How the Solar Cycle Brings
Us Initiations, Great and Small
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
Time is circular. Everything occurring in time is cyclic. Each ending brings about a new beginning, and the way we finish one year of our lives helps define the contents of the next year, as far as we are concerned.
One brief moment results from immeasurably long processes, and is the seed of other cycles. According to esoteric philosophy, each year that passes by is also a summary of our whole life. The end of each cycle is the right time to evaluate our victories and difficulties, to take stock - and renew our decision to live in wise ways.
The four seasons of the year correspond to the four great phases of a life-time. Childhood relates to the second part of the winter, which paves the way to the springtime of youth. In this phase everything seems to help our personal development: we are protected and educated, and the energies of nature help us get stronger.
During spring and summer, which correspond to the period from youth to middle-age, the great challenges and main achievements occur. Then comes autumn, the first part of old age, when life invites us to concentrate on that which is most important, and to compensate the failing strength with the wisdom we accumulated.
The cycle concludes with the first half of winter, the final part of old age. This is the time of the great renunciation, of that crossing that leads us back to the universal totality, from which we once came to the world, and from which we may again emerge in the future to start another form of existence, with no direct remembrance of the previous cycle.
It is the annual cycle of solar energy’s distribution on Earth that allows us to distinguish the four different seasons.
The Sun constitutes the great source of material and spiritual life in our planet. The future of each vital force directly depends on its relation with It. The Sun is much more than a physical star: it is the solar Logos, the spiritual source of everything that takes place in each one of its planets. The cycle of the solar light on our planet gives us a map of every soul’s journey to wisdom and liberation, signaling its periods of expansion and retraction, growth and decline, death and resurrection.
The Annual Journey of the Sun
The word solstice, of Latin origin, means “motionless Sun”.
In the highest point of summer, the solstice is the moment when the light of the Sun stops increasing and gets ready to start losing intensity, thus paving the way to autumn.
In the peak of winter, the solstice marks the moment when the light of the Sun stops decreasing and starts once more gaining strength, preparing springtime.
In winter solstice we have the longest night of the year, and from this moment the sunlight will slowly recover its strength. Hence the idea of birth, and rebirth. In the Northern hemisphere, this astronomical event corresponds to Christmas, since the Christians adopted as theirs the ancient Solar celebrations of pagan tradition.
In the Southern hemisphere, the winter solstice corresponds to the June Festivities. In this celebration, the nocturnal fire is a symbol of the Sun defeating darkness. The image corresponds to the first great initiation. A spiritual birth takes place after a long probationary period during which the truth-seeker was severely tested by life. Spiritual intuition, the light of Buddhi, the inner Christ, awakens. In the New Testament, Jesus refers to the first initiation as he teaches:
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew, 18: 3-4)
The image is clear: the Initiate of the first degree is as pure as a child. The center and focus of his soul has been born already to the realm of immortal consciousness. His perception of life is initially like that of a defenseless child. His survival is precarious. He is threatened by Herod, an expression of collective selfishness. In spite of the danger, he is already born and has been placed in the very center of material life, shedding light on all things around him.
The second great moment of the soul’s evolutionary journey is astronomically symbolized by the spring equinox, when day and night have equal strength and dimensions, during the growing phase of the light. The word “equinox” is also of Latin origin and means “equal night”.
The third level opens with the summer solstice. It corresponds in the Southern hemisphere to Christmas and in the Northern hemisphere to the month of June.
Here the duration of the day reaches its highest point and inaugurates its cyclic journey towards a new autumn. The last great event in the round is the autumn equinox, when night reaches the same size as the day and the light approaches winter, a symbol of death. Each winter leads to another rebirth.
The knowledge regarding the journey of the spiritual soul through four great initiations, until it attains relative perfection, is as old as esoteric philosophy and much older than Christianity.
The Great Initiations
Many centuries before the Christian era, Eastern Philosophy had already Sanskrit names for the higher phases of spiritual path.
A fifth level, the “resurrection of Christ”, is the awakening in the divine realm of the great adept, the mahatma, rishi or sage. Such an Initiate had his human consciousness “crucified” and is now free from the wheel of obligatory rebirth. He has taken the fifth great initiation.
Let us see what the esoteric tradition teaches about the topic.
The first great initiation, srotapatti, is signaled by the complete absence of selfishness in the human heart.
Humbleness, symbolized in Christian parlance by the poor manger, refers to the absence of pride or egocentrism. The presence of various animals around the holy child means the essential communion with all beings. The stars in the sky tell us that such a unity includes the whole universe.
The powerful energies trying to frustrate the Birth are symbols of the tests and probations which the soul will have to confront and win. They mean that a great initiation is a moment of fragility, when human soul is highly vulnerable from the point of view of the external world.
The second initiation, sakridagamin, corresponds to the emergence of a strong intellect at the service of the heart. It is the equinox of springtime, which establishes the growing dominance of light. In the life of Christ, it corresponds to the moment when the boy Jesus debates with the teachers in the temple (Luke, 2: 46-49). It brings about the awakening of the higher mind, Buddhi-Manas, the agile and eclectic intelligence that works beyond appearances and sees with clarity the same essential wisdom in all true religions, sciences and philosophies.
For an initiate of the second degree, positive thought and solidary action emerge naturally from the fact that he effortlessly perceives the total dominance of the Law of Equilibrium over outer reality, whose numerous traps can only deceive naïve and “crafty” minds.
If the first initiation makes the individual look at all life from the point of view of goodness, the second one places a powerful intelligence at the service of impersonal, altruistic love. It is the energy of springtime enlightening the world.
The third initiation is called anagamin and corresponds, as we have seen, to the summer solstice. The sunlight has now reached its highest point, having to prepare itself for the great Renunciation. In the life of Jesus, this is the Transfiguration (Matthew, 17). On the peak of a high mountain, Jesus’ face “shines like the sun”. Soon after that, he sees all the suffering that the future holds for him, his own death and resurrection (Matthew 17: 22-23).
By taking the anagamin initiation, the soul of the pilgrim makes the firm decision to go to the end in the painful sacrifice of his human condition. He is aware that the process will culminate in the crucifixion of his personality, or annihilation of his lower self, so that he can be born again on the divine realm.
The fourth initiation, that of arhat, corresponds to the autumn equinox and, in the life of Jesus, to the crucifixion. It means the arrival of death, or winter, which will pave the way to the rebirth or resurrection beyond the limits of one’s known universe. Here the soul undergoes its final death for the experiences of human realm. The fifth initiation, aseka, corresponds to resurrection. The adept, the mahatma, the rishi, the Immortal - symbolised by Jesus in the New Testament - reemerges in a realm that is higher than the human and is free from suffering as we know it, and yet he still guides our souls along the path to goodness.
There are at least two practical conclusions to be drawn from the magical journey of the advanced souls.
The first point is that everyone can pursue divine goals from this very moment, however distant they may be. This choice will have immediate positive effects on the life of the truth-seeker. In the present phase of human evolution, citizens who see the universal wisdom present in different religions and philosophies can actively prepare themselves for the first great initiation. However, it will be wise not to be in a hurry. Spiritual ignorance only dissipates little by little, and the preliminary process takes a few lifetimes.
Human soul does not interrupt its spiritual learning at the end of one incarnation. It is born again and again in order to obtain more experience and make progress towards light, until it reaches proficiency - the “adepthood” - and complete the evolutionary cycle of human realm. At each new incarnation, spiritual learning restarts from the exact point where it stopped in the previous incarnation, although external circumstances may be completely different. Later on there will be another lifetime, and other, until the various initiations. At long last the freedom from human ignorance and suffering is attained.
In the holistic view taught by esoteric philosophy, life on the planet Earth constitutes one great evolutionary wave which is part of the wider life of the Cosmos. In our planetary garden, the lives of plants are on their way to the animal kingdom. The souls of animals make progress towards human kingdom, just as human souls tread the path to the divine world. The light of eternal wisdom circulates throughout the universe, constantly recycling spirit and matter.
Preparation for the first great initiation, srotapatti, means making it possible for the Inner Christmas to occur, that is, the birth of Christ in the learner’s mind and heart. If the pilgrim can’t find the Master within himself, it is useless to look for guidance elsewhere. This is the way to purification. It is up to the student to develop the necessary humbleness in order to serenely observe the motions of selfishness within himself, in the first place, and then leave aside step by step the jungle of personal thoughts and interests, placing himself at the service of truth and justice in the different dimensions of life. Thus he learns to be in unity with the greater Life, and not with the narrow flow of animal impulses, search of safety and attempted escapes from pain.
The second practical point is that the story of the New Testament symbolizes the lives of all human beings who seek for wisdom. It is possible to live today - up to a certain point - small yet inspiring counterparts of the five great initiations. The eternal mysteries are always side by side with us. They remain perfectly available in case we awaken from ignorance. They inspire us any time as much as this is possible.
Perhaps now might be the right moment.
At the end of each year or phase in our lives, be it long or short, nothing forbids us from taking stock and evaluating our ability to be born again every day, getting free from blind attachment to the past and from mechanisms of rancour, hatred, ambition and other negative feelings.
It is possible to anticipate something of the second initiation and periodically observe our degree of courage to search for truth, to look at the facts beyond our opinions and pet ideas, to study new things and open higher paths in our intellectual life. It is wise to choose the wisdom of the heart instead of the fake cleverness of selfish minds. In those aspects of life that show us already the substance of autumn and winter, we can make the firm decision of giving up everything that is not really ours. The discerning pilgrim cooperates with life even when it does not offer him pleasant things any longer. He chooses the path of detachment. Thus the student can anticipate in a small scale something of the third initiation.
We can also evaluate the several “crucifixions” we have already seen or undergone in the present lifetime. How many desperations and defeats? How many lessons learned? What is our attitude whenever we experience a crucifixion, treason and injustice?
Do we stay in the territory of truth, ethics and altruistic love? And how many times, after the tempest and the cross, the bonanza of resurrection came to us? How many times a new phase of life has emerged for us, an unexpected springtime of promises and potentialities, after we underwent pain with no hatred and no despair? The resurrection is another Christmas, taking place on a higher level. Every Christmas secretly includes in itself the promise of complete resurrection, to be attained by our soul at the end of a learning process of various incarnations.
Christmas celebrations happen a few days before the New Year. This proximity means that the birth of a wiser consciousness opens the doors of time to a new practical beginning in life. Thus, the best Nativity Scene is situated in our own hearts and minds: these are the places where the miracle of rebirth and initiation can occur every day.
Regarding the great initiations, see “The Voice of the Silence” and other classical books of Theosophy. Also useful are the “Dictionary of All Scriptures & Myths”, by G. A. Gaskell, Gramercy Books, New York, USA, 846 pp.; and the “Dicionário de Símbolos”, Jean Chevalier e Alain Gheerbrant, José Olympio Editora, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, eighth edition, 996 pages.