…..The first step of all, absolutely necessary, without which no approach is possible, by which achievement ever comes within reach of realisation, may be summed up in four brief words: the Service of Man.
There is the first condition, the sine qua non. For the selfish no such advance is possible; for the unselfish such advance is certain. And in whatever life the man begins to think more of the common good than of his own individual gain, whether it be in the service of the town, of the community, of the nation, of the wider joinings of nations together, right up to the service of humanity itself, every one of those is a step towards the Path, and is preparing the man to set his feet thereon. And there is no distinction here between the kinds of service, provided they are unselfish, strenuous, moved by the ideal to help and serve. It may be purely intellectual – the work of the writer and the author, trying to spread among others the knowledge he has found, in order that the world may be a little wiser, a little more understanding, because that man has lived and written. It may be along the service of Art, wherein the musician, the painter, the sculptor,  the architect, puts before himself the ideal of making the world a little fairer and more beautiful, life a little more sweet, more full of grace and culture for humankind. It may be along the way of Social Service, where the man, moved by sympathy for the poor, the suffering, pours out his life in the work of helping, tries to alter the constitution of Society where it needs amendment, tries to change the environment where the environment of the past, useful in the past, has become an anachronism, and is preventing the better progress that humankind should today be making in better surroundings, in nobler environment. It may be along the way of Political Work, where the life of a nation, internal and external, is the object of service. It may be along the way of Healing, where the doctor tries to bring health in the place of disease, and to make conditions good for the body, in order that the body may be healthier and longer-lived than otherwise it would be. I cannot give you one by one the numerous divisions of the Way of Service. Anything that is of value to human life is included on that way. Choose then what way you will, because of your capacities and your opportunities; it matters not as regards the treading of the first steps. Commerce, industry, anything of use to man, production, distribution; they all come within Service for man and supply man’s necessities……
Then the seeker finds that there are certain Qualifications laid down for the treading of the earlier portion of the Path, that which the Roman Catholic calls the Path of Purgation, which the Hindu and the Buddhist call the probationary or preparatory Path. Those Qualifications are laid down quite plainly and definitely, so that any man may begin to practise them, and the practice of them, with some slight restriction which I will give you in a moment, need not imply that Discipline of Life of which I have been speaking, because it does not, with one exception, lead into a certain definite practice of meditation. These Qualifications are said to be four:
First the Power to Discriminate between the real and the unreal. I shall go more fully into these next week, but I want to run over them now to show you the line of the preparation. You have to learn to distinguish in everything around you, and in  everyone around you, between the permanent element and the impermanent, between the surface and the content, as it were, between the eternal and the transitory. That is the first of the Qualifications, and that leads on necessarily to the second; for when you distinguish between the passing and the lasting, you become somewhat indifferent to the things that are ever-changing, while your gaze is steadfastly fixed on that which you recognise as lasting.
The second Qualification is what is called Dispassion, or Desirelessness, the absence of desire for the fleeting and the changing, the concentration of desire on the Eternal, on that which Is.
The third Qualification is made of the Six Jewels, mental qualities that you must acquire. First, Control of the Mind, that you may be able to fix it steadily on a single thing, to suck out all the contents of that thing, and also to use it as an instrument in the building of character; for your mind is your only instrument, remember, whereby you can create, re-create, yourself. As the mallet and the chisel in the hand of the sculptor, so is control of the mind moved by will the mallet and chisel in the hand of the man who would create out of the rough marble of his own nature the perfect image of the Divine, that he seeks within that marble. Then Control of Action, which grows out of the mind, and the great virtue of Tolerance. No one who is bigoted, narrow-minded, illiberal, can enter on the Path we seek. Tolerance, broad,  all-pervading, that is one of the Qualifications, and it means far more than some of you think. It does not mean the spirit that says: “Oh, yes, you are all wrong, but you can go your own way”. That is not real tolerance; that is rather indifference to your neighbor’s welfare. The real tolerance grows out of the recognition of the Spirit in the heart of each, of him who knows his own way and takes it “according to the Word”, recognising in each the Spirit that knows, seeing in each the will of the Spirit that chooses, never desiring in any way to compel any more than to obstruct; to offer anything we have of value, but never to desire to force it on the unwilling; to place what we believe to be true before the eyes of another, but to feel no vexation, no anger, no irritation, if to him it is not true; to remember that truth is no truth to anyone until he sees it and embraces it for himself, and that we are so built, our inner nature is so true, that the moment we see a truth we embrace it. It is not argument, but recognition, with which the Spirit in man meets the unveiled truth; and while the bandage is on the eyes and we cannot see, truth is to us as falsehood, for our nature has not recognised it as truth. That is what tolerance means, holding your own, willing to share it, but ever refusing to impose or to attack. The fourth jewel is Endurance, that strong power which can bear without giving way, which can face all things in the search for truth, and never fall back  because of difficulty or of peril; which knows no discouragement, admits no despair, which is sure that truth is findable, and resolute to find it. Every obstacle makes it stronger, every struggle strengthens its muscles, every defeat makes it rise again to struggle for victory. The man needs endurance who would tread the higher path. Then Faith, faith in the God within you, faith in the God manifested in the Master, faith in the One Life whereof we all are manifestations, faith unshaken and unshakable, so that no doubt may arise. Then Balance, equilibrium. The Song-Celestial says: “Equilibrium is called Yoga”; absence of excitement, absence of passion, the transmutation of excitement and passion into the will that points unswerving to its goal; the power of standing serene while all around are troubled; the power of standing alone where all others have left and have deserted. That perfect balance is the sixth of these jewels of the mind. The fourth Qualification is the desire to be free, the will to be free, in order that you may help.
…..The first of the Qualifications, as I told you last week, is called Discrimination, discrimination between the real and the unreal. Among the Buddhists they call it the “opening of the doors of the mind”, a very graphic and significant expression. Last week also I told you how you might meditate in order to find the higher consciousness which is yourself. How shall we apply what we have learned in meditation to practice? To meditate on a quality and then to live it, that is the way of definite progress.
Now the Master makes one great division of the whole human race, sweeping and clear. He says there are only two classes of men in the world – those who know and those who know not. The second class naturally embraces at present the vast majority of human kind, for, as another Teacher said, few there are who are treading that narrow Path. Knowledge, as He defines it, is the knowledge of the Divine Will in evolution, and the attempt to co-operate with that Will so as to help effectively forward the day when that Will shall be done on earth as it is already done in the higher worlds of being. To know then that the world is being guided towards a higher and nobler evolution; to know that every child of man, young or old, laggard or rapid in his progress, is walking by  that divine Plan, and may be helped or hindered in the walking; to recognise the Plan and try to live in it; to make one’s own will part of the Will divine, the only true willing there is; that is the characteristic of those who know. Those who know not this are ignorant.
Turning to apply that knowledge to practice, we are told how discrimination should be worked out in life, not only between the real and the unreal, but between all those many things in which there is more or less of the real, in which the essential mark of the real may be seen. And, first of all, we have to recognise that the form is unreal, while the life is real. It does not matter to the Occultist, to take an illustration, to what form of religion a man may belong. He may be a Hindu or a Buddhist; he may be a Christian or a Hebrew; he may be a Zoroastrian or a Mussulman. That is all of form and unessential; the question is: How does he live his religion, and how far does the essence of it come out in his thought and in his life? And so in distinguishing between the real and unreal in religion, we put aside the whole of the forms, admitting to the full that they are valuable to those who need them – they are the signposts that guide a man along the way of life – but knowing that they all mark out a single road, the road of man to Perfection. Not against any of them may the Occultist speak; not contemptuously must he ever look even at any forms that he may himself have  outgrown; but he must realise that while forms are many, the Wisdom is but one, and the Wisdom is the food of the soul, while the forms are for the training of the body.
He must learn also to discriminate between truth and falsehood, not as the world discriminates, but as the Occultist discriminates. The man who is training his thought to truth and to the avoidance of falsehood must never ascribe to another man a motive which is evil as being behind an outer action. He cannot see the man’s motive; he has no right to judge what he cannot know; and over and over again, as the Master points out, he may ascribe a wrong motive which does not exist, and so may break the law of truth. A man may speak angrily to you, and you, to whom the angry word is said, may think that the aggressor desired to wound or to hurt you, and see an evil motive behind the evil word. But the man, it is pointed out, may not be thinking of you at all; he may have some troubles of his own, some trials of his own, some strain upon him of which you know nothing, which makes his nerves irritable and his lip-speech unkind. Do not, then, ascribe a motive where you are ignorant of it, for you are breaking there the occult law of truth, and are condemned as a false witness before the bar of the great Teacher.
You must discriminate also not only between right and wrong, for to the Occultist there is  no choice between right and wrong; he is bound to do the right at whatever cost and at whatever sacrifice. He cannot, as some will do, hesitate between the course which is one with the divine Will and the course that goes against it; that he left far behind him in his progress towards the Path. He must ever remember, in dealing with questions of right and wrong, that for the Occultist there is no excuse if he swerves from the law of right; he must follow it more strenuously, more rigidly, more perfectly, than the men who are living in the outer world. To do the right is woven into his nature, and no question can arise in the mind as to taking the lower way when the higher is seen. I do not mean that he may not make a mistake; I do not mean that his judgment may not err; but I do mean that where he sees the right inevitably he must follow it, or else his eyes will become utterly blinded, and he will stumble and fall upon the Path. But not only must he distinguish between right and wrong, but between that which is more or less important in the right things he follows. Sometimes a question arises of relative importance, and he must remember ever, when such question arises, that to serve the divine Will and follow his Master’s guidance is the one important thing in life. Everything else must give way to that; all else must be broken in order that that may be preserved; for that Will marks out the path of  the most important duty, and as he follows it the very best he can give is rendered to human service.
And then, in this distinguishing between the essential and the non-essential, he has to cultivate a gentle yielding, a sweet courtesy, on all matters that are not essential. It is well to yield in little things that do not matter, in order that you may follow perfectly those things that do matter. I remember myself how difficult at first I found it to check the willful nature that I brought over from many other lives of struggle and of storm. And for a year or two I made it a practice never to refuse a single thing I was asked to do, in which right and wrong did not arise. I made it an exaggerated practice, in order rapidly to correct the inborn fault. And so I wasted a good deal of time, as people would say, in doing unnecessary things that people wanted me to do, in going out for a walk, perhaps, when I would far rather have stayed at home and read a book, yielding in everything in the immaterial in order that in the material I might go forward unswervingly towards the goal. And that I would recommend to those amongst you who are naturally imperious, naturally self-willed, for in the swing of the pendulum from one side or the other you must go sometimes to excess in the practice of the contrary, in order that finally you may strike the middle path, that golden mean which the Greeks said was virtue. And if you have little  time and much to do, then it is well even to go to excess in the building of a virtue, in the eradication of a fault.
Then also you must learn to discriminate between the duty to help and the desire to dominate. There are so many people who are always meddling with the thoughts and actions of other people, and desiring, as it were, to save their neighbours’ souls instead of attending to their own. As a rule, while you may offer help, you should never try to control another, save in those cases where they are placed in your hands for guidance; then it may be your duty to exercise some control over conduct. Along those lines the Master taught that discrimination should be practised, in order that this first great Qualification might become second nature to the disciple.
And then the second came, Dispassion, Desirelessness. That is very easy in its coarser forms. When once the great desire has arisen for the treading of the Path, the things that are unreal lose their attraction, the things that are seen to be passing have small power to hold back the man bent on going rapidly forward towards Perfection.
As it is said in an old Hindu Scripture “The desire for the objects of the senses falls away when once the Supreme is seen”; when once the eyes have rested on the wondrous perfection and beauty of a Master, when the radiance of His character has shone out into  the dazzled eyes, but one longing is left – to reproduce His likeness, and to be in some small measure His image, His messenger, among men.
But there are subtler desires that may trip up the feet of the unwary traveler. There is the desire to see the results of one’s work. We work with all our heart and all our powers; we build our life into some project for the helping, the uplifting, of men. Can you, without a pang, see your project crumble in the dust, and the walls that you had built for shelter break down as ruins at your feet? If not, you are working for results, and not purely for the love of humanity; for if one has built ill instead of well – though meaning well – the great Plan breaks the work into pieces, and it is good. But the material is not lost. Every force put into it, every aspiration it embodied, every effort made in order to build it, are garnered up as materials for the raising more wisely of a greater building, which shall be according to the Plan of the great Overseer of the universe. And so we learn to work, but not to demand payment in results for our labour, sure that what is good must last, and willing that what is evil shall be broken.
Sometimes the desire for psychic powers attacks the disciple. “Oh, I could be more useful if only I could see; I could help people so much more if only I could remember what I do when out of the body”. Who is the best  judge, the disciple or the Master? Who knows best what is wanted, the pupil or the Teacher? If He sees you can help better by possessing them, He will open up the way and tell you how to build them. But sometimes the work is better done without them, the work of the special kind that He wants his disciple at that moment to fulfill. Leave to Him the time when those powers shall flower; they are the blossoms of the spiritual nature, and they will come to open maturity when the great Gardener sees the time is come for the blossoming.
Not only do we desire results; not only do we desire psychic powers; but still subtler desires assail us – the desire to be looked up to, to be recognised as shining, the desire to speak and show our knowledge wherever we can. Let that go, the Master bids us, for silence is the mark of the Occultist. Speak when you have something to say that is true, helpful, kind, but otherwise speech is a snare and a trap. Half the harm in the world is done by idle speech. Not without knowledge did the Christ say: “For every idle word a man shall speak, he shall give account thereof in the day of judgment”. Not evil words, nor wicked words, but idle words, He warned the disciple against. And to know, to do, to dare, and to be silent, that is one of the marks of the Occultist. So these subtler desires must also be weeded out and thrown on the rubbish heap, till only one strong will shall remain, the will to serve and  to serve along the lines laid down in the divine Plan. So is the desirelessness accomplished, which the Buddhist wisely calls the “preparation for action”.
Then come the six jewels I ran over to you last week – Control of the Mind, keeping the mind away from all that is evil and using it for all that is good. And that control of the mind is needed on the Path, for we must so shape our mind that it shall not be in any way shaken or disturbed by anything that the outer world knows as trouble: loss of friends, loss of fortune, evil speaking, slander, anything that causes trouble in the world. These, the Master says, do not matter. How far are most from recognising that great truth. These are the fruits of past thoughts and desires and actions, the karma of the past working out in the action of the present. There is nothing in these to disturb you, but rather to encourage; for it shows that you are wearing out the evil karma of the past, and until it is outworn you are of little use in the Master’s work. You must so control the mind that you shall think no evil, that you shall keep bright and cheerful as well as calm. You have no right to be depressed; it spreads a fog around you, causing suffering to others; and it is your work to increase the happiness of the world, and not to add your own contribution to its misery. If you are depressed, the Master cannot use you to send His life through you to the helping of His  brethren. Depression is like a dam built across the stream, preventing the waters from right flowing. And you must not build obstacles in the way of the Master’s life that flows through the disciple, and so hinder His blessing from cheering the hearts of men. Right Control of Thought and then of Action, doing as well as thinking the right, the kind, the loving.
Then you must build up that great virtue of Tolerance, which is so rare amongst us. You must study, the Master says, the religions of others in order that you may be able to help them as otherwise you cannot. And yet the judgment of the world on that is condemnatory and not approving. How often have I seen the criticism directed against myself: “Oh, Mrs. Besant talks like a Hindu in India, and like a Christian in England”. Of course Mrs. Besant does! How else should she talk? Talk Hinduism to Christians? But that would not help them. Talk Christianity to Hindus and Buddhists? But that would veil the great truths from their eyes. Our duty is to learn in order to help, and you can only reach the hearts of men by sympathy when you can speak from their standpoint instead of standing obstinately on your own. That is the great mark of one who is truly tolerant, that he can see a thing from the standpoint of another, and speak from that standpoint in order to help.
Then you must learn Endurance, because of those trials that I have spoken of that will come  raining down upon you in order that your past karma may work itself out in brief space, that you may be ready to serve. Take trouble as an honour, not as a penalty; as the sign that the great Lords of Karma have heard your cry for swifter progress, and are giving you the bad karma of the past that you may exhaust it, and so are answering your cry. Then you may endure cheerfully, and not with a face of unhappiness and discontent; as it is said of old that a martyr smiled in the fire, regarding it as a chariot of flame that took him to his Lord.
Then you must learn One-pointedness, or Balance, as the Hindu and Buddhist call it. One-pointedness in the Master’s work, such balance that nothing can turn you aside from it. As the needle points to the Pole and returns if forcibly dragged away, so must your will point unswervingly to that goal of the divine Will for human perfection, that you are endeavouring to reach.
The last of the six jewels is Faith or Confidence, confidence in your Teacher and confidence in yourself. But, says the Master, perhaps the man will answer: “Trust in myself? I know myself too well to trust it”. No, is His answer, you do not know your Self; you only know the outer husk that hides it, for in the Self is strength unconquerable, that never can be frustrated or destroyed. And so the six jewels of the mind are gradually cut into shape, to be cut more perfectly in later years,  but at least enough that they may be recognised in the character.
And then, ah, then, remains the last of the great Qualifications, the hardest of all, the one most likely to arouse opposition in the mind of many. The Hindu and the Buddhist call it Desire for Liberation; the Master calls it Union with the Supreme; and because the Supreme is Love, He brings it down to Love lived out among men. And as He deals with that great virtue of love, love which is the fulfilling of the law, He brands three vices as crimes against love, that must be utterly thrown aside by the disciple. The first is gossip, the second cruelty, and the third superstition. These, He says, are the worst crimes against love. And then He goes on to explain how it is so. He takes up gossip first, and points out how, in thinking evil of another, you are committing a threefold injury on man; first, on the neighbourhood in which you live, which you fill with evil thoughts instead of good thoughts, and so, He says pathetically, you increase the sorrow of the world. Then the evil thought about the fault of another, for if that fault be in the man your evil thought makes it stronger, and harder for the man to overcome; your thought makes the evil in him greater every time that in thought you ascribe that fault to him, and you are thus making your brother’s path more difficult, making his struggle harder; perhaps your evil thought will be the last determining push which makes him fall,  where otherwise he might have stood upright. If the thought be false and not true, even then in him you may plant an evil which as yet does not exist in his character. Hence the wickedness of thinking evil, let alone of talking it, for where an evil story is passed on to another, there the same cycle of evil is trodden by the one who was spoken to, and so you become a fountain of evil, careless as the words have been.
Cruelty He brands as another great crime against love.
Annie Besant: “Initiation: The Perfecting of Man”