AN OUTLINE OF THE ANCIENT WISDOM
The Ancient Wisdom has always been in the world. It is knowledge of the nature of things and of human nature. It is the Wisdom of understanding and compassion, of which all of us feel in need in the depths of our being. If what follows seems somewhat impersonal and technical, it is because much information is being given in a relatively short space, but a careful reading will show its relevance and significance to each of us personally. To be wise we have to learn to apply the principles of the Ancient Wisdom to the detailed circumstances of our lives. In this Wisdom we sense our own strength, our own self-sufficiency. It gives us hope and the courage and determination to face life, however hard. Let us never belittle our inherent powers.
“I said, Ye are gods.” (John x, 34)
The Ancient Wisdom is knowledge, in depth, of the nature and processes of the Cosmos as a living whole. This knowledge in the present time is represented in part by that of modern science, of religion and of philosophy, but science and religion are at times mutually antagonistic. The Ancient Wisdom claims to be interested in truth as represented by what is, as opposed to any dogmatic statement of truth, on whatever authority. And there is only one Truth. Truth cannot be contradictory.
The Ancient Wisdom, however, discloses to us that behind the scenes of our objective existence there are whole worlds of normally invisible powers, forces, energies and even entities representing Life in its dynamic aspect.
Those known sometimes as the Masters of the Wisdom, who are very much further along the evolutionary path than the great majority of mankind at its present state, occasionally make efforts to enlighten mankind. They have discovered that the way into the knowledge of these inner workings of Nature is by a keep knowledge of their own natures. They have given us some specific teachings for our guidance and to help our understanding. The road is beset with difficulties, not so much in the nature of the journey itself as in our immaturities and defects of character.
The following headed paragraphs are an outline of some of the more important aspects of the great teaching.
The Cosmic Unity
Cosmos here means everything that significantly comes within our field of consciousness and activity, including our world and all that is in and on it, including ourselves. The Universe is a comprehensive whole. This means very much more than that it is an aggregate of a multitude of parts. There is One Life. All life activity, in total, is one process and is subject to One Law but both the Life and the Law each have an immense variety of modes of action. All activities, all action of whatever kind, whether the movement of physical bodies, the urges of desire or the flow of thought, derive from a common, original power or energy source.
Every thing and every creature shows forth two essential aspects: one, an energy, life or spirit aspect, and the other, a material or form aspect, the latter giving expression to the former. All faculty needs a developed vehicle or organ through which to function. Polarity is observable throughout nature as spirit-matter, positive-negative, male-female, etc.
In religious parlance the Unity can be regarded as Deity, or God. The Ancient Wisdom is pantheism in the sense that there is nothing apart from or outside of this Unity, the One from which all comes and into which all returns at the end of a vast period of activity.
The Universal Law
Universal Law is the synthesis of all natural laws. It is the total of all processes in Cosmos. It is exemplified in the great rhythms of Nature. All things, from the greatest to the smallest, have a beginning, continue to be for a time, and then drop out of existence. There are cycles of being and non-being; of alternation; of ebb and flow; of inbreathing and outbreathing; of activity and rest; of life and death. But things are given time to fulfill their function in the scheme of things. The Law ensures that the Universe is self-preserving. The maintenance of harmonious equilibrium in all its parts means that there is a direct relation between cause and effect, whereby all action is balanced by reaction.
This Law must never be regarded too mechanistically. As a living process it applies in the nonphysical realms of being as well as the physical. It has moral aspects and repercussions when it is often called the law of Karma, by which in the long-run man gets his just desserts. As we shall see, however, the balancing process is continuous and, as far as any one man is concerned, it extends to the periods before and after an earth life.
In simple terms the law means that everything is, and is as it is, as the result of what went before. The process is infinitely complex; no cause can be wholly isolated from other causes and therefore no effect is a simple issue. In the case of human activity a further complication is the effect of motive. Similar actions will have different consequences according to the intentions behind them. An action with a kind motive will have an effect very different from one done out of hate.
Another aspect of Law is progression or evolution, the bringing into activity of faculties inherent but latent. This unfolding of the potentialities of the inner Life in everything proceeds continuously by ever-ascending cycles, in all the kingdoms of Nature.
The Continuity of Life
The chain of causes and effects is also continuous and eternal. The persisting thread behind all comings and goings is Life or Spirit itself. It is the forms and entities which give expression periodically to the persisting life which come and go continually. Each thing fulfills some purpose in the total scheme of things. Each thing experiences life in terms of its own being. In this respect each thing has its own experience and, in a greater or lesser degree, the life functioning in it has a degree of consciousness of its own. Consciousness is Life operating at various levels throughout the whole composite complex of existence.
When a living form, and according to the Wisdom there is nothing else, has served its purpose it dies and disappears, decomposing into its component elements, but the life persists in the inner subjective worlds. This process applies to individual men. As we shall see, each man has an individual persistent life thread which occupies successive, associated personalities, one after the other, with more or less long intervals of earth years in between, but the essential Man persists virtually indefinitely. This process is that commonly known as reincarnation. According to the law of cause and effect, each successive personality is conditioned by and is, in fact, the result of the actions and experience of previous lives. There is a causative continuity between them.
Man’s Complex Being
We are familiar with the classification of man as body, soul and spirit. The Wisdom more specifically tells us that he is a sevenfold being, comprising a lower trinity and a middle and an upper duad. The lower triad is that of his physical body, an ethereal counterpart of it and vitality or life force. The middle duad consists of that principle in man which is associated with his feelings, his emotions and desires (Kama), closely associated with the principle of mind (Manas), the faculty of thinking, imagining, remembering and so on. Those mental functions, when associated as they almost wholly are with the personal man in his earthly surroundings, are regarded as being of the concrete or lower mind. The combination of the lower triad, the body, its ethereal (astral) double and its vital principles, together with the middle duad, constitute the personal man as we know him, the personality. By and large this is the selfish man, self-concerned with interests little beyond himself or his immediate family.
Mind, however, is dual, with upper and lower aspects. Its upper levels reflect the inner or spiritual side of man’s nature. The higher aspects of thought are of a nature different from those of the associative, sequential processes of normal thinking of the lower mind. The higher reaches of the mind have to do with intuition and insight, perceptive intelligence of a high order. These more spiritual levels of the mind are closely associated with the truly spiritual upper duad, and form a threefold entity, referred to in the literature as the Ego, or the individuality as distinct from the personality. The two higher principles are universal ones, not private to any individual man. The highest of them is the Spiritual Essence of Cosmos, and the other is the vehicle through which that Essence is manifest at the highest level. These two become individual to any given man only insofar as they are reflected or focussed into the highest level of his individual mind. They represent the Divinity in man, reflecting the Universal Divinity.
The personal man is mortal as far as his body, its associated ‘life’ principles and his middle psychic principles are concerned. This means that his ‘personal’ soul is mortal. The higher elements of mind, however, together with the spiritual duad, constitute immortal elements of his being. They are his inner or higher Self, the Ego, which persists through many, many personal lives.
Death and Life
What we call death is the withdrawal of the co-ordinating life principle from a body, without which the body starts to disintegrate. After the death of a man his nonphysical personal principles also pass through a similar disintegration process, in sequence. The process is complicated and only an outline of it is given here. Normally, at death, the person rapidly reviews the life just lived, then goes unconscious. While this unconsciousness persists, a process of ‘ingestion’ takes place. This initially involves a struggle between the higher, spiritual, and the lower, personal principles of the man for the content of the last life’s experience. If this had a sufficiency of spirituality, and mostly it has, it is assimilated into the Ego and forms the basis of a blissful, conscious but subjective state, which lasts for a very long time, usually many centuries. During this time the ‘personalised’ Ego feels itself to be experiencing life in ideal surroundings with associates whom he or she would most like to be there. After the Ego’s entry into this state the psychic remains of the ex-personality disintegrate and their ‘materials’ disperse, but something of them remains to condition the next personality. The period of bliss eventually comes to an end, unconsciousness intervenes again, and the Ego, having exhausted the previous life’s potentials, seeks a new birth. The processes of reincarnation are started. These involve the re-accumulation of substances to form the mental, kamic and astral principles around ‘atomic’ nuclei carrying residual personal characteristics to the new soul. When this formative process is finished, the new personality is ready for another physical body. This is provided by parents who will supply the conditions of birth and environment according to the karmic desserts of the new personality. In this way justice is done. There is neither arbitrary dispensation of inherent qualities to a person, nor arbitrary allocation of the circumstances into which the new person will be born, nor is there chance in the process. It is all according to Law.
The Purpose of Life
We have already seen that, in the various forms that life inhabits, the potentialities of Universal Spirit are gradually being unfolded. During the life cycle of any thing, it experiences the vicissitudes of life. Experience may modify its inner principles. Where such modifications occur they constitute change, maybe infinitesimal, maybe very great, but they are cumulative, and can become significant in the vast stretches of evolutionary time. Changes in an inner principle demand a change in outer form to express them. This is the modus operandi of evolution, from the within to the without. This general evolutionary process applies to the individual human being. The real purpose of life for us is to unfold our proper human potentialities. In ours, as in the other kingdoms of Nature, experience is the teacher. Experience has, however, to be related to the Law and a man has to learn that in the long run what he is, is the result of what he has done. What a man is, to a large extent, determines what he will do and so what will befall him. If what he has done is not in accordance with the Law and its essential harmonies, the man brings disharmony and so suffering into his own life. Eventually he, individually and collectively, must learn this truth. The Ancient Wisdom tells us that we can change our circumstances only by changing ourselves. There is no other way.
Man’s Relation to Cosmos
According to the Wisdom’s teaching man occupies a very special place on the evolutionary ladder. He is the only being on earth reflecting in his own being the total constitution of Cosmos. This means to say that the elements of his nature are miniature replicas, in all respects, of those of Nature generally from the highest, the most spiritual, to the lowest, the dense physical of our objective existence. There is a scale of correspondences which links his principles to what are known as planes of Nature. These planes of Nature actually consist of lives, of hierarchies of living beings, with ever-ascending levels of consciousness and power.
Another example of the evolutionary scale is the kingdoms of Nature. It is said that there are three elemental kingdoms below our mineral one. Above that we know of the vegetable and animal kingdoms, and above the animal is the human. The teaching tells us that the human state is transcended by three superhuman ones, about which we cannot be concerned here, except to note that the evolutionary process continues beyond the human stage. So man is at the top of the evolutionary scale of beings having physical bodies on this planet. He is therefore responsible not only for himself but for all the kingdoms below him. As he gains in knowledge and power he becomes more of a potency for the benefit or otherwise of what is beneath him in the scale of being. To this extent he is responsible for them, especially where he has taken possession of the earth’s surface and learned to exploit its mineral, vegetable and animal resources.
The Wisdom teaches, by way of Universal Law, that there is nothing, no outside ‘divine’ intervention, that man can look to for any betterment of his lot or for any self-improvement. He has to do the job himself or it will not be done but he has inherently all the powers and all the time he can possibly require for the great work, not just the span of one earth life. Nevertheless this is the world of causes; what has to be done must be done here on earth; it cannot be done in the hereafter.
By such institutions we mean, for example, religious systems and those of education and government, with which last, however, we are not concerned. The Ancient Wisdom does not concern itself directly so much with the institutions, the collectivities of human enterprise, as with the individuals who comprise them. Each man must learn his proper responsibilities and learn to act accordingly, conscious of them. The Ancient Wisdom in education would place emphasis on character training rather than on the acquisition of book-learning; on the cultivation of intelligence rather than on mere memory; on self-sufficiency and self-confidence rather than on dependence on ‘authority’; on the development of trust rather than on rivalry through competition which engenders the sense of power through superiority; on friendly helpfulness and a proper sharing of possessions and skills and so on. If from an early age we could be imbued with these attitudes as guiding motives and learn in our living in a way that exhibits the highest human qualities, many of our social problems and the world’s national and international difficulties, would disappear. A willingness to understand the difficulties of others, as people, is essential if the various sections of humanity are to live together harmoniously, as a whole. Modern communications are increasingly forcing us to realise that the mutual interdependence of people is already a fact.
In matters religious the Wisdom, which really is religion itself, does not concern itself with any dogma or compulsory beliefs or customary usages, but only with the truth. While its teachings are based on truth, it does not claim that they are to be regarded as all truth in themselves but as indicators and guides towards truth. The truth of its teachings has to be discovered by every man for himself, by study and observation and thought, and especially by self study. The feasibility of the teachings can be checked to a very large extent by the ordinary man applying the law of analogy. If an aspect of the law such as, for example, that of periodicity applies at one level of being, it can be assumed to apply at other levels of being.
Even an intellectual appreciation of the principles of the Ancient Wisdom can, when open-mindedly applied, clear away many of our misconceptions and superstitions and hence our fears. If, for example, the nature of Deity in an all-inclusive sense is realised, we can soon see that much of what is commonly said and believed about ‘God’ could not possibly be true. We are brought up to believe that God is a spiritual entity with certain attributes, some only too human, that ‘He’ is the Creator of the Universe and its Governor, and so on. In the light of the Ancient Wisdom these things could not be. There can be no such process as creation as is normally understood; creation can only be a transformation of what was there before into another state or form. Nothing comes, or can come, from nothing.
The process of cosmic-becoming, in every sense, extends from the infinite past into the infinite future, bringing with it the necessary changes demanded by the ever-unfolding life. Deity cannot be either a creator or a governor. By a like token Deity cannot have qualities or attributes. Adjectives such as all-loving, almighty or omniscient cannot apply to that which is Itself all power, all love, all quality of any kind. In ‘God’ is both the faculty of knowing and all that can be known. God is the TOTALITY. But ‘God’ of Itself cannot act, cannot do or be, or love, or know anything. God is love itself. To know God is to become aware of our own complete nature. In all happenings, of whatever kind on earth, God never acts directly. All action is through the hierarchies of beings at all levels of being. In human affairs it is men who do things, sometimes in ‘His’ name, presuming to know ‘His’ will. Will, however, is the Law, the inevitable way in which everything in Cosmos must behave according to its nature. This could be said to be Divine Will, the universal programme, so to speak. Man must come to attune his individual will and hence humanity its collective will, to the Universal Will, if peace and harmony are to reign on earth.
The Ancient Wisdom, however, is far from atheistic. In rooting its system in Universal Unity, the All, and in man’s direct relationship with it, through his cosmically reflecting constitution, the Wisdom says man can come to know the ‘God’ in himself – his real Self – identical with the universal ONE SELF.
All men are indeed essentially our brothers. This fact is realisable as an ultimate end, a final consummation, and an intimation of it can be sensed, quite meaningfully at times, as we progress along our religious way.
The religious way, as has been said, is the way to and through self-knowledge. Sooner or later we begin to know ourselves as an agglomeration of little selves that manifest habitual wants, desires, justifications and postures, and all differently at different times of every day. Having become aware of this, we have to learn eventually to become single minded, with a continuity of intention and attention. Paradoxically, this collected attitude manifests in us as impersonality. In consciousness we become liberated from the domination of our separate self-concerned selves. Each of these has its immediate and intense self-interest triggered into action or reaction, mostly quite automatically and unconsciously to our inner Self, by the circumstances of everyday life. A liberation of consciousness in this way is a realisation of oneself as a new man in a new environment. It eradicates totally all fear. In this new liberty we realise our eternity, as cooperatives in the grand, ever-unfolding panoramas of universal life.
So teaches the Ancient but Ageless Wisdom as we have it from its Masters, the Elder Brothers of Mankind. They will ever inspire those of us who are worthy, having qualified ourselves to be of real help to humanity as it struggles along the same road to perfection which they have trod. All of us, however, can aspire.