It is a fact of human nature that privation and adversity turn people's minds to the deeper things of life. This is a lesson of social history as well as of actual experience. Not only an individual, but a whole nation tries to reform when suffering overtakes the people. Whether the steps to reform are wise or otherwise is a different matter, but it is a fact that suffering, especially mental and moral suffering, does something to the very heart of the individual or the nation, and that heart prompts, plans and effects a change. Unless there is the prompting, there is no planning. Unless a reform is planned, it cannot produce any change. In proportion to the extent and depth of the suffering is the strength of the inner urge or prompting towards reform. When the suffering is negligible, the prompting to cure it is weak.
In this connection we might note a singular process. There is no urge to reform, to grow better, to improve matters, when pain and sorrow are not at work. We can take an analogy: when we have a trivial bodily ailment, we do not rush to a doctor; we even refuse to attend to that ailment and say, "I have not time for such a trifling problem." But when the ailment is really serious, we do seek a doctor's advice and a remedy for the sick body. Again, there are times when the ailment is of such a nature as to evoke the doctor's pronouncement. "Well, it must run its course." There is a solid basis of truth in that expression in connection with numerous diseases—it must run its course, i.e., its cyclic or periodic operation. But in such cases the wise doctor keeps the patient under his observation.
What is true of the body is equally true of the soul. There are three states of soul-suffering: (a) when the soul's ailment is trivial and no attention is paid to it; (b) when the ailment is so serious as to cause concern and pain, and then we need a "doctor"; (c) the intermediate state when we ourselves or our doctor-adviser says, "It must run its course"; which means either "I do not know what to do," or "I am doing whatever is necessary, but must wait and watch for the cyclic or periodic effects to bring about the summation of the reform." It is also true that when mental and moral anguish has not caused perplexity, people do not think about the soul. When we are happy and satisfied, we do not think of self-reform and improvement. That is why H. P. Blavatsky said in her Secret Doctrine, "Woe to those who live without suffering." Unless we are in some puzzlement or pain we do not sit up and take notice. We never ask, "Why are things right?" But when things go wrong, we immediately cry out, "How did that happen?" In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna names four classes of people who seek the Spirit or God or the Self, and the very first class is that of the afflicted.
Today, all over the world, there is poverty, disease, suffering, and the consequence is—puzzlement. Why and how are on everybody's lips, and many are the remedies offered. Social reform, political reform, economic and financial reform, and even religious reform is talked about. No one disagrees that whatever the nature of the reform, it must be fundamental and therefore must have a spiritual basis. But there are very few, indeed, who sit down to study and determine what soul is, what spirit is, what real reform means, and what is meant by a spiritual foundation. There is a babel of tongues and of thoughts that is probably more intense than in the Tower of Babel in ancient Shinar. The need of the hour is the philosopher, the mystic, the serene dreamer of accurate dreams.
The first principle of Theosophy as taught by H. P. Blavatsky is that self-reform is the only kind of reform that is lasting and truly beneficial. What does self-reform mean? Reform of the individual by himself. Unless he reforms himself, he cannot reform his family. He who does not know how to control his own passions is not fit to sit in any disarmament conference. He who is a rabid nationalist should not be sent to international conventions or to the United Nations. Theosophy begins at the beginning, and says that those who truly reform themselves, those who by knowledge and discipline have really transfrormed themselves, are alone fit to be leaders and guides. Therefore Theosophy advocates individual reform. Each one of us must reform himself or herself; each one must grow in spiritual perception and soul-understanding, and then we shall be fit and worthy to serve all people.
Let us see in as simple and practical a way as possible what the spiritual life is and what it is not. Spiritual life is not aestheticism. In many countries the influence of art is great—poetry and painting, sculpture and architecture, and above all music immensely affect the lives of the people. On the whole, this is good; because it gives to people something other than their own selves to brood upon. But for that very reason, and because it stirs the emotions and the feelings and causes one kind of uplift, the influence of art is called spiritual. That would not be very objectionable, but for the fact that people do not distinguish between the inspiration and influence of art and the inspiration and influence of soul-science and spirit-philosophy. Therefore we must recognize that aestheticism is not spirituality.
The opposite of aestheticism is asceticism; and asceticism also is not spirituality. As The Voice of the Silence points out:
Believe thou not that sitting in dark forests, in proud seclusion and apart from men; believe thou not that life on roots and plants, that thirst assuaged with snow from the great Range—believe thou not, O Devotee, that this will lead thee to the goal of final liberation.
No amount of bodily practices, peculiar diets, dangerous breathing exercises, and so forth, will unfold spirituality.
Then there is religion—ritualism and belief. No educated person really believes today that any one particular church or religious creed is superior to another. Nay more, there is an increasing number of people who even see that formalism in religion, blind belief in religious creeds, and above all intolerance, are verily wombs of mischief and strife. Yet religiosity is mistaken for spirituality. Jesus, for instance, was a spiritual man, not a religious man. The sermon on the Mount is an expression of spirituality; whereas what happens in the churches is rooted in theological dogmas, and that is orthodoxy, not religion. There is idol-worship in Christendom, and it is much more subtle than idol-worship among the Hindus. No, religiosity is not spirituality. It is a kind of psychic Bohemianism. Excesses of sense-life make the "heaven" of the Bohemian.
If we transfer that principle to the sphere of religious creeds, in any land, not necessarily in Christendom, we have psychic intoxication, psychic exhilaration, psychic uplift. This we come across in some measure in every church and temple, in every synagogue and mosque. What asceticism is to aestheticism, that Bohemianism is to psychism. So, either bodily tension, not art, nor a free and easy life, nor orthodox religion, are expressions of spirituality. Each of these has a function and a place and a use, but to confound them with spiritual life is a big folly.
What, then, is the spiritual life? "Life" and "spirit" are words so commonly used that only a few take the trouble to define them. The word spirit is used in the pharmacy for one thing; in the picture-gallery for another thing. Similarly, in chemistry life is something different from what it is in physics. Again, embryology defines life in one way, astronomy in another way. We live in an age of specialists and the synthesis of knowledge is a much neglected subject. Theosophy synthesizes all knowledge: religion, science and philosophy. Therefore it takes account of the whole man. To the athlete his body is the most important part of him; to the artist his feelings and emotions are the most relevant; to the philosopher his mind is of primary and supreme value; and so on. But Theosophy says: evaluate the different aspects and constituents of man with the aid of synthetic knowledge—all branches of knowledge, not only of the modern but also of the ancient world. That programme of life, what discipline of soul, what policy of spirit, does Theosophy give for practical use to the men and women of this age?
In Theosophical literature, the needs of all people—the learned scholar and the intelligent man in the street, the businessman and the housewife, are attended to. Man is different from woman, an American is different from an Italian, a European is different from an Asiatic, and yet man is man everywhere, the same in his limitations and aspirations, showing the same kind of devotion to duty and also its neglect, expressing virtue and vice, which are the same everywhere. These outer differences illusion people into separative tendencies, and even in matters of spiritual life people talk of eastern and western Occultism. It is an arbitrary division. Spirit is one and spiritual life is the same for all.
That gives us the first necessary qualification of the spiritual life. An individual desiring to live the higher soul-life or spiritual life has to recognize the fact that he may be brown or white, yet his blood is red; we come across the same types of blood in Europeans as in Asians, because feelings and emotions which affect the ingredients of blood are present everywhere. Take an example: anger in an Indian produces the same effect in his blood and on his breathing as anger in a Frenchman; and there are angry people everywhere. Take the mind: scientists of India are not different from Western scientists of the same rank. Behind all differences we see a unity. Theosophy cuts across the numerous classifications and divisions in the human kingdom and teaches that in his innermost essence, in his innermost substance also, man is man, same and identical everywhere. This truth learnt as a scientific truth explains the differences in one way; as a philosophic proposition it reveals the interdependence of man and the whole of nature. By study and reflection upon this truth must the mind learn, for then only we can take the step of practice and make application.
When we begin to contemplate this unifying Principle which makes the entire human kingdom one unit, we come upon some vision of what Spirit is—the indwelling, energizing, fructifying Principle. We also learn what Life is: Life is the manifested aspect of that Principle we name Spirit. Nature or Matter is not a simple Principle; it is complex. The complexity of Life manifests itself as forms of Life—not just as forms of matter.
Applying this to ourselves who desire to live the spiritual life, we come to the conclusion that as Spirit is one and indivisible, and as its energizing and fructifying powers cause the differences, to live in the Spirit means to recognize the unifying aspect as fundamental and more important than the differentiating aspect. In ethical language, we call this the doctrine of Universal Brotherhood. This knowledge enables us to take the first step in the spiritual life. Some people say, "I do not want to bother with knowledge; I want to be good, I want to live, so that I may attain happiness and freedom." Such talk is childish. As well hope to understand the constitution of the moon by looking at it! So study and knowledge are necessary. A new attitude to Life and in Life comes from a transformed mind; so Theosophy recommends study, grasping the theory of the spiritual life, before talking about living and realization.
When we have grasped the Theosophical teaching about Spirit, what do we do? Of course we do nothing if we are not practical. A practical person says, "If it be true that behind and within all forms of life fructifies one indivisible Spirit, then I must discard the outer appearance of things and seek the forces of the Spirit within my heart. To do this quickly and efficiently, let me take the aid of those who have sought and found the Spirit." Teachers and teachings are as necessary for spiritual training as for any other kind of training.
What is to be done to make this first application? It has been taught by all the great spiritual Instructors: "Come out from among them, and be ye separate." Unless a person rises above the marks that distinguish him from his fellowmen by a correct mental attitude and right moral application, he cannot begin to live the spiritual life. The phrase, "Come out from among them," does not imply running away from the world, nor does it mean that he should feel superior to the world. If he raises himself to any height, it is an inner spiritual height, from which he is able to see not only that all men are brothers, but also that he can himself act out his perception of Brotherhood, and be a brother to all human souls, whatever their domicile and whatever their dress. Domicile and dress are outer symbols, yet ordinarily people judge by that! But when we try to live the spiritual life, domicile and dress are not the factors by which we judge. Applying it to the soul, we make no difference between a soul born in one country or another; for that is domicile. Also, we do not make a difference between a well-dressed or ill-dressed or quaintly dressed person; for dress is like the body: some have coarse and gross bodies and others have sensitive and refined bodies. However, we must not go to the other extreme and say, " It matters not"; for these differences also have their uses, but they are secondary, while the unifying aspect is primary.
There is another point: sometimes it is conceived that because a person throws off the fetters of religion, rises above the conversations of ordinary society, transcends the limitations of superstition as well as of cant and hyprocrisy, therefore he can do what he pleases. That is not the teaching of Theosophy. As he unfolds spirituality he shows a deeper feeling, not of creed but of compassion; he has a soul-religion, not a set of beliefs, but rules and laws by which he lives, because he knows them to be true. Dangerous and false is the doctrine that says, "Be free, do what you like." A spiritual man is a man of discipline, a man who lives and works by eternal laws; a man who follows true religion. Similarly, when he breaks social conventions, he is not guided by licence but by soul-freedom. One endeavouring to live the spiritual life shows greater purity, deeper virtues, especially in his contact with his fellow-men. Sex-purity, speech-purity, self-purity are observed to a greater extent than in the conventional world of society and even in pure home-lives.
There is much nonsense talked about self-expression. Self-expression that is truly spiritual does not precede but follows self-control. Selfishness, wrong speech, impure sex life are wrong forms of self-expression. A selfish person cannot know and realize the Spirit; speech and sex are creative forces and their use follows their due and proper control. These are fundamental aspects of the spiritual life, which is a creative life; and no one can create rightly, without the triple purity: Pride produces selfishness. Lust produces sexuality. Egotism produces injurious speech—false talk, small talk, unnecessary talk. These three are the gates to hell! We cannot control them or kill them without knowledge, and Theosophy is the science of sense-control and soul-unfoldment. These two factors—sense-control and soul-unfoldment—have to be taken into account. The what and how of both these have been explained. Sometimes people say, "That is another kind of religion." Of course it is; only it is not a religion of blind-belief, but a religion rooted in knowledge and conviction, therefore called Wisdom-Religion. Ethical life, pure daily living, is possible, and is successful only when it is rooted in knowledge, which understood and grasped becomes conviction.
What about abnormal powers—clairvoyance, clairaudience, powers that perform so-called miracles, i.e., produce abnormal phenomena? What about the power to heal the sick, to help the fallen? Theosophy says, these are realities, but if their development is forced, without an ethical basis, they will prove ruinous. These abnormal powers are latent in every single man and woman. Let us not try to force their growth; let them unfold as beautiful flowers. Feed the human plant with the waters of knowledge, give it the sunshine of purity, enrich the soil by a weeding-out process as well as by the use of special chemicals, which are to be found in the Gita, the Dhammapada, The Voice of the Silence. A good gardener takes good care of the soil, the water, the light, the manure, and then his plants grow flowers, beautiful, fragrant, spreading joy and peace among those who behold them. Such also are the true devotees of spiritual life. They control their senses, their passions and emotions, their thoughts and words. They express compassion and helpfulness and humility, and thus they show themselves as a healthy bush. Perfected trees giving shade to the weary, Perfected Bushes full of inspiring fragrance for the Soul who is man, a Perfect Green Lawn which rests the eyes and strengthens them to see the ugliness of the world—these also exist in the Perfect Garden. The Great Souls of the ancient world and their modern heirs form that Garden. We must seek their help and their benediction. Raising ourselves to that true Garden of Eden, strengthening our vision and filling our life-lungs, we will return to this sordid earth to help the struggling souls of our fellow-men, our brothers. Such is the elementary teaching of Theosophy about the Spiritual life.
Certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes....Whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already.