Have you ever stood on the shore, and watched the incoming tide? First a tiny ripple advances a few inches over the yellow sand, then retreats, as if frightened by its daring, into the deeper sea, a second wave advances further than the first, and in its turn retreats, to be followed again by another, and so wave follows wave, each gathering greater strength and volume till the sea sweeps in towards the land, and covers all the broad stretch of sand with water. So is it ever with the tide of knowledge and truth. So was it with Christianity. The first wave began in the sermon on the Mount of Olives, and flowed on till it reached its limit on Calvary; it was adorned with many strange wonders and marvellous sights, it was surrounded with mystery and miracle, and its founder was credited with till then unheard of powers; multitudes were gathered together, and all men went after him. What was the end of all this turmoil and excitement? Sad indeed it is to contemplate and brief is the record of it; they all forsook him and fled. The wave had reached its limit and flowed back into the sea from whence it came. A few years afterwards the second advance began, for the tide was really turned, and there was the vitality of true life in the doctrine of Jesus. The seed which he had sown, germinated and grew. Paul, the man “approved of God,” took up the work where it had been left off. Not now were seen wonders and marvels, novel doctrine and young enthusiasm, but earnest teaching and sustained effort, wise instruction and constant example. Time passed on; Paul was no more, and all the first generation of disciples were dead; still Christianity lived and progressed, advancing to a fuller tide of wisdom and righteousness. Yet it seems that the tide has turned again, and has ebbed far from its highest limit. So is it with other religions. Truth and sincerity are departing from them, and their early spirit has fled.
The Theosophical movement claims to be the returning tide of the Spirit and Truth which have ebbed from the world’s religions. Its first advance has already been made, and it has been marked by strange and marvellous occurrences,—no longer ‘miracles’ but ‘phenomna,’—by wonderful theories and new-born Ideas. When first coming to the study of Theosophy we have talked learnedly of such things as Sthula-sariras and Mulaprakriti, of psychic currents and astral forms, and a hundred others as extraordinary. We have gathered together to talk of the decadence of religions, and of the wonderful future before Theosophy. But while doing so we have not always remembered that it is we ourselves who must make the future, if it is really to exist at all; and while accusing the old religions of superstition and materialism, we have ourselves, perhaps, been lacking in the earnestness and sincerity, without which the religions we find fault with would never have survived their birth. Let us ponder well on the matter, for now is the dead-point of Theosophy, and it depends on each one of us whether it will ever pass that dead-point, and go on towards the glorious future we are so ready to predict for it. A year or two will decide whether there is in Theosophy the vitality of true life. If the seed which was so prolifically sown in the beginning of the movement has borne real fruit in the minds of those who have received it: if the lessons so patiently taught have been profitably received, the movement will become a real power in the world of suffering men and women.
When the first generation of theosophical teachers has passed away, and the early supporters of the Society are no more, how shall we be able to take our stand in their places and carry on the work they have begun, unless we have been strengthened and purified by the lessons they have taught? Is theosophy to advance a second time, or is it to perish out of sight like some imperfect thing born out of due time? It is useless for us to say ‘we are weak and unworthy, we are unable to bear the burden which is laid upon us,’ for if we do not carry on the work entrusted to us, who is to give it permanence and power to live? Rather let us strive, with an earnest appreciation of our duty, to make ourselves worthy and able to maintain the light which is given into our hands.
We find ourselves in the midst of a world of sin and suffering, of cruel privation and murderous hate, a world in which bright hopes are blasted and pure aspirations mocked; where all that is noblest and truest is held up to ridicule, where each one is mercilessly striving to get the better of his neighbour; where men become daily more grasping, lustful, and brutish, and women become more vain, and worldly, and less tender and true; where the rich grind the poor and drive them often to starvation, and to violence which is hardly crime; where the learned, and the cultivated, turn with contempt and sneering from those poor and ignorant ones, at the expense of whose heart-blood their wealth and education and knowledge have been gained; a world where those who call themselves wise are preaching away the best hopes and noblest beliefs of mankind; a world from association with which those whom we have known pure and honourable and beautiful, emerge callous and stained and hard-hearted. We see each man rising up against his neighbour, ready to slay him, or, far worse, ready to ruin and destroy all that he holds most precious; we see each step in the knowledge of nature’s power turned into a fresh engine of destruction and cruelty; today’s scientific discoveries becoming to-morrow’s torture-engines. We see some of the loveliest flowers of our race turned to polluted and unholy things.
Are we so paltry and cowardly and base that we do not feel prompted to stretch forth even a finger to change these things? Are we not rather called on to strive with all our power and might to lift a little of the heavy burden of the world’s woe! That theosophist is a traitor to his cause, and a base abuser of his privilege who fails in any degree to afford to all a noble example of upright and constant adherence to the high ideal he professes to hold. He who is not ever on the side of righteousness and truth, if he be a theosophist, is deserving of contempt and scorn. What weapon does Theosophy offer for the maintenance of the struggle against the evil around us? Is it not that ideal of Universal Brotherhood for which each of us has pledged himself to labour, on entering the Theosophical Society? And what is this Universal Brotherhood, if it be not that every one of us, an every member of the race to which we belong, should stand in his true and sacred relation to every other human being? Recognizing this to be so, we must first know ourselves and then find our true relation to Humanity.
Looking within ourselves we find two powers ever at war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. We find two opposing centres from which all the forces of our life proceed; the one centre is the self, the other is the soul. In the soul are three powers, three windows through which we perceive the Harmony of the Eternal; these windows are the emotional, the intellectual and the moral powers. Through the emotional nature we perceive the eternal Harmony in its aspect of Beauty, not merely that we perceive beautiful things, but that we perceive in things the quality of beauty. Through the intellectual nature we perceive the eternal Harmony in its aspect of Truth, perceiving in things the quality of reality. Through the moral nature we perceive the eternal Harmony in its aspect of goodness, recognizing of words, acts, and thoughts that they are righteous. Perceiving Beauty, the active Will of man seeks to embody it in beautiful art. Perceiving Truth, the Will seeks to reproduce it in truthful science. Perceiving Goodness, the will of man seeks to attain to it in righteous acts, and it is not the desire to be strong and active which draws us but the beauty and truth and goodness. Ever waging war with goodness, ever hostile to the soul, we find the self. For the self, the egotism, we seek to gain pleasure and enjoyment and from it we seek to ward off pain and opposition. The selfs thus seeking for gratification are gradually drawn on to wallow in the mire of indulgent excess, and are led to strive and battle with othe selfs for disputed and coveted pleasures, taking as weapons the impetuous fire of the evil desires. From this excess and strife arise lust and gluttony, hate and wrath, cruelty and murder, and all the children of evil.
The eternal Harmony ever calls on us with sweet and winning voice to leave the mire of selfishness and sin, to be true to goodness and to cleave to Truth. But the cry of self ever rises fierce and loud ‘serve me and worship me, caring not for others, seek only the gratification of desire.’ And hearing the voices let us remember that there is no cure for desire, no cure for the misery of longing, no cure for the love of gratification, save in the fixing of the sight and hearing upon that which is invisible and soundless, let us begin even now to practise it, for so a thousand serpents will be kept from our path. Let us live in the eternal.
Learning thus our own nature, we perceive that by attaining to its perfection we shall fill our true place in Humanity and so realise the ideal of Universal Brotherhood. By gaining knowledge ourselves we become able to teach others to realise this ideal, and thus may we lighten the sin and suffering of the world. Slow and arduous will be the work, years and ages must pass by before it is finished, we must give up our places to other bands of workers in this great labour; but when at last the work is ended and the strife has ceased, and glorified and redeemed Humanity advances towards its perfection, great and glorious will the rewards be. To each one the Spirit of Truth says, ‘Put thy feet into the fetters of wisdom, and thy neck into her chain; come unto her with thy whole heart, and keep her ways with all thy power; search and seek and she shall be made known unto thee, and when thou hast laid hold on her let her not go; for at the last thou shalt find her rest, and it shall be turned into thy joy; then shall her fetters be a strong defence unto thee, and her chains a robe of glory; for there is a golden ornament upon her and her bands are purple lace; thou shalt wear her as a robe of honour, thou shalt put her on as a crown of joy.’