By Joy Mills
Originally printed in the NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2008 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Mills, Joy. "The Vitality of Living Truth." Quest 96.6 (NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2008):207-210, 225.
PERHAPS SOME OF YOU HAVE BEEN AS ENCHANTED as I have been by Richard Bach's work Curious Lives, in which he has recounted "Adventures from the Ferret Chronicles." Bach is probably best known as the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but his "Ferret Chronicles" make for a most delightful read. In the foreword to Curious Lives, Bach informs us that for half a century he has been asking such questions as, "Is the world in our mind . . . and not outside? What if all we see about us are reflections of what we think is so? What's reflected when we decide to change our thought?" He goes on to say how bored he has become with "drama about evil, films about war and malice and crime," so that if he had "to watch one more prison scene, one more aggression, one more gigantic spectacular stupendous explosion on-screen," he would "walk out and rebuild the universe."
Bach then continues with his questions: "What if . . . a culture grew up without evil, without crime or war? What would it do with all the energies that we squander on our destructions? How would it feel to live in a world where we choose our highest right and not our darkest wrong, where we lift each other instead of always and ever putting each other down?"
Good questions, those, particularly because they set me to asking some of my own: What would the world be like if every individual who believed in the Theosophical ideal of universal brotherhood really lived in accordance with that principle? More to the point, what would happen if I not only acknowledged but actually lived the stupendous, mind-shattering, heart-inspiring, fundamental truth that there is only One Life? What if, joined by others who are equally bored by the endless diet of scandal, political corruption, corporate greed, and road rage, I set out to rebuild the world?
In concluding The Key to Theosophy, HPB responds to questions concerning the future of Theosophy and of the Theosophical Society. In the first instance, she states unequivocally that Theosophy "will ever exist throughout the infinitudes of the Future," because it "is synonymous with Everlasting Truth." In regard to the future of the Society, however, her response is cast in problematic terms: "Its future will depend almost entirely upon the degree of selflessness, earnestness, devotion, and last, but not least, on the amount of knowledge and wisdom possessed by those members, on whom it will fall to carry on the work."
When asked why knowledge should be such a vital factor, HPB states that it is not a matter of "technical knowledge of the esoteric doctrine," but rather of the kind of knowledge that possesses "that vitality which living truth alone can impart." All too frequently, knowledge has been equated with information, with what we sometimes call "hard facts," but it is quite obvious that HPB had something else in mind when she used that word. So let us pursue a little further what she may have meant by knowledge in this context, even equating it with "living truth" and therefore with Theosophy itself.
There is a unique part of the Mahatma Letters, published as an appendix to the volume The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, and more recently to the chronological edition of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett under the title "Cosmological Notes." The document begins with the question "What are the different kinds of knowledge?", to which the response is given, "The real and the unreal," with the added comment that "real knowledge deals with eternal verities and primal causes."
"Real knowledge," "eternal verities," "living truth": these are but a few of the terms that, when examined closely, may describe a state of knowing that transforms us completely. Consider, for example, the statement by one of the Mahatmas in a letter to Sinnett: "Real Knowledge . . . is not a mental but a spiritual state, implying full union between the Knower and the Known" (Letter 69, chronological edition). And consider also a statement in the "Cosmological Notes" which tells us that Real Knowledge "becomes Fohat . . . in its activity," indicating the dynamic, vital, living quality of true knowing. Fohat, which HPB called "an occult Tibetan term" for that primordial cosmic energy that brings about a manifested system, is the animating principle linking Universal Mind or consciousness with the vehicles in which that consciousness becomes individualized. Furthermore, HPB equates Fohat with eros, which is simply to say that real knowledge is the energy or dynamic of love. Although more could be said about Fohat, our concern at present is not with the technicalities of cosmic processes. While recognizing that true knowledge is an energy that moves, sustains, and transforms, our immediate focus is on exploring the essential knowing, the "living truth," that so vitalizes us that we do indeed create a new world.
We may read the phrase "the living truth" in two ways: first, as the necessity for each of us to live the truth, our own truth, the truth as we know it when we see things as they are, not as we might wish them to be or as the mind conceives them; and, second, as the essential fact that truth by its very nature is living, dynamic, vibrant, and capable of transforming us. As the contemporary cosmologist Brian Swimme has said, "Deep truths challenge us profoundly. To understand them demands a change in ourselves along with a creative leap of the imagination." The late president of the Theosophical Society, N. Sri Ram, put the matter this way: "The Truth which we seek must be the Truth of direct experience, in which the distinction between subject and object has ceased to exist." He added that "Truth is a becoming, but each must find it by the realization of it within himself. And he can realize it only as he seeks to embody it in his life, so that all one is and does becomes more and more beautiful each day."
To seek Truth, to know the wholeness of Truth as actual experience: that is the journey on which we are really engaged. The Theosophical author J. J. van der Leeuw beautifully and powerfully expressed the nature of this seeking in his book The Conquest of Illusion: "Unless we ask with our whole being, heart and soul and mind, unless we can hardly eat or drink or sleep unless we know, unless life is no longer worth living without the experience of living truth, we shall not gain it. We must desire truth more than life itself if we are to be worthy of experiencing it."
Even if we consider that truth as an absolute is beyond conception, we may yet discover that as a reality truth is not beyond experience. It is essentially inherent in experience and in the "experiencer" when the distinction between the two has ceased to exist. It is the discovery of that reality which seats us, as it were, in the livingness of truth, so that we are no longer content with concepts that have in no way changed us or transformed us. Concepts are simply constructs of the mind, satisfying our hunger for logic and reason. But the experience of truth calls us to be other than we are; it transforms us from within so that we can never be the same again. Truth answers to a deeper hunger within us, beyond the mind and yet not mindless, rooted in the consciousness of the One, the hunger to know, to experience the Real.
There is a vast difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing it as a lived experience. For the Theosophist, I would suggest, the gap between intellectual knowledge and the living truth is fatal, for the former may leave us essentially unmoved in possession of concepts that, while perhaps beautiful in themselves, have never touched us. As a result, our lives continue in the programmed patterns of the past, which we call our karma, and we walk the world almost as the "living dead." The other, the living truth, known and experienced in the depths of our being, continually acts within us to give us renewed vitality, energy, and strength to meet whatever occurs on our journey. By intellectual knowledge, we may know about many things and be able to discourse about numerous ideas. By the experience of truth itself, we know the one thing that really matters and we are constantly renewed from within.
Out of this genuine experience there arises the question: What action, what movement within me, is necessary to translate the energy of truth into the life I live, into this present, incarnate existence? How can my life reflect in every action, every thought and feeling, that experience which I know to have been an encounter with truth? At the same time, how do I know that the experience, which to me seemed so very meaningful, was indeed a genuine encounter with truth?
Perhaps these questions are most easily answered by suggesting that any experience which broadens rather than narrows, which expands rather than contracts our sensitivity to life and our concern for the welfare of all that lives, must be one that at least approximates truth. When the mind and heart are one and completely open to what is, then truth speaks to us, for we have come into perfect accord with the true nature of things. To come into such perfect accord, there must be a cleansing of the heart and a clearing of the mind, so that we may feel and see and know the One in the midst of the many, forgetting self in the wonder of the Universal Self.
There is a beautiful phrase used in one of the Yoga Sutras (section 1, sutra 48) to describe the spiritual state of consciousness known as prajna. It is said of that pure consciousness that it is "truth- and right-bearing," the Sanskrit term being rtambhara. As I. K. Taimni points out in The Science of Yoga, Ultimate Reality "is referred to as Sat [or "isness"] and Its existence in the Universe manifests in two fundamental ways." First, "It constitutes the truth or the very essence of all things." We have this in the motto of the Theosophical Society: Satyam paro nasti dharma, which has been translated, "There is no Religion higher than Truth." The second way in which Ultimate Reality manifests is known as rtam, which Taimni defines as "cosmic order including all laws—natural, moral or spiritual—in their totality which are eternal and inviolable in their nature." So "Rtambhara Prajna is thus that kind of consciousness which gives an unerring perception of the Right and the True underlying manifestation." It is to awaken in ourselves that kind of consciousness that our human journey is undertaken.
As we consciously proceed on this human journey, our experiences may well awaken us to new insights if we are open to question the meaning of every experience. When those new insights stir us, transform us, reshape us from within, then it is inevitable that we will act in the world in new ways, ways that reflect the uniqueness of our own encounters with truth. We do not need to ask, "How should I act?" or "What should I do in this or that particular situation?" Our action flows effortlessly from our perception or knowing or direct experience of what is. Let me illustrate.
The Theosophical worldview postulates that there is but One Life, that everything in the universe about us in all its diversity is still but an expression of that One Life. HPB told her students, "Existence is one thing, not any collection of things linked together." Annie Besant recognized this unity in the opening words of her well-known invocation: "O Hidden Life, vibrant in every atom." Today many physicists, as well as biologists, ecologists, and leading thinkers in other disciplines, are speaking of the interconnectedness of all living systems. But the idea put forward by HPB is different, because it goes past positing unity as mere interconnection. Rather, as she put it, "fundamentally there is One Being . . . there is nothing outside it." She emphasized this great idea in The Secret Doctrine: "The radical unity of the ultimate essence of each constituent part of compounds in Nature—from star to mineral atom, from the highest Dhyan Chohan to the smallest infusorium, in the fullest acceptation of the term, and whether applied to the spiritual, intellectual or physical worlds—this unity is the fundamental law in Occult Science" (1:120).
In her Esoteric Instructions III, HPB reiterated the idea, writing that to understand the occult doctrine "fully and correctly," the student has to know "the great axiomatic truth that the only eternal and living Reality is . . . the one ever-existing Root Essence, immutable and unknowable to our physical senses, but manifest and clearly perceptible to our spiritual natures." And, she added, "once imbued with that basic idea and the further conception that if It is omnipresent, universal and eternal . . . we must have emanated from It, and we must, some day, return to It, and all the rest becomes easy." Not only have we "emanated from It," as she put it, but everything in the manifested universe derives its existence from that One, by whatever name it may be called.
It may be easy enough for us to acknowledge the fact that everything in the manifested universe is interconnected, but to actually know that underlying all interconnections is a fundamental Oneness may not be so easy. Yet it is precisely that truth which is to be realized and ultimately acted upon. If, as HPB has stated, this truth is "clearly perceptible to our spiritual natures," then it is for us to awaken that spiritual perception so that we actually experience, in the depths of our own being, the stupendous truth that the source and cause of all manifest existence is one absolute Reality. That, I submit, is indeed the most profound and life-altering experience anyone can have; it is the encounter with "living truth" that opens the doorway to real knowledge. All other truths are secondary, deriving from this one fundamental principle.
How does this One Ultimate Reality reflect itself in a world of being and becoming? HPB uses the analogy of the breath, for the aliveness of the One breathing in and breathing out reflects itself in a dynamic polar relationship exhibited everywhere throughout the manifested universe. The basic life action of the universe everywhere repeats the rhythmic order of the One, breathing in and breathing out, a cyclic process in accordance with its own inherent lawfulness. So arises our interconnectedness with all that exists. And recalling the statement quoted earlier that Real Knowledge becomes Fohat or eros, we may say quite simply that the link is love. There is a beautiful passage in Plato's dialogue The Symposium that points to this linkage between the Ultimate Reality, or the world of the gods, as Plato terms it, and the manifested system in which we dwell. Socrates relates what he has learned from Diotima, a wise woman whom he calls his instructress. When Socrates asks Diotima whether love is mortal or immortal, she responds that it is neither, "but in a mean between the two . . . intermediate between the divine and the mortal." Diotima continues by saying that "God mingles not with man, but through Love all the intercourse and converse of gods with men . . . is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual."
Love, then—or, if you prefer, compassion—is the living energy that unites us with the ultimate, by whatever name we may call it—God, Brahma, the One, the Vastness, the realm of the gods. It is the same energy that connects us with everything and everyone in the universe—with the distant stars as with the blade of grass and the pebbles beneath our feet, with those we call our friends as with those we may think of as our enemies. For all is made of the same substance, whether we call it akasha, mulaprakriti, alaya (to use just a few of the terms in The Secret Doctrine) or we designate it as spirit-matter, matter-energy, consciousness-matter.
In the world about us, we tend to see only dualities and polarities, and we speak of these as opposites: what is this is not that and what is that is not this. When we change our focus, when we see what is and realize fully that there is only one ultimate substance that manifests itself in a multiplicity of ways, all linked together in that purest of relationships called love—a relationship unen-cumbered by our usual likes and dislikes—then action flows naturally, spontaneously, beautifully. When that great truth is seen in all its magnificent splendor, we know that karma, which is harmony and lawful action, is truly love. We think of karma as the consequences of action, but when we know that inherent in the one ultimate Reality is order, purpose, supreme harmony, then there is only the breathing in, the breathing out, the rhythmic order, which is lawful. That is karma as creativity, as love, the pulsation of the One. Every act becomes one of love, having within it the creative potential to bring into being that which is new, fresh, beautiful, an expression of the true. Consciousness, then, is indeed "truth- and right-bearing." So we walk through the world, not on some path that others tell us about, whether those others be mahatmas or saints or sages or our dearest friends, but on that path that is uniquely our own and which we have become. As The Voice of the Silence so rightly declares: "Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become that Path itself.".
Every genuine experience in some measure awakens us to the reality of what is. And if the experience is truly meaningful, then it also vitalizes us and gives us renewed energy and strength. Moreover, it transforms us completely. For experience is not when something happens to us (which is our usual interpretation of the idea of karma). Experience really occurs when we happen to an event in such a way as to change ourselves, alter our perception, gain a new understanding or insight. It is in that change, that new perception or understanding, that the creative nature of karma is realized. For, as we have suggested, karma is that principle which is ever seeking to move us in new directions toward ever greater understanding. Karma is also opportunity, the opportunity to be other than we are now, to be that which we would be, and to do what we would do if we truly wish to be creative agents in building a world at peace. What really matters is not whether we believe in this or that idea, however great the idea, but what we genuinely know. And to know means that we have looked with new eyes upon ageless and immortal principles and translated them into living experience. Theosophy is action; it is transformative action when and if we have fully entered into the truth of Theosophy as a living, vital encounter.
Often we speak of a threefold division in the Theosophical life: meditation, study, and service. But for the one whose life is infused with the dynamics of Theosophy, the three are actually one. Every moment is one of total awareness, which is profound meditation, a giving attention to what is. Every moment is a moment of study, of learning, as we "regard earnestly all the life that surrounds you," to use the words of Light on the Path. In each moment there are opportunities for countless little acts of kindness. It is really all so very simple, for living truth is effortless.
It is not whether we are a sevenfold or fivefold or threefold being, a heptad of bodies, but whether we know ourselves as a continuum of energy within the one ultimate energy field that we call Reality, and so act as a whole being in tune, in perfect accord with that Oneness.
It is not whether there are processes called reincarnation, one existence following another in endless succession, but whether in this moment we are reborn into a new vision of wholeness from which every action flows outwards to heal as our present presence in the world becomes a benediction on all that exists.
It is not whether there is life after death, but rather that in every moment there is a dying and a rebirth, an emerging of the new that can only occur when we let go of the "has been" that we may delight in the "isness" of now, this very moment, with all its rich opportunities to act with lovingkindness, to send out thoughts of love and beauty and strength, to feel at one with all that lives.
It is not whether there are mahatmas or masters, the great ones of wisdom and compassion, whether they are still with us, or whether there is some path that leads us to them. Rather the question is the kind of life we are living each day and each moment of each day, how we walk upon the earth, the road we are taking in company with all humanity, all existent beings, and whether we are lending a hand to those who may be stumbling or who may need our help.
It is not always whether we are being of service in the world, but perhaps it is a matter of whether we are serving by being present in the world. Action is not always a physical busyness, being busy doing many things. Action may also be silent, for what we are—as Emerson once wrote—speaks louder than any words we say.
As for the Theosophical Society, HPB was quite right. So long as there are those in it who in themselves exhibit the "vitality of living truth," it will continue to be a beacon for those who seek in earnestness, a channel of light and beauty and love radiating ever outwards to encompass without boundaries all humanity in the living truth of universal brotherhood.
Joy Mills has studied Theosophy for over sixty years. She has served as president of the American and Australian Sections of the Theosophical Society, international vice-president of the TS, director of the School of Wisdom in Adyar, and director of the Krotona School of Theosophy. A collection of her essays, The One True Adventure: Theosophy and the Quest for Meaning, was published by Quest Books earlier this year.