In ancient times there were no churches, as we have now the Christian, Buddhist or Mohammedan Churches. Each tribe or race had its own god or gods about whom many stories were told, and in whose honor various festivals were held at different times of the year. These stories and festivals all had an inner meaning and were meant to suggest something of hidden truth to the enquiring mind. Some such stories come down to us from the ancient Welsh in the Mabinogion, and there would be some earnest natures who would ask, what is the meaning of it? Why am I here, what is the meaning of life and death? How can I acquire such knowledge of these things as the gods have?
An enquirer of those days went to the Druids who were the custodians of wisdom and said, "Teach me! I want to understand the Mysteries of the Universe." And the Druids would answer: "Discipline comes before Philosophy. He who would know the doctrine let him do the Will." And there must be a pledge of secrecy never to reveal what was learned.
So the candidate pledged himself, and underwent training for years until his spiritual nature and perceptions were thoroughly awakened, and he came to understand, in varying degree, the truth about himself and life and death and the universe.
Now that was the method all over the world. Whether you look at Greece or India, Egypt or China, Wales or Mexico or Peru, you find the same general method: a simple religion, with stories about the gods and festivals in their honor, for the people; schools pledged to secrecy in which candidates for wisdom could receive training and initiation.
But all human institutions suffer the same fate: they grow old in time and die. The Schools of the Mysteries grew old, and became ineffectual as a link between the world and the Spirit; and in and about the Sixth Century before Christ a tremendously significant thing happened. Remember that in those days if a man travelled from Greece to Egypt he was a very great traveller; that few Greeks had travelled as far as to Persia; that they had but vaguely heard of India; that Hindus hardly knew there was such a country as China, or Chinese that there was such a country as India; still less did people in the Old World know of America. And yet at that one time seven great men appeared in the world: two in China, two in India, one in Persia, one in Greece, and one in Mexico — Laotse and Confucius, the Buddha and the Founder of what is called the Jain religion, Zoroaster, Pythagoras and the Mexican Emperor Quetzalcoatl. These all turned their backs on the official Mysteries of their countries and started a new epoch, a new phase of history: the Age of the great World Religions. They all lived at the same time and the teachings of each were suited to his own country, but they all had a great body of ideas in common, and nowhere do they contradict each other. And when, five or six centuries later, another Great Teacher arose in Galilee, we find him giving out the same teachings that his glorious predecessors had given out: that there was a Right Way to Live, a right path to follow by which one might come to know the secrets of life and death.
The Founders of all the Great Religions were at one in this way: they all claimed that they taught nothing new. "I preach the Law, the Doctrine of all the Buddhas my predecessors," said the great Indian Prince, Gautama Siddhartha, who, moved by infinite compassion for the woes of mankind, gave up his wealth and power and wandered the world seeking until he found the cure for human sorrow. "I preach the Tao, the Way of the Universe," said Great Lao-tse of China, "which would seem to be older than God." "I originate nothing," said Home Secretary Confucius, who had wiped out evil-doing in his country simply by the example he set. "I love the Ancients, and therefore I teach the doctrine of the Ancients."
That is to say that what they had to teach had always been in the world and only needed re-stating and being given new authority and published abroad. There were two sides of it: the Will and the Doctrine, the Ethics and the Philosophy. They all gave out the ethics such as are contained in the Sermon on the Mount, and they all gave out more or less of the Doctrine and the Philosophy; the Buddha most of all. The Philosophy was the very heart of the Mysteries and contained the basic ideas about life and the importance of ethics as the reason why right is right and could be no other way.
Let us explain these basic ideas and how they affected human history. Consider history as a road and the Mysteries the light illuminating that road, and streaming forth in many directions, shedding its beams on the activities of man all down the ages.
History from books gives only the skeleton, and to get flesh on those bones and the breath of life into the body it is necessary to read the literature of the period you wish to study. And so with religion — if you want to know the religion of any people or age study their art; it will give you their vital spiritual inspiration. So now the streams of light along the dark, wet road will be the art of some of the ancient and modern civilizations. Let us look at Egyptian art and see in the gigantic bust of Rameses II eternity calm and unmoved. In its remote humanity there is the suggestion that such a being would be unaffected if the universe crumbled in ruin. It is typical of all the statues of the Egyptian kings. In his art the sculptor said, "The Pharoah was as other men when living but what we are to carve in stone is the eternal part, the god-like part that is eternal." It is man that is the manifestation here of the Divine Principle which ensouls eternity.
The same tale is told in thousands of statues of the Pharaohs; in the great statue of the Vocal Memnon which sits beside the Nile forever gazing out into its kindred eternity; in the ancient Sphinx coeval with the desert sands, coeval with the Soul of Man, typical of its grandeur.
The Gods are what scientific Europe imagine to be dead, soulless things; or in the future will call the Forces of Nature. But we know that the Sun is a living being, that Nature is a living being, and also Electricity is a living being: like unto ourselves as being living and conscious but with a great unlikeness to ourselves too. And so the statues of the Gods are symbolical, suggesting the spiritual qualities of the soul as being different and above the human. Thus Horus, the Sun-god, is shown with a hawk's head, because that bird, sailing aloft, sitting calm in the blue of heaven on its outstretched wings, reminds us of our Lord the Sun. Thus we shall be reminded that the Gods, though living beings, are not personalities like ourselves in the lower aspect of our nature. And we shall also be reminded that Man is God: that the inmost self is Divine, ancient, constant and eternal.
Turn now to the art of China: perhaps the greatest the world has ever seen. Among the mountains of the province of Che-kiang and up the valley of the Yangtse-kiang — the Son-of-the-Ocean River — they built their temples and monasteries. Visualize the jagged sky line of the peaks and mountain-shoulders above; the slopes clad in pine forests; the still waters of the lake below; the cliffs and crags soaring above, and up there, looking as if Nature herself in her loveliest mood had blossomed out into it, the temple with its intricately carved pillars, its tilted eaves, its glazed tile roofs shining yellow, or azure or richest purple; right at the top of the precipice yonder, or there snuggling into the cleft; looking as if nothing could have had the skill, the sheer artistry, to build it but that which put the blossom on the rose and on the daffodil. Right here we see in the heart of Nature the loveliest work of Man —who is a part of Nature inseparable from the universe, the child of Nature, of the universe; divine as they are: the divine fruitage of a divine Tree of Being.
A Chinese painting tells the same story. A square foot of silk and a thousand miles of space. More than that, for the fine Chinese landscape always manages to suggest infinity. Looking into such pictures, one's mood is uplifted, carried out beyond the show of things, of petty griefs and vanities, into Tao, the Way of the Universe.
And now turning to Greek art, selecting first their architecture, the same note appears. Put a Greek temple in its right surroundings, and you have it again on the mountainside — a thing of white marble pillars chaste among the dark green of pines, reflected on the still blue waters below. The same tale is told by it: Man's work in the midst of Nature's, perfect as if Nature had made it and not man; Man one with Nature; Man and Nature divine.
But unfortunately that is not all Greece has to tell us. When the Great Teachers were founding the religions; when Prince Gautama left his palace to find the truth and to become the Buddha; when Confucius left his Home-Secretary's office to wander the world in search of a king, a young man left Greece to find truth somewhere in the world. His name was Pythagoras, and he journeyed to India, Persia and Egypt, and perhaps to Britain to study under the Druids. He returned to Greece, or rather to Italy, which was then dotted with Greek colonies, and there at the town of Krotona he founded a school and started his new religion — the same religion that all the others started. But the Greeks of Krotona arose and destroyed the school, and scattered the Pythagoreans. The effort failed. And we see the consequences. Greek sculpture began by taking a leaf from the Egyptian sculptors' book; the early statues have some of the majesty and grandeur of the Egyptian, some of the majesty and grandeur of the Human Soul, the Deathless. But then they obtained greater and greater technique, greater and greater mastery over their medium; and with it more and more an eye to physical, and less and less an eye to spiritual beauty. In Pheidias, the greatest of the Greek sculptors, you see still some touch of Egyptian dignity, but far more sense than the Egyptians ever had of the attractive beauty of human flesh and form. And then when you get to Praxiteles about a century later you get such a work as his Apollo Sauroktonos — Apollo the Lizard-killer — a pretty lackadaisical effeminate youth for sentimental maidens to fall in love with: the Sun-god, among the sub-limest conceptions the human mind has ever risen to, reduced to that! The Greeks as they progressed steadily went on losing sight of the spirit, and becoming more and more interested in the flesh. And we have suffered for it ever since.
For Greco-Roman civilization went down, and night fell on the western world. Caesar had smashed Druidism, the one branch of the ancient Mysteries that remained pure, and where was light to be found to inspire the new civilization that was to rise in Europe? It began to rise: day dawned, after eight centuries of barbarism, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Then once again there was a grand flowering of the human spirit, a triumphant out-burst of human genius, in western Europe. But where was its Buddha, its Laotse or Confucius, its Pythagoras, Zoroaster or Quetzalcoatl? The answer is not in Christian civilization for it has never been inspired by the ideas of Jesus, and was not founded on them.
The next great flowering of genius in Europe after the era of the magnificent Gothic cathedrals was through the art that comes next above sculpture and architecture in the non-materiality of its medium: painting; the painting of the Italian Renaissance, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Here again, for one who knows the spirituality of the Chinese painting, is a sad story to read. There are endless pictures of Christ, the Virgin and child, and the saints. Read the Gospel story and derive anew for yourself a conception of what sort of Man the hero of that story is. The Lion of Nazareth, a denouncer of threats, who made the dignitaries of the church tremble: was that not he?
And what do we get in the pictures of him? A piteous man, eyes turned up to heaven in impotent supplication! Any learned and honest Hebrew scholar will tell you that the Cry on the Cross rightly translated runs: "My God, my God, how thou dost glorify me!" That, and not the other, is the man to compare to the Buddha himself in grandeur. "Ye are Gods in the innermost of your being"; not "Ye are worms and sinners." So the great painting of European civilization missed carrying any spiritual message, and misinterpreted the Great One whom it professed to honor.
But next that creative force, having exhausted the art of painting, flowed into the art next above it in non-materiality of medium, literature. It would take too long to look into the great literary figures of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, or you would see how the divine Soul of Man was coming back into its own: into the signs you could read in Cervantes and Shakespeare, for example. I will just mention Milton who sets out to write an orthodox theological poem, and somehow the divine soul steps in and thwarts his purpose. He paints Satan and his angels hurled out of Paradise into bottomless perdition, but through all the picture another shines through, that of the Soul of Man divine, cast down into incarnation into the hell of material life on earth, but divine still. And Milton shows how "In our proper motion," we ascend up to our native god-hood.
And now to music, divinest of the arts. In the eighteenth century the great age of European literature was coming to an end; its last appearance was in Germany through the voice of Goethe. But already in music there had been a Bach, opener of a Great Age, and Mozart, like a pure spirit descended from heaven to tell the world of unearthly and unutterable beauty. He was to be followed by the summit figure of European genius, that of the tremendous Beethoven with the wings of thunder. What has he to tell us? Eternally that the soul of man is divine. Master of the lower forces of his nature, with every ringing note of music he proclaimed and accentuated the message of Jesus and Buddha and Confucius; of the Egyptian sculptors and the Chinese architects and painters and poets — eternally that the Soul of Man is Divine.
And then came H. P. Blavatsky to explain things, to teach once more the Doctrine, the Philosophy of the Mysteries, of the Buddha, Laotse, Confucius, Pythagoras, Quetzalcoatl and Jesus; and to found the Theosophical Society. Man is divine, she taught us; and she taught us how and why. He is immortal; the master and maker of his own destiny. He lives many lives on earth, and shall, until he has learned all that life on earth can teach him — until he has made the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Study Theosophy. There is no problem in life that it cannot help you to solve! By your own efforts you shall save yourselves. By your own efforts make this earth, your home, into a paradise. For the universe exists for the purposes of the Soul; everything, every existence in it, is learning bv experience, is on the upward path. You can find the God within yourself, that is the inner core of your being. You are the child of the universe, part and parcel of it, of Nature Universal; and you may win to the Heart of it. You may acquire transcendental wisdom and become even as the Christ and the Buddha, God-Men, Men Gods. There is knowledge to attain. There is divinity. And there is a way to attain it. We suffer from ourselves. There is no injustice. We have made our present lives; and we are what we have made ourselves. We are at the mercy of none but ourselves, and can make our tomorrows glorious. That is the message of Theosophy, as far as I can put it in a few words: the Divinity of Man — of you, of me, of all of us.
1. Informal talk given to a group of coal miners in the Rhondda Valley, Wales, in 1933. (return to text)
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