VII. THE HIGHER LIFE
IT would be too tedious to some of our readers if I were to report all the instructions that were given to me by my kind guide Theodorus, who, for all I know, may have been known as the celebrated Theophrastus Paracelsus during his life in the physical body. I do not, however, feel myself justified in omitting to tell what he said in regard to the importance of practising self-control and developing firmness of character and individuality. Previously to my visit to the Rosicrucian convent I had been made to believe that occultism and mysticism were things only for dreamers; adapted to persons living continually in the clouds, enjoying their superstitions and vagaries by building castles in the air; but now, I found, that self-reliance is a most necessary quality for a disciple of this sacred science, and that no science can be more exact than the one based upon our own exact spiritual knowledge and realised within our own soul. Thus Theodorus said:
“A power to become strong at a centre must be directed towards the centre; for it is only by resistance that it can accumulate and become strong. A king who goes away from his kingdom and leaves it without protection may find other rulers there when he attempts to return. To become conquerors over nature we must fight our own battles, and not wait until nature fights them for us. The more the animal elements within man’s constitution are stimulated into life and activity by the temptations coming from the external world through the avenues of the senses, the hotter will be the battle, and the stronger will man’s power grow if he successfully resists. This is the battle which the great Gautama Buddha fought and from which he came out victorious, because he was overshadowed by the Bo-tree of Wisdom.
“I will attempt to give you a rational explanation of the effects of inward concentration, to show you how you may become a creator of your own world.
“According to the teachings of the sages the Universal Spirit called the world into existence by the power of His own thought. All great religions speak of a divine Triunity, according to Christianity called the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The will or intention is the Father, the thought or idea the Son, and the creative power of the Father acting through the Son is the Holy Ghost. By this power the thoughts of the Father become manifest, and thus visible objective worlds are called into existence.”
“But,” said I, “where does the Father find the material or substance to render these thoughts visible and objective?”
“Within Himself,” answered my guide, and, looking at me as if to make sure that I understood the meaning of what he said, he continued: “Allah il Allah, says the Mohammedan; God is God, and there is nothing beside Him. He is the All; matter and motion and space, consciousness, intelligence, wisdom, spirit, substance, energy, darkness, and light. The worlds are His outspoken thoughts; but there is nothing outside of Himself of which He might think, He being the All, including and penetrating everything. Thus everything exists within Him, who is the life and soul of all things. In Him we live and move and have our being, and without Him we are nothing.
“Man is the god and creator of his own little world, and therefore similar processes take place when a person, by the power of introspection, directs his thoughts towards his own centre of consciousness within his ‘heart.’ Now this activity going towards the centre could never of itself have created an external world, because the external world belongs to the periphery, and it requires a centrifugal power to call it into existence. The introspective activity of the Mind is a centripetal power, and could therefore not act from the centre towards the periphery. But you know that every action is followed by a reaction. The centripetal power, finding resistance at the centre, returns and evolves a centrifugal activity, and this centrifugal power is called Imagination. This Soul-energy is the medium between the centre and the periphery, between Spirit and Matter, between the Creator and His creations, between God and Nature, or whatever names you may choose to give to them. The Soul-consciousness is the product of the centrifugal activity of the Mind, put into action by the centripetal activity of the Will.
“If these plain facts, expressed in plain language, without any scientific jargon, without circumlocutions, philosophical intricacies and modern gibberish, are comprehensible to you, all you have to do is to apply it to yourself. If you direct the power of your mind inwardly towards your centre, instead of letting it fly off at a tangent, the resistance which it finds at the centre will cause a reaction, and the stronger the centripetal power which you apply, the stronger will be the centrifugal power created; in other words, the stronger will your Soul become, and, as she grows strong, her invisible, but nevertheless material, substance will penetrate your physical, visible body, and serve to transform it into a higher kind. Thus you may at the end become all Soul, and have no gross physical body. But long before that time arrives you will be able to act upon matter by the power of your soul, to cure your own bodily ills and those of other people, and to do many wonderful things, even at distances far away from your visible form; for the activity of the soul is not limited by the circumference of the physical form, but radiates far into the sphere of the Universal Mind.”
I told Theodorus that these ideas were as yet too grand and too new to me, to be grasped immediately; but that I would attempt to remember them and to meditate about them in the future.
“You will do well if you do so,” said the Adept, “and I will take care that they remain in your memory.”
“If the doctrines of the sages are true,” I replied, “it would seem that the vast majority of our thinkers are continually thinking the wrong way; because they are engaged all their lives in prying into the manifestations of life on the outward plane, and do not seem to care a straw about what is taking place within the inner life of the soul.”
“Therefore,” answered Theodorus, “they will perish with their illusions; and the Bible is right in saying that the ways of the worldly-wise are foolishness in the eyes of the Eternal.
“What will it serve you, if your head is full of speculations about the details of the phenomenal illusions of life, and you become a senile imbecile in your old age? What will it serve you, roaming about the world and gratifying your curiosity in regard to its details, when, after that world has vanished, they for ever disappear from your memory? Perhaps it would be better for the learned if they knew less of scientific theories and had more soul knowledge. It would be better if they had fewer theories and more experience. If they were to employ, for instance, some of their time and energy for the development of the spiritual power of clairvoyance, instead of spending it to find out the habits of some species of African monkey, they would fare better by it. If they were to obtain the power to heal the sick by the touch of their hands, instead of seeking new methods to poison humanity by inoculations of injurious substances, humanity would be the gainer. There are thousands of people who work hard all their lives, without accomplishing anything which is really useful or enduring. There are thousands who labour intellectually or mechanically to perform work which had better be left undone. There are vastly more people engaged in undermining and destroying the health of man than in curing his ills, more engaged in teaching error than in teaching the truth, more trying to find that which is worthless than that which is of value; they live in dreams and their dreams will vanish; they run after money, and the money will remain while they themselves perish and die.
“The obstacles which arise from the external world are intimately connected with those from the inner world, and cannot be separated; because external temptations create inward desires, and inward desires call for external means for gratification. There are many people who do not crave for the illusions of life, but who have not the strength to resist them; they have a desire to develop spiritually and to gain immortality, but employ all of their time and energy for the attainment of worthless things, instead of using it to dive down into the depths of the soul to search for the priceless pearl of wisdom. Thousands of people have not the moral courage to break loose from social customs, ridiculous habits, and foolish usages, which they inwardly abhor, but to which they nevertheless submit because they are customs and habits to act against which is considered to be a social crime. Thus thousands sacrifice their immortality to the stupid goddess of fashion.
“Who dares to break loose from the bondage imposed upon him by the fashion which at present dominates religious thought? Who has the courage to incur the sneers of the imbecile, the ridicule of the ignorant, the laughter of the fool, and gain thereby a light of whose existence those who live in eternal darkness know nothing? The vast majority of people drown the voice of reason and dance with the fool. Rather than have their vanity suffer, they allow the spirit to starve; rather than be crucified and rise into immortal life, they submit to the galling chain; they lose their appreciation of liberty, and, becoming used to their chains, begin to love them and impose them upon others.
“I am not a believer in the total depravity of human nature; I know that man’s animal energies, on account of their inherent instinctive efforts for the preservation of their existence, are opposed to the development of his higher principles, because the life of the higher involves the death of the lower; but I also know that in each human being is contained a power for good, which may be made to develop if the proper conditions are given. There are elements of good and elements of evil in every man, and it depends on ourselves which class we desire to develop. From a cherry stone nothing can grow but a cherry tree, from a thistle seed nothing else than a thistle; but man is a constellation of powers in which all kinds of seeds are contained; you may make him grow to be a hog or a tiger, an angel or a devil, a sage or a fool, according to your own pleasure.
“The continual rush after more money, more comfort, more pleasure, after we already possess all we require, which characterises our present civilisation, is not necessarily a sign of viciousness and moral depravity; but it is rather caused by the instinctive impulse, inherent in the constitution of man, to reach some higher and better condition, which expresses itself on the mundane plane. Man intuitively knows that, no matter how rich in money or fame he may be, he has not yet reached a state in which he will be contented to rest; he knows that he must still keep on striving for something, but he does not know what that something is. Not knowing the higher life, he strives for more of those things which the lower life affords. Thus we may see a bug or a butterfly falling into a lake, and in its vain efforts to save itself from drowning swimming away from the shore, because it does not know in which direction the means for salvation exist. The curse of the world and the root of all evil is ignorance. The curse of man is his ignorance of his higher nature and final destiny, and the efforts of a true system of religion and science ought to be above all to remove this stupidity.
“But it is also true that ignorance and conceit are closely connected together, and that the ignorant hate him who is wiser than they. If one man, knowing more about the requirements of his nature, and desirous to employ all his energies for the attainment of a higher state, were to dare to assert his manhood and to rebel against the chains of fashion, could he continue to live unmolested in his community? and if he were to emigrate to another, would he not be exposed there to the same troubles? He would still come in contact with men who hated freedom because they were educated in chains, who would misunderstand him, suspect his motives, and persecute him; and woe to him if he had any human failings upon which the snake of slander could fasten its poison fangs. Wherever darkness exists, there exists abhorrence of light. Wherever ignorant man enters, there enter his imperfections. Wherever ignorance resides, there are her attending angels, suspicion, envy, and fear. Would it not be more within the scope of a true science to enlighten man about his higher nature, than to dig for worms in the bowels of the material plane?
“That which is almost impossible to accomplish by the unaided efforts of a single individual, may often easily be accomplished by the co-operation of many, and this law seems to prevail in all departments of nature. If a sufficient number of people were determined to retire from the harlequin stage of the world and to turn away from the tomfooleries of a fashionable existence, they might, if they could harmonise with each other, form a power sufficiently strong to repel the attacks of the monster which would devour them all if they were separated and unaided by each other. Those who are not yet progressed far on the ladder of evolution need those who are upon a higher step to assist them on their upward way, and the higher ones need the lower for their support, in the same sense as a rock needs a solid ground to rest upon and maintain its position.
“There have been at previous times, as there are now, numerous people who became convinced that there is a higher and inner life, and who desired to surround themselves with such conditions as were most favourable for its attainment. Such people were not merely to be found in Christian countries, but also among the ‘heathen.’ Lamaseries and lodges, orders, monasteries, convents, and places of refuge have been established, where people might strive to attain a higher life, unimpeded by the aggressions and annoyances of the external world of illusions. Their original purpose was beyond a doubt very commendable. If in the course of time many such institutions have become degraded and lost their original character; if instead of being places for the performance of the noblest and most difficult kind of labour, they have become places of refuge for the indolent, idle, and superstitious; it is not the fault of that principle which first caused such institutions to be organised, but it is the consequence of the knowledge of the higher nature of man and his powers and destiny having been lost, and with the loss of that knowledge, the means for the attainment, the original aim, was naturally lost and forgotten.
“Such a degradation took place in Europe, especially during and after the Middle Ages, when, enriched by robberies and endowed by dying thieves who wanted to buy salvation, the clergy amassed great wealth and lived a luxurious life, feasting on the fat of the land. They then knew nothing more of the conditions of a higher existence; they became centres of attraction for the hypocrite and the idle. They passed away their idle hours in apparently pious amusements, and in striving to gain more material wealth. Instead of being centres from which blessings should spread over the country, they became a plague to the land. They robbed the rich, and, vampire-like, they sucked the last drop of blood out of the poor. They continued in this manner until the cup of their crimes was full, when the great Reformation caused the downfall of many and a certain reform of the rest.
There are still numerous convents existing in Europe, and in America their number is on the increase. The modern reformer, the socialist and materialist, looks upon them with an evil eye; but the unprejudiced observer will not deny that some of them are doing a great deal of good in their own way. Some have established schools, others opened hospitals; and above all are the Sisters of Charity unsurpassed in their usefulness in the care for the sick. Thus some of these orders serve the noble purpose of benefiting humanity, and their usefulness could be increased a thousandfold if the light of spiritual knowledge–the Holy Ghost, to whom they pray–were to be permitted to descend upon their ranks.
“Do the religious orders as they are now fulfil their original purpose of raising man up into a higher and spiritual state of existence, or are they merely centres around which pious and benevolent people have collected who teach schools and nurse the sick–occupations which might perhaps equally well be performed without professing any particular creed? If the religious convents are calculated to develop true spirituality and to produce truly regenerated men and women, they will be the places where we may find some manifestation of spiritual powers; for a latent power which never manifests itself is of no use; it cannot exist in an active state without manifesting itself. Let us therefore be permitted to ask: Do the inhabitants of our convents consciously exercise any spiritual powers? Can they knowingly cure the sick by the touch of their hands? Are their inner senses sufficiently opened, so that they may see and hear, taste, smell, and feel things which are imperceptible to the senses of average man? Can they prophesy, with any degree of certainty, future events, except by the conclusions of logic? Are there any among them who have become Adepts? What do they actually know about the conditions required to enter a higher state of consciousness than that of ordinary mortals? What do they know about the means to enter adeptship and to obtain a conscious existence as souls? What do our monks and nuns know about the constitution of the human soul, and especially of those souls who are entrusted to their care? What are their experiences when in that higher state called ecstasy? If there is one among them who enters into a state of trance, or is levitated into the air, or able to produce a simple mediumistic phenomenon, do they know the occult causes which produce such effects, or is not such an occurrence considered to be an unexplainable or supernatural miracle?
“It is idle for the priests to assert that they can forgive sins, or that sins can be forgiven through them. If they do not possess any spiritual powers, we cannot believe that they are able to communicate them to others; and if they convey such powers to others, where are their effects to be seen? Do the ignorant become wise after having been baptized with water? Do those who have submitted to the ceremony of confirmation obtain firmness of faith? Does the sinner become innocent after having the load taken off from his conscience by means of absolution? Can our clergymen change the laws of nature? Can they by any external ceremony cause the growth of an inner principle? or does he who enters a church an animal, come out an animal still?
“These are perplexing questions, and I would not like to be understood as if I desired to throw any discredit upon the motives of any of the inhabitants of our convents and nunneries. I am personally acquainted with many of them, and found them to be good and kind and well-meaning people, without that priestly pride and arrogance which unfortunately often characterise the clergymen of the world; but I believe that all the good which they do they could perform as well, and even a great deal better, if they were to undertake the study of the soul, its organisation and functions, and if they were qualifying themselves for that study. They would then be able to develop consciously those higher faculties which have spontaneously developed among some of their members, who, on account of such an unexpected and abnormal development, were called miracle-workers or saints.
“How can any one be a true spiritual guide who has no spiritual powers, and who, perhaps, does not even know that such powers exist? What would you think of a surgeon who knew nothing whatever of anatomy? what of a physician who did not know his patient? what of a blind painter, a deaf musician, an imbecile mathematician? What shall we think of a physician of the soul who knows nothing at all about the soul or its attributes, who has never seen it, and is merely of the opinion that it exists? Have we not a right to doubt the usefulness of such a physician, and exclaim with Shakespeare–
If the inhabitants of our convents and monasteries, instead of employing the time and energy which they need for the performance of their customary ceremonies, for the saying of rosaries and the repetitions of litanies, &c., were to employ them for the purpose of acquiring self-knowledge, for the study of the essential constitution of man and of nature, and for the acquisition of spiritual power, their usefulness might be extended to an enormous degree. Their knowledge would be no longer restricted to earthly things, but expand to heaven; they would not need to nurse the sick, for they could cure them by the touch of their hands; they would not need to baptize people with water, for they could baptize them with the spirit of sanctity; they would not need to listen to confessions, for they would be able to read the thoughts of the culprit. Why should they not be able to do their duties much better if they were wise instead of ignorant; if they knew the truth instead of blindly accepting a creed; if they had the power to accomplish that which they now expect an invisible and unknown power to accomplish in response to their prayers? If the public believe that there is one miracle-working saint at a convent, do they not rush there to receive his or her blessings? What would be the fame of a convent composed entirely of saints whose powers could not be doubted?
“But how can monks and nuns acquire such powers? How can they qualify themselves for such a study? It has been said that it is ten times more difficult to remove an old error than to find a new truth; and there lies the difficulty. A page which is already full of writing will have to be cleaned before it can be written upon again. They would have to purge their minds of all dogmatism and sophistry before they can see the light of truth; they would have to become like children before they can enter the kingdom of heaven within their own souls. They would have to remove the mountain of rubbish which has accumulated in time in the vestibule of the temple, consisting of errors and superstitions, and of the corpses of forms from which the spirit has fled. Ages of ignorance have contributed to its growth, and it has become venerable by age. The inhabitants of the convent bare their heads and bend their knees when they approach that pile, and they do not dare to destroy it. To become wise, they would have to learn the true meaning of their own doctrines, symbols, and books, of which they at present merely know the outward form and the dead letter. They would have to form a much higher and nobler conception of God than to invest Him with the attributes of semi-animal man. They would have to base their moral doctrines upon the intrinsic dignity of the divine principle in man, instead of appealing to the selfish desires of man and to his fear of punishment, to induce him to seek his salvation.
“This may be accomplished in the far-distant future, but not at the present time. Ages and centuries may roll away before the sunlight of truth will penetrate through the thick veil of materialism and superstition which, like an icy crust, covers the true foundation of human religions. Look at the ice-fields of the Alps, covering the sides of the mountains, sometimes many miles in area. They extend in solid blocks, perhaps more than a hundred feet thick, down to the valley. They are the products of centuries; and firm as the rock the ice appears; and yet these rigid and apparently immovable masses move and slowly change from year to year. They grate the rocks upon which they rest, and they throw out that which is foreign. There may cracks and fissures be seen at the top, and if, as happens sometimes, a man falls into one of these fissures, his remains will be found many years afterwards at the foot of the glacier, below the field of ice, having been spewed out by the same.
“Change, slow change, is going on everywhere in nature. Even in the most rigid and orthodox religious systems, in the most benighted hearts and heads, there is going on a continual change. Already the doctrines which were expounded in the pulpits of the Middle Ages have been modified to a certain extent. The proportions of the devil have shrunk so much that the people have almost ceased to fear him, and in the same degree as clerical power has diminished, the conception of God has assumed a grander aspect. Already the necessity of performing humanitarian labours has been more fully recognised, and is by some considered to be of almost equal importance to the performance of the prescribed ceremonies. Still the change goes on, gradually but slowly; for there is a powerful giant who by his negation resists the decay of the pile of rubbish, and the name of this giant is Fashion. It is fashionable to support certain things, and therefore the masses support them.
“Is the progressive part of the world going to wait until the legally appointed guardians of the truth have found out the true value of the treasure in their possession? Have we to wait until they have cleaned the jewel from the dark crust which they have permitted to accumulate around it for centuries? Messengers have arrived from the East, the land of light, where the sun of wisdom has risen, bringing with them costly moonlight pearls and treasures of liquid gold. Will their untold wealth be intrusted to the safe keeping of those who possess the old and empty forms, or will the new wine be filled in new casks, because the old ones are rotten?
“But why should those who have begun to see the dawn of the day close their eyes and wait until the blind would inform them that the sun is rising over the mountains? Is love of the truth not strong enough to accomplish that which the fear of a dread hereafter has been able to accomplish? Cannot the enlightened classes establish academies, which would offer all the advantages of orthodox convents without their disadvantages? Could they not establish a garden, where the divine lotus flower of wisdom might grow and unfold its leaves, sheltered against the storms of passion raging beyond the walls, watered by the water of truth, whose spring is within; where the Tree of Life could unfold without becoming encumbered by the weeds of credulity and error; where the soul could breathe the pure spiritual air, unadulterated by the odour of the poison-tree of ignorance, unmixed with the effluvia of decaying superstitions; a place where this Tree of Life, springing from the roots of the Tree of Knowledge, could grow and spread its branches, far up in the invisible realm where Wisdom resides, and produce fruits which cause those who partake of them to become like gods and immortal?”
Here the Adept paused, as if in deep meditation; but after a moment of silence he said: “Yes, by all means establish your theosophical monastery, if you can find any inhabitants duly prepared to enter it; for it will be easier to introduce the truth into a house which is not occupied, than into one which is occupied by its enemies.
“But,” I objected, “such an institution would require an Adept as a teacher. Would you consent to teach?”
To this Theodorus answered, “Wherever there is a want, the supply will not fail to come, for there is no vacuum in nature.”