"I have lit the Lamp of Wisdom; its rays alone can drive away the gloom that shrouds the world." — The Buddha
Today, very much as in the last days of the Roman Empire, occidental man has lost faith in his ancestral religion, in his social organization, in his fellowmen, and in himself. Wherever he looks round about him, over the continents, he beholds national confusion, national hypocrisy, national dishonesty. None of his long-cherished moral codes shape the policies of governments or the character of the society of which he is a member. His former complacency as a citizen is dissipated. Life's values themselves have been revolutionized by a science fettered to utilitarianism. The chief theme of the press, of the radio, of the legislators, and of his over-vocal environment as a whole, is how to attain security — security against unemployment, against illness, against old age. There are Five Year Plans, Ten Year Plans, New Deals, Beveridge Plans. The few who still believe that there is an Otherworld beyond the ken of telescopes and microscopes fix their hopes, precisely as did the folk inhabiting the shores of the Mediterranean in the first centuries of the Christian era, in a miraculous intervention in the affairs of men by some all-powerful extra-terrestrial intelligence.
One of the direct effects of these socially unhealthy conditions, which have resulted from lack of self-reliance, manifests itself in the wide-spread tendency, especially marked in Europe prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, to worship human leaders, none of whom may be spiritually superior as men, and meekly to submit to their dictation in matters relating to thought and action. The self-reliant man, unlike a bee in a hive or an ant in a colony, is his own leader, as the Sages declare that he should be; he is his own censor, his own judge as to what is right or wrong conduct, his own priest and intercessor, and his own savior. When man delegates to others, who are spiritually no wiser than himself, the solving of his own most intimate and all-determining life-problems, he becomes as one mentally incompetent; like a submissive ox, deprived of its sexual virility, he humbly lowers his head and allows himself, without the least protest, to be harnessed to the chafing and heavy yoke of totalitarianism.
In every age, as history testifies, wherever man has failed to safeguard and foster his spiritual manliness, totalitarian priesthoods have arisen and dictatorially decreed holy wars and inquisitions, and totalitarian governments have arisen and dictatorially decreed international warfare and its accompanying reversion to savagery and brutishness. Thus it is that cultural progress ceases, utilitarian ends displace humanitarian ends in education, hatred overwhelms love, greed neutralizes charity, selfishness destroys co-operation, standards of morality are set aside, and the divine in man being no longer permitted to exercise its saving guidance, civilization declines.
Because of this decadence of courage, and this vanishing of idealism and social responsibility, the occidental man of today lacks the indomitable pioneer initiative of his forefathers, and is filled with dark forebodings as to the future. Illusion has cast over him its hypnotic glamour; it has bespelled into inactivity the all-conquering powers of his higher self. He has lost the noble status of a fearless freeman and become a craven slave. He knows, at last, that neither his machines, nor his quotas and tariffs, nor his statistically-based systems of economics, neither his hydro-electric plants, nor his streamlined vehicles and super highways, can restore justice, or brotherhood, or freedom, or guarantee social security. In like manner will disillusionment and frustration overwhelm the coming generations in the now hopefully awaited age of atomic power.
The aim of every Great Teacher ever has been to help a disillusioned generation to regain their lost vision of guidance, their lost horizon, their own self-reliance, their own self-dependence, and to give to them assurance of the innate goodness of mankind and of the sublime purpose of incarnate existence. Since the life-wave first reached this planet, aeons ago, and man became man, humanity has never been without such Teachers; and these Clear-Seeing Ones make known to us, not in virtue of mere belief, but in virtue of direct perception of the Real, that there are Those, greater than themselves, who direct the Earth's life-wave to its superhuman consummation. They tell us, likewise, that the world's sorrows are of man's own making, that what man has sown in past ages he is reaping in this age, that not until man transcends the Shadows in the deep Valley of Ignorance and gains the Sun-lit heights of Right Understanding can he enjoy Confidence and Peace and Security. And only then will mankind realize that their wondrous machines and myriad products of a utilitarian science have been as fetters to bind them to this lowly realm of transitory existence.
The Master Confucius advises us that the rule of Right Living is summed up in the one word "Reciprocity', that only when men practice reciprocity, "not doing to others what they do not desire done to themselves," will they possess Confidence and Peace and Security. Chuang Tze, another of China's Sages, has said: "Full comprehension of the scheme of the Universal Whole is known as the mighty secret of being in at-one-ment with the All-Good, whereby human society is so administered that there resulteth at-one-ment amongst men."
The Christ-Initiate, the Anointed One, has promised men that once they have sought and found the Heavenly Kingdom, the inner source of all power and wealth, within themselves, every thing of which they have need shall be added unto them. He bade men behold the lilies of the field, that neither toil nor spin; for in them, during a brief evanescent moment in time, the Hidden Glory, surpassing that of the mightiest of mundane kings, is made manifest. When man, too, shall be in tune with the Infinite Heart-Life, he, like the lilies, shall attain transcendency over the world's vicissitudes; no longer will he be a prodigal son, wandering bewildered and in rags through the world.
The Buddha, the Fully-Enlightened, in a farewell address, ere He entered into Nirvana, bade His disciples to be lamps unto themselves, to depend upon no other light for illuminating the Pilgrim Way than that Light which is within man. He bade them to be their own refuge, and to work out their own salvation with diligence. It is because of the loss of this self-reliance, because of dependence upon objects and powers external to himself, that occidental man has become a bondsman of the transitory, of the unreal, of the evanescency of appearances. Man, as the Buddha teaches, must make for himself, by his own self-directed efforts, an island in the midst of this world's Sea of Instability if he would possess the manly strength and confidence born of self-dependence, the blessings born of peace, the happiness born of security: "By strenuous effort, by self-control, by temperance, let the wise man make for himself an island which the flood cannot overwhelm."
Thus have the Sages of the past sought and thus do the Sages of the present seek to dissipate Ignorance. Each of these Clear-Seeing Ones, those who have crossed over to the Other Shore, and those who are still embodied on Earth, has discovered and trodden the Secret Path. Some, like the Buddhas and the Christs, have traversed it to its very end; some, like the Bodhisattvas and the Saints, have traversed it far enough to be no longer in doubt of its sure direction and to have seen thereon, through the distant vistas of future incarnations, the attainment of its ineffable goal.
May all who aspire to Right Guidance enter upon that age-old Secret Path. May they thereby pass beyond Ignorance and win Wisdom. May they transcend fear and insecurity. May they, at last, like the Buddha and the Christ, triumph over all the sorrows of the world, even over death itself, and attain Freedom.
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