If we attempt to institute a comparison between the literature of the present day and that of a hundred and fifty years ago, we shall find that no field of investigation shows a wider difference between the two epochs than that of religious and philosophic thought.
The last quarter of the eighteenth century was made memorable by the discoveries of Anquetil du Perron, Sir William Jones and Henry Thomas Colebrooke, who introduced to an astonished Western world the results of their discoveries in Sanskrit literature, revealing mines of wealth in every branch of learning, which even now have been only partially investigated. Rich stores of exquisite poetry, ancient history and mythology, science and philosophy, which were found to explain and illumine the fields of modern thought and belief, and to transcend the recorded ideals of the last two millenniums, were brought to light. Thus the treasures which have been left for our use and benefit by the ancient teachers and sages of prehistoric times are beginning to receive their just due.
It would take too long to go over in detail how enormously these studies have changed the aspect of modern thought, and lifted it from the planes of narrow creed and a too analytical investigation, into a new day of enlightenment for synthetic academic research. For centuries the Western world had been cut off from the fountain-head from which had sprung all its systems of religion and philosophy. It has now become evident that the philosophy of Plato and the ethics of Jesus the Nazarene are but beacon-lights on the shore of a gleaming sea of wisdom, which stretches far back into the dim past. Between those times and the present are the "dark ages."
We are living in an age of transition. On every hand we find that men have lost faith in the accepted contemporary standards of philosophic and religious teaching. We are being compelled, whether we like it or not, to think for ourselves, sustained by "the conviction that there must be somewhere a philosophic and religious system which shall be scientific and not merely speculative."
In starting upon such an investigation we are at once confronted with a question which is perhaps the oldest in the world: Where shall I look for Light? In these modern days the replies are as different as the teachers. The philosophies and the religions of the twentieth century are both numerous and contradictory. They can all be traced to their origin; they can be classified and analyzed. But little effort has been made, however, to unite them into that synthetic whole which might contain some central scientific principle of sublime truth. Their existence has too often depended upon the monstrous assumption that one set of men can compel the faith of others, and force it into a groove against which their soul rebels. So terrible and deadly has been this hypnotic force of compulsion, that the world has almost lost its belief in the very existence of its greatest treasure of wisdom: the knowledge of the essential divinity of man and the religion common to all mankind which results from that knowledge. So our modern civilization has been adrift on a turbulent sea of doubt and strife, and suffers itself to be hurried hither and thither by the ghosts of dead ideals.
In ancient times, as we find from perusing the writings of the sages, this was not so. To the seeker after truth there was always one reply which may have differed in outward form, but which was always the same in essence. Perhaps an endeavor to understand it may give us unexpected help in the right direction. Their reply was always in effect: "Look within thyself, for Man is a mirror of the Universe."
In that noble epic poem called the Mahabharata, of unknown antiquity, we find a portion called the Bhagavad-Gita, which relates a conversation between Krishna (the spirit of the Universe) and Arjuna (the aspiring human soul), from which the following two quotations are taken:
Krishna: By this knowledge thou shalt see all things and creatures whatsoever in thyself and then in me.
Krishna: He, O Arjuna, who by the similitude found in himself seeth but one essence in all things, whether they be evil or good, is considered the most excellent devotee.
And again, Sankaracharya, one of the inspired teachers of older India, in his luminous work on the divine science called The Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, continually enjoins his disciple to look upon himself as a part of the Eternal. In one place he says:
Knowing that "I am the Eternal" wherein this world is reflected like a city in a mirror, thou shalt perfectly gain thine end.
In later times Jesus the Nazarene said:
The light of the body is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single, thy body shall be full of light.
And we have the celebrated maxim of Plato, by which he intended to embrace all branches of wisdom: "Man, know thyself!"
Quotations from the sayings of the ancients to the same effect as those already given might be extended almost indefinitely.
The cultivation of the reflective thought referred to in these axioms evidently implies something more than ordinary thinking. If we call reason the eye of the mind, then intuition may be defined as the eye of the soul. And it is the latter which we desire to make active, that it may lead us to wisdom. The practice of thinking out how we may attain our personal desires, or even how we may attain to a personal salvation, must be laid aside. It is altogether too limited. We must give our thinking a wider scope.
For the world is made up of millions of human beings all constituted as we are in the main essentials, though in varying degrees of evolutionary progress. What we are seeking, therefore, are those great laws of human solidarity which bind men together in a bond of universal brotherhood. They are the basis of every religion and every philosophy from the beginning of time.
Any man of common sense who will lay aside for the time his own aims and personal wishes, likes and dislikes, can by reflection find out for himself the basic laws of human morality. If he does so he will know for a certainty that they are true, with a depth of conviction and realization which no dogma or precept can reinforce or change; for wisdom lies within, in the silence of the heart.
The great fault of the age is that we do too little thinking on these lines. We do not care to study out the great laws of life which may be found within the potentialities of our own inner being. We rush on through years of disappointment and sorrow, sometimes gaining what we strive for, and then again losing it, chasing the chimeras of personal power, wealth, fame or pleasure; and then we pass away, not knowing that all this will occur over and over again, until we have discovered the divinity within ourselves and our true position in life. On the other hand there are men who are pioneers of thought. They accept no dogma and no creed made by man in the vain endeavor to express in words that which is only realized in the silence, and is inexpressible. Their foundation is sure, for they have checked it by experience and the testimony left for posterity.
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