Inspirations from Ancient Wisdom presents for the general reader three small works that are classics in the modem Theosophical expression of the timeless Wisdom Tradition. All three are about how to travel the Path, that is, to live so as to become a complete human being. These works were originally published between 1885 and 1910. They are thus now about a hundred years old. Their content is timeless, but the language in which they were originally published is dated in certain ways. Language, like everything else in this world, is constantly changing. In this edition, we have therefore somewhat modernized the wording, punctuation, spelling, and other such matters of format, without affecting the sense of the original.
At the Feet of the Master needed the least modernization, being the most recent of the texts and written in a plain style. Light on the Path received the most modernization, as an older work with a complex internal structure and considerable variation in its style. The Voice of the Silence, although nearly as old as Light on the Path in its first publication, is as a whole more ancient in style than the latter, and its style is so much a part of the book that it has been thought better to be restrained in modernizing it; consequently very few changes have been introduced into this work.
The present edition is intended for contemporary readers interested in applying to their lives the wisdom set forth in these books. For students with a historical interest as well, the original texts are and will remain in print.
"Our hearts are ever restless," wrote St. Augustine, "until they find their rest in thee." In that opening confession of his spiritual auto-biography, the greatest of the Latin Fathers of the Church set forth a universal principle in Christian terms. Spiritual traditions all over the world recognize that human beings are creatures with restless hearts. We are not content to be just content. Dogs, cats, bumblebees, and whales do not-so far as we know-pine to be something other than what they are.
They accept their dogginess or whaleship. The human animal, on the other hand, is by nature discontent. We want to be somewhere we are not or to become something we are not. We have implanted in our breasts a divine discontent that moves us. We seek salvation, liberation, enlightenment, transformation, regeneration, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Pure Land, Ubermenschheit -we call it many things. But under whatever name, it is some-thing other and greater than the ordinary everyday round of existence.
The British author Francis Thompson wrote of the restless heart under the image of a pursuit in his poem "The Hound of Heaven":
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
The Buddha also spoke of our restless heart in his four Noble Truths. In the first Truth, he called the experience of a restless heart duhkha-sorrow, grief, or frustration. In the second, he identified the cause of that experience- the craving for what we do not have or are not. In the third, he pointed to the rest we seek as nirvana-the blowing out of all restlessness.
And in the fourth, he affirmed the existence of a Path to that rest. Spiritual traditions all over the world have offered roadmaps for the restless heart to find its rest in God, nirvana, or whatever we may call the end of our seeking. The Sermon on the Mount is such a roadmap, and so are the Bhagavad Gita, the Dham-mapada, the Tao Te Ching, the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, and many another little book. The modern Theosophical tradition has three such road-maps, for differing needs and sensibilities: At the Feet of the Master, Light on the Path, and The Voice of the Silence.
We need more than one roadmap for our spir-itual journey because, as the General Semanticist Alfred Korzybski pointed out, the map is not the territory. Different maps show different things about the same territory or the same road.
One of the Theosophical roadmaps, The Voice of the Silence, advises the traveler: "Prepare thyself, for thou wilt have to travel on alone. The Teacher can but point the way. The Path is one for all, the means to reach the goal must vary with the Pilgrims." It is a paradox. There is a Path. It is described by the many different roadmaps of spiritual traditions all over the world. Yet the goal of that Path. is what Jiddu Krishnamurti called "a pathless land.
"That paradox has been long known. It is observed in guidebooks like The Voice and by other traditions that seek to comfort the restless heart. Thus, in one of the Degrees of Free-masonry, the candidate is told that he must "plunge in all humility into the mysterious and glorious depths of his own inmost being, if he would win the Light he seeks; for each must find that Hidden Glory for him-self, as all the Children of the Light have found it." There is a "Hidden Glory" and a place where that Glory lies concealed. There is also a way to that place, but we must each find it for ourselves. And that is why there are many roadmaps, not one only. Each map treats a different stage or aspect of the journey.
And we each experience the journey in our own ways. Yet, even though the map is not the territory, maps are useful things-provided we do not mistake what they are and what they are good for. The three Theosophical guidebooks or roadmaps address different aspects of our journey. They are inevitably similar because they are concerned with the same experience, although each views that experience from a different standpoint and so in its own unique way.
Collectively these three books are complementary, providing a sequential course of spiritual development. At the Feet of the Master is preparatory, dealing with what comes first. It answers the question "How do I prepare to walk the Path?" Light on the Path is progressive, being concerned with what the Path itself is like. It answers the question "What will I find as I walk the Path?" The Voice of the Silence is cumulative, leading up to what comes at the end of the Path. It answers the question "Where does the Path lead?" For each of these three little books, we may consider briefly something about how it was written, what character it has, what its structure is, and what its message to us may be.
Jiddu Krishnamurti was a Brahmin boy thirteen years of age when his father began to work on the Theosophical campus at Adyar, near Madras, India. There the boy was noticed by C. W. Leadbeater, a former Anglican clergyman who had become a leading figure in the Theosophical Society and who recognized in the young ragamuffin, quite improbably, a great spiritual potential.
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