I got three books in the mail this week… Two from Quest publishing, the Theosophical Publishing House of the TS Adyar in the US, another from an author herself. All three are about what one might call ‘the spiritual path‘. Two are highly personal accounts of people on the Fourth Way of Gurdjieff, one was impersonal: a commentary on the classic Theosophical text, the Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett.
I had expected to like all three. I didn’t. As it was, I found myself wondering ‘what for?’ as I read The Practice of Presence: Five Paths for Daily Life, by Patty de Llosa. In the genre, her book is quite good, if a bit pedantic here and there. She describes her personal experience with the Fourth Way, which she grew up in, The Alexander Technique, Jungian psychology, T’ai Chi and prayer and meditation.
From her description one can gather the strengths of each of these paths. But the ‘what for’ question did not get answered. I was left with the impression that for Patty the spiritual paths she was on had to do with trying to be perfect and dealing with her emotions and bodily energies. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But WHAT FOR?
In theosophy motive is seen as a primary issue on the spiritual path. This is, as Joy Mills describes very well in her upcoming book ‘Reflections on an Ageless Wisdom‘, because motive is one of the things that last from one lifetime to the next. There, I said it: reincarnation.
I always try to write about what I know – whereas this motive thing is hard to pin down. Still, for me, the spiritual path is by definition not a selfish pursuit. I’m not accusing Patty of being selfish btw. She’s clearly a devoted mother, and has given her life to teaching people what she knows about the spiritual path. It’s just that perfection and love are two very different things.
Which brings me to the third book I read this week. In ‘The Masters Speak‘, Sy Ginsburg integrates theosophy and Gurdjeff through the teachings of Sri Madhava Ashish. Madhava Ashish advocates the path of the Bodhisattva, the path of love for all of humanity.
In the theosophical view there are at least two paths to enlightenment: one that is aimed at enlightenment for oneself, the other is aimed at enlightenment for all sentient beings. On the one hand one finds eternal rest, the other is one of eternal sacrifice to help as many people and centers of consciousness as one can.
This is a traditional Mahayana distinction. The Mahayana Buddhist talks of the Bodhisattva path and the Hinayana path. This should not be mistaken for Theravada, because it’s not really about the spiritual tradition one is in. The distinction is about motive. In other words: ‘What For?’
This is a question each of us can only ask ourselves: what are we in this thing for? What is our aim, our goal? Are we in it for personal development, functioning in society better, becoming happier, gaining enlightenment and release from the cycle of suffering, or do we really want to be better tools for helping humanity stay clear of worse suffering than it’s already in?
That last option is the Bodhisattva path, the path the Theosophical Masters founded the Theosophical Society for, but in some ways it’s a rather bleak perspective. It involves becoming one of the quiet benefactors of humanity – no hope of riches and glory. Just a lot of hard work, facing up to ones demons, as well as the full depths of humanity’s despair.
Now that’s just what Patty did – at least the first half. She faced up to her demons through Jungian psychology. The issue isn’t with the techniques. I’m the last person to deny that these techniques work and can be very valuable tools on the path. As I said, it’s about motive.
I think it’s an important question that each of you can only answer for yourself (and please don’t share the answer below) What’s your primary motive? This question will keep coming back as you grow on the path.
I’ve been facing it a lot myself lately. There are layers and dimensions to motive. It’s not a one sided thing. And as I face up to my motives it becomes very clear that motives have a lot to do with how we perceive our world. If you want recognition, the lack of it becomes a real problem. If you want wealth, how do you deal with poverty? Each ordinary motive becomes a question to the universe: please allow me to…
The thing with becoming a blessing to all conscious (sentient) beings is that it allows you to instead ask the universe a question: What do you need me to do, in order to become the best help to humanity I can be? And that way, whatever the universe answers is OK and one can get on with the work.