The Message of India
Metaphysical Magazine, July, 1895
“In the highest golden veil is the stainless, partless Eternal, the pure, the Light of lights, whom the Self-knowers know.
“The sun shines not there, nor moon and star, nor these lightnings, nor fire like this; after that Shining, all shines; from the shining of that, all this draws its light.”—Mundaka Upanishad
Two generations ago the foremost thinker of the time declared that the supreme advantage this age of ours possessed over all other ages of the Western world was in gaining access to the ideal of ancient India. In the gradual destruction of old faiths, in the visible fruitlessness of newer knowledge, all hearts are now turning toward this ancient Indian ideal, with awakening hope that here, perhaps, we may find the light, a guiding ray in our darkness, a new hope for human life.
The secret of the Indian ideal is extremely simple, so simple that it may be expressed in a single phrase—the realizing of the Self. The Self is the pure Eternal, the Light of lights; the Self is in the heart of every creature; realize the Self in the heart, and grow gradually one with the Supreme Self, the pure Eternal.
First, the beginning of the way. In an age like this, when all old ideals are failing; when the heaven we had painted for ourselves is torn to shreds; when, outwardly as well as inwardly, all is unrest, insufficiency, frustrated hope, dissatisfaction; when all men are crying, with the utmost sincerity of the heart—Who will show us any good? —in an age like this, we are all at the beginning of the way. Not until all outward things are breaking up around us; not until everything seems unstable, fugitive, uncertain, infirm, and hopeless; not until our darkness is complete, can we begin to see the inner Light which is to light us along the way of the Self to the Eternal.
The same spirit is manifested in another way. Instead of failure, weakness, infirmity, we find in life the success of every effort, the fullest attainment of every wish, the ready gratification of every desire, and with all this—weariness: the sense that, though we have gained every means of happiness proposed to ourselves, happiness itself has skilfully evaded our hold and faded away. Out of this satiate weariness, this darkness in full sunlight, again we may find the beginning of the way. For the beginning of the way is the finding in life of a new quality, a new element, a new power, which is gradually to grow and expand, and, in the end, introduce us to a new life altogether. And it is the awakening to this new life that forms the Indian ideal. Just because of its very newness the description of this element of life is extremely difficult. We can only indicate it by similes, by likenesses drawn from the old life with which we are familiar.
The oldest simile is the voice of conscience—the God-like voice that opposes me, even in little things, if I am about to do anything not right. Then, again, it is the law within, warring against the law of our members. Or, it is our divinity, brooding over us, as a master over a slave, a presence that is not to be put by. Or, again, it is the higher will that sent us, revealing itself in our hearts and minds. Or, it is that which is higher than love of happiness, whereby a man can do without happiness, and instead thereof find blessedness. Or, it is the power within us, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness. Or, again, the gleam across the mind from within, more to be regarded than the firmament of bards and sages. Or—the dim star that burns within.
Every one of these statements of the same reality is a simile, a picture; it is a power, a light, a star, a voice. It is a new reality, making itself seen or felt or heard in the depth and background of our consciousness; a reality that at once comes into contrast and opposition with the outward world, and sets itself against the habitual life of our habitual selves. And in reality, if we rightly understand this contrast and opposition between the new reality and the life of our habitual selves; if we rightly grasp the reality of this conscience, this power within us—not ourselves—that makes for righteousness, we shall find in it the explanation and cause of that sense of hopelessness and weariness that leads to the beginning of the way. For it is the dawning consciousness of this new reality, even before it is consciously recognized, that makes us feel the unprofitableness of our old habitual life, of our old habitual selves. It was the unveiling of this consciousness, this conscience within, that made one feel himself the chief of sinners. Not that he had in reality more sin than others, but that he had caught a glimpse of the reality of righteousness, and that, in comparison with the shining reality, the old life of the old self could not but appear altogether unprofitable. It is the sense of rising divinity that brings the conviction of fallen humanity.
The beginning of the way, therefore, is conscience; it is the power within us, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness; or, as the Indian teachers called it, it is the inner sense of the trueness of things that leads one to choose the better rather than the dearer, and to turn back from dearly loved desires
When, at the beginning of the way, this new reality has dawned in the background of our consciousness, there are two ways open to us. We may either drink for a while at this spring of living water, and then, refreshed and full of vigour, fall back once more into the life of our habitual selves; or we may once for all throw ourselves on the side of this new reality, and DETERMINE TO ABIDE BY IT TO THE END. If we follow the former course, we shall find for a while a new happiness in outward things; a happiness, however, that grows steadily less and less, till at last it becomes altogether bitterness and pain. Then, perhaps, through the excellent and thorough teaching of experience, we shall come to believe that we made a mistake in turning back to that habitual life; we shall come to believe that our true interest lies not in the outward life, but in the new reality; in conscience; in the power that makes for righteousness; in the brooding divinity who opposes us, even in little things, if we are about to act not rightly. This falling back and new learning may last for ages, but, some time or other, it must come to an end; then we shall be ready to follow the better way, to throw ourselves with heart and soul on the side of the new reality in our hearts, determined to abide by it to the end.
Thus the teaching of the Indian ideal, as to the beginning of the way, is based on conscience—a primitive reality of life that may be verified by every man, that has been verified by every man, at one period or another of his life. The advancing on the way is also a primitive reality that must be individually verified.
This finding of the beginning of the way in a new inward reality—in conscience—is common to religion in every phase, and is the starting-point of all religions. If the Indian ideal simply shared this primitive vital truth with other religions, it would form one among many unveilings of the truth, affording a sufficient rule of conduct and an adequate guide in life and death; nevertheless it is a guide that did very little to satisfy the restless inquiries of mind, and which these inquiries might obscure and confuse.
But the special value of the Indian ideal, of the message of India, is that, having gone thus far with other religions as unveilings of the true, it takes one step further and furnishes a solution altogether satisfying to mental inquiries, which sets the confusion of the mind finally at rest.
Other religions, recognizing the primitive reality of conscience, and basing themselves on this power within, have sought to give some explanation of it, that should as far as possible satisfy the inquiries of the mind, while remaining true to the primitive, verifiable experience of conscience itself. Generally they have said that this voice within, opposing us if we are about to act not rightly, is the voice of the Deity, who thereby guides our lives to his own ends, and to whom, as being the Deity, and for no other reason, our complete obedience is due. Moreover, they have tried to paint the Deity in such colours as to produce a warm emotion of gratitude and adoration, an emotion that shall make obedience a willing service and not an unwilling servitude. They have drawn their colours from the devotion of a mother to her offspring, from the love of a father for his children.
In general, it has been this warm colouring, given to the explanation of conscience, which defines religions in their distinctive character and power. If recognition of the power within, and obedience thereto, be morality, then morality touched with emotion is religion. Then the great teachers of religion were not those who merely discerned and declared the reality of conscience, since this reality can be verified, and is a constant element of individual experience; but they were those who found for this reality a new expression and explanation, who touched it with a warm emotion that made obedience a glad service, and not a compulsory servitude.
Of these expressions, not many need be cited. One teacher would say that the verifiable reality of conscience is the power of the Eternal; another, most eloquent, that it is the will of the Father in heaven; yet another, that it is the mandate of the higher Power that sent us into the world. And these expressions and explanations, according to their power, furnished a sanction for morality, for obedience to the power within. But the breaking up of old faiths, that is so manifestly going on around us and is so characteristic of this age, is a visible proof that it is becoming more and more difficult to accept these expressions and explanations, and to find in them a sanction for morality.
In the obscurity and confusion to which the inquiries of the mind have been led by the visible inadequacy of these outward expressions and explanations of religion, there has been great danger that the primitive basis of these expressions would also become obscured—that the verifiable fact of conscience should be lost sight of, or hidden, as well. So evident is this danger that one of the most eloquent teachers of religion today has declared, openly and explicitly, that the reality of religion and the inquiries of the mind are altogether irreconcilable; that we must give up our sciences and philosophies altogether; that the one course open to us is absolute renunciation of our personalities, and absolute obedience to the Will that sent us into the world.
Although this declaration contains one side, and perhaps the most important side, of the truth—the full recognition of the reality of conscience—there seems very little probability that it will be acceptable; or that it is at all possible for us, at this stage of thought, to discard our philosophies and sciences in favour of what must be called a blind obedience and blind faith in the Power that sent us here.
If this last and highest expression of our old faiths proves inadequate as a sanction of morality, unacceptable to the inquiries of mind, our only hope lies in a new ideal that shall go far enough beyond the old expressions of faith to satisfy the mind, while not losing sight of the primitive reality of conscience, which is absolutely essential to morality and religion and their only true basis. And it would seem that such an ideal, satisfactory to the mind, while based on the reality of conscience, can be found perhaps only in the ideal of ancient India
The Indian ideal teaches that the power within that makes for righteousness is only in one sense not ourselves, while in a higher and better sense it is ourselves; that the voice of conscience is the voice of the higher Self in every man; that the God-like voice that seems to oppose that which is done not rightly is the voice of a more divine and enduring Self, that stands above and behind the habitual self, and guides that which it rules for its diviner and more enduring ends.
If we once grasp this idea of the higher Self above and behind the habitual self, then the great difficulty that stood in the way of the old expressions of religion is cleared away completely. This great difficulty, that made the old expressions of religion unacceptable even to those who would most willingly have accepted them, is the existence of pain, of sorrow, of suffering. It is the constant presence of these that makes it so nearly impossible for us to admit that our life is the expression of a higher Power, not ourselves; that it is the expression of the will of the Father in heaven. Quite involuntarily the question comes back to us whether all this suffering and sorrow that so perpetually beset us can possibly be the outcome of the will of a Father; and it is this question, in one form or another, that makes the restless inquiry of our minds, owing to which we are unable, even with the best possible will, to retain the old faiths with their expressions and explanations of life.
The sorrow and suffering so perpetually attendant upon life spring from two causes—the contests with the outward world, and the contests with other men; or, in other words, they spring from our failure to satisfy the demands of our habitual selves for enjoyment and for self-assertion. Now, if we rightly grasp the idea of the higher Self, we shall be able to understand not only the existence of sorrow and suffering, but also why sorrow and suffering should proceed exactly from these two causes, and from no others.
First, let us consider the sorrow and suffering arising from our contests with the outward world, in the failure to satisfy our desire for enjoyment. Rightly understood, this contest and desire spring from the imperative demand of our nature to find a stable condition in which we can repose and find security. If the habitual self is not the real Self; if the real Self, with its own divine and enduring life, stands behind the habitual self, then it is clearly impossible that the demand of our nature can be fulfilled by our habitual self finding a resting-place, security, and repose in the outward world. For not only does the perpetual changefulness of the outward world render it altogether impossible to be a firm resting-place; but to render permanent such a repose of the habitual self would defeat the real demands of our nature, which is the realizing of the true Self.
It is exactly the same with the second cause of sorrow and suffering—the contest between our habitual selves and those of other men. The cessation of this cause of sorrow would mean the permanent victory of our habitual selves, thus becoming fixed in their present state of inferiority and limitation; and this would render impossible the gradual expansion into the divine and enduring life of the real Self. Therefore, in all our contests for the well-being of our habitual selves—contests against our own outward selves, and contests against the outer selves of others—we are necessarily foredoomed to defeat, whether it be the defeat of hopelessness or that of satiate weariness.
This defeat is necessary and salutary, because the fixing of our outer selves in the outer world would mean the deprivation of our inner selves; because the permanent repose and complacency of the lower would bar the way to its expansion into the higher. If this be true, we shall expect to find two fixed, unalterable rules in life; two laws of being, with absolutely no exceptions. We shall expect to find that the nature of life is such that any permanent well-being of our personalities is impossible; that any lasting complacency of our lower selves, through repose in outward things, is absolutely prohibited by the nature of life.
If we once realize the nature of the higher Self, and see that becoming one with the higher Self is the end and destiny of the lower self, we shall be able to accept these salutary teachers, and to understand their purpose; we shall understand to what end moth and rust corrupt, and to what end thieves break through and steal. It is to the end that our habitual selves may find no complacency and repose in outward things, for the destiny of our habitual selves is a better one.
This one law is therefore fixed and unalterable in life—a law, moreover, that we verify day by day—that there is no repose and complacency for us in outward things, but that every outward standing-ground perpetually breaks away. The second unalterable law is this: There is no lasting well-being for our personalities through self-assertion, through victory over other personalities. Hate brings fear, and fear brings torment. There is no pain like hate. This assertion of our personalities is selfishness, bitter as ashes in the mouth; or it is vanity, perpetually open to wounds, perpetually feeling all wounds, even the slightest.
There is no fixed complacency for our personalities in outward things, and there is no happiness in self-assertion against other personalities. These are two unaltering laws, perpetually verified by common experience. Thus in our contest with outer things and with all personalities we are foredoomed to defeat by the necessity of nature. The first defeat is our admonition to go onward; the second is our admonition to find unity. The defeat of self-assertion is more significant than that of the search for repose: because the other personalities we contend against are nearer to us, and more significant for us, than impersonal outward things. We shall learn the significance of both defeats, if we watch their reaction upon ourselves.
In the defeat of our attempt to find repose in outward things, when we recognize it and admit it, we shall find the truth that is opposed to it; we shall find the possibility of repose in our own deeper being, in the higher Self, a resting-place that is our very Self, and which is never affected by change. We shall come to a gradual realization of the Self that is neither born nor dies; that puts on new vesture as a man puts on new garments; the Self that fire burns not, nor water destroys, nor sword cuts, nor hot winds parch; the Self that is undying, fearless, free, whose own nature is Being, Consciousness, Bliss;—Being, that stands firm through all time, past, present, and future; Consciousness, that is the essence of all knowing; Bliss, that is the essence of all joy. This is the significance of the first law; the significance of the second is higher still.
If we find that there is no permanent victory for our personalities; that selfishness and vanity are not happiness, but quite other than happiness; that hate brings fear, and fear brings torment; that there is no pain like hate—if we see these things and wisely understand them, we shall recognize that the fault lies in our personalities themselves; that they do not contain the possibility of happiness, that these in opposition to other selves are in opposition to our real selves. Then, as every wise man recognizing a thing to be a bar and hindrance will withdraw from it and turn away, so we shall turn away from these opposing personalities of ours as things not worth retaining; we shall renounce the self-assertion of hate with its torment, and find within us, already expanded, the opposite of hate—the perfect love that casteth out fear.
With the knowledge of the higher Self, the divine and enduring Self within us, will come the knowledge that the other personalities are not shut out from that higher Self, but rather have a part in it, in fullest sympathy and unison. With each clear attainment of that higher Self will come the insight that there is yet a higher, a still more real Self, for the realizing of the Self is a path whose growth and splendour have no limit. And with each recognition of the higher divinity of the true Self will come a fuller recognition of the part in it possessed by the other selves—till unison becomes union, and union at last becomes perfect unity. Then the last word of the Indian ideal will be spoken: the free, fearless, eternal Self is not alone my own most real Self, but the most real Self of all beings; in the Self they and I are one. The Supreme Self is the Self of all beings—the partless, secondless Eternal.
This teaching of the higher Self, that is, the path to the Supreme Self, to the Eternal, is not a thing for the mind alone, though it is altogether satisfying. It is a thing for daily life, for the verifiable, hourly experience of everyone; for this perpetually present voice of the higher Self is a perpetually presented beginning of the way. If it be not heeded, if it be not accepted, then must follow the ancient and efficacious teachings of unalterable law: no repose in outward things; no complacency for our personalities; the sanative teachings of sickness, and the irresistible counsel of death. If a man will not learn the one side of the law of life, he will find it hard to escape the teaching of the other.
Thus in the ideal of India there is a beginning of the way, perpetually verified; an understanding of the primal reality, conscience; satisfaction to the mind and heart; a perfect sanction of the two great demands of morality—the renunciation of sensuality and of selfishness. Moreover, it is readily comprehended, for it is the ideal of the higher Self, the path to the Supreme Self, to the Eternal, a confirmation of the strong intuition of perfect charity—of love that casts out fear. These other personalities, in being my other self, have an equal part with me in the Supreme Self—each of which is after all no part but the whole—a perfect oneness with the infinite Eternal.
Therefore, he who perceives Self in all beings, and all beings in Self, thenceforward sorrows no more; untying the knot of the heart, he enters into the Self; he becomes immortal, and makes real his oneness with the Eternal.