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Failure on the Path

This refers to those who attempt to enter into the path of hastened spirituality and who fail. It generally refers to failure in one life, but can be pursued again in future lives with success. Theosophy posits that all beings will eventually return to their original source, and hence there is ultimately no such thing as “failure.”

In the theosophical literature, there were specific individuals (such as Moorad Ali and Edmund Fern) who offered themselves to undertake the difficult task of “probation,” that is, to be accepted as a probationary pupil of one of the Masters of the Wisdom. Most of them failed, at least for this life.

During such probation, the aspirant is tested, and the inner nature is drawn out. According to Helena P. BLAVATSKY this is an immutable law when once a person pledges oneself to the inner spiritual Path:

As soon as anyone pledges himself as a “Probationer,” certain occult effects ensue. Of these the first is the throwing outward of everything latent in the nature of the man: his faults, habits, qualities, or subdued desires, whether good, bad, or indifferent.

For instance, if a man is vain or a sensualist, or ambitious, whether by Atavism or by Karmic heirloom, all those vices are sure to break out, even if he has hitherto successfully concealed and repressed them. They will come to the front irrepressibly, and he will have to fight a hundred times harder than before, until he kills all such tendencies in himself.

On the other hand, if he is good, generous, chaste, and abstemious, or has any virtue hitherto latent and concealed in him, it will work its way out as irrepressibly as the rest. Thus a civilized man who hates to be considered a saint, and therefore assumes a mask, will not be able to conceal his true nature, whether base or noble. (CW XII:515)

The concept of trial and testing for spiritual aspirants and initiates is an age-old practice. In the New Testament, even Jesus was sent by the Holy Spirit to undergo temptation by the devil. The Mahātma KOOT HOOMI wrote: “Chelaship is an educational as well as probationary stage and the chela alone can determine whether it shall end in adeptship or failure” (LMW I, Letter 7).

The Spiritual Path has been described as “the razor’s edge” because the disciplines involved are severe and compromise is not possible. The causes of failure are many. Egoism is a common pitfall, particularly in the case of those engaged in teaching spiritual observances or techniques; it is very easy to respond to the compliments or adoration by believing oneself to be superior to the common herd. In some cases the techniques may result in the development of psychic abilities which again may cause the aspirant to deviate from the Path.