Theosophical Forum, August, 1898
“The seer is not born, nor dies, nor does He come from aught, or become aught. Unborn, everlasting, eternal, the Ancient is not slain when the body is slain.
“If the slayer thinks to slay Him, if the slain thinks He is slain, both understand not; this slays not, nor is slain.
“Smaller than small, mightier than mighty, this Soul dwells in the heart of every being; without sacrifice he beholds the greatness of the Soul, through the grace of that Ruler, and free from sorrow.
“Seated, that Soul goes far; resting, it goes everywhere. Who else is worthy to know that bright one, who is unsated delight?
“Bodiless in bodies; firm among fleeting things; the wise man grieves not, perceiving that mighty lord, the Soul.
“This Soul is not to be gained by preaching, nor by knowledge, nor by hearing much; whom this Soul chooses, by him it is to be won; and the Soul chooses his body for its own.
“But not he who has ceased not from evil, who has not won peace, who is not intent, nor he whose mind has not won peace, may win Him even by wisdom.
“Of whom priest and warrior are the food, whose anointing is Death,—who rightly knows where that Soul is?”
(Katha Upanishad, I, 2.)
“The Breath breathes where it will, and the voice of it thou hearest, but knowest not whence it comes, and whither it goes; so is everyone who has been born of the Breath.”
I once gained a great reputation for wisdom, with a tender young Brother, who tiptoed about in search of his soul. He asked me if I really knew anything about Meditation, and I answered: “Absolutely nothing.” He thought that only an adept could make a reply like that.
But if I know nothing about Meditation, or at least about the strange, weird thing he had in mind, I suspect many things. And one of them is, that a great deal of nonsense has been spoken about this somewhat mysterious topic.
Underneath this aspirant’s question was an assumption which is really at the root of much human folly,—the assumption that we can avail ourselves of the superior wisdom of some one else, to save our souls, or to get into the kingdom of heaven, or to “establish communications with adepts,” or whatever expression one may give to this aspiration.
I do not think the enquirer about meditation would have admitted that; I do not think he even realized it. Nevertheless, it is true that numbers of people, who have been studying the traditions of wisdom for years, and who ought to know better, do really believe that they can be “saved,” or acquire “spiritual merit,” whatever they may be, through the wisdom or knowledge of some one else. And in this supposition there lurks a double danger; a danger to the person believing, and a danger to the person believed in.
The first danger, I think, we have all had chances to observe. We have seen to what extent admiring worship can go; how soon it turns into servile adulation; and how soon this, in its turn, becomes absolute slavery. So that people of mature age, and otherwise sound intellect, go about in bodily and mental fear of their prophets, and are in continual dread that, even in thought, they may offend; and as far as human experience goes, there is apparently no limit at all to the wild absurdities of superstitious dread which an otherwise sane human being can fall into, till we come to the terrorism of the eastern astrologer, stretching from before birth until after death; the tyranny of the Hindu priest, whose disciples are induced to do all kinds of humiliating and idiotic things; and, indeed, the “spiritual” tyranny of priests all the world over, and in every age.
Now as far as the degrading effect of this kind of worship is concerned, I am deeply convinced that it matters very little whether it be bestowed on a worthy or an unworthy object. The condition of moral deliquescence arrived at is precisely the same. The sufferer gradually loses all self-reliance, all power of initiative, all strength of will, all the elasticity and buoyancy of spirit which alone give him a right to breathe the vital airs. And I would make no exception whatever to this rule, but rather would declare it to be my most assured conviction that worship of any teacher, spiritual pastor, or master, however high, however holy he may be, is invariably weakening and degrading to the worshipper, and deprives him of all possibility of acquiring that very spiritual power which he so much admires in another.
And this sort of worship is very demoralising to its object. There is, in every one of us, a fountain of unquenchable valor, through which we feel ourselves easily able to counterbalance the world, and dwell in firm and buoyant possession of our own lives. There is also in us a boundless possibility of cowardice, through which we are continually driven to seek the feeling or strength by various outer expedients. The pursuit of riches is only one of these expedients. No man seeks wealth, unless he feels himself to be poor. And the greater the avidity of his search, the greater his confession of poverty.
Another expedient is the craving for domination over others. We seek to assure ourselves of our strength, by making other people do things our way, and see things as we see them; and we cannot endure contradiction, and difference of opinion. Some people are born sectarians, always contesting someone’s opinion, and fighting for their own view of truth. And they are unhappy, to the utmost depths of misery, when other people disagree with them; and they have ever in their minds a division of mankind into orthodox and heterodox, loyal and traitors, faithful and faithless,—the first term of the division meaning nothing more than those who agree with themselves, and their opinions. And that craving to have people see things our way is an element of weakness, for it shows that we have no real and abiding satisfaction in our own truth, for its own intrinsic value. And this element of weakness, going with an otherwise gifted nature, brings the longing for spiritual domination. There is nothing which people are more ready to administer to than this instinct; and the way along that flowery path is swift. It brings at no very distant dale, the willingness to reinforce domination by appeals to all kinds of supernatural authority, whether it be: “thus saith the Lord.” or “the Master says—.” The appeal in the one case is as bad as in the other. The truest thing on earth can but be true; it cannot be any truer because an archangel says it. And once the authority of the archangels is invoked, their names are likely to be appended to all kinds of queer and unexpected documents.
Let me give an instance, a perfectly authentic fact. A remarkable clairvoyante, who had a talent for many things, but little ability in matters of practical life, got into the way of indorsing all kinds of true enough visions by saying “Master—says this or that.” It finally came down to this: “Master—says you are to pay my land-lady for me.” This was done. Then came the codicil: “Master says: I hope you did not forget the washing?”
As far as we can understand human frailty, there is no limit in this direction, just as there is no limit to the foolishnes which people may be led into, by the habit of following these supernatural sanctions. The result is bad, in either case. And this, without regard to the initial sanity or sanctity of the culprits.
So that, when my young friend asked me whether I knew anything about mediation, what he really meant was: do you know any psychological trick, which you can teach me, and through which I may be able to save my soul?
Now I think the principle which underlies this, is wholly false, and I shall try to bring this false principle to light. I am very completely convinced that no one can derive any benefit at all from any teacher, pastor, or master, or any “highly evolved entity” whatever, except in so far as that person possesses his own soul, and is consciously master of his own life.
We freely admit that each of us must eat for himself; we would not dream of trying to take exercise by deputy; each of us, without reasoning about it, learns to keep his center of gravity directly over the center of support, in such a manner that the line joining the two, if produced, would pass through the center of the earth; or, to speak plain prose, each one of the thousand five hundred millions of people on the globe has to learn to stand upright, by his own exertions, and to breathe on his own account from the boundless ocean of the air. And we all admit this necessary independence in each person’s relation with the natural world, and we should esteem any man to be of unsound intellect, who maintained the contrary.
Yet how many people will as easily admit that we must learn to stand on our own feet, in the spiritual world? The reason is, because they have no such faith in the spiritual world, as they have in the natural world, and no such belief in our real and intimate relation with spiritual powers. Yet that relation is as intimate, as constant, as uninterrupted, as our relation with gravity, or with the air we breathe, not as a metaphor at all, but as a simple, unadorned fact. We are in spiritual life all the time, whether we know it or not; whether we want it or not; whether we have ever dreamed of it or not. And our evident duty is, to find our own footing, and to keep it as sturdily and as naturally, as we keep our footing in the natural world.
If we get this clearly into our minds, we shall see how misleading is much that is said and written about Meditation. It is suggested that we should “meditate” in order to “come into contact with adepts.” I imagine that the contact, if established, would in most cases be very embarrassing to both parties. But that is not the point. What business has anyone to “come into contact with adepts”, or to want to do so? What a man should really aspire to, is to master his own life, and use his own powers; to become a stable and reliable member of the cosmic family, and to be of such force that he may perform such duties as fall in his way, towards his neighbors and himself.
It may seem that this is a small thing to aspire to. It is anything but a small thing. I never knew anyone yet that had mastered a tithe of his powers, or was in any immediate danger of so doing. For there are unsounded infinities in every man, deep well-springs of immortality, of joy, of power, which only the ages will fully reveal to him, and he has only to begin to take an inventory of his treasures, to learn that they are really boundless. But what chance has anyone to gain this mastery or his own life, if he is all the time running after other peoples opinions? And what worse form can this pursuit take, than the adept-hunting which we have all seen so much of?
I am perfectly certain that no adept, master, magician, sage, or whatever you may call him, can do anything at all for anyone who does not stand on his own feet in the spiritual world, and see with his own eyes. Then there is no longer a question of the big brother doing something for the little brother, in the spoon-feeding sense. The matter is rather that two people, of the respectable brotherhood of man, have come naturally together, each following his own path, and that they will journey a while in common, each meanwhile doing his own walking, his own breathing, his own seeing.
And what is generally thought of, as meditation, is simply a psychological trick to defeat this natural order of things, and to gain some imagined advantage, beginning with occult powers, and ending with the attainment of Nirvana.
We have been told, by the various adherents of Meditation, that one should set apart an hour, or half an hour, every day, and fix the mind on something, variously suggested, from the dial of a watch, to the mind of Parabrahm, and that by repeating this process, one will finally find himself in the company of the sages. I have known a great many people who advocated these practices, through a good many years, but I cannot say that the result is, on the whole, cheering. Many of them are greatly satisfied with what they say they have attained, and will tell you the number of mansions in the Father’s house, or almost anything else, except what is of value for real life; but the truth seems to be that, by following any of these psychic panaceas, they ultimately lose all sane touch with real life, and drift off into some imaginary paradise, which their imaginations have, unknown to themselves, been building up, and in which they pass useless days, until the end comes, and they are set adrift again.
I do not think the great secret is so readily won; and I feel inclined to suspect the wisdom of anyone who professes to have a certain bundle of recipes for spiritual wisdom, whether he be called an adept, or an archangel. Life is not so simple as that. There is a private revelation, to each of us, of the meaning of our own lives, and until we have listened very attentively to that, we shall be ill employed listening to anyone else’s wisdom.
It seems to me that this idea of master and pupil is simply an outcome of the instinct of cowardice on the one hand, and domination on the other, of which I have already spoken. This exalting of a human being for worship always fills me with misgiving. The worshiped cannot be more than a human being; the worshiper cannot be less. One may admire and rejoice in the wisdom of another, but that is no reason for disloyalty towards one’s own soul. We may admire a sprint runner, but we do not therefore give up walking, on our own accounts.
These are but a few of the directions in which I think we are in great danger of being misled, or of misleading ourselves. They all arise from looking for light in wrong directions. We must look to our own souls for light, and nowhere else. And we must remember that the finding of the light, the awakening of an intuition, is not the end of the matter, but the beginning. An intuition is a perception of something to do. Then comes the question: have we the courage to do it? Till we settle that, we shall have no second intuition, no further light. And I do not think that one’s courage is reinforced by meditation. On the contrary, the more you meditate on a thing to be done, the less likely are you to do it. The real thing is, not meditation, but action. Meditation is the sketch. Action is the picture. Meditation is the plan. Action is the building. A wise rule is: when you have perceived even a little light, meditate no more until you have accomplished what you saw was to be done.
And I question the wisdom of set periods for meditation. The Spirit has its own wild way of speaking to man, and makes little account of his often pious invitations. The great thing is, when that Spirit speaks, be it but once in a life-time, that we shall be ready to obey; and not “through vileness make the great betrayal.” When we have carried out one command of the Spirit, it will be time enough to invite the next. I think each of us could shrewdly guess at some one thing to be done, without any prolonged meditation. It is not the insight we lack, so much as the nerve to try if it will work; to make experiments, even at the risk of upsetting our comfortable lives. Our blood runs chill and thin, and no amount of Meditation will warm it. A little action will clear things up, more than a great deal of mediation. The real matter is the question of our wills. The later Indian schools exalted the intellect and its perceptions, and almost forgot the will. And from these schools come the maxims of meditation which are retailed to us.
Nothing, whether in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, can save us at all, except the valor of our own souls.