Work as those work who are ambitious. Respect life as those do who desire it.
Be happy as those are who live for happiness.
This quote must be a bit puzzling for those who think ambition itself is a spiritual virtue. Light on the Path is one of the Theosophical Classics. Like the Indian religions originally, classic theosophy is, in it’s deeper aspects, not all that interested in the world. It would be nice to change the world for the better and one should try. But ultimately the world will go as it will – and though each should do their duty to keep humanity from worse evils than it sees at present, one should not be attached to results. Or interested in succes. Or even desire life or happiness.
This quote puts all that in as short a phrase as is possible: Work as those work who are ambitious. In other words: Do what you have to do and do it well. Go above and beyond the call of duty. But don’t do it for yourself. Don’t do it for fame. Don’t do it for financial security or the supposed effect on mankind even… Do it because you see a duty and it needs to be done by you.
Yes – I’m including the desire to help mankind in the word ‘ambitious’. Isn’t it ambitious to want to ‘save humanity’ or to ‘alleviate poverty’ or ‘to bring world peace’ and ‘an end to child labor’? Surely those are ambitious goals. Would Mabel Collins really say there’s anything wrong with that kind of ambition? The problem with ambition is that it takes us away from the here and now. Awareness is ‘in’ right now – and for a reason. We have a culture based on looking ahead. Part of the trouble on the stock market is that so many people acted on prophecy (based on math and all that, but still prophecy) that the only basis for their actions was the expectation of succes. Not whether their action was the right one right now. Not whether the risks taken outweighed the cost. Not what the consequence for society would be if the whole castle of bets came tumbling down.
Similarly: ambition takes us away from the simple human facts. It makes our mind ignore the day to day drudgery in pursue of something grander. That works to an extent – it’s needed to keep something like that in mind to get out of trouble and into a more rewarding life. This fact is most of the truth in ‘The Secret’.
But the theosophical disciple isn’t in it for the money, or the succes, or the comfortable home. Or should not be anyhow. The ideal in Light on the Path as in At the Feet of the Master and The Voice of the Silence is ultimate enlightenment, nirvana, moksha. That is: release from the cycles of rebirth. And in order for us to not be reincarnated at all anymore, we have to not WANT to be reincarnated anymore. There has to be left in us no desire for life, no desire for love, no desire for anything. Not that that is all that’s required – karma also has to be worked out. But when the desire for rebirth is gone, when the mind is set only on gaining release from the cycle of rebirth and the blessing of humanity while one still can – then right action will follow, right thought will follow and at some point karma itself will no longer be an obstacle. Or so it is said.
But in the meanwhile we are cautioned to work as though we WERE ambitious. Because it is not yet our karma to be outside of this world, and living in the world we had better do our duty as well as we are able.