And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles. — Mark ii, 22
Every man who recognizes that truth exists must feel an urgent desire to find the reality behind this seeming world. The desire is apparent in the growing awareness of children, their remarkable curiosity; and in adolescents, in their avidity for new and stranger things, adventures that heighten the excitement of growing consciousness. At every stage of living the world offers us a newness, a fresh perception, which we can use to gain experience for the soul, unless we sink, surfeited, into the apathy of pure materialism.
This disease of the human mind is all too common. Our cleverness is too great in the restricted fields of material perfectionism, our intelligence too small to take full advantage of the vital experiences of the soul. Humanity is too far advanced to be content with surrogates of dogmatic unreason, too slow to discriminate among the potentialities of a world that is within the outer. The result is a variety of neuroses, brought about by fumbling in dead-end alleys of metaphysics, or rather infra-physics. Art, science, music, all reflect an urge to penetrate beyond the obvious but, lacking discrimination, the artist, the scientist and the musician tend to confuse the world of the soul with a lower and dangerous realm composed of the dregs of eons gone by. The future points towards a higher conscious life, the past to lower and, by present standards, evil effluvia of dead worlds. Before us lies the road to the sun, behind us the deceptive glitter of the moon. Discrimination is reached only through a conscious awareness of moral values, an Ariadne's thread that we hold it in our power to grasp, and which will guide the firm steps of him who has the courage to follow it. With every generation the thread becomes of finer texture, the moral values of a higher standard. The wine of spiritual knowledge is constantly renewed to fit the age, and the old bottles must be discarded and a receptacle found adequate to hold the new vintage in its potency.
No one can claim to be original in his attempt to follow the thread of Ariadne through life. The journey has been made and successfully accomplished by countless great souls, whose only concern has been, and is, to blaze the trail for others to follow. The best known Master in the west is the man known as Jesus. Were Christians today to live as He commanded, there would be no need of any churches. Every man would live for others, not for himself. Our complicated system of ensuring the safety of individuals in an unfeeling and barbarous society would become obsolete. There would be no need to care for the sick, the orphans, the insane in the forced manner of today, for those who possess much would, without urging, care for those who possess little. If this Utopian vision is laughably inept in our society today, does the fault lie with the vision or with society?
Who can find a panacea? With every generation our laws and customs become more complex in an attempt to reduce the more obvious ills that beset us. And always, at our elbow, lies the truth, untouched, ignored, too familiar to be noticed in our busy rush to find bigger and better mustard-plasters for our aches.
Christ failed to accomplish his mission. The great teacher, who lived only for others, whose selfless life was dedicated to save humanity from its mad rush down into the dark ages, became a mere idol to be worshipped and adored, his teachings forgotten, his purpose trampled underfoot by the hordes of his idolaters. What more pitiful waste of divine compassion is there in the whole of human history? Yet, the Great Ones, whose nature is love and compassion, do not count the cost. They did not, nor will They ever, permit Themselves to be thwarted in Their efforts by the ingratitude of those They wish to help. In every century a fresh attempt is made and history is dotted with the names of men, labelled "charlatans," "impostors," "fools," "idealists," who have lived, as did Jesus, among men and extended Their hands to any who were wise enough, and capable of love enough, to join Them in the great task.
Great knowledge coupled with great love is the heritage of any who will accept it in order to pass it on. It has been perpetuated for us in the various means that current life at any time provided. The cards now used for poker are descendant of the sacred symbols; chess, ball-games, races, all are the progeny of means once used to impart the mystic knowledge of man and nature. Corrupted as they are, their symbolism may still be faintly traced. In every age some system has been devised of pointing, if ever so feebly, to the universal Ancient Wisdom, known from long pre-history to "the few." And every generation yields its share of willing workers in the ranks of the Brotherhood, while others scoff and go their hopeless way, loving life and hating it, hurrying, worrying, unsatisfied and afraid.
What, then, is the hallmark of truth? How are we to know a genuine teacher among the crackpots that abound in our generation? It is so simple. Too simple, perhaps. If a man says to you: "I will teach you to become influential, to gain power," run from him, as you would from a virulent disease, for the bacteria of mental and psychic disease are far more virulent than any mortal fever. But if a man says to you: "Follow the law of love, of selflessness, be harmonious, be kind, be 'as nothing in the eyes of men,' help others, forgive freely all injuries and forget yourself," then, be satisfied that he is teaching truly. Whatever his name, his sect, his creed, he is teaching truly, and you will profit by his teaching. But only if you yourself do these things. He cannot do them for you. No man can eat for another, either in the physical world or in the world of the soul. You must yourself swallow the sometimes bitter fruit of the tree of knowledge. You must yourself digest what you have swallowed and transmute the substance into your own life-blood. The wine offered by Jesus has become unpalatable to the people of today, let's face it. Through no fault of the wine, the parables of yesteryear seem out of date, no longer applicable to our living. And the old bottle of the Church has become shattered into innumerable sects more or less dogmatic and shallow. The new wine, pressed from the same stock of vines as before, is available, now as ever, contained in new bottles, as yet unruptured and freely dispensed to all who are willing to partake of its sweetness. Now as ever it is offered to the "publicans and sinners," and, as always, it requires a strong head and a stout heart, for no weakling can for long bear its heady fragrance. He who wishes to help others, must be truly altruistic. There can be no reservations favoring the self, no lurking desire to receive more than the just share, be it ever so little, no compromise with weakness. True love is impersonal, compassionate and unreserved, not focussed on an object but flowing freely out to all that lives, as shines the sun, dissipating its splendor into space for the benefit of those few planetary specks that intercept its rays.
All the world is talking about brotherhood: brotherhoods abound, binding together like-thinking men and women whose interests touch on some one subject. Their purpose is usually humanitarian, embracing some aspect of life, dispensing aid in some form, bettering conditions. Their efforts are praiseworthy and yet how futile to correct the causes that bring about the conditions they are striving to repair. Could these many brotherhoods be joined each to each by a common facet of their objectives, a solid structure might result, much as a honeycomb results from the joining of innumerable cells, each touching its neighbor by one of its six sides. True brotherhood is not a sentimental concept, to bind together certain chosen equals, or to be accorded "inferiors" with patronizing complacency. Brotherhood is a natural outcome of impersonal love — an acceptance of the variants of cut and color in the gems of life, and a boundless love for each in its own setting.
The new wine of today is essentially from the same source whence has sprung the spiritual inspiration of all ages. Even at this late date the words of the Syrian initiate echo down the corridors of the dark ages and reach us, as true today as when the new wine of Jesus burst the bottle of the Mosaic law:
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. — John, xiii, 34-5.
(From Sunrise magazine, November 1951; copyright © 1951 Theosophical University Press)
To do an evil action is base; to do a good action, without incurring danger, is common enough; but it is the part of a good man to do great and noble deeds, though he risks everything. — Plutarch