The Soul’s Way
Theosophical Forum, January, 1899
“When all the desires that were laid up in the heart are let go, then the mortal becomes immortal, he enters the Eternal. As the slough of a serpent, cast upon an ant-hill, lies lifeless there, so lies his body, when he rises up bodiless, immortal, full of life and radiance eternal.
“The small old Path that stretches far away, has been found and followed by me; by that path go the wise, knowers of the Eternal, to the heavenly world, rising upward free.
“If a man finds the Soul, and knows it as himself, what can he wish for, what can he desire, that he should fret feverishly after the body’s life? He who finds the Soul by awakening upwards to meet it, though wandering in this world’s wilderness, is lord of all; of all he is the creator; his is the world, for he is the world.
“Even here, we know the Soul; if we know it not, great is our loss; those who know the Soul, become immortal; who know it not, must suffer pain. He who truly knows the Soul, the god, lord of what has been and shall be, thereafter seeks not to hide himself from fear.
“He from whom the bright year comes forth, with all its days, whom the gods worship as the light of lights, the life immortal, in whom all beings rest, and spaces itself, nestles secure, him I know as my soul, and knowing that deathless Eternal, I am immortal.
“The Soul is the Life of life, the eye’s Eye, Ear of the ear, and the heart’s Heart. Who know this, have learned the secret of the immortal Ancient, the Most High. Learn to behold the One in all things, the immeasurable, that stands ever firm.
“The mighty Soul passes not through the gates of birth, it is Consciousness within the powers. There is a firmament within the heart where dwells the Master of all, the Lord of all, the Ruler of all; he grows not greater through good works, nor less through evil; he is the King of all, Overlord of all beings, Shepherd of all.
“He is the bridge that holds the worlds apart, lest they come together. This is He whom men of religion seek to find through their scriptures, through worship, charity, purification, innocence; this is he, whom seeking, pilgrims go forth on pilgrimages, and knowing whom the wise men of old sought no more births.
“This is the Soul; it cannot be ensnared, for it is free; it cannot be stricken, for it is almighty; it is not allured, trembles not, fears not; to this Soul cross over neither foul deeds nor fair, it has passed both by, and fair and foul trouble it no longer.
“The Soul’s eternal might grows not by works, nor is diminished by them, who knows that Soul is, him evil allures not. Who knows thus, is full of peace, well-ruled, has ceased from all false gods, endures all things bravely, intends his heart in one-pointed steadfastness; he beholds the Soul within him as the all; evil crosses not over to him, he has crossed over evil; he is free from evil and stain and doubt; he is the Eternal.”—Brhad Aranyaka Upanishad.
First the intuition of the Soul, the haunting vision of might and joy that has hovered before us for ages. We have sought that joy through life in nature, the life of our mortality. Through long years of thirsty desire we have sought it, and ever as our hands seemed closing on the treasure, it as vanished away, leaving our hearts desolate, longing for the immortal. We have sought the Soul through ages of human life, as the unnamed heart’s desire; following after it in hope and fear, in longing and hate, in pleasure and sorrow, the vestures of our humanity. We have thought to surprise the eternal secret among the things of our human life, to take captive the alluring delight of the immortals. But we are seeking still, and ever within our hearts is that immortal longing, haunting, importunate, which leaves us never, and will not be stilled, but whispers to us in the stillness with a fascinating sweetness that makes dull all the voices of the world.
That restless thirst of joy is our memory of the Soul, of our immortal selves, the heirs of the everlasting. And we shall hear those haunting whispers, ever through the stillness, until they break forth into the song of the Eternal.
In a lull of our weariness and fever, when we cease for a while from our desires and dreams, will come for a moment clear vision of the Soul; of immortal valor, imperious power, triumphant joy. And thence forth for ever we shall know that the Soul is; even when the clouds and darkness come back heavy upon us, and our vision is gone; and we shall endure to the end, remembering that there is the Soul.
That memory brings life too strong and exultant to need the feasts of the world, which bring not strength but weakness, the cloying allurement of sensuous life. The soul thirsts no more, after it has tasted the immortal waters,—or thirsts for these alone. Nor will the soul throw forward any more its hopes and fears into the imagined future; whether for this world or the next, or any other life. For knowing the immortal treasure close at hand, what need a man hope for? And knowing that treasure, what can he fear? Therefore will his soul stand upright, thirsting not for the feasts of the world, hoping no more, neither fearing any more.
Thereafter shall follow peace. The heart’s pains shall be stilled. Softly, slowly, shall the quiet of immortal might descend upon the soul, from the greater Soul, and it shall understand how the gods can build forever, yet grow not weary. There shall be peace from all fascinations and imaginings. Hope shall no longer beckon us away from where our treasure is. For possession is the payment of hope. Fear shall no longer lash us with the scourge that makes us quail and cower, that drives us to cruelty and injustice; for where fear is, there is cruelty; where cruelty is, there is fear. We shall desire no more, for the fullness of life leaves nothing to desire. Nor shall we hate any more; for seeing self in all things, how can we hate ourselves, our own exultant life? So shall come peace, the quietude of the soul, and glad heart’s-ease.
And from heart’s-ease shall follow rest through all the powers, so long racked by the fever of the world. There shall be a healing of all mortal pain, and a vigor of life restored, like the young-eyed gods. Every power of man is now ready for the great work.
Yet before a man can take up that work, he must cease from the worship of false gods, the idols of the world, whom men bow down to here. He must follow no longer the dust-covered ways of the men of desire, and the hunger of gold. They are driven by fear, and hunger for the feast of mortality, but not he; nor will he desire their ways. For he knows the quiet path of the Eternal, where there is peace.
Ceasing from idols, he will learn to follow his Genius; and genius will set the immortal imprint on all he does. For its way is a divine way, a yoke that is easy, a burden that is light. And the secret of genius is easily told.
In the heart of every man, after he has caught the vision, and knows that the Soul is; after he has reached heart’s-ease, and quietude of all his powers; after he has ceased from idols, and drawn back from the hot pathways of desire;—in his clean heart there shall dwell yet one longing, one imperious and haunting wish; and it shall seem to him that nothing in life is sweeter than to carry that wish out. He shall have for it all enthusiasm, and the willingness of a freeman’s service. And that secret desire of his heart is the work of his Genius, his life’s message, the one thing he can do supremely well. It is the private revelation, whispered to him alone, that not even the gods can overhear, not even the sages foretell.
And this life’s work a man will perform with such ready joy, such enthusiasm and power, because it is his heart’s desire, that all men will be won by it, and will willingly give him whatever he asks, for some share of it. Whether it be some new and excellent way of dealing with the natural world, or with the souls of men, there is this secret for everyone. For a statue is only stone or clay, transformed by the power of the Soul; and a picture but a layer of pigments spread over canvas threads. But the Soul makes these common things divine. The Soul takes common words that fall from all men’s lips, the common dreams that dwell in all men’s hearts, and weaves them into a song that shall ring resonant for ages, and outwear the hills, awakening in men’s hearts the memory of the song everlasting. So too the twanging of wires may be transformed by the Soul into a magical enchantment that shall make men forget all the heart’s pains, if the Soul be in it.
Thus common things like clay and stone, coarse threads and wires and words, are touched by the Soul into divinity; and nothing so base and mean in all the world but awaits its artist, its poet, its musician, to awaken it to immortal life. All men are secretly creative and full of genius: and some day each shall bring his gift to light.
And if there be this divine way with the rocks and ores of the natural world, so that they breathe with living beauty, what divinity may not come forth from the meeting of human souls? They shall be enkindled with immortal fire, set ringing with a diviner music, lit with colors that never sunrise nor the flowers nor the hills in their purple garments dreamed of; grow resonant with a music that shall dull the chants of the seraphim.
Thus there is this work for every man: to embody the secret vision the gods whisper to him alone; in his touch with the natural world; in his ways with the souls of men. And for each, the guide is, the secret desire of his clean heart. He came into the world to do that, he will do it better than all living, past or to come. For this all men will be ready to reward him, as emperors have vied in heaping their treasures on artists.
Yet a man who follows this way, shall need steadfastness and endurance, nor shall the path be easy for his feet. For he has a bad past behind him, and a world yet untransformed around him. Therefore let him keep valor in his heart.
Faith, too, must go with him; a glow of fire; a surplus power that makes all tasks easy; for all best things in the world were done in that high mood, with a divine ease; yet great effort has been in the preparation.
Last comes intentness; the bending of a steady will upon the work. For a statue is dreamed by the soul, but carved by firm single blows; and only the greatest artists can draw a perfect line. So only a valiant soul can deal rightly with another,—even with a little child.
Thus the Genius tells of the life’s work; it is the hidden heart’s desire. Too good to be true, perhaps? But real life is too good to be true, for our faint, weary hearts.