How often in browsing through a library, we sense the futility of the printed book as medium of expression for sublime ideas beyond the ordinary power of words. Too often the body of the book, such as it is, has no soul.
The ancient poets prayed to the gods to inspire them — i. e., to breathe into the words an inner meaning, a spiritual force. To read books so written is often to evoke a current of thought paralleling the printed words, like an aroma of some unearthly fragrance. Such books have souls, the spirit has breathed upon them, the writer has been in some degree illumined by his higher self, and its light is reflected in the words of the printed page. We all have certain books we treasure, and turn to again and again; it may be to a chapter, perhaps only a paragraph, but in any case we open a door through which we catch glimpses of inner beauty and light.
All the great writers whose works endure have put something beyond mere words into their books; all, though sometimes unconventional in their lives, were illumined by high and noble ideals. William Quan Judge once said: "A very truism, when uttered by a Teacher, has a deeper meaning for which the student should seek, but which he will lose if he stops to criticize and weigh the words in mere ordinary scales." The sayings of Lao-tse open up vistas of thought beyond the power of words to express and H. P. B.'s Voice of the Silence stands supreme in its use of words to enlighten and inspire.
The words of a true Teacher speak on all planes of consciousness and not alone to the physical brain, and this is why they become priceless treasures to the human race.
The highest class of books, then, are those whose authors were to some extent illumined by the light of the higher self. Perhaps the most abundant class are the productions of the ordinary mind (kama-manas). These include hosts upon hosts of valuable and instructive works of travel, history, description, etc., of both a technical and popular nature. In these the reader frequently finds hints of a deeper understanding of nature's laws. Then there are the books of passion and violence, the "horror tales" reeking of kama-loka, and the weird and uncanny drivel sometimes inspired by the lower astral realms.
Books are as various as the classes of people who read them, but unfortunately much of the literature of today is permeated by effluvia rising from the depths which defiles all it touches. These books, carrying no message for the soul but to the tune of "everybody's doing it" play their part to drag down humanity to the lower levels. . . It matters not that these are listed as best sellers and carry enticing blurbs — to read unworthy books is to be surrounded by and attract to oneself the leering and cruel elemental forces that accompany the acts of violence and lust the words too often describe. For the time the reader is identified, to a certain degree, with the characters whose adventures he so eagerly follows.
Is this mere fancy? Let the reader study his emotional reactions as he reads, take note of his dreams at night, and decide for himself.
Many authors, perhaps the majority, during months of intensive writing, visualize their characters, and through the creative power of imagination endow them with vitality and substance; and in his turn the sensitive reader reproduces the emotions, thought and mental images, as sound is reproduced from a record.
One's life may be changed for the better by a good book, or on the other hand sometimes started on the downward path by an evil book; because of this, the trend now becoming all too evident in literature and art carries an ominous suggestion of national degeneracy, comparable to social conditions at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, or again during the decadent Period of the Restoration, in seventeenth century England. Both periods historians would like to forget.
The destiny of the race today hangs in the balance, and every act and every thought weighs the scale in one or the other direction. The decision rests with each individual.
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE