After more than a dozen years of theosophical activity the question arises: "Where is the best field for Theosophy?" It is coupled with the admission that Theosophy does not recognize the missionary spirit; it does not believe in what are called "converts" to any great extent. Proclaiming the entire freedom of man, the dignity and sacredness of the human soul. it does not run about attacking the Ideals of others, nor yet thrusting Truth upon the crowd as a huckster bawls his wares. In this Theosophy is preeminently well bred; it teaches one to mind his own affairs. In recognition of this liberality the attitude of theosophical workers is that of persons who stand ready at all times to answer or instruct questioners without going out into the highway to drag them in. They know that only those persons are ready for Theosophy who have grown up to it, who have gradually evoluted to it through their inner experience. There is no need to importune such persons; they seek us out.
The Theosophical Society has had, of course, to suffer from the advances of those who want to use it as a stalking horse, or those who think that occultism may for a time afford them a piquante pose; also from that elegant condescension which is the thin enamel to innate vulgarity, worn by persons who imagine that they can confer a service or a prestige upon Universal Truth. This is much as a festoon of attitudinizing monkeys may imagine they lend a lustre to some spreading monarch of the forest. A fond conceit, worthy of our puling civilization, leads these immature individuals to imagine that their money, their touting, or their small names are gifts of price to the Religion of the Ages, and should be gratefully recognized. They may do much for themselves through Theosophy, but for it they can do nothing whatever. Universals have their root in Being, and man can only lift himself to them. He must come to need them; he must feel that the Truth is an imperious, an absolute, necessity in his life, before he is ready to make sacrifices for it. He is inevitably called to sacrifice, in some form or other, as the world uses the word. When the ploughman rends the wild soil: when the pruner uses the hook or the sculptor smites the redundancy of marble into dust as the fair form emerges, they do not use the word sacrifice at all; neither does the theosophist when he endeavors to break the clay mould and find within it the Magnum Opus. Theosophy is "blind to all the prizes of the world; it has nothing to offer men but the Truth and a search for the Truth, and they must be well out of the nursery and leading strings before they can participate in either; they must be wholly able to stand alone. In the same way the Theosophical Society welcomes all well-intentioned persons, but, whether consciously or not, every member gains more than he or she gives. They share in the magnetic life of a powerful organization, using the word powerful in the sense of real, essential power. If they do not understand the force and value of this privilege they are out of place in the Society: the more they give in sympathy, harmony, or any kind of encouragement, the higher the blessings they receive.
It was supposed, and perhaps naturally, that the best field for theosophical teachings would be found among the cultured classes. The world was to be convinced of error, and an appeal to the intellect seemed in order. Moreover, their influence and example would react upon classes less favored (apparently) by karmic circumstance, and would induce these to follow the lead of their more educated contemporaries. It seemed to some that the leaven would work best from above downward.
Events have not justified this conclusion. Many persons of the highest intelligence and culture have accepted Theosophy. Some of them are our most valued workers, and he can do the most work who has the most ability to make himself heard by his fellow men. For the worldly plane this holds good incontestably. All that such members have done for Humanity and for themselves cannot be overstated. The heroic and revered Madame Blavatsky stands at their head, but beyond and above our arguments because of her attainments and leadership. Yet the fact that we have found able champions in this class does not controvert that other fact that such members are numerically rare. They are outnumbered by others of their order who content themselves with intellectual appreciation and a watch for flotsam and jetsam in the way of knowledge, ready in a moment to desert.
Theosophy is not a creed, but a new life to be lived, and the question is; "Where shall we find the most persons who are ready to live it?" In the opinion of the writer they are to be found among the working class, so far as the United States is concerned. This belief is based upon radical differences inherent in these classes themselves. The term "working class" may be used for the purposes of this article, and includes all wage earners, especially artizans, mechanics, clerks, and various employees of both sexes. In itself the term is a misnomer, because in the United States we are nearly all workers.
The very first condition of Theosophical progress is the abandonment of the personality. This includes the ability to discard all our preconceptions and ideals for the Truth, for that stands above all human ideals. While searching for the Truth, "the processes of preparation go silently on till the individual, all unconscious, reaches the moment when the one needed force touches him, and then every prepared constituent falls instantly into place and the being is — as it were — reconstructed at once. Conceptions, relations, aims are revolutionized." Until this moment comes, the individual must possess the power of standing uninfluenced by all external conditions. He must be able to think from and for himself; there must be no attraction for any other aim; he must hold himself fluidic and free.
Apart from educational advantages and a quickened intelligence, the cultured classes have the additional ones of worldly experience, observation, and comparison. But they are like the microscopist who loses the ensemble in the ramification of detail; it is a very transient and small world that they know so well. They eat the fruit, but of the orchard they know less than nothing in their mistaken conceptions of life. They are to some extent cosmopolitan, but only in a surface sense and in limited degree as compared with your occultist, the cosmopolitan pur sang who must be equally at home, not only in all lands and spheres, but in all elements. They have reached an infinite perfection of detail; they have an extensive and varied knowledge of effects — such effects as art, science, statecraft, literature, and less noble interests —, but they are too far dazzled by these to think of looking behind them for causes. Their advantages weight them enormously by what the French call "the defects of their qualities." They have so much that they fear to lose! They are bound by the million cobwebs of social prejudice, of public opinion, of their family or personal record. There is nothing so confining as cobwebs. Chains may be broken by native strength, but of cobwebs we are scarcely aware; we think to brush them away, but they cling and obstruct the clear sight. In the very nature of circumstances the position of the cultured man or woman is largely based upon suffrage a la mode. Wealth may command it, but this also traps us with innumerable enticements; the more refined our nature, the more subtle, the more enchanting these pleasures may be made. The intellectual have formed mental habits which they cannot break, or, if they can, they will not. These processes have made them what they are, and they value what they are. They are encrusted with a growth which seems to them precisely the most desirable in the world. They are the aloe flower of an elaborate although shallow civilization; they have forced themselves with exceeding great care. They have exquisite ideals; their creeds are pure, their code of honor subtle; whether they carry them out or not, there is nothing finer to be found outside of Theosophy. Their personalities are thus their gods; they cannot become self-iconoclasts. They are ready to seek Truth, even, upon accepted lines, but they dare not trust themselves outside of those lines in transgression of that social code by virtue of which they are pre-eminent. They do not see that this pre-eminence is that of a weather cock upon a steeple; their position depends upon prompt subserviency to self-imposed tyrants. It is impossible for them to look at facts in their own light; it is not done; what would people say? You who demand it, you Truth, you are impractical: this is the final anathema of the 19th Century, and a great bugbear for conservative souls. If Truth clashes with our present institutions, let us have Truth and build up a better civilization. They demur: no doubt they suspect they would have but little hand in it. The cultured classes are thus prevented by all the tendencies and surroundings of their lives from thinking independently. They have given too many hostages to fortune. Numbers have an intellectual appreciation of Theosophy, but that does not carry one far; they become disheartened for want of personal progress. Like the Prince of fairy tales who climbed the hill of Difficulty for the golden water, they hear the voices of the stones behind them flouting, jeering, calling them back: they falter, turn, and become stones like their predecessors. Others feel an emotional attraction, but heart alone may lead to hysteria quite as well as to sympathy. Their vivid charm, their intelligence, and their virtues are beside the question. They are too preoccupied to have any intuitions of an underlying current of real life. What is needed is interior conviction, freedom, imagination, elasticity, a superb audacity, perfect fearlessness of all results, confidence in one's own soul as the arbiter of destiny, an entire independence, even of one's own mind: we must be swift to seize the floating clues which drift by us in the darkness; we must have a prescience of the unseen. All this the cultured classes cannot have while they lean upon personages and an arbitrary social system like houses of cards. They would ask what Theosophy has to offer in return for so much effort, and when we answer "The Truth," they would reply courteously that they are satisfied as it is. This is not true; they are not satisfied, but they are epicurean; they dread knowing anything less delightful than themselves. I would not be misunderstood, I who feel their peculiar charm so keenly. When from this hotbed arises a nature capable of freeing itself, capable of self reliance, of accepting Truth without counting any cost, that nature makes itself respected everywhere; it is a centre of energy, and Theosophy has a priceless co-adjutor. The combination is rare because the conditions are unfavorable. We have the statement of Christ for believing that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of an needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God," — the mystical region which He said is "within us."
With the working classes the case stands otherwise. In the social order they have no traditions, no Molochs they fear to offend. They are not the slaves of their ideals, but with the first dawn of leisure they look about for an ideal, and they test those of other men. They have come into contact with a more brutal phase of error. Materiality has exhibited itself to them in its grossest aspect; they have not seen it sensuously apparelled, or mounted upon a pedestal of Intellectuality with crowds of fame-worshippers at the base. Illusion wears for them a mask of iron instead of an alluring veil. They have been blinded by sorrow rather than joy. They feel an instant need of Truth. She is within their grasp, who can reach so little else. When she comes to them she is welcomed as Deliverer; their love penetrates her meaning better than the unaided intellect does. They have a more eager gratitude, a sleepless desire to pass the benefit along to others. It seems as if this leaven works best from below upward in American life, where the substratum soon works to the surface and manifests then in power.
The working class are untrammelled by the subtleties of modern thought. They may be tricked, but they take no delight in tricking themselves. Like Alexander, they sever Gordian Knots bluntly: they are able to look squarely at a proposition on its own merits without a sidelong glance at Mrs. Grundy. They have no received and duly-approved yardstick by which they feel bound to measure all things at the risk of the lowered barometer of public opinion. There is not here, as there is in England, an ironclad code of opinions and customs which constitutes the "respectability" of the worker, and which he owes to all the neighbors "in the block." They are moral because they choose to be so, and each feels free to think as he pleases. In fact, next to education they value independence of thought. To them, thinking is a luxury where to the cultured it is often a bore; this because the latter think more tortuously. They are influenced by knowledge; they know that it is power. But they discriminate; they value only that which seems to them to be vital and true; for them there is no fashion in knowledge which changes with the seasons. They are not influenced by the cultured classes, for these are largely recruited every year from their own. They are intensely conscious of their own possibilities. They know that they are the bone and sinews of the country; it has been demonstrated to them by so many of their fellows, now at the head of affairs in all departments, even those of cultured wealth. A future of power is not a far cry to their ambition. While the other class is occupied in maintaining its consolidation, this one is occupied with becoming, and knows that men raise themselves by independent thought, by qualities fostered within themselves. They yield quickly to the flux of change, and their mental activities remain unstratified. These are conditions eminently favorable to Theosophy.
If Theosophy were a creed with churches, clergy, and charities to support and a prestige to maintain, the patronage of culture per se might be necessary to it. Instead of this, it is, as we said, a life to live. It is the water of life for those who thirst, and for water, not for wine, for strength, not for excitement. It teaches man to look within and beyond himself while relying upon himself: this lesson the worker already comprehends. The greater simplicity of his life is free from the involved complexities, the manifold interests of modern social existence, where these things are forever stifling the natural instincts of men. The majority have an intuitive belief in the reality of the unseen; it arises from the greater impersonality of their life, their identification with popular currents. Many have had occult experiences of various kinds: this will not surprise students who know that such would be far more common if our lives were not passed in a continual whirl of external excitement. The case of Jacob Boehme, the poor shoemaker, illustrates these arguments; indeed it would seem that almost all the great mystics came from the poorer order.
Again, what Theosophy has to offer is more needed by the working class. They feel the inequality of Fortune most; it is they who need that explanation of fate which is found in Karma, that consolation which the law of reaction (or compensation) affords. It is even the poor, the wretched, the sinful who have found the hard side of the professor of religion, found that it is his sense of isolation, of separation, which makes the bread of his charity so bitter. They have found that the gentlest philanthropist of them all does not believe or follow his Christ in this, — he does not recognize the brotherhood of man. They have found that the deed of love alone relieves. Sorrow has taught them many truths unsoftened by a sympathizing circle of friends. Life is better known to them than to those who only look upon it after it has been upholstered and well aired. They have learned concentration, patience, endurance; they have mastered the body in many ways. They have everything to gain by Theosophy and little to lose. They are too sturdy, too ingenious, too argumentative for worn-out creeds to hold them in their exoteric forms: the esoteric might, — but who hopes soon for that apotheosis? The cultured classes make little impression upon American life at large; it is everywhere the worker who rises and holds his own.
Just as we believe that America is the great field for Theosophy because the momentum of progress is so great here, so we believe that among the laboring classes the largest harvest is to be reaped. I doubt not this holds good in other countries, notwithstanding the weight of the aristocratic classes, because I see everywhere a tendency to Unity, I see the on coming surge of the People and the working of that Principle which determines the Brotherhood of Man.
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