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Initiation, The Perfecting of Man

Annie Besant

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From the Foreword: 'There is nothing new in these lectures, but only old truths retold. But the truths are of such vivid and perennial interest that, though old, they are never stale, and, though well known, there is always something to say which seems to throw on them new light and new charm. For they touch the deepest recesses of our being, and bring the breath of heaven into the lower life of earth.'

This book has 80 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1912.

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Excerpt from 'Initiation, The Perfecting of Man'

THERE is a Path which leads to that which is known as Initiation, and through Initiation to the Perfecting of Man; a Path which is recog­nised in all the great religions, and the chief features of which are described in similar terms in every one of the great faiths of the world. You may read of it in the Roman Catholic teachings as divided into three parts: (1) The Path of Purification or Purgation; (2) the Path of Illumination; and (3) the Path of Union with Divinity. You find it among the Mussal­mans in the Sufi - the mystic - teachings of Islam, where it is known under the names of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. You find it further eastward still in the great faith of Buddhism, divided into subdivisions, though these can be classified under the broader outline. It is similarly divided in Hinduism; for in both those great religions, in which the study of  psychology, of the human mind and the human constitution, has played so great a part, you find a more definite subdivision.

But really it matters not to which faith you turn; it matters not which particular set of  names you choose as best attracting or ex­pressing your own ideas; the Path is but one; its divisions are always the same; from time immemorial that Path has stretched from the life of the world to the life of the Divine. Through thousands upon thousands of years some of our human race have trodden it; for thousands and thousands of years which are yet unborn, some of our race shall tread it to the end of our earth story, to the conclusion of this special cycle of human time.

It is the Path which, stage by stage, enables man to fulfil the command of the Christ: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”. It is the Path whereof that same great Teacher declared “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it”. I know that in later days, when most men had forgotten the existence of the Path, they changed those true words into words that are utterly false, that make the gate and the way narrow that lead unto a heavenly life, and broad and wide the way that leadeth to an everlasting condemnation; but that is a distortion of the occult teaching. It is a twisting of the words of the Christ, for surely He, whom His followers  call the Saviour of the world, could never have declared that only few should be the ranks of  the saved, practically numberless the crowds of the lost. In dealing with the Path we are not in those regions of exoteric faith which speak of heaven and hell. The life to which the Path leads the pilgrim is not the life of the passing joys of heaven; it is that life spoken of in the fourth gospel, where it is written “The knowledge of God is eternal life” - life which is not counted by endless ages, but which means a change in the attitude of the man; which means not time, but a life that is beyond time; which is not counted by the rising and setting of suns, even though those dawns and sunsets were in an immortal life; but which means that perfect serenity, that unity with God, in which time is only a passing incident of existence, and an ever-present reality is understood as the true life of the Spirit.

And so the Path that we are to study through the coming Sundays, through these brief and poor descriptions of what that Path may mean to man, is the short though difficult way by  which man evolves more rapidly than in the ordinary course of human and natural evolution; it is the Path by which, to use a simile often used, instead of going round and round the mountain by an ever-climbing spiral, man climbs straight up the mountain-side regardless of cliff and precipice, regardless of gulf and chasm, knowing there is nothing that can stop the Eternal Spirit, and that no obstacle is stronger than the strength that is omnipotence, because it has its source in Omnipotence itself.

Such is the Path, then, that you and I are  to try to study, not for the mere interest of  what is indeed a fascinating and enthralling subject, but rather, at least on the part of the  speaker and I hope on the part of some at least of the hearers, a study that is meant to change  the life, a study that gives birth to a determina­tion to tread the Path, to know it not only  theoretically but by a practical realisation, and to understand something of those hidden  Mysteries by which man, ever potentially divine, realises his inner Divinity and becomes  perfect, rising above and beyond humanity.

Such is the scope, then, of our study, and, in order that the study may be practical, we must assume, at least for the time, the existence of certain great facts in Nature. I do not mean that our man of the world, in taking his first steps towards the Path, need either know or recognise these facts. Facts in Nature do not change either with our believing or non-believing. Facts of Nature remain facts whether we know them or not, and since we are here in the realm of Nature, and under the order of law, the knowledge of the facts and the knowledge of  the law are not essential for the steps which lead man to the Path. It is enough that the facts are there, and that the man unconsciously is allowing those facts to influence his inner and his outer life. It is enough that the laws exist; although the man may not know of their existence. Sunshine does not cease to warm you because you may not know anything of the constitution of the sun. Fire does not cease to burn you, because, unknowing its fierceness, you thrust your hand into the flame. It is the security of human life and human progress that the laws of nature are ever working and carry­ing us on with them, whether we know of them or not. But if we know them, we gain a great advantage. If we know them, we can co-operate with them as we cannot co-operate as long as we are in the darkness of ignorance. If we know the facts we can utilise them, as we cannot utilise them when we know not they are there. To know is the difference between walking in the darkness and in the light, and to understand the laws of Nature is to gain the power of quickening our evolution by utilising every law that hastens our growth, by avoiding the work­ing of those that would retard and delay.

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