November 2013 Newsletter

The following articles are reproduced from the November 2013 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.

Difficulties in Clairvoyance — Part II

(Continued from Last Month)

By C. W. Leadbeater


Reprinted from The Theosophist, Volume 35, November 1913.


We know that it sometimes happens that a beginner in astral work identifies himself, in his recollection of some event, with the person whom he has helped. If he had during the night been assisting a man who was killed in a railway accident, he might wake in the morning remembering a dream in which he had been killed in a railway accident, and so on. In something the same way, when the self-centred psychic comes across in his investigations some one with a fine aura, he immediately remembers himself with such an aura; if he sees some one conversing with a Great One, he promptly imagines himself to have had such a conversation, and (without the slightest intention of deceit) invents all sorts of flattering remarks as having been addressed to him by that august Being. All this makes him distinctly dangerous, unless he has quite a phenomenal power of self-effacement and self-control.


Members of the Society who have flattering experiences of this sort have been encouraged to send an account of them to the President or to some other trained seer, in order that the facts (if any) may be disentangled from the embroidery, in the hope that such correction may enable them by slow degrees to learn how to winnow the chaff from the wheat. They come with stories of the marvellous initiations through which they have passed, of the great angels and archangels with whom they have familiarly conversed, and the tales are often so wild and so presumptuous that it requires a great fund of patience to deal adequately with them. No doubt it requires a good deal of patience on their part also, for again and again we have to tell them that they have been watching some one else, and have appropriated his deeds to themselves, or that they have magnified a friendly word into an extravagant laudation.


We may easily see that if the self were just a little more prominent, they would not come and ask for explanations, but would hug to their bosoms the certainty that they really had become high Adepts, or had been affably received by the Chieftain of some distant solar system. So we come by easy gradations to those who have angel-guides, who hear divine voices directing them, and are the constant recipients of the most astounding communications. It is no doubt true that in some cases such people have been charlatans, and that in others they have been insane; but I think it should be understood that the majority of them are neither mendacious nor megalomaniac, but that they do really receive these bombastic proclamations from entities of the astral world—usually from quite undistinguished members of the countless hosts of the dead.


It sometimes happens that a preacher, especially if of some obscure sect, becomes a spirit-guide. In the astral world after death, he discovers some of the inner meanings of his religion which he had never seen before, and he feels that if others could see these matters as he now sees them their whole lives would be changed—as indeed they quite probably would. So if he can manage to influence some psychic lady in his flock, he tells her that he has chosen her to be the instrument for the regeneration of the world, and in order to impress her more profoundly, he often thinks it well to represent his revelation as coming from some high source—indeed he usually supposes that it does so come. Generally the teaching and advice which he gives is good as far as it goes, though rather of the copybook heading style of morality.


But to that dead preacher come presently people who will have none of his sage, moral maxims, but want to know how their love affairs will progress, what horse will win a certain race, and whether certain stocks will go up or down. About all such matters our preacher is sublimely ignorant, but he does not like to confess it, reasoning that as these men believe him to be omniscient because he happens to be dead, they will lose faith in his religious teaching if he declines to answer even the most unsuitable questions. So he gravely advises them on these incongruous subjects, and thereby brings much discredit upon communications from the other world in general, and upon his own reputation in particular.


The untrained psychic among ourselves is often put in precisely the same position, and he or she rarely has the courage to say plainly: “I do not know.” One of the very first lessons given to us by the Great Teachers is to distinguish clearly between the few facts that we really know and the vast mass of information which we accept on faith or inference. We are taught that to say “I know” is to make a high claim—a claim which none should ever make without personal certainty; men are wiser to adopt the humbler formula with which begin all the Buddhist Scriptures: “Thus have I heard.”


The advantage of the pupil who, not having been psychic in the beginning, is afterwards instructed in these matters, lies, I think, in this: that before the attempt is made to develop any such powers, he is trained in selflessness, his prejudices are eradicated, and his astral and mental bodies are brought under control; and so, when the powers come, he has to deal only with the difficulties inherent in their unfolding and their use, and not with a host of others imposed by his own weaknesses. He has learnt to bring his vehicles into order, to know exactly what he can do with them, and to make allowance for any defects which still exist in them; he understands and allows for the action of that part of the personality which is not normally in manifestation—that which has been called by the Psychical Research Society the subliminal self.


When the powers are opened he does not proceed immediately to riot in their unrestrained use; laboriously and patiently he goes through a series of lessons in the method of their employ—a series which may last for years before he is pronounced entirely reliable. An older pupil takes him in hand, shows him various astral objects, and asks him: “What do you see?” He corrects him when in error, and teaches him how to distinguish those things which all beginners confuse; he explains to him the difference between the two thousand four hundred varieties of the elemental essence, and what combinations of them can best be used for various sorts of work; he shows him how to deal with all sorts of emergencies, how to project thought-currents, how to make artificial elementals—all the manifold minutiae of astral work. At the end of all this preparation the aspirant comes out a really capable workman—an apprentice who can understand the Master’s instructions, and has some idea of how to set to work to execute the task confided to him.


The person who is born psychic escapes the trouble of developing the powers; but this great gain brings with it its own peculiar temptations. The man knows and sees, from the first, things which others about him do not know and see; and so he often begins to feel himself superior to others, and he has a confidence in the accuracy of his power of sight which may or may not be justified. Naturally he has feelings and emotions which are brought over from past lives, and these grow along with his psychic faculties; so that he has certain preconceptions and prejudices which are to him like coloured glasses through which he has always looked, so that he has never known any other aspect of nature than that which they show him. The bias which these give him seems to him absolutely part of himself, and it is exceedingly hard for him to overcome it and see things at another angle. Ordinarily he is quite unaware that he is all askew, and acts on the hypothesis that he is seeing straight, and that those who do not agree with him are hopelessly inaccurate.


From all this it emerges that those who possess the psychic faculties by nature should exercise them with the greatest care and circumspection. If they wish that their gift shall be helpful and not harmful, they must above all things become utterly selfless: must uproot their prejudices and preconceptions, so as to be open to the truth as it really is; they must flood themselves with the peace that passeth understanding, the peace that abideth only in the hearts of those who live in the Eternal. For these be the prerequisites to accuracy of vision; and even when that is acquired, they have still to learn to understand that which they see. No man is compelled to publish abroad what he sees; no man need try to look up people’s past lives or to read the history of aeons long gone by; but if he wishes to do so he must take the precautions which the experience of the ages has recommended to us, or run the terrible risk of misleading, instead of feeding, the sheep which follow him. Even the uninstructed clairvoyant may do much good if he is humble and careful. If he takes for a Master some one who is not a Master (a thing which is constantly happening), the love and devotion awakened in him are good for him; and if in his enthusiasm he can awaken the same feelings in others, they are good for those others also. A high and noble emotion is always good for him who feels it, even though the object of it may not be so great as he is supposed to be. But the evil comes when the erring seer begins to deliver messages from his pseudo-Master, commands which may not be wise, yet may be blindly obeyed because of their alleged source.


How then is the non-clairvoyant student, who as yet sees nothing for himself, to distinguish between the true and the false? The safest criterion of truth is the utter absence of self. When the visions of any seer tend always to the subtle glorification of that seer, they lie open to the gravest suspicion. When the messages which come through a person are always such as to magnify the occult position, importance or title of that person, distrust becomes inevitable, for we know that in all true Occultism the pupil lives but to forget himself in remembering the good of others, and the power which he covets is that which shall make him appear as nothing in the eyes of men.


Psychic powers are widely desired, and many men ask how they can unfold them. Yet is their possession no unmitigated blessing, for at the stage which the world has reached to-day there is more of evil than of good to be seen by the man who looks with unclouded vision over the great mass of his fellow-creatures. So much of sordid struggle, so much of callous carelessness, so much of man’s inhumanity to man, which indeed makes countless thousands mourn, and might well make angels weep; so much of the wicked calculated cruelty of the brutal schoolmaster to his shrinking pupil, of the ferocious driver to his far less brutish ox; so much senseless stupidity, so much of selfishness and sin. Well might the great poet Schiller cry:


“Why hast Thou cast me thus into the town of the ever-blind, to proclaim Thine Oracle with the opened sense? Take back this sad clear-sightedness; take from mine eyes this cruel light! Give me back my blindness—the happy darkness of my senses; take back Thy dreadful gift!”


Truly there is another side to the shield, for so soon as one looks away from humanity to the graceful gambols of the jocund nature-spirit or the gleaming splendour of the glorious Angels one realises why, in spite of all, God looked upon the world which He had made, and saw that it was good. And even among men we see an ever-rising tide of love and pitifulness, of earnest effort and noble sacrifice, a reaching upward towards the God from whom we came, an endeavour to transcend the ape and the tiger, and to fan into a flame the faint spark of Divinity within us. For the greatest of all the gifts that clairvoyance brings is the direct knowledge of the existence of the great White Brotherhood, the certainty that mankind is not without Guides and Leaders, but that there live and move on earth Those who, while They are men even as we are, have yet become as Gods in knowledge and power and love, and so encourage us by Their example and Their help to tread the Path which They have trodden, with the sure and certain hope that one day even we also shall be as They. Thus we have certainty instead of doubt; thus we have happiness instead of sorrow; because we know that, not for alone but for the whole humanity of which we are a part, there will some day come a time when we shall wake up after Their likeness, and shall be satisfied with it.


Reprinted from The Theosophist, Volume 35, Nov 1913, p263-278



Foundation Day Celebration

We shall be celebrating the 138th anniversary of the founding of The Theosophical Society on Saturday, November 16 at 5 p.m. at the lodge. Let us rejoice together. Please take note of this important date in your diary and try to attend as we join the rest of the theosophical world in observing this significant occasion.

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