A chapter from the just published book, An Approach to the Occult by
Dr. Hugh Shearman (Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar).
from The Theosophist Sept 1959
The subject of "occult status" is one that has several times been in debate in the Theosophical Society and it has sometimes emerged dramatically and with a certain asperity in the memoirs of some who were active in the Society at a certain period in its history ...
It seems possible to understand the historical bearing of "occult status" if it is examined in the light of the few simple things that have been said about it in the literature of Theosophy.
The first clear fact that emerges about occult status that from a certain point of view there is no such thing. The occult is not concerned with status. Status is based upon a view of beings from the outside and from the point of view of their competitive separateness. The occult, as we understand it, is based upon the unity and the indwelling purpose of beings. Status arises from separateness and not from unity.
In a world of external values it is, of course, reasonable enough to speak of status; but, as students and investigators of the occult, it is surely more correct for us to say, not that there is occult status, but rather that there is occult function.
Madame Blavatsky said of Occultism that "it throws him who practises it out of calculation of the ranks of the living altogether," and that "he has to become a mere beneficent force in Nature". Such words show us a view of life in which beings are not separate and to be measure against one another in terms of comparative values, still less competitive values. They are "mere" forces in one benign, united and purposive whole called Nature. One force is, of course, different from another, fulfilling a different function in the whole, but, as is said in the Christian scriptures: "The eye cannot say unto the hand: I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you. There should be no schism in the body, but the members should have the same care one for another".
To have any meaning, therefore, occult designations of status must have reference to the fulfillment of real function.
In many books and teachings the occult world has been described as existing in what may be called gradations. Sometimes they are called planes. These gradations range from "outer" to " inner", from diversity to unity. Values, such as may be associated with the idea of status, belong necessarily to the outer gradations and only to the diversity aspect of the occult world. Hence we have the paradox that those whose lives are most deeply grounded in the occult and most fully devoted to the fulfilment of occult function are the very individuals who will possesses the least of what we think of as status.
It was Disraeli who recorded the incisive aphorism: "Every man has a right to be arrogant until he succeeds". Whatever claims we may advance while in a condition of insufficiency, they become unnecessary when we are truly fulfilling our function. Intrinsic adequacy renders vain any extrinsic assessment of worth. So far as the outer-world idea of status is concerned, it might be said that the fullness of claims to status and the extent of actual fulfilment of function are in inverse proportion to one another.
Then there is the question of what it is in us that fulfils true function. Occult literature tells us repeatedly of a higher Self, an inner Self, who is the only real being who may be said to achieve anything. If a step into the occult, an "initiation," is taken, it is the higher Self who takes it. Such a step must mean that that Self is functioning more deeply within the occult, that it has become by so much more divested of external values and by so much more grounded in the intrinsic.
What then of these external personalities that we meet, and talk to? If we are told that a particular person is, say, an Arhat, what does this information tell us about him, granted that it is true? It would seem that it tells us no more than that here we have a personality which is under a certain inner pressure bearing towards gradual assimilation to the function of the condition attained by the higher Self. The personality itself has not acquired any status, though in a personal way we may treat it with respect and reverence, recognizing what is being done through it and even by it. After some years of pressure from within, it will come to the end of its capacity for adaptation to inner function and will die and be heard of no more, while the Self goes on to acquire another personality and try again.
We, however, live in a world of personalities, and so the personal aspect of it seems very important and interesting. And if we are considering the subject from this level the most important thing that we are told is that most personalities - at the present stage of evolution - are failures when brought to the testing of that interior pressure which arises from occult function, even from the first and most elementary step in the direction of occult function.
"Sight not for chelaship", said a letter of the Master K. H. in 1883, " pursue not that, the dangers and hardships of which are unknown to you. Verily many are the chelas offering themselves to us, and as many have failed this year as were accepted on probation. Chelaship unveils the inner man and draws forth the dormant vices as well as the dormant virtue. Latent vice begets active sins is often followed by insanity. Out or 5 lay chelas chosen by the Society and accepted under protest by us, 3 have become criminals and 2 are insane. Throw a glance around, make an enquiry at Bareilly and Cawnpore and judge for yourself. Be pure, virtuous and lead a holy life, and you will be protected. But remember, he who is not as pure as a young child better leave chelaship alone".
The reason for this collapse of default of a personality whose higher Self has taken a step into the occult can readily be seen. A step into the occult, since it is a step from extrinsic to intrinsic, from outer pattern to inner life, involves a disintegration of external values; and most personalities are almost wholly dependent upon patterns and values. A sudden discovery of inner life through a rending of the pattern of habitual values is, of course, a well-known temperamental approach to the occult, as in Zen, but, whatever may be the temperamental path of approach to the occult, even tone step upon it gives rise to a more or less catastrophic destruction of values which had hitherto been relied upon. The individual comes to "the threshold where fear and hope, despair and joy, seem at one moment absolute realities, at the next mere forms of fancy". Standards of value that have been long relied upon are suddenly no more.
The result of the shock and stress which come to the personality through this new factor of occult experience is often disintegrative. There is at first a wide and elastic margin within which the personality can react. "Much, " said Madame Blavatsky, "is forgiven during the first years of probation". But even this margin is not enough for most, and an apparent break often occurs, the personality rebounding reactively to some way of life base upon the past, the known, the seemingly reliable. Sometimes this past is the biological past, and the rebound takes the form of more or less uncontrolled sexual activity. At other times there may be a mere repressed type of reaction, resulting in something in the nature of a nervous breakdown.
The rejection of an occult function may occur, we are told, at any level, and all failures are, after all, relative. While some may rebound from such a rejection into a life of tragic vice, bitterness or incoherence, many will merely become rather more personal and will go on outwardly much as before. It may be felt that a cycle has ended and a light has gone out at the heart, but the world goes on as before. Those who fail to respond to a certain occult potential are not necessarily failures as the world judges failures or even as the wise and good judge it. They may lead useful lives, well ahead of the mass of their fellow-beings in service and insight. It is said that the good is the enemy of the best; but, even if the best is not achieved, or maintained, the good often remains. All experiences go to make up life; and failures and rejections are also part of life. " When Me they fly, I am the wings". There is a deferment, and perhaps the way has been made harder for others than it would have been if the function had been fulfilled instead of rejected; but all will be well in the end.
There is, however, an aspect of the rejection of occult function which has an important bearing upon our assessment of personal narratives of experience. The individual who steps back from fulfilling a particular occult function is said to lose his memory of the inner experience that he has had in connection with it ...
It has been the misfortune of some that their occult experiences have been the subject of unwanted public debate. Others, however, have to some extent invited debate by publishing reminiscences for self-interpretation if not for self-justification. In many such writings one can feel that a loss of memory has occurred, that something has vanished which would have given the whole past quite a different perspective. If the memory had remained intact it would have been impossible to write of intimate associates depreciatively and merely from a critically external point of view, from a level of interpretation and understanding which of itself indicates that something is now missing. If a black out of certain past depths of experience had not occurred there could not be such a default from solemnly incurred obligations.
Until we have ourselves reached such wisdom that we have abandoned all explanations, interpretation and justification with regard to our own past actions, we have no right to condemn such people; and when we have attained that wisdom we shall probably not find any need to waste energy in doing so. What we have to do meanwhile, in justice to others, is to note the recurring fact of this cut-out of a certain quality of memory in those who reject an occult function. This break in full recollection inevitably draws their remaining and more external memories into a somewhat untrue pattern by the removal of that which formerly gave a central significance to their experiences.
The gaining or claiming of occult status has a considerable importance for others as well as those immediately concerned. When we recognize true status in others, we respond to with reverence. True reverence is a just sense of perspective and proportion, an honest recognition of bigness and littleness. But there is a false reverence, and this serves mainly for the purpose of defending ourselves from responsibility. It is in the decadence of a religion that saints and the cult of saints tend to proliferate. Unwilling to incur the heavy responsibilities of being saintly ourselves, we lavish a false adulation on those whom we regard as saintly. Praising another, we feel sub consciously that we can thereby save ourselves from having to do as he does. A large part of the apparatus of praise in the world's religions has come to have some of the qualities of a defence against a challenge implicit in the lives of the Founders of those religions.
In our relations with somebody more deeply grounded in the occult than ourselves, it represents something quite true and right if we call him "Master". But it may sometimes involve greater responsibility, and therefore demand more courage, reverently to call him "Brother".
And whatever we may outwardly think of it or whatever classifications we may impose upon it, the Brotherhood remains of those who have entered the direct and conscious experience of the occult. Since the occult is based upon the unity of all, that Brotherhood has a profound unity of consciousness. C. W. Leadbeater wrote of this consciousness:
"It is like a great calm shining ocean, so strangely one that the least thrill of consciousness flashes from end to end of it instantaneously, and yet to each member it seems to be absolutely his own individual consciousness, though with a weight and a power and a wisdom behind it that no single human consciousness could ever have ... One is all the time in the presence of a tremendous, an almost awful serenity, a certainty which nothing can ever disturb ... There is nothing down here to which this consciousness can be adequately compared; to touch it is to come into contact with something new and strange; yet inexpressibly wonderful and beautiful, something which needs no evidence and no comparison, but asserts itself to be of a higher and unknown world".