Man stands between two powers—Authority and Freedom. To the first he may subject his mind; to the second he may ally himself. The one seeks to enforce its ancient lien upon the soul, to foreclose the mortgage of ancestral making, to exact from new life a homage to the old, to compel the present to conform to the past, and jealously to guard that the future shall bring forth no new thought. The other is like a breath of sweet air in spring-time, exacting nothing, but laying all things in glorious gift before the soul. In its presence there is the suggestion of a new life. It invites the soul to think for itself, to live outwardly the inward conviction, and to aspire and build regardless of the failures or successes of the past.
The limitation upon the liberty of the soul, which Authority seeks to enforce, is the result of countless ages of life-history. Thousands of generations have added their moieties to the whole, and the burden has increased as the stream of life has flowed onward. It speaks to the soul through every relation of life—the institutions of State and the creeds of Church, the common customs of nations and the mandates of the law, and the recognized standards, of art and literature, morality and ethics. It strikes with paralysis the spontaneous and original thought.'
The child is born an heir to the ages, and the greater part of the inheritance into which it speedily comes is this bondage to Authority. The cradle is environed by its hard and unyielding dictum. It displays its diploma of experience, and with assumed wisdom undertakes the rearing and education of the child. To every original, spontaneous, and progressive question from the unfolding mind, it offers the opinion of the past, though formed in ignorance or selfishness. In the early years of youth, when perchance one wanders in the deep and silent woodlands, or is fortunate enough to know the trackless prairie whose expanding circle with unbroken dome above engenders concepts of unity and sublimity unthought before, and through this touch of Nature perceives the law of free life and expression, then for the time being this ancient phantom of Authority fades away as something belonging to an artificial world of transient things, and is replaced by the genius of light—the spirit of Freedom. For the soul, the past is then dead, and its gaze is turned to the future, which it claims to work with in its own divine way.
In such conditions have been born many great thoughts and purposes that have swept the race onward to higher levels of attainment. But such conditions do not come to all, and if to the few are of short duration. The soul is soon forced back into the beaten path of life, and to some extent must follow it. Conventional life and conditions claim him, and he enters an existence whose controlling factor is Authority. Would he fashion his life upon a higher social order of things than that which surrounds him, and with which his fellow- beings are content? He cannot; Authority in a multitude of disguises opposes his way and threatens to brand him with all sorts of disagreeable epithets if he persist. Would he evolve a higher religious conception than the average possess and manifest in life? He is anticipated; for Authority, knowing its strong point to lie in forestalling, has molded his plastic young mind after one of the prevailing philosophies or creeds, and if in time the evil be recognized the effort to gain the vantage-ground of fairness and unbias may be an uncertain one in its results. In business, in politics, and all the vocations that depend upon the multitude for favor, the soul must yield to the tyranny of the special embodiment of Authority which the multitude has set above it to rule its thoughts and define its limitations.
Thus does this psychological tyrant, whom the human race has created, dog the steps of every soul, exacting his tribute at every stage of life, lavishing material benefits upon his willing subjects and withholding them from the defiant ones, and does not yield up his office until what men call death claims the victim, and even then imposes conditions upon the disposition of the body. Under these conditions is it strange that people fear to harken to their own thought upon the problems of soul life, and seek to press them into the background, where they will cease to annoy or surprise them; or that they should wish first to have displayed the authoritative label of your philosophy before they consent to listen, and, if not able to classify your idea in some highly respectable and authoritative category, reject it as dangerous and visionary; or that they are timid and indolent in thought, scarcely claiming the right to think for themselves, deferring always to traditional opinion and that of their appointed masters and leaders?
What is more usual than the popular demand of “What is your authority?” or “Who says so?” as the first rejoinder to a new or an old thought which they are compelled to entertain, as if it could be more or less true on account of him who asserts it ? Proclaim a profound truth, one as deep as human nature but without the stamp of Authority or the must of age upon it, and the average mind is little more than entertained or the heart little stirred. But declare a less deep or vital truth in the name of some one whose reputation is revered, and allegiance is gained at once. This is the mystic charm of Authority and its blighting influence upon the original, progressive, and creative powers of the mind.
An attempt to build from without, and not from within, is a false philosophy. It is a dependence upon another’s mind, another’s excellence, another l s goodness or wisdom, rather than upon one’s own. It is the mental and moral sloth from which nothing can deliver one but the exchange of this master of Authority for the companionship of the genius of Freedom and the power that will thereby come to attain for ourself.
If the one universal essence pervades all beings—if each be the temple of divinity through which the higher, subliminal consciousness is ever seeking to emerge—why should I inquire of Plato or Emerson what truth or virtue is? If they be nearer to it than I, is not that approach a result of their own self-evolution, to attain like which I too must follow the same road? No one can have a monopoly upon that which is the nature of all.
You may ask, Is there not a difference in the wisdom of men? Yes, surely; but that difference is not fundamental and create: it is a difference in unfoldment, or evolution, and the consequent apprehension of truth.
Did these men acquire their wisdom by collecting the opinions of others? Surely not. No doubt they were familiar with the thought of preceding souls, but they attained wisdom through self-evolution, by the process of unfolding that higher, subliminal consciousness which holds in potentiality all that man can ever become.
Here we may well ask, What truly great man who has had a message for humanity ever sought to quote some one else for what he declared to be his conviction of the truth or his conception of life? I think we may say, No one. Did Jesus quote some respectable Authority for his teachings? “Verily, I say unto you,” is his reputed language. Did Socrates quote the philosophers or oracles? “Plato, it must be so,” would be his words. Did Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius couch their teachings in the language and with the sanction of the then great schools of philosophy? Did Emerson or Shakespeare deliver his profound messages in the language of another, or borrow his luster to give them currency? No; because they spoke from the conviction of their own souls, and not from the dictum of another.
There can be no real progress or unfoldment except the evolution of the self. Another can give advice, good counsel, information; can teach facts, but never truth, nor wisdom, nor experience. These are matters of self-attainment. They cannot be borrowed or loaned or transferred. He who possesses them cannot part with them if he would, neither can he monopolize them: they are free to every one, because they are of the nature of the one essence of which all are the differentiated parts.
Any attempt to attain virtue by another’s virtue must fail. The internal self-perception of truth must ever be individual, though there may be an illimitable number who possess it; but the perception by one can never supply the want of it by another. Neither can one become wise by the vicarious wisdom of another. We cannot build up our lives from without; hence, Authority is a false teacher if it stifle growth from within. But may we not be taught by others, and share the thoughts of the great and enlightened minds who have illumined the way before us? We may. They can show us the way and stimulate our endeavor to attain a knowledge of what they have known, and, as we attain it, enable us to participate in their elevated association. But, when a vital problem is presented in the life, the thoughts and theories of others will dissolve into nothingness and the question will be solved by the self, from the deepest promptings of one’s soul, with as much light from the Source of wisdom as has been caught and retained in the aspiring ego. One will do this if he appreciate his own divinity and the opportunity to express it. Any other attempt to settle a vital question wholly by the standards of another’s thought or conviction may perchance result happily occasionally; but as a scheme of life it must ultimately prove a failure, and involve its hapless victim in a vacillating and uncertain state of dependence and unhappiness.
What, then, should we seek to do? Dismiss the master Authority and accept the companion Freedom, which acts upon the soul’s powers as the sunlight upon the unfolding flower. Live your life from your own standards, arrived at through the deepest search into your true self. Have a care not to become shallow or one-sided in an artificial exclusiveness, nor to become fanatical and egotistical. Keep a true balance with the cosmos, especially with the higher thought of your fellow- souls. Do not fear that higher thought will trick you. If by the effort you fall into occasional error it will be a blessing to you thus to discover where in your own personality there is something that needs rectifying: for the error will flow from that point, not from the nature of your effort.
Do not be fearful of your own thoughts. First to learn yourself, give them perfect liberty and freedom. One of the beneficial results will be a partial discovery of yourself. This aspect of the self may present two phases. One may discourage, because it will disclose your weaknesses. But do not flee; remain to conquer, and let the thought run on and show what kind of habit of life is beneath them. By this disclosure you will learn where improvement is needed; and, once learned, from that point begin the inhibition of harmful thought and the building of the higher. The other phase disclosed will be the sublimer one before which the intellect may stand amazed in the presence of its grandeur and beauty.
How many people will rhapsodize over a beautiful thought, read from an author of reputed standing, but fail to recognize the same when it flits through their own minds! Outside of science, the narration of empirical facts, what is there new in substance in books? Do you not sit down with your favorite one and read it as though you yourself had written it? Why is it so, but that you have many times thought the same thoughts yourself, and only half-recognized and never fully appreciated them? It may be that your favorite author has possessed the art of producing a happy concatenation of words, which lends an additional charm to the thoughts; but that is largely an artificial adornment. To know somewhat of other thoughts is in truth delightful; for it is association, and cheers the life. Books, if they be good ones, are excellent mental society (some have thought the best, as did Petrarch); but neither books nor society become an unqualified good if they tend to check or nullify the originative and creative activities of the mind. They are liable to be used as one would take a stimulant, and as long as one takes a stimulant the natural powers of the stimulated organ decrease; and when the stimulant is discontinued the healthful action becomes torpid.
Once recognizing the duty to think with untrammeled freedom, we will have another question to settle. We will be met at every step with the suggestion from ourselves or others that there cannot be much merit in our thoughts, for others have anticipated them. Suppose they have: if the thoughts be noble and sublime, we should feel encouraged that we are unfolding as did they who went before us and left recorded thought. Nor can we be dismayed with the thought that any one has a property-right in an idea to our exclusion. No one can monopolize ideas; if so, he could suppress soul life altogether, except as an acknowledged imitation. It is the privilege of every soul to express its highest nature. That some one has expressed it for himself, before me, is of no import to me; it is my privilege and duty to express it for myself. Hence, it is untrue to say of my thought, or of yours, that it is Emerson’s or Paul’s or Plato’s. It is mine or yours as much as it was ever theirs.
When we admit any such proprietary right in ideas, to our own exclusion, we limit the possibility of unfoldment to that extent; for it is primarily through the mind that unfoldment in the objective life takes place. Under those circumstances we could never enter the field of thought without being a trespasser—without borrowing from those who have gone before and acknowledging an eternal and insurmountable indebtedness to them; whereas we should enter it as though we are passing into our own domain, expecting at every point to disclose to ourselves its beauty. This we can do only by perfect freedom and a due appreciation of the powers of the soul. So long as one feels that there is any subject of knowledge or wisdom which he has not the liberty to seek, uncover, and question in the sanctuary of his profoundest thought, he has failed to realize his opportunity and the right use of his mind. He has failed to relate himself to that part of the Universe. It is this attitude of perfectly free relation to the Universal Mind, without the aid of intermediary devices, that is necessary to a higher mental and spiritual development.
If, then, we shall hope to make the higher mental life our own, we must not relinquish its development to others, but must claim it for our own self-attainment. There is a great difference, in the store added to the soul, between reading or hearing the expression of another’s thought and thinking like thoughts for ourselves: all the difference there is between borrowing and making a beautiful design or clever device. We must think boldly and fearlessly, and be assured that whatever wrong can arise from it will be from our own ignorance and imperfect manner of proceeding. There is nothing in the nature of things designed to be hidden from us. That would be imputing to Divinity ways that are ignoble, trivial, and childish. If men believe knowledge of a particular kind is forbidden them, it will remain for them a closed book. They will never pass beyond the circle they draw around themselves.
While with this freedom and faith one opens the mind to the flood of thoughts that seek self-expression on subjects of soul importance, it must not be forgotten that it is done with many imperfections in the evolved personality, which may tinge with their own special and erroneous color some of the conclusions. But there is a court of reason and conscience where we may detain such conclusions and guard against their possible error.
The reading of many books will not add the richness to one’s mind that the attempt to write one poem drawn from the deepest and sincerest side of his nature will do. His own meditation upon the nature and destiny of his soul will add more wisdom than all others can tell him. His own concepts of the higher virtues, of the nature of truth, if formed with sincere and unselfish purpose, will be surer aids to advancement than the thoughts imperfectly gotten from others. The daily recognition of the beauties in sky and stars, in clouds and their forms and tints, in landscapes and flowers, in faces and souls, will be grander poetry than can be found in books.
To make the mind, then, the open door into the sublimer realm of the intellectual life, to make it the instrument by which all the true and noble things shall be self-perceived through our own powers and not induced as a vague thought from others, is the special duty and privilege that each must recognize. Thus, with no other authority but Truth and with Wisdom as a counselor, the soul may proceed with its work of more perfectly expressing its harmonious relation to the Whole and attaining to higher states of consciousness.