Introductory Remarks on Initiation
“There is a human desire for God; but there is also a Divine desire for man. God is the supreme idea, the supreme concern and the supreme desire of man. Man is the supreme idea, the supreme concern and the supreme desire of God. The problem of God is a human problem. The problem of man is a Divine problem… Man is the counterpart of God and His beloved from whom He expects the return of love. Man is the other person of the Divine mystery. God needs man. It is God’s will not only that He should Himself exist, but man also, the Lover and beloved.”
– Wrestlers with Christ, by Karl Pfleger, p. 236.
We are in process of passing from one religious age into another. The spiritual trends of today are steadily becoming more defined. The hearts of men have never been more open to spiritual impression than they are at this time, and the door into the very center of reality stands wide open. Paralleling, however, this significant development is a trend in the counter direction, and materialistic philosophies and doctrines of negation are becoming increasingly prevalent. To many, the whole question of the validity of the Christian religion remains to be determined. Claims are made that Christianity has failed and that man does not need the Gospel story with its implications of divinity and its urge to service and sacrifice.
Is the Gospel story historically true? Is it a mystical tale of great beauty and of real teaching value but nevertheless of no vital import to the intelligent men and women of today, who pride themselves on their reasoning powers and upon their independence of ancient mental trammels and of old and dusty traditions? As to the perfection of the portrayed character of Christ there is never any question. The enemies of Christianity admit His uniqueness, His basic profundity and His understanding of the hearts of men. They recognize the intelligence of His ideas and sponsor them in their own philosophies. The developments which the Carpenter of Nazareth brought about in the fabric of human life, His social and economic ideals, and the beauty of the civilization which could be founded upon the ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount are frequently emphasized by many who refuse to recognize His mission as an expression of divinity. From the rational point of view, the question as to the historical accuracy of His story remains as yet unsolved, though His teaching upon the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man is endorsed by the best minds of the race. Those who can move in the world of ideas, of faith and of living experience testify to His divinity and to the fact that He can be approached. But such testimony is often passed over lightly as being mystical, futile and incapable of proof. Individual belief is, after all, of no value to anyone except to the believer himself, or as it tends to increase testimony until the total assumes such proportions that it eventually becomes proof. To fall back upon the “way of belief” can be indicative of a living experience, but it can also be a form of self-hypnotism and a “way of escape” from the difficulties and problems of daily life. The effort to understand, to experiment, to experience and to express what is known and believed is frequently too difficult for the majority, and they then fall back upon a belief which is based upon the testimony of the trusted, as the easiest way out of the impasse.
The problem of religion and the problem of orthodox Christianity are not one and the same thing. Much that we see around us today of unbelief and criticism, and the negation of our so-called truths, is based upon the fact that religion has been largely superseded by creed, and doctrine has taken the place of living experience. It is this living experience which is the keynote of this book.
Perhaps another reason why humanity at this time believes so little, or questions so unhappily what is believed, may be the fact that theologians have attempted to lift Christianity out of its place in the scheme of things and have overlooked its position in the great continuity of divine revelation. They have endeavored to emphasize its uniqueness, and to regard it as an isolated and entirely separated expression of spiritual religion. They thereby destroy its background, remove its foundations, and make it difficult for the steadily developing mind of man to accept its presentation. Yet St. Augustine tells us that “that which is called the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist from the beginning of the human race until Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which already existed, began to be called Christianity.” (Quoted by W. Kingsland in Religion in the Light of Theosophy) The Wisdom which expresses relationship to God, the rules of the road which guide our wandering footsteps back to the Father’s home, and the teaching which brings revelation have ever been the same, down the ages, and are identical with that which Christ taught. This body of inner truths and this wealth of divine knowledge have existed since time immemorial. It is the truth which Christ revealed; but He did more than this. He revealed in Himself and through His life history what this wisdom and knowledge could do for man. He demonstrated in Himself the full expression of divinity, and then enjoined upon His disciples that they should go and do likewise.
In the continuity of revelation, Christianity enters upon its cycle of expression under the same divine law which governs all manifestation – the Law of Cyclic Appearance. This revelation passes through the phases of all form-manifestation, or appearance, then growth and development, and finally (when the cycle draws towards its close) crystallization and a gradual but steady emphasis of the letter and the form, till the death of that form becomes inevitable and wise. But the spirit remains to live on and take to itself new forms. The Spirit of Christ is undying, and as He lives to all eternity, so that which He incarnated to demonstrate must also live. The cell in the womb, the stage of littleness, the development of the child into the man – to all this He submitted Himself, and underwent all the processes which are the destiny of every son of God. Because of this submission and because He “learned obedience by the things which he suffered,” (Hebrews, V, 8) He could be trusted to reveal God to man, and (may we say it?) the divine in man to God. For the Gospels show us that continuously Christ called forth this recognition from the Father.
The great continuity of revelation is our most priceless possession, and into it the religion of Christ must, and does, fit. God has never left Himself without witness, and He never will. The place of Christianity as the fulfilment of the past and as a stepping-stone to the future, is often forgotten, and this perhaps is one of the reasons why people speak of a failing Christianity, and look forward to that spiritual revelation which seems so sorely needed. Unless this continuity is emphasized and the place of the Christian faith in it, revelation may come and pass unrecognized.
“There was,” we are told, “in every ancient country having claims to civilization, an Esoteric Doctrine, a system which was designated WISDOM, and those who were devoted to its prosecution were first denominated sages, or wise men… Pythagoras termed this system… the Gnosis or Knowledge of things that are. Under the noble designation of WISDOM, the ancient teachers, the sages of India, the magians of Persia and Babylon, the seers and prophets of Israel, the hierophants of Egypt and Arabia, and the philosophers of Greece and the West, included all knowledge which they considered as essentially divine; classifying part as esoteric and the remainder as exterior”
– The Secret Doctrine, by H.P. Blavatsky, Vol. III, p.55.
We know much of the exoteric teaching. Orthodox and theological Christianity is founded on it, as are all the orthodox formulations of the great religions. When, however, the inner wisdom teaching is forgotten and the esoteric side is ignored, then the spirit and the living experimental experience disappear. We have been occupied with the details of the outer form of the faith, and have sadly forgotten the inner meaning which carries life and salvation to the individual and also to humanity. We have been busy fighting over the non-essentials of traditional interpretation and have omitted to teach the secret and the technique of the Christian life. We have over-emphasized the doctrinal and dogmatic aspects, and have deified the letter whilst all the time the soul of man was crying out for the spirit of life, which the letter veiled. We have agonized over the historical aspects of the Gospel narrative, over the time element, and over the verbal accuracy of the many translations, while failing to see the real magnificence of Christ’s accomplishment and the significant teaching it holds for the individual and for the race. The drama of His life and its practical application to the lives of His followers have been lost to sight in the undue importance attached to certain phrases which He is supposed to have uttered, whilst that which He expressed in His life, and the relationships which He emphasized and regarded as implicit in His revelation have been totally ignored.
We have fought over the historical Christ, and thus fighting, have lost sight of His message of love to all beings. Fanatics quarrel over His words, and fail to remember that He was “the Word made flesh.” We argue about the Virgin Birth of the Christ, and forget the truth which the Incarnation is intended to teach. Evelyn Underhill points out in her most valuable book, Mysticism, that “The Incarnation, which is for popular Christianity synonymous with the historical birth and earthly life of Christ, is for the mystic not only this but also a perpetual cosmic and personal process.”
Scholars spend their lives in proving that the whole story is only a myth. It should, however, be pointed out that a myth is the summarized belief and knowledge of the past, handed down to us for our guidance and forming the foundation of a newer revelation, and that it is a stepping-stone to the next truth. A myth is a valid and proven truth which bridges, step by step, the gap between the past gained knowledge, the present formulated truth, and the infinite and divine possibilities of the future. The ancient myths and the old mysteries give us a sequential presentation of the divine message as it went forth from God in response to the need of man, down the ages. The truth of one age becomes the myth of the next, but its significance and its reality remain untouched, and require only reinterpretation in the present.
We are free to choose and to reject; but let us see to it that we choose with eyes opened by that sagacity and wisdom which are the hall mark of those who have penetrated a considerable way along the path of return. There is life and truth and vitality in the Gospel story yet to be reapplied by us. There is dynamic and divinity in the message of Jesus.
Christianity is, for us today, a culminating religion. It is the greatest of the later divine revelations. Much of it, since its inception two thousand years ago, has come to be regarded as myth, and the clear outlines of the story have dimmed and have come frequently to be regarded as symbolic in their nature. Yet behind symbol and myth stands reality – an essential, dramatic and practical truth.
Our attention has been engrossed by the symbol and by the outer form, whilst the meaning has remained obscured and fails sufficiently to affect our lives. In our myopic study of the letter we have lost the significance of the Word itself. We need to get behind the symbol to that which it embodies, and to shift our attention away from the world of outer forms to that of inner realities. Keyserling points this out in these words:
“The process of shifting levels from the letter to the inner meaning in the matter of spiritual attitudes can be clearly set forth by one single proposition. It consists in ‘seeing through’ the phenomenon. Every living phenomenon is, first and last, a symbol; for the essence of life is meaning. But every symbol which is the ultimate expression of a state of consciousness is in itself transparent for another deeper one, and so on into eternity; for all things in the sense-connection of life are inwardly connected, and their depths have their roots in God.
“Therefore, no spiritual form can ever be an ultimate expression; every meaning, when it has been penetrated, becomes automatically a mere letter-expression of a deeper one, and herewith the old phenomenon takes on a new and different meaning. Thus, Catholicism, Protestantism, Greek-Catholic, Islamism and Buddhistic religiousness can in principle continue, on the plane of this life, what they were and yet signify something entirely new.”
– The Recovery of Truth, by Hermann Keyserling, pp. 91-92.
The only excuse for this book is that it is an attempt to penetrate to that deeper meaning underlying the great events in the life of Christ, and to bring into renewed life and interest the weakening aspiration of the Christian. If it can be shown that the story revealed in the Gospels has not only an application to that divine Figure Which dwelt for a time among men, but that it has also a practical significance and meaning for the civilized man today, then there will be some objective gained and some service and help rendered. It is possible that today – owing to our more advanced evolution and the ability to express ourselves through more finely developed shades of consciousness – we can appropriate the teaching with a clearer vision and a wiser use of the indicated lesson. This great Myth belongs to us – for let us be courageous and use this word in its true and right connotation. A myth is capable of becoming a fact in the experience of an individual, for a myth is a fact which can be proven. Upon the myths we take our stand, but we must seek to reinterpret them in the light of the present. Through self-initiated experiment we can prove their validity; through experience we can establish them as governing forces in our lives; and through their expression we can demonstrate their truth to others. This is the theme of this book, dealing as it does with the facts of the Gospel story, that fivefold sequential myth which teaches us the revelation of divinity in the Person of Jesus Christ, and which remains eternally truth, in the cosmic sense, in the historical sense, and in its practical application to the individual. This myth divides itself into five great episodes:
- The Birth at Bethlehem.
- The Baptism in Jordan.
- The Transfiguration on Mount Carmel.
- The Crucifixion on Mount Golgotha.
- The Resurrection and Ascension.
Their significance for us and their reinterpretation in modern terms is our task.
A point of crisis and of culmination has been reached in the history of man, and man owes this to the influence of Christianity. As a member of the human family, he has reached a level of integration unknown in the past, except in the case of a select few in every nation. He is, as the psychologists have indicated, a sum total of physical organisms, of vital force, of psychical states or emotional conditions, and of mental or thought reactions. He is now ready to have indicated to him his next transition, development or unfoldment. Of this he is expectant, standing in readiness to take advantage of the opportunity. The door into a world of higher being and consciousness stands wide open; the way into the kingdom of God has been clearly pointed out. Many in the past have passed into that kingdom and awakened there to a world of being and of understanding which is, to the multitude, a sealed mystery. The glory of the present moment lies in the fact that many thousands stand thus prepared, and (given the needed instruction) could be initiated into the mysteries of God. A new unfoldment in consciousness is now possible; a new goal has arisen and governs the intentions of many. We are, as a race, definitely on our way towards some new knowledge, some fresh recognitions, and some deeper world of values. What happens on the outer plane of experience is indicative of a similar happening in a more subtle world of meaning. For this we must prepare.
We have seen that the Christian revelation unified in itself the teachings of the past. This, Christ Himself pointed out when He said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” (St. Matt., V, 17.) He embodied all the past, and revealed the highest possibility to man. The words of Dr. Berdyaev, in Freedom and the Spirit, throw light on this:
“The Christian revelation is universal, and everything analogous to it in other religions is simply a part of that revelation. Christianity is not a religion of the same order as the others; it is, as Schleiermacher said, the religion of religions. What does it matter if within Christianity, supposedly so different from other faiths, there is nothing original at all apart from the coming of Christ and His Personality; is it not precisely in this particular that the hope of all religions is fulfiled?
– Freedom and the Spirit, by Nicholas Berdyaev, pp. 88-89.
Each great period of time and each world cycle will have – through the loving-kindness of God – its religion of religions, synthesizing all the past revelations and indicating the future hope. The world expectancy today shows that we stand on the verge of a new revelation. It will be a revelation which will in no way negate our divine spiritual heritage, but will add the clear vision of the future to the wonder of the past. It will express what is divine but has been hitherto unrevealed. It is therefore possible that an understanding of some of the deeper significances of the Gospel story may enable the modern seeker to grasp the wider synthesis.
Some of these deeper implications were touched upon in a book published many years ago, entitled The Crises of the Christ, by that veteran Christian, Dr. Campbell Morgan. Taking the five major episodes in the life of the Savior, around which the entire Gospel narrative is built, he gave them a wide and general application, leaving one with the realization that Christ had not only passed through these dramatic experiences, in deed and in truth, but had left us with, the definite command that we should “follow His steps.” (I Peter, II, 21.) Is it not possible that these great facts in the experience of Christ, these five personalized aspects of the universal myth, may have for us, as individuals, more than an historical and personal interest? Is it not possible that they may embody some experience and some initiated undertaking through which many Christians may now pass, and thus obey His injunction to enter into new life? Must we not all be born again, baptized into the Spirit, and transfigured upon the mountain top of living experience? Does not the crucifixion lie ahead for many of us, leading on to the resurrection and the ascension? And is it not also possible that we have interpreted these words in too narrow a sense, with too sentimental and ordinary an implication, whereas they may indicate to those who are ready a special way and a more rapid following in the footsteps of the Son of God? This is one of the points which concern us and with which this book will attempt to deal. If this more intensive meaning can be found, and if the drama of the Gospels can become in some peculiar way the drama of those souls who are ready, then we shall see the resurrection of the essentials of Christianity and the revivifying of the form which is so rapidly crystallizing.
Part 2 of 3 here…