Theosophical Quarterly, July, 1922
A lecture by Charles Johnston, on April 30, 1922,
on the occasion of the Convention of The Theosophical Society.
Let us withdraw ourselves for an hour from the turmoil of the world , with its immeasurable intellectual confusion and its almost unfathomable moral confusion,—that we may try to view life steadily, in the serene light of eternity.
To give us a touchstone and a goal, let us take a sentence or two from the most ancient Theosophy of the great Upanishads, which come to us from the royal race of the Rajputs:
“When all desires that were hidden in the heart are let go, the mortal becomes immortal and enters the Eternal.
“Then, as the slough of a snake lies upon an ant hill, rejected, dead, the Spiritual Man, putting off mortality, rises up immortal, eternal, radiant.”
There are many ideals of success in life. Each time and nation has its own. Many of them represent genuine effort and real accomplishment. Perhaps the most widely accepted ideal in America is the office boy who makes his way steadily upward until he becomes the head of a great business. This is a real achievement, in no sense insignificant or unworthy. But we are to consider an attainment of another kind: the stature of the Spiritual Man, immortal, eternal, radiant.
We can, perhaps, use as a stepping stone to this consideration a phrase from A Text-Book of European Archaeology, by Professor R. A. S. Macalister, issued a few months ago by the Cambridge University Press, and therefore containing the latest word on the age-old history of man. The author of this able book has reached a striking generalization of mankind’s long history. Under the subheading, “The Test of Humanity” (pages 95-97), he says that “Man is the first living being which revolts against a merely animal existence. . . . This endeavour to ‘de-animalize’ the animal is the self-expression of the ‘soul’ of Man.” The effort of the animal to de-animalize itself; a noteworthy statement of human endeavour and attainment. But we shall find, if we look into it more closely, that man has de-animalized himself in two sharply contrasted directions: in one direction, toward the divine; in the opposite direction, toward the demoniac.
We may borrow a sentence from another book, by W. T. Hornaday, announced but, it would seem, not yet published; the declaration that “there are no crime waves among animals,” as a suggestion regarding the demoniac direction in which man has worked so incessantly to de-animalize himself. We need not try to labour the matter. A few indications will suffice. To begin with, take the simple question of eating. With hardly any exceptions, the other animals eat to live. With few exceptions, men live to eat. They have turned eating into an elaborate and largely unwholesome self-indulgence, running the whole gamut of greediness and gormandizing, with only the remotest concern for the restoration of the used tissue of the body. If it be said that the “less fortunate” among mankind , do not go far in this self-indulgence, it may be answered that, when they attain to “fortune” this is one of the ways in which they almost invariably try to capitalize it. The appetite is there, ready for self-expression, as soon as the opportunity offers. Or take the habit-forming drugs and intoxicants. Men and women take them really in order to enjoy certain states of consciousness, like the fool’s paradise of the opium smoker. They like these states of consciousness, first, because they seem to them enjoyable, and, second, because in these states of consciousness they escape from the spiritual burden, the feeling of moral responsibility. So men and women enslave themselves to habit-forming drugs, forfeiting their liberty to gain the paradise of fools. We need do no more than suggest the degeneration of sex, something wholly foreign to normal animal life.
Shameful as these many forms of self-indulgence are, they are, nevertheless, much less culpable than the developments of malice. The Great War has enabled us better to realize the existence of malignant evil, a force altogether demonlike; we gained, at least for a time, a living sense of the frightful power and scope of this abominable sin.
Here, then, in both sensuality and malignant evil, men and women have through long ages de-animalized themselves, developing, not upward, toward the divine, but downward, to the demoniac.
It is equally easy to illustrate the upward tendency. Take, for example, all true art, whether it be painting or sculpture or architecture or music. What is the purpose of real art? To teach us what we ought to see; to enable us to enter into the consciousness of the Spiritual Man. immortal, eternal, radiant.
But how are we to enter into the life of the Spiritual Man? How are we to discover the laws of spiritual life? Are we to take our answer from the Old Testament: “Canst thou by searching find out God?” or from the New: “Seek, and ye shall find”? Surely, the latter. All laws of life are to be found by seeking; are, in fact, so found. And it is a high quality in man, that he is willing to seek with the utmost earnestness and honesty, impelled by pure and disinterested love of truth, without counting the personal cost.
Take an example. On September 21, there will be a total eclipse of the sun, visible in the Southern Hemisphere, in South Africa or Australia. It is probable that even now, in England, for instance, expeditions are being prepared; that arrangements will be made to transport large telescopes to the narrow path of the moon’s shadow; that astronomers will absolutely forget and lose sight of personal comfort and inconvenience, and will not measure the efforts which they must make, in order to gain a purely ideal end. For the main purpose of these observations will be, as was the purpose of the eclipse expeditions to Brazil and West Africa in 1919, to learn whether the light from the stars is deflected or bent out of a straight line as it passes the body of the sun. A purely ideal and absolutely disinterested purpose, with “no nonsense of practicality” about it, as as once ironically said. South Africa and Australia are among the more inhabited countries, where a fair degree of comfort for the expeditions will be obtainable. But this would not really make the slightest difference. Astronomers would go just as eagerly to the Arctic regions, to Novaya Zemlya, or to Easter Island in the South Pacific, in order to find out, to learn.
What is wanted is exactly this determination, this purely disinterested effort and toil, in the search for spiritual law. When men and women begin to seek for spiritual law, for the laws of the Spiritual Man, immortal, eternal, radiant, with the same energy, the same self-forgetfulness, the same conviction, they will infallibly discover these laws and enter into the heritage of the Spiritual Man.
Let us consider two of these laws. The first is the divine and universal law of obedience. To illustrate it, we may take once more the simile of gravity, worn by much use though it be. Man, in his movements about the world, in all his constructive work, can accomplish almost anything—on the sole condition that he shall discover, and obey, the law of gravity. While he obeys, not occasionally, but continuously, he can go wherever he wishes over the face of the world, or in the air, or under the water. While he obeys the law of gravity, he can build for himself palaces and towers. The lines of the walls of this building, erected in obedience to the law of gravity, lead straight to the centre of the earth. So likewise the lines of the spiritual building, the house not made with hands, the dwelling of the Spiritual Man, go direct to the centre of the Heavens. As the palace or the tower may be solidly erected, to stand for ages, because gravity draws each stone downward, so may be erected the spiritual building, the life of the Spiritual Man, to abide for the eternities, because divine gravitation draws him upward.
We must, therefore, if we are to grow to the stature of the Spiritual Man, immortal, eternal, radiant, earnestly seek after spiritual law; and, finding that law, as we shall infallibly find it if we seek, we must obey it perfectly, continuously, as we obey the laws of breathing. Concerning obedience to spiritual law, we may say this: there are, in this, our human life, many kinds of joy which have their beauty and their purity. Nevertheless, it seems certain that we touch true joy for the first time, through whole-hearted, disinterested obedience to divine and spiritual law, when we render up our wills to that most holy will.
This is the law of obedience. There is also the law of divine light. Let us ask ourselves how the true men of science make discoveries. They begin by gathering facts. Then they marshal these facts, arranging them in order according to their likenesses and differences. But no arranging and marshalling of the facts will reveal the law. There must be added, as every true man of science knows, a certain miraculous divination, a piercing ray of the inward light to illuminate the garnered facts and reveal the law hidden within them.
In our search for spiritual law, we must invoke the same inward light. Gathering the facts of our life and setting them in order before us, using all the powers of our intelligence to verify and arrange them, we must then make the intense effort to arouse within us that divine light through which alone real knowledge can be gained; and we must maintain this effort with unflinching courage and determination until we succeed; until the facts of life are illumined and we begin to discern before us “the small, old path, stretching far away, the path the seers trod.”
Something was said here, a year ago, concerning activity and rest. We cherish the deep-seated, profoundly false idea that our destiny is to accomplish something in order that we may rest, in order that our effort. our activity, may cease. We long for a heaven which shall be an eternal sinking down into an infinite featherbed. But we may as well face at the outset the fact that we live in a universe quite other than that paradise of sloth, a universe where all motion is perpetual, where action and effort are everlasting.
In just the same way, we may as well face the fact that our learning the lesson of life will be everlasting. We must again and again set in order the facts that we have gathered and verified, and then intently seek to illuminate them through the divine light that dwells within our souls. Then a part of the difficult path before us will be lit up, and we must press onward in reverent obedience. We must press on, obeying the spiritual law we have divined, gathering new facts concerning our divine life, setting them in order anew, and once more making the effort to bring the heavenly light upon them so that the next division of the path may be lit up.
This continual toil, this perpetual and difficult invocation of the light, may seem to us an intolerable burden. For the mortals we think we are, it is intolerable. But it is the proper task of the Spiritual Man we are to be—the Spiritual Man, immortal, eternal, radiant—and the very essence of his divine inheritance.
Here a word of caution. We are destined for divinity; but not in order that we may behold ourselves as divine, with self-worshipping and admiration. Along that way of self-worship, we may indeed gain a kind of divinity: the divinity expressed in the words of an old popular song, caught up and echoed by Rudyard Kipling; the divinity of the “little tin god on wheels.” Since we of the human family are so apt and prone to this self-worship, it may, perhaps, be well to engrave on our memories, as a fruitful warning, this verse concerning the “little tin god on wheels.” It might even be well to write it out in order to keep its wisdom continually within our sight; setting it, let us say, in the frame of our mirrors. By so doing, we may escape from many delusions.
Turning back to the most ancient Theosophy of the Upanishads, recorded so many millenniums ago, it may justly be asked how the holders of that ancient wisdom came to speak so confidently of spiritual law, so clearly to announce the Spiritual Man, the immortal. The answer is: by experience. They spoke with confidence because they knew. They had sought and found, and they had followed “the small, old path that stretches far away.” Untying the knot of the heart, they had let go the desires that dwell there, the corrupt desires and evil will. Sloughing off the vesture of desires, they had laid aside mortality. They entered and lived the life of the Spiritual Man, immortal, eternal, radiant. Many students of Theosophy hold that this life of the Spiritual Man, the radiant immortal, penetrates all human history. The great personages of the Upanishads, the Buddha, the Christ: these are the Spiritual Man made manifest. What did they teach, what did they reveal, but the life of the Spiritual Man? Many students of Theosophy further hold that the divine succession has never failed, has never been broken nor interrupted; that there are today, as there have been in all ages, those who have attained; those who, sloughing off mortality, have risen up immortal, eternal, radiant. Many students of Theosophy believe that these Divine Men, these Masters of wisdom, have played a dominating role throughout all history; that they play a dominating role today.
What, then, is the task of these Spiritual Men? what have they striven and toiled for, through all the ages of man?. We think that this has been their task, that they toil at this today: to awaken us also, to raise us up from death into life, to instil into our souls and minds some spark of that divine light.
We have free will. The way in which we have through ages de-animalized ourselves in the first direction spoken of, the direction of the demoniac, is proof enough of that; proof, therefore, that we can, if we will, turn instead toward the divine. But, in the meanwhile, we are free to disobey, and we do disobey; we are free to follow after malice and evil will, and we do this; we are free to seek every kind of self-indulgence, whether of body or of mind, and we incessantly seek both; we are free to plunge ourselves in lethargy and sloth, and we use that liberty to the full, to an almost incredible degree: physical sloth, mental sloth, moral sloth, most of all spiritual sloth.
Yet there is within us the divine spark, the sparkle of everlastingness. The task, therefore, of the living Spiritual Men, the divine Masters of wisdom, as students of Theosophy conceive it, is this: to arouse and strengthen that divine spark in every one of us; to turn us from the malice and evil and disobedience of our wills; to wean us from our immeasurable self-indulgence; to shame us out of our silly and discreditable dreams; to cure us of our longing for the paradise of fools. This, in order that they may help us to our feet, so that, sloughing off the darkness of our desires, we too, each one of us, may arise as the Spiritual Man, immortal, eternal, radiant.
There is, for each one of us, some way of approach; we are, at some point of our natures, accessible to the light; there is some crevice, in the mind and heart and soul of each of us, through which the invitation of the Masters may enter, impelling, enkindling, irresistible. They seek that way of access with divine patience; a task which, one of them has said, brings indeed terrible toil and profound sadness, but also a great and ever-increasing delight; joy, when one of us. awakes and begins with awe and wonder to behold the dawn.
This, then, is the invitation, this the goal: that we too shall seek the small, old path, the path the seers trod; so that, sloughing off mortality, we may arise as the Spiritual Man, immortal, eternal, radiant.