The great Buddha referred to two systems for the government of life which he said were each ignoble, and one both ignoble and evil. One is the System of Lust, which is devotion to the enervating pleasures of sense; it was said by him to be vile, vulgar, unsound, ignominious, and productive of evil. Yet it is that which governs the lives of most people in these days.
The other extreme is the System of Sorrow. It consists of mortification of the flesh and of self torture in order to acquire knowledge and powers. This was extensively practised by Hindu ascetics in Buddha's time, and is today pursued to some extent. The Indian books are full of stories of the great powers over nature acquired by saints through the practice of austerities. Not ten years ago there died in India a certain Svami -- or holy man -- who was known as the Svami of Akalkot. He did many wonderful things, and nearly all of them known to young and old in India today. His powers were obtained through the use of the System of Sorrow. In the Bhagavad-Gita this practice is spoken of by Krishna, who declares that it is not the best method, although productive of great results.
Both of these systems were known practically to Gautama. As the Prince Siddhartha, he was surrounded by his father's order with every luxury to tempt the senses. There were gardens, flowers, jewels, music, animals, servants, and the most beautiful women. There are so many stories told of the magnificent things collected about him that we must infer for his youth a complete realization of the System of Lust, or sensation, even if it was of the finer and more noble quality. This at last, pleased him not, and he entered on the practice of the System of Sorrow, which he declared, after he had obtained Nirvana, to be ignoble and unworthy of a true man. This he continued in until he had tried all the varieties. It was then that he decided on the middle path from which comes attainment to truth and Nirvana.
It is a well-known doctrine in the occult lodges of India that the same result can be obtained in two ways, by one extreme or the other. But in order to reach the end in those ways, great power is required, -- more power than men in general possess. The reason is that, from the action of a law which may be roughly called The Law of Tendency, the extreme practice warps the being in such a manner that success is prevented. So, when one follows the System of Sorrow, he will indeed acquire great powers, such as those possessed by Visvamitra, Vasishtha, and others, but with the greater number of cases it will all end at last in confusion.
The System of Lust has the same end and with no exception. For its tendency being downward, an impulse is set up that sends the man lower and lower with no hope of salvation.
In pursuing the middle course -- that of moderation -- Buddha did not ignore any department of his nature, for he says, "By five means have I seen these truths, -- by the mental eye, by understanding, by wisdom, by science, and by intuition." Herein he agrees with the teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita, which tells us not to eat too much nor too little, not to oversleep nor to refuse proper sleep. Krishna says further, "Do necessary acts, ever remembering me. Fix your mind on me. Treat every creature as my tabernacle. This is the best devotion. In this path there is no ruggedness, no defeat."
The System of Moderation, then, is the best, for it clears the inner eye and strengthens every part of the nature. Theosophists, whether they are Buddhists or not, should remember this. Some are inclined to pursue an extreme course in one direction or another. Some say that the mental powers only are to be developed; others ignore those and claim that the spiritual alone should have attention. The latter err as well as the former. It is true that the spirit is the greater. But it is also true that the mental plane and powers cannot be obliterated unless we obliterate the Universe in the Night of Brahma. If we do not use the mental eye as Buddha directs, some day we will meet on the mental plane a new experience for which we are unprepared, and defeat shall be our portion. The true practice would prevent this. There are numerous instances of such disasters being thus caused. Ascetics of extraordinary powers have been brought into sin and contempt through experiences which were new to them because they lived forever on a plane where others of a different sort had place. It is only when salvation has been obtained that we can hope to be above the influence of all Karma.
"Such is the law . . .
The heart of it is love; the end of it
Is peace and consummation sweet. Obey!"
[The Path, November, 1888, pp. 254-56]