[Reprinted from THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT, December 1963.]
If you are at all cast down, or if any of us is, then by just that much are our thoughts lessened in power. One could be confined in a prison and yet be a worker for the Cause. So I pray you to remove from your mind any distaste for present circumstances. If you can succeed in looking at it all as just what you in fact desired, then it will act not only as a strengthener of your good thoughts, but will reflexly act on your body and make it stronger.
Every tyro in Theosophy knows that individual happiness and progress depend upon the discipline of life that each adopts and follows. Yet all who have tried it know that the discipline in which the mind is made to follow the perceptions of the Soul, in which human emotions are made pure by correct knowledge and in which skill in action is attained, raises many difficulties.
The difficulties and obstacles increase in number and variety and affect every part of the human constitution as evolution advances. Through the process of reincarnation, Karmic results produce one set of difficulties, but when the aspirant marches onward and makes progress on the Inner Path, which not only is long but also has depth, other sets of obstacles and unsuspected troubles, more complex in character, are encountered. By his own earnestness and sincerity the aspirant not only stirs up his own latent weaknesses but also arouses opposition from others who do not view life as he does. This is an experience common to all aspirants to Occultism.
One-pointed tenacity to hold grimly to the Line of Theosophical Action through all ups and downs which Karma precipitates, through good and evil report, through success and failure, is the only salvation of the aspirant. This Kali-Yuga civilization is not of any aid in his attempts to unfold the power of steadfastness which will hold him together and enable him never to lose hope or courage. Constancy and perseverance are not natural to our civilization, where speed is regarded as a great virtue and where, as an ancient Chinese sage has put it, "a man looks at an egg, and expects to hear it crow." In the words of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, the philosopher-emperor,
Be not disgusted, nor discouraged, nor dissastisfied, if thou dost not succeed in doing everything according to right principles, but when thou hast failed, return back again, and be content if the greater part of what thou doest is consistent with man's nature, and love this to which thou returnest.
Pitfalls are inevitable; but they provide an impetus. To fall is not fail, provided we rise quickly once again to give battle to the foe. To fall and remain prostrate is to fail. He who desires triumph is the one who has seen the failings over which triumph is desired. Perception of failings is the first step towards overcoming them.
The right motive for undertaking the discipline of self and for waging the War of Righteousness against the darkness of the world is the aspirant's best safeguard against failure. Not soul-liberation but soul-service through sacrifice—that is recommended as the basis for right motive. The yearning for personal soul-emancipation is but an exalted form of selfishness. Energized and sustained by the sole motive of the salvation of humanity, we are, as it were, equipped with a protective shield that will help us not to be overthrown but to "fight on, and to the charge return again and yet again." There is nothing that we cannot survive; nothing that we cannot turn to beneficence. We must have faith in this.
Our widening and deepening knowledge of the Esoteric Philosophy is at once our bow and our arrow. What is needed is not only more knowledge but deepening insight into the knowledge already gained. To many a schoolboy, learning is not a delight; it is irksome. Some would-be practitioners find themselves in a similar position. Where the urge of the Heart is lacking, devotion to the Wisdom cannot arise, and study and meditation upon its truths are neglected.
Mere study is not enough; we must study and remember. Remembering the appropriate teaching, we do not fall; or, if we do, remembrance or recollection enables us to rise quickly. Practice of what is studied aids in the process of remembrance.
Instead of allowing the impersonal philosophy to shed its light on our mistake or our failing, we are prone to seek personal comfort from friend or co-student when we are feeling miserable. We feel satisfied when in response to our repentant confession we are told, "Well, you have learnt the lesson and you will not do it again." This may comfort us for a time, but "men are not made into steel by comfort," writes Mr. Judge. In a short while the mistake is likely to be repeated, the difficult situation to be encountered once again.
A quiet passing through any unpleasant experience which comes to us as an effect enables us not only to pay the debt and close the account; we can also learn from it and so unfold a new capacity or virtue, or strengthen old ones. We often talk of paying our Karmic debts, overlooking the method by which they are discharged. That method is passing through the experience in calmness, with the mind attentive to observe and learn. The debt is not paid when we are thrown off our balance by Karmic processes. We often add to the sum-total of our debt by newly-made Karmas; out of one effect several new causes spring. When we attend in quietude to the effect, soon we perceive the root-cause; we learn the lesson of the experience; the necessity of once again going through that experience ceases. This brings real comfort, and, what is more, we transform disabilities into abilities and unfold true perception.
Robert Crosbie offers sage advice in these words:
Are things going hard with you? If so, it is time to push harder along the way you know. That will inevitably destroy all obstacles, and if persisted in during stress generates and maintains greater powers of resistance. Everybody on the Path goes through similar obstacles; by having them and overcoming them, you become teachers with knowledge of how to help. If you had no obstacles, you would not know how. Thank Karma for "obstacles."