(Continued from May number)
Longfellow, in the lines last quoted, symbolized the Universe by an immeasurable wheel forever turning in the stream of time. Allowing for the western habit of studying effects and not causes, this is a fair simile. Yet it is faulty in that it presupposes two co-existing eternities; the wheel of the Universe, and the stream in which it turns. There can be but one eternity,
Saunaka asks in this Upanishad a natural question, propounded by nearly every thinking man, especially by students of occultism who are continually seeking a royal road to the accomplishment of their objects. He wishes to be told what may be the great solvent of all knowledge. The reply of Angiras points out two great roads, which include all the others. The lower road is the one of hard work for countless births, during which we acquire knowledge slowly in all directions, and, of course, when that is possessed, one rises to the higher road.
This is the true initiation, nature, so to speak, acting as the initiator. In replying to Saunaka, Angiras did not mean to be understood, that a man could in one birth pass over the lower road, but that the progress of a human monad toward perfection proceeded in a certain fixed manner which included all experiences. Of course if we say that we appear on the earth once only, and then disappear from it, to the place called by the spiritualists of America, "the summer land," and by the Christian, "heaven," there is no need for one to acquire the lower knowledge, for that might be obtained in the life after death. But we regard it as true that the spirit, in order to acquire complete knowledge, must inhabit a human form, and one term of tenancy in such a form will not be enough for the testing of the countless varieties of life, of temptation, of triumph, failure and success.
The sage Angiras in this Upanishad looks at man from the standpoint of one who can see the great stream of life which flows through the eternal plain, and therefore he could not have meant to apply his words to one incarnation, but to the whole series through which man has to pass until he reaches "immortal, blest nirvana."
In the journey along this road we will encounter great differences in the powers of our fellow travellers. Some go haltingly and others quickly; some with eyes bent on the ground, a few with gaze fixed on the great goal. Those who halt or look down will not reach the end because they refuse to take the assistance to be found in the constant aspiration to the light. But we are not to blame them: they have not yet been often enough initiated to understand their error. Nature is kind and will wait for them much longer than their human fellows would if they were permitted to be their judges. This ought to give us a lesson in charity, in universal brotherhood. Very often we meet those who show an utter inability to appreciate some spiritual ideas which we quite understand. It is because they have not, so far, been able to transmute into a part of themselves, that which we have been so fortunate as to become possessed of, and so they seem devoted to things that to us appear to be of small value.
The Bhagavad-Gita says that there is no detriment or loss to one's efforts in any direction, be it good or bad; that is, in going through these countless incarnations, all inquiry, every sort of investigation, no matter even if it seems at the close of any one life that the life was wasted, is so much energy and experience stored up. For although, in the course of one existence, physical energy is expended, there is, all the while, a storing up of spiritual energy which is again a power in the next succeeding life.
In consequence of the modern, western system of education, we are apt constantly to forget the existence of the great force and value belonging to our super-sensuous consciousness. That consciousness is the great register where we record the real results of our various earthly experiences; in it we store up the spiritual energy, and once stored there, it becomes immortal, our own eternal possession. The question then will be asked: "How is one to store up such spiritual energy: do we do it unconsciously, and how are we to know that any has been stored up?" It is to be done by trying to know and to act truth; by "living in the eternal," as Light on the Path directs. To live thus in the eternal, does not mean that we shall abandon the cares and struggles of live, for so surely as we do we must suffer, but that we should try to make the real self direct its aspirations ever to the eternal truth.
This series of births is absolutely necessary, so that the "lower knowledge" can be acquired; and just so long as we do not acquire that, we must be reborn. Here and there will occur exceptions to this rule, in those great souls who with "an astonishing violence," leap beyond and over all barriers, and by getting the higher knowledge, become at the same time, possessors of the lower knowledge also.
In the Chaldean Oracles such souls are thus described: "More robust souls perceive truth through themselves, and are of a more inventive nature," and by Proklus in I Alkibiad: "such a soul being saved, according to the oracle, through its own strength." But even this rapid progress must be regarded as comparative, for even these "robust souls," had to go through certain incarnations in which they were accumulating to themselves that very strength and ability to outstrip their fellows which, later on, placed them in the front rank.
In consequence of our ignorance of what we really are, not knowing at the time we begin the struggle in this present life whether the real man inside has passed through incarnations full of this necessary experience or not, we must not, because of the fancied importance we give ourselves, neglect the lower knowledge. There are many pitfalls besetting the road. Perchance we feel a certain degree of illumination, or we are able to see or hear in the astral world, and at once the temptation presents itself to claim to ourselves a spiritual greatness not our own. The possession of such astral acuteness is not high spirituality per se, for one might be able, as Buddha declares in the Saddharma-Pundarika, to smell the extraordinary odors arising in ten points of space which are not perceived by ordinary people, or to hear the innumerable and strange voices, sounds, bells, discords and harmonies produced by the whole host of unknown and unseen spirits of the earth, air, water and fire, and still be altogether devoid of spirituality. If we let ourselves then, be carried away by this, it is only a form of pride that precedes a severe fall. Being carried away with it, is at once a proof that we are not master, but are mastered by what is merely a novel experience.
But if we wisely and carefully test all experience, being willing to descend low enough to learn and study so that the instrument may be tuned and perfected, we may avoid the pitfalls, or be able to cross them should they be inevitable, whereas if we are deluded by supposed self-illumination, and run after that to the exclusion of all study, we will perhaps, enjoy a period of excitement and of self-satisfaction, but it will end, and the end will be bitter. As Buddha says: "He who ignores the rotation of mundane existences, has no perception of blessed rest."
The very fact that a man is in the world and has a continual fight with his passions and inclinations, proves that he is not yet in any condition to leave it. And of even the very far advanced, it was said by those who were near the time of the Upanishads:
"The disciple who by his discrimination has escaped from the triple world, thinks he has reached pure, blessed nirvana; but it is only by knowing all the laws of the lower world, and the universal laws as well, that the immortal, pure, blest nirvana is readied. There is no real nirvana without all-knowingness; try to reach this."
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