Our subject contains three elementary ideas— Ideals, Right-Thinking, and Realization. Let us consider Ideals first. What is an ideal? The word Idea, from which the adjective and the noun Ideal are formed, is derived from the Greek to see. An ideal is primarily, then, something that is seen.
We may define it as The Absolute seen through relative conditions. Those conditions are due to limitations in our thought. Ideas are like pictures on a screen. When we look through them at the light of the Absolute Principle, it transforms them into ideals. Ideals would be impossible without its illuminating power. Both the absolute and relative elements are necessary to their existence. Thought paints on the screen of time and space an outer world, through which this light shines.
"Forever at the loom of time I ply,
And weave for God the garment thou seest Him by."
We cannot know the Absolute fully or perfectly from relative planes of consciousness; and so, as we journey through the realm of transient, finite experiences, since our thought is perpetually changing, our ideals change correspondingly; but they go ever before us like the "pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night," indicating the direction of the absolute realm where thought is consummated by perfect realization.
To illustrate: Our attention is attracted by some character which seems to us a perfect expression of goodness; i. e., the Absolute Principle discerned through that character, appears to us as goodness, for that Principle, shining through it, radiates in goodness. The same Absolute Principle, discerned through some external form, appears to us as beauty; discerned through some inward thought, it appears to us as truth. In a masterpiece of music it is revealed to us as harmony. Any medium through which we see the Absolute, becomes idealized for us. But as our thought-attitudes change, our ideals change too; we see the Absolute in new forms instead of the old ones,—in other characters, other works of art, other thoughts, other harmonies. We discern the Absolute intuitively, and are drawn toward it wherever we discern it, by the soul's law of gravitation— love—because we are absolute in our essential nature. It is "the light that lighteth every man coming into the world." Every soul-center in the moral world is as truly a center of attraction as is every physical center in the natural world. Its attracting power is determined by the degree in which it manifests the Absolute. The Absolute is revealed to us with ever-increasing fullness as the veil of our thought becomes finer and more spiritual. On the lower planes of consciousness our vision is so clouded by a grossly materialistic thought web that we are led to regard it as only a myth, the phantom of a dream, instead of the very source of life. But as our thought reaches more spiritual altitudes, our vision grows clearer, and doubt dissolves in faith. In proportion, then, as we attain to higher planes of consciousness, our ideal visions approach absolute perfection, for the finite, relative elements become less pronounced.
But what do we mean by Right-thinking? The character of our thinking determines the nature of our ideals. If our thought is engrossed with the things of the lower realms of sense and understanding, it loses itself in a maze of contradiction, confusion and doubt. We are sure to be betrayed whenever we allow revelations of pure intuition to be conditioned by, or subordinated to, evidence furnished by the lower faculties, no matter how cogent their evidence may be within their respective spheres. Neither sensation nor understanding can transcend its own circle. As reason often refutes evidence furnished by the senses, so, in turn, intuition frequently overrules the decisions of reason.
Matter is the negative through which truth is revealed in perfect pictures. But men often err by looking for the picture on the plate itself. It is not there; we must go a step further and allow the light to shine through the negative so as to produce impressions on our highly sensitized spiritual nature. Those impressions prove to be precisely the reverse of the image registered on the material plate. As we look backward from the deck of a moving boat, the shore seems to move. The image of the real world appears inverted on the lens of sensation. In olden times men held a theory of the natural universe which was based on the testimony of the senses—a theory which the facts of the case were afterward found to flatly contradict. They conceived the earth a flat expanse, around which revolved the heavenly bodies, held in their places by external forces. But in due time a conception developed, of forces operating from within. Men discovered that atoms, planets, suns and solar systems, are held in their places, not by any power essentially external, but by a universal law of attraction. This discovery led to a complete reconstruction of ideas relating to physical phenomena. But it proved only a step toward a far more comprehensive reconstruction of ideas concerning the psychical and spiritual planes. Any definite recognition of universal principles operating on the latter planes is comparatively recent. Although the idea that every soul-center possesses attracting power capable of unlimited increase by cultivation, is not strictly new as a theory, still it has never gained any general acceptance heretofore, nor has it been formulated as a proposition capable of intelligent demonstration; in fact, even at the present day, comparatively few have embraced the conception of universal inner law. In religion most people still regard external authority as a fixed center around which all spiritual ideas must revolve. They shudder at the thought of yielding this apparently stable foundation; of becoming free from bondage to the understanding, and relying on the internal authority of intuition; of discarding old props, and trusting the soul's law of gravitation.
In philosophy the majority of people still hold ideas of externalism, materialism. Ever since man began to think logically, he has tried to solve the problem of an outer, objective world of phenomena—matter. Considered solely with the understanding, that world seems, in its essential nature, very far removed from the inner, subjective realm of thoughts, ideas and principles. Apparently two worlds exist, interrelated and inseparable, yet distinct in quality and essence. Formerly the natural world of forms, colors and objects, was regarded as the finished work of Deity, who summoned it into being by fiat and maintained it by arbitrary laws. Although the author and upholder of creation, He existed outside of it, distinct in substance and essence. Man was supposed to have been specially created, endowed with a different nature from the lower orders of life. But, in the progress of thought, laws and processes akin to those in man were discovered in the lower orders. The common origin and nature of the entire cosmos became increasingly apparent, until, in the present century, previous tendencies of thought culminated in the doctrines of evolution and unity of forces. And today the extensive world of matter and the intensive world of mind are regarded by the profoundest thinkers as identical in nature and origin; objective and subjective phases of the same activity; physical and psychical aspects of the same creative energy. It seems probable, indeed, that at no distant day, science will satisfactorily demonstrate the essential unity of the entire realm of manifestation, and that involution of thought will be established as the counterpart of evolution of experience. Man will then be revealed as more properly creator of his environment than a product of it.
Every person's objective world is his thought of the cosmos, externalized. It consists of just what is included in the quality and scope of his thought. If we strike a tuning-fork in the room with a piano, its vibrations awaken a response from a corresponding piano string, for both are so adjusted that they act in harmony. No two people see exactly the same outer world, for their thoughts vary, and consequently harmonize with different expressions from without. In fact no one of us sees precisely the same outer world that he did yesterday. The trained eye of the artist beholds colors in nature that I cannot distinguish, unless I, too, train my perceptive powers to recognize them. The senses are points of contact where internal and external meet.
We invite impressions by rendering ourselves receptive to them. We may attune our thought to respond to the vibrations of low, coarse, material influences, or to those that are high, fine, spiritual. If to the former, a world of materiality, selfishness, sensuality, brutality, suffering and disease will dominate us and stand out as the one evident reality. But all material conditions are of comparatively short duration. The coarser vibrations that give rise to clashing discords and jarring dissensions are soon spent and neutralized; while the finer, spiritual ones continue unaffected by material change and decay. "He that soweth unto his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth unto the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."
When we become conscious of love, it begins to come into evidence in our outer world. But when we harbor feelings of antagonism, we create for ourselves a world of chaos. "Love overcometh all things."
But what do we mean by Realization? We mean projecting outward, bringing into manifestation, expressing, acting out,—in short, living. The impulse of expression originates in the very nature of Being. The internal forever seeks externalization. It must go outward in activity, manifestation, realization. The abstract must become concrete, the ideal real. Every seed seeks to realize its ideal by expanding into a plant or tree of its own species or conception of life. Each order of mineral is impelled to realize its ideal by developing its own peculiar crystalline forms. Man must realize his ideal by going out in love and unselfish action. This common impulse of expression underlies the entire cosmos. The eternal process of creation, as manifested in evolution, is a ceaseless realizing of ideals; it is the essential Self-seeking amid relative conditions to realize the Absolute.
Everyone recognizes the possibility of realizing ideals, in some measure, on the lower planes where materialism and selfishness prevail; but many are quick to deny the feasibility of realizing spiritual ideals. They say: Oh yes, Idealism is a beautiful dream, but of what use is it? It cannot be brought down into practical life. That very suggestion shows a misapprehension of the nature and source of the world of expression. No one who is inwardly conscious of the existence of an Absolute Power will question either the possibility or the practicability of realizing the highest ideal. The thorough-going idealist is the most eminently practical type of man, for he is conscious not alone of the existence of ideals, but also of the power that effects all realization.
The ideal of Jesus was to the materialist only a wild flight of the imagination, an impracticable dream. But together with the ideal came the power of realization. If we yield ourselves unreservedly to the power of the Absolute within us, and trust It to direct the course of our lives, the realization of our ideals will be spontaneous. Our failures are due to reliance upon external supports and props. We shrink from casting ourselves loose like the worlds in space, trusting the omnipotent inner law. But if, surrendering antagonism and fear, we allow ourselves to be controlled by the Absolute Power, our ideals will become as magnets, drawing around themselves the conditions necessary for manifestation.
The Infinite in man is free; and because the finite man recognizes this freedom he longs to realize it. He struggles blindly, following the misguiding of personal impulse, relying on "will power" until he finds himself farther than ever from the goal he aspires to reach. His resolute efforts to unravel the mysteries of life, and loose himself from the entangling web of adverse circumstances, only serve to increase his dilemma and bind him more securely in its meshes; just as the frantic efforts of a fly to escape from a spider's web hinder instead of furthering its release. The first step, then, toward overcoming the world, is to cease struggling, striving, battling, with imaginary forces as Don Quixote contended with the "windmill giants." Nature makes no conscious exertion. The potential energy represented by ocean tides is inconceivable; yet the ocean rises and falls without effort because it is receptive to the attraction of the sun and moon. The plant simply grows, unfolds according to the law of its being. It does not strive to obtain that which is not its natural possession.
Effort is due to friction, and friction results from opposition. While perfectly poised, one is not conscious of friction; it ceases when one comes into harmony with the All-conscious on the spiritual plane. Consciousness of effort, then, indicates lack of poise. In exercising "will power" one descends to the plane of force, where friction prevails. By recognizing obstacles on that plane, and meeting them as real foes, one creates for himself difficulties that would not otherwise exist. He clothes finite things with a degree of reality they do not possess. He ascribes real qualities to the semblance of things. It is the finite in us that feels the necessity of overcoming; the Infinite has nothing to overcome. Specters that seem very real in the dark, vanish in the light. A balloon rises because the specific gravity of the substance with which it is inflated is less than that of the medium in which it floats. Just so must one overcome the world—by cultivating the quality of consciousness which renders him superior to the lower attractions of life. Paul recognized this principle when he said: "Be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds." It is not by putting forth greater exertions, through titanic efforts of the will, that the most satisfactory results are achieved, but by rising superior to lower conditions. Consciousness is the basis of all experience. If one is to realize freedom in the truest sense, he must first become conscious of freedom. When the spiritual view-point is comprehended, struggle and perplexity cease. A clear vision of the Higher Self enables one to triumph over the lower without opposition. He need not combat the lower nature; he has simply to ignore its demands. It has no power except that with which his finite thought endows it. He may have so long clothed it with the semblance of power that its fictitious claims seem to him valid; but, as soon as he ceases to recognize them, its ascendency is at an end. By living on a higher plane, conflict with lower forces ceases. The method of offering resistance encourages and stimulates the personal self he is seeking to bring into subjection, and leads to a battle on the finite plane. It is recorded that when the Syrian hosts encamped around the city in which Elisha dwelt, his servant was overcome with fear. But Elisha prayed that the young man's eyes might be opened. "And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw; and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." He who lives "as seeing the invisible" is conscious of power that is altogether unrecognized by finite vision.
Even the world of mechanical energy yields its supremacy over us when we discover our correct relation to it. Ingenuity overcomes obstacles that seem insurmountable to the uninitiated mind. Inventive genius renders man superior to the exacting demands of brute force. As he perceives more clearly the nature of the world with which he has to deal, he is enabled to achieve greater results with far less expenditure of energy than formerly. As a rule the man who toils the most arduously, who puts forth the most strenuous exertions, accomplishes least. Attention, calculation, judgment, count for far more than blind effort and persistency. A ponderous balance wheel, when finely poised, may be set in motion by a touch of the fingertip. The resources of nature are gradually being harnessed, and pressed into service to minister to human necessities. Gravitation, chemical affinity, electricity, heat, light and other less subtle modes of energy, are beginning to obey man's dictates and contribute to his satisfaction. Knowledge is power. Intelligence is superior to brute force. As man's consciousness evolves, the world of mechanical energy yields to his mandates.
Effort of expression diminishes as one's ideal becomes clearer in the light of the Absolute. The most eloquent orator is frequently unaware of the words he uses. The thought with which his mind is permeated, clothes itself spontaneously in appropriate forms of expression. Even the most ignorant person may be able, under the impulse of some mental stimulus, to express himself in language which under ordinary circumstances would be beyond his control. In all cases, forms of expression approach perfection to the degree that the mind is filled with the ideal. Two students may pursue the same course at school. One wastes his energies in vainly striving to master problems, for he has not discovered the secret of success; the other learns naturally, without effort, for the interior channels of his mind are so open that he has free access to the universal storehouse of wisdom. The arbitrary line of separation between his individual mind and the Universal Mind is obliterated so that the inner light is allowed to illumine dry technicalities and cold figures, until they are easy to comprehend.
The principle is operative on all planes of life. Many a skillful hunter will raise his gun and fire in a twinkling at a bird on the wing, with no apparent thought of his aim. One person will mount a bicycle for the first time and ride away confidently, like a veteran; another will practice for weeks in fear and trembling before he gains sufficient courage to venture timidly forth on the highway.
A player seats himself at the piano. He instinctively feels the presence of the Absolute. It illumines his thought, transforming it into an ideal of harmony which, standing revealed before his mind, directs his fingers to the proper keys. His ideal is then realized. In like manner, poet, philosopher, painter, sculptor, architect, business man, and mechanic realize their ideals. Genius is capacity to realize ideals by allowing the Absolute Power to radiate through one's finite life. The character of the forms one employs, is determined by his individual thought-tendencies, mental habits. The greatest artists, composers, thinkers, and creators in every sphere, need only to concentrate their thought, and, looking through it toward the Absolute, to allow it to be expressed spontaneously. Handel declared that while composing The Messiah, he "did see the heavens opened and the great God himself sitting upon his throne." We need not wonder that the entire score occupied only twenty-five days in writing. Paracelsus says: "A man comes into possession of creative power by uniting his own mind with the Universal Mind, and he who succeeds in doing so will be in possession of the highest possible wisdom."
The higher consciousness is a never-failing source of expressive power. It is a reservoir from which one may perpetually draw fresh supplies of nervous energy and muscular strength. Spirit, unlike "will power," is inexhaustible. When allowed free course, it permeates, energizes, and reinvigorates one's whole system. It works like leaven through all the lower channels of expression. In its light one grows oblivious to difficulties. Power is due to poise. Doing is the result of being. Action depends on attitude. Energy proceeds from concentration, centering of attention. One cannot give out or distribute more than he possesses. Mind is not the creator of energy and vitality, but only a dispensing medium. Sensation is a matter of consciousness. An ache or pain ceases as soon as one succeeds in establishing a state of consciousness that is superior to the plane of sensation. One's thought may dwell on some disagreeable feeling until he is scarcely conscious of anything better in life; but let him be suddenly surprised by the unexpected arrival of a long-absent friend, and the dreaded sensation instantly disappears. It existed in thought alone. The athlete is not conscious of effort while indulging in a contest that completely absorbs his attention and interest; but should he expend an equal amount of energy in some distasteful pursuit, he would feel the exertion at once. The power that actuates and moves the finite in man is ever at hand, accessible to all who are prepared to receive it. One has only to come into communication with it to be moved by it, as is the electric car when connected with the feed-wire. The wise man discounts anxiety and suffering, not by evading or trying to escape responsibility, but by looking down on events and circumstances from the vantage-ground of a higher plane, with that quality of consciousness which disarms them of their power to affect him. The drudge toils on, bewailing his lot and fancying that the difficulty lies in externals over which he has no control. He attributes his hardships to "luck," fate, or the dispensation of Providence, little dreaming that the situations in which he finds himself are due to a lack of knowledge on his own part. Even if the particular circumstances that occasion his suffering were removed, he would still be in a position to encounter others possibly more annoying. One's consciousness of weakness gives such externalities the semblance of power they possess. For the strong-minded there are no terrors; the weak-minded encounter them on every hand.
One of the most beautiful allegories in literature, illustrating the realization of ideals through right-thinking, is Hawthorne's sketch, "The Great Stone Face." That remarkable curiosity of nature became the ideal of the peasant boy, Ernest. Gradually the lineaments of his features assumed the aspect of his ideal, until one day the bystanders, to whom he was declaring its beauty, discovered in him its embodiment.
As we gaze up into the heavens on a clear night, an atmosphere of serenity seems to pervade the entire creation. Worlds on worlds, infinite in number, extend out into space, moving silently and harmoniously on their courses, realizing their ideals without friction or effort. Turning from this picture to the world of practical human affairs, evil, unrest, antagonism, discord, sin, and misery seem to rule. Skepticism, atheism, and pessimism are widespread. Men are everywhere saying: "All is evil." "What shall I believe?" "Can I believe anything?" "Is life worth living?" "Does death end all?' "Can we really know anything?" "What is the purpose of life?" "Has it any, indeed?" "Is there a God, or is the world a game of chance?" Whence comes this spirit of inharmony and uncertainty? Shall man alone fail to realize his ideal? Is not the power that moves the worlds harmoniously, also operative in the heart of man? How then shall we reconcile these apparently inconsistent manifestations? Such a state of affairs will prevail just as long as men's thought is centered on the planes of sense and understanding. We have trusted our lower faculties to lead us to a knowledge of the Truth, but they have only led us out into the wilderness of materialism.
Contemplating the world of finite things—radiating manifestations of the Eternal Principle—we soon grow bewildered by its inconceivable variety and endless complexity. We follow one clue after another, until it is lost in a confusing labyrinth of ramifications, or until it passes beyond the range of our perceptive powers; on the one hand into boundless immensities of space and time, and on the other within inapproachably minute limits. Then, having lost our clues in both directions, we pause to consider other external features of the world. Baffled in our attempts to fathom its quantitative relations, we try to discover its qualitative meaning. At first everything seems beautiful; but in scrutinizing any one thing more closely, we see that each exquisite feature is destined sooner or later to be marred by apparent ugliness. We detect laws which, although good and beneficent of themselves, seem to conflict with one another so as to render each other's operation ineffective. We discern purposes and meanings deep and true in intent; yet their ends appear to be frustrated, or their significance perverted, by misdirected exercise and ill-considered adaptation. Creation, which seems designed to achieve the grandest results, is yet, withal, so capricious and disorderly as continually to accomplish ruin and disaster. Beauty and sublimity seem to be everywhere at the mercy of the blighting, desolating effects of blind force or inadequacy. The arena of life is filled with contending victims, whose agonizing struggles are largely misdirected, and often destined to end in at least apparent defeat.
The farther we pursue our investigation into externals, approaching all the while the outer shell of life, the more firmly convinced are we that this world of strife, suffering, sin, and catastrophe must be essentially evil. The most beautiful things pass away, the loveliest blossoms decay before maturity, youth vanishes in old age, and even the worlds are doomed to crumble and disappear. Death seems the one open door through which all living things depart into eternal oblivion.
Up to this point our thoughts have journeyed steadily away from the center of life, as diverging solar rays proceed outward into space. Our attention and energies have been diffused, dispersed, dissipated, into a multitude of random observations and aimless efforts. The idea of separateness has constantly assumed greater prominence and more importance. Meanwhile our vital forces have seemed to wane, and our very being to be in process of disintegration and dissolution. Life has appeared not as one, but as many; not united, but divided. We have perceived only its outgoing tendencies, for our thought has traveled steadily outward.
But let us turn inward. We have been looking away from the light, so that it could not illumine our thought; consequently we have been beholding our own shadow, projected outward by the light, until it extended over our whole picture of life.
Yet even in the depths of outer darkness we are subject to a Higher Power which centers all life around Itself; and when our outwardly directed, individual impulse is spent, we begin to be attracted toward the universal center. Then, for the first time, we feel, even though feebly and vaguely, the fundamental law of Being operating in us, drawing us into a more intimate relation with the Absolute Principle. The negative element has been overcome by the positive, and we begin to know something of the essential purpose of life, its real meaning. We have entirely changed our view-point. We have been "born anew." Life seems no longer many, but one; not partial, but complete; not incongruous, but orderly; not dissipating, but vitalizing; not eccentric, but concentric; not degenerate, but regenerate.
Gradually we grow to appreciate the fact that our life is a part of a whole, and that by ignoring willful, selfish tendencies, we may experience a larger life of unlimited enjoyment and power. In losing our finite consciousness we discover the Infinite.
In so far as we realize that a common life exists for all, we share the Infinite creative power and wisdom. As we come to obey the universal law habitually, and approach the center of Being, our dissipated energies concentrate. Increased intensiveness proportionately enlarges the scope of our extensive influence. Experience evolves what thought Evolves. Impression reacts in expression.
For thirty years Jesus lived in comparative seclusion and silence, studying the inner laws of life, until his ideals and purposes had matured and definitely formulated themselves. Even after entering upon more active, aggressive work, he frequently retired to the wilderness, into mountain solitudes, to listen to the inner voice. He cultivated intuitive perception and receptivity to spiritual impressions until he lived in constant communication with the source of wisdom and power, the Absolute Principle—"the Father."
True education consists far more in rendering the mind susceptible to impressions, than in accumulating knowledge of facts. Such knowledge is of comparatively little value as an end in itself, but should be sought mainly with reference to the broader purpose of acquiring thought-tendencies that will enable one to rise to higher states of consciousness, and obtain truer, more comprehensive views of life.
The entire universe of facts is at the disposal of anyone who is prepared to accept them intelligently, and to interpret them rightly. We are not to ignore the lower faculties. We cannot be too logical or reasonable. But when our thought wanders into the by-ways of speculation, and loses its bearings, we need to consult our compass—intuition. The intuitional faculty should rule our lives.