The Heart of the Mystery
Theosophical Forum, May, June, July, 1900
“. . . Beheld the immortals sweatless, steady-eyed, their garlands fresh, and touching not the ground; but he, doubled by his shadow, standing there upon the earth, was stained with dust and sweat, his garland faded.”
What heart but at times grows weary of this our human life, with its births, its marriages, its deaths; with its pathways of small ambition and sordid struggle leading forward in monotonous deadly certainty to the green mound beneath the cypresses? Who has not cried out in spirit against it all, longing to turn back from the beaten road where mankind runs, with a dazed eagnerness like that haunted herd of Gadara, swept by demoniac presences down the steep to the blue Genesaret waves? There is pathos in it too, and pitifulness; even for the most infatuate, life soon wears so threadbare, so seamed with dullest commonness, that the hurrying troop of doomed men and women would presently cast away their burden, were it not snatched from their shoulders by the old man with the hourglass, who ushers them into the silence.
Who has not felt in moments of clear sight, in hours of inspiration, that these good people are ridden with dreams, and we along with them; that we have elsewhere a quite other history not made of epitaphs but written in letters of gold, with words of fire, in the serene halls of the immortals? Man dreams that he moves forward; he only moves from dream to dream. He is demon-ridden, dwelling altogether among shadows, and that most of all when he is most confidently sensual and material. But there are times when he outgrows the form and color of his dream, and must have change. The sleeper restlessly moves and murmurs in his sleep; then for one startled moment he opens his eyes to the everlasting sunshine.
Then comes a new dream, a new epoch, a new era. So it was two thousand years ago, when the Roman world of beneficent callous force was wearing itself out, when the dream of Olympian Jove was fading. Then were spoken words among the Galilean hills that let in the light of the Eternal, and for a moment the eyes of mortal man gazed into the shining eyes of his brother the immortal. Then mankind sank back again to dream. There remained only broken fragments of the message, like words set echoing among the rocks, to hear evidence of the revelation. The old Roman dream of dominion flowed back again, staining the ray of celestial light. What belonged to Caesar was rendered to God.
The new era enthroned a heavenly monarch in the purple, darkening altogether the true vision of the divine, the vision of man the immortal. Our kingdoms and empires with their claims of election and grace, their mandate from on high, were but copies of imperial Rome touched with the ray of Galilee; our divinity, but an image of these earthly potentates exalted to the heavens, an autocrat at exacting homage, gathering tribute, and entering into treaties with mankind. A few enjoyed the suffrage of salvation; the rest were doomed to servitude in hell.
Centuries have passed, and this dream too has faded. The power of the celestial Caesar has declined. His jeweled throne is crumbling. The nether fires are out. The golden city is deserted; grass is growing in its streets. The songs of cherubim and seraphim are stilled, and silence reigns through the high halls of heaven. With the passing of the divine Caesar’s throne, fades too the materialism which undermined it, hardly outliving his fall. Materialism is already out of date, grown grotesque and antiquated. We are offered instead a physical proof of our immortality, material evidence of the enduring soul.
So that dream within a dream has faded, and there comes a lull, when the light from beyond the heavens once more sends forth its ray to challenge the darkness. As of old, it brings the message of our present immortality, not in a dim future paradise, but here and now; of salvation not by faith or works, but by creative will; of immediate and intimate touch with the eternal heart of being. Even here and now, we are in the midst of the everlasting; we catch the immortal whisper, feel the immortal fire in our hearts, the touch of an immortal finger summoning us forth into light.
Then the dreams of our desires come upon us again, and imaginings of terror; the cynical unfaith of sensuality, and that very human cry for yet a little slumbering and sleep. We are once more entangled among shadows, and hurry forward dazed to the lake-edge of Gadara. Yet there is a golden clew to guide us forth from this labyrinth of dreams; there is a path that leads us back from the abyss of death, easy to find, yet hard to follow, and calling for the valor and vision of immortals in those who would tread its ways.
The shadows may be met and overcome. And first of all, the shadow of our sensuality. Our error here is easy to indicate, and well worth mending; for its fruit is inevitable death. We sin by meeting the natural world in a wrong and vicious way; with a demand for sensations, instead of an offer of work. We desire keenness of feeling, keenness of life; and we have a right to it, but we take the wrong way to gain it, and nature herself ceaselessly admonishes us of our mistake.
Nature intends sensation only as a guide to work, a guide for the will; but we make sensation an end in itself, and thus incur inevitable doom. For sensation which is not turned to the purposes of the will must bear one of two fruits: either at every repetition the stir of feeling will grow less, rendered callous by use until there comes the dullness of total insensibility; or, if the outward stimulus be constantly increased, as it must be to give even the same excitement, it will grow at last to such a pitch that the natural body is worn out and torn to pieces. These alternatives are but differing forms of death.
Perfecting his creature throughout ages, God at last gave him reason and called him man. This was the fruit of that gift of freedom; for every power committed to his will, the new-enfranchised creature devised an abuse, to the end of sensuality. The power to choose and reason upon his food lies wholly within his will; with the result that he grows blurred and bloated from excess, or lean-eyed and cavernous with hungry longing. The faculty to reproduce his kind, also entrusted to him, he has transformed from a pure instinct to an absorbing passion; after a brief pairing season, animals are sexless throughout the year, but man is ever insatiate with hungry longings. Of the bodily powers, God kept to himself the heart and the life-breath, holding them back from his creature’s interference. Were it otherwise, man in his perverseness seeking sensuality even in these, would have broken the vital casket in fragments, abolishing himself long ago from the earth.
It is well that the animals are dumb. They might mock their lord. Sensuality is as foreign to them as the fear of death. These are the sign-manuals of our humanity. Yet the instinct which leads so far astray is a pure one, destined to an infinitely better reward, a far higher fulfilment than any dreamed by man. For the lust of life is at heart the desire of immortality, the longing for infinite being. But we err in meeting nature through our appetites, not through our wills; in coming into the world with a demand, when we should come with an offer of creative work, work carried out through the insight and inspiration of our immortal part. Even bodily health comes always through exertion, and never through sensation; so direct is the admonition of our natural life. Strength comes only through energy well applied, and in the work of the will is our peace.
The true intention of our life is, that the senses should serve the will, not that will should serve the senses. In right living, each sense leading the will to work is strengthened by that work, and by this better way is ready for a stronger sensation; thus the interposition of the will annuls the law of deadening and destruction which hangs over sensation, and leads each sense on a steadily upward path. We can watch this law in two fields. First, in the primal world of instinct, we see that every sense was thus led to perfection, by work and will; by the inherent energy of the will toward life bursting outwards through the living world. Again, under inspiration every sense grows finer. The musician and the painter, while they are faithful to the inner light, may develop their sense of hearing and color to a degree that is magical; through the divine alchemy of the will; following sensation never for sensation’s sake, but always as the guide and material of the will.
Yet in face of this simple truth, the ideal of whole nations esteemed the foremost in the modern world is not will but sensation. For the desire of wealth is the lust of sensation, of command over sensual things. Therefore at the very outset we violate the law, reading life’s riddle upside down. This universal and corrupt lust, not for one sensation but for all, this craving for a ceaseless ministry of excitement, brings out the greed and graspingness in man, causing endless misery of struggle, and putting vultures and jackals to shame, for the weakness of their claws.
Nine-tenths of human power is used in mere strife, force neutralizing force, as in a tug of war. Yet the remaining tenth suffices for our bodily needs. Imagine then what splendid excess of power, what universal wealth of will is before us, once we learn the law.
Our sensual tragedy is not untouched with grim humor and palpable retribution. Of the formative sex, a part finds its whole purpose in ministering to sensation, and for this good gift demands luxurious living and immunity from work. The vassals go forth in the chill dawn, returning only in the twilight; dwarfing their powers in hireling tasks of mere repetition, they grow daily duller and more akin to earth, till even the senses they worship can give them no more joy. Their enthroned sovereigns pay penalty also in the infinite futility of their lives, which even conceit cannot gild to any brightness; they are punished too in the growing dullness of their mates. Then for both that mound beneath the cypresses, and infinitely merciful death.
Happily for us, much of our lives is still within the realm of pure animal instinct, like the love of family, and the ideal of bodily strength and beauty. For instinct is the voice of revelation to the natural world. It is more; it is our sole evidence of outward reality. Reason can never give this sense of reality; for reason, the natural world is but a web of dreams. But instinct expressed through muscular effort gives us our true hold on natural life. We are held in place among the stars and worlds by a web of natural forces coordinated with our wills, with our instinctive powers. Reason can only generalize on these. Reason can never explain or guide.
All of our work is blest which flows from instinct, carried on without reasoning or calculated motive, but arising from an inward enthusiasm and necessity. Such is the work of all true artists, inventors, builders in every realm; they draw their instant inspiration from the ideal world, and work joyfully, resting in creative will. But so stringent is the law, that the moment men or nations fall below the inspiration of the will, and fix their eyes upon wealth and possessions, their power ebbs; all access to new regions of nature, all new command of force is impossible for them, and they are presently outstripped in the race by some other man or nation whose vision is still in the ideal world. Even of organized murder is this true; victory belongs to the men of ideas, never to the materialists. So wholly does power flow from inspiration.
Thus far the natural history of man, most discreditable of animals. But our interest begins only where that chapter ends, and we enter human life. And human life is a history of ideas altogether, of thoughts and passions, of longings and desires, even of visions and dreams; but never a history of material facts. When we leave animal instinct and muscular effort, we leave matter also, and enter the psychic world. No bodily eye has ever beheld the things of man, whether it be power or wealth or pleasure, sorrow or ambition or love.
Yet it cannot be pretended that the tale is all brightness. We are hardly less wrong-hearted in the psychic than in the natural world. We manage to defeat our destiny also here. We are sent forth into this human world to live through intuition, the clear sense of each other’s souls. As instinct, the revelation of the divine in animal life, impels us to master the natural world, to replenish the earth and subdue it; so intuition, which is the revelation in man, compels us to enter into the being of each other, that thereby we may infinitely enlarge our own. Nothing is needed for perfect moral health but a clear sense of each other’s souls. All our human life, debased and draggled in the dust as it too often is, has yet this golden thread running through it everywhere. It is to the human soul in each other we appeal, even in sin and crime, the black shadows of our humanity. We do not lust after trees and stones; nor do we hate and envy rocks. We do not seek food for vanity from cloud and ocean. Only human souls will serve our turn.
If we are true to this one intuition, we hold the key to boundless life. For the soul is everywhere in all men; it is everywhere different and divine. And our clear intuition, our sense of the gleaming soul in others, makes us freeholders of all their powers. All they have and know and do belongs to us, if we have the strength to take possession. The instinct is in us all; we only need to make it effective. It is the inherent quality of souls to share each other’s being; to add each to its own life the life of all others, until every individual is heir to the consciousness and power of all mankind.
But having the intuition of the soul, we straightway fall from our revelation into corrupt imaginings. Instead of aiding the soul to do its perfect work in all, to bring forth such fruits as befit our immortality, we instantly try to wrest the law awry to the ends of our lusts. We would have all these souls bow down before us, ministering to our vanity; we fix our eyes on that longed for tribute instead of fixing it on the other soul; therefore instead of strength, we bring forth weakness, and presently our intuition of the soul is overcast and dimmed. Thus we fall into solitude and desolation.
We forget that all our real strength comes through union, and aspire to be separate and supreme. We set up within our hearts a crowned Caesar in the purple, inviting all mankind to do him homage. But they are doing the like within themselves; there are too many Caesars; the tribute will not go round. Therefore much sorrow and many heart-burnings are the only revenue of our kingdoms. Throughout all high heaven and the wide fields of stellar space there is no law declaring that we are to be worshipped; that homage is due to us. Yet we are miserable for want of it, and go down sorrowing to our graves. The longing to be envied is an even stronger incentive of wealth than the mere desire of sensations; but here also we defeat our end, for the riches are coveted, but their owner inherits only hate and fear.
Every one of us is born with a different nature, different fancy, different desires. Yet it has always been the insanity of men to try to compel each other into a common path, and to suffer the agony of thwarted ambition that inevitable failure brings. Hardly one of us but is cursed with this malady even now, and suffers from its fruitful crop of sorrows. Instead of demanding that others should obey me, should find their purpose in my mind, should follow a pathway traced out for them by my thought and vanity and desire, let me at last learn to take the better way, and admit that each must live for himself, must live from his own genius, following his law, hot mine. If I do this, trusting his life to the soul I feel within him, I am instantly conscious of a release of force within myself, an inheritance of power, an inward luminousness, making me certain I have taken the true way. I have inherited the soul I recognized in him.
If we begin by so small a thing as mere forbearance, tolerating each others’s souls, admitting that they also may have a light and life-impulse of their own, we shall soon grow interested and involved in their creative work, finding it a revelation of something new, something beyond ourselves, yet akin to us; before long, instead of hindering the soul in each other, we shall learn to help it, and each will grow rich and rejoice in the gain of every other; for all real gain is for us all. The sense of each others’ souls is the first revelation of peace. It was this that the Galilean came to teach, this and no other was the light shining in darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not.
We may come to understand the matter in this way: the greatest of all poets has created and put on record for us a thousand men and women, great and gifted, wise or witty, sorrowful or sublime. We can each of us read ourselves into the life of all of them, understanding every thought and emotion of them all, entering perfectly into their inmost hearts until we become one with them. We grow and add new powers to our souls with each added understanding; yet after we have assimilated all, all remains quite unimpaired for all that shall come after us; and, finally, we do not try to dictate to Hamlet, to lay down the law for Lear, to reason with Romeo or Macbeth; we are satisfied that each should be himself, and follow his own genius.
Something like this we should do in life, but with the immense advantage that we are dealing with living souls, touching them direct, entering into them by intuition. Only tolerance and good-will are needed to make us infinitely rich in immediate spiritual power, gained thus from the exhaustless treasure-house of man. Thus we learn that intuition, the impulse of the will which leads us to each others’ souls, is the real guide of human life, an immediate divine revelation. Reason is as powerless to teach us human truth as it was to teach us the reality of the world. We are in the hands of a wiser power than reason, if we would only follow its leading. We are in the hands of the creative will.
Thus we learn wisdom’s first lessons, and set up two milestones on the path of our immortality. We need only substitute our inherent energy for the lust of sensation, to inherit all the primal power of the natural world, and all its beauty. We may knit our wills into the powers that hold the world in place, and share the freshness of the forests, the freedom of the human world; instead of living for vanity and bitter pride, we may cast all barriers down, opening our souls to the souls of men, and instantly inherit the treasure of endless life which gleams and glows in every heart of man.
Nor is our work then ended. Say rather that it now begins. For having reached this double liberation, we have won the power to pierce the secret of all secrets, the splendid and majestic mystery which rests at the heart of all life. For learning to stand upright and to feel our strength, we are soon touched with a dawning inspiration that there is vastly more of us than we dreamed; that we are far greater than even in golden moments we dared to hope; that the personal part of us we know and live in is but the antechamber, the outer court of the temple, while the true lord dwells within.
The divine web of instincts which holds us in the bosom of the natural world, gives no account of itself, nor can assign to itself any purpose; nor even does our human intuition show a definite end in view, a final purpose whereto all union and illumination tend. We must look elsewhere for the final goal, for the everlasting purposes which have had so great preparation, which hold such magical powers of creative instinct and unveiled intuition in their sway. The instinct in us urges us forth into the outer world by a revelation of life outside ourselves in every natural realm. The intuition of our hearts urges us beyond ourselves in another and more divine direction, impelling us to go forth from ourselves into the hearts of others like ourselves, to knock and enter every human door, till all be realized and possessed. There is something higher than instinct or intuition: there is inspiration, urging us to go forth from our personal selves, to rise above them to our immortal life; to inherit here and now celestial potencies; to make true for man the dreams we have dreamed of God.
It is for this that man has lived and toiled so many weary ages; it is for this that human hearts have struggled through milleniums of sorrow and hate: that they might learn the law. If we have greatly gone astray, this proves at least that we are free even to err; that our wills are master over destiny, even to our own destruction. If we have hated and deceived and lied, tyrannized and lusted and defamed, it proves at least that we are heirs of liberty in dealing with human souls, even to their infinite sorrow and to ours. If we have the right of wantonness, we have the right of strength; if we are free to injure, we are free to heal; and setting ourselves right at last with nature and with man, we hold in our hands the key to open the door whence our freedom came, to enter the deathless shrine where was woven the web of our stormy destiny.
Let us consider that the will in us, manifest as instinct and energy in our bodily selves, is akin to every force in the natural world, and can at the last bring every natural force within the hollow of our hands; let us also consider that the will in our human hearts is akin to every will of man, that the same divinity runs through all, impelling us all to oneness, to enter each other’s lives, to raze all barriers between our own and other’s souls; if we understand these two truths, we shall fully understand that our life is not contained and confined within this mere limited casket of our personal selves; that we are but the open doorways to the infinite divine; that for each mortal there is an immortal brother, strong and serene above the cloudland of our life, bending this life to everlasting purposes, leading our outcast pilgrim souls through rough and devious ways to the halls of peace, the dwelling-places of everlasting power.
This much is easily understood of every simplest mind: that he who would inherit bodily well-being, the young joy of the morning in his natural self, needs only to follow the revelation of instinct, to turn back from sensation and sensuality, to find cleanness and health in energy and power, and not in desire. It is a transformation of the whole animal life, through the will, easily understood and bringing instant evidence of rightness in the release of power within our natural selves.
This too is not hard to understand: that we do ourselves much human wrong when we try to live through vanity and bitter pride; when we find each other’s souls only to tyrannize and overreach them; when we try to thwart the free life and genius in each other, instead of helping it to the flower of its perfect life. Here again, it needs only a conversion of the will to bring us infinite peace, to set us right with all human souls; and this conversion of the will, so readily appealing to our understanding, will instantly justify itself by its first-fruits of love, joy, peace, and, even more than these traditional blessings, by an immense access of human power and light.
Grasping this, we shall more readily understand the greater matter, for which these two steps are but the preparation and first outline: the tremendous truth that we are to go through one more conversion of the will, changing from mortal to immortal purposes, to inherit our real selves. We have through the desert of our human history a few examples of what may be done by those who are true to their immortal part; in creative genius, divine valor, heroic sacrifice. Not the basest human heart that beats, but throbs in harmony with these better deeds, testifying its own inmost certainty that here our true destiny lies. Every pulse that exults with the hero slain in battle, bears witness of the soul’s immortality; every glow of wonder and delight at the beauty and wisdom recorded of the seers is a foreshadowing of our own omniscience; our joy in all heroic deeds is the first gleam of our infinite power.
There stands above us, therefore, for each one of us, a present immortal; easily the equal of the highest life and power our human history records; and it is our destiny, through the inspiration of the will, to enter into the life of this immortal, to draw the everlasting power into ourselves, that even here and now we may inherit divinity. Nor does this mighty task depend solely on our personal selves; nor are we wholly responsible for its success, as we are not answerable for the shining of the sun. Yet we of ourselves must come forth into the sunlight.
There will come a time when the immortal brother shall interpose on our behalf, and we shall be drawn forth from the mortal world and rapt into paradise, hearing words not lawful for mortal lips to utter, for only those lips can speak of them that are already divine. No longer dimly overshadowed by the Soul, we enter through the silence into the very being of the Soul itself. We know that we have found our treasure and inherited our immortality. With undimmed and boundless vision we behold the shining ocean of life. We enter the radiance and the realm. We are filled with infinite power, infinite peace. No longer heirs to the Power, we are the Power itself, in all its immeasurable divinity; the Power which was from the beginning, which shall outlive all ends.
As we rise to the vision of the immortal, there is silence, yet a silence full of song. There is darkness, yet darkness more radiant than light. There is loneliness, yet a loneliness full of living souls. The souls of the young-eyed immortals are there, who have passed over, and the souls of mortals yet unseeing, who shall follow after. We have entered the All, the sea of life whose foam and bubbles are the world.
Then the gloom closes upon us and we return from our illumination, descending again to the waking world. As we draw near, the whole landscape of life opens before us in scenery of shadow and sunshine. Sky meets earth on the horizon where we entered. Earth draws up again to sky before us, where we shall depart. We see spread forth the country we shall traverse, with hills and valleys leveled, as we view them from above. All the road is clear, nor do any formidable dangers threaten to overwhelm us, ere we enter into rest. For one long moment of our return, nought is hidden from us of all things that are to come.
When we unseal the inner fountain, its waters will never more cease to flow into our hearts, bringing life and light and everlasting youth. Many old well-guarded secrets will come to us and reveal themselves in the twilight stillness. Gradually the mists will lift from the infinite army of years we have lived of old, and from the long days that are to come. This one life of our mortality will take its true place in the undivided life, ranged with days vanished yet still here, with days that are not, yet already are. We shall unravel our tangled skein of fate, clearly seeing where and why we failed. The sins and sorrows of our life will take their true color, in the awful light of the all-seeing soul.
What each man’s genius is, will be whispered to him in the silence, when he has found his way back to the immortal life. Thenceforward the genius will work in him, handling all the material of life in a new and masterly way. The perfect poet and artist, the hero, saint and sage differ in this only from other men: that they obey the genius of valor and beauty who stands above them, yielding up the reins to their divinity, and offering their wills as workers for the light. As there is something creative and unprecedented in the life of every hero, in the work of every master of power and beauty, so should it be with us all. Our lives should be every moment creative, bearing always the power and light that are the sign-manual of our divinity.
To discover by subtlest intuition the word of the genius to our other selves, and in all dealings with them to second the will of the immortal even against their immortal selves, is our second task; and we need no longer go abroad to find our other selves. They come to us, pressing closely round our souls in vision or in blindness, in sadness or mirth, in love or hate, as doves and hawks tap at our windows, to be admitted from the winter’s storms. But above love or hate or sorrow is the immemorial essence of our common soul, the holy presence of the everlasting life. We must bow to it in all things, dealing with the immortal in mortals, answering the needs of souls alone. Mortals are at strife, but the immortals in them never. All move in the one Life.
Yet when the last word is said, we are finally concerned, not with the works of our wills, nor with our other selves, but with the immortal Life that gives them life. Our lives and other selves concern us because they are of the Soul. But there is somewhat greater and more august than the Soul’s sunbeams, however radiant and full of beauty. There is the infinite Soul itself, the perfect undivided Life. Thither at last shall all our footsteps tend. Thither when our works are ended, when we have reached oneness with our other selves, shall we come to rest, losing ourselves and them and all things to find them again in the immortal Life.