“Seeking the gifts of the gods, Vajashravasa of old offered up all his possessions. He had a son, by name Nachiketas. While the cattle were being led up for the sacrifice, aspiration entered the boy. He pondered thus:
“’They have drunk water, they have eaten grass, given their milk, they have lost their strength. Joyless worlds verily he gains, who offers only these.’
“He spoke to his father, saying: ‘To whom wilt thou give me?’ A second and a third time he asked him.
“His father answered: ‘To Death I give thee!’
“Nachiketas pondered: ‘I go before many that shall follow after. I go in the midst, since many have gone before. What then is this work of Death, which he will work on me today?
“’Look forward: as it was with those who went before—look backward—so shall it be with those who follow after. As corn, a mortal ripens; as corn he is born again.’
“Nachiketas, coming to the House of Death, stood at the door, thus meditating: ‘when a pure guest enters, the Fire-god enters the house; therefore they give him the greeting of peace. Bring water, therefore, for thy guest, O Death, son of the sun!
“’Hopes and expectations, friends and kindly speech, sacrifice and purification, sons and cattle,—it destroys all this for the man of little wisdom, in whose house a pure guest is not welcomed with food.’
“After three days Death returning addresses him: ‘For the three nights thou hast dwelt in this house of mine without welcome of food, thou a pure guest, and worthy of all honor—honor to thee, guest, may it be well with me—therefore against this, choose thou three wishes!”—Katha Upanishad.
From the House of Death in the great times of old, to a magic-lantern show in these lesser days, is a long cry; yet there is the same moral, and a sound one, underlying both: a moral we have need of, at this present time. Let us take the modern instance first.
When a good lantern has been found, with a perfect light, a picture full of color and detail, and a white screen to throw it on; when, finally, one who understands these things is there to handle the lantern, and an audience is gathered, eager to see the show, there is yet one chief condition to fulfill, without which all the rest is futile, and can only lead to portentous failure. The darkness must first be complete.
Even when the light is at its brightest, perfectly focused and centered upon the screen, so that the rays are already painting their picture there, and carrying it thence into the very eyes of the waiting audience, unless all other lights be quite cut off, they may receive those rays for ever on their very nerves of vision, and yet see nothing, nor know that there is anything there to see. And even after they have had clear vision of the picture, if other lights be suddenly turned on, it instantly vanishes; and even though the very same rays are still pouring into their eyes, they will see nothing at all, until darkness once more brings back the revelation.
I have used this image already, to point one moral of the occult world; to suggest the word of an enigma which has caused many to stumble. The riddle is, our forgetfulness of former births. The answer is, that the memory of them, and of them all, is with us even know, in pictures as vivid as any magic-lantern show, endowed with movement and with living voices, with a sense of by-gone years which yet dwell with us forever. Yet we see nothing, for our eyes are blinded by the day-light, and by our own lamps and candles which shut out that finer light.
Perfectly true for the memory of past births, this image is of far wider application, extending indeed to our whole life in the occult world, to all that follows after our regeneration. It is true for our whole inheritance in the Real, for all the wisdom and immortal will that wait for us, in the day of our initiation. We can only inherit when the lights that blinded us cease to enter our eyes, for we can only then see where lies our inheritance. The truth is as inexorable as it is simple. We cannot feel the immortal world of will, until we have come forth from the dominance of sensation.
The purpose of the Life is to make us present immortals: strong, exultant, creative. But we must first put from us two things: our lust of sensation, and the assumption that something is due from the world to our personal selves. Either one of these will shut us out altogether from the kingdom. The lust of sensation bars the way, because it is a condition of utter weakness of dependency and fear; the dread that our beloved sensation may cease, puts us at the mercy of every chance of fate, and we are constantly preoccupied with the fear that we shall be robbed. This is not the mood of the creative gods.
The other barrier, our demand on the world for consideration and tribute, based on what grounds one knows one knows not, is even more absolute. Perpetually waiting for what is to come to us from without, whether wealth or fame or whatever it be, we keep away from us the real truth, that all things must come to us from within; we are to be enriched, not by the tributes of the world, but by our own creative power. The one source may grow weaker, and cease. The other grows stronger for ever. The receiver of tribute is ever dependent on his tributaries, but the creator is king.
The vital truth then, the heart and soul of our new life, is this: we are to live directly from the will in us, bringing it to bear on the outer world of natural powers, on our other selves, and on our own inner world. We are to find our sense of strength in that, and not in our sensations or emotions. We are to have the sense of strength through the immediate presence of the will, and not through our outward possessions, nor because other people tell us we are strong. For that is why we seek wealth: to see ourselves mirrored large in the world’s admiring eyes, that thereby we may come to believe in our own wealth. But the great sea of will lies behind us, ready to serve and strengthen us endlessly; ready to pour living divinity into our works and days, until all becomes changed to the likeness of the immortals. Our whole being is to pass through the furnace of regeneration, so that we shall awake, and arise to a new universe, founded and based upon the immortal will, wherein the material world hangs suspended like a colored cloud.
We are to found ourselves inwardly on our immortal part, and to build our whole lives on that, in fearless faith, in perfect power. From being merely receptive of the waves of material life, we are to become receptive of the sea of immortal will, drawing it into us from above, gathering immediate strength direct from the great Life, and fearing not to claim our divine inheritance in the Power. All the tides of the immortal ocean are with us now, in our attempt and aspiration, but not for long. It is ordained that the immortal waters shall soon flow out again to the everlasting silence and peace.
These good things we have told ourselves, and our better part knows that they are true. But there is another part in us, the old realm and domain of original sin, including more of us than we would have the archangels know, which refuses to believe at all in the radiance and the realm, lamenting that the goods we had are taken away, while the new things promised us are phantoms, shadows in the mist; and so between these two voices we fall into much sadness and sorrow.
This sadness which comes to us, on the heels of departing sensuality, and when we have had the grace to grow ashamed of our vain self-esteem, has long been known as the Guardian of the Gate. It is a mood we must meet and pass through, if we are to stay beside the mystic portal until the lingering lord within returns. It is the darkness our eyes must grow used to, before they can gain the vision of the better light. And as the aspirant of old waited three days and three dark nights at the door of Death. so must we wait, till the noise and turmoil of the senses ceases somewhat from our ears; till a truer estimate of our little personalities opens the way for a right estimation of our coming divinity. And as the aspirant of old received the gift of immortal wisdom, immortal power, and immortal joy; so too shall we receive, if we but endure the darkness,—that darkness which comes to us in mercy, to prepare our eyes for the blinding sunrise of the Life.
The sadness of waiting is as inevitable, as little to be escaped, as little to be lamented, as the weariness which comes over the tired nerves of the voluptuary, when he repents him, and turns from his wicked ways. And it sometimes befalls that the penitent repents of his repentance, and returns once more to cull the sweets. Many who have painfully reached the door of imperious Death, the Lord of Initiation, have fled again before the third day, when he should return, unable to endure the darkness, frightened by the silence, and so sinking down again in the sensual sea. And much has been written in a very tragical tone of the sadness of waiting, so prone are we mortals to self-pity; yet there is no true tragedy here, unless convalescence be tragic. The true tragedy is, not to have the courage to wait. The waiting is indeed our only hope. For except across this valley of the shadow, we cannot come to the hills of light. Only by virtue of the darkness can we catch the rays of the rising sun.
We are well through the shadow now, and the day of our dawning is at hand. Hidden hands have led us far through the mysterious valley, without our knowing it; we are close to our journey’s end. But we shall not therefore escape the shadow-land of sorrow, the dim days of lamentation, the misery of waiting at the door. Therefore we do well to fortify our hearts with courage and endurance, to clear our thoughts and strengthen them by the understanding that these things must be so, and the reason why they must so be, for only those who endure to the end will see salvation; the crown of life is for none who are not faithful to death.
Our souls have been led back from the world of daylight, from the surging sea of sensuality, to the very threshold of the everlasting doors, and we stand waiting without. We are still not perfectly inured to the darkness which alone can fit us for the light, and we would not be veritable children of men if we did not mark our time of waiting with dirges for the days that are dead, and elegies of regret for the sensual world we must leave behind us.
People sometimes say they have given up sensuality, and yet come into no true revelation. Yet this is a mere confusion of words. All our outward life is sensual; all life that depends on receiving from without, instead of creating from within; and there is little to choose between the slave of fine emotions and the slave of coarsest stimulants of sense. In truth, the latter is more likely to turn back from the error of his ways, as he is less subtly and deeply corrupted. Vanity is a far more deadly evil than sensuality; and vanity, in its essence, is a claim for consideration and tribute to be paid to our personal selves, something due to the fine and worthy persons we esteem ourselves to be. The sense of grievance that goes with this claim would be comical, were it not such a deadly sign of weakness, such a barrier to the birth of the will. All the middle life in us which advances these claims must be broken down, before the will can flow clear through. We must outlive the sense that our daily lives and our personal selves are so portentously real, before we can open the door of the soul, and enter into life eternal.
Therefore before we complain against the gods, and magnify the sorrows of our waiting, we would do well to see whether we are perfect in these two things: whether the desires that dwell in the heart have been let go, and all personal vanity forgotten. And then let us be of good courage, waiting on the coming of the gods.
“He Descended into Hell.”
The passage translated at the beginning of the Oriental Department, from the Katha Upanishad, tells the very same story which was embodied hundreds or thousands of years later, in the Apostles’ Creed. The Father sends the Son forth as the sacrificial victim. The Son is delivered up to Death, and descends into the House of the Dead, rising again the third day.
But the story is older still. It is the outline of every rite of Initiation, whether in India, in Chaldea, or in Egypt. It is even older than all these: older than the Mysteries, which are as old as man; for it is the story of the Descent of the Soul.
The Soul is the son of the Eternal, which has descended into Hell, into the House of Death, where we all live, and which we all inhabit even now. We are the spirits in prison, to whom the Messenger was sent. The three days of our dwelling there, are past, present, future; the three mirages into which we break the everlasting Now.
But it is not only written that the Son descended; it is written that he rose again from among the Dead, the dead in sensuality and futility. It is written that the Son ascended again, learning the lesson of the great Initiator, Death, who is the veiled Genius of Life.
And in every land, whether it be Chaldea or Egypt or India, or wherever the Mysteries have dwelt in outward sanctuaries and shrines, the rite closes with the words: “Awake! Arise!” or be forever fallen.