This title, "Spiritual Gifts and their Attainment," you may possibly be thinking — and I am not at all sure that I would not agree with you — is something of a misnomer directly we begin to examine its significance. However, the expression was used by William Q. Judge in an article that he published many years ago in his inspired magazine The Path. He there inquired into the question of spiritual gifts: as to whether there actually are such things as gifts of any kind that are bestowed upon any human being.
You remember, H. P. B. in the first volume of The Secret Doctrine laid it down as a fundamental principle of all spiritual effort, and an underlying law of our own being, that there are no special gifts or privileges that man is heir to. On the contrary, she said, every spiritual, intellectual, psychical or physical power that anyone is able to bring forth, manifest, and show to the world, any such power or faculty, has been developed by his own striving, by his own effort.
In what sense, therefore, can we understand this question of so-called spiritual gifts? I think it is true to say that our old friend St. Paul was responsible for the term "spiritual gifts"; and he included in the term such qualities as faith, vision, and the knowledge of the performance of feats which in those days were called miracles, such as healing; and likewise the performance of various other actions of a very good and spiritual character. Yet he pointed out in his Epistle to the Corinthians that, excellent as these things undoubtedly are, and useful in their proper place, nevertheless there were spiritual qualities that transcended all these, and that the gift of Charity (so translated in the Bible) — which incidentally is the first of the Divine Paramitas of The Voice of the Silence — was said to transcend all these. In fact that it was possible to have all these other gifts, and if they were not permeated and irradiated by Compassion, they were worth nothing. Therefore we have to come to the conclusion that spiritual gifts, if they mean anything, are those which are bestowed upon the human being who has given up his personal life; and they thereby become an instrument in the hands of his own inner and higher nature — a channel in fact for the power of the Supreme Spirit to pour forth into the world. All mystics, all disciples, of all ages, have borne witness to the fact that, though they had given up everything that from a personal and worldly point of view might be considered to make life worth living, nevertheless they treasured above everything that power to do, to will, to know, and to serve their fellows. They entered into the purified Temple of their own being once they had passed through the experience of losing their physical lives, of giving up the things that prevented the light of the Supreme Spirit from flooding into the purified Temple of the body.
This is the subject of the whole discourse of the Bhagavad-Gita. If you study carefully the first Discourse of this wonderful spiritual allegory you will find there the four characters that give us a clue to the symbols that are used throughout this great epic. First there is, of course, the Divine Teacher Krishna in the three or four aspects of the Supreme which he severally adopts and acts through in his instruction of Arjuna. Krishna is the symbol of the Supreme: he is the Paramatman, the Self: that Self which is the same in you, in me, and in all creatures everywhere; that Self which is the object of all our strivings, all our aspirations, all our searchings for Truth; our answer, once we have done the work that will enable us to perceive the precepts of gods and men in our own hearts. If we are searching for the true spiritual gifts, then we shall turn to the Bhagavad-Gita and see whether we can kindle the lamp of spiritual knowledge through the fire that burns and glimmers through the pages of that ancient book.
Krishna is the first character then, whose words of instruction we shall listen to as he teaches his disciple Arjuna; and Arjuna is the symbol of the higher mind — the Higher Manas, as we should say in our technical Theosophical language — as he stands on the battlefield of his being, on the field of Kurukshetra. He stands, as all spiritual pilgrims do, upon the battlefield of his own being: the Higher Manas, the higher mind, the real individuality in you and in me.
Then you have the character of Dhritarashtra, the blind King, and you can regard him as the lower unpurified mind: the personality in all its unattractiveness. He is blind, he is unable to see a thing.
Finally you have the fourth character, Sanjaya, the Brahmin Teacher, who represents the voice of conscience, actually standing for the link between the Higher and the lower Manas in much the same way as Buddhi is the principle that unites the higher mind to the supreme spirit, Atman — as those of you will recognise who are aware of our Theosophical arrangement of the inner nature, and the principles that go to make up man's constitution. Sanjaya, the voice of conscience, is that which enables the lower personal man to wake up and begin to listen to the first whisperings and promptings of his own higher nature.
And so we come to inquire as to what really is the nature of the work that we have to do on ourselves if we are going to succeed in developing the spiritual faculties that all men desire, and rightly desire, to find unfolding within themselves; for these are the powers and faculties that we can share with all men. This work and training take nothing from any human creature, but on the contrary, once this inner fire is kindled in the heart of any one of us, he becomes to a very small degree a channel through which spiritual and regenerating ideas flow to the world of men.
What, then, is the nature of this work? I will try to find language to give at least some ideas about it. First of all we shall not be interested in these subjects unless we have already come to the conclusion that there is a spiritual power that it is possible for us to contact; that there is something in the depths of the heart, or in the spiritual part of our being, that, if we could only learn how to reflect, to become, to manifest it, at least for a decent part of our waking life, would greatly benefit ourselves as individuals, and likewise those around us. We recognise that the spiritual power is there if we can only reach it; but according to the particular point in the ladder of evolution that we stand at, we are in the position of Dhritarashtra. We have a lower personality, a mind and emotions, that are more or less turbulent, more or less attached to the objects of the senses, to all that makes up the outward attractiveness of the earth or world. That personality is probably engaged in the struggle for existence; or, if born into circumstances where there is no such struggle, then it has a still harder time, for it has more to learn, more to give up, and less incentive to enter into the performance of action which calls forth capacity to attend to the daily duties and learn how to perform them in a way that will open up the possibility of knowing the true individuality something quite different from the consciousness for so long experienced in what is really and truly the tomb of personal life.
And so the individual, or rather the personal man, when he is awakened to the point where he recognises the existence of the spiritual nature within, arises and sets forth to seek out the Ancient Teachers of the race. He aspires, and somewhere in the depths of his own being he begins to experience the promptings of conscience, to follow along and do certain simple, perhaps everyday, actions helpful to others, or to carry out some simple or more complex duties. Directly he begins to do that there come the whisperings of the Higher Manas to the personality; and then perhaps such a book as the Bhagavad-Gita falls into his hands, and he begins to study. The lower mind begins to be purified, the emotions to be stirred, and as he goes on aspiring perhaps he is fortunate in companionship of others engaged in a similar pursuit. Then one day comes that event when the aspiration of the lower man evokes an outpouring of divine life from the Buddhic splendor within him, the vehicle of that shoreless ocean of spiritual life which is frontierless and boundless, and which all men live in and are inspired by. He realizes that to take this Kingdom of Heaven by the force of his awakened spiritual will he must enter the Temple of the Heart. He must plunge deep within his own nature; and if he does this, there will come that flashing response which will mean that this personal man is no longer left as a more or less rudderless ship, but that the strength of his own true individuality descends into his own heart as a flame. From that moment onwards he has in a true sense set his feet upon the pathway that will carry him to the heart of being itself; will take him to the source from which all impulses of a spiritual kind flow into this universe.
The sublime possibilities for the human aspirant are so distant that in a sense they hardly act as an incentive to push forward. The man that enters upon this Pathway eventually becomes the Mahatma, the Great Soul; but he has his long, long pilgrimage to perform; and there has never been any secret made of it that this state is not achieved at a single bound in one short life, but demands steady, devoted, self-sacrificing effort toward one clear objective with all personal side-issues dropped.
Somehow, one feels that in these days when the stress and storm of world-events touches us all so closely, men's minds are not so concerned with high metaphysics. They want to know what is their next step; they want to know what they have to do; and I believe that we shall meet with success in our Work to the extent that we can give a practical message. I do not mean in a material sense, but a practical spiritual message to those who are interested in spiritual things. There is nothing that any one of us has that we believe of value in the spiritual life that we cannot share with another. And so this matter of the first steps on the Pathway is being discussed designedly tonight. It is the things that we can do that are the most interesting for us; and we can take the first steps on the Pathway that will lead us to make use of the gifts of our spiritual nature.
QUESTION: What is the significance of Teachers for those who enter upon this search?
ANSWER: There are Teachers in the world that it is possible for you and me to reach. There are other Teachers that it may be possible for us to reach if we are successful in our search — our inward search; if we are successful in accomplishing a few steps of what the alchemists of old called the Great Work. Our Teachers are necessary for us.
What function do they play in our own pilgrimage? Let us reflect on this fact: that it is very few — probably it is true to say that no one comes into contact with this Movement who does not owe his knowledge of it to books or to other people who are engaged in the Movement; and all of these efforts, the literature, the teachings, are due to the sacrifice made by those who have given their lives to teach. It will be found that if we want to make progress in the real sense of the word we shall do well to seek out that company, and try to be in the company of what Mr. Judge described as "holy men."
And it should be remembered at this point that this does not mean that we are seeking out someone who shall do our work for us, because if we do that we shall be disappointed. That would merely be the eternal looking outside of ourselves for something that we would never find. We shall never find a true Teacher until we have found something within ourselves that will enable us to recognise the true Teacher when we come across him. The example of such a one, the spiritual and philosophical instruction, the inner spiritual stimulus, is such as to make him the real heart and head of a Movement such as ours. You cannot in a spiritual Movement expect that any real spiritual life will exist unless there is a consolidated community of individuals linked together by a common aspiration, a common purpose, with spiritual Leadership that they trust, and with a common teaching — a teaching that is not only ethical, intellectual, philosophical and spiritual, but also universal in character.
QUESTION: Should we seek after this union with our Higher Self? Is so much concentration on ourselves a spiritual selfishness?
ANSWER: I suppose everything can be a kind of selfishness. There are such beings as Pratyeka-Buddhas in our philosophy: those who seek their knowledge purely for themselves. Such beings exist: such a path exists, and I believe this path is called the Path of Liberation, a path that is followed by one who simply seeks knowledge for his own self-satisfaction. And yet this is not the path that the Teachers of mankind have indicated to us. They point to the fact that these spiritual beings do exist who are concentrated upon their own perfection; but that the true way is to be found by a dropping of interest in all personal ambition, all personal strivings for success, and living simply to be an instrument in the hands of the only one Teacher.
QUESTION: Is it always necessary to experience suffering in order to enter the Path?
ANSWER: There are many things that call forth the effort to spiritual striving, according to the nature of the man. Take the case of a scientist. I can conceive of a scientist, and even a great one, who from his early life became absorbed in the pursuit of knowledge, perhaps with the very highest ideal of offering up his knowledge on the altar of the service of his fellows. I can quite conceive that suffering as such may not touch his life for a long, long time. Are you going to tell me that such a man who truly follows his researches into the secrets of Mother Nature is not following a pathway of evolution suitable for him — knowledge and service of the race having called forth his effort?
Then there are people who would listen to no appeal, and yet would be moved by the message contained in great art, in beauty. That has opened up some channel in their spiritual being; but sooner or later, if they progress upon the Pathway at all, suffering will come. It cannot be avoided and it is the greatest Teacher. That does not mean to say that you have to sit around with a moping expression waiting for this suffering to descend upon you. It will come in its own time, and it will unlock doors when it comes.
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