Universal Brotherhood Path – March 1902


"The Sublime" is a phrase that is applied to certain moods and to the objects that arouse them. These moods are temporary and evanescent, having no substantial and lasting relation with life as we know it. Hence they are by many relegated to the category of things fanciful and delusive, where they serve as ideals for the poet and artist and as will-o'-the-wisps to allure men with an occasional fitful gleam.

It is our present purpose to seek the cause, the nature and the import of these feelings of sublimity. They are common to all humanity, and should be treated as unassailable facts from which a philosophy may be safely induced. It behooves people living in a scientific age to use the methods of science; that is, to frame a "working hypothesis" to account for the facts before them; to confirm, enlarge, or reject that hypothesis in the light of further facts; and to consider it as established in default of any better theory offering itself.

If we examine the ideas of current thinkers on the subject of the sublime, we shall find the following theory largely held: that sublime ideas are artificial and delusive states produced in the mind, having no real relation with life, and partaking of the nature of intoxication. For example, take Macaulay's definition of poetry as the art of producing an illusion upon the mind, and Tolstoy's notions on music and art.

Thus, to put it concisely, this theory depicts the Sublime as a vain dream and an abnormality, ordinary life being real and normal.

We propose to offer as our working hypothesis the contrary view, namely, that the Sublime consists of glimpses of real life, ordinary life being abnormal, or rather, infranormal.

With regard to the former theory, we believe that it is a capital example of a great fallacy peculiar to all materialistic philosophy. This fallacy is the notion that there can be an illusion without a corresponding reality, a shadow without a substance, a copy without an original. We believe that it is impossible for a man to conceive what cannot be, and that all conceptions and ideas represent actualities. The dreams and visions of a brighter, nobler life that all experience in rare moments, and that artists depict and poets sing, are not idle fancies representing non-existent and impossible things, but memories of what was, forecasts of what is to be, or visions of what elsewhere is.

We postulate, then, a real life, better, grander, happier than what is called normal life; and consider "the Sublime" as the fleeting and imperfect foretaste which now represents all that we can attain of that life.

But let us keep to facts and to the realities that alone can interest men, and not sail away into the realms of unapplied and inappreciable speculation. The one great fact from which there is no escape is the fact of one's own existence. Theorize as we may, speculate as to origins and ends, question God's justice — the fact remains that here we are and must live our life, willingly or unwillingly. Also, we know when we are happy, and when we are miserable; we like to be happy, we must be happy. Give a man a feeling of real happiness, and he will not ask for more, nor try to reason it away. It is a real fact that he has got and needs no propping up with arguments.

Now, it is a fact that the average life of man, as he is today, is not ideally happy or noble or wise or beautiful. And it is a fact that, in rare moments of inspiration we have tastes of a life that is all of these. If those glimpses could become full visions, and that fleeting life a permanent existence, we should be happy, and the saying, "Life is Joy," would pass from an ideal into an actuality, from a paradox into an axiom.

Man is only half alive. Occasionally he warms up for a moment into fuller life, but only to relapse into his customary dormancy. Can he be awakened? The answer in the affirmative forms the root-principle of Theosophy and the motive-power of the Universal Brotherhood Organization. Man is a far grander and happier being than he knows, but he sleepeth. Let us awaken him!

All religions represent man as having fallen from a former glorified state into a state of ignorance and drudgery; but as destined to rise again to a state made yet more glorious by the added need of toil and pain. This is what is symbolized by Eden, the Fall, and the Redemption — sacred emblem, revealed by every religion, by every priestcraft degraded into a dogma. Let us reinstate it as a symbol of man's origin, nature, and destiny.

The sacred fire once breathed into the clay still smolders in the breast of man, nor can any load of earth smother it. It urges him ever on toward the ideals enshrined in the heart-temple where it burns; and it will surely regenerate the whole being and become a glorious sun once more.

Man is still a "living Soul," despite his "coat of skin." That living Soul reveals itself in dreams of beauty and bliss, but the conditions of its shrine and the turmoil of daily life soon smother the light. The purpose of Theosophy and of the Universal Brotherhood Organization is to evoke the Soul of Man, to call it back to dwell in a shrine meet to receive it, and to make life on earth once more a joy. Thus will "the Sublime" become a permanent reality.

How, then, can the lost Soul-Life be restored? By finding out the necessary conditions and providing them. For no power can manifest itself unless the proper conditions are observed. Electricity cannot be had where damp reigns and rust clogs. Music cannot be evoked by broken strings. The Soul cannot shine, nor flash, nor resound amid a chaos of human emotions and a conflict of hearts. The analogy of the orchestra will serve us best. The condition for the manifestation of Soul is Harmony. For the very breath and being of the Soul is Music. As various tones blended yield entrancing harmony, so various hearts blended in accord yield that sublime harmony of being that is the true Life of Joy.

Brotherhood is the known watch-word of Theosophy; but, for Brotherhood, Theosophy has a motive that is more inspiring than the customary incentives. We are to blend our interests and subordinate our jarring personal notes — not merely that all may eat a fair share of bread and butter and work three hours a day, not because Jesus said so, or because it is right — but that the Soul may be evoked, that man may live.

But men have lost the key to harmony; they do not know how so to blend their aspirations and doings as to evoke Soul-Music. Their attempts at harmony are blundering, and often a mere repetition of their customary personal and disunited action. Again taking the symbol of the orchestra, we may illustrate men's strivings after harmony thus: They all try to play the same tune on the same instrument. They exchange instruments, you playing my fiddle for me, and I relieving you of your duties with the flute. They try to arrange conditions under which each man may play his own tune uninterfered with by the rest. All these mistaken methods are capable of yielding some variety of noise, but not harmony.

To produce harmony in an orchestra, each player must have in mind the tune that is being rendered, and must have an attentive ear to the general effect. The performers do not try merely to keep together, but they all strive after a common result. Also it is well that they should have a conductor to mark time and supervise with his watchful ear the general result.

So, in the co-operation of our lives, we must have a common aim to bind us together. Mere attempts to co-operate for the sake of co-operation, are insufficient. A group of workers all anxious to finish a piece of work will co-operate better and yield better and quicker results than a body of men whose only object is to work together without regard to the end.

The chief cause of the failure to achieve brotherhood is this lack of a common goal of aspiration. If each man strove to evoke the Soul, then all would be blended in their common striving. Again, there must be the aspiration after something higher than what is. If the aim is mere bread and butter and peace and plenty, then there will be a leveling down rather than a leveling up, and we shall have a typical social Utopia of dreary monotone.

The Sublime is too vast and expansive to be cultivated by a single mind and a single heart. The recluse, the solitary student, the sequestered poet, be they ever so ethereal and ecstatic, will never achieve the sublime. They will achieve a narrow form of intoxication which will not fit the needs of other people, and they will be ignored or laughed at. The Soul needs a Temple built of many hearts, and an organ in which each life is a separate tone.

Music is not the jarring of dissonant sounds, nor the unison of many identical tones; it is the blending of diverse but consonant notes. Soul-music is evoked by the accord of diverse but sympathetic hearts.

The presence of soul-music can be known by the joy and sublimity it breathes. For, as grand music is to noise, so is the true Soul-life to the clashing life of the modern world.

Are we not weary of a life that is a monotony, when not a burden; where pleasures first warm, then burn, then poison; where people cannot move without treading upon each other's toes; where aspiration and speculation lead to vast, inapplicable philosophies and whole libraries of word-books; where poetry is material for critics, and art copies the antique, or slavishly depicts the outer crust of nature; where everything ends in nothing?

How hard we have striven, by shutting ourselves up with our books and our dreams, to blot out the jarring world and conjure up some sweet breath of that fragrant and invigorative air that the ancients breathed in the days when their Soul-life took form in those buildings and symbols that now you pore over in helpless wonder. Our life expresses itself in sky-scrapers and factory chimneys, and can only copy and burlesque the art of others greater than we.

Strive, then, no more to ape the emblems of the spirit that was, but evoke anew that spirit in modern life. Seek the "Sublime." We are all sick to death of the vulgarity, pettiness, paltriness and precision of modern ideas. Let us breast the wave of generous reaction and revolt against the mean and narrow life of selfish care. True life laughs at death and change; these are but incidents; the Soul wills all happenings for the purposes of its own experience; it is superior to all and can outlive all obstacles and shine down all clouds. Let us throw off the sordid sentiments that have poisoned our very gospels and turned the sublime truth of the Union of Souls into a servile meekness or a noisome itching to do somebody else's duty. Let us blend our hearts and bring back to earth the lost Soul-music.

Theosophical University Press Online Edition