We are living in a remarkable era. In these closing years of the nineteenth century the minds of men are restless as never before. Systems, philosophies, theories, and institutions are being questioned, shaken, and summoned to the judgment-bar of truth. A gigantic pair of balances, real though immaterial, has been set up; and not only persons, but principles, customs, methods, and dogmas, are being newly weighed, re-appraised, and re-valued. Men are diligently searching for the summum bonum with an unwonted vigor.
Not longer content to supinely yield to adversities and ills, as belonging to the lot of humanity—inevitable, and to be tamely submitted to—there is a rapidly growing disposition to question, yes even to deny, their supremacy, and to sweep away the great mass of self-imposed limitations of the past, that have no valid reason for existence.
The search for truth, and the higher appreciation of its supernal value, were never before so intense and universal. As a dominant force, principles and spiritual ideals are taking the place of external authorities, dogmas, and theories. The divinely established order, when correctly interpreted, is found to be, not cold, or merely neutral, but positively beneficent. Mankind, therefore, is discovering that conformity to law not only eliminates and dissipates human ills, but more; that it brings positive reward and harmony.
The nature of man, in its essence, is not only one of the most interesting of topics, but, more than that, is supremely practical and vital. The problems which are centered in, and arise from that complex nature, are so near, so all-inclusive and supreme, that they incomparably overshadow all others. Unlike the vast majority of conventional systems and philosophies, they are not merely speculative and objective, but have to do with the very heart and soul of divinity and humanity. Upon a correct or incorrect interpretation of these laws of relationship, their subtle action, interaction and reaction, depend human progress and happiness, or stagnation and decadence.
What, then, is man? If we listen for a practical response to this question from the consensus of world opinions, thoughts, pursuits, and activities, we learn that man is an animated fleshly statue, visible, sensuous, and material. Nine-tenths of all the labor, ingenuity, and effort of human kind are put forth in ministration to this visible man. He is ruler of this realm, and receives universal homage. His wants are supplied, his appetites pampered, his inclinations deferred to, his vanity stimulated, and his whims yielded to, until he becomes a life-sized exaggeration and abnormity. It is thought that so long as he has desirable food, clothing, shelter, material comfort and luxury, supplemented with some intellectual development, he should be complete and content. If he lack any of these things, he must be kindly supplied with them, and then he ought to be satisfied. But he is not. This so-called man is never happy, but always just about to be. He follows his own fancied ideal untiringly; but it is ever a little in advance, just beyond his grasp. Science is always about to add something more to his physical accomplishments, and then all will be well. When he traveled in the stage-coach, if he could have had just a glimpse of the future limited express, he would have exclaimed, "I then shall be happy!" Electrical invention, with all its multiform miracles of improvement, promised much; but in spite of all these and other grand inventions men have steadily grown more uneasy. This self-styled man is now looking forward to aerial navigation, higher technical education, improved legislation, sanitation, and medication, as the things yet needed for human perfection. These realized, all will be serene. He bows the knee to all the sensuous forces of science, and believes, in the words of one of its great exponents, that "all potency is contained in matter."
But in other moods this apparent man expects to find all completeness which is yet lacking in new institutions or improved external forms of government. Some patent social system, land system, tax system, or monetary system is to heal prevailing ills, abolish poverty, prevent crime and ignorance, and usher in general felicity and harmony.
Every road is traversed, and every byway explored, in order to again find and restore the complete satisfaction of a sensuous Eden. But fixed in the established evolutionary order, there is a "flaming sword" which turns every way, and this forever bars the road back to a material paradise; nay, even more, it renders impossible the attainment of any supreme felicity of a mere social or intellectual order. The insurmountable obstacle is subjective—entirely within—and consists in the truth that this man that we have described is not really man at all. It is only his shadow, his material expression, his visible instrument.
He has mistaken his own identity. His woes, failures, restlessness, and unhappiness all come from the fact that he believes himself to be material in his being. He has formed the habit of feeling that his body is himself. Through this state of consciousness he has come into servitude to sin, disease, and death, and innumerable other limitations and infelicities. In a word, he is filled with a subtle soul hunger which he is unable to diagnose or interpret. While all good in their order, neither morality, social reform, temperance, ethical culture, nor intellectualism, one or all, reaches deeply enough to cure the inner craving. That which has been earnestly pursued as a veritable summum bonum turns out to be an ignis fatuus, which ever lures men more deeply into a materialistic wilderness.
It is true that when stated as an abstract doctrine many would hold that they are not body; but so long as they practically act and feel that way, the material consciousness is ruling, and its corresponding inharmonious fruitage appears. The disastrous effects of such a radical misapprehension are not diminished by conventional education nor so-called intellectual development. The mistaken self-conscious imagery of a highly cultivated quality is as thoroughly imbued with restlessness—often more so—than that of much lower attainment.
Logic and philosophy, though located in a higher department, are still within the limits of that inferior evolutionary kingdom where conscious or unconscious misplacement is ever present. Even eminent morality and altruism may exist without spiritual activity and illumination.
The man that has been outlined, consisting of a visible upright form, is not a counterfeit, but a correspondential index or counterpart. He bears the same relation to the real that a figure does to the number. The external sign is useful in its place, but it is something only as it represents something. The physical man only plays a character in shadow pantomime. A personality is beheld, but the real ego or individuality is unmanifest until the spiritual consciousness is unfolded.
No man has ever seen his friend, or even himself. It is the unseen which is the real and substantial. The world has been mistaken in regarding man as a material being. This belief is the basic reason for his ever-present frictions and trials. He expects to be a soul after a certain event called death, but that he is the same here and now does not occur to him. "One world at a time," he says, which on the surface seems quite logical. But in reality one world is all there is. The thought environment—which is the nearest and only reality—remains unchanged, regardless of the mutations which may overtake visible expression.
Is then the body bad, and are we advocating a morbid asceticism? Just the reverse. The material organism is good, and altogether real as expression, in its normal relation and position. The mistake is in identity, which is a radical misplacement. At first sight this error would not appear serious, but a deeper view reveals momentous distinctions and consequences. Let us note some of the effects of this false consciousness.
In the first place, it creates its own morbid conditions. Whether the man or the body be enthroned makes a world-wide difference. One must rule, and the other serve. If this question be settled in accord with the divinely established order, both are good and harmonious. Then they just fit and supplement each other. But if the ego be identified in the consciousness with the sensuous, or even with the intellectual nature, it takes on innumerable limitations, and yields a slavish subjugation.
We are not now making exclusive reference to those whose physical propensities are rampant, like profligates, drunkards, and sensualists, but to the average individual whose outward life is in accord with prevailing ethical standards. It is obvious that the deeper the depravity the more absolute the bondage; but the vital question presents itself, Is any real bondage normal or necessary? True, complete and immediate emancipation from the mistakes and false consciousness of the past—stamped upon us as it is by habit, heredity, and universal suggestive environment—is unattainable. Such is not the method of evolutionary growth.
But granting that it must be gradual to our apprehension, how can it be hastened and made sure? If the remedy for the woes and disorders of the world be contained in a new or reformed consciousness which is based upon a recognition of the real selfhood, or intrinsic divinity of constitution, how can this radical departure be brought about? The answer is evident. Man must begin to think rightly of himself. He must build up an entire new thought world through self-formed ideals held in his own field of vision. This virtually means a new personality and a new environment. The material for this new creation is contained in an intelligent projected volume of thought in accord with the higher law.
To overcome the crass materialism in which the world is at present enthralled, man must continually affirm, not only to his fellows, but to himself, that he is a spiritual, and not a material, entity. He must iterate and reiterate this great truth, until it is supremely installed in the kingdom of mind. He is not a body having a soul, but a soul having a body. The formative power of thought makes this change of consciousness revolutionary.
As man truly recognizes himself, assumes the prerogatives of his divine being, and knows that he is a spiritual dynamo here and now, he wields new forces, and grasps supernal powers and privileges. He comes into at-one-ment with the primal and deific creative principle, and, from a condition of vassalage, finds himself a prince of the realm.
By virtue of his subjective transformation he has established new relations with the objective world; and now laws and conditions pay him tribute instead of exacting it. He has become a spiritual alchemist, and through the alembic of the divinity awakened within him is able to transmute the seeming "common and unclean" into the pure, the ideal, and the God-like. He is able to know and demonstrate the beneficence of the established order, and to adjust himself to it. He has divined that there is no such objective principle as evil, and that that which has been so denominated is only a subjective distortion, which can be displaced, and thereby rendered non-existent. Enlisting all law in his behalf, through an understanding of, and compliance with its methods, he uses it as though it were his own. He re-enforces himself with supernal and cosmic energy by thinking God's thoughts after him.
But let us more specifically attempt to translate this new consciousness, or higher thought, into near and concrete application and expression. This new philosophy of life and being is no fine-spun metaphysical abstraction, but of the utmost practicality and utility in everyday living. We may first inquire, What does it do for the body, that most useful instrument which man has so persistently mistaken for himself?
The illuminated intuitive perception soon confers such a sense of spiritual supremacy and harmony that, as a natural result, the body increasingly expresses hearty cooperation and wholeness. It is the one thing necessary for its own welfare that it should glide into its secondary, befitting, and normal position. Its dethronement from the role of a tyrannical ruler is the very act which works out its own salvation.
"Order is heaven's first law;" therefore misplacement is lawless, disorderly, and destructive. As a willing subject the body exercises a sweet ministry and useful service for its owner, and becomes an outward reflector and translator of mental and spiritual harmony.
The vital and unseen forces build the body, and not the body the forces. The thought forms the brain, and not the brain the thought. The visible form is the stereotype plate, cast from the fused immaterial composition of past mental states. Matter, whether erected into vegetal, animal, or human configurations, is molded and qualified by the soul forging which goes on within.
Let us inquire for a moment as to the necessity for some more potent energy than that afforded by conventional means for the healing of prevalent maladies and the overcoming of human ills and weaknesses. Do we find that these are fleeing away? and are we satisfied to rest in past attainments? Is it not desirable to occupy a more elevated vantage-ground, from which we may effectively charge and drive out, the multiform host of abnormal and perverse intruders?
Even hygiene has but a limited range, so long as man fails to study the laws of his own being, and gives all his attention to external conditions. He critically examines and analyzes every known thing, "in the heavens above, the earth beneath, and the waters under the earth," except the one thing most important—his own constitution. The more deeply he penetrates into the apparent complexity of adverse environment, the more discouraging and hopeless the outlook. Every new discovery lures him more deeply into a materialistic bog. So soon as one hostile element is vanquished, another yet more subtle is found concealed in ambush behind it. From the sensuous standpoint, humanity is menaced within and without.
The germ-theory has brought a mental picture of innumerable hostile organisms which are supposed to be lying in wait for our destruction. But in reality the great majority of these are friendly; and those that seem otherwise, when not scavengers, are concomitants or effects rather than causes. Pathology becomes so abnormal that the very elements are rated as antagonistic. Hygiene is invoked to ward off all these numerous ills which fear, expectation, and acceptance have armed.
But in the present state of human consciousness, collectively, we have to yield to some limitations which past and present belief has imposed. In the cases of contagions and epidemics, quarantines and barriers must be imposed until there is a general affirmation of freedom. We are, in measure, bound by laws of our own imposing until there is a general emancipation. Collective improvement can therefore only be gradual and evolutionary.
But the ideal to develop is that of an inner and spiritual armor—as scientific as it is spiritual—that will become an impenetrable shield. We need an intelligent, subjective dominance and control of the creative forces of thought, until full emancipation from the distortions of sense-perception be accomplished.
Imagine the human body in normal expression. What a beautiful and sacred divine masterpiece! It is a graceful and bejeweled high altar, consecrated by the spiritual flame within, which should be kept in a living glow. Its sacrifices are such as kindle life, the dispensation of dead and bleeding offerings having forever passed away.
The physical organism is a sanctuary of the humanized divinity, the grandest visible expression of deific energy, in exquisite and symmetrical proportion. It is the highest known embodiment of divine art and architecture. It is also the most perfect exponent of the law of active cooperation. Every member is supremely honorable, in its time and place; and any seeming dishonor has been gratuitously thrust upon it by perverted thought. The body here outlined is that of normal objective expression of the developed higher selfhood.
But turning from the ideal to the average out-picturing, we find this instrument which is so beautifully capacitated, to be, in actual expression, discordant and tyrannical. Instead of exercising a sweet and peaceful ministry, it demands constant service and indulgence. It deviates from the normal, refuses harmonious cooperation, and becomes capriciously unreliable. It reaches this condition as the result of a perverted and inharmonious quality of consciousness.
The ego has surrounded itself with a thought environment of discordant vibration with the established order. The negatives of fear, anxiety, envy, pessimism, avarice, lust, malice, selfishness, materialism, one or more, are in evidence; and at length overt manifestation comes in some form of disorder. The thinker within has reversed the established order; and the day of judgment, when the tribunal at the soul-center renders his righteous verdict of condemnation, arrives. Mental and spiritual science points out the road to be traversed in order to bring one back to conformity to law; and thus judgment is satisfied, and through a new consciousness, harmony is restored on all planes of expression.