Eastern and Western Psychology
Theosophical Quarterly, January, April, July, October, 1917
& January, April, July, 1918
A THEOSOPHICAL NEED
Mr. Judge writes, in one of the closing chapters of The Ocean of Theosophy, that “there is no Western Psychology worthy of the name . . . Real psychology is an Oriental product to-day . . . for the present day psychology in its true phase belongs to the Orient . . .” Mr. Judge was writing of the “psychology without a soul,” which grew up as an adjunct and extension of physiology; of the official psychology of the schools. This he shows clearly, when he says, among other things, that “the Roman Catholic branch of the Christian Church is in some respects an exception, however. It has always admitted the existence of the psychic world. . . .”
The purpose of these Notes is to try to show that there is, in the West, and in the direction indicated by Mr. Judge, a very considerable volume of genuine psychology, of experimental spiritual science; that it very closely resembles that psychology of the Orient which has been spoken of above; and that all that is needed, to bring out this resemblance, amounting very often to complete identity, is the translation of the terms of the one body of experimental spiritual science into the terms of the other: a task which students of Theosophy may very profitably undertake, not only as a lawful exercise in “the Theosophic method,” but also because extremely valuable results will be gained, and without any undue labour or difficulty.
There is an obstacle at the outset: the students of this experimental science of things spiritual have been constrained to use, to set forth the results of their observations, the only available terms—for the most part, the terms of popular theology; more than that, their observations have very often been influenced by the fact that their minds and imaginations were deeply coloured by the images of popular theology, and, since these observations must of necessity be made through the medium of the mind and the imagination, that colouring adheres to most of their results. This had one great advantage: it made much of their most valuable work immediately intelligible and acceptable to those whose minds were coloured in the same way; available, therefore, for popular use, for the needs of daily life. But there is, to some degree, a corresponding disadvantage: those whose training has given their minds a different colouring will have difficulty in separating the facts of spiritual life observed from the traditional colouring of the medium in which they are recorded; they may even feel inclined to turn away from them, because of that colouring. But, as has been said, this would seem to be exactly the opportunity for students of Theosophy, for those who seek to put in practice the Theosophic method.
We may, perhaps, illustrate this colouring by an extreme case: a passage from The Revelations of Saint Gertrude:
“At the Antiphon, she beheld the heavens opening, while the angels descended and placed a magnificent throne in the centre of the choir, whereon the Queen of Glory was seated, and manifested how lovingly she received the prayers and devotion of the religious on this Festival. The angels stood round this throne, attending the Mother of their God with the greatest respect and joy. The Saint also saw an angel standing by each of the religious, with a branch in his hand; and this branch produced different kinds of fruit and flowers, according to the devotion of the sister who was thus attended. At the conclusion of the Office, the angels brought these branches to the Blessed Virgin to adorn her throne. Then Gertrude exclaimed ‘Alas, kind Mother! I do not deserve to be thus united with the choirs of the blessed.’ She replied: ‘Your good-will suffices; and the devout intention which you had at Vespers far exceeds any corporal work; to assure you of this, I will present your branch of fruit and flowers to the adorable Trinity, as an oblation of the highest merit.’ At Matins she beheld how the angels gathered the flowers and fruit of the different intentions of the religious, and presented them to the Virgin Mother. The flowers appeared more brilliant and beautiful in proportion to the earnestness of each; and the sweetness of the fruit corresponded with the purity and fervour of their devotion. . . . On another occasion, when the same Response was chanted, Saint Gertrude saw a troop of demons, who surrounded the religious, showing them the pomps and vanities of the world. But at the words, Regnum mundi . . . contempsi, the demons fled in confusion. . . .”
Had Gertrude been a Buddhist, instead of a Christian nun, she might have interpreted and expressed her spiritual experience in some such terms as these:
“When the dispensation has disappeared, the relics of the Buddha will come from every place; from the serpent world, from the world of the gods, and from the Brahma-world; and having congregated together at the throne under the Great Bo-tree, they will make an effigy of the Buddha and perform a miracle resembling the double-miracle, and will teach the Doctrine. Not a single human being will be found at that place; but all the gods from ten thousand worlds will come together and listen to the Doctrine, and many thousands of them will attain to the Doctrine. And these will cry aloud, saying, ‘Divine sirs, on the seventh day from now our One Possessing the Ten Forces will pass into Nirvana.’ Then they will weep, saying, ‘From henceforth we shall be in darkness.’ Then the relics will put forth flames of fire and burn up that effigy without remainder. . . . But who shall not behold Maitreya Buddha, the Blessed One? and who shall behold Him? One who creates a schism in the church, as it is said, ‘Devadatta remains in hell for the entire world-cycle,’ as well as all others born in the Avitchi hell, from the performing of the five crimes that constitute ‘proximate karma,’ those cherishing wholly heretical views, and those who slander the noble disciples, shall not see Him. The naked ascetics who create a schism by denying the congregation allowable privileges shall not see Him. All other beings who give gifts, keep the precepts, keep fast-days, fulfil their religious duties, found shrines, plant sacred fig-trees, parks and groves, make bridges, clear the highways, take their stand in the precepts, and dig wells, shall see Him. Those who, in their longing for a Blessed One, shall make a gift, even if only a handful of flowers, or of a single lamp, or of a mouthful of food, shall see Him. Those who further the religion of the Buddha, prepare the pavilion and the seats for the preachers of the Doctrine, bring forward the fan, make offerings of cloth, canopies, garlands, incense, or lamps, or are stanch sustainers of the ministrations of the Doctrine, shall see Him.. .”
Had Saint Gertrude been an orthodox Hindu, the terms of her vision might have run somewhat thus:
“I behold the gods in Thy body, O Divine One! and all the hosts of diverse beings; Brahma the Creator, seated on the lotus throne, and all the Seers and Serpents of wisdom. . . .”
But in each case, we should have, it would seem, an entirely real vision of the spiritual world and its inhabitants, a vision coloured by the mind and imagination of the Seer, but none the less, embodying the most vital truths of spiritual reality. For it will easily be seen that, apart from this difference of colouring, the three visions which we have quoted are essentially the same; are genuine revelations of the world which is hidden from the eyes that see not, but in whose midst we dwell.
Or one may take a passage of quite different character, as abstract and intellectual as the revelation of Saint Gertrude is concrete and full of feeling; a passage like this, from Father Augustine Baker’s Sancta Sophia, in the edition called Contemplative Prayer:
“Experience teaches us that in good Christians there are two internal lights or teachers, namely, the spirit of corrupt nature, and the Divine Spirit. Both offer themselves in our deliberate actions, and even strive with one another for the mastery over us. Each seeks to lead us into a path and to an end contrary to the other. The natural spirit, on the one hand, teaches us to gratify our sensual desires or worldly aims, which are most hurtful to the soul. The Spirit of God, on the other hand, discovers to us the folly and danger of following such a guide. It teaches us that our happiness consists in renouncing it; in turning into paths leading in a contrary direction; in abandoning sensual pleasures and our own convenience, in so far as they are a hindrance, or rather, not an aid, to the knowledge of God and spiritual things. For this must be the object of our desires and efforts whereby alone we can arrive at eternal happiness and union with God …”
Had Father Baker been, not a good Christian, but a man of like spirituality in a far earlier age, he might, instead, have phrased his teaching thus:
“Death speaks: The better is one thing, the dearer is another thing; these two bind a man in opposite ways. Of these two, it is well for him who takes the better; he fails of his object, who chooses the dearer. The better and the dearer approach a man; going round them, the sage discerns between them. The sage chooses the better rather than the dearer; the fool chooses the dearer, through lust of possession. Thou indeed, pondering on dear and dearly-loved desires, O Nachiketas, hast passed them by. Not this way of wealth hast thou chosen, in which many men sink. Far apart are these two ways, unwisdom and what is known as wisdom. I esteem thee, Nachiketas, as one seeking wisdom, nor do manifold desires allure thee. Others, turning about in unwisdom, self-wise and thinking they are learned, fools, stagger, lagging in the way, like the blind led by the blind. The great Beyond gleams not for the child, led away by the delusion of possessions. ‘This is the world, there is no other,’ he thinks, and so falls again and again under Death’s dominion. . . .”
The holy Benedictine, from whose Sancta Sophia we have quoted, cites, from Cardinal Bellarmine, these sentences:
“. . . Yet after all this, they are so devoid of devotion and the Spirit of God, so earnest in the love of secular vanities, so filled with impatience, envy, and all inordinate desires, that they seem to differ not one jot from secular persons wholly taken up with the world. The only cause of these disorders is that they do not seriously enter into their own hearts by exercises of introversion, but only esteem and regard the exterior. . . .”
Had the learned and pious Cardinal written instead in the language of the Upanishads, he might, perhaps, have said:
“The Self-Being pierced the openings of the senses outwards; hence one looks outward, not within himself. A wise man looked towards the Self with introverted sight, seeking immortality. Children seek after outward desires; they come to the net of widespread Death. But the wise, beholding deathlessness, seek not for the enduring among unenduring things. . . .”
Again, we find the author of Sancta Sophia writing:
“For this reason devout souls are to be exhorted to keep themselves as much as possible in solitude and abstraction, so that they may be able to discern the Divine voice. And if they yield themselves faithfully to God’s guidance, He will not be wanting to them in anything. . . . And if we are capable of learning God’s will in such things—and who can doubt it?—acting thus, in the spirit of resignation, without haste, passion, or self-love, must surely be the best and safest way of attaining to that knowledge.”
If he had written in the tongue of the Upanishads, he might have said this:
“Let him find the pathway of the Soul. Finding it he is not stained by evil. He who knows is therefore full of peace, lord of himself; he has ceased from false gods, he is full of endurance, he intends his will. In his soul he beholds the Soul. He beholds all things in the Soul. Nor does evil reach him; he passes all evil. He is free from evil, free from stain, free from doubt, a knower of the Eternal. . . .”
Or we might take from Father Baker a passage like this:
“The soul must be careful not to entertain a hope that God will manifest His Will to her in an extraordinary way, as by an angel or a revelation. Ordinarily such hopes could proceed from nothing but pride; and were God to grant her wish, it is to be feared it would only increase her pride and do her much harm. There are two ways in which God ordinarily intimates His Will to His servants. The first is by clearing the understanding and infusing into it a supernatural light, through which the natural reason sees something new or something it had not rightly understood. By this light of supernatural discretion the obscurities which hindered the reason from seeing the truth are removed. These obscurities are generally caused by sensuous images which have taken possession of the imagination, or by natural interests which have engaged the affections. By these reason is pushed on to form a judgment and choice before the soul has weighed maturely and impartially the circumstances, so that reason devoid of the supernatural light kindled by charity determines in favour of the side to which the imagination or passions incline her. . . .”
We might be inclined to compare this with certain of the rules of the sage, Patanjali; for example, these rules, from his first book:
“Memory is the holding fast to mind-images of things perceived. The control of these psychic activities comes through the right use of the will, and through ceasing from self-indulgence. The right use of the will is the steady effort to stand in spiritual being. This becomes a firm resting-place, when followed long, persistently, with righteousness. Ceasing from self-indulgence is conscious mastery over the thirst for sensuous pleasures here or hereafter. The consummation of this is freedom from thirst for any mode of psychical activity, through the establishment of the spiritual man. . . .”
Or we might choose these sentences, from the fourth book:
“The psychic nature, universally adaptive, takes on the colour either of things seen, or of the Seer. The psychic nature, which has been printed with mind-images of innumerable things, exists now for the Spiritual Man, subordinate to him. For him who discerns between the mind and the Spiritual Man, there comes perfect fruition of the longing after the real being of the Self. Thereafter, the whole personal being bends toward illumination, full of the spirit of Eternal Life. . . .”
Father Baker expresses the same consummation thus:
“This is the best and safest light a man can have. And we must acknowledge it to be supernatural, because it illuminates us in supernatural things, discovers to us the relation between the action and our supernatural end, and extinguishes the light of carnal reason by which the things of God are not seen or are esteemed foolishness. It is to be accepted as the very light of God’s Holy Spirit, a light which cannot be obtained by study, nor instilled into us by the most spiritual person in the world. Moreover, this light exceeds the efficacy of the ordinary permanent light of faith by which we see supernatural objects in a general manner only, and the means leading to them. But by this lamp kindled in our understanding by prayer and charity we clearly discern the relation and capacity of each action and circumstance to dispose us to perfect union with God by love. . . .”
One may find, too, a very great likeness to the great Adwaita Teacher, Shankaracharya, in such a passage as this, from a treatise by Saint Francis de Sales, Of the Love of God:
“When the sun rises red and turbid, or sets pale and watery, we say there will be rain. Yet in truth the sun is not subject to any such changeableness, and its light is invariable and perpetual; the appearances which alter its brightness are but those mists and clouds of earth which rise up before our mortal sight. Even so with God: we are wont to speak of Him not as He really is, but according as we behold Him through the mists of our earthly vision. We speak as though He possessed various qualities and characteristics; we talk of His Justice, His Mercy, His Omnipotence, His Truth, His Wisdom. Yet, verily, there is no variation in God, He is One sole, uniform perfection; whatever is in Him is but Himself, and the many qualities we define in Him are Unity. Just as the sun has but one clear brightness infinitely beyond all the colours we attribute to it, a brightness which in reality gives them their manifold hues, so God is One All-pervading Excellence, far above all our notions of perfection, and imparting whatever perfectness is to be found in all such perfection. Nor is it within compass of anything created, whether human or angelic, fitly to name this Supreme Excellence; even as we are told in the Apocalypse that ‘He has a Name, which no man knew but He Himself.’ And so the Fathers have said that there is no real theologian save God, inasmuch as none can truly know the Infinite Greatness of His Divine Perfection nor fitly speak of it save Himself. . . .”
If, then, God be thus in Himself unknown, unknowable, how are we to know Him, to find union with Him?—We come thus, of necessity to the teaching of the Divine Incarnation, called in the East the Avatar doctrine. We may illustrate it by the popular version found in Buddhism:
“When it is known that after a lapse of a thousand years an omniscient Buddha is to arise in the world, the guardian angels of the world wander about, proclaiming: Sirs, after the lapse of a thousand years a Buddha will arise in the world, in order to save the world. . . .”
Or we may take the more abstract version of the same teaching in the Bhagavad Gita:
“Though I am the Unborn, the Soul that passes not away, though I am the lord of beings, yet as lord over My nature I become manifest, through the magical power of the Soul. For whenever there is a withering of the Law, O son of Bharata, and an uprising of lawlessness on all sides, then I manifest Myself, for the salvation of the righteous, and the destruction of such as do evil; for the firm establishing of the Law I come to birth in age after age. He who thus perceives My birth and work as divine, as in truth it is, leaving the body, he goes not to rebirth; he goes to Me, Arjuna. . . . Nor am I visible to all wrapt in My magical glamour; this world, deluded, recognizes Me not, unborn, everlasting. I know all beings, Arjuna, the past, the present, those that are to come; but Me none knows. . . . They whose darkness is gone, who are workers of righteousness, free from the delusion of the opposites, worship Me, firm in their vows. They who strive for freedom from age and death, taking refuge in Me, know the Eternal, the All, the highest Self, the perfect Work. They who know Me as the highest Being, the highest Divinity, the highest Sacrifice, even in death perceive Me, their hearts united in Me. . . .”
One may cite, for comparison with this, a very beautiful development of the same doctrine of Divine Incarnation, as applied to the Western Avatar:
“The supernatural life comprises two elements: sanctifying grace, a true participation in God’s nature which transforms the soul; and actual grace, God’s real action within us, which sets our transformed faculties in motion.
“But, to produce this transformation and impart this motion is a work reserved to God.—Why reserved to Him? There is an excellent reason for it: this work requires omnipotence, and it is superior to that of creation.
“But then, what part does Jesus play, and on what ground can we call Him into our life?
“In Jesus, there are both the divinity and the humanity. The divinity retains an its infinite attributes, and fulfils all its proper acts. The humanity is made, like ours, of body and soul. As it does not constitute any personality, it enters into the personality of the Son of God.
“His divinity can do nothing but what is divine: it cannot abase itself nor suffer nor adore nor submit. Although it knows our feelings and joys and sorrows in an eminent manner, it is incapable of experiencing them. Nor could it win merits; and, although it can pardon, it cannot expiate.
“It is wanting in these powers, and the sacred humanity supplies them to it. The sacred humanity has our manner of feeling and loving. Its condition bids it submit, and enables it to suffer, and binds duties upon it; and these duties are carried out freely by its holy soul; and hence it wins merits.
“But these merits borrow a really infinite value from Jesus’ divine personality; and although they are not by nature divine, they have the worth and splendour and scope of the divine. It is no mere name that covers them, but it is a personality that takes possession of them and transforms them. . . . His soul, which has its merits so far as concerns the infinite, has none so far as created things are concerned; but it is in this human soul of His that all these wonders are perpetually occurring. He ever lives to make intercession for us.”
We had thought, at the outset of these Notes, to quote rather passages which are, on the face of them, experimental, the fruit only of experience which, with due care and pains, we can repeat for ourselves. But the passages shaped themselves in a somewhat wider channel. Yet, if we look deeply into it, even those of largest sweep and scope are the result of experience and experiment; they are the fruit of that higher power of knowledge, that illumination, of which Patanjali and Father Baker write, in nearly identical terms. And the proof of this would seem to be that, once we set aside the local colouring of this or that period, the results, the great principles, are always and everywhere the same. This, indeed, is both natural and inevitable, since they are drawn from observation of the same eternal models; they are built upon the same spiritual experience, nay, on the life of the Soul itself, in union with the One Divine.
THE PLANES OF CONSCIOUSNESS
In the Notes and Comments in the January number of the THEOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY, an effort was made to apply the Theosophic method to psychology, by bringing together certain soul-records of the East and West; the present essay is an attempt to carry this study more into detail. At the beginning of the Notes and Comments, it was made clear, by quotations from The Ocean, of Theosophy, that the subject of consideration was not that “psychology without a soul,” which is really an illogical and incomplete outgrowth of physiology, but rather the genuine “science of the soul,” which seeks to know, and reverently to study, the actual experience of the soul itself, the conditions of spiritual consciousness, as they manifest themselves in the inner world of being, in the expanding life of the soul. In reality, the whole of religion, all spiritual life, is contained in these higher states of consciousness; and an understanding of religion, of the supreme logicalness and reasonableness of religion, must rest on some understanding of these states of consciousness. But it stands to reason that the only knowledge of them which is real, and therefore true, must be based, not on speculation, but on experience, on the actual entering and tasting of these states of consciousness; just as the only knowledge of the powers of vision or audition which amounts to anything at all is gained, not by argument and speculation, but by seeing and hearing.
If, then, religion and spiritual life be “all a matter of our states of consciousness,” what are we to say of religious practices and observances, of worship and conduct, of the whole system of devotional life? The answer seems to be quite simple and direct: All observances and practices, all acts of devotion and worship, are preparations and means for entering, experiencing and understanding the states of spiritual consciousness. All purifications, for example, are means for putting off a lower state of consciousness, in order that we may enter a higher state of consciouness. And, since one of the dominant factors in that lower state of consciousness is separateness, self-centeredness, isolation of consciousness, much of the preparation for the higher consciousness of necessity consists in efforts to break down this isolation, this “being wrapped in self,” whether by acts of self-sacrifice, or by worship in common: that is, by a common effort to enter a higher state of consciousness; or by the training of disciples in association with each other.
Two cautions would seem to be necessary at the outset. The first is this: Consciousness invariably involves will, the active and definite exercise of the will. Where the will is in abeyance, as in mental drifting and dreaming, in nebulous and negative conditions, this invariably means a definite sinking or dying of consciousness. A state of consciousness has been reached; if we try to rest in it in a negative and nebulous way, we are not really resting in it at all, but sinking below it into a lower state, and this means death. A sound study of natural life, of biology, shows this: living beings hold their own only by ceaseless effort and vigilance; a relaxation of vigilance means a surrender to the enemy, and the enemies of life, whether natural or spiritual, are everywhere and always on the alert. Any natural form which has surrendered its powers of self-defense, for example, the wingless birds of New Zealand, is in immediate danger of extinction as soon as its artificial isolation is broken, let us say, by the coming of predatory animals; but even before this menace arises, that form has already begun to recede, to degenerate. It is so too with spiritual life; eternal vigilance is quite literally the price not so much of liberty, but of life itself.
But, while will is everywhere a part of consciousness, a part, without which consciousness is already dying, it is difficult to describe the activities of the will, while it is much easier to describe the content of the perceptive side of consciousness, and much of what is found in the spiritual books, especially those of the East, is somewhat prone to follow this natural bent: to lean too much on the description of the perceptive side, and to lay too little stress on the active side. We do the same thing constantly, in ordinary speech. We say, “I see that bird on the tree,” but we do not say, what is nevertheless the case, “In order to see it, I must use uninterrupted effort to direct my sight, to focus it, to concentrate the visual sense on it.” The instant the will, the effort of attention, lapses, we in fact cease to see. The will has to be used perpetually. But, as we have said, the Eastern books, especially those of later date, tend to lay too little stress on the will-side of consciousness. We shall have to be on guard against this.
This is the first caution. The second concerns the mind, or, perhaps one should say, that part of the mind which occupies itself with argument; for convenience, the lower mind. The French philosopher Bergson has done admirable work at this point; he has made it clear that the lower, argumentative mind was, as a matter of history, evolved to deal with matter and with the processes of matter of a certain kind and range; and that this mind, therefore, just so far as it is a good instrument for that purpose, is a bad instrument for dealing with things above that layer of matter; therefore he lays great stress on “intuition,” the perceptive faculty which is by nature fitted to deal with the things above that layer of matter, and the whole of his spiritual interpretation of life is based on the use of this higher perceptive faculty, the “intuition.”
But the lower, argumentative mind has been exceedingly busy for many millenniums, in the long and arduous task of mastering matter and material conditions. Not only has it made enormous conquests here, but it has gained enormous confidence in itself in the process, nay, an over-weening consciousness. And it is far from easy to persuade it that it has its limitations; that, for the next layer of consciousness, of life-experience, for the perception of spiritual things, it is hardly fitted at all, and must constantly subordinate itself to the spiritual faculty, to “intuition.” The word “bumptious” is not often used in the consideration of these high topics; yet “bumptious,” “self-assertive,” is exactly the word to express this quality of the lower mind; a tendency naturally arising from its long success in dealing with the lower, material order of life; yet a formidable barrier, when the time comes to enter the plane of life which lies directly above the material life. One may say that the whole literature of negative materialism, of rationalism so-called—for it is not really rational or logical—simply illustrates this one tendency of the mind. And, as a practical lesson, we must be constantly on guard against this same tendency, realizing that its long life, its manifold successes in its own field, have given it a tremendous tendency to run forward, in virtue of that momentum, and to assert itself equally in the next field, for which it has no aptitude at all.
Perhaps we shall be justified in saying that the very clear perception of this limitation of the lower mind has been the motive which has led certain divisions of Christian thought—and notably certain teachers in the Roman Church—to put a practical ban on the lower argumentative mind; to insist on the surrender of private judgment, as a primary religious duty; to put forward, for acceptance, a ready-made system of thought. But this tendency, which has, as we have seen, a certain justification in the nature and origin of the lower mind, seems to have been carried too far, with rather damaging results.
The first of these detriments seems to be a practical divorce between the thought of that Church and the whole development of modern science, which is based in part on the argumentative mind and in part on intuition; with results almost disastrous to both parties. The whole trend of scientific thought has driven forward, practically without its religious lining, without spiritual inspiration, and has, therefore, tended to become materialistic; while the thought of the Church, taking an attitude of antagonism towards scientific development, has thereby suffered in its own growth, and has very largely cut itself off from the active thought, the free natural development of thinking men. For this reason, it would seem, the Roman Church has tended to become a Church of women, the spiritual life of men thereby suffering immensely, as, for example, in contemporary France.
A second detriment has been, that the Roman Church, and, to a less degree, other divisions of Christian thought, have cut themselves off from other great realms of the world’s spirituality; have, perhaps unconsciously, tended to take for granted that the spiritual experiences of other divisions of mankind are in essence illusory and false; that it is much better to neglect them altogether. This attitude is really an unconscious indictment of the justice and goodness of God, a denial of spiritual life to these other children of the Father. It is true that this view is not explicitly asserted; on the contrary, there is a theoretical acceptance of the possibility of salvation for the virtuous, unbaptised heathen, notably in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, and in the canonization, albeit unconscious, of Gautama Buddha by both the Eastern and the Western Church, under the name of Saint Josaphat, which is said to be a corruption of the title “Tathagata,” “He who came as His Predecessors came.” But in practice, the ignoring of the spiritual experience of the East is pretty complete. And it appears to be one of the fruits of the practical banning of the logical mind; this in turn being due to a genuine recognition of the supreme value of “intuition.”
What is really needed, it would seem, is an understanding of the true relation between these two elements of our perceptive faculty; an understanding, first, that all of the Universe is from God; and, secondly, that the perceptive power in us, which meets the Universe, is likewise from God; is, indeed, invariably a ray of the Logos itself, in whatever field it operates. What is needed, therefore, is to establish the true relation between these different rays of the Logos.
It is of deep interest to note the method of Christ himself in this regard. In his actual teaching, we find two elements always present: the direct appeal made to the moral nature—that is, to the will, rightly operative—made by the direct inspiration of his presence, his personal power; and, second, the appeal to the natural mind, to lead and incite the mind to accept and further the impulse of the moral nature. Thus, in the Parables, which best represent the first stages of Christ’s teaching, his method of approach, we find him always appealing to the natural mind and to the already existing content of the natural mind, by evoking natural observations, by calling up some scene or fact of nature certain to be present in the minds of those who were listening to him: “A sower went forth to sow”; or “A certain man made a great supper.” Further, he chooses those aspects of natural life in which the process of natural law most visibly corresponds to the process of spiritual law, thereby leading through the natural mind up to the intuition; for example, “And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.” There is a clear and fundamental recognition here that the Divine Law works harmoniously in the natural and spiritual worlds, and that there is an underlying unity in our perceptive power, as it operates in the natural and spiritual worlds. If this supremely wise leading had been fully followed, there never could have arisen any “Conflict between Science and Religion.”
To unravel these tangled threads, there is but one means: the consistent and wise application of the Theosophic Method. This will bring about, first, a mutual understanding and complete reconciliation between Science and Religion; next, a like understanding and reconciliation between the now divided, but really complementary regions of spiritual experience, and chiefly those of the East and the West. Immense mutual benefit will result, first, as between Science and Religion, and secondly as between the spiritual life of West and East, moral force and lucidity, will and consciousness, heat and light mutually enriching each other, and thus making possible an immense forward step in the spiritual life of all mankind.
We come back, therefore, after a somewhat long digression, to the fundamental question of the fields or planes of consciousness, which are the basis of all religious experience, and, with a right accompanying development of the will, of all religious and spiritual life. Here again it must be remembered that “the Universe is One”; that life is not in reality divided; that, when we speak of planes of consciousness, we do so for the sake of simplicity and lucidity, not because there are really hard and fast divisions. In exactly the same way we may speak of our consciousness today as being separate from our consciousness of yesterday and of tomorrow. But this is for simplicity only; in reality our consciousness is unbroken and continuous. If the consciousness, the feeling of “I,” were ever completely blotted out, even for an instant, there is no conceivable way in which it could be revived or renewed. The lapse would be final. In reality, our consciousness stretches both forward and backward in an unbroken line.
Our consciousness likewise stretches upwards in an unbroken line, though the focus of consciousness rises and falls, and is, in general, at the lower end of the line; yet, were our consciousness not already established from eternity in the Highest—in its great Source, the Logos of God—there would be no hope for us; we could never conceivably rise to the consciousness of God. It is a question of raising thither the focus of consciousness, along a divine line which already exists. This would seem to be the meaning of the teaching of the Upanishads, that the divine Self in us, Atma, already is God.
The Upanishads divide our consciousness into four great planes or layers; but, as there is always overlapping and interpenetration, we may add the three intermediate regions, or realms of junction and interpenetration, thus making in all seven great planes of consciousness; each of these, we may suppose, is further divisible, for clearness, into four layers, or, counting the intermediate regions, into seven. Since the great Upanishads follow the four-fold division, we may well do the same, trying, later, to indicate the significance of the intermediate layers. We shall then try to show that exactly the same realms of consciousness, with exactly the same content, are quite clearly and consciously recognized in what we have agreed to call “Western psychology,” the genuine experiences of the soul, recorded by those in the West who have gained spiritual unfoldment; who have, in fact, entered these higher regions of consciousness in their own personal experience. One may say, perhaps, that “Mysticism” is in reality the entering of these higher realms of consciousness, with the means toward that entrance and the harvest there gathered.
The great Upanishads begin with the oneness of the Divine Consciousness, which they call “Brahma,” literally “the Power which Expands.” To this word is often prefixed “Param,” “The Supreme,” forming the phrase, “Param Brahma,” “The Supreme Eternal,” which has been anglicized as “Parabrahm,” the Absolute. But, since the Absolute can, by its very definition, have neither parts nor relations, Brahma stands more generally for “God made manifest,” God revealed in the spiritual and material world, in Nature and in the Soul, the Unity of the Divine Life. And Brahma is identical with Atma, the Divine Spirit. This Divine Spirit, the unity of all consciousness, is revealed in four great planes of consciousness, which are thus described in the Mandukya Upanishad:
“All is Brahma; Atma is Brahma; this Atma, universal Consciousness, has four degrees (literally: “has four feet”):
“(1) Standing in waking (jagarita), outwardly-perceiving, with seven members, with nineteen mouths, an eater of coarse elements, Vaishvanara (“vital fir””),—is the first foot.
“(2) Standing in dream (svapna), inwardly-perceiving, with seven members, with nineteen mouths, an eater of subtle elements, Taijasa (“the radiant”),—is the second foot.
“(3) Where, sinking to sleep, he desires no desire, beholds no dream, this is dreamless-consciousness (Sushupti). Standing in dreamlessness, become-one, a cloud of perceiving, blissful, an eater of bliss, having as its mouth pure-consciousness (chetas), Prajna (“inspiration”),—is the third foot.
“This is the Lord of all, this is the Knower of all, this is the Inner-compeller, this is the womb of all, for this is the forth-coming and withdrawal of beings.
“(4) Neither outwardly-perceiving, nor inwardly-perceiving, nor perceiving in both ways, nor a cloud of perceiving, nor perceiving nor not perceiving; unseen, incomprehensible, not to be grasped, without distinctive mark, unthinkable, unindicable, the essence of the idea of the one Atma, where manifestation has ceased, full of peace, benign, without a second (advaita),—this they think to be the fourth (chaturtha, turiya); this is Atma, this is to be known.”
This passage may seem at first sight obscure, discouraging, enigmatic; but this is largely because of its extreme conciseness and condensation. In reality, it is marvelously complete, profound, full of meaning and of light. We shall try presently to expand and interpret it by other Upanishad and later Vedanta passages. But we can best approach its study, perhaps, by quoting a closely parallel passage from one of the great authorities of Christian mysticism, Saint Francis de Sales (Of the Love of God, chapter xii):
“Our reason, or soul, is the very temple of God, Who dwells therein. ‘I sought Thee without,’ Saint Augustine says, ‘and found Thee not, because Thou wert within me.’ So in this mystic temple there are three courts, or different degrees of reason. The first leads us by the experience of sense, the second by human knowledge, the third by faith, and beyond all these there is an eminent, supreme point of spiritual perception, which is not led by the light of reason or argument, but by a simple act of the will, through which the mind yields and submits to God’s Truth and Will.
“Now, this culminating point of the soul or mind is aptly symbolised by the Sanctuary or Holy of Holies; for the Sanctuary had no windows whereby to admit light, and that mind needs no enlightening of words: all light entered by the door, and so into that mind faith alone enters, kindling like rays, the beauty and brightness of God’s Good Pleasure; none entered save the High Priest, and this highest point of the soul is only approachable by a wide overpowering consciousness that the Divine Will must be loved and accepted, not here and there only, but in everything, general and special alike; when the High Priest entered he darkened the doorway by the fumes of his censor, and even so the soul is sometimes clouded by the renunciations of the soul, which cares not so much to define the beauty and goodness set forth as to embrace and worship them, and through absolute acceptance of God’s Will to attain perfect union with Him.”
It is not difficult to make out the general resemblance between this and the Upanishad passage. Both rest on the Divine Being. Both divide the soul’s consciousness into four ascending degrees. The first degree, that of waking sense-consciousness, which the Upanishad calls jagarita or jagrat, the Christian mystic characterizes by “the experience of sense.” The second degree, called by the Upanishad svapna, dreaming, that is, resting in mind-images, the Christian mystic defines as based on “human knowledge.” The third degree, called by the Upanishad sushupti, blissful, inspiration, is based by the Christian mystic on “faith.” The fourth, generally called in India turiya, (which simply means “the fourth,”) has its essence, according to the Upanishad, in “the idea of Atma,” the Divine Spirit; the Christian mystic bases it on realized oneness with the Divine Will.
While, for the sake of simplicity and clearness, the Upanishads often speak of these degrees of consciousness as naturally succeeding each other and unfolding as we go to sleep, so that from waking we pass to dreaming, from dreaming to dreamless sleep, from dreamless sleep to the pure consciousness of Atma, and while it is, perhaps true that, in the beginning, we only reach the deeper consciousness beyond dreams when the body is actually asleep, it must not, it would seem, be understood that this limitation is permanent or universal. For, just as we may dream while we are awake, focusing our consciousness not in the perceptions of the senses, but on the inner pictures in the mind; so, while we are awake, or while we have the perception both of the outer senses and of mind-images, we may also have the deeper consciousness, the consciousness of “faith,” of spiritual being and will, and even something of the fourth, the divine consciousness. The truth would seem to be that all four are always present, though, while the whole consciousness and interest is focused in the lower, we are only very dimly aware, or not aware at all, of the higher. The practical problem, then, is, to subordinate the lower; to raise the focus of consciousness from sense-perception and mind-images to the spiritual and divine consciousness. It would seem to be, not so much a question of lighting a new light in a region absolutely dark, as of strengthening a dim light which is already burning there, which has been burning there, dimly and unperceived, from the eternities.
We shall try, at a future date, to make clearer the meaning and content of each of these states of consciousness, with their relation to the will, as these are set forth in the mystical books of the East and the West, with such added light as can be gained by comparing the two. Meanwhile, it should be held in mind, as a fundamental principle in both East and West, that every consciousness, of whatever degree, and whatever be its content, whether it be on earth, in hell, or in heaven, is an undivided and inalienable part of the Consciousness of God, though, since God has given us free will, He has therefore given us the power to choose the content of our consciousness, to choose the direction in which we shall focus it, whether low or high. And in the same way, every will, nay, every manifestation of force throughout the universe, whether it be in the atom or the archangel, is and remains an undivided and inalienable part of God’s Will and Power, though with free will, He has given us the power to choose in what direction, and to what ends, we shall use our wills; we can degrade them, or we can raise them and make them a part of God’s active and beneficent Will.
PHYSICAL CONSCIOUSNESS: THE FIRST PLANE
There is a curious story in the Chhandogya, one of the oldest and most mystical Upanishads, which may be translated somewhat as follows:
“The Devas and the Asuras—the angels and demons—both of them sprung from the Lord of Beings, strove together. The Devas sacrificed by offering the syllable Om; by this, said they, we shall prevail. They entered into the nasal breath with their aspiration; but the Asuras pierced it with evil; therefore through this, he perceives both that which is fragrant and that which is foul, for they pierced it with evil. And so the Devas entered voice with their aspiration; but the Asuras pierced it with evil; therefore he speaks both truth and falsehood, for voice was pierced with evil. And so they entered sight with their aspiration; but the Asuras pierced it with evil; therefore by it he sees both that which should be seen and that which should not be seen, for it was pierced with evil. And so the Devas entered hearing with their aspiration; but the Asuras pierced it with evil; therefore he hears both what should be heard and what should not be heard, for it was pierced with evil. And so the Devas entered mind with their aspiration; but the Asuras pierced it with evil; therefore with it he conceives both that which should be conceived and that which should not be conceived, by it he wills both that which should be willed and that which should not be willed, for mind was pierced with evil. And so there is this higher vital breath; the Devas entered this by their aspiration; the Asuras, coming to this, fell to pieces, as something would fall to pieces, by coming against a hard rock. Thus verily, as something coming against a hard rock would fall to pieces, so does he fall to pieces, who desires evil for one who knows this; and he who drives him away, he indeed is as a hard rock. Because of this, therefore, he does not perceive both things fragrant and foul, for he has driven evil away, and whatever he eats or drinks, by this he guards the lives.”
The makers of this old mystical tale sought to show, in a parable, which, nevertheless, comes close to literal truth, that this two-sidedness runs through every phase of our physical perception: we see good and evil; we hear good and evil; we will good and evil; we act out good and evil. But there is in us the higher spiritual breath, the spiritual will and intuition; this the devils were not able to enter, but fell back from it, broken to pieces, as some brittle thing falls back broken from a rock. And this spiritual breath, the power of intuition and spiritual will, nourishes and upbuilds the other powers, building up a dwelling of like nature to itself.
So far the parable. Its application to our subject—the plane or field of physical consciousness—is this: there are, as it were, two layers of our physical consciousness and our physical action, a lower and a higher layer; or, one may say, there are two ways of using each power, a lower and a higher way. The lower way is that which is inspired from beneath—pierced by the Asuras; the higher way is that which is inspired from above, breathed into by the aspiration of the Devas. Or, to put it yet another way, any act can be performed in obedience to either one of two motives: the motive of self-will, which is of the Asuras, the demons; and the motive of divine will, which is of the Devas; these two powers, the good and evil angels, meeting and contesting in every act and perception of ours, and we ourselves having the power to throw the victory to either side, to the Asuras or to the Devas, to the good angels or the evil, according as our motive is self-will or the divine will acting in us.
This sounds perhaps, not merely mystical but even mythical; this contest of good and evil angels in our every act. So it may be worth while to clear the air by showing that biology, the material science of life, recognizes just the same kind of conflict.
All organisms, in the view of biology, all living things, whether they be plants or animals, very simple or very highly developed, go through a series of acts. Plants draw in nourishment through their roots, chemical elements soluble in water, building materials in liquid form, such as ammonia, phosphoric acid, potash; they draw in, through the pores of their leaves, when these are exposed to sunlight, further nourishment from the air, carbonic acid, which is divided into carbon and oxygen; the carbon combining with the hydrogen in the water sucked up by the roots, the oxygen being breathed forth again. And so the plant grows, puts forth leaves and flowers, forms fruit or seed, and thus prepares for a new generation of that same plant.
But besides these evident activities there is a second range of activities, of far finer quality, which can hardly be detected in one generation or even in many generations; but which, in the long run, and when studied in large spaces of time, are seen to be immensely important. By virtue of certain forces—we can hardly yet call them efforts in the case of plants—certain forms of plant life progress; others halt and then retrogress, falling into degeneration. In the forests of the Carboniferous period, there were many kinds of trees. A few of them were the ancestors of the trees in our present forests; many of them have ceased altogether from the earth, or are represented only by dwarfish relations, like the equisetums, the mare’s-tails of our marshes. There were, it would seem, in those ancient forests, certain individuals which, by the infinite accretion of small differences, were destined to develop into our present trees. There were others, by no means distinguishable at the time, which were to fail in these infinitely numerous, hardly perceptible accretions, and were destined, in consequence, to die, to fall out of the battle for life and immortality.
The same thing, in a much more manifest way, in animal life. Biologists trace a line of ascent, up from primal protoplasm to our own bodies, so far the most perfect organism in the world. But, besides the organisms which lie along this direct line in an ascending series, there are other organisms without number, which diverged or fell away from the line by infinitely small gradations; organisms which have either ceased altogether to exist, like the extinct dinosaurs, or which, like the lower animals about us to-day, have taken directions of growth which can never lead up to the highest organic form; so far, they are as complete failures as are the animals which are actually extinct.
There is, therefore, the one line of complete success, the line which, according to biological theory, led up to our own marvelously formed and articulated bodies. There are, on the other hand, the many lines of failure. Each line is the sum of an infinite number of small acts or activities, imperceptible at the time, hardly perceptible even when taken in thousands; but, none the less, quite decisive. These and these acts and activities made for progression along the true line, the line of life and infinite upward progress; those and those acts and activities made for digression, for retrogression, for degeneration, for ultimate death and extinction. The geological strata are storehouses of forms which thus strayed from the path, of lines which have failed of posterity, of extinct peerages in the nobility of life.
So that, for each minutest act or activity, there were two possible ways: the way which would make for progression along the royal line; and the way which would make for digression, for retrogression. These two potencies, these two possibilities, or the forces which determined them, are the angels and the demons of our parable, the Devas and the Asuras. Where the Deva conquered, the activity was realized in such a way as to make for the upward path. Where the Asura won, the activity was carried out in such a way as to make for digression, for retrogression.
So far, the biologists have refused to speculate concerning these Devas and Asuras. They have gone as far as recognizing that these and these activities made for progress, whether they were activities of the whole organism, or activities within the organism—activities of the germ plasm. But they have been chary of telling us why, under what impulsion, the activity turned the one way or the other way. It just “happened” so, and is not susceptible of explanation. So they solve a mystery by a mystery. Darwin built up his whole fabric of evolution out of two things: the occurrence of favorable variations, which gave certain organisms an advantage over their brothers and sisters; and their consequent success, their survival in the struggle for life. Among their progeny again there were more gifted children and less gifted; there were advantageous variations. Their fortunate possessors once more survived and begat sons and daughters, unequally endowed. And so it went on, until the coming of man, the king. The whole thing, the whole progression from the speck of protoplasm to Darwin himself, was the sum of happy accidents, of infinitely small drives forward, which were the outcome of sheer good luck.
Bergson saw that this is somewhat hard to credit: so many, so infinitely many minute special providences, playing the deciding role in this supposedly materialistic system. So he postulated an élan vital, a vital drive, at work from the beginning, and having, in a sense, a predetermined goal. Where, in each minute activity, the vital drive prevailed, that activity took place in the main line of progression; where the forces of inertia, of obstruction, prevailed, that activity swerved aside, and took its place in the line of retrogression. So we come back again to our Devas and Asuras.
Bergson evidently felt that the fortunate, the progressive activity, took place under the impulsion of a force from above, a force coming down into the material world from a spiritual plane above it; and that, when the activity of the organism responded to that force from above, the activity was a success; it made for progression along the royal road.
At the time, it would evidently be exceedingly difficult to discern between the successful activity and the unsuccessful; that which is to make for further progress and that which is to make for digression. Indeed, the appearances might well be against the truth. Thus, we may imagine that, among the Miocene apes, there were two contending parties, those who were for continuing their free, swinging life among the tree-tops, and those who were for coming to the ground. This serene life, we may imagine the tree-top party saying, gives us the free air of heaven; it makes for high security, and gives us wide horizons. Why should we go down to the earth, among so many dangers, to breathe a lower air? But the others took their decision and came to earth. The upshot is, that the tree-top party are still swinging among the tree-tops, in Further India and Borneo and Equitorial Africa, while the down-to-earth people have built Athens and Rome. This is, of course, only an illustration, a parallel; we do not at all vouch for its historicity.
But it seems clear that only through the event, the outcome, the arrival at the end of the road, can unfailing discernment be reached. It is easy, now, looking back along the biologist’s line of ascent from the monad to the man, to say that these and these activities, these and these decisions, made for progression along the royal road, while the others, which may have seemed excellent at the time, made for retrogression and extinction.
The mystics, whether of the East or West, have always refused to accept Darwin’s fancy that the infinitely numerous small forward steps took place by chance and were but happy accidents. And indeed, if we set it down baldly, there is something incredible in the idea that the fine mechanism of the eye with its self-adjusting diaphragm in the iris, its self-focusing crystalline lens, to say nothing of the adjustment of the colour nerves, or the sheer fact of sight at all, has been built up by a string of happy chances; that the beauty of the lilies, the lovely melody of the thrush and nightingale, nay, such master-melodies as the Upanishads and the Gospels, are merely the accumulation of infinite happy chances which began to befall the monad, and which have been succeeding each other ever since. The mystics have always believed that the spiritual world above is perpetually shining through this nether world; that these lovely and wonderful things, the bird’s song, the lily’s radiance, the parables of the Upanishads and the Gospels, are all revelations of the spiritual world, breaking through the clouds of this lower world; nay, that each minutest step forward, in the whole evolutionary chain, is the direct response and result of a spiritual force and impulse impinging at that point, and creatively urging each living thing along the royal road.
The whole of our progress hitherto has been won through the battle of these forces that make for development, against the forces that make for retrogression and degradation; through the conflict between the Devas and the Asuras, the angels and the demons. And exactly the same law holds for our further progress, for every act and activity in our present lives; there is at each point, for each activity and act, the pull of the two forces, upward and downward; and our advance along this further road, the path of our immortality, depends on our discerning between the two, and responding to the upward pull. And, once more, just as it was infinitely difficult, at the time, to decide between the happy and the unhappy activity in the earlier field of development, as, for instance, in the controversy between the tree-top party and the down-to-earth party among the imagined Miocene apes, so it is infinitely difficult, at that point alone, and with only the knowledge belonging to it, to decide, concerning our present acts, to see which make for death, which make for immortality. But, just as it is easy enough, after the event, to say that the lazy abandonment of the activity of flight by the dodo and the great auk has meant the extinction of both; as it is easy, looking back along the biologist’s line of ascent, to pronounce as to the rightness of each decision in the organic world, so it will be easy, when we have reached the end of the way, the goal of our immortality, to declare, concerning each of our acts, that this activity made for life, while the other held the menace of destruction; and therefore, it is easy now, for those who have attained, for those who have gained the journey’s end, to say, concerning our present acts, that these are good and make for immortality, while those contain the seeds of ruin and of death.
What we need, then, for our further journey, is just such a diagnosis, a pronouncement by those who have attained, which shall touch all our acts and activities, so that we may eschew the evil and cleave to that which is good. Therefore the first need of our mystical training is some method, or rule of life, which shall cover all our energies and acts, strengthening and approving the good, while warning us against the evil. It is a question of fine discernment of the impulsions which come to us from above, from the spiritual world, and which will gradually lead us forward and upward to that world, and of responding to these by act; as, in the biologist’s long line of ascent, it was a question of discernment, by the developing organisms, of those activities which led onward and upward, as against those which led backward and downward.
Therefore, it would seem, all the great, ancient Law Codes, like that of Manu in India, or the Mosaic code, or the laws of ancient Egypt, are held to have been given by inspiration, to have been revealed from on high; and, in like manner, all the mystical rules, whether of East or West, are held to have been given by inspiration.
We may, at this point, give in outline certain of these codes and rules, making the attempt to see their underlying principles; to see why, and in what way, they try to make the discernment between acts to be performed and acts to be eschewed; the former making for salvation and immortality, while the latter make for degradation and death. One of the best versions of the ancient code and rule of India is that recorded in the Vayu Purana. The name of this revered scripture signifies The Ancient Book inspired by the Spirit; for Vayu, the Wind-god, is the Spirit, which “bloweth whither it listeth.” We may preface the code itself by giving, for contrast with our somewhat sketchy outline of the Darwinian scheme, the ancient Indian account of the evolution of living beings on this earth, through the pressure of the spiritual world upon the physical world. It is simply an expansion, in vivid detail, of the pressure of spiritual forces which Bergson saw to be indispensable for any clear understanding of ascending development among beings.
Brahma, the Creator, formed mind-born creatures from his own body and resembling himself. When the Treta—Third—Age had arrived, and had gradually reached its middle, the Lord then began to form other mind-born creatures. He next formed beings in whom sattva (goodness) and rajas (passion) predominated, and who were capable of attaining righteousness, possessions, love and liberation, together with the means of subsistence. Devas, too, and Pitris, and Rishis, and Manus, by whom these creatures were variously ordered, according to their natures in conformity with the Yuga. When this character of his offspring had been attained, the self-existent meditated with love upon mind-born offspring of all kinds and of various forms. Those creatures, who were described by me to thee as having taken refuge in the world called Janaloka at the end of the Kalpa, all these arrived here, when he meditated upon them, in order to be reproduced in the form of Devas and of other beings. According to the course of the Manvantaras the least came first, being guided by destiny, and by connections and circumstances of every kind. These creatures were always born, under the controlling influence of, and as a recompense for, their good and bad karma. He of himself formed these creatures, which arrived in their several characters of Devas, Asuras, Pitris, cattle, birds, reptiles, trees, and insects, in order that they might be subjected anew to the conditions of creatures. . . .
This brings us to the ancient polity, the ordained order of civil and religious life, which is outlined in an earlier passage of the same scripture:
Brahma, the Creator, determined the respective duties and functions of all mankind. Lord Brahma ordained that power, the sceptre, and war should be the duty of the Kshattriyas. He then appointed, as the functions of the Brahmans, the duty of officiating at sacrifices, sacred study, the receiving of gifts. The care of cattle, commerce, and agriculture, he allotted as the work of the Vaishyas. The practice of the mechanical arts, and service, he assigned to the Shudras.
Having distributed to the classes their respective functions and occupations, the Lord then allotted to them abodes in other worlds for their perfection. The world of Prajapati is declared to be the abode of Brahmans practising rites; Indra’s world that of Kshattriyas who do not flee in battle; the world of the Maruts that of Vaishyas who fulfil their duty; the world of the Gandharvas that of Shudras who abide in the work of service.
So far the Vayu Purana, the Ancient Book of the Spirit. There are two vital principles in this passage: the first is that, for each type of character or race, there is an ideal task, a type of work which will exactly fulfill that individual’s need at that time and in that life, and will give exactly the right development to the spiritual powers which belong to that character; naturally, almost automatically, leading the soul forward along the royal road of progress. In a polity which had for centuries and even millenniums been stable, like that of ancient India, it was held that, under the orderly action of the law of Karma, each man and woman would be born into the class or caste which naturally fitted that soul, the situation in life which that soul had worked its way up to; thus, a Shudra who, faithful to “the work of service,” had completed, in one or many lives, the tasks belonging to that state, and had learned its lessons and developed its powers, would, through Karma, be reborn as a Vaishya, thus inheriting the lessons of the next class, and entering into larger responsibilities. The faithful Vaishya would, in the fulness of time, be reborn a Brahman, and thus inherit the opportunity of study, of the practice of ritual, the whole rule of life belonging to that caste. Finally would come birth into the highest, the Kshattriya class, with the added responsibility of rule, with the obligation of war; so that the fullest exercise would be given to the spiritual powers of initiative and intuition, this exercise being safeguarded by the earlier and thoroughgoing training in service and the faithful use of materials as a Shudra, in commerce and mutual exchange, together with the care of living and growing things as a Vaishya, and in the austerity and study of Brahmanhood. In a social and political age like ours, with its innumerable confusions, the path of life is far more difficult. But there is safety in the principle of duty, in that conscientious fulfilment of “the duties of our state,” on which Christian teachers lay such stress. If we look upon our state of life as an opportunity to fulfill our duties, to develop the spiritual powers of endurance, of fidelity, of self-sacrificing devotion, we shall reap the fruits of such an ordered social polity as the Vayu Purana describes.
It is interesting to find that the Vayu Purana, like all the ancient books of India, lays the greatest stress upon just this moral attitude towards the duties of our state, declaring that: All external rites are fruitless for one who is inwardly debased, however energetically he may perform them. A man who bestows even the whole of his substance with a defiled heart will thereby acquire no merit—of which a good disposition is the only cause.
The second vital principle in the passage we have quoted is that contained in the verses which declare that, after death, the Kshattriya goes to the heaven of Indra, the Brahman to the heaven of Prajapati, the Vaishya to the world of the Maruts, the Shudra to the world of the Gandharvas. This is once more a parable, a symbolic statement of the law that the spiritual states attained, the planes of spiritual consciousness reached, depend upon the activities of the will in life, upon the faithful and self-sacrificing performance of duty; the true duty being, in each case, an expression of the spiritual needs, the spiritual stature, of each soul, at each stage of its progress.
We therefore find that the right performance of duty is the backbone of spiritual life, the firm foundation of mystical development, of spiritual consciousness. Without the faithful performance of duty, in the spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice, all supposed states of spiritual consciousness are delusions and highly dangerous delusions. They represent, not the true unfoldment of the spiritual man, with his larger consciousness, but fatal by-paths leading to degradation and extinction. So that the right performance of duty in the outer world is the only doorway of entrance to the inner world; and a wise consideration of duty, of the true duties of each state of life, must form the first chapter in every sound treatise on mysticism.
The principle underlying this is clear. The whole of evolution has taken place in obedience to the pressure of spiritual forces from above; therefore the life of every organism, of every being, which is on the royal road of progress, is, at each moment, an expression of spiritual forces working through physical life. Only by the reception of these spiritual forces and by complete correspondence with them, can right life be maintained from moment to moment; only thus can right progress be made.
Each stage of life means a larger endowment of consciousness, a greater exercise of power, than that of the preceding stage. Therefore it is imperative that this wider consciousness shall be developed along the true spiritual lines; that the power, the will, shall be used in perfect harmony with spiritual laws. And so we find that, for each class, for each caste in the system described in the Vayu Purana, duties are prescribed which will widen the consciousness and develop the will in unison with spiritual law.
The most primitive and elementary revelation of the spiritual law in the physical world is that which is contained in the nature and properties of lifeless substances, of wood and stone, of brass and iron, of silver and gold; therefore the handling of these things, the gaining of practical mastery over them, as artisans, was prescribed as the duty of the lowest class, the Shudra; this, with the obligation of service, the duty of obedience, which is the fundamental spiritual law, since only by implicit obedience to law can life be maintained at any point even for a moment.
The second revelation of spiritual law is the growth and development of living things, of plants and animals, the law of life. So this range of activities was prescribed for the second class, the Vaishyas, as farmers and tenders of cattle. So complete is the revelation of spiritual law in this world of growing things, that their activities were made the basis of an admirable book, Natural Law in the Spiritual World, which had been better named, Spiritual Law in the Natural World. So rich and detailed is this revelation that Jesus drew many of his parables of spiritual life from it: Consider the lilies; a sower went forth to sow; now learn a parable of the fig tree. . . .
Then, with Brahmanhood, came the study of spiritual life as recorded in the older revelations, the ancient Sacred Books,—the revelation of spiritual law through illuminated human consciousness; this, and the supervision of sacrifices, of acts done through devotion, in obedience to spiritual commandments.
And lastly, with the attainment of the highest caste, the Kshattriya, came the exercise of authority and power and the supreme training of righteous war.
THE MINISTRY OF ANGELS AND THE TEMPTATIONS OF THE DEVIL
We have seen that the fundamental fact in physical life, in our life on the physical plane, is that, on this plane, we are not subject only to the physical forces belonging to this plane, but are subject, in an even greater degree, to the continual pressure of spiritual forces from the planes above; and that to this spiritual pressure from above is due not only the whole process of physical advancement which may be termed biological evolution, but the whole of our moral advancement also, the unfoldment of our spiritual evolution. And our response to this spiritual pressure from above determines the whole of our future progress, our gradual growth into the world of conscious immortality.
As there are these spiritual forces constantly making for our upward progress into the life of the realms above us, so there are forces as constantly at work, hindering and thwarting that advance, tending ceaselessly to draw us into the path of retrogression, of degeneration. And so close is the analogy between these forces, as revealed in our moral experience, and the forces which make for degeneration in the regions observed by biology, that many biologists have classed them together. Thus Henry Drummond, writing of Natural Law in the Spiritual World, drew the closest analogies between biological and spiritual degeneration, and printed on the cover of his able and intuitive work the picture of one of the types of biological degeneration, the hermit crab. In like manner Sir Oliver Lodge, who is a close student of biology though not primarily a biologist, has described the forces of moral evil as forces of degeneration in the biological sense; the spiritual equivalent of the tendencies which draw backward and downward those organisms which have ceased to grow upward.
It is, however, not quite accurate to speak of these forces as drawing backward an organism which has ceased to progress. For such an organism by no means returns to the condition which it had reached at a previous period. The hermit crab which, borrowing the shell of a mollusk, has shirked the effort of self-protection, does not by any means retrace its steps to an earlier crab form; it degenerates but does not return; it becomes, in fact, a morbid and mutilated organism, losing its relative perfection and becoming ugly, weak, unnatural. The forces of degeneration are not simply forces of recession, nor, in any instance, does an organism which has ceased to go forward, return to the condition which it earlier held. In exactly the same way, in the case of moral degeneration produced by alcohol, though a drunken man loses the moral sense, the power of reason, of focused vision, of articulate speech, of stable locomotion, all of which an infant also lacks, he does not thereby become an infant nor retrace his steps along the line of progress. He reaches a condition which did not exist at any point along that line of progress; a condition of actual evil, like the malformation of the hermit crab. Even a biologist, therefore, must recognize forces of degeneration and destruction, in addition to the forces which simply retard normal progress, or make that progress difficult and arduous. And those who make spiritual life the subject of their experience and wise experiment will likewise recognize, that, in addition to the tendencies of inertia, of cowardice, of irresolution, which simply check their growth and make it arduous, there are other forces which tend toward actual evil, bringing about morbid and degenerate conditions which are not a return toward the condition of a child or the condition of the primitive races.
It is of universal experience that, as we recognize the pull of the spiritual forces which are striving to raise us upward, to lead us to the realm above us, the realm of our conscious immortality, and, recognizing, respond to these forces and cooperate vigorously with them, we grow into the perception that they are not only beneficent, but are also conscious, endowed with the qualities of personality, and directly responding to the quality of personality in ourselves. But the experiment must be made, and the experience must be gained, within our moral and spiritual consciousness; it cannot be validly reached by any outside or merely mental speculation. Sought for and reached in our moral consciousness, this perception of the personal quality in the powers of good thereafter becomes the most momentous reality in our experience, and infinitely aids our further spiritual progress. And this is one of the best attested facts in all human experience, and by the best witnesses. It is a fundamental fact in the real experimental psychology, in all lands, among all peoples, throughout all times. It further gives us a sound experimental basis for the view that the forces which make for evolution, including those which have presided over each step of biological evolution from the beginning, are not only beneficent forces but are also conscious forces.
The more intuitive biologists have come to this conclusion. Alfred Russel Wallace, who discovered the great laws of evolution at the same time as Darwin, and independently of Darwin, marshalled a series of purely biological evidences to show that, in particular, the physical evolution of man from an earlier, pre-human form had been carried out under the direction of conscious spiritual forces, and could not have been carried out without their interposition. Bergson has put forward the same view, using as an illustration the marvelous formation of the eye, which organisms have reached along quite different lines of development, and therefore independently, not deriving this wonderful mechanism from each other; and Bergson has argued that it is infinitely unlikely that such a mechanism could be developed twice independently by chance, by such an accumulation of happy accidents as Darwin postulates. It is more than likely that, had Darwin been willing to accept the action of spiritual forces, even as a working hypothesis (and a theorist has the right to make use of any working hypothesis) he would have avoided the innumerable absurdities into which his theory of accumulated happy accidents has led him; for he has completely failed to show why the progressive happy accident—the happy accident which leads the organism forward—should happen at all; much more has he failed to show any reason why these happy accidents should happen at all points, in all periods. Yet this is what his theory of natural selection in fact demands; failing the occurrence of happy accidents, there would be no basis at all for selection; there would be no “fittest” to survive. The truth is, that Darwin simply accepted the fact without giving an explanation, and without even trying to explain it. And he could never have explained it except by admitting the existence of conscious spiritual forces, guiding the evolution of organisms along lines mapped out in advance. Had he been willing to accept the existence of these consciously guiding spiritual forces, he would have instantly found his hypothesis supported by the well observed and endlessly verified facts of moral and spiritual experience, thus making it something very much more than a working hypothesis—a well authenticated reality. Had he done this, the world would have been saved the tragedy of a materialistic theory of development, with the immense impulse towards materialism which has come from it.
The fundamental fact, then, of moral and spiritual experience is that the quality of personal consciousness inheres in the spiritual powers which we feel working and striving to draw us upward towards immortality; to such a degree that we have a sound basis for supposing that all the upward forces are conscious, spiritual, personal forces, even though they may be forms of personal consciousness which it is at present very difficult for us to conceive. But, when it comes to the forces which make for upward growth in our moral and spiritual life, our indications are dearer: we feel ourselves to be in the presence of conscious, personal beneficence, a benign personal consciousness which has a profound understanding, an even deeper compassion, for our human hearts, our human sorrows. Therefore, in addition to divine helpfulness, we are compelled by the continuing facts of our experience to credit these interposing spiritual powers with a depth of human sympathy which would be difficult to understand in, let us say, angels from some distant sphere, able to help, but hardly able to understand or compassionate our human sorrows.
In holding and putting forward such a view, we are thoroughly scientific, basing ourselves on sound experiment and proved experience. On the contrary, it is the materialistic biologist who perpetually closes his consciousness to this field of experience, refusing to make the experiments which establish it, or to recognize that others have made and are making them, who is thoroughly and incurably unscientific; and who, as we have seen, just because he follows this course, is led into endless perplexities and absurdities.
We shall try, later on, to establish by methodical evidence the reality of this fundamental law, that the beneficent powers are conscious, personal, full of a profound humanity. For the present, we shall use this generalization to illumine the opposite, the darker side of the same problem, suggesting that continued human experience has likewise shown that the forces of degeneration, the forces of evil, are also personal, conscious powers, consciously seeking and working evil.
The great experimental psychologists of the East, who find Consciousness to be the central fact of personal life, have at the same time found it difficult to conceive of an infinite number of personal consciousnesses, coming into being wholly independent of each other. They found that, as Consciousness is the central fact of personal life, so communion is the central fact of consciousness. We are conscious of each other’s consciousness, long before we reason about the question; and, indeed, for the most part, we do not reason about the fact at all, simply taking it for granted, and acting upon it in every relation of life. When we speak to each other, we are acting on the innate conviction that a kindred consciousness is there, ready to respond to our consciousness, and, in fact, responding to it.
Resting on this universal experience of communion, then, the great experimental psychologists of the East drew the conclusion that there must be a bridge of consciousness between the two seemingly separate consciousnesses; they must have their synthesis in a higher and deeper consciousness, which embraces them both. So, by ascending steps, they made their final generalization, naming the ultimate reality “the Supreme Consciousness of All Beings.” And their experience had already compelled them to assign to this last reality supreme beneficence, infinite goodness, ceaselessly desiring and working for our perfection.
We shall be fully justified in speaking of this benign Supreme Consciousness as the Personal God, if we are careful to assign to Him the essence of our personality, not its limitations and deflections; the pure quality of spiritual consciousness, not the perversions of our personal nature. For, in fact, as we meet and respond to the spiritual power which draws us upward, we do not find in that power these limitations and perversions; on the contrary, we find a perpetual challenge to ourselves, to overcome just these limitations and perversions, with active, effective aid to do it. With this clearly understood, the name, Personal God, is wholly justified.
Are we, then, led by a like chain of experience and inference to postulate an opposite to that God—a single “Personal Devil,” the Ahriman of our Ormazd? I think not, and for this reason: if we yield to the forces of evil, we find that they lead, not to a deeper unity, but away from unity; not to the merging of consciousness in compassion, but to separation of consciousness, in malice and hatred; not to deeper being, but to restriction of being. The logical conclusion of this is, not an evil cosmic unity, but dissolution, annihilation. The true opposite of the good God is not an evil God with equal power, but Nothingness, Void, total negation. And the element of personal consciousness, which we find by experience in the forces of evil, is, in its own colourless essence, not of evil, but of good. It leads us, not to a Personal Devil, but back to the same absolute Good, the beneficent Supreme Consciousness. In other words, that which is real even in the powers of evil, is of God and in God; only the unreal is of evil. We are, therefore led to think of an ultimate conquest of evil by Good; a final purification of evil, the fine divine essence being sifted from it and restored to the God to whom it belongs. This will lead us to some such thought as that of the “fallen angels;” powers, each of whom still possess a particle of the Divine Essence. It will lead us, further, to the thought of an ultimate purification, into which these particles of Divine Essence will be drawn, returning to the God who gave them; their withdrawal bringing about the final, irretrievable dissolution of these powers, their complete and eternal annihilation.
But we shall find that, while completely logical reasoning leads us away from the conception of a single Personal Devil, a bad God, even while we are compelled to accept the fact of personal consciousness in the powers of evil, yet many religions do, in fact, speak of a Personal Devil; many also teach or indicate that this Personal Devil is a “fallen angel,” a perverted divine power. We would seem to have a justification of this second idea in the logical conclusion we have already reached; while the thought of a Personal Devil may be simply a personification, a synthesis, of the powers of evil; or he may be, as in Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” simply the leader among a host of evil powers, one evil spirit among many, distinguished by greater energy, but in no sense an equal opposite of God. Milton, of course, is thoroughly imbued with the idea that these powers of evil are perverted powers of good; that the “ethereal essence” in them is of God. It is the perversion of their nature which is their own, and that perversion is doomed to ultimate annihilation.
In one of the great scriptures of Temptation, the Tempter is Yama, the Lord of Death. As it now stands, the “Katha Upanishad” does not in any way explain the character or history of Yama, but other Indian books tell us that Yama was a king, the king of one of the earlier human races who never tasted death; that, when the time came for death to enter the world, Yama, as king, elected to be the first to die, the first to meet this new, terrible experience; and that, after his heroic death, he became the ruler of the dead; just as in ancient Egypt, Osiris, after his sacrificial death, became the judge of the dead. Thus, though Yama “descended into Hell,” this was a voluntary descent, having elements of atonement; it was voluntary, like the descent of Christ into Hell, as taught in the Creed, this teaching being apparently based on the words “he went and preached unto the spirits in prison,” in the First Epistle of Saint Peter. But, while Yama is not the Devil, he is, in a very real sense, the Tempter.
His temptations are addressed to the youth, Nachiketas, whose history once more reminds us strongly of the Creed, though it is thousands of years older. For Nachiketas is the only son of a father, who offers him as a sacrifice; Nachiketas then descends into the house of Death, remains there for three days and, on the third day, rises again from the dead. There is the further analogy that the sacrifice of the only son is made only after the sacrifice of cattle had proved unavailing, thus strongly reminding us of the teaching of Paul, that the sacrifice of Jesus superseded the sacrifice of cattle in the temple.
This is one of the most striking likenesses between the religious teaching of East and West. We shall try to see, later on, how far it is based on experimental psychology, on spiritual experience.
Nachiketas, reaching the house of Death, after he has been sacrificed by his father, finds the dwelling empty. After he has waited three days, or, as the ancient text more graphically says, “three nights,” Death returns and, in order to make amends to Nachiketas for the slight he has received in waiting three days without a greeting, offers him three wishes.
Nachiketas immediately asks for the knowledge of immortality:
“This that they doubt about, O Death, what is in the great Beyond, tell me of that.”
Thereupon Death, as Tempter, seeks to draw Nachiketas away from the quest of immortality by offering him alluring gifts:
“Even by the gods of old it was doubted about this; not easily knowable, and subtle is this law. Choose, Nachiketas, another wish. . . . Choose sons and grand-sons of a hundred years, and much cattle, and elephants and gold and horses. . . . If thou thinkest this an equal wish, choose wealth and length of days. . . . Whatsoever desires are difficult in the mortal world, ask all desires according to thy will. These beauties, with their chariots and lutes-not such as these are to be won by men-be waited on by them, my gifts. Ask me not of death, Nachiketas.”
It is impossible not to be struck by the likeness of this to another great drama of temptation:
“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. . . .”
Nachiketas, resisting all the allurements of the Tempter, learns the secret of Death and enters immortality. Whereupon these words follow: “Rise ye up! Awake ye! and having obtained your wishes, understand them,” as though this scripture of the victory over the Tempter had been used as a ritual, addressed to a number of participants.
In the Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad, there is another scene of temptation. The father of Shvetaketu comes to the dwelling of King Pravahana, the son of Jivala, who offers him a wish. The father of Shvetaketu asks to be told the answers to certain questions which the king had earlier asked Shvetaketu, but which the youth had been unable to answer. The questions concerned immortality.
But Jivala, in the character of the Tempter, answers: “This is one of the wishes of the gods. Ask instead a wish of men.”
The father of Shvetaketu answers: “I know well; there is store of gold, of cattle and horses, of slave-girls and robes . . .” but refuses to accept anything but the “wish of the gods,” the knowledge of immortality.
The wording of this suggests that there was what one may call a sacramental formula of temptation and trial; a phrase which had become representative of all temptation, as has the phrase, “the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.”
It is notable that, in both these Upanishad stories, the Tempter afterwards becomes the instructor, the Initiator. And Yama is, further, the Lord of Death, a divine king who has descended into Hell, to perfect a work which has in it elements of vicarious atonement. The Atharva Veda says of Yama, “He died the first of men;” and he is elsewhere spoken of as a “Prajapati,” one of the “Lords of beings,” of whom Brahma is the first.
There is a close likeness here to another great drama of temptation, the Book of Job, which assigns a divine origin to the Tempter:
“Now, there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord answered unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, ‘Doth Job fear God for nought?’ . . . And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thy hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.”
Thus Satan, “the Accuser,” is counted among “the sons of God,” as Yama, “son of the Sun,” is counted among “the Lords of Beings;” and Satan tempts Job with the permission, almost under the direction of God.
After Job had triumphed over all his temptations, “the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before;” the numbers of his possessions and of his cattle were doubled. It is worth noting that, in the scriptures of India, the powers of perception and action are called “the cattle which graze in the pastures of life.” If a like symbol is used in the Book of Job, then, after the victory over his temptations, Job was divinely endowed with an enlarged scope of life, an added range of perceptive and active powers—the powers and perceptions of the spiritual man.
The same story of temptation is told of Prince Siddhartha, of the family of the Gotamas, who became “the Awakened,” the “Buddha,” and is therefore called Gautama Buddha, “the Awakened One, of the family of the Gotamas.”
The temptation of the future Buddha is related at great length, and with a wealth of Oriental imagery, in the Introduction to the Jataka, the Book of the Births of Buddha. It begins thus:
“Then the future Buddha turned his back to the trunk of the Bo-tree and faced the east. And making the mighty resolution, ‘Let my skin, and sinews, and bones become dry, and welcome! and let all the flesh and blood in my body dry up! but never from this seat will I stir, until I have attained the supreme and absolute wisdom!’ he sat himself down cross-legged in an unconquerable position, from which not even the descent of a hundred thunder-bolts at once could have dislodged him.
“At this point the god Mara, exclaiming, ‘Prince Siddhartha is desirous of passing beyond my control, but I will never allow it!’ went and announced the news to his army, and sounding the Mara war-cry, drew it out for battle . . . in that army, no two carried the same weapons; and diverse also in their appearance and countenance, the host swept on like a flood to overwhelm the Great Being (Prince Siddhartha).
“. . . He perceived Mara’s army coming on like a flood, and said, ‘Here is this multitude exerting all their strength and power against me alone. My mother and father are not here, nor my brother, nor any relative. But I have these Ten Perfections, like old retainers long cherished at my board. It therefore behooves me to make the Ten Perfections my shield and my sword, and to strike a blow with them that shall destroy this strong array.’ . . .
“Thereupon the god Mara caused a whirlwind, thinking, ‘By this will I drive away Siddhartha.’ . . . Yet when the winds reached the future Buddha, such was the energy of the Great Being’s merit, they lost all power and were not able to cause so much as a fluttering of the edge of his priestly robe.
“Then Mara caused a great rain-storm, saying, ‘With water will I overwhelm and drown him.’ . . . But on coming to the Great Being, this mighty inundation was not able to wet his priestly robes as much as a dew-drop would have done.
“Then Mara caused a shower of rocks, in which immense mountain-peaks flew smoking and flaming through the sky. But on reaching the future Buddha they became celestial bouquets of flowers. . . .
“Then Mara caused a shower of hot ashes, in which ashes that glowed like fire flew through the sky. But they fell at the future Buddha’s feet as sandal-wood powder. . . .
“Then Mara caused a shower of mud, in which mud flew smoking and flaming through the sky. But it fell at the future Buddha’s feet as celestial ointment.
“Then Mara caused a darkness, thinking, ‘By this will I frighten Siddhartha, and drive him away.’ And the darkness became fourfold, and very dense. But on reaching the future Buddha it disappeared like darkness before the light of the sun. . . .
“Mara . . . drew near the future Buddha, and said, ‘Siddhartha, arise from this seat! It does not belong to you, but to me.’
“When the Great Being heard this he said, ‘Mara, you have not fulfilled the Ten Perfections in any of their three grades; nor have you made the five great gifts (the gift of treasure, gift of child, the gift of wife, of royal rule, and last, the gift of life): nor have you striven for knowledge, nor for the welfare of the world, nor for enlightenment. This seat does not belong to you, but to me.’
“Unable to restrain his fury, the enraged Mara now hurled his discus. But the Great Being reflected on the Ten Perfections, and the discus changed into a canopy of flowers, and remained suspended over his head.
“Then the Great Being said, ‘Mara, who is witness to your having given donations?’
“Said Mara, ‘All these, as many as you see here, are my witnesses;’ and he stretched out his hand in the direction of his army. And instantly from Mara’s army came a roar, ‘I am his witness! I am his witness!’ . . .
“Then said Mara to the Great Being, ‘Siddhartha, who is witness to your having given donations?’
“’Your witnesses,’ replied the Great Being, ‘are animate beings, and I have no animate witnesses. . . .’ Drawing forth his right hand from beneath his priestly robe, he stretched it out towards the mighty earth, and said, ‘Are you witness to my having given a great donation?’ And the mighty earth thundered, ‘I bear you witness!’ . . . And the followers of Mara fled away in all directions. No two went the same way, but leaving their head-ornaments and their cloaks behind, they fled straight before them.
“Then the hosts of the gods, when they saw the army of Mara flee, cried out, ‘Mara is defeated! Prince Siddhartha has conquered! Let us go to celebrate the victory!’ And . . . they came with perfumes, garlands, and other offerings in their hands to the Great Being on the throne of wisdom. . . .
“It was before the sun had set that the Great Being thus vanquished the army of Mara. And then , while the Bo-tree in homage rained red coral-like sprigs upon his priestly robes, he acquired in the first watch of the night the knowledge of previous existences; in the middle watch of the night, the divine eye; and in the last watch of the night, his intellect fathomed dependent origination . . .”
It is impossible not to feel that this highly coloured narrative lacks the austere beauty and pathos of the Temptation in the Wilderness, with its ending, perfect in simplicity, “Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him;” but it is also impossible not to see that the story of Siddhartha has a beauty of its own, the beauty of high moral truth; it has comforted and inspired innumerable followers of the Buddha, and helped them to pass through their temptations.
But, with all their difference in treatment and colour, the two narratives evidently record like experiences; the parallelism between them is complete, from the long initial fast (in the case of Siddhartha, a fast of “seven weeks, or forty-nine days”), to the ministry of angels.
THE INFUSION OF DIVINE LIFE
In a very valuable study, “Evolution and the Need of Atonement,” the author, whose purpose is, to bring about a reconciliation between biological and spiritual knowledge, hits upon a striking and brilliant simile for the development of our spiritual life and consciousness:
“We may assume,” he says, “for the sake of argument, that some form of marine life was the most primitive. Now when a marine organism begins to adapt itself in the direction of a littoral life, we have obviously a succession of environmental changes so marked as to produce a very rapid adaptation, for even the smallest change will be markedly favorable or unfavorable. The change to a life at first between tide-marks, then wholly on shore, must introduce such a vast series of new factors that an incredibly huge number of experimental variations must occur; some useless, some committing to one line of advance, some to another. Again, equally obviously, organisms that had gone very far in adapting themselves to a particular line of development, could not go very far under the new conditions, for retrogression is impossible; the majority would fail completely, some few would get on in a lowly way, their equilibrium-position being reached in a comparatively short time and comprising relations with a comparatively small range of environmental conditions. An example of this may be found in the littoral and land crustacea. The creatures that succeeded best would be those who had adapted themselves completely to the simpler conditions of the sea, yet had not committed themselves by over-specialization, but were ready to respond to the new stimuli of the shore and the land. And in just the same way the land organisms which early reached their equilibrium-position—i.e., the position involving approximately complete adaptation to a small number of conditions—would again be incapable of what we call ‘progress’ into a higher and more complex development. Thus we see that the organism which becomes ‘highest’ is that which never reaches a stable position, but is always ready to respond to the fresh higher environment conditioned by its last progressive variation.”
The passage is very carefully written, in order that it may be a quite exact description of biological law, so far as that law is known. But the real purpose of the author goes much farther: He is supplying, from biology, an illustration of the operation of spiritual law; the operation of spiritual law at the critical stage when we are passing, or seeking to pass, from material to spiritual life. The author depicts one of the great critical periods in biological evolution, when the beings which had hitherto been living in water were beginning a new chapter in life, emerging from the water and establishing themselves on land, or, as it would, perhaps, be truer to say, establishing themselves in the lower strata of the air. They will henceforth dwell surrounded by the element air, instead of the element water; and success will mean complete adaptation to this finer medium. It is really a new birth; a death to water-life and a new birth into air-life. Therefore it is a real and natural analogy with the spiritual rebirth, which is the passage from a grosser to a finer medium, or, if one prefer the expression, the passage from a lower to a higher plane. And just because the author is at great pains to make his biological description as exact as possible, it will pay to study and ponder over every sentence. It is a genuine parable, following the example of the Western Master, who bases so much of his spiritual teaching on simple biological analogies.
Before we consider this analogy, it is worth while to turn aside for a moment, to quote a grim passage in which the author raises and answers the question: What is the fate of an organism which, having emerged into the air, elects to return again to life in the water?
“What can we say, then, of a land-organism which once more betakes itself to the sea? Let us take for example the whale. It can never return to true gills and fins of the same nature as, or as zoologists would say, homologous with, those of a fish. At best it can but develop similar or analogous organs, and it will be so far behind the fish in adaptation to marine conditions that its efforts may be regarded as hopeless: it has tried to turn back, failed, and is eventually added to nature’s flotsam and jetsam, being incapable of further progress.”
Or, as the Bhagavad Gita says, it “has lost both worlds.”
Returning to our first quotation, describing the development which does not fail, but succeeds, let us try to add to it certain considerations which we reached in preceding chapters. In the first place, it is quite evident that the emergence from water-life to air-life would be absolutely impossible unless the air were already there, with its element of oxygen, giving the possibility of life. In the same way, it would be entirely impossible for us to emerge from material life to spiritual life, unless the spiritual world were already there, pervaded everywhere by spiritual, life-giving force, as oxygen everywhere pervades the nitrogen and other inert elements of the air. It is interesting to recall that the earlier name of nitrogen was “azote,”—that which cannot support life, as contrasted with oxygen, which can and does support life. Therefore our whole possibility of emergence into spiritual life, our possibility of establishing ourselves on the spiritual plane, depends on the pre-existence of spiritual life, everywhere present in the spiritual world, pervading the spiritual plane.
On the other hand, the presence, even from the beginning, of the oxygen-containing air was not enough, in itself, to cause the emergence of living things from the water. Air and water—like the spiritual and material planes—might have continued in contact for ever, without bringing about the great transformation, the new birth from above. The perpetual presence and readiness of the air, of the spiritual world, was not enough. There was needed the impulse in the water-dwelling beings, to come forth, first to the borderland between low and high tide, and then into the clear air.
Orthodox biology simply records the fact of this emergence, but does not seek to explain it. Darwin practically considered this tremendous step in evolution, like all steps in evolution, as a “happy accident.” But we have seen already, first, that this infinite multiplication of “happy accidents” is more miraculous than miracles; and, second, that our conscious experience in evolution, in spiritual life, gives us excellent ground for holding that, just as our spiritual evolution is invariably accompanied by the sense of guidance and help by conscious, responsive spiritual forces (manifestations of a personal spiritual consciousness and force), so we are justified in believing that the earlier stages of our evolution, from the very earliest, must have been guided by conscious, consciously acting spiritual forces, though we may not be able to form any clear idea of their character. So we have ground for believing that the emergence from water-life to air-life must have been the result of two things: first, the impulse of growth, the “vital drive,” in the living things themselves; and, second, the instigation, guidance and supervision of their emergence by conscious spiritual forces, lending, at that point, the same aid which we have such full experience of, at a later point.
But there is a third condition of success, a condition absolutely indispensable, without which failure is quite certain, even though all other conditions of success are abundantly present. This essential condition is eternal effort, eternally renewed. There could be no more fatal mistake than to think that a stage of spiritual life will be reached, comparatively early, perhaps, at which effort will not be needed; in which we shall be able to rest in inactivity. We shall find rest it is true, but it will be the rest of perpetual effort in complete harmony with spiritual law; the element of rest lies in that harmony, and by no means in cessation of effort. On the contrary, at each advance, the effort required will be greater, more diversified, just as the effort of a man is infinitely greater and more diversified than the effort of a sea-anemone. Of course, to compensate, the man has infinitely more power to make effort than the sea-anemone. So each spiritual advance, far from bringing “rest,” brings the imperative necessity for greater and ever greater effort; but, in compensation, it brings also greater and ever greater strength, greater power of effort. Popular religion, as expressed, for example, in the inscriptions upon tombstones, seems to promise that with death comes rest: “Let him rest in peace.” But, while there is rest from one kind of effort, it would seem to be certain that there is a new effort of another kind, since this is a universe of perpetual motion. But popular religion has at least this safeguard: It teaches, with entire definiteness, that effort must continue, because imminent danger continues, up to the very moment of death; so far, it appears to teach the literal truth.
We shall be well advised, therefore, at the very outset, clearly to realize, and courageously to face the fact that we shall reach no condition of rest which will mean surcease of effort; but, on the contrary, that without incessant, unbroken, unflagging effort, we can make no progress at all; nay, each step gained will mean more and greater effort. For such is the Law of Life universal.
Let us, for a moment, look at this inflexible law from the other side. There is, as we have seen, the imperative necessity of continuous effort, never ceasing but perpetually increasing. Yes; but does not that mean that we are inherently capable of just that kind of effort; of effort which shall perpetually increase, both in quality and in quantity? The power to make effort is, then, in a sense, the divinest power we have, and we have it perpetually; further, effort invariably carries compound interest; each effort made adds definitely and measurably to our capital of power, our ability to make further effort.
Let us go back for a moment, and see how our biologist has expressed this law of perpetual and perpetually increasing effort. He expresses it thus: “Thus we see that the organism which becomes ‘highest’ is that which never reaches a stable position, but is always ready to respond to the fresh higher environment conditioned by its last progressive variation;” always ready to respond by effort, as each step is gained.
It would be interesting and fruitful to examine the way in which this law of continuous and continuously increasing effort works out in the field of biology, and especially in the passage across that borderland between water-life and air-life, our symbol of the spiritual rebirth. But, for the present, we must be content to remind ourselves that in the biological field the rule is, that each individual must work each day to secure, often with great difficulty and effort, the food for that day. Creatures which lay up stores, like the bees, the squirrels, the jays, are a very small minority. The rest must literally work out the prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” And every creature has its enemies, which ceaselessly beset it, so that every bird, for example, is perpetually toiling, perpetually vigilant—and perpetually rejoicing. We should learn all three lessons and apply them all.
We shall try to see, later in this enquiry, how, according to recorded experience and experimental knowledge, this law of ceaseless and increasing effort works out in the spiritual world. For the present, however, we shall consider another side of the problem.
Three conditions, as we saw, are involved in this transformation from the material to the spiritual plane, or in its biological analogy. These are, first, the pre-existence of the higher plane or world, pervaded by the powers which support life; second, the inherent drive in the organism, expressing itself in the power of ceaseless effort; and, third, the guiding and fostering power of the conscious spiritual forces which, if our view be true, inspire and oversee both transformations.
If it be true that, as we are making our way from material life to spiritual life, we are, in fact, guided, guarded, helped, ceaselessly inspired by spiritual powers which respond by personal consciousness to our personal consciousness, in what way do those who have immediate experience of this process describe it? What is the direct testimony of experimental psychology, in both East and West, concerning this vitally important experience?
There is a beautiful passage in the Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad which describes, not so much the actual passage to the spiritual world, as the spiritual condition of those who have made the passage and are already at home there, freely breathing that finer air; they have largely received, and perfectly responded to, the infusion of Divine Power from above, and have become one with the very essence of that Divine Power. The Divine Life has become their life. It is of high interest and true significance that, just as Spirit means “breath,” the divine Breath of Life, so the sanskrit Atma means breath, and, pre-eminently the Divine Breath, the Holy Spirit. In the passage to be quoted, the word Atma is translated Soul:
“Thus far of him who is under desire. Now as to him who is free from desire, who is beyond desire, for whom the Soul is his desire. From him the life-powers do not depart. Growing one with the Eternal, he enters into the Eternal.
“When all desires that were hid in the heart are let go, the mortal becomes immortal, and reaches the Eternal.
“And like as the slough of a snake lies lifeless, cast forth upon an ant-hill, so lies his body, when the Spirit of man rises up bodiless and immortal, as the Life, as the Eternal, as the Radiance.
“The small old path that stretches far away, has been found and followed by me. By it go the Seers who know the Eternal, rising up from this world to the heavenly world.
“Who knows the Soul, and sees himself as the Soul, what should he long for, or desiring what should he fret for the fever of life?
“By whom the awakened Soul is known while he dwells in the wilderness of the world, he is creator of all and maker of all; his is the world, for he is the world.
“Even here in the world have we reached wisdom; without wisdom, great were thy loss. They who are illumined, become immortal. Others enter into sorrow.
“When a man gains a vision of the godlike Soul, the Lord of what has been and what shall be, he fears no more.
“At whose feet rolls the circling year with all its days, Him the gods worship as the one, the light of lights, the immortal Life.
“In whom the five hierarchies of beings and the ether are set firm, him I know to be the Soul. And knowing that deathless Eternal, I too am immortal.
“They who know the life of life, eye of the eye, the ear’s ear, heart of the heart, have found that eternal Ancient, the Most High.
“This is to be understood by the heart: there is no separateness at all. He goes from death to death who beholds separateness.
“This immeasurable and unchanging Being is to be beheld as the One. The stainless Soul is higher than the heavens, mighty and sure.
“Let the sage, the follower of the Eternal, knowing this, strive to behold it in vision. Let him not meditate on many words, for words are weariness.
“This is the mighty Soul unborn, who is Consciousness among the life-powers. This is the heaven in the heart within, where rests the ruler of all, the master of all, the lord of all. He grows not greater through good works, nor less through evil. He is lord of all, overlord of beings, shepherd of all beings. He is the bridge that holds the worlds apart, lest they should flow together. This is he whom the followers of the Eternal seek to know through their scriptures, sacrifices, gifts and penances, through ceasing from evil towards others. He who knows this becomes a sage. This is the goal in search of which pilgrims go forth on pilgrimages.
“Knowing Him, the men of old desired not offspring. What should we do with offspring, they said, since ours is the Soul, the All? They became saints, ceasing from desire of offspring, the desire of the world, the desire of wealth. For the desire of offspring is a desire for wealth, and the desire for wealth is a desire for the world. For these both are desires. But the Soul is not that, not that. It is incomprehensible, for it cannot be comprehended; it is imperishable, for it passes not away; nought adheres to it, for it is free; the Soul is not bound, fears not, suffers not.
“He who knows is therefore full of peace, lord of himself; he has ceased from false gods, he is full of endurance, he intends his will. In his soul he beholds the Soul. He beholds all things in the Soul. Nor does evil reach him; he passes evil. He is free from evil, free from stain, free from doubt, a knower of the Eternal.”
In this beautiful passage, there are the following elements: The knowing of the divine power the heaven of the heart; the recognition, in this divine power, of the quality of consciousness, the personal quality expressed by the words, the Lord, the Shepherd, the Master; the transfer of the life, through this infusion of the Divine Life, from this world to the heavenly world; the glory of that immortal life in the Eternal.
Let us compare with this, certain passages from Western spiritual experience, which describe not so much the consummation as the process of the infusion of the Divine Life, or, as it is called “the presence of God” in the heart. The best passages are, perhaps, those which describe the spiritual experience of Saint Teresa who, to a pure, courageous and rejoicing heart, added a clear, well-balanced understanding and a gift of eloquent expression.
“I used to have,” Saint Teresa writes, “at times, as I have said, though it used to pass quickly away,—certain commencements of that which I am now going to describe . . . and sometimes even when I was reading,—a feeling of the presence of God would come over me unexpectedly, so that I could in no wise doubt, either that He was within me, or that I was wholly absorbed in Him. For the soul is already ascending out of its wretched state, and some little knowledge of the blissfulness of glory is communicated to it.”
Again Saint Teresa writes:
“So, in the beginning, when I attained to some degree of supernatural prayer—I speak of the prayer of quiet—I labored to remove from myself every thought of bodily objects. . . . I thought, however, that I had a sense of the presence of God . . .” “It is the settling of a soul in peace, or rather Our Lord, to speak more properly, puts it into peace, by His Presence, as He did just Simeon: for all the faculties are calmed. The soul understands after a manner far different from understanding by the exterior senses, that she is now joined nearer to her God, for that within a very little while more she will attain to the being made one with Him by union. . . . Those who are in the prayer of quiet are so near, that they perceive they are understood by signs. They are in the palace, close by their King, and see that He already begins here to bestow on them His Kingdom . . .” “There is raised in the interior of the soul so great a suavity that makes her perceive very plainly that Our Lord is very near to her. I call it the prayer of quiet, for the repose it causeth in all the powers: so that the person seems to possess God as he most desires . . . though the soul perfectly sees not the Master that teaches us, yet plainly understands He is with her.”
Many of those whom the West rightly calls saints, because they have experienced and borne witness to this infusion of the Divine Life, have put on record exactly the same sense of the presence of God in their hearts. A beautiful expression of this experience is that of the great French teacher of mystical theology and religious discipline, Father Louis Lallemant:
“When, after a long cultivation of purity of heart, God would enter into a soul and manifest Himself to it openly by the gift of His holy presence . . . the soul finds itself so delighted with its new state, that it feels as if it had never known or loved God before.”
And elsewhere in the same treatise on Spiritual Doctrine, Father Lallemant writes very wisely of the renunciation of the world, the mortification of worldly desires, on which such stress was laid in the Upanishad we have quoted. Father Lallemant says:
“The reason why we are so little illuminated by the lights of the Holy Spirit, and so little guided by the motions of His gifts, is that our soul is sensual beyond measure, and full of a multitude of earthly thoughts, desires, and affections, which extinguish within us the Spirit of God. Few give themselves wholly to God, and abandon themselves to the leadings of the Holy Spirit, so that He alone may live in them and be the principle of all their actions.”
In the Katha Upanishad, we have exactly the same teaching concerning “the desires that dwell in the heart:”
“The great Beyond gleams not for the child, led away by the delusion of possessions. ‘This is the world, there is no other,’ he thinks and so falls again and again under the dominion of Death.”
It is because of these desires dwelling in the heart, these many attachments to the familiar, long-inhabited world, that the beginning of the way is so difficult, so full, not so much of suffering, as of the dread of suffering. For this reason, so many shrink from the attempt; as, in our opening parable, we may imagine that the water-dwellers clung desperately to their familiar world, dreading and shrinking from emergence into the new world of air and sunlight. Some refused even to try; some, who tried, turned back, but never found again what they had lost.
This trial of the beginning of the way, a trial destined to be overcome, and to dissolve in splendor, has been described with striking likeness in the East and the West. Thus we find Father Louis Lallemant writing:
“At first, divine things are insipid, and it is with difficulty we can relish them, but in the course of time they become sweet, and so full of delicious flavor, that we taste them with pleasure, even to the extent of feeling nothing but disgust for everything else. On the other hand, the things of earth, which flatter the senses, are at first pleasant and delicious, but in the end we find only bitterness in them.”
So we find the Bhagavad Gita teaching:
“That which at the beginning is as poison, but in the outcome is like nectar, that is the happiness of Goodness, springing from clear vision of the Soul. But the happiness which springs from the union of the senses with the objects of desire, in the beginning like nectar, but in the outcome like poison, that is declared to be the happiness of Passion.”
It would not be easy to cite two passages which more clearly prove the identity of spiritual experience, which forms the basis of the real psychology, the “soul-science,” in the East and the West.
SALVATION THROUGH LOVE
We have taken as a simile of the work of Salvation the period when, as is supposed, a multitude of living beings, that had hitherto dwelt in the water, came forth, in virtue of a tremendous concerted effort, an extraordinarily forceful response to the powers of Evolution, and, passing through the neutral zone between low tide and high tide, finally established themselves as dwellers in the air, in the sunlight. And we have seen that our problem is exactly like that; it is a question of raising ourselves, of co-operating with the powers that are striving to raise us, from this world of our material desires to the spiritual world, where we are to establish ourselves, dwellers in a finer air, in a sunlight that shall be everlasting. That finer world is there already; we do not need to create it, any more than our supposed aqueous ancestors needed to create the open world under the blue dome of the sky; and, not only is it there, but strong spiritual forces, already established there, are ceaselessly urging and aiding us to emigrate thither, just as the older forces urged and aided the water-dwellers to come forth into the light. And, as we have seen, the unanimous testimony of the world is, that these forces invariably meet us with the touch of consciousness, of personality, of enlightened and solicitous love.
The practical question then arises—and it is the only really practical question in the world: How are we to respond to these upraising spiritual powers? How are we to gain a hold upon them, in order that we may effectively pull ourselves up? By what part of our being are we to take hold? Or, since it is absolutely certain that the effective part of the lifting must be done by these spiritual forces, how are we to arouse and urge ourselves to co-operate with them, to such a degree as will make their task possible?
We shall find many answers; but, on looking closer, we shall find that they are all but variants of the one answer. They vary, because our temperaments and moods vary, and one answer will appeal to one temperament, while another answer will apply to another. But we shall find that what is actually accomplished, is identical in all cases: it is, to arouse and enkindle in us that divine power which springs from the very unity of all Life, from the oneness of the Universe itself; that power which draws together, draws toward that unity, all the temporarily scattered fragments of divine Life, so that they may once more enter into unity. It is said that love is strong as death; but this divine Love is infinitely stronger than death, since death is but an accident of Time, while Love is an expression of that divine oneness which is the very essence of Eternity.
As these practical methods came to take form in the East, they grouped themselves into three “ways,” with a fourth “way” which synthesized them, and brought the essence of them all together into a single “ambrosia,” a single quality of “living water.”
The first of these three “ways,” as they are enumerated, is the Way of Works; that is, salvation through the perfect performance of all the Works of the Law, which include not only all the steps and details of the ritual of worship, but also the whole of the moral and social law, every part of which was made to flow out of, and depend on, the ritual of worship. Thus the whole life, and every detail of life, was made to depend on the spirit of religion; every act of life became an act of worship, so that all life, from before birth to the hour of death, and after death, was turned into worship. The ideal purpose was, in this way to make every act of life a conscious part of the operation of the infinite divine Life; to link every act of man with the larger acts of God, and, in this way, through infinitely multiplied efforts and exertions of the will, to develop and train that will at all points into active and energetic co-operation with the will of God. In this way, precisely that vigorous co-operation would be brought about, whereby we should help the divine powers to help us to rise to the spiritual world, to enter into the Life immortal.
This Way of Works, this doctrine of Salvation by Works, is, it seems, the essence of the Vedic hymns and ceremonies, which one may call the Old Testament of India. It is also, though in a less luminous form, the essence of the Old Testament of the Jews. And in both, the form gradually overwhelmed the spirit; the Works of the Law were gradually crystallized and darkened, until they became, not inspiring forces of Life, but “burdens grievous to be borne.” The cause of this degeneration was the gradual and insidious infusion of egotism.
How was this corroding egotism to be conquered? The answer, in India, was: by illumination, by light, by the Way of Wisdom. The corroding force of egotism rested on a delusion. To go back to our simile, the beings which were emerging from the water had undertaken a series of efforts and exercises to urge them forward, to fit them to dwell in air and sunshine. But, their whole natures still saturated with the habits and tendencies of sub-aqueous life, they had gradually and by subtle degrees perverted these exercises, until they simply reinforced their water-life, instead of raising them to air-life. What was necessary, then, was to break up that whole mood of pre-occupation with the old water-life, and to replace it by a firmly held vision of the coming air-life in the sunshine. It was necessary completely to displace the sense of the self of water-life, to replace it by a clear and inspiring vision of the new self of air-life, the self that should dwell in the sunshine. So the Way of Wisdom, of Illumination, was added to the Way of Works; the Way of Illumination, whose main purpose is, to enkindle a vision of the higher Self, a vision that shall have such driving power as will raise the whole life-force to that higher Self, or, to put the matter truly, a vision that shall make it possible for the solicitously waiting spiritual Powers to carry out the great transformation. This is the message of the Upanishads, of the Vedanta, which is, if one wishes so to call it, the New Testament of India. The Indian Way of Wisdom corresponds very closely to the Way of Faith, which Saint Paul so sharply opposed to the Works of the Law, whereby, he said, “can no living man be justified.”
Another method, another “way,” was developed in India, which one may call the Way of Yoga, the way of union with the Divine, through the development of mystical powers. But it is not really a different “way,” it is simply a different presentation of the one everlasting Way. For, as we saw that the Way of Works, in its purity, means simply the blending of man’s will, at every point and in every least or greatest act, with God’s will, to the end that man may be blended with God; so the Way of Wisdom is an enkindling and illumination of man’s consciousness, until, at point after point, it shall become one with God’s consciousness, man thereby once again being blended with God; and the Way of Yoga is in no way different; it is a transformation of all our present powers into their divine counterparts and originals, whereby, exercising the powers of God, man is thereby blended with God. So all “ways” lead to God.
But, just as, in the Way of Works, a subtle infusion of egotism gradually perverted and corroded and, we may say, fossilized the whole series of efforts and exercises, producing, in its last degeneration, a furious Phariseeism; so, corrupted by the same egotism—the love of the old self—the Way of Wisdom was perverted by vanity and conceit, into a sense, not of the splendid vision of God, but of the superiority of one’s own illumination, with a patronizing or a haughty contempt for the blindness and ignorance of others; and so, in like manner, the Way of Yoga, the way of mystical powers, tended to become a way of self-admiring mountebanks, of “Yogis of the market-place,” as they are called in India; the whole assemblage of self-advertising prophets of the psychic world. For it is an inevitable law that this infusion of egotism corrupts the growth of spiritual powers and turns them into psychic counterfeits.
So the practical question arises: Is there any way in which this many-sided degeneration can be hindered? Can we find some new way of expressing the powers of Life, which shall fight directly against the force of egotism, a prophylactic against the degeneration which egotism invariably causes?
The answer, as India found it, is given in a quaint, old-world tale, concerning Narada, (the Son of Brahma the Creator), and that mysterious personage, Vyasa, who, it is said, collected the Vedic hymns and set in order the great poem of the Mahabharata, in which the Bhagavad Gita is enshrined. Narada, says the tale, going forth on his divine way, visited Vyasa, the mighty Seer and Sage, who was dwelling in his mountain hermitage, the Ashrama, or holy retreat, of Badarika. With due rites, Vyasa welcomed him, bade him be seated, and asked him this:
“O thou Prophet of the Mighty! The soul of man seeks to escape from the grasp of allurement and pain, and craves deliverance from the bondage of this world. But the Karma Marga, the Way of Works, does not lead directly to the goal. The Way of Wisdom, Jnana Marga, truly does. Nevertheless, without the leaven of devoted Love, Wisdom accomplishes but little indeed. Devoted Love is the only true way of salvation! Therefore I humbly pray Thee to teach me the doctrine of devoted Love, the Bhakti Marga!”
The divine Narada, looking into Vyasa’s heart, replied:
“Great Sage and Seer! Thou hast come down to earth for the redemption of mankind. Thy present question is inspired by that desire alone. Through thy disciple Jaimini, in the Book of Vedic Rites, thou hast discoursed on the Karma Marga, the Way of Works; and in the Vedanta, thou has thyself completed the inquiry into the Way of Wisdom. And now thou askest of devoted Love. Therefore I shall declare devoted Love to thee.”
And so Narada sets forth “that Love, which is inspired by the enthusiasm of selfless devotion to the Master, the Lord.” One version of Narada’s teaching is found in the little tract, called the Bhakti Sutras of Narada, which follows this essay, and from which we may, in anticipation, quote a passage or two:
“This way of devoted Love (Bhakti) is higher than the way of ritual Works (Karma), higher than the way of Wisdom (Jnana), higher than the way of mystic Powers (Yoga). For, while ritual works, and wisdom, and the search for mystical powers have each a further goal, devoted Love is its own reward. And devoted Love is better than these, because the Lord hates the proud, and loves the lowly and the humble.
“But some say that wisdom is the cause and source of devoted Love, while others say that devoted Love and wisdom depend upon each other. But Narada says that devoted Love is the source and fruit of devoted Love.
“So it is in the King’s house: there are those who serve the King as his Ministers, or for the sake of reward; there are those who love the King for Love’s sake. And those who serve the King for the sake of a reward, neither bring to the King delight, nor to themselves assuagement of their hunger for reward. Therefore let those who seek for salvation firmly choose the way of devoted Love.”
So far Narada, Son of Brahma. By one of those happy coincidences which wait on spiritual reading, immediately after transcribing these words of the divine Kumara, we came upon the following passage:
“The Lord being Greatness itself, he that succeeds in pleasing Him, possesses true nobility, and enjoys the most enviable favor in this life. How greatly do not worldlings feel themselves honored, when they draw upon themselves some mark of attention, some sign of good will from a monarch, from some great personage! A soul in the state of grace should esteem far more the happiness of pleasing God. We can do so with a pure intention, and this is what we should wish most of all and should look upon here below as an inestimable treasure. And, in fact, our most ordinary actions being thereby consecrated to the service of God’s infinite Majesty, become acts of divine love, and deserve for us eternal rewards. How important, therefore, is it not, to offer to the Lord not only our meditations, our spiritual exercises, but also our work, our leisure time, our conversations, our sleep, our meals?”
Is it not clear that we have between these two passages not so much a close resemblance as an identity, not only in the spirit of the teaching, but even in the details and similes? Yet I think that neither is the Belgian Redemptorist Father Bronchain under obligations to Narada the Kumura, nor is Narada the Kumura under obligations to Father Bronchain. But both are under obligations to the eternal Spirit of Love.
There is a very vital side of the Indian doctrine of devoted Love, which we may introduce in this way: Father Bronchain elsewhere writes:
“When the Saviour appeared on earth, charity was practically extinct, but He spread it throughout the world as much by His example as by His doctrine. His love for us not only induced Him to come down from heaven to perform a mission of clemency and forgiveness in our regard, but, during His whole life, He preached to us by His conduct the kindness and benevolence we should show our fellow-men. How tenderly did He not love His Disciples! He treated them patiently, forgiving their faults, instructing them patiently, putting up with their ignorance and defects, going even at night, relates Pope St. Clement, to visit them asleep and carefully cover them to secure them against the cold and the inclemencies of the weather . . .”
We have found that Works without devoted Love, Wisdom without devoted Love, the search after mystical powers without devoted Love, are all faulty and destined to fail. How is devoted Love to be enkindled? How is the revelation of divine Love to be made in such a way that it will cause our hearts to take fire and burn with the same divine flame? The answer, in East and West, is the same: by a divine Incarnation, an Incarnation in human form, of that very principle of divine Love, the Love of the Eternal; the Power, that is, which rests upon the everlasting Unity; the Power which, kindled in our hearts, will draw them into unity with their source, so that all shall be “united in the One.”
This doctrine of the divine Incarnation, the Avatar doctrine, is the very heart of the Bhakti Marga, the Way of devoted Love, as it is understood in India. Many of its aspects are so full of wisdom and inspiration that it will be well to set it forth at some length, so that a broad comparison with the same teaching in the West may be possible.
The One Eternal (Parabrahma), says the Indian teaching, should be viewed in three Aspects: the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Transformer (Shiva). It is the Second Aspect, the Preserver, who is manifested in divine Incarnation, the Avatar. Or, to give the same teaching in its Western form, as phrased by Father Louis Lallemant in his Spiritual Dostrine:
“From the three preceding properties of the Son we may conclude that it was He who was to become incarnate, and not the other two Persons of the Holy Trinity.
“God was pleased to be made man that He might make men children of God. It was the Son, therefore, who was to take human nature, in order to associate it with His own divine Sonship, and make it partaker in His heritage.
“God was pleased to be made man that He might give to men in a Man-God a visible model of a holy and divine life. It was the Second Person, therefore, who was to clothe Himself with a human body, in order to serve as a model of perfection to men, since it is this Person who is properly the image of God the Father.
“God was pleased to be made man that He might teach men the truths of salvation. It was to the Logos, therefore, that is to say, the Word of God, that it belonged to come into the world to teach mankind . . .”
There are certain sides of the Eastern doctrine of the divine Incarnation, the Avatar doctrine, which are admirably set forth in the treatises on Bhakti Marga, the Way of Devoted Love; and these teachings have been brought together by George A. Grierson, in a translation of the Bhakti-rasa-bodhini of Priya-dasa, which he has enriched with a lucid commentary, largely drawn from works on the Bhakti Marga. From this valuable essay, I shall draw details concerning the Avatar doctrine, without making specific references.
Each Avatar, says Priya-dasa, is a boundless sea of bliss, and each semblance, or form, in its whole expansion, was taken only for the salvation of souls. When the thoughts of a believer are steeped in any one of these forms, so great a devotion awakens in his heart, that it has no limit. Each incarnation, or Avatar, is co-existent and co-eternal, and meditation upon them, even in this Kali Yuga, or Age of the Devil, illumines the whole inner being. Nay, he who knows their essence is full of joy, like a mendicant who has found a priceless treasure.
The eternal existence of an Avatar is a vital point in this doctrine. It is taught that, when an Avatar has carried out his work and fulfilled his mission, he is not again absorbed into the Bhagavat, the Logos, but retains personal existence forever. Thus Rama-chandra, though he has long left this earth, is still Rama-chandra in Heaven, looking down upon his people, guiding them and keeping them from harm and sin.
It is taught, too, that, in past world-epochs, the incarnating Preserver, Bhagavat, took many humble forms. This was to show that in the sight of the Lord, all men are equal; the Lord regards not caste or tribe. “The keynote of the Bhagavata system of belief is that Bhagavat or the Adorable, Himself descends (avatarati) to this earth for special reasons, such as: to create the universe, to help the Faithful, to relieve the world from sin, or to spread the true religion. On this all the rest of the theosophy depends.” (Grierson.)
The Deity, besides the usual personal names, Bhagavat and so forth, is, as such, known as Para or Parat-para, the Supreme. He is a pure Spirit, and it is “at His feet,” (that is, in His presence) that the soul abides, immortal and eternal, in perfect bliss, and with a personal identity, when it has been released through bhakti, or devoted Love, from the weary round of reincarnation.
The Supreme is pure Spirit. Therefore a necessity is felt for connecting links between the spiritual and the material. These links are supplied by a series of graduated phases of conditioned Spirit (Vyuhas). The Bhagavat, as Avatar, first takes conditioned personality, and in that phase is called Vasudeva, (that is, the Manifested Logos). From Vasudeva proceed Prakriti, or indiscrete Primal Matter, and a secondary phase of conditioned Spirit; from these two proceed cosmic Manas or Mahat, and the power called Pradyumna or Mighty, who is identified with Sanat-kumara; from Manas and Pradyumna proceed Self-consciousness and the power called Unrestrained, who is called “the son of Kama”; from these proceed the Great Elements.
This series, besides giving an account of the emanations from Spirit to Matter, further outlines the complex nature of the Avatar, exactly corresponding to the teaching concerning the Western Avatar: that He at once possessed Deity, a divine soul, a human soul and a human body. He existed, and exists, on each plane, in a form belonging to that plane.
But, besides a plenary Incarnation (Purna-avatara) of the Preserver or Bhagavat (Logos), such as that of Rama and Krishna, there are Incarnations of a part only, such as the Matsya Avatar; of a digit only (a digit being that part of the growing moon which is each day illuminated), like the Divine Swan Avatar, or the teacher, Kapila; there are, further, Avatars, Incarnations, of a single Power of the Logos, or of some purpose (karya) of the Logos; or there are overshadowings, such as was Vyasa. Then there are Avatars of governance, like that of Narada or Manu, the purpose of which is, to manifest the power and love of the Bhagavat (Logos), and to spread the true teaching.
Finally, the power called Antaryamin, the “inner constrainer in the heart,” is an Avatar of the Supreme; he is God, dwelling in the soul of every animate creature. This is exactly the teaching of the fourth Gospel concerning the Logos as “the True Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
But the word Avatar is sometimes given a much wider sense. Thus, it is said that the whole Manvantara, or period of cosmic Manifestation is an Avatar; that Sacrifice is an Avatar: “The Adorable Bhagavat, the Sacrificial Man, in the sacrifice inaugurated by Brahma, of golden complexion, full of Vedic inspiration, full of sacrifices, the Atma of the deities, from the breath of whose nostrils the Vedas were created.” The twin teachers of Narada, Nara-Narayana, who are the sons of Dharma and Ahinsa (that is, of Righteousness and Innocence), and who are famed for their passionless austerities, are held to be an Avatar. The same is taught of the mysterious Datta, whose name signifies “I have given myself to thee,” the very essence of the Avatar’s sacrifice.
Then there are the four (or seven) Kumaras, of whom it is said: “Owing to the offerings of Brahma’s austerities (Sana meaning “offering”), for the creation of the different worlds, the Adorable Bhagavat (Logos) became the four Sanas, (Sanaka, Sananda, Santana, Sanat-Kumara), the types of perpetual youth and innocence. Becoming thus incarnate, He fully recited, in this present age, the truth concerning Atma, which had been destroyed at the dissolution of the preceding Aeon—a truth which the Saints (Munis), when they heard it, recognized within themselves.” Everyone, therefore, while preaching the true faith, is, to that extent, an Avatar.
But the primal purpose of an Avatar, a divine Incarnation, is, to manifest the Deity in a form that will enkindle devoted Love, thereby imparting to the soul the divine fire of immortality. There are progressive stages in this growing Love, which are thus divided by the Indian teachers:
First comes acceptance; or, as it may be, in our experience, resignation, which may be accompanied by fear, by thoughts of sorrow, by a heart-broken turning from all earthly things. This acceptance, which is somewhat like the feeling of the ship-wrecked mariner, cast up almost lifeless on the beach, who hardly does more than accept the fact that he is still alive, and which is the transition line of conversion, gradually grows to obedience, the “obedience of the slave,” as the Indian teaching calls it. From this gradually develops the love of the friend and companion. From this comes tender devotion. And tender devotion finally flames forth in passionate Love.
How is this path of growing Love to be entered? There are two classes of driving powers or “excitants”: the essential, and the supporting or enhancing; and these are applied systematically to the five stages of growing Love that we have outlined, as follows:
The essential excitant of the first stage, Resignation or Acceptance, is the recognition of the Adorable Bhagavat, or His Incarnation; an excitant, relatively less perfect, is the knowledge of the divine Powers, like Brahma or Shiva, or of Saints who have practised resignation; while the enhancing excitant is study of the Upanishads. There will result a “flavor” of the mind and heart which is called “resigned,” and there will ensue concentration of mind, unselfishness and freedom from passion.
Of the second stage, Obedience, the essential excitant is once more the Adorable Bhagavat or His Incarnation; relatively less perfect is the study of the lives of the Saints who were noted for obedience. An enhancing motive is a consideration of the graciousness of the incarnate Lord to all those who serve Him. This brings the flavor of the mind and heart which is called “obedient,” and there ensue from it obedience to the commands of the incarnate Lord, and a pure life; also such practices as the use of rosaries.
The third stage, Friendship, likewise has, as its excitant, the Adorable or His Incarnation; with the study of the lives of Saints famous as friends of the incarnate Lord, as a less perfect excitant. The thought of the gentleness of the incarnate Master, the sweetness of Rama’s voice, will enhance these excitants. There will result the flavor of heart and mind called “friendly,” and joy will follow, in the feeling that the incarnate Lord is ever near.
As excitants of tenderness, the essential one, as always, is the Lord and His Incarnation, and especially the consideration of His childhood, whether as Rama or as Krishna; the Mother of the Lord will bring an added fervor, to be enhanced by remembering the baby graces of the Lord, whether as Rama or as Krishna. The mood of heart called “tender” will arise, and there will follow a joyous celebration of the day on which the incarnate Lord was born, with devotion to the Lord as a Child, and with an ardent love of all children, for the Child Lord’s sake.
There remains the fifth stage, Passionate Love, to be aroused by drawing near to the Lord and His Incarnation, with remembrance of those who have passionately loved Him. To this passionate Love, the beauty of Springtime should minister, with the songs of birds, and all that tells of omnipresent Love. The flavor of heart and mind will be that called “passionately loving,” which will have its fruition in passionate adoration of the Lord.
So far, in mere outline and with something of the dryness of any systematic analysis, is the Indian Way of devoted Love, of growing Love for the incarnate Master, rising to a vivid and constant sense of His nearness, His tenderness, His solicitous watchfulness and care. And this very Love, it is held, is the supreme and perfect driving power, which will enkindle the spiritual will in us, enabling us to make the effort needed, in order that we may fully co-operate with the greater effort which the once incarnate Lord and the spiritual Powers that work with Him, are making to raise us up from this world to the spiritual world of our immortality. And we have seen that this Indian teaching insists that it is the former Avatar Himself, as a personal spiritual Being, who makes this ceaseless effort to lift us up into spiritual life.
So striking is the likeness of this whole system of the Way of devoted Love to all that is most essential and characteristic in Christianity that, as soon as the Sanskrit texts were translated, a group of scholars with Professor Albrecht Weber at their head declared their conviction that the whole system of Bhakti, or devoted Love, had been borrowed by India from the Christian teachings; and the traditional mission of Saint Thomas the Apostle to India, in the first century, was supposed to be the source of this communication. It was further laid down as self-evident that books like the Bhagavat Gita and the Bhagavata Purana must of necessity be later than the beginning of the Christian era, just because they contained these “evident borrowings from the New Testament.”
But these scholars, in their desire to claim for Christianity, as they understood it, an exclusive possession of the Religion of Love, proved a great deal too much for their own case. For it becomes evident that, if it shall be proved that these Indian Scriptures and the Bhakti Yoga system are in fact older than Christianity, then the likeness on which was based the claim of their derivation from Christianity cannot be denied, and the exclusive claim made by these sectarians—in a spirit which is really quite contrary to the true spirit of Christianity—that Christianity alone teaches the religion of Love, will fall to the ground.
And this is exactly what has happened. Not only has the whole sense of Orientalists turned away from the view of Professor Albrecht Weber and his school, but quite specific proofs have been discovered, which show that the doctrine of devoted Love, the worship of the Adorable Bhagavat, was fully developed in the days of Alexander the Great’s invasion of Northwestern India, three centuries before the foundation of Christianity. This fact, established by the writings of the Greeks who visited India, is corroborated by ancient inscriptions in India. For example, at Besnagar, in the Bhilsa district of the principality of Scindhia, in Central India, a pillar inscription in the most ancient characters, recently deciphered, reads thus:
“King Chandradasa caused this Garuda banner of Vasudeva, the God of gods, to be made here by Heliodoras, a votary of the Bhagavat, who came from the great King Antalcidas.”
And the great King Antalcidas flourished in the period B.C. 175-135.
It is quite clear, therefore, that the teaching of devoted Love, to be kindled by adoration of the incarnate Lord, arose independently in India, and had reached its full development at least two centuries, and, in all likelihood many centuries, before the incarnation of the Western Avatar. And, further, that this teaching habitually and consciously employed many methods, such as a particular devotion to the Mother of the incarnate Lord, or to the divine Infancy, which are thought of as peculiar to Christianity, nay, as peculiar to Catholicism. Even the sacrifice of the Divine Man by the Creator goes back to the days of the Rig Veda.
If the religion of the Bhagavat is thus demonstrably not indebted to the life and teaching of the Western Avatar, are we to say that Christianity may be indebted to the religion of the Bhagavat? In a certain sense, yes; but in a spiritual sense only. In view of the action of spiritual power and spiritual law, it would seem certain that the long and devoted worship of the Adorable Lord in India, with the generation of spiritual force which that worship must of necessity represent, would make measurably easier the work of the Western Avatar, in teaching; and exemplifying, that devoted Love. But, if there be a question of derivation, it is, in both East and West, a derivation, not of one teaching from another, but of both from the eternal majesty of divine Love, from the Love of that Divinity who, again and again, has manifested Himself, to bring the very essence of divine Love to the hard, loveless world, so that mankind may be lifted up into the kingdom of immortal Love.
THE INDIAN TEACHING OF SALVATION BY LOVE ACCORDING TO
THE BHAKTI SUTRAS OF NERADA
Beginning here, we shall set forth the teaching of devoted Love. That devoted Love is of the nature of supreme attachment to the Adorable Lord; it is as the living water of immortality. He who possesses this devoted Love, has already attained; immortal, he has gained his heart’s desire. When he has gained this devoted Love, he longs for nothing and laments nothing; he hates not, nor exults, nor is aught left, for him to strive after. When he has known this devoted Love, he is filled with ecstasy, with stillness, rejoicing in the holy Spirit (Atma).
This devoted Love is not tormented by desire, for it brings cessation of desire. And the cessation of desire means the consecration of all acts, both worldly and spiritual, to Him. It is a single-hearted devotion to Him, an overcoming of all that is inimical to Him. This single-heartedness is a surrender of all refuges but Him. And the overcoming of all that is inimical to Him is accompanied by the due performance of all acts, both worldly and spiritual, that are in harmony with Him, not flowing contrary to the current of His will.
The commandments of the Scriptures must be kept, even after the heart has firmly resolved to devote itself altogether to Him. For otherwise through pride one may become a castaway. Worldly works must be carried on only so far as they are in harmony with Him. But the right care and nurture of the body must be continued so long as we bear the burden of the body.
And now the distinctive marks of devoted Love will be set forth, as the minds of many devoted lovers of Him have recorded them.
Parashara’s disciple, Vyasa, declares that devoted Love will manifest itself in the ardent performance of all acts of the worship of Him. Garga says that devoted Love will show itself in speaking of Him, in hearing of Him. Shandilya declares that acts of worship, and speaking and hearing of Him must not displace the heart’s joy in His holy Spirit. But Narada says that devoted Love is, to rest all our acts in Him, to grieve if He be absent from our thoughts. And there have been saints who have done all these things perfectly, as maidens of Vrindavana, who gave their hearts to Him.
But even in the heart’s joy, it must be remembered with reverence that He is a mighty Master. For without this reverence, Love cannot be pure. And in impure love, there is lacking the feeling of happiness in the happiness of the other.
This way of devoted Love (Bhakti) is higher than the way of ritual Works (Karma), higher than the way of Wisdom (Jnana), higher than the way of mystic Powers (Yoga). For, while ritual works, and wisdom, and the search for mystical powers have each a further goal, devoted Love is its own reward. And devoted Love is better than these, because the Lord hates the proud, and loves the lowly and the humble.
But some say that wisdom is the cause and source of devoted Love, while others say that devoted Love and wisdom depend upon each other. But Narada, Son of the Creator (Brahma-Kumara), says that devoted Love is the source and fruit of devoted Love.
So it is in the King’s house: there are those who serve the King as his Ministers, or for the sake of a reward; there are those who love the King for Love’s sake. And those who serve the King for the sake of a reward, neither bring to the King delight, nor to themselves assuagement of their hunger for reward. Therefore let those who seek for salvation firmly choose the way of devoted Love.
The means for gaining devoted Love are thus declared by the Masters:
Devoted Love requires renunciation of worldly ends—renunciation of all attachment to them. The allurement of worldly aims is to be conquered by unflinching devotion to Him.
Even in the midst of the world, devoted Love springs up from hearing and praising the virtues of the Adorable Master. As He has said:
“I dwell not in the farthest Heaven, nor in the hearts of saints alone. I dwell, O Narada, wherever My lovers praise Me!”
But devoted Love comes most of all through the compassion of the Great Ones; from the touch of the compassion of the Adorable Lord. But the company of the Great Ones is hard to win, nay, it is well-nigh unattainable; yet, when it has been gained, it can never fail. And that company even is gained only through the compassion of the Lord, since there is no division between Him and His own. Therefore strive for devoted Love! Therefore strive for devoted Love!
In every way, contact with the evil must be shunned, since it nourishes desire and wrath, forgetfulness of Him, loss of vision, loss of all. These evils, beginning in tiny ripples, grow, through attachment, to a stormy sea.
Who is he that crosses over, that crosses over Maya’s delusions? It is he who puts away attachment to evil, who lovingly follows the Great Ones, who is without covetousness or conceit; he who dwells apart, he who breaks the bonds that bind him to the world, who turns from the threefold world of desire, who puts away the lust of possession; who looks not for a reward of his good works, who dedicates all his acts to the Master, thereby escaping from expectation and dread, from exultation and pain; he who consecrates even all spiritual reading to the Master, he who has gained a pure, continuous flow of passionate Love for Him;—it is he, it is he, who crosses over Maya’s delusion, and likewise leads others safely across.
THE SEVEN POWERS OF THE SPIRIT
If we carry on the simile we have already used, and think of ourselves as emerging from the waters of psychical life, and gradually growing able to live in, and freely to breathe, the pure air of the Spirit, we shall soon come to ask ourselves what new powers rightly belong to this, our new condition; what new forces we may expect to unfold themselves within us, as properly belonging to the new realm which we have entered.
In their answers to this question, the teachings of the East and of the West are in singular accord. Each takes a passage of one of the older Scriptures, in which a series of virtues is enumerated, and, developing this, builds upon it a consistent doctrine of the Powers of the Spirit. In the West, the passage is the opening one in the eleventh chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah. It may be interesting to add, in quoting the passage, the Greek names of the Seven Gifts, as given in the Septuagint. The passage is as follows:
“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: and the Spirit of the Lord (pneuma tou Theou) shall rest upon him; the spirit of wisdom (pneuma sophias) and understanding (suneseos) the spirit of counsel (pneuma boules) and might (ischuos), the spirit of knowledge (pneuma gnoseos) and of the fear of the Lord (eusebeias, pneuma phobou tou Theou).”
The English authorized version does not make a clear distinction between eusebeia (piety) and phobos tou Theou (the fear of God), translating both by the same terms, but theologians have, in writing of these spiritual powers, made the distinction between them sufficiently clear.
The similar passage used as a basis for the description of the Powers of the Spirit in the East is taken from the Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad, toward the end of the great dialogue between King Janaka and Yajnavalkya. Once more, the Sanskrit words may be given:
“He who knows is, therefore, full of peace (shanta), self-control (danta), silence (or, cessation, uparata), endurance (titikshu), concentration ( samahita).”
Therefore we get a group of virtues, peace (shama), control (dama), silence (uparama), patience (titiksha), concentration (samadhana), to which certain other spiritual powers came in time to be added, the whole being developed along very much the same lines as happened with the passage in Isaiah.
It is vitally interesting that the passage in Isaiah has long been accepted as portraying the virtues of the Divine Man, while the Upanishad passage explicitly undertakes to set forth certain of the characteristics of the Master, of him who, in the fullest sense, has attained. There is, therefore, in each case, quite adequate justification for taking these two passages as inventories of a full range of spiritual powers.
Let us try to see what meaning has been given to the separate powers, in each case.
As I write, I have before me two books, by learned Christian writers, each of whom analyzes these seven Powers, or Gifts of the Holy Spirit. One is a Frenchman, Louis Lallemant, who was born at Châlons-sur-Marne, in 1588. The other is a Belgiari, Charles Louis Lauren Branchain, who was born at Frameries, near Mons, in 1829. Both, therefore, by a curious coincidence, belong to the region of the world’s greatest battles.
Father Louis Lallemant begins his analysis of the first Gift of wisdom by just such an etymology as would commend itself to Shankaracharya.
“Wisdom,” he says, “is defined to be a knowledge acquired by first principles; for “the name sapientia, wisdom, comes from sapor, savour; and as it is the property of the taste to distinguish the flavour of viands, so,” says Saint Isidore, “wisdom, that is, the knowledge that we have of creatures by the first principle, and of second causes by the First Cause, is a sure rule for judging rightly of everything.”
“The gift of Wisdom, our author continues, is such knowledge of God, His attributes and mysteries, as is full of flavour. The understanding only conceives and penetrates. Wisdom judges and compares; it enables us to see causes, reasons, fitnesses: it represents to us God, His greatness, His beauty, His perfections, His mysteries, as infinitely adorable and worthy of love; and from this knowledge there results a delicious taste, which sometimes extends even to the body, and is greater or less according to the state of perfection and purity to which the soul has attained. . . . A soul which, by mortification, is thoroughly cured of its passions, and by purity of heart is established in a state of perfect health, is admitted to a wonderful knowledge of God, and discovers things so great that it loses its power of acting through its senses. Hence proceed raptures and ecstasies, which indicate, however, by the impression which they produce in those who have them, that they are not altogether purified or accustomed to extraordinary graces; for in proportion as a soul purifies itself, the mind becomes stronger and more capable of bearing divine operations without emotion or suspension of the senses, as in the cases of our Lord and the Blessed Virgin, the Apostles, and certain other Saints, whose minds were continually occupied with the most sublime contemplations, united with wonderful interior transports, but without there being anything apparent externally in the way of raptures and ecstasies. . . . The vice opposed to wisdom is folly, which after its kind, is formed in the soul in the same manner as wisdom, but by contrary principles; for wisdom refers all to the last end, which in morals is called the altissima causa, the supreme and primary Cause. It is this it seeks, this it follows and relishes in all things. It judges of everything by reference to this sovereign end. In like manner, folly takes as its end, its first principle, its altissima causa, either honour, or pleasure, or some other temporal good, having a taste for nothing else, and referring everything thereto, seeking and valuing only that, and despising everything else. “The fool and the wise man are opposed one to the other,” says Saint Isidore, “inasmuch as the latter is possessed of the taste and the sense of discretion, in which the former is wanting.” And this is why, as Saint Thomas observes, “the one judges rightly of things that regard conduct, because he judges of them by reference to the first principle and the last end; and the other judges ill, because he does not take this sovereign cause as the rule of his sentiments and actions.” . . . The fruit of the Holy Spirit which answers to the gift of wisdom is that of Faith; because the soul relishing divine things cleaves more firmly to the belief of them, and the sort of experimental knowledge which it thus obtains serves it as a kind of evidence of their reality. . . .”
So far the first Power of the Spirit, Wisdom (sophia). We come now to the second, the gift of Understanding (sunesis). The Greek word, which we have taken from the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, is used with exactly the same meaning in the New, and notably in the following passage:
“We also cease not to pray and make request for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and (spiritual) Understanding, to walk worthily of the Master unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to the might of His radiance, unto all patience and long suffering with joy; giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light (the Holy Ones in the Light); who delivered us out of the power of the Darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love; in whom we have our redemption (apolutrosin, “a loosing away”), the forgiveness (aphesin, “the sending away”) of our sins (hamartia, “error,” “missing the mark,”): Who is the Image of the Invisible God (eikon tau Theou tau aoratou), the Firstborn of all Creation (ktisis, “a making,” “a thing made or produced”); for in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether Thrones (thronoi), or Dominions (kuriotetes), or Principalities (arkhai), or Powers (exousiai); all things have been created (or produced) through Him, and unto Him; and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist (sunesteke, “hold together”).”
This is a passage of cardinal value. In it, Paul sets forth the doctrine of the Logos, as developed by Philo (in the light of the sacred traditions preserved in Egypt) from the teachings of Plato, who also, in many things seems to have been indebted to Egypt. Paul teaches, here and elsewhere, that Jesus was not only the “Messiah,” the Hope of Israel, but also the Incarnation of the Logos, or, as the Eastern term is, a plenary Avatar. And, further, that “spiritual Wisdom and Understanding,” together with courage and endurance, come to being in us through the direct radiation of the power of the Master, as the manifestation of the Logos.
It is worth while to quote, just at this point, an Upanishad passage likewise describing the Logos:
“This is the mighty Soul (Atma) unborn, who is Understanding (Vijnanamaya) among the life-powers. This is the radiance in the heart within, where rests the Ruler of all, Master of all, Lord of all. He grows not greater through good works, nor less through evil. He is Lord of all, Overlord of beings, Shepherd of all beings. He is the bridge that holds the worlds apart, lest they should flow together. This is He Whom the followers of the Eternal seek to know through their scriptures, sacrifices, gifts and penances, through ceasing from evil towards others. He who knows this becomes a sage (muni, saint). This is the goal in search of which pilgrims go forth on pilgrimages. Knowing Him, the men of old desired not offspring. What should we do with offspring, they said, since ours is the Soul (Atma), the All? They became saints (bhikshacharyam charanti sma “they followed mendicancy, poverty”) ceasing from the desire of offspring, the desire of the world, the desire of wealth. For the desire of offspring is a desire for wealth; and the desire of wealth is a desire for the world. For these are both desires. But the Soul (Atma) is not that, not that. It (Atma) is incomprehensible, for It cannot be comprehended; It is imperishable, for It passes not away; nought adheres to It, for It is free; the Soul is not bound, fears not, suffers not. For to him who knows, neither crosses over-the evil he does nor the good. He passes both; things done or undone afflict him not.”
There is a striking identity here, even when the phrases are contrary, as when Paul says, of the Logos, “In Him all things hold together,” while the Upanishad says, “He is the bridge that holds the worlds apart, lest they should flow together.” Both teach the eternity of the Logos, the production of all worlds through Him, the presence of His radiance in the spiritual man, bringing redemption, the putting-away of all evils, and immortality.
The word translated “Soul” is Atma, and it is worth noting that this word, so difficult adequately to translate, is derived from a root, meaning “to breathe,” so that Atma is, fundamentally, the Great Breath, the Holy Spirit. It is interesting, too, that the word doxos, generally translated “glory,” but perhaps better rendered “radiance,” here corresponds to the Sanskrit Akasha, “Forth-shining, radiation, radiance,” the living Ray of the Logos. It is through this radiation of the Logos, in the spiritual man, according to the Upanishad, that Wisdom and Power are born “in the heart within,” that is, in the spiritual man, who dwells in the light of the Spirit, as the natural man dwells in the darkness of the psychical world, the world of desire. This Upanishad passage is immediately followed by the passage, previously quoted, which enumerates “the gifts of the Spirit.” And one may add to the significance of the whole Upanishad excerpt by noting that the name of the wise king, “Janaka, king of the Videhas,” has a symbolic meaning; Janaka literally means “the Giver of life,” while Videha means “bodiless,” he who has put off the bondage of the body. Of such, therefore, Janaka, the Life-giver, was king.
To come back to the enumeration and analysis of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The second of these is Understanding. Of this gift, Father Louis Lallemant says:
“Understanding is the intimate knowledge of an object: Intelligere est intus Iegere. The gift of Understanding is a light which the Holy Spirit bestows, in order to penetrate intimately those obscure truths which faith proposes; and this penetration, says Saint Thomas, must cause the mind to conceive a true idea and a right judgment of the last end and of everything which has reference thereto, otherwise it would not be a gift of the Holy Spirit. Faith contemplates three kinds of objects. First, God and His mysteries; secondly, creatures in their relations to God; thirdly, our own actions, to direct them to the service of God. We are naturally very obtuse with regard to all these things, and know nothing rightly about them, except as we are illuminated by the Holy Spirit through Faith, and through the other lights which He communicates to us. That which Faith makes us simply believe, the gift of Understanding enables us to penetrate more clearly, and in such a manner as, although the obscurity of Faith still remains, appears to render evident what Faith teaches; so that he who possesses it marvels that some refuse to believe the articles of our belief, or that they can doubt of them. They whose office it is to instruct others, preachers and directors, ought to be filled with this gift. It has been conspicuous in fathers and doctors, and it is especially necessary for rightly comprehending the sense of Holy Scripture, its allegorical figures, and the ceremonies of divine worship. . . . The fruit of the Holy Spirit which corresponds with this gift, as well as with others which enlighten the mind, is the fruit of Faith. Faith precedes gifts, and is their foundation, but gifts, in turn, perfect Faith. We must firmly believe, says Saint Augustine, and establish ourselves firmly in that pious affection which is so necessary to Faith. Then the gifts of the Ho y Spirit come, and render Faith more penetrating, more lively, and more perfect. . . .”
Father Louis Lallemant somewhat departs from the order of gifts in the text from Isaiah which we have quoted, and considers, as third among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the gift of Science (gnosis).
“Science,” he says, “is defined to be an assured knowledge acquired by reasoning; but in God it is without reasoning, and by a simple view of objects. The gift of Science, which is a participation in the knowledge of God, is a light of the Holy Spirit which illuminates the soul to understand human things, and to form a true judgment of them in reference to God and so far as they are objects of faith. The gift of Science assists that of Understanding in discovering and apprehending obscure truths, and that of Wisdom in possessing them. Wisdom and Science have something in common; both bestow the knowledge of God and of creatures. But when we know God by means of creatures, and rise from the knowledge of second causes to the First Universal Cause, it is an act of Science; when we know human things through the experience we have of God, and judge of created beings by the knowledge we possess of the Supreme Being, it is an act of Wisdom (sophia). The discerning of spirits belongs to both one and the other; but Wisdom possesses it by the way of taste and experience, which is a more exalted mode of information; Science possesses it by simple knowledge alone. The gift of Science enables us to see readily and clearly everything that regards our own conduct and that of others. First, what we ought to believe or not believe; what we ought to do or not do; the mean we ought to observe between two extremes into which it is possible for us to fall in the exercise of virtues; the order we ought to follow in our study of them; how much time we must give to each in particular; but all this in the general, for as regards details, it belongs to the gift of Counsel to prescribe what we ought to do under the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and on occasions when we have to determine how to act. Secondly, the state of our soul, our interior acts, the secret movements of our heart, their qualities, their goodness, their malice, their principles, their motives, their ends and their intentions, their effects and their consequences, their merit and demerit. Thirdly, the judgment we ought to form of creatures, and the use we ought to make of them in the interior and supernatural life; how frail they are and vain, how shortlived, how little capable of making us happy, how injurious and dangerous to salvation. Fourthly, the mode of conversing and dealing with our neighbor, as respects the· supernatural end of our creation. By this gift a preacher knows what he ought to say to his hearers, and what he ought to urge upon them. A director knows the state of the souls he has under his guidance, their spiritual needs, the remedies for their faults, the obstacles they put in the way of their perfection, the shortest and the surest road by which to conduct them safely; how he must console or mortify them, what God is working in them, and what they ought to do on their part in order to co-operate with God and fulfil His designs. A superior knows in what way he ought to govern his inferiors. They who have the largest share of the gifts of Science are the most enlightened in all knowledge of this kind. Wonderful things are disclosed to them with respect to the practice of virtues. They discover therein degrees of perfection unknown to others. They perceive at a glance whether actions are inspired by God and conformable to His designs; let them deviate ever so little from the ways of God, they discern it at once. They remark imperfections where others cannot see them; they are not liable to be deceived in their opinions, neither are they apt to allow themselves to be surprised by illusions with which the whole world is filled. If a scrupulous soul applies to them, they know what to say to remove its scruples. If they . have to make an exhortation, whether to monks or nuns, thoughts will occur to them suited both to the spiritual needs of the religious themselves and to the spirit of their order. If difficulties of conscience are proposed to them, they will give an admirable solution. Ask them for the reason of their reply, they cannot tell you, because they know it without reasoning, by a light superior to all reason. . . . We are so full of illusions, and so little on our guard against the fascinations of creatures, that we deceive ourselves continually. The devil deceives us also frequently. His device for entrapping the more advanced is to make them fall into error in their choice of the means of perfection; and he deceives the least perfect and the tepid by presenting difficulties to their minds in an exaggerated state, and by displaying before their eyes the attractions of pleasure and the false brilliancy of vain honours. The science of the Holy Spirit teaches us how to preserve ourselves from these seductions. . . . In order that intercourse with men may not be hurtful to us, in the functions which we exercise in their regard to gain them to God, we must observe that our life ought to be a mixture of action and contemplation, in such wise that the former may be animated, directed, and ordered by the latter; that among the exterior works of the active life, we may always enjoy the interior repose of the contemplative; and that our employment may not hinder our union with God, but rather serve to bind us more closely and more lovingly to Him; making us embrace them in Him by contemplation, and in our neighbour by action. . . . Let us take as our model, Jesus Christ, who devoted thirty years to the contemplative life, and three or four only to that which is called mixed; and God Himself, whose life, before time began, was purely contemplative. His sole occupation being the knowing and loving of Himself. In time, indeed, He acts externally, but after such a manner, that action bears scarcely any proportion to contemplation; and in eternity when time is ended, He will give Himself still less to action, seeing that He will no longer create new creatures. To make much progress in perfection two things are necessary, one on the part of the master, the other on the part of the disciple. In the master, that he should be greatly enlightened with the gift of Science, as was Saint Ignatius; in the disciple, that he should have a will perfectly subject to grace, and a great courage, like Saint Francis Xavier. . . . An excellent means of acquiring the gift of Science is to study greatly purity of heart; to watch carefully over our own interior, to mark all its irregularities, and note its principal faults. Such strictness will draw down the blessing of God, who will not fail in time to pour His lights into the soul, and will give it little by little the knowledge of itself, which is the most useful He can impart to us next to that of His divine majesty. This is the first study in the school of perfection. The vice which is opposed to the gift of Science is ignorance. . . .”
So far Lallemant’s analysis of the gift of Science. He comes next to the gift of Counsel (boule):
“Counsel is an act of prudence prescribing the means to be chosen for attaining an end. Thus the gift of Counsel regards the direction of the particular actions. It is a light by which the Holy Spirit shows what we ought to do in the time, place and circumstances in which we find ourselves. What Faith, Wisdom and Science teach in general, the gift of Counsel applies to particular cases. And it is easy to perceive its necessity, since it is not enough to know that a thing is good in itself; we have also to judge whether it is good under actual circumstances, whether it is better than something else, and more suited to the object we are aiming at; and this knowledge we acquire by the gift of Counsel. . . . Purity of heart is an excellent means of obtaining the gift of Counsel, as well as the other gifts already treated of. A person of good sound judgment who should study constantly purity of heart, would acquire a supernatural prudence and a divine skill in conducting all sorts of affairs, would receive an abundance of infused light and knowledge for the guidance of souls, and discover a thousand holy contrivances for the execution of enterprises which concern the glory of God. . . .”
We may sum up the Western analysis of “the gifts of the Holy Spirit that perfect our understanding,” by a brief quotation from another doctor, the Belgian, Father Bronchain. We shall come later to the three gifts of the Holy Spirit “that perfect our will.”
Father Bronchain writes:
“These gifts may be viewed as the light with which the Holy Ghost enlightens us, and which is diversified according to the effects He wishes to produce in us. Thus Wisdom is an experimental knowledge of God, which enables us to taste and to judge accordingly of all created things. Understanding causes us to behold as if in full daylight the truths of faith. Knowledge makes known to us in general the means of sanctifying ourselves, and Counsel enables us to apply them to our conduct in particular cases.”
Or we may sum up in terms of our simile, the growth into a new life in the free air of the spirit, after our emergence from the water-life of the psychical world. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are, then, the lights shed on us from the spiritual Life above us, which enable us to realize our relation to that Life, and gain stability, strength and continued growth in the new life of sunlight which we have entered.
Let us now turn to the Eastern Wisdom. We saw that Father Louis Lallemant, our French doctor, in one passage lays special stress on the use of these gifts as between teacher and pupil, master and disciple. The eastern passage which we shall quote, as our basis of comparison, applies exactly to that situation. It is in the form of a dialogue between a master and a disciple concerning these very gifts. It is taken from a treatise called The Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, attributed to the great teacher Shankaracharya, but more probably the work of one of his disciples.
“He is ripe to seek Atma (the Holy Spirit), our passage begins, who is full of Knowledge and Wisdom, Reason and Discernment, and who bears the well-known marks.
He is ready to seek the Eternal who has Discernment (viveka) and Dispassion (viraga); who has Peace and the other Graces.
Four perfections are numbered by the wise. When they are present, there is victory, but in their absence there is failure.
First is counted the Discernment between things lasting and unlasting. Next Dispassion, the ceasing from self-indulgence here and in paradise. Then the Six Graces, beginning with Peace. Then the longing for Liberation.
Such a certainty as this—the Eternal is real, the fleeting world is unreal—this is that Discernment between things lasting and unlasting.
And this is Dispassion—a perpetual willingness to give up all sensual self-indulgence—everything lower than the Eternal, through a constant sense of their insufficiency.
Then the Six Graces: a steady intentness of the mind on its goal—this is Peace (shama).
And the steadying of the powers that act and perceive, each in its own sphere, turning them back from sensuality—this is Self-control (dama).
Then the raising of the mind above external things—this is the true Withdrawal (or Silence, uparama).
The bearing of all ills without petulance or self-pity—this is right Endurance (titiksha).
A firm confidence in the teaching and the Teacher—this is that Faith (shraddha) by which the treasure is gained.
The intentness of the soul on the pure Eternal—this is right Concentration (samadhana), but not the indulgence of phantasy.
The wish to untie, by discernment of their true nature, all the bonds tied by unwisdom, the bonds of selfishness and sensuality—this is the longing for Liberation (mumukshatva).
Though at first imperfect, these qualities, gradually growing through Dispassion, Peace and the other Graces and the help of the Teacher will gain their due reward.
When Dispassion and the longing for Liberation are strong, then Peace and the other Graces will bear fruit.
But when these two—Dispassion and the longing for Liberation—are lacking, then Peace and the other Graces are a mere mirage, like the lake imagined in the desert.
Chief among the causes of Liberation is devotion, the intentness of the soul on its own nature. Or devotion may be called intentness on the reality of Atma (the Holy Spirit).
Let him who possesses these perfections, and who would learn the reality of Atma, approach the wise Teacher from whom comes the loosing of bonds; who is full of Knowledge and perfect; who is not smitten by desire, who truly knows the Eternal; who has found rest in the Eternal, at peace like a fuelless fire; who is full of selfless kindness, the friend of all that lives. Serving the Teacher with devotion and aspiration for the Eternal, and finding oneness of heart with him, seek the needed Knowledge of Atma. . . .
As will have been noticed, this passage is an extension of the Upanishad passage quoted at the outset, and a commentary on it. It is therefore, a close parallel to our quotations from the French doctor, commenting on the passage in Isaiah.
(To be continued.)1
1. This series of articles was never completed. [ED.]