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The Hill of Discernment

By Alfred Trevor Barker

Ancient Ideals in the Modern Home

Friends: Those of you who may possibly have come here for the first time, or who have for the first time come into contact with a Theosophical Society, may be wondering for what purpose such a body of people exists, and what are the teachings that they study. A Theosophical Society is an association of individuals, men and women, who are seeking to find a deeper explanation of the phenomena of existence, a deeper understanding of the laws upon which the whole of nature and of life are based, and who recognise that one of the essential prerequisites to obtaining such an understanding is a recognition of the fundamental unity that exists as the very basis of nature itself. That is why the first object of this Society is to demonstrate practically that universal brotherhood is a fact in nature.

It is possible to come to an understanding of the laws upon which nature, man, and the universe, are constructed. The philosophy which we study, the philosophy which we endeavor to practice and to spread a knowledge of, is an eternal one, the essentials of which have never changed. It has always existed, and from time to time has been restated by each in turn of the great Sages and Seers of antiquity. Therefore you will not meet here with any ideas and theories which are mere speculations of some student who may happen to be an Associate of this Society. On the contrary, however imperfectly it may be done, you will always receive a statement of those ancient laws in the light of which we endeavor to study every problem of nature and of life.

Tonight we are going to try to come to an understanding, in the light of that ancient teaching, of the problem of the spiritual life in modern conditions; because Theosophy has an answer to that problem. You know that we have only to look around us to see that there is something radically gone amiss with the spiritual life of the people today. We do not have to look particularly deeply to satisfy ourselves that the fundamental basis of spiritual living for the great masses of the people in every class — I do not care which class it may be — has been lost; they have lost their hold upon those great spiritual truths that make a nation truly great.

We do not have to think or reason very far to come to the conclusion that the life of the individual has its roots in the home; and the degree of spirituality in the home from which any individual springs will very largely determine the difficulties that that individual will have to meet, and also the degree of spirituality that he may be able to express in the life which is opening before him. Take a look at our daily newspapers, and notice, for example, the enormous lists of the divorce cases. They have become a commonplace. This is an indication — a symptom if you will — of the disease which is sapping the spiritual vitality of the peoples in every nation — at any rate I speak from a knowledge of the Western people, of Europe and America. However you may look upon it, there is no shadow of doubt that it is a symbol of something very clearly and tremendously wrong with the spiritual life of that people.

What is the life of the youth in the average home of the wealthier classes today? Although they may be engaged to some extent in the conduct of the affairs of life, in proportion to their freedom from the cares of material existence, the youth today almost entirely — there are fortunately many exceptions, but accept it as abroad general rule — take it as a matter of pride that they believe in nothing — nothing at all! It is a terrible thing really when you come to think of it, because it is an expression of ignorance, and it results from ignorance, lack of knowledge as a direct result of the absence of spiritual reality and virility in the life of the homes from which they sprang. They have not Known anything else. They see the dead formalities of dogmatic religion to which possibly their parents adhere, and with the virility of modern education stimulating their intellects, they have rejected the teaching of dogmatic religion. They look around and they say: "Well, what is there in life? Nothing. Let's forget it!" And so they seek to replace the inner realities of the spiritual life by a chasing of the will-o'-the-wisp of mere sensual pleasures and indulgences of every sort, kind, and description; and — it seems a trite thing to say, but nevertheless it is a true one — mixed up with it is a tremendous amount that is summed up in the one word 'cocktails.' Leaving aside its psychological aspects which are so deplorable, from the physiological standpoint even the drinking of 'cocktails' clogs the mechanism of the human body to such an extent that the awakening of the spiritual faculties is made to a degree more difficult.

Then you take the great middle classes. In a sense there you have an almost greater deadness, because they are so to speak evenly balanced. They are afraid sometimes to do the things which those who are on a so-called higher social level do. They do not do them — sometimes because they cannot afford it, and sometimes merely out of fear. They are held tight very largely in the trammels of dogmatic religion. And as for the great masses of the people: they are so immersed at the present time in the struggle for existence — both the men and women — that there is indeed little time left for a search of their inner needs, for the bread of spiritual wisdom. It is a state of affairs which the Theosophical Movement came into existence in our own era, came to life again, deliberately to aid us to cope with.

Theosophy has an answer to this problem. It is that answer which we want to consider tonight, because Theosophy invariably begins with the individual. The Theosophical remedy for all ills — no matter what they are — is never a remedy which deals with effects, but it goes right to the root cause in every case, and therefore it begins with the regeneration of the individual. There is a tremendous power, a tremendous spiritual capacity, in Theosophic knowledge to bring about a rebirth and a regeneration of those who give their lives to study it and to teach it and to propagate it.

Taking the life of the family, the life of the home, as the basis of the spiritual lives for the individual, we have to consider exactly what forces, what obstacles, the individual who is going to set out to change those conditions has to vanquish. In the first place, any aspirant, any Theosophist, any man, whatever category in religious matters he may belong to, if he wants to set out and conquer these obstacles, has to tread a sixfold path, according to the ancient teachings that we study. We have seen in the short fifty odd years which have passed since the founding of the Theosophical Society in 1875, many anomalies in that Association of people who have come together for mutual help and assistance in the living of the spiritual life. And why is it? It is this: The student takes as his ideal the perfected Sage, the Initiated Adept. He reveres his power of renunciation, his living of the ascetic life, his capacity for a universal point of view. Yet this superior development is the result of lives of effort.

The individual student who comes fresh and eager to the study of Theosophic truths, has mistaken those qualities in the illuminated Sages for the qualities which he himself has to practice immediately as the means to the end which he is seeking; and this has resulted in unprepared people rushing upon the rocks of asceticism, and entering upon the path of renunciation of worldly duties before they have learnt how to perform those duties. In other words, out of a fear of life they do those very things which are going to take them away from the spiritual goal instead of leading them step by step into the light which they seek. Therefore have the ancient teachers given a very firm warning upon this question. They say that the individual who would enter the light and regenerate himself must do six things. First he has to overcome in himself the weaknesses, the faults, the disabilities of heredity and character, which he finds in his own particular family; that is the first step. Having recognised and accepted those characteristics, then he has to proceed to conquer the particular faults and errors of the national temperament to which he belongs. It is not very difficult for us to examine ourselves honestly and to discover what are the weaknesses of our family; what are the particular faults of the nation to which we belong. Then lastly, he must overcome those faults which are common to the man himself, and to all human nature besides — commonly and more largely understood as the weakness of human nature — "Adam's first transgression" as W. Q. Judge put it.

There you have a sufficiently big task. And a corollary of these activities under these three heads — remembering meanwhile that the entrance to the pathway of spiritual life depends upon the grasp and understanding of these points — is to strengthen and bring out fully and completely the good points and the good characteristics under each of the three heads. The whole thing really comprises a definition, in terms of the ancient teaching, of family duty: to undertake that course of action which will eventually eliminate in yourself and in your father or mother or brothers or sisters and all with whom you may be associated, the weaknesses and faults of human nature that exist there. That is to be understood then as family duty; and 'family' defined thus of course has a peculiar meaning, a peculiar value that we have to understand. Therefore we rule out of consideration those conceptions of family duty which other people impose upon us according to some narrow conventional or dogmatic standard. You will find if you really examine it and go into it fully that this definition covers all the duties of life, and not only that but it brings to bear upon them a light which is entirely different from anything that we are accustomed to have upon those particular duties.

Beginning, therefore, with a consideration of the duties of family life, since the basis of existence for the individual lies in the home, the subject must have a very great importance for us. Marriage in ancient times was in a very real and true sense a religious contract, it was by no means a method of satisfying personal ambition or animal passion; and for that reason marriage in ancient times had a spiritual significance which it has lost today. Thank heaven there are exceptions to every rule; but the instances that have already been quoted tonight are sufficient to convince us — we do not need to labor the point — that there is something wrong with the point of view in these matters. Let us consider where Theosophical teaching help us to change the point of view. In ancient times marriage was entered into first for mutual help in leading the spiritual life, and second for the bringing into the world of children of a type spiritually regenerate, who would be a blessing not only to their families and nations but to the world at large. And therefore it behooves us to consider one of the pitfalls that so many people fall into right at the outset of the building of the family life. It is this: they enter into the bond of marriage upon a basis of sentiment almost entirely. They marry in so many cases simply upon a passing attraction, something akin to what some modern philosopher said: that when he met the lady who was to become his wife, he fell into a state of unconsciousness, and when be awoke, it was too late, he was married!

Well now, Friends, there is a profound truth in that statement. It is simply an expression of the fact that the spiritual guidance of the individual was for the moment in abeyance, and something else drove the machine. Take another illustration of the poverty of our conceptions of the married state. Go, my friends, into any music hall and almost any show in the theater land of London today, and you will find that every comedian is perfectly sure to get a rise and laugh out of the audience by making derogatory remarks about the state of marriage. You know it is a degrading thing, and yet you will always find the house absolutely rocks with laughter at the most vulgar jest about the holy state of matrimony. But it is a tremendous confession. It is a confession that the comedian is quite right. He is playing up to the feelings of the majority, and the majority do not realize the sanctity of this particular state and its possibilities from a spiritual point of view.

I am going to put it to you that one of the tests by which any two individuals may examine their feelings when they are prompted to enter into that relationship is this — and you will find that it is a very fundamental one — would either one choose the other party as the parent of their children? Now that, stripped of all sentimental nonsense, brings you down to the bedrock of fundamentals; because I do not think that anybody, any potential parent, would wish to make the parent of the child someone in whom he or she did not have that respect from a spiritual point of view. It is a test which if applied I think would stop an enormous number of the sentimental kind of marriages.

But if the key and solution to this problem is the regeneration of the individual, then the necessary practices cannot be carried out, and probably cannot even be begun, by those who have no knowledge of the spiritual light that should exist as a matter of conscious knowledge in their own being. It is useless to lay down, to hand a man so to speak, a lot of negative restrictions, and without giving anything else to supplement them, suggest that he should carry them out, when you know perfectly well that he has not that knowledge of his being, that fundamental realization of the divine-spiritual consciousness which does exist if only he knows where to find it.

If you examine all the evils, so-called, of the life of the home and of the family today, you will see that the cure for a great many lies in the direction of the development of the impersonal point of view; and that impersonality can only be developed for us by entering upon the study of the sacred scriptures, or of the Theosophical philosophy, which has the capacity of purifying the emotional and mental depths in our natures, thereby kindling the spark of higher intuition within us and awakening our spiritual nature. It is one of the ways that we can go to work, and you will find that those who have studied and applied the Theosophical philosophy in their lives for any length of time at all, do begin to get that impersonal sense of detachment, of detachment from the objects of the senses; with the result that in their own homes, in the lives of the children who are entrusted to their care, they are able to take an impersonal attitude, a detached point of view, which will not permit them to allow those growing children to enter upon those little indulgences that the great teachers tell us are at the root of many of the crimes of later life.

Examine, for example, any particular family of young children, and notice how the little children delight to make themselves attractive in order to gain permission to break some already recognised rule, perhaps even such a simple thing as to eat sweets between their proper meals. They will ask and ask, and then the mother says "Oh, well, yes, bless you my child," and she gives him a sweet, and the child quite unconsciously to itself, and quite unconsciously to the mother, begins the habit of indulging the emotional, the passional nature. Katherine Tingley has pointed that out in that beautiful book The Gods Await, and I recommend anybody who is interested in following that subject farther to read what she has to say there, because she works it out in a hundred and one ways, showing how step by step the indulgences — the almost criminal indulgences in parents — lead to the undoing of the children in later life. Instead of being brought up to listen to the impersonal voice of the Divinity within, they listen only to the voice of their own desires, and they think that the mere fact that they want something is quite sufficient excuse for the parent to give it to them. Then side by side with the petty indulgences comes the tendency of I think almost any parents to be always dressing up their children and stimulating the vanity in them to such a point that the child does develop the germ of vanity, of pride and self-satisfaction — and Heavens what nemesis there is in store for the child just from that simple thing! Think of the girls and boys (and men and women too) that have entered on the path of perdition simply from those two facts. They have been led away by vanity in the first place, and then a tendency to self-indulgence, and they take that first step which leads them away from spiritual principles. Then there is all the deceit of the covering up of their first wrong action, and then they drift, as we all know, farther and farther on the road; and on the one hand you get fallen women, and on the other you get criminals. It has all come about from a lack of the performance of family duty as understood by the sages and the great teachers of the human race.

What has Theosophy to say, what has it to offer to the men and women who have become, for any one of the reasons that have been mentioned, outcasts? I think that if Theosophy can demonstrate its living power to bring healing and regeneration to those who have sunk to the lowest depths, then indeed there is hope for all of us. That is the whole idea of our Theosophical Association: that no matter who the individual may be — at whatever stage he may be upon the spiritual pilgrimage, he will find, at any rate in a Theosophical brotherhood where the truths are studied and lived and taught, that there is someone ready to hold out the hand of spiritual fellowship to him; and it is the great aim of Theosophical endeavor for those who have at a given moment the conscious knowledge of the spiritual light in their own hearts, to, as it were, contact, stand beside, claim identity and fellowship with, the individual who has been brought by his own actions face to face with his own lower nature. It is only in that way that the dark river that has to be crossed on the way to the gates of gold can be crossed indeed with safety. How many of us when we have had to face the greatest trials of our own lives have cried out in the darkness for just that touch of spiritual fellowship; just that conscious recognition — that we may have the association with us of those to whom the light means and has meant something, those who know as they know that they live and breathe, that reliance and faith and strength can be gained.

How is it to be done? I am going to refer you to what H. P. Blavatsky, the first great teacher of Theosophy in our era, told us about the philosophy of prayer. It is a tremendously significant thing for each one of us. She was asked the question as to whether Theosophy believes in prayer, and she said: "As ordinarily understood No! If you are going to pray to some external agency, some sphere outside of yourself to remit your sins, to forgive you your transgressions, then decidedly we do not believe in it." She said: "We do believe in what we call 'will prayer'; we do believe in following the teaching of the New Testament in that respect: to go into the secret chamber of the heart and there to pray to the Father which is in secret — the spiritual part of the individual man." She told us that prayer actually is one of the spiritual mysteries. It is a means by which finite thoughts and desires which are not assimilable by the Spirit are changed by an alchemical process into the one Will itself, and is capable of bringing about results in accordance with our spiritual aspirations. Is it not a tremendous thought?

Therefore what are we to do with the priceless gift of Theosophy in our hands? Why, to anyone with whom we come in contact, who is in a state of despair — no matter for what reason — we can give knowledge, something vital, vital to regenerate his own life with. Believe me, friends, there is absolutely no joy in the world like the knowledge that, having the light in your own heart, you can strike a flame into someone who is sorely in need of it. It is a tremendous thing that, and more than — ten times more than — compensates for giving up the few transitory things, which after all have no significance and no reality and do not matter at all, in our own personal lives — the things that have to be given up in order that the light may burn in our own consciousness. Once we understand the psychology and possibilities attaching to prayer of the right kind, we find it is something that everybody can practice. It is something that has effects in accordance with the sincerity and the real faith — not in something which we call in ordinary religion 'God,' which generally means something outside of ourselves — but faith in a principle which is immortal within ourselves, within our own being, something to believe in which is actually strengthening and ennobling to everybody who practices it.

I want to put one closing idea in front of you, and that is this: to make use of prayer to the utmost limit, and to bring about a regeneration in the individual, take what H. P. B. told us upon the meaning and the power of a vow. It is not possible for us to gain anything at all by taking a pledge or a vow rashly without due thought and consideration, and with a certainty in our own minds that we cannot carry out that pledge. The rule of the spiritual life is that you should never take a vow that you do not feel the strength in you to carry out to the bitter end. Do not be like the wretch that Mr. judge quotes in one of his articles, who rushed upon the rocks of asceticism and then discovered that he could not keep that pledge; because, friends, when vows are entered into and not carried out, the result is a permanent weakening of the whole spiritual nature.

But H. P. B. has cleared the ground for us: she has told us what are the pillars as she called them, upon which every pledge must stand and without which no vow is recorded in the realms of spiritual nature. She said there has to be absolute sincerity, unflinching determination, and most important of all, and of most practical significance for us, an altruistic purpose, and lastly moral power. Without these four pillars it is useless to take a vow of a spiritual kind; and if you like to apply them to the consideration of the elimination of the faults of individual, family, national and racial characteristics, you will see that Theosophy places into the hands of every one of us a magic key, the philosopher's stone, a very talisman, to bring about that result. Because for the man or woman who is face to face with the lower nature, determined to rise above it, what is the usual tendency? The tendency is to become so fixed in contemplation upon, so worried or disturbed about the contemplation of, weaknesses in ourselves, that the power to cope with them is forgotten altogether; and then one becomes immersed in the fight, the head is no longer cool, the vision no longer clear. But then the saving message of Theosophy comes and it says: If you would conquer the desires of the flesh, do it that you may eliminate the tendencies to evil in the family to which you belong, in the nation of which you form a part, of the very human race itself.

Thus every action that you undertake should be done with altruistic motive. In that way your every endeavor is not for yourself at all. In purifying your own nature you raise that of the family to which you belong, you raise the nation of which that family is a part; and so the tendency, by a multiplication of individuals striving to live in terms with their own spiritual nature, will as the Theosophical Movement progresses make such an impress, such a record, upon the memory of Nature — upon the Astral Light if you will — that instead of being tempted constantly by the emanations of that astral sphere, gradually, little by little, the tendency will be reflected upon man to live in terms of that inner light that all of us are seeking.

And now, Friends, because it is the purpose when we come together here that we should all by the effort of thought and mind and meditation draw some sustenance and some strength for our own spiritual living from the doctrines that are taught in this ancient Wisdom of mankind, I am going to close our study together tonight by reading for you that beautiful Invocation by Katherine Tingley which actually is addressed to the Higher Self in man, that Higher Self which we can all come in contact with, to the lasting benefit not only of ourselves but of all with whom we come in contact, of all with whom we shall be associated now and in the future. That Invocation is as follows:

Oh my Divinity! thou dost blend with the earth and fashion for Thyself temples of mighty power.
Oh my Divinity! thou livest in the heart life of all things, and dost radiate a golden light that shineth for ever and doth illumine even the darkest corners of the earth.
Oh my Divinity! blend thou with me that from the corruptible I may become incorruptible; that from imperfection I may become perfection; that from darkness I may go forth in Light.



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