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The Great Paradox

The Road to Wisdom Can Only
Be Known By Actually Treading It
Helena P. Blavatsky

The seven-headed Hydra of Greek legend,
a symbol of spiritual selfishness, has to be
defeated by Hercules, the candidate to Initiation

A 2011 Editorial Note:
The following article was first published
at “Lucifer” magazine [1], in London, in
October 1887, pp. 120-122. Although the text
was not signed by H.P.B.,  there can be scarcely
any doubt that it was written by her. The article
was also published at “Theosophy” magazine, Los
Angeles, in its September 1914 edition, pp. 496-499.
We reproduce it from “Collected Writings”, H.P.
Blavatsky T.P.H., USA, volume VIII, pp. 125-129.
We have compared it with the text at “Lucifer”
magazine, when necessary.

Paradox would seem to be the natural language of occultism. Nay more, it would seem to penetrate deep into the heart of things, and thus to be inseparable from any attempt to put into words the truth, the reality which underlies the outward shows of life.
And the paradox is one not in words only, but in action, in the very conduct of life. The paradoxes of occultism must be lived, not uttered only. Herein lies a great danger, for it is only too easy to become lost in the intellectual contemplation of the path, and so to forget that the road can only be known by treading it.
One startling paradox meets the student at the very outset, and confronts him in ever new and strange shapes at each turn of the road. Such an one, perchance, has sought the path desiring a guide, a rule of right for the conduct of his life. He learns that the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end of life is selflessness; and he feels the truth of the saying that only in the profound unconsciousness of self-forgetfulness can the truth and reality of being reveal itself to his eager heart.
The student learns that this is the one law of occultism, at once the science and the art of living, the guide to the goal he desires to attain. He is fired with enthusiasm and enters bravely on the mountain track. He then finds that his teachers do not encourage his ardent flights of sentiment; his all-forgetting yearning for the Infinite - on the outer plane of his actual life and consciousness. At least, if they do not actually damp his enthusiasm, they set him, as the first and indispensable task, to conquer and control his body. The student finds that far from being encouraged to live in the soaring thoughts of his brain, and to fancy he has reached that ether where is true freedom - to the forgetting of his body, and his external actions and personality - he is set down to tasks much nearer earth. All his attention and watchfulness are required on the outer plane; he must never forget himself, never lose hold over his body, his mind, his brain. He must even learn to control the expression of every feature, to check the action of each muscle, to be master of every slightest involuntary movement.
The daily life around and within him is pointed out as the object of his study and observation. Instead of forgetting what are usually called the petty trifles, the little forgetfulness, the accidental slips of tongue or memory, he is forced to become each day more conscious of these lapses, till at last they seem to poison the air he breathes and stifle him, till he seems to lose sight and touch of the great world of freedom towards which he is struggling, till every hour of every day seems full of the bitter taste of self, and his heart grows sick with pain and the struggle of despair. And the darkness is rendered yet deeper by the voice within him, crying ceaselessly:
“Forget thyself. Beware, lest thou becomest self-concentrated - and the giant weed of spiritual selfishness take firm root in thy heart; beware, beware, beware!”
The voice stirs his heart to its depths, for he feels that the words are true. His daily and hourly battle is teaching him that self-centredness is the root of misery, the cause of pain, and his soul is full of longing to be free.
Thus the disciple is torn by doubt. He trusts his teachers, for he knows that through them speaks the same voice he hears in the silence of his own heart. But now they utter contradictory words; the one, the inner voice, bidding him forget himself utterly in the service of humanity; the other, the spoken word of those from whom he seeks guidance in his service, bidding him first to conquer his body, his outer self. And he knows better with every hour how badly he acquits himself in that battle with the Hydra, and he sees seven heads grow afresh in place of each one that he has lopped off.
At first he oscillates between the two, now obeying the one, now the other. But soon he learns that this is fruitless. For the sense of freedom and lightness, which comes at first when he leaves his outer self unwatched, that he may seek the inner air, soon loses its keenness, and some sudden shock reveals to him that he has slipped and fallen on the uphill path. Then, in desperation, he flings himself upon the treacherous snake of self, and strives to choke it into death; but its ever-moving coils elude his grasp, the insidious temptations of its glittering scales blind his vision, and again he becomes involved in the turmoil of the battle, which gains on him from day to day, and which at last seems to fill the whole world, and blot out all else beside from his consciousness. He is face to face with a crushing paradox, the solution of which must be lived before it can be really understood.
In his hours of silent meditation the student will find that there is one space of silence within him where he can find refuge from thoughts and desires, from the turmoil of the senses and the delusions of the mind. By sinking his consciousness deep into his heart he can reach this place - at first only when he is alone in silence and darkness. But when the need for the silence has grown great enough, he will turn to seek it even in the midst of the struggle with self, and he will find it. Only he must not let go of his outer self, or his body; he must learn to retire into this citadel when the battle grows fierce, but to do so without losing sight of the battle; without allowing himself to fancy that by so doing he has won the victory. That victory is won only when all is silence without as within the inner citadel. Fighting thus, from within that silence, the student will find that he has solved the first great paradox.
But paradox still follows him. When first he thus succeeds in thus retreating into himself, he seeks there only for refuge from the storm in his heart. And as he struggles to control the gusts of passion and desire, he realises more fully what mighty powers he has vowed himself to conquer. He still feels himself, apart from the silence, nearer akin to the forces of the storm. How can his puny strength cope with these tyrants of animal nature?
This question is hard to answer in direct words; if, indeed, such an answer can be given. But analogy may point the way where the solution may be sought.
In breathing we take a certain quantity of air into the lungs, and with this we can imitate in miniature the mighty wind of heaven. We can produce a feeble semblance of nature: a tempest in a tea-cup, a gale to blow and even swamp a paper boat. And we can say:
“I do this; it is my breath.”
But we cannot blow our breath against a hurricane, still less hold the trade winds in our lungs. Yet the powers of heaven are within us; the nature of the intelligences which guide the world-force is blended with our own, and could we realise this and forget our outer selves, the very winds would be our instruments.
So it is in life. While a man clings to his outer self - aye, and even to any one of the forms he assumes when this “mortal coil” is cast aside - so long is he trying to blow aside a hurricane with the breath of his lungs.
It is useless and idle such an endeavour; for the great winds of life must, sooner or later, sweep him away. But if he changes his attitude [2] in himself, if he acts on the faith that his body, his desires, his passions, his brain, are not himself, though he has charge of them, and is responsible for them; if he tries to deal with them as parts of nature, then he may hope to become one with the great tides of being, and reach the peaceful place of safe self-forgetfulness at last.

[1] The word “Lucifer” is a pre-Christian, Latin term meaning “light-bringer”. It is also a name for the planet Venus, the morning star.  Since the Middle Ages, the word has been grossly distorted by ill-advised theologians. (CCA)
[2]Changes his attitude”.  In “Lucifer”, in “Theosophy” and in the Collected Writings, we have “changes his altitude”, which does not make sense.  This must be an 1887 proof-reading mistake - or perhaps a misreading of HPB’s handwriting in the originals of the article.  (CCA)
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The Great Paradox

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