Long ago in a little brick church in New England, we used to sing a hauntingly beautiful hymn, the words of which went something like this:
Not now, but in the coming years
It may be in a better land
We'll learn the meaning of our tears
And there — sometime — we'll understand.
Each time we sang it, I used to pray fiercely, "Dear God! Why make us wait? Help me to understand now!"
I am afraid that particular prayer was never offered in the proper spirit of humility, for I can well remember the strong resentment I felt towards a God that after creating us and placing us here on earth, sat smugly somewhere up there beyond the clouds and put us in the humiliating position of having to 'beg' for the knowledge necessary to intelligently cope with the world in which he had placed us. Therefore, when I found pleading with Him produced no results, I was prone to demand — though I believe that was the only prayer which to me warranted putting that much force behind it. As for all other kinds of prayers, I made a sort of pact with God to the effect that if He would grant this one prayer which would give me at least a modicum of wisdom with which to manage my own life, I would not bother Him about anything else, thus leaving Him more time to listen to the hundreds of others who prayed about everything from crops to new fur coats.
The words of that hymn, however, were to a great extent responsible for my setting out on a long search for enlightenment and understanding — not particularly an understanding of God, but knowledge and understanding sufficient to enable me to stand on my own feet and thereby relieve an overworked personal God of the trouble of propping me up 24 hours a day.
This search went on for many years, and only ended (or should I say 'really began') when I found the 'source' of the knowledge I had been seeking — the quest for the knowledge itself still was in the future, a future that would encompass much longer than the few years remaining in this lifetime.
I believe the first real glimpse of the key to the pattern came to me when I heard these words:
O Thou Golden Sun of most excellent splendor,
Illumine our hearts and fill our minds, so that we,
Recognizing our oneness with the Divinity, which is
the heart of the Universe,
May see the Pathway before our feet, and tread it to those
distant goals of perfection
Stimulated by thine own radiant light.
That was it. — That we may see the Pathway before our feet! The Gayatri — it had a familiar sound. In fact, I had a strong conviction that with sufficient effort, I might remember where and when I had heard it before, but at the time I was too stunned by the impact of memories of events in my life — from early childhood down to the present moment, which passed in review — a seemingly endless pageant, but now suffused with light and meaning.
For a few brief moments, I felt I knew the reason or cause for each event, however unimportant it may have seemed at the time. And for that moment the pattern was complete. I knew also, as surely as I knew I lived, that contrary to what I had previously believed, I had only one enemy in this world to be reckoned with — and that enemy bore my own name.
From that time on I saw life as a pilgrimage along a 'highway' or 'road,' packed with glorious adventure, with the mystery and beauty of death at the end to look forward to.
I was at the same time impressed with how closely the life span' resembles its more mundane counterpart in our everyday world — a journey for instance on a transcontinental train. On boarding the train we usually find congenial companions and with them pass through, let us say, a pleasant countryside, where there is warmth, sunshine, green fields and quiet running streams. But this does not last — before long we notice the air is much cooler — here and there are small growths of forest, and in the distance we can see rocky crags and snow-capped mountains. Some of those who boarded the train when we did have arrived at their destinations, and there are many new faces to be seen, but soon the newcomers become old friends as we travel along together. At the various stations en route, there are those whose departure we watch with regret, others with relief. The pattern repeats itself as the train speeds through desert country, mountains, and crowded metropolitan areas — an ever changing panorama.
As we near our journey's end, we settle back to enjoy reliving the memories of the experiences we have shared with those who have gone with us on the long journey. There was the man we had all believed to be a 'wise man' who proved to be a fool; and the one we had thought to be a fool who turned out to be the wisest among us. There was the man who talked a lot but knew little, and the man whom we felt knew a good deal but who had little to say. And we are faintly troubled by the thought that perhaps we ourselves talked too much about things of which we knew little. But now that the journey is nearly over we realize that all that has happened, and everyone we have met, has proved an interesting event, and we know we are much richer for each experience.
Viewing the life-span as a road, and ourselves as the traveler, the pattern of behavior we would choose to follow is not too far removed from that which we would adhere to in walking down any city street.
Let us look at it from the negative point of view: Would we willingly stagger and wobble about all over the sidewalk, bumping into other pedestrians? If we found our shoes becoming uncomfortable, would we start complaining and demand that passers-by stop to listen, and sympathize with us? If we had bundles to carry would we throw them down on the pavement like ill-bred children and expect someone else to pick them up and carry them for us? If we grew tired, would we stop those traveling with us and demand that they either let us lean heavily on them, or allow us to climb upon their backs and be carried to our destination? No! And yet we are prone to follow much this same behavior pattern on the 'road of life.'
Within those few lines of the Gayatri are complete directions:
Walk the road of life with courage, dignity and kindly consideration for your fellowmen. No need to fear the darkness, the pathway before your feet is well lighted by the radiance of those who have gone before.
Living life with such a pattern to guide us, the most menial tasks become interesting occupations — each apparent misfortune becomes a problem, as in mathematics, to be solved, each change in circumstance a new experience — and life itself becomes a glorious adventure.
(From Sunrise magazine, October 1951; copyright © 1951 Theosophical University Press)