July 2013 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the July 2013 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
The Asala Festival
Bishop C. W. Leadbeater wrote in The Masters And The Path, which was first published in 1925, the following account of the Asala Festival.
“Besides the great Wesak Festival there is one other occasion in each year when the members of the Brotherhood all meet together officially. The meeting in this case is usually held in the private house of the Lord Maitreya, situated also in the Himalayas, but on the southern instead of the northern slopes. On this occasion no pilgrims on the physical plane are present, but all astral visitors who know of the celebration are welcome to attend it. It is held on the full moon day of the month of Asala, (in Sanskrit Asâdha), usually corresponding to the English July.
This is the anniversary of the delivery by the Lord Buddha of His first announcement of the great discovery—the sermon which He preached to his five disciples, commonly known as the Dhammachakkappavattana Sutta, which has been poetically translated by Rhys Davids as “The Setting in Motion of the Royal Chariot Wheels of the Kingdom of Righteousness”. It is often more briefly described in Buddhist books as “The Turning of the Wheel of the Law”. It explains for the first time the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, expounding the great middle way of the Buddha—the life of perfect righteousness in the world, which lies midway between the extravagances of asceticism on the one hand and the carelessness of mere worldly life on the other.
In His love for His great predecessor the Lord Maitreya has ordained that, whenever the anniversary of that first preaching comes round, the same sermon shall be recited once more in the presence of the assembled Brotherhood; and He usually adds to it a simple address of His own, expounding and applying it. The recitation of the sermon commences at the moment of full moon, and the reading and the address are usually over in about half an hour. The Lord Maitreya generally takes His place upon the marble seat which is set at the edge of a raised terrace in the lovely garden just in front of His house. The greatest of the Officials sit close about Him, while the rest of the Brotherhood is grouped in the garden a few feet below. On this occasion, as on the other, there is often an opportunity for pleasant converse, and kindly greetings and benedictions are distributed by the Masters among Their pupils and those who aspire to be Their pupils.
It may be useful to give some account of the ceremony, and of what is usually said at these Festivals, though it is, of course, utterly impossible to reproduce the wonder and the beauty and the eloquence of the words of the Lord Maitreya on such occasions. The account which follows does not attempt to report any single discourse; it is a combination of, I fear, very imperfectly remembered fragments, some of which have already appeared elsewhere; but it will give to those who have not previously heard of it some idea of the line generally taken.
That great sermon is wonderfully simple, and its points are repeated over and over again. There was no shorthand in those days, so that it might be taken down and read by every one afterwards; His disciples had to remember His words by the impression made on them at the time. So He made them simple, and He repeated them again and again like a refrain, so that the people might be sure of them. One may readily see in reading it that it is constructed for this special purpose—that it may be easily remembered. Its points are arranged categorically, so that when it has once been heard each point reminds one of the next, as though it were a kind of mnemonic, and to the Buddhist each of these separate and easily remembered words suggests a whole body of related ideas, so that the sermon, short and simple as it is, contains an explanation and a rule of life.
One might well think that all that can be said about the sermon has been said already many times over; yet the Lord, with His wonderful eloquence and the way in which He puts it, makes it every year seem something new, and each person feels its message as though it were specially addressed to himself. On that occasion, as in the original preaching, the Pentecostal miracle repeats itself. The Lord speaks in the original sonorous Pâli, but every one present hears Him “in his own tongue wherein he was born,” as is said in the Acts of the Apostles.”
In addition to the account by C. W. Leadbeater we also have the testimonial of Geoffrey Hodson (1886-1983), a renowned theosophist and clairvoyant and also a priest of the Liberal Catholic Church, regarding the Asala Festival. In his occult diary, his wife Sandra Hodson wrote on July 7, 1976, “Geoffrey recorded to me verbally that on one or more occasions he remembered, on awakening, an out-of-the-body experience following the Asala Festival, of attendance at the home and garden of the Lord Maitreya. Geoffrey stated, “As far as my memory goes, not only Adepts, but a considerable number of aspirants to Adeptship—devotees of the Lord Buddha, the Lord Maitreya, and the Masters of the Wisdom—were also present and listened to the discourse. Most of them, in physically influenced memory, were floating in their subtle bodies, as it were, in the air above the Lord’s garden on the southern slopes of the Himalayan Mountains.”
Commencement of Study Class on At the Feet of the Master
We will be commencing our Study Class this year with the first of three famous books. At the Feet of the Master is one of three books—the other two being The Voice of the Silence and Light on the Path—especially intended to help people to set their feet upon the Path. It is most valuable for us because of its extreme simplicity. It consists of teachings given by one of the Masters of the Wisdom to the young disciple J. Krishnamurti in the year 1909, when he was a boy of thirteen. His knowledge of English was not then perfect, and since the instruction was given in that tongue, both the teaching and the language had to be made especially clear. The Master Kūthūmi, with His marvellous power of adaptability, therefore put all that was necessary for the attainment of the First Initiation into that wonderfully simple style which is one of the great recommendations of this little book, which has been translated and printed in many different languages. Interestingly, we have four different versions of it in Chinese in our library.
Light on the Path appeared in 1885, and The Voice of the Silence in 1889. Each of these books of ethics has its own characteristics. Both the older ones are more poetical than At the Feet of the Master, although in the latter also there are some very beautiful expressions; it could not be otherwise, since it comes from the Master Kūthūmi. Light on the Path, we were told by Swami T. Subba Rao, has several depths of meaning, one behind another, the most profound relating to the Initiation at the Mahāchohan level, a stage beyond where even our Masters now stand. The Voice of the Silence carries us as far as the Arhat Initiation. At the Feet of the Master applies especially to the First Initiation. Lodges of the Theosophical Society around the world have conducted study classes on these three theosophical classics at one time or another. We last conducted this particular Study Class in 2002. The class which commenced on July 20, 2002 and concluded on October 12, 2002, over a period of three months, also provided opportunities for much discussion on the moral and ethical issues.
As Annie Besant says, these three books are “small in size but great in contents”. Indeed, we may not be able to fully appreciate their profundity if not for the commentaries of Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater on these three books. The commentaries are taken from their talks on these three books over the years. The talks were not given at one place only but at different times and places, chiefly at Adyar, London and Sydney. A vast quantity of notes were taken by the listeners. All that were available of these were collected and arranged. They were then condensed, with repetitions removed and subsequently compiled into a book, entitled Talks on the Path of Occultism, which was first published in 1926. Because of the openness and discursive nature of the commentary we get to learn of many things not covered by any other theosophical books. Students will find the commentary invaluable, not only to understand the three books but also to gain an insight into the occult environment then.
The study class will be based on the three volumes of Talks on the Path of Occultism. We intend to cover all the three books, starting with At the Feet of the Master. In the first book we will get to know the qualifications for the Path. Although only four qualifications are enumerated, the scope is tremendous. In the exposition of the qualifications, Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater constantly made references to their personal experience in an informal and candid manner. Their personal accounts make the commentary most interesting and varied. In the discourse on the ethical teachings given in the book, the commentators talked about such diverse topics as discerning between right and wrong, selfishness and unselfishness, desires, minding our own business, tolerance, both intentional and unintentional cruelty, gossip, superstition, capital punishment, sport fishing/hunting, how to properly treat children, vegetarianism and so on. Similarly, the study class offers us the opportunity to discuss such ethical topics as well. I do believe that our attitude, lifestyle and, indeed, our very life, may change if we could assimilate some of the instructions given in this little book, At the Feet of the Master.
The study class will be conducted in the same format as that of the Mahatma Letters. We shall have class reading of the book, punctuated with explanations. Background and historical information will be given where appropriate so that the students would fully appreciate the commentaries given. Where necessary, mini-lectures will be given especially on the topics relating to metaphysics or the more abstruse teachings. We shall commence this Study Class on 9 July 2013 at 7 p.m. Do not miss this introductory session! Registered students who have ordered the textbooks can collect them in class.