Having briefly considered the philosophy of unfoldment along the higher paths of being, we may next consider some of the right mental states that make such an unfoldment possible. It must be understood not only that the mental life is an expression of the ego, but that the further expression is greatly aided or hindered by past and present mental states.
But first it may be asked, Why all this philosophy? Because the living that is not conformable to some philosophy, some reason, some purpose, is only drifting on the tide of time: it is living by expediency, the reason of the moment sufficing to determine the acts and thoughts. It may be conceded that there is spontaneous and unreasoning excellence, which no doubt is a very high state; but we may be assured that, when we find it, it is a result that has been earned somewhere and some time.
The fact is not to be overlooked that the living is essential and not to be avoided. Unfoldment of the higher nature must come through an expression of it, which is only possible through the life—the thought. We must not make the mistake that achievement lies in shutting one’s self up and lapsing into general indifference, nor imagine that we have become so superior that the character of our achievement will not be modified by our every act. Each act has thought behind it, and if the act be ignoble or harmful there is either a like thought correlated or an absence of the better and higher thought. In either case the ego stultifies itself.
To live the higher life is not an impracticable or chimerical undertaking. It is natural and practical in the highest sense, but not in the sense of being altogether best suited to all conditions; for it cannot harmonize with conditions that are the result of low ideals. It has been said that “art is the path of the creator to his work.” In this case the creator is man; his work is living; and the method and manner of this living are the art.
The living, then, must be such a conduct of the daily life as is most conformable to the principles of universal and un selfish love and the manifestation of truth in every phase; the making of the life beautiful within, which will always insure its loveliness without; the masterful conquest of the lower nature, and the willing renunciation of the trifling and un necessary habits and likes and dislikes that hold the soul in bondage to a lower and an imperfect state; the love of the true and the perfect, and the studious avoidance of the untrue and the imperfect; the attainment of some degree of mastery whereby come contentment, peace, and happiness. I do not now refer to possible higher states of consciousness.
Is this too much to hope for? It must come some time. Man must become a conscious creator. He must realize that his powers for good or ill are far-reaching; that whatever else others may do or be, his conscious universe will be made for and by himself. He must learn something of the potential powers of his soul—what natural means he is using daily to weave the web of life around him, and how they may be so used as to lift him into a higher condition instead of fettering him. Hence, the key of the life and the art of living are ex pressed in the words Mastery and Attainment.
Let us examine them more in detail. Assuming that there is an agreement to the foregoing philosophy, or some other that recognizes soul and its destiny of perfection, the first consideration will be of Freedom.
The soul is in bondage—in a thousand particulars it is a bond-slave: bound by birth, by the age in which it lives, by the conventional opinions of other human beings, by inherited dogma and philosophy, by its own errors of speculation, by its belief in the supremacy of the body, by the weakness of character it has brought with it, and by fear and ignorance. To be free from all these would, it may be thought, make a perfect being. Its condition would be only a negative one, however, and would lack the positive element of good. It may be asked, Can we free ourselves from all these? Yes; but not in a day, though great progress may be made in a given time—if one have the wish and the will. The soul must be free to be in a condition to receive and apprehend the truth. An angel may stand at your door, but, if you are sure that nothing will convince you that there is such a being, his visit will be useless. The soul can never be receptive of truth so long as it is clouded by prejudice, opinion, and irrevocable predilection. If a gleam of truth occasionally percolate that condition, it is sure to become distorted and unrecognizable. Take as simple an example as that which arises from Nature. Emerson says: “The pairing of birds is an idyl, not tedious as our idyls are; a tempest is a rough ode, without falsehood or rant; a summer with its harvest sown, reaped, and stored is an epic song, subordinating how many admirably executed parts. Why should not the symmetry and truth that modulate these glide into our spirits, and we participate in the invention of Nature?” And yet how very few have sufficiently divested themselves of conventional thinking to be able to receive such suggestions from Nature!
One must free himself also from the tyranny of approbativeness. This, like most other forms of bondage, is self-imposed. As long as we permit the opinions of others to deter mine our action and thought, we can never be free. We will have set up public or private opinion as the standard of conduct, rather than the right and the truth. Act rightly, and give no thought to opinion. The love of praise and commendation is ignoble; it holds the soul in bondage. The fear of disapproval is even more tyrannous. Break them both, and to that extent be free.
One of the results of freedom is original thought. It knows no limitations; it recognizes no obstacles. With a disregard that appalls the weak and circumscribed, it complacently passes by and beyond for the moment the opinions and theories of others and seeks the truth itself. It raises without hesitation the veil from every Isis. It enters the sanctuary, and generally finds an idol instead of the Truth. It descends to the atom and reaches out to the stars. It is fearless; it is lofty. It is that which relates the ego to all things, as the sun’s rays proceed outward and embrace illimitable space. It broadens the horizon of existence, and the soul that has it ceases to be merely of a race, or a country, or a world, but becomes a being of the Universe.
The soul must love Truth, and love it above all opinion, theory, dogma, doctrine, or philosophy. It must appreciate the fact that to know the Truth and live it is the highest state, and be willing to abandon every theory for it. Some who think they love the Truth are mistaken; they love their opinion of Truth. They are not free. The Truth of which I speak is not taught; it is not found in books. Only the method of knowing it may be thus imparted. It itself is internally perceived by him who fits himself to perceive it. It is an interpretation, or a self-revelation, of the Divine.
The soul must love the pure, and be pure. “The sublime vision comes to the pure and simple soul in a clean and chaste body,” said Emerson. The intellectual life must be kept clean and beautiful, the thought ever free from distortion, and then the consciousness will be so likewise. Ruskin wrote: “You can no more filter your mind into purity than you can com press it into calmness; you must keep it pure if you would have it pure, and throw no stones into it if you would have it quiet.” So far as our own higher evolution is concerned, we should ever bear in mind the teaching of the Japanese Buddhists—that we should “neither hear nor speak nor see evil.” No one who allows his mind to dwell upon the details of crime, or upon the many phases of moral obliquity, can keep his mind pure. In the use of the term pure I do not simply refer to the absence of obliquity: I use the term as comprehending the whole realm of the perfect. Whatever is perfect is pure; whatever is a deviation from the perfect is impure.
We must, then, recognize and make part of our lives only those things that approximate perfection, and disregard and refuse to take into our lives all that is a deviation from the purpose of perfection. This should be applied to conversation, literature, art, and the commonest thoughts of life; and, if studiously followed, will transform the habitual consciousness into one beautiful harmony in unison with the higher expression of soul-life on our plane, rendering the life sweet and fresh and free from monstrosities of thought.
What I have said is not to be taken to mean that we should be uncharitable and harsh in opinion—not that we shall disregard duties that deal with imperfect conditions—but applies to the realm of thought and action that lies within the free choice and is purely an individual condition.
It is not the highest philosophy that holds that we must learn virtue by studying vice: that we can appreciate sunshine only by passing through the night. If that were true the divinest nature would have to steep itself in vice in order to appreciate its own divinity. The philosophy I hold is a positive one, and teaches men to love the thing for itself—not a negative one, which teaches you by contrast. There is no real virtue in a preference formed by reason of a contrast. To be good in order to escape the result of evil is not to be good in a very high sense. Such will do for primitive men, who must have rewards to bribe and punishments to deter them. But to be good because of the good itself—that is virtue.
The next consideration is that of Being, as distinguished from seeming. The thought too often is, How may I seem to my acquaintances and the world in general? More stress is put upon reputation than upon character. Reputation is merely the aspect in which we appear to others; it may be true or it may be false, but in any event it is nothing in itself. It is a shadow at best. Character is the real man—reputation only the seeming. Men will be content to know that they are in fact ignoble, if only they seem to be otherwise to the world. The personal man is valued higher than the real man, and virtue is not esteemed for itself but for some extraneous reward. They should be content to know that they are noble, and unmindful of what they may seem to be. Emerson says: “Virtue is the adherence in action to the nature of things, and the nature of things makes it prevalent. It consists in a perpetual substitution of being for seeming, and with sublime propriety God is described as saying I AM.” The soul can never appreciate Truth until it rises out of this illusion, this preference for the seeming over the being.
Ambition and the love of fame are to be classed here. All have them more or less, but they are not recognized on account of their insignificant aspects—because perchance they do not take the form of Napoleon’s passion. They are the petty rivalries and vanities for social and other place and position. Of the more pronounced phases we may say, with Juvenal, “Go climb the Alps, and be a theme for schoolboys.” It is sufficient comment: the words speak volumes. There is no real great ness or nobleness in such lives. Men think they love greatness and burn to do some noble deed: but they mistake; it is not greatness or nobleness they love, but themselves. They love the acclaim of the multitude. Greatness and nobleness are as great and noble in the obscurity of an unknown life as in the full glare of the world’s eye.
One of the most conspicuous examples of this false view is to be found in Cicero’s essay on fame: “Why should we dissemble what is impossible for us to conceal? Why should we not be proud of confessing candidly that we all aspire to fame? The love of praise influences all mankind, and the greatest minds are most susceptible to it.” To this we may reply, briefly, in the words of Epictetus: “Is there no reward? Do you seek a reward greater than doing what is good and just? Does it seem to you so worthless a thing to be good and happy?”
Again, we must be self-centered. This does not mean selfishness. It means that we must recognize the power of self, and its legitimate field of independent and originative action; that our work which shall be effective for self and others must be projected from a self-consciousness of power; and that all true advancement must come from an unfolding of the life within—not through an expectation of a transforming power from without. Matthew Arnold finds a similitude to this in the sublime self-sufficiency of the heavenly bodies, where he says:
“Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
Undistracted by the sights they see,
These demand not that the things without them
Yield them love, amusement, sympathy,”
—and points to the mighty life they attain by pouring their powers into their own tasks.
The analogy may be faulty, and we may prefer the words of Epictetus, if in truth we feel the need of going to another for the expression of a thought: “What, then, is that which is able to conduct a man? One thing, and only one—philosophy. But this consists in keeping the spirit within free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures, doing nothing without a purpose, nor yet falsely and with hypocrisy, nor feeling the need of another man’s doing or not doing anything, and besides accepting all that happens and all that is allotted as coming from thence, wherever it is, whence he himself came.” Interpreting this last clause as intended to include and recognize the laws of causation upon all planes of experience, we may say this is good philosophy.
Let us consider briefly universal love—that condition which holds within itself the possibility of every virtue. As a rule, it is weakly perceived and faintly felt by the soul of average unfoldment—so dominated by personal and selfish love that the very existence and possibility of this condition are often denied. Nevertheless, it is the golden cord that unites all humanity in a thought of ultimate unity; it is the state of consciousness that widens beyond family, friends, country, and race, and claims a kindred with not only all humanity but all life. It softens contrasts; it levels differences in favor of the higher principles that inhere in all. It varies in degree in different personalities, but it may always be known by the absence from the concept of the thought of requital. It goes forth as freely as the sun shine, and has no more thought than it of a reward or requital. It never asks a return of love for love: it is free from any idea of self. It gives itself wholly, an unqualified gift, and exists for naught else. It never diminishes love, but broadens the field of its application. It never withdraws affection when bestowed by reason of personal relations, but lifts it to a higher plane of thought and experience and makes it but a part in an infinite sea of love. The soul must grow into this state. It can do so only by the exercise of it.
In conclusion of this branch of our subject, let us give but a moment to the consideration of that without which one finds himself largely powerless, although he may believe he has attained much of what I have spoken. I refer to the Conservation of Psychic Energy.
As imperfect as is the bodily life rendered by ill health, so is all the higher life made largely ineffective by a failure to conserve the psychic energy. This is thrown away in a multitude of ways: by anger and irritation, by envy and jealousy, by worry, by useless anxiety and grief, by melancholy and pessimism, by useless and inane talking, by inordinate emotion, by useless acts and movements, by incontinence and a disregard of the laws of the creative function. If one would know the higher states of consciousness he must give assiduous attention to all these things. If he would feel the consciousness of a greater power within himself, and wish to know what richness of thought, aspiration, and realization it adds to life, he must in some measure master these defects and at once raise himself into another and newer classification of man.