The phrase "human nature" has fallen into bad repute. When a man does something that falls below his and our own standard of behavior we so often say, "Well, that's human nature for you." It is as though we generally agreed that you cannot really expect anything of a merely human being. If this is so, it is only because we are not as yet complete human beings. The Master of Wisdom is a complete human being.
Edward Thompson, in his charming book The Youngest Disciple, depicted Gautama the Buddha as a complete man. He has the truly human virtues, each in its pure state. There is no human virtue that is too homely for him to imbody. Perhaps it all seems so very natural and right because these virtues are surrounded with a quiet flow of kindly humor that occasionally rises to the surface like a bright ripple on a stream. One of his pupils, Moggallana, a most industrious and devoted follower, is subject to sleepiness at inopportune times. Once when they are all gathered together for their meditations, it is obvious that Moggallana is having a comfortable doze and the Buddha says to him: "Torpor is one thing, Moggallana, and the Silence of Aryans in Meditation is quite another!"
Once when the Buddha is journeying with some of his disciples they come upon a farmer working in a field. He has been stung by a serpent, and the Blessed One turns into the field to render what help he can. As they approach, one of the disciples says: "That serpent is but his thread of fate, and came to accomplish the fruit of his own evil deeds in a former birth." But the Lord turns to the speaker chidingly and says: "Let the doctrine sleep at this hour," and he turns to instruct one of the disciples in the tending of the wound. — The Teacher has a perfect sense of the fitness of things.
He also is intensely practical. In the rainy season the disciples go up into the mountains with their Master, and Ananda, the great lover of the beautiful in nature sings a song: "These are the Glades in which my soul exults." But, Ananda has forgotten to mend the leak in the roof of one of their huts and the rain pours in. The Buddha says to him, "I think it would be just as well to have dry beds to sleep on. To swim while I also try to sleep is not something in which my soul exults, O Ananda."
And of course Compassion gives to all the other virtues a touch of radiance. While the others sleep, the Buddha looks out upon the world with his Eye of Pity and with the Torch of Compassion peers into their hearts. And in the street sweeper, Sunita, he marks the conditions of discipleship "shining like a lamp within a jar." And so Sunita becomes a disciple, though none of the other devotees had any thought that the city drudge was worthy.
A virtue is a phenomenon, an appearance. It is an indication of an inner state. If the inner state is pure, the virtue is pure. To have the defects of one's qualities means that the quality is still tainted with some imperfections. The Paramita, Virya, the dauntless energy that overrides all difficulties and fights its way to truth, is stubbornness before it is purified.
The humblest virtue has its spiritual but by no means dehumanized aspect. Patience is sometimes nothing more than dumb endurance; but patience coupled with wisdom, or shall we say purified by wisdom, becomes the glorious Paramita Kshanti. To the Sage who understands the Law of Cycles there is no such thing as impatience because he understands that each thing will come at its appointed time, impelled into action by the force of its own momentum. The right thing out of time is no longer right. With the Sage, patience becomes spiritual poise.
Then there is simplicity, a quality that characterizes every superior man. A study of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett is, among other things, a study in simplicity of character. There is no pretentiousness in the Letters, no pose, no attempt to create a mysterious or impressive atmosphere. So much is this so, that occasionally one comes across a reader who is actually disappointed in the Letters. In this disappointment he gives himself away. It reminds me of someone who, having been looking at some fireworks, saw nothing to move him in the spectacle of Venus shining serenely in the evening sky.
The quality of non-attachment suggests to some people a sort of gray indifference. Blake's lines express the real non-attachment:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy.
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise.
The Master of Life knows how to enjoy without the bitter after-taste because he does not possess. To possess means inevitably to suffer. We become great and wise not by abandoning our humanity but by becoming it. Did we not receive it from the gods?
So let us, if we would become great and wise, not abandon our humanity but become it. Did we not receive it from the gods? We are not in essentials different from the Master of Life. We stem from the same source. The Master recognises that source, and though he transcend his human self, he uses and perfects that self in order to become what he is.