Study all scriptures written near and far;
Worship all images and saints of earth;
But if you do not study who and what you are,
All your vast studies are as nothing worth.
There are a great many people who are always reading, reading, reading. They read each book that they can get hold of upon theosophical or occult subjects. Yet they do not seem to get on in their studies and so state with an air that seems to amount to an indictment of the thing they are studying.
Then there are others who are not known to read much, yet they seem to have a very complete grasp of the subject. I know two Theosophists, one of whom has read probably more than all the students in the Western Societies. He often refers to some new book just out, asking if we have read it. Yet he is hopelessly, at present, entangled in the vast net he has thrown around himself, composed almost wholly of the different ideas put forth by other minds, and has thus voluntarily placed himself under their domination. The other one has read but few books, just enough to know what theories are brought forward, yet he exhibits an extraordinary knowledge upon most Theosophical propositions and upon things not quite generally known.
What is the reason for this?
The reason is that truth is in fact very simple and quite on the surface, but most people prefer to bury it deep in a well, so that they may have the pleasure of digging for it.
There are a few general axiomatic propositions which should be applied in all directions, and with their aid most difficulties can be cleared away, and there is one great doctrine which overshadows them all, binding them together. This latter is the doctrine of universal brotherhood. It should not be merely accepted as a great and high idea—so great in fact that it cannot be understood—but constant inquiry should be made by all earnest people to find out its actual, logical and scientific basis. For if it has no such basis, then it ought to be abandoned as a mere illusion, a mere juggle with words.
“Of making many books there is no end,” has been very well said of old. It is easy to make a book, but it is difficult to write one. To make one all that has to be done is to read enough of those formerly written and then cast it all into your own language. There are too many books thus made up and cast forth upon theosophical waters, to the confusion of the poor student. Why read all these? There are many of them full of the misconceptions of their authors, who, although sincere, are themselves struggling to get into clear air.
But all this prevalence of authorship has produced in our people a habit of desiring more books, and a resulting disregard for what has been written of old time. Humanity has not changed much in many ages, and has always been pursuing its investigations, leaving behind it a record. But in the lapse of time the only books which endure are those which contain truth, and are thus real books. And we in this age are ceaselessly and needlessly writing and reading as those of the past ages did, with the same inevitable result: that our real books will in the end be identical with those now left to us as a heritage from the past. So we ought to turn to those old books and with their aid look within! And in order to use them, all we have to do is by a little careful preliminary study come to comprehend the position of their authors, so that what at first appears strange in their writings will soon take on a different meaning, enabling us to see that, “that small, old path leading far away on which the sages walk,” has been all found and pointed out to us with infinite care and pains, by the sometimes despised sages of eastern lands.
But even all this good study if not combined with practice is “nothing worth.” It is time thrown away. And that practice does not consist in forming secret or exclusive bodies, either in or out of the Theosophical Society. Such so-called “exclusive” bodies are known to exist, but the excluded ones need not have any regret. Those exclusive of others are not practicing; they are not finding out anything of real profit; nor will their studies come to much more than dust and ashes in the mouth, for they are ignoring universal Brotherhood, and the first of the great law, that “the first step in true magic is devotion to the interests of others.”
So we come to the last words of the first verse, that we must study ourselves. To do that we must help others and study them. The great self, which is the fountain and giver of all knowledge and power, is reflected in every man, and the wise student cannot afford to ignore the plain deduction that our first effort must be to remove from our minds the sense of being separate from any other person, his deeds or his thoughts. This is said to be a difficult task; but that difficulty arises on the one hand from selfishness and on the other from a natural averseness to accepting such a simple solution.
It is in fact not possible for us to gain from others. We cannot be told truths which do not already potentially exist in ourselves. We may hear them but they pass by and leave no trace. This is what Jesus meant when he said: “To him that hath shall be given”; and in the Hermetic philosophy it is plainly stated: “Do not think that I tell you what you know not; I only tell what you knew before.”
It is therefore better to take up two or three books such as Isis Unveiled, the Bhagavad Gita and Light on the Path, study them with care and allow their influence to cause the old knowledge within to revive, and the good seeds left over from past lives to germinate and grow into noble trees.