The Theosophical Forum December 1948

THINGS OF THE SPIRIT (1) E. A. Holmes

There exists in the heart of man an intuition that somewhere in the world there is a body of teaching which sets forth the structure, the characteristics, the operations, of the Universe and therefore of man who is an inseparable child of the Universe; and this body of teaching, which actually does exist and which man's intuition has always told him exists somewhere, we Theosophists call today Theosophy. It is not new, it belongs to every age, it has always existed, and the greatest spiritual Sages and Seers of mankind have taught it in various forms according to the times in which they lived and worked.

These encouraging words, broadcast over the radio from Holland by the late Dr. Gottfried de Purucker, strike an answering chord in our own hearts. Deep down within us we feel that beyond the worldly clashing of everyday thoughts, beyond the claims and counterclaims of dogma and brain-mind opinion lies Truth, serene in its simplicity. Beyond the storms, and intervals between the storms of our so-called civilization, we feel there must be a haven where the buffeting rollers cannot reach, where peace reigns supreme, where the spiritually aching hearts of men can find lasting solace.

This same innate conviction was expressed by James Hilton in his book Lost Horizon, where a green valley in the remote fastnesses of the Himalayas is imagined as a spot chosen by Nature for the preservation of all that is best in humanity, and where the highest ideals of men may come to fruition.

We may differ in our individual conceptions of this idea, but if we reject it completely then surely is our outlook circumscribed; then indeed do we resign ourselves to soul-less system, without hope, without objective.

It is related of H. P. Blavatsky, who instigated the modern Theosophical Movement, that she once returned from the streets of a great European capital with her eyes streaming with tears, and with an inner agony that such great multitudes of unensouled men and women should walk in "emptiness, prejudice, ignorance, lack of knowledge, lack of wisdom," trying to fill the aching void of their hearts from outside, and not from the springs of divinity which lay within themselves.

We say that this body of truth does exist and that this haven of spiritual peace is there for us to claim. We have but to give the right knock at the doors of our hearts. We have also to await the coming of that homesickness which alone turns the face of the prodigal son towards his ancient source.

Truth is an attribute of the Universe, and therefore of man. It is a condition, the essence of his mind, soul, and heart. It is not a matter of words, they can only delimit it, circumscribe it, bring it to our notice. Our own understanding must conceive the idea itself.

Theosophy can give us the science, the philosophy, the religion of this body of truth, can point the course towards the ultimate haven, but it cannot pour wisdom into our heads, it cannot carry us to the safe shores. We have to work out our own salvation, each individual one of us, guided by this body of universal truths.

The Theosophist then, no less than the Christian, the Mohammedan, the Jew, the Hindu, has to enter upon his pilgrimage to the Celestial City, the spiritual Mecca, the bosom of Abraham, the slopes of Meru. Truth is one whole, but its aspects are many. "In my Father's house are many mansions."

The road is steep and stony, but the stones are worn smooth by those who have gone on ahead, the Sages and Seers of recorded history, and of history unrecorded. We do not lack guides, but there are no porters on the Path. We have to carry our own burdens, find our own foothold.

Just as advancing stages of a journey into the hills bring increasing vision of an expanding horizon, so shall we progress towards spiritual perception, the more we aspire towards the heights.

There are three stages of visioning truth, say our Teachers, three stages of inner opening. First an awakening to the material beauties of Nature, when the hills and the fields, the waving trees and the running brook, the wind on the heath, and the flower by the wayside rouse strange response in our quieted hearts; when we sense the reverence of Nature towards eternity, "nature in silent prayer." The garb of Nature, though physical, is none the less holy. We see infinitude in her infinite details. We visualize the world of the insect making its laborious way in a forest of tall trees, trees which to us are but waving leaves of grass. Our imagination soars with the lark pouring out its soul in song.

In learning the lessons which Nature teaches in this primary school of the Mysteries, we come to observe, to become alive, to rouse ourselves from the somnolence of mind. There is a somnolence of mind which may be complete, though outwardly we appear full of vigor. Too often that which passes for liveliness is physical escapism, a mad scramble from responsible thought, from vague yearnings of the heart towards finer and nobler things, things as yet unknown, and therefore distrusted.

This increasing awareness of life around us, this heightened intensity of our lives, will enlarge our sympathies with our fellow men. The greatest mystic is the practical mystic, the one who puts spiritual insight into practice by way of more intense concern with the travails of fellow human beings. This does not mean a fussing over and a prying into their affairs, but the Path of Attainment is fundamentally the path of increasing ability to serve mankind.

There is a distinction between a mystic and a visionary. A true mystic identifies himself or herself more and more with the Universal Self, and therefore with you and me. The mystic leads the life, and thereby knows the doctrine. The visionary seeks the doctrine and may lose the Purpose. The mystic is of necessity a visionary, considered from our worldly standpoint, but the visionary is not necessarily a true mystic.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish," and the antidote to a visionary tendency is not the "matter of fact." Many, indeed perhaps most of the world's great inventions and blessings have been conceived by so-called visionaries. That winged mercury which carries our mail across the street or round the world, at our will, the humble postage stamp, was not invented by the "practical" men of the Post Office. It was first suggested by a mere layman, and was rejected by those same "practical" men who had their eyes too close to the regulations to see the fulness of what they sought to regulate.

It has been said, not by a Theosophist in this case, that there are some Christians who are so absorbed in spreading Christianity that " they fail to give a thought to Christ. It may be that we Theosophists can be so busy studying the ancient wisdom that we fail to see this very wisdom spread all around us divinity in the heart life of all things in the color and aroma of a rose, as in the majestic roll of the Atlantic swell, or the glory of an autumn sky.

Having become alive to nature, having become "naturalized," as Thoreau terms it, then we shall learn to discard many of our worldly cares.

What is life if full of care
You have no time to stand and stare.

These are words of W. H. Davies, the Welsh poet, journeyman, tramp, vagabond, hobo. It is precisely this standing and staring which is implied in the second stage of visioning truth, a stilling of the physical, and of the emotions, and of the brain-mind; a looking out from the windows of the soul-mind.

When we are physically still we become as one with our physical surroundings. The wee timorous creatures of the wilds accept us as part of their physical world; the robin plays around our feet seeking its food in the upturned soil which this still, kindly giant apparently lifted for the very purpose.

How much more at home shall we feel in the inner realms of nature when we have learned to still our worldly desires and impulses; when our anxieties are seen at last as phantoms without substance; when, performing all our duties, honoring all our liabilities, we can throw off cares for what the future holds, and say in truth: "Thy will be done, O Lord, not mine."

Then we shall see that the mountains, the fields, the wind on the heath and the sound of the running stream are but illusions, shadows, phantoms hiding inner realities. We shall realize that all this beauty which lies around us is but an outward effect of an inner cause; images, vestiges, reflections of an immanent THAT. "We carry a better likeness of our friends in our hearts than their countenances, save at precious seasons, manifest to us," wrote George Macdonald.

As we approach this second stage we shall begin to see the Thought embodied in the flower, hear the inaudible behind the audible. With Siegfried we shall rise from the slain dragon and comprehend the inner natures of the birds and beasts of the forest. We shall live in a world of Idea.

We are told by modern scientists that physical substance is in reality not solid, but is a mass of holes, in the vast spaces of which live and move the atoms. We are also told that the size of the atom is infinitesimal compared with the size of the space in which it moves. Now it is submitted that if we assume the orthodox view of matter being in one plane of existence only that only physical matter exists then we ought to see in the mass of any object not an agglomeration of atoms, but an agglomeration of spaces.

A wooden desk appears solid because to our physical perceptions those spaces between the atoms are themselves "solid," though in the atom consciousness these spaces may assume the appearance of emptiness. So likewise we may imagine that the "empty" space of our own universe, seen in the eyes of a Divine Cosmic Being, is solid with evolving substance, idea, thought.

The Universe is a manifestation of divine thought. All things are concreted thought, from the amoeba in the pond to the vast spaces of the universe. There are material thoughts, and there are spiritual thoughts, and there is an infinite range of degrees in between. And all these degrees subsist in the same object at the same time. They are all co-existent, each in its own sphere of ethereality, each on its own plane of existence.

When we shall have fully attained to this second stage of visioning truth, we shall see characteristics objectively, which at present we look upon as intangibilities. We shall be using our senses in their highest perceptions in order to see beyond the veils which they themselves represent.

First we see the beauties of Nature and revel in their wonder. Then we recognize that this external beauty is but a mask, hiding the truth from us. Beyond the veil of physical matter lie the veils of ethereal matter, and beyond the veils of ethereal matter lies What?

The third stage of visioning truth is union with the Divine. "Happy the man who can understand this third step," observes G. de P., and perhaps we presume too much in criticizing the critics.

History and literature are full of the narratives of those men and women who have attained to spiritual greatness by seeking personal lowliness, meekness St. Theresa, Jan van Ruysbroek, Jacob Boehme, and hosts of others, not perhaps full Masters of Wisdom, but advanced devotees on the Path.

There have been degrees of such enlightenment nearer home. Listen to the late H. G. Wells: "At times, in the silence of the night and in rare lonely moments, I come upon a sort of communion with myself, and something great that is not myself" (First and Last Things).

When the devotee reaches this stage in its fulness, he sees the Oneness of all things. For greater or lesser moments of time he is one with the mountains, one with the fields, one with the rippling brook. No longer are these shadows, phantoms of the Real, but living expressions of the Divine Spirit. "When we attain this stage of evolution," says Thoreau, "the heavens will verily be our roof, the seasons will minister to us, the wind will be our breath, and our serenity will be the serenity of Nature itself" (Week on the Concord).

We shall have pointers on the way. We shall perhaps glimpse the far shores in some feeling of spiritual elation evoked by a passage of music, in the grip of some lines from the poets, in a glimpse of Nature through the brush of a great artist or the chisel of a master sculptor. There are films, films of popular entertainment even, which can momentarily uplift us, causing us to leave the cinema spiritually refreshed.

 Nor do we need outside stimulus to cause the soul of man to try its wings. Occasionally there come unbidden to the mind flashes and glimpses of past events, idealized now, or rather, seen in their inmost essence for one fraction of a second, yet their aroma will last out the day.

The serenity of Nature itself this then is the very haven for which we have been seeking, the far country to which our body of truth points the way. How shall you and I attain it? "It is through the human that we must climb up to the divine," wrote George Macdonald, through the human qualities of compassion and the understanding heart, just as it was through the animal virtues of courage, fidelity, and venturesomeness that we attained to humanhood in long ages past. We shall not approach the divine until our hearts hunger for it; then nothing in heaven or hell can prevent us from reaching it.

Let us remember, when our hearts are low and we begin to despair of ourselves and of mankind, that beyond the worldly clashing of everyday thoughts, beyond the claims and counterclaims of dogma and brain-mind opinion, lies Truth and truth will remain when all the tumult has died down. Beyond the buffeting storms of life lies the safe haven.

These thoughts are not escapism. We cannot escape from that which we are, but we can escape from what we are not.

I have tried, Mr. Chairman, in a woefully inadequate fashion, to describe the Indescribable and to point out some of the landmarks which Theosophy, and Theosophists down the ages, have erected for our guidance. I believe that we ought to keep some such picture before our minds, however vague this one may be, for it is true. And being true, our hearts will recognize it, and gradually, piece by piece, will fill in the details, so that in the fulness of time the whole canvas will be unfurled before us. Then, in a joy of recognition, we shall move forward to claim that which is our own.

FOOTNOTE:

1. Condensed from a talk given at Liverpool, England. (return to text)


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