THEOSOPHY, Vol. I, No. 9, July, 1913
(Pages 382-390; Size: 28K)
MEDITATION AND ACTION(1)
IT is the fashion now-a-days, with those who write about ideas which lie beyond the world of sense, to express opinion in very guarded terms. In contradistinction to the old priestly dogmatism, it has of late years been considered "good form" to handle these subjects in so tentative a manner as almost to imply agnosticism. It is a frame of mind that has eminently suited the time, and was a worthy set-off to the old superstitious intolerance.
But when a new revelation is bursting on the souls of men, when the error and the ignorance, alike begotten of the ancient superstition and the modern incredulity, are so powerful as to defy all but the best aimed shafts of the most cogent Reason, the tentative hesitation of the groper after Truth is no longer an appropriate attitude.
We have no desire to soar into the lofty region of metaphysics, where we are sure to be met with the assertion that truth about these ultimate realities never has been and never can be formulated or uttered by man. Let us content ourselves with the humbler elevation of practical ethics, and acknowledge that Truth is a relative term. To quote from a remarkable letter lately addressed to his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, "A religion is true in proportion as it supplies the spiritual, moral, and intellectual needs of the time, and helps the development of mankind in these respects. It is false in proportion as it hinders that development, and offends the spiritual, moral, and intellectual portion of man's nature. And the transcendentally spiritual ideas of the ruling powers of the Universe entertained by an Oriental sage would be as false a religion for the African savage as the groveling fetishism of the latter would be for the sage, although both views must necessarily be true in degree, for both represent the highest ideas attainable by the respective individuals of the same cosmic-spiritual facts, which can never be known in their reality by man while he remains but man."
With this prelude let us attempt to form some just estimate of a remarkable and interesting book which has recently been published, Scientific Religion, by Laurence Oliphant. It is certainly in marked contrast to the style of writing commented on in the opening paragraph, -- indeed it is refreshing to listen to such earnest utterances on subjects of the deepest interest. While expressing his sincerest attachment to the true Christian faith, no writer attacking the anti-Christian creeds of the churches could demolish the orthodox conceptions with more powerful or crushing arguments. The 22nd chapter, which deals with the interpretation of part of the Book of Revelation, is one which the orthodox would do well to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest." His remarks throughout the volume about the orthodox science of the day (for there is now an orthodoxy in this also!) are equally admirable. The following is a specimen. "But a blind belief in the superficial senses is as unsafe a guide to truth as a blind belief in a book. Science is as mole-eyed as theology, and yet to one or the other the whole civilized world trusts for enlightenment. No wonder that these two sets of blind guides, leading their blind followers, should stumble against each other in the dark and fight furiously."
The new vital impulses descending on man are then dealt with. They are supposed to emanate from those inhabiting the Unseen Universe. Whatever opinions may be held on this subject -- and opinion is today in a state of flux -- the following may certainly be called an ingenious explanation. "Where there is scepticism in the human pneuma or inmost thought of the man, antipathetic atomic combinations are formed in his two external dielectrics, and interpose a hostile atomic element which encompasses the medium, and forms a barrier that the psychic force of the spiritual agent cannot penetrate. It is for this reason that physical manifestations are successful just in proportion as there is a strong faith-sentiment in the spectators, whose external dielectrics are then co-operating with the spiritual agent."
The remarks on the discoveries claimed by Mr. Keely too are so interesting as to deserve reproduction. "Mr. Keely has discovered that such a change can be effected by vibration, in the atoms of which the atmosphere is composed, that what he terms 'atmospheric disintegration' can be produced, which has the effect of liberating a subtle essence, the nature of which has still to be determined, and which he believes to be 'inter-atomic.' The energy it possesses is so great that it exercises a pressure of 25,000 lbs. to the square inch, and, in the engine which he has just constructed for traction purposes, develops a force of 250 horse-power. All this is achieved without the introduction of any extraneous motive power, the whole apparatus being so constructed that the liberation of this tremendous agency from its atmospheric prison-house can be effected by the vibrations produced by a tuning-fork. Those who are sufficiently unprejudiced to connect the bearings of this discovery, of what must be dynaspheric force, with phenomena which have hitherto been regarded as supernatural by the ignorant, will perceive how rapidly we are bridging over the chasm which has always divided the seen from the unseen, and obliterating the distinction between what has erroneously been called matter, and what has no less erroneously been called spirit." Further on in the book it is significantly pointed out that this dynaspheric force with which Mr. Keely can operate on external substance is synonymous with the inter-atomic energy that produces the phenomena of hypnotism, telepathy, mediumship, and all such abnormal manifestations.
While differing in some points to a marked degree from the recognized theosophic teachings, the author nevertheless demonstrates that the source from which he has drawn his inspiration is conscious of many of the occult facts, -- for instance, the androgynous or bisexual nature of primeval man; the highly attenuated character of matter which composed his frame, compared with the fleshly covering we now wear; the esoteric meaning hidden from the vulgar gaze in the Bible as well as in the Scriptures of all religions, and the consequent necessity of initiation in the mysteries; the mistaken notion of the popular mind as to the fundamental difference between spirit and matter; but it is needless to enumerate them further.
We now come to the great subject of which the whole book is a gospel, -- the sympneumatic impulse, the descent of the Divine Feminine. Taken in the widest sense, the author's inspiration appeals to our highest reason, and we cannot but give approval to the general proposition that the far-off regeneration of the race will lie (amongst other things) in the reversion to the bisexual type of our prehistoric spiritual ancestors, -- in other words, in the absolute quenching of the principle of lust, the double-faced goddess today worshiped, though in varying degrees, by all Humanity -- by the votaries alike of marriage and of free-love. This will be an unpalatable way of stating the truth to many, for it is a view from a light which naturally seems to dwarf the difference between the virtuous world and those whom the virtuous world avoids touching with the hem of its garment.
But while assenting to the general proposition, there are details in the working out of the idea which do not appeal to our sense of truth. Writing in chapter 20 of one who is pursuing the upward path, he says, "She will know -- not because it is to be found in the Bible -- not because her reason suggests its truth, but because her physical organism forces the facts upon her, that she is the feminine half of a two-fold being, and that her completion consists in union with her masculine completement." And again in chapter 21, interpreting extracts from the Kabbalah, he refers to the sympneumatic descent, "for it will result in the union on earth of the halves hitherto divided, whereby man will regain his lost condition." This is no new idea either. Without going back to Plato (and we should probably err in ascribing to his deeply-veiled utterance the meaning that the words might naturally seem to imply), we find it unmistakably expressed in "Jocelyn," that touching story of Lamartine's, in the stanza which begins--"Mon coeur me l'avait dit: toute âme est soeur d'une âme;The completion of the at-present incomplete nature of man or woman by an ideal union must to many be a very fascinating thought, but instead of its being as it here purports to be, the explanation of the mystery of the differentiation of sex, is it not rather a perversion of the truth, the truth being that both man and woman have within each one the potency of both sexes, and in this consists their true equality, -- in other words, the Soul is bisexual, and is therefore capable of assuming and wearing either the male or the female form, and that its true apotheosis consists in its assertion of and its reversion to its real nature and Divine source.
Dieu les créa par couples et les fit homme ou femme;
Le monde peut en vain un temps les séparer,
Leur destin tôt ou tard est de se rencontrer."
Much that is written in this section of the book on the subject of woman's mission is admirable. Though the author is severe on the colleges for the higher education of women, which, he says, are "attractive to a certain class of the sex, but which are nurseries of hybrids which turn out an inferior species of man-woman," yet, as he truly points out, the degree in which they (women) compete, with more or less success, with men in the intellectual and executive battles of life is the degree to which they stunt and destroy their own higher faculties.
Of the truth of his inspiration generally, what shall we say ? Each man must judge according to his own light which opinion and belief are our guides, and before we have risen to the heights necessary for directly cognising these facts of the Unseen Universe. While leaving those who are able to do so to deal critically with the detailed statements, and to discriminate between the interpretations of symbols and passages, many of which appear to be farfetched, it seems to us generally that, while the learned and able author has received shreds and fragments of transcendental truth from the Astral World, the knowledge of the primary fact is wanting which would have been capable of discriminating between the teachings and of welding them all into one homogeneous whole, -- we mean the doctrine of re-incarnation and the law of Karma, facts which are recognized as the basis of all the great Oriental religions, and which it is the shame and loss alike of Christendom and of Islam to have generally ignored, though traces of the truth are still to be found in the scriptures of the former, and though it is secretly acknowledged by the mystical followers of the latter.
The author also suggests that the attainment of a perfect human state by man while still he bears the body is a realizable possibility. A whole chapter is devoted to the subject of the formation of households which are gradually to realize this perfect state. But let the author speak for himself, though of course no short extract in this or on any other case can do full justice to the gradually elaborated idea of the author in his own work. "For as he labours thus side by side with his fellowmen, tilling, perhaps, the land and ploughing deep furrows into his own soul, which are destined in good time to bring forth an abundant crop, he perceives that he is indeed laying the foundations of a reconstructed society; and a vista opens out to his charmed gaze of co-operative industries, harmonious communities, and a political system in which liberty, equality, and fraternity shall develop under the aegis of absolute authority, and in association with a hierarchy composed of such different degrees of rank as correspond to their fitness to enjoy it."
It must necessarily be with regret that criticism is allowed finally to replace approval of a book which contains so much that is excellent, and the lessons in which are so badly needed by this self-satisfied and self-vaulting age of ignorance and error. But the unwarranted optimism implied in the above calls for comment; and, besides, there is an apparently wilful misunderstanding throughout the volume of some of the deepest and most occult truths, which recalls a similar though much less flagrant example of misunderstanding, viz.; the exaltation of woman as the crown of the universe by the late Mrs. A. Kingsford in her and Mr. Maitland's work, The Perfect Way, or the Finding of Christ. If it is fair thus to cite a single blemish of such exalted inspiration and remarkable value as the one just named, it may still stand as an example of the error which all psychics are specially liable to, who trust to "spirit-guides" apart from the true intuition of the well-balanced nature, as well as from the ancient traditions of revealed authority.
It is the Utopia of every dreaming Socialist to found a Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, though his means of attaining it may be somewhat different from the peaceful formation of groups of individuals bent on realizing a higher life; but surely more appreciation of existing facts and possibilities is shown even by the religionists who declare that their kingdom is not of this world!
That our race may and will evolve the perfect state is an occult fact, but that evolution will take countless aeons of time, during which the race will inhabit other and more ethereal planets than the present material world, to correspond with the more ethereal bodies which the race will gradually assume, and it will only be after countless weedings-out, during which the great majority will be left behind to carry on such lives as they are fitted for, that the remnant of elect souls will realize the perfect state of terrestrial being (between which and the perfect state of transcorporeal being there will then be but the thinnest veil), the general conditions of which state render it perfectly impossible for us to make any comparison with the present, for, amongst other changes, the sexual passion will then be non-existent, for the Humanity of the sixth and great seventh round will have reverted to the androgynous type of their far-off ancestors of the first round, which today is buried in the depths of prehistoric time, while we of the fourth round, who are wallowing in the very nadir of materiality, are naturally removed by the whole diameter of the circle alike from the first and the seventh.
But we now approach the kernel of the whole question. What is bred in the bone comes out in the flesh. Like the sportsman who by the most curious perversion of logic (perhaps not altogether to be wondered at in a bucolic intellect), and glorying in his very shame, defends the brutality of slaughter, or the cruelty of hunting an animal to death, on the ground, forsooth, that the courage of the human animal is thereby fed and increased (as if true courage could not be kept up without brutality!), so the man who has been brought up to Western ways of thinking not only fails to realize the very first axiom of true thought, but, with the perverted idea of his race, glories in his very shame, for he exalts action above meditation. This is the idea strongly dwelt on in many passages of the book before us. This is the rift in the lute that spoils all the music.
The Western nations having reached what heights they have through action chiefly, it is no great wonder that their representative sons should bow down before the goddess who has ennobled them, but that one who, like the author of Scientific Religion, has received so much true inspiration, should not in this also have been rightly guided, is a problem for psychologists to explain.
The right understanding of meditation and action is the great subject with which the Bhagavad-Gita -- that holy book -- begins and ends. Two quotations on the subject of action will demonstrate its scope and object. The first is from chapter VI."By works the votary doth rise to Saint.The second is from chapter XVIII.
And Saintship is the ceasing from all works.""Better thine own work is, though done with fault,No ordinary man can escape from action, for, while desire of action remains, action is being done, -- if not on the material, still on the mental plane. And again it is written in chapter III, verse 4, "A man does not attain to freedom from action by not engaging in action merely, nor is the perfect state gained by simple abandonment of action."
Than doing others' work, ev'n excellently.
He shall not fall in sin who fronts the task
Set him by Nature's hand! Let no man leave
His natural duty, Prince! though it bear blame!
For every work hath blame, as every flame
Is wrapped in smoke! Only that man attains
Perfect surcease of work whose work was wrought
With mind unfettered, soul wholly subdued,
Desires forever dead, results renounced."
But it is one thing to perform all actions that duty enjoins, looking forward to the time when all earthly actions will have been performed, and when duty will no longer call; it is another and very different thing to glory in the action, to blindly imagine that any action we can possibly perform is the "worthy and laudable service" which is required of us.
The sympathetic relief of physical suffering is well; the teaching by which man's mental horizon is widened and man's moral nature is elevated is better. They both form worthy preludes to the higher goal. But best of all is to become part of the spiritual pabulum by which Humanity lives, and the very first step on the path that leads to this stupendous result is meditation; in other words, the detachment from all the ephemeral interests of life, -- which detachment displays itself by perfect equanimity in good and evil fortune, the centering of all thought on the Supreme, until thought itself drops off and the soul is face to face with Deity.
It will be apparent in the above that the "service of man" is the key note throughout, but the "service of man" and what is more or less accurately described as the "Worship of God" must go hand in hand, until they finally become one and identical. It is this final unity which we desire to bring into prominence. Service on the physical plane is good; service on the mental or psychic plane is better; the altruistic effort involved in both requires the impulse of the higher worship as a goal. But with the culmination of worship comes the culmination of service, for they are merged in one. When the self as we understand it is annihilated, when the soul has been able to endure the transcendent vision of Itself as Deity, when difference no longer exists and the one is merged in the All, the store-house of spiritual energy is thereby replenished, and all Humanity receives an impulse that raises them a step nearer the Divine Union also, -- nay further, the Divine impulse after passing through man descends to vivify the lower creation. The whole Universe is thrilled by it!
All are capable of the lower service; many are capable of the higher; few are yet fit for the highest. Each one is bound to serve according to his powers, and, following this law, the service which seems worthiest for the writer, who can certainly lay claim to nothing beyond the singlemindedness of an ardent and aspiring but deeply passion-stained man, is to convince if possible an unbelieving world of the existence of that at once highest service and highest worship, which the religious have materialized and degraded, and which the agnostics ignore.
When it is realized that, for the attainment of true meditation, the whole nature requires to be transformed, the Will begins to make the attempt. Though as Matthew Arnold pithily puts it,"Tasks in hours of insight will'dit yet seems too much of a miracle to permanently change the nature, to introduce altruism in the selfish man, or purity in the lustful, let alone humility in the proud, for this last (pride) being an attribute of spirit is necessarily far deeper seated than the surface blemishes of the physical nature. The Poet truly wrote, "Pride is the last infirmity of noble minds;" and, indeed, it can be, and often is, used as a means of ennobling the nature, and purging it of the grosser taints of the body.
Can be through hours of gloom fulfilled,"
This permanent change of nature will not likely be effected in an ordinary man in one life time, -- rather will it require the concentrated energy of many life times on the "Great Quest," but the first step toward it must be the recognition of the truth, the realization of the supreme desirability of the state to which true meditation leads, and the knowledge that action impelled by desire in one life can only eventuate in similar action in the next, and that the only wise action to perform is that which looks for no reward, that which is dissociated from all idea of self, -- in fact, such action as is preached from beginning to end of the Bhagavad-Gita.
We often hear it stated that a man is better than his creed, and it is a blessed thing for Humanity that the moral nature is sometimes able to withstand the debasing effect of the dire creeds of the churches, but the aimlessness of even the best moral nature which acts without knowledge must be replaced by the distinct realization of the goal to be aimed at. "The first good level is Right Doctrine;" and till the perverted notion of the worthiness in itself of any earthly act disappears from the mind, and some faint conception of the sublime state we aim at takes its place, no further advance seems possible.
He must indeed be a devotee of a very blind optimism who can contemplate the hideous results of action in this vaunted civilization, and can still expect that, without a cataclysm in which the whole vile thing shall be swept away, any gradual evolution can bring a reformed state. For he sees around him a fair country blackened and marred by belching furnace-fires and the never-ending grind of machinery, the still more awful tumult of the fevered rush of the competing multitudes, and, worse than all, the continually increasing degradation of the lives of the toilers, with every sign that all these evils are steadily on the increase.
The story of Martha and Mary is a standing protest against our deification of action. "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful!" and many other similar sayings of the great Teacher might be quoted, but the churches called after his name, and whose representatives have become as a rule "mere echoes of the world's self-seeking," have been reduced to accept the world's apologetic theory that the teachings of Christ are incapable of practical application, -- indeed, as the author of Scientific Religion points out, the present state of things in Europe has absolutely made them so.
But though the literal application of Christ's teaching has become an impossibility in the West, there are still spots on the earth's surface where the fever of the modern life has not yet reached, where the lust of wealth and luxury -- the Gods or Demons whom the West worships -- has no power to quicken the pulses in many a quiet household, whose inmates have at least inherited from their nobler ancestors a juster appreciation than is met with in the West, of the ephemeral character of life, and a worshiping reverence for those who are capable of true meditation.
If the so-called Christian Churches, instead of steeping their hands in the blood of tortured victims and rivaling Princes in the lust of conquest, had taught the Brotherhood of man that Christ believed in, it would not today have become in practice an unthinkable proposition, and we should not now be looking forward to the possibility of a social catastrophe which is too awful to contemplate. But surely the outcome of our present civilization, the steadily increasing accentuation of both poverty and wealth -- which indeed constitutes the source of danger, -- makes it apparent that the cup of iniquity is rapidly filling to the brim!
Nay, rather let us avoid adding more than is absolutely enjoined by duty to this fevered rush of existence. Let us remember always that in our true self we are the spectator only and that all action is but the result of the "Qualities;" so let us gradually transcend the "Qualities." And realizing that the Divine inner Self -- the goal of our great endeavor -- ever abides in the true heaven, "let us in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell.""Only by Soul itselfFrom the Second Valli of the Katha Upanishad, translated by Edwin Arnold under the title of "The Secret of Death."
Is soul perceived -- when the Soul wills it so!
There shines no light save its own light to show
Itself unto itself !"
Its joy who is not wholly ceased from sin,
Who dwells not self-controlled, self-centered -- calm
Lord of himself! It is not gotten else!
Brahm hath it not to give!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There shines no light, save the Soul's light, to show!
Save the Soul's light!"
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
Every desire is to be abandoned by the Self, but if thou art not able to abandon it, then let the desire be towards freedom, for this is the healing of desire.
--Oriental Department Paper--1987.
(Compiler's note: There will be others.)
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ONE (1) FOOTNOTE LISTED BELOW:
(1) This article was first printed by William Q. Judge in The Path for February and March 1889.
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