Letters That Have Helped Me: A Personal View

By Douglas A. Russell

Today all of the talks have been about Mr. Judge. I'm going to talk about me. Well -- Mr. Judge and me. I'm going to ask your indulgence. Prior to this afternoon what little public speaking I've done has always been spontaneously delivered, based on a few prompting notes. Today I'll be reading what I have to say because I feel too strongly about this book to take a chance on "winging it." My comments will be directed towards that portion of the book containing the letters, particularly the first section. Upon examining the book the first time, I took comfort right from the first paragraph of the preface. It quotes the following from the May 1887 Path.

We need literature, not solely for highly intellectual persons, but of a more simple character, which attempts to appeal to ordinary commonsense minds who are really fainting for such moral and mental assistance as is not reached by the more pretentious works.

It was as though that sentence was written for me.

There are many ways people approach, study, learn, and live Theosophy. Some never hear the word Theosophy or learn of theosophic organizations, yet they are constant seekers and students of the same principles and grand ideas that call to the most devoted researcher of esoteric theosophic literature. I suppose I'm somewhere in the middle between those two positions -- privileged to have become acquainted with the Theosophic movement and many of the fine people associated with it, yet not one who delves deeply into the works of Madame Blavatsky and those who followed -- in short, not a researcher through the medium of the written word.

How then can I, or could I, partake of this wisdom in a manner suitable for me in a day-to-day, real world sense?

Enter Letters That Have Helped Me. And help me they have! When considering how I would speak of this remarkable book, two approaches seemed possible to me. One would be to speak on some of the many ideas and principles it presents. The other, to speak to the title -- its practical interpretation -- letters that have helped with their ideas, advice, cautions, encouragements and, of course, help.

Of how this is a book full of help for the real, day-to-day world we live in. Of how it can bring succor in times of sorrow, steadiness in times of panic, perspective in times of confusion, and patience in times of driving desire. Oh, how I wish I had listened harder a few times, instead of giving nodding lip service. But the other side is that it helped me many times, generally and specifically. I hope I can in some way transmit awareness of the gifts awaiting one who enters the pages of this book. Those of you who have already done so, will have your own memories of how you were helped.

Perhaps it was cowardly of me, but I did not sit down and re-read this book in preparation for talking to you. That is not the way I have enjoyed and benefited from it. Instead, I've elected to tell you of Letters That Have Helped Me in the way it has been an active, guiding part of my life -- randomly and intermittently.

Again, referring to the Preface by Jasper Niemand, it states that the letters are not "treatises," but "hints given by one who knows that the first need of a student is to learn how to think . . . to develop, as every created thing must at last develop, by his own inward exertions" (1:vii-viii).

Though the letters are brief, "every statement in them is a statement of law." But this flat pronouncement of seeming authority is followed by a most profound caveat: "Such aid is never volunteered; it follows the Karmic behest, and, when given, leaves the student free to follow it or not, as his intuitions may direct. There is not a shadow or vestige of authority in the matter, as the world understands the word authority. Those who travel the unknown way send messages back, and he who can receives them" (1:ix).

To me, this is such a beautiful concept and lays the framework for exploring and searching, even at random, for that which is true to me. Right at the beginning it is stipulated that everything is offered for my inner wisdom, my intuition, to accept -- when, and as I am ready for it. Whole categories of wonderful concepts can pass right by me without my even being aware of them, because I'm not ready at that point to understand, absorb, or live by them. But I'm not required to believe, I'm not expected to accept, and hence I'm not burdened by blindly parroting that which has no meaning to me. What good does it do me to memorize the rules of calculus when I do not understand simple arithmetic, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division?

It is to this point that the book's title is so perceptive -- Letters That Have Helped Me -- not rules to follow, not facts to be learned, but letters that have helped me.

In rethinking back to what I've just said I'm aware of how profoundly moved I am by the ability of the letters to help -- though frequently seemingly out of context -- always, always on the subject and with the clue my inner heart was searching for. How did and how does this happen? I believe I found the phrase, the sentence, the paragraph that I was ready to receive and needed at that moment. In my day to day life, that's how I used the book.

Usually I've read it at night, just before going to sleep. There have been years and years when bedtime has found me troubled and under more stress than I felt able to deal with. I would pick up the book, let it randomly fall open and start to read. Often I was in material I could not recall having read before, other times I found old familiar lines, well underlined, but not yet so fully absorbed that I lived that way unconsciously. Perhaps other passages would have served as well as the ones I found, but unfailingly a thought or a concept leapt out to me targeted directly to my fear, concern, or confusion.

The help, of course, was not factually specific to the problem; rather it provided perspective, or sharpened the focus, or enlarged the context, or helped me see the rightness of unfolding events. It helped move me from the narrow confines of a specific event to a fuller understanding of my responsibilities and my opportunities.

I'd like to be able to say that every such experience was fully integrated and ever after used l00%, but no -- I only got what I could understand and handle at that time. Re-readings unfailingly disclosed greater depth, wisdom, and help. It is a book I can never exhaust or fully absorb in my lifetime. I wish you the joy of experiencing this wonderful gift from Mr. Judge.

(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Theosophical University Press. Presented at the William Q. Judge Centenary, held March 23, 1996, at the Pasadena Center, Pasadena, California.)

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