Notes for a talk presented at the Blavatsky
Weekend, Tekels Park, 11 March 2001
"So cling not to that which was but look at what
is to be" (O Lanoo! ~ Epilogue)
When I was a businessman, in what now seems
like an earlier incarnation, I used to travel regularly
to the USA. Our headquarters over there were just outside
Philadelphia. When I had time (which wasn't often) I liked
to drive out to the part of the countryside known as Pennsylvania
Dutch, the home of a farming community called the Amish.
You might have seen Harrison Ford in the movie Witness
depicting Amish community life.
The Amish were German settlers who, back
in the early part of the 18th century, decided that modern
life wasn't for them, and they turned their back on any
invention more modern than the button. They still drive
by pony and trap, dress in sober clothes (without buttons!)
and shun electrical luxuries like televisions. Although
we are talking about a number of villages over quite a
large area, there is a strong sense of community. If something
needs doing, like building a new timber barn, everyone
joins in. They have retained traditional values which
in many ways are far more attractive than modern values.
Which is the whole point. The essence of Amish life is
maintaining traditional values. Consequently, within this
large area of 21st century Pennsylvania, crime, violence
and vandalism are almost unknown ~ except as perpetrated
by outsiders, or 'English' as they still refer to people
from Philadelphia. But is this social experiment a success?
Not really. The Amish communities are dying.
The young are being drawn more and more into modern America,
to the bright lights, the Internet, the excitement of
travel, the challenge of modern careers. Why did it fail?
The Amish set themselves against nature.
They didn't recognise that everything in nature is in
a state of evolution. The Amish thought it was enough
just to be, but nothing is static; everything is in the
process of 'becoming'. And so they became ~ they became
an anachronism, and like the Shakers they will probably
So what has this got to do with Theosophy?
Everything. The whole story of God, Mankind and the Universe
is about 'becoming', and something can only 'become' out
of the essence of what is already there. By trying to
maintain traditional values, rather than develop them,
the Amish sowed the seeds of their own failure. As with
yesterday, we are concerned with essence, but this morning
I want to talk about the evolution of essence, or becoming.
Even the Universe could only 'become' out
of the essence of the universe contained in the 'Long
Night of Rest'. HPB tells us over and over: "as above,
so below". We are given many opportunities to watch
what is happening elsewhere so that we can apply it to
other things. As Geoffrey Farthing will tell you, our
greatest teacher is Nature. If we study nature we should
not be surprised by anything, because we human beings
are governed by natural laws. Even the Law of Karma is
a natural law. If nothing is static we should not expect
our lives to be static. If everything evolves we should
not assume that our evolution has stopped. If every action
sets up a chain reaction we should expect each of our
actions to have a consequence. If I drink too much, get
up in the morning with a hangover, frighten my children
over breakfast, crash the car on the way to work, I can
expect the chain of consequences to go on and on. I may
not be able to anticipate their precise nature, but I
would be a fool to think there won't be any.
It is natural for us to become something
else. The more we understand this very natural phenomenon
the easier it is for us to accept change in our lives.
If we sit on the shore by the Sea of Time and try to stop
the tide from coming in we will have no more success that
King Canute. In most cases what we are responding to is
fear ~ fear that we won't be able to cope with change.
We become comfortable, even with unpleasant things, and
we like the familiarity. We want to hang on to the things
that make us comfortable ~ our possessions, our relationships,
our roles, our identities. Then we become over-attached
to these things, setting up a Karmic vibration that ensures
the fear of change becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Whatever we do, though, we can't stop change.
In the above example we become comfortable, we become
over-attached, and then we become distressed when (as
is inevitable) we lose the objects of our attachment.
None of this 'becoming' has been in our control, but as
we gain in wisdom we should be able to influence the nature
of our becoming.
So what is there to understand? What we
are today came out of our actions yesterday. Our essence
is a seed which when nurtured will grow, but our actions
are also seeds, and liken weeds, they can stunt the growth
of our essence. Unaware actions are governed by our emotions,
and so we need to understand our essence and we need to
become aware of our actions. Going back to Geoffrey Farthing's
model for everything ~ Nature ~ the young apple tree has
within it the essence of fruit-bearing. If the right actions
are brought to bear (in this case, beyond the control
of the unaware tree) ~ rainfall, sunshine, heat, nutrients,
pruning, then the tree will become laden with fruit; apples,
not pears or anything else, because that is the nature
or essence of an apple tree. Unlike the tree we have the
capability of bringing the right actions to bear at the
So what does this mean in our everyday lives?
Common advice is to take time to just 'be'. After all,
we are human beings, not human doings! But this is just
the beginning of four stages.
1. Whilst meditating, or being, try to identify
our inner essence.
2. Take time to recognise the broad chain of events that
led to where we are now.
3. Identify the direction our lives must take from here
to give our inner essence greater fulfilment.
4. Be aware of our thoughts and actions, and try to encourage
those that move us in the right direction.
I am a great believer in 'direction. Many
problems are so big that we cannot imagine a solution,
and so we tear our hair and rant and rave and the problem
becomes even bigger. But if we can identify some of the
steps that will begin to reduce the problem we don't need
to imagine the whole solution ~ that will become obvious
along the way. If you are planning a trip to a small town
in up-state New York you need to be quite specific about
check-in arrangements and departure time at Heathrow,
but you only need a general idea of buses and trains that
will take you up-state. And you don't even have to think
about the cab that will take you the last few miles. You
can deal with those matters as the journey unfolds.
The Essence of Becoming
Last night I suggested a definition of our
essence: "Nurturing spiritual growth in self whilst
encouraging and facilitating spiritual growth in others"
The essence of becoming involves looking
at our each and every thought and action and deciding:
does this thought or action lead to spiritual growth in
me or someone else? If it doesn't, why do it? If it does,
do it with love and an open heart. As simple as that.
Well, not that simple. We inhabit these physical bodies
which bump around on this physical plane, and so we have
to do a certain amount of housekeeping and maintenance
which in themselves might not seem to have anything to
do with spiritual growth. So we might have to divert a
little time to seeing to our physical needs as part of
our daily practice. And we shouldn't neglect our emotional
needs. Joy can be a great source of spiritual strength.
When you watch the Dalai Lama giving a talk or being interviewed,
just notice how much laughter there is. Sometimes we can
have fun just for the sake of having fun.
So what of the bigger picture? We are individuals
(temporarily) and we are doing our best to achieve spiritual
growth in ourselves and in others by right thoughts, right
actions, etc. I know that Buddhists like to break this
down into eight 'rights', or the eight-fold path, but
thoughts and actions cover most sins. And by using the
word 'thoughts' I am not suggesting we have to be clever
thinkers, it is more about opening our hearts.
Hopefully, then, as individuals we are growing
spiritually, but what about the wider community? What
is the world becoming? With all the floods, famine, war
and pestilence, it feels like all the disaster movies
ever made. But that is probably inevitable, as the human
population continues to grow and more and more people
compete for the same land and resources, and we set up
more chain reactions that affect the environment. If this
trend continues, then like the Atlanteans before us we
may destroy ourselves. Trends can be reversed, and HPB
suggests that our Race is not destined to go the way of
Atlantis. But we cannot rely on prophecy ~ we have to
work to achieve our destiny. If we fail then we might,
despite the predictions, contrive to destroy ourselves.
One other thing to note is that the world
is becoming smaller, and instant communication is reaching
more and more people. It took several hundred years for
the message of Jesus to travel beyond a continent, but
if the President of the USA makes a speech, within minutes
it will appear on millions of television and computer
screens all over the world. If we are not happy with what
the world is becoming, and we want to help the world become
a better place, we can take advantage of this technology
to spread the message.
Why did HPB write The Secret Doctrine? Why
did the Masters think it was such a vital mission that
they prolonged her life? Why was the Society formed? Was
it simply to preserve the teachings? Surely it had to
be more than that. The teachings were already preserved
~ they had been since Atlantis, since Lemuria. It boils
down to two facts:
1. Before the SD the teachings were preserved
2. After the SD the teachings were in the public domain.
I can draw only one conclusion: The Masters had decided
that humankind was ready to receive the teachings.
I believe that the Theosophical Society
was formed to play a part in the salvation of the world.
It has been entrusted with the Wisdom of the Ancients.
What are we doing with it? Studying it. Fine, but what
else? What is the Society becoming? Like the Amish of
Pennsylvania, it is becoming old. Are we, like the Amish,
simply trying to preserve what we have? If the Society
fails then HPB's sacrifice could have been in vain. We
must be vibrant, develop, evolve. We must continue what
HPB started: making the Ancient Wisdom more accessible,
more understandable, more available.
In the last few years a number of web sites
have appeared promoting the teachings of Blavatsky, and
this is a start. But for the most part they are aimed
at students of theosophy. Somehow, we have to put theosophical
ideas into the mainstream. HPB started the process by
publishing what had been occult for millennia. But her
words, however beautiful and meaningful, are not reaching
the man in the street. We have to stop thinking of ourselves
as guardians of the teachings. We have to teach, by passing
on those ideas in simple form; in parable, poetry, newspaper
articles, pop songs, plays, and by example in whatever
way we can. Somehow, some way, we need to get these ideas
into millions of hearts all over the world. Not just as
a single Divine Message of Cosmic Importance, which might
simply be rejected, but by sowing the seeds of the divine
message as we go through life. These seeds will bear many
flowers: reincarnation, karma, unity, immortality, etc.
And don't stop to wonder if the ground is fertile or stony;
these flowers are quite hardy, and can bloom in the most
The Collective Unconscious
There is a story about potatoes and 100
monkeys. I'm not sure whether it's true or apocryphal,
but never mind. A troupe of monkeys had managed to survive
on a small island, even though there was not much in the
way of traditional food. Their staple diet was potatoes.
A troupe of scientists thought it would be helpful to
study the monkeys to see what they could learn about adaptation.
So for several months they observed the monkeys grubbing
about for potatoes, eating them and spitting out the soil.
One of the scientists thought he would help by washing
the dirt off a few potatoes, and this became a daily routine.
Sure enough, the monkeys showed a preference for clean
potatoes, and one monkey in particular watched the scientist
closely. Eventually, the scientist was amazed to see this
monkey digging up potatoes, taking them to the river and
washing them. After a few weeks some of the other monkeys
started doing the same, and soon the entire troupe of
about 100 monkeys washed their potatoes before eating
them. Then the scientists had a call from another group
of observers on a neighbouring island. "We've just
seen the darnedest thing ~ the monkeys here have started
washing their potatoes!" In other words, it takes
100 monkeys for a message to become embedded in the collective
Unfortunately, we humans are no longer so
in tune with the collective, and we have to work a bit
harder on more mundane levels. But there are 30,000 theosophists.
Surely we can achieve what 100 monkeys achieved!
At the summer school in Ripon last year
I referred to the font of knowledge in Tibet, which the
lamas kept to themselves by making it almost impossible
for outsiders to even visit the county. It took a Chinese
invasion to spread Tibetan Buddhism far and wide. Let's
not wait for an external force to break down the barriers
of our Society.
Messengers of the Gods
We set ourselves up as an elite brotherhood,
and so I am reluctant to stroke our collective egos by
calling us "Messengers of the Gods". Perhaps
"Messenger Boys" is a better description.
My message to you is that the Secret Doctrine
is not something to be frightened of. Roll up your sleeves
and get stuck in. We talk about needing keys to unlock
the Secret Doctrine, but the SD is itself the key ~ the
key to unlocking the secrets of our lives. It doesn't
matter that you don't understand every word, every passage.
Read with an open heart and some of the teachings will
lodge in your heart. And then share your knowledge, your
wisdom, not just in your lodge, in the Society, but in
every walk of life. Carry on the work started by HPB.