Time is so precious, so valuable, and so very much misused even by intelligent and well-meaning people. One can appreciate time more in remembering that this particular moment will never be ours again. We must work and study: in studying great teachings the heart is attuned to aspirations that lift one naturally out of the material and everyday way of thinking into great hopes, great dreams, great visions, and great resolutions. While one may not respond always to such thoughts at the moment, still sometimes from the smallest endeavor, if the conscience is clear and the motive high, great things can and do happen.
Not only is time misused, but human life is also misused. The great majority of people today either have no serious beliefs at all regarding the soul and its destiny, or content themselves with a sort of half-belief in one earth-life only, without any knowledge of the future. The limitations that necessarily result from holding such restricted ideas greatly impede one's spiritual advancement. But from the moment when one can attune his spiritual aspirations to a high standard of living, even in just one earth-life, the soul is immediately aroused and the results are beyond all reckoning because each man is absolutely his own savior or his own destroyer.
The treasures that belong to the inner life, to the spiritual man, can be found only by research, by living in accord with the higher law of the spirit, and by holding firmly to aspiration. In following this path one will be better able to understand the theosophical teachings and the wide field of thought that they embrace. There are three outstanding principles of theosophy which should never be forgotten: the doctrines of karma, of reincarnation, and of the actuality of human perfectibility. In regard to this last doctrine we have not only the belief, but the absolute knowledge that man can attain through self-devised efforts to such a high degree of evolution that for any one period he may be said to have reached a state of relative perfection, but with the possibility of attaining a still larger and profounder state of development in future evolutionary periods.
When I first came into the Theosophical Movement I had only the theosophical books and H. P. Blavatsky's knowledge of her great teachers on which to rely. But since that time I have had in my own experience the proof of those truths which theosophy expounds in reference to man's attainment of a state of perfection so far as it can be reached in one earth-life. This fact of relative human perfection was revealed to me through a personal meeting with such a man — one of our great teachers. What I tell you is not the result of fancy, nor of dreams, nor of delusions, nor of an imagined self-sufficiency in my own spiritual discernment. But I do tell you what happened and what I saw and what I myself learned.
Not so many years ago, on my first tour through Egypt and India, I received an invitation to meet a great teacher. I met this great character in India. Early in the morning before the sun was up I had a call from the teacher's chela, as they called him, who brought four servants and a special escort with their open palanquin. The chela acted as guide and, with my maid, I went out up the mountains, and up the mountains, and up the mountains — the heat of the day was beyond anything that you can conceive of. After miles of travel we arrived at noon at an almost unimaginable height. Everything except the great range looked small and insignificant. In looking out over the wonderful prospect, one could see how very easy it would be for one living up there all the time to have high aspirations and great ideas and to grow and to become royal and splendid. All that was possible.
I had my mind fashioned, as I think yours might have been, to see something quite remarkable — some astounding manifestation. But when I reached this person, he was standing leaning against a tree with an English jackknife in his hand — he was cutting a little piece of wood. When he saw me he came to meet me, asking me to excuse him for a short time because one of the bullocks with which one of his chelas was plowing had suffered an injury to his neck and he was trying to repair the yoke.
I looked straight at the man. Now, even in H. P. Blavatsky's time he was considered to be quite old in years, but he looked very young when I saw him. I would have said that he was then not more than thirty-two or thirty-three years of age. He appeared to be Tibetan, dark of skin. His face was unlike any other that I had ever seen before. His whole life was lighted up with an inner light that had toned his features, had brightened his eyes, and had brought to him the glow of youthfulness and splendor of character. One could not look merely at his face: his whole figure commanded attention. Yet he was very unpretentious in manner.
I did not ask many questions because I found that he anticipated them — questions that I had wanted an answer to ever since I came into the Theosophical Society, especially as to how I was to meet the heavy responsibilities that became mine when I was named as the Leader of the Society for life — the responsibility of helping to direct this Society of aspirants for spiritual wisdom and knowledge at a time when I was unknown to all save perhaps one or two members of the Society.
I am trying to enter again into that meeting with the teacher, so that I may give you whatever I am allowed to speak of. In the first place, there was a conversation in reference to the little time that I could stay there. He urged me to hasten back in order to be inside the village before darkness because there were bandits and queer people all about. He then gave me many ideas, which of course might not interest the public because they pertained very largely to my theosophical work. Besides, it is very hard to find the language to describe the most glorious, superb, magnificent things in life. The most wonderful things that one ever sees in all their beauty can never be described. But in his presence I felt the greatness of life, the true splendor of life, and its royal promise. My mind at this meeting was unusually alert and awake.
It was utterly impossible that this man was an impostor, as some might think, because he referred to incidents in my own past that I had almost forgotten — incidents that at the time turned my footsteps in this or in that direction, and that finally led to my meeting with W. Q. Judge and eventually to his appointment of me as his successor in the leadership of the Society. Mr. Judge had found me working among the poor of the slums on the East Side of New York City, trying to help the unfortunate and to lift some of their burdens in an honest and determined way. That in itself was to me a great big world of effort. It seemed to me at the time that it was about as much as I could handle. But here was a man who had grown great in unison with the higher expressions of life, to which he had attuned his whole being in utter self-forgetfulness. We all have this same opportunity, but he was a great soul and welcomed this opportunity, and profited by it daily.
We must all, sooner or later, believe in the marvelous powers of the spiritual soul of man. We must all sooner or later fathom the depths of our own nature and find therein the royal talisman of wisdom and truth. This is what I found with and in this great teacher. Just while I was standing there with him, I discovered anew, under the great force of his presence — and it came to me like an illumination — that there was something indeed in me more than the mere mentality, that there was a vital, latent force inside me that desired to come out and inspire me to achieve things that I had never done before. It seemed to me as if I had never really lived before that moment, and never known so much about life as I then knew. This was the great day of my life — a day of greater promise for my work for all humanity. Since then I have felt that it would be easy to go through fire and suffering and persecution and anything to push this message of theosophy out to the world. The credit for this spirit of courage within me is not mine; it came to me from being in the presence of this great teacher and from realizing in him to what heights a true man can reach.
I will only add that when I went to visit this teacher, I was weighed down with the responsibility of carrying on the work of the Theosophical Society throughout the world and of meeting the conditions that I knew must be changed, because my predecessor, William Quan Judge, had been ill for two years and during his illness many things had drifted along in the Society by no means in accordance with the highest theosophical standards. But when I bade goodbye to that wonderful character and looked into his bright, kindly eyes — I never saw a pair like them — I had renewed life. I was then under the care of physicians who declared I never would live to reach home and, traveling on the cars from town to town, it was daily expected that I would die. It may be very hard to believe it, but I recovered my health although I had been condemned by three of the best physicians in London and two in New York to die from Bright's disease. No great magic was performed, and I did not become well the very next day. But physically and mentally I was so aroused that I steadily improved. My whole nature was alert, so that it was impossible for me to give way. And here I am still active, thirty years later!
I do not think it was any miracle — I do not believe in anything supernatural at all. I believe that my soul was hungry, that I was to a degree weary of the weight of woe in the world. I saw people everywhere struggling, making their mistakes, and I was oppressed with the thought: "Poor me! What can I do to spread these great theosophical teachings throughout the world?" Therein I was belittling my own power and almost losing sight of my own soul-strength when I entertained such thoughts. And then I met this great teacher. My soul-hunger was satisfied, my questions were answered, and my tired body responded and was cured. Believing in reincarnation — that man has life after life in which to reach ever higher states of perfection — one can imagine how much grander even this great teacher himself would be in yet another life.
The greatest language that was ever uttered can never fully bring to you the consciousness of your own essential divinity until you have aspired to even more than I speak of, until you have looked within yourselves, challenged yourselves, and rebuked yourselves just enough to find your strength to go forward and to become. You must have a spiritual awakening — you cannot tell when it comes or how it comes. All you have to do is to open your minds and look at the universe as something so vastly superior to anything you had dreamed of it as being before, look upon life as something sacred and grand and sublime in its promise and possibilities. Then recall what your aspirations and your dreams of noble action have been, think of your hopes and of the fragmentary touches that you have had of the spiritual life. Then you will find revelations upon revelations right within yourselves — in your inner nature. They are priceless.
I suppose that if we were told today that far off in the desert somewhere there were rich gold mines waiting to be worked, we would all be up bright and early and start out in the morning and walk or run thither barefooted, if there were no other way by which to reach the gold mines. But if we are told of the beautiful spiritual treasures that are right at hand in our own lives, in our own thoughts, within ourselves, few stir themselves even sufficiently to investigate.
These teachings of the ancient wisdom enable the true disciple to go through life unafraid — most beautiful of all, unafraid of death. He has a new view of death, and life itself is so lovely and sublime, if rightly lived, even in one incarnation. No matter what your cares and your disappointments, you can depend on the inner life and find its peace without money and without price. When you realize this truth and take it into your mind and your heart and into your very soul, you may be sure that life is joy and that every moment is beautiful and sacred.
Each of you has a responsibility that you know very little about: you do not yet understand the real value of yourselves and your moments. So it is the duty of every man who can believe and think and dare to fulfill his mission to the very end. Do not talk despondently about old age. Perhaps the body is indeed becoming old and tired; but think of the soul growing young in its splendid vitality, in its inner vision of things, in its realization of the value and the virtue of the spiritual life.
The one great need is for man so to arouse his mentality to the conception that he is a soul and that there can be the conquest by the soul. When men have reached this point we shall not need any more prisons nor punishments. I do not believe we shall then have any more murderers anywhere, for the very atmosphere will be teeming with these finer forces which science is bringing forward to our view very rapidly. These will lead man to his heritage, to his light, to his own salvation.
Lest we should, perhaps when too late, look back over the record of our lives and be dismayed at the thought of what we might have done, I say again: time is precious. In the short space of five or ten minutes one can change his life for the better to an almost inconceivable degree. Let even those with the most obtuse minds, who are indifferent to anything but to eat, sleep, and be merry, just feel once the thrill of the knowledge of the soul — of the real life; awaken to that knowledge and time will become indeed very precious to you. How royally and magnificently an awakened soul uses his moments, how joyfully he sets behind him all temptations and weaknesses! No vain regrets, nor great suffering, nor self-imposed martyrdom: he just steps into the new life, rejuvenated, renovated, restored to his spiritual rights and to that quality of knowledge that is essential for a man in order that he may understand his own responsibilities in life.
There are many people in the world, as everyone knows, who do not aspire. They have been miseducated for so long, as were their ancestors before them, that it is in their very blood to suppose that when a man dies, that is the end of everything; or, if he has been reasonably good, he goes to heaven, and if he is not among the elect, he goes to the other place. O ye gods, what nonsense! To the theosophist, on the other hand, the picture is such that he learns to realize how precious life is. He values every moment of his time and applies his aspirations to real living. He stands constantly in the knowledge of his soul-life. He finds himself alert, alive, and moving positively onwards. It is only those who merely half-place themselves in touch with these ideas and then play hide-and-go-seek with their own souls, who fail — yes, who fail for this life, but for whom there is another chance in the next life.
We must all make our choice sometime; and the question is, shall we do it now or shall we wait until another life? Then we shall look back and see the time we wasted and the opportunities we lost, and how we turned away from the true path. I am not a pessimist, for I realize that despite the crimes and the disappointments and the despair from which the world suffers today, there is a great promise of better things ahead. A change is coming. We are reaching the tether end of things as they are, and in the course of time something will happen that will suddenly arouse humanity to a realization that the only safe thing to hold to will be the great and inspiring truths of the majestic theosophical philosophy.