Universal Brotherhood Path – September 1902


It is not all men who have the power to ask themselves this question, yet in the life of one here and there it irresistibly presents itself. Till we do ask it, even if no solution comes, we are at the mercy of death. If we can solve it, we are already, though in life, beyond death. Let us see if we can ask this question now — what makes us live and keeps us living? and see if any answer comes out. There is no bond of friendship so deep as that which develops between men who are asking themselves — not each other — this question. There need not be, there will not be, much talking; they are sinking their thought inward, and the nearer they get to the truth, the farther are they from anything that words can convey.

To the deeper questions of life, words cannot render any answer. There are words that seem to give an answer to our question — the will of God, the purpose behind evolution, or what not — but what do we get out of them? In this matter each has to tell himself something; not be told by another. But let words go as far as they can. Beyond that, each travels alone, alone with his feeling; till it sinks deeper and deeper, and at last touches the soul. Thought, meditation, experience, and suffering, break at last the binding power of the personal consciousness, and the eternal key-note of being is heard. That cannot be silenced; nor in truth can we die or kill.

Spring by spring the tree throws up its leaves, and in the autumn they die; yet the tree lives, and in it is the life. And you can take away the branches, and yet the tree lives, for not in them is the real life-center.

And we too, as we pass along, throw out the leaves of childhood and youth, and manhood and old age; which disappear, for not in them is the life. The desires and thoughts of the child and young man are thrown up from his life like leaves; as leaves they pass away, leaving room to others; for they are not the life. So where, in it all, is the man? Who knows fully what "I" means, when he says "I am?"

We live because we love life; and life is action, and joy in action. That may not seem at once true, but it may clear up after a little thinking.

We love action, intense action, which is life; and the soul is the center of life, and therefore a glowing spot of intense and never ceasing action. It is the center fire in the heart. And the thrill of its light, life, fire-energy, passes outward into the mind, and the outer sphere of emotions, and the still outermore sphere of sensations; which latter, ruling alone, are the motors of the panorama of the dream-sphere. In all these spheres about the center-soul, there is life, and from the soul comes now, or used to come, that life. If the life is low in one part of our being, it is high in another; if it goes out in one, it is at the highest in another. If the mind is still in sleep, and the higher emotions have died away, then the lower feelings seize the life, and the low, but vivid world of dream is awake. Still lower, still nearer death, common life ceases to be a unit, breaks connection with the man and the soul. For death is not a ceasing of life, but a breaking of life into lifelets. What we call man is the total, bound together, of soul and mind and emotion and feeling and bodily sensation; bound together into one. But in whichever of these departments life" burns brightest, that part the man calls himself. Most of us call our sensations — skin, palate, and what not — myself; others count the mind as myself; a very few recognize myself as the soul. And of course, if a man thinks of himself as being the sensation-mass, then, as he knows that dies, he must think I die, I am buried and become one with the soil and the worms. Doubtless you have heard of the man who wanted to be buried in the shady west of the graveyard, because east winds were unhealthy.

It may seem untrue to say we love action, all of us, when one of the chief joys of some people is the luxurious dropping off to sleep. But it is true. That sense of luxury is no decline of life, but the running riot of sensations. When a drill-squad is dismissed, the force which held them together, the united wills of the men, relaxes and breaks up, and the liberated men go rejoicingly their several ways. The unit life of the squad has broken up into the lives of the men. And so in going to sleep there is no departure of life, but a breaking of it up among the sensations; and that dissolution, along with the separate and brightening flashes of sensation, give the sense of luxury. Were life actually dying down, there would be pain or discomfort.

We live because we love life, and we die because, in our search for more life, we look the wrong way. The entry of life into any part of our nature is joy; its going away may be pain. Life is in the consciousness of life, and both lie with action. Dissipation means scattering, and the dissipated man is scattering his life. But first he gets joy in that part of his nature which is concerned in the dissipation. He draws life from his mind and higher feelings into the lower fields of sensation; in those lower fields, the flashes of sensation leap up; and there is pleasure to the man, for he has elected to dwell there. But it is at the expense of the higher fields, which are drained. And they do not fill again with life, for the man has thrown himself out of relation with the soul, the glowing center and root of life. So the store of life is being wasted, and no more is coming in, for the flashes of sensation in the lower nature are the marks of the passing away of life outward into the world of matter. They are lost, so far as that man is concerned. His exhausted and life-depleted body is on the way to its dissolution. And he may not replace that life with food, or with anything else from outside. For the kind of life we are considering is that which must be already present before that lower kind which is ordinarily got from food can be made of any use.

Every activity, every action, dissipates life; but they do not necessarily lead to death. For if they are done in the light of the soul, with the approval of the soul, the soul gives of its inexhaustible life to supply the place of that which was spent. Nor need we shirk the consequences of that view, or doubt that when men have learned to practice the law of perfect action, they will have learned to live in perfect bodies so long as the matter of this solar system shall hold its form and energy. And then, exhaustless in their life and consciousness, the further paths of existence will open before their eyes.

A happiness can be got from life that does not lead to death, for the dissipation is replaced. When the life is expended in raising with its divine power the living things around, then it is replaced from the stores of the soul. He whom we call the dissipated man dies with his higher nature starved; its life was stolen by the lower nature of gross sensation. Death can do nothing to sustain him or make him divine. The soul will not replace life wasted in that way.

But if a man give his energy and life to kindly work and service, in that work he is feeding his own higher nature; for he is acting under its impulsion. It is thence that his working bodily powers gain their life, in the true sense. And that higher nature, thus raining its energy into the lower, is not depleted; for it is in full relation with the soul, under the approval of the soul, in the full light of the soul. And if he wear his body to very death in such work, he passes through death with the higher nature in the full light of its undiminished life and consciousness. The dissipated man dies already dead; this man dies into a fuller and more awake life. For some men pass through death living; some live already dead.

The approval of the soul came about because, in spending life, that man spent it in raising life. Whether he nursed the sick, or helped a great cause, or freed his country, he made the life of the world the richer because of the life-work he did, the richer, the higher. He drew the living waters of his own soul, and gave them freely, and to him freely his own soul gave, because of that. Must it not be that after the perfect life is come upon earth, men will have learned how to replace in their bodies cell after cell as they wear out, so that bodily death is met, point by point, and point by point defeated? Already, though we know no more, we know that joy is toward health, and grief toward death.

Life is action, and therefore joy; but as the Hindoo book says, we do not know what is action and what inaction. The seed lies in the wet ground, apparently inactive, but we know that in its tiny world, the intensest activity is in progress; the future tree is stretching its arms in dreamland. As we stand under the starred night sky by the lapping sea, our desires for this and that go away; the mind quiets down the troubled movement we call thought; emotion dies away. In the hush of the nature the breath of the soul is felt and something of its presence known in the heart. In all its seeming peace, this is a state like that of the seed ere it sprouts the green shoot. For the forces of the mind are not really lulled or weakened, but balanced, equipoised; consciousness is richer, fuller of real thought; the seeds of nobler action in the future are awaking. It is only because the state is one of action that it is one of pleasure.

It is the same with the creative, yet outwardly inactive, moments of the musician, the artist, the thinker. Behind the outward quiet they are moments of intense action, and therefore intense joy — the intensest joy that life can offer. The mind, and the sphere of higher feeling, have brought themselves into tune with the soul, and they thrill with some measure of its life.

At present we are not all musicians, artists, spiritual creators of life, not even truly thinkers; and so we cannot get those moments of rapt existence, of almost absolute action. Not at once, but sometime we may. They can be gradually attained by steady doing of duty in the light of the soul. Street-cleaning seems an occupation squalid enough to depress any life and extinguish any man's poetry. But not necessarily. Suppose it done by a man in preparation for some splendid pageant, a pageant in honor of some great helper of the race, whom this man had recognized for himself and whom he loved and reverenced in his heart. Every stroke of his broom would be a glory to him. In that sense we can try to understand and do duty. The soul comes forth when the man is at his greatest, when he is almost more than man. In the patriot, when the fate of the country he loves turns on the issues of the last battle, and the destiny he has created speaks in his words of command; in any man whom danger makes spring in a great moment to the highest heights of heroism, in the orator whose words reach a compelling power under the urgency of the cause he speaks for; in all men at their momentary noblest, the soul has come forth and flooded their whole nature with its life, power, and joy. That is the pageant, in expectation, nay in the very presence of which, we can sweep the streets of duty. Cultivate joy in the highest as every duty is done, and we cultivate life, grasp life.

We live because life is joy; and we are ever longing for more life and more joy. It is that longing that holds us to life. But we seek in the wrong direction. We exploit the lower nature, dissipate life through it, and then, when the mind's life and joy are both bankrupted, complain that existence is monotonous and duty blank and futile; or cringe for a "salvation" we have done nothing to merit.

There is another way, beside "dissipation," in which we may dissipate life. Men go about building up pictures of themselves; there is almost no one in whom does not lurk such a picture, more or less faint or vivid. It is the sense of self-importance, and the forces of vanity and ambition, that gradually build up a man's feeling or picture concerning himself, and he walks about in that picture, with that feeling never absent. He fills it up with his life, by dwelling upon it in his thought. In the very walk of the politician, the business-man, the councilman, the preacher, the priest, you can see evidence of this picture of himself in his mind. And it is fed, that is, given of their life to, by all who look up to such a man and accept his picture. But relentless Law is looking on; some time comes the turn of fate. The reputation vanishes; people repudiate the picture; the bubble bursts; the man is seen for what he is, not for what he thought himself. The picture to which for years the man had contributed the life-essence of his imagination vanishes; he faces stern fact; chilled and disheartened, found-out even by himself, he knows well that he has lost his chances of simple, noble, upright life. You can see him on the streets, dejected, lifeless. Instead of cultivating through the years that relation with his soul which would have meant a current of richest life, he has turned away from his soul and enriched from his limited store an absconding or fragile phantom he pretended to be. Yet it is his lesson; and some men learn it, turn on their tracks and live better lives from that day. Others stay in their dejection, and either in no long time die of it, or turn and spend in lower dissipation what life remains to them. Cannot those who believe in Reincarnation see in this a reason why some are born with a weight of life upon them, who never find existence anything but burdensome? That too is under the Law; for some time, in some life, these men will in their desperation turn and seek through the shadows the true life.

And oppositely, those who in the last life they spent on earth tried, even a little, to seek the soul, made then a bond, a channel, for its life-light into their personal lives. They are the sunny, vivid, kindly temperaments who do not stay to think "I am this or that," but who are content to grow, self-thoughtless like the plant, seeking and in the light of, the inner sun.

Further on are those who have still more pronouncedly the hall-mark of the soul, the will to give, to call forth life in others, to raise to higher terms all they touch, whether men or things. In some, this may take a special and limited form; they are workers in a limited field. Among such are the great patriots. Of such was Wagner, who gave a new and vaster touch to music; and Whitman, who sowed the seed of a new poetry. In their divine desire to raise humanity's life, to give it some new glory or scope, to sow some one spot on earth's broad field, to liberate one country, spiritualize some one noble art, these men took birth. It was good, divine; but it was limited, it was as far as their comprehension and vision went; but the impulse beneath was the beat of the eternal, life-wide heart. They had made themselves the hands of their soul, and the soul built them for its work; for every man's soul, if he were great enough to let it, would fain create this old world anew, have men gods in the space of it, and build us into workers for it.

Beyond such come those who can take all life and all human activities for their scope. They are heralds of the whole program of the soul and they create in domain after domain. I think that if you will study the work of Katherine Tingley you will find all the marks of that royalty.

One way and another, by the now culminating ages of pain, by the culmination of the work of the Teachers, by the determination of the few who have sworn to stand by and spread the light as the Teachers of this century have brought it, to impart it as they have received it, by the advent of the cyclic moment, it has come about that the old order is crumbling and the new arising. Some have not eyes to see, nor ears to hear, nor minds that can comprehend; but they have hearts that can feel the shafts of light through the thick clouds.

Let him who would help the race stand up through all the hours of his days in a new joy, compelling it till it is as effortless as breath, burning with it all the limits that hedge about the center soul of him, himself a living protest against error, evil and fear. Wisdom will come upon him; he will know the helpers from the foes of humanity. The intensity of his life will ensoul his words, and make his humblest deeds become every one a far-shining fire along his path.

Universal Brotherhood Path

Theosophical University Press Online Edition