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The Four Answers


Ernest Wood



There are only four answers to the question which each should put to himself -


What do you want?


(1) Some want sensations:


(2) some want possessions;


(3) some want friends;


(4) some few want capacity for a fuller life.


We need not study the detailed psychology of these four classes of people - and there are no others - but it is well that we should observe what they are, for if our

Theosophy is something to be used it will be our object to leave the first three

classes immediately and so take, quite instantaneously, a great step forward in



(1) Among the people who live for sensation are those who occupy their minds with impure and exciting thought in their leisure hours. They think about food and drink and sex appetites and relationships. If there is conversation some of the delight in gossip, in the excitement of news and the even greater excitement of being purveyors of news.


If there is reading, they must have

sensational newspapers, sloppy love stories or dreadful detective tales. If there is traveling, they must rush about in cars at an unreasonable speed. If there is staying at home, there must be enormous beds and kitchens and wallowing in luxury. Or, at least, there must be comfort and peace.


(2) Those who live for possessions desire wealth or fame in some degree. I knew

one vigorous old gentleman who, at the age of eighty-two, while conversing with

some of his sons , suddenly burst forth with the remark: "You boys don't seem to

know what is really worth while in life - it is to watch your bank balance, and see it increasing every day". People of this type spare themselves no labors and shrink from no dangers in order to accumulate the possessions they desire.


This gentleman died worth about a hundred thousand pounds, and even then he could not bear to break up his fortune, but left it mainly to one son. It must have cost him many a pang to leave even a small

proportion each to the rest of his numerous children.


There is the same phantasmal value in the pursuit of fame; its votaries never stop to reflect that nobody knows them anyhow, just as in connection with possessions there is usually very little real possession. And these desires appear in small and unsuccessful lives as well as in bigger and more successful lives. We must have a house, and it must be furnished like those of our neighbours, and if possible a little better.


(3) My third group consists of people who desire friends. There must be someone

to entertain them in one way or another, to support them in their beliefs, or before whom they may display their latest wisdom or accomplishment. It may be only a friend - a boon companion - or it may be many friends.


These three classes or groups of people are not getting the most out of life, either progress or in happiness. Analyze their private thoughts and feelings and you will find that the desires which they follow are not natural to them, but they have taken to them as a refuge.


They are the people who are whispering to

themselves, however faintly: "There is no greatness in life for us, therefore let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die".


But they get precious little merriment out of it all. It is only a refuge, on the principle that half a loaf is better than no bread, but it is not half a loaf, nor even a hundredth

part of a loaf.


(4) My fourth class of people are those who care for the capacity to live, that is to say, for life itself. They value love and thought and will, and in the use of these powers they find happiness, with sufficient merriment on the side. I am not proposing that people should be interested only in what is going on in their own minds, in the development and exercise of character and power. It is not a material condition that we are considering, but it is life lived as such in the midst of things.


Shall I enumerate the objects of desire which appear in this class? First there is health, then strength, then beauty. These cannot be acquired like possessions, and they never come to him who lives for sensation, or who depends upon the entertainment and benefit of friends. It is by living to capacity that these things become ours - but let us not talk in the language of possessions, for these good things are not possessions but are the expression of our life. Let there be indolence, selfishness and carelessness,


There are only three real vices - laziness, selfishness and carelessness - and laziness is easily the first, and worst, for it includes both the others. When it goes, in an individual case, selfishness appears, when selfishness goes there is still carelessness. When that goes, the man begins to live as such and he soon enters our fourth division - those who live for capacity, or life, which are in the sense of life, being the absence of will, love and thought, and see what becomes of health, strength and beauty.


Those who follow the fourth path, which is voluntary evolution or the unfoldment

of life, soon discover the same fruit in the emotions and in the mind as in the

body. Affection is the health of the emotions; interestedness is their strength;

cheerfulness is their beauty. And of the mind, judging is the health, planning

is the strength and understanding is the beauty. Let these qualities be sought

and all the material things will be added.


People tell me they are too feeble to live, that they must fall back on one or

other of the three refuges. But I say their feebleness is only a habit, out of which they will come with a little effort.


They must think, or at least they must try to think. Go by yourself into a dark room and shut your eyes and try for a quarter of an hour to think of something - anything. Do it day after day.


If you do not succeed immediately, you will do so in a week or at any rate in a month (though such a length of time would rarely be necessary), for the life is waiting for its awakening, and it is eager to break through the shells of habit.


A little thought goes a long way. We have only to dwell upon the life until we want the life, and when we want it the life will come, and we need not then linger year after year and life after life amidst the miserable

products of unintelligent desire.


Release of the Mind


What I have now been talking about as the fourth path or the path of life is what we have sometimes called the probationary path. It is the release of the mind for the understanding of life. It begins with the perception that we live under laws of life or spiritual laws, which are superior to and enclose the material laws of the worlds of forms, which are only limitation or partial

expressions of life.


I think that Theosophists of all times and countries have always divided mankind

into these two classes - those who live for the delights of the body and those who live for the delights of life. It is really the difference between the materialists and the Theosophists, considered not as a matter of

mental theory of life, but from that supreme test of belief which is desire expressed in practical life.


On this classification, those who desire a bodily heaven, however attenuated, are materialists. But the desire to have capacity

indicates that we are interested first of all in the life or living, and that the bodily things are secondary. It indicates that the affairs of life are now governed from within and not by circumstances, although they are the same affairs as before.


This understanding of life establishes a spiritual individuality in the body. I have already explained that individuality may or may not be selfish. It may go forward to many triumphs and still be centered in its own interests. But we cannot find our own life without soon finding the life in others, a discovery which starts us off on a new course of life, and has therefore been called by many "initiation". It is, of course, the beginning of a new life in which the

individuality is as strong as ever but its interests reach out far beyond the limits of the body. I am not suggesting that all the people who are interested in family or community or country or humanity, or in any movement connected with these, have therefore begun this new life.


In most cases it is not so, for they are careerists, that is to say, they want to be pleased with themselves, and since they have been drilled in the idea that it is good and right and noble and advanced and so forth to have these wider activities, they

often labor hard in them, but really they do so in order that they may be pleased with themselves, or so that they may not be displeased with themselves.


There is much more genuine spiritual quality in the consideration for others

which gives rise to natural courtesy than in many of these much larger efforts.


I must try to make this point clear, for our understanding of initiation depends upon it. Anyone who has been living for capacity for some time tends to develop what is commonly called genius, so that in a given incarnation there will be many things that he could easily do or many careers he could easily follow. Let me give an instance recorded by Lord Frederick Hamilton: -


My youngest brother would, I think, have made a great name for himself as a

cricketer, had not the fairies endowed him at his birth with a fatal facility for doing everything easily. As the result of this versatility, his ambitions were continually changing. He accordingly abandoned cricket for steeplechase riding, at which he distinguished himself until politics ousted steeplechase riding. After some years, politics gave place to golf and music, which were in their supplanted by photography. He then tried writing a few novels, and very successful some of them were, until it finally dawned on him that his vocation in life was that of a historian.


Release of the Heart


So there arises the question; what shall we do with our lives, when so many

different possibilities are open to us?


The answer comes naturally. We become

interested in the larger life which is going on all round us. It becomes quite

naturally our life. Individuality has gone beyond the boundary or skin of one body, and therefore a new life is begun. Love finds a motive, where reason failed. Then the only thing that holds this new life back from its perfection can be the impurities belonging to the old state. When Buddha spoke of these, he listed them as five fetters or obstacles. I need mention them only briefly, as they have been fully discussed in my little book, The Intuition of the Will. The

first is selfishness, which we have already considered.


The second is doubt or uncertainty. It is better to live according to a few things of which we are reasonably certain than according to many things as to most of which we are uncertain. If we act on our certainties our lives will be strong, and soon they will be rich.


The third is superstition, which is permitting small things to usurp the time and attention which should be given to big things. In

the fourth and fifth place come liking and disliking. When there is affection, large interestedness, the incidents which formerly created a great many likes

and dislikes begin to look very small indeed.


Release of the Will


We have frequently used the word "arhat" in Theosophical literature, having

adopted it from Buddhism. It means literally one who is able or competent - one

who is really living, whose life is not obscured by circumstances. It thus has

reference to the will.


I am not forgetting that strictly speaking there are no circumstances, but only the expressions of our own imperfections, which stand

around and jeer at us, so to speak. The arhat is an artist in life, so these

forms do not trouble him. He has come to a further realization.


The many lives around him are not interesting individually, any more than he is interesting to himself individually, but they constitute one picture, which he is beginning to see. There is a certain danger in talking about these things, because persons hearing about them may want to please themselves by being these things, and the difficulty is that such desire to be pleased with oneself stands in the way of the natural unfoldment of this reality.


The last difficulty or obstacle which the arhat has to overcome has been briefly

described as the superstition of the ego. The common man thinks his body to be

himself. The arhat still thinks his powers of consciousness to be himself. His individuality has grown until there is no life in which he is not interested.


But what he fails to realize is that that which he calls his individuality is

only the reflection of the whole in the part. The perfection of man is not an individual achievement of all perfections, but is the attainment of perfect harmony, or perfect relations with all others. Achievement must not be thought of as ability to make many more of the imperfect picture which men are making for their own education (which constitute the world), but must be considered in terms of life itself. It is liberation from the necessity, and at the same time from the desire, to concentrate in that manner, to make those forms which are so much less than the reality and are a limitation of the life. No more would the

liberated man think of making such forms than a great sculptor would play at producing statues without heads.


There is only one one. There is no integrity except in that whole. The dew-drop

must slip into the shining sea. This simile should help us. The drop of water has two parts - its waterness and its dropness. Its waterness is its essential nature; its dropness is accidental and external. If individuality is thought of as the dropness there is an error. Well then, when the dew-drop slips into the shining sea it is the same water that it was before. It is the same life.


All the individuality or character that we ever show is but the reflection in part

of that which alone has individuality - the whole.


It is very profitable thing to dwell upon the idea of entering the world of life. In that there will be all variety but no limitations. In that we shall have returned to our own true and full nature in full strength and power, so that our will will be as wide as the world and the full aroma of reality will be over all. This is the liberated soul - not one who is full of power and desire

to interfere with the world (which is nothing but a collection of life-expressions) but one who has entered into life.




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