Universal Brotherhood – January 1898

QUEST AND CONQUEST — J. D. Buck

Man has ransacked the earth in his quest for happiness.

He has climbed the highest mountains, dredged the deepest seas, penetrated the densest forests, crossed the trackless deserts, and searched the abyss of space for a new Utopia. In his search for wealth or fame or power he has braved every hardship, faced every danger, and sacrificed health and even life itself: and, sweetest dream of all, he has laid his hard-won trophies at the feet of Love, only to find at last sore disappointment, desolation and despair, and has perhaps ended the quest and his own life in suicide.

Sad and pathetic beyond words is this image of Tantalus in the human breast; this tireless quest of the soul of man for a resting place; for the joyous, the peaceful, and the permanent, in the midst of eternal change.

The indolent and the weak, no less than the tireless and the strong, come at last to the same goal and the same fruition. He reaches the shore of the shining silent sea only to see the phantom ship sailing far away on the distant horizon, and the isles of the blessed vanish, and the dark waves dash harshly on the desolate rocks at their feet, while the night settles down and the stars come out, and the distant constellations watch over him like a weary child asleep. He renews the quest, and like a half-remembered dream, the disappointment of yesterday but impels him forward today. He has missed his way like one who seeks the fountains of the Nile or an open polar sea.

He cannot rest in sunlit valleys with babbling brooks and flocks of kine. He dreams of a larger world and pastures new and cattle on a thousand hills, and self the conquering lord of all. Conquest and happiness, and then alas! but dust and ashes.

Gold slips like grains of sand from the nerveless hand of age and death, and so he seeks to conquer these, and toils a thousand years for the Elixir of Life, the fountain of eternal youth, in order that he may renew the quest, and triumph still.

Ambition at its highest tide sighs for more worlds to conquer, and assails the constellations with impotent rage born of despair.

Fame is such a hollow mockery when the game's played out, and the curtain of oblivion begins to fall, and soon the monuments of stone and brass lie scattered in broken fragments o'er the plain, and the antiquarian of another age pieces together a few fragments that tell the same old story, ever new, of love and pride and death, and perhaps a name like a piece of driftwood cast on shore from an old wreck, a name which no one can pronounce — and that is all!

What does it all mean, this tireless quest with disappointment at the end? Is there no spot of land on which the weary dove may rest? No olive-branch as sign of falling tides and haven of repose? No conquest for the soul with peace and joy beyond? If he cannot attain why must he ever try?

Man must evolve his latent powers and touch the earth at many points, yet find no resting place, for this is not his home. The restless earth, the tides of time, the fleeting show of life — all these he must experience and know, while something in his soul cries "rest" and something else — "move on" like the Wandering Jew, till his soul cries "it is finished" and the conquest sure.

Man's dual nature thus revealed is kin to earth and heaven. In the midst of all the false, the true: in the midst of the ever-changing, the permanent, the everlasting.

Not all the joys of earth could satisfy his soul, but this he'll ne'er believe, till sorrow oft, and disappointment sore, have burned away the lust of life, then deep within the Conqueror is revealed — asleep! Then all his dream of bliss, and paradise regained through sense, seem such a hollow mockery. Then the soul, long restless in its sleep, awakes. The body masks the soul, and when the soul awakes the body sleeps with all its lust of life and running to and fro. Year after year, life after life, the play's kept up till the soul awakes to claim its heritage divine, and then, only then, does man begin to live at all. Then flooding back upon the soul comes all that it has loved and lost, and every failure, every sin, is seen as a stepping stone to sure success — the awakening of the soul, the conquest of the Holy Grail.

In all man's striving thus for rest and peace and joy he seeks without, he journeys far, tries every avenue of sense, seeks a resting place on shifting sands, and so evolves to knowledge of the outer world of sense and time. Then when the soul awakes, the horizon's clear; no incense rises from the veil of flesh; no smoke of altars built to Baal obscures the glorious sun of life. Then step by step the conquest comes, for soul and sense are one. Man's never truly man till then. Ages of toil and pain have not been vain or lost, but steps by which we climbed to higher things, a lesson learned, a rule of life set down in black and white, an experience never to be forgotten, a hoarded treasure cheap at any cost of pain, garnered forever in the citadel of his soul. It is the apparent uselessness of pain that makes us so rebellious. Why learn to brave and bear, to suffer without complaint? Why must we reap this bitter harvest, why not an easier road?

Grant that it all comes back in joy, all that we sow in tears, why must it be? Desire of life and the awakening of the soul on this lower plane; fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and ill, and back of all the tree of life, and back of this is peace and power and wisdom. Ask of the soul if it would relinquish all the joy of living to get rid of all its pain? The suicide may seem to answer yes, but he is bewildered or insane. Imagine if you can what life would be bereft of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. Life without sensation or feeling, only peace and power and wisdom, what would there be to desire? But if the soul had known it all, and turned within and rested in itself, this would be the awakening of the soul, its conquest over sense and time and fleeting show.

Pleasure and pain are but the "pairs of opposites," the necessary garb of sense, and each, like light and darkness, impossible without the other; each, to the last scruple, the measure of the other.

Life's meaning, therefore, lies within itself. It is its own revealer. The quest is all without; the conquest all within. Just as man conquers sense and self, shall he subdue the world, and conquest comes by letting go, not holding fast. Nothing that he can gain and hold in sense and time can last. 'Tis all a passing show, the pleasure as the pain; the evil as the good; and there remains alone the True. When man has thus begun to live, with all illusions gone, with self subdued, with all the body's parts and powers as servants of his will, he is part of all, at one with all, and goeth out no more.

Buddha on the lotus flower, his quest all ended, conqueror now of life and death, worlds roll around him as a thought Divine, and he is that thought, great Brahm, and all in all.

Such is the quest to which man is devoted, and if the journey's long, and painful is the way, the conquest is glorious beyond the thought of man, beyond his wildest dream, his highest hope.

Imagine not the lotus symbol is inane, or that the conqueror sits and broods over the dawn and the decay of worlds, indifferent to the woes of men. He touches every sorrow, every joy, and being lifted up, draws all men to him along the highway he hath trod and knows so well.

But conquest cometh not all at once. Tis not alone restraining evil thought and deed that wakes the sleeping soul. These are but dead branches on the tree of life. If this were all, a barren trunk ere long remained with no green branches waving in the wind, or leaves to drink the sunshine. Repression and restraint go hand in hand with life's renewal. The deed still done is freed from self, and action ceasing not becomes divine compassion. Where once it sought to rob, it now restores an hundred fold, and when the debt's all paid, the awakened soul's now free to live and lift the world "to the lotus feet," the "Master of Compassion."

Perfection is the goal of man, but not in some far-off heaven, correcting our mistakes and failures here. Man is at once a child of earth and heaven. Earth has its seed-time and its harvest, too, no less for souls than sprouting grain, and heaven and hell are here and now: we make them both. Man's kingdom is within, or hell or heaven. The senses are his servants. The will is minister of state. Experience is his treasure vault, the currency of his realm, and sympathy the light around his throne.

When once the soul of man has wakened from the lethargy of the animal plane of sense, and given exit to the light that is within, then he is like a city set upon a hill, well-governed, and a light to all the world. He sorrows not, but lifts the veil of sorrow from the hearts of men. This is the great conquest toward which all quest of man hath tended from the beginning, while pain and sorrow are but the loosening of the tentacles of time and sense from the already fossilizing experiences of the past, in order that they may be reborn in joy in the eternal present.

Man is the epitome of nature and hath it all within himself. Seeking that which he cannot find, yet seeking ever, till at last he looks within and the soul cries: "Here am I, waiting for the summons of thy magic wand." This is the grand ideal, hidden, like the "jewel in the lotus" deep within the soul of man. It is older than Time, born in the councils of the Infinite before Time was, or any world emerged from space. Defying thus all tides and times, or cataclysms, or clash of worlds, or fossilizing creeds, or craft of church or state — wherever man may be, whene'er he climbs above the realm of sense, and looks within the holy place, lo! the sleeper wakes, and holds within his hand the Holy Grail, the cup of Life, and sleeps no more. When thine eye is single, thy body shall be full of light.

Thus is the conquest won. Thus is man lifted up to his divine inheritance, and then begins the triumphal journey of the soul, the real mission for which all else was preparation. Trammeled no more by sense and space and time: Master is he of life and law, because he has fulfilled them by obedience. He is at one with all. The quest of the soul is for perfection. Its conquest is over self: this conquest made, man steps upon the plane that is divine, and as a god, goes on from plane to plane, with perfect knowledge, power, and compassion Infinite; co-worker with both God and Nature for the uplifting of humanity- — the Brotherhood of all.


Universal Brotherhood

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