Laying the Foundations
by Michael Colantoni
Chapter 1 of “The Training and Work of an Initiate”
There has always been a widespread belief that some men know more than others, and that instead of sharing certain aspects of their knowledge with their fellowmen, as they were willing, nay eager, to do with certain other aspects of it, they kept them sedulously to themselves, or communicated them only to a chosen few, whom they either bound to inviolable secrecy, or permitted to impart the knowledge in their tum only to those who were prepared to assume the same obligations and who were judged worthy to receive this great privilege. This tradition meets us in the literature of all peoples in all periods of their history, and we find the belief generally held that these secret doctrines concern the inner nature of man and the universe, the aspect that is not observable by the direct action of the five physical senses, but for whose perception the higher senses have to be brought into play. Further, it was generally believed that a large portion of the secret teaching was concerned with the training of its students to use these higher senses for the purpose of observation, as the student of the physical sciences is trained in laboratory technique and the use of the microscope. It was also held that occult science had its practical aspect, and that the knowledge of its laws conferred power in the subtler worlds, just as knowledge of natural laws conferred power in the dense physical world.
That this knowledge was carefully guarded by those who were its custodians was also recognised, and throughout the ages the same reason for their caution was assigned; that in the wrong hands this power, if abused, could produce serious harm, because men had no right to make use of it for any personal end, since it was derived from the Great Author of the Universe. The men who held it were trustees and not owners, and might not appropriate this sacred power to their own uses without being guilty of a crime against their God and their fellow-men; and we have many traditions of the swift and heavy punishment which befell those who thus offended, either at the hands of their fellow-initiates, or of the higher powers against whom they had sinned.
It was also held, however, that although this knowledge was kept so secret that none knew where were its colleges, its libraries, or its students, yet if a man by his character and his life rendered himself a’ worthy recipient, sooner or later he was brought in contact with those who were competent to instruct him, and then he also passed under the ban of secrecy.
Literature and history bear universal testimony to the existence of this belief among all people in a:ll ages; many times has this belief been expressed, and as many times contradicted, only to be reasserted in each succeeding generation. That there can be no smoke without fire, and especially such a large volume of smoke as we see here, will be acknowledged by most people, and that this knowledge and method of training do actually exist as an organised system can be vouched for by many who have encountered them at first hand.
As of old, it is declared that it is only necessary for the student to fit himself for this knowledge for the mysterious currents that play upon the universe to bring him in contact with those who can enlighten him, and many can vouch from personal experience that this belief is well founded. Whosoever formulates, even sub-consciously, a wish to study the higher knowledge, will be given the opportunity to do so. Life by life, he will be given the training necessary to fit him for its study, until finally, if, through all the hard discipline to which he has been subjected, it has still maintained its place in his esteem as the one thing worth while, this sub-conscious wish will work through into consciousness; that which was formless will become articulate, and the man will deliberately take up the quest of the evidence of things not seen.
What, then, can a man do so to cultivate his mind as to be ready for this higher knowledge when it shall come to him? What can he do by way of preliminary training, working as a solitary student, to fit himself for the reception of the knowledge he desires? The student who is not grounded in the elements cannot understand the advanced teaching, he who has no knowledge of arithmetic cannot grasp mathematics. “Earn the means first, God surely will contrive use for our earning,” said one who himself had trodden the path of knowledge. What can the student do who has not yet found his Master – though many lives before his Master must have found him, or he would not have attained the articulation of his wish. What can he do to make the utmost use of the material that lies to his hand, so that, when the time of his training shall come, there may be nothing left undone that could have been done before, and his progress may be unimpeded by the absence of that: necessary ground-work of mental culture which it was in his power to lay while as yet he was without the gate? Much time is wasted in teaching a man what he ought to have learnt in the schoolroom in order to enable him to grasp. the import of the knowledge of which his initiation makes him free.
It is true that, although glorious glimpses are caught by the intuition unaided by the intellect, much more is lost from. sheer inability on the part of the student to grasp the significance of his opportunity.. Infinite things can be perceived by the spiritual intuition,but unless the intellect be fitted to co-operate, these things can seldom be rendered of practical avail for the solution of world-problems. The mystic has his moments of ecstatic emotion during which he reaches great. heights, hut he is seldom able to bring back water from the wells of life for those he has left behind. It is only when each vehicle of consciousness in man is in perfect correlation that the current of inspiration can flow through him and be translated into manifestation in the physical world in which we are living to-day; and while a man can learn great things and store them in his sub-conscious mind, it is only during the life in which he has learnt to correlate his vehicles so that he can bring the spiritual through into manifestation, that he. can be of service to his fellow-men.
I would, therefore, urge those who desire the higher knowledge to set immediately about the task of correlating their vehicles of consciousness, and especially the mental one, so that when the higher knowledge is revealed to them they may act as links between that which is above and their fellow-men who as yet stand upon a lower step of the great stair. I would urge them, if they need any spur to this effort, to remember how much it would have meant to them, when they themselves stood upon that self-same step, had the help which it will be in their power to give been available. No effort after development is wasted, even if he who strives seems to lose sight of his goal and turn aside. It is the passage of many feet that widens the path for the multitude; we, in our day, will never have to face such trials as did the earlier initiates who broke the way for us.
With regard to the practical consideration of the problems involved in this correlation of the vehicles of consciousness, it is important that the student should think of his vehicles as something separate from himself, as tools which he uses to carry out his work; for this purpose he sharpens and cares for them, and the higher the level upon which he can accustom himself to function, the better start he will have when his opportunity presents itself. Few enlightened people identify themselves with their physical bodies, but many can live in their emotions; some can think freely and coherently upon concrete subjects, but only a few. can reason in terms of the abstract, and only one or two in a generation can experience the intuitions of the spiritual plane in such a way as to be able to think in terms of inceptive and unmanifest thought. The initiates of the occult sciences are taught to function upon these different levels, to use a terminology derived from the East; or, to express the same idea in Western words, to think in these different ways. Before we are ripe for a Master’s teaching we have to conquer the physical and emotional levels for ourselves, for to this stage the normal state of evolution enables us to develop without any external interference. We must render the body an absolute servant which has no longer the power to make its needs imperative; it is to this end that much of the extreme asceticism of the Yoga methods of India is directed. We of the West, however. do not practise these methods; it is enough that the body should be rendered a voluntary collaborator and not an abject slave, Turn a man’s desires there; as a great Initiate said: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”
The emotions must flow freely, without conflict or distortion, in the channels which Nature has appointed for them before they can be lifted to a higher level. You cannot sublimate a pathology.
The direction of the energies of life must be removed from the domain of the desires to that of the will. Until this is done there can be no steady progression in any direction, for the desires are called forth from without, not directed from within, and vary with the external stimulus.
Let us now consider the culture of the mind in preparation for occult training. It must be remembered that there are two distinct levels of the mind, the region of concrete thought and the region of abstract thought, and each of these requires culture. To a man who is accustomed to think in nothing but concrete forms, the abstract appears meaningless when first he comes in contact with it. Its terms evoke no corresponding image in his consciousness, but are just so many words to him, and it is necessary to habituate the mind to think in ideas instead of images. One of the readiest ways to do this is the study of algebra, for here the mind is forced into an elementary type of abstract thought and acquires the habit of thinking of proportions apart from things. From this point advance may be made to the study of philosophy and metaphysics, and a good introduction to this study is Herbert Spencer’s First Principles.
With regard to the level of concrete thinking, we can do much by way of preparation for the higher training. The field before us is wide, so wide that it would be difficult to extend our studies beyond the bounds of usefulness. The larger the sphere of our knowledge, the more numerous are our points of contact with the cosmos.
The student who wishes to acquire knowledge direct from the Cosmic Mind proceeds in much the same way as a patient who is submitting to psycho-analysis, only in this case his attention is directed outward and not inward. He starts with an idea in his own mind, and follows the chain of associated ideas till he reaches the root-complex in the Cosmic Consciousness. So it will be seen. clearly that unless he has a starting-point in his own consciousness, some clear-cut idea fairly intimately connected with the subject of study, he cannot begin to wind in the links of the association chain and so draw the root-complex within the field of his consciousness.
The good occult student should have a sound general knowledge of natural science, history, mathematics and philosophy. He cannot, naturally, have a thorough know-ledge of all these subjects, but he should know their out-lines; he should be familiar with the principles of all the sciences and know the methods of philosophy. Then, when he acquires special knowledge, he will be able to see it in relation to the cosmic scheme of which it forms a part, and hence will know it in a very different way from the man who perceives it apart from its environment. The one has the living plant in the garden under his observation, the other has the dried specimen in the herbarium. The relativity of knowledge has long been realised, but the unity of knowledge has not yet received justice. Although a man can only excel by specialisation, it is essential that he should have a background against which he can see his knowledge in perspective.
For the occult student there is another reason for this framework of general information; in seeking to study by contacting the Cosmic Mind he will often gain access to a mass of miscellaneous ideas, but will frequently let slip a piece of priceless information for lack of realisation of its worth; or bewildered by an unfamiliar terminology, he may not grasp the import of what he is learning.
The professors of a university are not willing to ground students in the elements of knowledge that belong to the schoolroom, and when the student wishes to undertake the higher studies of esoteric science, he should come as completely equipped as exoteric studies can make him.
Dion Fortune – “The Training and Work of an Initiate”, Chapter 1