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The Purpose of Life
A Textbook of Theosophy
To fulfill our duty in the divine scheme we must try to understand not only that scheme as a whole, but the special part that man is intended to play in it. The divine outbreathing reaches its deepest immersion in matter in the mineral kingdom, but it reaches its ultimate point of differentiation not at the lowest level of materiality, but at the entrance into the human kingdom on the upward arc of evolution. We have thus to realize three stages in the course of this evolution:
(a) The downward arc in which the tendency is toward differentiation and also toward greater materiality. In this stage spirit is involving itself in matter, in order that it may learn to receive impressions through it.
(b) The earlier part of the upward arc, in which the tendency is still toward greater differentiation, but at the same time toward spiritualization and escape from materiality. In this stage the spirit is learning to dominate matter and to see it as an expression of itself.
(c) The later part of the upward arc, when differentiation has been finally accomplished, and the tendency is toward unity as well as toward greater spirituality. In this stage the spirit, having learnt perfectly how to receive impressions through matter and how to express itself through it, and having awakened its dormant powers, learns to use these powers rightly in the service of the Deity.
The object of the whole previous evolution has been to produce the ego as a manifestation of the Monad. Then the ego in its turn evolves by putting itself down into a succession of personalities. Men who do not understand this look upon the personality as the self, and consequently live for it alone, and try to regulate their lives for what appears to be its temporary advantage. The man who understands realizes that the only important thing is the life of the ego, and that its progress is the object for which the temporary personality must be used. Therefore when he has to decide between two possible courses he thinks not, as the ordinary man might: “Which will bring the greater pleasure and profit to me as a personality?” but “Which will bring greater progress to me as an ego?” Experience soon teaches him that nothing can ever be really good for him, or for any one, which is not good for all, and so presently he learns to forget himself altogether, and to ask only what will be best for humanity as a whole.
Clearly then at this stage of evolution whatever tends to unity, whatever tends to spirituality, is in accord with the plan of the Deity for us, and is therefore right for us, while whatever tends to separateness or to materiality is certainly equally wrong for us. There are thoughts and emotions which tend to unity, such as love, sympathy, reverence, benevolence; there are others which tend to disunion, such as hatred, jealousy, envy, pride, cruelty, fear. Obviously the former group are for us the right, the latter group are for us the wrong.
In all these thoughts and feelings which are clearly wrong, we recognize one dominant note, the thought of self; while in all those which are clearly right we recognize that the thought is turned toward others, and that the personal self is forgotten. Wherefore we see that selfishness is the one great wrong, and that perfect unselfishness is the crown of all virtue. This gives us at once a rule of life. The man who wishes intelligently to co-operate with the Divine Will must lay aside all thought of the advantage or pleasure of the personal self, and must devote himself exclusively to carrying out that Will by working for the welfare and happiness of others.
This is a high ideal, and difficult of attainment, because there lies behind us such a long history of selfishness. Most of us are as yet far from the purely altruistic attitude; how are we to go to work to attain it, lacking as we do the necessary intensity in so many of the good qualities, and possessing so many which are undesirable?
Here comes into operation the great law of cause and effect to which I have already referred. Just as we can confidently appeal to the laws of nature in the physical world, so may we also appeal to these laws of the higher world. If we find evil qualities within us, they have grown up by slow degrees through ignorance and through self-indulgence. Now that the ignorance is dispelled by knowledge, now that in consequence we recognize the quality as an evil, the method of getting rid of it lies obviously before us.
For each of these vices there is a contrary virtue; if we find one of them rearing its head within us, let us immediately determine deliberately to develop within ourselves the contrary virtue. If a man realizes that in the past he has been selfish, that means that he has set up within himself the habit of thinking of himself first and pleasing himself, of consulting his own convenience or his pleasure without due thought of the effect upon others; let him set to work purposefully to form the exactly opposite habit, to make a practice before doing anything of thinking how it will affect all those around him; let him set himself habitually to please others, even though it be at the cost of trouble or privation for himself. This also in time will become a habit, and by developing it he will have killed out the other.
If a man finds himself full of suspicion, ready always to assign evil motives to the actions of those about him, let him set himself steadily to cultivate trust in his fellows, to give them credit always for the highest possible motives. It may be said that a man who does this will lay himself open to be deceived, and that in many cases his confidence will be misplaced. That is a small matter; it is far better for him that he should sometimes be deceived as a result of his trust in his fellows than that he should save himself from such deception by maintaining a constant attitude of suspicion. Besides, confidence begets faithfulness. A man who is trusted will generally prove himself worthy of the trust, whereas a man who is suspected is likely presently to justify that suspicion.
If a man finds in himself the tendency toward avarice, let him go out of his way to be especially generous; if he finds himself irritable, let him definitely train himself in calmness; if he finds himself devoured by curiosity, let him deliberately refuse again and again to gratify that curiosity; if he is liable to fits of depression, let him persistently cultivate cheerfulness, even under the most adverse circumstances.
In every case the existence of an evil quality in the personality means a lack of the corresponding good quality in the ego. The shortest way to get rid of that evil and to prevent its reappearance is to fill the gap in the ego, and the good quality which is thus developed will show itself as an integral part of the man’s character through all his future lives. An ego cannot be evil, but he can be imperfect. The qualities which he develops cannot be other than good qualities, and when they are well defined they show themselves in each of all his numerous personalities, and consequently those personalities can never be guilty of the vices opposite to these qualities; but where there is a gap in the ego, where there is a quality undeveloped, there is nothing inherent in the personality to check the growth of the opposite vice; and since others in the world about him already possess that vice, and man is an imitative animal, it is quite probable that it will speedily manifest itself in him. This vice, however, belongs to the vehicles only and not to the man inside. In these vehicles its repetition may set up a momentum which is hard to conquer; but if the ego bestirs himself to create in himself the opposite virtue, the vice is cut off at its root, and can no longer exist – neither in this life nor in all the lives that are to come.
A man who is trying to evolve these qualities in himself will find certain obstacles in his way – obstacles which he must learn to surmount. One of these is the critical spirit of the age – the disposition to find fault with a thing, to belittle everything, to look for faults in everything, and in everyone. The exact opposite of this is what is needed for progress. He who wishes to move rapidly along the path of evolution must learn to see good in everything – to see the latent Deity in everything and in every one. Only so can he help those other people – only so can he get the best out of those other things.
Another obstacle is the lack of perseverance. We tend in these days to be impatient; if we try any plan we expect immediate results from it, and if we do not get them, we give up that plan and try something else. That is not the way to make progress in occultism. The effort which we are making is to compress into one or two lives the evolution which would naturally take perhaps a hundred lives. That is not the sort of undertaking in which immediate results are to be expected. We attempt to uproot an evil habit, and we find it hard work; why? Because we have indulged in that practice for, perhaps, twenty
thousand years; one cannot shake off the custom of twenty thousand years in a day or two. We have allowed that habit to gain an enormous momentum, and before we can set up a force in the opposite direction we have to overcome that momentum. That cannot be done in a moment, but it is absolutely certain that it will be done eventually, if we persevere, because the momentum, however strong it may be, is a finite quality, whereas the power that we can bring to bear against it is the infinite power of the human will, which can make renewed efforts day after day, year after year, even life after life if necessary.
Another great difficulty in our way is the lack of clearness in our thought. People in the West are little used to clear thought with regard to religious matters. Everything is vague and nebulous. For occult development vagueness and nebulosity will not do. Our conceptions must be clear cut and our thought images definite. Other necessary characteristics are calmness and cheerfulness; these are rare in modern life, but are absolute essentials for the work which we are here undertaking.
The process of building a character is as scientific as that of developing one’s muscles. Many a man, finding himself with certain muscles flabby and powerless takes that as his natural condition, and regards their weakness as a kind of destiny imposed upon him; but anyone who understands a little of the human body is aware that by continued exercise those muscles can be brought into a state of health and the whole body eventually put in order. In exactly the same way, many a man finds himself possessed of a bad tamper or a tendency to
avarice or suspicion or self-indulgence, and when in consequence of any of these vices he commits some great mistake or does some great harm he offers it as an excuse that he is a hasty-tempered man, or that he possesses this or that
quality by nature – implying that therefore he cannot help it.
In this case just as in the other the remedy is in his own hands. Regular exercise of the right kind will develop a certain muscle, and regular mental exercise of the right kind will develop a missing quality in a man’s character. The ordinary man does not realize that he can do this, and even if he sees that he can do it, he does not see why he should, for it means much effort and much self-repression. He knows of no adequate motive for undertaking a task so laborious and painful.
The motive is supplied by the knowledge of the truth. One who gains an intelligent comprehension of the direction of evolution feels it not only his interest but his privilege and his delight to co-operate with it. One who wills the end wills also the means; in order to be able to do good work for the world he must develop within himself the necessary strength and the necessary qualities. Therefore he who wishes to reform the world must first of all reform himself. He must learn to give up altogether the attitude of insisting upon rights, and must devote himself utterly to the most earnest performance of his duties. He must learn to regard every connection with his fellowman as an opportunity to help that fellowman, or in some way to do him good.
One who studies these subjects intelligently cannot but realize the tremendous power of thought, and the necessity for its efficient control. All action springs from thought, for even when it is done (as we say) without thought, it is the instinctive expression of the thoughts, desires and feelings which the man has allowed to grow luxuriantly within himself in earlier days.
The wise man, therefore, will watch his thought with the greatest of care, for in it he possesses a powerful instrument, for the right use of which he is responsible. It is his duty to govern his thought, lest it should be allowed to run riot and to do evil to himself and to others; it is his duty also to develop his thought power, because by means of it a vast amount of actual and active good can be done. Thus controlling his thought and his action, thus eliminating from himself all evil and unfolding in himself all good qualities, the man presently raises himself far above the level of his fellows, and stands out conspicuously among them as one who is working on the side of good as against evil, of evolution as against stagnation.
The members of the great Hierarchy in whose hands is the evolution of the world are watching always for such men in order that They may train them to help in the greater work. Such a man inevitably attracts Their attention and They begin to use him as an instrument in Their work. If he proves himself a good and efficient instrument, presently They will offer him definite training as an apprentice, that by helping Them in the world-business which They have to do he may some day become even as They are, and join the might Brotherhood to which They belong.
But for an honor so great as this mere ordinary goodness will not suffice. True, a man must be good first of all, or it would be hopeless to think of using him, but in addition to being good he must be wise and strong. What is needed is not merely a good man, but a great spiritual power.
Not only must the candidate have cast aside all ordinary weaknesses but he must have acquired strong positive qualities before he can offer himself to Them with any hope that he will be accepted. He must live no longer as a blundering and selfish personality, but as an intelligent ego who comprehends the part which he has to play in the great scheme of the universe. He must have forgotten himself utterly; he must have resigned all thought of worldly profit or pleasure or advancement; he must be willing to sacrifice everything, and himself first of all, for the sake of the work that has to be done. He may be in the world, but he must not be of the world.
He must be careless utterly of its opinion. For the sake of helping man he must make himself something more than man. Radiant, rejoicing, strong, he must live but for the sake of others and to be an expression of the love of God in the world. A high ideal, yet not too high; possible, because there are men who have achieved it.
When a man has succeeded in unfolding his latent possibilities so far that he attracts the attention of the Masters of the Wisdom, one of Them will probably receive him as an apprentice upon probation. The period of probation is usually seven years, but may be either shortened or lengthened at the discretion of the Master. At the end of that time, if his work has been satisfactory, he becomes what is commonly called the accepted pupil. This brings him into close relations with his Master, so that the vibrations of the latter constantly play upon him, and he gradually learns to look at everything as the Master looks at it.
After yet another interval, if he proves himself entirely worthy, he may be drawn into a still closer relationship, when he is called the son of the Master.
These three stages mark his relationship to his own Master only, not to the Brotherhood as a whole. The Brotherhood admits a man to its ranks only when he has fitted himself to pass the first of the great Initiations.This entry into the Brotherhood of Those who rule the world may be thought of as the third of the great critical points in man’s evolution. The first of these is when he becomes man – when he individualizes out of the animal kingdom and obtains a causal body. The second is what is called by the Christian “conversion”, and by the Hindu “the acquirement of discrimination”, and by the Buddhist “the opening of the doors of the mind”. That is the point at which he realizes the great facts of life, and turns away from the pursuit of selfish ends in order to move intentionally along with the great current of evolution in obedience to the divine Will. The third point is the most important of all, for the Initiation which admits him to the ranks of the Brotherhood also insures him against the possibility of failure to fulfill the divine purpose in the time appointed for it. Hence those who have reached this point are called in the Christian system the “elect”, the “saved” or the “safe,” and in the Buddhist scheme “those who have entered on the stream.”For those who have reached this point have made themselves absolutely certain of reaching a further point also – that of Adeptship, at which they pass into a type of evolution which is definitely superhuman.
The man who has become an Adept has fulfilled the divine Will so far as this chain of worlds is concerned. He has reached, even already the midmost point of the aeon of evolution, the stage prescribed for man’s attainment at the end of it.
Therefore he is at liberty to spend the remainder of that time either in helping his fellow-men or in even more splendid work in connection with other and higher evolutions. He who has not yet been initiated is still in danger of being left behind by our present wave of evolution, and dropping into the next one – the “aeonian condemnation” of which the Christ spoke, which has been
mistranslated “eternal damnation”. It is from this fate of possible aeonian failure – that is, failure for this age, or dispensation, or life-wave – that the man who attains Initiation is “safe”. He has “entered upon the stream" which now must bear him on to Adeptship in this present age, though it is still possible for him by his actions to hasten or delay his progress along the Path which he is treading.
That first Initiation corresponds to the
matriculation which admits a man to a University, and the attainment of Adeptship to the taking of a degree at the end of the course. Continuing the simile, there are three intermediate examinations, which are usually spoken of as the second, third and fourth Initiations, Adeptship being the fifth. A general idea of the line of this higher evolution may be obtained by studying the list of what are called in Buddhist books “the fetters” which must be cast off – the qualities of which a man must rid himself as he treads this Path. These are: the delusion of separateness; doubt or uncertainty; superstition; attachment to enjoyment; the possibility of hatred; desire for life, either in this or the higher worlds; pride; agitation or irritability; and ignorance. The man who reaches the Adept level has exhausted all the possibilities of moral development, and so the future evolution which still lies before him can only mean still wider knowledge and still more wonderful spiritual powers.
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