The possession of power in man is manifested by certain unerring signs that fit to any occasion whether of action or repose, and make both action and restraint, speech or silence fitting and sufficient. We say of such, "he is the man for the time, or the place." If we notice the signs of power only on great occasions, and if they are suddenly revealed in one in whom their existence had been unsuspected, the problem is not altered. Circumstances can only serve to bring into action that which already existed within. Circumstances never create heroism; though they may give opportunity for its manifestation.
That man or woman who knows how to do the right thing, at the right time and place, and in the right way, is possessed of real power. Knowledge of the proper time for action, and the ability to act at that time, and in the most appropriate manner, with sufficient force and no more, pre-supposes also the ability to restrain action until that time, and to measure the energy required at that time with exactness. Will, power, judgment and self-restraint enter into all wise and efficient action.
In this measure of power, silence and inaction often manifest will-power in the highest degree, and the ability to wait patiently and serenely the appointed hour springs only from real knowledge.
To be able at any time to exercise or to subordinate the centres of action to the judgment and the will is the secret of power, and this is the result of self-discipline, or cultivation.
It is true that certain individuals seemingly possess this secret of power as a natural endowment, independent of cultivation, and that it is supposed to be the result of heredity and not of self-discipline. This, however, is altogether an illusion. That power should in one instance be demonstrably the result of painstaking endeavor and severe self-discipline requiring a lifetime for its development, and that in another case it should be a gift altogether gratuitous would be so contradictory and so manifestly unjust as to be absolutely untenable.
When, however, reincarnation is admitted as a factor in all human development it can at once be seen that self-conquest applies in every case, and that in any case power is only so won, while heredity is given not only its full value in individual development, but it is readily understood why like egos belong to the same group, and why exceptions in hereditary traits also occur. Heredity fails to explain the secret of power, because of the many exceptions which prove the contrary. Reincarnation explains the secret of power and explains heredity also.
If, therefore, power is seen to be due to self-discipline in the growth of an individual in the present life, we are justified in concluding that where it appears seemingly spontaneous in one who has not been schooled in self-restraint it is the result of evolution in a former existence. In other words, if power depends upon self-restraint and is only so derived through the years of experience we are justified in concluding that it never comes in any other way, and it is far more logical to assume previous experience than to annul the law so clearly demonstrated and so universally operative as far as observation and experience go.
Now what is the meaning of self-discipline that broadens knowledge, deepens intelligence, quickens the perceptions, strengthens the will and is, therefore, the secret of power? How may one proceed who desires to possess power? The point of attack is the emotions and feelings. The perturbations produced by the emotions and feelings in the field of consciousness are like the waves produced by the wind on the surface of a clear lake. Instead of one broad clear expanse reflecting like a mirror all objects above and around in its clear depths, the lake is in constant motion and its surface is broken by a thousand waves with divergent planes reflecting only broken and distorted images.
The consciousness of man is like the lake; the passions are the winds that blow; the emotions and feelings are the waves, and the broken and distorted images are the illusions of sense and time, that crowd out the permanent and the true.
In order to act with judgment and discrimination, or to withhold action wisely, one must see things as they are, and must be able to entirely eliminate the personal equation. He must be able to look events and circumstances squarely in the face and, for the time, dissociate them from himself entirely. He will thus approach the "thing in itself," and be able to estimate it at its true value.
Such a course of self-discipline is difficult to maintain, but it has not only to be persisted in, it must become automatic or habitual. It is achieved only by the few, because the many either do not think it desirable, or are unwilling to pay the price of freedom and power, wisdom and nobility of character.
It is so easy for most people to talk when they have nothing to say. It is so easy to act from impulse or excitement when we have no motive for action, just as easy as for the clear surface of the lake to be broken into ripples by any wind that blows, or into howling waves by a tornado. It is so easy to comment on the actions of others, to criticise their motives and assail their character when the whole subject is really none of our business, and we really know little or nothing about it. It is thus that we weaken and deprave our own character, and injure others for lack of a little self-restraint and sincere honesty. It is thus that our words and actions lose all power for good, and fail to carry weight or manifest power, except for mischief and evil.
All such conduct is, in the first place, uncharitable; such as we do not like to have others exercise towards us. In one word, it is unbrotherly. The foundation of the building of character is ethical. It is the motive that determines action. If we really desire not only not to injure others but really to benefit them all we can, we shall find here a sufficient motive for self-restraint and discipline. This is the reason so much stress is laid on the principle of Brotherhood in the T. S. It is the solid rock upon which all ethics rest, the one true and everlasting test of conduct, and while it benefits the world and elevates humanity as nothing else can, it is, at the same time, the only means of progress, and the final test of power with every individual.
This basis of ethics is, in the first place, a matter of sentiment born in the realm of feeling, the fruit of human sympathy. It is wise, therefore, to create a universal sentiment of Brotherhood, for only so can the attention of the thoughtless, the indifferent, and the selfish be challenged, and held. But let no one imagine that Brotherhood is merely a sentiment. A great deal is gained when the sentiment becomes habitual, and even where the practice of the individual contradicts the sentiment, such an individual is not worse, but better for the sentiment. He who admires the sentiment and tries, however feebly, to act upon it, is bettered by just so much endeavor, though he fail in living up to it habitually.
Beyond the sentimental and the purely ethical basis of self-discipline, there is the metaphysical, the philosophical, and finally the scientific.
In conquering the passions and learning to control the emotions and feelings, there occur certain physical and physiological changes in the human organism on the well-known principle that structure and function develop pari-passu by exercise. Hence, the restraint, or non-use of an organ or a function tends to atrophy. The emotional realm (the sensory ganglia), dominant in the animal and in animal man will lose control and be replaced by the higher function of judgment, intelligence and will. No longer the slave of the passions and emotions, man by self-discipline will become their master.
Now by referring to the illustration of the clear and placid lake as representing the consciousness of man when undisturbed by the waves of passion, we may contrast the ripple, the dash, and the roar of waves with the utter silence of the placid lake when undisturbed. In one case the lake itself is noisy, in the other silence reigns. Here is a complete change of vibration. It is the action of the wind upon the lake that makes the noise. When there is no wind the lake is noiseless, and remember it is the passions, feelings and emotions that represent the wind. Now, clear the consciousness of man from these, that is, lay them to rest and this consciousness becomes a mirror for reflecting faithfully real images, and at the same time a sounding board for all outer vibrations. One can easily test this by the echoes so readily heard on the clear lake and inaudible when the lake is disturbed.
When, therefore, the consciousness of man is habitually held calm and serene, only true reflections are presented to the ego, and these can be examined leisurely and dispassionately. These being true and taken as the basis of knowledge and action, such action will be powerful and far-reaching.
The law of use and development as applied to individual organs so long familiar to physiologists is sure to govern in broader areas of development and to apply equally to the organism as a whole in its relation to the ego.
Self-discipline, self-development, and final mastery of man over his own organism, functions, facilities, and environment, may thus be seen to rest on well-ascertained laws of physics and physiology, and the achievement of power is the higher evolution of man.
Many persons make the mistake of supposing that self-mastery as herein outlined would kill out all feeling, sentiment and emotion, and convert man into an intellectual automaton. Is there then no difference between controlling and killing? Cannot one be pleased or amused without giving vent to roaring laughter like a clown or an imbecile? Cannot one appreciate beauty or loveliness without an insane frenzy to devour or to destroy? Self-mastery teaches one how to appreciate both beauty and ugliness, loveliness and deformity, virtue and vice, at their true value. It also teaches one to discern beneath the less perfect and the more perfect alike, the one life, the one intelligence, the one love that pervade the universe. It is the ability to discern this, and the action that is based upon it that is the secret of power.
The motive of all effort and the aim of evolution is to constitute man a self-conscious centre of power and a co-worker for the uplifting of humanity. If the foregoing considerations seem lacking in force or clearness we have only to consider the effect of allowing the passions, feelings and emotions to have full sway, to run riot, and dominate the individual. Hysteria, melancholia, or "emotional insanity", is the result, and there are in every community many such individuals who are practically insane, and who barely escape the madhouse. Many more are weak almost to imbecility, and to these must be added the criminal classes.
The lower nature must be dominated by intelligence and the moral sense, and self-restraint must be supplemented by right action in order to develop real power, and this means control of the emotions, subjugation of the passions, and elevation of the aims of the individual. This is synonymous with the higher evolution of man, and the end is human perfection.
If every child were taught self-restraint and habitual kindness to others from infancy, thus rooting out selfishness, it would be of far more value than anything else that so-called "education" could bestow, and we might presently see a near solution of all social problems, and a race of not only powerful, but humane men and women.
Universal BrotherhoodTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE