Most of us are always at the parting of the ways, but now and then we seem to see someone who has finally chosen one or the other. Seem to — for Nature is prolific in the opportunities she gives to us all. The ways part; one goes up, the other down. Up to what? Down to what? How can you tell the man who is "up" from him who is "down"? They look very much alike; they eat, drink, sleep, and think. But before the one, the gross-minded man does not feel inclined, somehow, to say a gross thing. Before the other, you do not feel inclined to speak about your inner, higher, life.
By studying ourselves, we can get some idea of the condition of the man who is "down." Suppose someone wakes you in the middle of the night and asks you to get out and look at the beauty of Jupiter. You are tired and sleepy; Jupiter does not in the least appeal to you. What you want is more sleep. Or when your liver is out of order; or in the languor of recovery from an illness; or very tired and hungry; express it all by saying that you are at your lowest, least open to finer influences, most concentrated on the thing you just then want.
Some men live entirely on this level, never have any kind of higher being at all. They are either concentrated entirely on bodily comfort, or are energetically pushing after money as the one valuable reality, or are hunting for some kind of position for themselves, social, political or commercial. In proportion as they are concentrated in this direction have they less, least, or nothing, of the higher touch about them. And that "higher touch" can be used to open an entirely new world; really, not in any metaphorical or vague sense.
But again: Studying ourselves, we find something higher than this low level. There are moments when we are not absorbed in getting something to eat, or more sleep, or money — times when the beauty of Jupiter, and the sea, and music, and high thought, do appeal to us — times when some vague feeling stirs in the heart and mind which, if we could catch it and make it permanent, we know would be the key to some new kind of living and experience. It passes; that does not matter; we know now what the up-going man is, as distinct from the down-going man.
It would lead to uncharity if we looked around at the pulpits, the senates, the newspapers, and so forth, and marked out mentally the men we considered to be going down; and we must not do it. But now and then we cannot help but recognize facts. To speak of finding such men in the pulpit may seem strange; but let us consider.
The down-going and down-staying man has often a great flow of words; more words, it may be, than he who can perceive something of the immensity and mystery of life and its exhaustless containment. The dogmatist is such a man. He can give you a precise description of God and of Jesus Christ; knows what they think and how they feel; and how they created the earth; and what heaven is like; and how to get there.
It is all clear and neat and certain. But it does not inspire you; it does not call up that feeling of the grandeur of life, its immensity, its beauty, its mystery. Why? Because these men are only describing what they know and see and feel; and that is nothing but the commonest life of commonest earth. God, for them, is only another man; they understand him, of course, for he is to them what they themselves have imagined; and their imaginations are low and crude. When they pretend to paint heaven, they do but paint another earth; and so you are not attracted. Having no sense of the greatness of life, they cannot convey it to you. They are really only materialists, notwithstanding the ideals they profess; for you get materialism in the pulpit just as often as out of it, and just as often as you get dogma. It does not follow that a man is anything but a materialist merely because he uses the words heaven, God, the soul, and what not. Earth-conceptions, called by other names, remain earth-conceptions and do not acquire anything whatever by spiritual names.
Another man, of the fewest words, will name the soul, and give that word such a depth of mystery, and tenderness, such a vastness, and promise, that in a moment you are at once awed, and lifted out of your self.
For we are all made up of these two — an earth-self and a self of Light; but we can close our eyes to the latter and go down-hill; or we can welcome it, and climb the path to the unimaginable light. Many, too, of those going down hill, and materialists at start, do yet seek ever to be counted among the workers for humanity; sometimes they go to the very end, unfound-out.
The knowledge of Theosophy wakens up the will of some men; they make their choice, and hereafter if they go down-hill it is consciously and with full knowledge. At first they are attracted; here is something novel, interesting, appealing to the sense of mystery, possibly.
But very soon they find there is something to be done. If your ways are quite evil in many particulars, but you had not greatly or fairly considered the matter, merely drifting from wrong to wrong, from sensationalism to sensationalism — then the mere study of such a guide in right life as Theosophy will awaken the sense of responsibility, call your attention to the import of what you are doing; just as a milestone calls your attention to a road along which you would otherwise pass without noting distance.
Now comes the moment of choice — the parting of the ways. We are no longer irresponsible; now if we descend to some accustomed failing, sin, or sensuality, it is with a sense of guilt. And at the same time the mere thought of giving up that thing rouses up the lower nature — the earth-man — into an absolute determination and clamor to go on with it. So the man of Light and the earth-man now face each other.
Often enough it is the latter which wins. And then happens a certain result. The man has become his own lower part, and he turns savagely upon that — Theosophy — which for a moment bade fair to rob him of those lower pleasures which are now his only ones, and of which alone he can now conceive.
In the parting of the ways he took the lower way; he is a down-going man.
Some people think, and some pulpits teach, that the parting of the ways has been reached, and the higher path taken, when there is some agonized repentance, and a total change of habit and personality. Or that no one can be said to have taken the new and higher path till he shows some sudden alteration, "found salvation," or "experienced a change of heart." If there comes any such manifest change as that, it was because the real parting of the ways had come long before.
The parting of the ways is the formation of a habit.
There is always a great deal of moralizing about the evils of having habits. The infinite value of having them is less dwelt upon. Many a man is appalled by the difficulty he experiences in his attempts to realize in himself his own ideals and conquer his faults. But the point in the matter is to make the habit of attempting a victory. And especially the habit of immediately making a new attempt after a defeat — which attempt turns the defeat into a victory. Try again — not so much with the sure expectation of winning, as with the intention of establishing a habit of trying which in the end must lead on to victory. When the habit of trying again is established, then the parting of the ways is reached, and the nobler path taken.
That "higher touch" — from the soul — that we spoke of awhile ago, comes upon us all at certain moments; and we feel the purer and cleaner. These "touches" can be induced to come oftener and oftener. That will happen if they are recognized when they do come; if they are encouraged to stay; if the mind is held every time in that state of feeling; if they are sought after, meditated upon; if they are obtained when we are angry, irritated, wronged, or depressed — that is, if they can be then and there substituted for that anger, irritation, or depression. Then they will become a part of our consciousness more and more, and leave their traces behind. They will insert themselves at the times of temptation, and make resistance easy. At last they will eat up the temptations. And then the path will be clear for the beginning of real spiritual life.
Let us try to think out what the spiritual life is.
Man, at one pole of his being, dips, so to speak, into death. At the other, he is crowned with Light and Life. He can choose at which pole he will center himself. He chooses, at all those moments of time where the ways part. He can let heavy earth-life roll in upon him, weight him down with its materiality, and finally kill him; or he can advance outward upon it, Light in hand and heart, and make it tell the secret that to him it belongs, not he to it — and so win freedom.
Many factors, such as art, music, poetry, belong to the spiritual life, though not ordinarily so counted. They should be used in that way, rather than as ends in themselves; taken as means to the greater end, which contains them all and much more.
Men used to think the spiritual life meant a special kind of countenance and a solemnity; or a specially restricted way of spending one day in the week. Surely those ideas are going or gone.
Spiritual life must be of the fullest possible variety; not a tone, but an octave, an ever-progressing harmony, broidered and bordered, as Katherine Tingley said once, with grace-notes, accidentals, and of forever varied theme. It has its quiet and its active stages. Moments of one or other of these are constantly presenting themselves to us all, and we build up the spiritual life by seizing them and holding on to them as long as possible.
The peace of night, the hush that descends upon us after the hearing of the highest music — these are moments of it. In such moments great ideas come; new perceptions of things; the sense of all-human unity, of the unity of all life; intuition of whither life is tending, of our own deathlessness, of the fact that body can become diseased, wear out, fail, die, and nevertheless we live on and return to birth having lost nothing and with every memory regainable; sense of the conscious life in earth and stars.
If we hold these moments they come more often. They may be compared to those rapt, tense seconds, during which a musician may hold a note beyond the counted time, seconds of indescribable experience, laying bare the undertone of life, and in which the spiritual overtones steal upon consciousness. Each of them is a moment of choice, and we have chosen well at that parting of the ways. In them we review the day past, and yesterday; see whether we failed, and what we ought to have done, and gain strength to do it when that chance occurs again. We become keener-sensed as to what is best in our ways of action, and are therefore nobler, clearer-eyed, readier to look straight into the eyes of everyone. The mind quickens, and with increasing rectitude of purpose we are swifter in decision, readier for all emergencies.
The moments grow in frequency, and blend, and overlap, never entirely leave us, rise in splendor. The universal life surges up from our hearts and sweeps in upon those divine moments, the real baptism, the very waves of the Grace of God. Little is that grace understood by those who prate so much of it. Yet they presume even to arrogate to themselves the power of imparting it. For it proceedeth not from man to man. But from man's supremest soul it is poured, in these sacred spaces of his daily life. And at last that wholly new kind of life is reached of which every Teacher has talked and yet been able to say so little about.
Those moments are at first resisted by the body and something of the personal consciousness. Duties, and the common self-sacrifices of brotherhood seem sometimes to stand in the way of them, to block their opportunity or rudely obliterate their freshness or fatigue them away.
But in the doing of these things, the bodily and personal resistance and density are gradually broken up, and the body rendered, so to speak, more transparent. "Seek not to compress the spiritual into the formulas of mind; open the heart, and understanding shall come; win light for the path of others," have the Teachers always said, speaking for the inner Man of Light, and He (or It) will do the rest.
With us lies duty, love, self-sacrifice, and a welcoming of the moments of the visitation of Light.
Universal Brotherhood Path