The Theosophical Forum – May 1941

OUR NEED FOR AN INNER SANCTUARY — Louis E. Van Norman

Condensed from a lecture given at Point Loma, California

This is not the exposition of a doctrine, not a pronouncement, or a statement of a philosophical tenet. It is intended to be a recital of personal experiences in an attempt to help others who live in a busy, noisy world as to how they may flee to their inner temples, and there find peace, the ability to clarify their inner vision, and the means of cleansing their minds and spirits from the accumulations of the day's struggle with situations, things, and states of mind.

I propose to consider the inner sanctuary we all may have from three points of view:

1. As a refuge from the noisy world.
2. As an aid to perspective.
3. As a "Beauty Parlor" for the Mind and Spirit.

I have found out something about myself. I have discovered that, if I want to find spirituality, I must find it while living in the world, yet not being of it. I have found that a man can build a quiet church inside his own heart and be a ministering priest to his own self.

This does not mean any mysterious technique or imported Oriental procedure. We Westerners can make our own program of meditation and prayer. But first we must learn that the spirit as well as the body has rights and its own way of reacting to our physical life habits.

I — A REFUGE FROM THE WORLD

In the fighting days of the empires of antiquity and on into feudal times there existed a peculiar but beneficent institution known as the "right of asylum," or the city of refuge. Sometimes this was an actual city, sometimes only a building, a temple, or church. To this place of refuge hunted folk fled — fugitives from a pur suing enemy, an avenging justice, or a tormenting conscience.

The "asylum" was recognised as something wholly apart from ordinary life, a holy place where the hunted one was safe from his pursuers. If such pursuer were his own tormenting conscience, the victim usually buried himself in some part of the house of God, in the church or a monastery. There he found peace, or, as it was often described, "sanctuary". The passing centuries saw the passing also of this haven of refuge, although the monastery — for women, the convent — still survives. It is true, as has been wittily said, Monasticism was an attempt to overcome the world by running away from it. This can be done for a while. But we do need an inner sanctuary. Jesus said, "When thou prayest, enter thou into thy closet and when thou hast shut the door. . . ."

Whatever it may be called, we of the modern world are in sore need of some such place, physical or mental or moral, to which we can escape from the assaults of the life around us when they become too hard for us to bear. If we are not able to find a physical place for our physical presence, we must find a sanctuary within our own souls where we may have peace. Otherwise the answer for, alas, too many of us, is futility, misery, or perhaps suicide.

The lower orders of life need — and possess — such protection. Certain animals, birds, and insects have been provided by Nature with what we call protective covering, a coloring, an outer shell, some defense against the outer world of hostility, noise, distraction, waste of energy, dissipation of attention, and so on, down the list of forces or happenings from without which might in any way tend to interfere with their ability to live the lives Nature intended them to live.

It has become the fashion these days to emphasize the dependence of the individual upon society. We are told that for our happiness and progress we need at all times the presence of our fellows. But is not the exact reverse of this the truth? Is it not only the culti­vation of an internal solitude among crowded lives, the ability, as some one has said, to sit quiet for fifteen minutes alone in a room, that makes the social order endurable? Even a little sociableness often murders solitude. Society, even that of really nice people, alas, often brings in its train all that "fretting, chafing, tantalizing, irritating flock of worrying thoughts that destroy the dignity and beauty of life much quicker than any lonely vice could."

Is it not true that our modern crowd consciousness has tended to vulgarize life and to eclipse the natural dignity of our nature, our spiritual personality? Have we not laid too much stress on the promised leisure which the machine age was to give us? If so many of us must "kill time" now, what would we do if we had more spare time?

The protective coloring we need is some philosophy to heighten and broaden our life in those moments when we can live to our­selves, a philosophy that will help us kill boredom, destroy inertia, dispel lethargy, drive away weariness, and overcome that sense of futility which so often accompanies modern so-called progress. The ability to withdraw from the trivialities of the sense life, even if only for a few moments at a time, is our human protective covering. The world is indeed too much with us. We need to re-establish our poise. We need to get to the point at which we can do without conversation or turning on the radio. We need to be­come acquainted with the God in all of us.

For years, the rule of my own life was that of the typical American: "Something doing all the time." Every minute had to be filled with movement, words, practical things. A moment of "doing nothing" except communing with myself, this was a wasted moment. But I have learned the lesson.

A keenly observant visitor from England recently remarked about our life in the United States: "You Americans live on the surface. You are driven by things, by facts of every-day life. The robot is the symbol of your national life, regimented, standardized and impersonal. Your world is one of noise, fury, and haste. Loudness and speed mark your activities in every area."

This observant foreigner says that we judge everything by measures of speed, size, and cost. "Your homes, your schools, your business, your legislation, and even your religion, are set to the tempo of ever increasing miles per hour and quantitative production. The most tragic breakdown of modern life is not of economics but of inner life, or personal character. The supreme struggle is not of man to save his property, but to save himself. You talk too much and listen too little."

All this has a serious effect on our lives, even on our physical lives. Referring to the increasing number of cases of insanity in the United States, the late Dr. Charles H. Mayo, of the famous Mayo Clinic, said:

We Americans pass through more of the wonders of life in forty years than was possible for actually old people in the past. . . . For the moment we have almost got behind in our powers of adaptation. Today [1935] every other hospital bed in the United States is for mentally afflicted, insane, idiotic, feeble-minded, or senile persons. There is an enormous number of people who are almost fit for the asylum. Many people live to an age when they are dependent and senile. Only five percent of our people, at the age of sixty-five years, have independent means. Why? Because we have not, as yet, psychologically, morally, nervously, and spiritually caught up with the machine age which we have brought upon ourselves.

The world is too much with us all the time. Hard, difficult it is to escape it — the world with all its rush and bustle, its pressure and dominance of material, so-called practical affairs!

There is often much comfort in reciting to ourselves the words of deep thinkers of today and of other days long gone by. Let me begin by looking backward three thousand years.

The very ancient wisdom points to the voice of the silence. From an Egyptian papyrus written about by Dr. James Henry Breasted, said to be over three thousand years old, the "Wisdom of Amenemope" tells us:

The most effective means of gaining the favor of God is contemplative silence and inner communion. . . . Be not of many words, for in silence shalt thou gain good.

The self-contained man is the truly silent one.

Set thyself in the arms of God until the silence overthroweth thine enemies.

Another Egyptian writer (1000 years ago) said:

Oh, Amon, Thou sweet Well for him that thirsteth in the desert. It is closed to him who speaketh, but it is open to him who is silent. When he who is silent cometh, lo, he findeth the Well.

A modern writer (Paul Brunton) says:

The voice of the silence is better than the voice of the priest.

Man is really engaged upon an inward pilgrimage. His outward speed gives no measure of his true progress.

Although spirituality does not assure financial prosperity, health, or fortune [no matter what the cult shops may say], yet what you work out in activity will be the test of what you have attained within your heart.

God is light and we meditate to see Him. But we must not forget that, as Occidentals, we cannot be ascetics; nor must we forget that spirituality and activity are not incompatible.

In her "Intimate Journal," written in 1840, Georges Sand, that erotic literary genius wrote:

God is not a force outside of us. He is the sun and the skies and the gold in the chalice. He is the bread. He is all the elements of the earth. He is the heart of man, and all men, with all their yearnings and fortunes, are one in Him. He is in us and outside of us. We are in Him and never outside of Him. He is the universal Spirit. He reveals himself to man. He is I and I am He.

More than one poet has told us that truth lies at the bottom of the well. Old Rabelais was one of the first to put it this way. Later, John Wolcot, (who wrote as "Peter Pindar') put it thus quaintly:

The sages say Dame Truth delights to dwell
(Strange Mansion!) in the bottom of a well.
Questions are, then, the Windlass and the Rope
That will pull the grave old Gentlewoman up.

II — PERSPECTIVE

In the sanctuary, in the silence, we may, if we will, gain a sense of proportion, of perspective, not possible in the whirl and noise of the day hours.

From the time when the infant first learns that the toe he reaches for is nearer than the ball at the other side of the room, and, conversely, the ball is farther away than the toe, until the youth begins to understand that many things must always elude his eager grasp, life is a series of discoveries about perspective, or relationship to the physical, social, and spiritual universe in which we live. In the silence we may perceive proportions more clearly. "When he has ceased to hear the many, he may discern the One, the inner sound which kills the outer." Before I had read that beautiful message in The Voice of the Silence, I had realized this truth. The Christian Bible says the same thing in the injunction, "Be still and know that I am God."

We need no display, no blare of trumpets, no shouting from the housetops — only what Virginia Lee Eastham has so beautifully expressed in her tribute to her "Temple of Silence":

No church bells call me to worship,
I hear no thundering prayer,
I enter my temple of silence
And find God waiting there.
Silent, receptive, enlightened,
My soul in its glory stands;
And I am one with my Maker,
In the temple not made by hands.

A realization of perspective makes possible self-criticism. It is not easy to admit faults and failings when one is out in the open strife of the day amid the noise and in the presence of others. But, in the silence of the inner sanctuary, in contact with our real selves, we can see more clearly our mistakes and false moves.

We modern people, particularly we Americans, have been trained to regard education as something brought in from the outside, rather than as a faculty cultivated in our inner selves which makes us better fitted to live in our environment — whatever that may be — and be happy in it.

We really do not know ourselves, much as we may know, or think we know, the external world. In a recent lecture, a professor of philosophy in an eastern university, put it well when he said: "We don't even really know much about our surroundings, not much more than our parents. Only we have a larger vocabulary. We are sophisticated; that is, the "jazz" of the age has gone to our heads. Moreover, we really don't want to learn. We want to be "put wise." We despise the real things which are made known to us by our senses, calling them "obvious" and continually seeking something which can be labelled "believe it or not!" "

In a recent address before the freshmen at Princeton, the great but simple Einstein advised them, "as an old man to young fellows," in these words:

Always find time to sit down and think without talking or making any noise. Moreover, never regard your study as a duty but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of quiet beauty in the realm of the Spirit, for your own personal joy, and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs.

III — BEAUTY PARLORS FOR THE MIND AND SPIRIT

Four and a quarter centuries ago, on a sunny April day, a Spanish gentleman named Ponce de Leon landed on the shores of what we now know as the state of Florida. He was in search of the land of "Bimini', the Indian name for the land of the fountain of perpetual youth and beauty.

Since that day, and even long before it, a very large proportion of the inhabitants of these United States had been expending a goodly portion of their time, energy, and money in endeavoring to discover some method, some elixir, by which Americans, masculine and feminine, may remain young or restore their youth when it has passed, that they may be beautiful in body.

In both cases, however, — that of Ponce de Leon and Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizen — it was physical youth that was sought. The quest so far has been in vain. It is true that we talk glibly, at least our smart business folk and our beauty specialists do, in terms of prettily named cosmetics, of diet, of exercise. Our scientists tell us of the marvelous results we are soon to witness when we know just a little more about the behavior of glands, hormones, and other learnedly named factors in bodily growth. But the secret of perpetual youth, the youth of the physical body, as yet eludes us. We have not even begun to think that perhaps beauty is not after all limited to physical youth. In these days of depressions, government changes, unemployment, war, and all the other ills to which our young people have fallen heir, it is well to remember that inner peace and refinement will do infinitely more to beautify the countenance than any number or amount of applications from the outside. Socrates it was who said: "I pray Thee, O God, that I may be beautiful within." Vergil put it this way nearly two thousand years ago: "There is no beautification of complexion or form or behavior, like the wish and effort to scatter joy and not pain around us." Old Quarles of Elizabethan days said: "The fountain of beauty is the heart, and every generous thought illustrates the walls of your chamber." Finally, some critic of the present thus expresses the idea: "There are no better cosmetics than a severe temperance and purity, modesty and humility, a gracious temper and calmness of spirit; and there is no true beauty without the signature of those graven in the very countenance."

More and more we are learning that composure and peace are the best cosmetics. Meditation is the workshop in which these qualities are wrought out. "Sorrow and suffering," said a wise man of olden days, "have been well likened to the weight about a diver, necessary to keep him down while he is securing pearls."

We must learn to commune with ourselves, and not only how to analyse our character and appraise our habits of life, but also how to realize our relation to the universe, to feel our identification with God. Meditation may be considered the best beauty shop for the mind and soul. "No matter how deformed your body may be, it is possible for you to throw such a wealth of character — of love, of sweetness, of light — into your face, that all doors will fly open to you and you will be welcomed everywhere without introduction."

The race was very young when man first discovered the desirability of physical cleanliness, and it is many million years, probably, since our forebears began to use water to wash the body. The most primitive of races have believed, with Bacon, that "cleanliness of body is to be deemed to proceed from a reverence to God." Moreover, in the words of the poet Thomson, "Even from the body's purity the mind receives sympathetic aid."

Washing the body is no longer a religious ritual as it was in ancient days. It has become a necessary part of life just as have eating and sleeping. We admit, with Lord Palmerston, that "dirt is only something in the wrong place." But we insist upon removing it from the place where it should not be. "Beauty," said Addison, "commonly produces love, but cleanliness preserves it."

Each day brings its contact with this "something in the wrong place" which we call dirt. Each day we apply soap and water and emerge clean. Moreover, we admit that the course of our human life is such that physical dirt is not to be avoided. But we can wash, and when the unclean covering has been removed we forget it. Physical life is, as it were, a compromise with dirt.

How about our mental, esthetic, and moral life? When we retire at night, when we arise in the morning, is it possible to wash off the dirt of the day and night?

Yes. Intellectual and spiritual life in this world of duality is a compromise. How can we bathe and wash our minds, our spirits, so that they may be clean after the little compromises of the day — the yieldings to the lesser good, the pettiness, the tricks, the evasions, the white lies and all the other little concessions to expediency and assumed "welfare'?

Meditation and prayer are the only answer. I like that definition of prayer which makes it not a plea to get something but an earnest effort to be ready to receive what we receive, knowing that this is what we have brought to our own lives.

We can wash our mind and spirit in the clear light and flow of communion with our better selves, our oneness with the Universe, with God. Every night before we sleep, every morning before we start the day's work, we can follow our physical bath, our face and hand washing, with a cleansing of the mind, the character, the spirit, in the clear water of meditation and prayer. Every night, every morning, it should be said, In this beauty shop there are no "permanents" for men or women.

So, in our inner sanctuary we may, if we will, find refuge from the world of noise and self-seeking. We may gain a clearer picture of life in its real proportions and we may wash our spirits clean in the waters of the silence.

How can we enter the inner sanctuary? you ask. By earnest, constant striving to be worthy of our own better selves, of the God within.


The Theosophical Forum

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