PRACTICAL SPIRITUAL PRACTICE: Some Perspectives from Theosophy.

What are some of the practical means to make spirituality a force right here and now for the majority of us caught up in the hurly-burly of modern life? How can we ever find Practical Spiritual Practice? Let’s look at a few time-honoured methods taught throughout history:


The journey to the inner self usually commences with efforts at self-purification, which may include physical techniques, such as various forms of yoga, abstinence from recreational drugs, and eating foods which will do the least harm to ourselves and our fellow creatures. If we don’t take care, however, these efforts may become yet another type of self-indulgence. Over time, our interest may progress from the physical arena through emotional and psychic realms to spiritual development. At some stage the soul will begin to be aware of a vague glow of the inner spiritual light. In some sensitive people this experience may shake them to the core, and there is often real suffering of heart and mind. We make great vows to ourselves: “Now that I have glimpsed this light I will do my very best to change my ways and lead a more spiritual life.” But everything in and around us seems to conspire against our best intentions as nature immediately presents us with tests to prove our resolve. Karma normally spread over many lifetimes may come to us over a very short time. We should remember, however, that along with opposition, our vow invokes forces which help us. As William Q. Judge remarks:

“The appeal to the Higher Self, honestly and earnestly made, opens up a channel by which flow in all the gracious influences from higher planes. New strength rewards each new effort; new courage comes with each step forward…

So, take courage… and hold on your way through the discouragements that beset your earliest steps on the path… Do not stop to mourn over your faults; recognize them and seek to learn from each its lesson. Do not become vain of your success. So shall you gradually attain self-knowledge, and self-knowledge shall develop self-mastery.” — Echoes of the Orient 3:288-9

Exercising the Spiritual Will

Looking for and working with the inner god of every person we encounter, and not becoming weighed down with a limited self-centred viewpoint, allows the inner god to guide us in daily living. Former Leader of the Theosophical Society Pasadena, Katherine Tingley, felt we should induce our will to flow with,

“that nobler part of our nature that rises to every situation and meets it with patience and courage . . . The knowledge of it comes not in any world-startling or magical way — and is not to be purchased save by surrender of a man’s passionate and lustful nature to the god within.”

This represents the core message of all world religions — “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” To realize how difficult this is, try not harming any person or being in thought or deed for even one hour today!

Following the Daily Karmic Script

We are composite beings, a vortex of forces from the greater sea of life in which we are immersed. This fact explains many of the moral dilemmas and strange quirks of human behaviour we all encounter. The inner god, the enduring part of us, animates the lower forms and energies and sends us forth periodically on a voyage of understanding which we call a lifetime. As we experience life’s challenges, the higher self never provides a greater load of karmic lessons than we have the capacity to bear. The joys and hardships we encounter in everyday life are orchestrated by the higher self to lead us toward perception of reality. Life is our teacher, and our experience provides the exact set of circumstances which we need to grow.

We can picture life unrolling day by day as a “karmic script,” for those with the eyes to see it. How can we learn to follow the signals our higher self is constantly sending us?

There are many ways. Various forms of concentration and meditation accustom us to hearken to the voice of our inner god. Particularly beneficial are greeting the opportunities the day has to offer in the morning and reviewing the spiritual lessons one has learned in the evening. There is also need for silence, a precious commodity in today’s hectic world, in which to hear the whisperings of the Voice of the Silence. Even if we are busy with the tasks at hand, we always have the opportunity to devote part of our mental energies to finding spiritual directions from the many choices which face us.

Further, in the words of James A. Long, we need to “make the esoteric exoteric and the exoteric esoteric”; that is, take seriously philosophical and religious teachings and apply them directly to living. The ability to read the daily karmic script will enable us to better appreciate the inner purpose of our lives that our higher self is trying to communicate to us each second as it urges our footsteps along the path to greater understanding of the oneness of Being. Nothing is stopping us here and now from trying to live a life closer to the internal example of perfection within us.

I know of no better outline of the principal practical and philosophic paths to the inner god than the Bhagavad-Gita. Arjuna or everyman stands between the opposing armies of the higher and lower-self reluctant to engage in the inevitable struggle for control of our consciousness. Krishna, his charioteer, advises him on the various paths by which identity with the higher self can be achieved, including good works, spiritual knowledge, asceticism, self-restraint, spiritual discernment, discrimination between godlike and demoniacal natures, the three kinds of faiths, and others. Krishna stresses that all such paths are valid ways to the higher self, and to the extent that people sincerely apply themselves to the search, they shall be repaid spiritually. The important thing is to follow our duty without thought of results. The result will follow in the fullness of time if we do the best we can. As Krishna says:

 “Seek this wisdom by doing service, by strong search, by questions, and by humility . . .”

Battle or Transformation?

But do we need to enter into a battle with the lower self in order to identify with the inner god? The Bhagavad-Gita and many mystical writers seem to answer yes, stressing the need for absolute conquest of the lower self if we are to approach the temple of the god within. Yet this “battle” might be more along the lines of the transmutation process pictured by the alchemists of medieval Europe. They spoke of finding the Philosopher’s Stone which would allow us to transmute the lead of the lower self into the gold of the higher self. According to theosophical teacher, G de Purucker,

“the best way to overcome the lower nature is not by “battling” it and “fighting” it, thus exercising it and making it strong and vigorous, but by understanding it to be a part of yourself and by resolutely putting it in its proper place with inflexible and impersonal kindness and gentleness. Sometimes and very often indeed the best way to begin to do this is by completely ignoring it, turning the back upon it… ally yourself with the higher parts of your nature, and in consequence you identify yourself thereby with the higher parts of the Universe.” – G de Purucker: Dialogues 3:19, 21.

Why are We on the Spiritual Journey Anyway?

See the source imageMost importantly, on our journey of self-discovery we should pause to ask why we commenced this pilgrimage in the first place. Is this a cosmic vacation designed for our own gratification, or do we mean to offer the fruits of our discoveries to other travellers?

In her Voice of the Silence H. P. Blavatsky enjoins us to be ever mindful to avoid the ranks of the spiritually selfish who seek the power and blissful peace of communion with the inner god for themselves alone. Although many schools teach spiritual development for one’s own sake, ignoring the suffering of others, the path of compassion was blazed by Great Ones who, though far ahead of us, stopped to offer assistance to all those in their wake. It is also our responsibility to travel the still small path to the higher self-mindful of our responsibilities to others. We can offer the lessons we learn, when appropriate, to our fellows and help uplift the crushing weight of suffering bearing down on humanity, largely caused by humanity’s ignorance of the laws of life. If we consistently make this effort, our spiritual light will gradually glimmer, then shine in the world for the benefit of others, and we will begin to understand the essence of Theosophy.

Most people imagine that the path of spiritual development is far away across the unreachable mountains of the future, requiring impossible feats of spiritual practice.  But, as stated by G de Purucker:

“… There can be no mistake greater than this. The difference between the Chela (spiritual student) and the man living the ordinary life, essentially is just a difference of spiritual, intellectual, and psychical outlook. That is about all. Of course, this difference, because the factors involved are so important, is really great; but it is a difference of outlook and not a difference of metaphysical distance. It is the same difference more or less which exists in average men, as between one who succumbs to temptation, and one who successfully resists the temptation. … Chelaship (ie. the condition of being a serious spiritual student – Ed.) is a vision (based on selfless action for the good of others – Ed.), out of which arise conviction and definite action…” G de Purucker: Esoteric Teachings, Vol.1: page 7.