It was February 1939 when I signed up for a ski trip in the Japanese alps. To fill the long evenings after the days' schussing I had borrowed some reading material from a friend, who had a well-stocked library which included a number of theosophical books and magazines, all strange to me. The world was in the turmoil which was to become World War II. In the international settlement of Shanghai, where I lived, many of us wore a lapel pin depicting Mr. Chamberlain's umbrella, in the vain hope of averting the holocaust of a threatening worldwide war. The entire international community of Shanghai lived with the additional uncertainty of not knowing how things would develop among the welter of diverse nationals who composed our town.
This uncertainty was accentuated on our trip to Japan. We were a typically mixed blend of different nationalities reflecting the proportion of skiers or prospective skiers: seventeen were German or Austrian, four were British, one young woman was Polish, another Portuguese, and I was Swedish. There was also a French photographer who amused himself filming our embarrassment on the "nursery slopes." Any conversation was difficult.
I lasted about two days. Then a severely wrenched knee forced me to spend the rest of the fortnight in a hot Japanese bath, with nothing to do but read my friend's magazines. I chose to begin with one aptly named Lucifer (anyone who has enjoyed a Japanese bath will appreciate the pun). Among the articles were some addresses by the then Leader of the Theosophical Society, Professor Gottfried de Purucker.
Initially I opened the magazine with a good deal of skepticism. I had my own philosophy which had served me well enough. It boiled down to an application of the Golden Rule and omitted any unquestioning acceptance of secondhand beliefs. Before long I discovered that my personal ideas were included, buttressed by scientific information to the extent that my understanding could reach. It would be impossible to describe adequately the effect these writings had on one who had spurned all formal religious beliefs and formed a philosophy of her own. What I read confirmed the convictions I had arrived at in my own voyages of discovery, but amplified and explained.
On one memorable occasion some years earlier I had determined to find the mysterious unexplained Being termed "God" — something I never had resolved or accepted. This venture is one that Socrates long ago proposed and it has ageless validity: "The unexamined life is not worth living." The application of this exercise supplied many of the lacks in my homemade convictions. I remember pacing back and forth in my room, obstinately bent on finding, or at least defining, the existence of God. It took a long time and I was very tired when I arrived at a satisfying understanding, based on common sense and a new interpretation of several religious views. By uniting many diverse expressions, I learned what it means to say that "God is omnipresent" — not as a benevolent gentleman in the sky but an ubiquitous Presence, implying that you and I and all else may be regarded as "children of God" in the sense that all are sprung from a divine essence without bounds of space or time: If every atom in an infinite universe is an expression of a common divinity, we are indeed "divinely begotten" — not creatures, but representations of divine unity.
What I read complemented my own discoveries and gave me a satisfying overview, a larger, more comprehensive understanding, one that could fill the gaps in my own thinking. I had always felt that blind belief in anything is worthless. For instance, I could believe that the moon is a green cheese or that a politician running for office is to be implicitly relied on, but this does not make it true. In the persuasive words of the White Queen, "I can believe six impossible things before breakfast." But when one's own convictions agree with common sense and proven fact, they must override the claims made by any "authority."
No doubt there are those who know less and have less understanding than I; and by the same token there must be others who possess superior wisdom and who can furnish the magic key that allows one to make important discoveries for oneself. Such people are able to evoke an insight and inspiration not otherwise accessible. One such was the teacher called GdeP. I never saw him, but I owe him a debt of unfathomable gratitude.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2000; copyright © 2000 Theosophical University Press)