In every age men and women have pondered on the mystery of existence: where did we come from? why are we here? and what is our ultimate destiny? In our longing to find a philosophy that will prove valid, where can we turn?
If we are sincere in our desire to become an instrument for good in the world, the potency of our aspiration will inevitably lead us to the exact opportunities that will help us attain our goal. Perhaps a book, a magazine or a seemingly chance event — some person or thing will set off a chain-reaction in our consciousness that will draw us, much as iron filings to a magnet, into an entirely new line of thinking and even of circumstance which, if followed through, can change the course of our lives.
Our greatest hope lies in the fact that Truth does exist. Through the millennia it has come down to us like a river whose source is in the Unknown. At times its current flows strong and clear over the surface of the earth, enriching human hearts. At other times, not finding a channel of receptive minds, it disappears and moves quietly underground, and the soil it once made fertile lies fallow. But always the river flows.
How has this "wisdom of the ages" been passed down to us? Has it not been through the lives and works of the great teachers of the past — Jesus, Gautama Buddha, Krishna, Muhammad, Confucius, Lao-tzu, Plato and others? Each of them labored with one end in view: to revive in the consciousness of man a recognition of his divine potential and to restate the spiritual values embedded in the sacred traditions of antiquity. Each one, in his own way, helped the river of Truth to flow anew in the fields of human endeavor and to refresh the parched souls of those whose faith had become weakened.
Why do these barren periods recur, when at the core of all the great religions and philosophies we find the identic principles of right thought and action, the selfsame nucleus of inspiration? Was it the fault of the teachers or their teachings? Or was it the inability of their contemporaries to grasp sufficiently the portent of the message and pass it on in its purity? These and many other related questions are considered in the discussions that follow.
But first let us think about some of the preliminary problems that confront us in our search for a larger understanding of life's mysteries. To begin with — and this is paradoxical — neither Jesus nor Buddha nor any of those who taught among men came to establish a world religion. Primitive Christianity, for example, as demonstrated by the life and influence of Jesus, was a re-expression of this ageless wisdom, but after it was written down and "explained" by its myriad exponents, whether in or outside the Church, it became less and less the universal synthesis of the ethics and philosophy as given by Jesus.
Always it was the disciples and followers of the Christs and Buddhas who, being deeply stirred by the 'new' revelation, themselves created formal religions and built churches and temples in the hope of preserving the living message of their Teacher. As the centuries rolled on, and succeeding schools of thought imposed their interpretations, time and again the spirit of the original teaching became mired in dead literalisms. For the very effort to define and credalize automatically restricted the free flow of truth and robbed it of its power to invigorate and enlighten.
Whatever name or outer form this archaic tradition took in eras preceding the Christian, in lands to the north or south, east or west, from the third century AD it became known as theosophia — "wisdom of things divine," as taught in Alexandria by Ammonius Saccas. Concealed from public knowledge because of the already closing minds of the early Church Fathers whose theological bickerings are of record, this wisdom continued as a steady stream of guidance not alone for the Kabbalists — who studied secretly their "theosophy of the angels" during the dark periods of the Middle Ages — but acted as stimulus to the leading lights of the Renaissance: to Paracelsus, Pico della Mirandola, Leonardo da Vinci, Bruno, Kepler and a host of other scientists, philosophers, poets and artists.
Was it an accident that the writings of Jakob Boehme, the "Teutonic theosopher" of the sixteenth century, inspired Saint-Martin in the 1790s to carry on a "theosophic correspondence" with a Swiss philosopher-friend; and that these letters were reprinted in England in 1863 in the hope of reawakening interest in "the theosophic and pure Gospel science involved in these ideas"? And again, that Emerson and others, stimulated by the cosmic insights of the Bhagavad-Gita, spearheaded the Transcendentalist movement in America in the 1830's?
According to tradition, the great Tibetan reformer Tsong-kha-pa (1357?-1419) prophesied that during the final quarter of each century thereafter a marked spiritual impetus would be felt, particularly in the West. While this revitalizing current in the immediately succeeding centuries is not easy to identify, it seems to have found expression in certain illuminated individuals as well as within the secret chambers of the Fire-Philosophers, Alchemists and Kabbalists. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the impulse becomes more clearly traceable — not that a new religion was founded, but seeds were sown in the soil of the centuries-to-be that were later to flower into an expanded moral outlook.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century, coincident with the American and French Revolutions, the first major crack in the religious isolationism which had dominated Europe occurred with the breakthrough into Western intellectual circles of the rich philosophic content of Oriental literature. But it was not until the closing decades of the nineteenth century that the vivifying force, reaching every corner of the thinking world, gained sufficient momentum to carry over into our present century.
This impetus was climaxed by the publication of The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky in 1888, her comprehensive examination of the world's (not only Christian) sacred literatures revealing that the key thoughts in all of them were as jewels strung on one golden thread: man's divine origin and destiny. By no means unimportant was the reintroduction into Occidental thought of the once universally accepted doctrine of reincarnation — the periodic return of the soul to earth experience. Thus the ancient river which had been so long buried under the silt of dogmatic accretions once more flowed above ground.
All human progress has sprung from the repeated effort of the soul of man to give expression to those primeval spiritual ideas that were implanted deep within the memory of the race when it first found its home upon this globe. In the long course of our pilgrimage, we have moved from unselfconsciousness to an awareness of ourselves, and finally to a recognition of our individual moral responsibility — a responsibility which has undergone many and varied transformations.
Evolution from the material standpoint has been rapidly approaching a cyclic zenith, but now there is a new evolutionary impulse trying to manifest which will have to come to light through the very medium that is tending to hold it back. It is to the strength of the divine seed growing within the hard shell of materiality, to the surge of spiritual and moral force in the relationships of men, that we turn our eyes in these critical days.
We have indeed reached a turning point, beyond which we dare no longer submit to the rigidity of dogma. The increasing number of laymen who are reading the world's religious and philosophic classics are refusing to accept any one faith as the final word of truth or the only avenue of salvation. Colleges and universities likewise are encouraging a more universal approach and, in an effort to discover the unifying thread of wisdom, are offering regular courses in comparative religions.
Just as the physical sun reveals different phases of solar activity, depending upon which of the various wavelengths is used to photograph it, so every one of the sacred scriptures contains several levels of inspiration. We may read the parables and legends that surround a teacher as a historic account of his birth, accomplishments and teaching; or, using another wavelength, we may see him as a Savior, flashing across the horizon of human experience as a solar god, to leave a light and a hope for millennia; or, still again, we may in the simple practice of his precepts find courage for daily living.
It should be obvious, then, that the Wisdom-Religion comprises the most profound reaches of knowledge as well as the purest ethics. The keystone thought in the arch is that at the heart of all is divinity — within, without, above, below — divinity seeking expression that it might illumine the environment into which its influence is born. The tragedy is that for many, many centuries we have been wont to consider, not by choice but by miseducation, that we are worms of the dust. We have not been taught that as potential gods we must rediscover for ourselves the ways and means to become, in time, self-conscious coworkers with nature. It is a beautiful and strengthening vision, for through the delicate and just balancing of cause and effect the cycles of activity and rest in turn allow for the ever-unfolding growth of the godlike qualities within each one of us.
But we shall find ourselves marooned in the shallows if we become involved solely in the intricacies of technical doctrine. We can be assured that the Protectors of humanity would not have taken so great pains to preserve in seed form — in myth, legend, symbol and stone — a knowledge of these traditions merely to fascinate the intellect. This wisdom has been reiterated from age to age, because behind every phase of teaching is an ethical concept that must be recognized and exemplified. The whole effort springs from a compassionate urge to give us fresh hope and to keep alive man's flaming intuition.
Truth, like happiness, cannot be bought. It must be earned, and the more sincere we are the more alert must we be to distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit. The difference is not always apparent, for not every activity calling itself religious or metaphysical is built upon a selfless spiritual foundation. Since the restatement of the ancient and universal philosophy by H. P. Blavatsky, the West especially has been deluged with numerous minor prophets who, pursuing one or more half-truths, have erected thereon glittering structures of fantasy. It is not our purpose to judge of their merit or demerit. Time will separate the wheat from the chaff.
But let it be thoroughly understood that we have no interest in nor can we condone any of the pseudo-spiritual practices rampant today: psychism, phenomena-hunting, development of the so-called occult powers, hatha-yoga exercises, initiations into special mysteries — in most cases for a price. However disguised, all of these are appeals to the selfishness in human nature. Those of us who have had our fingers burned by one or another of these pseudoisms have learned, after much pain and difficulty, that the pathway to truth is indeed "strait and narrow," but it is the only path that will lead us surely to our goal.
It has been my privilege over the years to "think out loud" with individuals and groups of people in various parts of the world. As I talked with them, one thing stood out above all else — their search for a workable philosophy to which they could inwardly anchor and the corresponding need to confirm their intuitive feeling that there is an explanation of the many paradoxes and problems of life. Recognizing that civilization but reflects the growth and development of human character, our discussions explored those spiritual principles which can be applied to any situation, regardless of one's creed, politics, education or social background. For whatever roadway of experience anyone may travel, there is always a common ground of values on which to meet.
Much of the material in this volume, representing the fruit of an exchange of ideas with hundreds of men and women, has appeared in Sunrise magazine and, while considerable editing has been done, we have tried to retain the informality of the original discussions. Should anyone, however, be looking for a cut and dried formula of instruction that will bring him enlightenment, he will be disappointed. Each one of us is unique, an individual expression of his own inner self, and hence in the final analysis must search out and follow that pathway of endeavor that is his and his alone.
There is no stock answer that will cover the need of all — no book, no teacher, no source outside of man himself — for who can tell another what he requires for growth? The one guide and mentor is Life. Once an individual through the natural processes of his awakening consciousness finds the touchstone of truth within himself, he will know that its authority stems not from this or that person whose writings he may have read or whose conversations he may have enjoyed, but arises from the depths of his own soul. — J.A.L.