A Trap for a Friend
Irish Theosophist, December, 1895
Not exactly a trap, though even if a very valuable truth has allowed itself to be caught therein.
It happened after this wise. It had long been on my heart that something seemed to be missing in what was generally said about Masters and men, teachers and pupils, the Lodge and the “outsiders”—to use what we now know as the true mystic term of old.
Something was missing; though where exactly was not so easy to say. Was it merely my own thick-headedness, that failed to see what everybody else saw perfectly well? Very possible, for there is many a thing round us waiting for eyes to see it, nay, the whole of this most entertaining universe, preening its feathers, so to speak, in the impatient desire to be looked upon. But if so, I must out with my misgiving, and unburden my heart, even at the risk of being laughed at, to me most disagreeable of all things.
Or, on the other hand, was it that a good old truth had had so many good old followers since the good old days, that it had come to be covered with a good old crust of gnarled destitude, and half pathetic, half humorous, was asking all the time that worthy people should hide it away where mother earth could gently draw it forth again from its shell and send it up as green grass along the meadows? Again, very possible. For many a poor truth gets so sorely encumbered by the barnacles of the great deep, so hidden under astral dust, and tangled by the webs of cosmic spiders, that its best hope is a temporary occultation—laid to rest in a weakening and destroying, and finding a joyful resurrection in indestructibility and force.
Or was it merely that whirling words were at fault: that the matter had not been expressed properly? This is perhaps likeliest of all; and mindful of many a talk where the best part of the conversation never got embodied in speech at all, but flew hither and thither, as on the wings of celestial butterflies, I think that here is the truest explanation of the want—whirling words were to blame.
Therefore. wishing to make matters clear, I asked the question about the holy Breath, and the teachers who were breathed on by it: about impersonal inspiration and inspired men. Was there a difference in kind, or one in degree only between the unconscious prophet and the conscious sage? This was the trap to catch my friend.
And the valuable truth that allowed itself to be taken was this: “that all such inspiration comes from that course which we are agreed to call the Lodge of the Oversoul”; the inspiration of prophet and sage alike. Here, I think, one might draw a distinction. The Lodge and the Oversoul are not quite the same, one would say; the Lodge is the vesture of the Oversoul: the Oversoul is the holy Breath in the Lodge, and in the just men made perfect who are the Lodge. So that the real thing is not so much the vesture, as the impersonal Divinity that wears the vesture. Will my friend consent to this distinction?
Here one may say a word about that much-contested word “impersonal”. As someone said the other day, there is much to be said for a personal God. On the contrary, I think there is far more to be said for impersonal man. The distinction is a difficult one to make clear, because it goes deep into the nature of the heart; but the truth about it seems to be something like this:
In our spiritual non-age, which may last a thousand ages, we believe entirely in our personalities, not only as real, but as the most real and valuable things in the whole universe, to which all things are to be subjected, as the Father is subjected all things to the Son. But the best personality is a little thing, a weak thing, and no match at all for all the rest of the universe. So that, in our spiritual non-age, we have rather a bad time of it; our best victories still leave us full of apprehension and inward quaking; we have always a suspicion that fate and the other people do not really reverence our personal selves as much as they pretend to, btu are perhaps inwardly laughing at us, which, as I said, is extremely disagreeable. So that, taking it all in all, our personalities don’t have a very good time. And, if you think of it a moment, it is hardly possible that they should. For there are ever so many myriads of them, each one trying to get the better of all the others; and try as they will, all the mountains cannot be the highest in the world.
But then there is the other side of our nature, that is very willing to have only a fair share of well-being, along with all others; willing to admit a general well-being, harmoniously beautiful. Ready also to admit a general well-being for itself, not merely the gaining of a few little treasures in a few little lives, but something big, fruitful and enduring. And, with this, a sense of beauty rather than of beautiful hings; of the true, rather than of truths particular. All this makes the big, heroic side of us, self-shining, eternal. And one cannot but call it our impersonal Self. And, as no man, following it up, has ever managed to come to the end of it, or mark its limits, the Oversoul is called the universal, the divine.
For the most part, during our non-age, it is thwarted and kept in the background, hidden behind the octopus-personality, that must ever be grasping something and darkening counsel to make good its own retreat. But from time to time the personality goes to sleep, and the divine man does something generous or valorous or beautiful, which personality, awakening, instantly appropriates, printing its name barefacedly on the hero’s title-page.
And these odd chances of the divine man, of the Oversoul, are, I think, the “inspirations” which have given us every good gift and every perfect gift, while personality slept: at the risk of having them instantly snatched up and twisted out of shape, when the anthropoid slumbers are over.
But at last personality has a thoroughly lucid interval, and nothing in its life becomes it like—the leaving of it. Then the impersonal Oversoul has his own impersonal turn, to be used wisely and all through the ages. At the beginning, not much to be seen, perhaps, because this works as slowly as the life that made the mountains. But in the end will be made manifest the perfect shining of the everlasting fire.
So that, after we have spiritually come of age—when we do—our inspirations will not be different in kind from all our lucid moments of generosity and beauty, but there will be a great difference nevertheless—the anthropoid personality will have entered his long rest. It was the Oversoul all the while: but now it is the Oversoul only: the Oversoul alone, lonely, pure.
So that we need not so much the Lodge as the Oversoul, not so much the adept as the divine shining that makes the adept; the divine shining that we recognize from its oneness with the dim star that burns within ourselves. Nothing that has form, nothing that is out of the Eternal, can help us.