Originally printed in the Winter 2012 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: The Bradenton Theosophical Study Center . "The Golden Stairs." Quest 100. 1 (Winter 2012): 33-35.
by The Bradenton Theosophical Study Center
The Bradenton, Florida, Theosophical Study Center received official certification in June 2010 with seven members. From top: Andre Clewell, Jeanette Rothberg, Judith Snow-Clewell (secretary), Navin Vibhakar, Gregoria Halley, and Rachel Garibay-Wynnberry. (Not pictured is JoAnn Nair.) This article is a collaborative effort on their part.
In 1888, H. P. Blavatsky presented members of the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society with a brief set of precepts for living the Theosophical life. She called the precepts The Golden Stairs, and she said that it was taken "from the letter of a Master." Later The Golden Stairs was published and made available to the general membership.
As part of our opening at every meeting, the Theosophical study group of Bradenton, Florida, recites The Golden Stairs aloud. In order to internalize these ethical principles, we dedicated two meetings to group meditation on the meaning of each step. We shared aloud our thoughts and recorded them audially; then we selected some of the more memorable ideas and spliced them together into the following testament of our group exercise. The members of our group, which formed two and a half years ago, thought other Theosophists would find our exercise interesting.
At first we focused on the title itself. We thought that stairs represent an archetype symbolizing movement to higher levels. And of course they are architectural features in homes and buildings to move people from one level to another. Ladders represent a similar symbol, although they don't give the same foundational support as do stairs. So in choosing stairs as her teaching device, Blavatsky suggests the importance of a strong foundation to our spiritual striving, in which one level builds on the level below it.
Stairs suggest aspiration. Many songs use stairs as an image to beautify, lift, and inspire, such as in the lyric, "Let's build a stairway to the stars," and the gospel song "Walk Dem Golden Stairs." Stairs suggest ascension to higher spiritual life, steps to enlightenment, the beauty of spirit reaching for more.
In The Golden Stairs HPB urges us to a spiritually oriented life. Of course we may not always be moving up our stairs. Occasionally we take some steps down, but at some point in our many lifetimes on this earth we make a decision to stay on course and continue the upward movement.
The color gold, used in describing the stairs, is associated with that precious metal. It is warm and comfortable, pure, beautiful, bright, light, and valuable. We associate it with the sun, that life-giving entity, our Solar Logos.
The first step up the Golden Stairs is to lead a clean life. This is a broad ethic which in a sense includes all the rest. We associate being clean with being free from dirt. We wash our physical bodies regularly by bathing, but physical purity also includes healthful foods as well as low alcohol and chemical consumption. We can also wash our emotional bodies regularly by maintaining a peaceful nature. We can maintain mental cleanliness by removing the clutter and negative thoughts from our minds and replacing these with the virtues of life, including truthfulness, kindliness, and love. Our lives should also be free of hypocrisy and double standards. Meditation and the evening review (a daily recapitulation of one's conduct) are techniques to assist us on this step, both of which help us make decisions based on the higher good for ourselves and others.
The next step is to have an open mind. The symbol of a funnel above our heads is appropriate here, "open at the top." Also the idiom "living outside of the box" could be applied. It is the idea that we are not closed in our thinking, locked into old values or old life scripts. We are open to alternatives. We are secure in the awareness that we don't have all the answers. We consider others' beliefs and other aspects, sift through them for common ideas, and consider if we want a shift in perspective or maybe see that we have it right already. An open mind is balanced and free from prejudice. We listen to another's point of view, willing to walk in their shoes and seeing different ideas with new eyes.
A pure heart is the stair step of love. It is living with right motivations, living more from the heart and intuition than from the mind. The heart of a person is that person's very essence. So in our emotions, thoughts, and actions we ask ourselves if we operating with pure motivations, true altruism, and agape, or if we are putting conditions on our giving. A pure heart involves listening to ourselves and being honest about our purposes and intentions. The quote from Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address comes to mind: "With malice toward none, with charity for all..."
An eager intellect is a mind striving to know, to understand. It is a mind asking questions and seeking answers and willing to change attitudes. It is a mind searching for knowledge through reading, experiencing, and searching from various teachers, seeking insights in order to establish the code by which we live. It is a mind curious about the world, people, science, and religion. It is a mind seeking to discriminate between the real and unreal.
An unveiled spiritual perception involves understanding the causes of events. In Theosophy it is piercing through to the buddhic or intuitional level. The raja yoga method of concentration, meditation, and contemplation leads us to this soul level of comprehension, bringing realization of universal principles.
Brotherliness to all (as some versions read for this step) refers back to the great teaching that we are all differentiated from one Source; therefore we are all related and presumably will all go back to that Source. In all our actions we have to take this into account because in reality every action we take has an effect on everybody else. This is expressed well in the concept of karma. In life this brotherliness manifests as respect for one another even if we disagree, as kindness and fairness to all, as awareness of others' feelings, and as trying to be a blessing to all we meet.
Readiness to give and receive advice and instruction has two parts, giving and receiving. Both are important, and the critical point is how we give and receive advice and instruction and when. When we give it, we should do so carefully and cautiously, humbly, gently, but most importantly when asked. In receiving advice, an open mind would be an important quality, because anyone can be our teacher. In fact we are one another's teachers in life.
Courageous endurance of personal injustice requires one to consider that there are three possible reasons for what one conceives as an injustice. One is that it is the result of karma, which is balancing out from previous thoughts or actions. A second reason is that the injustice could be a test of one's physical, emotional, and mental equanimity. A third possibility is that one is making a mountain out of a molehill, in which case one's lower-ego touchiness and inferiority are on display. Since life is a school and we have lessons to learn, we can ask our higher Self, "What does this mean, why is this happening, what thoughts or beliefs are being triggered?" And we should do what we can to remedy the situation without harm to ourselves or others.
A brave declaration of principles and a valiant defense of those who are unjustly attacked are closely allied ethics. They are movingly represented in this saying attributed to the German pastor Martin Niemller in regard to the Nazis: "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."
If we have principles, we must do our best to defend them in regard to ourselves and others. In many instances, and in many countries, this can be very dangerous and may mean loss of occupation, life, and liberty.
A constant eye to the idea of human progression and perfection which the secret science depicts is living with a positive attitude. It is looking for the glass to be half-full rather than half-empty. Great progress has been made in the evolutionary development of humanity. Surrounding ourselves with books and magazine that acquaint us with human progress help us keep this positive attitude, which in itself contributes to positive human progress. There are many heroes and heroines in the world; there always have been and always will be, because human beings are guided by higher beings who have a peek at the Greater Plan. By daily meditation on the virtues, we attune to that Plan and help to manifest it on earth. Meditation also helps us live with joy and gratitude, thereby disseminating it to others.
These are the steps that lead to the Temple of Divine Wisdom, to the greater knowledge and wisdom held by the Source of which each of us is a spark. This doesn't mean that this wisdom is out there somewhere beyond our reach. It is wisdom to which we all awaken as we live according to the precepts of The Golden Stairs.
The Golden Stairs
Behold the truth before you: 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 behests 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 defence of those who are unjustly attacked, and a constant eye to the ideal of human progression and perfection which the secret science (Gupta-Vidy?) depicts—these are the golden stairs up the steps of which the learner may climb to the Temple of Divine Wisdom.
—H.P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 12:503 (cf. 591).