The Screen of Time
The Path, February, March & Theosophy, April, 1896
Forever hiding futurity, the Screen of Time hangs before us, impenetrable. Nor can it be lifted. Its other side may have pictures and words upon it which we would like to read. There is such a desire in the human heart to know what the coming days may hold, that if there be pictures on the hidden side of the Screen we long to see them. But fortunately for us in our present weak condition we may not look behind. Standing in front, all we are privileged to perceive are the reflections from human life thrown upon this side known as the present, while the pictures that have been there in the past turn themselves into background and distance, sometimes bright, but oftener gloomy and grey.
A very pernicious doctrine is again making an appearance. It is weak, truly, but now is the time to deal with and destroy it if possible. It is the theory that the best way to overcome a tendency—of any sort—of the physical nature, is to give way to it. This is the dreadful doctrine of Satiation: that the only way to deal with lust and other things of the lower plane is to satisfy, all cravings. By argument this may be shown to be an evil doctrine: but fact overcomes all argument, and it is easy to discern the truth to be that satiation of a craving does not remove its cause. If we eat, and dissipate hunger, the need for food will soon be felt again. And so with all cravings and tendencies which are classified as bad or low, or those which we wish to get rid of. They must be opposed. To satisfy and give way to them will produce but a temporary dullness. The real cause of them all is in the inner man, on the plane of desire whether mental or physical. So long as no effort is made to remove them they remain there. The Voice of the Silence is against the doctrine of satiation most clearly, and so are the voices of all the sages. We must all wish that this pernicious idea may never obtain a hold in Theosophical ranks.
The desire to see the fulfilment of lugubrious and awful prophecies is a singular one for good men to hold. Yet many Theosophists have this most strange peculiarity. They have read and heard of certain prophecies said to have been made by H.P.B. about calamitous and disastrous times to come in Europe; of a new reign of terror; of sinking continents and destroyed nations. They add to these the improbable, vague and sometimes hoaxing prophecies by astrologers and old women. Then they begin to wish all these most terrifying things would come to pass so that their prophets may be justified. Every time a slight jar occurs in Europe they feel the terreur is at hand. But it does not arrive. Surely we ought to be satisfied with an ominous prophecy, if we believe in it, and be content to let its fulfilment be delayed for an extremely long period. We do not need prophecies, in any case, because out of our present deeds future events are made. Those among us who wish, as I said, for the realization of forebodings are the croakers of the movement. Even among the singular people called Theosophists they are singular, but their peculiarity is both unhealthy and useless.
In 1888 I had a morning conversation with H.P.B. at the Lansdowne Road house in London, upon the spread or weight of the Theosophical movement. I said that it was sometimes appalling to remember the millions of people in America alone, in comparison with the few Theosophists and Theosophical branches: what hope was there of our making a change in national character in any land? Her reply was that, while it might seem discouraging looked at in that way, it was really not so. “Look,” she said, “at our beginnings in 1875, when no one knew of Theosophy, and only jokes greeted our amazing efforts for publicity. But now we have come into the papers and magazines. We have made a distinct impression on the mind and literature of the time. This is much to have done.”
There is abundant proof of this on every hand. Our name is now well understood. Writers may allude in their sketches to Theosophists and Theosophy without fear of castigation by the editor. There are two recent conspicuous instances. The N. Y. Herald, in December last, had an article in which this occurs:
“No man on the globe knows how to keep a hotel as the American does. He is a perfect Mahatma at the business.”
Here is this great word abused, it is true; but that does not damage it. It has reached in less than twenty years the familiar treatment which it took in India centuries to come to. There they often use it as a term of reproach, on the principle that to call a man that high and great thing which he cannot be is to abuse him.
Again, in the Cosmopolitan for December last—a magazine widely read—there is a story by Zangwill called “Choice of Parents,” on the abolition of compulsory reincarnation. The sketch deals entirely with the ante-natal world and reincarnation on the earth. Not long before the author had something in the English Pall Mall Magazine wherein Theosophy, Theosophists and reincarnation were mentioned. I do not know who will have the hardihood to deny the great share the Theosophical movement has had in bringing about this change.
At the present time one of the most urgent needs is for a simplification of Theosophical teachings. Theosophy is simple enough; it is the fault of its exponents if it is made complicated, abstruse or vague. Yet enquiring people are always complaining that it is too difficult a subject for them, and that their education has not been deep enough to enable them to understand it. This is greatly the fault of the members who have put it in such a manner that the people sadly turn away. At public meetings or when trying to interest an enquirer it is absolutely useless to use Sanskrit, Greek or other foreign words. Nine times out of ten the habit of doing so is due to laziness or conceit. Sometimes it is due to having merely learned certain terms without knowing and assimilating the ideas underneath. The ideas of Theosophy should be mastered, and once that is done it will be easy to express those in the simplest possible terms. And discussions about the Absolute, the Hierarchies, and so forth, are worse than useless. Such ideas as Karma, Reincarnation, the Perfectibility of Man, the Dual Nature, are the subjects to put forward. These can be expounded—if you have grasped’ the ideas and made them part of your thought—from a thousand different points of view. At all meetings the strongest effort should be made to simplify by using the words of our own language in expressing that which we believe.
There will be a change in the title of this magazine when issued next month. It will appear as THEOSOPHY instead of as THE PATH. This change is thought advisable for many reasons, one of which is the indistinctiveness of the present name. “Theosophy,” as a word, has become familiar throughout the civilized world, and a certain definite though not always correct meaning has been attached to it. One of our chief objects will be to spread a proper understanding of its significance, as well as to remove false impressions concerning it. One of the chief. results of the change will be an increased familiarity on the part of the public with the word; and it is a word that has a power in it, sufficient in itself to change the tenor of a man’s life, as experience has shown in more than one instance.
Among other important results that should follow from the change, one of which I have already touched on, a very considerable increase in the circulation will be effected, it is hoped. Each reader will doubtless help to bring this about by reading THEOSOPHY on the street-cars, in the trains, and in other public places where many eyes will be caught by the well-known name on the cover of a magazine. Once seen it will not be forgotten. So as this is a Theosophical venture I invite the cooperation of Theosophists the world over in making it a success. Nothing can be accomplished without you; everything with you; and the last and apparently least of you is not always the most helpless.
A contributor sends me the following communication, which I fully adopt:
“In Lucifer’s ‘Watch-Tower’ (December, 1895) the editor undertakes to explain finally the question of Mars and the Earth-chain of Globes. Considerable assurance is shown in the expression of the views thus put forward, only surpassed, perhaps, by the assurance shown when the same writer expressed diametrically opposite views about two years ago in an article on ‘Mars and the Earth’ (THE PATH, vol. viii, p. 270; Lucifer, vol. xiii, p. 206). That article was written by its author in New York for publication in both journals.
“The editor of Lucifer, now saying, ‘The facts [recently revised] are these, proceeds to state that Mars and Mercury are globes of the Earth-chain. In the article on ‘Mars and the Earth,’ already referred to, the same writer stated that Mars and Mercury were not globes of the Earth-chain, correctly pointing out that to hold that they were would violate the fundamental principles of H.P.B.’s teaching, and concluding with the words, ‘And so, once more, we find the Masters’ doctrines self-consistent.’
“It would be useless to revive all the points in a discussion which was amply ventilated nearly two years ago. In an article entitled ‘Mars and Mercury,’ by William Q. Judge, which appeared in the PATH (vol. viii, pp. 97-100) the matter was well summed up as follows: ‘The two Masters who had to do with Esoteric Buddhism and the Secret Doctrine have distinctly said: first, that none of the other globes of the earth-chain are visible from its surface; second, that various planets are visible in the sky to us because they are in their own turn fourth-plane planets, representing to our sight their own septenary chains; third, that the six companion globes of the earth are united with it in one mass, but differ from it as to class of substance; fourth, that Mr. Sinnett misunderstood them when he thought they meant to say that Mars and Mercury were two of the six fellow-globes of the earth,-and this correction they make most positively in the Secret Doctrine; lastly, they have said that the entire philosophy is one of correspondences, and must be so viewed in every part. . . . If we admit that Mars and Mercury are two visible planets of the sevenfold chain belonging to the earth, then the consistency of the philosophy is destroyed, for as it is with planets, so it is with man. Every planet, considered for the moment as an individual, is to be analyzed in the same way as a single human being, subject to the same laws in the same way. Hence, if two of the principles of the earth are visible, that is, Mars and Mercury, then why is it that two of man’s seven principles are not visible, in addition to his body? In his sevenfold constitution his body represents the earth in her septenary chain, but he cannot see objectively any other of his principles. The philosophy must be consistent throughout.’
“If the editor of Lucifer carries these recently revised ‘facts,’ as given in the last December issue, to their logical conclusion, we may expect in future issues of that magazine a record of some entertaining experiments in clairvoyance with the object of ‘finding Smith’s physical body,’ with the possible result that it will be discovered as Jones, a wanderer on another continent, blissfully ignorant that Smith is his Kama or lower mind, as the case may be. Smith’s Buddhic or other principle will perhaps be found objectivized as a Hindu yogi—but what would happen if the yogi were to die before Smith? And how about Smith’s four invisible principles (Globes A, B, F, and G), supposed to be careering through space in bewildering independence of law, rhyme, reason or analogy?
“On the whole, the teaching of the Secret Doctrine is likely to remain the standard, at least of common-sense, and I for one prefer to think that neither the principles of the Earth-chain nor the principles of man are physically separate from each other in different parts of space, but that all are in ‘coadunition,’ as the Master wrote.”
Students will do well to refer to the former discussion on this subject, sufficiently complete to render further comment needless. The following articles should be read in this connection: PATH, “The Earth-Chain of Globes,” vol. vii, pp. 351 and 377, continued in vol. viii, p.11; “Mars and Mercury,” vol. viii, p. 97; “How to Square the Teachings,” vol. viii, p. 172 (this follows an article by A. P. Sinnett on “Esoteric Teaching”); “Mars and the Earth,” vol. viii, p. 270. Lucifer: vol. xiii, pp. 55-58, giving short criticisms by W. Kingsland, “C.J.” and “G.R.S.M.” of Mr. Sinnett’s article; vol. xiii, p. 206, “Mars and the Earth,” by Annie Besant. Students should also refer to “A Word on the Secret Doctrine,” giving quotations from a letter of Master K.H.’s to Col. Olcott, which appeared in the PATH, vol. viii, p. 202, with a preliminary note signed jointly by Annie Besant and William Q. Judge.
The recent remarkable discovery by Professor W. C. Rontgen of the fact that a photograph can be obtained of an object surrounded by an opaque covering is of immense value to Theosophy and Theosophists. If a living human hand, for instance, be interposed between a Crooke’s or Lenard’s tube (through which is passed a discharge from a large induction coil) and a photographic plate, a shadow photograph can be obtained which shows all the outlines and joints of the bones most distinctly. It is even stated as a result of later developments of this discovery that a dense body can in the same way be made transparent to the human eye.
These researches show that opaque matter so-called is not impenetrable to light-rays. It is an old Theosophical statement that matter is permeable, and to human sight, and is no obstacle to the astral senses. In these discoveries by Prof. Rontgen and others it is even shown as permeable to gross physical light. H.P.B.’s statement should not be forgotten that before many years important discoveries would be made by science tending to vindicate the teachings of occultism.
And once more science has the “spiritualist” on the hip; for the latter never heard from his spooks about these “cathode rays” that make a hard iron box transparent. Why is it that the spirits in Summerland never give out these things, but prophesy all sorts of matters and events that don’t fall true?
Mr. Edward Maitland has recently issued a memoir of Dr. Anna Kingsford, in which there is an interesting account of her continuous attack on vivisection and vivisectionists. So bitter was her feeling against all those who practised this form of “scientific research,” as it is called, that she claimed to have turned the force of her will against two of them with a view to, their destruction—with success, she afterwards said. Certain it is that the two vivisectionists died. Elated by her achievement, she wrote to Mme. Blavatsky proposing a joint psychic onslaught on these miserable sinners wherever they could be found, in the hope of killing them off en masse. To this proposal H.P.B. is recorded as having replied in the following clear and noteworthy words:
“I feel sure and know that Master approves your opposing the principle of vivisection, but not the practical way you do it, injuring yourself and doing injury to others, without much benefitting the poor animals. Of course it is Karma in the case of Paul Bert. But so it is in the case of every murdered man. Nevertheless the weapon of Karma, unless he acts unconsciously, is a murderer in the sight of that same Karma that used him. Let us work against the principle, then; not against personalities. For it is a weed that requires more than seven, or seven times seven, of us to extirpate it.”
H. P. B.’s words are of great importance. Mania to act as Chief Executioner of all disapproved and disapprovable things was not confined to Anna Kingsford. Members of the Theosophical Society have been known to burn with a passionate longing to act as agents far Karma, forgetting that the sword of the Executioner is a two-edged sword, forgetting also that they do not know Karma, and are held responsible by Karma for the mischief they will inevitably work. The absurdity of such an attitude of mind does not deprive it of a certain pathetic aspect. See these people, impure themselves, thinking they can either forcibly purify the world or can legitimately punish others far their impurity! The pathetic aspect comes in when they are so deluded as to call the proceeding “self-sacrifice.” It would be real self-sacrifice for such people to sit still and attend to their immediate duty.
The Indian Section of the Theosophical Society proposes to take away the first object of the Theosophical Society, to-wit, the attempt to form a nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood, and insert in its place same high-sounding phrases, derived from the Brahmans who now control that Section, about spirituality and identity. These phrases will allow Universal Brotherhood to sink slowly out of sight. A Committee of Revision, appointed by the “European Section T.S.” in July, 1895, has reported in favor of these words: “To promote the recognition of the spiritual Brotherhood of Humanity.” A majority voted in favor of this alteration, but there are minority reports. But as the reigning magnates and high-cock-a-lorums of 19 Avenue Road favor the change, it will probably be made by the Convention of the “European Section T.S.,” to be held next July. The Theosophical Society in America, with the similar Societies in Europe and Australasia, will thus be left as the only part of the movement upholding Universal Brotherhood.
This magazine enters upon the eleventh year of its existence with the present number. Its new name will in no way alter its purpose or character, but, as stated in the last “Screen of Time,” THEOSOPHY will more explicitly proclaim these to the general public than the old title—The Path. Already the good results of the change have become evident, for soon after the announcement of the alteration had been made new subscribers came forward and will doubtless continue to do so. But the efforts to increase the circulation of this magazine remade with the sole aim of spreading a true understanding of the Theosophical philosophy among the people, and only in so far as THEOSOPHY can be of use in that giant undertaking rill it fulfil its mission. It is to be hoped that readers will keep he same aim in view, and will make the watchword for the present year that given elsewhere in these pages by Dr. Buck— organize and Work; for work, unfaltering work, is the first expression of brotherhood, and organized work is the second s well as the last expression of the same ideal. Masters, knowing how to work with nature, are the most perfectly organized body in the world; for nature as a whole and in all her departments is the faultless type of organization, and, as one of the Masters wrote, they “but follow and servilely copy nature in her works.” Let this year, then, be one of Work and Organization.
There are several hindrances to the doing of good work by individuals, with resulting loss to the movement. These are all surmountable, for hindrances that are insurmountable are nature’s own limitations that can be used as means instead of being left as barriers. One of these surmountable and unnecessary hindrances is the prevalent habit of reading trashy and sensational literature, both in newspaper and other form. This stupifies and degrades the mind, wastes time and energy, and makes the brain a storehouse of mere brute force rather than what it should be—a generator of cosmic power. Many people seem to “read from the pricking of some cerebral itch,” with a motive similar to that which ends in the ruin of a dipsomaniac: a desire to deaden the personal consciousness. Sensation temporarily succeeds in drowning the voice of conscience and the pressure that comes from the soul that so many men and women unintelligently feel. So they seek acute sensation in a thousand different ways, while others strive to attain the same end by killing both sensation and consciousness with the help of drugs or alcohol. Reading of a certain sort is simply the alcohol habit removed to another plane, and just as some unfortunates live to drink instead of drinking that they may live, so other unfortunates live to read instead of reading that they may learn how to live. Gautama Buddha went so far as to forbid his disciples to read novels—or what stood for novels in those days—holding that to do so was most injurious. People are responsible for the use they make of their brains, for the brain can be used for the noblest purposes and can evolve the most refined quality of energy, and to occupy it continually with matters not only trivial but often antagonistic to Theosophical principles is to be untrue to a grave trust. This does not mean that the news of the day should be ignored, for those who live in the world should keep themselves acquainted with the world’s doings: but a fair test is that nothing not worth remembering is worth reading. To read for the sake of reading, and so filling the sphere of the mind with a mass of half-dead images, is a hindrance to service and a barrier to individual development.
When two or three or more Theosophists meet together socially, what should they talk about in the absence of uninterested strangers? It may be said that they should talk like any other people, but this ought not to be the case. The usual worldly custom is to bring up for conversation unimportant matters, often in regard to persons, not infrequently to their detriment, or in regard to transient events, and to discuss these without relating them to permanent and basic principles. Many people talk for the sake of talking, as others read for the sake of reading, regardless of results. But those who know that a “single word may ruin a whole city or put the spirit of a lion into a dead fox” will be more careful of their words. Apart from that aspect of the question, it should be evident that for people who profess to be interested in Theosophy to meet together without discussing it is to fritter away their time and opportunity. To babble out words does not help on the evolution of humanity or inspire any other idea but the natural one that such conversation borders on the idiotic. Nor is there any reason why conversation should not be at once interesting and instructive. It can easily be led into such channels by anyone present. No one has a right to excuse himself on the ground that “the others” would talk gossip, or about clothes or games or similar things; for a few words and, more important still, a proper attitude of mind will at once lead the conversation into the proper channel. And here again any extreme should be avoided. There is a right time and a wrong time for the discussion of games, clothes, food, and so forth, and there is a decided limit to the usefulness of such discussion. Other topics should be dealt with when fellow students are so fortunate as to meet together. They at least should never part without conversing on some ennobling and uplifting subject that will help them in their work and study. To make that a rule would not only insure much positive good; it would insure against much positive harm.
The French press has recently been thoroughly aroused by the tragic fate of young Max Lebaudy, the multi-millionaire. Inheriting a huge fortune from his father while quite young, he soon became notorious on account of his eccentric extravagance and folly. On reaching the age of twenty he was obliged to serve his time in the army like any other of his countrymen, rich or poor. As he had already succeeded in gaining an unenviable notoriety he was constantly watched by newspaper reporters, especially by those of the radical and socialist press, for fear he would not be treated like the son of some poorer man. But he was not strong, and though his health soon gave way his superior officers did not dare allow him relaxations that would have been granted to other conscripts, for fear of the outcry that would have been raised by the radicals. So Lebaudy had soon to be sent to a hospital, well-nigh dead. The press, disbelieving in his illness, at once proclaimed this an outrage, hinting that he had bought up the officers and doctors and was shirking active service by means of his wealth. Afraid of newspaper disapprobation the doctors sent him from hospital to hospital, trying to pass on the responsibility to others, till at last Lebaudy died. Then came the usual reaction in the public mind and he was soon glorified as a martyr by the opposing section of the press. As pointed out by Francisque Sarcey in the March Cosmopolitan, the whole story well illustrates the abject fear of public opinion in which so many people stand. They will abandon any duty and almost commit a crime to avoid condemnation or harsh criticism by a majority of their fellow men. They act and talk with one predominating idea in their minds—what other people will say. As a failing this is more marked in some parts of the world than in others, it being particularly active in the more conservative countries where class distinctions are a matter of much greater moment than they are in America. But even in America this failing is not unknown, though there is less excuse for it here. Such pandering to the opinions of other people is despicable, and should be eradicated from the mind where questions of right and wrong are concerned. It is one thing to conform to custom in matters of form, so long as the form is not harmful, and this should be done as an acceptance of the environment in which one is born. Freedom does not consist in violating either national or social laws, written or unwritten; but in boldly living up to one’s standard of what is right, in the strict performance of duty in spite of any condemnation from others, and in unswerving obedience to principle rather than to precept. Such freedom absolves men from mental allegiance to the daily press. The question “What will they say?” then ceases to be of any importance, since in no case should it be a factor in the determination of what should be done.
Max Lebaudy’s case further offers a good example of Karmic action in one of its aspects. His great wealth was derived in the first place from the French people. Its possession placed him in a prominent public position, so that he no longer belonged to himself; he belonged to France. He was played upon, as it were, by the Karma of France. His follies, his deeds, and especially his misdeeds, appeared on a proportionately large scale. His prominence, due solely to his wealth,. caused his destruction; and though people envied him for this wealth they would not have accepted it if they could have foreseen to what it would lead. In the same way a person of international reputation shares to a certain extent in the Karma of the nations that look upon him as a celebrity and whose thoughts are turned towards him. He has to suffer for it while the poor man and the man of apparent insignificance are affected in correspondingly less degree by national and international Karma.
Another lesson that can be drawn from Lebaudy’s history is the one-sidedness of the brotherhood proposed by people of all nationalities who make a great parade of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity,” but whose brotherhood is one of hate rather than of love. With them it is too often a question of forcibly depriving the rich man of his possessions for the supposed benefit of the poor man, and of inspiring the poor man with hatred for everyone who is better off than himself. A great many political movements whose party cry is brotherhood actually produce the reverse effect, and, instead of working for a universal brotherhood, they work for a carefully selected brotherhood exclusive of most.
It is fortunate for the Christian Church that every now and then a popular preacher comes forward to vindicate truth at the expense of orthodoxy. It would be difficult to find a successor in this respect to Henry Ward Beecher, whose oratory was famous throughout the English-speaking world, and whose fearlessness of thought made him at once a terror to all straight laced believers in verbal inspiration and a religious saviour to those who wished to cling to a church, but who had been embued with the then novel theory of evolution. A not unworthy successor seems, however, to have appeared in the person of Dr. Lyman Abbott, the pastor of the large and influential church in Brooklyn to which Beecher used to draw such an immense congregation. He preached a sermon a short time ago on “The Theology of Evolution” that was widely reported in the press. In it he ridiculed the idea of a manufactured universe, strongly supported evolution, and attempted to prove that a man might still “hold the Christian faith” while believing in the gradual development of humanity and the rest of nature. Telling his congregation that it was not uncommon in past centuries to discuss at what season of the year God created the world, he is reported as having quoted one mediæval writer who argued that it must have occurred in the autumn because apples were ripe then—at which there was naturally “a laugh all over the house,” as the reports state. If this liberal preacher continues to think as well as to talk, he may yet discover that reincarnation is the outcome of a belief in evolution, and that this doctrine is as much a part of Christianity, in the true sense of that word, as it is of Buddhism and Hinduism.