The Path – August 1888

ESCAPE OR ACHIEVEMENT — B. N. Acle

"They change their skies, but not their natures, who cross the seas," — so runs the proverb; and doubtless many of us can bear witness that it is as true today as when it fell from the lips of the wise Roman of old.

"What must I do to be saved?" was the cry, when tossed on the stormy and uncharted ocean of orthodoxy: "Where shall I find a pilot?" signals the vessel, hove-to off the entrance to the fair-haven of Theosophy.

One who, while serving his country gallantly on many a hard-fought field, yet strove according to his lights to be loyal to Him whom he regarded as his Heavenly Master, was wont to say that if he "could just squeeze inside of the Golden Gate," he would be entirely content. Before indulging in the smile of superiority at this honest, if lowly, confession, it might be well to examine whether this is not our own real, though possibly unconscious, attitude; whether, when we say "Must I give up this?", or, "Is it necessary to do that?", we do not really mean "How much of this world's pleasures may I venture to indulge in? how close can I point to windward without being taken aback?" in other words. "Can I do this, or enjoy that, and yet 'just squeeze inside?'"

Assuming, however, that the inquiry is made in sincerity and good faith, it is evident that the answer must depend upon the reply that the seeker makes to the question addressed to him in turn, "What is your object in life — to avoid an imaginary punishment, to obtain in the future a definite and limited reward? or to enter, now and here, upon a path of ever-increasing wisdom, knowledge, and peace, of inconceivable splendour and limitless extent? is your aim negative or positive? in a word, is it Escape or Achievement?"

Now from the standpoint of official Christianity, the attitude of the simple-hearted soldier is not only entirely logical, but thoroughly satisfactory: and if we also are of this way of thinking — if, as the Bhagavad Gita says, we prefer "a transient enjoyment of heaven to eternal absorption" — doubtless in Devachan we shall find fulness of joy: "Those who worship the Devatas go unto the Devatas."

But to those strong souls whose passionate longing is to find "the small, old path;" who disdain the gentler slopes which the feeble must needs follow; whose eyes seek the snowy pinnacle rather than the smiling valley, though it were the Land of Beulah itself; who, far from desiring the enjoyment of Devachan, regard it rather as a halt in their progress, a loss of time, so to speak, and would gladly forego its delights in order to re-incarnate at once and continue without interruption in their work for the good of the race; — what answer shall be returned them? Obviously none; since, for them, such questions never arise. They ask not, What shall I give up? but, What can I?; not, What indulgence must I deny myself? but, What encumbrance can I cast aside, that I may the more swiftly and easily mount.

It was said by One of old time, "Ye cannot serve two masters." God and Mammon were the instances cited by the Teacher, but the saying holds true of any given opposite or conflicting aims. And the great trouble is that, although we may be unwilling to admit it even to ourselves, very few of us are really single-hearted: whether from physical infirmity, so-called hereditary tendency, or Karmic environment matters not so far as regards the fact and the inevitable consequences resulting therefrom. Possibly all that many of us can accomplish in this incarnation will be in the nature of a species of compromise, or perhaps, more correctly, a net result, — a sort of moral diagonal of forces, so to speak, the resultant of the opposing tendencies of our earthly attractions and spiritual aspirations.

But he whose aim is single, whose eye never loses sight of the end, acts on his plane as the successful man of business on his: do we ever hear the latter ask, "Must I stay in my office eight hours a day? is it absolutely necessary to miss this race, or forego that dinner, in order to close this contract or elaborate that plan?" Does he not rather work fourteen, or sixteen, hours, give up recreation, literary, artistic, social, even to a great extent the joys of the home circle, tax his ingenuity to the uttermost to devise new openings, find fresh fields for enterprise? and this day after day, year in and year out, until either fortune is won, or health and, perhaps, life itself are sacrificed in the determined effort?

Perhaps it might be laid down broadly that any question prefaced by "must" should be answered in the negative; for the fact of its being put in that form proclaims, louder than any words, that not yet is the seeker able to free himself from attachment; and until he can do this — until, as is said in Through the Gates of Gold, he can place the object before him, and clearly, coolly, and dispassionately examine it from all points of view, fully admitting its attractions as well as recognizing its drawbacks, and then calmly, deliberately, without a trace of regret or a sigh of longing, dismiss the very idea from his heart, — until he can do all this, forcible repression by mere strength of will avails nothing: the desire, coerced at one point, returns with accummulated strength at another; if not on the physical plane, then on the mental; if not in this incarnation, then in another. This is the teaching of all the ages, from the Upanishads to Light on the Path, of the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible, of Buddha and Jesus alike. Nothing that is done as a penance, as a so-called "mortification of the flesh," or merely out of deference to the feelings, or opinions, or prejudices of others, can be of any real value to the man himself.

One who makes a virtue of refusing to play cards in the social circle, while still having the desire in his heart, may yet lose money and reputation in Wall street; he who, against his own judgment, is persuaded to deprive himself of the comfort resulting from the rational use of tobacco, may wreck his nerves by inordinate indulgence in strong tea, — and this without incurring the censure of clergymen, reformers, or old women of either sex. In this, as in all things, we may learn from the working of Nature. The tree yields fruit not only after its kind, but in its own due time. There is neither haste nor delay in her evolutionary methods, — first the blossom and then the fruit, is her unvarying rule: and, knowing this, we do not expect to pluck the matured ear of July from the tender shoot of April: we rejoice in the budding sweetness of the vineyard in the joyous Springtide, untroubled by any anxiety lest the golden glory of September should fail to ripen the purple clusters.

So in our daily round and occupation, everything comes in its appointed time and refuses to be hurried: sculptured granite is not more immovable than the Express, a second before its flying wheels begin to turn; as the hand on the dial points to the hour, the ingenious mechanism of the time-lock swings back the massive doors of the vault which, a moment before, would have defied the strength of a hundred men to open.

"And what shall I do with my sword?" asked the brilliant young courtier of George Fox, by whose teachings he had become converted to Quakerism. "Friend;" replied the wise and courteous man of Peace, "wear it, — as long as thon canst!" but full soon William Penn counted it all joy to exchange jewelled sword and velvet coat for the simple garb of the people with whom he had cast in his lot. And when the day comes — as come it must, in the fulness of times — when we are ready, in this spirit, to lay everything on the altar — whether choice possessions or valued opinions, favorite habits or cherished beliefs, our so-called virtues not less than what are termed our vices; when we can do all this, not as a sacrifice, but with joy and gladness, when our songs of deliverance are borne upon the upwreathing incense; then we, likewise, shall be no longer perplexed by the "must" or the "shall", for we shall then be treading the King's Highway of Achievement, and not scuffling along the back alleys of Escape.

Let us then be ever on guard lest aught tempt us from that "Middle Road" which the Lord Buddha pointed out to us, and in which we know our feet to be set; and by following it in all patience and loyalty, with dauntless will and unswerving devotion, we shall in His own time — which is always the best time — come to realize the portion which He has assured us shall be that of all who truly love and serve Him.

     "Who wins
To such commencement hath the First Stage touched:
He knows the Noble Truths, the Eight-fold Road:
By few or many steps such shall attain
NIRVANA'S blest abode."


The Path

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