John Algeo

(Summary of Public Lecture on 26.12.2006)

The theme of this convention is ‘A Constant Eye to Human Perfection’. That theme is drawn from a much-loved statement called ‘The Golden Stairs’. It is appropriate, therefore, that we should consider the source of our convention theme and seek its meaning in the larger context of ‘The Golden Stairs’. But also, as this convention is being held on the eve of the centenary of the death of our President-Founder, Henry Steel Olcott, it is appropriate to look at our theme as it applies to him.

The statement of ‘The Golden Stairs’ begins with an injunction telling us to pay attention. That is followed by a list of thirteen qualities which constitute the steps comprising a stairway leading from the outer world of ignorance (that is, avidya) to the inner world of divine wisdom (that is, Brahmavidya or Theosophy). And it concludes with a summary comment about the thirteen qualities or steps.

The opening injunction is, ‘Behold the truth before you’. It tells us that what we need to know is right there in front of us; we need only to remember it. This lost truth is what the thirteen steps of the Golden Stairs lead us to.

The steps of the winding Golden Stairs consist, we may say, of three turnings of five, four, and four steps, respectively. The five steps of the first turning are qualities of character that need to be developed: ‘A clean life, an open mind, a pure heart, an eager intellect, an unveiled spiritual perception.’

The four steps of the second turning on the Stairs refer to our relationship with others who are climbing those stairs with us: ‘a brotherliness for one’s co-disciple, a readiness to give and receive advice and instruction, a loyal sense of duty to the Teacher, a willing obedience to the behests of truth, once we have placed our confidence in, and believe that Teacher to be in possession of it.’

The last turning on the Stairs consists of four steps that concern how we deal with the world at large: ‘a courageous endurance of personal injustice, a brave declaration of principles, a valiant defence of those who are unjustly attacked, and a constant eye to the ideal of human progression and perfection which the secret science (Gupta Vidya) depicts.’

The final step on the last turning of the Golden Stairs includes the theme of this convention: ‘a constant eye to human perfection.’ Everything we do should be done for one purpose: awareness of the ideal of human progression and perfection.

At the Feet of the Master tells us: ‘God has a plan and that plan is evolution. When once we have seen that and really know it, we cannot help working for it and making ourselves one with it, because it is so glorious, so beautiful.’ The divine plan is evolution, and evolution is progress towards human perfection. We will never reach that perfection because it constantly grows before us. The world does not evolve towards a fixed and set culmination, but rather towards an ever-expanding, glorious and beautiful unification of all life.

And so the statement concludes with a summary: ‘These are the golden stairs up the steps of which the learner may climb to the Temple of Divine Wisdom.’ That Temple is not located in some mysterious space outside of us. It is located in the very centre of our being.

We ourselves build that Temple as we climb the Golden Stairs into the place which The Voice of the Silence refers to as ‘the inmost chamber, the chamber of the Heart’.

Is it possible to maintain ‘a constant eye to human perfection’ ? Yes, we know it is possible because some have done so. One who did was our Founder-President, Henry Steel Olcott. He continuously approached the realization of human unity by living as a true citizen of the world.

Olcott was an American who made his home in India, and became a citizen of the world. He was one of the most widely travelled men of his age, covering literally hundreds of thousands of miles by land and by sea, over many parts of the Earth. Ail his travels were service to humanity. For instance, he made several of his trips to England on behalf of the civil and religious rights of the Sinhalese. He also worked for the reconciliation of all schools of Buddhist thought. He became a national hero in Sri Lanka and was a major figure in the Buddhist revival.

Olcott was no narrow sectarian. He regarded Buddhism as one of humanity’s major efforts to find truth, alongside with other great religions as Hinduism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. All of these he saw as expressions of the divine wisdom of the Masters, set forth in differing forms for various peoples. Olcott cared for ordinary human beings wherever he found them. He had healing powers, which he used to relieve suffering and restore health to those who came to him.

Henry Steel Olcott agreed fully with the Latin playwright Terence, who said, ‘I m a human being: I consider nothing of humanity to be foreign to me.’ Olcott’s commitment to universal humanity makes him a model of tolerance, understanding, and service for all of us. He is one whose whole life was a climbing of the Golden Stairs to the Temple of Divine Wisdom. As such, he is a model for all Theosophists to follow. Of Olcott, the Master KH wrote:’ Him we can trust under all circumstances, and his faithful service is pledged to us come well, come ill. . . . Where can we find an equal devotion?’

Colonel Olcott climbed the Golden Stairs. He was not American, nor Indian, nor Sri Lankan. He was a citizen of the world. He was human, and nothing of humanity was foreign to him. He had a constant eye to human perfection, and thereby became a model for every human being.