The Daily Initiation
Every people has borne the sacred burden of the Divine in its deepest heart. How strange, with this wondrous heritage, that we should ever feel "widowed of the presence of the gods," as though the link with our divine source had become frayed, no longer assured. We are not the first civilization to feel lost and bewildered, nor will we be the last, but this does not mean there is no remedy. Help has always been within our grasp: to ally our whole being with the building energies of the universe and to refuse to strengthen by default — certainly never by design — the destructive forces that are ever alert to attack the irresolute soul. Still, we must persevere, for once we make the choice, all the "devils" in the underworld of our nature will seemingly be let loose to test the integrity of our resolve. The more in earnest we are, the more subtle and persistent the resistance — not instigated by others, but by our own higher self.
There is nothing mysterious about this. Probably everyone has had the experience that when we determine to alter our habitual ways of thinking, everything and everybody appear to conspire against us. This is inevitable, for intensity of aspiration challenges the gods who are "jealous" of us humans who venture unprepared into their domain. Only those who have become near to godlike may enter. And since the gods are in a profound sense ourselves, the response to our importunate demands may be a release upon us of an avalanche of unexpended karma from past lives. This could be shattering to the personal self, but not to the part of us that knows deep within that we have longed to be tested to the limit of our endurance.
William Q. Judge uses the cryptic phrase "karmic stamina" in connection with aspirants who may find themselves momentarily in "a psychic whirl, or a vortex of occultism" into which others also may be drawn, and where the "germs for good or ill ripen with activity." (Letters That Have Helped Me 1:20-1) The outcome will depend not only on our constancy of will and selflessness of motive, but also upon our reserve of moral and spiritual endurance, our inbuilt stamina. The word stamina — from the Latin for "warp, thread, fiber" — is fitting here, for the warp of lengthwise threads on a loom is usually of stouter twist than the weft, as it is the foundation on which the cross threads are woven. The daily encounters and interactions with others and the impingements of events upon us are all karma: the warp represents the outflowing of past experience, while our reactions, being of our choosing, are the weft carried by the shuttle of the soul as we weave our present and future on the warp of the past.
All is not hardship and trial. Our inner god may be a stern taskmaster, but it is infinitely just and therefore infinitely compassionate. To be sure, potency of aspiration germinates whatever seeds of inharmony we have sown, but equally does it quicken the seeds of nobility in the character so that we are inwardly sustained and encouraged. In truth, it may shed a flood of light upon our path. Such a resolve finds resonance in our inmost self, and as we return life after life it leads us on and on, to take up the charge anew. Every day, every year, every lifetime, we infuse the ancient resolve with fresh vigor. Katherine Tingley speaks eloquently to this in her Theosophy: The Path of the Mystic:
A vow is an action rising like a star high above the level of the common deeds of life. It is a witness that the outer man has at that moment realized its union with the inner, and the purpose of its existence, . . .
At that moment the radiant path of light is seen with the eye of pure vision, the disciple is reborn, the old life is left behind, he enters a new way. For a moment he feels the touch of a guiding hand ever stretched out to him from the inner chamber. For a moment his ear catches the harmonies of the soul.
All this and more is the experience of those who make this vow with their whole hearts, and as they constantly renew it, and constantly renew their endeavor, the harmonies come again and again, and the clear path is once more beheld.
. . . Each effort carves the path of the next, and in no long time one single moment's silence will bring forth to the disciple's aid the strength of his soul. — pp. 53-4
Such a vow is a knocking at the door of our higher self. If the knock is genuine, the illumination and strength that pour into us can become a transforming influence that may help us to intuit the higher self's intent for our ordinary self. When the motive to serve humanity is fortified by will, our life is taken in hand by our higher self, and we find we are led into situations that test us to the core so that we may prove our worth and the depth of our aspiration — not for self-benefit, but that we may bring light and inspiration to others.
The higher self is our real teacher, our inner buddha. This is a time-honored truth: it places responsibility for growth, for inner advancement, squarely on ourself. We have no one but ourself to blame for our fumbles, no one on whom to shift our burdens. We are our own awakener, our own savior, for we are the steps we must travel and the truth we so long to find. Yet few of us feel adequate to fulfill the demands of our dharma, or self-disciplined enough to meet with equanimity the impact of daily karma. Trust is the key: to trust karma is to trust ourselves and to trust that we have the inner resources to handle whatever befalls. Having made the choice to live mindfully, there can be no turning back. We are not required, however, to take more than one step at a time; this is our protection, for by meeting life's challenges one day at a time we gather strength and sufficient wisdom for the daily need.
Once we grasp the fact that we are the path before us, never again will we know that aching loneliness of despair, for we shall have come in touch, if ever so fleetingly, with our light-source. Should periods of despondency return, they need not take firm hold, for a part of us, having entered into companionship with our higher self, remains en rapport with the larger fraternity of the spirit that touches every aspirant on the path. In proportion as we allow our buddha-nature to illumine our ordinary self will the Tathagata-light, the Christos-sun, irradiate our being and the path ahead. Since we are one humanity, the lighted path of a single individual makes the path of all others that much clearer.
It is a truism that no one can live always on the heights. We are obliged to return to the valleys of daily experience where we still have lessons to learn. But the panorama seen from the heights, short-lived as it may have been, is our rod and staff. It takes courage to allow our higher self to lead us into those circumstances that will bring to fruition old karmic causes whose effects on ourselves and on others must now be met. However, once handled, they will be done with. If at times everything seems at cross-purposes, and every effort we make is countered by opposition, this is to be expected.
The choice we made to pursue the compassionate way is by its very nature and goal an upstream endeavor. It is not a simple thing to go against the current; it demands courage to persist year in and year out along a course that, even if we know deep down is the true path for us, may at times appear quite the contrary to our personal self. Yet when we reflect on it, we are warmed and strengthened by an inner affirmation that we couldn't have asked for a more magnificent opportunity. To be allowed by karma to aid, in however minor a degree, in the compassionate order of the universe: this is to be given a boon that the soul over many lifetimes has silently yearned for.
We learn early that every aspiration must be sustained by self-discipline. Today people are stretching their souls, longing to rise above their ordinary little selves and glimpse a vision of what is beyond and within. Many of us, however, are so filled with our own ideas of what life is all about that we are like the student who came to the Zen monk seeking knowledge. "Teach me, Roshi, what Zen is." The Zen master invited him to tea. He started pouring tea into the teacup, and he poured and poured and poured until the student could stand it no longer and almost shouted: "But the cup is full. Can't you see?" The Roshi quietly said: "That is what your mind is like. You are so filled with your own ideas and opinions that there is no room for even one drop of wisdom. Empty yourself, empty your mind of all your preconceptions, empty your heart and your soul of all unbecoming thoughts and feelings, and you will be filled to abundance."
All of us know what is unworthy of ourselves. Striving to gentle the untamed propensities in our character is a type of purgation, a purification we can go through every day. This is what Paul meant when he said to the people of Corinth, "I die daily" — day after day he sought to be "reborn" interiorly. This is the "daily initiation," of which W. Q. Judge spoke — life itself, with its manifold joys and sorrows. Both have their temptations and trials, good fortune so called being often more difficult to handle than are the day-by-day frustrations and disappointments. The constant demand upon us to choose between the greater and the less, the selfless and the self-centered, brings us face to face with ourselves.
It is a matter of getting back to first principles: we start from within, from our central self. What is our motive? We tend to think of initiation as far removed from everyday happenings, but every time we conquer a weakness, every time we have the courage to see ourselves as we are, we undergo the testing by our higher self of our lesser self; we are proving the mettle of our character. "Fire tests gold, adversity proves strong souls" wrote Seneca, 1st-century AD Roman statesman and philosopher. (Moral Essays, "On Providence," 5, 9) Any form of intense suffering, particularly when self-caused — through weakness of will, emotional instability, or being caught in a vortex of thought beneath our private inner standard — may become an initiatory experience. The word initiation means "beginning," the conscious turning of a new leaf in our Book of Life. To have penetrated the darkness of our individual hell and come up into the light of our radiant self, able to meet its demands, is a kind of initiation.
When we inwardly take a stand, we are forearmed for whatever comes; if we avoid doing so, when faced with really severe challenges we are unprepared to act responsibly. Using the wheel as a metaphor: by living in thought and aspiration as close as we can to the hub of our being, the turning wheel of karma will not crush us; but if we live on the rim or circumference of our lives, we are at risk of being ground down under the karmic wheel. This can and does happen more than is necessary; and it's a cruel thing to witness — and to experience. Nevertheless, we learn invaluable lessons in humility and compassion: not only do we gain immeasurably, but hopefully through it all we become sufficiently sensitized to help others see that if they ascend the radius of their being toward the hub of themselves, they will find guidance, strength, and a light upon their path. One of our noblest opportunities is to give confidence to our fellow humans that, no matter how fragile we may be or think we are, all of us have sufficient power to live our lives in an honorable, thoughtful, and self-disciplined way. We must allow our higher self to take charge of our life's destiny. Is there any greater gift one can offer than assuring another he has what it takes to handle his karma, with head high, regardless of how many times he may be knocked down? We are not alone in our struggles. Everyone has some cross to bear, some weakness of character to overcome; just so everyone has his or her strengths to build on. Simply put: if we have the fortitude to "hang in there" no matter how often we stumble or how far we fall, there is no failure, only triumph.
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