Who Really Wants the Path of Probation?
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
Image: N. Roerich
First published in the “Fohat”
magazine, Canada, Winter 2005
Each particular existence is but a ripple in the eternal, unlimited ocean.
From an atom to a galaxy, everything in the universe pulsates. Most beings vibrate for a time and then simply dissolve. It may take a long time before they emerge again, dressed in different forms or envelopes.
Pulsations are everywhere and have their own rhythms. In ancient Greece, Pythagoreans taught that all beings are really made of vibration patterns. Each aspect of the one universal reality consists of waves, or rather is a combination of various rhythms of undulatory movement.
Any learning process in human mind follows the same Law of Universal Vibration. In order to grasp new realities, we have to adapt our own rhythms to new ways of pulsating. Each aspect of human knowledge has its own ways of using the unlimited diversity of wavelengths present everywhere in life.
Something similar occurs with the process by which we can learn divine wisdom. Classical books of esoteric philosophy really bring to us tips and hints of the vibration rates operating at higher levels of reality. Actually taking advantage of these hints is only a possibility. It depends on how we read these books.
The overwhelming challenge confronting the student is much beyond getting acquainted with words and ideas. It is to incorporate those wiser life-patterns in his daily existence, while eliminating vibration rates which are not compatible with that wisdom. Of course, such a task tends to take a long time. Learning esoteric philosophy challenges skandhas accumulated for several lives. As the student learns about Theosophy, he has to change himself in a gradual but complete way. Each step along the path means adopting some new pattern, for which he has to forget some older rhythm or habit which he used to consider his own. The past sense of identity is abandoned together with old vibration patterns. He sees that true self-knowledge can only be obtained by forgetting himself. The same challenge is expressed in “Light on the Path”:
“Desire only that which is beyond you. (…) It is beyond you; because when you reach it you have lost yourself.” 
How, then, can we make a bridge to that which is beyond ourselves? That is a question of no small importance.
The core of the modern esoteric philosophy can be said to be in “The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett”, in “Letters from The Masters of the Wisdom”, in the books and texts signed or written by H.P.B., and in other classical works in line with these. On the other hand, we also have the actual life-examples of H.P.B. and other disciples or lay disciples who lived in the 19th century or before. Many of these life lessons can be found in the texts of the Letters written or dictated by Adepts. H.P.B. had her reasons for intending to study lives of Initiates at length in the third volume of “The Secret Doctrine”. Although such a volume never came to light, we do have several texts by her about the subject. 
As we look at these two aspects of esoteric teachings from the central viewpoint of vibration patterns, we can see at least three “clusters of rhythms”, whose “keys” are present in them and available to us:
1)As each human being is a microcosmic counterpart of the universe, he can literally know himself by studying the cosmos. The mental wavelengths of a sublimely philosophical Jnana Yoga can be found in “The Secret Doctrine” and other writings, including the “Mahatma Letters”. They powerfully expand Manas and Buddhi-Manas in the learner’s consciousness.
2)A second “cluster” of higher consciousness-rhythms emerges as a result of the previous one. It brings about an outwardly silent, beyond-thought, heartfelt perception of the cosmological processes in their dynamic unity and diversity. Such group of vibration patterns deeply changes the student’s consciousness as a whole. It operates independently from thoughts or words, even if words can stimulate it into action. As a metaphor, it can be said to “float” slightly above the first “cluster”.
3)Another chain of opportunities seems to be an unwanted blessing. For many students, it is a disgusting and shocking process to have any contact whatsoever with the third main cluster of vibration-patterns present in the core of the esoteric philosophy. Yet this “cluster” is of the essence in the learning process. It gives its foundation. It connects it to the soil. It produces the selflessness and the discernment without which the two previous general lines of vibration are impossible to sustain.
This group of consciousness-waves brings with it those probationary possibilities present in the practice of challenging spiritual ignorance and dogmatism in every form and - in making Theosophy a living power in one’s life. It provokes an inner revolution in the student’s life. It puts the student in the uncomfortable outskirts of real Occult learning.
The three clusters of vibration patterns are unseparable. Probation can’t really be avoided in life, for any knowledge brings with it some degree of responsibility and tests. Students face “probations” according to the strength and purity of their will, and according to the content and “colour” of their past karma. It is useless, therefore, to ask when and where does probation begin. Probation is part of life. It never starts or ends. Its intensity is always in direct proportion to the often changing speed and depth of the learning process.
Tests are unavoidable because we can’t live wisdom without eliminating mechanisms of spiritual blindness. These mechanisms are not only inside ourselves. They are also collectively present in any city, country, group or institution to which we may belong.
Many people see the spiritual path as a way of obtaining peace and comfort at the personal level. In their deeds, if not in words, they try to reject probation. When these people learn about H.P.B.’s struggle against theological dogmatism and other forms of collective ignorance, they feel that the main teacher of the esoteric philosophy was excessively polemist. They think that H.P.B. had a temper and that she was less peaceful than she should have been. Thinking like this may help us disguise our own tamasic love for routine and omission. Those who challenge collective ignorance are fiercely attacked in various ways - so it is convenient for us to have some handy explanations and excuses as to why we do not try to follow the example and the vibration pattern of Initiates.
Hence ill-informed people believe that HPB challenged the dogmas of her time because she was anxious, neurotic - or perhaps because she had “a missing principle” in her inner consciousness. The matter of the fact is that she couldn’t avoid challenging the dogmas of her time because she was a great soul. The same happened to many Messengers, great and small, since Pythagoras, Buddha and Lao-tzu. Messengers don’t care about established dogmas or personal well-being. Seen as an example of a vibration pattern, H.P.B.’s life and suffering contain an example to be followed. She was a willing instrument to open a new road and to establish a better pattern. More than one century after she left her body in 1891, her life is still a living metaphor illustrating the path which we might take courage to tread one of these days. The inner aspect of the progress along this road is radiant with eternal bliss - while, at the outer level, the learner’s personality undergoes a painful psychological crucifixion.
One Mahatma described this process in a letter to a lay chela:
“You were told (...) that the path to Occult Sciences has to be trodden laboriously and crossed at the danger of life; that every new step in it leading to the final goal, is surrounded by pit-falls and cruel thorns; that the pilgrim who ventures upon it is made first to confront and conquer the thousand and one furies  who keep watch over its adamantine  gates and entrance - furies called Doubt, Skepticism, Scorn, Ridicule, Envy and finally Temptation - especially the latter; and that he, who would see beyond had to first destroy this living wall; that he must be possessed of a heart and soul clad in steel, and of an iron, never failing determination and yet be meek and gentle, humble and have shut out from his heart every human passion, that leads to evil.” 
Big things reflect themselves in smaller ones, and even now every student can have a taste of real discipleship if he TRIES to live up to the teaching. Yet consciously or unconsciously many prefer to ignore the fact that the way to true learning is a dangerous path. Fear, love for comfort and attachment to routine usually cover themselves with beautiful ideas. When the sacred path is transformed into something to be seen by others, people give priority to outer quietness. Then the student may fall into the theosophical variety of quietism, which is kindly defined in the “Mahatma Letters” as “that utter paralysis of the soul”. 
Esoteric “quietists” cannot understand the vast opportunities present even in the outer regions of the probationary path, which leads to real knowledge. As a consequence, they usually refuse to defend those who are unjustly attacked.
When they hear that the work started by HPB faces new dangers and challenges in the 21st century, they naively shrug their shoulders. They think it has nothing to do with them or with their spiritual learning.
Perhaps these outwardly peaceful souls try to locate themselves above every “mundane”, conflicting issue. They certainly deserve a chance to follow their fancies. For those who will defend truth, though, there is the tremendous potentiality of referring their lives in a more direct way to the sacred teachings which they study, and to the sacred source of those teachings.
No doubt, such a direct combination of theory and practice is dangerous. To be peaceful is one thing: to seem peaceful is another, entirely different one. To be spiritual is often to seem un-spiritual. The deceiving contrast between outer image and inner reality makes every flower along the way hide at least one or two thorns which can easily make the pilgrim bleed. “The Voice of the Silence” says of such a learning: “The name of Hall the second is the Hall of [Probationary] Learning. In it thy Soul will find the blossoms of life, but under every flower a serpent coiled.” 
Indeed, the outer, easy way is the false one. It is the inner motives and intentions that determine which way we are going. Hence soft words are often the instrument of hypocrisy. In one of his New Testament lessons, the gentle Master Jesus helps us understand H.P. Blavatsky’s teachings on the need for us to defend Truth against liars, instead of doing our best to look like saints in the eyes of others:
“How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You clean the outside of your cup and plate, while the inside is full of what you have obtained by violence and selfishness. Blind Pharisee! Clean what is inside the cup first, and then the outside will be clean too!” (Mt, 23: 25-26)
Those who find HPB’s manners too aggressive should regularly come back to these strong words of Jesus, who is often misrepresented as a man capable of using only “kind” words:
“How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look fine on the outside but are full of bones and decaying corpses on the inside. In the same way, on the outside you appear good to everybody, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and sins.” (Mt, 23: 27-28)
Thus we can start to understand the profound difference between the outward show of peace continuously staged by all kinds of whitewashed tombs - theosophical or not - and the inner spiritual probation faced by those who volunteer to make some real self-sacrifice. Perhaps that is the reason why in the “Mahatma Letters” students are invited to act like “spiritual warriors”.
In the first years of the modern esoteric movement, the task confronting theosophists was described by a Mahatma as a “forlorn hope”. According to the Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary , it means an undertaking almost certain to fail, a perilous or desperate enterprise. A Master explained his use of such an expression in a letter to a lay chela:
“What I meant by the ‘Forlorn Hope’ was that when one regards the magnitude of the task to be undertaken by our theosophical volunteers, and especially the multitudinous agencies arrayed, and to be arrayed, in opposition, we may well compare it, to one of those desperate efforts against overwhelming odds that the true soldier glories to attempt. You have done well to see the ‘large purpose’ in the small beginnings of the T.S.” 
If we look at the problems of our civilization in the first part of 21st century, or make any serious evaluation of the theosophical movement worldwide, it is not difficult to understand why the Master had to use the expression forlorn hope to describe the task which waited for theosophists. But there is no impossible task in the long run. Practical work in the right direction brings the tests which in due time will allow students to attain wisdom in a safe and sustainable way.
The path of spiritual probation invites us to forget appearances in order to enhance and protect the temple of Truth in our own hearts and minds. By doing this we can start getting ready, perhaps, to accept the uncomfortable blessings of lay discipleship. An Adept-Teacher explains:
“He who would lift up high the banner of mysticism and proclaim its reign near at hand, must give the example to others. He must be the first to change his modes of life; and, regarding the study of the occult mysteries as the upper step in the ladder of Knowledge must loudly proclaim it such despite exact science and the opposition of society. ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is obtained by force’, say the Christian mystics. It is but with armed hand, and ready to either conquer or perish that the modern mystic can hope to achieve his object.” 
Along the way towards the “kingdom of heaven within”, we’ve got to TRY hundreds of times, making all the while painful mistakes and only gradually correcting the greater part of them. But if we do persevere, we may see that once the good karma starts to get ripe, a new dawn announces itself and real learning starts to be a central part of the journey.
By that time, the outer side-effects of inner blessings will probably get to be less painful than ever before.
 “Light on the Path”, Part I, Rules 10 and 12.
 Some of them are in the volume XIV of H.P.B.’s “Collected Writings”, T.P.H., 1985, 733 pp.
 A classical and typical text is the one explaining the three fundamental propositions, in the Proem of “The Secret Doctrine”.
 “Furies”: in classical Mythology, feminine deities who punished crimes, prompted by the victims, and who took revenge on behalf of the gods.
 “Adamantine”: like a diamond; impenetrably hard; utterly and unyieldingly firm.
 “The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett”, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, California, 1992, Letter LXII, pp. 351-352.
 T.U.P. edition, 1992, p. 210.
 As to the Hall, in the main text the expression is “The Hall of Learning”. But in a footnote H.P.B. explains it is “The Hall of Probationary Learning”. See “The Voice of the Silence”, translated and annotated by H.P. Blavatsky, T.P.H, Wheaton, Fragment I, p. 6.
 See letter LV, page 322, T.U.P. Edition, 1992.
 In its 1989 edition.
 “The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett”, T.U.P., Letter VIII, p. 35.
 “The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett”, T.U.P., Letter II, pp. 6-7.
In September 2016, after a careful analysis of the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to form the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose priorities include the building of a better future in the different dimensions of life.