First Four Aphorisms
Windows For The Soul
Sensation or Knowledge?
Life As Teacher
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There is another way of reading which is, indeed, the only one of any use with many authors. It is reading not between the lines, but within the words. In fact, it is deciphering a profound cipher. All alchemical works are written in the cipher of which I speak; it has been used by the great philosophers and poets of all time. It is used systematically by the Adepts in life and knowledge who, seemingly giving out their deepest wisdom, hide its actual mystery in the very words which frame it. They cannot do more. There is a law of Nature which insists that a man shall read these mysteries for himself. By no other means can he obtain them. A man who desires to live must eat his food himself; this is the simple law of nature — which applies also to the higher life. A man who would live and act in it cannot be fed like a babe with a spoon; he must eat for himself.
I propose to put into new and sometimes plainer language parts of Light on the Path; but whether this effort of mine will really be any interpretation I cannot say. To a deaf and dumb man a truth is made no more intelligible if, in order to make it so, some misguided linguist translate the words in which it is couched into every living or dead language, and shouts these different phrases in his ear. But for those who are not deaf and dumb one language is generally easier than the rest; and it is to such as these I address myself.
There are four proven and certain truths with regard to the entrance to occultism. The Gates of Gold bar that threshold; yet there are some who pass those gates and discover the sublime and illimitable beyond. In the far spaces of Time, all will pass those gates. But I am one who wishes that Time, the great deluder, were not so over-masterful. To those who know and love him I have no word to say; but to the others — and there are not so very few as some may fancy — to whom the passage of time is as the stroke of a sledge-hammer, and the sense of space like the bars of an iron cage, I will translate and re-translate, until they understand fully.
The four truths written on the first page of Light on the Path refer to the trial initiation of the would-be occultist. Until he has passed it, he cannot even reach to the latch of the gate which admits to knowledge. Knowledge is man's greatest inheritance; why, then, should he not attempt to reach it by every possible road? The laboratory is not the only ground for experiment; science, we must remember, is derived from sciens, present participle of scire, "to know"; its origin is similar to that of the word "discern", "token". Science does not therefore deal only with matter, no, not even its subtlest and obscurest forms. Such an idea is born merely of the idle spirit of the age. Science is a word which covers all forms of knowledge. It is exceedingly interesting to hear what chemists discover, and to see them finding their way through the densities of matter to its finer forms; but there are other kinds of knowledge than this, and it is not everyone who restricts his (strictly scientific) desire for knowledge to experiments which are capable of being tested by the physical senses.
The whole world is animated and lit, down to its most material shapes, by a world within it. This inner world is called Astral by some people, and it is as good a word as any other, though it merely means starry; but the stars, as Locke pointed out, are luminous bodies which give light of themselves. This quality is characteristic of light which lies within matter; for those who see it need no lamp to see it by. The word star, moreover, is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "stir-an", to steer, to stir, to move; and undeniably it is the inner life which is master of the outer, just as man's brain guides the movements of his lips. So that although astral is no very excellent word in itself, I am content to use it for my present purpose.
The whole of Light on the Path is written in an astral cipher and can therefore only be deciphered by one who reads astrally. And its teaching is chiefly directed towards the cultivation and development of the astral life. Until the first step has been taken in this development, the swift knowledge which is called intuition with certainty is impossible to man. And this positive and certain intuition is the only form of knowledge which enables a man to work rapidly or reach his true and high estate within the limit of his conscious effort. To obtain knowledge by experiment is too tedious a method for those who desire to accomplish real work; and he who gets it by certain intuition lays hands on its various forms with supreme rapidity by fierce effort of will, as a determined workman grasps his tools, indifferent to their weight or any other difficulty which may stand in his way. He does not stay for each to be tested — he uses such as he sees are fittest.
To all who are seriously interested in Occultism, I say first — take knowledge. To him that hath shall be given. It is useless to wait for it. The womb of Time will close before you, and in later years you will remain unborn, without power. I therefore say to those who have any hunger or thirst for knowledge, attend to these rules.
They are none of my handicraft or invention. They are merely the phrasing of laws in super-nature, the putting into words truths as absolute in their own sphere as those laws which govern the conduct of the earth and its atmosphere.
No man desires to see that light which illumines the spaceless soul until pain and sorrow and despair have driven him away from the life of ordinary humanity. First he wears out pleasure, then he wears out pain — till, at last, his eyes become incapable of tears.
This is a truism, although I know perfectly well that it will meet with a vehement denial from many who are in sympathy with thoughts which spring from the inner life. To see with the astral sense of sight is a form of activity which it is difficult for us to understand immediately. The scientist knows very well what a miracle is achieved by each child that is born into the world when it first conquers its eyesight and compels it to obey its brain. An equal miracle is performed with each sense, certainly, but this ordering of sight is perhaps the most stupendous effort. Yet the child does it almost unconsciously, by force of the powerful heredity of habit. No one now is aware that he has ever done it at all; just as we cannot recollect the individual movements which enabled us to walk up a hill a year ago. This arises from the fact that we move and live and have our being in matter. Our knowledge of it has become intuitive.
With our astral life it is very much otherwise. For long years past, man has paid very little attention to it — so little that he has practically lost the use of his senses. It is true, in every civilization the star arises and man confesses, with more or less of folly and confusion, that he knows himself to be. But most often he denies it, and in being a materialist becomes that strange being, a being which cannot see its own light, a thing of life which will not live, an astral animal which has eyes, and ears, and speech, and power, yet will use none of these gifts. This is the case, and the habit of ignorance has become so confirmed that now none will see with the inner vision till agony has made the physical eyes not only unseeing, but without tears — the moisture of life. To be incapable of tears is to have faced and conquered the simple human nature, and to have attained an equilibrium which cannot be shaken by personal emotions. It does not imply any hardness of heart, or any indifference. It does not imply the exhaustion of sorrow, when the suffering soul seems powerless to suffer acutely any longer; it does not mean the deadness of old age, when emotion is becoming dull because the strings which vibrate to it are wearing out. These conditions are unfit for a disciple, and if any one of them exists in him, it must be overcome before the Path can be entered upon. Hardness of heart belongs to the selfish man, the egotist, to whom the gate is for ever closed. Indifference belongs to the fool and the false philosopher; those whose lukewarmness makes them mere puppets, not strong enough to face the realities of existence. When pain or sorrow has worn out the keenness of suffering, the result is a lethargy not unlike that which accompanies old age, as it is usually experienced by men and women. Such a condition makes the entrance to the Path impossible, because the first step is one of difficulty and needs a strong man full of psychic and physical vigour to attempt it.
In one of the great mystic Brotherhoods, there are four ceremonies that take place early in the year which practically illustrate and elucidate these aphorisms. They are ceremonies in which only novices take part, for they are simply services of the threshold. But it will show how serious a thing it is to become a disciple when it is understood that these are all ceremonies of sacrifice. The first one is this of which I have been speaking. The keenest enjoyment, the bitterest pain, the anguish of loss and despair, are brought to bear on the trembling soul, which has not yet found light in the darkness, which is helpless as a blind man is: and until these shocks can be endured without loss of equilibrium, the astral senses must remain sealed. This is the merciful law. The "medium", or "spiritualist", who rushes into the psychic world without preparation, is a law-breaker, a breaker of the laws of super-nature. Those who break Nature's laws lose their physical health; those who break the laws of the inner life lose their psychic health.
"Mediums" become mad, suicides, miserable creatures devoid of moral sense; and often end as unbelievers, doubters even of that which their own eyes have seen. The disciple is compelled to become his own master before he adventures on this perilous path and attempts to face those beings who live and work in the astral world, and whom we call Masters, because of their great knowledge and their ability to control not only themselves but the forces around them.
It is a very well known fact, one with which Bulwer Lytton dealt with great power, that an intolerable sadness is the very first experience of the neophyte in Occultism. A sense of blankness falls upon him which makes the world a waste, and life a vain exertion. This follows his first serious contemplation of the abstract. In gazing, or even in attempting to gaze, on the ineffable mystery of his own higher nature, he himself causes the initial trial to fall on him. The oscillation between pleasure and pain ceases for perhaps an instant of time; but that is enough to have cut him loose from his fast moorings in the world of sensation. He has experienced, however briefly, the greater life; and he goes on with ordinary existence weighted by a sense of unreality, of blank, of horrid, negation. This was the nightmare which visited Bulwer Lytton's neophyte in Zanoni; and even Zanoni himself, who had learned great truths and been entrusted with great powers, had not actually passed the threshold where fear and hope, despair and joy, seem at one moment absolute realities, at the next mere forms of fancy.
When one of the subjects of Time decides to enter on the path of Occultism, it is this which is his first task. If life has not taught it to him, if he is not strong enough to teach himself, and if he has power enough to demand the help of a Master, then this fearful trial depicted in Zanoni is put upon him. The oscillation in which he lives is for an instant stilled; and he has to survive the shock of facing what seems to him at first sight as the abyss of nothingness. Not till he has learned to dwell in this abyss, and has found its peace, is it possible for his eyes to become incapable of tears.