Spiritual Gifts and Their Attainment
The Path, February 1889
One of the questions which a Theosophist is apt to ask, and to ask with some earnestness and intensity is, How can I make progress in the higher life? How can I attain spiritual gifts? For the phrase “spiritual gifts,” which is a rather loose-jointed expression, we are indebted to Paul, the Apostle and Adept, who thus wrote to the Corinthian Church: “Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.” Among the “gifts” which he goes on to enumerate are these—wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, the speaking of divers tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. And while the Apostle urges the Corinthians to “covet earnestly the best gifts,” he yet proceeds to show them a more excellent way, namely the supreme law of love. “Now abideth,” he says, “faith, hope, charity (or love), these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” Spiritual gifts, then, however desirable their possession may be, are plainly not, in the opinion of this good Adept, on the highest plane, not the supreme object of human attainment, or the most excellent way of reaching human perfection. They may doubtless properly be regarded as evidences of advancement on the higher planes of thought and spiritual life, and may be coveted and used for the benefit of others; but they are not in themselves the chief object of human desire. For man’s supreme aim should be to become God, and “God is love.”
But let us look at the matter a little more closely. In the first place, what is a “gift”? What is the common acceptance of the word? Clearly something given to or bestowed upon a recipient, not something which a man already possesses, or which he may obtain by a process of growth or development. The latter, strictly speaking, would be a “fruit,” not a gift. A tree which has been producing nothing but leaves and branches for many years finally breaks out into blossom and fruit. No new “gift” ha been conferred upon it; it has simply reached a stage of development in its natural growth where certain powers, inherent in the tree form the beginning, have an opportunity to assert themselves. In the same way the transcendental powers possessed by the Adepts are not gifts; but the natural result of growth in certain directions, and the necessary efflorescence, so to speak, of the profound development in their cases of those spiritual potentialities which are the birthright of all men.
Taking this view of the meaning of the word, I think most Theosophists will be ready to admit that the phrase “spiritual gifts” is a misnomer. There are and can be no gifts for man to receive. Whatever the student of the higher life is, he is as the result of his past labors. Whatever he may become in the future will be due to his own efforts. He may develop his latent faculties and in time become an Adept, or he may drift along the currents of life without aim or effort, till he finally sinks into oblivion. His destiny is in his own hands, and is in no way dependent upon “gifts.”
Bearing in mind, however, the manifold nature of man, the subject may be looked at from another point of view. For all practical purposes man may be said to consist of body, soul, and spirit, the soul being the true ego, and the spirit one with the Supreme. And regarding these for the time as separate entities, it is perfectly true, as James, another apostle, puts it, that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Every aspiration of the soul for spiritual things, every resolve of man to lead a purer life, every helping outstretched hand to a weaker brother, every desire for the truth, all hungering and thirsting after righteousness:—these and like yearnings and strivings of the soul have first of all come from above, from the Divine within. In this sense they may be called “gifts,”—gifts from the higher nature to the lower, from the spiritual to the human. And this action of the above upon the below is seen in those humane attributes, or qualities, or virtues—whatever one may be pleased to call them—which Paul in another place enumerates as the “fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, long suffering gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”
Looked at from either of these points of view, how can we attain spiritual gifts? The answer would seem to depend upon what we are really striving for. If the extraordinary powers of the Adepts have captivated our fancy and fired our ambition, then we must posses our souls in patience. Few, if any, of us are at all fitted for a “forcing” process. We must be content to wait and work; to grow and develop; line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, till, ages hence perhaps, we come to the full stature of the perfect man. If, however, wisely recognizing our limitations, we strive instead after what may be termed the ordinary manifestations of the spirit, two obvious lines of conduct suggest themselves.
Every impulse from above, every prompting of the Divine within, should meet at once with a hearty welcome and response. If you feel as if something urged you to visit some sick or afflicted neighbor or friend, obey the suggestion without delay. If the wish to turn over a new leaf comes into the lower consciousness, don’t wait till next New Year’s before actually turning it over; turn it now. If some pathetic story of suffering has moved you, act on the emotion while your cheeks are still wet with tears. In short, put yourself at once in line with the Divine ways, in harmony with the Divine laws. More light, more wisdom, more spirituality must necessarily come to one thus prepared, thus expectant. How can a bar of iron be permeated with the earth’s magnetism if it is placed across instead of in line with the magnetic meridian? How can a man expect spiritual gifts or powers if he persists in ignoring spiritual conditions, in violating spiritual laws? To obtain the good, we must think good thoughts; we must be filled with good desires; in short, we must be good.
And this practical suggestion is to fulfill faithfully and conscientiously every known duty. It is in and through the incidents of daily life, in work well done, in duties thoroughly performed, that we today can most readily make progress in the higher life—slow progress, it may be, but at any rate sure. These are stepping stones to better things. We advance most rapidly when we stop to help other wayfarers. We receive most when we sacrifice most. We attain to the largest measure of Divine love when we most unselfishly love the brethren. We become one with the Supreme most surely when we lose ourselves in work for Humanity.