The small but potent book “Light on the Path” has been known to many – Theosophists and others – for more than a century. Transcribed by Mabel Collins, who said she received the text by inspiration from an Adept, it was affirmed by H. P. Blavatsky that the Adept was he who is known as “Hilarion,” and that parts of the text were in fact derived from the same “Book of the Golden Precepts” as “The Voice of the Silence” (see “The Voice of the Silence” – An Authentic Buddhist Text).
A subsequent book from Collins, titled “Through The Gates of Gold,” met with a less positive response from HPB. At the very start of the book, Collins wrote:
“Once, as I sat alone writing, a mysterious Visitor entered my study unannounced, and stood beside me. I forgot to ask who he was, or why he entered so unceremoniously, for he began to tell me of the Gates of Gold. He spoke from knowledge, and from the fire of his speech I caught faith. I have written down his words; but alas, I cannot hope that the fire shall burn as brightly in my writing as in his speech.”
In a June 1889 pamphlet titled “To All Theosophists,” HPB happened to mention this book and described it as “so inferior to Light on the Path or the Idyll of the White Lotus, that no devotee would ever think of claiming as its author a “Master.”” In the same month, in a letter sent to and published in the Spiritualist magazine “Light” she spoke of “Through the Gates of Gold – the third, and, when contrasted with Light on the Path, rather weak Theosophical production [i.e. of Mabel Collins].”
She does however show her willingness to quote from it, in her posthumously published “Eastern and Western Occultism,” saying “the remarks of the author of Through the Gates of Gold may be quoted owing to their clearness and simplicity.”
William Q. Judge, HPB’s closest friend (“my only friend” she repeatedly called him) and co-founder of the modern Theosophical Movement, was more enthusiastic.
In an article simply titled “Through the Gates of Gold” in the March 1887 issue of “The Path” magazine, just after the book had been first published, he stated:
“Though the author’s name is withheld, the occult student will quickly discern that it must proceed from a very high source. In certain respects the book may be regarded as a commentary on Light on the Path. The reader would do well to bear this in mind. Many things in that book will be made clear by the reading of this one, and one will be constantly reminded of that work, which has already become a classic in our literature. Through the Gates of Gold is a work to be kept constantly at hand for reference and study. It will surely take rank as one of the standard books of Theosophy. . . .
“Those of us who have been longing for something “practical” will find it here . . . There are also doubtless many, we fancy, who will be carried far along in its pages by its resistless logic until they encounter something which will give a rude shock to some of their old conceptions, which they have imagined as firmly based as upon a rock – a shock which may cause them to draw back in alarm, but from which they will not find it so easy to recover, and which will be likely to set them thinking seriously. . . .
“At the outset we must cope with sensation and learn its nature and meaning. An important teaching of Light on the Path has been misread by many. We are not enjoined to kill out sensation, but to “kill out desire for sensation,” which is something quite different. . . .
“The book closes gloriously, with some hints that have been much needed. Too many, even of the sincerest students of occultism, have sought to ignore that one-half of their nature, which is here taught to be necessary. Instead of crushing out the animal nature, we have here the high and wise teaching that we must learn to fully understand the animal and subordinate it to the spiritual. . . . and we are told that our animal self is a great force, the secret of the old-world magicians, and of the coming race which Lord Bulwer-Lytton foreshadowed.”
Mr Judge went on to quote approvingly from the book in a number of his articles for the remainder of his life.
The influential Indian Theosophist B. P. Wadia, who helped to establish many centres of the United Lodge of Theosophists around the world in the 20th century, was also positive about this book, writing:
“It will help you considerably in shaping your own life in the present, which includes your own mental attitude and behaviour towards those in your environment, and you will derive strength and energy, if you will take to reading carefully every morning The Voice of the Silence and Light on the Path. These two are especially meant for aspirants to the higher life in this century and cycle, and to understand Light on the Path, Through the Gates of Gold is a great aid. I am not recommending these for the purpose of the service of the Great Cause, to which you have dedicated yourself with such insight and perception. I am recommending these readings every morning so that you may prepare yourself for the rendering of adequate service to that Cause. Heart energy comes from practice and from the application of the teachings with which both these books abound. These books are more for individual reading and reflection, individual study and meditation. What is read and applied will bring sweet fruits in the improvement of your own character and especially in deepening your insight into men and things. Then, of course, for intellectual study you can go on with Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine at your convenience and according to what time you may find.” (“Extracts From Unpublished Letters”)
We include below a few excerpts which present and show the key theme and message of “Through The Gates of Gold.”
Some of its statements may appear to be very contradictory to injunctions found in some other “devotional books,” particularly the Bhagavad Gita and Dhammapada but also “The Voice of the Silence.”
Such apparent contradictions are for us to work out, deal with, and resolve, for ourselves, in whatever way we think best…but in so doing it may help to bear some facts in mind, such as that the Gita and Dhammapada both promote – exoterically, at least – entering Nirvana as soon as possible and leaving this world behind, whereas Theosophy promotes the Bodhisattva Path in which one does just the opposite out of compassion and love for this world and the souls who live in it, and that “The Voice of the Silence,” although promoting that Bodhisattva Path, specifies that it is meant for “Lanoos (Disciples)” whereas “Through The Gates of Gold” says no such thing, thus suggesting that it is intended for much broader usage and application, i.e. for disciples, would-be disciples, and everyone else.
A few statements may seem unclear or puzzling and are worthy of meditative consideration. The phrase “Gates of Gold” or “Golden Gates” refers symbolically to a portal of initiation.
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“It is part of the heritage of men, this pain and distress; and he who determines that nothing shall make him suffer, does but cloak himself in a profound and chilly selfishness. This cloak may protect him from pain; it will also separate him from pleasure. If peace is to be found on earth, or any joy in life, it cannot be by closing up the gates of feeling, which admit us to the loftiest and most vivid part of our existence. . . . It is sensation we desire, else we would with one accord taste of the deep waters of oblivion, and the human race would become extinct. If this is the case in the physical life, it is evidently the case with the life of the emotions, – the imagination, the sensibilities, all those fine and delicate formations which, with the marvellous recording mechanism of the brain, make up the inner or subtile man. Sensation is that which makes their pleasure; an infinite series of sensations is life to them. Destroy the sensation which makes them wish to persevere in the experiment of living, and there is nothing left. Therefore the man who attempts to obliterate the sense of pain, and who proposes to maintain an equal state whether he is pleased or hurt, strikes at the very root of life, and destroys the object of his own existence. And that must apply, so far as our present reasoning or intuitive powers can show us, to every state, even to that of the Oriental’s longed-for Nirvana. . . . Thus it is clear that the philosopher who refuses to feel, leaves himself no place to retreat to, not even the distant and unattainable Nirvanic goal. He can only deny himself his heritage of life, which is in other words the right of sensation. If he chooses to sacrifice that which makes him man, he must be content with mere idleness of consciousness, – a condition compared to which the oyster’s life is a life of excitement.
“But no man is able to accomplish such a feat. The fact of his continued existence proves plainly that he still desires sensation, and desires it in such positive and active form that the desire must be gratified in physical life. It would seem more practical not to deceive one’s self by the sham of stoicism, not to attempt renunciation of that with which nothing would induce one to part. Would it not be a bolder policy, a more promising mode of solving the great enigma of existence, to grasp it, to take hold firmly and to demand of it the mystery of itself? If men will but pause and consider what lessons they have learned from pleasure and pain, much might be guessed of that strange thing which causes these effects. But men are prone to turn away hastily from self-study, or from any close analysis of human nature.” (p. 4-6)
“It becomes evident to anyone who regards the subject seriously, that only a man who has the potentialities in him both of the voluptuary and the stoic has any chance of entering the Golden Gates. He must be capable of testing and valuing to its most delicate fraction every joy existence has to give; and he must be capable of denying himself all pleasure, and that without suffering from the denial. . . . The stoic does not allow that there is joy within pleasure, and by denying himself the one loses the other. But the true philosopher, who has studied life itself without being bound by any system of thought, sees that the kernel is within the shell, and that, instead of crunching up the whole nut like a gross and indifferent feeder, the essence of the thing is obtained by cracking the shell and casting it away. All emotion, all sensation, lends itself to this process, else it could not be a part of man’s development, an essential of his nature.” (p. 26-27)
“Religion holds a man back from the path, prevents his stepping forward, for various very plain reasons. First, it makes the vital mistake of distinguishing between good and evil. Nature knows no such distinction; and the moral and social laws set us by our religions are as temporary, as much a thing of our own special mode and form of existence, as are the moral and social laws of the ants or the bees. We pass out of that state in which these things appear to be final, and we forget them for ever.” (p. 66)
“. . . the strength and beauty of his personal self . . .”
“This is readily seen; a garden flower becomes a mere degenerate copy of itself if it is simply neglected; a plant must be cultivated to the highest pitch, and benefit by the whole of the gardener’s skill, or else it must be a pure savage, wild, and fed only by the earth and sky. Who cares for any intermediate state? What value or strength is there in the neglected garden rose which has the canker in every bud? For diseased or dwarfed blossoms are sure to result from an arbitrary change of condition, resulting from the neglect of the man who has hitherto been the providence of the plant in its unnatural life. . . . Cultivate, then, to the very utmost; forget no inch of your garden ground, no smallest plant that grows in it; make no foolish pretence nor fond mistake in the fancy that you are ready to forget it, and so subject it to the frightful consequences of half-measures. The plant that is watered to-day and forgotten to-morrow must dwindle or decay. . . . But make no mistake like the religionists and some philosophers; leave no part of yourself neglected while you know it to be yourself. While the ground is the gardener’s it is his business to tend it; but some day a call may come to him from another country or from death itself, and in a moment he is no longer the gardener, his business is at an end, he has no more duty of that kind at all. . . . Be warned, and tend your garden to the utmost, till you can pass away utterly and let it return to Nature and become the wind-blown plain where the wild-flowers grow. . . . Cultivate, I say, and neglect nothing.” (p. 70-72)
“In man, taken individually or as a whole, there clearly exists a double constitution. . . . What I mean is this: that two great tides of emotion sweep through his nature, two great forces guide his life, – the one makes him an animal, and the other makes him a god. No brute of the earth is so brutal as the man who subjects his godly power to his animal power. . . . Moreover, he turns all the divine powers of his being into this channel, and degrades his soul by making it the slave of his senses. The god, deformed and disguised, waits on the animal and feeds it. . . .
“But let the king resolve to change the face of his court and forcibly evict the animal from the chair of state, restoring the god to the place of divinity. . . .
“Not only is man more than an animal because there is the god in him, but he is more than a god because there is the animal in him.
“Once force the animal into his rightful place, that of the inferior, and you find yourself in possession of a great force hitherto unsuspected and unknown. The god as servant adds a thousandfold to the pleasures of the animal; the animal as servant adds a thousandfold to the powers of the god. . . .
“That is the whole secret. That is what makes man strong, powerful, able to grasp heaven and earth in his hands. Do not fancy it is easily done. Do not be deluded into the idea that the religious or the virtuous man does it! Not so. They do no more than fix a standard, a routine, a law by which they hold the animal in check. . . .
“The god in man, degraded, is a thing unspeakable in its infamous power of production.
“The animal in man, elevated, is a thing unimaginable in its great powers of service and of strength. . . . it is a great force, an integral portion of the animal life of the world you live in. With it you can sway men, and influence the very world itself, . . . The god, given his right place, will so inspire and guide this extraordinary creature, so educate and develop it, so force it into action and recognition of its kind, that it will make you tremble when you recognise the power that has awakened within you. The animal in yourself will then be a king among the animals of the world.
“This is the secret of the old-world magicians, who made Nature serve them and work miracles every day for their convenience. This is the secret of the coming race which Lord Lytton foreshadowed for us.
“But this power can only be attained by giving the god the sovereignty. Make your animal ruler of yourself, and he will never rule others.” (p. 78-83)
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“Through the Gates of Gold: A Fragment of Thought” by M.C. is published by Theosophy Company on behalf of the United Lodge of Theosophists and available for just £1.75 (plus postage) from the United Lodge of Theosophists in London, England.