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Autobiography of Alice A. Bailey - Appendix - What is an Esoteric School
II. How an Esoteric School is Formed

An esoteric school is not formed because some Master orders a disciple to form one. The disciple who starts such a school of preparatory occultism does so entirely of his own volition. It is his definite, self-chosen task. He has been serving to the best of his ability in a Master's Ashram; he is acquainted with world need; he is keenly anxious to be of service and is conscious of learning all the time, and of the methods whereby he has been taught and led forward along the Path. He is, therefore, a conscious worker, well aware of his duty as a disciple, in touch with his soul and increasingly sensitive to the Master's impression. He does not usually plan to start an esoteric school; no definite and planned organization takes shape in [271] his mind. He is simply anxious to meet the surrounding need. Owing to the fact that he is in touch with his soul and - in the case of more advanced disciples - in touch with the Master and the Ashram, his daily life becomes magnetic, radiatory and dynamic and, therefore, he attracts to him those whom he can help, gathering them around him. He becomes the central point of life in a living organism and not the head of an organization. Herein lies the difference between the work of a well-intentioned aspirant and the trained disciple. The world is full of organizations with some person at the head whose motives are usually sound but whose methods and approach to those he seeks to serve are those of the business world; he may build a helpful organization but he does not found an esoteric school. A disciple becomes the center of a vital, radiating group which grows and achieves its end because of the life at the center, developing from within outward; it is the force of his life which makes it successful and not any system of advertising, or claim-making and seldom, if ever, is it a commercial success.

People respond to the note sounded and to the truths taught, and the influence of the group steadily increases until the disciple finds himself responsible for a group of aspirants. According to the measure of his soul contact, his sensitive response to the Master's suggestions and the impression of the Ashram with which he is affiliated will be the strength and usefulness of the group with which he works. Little by little he will gather around him those who can help in the teaching, and upon the wisdom and the discrimination which he shows in his choice of helpers will largely depend the success of his service. He assumes no authority over the group or over his helpers, except the authority of greater knowledge, wisdom and light; this makes him an immovable point of power against which the lesser interpretations and methods break and drop away. He teaches certain unalterable occult principles to which the entire group is trained to adhere, but they will do so easily and without controversy. It is those very principles which have brought them into the work. He watches his helpers for signs of spiritual unfoldment and advances them to positions of responsibility as the evidences become apparent. All the time he lives among them as a learner and fellow student, treading the Way with those who must be taught. Humility is the keynote of the true esoteric leader, because humility indicates vision and a sense of proportion. These teach him that each step forward in the spiritual life reveals still more stages to be mastered. The [272] difference between the trained disciple and the beginner is that the latter has a little vision and is apt to think that the way is easier than it is. He then over-estimates himself. The disciple, however, sees a vast vision and knows how much has to be done before the vision becomes a reality.

Esoteric schools can be divided into different categories, dependent upon the point of development of the teacher. It is the subconscious realization of this that has led the mediocre leader to attempt to push his work and attract attention to his effort by loud and noisy claim-making, by pretending familiarity with the Master and sometimes with the entire Hierarchy, and thus demanding recognition of himself. All this indicates the beginner who needs to learn that the true esoteric school is ever started by a disciple and that it is his attempt at service and not the field of expression of a Master. The disciple - and not the Master - is solely responsible for the success or failure of the school. The Masters are not responsible for the schools now in existence or in process of forming. They do not establish policies or determine issues. Just in so far as the disciple-leader is consciously and humbly in touch with the Master and His Ashram will the power of the inner group pour through the school; it will show itself as spiritual light and wisdom and will not take the form of concrete direction, commands and orders or the shifting of responsibility from the leader to the Master. The disciple makes his own decisions, trains his own helpers, enunciates his own policies, interprets the Ageless Wisdom according to the light which is in him and supervises the training given to the students. The more advanced the disciple, the less will he speak of his Master and the more he will point the way to the Hierarchy; his emphasis will be upon individual responsibility and the basic occult principles.

We could divide the schools in the world today into three groups:

1. There are a large number of so-called esoteric schools which are started by aspirants. They want to help their fellowmen and are impelled thereto by a love of teaching, a measure of love for humanity and some personal ambition. Their methods are, in the last analysis, exoteric; they give training, based upon what is already known and given out for they teach little that is new, no matter how they dress it up in grades and mystery. They use the standard books on occultism or compile their own textbooks from those already written, frequently choosing the spectacular and the unimportant details and [273] omitting that which is spiritual and essential. They advertise their schools in some way or another, and frequently emphasize the commercial angle. They demand obedience and look with disfavor and criticism on other schools, teaching exclusive adherence to the leader and loyalty to that leader's interpretation of truth. They do useful work among the masses, familiarizing them with the fact of the Masters and with the existence of the secret doctrine and present opportunity for spiritual development. They have a definite place in the plan of the Hierarchy but they are not esoteric schools and their leaders are not disciples; they are aspirants upon the Probationary Path and of no great advancement.

2. There are also a certain number of esoteric schools, started by disciples, who are learning, through their attempt to aid their group, how to teach and serve. These schools are few in number, compared to those in the first group, and are much smaller numerically, because the leader adheres more closely to the occult rules and endeavors to conform to the spiritual requirements. He tries to teach humbly and with no claim-making; he is aware that he is only himself slowly arriving at soul knowledge, and that his contact with the Master is still very infrequent. He is usually academic and theological in his presentation of truth but not often personally authoritative. His influence and radiation is not yet very powerful but he is carefully watched by the Master because potentially he is an asset and can be trusted to learn - usually by his mistakes. He reaches a much smaller public than the first, noisy group but he gives a sounder training and grounds beginners in the fundamentals of the Ageless Wisdom. His work comes midway between the groups now forming and the old groups.

3. Then we now have appearing the newer esoteric schools. These are being started by more advanced disciples. This is necessarily so as the task is much harder, involving the striking of such a clear note that the distinction between the new and the old will emerge clearly, and certain new truths and interpretations will be given. This new and more advanced presentation will be founded on the old truths, but these will be differently interpreted and will evoke antagonism from the old schools. These more advanced disciples have a more potent radiation and a much wider influence and their work becomes worldwide in scope. It evokes not only antagonism and rejection from the older groups but it will also evoke response [274] from many in those groups who have outgrown the old ways and who have been waiting for the new approach to God and are ready for a more spiritual appeal. These then become focal points of spiritual activity within the old groups and in their environment. This leads to three happenings:

  1. The old groups reject those who respond to the newer esoteric teaching and force them out of their groups.
  2. The new schools begin to take shape by means of this rejection and in response to the teaching, proclaimed by the more powerful and more disinterested disciple.
  3. The general public becomes aware of the new movement and thus a widespread interest in those things which are esoteric and related to the Hierarchy emerges.

These disciples, entrusted with the difficult work of launching the new schools, are technically known as world disciples. Their influence penetrates in every direction, disrupting and disturbing the old schools and so releasing those who are ready for the newer teachings; creating new schools which are intermediate between the old and the future Schools of Initiation; making an impression upon the consciousness of men everywhere, widening the outlook of the general public and presenting humanity with new concepts and fresh opportunities. This is happening today. Enquirers have, therefore, to learn to distinguish between the work of a well-intentioned aspirant who founds a school of esotericism for beginners, the work of a disciple who is learning to be a teacher, and the work of world disciples who are breaking up the old ways and instituting new and more suitable methods of teaching occult truth. The Arcane School is a part of this latter worldwide effort.

There are also certain spurious schools, well-known and spectacular, which attract the unintelligent and the curious; they have, fortunately, a very short cycle of influence. They do much temporary harm as they distort the teaching and give false ideas about the Masters and the Path, but their lasting power is practically nil. The other three types of schools are doing good work and meeting the need of those who respond to their note. The old schools are, however, dying out; those in the second group will be active for a long time, giving elementary instruction and training disciples in methods of work and how to serve. The last and newer type of school will go [275] on increasing in power and will prepare the disciples of the New Age for the future Schools of Initiation.

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