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|The Labors of Hercules - Labor III - Part 2|
|The Lesson of the Labor
The whole of this story really signifies the lesson which is the first that all aspirants have to master, and one which it is impossible to learn until the tests in Aries and in Taurus have been undergone. Then, on the physical plane, in the field of the brain and in his walking consciousness, the disciple has to register contact with the soul and to recognize its qualities. He must no longer be the visionary mystic, but must add to the mystical achievement the occult knowledge of reality. This is often forgotten by aspirants. They rest content with aspiration and with the vision of the heavenly goal. They have wrought out in the crucible of life an equipment that is characterized by sincerity, good desire, fine character, and they are conscious of purity of motive, a willingness to fulfil the requirements, and the satisfaction that they have reached a certain status of development which entitles them to go on. But one thing still lacks: they have not what might be called "the technique of the presence"; they have not privilege and prerogative to possess. They believe in the fact of the soul, in the possibility of perfection, in the path which must be trodden; but belief has not yet been transmuted into knowledge of the spiritual realm and they know not how to make their goal! So they, as Hercules did start on the fivefold search. 
The first stage of that search is full of encouragement for them, had they been able to recognize the happening. Like Hercules, they meet Nereus, the symbol of the higher self, and, later on in the history of the disciple, he is the symbol of the teaching Master. When contacted, especially in the early stages of the search, the higher self will manifest as a flash of illumination, and lo! it is gone; as a sudden realization of truth, so elusive, so fleeting, that at first the disciple cannot grasp it; as a hint dropped into the consciousness in moments of one-pointed attention, when the mind is held steady and the emotions temporarily cease to control.
In the case of a more advanced disciple who has established contact with his soul and who, therefore, may be supposed to be ready for instruction from one of the great Teachers of the Race, it will be found that the Master works just as Nereus did. He cannot always be contacted, and only occasionally does the disciple come into touch with him. When he does, he need not expect congratulations upon his wonderful progress, nor will he find a careful elucidation of his problem, nor a lengthy outline of the work that he should do. The Master will give a hint and disappear. He will make a suggestion and will say no more. It is for the disciple to act upon the hint as best he may and to follow up the suggestion should he deem it wise.
Many well-meaning occultists would lead one to believe that the Masters of the Wisdom take a personal interest in them, that the overburdened Guides of the Race have no better occupation than to tell them personally how to live, how to solve their problems and how, in detail, to guide their undertakings. I would like here to go on record as protesting against any such belittling of the work of the Great Ones. The reasons that Nereus, the Master, is elusive and gives but a flash of thought or of momentary attention to the aspirant, are two:
First, the individual aspirant is of no personal interest to the Master until he has achieved the point in his evolution where he is so closely in touch with his soul that he becomes a  magnetic server in the world. Then, and then only, will it profit the Master to throw him a thought, and to give him a hint. Then, as those hints are followed, he may give him more, but, and this is the point that must be emphasized, only in connection with the work that he has to do in the field of world service. Aspirants need to remember that they become masters only by mastering, and that we are taught to be masters and are brought to the position of membership in the band of world servers through the efforts of our own soul. That soul is a divine son of God, omniscient and omnipotent. As the immortal twin increases in power and brilliance, that of the mortal brother decreases.
Second, the physical bodies of the aspirants are in no condition to stand the greatly heightened vibration of One who has achieved. The body would be shattered and the brain overstrained if one of the Masters made constant contact with a disciple before he had even learned to know Nereus as the symbol of his own higher self. When by our own efforts we are beginning to live as souls, and when by our own self-initiated endeavor we are learning to serve and be channels of spiritual energy, then we shall know Nereus more intimately; and then, almost inevitably, our knowledge of the work that the Great Ones have to do will be so vital and so real that we will forego our own desire for contact and seek only to lift the burden that They carry.
At the beginning of his search, Hercules met Nereus; but he was not impressed and so wandered elsewhere, furiously seeking the satisfaction of his aspiration. At the close of his search he meets Atlas, bearing the burden of the world, and so impressed is he with the weight of that responsibility and the load that Atlas, the great Master, is carrying, that he forgets all about the goal and his search for the golden apples and endeavors to lift the burden off the shoulders of Atlas. When aspirants in the religious field and in the Church, in the Theosophical field, in the Rosicrucian field, and in the many groups to which they gravitate, have learned to forget themselves in  service and to lose sight of their spiritual selfishness by helping humanity, there will be a much more rapid gathering in of initiates through the portal on to the Path that leads from darkness to the Light, and from the unreal to the Real. One of the Great Ones has said that "there are persons, who, without ever having any external sign of selfishness, are intensely selfish ill their inner spiritual aspiration." (p. 360, The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett). And later he holds out before us a stupendous ideal which cuts at the root of spiritual selfishness: "In our view the highest aspirations for the welfare of humanity become tainted with selfishness if, in the mind of the philanthropist, there lurks the shadow of desire for self-benefit ...".
Hercules, the disciple, has known the touch of the higher self, but he did not know enough to stay with Nereus. So he turns south, or back into the world. He has had his high moment, when he transcended his brain consciousness and held converse with his soul. But this does not last, and he drops back into the brain consciousness and enters upon another experience. He has to wrestle with Antaeus, the serpent (or giant). But, this time, it is the serpent of astral glamor and not primarily the serpent of desire. It is with the glamors of lower psychism that he has to wrestle, and these seem, in the early stages, inevitably to attract the interest of aspirants. Any teacher who has worked with those who are seeking the Way knows the glamor under which they can so easily fall. According to the temperament of the aspirant so will be the glamor. Some get sidetracked by spiritualistic phenomena. In the endeavor to penetrate within the veil, they become engrossed with the lower side of spiritualism and pass much time in the seance room studying over and over again the same old phenomena of materialization, spirit communication and manifestations. I make here no reference to the truly scientific investigations of those who go deeply into this research, and who are equipped so to do. I refer to the ignorant participation in certain types of seance room work. This intrigues the average man or woman  and puts them at the mercy of the equally ignorant medium or the charlatan, for they are unequipped to verify in any way that which they see and hear.
The serpent may take the form of the more common aspect of psychic phenomena. The aspirant becomes interested in automatic writing, or he learns to sit and listen to "voices", he becomes astrally clairvoyant or clairaudient, and adds to the confusion of the physical plane and his own particular environment, the still greater confusion of the psychic plane, and so falls into the snares and pitfalls of astralism. He becomes negative, because he is all the time trying to hear or see that which is not physical. Because we share with cats and dogs the capacity to be clairvoyant and clairaudient, in due time we shall surely see or hear, if not in truth, yet through the power of that creative faculty which we all possess, a creative imagination. But in some form or another, the aspirant who has left Nereus will meet the serpent and will have to wrestle with him. As the myth states, for a long time Hercules could not conquer, but when he lifted the serpent high up into the air, he prevailed.
There is a great truth underlying this symbolism. The air has always been regarded as the symbol or the element related to the Christ plane, called in the Theosophical terminology and in the east, the buddhic plane. The astral plane is the distorted reflection of the buddhic plane, and it is only when we carry glamor up into the clear light of the Christ soul that we shall see truth as it is, and become invincible. Most solemnly, I would urge upon all aspirants to forego all interest in psychic phenomena, and to shut out as steadily as they can the astral plane until they have developed the power to be intuitive and to interpret their intuitions through the medium of a well-developed, well-stocked, well-trained mind.
The next stage of the search of Hercules is equally applicable to humanity as a whole. He fell into the clutches of Busiris, who claimed to be a great teacher. For a long period of  time Hercules was kept in bondage. The world today is full of teachers, and like Busiris, they base their teaching upon portentous claims; they claim to be initiates, to be the custodians of truth, and to have a sure and certain way of development which must inevitably enable the aspirant to achieve. They bolster up their position by promises; they build up a strong personality relationship, and by utilizing the sincerity and the aspiration of the seeker after truth, they gather around themselves groups of men and women who innocently and sincerely believe the truth of the claims that they make, and bind them to the altar of sacrifice for a longer or a shorter period of time. The true initiate is known by his life and acts, he is too busy serving the race to find the time to interest people in himself, and he cannot make promises beyond saying to every aspirant: "These are the ancient rules, this is the way that all the saints and Masters of the Wisdom have trod, this is the discipline to which you must subject yourself; and if you will but try and have endurance and patience, the goal will surely be yours."
But Hercules freed himself, as do all sincere seekers; and having escaped from the world of psychic and pseudo-spiritual glamor, he began to serve. First he freed himself under the symbol of Prometheus, who signifies God incarnate, releasing him from the torture of the vultures of old. The solar plexus, the stomach and the liver are externalizations, if I might so express it, of the desire nature, and Hercules freed himself from the vultures of desire that had for so long tortured him. He gave up being selfish, and gave up satisfying himself. He had had two bitter lessons in this sign and for this particular cycle was relatively free. Prometheus, the God within, could go forward to the service of the world and to lifting the burden of Atlas.
After the sacrifice comes the reward, and Hercules received his great surprise after
freeing both Prometheus and Atlas. Having, given up his search in order to help the world,
Atlas went for him to the garden and handed to him the golden  apples, bringing him in
touch with the three beautiful maidens, the thee aspects of the soul.
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