Voice of the Silence 14 (verses 196-214)

John Algeo – USA

Theosophy The Voice 2

We now begin the third and last fragment of The Voice of the Silence, entitled “The Seven Portals.” The dominant metaphor of this fragment is that of passing seven gates or doors on the spiritual path. Although referred to earlier, that metaphor becomes the primary subject of this last fragment.

A. Verses [196-205].

[196] Upādhyāya, the choice is made, I thirst for Wisdom. Now hast thou rent the veil before the secret Path and taught the greater Yāna.Thy servant here is ready for thy guidance.

[197] ‘Tis well, Śrāvaka. Prepare thyself, for thou wilt have to travel on alone. The Teacher can but point the way. The Path is one for all; the means to reach the goal must vary with the pilgrims.

[198] Which wilt thou choose, O thou of dauntless heart? The samtan of Eye Doctrine, four-fold Dhyāna, or thread thy way through Pāramitās, six in number, noble gates of virtue leading to Bodhi and to Prajñā, seventh step of Wisdom?

[199] The rugged Path of fourfold Dhyāna winds on uphill. Thrice great is he who climbs the lofty top.

[200] The Pāramitā heights are crossed by a still steeper path. Thou hast to fight thy way through portals seven, seven strongholds held by cruel crafty powers — passions incarnate.

[201] Be of good cheer, disciple; bear in mind the golden rule. Once thou has passed the gate Srotāpatti, “he who the stream hath entered,” once thy foot hath pressed the bed of the Nirvānic stream in this or any future life, thou hast but seven other births before thee, O thou of adamantine Will.

[202] Look on. What seest thou before thine eye, O aspirant to god-like Wisdom?

[203] “The cloak of darkness is upon the deep of matter; within its folds I struggle. Beneath my gaze it deepens, Lord; it is dispelled beneath the waving of thy hand. A shadow moveth, creeping like the stretching serpent coils. . . . It grows, swells out and disappears in darkness.”

[204] It is the shadow of thyself outside the Path, cast on the darkness of thy sins.

[205] “Yea, Lord; I see the Path; its foot in mire, its summit lost in glorious light Nirvānic. And now I see the ever-narrowing Portals on the hard and thorny way to Jñāna.”* [HPB note:] *Knowledge, Wisdom.

B. Comment.

In verse 196, the student has decided to follow the esoteric Path, which involves dedicating oneself to the service of the world, rather than seeking only personal salvation. Upādhyāya is a term for a teacher (alongside the more familiar term āchārya), as the gloss makes clear: Gloss 1. Upādhyāya is a spiritual preceptor, a Guru. The Northern Buddhists choose these generally among the Naljor, saintly men, learned in gotrabhujñāna and jñāna-darśana-śuddhi, teachers of the Secret Wisdom.

Yāna is literally any “vehicle” in which one travels: a ship, cart, chariot, and so on. Metaphorically, it is the means by which one travels the Path. The Mahāyāna or “great vehicle” is the secret or esoteric Path; the Hinayāna or “little vehicle” is the open or exoteric Path: Gloss 2. Yāna — vehicle; thus Mahāyāna is the “Great Vehicle,” and Hinayāna, the “Lesser Vehicle,” names for the two schools of religious and philosophical learning in Buddhism.

The term upādhyāya of verse 196 is correlative to the term śrāvaka of verse 197, the latter meaning “student” or literally “listener.” There is a widespread tradition — found in India, ancient Greece, and elsewhere in the mystery tradition, including Freemasonry — that the beginning student is to listen and observe but not to speak or participate actively in the work. Only after an initial training period during which silence is observed, can the student respond, in word or action. First we listen to the Voice of the Silence; then we respond to it: Gloss 3. Śrāvaka — a listener, student who attends to the religious instructions. From the root śru. When from theory they go into practice or performance of asceticism, they become śramanas, “exercisers,” from śrama, action. As Hardy shows, the two appellations answer to the Greek words akoustikoi and askētai.

Verse 197 is also important as a counter statement to the exaggerated view that makes a student totally dependent on the teacher. On the contrary, students must prepare themselves, for they will necessarily travel the Path alone. The true teacher does not give detailed instructions for one’s life, but points the way by teaching and example. Then the students must make their own paths by walking them.

Another important idea in this verse is that the Path is one. That is, there is a single ideal of service and a single goal of union with all life. But there are as many ways of realizing that ideal and of reaching that goal as there are travelers on the Path. As this verse says, “The Path is one for all, the means to reach the goal must vary with the pilgrims.” Though teachers may show us the way, we each have to walk it for ourselves and in our own ways. That is a central concept of The Voice and of Theosophy.

Although the student has already chosen the esoteric path of service rather than the exoteric path of individual salvation, the choice is presented once again in verse 198 as between the Eye Doctrine of head-learning and the Heart Doctrine of soul-wisdom. In truth, no choice is final, once for all time. We must continually make decisions because the road divides before us every step of the way and at every moment of time.

The Eye Doctrine of head-learning is not just intellectual information, but rather meditational insight, as the verse and gloss 4 make clear: Gloss 4. Samtan (Tibetan), the same as the Sanskrit Dhyāna, or the state of meditation, of which there are four degrees.

Similarly, the Heart Doctrine of soul-wisdom is not sentimentality of feeling, but the practice of certain virtues (and virtue means literally “strength,” the quality characteristic of a vir — a warrior or a hero): Gloss 5. Parāmitās, the six transcendental virtues; priests have ten.

The six parāmitās are the keys to the seven Portals of this Fragment in addition to viraga or “desirelessness.” They are giving, moral conduct, patience, valor, meditation, and wisdom. The additional four, making up the ten for priests, are resolution, skillful means, power, and knowledge.

The Path is said to consist of various stages or initiations. The first of these is mentioned in verse 201, where it is called the Srotāpatti, and the three following initiations are named in Gloss 6: Srotāpatti — (literslly) “he who has entered the stream” that leads to the Nirvānic ocean. This name indicates the first Path. The name of the second is the Path of sakṛdāgāmin, “he who will receive birth (only) once more.” The third is called anāgāmin, “he who will be reincarnated no more,” unless he so desires in order to help mankind. The fourth Path is known as that of Rahat or Arhat. This is the highest. An Arhat sees Nirvāna during his life. For him it is no post-mortem state, but Samādhi, during which he experiences all Nirvānic bliss.* [HPB note:] *How little one can rely upon the Orientalists for the exact words and meaning, is instanced in the case of three “alleged” authorities. Thus the four names just explained are given by R. Spence Hardy as: 1. Sowān; 2. Sakṛdāgāmi; 3. Anāgāmi, and 4. Ārya. By the Rev. J. Edkins they are given as: 1. Srotāpanna; 2. Sagardagam; 3. Anāgāmi; and 4. Arhan. Schlagintweit again spells them differently, each, moreover, giving another and a new variation in the meaning of the terms.

The numbers of lives that will pass after each of these initiations before one achieves nirvāna are traditional, but they are best interpreted symbolically. The numbers may indicate a gradual approach to the goal, which is conscious participation in the state of samādhi during this life. Samādhi, literally “putting together” or “uniting,” is the goal of Yoga. HPB had little patience with orientalists, Westerners who studied and interpreted Eastern literature, as shown by her note on the terms for these four initiations or states, cited above.

Verses 202 to 205 give an overview of the Path to be trodden, the Path that leads from darkness to Light. The darkness is the ignorance, selfishness, and violence that characterize unenlightened action in the world. Within the darkness is a shadow, which is our personal nature without the guidance and discipline of the teacher’s hand, which alone can wave away the darkness. The teacher, as we have already seen, is not some external person, but the higher Self within each of us. The shadow is what Sigmund Freud called the Id (Latin for “it”) and Carl Jung called the Shadow. It is also what Edward Bulwer-Lytton called the Dweller on the Threshold in his novel Zanoni, a term HPB also used, as she admired that novel and its author.

Verse 205 tells us that the Path passes through Portals (of which there are seven), each one narrower than the preceding. This image of the ever narrowing Portals recalls Christ’s statement from the Gospel of St. Matthew (7.14): “Narrow is the gate, and straitened [that is, “made narrow”] the way that leadeth unto Life, and few there are that find it.” Recall that The Voice of the Silence is “dedicated to the few” — those few who find the straitened Path leading through the ever narrowing Portals. This path leads by a “hard and thorny way” to jñāna or gnosis, which HPB’s note (cited above) defines as “knowledge, wisdom.” It is immediate and direct knowledge of Truth. And the “hard and thorny way” leading to it is reminiscent of HPB’s posthumously published statement: “There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a road, and it leads to the very heart of the Universe: I can tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that opens inward only, and closes fast behind the neophyte for evermore. There is no danger that dauntless courage cannot conquer; there is no trial that spotless purity cannot pass through; there is no difficulty that strong intellect cannot surmount. For those who win onwards there is reward past all telling — the power to bless and save humanity; for those who fail, there are other lives in which success may come.” That statement is practically a summary of the chief points of The Voice of the Silence.

C. Meditation.

Think about the statement “There is a road.” Memorize it. Repeat it. Let its meaning bloom in your heart.


The dominant metaphor of the third fragment — the seven gates on the Path, each opened by a different key — is developed in verses 206-214, which list the seven keys and briefly characterize each of them.

A.Verses [206-214].

[206] Thou seest well, lanoo. These Portals lead the aspirant across the waters on “to the other shore.” Each Portal hath a golden key that openeth its gate; and these keys are:

[207] 1. dāna, the key of charity and love immortal.

[208] 2. śīla, the key of harmony in word and act, the key that counterbalances the cause and the effect, and leaves no further room for karmic action.

[209] 3. kshānti, patience sweet, that nought can ruffle.

[210] 4. virāga, indifference to pleasure and to pain, illusion conquered, truth alone perceived.

[211] 5. vīrya, the dauntless energy that fights its way to the supernal Truth out of the mire of lies terrestrial.

[212] 6. dhyāna, whose golden gate once opened leads the Naljor* towards the realm of Sat eternal and its ceaseless contemplation.

[213] 7. prajñā, the key to which makes of a man a god, creating him a Bodhisattva, son of the Dhyānis.

[214] Such to the Portals are the golden keys.

B. Comment.

The metaphor of the world as a body of water — a sea or a stream — and of our experience of earthly life as a voyage on or crossing of that body of water is found in many human cultures and traditions. In Anglo-Saxon times, one of the most poignant uses of that metaphor is in a poem called “The Seafarer,” which speaks of the difficulties and dangers of voyaging on the open sea. A similar metaphor found in the Buddhist tradition, which speaks of arriving at the other shore as completing the journey of life, is used in verse 206, the gloss to which explains: Gloss 7. “Arrival at the shore” is with the Northern Buddhists synonymous with reaching Nirvāna through the exercise of the six and the ten Parāmitās (virtues).

The use of the metaphor in verse 206 is somewhat unusual because the seven portals — gates or doors — are said to lead the pilgrim across the waters. That seems to be a different metaphor, for gates and doors are usually associated with a road or a building. One way of reconciling the two metaphors is to envision a bridge passing over a river of rushing water, and on the bridge seven successive portals through which the traveler must pass to reach “the other shore.”

The metaphor of a bridge is also widespread, as in the lyrics of a Simon and Garfunkel song “Bridge over troubled waters” and in the Zoroastrian concept of a bridge that is the only access to heaven. According to Zoroastrian myth, after death we must each cross Chinvat Bridge (literally “Bridge of the Separator”), which leads to heaven (“the other shore”). When a good soul is on the bridge, it becomes wide and easy of passage, but when a wicked soul tries to cross, it shrinks to the width of a razor’s edge so that the wicked one falls from it into an abyss below.

Each of the seven portals is opened by a particular key, which are listed in verses 207-213. These keys are the parāmitās or supernal virtues. The number of such virtues varies from one Buddhist scripture to another, but six are generally recognized, with four added virtues for the monks, making a total of ten. In The Voice of the Silence, the seven keys correspond to the traditional basic six parāmitās, with the addition, in the middle or fourth position, of a seventh virtue.

The seven portals and their keys correspond with all sets of seven, but particularly with the seven initiations (which are stages on the Path) and the seven human principles (each of which has to be unified with the others during the human pilgrimage):

The first, dāna, “gift, charity, love” (etymologically related to the word donation), corresponds with the dense physical body (sthūla śarīra), for all acts of giving must be grounded in the physical.

The second, śīla, “good conduct or behavior,” is translated “harmony” in the Voice because harmony is the essence of all right action. It corresponds with the principle of vitality (prāna), which produces harmony of action in our living.

The third, kshānti, “patience,” corresponds with the principle of form, the model body or double (linga śarīra), for that is what persists patiently through all the changes in our dense physical body.

The fourth, virāga (or vairāgya) is translated as “desirelessness” in At the Feet of the Master and sometimes as “dispassion.” It might be literally translated as “uncoloredness,” for the root of the word, rāga, can mean an “emotionally tinged color”; it is a term that refers to one of the modes of Indian music, each of which is associated with a time of day and an emotional attitude. Virāga corresponds with the principle of desire (kāma). Popular lore associates emotions with colors: to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, to be green with envy, to have the blues, to be in a black mood, to be in the pink, and so on.

Clairvoyants say that when we are overpowered with an emotion, our auras are flooded with the corresponding color. So we then literally see or respond to the world hrough that emotional coloration, as though we were wearing colored glasses. To see things as they really are we must take off the glasses and see the world uncolored by our emotions. That is what virāga is — uncolored perception of the world around us.

The fith portal and key is vīrya, “strength, zeal” or literally “heroism, manliness” from vīra, “hero, man” (as in the title of the founder of Jainism: Mahāvīra, “Great Hero”). The term is cognate with the Latin word vir, “man,” and thus with virile and virtue, etymologically “manliness.” It corresponds with the principle of mind (manas), which is also related to the English word man, mind being the faculty that makes us human.

The sixth, dhyāna, “meditation,” corresponds with the principle of intelligence or intuition (buddhi). It is the way we discover wisdom and according to verse 212 “leads the Naljor toward the realm of Sat [Reality].” A Naljor, HPB notes, is “A saint, an adept.”

The seventh, prajñā, “wisdom” (from pra, “forth; fulfilling, complete,” and jñā, “know”) corresponds to the principle of Self within us (ātma). The knowledge of who we are is the fullest knowledge — that which makes it unnecessary to know anything else — as the sage Uddālaka instructs his son Svetaketu in the Chāndogya Upanishad.

H. P. Blavatsky wrote an article entitled “Chelas and Lay Chelas” (Collected Writings 4:606-614), in which she discusses the qualifications required in a chela or student of one of the Masters of the Wisdom. She lists seven such qualifications, which parallel very closely the parāmitās of the Golden Keys to the Seven Portals from The Voice of the Silence. The chart below gives a parallel list of those qualifications.

The Golden Keys to the Seven Portals are thus another way of talking about the qualities that are needed to prepare ourselves for discovering who we truly are. Comparing them with the qualifications listed in “Chelas and Lay Chelas” will reveal some interesting connections, and the description of qualifications for chelaship in that article will repay careful study.

For example, the last of the qualifications is a “calm indifference for, but a just appreciation of everything that constitutes the objective and transitory world, in relation with, and to, the invisible regions.” Every word in that description is important. We are to be calmly indifferent to everything in the objective and transitory world, but that does not mean that the world is worthless or that we are to forsake it. For we are also to have a just appreciation of the objective and transitory world, as it relates with and to the invisible regions. It is in such a calm indifference combined with a just appreciation that true wisdom lies — the wisdom that is of our own essential nature.

C. Meditation.

Take each of the seven Golden Keys, the parāmitās, in turn and meditate on it. Compare it with the corresponding human principle and the corresponding qualification of a chela. You might spend a day, a week, or a month on each in turn. They will repay repeated consideration.

Parāmitās Qualifications Aspects to achieve

1. dāna “gift, charity” perfect physical health śarīra “body”

2. śīla “good conduct” mental and physical purity indriya “senses” [vitality]

3. kshānti “patience” unselfishness of purpose; dosha “faults” [form]

universal charity; pity for

all animate beings

4. virāga (vairāgya) truthfulness and unswerving duhkha “pain, sorrow”

desirelessness, faith in the law of karma [desire]

responding to reality

without emotion”

5. vīrya “strength, zeal” courage undaunted in every manas “mind”

emergency, even by peril to


6. dhyāna “meditation” intuitional perception of one’s buddhi “intellect,

being the vehicle of the mani- spiritual intelligence”

fested Avalokiteśvara or

divine ātman

7. prajñā “wisdom” calm indifference for, but a ātma “highest soul, i.e., just appreciation of everything spirit”

that constitutes the objective

and transitory world, in relation

with, & to, the invisible regions

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