Through the Gates of Gold: A Fragment of Thought is a wonderful, profound, eloquent work, the study of which offers many insights and valuable seeds of inspiration…
“The man of the world is often, unconsciously to himself, a philosopher of the first rank. He deals with his life on principles of the clearest character, and refuses to let his position be shattered by chance disaster. The man of thought and imagination has less certainty, and finds himself continually unable to formulate his ideas on that subject most profoundly interesting to human nature, — human life itself.”
The book opens with this very simple yet interesting and original observation. It is interesting to observe how this is demonstrated in the example of countless lives. I would think, that because, for a lot of people, this life is their absolute reality, the physical world is, to them, the ideal world — and therefore it is no wonder that people place some much value in it — in their own sincere way, they are striving to realize their own ideal vision, and one can notice how indeed there is often an admirable efficient concreteness in the way people build their lives, possibly because focusing on optimizing the material reality gives a strong singleness of purpose: the here and now. Of course, this work aims at indicating other directions:
“Whether there is any mode of thought or any effort of the mind which will enable a man to grasp the great principles that evidently exist as causes in human life, is a question no ordinary thinker can determine. Yet the dim consciousness that there is cause behind the effects we see, that there is order ruling the chaos and sublime harmony pervading the discords, haunts the eager souls of the earth, and makes them long for vision of the unseen and knowledge of the unknowable.”
This opening section is a kind of subtle updated formulation of the four noble truths. We want to avoid the pains and miseries of life; but one cannot accomplish this by becoming indifferent and negating feeling and sensation. We crave life because of the sensations we experience. Therefore the key is to consider how to deal with this desire for sensation. And so there is proposed the path of the science of life:
”Would it not be a bolder policy, a more promising mode of solving the great enigma of existence, to grasp it, to take hold firmly and to demand of it the mystery of itself? If men will but pause and consider what lessons they have learned from pleasure and pain, much might be guessed of that strange thing which causes these effects. But men are prone to turn away hastily from self-study, or from any close analysis of human nature.”
”Yet there must be a science of life as intelligible as any of the methods of the schools. The science is unknown, it is true, and its existence is merely guessed, merely hinted at, by one or two of our more advanced thinkers. The development of a science is only the discovery of what is already in existence; and chemistry is as magical and incredible now to the ploughboy as the science of life is to the man of ordinary perceptions.”
”Yet there may be, and there must be, a seer who perceives the growth of the new knowledge as the earliest dabblers in the experiments of the laboratory saw the system of knowledge now attained evolving itself out of nature for man’s use and benefit.”
In order to avoid the reality of suffering, why not just end it all? But that is no solution because we do not really know what the afterlife has in store for us. And it does not change the reality that we are born into this world because we crave the sensation of living. The craving for life is compared to a substance addiction:
“Man returns to physical life as the drunkard returns to the flagon of wine, — he knows not why, except that he desires the sensation produced by life as the drunkard desires the sensation produced by wine. The true waters of oblivion lie far behind our consciousness, and can only be reached by ceasing to exist in that consciousness, — by ceasing to exert the will which makes us full of senses and sensibilities.”
If one continues to follow this existential questioning, the more acute awareness of the realities of existence can be troubling:
“And more; we are content, for the most part, to go on without object or aim, without any idea of a goal or understanding of which way we are going. When the man first becomes aware of this aimlessness, and is dimly conscious that he is working with great and constant efforts, and without any idea towards what end those efforts are directed, then descends on him the misery of nineteenth-century thought. He is lost and bewildered, and without hope. He becomes sceptical, disillusioned, weary, and asks the apparently unanswerable question whether it is indeed worth while to draw his breath for such unknown and seemingly unknowable results. ”
However, it can lead one to search for deeper solutions:
“But are these results unknowable? At least, to ask a lesser question, is it impossible to make a guess as to the direction in which our goal lies?”
By looking at history, one can consider the mutability of human existence, the ever-recurring rise and fall of civilisations and see that the problems of pain and decay are perennial. But one can consider what lies beyond these ever-changing appearances:
“Yet there is now and then one brave enough to gaze fixedly on this glittering, and to decipher something of the shape within it. Poets and philosophers, thinkers and teachers, — all those who are the “elder brothers of the race,” — have beheld this sight from time to time, and some among them have recognized in the bewildering glitter the outlines of the Gates of Gold.
Those Gates admit us to the sanctuary of man’s own nature, to the place whence his life-power comes, and where he is priest of the shrine of life. That it is possible to enter here, to pass through those Gates, some one or two have shown us. Plato, Shakespeare, and a few other strong ones have gone through and spoken to us in veiled language on the near side of the Gates. When the strong man has crossed the threshold he speaks no more to those at the other side. And even the words he utters when he is outside are so full of mystery, so veiled and profound, that only those who follow in his steps can see the light within them.”
Here the question is considered how one is to know what the Gates of Gold are, or is it possible to gain a conception of them? And a certain number of keys are given. First of all by concentration focused on any one idea, knowledge will be gained. Second, by seeking, one can come closer to them. And third, the answer lies within.
“If, therefore, instead of accepting the unknown as unknowable, men were with one accord to turn their thoughts towards it, those Golden Gates would not remain so inexorably shut. It does but need a strong hand to push them open. The courage to enter them is the courage to search the recesses of one’s own nature without fear and without shame. In the fine part, the essence, the flavor of the man, is found the key which unlocks those great Gates. And when they open, what is it that is found? ”
It is possible to get an idea by scanning accounts of written testimonies. These can help to awaken one’s intuition and develop the conviction one needs to make the efforts.
“What is to be found within the words of those books is to be found in each one of us; and it is impossible to find in literature or through any channel of thought that which does not exist in the man who studies. This is of course an evident fact known to all real students. But it has to be especially remembered in reference to this profound and obscure subject, as men so readily believe that nothing can exist for others where they themselves find emptiness.
Hidden behind the thin yet seemingly impassable veil which hides it from us as it hid all science, all art, all powers of man till he had the courage to tear away the screen. That courage comes only of conviction. When once man believes that the thing exists which he desires, he will obtain it at any cost. The difficulty in this case lies in man’s incredulity. It requires a great tide of thought and attention to set in towards the unknown region of man’s nature in order that its gates may be unlocked and its glorious vistas explored.”
This deals with the question why so few people seek the gates of gold or find it. And like Plato in the Philebus, he states that the greatest pleasures are eternal ones. It is also hinted that the context of a declining civilisation can provide an impetus to seek.
“When it seems as if the end was reached, the goal attained, and that man has no more to do, — just then, when he appears to have no choice but between eating and drinking and living in his comfort as the beasts do in theirs, and scepticism which is death, — then it is that in fact, if he will but look, the Golden Gates are before him. With the culture of the age within him and assimilated perfectly, so that he is himself an incarnation of it, then he is fit to attempt the great step which is absolutely possible, yet is attempted by so few even of those who are fitted for it. It is so seldom attempted, partly because of the profound difficulties which surround it, but much more because man does not realize that this is actually the direction in which pleasure and satisfaction are to be obtained.”
“There are certain pleasures which appeal to each individual; every man knows that in one layer or another of sensation he finds his chief delight. Naturally he turns to this systematically through life, just as the sunflower turns to the sun and the water-lily leans on the water. But he struggles throughout with an awful fact which oppresses him to the soul, — that no sooner has he obtained his pleasure than he loses it again and has once more to go in search of it. More than that; he never actually reaches it, for it eludes him at the final moment. This is because he endeavors to seize that which is untouchable and satisfy his soul’s hunger for sensation by contact with external objects.
How can that which is external satisfy or even please the inner man, — the thing which reigns within and has no eyes for matter, no hands for touch of objects, no senses with which to apprehend that which is outside its magic walls? Those charmed barriers which surround it are limitless, for it is everywhere; it is to be discovered in all living things, and no part of the universe can be conceived of without it, if that universe is regarded as a coherent whole. And unless that point is granted at the outset it is useless to consider the subject of life at all. Life is indeed meaningless unless it is universal and coherent, and unless we maintain our existence by reason of the fact that we are part of that which is, not by reason of our own being. ”
“This is one of the most important factors in the development of man, the recognition — profound and complete recognition — of the law of universal unity and coherence. The separation which exists between individuals, between worlds, between the different poles of the universe and of life, the mental and physical fantasy called space, is a nightmare of the human imagination.”
“But if man has the courage to resist this reactionary tendency, to stand steadily on the height he has reached and put out his foot in search of yet another step, why should he not find it? There is nothing to make one suppose the pathway to end at a certain point, except that tradition which has declared it is so, and which men have accepted and hug to themselves as a justification for their indolence.”
The problem of laziness, idleness, inactivity, inertia is considered to be a grave one.
“Indolence is, in fact, the curse of man. As the Irish peasant and the cosmopolitan gypsy dwell in dirt and poverty out of sheer idleness, so does the man of the world live contented in sensuous pleasures for the same reason.”
The problem is thinking that is a point that one can stop at when one feels satisfied. But one is mistaken in thinking that this satisfaction will last.
“There can be no final point, for life in every form is one vast series of fine gradations; and the man who elects to stand still at the point of culture he has reached, and to avow that he can go no further, is simply making an arbitrary statement for the excuse of his indolence.”
There is actually little difference between coarse pleasures and more refined ones. The same sense of attachment pervades them all.
“Like the boor he is deluded by a mirage that oppresses his soul; and he fancies, having once obtained a sensuous joy that pleases him, to give himself the utmost satisfaction by endless repetition, till at last he reaches madness. The bouquet of the wine he loves enters his soul and poisons it, leaving him with no thoughts but those of sensuous desire; and he is in the same hopeless state as the man who dies mad with drink.”
A serious crisis occurs when the body begins to falter and one cannot keep on the groove one has set for oneself.
“Then comes the barrenness and lack of vitality, — that unhappy and disappointing state into which great men too often enter when middle life is just passed. The fire of youth, the vigor of the young intellect, conquers the inner inertia and makes the man scale heights of thought and fill his mental lungs with the free air of the mountains. But then at last the physical reaction sets in; the physical machinery of the brain loses its powerful impetus and begins to relax its efforts, simply because the youth of the body is at an end. Now the man is assailed by the great tempter of the race who stands forever on the ladder of life waiting for those who climb so far. He drops the poisoned drop into the ear, and from that moment all consciousness takes on a dullness, and the man becomes terrified lest life is losing its possibilities for him.”
All of this results from getting attached to sensual pleasures and thinking these to be the goal. Whereas one would do better to keep on and strive to find pleasures that have lasting, edifying value.
And so, as all things must, the end has come to the first chapter.
The dangers of pursuing sensual pleasures are explained, which is akin to developing an addiction:
”When a man drinks his first cup of pleasure his soul is filled with the unutterable joy that comes with a first, a fresh sensation. The drop of poison that he puts into the second cup, and which, if he persists in that folly, has to become doubled and trebled till at last the whole cup is poison, — that is the ignorant desire for repetition and intensification; this evidently means death, according to all analogy. The child becomes the man; he cannot retain his childhood and repeat and intensify the pleasures of childhood except by paying the inevitable price and becoming an idiot. The plant strikes its roots into the ground and throws up green leaves; then it blossoms and bears fruit. That plant which will only make roots or leaves, pausing persistently in its development, is regarded by the gardener as a thing which is useless and must be cast out.”
He outlines a path of deeper pleasure, which is the path of the elixir of life:
”The man who chooses the way of effort, and refuses to allow the sleep of indolence to dull his soul, finds in his pleasures a new and finer joy each time he tastes them, — a something subtile and remote which removes them more and more from the state in which mere sensuousness is all; this subtile essence is that elixir of life which makes man immortal. He who tastes it and who will not drink unless it is in the cup finds life enlarge and the world grow great before his eager eyes.”
One can uses the senses, but in a more spiritualized perspective:
”He recognizes the soul within the woman he loves, and passion becomes peace; he sees within his thought the finer qualities of spiritual truth, which is beyond the action of our mental machinery, and then instead of entering on the treadmill of intellectualisms he rests on the broad back of the eagle of intuition and soars into the fine air where the great poets found their insight; he sees within his own power of sensation, of pleasure in fresh air and sunshine, in food and wine, in motion and rest, the possibilities of the subtile man, the thing which dies not either with the body or the brain. The pleasures of art, of music, of light and loveliness, — within these forms, which men repeat till they find only the forms, he sees the glory of the Gates of Gold, and passes through to find the new life beyond which intoxicates and strengthens, as the keen mountain air intoxicates and strengthens, by its very vigor.”
It leads to immortality:
”But if he has been pouring, drop by drop, more and more of the elixir of life into his cup, he is strong enough to breathe this intense air and to live upon it. Then if he die or if he live in physical form, alike he goes on and finds new and finer joys, more perfect and satisfying experiences, with every breath he draws in and gives out.”
Here’s a link to a related text: “The Elixir of Life”
Here’s what brother Judge has to say about the Gates of Gold:
”The most notable book for guidance in Mysticism which has appeared since Light on the Path was written has just been published under the significant title of Through the Gates of Gold. Though the author’s name is withheld, the occult student will quickly discern that it must proceed from a very high source. In certain respects the book may be regarded as a commentary on Light on the Path. The reader would do well to bear this in mind. Many things in that book will be made clear by the reading of this one, and one will be constantly reminded of that work, which has already become a classic in our literature. Through the Gates of Gold is a work to be kept constantly at hand for reference and study. It will surely take rank as one of the standard books of Theosophy.
The “Gates of Gold” represent the entrance to that realm of the soul unknowable through the physical perceptions, and the purpose of this work is to indicate some of the steps necessary to reach their threshold. Through its extraordinary beauty of style and the clearness of its statement it will appeal to a wider portion of the public than most works of a Theosophical character. It speaks to the Western World in its own language, and in this fact lies much of its value.”
”Instead of speculating upon mysteries that lie at the very end of man’s destiny, and which cannot be approached by any manner of conjecture, the work very sensibly takes up that which lies next at hand, that which constitutes the first step to be taken if we are ever to take a second one, and teaches us its significance.”
”Those Gates admit us to the sanctuary of man’s own nature, to the place whence his life-power comes, and where he is priest of the shrine of life. It needs but a strong hand to push them open, we are told. “The courage to enter them is the courage to search the recesses of one’s own nature without fear and without shame. In the fine part, the essence, the flavor of the man, is found the key which unlocks those great Gates.”
There’s a bio on Mabel Collins (in the original edition of Gates of Gold, the author was anonymous) — not the happiest title choice, looks pretty gossipy, but she had an interesting life and there seems to be some good research in there. http://mandrake.uk.net/mystical-vampire-the-life-and-works-of-mabel…
and a review by Lachman: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/mysti…
Found a better copy of the ‘John King’ article: http://blavatskyarchives.com/sisson1.htm
Chapter 2 — The Mystery of Threshold
There are no more meaning less or trifling circumstances in his life, for each is a link purposely placed in the chain of events that have to lead him forward to the “Golden Gate” or the “Gates of Gold”. Each step, each person he meets with, every word uttered may be a word purposely placed in the day’s sentence with the purpose of giving certain importance to the chapter it belongs to and such or another (Karmic) meaning to the volume of life.(HPB, Letter to London Students)
To kick off the new year, allow me to propose a few pithy passages of particular import for the earnest student. These concepts seem to echo ‘The Elixir of Life’, and give an idea of the discipline required on the path.
“There is no doubt that at the entrance on a new phase of life something has to be given up. The child, when it has become the man, puts away childish things.”
“With each drop of the divine draught which is put into the cup of pleasure something is purged away from that cup to make room for the magic drop. For Nature deals with her children generously: man’s cup is always full to the brim; and if he chooses to taste of the fine and life-giving essence, he must cast away something of the grosser and less sensitive part of himself.”
“This has to be done daily, hourly, momently, in order that the draught of life may steadily increase. And to do this unflinchingly, a man must be his own schoolmaster, must recognize that he is always in need of wisdom, must be ready to practise any austerities, to use the birch-rod unhesitatingly against himself, in order to gain his end.”
“For that there is before him power, life, perfection, and that every portion of his passage thitherwards is crowded with the means of helping him to his goal, can only be denied by those who refuse to acknowledge life as apart from matter. Their mental position is so absolutely arbitrary that it is useless to encounter or combat it. Through all time the unseen has been pressing on the seen, the immaterial overpowering the material; through all time the signs and tokens of that which is beyond matter have been waiting for the men of matter to test and weigh them.”
Part 2 offers some advice using practical analogies of normal life and gives some insights on the use of the will:
”There is no doubt that a man must educate himself to perceive that which is beyond matter, just as he must educate himself to perceive that which is in matter. Every one knows that the early life of a child is one long process of adjustment, of learning to understand the use of the senses with regard to their special provinces, and of practice in the exercise of difficult, complex, yet imperfect organs entirely in reference to the perception of the world of matter. The child is in earnest and works on without hesitation if he means to live. Some infants born into the light of earth shrink from it, and refuse to attack the immense task which is before them, and which must be accomplished in order to make life in matter possible.”
”That the initial effort is a heavy one is evident, and it is clearly a question of strength, as well as of willing activity. But there is no way of acquiring this strength, or of using it when acquired, except by the exercise of the will. It is vain to expect to be born into great possessions. In the kingdom of life there is no heredity except from the man’s own past. He has to accumulate that which is his. This is evident to any observer of life who uses his eyes without blinding them by prejudice; and even when prejudice is present, it is impossible for a man of sense not to perceive the fact.”
Part 3 presents some basic considerations that demonstrate that the Gates of Gold are a reality that exist within the plan of nature, and so ends chapter 2:
”When once one has considered the meaning of those Gates, it is evident that there is no other way out of this form of life except through them. They only can admit man to the place where he becomes the fruit of which manhood is the blossom.”
”Nature is the kindest of mothers to those who need her; she never wearies of her children or desires them to lessen in multitude. Her friendly arms open wide to the vast throng who desire birth and to dwell in forms; and while they continue to desire it, she continues to smile a welcome. Why, then, should she shut her doors on any? When one life in her heart has not worn out a hundredth part of the soul’s longing for sensation such as it finds there, what reason can there be for its departure to any other place? Surely the seeds of desire spring up where the sower has sown them”
”On the mental steps of a million men Buddha passed through the Gates of Gold; and because a great crowd pressed about the threshold he was able to leave behind him words which prove that those Gates will open.”
There’s quite a good entry for Will in HPB’s Theosophical Glossary (if only she would have had time to finish this book, how amazing that would have been…):
Will. In metaphysics and occult philosophy, Will is that which governs the manifested universes in eternity. Will is the one and sole principle of abstract eternal Motion, or its ensouling essence. “The will”, says Van Helmont, “is the first of all powers. . . . The will is the property of all spiritual beings and displays itself in them the more actively the more they are freed from matter.” And Paracelsus teaches that “determined will is the beginning of all magical operations. It is because men do not perfectly imagine and believe the result, that the (occult) arts are so uncertain, while they might he perfectly certain.” Like all the rest, the Will is septenary in its degrees of manifestation. Emanating from the one, eternal, abstract and purely quiescent Will (Âtmâ in Layam), it becomes Buddhi in its Alaya state, descends lower as Mahat (Manas), and runs down the ladder of degrees until the divine Eros becomes, in its lower, animal manifestation, erotic desire. Will as an eternal principle is neither spirit nor substance but everlasting ideation. As well expressed by Schopenhauer in his Parerga, “in sober reality there is neither matter nor spirit. The tendency to gravitation in a stone is as unexplainable as thought in the human brain . . . If matter can—no one knows why—fall to the ground, then it can also—no one knows why—think. . . . As soon, even in mechanics, as we trespass beyond the purely mathematical, as soon as we reach the inscrutable adhesion, gravitation, and so on, we are faced by phenomena which are to our senses as mysterious as the will.”
Chapter 3 — The Initial Effort
Having passed the Threshold, the stars are now aligned so as to begin the Initial Effort. This first passage of Part I deals with an important notion that the intellectual aspect is not the only requirement and sometimes, unexpected life experiences can provide a greater awakening of consciousness than hours of study:
“It is very easily seen that there is no one point in a man’s life or experience where he is nearer the soul of things than at any other. That soul, the sublime essence, which fills the air with a burnished glow, is there, behind the Gates it colors with itself. But that there is no one pathway to it is immediately perceived from the fact that this soul must from its very nature be universal. The Gates of Gold do not admit to any special place; what they do is to open for egress from a special place. Man passes through them when he casts off his limitation. He may burst the shell that holds him in darkness, tear the veil that hides him from the eternal, at any point where it is easiest for him to do so; and most often this point will be where he least expects to find it. Men go in search of escape with the help of their minds, and lay down arbitrary and limited laws as to how to attain the, to them, unattainable.”
It is hard to express what the nature of the spiritual world is without materializing it in some way; the following, I think succeeds in avoiding this pitfall:
“Spirit is not a gas created by matter, and we cannot create our future by forcibly using one material agent and leaving out the rest. Spirit is the great life on which matter rests, as does the rocky world on the free and fluid ether; whenever we can break our limitations we find ourselves on that marvelous shore where Wordsworth once saw the gleam of the gold. When we enter there all the present must disappear alike, — virtue and vice, thought and sense.”
Still in part one — here some very pertinent keys to the mysteries of motivation are given, where again practical analogies are considered relevant:
“The man who lifts the latch of the Golden Gate must do so with his own strong hand, must be absolutely positive. This we can see by analogy. In everything else in life, in every new step or development, it is necessary for a man to exercise his most dominant will in order to obtain it fully. Indeed in many cases, though he has every advantage and though he use his will to some extent, he will fail utterly of obtaining what he desires from lack of the final and unconquerable resolution. No education in the world will make a man an intellectual glory to his age, even if his powers are great; for unless he positively desires to seize the flower of perfection, he will be but a dry scholar, a dealer in words, a proficient in mechanical thought, and a mere wheel of memory. And the man who has this positive quality in him will rise in spite of adverse circumstances, will recognize and seize upon the tide of thought which is his natural food, and will stand as a giant at last in the place he willed to reach. We see this practically every day in all walks of life.”
“Undoubtedly it is the hardest task we have yet seen set us in life, that which we are now talking of, — to free a man of all prejudice, of all crystallized thought or feeling, of all limitations, yet develop within him the positive will. It seems too much of a miracle; for in ordinary life positive will is always associated with crystallized ideas. But many things which have appeared to be too much of a miracle for accomplishment have yet been done, even in the narrow experience of life given to our present humanity. All the past shows us that difficulty is no excuse for dejection, much less for despair; else the world would have been without the many wonders of civilization. Let us consider the thing more seriously, therefore, having once used our minds to the idea that it is not impossible.”
“The great initial difficulty is that of fastening the interest on that which is unseen. Yet this is done every day, and we have only to observe how it is done in order to guide our own conduct. Every inventor fastens his interest firmly on the unseen; and it entirely depends on the firmness of that attachment whether he is successful or whether he fails. The poet who looks on to his moment of creation as that for which he lives, sees that which is invisible and hears that which is soundless.”
In part two, the idea of being motivated by an unseen reality is developped by comparing it to the case of the inventor; and I think this analogy can be widened to that of the artist and musician or any creative act in general or even athletic disciplines or practical activities such as gardening (or motorcycle maintenance ;-). I suppose anyone who has cultivated these experiences can understand how the inspiration that grows in these areas are similar to the inspirations experienced on the spiritual path. And this lead to a development of one’s subtle bodies, or nourishing the wings of the soul, as Plato says.
“If you talk to an inventor, you will find that far ahead of what he is now doing he can always perceive some other thing to be done which he cannot express in words because as yet he has not drawn it into our present world of objects. That knowledge of the unseen is even more definite in the poet, and more inexpressible until he has touched it with some part of that consciousness which he shares with other men. But in strict proportion to his greatness he lives in the consciousness which the ordinary man does not even believe can exist, — the consciousness which dwells in the greater universe, which breathes in the vaster air, which beholds a wider earth and sky, and snatches seeds from plants of giant growth.”
“It is this place of consciousness that we need to reach out to. That it is not reserved only for men of genius is shown by the fact that martyrs and heroes have found it and dwelt in it. It is not reserved for men of genius only, but it can only be found by men of great soul.”
“It is the essential characteristic of the man of genius that he is comparatively indifferent to that fruit which is just within touch, and hungers for that which is afar on the hills. In fact he does not need the sense of contact to arouse longing. He knows that this distant fruit, which he perceives without the aid of the physical senses, is a subtler and a stronger food than any which appeals to them. And how is he rewarded! When he tastes that fruit, how strong and sweet is its flavor, and what a new sense of life rushes upon him! For in recognizing that flavor he has recognized the existence of the subtile senses, those which feed the life of the inner man; and it is by the strength of that inner man, and by his strength only, that the latch of the Golden Gates can be lifted.”
“In fact it is only by the development and growth of the inner man that the existence of these Gates, and of that to which they admit, can be even perceived. While man is content with his gross senses and cares nothing for his subtile ones, the Gates remain literally invisible. As to the boor the gateway of the intellectual life is as a thing uncreate and non-existent, so to the man of the gross senses, even if his intellectual life is active, that which lies beyond is uncreate and non-existent, only because he does not open the book.”
In part 3, the need for restraining the activities of the external senses, a basic yoga concept, is discussed — and how one gains a richer inner life thereby:
“Our gross senses refer only to that which is objective in the ordinary sense of the word; but just beyond this field of life there are finer sensations which appeal to finer senses. Here we find the first clew to the stepping-stones we need. Man looks from this point of view like a point where many rays or lines center; and if he has the courage or the interest to detach himself from the simplest form of life, the point, and explore but a little way along these lines or rays, his whole being at once inevitably widens and expands, the man begins to grow in greatness. But it is evident, if we accept this illustration as a fairly true one, that the chief point of importance is to explore no more persistently on one line than another; else the result must be a deformity.”
“We must each travel alone and without aids, as the traveller has to climb alone when he nears the summit of the mountain. No beast of burden can help him there; neither can the gross senses or anything that touches the gross senses help him here.”
These next two passages are reminiscent of Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium, scaling the ladder of divine love to arrive at the contemplation of essential beauty…:
“The tongue recognizes the value of sweetness or piquancy in food. To the man whose senses are of the simplest order there is no other idea of sweetness than this. But a finer essence, a more highly placed sensation of the same order, is reached by another perception. The sweetness on the face of a lovely woman, or in the smile of a friend, is recognized by the man whose inner senses have even a little — a mere stirring of — vitality. To the one who has lifted the golden latch the spring of sweet waters, the fountain itself whence all softness arises, is opened and becomes part of his heritage. ”
“But before this fountain can be tasted, or any other spring reached, any source found, a heavy weight has to be lifted from the heart, an iron bar which holds it down and prevents it from arising in its strength.”
“The man who recognizes the flow of sweetness from its source through Nature, through all forms of life, he has lifted this, he has raised himself into that state in which there is no bondage. He knows that he is a part of the great whole, and it is this knowledge which is his heritage. It is through the breaking asunder of the arbitrary bond which holds him to his personal center that he comes of age and becomes ruler of his kingdom. As he widens out, reaching by manifold experience along those lines which center at the point where he stands embodied, he discovers that he has touch with all life, that he contains within himself the whole. And then he has but to yield himself to the great force which we call good, to clasp it tightly with the grasp of his soul, and he is carried swiftly on to the great, wide waters of real living. What are those waters? In our present life we have but the shadow of the substance. No man loves without satiety, no man drinks wine without return of thirst. Hunger and longing darken the sky and make the earth unfriendly. What we need is an earth that will bear living fruit, a sky that will be always full of light. Needing this positively, we shall surely find it.”
Chapter 4 — The Meaning of Pain
Having covered the Initial Effort, the time has come to delve into The Meaning of Pain:
The first consideration is that in this world of duality, pleasure and pain are opposite sensations that we have to contend with. When we experience pleasure, pain will somehow follow inevitably:
“The answer may at first sight seem to be that he primarily desires pleasure, and so is willing to continue on that battlefield where it wages war with pain for the possession of him, hoping always that pleasure will win the victory and take him home to herself. This is but the external aspect of the man’s state. In himself he knows well that pain is co-ruler with pleasure, and that though the war wages always it never will be won. The superficial observer concludes that man submits to the inevitable. But that is a fallacy not worthy of discussion. A little serious thought shows us that man does not exist at all except by exercise of his positive qualities; it is but logical to suppose that he chooses the state he will live in by the exercise of those same qualities.”
The second question is why don’t we take more precautions to avoid pain? The answer proposed is that we often try and fail and this is part of life’s learning process and once we start to perceive life from a rational perspective, one can better see the possibilities of overcoming pain:
“If pain is the result of uneven development, of monstrous growths, of defective advance at different points, why does man not learn the lesson which this should teach him, and take pains to develop equally?
It would seem to me as if the answer to this question is that this is the very lesson which the human race is engaged in learning. Perhaps this may seem too bold a statement to make in the face of ordinary thinking, which either regards man as a creature of chance dwelling in chaos, or as a soul bound to the inexorable wheel of a tyrant’s chariot and hurried on either to heaven or to hell. But such a mode of thought is after all but the same as that of the child who regards his parents as the final arbiters of his destinies, and in fact the gods or demons of his universe. As he grows he casts aside this idea, finding that it is simply a question of coming of age, and that he is himself the king of life like any other man.”
An important consideration is the question of personal responsibility and how the monotheistic concept of god tends to be a detriment to this concept, a fairly standard theosophical critique:
“It is because man is so idle, so indisposed to assume or accept responsibility, that he falls back upon this temporary makeshift of a creator. It is temporary indeed, for it can only last during the activity of the particular brain power which finds its place among us. When the man drops this mental life behind him, he of necessity leaves with it its magic lantern and the pleasant illusions he has conjured up by its aid. That must be a very uncomfortable moment, and must produce a sense of nakedness not to be approached by any other sensation. It would seem as well to save one’s self this disagreeable experience by refusing to accept unreal phantasms as things of flesh and blood and power. Upon the shoulders of the Creator man likes to thrust the responsibility not only of his capacity for sinning and the possibility of his salvation, but of his very life itself, his very consciousness. It is a poor Creator that he thus contents himself with, — one who is pleased with a universe of puppets, and amused by pulling their strings. If he is capable of such enjoyment, he must yet be in his infancy.”
And this is contrasted with the familiar theosophical concept of the Inner God, of which a good description is given (for more on this, see “The Voice of Conscience and the Guardian Angel”)
“Perhaps that is so, after all; the God within us is in his infancy, and refuses to recognize his high estate. If indeed the soul of man is subject to the laws of growth, of decay, and of re-birth as to its body, then there is no wonder at its blindness. But this is evidently not so; for the soul of man is of that order of life which causes shape and form, and is unaffected itself by these things, — of that order of life which like the pure, the abstract flame burns wherever it is lit. This cannot be changed or affected by time, and is of its very nature superior to growth and decay. It stands in that primeval place which is the only throne of God, — that place whence forms of life emerge and to which they return. That place is the central point of existence, where there is a permanent spot of life as there is in the midst of the heart of man. It is by the equal development of that, — first by the recognition of it, and then by its equal development upon the many radiating lines of experience, — that man is at last enabled to reach the Golden Gate and lift the latch. The process is the gradual recognition of the god in himself; the goal is reached when that godhood is consciously restored to its right glory.”
Part 3 (the last part not from the Gates of Gold)
“The first thing which it is necessary for the soul of man to do in order to engage in this great endeavor of discovering true life is the same thing that the child first does in its desire for activity in the body, — he must be able to stand. It is clear that the power of standing, of equilibrium, of concentration, of uprightness, in the soul, is a quality of a marked character. The word that presents itself most readily as descriptive of this quality is “confidence.”
“To remain still amid life and its changes, and stand firmly on the chosen spot, is a feat which can only be accomplished by the man who has confidence in himself and in his destiny. Otherwise the hurrying forms of life, the rushing tide of men, the great floods of thought, must inevitably carry him with them, and then he will lose that place of consciousness whence it was possible to start on the great enterprise. For itmust be done knowingly, and without pressure from without, — this act of the new-born man. All the great ones of the earth have possessed this confidence, and have stood firmly on that place which was to them the one solid spot in the universe. To each man this place is of necessity different. Each man must find his own earth and his own heaven.”
Stand in the place where you live
Now face north
Think about direction
Wonder why you haven’t before
Now stand in the place where you work
Now face west
Think about the place where you live
Wonder why you haven’t before
If you are confused, check with the sun
Carry a compass to help you along
Your feet are going to be on the ground
Your head is there to move you around
Still in Part 3, we see the idea that pleasure and pain form a dichotomy that needs to be transcended, to go beyond the duality of opposites:
“Pain and pleasure stand apart and separate, as do the two sexes; and it is in the merging, the making the two into one, that joy and deep sensation and profound peace are obtained. Where there is neither male nor female, neither pain nor pleasure, there is the god in man dominant, and then is life real.”
In Part 4, we see a echo of the Platonic notion of the body as a prison and an interesting evoking of the idea of the inner god which can be found in various Theosophical writings:
“For the noble soul of the man, that potential king which is within us all, knows full well that this household idol may be cast down and destroyed at any moment, — that it is without finality in itself, without any real and absolute life. And he has been content in his possession, forgetting that anything possessed can only by the immutable laws of life be held temporarily. He has forgotten that the infinite is his only friend; he has forgotten that in its glory is his only home, — that it alone can be his god. There he feels as if he is homeless; but that amid the sacrifices he offers to his own especial idol there is for him a brief resting-place; and for this he clings passionately to it.
The strange and mysterious fact remains unexplained as yet, that man in so deluding himself is merely interpreting Nature backwards and putting into the words of death the meaning of life. For that man does indeed hold within him the infinite, and that the ocean is really in the cup, is an incontestable truth; but it is only so because the cup is absolutely non-existent. It is merely an experience of the infinite, having no permanence, liable to be shattered at any instant.
It is in the claiming of reality and permanence for the four walls of his personality, that man makes the vast blunder which plunges him into a prolonged series of unfortunate incidents, and intensifies continually the existence of his favorite forms of sensation. Pleasure and pain become to him more real than the great ocean of which he is a part and where his home is; he perpetually knocks himself painfully against these walls where he feels, and his tiny self oscillates within his chosen prison.”
This chapter is perhaps better understood in relation to the chapter on pleasure.
Chapter 5 — The Secret of Strength
This first part is very much a commentary on Dhammapa 103-105
Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand-thousand men, is he who would conquer just one — himself. Better to conquer yourself than others. When you’ve trained yourself, living in constant self-control, neither a deva nor gandhabba, nor a Mara banded with Brahmas, could turn that triumph back into defeat.
Or from Proverbs:
16.32. He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.
First you need the strength to step forward. This comes from conviction. This entails preserving stillness amid the din and bustle of the noisy world. Then one finds peace, which gives power, the power of faith that moves mountains…
Strength to step forward is the primary need of him who has chosen his path. Where is this to be found? Looking round, it is not hard to see where other men find their strength. Its source is profound conviction. Through this great moral power is brought to birth in the natural life of the man that which enables him, however frail he may be, to go on and conquer. Conquer what? Not continents, not worlds, but himself. Through that supreme victory is obtained the entrance to the whole, where all that might be conquered and obtained by effort becomes at once not his, but himself.
To put on armor and go forth to war, taking the chances of death in the hurry of the fight, is an easy thing; to stand still amid the jangle of the world, to preserve stillness within the turmoil of the body, to hold silence amid the thousand cries of the senses and desires, and then, stripped of all armor and without hurry or excitement take the deadly serpent of self and kill it, is no easy thing. Yet that is what has to be done; and it can only be done in the moment of equilibrium when the enemy is disconcerted by the silence.
But there is needed for this supreme moment a strength such as no hero of the battlefield needs. A great soldier must be filled with the profound convictions of the justness of his cause and the rightness of his method. The man who wars against himself and wins the battle can do it only when he knows that in that war he is doing the one thing which is worth doing, and when he knows that in doing it he is winning heaven and hell as his servitors. Yes, he stands on both. He needs no heaven where pleasure comes as a long-promised reward; he fears no hell where pain waits to punish him for his sins. For he has conquered once for all that shifting serpent in himself which turns from side to side in its constant desire of contact, in its perpetual search after pleasure and pain. Never again (the victory once really won) can he tremble or grow exultant at any thought of that which the future holds. Those burning sensations which seemed to him to be the only proofs of his existence are his no longer. How, then, can he know that he lives? He knows it only by argument. And in time he does not care to argue about it. For him there is then peace; and he will find in that peace the power he has coveted. Then he will know what is that faith which can remove mountains.
Part 2, starts off with some reflections similar to the Platonic approach to dying i.e. the body is a prison to the soul, therefore death is a release:
“When a man’s soul passes away from its brief dwelling-place, thoughts of law and order do not accompany it. If it is strong, it is the ecstasy of true being and real life which it becomes possessed of, as all know who have watched by the dying. If the soul is weak, it faints and fades away, overcome by the first flush of the new life.”
“Am I speaking too positively? Only those who live in the active life of the moment, who have not watched beside the dead and dying, who have not walked the battlefield and looked in the faces of men in their last agony, will say so. The strong man goes forth from his body exultant.”
“Why? Because he is no longer held back and made to quiver by hesitation. In the strange moment of death he has had release given him; and with a sudden passion of delight he recognizes that it is release. Had he been sure of this before, he would have been a great sage, a man to rule the world, for he would have had the power to rule himself and his own body.”
Then there is the reflection, again similar to the Platonic notion that initiation is a kind of death, that release from the bonds of mortality can be achieved while still alive through detachment and a sense of non-separateness from others:
“That release from the chains of ordinary life can be obtained as easily during life as by death. It only needs a sufficiently profound conviction to enable the man to look on his body with the same emotions as he would look on the body of another man, or on the bodies of a thousand men. In contemplating a battlefield it is impossible to realize the agony of every sufferer; why, then, realize your own pain more keenly than another’s? Mass the whole together, and look at it all from a wider standpoint than that of the individual life. That you actually feel your own physical wound is a weakness of your limitation. The man who is developed psychically feels the wound of another as keenly as his own, and does not feel his own at all if he is strong enough to will it so.”
Judge, similarly observes:
We advance most rapidly when we stop to help other wayfarers. We receive most when we sacrifice most. We attain to the largest measure of Divine love when we most unselfishly love the brethren. We become one with the Supreme most surely when we lose ourselves in work for Humanity.”
“Spiritual Gifts and Their Attainment”, The Path, February 1889
Obviously this text has many echoes and correspondences with Light on the Path- it would be instructive to match up the various complementary passages… the next passage uses particularly vivid, inspired imagery of spiritual growth as akin to growth in nature, the culture of one’s inner garden, as it were… the first step is to develop a healthy indifference and detachment towards the personality, the lower self, the lower quaternary — I guess the text is saying that not being overly concerned with the petty concerns and worldy grasping of the ego, one tends to develop a simpler lifestyle, which gives one hardier, more robust health…. instead of letting the personality fester in the stagnant swamps of water and earth, let it be invigorated by the fresh winds and purifying fire of the spirit…
“Give up thy life, if thou would’st live.(Give up the life of physical personality if you would live in spirit.)” Voice of the SIlence, I
“Some might say, to his own destruction. And why? Because from the hour when he first tastes the splendid reality of living he forgets more and more his individual self. No longer does he fight for it, or pit its strength against the strength of others. No longer does he care to defend or to feed it. Yet when he is thus indifferent to its welfare, the individual self grows more stalwart and robust, like the prairie grasses and the trees of untrodden forests. It is a matter of indifference to him whether this is so or not. Only, if it is so, he has a fine instrument ready to his hand; and in due proportion to the completeness of his indifference to it is the strength and beauty of his personal self.”
It is a very pro-active kind of detachment, however; Being in harmony with the Tree of Life requires a lot of effort…. be a diligent gardener, tend to your plants well and they will bear good fruit…. follow the progressive steps of the ashtanga yoga or the pyramid of Maslow…
“Vigilance is the path to Immortality (Nibba’na); negligence is the path to death;
vigilant people do not die, those who are negligent are like unto the dead.” (Dhammapada 2.1)
“Cultivate, then, to the very utmost; forget no inch of your garden ground, no smallest plant that grows in it; make no foolish pretence nor fond mistake in the fancy that you are ready to forget it, and so subject it to the frightful consequences of half-measures. The plant that is watered today and forgotten tomorrow must dwindle or decay. The plant that looks for no help but from Nature itself measures its strength at once, and either dies and is re-created or grows into a great tree whose boughs fill the sky. But make no mistake like the religionists and some philosophers; leave no part of yourself neglected while you know it to be yourself. While the ground is the gardener’s it is his business to tend it; but some day a call may come to him from another country or from death itself, and in a moment he is no longer the gardener, his business is at an end, he has no more duty of that kind at all. Then his favorite plants suffer and die, and the delicate ones become one with the earth. But soon fierce Nature claims the place for her own, and covers it with thick grass or giant weeds, or nurses some sapling in it till its branches shade the ground.”
And so this is my final installment on the Gates of Gold—all five chapters have been reviewed — a short but wonderful work and an excellent companion to the classic Light on the Path.
“Be warned, and tend your garden to the utmost, till you can pass away utterly and let it return to Nature and become the wind-blown plain where the wild-flowers grow. Then, if you pass that way and look at it, whatever has happened will neither grieve nor elate you. For you will be able to say, “I am the rocky ground, I am the great tree, I am the strong daisies,” indifferent which it is that flourishes where once your rose-trees grew. But you must have learned to study the stars to some purpose before you dare to neglect your roses, and omit to fill the air with their cultivated fragrance. You must know your way through the trackless air, and from thence to the pure ether; you must be ready to lift the bar of the Golden Gate.”
“Cultivate, I say, and neglect nothing. Only remember, all the while you tend and water, that you are impudently usurping the tasks of Nature herself. Having usurped her work, you must carry it through until you have reached a point when she has no power to punish you, when you are not afraid of her, but can with a bold front return her her own. She laughs in her sleeve, the mighty mother, watching you with covert, laughing eye, ready relentlessly to cast the whole of your work into the dust if you do but give her the chance, if you turn idler and grow careless. The idler is father of the madman in the sense that the child is the father of the man. Nature has put her vast hand on him and crushed the whole edifice. The gardener and his rose-trees are alike broken and stricken by the great storm which her movement has created; they lie helpless till the sand is swept over them and they are buried in a weary wilderness. From this desert spot Nature herself will re-create, and will use the ashes of the man who dared to face her as indifferently as the withered leaves of his plants. His body, soul, and spirit are all alike claimed by her.”
Below is a passage by the great Christian theosophist Jacob Boehme that treats of the subject in a similar manner:
The distressed Soul said,
What then shall I do to bud forth again, and recover the first Life, wherein I was at Rest before I became an Image?
The enlightened Soul said,
Thou shouldst do Nothing at all but forsake thy own Will, viz. that which thou callest I, or thyself. By which Means all thy evil Properties will grow weak, faint, and ready to die; and then thou wilt sink down again into that One Thing, from which thou art originally sprung. For now thou liest captive in the Creatures; but if thy Will forsaketh them, the Creatures, with their evil Inclinations, will die in thee, which at present stay and hinder thee so that thou canst not come to God. But if thou takest this Course, thy God will meet thee with his infinite Love, which he hath manifested in Christ Jesus in the Humanity, or Human Nature. And that will impart Sap, Life, and Vigour to thee; whereby thou mayest bud, spring, and flourish again, and rejoice in the Living God, as a Branch growing on his True Vine. And so thou wilt at length recover the Image of God, and be delivered from the Image or Condition of the Serpent: Then shalt thou come to be my Brother, and have Fellowship with the Angels.
For thou must grow from above and from beneath to be the Image of God again. Just as a young Plant is agitated by the Wind, and must stand its Ground in Heat and Cold, drawing Strength and Virtue to it from above and from beneath by that Agitation, and must endure many a Tempest, and undergo much Danger before it can come to be a Tree, and bring forth Fruit. For through that Agitation the Virtue of the Sun moveth in the Plant, whereby its wild Properties come to be penetrated and tinctured with the Solar Virtue, and grow thereby.
And this is the Time wherein thou must play the Part of a valiant Soldier in the Spirit of Christ, and co-operate thyself Therewith. For now the Eternal Father by his fiery Power begetteth his Son in thee, who changeth the Fire of the Father, namely, the first Principle, or wrathful Property of the Soul, into the Flame of Love, so that out of Fire and Light (viz. Wrath and Love) there cometh to be one Essence, Being, or Substance, which is the true Temple of God. And now thou shalt bud forth out of the Vine Christ, in the Vineyard of God, and bring forth Fruit in thy Life, and by assisting and instructing others, shew forth thy Love in Abundance, as a good Tree. For Paradise must thus spring up again in thee through the Wrath of God, and Hell be changed into Heaven in thee.