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The Hill of Discernment

By Alfred Trevor Barker

The Place of Devotion in the Life of Discipleship

— Closing address at the European Convention of the T. S., London, August 2-3, 1936.

We come to the last moments of these happy two days together, and I offer you my sincere regrets for your sake that Brother Oosterink [Chairman, Committee of National Presidents of the European Sections, T. S.] is unable to be here to speak to you tonight; but the subject that you would have heard him discuss I shall try to say a few words upon: "The Place of Devotion in the Life of Discipleship."

This subject immediately calls to my mind that most inspiring passage in The Secret Doctrine, concerning the origin of devotion in human hearts; and if you will refer to it in the first volume (p. 210), you will find the interesting statement that devotion actually arose in human breasts because of the age-old and eternal memory that we all have, that we owe our spiritual origin to those Lords of Wisdom who actually infused into us the spark of self-consciousness. If we carry that thought forward when we think of the inspired doctrine of the lighting up of Manas by the Manasaputras in the Third Root Race, and remember the marvelous body of doctrine associated with that event; and reflect that all men — savages and educated men, high and low and of all races — have this feeling, this yearning of devotion to some Being, stirring in the depths of their consciousness, the longing to find that Teacher, that Savior, however it may be formulated or expressed, we realize that it all comes from that far-off, Divine event which gave us birth to ourselves, and that we, in the higher parts of our being, are actually those Manasaputras ourselves. So we see the true origin of devotion as welling up from the Divine part of our own being, and yet as indissolubly associated with our devotion to those ancient Teachers of the Race that are symbolized for us under the name of the Great Lodge — the Brotherhood of living men who, Theosophy and the message of H. P. B. have taught us, actually exist in this world today.

The second thought that occurred to me was that wonderful and beautifully suggestive passage in Letters That Have Helped Me, so full of beautiful thought; and I would suggest to any of you who are perhaps less acquainted with Theosophical literature, and who do not possess that book, immediately to obtain it. It is the short passage that you will find on pages 66-7 in regard to what he describes as the Guru-parampara Chain. There we have another aspect of the origin of Devotion. I am going to read you the passage:

The relation of Guru and Chela is nothing if it is not a spiritual one. Whatever is merely outward, or formal, as the relation established by mere asking and acceptance, is not spiritual, but formal, and is that which arises between teacher and pupil. Yet even this latter is not in my way despicable, because the teacher stands to his pupil, in so far forth as the relation permits, in the same way as the Guru to his Chela. . . .
So from earliest times, among all but the modern western people, the teacher was given great reverence by the pupil, and the latter was taught from youth to look upon his preceptor as only second to his father and mother in dignity. It was among these people a great sin, a thing that did one actual harm in his moral being, to be disrespectful to his teacher even in thought. The reason for this lay then, and no less to-day does also lie, in the fact that a long chain of influences extends from the highest spiritual guide who may belong to any man, down through vast numbers of spiritual chiefs, ending at last even in the mere teacher of our youth. Or, to restate it in modern reversion of thought, a chain extends up from our teacher or preceptors to the highest spiritual chief in whose ray or descending line one may happen to be. And it makes no difference whatever, in, this occult relation, that, neither pupil nor final guide may be aware, or admit, that this is the case.
That means surely that all the world has the opportunity of participating in this marvelous fount of the occult Universe, whether they know it or not.

Thus it happens that the child who holds his teacher in reverence and diligently applies himself accordingly with faith, does no violence to this intangible but mighty chain, and is benefited accordingly, whether he knows it or not. Nor again does it matter that a child has a teacher who evidently gives him a bad system. This is his Karma, and by his reverent and diligent attitude he works it out, and transcends erstwhile that teacher.
This chain of influence is called the Guruparampara chain.
The Guru is the guide or readjuster, and may not always combine the function of teacher with it.
There is a world of vital thought in that idea, and this leads me to the next thought that naturally arises out of it: how are we to find these Teachers — to come in contact with them? Is it possible for us to do so? I would venture to suggest one or two ideas that I personally believe in. If we study the evidence in our literature, in The Mahatma Letters and in many parts of H. P. B.'s teaching, and so on, we must come to the realization, if we are really honest with ourselves, that these Beings have a high probability of existence; and still we may be without what might be called internal evidence that they do exist as living men. We may not have had the privilege of coming in contact with anybody who is in the position of being able to say he knows because he has experience.

What are we as individuals to do in order to gain this inner certainty for ourselves? — which brings us back to this question of devotion and its place in our spiritual lives — for has not the statement been made that the Masters are a symbol collectively of the Higher Self; and will you not find, if you turn to Light on the Path, that the way to gain some understanding of what is meant by the Masters of Wisdom, by the great Teachers of the Race, by the Mahatmas, is to fit ourselves to be instruments in their hands? — for that is the only condition wherefrom we may enter into any kind of relationship with these Teachers. If we can find the way to become instruments in their hands, if we would make our voice heard, and make it possible to impress our thoughts upon their akasa, then we must learn that that voice of ours will not be heard unless it is the voice of the Higher part of our being; and therefore we have to learn to rise up enough into the higher realms of our inner being, so that with the voice of the Higher Self we can make our call upon the Law. Then comes the response from "the Keepers of the Sacred Light," as Master K. H. phrases it in The Mahatma Letters. May I read to you the passage from Letter LXIV, page 358, where Master K. H. deals with one of these problems:

Ah, how long shall the mysteries of chelaship overpower and lead astray from the path of truth the wise and perspicacious, as much as the foolish and the credulous! How few of the many pilgrims who have to start without chart or compass on that shoreless Ocean of Occultism reach the wished for land. Believe me, faithful friend, that nothing short of full confidence in us, in our good motives if not in our wisdom, in our foresight, if not omniscience — which is not to be found on this earth — can help one to cross over from one's land of dream and fiction to our Truth land, the region of stern reality and fact. Otherwise the ocean will prove shoreless indeed; its waves will carry one no longer on waters of hope, but will turn every ripple into doubt and suspicion; and bitter shall they prove to him who starts on that dismal, tossing sea of the Unknown, with a prejudiced mind!
Another thought occurred to me: if we seek to become instruments in Their hands, then once we have recognised by our own desperate need, the need that others must have (because we all more or less are in the same boat), our first and most obvious duty calls forth our effort to relieve the need that we know exists in the hearts of others. This leads us to take the first step, and, having the literature in our hands as part of our tools of work, this course presents itself to each one of us. The way is pointed out in The Mahatma Letters very clearly, but it is useless for us to sit still in our Lodge room and watch other people doing the work. For each of us has the responsibility to find that creative piece of work which touches causes; and by that I mean that we shall seriously consider the problem as to what any one of us can do that will be a real, creative piece of work. We can all do it in some way or another in the circumstances in which we are placed; and it is that kind of effort, combined with the aspiration that I was trying to express to you in relation to the Higher Self and its connexion with the Masters: it is this kind of effort that will bring us the internal evidence that They do exist.

Thus having become instruments — dedicated instruments — in Their hands, all here who have tried the experiment will agree and know that the greatest happiness I suppose that any Theosophist has is when, being self-forgetful, he is able to give to others the message of Theosophy, however haltingly or however beautifully the ideas are expressed; for there we find an inexhaustible stream of happiness resulting from that kind of work in which we are all engaged. Contrariwise, if through our own fault we are not living to our highest, if we in any way forfeit the capacity, or lose the opportunity, of acting in that way as instruments, then the corresponding pain and suffering can be very great.

Again I want to remind you of that passage that I have thought of so many times in these last two days, that you will find in Light on the Path, that in the life of the disciple he never knows until the entrance to the Pathway is found at what moment he will discover and hear the voice of the Beloved in the hearts of those around him. It seemed to me such a marvelous expression of just that discovery that we have witnessed in these two days of the Convention: we have heard the voice of the Beloved speaking to us in the thoughts and words that have been so spontaneously uttered by all who have contributed here either as speakers or by their presence and sympathy. It is the voice of the Spirit that has sounded through our ranks, and we are all deeply sensible of it.

A last thought I want to put to you. I am reminded of that wonderful story of one of the Bhikkus of the Buddha — one of those who was called upon to preach the doctrine, and his situation was likened to a man who was digging a well for water in the desert, because the Bhikku complained that he did not get the response from his hearers that he thought the teachings of Buddhism should evoke from his congregation, or from what we should call the public. He had a feeling that they were not interested; and the Buddha drew his attention to the man who was digging the well in the desert, and asked the Bhikku what he would do if, having dug to a great depth, as he thought, he did not find water. He answered that he must dig deeper. Being applied to the experience of the Bhikku, it simply meant that if he did not get the response from the hearts of his hearers, then he had not dug deep enough into his own spiritual nature, and therefore he had to dig deeper and deeper, and then would come the response from the hearts of his hearers.

Now is it not just to that great work that we Theosophists are dedicated — dedicated to the bringing forth of the spiritual and higher nature in the lives of all mankind? To bring forth the spiritual qualities in all men — that is our great work!

* * * * *

So Brothers, with full hearts we will just enter upon a moment or two of silence, and we will close with the Invocation.



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