The mission of purgatory is to eradicate the injurious habits by making their gratification impossible. The individual suffers exactly as he has made others suffer through his dishonesty, cruelty, intolerance, or what not. Because of this suffering he learns to act kindly, honestly, and with forbearance toward others in future. Thus, in consequence of the existence of this beneficent state, man learns virtue and right action. When he is reborn he is free from evil habits, at least every evil act committed is one of free will. The tendencies to repeat the evil of past lives remain, for we must learn to do right consciously and of our own will. Upon occasion these tendencies tempt us, thereby affording us an opportunity of ranging ourselves on the side of mercy and virtue as against vice and cruelty. But to indicate right action and to help us resist the snares and wiles of temptation, we have the feeling resulting from the expurgation of evil habits and the expiation of the wrong acts of past lives. If we heed that feeling and abstain from the particular evil involved, the temptation will cease. We have freed ourselves from it for all time. If we yield we shall experience keener suffering than before until at last we have learned to live by the Golden Rule, because the way of the transgressor is hard. Even then we have not reached the ultimate. To good to others because we want them to do good to us is essentially selfish. In time we must learn to do good regardless of how we are treated by others; as Christ said, we must love even our enemies.
There is an inestimable benefit in knowing about the method and object of this purgation, because we are thus enabled to forestall it by living our purgatory here and now day by day, thus advancing much faster than would otherwise be possible. An exercise is given in the latter part of this work, the object of which is purification as an aid to the development of spiritual sight. It consists of thinking over the happenings of the day after retiring at night. We review each incident of the day, in reverse order, taking particular note of the moral aspect, considering whether we acted rightly or wrongly in each particular case regarding actions, mental attitude and actions, mental attitude and habits. By thus judging ourselves day by day, endeavoring to correct mistakes and wrong actions, we shall materially shorten or perhaps even eliminate the necessity for purgatory and be able to pass to the first heaven directly after death. If in this manner, we consciously overcome our weaknesses, we also make a very material advance in the school of evolution. Even if we fail to correct our actions, we derive an immense benefit from judging ourselves, thereby generating aspirations toward good, which in time will surely bear fruit in right action.
In reviewing the day’s happenings and blaming ourselves for wrong, we should not forget to impersonally approve of the good we have done and determine to do still better. In this way we enhance the good by approval as much as we abjure the evil by blame.
Repentance and reform are also powerful factors in shortening the purgatorial existence, for nature never wastes effort in useless processes. When we realize the wrong of certain habits or acts in our past life, and determine to eradicate the habit and to redress the wrong committed, we are expunging the pictures of them from the sub-conscious memory and they will not be there to judge us after death. Even though we are not able to make restitution for a wrong, the sincerity of our regret will suffice. Nature does not aim to “get even,” or to take revenge. Recompense may be given to our victim in other ways.
Much progress ordinarily reserved for future lives will be made by the man who thus takes time by the forelock, judging himself and eradicating vice by reforming his character. This practice is earnestly recommended. It is perhaps the most important teaching in the present work.
The Evening Exercise
(Mentioned on page 111)
The Evening exercise, Retrospection, is of greater value than any other method in advancing the aspirant upon the path of attainment. It has such a far-reaching effect that it enables one to learn now, not only the lessons of this life, but lessons ordinarily reserved for future lives.
After going to bed at night the body should be relaxed. Then the aspirant begins to review the scenes of the day in reverse order, starting with the events of the evening, then the occurrences of the afternoon, of the forenoon, and the morning. He endeavors to picture to himself each scene as faithfully as possible–seeks to reproduce before his mind’s eye all that took place in each pictured scene with the object of judging his actions, of ascertaining if his words conveyed the meaning he intended or gave a false impression, or if he overstated or understated in relating experiences to others. He reviews his moral attitude in relation to each scene. At meals, did he eat to live, or did he live to eat–to please the palate? Let him judge himself and blame where blame is due, praise where merited.
People sometimes find it difficult to remain awake till the exercise has been performed. In such cases it is permissible to sit up in bed till it is possible to follow the ordinary method.
The value of retrospection is enormous–far-reaching beyond imagination. In the first place, we perform the work of restoration of harmony consciously and in a shorter time than the desire body can do during sleep, leaving a larger portion of the night available for outside work than otherwise possible. In the second place, we live our purgatory and first heaven each night, and build into the spirit as Right Feeling the essence of the day’s experience. Thus we escape purgatory after death and also save time spent in the first heaven. And last, but not least, having extracted day by day the essence of experiences which make for soul growth, and having built them into the spirit, we are actually living in an attitude of mind and developing along lines that would ordinarily have been reserved for future lives. By the faithful performance of this exercise we expunge day by day undesirable occurrences from our subconscious memory so that our sins are blotted out, our auras commence to shine with spiritual gold extracted by retrospection from the experiences of each day, and thus we attract the attention of the Teacher.
The pure shall see God, said Christ, and the Teacher will quickly open our eyes when we are fit to enter into the “Hall of Learning,” the desire world, where we obtain our first experiences of conscious life without the dense body.
The Morning Exercise
Concentration, the second exercise, is performed in the morning at the very earliest moment possible after the aspirant awakes. He must not arise to open blinds or perform any other unnecessary act. If the body is comfortable he should at once relax and commence to concentrate. This very important, as the spirit has just returned from the desire world at the moment of waking, and at that time the conscious touch with that world is more easily regained than at any other time of the day.
We remember from Lecture No. 4 that during sleep the currents of the desire body flow, and its vortices move and spin with enormous rapidity. But as soon as it enters the dense body its currents and vortices are almost stopped by the dense matter and the nerve currents of the vital body which carry messages to and from the brain. It is the object of this exercise to still the dense body to the same degree of inertia and insensibility as in sleep, although the spirit within is perfectly awake, alert, and conscious. Thus we make a condition where the sense centers of the desire body can begin to revolve while inside the dense body.
Concentration is a word that puzzles many and carries meaning to but few, so we will endeavor to make its significance clear. The dictionary gives several definitions, all applicable to our idea. One is “to draw to a center”; another from chemistry, “to reduce to extreme purity and strength by removing valueless constituents.” Applied to our problem, one of the above definitions tells us that if we draw our thoughts to a center, a point, we increase their strength on the principle that the power of the sun’s rays is increased when focused to a point by means of a magnifying glass. By eliminating from our mind for the time being all other subjects, our whole thought power is available for use in attaining the object or solving the problem on which we are concentrating; we may become so absorbed in our subject that if a cannon were fired above our heads we would not hear it. People may become so lost in a book that they are oblivious to all else, and the aspirant to spiritual sight must acquire the faculty of becoming equally absorbed in the idea he is concentrating upon, so that he may shut out the world of sense from his consciousness and give his whole attention to the spiritual world. When he learns to do that, he will see the spiritual side of an object or idea illuminated by spiritual light, and thus he will obtain a knowledge of the inner nature of things undreamt of by a worldly man.
When he has reached that point of abstraction the sense centers of the desire body commence to revolve slowly within the dense body, and will thus make a place for themselves. This in time will become more and more defined, and it will require less and less effort to set them going.
The subject of concentration may be any high and lofty ideal, but should preferably be of such a nature that it takes the aspirant out of the ordinary things of sense, beyond time and space; and there is no better formula than the first five verses of St. John’s gospel. Taking them as a subject, sentence by sentence, morning after morning, will in time give the aspirant a wonderful insight into the beginning of our universe and the method of creation–an insight far beyond any book learning.
After a time, when the aspirant has learned to unwaveringly hold before him for about five minutes the idea upon which he is concentrating, he may try to suddenly drop the idea and leave a blank. Think of nothing else, simply wait to see if anything enters the vacuum. In time the sights and scenes of the desire world will fill the vacant space. After the aspirant has become used to that, he may demand this, that, or the other thing to come before him. It will come and then he may investigate it.
The main point, however, is that by following the above instructions the aspirant is purifying himself; his aura commences to shine and will without fail draw the attention of a teacher who will depute someone to give help when required for the next step in advancement. Even if months or years should go by and bring no visible result, rest assured that no effort has been in vain; the Great Teachers see and appreciate our efforts. They are just as anxious to have our assistance as we are to work. They may see reasons which make it inexpedient for us to take up work for humanity in this life or at this time. Sometime the hindering conditions will pass, and we shall be admitted to the light where we can see for ourselves.
An ancient legend says that digging for treasure must be done in the stillness of night and in perfect silence; to speak one word until the treasure is safely excavated will inevitably cause it to disappear. That is a mystic parable which has reference to the search for spiritual illumination. If we gossip or recount to others the experiences of our concentration hour, we lose them; they can not bear vocal transmission and will fade into nothingness. By meditation we must extract from them a full knowledge of the underlying cosmic laws. Then the experience itself will not be recounted, for we shall see that it is but the husk which hid the kernel of worth. The law is of universal value as will be at once apparent, for it will explain facts in life, and teach us how to take advantage of certain conditions and to avoid others. The law may be freely stated at the discoverer’s discretion for the benefit of humanity. The experience which revealed the law then will appear in its true light as of only passing interest and unworthy of further notice. Therefore the aspirant should regard everything that happens during concentration as sacred and should be keep it strictly to himself.
Finally, beware of regarding the exercises as a burdensome task. Estimate them at their true worth; they are our highest privileges. Only when thus regarded can we do them justice and reap the full benefits from them.