The Theosophical
Society in Australia

Newcastle Lodge

The Path to Initiation

Magazine Article: Theosophy in Australia, June 2003

The late Ramakrishna had a favourite hymn:

Dive deep, O mind, dive deep into the depths of God’s beauty.
If you descend to the uttermost depths, there you will find the gems of God’s love.[1]

This article is a sort of diving into, an extended reflection over many months on some of the great themes raised in the outstanding book by Aryel Sanat, The Inner Life of Krishnamurti.

In the late 1800s the Mahatmas and Madame Blavatsky upset a lot of people. They infuriated Christian missionaries, they antagonised Hindu Brahmins, they alienated the Spiritualists, but most of all they outraged the European, British and American initiates of a wide range of elite, esoteric Orders. These initiates, each of whom had to be personally invited by an existing member, were almost exclusively white, male and from upper socio-economic classes. Such initiates were given esoteric information that they believed had to be kept secret from the masses, such as the identity of the Ultimate Reality in the universe and the human self, the development through evolution of major and minor races, cooperation with angelic beings in charge of particular historical epochs, the mystery of the eighth sphere, the true age of the moon and reincarnation and karma. You can imagine how upset they were when these Tibetans, not even white, and HPB, not even male, made these teachings available to anyone who could read.

And these upstarts didn’t stop there. They said that these secrets were not even the real secrets. In the Mahatma Letter No. 20 they say:

The Occult Science is not one in which secrets can be communicated all of a sudden, by a written or even verbal communication … The truth is that till the neophyte attains to the condition necessary for that degree of illumination to which, and for which he is entitled and fitted, most if not all of the Secrets are incommunicable. The receptivity must be equal to the desire to instruct. The illumination must come from within.[2]

But the Mahatmas and HPB did something even worse. They redefined the whole notion of initiation itself. They moved the focus of initiation away from a ceremony, a ritual action that someone else gave you, and the transmission of secret information. They pointed to initiation as a natural process in response to self-achieved evolutionary development in the consciousness of any individual of any class, creed or even, gender. Initiation was not something conferred from outside a person but rather stages of interior growth over many lives. To be ready for the 1st Initiation the personal self had to be unified with the egoic self and before the 5th Initiation the egoic self had to be unified with the Monad.

The Ceremonial Model of Initiation

This Blavatsky understanding of true initiation was further described by her immediate successors but they all still tended to use a ceremonial model to communicate the reality of initiation, a reality that is beyond words, and it was an appropriate model for their time and world-thought atmosphere. In The Masters and the Path, Leadbeater produced a classical and detailed description of an inner-plane initiation ceremony conferred on Krishnamurti by the Lord Maitreya on behalf of Sanat Kumara, the King of the world (Page 183):

Over His head in response flashed forth the Blazing Star that conveys the assent of the King, and all bowed low before it, while the angel music rang out in triumphant burst like some great royal march. And to those strains the candidate advanced, led by the two Masters, and knelt before Him who represented the One who alone can grant admission to the Brotherhood. A line of dazzling light, like a flash of lightning standing still, extended from the Star to the heart of the Initiator, and from Him to the heart of the candidate. Under the influence of that tremendous magnetism, the tiny Silver Star of Consciousness which represents the Monad in the candidate swelled out in growing brilliancy until it filled his causal body, and for a wonderful moment the Monad and ego were one, even as they will be when Adeptship is attained.[3]

This ceremonial model was the one used by Geoffrey Hodson to convey to himself the memory of his own first Initiation in September 1947 and it still prevailed in the late 50’s when I was living at the Manor. [The Manor is a private residence in Sydney at which groups of theosophists have lived since the 1920s. — Ed.] In its time it was a good model, but remember it was always only a model and a model is not the reality. A good model points to the reality; it is a signpost, an invitation.

Modern Terminology

Now here we are in Perth in 2003 in a very different world, a post-modern, democratic, non-monarchical mental atmosphere. How could we describe the function of Sanat Kumara today? ‘Lord of the World’ is elitist, certainly ‘President’ doesn’t sound appropriate. ‘King’ is as unfashionable as Lord. We are as conditioned as our predecessors but our conditioning is different. We have different thought categories. The old models have lost their power to move our minds and hearts. Butinitiation continues to be a reality. The touch of the egoic on the personal is still possible. Although the old atlas is inadequate there is still the reality of the Path to initiation.

In 1929 Krishnamurti even changed the focus from the word ‘initiation’ to ‘transformation’ while at the same time stressing that very few would be transformed, just as in the Leadbeater model very few would be initiated.

So the question for us, poor, non-initiated, simple souls is: ‘How can we understand, image, feel initiation in a framework appropriate for today’s thought atmosphere?’ What could we know of the actual human experience of the unification of the personal and egoic self?

In The Voice of the Silence the Path to initiation is pointed to in the famous 136th and 137th verses.

136. … Self-Knowledge is of loving deeds the child.
137. Have patience, candidate, as one who fears no failure, courts no success. Fix thy soul’s gaze upon that star whose ray thou art, the flaming star that shines within the lightless depths of ever-being, the boundless fields of the Unknown.[4]

If we are to communicate more effectively with today’s thought forms could we translate the passage from Victorian English into today’s language?

136. Self Knowledge is the outcome of loving actions.
137. Be patient. Do not fear failure nor seek success. With all the capacities of your heart and mind give your total attention to that flaming star shining in the darkness of ever-being and the boundless Unknown. You are a ray of that star.

Perhaps the Sufi mystic Rumi was pointing to the same initiatory path when he wrote:

The lamps are different, but the light
is the same, it comes from Beyond.
If you keep looking at the lamp,
you are lost, for thence arises the
appearance of number and plurality.
Fix your gaze upon the Light, and you
art delivered from the dualism
inherent in the finite body.[5]

Three Experiences — A Faint Foretaste of the Path of Initiation

With these inspired words from two great souls to guide us can we share three very different experiences that might enable us to walk around the reality of the Path of initiation. These experiences themselves are not important, but they may enable us to have today a faint foretaste, a feeling for, the reality of the experiences within consciousness that constitute initiation and the Path to it.

Recently my wife and I attended a production of the musical ‘Hello Dolly’, a light, frothy and forgettable affair. But in it was a very deep insight. A man falls in love with a woman and someone asks him, ‘How long does it take to fall in love, a year?’ ‘No, far too long.’ A month, no; a week, no; a day, an hour, a minute, a second? No, the lover sings, ‘it only takes a moment’.

We are so used to thinking in terms of time — time for weight reduction — for an education-for measuring a life — for evolution over many lives. So and so was initiated on a particular day in a particular year. But in consciousness, things happen in a moment; initiation is not an extended time acquisition. It is a momentary flash — an insight-and a now at this moment, and a here at this exact place, experience. Everything is just as it always has been and everything is utterly different. I am as I always am and I am, for this moment, at this moment utterly transformed. Now we can understand a little better Leadbeater’s comment about the Krishnamurti initiation; ‘for a wonderful moment the Monad and the ego were one, even as they will be permanently when Adeptship is attained’. We have to stop thinking about tomorrow’s achievement or tomorrow’s karma, what The Voice of the Silence calls fearing no failure nor seeking success, and concentrate on what is happening now.

The second was an experience on the beach in Surfers Paradise at about 7am in September 2002. Hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds walked up and down, enjoying the sun, the sea and the exercise. Coming towards me was a young woman of some twenty summers. To put it kindly she was obese. She was wearing Bombay bloomers and a tight belt. Above she wore a short tank top. In the exposed middle was a bulging, bouncing tummy. As if this wasn’t enough the tummy sported a large, inartistic tattoo. Can you picture her in your creative imagination? I thought, ‘the poor thing, fancy looking like that. Who could find that attractive? Who could love that?’ Suddenly, I caught myself asking such a stupid question and in a flash I knew the answer, I could see the answer; in some way the mind moved to a higher level of clarity — here was a precious and unique expression of the One — here was a physical incarnation of the Divine Monad — everything was exactly as it should be. The only problem on the beach was me. I had fallen victim to what The Voice of the Silence calls the ‘dire heresy of separateness’. I had separated myself from her by my own judgements and prejudices, my own conditioning. I was not seeing her, I was only seeing myself.

And so one approach to the Path to initiation is a negative one; there has to be a letting go, a conscious rejection of the images that arise from my inherited and acquired personal conditioning. This is why the Path is so difficult — I have to dismantle all my most basic preconceptions and prejudices before I can see the world as it is. There is renunciation here. There is a kind of death here. This is why the path to initiation is so simple, so easy — all it requires is a kind of poverty, a kind of lightness of attitude, a kind of simplicity of mind. I do not need to carry the heavy burden of all those defences I have painfully acquired over many lives and that constitute the prison of this personal self.

This is not a new teaching. It comes as no surprise. Just listen to the transformative freedom so truthfully expressed in this verse from Shankaracharya’s Six Stanzas on Nirvana:

Neither greed nor delusion, loathing nor liking have I;
Nothing of pride or ego, of dharma or liberation:
Neither desire of the mind nor object for its desiring –
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness — I am Shiva! I am Shiva![6]

But if the Path to initiation has a negative side it also has a positive side. If we for a short moment today can follow the advice of these great teachers of spirituality and really ‘give our total attention to that flaming star of ever-being and the unknown’, then something amazing happens. In that moment, just for the moment of total attention there is the fullness of the initiatory, the enlightening, the transforming experience. Ken Wilber quotes the psychiatrist, Dean, in his book The Atman Project(page 68):

An intellectual illumination occurs that is quite impossible to describe. In an intuitive flash, one has an awareness of the meaning and drift of the universe, an identification and merging of creation, infinity and immortality, a depth beyond depth of revealed meaning — in short, a conception of an over-self, so omnipotent …[7]

For our third approach, could we try an experiment and use our creative imagination to give our total attention to the Star and to feel for ourselves, for a moment, what egoic consciousness is like?

The place is the same beach on the coast of Australia looking east over the Pacific. The time is 5.15 am and each of us is all alone. It is cloudy and dark, no stars, no moon and we are sitting on the beach, just away from the water’s edge. We cannot really see the ocean but we can certainly hear it crashing and roaring. There is no distinction between sky and sea. There is no point of fixed reference; there is no order; it is the experience of the chaotic and the incomprehensible; of the confusing and the meaningless. I feel totally alone, fragile, threatened and helpless. It is how the personal self often experiences life; unpredictable, unjust, random — death is the only certainty.

The Extraordinary

Suddenly an extraordinary thing happens. Mysteriously, a faint line separates the dark sea and the dark sky — as if by magic, a horizon appears. The sea is still dark and roaring, the sky is still dark and heavy and yet everything is changed — a point of reference has appeared.

The star that is our sun is still totally invisible but already, because we are giving our attention, its presence is subtly felt. As we watch the clouds imperceptibly become a faint dark pink and further proclaim the presence and power of the star. As we continue to give our total attention the sea becomes a little more visible and less threatening. It is as it always has been but our perception is changing under the star’s distant influence. We remember that wonderfully evocative passage from the Mahatma letter no. 49: ‘the streaks of twilight, upon the Eastern sky, at morning’s early dawn, after a night of darkness.’[8]

And still the sky and sea lighten, the sand becomes visible, our arms and legs take shape and still the sun cannot be seen; it has not yet risen.

And then without any action on our part, effortlessly, irresistibly, the sun rises; the star becomes visible. Everything is as it always was and yet everything is changed. And we, sitting on the beach, are changed. Now we no longer have to believe in the sun, we no longer need to carry any theories, or theologies or belief systems about the existence of the sun. Now every concept is swept away and we know. We know the star does exist. We know that the star is real. We know that the sun is shining. And we know that we are that shining.

This experience, this disappearance of the personal is a foretaste of the reality of initiation. What do the words of the song say?

‘… and it only takes a moment.’


[1] Gupta, Mahendranath, The Gospel of Ramakrishna, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, India, 1985.

[2] Letter No. 20, The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence , TPH, Adyar, India, 1998.

[3] Leadbeater, Charles, The Masters and the Path, TPH, Adyar, India, 1940, p.183.

[4] Blavatsky, H.P., The Voice of the Silence, TPH, Adyar, India, 1998.

[5] Slightly modified and quoted from Narayan, Surendra, Life is for Living, TPH, Adyar, India, 2001.

[6] Learnt from Hindu friend, source unknown.

[7] Wilber, Ken, The Atman Project, TPH, Wheaton, 1985.

[8] Letter No. 49, The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence, TPH, Adyar, India, 1998.

Image Attribution: Paul Klee Oriental Pleasure Garden 1925 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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