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The Hill of Discernment

By Alfred Trevor Barker

Destiny, Liberation, Annihilation

Before taking up the study and discussion of the subject tonight, which is "Destiny, Liberation, Annihilation," may I just preface my remarks by drawing your attention to the basis upon which we, of the Theosophical Society, endeavor to do our work of spreading a knowledge of the Ancient Teachings, called in this era "Theosophy." You will find that one of the first objects of the Theosophical Society is: "To diffuse among men a knowledge of the laws inherent in the Universe." Now this is rather a complicated way of saying: to try to teach men Theosophy; and so in these public lectures on Sunday nights that is what we are endeavoring to do: to pass on to you a statement, to the extent of our capacity, of the teachings that have come down literally from the dawn of thinking man on this planet, in an unbroken oral tradition. This tradition has been preserved by the elect of the human race, and has percolated down to our present era, when we had a restatement of the ancient Truths by H. P. Blavatsky.

It is very important from our point of view, and I venture to think from yours, that we should do our work in just that way, viz.: try to pass these teachings on to you, as much as possible uncolored by our own psycho-mental apparatus. It is important to you because you want to know what the Great Teachers of the human race have said upon the vast problems of human life and suffering, and man's relation to the universe. It is important from our point of view because we dare not take the responsibility of sowing, in the hearts and minds of men, ideas which are merely the product of our own human, and therefore fallible, imaginations and thinking. Therefore what you hear from this platform should be understood as a sincere endeavor, at least, on the part of the speaker to give you the teachings of Theosophy as he understands them, and, although it is also necessary for him to endeavor to make certain deductions of a practical kind, in order to show that this is not a mere system of high philosophy and metaphysics without any relation to life, yet you find, for the most part, that the teachers rather leave to the students the task of making the application. Especially in public propaganda work we believe in trying to deduce the practical issues from this grand system of thought. Immensely comprehensive as it is, a single life is by no means enough to gain even a bowing acquaintance with the teachings as a whole; but this does not mean that we cannot very quickly obtain a sufficient amount of knowledge to make an immediate difference in the conduct of our own lives, and enable us, to some extent at least, to be of some service to our fellow men.

Although we strive to hand on these teachings in accordance with what we call the Esoteric tradition, nevertheless there is a danger that we, as students, have also to try and avoid. There is nothing easier than to permit the mind to crystallize its thought, its understanding, upon some one or other of the Theosophical doctrines, and so prevent the entrance of any further light. This is a serious danger to the student, and I want to read you a rather remarkable passage from Dr. de Purucker's book, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 202, in which he deals with this particular tendency. He says:

If anyone thinks — I never did, thank the immortal Gods! — if anyone thinks that he knows The Secret Doctrine by reading it once or even a dozen times, or a score of times, he mistakes greatly the situation. It must be read not only between the lines, but within the words. I have found the value of the following rule: never take a single statement in it and allow your mind to mould itself around it, never let a single idea crystallize; break the molds, let in the light. It is an excellent rule. As soon as a man says "I have the truth. I do not agree with such a one of our teachers: I think such and such a teacher was wrong," look out for him, for he is probably blind. The molds of his mind are crystallized, and he cannot see the light.
That statement is worth taking to heart, and because of it I am going to endeavor — I say advisedly — endeavor — because I do not know just how the experiment will work out — to raise with you certain points of view that may perhaps be new in our understanding of the subject.

You can translate Destiny, if you like, by the word 'Karma' — Sanskrit word. You can translate Liberation by the word 'Yoga,' and Annihilation by 'Nirvana.' Therefore, these being important parts of the Esoteric philosophy, we want to pay at least some attention to them tonight.

Does Theosophy believe in Destiny for us human individuals? Are we predestined to follow such or another path through earth life? Is it all mapped out for us in advance according to the dictates or the will of some personal or extra-cosmic deity, who decrees that such and such a man shall do such and such a thing, whether he be good, evil or what? On the other hand have we complete free-will? These I think you will agree are important issues. Well, Theosophy does believe in Destiny; it also believes in free-will, and it makes the following statement. At the close of his period of rest, before he returns to earth, the immortal Seer is shown the general course of his life as a man, and the causes that led up to that moment. He is also shown a picture of the future with its opportunities of progress, its successes, its failures, and the reasons for them. Then the human entity, in the process of incarnation (or reincarnation) forgets the causes. He has a new human brain; he has the difficult task of subjecting or gaining power over the new physical mechanism, and the new brain has no recollection of anything that did not pass through its cells.

On the other hand it has character, and the character of the individual, strange as it may appear, is actually its destiny. The past Karma, the consequences, the effects of every single thing that the entity had thought, willed, felt or done in the infinitely long series of its past incarnations is wrought into the very fabric of that entity's own being, and produces the man as he is today or at any moment in life. Therefore Theosophy says man is his own Karma, and Karma is nothing else but the man himself, containing within himself all consequences, be they good or evil, that appear to flow to him from outside himself. So we can immediately deduce that Destiny is something that, if it exists, the man has made for himself. You see man is an incarnate God actually. He is a being with power to create — to create his future for good or ill. At any moment that he may like to examine his personal life he will find that his circumstances, his powers and faculties, his condition of health or ill-health, have all been produced by his own action. He has created his own destiny and he can change it. You see Theosophy does not admit for a single moment that any individual in the Universe has special privilege. He has gained any advantages of personality, individuality or spirituality, or advantages of environment, or anything else you can think of, strictly by his own effort. There are no special privileges anywhere in nature, and therefore we come to the next step, viz. — everybody has had to win at some time or another the powers or faculties that he possesses. How has it been done? We can look at the Titan intellects of the human race — the great Teachers, the tradition that we have of those Buddha-like men who embody Wisdom and Compassion, and we can say to ourselves — "What they have done we some day can, must, and will do." But how?

Let us use two or three of the golden keys or jewels of Wisdom that unlock a further stage to the understanding of this problem. We have used one of the keys in talking about the doctrine of Karma. We have also touched on Reincarnation. Now these are keys I would ask you to note that we, as students, should try to apply to the understanding of any problem. But you cannot understand the doctrine of Karma, or any other problem of human life, unless you understand something about the doctrine of what we call Hierarchies. As applied to man this means that he is not a single, simple entity — perhaps just a physical body as some may think — but on the contrary he is composite of literally untold milliards of lives and intelligences. He is a sevenfold being — a ten and twelvefold being; and each department of his nature is seven, ten and twelvefold in its turn. Man is a Hierarchy — spiritual, intellectual and physical: three main systems of evolution going on all the time.

Now Karma is actually made, and the repository of it is, so to speak, contained in the intermediate principle of the man. I wonder if you have ever read H. P. B.'s own definition of what Karma is. Let me read you a rather fascinating paragraph from her Theosophical Glossary. She says:

When Buddhism teaches that "Karma is that moral kernel (of any being) which alone survives death and continues in transmigration" or reincarnation, it simply means that there remains nought after each Personality but the causes produced by it; causes which are undying, i. e., which cannot be eliminated from the Universe until replaced by their legitimate effects, and wiped out by them, so to speak, and such causes — unless compensated during the life of the person [note that] who produced them with adequate effects, will follow the reincarnated Ego and reach it in its subsequent reincarnation until a harmony between effects and causes is fully re-established. . . .
And as it is that Ego which chooses the personality it will inform, after each Devachan, and which receives through these personalities the effects of the Karmic causes produced, it is therefore the Ego, that self which is the "moral kernel" referred to and embodied karma, "which alone survives death."
So there you have H. P. B.'s own statement that man is his own Karma. It is the "moral kernel" of the individual — the higher part of the intellectual, thinking, human entity.

You will wonder what all this is leading up to. I began to draw these deductions and make these statements about the conception of Destiny.

Now I want to draw your attention for awhile to the other idea of Liberation. Liberation from what? Liberation means freeing ourselves — from Destiny, the self-created thing that has bound us to the wheel of birth and death, forever, unless we find the way of escaping from it. It is the great statement of Theosophy that we can and must find such liberation. The great Buddha taught the way to get free from the miseries of life and the wheel of birth and death. How is it to be done?

There must be a way. How often do we not get asked: "Well, you tell me that I have made myself what I am, but I am in such an appalling state, that Heaven knows when I shall be able to work out the consequences of what somebody you theorists say was I, has done in perhaps preceding incarnations — for I never did anything in this life to warrant my present condition. Can I change it? Have I just got to sit down and put up with it? What is the practical issue involved?"

You who have been brought up in a Christian land will probably be connecting these ideas with the Christian idea of vicarious atonement, forgiveness of sins, and various other things. You are right so to connect them, just to see what light Theosophy throws upon such problems. We do not believe — and the Great Sages of antiquity have never taught — that anyone can do anything at all to wipe out or bear for us the consequences of our own wrong doing. That doctrine, which has gained a hold on the mind of Christendom, is something that has caused untold damage to the mind of the race. It has warped its thinking, and it has actually brought about an immense amount of actual evil in the world; but, as in all these things, there is behind it a truth of some kind which in the process of time has become distorted. Throughout the East the idea of Liberation from the bonds of Karma is everywhere. They all believe it is possible if they go the right way about it; and you also find that the Christian firmly believes in the possibility of a full and perfect remission of his sins — that is what he calls it. What is it all about?

At this point I am going to read to you two or three Aphorisms on Karma, which come from an article under that title by Wm. Q. Judge in The Path, March, 1893. There are some 31 Aphorisms of a profoundly metaphysical nature, but this is what I want you to listen to:

The effects may be counteracted or mitigated by the thoughts and acts of oneself or of another, and then the resulting effects represent the combination and interaction of the whole number of causes involved in producing the effects.
I think you will agree that there is a distinct suggestion that it is possible to counteract and mitigate.

Now another one:

Changes may occur in the instrument [that is the body and psychological mechanism of the man] during one life so as to make it appropriate for a new class of Karma, and this may take place in two ways: (a) through intensity of thought and the power of a vow, and (b) through natural alterations due to complete exhaustion of old causes.
"Through intensity of thought and the power of a vow" — that is the particular one that I think we should pay attention to, because again it is a practical issue that we want to get at.

You may be interested further to bear what Katherine Tingley had to say on the subject of a vow.

A vow is an action rising like a star high above the level of the common deeds of life. It is a witness that the outer man has at that moment realized its union with the inner [you will notice 'union with the inner' — that means by Liberation or Yoga] purpose of its existence, registering a great resolve to become one with its Father in Heaven. At that moment the radiant Path of Light is seen with the eye of pure vision. The disciple is reborn, the old life is left behind, he enters a new way. For a moment he feels the touch of a guiding hand ever stretched out to him from the inner chamber. For a moment his ear catches the harmonies of the soul. It is a descent upon him of the Holy Ghost, 'the Grace of God.'
I have read these passages to show you that the deduction I want to make has a very good foundation in our recorded teachings. It is possible, friends and brothers, to change ourselves by intensity of thought, by self-sacrifice, by the power of a vow. If it is possible it means this — the changing of our destiny. How? You will say "But I have hundreds of lives of Karma, and they are going to keep me as I am for ever — or at least for another three or four lives." Now that is sometimes the way we comfort ourselves, you see, with the doctrine of reincarnation, which is another way of putting off till tomorrow what we ought to perform today. But directly we wake up to the fact that we shall not have any different tomorrow unless we change ourselves today, then we begin to wonder whether it may not be better worth while to get a move on now, in the present.

That is what some students have come to believe. They recognise, in the light of the teachings of Theosophy, that we have got to do something about changing the "moral kernel" of our nature: that we have got to so change it that the consequences that flow to it and from it are the kind that we want, instead of the kind that make us feel so very uncomfortable and even miserable.

Do you think that it is impossible to get a clue — another clue — as to what we have to do from the teachings of the Avatara Jesus? I rather think we shall find that that Master Mind threw a dazzling light upon the problem in something that you and I, perhaps, have neglected to pay much attention to for many long years — I refer to that best known of all Invocations, or Occult Formulae, as it truly is, called the Lord's Prayer. It is a wonderful Invocation, and therein is made the appeal to our Father in Heaven — our Inner God, our Higher Self. "To forgive us our misdeeds"; but it states the condition: that we are willing to forgive those who have trespassed against us. What do you think He meant? It is not written so that he who runs may read, but I commend it to your attention as something for deep meditation and thinking over. You have to study it with the idea well in mind that if you created causes you have got to reap the effects: you cannot escape, and yet there is this idea of forgiveness, this Eastern idea of liberation from all bonds of Karma. You have the statement in the Bhagavad-Gita that an evil man speedily becometh a righteous man when once he has rightly determined — determined to do what? — to renounce his personal self and devote it to the Supreme. There is a deeply mystical meaning in this idea of the forgiveness of sin. What is it, do you think, that shuts out the light that prevents our having or being in that state that Katherine Tingley refers to as the "Grace of God," of being in a state of spiritual grace? I venture to suggest to you that it is nothing in the world but actions of a personal kind with a personal end, misguidedly performed, which have made what Theosophists call "bad Karma," and what the Christian calls in one word, "sin." Now that creates a block which makes it impossible for the man, when he goes into his closet to commune with his Father in Heaven, to hear the still small Voice of his spiritual consciousness. It makes it impossible, I say, for him to hear that voice, and therefore is he in a state, not of liberation, but of bondage, and not atonement, or Yoga, or union, but simply of unregenerate human frailty and sinfulness.

But if the whole of the personal man is cleansed by the "power of a vow," by the determination from this time forward to empty himself of all thoughts and tendencies to action which are detrimental to his fellow man, and which keep him from the light of the God within; then in the strength of that vow, and in the power of the appeal to the Christos within his own heart, something happens, and an actual change can and does take place within his soul nature (which remember is the sum total of all his past actions that we call Karma). A change takes place when he has been willing to pay the price; but I want to emphasize that the price has to be paid by every human soul that seeks to find the path to union with his own Augoeides.

The man who makes that renunciation of his personal self can, in a moment of time, pay such a price that the very harmony that he disturbed is righted, transmuted, changed, and in that moment he is liberated from the Cross of matter upon which he has been fixed; his bonds fall away, and he rises into union — one-ness — with the light of his own Divinity.

Do you see what a different light we begin to get upon the whole problem with which every one of our personal lives is confronted?

There is another word we have not yet touched upon that is included in our subject tonight — the awe-inspiring term 'Annihilation.' There are two or three ways in which we can understand that term. Do you believe that it is possible for a human entity to be completely annihilated — wiped out, extinguished, so that there is nothing left? It is possible if you go about it properly, and do just the worst you know how to do for a number of lives, and keep on doing it. Then you will eventually get into the condition or state where you will forfeit all possibility of Yoga or union with your divine, spiritual counterpart or parent. In other words you may gain the whole world, but in the process you will lose your own soul which, incidentally, is the only thing that makes life worth living. Such an entity, being first soulless, and then becoming a lost soul, proceeds downwards, lower and lower and lower, until he is literally annihilated. But fortunately there is another aspect to this idea of annihilation. Remember that no human being is ever too far gone if he wants to save himself, for a single upward aspiration to the light of his own Savior and Redeemer — the God in him — will actually re-establish the link of connexion that has been broken.

There is another kind of annihilation that the Western Orientalists used rather to delight to talk about — and you know that they actually translated the Buddhist term 'Nirvana' as Annihilation! Theosophy denies the accuracy of the translation. And yet the word, if you go to its root and origin, actually means 'blown out' or 'snuffed out,' and this is part of the highest spiritual teachings of the Buddha himself. Whilst still on earth he was said to have achieved Nirvana, but he certainly was not wiped out. He was very much there, and he taught — made the statement, that wherever his precepts were practised in their fulness there was Nirvana. Nirvana means 'Enlightenment'; it means union; it means entering into peace and into bliss; but in the process the personal nature of the man, the animal entity, has to be yielded up, ground over, and literally annihilated. The poor physical body has very little to do with it at all; it is often the unwilling slave of the nature of the man inside. The Theosophical conception of Nirvana is to enter into union with the Supreme while living here on earth; and we make the further statement that if we do not succeed in doing it here, we cannot do it hereafter.

QUESTION: What do you mean by the expression, "To pay the price"? You said that a price has to he paid by every human soul, that seeks to find the path to union with his own Augoeides.

ANSWER: I mean what the New Testament meant when describing the man who had to go and sell all that he had, and follow the Teacher. Now it sounds simple, when translated in terms of material possessions, but that is the least of the things that you have to cease to be attached to. It is not necessary that you have no money; it is not necessary that you have no roof over your head, nor any family connexions. It is necessary that you use and hold all these things with a sense of stewardship, which means that you personally renounce all interest in them, and use them simply for the spiritual purpose to which your life is dedicated. The main difficulty comes in renouncing those likes and dislikes, tendencies of thought, and will and feeling that go to make up the whole of the personal nature of the disciple. It is that to which Light on the Path refers when it speaks of tearing out of the heart the giant weed of self. It has got to go. It means the complete renunciation of the personal view, of the personal will, and of what we like, perhaps, to think of as our intellectual power of accomplishment, and what not. Whatever it is that we cling to, that we are not willing to surrender to the dictates of the God within, we have eventually to pay the price of losing; and that is another way of saying that we have to learn to lose our lives — lose our personal lives, and permit them to be annihilated.

QUESTION: How can we recognize the voice of the Higher Self?

ANSWER: You cannot know what are the dictates of the Higher Self, unless you simply make the listening to the "still small voice" of your spiritual consciousness the most important thing in life. Set aside time for it, aspire towards it, look for it, seek for it; and until you have been willing to pay the price that is necessary, and which must differ with every human individual — and have yielded up your personal life — you will not hear that Voice which speaks, as Light on the Path says, "where there is none to speak." It cannot be done. That is why some people say it is impossible to do it at all. But that is not true. There would be no hope for us, obviously, if it were impossible to live in the light of the Higher Self, since Theosophy teaches that that is man's only Savior and Redeemer; and true it is that, until we have made at least some connexion with the God Within, we shall not even get a feeble whisper of that inner Voice, and we shall not find the strength of that Inner Warrior. We should warn ourselves that, because of the limited extent to which we as individuals have succeeded in entering into union, it is possible for us to make many mistakes in following out the dictates of what we believe to be the highest and the best we know. But are we going to be deterred by that because somebody says it is difficult? Did not a Great Teacher say that the Kingdom of Heaven has got to be taken by storm? That means strength! Nothing worth while was ever won, nor anything worth while ever learnt, by the man who never made a mistake, or was afraid of making a mistake, and paying the price and taking the consequences. We have got to do it. But which is the better thing to do? Surely it is to aspire towards the only source of Light that exists (within our own hearts); to prove its existence, and all the time live up to the highest that we see at any moment — even if, from time to time, we find we have less of a vision of the Truth than we believed ourselves to have. Nevertheless at least we will be living up to the highest that we know, and the man that does that sincerely, following out that fourth of the Buddha's Paramitas: "With dauntless energy fighting his way to the Supernal Truth, undismayed by any failure," will surely arrive; and in every effort that he makes, the bonds that unite the Higher to the intermediate Self grow stronger and stronger. The more you look towards Him the more will He fight in thee. It is better to take the risk of making a mistake or two, than never to aspire at all.

QUESTION: The standard of life you have laid down seems too high for ordinary mortals. What is the use of preaching a philosophy that few, if any, can live up to?

ANSWER: I am speaking here tonight, not for people who are so enormously advanced that listening to this philosophy has no purpose for them. It does not seem to me to be a useful or even a practical thing to study a teaching that no one but a Mahatma can live up to. Why did the Great Masters of Wisdom give us these teachings if it is impossible to perform them? Why did they teach us? What did H. P. B. teach, in The Key to Theosophy, as to where a Theosophist must look for strength to conquer himself, i. e., the weaknesses in his personal nature? She dismissed it with a single sentence: "He looks to the Higher Self." Well now, since H. P. B.'s definition of a Theosophist is one in whom the Higher nature predominates relatively over the lower; since he is taught that his only source of inspiration, of strength to conquer himself, is that same Higher Self, I think that we can give you proof — in chapter and verse — which should be perfectly sufficient to show that this idea is implicit in all Theosophical teaching. Necessarily it must be so, but please do not misunderstand me or forget what I said just now: that we have got to begin; that the completely unregenerate, profane human individual does not receive such inspiration. All right. But he can begin to change himself; he can begin to live the life and aspire towards the source of light that exists in him. Do you not admit that there will be a result? Yes. I suggested that it might be a feeble glimmer, in comparison with which the full union of a perfected Adept would be the difference between the blazing sun and a flickering candle; but nevertheless, the flickering candle is of vast importance to a man in a dark cellar. It is the source of light within ourselves, and if it were impossible to get any light we might as well give up the attempt.



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