Aids to Study: A Study Thereof
By Eleanor L. Shumway, Guardian in Chief
Since the Temple was founded, [one hundred twenty years ago] members have been getting together to talk about the Temple Teachings. The founders organized formal Temple Squares for the purpose of bringing discipline and order into the study groups. There is a regular procedure, carefully thought out, that builds the conscious inner soul, or entity, of the group, gathered together. It is not “just a class” where you show up for roll call to get the credit in some teacher’s grade book, but rather a conscious gathering of the building forces on inner planes. Each one of us is important to this process.
It all begins when we come to the study class. It should go without saying that we need to make every effort to arrive a few minutes ahead of time. This is simply good manners, otherwise known as consideration for others, as well as practicing what we preach. If something unavoidable has come up to delay us, we need to enter quietly, stop and listen, then depending on what is happening, wait for a break and go quietly to a seat in the circle to become a functioning part of the group as rapidly as possible.
Any time there is an effort for such a gathering, there also come the testing forces to ask us to “walk the talk” of brother/sisterhood, tolerance, acceptance, understanding, listening with the heart, and using the mental bodies rather than allowing them to use us. The testing forces do their work by operating through each and every one of us. Next time you are in class listening to someone expound upon the question at hand and you feel irritation or indignation directed toward the person speaking, grab that feeling and ask it where it came from, then send it away, politely but firmly! Be honest with yourself. If those testing forces can pull you from your avowed purpose of harmony and balance, they certainly will try, over and over and over again. Be aware!
In our Aids to Study, it says, “Temple Squares are important points of contact with the world. Where four or more members are able to work harmoniously together, great results are possible.” At this point, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I thinking and saying only that which will lead to harmony, or do I feel I am absolutely right on everything and will drive my point home regardless of group dynamics!?”
We are told that each person should offer his or her best light on the thoughts and ideas suggested. By saying, “I think. . .,” “It is my feeling that. . .,” “I understand that. . .,” or “In my study or reading I have found. . .,” we indicate a responsibility for our own words.
On the other hand, all too often when we say, “The Master says. . .”, The Bible says. . .”, “the Pope says. . . “, or even [heaven forbid!] “The Guardian in Chief says. . .”, we are NOT offering our own thoughts or ideas, and I feel we are shifting the responsibility to someone else. It is our responsibility to synthesize all we have studied. Also, in constantly quoting someone else, we are, in effect, saying to the world, “What a wonderful scholar I am, being able to quote someone else.” Perhaps this is acceptable in a college class or paper, but NOT in a study class where we are building a conscious body of intent on inner planes. The forces thus generated are positive OR negative and serve humanity accordingly.
This collective study stimulates and arouses the intuition, and it is wonderful what is brought out in such meetings where harmony reigns and there is a sincere desire to get the truth, as far as we can see it at the present time, irrespective of opinions. The one great prize that humanity must strive for is the gaining of an open mind. Remember, the Master says, “It is not easy for humanity to understand that two diametrically opposed methods of action may both be right.”
The Aids to Study gives us eight guidelines for the group effort. They are really applicable to every group, not just Temple study groups. Let us explore them.
First: “The subjects to be studied must be confined to the Temple Teachings and Instructions. No exoteric subjects may be considered other than those of the philosophy relating to the subject under discussion.” There are so many interesting side paths in our studies, all legitimate, and we could wander far afield. (In my public school teaching experience we used to call it “bird walking,” or wandering around the subject!) Have you noticed that when someone else does this during a class that your feelings are often those of irritation? It would be natural, but we must remember the force of our irritation or anger is destructive to the inner harmony we are all working on. If we are truly honest when we ourselves are wandering from the subject, we would admit to small inner voices urging us back to the subject at hand. Unless of course we are so caught up in ego satisfaction that those inner voices are drowned out by our own voice!
The second Aid to Study says, “In the discussions, remarks are always addressed to the Outer Guard or the person conducting the lesson. Failure to follow this procedure may result in the rapid crossing of the circle by straight lines that evoke or describe symbols of disharmony. During the meeting, members are urged not to talk or whisper to each other, or leave the room without the permission of the Outer Guard.” Upon careful consideration, this makes sense. On this physical plane alone, such disruption is just bad manners. On the inner planes, the results are clearly defined above, with scrambled, crossing lines. When the Outer Guard hands the meeting over to the person leading the lesson, then that person guides the meeting until he or she is through or the time is up.
We need to remember that the program is conducted along the lines of The Law of Centralization. In meetings around the world, this program is essentially Robert’s Rules of Order, a system in which everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard. There must be a central point through which we operate. We can get so comfortable with each other that we slip up and talk across the circle. It doesn’t mean we have to be solemn and stiff, it just means we do need to consciously practice the Law of Centralization, not just talk about it. We must include laughter as laughter never harmed any group, as long as it is not at anyone’s expense. Wasn’t it Mary Poppins that said, “a spoonful of laughter makes the medicine go down!”
The third Aid speaks again to harmony and wholeness in telling us, “Ideas and comments are offered not as disagreement or as contradictions to what others have said, but simply as another point of view to enrich the whole study.” We must keep this in mind when someone offers a different point of view, rather than defending our own view to the bitter end! It is the different points of view that make each class so rich in its pattern, and from which we can learn so much.
Next comes the statement, “Only observations pertinent to the subject being discussed are appropriate.” This addresses the need to keep focused on the studies at hand. We need to try not to get ahead in the lesson, but to stay with the question at hand. It helps to listen carefully to the question. Asking for a repetition of the question is always helpful.
Aid for Study number five tells us, “Personal experiences are only offered if generalized and made applicable to the subject at hand. Other people or groups of people are not to be considered in a critical or demeaning light.” Personal experiences are important to each of us, but we need to be able to extract the lesson from them and present it in a way to benefit all. In addition, I am sure we all assume that none of us are REALLY “anti” any other group, yet there are times when a listener might very well assume that we are other-group-bashing. We must choose our words with loving care, expressing our thoughts from the best motive. Even Madame Blavatsky, addressing the rock-hard mindsets of her day, was only demanding that another point of view has validity, and should be considered. The Masters have told us not to accept something just because they say it is so. We must measure each statement up against our inner knowing. If it rings true, it is for us now. If it doesn’t feel right, drop it, and know that as we unfold, that particular truth will come into our lives at the right time.
Number six is crystal clear: “As helpful and interesting as reference material is to all study, study will be limited to the lesson and subjects under discussion. Lengthy quotes or references from other lessons or sources of information are to be avoided. Focus and balance are important to the task at hand.” Again, we are building the soul of that particular class by following these instructions consciously. This is the process of the development of group consciousness.
In number seven, H. P. B. elegantly covers everything we have talked about when she says, “Those who wish to succeed in Theosophy, abstract or practical, should remember that want of union is the first condition of failure. Let any number of determined Theosophists unite themselves; let them work together, each according to his [or her] own way, in one or another branch of Universal Science, but let each one be in sympathy with his brother or sister. Let this be done and we can answer for it that each member would make greater progress in the sacred science in one year than could be made in ten years [by ourselves]. In Theosophy, what is needed is emulation and not rivalry.” We need to ask ourselves do we contribute to emulation, cooperation, or do we feel that ‘we know better’ than someone else, and thereby again feed our own lower personal egos?
Number eight states, “Development of the faculty of intuition depends upon care of motive and attitude of mind. Attention to these qualities contributes to spiritual growth.” It requires all our mental and psychic power to examine what is given, to the end that the real meaning of the teaching may be discovered. While studying, we strive to free the mind from all preconceived ideas so that the inner sense of the Teachings may be impressed upon it. The mind should be concentrated upon the Teachings as a whole as well as upon every statement in them. In this way, what is the very best we have in ourselves from heredity, education, and other teachers will be synthesized with the Teachings. Remember, what you understand from the lesson at this moment, will be even richer and deeper next time. These teachings are not a matter of “study it once and we are through hurrah!” Each time we read and discuss, something more is added to our insight and feelings. It is a life-long study.
I might add that it is not the duty of any of us at the class to make sure that the other person understands it the way we do. Remember, the Master says, “It is not easy for humanity to understand that two diametrically opposed methods of action may both be right.” We are being asked to consciously assume the responsibility of tolerance and understanding!
The Aids to Study goes on to point out, “To accomplish this, it is most necessary that the student practice the habit of concentration of mind upon every duty and act in life, making correlations between spiritual teachings and the simple acts of everyday life. No failure is defeat if a further sincere effort is made.” If we have come to class with the best motives at our command, to give from the highest place we can access at that moment, then the force we contribute will come flowing back to us in a healing, nurturing, enlightening stream. (The opposite is also true.) This statement also suggests that all Life is our study class. However, if we only massage the mental muscles, we have lost the point of everything. In fact, we have lost, period.
And one aid to study not actually written down, but vitally important to those of us whose hearing is becoming a bit compromised: please speak up so all may hear. Besides, all of us need to hear what all of us have to say. How else will we develop the different points of view and the rich tapestry of our group consciousness?
Think about the meaning of the Aids to Study and your responsibility when next you go to class. Remember, sometimes the greatest contribution you can make to the inner group-soul-building experience is to not say anything at all. Simply be. Be aware and be present in this room, in this experience. Generate an awareness of the forces of harmony on the inner planes and consciously contribute all the love and understanding of which you are capable of at that moment. The Masters are aware we have “down” times and “up” times, and that at some classes it is all we can do to simply get there. We must remember that it is more important what we bring to the class than what we get out of it. But once there, if we lay our weariness, our irritability, our very human feelings on the Altar, asking for Help, we will find that Help flowing out into the depths of our beings. Then we become a channel for that Force and it can flow through each and every one of us and out to everyone else around the world as we sit in the circle of Love. We leave enriched, refreshed and ready to tackle Life. All of this is up to you and me. We must begin now!
—–Eleanor L. Shumway