Theosophical University Press Online Edition
(Lecture delivered December 22, 1929)
Christmastide! I am going to tell you something about Christmas before we part this afternoon, friends, not talking to you so much of the Christian idea of the Christ child, but giving you the view of the ancient wisdom regarding the midwinter legend of which the Christian Christ myth was a later development; and I shall leave it with you to form your own judgment as to which is the nobler, the better, and the more comforting view to take — not merely a view to take but an ideal to live up to: an ideal based on the natural mystical order of the universe, or one based on human dogmas. Meanwhile, I am going to answer some questions for you. I beg of you to understand, once for all, that in answering these questions, I do not do so merely as the results of my own personal study in human nature and of human life; but in answering these many questions that come in to me, of such wide and varied character, I am enabled to give to you in an easy and conversational fashion a great many teachings of the ancient wisdom, today called theosophy, that otherwise could not be so easily dealt with. I do my best to keep my own personal viewpoints entirely in the background, and to speak to you solely from the standpoint of an exponent or teacher of that archaic wisdom of olden days; and I can do this because back of me and within me flows the strong current of knowledge derived from the teachings of the ancient wisdom.
The ancient wisdom is that ancient body of doctrine which was formulated into human language by the greatest seers of the human race, after they had sent their spirit, their inquiring intelligence, to use modern words, underneath, back of, behind, and beyond, the veil of the outward seeming, and had brought back from the heart of Mother Nature, Reality. Reality — that is theosophy.
The first question is introduced with a little preamble.
"The following is from in editorial an The San Diego Union, October 26th:
" 'With all our boasted progress, we have no solution for even the strictly material phase of China's recurrent tragedy. How, then, shall we persuade ourselves and the ancient world of the East that we have a civilization fit to supplant any other? Confronted with a vast and unyielding barrier to our improving efforts, might we not conclude that our endeavors ought to be confined — for a space, at least — to our own side of the barrier? Perhaps our ability to penetrate this new Great Wall of China will come to us after we shall have won the right to do it.'
"What treatment would a theosophist accord to China? What remedy, if any, would he apply to the present situation?"
Why should the theosophist attempt to apply any remedy to the present situation in China? Who are we, youngsters of the Occident, men whose civilization is scarcely fifteen hundred years — and in fact much less than that if we look at our own present era, only a few hundred years old — to attempt to dictate to a people some four hundred millions strong, who have lived in the Orient since immemorial time and have kept the flame of civilization burning there for heaven knows how many millennia?
I tell you truth! We are infected with a superstition that we have what some people are wont to call the white man's burden. Immortal gods! The white man's burden: the pink-skinned man who cannot keep his own house in order, and who presumes to think that he is fit to dictate to his spiritual and intellectual peers and forebears of the Orient! Look at home, look in your own homes, before you attempt to dictate to others what is what, and what other folks should do in order to carry their own life's burden better!
I do not know what another theosophist would apply in the form of a remedy to China's present situation. I know, however, what I would do. I would keep my hands off. I would try to set my own house in order before I tried to go behind the locked doors of a neighbor, in order to dictate to him what, following my views, he should do. The fact is that you cannot legislate men into being good; and no nation is great enough or wise enough to dictate to other peoples how they should be good.
You exclaim: Look at the recurrent tragedy! Yes, for, let us say less than a generation; and look at the recurrent tragedy in European countries, lasting for many hundreds of years. Look at your seas spattered with war fleets. Look at our lands shaken with the tramp of marching armies. What remedy should the Chinese apply to us, if you please? — A people, these Chinese, which has lived in civilization, carrying the torch of Light and intellectual progress for thousands of years. Could that people not truthfully say to us: Turn your eyes to the East, and there you will find peace! Leave us in our own temporary agony until we have solved our own problems, and meanwhile put your own disorderly house in order.
Here is the second question that I have before me:
"Defining the word universe as the totality of all that exists, does there ever come a time when the entire universe dissolves and becomes one with That from which it evolved? In other words, is even the maha-pralaya only a cosmically regional occurrence?"
Yes, everything that is has its beginning, has its period of growth, reaches the culmination of its powers, the flower of its strength; then ensues senescence, then comes decay, then come sweet death and peace, rest and bliss; and then out of the womb of the invisible comes the stream of life again into the visible, and runs a new course based on its actions in the former period of existence, it runs the gamut of its life cycle, and then disappears anew for another period of rest; and so on forever. Life is eternal, and, strictly speaking, there are no dead.
In the case of man, the cycle is called reincarnation, rebirth. In the case of worlds, it is called reimbodiment; for everything that is pursues the same fundamental course, follows the same general line of destiny. We humans are not exceptions to the general line prevailing in the universe in which we live and move and have our being, and of which we are inseparables, spiritual derivatives of that universe. We cannot leave it ever. We belong to it, and therefore everything that is in the universe is in us, either in manifestation or in germ, and we humans merely exemplify in the small what the universe is in the great. One common life, one common law, one common origin, one common destiny, belong to everything.
Interpreting this question, whether all that exists in an infinite sense passes away, then I ask: How can infinitude pass away? The questioner has put his question wrongly. He should have said: All that we can think of as existing — worlds, solar system, home-universe, series of universes, making the scale of magnitude as large as you please — does this ever dissolve and finally pass away into rest before beginning a new cycle of manifestation? Then the answer is simply, Yes; for each such entity or thing or aggregate of things has its birth, its growth, its florescence, its senescence, its decay and death, to reappear anew after its cycle of rest; but to speak of the totality of all that exists as passing away, as if it were to say that infinitude passes away, is sheer nonsense.
Such a question takes no account of the meaning of the word infinitude. Infinitude is boundless, has no beginning, has no end. But anything that can be conceived of as existing, however large or however small, considered as an entity, of course passes away, whether that entity be an atom or a universe; and the so-called maya-pralaya, the great period of dissolution, is a name given to the existence, post-mortem, of our own home-universe, which universe includes everything within the encircling zone of the Milky Way.
Here is a curious question:
"Assuming that the mahatmas [these are the wise men, the great seers and sages of which theosophy teaches us, who were the founders and are the guides of the Theosophical Movement] have long been acquainted with anesthetics, can you explain why they did not give out their knowledge at an early date in the history of the world, for the benefit of suffering humanity?"
Why is it supposed that they did not? Do you think that anesthetics are a modern invention? Then you know little of medical history. The ancients knew about anesthetics and narcotics fully a well as we, though by no means of necessity did they employ those particular chemical combinations which are recognized today, and in common use, and which will be succeeded by something better in the course of time, something less dangerous than what is known and used today.
For instance, hemp, opium, the mandragora plant or mandrake, have been known from immemorial time in various parts of the world, and have been used as narcotics and anesthetics; and if you will study the ancient literatures, such as those of Greece and Rome, and read Dioscorides the Greek and Pliny the Roman, you will find that they speak of the narcotic and anesthetic effects of such plants as these; and these plants were used in the treatment of pain, of wounds, and in other manners.
The ancients also knew of antiseptics and employed them, one of the simplest and least dangerous of such antiseptics being pure oil and wine, used either singly or together.
I wonder if any particular benefits accrued to mankind from the use of certain very dangerous chemical compounds which are commonly employed today for anesthesia. Go into our insane asylums and into our hospitals. Ask some searching questions about the results of the use of modern anesthetics, and you will learn something. Modern anesthetics are by no means an unmixed heaven-sent blessing. Drug fiends, insane people, murderers: all the horrible tale of human ignominy, crime and pain, are touched everywhere with the trail of the modern anesthetic user.
How lovely that the great Masters of Wisdom and Compassion should make a point of giving out dangerous drugs to all and sundry, in order to bring about the ruin, the wreck, of human homes and human lives! Think a moment or two before you ask such questions as this.
I tell you that if there is one thing that we must learn, it is to take the idea out of our minds that all knowledge is good for everybody. It is a lie; and if you don't believe it, then throw away your bunches of keys; take your securities out of the bank vaults and put them on your tables; open wide your secret laboratories; put drugs within the reach of your little children — if everything is good for everybody.
No, I would consider myself to be a criminal if I put certain knowledge into the minds of certain men. That idea is simply a faddist theory, and it is amazing that the common sense of mankind has not bursted that theoretic bubble. Why, even in religious and philosophical matters, there are certain teachings that never should be given to the public at large, never!
You say: Isn't truth holy? Yes, the holiest thing that there is, in the eyes of a theosophist. Shouldn't it then he given to everybody? No, because everybody is not fit to receive it. Those who have proved themselves worthy, yes, they should receive it: those who have proved themselves morally and intellectually capable of receiving, are entitled to receive, irrespective of race, creed, color, sex, and educational qualifications; because morals, ethics, the feeling that right is right and that wrong is wrong, do not always go with a fine intellectual equipment. I have known men highly gifted, intellectually, in whose hands I would not put anything of a dangerous character. They lacked moral stamina; and, on the other hand, I have known men whose grammar was faulty, who could hardly write their names, in whose hands I would have put the secrets of my heart, had occasion arisen to do so, because their moral and spiritual nature was developed, and I knew that I could trust them.
Here is a question about bats!
"I once heard a theosophist classify bats as belonging to the nightside of nature. Is there anything about a bat to justify that artistic convention by which devils are always represented as having the wings of a bat?"
Well, I think it is an artistic convention. I have never had the pleasure of meeting a devil, so I cannot tell you whether I would call him a bat or by some other name. But I don't see why bats should be so much feared. I don't see why they should be thought of as being Satanic creatures. They are very pretty, the most wonderful fliers, and they are harmless as a rule.
But I think, as in artistic convention, symbolizing secrecy and quasi-invisibility, the figure of the bat is rather well chosen: their flight is so quick and still; they fly by night; and the association of quickness and silence, of speed and stillness with darkness, in the medieval times doubtless gave birth to the superstition that bats were "birds of the black magicians," and therefore were Satan's imps. I think that this is all there is to the idea. I have never heard any theosophist classify bats as belonging to the underworld.
"All the great intellects of classical times seem to have believed that the course of human affairs might be predicted by careful observations of the flight of birds, and the behavior of various animals. Had they any good grounds for their belief?"
I think they had. In fact I know that they had. I am a believer in omens, and for the following reasons. Like the entire ancient world, I look upon the universe as an organism, a consistent entity, one living thing. I don't believe that one part somewhere is separate from another part elsewhere. I believe that things hang together, that there is one law for all, and that all follow that fundamental law. I believe that things which are like to each other are drawn together. Just as love is an attractive power, so do I believe that beings who belong together come together, that they are attracted to meet; and I believe that if I went into a barnyard in the ancient fashion, into a chicken yard, and chose some unfortunate hen or cock, and slaughtered it and examined the entrails, if I found certain abnormalities there, I would instinctively feel that because all nature is an organism, every cogwheel fitting into every other cogwheel, consequently that chicken tells me something. And the reason is that all things in nature are interlinked and interlocked, that all forces blend, and that everything that happens is under the sway of one common universal, all-permeant law. Pray think about this before you judge in the easy manner so popular in quarters where the ancient thought is not at all understood.
Do you imagine for a moment that the greatest intellects of the olden days, the mightiest minds, the most developed spiritual characters, believed in childish tales, and followed them, and rested the destinies of nations and races of men on childish theories? I do not. I know myself. I have examined myself within, and I know that when I can raise myself into the higher part of me, I have spiritual vision; I can then see, because I have come, to some extent at least, in communion with the god within me; and you can do the same thing exactly. Any human being is the vehicle of an indwelling divinity, his inner god; and if he come in touch with this inner god, he receives light. His mind becomes splendid, brilliant; and these ancient Seers read the 'books' — Nature's events or happenings — which Nature unfolded before them. Actually what took place in these ancient practices of reading omens was a combination of the clear-reading intuition, and the physical event which was interpreted, which thus brought that intuition into play. I wonder if you understand me.
Yes, I believe in omens. I do not believe that things merely happen by chance. I do not believe that if I go down the street one day, and see a warning sign, that that fact is just chance, that it just happens so. Chance and fortuity in their modern interpretation have absolutely no logical meaning to my mind. I do not recognize chance anywhere. I see nothing but the reign of law, of orderliness, in the universe, and I believe that as everything is connected together, and that event follows event, and that effect follows cause, this is the case everywhere and it all times. The difficulty is to read the warnings aright, and because men do not know how to read the warnings aright, therefore they talk about the superstitions of the ancients because they do not understand the archaic philosophy upon which the ancients based their convictions.
The ancients believed in a universe ruled by law. They believed in the beauty of the universe as a consistent, self-contained, and coherent body. Consequently, everything that took place was to them the manifestation of law, which in their understanding was the manifestation of consciousness, of the consciousness of the gods, the rulers and governors of the universe. This thought is important. Think it over. It is an open door to many mysterious secrets of nature, as well as to an understanding of the real meaning of the ancient philosophers.
"When will the whole world at large become theosophy-minded?"
I think this will happen when the whole world becomes theosophy-hearted. When will that be? I don't know. I am not an oracle, I am just a man; but I think that it will be when the greater men of the world recognize the beauty of our majestic theosophical thought.
To become theosophy-minded means to recognize first, that you are a child of the gods, an offspring of divine beings, inseparable from the universe in which you live: that it is a heresy against almighty truth to think that you are different from the universe in any particular whatsoever — spiritually, intellectually, psychically, astrally, it matters not. All beings and things are one, ultimately, all rooted in the one Life, and please remember this: that through us all flows the steady, uninterrupted current of almighty love, which is the very cement of the universe. Ally yourselves with the nobler side of your being, and attain peace and happiness that no words can describe.
"Can a theosophist really live up to the spirit and letter of his belief — which I find truly high and ennobling — and still keep his head above water in the rapid current of today's business life?"
Why, most certainly he can, and I should be awfully sorry for him if he did not; because if he did not, he would be a most wretched failure in life. What are the ethics of theosophy? To live decently; to treat your fellow men properly; to have brotherliness, kindliness, fellow-feeling; never to cheat; never to lie; always to tell the truth, but to be kindly when you speak; to be frank; to be impersonal; to be honest. Is there anything very terrible about all that? Does the practice of these virtues make for loss, bankruptcy, failure? What do you think?
I think that a man would succeed in business if he practiced the theosophic virtues, because I think that even in material life, real success depends fundamentally upon ethical action. The idea that because a man is a man and wins the confidence of his fellow men, his head will go beneath the water of the business life of today, and he will drown, is an absurdity.
Here is a question that keeps recurring constantly. I really don't see why people want to know what I think about the boys and girls of today. I have answered that question already a number of times from this platform.
"Have you lost faith, as so many have, in the youth of today?"
No, why should I? I think that they are stupid chumps sometimes, but, on the other hand, I think that they have some qualities too. They are just folks, as folks always have been. They think that they know more than daddy, and more than mother. But so did we when you and I were boys and girls.
I have not lost faith in modern youth. I will tell you why I have not lost faith. Because in the core of the core of every human being lie divine qualities. These divine qualities are there, because every human being is a part of the universe, inseparable from that universe; and the very core of the universe is consciousness, harmony, and beauty; and you see its manifestation everywhere in law and order.
I think that the youth of today are, on the whole, just about like the youth of the last generation and of a thousand years ago, and are pretty much the same as the youth of a thousand years to come will be. Some things about modern youth I do not like. I think that they are a little too sure of their own views, but after all, that defect is just a mark of immaturity, of youthful misjudgment. So were we also inflicted with the same defect.
Now, here is a very pointed question:
"Is your liberal policy proving a success; or is it too soon to be able to tell?"
Now, isn't that funny! Why should people accuse me of having a liberal policy? They probably think that it is a compliment. But is it? I just don't know how to answer that question properly. If I say that I am liberal then doubtless I will do something tomorrow, and people will say: Well, I don't think that is a liberal-minded thing to do — and they will say this because the action perhaps will not be agreeable to some folks.
On the other hand, if I say that I am an ultraconservative, then perhaps I shall do something tomorrow, which will disappoint somebody because I will appear too liberal.
Let me tell you the truth: my policy is the policy of the Masters of Wisdom and Compassion, as theosophical leaders have been taught it. To some it may seem liberal. To others it may seem conservative. But that policy does not vary. Yet the ways of applying the policy are bound to vary frequently; yet it is to be remembered that the policy, and the ways of applying it, are two different things.
Any growing institution, such as our Society is, must of course change its ways of meeting changing circumstances, as those circumstances arise. But the policy of the Society has not varied one iota from the time the Society was founded in our age; and please the immortal gods, it will not change! If the policy of the Society, apart from the ways of applying it, if the fundamental policy of the Theosophical Society, were to change five hundred years from now, do you know what would happen? I would haunt you! I would come again and bring you back into the right track. I mean this too! I would come right to the fore. I am sworn to this work, soul and spirit.
I think that this is very liberal on my part, because there are some very difficult problems to meet sometimes — and one has to be liberal in order to meet them successfully. But I do not like anybody to ask me: Are you as liberal as you used to be? It makes me feel that they have no conception of what I am trying to do.
Furthermore, let me say here, that I could not do anything of real value if I were not backed up by the splendid body of theosophical workers that I have. That is holy truth. I should have to begin the theosophical work all over again; but at present I have a corps of splendid workers — trained, ready, alert, understanding, and devoted; and I am proud of them. They are men and women of a high class.
"You say that you and your followers are 'fishers of men' — 'fishers for men's souls.' In what way do you, then, differ from orthodox ecclesiasticism? What are you going to do with them when you have 'caught' them, to carry on the figure! I ask in entire seriousness, please understand."
Well, I will do with them just what was done with me. I am 'caught,' and here I am! Do I look unhappy?
Yes indeed, I am a fisher for men, and I am proud of it. I want to bring truth to men, to bring happiness to my fellow human beings. I want to give them the great love, the great light, that fill my own mind and heart. My bait is truth, the ancient wisdom-religion of all times; and my hooks with which I am going to catch you all, are the presentations of those truths so that once they enter into your minds, you too are caught.
Thanks be to the immortal gods that I can stand here before you and say that I am proud of being a fisher of and for men, proud of what I stand for, because I can give to you treasures of inestimable value. I simply ask you to look, and looking to study, because if you can go that far, then you too are caught.
Truth! There is nothing so beautiful in the world as Truth. The facts of reality are based on no man's say-so, on the dicta of nobody at all; they are the same now as they were in the beginning of time, and as they will be in all future aeons — always the same.
Is there anything so beautiful, so high, as bringing comfort to broken hearts, light to obscure minds, the teaching of men how to love and to forgive? Those are my hooks, and the greatest of them is love; and another one almost equally great is forgiveness — honest, sincere, and real. We theosophists are fishers for men, as Jesus rightly also is reported to have said, for every great seer and sage is a fisher for men.
I have many more questions with me this afternoon which I shall not be able to answer because the time has almost arrived for us to part; but here is a question which, on account of its being the Christmastide, I will answer briefly.
"Will you tell us something about Christmas from a theosophical standpoint? I understand that you always celebrate Christmas at Point Loma Headquarters. As the Christmas festival is essentially a Christian one, how do the members of your Society (which is said to include many non-Christians in the Orient and elsewhere) regard it?"
They regard it as theosophists regard it. The Christmas festival is in one sense only, a Christian festival. It is based upon something belonging to the Greek and Roman paganism, which the Christians took over. It is therefore older than Christianity. It is pagan, to use the popular word. The Christians themselves up to the fifth century of the Christian era did not know (I am speaking of the mass of Christians) exactly when to celebrate the birthday of Jesus called the Christ.
There were at least three dates when commemorative festivals were held in the early Christian era: on December 25th, on January 6th called the Epiphany, and on the 25th of March — practically the time of the spring equinox. Now, all these dates were based upon astronomical data and facts; and the Christians of about the fifth or sixth century of the Christian era finally chose the date which had been in use for the celebration of the birthday of the Persian god, Mithras — December 25th. Why?
Whether Jesus the Syrian lived or not has nothing to do with the question. If he lived, it matters not on what day of the year he was born, for the commemorative celebration of that birth is really the celebration of a mystical birth, the birth of the god in man, literally. I will tell you what I mean.
The Mysteries of antiquity where celebrated at various times of the year — in the spring, in the summertime, in the autumn, and at the winter solstice, on December 21st or 22nd. But the greatest of these mystical celebrations, the greatest of the Mysteries, was that which was celebrated in the wintertime, when the sun had reached his southernmost point and, turning, began his return journey northwards.
Beginning with the winter solstice, on December 21st, these most sacred of the ancient Mysteries began. Therein were initiated certain men who had been chosen on account of having perfected a certain preliminary period of training: chosen to go through initiatory trials for the purpose of bringing out into manifestation in the man the divine faculties and powers of the inner god.
Two weeks were passed in this cycle of training or of initiation; and on the 6th of January, later called Epiphany (a Greek word which means "the appearance of a god"), celebrated even today in the Christian Church, on that day came the supreme moment in the ancient crypts of initiation, when the aspirant, having successfully passed through the preliminary trials, was brought face to face with his own inner god.
If he withstood successfully the supreme test, he was suddenly suffused with splendor, with light which shone from him, so that he stood there radiating light like the sun. His face shone brilliantly; back of his head was an aureole of splendor, and he was said to be "clothed with the sun." This splendor is the Christ-light, called in the Orient the buddhic splendor, and is simply the concentrated spiritual vitality of the human being pouring forth in irradiation. The Christ-sun was born.
Oh, what could I not tell you about these things! I could bring to you proofs from the Greek and Latin literatures — proofs of many kinds — showing you what took place at this most sacred time of the pagan initiatory cycle. On that day was born the Christ, to use the mystical phraseology of the primitive Christians; and using the phraseology of the Greeks and Romans, from whom the Christians adopted and, alas! adapted, the ideas: on that supreme day was born the mystical Apollo — to give the mystical name given to the man so raised; and in the Orient it was said that a Buddha was born.
I cannot here tell you openly why the midwinter season was chosen. I can merely tell you now that it depended upon certain conjunctions of the celestial bodies. It would take me too long a time, and I should be going into matters that I have no right to speak of in the open, were I to develop this theme at greater length; but remember this, that theosophists commemorate the Christmas festival on account of the facts that I have briefly outlined; and furthermore, that these initiations take place today.
The theosophist looks upon this season with reverence and awe, for he knows that in the proper quarter some human being is undergoing the supreme test, and that if successful, if he is "raised," if he can raise his own personal being into communion with his inner god and hold it there, so that he becomes suffused with the divine splendor, a new Christ is born to the world, a teacher of forgiveness, of compassion, of almighty love to all that is; and as I, being a theosophist, would phrase it, a Buddha is born into the world. Hail and revere!
Vol 1, No 29