"My spirit has passed in compassion and determination around the whole earth — ."
That might justly be the claim of H. P. Blavatsky, but the words are Whitman's, another if a lesser, of those "torch-bearers" of the century whose work yet awaits an acknowledgment surely coming.
It is twenty-four years since H. P. B. began her public labors; six since their conclusion. Measured against centuries, twenty-four years seems but a little span, yet within the limits of these last inches of time, the work, the changes of centuries, have been compressed. We could see, day by day, almost hour by hour, we who knew what to expect, the altering color of public thought and feeling.
Though, on earth as we see them, pursuing their myriad ways of life, men are separate units, yet also they have their being in one atmosphere of their collective thought. From this each draws; to it each contributes, just as with the air they breathe. Because of this there are cycles, rhythms, epochs of general thought; times of general bent this way or that; times when ideas will bear fruit, and others when they will fall sterile and be no more heard of till their season comes. The state of preparedness prevails among all minds in the conscious atmosphere; then comes the sower with his opportune seeds, the new ideas for the times, and men seize them eagerly, even when they follow an ancient custom and revile the sower.
So here is the old question — does the Leader create and compel the movement, or does the movement call forth and crown the Leader? The movement is like the coming of spring; no man can create or hasten it; but, if when it is come, no sower of fit grain appear, the summer can but cover the fields with weeds. So the Leader is seed-sower, and before that work can begin he must tear the hard ground into furrows for his seed.
The furrowing against the spring-coming of a new era was the voluntary task of H. P. B., standing almost alone in the grey fields, and the seeds of her sowing have taken root. This must seem absurd to those who now hear, for the first time, of this woman; to those who have no other picture of her than that drawn by her enemies or by those who saw her blindly; and to those who only know of her as the target for ceaseless accusations, infinitely varied, throughout the years of her public work.
What was this work, and what is her place as a maker of history? Her work endures, its results widen day by day; with those to whom it was confided in her life, or who have assumed it since her death, and who thereby get touch of her living power, in the hands of such are the keys of the future. For that which she taught in its outline to a few will in its fullness constitute the future religion of all humanity. We stand near to the source of a stream flowing outward to all men; let us see that those who drink of it know whose hands first struck the rock. To say what we know of her, to couple her name with her enduring work, is answer enough, in its good time complete and final, to all the charges that fell about her feet through all those twenty years, charges that never stayed her for a moment. For all future generations we can thus secure that her name and repute shall be as was her life.
Her work was to sow the idea of Brotherhood into the soil of mysticism. From time to time in western history the color of mysticism develops in the general consciousness, manifesting as a desire to search into the hidden deeps of nature and man. The collective mass of men resemble the individual man who is stirred to look within himself, to lead henceforth a life that shall manifest his inner nature. He looks into and attends more closely to his own soul. If in this attempt his aim is high, his intent pure, or if, by following the teaching and example of some one higher than himself, it become high and pure, infinite good will result. But if his aim be or become impure and selfish, he may root some gained power of soul in that selfishness; or he may break reactively from his quest and plunge back lower than ever into his former way of life. So with the nations, and men collectively. When, at its cyclically returning season, the impulse or atmosphere of mysticism develops in the general consciousness, the never-failing Leader will try to cast far and wide into the air ideas which, taking root in the hearts of men, would secure the swift coming of that golden age both prophesied and remembered by every people. But hitherto they have failed, died in the inhospitable soil; and the light of mysticism in the consciousness of men has gone out, leaving always behind it a deepened gloom. Then men have run riot in reaction, broken out into bloodshed, sunk back upon sensation and lust, reasoned themselves into materialism and applied to its blind creeds the sacred name of philosophy.
Such has hitherto been the history of mysticism in Europe.
The mystic is he who sees; it is the others, and not he, who walk veiled. Mysticism is the consciousness in the soul of its divinity, the awareness of itself as a Light now free or hereafter to be freed, not touchable by death. This consciousness, in the degree of its clearness, is mysticism; for the man in whom mysticism is perfectly absent there is no consciousness save what is rooted in the sensations and emotions of his body. Mysticism therefore consists in the being aware of certain great facts of which the totally unmystical person (a rarity) is not aware: and the immediate knowledge or consciousness of these facts has no relation to the clearness or vagueness, the elaborateness or simplicity with which they are intellectualized. systematized, related to common science, thought out, or expressed. Just as common sensations may serve as food upon which the intellect may work to the extent of its ability or which it may leave undigested, so these highest intuitions. And as, whether intellectualized or not, the physical sensations may constitute the whole spring of action, so these highest intuitions. According to the one or the other case, the life lived will be base or noble.
Two forms of Brotherhood may exist among men; one real, spiritual, rooted (consciously or not) in mysticism; one false, and ultimately involving its own destruction. This second is the "Brotherhood" of thieves or of assassins, where men are banded to destroy, to gain for themselves at the expense of others, to thieve collectively the property or rights of others. Of this "Brotherhood" today affords us many types. But in the end the "Brothers" and "Comrades" and "Citizens" must turn upon each other and pursue towards each other the policy which formerly they pursued towards their opponents or victims.
The other Brotherhood is real, spiritual, "a fact in nature," known to be so by the spiritual or mystical consciousness. Every soul "sees indeed" — is mystical — when it sees or feels this. Every mysticism is imperfect, impermanent, or utterly evil, when this is no part of it! It is one of the deliverances of the mystical consciousness, perhaps the highest; it is a part of those other deliverances — the freedom of the soul, its divinity, its absolute life, its relation to the ultimate spirit of life — of the mystical consciousness. A gleam of it is present in nearly all men; it is easily apprehensible by the intellect; it affords a complete guide to practical life; it is the readiest mounting-step to all the other spiritual truths, the base and even every step of the ladder.
Taking advantage of the general atmosphere, of the promised spring-time, H. P. B. scattered this idea and formed the Theosophical Society to go on with her work; knowing well that if when men's minds had swung toward mysticism, "occultism," had become for a period more subjective, and would at the same time let fructify the seed-idea of Brotherhood, hope could not soar too high of the glory of the immediate future. She did not argue; she proclaimed her message of many truths; she knew that in this case the far-spreading, interlaced, rank overgrowth of weeds would wither as the fruit-trees rose; that the false: "Brotherhoods" and false "philosophies" would go down before the true.
And so it is. The seed has struck root, the young leaves and treasuring buds are already under the sun.
In 1875 the Theosophical Society was founded; in 1898 it had earned and assumed the title of Universal Brotherhood, meaning that by that principle, applied to "all creatures," the world should be henceforth ever more and more completely guided. Now there is a membership of many thousands and the ranks spread in many countries, in nearly all countries. And this growth has been achieved against opposition, ridicule, slander, hate, such as perhaps no other society has ever had to face. Much of the opposition, sometimes taking intellectual forms, sometimes taking also far subtler and far grosser, has in reality been based on deeper foundations than intellectual dissent. Beside the opposition of bigotry and of the established order in all its forms, there has been the opposition and hate of reactionaries from our own ranks, who, quickly tired of the growing intensity of the real inner life, instinctively shieing at the very thought of self-restraint or self-denial, turned violently about, and in self-defense against even self, were driven to denounce without measure that to which for a moment they had been attached, and in denouncing it to include its Leader and leaders. There has been the opposition of those who, consciously or not, had come to a belief expressed by the words and practice "Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we are no more." Much materialistic intellectualization is but an attempt, unconsciously made, to justify a life of sensuality. It is done against the warnings of the real soul which knows that "tomorrow" we do not die, but reap what we have sown. They are irritated by the presence of this constant and ancient Witness, and turn vengefully upon whomever ventures to call attention to what, in denying, they feel to be true. And beyond these there were other and subtler sources and methods of opposition.
But all were useless and the principle of Brotherhood reigns over wider and wider areas. The pulpits repeat the ideas and even the phrases of our magazines. Our lecturers are welcomed and their lectures reported. We have taken place in the public mind and have colored the currents of public thought and action. Brotherhood has even made itself felt at last in the dealing of nation with nation, and whatever the settling of some old accounts may bring about, in the near future, of pain and bloodshed, on the other side of the cloud is the glory of the new day. Here and there on the earth its peace already rests, and in that peace itself a promise of a higher and grander future than we have yet dared to picture, the souls of men can "drink in wisdom on every hand." But twenty-four years, and so immeasurably great a work! Let another twenty-four pass, another fifty! We can feel the breath of all those who in ages past worked for this hour, worked and waited, and yet worked again. We have learned that Life is not limited by years nor by time; that the will to work for man, resting on love is its power, not ceasing when body and brain must cease. Knowing this, we are already immortal, in thought as in fact. We need no more forget ourselves into mortality, quitting the greater companionship we have begun to feel. The spirit of the age is with us, touching the hearts of all, waking impulses, intuitions, unfelt for ages. A little trust, even a little hope, a willingness to slip loose from old moorings — these are all we need.
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