Immortality! What visions and fears and strange questionings are aroused in the minds of men and women by the contemplation of this theme! Redolent with hope, and ever-fragrant with the sweetest blossoms of human emotion, yet is it also sadly suggestive, to the awakening soul, of the probability of self-delusion, of the possibility of complete, extinction. How hoary is the doctrine, yet how fresh and new it is today! It is like a beautiful flower which the suns of a thousand ages have not scorched,—being ever-refreshed by the tears of those ages as with heavenly dews,—which, in the midst of the all-fading, fades not.
Great is the theme of Immortality! Next to Truth the greatest upon which the humans mind dwells. Yet it cannot be separated from Truth, and if it be regarded as but another word for Truth, as one aspect of Truth, then is Immortality the theme of themes. What poet has not sung of it! What prophet has not proclaimed it! What sage has not discoursed upon it! Dying martyrs have chanted its beauties, oppressed men and women have dreamed of the happiness and freedom that it holds, and groaning, suffering, perishing Humanity has ever fondled, and still fondles, the hope of its unending blessedness.
Yet men and women continue to die. Like a candle in the night their visible life is extinguished, and we know that for us it must soon also be extinguished. The light of life disappears and the form of life passes away; where then is Immortality? Immediately a child is born it begins to die. The very process which builds up the body in strength and vigor at last destroys it. Nothing is more common, nothing more inevitable than death; where then is life eternal? Men believe that they have a soul which continues to live after the death of the body, but it is an indistinct belief, indefinite, and without shape, a kind of superstition. They do not know. They are subject to fear, especially fear of death, and this could not be if Immortality were realized.
Men know that they will die, but they do not know where immortality resides, or that the knowledge of immortality may be attained, yet they are dimly conscious that there is an unchangeable something of which man is an integral part, or manifestation, and which is superior to the ravages of decay and death.
And so men doubt and fear, and yet they still believe, for the dim consciousness of immortality continues to burn within them like an inextinguishable light which scarcely relieves the surrounding darkness, and with blind gropings and unutterable longings men continue to search, they scarce know how or why, for that alchemic secret which shall enable them to transmute mortality into immorality, death into Life.
There are those, it is true, in this age as there were in former ages, who declare that they can defy decay, and that they will continue indefinitely youthful in their present body of flesh, but they continue, as they always did, to grow old and die like other people; moreover, such a theory is not only the reversion of natural law, but is based on the delusion that persistence and eventual succession constitute immortality, whereas it is the living entirely in the succession of events which blinds men to the knowledge of immortality.
Man, then, as body, is mortal. That which is compounded must be decomposed; this is the law of things. Neither in his body nor in the sensations of his body will man find immortality, as these are not only exclusively related to perishable things, but are in themselves subject to wear and change, enervation and decay.
Man must look deeper than his body, deeper than his sensations, for the knowledge of immortality. Yet men have looked deeper still, and have failed to find. It is a subject before which intellect fails and reason is s shattered. The subtlest shafts of logic have failed to penetrate its inscrutable veil, so that it appears to be a thing utterly beyond human-comprehension; and indeed the majority regard it (so far at least as this life is concerned) as a sacred and not-to-be solved mystery, while some of the more thoughtful relegate it to the region of "the unknowable"; and others, thrusting the matter from them, fall back upon the pleasurable life of the senses, and say in their hearts, "Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die."
But he who in his heart loves Truth, and is "bent on finding it, can never rest satisfied in the adoption of blank negations, nor sink himself in the insane hilarity of despair; but he will continue to search, and though he be baffled continually, yet will he search again and again, and he will grow strong in his searching.
Immortality is or it is not. If it is, it can be found; if it is not, this also can be found. The "conditional immortality" of many of the theological disputants, which assumes that eternal continuity of the personal life after the death of the body is bestowed by God as a "gift" on those who "believe" in the conditions laid down, is, of course, outside all ethical and philosophical consideration, having no connection with fact and reality, and as a theological speculation, it leaves man just as ignorant of immortality as before.
Immortality, like Truth, cannot be framed, nor can it be given or taken away; it must ever be or not be; and if, as man believes, it is intimately related to being, to his own being, is, in truth, a state inseparable from his being, then it is already within him, and is only hidden from him by a veil of ignorance, he having not yet revealed it to himself as Knowledge. As an eternal reality (if such it is), it must he an eternal reality in man who is inseparably immersed in the universal life, the universal Being, and it must therefore be discoverable by man in the recesses of his own inner world of consciousness by the aid of a process which he himself can find out and apply.
Not in books (sacred or otherwise), not in mere verbal statements, nor theological schemes, nor philosophical hypotheses and speculations can immortality reside, nor can it be revealed by these extraneous methods; it resides in man’s interior consciousness, and can only be revealed by an inward growth and development, by the discovery and realization of those eternal Principles which are the indestructible foundation of life itself. Even he who has found immortality cannot directly reveal it to another, as, by its very nature, immortality can be nothing less than a self-revelation, and a teacher can do no more than frame such words, and give such counsel and instruction as may guide the seeker in the right direction, so that he may make more rapid progress toward the discovery of the Truth within himself, the Truth which is of the essence of himself. And indeed all the Great Teachers, as Jesus, Buddha, Zoroaster and others, who realized immortality, have given to the world the most definite instructions concerning the method and process by which immortality can be realized. Men read these instructions continually, preach sermons and write commentaries on them, and think they fully understand them, but they are of such a nature as to be incapable of being understood until they are applied in practice, and men do not attain to immortality because they shrink from carrying out the instructions, or reject them as untrustworthy without practically testing them. Yet whilst failing to carry out the instructions given, men preserve the words in which those instructions are embodied, and constantly read and reiterate them. Thence arise the delusions of letter worship, and the Spiritual Truth, which is only revealed by the simplicity of practice, is lost sight of, and remains undiscovered.
All the instructions given by the Teachers relate to the doing of certain things by the individual, never to the acceptance of any theories, theologies or philosophies, and the Teachers one and all declare that immortality actually consists in the faithful carrying out, by the individual, of the course of spiritual action laid down. Some of these instructions, notably those of Jesus and Buddha, are not only definitely and methodically propounded, but are also, by the Teachers themselves, expounded with painstaking minuteness and lucid simplicity. These instructions are of a spiritual nature, and are, necessarily, all of the same kind and substance. Truth cannot admit of contradiction or oppose itself (such a condition can only exist in the domain of error), and every spiritual Teacher gives the same instruction, though, of course, choosing his own words in which to convey them to his hearers. Jesus, for instance, does not teach one Truth and Buddha another; both teach the One Unchangeable Truth. It is true men speak of Christianity and Buddhism as opposing religions, (as indeed they are it the after-growths of formalism are only considered, and not the original Principles propounded by the respective Teachers), but this is because men rather choose to quarrel over words than to humbly and faithfully execute the simple though hard-to-perform commands of those divine ones whom they call Master.
The way to immortality is, indeed, a way of practice, and not of theory; it is a doing, and not a speculation; a process which only the individual can apply, and not a theological formula for general and unquestioned acceptance.
That process was broadly outlined by Jesus when he declared that before a man can find Life (immortality) he must be willing to lose it, and also by Buddha when he said that immortality consisted in extinguishing the self and both those Teachers elaborated and made plain these statements (which are identical in meaning) by many a beautiful parable and precept.
In self and in the desires of self immortality does not reside; this and these must be extinguished, blotted out, and forever abandoned. While a man fears annihilation, and thirsts for the eternal continuance of his self, he can have no knowledge of immortality. There is no immortality in self; there is immortality only in Truth. Only by self-renunciation can immortality be realized, and this all the Great Teachers have plainly taught, by precept and (what is more important) by practice, saying, “Follow me," but the majority do not understand and do not follow.
Up and down the shore of the worldly life, by the dark waters of mortality, wander the perishable forms of humanity, straining their eyes to catch, perchance, through the dense mists of error, some glimpse of the other Shore, the abode of the Imperishable; yet few indeed will enter the forbidding boat of self-renunciation and trust themselves to cross the stream; but now and then some fearless one-silent, and with firm-set purpose—steps into the boat and, taking in his right hand the oar of effort, and in his left the oar of discipline, pulls out with energy and faith, and disappears in the gloom of the unknown; and though they, whom he has left behind, can never know it, yet he, in due time sights the Land of Eternal Bliss, and at last steps in safety upon the peaceful Shore of Immortality.
More Articles by This Author James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.