For this eye of the soul which can guide us to the vision of Good if it is set in the right direction, is normally bound down by the soul's preoccupation with the things below; and while that is so, it may make us very clever at seeing the things which are not true, and may help us to go far — in the wrong direction; but it can never lead us to the light until our souls are converted. — E. J. URWICK, The Message of Plato, p. 123
Long before I became Leader of the Theosophical Society I had seen much to convince me that we do not know what remedies to use for crime and poverty nor how to apply them. A terror grew in my heart, and I became sick and discouraged, because I saw so much cruelty and indifference: so much suffering and so little done to relieve it. To establish schools of prevention — that was my dream. It was not born in a day but came after long experience of work among the destitute in New York, mostly on the East Side. It was impressed on my mind during many visits to the prisons there, and to Ellis Island, and in much rescue work among the unfortunates of the streets.
It was plain to see that little could be done really and permanently to help them. What was needed was a new system of education for the prevention of the conditions I met. To reorganize human nature when it had already lost faith and become awry and twisted, skeptical and cynical, seemed almost or quite impossible. I saw that the only way was to mold the characters of the children in the plastic first seven years of their lives and then, somewhat differently, on from seven to fourteen.
These thoughts and feelings grew acute one bitter winter when the East Side was seriously affected by a strike of the cloak makers. Day after day these people were holding out for what they considered their rights, and the destitution had become terrible. They had no resources left and their children were on the point of starvation. One morning a baby died in its mother's arms at the door of the Do-Good Mission, an emergency relief society I had established with its headquarters in an old tenement house in the region of greatest privation — crowds used to come there daily for soup and bread and what else I could provide to help them.
I remember that day well. Snow was falling when I started out in the morning to go down to the Mission to meet those discouraged persons in their poverty, an ordinary snowstorm that gave little warning of the tremendous blizzard that was to rage later in the day, the fury of which was beginning to be apparent when I arrived. In that fierce storm, now increasing momently, over six hundred women and children were waiting in the street for relief. They were but half-dressed — they had pawned most of their clothes — they were perishing with the cold; they were wailing out loud, many of them, and clamoring for help.
The rooms we had taken were on the first floor — the best we could get, though the house was old and ramshackle; and to have brought or tried to bring those six hundred in would have meant death for most or all of them. The landlord warned me most peremptorily that the floor would hardly bear the weight of fifty without collapsing and falling into the cellarage. And all the while the cry of those women was ringing in my ears. I could not send them away hungry, and it would be some little time yet before the food that was being prepared would be ready.
There was nothing for it but for me to go out and talk to them, to keep them as well as I could in humor and patience while waiting. So I had a large grocery box placed on the sidewalk beside the door and, standing on it, told them why I could not ask them in and that the soup was not yet quite cooked and the bread not yet delivered from the baker's, but in a very short time both would be ready. All the while the crowd and the storm kept increasing, and with them my own distress, till I felt my heart almost at breaking-point to see so much keen misery and to know that all I could do was so wretchedly little, so ineffectual: to lift them out of their present trouble and keep them secure against as bad or worse tomorrow or the next day.
Suddenly my attention was caught by a pale face on the outskirts of the crowd — the face of a man standing under an umbrella, with his coat collar turned up and buttoned round his neck and his hat low down over his face — clearly not one of the strikers; a gentleman, I thought, suddenly reduced to destitution and ashamed to come forward with the rest and ask for the food he sorely needed. A face fine of features and strikingly noble of expression, with a look of grave sadness, too, and of sickness — caused by hunger no doubt. All this flashed through my mind in that one glance, and I turned to call one of our attendants to send her to him. But when I looked round again, he was gone.
Two days later he presented his card at my home: it was William Quan Judge, a leader of the Theosophical movement and H. P. Blavatsky's successor. He told me he had read of my work among the poor and had gone down there to see it for himself. He had found it, so far, practical and valuable, he said; but also had divined my discontent with it and my hunger for something that would go much deeper, removing the causes of misery and not merely relieving the effect. It was then, when I came to know him, that I realized I had found my place. The more I became acquainted with him and with his work, the more I felt assured that some of my old dreams and hopes might yet come true. Fully and accurately to describe him would be beyond my power, he so stood out above the run of men in deep wisdom and lofty nobility of character. He had made theosophy the living power in his life, and none could be so bitter against him as to exhaust his tolerance or his compassion.
It was he who first gave me glimpses of the power of thought and made me realize what it will do to build or ruin the destiny of a human being. And in doing so, he showed me how to find in theosophy solution of all the problems that had vexed me: how it points the way to the right treatment of the downtrodden and outcast of humanity, and to the real remedies for poverty, vice, and crime. On all these subjects the first word of theosophy is this: he who would enter upon the path that leads to truth must put new interpretations on the failings and mistakes of his fellowmen. He must come to understand the law of eternal justice — karma, that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" — and to know the necessity it implies for an unconquerable compassion, because those who fail and fall short do so always through ignorance. Crime is always the result of ignorance, and there can be no cure for it until this is recognized.
What, for example, does the criminal know about the god within him or his responsibility as a human being or the large scope of life? What does he know of the power of the immortal self? It is because these unfortunates are wholly ignorant of the difference between the brain-mind and the divine life, between the angel and the demon within themselves, that they have moved on blindly down and out of the better life.
Their criminality, if the truth were known, has grown up upon the idea that dread of punishment is the proper, natural, and only effective deterrent of crime and the one reasonable motive for avoiding wrongdoing. And what is this but the natural corollary of the old mistaken teachings? Consequently, once a man has fallen into error — once he has made his primal mistake and taken the first step downward, braved the thing and broken through the glamour, so to speak, though it were but by the stealing of a loaf to appease his hunger — he becomes, in all probability, a formidable menace to society. And is it not ignorance that makes him so? Ignorance: that false, pernicious fear of forces or powers, a deity, outside of himself; that lack of the sovereign knowledge of the god within?
How then dare we condemn any man? How do we know what we ourselves might have done if placed as they had been, in other lives long since forgotten? Even the best of us may have made mistakes as grave as those of any convict in the prisons. How do we know? The road to crime is the road of ignorance; he who would have assurance that his own feet shall never tread it, let him cultivate a large toleration for all and a grand compassion for the erring. Let him beware of harsh judgment, lest the taint of it should follow him through many lives. The soul is judged by the divine law, not by man. The moment we condemn our neighbor, that moment we doom ourselves. For we are all part and parcel one of another: brotherhood is indeed a fact in nature, a truth which would be obvious but that we go through life masked in these personalities or false selves of ours and are unaware of the real selves within, which are divine.
What is needed is that we should do away with the idea of punishment altogether, and in its place put correction, redemption. I would have the word crime erased from the dictionaries and from human speech. Crime is a disease, and calls not for punishment but for cure. We must deal firmly and mercifully with those afflicted. They need hospital treatment — brotherly, educative, karmic — wisely administered, and not prisons and cells and scaffolds.
We ought not dare to be content or indifferent when we hear of a man imprisoned. One so suffering through his ignorance and errors should become our charge, not in such a way as to pauperize him or increase his weaknesses, but to put him on the road to overcome them. One who has strayed into the wrong path, even so grievously as to have taken human life, should become our charge that we may reform him and make him a useful citizen. He is an invalid and should be treated as such. He has been infected with the psychological influences of the age. He is a victim of its ignorance, bowed down under the pressure of its conditions and burdened and hopeless with the weight of his own mistakes. Yet he is susceptible to curative treatment; he might be made of value to the race. Somewhere in the nature even of the most wretched, spiritual life is still pulsating, a ray from the great eternal still shines. A man lost to society, as the saying goes, degraded utterly in his own and the world's estimation, can still be lifted up and put on his feet. The higher nature can still be aroused in him.
Study the development of the minds and characters of the so-called criminals and in the course of time you will discover that it is the agony of the battle going on in their lives — with the consciousness of the higher self pleading strongly and working to redeem them from the temptations of the lower — which has unstrung them and made them abnormal. Inquire into the inner history of the boy with the morphine habit and you will find, often and often, that he took to the drug to quiet his conscience. That is at the root of the trouble with these drink and drug addicts in all cases except those caused by heredity. Conscience, that light out of eternity which is a part of every human life, is so strong and powerful in them and so works upon their lives, making them miserable, that they must do something to escape from it. They would kill themselves, but very fortunately for themselves have not the courage; and so they take to the dreadful "panacea," and the habit grows.
There is no man who commits a crime but he is, in respect to that action, abnormal, insane. Every boy and girl, and every man or woman behind bars is irresponsible. They do not understand the laws of life, they are at the mercy of their own ignorance. How can we doubt that the moment a man feels murder in his heart he has stepped beyond the borders of sanity? When the lower nature is fired with resentment, hatred, or fear to the degree that it is ready to kill, the real man has lost all control of the mind. The impulses of the demon-self, when it is fired to a certain point, become uncontrollable: the mind is distorted and disarranged, the man is insane.
When a man is charged with a crime and brought into court to be tried and to receive sentence, how much do we know, how much do judge and jury know, of the environment he has grown up in? Of his prenatal conditions, his heredity, his physical disabilities? Of his education or lack of education? How much do those who condemn him know about his life, inner and outer? A diseased body may easily cause mental and moral disease. A man's heredity may be such that, though his purposes normally are high and his intentions of the cleanest, he may drift and go wrong through lack of self-understanding. The mark was put on him before he was born — the very vehicle that produced him may have carried the family taint.
Yet constantly we brand such men criminals and impose on them punishments instead of correctives. It is always punishment, severe punishment: isolation, and to be locked in a cell for months or years according to the nature of his misdoing and the decision of a judge who knows no more about the man he is sentencing, really, than he does about the atoms in the deepest parts of the sea — who does not so much as know himself, nor has ever discovered or analyzed his own possibilities, divine or demoniacal, and therefore cannot fall back upon those sublime resources in his own being which would enable him to do real justice to his fellowmen.
Then too, let the best of us examine himself and say truly whether so great a gulf divides him from the prisoner behind bars. A man may be essentially mean and selfish in his character and yet go through life a model of respectability because he has been too inert and forceless, or too cowardly, to break the laws: it is not the worst men that we hang or imprison by any means. With many criminals, the very force that went into their crimes would make them fine servants of humanity if their crime-insanity were cured.
A man may be today a hero and a saint and tomorrow, under the impulse of his lower nature, may be brought quite down by some remarkable temptation. The wavering mind is in the light today and tomorrow in the shadows: it may drop below the level of the soul-life at any time and do disastrous things. Here is the divine overshadowing, the illumination, the high endeavor, and the purpose; and yet upon a sudden urge, in a moment — for a bagatelle, a nothing — the greater self may be shut away and banished that the mortal and the animal self may have sway and power.
I remember an orator with the wisdom of the gods, you would say, in his speech, yet nestling in hidden places in his nature were lurking demons that he had suppressed but had not conquered. He had not heretofore been subjected to any really great temptation, and in his egoism and foolish pride he had hugged to his heart the idea that he was on the right lines of evolution. But all the time these insidious hidden foes in the passionate and selfish side of his nature were eating like cankerworms into the fiber of his being. When the great temptation came — as come it must in all such cases — the intellect was overpowered and the heart lost sight of, and the passion of the man which had been but a half-desire a few weeks before became the dominant power in his life. The spiritual will was set aside, and what was left of him was a brute — a moral wreck and a complete inversion of the man the world had known.
He who yesterday was the admired of the world, who perhaps was trying to do right, tomorrow may be behind bars and awaiting in the dreadful silence of the condemned cell the steps of the dreary procession that will lead him forth to be hanged, and for no more strange or improbable reason than that there was unbalance in his character, unbalance in his education: overdoing on one line, neglect on another.
There is, in truth, but one kind of crime which is committed by sound and disposing minds, and it is that form of murder which is called capital punishment. A man's life does not belong only to the community. It is a part of the universal scheme of life. Each of us is placed here by the divine law for divine and universal purposes, and nothing can give us the right to legalize the taking of human life. We are committing a crime ourselves when we permit it, and it is the crime against the Holy Ghost, the higher law.
Look below the surface appearances; look into the depths of life. Here is a man to be hanged for his crimes tomorrow: we know what will happen to his body, but how about the soul to which that body belongs? In what condition will that go forth — in sympathy with the human race, perhaps; at peace with man and the world? On the contrary, as he leaves life he will be but little impressed with the love of humanity, or with the love of the good, the beautiful, and the true. He knows nothing whatever about the divine nature within his human nature: as he sits there agonizing in the condemned cell, there is no atmosphere, no reminder of divine things about him, within or without.
"Love ye one another!" said the grand Nazarene: since this man was taken for his crime, he has had nothing to love or be loved by but the iron bars of his cage where he has been kept in a hideous silence and made to realize every moment that he is doomed, a thing, an outcast from humanity altogether. He has come to hate mankind — which, truly, never gave him reason to do otherwise. He is at war with everything around him; his whole being is alive with bitterness against those who condemned him, with lust of revenge, with horror of what is approaching. He has heard preached this doctrine and that doctrine, from this pulpit or that, at one time or another, but never a word nor thought to give him any real understanding of himself.
He has not the enlightenment to know — how should he have? — that what we reap we have sown, and as we sow, we shall reap. He has missed all in life that might have helped him, and met with all that could possibly hinder and mar, and he has reveled in the lower side of his nature till now in the world's eyes he is the worst thing on earth. As far as we can, we allow him no memory but this: that he is accursed and unfit to be alive, and so must be pushed forth with every circumstance of degradation into the great unknown. All he can think of is how to save his body from being hanged: he is crazy under the scourgings of the thought and cannot be calm for an instant, and there is a hell of hells in his mind of which we can know nothing.
The soul is there — a human soul is there — he has still the spark of divinity within him, however faint recognition of it may have become. Because he is human, he is essentially divine. We know so little of life as yet. Of this man, this much may be said: though the soul has been shut out steadfastly from his consciousness and has found no way to express itself in his actions — though he has been living apart from it and is sunk in the deepest degradation — the immutable law that governs all life holds him in its keeping as it does the greatest of the saints, and I know that somewhere beyond death that divinity will open up vistas of hope for him, and the realization that the way he followed was mistaken and that other chances will be given him.
Truly, the divine law is more merciful than human law: beyond death there is peace, and knowledge of our greater selves, and recompense for what injustice the world may have done us. We human beings are divine — born to evolve! We are sons of god, incarnate here to work out superb destinies for ourselves and the world we live in. But we should remember what deposit of thought, as it were, he has left on the brink of this world, and realize that when through the divine urge of the law he seeks his place on earth again, as he will — as all must — and takes up again the burden that he laid down, it is not in the halls of the learned we shall find him, nor in the places where beauty and truth abide. He will of necessity move to an environment akin to the thoughts and feelings with which he went out: such was the door of his exit, and such must be the door of his return.
Here is another aspect of it: for our own and our children's and our civilization's sake we should turn away from this legalized iniquity. We must consider the thought-influences that are pushed, so to say, into the mental atmosphere of the future child, there to stamp their image on its character. Some crime has been committed and is making a stir in the newspapers. Much feeling has been aroused against the man supposed to have committed it — the case is being discussed in many homes — and here is a woman about to become a mother. She listens to two or three such discussions, and under the psychological influence of the general opinion she admits into her mind the thought that the man should be hanged — even she formulates it in words, and says, "I should like to see him hanged."
Think of the effect of such a thought, such feeling, such a desire taken as poison into her mind to flow as poison in her blood, upon the character and future of her unborn child. For when one stirs his lower nature to a desire for revenge he is arousing forces which then and there become an actual poison in his body. People are destroying themselves every day with their lust of vengeance and their hatred, not only destroying their higher and mental possibilities, but literally poisoning the very blood in their veins. Every atom is affected; and thus they prepare punishment for themselves, not far off in another world or state of being — no hell is threatened — but at the moment when the thought is conceived, here in this world, in their present bodies, physically, the poison begins to take effect. You have but to follow the lives of the people who are determined to do wrong to see how these forces are destroying them.
Look at our prisons, those monuments of iniquity, and then say that our religion and our politics have lifted the standards of life. Is it not obvious, a truism, that every house of correction should have within itself the means and power to correct and redeem, and yet of what avail are our legal systems and prison systems for the moral correction of the criminal? What feature in them is calculated or designed, and efficacious, to lift him out of the mud and the shadows and darkness of despair? What is there in the law that is corrective, even in the least degree? Nothing — and it was never intended that there should be. All that is thought of is this utterly futile idea of punishment that can serve no good purpose in the world. A man commits a crime and is put behind bars, and the whole thought is to punish him harshly and severely — no one thinks at all to serve what end or accomplish what benefit for any man.
How easy it is to make a criminal! If there is poverty in the family, or ignorance, or some hereditary taint that manifests under pressure — it might otherwise never manifest at all — a child may grow up without ever having experienced one of those spiritual states of consciousness that are normal and necessary to the inner health; may never for a moment have felt that it came from the god-world and the great mystery, and is cared for by nature in a myriad wonderful and delicate ways. How shall such a one, so weaponless and undefended inwardly, be secure against temptation when it comes?
Or think of a boy who has been brought up in a home where all was tender kindness indeed, but where the old sectarian ideas filled the atmosphere. Either he is in harmony with those ideas and thus prepared to go through life in utter ignorance of the truth about life; or he is likely to be, at about sixteen or seventeen, in a state of fierce rebellion that may be disastrous to himself. The revolt of his awakening mentality against the childish falsehood of the old teachings may have spread to the rest of his nature and infected that with doubt of and contempt for the moral law.
We may pick up such a boy tonight under the vagrant law. He has rebelled against his parents, thrown off their authority and left his home. Very likely he is intoxicated, perhaps under the influence of drugs. What can the detectives and police officers do? Their sole resource is the jail; there is nowhere else to take him. And it is not to be expected that they, or the officials of the courts and prisons who will have to do with this boy in due course, should understand the spiritual laws that govern our being. No doubt they all try to do their duty. They can but use their judgment, this poor brain-mind judgment of ours which only too often is all that is available.
So this boy goes to the city jail to await his trial and is shut up in what they call a tank — and they are tanks, not rooms. He is put in there, not alone but in company, very likely, of the most desperate characters in the city: of those who have fallen so low that it is second nature to them to do, and to teach others to do, the vilest things that human beings can do. There they are, elbowing this boy who has but made his first mistake, probably through ignorance, and who has never heard of the divine spirit within himself nor of the lower nature which is the tempter — and what is going to become of him?
There at his side is the drug addict: wild, and intense, hungering for the poison he cannot get, fierce, profane, obscene, filthy. There too is the professional thief, who laughs over and rejoices in his achievements; whom the world has not treated kindly, and who has lost his conscience and the way and habit of right-doing and is moving downward as fast as he can. He too is elbowing this boy-novice of crime day and night: they sleep there; they have their meals there. The whole atmosphere of that tank is filled with what would horrify the most case-hardened person in the world. The human mind was not made to live that way. Idleness breeds vice — anywhere at all idleness breeds every kind of evil, but in that environment of the prisons!
One thought generates another: the influence of thought that can be celestial, can also be terrible beyond expression. Let a weak mind and will come into contact with one who is merely pessimistic and discouraged, and they will become dangerously affected. One whose mind is negative, depressed, or running along lower lines — and this boy's mind will surely be all three — may come in contact even with a man who seems quite honorable and never looks at him with hypnotic intent, yet the evil in that man's nature, akin to that which may be unaroused and merely potential in the boy's, will creep into the latter's mind unawares, so that whatever weakness there is in the one, the other acquires a share and taint of it. That is why our prisons may be cesspools of vice. The force of the mind of a man strong in crime will dominate and poison any weak or unbalanced nature that may come into his vicinity. There are always such men in the prisons, and we are always supplying them with new victims.
Is it a thing to wonder at that the monster vice is closer to us than we know; that there is so much coming to the very doors of our homes and into the chambers of our lives — vice in all its shocking forms, with ever new and unnameable expressions — a great psychological power that has no choice of its prey, but holds and devours all that it can? It goes into the homes unawares through the negative side, through the weakness of the children, through some hereditary taint, so that before the child touches the school or goes out into the world the seeds are growing that we do not dream of. In the course of time they will come up in one form or another, and the fruit may be the whole nature undone, the life a failure.
Is it a thing to wonder at that dissatisfaction pervades the very atmosphere we live in, and that it is old and putrid and unwholesome? That our hearts are weighed down, and heavy with the agony of the age? Surely, surely, when you see youth imprisoned, you see something that demands more consideration, further thought; and when you see the hardened criminal imprisoned, you see something that demands more consideration, further thought!
In time our novice is brought up for trial and sentenced to such and such a term in prison. If I were accused and locked up for ten months and then carried into court and tried, I can conceive that everything I ever heard of that was wrong would possibly be aroused in defiance of the whole business and system. The judge has perhaps the highest motives in the world, and yet he is not infallible: the simplest attack of indigestion, for example, may well deflect his judgment. He sends the boy to prison — he cannot do otherwise: the laws are on the books and must be obeyed. To prison, with all the associations of it: the agony, the discouragement and horror, punishment written large over all, sunshine left out of life altogether, the general pressure of the gun and the club, even in some places still the floggings and the mental torture.
He finishes his term and comes out to a world that has forgotten him and that he has learned, in all probability, to hate. To build up in him a new faith in humanity and himself, to lessen his hatred of society, he has a few dollars in his pocket and harshness, criticism, prejudice, and unbrotherliness to meet wherever he may turn. He has been shut in like a dog and held in worse than chains; now he is sunk beneath contempt even in his own estimation. He is supersensitive — he cannot shake off the feeling that the whole world knows he has been a convict. And in this condition he goes to look for work and must find it while the few dollars hold out.
Almost, of course, there is that in his appearance which makes people shrink from him. He has no credentials; within a day or two he has no money. He trudges from place to place hunting for employment, and for his night's lodgings he must take the roadside or the shelter of a haystack or some old boat on the shore: there is nothing else for him. Then presently he passes some corner in the underworld where he can get his whisky or his cocaine, and in the course of a week or two where in the very nature of things are we bound to find him? Back that boy must go to jail. When first we arrested him, we condemned him to a life of misery, jail-haunting, and crime, with almost no chance or hope of anything better. Now we offer him no possible opportunity but to go back to the tank and the cells: no chance to recover, no chance to redeem himself, no chance to make good.
Why is there not in every city — just for our own sakes and for the protection of society — an institution above criticism, where the man who leaves prison can find work and build himself up; where he shall be protected and sheltered, yet not in durance vile; where he shall have a chance to live decently and not be thrust back into the mire of despair?
As it is, the rest of his story is soon told. When he was in prison the first time, he had to listen daily to those tales from the hardened criminals; now, weaker and more unmanned than he was then, he has to listen to them again. The thieves do not fail to let him know, in all the vivid language they can command, how easy it is to live and get money by the means they know of — to get money and live a life of pleasure — and he listens now with real interest. He has had the experience of trying to be honest and thinks that that is the one thing the world will not allow him to be. He contrasts the life they paint for him with what he has been through, and it is not long before he has become in thought and feeling thoroughly one of them.
How many of those who have never fallen from respectability would do better? He would have to be a hero indeed to stand out. He heeds them and is no longer the boy who might well grow up into an excellent citizen, who was erring rather than evil, whose mistake was recoverable because made through ignorance and thoughtlessness and not malice. All that phase is gone by. He is now a professional thief, a member of the criminal class. He has gone into the business thoroughly under the direction of experienced professors of it; he is an enemy of society, a menace and peril to the state. The criminals into whose power we have thrust him willy-nilly have got hold of him completely, and henceforth he is to be their victim and catspaw. They push him on — they hurry him into the tight places and themselves stand in safety behind. They teach him to carry his gun so that he may defend himself at need.
He comes out of prison the second time and now knows well enough where to go. He is no longer hungry and cold, nor need he sleep under the haystack or in the old boat; he goes no more unkempt and dirty. He is a new man, smart and well-kept, rebuilt by the thieves' psychological influence upon the thieves' model. And in due course he is cornered, draws his pistol, shoots, is taken, tried and convicted, and hanged.
Thus we are manufacturing criminals — the regime we tolerate is doing it. There is no attempt at correction or reform in it; it is simply cultivating crime as though crime were our best treasure. In doing so, it is wasting human material, injuring the nation and the race, and imperiling the moral life of our children and our children's children. Whether we hang these victims of our stupidity or not, the system itself is vile. They are shut in and there they sit with no light from the blue heaven to shine in upon them and never a sound in their ears of the singing of birds. Never a kindly hand is reached out to help them; on all sides, instead, the stern hand of the codes is there to menace, hedge in, or strike at them. In their rebellion against what they are made to suffer they are creating a certain atmosphere, mental and moral; and living in and breathing it, they are going down and down and down. It affects everyone who comes in contact with it. The aggregation of such deadly thought in a prison is awful: it pollutes our whole civilization and injures not only the living but the unborn.
Three weeks or a month of the treatment they undergo would make rebels of us all; we could not stand it. The injustice and inhumanity of it are such that everything that was low in them becomes lower, and everything high recedes. Were I continually in the presence of those who had found out some of my weaknesses and were constantly reminding me of the fact, whether with words or not, it would double back on me and become the larger part of my life. I should perhaps not have the strength to bear up against the pressure of it. In many prisons these conditions exist. The convicts live in an atmosphere of despair. They have made their mistakes and cannot free themselves: from the first they are utterly discouraged, and it is that terrible discouragement which is the soil in which criminality grows. There are those who talk to the unhappy ones urging on them above all things remembrance of their sins. It never did any good and never will. They are sick and tired of the wearisome ways of men.
The prison worker who would do any good at all must put aside every thought of condemnation and speak to the men, not of their mistakes and errors, but with utter conviction of their latent godlike qualities: the godlike qualities that are in every human being. He has to begin with a grand generosity of heart and let his thought be wholly as to how he can serve and help them. Applying the master key of sympathy and good-fellowship, which is greater and better than pity, we shall get the wisdom that illumines the way to right thought and right action. Sympathy is always imaginative and brings true knowledge of what is needed. He who uses it finds his resources grow and his own portion not left desolate. It makes a man's mind so plastic that words are hardly needed to find out the cause of another's trouble. It translates itself into action almost without the need of intermediary speech.
Let a man possessing it do the utmost with what means he has, and strength shall be shed through him and it shall go far enough. He will show it in his manner, unintentionally as it were. Words can express nothing real of it. The gift of a flower or a book may say something; that genuine interest which strictly avoids referring to the mistakes or present position of the prisoners expresses it perhaps best of all. Compassion, remember, is the key and secret talisman; it alone can open the way to that divine-human part which still remains even in the most degraded. And none — not the greatest of reformers, not the most erudite of mankind — can find the remedy for the ills of life unless he has found the key within himself.
There can be no remedying the suicidal insanity of our prison system until we turn away from the spirit of condemnation and go to the causes of crime. Many of those in the prisons now had bad examples before them in their homes when they were children. There was disharmony there, overindulgence, indifference, or awful ignorance, bestiality, or selfishness and vice hidden under the cloak of respectability. Where there is one true marriage that has been entered into understandingly and sacredly, there are hundreds and thousands entered into for selfish reasons: because of physical attraction, or the desire of parents or friends, self-interest or the social dictates of the hour.
No man ever goes to the dogs in a minute. None goes to pieces all at once. Crime does not fasten itself in the nature of a human being in a moment or a day. It had been growing underneath the surface: in the general negativity of character, in the cultivation of appetites until the nerves were undone and the digestion ruined. Then came the stimulant, and the mental unrest, and the weakening of the will. Then the first crime — which may have been stealing from the parents or from a neighbor — and in trying to cover up the theft, deceit and falsehood. The lower nature accustoms itself gradually and by practice to wrongdoing.
All the forces of that lower nature are necessarily present in a child's makeup: the imperfect, animal, undeveloped, unspiritual side is there with its appetites and desires. The child has brought them over into this life by heredity, by half-memory: these rigid and forceful tyrants were not conquered or corrected in the past, and now they begin to appear and to win their sway. A mother who allows her child to enter into a paroxysm of temper, and does not there and then find the secret of overcoming it, may be nurturing something that will end in the wreckage of the child's life, and this though she may never have been aware that something should have been done that was not done. Why? Because in the truest sense the religious life was not there: there was no enlightenment and so no conception of the inner needs of the child.
It is desire sleeping in his nature that leads a man into crime, and perhaps it was first encouraged in him during his childhood and grew out of one of those little wants to which parents so often cater: trivial-seeming things, easy to grant and not so easy to deny. Yet to grant them is often to pave the way for disaster, for it means letting the life of the child flow into the channel of desire, to accumulate as it were in the baser aspect of his nature, and to let him make his home in the animal part of him. It is to strengthen his character on the wrong side, so that even while he is toddling his feet may have been set on the road to crime.
There are so many facets of child-life that seem fascinating and sweet, and that parents cherish in their hearts and love to evoke in their children, which are yet by no means the best things that might be. Think how your children have attracted your attention by doing new and surprising things, and then how you have fanned their egoism and fevered them up with a sense of self-importance: flattering the outer self and the personal pride, and ignoring — indeed driving away — that rare and royal impersonal dignity which is the higher side of child-life.
A thought awry can make a hell on earth. A mother will often unconsciously fan the vanity in her small daughter by too much concentration on her outward appearance. I remember a little girl, most attractive and interesting outwardly, and with all the charm of childlike innocence, who yet had vanity innate in her. Then when she had become a young woman away from the protection of her home, her love of adulation led to her downfall.
The seeds were sown in childhood: first of selfishness, then of vanity and false pride, deceit following in due course. Then, though the outward beauty and charm remained, the better part of her nature was receding: it had no place to work in, it found no room for itself in her mind. The foes within — the foes of her own household — had conquered and occupied all her mentality, and she drifted and drifted into danger. What sorrow was now in the home she had left! The mother wondered and questioned, repeating over and over again that she had always protected her darling, shown her the best of examples, given her the best of books to read, taken her regularly to church, to Sunday School. The case is typical. It becomes natural for both mother and daughter to blame everybody and everything but themselves, because neither of them knows or has been taught anything about her real nature or how to recognize and oppose the enemy within. The daughter had never been taught that within herself is the power to redeem herself, and that the condemnation of the world is as nothing compared with that royal and inward talisman she possesses in her own soul.
At some point she may have turned to others, perhaps, in her despair, for help, only to find pious hands held up in horror or pious lips with no word of hope or comfort, but only insistence on her sins, and that she should drag her soul through the mire of remorse and repentance. Such "good tidings" are the things of all others she should least be made to hear — the things least helpful for her mind.
Do not condemn; many go down, not as a rule through depravity or love of wrongdoing for its own sake, but because society does not allow them another chance and because there is nowhere they can turn to for hope. We might bring about their correction, hundreds of times, by placing an open way before them that they might see ahead a day of sunshine and peace.
And what was the beginning of it all, with most of them? There was the vanity that the mother pampered in her child. And farther back still, if one could trace it, one might find its seed in the mother's mind in the prenatal period before the child was born. Can we not sow the seeds of harmony where now is all this blindness and misunderstanding? There are women who think of these things seriously and carry themselves during those prenatal months like priestesses of the gods, but not many. Wrangles and trivialities and quarreling fill the lives of many. It is in the homes and in childhood that the wreckage of human life begins. No woman is fit to be a mother until she understands these mysteries of life. No man should presume to undertake the responsibility of fatherhood until he has cleansed and purified himself, and brought himself to a realization of what it means to bring a child into the world. To live as the majority do in this respect defeats the divine laws of our being — and truly it is to stand at the deathbed of humanity.
The idea of a personal God that punishes, ingrained into a child's mind at the time when it should have all the sunshine and joy and love that can be put into it, begets fear there — that awful thing that never should be allowed to come into the minds of children at all. For once it has come in — once the child has been taught to be afraid of God or Devil or anything else — it begins to grow timid and acquires an instinct to hide its mistakes and weaknesses, and that is surely the beginning of the shadowy road.
Think of a little boy who seems most promising, with everything about him physically and mentally to make his parents' hearts rejoice, who is naturally refined and with innate gentle tendencies and yet who has another side to his character, too — for there always is another side. He may have inherited from both parents a strong, intense, and determined nature, which could become a great power for good in his life. It may have been a great power for good, in the lives of his father and mother, because rightly directed. But then he has other tendencies as well, and when he reaches the age when a youth should have the wisest and most careful protection, when he is face to face with the mysteries of sex, he has difficulties.
His mother and father cannot explain these things to him, for they do not know. There is no one to explain to him the impulses that now confront him — the passion that springs up in an hour, whence or why he cannot tell, the desire that makes imperious demands on him. He sees here and there the seemingly righteous men who occupy high places and pose as fine examples, and if he notices at all he sees the other side of their lives; and with that intense nature of his, perhaps he follows their example.
Oh, there are young men who just manage to go past certain dangerous places in life by virtue of pride or even conscientiousness which emerges into their conscious selves in time, but there are thousands and thousands who simply drift. The temptations are there all the time for this boy with the growing intensity of nature. His tendency may be towards drink, or towards worse things; but let him once have made his first mistake, and it becomes an agony with him to think at all. He has fallen and is disgraced in his own eyes. He does not know why he did it, nor what it was that pushed him on in the way he would not have chosen for himself. His God, he thinks, deserted him at his need and now has forsaken him quite. He does not know that that superb and heroic part of himself, the god within, was and is there all the time and only needed to be resorted to and invoked, for the god within awaits. He has never heard of it: never heard of the dual nature and the difference between the higher and the lower. All he has been taught was that he was born in sin, and a sinner because he is human; that he might have no self-reliance to be brave with because there is nothing reliable within himself.
So the seeds of disaster grew in him from his childhood under the shadow of the love and care of his parents. With all the education they lavished on him, he has never learned anything about life, and now he finds himself in a psychological sea of trouble, at the mercy of its dreadful ebb and flow. Perhaps he forms an acquaintance or companionship and has not the discernment to see the young man he meets as he really is. His finer nature has not become so sensitive as to warn him to be on his guard. He goes into it with impulse and goodwill and no wrong intention in the world, and presently is under the influence of this other. And to the foes that are of his own household, that he has had to meet with daily heretofore, are now added legions of others; for these impulses are often doubled and trebled by association with the wrong kind of companions. Evil tastes are nourished, and as the stronger will goes down and down, the weaker follows.
I remember talking to a prisoner at San Quentin, a boy of about twenty or twenty-one who was serving his term there for forgery. When I had gained his confidence thoroughly, I asked him what it was that had brought him there, really — what was the first beginning and root of his troubles. He said he supposed nearly all the prisoners would tell the same tale, if one could get the truth from them. It began, he said, when he was quite a child. But where were his parents, his mother? One does not take those things to one's mother, he answered. And that is the fact: the parents are often the last people in the world to see the things that are eating out the soul of their child.
This boy had never heard a word of warning as to the danger of self-indulgence of any kind. The mother was a very timid woman, and the father one of those good-natured go-as-you-please people one so often meets with, who take life as it comes and have insufficient sense of responsibility. Their son was allowed to grow up haphazard and go where and with whom he wished. It all began with self-indulgent habits that mothers shrink from correcting, which are the curse of the world today — the insidious growths of ignorance and passion that ruin our children sometimes before they can protect themselves.
As his mind grew, he found that he had no will. He became nervous, restless, unduly reserved, negative, and open to all influences. At home he might be well-intentioned enough, but away from home he was at the mercy of any company he might find himself keeping, and had no moral stamina to resist evil suggestions. And so he went from one error to another: drank, fell under the influence of a woman, to get money for whom he presently committed the forgery. He still loved right and could discriminate between it and wrong — he had not strayed so far from the normal tracks of life as to be unable to do that. Because of his nervous, intense temperament and lack of self-knowledge he fell, and his first serious mistake was made. An hour before he did it he was as free from intention to do wrong as any man could be; an hour after, the horror of what he had done had already been to him a long age of suffering, punishment enough and more than enough for his crime. Our prisons are filled with these occasional criminals, found in the tank or cell with the man born incorrigible, the monster in human form.
The child springs into life with all nature behind it and the whole glory of this living universe. Yet it is closed in and in darkness, held by the curse and psychological influence of the age; so that if it comes through and is not sooner or later branded a criminal, it is because of high experience in some other birth in the past or because the parents have given it a touch of something that reached and awoke its spiritual or higher self.
Very often children are born sane enough and yet have latent in them all the elements of insanity, which may manifest under the forms of extreme nervousness of temperament and physical weakness. A child of that type can be perfectly normal at birth, but as time goes on in this great battlefield of consciousness and arena of human duality, when those strange conditions and feelings come in from the uncontrolled lower nature and self-indulgent habits creep in and gain power, he may break under the very protest and urging force of the higher nature that protests against the other and which he does not understand until, as he grows to a certain age, his mind may become disordered.
If we love our children, we must not hesitate to state the truth. It is death to my soul when I think how all down the ages the children have been punished, labeled naughty, bad, incorrigible, and so forth; when I go into the prisons and see the young men — boys, sixteen or eighteen years old, with the marks of innocence not yet gone from their faces and their voices still carrying some reminiscence at least of the note of aspiration and spiritual longings; it is death to my soul, I say, when I see them bewildered, hunted down by their own weaknesses, and undergoing punishment again and still further degradation in their own sight. The whole hateful method is born of the system of the past that dwelt forever on the idea of original sin and punishment, and always looked for the wrong side of human nature.
I saw the other day an account of two girls who committed suicide. At the bottom of it all was a perverted mind. Their natures were unsettled by it and their wills weakened, so that the dark and despairing elements of life crept in and there was no power of endurance. Nothing seemed to be left to them but surrender to their troubles, and suicide offered itself as the only possible release. Pity them — but pity still more those parents who will not see or learn, who take no action, give no help!
Were the history of our suicides investigated, I am sure it would be found that the downfall of many begins by their being subjected to the will of another. The basis is always self-indulgent habits, and the evil is started time and again by a hypnotic influence which should be shunned, together with the books that deal with it and the people who talk about and above all practice it, as we shun whatever is most perilous. The leper may keep his soul stainless, the man afflicted with pestilence and all the horrible ills that come to the physical may keep his soul pure and white, but hypnotism enters into the inner life of a man and undoes it. It unfits him for service; it unfits him for life.
A child with no knowledge of evil goes out into the world and contacts a boy a little older than himself and forms an attachment for him; or contacts a man maybe, for we have demons in human form all over the world, and a boy can be corrupted and led on the wrong track no less than a girl. So your little innocent child is taught vile and degrading things, and the moral principles that were latent in him when he was born, not having been nurtured from the standpoint of the soul, are not strong enough to resist the temptation. He grows negative and his mentality becomes dense. All the energy that might have gone to his upbuilding, goes into his destruction instead.
There is no reason in this lower nature: it does not protect itself, and cannot. There is nothing but a mad passion or desire that gets control, and what ensues is the most dangerous kind of lunacy. Hundreds of parents never dream that such things could be. They would be utterly incredulous if they were told. "Oh no!" they would say, "He is my boy; see how loving and intelligent he is!" And all the time these same loving and intelligent children are making a mock of them: the mother the son's dupe, and he secretly laughing at her blindness. Why? Because his nature is growing decadent, impure action is corrupting it — and the parents, as usual, all unaware until too late.
At the base of the whole danger is desire: love of the things "I want" and not of the things "I need." While the children's wants are pampered — the cry of the palate, the vanity that expresses itself in dress — we can expect no change for the better. Desire thus catered to grows and its demands become ever more and more exorbitant and more and more debased.
Here in brief is the life story of most criminals: there was first the desire in the child for that which he ought not to have had, and it grew and was not checked, and on into young adulthood, when passion came — and passion is the creator of crime. Thus the ignorance of the parents brings disaster upon their children. Parents do not know the peril that lurks at their doors. They strain to build up their child's material life — they take infinite thought for what he shall eat and what he shall drink and wherewithal he shall be clothed — and then too often rest satisfied and see no farther. Again and always it is ignorance, lack of moral knowledge, that opens the doors to peril. All unawares, the parents may be putting their children under the influence of one in whose inner nature is a strain or undercurrent of disintegration which subtly corrupts the natures of the boys under his charge.
What, then, can the mother and father do? They may take the most senseless course, which is to question the child. It will never tell. It will choose the most abnormal means to hide and disguise the fault that is ruining it. Mothers who have children with bent shoulders, white cheeks, restless eyes; children who are always tired, who are irritable, sensitive, and timid; who as a rule dislike to be in company, and then on occasions are intensely eager for and excited by it: such mothers should watch their children in a new way. You can tell the child that is afflicted by its walk. There is a listlessness, an inability to lift the feet. Everything in its nature is awry.
The only way to handle this condition is to treat its victims not as sinful, but as diseased. That does not imply sentimentality. It does not mean weeping over them and covering them with caresses. Give them an environment that will help them to health. Give them the best of home life, the most careful associations, the best of reading only and not too much of it, and music. They must be impressed daily, simply and without strain, with the idea that they are potentially good, that they have the power to overcome, that there is no real need or occasion for them to surrender to the cause of their troubles. Indulgence will not help them; self-control will. We cannot lift humanity with emotionalism, we cannot lift humanity with fanaticism of any kind.
When the mistake is made, regret will do no good, repentance alone is worse than useless, promises will straighten up nothing, nor will pledges and tears. The only thing that will turn the mind away from the enemies that lay siege to it is knowledge of the divinity within: the sense of its companionship — of the nearness and actuality of the divine self.
The time is coming when false teachings will disappear and with them all outward forms and current vagaries of thought, and we shall have a new universal philosophy which will center the religious sense of mankind in the home life. Its temple will be the homes; for every home is, potentially, a workshop of human redemption, where strength of character and the beauty and nobility of the higher self may be impressed on the plastic nature of the men and women that are to be. To do this is to work for permanence and sow seeds for eternity.
A boy who has grown up in a family where the laws of life are understood, and who is himself entering the path and seeking understanding, when he comes to choose his life-companion will meet that situation in a manner very unlike the ordinary. With the impulse will come a sense of the deep responsibility attaching to the step he is about to take, and the home he forms eventually will be ideal for that reason. The children born will be of a higher type than we meet with commonly, because in that home there will be a constant cultivation of everything that is the opposite of the tendencies that make for human undoing.
His children from the first will get an impress of the higher nature. They will be made to know, from the time they can first caress a flower or love the stars in heaven, that they too, like the stars and the flowers, are a part of universal life. From the time they can speak they will be taught to believe in the power of the inner nature to direct their lives. They will learn to stimulate all their thoughts and actions with the consciousness of their essential divinity and their power to overcome all the evils that may assail them.
The parents will not talk to them about the ego, will say very little, perhaps, about the god in man. They will have no catechisms defining the principles of theosophy, but they will bring home to their children's minds the sacredness of life in such a way as to make them realize that even the body, the mortal part that is to die, is sacred, and that to profane it would also be to profane all that is best and noblest in the nature. And they will not be satisfied until they know that it would be utterly impossible for a child of theirs ever to deceive or to stoop to pollute himself, mind or body. Believing that the children are in themselves as all human beings are and must be — essentially divine — these parents will hold that if they give them the right environment and example and love, and are absolutely just according to their best capacities and opportunities, the children have that within themselves which will cause them to grow.
They will not plan too much, lest they should overdo and be disappointed. Truth may be shut out from the mind not only by prejudices and misconceptions, but also by set plans for the future. Many map out their children's lives or their own to the last moment, intending this and intending that; and all their plans are from the brain-mind and mortal self, and defeat in advance the unknown plans of the soul. They will not plan too much, but they will take their own lives and fashion them according to the inner laws of life, so that when their children look at them, a clean record will appear in their eyes and atmosphere.
They will know that in education something more is needed than intellect, scholarship, or theory and that is the beauty of the inner, the spiritual life. There is always a danger that in the effort at culture we may forsake or forget the higher path. We have to understand the laws that govern our lives, lest we establish conditions that will bring about a reaction. A teacher holding these views would not be content with training the minds and bodies of his pupils, but with each he would begin in the undertones of the child's nature and seek to push forward and evolve the divine within, which is that which parents really love in their children: the immortal self on which their true hopes are set.
And, of course, they will have an understanding of reincarnation and will know what the problems are that a reincarnating soul must solve; and that eternity is behind and before them, and the children with them for a time — for a little while only, perhaps, but for all eternity if they do their duty by them. For where the link is forged in truth, neither death nor time can divide it; and we shall say of our loved ones who are gone: when everything in nature has been working to free the soul, it is not for me to hold it back with tears and mourning — we shall meet and know each other again, and our love shall be greater than ever was told.
But those whose minds and souls are shut in with half-truths and limitations and who, giving their children only the external and objective, ignore in them the life of the soul and starve them of the higher things, lose their children even in this present life. For our children are souls; before they came to us they existed. They have journeyed down the ages burdened with difficulties and weaknesses they may have inherited from other ancestors, tendencies, and characteristics they may have evolved under the influence of other conditions and parentage of old. They come to us sent by the divine law to evoke something higher in our nature that without them we could not have attained to expressing for many years: to become our teachers in a sense, teaching us lessons out of the wealth of their ancient experience, and in turn to be taught by us that which we alone can teach them.
It behooves us then to take larger views of their lives, to live outside the limitations of the age and of our present lifetime and to school our natures as never before, discovering our strength and weaknesses. Our children are born to seek and receive something they could find nowhere but with us, and a real love would aim at eliminating fear and self-consciousness from their minds. It is the narrow view that is the curse of humanity today.
If we are to treat them as something more than mortal — something more than mere machines or things created out of nothing — we must realize this much as to their antecedents: they come into human birth proceeding from the divine source of light and life. They have lived through many schools of experience in the past and will again in the future. There are endless possibilities latent in them: wisdom gained in ancient lives which may manifest itself at any time and which a true system of education would tend to evoke.
So when rare and interesting qualities appear, and a child without special conditions or privileges shows great gifts in music, poetry, painting, or some other subject, the true teacher will not say, "I taught him this," nor the wise parent, "He had this from me." They will understand that it came from the stores accumulated in the child's own soul which, with all its previous lives behind it, is potentially a mine of great wealth. They will understand, too, that the child is not more favored, or created with a richer endowment than the rest, but simply that it was at pains to acquire in the past those powers or gifts that it displays now.
We have not the history of that old time in which the sacred Mysteries were in their prime: an age far preceding the classical period when Greece is supposed to have reached the highest point in her culture. We have no records in evidence of the wonderful life that parents lived in those days for the sake of their children. All we know is of later epochs when men's minds were becoming clouded and the heart-life and spiritual needs of the children were no longer looked on as the most important things in life, and the word and doctrine of the soul had been forgotten. Parents no longer thought of their children as souls, because reincarnation was no longer vividly present in the imaginations of men.
A theosophist, working in the prisons, would never make an effort to convert a man, never remind him that he is a sinner, no matter how degraded he may be or how low he may have fallen. He will tell him that he has missed the way — the best or right way — to live. He will tell him of the duality of human nature, and how passions and inclinations, selfishness and avarice, can be changed and the lower nature made the servant of the higher. Let me say that there is as much enlightenment and promise, in spite of everything, in our penitentiaries as I have ever found among an equal number of people anywhere. There are, of course, born degenerates who can be set aside; but take any group of average people, put them in stripes, crop their hair, and let them be locked in cells and treated like hunted things — and I question if they would look any more prepossessing than the convicts do or show any more signs of promise.
When I have wanted to study human nature in its deepest aspects and to see things as they are, it is precisely among those considered most degraded that I find I have learned most. Some of the best men and women I have ever met have come out from just such surroundings. Some of the noblest workers for humanity are those who have been through the dregs, through the fire, through the dreadful crucifixion of vice. They have come out so strong, so earnest, so full of sympathy, that nothing could stay them. Out of the thousands I have interested myself in and tried to help, nine-tenths have not disappointed me, and even the rest have not disappointed me altogether. Because of their heredity or some unexplained condition they have drifted back, but I have known that something had been sown in their lives and that after a little more suffering it would grow.
We ought to remember that they are our progeny, spiritually speaking. We have helped to make them what they are, and we need to make provision for their rescue. We can do nothing real to help them until we have brought our own bodies, minds, and souls into such balanced health and harmony that some real spiritual influence may pass out from us, in a smile or in the raising of a hand, to those who have lost their way, and without words convey a vital benediction. Money will not do it, mind will not do it, nor will a kindly disposition or incessant energy; but only the heart-force that flows into a man's nature from the higher realms when he pours out the coffers of his heart that others may be enriched. What inspiration, what flashes of light and wisdom and justice, would shine into the community where these things were known and done!
There can be no real reformation of the laws until the heart speaks. The brain-mind can work out no plans of improvement until the heart is touched with that compassion which is the sign manual of the divinity in man. Sympathy is the great factor that must be cultivated if we are ever to come into our own. None can grow in the truest sense spiritually, unless he has suffered till his heart and mind are attuned to the heartache of the world.
Though justice is written in exquisite language in the book of nature and in all the sacred scriptures of the world, our chief preoccupation, it would seem, is still man's inhumanity to man; and we go on hanging men and casting them into prison. But the message of theosophy to these unfortunates is always one of hope and encouragement: it tells them that their course is never run, nor their defeat final and absolute; that the divine law is more merciful and just than man's law; that there is always another chance. For the drunkard, another chance; for the prostitute, for the thief, and for the murderer, another and another chance. It would have them learn from their mistakes, yes; but never weaken their better selves by brooding and remorse, for the way to improvement is always hopeful and cheerful.
To the one who is most discouraged, who has been hunted from town to town and branded as a thief or murderer, I would reach out my hands in the spirit of justice — him too would I serve, him too would I forgive. That which we condemn in him is but a part of himself. It is the lower side of his nature, and the higher has never had its opportunity.
To live rightly, a man must live close to the sunlight and the pure air. He must be able to fall back on that interior self in himself and in the air and the sunlight, which is like the aroma of a flower we cannot touch but know that it is there and that it is divinely beautiful and inspiring. Therefore I would open the doors of the prisons and lead the unfortunate into a garden of flowers and into buildings where they should have music and instruction: sunshine for even the meanest and work that would educate and reform. Lifting humanity out of the shadows, I would take a stand for the rights and dignity of man. I would unbar the prison doors, and bring out the shut-in and the condemned into a great area in the open fields and among the hills, and teach them the meaning of life and how their digressions began.
In the institution I would build there should be neither cells nor bars. In the beginning, so as to be reasonable and meet the public needs, and not encourage in the wrong direction those who have fallen too far to realize their responsibility and feel the sense of honor, I should have a wall built somewhere — but it would be so far away that you could hardly see it. I would give them room enough to breathe, I would bring them into healing contact with nature: they should have the curative influence of gardens to work in, and flowers. I would give them helpful discipline and not indulgence: strict and wholesome discipline, but not the sense of degrading durance. There should be every kind of shop in which to learn or practice their trades. I would help each one to feel his own energy and live his own life, and I would educate them theosophically.
Conversion in the ordinary sense means nothing. But there is a change that can come through a man's own higher nature, when he stands face to face with himself right squarely and truly and recognizes the two in one that are there, and recalls how he has moved first one way and then the other: now upon the path of self-directed evolution and now under the stress of temptation falling away, one day on the heights of hope, the next in the depths of despair. So I would teach them that this is the only true conversion: to change one's position and come out from the little mental house of our limitations. For no one can get the great new viewpoint while still looking out through the small windows of self.
As for repentance and remorse and praying for forgiveness of their sins, I would teach them not to wither their strength and aspirations with condemnation of themselves, nor ever to look back on the past at all, for it is buried and dead, nor to underrate their innate spiritual possibilities, nor to ungird their armor with fear — because the soul of man is immortal. No matter how heavy the shadows now, or how many or how great the mistakes of the past, he can turn when he will from them all. The power of the divinity within, and the best and noblest things we have strived after and forgotten, remain in spite of all our errors, a light to lighten our path into the eternities.
I give humanity credit for having ten times the virtue it would claim for itself. I believe in the divine in man: I have known knowledge of it to bring a smile to the face of the condemned murderer while they were adjusting the noose about his neck. I know that we have but to arouse it within ourselves in order to work as the gods work, in harmony with universal law. And because there is in every one of us this spark of the divine life, our lives, no matter what their outward circumstances or aspects may be, can be made wholly a joy and a glory.
When we begin to live, and duty and responsibility become realities to us, we thrill to the majesty of the law made manifest in us as the delight of giving and serving and lifting the burdens of the world. A new love comes into our lives that will abide with us always: it is the companionship of the real, the warrior, the eternal man. All our difficulties become the experiences by which we may grow in strength. We work no longer for ourselves, nor live the doubting or the commonplace life, but are out upon a broad and noble path of service with many vistas of hope in front, and constantly the god in man at our side with us, and awareness of the presence of that which is forever seeking to express its divine eternal self through us.