The Challenge of Learning
A Firm and Long-Term
Effort Opens the Doors of Wisdom
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
Whoever decides to study theosophy must have patience and humility, for it will be necessary to live side by side with the unknown. Realization will gradually come, if the student has the sort of modesty that allows him to live with unknown factors, without pretending to know them in advance. Opinions cannot replace knowledge. He should calmly investigate matters, letting the answers come out in due time.
One’s contemplative reading must have a stable method and rhythm. In order for theosophy to have a deeper effect on the pilgrim and produce an inevitable self-forgetfulness, one factor is decisive in almost every case: the daily study of esoteric philosophy, preferably at a regular time of the day and when there is relative calm and silence. It is highly recommendable that the student take notes on the study.
The Several Levels of Consciousness
The main source of mental dispersion is to excessively think about oneself. By forgetting himself, the student concentrates his mind on his goal. As a result, his higher intuition starts to awaken.
Self-forgetfulness is the ability of not placing his own little “self” as the center of all things. Leaving one’s lower self aside is an essential factor in esoteric learning and does not occur by chance. It emerges in the consciousness of one who contemplates the universal truths. He who looks at the universe gets detached from the world of narrow-mindedness. The student who searches for wisdom and tries to live accordingly soon realizes that there is in his personal existence a daily, intense fight between selfishness and altruism.
Upon reflecting on such a struggle, he can better understand the teachings on the seven principles of consciousness. The conflict in his soul is sometimes subtle, sometimes brutal. Before fully understanding it, one must give up the habit of vainly complaining about others, or about the circumstances. It is by acting in the right way that one creates good karma.
The Trap of Spiritual Pride
Depending on the amount of inner discernment, the student will face greater or smaller difficulty regarding the test of “spiritual vanity”.
Naïve souls, who are still beginning to approach the spiritual quest, have a tendency to limit themselves to using beautiful concepts and ideas about the path. They find it hard to admit they know little or nothing. They do not want to be patient. They delude themselves with words and use them as if they knew a lot. They rarely ask themselves about the substance of wisdom, and are anxious to represent the role of one who seems to possess all the answers about the philosophy of the universe.
One must carefully examine the challenges present in the initial stages of the quest for truth, once the higher self makes the life of the student entirely reorganize itself around the idea of the inner path and the theosophical work.
There are subconscious reactions.
The blind part of the lower self typically comes to believe that it is the true owner of spirituality and dedicates itself to “posing for pictures”. It wonders why is it that the entire world does not see how “enlightened” it is.
When the higher self of the student is applauded and stimulated by anyone for having done something good and selfless, the backward part of the lower self immediately reacts thanking the other person for the incentive and support, as if they had been given him. In this phase of the path, the lower section of the lower self is like an agitated monkey, drunk with words and external attitudes, which will do anything “to be in the picture” and to look nice!
Each time a higher inspiration quietly occurs, the blind section of the lower self emerges in the scene, “modestly” presenting itself as the author of all things good. It needs to pretend to itself and to others that it is “the best” in every situation. Such sublevel of personal consciousness can’t forget itself, and it looks at everything as if it were a personal matter.
In pseudo-esoteric organizations, such sublevel of perception is often stimulated by the offering of attractive and fake initiations in “masonic” orders and other “prestigious positions” according to the nature of the association.
These are occult instruments to control people’s hopes and behaviour through the use of illusion. Every legitimate pedagogical system must warn people about two facts: 1) That ritualism is worse than useless, because it blocks self-knowledge and self-forgetfulness through a pretense of personal promotion; and 2) That a sense of personal importance, associated with the appearance of spiritual path, leads to ethical disaster.
In spite of appearances, whenever there is a sense of self-importance the Christic or Buddhic consciousness, the sixth principle, is still crucified. In consequence, as the student looks for happiness, he finds pain. While feeding hope, he meets disappointment. As he seeks clarity, he gets confused.
He will attain the bliss of self-forgetfulness after the monkey-mind, exhausted and tired of going adrift, unconditionally accepts inner peace and realizes that it can only benefit from making a pause and listening to the Voice of the Silence.
Then the inner learning starts. Up to this point, the attempts to walk along the path are largely made of varnish. Now the soul finds it pleasant to honestly recognize that it knows little or nothing. By renouncing personal knowledge, the soul learns to share in part the very substance of Infinite Wisdom. Now the individual can see that to be one with Knowledge in one’s heart is better than just “knowing things”.
Humility ceases to be a new and attractive coat which one uses in front of other people, and wisdom is no longer a source of personal pride or a means to obtain applause. The strongest sectors of one’s lower self have now their deepest joy in being loyal to the higher self and helping it. The pilgrim starts to forget himself. The deeper truths and a sacred silence are now in the center of his thoughts, words and actions. He has discovered the happiness of going beyond the walls of self-centrism. He must organize his daily life in a growingly effective way.
Questions Before the Study
The student advances most by establishing the right balance between heart and head. As one sits down to read, and in other occasions as well, it is correct to observe one’s emotions and ask oneself:
1) Am I connected with the center of peace in my consciousness?
2) Is there serenity in my heart?
3) Can I leave my personal world aside, before reading the first sentence? Am I ready to forget myself for a while?
A one-minute meditation is useful on these questions. They are one in essence. They make a great difference, for theosophy is not limited to concepts.
Wisdom does not consist of words: it uses words and concepts. Real knowledge is made of direct perception and free from intermediation. Words are important tools and must be employed with respect, clarity and responsibility. When they are correctly used, they help one attain wisdom. Yet no words can replace right understanding.
In order to perceive truth, the student must solve his personal equation and observe the dynamic movement of spiritual ignorance in his daily life. Solving a mathematical equation is an exercise in abstract equilibrium. As the student comes to know the unknowns, he develops the sense of balance. By solving the equation of his mental and emotional existence, he produces harmony between the two karmic sides of the scale and forgets himself. Thus he gets entitled to search for universal truth in itself, and not for the personal advantages which a spiritually ignorant individual may hope to obtain from universal truth.
The Seven Principles
The blessing starts now, and it will grow little by little. It descends upon one’s life like the morning dew, while the whole sky is not enlightened yet. Among many subjects which become easier to understand, the student attains a better view of the teachings about the seven principles of consciousness.
He can see various aspects of the interaction between each concept and the different levels of his internal consciousness. His mind and heart have a growing understanding of the seven main steps of the stairs of perception, which are:
1) Sthula-Sharira, the physical body;
2) Prana, the vitality in itself;
3) Linga Sharira, the set of abstract archetypes of one’s vitality, which includes the genetic heritage and the skandhas or karmic records of past lives, in what they relate to prana;
4) Kama, the place of feelings like desire, attachment, rejection and search for safety; in other words, the center of personal emotions and animal instincts;
5) Manas, the mind, the dual principle which sometimes looks at the terrestrial dimensions of existence, and sometimes at the spiritual world;
6) Buddhi, the universal intelligence, universal compassion, spiritual intelligence, higher intuition (metaphorically, the light); and
7) Atma, the supreme principle, universal and with no attributes (metaphorically, the star).
The next step is to carefully investigate how the central focus of consciousness gets transferred from the lower levels to the higher triad - Atma, Buddhi and Manas. While the transfer of focus is slow at the beginning, it accelerates after the student is content to realize that “some fundamental principles and facts are more important to him than his own personal life.”
The change of consciousness is neither easy nor uniform. The road ahead includes many unexpected ups and downs. In some cases, the number of probations and difficulties seems to be absurd to the eyes of the student: yet there is no other path to go. It is by facing tests that the wisdom of theosophy ceases to be “a distant ideal” in the student’s world, and becomes a practical way of living.
 See the article “A Broad View, or Looking in the Distance”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline. The text is available at our websites.
Translated from the Portuguese language text “O Desafio de Estudar Filosofia Esotérica”, by CCA. The article is available at our associated websites.
On the role of the esoteric movement in the ethical awakening of mankind during the 21st century, see the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.
Published in 2013 by The Aquarian Theosophist, the volume has 255 pages and can be obtained through Amazon Books.
000The Challenge of Learning