The Path – December 1892

ILLUSION — E. Kislingbury

If man were capable of receiving and assimilating the whole of Truth, pure and undiluted, he would no longer be man, but a god. The whole of evolution throughout every kingdom of nature seems to be carried on by a series of illusions, the proportion of Truth or reality concealed under each process, or evolved by its means, being infinitesimally small in proportion to the bulk of its evolutionary veils or garments. Indeed, the lower we descend in the scale of being, the greater the disproportion — the less of spirit, the more of matter, as in the stone, the rhinoceros, and the prizefighter. That which to the purely outward observer seems the essential portion in the flower, the exquisitely tinted petals of the rose, the gorgeous rays of the sunflower or the dahlia, plays a comparatively unimportant part in the economy of nature, whose intention is fruit, seed, reproduction. The increase of the ornamental, such as doubling or trebling the petals of the rose or cherry, is at once resented by the cessation of fruit-bearing, which would seem to imply that, though illusion is in the scheme of nature, it is yet only useful when directed toward a certain end. So long as this is the case, illusion, even when perceived to be such, is never unbeautiful or ridiculous; on the contrary, it can only be pleasing, for it possesses one of the truest essentials of beauty, that of the perfect adaptation of means to an end. Thus the play of the little child, the one with her dolls and her imitations of domestic life, the other with his soldiers, horses, ships, or fortresses, is never unpleasing, though even the child itself is conscious of the illusion; it is one of nature's educative processes. The play of fancy of the poet, the painter, and the sculptor, even the effort of the actor, illusive and transitory though these may all be, are not in their best aspects mere pastimes and foolishness, but beautiful, inasmuch as they subserve their true end, as they are capable of producing fruits in the minds or hearts of others. Yet if the idea behind the form had been presented bare and devoid of the beautiful imagery and language in which it was clothed, would it have produced the same effect on the minds of the majority? A few would have appreciated and cherished it, but what of the many? Shall they not be ministered unto, and is not all the beauty of the external world for this purpose, illusion though it be?

The same rule applies to religions in their ceremonial and externals generally. To the Sage the words "Know thyself" may be the core of all philosophy, may suggest endless possibilities of victories to be gained over the lower nature, of the final triumph of good over evil, of the true place of man in the universe, of his potentiality for godhood. But for those of lesser mould, myth and allegory, ritual and ceremonial must shadow forth the deeper truths, some rule of life must be imposed by authority on those who cannot steer their course in safety alone, some easily comprehended theory must account for the riddle of existence, some consolation must be attainable for those who cannot yet bear the burden of sorrow unaided, or face the fierce light that is reflected from the pure rays of naked truth. And it seems to lie in the nature of things that such illusions must appear and be received as truth so long as the necessity of each mind requires it; even after its illusiveness is perceived, it is scarcely possible to dispense with it at once, without danger of excessive re-action and a fall into blank despair or a denser superstition. To ask people to abandon a creed or even a church which has served them through many years of life as the garment by means of which they have clung to the Infinite, is to assume a responsibility from which the pious would refrain, and which the wise man would scarcely dare to arrogate to himself.

It is doubtful whether the conception of the Eternal is or can be received by any man at second-hand from priest or minister. Each one must surely image to himself the Divine after some fashion of his own, based partly perhaps on the suggestions of book or teacher, still thrown into new form by every separate mind, whether it be as Light Illimitable, as Love Unspeakable, or even as a Man of Sorrows, forgiving the sins and compassionating the woes of a tortured humanity. It would be a sacrilegious hand that would tear away the crucifix from the heart of one who had given up every worldly tie to serve those whom she regarded as the poor of Christ, and tried to substitute for this "illusion" the triangle, the square, and the circle. The husk which covers the ripening fruit must be left to the compelling power of nature to open gradually and at its proper time; those who tear away the protecting calyx will never see the bud expand into the blossom. The child deprived of toys and fun, of the merry voices of companions and of healthy romping exercise, who instead of devouring John Gilpin was fed at five years old on Greek verbs, might develop into a John Stuart Mill, but the man who had missed the illusions of youth fell into a far more lamentable one in his old age.

Not less inevitable to gradual evolution are the illusions of motherhood. Is it not partly the belief that the new-born child is her own, her "very own", fresh from the hand of God, that is the spring of the mother's tender, ceaseless, and self-sacrificing care through all the years of its helplessness and the waywardness of its youth, before blind affection ripens into a reasoning friendship? Were prospective motherhood to learn that the offspring so patiently and hopefully expected would be the reincarnation of a former murderer, would she love and cherish it at the expense of her own life, and give up her best years to its upbringing and education? The whole question of love and marriage with its results, including as it does some of life's greatest illusions, is one of the deepest problems with which Theosophic thought will have to deal in the future.

Many persons skip the preface of a book, and in so doing miss the whole drift of the author. When we can afford to smile at our own illusions, we need not forthwith seek to deprive others of theirs, so long as the charm lasts and they are satisfied.

The poet's warning is not without significance:

"Lift not the painted veil
Which those who live call life.

The Path