[True Poverty and True Wealth]
Theosophical Forum, October, 1898
There is one Lord, the inmost soul of all beings, who makes visible one power in many forms;—they who behold him dwelling in their hearts have lasting joy that belongs not to others;
Eternal among things not eternal, the Soul of souls;—they who behold him dwelling in their hearts have peace eternal that belongs not to others.—Katha Upanishad.
In the oasis of Merv, and all along the vale of Zerafshan, and the Samarcand river, you come upon the ruins of once lovely oriental mansions, each of which has a fountain in its inner court; relics of the flowery summer of Musulman days. But now the houses are tumbling to pieces, the fountain’s are broken and covered over with all sorts of rubbish, fragments of stone, broken tiles, bits of carved beams, dust, withered leaves, drifted in with the wind; and scorpions and spiders, lizards and serpents play about in the basin of the once ice-cool fountain. For in olden days, the water came through the desert-watering rivers from the snow-covered summits of the loftiest uplands in the world.
It is a trite symbol, but we are in much the same case as those old Moslem dwelling places, and there seems a certain element of mockery in thinking that the people you meet have really fountains of living water, of creative power, of regenerative life within them, which might, if set going again, really make them something like the gods of long forgotten days.
There is little that is creative in us, little that has the ring and temper of immortallty; our minds are full of the broken fragments of other people’s thoughts, our lives are lived for the sake of other people’s opinions, and we are conscious of the lowest ebb tide of our celestial energies, so that the triumphant sentences of the old books of wisdom, about immortal joy, everlasting power, and infinite peace, seem rather fine stokes of irony, when we apply them to ourselves. We may be archangels in disguise, but the disguise is a good one; we need not be afraid of being found out.
If we come to analyse it, it is marvelous how much of our lives is based on fear; all the rush for wealth, all the ‘massacre of gold,’ as a poor poet once called it, is really so much cowardice, and the bad results of this cowardice go much further than its original victims dream of; like people who cry “fire!” in a theater, they not only run themselves, but also set the others running.
Beyond mere bodily comfort, and a sufficiency of amusement wealth is sought wholly from the meanest possible desire to gain power over other people through their fear and envy; we want to feel richer than other people, or rather to have them feel poorer than we are, and to that end we heap up riches; and so we come to have a society dominated by a band of bald-headed millionaires with their claws out, grasping at each other’s piles of cash, and so setting all the rest of us grasping, by imitation. The panic is as catching as all panics are; and if the main energy of our lives goes in that direction, what wonder if the houses of our souls come to look like those dwelling-places in Zerafshan.
We look back on the middle ages as a barbarous epoch of violence and bloodshed, and are complacent in our own superiority. But the ideal of success was far higher then, than it is now; the ideal was personal valor, the personal comeliness, and not merely a swollen bank account attached to a mediocre and grasping personality, with no form or comeliness, that we should desire him. It is well said that this is the great opportunity for spiritual effort and spiritual enlightenment. For never was a time when they were more needed. We talk of the end of the dark ages. We are in the very middle of them, the blackest hour of all. For never before did the whole world cherish so low and poor ideals of success in life. Even the policy of nations is now guided by the bankers, not the patriots; the question is, what policy will pay.
In art and literature, it is just the same thing; the question is no longer to paint a true picture, or write a really good book, but to do something that will sell well, something catchy, that will appeal to the largest number of commonplace and mediocre minds, and that is why appeals to sensual feelings make up so great a part of modern books, especially in the nation whose novels are the best written in the world. One can always count on the popularity of literary material of that sort.
If these modern men of wealth had a real sense of beauty, or even of fine pageantry, one could forgive them much; but the main matter with them is always the figure at the bank; and not what they can do with it, whether to amuse or edify themselves or others. It thus comes that their wives are a special providence to them, for the concrete sex always likes to have something positive and tangible to show; not merely the desire of possessions, but the present sense of them. Were it not for the spending sex, the world would get absolutely nothing for all these millions, but the sense of a row of figures.
The result of all this is, that craven and abject state which our world has fallen into, under the dominion of the desire for sensation, and the lust of possession, both of which are mere veils to cover up poverty in the sense of real life, of present vigor, of creative power. For, strange as it may seem, those books of old are not uttering irony at all; they are telling the simple facts, the plainest truth, when they speak of our infinite heritage, our immortal possessions. People have the idea that they will come into these things when they die; let us hope they will, to some extent. But the root of their hope is a deep and unconscious conviction that they can never enter into their spiritual inheritance here, in a world where the rights of property are perpetually distracting their attention from the realities of being.
The true ideal has nothing in common with the old monastic vanity of poverty, humility and weakness; of fleeing from the world, and living a life opposed to nature. The true ideal is that every one of us should have a full and present sense of power, such as will leisurely balance all other people, and indeed the whole world itself. And we are born also to a real conquest over nature, direct, and flowing from our wills, instead of this mere impertinence towards nature, which we call our modern industrial life. We should have, in this life, and in this world, such a sense of power, such a sweeping vision, such serenity, such well-balanced stability, that the change of death, which is to make archangels of us, should find little to change in us or our ideals; but that we should already inherit eternity, while dwelling here.
The root of the lowness and poverty in our lives, in all our lives, whether we are millionaires, or only long to be, is our absolute destitution of real self-reliance, the reliance on the present power and resourcefulness of our souls. That makes our thoughts poor, our emotions poor, our wills poor, our works poor; that is the real cause of the poverty of talent in the world, because we can by no means be persuaded to clear out the rubbish of our fountains, and set them flowing again, in realization of that fine old simile of the inner stream of living water, springing up to everlasting life.
We talk about ‘making a living.’ If we were less conceited, we should first think that there is a necessity of justifying ourselves for being alive at all. We ought to have something to show for it, instead of being ‘mere empty measures, that cumber the granary.’ Never believe it, when people tell you that they have no talent and no power, and cannot therefore do this or that. What business have they here, in the midst of a universe teeming with spiritual force? Why can they not appropriate some of it, on the good old principle of the kingdom of heaven taken by violence. We should have more cases of wise old people coming into second youth and power, if we had not so many foolish young people who squander the little power they possess in all kinds of foolishness. And the ideal is not so much a creative activity,—that is, an activity which creates things for other people to admire,—as first of all a stability and self reliance, an excellent and buoyant life for ourselves. We shall best help other people by paying the strictest attention to our lives and powers.
For when Prajapati made the shadows of early men, he made no two alike; and he meant the diversity to continue. And therefore, if all of us were but content to be ourselves, we should all be different and do different things, and therefore refreshingly original things, and that would be creation enough, and a sufficient benefaction towards our neighbors.
And the heart of the matter is this: if you find or imagine, that you personally have no creative energy or power, no well of immortal waters, in the court of your dwelling, be advised to ask yourself whether you base your life on the hunger of sensations and the lust of possessions; for these two pleas of poverty are the real causes of the bankruptcy of the soul. You can hardly expect to teach others to live brave lives in the eye of day, while you yourself are cowering with chattering teeth. Brace up, archangel, and try what valor is in you. At the worst, I suppose you can only lose your head, and will that greatly matter?
So if I were asked: what are we to do, to spread high ideals in the days to come?—I would answer this: let us try each to discover his own particular soul, and then leave that soul to do the rest. It will soon break forth into a hundred creative energies, like those once proud fountains in Zerafshan, and from the new life the flower-garden of the soul will soon burst into bloom, and the rest of the world will ask nothing better than to press round in mute admiration.