August 2011 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the August 2011 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
Qualifications for the Path
By Chong Sanne
Reprinted from the June 2011 edition of The Theosophist
All earnest students of theosophy are familiar with the qualifications for the path. There is no scarcity of books on this subject. One only has to search under the keyword ‘path’ in a Theosophical library to find numerous books written to guide aspirants in pursuit of the Path. Some of the highly illuminating books include the likes of Viveka-Chudāmani, The Masters and the Path, The Path of Discipleship and The Pathway to Perfection. There is, however, no book that more succinctly tabulates the qualifications for the Path than the little book, At the Feet of the Master by J. Krishnamurti. Together with The Voice of the Silence and Light on the Path, these three little gems and the accompanying commentaries, Talks on the Path of Occultism (Vol. I—III), provide possibly the most complete guidelines for aspirants to a very high degree of spirituality.
The Four Qualifications enumerated in At the Feet of the Master are:
We understand that if one could abide by these qualifications and live a life in accord with them, one would be brought onto the Path of Occultism, leading to attainment of the First Initiation. We have considerable commentaries on these qualifications in our Theosophical literature and I need not repeat what has been written.
It must, however, be noted that teachings on the Path of Occultism and its qualifications are not the exclusive domain of Theosophy and the esoteric tradition. It would be true to say that all the major religions and exoteric traditions prepare their devotees for the Path by exhorting them to live a life of virtue and purity in accord and harmony with nature. Every religionist is taught to be good, and goodness is the fundamental qualification for one on the spiritual quest.
It is said that the entire teaching of the Lord Buddha could be summarized in one verse ― Dhammapada verse 183:
To refrain from all evil,
To do what is good,
To purify the mind,
This is the teaching of the Buddhas
A careful look at this verse would reveal its depth. The first statement ‘To refrain from all evil’ is said to be a summary of the Vinaya Pitaka. The Vinaya Pitaka is a Buddhist scripture, one of the three parts that make up the Tripitaka. Its primary subject matter comprises the monastic rules for monks and nuns. This is a demanding qualification as all the world’s ills are attributed to the generic term ‘evil’. Evil is one of the twin poles of man’s nature. Yet, ‘to refrain from all evil’ would only suggest that one is not evil, or ‘not bad’, but not necessarily good. At best we could say it is ‘negative goodness’ or ‘passive goodness’. Interestingly, the phrase ‘negative goodness’ was used by the Master K. H. in a letter to Francesca Arundale:
It is not enough that you should set the example of a pure, virtuous life and a tolerant spirit; this is but negative goodness—and for chelaship will never do. (Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, First Series, Letter 4)
To qualify as good, one has ‘To do what is good’, the second statement in the verse. This is said to be a summary of the Sutta Pitaka. The Sutta Pitaka is the second of the three divisions of the Tripitaka. The Sutta Pitaka contains more than 10,000 sutta-s (teachings) attributed to the Lord Buddha or his close companions. The sutta-s are rich with anecdotes illustrating and exemplifying goodness. One not only refrains from all evil but has to actively engage in meritorious acts. It is not enough to think or say good things: ‘To do what is good’ demands positive goodness or active goodness.
Not being evil and being positively good does not make one wise nor free from ignorance or delusion. Hence, one needs ‘To purify the mind’. This is said to be a summary of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. The Abhidhamma Pitaka is the third of the three baskets of the Tripitaka. The Abhidhamma Pitaka is a detailed scholastic reworking of doctrinal material appearing in the Sutta-s, according to schematic classifications and has been variously described as philosophy, psychology, metaphysics etc. ‘To purify the mind’ would suggest acquirement of knowledge to rid one’s ignorance of the scheme of things and the workings of Nature. We learn that one of the first teachings of the Lord Buddha is the chain of causation, the twelve nidāna-s which explain that ignorance is the origin of all sufferings. This teaching is found in the Mahāvagga, a section of the Vinaya Pitaka, divided into chapters called khandhaka-s. The introductory chapters give an account of the incidents immediately following the Lord Buddha’s Enlightenment. Students of the Mahatma Letters would remember that this teaching of the Lord Buddha was introduced by the Master K. H. to A. P. Sinnett in Letter 88. The Master kindly translated the 1st khandhaka for the benefit of Mr. Sinnett as follows:
‘At the time the blessed Buddha was at Uruvela on the shores of the river Neranjara as he rested under the Bodhi tree of wisdom after he had become Sambuddha, at the end of the seventh day having his mind fixed on the chain of causation he spake thus: ‘From Ignorance spring the samkhāra-s of threefold nature — productions of body, of speech, of thought. From the samkhāra-s spring consciousness, from consciousness springs name and form, from this spring the six regions (of the six senses, the seventh being the property of but the enlightened); from these springs contact from this sensation; from this springs thirst (or desire, kāma, tanhā), from thirst attachment, existence, birth, old age and death, grief, lamentation, suffering, dejection and despair. Again by the destruction of ignorance, the samkhāra-s are destroyed, and their consciousness, name and form, the six regions, contact, sensation, thirst, attachment (selfishness), existence, birth, old age, death, grief, lamentation, suffering, dejection, and despair are destroyed. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.’
Meditation here means the superhuman (not supernatural) qualities, or arhatship in its highest of spiritual powers.
The first teachings of the Lord Buddha are very significant as they are in reality the guidelines to qualifications for the Path. Paramount in the first teachings is the Lord Buddha's first discourse after he reached Enlightenment as given in Dhammachakkappavattana Sutta. The Lord Buddha in His very first sermon to His five disciples, taught ariya-sacca, the Four Noble Truths, which are the briefest synthesis of the entire teachings of Buddhism, since all those manifold doctrines of the threefold canon are, without any exception, included therein. The Four Noble Truths explain Suffering, The Cause of Suffering, The Cessation of Suffering and The Way to the Cessation of Suffering ― The Noble Eightfold Path, which is tabulated thus.
Exploring the Noble Eightfold Path, we find that each of the eight steps is extremely profound.
The very first step Right Belief, Right Understanding or Right Knowledge would certainly lift us out of ignorance, which in the context of the twelve nidāna-s, brings about the cessation of suffering. It would certain free us from superstitions, bigotry and delusions. We would have viveka, the discriminative power stipulated as the first qualification in At the Feet of the Master.
Right Thought refers not merely to cerebral action, but processes of the mind, the manas, thought being the foundation of man’s words and deeds.
Right Speech, Right Action and Right Form of Livelihood may appear to be self-explanatory but the implications of right speech, right action and right livelihood have far-reaching ramifications dictating every moment of our waking consciousness and our mode of life.
Right Exertion or Right Effort is discrimination in another form ― to be ever aware of one’s purpose and priority in life.
Right Memory or Right Mindfulness is a process of purification of the mind as stated in Dhammapada verse 183 mentioned earlier.
Right Meditation or Right Concentration we understand would mean superhuman qualities for the occultists.
Here then is the Noble Path as prescribed by the Lord Buddha for spiritual development and growth. We understand from some occultists that the first teaching of the Lord Buddha, ariya-sacca, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, has great and special significance for occultists. It is said that the very first sermon of the Lord Buddha is repeated and reaffirmed every year on the occasion of the Āsāla Festival. We are also told that the teaching lends itself to progressively higher levels of interpretation depending on one’s spiritual attainment.
The Noble Eightfold Path is unquestionably one of the most comprehensive guidelines for aspirants on the mode of life and qualifications for the path. One could easily see that the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path encompass the Four Qualifications that are given in At the Feet of the Master. Undoubtedly, to accomplish the above would be to qualify for the Path.
The Secret Doctrine: How to Study
Dr. N. C. Ramanujachary will be in Singapore from 15 to 31 August 2011 during which he will be conducting a six-part study class on ‘The Secret Doctrine: How to Study’ as follows:
In addition to the study class, Dr. N. C. Ramanujachary will also give two talks to members. The first talk is on ‘Wisdom packed in Minor Upanishads’ on Saturday, 20/8/11, and the second on ‘Pythagorus – His Philosophy in Aphorisms’ on 27/8/11. The study class and talks by Dr. N. C. Ramanujachary are restricted to members only.