The Theosophical Forum – October 1940

THE HOLY RIGHT OF SANCTUARY — J. M. Prentice

In the midst of a busy life and from some quite unexpected touch on a chord of memory some lines by Longfellow came unbidden:

Oft have I seen at some cathedral door
     A laborer, pausing in the dust and heat,
     Lay down his burden and with reverent feet
Enter and cross himself, and on the floor

Kneel to repeat his Paternoster o'er.
     Far off the noises of the world retreat;
     The loud vociferations of the street
Become an indistinguishable roar. . . .

and immediately I recalled the ancient and holy right of Sanctuary. This was one of the gracious aspects of the otherwise frequently brutal life of the Middle Ages, and he who sought it was safe from pursuit, provided he dropped for the time being all worldly weapons, and surrendered himself utterly to spiritual forces.

There are no such physical sanctuaries nowadays. The need of them exists, however, and in their present absence we can create for ourselves inner retreats to which we can repair when we are attacked by either the physical or the more insidious psychic forces that are operating today. The need for this inner sanctuary is very real when around us forces are operating that are either evil in themselves or liable to do us hurt by arousing in us fears and distractions that torment the soul. To seek this inner silence is not to try to escape from reality; rather is it to draw upon the resources of the greater Reality that is our own innermost being, "which to know is Life eternal." It is the means whereby we enter into the peace that passeth all understanding, which lives and moves in those who know the Self as One.

It is never entirely wise to create of the entering into this Inner Sanctuary anything that tends to become a ritual. Rituals are the scaffolding by means of which a building may be erected, a house built, but they should be temporary, a means to an end. Any one who develops a ritualistic method will defeat the desired objective. Yet in the beginning a phrase, a verse, may have almost the effect of a mantram — one of those potent syllables of power that are found in the Sanskrit tongue and are used by those who are trained in some Eastern Schools. I myself have often found that some lines by Matthew Arnold have this effect. They are from an almost forgotten poem called Lines Written in Kensington Gardens,

and they run:

Calm Soul of All Things, make it mine
     To feel amid the city's jar
That there exists a Peace of Thine
     Man did not make, and cannot mar.
The will to neither strive nor cry,
     The power to feel with others give,
Calm, calm me more, nor let me die
     Before I have begun to live.

Memorize these lines and recall them when the heat and burden of the day seems almost too great to be borne. Then, with the words as the gateway or entrance into the Inner Reality, be still and know that you are of the Eternal. What will happen to you in the Silence is your own affair; moreover it is something that in practically every case will vanish if you attempt to share it with any one else. But this is certain: you will find within yourself, as you go deeper and deeper into the mystery of your own consciousness, that there is a peace such as you have never known, a power that makes all things new. It is a power that you will never be able to use for selfish or personal ends because it belongs to the Impersonal. But it will be to you a Sanctuary far better than any built by medieval hands, more hushed with peace than any cathedral, however splendid with fume of incense, glory of stained glass, or harmony of organ music.

Not necessarily the lines which I have written above. It may be a line from some such book as Light on the Path, a sloka from the Bhagavad-Gita, the words from an unidentified Upanishad that are quoted at the beginning of Letters That Have Helped Me. It is the method rather than the actual words at which we would hint. Find some apt quotation — and use it. Enter into this inner world deliberately and consciously, but remembering always to avail yourself of the opportunity afforded you of laying aside all your physical weapons, of doffing the garments of consciousness you wear in the world of outer things, and thereby allowing your mind to become a mirror that reflects your higher consciousness.

The contemplation of a beautiful picture, the hearing or the recalling of some exquisite melody, are other but similar means to the same end. There are as many such means as there are individuals to use them. But behind all such incursions there must be a motive — to obtain therefrom surcease from the cares and worries of the world in order only that we may overcome the world. There must be nothing selfish involved. Indeed it may well be that viewed from without we may seem more negative than ever; yet in this very lack of aggression it will be found that we are centers of peace to which others will flock. Walking ever in the light from within, we develop spiritual forces and weapons that can be used against the evil that seems to be uppermost in the world today. The whole process may be described in a term that was popular in the early days of the Theosophical Movement — "swearing allegiance to the Higher Self."


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