The Path – September 1887

GOSPELS AND UPANISHADS — Charles Johnston

"The principle which gives life, undying and eternally beneficent, is perceived by him who desires perception."

As the clouds are dispelled by the rising sun, so do many things become clear before the growing light of spiritual knowledge. A great initial difficulty is to discern between the lawful and the unlawful, to find the precise boundary between the selfish and the unselfish. Many things which are amongst the lawful, nevertheless seem to be also amongst the selfish; even the first move, the initial devotion to spiritual studies has been stigmatised as selfish, and therefore tainting all that follows. Doubtless it is a difficult task to choose between the sweet and bitter fruit on the tree of knowledge, but still some light may be thrown on the choice.

Let us go back to what is logically, thought not perhaps chronologically, the first step in religious consciousness. Religion began, says one of the most discerning students of Christianity, when the first man obeyed the deeper law in his heart, which prompted him to restrain his tendency to selfishness and sensuality, to subordinate them to his higher nature, to sacrifice the ephemeral to the durable. The recognition of the earliest whisper of religious consciousness, he considers the characteristic of Israel; and Israel's mission and place in world history is, in his view, the assertion of this intuition. Israel, he says, felt the moral law more vividly, and obeyed it more faithfully than other nations, and Israel's testimony on the subject is among the most precious of the world's possessions. These views are clear and intelligible, and if we examine the record of Israel's religious consciousness, they will appear of great weight. (1)

The essence of Religion is antithesis — opposition between two great forces, powers, or qualities; the quality of the terms of the antithesis gives us a clue to the phase of religious consciousness.

Israel's antithesis was between the "law of the eternal" and the "way of sinners." Further examination shows that the second term meant for Israel the various phases of selfishness and sensuality, of the instincts of self-preservation and reproduction. Opposed to these Israel felt another force, the "law of the Eternal." If an adherence to this Law, and a consequent change of the tendency of life, followed its recognition, Israel experienced as the result a feeling of completeness, strength and happiness. He found that after introducing this new factor into his consciousness he was able to "rejoice and shout for joy." But the recognition of the "Eternal which makes for Righteousness," whose earliest manifestation is the voice of conscience, is not merely the introduction of a new factor, it is a complete alteration of the event of life, of the purpose of existence. Formerly the life was lived for pleasure, for the gratification of egotism, for the satisfaction of desire. Now it is lived for the "Lord," for Holiness, for the Eternal that makes for Righteousness.

This is the teaching of the first Covenant to Israel; the second adds to it, and makes it clearer. Its beginning is of course the same, an intuition of the Law of the Eternal, a sense of Righteousness.

The result of developing and using this sense, of rendering perfect obedience to the "Law of the Eternal," is a feeling of happiness, of invigoration, of renewed life. A complete and persistent adherence to this law discloses several facts of great importance. The first is, that at any moment there are two different lives possible for any person — the life in the "world" and the life in the "kingdom of heaven." The first is the life which is based on the satisfaction of the lower worldly and sensual desires; the second is lived through the development of the higher nature — that part of us which is in touch with the "Eternal." It is a notable fact, or rather an essential characteristic, in the first of these two lives, that the term "satisfaction of desire" is really incorrect, for the essence of "desire" is the impossibility of satisfying it, the fact that just as the object desired, and eagerly pursued, appears within reach, just as the hand is stretched out to seize it, it suddenly starts away again to an infinite distance. Examples of this truth might be multiplied indefinitely; for example, who has ever known of a rich man come to the conclusion that he had gathered enough wealth, and that it was undesirable to add to it? This fact has been poetically expressed in several forms; its brighter aspect has been symbolised as a child gathering flowers, who always sees farther on a bloom more beautiful than those within his reach; its dark side is the story of the Dead Sea fruit, outwardly beautiful and tempting, with glossy skin, golden and red, but when tasted turning to ashes in the mouth. The recognition of the insatiate nature of desire leads to a complete abandonment of the life in the "world," and an entire devotion to the life in the "Eternal," this change of poles being described as a "death unto sin, and a new birth unto Righteousness." The two chief elements of the life in the "world" which must be annihilated before the life in the "Kingdom" can take its place, are enjoyment of the body, and the existence of the egotism, — the centre of the forces which make up the lower nature.

When this is done and perfect adherence to the law of the "Eternal" is substituted, another fact is discovered. This is the possibility of gradual assimilation to this law, until absolute identification with it takes place. When this identification is complete, the conditions of the "Eternal's" own existence are shared with the added life; a feeling of power, of freedom from death and dissolution, of permanence and eternalness is experienced. This is "inheriting the Kingdom," and "drinking the Water of Life." The new Life is found to be independent of the condition of time, of past, present and future; no temporal considerations apply to it, no such thing as death is possible: this is the true doctrine of the "immortality of the soul" or rather of "the reality of Eternal life." A modern philosopher perceived this clearly when he wrote — "To truth, justice, love, the attribute of the Soul, the idea of immutability is essentially associated." Jesus living in these moral sentiments, heedless of sensual fortunes, heeding only the manifestation of these, never made the separation of the idea of duration from the essence of these attributes, nor uttered a syllable concerning the duration of the soul. In the flowing of love, in the adoration of humility, there is no question of continuance. The soul is true to itself, and the man in whom it is shed abroad cannot wander from the present, which is infinite, to a future which would be finite. "These facts of religion, the sense of Righteousness, and the life in the Eternal, are as verifiable as that fire burns and that water is wet." It should not be supposed that this is intended to convey the idea that they are easy and simple matters; far from it, they are the most difficult things possible. The world's materialism, the prevailing religious ideas, the neglect of your intuition, the dominance of desires, all these complicate the nevertheless absolutely verifiable problem, just as a polar ice-field, far from all fuel, complicates the problem of demonstrating that fire is hot, or the sandy Arabian desert, makes it no easier to prove that water is wet. Difficulties which are certain to occur have been stated many times, and need not be repeated. The answer, therefore, to the problem of the precise extent of selfishness is that everything which belongs to the temporary, illusory life — the life in the "world" is selfishness, while everything which belongs to my true life, the life in the Eternal, is unselfish, is my eternal birthright, and imperative to be done.

The case may be also stated thus, all things tend to fulfil the law of their nature. The plant tends to produce leaves, branches and fruit; if prevented it droops, withers and dies. The soul seeks stability, strength, peace; not finding these it fails to fulfil its law, suffering and sorrow are the inevitable result. All actions that do not help me to fulfil the law of my nature are wrong; such are all things selfish and sensual; from them never arise peace and happiness, nor ever can. But everything which tends to the fulfilment of the perfect law is my unalienable right and necessity; as light and water are the indispensables of the plant. Such is the answer that the religion of the gospels gives to our problem, if we interpret it on the lines of one of its most enlightened advocates. Yet in spite of this intuitional grasp of Christianity — the outcome of the religious Semitic mind — or perhaps on account of this very sympathy with it, this same critic shows an almost entire inability to master the expression of Aryan religious feeling. Alluding to the theory of the author of "La science des religions" that Christianity is only cloudy Aryan metaphysics, he says "such speculations take away the breath of the mere man of letters." Burnouf conceives the object of Aryan faith to be that idea of the Absolute which the Semitic mind could never grasp; a conception, or rather a non-conception resembling the "Unknowable" of Herbert Spencer. But what appears to me the true Aryan faith teaches something quite different from Herbert Spencer's "Unknowable Absolute". It was hardly the doctrine of the Absolute Schopenhauer spoke of, when he said, "it has been my solace in life, it will be my solace in death." It is hardly devotion to the Unknowable that makes the Hindu eat religiously, live religiously and die religiously. Such emotion for the Abstract Vast is hardly within the power of the mere mortal. It seems to me that the true Aryan faith is the doctrine of the Atma or Highest Self. The Self stands apart, silent, unmoving, eternally at rest. It is reflected in the phenomenal world, as the sun is reflected in a stream. When the Highest Self is reflected in that bundle of objectivities called a body the illusion of the egotism or delusive self is created, which causes the expressions "I" and "mine" to be attributed to the body. The various changes and disturbances in the bundle of objectivities cause perturbation of the illusory self as the wind blowing on the stream causes disturbance of the image of the sun. The true Self, like the sun, remains unmoved and changeless.

The idea of self-hood is applied to the egotism by Illusion. I have seen an illusionary identification of interest in an external object cause as lively emotion as physical pain: for example, I have seen a person suffer as keenly when a china vase fell and was broken, as if the accident had happened to a part of the body. The Illusion produces a pseudo-sensation of the injury to the vase, just as if it were penetrated by real sensory nerves. Exactly similar is the illusion by which interest is involved in the body or the egotism. They have not the property of self-hood, any more than the vase. Whenever sleep overtakes us, both body and personality cease to exist as far as our consciousness is concerned. Shall we then make a god of this twelve hours' potentate? who only requires the approach of night to banish him from existence. The essential quality of self-hood which our consciousness demands is absolute and inviolable permanence. Whatever once really exists can never cease to exist. Our Highest Self, our Atma, we perceive within us, or rather, perception takes place, what is called perception being the first undefined motions of essential Being struggling to assert itself. The gradual perception of the fact that the illusory personality is not the true Self, the slow realisation of the true Self, the consequent detachment of interest from the personality, the transfer of interest to the Highest Self. These form some of the first steps of the Ayran doctrine. But before perception can take place, before the true Self can dawn on the mind, all evil desires must cease. "He who has not first turned away from his wickedness, who is not tranquil with passions subdued, he can never obtain the Self." (2) Thus we found that the faith of the gospels teaches that the evil passions must be overcome before the life in the eternal can be reached. For the Self in the Eternal, and the life of the Highest Self in Eternal life. Another truth in the Aryan doctrine, involved in the very term Highest Self, is thus expressed: "There is one eternal thinker, thinking non-eternal thoughts, who though one fulfils the desires of many, the wise who perceive him in their self, to them belongs peace and not to others." This recognition of the Ancient in the Self is thus expressed by Jesus — "I and the Father are one." The gradual recognition that the Highest Self is really your self, the realiest part of you, is the Aryan way of expressing the Semitic idea of becoming the Eternal. It is really becoming gradually aware of the fact that you have been the Eternal all the while and had forgotten it. The "one who fulfils the desires of many", is the self, and this statement of the fact that this self is my self, your self and every one else's self, is semitically expressed thus, "love your neighbors as yourself." This unity of self in many apparently different selfs is the metaphysical basis of the doctrine of universal Brotherhood. Progress begins with an intuitive perception, in the gospel of the inferiority of the law of the "world" and of the majesty of the law of the Eternal, in the Upanishads of the non-essential nature of the egotism, and of the divine pre-eminence of the Highest Self. Without this initial intuition it is difficult to understand how progress could take place. To minds of one type it will take the Semitic, to minds of another it will take the Aryan form. Recent teaching has declared "within you is the light of the world — the only light that can be shed upon the path. Seek out the way by making the profound obeisance of the soul to the dim star that burns within. Steadily as you watch and worship, its light will grow stronger, then you may know that you have found the beginning of the way, and when you have found the end its light will suddenly become the infinite light." This initial perception leads to a resolute destruction of the lower nature; when this is completed the Highest Self will be clearly perceived. It was the instinctive struggle of the nature to establish the true relation between the Highest Self and the egotism which led to the primary intuition. Let those who desire to possess this intuition, but do not yet possess it, take courage, for the aspiration is the sure precursor of perception, as the dawn is of the day. First comes this desire, or rather, aspiration towards spiritual life, then comes intuitional perception of the Highest Self. The Eternal which is struggling, as it were, to free itself from the bonds of matter, gradually frees itself till at last it is entirely liberated and starts away an infinite distance from matter, across an impassable gulf, and then comes perception of the fact that it was not really the Highest Self at all which was enthralled. A few of the teachings of the Ayran doctrine concerning the Highest Self may help us here. "The self, the Ancient is unborn eternal, everlasting; he is not killed though the body is killed. If the killer thinks he kills, if the killed thinks he is killed, they do not understand. The knower, the self, is not born; it dies not. When all desires that dwell in the heart cease, then the mortal becomes immortal and obtains the Highest. The wise man who by means of meditation or his self, recognises the Ancient — (who is difficult to be seen, who has entered into the dark, who dwells in the abyss) — as God he indeed leaves pleasure and pain far behind; he rejoices because he has obtained a cause for rejoicing. The sun does not shine there, nor the moon, nor the stars; when He shines, everything shines after Him. "Having conquered the desires of the egotism, having overcome the illusion of the body," stand aside in the battle and look for the warrior. Obey him as though he were thy self, and his spoken words were the utterance of thy secret desires. He is thy self, yet thy art but finite, and liable to error. He is eternal and sure. He is eternal truth. When once he has entered thee and become thy warrior, he will never utterly desert thee, and at the day of the great peace he will become one with thee."

"Ye are not bound! the soul of things is sweet,
      The Heart of Being is celestial rest;
Stronger than woe is will: that which was good
     Doth pass to better — Best."

FOOTNOTES:

1. For all that, in the opinion of the students of the True Law, it was not from a vivid feeling and strict obeying of the moral law that Israel holds such a place in Western religious thought, but becaiise the progenitors of the Jews were Adepts possessing high powers, who by prostituting those to selfish ends, fell from their high estate, while at the same time they retained many high traditions regarding both the moral law and occult wisdom. David and Solomon are examples of some of the greatest of those Adepts falling like stars from heaven. — [Ed.] (return to text)

2. Upanishads. (return to text)


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