Copyright © 2011 by Theosophical University Press
The Brotherhood of great seers and sages, united in a common purpose and governed by common ideals and esoteric knowledge, has existed as an association of high adepts under the direct inspiration and guidance of their hierarch, or mahaguru, for many millions of years — certainly for not less than twelve million; in other words, since the appearance on earth of the root-race which preceded our own present fifth root-race.
The individuals of the fourth root-race are technically called the "Atlanteans" — not that they called themselves "Atlanteans," for the various subracial stocks called themselves by names which have long since been lost to history, except insofar as certain works of the most ancient literatures refer to them under appellations which in the view of all modern scholars are accepted only as mythologic celebrities.
As the geologic epochs follow one another, continents rise above the waters in different parts of the globe, are peopled for long periods of time by racial stocks immigrating from elsewhere, and again sink beneath the oceans. Each such great continental system bears its own series of racial and subracial stocks, which when considered together as an aggregate or racial unit is named in modern theosophy a root-race — one such unit being the Atlantean or fourth root-race. The name "Atlantis" is given to the immense continental system which with its outlying subcontinents and islands more or less once covered the face of the globe, but with its main center where now the Atlantic Ocean is. The word "Atlantis" is taken from the Timaeus of Plato, who with other Greek writers referred vaguely to an island of about the size of modern Ireland which had once existed in the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Pillars of Hercules, the Straits of Gibraltar. Some other Greek writers called this island "Poseidonis."
This island was merely the last surviving remnant of noteworthy magnitude which still existed at the remote time of which Plato wrote, say some eleven or twelve thousand years before the Christian era. This Atlantis of Plato was the homeland from which colonists once set out to populate the Nile delta, a process of colonization which continued for thousands of years. The early Egyptian stock sprang from these early Atlantean colonists who intermarried with immigrants from what the ancient Greeks called Aethiopia, which was the Southern India of that now distant period. These Indian immigrants into Egypt in their turn were descendants of Aryanized Atlanteans from an Atlantean subrace which had colonized lands now largely sunken beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean and of the Pacific.
These Aryanized Atlanteans are referred to in ancient Hindu literature, as in the Mahabharata, under the term Rakshasas. Modern Ceylon, a still surviving remnant of the ancient Lanka, was the northern headland of one of these Pacific-Atlantean land-masses. There still survive as lonely insular remnants of the once great Atlantean land-massif, the Azores, the Canaries, and the islands of Madeira — all of which were once cloud-capped mountain-peaks of the archaic Atlantean continent.
The Atlantean race reached its culminating point of material splendor some four or five million years ago. Every root-race is marked by its own characteristic evolution in both intellectual and psychical lines; and the main characteristic of all the Atlantean peoples was materialism. Things of matter were worshiped rather than things of the spirit. Materialism — combined with a deliberate practice of both matter-magic and psychical magic — was the professed belief and ideal of all the various subraces after the middle point of the Atlantean civilization had been reached.
At that remote time the entire globe had become so materialistic, not only in outlook but in practice, so sunken in the life of matter that the whisperings from the god within him no longer reached man's soul. Although there were, throughout the long ages which comprised the risings and fallings of the different Atlantean civilizations, both groups and individuals who cultivated the life of the spirit, yet the masses were eager followers and often actual worshipers of the dark forces which form the night-side of nature.
Imagine a people most remarkably intelligent, more so than we of the fifth race by far, but of an intelligence of an entirely material and often evil-seeking type. When they reached the culmination of what was really a splendor and a glory but of a wholly material type, and greater than anything that our present fifth race has as yet attained, they were saved in their frenzied rush downwards to universal sorcery only by the unceasing labors of certain ones whom we may speak of as incarnated divinities. It was these great ones and their followers who, for the salvation of the many and the initiation of the worthy few, finally during a period of culmination in evil-doing and spiritual wickedness, established the first genuine spiritual Mystery schools of the globe. This happened shortly — geologically speaking — before the Atlantean race sank to its racial perdition.
In addition, these schools were established in order to carry on the wisdom teaching of the gods into the fifth root-race, which is ours. These Mystery schools were guarded with extreme care against spiritual infection and from unworthy membership, so much so that in later ages even the unconscious betrayal of the teachings given in the Mystery schools was punished with death. Such a method of protecting the Mystery schools was emphatically wrong, but it was typically Atlantean: rigid, cruel in impulse, powerful in action. Force even at that late date was worshiped and all things that were essentially of matter were still idolized.
However, this must not be taken as being universally applicable to all the Mystery schools. A few retain somewhat of their spirituality to the present day; some which degenerated at a very early period and whose names are long since forgotten, died the death that was their due; others prevailed for a while until they became seats no longer of white magic but schools of black magic, and they lived as long as nature's violated laws could tolerate them. Yet, certain of these Mystery schools did prevail far into the fifth root-race, and one, the greatest of them from the beginning, lives even to this day — the Brotherhood of the mahatmas.
The date of the first establishment of the Mystery schools is given as having occurred during those periods of Atlantean civilization when the terrific rush toward absolute matter and its dark and somber forces needed checking for the benefit of the many who had sufficient good in them to profit by the effort thus made. Yet this pertains to the actual establishment of the ancient Mysteries as schools or esoteric colleges, each one presided over by a hierarchy of initiates, in regular serial line of succession, this being the first instance of such serial successorship in the history of the globe during this fourth round. This is referred to in Sanskrit as the guruparampara, or line of successive teachers — not an "apostolic succession" as the Christian Church has it as a distorted echo of the original reality, but as the actual succession of the initiate adepts.
Thus were the Mystery schools first established. Yet this does not mean that it was only during the period of Atlantean degeneracy that the spiritual teachers and leaders of mankind first began their sublime work of assembling and instructing the multitudes of men, for this work had actually been going on for millions of years, but dealing rather with individuals than with actual established schools of secret and formal instruction. Indeed, the Hierarchy of Compassion had been at work in this sublime labor ever since and even from before the time of the slow incarnation of the manasaputras, and therefore the inauguration of such work may be placed at about the middle point of the third root-race.
Now the Silent Watcher of the globe, through the spiritual-magnetic attraction of like to like, was enabled to attract to the path of light, even from the earliest times of the third root-race, certain unusual human individuals, early forerunners of the general manasaputric "descent," and thus to form with these individuals a focus of spiritual and intellectual light on earth, signifying not so much an association or brotherhood as a unity of human spiritual and intellectual flames, so to speak, which then represented on earth the heart of the Hierarchy of Compassion. This focus as the ages passed slowly attracted to itself other individuals whose increments of energy increased the holy flame, and thus kept the sacred light alive and present on earth. During the ages which succeeded, the materialization of the human race culminated in the weaknesses and malpractices of the later fourth root-race; and thus it was that this focus of living flames became in the middle and later fourth root-race the first and holiest of the true Mystery schools which, as the succeeding ages rolled on into the past, became racialized into inferior foci enlightening, each after its own manner, the various subraces of the fourth root-race.
It was just this original focus of living flames which never degenerated nor lost its high status of the mystic center on earth, through which poured the supernal glory of the Hierarchy of Compassion, today represented by the Brotherhood of the mahatmas. Thus it is that the Great Brotherhood traces an uninterrupted ancestry back to the original focus of light of the third root-race.
Thus the formal and regularly instituted Mystery schools have existed for some four or five million years, and were extended into the outer world as branches of the Brotherhood, when men's minds and hearts showed the proper receptivity for the implanting of the seeds of truth. At other times, when what Plato called periods of spiritual barrenness came upon men, then were the Mystery schools withdrawn from public knowledge, becoming at times utterly secret, known only to those whose spiritual, intellectual, and psychical unfolding attracted them to these schools and attracted the teachers in these schools to these unusual individuals.
Yet throughout the ages these Mystery schools, whether secret or more-or-less known, were the sources from which went into the multitudes of men the impulses and guiding light which built up the civilizations of the different epochs. Out of these schools went everything that was of permanent value: into the different parts of the globe went the teachings and the men imbodying and illustrating those teachings, and so it was from the remotest epochs of the self-conscious human race, down even to fairly recent times in human history.
Out from these schools went everything that made Rome great in matters of law and order; that made whatever was splendid and fine in the civilizations of Babylon, of Egypt, of Hindustan, and likewise of the ancient peoples of Northern Europe, and ancient Gaul and Britain with their Druidic wisdom.
These impartations of truth or new "revelations" were at times of widely-spread and at other times of merely local character, depending upon the need which was seen to prevail. Even single cities at times became centers of reception. Ephesus was one such center, Memphis in Egypt was another, and, indeed, scores of other places on the globe were similarly blessed. Eleusis and Samothrace at one time were foci of light and esoteric learning. Today these are all a memory! Why did the light die out? All human institutions reach their culminations and then decay and die; and the causes occasionally were that those in charge of the light proved faithless to the trust. Nothing on this earth in human or materially evil power could have ever overthrown or brought about the decay of these schools had they remained clean and true at heart, for the might of the Brotherhood — the spiritual solar fire — would then have been within and behind them.
At Eleusis, for instance, things had come to such a pass that the initiations and the teachings had become mere rites or empty forms, very like the Christian ceremonies of today. Yet the Mysteries of Eleusis lasted until a late era even in degenerate Greece. Indeed, it was not until the time of the Emperor Justinian that the esoteric school at Athens, which was essentially the same as was the Eleusinian, was closed by an imperial rescript in the sixth century, probably because of a petition sent to Constantinople by the guardians of the school themselves; and then seven Greek philosophers, sincere, earnest, and good men, and the only "faithful" ones of the time, fled to King Khosru of Persia, for protection against the tyranny of imperial Rome. The Persian king received them hospitably; and as Rome at that time was at war with Persia, when Persia won, one of the conditions of the peace was that these philosophers should be permitted to return to their native land, and to teach there in peace.
Among Roman emperors, Hadrian, Trajan, and Augustus had been initiated at Eleusis, but in an era when the Eleusinian Mysteries themselves were nearly dead, spiritually speaking. These emperors had received initiation in the forms and rites which still remained in function, pretty much as a man may join a church and be confirmed in the orthodox way, "receive the laying on of hands" — a mere gesture — and receive communion. He would then be said to be "initiated." Nevertheless they did receive something; for as long as the Mysteries lived, the men who conducted them still had some lingering sparks of the ancient verities, and were enabled to clothe their procedures and rites with at least a semblance of the holy fire of archaic times.
Julian the "Apostate" — so called because he would not abandon the religion of his forefathers — did indeed have a teacher guiding him; but his case was unusual. The Mysteries in his time had become practically extinct. The fatal mistake that this noble-hearted but misfortunate emperor made was his uncalled-for invasion of Persia; and thereby hangs a curious tale. Julian the Initiate must have known in his heart that his undertaking of the Persian war was both unjustifiable and esoterically wrong; and yet Julian the Emperor was karmically carried along into this catastrophe; for in a certain sense it does indeed seem that he could not wholly help himself in this respect. His case was one of those singularly pathetic instances where an early karmic mistake of magnitude held him in the "fell clutch of circumstance." He could have done one of two things. He could have said no to his councillors and have held to his decision; and that would have ended the matter for the time being, and he would not have committed a new esoteric mistake. Or he could have said yes, as he did, thus yielding to the impelling, but not compelling, chain of events, and thereby laid up for himself an accumulated karmic store which it will probably take ages for him to work off. He did what he must have known to be wrong in one sense, and a part of his unfortunate karma fell upon him immediately. He was slain by one of his soldiers, a Christian regicide.
The incident, recorded by Christian ecclesiastical historians, is well known, to the effect that Julian, after the spear had pierced his side, gathered some of his blood in his hand and cast it upwards saying: "Galilean, thou hast conquered!" If this incident was true, it was not a recognition that Jesus was what the later Christians said he was, the human incarnation of God, but that the dogmatic religious influence which was a distortion of the example and teaching of Jesus, had conquered for the time in that and succeeding centuries. It was on Julian's part the poignant despair of a great and noble heart: "I have done my best and have lost. Thou, the dogmatic religion, hast conquered." But the cry of his breaking heart was made to his own Father, who heard, and now, after two thousand years of spiritual obscuration and intellectual darkness, the ancient wisdom is coming back into its own. Julian one day will be vindicated, and will be regarded in esoteric history as one of the most unfortunate martyrs in the ranks of the workers for the ancient wisdom.
The cause of the disappearance of the Mysteries has always been degeneracy, faithlessness on the part of the students, and their lack of an imperative and heart-reaching call for light. Where there is a genuine spiritual and intellectual call issuing from both heart and mind, there invariably comes the response by way of a new installment of teaching from the Brotherhood. When the yearning for truth and for greater light wanes, there comes no teacher — yet often there appears a destroyer, who may, or may not be an agent, perhaps unconsciously to himself, of the spiritual powers which hold the spiritual and intellectual safety of the globe in their strong hands.
When the human race or even an individual makes the spiritual and intellectual appeal in terms so strong, with spiritual energy so vibrant, with the very fiber of the inner life, it actually operates with the spiritual magnetism of a teacher, and the call is heard in the Brotherhood invariably, and an envoy or messenger appears in the world as its representative.
These Mystery schools of ancient days were really universities for the instruction of human beings in the nature and laws of themselves and therefore of the universe of which they are children. In their origin, all of them were very holy and on a high plane, and conditions for admission were severe and difficult. They were, in fact, copied after the Brotherhood of the great seers themselves. In this Brotherhood, even today worthy human beings drawn from all quarters of the globe are under instruction and training.
Furthermore, these chelas or disciples are instructed in the entire past history of our planet, and the real and natural workings of nature on our physical plane, such as astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, geology, zoology, and botany, and many more, but these "courses of instruction" are considered as sidelines of study giving place to a growing knowledge of nature — the structure, laws, and operations of the universe, and of its component hierarchical principles. The entire system in this wonderful university of the "Sons of the Firemist," as the great seers are sometimes called, is not at all a mere loading of the brain-mind with more or less useful facts, as occurs in ordinary centers of instruction in our civilized lands, but in educating and training the consciousness and will of the pupils so that they may know actualities of nature at first hand by sending their consciousness into the core of things, and thus as it were by temporarily becoming such things, instantly and exactly to know what things really are, what their past, and what their future. They learn how to develop the spiritual eye, called in India's mystical writings the eye of Siva, whose flashing sight penetrates behind all the veils of matter into the most recondite abysses of the universal life.
Indeed, the higher initiations consist almost entirely in such coalescence of the consciousness of the neophyte with the beings and things which he must fully know in order to become on earth what the future destiny of the monad is to be cosmically: a self-conscious identification of the disciple's own fundamental being with all that is.
The procedure is patterned after that of the great cosmic university, the universe itself, in which incomputable hosts of entities in all grades of evolutionary development are at school and learning the lessons of universal life — by becoming. There is no other way by which to learn the reality of things except by becoming them, which means temporary self-identification therewith. How can one really know a thing in itself, the reality of it, except by becoming for a time that thing itself? The idea is a simple one: we become, at least temporarily, whatever our consciousness vibrates synchronously with; for this means at least a temporary coalescence of identities, and paradoxical as it may sound, such identification or coalescing of principles and substances is the only real way of attaining complete and unadulterated knowledge of truth. This is not at all extraordinary or unknown even to the average man, as, for instance, when his consciousness temporarily coalesces with the consciousness of some other being or thing; and the usual manifestations of this we call "sympathy." Thus it is by self-identification with spiritual beings and ideals that we grow to greater things, and equivalently by self-identification with things beneath the human status that we degenerate to lower things. The whole attempt of inner training is to attain self-identification in progressive and ever-enlarging stages with the great spiritual powers on which the universe itself is constructed and with which it is molded.
Training cannot begin too early, and this is as applicable to the child as it is in the training for chelaship and its lifetimes of preparation. As Jasper Niemand wrote:
The struggle for the Eternal is not one daring deed nor yet hundreds of them. It is a calm unbroken forgetfulness of the lower self for all time. Begin it on your present plane. You have within you the same guide that the Masters possess. By obeying It, they have become what they are. — The Path, Dec. 1886, p. 268
One of the main objectives of such training is the stimulation of the moral sense to become so strong in the life of the disciple that the voice of conscience becomes the instant and relatively unerring monitor indicating which path at any moment the disciple should follow. Coincident with this is the training of the intellect to become keen, instant in action and, under the guidance of the moral sense, virtually unerring in judgment.
It is the brain-mind alone, an excellent instrument but a very poor master, which is trained by pragmatical matters, and no objection lies against this, so far as this training goes; but it is emphatically neither the training of the ethical sense nor of the true intellect, the higher manasic faculty in the constitution of the developing disciple. For instance, such studies as the facts and philosophy of the rounds and races are valuable because they induce abstract thinking apart from pragmatical matters which are usually based upon selfish considerations. Indeed, from the very beginning of such training, the disciple himself is urged to identify himself both in thought and in sympathetic feeling not merely with others but with the universe. The fact is well known that every man who succeeds in his profession or business is a man who identifies himself with it and thus becomes proud of his productions; whereas the individual who looks upon himself as a slave to what to him are the fell mandates of either conscience or duty is the man who is riding direct for a fall. We do well what best we love, because we then identify ourselves with what we do. Thus this whole matter of training in chelaship involves a profound lesson in the intricacies of human psychology.
It was pointed out that a messenger or envoy is sent from the Brotherhood into the world for the purpose of striking anew a keynote of spiritual truth when a sincere call comes from the heart of mankind; but it must likewise be stated that, just as Krishna points out in the Bhagavad-Gita (4:7-8), an avatara comes in times of great spiritual barrenness, when the waves of materialism are rising high. But at such times when wickedness and moral decay are in the ascendancy among men, then, even when an avatara does not appear, an especial effort is made by the Brotherhood to inaugurate at least the beginning of a period of spiritual fertility.
Concerning the nature of the cyclical times when the great teachers either appear personally in the world of men or send a messenger, it may be stated that the greatest teachers come at the opening or close of the longest cyclical periods; the messengers or envoys are sent forth at the opening or closing of the short cycles, and the teachers or messengers of intermediate power come at the beginnings or endings of time-periods of intermediate length.
Thus, for instance, every root-race, of which there are seven during a globe-manvantara, has its own racial buddha, and these root-races are of time-periods counting millions of years in duration. As an example of the shorter or intermediate time-periods, there is the recurring series of the messianic cycles, each such cycle being 2,160 years in length. Again for each precessional cycle or great year of 25,920 years' duration, there are twelve such messianic cycles; and the reader will note that such a messianic cycle of 2,160 years is just half of the sacred numerical sequence 4320, these figures 432 followed by one or more zeros being known to students of ancient literature as the sacred and secret numerical sequence known in Babylonia and India. H. P. Blavatsky was a messenger opening such a messianic cycle, and a previous messianic cycle ended — or a new one began — some 2,160 years ago with the life and work of the avatara, Jesus the Christ.
The members of the Brotherhood are eternally alert and watchful, and are continuously acting as a Guardian Wall (to adopt the phrase of H. P. Blavatsky), around mankind, shielding it against dangers both of a cosmic and terrestrial character. Mankind little knows what it owes to the great sages and seers. Furthermore, these
great seers are the custodians of the inexpressibly beautiful formulation of teachings, which in modern times is called theosophy; and when times are fully propitious, or when the race needs a new inspiration, they send forth from their own number a messenger. These messengers or envoys are not always members of the Brotherhood itself; for frequently chelas are directed to undertake this work; and these chelas again are of different degrees of standing.
From age to age these messengers come when the world needs a regenerative current from the inner spiritual sun, over-ruling and guiding the destinies of our planet; and they establish, it may be a new religion, a new philosophy, or one or the other bearing a strongly scientific stamp, which endures until degeneration sets in, when the vital force which first emanated from the great founder has run its course. Then comes the period for another reawakening.
The old literatures still contain records, even if only a few have survived the gnawing tooth of time, of genuine seership or prophecy. They commonly describe the coming of a major cycle of degeneration, but there always is the promise of a following spiritual awakening. Three such prophecies might be of interest, and are reproduced hereunder. The first is from the apostle Peter; the second is from the Vishnu-Purana, one of the most popular works of its type in India; and the third belongs to what is commonly called the Hermetic literature of Egypt.
First, from the Second Epistle of Peter:
In the last days mockers shall come with mockery, walking after their own desires, and saying: Where is the proof of its presence? For, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the world. For this they wilfully forget that there were heavens from of old, and an earth compacted out of water and through water . . . by which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished; but the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored with fire, being reserved against the day of judgment, and destruction of ungodly men.
. . . But the day of the spirit will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be uncovered . . . the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. But . . . we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth holiness. — 3:3-13
Peter has here confused several doctrines of the ancient wisdom as to what is to come when the present evolutionary era shall have run its course, and again when the solar pralaya shall have arrived. Peter confuses, for instance, the submergence of the Atlantean continent with matters pertaining both to the primordial appearance and ultimate disappearance of the solar system, in connection with which events, "water" is frequently used as symbolic of the fields of space — the Greek Chaos.
This reference by Peter to terrestrial and cosmical events, often alluded to in Greek philosophy, shows clearly enough the Neopythagorean and Neoplatonic origin of the ideas which this apostle incorporated in his own rather vague prophecy.
The second illustration has reference to the course of the kali-yuga or black age, which began some five thousand years ago, and which the archaic works state will run for 432,000 years. This extract from the Vishnu-Purana states facts which to a certain extent are as applicable to our own time as they will be thousands of years hence:
There will then be contemporary monarchs ruling the earth; kings of churlish soul, of violent temper, and always turned to falsehood and evil actions. They will inflict death on women, children, and cows; they will rapaciously take away the property of their subjects; they will possess but limited power; nor will they, as a rule, reign for a long time but will rapidly rise and fall; their lives will be short, and their ambitions insatiable; nor will they have much piety. The people of the various countries intermingling with them will be similarly corrupted; and worthless men holding the patronage of the princes whilst the nobler are neglected, the people will perish. Wisdom and piety will day by day grow less, and finally the entire period will be depraved. In those days, property alone will give rank; wealth will be the only cause of devotion; mere romance of a passional nature will be the sole bond between the sexes; falsehood will be the only means of success in litigation; women will become objects of sensuous attraction only. The earth will be venerated for its minerals solely; the mere Brahmanical thread will be the only sign of a Brahmana; outward show will be the only distinctions of the various orders of men; dishonesty will be the sole means of livelihood; weakness will be the cause of dependence; menace and egoism will be the substitutes for true learning; open-handedness will be considered as devotion; mere outward washings will be substitutes for real inner purification; mere consent will take the place of marriage; fine garments will be dignity; and water merely at a distance will be considered as a holy spring. From all the orders of life, the strongest will seize the reins of government in a country so debased. The people, groaning under the heavy load of taxation imposed upon them by the avaricious rulers, will flee to the valleys of the mountains, and will rejoice if they find wild honey, herbs, roots, fruits, leaves, and flowers, for food; their sole clothing will be the bark of trees, and they will be exposed to cold, rain, wind, and the sun. Men's lives will be shortened to three-and-twenty years. Thus, in the Kali-yuga, will decay proceed apace, until the human stock approaches extinction.
This prophecy, of which only too many signs of its truth may already be perceived, does not continue in an entirely pessimistic vein:
When the practices taught by the Vedas and the Books of Laws shall have almost ceased, and the end of the Kali-yuga shall be nigh, a portion of the divinity which lives in its own spiritual nature in the state of Brahman, and which is the beginning and the end and which comprehends everything, shall appear on this Earth, and will take birth in the family of an eminent Brahmana of Sambhala-village, called Vishnu-Yasas, as the Kalkin-avatara who will be endowed with the eight superhuman faculties. By his irresistible power he will overthrow all the Mlechchas and thieves, and all whose minds are devoted to iniquity. Then he will re-establish right-doing on Earth; and the minds of them who live at the end of the Kali-yuga shall be as pellucid as crystal. The men thus changed by the influences of that exceptional period shall be the seeds of human beings to come, and shall grow into a race which will follow the duties and laws of the Krita-yuga [Age of Purity]. — Bk. IV, ch. xxiv
In some respects the following prophecy from the old Egyptian Hermetic book is the most interesting of the three, for the reason that what it prophetically alluded to has become history. It is alleged to be a prophecy of an Egyptian sage who foresaw what Egypt would be, once that she had fallen. Most if not all of the so-called Hermetic writings commonly ascribed to Egyptian sources are, by modern scholars, considered to be the productions of writers who lived in the Graeco-Egyptian era. But even if it be true that these Hermetico-Egyptian books were written by Alexandrian, Greek, or quasi-Greek scribes, the ideas contained in them are traceable to remote Egyptian antiquity.
Art thou not cognisant, O Asklepios, that Egypt is the image of the Heavens, or rather that it is the projection here below of the order of things above? Yea, to tell the truth, this land is a temple of the Kosmic scheme. However, there is something that thou shouldst know, since sages ought to foresee things: — a time will come when it shall appear that the Egyptians have worshiped the divinity so piously in vain, and that all their holy invocations have borne no fruit and are unheard. Divinity will then leave the earth and return to the Heavens, abandoning Egypt, its ancient home, leaving this land bereft of religion and widowed of the presence of the gods. Foreigners will cover the soil, and not only will holy matters be neglected, but, still more terrible, religion, piety, and the worship of the gods will be forbidden and punished by law. Then this land, made holy by so many temples and shrines, will be covered with tombs and filled with the dead. O Egypt! Egypt! There will remain of thy religion only obscure legends which posterity will refuse to credit; words engraven upon stone will alone remain to testify to thy devotion! The Scythian, the Indian, or some other nearby barbarian will rule Egypt. Divinity will return to the Heavens; and men thus forsaken will perish; Egypt will be likewise forsaken and desert; abandoned of men and gods!
To thee I cry, O most holy of Rivers; to thee I foretell the coming doom! . . . The number of the dead shall exceed that of the living; and if a few inhabitants remain on the land, Egyptians by tongue, they will be aliens in manners. — Asclepius, or Treatise on Initiation (Logos teleios), IX.24-5
How remarkably this prophecy has been fulfilled! Yet Hermes, the alleged speaker, as he continues in this prophecy, foresees brighter days when divinity will return anew to Egypt. Thus he strikes the same keynote of optimism and hope for restoration to better and even greater things than in the past, even as the Vishnu-Purana forecasts.
These great sages or masters have never been discouraged in their work for humanity by the fact that the body of truths which at cyclical intervals they promulgate anew would have to undergo perigreat sageods of degeneration. Directed by spiritual beings even greater than they, they do this sublime work and without intermission throughout the whirling cycles of time. Millions upon millions of suffering human souls have received help and guidance from the work of these world teachers and, on the occasions when they or their messengers appear publicly among men, by the example of their noble and self-sacrificing lives.
Yet it is one of the saddest facts that all great men are invariably misunderstood at first, often violently persecuted, usually derided and scorned, and occasionally even made victims of the public's hatred of innovations. Further that same public, after having done away with some great man, as a certain few instances of history show, after a few years begins to elevate him to the rank of the deities, to worship or to bow down to him as a god; in doing so usually losing sight of the message that he brought to the world. Such is the fervor of personal adoration, and most assuredly this is not what the great teachers desire.
In the case of the great Syrian sage Jesus, his devotees have turned their noble master not only into a god, but into the actual figure of the second person of their Trinity; and in the case of Gautama the Buddha, although no such extraordinary apotheosis has taken place, yet even he is regarded in some parts of the world with a fervor of devotion which, while perhaps ennobling in the self-forgetfulness that it evokes, is by no means in line with his sublime doctrine of self-control, duty, and universal love.
Merely personal devotion and fervor directed to a human personality, however noble and great, are not what are wanted. As a dog will follow his master to the ends of the earth with a self-abnegation that lacks something of the divine only because limited to one object, and not universal, so men have a similar way of devoting themselves to only that one of the world's teachers in whose family, so to say, they happen to belong.
It is in these well-known facts that we see the reason for the disinclination of a people, among whom a messenger may appear, to receive the message brought to them. Human nature is a curious mass of contradictions. It calls eagerly for more light, but it must have the light shaped after its own pattern, and the pattern is its own prejudices and predilections. It calls for help, but it insults and rejects the helper when he comes, unless the aid be extended after the manner that is considered customary.
The progress of civilization is but a series of conquests over obstacles needlessly thrown in the way of human advancement. It is but a succession of truths rejected in the first instance almost invariably, and later recovered and taken to heart.
The different messages brought to mankind by all the world teachers, whether or not we belong to their time or to their race, have a profound meaning for us also, because these messages are of universal import, which is ours by our human birthright. How can one, whose ideas of religion and of human brotherhood are limited by merely artificial geographical frontiers, know the mighty surge of sympathy, the keen intellectual delights and strengthening of moral fiber, that accrue to him whose mind reaches out toward other human minds and souls now living in other parts of the world?
Although the greater ones among the teachers and guides of mankind already have the light of approaching divinity shining on their foreheads, they belong nevertheless to the human race, and in consequence their own destiny is inseparably bound up with humanity's future.
The wise old Muslim caliph al-Ma'mun, who lived in the ninth century, held that the great teachers of wisdom, of whose existence he certainly had some inkling,
are the elect of God — his best and most useful servants — whose lives are devoted to the improvement of their rational faculties. . . . The teachers of wisdom are the true luminaries and lawmakers of the world, which without their aid would again sink into ignorance and barbarism. — Abu al-Faraj
The sages and seers are like the sower in the Christian parable who scatters seeds of universal wisdom on the wings of thought. Some of the seeds fall by the wayside; some are eaten by birds; some fall into dry and sunburnt places; but others fall into good human soil, take root therein and grow.
These mahatmas or great sages work unceasingly among men, though it is only at rare intervals when the times are ripe for it that they mingle publicly with the multitudes. They are forever watching the inner movements and outer productions of human minds and hearts. They study world conditions and do their best to ameliorate life's asperities and to protect mankind against oncoming psychical and other perils. Their standing in evolution is so advanced that they can see at a glance, by a light or an aura around a human being, just where he stands, and thus know instantly whether that human being is ready for their encouragement. Of course, they cannot help when men consciously or unconsciously reject the proffered aid. Nevertheless, undismayed, they work on from age to age. They are frequently present in the study or laboratory of the earnest scientific researcher, invisibly and unknown, planting a fertile idea in his mind, suggesting a noble thought to that mind, but only when the spiritual and psychological ground of the individual is receptive to these ideas.
Thus there are guiding minds in and behind the world of men; but even these great seers never work against nature nor, indeed, against the will of humanity; for if they exerted their spiritual, intellectual, or psychical powers merely in order to force men and women to follow paths which they have not themselves chosen, these sages would not then be working with the slowly rolling current of evolution, but would be like drivers of dumbly-driven cattle.
Nature permits no permanent slavery, nor has she much use for mere parasites. Her effort is to build men, and the great ones work in collaboration with the great mother toward the same end. Thus they guide, watch over, and continuously protect, but never enslave the wills of evolving men. They look upon no moral failing as so great as that of bowing the conscience in mental servitude to the dictates of another, no matter how great or how wise; for it is a part of their endeavor to make men free — free-willing agents and collaborators with themselves.
They send forth ideas into the world: ideas that are intrinsically more powerful than anything that civilization knows; ideas which in fact build and rebuild civilizations, and which, if misused by smaller minds, even can destroy them. It is against such misuse that they are continually on the alert. It should never be supposed, however, that the teachers send forth their messengers to meddle in political turmoils or to be involved in directing disagreements into channels possibly leading to human bloodshed or to the rending of the ties of human affection and love, thus leading to broken hearts. Should they ever concern themselves with the political turmoils of any age, they would do so only as peacemakers.
It is the Esoteric Tradition that a teacher is sent from the Brotherhood whenever there is a sufficient number of ready human hearts, and at such times societies or associations are established for the transmission to mankind of the great body of philosophical, religious, and scientific teaching based on the secret structure and laws of the universe. But the first teaching given to the aspirant to wisdom always is: Find that wonder within yourself which is now, which is always, ready, and waiting. Try! This is the Way. The ethical principles open the heart and the mind of the inner man: break the doors of the prison in which the inner man lies in the chains of maya. It is the practice of these spiritual virtues and qualities which gives to man strength, which exercises his highest faculties, and which thus brings them into active functioning in his daily life.
The aspirant or candidate for the archaic wisdom is always told: There is a way by which to gain truth. Yet any knock except the right knock is unheard. The knock itself is, first, living the life. One must come with peace in his heart, and with a yearning for light so strong that no obstacles will daunt the courageous soul. One must come to the outer portal ready to brave the scorn of the world, which laughs and scorns because it knows not better, much as children laugh when they hear a truth which they do not understand.
It is of great consolation that the Mystery schools still exist. The masters not only form the same Brotherhood which has been on earth as an organic association since the middle of the third root-race; but many of them, nearly all of them, are the reincarnated egos of the great ones of the Brotherhood who lived in former ages, although it is likewise true that from time to time disciples or chelas ascend to the level of their teachers and take their ranks in the Great Brotherhood.
Thus the light of the holy sages is transmitted from age to age, as the masters succeed each other and form the guruparampara or succession of spiritual teachers, whisperings of the existence of which have reached the multitudes from time to time. This succession of the great teachers in esoteric line, dating from Atlantean times, indeed from the ages of Lemuria to the present day, has been called by different names: the passing on of the Word, or the transmission of the Light, the "Golden Chain," or the "Hermetic Chain," etc. This Hermetic Chain was considered by certain Greek philosophical mystics and poets as reaching from Father Zeus downwards through a line of spiritual beings and then through certain elect and lofty human beings to ordinary men.
The ancient Greeks and Romans used a beautiful simile taken from one of their sports in order to exemplify this mystic fact. In the torch-race, the torchbearer ran from post to post. On reaching the end of his stage he handed the lighted torch to the one there waiting, who immediately took up the race and in his turn handed it to the one waiting for him. This exercise of the arena was taken by many Greek and Latin writers as symbolizing the carrying on of light from age to age, and as pointing to the spiritual torchbearers who pass the torch of truth from hand to hand throughout unending time.
The ancient Mystery schools of every country and of whatever epoch, have had each one a succession of teachers authorized by their training to teach in their turn; and as long as this transmission of the light of truth was a reality in any one country, it was a truly spiritual institution, which did immense good in the world. Thus it was that there was a succession of teachers in the Mystery schools even of Greece and Rome, although degeneracy became early manifest in Samothrace, Eleusis, and elsewhere in the Mediterranean lands. Upon the same esoteric facts reposes the famous succession of the "Living Buddhas" of Tibet, which is a real one, but of a somewhat special type.
The occult transmission of authority and light from teacher to teacher is a spiritual fact, based upon actual initiation and training of the teachers, and not upon formal or conventional customs. More or less distorted copies of this Hermetic Chain exist in various exoteric sects such as in the "apostolic succession" of the Christian Church. Of course when this apostolic succession became a mere form, a mere matter of election to the office, then what there was of the original divine light was already gone; and this succession became but a whited tomb holding some of the ideals of men long dead.
It might be added that there are not only the special messengers of the masters who come at certain cyclical intervals in history, but there are also what one may call minor messengers — individuals who are more or less unconscious of the work that they are sent to do. There are others who are but vaguely conscious of their inspiration, and many are entirely unconscious of the fact that they are instruments of the great teachers. The appearance of such spiritual and intellectual leaders among men is well known to every student of history. Giordano Bruno, for instance, may be called one of these vaguely conscious human instruments, whose message and work profoundly affected the philosophic thought of Europe.
A messenger of the masters is not to be understood only by his message, but also by his character, because it is one of the easiest things in the world for the devil to copy the works of God — to employ the well-worn Christian saying. While it is quite possible that a barrel redolent of pickled fish may contain the fragrant oil of roses, such a case of contrariety would be rare! A man is not great merely because he thinks lofty thoughts, nor because he is a preacher of beautiful phrases. A man is great only in proportion as these manifest themselves in his daily life. A true teacher is one by example as well as by precept. It is the empty vessel that makes the most noise; but it is the full vessel from which is drawn the streams that nourish and strengthen. Many are the men and women throughout the ages who have aspired to be personal or chosen disciples of the great ones, but of them it may be said: "Many are called, but few are chosen." Discipleship consists in doing.
What the teachers of mankind look for, when searching among men for the stuff of which disciples are made, is the rare combination of the qualities of devotion, intellectual power, and dawning spiritual insight; and when these qualities are strong enough in an individual they attract by a species of spiritual magnetism the personal attention of one or more of the great seers. Every new spiritual birth takes place through the pangs of coming into a new type of life. The disciple is a forerunner of the race; he is a pioneer and hews his way through the jungle of human life, making a way not for himself alone, but for those who follow after him. The time comes when he finally achieves the grade of spiritual mastery, and then he becomes a master of life and of wisdom. The glory of the Hierarchy of Compassion begins to pour through his being and even shows itself in his body, so that his very presence among his fellows is like a benediction.
For every normal individual there will come the time when he will feel the urge to follow the lonely but beautiful path of chelaship; yet every true disciple realizes that his path of relative and temporary seclusion is followed only up to the point where the disciple becomes a master of life. Thereafter does he become a ceaselessly active servant of the law of cosmic compassion, and a servant of mankind in the sense of devoting his whole life and all that is in him to awakening the spiritual and intellectual consciousness of his fellowmen.
Such has been the teaching of all the great Mystery schools; and while their number is today not as large as it was in more favored eras, nevertheless they still exist in different countries of the globe as branches of the chief focus of spiritual light of our earth. All of these schools owe allegiance and are subordinate to the mother-school which conducts its operations in one of the most inaccessible parts of High Tibet.
Each such Mystery school has its own especial work to do in the nation of which it actually is the spiritual and intellectual heart, although utterly unknown to the multitudes among whom it is established. Places of seclusion and of relative inaccessibility are always chosen for these schools; for they are above everything centers of spiritual light, and they may have no buildings of any size in which meetings are held. For meetings may be held under the face of Father Sun, or possibly under the violet dome of night. One may meet a member of one of these schools in the streets of one of our great cities, and pass him by, neither knowing nor recognizing how near one has approached a quasi-god-man.
All the disciples of these schools are in training, and this training is a forcing — or hastening or "telescoping" — of the evolutionary growth. The point is that instead of the disciple's being satisfied with the slow growth that takes place as the ages revolve, he enters into intensive stimulative training, thus greatly shortening his evolutionary course.
With each step forwards we become ever more aware that we are not alone on this pathway to the gods. Others have been over the path before us: a long procession of the greatest spirits and minds of the past ages; yet they are still our companions, because joined to us by interior spiritual bonds. They are watching over us even now. In following this pathway, we feel the strange and wondrous companionship of the soul with these great men in whom the inner god so enlightens their minds and all their nature that the universe is their sphere of consciousness and their home.