Theosophical University Press Online Edition
(Lecture delivered December 29, 1929)
I was asked an odd question the other day. Someone, a good friend living in San Diego, who knows something about us theosophists, but not much of us, who has heard about us but does not know what we are, or what we stand for, said to me: "You people out there are just wonderful. You say the most lovely things. But has it ever struck you that life is something more than preaching?" I wonder what he thought of me! And he continued: "Don't you realize that life is serious? Don't you realize that it is a man's duty to go out into the world and play his part as a man?
"You folks up there on the Hill pass your years from youth to manhood and from manhood you sink into senile decrepitude, preaching!" And I looked at him! I said to him: "Friend, will you tell me why you look so heart-hungry?" I said: "Are you a searcher for truth?" He said: "I am, most certainly I am. Don't I look like it?" I said: "You most certainly do!" I continued: "Did you ever hear of an old saying that has been ascribed to Jesus the Syrian Sage: 'What profiteth a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?' " He said: "Do you think I am losing my soul?" "No," I said: "I don't think you are, because you have begun to ask me questions."
As soon as a man begins to feel something stirring within himself, to feel the hunger for truth, the yearning for something more than what ordinary life can bring to him; as soon as he begins to realize that there is something deeper, grander, finer, in human existence than the strife and struggle of making a living at the least, and of laying by a fat bank account at the most, then that man is beginning to live, is beginning to know something of the realities of life. His soul is beginning to awaken within his being, and he begins to realize: "After all, what am I here for? Is it merely to make a few gestures on the stage of life, to work and slave day after day, and month after month, and year after year, and finally, whether successful or not, at the end to be caught in my bed by the Great Visitor, and then to feel that I have lived a useless life — doing no real good to my fellow human beings, and not even advancing my own soul? I have been asleep. Almighty God! Had I had the wisdom in the days of my youth and in the flower of my manhood to follow the call of duty, to realize that in order to live human life as a man should live it, the great thing is to cultivate the facilities and powers of manhood, not running every morning to one's office, spending the entire day there, and returning to a more or less happy home at night, fagged out and tired, and nothing worthwhile done; repeating the same round of futile gestures on the stage of life year after year, and to lay me down on my deathbed, a failure!"
I tell you that Pythagoras, the great Greek sage, was right: men, until they have awakened, until they are awake to the great things of life, lead a living death; and that is why he called them the living dead. Physical life — what is it? How is it different from the life of the beasts? Do you call that the life of a being awakened? Eat, sleep, propagate your kind? The beasts do it. Material life? The beasts have it, and so have the plants.
No! We theosophists are striving to give light to our fellowmen, to show them the grand old way to peace and happiness, to show them that the inmost of the inmost of every human being is a veritable divinity whence flow into the human mind all the faculties and powers that make men men. We are striving to show our fellow human beings that there is a wisdom of the ages, which anyone may have for the asking. We are not asleep; we are awake; and it is our duty to awaken our fellowmen.
How are you going to pass your life? Look at the broken hearts around you. Go into the streets of our towns and great towns and cities and look at the empty faces: vacant, hungry, yearning, striving for something they know not what, finding comfort nowhere, in despair, agonizing for something real. They are asleep; and all the frenzied hurly-burly of the marketplace is but an evil nightmare; it is a dream to a man whose soul is awakened.
In what way does physical life with all its frenzied activity give you anything of permanent value? Look how men haunt the libraries, searching after all the newfangled religions — this system and that system — how they go to the philosophers, turn to science, go to the churches. Why? Because they are soul-hungry. They turn from the fevered activities of the marketplace with souls anhungered for something real. They are in very truth "the living dead." They are asleep; and when you come to your last hour you will realize it. So we say: Awaken! Be a man now! Cultivate the faculties within you! Don't be damn fools! (This is not swearing, it is just emphasis; and I mean it).
"I notice that most of you theosophists have acquired a certain quiet poise of manner and of mind. What is there in your teachings that brings this about?"
I have just told you in part. But there is something more to say. We theosophists have peace of mind and a quiet heart; and this inner peace, this sense of having found, reflects itself in our faces and in our poise, which this questioner speaks of. We have conviction, and to have conviction is one of the finest things in human life. A man without a spiritual and intellectual sheet anchor: what is he like? Like a bark drifting on the stormy waters of life. A conviction! Yes, and enthusiasm. When a man is fully convinced, convinced at least for himself; when he can say for himself: Thank the immortal gods, I have found what is to me truth, then his manner reflects the inner peace and he is strong.
Here is a really beautiful question, three questions in fact, and the second and third questions are a running commentary on the first, and they are beautifully phrased, these three:
"What is the basic and ultimate definition of music? Is it the life-wave of the monad expressing itself through matter from the lowest to its highest aspect, beyond and beyond, through the vibrations of sound? Should we therefore hear all planes or grades of life sing in the course of their being, up to man and beyond, if we were adequately attuned to such sound?"
Yes; but what is music? Is it simply a euphonious concurrence of pleasing noises, whether made by strings or winds or skins, or all combined; or is music inner harmony, the harmony within, expressing itself through physical instruments? To most men it is only the latter, and in a sense they are right, for music in itself is soundless. Music is harmony; but wherever there is a movement of material things, that movement is accompanied by sound. You cannot move a material thing, or cause any material thing to move, without producing sound, whether it be heard or whether it be not heard. Our ears are very imperfect instruments of report, attuned to catch but a small range of the infinite gamut of possible sounds. Very imperfectly evolved is our auditory facility.
But everything that is, is in movement, constant, unremitting movement, movement which ceases never, for life is movement, movement is life. The atoms therefore sing, each one its own song. Every movement of physical substance, no matter how small the particle may be, no matter how large, is musical, because the particle is vibrating at a certain rate; and had we the auditory sense to catch these sounds, we should hear them as musical sounds.
Hence the Pythagoreans in their ancient wisdom spoke of the Music of the Spheres, and said: "The celestial bodies, as they run their courses, sing in their orbits"; and it is true. But the sound is so great that our imperfect instruments of sensation cannot take it in. Why, your very bodies are a harmony, could you but hear it. Every atom in your body is singing its own note. You are concreted music, so to say. Every bit of stone or wood, every celestial body, every atom, every being anywhere, is a musical harmony. This is a literal fact.
Why is it we hear it all? When you hear the scraping of the violin bow over the string, why is it that that scraping produces sound? Because it is a movement of material particles producing certain rates of vibration which our ears, being attuned to hear, translate to our consciousness. I tell you that all life is music, because music is in everything. It is but one of the manifestations of movement; but its essence is harmony, and harmony is but another name for that love which is the very heart of the universe, the cement of the universe, that stupendous fact and essence of being which keeps things in order, in symmetry, in poise, in place.
Yes, everything sings, and human beings in their so-called music — the compositors, the auditors of inaudible sounds — try to translate these sounds to other human beings by means of physical instruments.
Such, then, is music, as we view it, when described by a series of physical facts and interpretations such is I have just given. What I have just told you is extremely scientific, very scientific indeed, in view of the latest pronouncements of ultramodern scientific theory. And this is but another case where the teachings of the archaic wisdom-religion, today called theosophy, have been corroborated by the latest researches of the investigators into physical nature.
Here is a question of quite a different type. This question comes from the Atlantic coast.
"What becomes of the inner ego of an insane person, an idiot, or a person who loses his mind and reason after middle life? Is it the karma of a person to become thus afflicted?"
Why, of course it is. Karma means the doctrine of cause and effect, of consequences: that what ye sow, ye shall reap; that whatever you are, or whatever happens to you, is what we theosophists call the consequence of your former merit or demerit, and is what you have reaped, or what you are now reaping. Ye have made yourselves what you now are in other times on earth, and you are now making yourselves what you will be in the future.
But what becomes, to follow the language of this questioner, of the ego of one who goes insane? Where is the ego of the idiot? This questioner of course asks his question according to the ideas of the modern Occidental, having the idea in the back of his mind that the body is the man, and that the ego is something which lives inside the body, and that something happens to it in such cases, and that the man then becomes insane or an idiot.
Theosophists have a different viewpoint. We say that the body is but a reflection of what you are inwardly, that it merely mirrors what you are within. Now, what are you? You are a bundle of energies, a collection of powers, faculties, and characteristics, and the body is the vehicle through which these work on this physical plane. This bundle of inner energies, this collection of facilities, becomes dislocated as it were, or out of tune with its vehicle, and therefore cannot work properly through that physical vehicle, due, perhaps, to some accident; and hence disease results, or insanity, or idiocy.
A physical body which is an idiot furnishes an example where the reincarnating ego did not find full expression through, so to speak, full entrance into, the physical vehicle. An idiot, an insane person — irrevocably insane I mean — is one whose inner ego is more or less absent in function, linked to the physical body nevertheless by chains of vitality, but not functioning fully and smoothly. The ego in such cases as it were overshadows the brain, but does not illuminate it.
Of course such cases are always results of what you have been and done in the past. You yourselves are responsible for the conditions in which you find yourselves existing. Do you want to blame 'God'? Or, if you don't believe in God, do you want to say that it is chance? What is chance? I tell you that there isn't any such thing. When a man does not know the proper explanation of the riddles of life, he says chance, or it happened so. Why, of course it happened so. Is that an explanation? Chance is no explanation; and to say that a thing happened so, is merely repeating the problem in other words. What is it that caused the happening?
No, theosophists believe in a universe of unalterable law and eternal order. We believe that human beings, as well as every other entity everywhere, are collaborators in the cosmic great work, collaborators with the gods, playing our part in the universe, and therefore responsible for the part that we play. Please think the matter over, and you will see how reasonable this is.
But if you prefer to throw the causes and consequences of your sins upon the overburdened shoulders of some Savior, then remember that nevertheless nature is not mocked; that what you choose to do in your mind will not relieve you either of ethical or physical responsibility. It is like a man who breaks into a bank, or who murders some fellow human being, and then pleads, when he is brought to trial: I didn't do it; God created me that way. Is he going to evade the penitentiary on such a flimsy excuse as that?
Therefore, an insane person, or an idiot, or a person who loses his reason at any time, suffers thus because he himself has prepared what he is now receiving: he has sown the seeds which are now fruiting, bringing forth their fruit. You see, this is a manly doctrine, it is a doctrine of orderliness, of law, of justice. That is what theosophists believe in.
Now, what is the result of our belief? One result is that we are very careful what we do. We realize that if we sow good seeds, we reap happiness and peace, and if we sow the wind, we shall reap the whirlwind.
"Does a drug or liquor fiend become a mental wreck in his next incarnation?"
I think that such a man is a mental wreck in this incarnation. I think that nobody except one whose mental capacity is a wreck now would allow himself to become a drug fiend or a drunkard. What such a weak and unfortunate human being may do in his next birth, I cannot say, but my belief is that he will go from bad to worse, until he uses his will and his innate power of moral resistance, and finally says: I will not continue so. I will be a man. Then he begins to walk the path towards recovery and true manhood.
I made the remark once to a man who called himself a theosophist that I felt that the duty of every true theosophist was the saving of the souls of other human beings, not of his own soul, for that would take care of itself automatically if the man does right. He said: I don't like that expression "saving of souls"; it makes me think of the churches. I said: Yes, it does, and I don't like the expression either, but it is true in a sense. I don't know a nobler work than that of teaching men how to think, to awaken, to make them truly human, which is in fact a saving of their souls from worse things, from soul degeneracy in fact.
Show a man the causes of things; teach him the nature of the universe in which he lives. You will then have changed the whole course of his destiny. That is what I meant by saving his soul. But you know that the old Christian idea was: I want to save my own soul. It is true that many fanatic religionists, earnest and sincere men despite their fanaticism, also desire to save the souls of their fellows, and much cruelty and moral wickedness have resulted from their misguided enthusiasm; but obviously that is not what I referred to.
"You invite all who are interested in high thinking and clean living to join your society. Would you admit a Mohammedan with several wives, or is the moral code of theosophy opposed to the practice of polygamy?"
Do you know, I think that I would go out and drag that poor Mohammedan in, in order to give him some peace and to give him some help. He needs it badly. If a man thinks that one wife isn't enough, and that he has to have more, I admire his courage, but I want to help him.
Now, I am not a Mohammedan; I have not several wives — I have no wife at all. But why should we close the theosophical doors to any human being who comes hunting for truth, whether he has one wife, or ten, or none? Truth does not depend upon how many wives you have, nor upon how many children you have. The reception of truth depends upon the appeal you make to the givers of almighty truth — not to us theosophists, but to the immortal gods who guide the universe; and I can tell you that whenever a sincere cry for help and light goes up from any human heart, the very gods in highest heaven bend down a listening ear, so to speak. In other words, you strike vibrations which reach to the very heart of the universe, for such a vibration is a spiritual one, and it finds its echoing in spiritual realms. Do you get the thought? And by that appeal you have established a psychomagnetic connection with your own inner divinity, and you will receive, along the intellectual currents, along the inner and invisible lines of communication, help and light.
What a wretched example of a theosophist would I not be if I refused a man entrance into The Theosophical Society who came to me and said: I am a searcher for truth. Call you help me? And I were to ask him: "How many wives have you?" Do you see the point? Theosophists emphatically do not teach polygamy, they do not teach monogamy, they do not teach polyandry. All these things are human customs: good, bad, or indifferent as the case may be; but the duty of a theosophist is to teach the archaic wisdom-religion, scientific, religious, and philosophical truths, which he holds as the most sacred thing in the universe, to all and sundry who come with open ears and open heart.
We put up no bars against any seeker for truth, no matter what his beliefs may be, no matter what his past record is. I would teach my bitterest enemy the holy truth. It would be my duty, even if I knew that the next moment he would plunge a dagger into my heart. That is a duty.
"Does not man's power of shifting, at will, his consciousness up and down the gamut of his being, from the level of the beast up to that of a son of God, prove that he is possessed of free will and is responsible for his own thoughts and acts?"
I think that it most decidedly does; but it proves more. It proves that man has these inner faculties within him. In other words, that he is in incarnate god, manifesting, oh so feebly and badly, his own transcendent spiritual powers; but they are there. Look at the great spiritual titans of the human race, the great seers and sages of the ages, all the works of mighty genius — where do they come from? From within.
Men do not know what they have within themselves. A god is locked up within each one of you, chained to you by karmic chains of destiny; and all evolution is the bringing forth of these transcendent powers within you: unfolding, unwrapping, unrolling, the letting out of what is within — growth. Evolution is the self-expression of the divinity within; and when a man once knows this, and from knowing it begins to realize it, when it captures heart and mind, and his imagination is swayed, then he has conviction, and from that moment he grows rapidly. He develops rapidly. And I wonder if there is a man or a woman in this Temple this afternoon who has never heard the whisperings within his or her heart of something nobler and higher, far more beautiful, than the ordinary thoughts of daily life — in other words, just little inklings, just a breath from the divinity within, a spark of that supernal light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
That is what the ancient sages meant when they said: Man, know thyself. Know what you have within you, your inner powers. All the Mystery Schools of the past, all the methods of initiation, of which you have doubtless heard much, all of them were founded with one object in view, to bring forth from within the spiritual powers of those who were prepared, the facilities divine of the god within.
But let me add a word here: these initiations are not alone of the past. Let me tell you in all solemnity of holy truth that they continue today, for those who are found worthy and ready and prepared. Knock, and it will be opened unto you.
"You say that the soul, absolutely free from the body, realizes that there is, in the divine economy, another chance upon this plane of life, etc. If you sincerely believe in this, how would you account for this wicked mass of humanity? This world is centuries old. Why hasn't it gradually corrected itself? Why, in taking up the old threads of life, hasn't man corrected the old failures? It is inspiring to hope for another chance in life; but why live the same old mistakes over?"
Now, that is just what I want to ask you. Why live the old mistakes over again and again and again? That is the very question that theosophists are asking. This kind friend has a very limited view in thinking of this world as merely centuries old. I wonder if the questioner can be a Christian.
Why hasn't the world gradually corrected itself in these few hundred years?
Well, ask yourself. Why haven't you corrected yourself in this one lifetime? You have not wanted to do so. You have preferred to sleep, to be one of the living dead, rather than to look within and drink of the Pierian fountains of light and life within you. Give men time. What are a few hundred years in comparison with the age-long evolution of the human soul? A little while ago it was popular in the Christian Occident to say that the earth is now some six thousand years old, and that the human race is something less than that old. Then the scientists added a few more thousands of years, and at that time man was supposed to be an over-grown ape, having reached incipient manhood some twelve or twenty thousand years ago. Some time after that, it was supposed that man might be a hundred thousand years old; and now our scientists are talking about the human race possibly being fifty millions of years old.
Let me tell you why men don't improve more rapidly than they do. Just examine your own hearts. Do you know of anything more refractory, stubbornly hard, than the human heart? Now, just think of it. We are the most extraordinary creatures, we human beings; we are either as weak as water, swayed by every passing emotion, unstable, or we are harder than adamant; and we are always the latter when it comes to our own particular failings.
The hardest thing to change in the universe is the adamantine, refractory nature of the human soul. It takes centuries multiplied by millions to work a radical change. But we have been millions of centuries at it, and we are improving! I know I am! And I take it for granted that you are too. Man hasn't yet corrected the old failures because he has not really wanted to. He prefers the gutter of his passions, sleeping in the gutter, to the sunlighted peaks of the Mystic East. Oh, but when conviction comes, when you see the light: never, never, never can you forget the moment when the light breaks in through your hardened hearts.
The world, then, changes, as if by the mysterious magic of the gods, for then you see, and you will never be the same man again. You see; and from that moment you begin to grow. Other human beings you begin to read, and they tell you their story of pathos and pain, and you become charitable and kindly to others. You learn to forgive, you learn to be an exemplar of the almighty love which fills the universe. You become truly a man.
It will come to all in time, for the destiny of the human race in the future is a sublime one. The time is coming when evolution will have worn away the shackles and chains of the lower selfhood which bind us on the Procrustean bed of our lower egoism, and then we shall be free; and in the aeons of the aeons of the future, I tell you in all solemnity of truth, we shall be human gods walking this earth; and pain and sorrow will be a nightmare of the past. Disease will vanish; happiness and peace will brood over the earth; for in those future happy days, the god within each human being will have begun to manifest its sublime powers, and all men will recognize all men as brothers. Verily we shall be incarnate gods, human gods.
Here is something which I have found. I do not know the author of it. I don't know whence it came. It is called The Unalterable Man:
"There was once a man who, after he had been some time in this highly mysterious world, wrapped himself about with certain opinions, placed upon himself a certain design of mental hat, and took in his hand a particular type of intellectual umbrella. Thereafter he steadfastly refused to modify his opinions, to learn anything new, or to change his mental clothes in any way whatsoever. And so, alas, he ended as a scarecrow in the midst of a growing field."
Now, don't be a scarecrow. Don't let the current of evolution of your fellowmen leave you behind. Don't be afraid to change. Change is growth. Change is evolution. Do you think that I am teaching a dangerous doctrine? No, because I know the human heart. The human heart will never give up a thing of beauty; the human heart will never renounce a truth. Beauty and truth never change. Paradox! But learning hearts change continuously, advancing ever from the less to the greater, from the inferior to the superior, advancing ever steadily towards that light which grows ever larger with the passage of time, at light which you can never attain in its fullness because it is the very light of the universe; and soon you will find it to be not ahead of you but everywhere, shining with transcendent splendor in your own heart.
See the picture. Oh, how beautiful is truth. Truth has no dogmas. You don't have to enforce it. If the mind be only a little awakened, it catches the rays of truth, and thereafter something stirs in a man's heart. Nothing will satisfy him henceforth except more light; for light, illumination, is food and drink to the soul.
And finally, today, friends, may I in closing tell you something that is very near and dear to me? It is this: Have you ever loved? Have you ever tasted of the sweet fruits of self-forgetfulness? — the complete oblivion of your personality in something so beautiful and impersonal that human tongue cannot describe it? A faint reflection of this love is the love of one human being for another human being — very faint it is, but it is at least the beginning of self-forgetfulness; and therein, in a sense, lies its danger; because only too often this human love is so beautiful that it blinds the eyes of those who should have more.
But if you have the key and know the truth, know that love is the very cement of the universe, that compassion, pity, self-forgetfulness, and peace, that all these are the fruits of the cosmic harmony, which is the very heart of the universe; when you begin to realize, I say, this fact, then within your soul there begins the growth of something which is indescriptible, which cannot be expressed in words, but which is at once light, and life, and peace, and wisdom, and almighty love — impersonal, universal, so that everything that is, everywhere, has a fascination for you, for you love it. This is divine; it is also human. Follow it.
Vol 1, No 30