Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
The passage from which this beautiful word picture is taken might well serve to illustrate the whole theory and practice of Meditation, in its three stages: observation, understanding, embodiment.
The word rendered “consider” is more emphatic in Greek; it means “study intently, observe accurately.” The parallel passage in Luke uses another word, but with the same emphatic meaning: to fix the powers of observation intently and accurately on the thing observed.
Neither the translation we have quoted, from the Sermon on the Mount, nor the rendering of the passage in Luke, does full justice to the accuracy of the Master’s observation. The Greek of Luke says, of the lilies: “they spin not, they weave not”; the two processes, spinning the thread with a spindle, and weaving warp and woof together on a loom, which go to the making of the piece of cloth to be made into raiment. The accepted translation gives only a part of the picture in the Master’s mind; he was thinking, not of toil in general, but of the particular toil involved in the making of raiment: spinning and weaving.
In another passage, which follows shortly after the image of the lilies, in the Sermon on the Mount, the translators use a word which somewhat blurs the clear outline of the Master’s picture, and thereby obscures a point of high interest. They translate:
“Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye”
The word “mote” calls up no clear image in the mind, unless it be the mote in the sunbeam. But the Greek word means, among other things; a chip cut by a carpenter, hewing a beam into shape with an axe. The thought in the Master’s mind would seem to be this:
“Why beholdest thou the chip that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the plank that is in thine own eye?”
The simile may come from the workshop of the Carpenter of Nazareth. Thus rendered, it is far more vivid; it has also an element of keen humour, of which something will presently be said.
Yet another word regarding the lilies might be more vividly rendered. The Master asked his disciples intently to observe the lilies of the field, “how they grow.” The Greek word means, “how they increase,” growing in height, in strength, in beauty. The lily sends forth the stem, unfolds the leaves, forms the buds, opens the flowers. It is a picture not static but dynamic, a picture of evolving life.
And it is worth noting that, when the Master speaks of plants and trees, he speaks also of their growth, in this sense of increase. He sees the fruit tree, not simply standing in an orchard, but bearing fruit; the branch of the vine likewise bringing forth fruit; the wheat sown on good ground, springing up and bringing forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold; the seed springing up and growing, the sower knoweth not how; the earth bringing forth fruit, first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear; the fig tree, when the branch is yet tender, putting forth leaves, foretelling the coming of summer.
Always the same intent, accurate observation; and always the vivid sense of growing, increasing life. The Master sees not only the lily, the wheat, the vine; he sees also the life, the divine, creative Spirit, the breath of the Father, moving in the lily, the wheat, the branch of the vine.
If space allowed, it would be profoundly interesting to illustrate in detail the Master’s keen, intent observation of the life about him in all its aspects; not only the growth of plants and flowers and trees, but the birds of the air, the hen with her chickens, the sparrow; the raven and the eagle, seen, perhaps, when the Master ascended the mountains; household episodes, a woman sweeping, the mending of a torn garment, the kneading of dough; then pictures of life in small towns, children playing gay or tragic games, men standing in the market place waiting to be hired, others giving alms ostentatiously; scenes in the country, the ploughing of fields, the sowing of wheat, the fields white for the harvest, the reaper with his sickle; shepherds tending their sheep upon the hills; a red and lowering sky; portending foul weather, the cloud rising from the West, from the Mediterranean, bringing a shower, the South wind, from the Arabian desert, bringing heat. So complete, so many sided, so accurate is his observation, that it is almost possible to see the face of the land and its people with the Master’s eyes.
This is the intent, accurate observation which is the first stage of Meditation, the right use of the first power of the Logos. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it is called Dharana: “the binding of the perceiving consciousness to a certain region.” Patanjali adds: “When the perceiving consciousness is wholly given to illuminating the essential meaning of the object contemplated, and is freed from the sense of separateness and personality, this is Meditation (Samadhi).”
Intently noting the life about him, the lily, the raven, the reaper, the men praying in the temple, the Master brought what he had so accurately observed to the inner, spiritual consciousness, the divine Light of the Logos, in order “to illuminate the essential meaning of the object contemplated.”
He saw the lily, the reaper; the men praying, first as they appeared to the natural vision, keen, alert, perfectly focused. He then directed upon their images the divine vision, the highest spiritual Consciousness, to see their essential meaning as it appears to the eyes of the Father.
The attitude of the Master’s mind and heart, in this regard, are best revealed in his words, recorded by the beloved disciple:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever the Father doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth.”
If the soul, seeking light in Meditation, will reverently and faithfully lift the object of Meditation toward the divine Light of the Logos, that Light will illumine it, revealing its essential meaning, because the Light is kindled by divine Love.
When the disciple, in faith and love and obedience, in his heart brings his problem to the Master, the Master so strengthens the spiritual light of the disciple that the disciple can find the solution of his problem; not yet fully, not completely; he cannot yet see the lily as the Master sees it, as God sees it; but he can, if he have faith and love and obedience, see enough for his next step. And that is all he needs, in order to obey.
Let us go back over some of the ground we have traversed, with the endeavour to see how the Master perceived “the essential meaning of the object contemplated”; how he discerned the real values of things, the values they have in the eyes of the Father.
He was able thus to see eye to eye with the Father, because he gave himself up to the Father’s will, completely, without reservation, in devoted, ardent love, saying, “not my will, but thine, be done.”
He saw the lily of the field sending forth stem and leaf and bud and blossom; though neither spinning nor weaving, yet clothed more perfectly in beauty than Solomon in all his glory. And he saw the essential meaning of the lily: the divine Life, the infinite, creative Spirit, the power of the Father, flowing into the lily, penetrating it to the tip of every leaf and petal; and the lily clad in perfect beauty, because of this divine, inflowing Life.
That, in itself, would have been a complete perception, a Meditation which had attained its end. He had perceived the essential meaning of the lily’s beauty: the indwelling Life of the Father. The poet who truly perceives and truly meditates, goes thus far.
But the Master, though he finds joy, and deep joy, in the beauty of the lily, thus seeing in it the revelation of the Father’s love, is yet preoccupied with another purpose: He speaks of the beauty of the lily, only as a means to his real end.
This real purpose is, to reveal the love of the Father to the hearts of the men he is talking to; to the hearts of his disciples, and, through them, to the hearts of all mankind, to whom he sends his disciples, to carry this message. The mission of the disciples is, to bring the hearts of men to the Master, that he in turn may bring these weary hearts to the Father, establishing in them the Father’s joy, the Father’s kingdom.
And because he sees these hearts, weary and heavy laden, sorely anxious for the morrow, sorely anxious regarding food and raiment, he makes available for them what he has observed, and what he has inwardly understood regarding the life of the lilies and the ravens.
The ravens neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn; and the Father feedeth them. The lilies of the field, the wild lilies, increase in their beauty; they spin not, they weave not, yet Solomon in all his glory was not so arrayed.
As the lilies, resting on the earth, receive and are penetrated by the flowing life of the Father, whereby they increase, and form buds, and blossom in beauty, so should we receive the flowing love of the Father in our hearts, that our joy may be filled; that we may enter into the joy of the Father, the joy of a life, infinite and eternal. And the purpose of the Master, in putting the lily before his disciples, is to make the lily reveal the Father’s love within their hearts. This is always his purpose: he reveals to his disciples, to the multitudes, to us, the form and loveliness of his own life, that he may thereby reveal to us the love of the Father.
To come back to the other picture we began with, the chip and the plank, an impression drawn from the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.
In this picture, there is keen, precise observation, but there is also humour. We read and hear his words with a feeling of reverence, because of which, perhaps, this element of humour escapes us. But we ought to seek his purpose in using just this image. That a carpenter, hewing a log of wood into the regularity of a beam, might get a flying chip in his eye, would be quite natural. But how could he get the whole log in his eye?
Is it not clear that the Master is using the expedient of wild exaggeration for a purpose: to rivet the attention of his hearers on the image; to give them a picture, unforgettable just because it is supremely ludicrous? The picture of a man walking about with a log in his eye, and not knowing it, has, in fact, the element of the ridiculous in an almost infinite degree. Once the mind sees it, it can never be forgotten.
Take another image, with exactly the same quality of wild exaggeration: the camel climbing, with only a slight effort, through the eye of a needle; the camel being chosen, rather than a horse or an ox, just because of the humped, clumsy awkwardness which makes it standing matter of comedy, the last animal that can be imagined performing a difficult acrobatic feat with ease and grace. Had the Master spoken of a camel jumping through a hoop, we should already have had a humorous, ridiculous image; but the effect is heightened almost to an infinite degree; by substituting for the hoop the eye of a needle. Mentally form the picture, and it is startling in its ludicrousness.
The purpose is once more to fix on the memory of his audience an image unforgettable because it is so supremely ludicrous. And he wishes thus to fix the picture on their memories, in order that they may never forget the message which he ties up with the image.
To go back to the chip and the plank The Master is seeking to reveal to his disciples the obstacles which men put in the way of the Father’s love; the barriers they build up: in themselves against the Father’s love, which the Master has come to reveal.
Most potent of these barriers is self-love, the kind of self-love which he calls “hypocrisy”; the quality which concentrates and hardens the false self; the nucleus of egotism, setting it against others, and at the same time setting it against the love and will of the Father.
He has expressed the purpose of his coming in these words:
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one.”
What more insuperable barrier to that “perfecting into one” than the harsh egotism, full of vanity, self-assertion and superiority, which the Master calls hypocrisy?
The use of the word “talent” in the Master’s parable, like his use of the tribal name, “Samaritan,” has stamped on these words a new meaning, which has attained universal currency. The Greek weight of precious metal has come to mean an intellectual or moral power; solely because of its use in the Master’s unforgettable story. The name of a despised tribe has come to mean a man of compassionate heart, for the same reason. The Master has re-minted both words, indelibly stamping his hall-mark on them.
So it is with hypocrite. It now carries for us the meaning gathered from his repeated use of it, to indicate-that tendency of the human mind and heart which he found to be the greatest barrier, the most dangerous obstacle, in the way of what he sought to accomplish: the bringing of the hearts of men into oneness with his own heart, in order that he might thereby bring them into oneness with the Fathers heart.
Just because of the new currency which he gave to words like talent and Samaritan, we are likely to lose something of their original meaning, as a weight of metal, an unpopular tribe. So it is with the words hypocrite and hypocrisy. It is worth while, therefore, to go back over the history of these words, to follow their original meaning and development.
In Homer, the verb from which they come meant “to reply, to answer.” In Athens, with its passionate love of drama and of the theatre, the word came also to have a more technical meaning, the answer of an actor on the stage; and from this the passage was easy enough to the meaning, “to play a part on the stage,” as when Aristotle speaks of an actor “playing the part of the king.” From this, the moral application, playing a part, feigning, pretending, in word or deed, was easy.
Perhaps we shall get back something of the word’s original vividness, if we take Aristotle’s phrase, “playing the part of the king.”
Is not that, after all, exactly what vanity does, what egotism does, what the false self within us does incessantly? Because the false self usurps, and plays the part of the king, taking, both in perception and in action, the initiative which rightly belongs to the divine Light of the Logos in us and should rightly flow from the Logos; because of this usurpation, the false self is hardened against the Logos, hardened against other men, children of the Logos, hardened against the Master, against the Father, whom the Master came to reveal.
It was to reveal this situation, to break down this dangerous barrier, that the Master drew that picture with its wild exaggeration: the man walking about with a plank in his eye, and not aware of it; the “hypocrite,” playing the part of the king. The plank in the eye is the false self, hard, aggressive, blinding.
If we are right, then, we may say that all the Master’s Meditation, his marvelously keen and vivid observation, his spiritual understanding of the essential meaning of what he observed, seeing it as the Father sees it, the living pictures which he drew, to embody this understanding; all this was devoted to a dual purpose: first, to reveal his own heart as the door to the Father’s heart; second, to reveal, and to break down in the hearts of men, the barriers against his love and the Father’s love. His Meditation always had this practical end in view; in his own words, he always made it bring forth fruit. He embodied his Meditation in the living images drawn with words.
It is well worth while to consider the way in which he draws these living pictures which bring to us the fruit of his Meditation; and to note something of their perfection of form. We may, perhaps, best gain our insight by comparison. Take a sentence like this, framed by a master in the use of words:
“. . . the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern hill . . .”
There is fresh vividness of observation here, with beauty of form and rhythm. But in translation much of that beauty would evaporate; the dew would dry up. There is too much subtle delicacy in the fine tones of colour in the words, in the lightly balanced stresses which make the rhythm, for transfer to another tongue. The movement of his story, the forms of his persons, his insight into life, remain; but Shakespeare translated is a moral philosopher rather than a poet; all that is most distinctive in his verse vanishes. Shakespeare has entrusted too much of his beauty to the surface, to rhythmic subtlety in the balance of words, the use of the pause, the delicate colouring of an adjective. It would be almost impossible to carry over into a translation the tone and music of the phrase:
“The multitudinous seas incarnadine . . .”
In his expression of beauty, the Master seems to have gone deeper, to have entrusted less to the surface. He has reached that primal simplicity of beauty which it is almost impossible to miss or to mar, even in a series of translations.
Every word picture of his has passed through two or three translations: from the Aramaic, the speech of Aram, or Palestine, in which he addressed his hearers, through Greek and Latin, to our modern tongues. Yet the beauty remains untarnished, undiminished. It would be well nigh impossible to mar, even after repeated translation and re-translation, the simplicity of “Consider the lilies.”
Exactly the same thing is true of such a sentence as this:
“Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
Æsop has built a volume of fables on the comparison of human beings with animals, the perception of the traits of this or another beast or bird in human beings. The Master, using exactly the same method, has accomplished more in this single sentence of only twenty-two words; and it would be almost impossible to mar it in translation.
We might well, if space allowed, note some of the means by which this atomic conciseness has been reached, a unity of form so perfect, that centuries have not been able to break off any of the parts; but one or two indications must suffice.
To begin with, the Master always uses a concrete image. Again as a comparison, take a beautiful piece of verse:
“Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
This has penetrating beauty. It is in the spirit of “Consider the lilies,” and conveys something of the same message. But Wordsworth is abstract, where the Master is concrete. On the one hand, “the meanest flower that blows,” on the other hand, “the lilies”; on the one hand “thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears,” to which every reader may give a different meaning, on the other hand , “your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” The Master speaks, not of “some magnificent monarch,” but of “Solomon in all his glory.” There is always this perfect concreteness. The Master speaks of the “image and superscription” on the Roman coin, the denarius: Cæsar’s portrait, Cæsar’s name.
Besides this concreteness, there is always precision. We must confine ourselves to a single side of this precision: his use of exact numbers. “There shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.” “An hundred measures of oil, an hundred measures of wheat.” “Ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” “Thou hast authority over ten cities.”
We ventured to say, a little while ago, that the Master’s coming, his whole life and effort, had a single purpose, with two branches: by pouring his love into our hearts, to bring our hearts to himself; and thereby to the Father; to reveal; in order that with the help of his love we may remove the obstacles in our hearts to that love.
We have here the indication of our own task and purpose, also with two branches: first, to seek in all ways to open our hearts to that love; second, to discover, in order that we may remove, the barriers. Meditation is a means.
We must first observe, then understand, then embody what we have understood. We must observe life, our own lives, the lives of others, all life about us, looking intently, accurately noting. We must then bring what we have observed into the heart within, reverently seeking the Light of the Logos, the Master’s light, to illumine the essential meaning of what we have observed; with faith that in time we shall see all life as the Father sees it. “Lighten our darkness.” What we come to understand of the essential meaning of life as the Father sees it, we must embody in our lives, making it concrete, precise. In the fulness of time, we shall see all life in the light of the Father’s love.
Then the barriers to that love, first in our own hearts. We must look intently; accurately observe. We must seek the essential meaning of what we have observed, always in that Light. What we understand, through the illumination of that Light, we must embody, in love, in will, in act; concrete, precise, as the image of the lilies; in the fulness of time, perhaps with something of their beauty.