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Mysticism

By

Annie Besant

LONDON THE THEOSOPHICAL PUBLISHING SOCIETY
161 NEW BOND STREET, W.
1914
 

CONTENTS

 
 

 

 
I.

THE MEANING AND METHOD OF MYSTICISM

1
II.

THE GOD-IDEA

30
III.

THE CHRIST-IDEA

59
IV.

THE MAN-IDEA

85
V.

INTERPRETATIONS

113

.

THE MEANING AND METHOD OF

MYSTICISM 

 

FRIENDS:

There is no doubt, for any observant person, that what is sometimes called a ‘wave’ of mysticism is passing over the world at the present time. It matters not whether you travel in the East or in the West; it matters not whether you look at the churches or at the many bodies outside the recognised churches in Christendom; wherever you look you see the same fact emerging - that men and women are turning away from external proof towards inner realisation; that they are beginning to feel that not the authority from outside but the authority from within ought to be the guiding force of life; that they are beginning to feel that scriptures, however sacred, authority, however venerable, is not [1] the final word of religion for man. And so on all sides you see a searching, a desire, a long­ing, to replace faith by knowledge, speculation by certainty.

You may remember, looking over the last year or two, that that which is called Mysticism has met with expositions in this country, and you may remember, perhaps with some feeling of slight amusement, that it was the pro­nouncement of the Dean of S. Paul’s which induced the Times newspaper to change its attitude to Mysticism. “We had thought,” said the Times, “that Mysticism was an exploded superstition”. It is true that Lord Rosebery had spoken of Cromwell as a practi­cal mystic, and had stated in various ways that the practical mystic was a very terrible person, that he was a man apt to carry everything before him, a man to be reckoned  with in the outer world as well as in the inner; but then you would agree with me that a man like Cromwell is not exactly the kind of man that the Times would approve of, unless he lived some centuries ago, and did not cause unrest and disturbance in the eminently respectable society in which the Times desires to live and move. But when a Dean, and not only a Dean, but a Dean of the Metropolis of the Empire, a Dean of S. Paul’s - surely the most respectable of all ecclesiastical dignitaries - when a man like that came out  with the statement that “Mysticism is the [2] most scientific form of religion”, you cannot  wonder that under those conditions the Times began to reconsider its view, and perhaps began  to think, with some inner disturbance, that Mysticism was rather an explosive superstition  than the exploded superstition, the burst and dead shell, which it had hitherto hoped that it was. It had belonged to cranks like Theo­sophists, to foolish people; but when a Dean pronounced it scientific, then, like mesmerism rebaptised as hypnotism, it could be accepted in respectable society and brought within the purview of the ordinary respectable man.

And so now we can deal with Mysticism without fear of being called superstitious for the dealing, and we may perhaps begin by asking: Why did the Dean of S. Paul’s declare that Mysticism was the most scientific form of religion, why did he remove it from the world of dreams and place it in the broad light of intellect, in the scientific world of fact? For a very clear and definite reason; because Mysticism, like all science, depends on the testimony of consciousness, the only sure testimony that we possess as to the existence of facts without us, as to the exist­ence of an external world at all. It is only from the testimony of consciousness that we can argue that anything exists outside our­selves. Because, when certain impacts are made upon us, consciousness answers to those in various ways, therefore we conclude that

[3] there is an external world. We do not know that world; we only know the response of consciousness to impressions made upon us from what we presume to be an external world. Many people, because they do not think closely, do not realise that all that they know is the impressions made upon their consciousness, they presume by something outside it; they know the impressions; they are conscious of them. That which we call our­selves makes answer to something from without, and according to the nature of the answer, the part of our consciousness which responds to the impression, we classify the various external objects, label them and place them in a certain division corresponding to a division in our own consciousness. We find, for instance, that external objects, producing a certain effect upon the consciousness through the senses, are classified as the phenomena which give the basis for science, and the observations are put aside as dealing with the facts with which science is concerned. We find that another class of impressions from without arouses in us what we call feeling, a feeling of pleasure or of pain and so of attraction or repulsion, and that these gradu­ally develop into what we know as emotions; we place them in their own category in turn and realise the emotional nature that responds in us to the impacts giving rise to those feelings and emotions. Then we find that [4] another set of impressions appeals to a different part of our consciousness and we have what we call thoughts, ideas. Percepts derived through the senses become gradu­ally manipulated by our consciousness into thoughts, ideas, concepts, and we put them into a class by themselves. So we have three classes of impressions - the sensuous, the emotional, the mental, - and these we realise as the answers of our consciousness to certain classes of impressions made upon us by the external world.

Then we begin to ask: is this all? do these three classes include everything to which con­sciousness responds? is there any other part of our consciousness which does not belong to the body, or the emotions, or the mind, which will respond to certain impressions from without, a class of impressions that cannot be included in one of the three that I have named, and yet impressions that we recognise, and to which we find our consciousness respond? Hence, when the question is asked: have we exhausted all impressions in the sensuous, the emotional, the mental? The normal consciousness of humanity in all times, in all countries, in all stages of civilisation answers distinctly: No; there is something more.

And when we begin to ask what the something more is, we find a certain difficulty in making this class as precise as the others, for experience, although universal, has not [5] been carried on definitely and carefully as have the other impressions received by the body, the emotions and the mind. A sense of something greater than ourselves; a presence which in our quietest, our noblest, our purest moments is more perceptible than in the rush and in the turmoil of the world; a presence which, while it is overwhelmingly great, gives to the littleness that we experience before it a sense of joy and comfort and not of terror or of pain; something so great that it enfolds our whole nature; something so profound that we know that nothing in our own nature is alien from it; and dimly, gropingly, as might be when an eye was developing m the body and the sense of light and dark was the only response made by it, thus dimly and thus gropingly does what we call the Spirit in man stretch out to something universal and supreme to which it feels its kinship, to which it recognises its relationship; and as the babe gropes after the mother’s breast so does the child-Spirit in man grope after the bosom of the Eternal, the Universal.

At first we may not quite realise intellec­tually what this means. The groping of man and the answer to the groping is what we call religion. And all the religions of the world are nothing more than man’s search for God and God’s answers to the searching. And gradually as we look back over the long history of the past and find religion everywhere, from [6] the dim ignorance of the savage to the loftiest heights of the illuminated Spirit, we come to realise that this testimony of consciousness is as reliable as the testimony of consciousness in the lower worlds of emotion and of thought. We begin to trace it as we trace the others; we begin to realise that the impressions that come to the Spirit must come from something as real, if not more real, than those that come through the senses and the emotions and the mind, and we declare that this consciousness of man answers to another class of impressions that is as distinct from the other three as each is distinct from the others, and that it is on the basis of these that the religions of the world have grown up and have developed.

And we begin to see that in the constitution of man there is this fourfold answer of con­sciousness, his response in these four different ways to the impacts of some forces outside  himself; we realise that by the use of the senses science has gradually been developed; we recognise that by the gradual purification of the emotions and their development ethics has taken its rise, and that the discipline of the emotions is moral culture; we realise that the intellect has for its product philosophy, the rational explanation of the world around us; and that the spirit has no less than the others its own domain, its own powers, its own experiences, and that these are embodied in the religions of the world, in the experiences [7] of the most highly developed of the human race.

And then we realise why the Dean of S. Paul’s said that Mysticism is the most scientific form of religion, because it is based on a part of human consciousness, because it is answered to by part of the human constitution. And if we accept the testimony of consciousness as final after long experience in every other department of life, we cannot deny it in the one in which it has spoken universally and with certainty, in that spiritual world, more real than any other, in the testimony of conscious­ness strongest in the most highly developed of our race.

And so we come to the “meaning of mysticism”, and we divide it from two other forms of thought with which it is sometimes confused. Mysticism is not Psychism. Now Psychism is rather a clumsy word, but I am using it in the ordinary sense, in which it means the development of certain powers by which observations are carried on in the world of matter subtler than the physical, so that you may see and hear and feel impacts of matter to which the ordinary physical body is insensitive. That belongs to the domain of the senses, not to the domain of the Spirit.

Psychism is a development of the senses; subtler than the physical certainly, but still of the nature of senses: you see, in the higher world; you hear, in the higher world; you

[8] touch, in the higher world; taste and smell have there the objects which they perceive; you are still in the world of phenomena, tangible, cognisable by the senses, and there is nothing more spiritual, if you are walking across a meadow in the country, in seeing by psychic vision the nature spirits or the fairies around you, than there is in seeing the cows and horses that are sharing the same field. In both cases you are dealing with the visible, and a sense that is finer is no more in the domain of the spiritual world than a sense which is duller. No confusion then should arise between Mysticism which belongs to the spiritual world, and psychic research which belongs to the sphere of the senses quite as much as the observation by the senses of the physical world.

Nor is Mysticism allegory or symbol. Both of these are intellectual, not spiritual. When S. Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians gave an interpretation of the story of Genesis, calling it allegory and explaining the story of Abraham and the rest from the allegorical side, saying that they are symbolic of other truths not of the physical plane; in that explanation of the allegory and the symbol you are dealing with an intellectual conception, not a spiritual.  You are giving instead of the words as applied to the physical plane the symbols as applied in the world of thought. And so you may remember how Origen - a man of very [9] analytical mind whose writings deserve careful study from every student of religion - dealing with the Bible and speaking first of its historical meaning, says it is meant for the carnal-minded, the ignorant; then, for the intellectual there is the allegorical meaning, into which a man is forced when he finds absurdities in the historical narrative, such he says as the Tower of Babel, or God walking in the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden; those things, he says, while they pass unobserved by the ignorant, strike the vision of the educated man, because they are intrinsically absurd and impossible the moment they are thought of, the intellectual man is obliged to try to find out a meaning under the veil of incredible assertions, and so he takes the allegorical meaning and he learns many great intellectual truths by applying the key of allegory to unlock the meaning of the Bible.

And he goes on to say that there is another meaning in the Bible, neither that which is  historical for the ignorant, nor that which is allegorical for the instructed; there is a spiritual meaning below the other two, and that, he says, can only be known by the spiritual man; and he quotes on that the words of S. Paul, that the things of a man can only be known by the Spirit of man that is in him, and the things of God can only be known by the Spirit of God; and then he goes on to say: “Know ye not that your bodies are the [10] temple of God and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” Only as that Spirit illuminates the scriptures of the world can their inner truth and spiritual meaning be discerned.

So you come into the realm of Mysticism, the realm of the Spirit. It is the mystic interpretations of the great spiritual facts of the spiritual world which lie at the basis of all that is worthy to be called knowledge. Faith you may have, speculation you may have, but knowledge comes only by the Spirit, which alone, because of his identity with Deity, can know the universal Spirit whence he has come forth. And Mysticism is in its meaning, the direct knowledge of God and of the facts of the spiritual world which are partly embodied in what are called religious truths. That is really what Mysticism means - direct know­ledge, as direct as the knowledge on which science is based by observation, but now not the outward-turned investigation by observa­tion, but the inner realisation. Knowledge is the reproduction within us of something outside us, so far as the knowledge is found by the senses and the emotions and the intellect; but the knowledge of the spiritual world is an inner reproduction in the Spirit of man, a realisation of what before had been external truth. There are facts in the  spiritual world as well as in the other worlds cognised by consciousness; facts, truths given out in the many religions from time [11] to time, partially given out in forms suited to the time and the nation and the type of the people to whom they were given. The facts of which those religious truths are partial explanations, the facts that you find embodied as partial truths in every religion, universal, found in every age; those spiritual verities which are the common  heritage of our race, which are found in every great religion, living and dead; the truths of  the nature of God, of Man, of spirit; all the great ideas which you find embodied in world-religions: those are the facts of the spiritual world: and when a man knows them directly,  when the Spirit within him, the spiritual consciousness, is so unfolded, that he is able to realise them in himself and transform hear­say knowledge on the testimony of others into  direct knowledge by his own observation an  experience, - then and then only is that man a Mystic, a knower of the realities of the spiritual world.

Now all religions have testified to the possibility of such knowledge of God and of spiritual truths. Recall for a moment a familiar quotation from one of the great Upanishats of Hinduism, where the disciple was seeking after knowledge and went to a teacher to ask “What is knowledge?” The answer came by dividing all knowledge into two classes; one all the knowledge that can be taught to a man, including all scriptures [12] however sacred, all science, all literature, comprising the whole of that knowledge avail­able through the sense and the feelings and the mind as the lower knowledge of God. Of God? Yes, because Hinduism excludes God from nothing, He is immanent in all, and therefore all knowledge is God-know­ledge, along whatever channel it may reach the man. All that was classed together as the lower knowledge. The higher knowledge, the supreme knowledge, the Teacher went on  to say, is the knowledge of Him by whom all else is known, for all the lower knowledge  flows down from the higher. Once you know God, all knowledge is within your reach; for to know Him, to know Himself, is to hold the key to every riddle, and there is nothing in a  universe of which God is the Life which may not be known when that supreme knowledge is mastered. And so you find the Christ declaring: “The knowledge of God is eternal life”. Very little stress is laid on that in modern Christianity. We are told to believe; are given creeds to accept, hearsay knowledge is offered to us, - part of the lower knowledge not the higher. The higher knowledge is eternal life, a present possession not a future experience, for eternal life is not life in heaven, eternal life is not life on the other side of death; eternal life is nothing that depends even on everlasting time. Eternal life is and is only the knowledge of God, they Eternal, [13] the Self of the Universe. That knowledge in itself is eternal life. Exactly the same teaching you see as the ancient teaching of the Upanishats. And so in other religions you will find the same constantly repeated.

Mysticism does more than declare that that direct knowledge is possible; it proclaims the method whereby that knowledge may be obtained; and here again, if it helps you at all, you may take quotations from the great sayings of the two religions I have already mentioned, for you find in another Upanishat where knowledge is spoken of: “Awake, arise, seek the great Teachers and attend, for verily they say the path is narrow, narrow as the edge of a razor”. And when you listen to the words of the Christ you hear Him saying: “Strait is the gate, narrow is the way that leadeth unto life (not to heaven) and few there be that find it”. I know that by a modern twist life has been changed to heaven and destruction changed to hell, but in the great spiritual world heaven and hell have no place; knowledge of God and ignorance of God: those are the pair of opposites which there you find, for knowledge of God is life and ignorance of God is destruction - not everlasting, for that cannot be where God resides in every human heart, but while He is unknown destructive agencies can touch us, where He is known eternity is ours.

You see you find the testimony to a method [14] as well as to a fact. Again the religions teach that method. You must not limit your thought on religion to the few hundred years since the Reformation, to the minority of Christians that you find in the so-called Protestant communities. You must take a larger view than that: go back over the whole of Christian antiquity and further back still over the ancient religions of the East, and then you will find that identity of knowledge which is the mark of reality, which is the keynote of Mysticism. And so you find the existence of a Path and a method declared by which the supreme knowledge may be gained. The Roman Catholic has always kept a knowledge of that Path and he calls the end of it by a startling name. Generally the word Union is used, but take up some great book of Catholic theology and you will find the startling word which I have in mind; they call it Deification, the deification of man, man become God, for nothing less than that is meant by Deification. And the Hindu and the Buddhist call it Liberation, the setting free of the human Spirit from the bonds which have tied him down, from the matter which has blinded him. The meaning is the same, the method the same, the thing the same. And so we begin to realise that in the realm of the Spirit there are none of those divisions that mark off one religion from another in the reparative plane of earth, and [15] we realise that the Spirit is united where earth holds diversity, and that where know­ledge takes the place of faith, there con­troversies sink into silence and the certainty of truth is known.

Now the Mystic of the modern phrase is the Gnostic, the Knower of the Early Church.  I said Mysticism meant the direct knowledge of God and of the facts of the spiritual world.  That is exactly what is meant by the Gnostic, as he is described in those splendid pages of Origen to which I have before alluded. He points out, with a plainness of speech which I fear might make him unpopular in some evangelical circles today, that while the Church has medicine for the sick - and he says the sick are the sinners - it has also knowledge for the Gnostic, and he goes on to say quite clearly and plainly that you cannot make a Church out of sinners, that they are to come there and be made welcome for their healing, but the Church needs Gnostics for its builders and its maintenance. Too much has that thought passed out of modern Christianity. The feeling - a right and noble feeling - that the very lowest of mankind should have some message brought to him to brighten his life and to lift him out of the mire of ignorance; that righteous and charit­able feeling has been exaggerated in modern Christianity, so that it would seem that which the lowest of men is able to accept is all that

[16] Christianity has for the learned and the thoughtful. But it is not so; it was not so in the days of the Church’s strength. And the return of Mysticism to Christianity is the sign that strength and vitality are coming back into the Church, that the days of Erastianism are over, that the eclipse through which Christianity passed when faith replaced knowledge and when credulity was the mark of the believer, that these dark days now lie behind you, and you are going forward into the dawn of a brighter and a better day. Again the Gnostic will reappear, the knower of the truth, for the Gnostic is the very backbone of religion, and where the Gnostics disappear there religion fails in vitality and in adaptation to life.

But some people say: How can you be sure that all these ideas of the Mystic as to God and the great truths of the spiritual world are not mere fancy, mere imagination; are you sure that they are not a subtle, although perhaps fine, form of hysteria, and is there not a danger that sanity, controlled intelligence, may vanish and superstition may take the place of true religion if the Mystic is listened to, if the knower is consulted? The answer to that is the answer which science gives, that these are facts, and the facts are proved by the identity of impression made upon the normal human consciousness by their impact. Why do you call a tree green? [17] Because the normal human sight recognises the same colour in the tree in springtime, and the word green has been taken to signify that impression. All normal eyes respond to that in a similar way, and the similarity, nay the identity, of response is taken as proof of the existence of a fact of which the impres­sion on the human consciousness is the only thing that we can know; identity of response is practically the measure of truth for science. That is also the measure of truth in Mysticism. Where you find an identity of response in Mystics of all ages, of all religions, of all countries, there you have the only proof  that science can offer us, identity of response in the normal human consciousness. You can repeat, re-verify under similar conditions, for the same impression is always found. That one test we have of objective reality is answered in the spiritual world by the Mystics of our race. They all respond in the same way to the impact of a spiritual fact. And it is in that identity of mystic response that we see as everywhere else the mark of objective truth; the Mystic’s experience of God is everywhere the same, no matter by what name God may be called. The mystic response to the Christ idea is everywhere the same, no matter what the name by which that mighty truth may he labelled in a special faith. The truth of the spiritual nature of man and its realisation is [18] everywhere the same; the contact of the human Spirit with the divine is everywhere experienced; and wherever man has the direct experience of God, whether it be in the spiritual experience of the Methodist or the experience, also spiritual, of the Saint, there  you have the germ of the Mystic who gains for himself direct knowledge, not hearsay  knowledge but knowledge that to the man who experiences it transcends all other certainty, which no argument is able to shake which no argument is able to strengthen.

There is a curious verse, once more in a Hindu scripture, which the Dean of S. Paul’s practically repeated in another form - I do not know whether he is a reader of the Bhagavad-Gita. It is written there, rather to the distress of the very orthodox Hindu, that the Vedas, the most sacred of books remember, are as useful to the enlightened Brahmana as a tank in a country which is all covered over with water - an admirable simile. If there is water all around you, you have no need of a tank; the tank is valuable in the dry country where water is not available, but of what use is a tank to a man who sees water everywhere around him? And of what use the written word, however sacred, to a man into whom is flowing the knowledge of God, the origin of all scriptures? And so we find the Dean of S. Paul’s declaring that the mystic does not care very much about scripture, [19] he is like a man with a reservoir; the simile the same and equally true. Direct knowledge transcends all knowledge transmitted through another.

We find there has been conflict in the past between Mysticism and dogma, and the Mystics have very often, in the Western Church at least, been persecuted during their lifetime although canonised, wisely, after their death. The Roman Catholic Church in that is very wise. It tries to keep its heretics within bounds while they are alive by threat of persecution or actual persecution, and then when it finds that danger has past, by perhaps a few centuries having gone by, it holds up the Mystic as the Saint and canonises the man or woman whom before it imprisoned. And it is wise; for your Mystic when he is of the past is always a useful buttress to the Church, although when he is living among the orthodox he is apt to be rather a cause of unrest. And the Priest and the Mystic have constantly been in opposition, for the priest has as his duty to teach the ignorant by dogma, whereas the Mystic has as his function to illuminate the profoundest truths of religion.

Now dogma is necessary at a certain stage, exactly in the same way as chemical and physical formulae are necessary when a boy is studying chemistry or physics. It would be very foolish of the boy to reject the chemical dogma because it comes to him on the authority [20] of his teacher, and guides him in his early ex­periments. That is the use of the formula, the use of the dogma, for a dogma, as I have often said to you, is only the intellectual presentment of one side of a spiritual truth, imposed by authority from outside. The authority may be a very good one of experts along the particular line. The chemist wisely imposes his chemical dogmas on the student in the laboratory; they are safeguards in experi­ments; they are the guide to knowledge. But what would you think of the chemist who, after a student had mastered his subject, said to him: “You must not verify, you must not prove, you must not make original research, you must always go on repeating the chemical formulae you learned as a boy, you must never go out into the untrodden realm of the unknown and bring back fresh knowledge?” But that is what the theologian so often does; that is what the priest so often insists upon. He takes the dogma not as a guide but as a limitation, not as a way to knowledge but as the end of knowledge, beyond which no one must venture to tread the unknown path.

Hence it is that dogmas have to be broken into pieces, because they are obstacles in the ever immortal search for truth. They must be broken when they are outgrown, and they are outgrown when the unfolding Spirit of man begins to know for himself, and no longer to need testimony from outside. And the end [21] of religious instruction ought to be to transfer the authority from outside to inside, from the book or the church or the teacher to the inner awakened Spirit of the man, to that inner Ruler Immortal who is the only true King, the human Spirit himself. For religion should be self-determined and not determined by others; religion must be self­-builded, after the conditions of building have been mastered; and one religious truth realised by your own Spirit is worth a thousand testi­monies from others, for it is your own for ever and none can take it from you.

Until you know God directly you are at the mercy of every clever argument around you; you cannot know Him by the senses, you cannot know Him by the emotions, you can­not know Him by the mind; you can only know Him by the Spirit that is Himself within you, and when once you know Him in yourself He will shine upon you from every­thing around you, and that is the only knowledge which makes your life secure.

But there is a Method of Mysticism. It is that Path, on which some two years ago in this hall I lectured, giving it step by step, as it were, so that any of you might study and tread the way, I can only now just put it in a brief form as the Method of the Mystic, which, as I just now said, is alike everywhere, for all great religions recognise the Path.

The first part of it depends on the conquest [22] of the senses, the conquest of the emotions, the conquest of the mind, the lower nature; and in order that you may understand it you have to realise that the Spirit is your eternal Self, which has come into this outer world of matter in order to subdue matter for his own purposes, that he may be its master, not its slave. People say sometimes: why did the Spirit as it is said descend into matter? Now the words descend and ascend are not good when you are speaking of the unfolding and the realisation by the Spirit of himself. I use them because they are commonly used.

The descent of the Spirit means that your eternal Self, a portion of God Himself, “a part of Myself, a living Spirit”, as he has been described, comes down into the world of matter to draw around him the matter by which he may conquer and rule in the lower worlds.  That descent, at first into matter too gross to answer to his changes in consciousness, means that matter blinds him and fetters him; he gathers it around himself and it blinds him more and more as he feels the matter grow denser and denser. And yet unless he gathers it around him, how shall he come into contact with the unknown worlds of which he is to be hereafter builder and maker and ruler, transforming them into higher possibilities, permeating them with his own nature, so that they shall become expressions of the spiritual life. He begins to live wrapt round with [23] these veils of matter and by each veil he  contacts a material world, comes into touch with it, has impressions made upon him by it, and the matter that he draws around him changes as his moods of consciousness change, vibrates in answer to every change, until at last he establishes around him what we call bodies, every vibration in which gradually answers to one of his changing moods and becomes an expression of himself to the outer world into which he has entered. The building up of these bodies, the making of them more and more responsive, that is the work by which, as he gradually unfolds from within, he mani­fests outside his own spiritual essence.

He builds a physical body because he wants to see a physical world, to hear physical  sounds; he builds an emotional body because he wants to experience what is called pleasure  and pain and gradually to use emotions in order that he may serve the world to which they belong; and he builds a mind, in order that his illimitable power of perception, cabined within what we call the human mind, may grow more defined, may be sharpened, may be gradually made keen to answer to all the wonderful universe of mind outside himself, and that he may know that world and turn it to the highest uses. And these senses and emotions and mind are the vehicles which he makes for his own purposes, not to be mastered by them but to use [24] them, not to be their slave but their lord. And when he has developed them, then comes the time that he can prepare himself for treading the Path; then comes the time when, as I said, he conquers the senses. What does that mean? It does not mean that he destroys them; it does not mean that he kills them, but it does mean that no sensation reaching him through the senses has any power to make him swerve from the path chosen by his will, from following out the path of evolution by which he will realise his own divinity.

He keeps the senses, nay he improves them, makes them finer and finer in subtler and  subtler matter; they are his tools not his masters; they are no longer wild horses carrying him over the fields of desire, but well-broken steeds carrying him wherever he wills to go. And so with his emotions: the true Mystic does not destroy emotion but he makes it the obedient servant of the higher compassion and the higher wisdom. He gradually takes away from it the tendency to answer to the external pains and pleasures of the world, in order that he may use it for the helping of the world, for only when the world has ceased to have power to move you, are you able to help that world to tread the higher path. He uses his mind as an instrument to that end, in order to help in expressing himself. These things which in the ordinary [25] untrained man of the world are masters, senses that oftentimes degrade him, emotions that often torture him, thoughts that often harass him - these for the Mystic are the obedient servants of an illuminated intellect and a will harmonised with the Divine. And when that point is reached, then he can tread the higher stages of the Path; then he can tread it  onwards to that deification of which the Roman Catholic speaks, to that liberation of which the Hindu and the Buddhist speak, and then he becomes what Lord Rosebery spoke of, the practical Mystic, the strongest type of man.

Now why is it that the practical Mystic is so strong? can overcome all obstacles? It is because he has realised the inner God, for to the deity within him no obstacle really exists, no difficulty is anything more than an empty form. Realise the God within you and what is there of outer things that can stop you, hinder you, or turn you from your Path? There is nothing in this world which is not the life of God, and when that God is realised within you all outer things become your servants; they have no power to hinder nor to control. The Mystic not only realises that Omnipotence living within himself which makes all difficulties easy and all burdens light, but he also has that perfect serenity and content which makes it impossible to crush him with sorrow or to harass him with [26] anxiety; he is content because he is seeing God in everything, and God is the Mystic’s hope and joy; in whatever He comes, in form of joy or sorrow, in form of triumph or defeat, of failure or success, it is always the life of God the Mystic sees and the form is nothing, the God within the form is always welcome and beloved. He is strong, our practical Mystic, and he not only feels the strength of deity in him and the content with all outer circum­stances, but he is full of that tolerance and that sympathy which grow out of his seeing God in every one around him, and therefore not wanting to compel not wanting to control, but, respecting the divine spark in all, he leaves it to flame out in its own way without any attempt at compulsion from himself. He is equal under all conditions, because to him they are all manifestations, pure and beautiful, of their indwelling life. And he is calm because he lives in the Eternal and to him who lives in the Eternal how can there be shaking from the changes of time? It is the realisation of God within that makes the Mystic strong. And his judgment is far better than the judgment of the ordinary man of the world; for what are the things that distort your judgment? Your own prejudices, your bias - national or individual - your own desires and longings, your own personal wishes to have this or to avoid that. All these are weights in the scales of your judgment and [27] therefore the balance does not weigh truly. But the man who wants nothing because he possesses all, the man who realising God asks nothing more from earth, that  man’s judgment is clear and direct because undistorted by personal desire or personal  longings. He wants nothing, and all things come to him; he asks for nothing, and all is there for him to use; he desires nothing, for all the riches of the world are his. He is a steward not an owner, and all the Gods pour into his hands their wealth, because his hands are always emptied out for the helping of his fellow-men.

That is the splendour of the mystic life, this power of service which only this inner form of realisation can possibly give to any one of us. We are climbing towards it as we begin to understand something of its possi­bilities, as we live a little of the truth we know.  But remember, if you do not live the truth you know, truth’s treasures will be locked against you, because that which you do not utilise is of no value to yourself. You must utilise what you know. Do not be like the men of whom a judge in India lately said: “Oh yes, they believe all these things, but they do not want them in their own families”. That I fear is a very common condition of mind among people who profess religion but do not live it. And so my last word of counsel, if you would become a Mystic, is this: never [28] pretend to believe a truth which you are not willing to act out in the world; never say “I believe” where you cannot also say “I act”; let your religion be small in beliefs unless it is pregnant with action, for truth is only truth for you when you have learned to live it. And the man who has learned to live one  fragment of truth will find Truth herself come to him with open arms; for she only gives herself to those who are willing to surrender themselves to her, and to live every truth that she imparts. [29]


 

II.

 

THE GOD-IDEA.

 

 

FRIENDS:

I have as subject this evening ‘The God-Idea’, and I mean by that title to indicate the many ideas of God which have been held during the evolution of mankind; and to try, if I can, to show you how in all the great religions there has existed at one time or another a lofty conception of God; that out of the past of all the great religions an idea of God may be distinguished, grasped and under­stood, which becomes the Mystical Idea as man seeks to know God directly in the fashion of which I spoke on Sunday last; that in all the great religions we shall find indications of a magnificent idea of God as the Life of the Universe; that we may see that emerging from time to time with other lower ideas found in the same religion, because the minds of men are many and each man’s idea of God can only be that which his own mind is able to fabricate, which satisfies the yearnings of his own heart; that wherever we go we shall find traces of the higher idea, though often [30] en­cumbered with lower notions and ignorant conceptions, and that we may, if we will, find that there really does exist a universal  testimony to the highest that we can conceive of God, bodied out in the thoughts of the most highly developed spiritual men, and left on record for the teaching and the inspiration of the world from the earliest dawn of history down to our own day.

Now during the last century, when the science of what was called Comparative Mythology had its birth and its development, the western world of thought was startled as the many great religions of the elder world, and the younger world which was not western, came gradually within its purview. Every­where men found that the varied religions of the world, living and dead, taught many of the same ideas, proclaimed many of the same doctrines, bore testimony to the same universal truths. By the labours of the antiquarian and  the archaeologist; by the researches of the students of philology and of ancient civilisa­tions, there was gradually unrolled before the minds of the educated and the thoughtful a mass of information, stretching back for thousands upon thousands of years, recorded in fragments of ancient cities, unburied from long-covered temples and, monuments, emerging from civilisations that long ago had vanished from the stage of history; and all of them bore testimony to religious truths which [31] in their main outlines were identical. Looking at the whole of these and comparing these records of the past, there was gradually built up a science, built out of the discovered facts which, as far as the facts went, none could challenge. Startled at this wide identity of thinking, marvelling at the enormous wealth of the religious past that thus had been unrolled, men naturally began to speculate as to the reason for the identity, and sought for the explanation of these countless like­nesses emerging from every faith, as I said, living and dead.

Not unnaturally, I think, for the conclusion was drawn at a time when the educated world was far more sceptical than it is today; not  unnaturally, in view of the great triumphs in unveiling the history of organisms which grew out of the studies of Darwin, Wallace and  others; not unnaturally, the students of Comparative Mythology imagined that in the past men must have been much less evolved than they are today and that the child nations of antiquity could not have formulated for themselves the conceptions that were found in the literature of some of the most ancient peoples. They concluded that before those spiritual and philosophic religions there must have been a long period of unrecorded history in which, from the ignorance of the savage, from the ignorance of the barbarian personi­fying the powers of nature, terrified by the [32] destructive agencies he was unable to control, there gradually grew up out of the sense of helplessness and terror the primary ideas of God. They found that this view was, to some extent, from their standpoint, strength­ened by the fact that among the savages of our own time there are found various forms of religion - those called animistic and the like - where the ideas, if they can be called ideas, of God are of the lowest and least  developed character. Many researches into what those savage peoples really thought were not at first available. There were the records of travellers, the statements of ex­plorers, who told us roughly the superficial views that they gathered from the savages whom they found in the countries to which they went. It was not then, I think, unnatural that they should see in the beliefs of those savage peoples, in their low and barbarous ideas of divine agencies, the origin of religion. It was not unnatural that they should imagine that the great philosophic and spiritual ideas of God had, by some process which they did not stop to work out or to prove, evolved from the primary ignorance of the savage. And so they traced back the identities in  religion, the likenesses in religion, to this dark time of savage ignorance, to this personification of the powers of Nature, and, putting forward the science of Comparative Mythology based on irrefutable facts but bound together [33] by an assumption which was not proved, they came to the idea that all thought of God, as all other religious truth, was but an evolution from the past, and that we must regard that childish ideal as the origin of the later and loftier views of God.

A little later, more careful researches into savage beliefs revealed one startling and puzzling fact. You will find, I think in a book by Dr. Andrew Lang a most interesting account of the knowledge which was gradually gathered by sympathetic travellers who were trying to understand something of the thought of savage peoples. And the records that came from these later investigations all bore testimony to the fact to which I alluded, which were startling when it came out, in view of the deductions of Comparative Mythology. It was that in the background of every savage faith, kept as a sacred thing, to be spoken of only with reverence and with awe, behind all those superficial beliefs in gods and devils, behind all those thoughts of sacrifices to propitiate hostile powers, there was one Being ever believed in whose only  symbol was the over-arching sky, who had no image, who had no likeness, to whom no prayers ever went up, to whom no sacrifice were ever made, a mighty all-embracing Life, spoken of sometimes as the Great Spirit, spoken of sometimes by no special name but only by symbol; indications of an idea so [34] foreign from the savage of modern thought that man began to ask how could this idea have arisen, how could it have come into the mind of the savage, how could a conception so great and all-embracing come from these undeveloped brains, these crude unevolved barbarians?

And about this time another view was put forward to account for the identities found in religions, the idea that they did not grow out of savage ignorance, but that they came from an identity of origin, from Teachers, highly developed spiritual men, who came forth into the world from time to time to give out the ever-same ideas in a form suited to the needs of the time. The idea was put forward that the child-nations of the past, the undeveloped and the unevolved, were taught by those who knew, by those who by their own evolution had reached the point where the loftier vision of the Supreme was seen; that there were traces through history that the highest ideas given to the world were always given as the basis of a new religion, and not as an evolu­tion out of the past from the days of savagery and of ignorance; that these ideas came from the mouths of men who spoke with authority of that which they knew, and were not the dreams of savages, awe-stricken before a Nature too mighty to oppose, in which destructive agencies were rife.

And they who put forward the idea claimed [35] for evidence the scriptures of the oldest religions of the world as well as those of the more modern: they pointed to books that went back into the night of time, the Vedas of the Hindus, the sacred books of the, Zoroastrians and of the Egyptians, and of the peoples who bordered the Mediterranean Sea; they pointed to these as containing the loftiest conceptions possible to men so far of the Nature and the Being of God. And they showed that, as the religions went on, these conceptions tended to materialise instead of, keeping their original and lofty spirituality. And they based all that on evidence that could not be denied, the most ancient scriptures as yet known to the world of men.

They pointed to these, then, as evidence that the teaching about the Divine Nature was a teaching always the same, and that the traces of that still found among savage peoples, these ideas of a Great Spirit symbol­ised by the arching sky, were the faint remnants in degenerate nations, the dying out fragments in the remains of mighty; civilisations of the past, of the original teach­ings which they had received in the days when they were civilised, when they were strong.

And gradually people are beginning, I  think, to realise that the savages of today are remnants of dead civilisations, and not the crude forms from which men have evolved; [36] that the ancient savages, the primeval savages, if I may say so, were really childlike people, infant nations, willing to learn and glad to be taught, and that to them came the great Instructors, to them the mighty Teachers; and that we can point first to the scriptures that remain, admittedly ancient, going back thousands upon thousands of years, and then to these surviving beliefs in the remnants of the gradually dying out barbarian nations, ideas that they most certainly could not give birth to, but that still stand as landmarks of a God Idea mightier than they now could conceive, and practically with no influence on their religion or their lives.

Two chief types of religion come down from the great race that preceded the fifth, or the Aryan, those that are called Solar Worship and Nature Worship; and we realise that in  those elder days the teaching to the more ignorant, the more childish peoples was given in  the form of symbol, largely drawn from Nature around them, not teaching that the natural  object was God, but rather that through the outer object God was revealed, and that all Nature was but a veil of Divinity; that the power, the might, the splendour of God spoke out through the objects of His world, and that they were symbols of the Divine.

The mightiest of these symbols was, as was natural, the Sun, the source of light and heat and life on our globe. And so you find the [37] Sun as symbol, constantly shown as image, constantly appearing in legend and in myth, as the symbol of the Supreme, the Universal God. You find the Sun as a great golden disc still to be found in the temples that have been unburied, still to be found in the legends of the nations that have well-nigh passed away. Take ancient Peru as an example before the Spaniards had trampled out that splendid civilisation by fire and sword. You find the Incas called the Children of the Sun; you find that royal family regarded as the offspring of the Sun; and all through their worship, a worship of joy and of happiness, in which the sacrifices were flowers and the hymns were songs, you find the Sun as the symbol of the God they worshipped, and to whom went up the hearts of grateful men, the symbol in the lower world of the all-nourishing, all-irradiating life of God.

And so you find in the Hindu religion, where I shall have to draw your attention presently to some of the most sublime concep­tions of the God-Idea that have ever been made known to our humanity, that the Sun stands as the physical symbol of God; you find how “the God in the Sun”, as He is called, is the object of daily greeting by the millions of Hindus who bathe on the banks of their rivers before sunrise, and then, as the Sun is rising, turn to it with the famous prayer: “Thee, O Sun, we worship, the glory of God resplendent; [38] may thy light illumine our intelligence”. No physical light of the Sun can illumine the intelligence of men, and that famous prayer, most sacred to all Hindus, uses the Sun as symbol of the God-Idea, the Light and Life of the world as God is the Life and Light of the Spirits that come forth from Him.

And so you find right through the history of religions traces of this symbolism of God under the form of the Sun.

And you find wherever the human element comes into the God-Idea, as it does in every great religion, that humanity is taken up as it were to deity; you find that the story of the God made man follows the course of the Sun throughout the solar year; you find the  festivals of every religion, including your own, are marked by solar positions, and that one  side of the story of the Christ is a repetition of the story of all the God-men of the past, born amid danger, passing through childhood in danger, coming on to manhood at a period marked by the relation of the Sun and the Moon, dying on a date which every year is fixed by the astronomical observation, rising again after that to a renewed life, and ascend­ing into the heavens, whence His beams pour down for the ripening of the corn and of the grape, the bread and wine of human life. And as you recognise it, it does not make you disbelieve in the historical existence of the Christ, but it tells you that every mighty man [39] that human life has deified goes through a marked succession of events, alike in every great faith, drawn from what are called the myths of the past, the myths which are the great spiritual truths thrown into a story-form for the helping and the teaching of men.

And you find, again, Nature Worship per­meating all great faiths without exception, in  which the creative power of Deity is seen repro­duced in the creative power of humanity, and  God as the Universal Father, the Giver of Life, the Sustainer of Life, is shown out in symbols - innocent and beautiful in the minds of a people not yet corrupted into evil - and  still persisting, as you have them, in the symbol of the Cross, known to every great religion of the past and most sacred of symbols in the Christendom of today.

That hasty but broad outline of religions that are well-nigh lost in antiquity and are only seen in their later forms in the most ancient living faiths, brings us to the next great stage of the God-Idea, in which religions were national, and the God of the religion was worshipped specially by the nation in which the religion was proclaimed. In that stage of religious proclamation, you find three great religions of the far-off historical past; I might say before history, but I take it as historical because a literature remains; and while you are unable to fix the furthest off limit for the date of that literature you are [40] able to say that it cannot be more modern than such and such a date. In the ancient world, then, looking backward to this stage, you find religion, as I said, national. The­ oldest of those is, of course, Hinduism, where you have a faith that still is living, funda­mentally a religion but also a social polity; a social organisation, just as you find also in the Hebrew religion that the social organisa­tion and the religious are closely intertwined, and that many a law which is purely a sanitary or hygienic law is made part of the religion, so that it might have the binding force that comes from the fulfilment of a religious obliga­tion. Hinduism fundamentally, of course, as were the other two great religions of Egypt and the Mediterranean borders, and the ancient Persian or the faith of Zarathustra, the Zoro­astrian as we generally call it, is Pantheistic. Now religious Pantheism and philosophic Pantheism are constantly confused; but their effects upon the mind of the devotee and the mind of the philosopher are quite different. Philosophic Pantheism only postulates one existence whereof all beings are modes; one infinite eternal existence, and all universes, all worlds, all separate existences of mineral, of plant, of animal, of man, modes of that one existence. Outside of such manifestations, in philosophic Pantheism, God is not; He is expressed in a universe but not outside it. He is conterminous with whatever universes [41] or worlds are existing, their fundamental life, but entirely what would now be called impersonal. This is appealing only to the intellect and not to the heart, the self-­existence whereof all else is but mode, inaccessible to form of prayer or entreaty, a unfit for any emotion, save the purely Intel­lectual delight of a splendid theory, but in no sense religious, if you take religion as the searching of man for God and God’s answer to the searching. But when you come to pantheistic religion, then all is changed. That which is behind all forms of life is Himself the Life, the Consciousness, the Power. All forms are but an expression of part of His existence, and beyond and above all forms He Himself, in His infinite being, remains.

And where religion is pantheistic, there you always find accompanying it what the West has called Polytheism, the expression of God in many forms. Now there is a profound difference between this as seen by the Eastern, and the view which you often call Polytheism in the West, founded chiefly I think on your knowledge of the Greek and of the Roman faiths, and on your very superficial knowledge of the great religions of the East, in which you imagine that the word God implies to the Eastern the same as it implies to you. Now that it is not so: The word that the Eastern uses for God is a word equivalent to your [42] “angel” or “archangel”, not the One Supreme Being whom you alone speak of under that name. When the Hindu speaks of the Deva so and so, it only means Shining One, the very word that John Bunyan applied to the angels in the Pilgrim's Progress. And if you want to be sure of that, let me - although later I shall be giving you some quotations that prove it to demonstration - quote but one single verse regarding this with a couple of verses before it that show the scope of the whole. A great Hindu philosopher in one of the Upanishads is said to have been asked by his wife to explain to her the Wisdom of the Self. “The Self” is the word used for the all-per­vading, all-irradiating, all-vivifying, all-sus­taining Life of God. He went on to explain it to her as the one Life of the Universe, and to tell her that all that there was of love and of beauty were but the scattered reflections of the one Self. And then he went on, in the words I want you to note:

 

Not for the sake of the husband is the husband dear, but for the sake of the Self is the husband dear;

Not for the sake of the wife is the wife dear, but for the sake of the Self is the wife dear;

Not for the sake of the son is the son dear, but for the sake of the Self is the son dear;

Not for the sake of the Gods are the Gods dear, but for the sake of the Self are the Gods dear.

 

I am using there the word “Gods” because that is the usual translation, but if you put the word “angels” you will have the idea of [43] the speaker. In all the manifestations of the one Life, husband, wife, son - and he gives many others that I did not quote - including those spiritual intelligences, the Shining Ones of higher worlds; those are only dear, only beautiful, only loving, because of the One all­-pervading Life in whom alone they live.

That is the religious Pantheism, with which, as you see, what is called Polytheism goes. It is not the idea of a number of Gods, as you mostly think of it; it is the idea that in a world in which everything embodies the life of God, there is nothing existing that does not share in His beauty, in His strength, and in His life. When the Hindu wants to put his view of the place of the woman in the home, he says: “Thou art Lakshmi - the Goddess of prosperity - the Light and Goddess of the home”. He uses the word in order to point out that every form - human, animal, vegetable mineral, - is God-vivified, is an embodiment of the life of God. And so, as that Life is embodied in myriads of forms some of which as I said, you would speak of as ‘angel’ or ‘archangel’, God comes forth into His world so that He can appeal to the hearts of men, however ignorant, however degraded, however evil. And to the polytheist it is the life of God in the form, which to him is beautiful and fit to be worshipped. It is the idea that everything in the world has the life of God within it, and that we should recognise that [44] Life wherever it manifests itself in form. And so that Polytheism, which is Pantheism in action, irradiates the whole world with the splendour of a divine life, and there is no human activity, no human occupation, nothing that men can do of useful and of good, that has not the benediction of God behind it, in which man is not exercising a divine function, and bringing the life of God into the life of men.

And that is also true of the old Egyptian faith and the old Zoroastrian faith. They all see the world as much larger than the physical, inhabited by many grades of beings, some higher and some lower than man.

And as a child would ask his father to reach him down from the mantelshelf something that he is not yet tall enough to grasp for himself, and that prayer of the child to the father is not thought to touch the unity of God, and the help of the father to the child is  not regarded as being against the laws of Nature; so the prayers of men to those above  themselves in power and in helpfulness go up as the prayers of children to their fathers,  asking for a help they themselves are unable to compass, and, as Sir Oliver Lodge has  pointed out, there is nothing in that against the laws of Nature, but only a dependence and interdependence that spread throughout the whole of Nature which is animated by one divine life, in which the elders help the youngers and answer their requests. And [45] you can have your prayers answered either by knowledge, which subdues the laws of Nature to your purpose, or by an appeal to those Beings who are behind every natural force and every natural law, and who, for love’s sake, will help, and do constantly help, in the daily lives of men.

Leave for a moment those religions of which I have spoken, which I have glanced over in their national view and their general teaching, and come to the Hebrew faith, passing as it did through two remarkable and distinct phases. There again it is a national religion as all the religions of the past were national, very much in many ways to the benefit of the  people; for where every nation had its own religion there was no need to go about making  proselytes, and trying to convert a man of one nationality and of one faith to your faith;  because they could then no more change faith than you could nationality without losing all  that made them what they were, and so the world had much more religious peace than it has had in later days. Now in the Hebrew faith at first we find the God Idea was that of a national or tribal God, limited as you can see in the older books of the Hebrew Old Testament. Read Genesis, read any of the five books called Books of Moses, read the book of Joshua or read the book of Judges, and you will find quite clearly in these older remnants of the Hebrew scriptures that you are face to [46] face with a God who has many other Gods around him, and that superiority is claimed for him by his own nation and his own people. When you read in the third chapter of Genesis of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, or when you read of the Tower of Babel, when the people were going to build up a tower that was to reach unto Heaven, and God said if they did that there was nothing they would not be able to do; so he went down among them and confounded their speech, so that they should not be able to  understand each other; when you read in the Book of Judges that the Lord was with Judah,  and he drove out the inhabitants of the valley but could not drive out those of the mountain  because they had chariots of iron - when you read things like that, you realise at once that  you are in the presence of a conception of God which is local and national, and you realise  that many of the commands that were given to inflict the most cruel and brutal punishments upon the Jew who turned renegade to his faith were chiefly intended to preserve the Jews as a nation, for it was treason that was punished; for to dally with any other form of religion was really treason, as the Gods of the nations around them were enemies of their own God, and therefore to turn to them was treason to the State belong­ing to the tribal or national God. And that view continued till the Captivity: then the [47] Jews were carried out into the ancient civilisations, Assyrians, Babylonians, etc. And when they come back again to Judea you find that in the remnant that returns the God Idea has assumed a wider, greater, and far more splendid form. They bring back with them the idea of immortality; they bring back with them the idea of one God, the universal, the all-pervading. You have such a splendid; phrase as that spoken in the Psalms, in a post-Babylonian Psalm: “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the utter most parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me”. There is nothing like that in the older books, no conception of that thought until the post-Babylonian days; and then instead of the God who walked m the garden in the cool of the day you have “the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity, whose Name is Holy”. The splendour of that phrase ‘who inhabiteth eternity’ is separated by an age of thinking from the conception of the God who walked in a little garden - utterly different; a sub­limely spiritual idea instead of a local and a material one.

And then you pass on to the God-Ideas that are found in what we may call the [48]  universal religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, the three comparatively modern re­ligions of the world. They are not national; there are no limitations in them to a special form of social order intended for the develop­ment of a particular nation; they can pass from one nation to another and be adapted to any civilisation into which they come. Now in southern Buddhism there cannot be said to be any Idea of God. In northern Budd­hism you find the Idea of God again appear­ing as the celestial Buddha, the boundless Buddha, but in the southern church it is the Lord Buddha Himself who is the object of worship, to whom flowers are brought, to  whom love goes out, the Man who has risen into God.

When you take Christianity, there you have as the central God-Idea the Idea of the Father of Spirits. That is one of the great contribu­tions of Christianity to the religious thought of the world, a universal Father, who is really the Father of men. But in Christianity itself you have a trace of Pantheism more than once, as you must have in all religion that seeks to be reasonable, philosophic, intelligible. You read in one of the Epistles of S. Paul the statement, after saying that all things are to be subdued to the Son: “Then shall the Son Himself be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all”. You find the same thought [49] coming out when it is declared: “In Him we live and move and have our being”. And  while it is true that, owing to many historical conditions and the gradual growth of civilisation out of the darkness which followed the destruction of the Roman Empire up to our own time, that deeper doctrine of Pantheism has been overlaid and you only find it now and again in some lecture delivered philosophically to philosophers, as by Mansell, where he finds himself landed, as he says, in the pathless desert of Pantheism, led there by his reason which finds it impossible to deny; that side is left out entirely in popular Christianity, and the conception of the Father is the one most dwelt upon, with those other aspects of deity in the Son and the creative intelligent Spirit.

When you come to Islam, there the God-Idea is more the Monarch than the Father, rather the Ruler of nations than the Lover of men. I am not forgetting that there are some most exquisite statements as to the love of God in Islam from the mouth of the great Prophet himself, as well as from the mouths of some of his followers; but the main conception, the conception that dominates popular Islam, is rather the idea of the mighty Ruler, the one supreme authority, than the nearer and tenderer conception you find in Christianity as coming from the mouth of the Christ. And never forget, when you think of Him as God, that He recalled to the men of His day according [50] to the account which is left of Him, that older conception of the Hebrew faith, calling all the sons of God. “I said: Ye are Gods and ye are all the children of the Highest”.

Passing again from that brief sketch of these three universal religions, separating  them for the sake of clearness from the older national religions of the past, and reminding  you that there were of course many other national religions, although I only spoke  specifically of the three fundamental faiths that branch out into others, let me ask you now to turn for a moment to the highest con­ception of God, the God-Idea at its noblest and its greatest, as it comes out in the great religions of the world belonging to the Aryan race and its branches as far as they have spread. I am using here for convenience sake a little book compiled by myself and issued by the Theosophical Society, the first part of the Universal Text-Book of Religion, and although I am using this for quotations, I may say that all the quotations were taken by me and others from the originals or trans­lations, and have very carefully been left in their own complete sense, so that you should be able to judge of the teachings of the religions of the world, arranged as they are here under the heads of the great doctrines. I am taking here those which are put under The Unity of God, in order to put to you those great central Ideas of God, so [51] marvel­lously alike, so sublimely spiritual, as we find them in the greatest of our race. I take first only the oldest, drawn from the Hindu scriptures:

 

“I will declare that which is to be known, that which being known immortality is gained, the beginningles supreme Brahman.”

 

That, remember, is the Hindu name for the supreme God, “the One only without a second”, and then a description comes from a Upanishat:

 

“Unseen He sees, unheard He hears, unthought of He thinks, unknown He knows; none other than He is the Seer, none other than He is the Hearer, none other than He is the Thinker, none other than He is the Knower; He is the Self, the Inner Ruler, immortal, that which is other perishes.”

 

And again:

 

“I am the Self, seated in the heart of all beings; I am the beginning, the middle and also the end of all beings … nor is there ought moving or unmoving that may exist bereft of Me. … Whatsoever is glorious good, beautiful and mighty, understand thou that to come forth from a fragment of my splendour. … Having pervaded this whole universe with one fragment of myself, I remain.”

 

And again:

 

“When darkness was not, when there was neither day nor night, neither being nor non-being, then there the All-Blessed even alone. None is able to comprehend Him in the space above, in the space below, in the space between. For Him whose name is infinite glory there is no likeness. Not in the sight [52] abides His form; none beholds Him with the eye; those who by love and wisdom know Him as dwelling in the heart, they become immortal.”

 

There you have the Hindu Idea of God, not, I think, surpassable in magnificence in any scripture or in any thought. And that has permeated the Indian people, is familiar to the peasant even as it is thought of by the philosopher.

 

“Manifest, near, dwelling verily in the heart, is the great goal; on Him is founded all that moves, breathes and closes the eyes. Him you know as what exists and exists not, who is to be adored, who is beyond the know­ledge of creatures, who is greatest. Luminous, more subtle than the subtle, on whom the worlds are founded and their inhabitants.”

“He is great, divine, of a nature not to be conceived by thinking, more subtle than the subtle; He shines in many ways; He is more distant than the distant, and also near in this body; for the open eyed He dwelleth here, even in the heart. He is not apprehended by the eye, nor by speech, nor by the other senses, nor by devotion nor rites, but he whose reason is purified by the light of wisdom, he by meditation beholds Him who is partless.”

 

Now there is no reasonable challenge as to the most modern date that can be given to these. The Zoroastrians that followed them are said by a great Orientalist of the West to go back to some five thousand years before the Christian era; and how much beyond these writings go no historian may dare definitely to say. Two only of these quota­tions were taken from a comparatively modern scripture, though still one which is thousands [53] of years old, the Bhagavad-Gita. The rest were taken from the Upanishats, which are of unknown antiquity.

Now if you take the Zoroastrian faith, you find there an idea that later appears in the Hebrew:

 

“My first name is Ahmi - I am. Thou, first great Thinker, whose splendour pervades all light, who through His intellect is the Creator of all, who supports righteous­ness and the good mind. Thou Spirit Mazda, Thou who art ever the same. His origin, none can know, except Himself, who can comprehend him? He is living and wise and powerful and independent and just; His know­ledge extends over all that is heard or seen or that exists. All existence is visible to His knowledge at once, without time, and from Him nothing is hid.”

 

In the earlier Hebrew period there is only one passage that touches this loftier view; in Exodus: “I am that I am”, the statement of pure existence. The fundamental truth, the unity, is loudly proclaimed: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord”. But later on you find the lofty idea: “I am the Lord and there is none else. There is no God beside me”. “The Lord is the true God, He is the living God and a King of Eternity.” “He is the living God and steadfast for ever; and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed and His dominion shall be even unto the end.” There the wider, nobler idea appears.

Then when you come to the Christian religion, you have the phrase in the Acts: [54] “He is not far from any one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being. As certain also of your own poets have said, We are also his offspring, . . . We are the offspring of God”. And you get also there a splendid ascription: “Now unto the King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever”.

And when you come to Islam, here we are suffering somewhat from the badness of trans­lation, for the great book of Islam has never been translated by a believer in Islam, as it should be, and therefore you have difficulty. But still even through the wooden translation you can catch the splendour of one of the passages from the Quran: “God, there is no God but He, the ever-living, the ever-subsist­ing. Slumber seizeth Him not nor sleep. To Him belongeth whatsoever is in heaven and on earth. Who is he that should intercede with Him unless by His permission? He knows what has been before them, and what shall be after them, and they shall not compass aught of His knowledge save what He willeth. His throne is extended over the heavens and the earth, and the care of them burdeneth Him not, for He is the High, the Mighty”.

And when you come to the teachings of the Prophet, as preserved in his sayings trans­lated by one of his own people, you have some beautiful conceptions of the Nature of God:

 

“Whoso seeketh to approach me one span I seek to [55] approach one cubit; whoso seeketh to approach him two fathoms, and whoso walketh towards Me, I run towards him.”

“God saith: O man, only follow thou my laws and thou shalt become like unto Me, and then thou shalt say ‘Be’, and behold it is.”

“The person I hold as a beloved, I am his hearing by which he heareth; I am his sight by which he seeth; I am his hands by which he holdeth; I am his feet by which he walketh.”

“There was God when there was nothing. He knoweth all things before and after their existence. He is light without darkness, life without death, knowledge without ignorance. As He is today so He will remain for ever.”

 

Now those are but a few of the God Ideas, as you find them in the scriptures of the world, the higher of course - deliberately taken out of the highest and the noblest, for the highest is the test of all religions and not their lowest, as they are lived out by ignorant and foolish men.

And I submit to you that brief testimony, and you can multiply it a hundredfold if you will. Read your own scriptures at length, and not only these little jewels that I have picked out in order to show you specimens of the wealth that those religions contain; and you will realise that you only want one thing, which comes out so strongly in the Hindu quotations, in order to turn those loftiest ideas into the Mystical Idea of God. You notice how over and over again, when speaking of God as distant, He is also spoken of as near, and then it is ever said he dwelleth in [56] the heart. It is in the heart that the Mystic sees Him. For if there is One life and only One life without a second, then your lives and mine, however poor and weak and childish and undeveloped they may be, are the Life of God Himself, and all that He is we can from within ourselves unfold. “The kingdom of God is within you” quoth the Christ, the great revealer of God to the western world. It is in your own hearts, in the depths of your own being, in the profoundest depths of your own existence, that you must seek if you would find and know the God whose know­ledge is Eternal Life. If you cannot find Him there, you will never be sure of Him anywhere. But if once you catch a glimpse of the Eternal within you, then the Eternal around you will shine out clearly before your eyes. And think what that means of strength and of splendour to every one of you who has found out by direct knowledge that God is hiding within you, as He is manifest in the wondrous life of the wondrous universe around you. Nature is but a veil behind which is shining the eternal smile of God.

And think what it means if Nature is to you not a soulless mechanism but a living  organism; if God is no longer an abstraction of theology but a Living Spirit, the Friend and the Lover of Men; if He is no longer to you a Name but is a Life. That is the glory of the Mystic; that is the joy of the one who [57] knows. Wherever you go you see Him shining; wherever you look you recognise the traces of His being. You look at the wonder of Nature spreading out before you and in the whole of that manifested beauty, as in the tiniest fragment that you can take in your hand, you see it all irradiated by the Perfect Beauty that is God. You see Him in the blue of the sky or the ocean; you see him in the radiant snow on the mountain peak; you hear Him singing in every bird; you see Him smiling in every flower; and most of all you see Him in the heart and in the intellect and in the love of men. You see Him in the love of the mother for the babe; you see Him in the love of the youth for the maiden; you see Him in the strength of the athlete; you see Him in the patience of the saint; you see Him in the righteousness of the most holy, and you see Him hiding in the heart of the basest, illuminating it now and then with some touch of human love, which is the nearest of all things to God, whose very Nature is Love and Bliss.

Do you wonder then that anyone of us who has caught but one glimpse of that infinite and splendid beauty that enwraps the worlds, longs that all others should likewise catch if it be but a passing glimpse of that supernal beauty? for what can there be of fear and grief to those who know, of their own knowledge, that God is, and that the Self of All is One? [58]


 

III.

 

THE CHRIST-IDEA.

 

 

FRIENDS:

Perhaps the most attractive idea in almost all the religions of the world is the idea of the Divine Man, whether that Divine Man be brought into existence by the ascent of man into God, or by the descent of God into man.

Last Sunday, after reviewing the idea of God as it appeared in many nations, as it was taught in many religions, we found that the essence of those ideas, the substance which underlay them, was gathered up and rendered yet more splendid, summed up in the Mystical Idea.

So with what I have called the Christ Idea, using the phrase most familiar in the West, the idea of the God Man, the Divine Man, as practically the central object of worship. That also I want to trace for you through various faiths, catching the light which is thrown upon it in the different conceptions [59] which have been held from time to time in many nations in many ages of the world. And there again we shall find that this same idea, put in varied forms, is summed up and rendered still more beautiful, still more prac­tical, when we take it in the light of Mysticism, and realise that the story of one God Man, of one Christ, is in its deepest, truest meaning the evolution of Divinity in every child of man. And it is really to that thought we are finally led when we are studying the main religious conceptions, as we find them in the  history of the great faiths of the world, as we see them reappearing millenium after millenium  in the story of the experiences of the human soul.

And so there gradually grows upon us, as we follow the study, the idea of a wonderful unity, the thought of world conceptions embodied in a particular form in each religious faith; and the outcome of it is, I think, a profounder faith which grows out of the wider knowledge, a realisation that that which in all times and in all countries has satisfied the yearning Spirit in man must exemplify a profound spiritual reality, must be found in Nature itself when studied by the spiritual vision.

Now, so far as I know, in the great faiths of the world, two alone are without the conception of the God Man as a central object of worship. We do not find it in the popular

[60] Hebrew faith. I am obliged to put in the word ‘popular’ because, in the more mystical writings of the Hebrews, there are naturally traces of this same spiritual fact; but owing very largely, I think, to the sense among the Hebrew teachers that the people were in danger of falling away from their national God into various forms of idolatry, it seems that all image or likeness, even the human itself, was excluded from their larger conception of Deity. In their mystical writings, as I say, you find traces of that, traces which are drawn partly from the verse in Genesis when it is said that ‘in the image of God made He man’.

The other faith which is without the notion of the God Man is, of course, the faith of Islam. And there it is very easy to see why the great Prophet of Arabia left entirely on one side all conception of humanity when he was founding and building his religion. You cannot study the history of the time in which Islam was founded without seeing how the popular ideas of God and of Christ had become debased and repellent. And founded also, as that faith was, in the midst of peculiarly brutal forms of idolatry, it was probably thought necessary by the insight of the Prophet to put forth a faith entirely free from all conception of humankind as entering into the Godhead.

In both those cases it would seem that sur­rounding necessities veiled what in other faiths [61] was one of the central religious conceptions. And putting those two aside and turning to  the other great faiths, whether national or world-wide, we shall find that in the centre of each of them this idea of the God Man shines out luminous and supreme. We see that the human heart turns to that conception of deity, finding God in the familiar and beloved form of man; that man, in his longing for sympathy, asks for a manhood which would be able to feel with human feelings, in which the human heart shall ever throb; and we shall find that all the tenderest love and the most reverential homage is offered up to that manhood taken into God. We shall see that, in times of sorrow and distress as well as in times of rejoicing, the human sought the human in Deity, m order that the sense of sympathy and of kinship might arise. And that is justified when we realise that in every child of man God is incarnate, and that man was really following the deepest promptings of the Spirit when, not yet perchance recognising his own divinity, he yet sought in human symbol and in human likeness to find the thought of God that must sustain and console.

Now everywhere, of course, there is one form of this, less exalted than the one that I have called the Christ Idea, which you find in Greek and Roman and Hindu story, - the idea of the demigod. That is mostly interest­ing, from the standpoint of comparative [62] religion, in that, when you come to the God Men themselves, you see that this same thought of the absence of a human father is prominent in every one of them. The demigods of Greece and Rome, the demigods of the more ancient Hindus, were men living amongst men and taking active part in human affairs; they were kings, they were warriors, they were statesmen, sometimes they were teachers. And you cannot read a great epic poem of Greece or of India without finding very many cases in which a God overshadowed an earthly maiden, and became the father of a hero, the ruler, the warrior, who was to play a great part in the history of his country. That idea of the demigod is allied to some thoughts of the great Incarnation which, under many names in other religions, is signified in Christianity by the name of Christ, and it has, it is true, in common with these legends, the thought that no earthly father is the parent of the Divine Child. But that is rather a side issue.

The real interest in the two conceptions is that, wherever you get the thought of the  demigod, you are there concerned with a religion which has adopted that religious polytheism of which I spoke in the second lecture, in which the pantheism of the religion  has, for the sake of worship, for the sake of attracting and helping men and women, veiled itself in the form of mighty spiritual intelligences called ‘gods’ among the Greeks and [63] the Romans, called ‘Shining Ones’ among the Hinds, the phrase analogous to the thought of the ‘angel’ or ‘archangel’ in the Christian scriptures. And it is not without interest in this connection to remember that verse over which so much dispute and so much controversy have arisen, that you find in Genesis, when it is said that “the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair and took them wives of all whom they chose”. Some commentators tell us that those are the angels who came down and wedded with mortal women, but, however that be, whatever was in the mind of the Hebrew writer, it is a thought that we find over and over again in the literature of the ancient world, and always in connection with the faiths where the Supreme Deity is regarded as incarnating in all the forms in his universe, so that what the Christian calls the angel, the spiritual intelligence, is one that occupies a large part in the life of the people. And there is an intimacy, as it were, of connection between the two; taking interest in human affairs on the divine side, looking up to the Divine Helper on the human side; so that life becomes permeated with the idea of super-physical existences and all Nature  becomes irradiated with God in many forms. But, apart from that, these demigods are not interesting to us in our search after the larger idea of the God Man, which is signified, for [64] the sake of intelligibility here, by the great name of the Christ.

In taking that larger thought, turn for a moment first to Buddhism, not because Buddhism is first in time, of course, for the religions of the Hindus and of the Persians - ­the Zoroastrians, - are much older in time than the Buddhist; but because in that we find put forward so clearly and so beautifully the thought of the way in which man evolves into Divinity, in which the perfect Divine life is reached m human form. Of course in Buddhism you have as a fundamental idea the thought of Reincarnation, and so when the Buddha has reached Illumination, has in fact become the Buddha, we find in the stories of which Easterns are so fond - the Jatakas or birth stories, as they are called­ - sayings of the Lord reported which speak of former lives, lives traced even from the animal kingdom, in which the far-reaching vision of the perfectly illuminated Man looked backward over the uncounted aeons of the past, and saw the Spirit within Him climbing up the many steps of the great ladder that  leads from the mineral up to God. You find Him speaking of Himself as a tiger, speaking of Himself under other animal forms, and then speaking of His human births, of life after life, birth and death after birth and death, until the time comes - ages, uncounted ages before the era of Buddhahood - when it [65] is said that He took the vow to be a Saviour of the world. And then it is written that He perfected His vow age after age, until He came at length to His last mortal birth.

Now the idea of the evolution of a Buddha has, as its starting point, a man who, moved by sympathy for the sorrow of the world and desiring, under an impulse of perfect com­passion, to lessen the world’s miseries, comes into touch with the Buddha of the time, to whom he offers his vow that he also will give himself to become saviour of the world as He is. That is a necessary step in the long evolution, the starting point, we may say, of the life of a Buddha. And then there is necessary the acceptance of the offer, the confirmation by the One who has trodden the­ Path, who has attained Illumination, who is living His last life as man, and who, on death, will pass onwards into Nirvana. That mighty Being accepts the vow that a successor in the future offers to Him, moved by the impulse which long ages before He also had felt, the vow He also had offered. And then, in the acceptance of the vow, it is held that the first step towards Buddhahood is taken. Life after life he passes onwards, marked by an ever-growing width of sympathy, an ever-­growing depth of compassion; and then there is some division between the views held by the two great branches of the Buddhist Church. Some say He enters on the Path, [66] and that is also the Occult view; others say that He stands aside through many lives, gradually perfecting the human nature, but does not pass through the definite Initiations intended for other lines of work. It matters not much which view is held. The Occult view, as I say, is that He passes through Initiation after Initiation, until He has reached the stage of Liberation that we call the Master; then onwards and onwards still, until He becomes the holder of that great office, the name of which will be familiar to you, the office of the Bodhisattva, He “whose essence is Wisdom”; and finally, He leaves the body, for the last time, and passes away from earth. The One who is next to Him in the order of evolution along these lines takes then the place of the Bodhisattva which the first, in becoming the Buddha, has left vacant. This is the name by which, in Buddhist countries, the Supreme Teacher of the world is indicated, the One who, at each new stage of civilisation, enters into a human body in order to give the new spiritual impulse, in order to give the principle on which that civilisation will be founded, and by which it will be developed. He comes time after time to found a new religion, embodying in the religion the central idea which is to dominate the civilisation; coming thus out into the world; time after time, when the new impulse is needed, when a new division of the great [67] race - a sub-race - is to be born; then taking a human body - generally the body of a disciple - He lives on earth, teaching and  proclaiming the ancient truths in the new garb which is suited for the time, to give the necessary impulse for the new spiritual life; and then, passing back to where He was before, leaves another to look after the religion He has founded, Himself the Guide of every faith on earth, the Supreme Teacher. He loves all the religions he has founded, and ever pours down into them the floods of His spiritual life. When His work is over, when a great race has reached the point at which another new departure is to be taken, then, for the last time this Bodhisattva also comes into the World as mortal man. Then He passes through the hard stages that you may read in the story of the life of the ­Lord Gautama, the last Buddha, and finally he reaches that perfect illumination which enables Him to open before the men of the coming ages the ancient Path, with new instructions to make the treading of the Path clearer in the eyes of the people of His day. And you find Him then proclaiming the ancient law, you find Him then establishing the ancient order, and giving to the world that law, pointing that noble Path to the people of His time. Then He passes away from earth for the last time through the gateway of death, and becomes the spiritual Buddha, [68] parted from the earth He has served, so far as further physical manifestation is concerned.

And along that line, as you know, the great Buddhist religion has been built up. They tell us that when the Lord Buddha passed away, it was a brother of His - not a physical Brother, but a Brother who had trodden with Him the great Path through many ages - the Lord Maitreya, the Lord of Compassion, who took His place m the seat of the Supreme Teacher. The Bodhisattva of our own time, then, is this Supreme Teacher, known in the East under that name of the Compassionate One, far Gautama the Buddha is ever called the Buddha of Wisdom, while Maitreya, the Buddha-to-be, is called the Buddha of Compassion.

And so you find in that ancient faith this climbing up of man into perfection, as the idea of the World Teacher that rules the minds of myriads of men who call themselves by the name of the Lord Buddha.

In the Hindu religion, on the other hand, you find the supreme manifestation of God more closely allied to your Christian idea, for there the Avatara is representative of the same Christ thought. He is one who descends from Deity into manhood, he does not climb from manhood into God. The normal orthodox idea is that from time to time, from the second Person of the Hindu [69] Trinity, there comes forth a fragment, as it were, of God Himself, who descends into the world of men and becomes in that world a Saviour and a Teacher. Ten of those great descents (the words Avatara only means descent) are spoken of in the Hindu scriptures. Nine are of the past; one more is to come in some hundreds of thousands of years from the present time. Nothing short of that is spoken of as a great Avatara. The word would be utterly out of place, and would only show ignorance, were it used to indicate a teacher of the world who was not God Himself descending into humanity.

But there is one peculiarity of the Hindu faith that I ought to mention to you in regard  to these Avataras; they mark out the great epochs of evolution in a very, very remarkable way; for when you remember that these are found in some of the most ancient Hindu writers, it may strike you as strange, if you have not reached the idea that universal religion is of unknown antiquity, and that the Hindu faith is the oldest of living faiths; it may strike you as strange that in these Avataras you have the order of evolution as recognised by science, marked out by symbol and by word. You have to remember that to the mind of the Hindu God is everywhere and in everything, otherwise it may seem to you perchance grotesque as symbol, but not so to the Hindu. The first Avatara is in the form [70] of a fish, the second of a tortoise, the third of a boar, then of a half-human half-animal figure, then of man himself. Put those side by side with evolution as seen by science and you will see how the first is the symbol of the time when water covered the earth and nought but the great fish kingdom could exist; you come on to the reptiles, the amphibious creatures, typified in the tortoise; then to the mammals, typified in the boar; then to the semi-human, typified in the man-lion; then to the human, typified first in the dwarf and then in a full-grown man. And not until all those stages have been traced, everyone of which is due to a new impulse of the ever evolving life of God, do you come to the two great Ones who dominate Hindu India - Rama, the perfect King, and Krishna, the perfect object of devotion. Those two Avataras are the examples of the Hindu, just as among you the Christ is taken for an example, “having left you an example that you should follow in His steps”. In those two marvellous Divine-human figures, all that you can think of most splendid in power, most magnificent in justice, greatest in rule; the idea of the perfect King is embodied in Rama; in Krishna all that you can think of that is tenderest in love, all that you can imagine is fairest in childhood, joyous and glad, with the flute ever playing divine music to which the very beasts of the field came, [71] attracted by the marvellous notes, the God enshrined in the heart of every woman in India who follows the Hindu faith, the God of the home, the God of the child - that is Shri Krishna to the myriads who bow  down to Him, all in men most gracious and most tender, all that most divinely images, embodies a perfect childhood and a perfect youth, the ideal and the loved of the Hindu heart.

Then you come, as ninth, to the Lord Buddha, accepted as Avatara by the Hindu as by the Buddhist, only now as a descent from God, not as an ascent from man; but He, they say, was the Avatara for the non­ Hindu nations, not intended for the Hindu but for nations outside India.

The tenth, as I said, is yet to come, hundred of thousands of years from the present time. Now that idea of Shri Rama and Shri Krishna is the one most closely related, I think, to the Christ Incarnation, and it is remarkable that in one form of the narrative, the stories of them come very nearly side by side.

But if you look in other faiths as well, in Egypt you have Osiris; you have among the Persians Mithra, and in many other nations similar Divine men, joined together by the stories of their lives which, as we shall see in a moment, are closely connected with the story of the sun’s course through the year.

Then, thus descending to the later faith, we find the idea of the Christ the central thought [72] in Christianity; for after all it is not too much to say that the heart of the Christian goes out to Christ as it does not go out to the others who are called the first and the third Persons in the Christian Trinity. Now that is the same in Hinduism; the Hindu Vishnu is the second Person in the Hindu Trinity, as the Son is the second in the Christian. The first in that Trinity, while He attracts the Yogi, the philosopher, does not attract similarly the love of the ordinary devotee, while the third Person of the Trinity in Hinduism, like the third Person in the Christian Trinity, can scarcely be said to be an object of worship at all. Both recognise the Creative Spirit as an aspect in the Trinity, but you find no temples to Brahma in India - save one I think that has been discovered - and you find but little worship of the Holy Spirit in the Christian churches, although one day is specially set apart to reverence Him.

Coming then to this Christ idea in Chris­tianity, I want you, if you will and if you can, to realise that what that idea in experience and in beauty is to you, so is the idea of the Buddha to the Buddhist, so is the idea of Shri Rama and Shri Krishna to the Hindu; and that from the traces of faiths now dead we can see that to the Egyptians Osiris represented the same beloved idea of God and man united. And it is not to be forgotten that the Egyptian dead was said to “become [73] Osiris” just as the Christian thinks of his beloved dead being united to Christ. These great ideas are one; they are not an appanage of any one special faith; they reappear in every religion, and so prove the reality of the truth of the idea that underlies them. If you can cease to be exclusive with your treasures, you will find that they only become the more precious and the more your own, when you realise that other religions also have had the same delight in their conceptions, and that which is universally found may be expected to be true.

Thinking now for a moment of that one great Being who in the West is spoken of as the Christ, He is regarded by all who have gone deeply into these matters as the Supreme Teacher of all the religions of the world. Put in another phrase, that Mighty One whom you speak of as the Christ is the same individual as the Buddhist speaks of as the Bodhisattva.  You are worshipping the same individual, although perhaps most in both the religions would feel offended at the idea. When talking not very long ago with a Buddhist monk, I told him that the Bodhisattva - the Lord Maitreya - was the same as the Christian Lord Christ, and he was shocked at the idea; to him it was a blasphemy; just as it may be to some of you but a blasphemy to think that the One whom you reverence as the Christ is worshipped under another name in eastern [74] lands. But to me, it is one of the most beautiful of things to think that the millions of the Buddhist world who bow the knee to the Bodhisattva send up their love and their prayers to the same mighty Being as the One to whom the millions of Christendom bow down in homage. To realise that both are worshipping the same mighty One seems to me so fair a thing; religions are nearer than they dream, and worshippers are joined in prayers although distinct in the names to which those prayers are addressed. Surely it is a greater thing, a gladder thing, to know that your Christ is worshipped by myriads who have never heard His Name; for to Him all prayers to the God-Man go up, and it matters not whether they name the Lord Maitreya, the Lord Krishna, the Lord Christ; they are but three names of One who presides over all, and who leads His children, to what­ever faith they belong. Was it not the Christ Himself who said: “Other sheep I have that are not of this fold; them also I must bring and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd?” There is one Shepherd in the higher world, though there are many folds in the one of division which is our earth; but the one Shepherd shall draw them all together, for they know His voice and shall surely learn to know each other.

And now think for a moment of him in [75] His historical aspect. The Christ in all times and in all ages has stood out as man in two characters - one as Teacher, the other as what is called Miracle-Worker - that is as One who knows the laws of Nature far more fully than the people of His time know them and so utilising those laws, and utilising them far the benefit of human kind, He performs many a mighty work, but still ever a work which is done by law, a work which comes within the mighty scheme of Nature; for there are many powers that as yet you know not of; and these, as the Spirit shines out more strongly will come within your grasp. There are glimpses of it from time to time when, by the exercise of faith by a believer, some wondrous cure is performed; there are traces of it when from time to time, not by faith but by knowledge of these at present hidden powers, some great work of healing is wrought to bring relief to a sufferer and joy to those around. But there are many powers hidden in the scheme of Nature that as yet you know not, every one of which shall come within reach of humanity as humanity climbs nearer to Divinity. And if the Divine Man shows out the powers sometimes, it is as an encouragement and an inspiration to men so blinded by flesh  that they know not their own divinity; and because they know not the splendour of their  birthright, they have contempt for their own nature, not realising what is hidden within it. [76] But every Christ of the past is only a prophecy and a promise of the man of the future, the man who, unfolding the Divine powers of the Spirit, shall be master over physical nature as well as over super-physical, and, by gradually spiritualising with his own life the matter around him, shall render it obedient to his will and ductile to his power. It is the evolution which lies in front of which the world’s Christs are the promise and the realisation.

I do not think that those who have studied carefully are likely themselves to be led astray along the lines of the so-called Higher Criticism, some of which would lead them to deny the existence of the physical Christ. He was a Man among men, around whom legends gathered, around whom stories were collected. He enters the list like His great forerunners, a man treading the familiar paths of earth, and living among the family and the people to whom by birth He belonged.

But that aspect of the Christ is the least important, the least interesting. Far more important, it seems to me, is the aspect of the Christ in which you see His kinship in story and in legend with all the Christs that have trodden the human way before Him. And that is ever in connection with what is called the legend of the Sun - the Sun, because all things in lower Nature symbolise the higher - in which the progress of the sun [77] through the year symbolises the great Life of God made Man lived for human helping. Do you realise that all the things in lower nature are but symbols and shadows, reflections, if you like, of the profound truths of the spiritual world, objectified in matter for the helping of men. Men have studied, beginning at the wrong end, when they think the objects in Nature were originally worshipped; the objects in Nature are the shadows here of the great spiritual verities which lie at the base of every great religion of the world. The truths are m the spiritual world, the shadows in this material world in which we live. God is not the sun, but God is the life of the sun, and the sun is the reflection of a fragment of the Life of God; and so the sun, as he goes his annual course, is figuring out and showing forth the real Life of God in the story of the World-Teachers who come to earth over and over again. And what men call the Solar Myth is really the expression of a spiritual truth, re-lived among men by every great Teacher who comes to illuminate the world. And so you ever have the story of the birth encircled with difficulty, with danger, with menace and with threat; for it is the sun at the shortest day of his life, encircled with the winter dangers, and menaced in those days by storm and mist and fog.  And you see him climbing slowly through the spring months; born at the winter solstice, [78] born ever of a virgin and His symbol in any religion the sign of the Zodiac which was in the ascendant when he was born into the world. And so sometimes the sacred animal, that ever symbolises the Man-God in a religion, is the bull as it was in Egypt, is the lamb as it became in Christendom. The fishes also you find as symbol, and according to the date of your religion is the sign of the Zodiac that is the symbol of the God Man for that special faith. And so by such calculations you may be helped to the date of the religion, to alternative dates going back by thousands and thousands of years; for you can only say the religion may have been born at such and such a date, or at the equivalent point tens of thousands of years before. And so you find among the Hindus that you can calculate to find out these dates, because in the Hindu ancient stories they give the chart of the heaven as it was when the hero of the tale was born.

And so you find this idea in the myth, that man is to become united with the God who embodies the myth, as I spoke of Osiris, and the dead men becoming Osiris, and of the Christian united to his Christ on the other side of death.

And that leads us gently onwards to the still deeper view in which, leaving the symbols of the sun’s course in the heavens, we come on to the evolution of the Divine Man in every evolving human being, whose human evolution [79] will not be over until he has trodden the road which is trodden before him by the Christs of great religions. There is the profoundest interest for all of us, the birth of the Christ in the Spirit of man, the unfolding of the Christ in the human life. And we find that exqui­sitely embodied in the story of the Christ of Christendom, as you have it in the gospels, where the great events of the life typify the great Initiations on the Path, every one of which means a new expansion of conscious­ness to the unfolding consciousness of man, and each of which marks a stage lived out in the life of the Christ, lived out in the life of the man who is climbing towards Divinity. You have the first great Initiation typified in the birth of the Christ, the birth from a virgin - for that is ever regarded as the pure birth, untouched by earthly father - into that kingdom of heaven in which the Christ life begins. And then you come to the Baptism, when the Spirit of God descends upon the Beloved Son and abides on Him, and there you have the second of the great Initiations in which the work of the Initiate is to bring down into his human consciousness the Divine consciousness which broods ever above him, so that he may know himself in this and in the other subtler and higher worlds. And then onward to the next stage, the Transfiguration on the Mount, on which the disciple, ever extending in his [80] conscious­ness, reaches the point at which it stretches upwards and around him and he knows him­self irradiated with the majesty of God. And then onwards from the Mount of Transfigura­tion, where he realises his own Divinity, down into the valley of suffering, onwards to Jerusalem, onwards to the Garden of  Gethsemane, to the mockery of the High Priest and of the Ruler, bearing the cross as He faints beneath its weight, nailed to the Cross with all His possessions stripped from Him, going from stage to stage until the last darkness descends upon Him in which the human nature cried out in its agony: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” And in the very moment of that final darkness He finds the Divine Arms nearer than they ever were before, finds that the loss of the outer God is the discovery of the inner, and in that discovery the words go forth: “It is finished!” and the man has completed his pilgrimage. The time comes when He is entering into God, and then comes the fifth, the great Initiation, the Liberation of the human Spirit, typified in the resurrection and the ascension of the Christ, when the God who found Himself upon the Cross, takes to Himself His own Divine power and becomes the Master of life and death, He who has in His hands the keys of heaven and hell; for there is no height of glory into which He cannot rise into communion with deity, there is no depth [81] of hell of human misery, into which He cannot descend in the helping of His fettered brethren upon earth.

And so that story of the Christ as told in your own gospels, means to the Occultist the mystical story of the unfolding of God in every man. And so it was that S. Paul saw it, and gave you many a hint, many a suggestion; which might show you that the Christ was not only one splendid Figure, but typified the unfolding God, the divine Spirit, in every one of us, for do you not read m the teaching of S. Paul: “My little children, in whom I travail again, until Christ be formed in you”. Do you not read him saying over and over again that you must be crucified with Christ did he not declare that he himself had passed through that mystical crucifixion? Did he not go on to say that “the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God”, and did he not say: “Not I live, but Christ liveth in me?” To live the Christ-life while still in the bondage of the flesh, to pass through all those stages of unfolding divine humanity and to know that the Christs of the race have trodden that Path before you, have reached that goal which you in time shall reach - that is the true salvation; that is the  inner reality of mystical Christianity; not to be saved by a Christ outside you, but to be  uplifted by the Christ within you; to become the very Christ Himself in your own life for

[82] the outcast, the helpless and the despairing; to gain that divinest of all powers, to pour into them your help, and into them your life, and to know that the reward for every pain that you have suffered in your human pilgrimage is the power to help the fainting children of men, to raise them a little nearer to the life which is Divine. That is the true meaning of the Ascension; that ascending into God yourself you are present to give help to every child of man, for is it not said the Christ is but the firstborn among many brethren? And you ought to be His brethren as you name His Name; you think too ill of yourselves to claim your birthright, and you deem it blasphemy to try to realise that which your own scriptures proclaim. But will you not learn to live your religion, as you say you believe it. Will you not cease to call others heretics, for the worst heresy is the heresy of the life, and not the heresy of the brain, the heresy that denies that the Christ-life is possible for man, and calls itself a miserable sinner when it ought to be climbing into a saint of Divinity. You think too ill of your­selves, you think too humbly of yourselves, you who name the Name of Christ, the  Supreme Teacher of the world: rise then, I, who am not Christian, would pray you, to the  height of your great calling; recognise in yourselves the Christ as some of us recog­nise Those who are one with Him but are [83] known by other names; for names make no difference where the realities veiled by the names are one; it matters not whether you call yourself Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Mussulman; all men are sons of God, and are unfolding the Deity within them. Take whatever name helps you most. The mother does not murmur when the lips of her babe pronounce her name in childish fashion; it is the love which appeals to her; and be sure that the Christ, and all Christs, recognise those as brethren in whom Their own likeness shines out most perfectly, and that, as you become a Christ m reality to the helpless amongst you, so shall the great Christ recognise you as brethren, and not be ashamed that you wear His Name when you try to live His life. [84]


 

 

IV.

 

THE MAN-IDEA.

 

 

FRIENDS:

Once more in beginning with the Man-Idea, as I did with the God-Idea and the Christ-Idea, I propose to consider what have been the conceptions of man which we can find through a study of the history of the past - how the thought of man has presented itself in science, in religion; how far we can trace coherent conceptions of the human being, whether we turn to observa­tion as recorded in science or whether we turn to the scriptures of the world containing that which is put forward by highly evolved men as to the origin of man, as to his nature and the possibilities of his future becoming.

Let us first turn to science, for that is the furthest removed from what may be called the Mystical Idea of man, and I am thinking chiefly of the science of the last century, for the conception of man in the science of the [85] immediate present has not been very distinctly  formulated and seems to be somewhat in a condition of flux, Science is certainly going away from the materialistic position in which the conception of man was naturally that of an evolving body rather than that of an unfolding Spirit. That thought is falling behind in the scientific world, and one feels, in describing the conception - a perfectly coherent and logical conception - which materialistic science put forward, that one is to a very large extent doing present-day science an injustice. It is not that I am really ignoring the progress which science is making, but only that I am in the position that that wider and larger thought of man which is beginning to express itself through some of the leading scientists of the day is hardly yet sufficiently formulated and developed to be very clearly perceptible, to be presented in a very intelligible way.

It is perhaps even more in philosophy than in science that the idea of man, among the great thinkers of our time, is showing a change from the materialistic thought to the idealistic or religious. If you take, for instance, the philosophy of Bergson, as presented by himself, you see at once that there we are going back to the thought that man is a spiritual intelli­gence and not only an intellectual being; and we shall see, in glancing at that later in connection with the theosophical thought, [86] that he is there putting forward in philosophic garb what Theosophy has been teaching more along scientific and psychological lines.

Leaving that, however, for the moment, for it is one of the later conceptions, let us ask how science thought of man in those days well in the mind of the elder amongst us, that which was the foremost thought of the time when people of my own age were almost reaching middle age, and when many who now are elderly were young, progressive, as it was said, in their thought.

The evolution hypothesis, of course, domin­ated the conception of man, and so we had society figured for us as evolving from man in the savage state, that savage man having himself evolved from those that are spoken of as the social animals. You will be familiar, at least, from your study with the thought of the evolution from the social type of animal into primitive man, and you will be familiar with the thought of the gradual evolution of society first, of course, from the mating of the semi­-animal men; then the formation of the family as the first unit of the society which was yet to be; then that is traced onwards for us as families aggregate into tribes, later as tribes aggregate into nations. And so we find ourselves face to face with an idea which is not without its beauty, which is not without its splendour even, in which we trace stage by stage this growth of the animal into the man, [87] of the men into the tribe, and of the tribes into the nation.

And side by side with that we are asked to realise the evolution of morality: first, the recognition of the family bond, in which, clearly for the defence of the family itself, any sort of rejection of obligation and of duty would have led very rapidly to the extinction of the family. Then we see morality extending to the tribal limit; within the tribe violence is forbidden, within the tribe murder and theft are looked upon with disapproval; and so gradually there grows up a rough tribal morality, binding within the limits of the tribe, but recognising no duty and no obligation to those who belong to other tribes, who are out­side this limit of the recognised tribe. Then we are asked to see how that gradually extends, as the tribes gather together into the nation, and you have a national morality in which violence is forbidden within the nation, in which theft and murder are not permitted within the boundaries of the State, but where, as regards other nations, morality has very little to say as regards the dealings of one with another.

And even up to the present time international morality is only, as it were, in the throes of birth. While we recognise that it is wrong, that it cannot be allowed, that one man shall murder one man, if you multiply the man by some hundreds of thousands, then murder [88] becomes war, and the assassin is changed by the very largeness of his action, he is a general, a hero, a great warrior. And yet fundamen­tally, if you look at it, the crime of murder cannot become righteous by multiplication, nor can the killing of men turn into a virtue because performed on an international scale.

And so again, when you are dealing with theft. You must not steal a man’s purse, he would at once call upon the police; but if you steal his land and call it annexa­tion instead of theft then it becomes the re­cognised attitude of the strong nation towards the weak, of the civilised nation towards the savage. Looking at it again, you realise at once that an act does not change its nature simply by transferring it to the international platform. And, although we may fairly recog­nise the fact that, in the case of the private murder, the root is anger or desire for individual gain, while, in the case of war, many other motives and thoughts may mingle with it, none the less it is well, I think, to realise that we have not yet reached a truly international stage of morality. We see a glimpse of it here and there, as where arbitration is preferred to war, and justice is appealed to instead of guns and battalions; but that even now is only attempted where a nation thinks the matter under dispute to be comparatively unimportant, and no great nation as yet has taken the step of daring to trust some grave [89] matter of national importance to the arbitra­ment of justice. Rather would it fly to arms and make the strength of its armies and its navies the measure of right and wrong.

But, while we may realise there is much that is logical in that evolution, the difficulty  in it is that it is not supported by fact, and that history, as far as it exists, does not show us these traces of the savage unfolding into civilisation, of the barbarian growing into a high state of education and culture. It seems so natural, that perhaps you hardly realise that there is no such case known in history. The savages that we know are all tending to disappear, not to grow into a higher state of civilisation. We find them dying out where civilisation approaches them. On every occasion that we know of where a nation called more highly civilised has invaded the territories of a comparatively barbarous people, the result to the savages has not been growth in civilisation but either extermination or gradual decay. Nowhere, so far as I have read history, have I found or heard of a single case in which savages, left to themselves, evolved into civilisation. And that is some­what remarkable if the scientific theory be a true history of the past.

Many other difficulties arise as well as the absence of proof, for history goes the other way. Civilisations, as we know them in the past, have the same strange mark and [90] characteristic that, as Bunsen said of Egypt, they seem to spring “full formed upon the stage of history”. We cannot trace them in their infancy, their youth, their growth; we only come across them in their maturity, and dig down as you will through ancient civilisations you do not dig down into a savage state. You find cave men; you find men of the Stone Age, but you never find traces of evolving from the Stone Age into civilisation. That bridge is never crossed; that gulf always exists.

And we begin to wonder, looking at this, whether the later science - which has really struck away the foundations from this theory of the evolution of man - is not right when it tells us that qualities are not transmissible. We wonder whether, after all, Huxley was not right in his latest view, when he pointed out that the evolution of human qualities was destructive to their possessors, so that they had no opportunity of handing them on to their offspring. It is fairly clear that the theory of the evolution of social qualities in man, the moment you look closely into it, breaks into pieces in your hands, for where the social quality shows itself, such as the love of the mother to the child, the love of the parent to the offspring, you see it far more in the social animals than you see it in savage man. The animal risks its own life for the saving of its young; the savage takes his babe and dashes out its brains, if the food supply [91] is likely to run short and he wants to get rid of a mouth of no immediate use to the tribe.

Not only is that an observed fact, but you find also, if you think of it for a moment, that, the animal that sacrifices its own life for its young dies in the sacrifice and so cannot hand on that quality, that tendency to love, because it perishes in the very moment of its  expression. So, even were acquired qualities transmitted - as science tells us now that they are not - you would not be helped as to the evolution of the social qualities, which are a disadvantage in the struggle for existence, and, practically eliminate their possessors in the frantic struggle for life.

And so again, when we are studying human kind, we do not find that the most highly evolved men - the geniuses of the race - are those whose families after them manifest the high mental or moral qualities which the father may have shown. When you have thought over this idea of how man evolved, you must have been struck with the difficulty placed in the way of evolution by the fact of the genius. “Genius is sterile” is one of the phrases of science, and it is true. The genius does not have a higher genius for child; his genius is not handed on to those who come after him. On the contrary, where, as in the case of artistic genius, you sometimes find one or two generations of talent preceding the birth of the genius, you find, after he has [92] flowered into his great and splendid manifes­tation, that the family then disappears. It seems to have done its work. It is true that, especially in music, you will find one or two generations of talent proceeding a Mozart, a Bach, a Mendelssohn; but they are leading up to the production of a body sufficiently sensitive and sufficiently delicately organised to make it a fit temple for the incoming genius. The family is a preparation for the genius which is to flower into splendour, and when it has done its work, when it has built up the sensitive body, when the nervous system has been made delicate and responsive so that the incoming soul of genius may find therein a fit instrument and a fit expression - then, with the death of the genius, that exquisite delicacy of body disappears. There is no posterity to genius; there is only seldom anything that you can call an ancestry.

And there again the view of man taken by science in its more materialistic days gave us no proof, gave us no hope even, that our race would really rise generation after generation  into some future splendour of achievement that would dwarf all the achievements of the  present. On the contrary, that terrible phrase: “Genius is sterile” was, as it were, the death knell of the progress of the human race.

Looking at it from that standpoint and asking what genius is, we have been given [93] various definitions of it, of which I think the most materialistic and the most untrue is that remarkable definition that “genius is the capacity for taking pains”. I cannot think of anything more absolutely divorced from the reality, for surely genius is the ability to do well with­out practice that which other people do only to an average extent with infinite pains. And that seems to me the characteristic of genius­ - an inborn faculty, an untrained manifestation. And so it well may be if genius be the power of the descending Spirit manifesting itself in a form prepared for the manifestation. Then we can realise why the child will show it forth, why a Mozart will show his musical genius while still his baby fingers are unable to compass the notes which would express his thought; and we begin to realise also how that marvellous child who is conducting an orchestra at the age of seven is able to show out such power and yet be a mere child when he is off the platform and when no longer he is putting forth the wonderful power that he has.

And so, looking at the idea of man as science gave it, it strikes us as incomplete, unsatisfactory, unproved, not answering to the facts, and undermined by the later conception of the very science that gave it forth.

Suppose we turn from that to the religious ideas. Those we find fall into two great [94] divisions. One is the idea that man is created by God, the idea put forward chiefly by the Jewish and the Christian religions, Islam following those along the same line of thought; the idea of a special creation, so that man is unique, unrelated to the animals that went before him, with no past to explain the nature of the individual, but supposed to have an unending future, although he begins with birth. The religions that we may call those tending to anthropomorphism show out this idea of man as God’s creation. The pantheistic religions, on the other hand, give us, as we shall see in a moment, rather the idea of man as an emanation from the Divine nature, sharing that nature and containing within himself all divinest possibilities.

But let us pause for a moment on the Hebrew and Christian conception of man. And here, as regards the Hebrew thought, in order that one may not be in any sense unfair, let me remind you that in the books called the Apocrypha of the Hebrew scriptures you find suggestions and hints of deeper and sublimer views than you find in the Canonical scriptures. There the inner teaching of the Hebrew faith was beginning to show itself, whereas in the Canonical scriptures, especially the earlier ones, you have rather the popular view, the view preached to the people.

And I am not forgetting in this that you have in the time of Josephus at least a full [95] recognition amongst the Jews of the great truth of Reincarnation, although in the earlier  scriptures you find no trace of it, but, on the contrary, the idea that man, specially created at birth, perished at death. You may remember how it is written in one of these “who knoweth [the difference between] the spirit of man that goeth upward and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” You may remember also that it is said that “In the grave there is no remem­brance”. The idea that dominates the older Judaism is the idea of death as an end, a real end to the life of man. You do not find that reasserted in the prophetic books after the Captivity; you do not find it in the Apocrypha, where you have a verse that stands out, and stands out in startling contrast with a somewhat similar verse occurring in the book of Genesis. You remember how it is said in Genesis: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God create He him; male and female created He them”. You may remember also that it is written in the Apocrypha: “God made man in the image of His own eternity”. How different the atmosphere! How changed the thought! In one case the image of God is the outer form; in the other it is a likeness of nature, an identity of existence.

And in that view that God made man in the image of his own eternity, the Hebrew [96] faith joins hands with all the religions of the East in which man is, as I said, not a creation  but an emanation of the life God.

Now the Jewish and the Christian idea of man as a special creation carried with it the idea that man fell from original righteousness; man is a fallen creature. You find that in such verses as: “The heart of man is corrupt and desperately wicked” - a terrible idea of man’s nature. And yet more than once that phrase is used in the scriptures - a fallen being. And that is the idea of man which is quite definitely put forward, you must re­member, in the Church of England. I do not mean that Anglicans believe it now; they have outgrown it; but it is not right, it is not quite straightforward, to put one view in the documents of a church and another view as represented in the minds of the believers in that church. Take for a moment the idea of man as put forward in the Articles of the Church of England - and remember that every clergyman who is inducted into a cure is obliged to read these articles out in open church, and to declare that he accepts them too in their literal and grammatical meaning. You read there in the Ninth Article on Original Sin an explanation of what Original Sin means and it depends of course on the fall of man. “Original Sin,” it is said, “standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption [97] of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damna­tion”. Now that is the Article still obligatory upon every clergyman, and surely it is not well for a Christian church to allow itself to be bound by an idea of man so blasphemous as regards God, so insulting as regards man, for it stands there for the mockery of every unbeliever; and you cannot blame the un­believer for mocking, when he has the right to point to that as the religion established by law in this country. Original sin a defect with which every one of you was born because you are descended from Adam; no fault of yours, but you are specially created with this original sin in your nature! If there be an imperfection in a work, you blame the maker of the work and not the deficiency of the work itself; and so, if man be inclined to evil by the mere fact that his nature has the taint in it of original sin, so that he is naturally evil, then how can he come from a perfect work­man? Does not the blemish in the creation point to the inefficiency of the creator? That is why I called it blasphemous; it is an insult to God.

And after all, what was the original [98] righteousness from which man fell? He fell at the first temptation, so that certainly original righteousness did not carry him very far. But there is a worse thing to remember than that, if we are to take the words of scripture, and we have nothing else on which to base this doctrine. It is said there that man knew neither good nor evil. But if he did not know right from wrong, good from evil, then he did not know that it was wrong to disobey the command that was given to him, and he ought not to have been blamed that, in his ignorance of right and wrong, he broke the command which his Maker gave him.

It is these things that point the arrows of the unbeliever, and it would be well if Christianity, which is developing so much towards Mysticism, towards higher and nobler views of God and man, should change these printed documents, and no longer leave them as a bond and fetter on every thoughtful priest of the church, as well as meaningless as regards the laity who have grown far out of these conceptions of long past ignorance.

If you revolt against that conception of man as tainted with original sin, as needing Baptism in order that it may be removed from him; if you are unwilling to believe that man cannot turn and direct himself by his own natural strength and that we have no power to do good works acceptable to God unless God enables us to do them; if you feel that [99] that idea is absolutely impossible of accept­ance - then what remains from the standpoint of religion? You have then the ancient view of man that comes out from the older eastern faiths as embodied in their scriptures, and is the very opposite of the idea to which I have been drawing your attention. It is the thought that every Spirit of man is a direct emanation from God and a partaker in the Divine nature - a phrase of S. Paul’s, remember, but utterly at issue with what I have just been reading to you. That thought of man is expressed in the well-known words put into the mouth of Shri Krishna: “A fragment of Myself, a living Spirit, comes forth into the world of matter, and draws around itself the senses, with mind as the sixth”. That is the fundamental idea of man, as we find it in the East. Man is not corrupt and wicked naturally; his nature is divine and is unfolding its divine possibilities. Man, being divine in his essence, must inevi­tably flower into deity, and the story of man’s evolution is not a story beginning with a fall but beginning with an ascent, and the only original sin which has any existence is the ignorance in which he begins his upward climbing and out of which he gradually and slowly emerges.

Now what is that conception as we find it traced in these ancient religions, as you find it now put forward on exactly the same lines in our Theosophical literature? The Spirit [100] which is to be man emanated, as I said, from God Himself, is Divine in his nature. Another phrase is once used: “Brahma [the Creator] meditated, and man came forth”. Man is a thought-form of God, and that is the real essence of the image of God which is of the deepest nature of man. That phrase I quoted from the Apocrypha that “God made man in the image of his own Eternity” is true concerning the human Spirit. You are far more than immortal, far more than everlasting; you are eternal as God is eternal, and while God lives man cannot perish. That is the essential truth. You share the Divine nature, eternal as He is eternal. And so you find it written that this Spirit in man is “unborn, undying, ancient, constant, perpetual”.

And then you find it pointed out that all men coming forth thus from God were like each other in their origin. If you ever care to turn to the Puranas - those ancient scriptures of the Hindus - you may read of a far off age when all men were alike, when they had not yet developed qualities which differentiated them the one from the other, but were all simple childlike creatures, undeveloped, unevolved, the mere beginning, as it were, of a sketch, an outline, of a human being.

Then we find how this Spirit, the divine fragment, drew around itself portions of matter. You may say: why? Because when a world is coming into manifestation, God­ - [101] who is One -becomes many in order that that universe may be; and every fragment of God is embodied in matter, and the object of the embodiment is that that embodied fragment may develop within those material appropria­tions, or coverings, the power of knowing, of perceiving, and of ruling, throughout the whole of this universe of manifested life. Enclothed in matter, plunged into matter in order to unfold the possibilities that lie hidden within this fragment of God, he is at first blinded by the matter that veils him; his powers of perception, that can only act in the divine world with matter so subtle that it can hardly be thought of by us as matter, thrown into grosser matter, are cut off one after another as he gradually draws around himself denser and denser veils of matter, each veil limiting him further, each veil shutting him in more closely. And so when our physical matter, as we call it, is reached, and that surrounds this divine fragment, at first every power of perception is covered over with the matter, and it is said in an old Islamic saying that “God sleeps in the mineral”. If He were not there, there would be no possibility of growth, no possibility of evolution. If life were not hidden there, how should life appear in a world where, at one time, only the mineral existences were found? The possibility of the dawning life of God was embodied in the mineral world, and in that embodiment the [102] essence of life was sleeping. And then you may trace onwards from that mineral life.

But let me for a moment break off to remind you that it is an Eastern of the Easterns, a Brahmana of Bengal in India, who proved for the first time in the Western world that the life that was dwelling in the mineral is like the life which is dwelling in the vegetable, in the animal and in the man. He has proved by scientific demonstration, that that life can be shown in its manifestation, that it can be poisoned, that it can be checked, that it can be driven out of a particular form, so that the form becomes dead. And, after many an experiment and many an exposition, at last your Universities of Oxford and of Cambridge have waked up to the recognition of a mighty genius in that Indian electrician, and have invited him to come and lecture in their halls of learning, and demonstrate scientifically what he has said his ancestors proclaimed on the banks of Ganga - that “there is One Life without a second” and that all that is, is an embodiment of that life.

And gradually that life working within the mineral begins to organise, begins to move  onwards towards the crystalline forms, and then onwards into the vegetable crystal, and so onwards to the plant, when we may quote again that saying of which I have already quoted the first words, and say: “God dreams in the vegetable”. And then we find it [103] going still further onwards in its inward evolution, unfolding a little more power, out­-folding a little more of its inward-turned consciousness. And so in the animal you have additional proof of the unfolding life, and the sentient animal is found. Are you aware that in a very ancient commentary on a Hindu Upanishat it was explained that the life of God entering into the mineral was different only in the quality of the existence from that which entered into the vegetable. In the vegetable it began to show out the quality of feeling; afterwards, when it went on into the animal, then it showed out desire and sensation. And then, after at last unfolding into man, you had the consciousness that looked before and after, that remembered and imagined. And that old commentator wrote hundreds of years before Darwin, and showed that evolving life definitely, distinctly, clearly.

And man, the life that was to be man, evolving in the animal, evolved the senses and so began to prepare a physical embodiment in which a higher form of intelligence could work.

And through all these long aeons of evolu­tion, the life evolving through the mineral, the vegetable, the animal, up to the animal man, the Spirit that was to become the Spirit of  man was brooding over these evolving forms and trying to send into them, through their very atoms aggregated together, new streams [104] of his ever unfolding life until, when a point was reached in which a further evolution was possible, then the Spirit came closer into touch with the vehicle prepared for it through this long course of evolution in the lower kingdoms, and the indwelling of the Spirit in the body was the beginning of man as man.

And then you have a slow building up, a gradual change and unfolding, the evolution  by way of Reincarnation, which is the universal teaching of the ancient world, how the Spirit in the human body, the body only of the child-man, gathered there a little experience; how then it passed on into the second world, and there worked off the part of experience in which having broken itself against the laws of nature - pain was the inevitable reaction; and how then, passing on into the third world of human pilgrimage, all the good experience that had been gathered was evolved into faculty, mental and moral; how with that little beginning of faculties, the child-Spirit came back again to human birth, gathered a little more, went again through similar experiences of pain following on law disregarded, of increased faculty following on law obeyed; and so backwards and backwards again to earth through the gate-way of birth, onwards and onwards over and over again through the gateway of death, ever growing, ever expanding, ever unfolding more and more of the divine consciousness

[105] latent within him, growing upwards from the child state of man at first into a partial  civilisation, then upwards still in unfolding power to higher and higher stages of evolution,  going on still ascending the heights of human knowledge and human greatness, till he reaches  the summit of human civilisation as far as that special type of form can go.

Child nations at first, we see, not savages in the brutal sense, but ignorant and childish, never left to themselves, never left unguarded; ever in the care of divine Instructors who taught them their earliest lessons in knowledge, in art, in the laws that must govern anything worthy to be called society. I used the phrase that Bunsen used of the Egyptian civilisation that it “sprung full formed upon the stage of history”, but that is equally true of every civilisation; for the civilisation in its founding has the divine Instructors, the divine Kings, guiding the infant peoples, training their young intelligence, teaching them as tender fathers might teach them. Child nations, obedient, ready to be taught, ready to be helped, and  rearing under the guidance of those great Instructors the mighty monuments that still exist, testimonies to the civilisation of the most ancient world. You must often have marvelled how it was such buildings were made, such extraordinary stones were lifted, such exquisite sculptures and paintings were created; and you will never understand it till [106] you realise that the child nations were the hands while the mighty Teachers were the brains, gradually evolving their child pupils to higher and higher possibilities.

And then came the time - as the child goes out of the nursery, as the child goes on to be the boy in the school - when the Instructors drew a little backward and left the child  nations to grow into youth and into manhood, gaining their own experiences, no longer ruled  autocratically, no longer with rulers that were absolute, but taught to guide themselves, left  thus to guide themselves, to make many a blunder, many an error; and yet the errors of youth, of humanity are greater than the child - perfections of its early stages; for they mean that the God in the man is unfolding his own powers, and that he is no longer in leading strings to those more highly evolved than himself.

It is true that in such a civilisation as that of ancient Peru you have an enormous amount more of happiness than you have in your modern civilisation. It is true that human life then, guarded and caressed, was a happy childlike life, fair and beautiful in its expres­sion, as children in the nursery are beautiful and gay. But it is also true that it was a child life, and that man was not always to remain a child; that the experiences passed through in later times, the struggles and the conflicts, the difficulties and pains, were all [107] making him man instead of child, and bringing him on to the maturity into which the nations are beginning to grow today. It is true that every fragment of liberty that ignorant nations have grasped has been paid for in happiness for the time; but it is also true that very gradually and slowly a higher, nobler, liberty will come to the front and that man - learning self-control as he could never learn it while controlled from outside - will grow into a nobler liberty, a more splendid freedom, his will becoming one with the will of the whole, and an ordered harmony shall replace the ancient monotone of childish obedience.

And so you begin to realise how man grows, unfolding ever from within, developing ever greater and greater possibilities.

But now there is one other point you ought to notice in that growth. It is not entirely what you would call continuous. I will show you in a moment what I mean by that. A civilisation grows, it reaches its highest point, it decays; another civilisation is growing up,  as it were, while this is decaying, and it rises again to a high point and in its turn decays.  How often in the history of the world has civilisation been carried to a splendid height of achievement. How often has it broken down and men have begun to build again from a comparatively barbarous condition, rising higher than the older, but beginning again so low down as though past experience were [108] useless, as though man could never learn. It may not have struck you that the impulses which brought into manifestation one set of Spirits after another were successive and not simultaneous; that new waves of life came ever pouring out from the divine source of life and that it was necessary to have the lowering of a civilisation as the fresh Spirits came into it in order that they might learn the lessons for which their infantile condition fitted them; and that again and again the upward path had to be climbed, again and again experience had to be won by these ever successive waves of life - and every wave of life myriads of human Spirits. It may be that a time is coming­ - and that is the hope which some of us are trying to realise - when the human Spirits will have so far unfolded that this civilisation need not break into shivers as other civilisations have done under the incoming rush of rougher and less developed people, so that the treasures of civilisation for the time were apparently lost. It is the hope of some of us that such a stage has been reached in the evolution of man that the misery on which our civilisation is builded will not grow so terrible, will not grow so bitter, and life become so overwhelmingly intolerable, that once again civilisation shall be overthrown and the weary rebuilding be again begun by some people less civilised but also less corrupt.

It may be - we hope it is - that we have reached a stage where the elder Spirits [109] amongst us will realise that they are here to help and not to dominate, that they are here to use their power for service and not for oppression; and if enough of them come among us, if enough of them are born into our people, then we may save what civilisation has accumulated and carry it on into the next civilisation, which will then begin at a higher level and not from the lower stage at which previous civilisations have begun.

And there is some possibility of that, and I must now remind you of that new philosophy now spreading among us, the latest word of philosophy, which represents our Theosophical idea, that in the gradual evolution of man, in the evolution of the bodies and the unfolding consciousnesses, you have stages: first a stage of Instinct, of strong sensation, of violent desires, of the instincts that belong to the life working through undeveloped forms; that then those are gradually thrown into the back­ground as the Intellect of man develops and in the early evolution of that there grows up, dominating those instincts, an intelligence that, learning to cognise the world outside it, turns outwards and works upon matter and creates apparatus for the understanding and the mastery of matter, but knows nothing of the mastery of life, for its look is outwards and not inwards; and that then a stage comes where this feeling, this knowledge, presses [110] against the boundaries it cannot overleap, when the inner life takes a new impulse upon it, when there is a new unfolding, and in that stage of evolution mind is transcended; and then that which was instinct, which lay half dormant, dominated by the intellect which was higher, that rises into still loftier development and begins to show itself as Intuition, higher than the intellect, a fragment of life itself realising its own possibilities. And hidden in that intuition which is now but as a dream, hidden in that intuition that gradually shall evolve, you have the divine self-conscious life unfolding which shall make man at last know himself divine.

That is the realisation of man as man that exists in the ideal world, when the Spirit that came forth from God, that was blinded and cabined and controlled by matter, gradually  spiritualised the very matter that blinded him and began to shape and mould it to his own  purposes; then came the unfolding of the intellect for the mastering of matter and the  understanding of its forces and its powers; and then, deep within the God within the man,  there arises the self-consciousness that will make him consciously divine, above and beyond the intellect, rising into the region of the spirit; becoming divine with that divinity that last week I spoke of as the Christ Idea, realising himself as divine, knowing in his own consciousness that he is more than instinct, [111] more than intellect, that he is God himself  unfolding into his own self-knowledge. Then and then only shall the idea of man become perfect, then and then only shall he reach his crown as man. Before him still will stretch avenues of infinite progress, in which greater possibilities of divinity within him will unfold into the actualities of a divine existence, when he shall utilise all the experiences he has gathered, when he shall become the maker of new worlds, the builder of new universes, working into them the knowledge that now he is acquiring and expanding it with that expanding consciousness whose very centre is God. To that consciousness there is ever a centre but it knows no circumference - progress unending, ever continuing, new bodies and new universes revealing themselves, man unfolding into God and using his divine powers. That is the Mystical Idea of Man; that is the union with God which every Mystic proclaims. [112]


 

V.

 

INTERPRETATIONS.

 

 

FRIENDS:

Tonight I am to try to put before you some interpretations of religious teachings that may be applied to what are generally called theological dogmas, in order to show you how you may apply the method of interpretation to any of the specific teachings of great religions, which may strike you as difficult or obscure in the form in which they are presented to you.  For, as you know, much of the unbelief of our own day has grown out of the feeling that, in the face of science and of its advance, many of the doctrines which satisfied our predecessors appear to us incompatible with many facts of which we are reasonably sure.

Now in the past, as some of you may remember who have read Origen, it was quite definitely recognised that the teachings of scripture might be interpreted along three different lines. One was the historical, which implied a considerable number of incredible statements of supposed events. Then the [113] allegorical, which gave an intellectual meaning to the stories which were supposed previously to have been taken as history. And lastly there was the spiritual meaning, that Origen said was to be discerned by the spiritual man, the man in whom the divine life was unfolding, who did not need the crude teachings of the supposed history, nor the allegorical interpre­tation, for the satisfaction of the intellect, but desired to find help in the unfolding of the spiritual life and insight in the illumination of the Spirit, a clearer understanding of the profoundest truths of his own existence, of Nature and of God.

Allegory clearly does not come within the definition of Mysticism. You may remember how St. Paul used allegory in the Epistle to the Galatians, and how he took the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar - a story which is not particularly edifying if you regard it as historical - and gave to that an allegori­cal interpretation, applying it to the condition of man in relation to God and treating the woman of the story as a symbol of the heavenly life.

Or you may take another way of interpreting in which not exactly the allegory but the allied symbol is used. Symbol, as you know, is a representation, a pictorial representation of  some truth which it is desired to make intelligible to those who learn more easily by the presentation of a picture than they do [114] either by verbal explanation or by spiritual insight. And one very good example of that might be taken from the book of the Revelation of St. John, where you read of the “woman clothed with the sun”. There you cannot be said to have an allegory, which is really a pro­longed story carried out into detail, but only a single striking symbol in order to indicate an easily defined area of thought, one thought even, which can be expressed in this graphic form.

You come away entirely from all those methods of dealing with truth when you come into the region of Mysticism. Then you are seeking to find by an internal illumination the many-sided truth, glimpses of which have been caught by many people at different stages of evolution; and you are endeavouring to see that truth, in its fulness, so that all the scattered truths or glimpses of truth may be found to form a coherent and intelligible whole. In the mystical interpretation, you find all the truths that were put forward in the groping after truth by the earnest but often unintelligent seeker, and in this way - gradually realising that truth is a many-sided thing, that it appears in different lights from different standpoints, but that all of them are consistent with each other when the many sides are beheld - you are led on to a most valuable fact that it would be well for each one of us ever to remember: that there is no such thing as [115] an error that endures. An error can only last by virtue of a truth which is enshrined within it, and the principle of life is not in the outer clothing of the error, it is in the inner reality of the truth which that error enfolds. You never get rid of a superstition, a false view, until you realise the truth, veiled by the super­stition. It has been said, and nobly said, in an old Hindu book: “Truth alone conquers, not falsehood”. Falsehood has in it the certainty of death; falsehood is against the nature of the universe and cannot withstand the friction that it finds by dashing itself against the eternal law; falsehood breaks itself into pieces, for law is invariably law, is inviolable, and nothing that is against the law can possibly endure. You  may have patience with error, and sometimes even leave it for a while, for, at some stages of human growth, the truth as seen through the coloured glass of an error can be seen by eyes too weak to face the whole bright light of the unveiled truth.

And so in early stages in the teaching of the child humanity by its elders, you will find many a presentation of the truth very imperfect, many a ceremony perchance which indicates it feebly. And yet the indication and the partial truth was all that the then child mind was able to grasp and to live by. And if, in looking over great religions, you find many crude presentations of a truth which appears to you in fuller and richer beauty, remember [116] that in days gone by you also were as children, unable to grasp the larger views of truth, and do not look down on youngers with contempt, do not ridicule their crude apprehension of things divine. When some climbing plant is putting out little tendrils which grasp some twig, some tiny branchlet, which is all those baby tendrils are able to grasp and enfold, if you drag away suddenly the branchlet to which they cling you will tear away the tendrils, and the plant, not strong enough to climb alone, will fall and perish perchance on the soil. So it is with the climbing human soul: it does try to grow up towards the light that is truth, towards the sun that is truth, as does the little plant, and it puts out little tendrils to grasp here and there something that it is able to contact and cling to; some idol as you call it, it may be, an image, a picture, an anthropomorphic idea of God. Never mind if it be limited, if it is great enough to help a human soul to climb; and be you careful that, in your fuller knowledge and larger insight, you do not blind the little ones who are seeking after truth, and, refus­ing them the thought that they can grasp because it is limited, make it impossible for them to grope after the divine at all.

And so, thus looking at man’s unfolding powers, we may take tonight some of the doctrines which have been found in many religions. Here I take those chiefly in their [117] Christian presentment, because there will be no particular value in my pointing out here, as I should point out were I in India, the cruder and narrower views which you find in Buddhism, in Hinduism, as you find them in every great faith by which men have lived and grown. I take specially the Christian because they are the truths which here you want to understand. And I will begin with one which is likely to revolt you more than any other, perchance. You have outgrown it and see all the error in it and you may perchance miss a tiny kernel of truth in it, by the recognition of which you may help those who still hold it to reach the larger view, a greater hope. I mean the doctrine of Everlasting Torment, or Hell.

Now you have there a doctrine which you may fairly say is not believed in by the more educated religious people of the day. But on the other hand you must remember that the educated religious minority - in comparison with the enormous crowds of uneducated religious people - is extremely small, and there is a certain danger lest you should go too far ahead of the people around you, and so lose sym­pathy with them where your sympathy might help. Moreover there is a danger in the view of everlasting torment, which still is spread so widely if you come to think over it, for it has a very terrible effect on the minds of those who believe in it, and even of the minds of those who disbelieve in it in their saner [118] moments, but are apt to fall back into the cruder belief in times of danger, of illness, and of death.

Probably hardly any of you realise the amount of misery which is caused on the other side of death by this terrible belief in everlasting torture on that other side, the people who hardly believe it, but are afraid; and who sometimes for months and years after the physical body has been struck away are still living in a state of dread as to what may hereafter happen.

Now think for a moment how much this doctrine is believed in its crude form by the churches around you. Take the Roman Catholic Church. There it is an Article of faith, one of the things that the Roman Catholic is bound to believe. And I noticed not very long ago in the Christian Common­wealth that there was a rather warm discussion on a little book which had been issued with the sanction of the Roman Catholic authorities. The late Archbishop of Dublin had approved it, and it aroused over here much surprise, and almost disbelief that such a book could be. It was a little book written chiefly for the children in Roman Catholic schools in Dublin and other parts of Ireland, and it is true that it was as abominable a little book to put into the hands of a child as it is possible to conceive. It was illustrated too, which made it still more offensive, but the letter-press was [119] terrible. It is many, many years now since I looked at it; I have hardly looked at it, I think since my Free-thought days more than twenty-­five years ago; but I remember still the horror that I felt when I read there of a babe, a span long, writhing on the red-hot floor of an oven in hell; and another description of a girl of whom it was said: she is clothed in fire, her bonnet is of fire, her clothes are on fire, everything around her is fire; she was vain of her dress when she was in the body, and so now she has to wear clothes of fire in hell for ever and ever. And so it went on, one horrible description after another, and when one thought of the children who were told these things, and know how imaginative is a little child, one felt almost as though really it ought to be on an Index of bad books such as the Pope is supposed to have. I am not in favour of that really, but if it were ever legitimate to burn books as mischievous I think those horrible little books called A Sight of Hell and Hell open to Christians ought really almost to be destroyed.

I am not sure you ought to applaud that because it is not a thing we ought to do. It is never right to use force instead of argument and reason, and, although it is true the books are abominable, I would let them have their turn until mankind reaches the point where they cannot possibly do any harm, and I think practically it is almost reached now. [120] Still the Roman Catholic Church, one is bound to admit, great as is its presentment of Christianity does on this point side with the mass of the ignorant and declare as a matter of faith the everlastingness of Hell.

Now go to the opposite pole, the Evangelical Alliance. That was a very strong body when I myself was a child, and one of the Articles that had to be accepted before you could be admitted into the Evangelical Alliance was that everlasting torment must be taken as a matter of faith. The two extremes of Rome and of the Nonconformist!

Take side by side with that the body which is now having a Congress in our city, the Salvation Army. Now the Salvation Army is a body that does an enormous amount of good, not only here but in other countries in the world. Certainly I cannot speak of them without remembering and mentioning that the work they are doing in India is an admirable work, not only in bringing back tribes of habitual criminals to decency of civic life, but also because, alone among all Christian white men in India, they make no difference of colour but welcome the coloured man; they wear Indian dress, eat Indian food; they avoid taking meat because it strikes against Indian principle, and they are thoroughly good self-devoted, self-denying people. But having said that, I am obliged also to say that their doctrine of hell is entirely abominable. They [121] preach the doctrine, these good and charitable men and women, that God will torture some of his creatures in Hell for ever and ever. They would not do it themselves; they are loving and self-sacrificing; and yet by some curious act of mental topsy-turveydom, they are able to think that the God whom they call a God of love will torture these miserable souls for ever and ever, and they preach it. I daresay they frighten some people out of drunkenness, and perhaps it is worth while for people who believe in it to use it in that way. I am not prepared to lay down a moral principle on that; you and I of course could not do it.  None the less you must remember that they influence thousands and tens of thousands of people. They had a hard time when I was a child; they were stoned in the streets; brick­bats were thrown at them; decayed vegetables were thrown at them. You might compare them to the militants of the day in the way that the hooligans treated them. But they won through, and they are now respected, honoured, looked up to, praised by the King himself. They do wield great influence, and they all believe in Hell; they are pledged to, otherwise they would be turned out of the Army. When you see that, you cannot say that this doctrine of everlasting torment is one that ought to be simply ignored. It ought to be actively opposed, and the truth under­lying it ought to be seen. And if you want to [122] realise how good and gentle a man may be and yet be able to accept the doctrine, think of Keble, the saintly author of The Christian Year.  Remember those words of his when he is deal­ing with the very question of Heaven and Hell being equally everlasting, and of some people no longer believing in Hell, and he puts in a startling way what he himself feels:

 

But where is then the stay of contrite hearts?

Of old they leaned on Thine eternal word,

But with the sinner’s fear their hope departs,

Fast linked as Thy great Name to Thee, O Lord,

That we should endless be, for joy or woe,

And if the treasures of Thy wrath could waste,

Thy lovers must their promised heaven forego.

 

A striking verse. And yet one can hardly believe that Keble, if he had thought of it, would not gladly have given up his joy in heaven in order to quench the fires of an ever-lasting hell in which others were to burn in torture for everlasting ages. And yet he says this. If that be so, it is worth while to see the truth that underlies this ghastly error.

You find the doctrine of Hell, of course, in every religion. You find it in Hinduism, you find it in Buddhism, you find it in the forms that are current in China and in Japan. But the hells are all temporary. There is where those great eastern faiths have the advantage; they only last for a time, and then the man goes on to heaven, and finally comes back again to earth, improved by his experiences, it is [123] said. It is only in Christianity that you have the everlasting hell, and that because it has lost the splendid doctrine of Reincarnation. And, losing the thought of coming back to earth for further evolution, the suffering on the other side of death was inevitably looked upon as permanent instead of transitory.

Now what is the truth in this? It is that wherever you go against a law in Nature there suffering inevitably follows. That is true, for the laws in Nature - which express the nature of God - all make for happiness, for welfare, for universal peace and bliss, and the laws of Nature understood and lived by bring happi­ness as a result. And that is inevitable; for it is written: “God is bliss” and so harmony with His nature must needs bring bliss to every­thing that lives. Happiness is the inevitable end of man, the inevitable goal towards which he is ever advancing; happiness is the satisfac­tion of the divine nature in every man, and, although we often blunder in our seeking, although we often mistake the mirage for the stream, and the will o’ the wisp for a guiding light, none the less is it true that, as God is bliss, so man’s ultimate destiny inevitably is also bliss, and pain is the sign of a law against which man has dashed himself, the voice of Nature telling him of the blunder he is making, and turning him away from the error into which by ignorance of the law he is falling. That is true. And that law does not only [124] apply to the physical world. It is literally true that if you give way to certain forms of vice, which can only find a temporary pleasure by the mechanism of your physical body, then, when that physical body is struck away by death and you are living in the higher subtler bodies expressing higher parts of your con­sciousness, under those conditions the cravings which in this life you nourished and over-­nourished, failing their natural satisfaction, will become a torment to you until they are starved out by non-gratification. That is true. Take a very simple illustration, the illustration of drunkenness. You have probably heard from men who fall under the curse of drink that they know the misery of it, they know the degradation of it, they know the poverty and the wretchedness of the drunkard’s home; but they will tell you that when the craving for drink comes upon them, it comes with a force so overwhelming that, like the current of a strong river, it sweeps them off their feet, and they are unable to resist the temptations of the drink which they know means pain on the morrow and ill-health in the long run. Take for a moment then that craving and note the suffering of the man who is in its grasp, and how it drives him to the gratification that he knows is injurious. Take that man after death; he has only lost his physical body; the craving, which is part of the passional nature, remains in a subtler body so [125] that the vibrations in the matter that he has given rise to are a hundredfold more powerful than the vibrations in the denser matter that makes up the physical body. The result is that the effective part of the craving, that which the man feels, is enormously stronger than it is while still he is living in the body, and that is what he finds on the other side of death - not an arbitrary penalty inflicted by an angry God, not an artificial suffering made as a matter of revenge or even as a matter of education, but the inevitable outcome of what the man himself has fostered, the answer of his own nature to that poison drink in which he has found temporary pleasure and, even in the physical body, lasting injury. And that is what he finds on the other side of death, not fire, not worm, save allegorically, but a craving which he has made asking for satisfaction that he can no longer give. And if you had seen, as I have seen, those who are suffering in the intermediate world under this craving which they cannot gratify, you would be inclined to think that after all people were not so far wrong when they talked of the suffering on the other side of death that comes to the man who has lived evilly, has not lived as a human being should.

That is the kernel of truth in all the exaggera­tion; that the little bit of truth, that you cannot disregard a natural law without having the inevitable reaction of pain. And out of that [126] all the idea of Hell has arisen; true, for man is in a realm of law; but false, in the arti­ficiality which has been imposed upon it, false in the idea that it is punishment, false in the notion that it will endure for evermore.

Now I have known many a drunkard who, when he has realised this simple fact in Nature, has broken the habit here, feeling that he must break it off some time and that it is wiser to break it off where the breaking will cause least suffering than otherwise he would have to endure. It is the commonsense view which approves itself to the man’s mind. He knows the habit lasts; he knows that that which he practises goes on enduring, and so he very readily realises that he can sow on this side of death a seed of passion which will grow strong and flower on the other side of death. That is the experience that the Mystics have had when  they have passed into the world on the other side of death; for remember, the Mystic learns gradually to see with subtler sight than the sight of the body, and that all the great Saints that you have read of have had visions, as they call them, of these post-mortem con­ditions; not really visions, save as we all see is a vision, for they have passed into those worlds without going through the gateway of death, as men and women are passing now every day, seeing what goes on, understanding what they see.

We may leave then this idea of Hell as [127] taught in the churches, with the realisation that a kernel of it is true; that disregard of law brings about inevitable suffering. Then Hell falls into due proportion and takes its place as inevitable in a realm of law, in the modified form of the working out of law on the passional nature of man.

Turn from that to another teaching which has been very much rejected of modern days - the existence of the being called Satan. Now it is perfectly true that there is no summing up of the world’s evil in what is called a fallen angel, but it is also true that by our own evil thinkings we are surrounding ourselves with forces that tempt, forces that lead us astray, and that every time we think along wrong lines, every time that we deliber­ately think and do a wrong thing, we are creat­ing in our own mental atmosphere a power that tempts, a power that influences, a power that is continually pushing us into evil ways. And that comes out very strangely sometimes in relation to what are called epidemics of crime, epidemics of suicide. If you have taken the trouble, or if it has come in your way, to examine at all into the condition of people in whose family a suicide has taken place, you will very often find that someone in that family is conscious continually of a prompting to self-murder. I have come across such cases over and over again, where a man or a woman has come to me and said: [128] “I feel that I must kill myself, what can I do?” “I hear a voice telling me to kill myself”, and so on. Part of that is due to a fact that when a person has committed a crime followed by death, or has committed self-murder, that person on the other side of death has the inclination to prompt others to a similar crime. That is one of the very many reasons against capital punishment, and an explanation of the fact that where capital punishment is largely used crimes accompany it, which do not show themselves as much in a nation when the death penalty for a par­ticular kind of crime has been swept away. There was a time when you hanged people in England for theft of anything worth more than five shillings, and not so very long ago a person who stole a sheep was hanged. In addition to the crime of murder, lots of thefts carried the death penalty with them; and as the death penalty has been abolished for those forms of crime the crimes have diminished in frequency, they have not in­creased, for England has got rid of the continual promptings that went on from all those miserable people whom she flung into another world, careless of what fate might there await them; and you have found those crimes that were punished by death grow fewer and fewer in your population partly because the promptings and the temptation have vanished, as the crimes are no longer [129] followed by the brutal punishment of death. And so it is even in the case of murder. In most cases - I am obliged to use that word “most” because I believe in France, if I remember rightly, murders increased when the death penalty was for a time abolished, and there are certain reasons for these crimes in France and especially among the Parisian  population, a heritage of the ghastly days of the Terror of the Revolution, which seems to  have left behind it, in some quarters of Paris, men who are rather of the type of savages than of the type of civilised human beings, but with that exception - so far as I have seen the statistics of murder and capital punish­ment, you will find that murder tends to decrease and not increase with the abolition of capital punishment; and again for the same reason, that the pressure from the other side becomes less with the diminution of the numbers of those who are so hurriedly thrown into the world on the other side of death.

That is the kernel of truth again in the idea of external tempting, of a devil who tempts. Your own thought forms tempt and they are external to you in the subtler worlds; evil  people on the other side of death tempt, and they also are external to you; but you may throw out of your mind the nightmare of an embodied evil, who stands up, as it were, against the embodied good that men call God. That is one of the nightmare dreams of [130] ignorance and uncultivated humanity. It is better to know the truth that underlies it, for then you can guard yourselves and guard others; for every time you check an evil thought, every time you substitute a good thought for an evil, you are creating in the thought atmos­phere an angel that guards instead of a devil that tempts, and you are becoming a helper and not an injurer of your fellow-men, suscep­tible to the influence of thought.

And that is a thing well for us all to remember for too many of us do not realise that our thoughts are not our own, that they go out as messengers from us, and create the thought  atmosphere in which we and others live.

Pass again from that Interpretation, and take up now another thought, that which is called Salvation. Now Salvation has changed its meaning strangely in the course of Christian history. At one time it was realised that salvation meant salvation from evil, not salva­tion from what is called the wrath of God; and in a moment, in dealing with the great teaching of the Atonement, I will trace hurriedly for you the phases through which that doctrine has passed since the time of the Christ.

Before I do so, let me pause on this word salvation, which has a very beautiful meaning from the mystical standpoint, not meaning salvation from Hell, not meaning salvation from the wrath of God, but meaning salvation [131] from the limitations and the weaknesses of the flesh and of the lower world, the liberation of the Spirit from enslavement to matter, the triumph of the divine Spirit within us over the material bonds which bind and limit us today. For the mystic thought of this Liberation, as they call it in the East, this Liberation of the human Spirit, lies in the recognition that that spirit has been unfolding age after age into higher and higher powers, that he has gone through death and birth hundreds of times, and at last has so developed the powers of the Spirit within him that matter has no longer the power to bind him. The time comes when, to use the eastern phrase, “the bonds of the heart are broken and man becomes immortal”. That is the redemption of the flesh, that the final resurrection of the body, when matter, spiritualised by indwelling Spirit, made ductile and plastic under the spiritual impulse, becomes the servant and the expresser of the true master, the spiritual man, giving out in all worlds, in all densities of matter, the power and the influences which belong to the spirit that is man.

And we find in that long course of evolution that man slowly and gradually acquires mastery over his physical body, his emotional body, his mental body, until they are no longer his masters but his servants, obedient to his will and carrying out that which he orders them to do. Think for a moment [132] what it means. It means that your body has no power to impede you in anything, no power to turn you aside from the path you will to follow. It is like a well-broken horse, whereas most men’s bodies are rather like the unbroken steed, not obedient to the rein of the mind, not obedient to the will of the rider, but plunging about in their own way, showing their strength and their vigour by rebellion and not by obedience.

And that carries with it a very useful lesson, which applies to the emotional nature as well as to the physical. You must not be sorry if you find your emotional nature strong, full of powerful impulses, and sometimes conquering your saner and more settled will. A man says: “Oh I have strong passions that carry me away; I have strong emotions that whirl me off at their will”. You do not, when you are choosing a horse, choose a feeble half-­broken-down animal, without vigour, without energy, without life, without spirit. You would not accept such a steed as a gift. You choose the unbroken colt, full of energy, full of life, full of vigour, who resents the touch, who fights against the rein, who tries to throw his rider in order that he may plunge along his own chosen way without curb, with­out aught to restrain him. That is the horse the good rider will take, knowing that presently he will be obedient to his will. And if he is a wise rider, he will not try to break the spirit of [133] the horse; he will not try to break him at all in the way in which some foolish men try to break the will of the animal. By gentleness and kindness, by affection, by helping the horse to love him, by teaching the horse to trust him, he will gradually calm that horse to obedience without breaking his will and his spirit, until the creature is obedient to the lightest touch of the rider’s hand or knee, and will carry his rider anywhere through danger and through death. Why! look at the way the Arabs train their horses. Look at the way that the horse will stop in the middle of the danger of the battlefield and catch his fallen master’s cloak with his teeth, lift him up and carry him away out of danger and so save the life that he loves. The Arab does not want a broken-down creature; he wants one full of life, spirit, energy. And so you, with your passions and your emotions. They mean strength, power, the moment you conquer them. Dangerous, I grant, while they are your masters, but of the greatest service when they are obedient to your will, for they are like the steam in the boiler, which will enable the engine to work; they are like the horse to which I compared them, which will carry its rider anywhere once it recognises the master. And when your emotions and your passions and your physical body know that you are their master and not their slave, then that strong nature of yours becomes of infinite service. You cannot [134] make a great man out of a weakling; you cannot make a great warrior for truth and righteousness out of a will-less and mediocre man or woman. You want material, you want strength, you want vigour, you want life; and be willing to take the trouble to guide and master them, for in the end your trouble will be rewarded by a power that you can turn to  all noble purposes, which will enable you to become one of the Helpers of the world.

You will not translate that into the idea that you are to allow your passions to master you; otherwise you will have to come back life after life until you have learned the lesson that the lower must obey the higher, that the will of the Spirit must subdue the desires of the flesh.

And salvation in the old meaning of the word meant that all the struggle was over, that the man had gained the victory, that the flesh and the emotions had no longer power to disturb him, that he had turned them into instruments whereby he might carry on his work for the helping of mankind. And they said the man was liberated, or the Christian in the old days said the man was saved, when the wheel of births and deaths for him had ceased to turn, when he had entered birth by compulsion for the last time, when he had passed through the gateway of death by com­pulsion for the last time, when he had become the master of life and death, and held in his [135] own hands the keys of the embodied and disembodied states. That was the salvation of the man, that the liberation of the human spirit, when the man becomes “a pillar in the temple of my God and he shall go forth no more”. Compulsion past, the voluntary will of the man himself one with the will of God, ready to go anywhere to help, compelled to go nowhere by power external to himself. That is the Eternal Life of which the Christ said: “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, and few there be that find it”; few in the past, more in the present, crowds to tread that narrow way in the long ages to come, for the work of the world will not be over, this globe shall not pass into the chill of death, until those whom it has born from its womb have passed onwards into power, and the children of men, a mighty crowd saved and liberated, shall be ready to pass on to other and more splendid worlds, masters of the matter they have redeemed, lords of the worlds they have conquered.

And that brings me to the last doctrine that I have time to deal with tonight, the doctrine of the Atonement. Very many strange phases that doctrine has passed through during the centuries of church history. First of all, as you find it in the New Testament, it is a doctrine put forward somewhat vaguely, with no exactitude of phraseology such as the churchmen later gave to it; that Christ had [136] led men to the Father, that he had sacrificed Himself for man, laid down His life for them, given Himself for them, such phrases you find from time to time scattered through the New Testament. Then you come to the writings of the Early Church where those phrases are explained, and there you find it stated that Christ had become the ransom for men as the Apostle taught, but that the person to whom the ransom was paid was the devil who held man enthralled. Man, they said, had fallen in the first Adam; the second Adam had given Himself for the life of men; He had paid for their redemption with His own suffering and His own death. They never dreamed, those early Christians, that men needed to be ransomed from the Father, nor to be saved from the wrath of a God of Love. That was to come in later days, when the memory of the wondrous passion of the Christ had faded away from the hearts of men.

And so first it was the ransom paid to the devil. Christ went down into Hell, to come  back from it, not alone, but bringing with him those whom he had redeemed, breaking the  power of Death which could hold neither Him­self, nor the mankind whom He had saved from  death. Then, as you know, you find a change come over the idea, and slowly and gradually the devil falls into the background, and Christ is seen as meeting the wrath of God. That view of the doctrine crystallised itself in the [137] great work of Anselm, entitled with the terrible words: “The wrath of God to Man”, and that gave the doctrine of the Atonement for all the Middle Ages, fixed it, petrified it, as it were, and so it lasted down, through what is called the Reformation, was taken up by Calvin, by Luther, and by Knox, by all of those who then left the Roman Catholic Church and carried it on into the Reformed Church. And it took an even more terrible and harsher aspect, for you find in the doctrine of Calvin that as Christ died to redeem men, it was clear He could not have died for all men. You will find this most clearly put out in the writings of the great Calvinist, Jonathan Edwards, who said that as all men are not saved, it is clear that Christ did not die for all, but only for those who were predestined to salvation. You find a trace of that in your own XVII th Article, by the “eternal purpose” of God some are chosen for heaven, others to pass away unsaved.

Then you come on to the writings of men  who were living when the elder amongst you were young, the writings of some of the Bishops of our Church like Wordsworth, the  Bishop of Lincoln, like many others who wrote and preached, like Canon Liddon, one of the  greatest men of the Church in modern days, like Pusey, one of the greatest of teachers; like the Keble whom I quoted just now, all of whom held the doctrine, not in the Calvanistic form of a limited ransom, but that all men [138] might be saved if they would accept the offering which was given them. And you come across some phrases startling to us in these modern days by the deliberateness with which men represented God the Father as exacting suffering and God the Son as willingly submitting to his Father’s will. One phrase comes into my mind, spoken by a Bishop of the Church: “The cloud’s of God’s wrath gathered thickly around the whole human race; they discharged themselves on Jesus only; He became accursed for us and a vessel of wrath”. One might quote dozens of phrases like that from men who have taught within our own lifetime. Then there came a revolt in the English Church against the teaching of this legal contract between God and Christ, in which Christ was made the substitute and bore the punishment. Men began to revolt against it, their conscience awakening and protesting against this interpre­tation of the doctrine of the atonement. And they began to try and find a way out of it, and one of those ways, and a very beautiful one, you find in the book of McLeod Campbell on The Doctrine of the Atonement, a Scotch clergy­man who wrote a book that is well worth your reading if you have not read it, in which he put forward the view that the real meaning of the Doctrine of the Atonement was that God and man were joined together and united by a mutual understanding that took place between [139] them, Christ, he said, revealed to God that which man could be in his perfection, and Christ revealed to man the heart of God, the love of the Father shining out through the Son - a wonderful advance if you think of it. And Robertson of Brighton, and Murice, and many another, took this more beautiful and spiritual view of the Atonement wrought by Christ, in which the wrath of God was cast aside, in which any real breach between God and man was seen to be man’s only, in which the heart of God, if one may use the phrase, was shown in all the infinity of its love and tenderness and compassion, the compassion of the Father for the Children to whom he had given life. And so the fairer doctrine spread over the Anglican Church and the harsher views of the Atonement disappeared.

But they did not reach the mystic view, the view which, while it takes up every fragment of truth in the older teachings, gives us the real fact of the meaning of the Christ and how the union between God and man is reached; which bids us see in Christ One who has risen to such a height of perfect unity with God that, looking down upon all His brethren on  the earth, He sees them all wearing His own body and identifies Himself with them in the  veriest depths of His nature; how, as you might have a number of vessels closed towards  each other by their sides but open everyone of them to the sun, and even as the sun’s rays of

[140] light shine down into every vessel, no vessel being closed to him, so does the Mystic see  Christ, the Supreme Teacher of the world, send down His strength, His love, His purity, into the souls of men, that are ever open to Him although closed to each other. He is ever imparting the strength of His own nature to their feebleness, the purity of His own nature to their foulness, the love of His own nature to their hatreds, so to transform them into His own likeness, the perfect image of the Universal Father.

And then we begin to understand that Atonement means that there is a height of spiritual strength and beauty to which the human Spirit can climb as it unfolds its divine powers within it, and that you and I as we climb upwards can begin even at a lower stage to practise this wondrous power of atonement which is in the hands of all who begin to realise the deepest sense of the brotherhood of man. You begin to realise that if you know more than others it is in order that your knowledge may illumine their ignorance, that you may share with them the knowledge that you have gained. You begin to realise that if you are pure and clean and sweet in emotion and in mind, you are not to isolate your­self in the heaven of your own perfection but to try to pour it down into the outcast, into the miserable, into the sinner, in order that they may share your purity and be uplifted by [141] that nearer to the perfection of their own divine nature. You begin to realise that if within your heart the spirit of love has  unfolded, that then you should go among the turbulent, the haters, the embittered, and the sour, and pour down the nectar of your love into their angry souls that they may know the  sweetness and the peace of love and harmony. For every man and woman can act to a certain limited extent as Christ, while he is growing to that higher perfection with which future lives shall crown his work.

But you must not shut yourselves away keeping happiness, keeping purity, keeping  knowledge, to yourselves; you must be will­ing to share them with every child of man, and  you must realise in the lowest, the foulest, the most brutal, your brother man, your sister  woman. Only thus can true brotherhood be reached. You and I are so glad to claim our brotherhood with the great ones of humanity, so proud to think that we are men as they; we are eager to claim common humanity with the saint, with the hero, with the martyr, with the genius, nay, with Christ Himself, the firstborn among many brethren. But, O friends, there is no brotherhood for us with those above us unless we will stoop down as brothers to those below us; there is no separation in this brotherhood; the higher is ours only as the lower is ours. But if you fear the weak­ness of others, if you fear the foulness of their [142] sin and the cruelty of their hatred, then you must wait before you can claim to be at one with the highest purity and the most perfect love, for that love knows no differences, that love knows no barriers. If we join ourselves to that, it is that we may be poured out as it is poured out for the helping and the saving of the world. The world is poor and ignorant, the world is sorrowful and lacking in so much that you and I possess let us give it all we have, our knowledge, our refinement, our purity, our love, the tenderer and fuller the lower the others are sunk in hatred and in vice, for we can only redeem our brethren as we stand beside them, sharing our best and sharing their worst. So alone shall appear in us the likeness of the Son, and so alone shall we compass Atonement with the Father, the Life of all that lives. [143] 

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