Lines From Lower Levels
The Path, December, 1886
Many will turn from this heading. Whether they really live upon the upper levels or only imagine such to be their dwellings, these words are probably mute to them. A laggard in the great race, one who has only just rounded the starting buoy in stress of weather, here signals to his unseen companions amid heavy seas. If a score of blind men, turned loose to beat the city’s by-ways, should meet and compare mischances, some light would presently dawn among them. We are not isolated in spiritual experience. Though Falsehood wears myriad masks, when Truth looks in, she turns the same face on all.
It is of the beginning of the Way that I speak. Confusions and perplexities beset us. Most of these are of our own conjuring. The insidious canker of Doubt is first, is worst of all. Better stop right where you are for a lifetime than advance with this moral leprosy unexterminated. It will spread through future existences until it has eaten the heart to the core. Now it is in our power. Wrestle boldly with every doubt until you have converted it to a certainty; thus you force it to bless you in departing, as Jacob did the Angel. Why should we doubt? The day on which I first heard of the Wisdom-Religion is for me set apart like a potent jewel in the crest of Time. My thought salutes its messengers with the grand old words,—“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth Peace.” The Peace of this religion is the proof absolute of its Wisdom. Our vitality is exhausted with the life struggle; it seems a dead pull against the current. Reason tells us we ought to be able to move with the stream. Man has a false idea of his own requirements; this is why possession satiates all. We are ignorant that the desire for Unity lies hidden in the deeps of every human heart. This is the Truth at the bottom of the well; it is the basic need of all mankind. Recognise it, and you may sweep unwearied along the resistless current of evolutionary progress. We begin to realize the inability of existing creeds to sound and explain our Being. Every one of us craves a belief which shall not be a formula, but Life itself, which shall develop and complete the constituency of lives.
Our religions violate the golden rule of Architecture,—“Ornament construction; do not construct ornamentation.” Their slight framework is florid with theological detail, garlanded with the varying ideals of centuries. Not so does the Master Builder plan. Yet the keystone of each arch is the Truth manifest in the Past, the Truth which still bears witness to Divinity to the new Age.
When men meet their belief in every department of life, when it assists them on every plane, so that they eat better, sleep better, love better, create better and die better by it, then will it be a vital law to them, not a garment to be laid aside on work days. Theosophy does all this. It informs every deed, makes of each fact a new revelation, and testifies to more religion in one chapter of Natural Philosophy, than in all the sermons of next Sunday. Study these grand similitudes and we find how single is Truth, so that the three great laws of Motion are also those of Emotion, and Newton spoke for my heart, as well as for the universe. All life is thus related; if you doubt the validity of theory or action, test them by this law of correspondence.
Do I revolt from the rule of gentle procedure in the teeth of wrath or abuse. I recall the axiom of mechanics,—“Motion seeks the line of least resistance,”—and my moral force proves itself perpetual motion by its avoidances of friction. Truth is the same in every part. You shall pass every beam of thought through this prism; if it is a pure ray each component will have its distinct value on its own plane, and all will blend again to Light.
Sometimes we are chilled as by a sense of isolation from the main body of our kind. This is imaginary; you shall not think we are few, or stand alone. Even now the thoughtful listener hears the soughing of the rising flood of Public Opinion. This was the mainstay of Science in her late tilt with the Church. The People, weary of barren Theology demanded in facts, in laws, the manifestation of the Divine. Now it begins to call Science to account for her limitations. Do we doubt the bubbling interest in Psychology? We should scan our newspapers, novels, magazines, boudoir gossip even, to feel the pulse of the general tide. Science yields so far to the pressure as to explain why she cannot or does not make thorough and sustained psychical investigations, and with a blunt,—“so much the worse for you,” the public turns expectantly to the broader or younger men who better gauge the tendency of our time.
This tendency is to cooperation, to unification. Science and Religion are one, are truth, and blindness is the portion of those who dismember her kingdom. A pertinent case is that of a physician well known to New York clinics who used his mesmeric power in putting patients to sleep in the presence of his students and maintaining their complete unconsciousness during painful operations, thus carried to successful conclusions without the dangerous drawback of anesthetics. Less gifted confreres frowned down the “irregularity.” This is a thinking Age, and men are losing confidence in the judgment of scientists whose biased attitude would bar them from jury service in the pettiest court of the land.
Again there are those who are tried by the mistakes, the treachery, or the public misunderstanding of other adherents of Theosophy. What does it matter? The world swung on while Galileo recanted, and though a disciple betrayed his Master, the Christian world still kneels. Our noblest opponents are often unconscious Theosophists, judging them by their fervid search for Truth. When their hour strikes, they will find her; meanwhile Wisdom needs no converts. Man passes; Truth is, and needs no concern of ours. Do not think either that the Wisdom-Religion is only for the strong or the intellectual; it is for all. Food is meant to sustain life, and Love to develop it, but excess in either may kill. So those whose nature is morbid, exaggerate the aspect of Truth and go mad of their own phantasms. Every Science, every Art, every Religion has its list of these moral suicides and those who confront you with it are like the old nurses who scare children from the jam closet with “bogies.”
I said that we breed our own perplexities. Take the first day of the new life, when with fledgeling resolves aflutter we come glowing and resolute down the stairs. We had ordered a spartan meal which Love has spared us. Frowning, we order the dainties away and sit reflecting on the encumbrances of earthly affection; wounded, it leaves our side. Our plain food comes; it is ill cooked and the retarded servant has a scowl which we resent: the household jangles and jars. The meal has not refreshed us, and the lack of the soothing but condemned cigar brings our irritability to a head. We hasten to lock ourselves into the study for meditation; but a bird sings in at the window, and Love’s voice pleads at the door. We shut out the song and chide the syren. Why is our heart so heavy now when bent on eternal things? Knocking! We open with a martyr face. A friend is there, a dogged churchman; his salvation is in our hands! He chats of the weather, our club, state politics. We broach a higher theme, we denounce, cut and thrust, argue. Surprised he listens in courteous silence, and as he leaves us we remember too late that he too cherishes his religion, we curse the follies of the wretched day and call Theosophy for the nonce “impracticable.” Brothers! the man of creeds who can hear our dogmatism with self control is perhaps nearer the Essential than we are. He who plunges into restraints which unhinge and irritate him is no better than the man who loses his reason through drink. Both lack moderation, the result is the same, and we have only to do with results. Devote your thoughts to ascetic meals, and no Lucullus of the town is more prostrate before his viands than yourself. Moderation declares the sage. Accept all that comes with equal content, the thought held high above all. When the daily functions are fulfilled I have done nothing; the soul is no participant in these. Advance towards the Eternal and the Transient will imperceptibly drop away from you. No shirking of the duties of our position avails. Comrades! The battle field is there where the long roll finds you standing. Your past acts enlisted you under just that flag; fight it out there! The universal charge is carried through the vigor of individuals, each acting from his own headcentre and not from that of another. “The duties of a man’s own particular calling, although not free from faults, is far preferable to the duty of another, let it be ever so well pursued.”1 On this plane we are a body militant; on the next plane we shall transform this activity, but as long as individuality exists, it would seem that each must move in an orbit of his own. There is as much egotism in snatching at the burden not meant for us, as in refusing that which is. Do all necessary acts promptly and with your best ability, abandoning at once all care for the result. Do you say this is not Theosophy? You mistake. True Theosophy is everything that elevates or aids mankind, were it but the singing of a ballad to lighten another’s toil. “It is not that you must rush madly or boldly out to do, to do. Do what you find to do. Desire ardently to do it, and even when you shall not have succeeded in carrying out anything but some small duties, some words of warning, your strong desire will strike like Vulcan upon other hearts in the world, and suddenly you will find that done which you had longed to be the doer of. Then rejoice, that another had been so fortunate as to make such a meritorious Karma. Thus like the rivers running into the unswelling passive ocean, will your desires enter into your heart.” Drop this concern for ephemera and forms; heed essentials only, Get to the centre of every vital fact and live there as at the heart of an opal, darting forth prismatic rays of Love and Faith upon all created things.
If we set out upon a journey to lands unknown, we should observe the inhabitants, gathering the spirit of their laws from their manners, ourselves courteous yet cautious with all. So in this passage to the unseen, that which is essential is the spirit of things. What affair is it of mine if this man glows with gratified desire, or that woman shines in undue laces and coquetries? Do I know the principles of their constitution? Can I vouch that these errors are not the mere husk of habit, which dropping-off may reveal a larger kernel of Virtue than I possess? Nor will I hastily become the spiritual bondsman of him who stands above me. He has not exhausted the sum of Truth; tomorrow I shall find a fraction of my own. All these finical distinctions are not of the Eternal. The substratum of all things is Wisdom. The twist of Failure has its strands of silver. The pratings of the fool dissuade men from folly. I have never done anything of myself: a clarion impulse commands my best deeds; high thoughts radiate to me from I know not what sphere. Ask yourself before friend or foe,—“How does the spirit manifest in him?” For above and below it manifests equally. The undeviating brute, true to its every principle, has a volume of teaching for us. We cannot read until we know the alphabet and Nature holds our primer daily before us. Do not hawk Truth about to the careless crowd. Not because you belittle it, (that is impossible,) nor yet yourself, (that is immaterial,) but because you must hold fast in silence to all that you possess to support you in the tests of the future. Nor is Truth a nostrum to be forced down the unready throat. Thereby you disgust a man with Truth; who covets that responsibility? Ah, gentle hearts and virile minds! Are you wounded by the wantonness of those you long to save? These errors are perhaps their appointed teachers in your stead. Error is not exempt from the law! Can Love check a cyclone in mid career, or does Reason outrun the whirlwind? Desire has a lustier voice than yours. Let these errant ones wisely alone. Presently when success is at an ebb, or the complacent Ego is stung by pride or pain, they will hear the low plaint of the soul. Then, their state related to yours, they will turn to you as the heliotrope to the sun. Trust to the law of spiritual affinity. He for whom you have a thought will be attracted to you for it; he will in some way ask it of you. Distrust the intellect in these replies. Only the dwellers of the upper levels draw their thought crystal pure from the Fountain-head of Mind. Below, sympathy is the universal solvent; its ardent fusion welds mankind. Speak to me in our common language; it is that of the heart. You cannot so much as tie up a straying rosetree without sympathy. Try it, and the tender shoots are nipped as by a frost. Do you say that it is hard that you should not help others? Perhaps you only want to help them in your own way. The difference between loving a man for himself, and loving him for myself, is the difference between “heaven” and “hell.” There is no hell but that which we create in our hearts, and selfishness is its yawning portal. Effort for Wisdom is help for all; he who thinks wisely does a deed of beneficence. Beneath generous yearnings lurks sometimes the wish that this “I,” shall become influential or admired, have clients and suitors in the anteroom. Lest I deceive myself I will mutely speed my good wishes to all. Only when we have learned how to preserve a wise silence, will the first stammerings of speech come to us. Speak then from your own knowledge, simply, without trying to adorn Truth. Many of our most valued writers are at times too transcendent, too erudite for us of the lower level. As the great orator or actor sees one face grow towards his from out the vast field of faces, and concentrating his burning purpose into that focus, sees streaming thence the homogeneous force which electrifies the throng,—so I would have each writer among you address his thought to some especial comrade within his mind, that you may drop this mantle of remoteness, and let us feel you tense and vibrant with helpfulness, pressing close to our side. The West needs a more ringing note than the mystic Orient mind. Let the spirit of your nation speak through your work and to your fellows every word will be an occult charm.
Why are we so impatient that we do not receive the accolade of accepted duty from those Royal Souls who proceed us on the Way? “They also serve who only stand and wait.”2 He who cannot wait contentedly may be sure he cannot serve. We must master the diurnal before we can overcome the spiritual. Some say that a heroic deed is easier than submission to pinpricks. We may survive Niagara when a drop of water per second on the brain is madness. Friends; the struggle for the Eternal is not one daring deed nor yet hundreds of them. It is a calm unbroken forgetfulness of the lower self for all time. Begin it on your present plane. You have within you the same guide that the Masters possess. By obeying It, they have become what they are. Hark! A voice resounds within. “Know thy true Self; it is thy guide.” If the voice seems silent, it is perhaps because you ask with the mind only, which is a higher kind of curiosity. When a spiritual need cries out within you, the answer will come with a flash to the reverent listener. But in all the three worlds there is no power to save you but your own. When we have exhausted the possibilities of growth on our present plane, we rise naturally to a higher level. If here we find a Master, it is because we have come into the region where he dwells. Better than desiring to deserve is deserving to desire. Of this be sure. All that is rightfully yours will come to you. So reads the Law.
As a mountain climber leans forward, treads zig-zag, counteracting gravity and the air’s resistance, so shall you walk with care. We do not know what moral resistance we arouse, what unseen evil lurks near, what stone our passage may loosen to fall on those below. We do not know the delicate adjustment of this aerial world. Keep eyes and mind fixed on the heights above, lest the yawning abyss from which you rose, attract you. Distrust your emotions, your thoughts above all. An insidious thought, like a traitor in the fortress, tends outward to the legions of evil and would deliver you up to them. Who knows where the ripples of a hasty thought may end? We are pledged by our theosophic vow to do naught that can dishonor our Society. What more dishonoring than unjust, angered or vagrant fancies which corrupt the atmosphere of others and may breed a moral pestilence. “He that hateth his brother is a murderer.”3 Perhaps there are times when this is literally true. “If he does not love his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God, Whom he hath not seen?” Pass this word along the line;—“Eternal vigilance is the price of safety.”
You who are inclined to dispute these thoughts, do better; ignore them. They are a life experience, not meant for you who have it not, nor are you once named herein. They are true from one standpoint and for those upon the same plane. Hereafter all must alchemize virtues and vices alike. Be not discouraged at these necessary transitions; they do not convict you of radical error. Give me an unknown seed; its potentiality is a secret from me, but in faith I plant and tend it. As it waxes to the budding glories of branch and flower, and thrills with the fecund boon of fruitage, I am no whit the loser, and hidden at the root of this larger heritage, the same seed remains life bestowing and true. Thus Knowledge is not final; it must expand and germinate or it is but a dead thing. “Veil upon veil shall lift, but there shall be veil upon veil behind.”4
Does he who writes thus always follow his own teachings? No! A hundred, a thousand times, no! Deluded, he climbs by devious paths and from the very brink of attainment, falls!
“Jove strikes the Titans down. Not when they set about their mountain piling, but when one stone more would complete the work.”5
Then with toil and pain he rises and cons the chart once more. Beloved Brothers! — and there is nowhere one so lost, so estranged, so low or so great whom this name does not call — he will have received these blows to a benign purpose, if their teachings shall roll away a single stone from your upward path.
1. Bhagavad Gita.
4. Light of Asia.