The Theosophy Company edition, available from the United Lodge of Theosophists, includes the original unaltered text from 1885 (which was edited in a number of ways in Theosophical Society editions) along with a series of four explanatory articles about the book’s teachings, first published in H. P. Blavatsky’s “Lucifer” magazine in September-November 1887 and January 1888.
Although written down by Mabel Collins, an English Theosophist, the book – and also the “Lucifer” articles – was inspired by One who used a triangle – △ – as his symbolic signature.
HPB explained in a footnote in “The Voice of the Silence” that “The △ is the sign of the high chelas, while another kind of triangle is that of high Initiates.” (p. 79, original 1889 edition) That other kind of triangle is the ∴ symbol, which HPB was authorised to include after her own name or signature, as she sometimes did.
“High chelas” and “High Initiates” are both disciples of the Masters of Wisdom and in fact they are both initiates, albeit the former of a lower stage or degree and the latter of a higher one. High Initiates are Adepts but are not necessarily Mahatmas, as “Adept” and “Mahatma” are not strictly synonymous terms. A Mahatma is indeed an Adept but an Adept is not always a Mahatma, for a Mahatma is a very high level of Adept. To us, however, someone who is still a “high chela” or △ is essentially an Adept, due to their being so far ahead of us in their inner evolution and initiatory development.
HPB identified the inspirer of “Light on the Path” as “a Greek, though no Mahatma but an Adept . . . one who became an adept only in 1886,” i.e. the year after the book was published. This was, as she and others stated, the Greek-Cypriot Adept known as Illarion, Illarion Smerdis, or the Master Hilarion.
In inspiring “Light on the Path,” however, he was not producing a book of his own words but was in fact rendering into English some sentences and aphorisms from the Book of the Golden Precepts, as HPB stated in a letter in 1889. This still publicly unknown esoteric text was later translated from in greater length and detail by HPB, under the title “The Voice of the Silence.” “The Voice of the Silence” and “Light on the Path” are, in a sense, companion volumes and can be studied together with great benefit.
“Light on the Path” struck Indian scholars with its beauty and potency to such an extent that it was translated into the ancient sacerdotal language of Sanskrit in 1888! Announcing this, in the December 1888 “Lucifer,” HPB said, “This little book – a true jewel – belongs to, and emanates from the same school of Indo-Aryan and Buddhist thought and learning as the teachings in The Secret Doctrine.”
The book itself is in two parts, each consisting of 21 “Rules.” But it starts, on p. 1, with four unnumbered Rules, regarding which the Master goes on to say –
“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.” (p. 31)
“The first four rules of “Light on the Path” are, undoubtedly, curious though the statement may seem, the most important in the whole book, save one only.” (p. 45)
“The four rules stand written in the great chamber of every actual lodge of a living Brotherhood.” (p. 46)
“The four rules which I have written down for those in the West who wish to study them, are as I have said, written in the ante-chamber of every living Brotherhood; I may add more, in the ante-chamber of every living or dead Brotherhood, or Order yet to be formed.” (p. 63)
What are they? We would do well to remember them and to remind ourselves of them often.
First: “Before the eyes can see, they must be incapable of tears.”
Second: “Before the ear can hear, it must have lost its sensitiveness.”
Third: “Before the voice can speak in the presence of the Masters it must have lost the power to wound.”
Fourth: “Before the soul can stand in the presence of the Masters its feet must be washed in the blood of the heart.”
Those statements, and the book as a whole, are not intended for the general public, nor even for everyone with an interest in spirituality, although of course anyone can derive at least a little inspiration from some of its passages.
“All the rules contained in “Light on the Path,” are written for all disciples, but only for disciples – those who “take knowledge.” To none else but the student in this school are its laws of use or interest.” (p. 34) The same holds true for “The Voice of the Silence,” which HPB specifies is “for the daily use of Lanoos (Disciples)” and “DEDICATED TO THE FEW.” One does not have to already be an accepted disciple of the Masters before making use of these books; as soon as anyone seriously, earnestly, and humbly, aspires to become such, these books are for them, and to use and apply to whatever extent they currently feel capable.
Those four Rules are not meant to be understood and interpreted in a literalistic and material sense. Although the third appears fairly straightforward in its meaning, the others require more intuition in order to comprehend them. “The whole of “Light on the Path” is written in an astral cipher,” we read on p. 33, “and can therefore only be deciphered by one who reads astrally.”
The first two of those Rules one will also find expressed on p. 2 of “The Voice of the Silence”:
“Before the soul can see, the Harmony within must be attained, and fleshly eyes be rendered blind to all illusion.
“Before the Soul can hear, the image (man) has to become as deaf to roarings as to whispers, to cries of bellowing elephants as to the silvery buzzing of the golden fire-fly.”
“The senses spoken of in these four statements are the astral, or inner senses,” says the Master on p. 35.
“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, . . . it does not mean the deadness of old age, . . . None of these conditions [i.e. an inability to feel any sorrow or an emotional deadness] are fit for a disciple, and if any one of them exist 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; . . .
“If grief, dismay, disappointment or pleasure, can shake the soul so that it loses its fixed hold on the calm spirit which inspires it, and the moisture of life breaks forth, drowning knowledge in sensation, then all is blurred, the windows are darkened, the light is useless. . . .
“The first four aphorisms of “Light on the Path” refer entirely to astral development. This development must be accomplished to a certain extent – that is to say it must be fully entered upon – before the remainder of the book is really intelligible except to the intellect; in fact, before it can be read as a practical, not a metaphysical treatise.
“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 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.” (p. 37-41)
It may be asked why anyone would wish to undergo such a trial as that, or to open the astral senses in the first place.
The motive in Theosophy is not one’s own liberation or one’s own powers; on the contrary, it is the wish to be of the utmost possible help and service to humanity, to become a true and equipped Server of the human race, to consciously, directly, and practically, aid the Great Ones in Their compassionate and selfless work. It is the Bodhisattva Ideal, the Way of the Buddhas of Compassion.
But one does not and cannot become such straightaway. To start with there are preliminary initiations and preliminary steps, beginning in the ordinary circumstances of one’s everyday life and the “Daily Initiation” that invariably arises therein.
Those who wish to know more are encouraged to read the book and other books of the original Theosophical literature (see the Books on Theosophy page) for themselves.
One of the main aims of the present article is to draw attention to the following information . . .
The nature of the sacred undertaking of chelas and would-be chelas is a process of ASSIMILATION. HPB wrote in a letter, published posthumously in the article “She Being Dead Yet Speaketh,” that she could not see Theosophists succeeding “unless you assimilate Master or myself; unless you work with me and THEM, hand in hand.” Likewise, William Q. Judge writes, with special italicised emphasis, “Those who can to any extent assimilate the Master, to that extent they are the representatives of the Master, and have the help of the Lodge in its work.” (“Letters That Have Helped Me” p. 113)
How can one begin to do such a thing? How does one start to enter the current which leads to assimilation to the Masters? To “assimilate” is to integrate, to enter into, to blend with, to make a permanent part of. It does not happen through just hoping or wishing that it will one day happen. That does not work. One actually has to do something, both inwardly and outwardly. The only claim one can have on the Masters and Teachers is the claim of co-nature. “Light on the Path” explains:
“The disciple . . . cannot send his voice up to the heights where sit the gods till he has penetrated to the deep places where their light shines not at all. He has come within the grip of an iron law. If he demands to become a neophyte he at once becomes a servant. Yet his service is sublime, if only from the character of those who share it. For the masters are also servants; . . . Part of their service is to let their knowledge touch him; his first act of service is to give some of that knowledge to those who are not yet fit to stand where he stands. This is no arbitrary decision, made by any master or teacher or any such person, however divine. It is a law of that life which the disciple has entered upon.” (p. 65)
How is one to give to others some of the Knowledge that he or she has already been given through the Theosophical teachings? That is for each person to work out for themselves. Not everyone is suited or has the physical opportunity to work or give talks at a ULT (United Lodge of Theosophists) Lodge; not everyone is suited for writing articles or books; not everyone is equipped to translate the Theosophical teachings into different languages; not everyone has the ability or time to set up and manage a Theosophical website or to create YouTube videos; not everyone is able to start a Theosophical study group in the area where they live; and so there must be other ways of doing it than these but these are certainly some of the methods which can have effect and can make a big difference in the lives and journeys – and, most importantly, the minds and hearts – of many people. By giving this type of help to our fellow human beings, we are giving help to the Masters and Their Work.
“If help is given, if work is done, then there is an actual claim – not what we call a personal claim of payment, but the claim of co-nature. The divine give, they demand that you also shall give before you can be of their kin.” (p. 66)
They may be Masters but They need a certain type of assistance too:
“Some works can only be performed by the Master, while other works require the assistance of the companions. It is the Master’s work to preserve the true philosophy, but the help of the companions is needed to rediscover and promulgate it. Once more the elder brothers have indicated where the truth – Theosophy – could be found, and the companions all over the world are engaged in bringing it forth for wider currency and propagation.” (William Q. Judge, “The Ocean of Theosophy” p. 6)
The real Author of “Light on the Path” goes on to refer to “the news that there is knowledge and a beneficent power which teaches.” That is indeed news for many people in today’s world, i.e. the concept that Truth exists and that there are “Those who know” and, further, that “Those who know” are endeavouring to enable us to become “knowers” also.
Yes, “No disciple can cross the threshold without communicating this news, and placing it on record, in some fashion or other.”
And for those who may fear that in their efforts to do this they have not done it very well, the Master adds some encouraging words: “He stands horror-struck at the imperfect and unprepared manner in which he has done this; and then comes the desire to do it well, and with the desire thus to help others comes the power. For it is a pure desire, this which comes upon him; he can gain no credit, no glory, no personal reward by fulfilling it. And therefore he obtains the power to fulfil it.” (p. 67-68)
Some might say, “I do want to give help and do work for the great Theosophical Cause but I don’t want to try to become a chela/disciple of the Masters, I know I’m not ready for that and I know I don’t have what it takes, at least not yet anyway.”
Those who think and say such things have immeasurably more of “what it takes” than those who confidently believe that they are ready and prepared and well-equipped for chelaship. The genuinely humble soul, who is vividly aware of their own shortcomings and weaknesses, stands a far better chance of succeeding in reaching the Masters than one who foolishly imagines that he or she is already advanced and well developed.
But of course there is no obligation or expectation on anyone to decide to take the definite step of trying to become a chela; however, for those who have taken such a step, the above passages from “Light on the Path” may serve as a useful reminder and guide, whilst for those who have not but who wish to work for the Masters’ Cause anyway, these passages should help them to realise that in doing such selfless and altruistic work they are in fact making their future path of chelaship much easier and smoother for themselves, through already doing what in some respects is “chela work.”
“Light on the Path” also says:
“In the various great cities of the world an adept lives for a while from time to time, or perhaps only passes through; but all are occasionally aided by the actual presence and power of one of these men. Here in London, as in Paris and St. Petersburg, there are men high in development. But they are only known as mystics by those who have the power to recognise; the power given by the conquering of self. Otherwise how could they exist, even for an hour, in such a mental and psychic atmosphere as is created by the confusion and disorder of a city? Unless protected and made safe their own growth would be interfered with, their work injured. And the neophyte may meet an adept in the flesh, may live in the same house with him, and yet be unable to recognise him, and unable to make his own voice heard by him. For no nearness in space, no closeness of relations, no daily intimacy, can do away with the inexorable laws which give the adept his seclusion. No voice penetrates to his inner hearing till it has become a divine voice, a voice which gives no utterance to the cries of self. . . . Until a man has become, in heart and spirit, a disciple, he has no existence for those who are teachers of disciples. And he becomes this by one method only – the surrender of his personal humanity. For the voice to have lost the power to wound [Note: this is referring to the Third Rule, “Before the voice can speak in the presence of the Masters it must have lost the power to wound.”], a man must have reached that point where he sees himself only as one of the vast multitudes that live; one of the sands washed hither and thither by the sea of vibratory existence.” (p. 74-75)
Few are those reading these words who are likely to meet an Adept face to face in this life, on the physical plane, but there are some who may well at some point in this very lifetime meet actual chelas of the Adepts, and, if so, let us hope that by that time we are sufficiently inwardly prepared and have taken sufficient steps to be able to recognise them (remember, a real one will never directly say that they are one!) and to be able to consciously help them whilst also being helped by them.
Let us recall, no disciple can cross the threshold without giving to humanity, and placing on record, some of this Divine Wisdom of Theosophy. Does this eternal principle not shed some light on the nature of the book “Light on the Path,” that it was a gift to us from an advanced disciple who then the following year (as said earlier, in the quote from HPB) was enabled to advance even further, becoming in 1886 an Adept?
From one perspective it is quite simple:
BE A LIGHT WHERE THE MASTERS’ LIGHT SHINES NOT.
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