There is a difference in the way in which different people meet life. We have but to look about us to know that this is true. There is a difference in the spirit, and consequently in the way in which they work, in which they play, in which they meet and associate with other people, in which they carry successes and endure reverses, and in which they face dangers. And each of us, if we observe self, will find that at different hours we meet the duties and activities of life differently.
I believe that the inner experience of every person is identical, in a certain fundamental sense, with that of every other person. By this I do not mean that we must all eventually perform the same acts, commit the same crimes, indulge in the same vices, and engage in the same occupations. I mean, instead, that back in that inner realm of the mind where the feelings and impulses and desires arise, our experiences are all practically the same.
What our inner experience is at any hour depends upon the degree of our spiritual discernment in that hour; what outward expression we shall give to these inner forces is determined, to some extent at least, by our environments. This is illustrated by the fact that several persons may perceive the same truth; one puts it into a poem, another into a statue, another into a picture, another into the faithful performance of public or official duties, another into sweeping and dusting and scrubbing and washing dishes. And the discerning reader will read from each of these outward expressions the same spiritual truth.
It becomes apparent to the thoughtful that we are all bound together by a thread of common experience and common understanding. Therefore, if I wish to understand the human beings about me, with their virtues and their vices, their joys and their sorrows, and their fears, their self-indulgences and their self-renunciations, I have but to look within and study and analyze my own feelings and motives; and when once I thoroughly know myself, I shall know all people.
There is no one of us who has reached the age of maturity without knowing what hatred means. Our hatred has been directed against different persons and for different causes and with varying degrees of intensity and persistence, of course, but we have all hated at one time or another. This makes it possible for us to read and understand any human being who is swayed by anger or hatred, no matter in what particular acts of revenge and violence he may express himself.
We have all yielded to temptations of one kind or another—have given up to self-indulgence to a certain extent, and thus it is we can understand why other people are tempted and why they yield to temptations.
We all know what sorrow and pain are, and when we have found in self the cause of our suffering, and have sought out the cure for it, we will have learned the cause and the cure for all the suffering in the world.
To all of us there sometimes come moments of spiritual insight. There are moments in my life when I perceive that all the unkind things I have ever done, all the evil I have ever done, all the fears that have ever beset me, and all the pain I have ever suffered, are in some way a result of selfishness or ignorance. (I do not know whether what we call ignorance is a result of selfishness or not. I sometimes think we can know just as much of truth as we are willing to know, and can live just as much of truth as we are willing to live, and that as one overcomes his selfishness his ignorance vanishes.) But when I perceive why I do wrong and why l fear and why I suffer, I perceive, also, why it is that other people sin and fear and suffer.
Self-examination is the very first step towards reformation and spiritual growth. When we begin to study our own motives and desires, our own thoughts and feelings, with a sincere desire for knowledge, we will begin to see our own follies and weaknesses and vices and self-seeking; and there will surely follow a sense of dissatisfaction with self, and a desire to get rid of some of our faults.
It is at this stage of the soul's growth that we come to realize that no other person can pour virtue into us, nor take away from if us a single one of our faults. We perceive, instead, that we do evil because we want to do evil; and that whenever we really want to do right we can do right. It is all a matter of desire. The thing we hold in thought, whether it be good or evil, is the thing which is manifested in our life.
There follows naturally the realization that other people are not responsible for the sins we commit and the sorrows we suffer. We cease to blame anyone else for tempting us, or for the heartaches we feel and the tears we shed.
Nothing can tempt us which we do not have a secret desire for—the temptation is in the desire, not in the thing desired. By overcoming the desire we overcome both the tempter and the temptation.
"When you are willing to admit that all your unhappiness is the result of your own selfishness you will not be far from the gates of Paradise; but so long as you are convinced that it is the selfishness of others that is robbing you of joy, so long will you remain "in your self-created purgatory."
The reason that different people meet life differently is because they are at different stages of the growth of the soul and of spiritual discernment.
The wiser and better a man becomes, the more plainly does he discern both the cause and the cure for sin, and unrest and pain.
We all hold the expectation that some time we shall be free from our follies and vices. Let us cease to delude ourselves with the belief that we shall wake up some fine morning and find ourselves rid of our ill tempers, and fretful ways and impure desires, and jealous, envious thoughts, and in their place a robe of spotless purity, and in our hands the palm of glory, and on our brows the crown of peace—without our ever having made any effort to overcome our faults, and deserve these blessed things.
Christ, out of His spiritual understanding, said: Seek ye the Kingdom of Heaven. Be merciful. Be kind. Do good. With the same measure that ye mete it shall be measured to you again. The Kingdom of Heaven is within you!
And good and wise men everywhere and at all times attest that Christ taught the truth when He taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is a state of inner blessedness, and that the only way, absolutely the only way, to find it is by being good.