The Theosophical Forum – March 1946

MODERN THOUGHT IN THE LIGHT OF THE VEDANTA (1) — Ernest P. Horrwitz

I have said that the same truth which your Yogins and Vedantists have gained by internal perception, is gradually dawning on our physicists. Unity in variety! Darwin's great genius has directed the attention of the scientific world from the study of the numberless varieties of structure to the origin of species, to the unity of type from which all differentiation sprang. His profound researches have made the western mind fitter to seek after the "One without a second," and readier to receive the monistic teaching of the Vedanta. The more open-minded section of the Christian clergy seems likewise favorably disposed towards the Vedanta because it corroborates Gospel truth and supports Christian dogma. The religion of Christ is the religion of love, so is the Vedanta! Freedom is the goal of the Vedanta, and freedom is love. They who are free in spirit can never hate nor fear; they cannot be but fearless and compassionate, by the grace of their divine nature.

Physical science and the Christian Church have therefore reason to be friendly towards the Vedanta. No less reason have our social reformers who want to improve the condition of the working people, to settle the disputes between Capital and Labor in a fair and amicable spirit, and to strengthen the principles of a free democracy. The Vedanta philosophy holding up the ideal of freedom is just the metaphysical basis needed in a country which, at least politically, is a free country.

For these reasons, I believe, the Vedanta is exercising a certain influence with us, and will probably do so much more in the time to come. On the other hand I feel sure that western civilisation can teach India as good an object-lesson as the Vedanta can teach the West. It has been said that the civilisation of the future will be a rational combination of eastern monism and western economics. Neither should be taken over wholesale from one country by the other, but a wise selection be made of what is suitable and promising of good results under existing conditions. Would you not think it a rash and dangerous experiment if an Indian reformer were to introduce indiscriminately into his native province the political institutions, educational methods, commercial usages, and social customs which he has learned to admire in England? That might possibly do more harm than good. I think it would be an equally grave error on the part of our Vedanta enthusiasts (and they are growing in number I understand) to ridicule the practice of Church attendance and the sacredness of Christian worship, in honor of the Vedanta religion. That would be acting in the name but not in spirit of Vedanta, which is universal and sympathises with all religions. Moreover, to belittle Christianity in favor of the Vedanta would be an error in judgment. Vedanta is only for the cultured few, for those with a large bump of comparison and causality. The Vedanta can as little replace the Christian Church in Europe as it can replace the Indian and Mohammedan Churches in the East. All these outward forms of faith, Buddhism, and Christianity, and Islam, are of great social weight and historical value, having come, in the fulness of time, to the various races, to help their national evolution, and to enable them to perform efficiently their civilising mission on earth. Religions are not the result of a mere historical accident, but the outcome of a providential necessity. To attack and to scoff at so pure and lofty a form of belief as Christianity, which has made the West what it is, simply because the universal and eternal truth embodied in the teachings of the Christ has degenerated into sectarian dogma and conformed to the world (as truth always does and always will do in the history of man), such an attitude is irreverent and unbecoming, and shows a narrow and fanatic spirit, certainly not the spirit of the Vedanta.

The Vedanta, as I understand it, does not enter into competition with any external form of belief, but rather claims to be the esoteric aspect of every religion, whether high or low, superstitious or profound. And really if we had only sufficient insight to see deep enough into the tenets of the Christian faith, as it is reflected in the Gospel of St. John and the Epistles of St. Paul, we might discover therein, to our surprise, Vedanta pure and simple. I do not speak of modern Church doctrines, but of real Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ and expounded by the Mystics of the Middle Ages, the true Apostolic successors.

If you were to read the sermons of Master Eckehart, a Dominican monk who lived in the fourteenth century in Germany, and of his greatest disciple, Tauler, the "Friend of God," or if you were to feel yourself carried away by the "Spiritual Torrents" as experienced and described by the saintly Madame Guyon, the sweetest of Christian Mystics in France, you might fancy you had before you passages translated from your own Upanishads, from Shankara, or the Bhagavad-Gita, so identical are the thoughts and expressions. Tauler continually holds up as the Christian ideal "to lose all I-hood"; "to unbecome," as he calls it, and "to re-become God." Luther, the Protestant reformer, acknowledged his sermons to be the soundest theology, and the nearest approach to evangelical truth he had ever come across. Tauler's teacher had been Eckehart, who likewise declared the impersonal God, the Immanent Christ. Another of Eckehart's disciples, after having received the good message and realised the Christ, is said to have suddenly exclaimed: "Master, rejoice with me, for I have become God." The Evangelical and Dissenting clergy of our days look on Luther as a sound Churchman, and Luther accepted the "divinity of man" as preached by Tauler and Eckehart, and called these mystic doctrines sound and thoroughly Christian. Yet, I am afraid, these teachings of an impersonal God, and of the identity of Christ and the human soul, would be considered heterodox and pantheistic by the modern Church. A Christian minister would not dare to tell his congregation that man is God, and that those who know it need not pray to a personal God; that God is not a person, and that worship of an extra-cosmic Deity is but a stage of spiritual infancy in the religious growth of man. Do you not think that the Christian clergy would fiercely attack that man, and denounce him as a Freethinker and Antichrist? And yet Tauler was no Antichrist; Luther himself stood up for his doctrine. Nor was Eckehart a heretic; nay, he was even invited to Rome by the Pope himself, who conferred upon him the honorary degree of a Doctor of Theology. Alas! that free spirit of true mysticism has long been lost in the Christian Church. Therefore, I make bold to say that it would do more good if religious reformers endeavored to restore the forgotten truth of esoteric Christianity to the consciousness of Christendom, instead of unsettling people's minds and upsetting their Christian faith with strange doctrines, the very language of which sounds bewildering to English ears.

In conclusion, I may be allowed to quote a few extracts from the writings of the now almost forgotten Christian Mystics. They will illustrate far better than my poor words can that the spirit of Christ's teaching is identical with the Vedanta, however much the language may vary. Here is the prayer of Madame Guyon, uttered a day after her spiritual experience of the Divine Unity:

O Infinite Goodness, Thou wast so near, and I went running hither and thither in search of Thee and did not find Thee. My life was wretched, yet my happiness lay there within me. I was poor in the midst of riches, and I was dying of hunger close by a table spread and a continual feast. O Beauty, ancient and new, why have I known Thee so late? Alas! I sought Thee where Thou wast not, and did not seek Thee where Thou wast. It was for want of understanding these words of Thy Gospel where Thou sayest, "the Kingdom of God is not here nor there, the Kingdom of God is within you."

The following are Master Eckehart's words:

He who seeth in one creature something different from another, and he who loveth God better in one creature than in another, that man is carnal and far from truth, and still a child. But to whom God is alike in every creature, he is become a man.

What does the Bhagavad-Gita say?

He who seeth difference in the world goeth from death to death; but he who seeth Me everywhere and everything in Me, he is a perfect Yogin.

Here is another saying of our German Mystic:

God in Himself was not the Lord — in the Creature only hath He become the Lord. I ask to be rid of the Lord, that is, that the Lord by His grace would bring me into the Essence, which is above the Lord, and above distinction. I would enter into that Eternal Unity which was mine before all time, above all addition and diminution — into that immobility whereby all is moved.

This is Christian monism, no longer remembered by the Church with her crude teachings of a personal God, a plurality of souls, the resurrection of the body, and a local heaven and hell.

Let me read one more passage from Eckehart's writings:

God and I are one in knowing. His knowing is my knowing. The eye whereby I see God is the same eye whereby He sees me. My eye and God's eye are One eye, One vision, One knowledge, and One love.

The same divine truth must have flashed across the mind of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa when he said:

Knowledge and love are ultimately one and the same. There is no difference between pure knowledge and pure love.

Master Eckehart defines purity, just as the Vedantists do, as a turning away from the creature, and lifting up the heart towards 'pure goodness,' so that a man may find comfort in no creature, and that he may desire nothing but pure goodness, which is God. God is in the soul, and the soul flows over into God, and both are one.

Such is Mystic Christianity, or Christian Vedanta as Indian philosophers prefer to call it, and if these eternal verities were preached every Sunday from the pulpits of every Christian Church throughout the land, Vedanta would soon be a living fact in this country. The Church would receive fresh vigor, and experience a new life, and another spiritual wave of religious fervor would break out over Europe, even mightier and farther reaching than the momentous reformation of Luther and Calvin. The monistic revival of the twentieth century will achieve no less, I believe, than the spiritualisation of scientific research, and the rationalisation of religious fervor. Then Science and Religion will cease their conflict, and will peacefully flourish, side by side, like two fruitful branches grown from the same tree of Divine Knowledge.

A great outpouring of spirit will pass over the earth, and the time will be ripe for the Church Universal, when the Christian and the Indian "Churches may meet as friends on the common ground of the Vedanta. The day will likewise come when another Divine Institution, the Mohammedan Brotherhood, will be incorporated into the Monistic Church, for Islam, too, has realised the "One without a second," thanks to the illumination of the "God-intoxicated" Sufis. Sadi and Hafiz have done for Mohammedanism what Eckehart and Tauler did for Christianity, and the Vedanta for the religions of India. May the time soon draw nigh when we shall be ready to institute the Church Universal where every worshipper, whether Buddhist or Christian, Moslem or Jew, is free to serve God in his own fashion of belief. Then a deeper meaning will ring out of the words of the old hymn:

All glory be to God on High
     And on our earth be peace,
Henceforth goodwill of man to man
     Begin and never cease.

FOOTNOTE:

1. Continued from the February issue. This lecture was presented on December 3, 1898, to the "Hindu Association" in London, and was originally published in The Theosophical Review, London, England. Mr. Horrwitz, formerly lecturer at the Universities of Dublin, Ireland, Durham, England, and Hunter College, New York, is now visiting lecturer at Theosophical University, Covina, California; on World Literature and on Semasiology (science of language), to which he has devoted a lifetime's study. — Eds. (return to text)


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