by Radha Burnier

THE International Centre of Theosophical Studies was formerly known by the simple name ‘School of Wisdom’, which suggests what is the real purpose of such a Centre. It is to gather together for study, enquiry and discussion people who are seriously interested in finding wisdom. The Theosophical Society is an open Society and one finds people with varied ideals, occasionally and unfortunately sometimes people with no ideals, becoming members of the Society. But within the Theosophical Society there are those who are concerned with how human beings should live. They want to find out the real destiny of man and the meaning of life, man being part of the universal life. What is knowledge and what is truth? These are all questions which are of importance to a thoughtful person, to every serious student within the Society. And this Centre is intended to provide opportunities for small gatherings of those who are seriously trying to understand and resolve these questions which are of basic importance. To discover the answers to these questions is of course to find wisdom.

It is not necessary to meet together in order to obtain knowledge. It may be useful for young people and children to go to a school in order to obtain knowledge, because their minds are still untrained. They may be undisciplined little creatures and they have to learn to give attention, to quieten themselves and so on. But for older people, especially for those who have received education, or who have educated themselves, it is unnecessary to go to classes in order to find knowledge. Anyone with a reasonable amount of intelligence can study by himself and obtain knowledge.

It is much more difficult to tread the path of wisdom and we need help from many sources in order to gain wisdom. We need the aid of silence as well as of discussions. We need the aid of nature as well as of man. We need the aid of books, up to a point, and the words of those who have already found wisdom, the Wise Ones.

Aid can be obtained in many different ways, and it is very important, as our late Brother Dr. Taimni frequently pointed out, that an aid on the way to wisdom should not be mistaken for the aim itself. Very often the means become important and the end is ignored. The books we study may be helpful, but studying books is not an end in itself. Similarly, the discussions which take place here and the classes which are held, the ideas which are propounded by others, are all forms of stimulation for each student to undertake that enquiry, that way of life which will bring him wisdom and make the light which is within him reveal itself. We should not forget that these classes are not meant to be prosaic in the sense of providing mere information. Every student has to exert himself to reveal from within what he really knows in his innermost being.

The path of wisdom has been very clearly indicated in those well-known Upanishadic words with which theosophists are familiar, because they have been printed in At the Feet of the Master: ‘Lead me from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to Light, from death to Immortality.’ We shall not discuss just now what is meant by the words ‘Lead me’. Who is to lead? That would be a subject in itself. But the sentences indicate the direction which has to be followed in the progress towards wisdom.

Everyone who is seeking wisdom has to use his discernment assiduously, not casually, to find out what is real and what is unreal. This is something which has been reiterated for ages, but it is nonetheless profoundly valid and we can never afford to be forgetful of it. People place so much importance on the incidents which happen in life. There are countless incidents and situations within the life of every single individual. There are innumerable happenings, ups and downs, with the pleasures, unhappinesses and fears which arise from the way in which the individual meets the trials, conditions and the environment in which he lives. And one tends to give great importance to each little incident which arises, and there is a reaction of either pleasure or of disappointment, of hope or of fear, or irritation or of a sense of repose. But possibly, none of these incidents is of importance. We do not examine the question whether all that agitates us and impels us in daily life, the situations which arise out of our relationships with fellow human beings, with nature, with animals, with the society in which we live, whether all these incidents have a significance in themselves, or whether they exist in order to awaken in us an awareness, a perception of what is Truth; in other words, whether they exist so that wisdom can blossom from within. Perhaps the incidents have no importance in themselves, they have importance only in awakening wisdom only in teaching us how to meet what happens in daily life.

We place very great importance on this physical existence with all that is implied in that, but to find wisdom one has to question every preconception and, as we said, nor merely occasionally, but consistently, diligently, assiduously, so that finding out what is real and unreal becomes our very life. Unless the student gives his heart to the question of finding wisdom, it will not come. One cannot ask for wisdom in casual terms and hope that it will give us of its beneficence. One has really to sacrifice all else, live a life of renunciation in order to receive wisdom.

So, it requires a certain type of life to be a student of the wisdom. What we study, the lectures we hear, the discussions we have, are of little value if they do not help us to move on continually from the unreal to the real. The unreal, as has often been pointed out, is of a temporal nature. Whatever is temporal is only relatively real. The Buddha said that one of the great truths that every human being has to understand is the truth of impermanence. The mind of man attaches itself to that which is impermanent, it values the security which appears to come from things of impermanence. A state of ignorance alone can in fact make a person think that what is fleeting can give security. If we use our intellect, we see clearly that a person who clings to what is temporal is like a person who is drowning in the sea and trying to save himself by holding on to a straw floating upon the water. Yet we all do it, because we do not give our minds and hearts to the task of examining how we live and what values we consider to be worth while.

In ordinary experience we can notice that what is purely transitory does not give a sense of fulfilment or of completion. If an individual experiences only momentary happiness, he would agree that it is rather unreal and that a happiness which can endure is more true and real. But we forget that the fleeting is unreal when that temporal things has become somewhat stretched, perhaps through the length of one’s physical incarnation. Out of attachment to the temporal comes the materialistic attitude. We may claim to be theosophical, there are others who claim to be religious or philosophical. But mixed with longings for something more elevated, there is always materialism, the materialism which does not want to let go of what is of little value, because it is of passing importance.

In what is material itself, there is nothing wrong. It is in the value we attach to the material and to the temporal that the blindness lies. Matter is part of the one existence. The wind is not different from its movement. The movement of the wind is the wind, and the appearances in the world of matter are part of a greater existence. Out of that outer appearance there do not arise our sorrow, our problems, our tensions, our ill will, or the lack of peace which we create for ourselves. It is our attitude to what exists that generates problems. It is our unwisdom, our ignorance which makes humanity live so chaotically. Through learning what is unreal and rejecting it in daily life, and seeing that cling to temporal things is the cause of the misery of individual man as well as of humanity, there comes wisdom. Theosophy gives a grand outline of universal processes. It conveys some idea of the constitution of man. We study all that only in order to understand how one should live; what is one’s destiny; what is the relationship of the individual to the whole.

The other sentence which we mentioned, ‘From Darkness lead me to Light’, is also of profound import. The mind has been described in theosophical as well as other literature as the slayer of the real. It is blind to its perceptions because it does not penetrate into the core, into the essence, it does not have insight, because of selfishness.

The selfishness of man creates immense gloom for him. Only we find out for ourselves what is the fallacy out of which selfishness arises can we move from darkness to light. The teaching of the Buddha not only pointed to the need to find out what is the truth about impermanency, but also the truth about the notion of the self. In the Yoga-sútras also avidyá and asmitá are both mentioned as obstacles to realization.

What is the nature of I-consciousness? What is death and what is the nature of immortality? Death has been defined as the perception of diversity. Where there is a sense of separateness, of many-ness, and the ignoring of oneness, there is death. Those questions cannot be examined in a brief time. But it is important that we should not dissipate energy in the consideration of non-essentials. The way in which we consider questions should bring us nearer to the wisdom, and not leave us satisfied with mere knowledge and information. The more we study and discuss, the more energy it should evoke for finding out that which is deeper, of more profound value. If these sessions have that quality, they will be of great benefit not only to the Theosophical Society as a whole, but perhaps even to a wider extent. The Society itself would be a wonderful body if it consisted of seekers for the truth, not people with superficial aims. And truth includes within itself everything else which is of eternal value: goodness, beauty, profound peace and so on. All that is of the nature of goodness is in truth. If we are real seekers for the truth, then everything else will come of its own. There is the beautiful saying in the Bible, ‘Seek ye the truth and the truth shall make you free.’ If you seek the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Truth, then all else will be added unto you. If there is an arduous yearning, which in the East has been called mumukshatva, a fiery aspiration for that which is immortal and not that which is mortal, it brings all the gifts that are worth having.

The Theosophist December 1980