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PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY

Definitions

Bradley defined philosophy as the finding of bad reasons for what one believes by instinct but Aldous Huxley has endeavoured to improve on this. He says, "finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons--that's philosophy."

In India, popular ignorance gradually identified philosophy with those monks and anchorites who had fled from the world and its woes to monasteries or mountains.

It was once the fashion of many people to sneer at philosophy and to regard philosophers as a ridiculous compound of foolishness and fatuity, but time has begun to change all that.

The notion that there is something futile about philosophy is quite correct when applied to what passes under that name very often, but quite incorrect when applied to genuine philosophy; and it is genuine philosophy which is here presented.

The value of knowing truth lies in its potency for making clear the art of fine living. A philosophy which is not strong enough to vivify personal life is no more than a dry dusty intellectualism, and when philosophy becomes a mode of intellectual wrestling, contributing little or nothing to action, it falls rightly into neglect. Its proper business is to rescue man from mechanical and unintelligent activity and put him on the path to a deliberately wise existence. It should be an insurance against making ethical errors or undertaking stupid enterprises, and its study is the premium to be paid for this valuable insurance.

Here then is a teaching, very old and very wise, which summarizes all human knowledge, actual and possible, and which shows man how best to shape his personal and practical life. I am not its originator. I can but try to re-present it to a troubled, broken, and blinded world which waits for this knowledge in modern form, as a benighted traveller waits for the dawn.

This philosophy rightly understood and rightly used will make men who make history. It calls for people who are ready and able to raise it above the status of a tea table topic, and to devote to its study and practice not merely an occasional free evening, but their whole lives; who will not only understand these great truths intellectually, but feel their transforming power in their hearts, and courageously live them in everyday life. For whoever masters this philosophy will soon feel its invigorating influence in every sphere of his activity, and in its light he will walk life's ways with calm assurance.

The Need

Once I stood on the wide pavement of Broadway. All around flashed and reflashed the electric advertising signs of "The Great White Way." A ragged young man bearing a bundle of newspapers came up to me, thrust a paper close to my face, and shouted raucously, "Man and woman shot." The never ending roar of motor traffic dinned in my ears. Crowds of people pressed by me: expectant faces intent on snatching an evening's pleasure, tired faces eager to get home after a day's toil, painted faces striving to retain a semblance of beauty, hard ominous faces emerging from New York's underworld with sinister intent. There was the stir of exultant activity. I looked around at the crowd which jostled me, and peered questioningly into the faces which moved like a cinema film before my eyes. Which one seemed to express the attainment of inward happiness? Which one revealed a serene detachment from its destructive environment? I turned away, sadly disappointed in my quest. Nearly all had been suborned by the temptations that form such an alluring accompaniment to modern existence. They did not understand that the transitory is true but trivial, the eternal is true and great. They did not understand that baronets cannot escape broken hearts, nor millionaires the miseries of disappointment. They did not know that once a man has taken measure of the suffering which is inherent in life, the wrinkled demon of reflection will pursue him into the very haunts of revelry. He may view with pleasure a hundred happy figures dancing in gay abandon, when lo! its sneer sounds abruptly in his ear, "and even these are but dream figures dancing towards their silent graves." And so they wander through the years alternating between the red flames of passion and the grey coolness of calculation, until the little candles of their lives have guttered out.

They who think that the purpose of human incarnation is to increase pleasures and accumulate property have learned nothing from the instability of life and insecurity of possessions which have marked the period now passing.

The greatest evils of our age are not in its outward materialism but in its inward ignorance, and not in its practical inventiveness but in its mental unbalance.

When we mistake transient sense gratifications for true happiness we suffer later for our error. When we fail to discriminate between what is perishable in our lives and what is truly enduring we rely upon illusory values. The future tempts or torments us; the past keeps us half-buried in its memories; while the truth which could lift us into a region that liberates us from all temporal tyrannies is disdained. Yet peace, sublime and ego-free, can exist for us only when we learn to live, as it were, upon the pinpoint of a moment where all hopes for the future are not allowed to imprison us, and where equally all memories of the past are merely held and do not hold us.

We attain peace, as Buddha pointed out, when we are free from all desires.

Inspired Action

Inspired action is the means of reconciliation between seclusion and society, the service of the noisy crowd with the silence of lofty thought. Spirituality ceases to be a monopoly of the cloister, comes out of the confinement of church, temple, monastery, or mosque, and walks in the marketplace among busy men.

For philosophy teaches us that there is no sharp division between the world of surrounding things and the world of internal aspirations, that both are of the same ultimate essence of mind. Therefore the philosopher will despise nothing because it is supposed to be material, just as he will discard nothing because it is supposed to be anti-spiritual. He has glimpsed the great mystery of all existence, and knows that all things are within and participate in the Overself. Philosophy is identical with action and not with inertia. To make it anything less is to abuse words, for as the "love of wisdom" it must include the application of wisdom.

"Love cannot be idle," says Ruysbroeck.

"I preach you the truth, O monks, for deliverance and not for keeping idle," says Buddha.

The hidden teaching affirms that the universal manifested existence is a Becoming, a change from one condition to another. It is absurd to suggest that a truly spiritual life must be a static one. A static human existence is impossible, and whoever seeks it seeks in vain.

Life in the active world is simply expression, and the divine life can be lived everywhere.

No defense need be made to the fanatics who decry and denounce our desire to get some comfort and convenience from the earth's resources. Western civilization, so condemned by Oriental critics, possesses much that is admirable, despite its obvious faults.

Man is not called upon to renounce his great discoveries and works, but to renounce selfish usage of them.

There can be no salvation in the attitude of mind which denounces the West as wicked and material Occidentalism and upholds an ascetic disdain of material things.

The God Who is to be found within ourselves must also exist equally outside ourselves in the phenomenal universe, else how would He be Infinite?

No, we must rebut the accusation of materialism as stupid, and point out that a better name would be realism. Life in activity is as real as life in repose; expression is no less divine than meditation; and they who have discovered the divinity within themselves will forthwith recognize it throughout the universe.

The Balanced Life

We need to achieve a balanced life with a wise alternation between action and repose, work and meditation, being positive and being passive.

Only the philosopher has the orientation of outlook which enables a man to take his political, social, and economic bearings correctly.

It may not be often that the floors of city offices are trodden by the feet of those who also wander in the caves of mystic contemplation; nor the hubbub of the stock exchange heard by those who also hear the sweet silence of the inner self. The combination in one personality of the two opposite characteristics of meditation and action may be infrequent, but there are those who have achieved it, and who realize that work is not only to make a living, but a life.

When there are more such men and women in towns and cities, when they walk in the hard metropolitan streets and the busy bartering places revealing a serene state of mind which is held and maintained no less among crowds than in solitary places, the soulless character of so much of modern life will be redeemed. The philosophy of inspired action of such persons brings blessings on mankind. Such persons have accepted their lot in worldly life and seek to do their duty; they turn occasion into opportunity and bring the sense of sublimity into their prosaic hours. Their own diviner peace and spiritual poise is blessing to their neighbours like fresh dew on a parched land.

Another name for inspired action is unselfish work. The spiritual man will work no less hard than the average man; his work will be done well, with understanding, calmly, with detachment. His aspiration is towards Perfection, the Supreme Divinity, and this attitude will be seen in all his work, even in the meanest task. He works without the fever of ambition or greed, and he does not allow any pains or pleasures, difficulties or problems to move him from the ideal he has set before him. With calm and equable spirit he does his best. More he cannot do.

A man who is attuned to cosmic harmonies cannot fail to express harmony in all his worldly activities.

This is a quest to be undertaken by those who have suffered and smiled and are still ardently alive, not for those heavy humourless persons who are ascetically dead. Therefore let those of us who are condemned to toil for our daily bread not forget to toil for the spiritual Bread of Life. The notion that a spiritual man may not work vigorously in the world of business and industry is as nonsensical as the notion that a man who can compose perfect music may not eat a hearty dinner.

There is nothing to prevent the sage from being a successful businessman, and nothing wrong in practical activities, for the simple reason that he will not cease being a sage nor lose himself in his activities, and he will remain rooted in Reality amid the world of thoughts and things.

Voltaire wrote of Marlborough that he had a calmness in the midst of tumult and danger "which is the greatest gift of nature for command." Thus even a soldier can derive great benefit from yoga.

Daily meditation will overcome the materializing effect of constant contact with worldly influences, by bringing together the inner and outer selves in communion with each other: one giving strength and light to the other, and the latter expressing this inspiration in active life.

We are able to live a complete and creative existence only after we have arrived at a true attitude towards life through spiritual unfoldment. Only then can we walk the world's ways in safety.

In the end we may learn whether our feelings were wise or deceptive, our thinking sound or unsound, by the experience which comes from our consequent acts. Dreamers, escapists, and ascetics who shy away from activity deprive themselves of this valuable test.

We shall find we must have the strength to say "No" to a thing before we have the inner right to take it. We must learn how to renounce a thing before we can possess it.

We must learn to remain ultramystically aware always, even while we are externally occupied with any matter in hand. Our work will not suffer, but be all the better for the poised emotion and peaceful mind which this brings.


-- Notebooks Category 20: What Is Philosophy? > Chapter 1: Toward Defining Philosophy > # 325






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