Modern Theosophy says that the aim of every theosophist should be the betterment of other beings based on compassion for others. In this aim, Theosophy follows the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism by teaching our ideal is to eventually become a Bodhisattva (Sanskrit for compassionate spiritual being) after many lifetimes of self-directed effort.

The Buddhist tradition teaches there are basically three types of spiritual students and we have to make up our mind early in our search who we want to be!!

These three stages as given by Mahayana Buddhism are:

  • Sravaka (Sanskrit: ‘hearers’), the vast majority of people who are involved in
    religion/spiritual searching with the thought of what they can get out of it for themselves as individuals.
  • Pratyeka (Sanskrit: ‘everyone for himself’), meaning those who follow the
    spiritual path with the idea of liberation from this world of suffering rather than alleviating the suffering of others as their primary concern.
  • Bodhisattva (Sanskrit: Compassionate, truth-embodying being), being the
    ideal of Theosophy to join the ‘Brotherhood of Compassion’ of those people/beings who seek spiritual knowledge in the service of others.

The essential difference between these three approaches is “Sravaka’ and ‘Pratkeya’ would look at this world of suffering and say: ‘If only those people/beings could have happiness and be free of suffering’, but they are not yet prepared to do much about it personally as their major motivation in life. They are typically disillusioned with this world, and direct their considerable spiritual energies to trying to escape from the physical world. The Bodhisattva approach would be: ‘I will take on the responsibility to remove the suffering and to provide for the happiness of all living beings’.

Bear in mind that we may move through all these three stages in our spiritual search and are not guaranteed of staying at one particular level or other. Remember that “sravaka” and ‘pratyeka’ spiritual searchers, are good and high-minded people who help many people in their way; and that it is possible at any stage prior to ‘Buddhahood’ of making the transition ‘forward’ or ‘back, from any one of these three conditions. An interesting question for us all to consider is, how well qualified are we at a comparatively low level of spiritual training such as most of us are at now, to make value judgements about the paths, or the stages of spiritual development, reached by others!?

Theosophy encourages us to develop the ‘Bodhisattva Attitude’ of a wholehearted resolve that assumes the responsibility of liberating all beings based on compassion. Theosophical teachers have told us that developing this attitude, i.e. ‘to live to benefit mankind [and all beings], is the first step’ along the path to Bodhisattvahood. It is the responsibility of the Theosophical Society as the ‘kindergarten’ of the ‘Mystery Schools’ to encourage this attitude at the very beginning of our ‘training’. To follow the six noble perfections or ‘paramitas’, is the second step along this noble path according to Theosophy. In the next and subsequent issues of our newsletter we will examine the ‘Six Perfections’ and practical ways to apply them in our lives in detail.