Theosophical Quarterly, July, 1916
Notes of an address delivered at New York, on April 30, 1916.
It may, perhaps, be a cause of wonder that, at this late day, a subject so elementary is chosen, for an address that is in some sense representative of the general spirit and work of the whole Theosophical Society and movement. The Theosophical Society was founded more than forty years ago; its life is approaching the half-century, to say nothing of former manifestations of that perpetual life. Would it not seem, then, that the bare subject, “Theosophy,” should be pretty well exhausted; that the elements should be so plain and familiar, that any further statement of them, at this late day, would be, “to gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet”? Should not the speaker have chosen something deeper, more abstruse, perhaps some subject genuinely “occult”?
The truth is that, even at this late day, no subject is more genuinely “occult” than the first principles of Theosophy; no subject is more essential, more needed by the world today; and by all the world. We are in the midst of war, of the greatest war that the world has seen many milleniums, a war involving almost every nation under heaven. Well, it is not too much to say that, had the elementary principles which The Theosophical Society has stood for, these forty years now, been in the least understood and followed, by the world at large, we should have no war today. Nor, let it be said at once, should we have the universal obsession of a fat, ignoble peace, in which men—and women—cover up their innate cowardice by fine professions. We should have had, instead; an epoch of superb spiritual adventure, with mankind storming the battlements of high heaven, which can be taken by force alone.
Theosophy, then, is desperately needed by the world, and by all the world. More, it is within easy reach at all points; the principles for which there is such dire need, are easy to be understood; and, understood and applied, they will bring Life, and will bring it abundantly. Let us, then, divide the battleground into sectors, and make our advance at each point: Religion, Science, Art, Conduct: these are the great divisions of human life; what is the message of Theosophy for each?
We have all noted, within the last few weeks, that one of the more modern and democratic Churches is at this moment, in this part of the world, threatened with schism, because there is a division concerning certain dogmas: the Dogma of the Virgin Birth, the Dogma of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, the Dogma of Original Sin and its transmission; and, without doubt, there have been many perplexed and saddened minds, many broken hearts, caused by hopeless bewilderment over just such teachings. Here is one point, and a representative one, at which even a little Theosophy can bring abundant aid and comfort. For almost every beginner in Theosophical studies understands that the Dogma of the Virgin Birth in reality refers to the feminine aspect of the Logos, that “Theou-Sophia,” as St. Paul calls it, which is the real “Mother of God,” in the deep and universal sense; the Birth-giver of the Christ, in the eternal sense; it is only the materialization of the teaching, and not the real teaching, that can prove a stumbling-block. And that the tendency to materialize spiritual teachings has been present and operative among sincere disciples, from the very beginning, we may remind ourselves by this little story, recorded in two of the Gospels:
“Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the ship with them more than one loaf. And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread.”
One wonders exactly to whom we owe the transmission of that little story, so full of humor, so illuminating; so full of latent tragedy also, when we remember how much anguish and agony has been caused, through century after century, by just such materialization. Therefore it comes that even elementary Theosophy is still a timely topic; the most timely of all topics!
Or take the heart-breaking difficulty—the dogma of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus. Here again, the very beginner in Theosophical studies knows that, to quote a great Theosophist, “there are celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. . . . So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” The student of Theosophy has to do no more than to bring the two passages together; then he will understand that, after the natural body of Jesus had been laid in the cavern-tomb in the garden, it was resolved again into its elements; the Master thereafter living in the spiritual body, and manifesting powers that belong only to the spiritual body.
And so far is it from being the case, as certain treatises on Theology suggest, that the records of the Master’s appearances, after the Resurrection, are contradictory, fragmentary, of the tissue of dreams; on the contrary, they show in an astonishing degree the ability of men of simple heart to observe and record facts, the laws underlying which they did not in the least understand; for without exception, these recorded appearances illustrate the laws and powers of the spiritual body,—laws and powers which do not hold of the natural body at all, as, for example, the power to enter a closed room without coming in by the door or window, and the power to withdraw again, in the same way.
It was because Paul had seen and talked with the Master Jesus—not some abstract “spirit of wisdom,” but precisely that Master, self-identified, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose . . .”—because Paul had seen the Master face to face, and had, through years, been taught by him, in words which are on record, that Paul was able both to understand the laws of the spiritual body, the body of the Resurrection, and to set them forth so lucidly that we can understand them also. All that is needed is a little Theosophy, as the clue. And the point is that, so far from being unreal and insubstantial, a mere wraith, the spiritual body is infinitely stronger, more real, more substantial, “solider,” if you like, than is the natural body, and immensely transcends the natural body in its permanence and its powers; very literally, “it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power,”—or, as the Greek has it, “it is raised dynamic.”
Then there is the third dogma, the Fall of Adam and original sin. It is not too much to say that this supposed doctrine, or rather the materialization of the real doctrine, has tortured whole generations, until our modern world has given it up in despair, practically throwing the whole idea overboard—and thereby sacrificing a valuable and lasting truth. But what are the facts about this teaching? On what passages is it based? On one or two misunderstood (and therefore mistranslated) phrases of Paul’s, the most important of which, literally translated is this: “For as in the Adam all die, even so in the Christ shall all be made alive.” It is simply another way of saying, what Paul says later in the same chapter, “As we have borne the image of the earthy; we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” The Adam, in Paul’s mind, and in the minds of all Paul’s generation who had read Philo’s recently published “Allegories,” is simply the accepted name of the “natural man.” For Paul, Adam is an allegorical phrase, just as, in another letter, he makes an allegory out of Hagar: “For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is.” As for Jesus himself, he never mentions the Fall of Adam, never even remotely implies any such dogma, never suggests that his own coming is the correlative of Adam’s Fall—taken in the hard, literal sense.
For here also “a little Theosophy” would lead men’s minds to understanding. The real Fall is a cosmical event, the long involution which preceded evolution. Of that, rightly understood, the mission of Jesus is indeed the correlative; and of that genuine Descent of Man, it would seem, the Master speaks, when he says: “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven; even the Son of man which is in heaven.” But, in the hard, materialized dogma concerning Adam, the whole thing turns on the omission of the definite article: “As in the Adam all die . . .” It is not too much to say that, just for the lack of that article, the Darwinians and the Theologians bombarded each other for two generations. There was need—on both sides—of “a little Theosophy.”
But perhaps one’s sense of dissatisfaction, of uneasy misgiving concerning religion, goes much deeper than doubt of one or another dogma; perhaps the mind is obsessed by the feeling that the whole conception of religion,—of the religion of Christ, let us say, since it is nearest to us,—is out of tune with reality, as we have come to know it; is artificial, unreal, unscientific. Let us, then, consider this. It would be just as easy, and just as valuable, to turn the same method to the study of any other great religion in the world, were one speaking to those familiar with that religion, rather than with Christianity. But Christianity is closest to ourselves; it is the religion into which most of us were born.
The whole scheme, then, is, perhaps, incredible. We cannot “believe.” Yes; but were we, at the outset, bidden to “believe”? What was the first command given to the disciples, on the shore of the lake of Galilee, on the bank of the Jordan? They were not told to believe; they were told to follow. The whole secret is there. “Follow me;” but what did the Master mean? To go up and down with him through Palestine, sharing his work, his wandering, his weariness? Yes, and more than that. It means, to follow the Master in his life, in his aspiration, in his sacrifice; to follow him in his spiritual growth, in his development. How far? What limit does he himself set? “Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect:” no limitation short of that. Paul understands this thoroughly; he uses the very same word when he writes: “For the perfecting of the saints . . . till we all come unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
“Follow me” in spiritual growth, therefore; the first word of the message. The last also, “Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards . . .” into the unfathomed depths of the spiritual world. The translators of the Revised Version in the one case render the word teleios, not by “perfect” but by a word in some ways less adequate, less satisfactory; the word “fullgrown.” The message to the Ephesians will then read thus: “. . . till we all attain unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Christ, therefore, is a “fullgrown man.” We, the wisest of us, are “little children;” But we are to grow, for, in the Revisers’ reading: “Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Let us, for the moment use the word by which the Revisers have already translated teleios: “Ye therefore shall be fullgrown, as your heavenly Father is fullgrown.”
The life, therefore, does not consist in subscribing to dogmas; least of all to dogmas which, for want of a little Theosophy, transform the “leaven of the Pharisees” into a loaf of bread; dogmas hardened and materialized. The life consists in the superb growth of the soul, in conformity with the life and growth of the Master, and having no limit short of the measure of the stature of the Master, nay, of the Father himself, a growth from day to day, from hour to hour, from moment to moment; a life not inert, but made dynamic through sacrifice; a ceaseless unfolding, whose growth and splendor shall have no limit. Surely such an ideal renews the whole of life; the least effective effort to begin to realize it, very literally gives us a new heaven and a new earth.
Spiritual growth, spiritual evolution, into a boundless and immortal life: this is the age-old message of Theosophy for all weary souls who find “religion” antiquated, inert, unsufficing. It is really the most vital, the most splendid, the most tremendous of all adventures, making the lowliest, drabbest life dramatic, epical, superb. And, specifically as regards the religion into which most of us have been born, begin with the first command; begin really to carry it out; then say whether you find the result disappointing; whether you find life monotonous and uninspiring.
One finds, among other things, that life, the life of the soul of man, is a science, and the greatest of them. And thus, by natural transition, we come to the subject of Science, and to the question whether “a little Theosophy” may be able to accomplish something here also.
If we take a general survey of the sciences at this moment, what is the outstanding thing that meets us in every direction? Is it not this: that our science, in all directions, is coming, or has already come, to the end of its string? Take one of the more accessible sciences, Geography, and compare the prospect now with what it was, say, in 1491; relatively a very short time in our age-long human history. Even at the beginning of our twentieth century, there were “new worlds to conquer;” there were still the hidden, mysterious poles of the globe, to reach and to explore. But where are they now? Both of them reached, exploited, used up; both of them used up within a few months; and, about the same time, the great problem of air-navigation practically solved, when the lame Frenchman, Bleriot, mounted his aeroplane and flew across the Channel from France to England.
We have heard a great deal, a very great deal, about the conservation of national resources; about the way in which, thriftlessly, we are “using up” the coal, the iron, the forests, that should belong to our children’s children. Will they not have an even sounder cause of complaint, that we have used up all the explorations, the discoveries, the adventures, leaving them bankrupt in hope? We might, at least, have saved up one pole, an unexplored continent, an imaginative wilderness or two for them. But even the Sahara is cut up into departments and labeled; the desert of Gobi has got into politics.
These are but conspicuous illustrations of a universal fact, taken because their subject-matter is very familiar. But the same thing is true all round. Take Astronomy instead of Geography. What is the fact there? That the very stars, “the stars everlasting,” are numbered. There are said to be three hundred millions of them; not so very many, if you think; only one star for every five human beings now living; a star for the average family. And not only counted, but classed; the very temperature of each class approximately known; its age, its temper, its colour; the proper motion of all conspicuous stars measured, in miles per second; the drift of whole flocks and herds of the heavenly host more than suspected. Charted, counted, classified, analysed. We have even used up the stars.
Or take a branch of biology: that part of it which has to do with birds. They, too, are practically charted, counted, bedecked with queer Greek-Latin names. There are, we are told, about 8,000 of them; and it is fairly certain that, while a few more species may be found, the total will never reach ten thousand species. The birds, too, we have recklessly used up. So with the chemical elements; we are not likely to discover many more; a few, perhaps; even a new class or two, like the new-comer “argon” and family; but not many; a few new mixtures, perhaps, poisonous or explosive, or both; but even here we would seem to be near the end.
And this, according to a natural law, the law of inherent limitations. One may take two or three simple illustrations. There are, in every organic type, certain limitations; thus, by infinite pains, a man may come to run a hundred yards in 9 3-5 seconds. It is practically certain that no man will ever run a hundred yards in seven seconds. The limit has been practically reached. So with our brother the horse. A racehorse, which represents countless generations of selection, first among the Arabs, and then in the West, can gallop a mile in about 90 seconds. Again, it is practically certain that no horse will ever gallop a mile in 60 seconds. So with our newest toy, the aeroplane; it is close to its limits already. Recently, a “birdman” flew from France to Russia without alighting. What will really be added, when he flies across the ocean, or round the world? And the upward limit is practically reached too; the rarity of the air settles that.
So in our sciences; you can go a certain distance very easily; a farther distance increasingly less easily; a farther distance only at prohibitive cost, or not at all. Then the dead wall; we come to a stand still. Where can one find any hope, in this disheartening difficulty? Nowhere in the world,—except in Theosophy.
And here, the clue to lead us from the labyrinth is exceedingly simple; we have implied it already, in speaking of religion. The clue is growth, development, growth of consciousness. Our biologists have traced for us an upward curve of growth, beginning in the lowliest protoplasm and rising through invertebrate and vertebrate ancestors, by slow progression, up to man; and, logically, there is not the smallest reason for considering man, as we now know him, to be the necessary terminus, any more than the forms of the Eocene or the Cretaceous periods were necessary terminals. Given, then, a curve of growing life, of expanding consciousness, reaching onward and upward indefinitely—and there is no conceivable reason why it should not go on indefinitely—is it logical to fix on the particular point of the line at which we now chance to be, and to take the consciousness of that point as the ultimate measure of truth, the measure of all things?
Because of the law of inherent limitations, it may be true,—it appears to be indisputably true—that we have practically reached the limits of what our particular type of mind (the mind of the “natural man”) can find out above the universe, whether it be a question of humming-birds or of stellar systems; but is that a reason to give up hope? How about the growth, in consciousness, in the power to know, from the “natural” to the “spiritual” man? How about the whole splendid gamut of new revelation implied by the consciousness of the “fullgrown man,” com pared with whom we are as “little children,”—if indeed we be already born? Rightly understood, then, Theosophy shows us how we may turn the flank of our limitations, and go forward boldly into the territory of the Unknown—to us, but not, it may be, to those who are already “fullgrown.”
The microscope has about reached its limit; so has the telescope; so has the mind of the natural man. With that instrument, there is not much more to be done. But, just as the spectroscope gave the telescope a new lease of life, so will the first unfolding powers of the spiritual man give a new lease of life to the consciousness, the power to know, now locked up and hemmed in, in the natural man. This is a strictly logical deduction from the universally accepted facts of biological science. And biological science has records of quite similar happenings: the extension of consciousness, for example, brought about, when the water-dwellers came forth upon dry land; or the extension of consciousness, even now, when the butterfly comes forth from the chrysalis.
Here also, therefore, there is urgent need of Theosophy—more urgent need than there was even forty years ago, in the first year of The Theosophical Society. But Religion and Science, splendid and vital as these are, do not cover the whole of life. There is Art also. And Art, it seems, is, at certain points, in direst need, since it is forgetting how to speak its own language with sanity; forgetting even to what end it exists.
Count Tolstoi had his qualities; he had his defects. These latter, perhaps, very conspicuously; so that one may, if so disposed, call him a cantankerous old curmudgeon, with the soul of an anarchist and the tongue of a virago. Yet we owe him withal one immeasurable debt, for his fine phrase “contagion of consciousness.” In one sense, all our human life exists for that: for the sharing of our consciousness, one with another. And, to bring about this shared consciousness, there are many means. Speech is one of them. War, rightly understood, is another; for is it not the “ultimate argument”, as the old proverb had it; the final way by which one nation can hammer certain truths into the consciousness of another nation?
Art is another means, and a wonderful one. By art, in one or another form, we can transfer, to the consciousness of another, shades and depths of our own consciousness, which elude articulate speech and the forms of logic. The Chinese have a fine saying: “Music is the language in which man talks to the Gods;” the Gods having, perhaps, first talked, in the same high language, to man. Art, then, in the finest sense, would be a means of transferring, to another, our consciousness of divine things, our divine consciousness, whatever there is in us of the consciousness of the spiritual man, the man “fullgrown.” Is this not the secret of Egyptian temples, of the Acropolis, of all beautiful cathedrals: that they convey to us the consciousness which their builders had, of “the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens”? Is not this the secret of the Zeus, the Athene, of Phidias: that they speak to us of the God in man?
If this be the meaning of worthy art, then we see at once why in painting, the medieval Virgins and Christs of Italy are still the very highest expression of Art: they tell us more about divinity, about the Divine Man, made perfect through sacrifice. And in the same way there is often more real “Art” in the divine sense, in some “old-fashioned” hymn-tune,: than in the latest masterpiece, which tells us of matchless skill in the use of means—to express moods of consciousness that are often low, morbid; discreditable. It is possible to make the orchestra sing and moan and scream, and yet express nothing but the corruption of degeneracy. It is Art of a kind, since it transfers consciousness; but what do we gain, if that consciousness be bestial, demoniac?
So, with some of the modern oddities in painting and sculpture. They wholly miss their mark, because they forget their fundamental law: that Art is a language; and that you can only speak to another in a language that other knows and understands. What does it profit me, if someone relates to me high secrets in ancient Chaldean, which I do not understand? There must be a common language; the substance of our common consciousness, as Phidias was able to use it, or Raphael, or Botticelli: human bodies, human faces, yet telling divine secrets.
So that these modern contortions, whatever they may be, are not Art, any more than Volapük and Esperanto are living speech. Is it worth while, to make a Volapük in paint, in order merely to express the banality and cheapness of a commonplace consciousness? These men seek new modes of expression. Let them seek, instead, new realms of consciousness; and not the psychic eddies or gutters of consciousness, but, leaving all these behind, let them rise to the true consciousness of the spiritual man, and, using the contents of our hearts and minds for their material, let them try to express that: Then we shall have an Art full of unbounded promise. Then we shall see that, in the realm of Art also, as in Science and Religion, even a little Theosophy will “undo the heavy burdens, and let the oppressed go free.”
Yet it may be said, and with much justice, that the ordinary man or woman has no very great interest in either art or science; not very much interest even in religion. And this, not so much from indifference or carelessness, though there is much of these, but because the imperative tasks of hour by hour make it out of the question to go far afield for general or abstract interests. Must Theosophy limit itself to inspiring and illumining the votaries of art and science and religion, while leaving the ordinary man and woman to their heavy tasks, to their drab and uninviting fate?
On the contrary: Theosophy has as much for these as for the others. More, perhaps; for, while those who follow after art or science are seeking an approach to life and to reality, the man or woman honestly at work is in the midst of life, in the midst of reality already. What they seek, he or she has found.—But the pity is, that both he and she are so blind about it.
Theosophy, then, can do this for him or her: can turn the drab of humdrum existences into the light and splendor of the Great Adventure; can strip off the blinding bandages from their eyes, and show them the magnificent mountain-peaks up whose first declivities they are already stumbling.
For we are blind, extraordinarily blind; and most so, perhaps, where the simplest things, the very rudiments, are concerned. Here is a little story, an incident which took place quite close to us a few days ago. There was a question of “preparedness,” of the instruction of the young fellows in the universities in the elements of manliness, the first principles of the worthy soldier. And, it may be said, in parenthesis, so long as “preparedness” is based on our supposed self-interest alone, and not on sacrifice, so long will “preparedness” be a sham, and, in its result, hardly less dangerous than frank cowardice. But to come back: it happened that the boys of one of the universities near to us, tinged with cheap radicalism, felt it incumbent on them to protest against “preparedness;” against even the rudiments of soldierly valour being imparted to them, along with their courses in the sciences and the arts. “If you set us to soldiering, we shall, have to learn Obedience; and we didn’t come to college, in order to learn Obedience!”
Unfortunately, most unfortunately, no. They do not go to college to learn Obedience, nor, being there, do they learn it. Anything but that. But think of the blindness of it all. In perfect strictness, you can no more not obey than you can abstain from breathing, and continue to live. You have the choice of which law you will obey; just as you have the choice of what kind of air you will breathe, fresh or foul. If you are courageously and persistently toiling up a mountain—persistently as well as courageously, for courage amounts to very little, without persistence—then you are obeying one law; if you are rolling down a decline that ends in a precipice, if you are slipping into the crevasse of a glacier, you are obeying another law; but you are obeying, in each case, and at every instant. This is a universe in which it is impossible, at any instant, in any corner of it, not to obey. Exactly as you cannot escape from the necessity of breathing,—though you may breathe clean air or foul, according to your choice.
And let us push the simile further; let us push it to its limit., It is an ugly one, yet the more salutary, perhaps, for that. Establish yourself in a room, big and commodious, if you like; then have it made air-tight; stop all the chinks of door and window and floor, and then continue simply to breathe, in the most commonplace, everyday fashion. What will be the result?
The room will be your coffin, as surely as if you were buried alive; you will be suffocated, choked to death, poisoned by the deadly gases given forth by your own lungs. And even then, you will not have escaped from obedience to law, not for an instant, any more than you can escape from death. In just the same way, if any one of us were immured in his own self-will, with no chinks of sanative obedience, he would as infallibly die, morally, spiritually, everlastingly, poisoned once more by the evil emanations of his egotism. But the benevolent Law makes chinks for us; pain and separation and sorrow, and great Death himself, tear away the caulking of our egotism and let in a little of the pure air of the Eternal.
Therefore we never; for the fraction of a second, cease to obey, whether bodily law or spiritual law; the question is, which law, which Master. We have not the choice whether we shall obey or not obey. But we have the choice whom we shall obey, God or Satan; the Divine will or our own. And what comes of obeying our own wills to the end, has been sufficiently indicated by our little parable—which conveys the literal truth.
It is, it would seem, undeniable, that the whole of what is called the “labour question” turns on this very matter of Obedience. The prophets of “the emancipation of labour,” as they call it, talk about economic conditions, economic stringencies, economic necessities, and declare that the motive of “labour troubles” lies in these. But that is mere rhetoric and make-believe. Never in all history, never in any corner of the earth, were the economic rewards of even the commonest, least skilled labour so great,—so excessive, in view of the kind of service given,—than they are, here and now. If you wish to demonstrate this, take the account of the sums spent by the American nation on three or four things: the cheaper alcoholic drinks, tobacco, moving-pictures, baseball; not one, in the strict sense, an “economic necessity.” Nor will it be seriously maintained that the moving-picture shows are patronized solely by “captains of industry,” by “brutal capitalists.”
No; let us clear our minds of cant. The shoe really pinches in the matter of Obedience. Economic necessity has almost nothing to do with the “labour question.” It is with the worker exactly as it with the raw, vain collegian: “We do not come to the factories to learn Obedience!”
Once again, most unfortunately, no. But go back again to our parable. A man, a woman, a child—and this too is vital, since we seem determined to turn all our children into anarchists—, must obey, whether it be divine law, or self-will. And the action of self-will is curiously like the action of a drug, or like the action of alcohol. For it has been noted that even a little alcohol impairs a man’s effectiveness, so that he will add a row of figures more slowly and less accurately, draw a plan less correctly, do any task measurably less perfectly; and, at the same time, under the delusion of the drug, feel that he is doing better; believe sincerely that his work is better, his mind more powerful, more alert.
It is exactly the same with us, when we indulge in the drug of self-love, self-will; in exactly the measure in which we bind and fetter ourselves, we feel freer, we delude ourselves into thinking that we are freer. If we surrender to laziness, sensuality, the self-assertion of vanity, we become, in each case, weaker; we are enslaved, bound to a repetition of the same vice, just as with drugs and alcohol. “Habit-forming drugs,” as they are called, are the exact type—the correspondent, on the chemical plane—of the psychic drugs. The man who yields to vanity once, or to laziness, or to sensuality, is the more prone, the more inclined, to yield a second and a third time. And the curious thing, the infinitely tragical thing, is, that, in the very act of yielding, he feels that he is performing an action of free-will; he thinks he is asserting his liberty; he feels that he is a fine fellow, dashing, sportful, admirable. He (—or she; for the masculine half of humanity has no monopoly here;) has, indeed, the advantage of the grosser, and therefore the more easily detected, vices.
What we do, therefore, we who are pluming ourselves on our fine, abounding liberty, our freedom of will, is, to create a swarm of elementals around us, and then sit down in the midst of them and serve them slavishly; meantime bragging that we are free. An “elemental”, be it said in parenthesis, for whoever is unfamiliar with the word, is the psychic pull which leads us to do again an action we have done; psychic “force of habit,” just as the first cocktail asks for a second and a third, till the asserter of free-will is comatose.
And, if we could use them rightly, our schools, our universities, our factories, our places of obedience generally, would give us ceaseless opportunities to get the better of our self-created swarms of elementals. Every conquest of laziness, of self-assertive vanity, of self-indulgence—in a word, every obedience to divine law—weakens them; takes from them a certain modicum of immortal force (which we have put into them) and builds it into the higher nature, the body of the everlasting man. So the doors of our factories might be doors of heaven, were it not for our infinite senility and conceit.
For there can be no more complete folly than to think that service, or servitude, or absolute slavery, can hinder us, for an instant, from obeying the divine law, and thus going forward in spiritual freedom and power. Take the bodily equivalent: take the case of a man, mutilated and broken, laid on a hospital bed, so helpless that he cannot even move a finger, an eyelid. Has he therefore ceased to obey the law of gravity? Not in the least; but for gravity, the coverlet would fly off him, and broken and bruised though he be, he would be bumping against the ceiling. He is, in reality, obeying completely, and profiting, in every ounce of his body, by his obedience.
So with slavery. It is entirely possible for a slave, beaten, maltreated, checked and fettered; to be spiritually free to the finger-tips, and to grow in splendid spiritual stature, even while the chains are upon him. Half-a-dozen of the fundamental documents of spiritual freedom and life, half-a-dozen books of the New Testament, are the work of a man who, at that very time, was a prisoner, in chains. “I, Paul have written it with mine own hand . . .” and the hand had an iron bracelet on it. So, too, with that other magnificent slave and freeman, the Stoic, Epictetus. No one more free, unless if be that other Stoic, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whom even supreme sovereignty could not fetter.
So, as soon as they wish; our “wage-slaves,” even our collegians, can strip off the bandage that blinds them, and see, with magnificent surprise and delight the sunlit spaces of the Great Adventure opening up before them, beyond and through the very walls of what they ignorantly thought were class-rooms and factories, but which are; in very deed, the great halls of everlasting Life.