The Path – February 1896

THE SCREEN OF TIME — William Q. Judge

Forever hiding futurity, the Screen of Time hangs before us, impenetrable. Nor can it be lifted. Its other side may have pictures and words upon it which we would like to read. There is such a desire in the human heart to know what the coming days may hold, that if there be pictures on the hidden side of the Screen we long to see them. But fortunately for us in our present weak condition we may not look behind. Standing in front, all we are privileged to perceive are the reflections from human life thrown upon this side known as the present, while the pictures that have been there in the past turn themselves into background and distance, sometimes bright, but oftener gloomy and grey.


A very pernicious doctrine is again making an appearance. It is weak, truly, but now is the time to deal with and destroy it if possible. It is the theory that the best way to overcome a tendency — of any sort — of the physical nature, is to give way to it. This is the dreadful doctrine of Satiation: that the only way to deal with lust and other things of the lower plane is to satisfy all cravings. By argument this may be shown to be an evil doctrine; but fact overcomes all argument, and it is easy to discern the truth to be that satiation of a craving does not remove its cause. If we eat, and dissipate hunger, the need for food will soon be felt again. And so with all cravings and tendencies which are classified as bad or low, or those which we wish to get rid of. They must be opposed. To satisfy and give way to them will produce but a temporary dullness. The real cause of them all is in the inner man, on the plane of desire whether mental or physical. So long as no effort is made to remove them they remain there. The Voice of the Silence is against the doctrine of satiation most clearly, and so are the voices of all the sages. We must all wish that this pernicious idea may never obtain a hold in Theosophical ranks.


The desire to see the fulfilment of lugubrious and awful prophecies is a singular one for good men to hold. Yet many Theosophists have this most strange peculiarity. They have read and heard of certain prophecies said to have been made by H. P. B. about calamitous and disastrous times to come in Europe; of a new reign of terror; of sinking continents and destroyed nations. They add to these the improbable, vague and sometimes hoaxing prophecies by astrologers and old women. Then they begin to wish all these most terrifying things would come to pass so that their prophets may be justified. Every time a slight jar occurs in Europe they feel the terreur is at hand. But it does not arrive. Surely we ought to be satisfied with an ominous prophecy, if we believe in it, and be content to let its fufilment be delayed for an extremely long period. We do not need prophecies, in any case, because out of our present deeds future events are made. Those among us who wish, as I said, for the realization of forebodings are the croakers of the movement. Even among the singular people called Theosophists they are singular, but their peculiarity is both unhealthy and useless.

In 1888 I had a morning conversation with H. P. B. at the Lansdowne Road house in London, upon the spread or weight of the Theosophical movement. I said that it was sometimes appalling to remember the millions of people in America alone, in comparison with the few Theosophists and Theosophical branches: what hope was there of our making a change in national character in any land? Her reply was that, while it might seem discouraging looked at in that way, it was really not so. "Look," she said, "at our beginnings in 1875, when no one knew of Theosophy, and only jokes greeted our amazing efforts for publicity. But now we have come into the papers and magazines. We have made a distinct impression on the mind and literature of the time. This is much to have done."

There is abundant proof of this on every hand. Our name is now well understood. Writers may allude in their sketches to Theosophists and Theosophy without fear of castigation by the editor. There are two recent conspicuous instances. The N. Y. Herald, in December last, had an article in which this occurs:

"No man on the globe knows how to keep a hotel as the American does. He is a perfect Mahatma at the business."

Here is this great word abused, it is true; but that does not damage it. It has reached in less than twenty years the familiar treatment which it took in India centuries to come to. There they often use it as a term of reproach, on the principle that to call a man that high and great thing which he cannot be is to abuse him.

Again, in the Cosmopolitan for December last — a magazine widely read — there is a story by Zangwill called "Choice of Parents," on the abolition of compulsory reincarnation. The sketch deals entirely with the ante-natal world and reincarnation on the earth. Not long before the author had something in the English Pall Mall Magazine wherein Theosophy, Theosophists and reincarnation were mentioned. I do not know who will have the hardihood to deny the great share the Theosophical movement has had in bringing about this change.


At the present time one of the most urgent needs is for a simplification of Theosophical teachings. Theosophy is simple enough; it is the fault of its exponents if it is made complicated, abstruse or vague. Yet enquiring people are always complaining that it is too difficult a subject for them, and that their education has not been deep enough to enable them to understand it. This is greatly the fault of the members who have put it in such a manner that the people sadly turn away. At public meetings or when trying to interest an enquirer it is absolutely useless to use Sanskrit, Greek or other foreign words. Nine times out of ten the habit of doing so is due to laziness or conceit. Sometimes it is due to having merely learned certain terms without knowing and assimilating the ideas underneath. The ideas of Theosophy should be mastered, and once that is done it will be easy to express those in the simplest possible terms. And discussions about the Absolute, the Hierarchies, and so forth, are worse than useless. Such ideas as Karma, Reincarnation, the Perfectibility of Man, the Dual Nature, are the subjects to put forward. These can be expounded — if you have grasped the ideas and made them part of your thought — from a thousand different points of view. At all meetings the strongest effort should be made to simplify by using the words of our own language in expressing that which we believe.

The Path