Students’ Preparation to Learn Occult Sciende


T Subba Row wrote his first letter to A P Sinnette on 7 May 1882. Series of letters ensued and finally it became evident to him that there could be possibly no establishment of studentship in terms of the accepted and well known canons of Occult Study. He had no choice but reporting back to the persons who wanted him to undertake this arduous task. He did not hide the fact that he was reluctant to undertake the job od instruction from the beginning and had only to take it at the behest of HPB and at the command of the Masters.

The purpose of our present study is not to examine whether TSR was right or otherwise in his views but to see what the ‘pre-conditions’ are like for a successful career of an aspirant or for one’s being a promising student of Occult Science. A P Sinnett or A O Hume who were the students recommended for the job here are merely incidental. What of concern now is to know how and where an aspirant stands. In other words, what actually is the meaning and purpose of an aspiration.

We must remember that A P Sinnett was already in correspondence with Master K H before the advent of TSR’s approach; he was recipient of at least forty or more communications from both the Masters, not to speak of the regular flow from from HPB. The first ever letter from Koot’ Hoomi Lal Singh was in October 1880. In the course of time that passed through – Oct. 1880 to April 1882 – the methods of working of the Masters were sufficiently familiar to him though he might not be in tune with them. It was remarked to him that ‘there was general unwillingness to give up an established order of things for new modes of life and thought, and occult study requires  all that and much more.’ The pre-requisites expected of an aspirant were:           

            1. A mere promise that what was taught would not be revealed to anyone else.

The instruction is private and personal, not to be exchanged or notes compared with another.

2. A determination to do all in one’s  power to uphold and stand for the Theosophical Association.

3. An adherence of personal life in tune with the directions given. No mental reservation or equivocation is permissible.

A wavering state of mind will not bring in the results. The student will have to give an unqualified assent to these several points. When the assent is qualified, it shall not be possible for the Teacher to accept a student to his wings. An implicit obedience towards the Teacher is a must. As is said elsewhere by HPB, once we believe the Teacher to be in possession of Truth, we must  place our confidence in him and added to that there has to be a willing obedience to the behests of Truth that arrive through Him.

TSR is very clear in the manner and method of discipline and ‘proper-preparedness’ needed of the would-be candidates. He explained later to Sinnett that ‘no student of Occult philosophy has ever succeeded in developing his psychic powers without leading the life prescribed for such students. The rules laid down by the ancient teachers of occult science are inflexible. You have to wait for practical instruction until you are in a position to make such sacrifices as Occult Science demands; and for the present you must be satisfied with such theoretical instruction it may be possible to give you,’  his explanation was very lucid.

Occult training, however commenced, will in course of time necessarily develop such powers (as to see the Brothers or converse with Them clairvoiantly). You will be taking a very low view of Occult Science if you were to suppose that the mere acquisition of psychic powers is the highest and the only desirable result of occult training. The mere acquisition of wonder-working powers can never secure immortality for the student of Occult Science unless he has learnt the means of shifting gradually his sense of individuality from his corruptible material body to the incorruptible and eternal Non-being  represented by his seventh principle (Atma).’

The real aim of Occult Science is this attainment of the capacity to shift the center of consciousness from the physical to the spiritual body; from Rupa  to Arupa, from the dense material to the Divine design.

When the unqualified assent was not coming forth, TSR had promised to both of them (A P Sinnett and A O Hume):

I would be fully prepared to give you both such theoretical instruction as I may be able to give in the philosophy of the Ancient Brahmanical religion and esoteric Buddhism.

We do not have the letters written by Sinnett or Hume to clearly know what their inhibitions were, and so will have to make them up from the reply letters of TSR and his reporting to HPB and Master KH.

In his letter to HPB, Subba Row states how the Master-Discipline relationship in the Indian tradition would work:

In ancient times the ordinary multitude had implicit confidence in their Initiates and Rishis. They never asked for reasons for any of the truths revealed to them; and the Rishis never cared to demonstrate the truth of their teachings according to the formal rules of logic. A student of Occult Science generally realizes the truth of his Guru’s teaching by actual perception, and not by assuring himself that his Guru’s reasoning is correct.

But now, the attitude of the student and the enquirer is altogether different. Every proposition, however plain it may be, must be supported by reasons thrown into the proper syllogistic form before it can be accepted by those who are supposed to have received the so-called liberal education. If a guru, for instance, were to tell his disciple that he should not commit murder or theft, the disciple is sure to turn round and ask him “Well sir, what are your reasons for saying so?’ Such is the attitude of modern mind, and you can see that it is so from Bentham’s works.

TSR affirms again and again that ‘reasoning can never be satisfactory to one acquainted only with the methods of reasoning and proof adopted in the so called modern science.’ The difficulty in teaching Occult science to men in the position of Hume and Sinnett is enhanced for two more reasons according to him.

  1. I am constrained to act as if I do not know the Brothers when I really only refused to speak about Them.
  2. I cannot dare show a thing of Occult Science practically.  Any amount of ‘information’ given will not satisfy the idle curiosity of an enthusiast till such time he realizes for himself that he has to “TRY” to improve upon his own ‘intuitions’ and see things for himself.

TSR also hinted at the possibility of the idea enthusiasts falling into the danger of ‘relapsing into their former state of skepticism, and becoming our enemies’ in the long run, when they find practical instruction to their state is not afforded to them

TSR has something remarkable to say about himself and his own status as a student of Occult Science. He shows a lot of humility and reverence towards HPB when he writes:

You are certainly magnifying me and my abilities. As for Adeptship, I know very well how far I am from it. I have not heard up to this time that any one placed in my position has succeeded in becoming an adept. Even practically I know very little of our Ancient Arcane Science. --- It is a great misfortune to India that under such circumstances I should be considered its only ‘plank of salvation.’ I am no doubt fully determined to do what I can for Theosophy and my country up to the end of my life time. Your disinterested labours for the good of my country imperatively demand such assistance from me and from every other Hindu who loves his own country. It is enough for me to know that one of our illustrious Brothers has been kind enough to notice me and render me some assistance. [The sentence in Bold type occurring in this paragraph was underlined by Master KH and he did also add a remark thus:  This is not quite so. He knows enough for any of you.]

In a similar communication to Master KH, TSR says:

All that I can teach him here, he can learn from my communications sent to Simla. I need hardly say that I can never teach him the whole mystery of our ancient science and philosophy, as I do not know the whole of it myself.

Popular feeling about TSR is that he was an addict to Ancient Brahmanical System only and would never teach any Westerners. But this view is not totally correct. He did not give the practical instruction to Mr Subramania Iyer in the beginning even when pressed for that, for the simple reason that the latter was, as yet, unprepared for such work. C W Leadbeater, Cooper Oakley, Ernest Wood were no Brahmins, nor Indians, but unsullied westerners and yet they did receive spiritual guidance, training and all help which they had openly acknowledged. It was the ‘proper preparedness’ of the candidate/aspirant or the lack of that which seems to be the factor taken into consideration by him and nothing else. He was especially interested in Chaldean, Kabala and Egyptian systems of occult science; too often obtained books on these subjects through HPB. His writings invariably speak for his interest in comparative study of mystic and occult sciences.

He was particularly interested in the spread of the knowledge of Occult Science among the commoners; but was not prepared to dilute the methods of instruction for the simple reason that it was neither in his control nor at his command. He was only a practitioner of Occult Science in the strict sense of the term, acted as he thought he was instructed by his Teachers and as he sensed to it in his own understanding.

Dr N C Ramanujachary




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