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The Hill of Discernment

By Alfred Trevor Barker

The Destruction of Illusion

The question of the destruction of illusion is one that naturally can be treated from very many aspects. What do we mean by illusion? Because after all, all the philosophers of India — metaphysicians and what not — have told us for centuries after centuries that all the manifested universe is illusion. Now of course we know that in a sense that is so, but on the other hand, as H. P. B. pointed out, this universe that we live in, this planet on which we live, our own bodies that are related to that planet, are very real to us. They have a very outstanding importance, relative importance, but none the less necessary for us to take into consideration. We cannot leave it out of account like the great school of Deniers, who say that there is no matter, and that it does not exist. No! Our School is one of what is called objective idealism, that is to say that the Universe has an objective existence during certain periods of time, and after the expiration of that period of time it is withdrawn into the bosom of That from which all things proceed, and unto which all must again return. Now that Infinite, Divine Principle is actually the Light of our being, the source of all our spiritual strength, and it is this that we rely upon to join ourselves to, to reach to union with, in order to destroy, to rise above, the erratic illusion. There is no other means. I speak of illusion of all sorts — whether it results in every kind of what is called in Christian terminology 'sinful action'; or whether it results in misguided action based upon ignorant searching for Truth in regions where it simply does not exist. I refer to those seekers who investigate into the mayavi (illusory) realms of the Astral Light, into the dismal regions of spooks and what not: seeking to tear off the veils that Nature has kindly put upon their inner sight; seeking to open the pathway of their being into these astral realms, where indeed they become overpowered by the great influence of the very serpent of illusion: for everything there bears a kind of glamourous aspect, and yet, as The Voice of the Silence says, "under every flower there is a serpent coiled." There is no wisdom in these psychic regions; there is no spiritual object, no spiritual reality at all, in the purely psychic faculties that we share with the beasts. They have these faculties too, but they are proper in the beasts, because they are at that stage of evolution where their progress is not dependent upon their wit, but upon natural impulse. Therefore it is not their function to overcome illusion in any sense of the word.

One of the most striking thoughts when we meditate upon this, is to discover what in our lives is due to the action of maya, of illusion. We are staggered by the extent to which this illusory power of nature works upon us: how it hides from us the truth about ourselves, about the universe, about others; and therefore it behooves us to enquire a little as to how we may recognise when our consciousness is being obscured by one or other of the possible forms of illusion.

Now the great devotional book called the Bhagavad-Gita is, I suppose, one of the greatest scriptures that the world knows of: a very ancient book giving to us the matchless wisdom and knowledge about the nature of man, given in the words of a divine incarnation, who, as you know, was called Krishna. In the sixteenth Discourse he gives to us a list of the different qualities that you find in human beings, when the various states of illusion or their absence are operative. We cannot fail to profit from the teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita:

Fearlessness, sincerity, assiduity in devotion, generosity, self-restraint, piety, and alms-giving, study, mortification, and rectitude; harmlessness, veracity, and freedom from anger, resignation, equanimity, and not speaking of the faults of others, universal compassion, modesty, and mildness; patience, power, fortitude, and purity, discretion, dignity, unrevengefulness, and freedom from conceit — these are the marks of him whose virtues are of a godlike character, O son of Bharata.
A wonderful collection of qualities. It is a marvelous book for calming the mind, and for removing the veil that hides our vision from the truth. You pick up the Gita, and it causes the lamp of true knowledge within you to burn more brightly. At one time these qualities are present in us, and then each one of us will find certain things of which we can say, "Yes, I have experienced this at times," and we shall know that in the light of the teaching of the Gita there is a certain spiritual quality working; and you will find at other times when the illusion is there, when the personality is blotting out the light, that you show qualities of a different kind:

Those, O son of Pritha, who are born with demoniacal dispositions are marked by hypocrisy, pride, anger, presumption, harshness of speech, and ignorance. The destiny of those whose attributes are godlike is final liberation, while those of demoniacal dispositions, born to the Asuras' lot is continued bondage to mortal birth; grieve not, O son of Pandu, for thou art born with the divine destiny. There are two kinds of natures in beings in this world, that which is godlike, and the other which is demoniacal; the godlike hath been fully declared, hear now from me, O son of Pritha, what the demoniacal is.
Those who are born with the demoniacal disposition — of the nature of the Asuras — know not the nature of action nor of cessation from action, they know not purity nor right behavior, they possess no truthfulness. They deny that the universe has any truth in it, saying it is not governed by law, declaring that it hath no spirit; they say creatures are produced alone through the union of the sexes, and that all is for enjoyment only. Maintaining this view, their souls being ruined, their minds contracted, with natures perverted, enemies of the world, they are born to destroy. They indulge insatiable desires, are full of hypocrisy, fast-fixed in false beliefs through their illusions. They indulge in unlimited reflections which end only in annihilation, convinced until death that the enjoyment of the objects of their desires is the supreme good. Fastbound by the hundred cords of desire, prone to lust and anger, they seek by injustice and the accumulation of wealth for the gratification of their own lusts and appetites. 'This today hath been acquired by me, and that object of my heart I shall obtain; this wealth I have, and that also shall be mine. This foe have I already slain, and others will I forthwith vanquish; I am the lord, I am powerful, and I am happy. I am rich and with precedence among men; where is there another like unto me? I shall make sacrifices, give alms, and enjoy.' In this manner do those speak who are deluded. Confounded by all manner of desires, entangled in the net of illusion, firmly attached to the gratification of their desires, they descend into hell. Esteeming themselves very highly, self-willed, full of pride and ever in pursuit of riches, they perform worship with hypocrisy and not even according to ritual, but only for outward show. Indulging in pride, selfishness, ostentation, power, lust, and anger, they detest me who am in their bodies and in the bodies of others. Wherefore I continually hurl these cruel haters, the lowest of men, into wombs of an infernal nature in this world of rebirth. And they being doomed to those infernal wombs, more and more deluded in each succeeding rebirth, never come to me, O son of Kunti, but go at length to the lowest region.
The gates of hell are three — desire, anger, covetousness, which destroy the soul; wherefore one should abandon them. Being free from these three gates of hell, O son of Kunti, a man worketh for the salvation of his soul, and thus proceeds to the highest path. He who abandoneth the ordinances of the Scriptures to follow the dictates of his own desires, attaineth neither perfection nor happiness nor the highest path. Therefore, in deciding what is fit and what unfit to be done, thou shouldst perform actions on earth with a knowledge of what is declared in Holy Writ.
This is a very healthful way — to me at least — of finding out how to destroy illusion. I would like to say just this: that when we find that any of these lower qualities begin to become active in our consciousness, there is no other way of dealing with them except somehow by an effort of will, an endeavor to rise in consciousness into the higher part of our being; and in that state of consciousness the illusory aspects of personality cease, they lose their power, and the man is able to regain balance, calm, peace. The supreme guide, life itself, is always providing opportunities to test us. Some concatenation of circumstances arises, and, as you know, an individual may go along life's pathway, quietly, serenely, thinking that everything is lovely in the garden; and then some person comes along who is so constituted that he touches a certain button, a certain knob in the psychological constitution, and some personal ego within, of which there are many by the way, reacts, and plays its tune, pleasant or unpleasant — a kind of gramophone record that plays over and over again the same tune. It will be found, after we observe ourselves closely, that similar stimuli tend to produce these similar recurrent phases, good, bad and indifferent, which proves to us that part of our illusion is caused by the mechanical nature of our being. In other words that it is not perfectly under the control of the real part of us. The inner individual is not master of its vehicles of consciousness that we call the personality and through which it expresses itself. We do all sorts of things in a most mechanical way, and it is our reactions to sudden stimuli through various circumstances in life that teach us perhaps the greatest lessons, because amongst spiritually-minded people at least, among all seekers after truth, there is the sincere desire to live in the light of one's Higher being, and the great misery and unhappiness of at times doing quite the opposite. This is the kind of illusion that we must seek out the means of eradicating, and one of the best ways of all, I believe, is a constant and daily steady reading of such a book as the Bhagavad-Gita. You have to be very discriminating in the kind of book or scripture that you rely upon to give you that spiritual sustenance without which man cannot live — spiritually speaking, especially in this striving, material, difficult world that we have to live in.

Day by day we must see to it that we give ourselves five or ten minutes — if only that — for spiritual sustenance. The first thing in the morning, if possible, before another thought enters your consciousness, if you spend a few minutes of quiet reflexion, self-examination, aspiration towards the higher part of your being, help does come in a very strange way that has to be experienced in order to realize it.

There at any rate are a few thoughts upon this question of illusion, so now I will leave it to you to raise other questions if you wish.

QUESTION: Among that list of divine qualities that you read in the sixteenth Discourse of the Bhagavad-Gita, is one that I think must be a mistranslation. I do not think that one understands it as a divine quality — and that is mortification.

ANSWER: Many questions like that crop up in the study of the Bhagavad-Gita. What does it mean? The questioner suggests that it is a mistranslation, but I think it is only a matter of understanding what is meant by mortification. I think that I cannot do better than find out what Krishna has to say about this subject of mortification, because it is really very interesting:

Honoring the gods, the brahmans, the teachers, and the wise, purity, rectitude, chastity, and harmlessness are called mortification of the body. Gentle speech which causes no anxiety, which is truthful and friendly, and diligence in the reading of the Scriptures, are said to be austerities of speech. Serenity of mind, mildness of temper, silence, self-restraint, absolute straightforwardness of conduct, are called mortification of the mind. This threefold mortification or austerity practised with supreme faith and by those who long not for a reward is of the sattva quality.
QUESTION: Is not truth even to this day indefinable?

ANSWER: I think it is probably truly so, because in what terms are you going to define truth? You may turn round to me and say, "Do you think that you said anything that is true tonight?" And I say, "Well, at least I hope that it may be what you might call relative truth." I do not believe that any attempt to expound philosophically ideas of Ancient Wisdom, which after all are an attempt to state some aspects of truth, can be perfectly performed by any one who is not perfect. How can it be so? So you must have a Mahatma or Divine Being who can perfectly express truth in human language, and even then it will not be so much the words that he utters, but that which his whole being does to your consciousness — raising it to that point where it is able to perceive truth.

Now can we give or have any kind of conception of what a Theosophist means by truth? I can only tell you the way I reason about it and it is simply this: that truth is the reality, the facts of Nature where it operates in the particular sphere that you are considering. What you call truth has to reflect perfectly the workings of that department of Nature that you are studying. So I think the questioner is quite right — it is impossible to define truth. It exists perfectly at the level of Universal Mind. If we want to perceive truth we have to rise into our spiritual being, where we are not subjected to the distortion of the brain-mind.

QUESTION: It is possible to get into a dangerous state when we get out of our body and feel that everything is illusion?

ANSWER: I think that the best advice in such a case, assuming that we are talking to a person who is interested in these matters, is to hand him a copy of The Voice of the Silence, underlining the seven Paramitas — that is the Buddhistic qualities of perfection. In other words there are certain rather short ethical precepts, concentration upon which we are told will have a very beneficial effect upon the mind. Now that may sound trite, but nevertheless really something like that is the only thing to do, because if you get into a state of complete confusion of that kind then you have lost your moorings, your anchor, you have not got hold of your rudder, and you have to do something about it; and the surest thing is to attempt to concentrate upon and practise the Paramitas, and look for some healthy, religious or philosophical literature that will be of benefit.

QUESTION: In the demoniacal qualities in the sixteenth Discourse it stated that the personality, I presume life after life, seemed to sink lower and lower each life. Now is that a fact? Does not karmic action make it so very unpleasant for the personality that automatically this sinking lower and lower is checked?

ANSWER: In the ordinary case of evolution — Yes. That is to say that the average human being who does not live marvelously well, but not too badly — he has his moments when he jumps off the deep end, and it is these things that he will be sorry for afterwards. Well, if the balance of his karmic memory gets below a certain point, he is going to add and add to these actions of a personal character, and if that goes on, then he begins to slip down the scale life after life. But Nature will react against him: he will have scored karmic penalties which are designed by merciful Nature to wake him up, and then the natural impulse of evolution will gradually straighten things out. Nevertheless the slip down the decline mentioned in the Gita is, we believe, a possibility in Nature. We do not need to dwell upon it, but there it is.

QUESTION: If all the people connected with such a one were to help him, could not the fall be avoided or checked?

ANSWER: I think that is an important question because we must all have the experience in life of being associated in our own families perhaps or elsewhere amongst our human relationships, with someone who is finding the battle of life too much, one who seems to be losing in that battle of life. Now when the questioner asks if those associated with that person can do anything to help, I venture to suggest, that instead of pointing out to that individual all day and every day just exactly what one thought of him, even to the point — what shall I say? — of lowering one's self-respect by the constant criticism — instead of doing that, let him keep his own consciousness on as high a level as he knows how to do, including this individual within his spiritual meditation. This has a wonderful effect. I have seen it work over and over and over again, and I have seen the terribly cruel and destructive effect of criticism. It is a strange fact, you know, that Brother Judge pointed out in a little book called The Epitome of Theosophy: that in fixing your thought in condemnation (and the stronger the hatred that goes with it, the more important and lasting the effect) you mix yourself with the quality in the other person that you hate, and you pretty soon begin to express that quality. It comes back to you. So I believe that one of the most important things you can do is to keep your own consciousness up and include the sufferer in your spiritual meditation.



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