THEOSOPHY, Vol. 51, No. 3, January, 1963
(Pages 63-64; Size: 6K)
[Article number (3) in this Q&A Department]
THROUGHOUT the history of Western civilization, and in epic literature from its beginning, efforts have been made to render the life of men or the occurrences of dramatic events "memorable." From the Theosophical point of view, what are the psychological roots of this seeking for "memorability"?
"A funeral hush, a speechless grief so froze all hearts that they were too dismayed to think what they should leave behind or carry with them. Now they would stand at their stoops asking one another's advice, now they would roam aimlessly through their houses for a last look." A last look, a stabbing desire to fix in the memory for all time an image of the beloved object -- such is Livy's account of the way the inhabitants of Alba Longa reacted when their city was about to be razed to the ground by the Romans, in the seventh century B.C. But where is the memory now -- now when both homes and inhabitants are lost in the dust of millenniums? Who is there now to mourn for Alba Longa?
Once this initial question is asked, a dozen others claim attention, all clustering about the central tragedy of forgetting. Why should the city be mourned? Is there something intrinsically more memorable about one object or event than another? Is anything worthy of memory? Is anything not worthy of memory? And, perhaps most important of all, in what way may all these memories be preserved?
Of the seven planes of consciousness which, according to the Teachings, range from the physical to the spiritual, the astral plane (the one just above the physical) is described much as though it were a photographic plate. This plane is intimately connected with the physical, for it is its invisible counterpart, its pattern, and so is impressed with the images of all physical objects and events. In a purely automatic way, then, the astral plane retains the invisible structure of every externality. Further, the physical world is in a deep sense not just remembered, but memorable as well (that is, worthy of memory); for it is an expression of Spirit, a metaphor of the divine, the Word made flesh.
The ancient Greeks felt that a man's fame lives after him in his glorious deeds, celebrated by the songs and poetry of succeeding generations. In a way, of course, this is true; literature does convey to posterity the deeds and way of life of previous times -- would we know anything at all about Alba Longa, had it not been for men such as Livy? Yet in another sense, the lasting value of a man's life should not be dependent upon recognition by other men. If it were, the deeds of all the unsung heroes would carry no moral significance for present-day humanity. However, if we assume that man is a sevenfold being engaged in an infinite pilgrimage, we may find it difficult to believe that anything is ever really lost. The pure distillation of all our memories is with us all the time, in the form of character.
Homer's Iliad seems to hint quite clearly that the poems and songs of posterity, though important, do not represent the only way that a man's unending glory may be assured. Each god, each man, and each creature below man has its own moira, or destiny. Above and below man there is peace: both gods and animals fulfill themselves instinctively, without effort. It is only man who must strive to fulfill his destiny, to consciously stretch himself painfully out to his full potential, thus defining his own natural limits -- like a ripe fruit stretching taut its skin. It is only when man is striving for perfection "like something more than a man" -- or as Rilke put it, when he is "a resonant glass that shatters while it is ringing" -- only then is man truly fulfilling himself; only then does he achieve true memorability; only then does he mediate and resonate between the gods and the brutes, between Spirit and Matter -- like the middle note of a triad. A lyre string must be stretched quite tight before it will give a pure tone. But once this tension is achieved, and a man does sense his participation in the universal harmony, he will (if we are to believe Homer) be suddenly inspired with awe. And it is through this sense of wonder that the unforgettability of man can be attained. Throughout the Iliad, Homer evokes this sense of wonder by comparing the "human" with the "divine," the transient with the everlasting, the grinding clash of war with the thunderous silence of a snowstorm -- as though just behind the noise of human strife lay the hush of a universal peace, a permanent cosmic order.
[Article number (4) in this Q&A Department]
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