The Water of Life
Theosophical Forum, May, 1899
“Narada came to Sanatkumara, saying: Master, teach me to know the Soul: for I have heard from the sages that he who knows the Soul crosses over the sea of sorrow. But I, Master, am sorrowful; therefore guide me over to sorrow’s further shore.
“He answered him: All thou knowest already, is but words. But thou shouldst seek to find out truth. For when a man knows, he declares the truth; but without knowing, he cannot declare the truth; therefore thou shouldst seek after understanding.
“When he gains insight, he understands; without insight, he cannot understand, but through insight, he understands; therefore thou shouldst seek to gain insight.
“When a man aspires, then he gains insight; without aspiration there is no insight, but insight comes through aspiration. Therefore thou shouldst seek for aspiration.
“What a man grows forth from, towards that he aspires; if he grows not forth from it, he cannot aspire after it, but he aspires because he grows forth from it. Therefore thou shouldst seek thy source, from which thou growest forth.
“When a man acts, then he grows; if he does not act, he cannot grow, but he grows through action. Therefore thou shouldst follow after action.
“When he finds joy, then he acts; if he finds not joy, he will not act, but he acts when he finds joy. Therefore seek to find out joy.
“Where the Boundless is, there is joy: there is no joy in what is limited, but the Infinite is joy. Therefore seek to know the Limitless.
“When he neither sees nor hears nor perceives anything but the Soul, that is the Limitless; but where he sees, hears, and perceives what is other than the Soul, there is limitation. The Boundless is immortal, but the limited is subject to death; the Boundless is rooted in its own greatness, but not in what men call greatness. For men call these things greatness: cattle and horses, elephants and gold, slaves and women, lands and houses. But not this greatness do I speak of.
“It is beneath, it is above; it is to the west, it is to the east; it is to the south, it is to the north; it is the all. But I myself am this: I am beneath, I am above; I am to the west, I am to the east; I am to the south, I am to the north; I am the All. But I am the Soul: the Soul is beneath, the Soul is above; the Soul is to the west, the Soul is to the east; the Soul is to the south, the Soul is to the north; the Soul is the All.
“He who beholds this thus, understanding it thus, and knowing it thus, the Soul is his delight, the Soul is his pleasure; the Soul is his friend, the Soul is his joy: he is king over himself, and works his will through all the worlds. They who know not this, are subject to others; their world passes away, nor do they work their desire throughout the worlds.
“The Seer beholds not death nor sickness nor sorrow; the Seer beholds the All, and in all things finds the All.
“He who takes only pure food from the world, becomes pure in being; then he remembers truly, and from that true memory come the loosening of all the knots of the heart.
“Thus when his error was worn away, the Master Sanatkumara showed him the shore that is beyond the darkness. Therefore they tell that he has crossed to the further shore.”—Chhandogya Upanishad.
We all come forth from the Soul, which is boundless Joy. The memory of that joy remains with us and haunts us, and the longing for it fills us with sorrow. All the works and ways of man, all his follies and his sins, are but his passionate strivings to find his way back there, to the Soul from whence he came.
The Soul that man is, is the fulness of abounding life, glowing with power, self-sustained, self-replenished, radiant and exultant. Fallen from grace, and driven into exile in his narrow shell of personal life, he seeks to give himself that sense of abounding life by outward sensations, for the veriest sensualist seeks nothing but keenness of life, strong feeling, a vivid sense of the activity of his being. In reality, there is no impurity in this, for the sense of vividest life is his birthright, and he is only seeking what is his own. There is no impurity, but there is futility, and a certain shadow of pain.
For any outward sensation whatever, be it good or bad, be it painful or pleasant, if it be kept up unbroken and unintermitted, will certainly bring numbness, and a total inability to perceive it any longer. There is no possibility of continued keenness for a single sensation.
The whole sensual world lies under this law; and therefore throughout the whole sensual world there is alternation: pain bursting in upon pleasure; death hurrying on the heels of life. Were there no cold, we could not feel heat; if there were no evil, we could not speak of good; and only the presence of the devils gives their holiness to the gods.
This two-sidedness runs through the whole natural world as we know it in sensation; and the natural world mirrored in sensation is the psychic world. Nothing psychic transcends the personal self with its isolation; nor is there any help or liberation for it throughout the whole psychic realm. All things psychic come under the law of alternation; all things psychic are subject to death.
Sensation is nothing but this: an attempt to feign the vividness of real life by an unreal expedient; by keenness of outward stimulus, instead of fulness of inward power. But even pleasure becomes numbness and insensibility; even unbroken life becomes miserable weariness, so that the personal self, in its desperation has created for itself pain, to cure the numbness of pleasure; has discovered death, to break the weariness of miserably prolonged life. Numbness and insensibility terrify the personal self far more than pain and death; therefore it has sought out these grim expedients, to slake its thirst for the keen sense of being: a thirst that is a tragical memory of its old days in the shadow of the Soul.
All this is wrong and needless. In the true destiny of man, is no place for pain or sorrow, no room for sickness and death. These things belong only to the hither shore; on the further shore, where we should inhabit, they cannot dwell. What we need, to cure us of sorrow, is the inflowing of the Soul.
We need to find our way back to the living waters; deep draughts of that boundless flood will give us the sense of abounding and exultant life within ourselves; the very prize we seek so vainly to gain by the way of sensation. And through desperate struggles, and almost despairing aspiration, we are finding our way back; for we can only aspire thither, from whence we have come.
The first draught of the Waters of life, every man may have for nothing; the second and all following draughts must be paid for, and paid for in full. The first draught of the immortal life will teach us that there is another source of vividness of being, besides sensation; a source the very opposite of sensation, set against it as the night is set against the day; and of which the way of sensation is but the poor distorted copy, seeking to give what it can never give; what is the gift only of the Soul. If we would drink a second time of the waters of life; if we would drink this time consciously and knowingly, we must pay for the draught by conquering the lust of sensation, for the two cannot go together. The body may be true to sensation, live its life, and die its death; or it may be true to the life of the Soul, and be gradually transformed to a vesture of the immortals. But it cannot be true to both; one or the other must be effaced; and there is nothing more awful than the desolation of falling back into death and the darkness, after once we have tasted of life and beheld the light. But to struggle and gain freedom from the lust of sensation, whose thrall we have been for so many ages, is a task that might try a hero’s soul; yet the prize is worth it, for the prize is immortality.
The real fulness of immortal life, as against the imitation; gold as against dross; this is the first boon of the Soul. The next is one which we may well regard as a perpetual miracle: the one great miracle of life. It is the finding of our other selves. The water of life is a sea above us and beyond us; and therefore our first free draught has taken us out of ourselves, thus admonishing us that this ‘ourself’ is only a small part of the matter: a very insignificant inlet of the infinite sea. And here comes the price to be paid for the second draught. We can no more hold to the little inlet of our personalities; we must open our hearts to the infinite sea. To find the immortal waters a second time, we must lose ourselves. That is the price, and it must be paid. To sink back into the lonely personal self, after seeing its smallness, is to be guilty of a baseness that brings long, slow death; but to rise altogether above our selves, and let nothing remain in us to check the Soul, requires a fortitude that is divine. No human soul accomplishes this without bitter weeping and wailing, without almost heartbreaking and despair; as no soul frees itself from lust without passing through a black gloom of despondency, deadness, and the shadow of death.
But in losing ourselves, we find our other selves. We were under the impression, in old days, that we really saw and knew and understood the people round us; but we now recognize how vastly we were mistaken. Simple as may be the heart of man, it needs god to understand it: and we must attain to godlike power and insight, by driving our selfhood aside, before we can even feel the presence of the simplest heart. But when the first great victory is won, when the divine quietness and strength descend on us like the soft wings of the nestling twilight, then the radiance begins to gleam and glow to us through the darkness from other hearts, as the stars come out through the mantling shadows of evening. And no sight on earth or in heaven can vie with the marvel and miracle of this, our first initiation into real human life.
Thus we gradually make our way back into the inheritance of the immortals. The rising tide of the water of life, at first a faint spring, often stifled and hidden and defiled, gradually washes us and makes us clean, restoring us to immortal strength, to the freshness of everlasting youth. All we do will have the new and unprecedented quality of a creative act; we shall perpetually embody in our works some new secret of the Soul; and there are still hidden secrets as fine as the decking of the forests in springtime, or the lighting of the stars.
But nothing in this world or any other will equal the recognition of the divine and creative quality in other souls; there is where we shall find our true inheritance: and we shall find it in increasing measure, with the rising onflow of the Soul. If man is not yet redeemed it is more the fault of the redeemers than of man.