The formula “Know thyself” has been paraphrased countless times and in many different forms, all of which are familiar to us in our reading of occult literature and most of which throw more or less light upon the original meaning. These formulae have a deeply cosmic import and prove somewhat disconcerting when analysed reflectively.
To know oneself from the occult point of view is a comprehensive matter and one with which most of us will be well occupied for at least the duration of our present incarnation.
We should know, for instance, that true self-knowledge cannot begin until some degree of egoic response has been attained: up to that point in evolution we are nothing but speculators, however remarkably clever from a personal and worldly standpoint.
That in itself is a humiliating conception; but it is well that we realise it at the outset because it is a true one. The assurance some students have by reason of a little occult reading is both amusing and alarming. It is common enough and to be expected among those who have no occult reading and live soundly in the intellect; and it is just as common among those who have the occult classics by heart.
The first thing for us to realise thoroughly is the difficulty of the task we are engaged upon.
We are enthusiasts and too often possess the chief failing of the class. We expect to complete a life task in a few weeks; but it cannot be done; and I draw no pessimistic picture in saying so.
The (Bhagavad) Gita just as plainly says:
“Of the successful strivers scarce one knoweth me in essence.”
Upon serious reflection it appears more and more to me that the attainment of self-knowledge is mainly the demonstration of an increasing measure of impersonality. This is the central thought of the Gita, and every theme in that classic is grounded upon it.
Impersonality is its secret doctrine and no matter how great is the appeal of its beauty and desirableness to the intellect or the aesthetic sense, we remain but in the outer court until impersonality becomes a factor in practical life.
Impersonality is usually preceded by a long cycle of development and experience of the most varied, and often perplexing, character. There is a world of inner experience to be amassed before we can become living exponents of impersonality; and only a genuine occult discipline compels that experience and leads naturally and lawfully to a safe and proper demonstration of it.
Impersonality has many degrees. They range from the minor detachments exercised by an aspirant to that extreme spiritual poise so striking and natural to the adept; but to whatever degree it is manifested in the individual, there is in it something exceedingly arresting and influential to those who witness it.
Detachment makes us aware of the divinity overshadowing human consciousness and invites us to make a heart surrender to its beneficent promptings; it upsets our preconceived ideas of thought and action, rejects the limitations and pride of the intellectual self and it falsifies the well-grounded beliefs of a liberal education.
And herein is the reason that so few are able or willing to embark seriously upon a training, the nature of which, has a more or less forbidding aspect and is opposed to so much that is firmly established and prized in the personal life.
Yet we are dealing here with a condition, a force, which is of supreme value in the evolution of consciousness. A multitude of anxieties and disturbances which up until now held undisputed sway within the soul, lose their tyranny and pass away. Not that we forsake the arena of personality and deny the constant interplay of forces within it, but that we view them from a point of ascension, with a new power of self-direction and insight and have the ability to harmonise opposing vibrations.
The consciousness of this descending harmony and peace has a wonderful effect upon our mental disposition and its increasing momentum enables us to achieve swiftly and one pointedly the tasks allotted to them.
Indeed, it is only at the stage of development that we come to realise the true strength and beauty of mental action and create after the law of the spiritual man and woman.
Up until this moment, we were very much at the mercy of the mind; it reigned over us with the authority of a tyrant; we were marshalled hither and thither at the behest of thought and often involved by it in pitiful uncertainty and confusion.
But the dawn of the sense of impersonality reverses this condition of affairs. We consciously and deliberately impose the will of the ego upon the activities of the various faculties with striking results. The immense possibilities therefore which open before the aspirant who has entered upon this personal conquest are obvious.
The difficult road ahead
The prolonged and conscientious labour necessary to developing a proficiency in any art or science is no less requisite here.
There is a definite point in evolution when we become acutely conscious that we must come to judgement within, investigate and understand the opposing factors in ourselves and devote ourselves seriously to the task of self-discipline.
Even this preliminary self-cognition brings reflections of not the happiest kind. We have travelled along the path of least resistance and taken life much as it came; we have not felt it necessary to regard too critically the swift stream of thought and emotion, the action and reaction of these upon self and others.
But with this awakening, the sense of security vanishes. The stable centre of consciousness around which our life formerly revolved and to which all our activities were related, becomes decentralised.
It is a law of occult science that an expansion of consciousness induced by the dawn of spiritual truth produces pain and unrest. It is at this point that we realise the great responsibility devolving upon us to take up the task of self-conquest and establish the power of the ego as the dominant factor in our life in the interest of evolution.
This initial trial of the occult life requires an act of judgement of a very extraordinary character.
The way of the (Bhagavad) Gita seems to enforce this thought: it shows the distinctive method used in preparation. It was not a single lesson easily taught which imparted the qualifications for recognition, nor was it immediately received and understood. The teaching was many-sided, each presentation lifting one veil after another and causing one vice and weakness after another to pass from the pupil, until we have his final words at the moment of complete realisation:
“Destroyed is my delusion. I have gained knowledge through thy grace.”
It is only upon completion of this cycle of growth, where the bodies have, as it were, taken the depth of human experience and been raised to a new power, that it is possible to perform action, dwelling in union with the divine, renouncing attachment and balanced evenly in success and failure.
The slaying of the self is a distinctly personal matter. I believe no two students will deal with it in precisely the same way. One finds success through a complete expression of the personal powers; another adopts the method of withdrawal in a total denial of the self. Many fail here in a wise discrimination. They assume that they are not and cease to be natural; whereas the true disciple, with the touch of the Master within him, should be as simple, natural and expressive as Nature herself.
There should be something so intensely human and spontaneously affectionate in him that wherever he goes there is immediate recognition and understanding on his part of every contact and a certain response from all to him.
But whatever the method the student chooses, the problem remains the same; the initial trial is the same; the same qualifications are essential to meet it. And every method has its price.
For the disciplined self to move among sense objects with senses free from attraction and repulsion; to be mastered by the Self and enter into spiritual peace wherein is the extinction of all pain; this is not a light task or the effort of a day.