Letter to a student

A great point for the would-be Theosophist to try to realise, but of course a most difficult one, is that none of our experiences are unique. Some time and somehow we all undergo experiences, differing perhaps in external details, but all producing similar inner effects. To get the idea that we have in some way been singled out to undergo special blows or trials, or to receive special favours is but to nourish the sense of separateness.

   Those early trials of yours are of a nature which most Theosophists have experienced. Their effects may be deep and lasting, and be carried forward into other lives, but they need not be so. By rightly directed effort they may be worked out long before this life ends. There is no such thing as an EVERLASTING effect from a cause no matter how tremendous. All that is everlasting is the WISDOM which the experience brings, and which is assimilated into the True Self. When once the lesson of any experience has been learned, the thing itself is ended, it drops away and leaves no mark, and ceases to have weight

   Now the the thing to bear in mind, and struggle to act upon, is that every trial whatsoever has been created by ourselves, and not arbitrarilly inflicted by another, or by anything whatsoever outside ourselves. It isn't easy to come to this realisation. No one who knows anything ever pretends that the Theosophical Path is easy tredding. Even to contemplate seriously tredding it implies that one has attained a stature and strength above that of common man. The immense difficulty lies in failing to appreciate that we are immortal beings in our true nature, and did not begin our experiences with this life. Looking at this life only we see inexplicable blows inflicted upon us, as you have done. As far as we see we have done nothing to earn them. Others, often far more wicked and perverse than we have their way made smooth and pleasant. Result, we rebel, and continue rebelling against "fate", "providence" and our fellow men. As long as we do that the effects of the things we have suffered will haunt and oppress us - because WISDOM concerning them has not risen within us.

   Instead of repining and rebelling because of the seemingly undeserved afflictions we have suffered, our right attitude towards them should be one of rejoicing, in that they provide us means of learning. How and what can we learn when we cannot see our past lives and actions? is the constant complaint. The whole secret of learning is not to be disclosed - but the beginning of it may be revealed and understood. Be satisfied with small beginnings - to be content with the single small step of the moment is part of the process of learning. Look carefully at the phase of your life which seems to have sorely oppressed you. Why did you feel it oppressive? It was not that the thing in itself was intrinsically oppressive, since you have but to glance round and see many others suffering much worse things, and in many cases doing it cheerfully, and without recognition of any suffering at all. There is no difficulty in seeing this. We see gipsies, slum-dwellers, savages undergoing things which would be appaling to us cheerfully unknowing that they are afflicted at all. Very well then, it is simply your own nature which makes you feel oppressed, and you yourself and no other made your own nature.

   If you can get this far you have already begun to release a little of your burden. Go farther then, and try to examine detachedly this nature of yours which causes you to feel oppressed. What is it which has this feeling? Your personal, SEPARATE self of course. It cannot be otherwise. It is this thing which is not yourself, but only an instrument which is loudly asserting that it has certain RIGHTS. It is the sense of having certain personal RIGHTS which makes us feel that we are ill used. It is just as if a spade got up and refused to dig clay, asserting that by RIGHTS it should encounter only light sand.

   The commonest thing in the world is for one to feel that another, or others have treated us unjustly. We rebel silently, or openly against them, and frequently grow to hate them, and to blame them for causing our lives to be other than we think desirable. In all such cases we should pause and examine deeply our own nature, and say would our trouble have had existence if we ourselves had been different.

   The value of any experience begins to be realised by such self examination. It teaches us to begin to know ourselves, and this knowledge is the way to wisdom. However you find yourself reacting to any experience, you should search for the cause of this reaction in yourself.

   Your experience of the phase of Atheism, and search for something to give you light subsequently is extremely typical. It is a fact that a period of blank agnosticism is the invariable prelude to entrance into Theosophy. This may extend over a lifetime, or may be of a few hours, or even minutes' duration. It marks the "no-man's-land" between dependence upon external aid, and the beginning of looking within oneself where the only true light is to be found. No external teacher can ever bestow this light on you. He can tell you where to look for it, and give hints upon how to look, but that is all.

   The Philosophy of Theosophy is exceedingly difficult even for those minds whose line it is to take the Philosophic Way. Unless you possess a metaphysical turn of mind, it is next to impossible to get anything resembling a true conception of things like the Doctrine of Correspondences, The Planetary Chain, Cycles, etc. These are things which I myself have studied for twenty years, but my real knowledge of them is but a dim glimmer in the upper reaches of my mind. The greatest mistake a student can make is to think that a few months' study of books is going to give any clear conception. The greatest value from the study of works on Theosophy, or Occultism does not come from any understanding which can be readily gained, but it comes FROM THE EFFORT TO UNDERSTAND. The study of a Book like "The Perfect Way", or "The Secret Doctrine", or "Light on the Path", or "The Voice of the Silence" is not a thing one must ever look to be done with. It is a business of a whole life. If some tiny glimmer of understanding of one small point appears at intervals, be satisfied. The truth, or anything approximating to it, will grow only point by point, scattered widely at first, then gradually thickening until some join, forming little patches of light, and so on. The great thing is to find content in this constant seeking never troubling about ultimate results.

   I understand very well how great the difficulties are which confront a beginner in these studies. The secret of minimising those difficulties lies in ceasing to be ANXIOUS either for results in the way of an access of knowledge, or because of a sense of seeming to fail. To be happy knowing that one is trying to do the right and see the truth is the thing. Worry about past failures, or coming difficulties both are hampering things. Think of present actions only. If you recognise a failure, be satisfied with that recognition and trouble no more about it. Never allow yourself to become self-congratulatory about seeming to have conquered a failing. The very fact you think you have conquered it makes you relax your efforts, and in a moment the thing has you in its grip again. When you have really overcome anything you will know it. It will have passed as completely out of your scheme of things as that of reverting to the stone-age and cannibalism. Study yourself and you will be able to identify many things which have thus dropped away and cannot be recognised as ever forming part of your nature.

   I had not, as you think, the advantage of growing up in Theosophy. Although my father was an advanced Theosophist, and eventually retired away from the world into a secret Occult Order, he gave no teachings to me. I knew him but little. He was a Naval Officer and already old when I was born. Nominally he was a Roman Catholic, while my mother was a narrow Protestant. My early education came from Jesuits, at my father's wish, but my mother most foolishly strove to counter the "Papish influence" and instil Evangelistic Protestantism into my mind. The quite natural result was to set me against both religion and my mother. My home life, luckily I had little of it between schooldays, and cadetship, was a stormy period. Then while still in my teens I went to Africa and saw no more of home. A few times I encountered my father, but not until I was in my middle twenties did he mention Occultism to me. By that time, having passed through a short period of agnosticism, and a longer of dabbling in various forms of Magic, I had found Theosophy, or the beginning of it through certain people in Africa of whom no doubt you have heard me mention. It was after that when I had become definitely a "Learner" that my father began to reveal his own knowledge, and connection with the same people whom I had encountered.

   You see then there was no early training to smooth my way. The fact is that early training has nothing whatever to do with one's course in life. Youthful theosophical teachings would no more make a child a theosophist than my own made me any sort of Christian. One comes into Theosophy according to what one's own efforts in past lives have made one. You might think that if this were true one would, as it were, commence as a child where one left off in the last life. Such is not the Law of evolution. We move by cycles and not by a simple direct advance. In each life all the cycles of the past repeat themselves - lifetimes condensed down to days, minutes, seconds. If one could but survey every passing phase of one's life from infancy upward one could read the whole history of one's past.

   When one comes definitely into Theosophy it means that in a past life one has touched it. To the extent that it seems easy and familiar one can begin to judge what the measure of one's development in the past has been. In this as in all else one is as one has made oneself. The case is not of anyone having opportunities to learn denied to another. If one is ready to learn the fitting teacher will appear. Bear in mind that we human beings are not all of one age. Though born in one period of time, some of us are ages older in REAL life than others.

   A point of great importance to all beginners, and one seldom properly emphasised is that in one's early efforts to advance seriously on the Occult Path, one must not look to find it smoothing out one's way in life. The first effects are invariably to complicate life. The reason is this. When living the common life one is drifting along the common stream with no more effort of will or strength than is needed to keep afloat. But when one begins serious effort to become an Occultist, one turns one's will to make one's way against the common stream, and at once one experiences the force of the current. Difficulties and disturbances of innumerable kinds begin to afflict the budding occultist, and he must hold his balance, and steer his course among them, and learn from their effects on his nature. One cannot predict just how any particular individual may be affected, but a most common thing is to find oneself being misunderstood, losing friends, being left with a lonely feeling. The beginner must be prepared for such things. True, some apparent beginners seem to suffer nothing in this way, but the fact is that these are not really beginners - they are but running over an old cycle in which they had gone far in the past.

   Lack of confidence, and self-consciousness is simply one more manifestation of the Sense of Separateness. When you say "I lack confidence", just what exactly do you mean, ask yourself. Does it mean that in some way one feels that one COMPARES unfavourably with one's fellows. Obviously one is not considering the True Self when feeling this, for the True Self is the self of all. It is the instrument, the lower, separate, personal self which is doing the protesting. The only true remedy then is to begin separating the True Self from its instrument. Turn and look at and analyse this personal self. Consider its nature. Ask why this hankering to shine among others? Why it is the best of all possible instruments for your use: no other would bring you the experiences you need for your development. Why this very feeling should be welcome, because it brings home to you the fact that you are considering yourself as distinct from others.

   Self-consciousness is the same thing. There is no real cure except establishing a balance within yourself, and seeing all personal things as apart from you, the real self. At the beginning you can gain a good deal by turning your attention to studying others instead of letting your mind dwell upon what they may be thinking of you. Watch their various little failings, evidences of unbalance etc, not uncharitably, but in a detached, impersonal way. Later examine your own nature and see if you cannot see those others' failings repeated in your own personality. But while steadily striving for a detached, impersonal attitude, be sure not to allow your many failures in the effort to trouble you. Self analysis, and steady suggestions to yourself that your personality is not YOU, but your instrument is the safe way for the beginner. There are, as I suppose you know, or have heard, other ways and means used in Occult circles to hasten evolution. Many of these - most in fact - are expedients which if persevered with may cause the development of certain psychic faculties, but it can never be too strongly impressed upon learners that psychism is not Theosophy, or True Occultism, and that far from helping towards Spiritual illumination it more often than not obstructs and throws back. Light on The Path, and The Voice of the Silence make plain the task that has to be accomplished before the aid of a Master can be sought. "The Eyes must be incapable of tears, etc." - which means that the learner must have gained a poise, a detachment from personal desires and emotions so that they can no longer sway him, or change his purpose. This task must be done by each one of us, unaided, except for such guidance as a somewhat older student can give. Until this has been done any opening of the doors into the true spiritual worlds is dangerous in the extreme. The True Way is this which I tell you - try constantly, steadfastly to achieve a detached, impersonal attitude towards life. It does not mean destroying emotion, or becoming unfeeling; it simply means being able to keep an unshaken balance no matter how intense one's feelings. Be content with knowing you are doing that, little by little, and put away violent desires of rapid progress and sudden expansion of knowledge. Such desire is nothing more than another aspect of the lower nature calling for personal gratification.

   Simple observances such as the ritual I showed you help if observed in the right spirit - the attempt to realise what the symbolism suggests. They help to calm the lower nature, and allow a spark of the higher to come through. But even simple things like these are useless, or worse than useless without some preliminary measure of detachment from the personal. If the consciousness remains centred in the personal, even the very modified effect produced will cause more or less severe disturbance. You should not force yourself to participate in even this ritual unless you find that you can for the time forget your personal side. Anything of this kind represents a step beyond the beginner's effort. The first step of all has to be made by one's own effort.

   There is a value in the study of the Philosophy if you can throw yourself whole heartedly into it in that it sinks the personal nature, and causes it to be forgotten for the time. But the study must be for its own sake, and not anything done to gratify a mere personal lust for knowledge, not yet must it be undertaken as an unpleasant duty.

   I hope these hints may prove of some help.

P G Bowen

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