Ambition vs Attainment

– G. C. Legros

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On the first page of Light on the Path we read the number one rule for disciples – “Kill out ambition.” The Adept-author explains that “Ambition is the first curse: the great tempter of the man who is rising above his fellows. It is the simplest form of looking for reward. Men of intelligence and power are led away from their higher possibilities by it continually. Yet it is a necessary teacher. Its results turn to dust and ashes in the mouth; like death and estrangement it shows the man at last that to work for self is to work for disappointment.”

Ambition may even persist in the life of the occultists “…who fancies he has removed his interest from self, but who has in reality only enlarged the limits of experience and desire, and transferred his interest to the things which concern his larger span of life.” We see this everywhere – “astral projection,” “psychic powers,” “third-eye clairvoyance, ” “hypnotic control over others, ” etc. Ambition is a hydra-headed thing.

In another book – Fragments of Life and Thought – the same Adept points out that “…not until the man has triumphed again and again in one incarnation after another, not until success has become tedious to him, and the high places of the earth all seem low and poor to him, is he beginning to be ready to go beyond it. And only so can it be killed out. ” Man must go on struggling for earthly prizes until he reaches the point “…where the excelling of his fellows becomes suddenly and forever contemptible in his eyes, beneath the dignity and greatness of his soul, and then he will kill out ambition and cast it from him as a weed of earth. He will perceive that the strength which he has developed must be used, not in order to excel, but in the endeavor to attain.”

Attainment is different from Ambition because the latter fires one with a passion to outdistance all others striving for the same goal. The ambitious man is by necessity personal, jealous, envious, and ruthless – in other words, a menace to the world because he sows discord. To realize his aims he will stop at nothing save that which imperils his own preservation. And sometimes he will risk even that, like Shakespeare’s soldier “… seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon’s mouth.”

Attainment, on the other hand, is a reaching out from self to SELF, from the finite to the Infinite, from the conditioned to the Unconditioned. The man who attains finds no rivals at his side, no single prize waiting at the end of the race. He moves in Eternity, where there is room for all.

Ambition is the effort of man to add to himself some coveted fragment of Earth, hoping thereby to exalt and increase his stature before others; but Attainment is the giving of oneself to the Whole.

A good example is the poet who wins first prize in an important contest. At the reception which follows, he receives honor and praise, and for a little hour feels as a god among men. But he also looks upon the faces of other poets who had competed and lost. They regard him as a thief, a usurper of the prize they sought, and which, in their opinion, they deserve.

He also thinks of next year’s contest, and wonders if he will win again, or only receive honorable mention, or no mention at all. Instead of rejoicing in his triumph, he finds himself under a cloud of apprehension. Victory is not the splendid thing he had envisioned.

Looking back, he sees that writing the poem was Attainment; but competing and winning the prize was Ambition. In the joy of creating something beautiful, he reached out of himself into the starry spaces where the Gods of Glory sing, and where, for a moment, he was one with their song.

But winning the prize and humbling his rivals, was an earthly thing that compressed his soul, and imprisoned him in a little world made by the littleness of men, where Ambition is king, demanding its terrible price. The poet should sing as a bird sings – not for reward, but to Attain, to reach out from self to Infinity.

The poet can be taken as a symbol of all men because everyone strives to express what he is – what is in him – either to win something from the world that may be added unto himself, or to give something of himself to the world. Each man is, by nature, either a taker or a giver.

The taker, following the path of Ambition, loses with every step because he violates the Supreme Order of the Universe, which is Duty, Service, and Cooperation. The giver, following the path of Attainment, wins with every step because he acts in keeping with the Harmony of the Whole, thereby enriching himself, because he is the Universe.

Attainment is the foundation of the Ultimate Discipline of Life. “Work as those work who are ambitious.” Make the utmost of the life that is yours; but seek no personal victories which, once realized, crush those around you. Regard men not as rivals, but as fellow pilgrims walking beside you on the Eternal Highway. Help them to attain with you, to become whole with you, and all the treasures of the Universe will be yours!

(from Messiah)

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