The Path – December 1886



Many will find in Whitman, the fullest measure of mystic truths, plainly and significantly stated, to be met with in any modern poet. For instance, a recognition of the reality of Reincarnation, and of its necessity, constantly recurs in his poems. Passages like these attest it: "Believing I shall come again upon the earth after five thousand years. Births have brought us richness and variety, and other births have brought us richness and variety." "And as to you Life, I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths, (no doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before.)" In contemplating an idiot he muses:

"And I knew for my consolation what they knew not,
I knew of the agents that emptied and broke my brother,
The same wait to clear the rubbish from the fallen tenement,
And I shall look again in a score or two of ages,
And I shall meet the real landlord, perfect and unharmed, every inch as good as myself."

Are not the "agents," mentioned above, the operations of Karmic law? Among the last lines of the closing poem of his volume are the following:

"I receive now again of my many translations, from my avatars ascending, while others doubtless await me,
An unknown sphere more real than I dream'd, more direct, darts awakening rays about me, So long!
Remember my words, I may again return."

Neither rhyme nor verse are essential to true poetry. Even words are but its vehicle, and not the poetry itself. Poetry is that manifestation of the mind which excites the imagination and arouses in responsive minds a sense of beauty. All that which does this is poetic in quality: that which does not, which awakens no response, leaving one cold and unimpressed, is prosaic. Poetry, therefore, possesses the rhythmic quality, for beauty appeals to no sense, except through its power of producing rhythmic action upon the brain through the nerves of sight, hearing, etc. Rhythm is a product of harmonious vibration and produces the sensation of beauty by its play upon the nerves in a succession of reiterated, regular groups of impressions. All sensations of ugliness, etc., which are the causes of pain and disease, are due to the discordant impressions made by irregularity in the series of vibrations. Thus does strict mathematical law underlie all effects of beauty. All poetry is in some way rhythmic, and arouses rhythmic action.

The highest poetry is truth made manifest in the guise of beauty. Poets have often expressed in verse their feeling of the total inadequacy of words to present to others the sublimity and beauty of the thoughts which at moments occur to them. The poetic temperament is one which enables an approach to that state which some exalted men attain in perfection, and which is the ultimate destiny of the entire human race. The poet perceives fragments of the Divine thought as embodied in natural materials; he reads pages of the great book of Creation and interprets more or less clearly the significance of the symbols that exist on every hand in growing things, in things inanimate, in the waters and the heavens, and in the thoughts, sentiments, passions and emotions of men. In assuming the mental state which may be called the poetic attitude, he throws himself into rapport with his Higher self, his atma, and thus obtains a glimpse of the eternal truth, so much of which his memory retains as accords with his personality and with the nature of his mood; of this he incorporates in poetic form that which his power of expression enables him to give. Walt Whitman characterizes this state in his lines:

"I lie abstracted and hear beautiful tales of things and the reasons of things,
They are so beautiful I nudge myself to listen,
I cannot say to any person what I hear — I cannot say it to myself — it is very wonderful!"

The more unconscious one becomes of physical surroundings the more clearly does his mind act; its operations are attended with less friction. By withdrawing his attention from bodily environment he enters upon the plane of the higher consciousness. This accounts for the greater ease with which mental work proceeds after one has been engaged in it for some little time; it absorbs his attention so that the surrounding objects and circumstances no longer distract it. In other words, the mental machinery settles down to smooth running, after overcoming the various hitches and obstructions attending the starting of the train of thought. Everyone knows how earnest devotion to any object makes him oblivious to all else. Under such conditions one, in reality, loses consciousness and is merged in the object. Self, the illusory Self, simply consists in a sense of the existence of the body and the relations borne to it by surrounding objects.

Therefore, in concentration of the mind upon the object lies the true secret of power, and the man who best knows how to do this is the most powerful among his fellows. The best work is that done when one is least conscious of material environment. This accounts for remarkable examples of work done in a somnambulistic state when all consciousness of physical surroundings is lost, and the Self becomes so absorbed in the object that on returning to ordinary consciousness it cannot remember the process of its most perfect activity of thought. And yet people refuse to accept the truth of Reincarnation because they cannot remember, in this gross physical state, their former existences through the intervening Devachanic periods when their consciousness was lifted to a plane above the thralldom of matter!

Whoever knows anything of ceremonial magic, whether practically or theoretically, recognizes the necessity of rhythmic action, or the institutions of a regularly recurring set of vibrations. Many will testify to the marvels wrought by the earnest repetitions of a rhythmic formula. It seems likely that the transfer of consciousness and the performance of phenomenal feats by Adepts are wrought by their command of some formula or method which enables them instantly and perfectly to achieve the harmonious condition of mental vibration crudely acquired by novices only by elaborate processes. The logical inference may be drawn that the purpose of the rhythmic form of poetry is not only to arouse harmonious thoughts in the minds of hearers or readers, but is due to the fact that the poet, by subjecting his mind to a rhythmic flow of thought, opens it to the reception of impressions from the highest source of thought. In the words "I nudge myself to listen" the poet strikingly and graphically depicts the effort to maintain his concentration of mind as he lies abstracted when he feels his attention slipping away from the sublime mysteries which, in the greatness of their wonder, are beyond his power to realize in any thoughts he may frame. Poets are often unconscious of the full greatness of the truths they reveal after the moment of their receptive state has passed, but they, perhaps, awake to a sense of the true significance of their words years after.

This concentration of mind is insisted on in the Hindu systems in many different ways. It is called by them Ekkragrata or one-pointedness. In the dialogues the expression is constantly used, and Krishna is said to say to Arjuna (in Bhagavad-Gita). "Has thou listened to me with thy mind fixed on one point?" It is to bring about such a condition that practitioners of Hatha Yoga — which in English simply means any practice tending to develop psychical powers, such as mediumship and the like — prescribe that the Yogee shall sit with his sight concentrated upon the tip of his nose. And this practice, although scarcely commendable, has a scientific basis which shows that the much belittled Aryans had a wonderful fund of knowledge. The fixing of the eyes upon the tip of the nose puts the focus about three inches from the eyeball, and that produces first, concentration, because of the effort to remain fixed, and secondly, a hypnotic state in which trance results with psychic vision and the like. They prescribed it for another reason not likely to be admitted by our science; three inches from the eyes was said by them to be the clairvoyant point.

Our poet Whitman, whether he was aware of it or not, constantly enunciated the doctrine of Karma. In "Assurances," to be found in Leaves of Grass, he says:

I need no assurances. I am a man who is pre-occupied of his own soul;
I do not doubt that from under the feet and beside the hands and face I am cognizant of, are now looking faces I am not cognizant of, calm and actual faces.
I do not doubt but the majesty and beauty of the world are latent in any iota of the world.
I do not doubt I am limitless, and that the universes are limitless; in vain I try to think how limitless.
I do not doubt that the orbs and the systems of orbs play their swift sports through the air on purpose, and that I shall one day be eligible to do as much as they, and more than they.
I do not doubt that temporary affairs keep on and on millions of years.
I do not doubt interiors have their interiors, and exteriors have their exteriors, and that the eyesight has another eyesight, and the hearing another hearing, and the voice another voice.
I do not doubt that the passionately-wept deaths of young men are provided for, and that the deaths of young women and the deaths of little children are provided for.
(Did you think life was so well provided for, and Death, the purport of all life,not well provided for?)
I do not doubt that wrecks at sea, no matter what the horror of them, no matter, whose wife, child, husband, father, lover, has gone down, are provided for to the minutest points.
I do not doubt that whatever can possibly happen anywhere at any time, is provided for in the inherences of things.
I do not think Life provides for all and for Time and Space, but I believe Heavenly Death provides for all.

Here he dwells upon the belief that all things are provided for. It would be error to say that he was a fatalist, just as it is a mistake to hold that the Mohammedan doctrine of "Kismet" is pure fatalism. Edwin Arnold in "Pearls of the Faith," enlarges on that pearl called Al-Kadar, in these words:

"When ye say Kismet, say it wittingly, O, true believers! under Allah's throne place is not left for those accursed three, 'Destiny,' 'Fortune,' 'Chance.' Allah alone ruleth his children: Kismet ye shall deem each man's alloted portion * * *"

And Whitman plainly states that the provision which is made for all the happenings is a provision existing "in the inherences of things," and not a fatalistic decree by an irresponsible Almighty.

He also says that he is limitless. This is the doctrine of the Upanishads. Everyone is limitless, for Ishwara, the Lord, dwells in the heart of every mortal being. Jesus also, said: "the kingdom of heaven is within you." Now the kingdom of heaven cannot be apart from God, so that the Nazarene herein says the same thing as the Upanishads.

Again, in the lines, "I do not doubt that interiors have their interiors, and exteriors have their exteriors, and that the eyesight has another eyesight, and the hearing another hearing, and the voice another voice," Whitman might be said to be taking the words from the mouths of those sages who in ancient India penned the Upanishads. In those it is incessantly insisted that these interiors really are the Universal Self which is "the eye of the eye and the hearing of the ear." And a knowledge of that is the key to unlock the doors of glory and praise. As it is beautifully said in Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad: (1)

"This Self is the footstep of everything, for through it one knows everything. And as one can find again by footsteps what was lost, thus he who knows this finds glory and praise."

And further, "Therefore, now, also, he who thus knows that he is Brahman (the Self) becomes all this, and even the Devas cannot prevent it, for he himself is their Self."


1. Bri-Up. I Adh., 4 Brah., 7. (return to text)

The Path