The Path – January 1895


     The superior Virtue is not seen as virtue,
and therefore it is the spirit thereof.
     The inferior virtue wears the garment of virtue,
and therefore it contains not the spirit.
     The superior Virtue flows of its own accord.

The dangers of vice have been the subject of many wise discourses. Its horrors have been painted with vivid realism, whilst glorious virtue has been held up before the eyes of men as something to be striven for and, when attained, to be most carefully preserved.

Yet no truth, however deeply true, is final in itself. Seeming ultimates are but stages in unlimited progression, and the highest virtue man can reach to now will vanish like some mist before the sunlight of his spirit in an age to come. But the future is with us today as a shadow which ever recedes as we ever approach; and virtue which is perforce imperfect may entomb us as surely as vice.

Vice contains in itself its own destroyer. Separative, it quickly disintegrates. Few men think it a final goal: they will presently be virtuous, when they are old, or in better circumstance, or have not to meet this present and unique temptation. Virtue is more tenacious. It is self-satisfied, and clings to one who has striven for it, fostered it, and who trembles at the thought of its loss. Here I speak of that peculiar virtue which is our very own. We may have vices, we may do wrong, but this virtue we have got and never will surrender. Has it not consoled us in many an hour of self-reproach, of blame which was almost deserved? More consoling has it been to many than the errors of their neighbors.

Yet for one moment consider: much has been said of polarity, of the dualism in nature. The pairs of opposites have been catalogued at length: light and darkness, heat and cold, male and female, have been found to coexist. It has also been shown that these, though opposite in name, are far from separate in fact. How could light follow on darkness if the darkness had not contained it? How could sweetness spring from that which seemed so bitter if the bitterness held only itself? Even so the loftiest virtue embosoms a sleeping sin. "Sin", if only inasmuch as it may hinder that growth which is Nature's aim, by our attachment to a limitation; by our failure to rise to the universal through love for this so pleasing grace.

It may be Justice. We will be ideally just; we will be impartial as few, if any, have ever dreamt of being. How noble a virtue it is, and how safe a guide? An idol fit for the worship of all men, you will think, and one that we should bow to with the rest. By its aid we can judge all these events — and men, with evenness and with no fear or favor. We will calmly sit on the judgment-seat and weigh the evidence, so that no man shall say "He has a bias", but all shall admire the perfect Justice we exemplify.

I say that the soul does not know it. The soul is not concerned in this chopping and balancing of statement. It does not cry to its companions. "Let us consider this alleged misdoing by the aid of our united wisdom". Thought for the preservation of its own integrity is not allowed to close the door on this greater thought — Another's need. For the soul has a mighty generosity that flows and swells and sweeps before it any thought but this: "How can I help my brother who is now unfortunate?" That generosity is not born of the emotions; it has forgotten the meaning of tears. It springs from an understanding of Time; from long waiting upon that law which is beyond all Justice, since it knows not doubt nor anything but unity.

Or it is Work. Someone, after many years of effort, has overcome the grosser form of the natural sloth of matter. His mind, his brain, his body, have been trained to answer to his will: every gift is utilized, every moment is turned to account. He acts, indifferent to obstacles, regardless of consequences — striving to serve. The man confides to himself he would die if he could not work. But there is a pride of action. Then if fate which is greater than he overtakes him, and he loses the labor he loves, he calls upon death to relieve him of the burden of life since now he is useless and his course is run.

But the soul, having seen this thing before, knows better. It knows that the form of service is not counted in the least; that every act can be a mode of one spirit of devotion. Whether maimed, or blind, or tied by chains of duty to a life of seeming pettishness, is not man still the resting-place of the Eternal? Is that so little he dare speak of uselessness? Wise indeed must he have suddenly become if he would improve upon the working of the Law! For wisdom in every age has been well content to say "Thy will be done, O Lord of Destiny!" We have so little faith: we must see — and show — some result of all our efforts. Yet is there neither first nor last in this great reckoning of life, and to hold a pleasure rightly or meet a pain is as hard a feat as to turn the stream of a nation's history.

Work can be overwhelming in more ways than one. I have read in a Hindu book of a half-fledged sage who, by his power of goodness, attempted to destroy the character of the growth of the world. His goodness was a passion, a passion that craved self-immolation, not for the sake of others but for its own sake. He had not reached that point of equilibrium where there is only selflessness, where both selfishness and unselfishness have been laid down. In that state wrong self-immolation is not known.

Want of equilibrium is at the root of all disease, and even as there must still be those who, like this Hindu of old, seek to obtain what they believe to be good at the expense of right, and would purify the world at the price of acting as its executioners, so there are those who crave for work regardless whether it be their own or that of others. Another's work is usually more pleasing than that which lies so very near to us. It has a foreign flavor and promises excitement. Such do not wait to ask, "Is this my duty?" They are above such slow consideration. Yet how much confusion on all planes of being they would save themselves and others by that moment's pause! But this has been said since the beginning of things, to be said to the end, and still we have not found the Middle Path, the place of equilibrium. He who has reached it, as one of Nature's greatest scholars said, "acts but does not strive, and without striving overcomes everything".

Thus every virtue, as has been said, embosoms a sleeping sin, and the wise man bewares of it, treating his virtue as a stage in his gradually-lessening ignorance, not as an aim and end in itself to be worshipped and glorified. If he could lay aside his calculated code of conduct for the more generous impulse of the soul, he would greatly be the gainer. But the soul he calls "his own", and will not therefore trust it. He has not learnt to separate the voice of his desires from that other voice which speaks to him of cold, clean truth; and therefore he calculates. His morals must be neatly docketed, ready for production as required; and although a few minutes' notice is needed at times for prompt delivery — he is only mortal.

The Immortals are not calculators. They act. They also breathe after their fashion, and without failure. And the light of the Immortals is the light that lighteth every man who cometh into the world. Verily they who know it shall go back to their Home in peace.

The Path