Universal Brotherhood – June 1899

STUDENTS' COLUMN — J. H. Fussell

Many people believe that the consequences of sin can be escaped or mitigated by prayer. Is there any analogy to this in the doctrine of Karma, or is not the comfort of prayer entirely denied to a Theosophist?

One of the best authorities on the subject of prayer has told us by way of advice to a young bishop that there are four varieties of this form of devotion, and as he elsewhere enjoins a perpetual participation in it, it appears clear that the conventional ideas on the subject are capable of modification. The fact that true prayer consists in an attitude of mind rather than in the repetition of verbal forms or in petitions for temporal benefits, if properly understood, will tend to disperse the difficulties that arise in the minds of some people when they undertake to determine the propriety of the methods of spiritual development adopted by others. Now, a mental attitude, whatever else may be said of it, is a strictly interior condition, and is not to be found apart from the man himself, his thoughts, and his actions. Consequently, we are prepared for the injunction proceeding from one of the very highest authorities that when we pray we are to seek the Divine Presence in that inner kingdom of Light and Holiness, the golden door to which is only to be opened in a man's own heart. What may be meant by this it is of course open for everyone to decide for himself, but it seems unreasonable to suppose that the exact opposite of what is expressed could ever have been intended. Notwithstanding this great stress still appears to be laid on external forms. As a matter of fact the external forms are frequently of much assistance to immature minds unable to control the natural unruliness of the brain consciousness. Various means of artificial restraint have been devised and are recommended in such cases. Once the difficulties attending the subjection of the lower mind have been surmounted, however, the devout soul naturally falls into the exercise of its own faculties along such lines as ancient writers have indicated.

There is the devotion of aspiration which implies a sense of need or insufficiency upon the part of him who aspires. To suppose that these needs are of the physical being is to miss the spiritual aim of all true prayer. No one who has given the subject any consideration fails to recognize the manifold interior shortcomings for the remedy of which this form of prayer is relied upon. As spiritual growth proceeds and the weaknesses and downward tendencies of the mind are conquered the sense of the Divine Presence becomes clearer, the veil of the temple is approached, and the devotion of worship and "rational sacrifices, pure from soul and heart intent upon the Unspeakable, Ineffable One" follow as natural tributes. Coming in this way to the Inner God there is begotten the strong confidence of the soul which discovers its own nature, free and boundless, akin to that to which it draws near with solemn awe and reverence, and as the veil is lifted, and the Mediator soul stands in the Presence, the rapture and glory of Divine communion and intercession fill it with that consummation of Life and Love for which earth-consciousness has no parallel. Such paeans of joy as thrill from the abysses of being into which the metamorphosed and transfigured soul thus passes, constitute the thanksgiving and honor and praise of the real eucharist.

It will be readily understood that these four forms of prayer are impossible to any one impressed with a sense of separation from the Divine nature such as the ordinary conception of sin implies. Sin, as separation from God, is not so frequent as the careless thinkers of the sects would have us believe. Ignorance of God, transgression of the Law, wilful following of the lower nature to the neglect of higher and possibly well-recognized possibilities, are all common enough. And after the soul turns again homeward, while there may be lapses and stumblings, yet facing towards the holy place, there is no gulf and no barrier to hinder attainment. The results of sin in this sense of separation cannot, therefore, be mitigated by prayer, since separation from God and prayer are incompatible. Before prayer is possible to such a one thus separated, the divine gift, the act of grace, is necessary, which establishes the relation of Godhood and service. Then by Prayer, prayer without ceasing, prayer rising like a fountain night and day, the soul finds strength and vigor to take up the battle of life, to overcome in the struggles with the lusts and desires, to meet with fortitude and patience the trials and sorrows, the disappointments and bereavements, the disillusions and sufferings by which we are brought to a realization of the truth, and are fitted to wield the power of our self-divinity.

We are told by the Teacher already quoted that "he that doeth wrong shall receive again the wrong that he hath done; and there is no respect of persons." Feeling this to be the just law of the universe, and knowing that it is in dealing with the results of our sins that we are enabled to develop the strength of our virtues, so that every error may become a blessing and every evil thing be touched with mercy, we turn from the ignoble wish to have our burdens borne for us by another, our follies and vices eliminated otherwise than by such means as will teach and impress upon us the highest lessons, the opportunities of our experience deprived of all value, and our very existence on earth robbed of all reasonable meaning.

As we take up the task of our lives in this spirit, prayer, in the forms indicated, becomes the breath of our nostrils, the inspiration of every moment of thought and act. Karma merely asserts that as you reap, so must you have sown, and that the conditions of your present life are the result of actions, right or wrong, in past lives. Prayer becomes the basis of action, and the comfort and solace of life itself in the most ordinary circumstances consists in actions well done and rightly ordered. The theosophist, more than any other, should enjoy the happiness of a comprehension and use of these things, spiritual in their essence, of the world of our bodies and our common life in their application. It is true that the satisfaction felt by many worthy persons in instructing the Almighty how to conduct the affairs of the Universe under the guise of what is called prayer is denied to the theosophist, but he asserts his independence in a more real and in a far more reverent manner in his acquiescence with the divine decrees under which he is enabled to control his own destiny.

The old Zuni prayer, with reverent fearlessness voices this freedom of the soul, so dear to the mystic spirituality of the Keltic heart; on this independence, this brave harmony of life in Life, alone can rest the Brotherhood of Humanity. "This day we have a Father, who from His ancient place rises, hard holding His course, grasping us that we stumble not in the trials of our lives. If it be well, we shall meet, and the light of Thy face make mine glad. Thus much I make prayer to Thee; go Thou on Thy way." — Ben Madighan

The first thing to be done, I think, in discussing questions like these, is to try and make clear to ourselves what is really meant by the words we use, and if we truly wish to take things in their highest aspect, to discover the divine that is hidden everywhere, we may often find an intimate connection between things that are seemingly quite apart from each other.

Karma is usually explained as the Law of Retribution, and as most of us are constantly doing a great many things about the value of which we feel not altogether sure, it may easily take on a character of gloominess and sternness. Prayer on the other hand, is associated in many minds with the belief in a Being who acts arbitrarily, who may be fawned upon, whose nature is in flat contradiction with the modern idea of justice we have so painfully acquired. Seen in that light, Karma and prayer appear to be extremes.

Yet, both these conceptions are false: prayer may be taken in a widely different sense, and Karma has many brighter aspects than the one mentioned above. This is soon found out by those theosophists who try to put their theories into practice, to whom Karma becomes the guiding star in every action. They find out that their faith in the existence within themselves of a divine force has the Karmic effect of awakening that force, of calling down into their lives a new divine element. The Karmic Law for the Gods within us is the Law of Compassion, which compels him to answer whenever the cry of distress is raised by the lower Soul. Then is Karma the Saviour, not Karma the Nemesis.

There comes a time in the evolution of every one of us when the connection with God is made, when we have only to draw back within ourselves to get into touch with a higher force. Then the old formal prayer acquires a new and sacred meaning — as it must have had in ancient times, and as it must still have for the real followers of Christ — it becomes the Communion with the higher part of our Nature. True prayer is another name for tone meditation; it is the most holy act of our life, the union of the every-day man with his Soul, the commanding of the divine forces we have a right to command as Children of the Light. — B. Jasink


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