Io veggio ben sì come già risplende
nello intelletto tuo l’eterna luce . . .
—DANTE, Paradiso, V.
“Well do I note how in thine intellect already doth reglow the eternal Light, which only seen doth ever kindle love; and if aught else lead your love away, naught is it save some vestige of this Light, ill understood, that shineth through therein.”
In the two lines quoted above, from the longer passage given in English, Dante has said almost everything that can be said regarding the Logos and the mind. The eternal Light of the Logos glows again in our spiritual consciousness, when mind and heart have been cleansed and restored by the long process of purification so marvelously described in the Purgatorio.
The heart of the matter would seem to be that not only our spiritual insight and will, but every power that we possess without exception, the whole substance and force of our existence, comes to us from the Logos through the collective Divine Power which we call the Lodge of Masters, and in particular from and through that Master on whose ray of spiritual life and force we are. It is the work of the Master to give form to the spiritual ideal for each one of us, and to lead us, so far as we permit and co-operate, to fulfill that ideal and to make it concrete.
Our powers are not our own, but come to us without exception from the Logos, while the way in which we should use these powers, the plan and ideal we should follow, are given to us by the Master on whose ray we are, who himself draws the principles and lines of his conception from the Logos. Plato speaks of the secondary creative gods who formed mankind, according to his teaching, as mirrors of the eternal Artificer. Dante in like manner calls the divine potencies and high angels mirrors of the eternal Light. We may, perhaps, think of Masters in the same terms, and think of them as carrying out the same work.
Quite literally, we are not our own. We did not provide ourselves with bodies, which come to us through the long succession of ages, from an impulse having its origin in the Logos; and this is true both of their form and of their substance, in the view of students of Theosophy. In exactly the same way we did not provide ourselves with consciousness, that miraculous power which looks out at the world through our eyes. We did not provide ourselves with will, the ability to set our powers in motion, and actively to use them. Consciousness and will are more palpably of the Logos than the form and substance of our bodies; and it may be helpful for us to consider that our consciousness and will, exactly as they are at this moment, are integral parts of the Logos, of the divine, universal Consciousness and Will; not rays remotely derived from the Logos, but undivided parts of the Logos, here and now, just as, according to the most recent scientific view, our hands, for instance, are integral parts of the sum total of electrons which make up the physical substance of the world.
Why then, if the Logos be divine Light, are we so often children of darkness, at best able to say: the good I would, I do not; the evil I would not, that I do?
To begin with, is it not evident that the power thus to discern the dissonance between the good we seek and the evil we do, is already a gift of the Logos, an illumination of our minds by that ineffable Light? But the deeper mystery remains: Why are we so prone to darkness, if the Light be our Father? Why do we follow evil, if we are children of infinite Good?
Here is at once the deepest mystery of human life, and the fact of which we have, from hour to hour, the most certain experimental knowledge: namely, the mystery of free will. From one side, that problem may be forever beyond our understanding, but from another side we know all that we can possibly use regarding it, much more than we are at all inclined to use. It is exactly as with the problem of Being; from one point of view, Being is, and must ever remain, an inscrutable mystery; from another point of view we know all we need to know, since we are possessed of being, and act confidently on that possession every instant of our lives. So we have free will, and we use it continually.
We may find a workable expression of our problem, if we say that the divine Power, having given us substance and form, consciousness and will, all drawn from the divine Being itself, determined to add the final prerogative of divinity, the power of choice; not simply the power to choose between two directions, as a bird chooses one or another tree for its nest; but the power to choose, with the perception that one choice is good, and the other evil; the power to conform to the divine Will, with the power to disobey that will. This is the splendid and terrible gift with which Divinity has endowed us; and we can see that, had we not the power to disobey, the final virtue would be forever lacking from our obedience.
But if we have both the power to perceive and the power to choose, why do we habitually drag our steps? Why is it such a long matter with us, to turn from the evil we recognize as evil, and to turn to the good which we know to be good? Why are we so sluggish and reluctant in our obedience?
Time seems to enter into the equation as an almost dominating factor. But perhaps that dominance of time exists only in our imaginations; perhaps it is there, only because we think it is there. A few years ago, the followers of Darwin used to think that almost endless time entered into the change from a species to a derived species, through the addition of innumerable characters so small as to be invisible. But the followers of Mutation now think that the complete change takes but one generation, as the moss rose suddenly appeared, or the new evening primrose which started this hypothesis. It may be that time does not enter at all into either transformation; that our feeling of the innumerable divisions of time needed for any definite change in ourselves, any advance in conformity to the divine Will, is simply the expression of our divided wills, of our deep-seated reluctance really to exert ourselves.
If we consider it, our reluctance, our sloth is a very curious thing. Going to the limit of our physical knowledge in one direction, we reach the atoms, built up, according to the present view, of electrons revolving at the rate of thousands of miles a second; keeping up a pace that would circle the globe more swiftly than Ariel. Going to the opposite extreme, we have the suns and stars, perpetually racing through interstellar space. We, somewhere between these swift extremes, are sodden with sloth. As we have said, it is profoundly strange from a philosophical point of view.
The solution lies, perhaps, in that strange world, between earth and heaven, in which we have elected to dwell: the world of psychic life. From one point of view, it is the world of mind-images; of pictures formed in the mind and by the mind, which exercise over us an extraordinary power of fascination.
Many thoughtful minds have pondered over this power of ours to form mind-images. Patanjali, for example, calls them Sanskaras, a word derived originally, it would seem, from the patterns drawn by potters on the soft clay of their unbaked pots. Aristotle calls them Phantasmata, pictures first made through the senses and remaining in our minds after the outer objects are withdrawn. The Sutras of Kapila add that, once they are formed, they have a certain power of self-perpetuation, just as the potter’s wheel, once it is set spinning, continues to rotate after the impelling force is withdrawn.
Here we come to another gift which the gods have given us, seemingly with the same terrible completeness with which they gave us the power of choice: the gift, namely, of being attracted. The lines quoted from Dante suggest the divine purpose of that gift. We possess it in order that we may have the power of being attracted toward divinity. Its purpose is, to lead us home.
But we use this divine gift as we use all our gifts, capriciously, perversely. We elect to be attracted by things which we know to be unworthy, our power to choose between good and evil giving us quite clear indications. It is possible that we may sin ignorantly; it is certain that we repeatedly sin with our eyes open.
To go back to the mind-images; it would seem that we often confer on them our power to be attracted, that we purposely endow them with the quality of allurement, because we wish to be allured. Often we deliberately prefer that mood, all the time clearly knowing that it is a wholly unworthy mood.
The mind-image on which we confer the amplest quality of allurement is often the image of ourselves. Like Narcissus who saw his image in the brook, we take as our beginning the image of our visible forms. This we adorn with treasures stolen from heaven, as magpies and jackdaws, though free from our culpability, sometimes deck their nests with pilfered jewels. Once more, it is philosophically curious that we do not hesitate to attribute to this preferred mind-image the qualities even of God; we give it the absoluteness of Parabrahm, convincedly holding it to be the dead centre of the Universe, which all else serves and around which all else circles. And we steal God’s benignant will, turn it about, and make of it malice, with which the beloved image is ready to defend himself against anything that threatens his infinite complacence. Perhaps somewhere in the wide Universe there is another spectacle equally grotesque, since it is a large Universe and contains many things.
Aristotle holds, as it seems, quite justly, that these phantasmata form the basis of our ordinary mental life. From a group of mind-images we form a derivative mind-image which has in it something of them all, and then, repeating the same process up a series of steps, we come at last to those universals which Aristotle so freely uses, to our harassment, in his Logic. But it is evident that, to serve this purpose, to become the basis of our mental picture-book, mind-images must have some permanence. Perhaps that need is the cause of their inertia, their power to continue spinning, as Kapila depicts it. And we take the two gifts, this needed quality of permanence in the mind-images, and our power to be attracted, and mix them into a potion which thereupon fascinates us, and holds us bewitched.
There are these perverse possibilities all about us. For example, we pass our lives in a sea of mingled nitrogen and oxygen, which we habitually breathe into our lungs; but these same elements blended in nitrous oxide quickly upset our bodily powers and make our bodies inert and insensible. Two good things blended, it would seem, may make a poison. And from one point of view we and all human kind with us have been sedulously busy, these many millenniums, in thus juggling with the gifts of the Divinity, turning them to every possibility of harm.
Every perception and power that we possess without exception is, if this view be true, an integral part of the Logos, a gift coming to us through the Master on whose ray we are; not arbitrarily, but in perfect conformity with the life and principles of the Logos, including the principle of loving kindness and infinite mercy.
If we have terribly abused our freedom of moral choice, knowingly and repeatedly preferring the dearer to the better, if we have endlessly misused the power to be attracted, conferring it continually on things that we know to be unworthy, nevertheless the saving truth remains that these are still parts and powers of the Logos, and that that divine and benignant Light stands perpetually ready to illumine, guide and strengthen us, focused in the understanding and the heart of each of us by the Master who stands above us, and who ever presents to us the ideal of our divine possibilities. So generous, so benignant is the mediation of the Master, so close to us does he bring the everlasting Light, that we have only to use the powers we already possess and have always possessed, in order to repair the evil we have done, to begin the laborious ascent of the Mount of Purgation toward the spiritual life that is our true destiny.
We have light within us; we can see, if only the first step. For it would seem to be a certain truth that the divine Power above us, focused upon us by the Master, is so benignant, so provident, that the duty which we see set immediately before us, whether of effort or of abstinence, does in fact constitute the first step of our return. And this would seem to be true, whether we fully understand it or not, if only we perceive it to be a duty and faithfully perform it. For even this faithful performance, in almost complete darkness, is a using of our powers in conformity with the divine Will, and that right usage immediately strengthens these powers, bringing into them more light and life. So we are already better prepared for the second step.
The reason for this sovereign quality in the performance of any duty simply for the sake of duty, would seem to be that it is at last a right use of what we have so long misused: our power of free choice. By choosing duty for duty’s sake, we at last align our wills, which are also a divine gift, with the Power that preserves the stars from wrong, and we thereby begin to partake in the strength and freshness of the most ancient heavens.
It is one of the great positive truths of Life, that a spiritual power rightly used is far stronger than the same spiritual power wrongly used. As soon as we begin to offer up self-will on the simple and austere altar of duty, we begin to profit by that benignant law. Even a small duty faithfully performed with entire disinterestedness will prevail over a large accumulation of self-will, and will begin to undermine and lessen the heap. So we can definitely make a beginning, by responding to that unquenched spark that is in every one of us, the sense that the duty immediately before us ought to be done because it ought to be done, because that course is right.
We can gain an initial leverage in this way for our next step. Through following the Light in the first step, we shall find ourselves in possession of a light already growing brighter, a light that will begin to illumine the furniture of our inner dwelling, and will begin to bring out the ugliness of much that we accumulate there. And we shall see, perhaps, that we have brought these unlovely things into our dwelling by misusing that other spiritual gift, the power to be attracted; by fixing it on ugly and unworthy things.
If this be so, and if we so perceive it, then it would seem possible to detach that power of attracting us from these unlovely things, and to transfer it immediately to the Power to which it rightfully belongs, the divine Power which so unwearyingly seeks to lead our feet into the way of Peace.
If we succeed even to a little degree in making this transfer, in detaching the golden particles of attraction from things we now see to be ignominious, and attaching them to the guiding Light above us, then sheer duty, at first a stern lawgiver only, will begin to appear to us with the Godhead’s most benignant grace. Or if we have already caught a first glimpse of the truth that the Power which is guiding us and strengthening us on our way upwards is inspired by fully conscious and responsive love, that it is the power of the living Master, then we may begin with reverent heart to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
And once more we may remind ourselves that spiritual powers restored to their right place and their right use steadily overweigh and overbear the same powers wrongly used; so that the golden particles of attraction, once we have detached them from the unworthy things in our minds and restored them to the Light and Power above us, will immediately gain in drawing power, reinforced by all the strength of celestial Being. Emerson has a happy simile to express this law: cut downward with an axe, and the whole weight of our planet aids you; try to cut upward with the same axe, and the weight of the planet pulls against you.
Let us then consider how we may use our powers so that the whole weight of the Divine Power may pull with them, instead of pulling against them. And let us note, in passing, that that steady pull against our perverse wills, bringing with it pain and suffering, has again and again kept us back from destruction. It is as ready, yes, far more ready, to labour for our salvation.
Let us begin with will, the power to use our powers. Jules Payot has well said that the most important element of the will is the power of voluntary attention. Truly, a great power, and a magical power, if we so see it. It is not difficult to illustrate this. We of this generation have seen a succession of the most marvelous scientific discoveries; and each of these was the fruit of voluntary attention. It is true that an element of “happy accident” entered into the first discovery of the matter-penetrating cathode rays, while a second “happy accident” entered into the first discovery of the radioactivity of uranium. But without the steady, voluntary attention of the observers, these happy accidents would have borne no fruit. And it seems certain that, in this providential Universe, we are all surrounded with happy accidents, potentially capable of bearing no less valuable fruit, if only we used an equal power of attention. For it seems that attention not only is the power to hold the perceiving thought steady, but that it also contains within it the power to perceive the inner significance of what we steadily view; this, in virtue of its being a ray of the Logos.
So we can begin to turn our attention, and to fix our attention, on that divine star in our hearts, which shines with the everlasting Light; and, in virtue of our miraculous gift of true perception, we shall begin to learn more of that Light, we shall see more clearly what part of the furniture of our inner dwelling is worthy and what unworthy, what is good and what is evil.
Then we have the power to form mind-images, and to confer upon them the power to attract us. But this power also, which has hitherto worked to allure and enmesh us, can be turned round, so that it will work for our liberation. For we can as easily form mind-images of things true and holy, which will draw us toward the everlasting way.
And, as soon as we consider the matter, as soon as we turn on it that other power of attention, as a searchlight is turned upon scenery hidden in the darkness of night, we shall find that endless riches have already been gathered for us, immediately available for this very purpose. Those books which deal with the things of the Logos, and of our relation with the life of the Logos, the Sacred Books of the world, are filled from cover to cover with mind-images lit with the beauty of holiness. We have only to build them up in our own minds, and we shall have an army of lovely images, ready to fight the battle of purification and redemption within us continually.
Take, for example, that ancient Upanishad, which pictures the youth, Nachiketas, descending into the House of Death. Here are mind-pictures which show us our own position, in the House of Death in which we have elected to dwell, and also the choice we must make, to find the way of liberation.
Or take the setting of the Bhagavad Gita: the field of Kurukshetra with the armies of kinsmen arrayed against each other. That is the type of the battle within ourselves, against the deformation of ourselves, which we have undertaken to wage; and Krishna’s exhortation to valour in that contest is an exhortation to us.
Or, again, take the kingly figure of the Buddha, Siddhartha the Compassionate, which has drawn millions of hearts, even though his followers have rendered much of his teaching almost sterile, through their over-use of the argumentative mind, neglecting almost wholly the power of the heart. Yet even with this handicap, the story of the formation of his Order is full of compelling beauty.
Again, if we consider it a moment, we shall find the history of the Master Christ doubly enriched with food for the imagination spiritually used. Christ constantly exercises the power to create mind-images that shall hold our thought and draw our hearts. All the parables are such images. And he has set in them those particles of gold which do draw us; in that respect, the work is already done.
Take the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican: no two figures were ever more vividly drawn, with lines of such perfect simplicity; the temple as background, the attitudes of the two men, their contrasted prayers. If our central sin be self-worship, what an image of ourselves is presented to us in the Pharisee, who “prayed with himself,” congratulating God on His perfect handiwork. And if the breaking of the image of self be the beginning of the way, when the divine Light reveals to us the evil of it, what truer picture of our attitude of heart, when we perceive this evil, than the prayer of the Publican: “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Or take what is, perhaps, the greatest of all the parables, the Prodigal Son. Where in all literature has eloquence risen to greater heights than in his expression of repentance: “I will arise and go to my father”?
But there is a more immediate and one-pointed use of the imagination, than this general enrichment of our hearts with dynamic images, rich in compelling beauty, that shall draw our hearts toward things divine and holy; and it happens that the parable of the Prodigal Son precisely illustrates this one-pointed use.
He was not content with a vague purpose, dimly figured in his mind. He completed in his imagination the details of his act of penitence: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” He formed a defined mind-image, a completed mental mould, of what he purposed to do and say; and, when he met his father, he found those words ready on his lips. Yes, and the Master who framed the parable made in it a mould for his children, in which many a penitent heart has found a resting place, a perfect expression of its own burden of sorrow and contrition.
In this way, seeing the next duty in the light of the Divine Power now glowing more brightly in our hearts, we may form in detail the picture of ourselves performing that duty, and then endow the picture with those golden particles which have the power to attract our hearts, as we withdraw these particles from the wrong uses to which we have hitherto put them. The living mould we thus form and endow will almost carry us forward to the completion of our duty, again to use a simile of Dante’s, like a boat carried with the stream.
Our central sin of self-adoration has many subdivisions: self-reference, self-attribution, self-concern, self-pity, self-admiration. We have endowed each with the power to attract and draw us. But we are now at the point where. we can begin to make restitution.
We see that every one of our powers is a power of the Logos, a gift of the Master, misused through perversity. Self-worship is the misuse of the power to worship whatever things are holy. Seeing the image we have made of ourselves as false, grotesque, addicted to theft, and at the same time seeing something of the magnanimous beauty and generosity of the Divine Power which is leading and guiding us back into the way of life, we can, through an effort of clear seeing and steady attention, change the direction of our worship, bending it no longer toward the false image, but to the godlike Power. And instead of referring all things that happen to the centre of self, we can, by the same steady effort, refer them to that Power, realizing that all events happen, not for the purposes of self-indulgence, but for the purposes of Soul. As we see more clearly that all our powers are from and of the Logos, it will become easier to attribute to the Logos whatever we may find in ourselves of understanding and of valour, thus changing from self-attribution to a right attribution of these gifts to the Power to which they really belong. As the light within us grows, self-admiration will wane; we can help that decrease by paying the tribute of hearty thanksgiving to the divine Grace which begins to lead us out of our self-made labyrinth. As for self-pity, a time will come when we shall begin to realize the wrong we have done, the injury we have inflicted, through our perverse disobedience; we may begin to turn our pity to a more honest use.
In this work of restitution we shall be helped by the drawing power of the eternal Light, “which only seen doth ever kindle love.” And we shall come to realize that the treasures of beauty are in the books which speak of the Soul, because the Soul which created and inspired them is the fountain of all beauty. The parable of the Prodigal draws our hearts, because the Master who created it has infinite power to draw our hearts; to lead us, like the Prodigal, homeward.