The Path – March 1888

EAST AND WEST — Jasper Niemand

When Shakespeare wrote "Comparisons are odious," his rare art condensed into those three words a signal truth. Each person, plane, or thing has its own conditions of Being, which temporarily subserve universal conditions, and any comparison can only establish the difference between them. This difference is ephemeral and deceptive. To examine it is wise. For in examining we learn something of the modus operandi of Nature. But to insist upon the difference, to dwell upon it, to "point a moral and adorn a tale" with it, is folly, since we accustom ourselves to regard it as a finality, whereas it is only a means. We invest this brief effect with the authority of a cause, losing sight of the fact that the terminus of differentiation is the higher Unity. These contrasts reveal only the workings of the Real Essence, while veiling that Reality itself.

Many theosophists — and others, for the matter of that — have contracted a habit of comparing the East with the West to the disadvantage of the former. A smaller number, while they also emphasize this contrast, reverse the decision, awarding the place of honor among nations to India. The merits of either civilization are often discussed with such heat that the amenities of all civilization are forgotten. Seeds of jealousy are thus sown, and the impartial observer finds his friend on the right exclaiming; — "How is it possible for a sane man to compare a stagnant civilization like that of India with the affluent vigor of American life;" — and his friend on the left retorting; — "Every thinking man knows that the wealth of life consists in its results and not in its action; in this view India stands first." The question is never solved as between these disputants, since it remains a matter of opinion. On that plane you cannot solve it at all. Its decision must depend upon your own conception of the evolutionary goal. If that goal is the efflorescence of material life, then indeed the East lies prostrate, and the West may flaunt it from her colossal throne. But if the end and aim of Law is the unfoldment of spiritual life; if stars are swung on high and worlds are moved in space in order that the Divine-Human may run its course and attain perfection, then indeed the East has stood and stands nearer that goal than our present western race can well conceive. She alone has in later years borne Great Souls (1) and has reserved silent places for their habitation.

This only holds good in a given period of Time. The case is not so sharply put by Nature. The distinction "East and West" is not of her making; it bears the stamp of man. Nature has evolved but one nation. Its name is Humanity. In this department as in all others she has planned interchange, co-operation, action and reaction. We see this exemplified in families. The children differ much, and the wise Mother, while fostering their affection on the ground of relationship, takes care to strengthen the bond by making the gifts of one child supply the deficiencies of the other. The boy is to protect his sister, and she to reciprocate with painstaking love. So in physical nature, members of a type interact, and each type has a relationship and a meaning, whether hidden or evident, in the life of every other type. Isolation is not the intention of Nature. Where she has decreed the survival of the fittest, the occultist knows well that the inherent energy of souls provides this birthright for every soul that truly wills.

It is otherwise with man. He wrests and divides facts up to suit theories, and his distinctions are often arbitrary. When we consider the art of the potter, the weaver, the artisan in gold or other metals, of the painter, the decorator, the architect, we find that India has long surpassed us in all these things, consigning marvels of beauty to the dusky splendor of her temples and her tombs. The learning of her pundits is as profound as it is world-renowned. It is then chiefly in her social, industrial, and political institutions, in all the rivalry and competition which this ambitious age has agreed to call "Life," that India falls behind our western ideals. Are we then so happy in this fevered West of ours, and is happiness the chief aim of man or is it not? In China, where the statistics of the past year do not show as many murders among her teeming population as in the single State of New York during the same period; in Tibet, where crime is almost unknown; in Egypt, Japan, and India where real contentment feeds upon itself and upon little else, we are taught that man may be serene and that mind may control matter without our splendid appanage of Life at all. The thought will arise; which nation is the greater, she who must grasp all material possessions, or she who is content to Be? Western nations have breasted the roaring surf of action to be thrown back upon the sands exhausted, dying out at last with

"The Glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome,"

while those of the East arose far back of history and still survive. In India there are now specimens of the first races, as well as the present one to which we belong. She has not changed, but, like the bounteous earth, has given always to her ruling conqueror. Many successive waves of invasion have rolled over her, but she, instead of being altered, has herself changed the habits and beliefs of her conquerors. The present English invasion has not lasted long enough to show this effect. But it will be seen. Already fruits are appearing in the wonderful rise of investigation of Indian literature, and through this English channel a deep effect has been made upon English speaking people in their religious ideas. Nor has she been truly conquered, because from her greatest to her least institution she is always herself; her development has been from within, and she resists the imprint of all races but her own. All our so-called discoveries, I care not what, are replicas or variations; to the Orient belonged the first mould, and she took it from nature. Our inventors and innovators deny this in good faith. They are ignorant of the achievements of the East; her records are unread by them, her parables and metaphors unsolved, her inscriptions undeciphered, and her scientific tabulation of obscure powers and forces of man and nature are strongly withheld by her own hand. Enough has been shown and "discovered" to prove this statement generally true, and modern learning, which already hails her as mother of all languages, will in course of time unveil the least details of her knowledge.

Such points I should not myself insist upon, because I do not deem them vital. As I said before, we are limited to a moment of Time. We are not yet overlooking the Past from the summits of Futurity and recognizing them as one. In this present moment the important question is not so much what we were or shall be, but what we are. Now is the pregnant instant, and the West possesses it, while the East waits and watches from afar. The cyclic impulse is now with us, and not with her. Guardian in chief of the secret doctrine, well-spring of all the great religions, she has now deposited in the West the precious seed gathered by her in remote harvests. The West gives the soil, and richer soil was never precipitated in the crucible of Time. Above and within our seething life, what protean energies have their ebb and flow! In their midst the seed first decays; then, touched by their glowing vigor, it leaps anew to life.

It has been said by men wise in the knowledge of the Eternal, that the end of nature is to provide fruition for the soul. (2) She does this through the mind, whose office as ministrant is to present pleasure upon pleasure, gift upon gift, experience upon experience to the monarch within; he accepts them one by one, tests and casts them away. When the material treasury is at last exhausted, the King finds that he, and not his officer, is the ruler, and that his real wealth lies within himself. Through this phase the West is now passing; our gorgeous tissue of life is woven for the enjoyment of the awakening soul. Already in more advanced individuals of the race, that soul has begun to discriminate, to turn from the outer to the inner life, and the tremendous activity and momentum of our civilization are urging on this crisis.

Those who have found the priceless pearl shining softly within their lives are bewildered at the sight. Telling the tale to other men they are pitied or derided, and they learn to work on in silence, striving to break through to this inner light, watching with longing eyes for some comrade who knows the way. It is here that the Eastern science meets them, teaching the application of this new knowledge, its unfoldment and its possibilities. She is like the nurse who helps the woman in travail, who cares for her new born babe. The hour comes when the nurse is not needed in that life but passes to others, just as the child in time outgrows the sweet fountains of his mother's breast, and his need of her is only a memory to his manhood. She does not stand lower in his eyes for all that. Even so the universe is no longer needed by God, and in its turn passes away.

There is then, no cause for pride, for jealousy, or for any comparison whatsoever in this matter. Theosophists who believe in Reincarnation can easily see that their particular country does not in reality belong specially to them, since they may have been Hindus in their last previous birth, and those spirits now inhabiting Hindu bodies were quite as likely, in their last incarnation, owners of European or American tenements of clay; and both, in long anterior times, may have trod the cities of ancient Egypt or Chaldea. It is quite as narrow for the Brahman to talk of his glorious Aryavarta as it is for the American or Englishman to claim for the West the first beginning of civilization, light, or progress. There is neither right nor priority. Truth is not enclosed within the boundaries of physical geography. It is not found within any boundaries at all; it is the Boundless. It is neither ours nor India's. It is not even Humanity's, but Humanity is Truth. Let us then become this Truth. To become it, we must leave idle distinctions aside. As children, we once lived in our toys. A noble boy yesterday showed me a drawer full of his most cherished playthings. He was keeping them, he said, so as to have a lot when he should be grown up, for he had noticed that his parents had now no toys to play with: he supposed they had broken all theirs in their childhood, and, while pitying them, he resolved not to be caught in that sad plight! How much we resemble this little fellow: we think we can never dispense with the baubles of the mind. When we slip away from all these involved ideas, these ingenious mechanisms, these traps which Nature sets to detain unripe souls from her secrets; when we stride out under the heavens resolved to Be, we find that Truth is not divided off into town lots, but is everywhere: it is not purchasable stock held by limited companies, but is to be had freely for the seeking. Since to seek it is to acknowledge that we have not found it yet, we must be presently in error upon some points, and most probably those to which our tastes or prejudices have most strongly attached themselves, because their ferment disturbs the nature and clouds that inner mirror which alone can reflect Truth, but to whose glass we so often hold up Error. We have forgotten that Truth which once we knew. It is ourselves; it is within us. Our elder brothers have reminded us of our common birthright; they have given a portion of it back to us. They do not ask us to adopt it, but to adapt it. They proclaim our right to revive this knowledge. We have snatched the blazing beacon from their hands, and we will pass it on. Perhaps, in our turn, we may restore it to the East. The tasks of future cycles are not ours. This present moment we may read. We may see that only in our narrow purview does any distinction exist between us; we may see that we are inextricably interlinked. Our interests and our future are one and the same: our possessions we exchange; shall we not exchange hearts?

Though brothers, we play different parts in the universal scheme. Inheritors and future custodians, we cannot refuse to acknowledge the pioneers of Truth. If there be any reality in evolutionary law, this ancient race must have developed the rare blossoms of human perfection before our own. A mighty, though unseen, current of spiritual energy flows from them to us, and it is urged onward by higher spheres from which they receive it. Shall we cut ourselves off in thought from this sacred influx? Shall we like spendthrifts, cast our inheritance away and stand beggared before the just demands of races yet to be? Shall we not rather endeavor to fit ourselves to replenish that living tribute which Nature pays to the Eternal? All that comes to us being already our own in the Law, shall we not receive this seed with grateful souls and make it bear a thousandfold in the fields of the West. Ah! blot me out that word! There is neither East nor West; neither above nor below; neither distinction nor difference. There is only the Whole; we are part of its organic life, and there is none greater than we save He who has no Name.


1. Mahatmas — Great Souls. (return to text)

2. See Patanjali, Page 164. (return to text)

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