One characteristic stands out above all others in the century of thought now rapidly drawing to a close. It is an age of persistent and unsparing inquiry, of search for causes, sources, origins. It is not content with faith alone, but seeks reasons. The distinctions between schools and systems of thought are fading out in the light of the larger sympathy and sense of brotherhood which the age inspires. The ideal of a universal human society, a universal science, and a universal religion, is already dawning upon us. Students of history, of nature, of human thought and society, are endeavoring to draw an accurate picture of the world-life of the past out of which the present has necessarily proceeded. There is a new demand made upon man—to understand himself in the light of all the causes that have operated to produce him, his thought, his daily experience, his joy and suffering. This desire to know the origin of beings and things as a progressing whole gives the clue to the method and purpose of the present volume.
Its first object is to be helpful, but not in the traditional way. It urges no mere acceptance of its doctrine, proposes no name for its theory, and claims neither originality nor finality for its teaching. It offers reasons for certain phases of the inner life which have hitherto remained mysterious. It is offered as a possible stimulus to systematic and patient inquiry. But it has a far deeper object than this, a purpose in which it will fail unless it be perfectly clear from the outset that this volume is something more than a restatement of the great and beautiful truths which were enunciated so long ago.
This purpose will become apparent by considering the difference between one person and another. Life is a problem which has for each an individual solution. No one can wholly solve it for us or take from it the element of personal responsibility. It has its own particular history and meaning in each individual case. Difference in temperament and in experience gives infinite variety to these personal solutions. The utmost that one individual can do for another is to enunciate the principles which underlie all experiences, however varied. Truth is not truth for us until we have made it our own through reflection, until we have applied it in daily life.
It is hoped, then, that the reader will stop at every important point, as the discussion approaches daily life, to make the thought his own through quiet realization of its spirit and its meaning. Let him pause in restful silence to ask, without forcing himself to think, What does this mean for me? How does it explain, how does it accord with my experience? Have I ever devoted time and reflection—alone with my deepest self—to realize the full bearing of the profoundest and sublimest truths of life? Have I ever made them my own and actualized them in daily life, or is there still a chasm between theory and practice?
If the reader will keep this practical object constantly in view, unsuspected applications of well-known truths will become apparent before the volume is finished.
This book does not, however, advise rigorous self-analysis of the personal self alone. It seeks a way of escape from narrowing introspection and self-consciousness. It seeks the Origin of all consciousness and all life. It proceeds on the principle that man cannot fully understand himself without constant reference to the omnipresent Spirit in whom he lives, and that in this profoundest wisdom is to be found the one unfailing resource in every moment of need. It is not an inquiry alone. It is a chapter from life, an appeal to life, and aims to give the thing itself, so far as possible, instead of talking about it. The principles on which it insists are the outgrowth of experience emphasized by reason. It therefore appeals both to the reason of the reader and to those deeper feelings which find their reason in our relationship to the great Over-Soul. How else can one hope to unite philosophy and life?
It is obviously better to be true to all aspects of life as it appears from the angle of one's own temperament and experience than to force all facts into a particular system. The deepest facts are usually slighted, if not excluded, by the latter process. No formula seems large enough to cover all we know and feel. There is an element in experience that always eludes us. Some experiences can never be told. They are part of us. They are sacred, and one hesitates to speak of them. Yet one can suggest them, or at least let it be known that in these rarest moments of existence one seemed most truly to live. Only in this way does the soul, or that part of us which is most truly individual, find partial expression in language. Only in this way does the unfettered soul show its freedom from prejudice and dogma. Allegiance to a person or theory limits one to the particular view of life represented by that person or theory. To claim finality for one's system of thought would be equivalent to affirming that progress shall end with that particular discussion. Our theories serve us well so long as we remember that life itself is larger.
Life, then, is large, and demands a broad way of thinking about it. To the majority, it is true, life is a mystery into which it is futile to delve too deeply, or it is a series of experiences at once so contradictory and fragmentary that no one can deduce any meaning from them. We have no sense of what our total self means. We suffer, and we seek relief. We are absorbed in the present, in its needs and woes, unaware that our whole past lives, our inheritance and our temperament, may affect this bit of suffering nature which for the moment limits our thought. Thus experience everywhere lacks perspective. Our thinking is painfully narrow. We do not look far enough. We live as though time were soon to cease, and prudence would not permit us an hour for quiet reflection.
Yet a new phase, and to some the happiest phase, of life begins when we become conscious of our intimate relation to eternity, when we stop hurried thought, and try quietly to realize what life means as a progressing whole. If life be one, and reveal one purpose, one God, can any other interpretation be rational, will the parts ever assume their true relationship in our minds except when viewed in the light of the whole? If all power be one, and resident in the universe, acting through something or somebody, can we not discover how it is acting, and thereby learn the course of events as related to our own lives? Can we not become adjusted to the situation as it actually is, and stop this continual rebellion, this sense of disease and lack of harmony with the inevitable? Possibly our suffering is largely unnecessary, and is caused by our own attitude. Possibly, too, it has a deeper meaning than we had suspected.
But before we can bring about a change of attitude, before we can realize the power of silence, we must have a firm basis to stand upon, we must know what that power is. The presence of an unwordable element in our deepest experience is no excuse for vagueness. The thoughtful mind of today is no longer content with mere skepticism or with mere unproved assertion. We must have a reason for our faith: otherwise it is no faith at all, and the first trying experience will set us once more adrift at the mercy of fear and opinion.
Finally, then, this book aims to be positive and hopeful, in spirit and in teaching. Its first proposition is:—
Experience is best explained by its immediate environment. The truth is involved in the very nature of the beings and things by which we are surrounded. It only needs to be evolved or made explicit. All power is immanent. It works through something. Man should not look beyond his own nature, his own temperament, inheritance, education, until he is compelled to do so in order to find an adequate explanation of his experience. He should have a clear conception of the closely related events out of which his own life has proceeded as an inevitable consequence, just as the river is enlarged and shaped in its course by its tributaries and the country through which it flows, yet never rises higher than its source. In a word, he must know his origin, both immediate and remote. He must start with his own personal experience, but should not stop until he has traced it to the very Source beyond which thought can never go.
This inquiry leads us to a consideration of the subject of subjects, on which one most of all hesitates to speak—the nature and life of God. In pursuing this inquiry, the aim will be to use simple, untechnical language, with no historical references and as little dry reasoning as possible. Although this method is open to adverse criticism, it unquestionably serves the purpose of the book, namely, to deal directly with the thing itself out of which grow both philosophy and life. Truth is a sphere into which we must break somewhere. If our inquiry leads us finally to the Reality itself, we shall feel it and know it, and lay little stress on the mere words and forms that led us to the Spirit beneath them. Let us, then, make the start in some well-known fact of existence, which shall lead as quickly as possible to that on which all existence depends.
More Articles by This Author Horatio W. Dresser
- Born on January 15th, 1866 in Yarmouth, Maine and died March 30th, 1954 in Boston, Massachusetts
- Authored many books, including The Power of Silence, and published several magazines.
- Earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1907