Difficulties & Victories on The Path of Discipleship

This article was published under the title “The Path of Discipleship” in the March 1923 issue of “Theosophy,” the monthly magazine published by the Parent Lodge of the United Lodge of Theosophists in Los Angeles.

In keeping with the ULT’s policy of impersonality and anonymity, the article was unsigned. We therefore have no idea who may have written it and, even if we did know the name of the author, it may not mean anything to us, as many ULT writers over the decades have deliberately avoided becoming famous or prominent names within the Theosophical Movement.

What is clear, however, is that the writer can only have been speaking from deep personal experience of some of the primary difficulties and victories encountered on the path that eventually leads an aspirant to becoming a chela (disciple) of Those who we call the Masters, the Masters of Wisdom, the Adepts, the Mahatmas.

Whilst there are many students of Theosophy who do not possess such an aspiration – and this is perfectly fine – we trust that articles such as this and Chelas and Chelaship and Assimilation to The Masters will help to encourage, sustain, and inspire them in their journey which must, whether in this or some future life, lead them to the sacred goal of becoming a true helper of humanity, a selfless and effective server of the human race, working consciously and in harmony with that hidden esoteric Brotherhood which guides and watches over the spiritual evolution and advancement of mankind.

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It has been written that to know what a Disciple knows is one thing, but to be a Disciple is quite another. Disciples are not some people selected by a Guru, or Teacher, to the exclusion of other people. But in our day Disciples are those who elect to become so – sincere students who devote themselves to a teaching with such a degree of earnestness that, under the Law of their own being, they compel the attention of the Teacher of that teaching, and thus put themselves into a certain relation with that Teacher.

The Disciple may or may not be aware of the fact that he has become one. During the earlier stages of his discipleship he will rarely be aware even that the Teacher exists. The strength of the relationship between Disciple and teaching, and thus with the Teacher, varies directly with the devotion of the Disciple. This is not to be gauged by the degree of emotion displayed by Disciple, nor by his so-called “love” for the teaching or the Teacher. It is expressed:

first, in the persistency of his efforts to study and understand the teaching;

second, in the earnestness of his attempts to impart that teaching, or make it available, to others;

third, by the intensity of his exertions to abandon his own personal ideas in regard to himself, the teaching, and others, and substitute therefor an embodiment of the teaching itself.”

The attention of the student is first awakened by himself to the necessity of effort in the directions indicated, in the order set down above; but if any considerable degree of accomplishment is to be registered in department two, the Path indicated by department three must be entered. Indeed, nothing more than a mere intellectual dilettantism even in department one is possible without acceptation of, and efforts put forth along the lines indicated in departments two and three.

Recognition of the truth of the foregoing comes to the average student gradually. To some, however, it comes as an awakening, a shock. This is because such a moment has been faced in the past, in some prior incarnation when a choice was made – just as a choice has to be made in this one. The student sees, or vaguely senses, that a time for evaluations has arrived for him: he will go on, or he will remain where he already is. But the latter course is impossible, because nothing in Nature can stand still. It is go on, or go back, although but few recognize the necessity, either way. Most students elect to “stand still,” and so begin to go back, finally dropping out of the ranks as the circumstances of life appear to compel events – it is the easiest way. Those who elect to go on, thereby and at the moment become Disciples. That is what is meant by the saying: Disciples elect themselves.

After the temporary elation that flows from the choice made – the “election” – what does the newly constituted Disciple confront? He confronts depression and discouragement: to put it more exactly, depression and discouragement confront him. For a time the joy of his definite acceptation of responsibilities enfolds and energizes him. He studies hard; he attends meetings, perhaps taking an active part in them; he “meditates” much; he experiences a sort of personal elevation arising from the correction of some small faults and a feeling that he is not as other men. He exudes an unconscious self-righteousness, proselytising unwisely and undiplomatically those whom he contacts in daily life, attacking other religions and philosophies, and “speaking out” heroically and with over-emphasis when silence would better serve his cause. He calls attention to his exertions. This phase lasts for a shorter or longer time, depending upon the individual Disciple – his nature, environment, the strength of his personality, his relations with other students. But sooner or later, if he is sincere and persistent, a vast and progressive discouragement comes on. The cause of this he attributes to others, to conditions, to anything but the true cause. But at last the overwhelming realization slowly dawns upon him that the cause of his depression is registered in – himself.

This phase of Discipleship may last for the remainder of the present incarnation. It does with some. It may last for a lesser time. The duration of the period of discouragement and depression is directly related to the degree of honesty the Disciple can bring to bear upon his situation, and to the growing clarity of his perceptions which result therefrom. But the metaphysical climate is very foggy. It will remain so until the causes of the depression experienced are sought out, analyzed, and a rectification set into motion. They are always inside the Disciple – never outside.

And if the fog is to be lifted he must do something. What form this action is to take must be discovered by the Disciple for himself; self-devised and self-induced exertions are the only ones that will raise him above his own miasmic creation, into the sunshine of peace and cheer and clear-seeing. How does a physical fog at last become dissipated? The winds scatter it and the sun soon burns it up. So only can the metaphysical fog of the Disciple be lifted: by the winds of self-induced and self-devised exertions, and the hot and burning power of the Warrior within, the metaphysical Sun – which is Himself.

It is like “lifting oneself by one’s own boot-straps,” for the power is exerted from above. But it can be done, because it has been done by others. Only because the Disciple has reached the stage where he recognizes that others have been, and passed on, will he be able to arouse that intensity of will to bestir himself from his despondency and burst the chrysalis of the personal idea, which is the fog-producing element. That is how other Disciples who have pursued and reached the end of the Path we are treading help us: by impelling from above. Thus all evolution is impelled and directed; and treading the Path by each Disciple is but a picture in small of the course of evolution in the large – an unfolding from within outwards, the evolution of Soul.

“Arouse, arouse within thyself the meaning of ‘That thou art’.” “Wherefore, O Arjuna, resolve to fight.” “Fogs always lift.” Such are some of the phrases, pregnant with meaning, that others down the ages, once Themselves Disciples, have left for us to lay hold of in this modern day, and make the rungs of a ladder on which we may climb to the free spaces. “What kind of a Hell do you think you are in? The corresponding Heaven is very near.” “I think, Arjuna dear, that Ishwara is near, very near.” So goes the teaching. [Note: A few of these quotations are recognisable as being quoted or paraphrased from the writings of Robert Crosbie and William Q. Judge and one is from the Bhagavad Gita, while others are untraceable.]

Therefore the battle-cry of the befogged Disciple in his struggle to arouse himself must be: WORK – WORK FOR OTHERS – WORK FOR OTHERS, WITH OTHERS. Says the mighty Krishna:

“I am the origin of all; all things proceed from me; believing me to be thus, the wise gifted with spiritual wisdom worship me; their very hearts and minds are in me; enlightening one another and constantly speaking of me, they are full of enjoyment and satisfaction. To them thus always devoted to me, who worship me with love, I give that mental devotion by which they come to me. For them do I out of my compassion, standing within their hearts, destroy the darkness which springs from ignorance by the brilliant lamp of spiritual discernment.” [From Chapter 10 of the Bhagavad Gita, William Q. Judge rendition, p. 71 in the Theosophy Company edition]

Nobody ever traverses the Path completely alone. Nobody ever emerges above the fog alone. Help is needed – companions to hail and be hailed by – not now seen clearly perhaps because of present darkness, but sensed, heard, felt, and partially understood. Now we see but the masks, the personalities. Bright and shining being are within.

We have no Companions at present? We are standing all alone? Let those who think so wake up and look about them. Who are these other divine fragments which surround us and form the race to which we belong? Perhaps directly beside us is another struggling unit like ourselves – perhaps not. But let us be assured: if we will make ourselves ready, if we make the intense effort with the true motive of helping the others, Companions will inevitably be found.

Then will the words of Krishna be justified in our present lives: “enlightening one another and constantly speaking of me, they are full of enjoyment and satisfaction.”

Then will the depression and discouragement fade away.

Follows a tremendous busy-ness for the Disciple; expressed in terms of devotion. But this devotion is of a deeper kind than was the devotion evidenced by himself when first he entered, all unaware perhaps, the Path of Discipleship. In fact, the order is now reversed. This real devotion is now expressed:

first, by the intensity of his exertions to abandon his own personal ideas in regard to himself, the teaching, and others, and substitute therefor an embodiment of the teaching itself;

second, in the earnestness of his attempts to impart that teaching, or make it available, to others;

third, in the persistency of his efforts to study and understand the teaching.”

But now there are no separate “departments,” as there were in that former day: department one includes departments two and three; department two includes departments one and three; department three includes departments one and two. They are all ONE, and coincident – not consecutive. And the Disciple is one with them, for they are his life.

Such is the Path of Discipleship, leading through the teaching to the Teacher. Its reality is a fact in Nature. Nobody ever passed that way without bitter complaint. To traverse it is to become a Christ, and One with many Christs.

“The future then, for each, will come from each present moment. As we use the moment so we shift the future up or down for good or ill; for the future being only a word for the present – not yet come – we have to see to the present more than all. If the present is full of doubt or vacillation, so will be the future; if full of confidence, calmness, hope, courage and intelligence, thus also will be the future.” [William Q. Judge, “Letters That Have Helped Me” p. 71]

“Enter the Path! There is no grief like Hate!
No pains like passions, no deceit like sense!
Enter the Path far hath he gone whose foot
Treads down one fond offence.

“Enter the Path! There spring the healing streams
Quenching all thirst! there bloom th’ immortal flowers
Carpeting all the way with joy! there throng
Swiftest and sweetest hours!” [from “The Light of Asia,” a poetic rendition of the life and teachings of Buddha by Sir Edwin Arnold]


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