63 QUESTION: Will you explain the meaning of keeping the Sabbath holy in the face of our present-day obligations?
ANSWER: This statement has many meanings on many levels. When it was said originally, the outer level had a very different meaning than it could possible have today. At the time this statement was made, people were generally much cruder in their development.
If not made aware of the existence of God to whom thought and feeling should be devoted, at least to some degree, their lower nature would have taken more control over them than happened anyway. Any outer law is a must and therefore not real spirituality. But outer law is a necessity for those whose instincts are still crude.
On a deeper level, this commandment means a balance of one’s activities. Part of one’s life must be devoted to one’s duties, one’s livelihood and responsibilities, whatever they may be. Part of one’s life should be devoted to spiritual unfoldment, and part of it to pleasure and relaxation. In other words, your life should be harmonious also in the attempt to distribute your activities evenly, not to become one-sided. This is healthy for body and soul.
Today, this law cannot have the same meaning. “I must keep the Sabbath” would be a compulsion. It would be an unfree act and nothing would be accomplished. You should all be able to manage your lives in the most reasonable way from this point of view. You are now capable of using your judgement and common sense to find the proper balance between work, spiritual unfoldment, rest and pleasure.
You should all be able to arrange this balance individually and not stick to rules and regulations – no rigidity in any direction, but free choice used wisely. One can overwork and yet keep the Sabbath. One may not keep the Sabbath in the inner sense and fall short on one’s obligations. God is not to be thought of only on one particular day. Nothing must be a “must,” least of all God.
70 QUESTION: This night is the eve of the Sabbath. It also happens to be the eve of Yom Kippur which is the Day of Atonement. On such a night, in ancient Nazareth, it is likely that Jesus, as a Jew, would have been in the synagogue, chanting solemn prayers with his congregation. Yom Kippur is also designated as the Sabbath of Sabbaths. The word Sabbath is loaded with meaning and it appears frequently in Scripture. Jesus referred to it when he said: “The Sabbath was made for man.” What did he mean? And also, what is the significance of ritual in pursuit of the path toward God?
ANSWER: Let us take the first question first: “Sabbath is made for man.” This, like almost all scriptural quotations, can be answered on many levels. I could not possibly go into all the different levels of meaning, but I shall try to combine them, so as to give you the essence of this quotation, as it applies to all levels.
The outermost level is obvious. It means man should have one day on which to devote his thoughts to his inner life. Thus, he devotes himself to God. On this one day, he should desist from his ordinary pursuits. If he wishes to focus his attention on the inner life, he cannot possibly do it effectively if distracted by other things.
Religions have made a rigid rule out of this wise provision and admonition. With rigidity, the inner meaning gets lost. People follow through blindly and simply take the Sabbath – or Sunday – as the one day in the week in which to relax and rest. This is fine and it should be so.
But what is real rest? What is the only source of strength that could ever come to man? It is God. And God will give you strength if you try to know yourself so as to overcome your weaknesses, your misconceptions and illusions, your limitations and blindness. God in you can manifest only by way of a path of self-searching, of utter honesty with yourself, by working on your development.
This is not to be taken literally to mean that only one particular day should be designated for the pursuit of self-development and spiritual fulfillment. The meaning is: a certain amount of time should be devoted to the inner life, to reflection and contemplation, to self-observation. Thus and thus only, will you be capable of tuning into the divine forces that are otherwise out of your reach.
The Sabbath of Sabbaths means that there is this special day that this particular religion designated on which an inventory should be made. Again, it is not to be taken literally to mean that it has to be on only one special day a year. All of you who really work on this Path know that there are certain phases when you gain an overall view of where you stand now, as compared to where you stood before, and when, to some extent, you also see what remains to be accomplished, what problems within have not yet been solved.
You are still locked and blocked, and although you may see certain facets, you still lack sufficient insight to change these emotions. So you know this is what remains to be done. You need certain phases, certain times on this Path in which you gain an overall view, or try to gain it as best as you can.
Of course, these original meanings have been lost to a great extent. But that is the real meaning of the Sabbath of Sabbaths. It is, in a way, a new beginning, in the Jewish religion, appropriately following the New Year. Is that clear?
QUESTION: Yes, it is quite clear. Incidentally, the word Sabbath actually means “rest,” and it also means “seven.” I wonder if you could tie the two together.
ANSWER: You know that Scripture says that the seventh day is the day of rest. You also know the esoteric, mystic meaning of the number seven. Seven is the holy number. It indicates that things come to a close, to a whole. I will not say to an end, for there is no such thing; there is always a new beginning, a commencement. It is like the closing of a circle or cycle. When you close a circle, it is a state of peace, of rest.
Each number signifies a certain aspect of a cosmic, as well as a personal, psychological principle. The significance of the figure seven is the closing of a cycle. Then you go on, starting on the next cycle. You all know, this Path is like a spiral. You seem to go around in circles, but you eventually find out that it is not so. The similar cycle happens to be on a deeper, or higher level. Seven indicates the phase that is most restful in which, to a smaller extent, you gain an overall view. The puzzle begins to fit. You see certain pieces have fallen into place.
For a moment, in this present phase of your development, you have a certain clarity, and with that a certain peace. This is restful, until you come to the next stage in the ascending cycle, when you may become upset and restless again, when things seem to fall out of place again, sometimes so much so that you wonder if the past peace was an illusion. The confusion will provide you with a deeper insight and peace at the next resting point when this cycle closes again, provided your work on the path is sufficient in depth and goodwill.
The seven-day weeks pass in your world, one week after the other. They are merely the symbol for the small cycles in the larger ones. Actually, the timing and length of each cycle is an eminently individual process. They not only vary from one individual to another, but also vary with the same person.
One cycle may be long, another short. There is no regularity in them. The time measurement on your Earth plane is entirely symbolic, whereas in real spiritual understanding there can be no rigidity. You cannot artificially force the stages; they grow out of your work, your individual needs, your personal problems and characteristics. And also, they emerge out of your efforts on the Path.
As to your second question regarding ritual, do you refer to a particular ritual or about ritual in general?
QUESTION: In general, what purpose does it serve on the Path?
ANSWER: Ritual does not serve any purpose. It is a symbol, a reminder, an invitation, so to speak, to think about the inner meaning. Try to look beyond the ritual for the deeper meaning. It is nothing but a signpost, a reminder.
There are two categories of wrong human responses to ritual. There are those who keep following rituals in an imaginary sense of safety. They think that by following the ritual, they follow the sense behind it. This implies a laziness of thinking, and a wishful thinking that with minimum effort, maximum effect can be had. Many people belong to this category, and not only those who belong to a religious denomination. There are subtler ways in which this can be done.
People in the other category say that ritual means nothing, and to some extent they are right. But they have come to the wrong conclusion also, because it does not occur to them that something wise, true, flexible and alive may be behind the ritual. They would realize this if they were but willing to think of and consider such a possibility. However, they do not try, and so are incapable of thinking any more freely and independently than people of the other category.
Ritual in itself has nothing to do with the Path, with growth, with the freedom that you are all bound to achieve sooner or later, whether you now work on this Path or not. But freedom is bound to come eventually, when you are ready to see that you need to work for it. Then you approach freedom, but not by ritual.