Conventional western religions give scant importance to Self-Reliance.  Followers of those traditions are urged to follow the guidance found outside of themselves (Pope, Minister, Rabbi, Bible, Torah etc).  Theosophy requires Self-Reliance?  Why is that, and what is it?  That is the subject of our discussion.

The Universal Theosophy site has a Self-Reliance page with passages from Emerson's famous essay with the same name and quotations gathered from around the world.  Try out the accordians they are filled with surprises and delights. Go here:

For the full essay by Emerson go here:

Here is a brief passage to get us started:

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark. . . .

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I see this good question in terms of how we in the West, generally, have a tradition of thinking in terms of 'God, which is outside me', vs. the Eastern tradition of 'God, which is me'.

Theosophy (though universal) is based I think more on the Eastern view, and so the theosophist would normally view 'guidance' as coming from within - from our higher conciousness, and not from some outside agent.

That said, where is the line drawn exactly, between 'outside' and 'inside'? Where does this higher conciousness begin and end? My view is that the higher conciousness must be both outside and inside.. it has no location.

Excellent question which leads to a new asking: Is it an inside, outside matter?  What is Self-reliance?  What exactly are we relying upon?  Along those same lines, what would it mean to "trust thyself, every heart vibrates to that iron string."?

Don, you have also brought up a very interesting question;
"where is the line drawn exactly, between 'outside' and 'inside'? Where does this higher conciousness begin and end? " 

In "The Key to Theosophy" we can read a section, "Prayer Kills Self-Reliance;"

ENQUIRER. One argument more; an argument, moreover, much used by some Christians. They say, "I feel that I am not able to conquer any passions and weaknesses in my own strength. But when I pray to Jesus Christ I feel that he gives me strength and that in His power I am able to conquer."

THEOSOPHIST. No wonder. If "Christ Jesus" is God, and one independent and separate from him who prays, of course everything is, and must be possible to "a mighty God." But, then, where's the merit, or justice either, of such a conquest? Why should the pseudo-conqueror be rewarded for something done which has cost him only prayers? Would you, even a simple mortal man, pay your labourer a full day's wage if you did most of his work for him, he sitting under an apple tree, and praying to you to do so, all the while? This idea of passing one's whole life in moral idleness, and having one's hardest work and duty done by another―whether God or man―is most revolting to us, as it is most degrading to human dignity.

ENQUIRER: [.....] Where does a Theosophist look to for power to subdue his passions and selfishness?

THEOSOPHIST: To his Higher Self, the divine spirit, or the God in him, and to his Karma. How long shall we have to repeat over and over again that the tree is known by its fruit, the nature of the cause by its effects?

So we begin to see that any form of "giving up" to an outside force and allowing it to "guide," is quite detrimental to Self-Reliance.  We have been told, and we can also clearly see, that anthropomorphizing anything that is said to be "higher" than us, is worship, which also destroys Self-Reliance.

Keeping in mind the thread; "The Art of Turning Inward" (which I feel can be closely related), we began to see that the deeper we go, "lines" and "boundaries" begin to blur- especially with the terms; "outside and inside."

I believe Don is correct in saying that, "the higher conciousness must be both outside and inside.. it has no location."

I think the key Idea is to trust one's own best judgement.  is trusting one's best judgment an internal vs. external issue?  Maybe not.

We might get advice from a friend that clarifies a problem for us completely and sways us to take a particular course of action.  Is that not also an act of Self-Reliance?  If we did what the friend said despite the fact that it made no sense to us that would be a different issue.

The recognition of the truth or what is right and relying upon that rather than overriding it by some "outside" authority is part of the self-reliance idea I believe.

Gerry says: "The recognition of the truth or what is right and relying upon that rather than overriding it by some "outside" authority is part of the self-reliance idea I believe."

Yes, that sounds like self-reliance.  A new question then: how will we know that we're recognizing universal truth, rather than some 'truth' that is particular to the individual only?

"I believe Don is correct in saying that, "the higher conciousness must be both outside and inside.. it has no location."

It all depends on what we identified as the self.  If I am the individual unit encased in a physical body, then whatever falls outside of this boundary is considered as outside and similarly those fall within is inside.  If I am identified with the One Life, then there is no outside or inside, just motion from the unmanifested (subtle) to the manifested (gross) and from manifested back to the unmanifested. 

Yes this inside outside dichotomy is interesting. If all of nature is merely an extension of myself then Self, Nature, Universe distinctions start to break down. Taking cues from Nature and Self-Reliance, in this way of thinking, are the same.  But in practical terms of living our lives is there perhaps a relationship to understand between our previous discussion "Turning Inward" and the process of establishing Self-Reliance?  Maybe the metaphor of "Turning Inward" or the phrase "Self Reliance" has something to do with turning consciousness back upon itself.

In a related way, I would suggest that "turning inwards" relates well to the idea of "raising up all matter" to higher planes (as Judge expresses in Ocean of Theosophy). "Spiritualizing" matter seems to be the effect of "turning inwards", and in this sense I would say that this engenders a shift from reliance upon "outer things" to reliance upon the true "inner Self".

Perhaps a concrete example would be this: Damodar expressed in one of his articles that the chela, through his training, comes to a point where he becomes no longer dependent upon physical food for sustenance. His "reliance" then would seem move away from outer-physical things towards a more direct reliance on the power or "sustaining energy" of Self. Most of us are reliant for the continuation of our self-conscious lives on outer things: shelter, food, warmth, etc., but it seems to be hinted at by the mahatmas and some chelas that these dependencies are eventually left behind. To me, this would be an example of concrete steps towards true Self-Reliance, though I'm sure most of us feel quite far from making these kinds of steps (I certainly do).

Of course, Self-Reliance can also be looked on from many other angles. Like, the reliance on "higher manas" as asserting itself over "lower manas": or maybe we could say: reliance on conscience over mere intellect/logic/reason. I'm sure there are many other ways to approach it too. It's a fascinating subject.

Here is another interesting passage from Emerson's Essay:

"Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested, — “But these impulses may be from below, not from above.” I replied, “They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil.” No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right. I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways"

I love Emerson and he is right up to a point.  We cannot forget (or should not forget) that we are all One, we are all brothers and sisters and that our thoughts and actions have very real effect on those around us.  When we begin talking about self-reliance and independence to the exclusion of the welfare of our fellow men and women, and the exclusion of compassion, we have become isolationists and have cut ourselves off from Ourselves.  We cannot do this and still call ourselves human, brothers and sisters.  Emerson is right in that we have to consider the Truth before we act or commit to action, but we shouldn't let the need to be an individual overshadow the truth of our Oneness and the need to be compassionate and care for one another.  I believe HPB states in the Key that compassion is The Law of the Universe.  I believe she is right.

The trick with Emerson is to think through what he means by "Self" in the Self-reliance.  One place to turn is his essay on The Over Soul.  You get a much different idea of self here, not at all related to what we would call the personality.

More from Emerson:

"The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.

But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day. In your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity: yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God with shape and color. Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee."

As theosophists are we not more interested in the truth than in our self image?

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Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 16, 2013 at 2:28pm

We were sent this by Nicholas Weeks.  Here is the first portion from the Yoga Vasishtha

The Path of Self-Reliance
All you can do is to prepare the intellect: the impulse toward "soul-culture"
must be furnished by the individual. Thrice fortunate they who can break
through the vicious circle of modern influence and come up above the
vapours! ... We have one word for all aspirants: try. [KH in Mahatma Letters, #54;
2nd Ed. #35.]
II 4 O Rama, listen to what I [Vasishtha] am about to say, which instruction is sure
to remove the darkness of ignorance. A well-sustained self-effort leads to success in
every field of life. Wherever one encounters failure, it is due to lack of self-effort.
Liberation produces selflessness; we lose our selfishness when we come to know the
unity of the soul. By effort one can attain knowledge which leads to salvation. This
is obvious; but what is called God, destiny or fate is fictitious and is not seen. The
dull and the ignorant created God, which is none other than self-effort of a past
incarnation affecting one.
Self-effort, Rama, is that mental, verbal and physical action which is in accordance
with the instructions of a holy person well versed in the scriptures. This will reveal
the moon of spiritual bliss beyond the dark clouds of mental impurities. Such effort,
continuous and constant, gives good results, all the rest is sheer madness. The goal
of self-effort is Self-realization.
It is only by such effort that Indra became king of heaven, that Brahma became the
creator, and Vishnu and Shiva earned their place. When right self-effort is
sustained, one rises to that lofty state wherein ruling the vast earth is known as
insignificant compared to the glory of Self-realization.
II 5 Self-effort is of two categories: that of past births and that of this present birth.
Past efforts can be counteracted by current labors. There is constant conflict, like
battling rams, between these two in this incarnation. That which is more powerful
triumphs. Men of self-effort, by firm and long practice, can undo the past effort.
Self-effort which is not in accord with the scriptures is motivated by delusion. To go
against scriptural injunctions will lead to disasters. Mental desire alone, without the
needed action, is pure lunacy. It will not only be useless, but it will lead to further
There is no power greater than right action in the present. Hence, one should take
recourse to self-effort, gritting one's teeth, and one should overcome evil by good and
destiny by present effort. Even obstructions presented by the devas are due to bad
actions in past lives.
One’s effort must be maintained until the past negative karma is overpowered. The
virtues of this life are bound to overcome the vices of past lives. Therefore, one must
cultivate serenity, self-control, reflection and meditation by his self-effort.
One must release oneself from the fetters of the world-process by the force of selfeffort.
Have confidence in the Divine Self as one’s inner reality is needed to attain
All great men and sages attained success through their self-effort. Reliance on
destiny or God is an expression of ignorance and this is the main cause of failure.
Self-effort must be sustained from a very early age in order that it may be powerful.
But self-effort devoid of wisdom leads to negative developments. A self-effort that
has been adopted in a sporadic manner will be unable to gather enough strength to
overthrow past karmas.
The lazy man is worse than a donkey. One should never yield to laziness but strive
to attain liberation, seeing that life is ebbing away every moment. Everyday one
must think of the impermanent body and struggle to conquer the animal nature. He
must take recourse to association with good and virtuous people. One should not
revel in the filth known as sense-pleasures, even as a worm revels in pus. By good
deeds, good will return to you; by bad deeds, bad will return. Nowhere is there any
God, fortune or fate. One who ignores his present ability for self-effort for fear of his
past bad actions, might as well fear his own two arms, thinking them dangling
One who thinks that fate or God is directing him, is brainless and the goddess of
fortune abandons him. Hence, by self-effort, discrimination, good association and
study of the scriptures, acquire wisdom. Then realize that self-effort will end — in
the direct realization of the truth. But ignoring, or going against the traditional
injunctions, will not work. One should not try to create a gemstone from a ordinary
pebble. Those who do not believe in the long practiced and experienced truths of the
wise, but depend upon God, luck or destiny, are fools called the "living dead." If lazy
dullness, this dreadful source of evil, were not found on this earth, who would ever
be illiterate or poor? It is because lazy ones rely, life after life, on God or fortune that
this earth is full of people who live like animals, miserable and poverty-stricken.

thank you Nicholas

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 18, 2013 at 11:33am

Nicholas would you mind elaborating, for the benefit of the group,  on this post?  You are onto something important here.

Permalink Reply by Don Petros on September 19, 2013 at 9:27am


Thanks for the thoughtful comments regarding Karma.  How Karma operates in our lives is something that we in the West aren't very familiar with. 

It seems that before we can go any further with the idea of Karma, we need to get a good sense of whether life is inherently just - or not.  Is the universe fundamentally ordered or is it chaotic?  Once that is understood, then I think, we can apply the teaching of Karma.        

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 23, 2013 at 9:20pm

Might it be accurate to say that Karma is the Law of our own Higher Nature? And in some mysterious sense "is" our higher nature?

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on September 19, 2013 at 2:38pm

I remember this quotation but don't remember where I got it but I committed it to memory.

"Self-reliance is the antidote to centuries of blind belief and an exterior anthropomorphic god.  Divinity is to be found within the crucible of one's own consciousness."

What do you think?

Permalink Reply by Catherine Austin on December 3, 2013 at 8:57pm

It sounds true to me, Gerry, clear and no confusion about what it says.

I have been reading a tiny book called Practical Occultism, by HPB. 

"Rise early, as soon as you are awake, without lying idly in bed or half-waking and half-dreaming. Then earnestly pray that all mankind may be spiritually regenerated, that those who are struggling on the path of Truth may be encouraged by your prayers and work more earnestly and successfully, and that you may be strengthened and not yield to the seductions of the senses. Picture before your mind the form of your master as engaged in Samadhi, think of him with reverence, and pray that all mistakes of omission and commission may be forgiven. this will greatly facilitate concentration, purify your heart and do much more. Reflect upon the defects of your character: thoroughly realise their evils and the transient pleasures they give you, and firmly will that you shall try your best not to yield next time. This self analysis and bringing yourself before the bar of your own conscience, facilitates, in a degree hitherto undreamt of, your spiritual progress." (italics hers)

She goes on to say later : "Accustom yourself to the thought that no one beside yourself can assist you, and wean away your affections from all things gradually. Before you sleep, pray as you did in the morning."

Permalink Reply by Don Petros on September 20, 2013 at 4:51pm
That's a wonderful idea. Through good observation, we can see order and justice. Maybe that kind of good observation can be something unconcious, and the result of that is an understanding that there is order in the universe. Then, the idea of Karma becomes a natural conclusion. That may explain why, when we read about Karma, we agree with it psychologically.
Permalink Reply by Don Petros on September 20, 2013 at 4:51pm
That's a wonderful idea. Through good observation, we can see order and justice. Maybe that kind of good observation can be something unconcious, and the result of that is an understanding that there is order in the universe. Then, the idea of Karma becomes a natural conclusion. That may explain why, when we read about Karma, we agree with it psychologically.