Spiritual and astral forces are at work continuously, and have been so from the very earliest ages of the earth. But there come certain times in human history when the doors between our physical world and the inner realms are partly open so that men become more receptive to these subtle influences. We are leaving an era of materialistic life and thought and are entering a more spiritual one. At the same time, the world is full of evidences of an outbreak of psychical influences, and these are always deceptive, always dangerous, because the astral realms belong to a lower range of material existence, filled with evil emanations, human and other.
Such indeed is the present period, one wherein not so much the spiritual and astral energies are quickened as that we are at the junction of two great cycles, the ending of one and the beginning of another; and, concordantly with this transition of cyclic periods, the minds of men are rapidly changing, becoming more psychically sensitive. There is great danger in this, but there is also a larger chance more quickly to progress, if man's consciousness is turned towards higher things, for this accelerated movement of change is especially potent in so far as spiritual forces are concerned.
There is nothing unique about this; it has taken place in the past. An immense effort was made at the time of the downfall of the Atlantean race -- an effort which culminated in the establishment of the Mystery schools which long ages afterwards found expression in the various mystical, religious and philosophical centers of the ancient world. When we examine the world's sacred literatures, we find the oldest of them containing the fullest measure of the archaic esoteric teachings. The reason for this is that from about the time of the submersion of the last island of the Atlantean continental system -- recorded by Plato as having occurred some 9000 years before his day -- there has been a steady increase of materiality in the world, and a consequent and equal recession of spiritual impulses. But this cycle, as indicated, has recently come to an end. The one we are entering is a very unusual one, in that it does not belong to the so-called Messianic era which is 2,160 years long, but covers a time span of some ten to twelve thousand years.
Great events are in the making, for the entire civilized world is approaching a critical point in its history. There is literally a battle proceeding between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and it is a matter of very delicate balance as to which side of the dividing line between spiritual safety and spiritual retrogression the scales of destiny will fall.
In a letter written shortly before her death, H. P. Blavatsky warned:
Psychism, with all its allurements and all its dangers, is necessarily developing among you, and you must beware lest the Psychic outruns the Manasic and Spiritual development. Psychic capacities held perfectly under control, checked and directed by the Manasic principle, are valuable aids in development. But these capacities running riot, controlling instead of controlled, using instead of being used, lead the Student into the most dangerous delusions and the certainty of moral destruction. Watch therefore carefully this development, inevitable in your race and evolution-period, so that it may finally work for good and not for evil. -- From a letter dated London, April 15, 1891 to the Fifth Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society, American Section, held at Boston, Mass., on April 26-27
Unfortunately, as is always the case in an age which has lost touch with spirituality, people today yearn for powers, for the development of suspected but scarcely accepted higher faculties; and in their blindness they search outside of themselves. Their hearts are hungry for answers to the enigmas of life, and so they take what they can from self-advertised teachers about how to gain and use psychical powers, and such 'teachings' are always baited with personal benefit. It is difficult to speak of these things without hurting many trusting souls who, not knowing the truth, follow what seem to them to be glimpses of a greater life than that which they have; and this accounts for the many so-called psychical and quasi-mystical movements* presently existing which, in many cases, are leading people away instead of toward the light emanating from their own inner god. We have to be ever watchful in these matters. The waves of the astral light are exceedingly unreliable, and thousands and thousands follow the will-o'-the-wisps of psychic light instead of the steady burning splendor of the divinity within.
[*With a three times 'very' few exceptions, all these bodies more or less hunger after the lower siddhis which H.P.B., using the Pali term iddhis, speaks of in The Voice of the Silence (p. 73). In India they are represented by the different schools of yoga practice.
Siddhi, from the Sanskrit verbal root sidh, to be fulfilled, to attain an object, means 'perfect attainment.' There are two classes of siddhis: those pertaining to the lower psychic and mental energies, and those pertaining to the intellectual, spiritual, and divine powers, both types of which are possessed by the spiritual initiate, who uses them only for the benefit of mankind and never for self. The personal name of Gautama the Buddha, Siddhartha, means 'one who has achieved his objective.' ]
The plain fact is that the West is being misled by psychical teachings which in themselves have nothing permanent in them. And those who follow these practices are, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people of untrained spiritual and psychical fabric of character who are thus easily caught by the maya of psychism. This does not mean that such faculties and powers are evil or are not natural parts of the human constitution; nor that they are useless. The meaning is that they are very hazardous to one without spiritual vision and the power of intellect and spiritual will to guide and control the psychical nature in which these faculties inhere.
Dangerous also are the hatha-yoga practices of a psycho-astral type, usually connected with physical posturing, etc., to which certain individuals are addicted in their attempt to gain for themselves powers of a lower kind. These practices not only can affect the mind and even dislodge it from its normal seat, thus producing insanity, but also can interfere with the proper pranic circulations of the body. Religious fanatics often go insane; and in certain sensitive instances become the so-called ecstatics, believed by the ignorant to be exemplars of a holy life merely because their skin may bleed, and their hands or feet show wounds supposed to represent the nails of the Cross. The same may be said of the fakirs and lower type of yogis of the Orient. Results can be produced which endanger both the mind and the health, as well as the life itself. In all these practices there is not a breath of spirituality.
He who enters the path with the hope of gaining powers of any kind, regarding them as something of paramount importance, is destined to failure. Indeed, he is embarking upon a very hazardous and questionable road, which at worst could lead to sorcery and black magic, and at best will bring to him only the Dead Sea fruit of disappointment. Powers as such, whether spiritual, intellectual, or psychic, will develop in due course and in a perfectly natural way as we progress, provided that we have the unflinching determination to achieve, and, above all, that our heart is forever brightened and filled with compassionate love, a love that is even now a distinguishing characteristic of the spiritual soul within.
There is immense hope and spiritual beauty in the teachings of the esoteric tradition. In them is the path along which we may evolve, but it depends upon the individual whether or not he ascends along the ray which is living and working within him. While it is true that fully to understand the deeper reaches of the philosophy requires high intellectual power and a spiritual vision, it is often very simple natures who see a great light. Light passes everywhere. We have but to open the closed doors of our personality and the light of itself will come in, and we shall then understand instinctively the most recondite secrets of nature.
Jesus the avatara, so ill understood in the Occident, taught the same truths. Seek first the treasures of the spirit, of the kingdom of heaven, and all other things will be added -- all the psychical powers and energies and faculties will fall into place naturally and safely, enlightened and guided by the spiritual sun within.
Now what are these treasures of the spirit? None other than those spiritual and intellectual faculties and energies which make us godlike in thought and deed: will power, vision, intuition, instant sympathy with all that lives. There is no reason why we human beings should not begin to use our heritage. All powers and qualities and attributes are in us, even now, but they are latent for the most part, because we have not yet learned to bring them forth. In reality, it is we ourselves in our ordinary lower mind and feelings who are 'sleeping,' whereas our higher nature is not dormant at all, but intensely active.
For instance, when the spiritual will is evoked and active in a man, he becomes supreme over himself so that he has absolute self-command, and not even the denizens of the astral world can in any wise control him. Will in action is a current of energy, which means a current of substance, precisely as electricity is both force and matter. Back of will lies desire. If the desire be pure, the will is pure. If the desire be evil, the will is evil. Back of desire lies consciousness. Therefore will originates in consciousness through desire. We desire, and instantly will awakens intelligence which directs this will, and we act -- or refrain from acting, which sometimes is nobler still.
There is divine desire which in men is called aspiration, and also its material reflection. (The saying in the old Veda: "Desire (kama) first arose in IT" and then the world sprang into being means that Brahman, sleeping in its aeon-long pralaya, first felt stirring within, the seeds of divine desire to become. Consciousness was behind the desire; desire arose in it and brought will into being, and will acted on the sleeping atoms and produced the worlds.) How many of us allow our will to be directed by the egoistic and selfish impulses of the lower aspect of our desire-nature, the kama principle! Consequently, as the human will is rooted in buddhi-manas, it is the intuition and the higher manasic principle which should guide our human will to the nobler acts which it is in our province to do: deeds of brotherhood and of impersonal service; and this is the very nature and characteristic of the spiritual ego, the buddhi-manasic principle in man.
Intuition expresses itself as instant vision, instant knowledge. But there is a great difference between wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom may be called the knowledge of the higher ego, the spiritual soul, and knowledge the wisdom of the personality. In each case it is a storing up in the treasury of experience of what has been learned and unlearned -- a treasury that is not a chamber, small or vast, but ourself. Each experience is a modification of the understanding self; and the repository of memory is filled with the record of the ages, precisely as the personality is stamped and impressed with the karmic record of all the personalities preceding it which made it.
Wisdom, knowledge, inner power, all are faculties of the spirit, signifying the fruits of evolutionary unfolding of the inherent power of the spirit-soul. Intuition per se is spiritual wisdom and garnered knowledge, gathered in the treasure house of the spirit-soul in past lives. Instinct, on the other hand, may be called the passive side of intuition, which is the energic, the will-side, the alert and active aspect. Instinct expresses itself all through natural being: the atoms move and sing by instinct, even as man using his consciousness and will, may do likewise; but the song and movement of intuition are incomparably loftier than the song and movement of instinct. Both are functions of the consciousness, the one vegetative, automatic; the other, energic, awake.
The spirit is all-permeant, living and moving everywhere for it is universal. Spiritual clairvoyance, of which the psychical clairvoyance is but a dancing shadow, enables one to see behind all veils of illusion, to see what is transpiring on some distant star in the fields of space. It is the power to perceive the truth of things at a glance, and to know the hearts of men and understand their minds. It is the faculty of visioning with the inner eye, not so much a seeing of forms as a getting of knowledge, and because this acquiring of knowledge comes in a way that closely parallels the way of seeing with the physical eye, it is called direct vision.*
[*In regard to normal vision, W. Q. Judge in his Preface to Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms speaks of the mind issuing through the eye and adopting the form and the qualities of the object seen. On its return, it reflects the information acquired to the soul. This is the ancient explanation, which was also propounded by Plato, among others. The theory was that a force issues from the eye which we may call the 'visual ray,' this force or ray being a projection of the consciousness or the mind; that normally its rate of projection or travel is very high, which rate actually can be increased by the will or by thought; that the ray or force darts forth from the eye, meets the object concerning which knowledge is desired, and returns accompanied with light; and when this combination re-enters the eyeball, the message that it carries is transmitted to the brain and thence into the receiving mind or consciousness.
Now when a study of a very distant object, such as a star or a planet, is required, this visual ray, which is akasic in essence, leaves the eye and darts with the speed of thought to the object, and all its conditions of travel and return, of impressions and of reception, are governed by the known laws of optics as well as by other laws at present unknown. It is not at all the mind which projects a tentacle of itself; though curiously enough this notion, wrong as it is, is an intuition of what the organ of vision was in earliest humanity. Then it was not an eye, but was actually more like a tentacle, and received its sensory impressions by touch; and through innumerable millions of instances of this kind of sensory experience the eye was gradually evolved, increasing in power and delicacy of function, until actual physical contact was no longer required.
(As a matter of fact, practically all the senses that we now have originated in a similar way; and the student of biology can gain many hints of how they began in the first, second and early third root-races from studying some of the strange sense-apparatuses of the lower beings.)
It is precisely this visual ray leaving the eye -- which ray in normal function is of electromagnetic character -- that also carries with it the man's magnetic atmosphere when the will is behind and propelling the personal auric magnetism; and it is also thus that in the cases of psychologization, commonly called hypnotism, a subject is held and fascinated so frequently by the eye. Allusion here to the question of hypnotism is not an approval of the practice, but an explanation of it and of the danger one incurs in allowing oneself to be subjected to another's will. Looking a person straight in the eye is always admired, and justly so, because it signifies a certain amount of character and poise; perhaps in this there is an unconscious understanding of the battle of magnetisms, friendly or unfriendly, as the case may be.]
So it is with spiritual clairaudience, which is not the power of hearing with the physical ear (or of seeing, for sometimes sounds are seen and colors heard, there being an interrelation between sense and sense), but of listening with the ear of the spirit. The sounds that are heard with the ear of the spirit are heard in the silence and with the repose of all the senses. Such spiritual clairaudience will enable one to hear the movements of the atoms as they sing their individual hymns; to hear the growing of the grass, the unfolding of the rose -- to hear it all as a symphony.
Socrates used to say to those around him that his daimon, his inner monitor, never told him what to do, but always what not to do. (There is an interesting reason why these intimations rarely are of a positive type, being almost invariably urgings to pause, to reflect, or to not do thus and so. When a man is in a state of indecision, his mind makes pictures which are transmitted by sympathetic vibration into the inner consciousness; and because the inner consciousness has this contact with the brain-mind, if the pictured action be wrong, the answer comes back, No.) This daimon was the 'voice' of the higher ego, which in great men is often very strong in its energy; and in some hypersensitive constitutions may be heard as a 'voice.' It is not really a voice (although that is its effect at times on the physical brain), but rather is an urge from within, manifesting also, perhaps, as flashes of light and inner vision.
We cannot understand ourselves and others unless we have evolved the understanding heart. The key is sympathy, and the method is to look to the divine being within. As we aspire to become more like it in every moment of our lives, light will come and we shall know truth when we find it. We shall become compassionate and strong -- qualities that are the true insignia of the self-illumined man. The first lesson, then, is to seek the light of our own inner god, and trust it alone. When we follow this light and are warmed by its sublime and life-giving rays, then we shall see the same god-light in others.
By going to the fountainhead we find the clearest water, so why drink from the muddy waters hundreds of miles from the spring? If a man would know himself and the wondrous powers and faculties that are his, let him see himself in the universe around him, and study that universe as being himself. An epigram, possibly, but a true master key to wisdom, and containing the essence not only of all initiation, but of all future growth.