A summer evening, high among the Alps; the in-gathering of purple twilight veils the world in mystery; the hills, with their curtains of pines; the meadows, sinking away towards the valley. Darkening forests rise again to mountains, white with new-fallen snow, their crests just touched with crimson. The sky behind them, a sea of gold, paling through yellow to the transparent green of the zenith; overhead, a single cloudlet, a scarlet feather, gleaming in the rays of the hidden sun.
The silence is an all-enfolding presence; the flowing sheen and glimmer of the air bathe all things, till it seems that the shining ether alone is real, the rocks and vales but a colored dream, breathed over the eternal light.
This magical power of nature that dissolves the world is a symbol of man’s awakening. The light in the heart, first dimly shining, begins to penetrate and inform all life, till the spirit finds quite other realities than those the eyes behold and the hands can handle. Initiation is nothing else than this, a man’s awakening to real life.
The natural man, untouched by that new birth, is the victim of the outer world and material fate; his one hope is to secure himself against nature’s necessities. For this he toils late and early; for this he builds cities, organizes commerce and merchandise, to surround himself with a barrier against the outer world. For this also, he makes laws and governments, to shield what he has gained from the longings of other men. Thus fear goads him with the lust of possession; all thoughts are directed to no other end than this: his own separate well-being and protection—to hold his belongings, against nature and his fellowmen. The prompting impulse, through it all, is fear; the dread that a man himself is not enough: so that he must surround himself with houses and lands, with riches gathered up as a defense against the dim and threatening future. As man’s possessions grow, his spirit shrinks so that the loss of the least of them is felt as a sharp injury, apprehension of which brings perpetual suspicion of his fellow-men. There is nothing animal in this lust of possession. The beasts live without fear of tomorrow: or, at the most, laying up stores for a single winter, rest content. This ministering of will and reason to imaginative fear is man’s alone. Even in his animal part, he is far away from the beasts. For him, sensuality is three parts imagining, and but one part act. The dreams of lust, the memory of lust, the expectation of lust, fill his mind rather than lust itself. Lust is but a disappointment, to be overcome by new dreams and expectations. And the more utter is the sway of lust, the bitterer its disappointment. Thus fear and fancy do their work, with discursive reason excusing them, and acting as their minister; telling man that these things are altogether well—the lust of possession and the dream of pleasure—till night comes, and the end.
To say that man is utterly under the sway of fear and lust would be to say that spirit is dead. But spirit lives and gains victory, even in the most futile life, wherever fear for one’s self is overcome by valor, wherever generosity triumphs over greed, wherever dreams of lust give place for a moment to visions of beauty, wherever hate is overcome by love. For these things, valor and generous love, the vision of reality and beauty, are the assertion and natural being of the unconquerable soul, which the man truly is, and which he will know himself to be, when he is born again.
The meanness of him, the craven fear, the unclean longing, have held their own in his mind; using discursive reason as a cloak to make a respectable outward vesture, to preserve the proprieties, and keep a seemly world. But in his heart, all the time, behind the meanness and the fear, is the gleam and glimmer of a better light; a whisper that valor is not dead, that a man should dare all things, that his spirit is not the slave, but the master of the world. And, for every man, there comes a time when his heart sickens of the meanness and fear of his life, and he tums, with the grim honesty of a forlorn hope, to the light in the heart that sends him these divine monitions; he has already tried the other way, and found it wanting; he will try this now, and the worst that can befall is another failure, while the best is something beyond the hopes of the Gods.
In that turning towards the spirit, which is the first quickening toward new birth, there are certain necessary conditions fixed, not arbitrarily but by the very nature of real life. First, man must have the courage of his conviction; he must really and heartily throw himself on the side of the soul, depending for his future well-being on the soul, and not on material success. The valor of the warrior is that he is perfectly willing to meet death; not that he believes valor will carry the matter through, and save him with a whole skin. And death is the greatest apparent failure of all; the irremediable loss of material success or any hope of it. So it is with the soul. It is not to be gained if a man makes a reservation in his mind—if he will serve the divine, provided that divinity offers him an assured livelihood; even the smallest, but assured. The truth is, the smallest inbreathing of soul will make him doubly strong and fit to face the world; but the soul was never won by counting on tint. The mystic saying is quite simple and rigid: A man must lose his life to save it. The soul is really self-subsistent, and in no way dependent on material success: and, in truth, its majesty is most splendidly visible when every condition of material success is broken, and even death itself defied. The soul is self-supported; a man must act on that.
But before the new birth, in building for it, a man can do much. In almost every act in life there is the choice between cowardice and valor; between greed and generosity; between hate and love; between lust and clean health: between bitterness and good-nature. And here one would like to insist on a truth much forgotten: that valor and good-nature are as essential fruits of spirit as cleanness and faith. In choosing between these opposites, where no one not despising manhood can hesitate in the choice, a man will come to see that the mean and craven tendencies come from one centre, his baser self, while the others are the natural powers, the manner of being, of a better, more real self, whom he is one day to be. This narrows the issue of life to the point where his new birth becomes possible and imperative. Feeling these two selves, he cannot but choose between them; he will choose worthily.
And here it is, all teachers rightly hold, that faith is necessary; the faith to abide by, and heartily follow, what he feels to be the highest, against all the evidence of outward things, against the complaining of his own discursive reason and the same voice in others. For the discursive reason is the intellect of the baser man, full of cowardly precautions, as intuition is the intellect of the real man, valorous and affirmative.
Choosing worthily and with faith, the man is born again. He is no longer his baser self, he has begun to be his real self; this is the beginning, and the end of that way is beyond the imagination of the Gods. Entering into real life the man begins to learn, just as a child does on entering the natural world. And the least of those lessons is a benediction; for our true estate is something higher than the heart can bring itself to believe.
First as to the fear of death that has clogged his footsteps, subverting his best precautions, out-flanking his utmost sagacity. For him, that fear is gone. For the real self he has begun to be carries with it a deep assurance of eternalness, a profound sense and already realized experience of everlasting life. For him, there are no more controversies as to the soul’s immortality; nor have these any longer a meaning. The real self is immortal and knows it, with not less certainty than we know day from night and light from darkness. It is as though man, rising up in his strength, looks backward behind birth, and onward beyond death; seeing himself in a shining being that transcends these, as the clear sky stretches beyond the hills on either hand.
Then the lust of possessions, with its heart of gnawing fear. That too is dead. for the soul, feeling its real, self-subsisting being, knows that it no longer needs these things, or is dependent on them; yet knows at the same time, with a splendid peace, that the soul itself possesses all things; for, in the last reality, the soul is all things. Only after this knowledge can possessions be put to their right and universal use, as the outward expression and vesture of the soul, whereby it communicates with its fellows; only after this knowledge can they be serenely enjoyed, as a strong man enjoys his strength. For the fear is gone that marred them, in the knowledge that possessions are but the outer vesture of the soul, which the soul can renew, or cast away, or change, according to its own needs, through its own inherent power.
One more change follows: instead of bitterness towards other men, the new-born man finds within himself a great goodwill and gentle charity. For he knows now that neither he nor they have any separate interests, clashing and conflicting; but that there is only one interest, the universal; the proper being of the spirit itself, a being that is altogether well.
Then the last lesson: neither my spirit, nor yours, nor anyone’s, has separate, isolated being; all are parts, rays of the One Spirit that alone is. Yet not parts, but each the whole of that infinite Being, each born to heirship of the whole; the heirship of each no more detracting from the other than the stars do, when the light of each star throbs through all space. We feel, even now, deep in our hearts that boundless heritage of the universal Self, so that not even the least and meanest of mankind would be greatly perturbed or put out of countenance if, waking some morning, he found himself called on to rule a kingdom of stars. There are some things he would like to have forgotten and put out of sight, that is all. Then he would go on bravely and enter into his kingdom, to rule it worthily as an immortal being.
And this is no dream but very like the reality that is opening up before us all. A new world to enter; a world deathless, unfading, eternal, where fear comes not through old age.
With these spiritual changes, that give us valor instead of fear, love instead of hate, generosity instead of greed, immortality instead of death, will come others not less momentous, though their names have nearly died out of our memories. For it is not a symbol, but sober earnest, to say that the new birth opens up to man a new world, with its own high powers, its own shining laws, what these laws of real life are, each one of us must have the profound pleasure of verifying for himself; but we may rest assured that they are not less than justice—justice for every true and honest longing; justice for every lowliest soul of man that has entered into the world. In that justice, the whole of life makes for this one thing only: the perfecting of souls, and their return to their high estate. Pain and death even are subject to this law: they are to goad us on to an exertion of our power, an assertion of our immortality. A world of perfect freedom, perfect justice, where the soul shall have a vesture, not compounded of perishable elements as on earth, but tense and tempered to diviner energies, “a vesture of the color of the sun.” This world, not in some dim, far-off place beyond the grave; but here and now, the only real world, embosomed in which the seeming world of unreality rests, like a colored cloud floating in the infinite blue.