Sunday, November 7, 2010
As published in "Theosophical Siftings" Volume 2
The Theosophical Publishing Society, England
IN the conventional religious speech, the word "spirituality“ means “a devotional habit of mind" or "an aspiration after Divine things". Theosophy gives it a far fuller and more extensive signification. It, of course, includes therein that of yearning after “God", for this is the highest and noblest reach of the human soul; but it also makes it to comprehend all faculty of understanding super-sensuous truth, all interest in the illimitable sphere outside the range of our physical senses — those things which, as the Christian Adept, Paul, said, "being not seen, are eternal".
We perceive this the better when we think out the extent to which our conception of the realities of life has been pushed by the ever-present influence of our material bodies. Their needs in maintenance and comfort, their demands for pleasure and recreation, their function — through the five senses — in opening to us whatever knowledge we gain of the surrounding world, their connecting us in families, social interests, and vital activities, all unite in ensuring predominance to them in thought. More than this, our inability to look into other realms of existence, our incapacity to sense un-material facts in any way so literal as when we "see" a landscape or a fellow-man, gives an objectiveness to the material which we perforce consider reality. The vividness of external things, seen distinctly and spontaneously, contrasts with the dimness of internal visions, perceived vaguely and with effort. So to us the body is the real "I", the "I" which hungers and thirsts, wearies and pains, enjoys and plans, finally dies; and its earthly home is the real world, to be followed perhaps by another adapted to our then mutilated and denuded selves. So fixed is the idea of the body as a necessary element in the composite, triple nature of man, that the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection is to millions the assurance that they are not to be left permanently in the cheerless land of spirit, but are to regain their missing third, and the "Queen of Feasts", Easter, convinces them of an immortality which, without a resurrected body, would be more than doubtful and less than desirable!
One consequence of our mode of thought is that our attitude towards the unseen is always of looking upward, and looking upward with strain. Spiritual things are far away, high above our heads on other planes, and to near them and feel them we must coerce the shrinking muscles into unfamiliar act. Indeed, no better proof of their little verity for us, as compared with that of material objects, can be found than our use towards them of the word "faith", which implies that, however sure we may be of the existence of matter, that of spirit can be only a subject of trust !
Theosophy's cardinal principle is a complete reversal of this position. Instead of taking its stand on the physical world as the permanent view-point, and thence looking off to the spiritual as a changeful, uncertain region, it stations itself in the spiritual world as the real, the enduring, and the sure, and from there contemplates the physical as mutable, transient, and illusive. And surely this is in conformity to fact. Earthly objects are evidently in a state of flux. Not one remains the same for two consecutive hours, nay moments. Everything is disintegrating and re-combining in other forms; the continents, the cities, the molecules, are perpetually altering; the very bodies which we consider " I", the very organs through which we perceive the external world and through which comes to us our conviction of its durability, undergo atomic change each instant that we live. If neither the organs perceiving, nor the objects perceived, remain the same for a single hour, what possible stability have they as a view-point for existence ?
But none of this can be true of the realm of spirit. Reason teaches that, as we ascend from the region of gross matter, passing upward through the zones of the less gross, the semi-material, the more and more ethereal, to the home of pure spirit, we part steadily from all the conditions which induce change, and meet ever more fully with the permanent and the real. Its interest, too, is correspondingly finer. Animal desires and needs are left behind, and the expanding nature rises past even the intellectual, psychic, and emotional realms till it reaches the level of spiritual being, where truth is intuitively seen and right intuitively felt. As the pursuits of a physicist are incomparably superior to those of a day labourer, so, it is evident, must those of a free spirit be to those of the physicist.
But of even deeper value to the human heart is the fact that recession from the material is approach to true happiness. The source of pain is in change. Hardly has a pleasure been attained than the shifting elements of life undermine it, and it falls. Instability is the moan of the moralist, and he finds in it the cause of the desolating sorrows and bereavements of this world. These evils must, of course, diminish as we recede from the sphere of their conditions, and must die out as we near the realm of reality. Happiness, therefore, is least sure when it depends most on any object or content in material existence, and gains permanency as it is rooted in the world of the unseen, the enduring. In fact, the whole matter may be thus summed up — that the richest, the most lasting, the happiest quality of life is possible only as the life is detached from bodily dependency and transferred to a plane above the range of matter.
This seems unpractical, perhaps visionary. Why ? Because we are still clinging to the notion of the material as the real and the spiritual as the unreal. But let us reverse the conception. Let us assume — if we do not already know it — that each thing, function, process in this surrounding world of substance is a manifestation in density of a corresponding idea in the unseen sphere of spirit. It of course follows that the former, because of inevitable limitations, must be imperfect, changeful, and restricted. But it also follows that, such limitations not existing, the latter may be complete, enduring, and boundless. Apply this to our percipient organs. The eye, the ear, etc., should have a super-sensuous analogue, of which they are the physical representations. We infer, therefore, to the human spirit a faculty of sight and hearing on the plane whereto it belongs. Further, as cultivation is the law to perfectness in the former, even more, by analogy, must it be to the latter. Still further, if the results from scientific use of the former are both marvellous and demonstrable, in even greater degree must this be true of the latter. And thus we reach the conclusion that spiritual senses are not less real than bodily, not less susceptible to training, even more rich in proved attainment.
Now what is the law of the change of spirituality, expressed in contrast of both fact and method? Col. H. S. Olcott, President-Founder of the Theosophical Society, has thus admirably stated it: “Mankind usually receive a thousand impressions through the senses to one through the spiritual nature. Adeptship means reversing the proportion". In other words, the spiritual world bears the relation to the perfected man that the material world does to the rudimentary man.
But how are we rudimentary men to become perfected men ? We cannot ignore facts in existence and the conditions of it, nor can we essay to live as if now Adepts. By no means. But we can recognize other and larger facts in existence, and we can begin the training which men now Adepts began when like ourselves. Here are some of the successive steps.
1st) We can give reality to the conception that all physical matters are mutable and illusive, and that permanency is to be found in the realm of the physically unseen world. This conception must first be clearly formed. Reality is imparted to it by acting upon it. A man may make real the spiritual world by transferring to it his thoughts, his meditations, his aspirations, his interests, and his efforts. As he thinks upon it and strives after it, it discloses itself as truly to his spiritual perceptions as does this earth to the student of physics.
2nd) We can affiliate ourselves intellectually and morally with the principles of the unseen world. The present usual intellectual attitude of incredulity towards all fact which seems strange or which is intangible may be overcome, and the axiom that “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy" be digested. The possibility of cosmic, and terrestrial, and individual forces playing ever around and in us then becomes plausible. Coupled with this may be a like recognition of the unbending moral powers, which ensure the triumph of good, and of sweetness, and of light, giving certain victory to truth and honour, and the doctrine of human fraternity as a consequence of human origin from the Divine. No lasting benefit can come from that which is not lasting, and only good lasts.
3rd) We can substitute duty for self-interest as the motive power in life. The subordination of selfish wishes to the standard of right and of universal claims soon moderates the egotism which bars out spiritual light. More than this, it brings us into harmony with this great law of Oneness which sweeps throughout the universe, and thus fits us for perceiving and co-operating with the ends of our own being. When a man invariably does what he ought to do, and not merely what he would like to do, he has lost his greatest disqualification for true spirituality,
4th) We may acquire the power of fixedness in thought. This is an indispensable step in the progressive course. Our thought now is discursive, aimless, discontinuous. The mind escapes the reins of the will, and wanders from topic to topic, seizing none and exhausting none. To recover control, to retain it, to enforce it, is one of the hardest trials to a beginner. Yet till the power of thought is gained, till wandering is checked and concentration easy, no one can peer into his own being, learn the mysteries of his nature and his desires, understand how real is the unseen within. The soul must master the mind which is its instrument.
5th) We may endeavour to develop these perceptive organs of the spirit, now dormant, which are analogous to those of the physical body. This does not mean clairaudience, or clairvoyance, or any gifts of the psychic plane. Nor does it mean mere intelligence or conscience. It means rather a receptiveness, a responsiveness to supersensuous truth, to truth of and from super-sensuous realms, which gradually awakens those organs to their functions and enables them to attract more, perceive more, and receive more. It is a process hardly stateable in language, and only verifiable through experience, but it is a process which everyone may begin if sincere and continue if devoted, and its results are indicated in the words of Col. Olcott.
Spirituality is not, then, a vague aspiration after the Divine; nor is it that sentimental and unpractical quality of character which scoffers stigmatize as "goody-goody". The very same reasons which evoke respect for the coarse man who is educating himself into love and appreciation and practice of refinement, apply to him who is striving for emancipation from the belittling, benumbing effects of purely material interests and habits. An eagle chained in a barnyard may symbolize our ordinary selves; "an eagle soaring into the sunlight and winging its way among mountain peaks, the spirit of man, vivified, illuminated, FREE !