The Path – March 1889

MEDITATION AND ACTION: II — Pilgrim

(Concluded from February)

It is the Utopia of every dreaming Socialist to found a Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, though his means of attaining it may be somewhat different from the peaceful formation of groups of individuals bent on realizing a higher life; but surely more appreciation of existing facts and possibilities is shown even by the religionists who declare that their kingdom is not of this world!

That our race may and will evolve the perfect state is an occult fact, but that evolution will take countless aeons of time, during which the race will inhabit other and more ethereal planets than the present material world, to correspond with the more ethereal bodies which the race will gradually assume, and it will only be after countless weedings-out, during which the great majority will be left behind to carry on such lives as they are fitted for, that the remnant of elect souls will realize the perfect state of terrestrial being (between which and the perfect state of transcorporeal being there will then be but the thinnest vail), the general conditions of which state render it perfectly impossible for us to make any comparison with the present, for, amongst other changes, the sexual passion will then be non-existent, for the Humanity of the sixth and great seventh round will have reverted to the androgynous type of their far-off ancestors of the first round, which today is buried in the depths of prehistoric time, while we of the fourth round, who are wallowing in the very nadir of materiality, are naturally removed by the whole diameter of the circle alike from the first and the seventh.

But we now approach the kernel of the whole question. What is bred in the bone comes out in the flesh. Like the sportsman who by the most curious perversion of logic (perhaps not altogether to be wondered at in a bucolic intellect), and glorying in his very shame, defends the brutality of slaughter, or the cruelty of hunting an animal to death, on the ground, forsooth, that the courage of the human animal is thereby fed and increased (as if true courage could not be kept up without brutality!), so the man who has been brought up to Western ways of thinking not only fails to realize the very first axiom of true thought, but, with the perverted idea of his race, glories in his very shame, for he exalts action above meditation. This is the idea strongly dwelt on in many passages of the book before us. This is the rift in the lute that spoils all the music.

The Western nations having reached what heights they have through action chiefly, it is no great wonder that their representative sons should bow down before the goddess who has ennobled them, but that one who, like the author of Scientific Religion, has received so much true inspiration, should not in this also have been rightly guided, is a problem for psychologists to explain.

The right understanding of meditation and action is the great subject with which the Bhagavad-Gita — that holy book — begins and ends. Two quotations on the subject of action will demonstrate its scope and object. The first is from chapter VI.

"By works the votary doth rise to Saint.
And Saintship is the ceasing from all works."

The second is from chapter XVIII.

"Better thine own work is, though done with fault,
Than doing others' work, ev'n excellently.
He shall not fall in sin who fronts the task
Set him by Nature's hand! Let no man leave
His natural duty, Prince! though it bear blame!
For every work hath blame, as every flame
Is wrapped in smoke! Only that man attains
Perfect surcease of work whose work was wrought
With mind unfettered, soul wholly subdued,
Desires forever dead, results renounced."

No ordinary man can escape from action, for, while desire of action remains, action is being done, — if not on the material, still on the mental plane. And again it is written in chapter III, verse 4, "A man does not attain to freedom from action by not engaging in action merely, nor is the perfect state gained by simple abandonment of action."

But it is one thing to perform all actions that duty enjoins, looking forward to the time when all earthly actions will have been performed, and when duty will no longer call; it is another and very different thing to glory in the action, to blindly imagine that any action we can possibly perform is the "worthy and laudable service" which is required of us.

The sympathetic relief of physical suffering is well; the teaching by which man's mental horizon is widened and man's moral nature is elevated is better. They both form worthy preludes to the higher goal. But best of all is to become part of the spiritual pabulum by which Humanity lives, and the very first step on the path that leads to this stupendous result is meditation; in other words, the detachment from all the ephemeral interests of life, — which detachment displays itself by perfect equanimity in good and evil fortune, the centering of all thought on the Supreme, until thought itself drops off and the soul is face to face with Deity.

It will be apparent in the above that the "service of man" is the key note throughout, but the "service of man" and what is more or less accurately described as the "Worship of God" must go hand in hand, until they finally become one and identical. It is this final unity which we desire to bring into prominence. Service on the physical plane is good; service on the mental or psychic plane is better; the altruistic effort involved in both requires the impulse of the higher worship as a goal. But with the culmination of worship comes the culmination of service, for they are merged in one. When the self as we understand it is annihilated, when the soul has been able to endure the transcendent vision of Itself as Deity, when difference no longer exists and the one is merged in the All, the store-house of spiritual energy is thereby replenished, and all Humanity receives an impulse that raises them a step nearer the Divine Union also, — nay further, the Divine impulse after passing through man descends to vivify the lower creation. The whole Universe is thrilled by it!

All are capable of the lower service; many are capable of the higher; few are yet fit for the highest. Each one is bound to serve according to his powers, and, following this law, the service which seems worthiest for the writer, who can certainly lay claim to nothing beyond the singlemindedness of an ardent and aspiring but deeply passion-stained man, is to convince if possible an unbelieving world of the existence of that at once highest service and highest worship, which the religious have materialized and degraded, and which the agnostics ignore.

When it is realized that, for the attainment of true meditation, the whole nature requires to be transformed, the Will begins to make the attempt. Though as Matthew Arnold pithily puts it,

     "Tasks in hours of insight will'd
Can be through hours of gloom fulfilled,"

it yet seems too much of a miracle to permanently change the nature, to induce altruism in the selfish man, or purity in the lustful, let alone humility in the proud, for this last (pride) being an attribute of spirit is necessarily far deeper seated than the surface blemishes of the physical nature. The Poet truly wrote, "Pride is the last infirmity of noble minds"; and, indeed, it can be, and often is, used as a means of ennobling the nature, and purging it of the grosser taints of the body.

This permanent change of nature will not likely be effected in an ordinary man in one lifetime, — rather will it require the concentrated energy of many life times on the "Great Quest," but the first step toward it must be the recognition of the truth, the realization of the supreme desirability of the state to which true meditation leads, and the knowledge that action impelled by desire in one life can only eventuate in similar action in the next, and that the only wise action to perform is that which looks for no reward, that which is dissociated from all idea of self, — in fact, such action as is preached from beginning to end of the Bhagavad-Gita.

We often hear it stated that a man is better than his creed, and it is a blessed thing for Humanity that the moral nature is sometimes able to withstand the debasing effect of the dire creeds of the churches, but the aimlessness of even the best moral nature which acts without knowledge must be replaced by the distinct realization of the goal to be aimed at. "The first good level is Right Doctrine;" and till the perverted notion of the worthiness in itself of any earthly act disappears from the mind, and some faint conception of the sublime state we aim at takes its place, no further advance seems possible.

He must indeed be a devotee of a very blind optimism who can contemplate the hideous results of action in this vaunted civilization, and can still expect that, without a cataclysm in which the whole vile thing shall be swept away, any gradual evolution can bring a reformed state. For he sees around him a fair country blackened and marred by belching furnace-fires and the never-ending grind of machinery, the still more awful tumult of the fevered rush of the competing multitudes, and, worse than all, the continually increasing degradation of the lives of the toilers, with every sign that all these evils are steadily on the increase.

The story of Martha and Mary is a standing protest against our deification of action. "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful!"; and many other similar sayings of the great Teacher might be quoted, but the churches called after his name, and whose representatives have become as a rule "mere echoes of the world's self-seeking," have been reduced to accept the world's apologetic theory that the teachings of Christ are incapable of practical application, — indeed, as the author of Scientific Religion points out, the present state of things in Europe has absolutely made them so.

But though the literal application of Christ's teaching has become an impossibility in the West, there are still spots on the earth's surface where the fever of the modern life has not yet reached, where the lust of wealth and luxury — the Gods or Demons whom the West worships — has no power to quicken the pulses in many a quiet household, whose inmates have at least inherited from their nobler ancestors a juster appreciation than is met with in the West, of the ephemeral character of life, and a worshiping reverence for those who are capable of true meditation.

If the so-called Christian Churches, instead of steeping their hands in the blood of tortured victims and rivaling Princes in the lust of conquest, had taught the Brotherhood of man that Christ believed in, it would not today have become in practice an unthinkable proposition, and we should not now be looking forward to the possibility of a social catastrophe which is too awful to contemplate. But surely the outcome of our present civilization, the steadily increasing accentuation of both poverty and wealth — which indeed constitutes the source of danger —, makes it apparent that the cup of iniquity is rapidly filling to the brim!

Nay, rather let us avoid adding more than is absolutely enjoined by duty to this fevered rush of existence. Let us remember always that in our true self we are the spectator only and that all action is but the result of the "Qualities"; so let us gradually transcend the "Qualities." And realizing that the Divine inner Self — the goal of our great endeavor — ever abides in the true heaven, "let us in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell."

     "Only by Soul itself
"Is soul perceived — when the Soul wills it so!
There shines no light save its own light to show
Itself unto itself!"
     "None compasseth
Its joy who is not wholly ceased from sin,
Who dwells not self-controlled, self-centred — calm
Lord of himself! It is not gotten else!
Brahm hath it not to give!"
* * * * *
     "Meditate!
There shines no light, save the Soul's light, to show!
Save the Soul's light!" (1)

FOOTNOTE:

1. From the Second Valli of the Katha Upanishad, translated by Edwin Arnold under the title of "The Secret of Death." (return to text)


The Path

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE