Theosophical Notes, May 1955
Examination For Chelaship
Echoes of the ways of the Mystery
Schools are to be found numerously in popular customs, one of the most obvious
is of course the initiation systems of the various secret societies.
There is another equally interesting echo in certain academic methods.
In a previous issue we mentioned the difficulty that collegiate instructors have in bringing home to students the fact that the borderlines of knowledge are uncertain, without discouraging them entirely. In this connection, we mentioned our acquaintance with various members of the professorial fraternity. Since then we had a few hours conversation with two of them on a train trip, in which we were immensely interested in the "weeding out" process employed in their institution for candidates to take postgraduate work leading to advanced degrees.
The oral part of the examination is carried out by two professors. The student is amiably drawn out concerning his past achievements and future hopes, and finds everything so pleasant that he decides his reputation has preceded him and he is going to have a walkover to the coveted ranks. The first trick catches him quite unaware. It is a question on some point which he presumably should have at his finger-tips - and thinks he does have. He answers confidently. Prof. No. 1 looks at him quizzically. "Are you sure?" The weeding out process has set in. The greater number of students, disconcerted, respond with something like: '"Well ... er ... that is . . . " fearing that some horrible slip has taken place somewhere, and trying a little mind-reading to arrive at the right answer - that is, the one which will please the Professor. The Professor becomes quite merciless at this point, shaking the poor wretch from one position to another until he about decides that if such a thing as real knowledge exists, it is not for him.
Another type sticks his jaw out belligerently and stands firm: "Yes, I am!" The problem for the professors here is to sort out the good bluffer from the man who really knows, sometimes a rather complicated problem when both give the right answers. The candidate who passes this point is treated to another terror. After giving some answer- timidly or confidently as the case may be - forthwith the two professors themselves disagree violently as to the right answer, and engage in a prolonged debate on the pros and cons, while the unfortunate student listens with mouth agape. Even these lordly Beings, he realizes, can disagree! Where then does that leave him?
At this point we have another sorting out. There is the student who says to himself, with budding elation: "Aha! As I always suspected! They don't know half as much as they pretend to do; but how foolish to give themselves away!" His ego begins to swell a bit; but the Professors are all set to take care of that too in due time.
The more acute student, really sure of what he knows, having something more on the ball than merely having read a book or listened to somebody else, begins to pick up a rather obvious jesuitry here and there in the discourse, and realizes that he is "being had." Thus by degrees, the student with a real thinking brain - according to the friends referred to, about one in several thousand of those who enter college, and one in three of the candidates for advanced studies - is sorted out and enters the new course. After which his real troubles begin. The method described was easily understood by the writer; though he has never taken a Ph.D. or other degree than simple Bachelor, he has had occasion to sit in at the examinations of candidates for commercial research positions. The system is much the same.
One of his surprising experiences was as member of a board examining in such manner an individual of many year's experience in a certain line of technical activity; a gentleman well known in the field, and conversant with every detail of its practice. But a half hour of harrying of this nature brought out the fact that the gentleman's brain was simply a cold storage bin of large capacity. In all his many years of experience, he had not acquired a single original principle. He knew how everything was done, but possessed not a single real why. He had observed facts not told him by others, but had neither tried to explain them or investigate them. He was an able operative but constitutionally incapable of finding out anything new all by himself. The writer, at that time relatively new to research, was surprised to learn from his colleagues that such was the rule rather than the exception. There were many such industrious and retentive minds in research; but all they did was under direction from somebody else, and no new knowledge arose from it until their facts thus derived under guidance were put together by some thinker above them in the research hierarchy. This thinker then got the credit for the new theory or discovery, and the poor hardworking fellow was usually apt to give out with the grievance that after he had done all the hard work, somebody else got the credit...
All of this goes to show, again, the manner in which the exoteric imitates the esoteric. The object of the Professors was to develop the power of independent thought in the candidate. This is the sine qua non for the candidate for occult chelaship also; but the mistakes are vaster, the depths of the knowledge to be reached infinitely greater, and the ordeal correspondingly more severe.
In the examination for entry into studies for a university doctorate, the candidate underwent upsetting and uncomfortable experiences in the process of enlightenment. But the upsets that the chela-aspirant must undergo may well cost him his life or sanity. It is an absolute necessity that he be tried to the limiting range of his temptations and to the ultimate of his endurance; in no other way may even a Mahatma know his nature well enough to trust him with the tasks of the "Guardian Wall."
He must learn to stand utterly alone, no matter what the odds; to wear out and face down Fear itself. He must learn to choose without hesitation between the dearest of material objectives and duty. He must reach that point where the thought of revenge or resentfulness, no matter what the wrong done him, is impossible to him, for otherwise he will never clear up his karma. All pride must be destroyed; for this is the most deadly sin, and the basis of all the great and final failures. The greatest, because it is the one which most effectually separates him from his fellows and renders the realization of unity impossible to him. In the course of discipleship, his past karma will be manoeuvered in such style that every point of pride will be assailed and tortured beyond endurance; he will have to undergo every humiliation to which he is vulnerable. He may undergo, or be imminently threatened with, those physical disasters which he fears by nature; and he may be struck at through those most dear to him, by their own karmic misfortune and peril, or by their unfaith, or treachery. This he must learn to undergo without wavering from the chosen path, without hatred, resentment, or recrimination. He will be placed in the most awful dilemmas of apparently conflicting duties and loyalties; in order to teach him never to bo deceived again. He will be placed where black seems white and white seems black, and often discerns the real difference at the cost of most of what he had thought to be true. He will find himself in one mental labyrinth after another, where the sheer intellectual puzzles to be solved, quite aside from apparent moral issues, will nearly drive him insane. Where most flee instinctively from those who seem uncongenial, irritating, or evil, he will be thrown into the proximity of such and have to endure it until the lesson of Unity is learned. He will have to understand that the Path is not followed in the company of those chosen by the personal self, but of those chosen by karma - often hard karma; he will have to see that the true food of wisdom is not likeness, but strangeness; of brotherhood, not congeniality, but repellency.
In reality, all this is not unique to himself; in degree it is the common lot. His own status is distinguished by the intensity of the trials, and by the fact that he does recognize them as such, and learns the necessary lessons. He is not really worse off, nor does he experience worse things, than the run of the "man in the street'' of these times. But his budding sensitiveness to higher experience, the necessity that he shall learn to feel whatever experiences all and any other beings have felt, render him infinitely vulnerable to the pain of others as well as to his own - until the time comes when he slowly conquers the latter. If the common lot, then, bears upon him with such especial hardness, there is the reward that it also bears him somewhere. What to him are the rough stones of the path, surmountable one by one, and each taking him toward the goal, are to others the stones of an impassable barricade, or a tomb. This is where he differs.
So great as is the ordeal, thus is the reward. The reward is conscious immortality - but above all a crystal clear conscience, and the knowledge that all things done by him are both what he most desires to do, and what he should do; for the things that sway him in other directions will have been burned out of him by acid and excised by razor-edged steel - without anaesthetic.
The dreamers who imagine that by routine performance of duties prescribed by some authority, by constant study and repetition of book words, they will come consciously into the favor of the Masters and forever under their benign protection against all ills! They have not yet stepped upon the first real cobble of the Path. If one does not find himself undergoing some few of these things, he is either a chela who has passed all his trials or one who is at best at the beginning of them. Who dares elect himself as the former? Heaven have mercy on him, for karma will not!
Why try such a formidable task? If the mind contains such a question at all, the answer is, don't try it! The only sufficient reason is a compelling compassion for all that lives, that will not let the man rest content, with any lesser goal than the highest service to which he may rise, and will force him to take any and all risks toward it. A disdain for the recognized pettiness of material life as we live it, which some reach sooner, will help; indeed, such a disdain mist be developed somewhere along the road, because real knowledge infallibly brings it. But it is not enough in itself; it leads only toward the Dharmakaya Path.
Men try to argue with themselves as to whether or not they really wish to try chelaship; whether or not they really desire to go that far, and undergo such trials. In reality, it is seldom a matter of choosing at all. All are born somewhere along that road on a place that may have a steep grade or an easy grade. The choice has really been made long ago, and as the vicissitudes of life arise to bring out what is in a man, or reveal what is not, he will follow according to his self-created destiny. The accomplishment is not so much in what he has to undergo, as in what he gets out of it; not so much in what he is able to endure and overcome, as in what he understands of it.
A million devotees of utterly false causes have undergone as much, so far as suffering and fortitude are concerned. The pirate Blackbeard jested savagely and defiantly with his killers as his neck was being severed with a dull knife. The man died utterly without fear, and defiant of mortal physical pain. But what did he understand?
The entrance to real chelaship is an entrance to a rocky and perilous road, whose only merit is that it is several million years shorter than that commonly taken. Why try it? If that question is in the mind at all, this path is not for him. The reason for trying, by the time that it becomes important enough to cause the trial, will have become a part of his nature; and its composition will be Compassion. Any serious attempt will be met by tests that will strip all his motives down to just that; and if there is not enough of it, he will fail. If he fails honestly, the result will be humiliating, and it may involve much suffering; but it will bring self-knowledge, and the opportunity for another attempt at a wiser time.
The dread retribution is for him who fails, yet will not admit it because of pride and vanity; he will insist on forcing what the thinks is success, regardless of proven moral disability; and then - facilis decensus avernus. If one would try - where look for the entrance? To what "guru" or "leader?" If he harbors that question in this period, he is not ready to try. The rules have all been laid down long ago; what would be the sense of having some particular person, or organization, repeat them over again as instruction for chelaship? "When the candidate is ready, the Master will appear;" and what is certain is that his appearance will be hard to recognize. The aspirant need not seek the gate; the gate will seek him when he is fit. Until it does, let him recognize himself as yet unfit.