Special thanks to Samantha, Kristan, and Pierre for inspiring this post.
When he is ready for this, and, further, to recognize in Atma the highest ruler in the world of perceptions, and in the will, the highest executive energy (power), then may he, under the time-honoured rules, be taken in hand by one of the Initiates. (Blavatsky, CHELAS AND LAY CHELAS [The Theosophist, Vol. IV, Supplement to No. 10, July, 1883, pp. 10-11] Collected Writings vol. 4 p. 607)
Will is the exclusive possession of man on this our plane of consciousness. It divides him from the brute in whom instinctive desire only is active.
Desire, in its widest application, is the one creative force in the Universe. In this sense it is indistinguishable from Will; but we men never know desire under this form while we remain only men. Therefore Will and Desire are here considered as opposed.
Thus Will is the offspring of the Divine, the God in man; Desire the motive power of the animal life.
Most of men live in and by desire, mistaking it for will. But he who would achieve must separate will from desire, and make his will the ruler; for desire is unstable and ever changing, while will is steady and constant.
Both will and desire are absolute creators, forming the man himself and his surroundings. But will creates intelligently—desire blindly and unconsciously. The man, therefore, makes himself in the image of his desires, unless he creates himself in the likeness of the Divine, through his will, the child of the light.
His task is twofold: to awaken the will, to strengthen it by use and conquest, to make it absolute ruler within his body; and, parallel with this, to purify desire.
Knowledge and will are the tools for the accomplishment of this purification.
(Blavatsky, WILL AND DESIRE [Lucifer, Vol. I, No. 2, October, 1887, p. 96] Collected Writings, Vol. 8, p. 109)
In metaphysics and occult philosophy, Will is that which governs the manifested universes in eternity. Will is the one and sole principle of abstract eternal MOTION, or its ensouling essence. “ The will”, says Van Helmont, “is the first of all powers. . . . The will is the property of all spiritual beings and displays itself in them the more actively the more they are freed from matter.” And Paracelsus teaches that “determined will is the beginning of all magical operations. It is because men do not perfectly imagine and believe the result, that the (occult) arts are so uncertain, while they might he perfectly certain.”
Like all the rest, the Will is septenary in its degrees of manifestation. Emanating from the one, eternal, abstract and purely quiescent Will (Âtmâ in Layam), it becomes Buddhi in its Alaya state, descends lower as Mahat (Manas), and runs down the ladder of degrees until the divine Eros becomes, in its lower, animal manifestation, erotic desire.
Will as an eternal principle is neither spirit nor substance but everlasting ideation. As well expressed by Schopenhauer in his Parerga, “ in sober reality there is neither matter nor spirit. The tendency to gravitation in a stone is as unexplainable as thought in the human brain. . . If matter can—no one knows why——fall to the ground, then it can also—no one knows why—-think. . . . As soon, even in mechanics, as we trespass beyond the purely mathematical, as soon as we reach the inscrutable adhesion, gravitation, and so on, we are faced by phenomena which are to our senses as mysterious as the WILL.” (Blavatsky, ”Will” in Theosophical Glossary, p. 370)
The subject of the Will has not been treated of much in theosophical works, old or new. Patanjali does not go into it at all. It seems to be inferred by him through his aphorisms. Will is universal, and belongs to not only man and animals, but also to every other natural kingdom. The good and bad man alike have will, the child and the aged, the wise and the lunatic. It is therefore a power devoid in itself of moral quality. That quality must be added by man.
So the truth must be that will acts according to desire, or, as the older thinkers used to put it, “behind will stands desire”. This is why the child, the savage, the lunatic, and the wicked man so often exhibit a stronger will than others. The wicked man has intensified his desires, and with that his will. The lunatic has but few desires, and draws all his will force into these; the savage is free from convention, from the various ideas, laws, rules, and suppositions to which the civilized person is subject , and has nothing to distract his will. So to make our will strong we must have fewer desires. Let those be high, pure, and altruistic; they will give us strong will.
No mere practice will develop will per se, for it exists forever, fully developed in itself. But practice will develop in us the power to call on that will which is ours. (William Q. Judge, Concentration, Meditation, Will [“Irish Theosophist”, July 15, 1893] Echoes of the Orient vol. 2, p. 6)