It lay there in the window. Others were strewn round about it, with more resplendent covers and more provocative titles. Many people passed the book shop each day, while a few entered to come out again with one or more purchases. But this book remained.
One day, however, a well-dressed woman with dangling ear-rings and resolute lips stopped to stare at its title. Yes, she thought, this might be something new. The one she had read about the other day. She decided to buy it.
Taking it home, she read it all that night but found it disappointing. Not at all what she had wanted. She had thought it was about some new cult which taught of gaining magical powers in a few months, with instructions for each successive initiation during the course. She had seen some such offer advertised in a magazine a few days ago — the promise of psychic powers in six months of training, for only a small sum of money. Well, she must have mistaken the name of the book. It was clearly not this one she had picked up. Anyhow, she could always give it away.
Several days later, she was entertaining a lady visitor who knew somewhat of her interests but did not altogether share them — a widow with three young children, whom life had taught to be practical and mundane. Her three small children took up much of her time and upon many occasions asked her questions she found it hard to answer. So she had taken to wondering, but never seemed to have the time to delve into the many books she had heard about.
That afternoon, however, when her friend handed her the book with a "don't expect too much of it, my dear," she took it reluctantly, yet somehow fascinated by the possibilities it opened up. The children, she thought. I must not have them ask me questions without giving them some sort of explanation. Of course, nobody can really know the whole answer, but perhaps this will shed some light upon many things that are so inadequately explained.
She departed for home full of thoughts of the children and their evening meal. The train was crowded, yet she couldn't refrain from peeping into the pages of the fateful book: The Eternal Wisdom of the Ages. On the jacket it said that Truth was eternal and was merely restated throughout each changing period of humanity to suit the needs of that particular time. Every religion and philosophy stemmed from this same basic fountain of wisdom as but one facet or streamlet of the whole.
A wonderful idea and one that would certainly help to explain to the children how all the other children of the world brought up in other religions might be thinking. Their beliefs were not so alien after all. This thought brought humanity much closer together. With a shock she realized it was time to alight. As she hurried through the crowded doorway, the book slipped from her half-open bag and fell, unheeded, upon the floor of the train.
That is, it dropped at the feet of a poorly clad young man who slowly bent and picked it up. At first, he gave it no more than a perfunctory glance and grimaced as he saw its title. Then as the crowd thinned out, he opened it and glanced through its pages. The brotherhood of man, he scoffed. As though anything like that could ever be attained except through force and outward persuasion. Nobody cares that I am out of work with very little money, he went on to himself. No one is interested in a starving artist in this country, but there are other countries where things are different. There they take from those who have and give to those who have not. This is brotherhood as I understand it. Let us fix the material man before bothering with the spiritual one — if indeed there is a spirit at all. The world is far better off by progressing along the material, provable things to a new deal.
So thinking, he left the train, resolved to keep the book in order to sell it. It would bring him the price of a good meal, perhaps!
Accordingly, at a second hand bookstore the book once again rubbed shoulders with its fellow books, there to remain for months, becoming dusty and soiled through much handling.
Eventually a day came when its title arrested the attention of a purchaser. He was a well-preserved man in his middle fifties who was continually searching for books of a philosophical and occult nature — a book collector as well as a scholar, with a splendid library containing most of the classics. This book at once appealed to him as a bargain, so he bought it.
Upon reading it, he considered it mostly a repetition of what he already had found, with no new information upon which he could speculate. So he put it aside as just another one to add to his library shelves.
It so happened that his son, an eager young man of twenty-one years, came upon this book so casually left on the table and thought he would leaf it through. He had heard his parents talking about their philosophical beliefs, but as they had not pushed their ideas upon him, he had only half thought about them as interesting speculations. Somehow he felt, intuitively perhaps, that brotherhood was fundamental in nature, and that the Kingdom of God was within. But as for highfalutin abstract doctrines, he had only a hazy notion, and although his father found them utterly absorbing, he was not at all sure what he thought himself. He decided to take the book on a hike into the hills where he could read it alone, and try to find out for himself what he really did believe.
Off he went the next day, and having reached a secluded spot in the countryside, he sat down in the shade of a tree to read. The sun was warm and comforting as it filtered through the leaves on to his face. He read on for hours, all about everything. He liked the idea that each individual should be completely responsible for his own destiny and evolution. Also the idea of the One becoming the Many. It seemed to demonstrate the natural unity of all that lives — every last atom being a part of God, or Divinity. At last, as he read, it seemed his imagination was whirling with the immensity of Nature, in which man and every creature had its own small yet unique part to play.
Suddenly he became aware that he was not alone. Looking up sharply he found an old man standing near him staring down at the book.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I live in that small shack over there," the stranger replied. He pointed to a tiny dwelling nestling among the trees and almost hidden from view. "Do you find your book so absorbing?"
"Yes, indeed. I was so deeply in it that I did not see you approaching."
"Might I see the book?"
"I don't know that you will be able to understand much of it. I'm afraid I find it very deep."
The stranger looked at the book for several minutes in silence, then closing it he stared straight at the young man.
"Son," he said, "this book is wonderful because it is true. It so happens that I have made a study of these matters and I can tell you that you could find no better outline of the fundamental truths inherent in the Universe than is contained here. However, the older I grow, the more I realize that you can never find Truth in books. They may guide you to the Stream of Wisdom, but in order to drink of the water of the Stream you must first live the teachings you would know. In order to understand these eternal truths you must first become them. It is far easier to be fascinated by mere intellectual striving than to understand truth per se. Intellectual knowledge will carry you only a part of the way. Live the life and you will know the doctrine, is the key to wisdom. Then you will become as a beacon of light to which all men shall look to find the source of their own inner strength."
As the stranger spoke his face wrinkled into a glowing smile that indeed matched his words.
"I think I understand what you mean," the young man answered. "Often when I heard my father engaged upon some technical philosophical discussion I rebelled inwardly, thinking to myself that surely this was not the way to find Truth. For wordy arguments too often end in heated remarks. Comprehending Truth seems more an inner experience than any set formulae of words, don't you agree?"
Looking up for confirmation from the wise stranger, he saw no sign of him — just the rustle of the bushes nearby. The book lay beside him on the ground.
There was only the silence of the surrounding scene to answer the query he had set himself.
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