The Great Work
Sep 17, 1995 00:58 AM
by Jerry Schueler
The Great Work
Psychism is defined in theosophy as incoming data
via kama-manas. HPB, the Masters, Judge, and many others
have given us strong warnings about forcing any
development of psychism via kama-manas. They suggest
that we develop ethics and morals, together with
compassion for others first. This teaching is not
unique to theosophy. Jesus once said "Seek ye first
the kingdom of heaven and all these will be given unto
you." In other words, if we develop spiritually first,
our psychic senses will develop naturally, without force.
This allows incoming data via buddhi-manas, which is not
only safer, but more reliable. As far as I know, this
"core teaching" (which is eternal insofar as this
manvantara is concerned) is unique to theosophy today.
Western magical schools simply do not address it, and
students are allowed to jump right in to such things
as pathworking and channeling. The theory there is
that if moral development is not sufficient, the student
will get "burned" and learn the hard way. Part of the
reason for this, is that it is devilishly hard to say
when moral development for any particular student is
"sufficient." And of course, another reason is that
most students today want instant gratification (many
think that Truth can be found from one or more books,
Many students of Theosophy leave after a year
or so largely because they do not find instant
gratification within the theosophical community. Many
do the same in magical schools, because even there the
Great Work is hard and long. What is the Great Work?
It is sometimes called Treading the Path. The Great
Work is that undertaken by all true magicians or yogis.
Its goal is the ultimate goal of magic, occultism, and
yoga. Bascially, it is establishing a union (which is
what yoga means) between the human and the divine.
There are many Paths toward this goal, and several
theories, and a multitude of techniques. But all
schools teach that it is the work of many lifetimes,
and that the personal ego must ultimately be cast
aside - these two teachings are not unique to theosophy,
and for that very reason can be called "core teachings"
as well (we can define "core teachings" as those which
have been taught throughout the world and throughout
history and are therefore relatively universal and
The Great Work is sometimes likened to a
mighty mountain. Its students and practitioners
are likened to mountain climbers. Many climb over
the grassy foothills, basking in the sunlit flowers
and sparkling lakes. A few charge up the steeper
forest-covered slopes, taking more risk to themselves,
but getting closer to the top. Everyone is at a
different level, and most are on different paths, but
all are approaching the lofty peak of the mountain at
their own speed and in their own way. The ultimate
goal is reaching the top of the mountain. However,
there are other worthy goals too. One of these is
helping fellow climbers over some of the rough spots.
Another is warning fellow students of pitfalls and
dangers. Every climber must carefully weigh each
danger along the many possible paths against their
own inner desire to reach the top.
There is a special point along the slopes
of this mountain, when climbers will rise to the
very tops of the clouds, and to the uppermost edge
of the forest. At this point all paths tend to merge
into a circle around the mountain. There is a chasm
at this point. It appears wide and deep, and impassible.
On the other side of this gap, climbers rise above the
clouds, and above the tree lines, and are able to see
at vast distances. This vantage is not given to those
below owing to the heavy clouds, trees, and other
obscurations. Many climbers return below to tell
their fellows about the wonderful sights awaiting them
above, but few really understand. Some of those on
the lower slopes are able to catch glimpses of these
majestic sights by climbing a tree or jagged hill.
They think that they have obtained the same view,
and report their observations to the others with
In this way, those climbing the lower slopes
are given two sets of data about the mountain, its
peaks, and its surroundings. Sometimes the data are
conflicting and some climbers leave the mountain in
disgust and confusion. Some climbers try out the
trees and hills in futile efforts to also glimpse
the peaks of the mountain. Some find glimpses, and
are reassured. Others merely waste their time.
Only a few keep climbing ahead, one step at a time,
with determined effort and will.
These climbers will eventually climb all the
way to the chasm. Most see the chasm as an impass.
They think that this must be the peak itself, since
no further progress is possible. Some return to help
others at this point. Only a few will dare to leap
over the chasm, find purchase on the other side, and
continue their journey. Those who jump while
carrying their backpacks or any other personal
equipment, will die in the jump. Only those who put
aside all of their belongings and jump naked across
the chasm (a true leap of faith) can succeed. When
those who wish to return, do so, they usually find
their belongings are right where they left them,
waiting for them.
The observations made on the lower slopes
are via kama-manas. Those observations made on the
higher slopes are via buddhi-manas. The importance
of developing compassion and selflessness while
still on the lower slopes, is to enable the naked leap
of faith required to cross the Abyss.
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