This is the text of a lecture given by the author at a public meeting of the Theosophical Society (Pasadena) in Melbourne. The ideas expressed in all our public meetings are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the TS (Pasadena).

We often say in the theosophical discussions that our aim as theosophical students is to eventually join those highly developed examples of the human race known in the Buddhist tradition as the Bodhisattvas. These wonderful people vow to help suffering humanity though, through their own efforts they have attained the right of entry into the blissful state of consciousness known as Nirvana. Perhaps for us ordinary people, it would be the equivalent of a normal human being choosing to live fully conscious in the animal kingdom to help with the welfare and spiritual advancement of animal entities. The attainment of this high state of consciousness and sacrifice may seem far off, but the Masters of Wisdom say that this road stretches at our feet every moment of our lives now as we make the seemingly small choices that compose our daily lives. How can we be sure that we are directing our lives in such a way that we can eventually join the Compassionate Masters in their ageless work to help Humanity progress? 

We are fortunate to have advice from our spiritual elders in all the world’s great religions. The “Noble Eightfold Path” and “Paramitas” of Buddhism through to the “Sermon on the Mount” and the Beatitudes” of Christianity, the message is basically the same. Deceptively simple rules of behaviour based on the principles of brotherhood and concern for others. Easy to read and repeat this advice prayerfully – but try applying these rules every moment of your life in their completeness as is required of the accepted students of the Masters!

The chief founder of the Theosophical Society, H.P. Blavatsky, gave some of these rules of enlightened living in her circular letter entitled the ES Instructions in 1890. HPB said these rules are actually derived from the Book of Discipline used in the Schools of Dzyan for millennia by students of the Secret Science or “Gupta Vidya”, as it is known in the Sanskrit language of

India. Amongst the many rules and guidelines given by HPB for the lifestyle of “chelas” or accepted students of the mystery tradition, is one paragraph where the Masters attempt to sum up various measures we can take here and now to follow in their footsteps to the Temple of Wisdom. These have become known amongst Theosophists as the “Golden Stairs” and here they are:

“Behold the truth before you: A clean life, an open mind, a pure heart, an eager intellect, an unveiled spiritual perception, a brotherliness for one’s co-disciple, a readiness to give and receive instruction, a loyal sense of duty to the teacher, a willing obedience to the behests of TRUTH, once we have placed our confidence in, and believe that Teacher to be in possession of it, a courageous endurance of personal injustice, a brave declaration of principles, a valiant defence of those unjustly attacked, and a constant eye to the ideal of human progression and perfection which the Secret Science (Gupta Vidya) depicts – these are the Golden Stairs up the steps of which the learner may climb to the Temple of Wisdom”.

Let’s take a little time over to climb each of these stairs in turn and see if we can’t all learn something more together about this journey we are travelling.

 

GOLDEN STAIRS: First Step – A Clean Life: 

Cleanliness covers all aspects of life and is given prominence as the first step towards all that follow. A clean life extends from purity of thought and moral behaviour through to bodily cleansing in various ways. 

A clean life is necessary to harmonise our life in the world with the life of our Inner God as much as we have the will and the opportunity to achieve this aim. In his own words, one of the Masters of Wisdom who founded the Theosophical Society, says: “That the first of the steps of gold which mount towards the

Temple of Truth is – a clean life. This means purity of body and still greater purity of mind, heart, and spirit”…

“How many of them [editor’s note: meaning us ordinary searchers for truth] violate one or more of these conditions (of the right path), and yet expect to be freely taught the highest wisdom and sciences, the Wisdom of the Gods. As pure water poured into the scavenger’s bucket is befouled and unfit for use, so is the divine truth when poured into the consciousness of a sensualist, of one of selfish heart and a mind indifferent and inaccessible to justice and compassion.”…”There is a very, very ancient maxim, far older than the time of the Romans or the Greeks, more ancient than the Egyptians or Chaldeans. It is a maxim all theosophists ought to remember and live accordingly. And it is that a sound and pure mind requires a sound and pure body. Bodily purity every Adept takes precautions to keep…Most of you theosophists know this.” He further adds…”the six and ten transcendental virtues, the Paramitas, are not for full-grown yogis and priests alone, but for all those who would enter the Path.”

HPB adds in explaining this first step of a clean life…”Gentle kindness to all beings, strict honesty (not according to the World-code, but that of Karmic action), virtuous habits, strict truthfulness, and temperance in all things; that these alone are the keys that unlock the doors of earthly happiness and blissful peace of mind, and fit the man of flesh to evolve into the perfect Spirit-Ego.”

A tall order you might say and we have only taken one step! How to apply these demanding principles in the rush and bustle of everyday life? One simple but effective way to start is to follow a time-honoured meditation which leads one to learn what is good and “clean” from our life experience every day.

Before going to sleep at night, briefly run through the events of the day in your mind searching for those things that were good and helpful to your spiritual advancement, and those aspects of the day which were not. This strengthens our approach to life as a learning experience for the good of ourselves and others. It has magical powers to strengthen our determination to live a better life when we arise next morning to face the challenges of a new day.

 

GOLDEN STAIRS: Second step – An open mind: 

As the old saying goes “an open mind does not mean a hole in the head”. One should be open to the perspectives of other people but this doesn’t mean we abandon the principles we hold dear at any particular point in our spiritual journey. As we grow in spiritual understanding, doubtless our fixed views of the moment will change and modify as we begin to appreciate wider perspectives.

The important thing is not to get too bogged down in the limited view of the Truth we have now and not to succumb to the temptation to stop listening to others. You will note that the Theosophical society lays great emphasis on the fact that it has no dogmas and does not demand a particular viewpoint from its members other than a commitment to Universal Brotherhood. This does not mean that Theosophy doesn’t have valuable perspectives on all aspects of life – it does – but it is up to us to use our own gifts and our own perspectives to appreciate those Truths and enrich the theosophic tradition in our own way and in our own time. As a friend once said, “You can’t learn mathematics by looking up the answers at the back of the book”.

We have to work our way through countless opinions and byways of thought over many lifetimes before we can start to appreciate the great Truths that the Masters of Wisdom have taught through the Ages. As the master ‘M’ (one of two who together with HP Blavatsky were the motive force behind the TS), says in one of his letters: “Out of one thousand aspirants hardly more than one in fact becomes a ‘Chela’ (this means an accepted student of the Mysteries). This is owing to the great point that all depends upon the student himself…If his motive is right – he is all right. His views are not of the slightest consequence, for as a Chela he will change them as he learns the Truth, which only the true students of the mysteries find. He had better have no fixed views until later, but be ready to change as he passes on”.  

GOLDEN STEPS: Third step – A pure heart: 

The Masters of Wisdom who founded the Theosophical Society, often spoke of the right motive as being of primary importance in spiritual work. Motive flows from our attitudes, and from there perspectives on any field of life are derived. If our life is based on sincerity and an honest concern for others then we are exhibiting a pure heart. A couple of examples spring to mind of pure motive in relation to spiritual training. In one of their letters to an Indian follower, A.P. Sinnett, one of the Masters speaks of a young Catholic priest who worked amongst the lepers of

Hawaii in the 19th century helping them unceasingly until he contracted the dreaded disease himself. The Master said that this priest stood high in their estimation and represented the purity of motive that qualifies one for further training in the mysteries. A contemporary example of purity of heart is the mother of a friend of mine. She is 70 years old and without formal training, works voluntarily as a grief and trauma counsellor for the State Emergency Service in country Victoria. Recently she was called out in the middle of the night to counsel a father who had lost his son in an accident on the

Hume Highway

. After working all night with the grief-stricken family, she attended a family birthday function the next day and you would be none the wiser to what she had been doing all night! Frequently in the Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett it says that the Masters are looking for the light of compassion shining in the hearts of aspirants wherever they are around the world. When they find this “Buddhic Light’ they watch and guide those who demonstrate a genuine purity of heart and motive in relation to helping Humanity and at the right time their direct training can commence, perhaps after life-times of testing or “probation”. In one of her writings HPB said that she had met high students of the mysteries at temples in

Tibet who were not enormous intellects but who in goodness and purity of heart outshone all others. Purity of heart aligns us with the Inner God and from there knowledge and wisdom can flow at the appropriate time and not just via intellectual training. The harmonisation of the Inner and Outer man leads to a profound joy and happiness because are working closer and closer to Nature’s purpose. These rules or features of the spiritual life should not be seen as they are by many as a dreary and sterile puritanical path devoid of humour and happiness. Just read the letters of the Masters themselves and you will see a keen sense of humour and wit. When they point out the foibles and frailties of their students, they do so in an attempt to help us understand the challenges along the Path to the Temple of Wisdom. GOLDEN STAIRS: Fourth step –An eager intellect: 

“An Eager Intellect” does not mean you have to have an IQ like Einstein but rather an eagerness and willingness to think issues through with the intellect we are each blessed with. Theosophy follows the Buddhist tradition in encouraging students not to necessarily accept what they are told by even the highest spiritual authorities. We are encouraged to test every statement against what you feel to be true within yourself. This obviously means that theosophy is for thinkers and ponderers on life’s mysteries rather than those who want formularized answers. This is not to demean the ritualistic practices of many religions which are the source of great comfort to billions of people. However, there comes a time in the journey up the stairs to the

Temple when we need to start “nutting” issues out for ourselves! This is well recognised in the mystery traditions of India where it is said that there are broadly three ways to the Truth Bhakti or devotion, Jnana or Knowledge, and Virag or Ascetism. Bhakti, or unthinking devotion to a Teacher, God or religious system is the easiest way and is thus pursued by most people as it fits in with the demands of normal household life. Theosophy, in my opinion, is closer to the Indian concept of Jnana, or the Path of Knowledge. Theosophical discussions, reading and meditation, utilize the intellect to build pictures of the Truth in our minds which are successively broken through into larger vistas as we grow closer to the doors of the Temple within.

 

GOLDEN STAIRS: Step five – An unveiled spiritual perception: 

In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that it is necessary for us to “be as little children” if we are to find the

Kingdom of Heaven. In my opinion , this could mean stripping away the veils we inevitably build up around our inner spiritual Self over lifetimes, and attempt to get back to the direct spiritual perception of childhood when we are newly emerged from the heaven worlds.

An unveiled and childlike spiritual perception would enable us to see through the outer problems of individuals and the world to look for the spirit at work in every situation. Artists and poets approach this type of perception sometimes. As a great poet once said, we should try to see God in a blade of grass or a grain of sand. Another advanced soul who toiled in the hectic world of politics at the highest level of his time, the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, put it another way when he urged us to see through the evils of the world to the Godlike potential of all people and the good side of every situation.

He said: “In the universe, reverence that which is the highest: namely, That to which all else ministers, and which gives the law to all. In like manner, too, reverence the highest in yourself: It is of one piece with the other, since in ourself also is that to which all the rest minister, and by which your life is directed”. The journey to the

Temple gates is basically a journey inward to rediscovering this Godlike part of ourselves and an unveiled spiritual perception is necessary to see it there at work every day.

 

GOLDEN STAIRS: Sixth Step – brotherliness for one’s co-disciple: 

How many religious wars have started out by stumbling on this step! Isn’t it true that the most serious disagreements of our lives can be with members of our own families or people with whom we work closely. Look at the history of Christianity, or indeed the Theosophical Society, and you will see endless damaging conflicts between people who say that they subscribe to the same ideals but disagree as to how to achieve them.

Let’s look at this question from the larger perspective of Theosophy. We know that we all have been on this Earth before and have walked in many lands and worshipped many gods before we reincarnated in the here and now. How much sense does it make then to criticise others when we may have shared their beliefs or religion in another life, or indeed, we may grow towards their viewpoint in a future life? Also we are taught in Theosophy that all religions emanate from one source in the higher plane of Being where the Truth of “how things are in themselves” is One. There, the various perspectives on Reality coexist happily as facets of the single diamond of Truth.

At various times through the ages, great teachers have sought to bring facets of this diamond to people in different parts of the world. When this happened people clasped tightly their little facet of the Truth and said: “See here I have the whole diamond of Truth”. These teachers were constrained by the times in which they lived and the sophistication of the people they came to teach. However, all in their own way, preached the same message – “Love thy neighbour as Thyself”. The principle of Universal Brotherhood is also basic to the work of the Theosophical Society and a commitment to it is the only pre-requisite for membership of our Society.

It should be obvious that those people who uphold the principle of Universal Brotherhood should practice it close to home and never stop trying to listen to others and tolerate their approaches to Truth. Otherwise preaching Brotherhood to others has a hollow ring to it!

HP Blavatsky’s teacher says that there is an occult principle behind this phenomenon in that each member is a greater or lesser “centre” of the work of his organisation and part of the total body of teaching to which he subscribes.

Each member can either strengthen or weaken the philosophical or religious organisation to which he or she belongs. In the Teacher’s words: “To the disciple each fellow disciple becomes a brother and a sister, a portion of himself, for his interests and aspirations are theirs and his welfare interwoven with theirs, his progress helped or hindered by their intelligence, morality, and behaviour through the intimacy brought about by their co-discipleship…as the members to the body, so are the disciples to each other, and to the head and heart which teach and nourish them with their lifestream of truth.”

 

GOLDEN STAIRS: Seventh step: A readiness to give and receive instruction: 

There are always people who know more or less than we do about spiritual Truth. Therefore we should be ready to listen to the wisdom of others and be ready to give what little we have to offer when the time comes.

Wisdom is not just a one way street where we act like sponges soaking up the words of others! Karma will present us with the opportunity to learn and advance, and likewise to help others along up the steps to the

Temple.

We should always be ready to learn from others no matter what their traditions and background. It can be tempting to demean what we see, rightly or wrongly, as an inferior teaching and thereby miss learning something of value – even if it is just to practice tolerance whilst a Jehovah’s Witness berates us on our own doorstep!

Especially, listen to the instruction that comes from within – the inner “voice” that tells us whether our outer ears are hearing spiritual sense or nonsense for us as an individual. With time and earnest striving, this Inner Teacher will also present us with our own special insights which may instruct other pilgrims on the Path to the

Temple of Wisdom.

 

GOLDEN STAIRS: Eighth Step: Duty to our teachers: 

We go through life in relative states of ignorance and understanding of Truth. Compare the sometimes arrogant self-confidence of a teenager berating his parents because they are out of touch with “reality”, to the realisation that comes with maturity of the responsibilities parenthood brings.

We form pictures of the truth based on our experiences at one point in of life, only to be broken through to a new level closer to the actual Truth by life’s experiences further down the track. Along the way, teachers are supremely important in this spiritually maturing process. Teachers and mentors can be found everywhere in one’s life – at home, in the community, at school, university, in the trades and professions.

In spiritual training, the relationship of the student and teacher has ever been considered a sacred bond. The teacher was considered the student’s benefactor, because he imparted that which was more precious than worldly wealth or honours, that which money could not buy and which concerned the welfare of the pupil’s soul and future weal or woe. As put in the Book of Discipline of the Schools of Dzyan quoted by HPB in ES instructions: “To the earnest disciple, his teacher takes the place of Father and Mother. For, whereas they gave him his body and his faculties, its life and casual form, the teacher shows him how to develop the inner faculties to the acquisition of Eternal Wisdom.” Not only does this statement stress the importance of our relation to the traditions or individuals in which we place our trust to teach us, but it makes us realise how important is our choice of the teachers we have instructing us.

Again, it comes back to our capacity for listening to the “inner voice” as to what we feel is spiritually right for us at any point in time on our journey up the Golden Stairs.

 

GOLDEN STAIRS: Ninth Step: Courage, Principle, and Valour: 

Have you ever noticed how often myths and folkstories speak of battles and great adventurous deeds by knights and warriors? It seems at first thought to be a strange way of discussing spiritual matters! This was partly because such stories had an instant appeal in rough and dangerous times when conflict was commonplace. But beyond this, it is true that the warrior’s code of bravery, endurance and self-sacrifice are also qualities which must necessarily be developed and applied by the student climbing the Golden Stairs to the

Temple. Consider such stories as The Search for the Holy Grail, Theseus and the Minotaur, the Rainbow Warriors of the American Indian tradition and the Path of Horus through Fire and Water of the ancient Egyptians and you see that the idea was widespread. Even the Buddha was from the “Ksatriya: or warrior caste in India. If this was so, you can appreciate that a courageous endurance of personal injustice requires the bravery and self-control of a soldier applied to spiritual pursuits. Consider the story of Jesus who encourages his disciples “to turn the other cheek” and was himself said to have been crucified though he had the power to defend himself if he had wished. In our own theosophical tradition, think of HP Blavatsky who suffered many injustices in the cause of Theosophy but did not defend herself. Why was this the case? For many reasons, amongst them to demonstrate the power of forgiveness in the long term, and to show a deep understanding of the Law of Karma.

A brave declaration of principles and a valiant defence of those unjustly attached has ever been expected of soldiers. Discrimination and open-mindedness does not mean you abandon your principles. There will come times when we are all put to the acid test of our principles. Sometimes this happens “en masse” when our country is threatened by war. I am reminded of such an example told me by one of our members whose father was a retired

Germany army officer during the final days of the defence of Berlin in the Second-World War. Boys and old men were the only “cannon-fodder” left to defend a doomed regime. My friend’s father, at enormous risk to himself, simply told his motley crew of boy-soldiers and old men to return home and accept the inevitable changes in Germany. He bravely followed his own principles and saved the lives of the many innocent people under his command.

 

GOLDEN STAIRS: Tenth Step: Don’t despair! 

Sensitive people seeking to climb the Golden Stairs will inevitably reach a stage of despair with the state of their fellow humans’ behaviour and the standards of the world generally. There will also come time when we despair of attacking those aspects of ourselves that seek to keep us from ever starting the climb in the first place. The Bhagavad-Gita depicts this stage of the spiritual journey as the despair of Arjuna as he ponders whether to enter the fray against his own relatives in the story of the Great War.

At these moments it helps to consider what we know from theosophy and other traditions of the glorious purpose of life, that these challenges are necessary to help unfold the Inner God and progress Humanity to higher states of consciousness. Think what Theosophy, as a modern form of the Secret Science, tells us of the many trials humanity has overcome in the past and the glorious future that waits us as we unfold our true human potentials of love, compassion, and understanding, to eventually grow beyond common human failings. Also, bear in mind that in past lifetimes when we were less spiritually aware, we contributed to the state of the world as it has become now. In the meantime, we have learnt better standards of behaviour, but we must help put right the wrongs we helped engender in ages past. Therefore, we cannot throw our hands up in horror and bemoan the sins of the world when in fact karma has put us here to help put them right. Finally, we know from what HPB and others have written that there are two paths in occult study – the path of compassion advocated by our school, and the path of spiritual selfishness advocated by many other religions and philosophies. Will we seek to escape the misery of the world that we are intimately a part of, by directing our efforts away from our helping fellows to helping ourselves spiritually? Or will we recognise that Humanity is all one entity, good and bad, and that therefore we have to bear with Humanity and help enlighten it with our small efforts. Ultimately we are all one Being and we cannot escape ourselves!

We have discussed the ten steps, up which we are told, the learner may climb to the

Temple of Wisdom. It is up to us how much effort we put in as to whether we languish in the mud at the foot of the stairs, falter like most of us half the way up taking one step forward and two steps back, or whether we join the few climbing steadfastly on to the Temple doors. Once standing at the Temple threshold, the quality of our attitudes and motivation whilst climbing those stairs will determine whether we knock aright on the Temple doors and the quality of what we can learn on the other side. In the words of one of HP Blavatsky’s Teachers: “THINK; and in thinking, TRY; the goal is indeed worth all the possible effort”.

Let’s look at the complete Golden Stairs once again and ponder how we can practically apply them to our lives in future:

“Behold the Truth before you: A clean life, an open mind, a pure heart, an eager intellect, an unveiled spiritual perception, a brotherliness for one’s co-disciple, a readiness to give and receive instruction, a loyal sense of duty to the teacher, a willing obedience to the behests of TRUTH, once we have placed our confidence in, and believe that Teacher to be in possession of it; a courageous endurance of personal injustice, a brave declaration of principles, a valiant defence of those unjustly attacked, and a constant eye to the ideal of human progression and perfection which the Secret Science (Gupta Vidya) depicts – these are the Golden Stairs up the steps of which the learner may climb to the Temple of Wisdom.”

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