Originally printed in the July - August 2004 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Abdill, Edward. "The Secret Gateway." Quest 92.4 (JULY - AUGUST 2004):128-132.
By Edward Abdill
The Voice of the Silence by H. P. Blavatsky is an extraordinary book. In effect, it is a guidepost for living a life that is said to lead one ultimately to enlightenment. The book is not for everyone. In fact, HPB dedicated it “to the few.” Reading only the first few verses reveals why only a small number of people would take the book seriously.
The preliminary verses tell us that we must become indifferent to the objects of perception and seek out the thought producer. Surely that is no simple task. Few would have any interest in trying it, particularly when they realize the hardships, dangers, and self sacrifice required to reach the goal set before us.
In the short piece entitled “There Is a Road,” HPB mentions a secret gateway. The essay is not included in The Voice of the Silence, but both point in the same direction. While The Voice of the Silence describes the steps along the path, “There Is a Road” simply points toward that path and assures us that although it is steep and thorny, with effort we can reach the goal. This little piece highlights both the hardships and the possibility of overcoming them. It reads:
There is a Road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a Road. And it leads to the very heart of the universe.
I can tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that opens inwardly only, and closes fast behind the neophyte forevermore.
There is no danger that dauntless courage cannot conquer.
There is no trial that spotless purity cannot pass through.
There is no difficulty that strong intellect cannot surmount.
For those who win onward, there is reward past all telling: the power to bless and to save humanity. For those who fail, there are other lives in which success may come.
Throughout the spiritual literature of the world, the road, path, or journey is often used as a metaphor for a way of life. Just as a physical road is useless unless traveled, so is the metaphorical way of life useless unless lived. In The Voice of the Silence we read: "Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become that Path itself." (Fragment I, verse 58) There is no actual path or road apart from our own evolving self. There is only a way of living, and the experiences that change us.
In one sense there are really only two roads. The one that most of us choose is the sensate one. That is the road that winds through feelings of every description. Our experience on this road tells us that we are our feelings. This road is not wrong. We learn as we travel it, but we learn ever so slowly over many lives.
The other road is often symbolized in myths and legends as one that is traversed at the risk of death. Yet the reward at the end is worth all the trials that the journey requires. Where is that road? Why is it so perilous, and why is the gateway to it secret?
This less-traveled road is the one whose gate opens “inwardly only and closes fast behind the neophyte forevermore.” It opens inwardly to our thoughts, feelings, desires, hopes, aspirations, and ideals. It also opens to a reality beyond all that, beyond the “me” with which we identify. It opens to who and what we truly we are.
We might think that we know who we are, but do we? Perhaps we are like the man who was frantically trying to get on another flight after his was canceled. There was a long line at the counter where an agent was rapidly working to rebook everyone. The man dashed to the front of the line and told the agent that he absolutely had to be put on the next flight. The agent politely told him that he would have to stand in line with everyone else. In his desperation, he shouted, “Do you have any idea who I am?” At that the agent picked up the mike and announced, “We have a gentleman here who seems to have lost his identity. If anyone can help him recover it, please report to gate A36.”
If the gate that opens inwardly is simply a gate to the self with which we are familiar, it certainly does not close fast behind us forevermore. There is hardly anyone whose personal nature has not been modified to some extent over years. Sometimes our experience changes us. Sometimes through psychoanalysis we make major changes. As we grow older, friends often notice that we have mellowed. The familiar self can be modified. We can go in and out the gate to that self, modifying the “me” or not as we please or as circumstances force us to change. Moreover, there is nothing secret about that kind of gate.
The gate that closes permanently behind us is not a gate to self-analysis. It is not a gate to new ideas or theories about ourselves and the world, not even Theosophical theories. Rather, it is a gate that opens to a totally new state of consciousness, to the first experience of the Inner Self. That experience is qualitatively different from the everyday experience of “me.” It is an impersonal state in which there is no longer a sense of self and other, no longer duality, but only the Eternal. So long as we identify with some state within us and say, “This is I,” there is the duality of subject and object. There is the self that observes and the object, or state of consciousness, that is observed. In The Voice of the Silence we read:
When waxing stronger, thy Soul glides forth from her secure retreat: and breaking loose from the protecting shrine, extends her silver thread and rushes onward: when beholding her image on the waves of Space she whispers, “This is I,” – declare, O Disciple, that thy soul is caught in the webs of delusion.” (Fragment I, verse 16)
The gateway that leads to the experience of the Inner Self is secret because it is totally unknown until experienced. Until then, we have only theories about it, words, concepts, ideas, and creeds.
When that Inner Self is experienced, when for a fleeting forever we are that SELF, there is no time. There is no self. There is only Eternity. Once that reality flashes upon our mind, the gateway closes fast forevermore, because no matter how difficult life may become in the future, we can never forget that at the depth of our being we are rooted in the Eternal.
It is said that when we are born we get a flash of the life to come. In a fleeting instant we understand what it is that we must try to do in that lifetime. The flash is but a preview of our goal, not the goal itself. A lifetime of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, and challenges of every sort lie before us. Just as that flash preview comes at the beginning of a life, so does the flash awakening of the Inner Self come at the beginning of a new kind of life. At that moment we have no more reached the goal than the infant has done in the flash preview of the life about to be lived.
Speaking of an experience such as that in meditation, Blavatsky writes:
In his hours of silent meditation the student will find that there is one space of silence within him where he can find refuge from the thoughts and desires, from the turmoil of the senses, and the delusions of the mind. By sinking his consciousness deep into his heart he can reach this place—at first only when he is alone in silence and darkness. But when the need for the silence has grown great enough, he will turn to seek it even in the midst of the struggle with self, and he will find it. Only he must not let go of his outer self, or his body; he must learn to retire into this citadel when the battle grows fierce, but to do so without losing sight of the battle; without allowing himself to fancy that by so doing he has won the victory. That victory is won only when all is silence without as within the inner citadel. Fighting thus, from within that silence, the student will find that he has solved the first great paradox. (Collected Writings, Vol. VIII, p. 128)
We have not reached “the very heart of the universe.” Rather, we have seen that ahead of us lies a steep and thorny road. Only gradually, through challenging experiences, do we discover just how steep and thorny it is.
One of the first things we may notice on the road is that throughout life our mind and emotions have become powerfully conditioned. For the most part we automatically react to circumstances that come before us. Like a cat that hisses at someone who has abused it, we “hiss” at certain people who have annoyed us. We react emotionally to ideas that threaten our views. If someone upsets us, we remember it. When we meet again, the memory of the upset comes into our mind and we react to it. We do not really see people as they are now. Instead, we see our memory and react to it.
Our mind and emotions have been running us, although we may be totally unaware of it. While the Inner Self sleeps, it can do nothing. For us it does not exist. We are only aware of our mental and emotional states and our often feeble attempts to change them. Simply working on ourselves from within the “me” is much like rearranging the furniture in our home. We may make things more attractive by doing that, but it is still the same old house and the same old furniture.
Once the Inner Self is awakened, we realize that it is from there that we must gain mastery over our whole nature. From there we must rein in the mind, purify it, sharpen it, direct it in totally new ways, and make it so crystal clear that it will carry out the will of the Inner Self.
This is a gigantic task. Why? Because our habitual way of thinking and acting has built up a powerful momentum that can only be changed with great effort over time. Commenting on “self-purification,” Master KH explained to Sinnett that it is not the work of a moment but the work of a series of lives. Alluding to psychological inertia, he adds that we must “undo the effects of a long number of years spent in objects diametrically opposed to the real goal.” (Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, First Series, letter 6).
If we are among the few who long for union with the Eternal, what must we do to obtain it? HPB tells us to begin by becoming aware that we are not only ignorant of our true nature but constantly self-deceived. Next, she says, we need a deep conviction that with effort we can obtain intuitive and certain knowledge. Third, she adds, we must have an “indomitable determination” to get that knowledge and face it. Such knowledge is unobtainable by rational thought alone. It is the awakening of the Divine nature within.
The determination that HPB mentions is the driving force that keeps us on the road to knowledge. If the inner will is weak, if we give up when the road gets steep and thorny, truth and self-knowledge will elude us.
Armed with an indomitable determination to see ourselves as we are, faults and all, we can begin the long and arduous self-transforming journey. Unfortunately, there are no clear, detailed maps, only guideposts that point toward the ultimate goal. No map will do, because although the goal is the same for all, the route is unique to each traveler. The route is our life.
One of the clearest guideposts for living is one that was given to Madame Blavatsky by one of her teachers. It has been called the Golden Stairs, and it reads as follows:
A clean life, an open mind, a pure heart, an eager intellect, an unveiled spiritual perception, a brotherliness for one’s co-disciple, a readiness to give and receive advice and instruction, a loyal sense of duty to the Teacher, a willing obedience to the behest of Truth, once we have placed our confidence in and believe that Teacher to be in possession of it, a courageous endurance of personal injustice, a brave declaration of principles, a valiant defense of those who are unjustly attacked, and a constant eye to the ideal of human progression and perfection which the Sacred Science depicts. These are the golden stairs up the steps of which the learner may climb to the Temple of Divine Wisdom.
On the surface, the statement is clear and easy to understand. Yet to live in accordance with the Golden Stairs requires far more than a superficial understanding of what is required. One might meditate on these qualifications for years, gradually gaining deeper insight into their meaning as one attempts to understand and live them.
There is another guidepost for living called the Three Limbs of the Theosophical Life. Those three limbs are study, meditation, and service. Once again, there are depths of meaning in those three qualifications.
Most people think that study is linked to an acquisition of knowledge. Often students read texts, remember what they read, and are convinced that they have studied. On one level, they are right. We must know certain facts if we are to function in the world. Yet the kind of study required to reach the secret gateway is far more than that. Simply accepting what is written about a spiritual principle is of little use. We need to go beyond the written word to the level of insight. By pondering the concepts that we sense are true, by stretching the mind, we may experience a flash of understanding that changes us.
The kind of study just described is in fact a type of meditation. Meditation is not a thinking process. It is an action of the mind. In study, our meditation is on a spiritual principle that we seek to understand. In meditation proper, we try to come into union with the Eternal. Both study and meditation take our focus away from the “me.” Both can lead to insight and transformative change.
Although the quality of service is listed separately, it is in fact the consequence of the first two qualifications. Study, meditation, and service are inseparably linked. Through study and meditation we come to experience a closer unity with humanity itself. This results in compassion, which motivates true service. Many people of goodwill volunteer their services to help others. This is a good and useful thing to do. Yet if we seek to serve because we want praise and admiration from others, then our service is motivated by self-interest. Real service is an attitude of mind and a way of life. It is doing what is right, regardless of personal inconvenience. The simple act of smiling at a supermarket clerk who seems to be unhappy is service.
Whenever we do what we can to bring joy and harmony into the life of a fellow being, human or other, we are serving. Those who render true service do so because it is part of their nature. They can do no other.
All valid guideposts point toward the secret gateway. They point, but they cannot lead us to that gateway and road beyond. Ultimately, it is only our own innermost Divine nature that can lead us to the gateway. That Divine reality shines through every human being, but in most it shines feebly. That is because our egos are like clouds. Some are dark and threatening. Some are pleasant and fluffy, but each cloud, each ego, blocks the sunlight in varying degrees.
In some individuals, known as adepts, the light shines on the world through a cloudless sky. That light can also influence and guide us, but only if we dissipate the clouds of ego. If we deeply long to alleviate suffering in all its forms, if we are motivated by compassion and altruism, we are automatically within the stream of influence radiating from the adepts.
To reach the gateway and the road that leads to reward past telling, we must be driven by compassion. We must have an iron, never-failing determination and yet be gentle and humble. We must be clad with the armor of courage, take up the shield of purity, and wield the sword of intellect. If we try to do that, I believe that we can and will enter the stream of influence from the adepts and contribute to it.
By passing through the secret gateway and following the steep and thorny road, we may come at last to SELF knowledge. Only then will we be free. Only then, will we reap the reward past telling, the power to bless and save humanity.
Edward Abdill served six years on the National Board of Directors of the Theosophical Society in America. He lectures in Spanish and English and has spoken throughout the United States, in Australia, Brazil, England, and the New Zealand. His video course on “Foundations of the Ageless Wisdom” is used internationally.