Too many of us today feel a kind of helpless resignation in the face of events and creeds we know in our hearts to be wrong. We see one third of Earth's inhabitants given over to a belief that the State is the highest and only master, whose ends justify all crimes. We see another third considering the use of appalling, cataclysmic weapons to annihilate that State and its followers. The scourge of war, its tensions, fears, hates, lies heavy on mankind, and on each of us.
And with it, the beliefs men had seem faint. They fade. Somehow, through seeing wrong apparently triumph, too many of us inwardly give up, resign, accept, as though saying to ourselves, "Well, what is, is. If that's how it is, I suppose it can't be otherwise."
And yet throughout history there has always been this "crimson thread" of wars and tyrannies, revolts, oppression, fear, hate and bloodshed. And I say unto you, there shall be wars and rumors of wars. — But is that all? Is this the only certainty we can count on to live by? Or has there been another thread, another history than this history of crime?
We know there has. Since the beginning of recorded time men have sought for Truth. Some — higher than foolish, confused folk like us — have sought and found and proclaimed the truth they saw, for the benefit of us all. They, and what they passed on to mankind, stand out like beacons across the dark acts of men like ourselves. Such names as Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus have survived the oblivion of many emperors and generals.
And herein lies a great assurance — that what one found and taught is never contradicted by another's teaching. Jesus, Confucius, Moses, each in his own way describes the same facts and principles.
If ever there was a time to look and take account of what these men saw and told, surely it is now. If ever men needed wisdom, it is today. Whether in the highest places, where decisions are said to be made, or in our own more humble lives, the final folly would be to forget — or to pass blindly by what the greatest that our race has produced have tried to teach their fellows. Let not the epitaph of the Human Race be "Light was given, but in blindness they lived, despaired, and died."
This story begins many thousands of years ago. How many thousands no one knows, because there is no evidence to establish at what date Zoroaster lived. Some say six thousand years b.c, some more, some less. In our modern arrogance we may think that the people of those remote times were barbaric and uncivilized. But what remains of their teachings shows that they had wisdom; and, indeed, there is a tradition that the Three Wise Men who came to pay homage at the birth of Christ were followers of the ancient Zoroaster.
The Buddha taught that in order to achieve wisdom and goodness a man must be mindful of himself, or collected in himself, at all times. The word Sati which he used actually means memory or remembrance; so that the Buddha's teaching originally meant that a man must remember at all times. Today we use the phrase he forgot himself when a man does something wrong or unreasonable; but the Buddha's teaching meant far more than merely the opposite of this. A man was instructed to be mindful of his body in whatever it was doing at every moment; to be mindful of his thoughts, whatever might come into his head, to be aware of it at all times; to be mindful of his feelings, whatever emotion touched him, to be aware of it; to be mindful of his attitude, to weigh everything by the fundamental truths enunciated by the Buddha, the truths of what was good and what was evil. Putting it another way, the Buddha demanded that a man must awake; he must rouse himself to wakefulness by efforts based on knowledge; and the only way to this was through the constant awareness of himself.
Buddha taught in the sixth century b.c. A thousand years later, much of his teaching had become formalized and scholastic. It was at this time that Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, appeared on the scene. He swept aside all formal teaching. While continuing the pure strain of Buddhism in its deepest sense, the Zen teachers permitted of no philosophy. Their goal was man's own direct realization of truth. Because of this approach, little doctrine as such remains from the Zen teaching. The tradition is shown best in a series of stories, most of which consist of accounts of the Zen masters' practical, direct teaching of their pupils. And perhaps because of this, there is no tradition which has kept more undistorted that humanness and humor so fundamental to the true tradition.
The teaching of Moses is well known in our western world. . . . Moses clearly demonstrated the fundamental truth that man, however great or wise he be, is not born as such but reaches his height through a process of self-perfecting. Moses said freely that he was born cruel, haughty, greedy, ambitious, and with many other vices. His triumph was that by long and intense efforts of the will he gradually overcame and suppressed those vices within himself, until all opposed to them became his second nature. This is the same as the teachings we have seen of Zoroaster, of the Gita, of the Buddha, of the Zen masters — indeed, the same as those taught by all Masters of all time.
In early Christian literature, in a passage quoted from St. Zosima, we find the teaching that possessing things is no sin in itself, but the possession of them passionately is. If one possesses passionately, then the loss of what one possesses produces sorrow and agitation. The aim in this case is to have as though one had not. How clear a link, across continents and centuries to the teaching of the Gita, where action and possession are not seen as evil, but only acting or possessing with attachment.
In all the Teachings the basic truths are the same — there is no contradiction. Never is man looked upon as a completed Being; always he is shown as having the possibility of becoming something higher than he is; always it is indicated that a man can touch unused powers of understanding, not only of himself but also of the universe. Pride, greed, jealousy, anger, self-satisfaction, are always condemned. Restraint, self-collectedness, freedom from attachment, wakefulness, are always praised. Each teaching points man's aims and the purpose of his existence toward the perfecting of himself in order to become capable of perceiving the Highest Truth.
In a world that seems unable to live in harmony with itself, a world that seems headed for more and more terrible periods of reciprocal destruction, it seems clear that only those basic teachings and principles expressed by the wisest and best of the Human Race hold the promise of hope. The average man today cannot set things right in the world, and can do little to govern the relations between nations. But no one can say that there is nothing he can do about the governance of himself or the choice of the direction in which he aims to go.
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