A Thinking Reed

Grace F. Knoche

The Atomic Energy Commission informs us that the world is now "crossing the threshold into a revolutionary situation." The State of Nevada has flashed into the limelight of world interest with the report of the current nuclear tests, the explosion of tactical A-bombs near Las Vegas. Secret laboratories stationed in various parts of the country have for years been laboring to find some means whereby "area" bombing of defenseless cities might be outmoded. Among other things, they have come up with the Matador, the "guided atomic missile."

Since 1945 the world at large has shuddered at the use of atomic weapons. Their effect upon mankind, regardless of argumentation of necessity, will long endure. Years of fear, bewilderment, suspicion and cold war have followed, with a workable peace not yet in sight. What then of the present developments? Will man never realize the brotherhood which the United Nations was formed to effect? Will he never settle down to the simple pursuit of living in trust with his neighbor? What is man that he should be willing to spend billions upon the perfecting of atomic weapons and so little, if any, on the study of man's moral and spiritual potentialities? These are the thoughts that furrow the brows of millions of men and women the world over whose everyday responsibilities are constantly overshadowed by the weight of the world's fear.

As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he — and so will his future destiny be shaped. We cannot believe that man is at the mercy of blind fate, without guidance. Yet what has science to offer, what philosophy? And what has religion as understood today to yield of faith in the living philosophy of the Christ? Surely the God within man has some say in this matter of evolution!

For answer we need not look far, for today's thinkers are delving into the past to find keys to the riddle of Man — man who is not his body, not even his mind, and far nobler than his emotions which lead to frustration if not despair. Of all the statements made by philosophers and religionists through the ages, perhaps the one by Pascal, written in the seventeenth century when men as now were frantically searching for something to hang on to, carries the most pertinent message for today's need:

Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. . . . All our dignity, then, consists of thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor then to think well: that is the principle of morality. By space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; by thought I comprehend the world.

Physically, man is indeed the "most feeble thing in the universe," for wars are not fought with bodies, but with the courage and heroism of the hearts of men. Spiritually, intellectually, morally — what a dynamo is man, for his lineage is of The Immortals. "All our dignity consists of thought" — yet why the confusion in every sphere of experience? It is folly to pretend that we know where we are headed, or that there is confidence in the ultimate justice of life. Our thoughts, our minds, our hearts even, are in turmoil, and we don't know where to turn. Everything somehow seems to have got jumbled into a frightening insecurity, with no anchor of trust, much less of knowledge.

If we would seek the larger view, however, we cannot forever look through the wrong end of the telescope. This midcentury period is a time when the forces of spiritual progress and material retrogression are balancing, and the battle of the ages is on. Men of vision, of hope and of courage are needed as never before, men of strength of principle as well as of conviction. We cannot push back the clock of destiny, nor should we trifle with such thoughts. The atomic age is here, and instead of crouching in bewilderment, afraid of the shadow of our own thought, we should welcome the inrushing tide of the century, realizing full well that we would not be here as men and women today did we not have the innate capacity as "thinking reeds" to encompass that which lies ahead. By thought we can indeed elevate the race. Let us, then, as Pascal exhorts, "endeavor to think well," for that is the principle not alone of morality but of enlightened evolution. Time and tide may swallow our bodies as bits of atomic dust, but morally, spiritually, man literally can "comprehend the world."

Know ye not that ye are Gods? How timeless the words of the Prince of Peace. For these things that I do ye shall do also, and even greater. There is no force outside of man more potent than man's inmost self, for the God in man is commensurate with the God of the universe.

Today we have reached a crisis of decision: either to go forward in strength and dignity and as a race meet the destiny that is ours; or, if we prefer the backward glance, wither with fear, a reed indeed, feeble and broken, to be tossed aside as an encumbrance to progress. The release of atomic force in this twentieth century, with its mental, moral and spiritual impact, is compelling each one of us to weigh basic factors rather than continue to drift on the periphery of the central issues of life.

Ever since history has been recorded, and tradition hints for ages before, there have been Saviors, Avataras and Christs, who having incarnated a portion of their Godhood, brought light, wisdom, and a new way of living. How have we received these God-men? When the brilliance of their glory flashed across the horizon of time, we rejected it as a false light. When the darkness followed, we awoke, and began to search for the bringer of that light. When that availed us not, we took to worshipping in vain its shadow. Nevertheless, man still a God in essence, somehow has muddled through the centuries, following if gropingly an inner faith. Today, with atomic power blasting steadily, we are forced to open our eyes.

It is not a pleasant world, but it is a world that is alive, searching, in earnest, a world in which spiritual issues are becoming increasingly a part of daily thinking. We are indeed "crossing the threshold into a revolutionary situation" as the Atomic Commission assures us, but we venture to suggest in far more potent ways than perhaps they themselves dream. Is it not possible that the release of atomic energy at this half-century mark may reflect a parallel revolution in world thinking whereby the wisdom of the ages will once again take hold and bring mankind a working knowledge of his essential Godhood?

Whatever one may think of such a possibility, it does exist. In 1900, could you or I have foretold that the then virgin fields of discovery: Becquerel's radio-activity, the isolation of radium by the Curies, radiant matter by Crookes, the X-ray by Roentgen, and the development of innumerable other premonitory symptoms of the present atomic age, would by 1951 have revolutionized science, industry, medicine, as well as warfare? Why then should the possibilities of an equal revolution in spiritual concerns be negated?

Man may be only a reed, but he is assuredly a thinking reed, and given time will realize his Godhood.

(From Sunrise magazine, November 1951; copyright © 1951 Theosophical University Press)

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