happen as we desired. Mr. Judge says, “By anxiety we exert the constrictive power of egoism, which densifies and perturbs our magnetic sphere, rendering us less permeable to the efflux from above.” In other words, by being anxious, we mar our chances of receiving help from our divine nature. Instead, if we learn to accept that whatever happens is for the best, we will never have any need to be anxious. Sometimes, apparently adverse looking circumstances or happenings work to our advantage or at least prove to be educative for the soul.

Patience and anxiety often go hand in hand. We are anxious, because we expect instant results. Some of us get anxious as to our progress in spiritual life. A good gardener does not dig out the plant by the roots to see how it is growing. We cannot force the growth of the soul-plant. It may not be large or strong enough to bear fruit when we wish it to, but some day it will, if only we are not anxious, and nurture it well. “What is to learn, is to be content, or, rather, resigned to ourselves and our limitations even while striving to get above them…We cannot all at once live up to these high ideals as some others live up to theirs,” writes Mr. Judge. 

Next, there is anxiety for power. A genuine seeker could get impatient and feel disappointed when he sees another “seeker” developing powers, or being apparently “conferred” powers by his guru—if such a thing were possible—while he has no such luck.He feels that if only he had powers he could bring about so much good of humanity, such as heal the sick, or multiply food, and so on. Such a seeker should ask himself as to what use is he making of the powers he already possesses? For instance, how does he use the power of thought and the power of speech? If one is rich, how does one use that money? Raja-Yoga tradition is very clear. The development of psychic powers must be the natural by-product of spiritual life. Both psychic and spiritual powers are mere accompaniments of purity and knowledge. A sincere seeker is bound to acquire these powers as he learns to forget himself in working for humanity. It is not desirable to acquire these powers till one has developed pure motive and gained control over his lower nature.

A spiritual seeker must not desire to acquire these powers. Even a seeker, who says that he wishes these powers for the good of humanity, is not aware of the strength of selfishness in the human nature. Once these powers are acquired it is very easy to use them for bad ends, either consciously or unconsciously. For instance, if one possessing powers gets angry, it is likely that the powers would work to bring about harm or even death of a person towards whom anger was directed. Hence, in the Raja-Yoga tradition emphasis is laid on first purifying one’s psychic nature. If we are sure that no selfishness, nor anger, nor any other evil thing is within us, then we may make use of these powers. In fact, in the article, “Occult Powers and Their Acquirement,” Mr. Judge mentions that till the disciple is ready, the acquired powers may lie dumb and dormant in their potentiality like the wheels in a music box. It requires winding of the key to start them. The Master can wind the key, and thus start the machinery, but he can also refuse to give the necessary impulse to start them. Further, he may not only refuse to give the impulse, but may even prevent the wheels from moving, since, he can clearly see the motive and readiness of the person concerned. A Master knows when to make an exception.

In case of accepted Chelas (disciples) the Master takes upon himself the responsibility of the exercise of the powers by the Chela—like the god-parents of the child in Baptism—and hence they thoroughly test the chela as to his purity before allowing the development of such powers. We are not given any method as to how the Master would check the development of powers in a laychela. We may compare it with what is said in Vernal Blooms. It is stated that a section of occultists could be set apart to watch the section of people who are engaged in the direction of research and then the moment any mind(s) is found to come close to the secret regarding elementals—sometimes elementals carry this information to them—they might throw pictures of some social reform or some other invention before the eyes of this person so as to side-track him. Or, they might throw his mind into a rut. Similar method could well be used by the Masters to dissuade a probationer from pursuing the course of acquiring magical powers. They would not interfere with the free will of the probationer, but he may be warned, guided and then left free to choose. 

“Desire power ardently….And that power which the disciple shall covet is that which shall make him appear as nothing in the eyes of men,” says Light on the Path. One acquires the power “to appear as nothing in the eyes of men,” when one gradually learns to sink the personal self. Then one comes to possess spiritual will, and also the power to bless and save humanity.

To someone anxious about his progress in spiritual life, Mr. Crosbie says, “May I add one word to you, as a friend and brother: make clean and clear, first, the mental conceptions and perceptions; the rest will follow naturally; there will be no destruction—the undesirable will die a natural death. ‘Grow as the flowers grow,’ from within outwards.” Light on the Path asks the seeker to “grow as the flower grows, unconsciously, but eagerly anxious to open its soul to the air....But it must be the eternal that draws forth your strength and beauty, not desire of growth.” When the process of growth is from within outwards, there is no destruction and the undesirable dies a natural death. In other words, when our ideas are clear, we tend to spontaneously follow the discipline. When we have realized that running after wealth, fame or name is futile, then like a child who has outgrown his fascination for toys, and as a result very willingly gives up toys without having to curb or suppress his desire, worldly allurements will stop having fascination for us. Similar is the advice of the Buddha, who asks us to “kill out love of self as you would an autumn lily.”

Let us take to heart these words of Mr. Judge: “It is in and through the incidents of daily life, in work well done, in duties thoroughly performed, that we today can most readily make progress in the higher life—slow progress, it may be, but at any rate sure. These are stepping stones to better things. We advance most rapidly when we stop to help other wayfarers.….We become one with the Supreme most surely when we lose ourselves in work for humanity.”


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