As, step by step, we venture beyond the confines of those faiths in the profession which we have been brought up, and as we proceed to inquire why it is they have ever engaged the heart of the human race in its progress onward and upward, we see more and more clearly that the nature of a great religious teacher, like Jesus, Gautama the Buddha, Zoroaster, or Confucius, appeals to us, not because of its mythical setting, but because the only pretensions to "divinity" of which we can have any conception are inherent in the moral character, and that these great prophets who have enlisted our sympathies—nay, our very soul's being—have been entitled to the position which they have been accorded, owing solely to the fact that they have exemplified in a preeminent degree an ideal realization of our own ethical and religious conception, and it must never be forgotten that unless this spontaneous recognition of divinity were imminent in ourselves, we never could have acceded to these great ones this right that was theirs.
Within each one of us lies the possibility of attaining all that we would reach or become. The potentiality of all things is contained within the angel heart of man."
We are in the habit of seeking happiness, wealth and prosperity outside ourselves, but the truth is that unless we make our circumstances subservient to us, we can never realise what we would have.
All our achievements are the result of the exercise of our "will." If we wish to do a thing we must direct our energies in such a way as to make our bodies work for us after this or that manner. The reason that we are so often unsuccessful is owing to the fact that we have not learnt the secret of self-government, without which we can never control our destiny.
People imagine that they are at the mercy of everybody and everything except themselves, and so they are until they find that the only thing that can affect themselves in the slightest degree is themselves. They forget that, but for themselves, they could never know what it is to be either happy or unhappy, contented or discontented, ill or well, poor or rich, and hence, because they do not understand themselves, they are utterly unable to understand anything else.
The first thing to be done in our attempt to be "perfect," is to remember that as we think, so we are. We must therefore decide upon the attitude which we are to take in regard to circumstances and to other people. A negative attitude is of the greatest possible danger; a passive attitude is better, provided we understand how to maintain it; but a positive attitude is the best of all.
An elementary exercise for the beginner will be to picture an illimitable Power within himself upon which he can draw, and then to frame ideas which express the state of mind and being into which he would enter.
We all know how, when we wish to learn anything by heart, we read it over the last thing at night before retiring to rest, and it comes back to us vividly in the morning. Also that, when we wish to rise at a certain hour, by fixing that hour well in our minds the last thing at night, we can generally get up when we want to. In the same way, by imaging before us, before we go to sleep, calmness, peace, contentment, and so forth, and then resolutely willing to attain these states of consciousness, we shall find, in time, that we actually do become "strong" in these directions, and that will enable us to proceed with the training as described in the next chapter.
You need never be poor, nor unhappy, nor "out of sorts," nor unsuccessful. Believe in yourself and you will be believed in. Says that inspired poetess, Ella Wheeler Wilcox:
"Gifts count for nothing, will alone is great."
In Sir Edwin Arnold's translation of that sublime old Hindu poem, "The Mahabharata," entitled The Song Celestial, the following lines occur:—
Is less, far less, than the right thinking mind.
At the first glance, one may be apt to exclaim "Impossible! if we acted upon that principle whatever would happen!" Ah! what would!
Let us turn to Tennyson's poem, "The Ancient Sage," and we shall see the same idea embodied in different words:—
Some of us would be unwilling to concede inspiration to the writer of the old Sanskrit legend, and so accustomed have we become to take an inverted view of things, that we may possibly venture to think, for the moment, that Tennyson was misled in attaching an undue importance to a process "which could not possibly affect people one way or the other."
Alas! it is so common for us to get into the habit of doing things without troubling ourselves to think in the least what it is we are about to do, that we are apt to imagine that thinking is something entirely different from, and has nothing to do with, our actions; indeed, much of what passes muster for "thinking" merely amounts to bothering one's head about trivial matters that do not in the least bit matter, either to ourselves or to others.
Until you are able to trace thoughts to their source, you can never be master either of your mind or body. All evils arise from the want of thought control. What do you think of a man who does another person an injury? You say, "How awful! what a shocking thing!" You are right; but do you know that that man's reprehensible conduct sprang only from wrong thinking?
So many of us get into the way of believing that "we are all right," if only we do not put our evil inclinations directly into practice; it does not matter, we say, so long as we "don't give way" to our temptations. But, alas! we cannot help acting in a particular way until we help thinking in such a manner. Thoughts must precede action, and though many acts are automatic, in the first instance thought and pains must have been expended to render them so. In other words, habit is the sum total of thought.
"Now," you may say, "all this looks very well on paper, but how can I possibly restrain the bad thoughts that will come, though I try to fight against them?" Well, to begin with, I should not advise too much "fighting against" thoughts; I would rather recommend the arrest of an undesirable thought-current by determined concentration on some other idea. Suppose, for instance, you think some wrong has been done you; there comes the desire to pay back the wrong. Now, two evils never yet made one right; instead, therefore, of returning evil for evil, divert your mind altogether from the wrong that has been done to you. How can you associate the thought, much less the presence, of any great religious teacher, with thoughts of retaliation, evil-speaking, and acts of uncharitableness? How can you even ask to be "helped" by a higher Power to conquer your natural impulse to wrong-doing, unless you first gather strength (which must all come from God, never forget), and without diverting your mind from sin?
Instead of dwelling upon the evil wrought by those who trespass against you, turn your thoughts in the opposite direction. Reflect how little you know of their intentions, and how different the motives which prompted, their actions may be, in reality, from what you fancied they were; think of the good things they have done or tried to do. Do you know, when people say to me that it seems to them the "devil" has it all his own way, I ask them if they are blind. The very vilest often disclose wonderfully beautiful traits of character, and could we but look at things as they appeared to those who did them, how differently we should think of them.
It will be difficult, very, very difficult at first, to check the flow of your thoughts; but, in the end, mental discipline of this kind will enable you to succeed, and in the place of evil thoughts, good wishes to make people purer, happier, and holier will inspire you.
To think is to pray.
—Thomas à Kempis