Mysticism and mystical philosophy compared
Philosophy clears away all the unnecessary mystery from mysticism, while preserving a proper attitude of awe and reverence to whatever is worthy of it.
Whereas not a few mystics in the past have been gullible votaries of superstition also, philosophical mystics seek to be entirely free of it. They want their mysticism to be worthy of a rational man.
The difference between the two is that one is partially inspired whereas the other is fully inspired.
It is not enough to measure the grade of a mystic by his emotional feelings. We must also concern ourselves with his egolessness, his intellectual expression, his aesthetic sensitivity, and his effective practicality. These things make up the difference between an infantile mysticism and a philosophical mysticism.
There is this important difference of approach between the would-be mystic and the would-be philosopher. The first is often actuated by emotional conflicts or frustrations for which he seeks some kind of compensation. The second is motivated by a deep love of truth for its own sake.
There is much more under judgement here than a merely verbal distinction. The matter is not so simple but far more complex than it seems. For philosophical mysticism introduces some new principles into mysticism which make a profound difference in results and values.
Whereas mysticism alone acquaints a man with his true Self, philosophical mysticism does this and also acquaints him with his connection with universal life. It not only tells him of the great laws of evolution and compensation, but also affiliates him with the great soul of the world.
All yoga and mystic methods, as well as certain religious practices, although of the highest value as preliminary disciplines, are not the ultimate ends in themselves. If one has sufficient sharpness of mind--that is, sustained concentration on abstract themes--and sufficient freedom from any kind of egoistic preconception whatever, one can instantly grasp the truth and realize it. But who has that? Hence, these various methods of developing ourselves, these yogas, have been prescribed to assist us. Their practice takes a long time, it is true, but the actual realization is a matter of a moment. Nor can it ever be lost again, as can the feeling-ecstasies of the mystics. All these doctrines have their place for people of different degrees of understanding, and it is our duty not to destroy the faith of those who cling to them. But for those who want the highest Truth, and who are prepared to part with their illusions for its sake, there is only "the straight and narrow way, and few there be that find it." It is narrow only because the ego must be left outside the gate; it is straight because it goes direct to the final truth.
The mystic may get his union with the higher self as the reward for his reverent devotion to it. But its light will shine down only into those parts of his being which were themselves active in the search for union. Although the union may be a permanent one, its consummation may still be only a partial one. If his intellect, for example, was inactive before the event, it will be unillumined after the event. This is why many mystics have attained their goal without a search for truth before it or a full knowledge of truth after it. The simple love for spiritual being brought them to it through their sheer intensity of ardour earning the divine Grace. He only gets the complete light, however, who is completely fitted for it with the whole of his being. If he is only partially fit, because only a part of his psyche has worked for the goal, then the utmost result will be a partial but permanent union with the soul, or else it will be marred by the inability to keep the union for longer than temporary periods.
The philosophic mystic seeks to rise from what is sense-tied to what is sense-free, from the appearance of reality to the pure reality itself. The perceptual symbols and optical phenomena which are so often labelled "mystical" are, therefore, a degree less sensuous to him than their physical counterparts. They are helps at first on the upward way, but they become hindrances in the end. To live permanently in the midst of a psychic mirage, however pleasant or dazzling it seems at the time, is not going to help his true advancement in this path. He should be warned by their appearance not to dally too long with them, but to pass them by unheeded and seek the true insight ahead. This rule is pushed to such an extent in the highest mystical circles of Tibet that the lama-student who has emerged from his novitiate is even warned against accepting as the goal the visions of an enveloping universal light--which is the supreme clairvoyant vision possible for man--and told that this is merely a test of his fixed purpose and a trap for his metaphysical knowledge. He is warned that they will pass as they come. They are useful as steps to the Truth, but they are not the permanent realization of truth itself. Those who are babes just emerging from the wood of ignorance may see the mystic light in a temporary clairvoyant vision, but those who are grown adults will know it always as the principle of pure consciousness which makes all vision, whether clairvoyant or physiological, possible. The divine reality being the ultimate and undisclosed basis of all existences, if we externalize it in spectacular visions and phenomenal experiences, we miss its pure being and mix it up with mere appearance. Thus the very experiences which are considered signs of favourable progress in meditation on the mystic's path become signs of hindrance on the philosopher's path.
Another difference between a Philosopher and a Mystic is the following: the Mystic may be illiterate, uneducated, simple-minded, but yet may attain the Overself. Thus he finds his Inner Peace. It is easier for him because he is less intellectual, hence has fewer thoughts to give up and to still. But Nature does not absolve him from finishing his further development. He has still to complete his horizontal growth as well as balance it. He has obtained depth of illumination but not breadth of experience where the undeveloped state of faculties which prevents his light from being perfect may be fully developed. This can happen either by returning to earth again or continuing in other spheres of existence; he does all this inside his peace instead of, as with ordinary man, outside it. When his growth is complete, he becomes a philosopher.
He who has attained illumination, but not philosophic illumination, must come back to earth for further improvement of those faculties whose undeveloped state prevents the light from being perfect.
The need of predetermining at the beginning of the path whether to be a philosopher or a mystic arises only for the particular reincarnation where attainment is made. Thereafter, whether on this earth or another, the need of fulfilling the philosophic evolution will be impressed on him by Nature.
It will be noticed that some of the meditation exercises given in The Wisdom of the Overself concern the re-education of character and involve the use of mental images and logical thoughts. The aim of ordinary yoga being to suppress such images and thoughts, it is clear that the philosophic yoga does not limit itself to such aims. It certainly includes and uses them when and where necessary, as in some of the other exercises, but it does not make them its ultimate ones. On the other hand, the images and thoughts which it uses are not quite the ordinary kind. Brought into being within the atmosphere of detached contemplation or intense concentration as they are, inspired at certain moments by the light and power of the Overself and directed towards the purest impersonal goal as they should be, they do not interfere with the philosophic student's quest, but, on the contrary, actually advance it further.
Whatever creative abilities he possesses will, in the end, be vivified and not nullified by the effects of philosophic experience. This is not always the case with mystical experience. Here is another important difference between the two.
"Mystical philosophy" is a better term than "philosophical mysticism."
Philosophy constructively trains the mystic in securing a correct transmission of his supernormal experience through his normal mentality.
The relativity of all man's earthly experience is a limitation which is carried into the realm of his mystical experience too. But here he has the advantage that he may escape from it under certain conditions. The demand for an absolute authoritative and unvarying spiritual truth can then be satisfied.
The fantasies which are often produced by beginners as the valued fruits of their meditation will be regarded with repugnance when they have shifted their standpoint to a higher plane. When they follow the philosophic discipline, visions and messages which are the result of an intoxicated imagination or luxuriant fancy will then no longer be able to impose upon them and pretend to be other than what they really are. The temptation to implant our egoistic motives and to project our human feelings into the interpretations of these phenomena is so strong that only the curb of such a discipline can save us. All the psychic experiences are the ephemeral and accidental by-products of the mystical path, not abiding and essential results. They are signs of a passage through the imaginative part of the inner being. When students are so fortunate as to enter the truest deepest part of being, such experiences will vanish forever or for a time. Hence they are not to be regarded as worthwhile in themselves. The philosopher like the mystic may and often does see visions, but unlike him he also sees through them. He possesses true vision and does not merely experience a vision. But it takes time and experience to separate what elements are essential and what are merely incidental, what is enduring from what is transient, and the interpretation built up out of the original experiences from the experience itself.
No mystic experience is continuous and permanent. All mystic experiences come to man in broken fragments. It is therefore the task of philosophy to turn them into a coherent and systematic correlation with the rest of man's experience. And it can do this successfully only by examining mysticism with as much criticism as sympathy; it should neither take trance-reports at their face value nor dismiss them as being of less importance than ordinary sense reports.
What has come so accidentally may likewise depart accidentally. What he has stumbled into he may also stumble out of. Therefore the philosophic mystic tries to remove as much of the unconsciousness of the whole process as he can by making use of the intelligence to complete it even as, paradoxically, he begs for Grace at the same time and for the same purpose.
Were the glorious realization of the Overself devoid of any feeling, then the realization itself would be a palpable absurdity. It would not be worth having. The grand insight into reality is certainly not stripped of fervent delight and is surely not an arid intellectual concept. It is rightly saturated with exalted emotion but it is not this emotion alone. The beatific feeling of what is real is quite compatible with precise knowledge of what is real; there is no contradiction between them. Indeed they must coexist. Nay, there is a point on the philosophic path where they even run into each other. Such a point marks the beginning of a stable wisdom which will not be the victim of merciless alternation between the ebb and the flow of a rapturous emotionalism but will know that it dwells in timelessness here and now; therefore it will not be subject to such fluctuations of mood. Better than the exuberant upsurges and emotional depressions of the mystical temperament is the mental evenness which is without rise or fall and which should be the aim of the far-seeing students. The fitful flashes of enlightenment pertaining to the mystic stage are replaced by a steady light only when the philosophic stage is reached and passed through. The philosophic aim is to overcome the difference between sporadic intuitions and steady knowledge, between spasmodic ecstasies and controlled perception, and thus achieve a permanent state of enlightenment, abiding unshakeably and at all times in the Overself.
To view the inferior mystical experiences or the ratiocinative metaphysical findings otherwise than as passing phases, to set them up as finally representative of reality in the one case or of truth in the other, is to place them on a level to which they do not properly belong. Those who fall into the second error do so because they ascribe excessive importance to the thinking faculty. The mystic is too attached to one faculty, as the metaphysician is to the other, and neither can conduct a human being beyond the bounds of his enchained ego to that region where Being alone reigns. It is not that the mystic does not enter into contact with the Overself. He does. But his experience of the Overself is limited to glimpses which are partial, because he finds the Overself only within himself, not in the world outside. It is temporary because he has to take it when it comes at its own sweet will or when he can find it in meditation. It is a glimpse because it tells him about his own "I" but not about the "Not-I." On the other hand, the sage finds reality in the world without as his own self, at all times and not at special occasions, and wholly rather than in glimpses. The mystic's light comes in glimpses, but the sage's is perennial. Whereas the first is like a flickering unsteady and uneven flame, the second is like a lamp that never goes out. Whereas the mystic comes into awareness of the Overself through feeling alone, the sage comes into it through knowledge plus feeling. Hence, the superiority of his realization.
The average mystic is devoid of sufficient critical sense. He delights in preventing his intellect from being active in such a definite direction. He has yet to learn that philosophical discipline has a steadying influence on the vagaries of mystical emotion, opinion, fancy, and experience. He refuses to judge the goal he has set up as to whether it be indeed man's ultimate goal. Consequently he is unable to apply correct standards whereby his own achievements or his own aspirations may be measured. Having shut himself up in a little heaven of his own, he does not attempt to distinguish it from other heavens or to discover if it be heaven indeed. He clings as stubbornly to his self-righteousness as does the religionist whom he criticizes for clinging to his dogma. He does not comprehend that he has transferred to himself that narrowness of outlook which he condemns in the materialistic. His position would be preposterous were it not so perilous.
Mysticism must not rest so smugly satisfied with its own obscurity that it refuses even to make the effort to come out into the light of critical self-examination, clear self-determination, and rational self-understanding. To complain helplessly that it cannot explain itself, to sit admiringly before its own self-proclaimed impalpability, or to stand aristocratically in the rarefied air of its own indefinability--as it usually does--is to fall into a kind of subtle quackery. Magnificent eulogy is no substitute for needed explanation.
The crucial point of our criticism must not be missed. Our words are directed against the belief which equates the criterion of truth with the unchecked and unpurified feeling of it--however mystical it be. We do not demand that feeling itself shall be ignored, or that its contribution--which is most important--toward truth shall be despised. Our criticism is not directed against emotion, but against that unbalanced attitude which sets up emotion almost as a religion in itself. We ask only that the reaction of personal feeling shall not be set up as the sole and sufficient standard of what is or is not reality and truth. When we speak of the unsatisfactory validity of feeling as providing sufficient proof by itself of having experienced the Overself, we mean primarily, of course, the kind of passionate feeling which throws the mystic into transports of joy, and secondarily, any strong emotion which sweeps him off his feet into refusal to analyse his experience coldly and scientifically. Three points may be here noted. First, mere feeling alone may easily be egoistic and distort the truth or be inflamed and exaggerate it or put forward a wanted fancy in place of an unwanted fact. Second, there is here no means of attaining certainty. Its validity, being only personal, is only as acceptable as are the offerings of poets and artists who can also talk in terms of psychological, but not metaphysical, reality. For instance, the mystic may gaze at and see what he thinks to be reality, but someone else may not think it to be so. Third, the path of the philosophical objection to appraising feeling alone as a criterion of truth and of our insistence on checking its intimations with critical reasoning may be put in the briefest way by an analogy. We feel that the earth is stable and motionless, but we know that it traces a curve of movement in space. We feel that it is fixed in the firmament, but we know that the whole heliocentric system has its own motion in space. The reader should ponder upon the implications of these facts. Are not the annals of mysticism stained by many instances of megalomaniacs who falsely set themselves up as messiahs merely because they felt that God had commissioned them to do so? This is why the philosopher is concerned not only with the emotional effects of inner experience, as is the mystic, but also with the truth about these effects.
I have not swung overnight into the criticism of yoga but rather have gradually matured into criticism of wrong weighings on the scale of yoga. Yoga is as profoundly necessary to my own life as before. Only I want it at its very best and do not want to mistake its intermediate stage for its final one.
I realize that this explanation alters the statement in The Quest of the Overself materially and I must explain that that book was written, like most of my earlier books, for those who have not yet reached the level of philosophy but are seeking peace through mysticism. The quest of truth is another and higher matter for which mysticism and yoga are preparatory stages.
"By whatever form a man worships Me, in that form I reveal Myself to him," is the gist of a statement made by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. This is his way of saying what philosophy teaches, that the idea of God which a Man holds is not necessarily altered when he has a Glimpse or feels an inspiration, since these occur on the mystical level. Only philosophic enlightenment gives the double experience of raising man to the higher consciousness and correcting his intellectual idea of God at the same time.
The mystically inclined who glory in their anti-rationality and impracticality may play the part of intellectual babes and worldly boobs if they wish to do so. But the philosophically inclined, realizing that they live in an era where the evil forces against which they must struggle have reached unparalleled intensity and revealed the most diabolic cunning, realize that they cannot afford such a luxury. They will consequently foster all the practical shrewdness, the critical intelligence, observance, and alertness they can summon up.
What they do not perceive is that inward contemplation is only a technique, not an end in itself. The proper end of contemplation is the attainment of a higher consciousness. That consciousness is not, as they erroneously suppose, incommensurable with outward activity. But contemplation, as a practical exercise, certainly is. Here, then, is where they confuse a method with the goal of that method. It is perfectly possible to sustain both the higher consciousness and physical and intellectual activity at the same time. The latter need not necessarily imperil the former. Mystics who complain that it does do so are really complaining that it imperils the formal practice of contemplation--which is a different matter.
There are many who say that this attempt to unite contemplation with activity is a self-contradictory one and foredoomed to failure. Answer: with the narrow preparation of ordinary religious mysticism, it certainly seems an impossible feat; but with the fuller preparation of philosophic mysticism, it is a balance that can be learned in the same way that a skilful tightrope walker learns his art, even though it seems just as impossible at first.
Because the over-eager quest of mystical experiences has been criticized in these books, it would be a mistake to believe that the philosopher never has them because he has outgrown them. He may have them. Their appearance is not improper and it is unlikely that anyone who consistently meditates will not have a few or many. But whether he has them or not, he is inwardly detached from them--free of them.
It is a great advance for him when he begins really to seek truth instead of personal bliss alone, however mystical that may be. Indeed, where there is true knowledge there is bliss, but Truth is not limited to it. It is far wider than that.
In the Buddhist's deeper meditational training--minutely described in the Abhidhamma collected and recorded by the Buddha's disciples--it is noteworthy that ecstasies first, and bliss next, cease about halfway along the path, to be succeeded by intense inner quiet for the advanced and terminal stages. Yet the texts on yoga which go beyond this halfway stage are few, and are studied by few. For it is at this point that mysticism ends, and real philosophy begins.
Texts might prove misleading if studied alone; they must be personally expounded by a competent teacher. Moreover, if but two books, for instance, out of thirty, were taken alone they would give a one-sided and inaccurate picture. But the book by Sri Krishna Prem, Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita, can be quite helpful. The aim of The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga is to prepare a basis, to create an atmosphere, but it does not go farther than that. There is a lower mysticism and a higher mysticism and the two are separated in time by the philosophic discipline. Nothing of the higher mysticism has been revealed in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga. That is given in The Wisdom of the Overself together with several practices or exercises which develop the supramystic insight hinted at as being the final source of knowledge. Neither mysticism as ordinarily known--that is, the lower mysticism and yoga--nor philosophy of a purely intellectual-rational kind can ever lead to this goal. Nevertheless they are essential stages on the way thereto. One must not make the mistake either of discarding meditation (as recommended by Ashtavakra) and resorting only to ratiocination, or of despising ratiocination (as ordinary mystics and yogis do) and trusting solely to meditation. Both are needed. But both are only preliminary disciplines. Only the supramystic exercises can lead to the final revelation and these were given to the West for the first time in The Wisdom of the Overself. They were formerly kept esoteric in every sense of the word, but times have changed.
Such misunderstandings as that reasoning alone leads to realization, that it can replace meditation, and that metaphysics is superior to mysticism could not possibly arise, as can be seen from the second volume [The Wisdom of the Overself]. For in this final volume the old gods are restored but placed in new shrines; it shows that the earlier preparatory chapters were really leading up to it. These misconceptions are likely to occur because in the first volume [The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga] I deliberately criticized certain things in order to stress what, it seemed to me, the time had come to stress. For I wanted to clear the ground of all this debris, thus preparing the way for the higher mysticism unfolded in The Wisdom of the Overself. The essential principles of mysticism and yoga have remained intact but are explained from a new angle of approach, the scientific-philosophic, so as to clarify the real issues. As the angle of approach differs, so does what is seen appear differently too. I am fully prepared to accept the blame for whatever mistakes I have made in the past, but I consider it is more important to learn how they have constituted stepping-stones to my present-day higher knowledge. I have been engaged in a widespread mystical research for most of my lifetime, so that the conclusions which I have formulated are at least worthy of consideration, if not more. I consider it a sacred duty to free that which is so precious to me from the large falsifications, extravagant claims, ancient distortions, and degraded doctrines from which it is suffering. I cannot remain silent and indifferent while its treasures are caricatured by the unscientific and unphilosophical or while its truths are deformed and shamelessly cheapened by the egoistic, the hyper-emotional, and the foolish. We must view this subject as a whole, not merely in its bright or dark patches. This means that we must be bent on realistically seeing both. Our morals must be tough enough to do so and exalted enough to accept the consequences of facing unpleasant facts without losing a far-sighted confidence in the essential worth of mysticism. For so far as I am aware nobody within the ranks of the mystically minded capable of speaking with sufficient authority has heretofore ventured to explain the existence amongst them of large-scale gullibility, notorious charlatanry, and failure to beneficially affect public life by frankly exposing the limitations, defects, errors, and misunderstandings prevalent in mysticism itself in a scientific and philosophic manner.
The philosopher enjoys a continuous inner peace. He has no particular wish at any time to exchange it for the mystic's bliss although through his capacity for meditation he may be able to do so.
The mystic touches the serenity and light of the Overself but falls away from them soon. The philosopher does not merely touch them but attains their fullness forever. The first is partial and provisional whereas the second is final and complete.
Philosophy stands aligned with mysticism so far as this aim of achieving the profoundest inward self-absorption through meditation is in question, but it stands aloof from mysticism so far as rational, moral, practical, and social issues are in question. A correct appraisal of mysticism can only be formed by examining its ideology against the wider background of philosophic doctrine.
The yogic viewpoint still embraces the phenomena of causation, however refined.
Philosophy prescribes just enough meditation to make its votaries mystically conscious but not enough to make them forget the philosophic goal amidst its pleasures.
The philosophic goal when entering into mystical experience of the higher kind or when viewing one's relation to anyone else or to any situation, is to see the truth correctly and understand it rightly, to add nothing to it out of personal associations or habitual tendencies.
The next point of difference is the active nature of philosophic realization as compared to the passive nature of mystical realization. This is the result of the holding-up of compassion as part of the philosophic aspirant's ideal from the beginning to the end of his course.
The philosophic experience is a becalmed mystical rapture.
The line of demarcation between the lower and the higher mysticism is clearly shown. For the lower mystic has sublime experiences and makes inspired utterances but does not understand profoundly, clearly, and fully what these experiences are nor what these utterances mean. Neither his attainments nor his knowledge has arrived at adequate self-consciousness. He is in the position of poets like Tennyson, who confessed that his In Memoriam, which was written to proclaim human immortality, was wiser than he himself knew. (See Plato's The Apology of Socrates 7, regarding this.)
The end of philosophic seeking is not a fleeting mystic ecstasy but a durable mystic consciousness inlaying every thought, word, feeling, and deed.
That which the mystic feels is what the metaphysician thinks. The philosopher knows and acts it, as well as feels and thinks it.
So long as his attainment depends on a contemplative stage which in its turn depends on inactivity and solitude, so long will it be only a half-attainment.
A mysticism which does not take into account all the chief functions which make a being human--will, feeling, reason, and intuition--leaves some of his evolutionary possibilities undeveloped and cannot give a finished result but only a partly finished one. It fails to do justice to the glorious ideal set before him by the World-Idea.
He must continue to probe for himself into the recesses of his own mind. This requires much patience. He is quite correct in wanting to be aware of every step of the path and in refusing to move blindly. On this path he needs to balance the claims of reason and feeling and to understand accurately what it is that he is trying to do. He cannot go back to the unconscious beliefs of spiritual childhood. This is the difference between ordinary mysticism and philosophical mysticism.
The mystic is usually satisfied in enjoying this inner stillness whereas the philosopher needs also to know where it emanates from.
Discriminating analysis, mystical depth
What the mystic seeks through love and self-purification alone, the philosopher seeks through love and self-purification and knowledge as well.
Philosophy offers the same meditational experience as mysticism, but it carries this experience to a wider and deeper level and at the same time integrates it with moral social and rational elements.
Philosophical mysticism keeps and contains all that is best in ordinary mysticism but reinforces and balances it with reason, culture, shrewdness, and practicality, expresses it through service or art.
When the mind withdraws from its creations after understanding their mentalness and looks into itself, it discovers the final truth. But when it does this prematurely--that is, before such enquiry into the world's nature--it discovers a half-truth: the nature of the "I."
The virtue of philosophic yoga is that it makes reason an accomplice and not, as with the other yogas, an enemy of the quest of spiritual realization.
The philosophical mystic has no use for such vagueness and precariousness. He must know what he is about, must be self-conscious and self-possessed. But all this on the intellectual level only. He will be the personification of humility, the incarnation of self-surrender, on the emotional level.
Mysticism requires the unreserved surrender of the ego to the soul. From this quite correct requirement, unphilosophic mystics draw the quite incorrect conclusions that the ego's faculty of reasoning and use of will are to be banished from the domain of practical affairs. It should not, for instance, provide for its worldly future, because God is to provide for it. Belief in mysticism is no excuse for such illogical and inaccurate thinking, much less for the paralysis of willing. The mystic may give himself unto the soul and yet render unto thought and action that which is rightly theirs.
Both the technique of meditation and the study of metaphysics must be brought into satisfactory adjustment.
Philosophical understanding can bloom within him only after he has cultivated his metaphysical intelligence as well as his mystical intuition.
How can science and mysticism meet when each uses a different faculty, the one intellect and the other intuition? They can meet by following two steps: first, by each one understanding its own and the other's place, function, and limitation, and second, by amalgamating their viewpoints, thus rising into the domain of philosophy.
Truth will not insult intelligence, although it soars beyond intellect. Let the religionists talk nonsense, as they do at times; but holiness is not incompatible with the use of brains, the acquisition of knowledge, and the rational faculties.
It is not enough to negate thinking; this may yield a mental blank without content. We have also to transcend it. The first is the way of ordinary yoga; the second is the way of philosophic yoga. In the second way, therefore, we seek strenuously to carry thought to its most abstract and rarefied point, to a critical culminating whereby its whole character changes and it merges of its own accord in the higher source whence it arises. If successful, this produces a pleasant, sometimes ecstatic state--but the ecstasy is not our aim, as with ordinary mysticism. With us the reflection must keep loyally to a loftier aim, that of dissolving the ego in its divine source. The metaphysical thinking must work its way, first upwards to a more and more abstract concept and second inwards to a more and more complete absorption from the external world. The consequence is that when illumination results, whether it comes in the form of a mystical trance, ecstasy, or intuition, its character will be unquestionably different and immeasurably superior to that which comes from the mere sterilization of the thinking process which is the method of ordinary yoga.
There is a little confusion in some minds as to the precise differences between philosophic meditations and ordinary meditation. The following note is intended to help clear up this matter. There are five stages in the philosophic method. The first four of these stages cover the same ground as those in traditional mysticism. It is in the last stage that a vital difference appears. In stage one, the student learns to concentrate his faculties, thoughts, and power of attention. He must fix beforehand any object for his gaze, or any subject for his thoughts, or any theme for his feelings. This provides a post, as it were, to which the horse of his mind can be tethered and to which it can be made to return again and again each time it strays away. In stage two, he must definitely drop the use of his bodily senses and external objects, withdraw his attention entirely within himself and devote it exclusively to considered thinking about and devotional aspiration to his spiritual quest, making use only of an elevating idea or ideal as a tethering post. In stage three, he is to reverse this method, for he is not to fix beforehand any theme for thought, not even to predetermine the way in which his contemplation shall develop itself. His conscious mind is to be thoroughly free from any and every suggestion from the thinking self, even if it be of the purest kind. For everything must here be left entirely to the higher power. In stage four, the student unites completely with his higher self and its infinite universality, drops all personal thinking, even all personal being. In stage five, it might be said that he returns to the first two and recapitulates them, for he reintroduces thinking and therefore ego. But there is a notable difference. The thinking will be, first, illumined by the higher self's light, and second, directed towards the understanding of Reality.
The use of metaphysical thinking as part of the philosophic system is a feature which few yogis of the ordinary type are likely to appreciate. This is both understandable and pardonable. They are thoroughly imbued with the futility of a merely rational and intellectual approach to reality, a futility which has also been felt and expressed in these pages. So far there is agreement with them. But when they proceed to deduce that the only way left is to crush reason and stop the working of intellect altogether, our paths diverge. For what metaphysics admittedly cannot accomplish by itself may be accomplished by a combination of metaphysics and mysticism far better than by mysticism alone. The metaphysics of truth, which is here meant, however, must never be confused with the many historical speculative systems which exist.
The activity of analytic thinking has been banned in most mystical schools. They regard it as an obstacle to the attainment of spiritual consciousness. And ordinarily it is indeed so. For until the intellect can lie perfectly still, such consciousness cannot make itself apparent. The difficulty of making intellect quite passive is however an enormous one. Consequently different concentration techniques have been devised to overcome it. Nearly all of them involve the banishment of thinking and the cessation of reasoning. The philosophical school uses any or all of them where advisable but it also uses a technique peculiarly its own. It makes use of abstract concepts which are concerned with the nature of the mind itself and which are furnished by seers who have developed a deep insight into such nature. It permits the student to work out these concepts in a rational way but leading to subtler and subtler moods until they automatically vanish and thinking ceases as the transcendental state is induced to come of itself. This method is particularly suited either to those who have already got over the elementary difficulties of concentration or to those who regard reasoning power as an asset to be conserved rather than rejected. The conventional mystic, being the victim of external suggestion, will cling to the traditional view of his own school, which usually sees no good at all in reasoned thinking, and aver that spiritual attainment through such a path is psychologically impossible. Never having been instructed in it and never having tried it, he is not really in a position to judge.
Continued and constant pondering over the ideas presented herein is itself a part of the yoga of philosophical discernment. Such reflection will as naturally lead the student towards realization of his goal as will the companion and equally necessary activity of suppressing all ideas altogether in mental quiet. This is because these ideas are not mere speculations but are themselves the outcome of a translation from inner experience. While such ideas as are here presented grow under the water of their reflection and the sunshine of their love into fruitful branches of thought, they gradually begin to foster intuition.
The logical movement of intellect must come to a dead stop before the threshold of reality. But we are not to bring about this pause deliberately or in response to the bidding of some man or some doctrine. It must come of its own accord as the final maturation of long and precise reasoning and as the culmination of the intellectual and personal discovery that the apprehension of mind as essence will come only when we let go of the idea-forms it takes and direct our attention to it.
This is the paradox: that both the capacity to think deeply and the capacity to withdraw from thinking are needed to attain this goal.
The mistake of the mystics is to negate reasoning prematurely. Only after reasoning has completed its own task to the uttermost will it be psychologically right and philosophically fruitful to still it in the mystic silence.
He must seek in metaphysics for the secret of the universe and in mysticism for the secret of his own self. This is a balanced approach.
Philosophy is not hostile to yoga; the latter leads to steadiness of mind; with this one can then exercise discrimination. The combination of concentration and enquiry leads to fitful glimpses of truth. These glimpses must then be stabilized by constant effort and remembrance throughout the day until they become second nature.
The mystic who refuses to use his brains is displaying not a virtue, as he believes, but a failing. Yet such a man has become stereotyped in the thought of most people as a type of man possessed of a flabby intellect. What they have not known is that there is another kind, the philosophic mystic, who seeks to develop his brain-power alongside of his mystical intuitions. Philosophy silences thought when it wants to feel inner peace or enter spiritual ecstasy, but it stimulates thought when it wants to understand this peace and that ecstasy.
The typically medieval mystical school of thought taught the utter necessity of restricting the powers of will and intellect, dissolving them in single-minded devotion to prayer, meditation, and ascetic life. Philosophy teaches the contrary and urges the full development of these powers but safeguards this development by, first, dedicating it to mystical purposes and impersonal aims and, second, controlling it by mystical intuition.
Philosophy does not ask us, as mysticism does, to stifle the intellect, but to illumine it. It demands effective thinking and not mere daydreaming, intellectual self-discipline and not misty vagueness. Its journey lies through meditation reinforced by reason.
The mystic is content to be carried away by his feelings. The philosopher wants to understand both the nature of their movement and the character of the destination.
The lower mystic uses his mystical experiences as an alibi to justify his mental slothfulness. He knows nothing of that organized systematic effort to answer every question and clear every doubt which the higher mystic had to pass through before he attained the superior grade.
Metaphysics is a discipline in rationalization while yoga is a discipline in detachment and concentration.
Our aim must be all-round development--a sane, healthy, balanced life. Meditation is not enough, albeit essential in its place. The cultivation of a sharp keen intelligence for philosophical reflection is just as essential. The two must work hand in hand, with a perfect development of each ideal as the goal. The kingdom of heaven is in the head as well as the heart.
We can understand the attempt of metaphysics to know the supreme reality and know the attempt of mysticism to feel in God's presence. But the first depends on filling the mind with the subtlest thoughts whereas the last depends partly on emptying the mind of thoughts.
If he thinks for himself and feels for others, he will appreciate the superiority of the philosophic form of mysticism.
That keen rationality could and indeed should accompany sensitive spirituality is both practical wisdom and evolutionary necessity. A tendency to act the fool in worldly and intellectual matters is not a sign of mystical strength, as some aver, but a sign of mystical weakness.
My final ancient authority that this combination of yoga and vichara is essential is Buddha. He said: "The man discreet, on virtue firmly set, in intellect and intuition trained. The man with keen discrimination blessed may from this tangle liberate himself."
Keys to the ultimate path
The student travels through the different stages on the journey to supreme truth. But without competent guidance he may fall into the error of mistaking one of the stages for the truth itself. He does not usually understand that there is a graded series of developments, each one of which looks like the truth itself, and that only after all these have been passed through can he reach the glorious culminating goal.
There is only one truth, hence only one true illumination. But there are various degrees of its reception.
The journey from preoccupation with the intellectual forms of truth to living in the truth itself, is a long and arduous one. Even the start is harder than it seems, for those very forms which have been so helpful in the past must be increasingly regarded as traps and less and less as guides.
Such an attainment as philosophy proposes cannot be reached all at once. It must be approached through a series of preparatory steps. They will be slow in pace at first, but quicker later and sudden towards the end.
It is quite true that the attainment of this higher consciousness is an attainment of wholeness, as some modern mystics claim. For then only is the conscious ego forced to relinquish to the Overself its hold upon the rest of the psyche. Nevertheless, when this is felt and said, it must be stated that the pattern of wholeness is still not finished by its first attainment, for that is only the first stage--albeit an immensely dynamic and memorable one--of a process.
It is a long journey from the condition of seeker to that of sage. But this is true only so far as we ascribe reality to time. To those who know that our human existence is a movement through events, but that the human being in its essence transcends all events and dwells in timelessness, this journey may be considerably shortened or swiftly brought to its destination. For that, the thorough understanding of philosophy and its incessant application to oneself is required.
The truth may not always burst on its votary in a sudden brief and total flash. It may also come so slowly that he will hardly know its movement. But in both cases this progress will be measured by his abandonment of a purely personal and self-centered attitude towards life.
For the ordinary mystic it is very very hard to live in the world, in the way that ordinary men do, after he has experienced the world around him as mere illusion and its activities as vain. Only the philosophically trained mystic can find sufficient motive in his knowledge and sufficient urge in his feeling to take part in these activities if needed or desirable.
The same mystical experience which detaches others from action inspires him to it. This difference of result springs from a difference of approach.
If a man sinks in this contemplation without bringing it into reciprocal balance with reason and compassion, he will soon fall into a state in which, quite clearly, it will be difficult for him to demand active usefulness from himself. He will set up immobility of thought and body as his chief goal, indifference of feeling and desire as his ultimate beatitude. The consequence of this disequilibrium may be gratifying to the man himself, but cannot be gratifying to society also. Nevertheless, however high such a mystic may soar like the skylark, he must then be faced by the problem of reconciling the two existences. There are yogis who assert that the one blots out the other. How then, we must ask them, if the man is no longer aware of any other mind than the Divine Mind or any other life than God's life, can he be aware of the personal business to which he is called and to which he does attend from hour to hour?
To the fearful, uninstructed seeker everything connected with a worldly life is a stop on his upward way. To the philosophically enlightened student, it is actually a step on his upward way. He redeems the earthly environment by thinking rightly about it, turns every earthly deed into a sacrament because he views it under a divine light, and sees a fellow pilgrim in the worst sinner.
The mystic must live a double existence, one during meditation and the other during work. The philosopher is released from such an awkward duality. He knows only one existence--the philosophic life. The divine quality permeates his whole activity as much as it permeates his meditative cessation from activity. Work too is worship for him.
There are three things man needs to know to make him a spiritually educated man: the truth about himself, his world, and his God. The mystic who thinks it is enough to know the first alone and to leave out the last two, is satisfied to be half-educated.
It is not enough to know the internal self as the mystics know it. We must also know the real nature of the external world before we can realize Truth. This means that one will see oneself in the All and possess a perfect comprehension with the All.
Suffused with pious feeling as a man might be, uplifted in heart and bettered in character as this may leave him, it is still not enough to fulfil the higher purpose of his existence. He needs also to understand what is the Idea behind his particular life, and all other lives.
The ecstatic feelings which come to the mystics are emotional and personal albeit they pertain to the higher emotion and they are a most exalted part of the personality. On the other hand, the feeling which comes to the sage is not ecstatic but serene. It is not emotional and not limited to the personality alone. The centre of the psychological gravity differs in the two cases. Whereas the mystic revels in the ecstatic comprehension of his interior "I," but is doomed to revel brokenly and intermittently, the sage is concerned with what lies behind that "I"--that is, the Universal Self, the realization of which does not depend upon meditation or trance alone and therefore need not be broken when meditation or trance is suspended.
Reality is to be found neither by thinking alone nor by not thinking at all. This high path which opens to the philosophic student is one of unwavering deeply abstract concentration of the mind in the real, whether the mind be thinking or not thinking, and whether the individual be acting or not acting.
If mysticism reveals the nature of man, philosophy reveals the nature of the universe.
If he has started thinking in a philosophic manner about his own life, he will have done enough. But if he seeks also to wrest the universe's own secret from it, he will have done more.
The mystic seeks God by forsaking the world physically or else by renouncing it emotionally. His happiest moment is when he can withdraw from it intellectually so completely that it is lost from his consciousness in an abnormal trance state, a rapturous ecstatic union with God alone. The philosopher passes through all these stages, too, but does not stop there. He follows an opposite movement too. He finds God in the world as well as in himself.
The first great event full of wonder will be this discovery of what is within himself; the second will be his discovery of what is within the world. For within himself he will find the soul and within the world he will find the working of God. He will discover that it is literal fact that everything happens under the laws and forces of the Higher Power, and that this is as true of human life as it is of plant life and animal life. He will find that the infinite wisdom is, everywhere and everywhen, taking care of every human being; that this includes himself and those who are near and dear to him; and that therefore he has no need to worry weakly or despairingly over them, for the experiences which they get are those which they need or earn. When he is no longer anxious about himself, how can he be anxious about other people? When he has committed his own life to God, what else can he do about other people's lives than commit theirs to God also? He finds that everyone is here not for the body's sake but for the soul's sake, and that this is the real criterion wherewith to measure all happenings and all experiences. He will no longer let himself be deceived by appearances, no longer let events rob him of his inward peace. He will remain passive to the Higher Power, obedient to its leading, and receptive to its prompting. It will carry him serenely and sustain him adequately.
Is it possible to unite both ways, the active life in the world outside and the quiet life in the stillness within, and find no break, no essential difference, no falsification of the oft-stated idea, "God is everywhere"? The answer is Yes! and has been tested in ancient and modern experience. "What is the World?" gives the same reply as "Who am I?" Withdrawing from the physical sense-world as the mystic does or going into physical action with the senses engaged need not break the union, the awareness of divine presence.
Of course it is quite true to say that the truth is inside man, that he must search there. But it is also true that the truth is outside man and in the cosmos itself because he is a part of it. Why be one-sided and reject the second direction in favour of the first or reject the first in favour of the second? Both are necessary to the full perception of truth.
There are mystics who experience the Overself in its glow of love and joy of freedom, but without receiving knowledge of the cosmic laws, principles, and secrets. There are other mystics who are not satisfied with the one alone but seek to unite and complete it with the other. They are the philosophical mystics for whom the meaning of the self and the meaning of the world have become two sides of the same coin.
To arrive at a simultaneous consciousness of both states--the personal ego and the impersonal Overself--is possible, and has been done intermittently by some people such as mystics and artists--or permanently by philosophers.
The philosopher cannot set the spirit apart from the body, nor the spiritual life from the worldly life--for him, they penetrate one another.
The materialist sees plurality alone and sees superficially. The mystic in his deepest contemplation sees Spirit (or Mind alone) without seeing Plurality, and sees incompletely. The philosopher sees both Mind and its manifold world-images as essentially the same and sees rightly and fully.
What he knows and what he perceives will harmonize with, illustrate, or complete one another.
The thinking of thoughts no longer veils spiritual being from him. Instead it is now an activity which acts as a transparent medium for that being.
Others may turn away in despair or disgust from the harshness of the worldly scenes; he must gaze into and beyond them. Others may ignore or escape from its uglinesses; he must take them up into his scheme of things, and, taking, transcend them by philosophic knowledge.
Philosophy takes its votaries on a holy pilgrimage from ordinary life in the physical senses through mystical life in the sense-freed spirit to a divinized life back in the same senses.
Just as the splendours of the setting sun bathed in fiery, glowing colors may be profoundly appreciated despite one's awareness of the fact that the sciences of life and optics explain these splendours in a bald, prosaic, disenchanting way; just as an excellent dinner may be eaten with keen enjoyment undisturbed by one's knowledge that the constituents of these tempting dishes were really carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and so on, so the varied factors which go to make up the picture of our universal existence may be seen and experienced for what they are by the integrally developed man in their material tangibility despite his deeper awareness of the overwhelming difference between their single Basis and their manifold appearances.
The highest contribution which mysticism can make is to afford its votaries glimpses of that grand substratum of the universe which we may call the Overself. These glimpses reveal It in the pure unmanifest non-physical essence that It ultimately is. They detach It from the things, creatures, and thoughts which make up this world of ours, and show It as It is in the beginning, before the world-dream made its appearance. Thus mysticism at its farthest stretch, which is Nirvikalpa samadhi, enables man to bring about the temporary disappearance of the world-dream and come into comprehension of the Mind within which, and from which, the dream emerges. The mystic in very truth conducts the funeral service of the physical world as he has hitherto known it, which includes his own ego. But this is as far as mysticism can take him. It is an illuminative and rare experience, but it is not the end. For the next task which he must undertake if he is to advance is to relate his experience of this world as real with his experience of the Overself as real. And this he can do only by studying the world's own nature, laying bare its mentalistic character and thus bringing it within the same circle as its source, the Mind. If he succeeds in doing this and in establishing this relation correctly, he will have finished his apprenticeship, ascended to the ultimate truth, and become a philosopher. Thenceforward he will not deny the world but accept it.
The metaphysician may also perform this task and obtain an intellectual understanding of himself, the world, and the Overself. And he has this advantage over the mystic, that his understanding becomes permanent whereas the mystic's rapt absorption must pass. But if he has not passed through the mystical exercises, it will remain as incomplete as a nut without a kernel. For these exercises, when led to their logical and successful issue in Nirvikalpa samadhi, provide the vivifying principle of experience which alone can make metaphysical tenets real.
From all this we may perceive why it is quite correct for the mystic to look undistractedly within for his goal, why he must shut out the distractions and attractions of earthly life in order to penetrate the sacred precinct, and why solitude, asceticism, meditation, trance, and emotion play the most important roles in his particular experience. What he is doing is right and proper at his stage but is not right and proper as the last stage. For in the end he must turn metaphysician, just as the metaphysician must turn mystic and just as both must turn philosopher--who is alone capable of infusing the thoughts of metaphysics and the feelings of mysticism into the actions of everyday practical life.
This mysterious experience seems also to have been known to Dionysius the Areopagite. It is definitely an experience terminating the process of meditation, for the mystic can then go no higher and no deeper. It is variously called "the Nought" in the West and nirvikalpa samadhi in the East. Everything in the world vanishes and along with the world goes the personal ego; nothing indeed is left except Consciousness-in-Itself. If anything can burrow under the foundations of the ego and unsettle its present and future stability, it is this awesome event. But, because it is still an experience, it has a coming and a going. Although it is forever after remembered, a memory is not the final settled condition open to man--for that, philosophy must be brought in. Mysticism may remove the ego temporarily after first lulling it, but philosophy understands the ego, puts it in its place, its subservient place, so that the man remains always undeserted by the pure consciousness.
He comes by growth of knowledge and width of views, by metaphysical evolution and emotional discipline, to a great calm. From then on he neither seeks eagerly for incarnational experience nor aspires loftily for liberation from it. Argument and discussion, meditation and exercises and spiritual states, labels and categories, teachers and teachings and quests are only for observation, not participation. Others may think he has lapsed and shake their heads in sorrow or pity. This is not to be used as counsel for beginners: if followed it could only hinder them. But to prevent limited views, sectarianism, and fanaticism arising among them, as so often it does, they can well be told occasionally that such a stage exists, and it may be theirs when a patient development brings them to it.
The student who has reached this stage is forced to adopt an uncompromising attitude if he is not to stagnate. He shuts up his holiest books and puts them aside, turns away from the traditional instruction of his teacher and flees from the sheltering society of hermitages or fellow students into the rough hard materialistic society which he has hitherto disdained. Henceforth he must look to nothing and nobody outside his own self for final guidance or strength. That which he seeks must now be found within or not at all. He perceives now that all techniques and teachers are like a sundial, which indicates the presence of the sun and measures its relative position, but if one does not at last turn away from the dial and look upward, then one will never see or know the sun in itself. To use the dial for a time is a help; to become preoccupied with it for all time is a hindrance. He is now ready to enter the ultimate path. For there are two paths within the quest.
The need of going beyond the ordinary yogas if he is to arrive at a deeper and purer truth, is a perception which will force him to engage in further research as well as independent research.
All the processes of creation and dissolution are true only from the scientific or practical standpoint but they disappear when the student inquires deeply into them. It is a matter of getting right understanding and then he sees they are mere thoughts or imaginations. A long training in right--that is, philosophic--thinking is required before the mind becomes habituated to such views. This is gnana yoga. After that he has to practise a still higher kind of yoga which goes on in the midst of activity and has nothing to do with meditation as ordinarily known. That ultimate path gives realization. He gets glimpses first, lightning-flashes, which through continued effort gradually become stabilized and finally merge into continuous knowledge of truth.
The mystic will not care and may not be able to do so but the philosopher has to learn the art of combining his inward recognition of the Void with his outward activity amongst things without feeling the slightest conflict between both. Such an art is admittedly difficult but it can be learnt with time and patience and comprehension. Thus he will feel inward unity everywhere in this world of wonderful variety, just as he will experience all the countless mutations of experience as being present in the very midst of this unity.
What science calls the "critical temperature," that is, the temperature when a substance shares both the liquid and gaseous states, is symbolic of what philosophical mysticism calls the "philosophic experience," that is, when a man's consciousness shares both the external world of the five senses and the internal world of the empty soul. The ordinary mystic or yogi is unable to hold the two states simultaneously and, quite often, even unwilling to do so, because of the false opposition he has been taught to set up between them.
The life of sense and thought veils the life of the soul from the non-mystical extroverted person. The rapture of ecstatic trance veils the external world from the mystical person. Neither man's condition is full, perfect, and complete. The mystic's is higher, but he needs to advance still farther to a continuous balanced state where the activity of sense and thought does not veil the external world from him, but where both are felt as different phases of one divine reality and seen as the same experience from two different points of view. Such is the philosophic achievement. Although it contains the ordinary state it is not limited to it, and although it experiences mystical union it does not need to enter into an abnormal condition like trance to do so. Thus whether the physical world and the thinking intellect reveal or conceal this reality depends upon whether or not the philosophic insight is brought to bear upon them.
The Infinite cannot be set against the finite as though they were a pair of opposites. Only things which are on the same level can be opposed to one another. These are not. The Infinite includes and contains within itself all possible finites. The practical import of this truth is that Mind cannot only be experienced in the Void but also in the world. The Reality is not only to be discovered as it is but also beneath its phenomenal disguises.
The philosopher is satisfied with a noble peace and does not run after mystical ecstasies. Whereas other paths often depend upon an emotionalism that perishes with the disappearance of the primal momentum that inspired it, or which dissolves with the dissolution of the first enthusiastic ecstasies themselves, here there is a deeper and more dependable process. What must be emphasized is that most mystical aspirants have an initial or occasional ecstasy, and they are so stirred by the event that they naturally want to enjoy it permanently. This is because they live under the common error that a successful and perfect mystic is one who has succeeded in stabilizing ecstasy. That the mystic is content to rest on the level of feeling alone, without making his feeling self-reflective as well, partly accounts for such an error. It also arises because of incompetent teachers or shallow teaching, leading them to strive to perform what is impracticable and to yearn to attain what is impossible. Our warning is that this is not possible, and that however long a mystic may enjoy these "spiritual sweets," they will assuredly come to an end one day. The stern logic of facts calls for stress on this point. Too often he believes that this is the goal, and that he has nothing more about which to trouble himself. Indeed, he would regard any further exertions as a sacrilegious denial of the peace, as a degrading descent from the exaltation of this divine union. He longs for nothing more than the good fortune of being undisturbed by the world and of being able to spend the rest of his life in solitary devotion to his inward ecstasy. For the philosophic mystic, however, this is not the terminus but only the starting point of a further path. What philosophy says is that this is only a preliminary mystical state, however remarkable and blissful it be. There is a more matured state--that of gnosis--beyond it. If the student experiences paroxysms of ecstasy at a certain stage of his inner course, he may enjoy them for a time, but let him not look forward to enjoying them for all time. The true goal lies beyond them, and he should not forget that all-important fact. He will not find final salvation in the mystical experience of ecstasy, but he will find an excellent and essential step towards salvation therein. He who would regard rapturous mystical emotion as being the same as absolute transcendental insight is mistaken. Such a mistake is pardonable. So abrupt and striking is the contrast with his ordinary state that he concludes that this condition of hyper-emotional bliss is the condition in which he is able to experience reality. He surrenders himself to the bliss, the emotional joy which he experiences, well satisfied that he has found God or his soul. But his excited feelings about reality are not the same as the serene experience of reality itself. This is what a mystic finds difficult to comprehend. Yet, until he does comprehend it, he will not make any genuine progress beyond this stage.
We may welcome and appreciate the radiant ecstasy of the mystic's triumph, but we ought not to appraise it at other than its proper worth. If we become so completely satisfied with it that we seek no higher goal, then our very satisfaction closes the door to the possibility of realizing the Overself. Only the sage--that is, the master of philosophy, to which metaphysics is but a necessary stage--can appreciate the calm which comes with mystical bliss. The peace which mysticism yields is genuine, but fitful, for it can only thrive in an atmosphere of constant exaltation. And when each exaltation intermittently passes--as it must--our mystic is left very flat. It is philosophy alone that exists in the very antithesis of such an atmosphere of comings and goings; therefore, it alone yields permanent peace. The yogi may shut his eyes and pass his time in pleasant meditations, but for large chunks of his day he will be forced to open them again and attend to physical matters. Then the world will confront him, pressing for a place in his scheme of things, and demand rational interpretation. He has got to explain this antithesis between self and not-self, between "I" and the world.
The yogi who achieves the capacity to be without thoughts for a certain period of time is still the victim of time, unless he has sought to understand its meaning, its nature, and above all what lies behind it. This latter is a philosophic work. If it is used to support yoga or if yoga is used to prepare the way for it, a proper relationship is established; otherwise we may have the spectacle of Swamis who come to the West after lengthy meditations and begin to betray signs of erratic conduct--signs which I do not need to describe.
Philosophy brings the knowledge of the "I" as it really is (in the deepest sense) into the consciousness of a man. Mysticism does the same. How could anything higher be realized by any human, concerning things human, than what is taught in both these fields? Then what more does philosophy offer? It offers a fuller result and completes the work by including the world.
It is here that the vital difference between the Ultimate and yogic paths becomes apparent. Ramana Maharshi took the stand which nearly all yogis take: that is, we need have nothing to do with the affairs of the world which we have renounced. Let us sit quietly and enjoy our inner peace. But on the ultimate path the goal is quite different. We begin after having passed through yoga, and having found peace. Then we seek truth. The latter when found reveals that the Overself is present in all men--nay, all creatures--as their ultimate being. We not only know this but FEEL it. So we cannot remain indifferent to the lives of others. Therefore--and now is revealed a great secret--when we attain liberation from the endless-turning wheel of reincarnation, we voluntarily return again and again to earth solely to help others, mitigate suffering, and reduce ignorance. So long as one creature lives in ignorance and pain, so long a true adept MUST return to earth. But this applies only to the adepts in WISDOM. The adept in yoga does not want to return to earth again, does not feel for others, and is happy in enjoying his exalted peace. He is quite entitled to this because he has worked for it. But he has not attained Truth, which is a higher stage. There is a tremendous difference in the goal we seek. The yogi's aim is a sublime selfishness; the true adept's is a burning desire to serve humanity. The successful yogi dwells in great peace and that suffices for him. Nevertheless yoga is an essential stage through which all must pass, for mind must be controlled, sharpened, and purified and peace must be attained before he is fit to undertake the great inquiry into what is Truth.
Through yoga or meditation, one arrives at mind-control. Then he takes his sharpened, concentrated mind and applies it to the understanding of the world. Thus he discovers that the world of matter is ultimately space and that all material forms are merely ideas in his mind. He discovers, also, that his inmost self is one with this space, because it is formless. Then does he perceive the unity of all life, and only then has he found Truth--the whole truth. All this must be discovered by experience, not by intellectual theory, and here his power to control thoughts becomes important . . . first to make the mind absolutely still, then to use this exceedingly sharpened mind to survey and penetrate the truth of things. That is why neither mysticism nor yoga can lead directly to Truth. They are only preparations for the higher path that does lead to Truth.
It is the duty of an advanced mystic who wishes to attain greater heights for himself and be of greater service to others to try earnestly to graduate to the ultimate path. This does not demand that he give up any of his mystical practices or beliefs, but merely that he amplify and supplement them. He must first develop the trinity of head, heart, and hand, or reason, intuition, and action, and then bring them all into proper balance. If in addition he is inspired by the ideal of service, he will attract to himself the unseen help of those who are also dedicated to such service.
The hidden teaching starts and finishes with experience. Every man must begin his mental life as a seeker by noting the fact that he is conscious of an external environment. He will proceed in time to discover that it is an ordered one, that Nature is the manifestation of an orderly Mind. He discovers in the end that consciousness of this Mind becomes the profoundest fact of his internal experience.
The first step is to discover that there is a Presence, a Power, a Life, a Mind, Being, unique, not made or begot, without shape, unseen and unheard, everywhere and always the same. The second step is to discover its relationship to the universe and to oneself.
Two things have to be learned in this quest. The first is the art of mind-stilling, of emptying consciousness of every thought and form whatsoever. This is mysticism or Yoga. The disciple's ascent should not stop at the contemplation of anything that has shape or history, name or habitation, however powerfully helpful this may have formerly been to the ascent itself. Only in the mysterious void of Pure Spirit, in the undifferentiated Mind, lies his last goal as a mystic. The second is to grasp the essential nature of the ego and of the universe and to obtain direct perception that both are nothing but a series of ideas which unfold themselves within our minds. This is the metaphysics of Truth. The combination of these two activities brings about the realization of his true Being as the ever beautiful and eternally beneficent Overself. This is philosophy.
In the ordinary state, man is conscious of himself as a personal thinking and physical entity. In the mystical trance-like state, he loses this consciousness and is aware of the Divine alone. In the philosophic state, he returns to the ordinary consciousness but without letting go of the diviner one.
Whenever I have used the term "the centre of his being," I have referred to a state of meditation, to an experience which is felt at a certain stage. The very art of meditation is a drawing inwards and the finer, the more delicate, the subtler this indrawing becomes, the closer it is to this central point of consciousness. But from the point of view of philosophy, meditation and its experiences are not the ultimate goal--although they may help in preparing one for that goal. In that goal there is no kind of centre to be felt nor any circumference either--one is without being localized anywhere with reference to the body, one is both in the body and in the Overself. There is then no contradiction between the two.
The body belongs to our field of consciousness, but we need not limit ourselves solely to it. We can for example bring into experience higher mental states where the body and the memory of it play only a little part. This indeed is one of the purposes of yoga, but it is not necessarily a purpose of philosophy. The philosopher is content to let the body be there, provided he can bring it alongside and within his other consciousness of the Overself.
Many complain that they are unable in meditation successfully to bring their active thoughts to an end. In the ancient Indian art of yoga, this cessation--called nirvikalpa samadhi in Sanskrit--is placed as the highest stage to be reached by the practitioner. This situation must be viewed from two separate and distinct standpoints: from that of yoga and from that of philosophy. Would-be philosophers seek to become established in that insight into Reality which is called Truth. Intuitive feeling is a higher manifestation of man's faculties. So long as the feeling itself remains unobstructed by illusions, and--after incessant reflection, inquiry, study, remembrance, reverence, aspiration, training of thought, and purification--a man finds the insight dawning in his mind, he may not need to practise meditation. He may do so and he will feel the satisfaction and tranquillity which comes from it. Those who become sufficiently proficient in yoga, even if they achieve the complete cessation of thoughts, should still take up the pursuit of understanding and insight. If they are content with their attainment, they can remain for years enjoying the bliss, the tranquillity, the peace of a meditational state; but this does not mean knowledge in its fullest meaning.
The notion, uncritically learned and sedulously taught by several Hindu sects, including a modern one which is actively proselytizing the West, that a criterion for whether a man has attained the highest state is his ability to remain constantly immersed in the trance, is not endorsed by philosophy. These sects, being of a religio-mystic order, have yet to reach a higher standpoint.
The philosopher rejects the demand either to accept the world or to renounce it. For him this is unrealistic. He does neither of these things. Only those who are much too ignorant of the real nature of the world can concern themselves with such a demand.
The yogi seeks release from the chains of rebirth as his objective. The philosopher knows that this result will follow automatically as a by-product of his own objective--the Real.
Carrying in himself whatever he has found in study and meditation and prayer, he returns to the world to gain experience of life and to apply in practice what he has learned.
The knowledge got from metaphysics, the intuitive peace gained from meditation, must now be accompanied by practical work done wisely and altruistically in the world to express both. The student must evoke the strength to descend into this sharply contrasting activity. The quest is not a single-track but rather a triple-track affair. He must travel along it with his intelligence, his intuition, and his deeds. "All speak of the Open Path, only rare ones enter the complex path," wrote Shah Latif, the eighteenth-century Sufi poet. When rational thought and mystical feeling and self-alienated action are thus integrated into one, when life becomes a sincere and successful whole, it becomes philosophic. It may be that such a combination of qualities has been rare in the past, but it is certain that it will be necessary in the future. The world will need men and women as leaders who have their roots deep down in the life of the divine self but who have their intellects very much alert, their hands very much alive, and their hearts very much expanded.
He has next to submit himself so completely to this experience that its inner light becomes his outer life.
It must not be thought that this is a mode of living which is half in the world and half out of it. Rather is it a mode which knows no difference between the world and the Spirit--all is of one piece.
It is a natural self-control which comes into play without any willed effort, spontaneously and easily. It is one consequence of achieving the third stage of philosophic questing, completing and applying to active everyday living the fruits of the second stage, contemplation. Ego and animal fall far back in the human to where they belong.
Nature is guiding us toward a progressive self-enlargement, not, as some think, toward self-attenuation.
Life is not a matter of meditation methods exclusively. Their study and practice is necessary, but let them be put in their proper place. Both mystical union and metaphysical understanding are necessary steps on this quest, because it is only from them that the student can mount to the still higher grade of universal being represented by the sage. For we not only need psychological exercises to train the inner being, but also psychological exercises to train the point of view. But the student must not stay in mysticism as he must not stay in metaphysics. In both cases he should take all that they have to give him but struggle through and come out on the other side. For the mysticism of emotion is not the shrine where Isis dwells but only the vestibule to the shrine, and the metaphysician who can only see in reason the supreme faculty of man has not reflected enough. Let him go farther and he shall find that its own supreme achievement is to point beyond itself to that principle or Mind whence it takes its rise. Mysticism needs the check of philosophic discipline. Metaphysics needs the vivification of mystical meditation. Both must bear fruit in inspired action or they are but half-born. In no other way than through acts can they rise to the lofty status of facts.
The realization of what man is here for is the realization of a fused and unified life wherein all the elements of action, feeling, and thought are vigorously present. It is not, contrary to the belief of mystics, a condition of profound entrancement alone, nor, contrary to the reasonings of metaphysicians, a condition of intellectual clarity alone, and still less, contrary to the opinions of theologians, a condition of complete faith in God alone. We are here to live, which means to think, feel, and act also. We have not only to curb thought in meditation, but also to whip it in reflection. We have not only to control emotion in self-discipline, but also to release it in laughter, relaxation, affection, and pleasure. We have not only to perceive the transiency and illusion of material existence, but also to work, serve, strive, and move strenuously, and thus justify physical existence. We have to learn that when we look at what we really are we stand alone in the awed solitude of the Overself, but when we look at where we now are we see not isolated individuals but members of a thronging human community. The hallmark of a living man, therefore, ought to be an integral and inseparable activity of heart, head, and hand, itself occurring within the mysterious stillness and silence of its inspirer, the Overself.
The mistake of the lower mystic is when he would set up a final goal in meditation itself, when he would stop at the "letting-go" of the external world which is quite properly an essential process of mysticism, and when he would let his reasoning faculty fall into a permanent stupor merely because it is right to do so during the moments of mental quiet. When, however, he learns to understand that the antinomy of meditation and action belongs only to an intermediate stage of this quest, when he comes later to the comprehension that detachment from the world is only to be sought to enable him to move with perfect freedom amid the things of the world and not to flee them, and when he perceives at long last that the reason itself is God-given to safeguard his journey and later to bring his realization into self-consciousness--then he shall have travelled from the second to the third degree in this freemasonry of ultimate wisdom. For that which had earlier hindered his advance now helps it; such is the paradox which he must unravel if he would elevate himself from the satisfactions of mysticism to the perceptions of philosophy. If his meditations once estranged him from the world, now they bring him closer to it! If formerly he could find God only within himself, now he can find nothing else that is not God! He has advanced from the chrysalis-state of X to the butterfly state of Y.
If there be any worth in this teaching, such lies in its equal appeal to experience and to reason. For that inward beatitude which it finally brings is superior to any other that mundane man has felt and, bereft of all violent emotion itself though it be, paradoxically casts all violent emotions of joy in the shade. When we comprehend that this teaching establishes as fact what the subtlest reasoning points to in theory, reveals in man's own life the presence of that Overself which reflection discovers as from a remote distance, we know that here at long last is something fit for a modern man. The agitations of the heart and the troublings of the head take their dying breaths.
The term "insight" has a special application in philosophy. Its results are stamped with a certitude beyond mere belief, better than logical demonstration, superior to limited sense observation.
Philosophy seeks not only to know what is best in life but also to love it. It wants to feel as well as think. The truth, being above the common forms of these functions, can be grasped only by a higher function that includes, fuses, and transcends them at one and the same time--insight. In human life at its present stage of development, the nearest activity to this one is the activity of intuition. From its uncommon and infrequent visitations, we may gather some faint echo of what this wonderful insight is.
Intuition knows earthly truth without the intervention of reasoning, while insight knows divine truth in the same direct way.
"Intuition" had come to lose its pristine value for me. I cast about for a better one and found it in "insight." This term I assigned to the highest knowing-faculty of sages and was thus able to treat the term "intuition" as something inferior which was sometimes amazingly correct but not infrequently hopelessly wrong in its guidance, reports, or premonition. I further endeavoured to state what the old Asiatic sages had long ago stated, that it was possible to unfold a faculty of direct insight into the nature of the Overself, into the supreme reality of the universe, that this was the highest kind of intuition possible to man, and that it did not concern itself with lesser revelations, such as giving the name of a horse likely to win tomorrow's race, a revelation which the kind of intuition we hear so much about is sometimes able to do.
There is an irreducible Principle of Being behind all other beings, an Unconditioned Power behind all lesser and limited powers, a final Reality which was never born or put together. Call it what you will, you can neither define nor describe it adequately: men do not perceive it because they do not have the necessary faculty for perceiving it, for that is a faculty which has nothing to do with the affairs of their little ego and its little world. But they can awaken this insight, nurture it, develop it.
But if the Ultimate is forever beyond human grasp, some suggestion about its nature is not beyond the grasp of human intuition. He who has developed himself sufficiently to receive unhindered such a suggestion is a man of insight.
All metaphysical study and all mystical exercises are but preparations for this flash of reality across the sky of consciousness which is here termed insight. The latter is therefore the most important experience which awaits a human being on this earth. If metaphysics or mysticism is regarded as an end in itself and not as a preliminary, then its follower misses what lies at the core of one's life.
Insight may apparently be born suddenly, but it is really the culminating stage of a long previous development.
It flashes forth out of the darkness and must be seen. Whereas a book containing new and tremendous revelations of truth may be read but its meanings not seen because not understood, here, on the contrary, to see is to understand. Why? Because it is also to be.
Such is the overwhelming certitude of philosophic insight that it does not need any other support to justify its truth for itself. Its possessor may, if he wishes, for the sake of others, put in such a support when attempting to communicate with them in words: but for himself it is not at all necessary. It is in a class entirely by itself and leaves the possessor with such awe, such a feeling of homage to its reality and truth, that he will be loath to mention it in any ordinary gathering of men.
Reason moves continuously around the idea of the Overself whereas insight enters it directly.
In The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga I most unfortunately gave the impression that the higher truth was only to be got as an understanding--in contrast with the mystic's realization, which was only an experience. Within a few weeks of its publication I wrote and issued an "Appendix" to clear up this matter and had it incorporated in the printed text in all further editions. Moreover, in the sequel, The Wisdom of the Overself I returned again to the same point, explaining again that the philosophic insight is a fusion of both knowledge and realization, understanding and experience.
Insight is the flower of reason and not its negation.(p. 277)
Insight can only supervene when thinking consideration has finished its work and relinquished its effort in favour of an ultramystical process.
When the form-making activity of the mind is brought to a standstill by the combined twofold process of yoga and enquiry, insight into the mind itself can then be obtained, but not before.
What the intellect formulates as opinion, belief, or observation arises out of its own movement in thinking. What the insight experiences as being arises out of the intellect's utter stillness so that it permits itself to be replaced by the higher faculty which alone can know reality.
The intellect is not able to get this kind of knowledge, not able to gain access to this higher dimension. But what is denied to it is granted to another of man's faculties--insight. True, this is still only a latent one in nearly all men. But it is there and, with the Overself's grace, can be unfolded.
Insight is not a work of the logical reason. Yet the keenest reasoning is present in it. It is not merely a movement of the emotions. Yet the heart element is equally present in it.
The philosopher's insight is not only sublime, like every other mystic's: it is also precise.
It is not enough to attain knowledge of the soul; any mystic may do that. It is necessary to attain clear knowledge. Only the philosophic mystic may do that. This emphasis on clarity is important. It implies a removal of all the obstructions in feeling, the complexes in mind, and obfuscations in ego which prevent it. When this is done, the aspirant beholds truth as it really is.
Insight into truth comes from a region which metaphysics cannot enter. Nevertheless his insight should be able to square with the reason and appeal to the heart.
He who possesses insight does not have to use arguments and reach conclusions. The truth is there, self-evident, inside himself as himself, for his inner being has become one with it.
Insight possesses for the sage the highest degree of that instantaneous certainty of their own existence possessed by other men.
The ordinary metaphysician can form no precise and impeccable idea of truth without the guidance of the philosopher's insight, or if he does it is purely a speculative one. Such insight remains the highest norm, the final criterion, open to mankind.
Because the philosophic experience is the supreme human experience, it explains and makes understandable all the others.
We need not be afraid of deserting reason when it has finally fulfilled its lofty office. For the insight for which we exchange it is not really opposed to it but implements it. That which reason describes as the indefinable and infinite pure nondual mind is actualized by insight.
It is out of the interplay of meditation, metaphysics, and altruistic action that insight is unfolded. No single element will alone suffice: the conjunction of all three is needed and then only can insight emerge. We cannot in the end escape from this complexity of life. The metaphysician who has not balanced his overmuch thinking with richer feeling, the yogi who has not brought his contemplative tendency into better equilibrium with altruistic action, suffers eventually from psychic ill health and external failures. For he is only one-third or one-half alive.
When this knowledge becomes a fusion of thought and feeling, intuition and meditation, it bursts out as insight. This is extremely clear, finally established, and certainly balanced. When adjusted to everyday living it is naturalized. There is then no higher satisfaction for the self, no nobler ethic which stays inside wisdom, and no more religious way to worship God. In profiting himself he profits humanity also. For what has happened in his mind will and must affect other minds too.
If a man is to rise to the philosophic insight, he will find it through intellect and feeling, intelligence and intuition, mystical experience and deep penetration into consciousness--his own and the world's.
Such a revolutionary acquisition as insight must necessarily prove to be in a man's life can only be developed by overcoming all the tremendous force of habitual wrong thinking, by neutralizing all the tremendous weight of habitual wrong feeling, and by counteracting all the tremendous strength of habitual wrong-doing. In short, the familiar personal "I" must have the ground cut from under its feet. This is done by the threefold discipline. The combined threefold technique consists of metaphysical reflection, mystical meditation, and constant remembrance in the midst of disinterested active service. The full use and balanced exercise of every function is needful. Although these three elements have here been isolated one by one for the purpose of clearer intellectual study, it must be remembered that in actual life the student should not attempt to isolate them. Such a division is an artificial one. He who takes for his province this whole business of truth-seeking and gains this rounded all-comprehensive view will no longer be so one-sided as to set up a particular path as being the only way to salvation. On the contrary, he will see that salvation is an integral matter. It can no more be attained by mere meditation alone, for example, than by mere impersonal activity alone; it can no more be reached by evading the lessons of everyday external living than by evading the suppression of such externality which meditation requires. Whereas metaphysics seeks to lift us up to the superphysical idea by thinking, whereas meditation seeks to lift us up by intuition, whereas ethics seeks to raise us to it by practical goodness, art seeks to do the same by feeling and appreciating beauty. Philosophy in its wonderful breadth and balance embraces and synthesizes all four and finally adds their coping stone, insight.
Right conduct, right meditation, right metaphysics are all essential to the birth of the truest insight and are all involved in realization. They must all pervade and perfectly balance each other.
These three efforts--to develop, to balance, and to fuse the qualities--once achieved and perfected, yield insight.
When a certain balance of forces is achieved, something happens that can only be properly called "the birth of insight."
In the illumination that spontaneously follows the balance that is reached when completeness of development itself is reached, man finds his real love, his most intense gratification.
Philosophy must critically absorb the categories of metaphysics, mysticism, and practicality. For it understands that in the quest of truth the co-operation of all three will not only be helpful and profitable to each other but is also necessary to itself. For only after such absorption, only after it has travelled through them all can it attain what is beyond them all. The decisive point of this quest is reached after the co-operation between all three activities attains such a pitch that they become fused into a single all-comprehensive one which itself differs from them in character and qualities. For the whole truth which is then revealed is not merely a composite one. It not only absorbs them all but transcends them all. When water is born out of the union of oxygen and hydrogen, we may say neither that it is the same as the simple sum-total of both nor that it is entirely different from both. It possesses properties which they in themselves do not at all possess. We may only say that it includes and yet transcends them. When philosophic insight is born out of the union of intellectual reasoning, mystical feeling, and altruistic doing, we may say neither that it is only the totalization of these three things nor that it is utterly remote from them. It comprehends them all and yet itself extends far beyond them into a higher order of being. It is not only that the philosopher synthesizes these triple functions, that in one and the same instant his intellect understands the world, his heart feels a tender sympathy towards it, and his will is moved to action for the triumph of good, but also that he is continuously conscious of that infinite reality which, in its purity, no thinking, no emotion, and no action can ever touch.
Insight is a function of the entire psyche and not of any single part of it.
Insight is not merely the result of wedding intuition with reason, although this is an essential prerequisite to its birth, but actually something that arises of its own accord through the operation of a higher power. Such an operation is called Grace and religious devotees or practising mystics do get an experience of its lower phases.
The ordinary mystical insight is also a transcendental one but there is this difference, that it is not pure, it is always mixed up with an emotion or a thought. Philosophical insight is utterly pure.
The "natural" philosophic attainment gives insight as a continuity whereas meditation gives it as an interruption. More, its attitudes are so relaxed, its operations so effortless, its outlook so carefree, that those who have to work hard to get the temporary enlightenment know that nothing else in life has the same importance, the same value.
Where we speak either metaphysically or meditationally of the experience of pure consciousness, we mean consciousness uncoloured by the ego.
Insight reveals the goodness, beauty, power, and stillness of the Inner Reality whence this world of turmoil and strife has emerged, and which cannot be dragged down to that world. However, the ordinary faculties of thought, feeling, and acting can be so profoundly affected by the experience of attaining insight that they will then see all problems in a different light. Thus, practical help follows indirectly in this, as well as in other ways.
Misunderstanding about the usefulness of insight regarding mundane affairs is easily cleared. It is like bringing a printed page before a lamp: the lamp's light is not concerned with the individual words, but rather clarifies the whole of what appears on the page. Similarly, although insight is not concerned with the lesser faculties, the illumination it provides enables the latter to deal far more effectively with everyday affairs.
When contact between the light and the eye is established, the resultant act of seeing is an instantaneous affair. When contact between the Real and the insight is established, the resultant enlargement of consciousness is equally immediate.
Thinking will come to an end, but not consciousness.
His understanding becomes extraordinarily lucid, as if a powerful light had been thrown upon the field of Consciousness.
It is all like a gigantic dream, with every human inserting his own private dream inside the public one. A double spell has to be broken before reality can be glimpsed--the spell which the world lays upon us and that which self lays upon us. The man who has completely awakened from this spell is the man who has gained complete insight. This faculty is nothing other than such full wakefulness. It is immensely difficult to attain, which is why so few of the dreamers ever wake up at all and why so many will not even listen to the revelations of the awakened ones. However, Nature teaches us here as elsewhere not to let patience break down. There is plenty of time in her bag. Life is an evolutionary process. Men will begin to stir in their sleep erratically but increasingly.
On the highest plane all insights are one.
See Chapter 55 of Lao Tzu where he defines "insight"; also Chapter 16: "To know the Eternal is called Insight."
Even the Southern Buddhist Pali texts admit that truth (Dharma) is attakkavâcara--that is, not attainable by reason alone--but is finally reached by Samadhi--that is, right insight.
A mystic experience is simply something which comes and goes, whereas philosophic insight, once established in a man, cannot possibly leave him. He understands the Truth and cannot lose this understanding any more than an adult can lose his adulthood and become an infant.
Because he has worked for his prize, because he has undergone a patient and arduous training, and because he has taken every step on the way with full comprehension and clear sight, his inspiration is not here today and gone tomorrow but, when he acquires it, remains constant and is permanently kept.
There are certain signs whereby the nature of insight characterizes itself in its possessor's relations with his fellows. Foremost among these are understanding and sympathy, a reverent regard for the sanctity and needs of another's personal life. A man of insight will never utter recriminatory words; he will be slow in judgement and swift to bless.
The signs of genuineness in true insight include (a) conformity to facts of Nature and not merely logic of argumentation or speculation, (b) clear direct understanding of what it sees, (c) freedom from admixture of any kind of personal predilection, aversion, auto-suggestion or motive, (d) indications that the seer has fully overcome his lower self.
No racial peculiarity, no geographical limitation, no cultural bias can enter into such universality of insight.
The ever changing world-movement is suspended and transcended in the mystical trance so that the mystic may perceive its hidden changeless ground in the One Mind, whereas in the ultramystic insight its activity is restored. For such insight easily penetrates it, and always sees this ground without need to abolish the appearance. Consequently the philosopher is aware that everyday activity is as much and as needful a field for him as mystical passivity. Such expression, however, cannot be less than what he is within himself through the possession of insight. Just as any man cannot express himself as an ant, do what he may, simply because his human consciousness is too large to be narrowed down to such a little field, so the philosopher cannot separate his ultramystic insight from his moment-to-moment activity. In this sense he has no option but to follow and practise the gospel of inspired action.
When, as recorded in the Potthapala Sutra, the Buddha refused to answer the questions "Is the world eternal? Is the world not eternal? Is the world finite? Is the world infinite?" he expressed something more than mere contempt for the futility of the logical self-torture of the intellect. For in his explanation of this refusal, he affirmed by implication that philosophy stood on a higher rung than mysticism. He said: "These questions are not calculated to profit, they are not concerned with the Dharma, they do not redound to right conduct nor to detachment, nor to purification from lusts, nor to quietude, nor to tranquillization of the heart, nor to real knowledge, nor to the insight of the higher stages of the Path, nor to Nirvana." Observe that these reasons are quite obviously placed in an ascending order according to their importance, because they begin with external conduct and end with Nirvana. And observe further that insight is not only placed higher than peace but actually said to belong to the higher stages of the Path. And observe finally that insight is placed only one stage below Nirvana, to which in fact it leads.
This is the true insight, the permanent illumination that neither comes nor goes but always is. While being serious, where the event or situation requires it, he will not be solemn. For behind this seriousness there is detachment. He cannot take the world of Appearances as being Reality's final form. If he is a sharer in this world's experiences, he is also a witness and especially a witness of his own ego--its acts and desires, its thoughts and speech. And because he sees its littleness, he keeps his sense of humour about all things concerning it, a touch of lightness, a basic humility. Others may believe that he stands in the Great Light, but he himself has no particular or ponderous self-importance.
If insight is superior to information then the philosopher has something to give mankind which the scientist cannot give.
The mystic who gives himself up to solitary struggle to gain a solitary delight is beyond our criticism but also beyond our praise.
Our ideal is not the yogi who has secured his own nirvanic satisfaction; it is not the man who is so wrapped up in his own peace as to be indifferent to the woes of others. It is the sage who is ready to sacrifice his own leisure in order to assist others, enlighten others, assuage the sorrows of others.
A spiritual exaltation which does not manifest itself in the service of humanity exists for its possessor alone. Him alone do we love who forsakes the seclusion of the solitary places wherein he attained Nirvana and goes back among men to help his frailer brothers. He alone is worthy of our regard who descends to exhort us towards the steps of the higher life and to encourage us in our efforts to climb, who nerves us with his strength, illumines us with his wisdom, and blesses us with his selfless Love.
He comes to the service of mankind by an indirect route. For his primary service is to the Overself. But after he makes this inward act of entire dedication to it, the Overself then bids him go forth and work for the welfare of all beings.
To be able to contemplate the Overself as an "other" is already an achievement of high order. But because it is, first, an intermittent one, second, an incomplete one, and third, an imperfect one, it is not yet the highest. In the latter there is final, permanent, and perfect immersion in the Overself.
His last task is to re-enter the busy world and dwell in it as focus for unworldly forces, to heal the suffering and guide the blinded.
The philosopher will fall neither into the cold unfeeling indifference of the recluse nor into the frothy effervescing fussiness of the sentimentalist. He knows that the first attitude is generated by excessive introversion, the second by excessive extroversion. His ideal being the balance between them, he will attend properly to his own self-development but, side by side with it, work helpfully for mankind.
He notes that other people's outer sufferings are greater than his own, while their inner understanding of those sufferings is less. He is both willing and ready to disturb his own bliss with their misery and he will do this not in condescension but in compassion. Saint Paul, following the master whom he never saw in the flesh but knew so well in the spirit, put all other virtues beneath compassion. Are the few who try to be true Christians, in this point at least, utterly wasting their time? For so say the yogis who would abolish all effort in service and concentrate on self-realization alone. Yet neither Jesus nor Paul was a mere sentimentalist. They knew the power of compassion in dissolving the ego. It was thus a part of their moral code. They knew, too, another reason why the disciple should practise altruistic conduct and take up noble attitudes. With their help he may bring one visitation of bad karma to an earlier end or even help to prevent the manifestation of another visitation which would otherwise be inevitable.
Ancient spirituality thought that what was most important was to cultivate individual soul. Modern materialism thinks it should be social betterment. These two goals have usually been placed in opposition. But modern spirituality refuses to accept such a false dilemma. Let us seek both the cultivation of the soul, it declares, and the betterment of social conditions. Why, when we open our eyes to the one need, should we shut them to the other? Humanity's outer need does not justify the neglect of our own inner need, nor this the neglect of the other. No amount of humanitarianism can counterbalance the duty of devoting time and energy to spiritualizing our own self also, but this ought not become so self-centered as to become a total and exclusive devotion.
Philosophy offers a middle way between the self-centered obsession with spiritual development and the self-exhausting obsession with humanity's service.
The last marks of the ego's grip will linger on him in various subtle forms. Perhaps the willingness to be saved himself while leaving behind so many others entangled in illusion is the final mark to be erased. But it is a mark which only philosophical mystics, not ordinary mystics, are likely to be troubled with. Only a compassion of unparalleled depth and immense impartiality will put anyone on such a course as voluntarily to remain on liberation's threshold so as to help the unliberated.
When a man has been preoccupied with himself throughout his lifetime, when he is intent solely on his personal salvation, when he no longer thinks of other seekers' welfare because he is too engaged with his own, the danger is that his spiritual attainment, when and if it comes, will be kept for himself too. This is why Philosophy rejects the egocentric ideal of the lower mysticism and why it trains its votaries from the very start to work altruistically for humanity's enlightenment. No man is so low in the evolutionary scale that he cannot help some other men with a rightly placed word, cannot strike a flickering match in their darkness, cannot show the example of a better life.
The difference between the mystic and the philosopher is that although both are illumined by the same Overself, the former's limitations and narrowness limit and narrow the expression and communication of his state and his help. The philosopher, however, having all-around development--for instance, having well developed his intellect and activity--can explain to intellectual persons what they can understand, can work among active persons as one of them, thus showing that attainment is no bar to an intellectual disposition or a practical life. The mystic is often unable to do this, but talks as a simple fool or lives as a hermit or monk. Although this makes no difference to his enjoyment of the higher state, it makes a difference to other persons when they come into contact with him. But these differences merely belong to the surface, not to the inner core, where both mystic and philosopher enjoy the same realization. Hence it is a matter of choice, not necessity, which path is taken.
Philosophy may offer the mystic a better understanding and a fuller transmission of his own occasional mystical experience but it also faces him with a grimmer prospect when that becomes permanently stabilized. For it enjoins him to abstain from final entry into the last state, the utter mergence of all individuality in the great nothingness of the All. He is to become the Saviour of those he has outstepped, to wait and serve until they too are free from illusion and sin. Only an immense compassion could provide enough force to keep him from crossing the threshold.
It would be a great misconception to believe that this peace which he has found in his inner life is bought at the cost of a selfish indifference towards everyone and everything in his outer life. The contrary is the very truth. He attains the wisdom and obtains the power to do more real good for humanity than those who are still walking in darkness and weakness. If he is a philosopher, he will assuredly point out the way for others to light and strength, and may even sacrifice his rebirth on a higher planet to this purpose. He becomes a link between suffering humanity and serene divinity.
There is a fundamental difference between mystical escapism and mystical altruism. In the first case, the man is interested only in gaining his own self-realization and will be content to let his endeavours stop there. In the second case, he has the same aim but also the keen aspiration to make his achievement, when it materializes, available for the service of mankind. And because such a profound aspiration cannot be banished into cold-storage to await this materialization, he will even sacrifice part of his time, money, and energy to doing what little he can to enlighten others intellectually during the interval. Even if this meant doing nothing more than making philosophical knowledge more easily accessible to ordinary men than it has been in the past, this would be enough. But he can do much more than that. Both types recognize the indispensable need of deliberately withdrawing from society and isolating themselves from its activities to obtain the solitude necessary to achieve intensity of concentration, to practise meditative reflection upon life, and to study mystical and philosophical books. But whereas the first would make the withdrawal a permanent, lifelong one, the second would make it only a temporary and occasional one. And by "temporary" we mean any period from a single day to several years. The first is a resident of the ivory tower of escapism, the second merely its visitor. The first can find happiness only in his solitariness and must draw himself out of humanity's disturbing life to attain it. The second seeks a happiness that will hold firm in all places and makes retirement from that life only a means to this end. Each is entitled to travel his own path. But at such a time as the present, when the whole world is being convulsed and the human soul agitated as never before, we personally believe that it is better to follow the less selfish and more compassionate one.
It is good for an ascetic or monk to sit idle and inactive whilst he contemplates the futility of a life devoted solely to earthly strivings, but it is bad for him to spend the whole of a valuable incarnation in such idleness and in such contemplation. For then he is fastening his attention on a single aspect of existence and losing sight of all others. It is good for a metaphysician to occupy himself with noting the logical contradictions involved in the world's existence and in the reason's own discoveries, but bad for him to waste a whole incarnation in fastening his attention on a single aspect. It is good for the worldling to accumulate money and enjoy the good things it can buy, marry a wife, and adorn his home with comforts, but it is bad for him to waste his valuable incarnation without a higher purpose and a loftier goal. Nor is this all. Mysticism, metaphysics, and worldliness are useless unless they succeed in affording a man a basis of altruistic ethics for everyday living. The average mystic does not see that his lapse into loss of interest in the world around him, his indifference to positive and practical service of mankind, in short his whole other-worldliness, is not a virtue, as he believes, but a defect. Hermits who withdraw from the troubled world to practise the simplicity, monks who retreat from the active world to muse over the evanescence of things, defeatists who flee from their failure in life, marriage, or business to the lethargy which they believe to be peace, thereby evidence that they have not understood the higher purpose of incarnation. It is to afford them the opportunity to realize in waking consciousness their innermost nature. This cannot be done by turning their face from the experiences of human existence, but by boldly confronting them and mastering them. Nor can it be done by retreating into the joys of meditation. The passionate ecstasies of lower mysticism, like the intellectual discoveries of lower metaphysics, yield only the illusion of penetrating into reality. For the world, as well as the "I," must be brought into the circles of meditation if the whole truth is to be gained. The one-sided, monkish doctrine which indicts the world's forms with transiency and illusiveness must be met and balanced by the philosophic doctrine which reveals the world's essence as eternal and real. There will then be no excuse for lethargy, defeatism, or escapism. A metaphysical outlook often lacks the spark of vitality; a mystical outlook often lacks the solidity of reasoned thought; and both often lack the urge to definite action. The practical failures of metaphysics are traceable to the fact that it does not involve the exercise of the will as much as it involves the exercise of the intellect. The intellectual failures of metaphysics are due to the fact that the men who taught it in the past knew nothing of science and those who teach it in the present know nothing of higher mystical meditation, whilst both have usually had little experience of the hard facts of life outside their sheltered circles. The failures of mysticism are due to the same causes, as well as others we have often pointed out. Finally, the failure of metaphysicians to produce practical fruit is partly due to the fact that they perceive ideas of truth and not truth itself, as the failure of mystics is partly due to the fact that they experience feelings of reality and not reality itself. The successes and services of the sage, on the contrary, are due to the fact that he perceives truth and experiences reality and not merely thoughts or feelings about them.
From all these studies, meditations, and actions the student will little by little emerge an inwardly changed man. He comes to the habitual contemplation of his co-partnership with the universe as a whole, to the recognition that personal isolation is illusory, and thus takes the firm steps on the ultimate path towards becoming a true philosopher. The realization of the hidden unity of his own life with the life of the whole world manifests finally in infinite compassion for all living things. Thus he learns to subdue the personal will to the cosmic one, narrow selfish affection to the wide-spreading desire for the common welfare. Compassion comes to full blossom in his heart like a lotus flower in the sunshine. From this lofty standpoint, he no longer regards mankind as being those whom he unselfishly serves but rather as being those who give him the opportunity to serve. He will suddenly or slowly experience an emotional exaltation culminating in an utter change of heart. Its course will be marked by a profound reorientation of feeling toward his fellow creatures. The fundamental egoism which in open or masked forms has hitherto motivated him will be abandoned: the noble altruism which has hitherto seemed an impracticable and impossible ideal, will become practicable and possible. For a profound sympathy to all other beings will dwell in his heart. Never again will it be possible for him wilfully to injure another; but on the contrary the welfare of the All will become his concern. In Jesus' words he is "born again." He will find his highest happiness, after seeking reality and truth, in seeking the welfare of all other beings alongside of his own. The practical consequence of this is that he will be inevitably led to incessant effort for their service and enlightenment. He will not merely echo the divine will but will allow it actively to work within him. And with the thought comes the power to do so, the grace of the Overself to help him to achieve quickly what the Underself cannot achieve. In the service of others he can partially forget his loss of trance-joy and know that the liberated self which he had experienced in interior meditation must be equated by the expanded self in altruistic action.
The peace to which he has become heir is not self-absorbed rest from old activities that he deserts, but a divine awareness that subsists beneath new ones that he accepts.
When he first attains to this clear vision, he sees not only that which brings him great joy but also that which brings him great sorrow. He sees men bewildered by life, pained by life, blinded by life. He sees them wandering into wrong paths because there is no one to lead them into right ones. He sees them praying for light but surrounded by darkness. In that hour he makes a decision which will fundamentally affect the whole of his life. Henceforth he will intercede for these others, devote himself to their spiritual service.
After the desire for the fullest overshadowing by the Overself, which must always be primal, his second desire is to spread out the peace, understanding, and compassion which now burn like a flame within him, to propagate an inward state rather than an intellectual dogma, to bless and enlighten those who seek their divine parent.
Unfortunate is the traditional indifference towards the practical world and self-absorption in personal peace. Such an attitude is not the one taught by The Voice of Silence, which fitly represents the school of true sages and which inculcates compassionate service of mankind instead of self-centered isolation. The Tibetan doctrine is in this respect superior to the Indian doctrine.
The fourth part of this fourfold quest, which concerns moral and social tasks, ought not to be disregarded. It is only an unintelligent mysticism that promotes smug self-centered idleness whereas a philosophical mysticism inspires both useful and altruistic activity.
The condition of stolid indifference to humanity is not compatible with the condition of loving harmony with the divine soul of humanity. In Burke's eloquent phrase, it is "the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings." It indicates the attainment of an inferior stage of spirituality. How much nobler is the attainment of a true sage! He does not look haughtily down upon others from the cold pinnacle of his unworldly interests or disdainfully at their moral weaknesses. He does not stop with the self-engrossed type of mystic to wallow in smug peace. Jesus, for instance, did not disdain to descend from the Mount of Transfiguration to help the epileptic boy; that is, he did not disdain to interrupt contemplation for action. The philosophical type of mystic does not content himself with the non-cooperative ideal of personal salvation pursued by those interested in themselves alone and indifferent to mankind's darkness and misery. On the contrary, he takes on the supreme sacrifice of a continual reincarnation which shall be dedicated to human enlightenment. Only when he has done all he could for the service of suffering mankind, only when he has reached this stage, can he know true abiding peace. Then he truly can say, with Chuang Tzu: "Within my breast no sorrows can abide, I feel the Great World-Mind through me breathe." There is every reason why a man who accepts the gospel of inspired action should become a beneficent force in the world. Whatever role falls to him in the game of life, he will play it in a vital and significant way. More than ever before in its history, the world's need is for such active philosophers. It has little use for volitionally impotent visionaries. Their muddled ethos must share part of the responsibility for mysticism's failure to make more effective contributions towards helping mankind during their greatest crisis and most tragical times. When the world is in such a tremendous need of guidance hope comfort strength and truth during its hour of grave danger and terrible crisis, surely it is the course of a generous wisdom for the contemporary mystic not to seek his personal peace alone but to realize the importance of helping others to find theirs too? He should not seek to be detached monastically from the troubles of his country. On the contrary, he should seek to mitigate them, so far as it is within his power, by rendering wise helpful service.
What Winston Churchill once told the American nation, "The price of greatness is responsibility," is what may be said to the mystic. The Americans tried but could not escape getting embroiled again in European affairs, and the mystic may try but cannot escape his own duties to the rest of mankind. The esoteric explanation of this is the factuality of a deep inter-relation and primal oneness of the human race.
The philosophic man's care for his own welfare does not make him insensitive to the welfare of others. His concern is not concentrated on, and does not end with, himself. Rather he puts both claims into sound balance and lets neither emotion nor self-interest run away with him.
Philosophy has never had a popular appeal and philosophers have always been small in number, but this is not to say that they have not affected the life of society and the trend of events. On the contrary, the intellectual capacity and moral character of philosophers have naturally made them members of the influential classes in their community, while the ideal of service, constantly thought about and acted upon, has by the law and power of recompense inevitably brought them into positions where there was opportunity to express it.
The mystic's own attainment certainly helps humanity but it helps only indirectly. The philosopher's, because it directly sets itself to benefit humanity, does so more widely and more markedly.
This ideal of a spiritualized worldly life on the part of an illuminate is held even where it might be thought the last place to be found--in Buddhism. For of the three Goals it sets before men, the last is that of the Bodhisattva. Linguistically, the term means one who is bent upon wisdom but technically the term means one who is destined to become a Buddha. Practically, it means one who stands on the very threshold, as it were, of Nirvana, but refuses to enter because he wishes to remain behind and relieve suffering humanity. This tremendous self-sacrifice indicates the tremendous spirit of compassion which actuates him. "I cannot have pleasure while another grieves and I have the power to help," said Gautama while yet a Bodhisattva. He has all the capacities and qualities, all the mental and ethical advancement to render him quite capable of swiftly attaining the Goal but prefers to use them only as far as its threshold and no farther. Hence, we find that Bodhisattvas are historically persons who practise pity, kindness, and charity to an incredible extent, but do not forget to use discrimination at the same time. He is soft-hearted but not a soft-hearted fool. Thus, he renounces the ego but he does not renounce the world. He may marry, as Gautama when a Bodhisattva sought to marry the princess Pabhavati (Jataka 531); he may live in luxury, ease, and comfort and say, as the same Gautama-Bodhisattva said: "Infatuated, bound and deeply stained am I with pleasures, fearful though they be, but I love life and cannot them deny. Good works I undertake continually." (Jataka 378) With all this, however, he does not drop his wisdom but holds perpetually to the meditation on the world's transience, suffering, and illusion but he does not hold to it to such an extent that he would fully realize Nirvana; here again, he pauses at its threshold. For he refuses to break his ties with common humanity. Thus, he is reborn in the most diverse bodies, environments, and ranks and undergoes the most varied vicissitudes, thus giving the benefit of his altruistic presence on the most universal and large-hearted scale.
Consequently, if we meet him in the flesh, we meet a citizen of the world, a man utterly free from all racial, colour, or class prejudice. He is ready to live in the world, therefore, even as a worldly person. He loves knowledge and will not disdain it when it deals with the things of earth alone; nothing that is human is unfit for him to learn. He will foster brains, practicality, self-reliance, strength, resolution, perseverance. He considers his word sacred and unfailingly keeps a promise and throughout the entire course of his worldly life he never cherishes ill will to anyone, not even to enemies who have insulted, injured, betrayed, or burnt him with their hate. For he remembers that he is a Bodhisattva--one who intends loving-kindness to all.
If it be asked how it is possible for the would-be philosopher to dictate in advance what attitude he is going to take after his final attainment, if it be objected that decisions made before this attainment may be discarded as unwise or unnecessary after it and that therefore the philosophic procedure of resolving to devote the fruits of attainment to the service of humanity is foolish, the answer is that these objections would be quite correct if the philosopher accepted attainment to its fullest extent--but he does not. He stops on the very threshold of it, and although bathed in its light and glory, does not accept it.
That which sustains each individual mind is a universal one. Therefore, that which is best for him in social and ethical action must also fulfil the requirement of being what is best for all. Otherwise it is incomplete.
If his earlier life has been self-centered, the attainment of this stage will provide him with the opportunity to escape from our miserable planet and to pass into a world of harmony, peace, and light, although this escape cannot in the nature of things mature until his physical body dies. But if his earlier life has been compassionate and altruistic in ideal--however unsuccessful in practice--the attainment will provide him with the power to implement this ideal, the strength to realize it in actuality. The thought will then present itself to him, "How best can I serve mankind?" This will lead him to seek for ways of helpfulness appropriate to his times, environment, and circumstances. Naturally the knowledge that helping others toward a similar enlightenment is the best service he can render them will predominate, but he will understand that their physical existence cannot be separated from their mental one and that it may sometimes be needful as a step toward that ultimate purpose to take up a duty which seems to belong solely to the external sphere of things.
Is it conceivable that just at the point in his history when a man has achieved the highest possible degree of power, of self-control, of wisdom, and of compassion--that is, when he has the greatest value for serving humanity--he is to be withdrawn from circulation and stopped from being helpful to those who most need him?
Those who engage in unselfish service are temporarily loosened somewhat from the ego. This of course is true only to the extent that the service is done with pure, and not with ulterior or mixed or quite selfish, motives.
Has it any moral realization of its responsibilities in the present world crisis? Can it say anything that is worthwhile and that will help humanity? What vital contribution does it offer to our generation? The answer to these questions is that philosophy is definitely alive to contemporary needs and extremely desirous of serving creatively. Although its votaries are primarily engaged upon spiritual studies, this does not mean that they must have a blank mind about other problems. They realize that their studies have an indirect bearing upon them too. However, the points of view being different, the conclusions are inevitably different too. For example, democracy says that public opinion should determine a government's course. Philosophy says that wisdom and virtue should determine it. At times, of course, the two coincide and then democracy is gloriously vindicated.
Those who have received its benefits will one day have to repay its obligations. This they can do only in the way suited to their individual circumstances. It is a duty laid upon them from within by no one but themselves, but it is not less imperative than if it had been laid from without, and by higher authorities.
He has no other course than paradoxically to separate himself from mankind if he is to serve mankind in the most effectual way--by living for it instead of being martyred by it.
The balanced view says that each individual has a duty towards society in return for what society has done for him. His right to draw something from society must be balanced by his duty to contribute something to it. Everyone should contribute something to the world's activity and not live parasitically on the labour of others. A genuine prestige should be attached to labour. It should be as dishonourable to be idle and mystical as it should be to be idle and rich. If anyone draws sustenance from society, he should help carry on society's work.
If those of higher ideals and unselfish character withdraw from society, leaving the world to be run by more materialistic and selfish persons, then society will certainly degenerate and thus bring karmic suffering upon itself. Wisdom, however, dictates the reverse policy.
There is a common goal for all of us. In the end nobody can attain redemption while his fellows remain still unredeemed.
The sage may invite co-operation in this work not for their personal aggrandizement but for the philanthropic enlightenment of the eager, questioning few.
The giving out of spiritual knowledge is best kept on such holy ground that it is done for its own sake entirely, and it should constitute its own reward.
If he gives his services to humanity, he does so without pricing them--without thought of or request for any external reward.
He is not a psychoanalyst who charges a hundred dollars an hour for consultations. He gives his services for nothing. Because he wants to conduct his life of service on the highest possible plane, he accepts no money for these consultations.
The mystic's error is to believe that his duty toward God cancels his duty towards man. Philosophy corrects the error and unites the two.
It is proper for the mystical novice to feel apathetic and lethargic about his duties toward and intercourse with society. He is trying to turn inwards and they would only disturb him. It is equally proper, however, for the mystical adept, if he has developed on philosophic lines, to feel led towards abundant activity and social service.
His ultimate aim is to enjoy the blessed presence of the Overself in his heart. But it is not, as with inferior mystics, to enjoy it alone. He ardently desires to share it with others.
He approaches men not as a beggar seeking help but as a benefactor offering it.
When the better souls non-cooperatively stay out of worldly business because they dislike it, or regard it as soiled, or are too weak for it, they leave the field open to the worse ones.
If he serves a race, a nation, a class, or a group, his service will not be for them as such--his outlook is too wide for that--but as human beings.
The larger understanding and the greater compassion of philosophy bid him act differently. They bid him seek his own salvation, not outside of humanity's, but alongside of it.
The mystic feels he has accomplished his task when he has accomplished this blessed reunion with the Overself. The philosopher feels that it is not enough and that without ceasing to maintain this union, he must spiritually guide the few who seek truth and materially serve the many who do not.
Philosophic altruism is not to be confused with its ordinary counterpart. Divinely inspired service is not the same as humanitarian service. The moral motivation and supporting consciousness are different. The sage practises the first, not the second.
If anyone can make a spiritual, aesthetic, reasonable, and ethical contribution to mankind, he serves God too, even if he belongs to no religion. For he is harmonizing himself with the World-Idea.
It must not be thought that a non-selfish actively altruistic attitude in his dealing with other men is the chief characteristic of the philosopher's practical life. If this were so then it would only be a good human life but not a divinely human life. Humanitarianism serves men whereas philosophy serves what is sacred in men.
Whoever wishes to attract people to philosophy must start by supporting its preachings with the attractiveness of his own personal example in day-to-day living. He must continue by practising love to all and depending on the power of truth. He must end by praying for others in secret and offering himself to the Divine as a pure instrument of service.
When the Higher Power leads a man to a position produced by his constant aspiration to serve coupled with his personal qualifications for it, the strength and wisdom he may need to fulfil it will also be granted.
To understand the mysterious language of the Silence, and to bring this understanding back into the world of forms through work that shall express the creative vitality of the Spirit, is one way in which you may serve mankind.
The man who lives in the physical senses alone reaches and affects those other men only whom he can come into contact with physically. He is entirely limited by time and space. The man who lives in the developed intellect or feelings also reaches and affects those other men who can respond to his written or printed ideas or his artistic inspirations. He is limited only partially by time and space. But the man who lives in the godlike Overself within him is freed from time and space and uplifts all those who can respond intuitively, even though they may never know him physically. For in the spiritual world he cannot hide his light.
It may be said that the world's supreme need is exactly what the illumined man has found, therefore his duty is to give it to the world. This is true, but it is equally true that the world is not ready for it any more than he himself was ready for it before he underwent a long course of purification, discipline, and training. Accepting these realities of the situation, he feels no urge to spread his ideas, no impulse to organize a following. However that does not mean that he does nothing at all; it only means that he will help in the ways he deems to be most effective even if they are the least publicized and the least apparent. He is not deaf to the call of duty but he gives it a wider interpretation than those who are ignorant of the state and powers which he enjoys.
To wait until you have attained perfection means that then you will be able to serve humanity perfectly. But can the imperfect do nothing until then? No--they can help, only it will be imperfect help, limited help, and mixed with some seeking.
Imagination could not grasp, even if sympathy could sustain, all this planet's inescapable human misery and animal pain at once. No man living could ever measure the one or alleviate the other. During the 1940s, millions of men and women and beasts lived in torture or died in agony, starved in famine or were liquidated in explosion. He must perforce accept the quantitative limits which Nature, insulating his personality, sets for him here or else set up his own. However distressed a man may be when confronted by depressing national situations or by painful international tragedies, knowing that he can do nothing about them, that they are beyond his limited power as a single individual to influence, alter, or reshape, he will have to let the responsibility for them rest on the proper shoulders and accept the lesson in karma's working. He is not a second Atlas to bear the enormous burden of the whole world's accumulated agony on his little shoulders. Nevertheless, given a man who is at all sensitive enough to respond emotionally to all the piled-up misery that lies around him, imaginative enough to recall it even when he is isolated from it by good fortune, can such a one remain immured in his own individuality and become impassive enough to live undistressed by the woes of others, untouched by their cries? Hence although personally helpless in such present matters, he can at least work patiently to improve future ones by working to improve future humanity. He will seek to find a sensible balance between the good manners of attending to his own spiritual business and the compassionate duty of making his knowledge and experience available to others.
We must distinguish between those who have attained to the true self through purely mystical methods and those who have attained it through the broader philosophic ones. The first kind enjoy their inward peace and freedom but they are often content to stop there. The second kind likewise enjoy these things but are not content with a merely self-centered acquisition. They seek out ways of embodying in their social surroundings and stimulating in their human environment something of the perfect life which is its hidden heart. Hence they teach and preach to others the way of upward advancement which can lead them to share ultimately in this diviner life.
He will best meet those who come to him for help of whatever kind, but especially of the spiritual kind--whether they approach him in person or by letter--if he turns them over repeatedly to the Overself. He need not do so vocally or publicly. It is enough if he does it mentally and silently. For they come because they sense the current, however feeble, of Life flowing through him. He must get himself out of its way, otherwise he will be like a rock in its path. By instantly following this method of inwardly referring the supplicants to the higher power, he will safeguard himself and serve others more effectively.
It is not by overmuch fussy activity that we necessarily serve others best. We may, if we have opened ourselves to divine influences, become radiations of such influences. Merely by being faithful to them, we become the best missionaries for them.
The idea that he has a fancy for writing down his intuitions and inward experiences does not make him a whit greater than another who wraps the veil of silence around his ideas, his intuitions or experiences, which, though now unuttered, may yet dictate themselves through other channels to generations unborn.
His personal destiny or spiritual dedication will decide his future course--whether deliberately to remain obscure and avoid the notice which excites opposition, or publicly to accept a mission and bring inspiration to a particular kind of activity.
To come to a philosopher with expectations gleaned from religio-mystic circles, and to find that he refuses to play up to them, is to invite disappointment, perhaps even disillusionment. Yet, in being himself, in rigidly holding to the best he knows, the philosopher has really rendered the other a better service than if he had responded agreeably to anticipations. The ego's incapacity to recognize this does not destroy the seed that has been sown. Athens was handed truth by Socrates but handed him the cup of poison in return. But who knows what minds picked up thirty years later ideas he had left behind?
Spiritual work for the enlightenment of others is more important than physical-plane charity. The particular form it should take must naturally vary widely with different cases and different circumstances. It is understood that such service is limited by the extent of one's own development, the purity of one's motives, and the destiny of one's present incarnation. When external limitations permit nothing more, it might be done in the secrecy of one's own meditation chamber. It does not mean proselytizing others. It is not necessarily talking or writing about spiritual truths. It is a way of life and thought resulting from inward self-dedication and compassionate wisdom.
Philosophy as a search for truth must and does look at life as a whole, must and does take all human activities into its perspective, instead of leaving them outside. It is only because the philosophic teacher's human limitations prevent him from dealing with all things and compel him to specialize in one thing that he economizes time and strength by serving humanity as a spiritual educator rather than as a politician. Both services are needed by humanity but one is infinitely more needed than the other. Save in the exceptional cases where he feels charged by fate and duty to render some public service in connection with them, he holds aloof from practical politics, theoretical economics, religious controversy, and social questions. He knows that the inner issue is really at stake behind all these others and this in turn depends on the metaphysical world-view. To formulate such a correct world-view and to guide men in the realization of their higher selves is then his chief and only task.
He reserves his best thought and energy for the fundamental task of, on the one hand, unveiling hidden laws of life and imparting a knowledge which improves mankind morally, mentally, and mystically and, on the other hand, to improving his own self so as to be better able to help change human character, reduce its selfishness, and dissipate its materialism. The social usefulness of teaching philosophy is ultimately on a deeper level than the social usefulness of stimulating worldly reform. For here man is dealing with causes, but there with effects. The philosophical mystic's work is limited in area to this single domain, but it is very much deeper and therefore very much more important just because of that limitation.
No other work could measure up, in eventual importance, to the work to which his life is dedicated, however insignificant his part may seem to him at any time. "God regardeth the duty of proclaiming His message as the most meritorious of all deeds," wrote the Persian prophet Baha'u'llah. Once fully engaged in this endeavour, he will feel more and more that he is part of a movement which is on the coming wave. Meanwhile, although he is to do whatever he can wherever circumstances allow it, in the way of such service, he is not to be over-anxious about results, on the one hand, nor utterly indifferent, on the other. A calm spirit, a patient mind, must never be deserted, yet a rejoicing heart over anyone that is guided to the Quest must never be repressed. His task is one of the oldest in human history--to convince men and women that it is worthwhile asking themselves: What are the ultimate values of human life?
The right way to help someone is to sympathize with the personal suffering, but to understand its inner necessity at the same time.
Whoever by speech or by silence, by art or by example, helps to improve mankind or increase knowledge of the higher truth, renders the best service. No other charity or philanthropy equals this upliftment of creatures struggling--unwittingly or deliberately--to a purified, disciplined, and refined consciousness.
The noblest calling in life and the most useful vocation is philosophical teaching.
The philosopher's work with others shines best in a literary function. There he gives light and healing, calm and hope to the many on their way who could never hope, owing to the lapse of time after his death or the distance in space before it, to encounter him in a consultative function.
He will not care to meddle in politics, for an arena of strife, struggle, the clash of selfish interests, lies, and libels will naturally be distasteful to him. But if destiny bids it, he will swallow his reluctance.
Philosophy tells us to work for the welfare of all men, but it does not tell us to work sentimentally, foolishly, unwisely, emotionally, and impulsively. It does not mean that a rich man should instantly give all his money to the poor; emotion may tell him to do so, but reason would not. He must use reason to check even universal pity.
It is not the duty of a philosopher to solve personal problems for others or to make decisions for them or to play the role of a healer. Leaders of religio-mystical sects often claim to do so but he has no such pretensions. Nor will he seek to attract disciples, making them more and more dependent on him, and form organizations, as those leaders often do seek. A clear distinction in thought and practice between these two departments is necessary.
No philosopher of wide-ranging vision and balanced mind dare claim to lead men into a permanent paradise. He knows that all beings and things are subject to change--except changeless Being itself. But he can claim to lead them into a supernal peace.
We need philosophers like Lord Haldane, whose services in the defense, education, and politics of his country were immense.
He is to expound truth and exemplify goodness.
If there is a call to an apostolate from a pure and deep source he will obey but if it originates in ego-serving shallower levels he will merely ignore it.
If the individual finds that he is best suited to help others through the medium of introducing them to meditation, then all other forms of service, such as writing for the public press, not being his true work, should be left to those who are specialists in that field.
So far as philosophy is to be saved from becoming obliterated, it must become embodied in a remnant of persons who understand, follow, and practise it, and it must also be recorded in writing for posterity.
If he cannot show a shortcut out of the jungle of contemporary spiritual bewilderment, he can contribute some valuable compass readings which may help to form a better notion where the way out lies.
Do not believe that every first meeting with a philosopher will necessarily enlighten you or even please you. The approach may be made with bated breath--such is the picture an aspirant, and especially a young one, often creates for himself--but the exit may be darkened with disappointment.
He does not claim to be a walking encyclopaedia nor ask for a halo of infallibility. There are many questions to which he does not know the true answers. He is neither pontifically infallible nor deifically omniscient. What the philosophical teacher seeks to establish are the basic principles in which all true seeking must end.
Whoever attains this, the topmost peak of the philosophic life, will naturally possess the capacity--rather the genius--to help the internal evolutionary advance of mankind. Indeed, it will be the principal and secret business of his life, whatever his external and conventional business may be. Those who stood closest to Jesus were asked to preach the gospel. Clearly therefore he conceived the spreading of truth to be their primary task. That other tasks, such as feeding and clothing the poor, had their own particular importance too, was acknowledged in his injunction to other persons. But that such tasks were secondary ones is clear inference from his instructions to the apostles. And in this critical passage of humanity from a used-out standpoint to a newer one which confronts it today, such a service is more than important. In his own humbler way and in a quiet unobtrusive manner, remembering always that people will find the best account of his beliefs in his deeds, even the neophyte who has still to climb the foothills of philosophy can and must communicate so much of this knowledge as he finds men may be ready for, but not an iota more. His task is not, like that of the apostles, to convert them but to help them. He may be only a firefly with little light to shed but he should desert the esotericism of former centuries and try to enlighten others because he must understand the unique character of this century and see the dangerous gaping abyss which surrounds its civilization. Moreover he may take refuge in the words of Tripura, an archaic Sanskrit text, which, if its archaic idiom be translated into modern accents, says: "An intense student may be endowed with the slenderest of good qualities, but if he can readily understand the truth--however theoretically--and expound it to others, this act of exposition will help him to become himself imbued with these ideas and his own mind will soak in their truth. This in the end will lead him to actualize the Divinity within himself."
If the statements of philosophers are to possess meaning and value, they have to be related to the comprehension of men. This is why the philosopher assumes the function of religious prophet with the masses, dons the mantle of mystical leader or metaphysical teacher with the few, fills the role of a sage with the rare individual.
He has become, by virtue of his inner attainment, a responsible guardian of ancient truths. They are neither to be hoarded in a miserly way nor propagated indiscriminately.
Because he believes that a higher power is in very truth taking thought for men and taking care of the universe, he does not seek excitedly to convert them but simply to state the fact of its existence.
It is not enough to give people only what they are ready for, only to cater to unevolved mentalities. Some effort should also be made to develop them.
It is not by making a person--be he disciple or learner--subservient and dependent that we serve him best, but by helping him to help himself, to develop himself.
The truth-charged words of a philosopher are not for those who are neither seeking truth nor willing to accept it nor ready to understand it.
Appreciation of these truths is the beginning of the philosophic life. Application of them is the end.
Unless he puts his abstract principles into concrete deeds, unless his highest thoughts are reflected in his lowliest acts, the student is no philosopher. These teachings have not been easy to comprehend in theory; they will certainly be still less easy to follow in practice. Nevertheless these rarefied principles must be translated into terms of everyday living. The skeleton must now be fleshed out and the warm living blood of action must course around it. Hence the third path seeks to connect this knowledge with the practical obligations of mundane existence and to associate these practices with the social and personal responsibilities of men who lead active lives.
The reader has had most of this system now presented to him. His work in following these difficult abstruse thoughts has not been easy. Now he may face, if he wishes, an entirely fresh task, that of bringing ultimate truth down from theory to practice. It has to be made real to himself. It has to be fully and finally realized. Constant recollection and constant practice are the only way to do this. When he comes to this final frontier of all existence, he must bow his head in humble homage to the fact that here neither yoga nor religion can venture across alone. Here the man alone may pass who can live utterly and fully what he has thought in metaphysics, what he has felt in religion, and what he has experienced in the tense stillness of yoga.
The instruction which Moses received on Mount Sinai, "See that thou makest all things according to the pattern showed thee in the mount," is precisely the same as that which the initiate into philosophic mysticism receives from his Overself after his loftiest exaltation. That is, he is told to work out in the lower world, where good incessantly struggles with evil and where men are plunged in darkness and enslaved by animality, a pattern of applied truth, of divinity in action, of altruistic spiritual service.
The discovery that our existence as well as the world's existence is like that of a dream need not alarm us, need not cause us to become impractical, inefficient, uninterested in life and half-hearted in action. For as we should prefer a pleasant dream during sleep to a horrible nightmare, so should we try to live this waking world dream of ours as pleasantly, as profitably, and as successfully as possible. If these doctrines cannot be made subservient to the ends of living, then they are metaphysical and not philosophical. For the business of the metaphysician is to lose himself in abstractions, but the business of the philosopher is to find himself in common life.
That which he finds in deep eternity must be worked out in day-to-day life.
When what he receives from within at the intuitive level is transplanted without at the active level, it becomes complete.
He is still short of the ideal if he lacks the animating impulse which transfigures the thought into the deed.
There is a gratifying secret entwined with this injunction to serve mankind. Whoever gives himself in such service will inevitably receive a boomerang-like return one day when others will display a readiness to serve him. For karma is a divine law which brings back to him whatever he has given forth. The area and depth of his own service will mark the area and depth of that which mankind will extend toward him. Only the form of it will be different because this will depend both on prevailing circumstances and his own subconscious or conscious desire. It may take only a mental or emotional form. The moral of this is that the wise altruist loses nothing in the end by his altruism, although the foolish altruist may lose much as the karmic consequence of his foolishness.
A true power will inform the hands of those who will act at the behest of the god within, whose daily admonishment to him is: "Go out and live for the welfare of man the Light you find in the deep recesses of your own heart."