The Universe and man are inseparable. Universal law de fines the individual expression as well as correlates all in the One. Individual consciousness differentiates the Universal, and evolves through sense, and psychic, to the higher states, by means of the life in which the ego seeks to express in ever- increasing degree of perfection the subliminal nature and wisdom. The higher life is a constant relating of consciousness to the Unchanging and the Permanent, and the emergence of the subliminal consciousness and its synchronizing with the supraliminal or objective consciousness. The art of living this life is first sought in the mastery of mind.
Whence? Whither? These are the eternal interrogatories that haunt the human mind. Dismiss them if you will; let the imperative world crowd them into the background of thought; but they will return with perennial freshness and demand consideration. “A wail between two silences” has not sufficed to express the philosophy of the soul.
Primitive man inquired of the sun and stars and read their silent message; the winds whispered great secrets to him, and Nature became an oracle through which he believed he communed with a higher intelligence. With us, the thoughtful child eagerly puts the question; but, receiving no satisfactory answer, or one quite irrational, soon ceases the inquiry; and the man dismisses it in favor of the more urgent problems of life, possibly to revert to it in declining age. But with the philosopher it is ever present. If he decides, it is only provisionally—only so far as the evidence at hand will justify, and always subject to revision upon the receipt of further light. Like the poet Shelley, he looks inquiringly into the eyes of children and asks the question. He searches the halls of memory for some recovery of the past, and tries to fathom the secrets of prophetic intuition to lift the veil from the future.
Thus the Sphinx sits by the path that each soul must travel; and to solve the riddle many have searched the universe of thought, and can say, with the Persian poet:
“You wish to know the secret—so did I.
Low in the dust I sought it, and on high
Sought it in awful flight from star to star,”
—and, like him, have concluded that the search is vain, though ever feeling that the “secret draweth near,” and that—
“Sometimes on the instant all seems plain,
The simple sun could tell us, or the rain.
The world caught dreaming with a look of heaven
Seems on a sudden tip-toe to explain.”
Yet it must be admitted that the search has not been all in vain. The achievements in scientific thought, the advancement in modern metaphysics, and the study of Oriental philosophy have brought us to a much better understanding of the problem; while the systematic and intelligent work in psychic research has disclosed many of the latent and higher powers of the soul and given us some insight into the states of existence that succeed the physical—wresting much from the domain of agnosticism.
Today we know that man is an integral part of the Universe, related to every part as intimately and indissolubly as a planet or a sun. The elements of the material universe we know are constant and ever have been so. Nothing has ever been added, and nothing subtracted. There is a constant change of form and aspect, but no change in quantity. If one atom could be annihilated it would throw the whole into con fusion; for that atom is intimately related to all others, and they exist as they are by reason of that interrelationship. The proposition is equally true of a supposed creation of an atom. Energy also is constant, though ever changing in form. In short, there is nothing known with which science deals, either as matter or energy, that can be annihilated or created. They always have been; they always will be, in essence—only subject to infinite change of form and mode of manifestation.
Shall we say less of the soul-world, the residuum that science cannot resolve—that ultimate realm in which the cause of manifestation lies? Whether you trace matter back in condition to one homogeneous ether, with its vortex-ring as an atom in whose inherent energy you postulate soul-life, or whether you hold to matter and spirit as two distinct and parallel elements, you cannot consistently deny the eternal persistence of soul in the past and soul in the future. An impulsion in the ether occurs in the most remote realm of space; the farthest visible star transmits an energy to its envelope. With the rapidity of 186,000 miles a second, the atom takes up and communicates the motion, until after many years the atom immediately in contact with the optic nerve feels the impulse, and the consciousness translates it into a concept of light. What does this mean? Not merely that the body is in intimate relation of action and reaction with the distant star, but that the soul is as intimately related to the psychic factor everywhere present—the cause of the manifestation.
Hence we may say that the idea of the solidarity of the Universe includes man as a psychic being. He cannot be taken out of it; his history is inextricably woven in its past history, and his destiny is indissolubly linked with and held in its future. Man and the universe are one in history and one in destiny. This does not mean, however, that he will always be as he is, any more than that evolution in matter and life has ceased. Emerson says, “Man is a stream whose source is hidden.” But it is true that we trace him (or think we do) as a physical and perhaps a psychic being back to a very insignificant beginning, the monad. Here the source is in truth hidden, except that we may say that it lies in the Ultimate, and hence is without source as truly as is the real Universe.
But to forms and states we may ascribe source: to the essence we cannot. The necessity for the thought of source springs from the limitation of the mind. It is an illusion, just as time and space may be said to be. It has been said that “the spirit sports with time,”—
“Can crowd eternity into an hour,
Or stretch an hour to eternity.”
This annihilation of the idea of time is referred to in the Oriental legend of the experience of the prophet of Islam, who it is said was transported into the seventh heaven and had ninety thousand conferences with God, and returning found that the water had not all spilled from a pitcher that he had overturned in his first step upward.
This power of the mind to sport with time is further illustrated in the story of an infidel Sultan of Egypt, who expressed to a Mohammedan doctor a doubt as to the possibility of this alleged experience. The learned man said he would prove to him its possibility. A tub of water was brought, and while the prince and his courtiers stood before him he bade the Sultan plunge his head into the water and withdraw it. The Sultan complied, and at once found himself alone on a barren plane at the foot of a mountain. His first impulse was to rave at this act of supposed treachery; but, perceiving that this availed nothing, he submitted to the situation and sought some habitable abode. Finally he discovered some persons cutting in a forest and joined in their occupation. After a time he came to a town, and having had many adventures finally married a wealthy woman to whom were born seven sons and seven daughters by him. He was afterward unfortunate and reduced to poverty, and was compelled to ply as a porter in the streets. One day, while walking alone on the seashore bewailing his fate, a fit of devotion seized him, and, throwing off his clothing to bathe (agreeable to his Mohammedan custom before praying), he had no sooner plunged into the sea and raised his head above water than he found himself standing by the side of the tub with the learned doctor and the courtiers around him. (Godwin’s Lives of Necromancers) He found that his long series of imaginary adventures had occupied but a moment, and was only a psychological effect.
One does not need to vouch for the story to understand the explanation of such an experience, having our present knowledge of hypnotic suggestion. I give it only to illustrate that the experience of men everywhere has been that time is an idea arising from sequence only. Persons have similar experiences in the dream-state. We grow weary and aged in spirit because we are too much under this illusion of time, and live in a changeful consciousness—by days and years, and by counting trifling events and measuring out our existence by a transitory scale; whereas we might remain eternally young in spirit by living more in the thoughts that never change, that are not superseded by others, as universal love and perfection, thereby measuring our consciousness upon a lasting scale.
As the past of man is held in the past of the Universe, and as the present phenomenal universe has been the result of evolution, it would be the natural thing to expect that man also is an evolution. And so we find him to be. All we know of him scientifically is of a being standing at the summit of evolved life. His self-consciousness has slowly evolved from baser and more limited states, and at present is mostly engaged with material environment, which conditioned his personality. He is habitually conscious of the external, of the other thing rather than the self, realizing the latter only by reflection and the experiencing of pleasure and pain. Being habitually conscious of environment, whose imperious demands draw out the soul’s attention and hold it tenaciously, he has established a firm, conscious relationship with it, until he believes it to be the only, reality. Other concepts, 'being mostly ideations and deductions' from and groupings of these, are as unreal as those on which they are based.
Such states of consciousness are conditioned by matter and by phenomena; hence, they are impermanent, changing, and evanescent. With the passing of the phenomena the conscious state is gone; it survives only in memory, which in time fades away. These states are constantly supplanted by new ones; but they are ever a consciousness of environment and concepts built upon it. Thus he evolves for himself a conscious status that becomes his personality; but it is not his real self. Excluding from it the impulses and intuitions of the subliminal consciousness, it is as evanescent and transitory as that on which it is built. The subliminal phase of the true self, the sublime soul, potentially divine, is in truth behind it, seeking an expression, ever dissatisfied with the present result, always prompting to a higher ideal, and suggesting greater possibilities and a shorter and surer way to perfection and liberation. Says Emerson: “We grant that human life is mean; but how did we find out that it was mean? What is the ground of this uneasiness of ours—of this old discontent? What is the universal sense of want and ignorance, but the fine innuendo by which the soul makes its enormous claim?”
This evolution of consciousness, of which we have spoken, while it does not at once reveal the true self in its higher states, is nevertheless necessary. It has not reached the extent of its possibilities. It will continue until it brings into knowledge the subtler states of matter upon this and other planes of existence; for we are as intimately connected with all. At present a knowledge of consciousness of only the grossly physical plane is all that most persons have, and the majority pride themselves upon this .limitation. But further evolution and unfoldment will bring into the individual consciousness other and more subtle states now unthought of by them. The blind man that would declare he can see no advantage in having eyes would present an analogous spectacle to those who endeavor to persuade themselves that they have all the faculties that could conduce to their advancement, knowledge, or happiness.
Parallel with this process of sense evolution there has been another evolution—of a higher consciousness, of states not dependent upon environment and not necessarily springing from it. It has been largely subordinated thus far; but if progress be made and the goal be reached it must be accorded greater attention, if not made the controlling factor in life. This may be termed the consciousness of the spiritual attributes. What is the spiritual in this sense? The difficulty of attempting a definition must be at once recognized, for it lies above the sense consciousness and the concepts based upon it, and still above the psychic, and must be related to the unchanging aspect of the Universe. We may say what it is not, and then relate it by necessity to the undefinable, but not, as Herbert Spencer would say, to the “unknowable”; for by reason of the soul’s nature it may know. We may say that all things spiritual must be unchangeable and eternal; hence, the spiritual consciousness as distinguished from the other classes must be that which bears a direct relationship to the unchanging essence, or the attributes which in a sense may be said to belong to it.
Bear in mind always that man cannot isolate himself from the essential nature of the Universe, and it necessarily follows that he must relate himself to some of its aspects. What ones shall they be? Shall it be more largely to the unchanging, and thereby evolve an undying consciousness; or shall it be altogether to the evanescent, and thus remain an ever-changing, ever- dying, and unhappy consciousness? Choose either path and the result will be the equivalent of the life. It is the living that will ultimately make us the one or the other. No amount of confidence, or belief, or acceptance of a philosophy or creed, will of itself act as a magic wand to transform our present or future or to obliterate the past. As we find it true that in the past there have been no mighty leaps along the path of attainment, so will there be none in the future. There are no sudden and radical transformations. All we will experience will be a result of the past and the present and that which arises from our creative power; and our future will be only that which we have earned, modified by the power to create new conditions. Life is no gift enterprise.