Having already outlined the dignified, exalted view of human nature which the inspired teachers of all ages have unanimously sought to present to the world, and which all the wisest and clearest among modern thinkers are working earnestly to confirm, we may now pass to a consideration of that ancient threefold idea of human nature which, though permanently emphasized by the Christian Church, by no means entered the world with the commencement of the Christian Era. It is by no means our purpose to discuss any doctrine of divine and human trinity in a dogmatic spirit or with the slightest intention of seeking finally to settle the age-long controversies which had, perhaps, better be abandoned than renewed ; however, as this question is forever rising, What are we? or, How are we constituted? we shall make at least a slight attempt to point out by what clearly natural, and, at the same time, truly spiritual processes the idea of three in one has fastened itself upon human thought; yea, more, has deeply and seemingly ineradicably imbedded itself in human consciousness.
Egyptians of long ago, though they held the circle and the winged globe in highest veneration among their sacred emblems, placed the triangle only second to the circle. As the number one represents Life itself, or being per se in all its infinite eternal entirety, the triangle reveals by a mathematical device the threefold properties of Unity. Turn wherever we may we shall find the union of two producing a third; therefore, father, mother, and child are the persons of the original trinity. The most recent archaeological discoveries in Egypt are leading explorers in the direction of accepting far more traditions as historical than was their wont even a few years ago. Osiris and Isis, Horus and Set, and many another "divinity of ancient Thebes or Heliopolis," is now being reinvested with historic garments; and the latest Egyptologists do not hesitate to declare that there are strong evidences now accumulating that we can soon read without difficulty records fully ten thousand years old. The God-Kings of whom Manetho and other historians have written are therefore probably not anything like so fabulous as many scholars have long supposed. Be this, however, as it may, the religious concepts of the learned in Egypt in the long ago were certainly intended to deal with far more than simply historical matters, though history has always served to illustrate and embody transcendental ideas.
Human nature alone reveals the universe to man; therefore, however sublime may be the dazzling disc of the solar orb, however inspiring the incessant march of a myriad constellations, it is only in, by, and through human nature that human entities can learn to interpret the universe. And as all results in nature are brought about through strict undeviating conformity to one changeless order commonly called LAW, we must of necessity advance to something like a clear comprehension of how this order works in and through us before we can in any manner solve the riddle of existence.
The Jewish Creed given to the world in the twelfth century of the present era by Moses Maimonides—one of the greatest philosophers Europe has ever known—contains the following highly suggestive and expressive statement: "There never arose in Israel a prophet like unto Moses, who beheld God's similitude." Mark well the words; the philosopher does not say that Moses saw absolute Deity face to face as one man may behold the visage of another: he wisely and reasonably confines himself to the statement that it was the divine similitude which the great prophet actually beheld. What can God's similitude be if it is not human nature? To see the image of God is to be so wise an anthropologist that human nature is no longer a blank mystery to itself. What enigmas we are to ourselves until we become experts in the field of self-discovery! But just to the extent that we have come to know ourselves does everything about us become transparent and luminous. The true scientists of ancient days taught unity and trinity in man and in the universe in the following manner.
There are three great elements, said they—Spirit, Force, Matter; and in man there are three distinct and discrete planes of operation—Spiritual, Intellectual, and Physical: and these three planes are always operative.
So-called death does not—according to the teachings of the mystics or of any who are versed in esoteric philosophy—destroy or remove any one of these three planes of conscious human operation, because the real abiding body is not the physical shape seen with mortal eyes, which is only a correspondential representative.
From Hermes Trismegistus to Emanuel Swedenborg, the great seers and sages of the whole world have all taught essentially the same doctrine couched exactly in such sentences as the famous Hermetic axiom, "As it is above, so is it below" and vice versa.
Cause and effect, inner and outer, must be in correspondence, therefore one must resemble the other; no matter then whether you range yourself with Platonists or Aristotelians, the inductive and deductive philosophers reach the same conclusion finally though they start from diametrically opposite starting-points. To the dreamy introspective visionary of the Orient, the soul (Atman) is primal; all beside it being only expression, but to the externally alert business-driver of the Occident the body is the focal point, and the soul, when first mentioned, seems like some vague, dim abstraction which no one knows where to place or how to define. Among the most modern of metaphysicians, a good deal of haziness prevails, particularly in the use of terms; and as we are apt any day to encounter materialists who declare that matter is everything, and also Christian Scientists, one of whose cries is there is 7io matter, it will be well for all of us to seek to become clear in our own thought as regards this highly perplexing problem.
Without seeking to dogmatize, it may be helpful to suggest that the three words—Spirit, Force, and Matter—may be treated as notes in a descending scale. Spirit contains Force, Force contains Matter. Were all that we call material to be dissolved, nothing would be destroyed; if force is the larger and matter the smaller fraction, then it is not difficult to comprehend how the lesser can disappear in the greater while the same lesser can not by any stretch of the imagination be supposed to contain or include the greater. Spirit is greater than Force, and Matter is the lowest of the designated elements. In the human economy our spiritual plane of consciousness is the highest; our intellectual plane is intermediary and our physical is the lowest.
These three are good; it is utterly erroneous to teach or even insinuate that spirit is good and matter is evil, though it is perfectly right to insist that the lower must bend to and obey the higher. While man as man contains all the kingdoms of nature, the mineral, vegetable and animal expressions of life are respectively smaller and larger fractions of what is contained in humanity, as they are definitely lower and higher expressions of the universal life-principle. The Oriental teachers now in America often astonish their audiences by statements which must sound at first utterly outlandish to undiscipHned ears because they enforce the above propositions, though not always in the same language. Truly the Western races have
prized the Hebrew Scriptures, and in them particularly in the prophetic portions—do we recognize teachings and declarations in perfect consonance with the most extravagant claims of the Brahmins, Buddhists, Jainists or Parsees who may be among us; at the same time it must be remembered that to the bulk of Bible readers such stories as that of Daniel and his three companions in the Babylonian Empire are either fairy tales or else accounts of miraculous or supernatural phenomena which, though occasionally possible thousands of years ago, are impossible today, though nobody has ever been able to tell why the law of nature which is said to be unchangeable has changed thus radically in its bearing upon human experience.
The book of Daniel is a correct setting forth of esoteric science and philosophy, but the key to unlock its similitudes must be found, and that key is in ourselves. No amount of simple learning has ever made a man a magician or wonder-worker because nothing short of a consecrated life—a life dedicated to a chosen ideal—can ever suffice to develop the singularly august power over the forces of surrounding nature which our Oriental informants assure us characterize the true magician, differentiating him (or her) from the common throng. To be soberly told in a fashionable hall on Fifth avenue, in New York City, that a really pious or worthy man can walk safely through the jungles of Bengal, because no Hon, tiger or other ravenous beast could or would molest him, is to experience either a thrill or a shock until one begins to realize the standard of piety to which the man or woman must have attained before the words of the Eastern lawyer can be accepted as true or reasonable; but once come to understand exactly what is implied in such a startling teaching, and, the mystery beginning to vanish, the seemingly incredible statement becomes comprehensible.
Not alone the teachers who represent distinctly Oriental faiths and schools of philosophy but (in measure) all who have ever sincerely attempted to explain the science of self-mastery have contended for the same ultimate result of psychical development.
In the first place it would be well for the Christian student of the Mysteries to read carefully those portions of the epistles of Paul to the Galatians, Ephesians, Romans and Corinthians in which that true adept of eighteen centuries ago points the way to victory over carnality which is possible for all who seriously undertake it. Paul's threefold classification of human nature is familiar to all readers and churchgoers. Body, Soul and Spirit is the conventional translation. By soul in this connection is meant simply psyche, from which the very popular word psychical is directly derived, not zoe, which is the higher term for life in Greek.
There are clearly three planes of consciousness in every one of us, and according as one or the other predominates in action are we masters of circumstance or slaves of fate. Swedenborg's teaching concerning the three loves is perfectly clear, for however much people may dispute over such scholastic terms as soul, mind and spirit, the love of God, of neighbor, and of self are easily definable without recourse to scholasticisms. The love of God is a purely spiritual affection which may be defined as love of goodness per se. Lovers of righteousness there arc among us today who are so devoted to ideals that no personal considerations weigh heavier than thistle-down with them if placed in the balance with fidelity to conviction or loyalty to equity itself. This highest love is absolutely universal, it transcends all personalities and is in nature absolutely equitable and equable. To the one who loves goodness itself all else seems paltry and contemptible in contrast therewith. Such a love defies temptation of every sort and serenely surmounts every allurement of the senses, as it conquers completely every sophistication of the intellect and subdues to itself every passion of
To the earnest student of philosophy who can never rest content until he discovers how to make transcendent teachings apply to daily living, Swedenborg's treatises concerning the subjugation of lower to higher affections cannot fail to afford the sublimest satisfaction, living as we do in the midst of all varieties of conflicting and depressing theories, tending to favor a reversion to Buddhistic pessimism rather than a true advance to the ideal condition which the greatest teachers of all the earth have acknowledged as one of complete expression, never of enforced repression or restraint.
There are as many different theories of life promulgated in Asia as in Europe or America, and while it is well that we should become acquainted with all theories it is highly essential that we should learn to discriminate between misconceptions and beautiful ideals. Though there are many who contend that the main difference between Oriental and Christian philosophy is that the former denies while the latter insists upon individual immortality, it is not by any means true that the doctrine known as absorption into Deity is anything more than a tenet of one school of Oriental dreamers unendorsed by the brightest Asiatic thinkers.
Sir Edwin Arnold's poems have received the cordial endorsement of eminent Buddhists in Ceylon, and wherever that distinguished English bard has traveled in the East he has been welcomed most cordially as a worthy and truthful exponent of the faith of the native Hindus. In "The Light of Asia" we are introduced to Buddha as a young man practicing rigid asceticism, but as an older and wiser man recanting self-imposed torture and counseling his faithful and devoted disciples to practice all the virtues indeed, but at the same time to partake freely of those right and useful pleasures pertaining to the external state which are not sinful, but, on the contrary, virtuous.
There are several intimations in the New Testament that Jesus was no ascetic or recluse, though John the Baptist was undoubtedly an anchorite of the desert, and on some occasions the great hierophant of Galilee, the Man of Nazareth, was severely censured because he did not throw in his lot with those who considered the practice of physical austerities the only road to spiritual emancipation. At the base of the austere and forbidding view of life which builds monasteries and confines men and women in silent solitary cells lies the poisonous belief that the flesh is an enemy to be destroyed, instead of a servant to be governed or an instrument to be employed by the dominating spirit.
The ascetic who spends his time in flagellations and other equally useless self-imposed tortures is as much a sensualist in one sense as the rou6 or libertine who lives only for sensuous enjoyment, for, though the one hates the flesh and makes war upon its appetites while the other idolizes and pampers it, one is no freer from constant thought about the flesh than is the other.
The ideal life is a life that travels along a reasonable road between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-destruction, and though we may safely say that of the two the recluse is the less dangerous person to society, we cannot hold up as an ideal any state that has some negative but no positive virtue to recommend it. The ideal life is that which understands how the spirit which is the life can make itself manifest in the threefold manner which we call moral, intellectual, and physical perfection, and though perfection seems very far off from even the most advanced among us, it must be steadfastly adhered to as obtainable.
Be ye perfect is ever the Master's Word whose wonder-working power no mind short of a Master's can duly estimate; and this command would never have been given to disciples by the wisest of Adepts had it not been possible for us all to profit by holding it before us as a beacon-light to guide us on our way to the harbor of celestial accomplishment. The three planes of our nature denominated moral, intellectual, and physical are alike good, but they must be rightly subordinated one to the other. This is a truth which needs reiteration.
Moral impulses are necessary to guide intellectual force aright, and reason must at all times hold the rein and compel the flesh to serve its legitimate superior. The Oriental teachings which divide man into seven parts are very ancient and not at all difficult to understand so soon as anyone has mastered the esoteric meaning of seven days of the mystical week, seven rainbow colors, seven musical notes, seven churches of Asia, seven spirits of God, etc., etc., all of which seemingly mysterious lore is clearly capable of scientific elucidation. But though the septenary constitution of humanity is a favorite theme with those who drink in wisdom through Oriental channels, the whole drift of Oriental Theosophy tends only to an ultimate admission that there is a higher and there is also a lower division of human nature, rendering possible the alchemical work of transmutation, mystically viewed.
The higher triad is to govern the lower quaternary—so say the advocates of the sevenfold idea. As the sevenfold classification is rather complex and bewildering to Western ears, it is always best when speaking to general audiences in America or England to endeavor to unlock existence with a fourfold key, and as the square is a symbol which all appreciate, as it is the symbol of equity and certainly of concord, we will confine ourselves to a fourfold terminology in our present endeavors to make plain the basis on which we may cause to rest an edifice of culture of which none need feel ashamed.
Spirituality is the first and highest of the four necessary terms. This must be apprehended in some such appreciation of divine truth as that which made possible the writings of Jacob Boehme, Fenelon, Mme. Guyon, and indeed all the mystics. The conception of divine immanence as well as transcendence has made possible the sublime poetry of William Cullen Bryant, who could not otherwise have written his Thanatopsis, and of all who have ever apprehended in any sense something of the rich vein of inner meaning in the mighty words, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
No crude belittling thought of measureless divinity is voiced in so magnificent a phrase, for truly the sight of God does not consist in any petty vision of a monarch on a gorgeous throne, but in the intense realization that all is good essentially, and that, no matter in what direction events may move seemingly, in reality all paths are winding onward and upward into ever-brightening light.
Spirit means strength, energy, force, power, breath, air; it comes in English from the Latin Spiritus and the Greek Pneuma. In Old Saxon the word Gast and in German Geist, means about the same, and it is from those two words that the term Holy Ghost has entered the English ecclesiastical vocabulary. To be high-spirited, brave-spirited, noble-spirited, etc., is to be strong, vigorous, energetic and capable in the extreme.
There is surely nothing resembling weakness in Spirit, which is the very breath of life. The term low-spirited correctly means possessed of very little spirit, i. e., of very slight energy or power.
When Bulwer Lytton wrote "The Coming Race"—in some respects the most marvelous of all his strange romances—he called the people, who were further advanced in many ways than we of today, Vril-Ya, and surely it is not difficult to trace the etymological origin of the term Vril, so close of kin is it to the Latin Vir, meaning the superior man, contradistinguished from homo, the ordinary man.
Hebrew contains two words of similar import, viz.: Ish, the superior or spiritual man, and Odom, the earthly man. Though both are good, each in his proper place, the one must dominate the other, just as the vril sticks in the hands of Lytton's heroes enabled them to control all nature around them, as well as preserve health in their own organisms and rid their country of all noxious and dangerous creatures, such as the monstrous Grec, which the boy of twelve reduces to a little pile of cinders with a move of his enchanter's wand.
Magic, stripped of all its superfluities, is only the knowledge and practice of that true Occultism which is by no means made up of terrible secrets and weird incantations, but consists truly of knowledge how to gain complete mastery over all the inferior planes of consciousness which the spirit must finally completely rule. As the spirit expands to take the scepter of government in hand, it masters all inferior things, reducing to perfect obedience whatever has aforetime seemed incorrigibly insubordinate.
Morality, which we regard as the first of the three planes on which the jurisdiction of the indwelling spirit is to be made manifest, is not by any means spirituality itself, and it is for this reason that theologians have clung (though often very blindly) with such amazing tenacity to their favorite doctrine that mere morality is utterly inadequate for salvation. Faith has been the theological term which has been made to do duty for spirituality, and this has occasioned much misunderstanding among many honest people largely on account of the diverse meanings attaching to the word faith, and most of all by reason of its being so frequently identified with belief—a term which is by no means correctly employed as synonymous with it. It is only when we rise to the higher meaning of the word faith that we can intelligently connect it with spirituality, which truly signifies capability for discerning spiritual realities through an opening up of those interior faculties which enable us to enjoy intromission to the spiritual state which is immortal.
If faith in this sense be understood as the evidence of things unseen by mortal eyes or the substantial realization of what we have long been hoping for, there is no difficulty whatever in comprehending the province and use of intelligent faith considered as a means of introducing us to the palpable realities of the spiritual realm.
Agnostics and even materialists may be thoroughly ethical in conduct and therefore faithful in the restrictive moral use of the term, but though moral and therefore exemplary in their lives they are painfully destitute of spiritual perception, and from that cause experience far less joy, and consequently far more depression, than would fall to their portion were they convinced of spiritual realities.
Morality is often legal, compulsory and sometimes almost entirely conventional, and though a good thing as far as it goes, if it is unillumined with light from spiritual perception, it can scarcely be trusted to stand the test of any severe strain upon it, though it must honestly be confessed that many people are far more spiritually unfolded than they know. True spirituahty shines through every thought, word, and deed, but though luminous as the brightest light and all-pervasive as radiant heat, it is entirely unassuming and equally unobtrusive.
Swedenborg was unmistakably correct when he averred that truly regenerated people do not know of their own regeneration, meaning that they are so entirely simple and natural in their way of living as to be entirely free from every disagreeable phase or variety of self-consciousness.
An ideal life must in some way resemble the pattern described in the Gospel narratives, for no matter how widely scholars may differ as to the authority, genuineness or authenticity of one or all of the four evangels, and regardless also of the many seeming discrepancies in all accepted or authorized texts, there is something in the amazing versatility of the character of the Ideal Man which calls forth supremest admiration from all who allow their hearts and minds together to be touched by the sublime beauty of the matchless narrative of the life of Jesus.
Ernst Renan and other skeptical writers have paid magnificent tributes to the Christ ideal, and if the picture as presented in the New Testament be imperfect (as it doubtless is) the reality which inspired it must be infinitely more glorious than the transcript in the world's possession. It is not, however, necessary to settle any historic controversy or to look back 1,900 years to view humanity's ideal. Look within is ever wiser counsel than gaze without. History may be partly fabulous; some facts may have been suppressed and others altered, but the light within ever points the road to the highest imaginable
attainment. It is not to the outward but to the inner Horeb, Sinai, Tabor, and Olivet that we must ever turn for completest guidance in the heavenward direction.
An ideal life is not a copy: it is an original; and therein lies the vital distinction which forever separates immortal genius from mortal talent, the work of the great masters from the imitations thereof by their followers. No two human lives can be precisely identical. No one individual can live through all the experiences of the race, but wherever any of us may be situated in the anatomy of the Grand Man we may be healthful, happy, noble, useful, and in every way contributive to the general weal.
The Kingdom of Heaven cannot be a republic because the citizens of a republic must be equals, and all men and women can be esteemed equals, but the heavenly kingdom which is to be set up first in individual lives, then in special institutions, and finally in the entire world, is a state or condition of affairs in which the true order of life must be acknowledged and openly declared.
Moral impulses must direct the intellect so that it in turn may exercise rightful and beneficent sovereignty over all physical conditions.
The Spiritual Realm per se may be regarded as the all-containing sphere out of which all expressions of life proceed. The moral region is the seat of all that we mean by conscience and whatsoever else directs us to obey the moral law, without which we should be utterly unable to live together in any organized social conditions.
The intellectual plane is the abode of executive ability, the seat of all that we call reason—the storehouse of practical knowledge; while the physical condition is one of final expression or ultimate embodiment in which all things perceived by understanding can be wrought out in corresponding forms of use.
An ideal life socially considered, i. e., an ideal communal life, is a life which expresses all varieties of possible human excellence, but an ideal individual life may be devoted to but a single aim and fulfill but a solitary purpose, but it must so fulfill whatever it has undertaken as to make its influence felt for good as a vital part of the Great Life in which it finds itself enclosed. This teaching concerning life is in no sense offered to the world as a completed system of philosophy so far as particular details are concerned, but in bold, general outline we claim for it universal acceptance sooner or later, because it is based not on doubtful speculations concerning what may be, but is evolved out of actual experience of what human nature really is, as that nature reveals itself in every instance of unfolding humanity.
More in this category:« The Spiritual Man—His Powers and Privileges | Conscience, Intuition, and Interior Illumination »
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