LET us now look back over the field of our investigation and note the general results, that we may know what sort of philosophy is implied in the discussions as a whole. We were first concerned with the method of inquiry which we found must be threefold.
(1) There is the realm of fact, of life as we find it, with all its wealth of experiences and its problems. We awaken into existence to find ourselves played upon and moving forward amidst a stream of circumstances, more or less plastic.
The desire arises to understand the laws and conditions of this multi-form existence, so that we may live more wisely, and be of greater service to our fellows. We find the clue to this wiser mode of thinking and living in the very problems that suggest philosophical endeavour.
(2) But in order to carry forward the philosophical investigation successfully it is necessary for us to distinguish between life as it is presented, on the one hand, and life as we take it, on the other.
Besides the facts, there are the values which we assign to them, the ideals we strive for, the theories we propose. Evidently we must discriminate closely, in order to discover our actual situation in life.
(3) Finally, there is the mode of Life which expresses our beliefs and ideals. To enter into fuller possession of the genuine reality of things, we must more truly acquaint ourselves with life at first hand. The test of our philosophy is found in conduct.
We must therefore brush away artificialities and experiment afresh. When we attain a truer adjustment we shall be able to improve our theories.
We then turned to a consideration of the divine immanence. The discussion was a bit abstruse for a time, but in due course we saw the deeper significance of this reasoning. It was the empirical factor, the higher consciousness of man, that proved to be of prime importance. The essential was the import of the divine life in all its immanent forms. Hence we saw the importance of adapting life with a view to the fuller realisation of the spiritual ideal.
The purpose of life proved to be largely dependent on the meaning we derive from it, according to our interpretation of the universe. Yet we saw the importance of distinguishing between the world of our mental life, and the tangibly real world of nature, with its laws and evolutions.
Having acknowledged the realities of the objective world, we were next concerned with the world of our own consciousness. We found that it was largely a question of overcoming the illusions which beset ordinary experience. For we have always been conscious beings, the world has always been made known through mind.
Once in possession of the idealistic clue, we are able to correct the illusions of materialistic theories, to become at home in the mental world, and look about in a spirit of leisure.
The first discovery led to many others, and we found that life is not only fundamentally mental, but is also social and active. From this point on it was a question of tracing the connections between the dynamic attitudes of the soul and the various moods, beliefs, and notions which influence conduct. From one point of view, life appeared to be what our thinking makes it. We found a surprising amount of evidence for this supposition.
But closer analysis revealed the fact that many of our mental states are purely ephemeral and superficial. Therefore we concluded that only the thoughts that win our attention and become objects of action are of much consequence in actual experience. What we really believe is shown by what we do. From the facts of conduct we may retrospectively discover what beliefs and mental attitudes are really instrumental.
We also found it necessary to distinguish between the world as it is continuously presented to us from without, and the world of our own wills. When evidence is brought forward that we live a mental life, the inference sometimes is that human consciousness shapes life, hence one may make the world what one wills. We found evidence, indeed, that whatever one believes is gospel truth for the time being—for the one who believes it. But that does not make it true in the divine order.
In fact, our belief may be so far from the truth that we may be living in a dream world of our own fancy. Thus the origin is seen of the self-centering egoisms into which the mere thought theory develops.
As matter of fact, so we concluded, it does not give man one whit more license to discover that he lives a life of mind. He simply discovers that, instead of being a physical body, he is a conscious soul. Many additional conclusions follow which lead to the emphasis of the soul rather than the body. Law still reigns. Matter must still be distinguished from mind, and man must adapt himself to the conditions of natural existence. He still has social obligations.
The divine tendency is still with him. The discovery points to the within and the beyond. But man is as dependent as ever. His responsibilities have increased. His opportunities have multiplied many times. It is not until we pass beyond the domain of the merely human that the situation is much changed. Then we possess a foundation for the unity of life which renders all else secondary.
The great fact in all the universe about us and especially in the world of the soul, is the existence of the Spirit, ever in manifestation, possessing what we in our feeble speech call a “constitution,” an “organism.” That is, God is orderly. Since He is one, and His life is a system, fraught with purpose, inspired by centralising love, all His universe is orderly. The world over, God’s life moves in uniformity, is exemplified by what we call law.
His will, His oneness of purpose is thus the true basis of unity. Whether in the inner life or the outer, God is the same. The distinctions of nature, man and man, mind and matter, are not separations of God from God.
Conscious of himself, within this great system, exists man, environed by activities of that Life, expressed in various forms. Some forms are conveniently distinguishable as belonging to nature, some to mind, and some to the moral domain.
But all is from one great Life, and the question is, What is the dynamic relation of the soul to the activities of that Life, the laws which it reveals, and the ideal tendencies which it manifests? It matters not what the order of being, the question is the same. Thus the problem of life is a spiritual problem. There is an ideal for each, a tendency resident in each.
How far is the soul aware of and in adjustment with that tendency, how far does it choose that ideal, instead of its own will? There may be ways of temporary escape, methods of glossing over that which is ugly. But in the end the soul must come face to face with itself and ask the test question.
As all laws and forces centre about the divine Being at large, so we may say that the universe for the individual centres about the soul. Our conclusion that life is primarily conscious points to that centre, for all that we know of the world in the last analysis is reducible to the ideas and activities immediately related to and known by the soul.
It is a large world that surrounds the soul—the universe of nature, man and God; it is a relatively small world where man, the observer, watches the world-play in relation to his mental states. Formerly he believed himself to be an objective being of flesh and blood; now he finds that behind the most intimately subjective mental states he, the real individual, lives.
In so far as he plays a part in the great world around him, here is the decisive centre where all choices are made, where all action begins. Sometimes it seems that the turning of a feather would suffice to settle between alternatives.
Formerly, we complained of the universe because of the pains we suffered; we cast the blame on people, things, on God, anyone, anything but on self. We were in a continual attitude of fault-finding, dislike and fear. We were practically materialists. We regarded causation, influence, power as arising from outside. Therefore we led a kind of life which this materialistic conclusion implies.
Or rather it was not a conclusion; it was a thoughtless taking of the world of things without thinking about it. But when philosophical thought began, that incomparably valuable discovery that what life yields us is largely conditioned by what we bring to it, the whole face of things was changed. It is not, as we have already noted, that our human thought actually changes the world, but that it changes the world for us.
When the awakening comes we realise that nothing under God’s fair sky can change life from the old way to the new except our own change of thought, action, and attitude. We must “reform it altogether,’’ as Shakespeare says. It does not suffice to think other thoughts; we must do other deeds, adopt a different dynamic attitude towards the whole of life.
In the first place, all blame should cease, for it was not things that enslaved us, but ideas; not other people, but ourselves; not God, but our own condition of development. Other people are as ignorant as we were, therefore we will not blame them. We knew not that our attitude was wrong, therefore we will spend no time in regret, but “about face” and begin anew. The tender love of the Father was ever-present, though misunderstood and opposed, therefore we could have asked nothing more of God.
The entire organism of life is ready, at our service, guidance is here, law, order. Everything, then, depends on the degree of our earnestness. We awake to knowledge of the fact that we are reaping as we have sowed and that we may sow and reap anew. It matters little what the particular experience was.
It may have been a lost opportunity on our part, indolence, impulsiveness, imprudence in the use of money, improvidence, unkind criticism by which we excluded ourselves from society, hatred, aristocracy, or something of that kind. It may have been narrowness, meanness, too close calculation, or selfishness in some of its many forms. Whatever the mental state, it really amounted to thoughtlessness, which in turn was due to lack of self-control.
The way of escape is therefore plain; there must be more consciousness at the centre, more poise and moderation. We can depend on the universe to give back action for action. What could be plainer, more mathematical, more satisfactory than this? We are reaping as we have sown. We sow from within. We can sow more wisely. We shall reap hereafter as we sow now.
Was it a “mistake” that we made? Yes, relatively speaking. In the end, no; for it is only thus that we learn. It is only through suffering that we learn the greatest lesson of life. Everyone who has suffered deeply and seen the meaning of suffering acknowledges that. Suffering compels us to think, and in course of time we come to judgment. The price is not high in the light of the rich compensation. Only so far as we overcome do we acquire greater power.
It is suffering, too, which brings the greatest revelation of our dependence on the Father. It is suffering which reveals the true self, which shows the real significance of life. Life is primarily for the soul—so these deeper revelations teach us. We are immortal beings, sons of God. This comparatively low round of the ladder on which we awaken to find ourselves is but the beginning of real life. We graduate from level to level in so far as we meet our opportunities and manifest the soul.
And the soul—what is that? Not the merely human ego which comes to consciousness of its powers and learns to sow anew; but an heir of the love of God, whose privilege it is to serve in the spiritual kingdom, to advance into a realm so much larger that all previous life will seem insignificant in comparison.
The philosophical principle which helps the mind to see the unity of the spiritual with the mental and physical states is the law of contrast, or evolution from lower to higher. While man is still unaware of the meaning of this duality he condemns himself for possessing a lower nature. His error is in endeavouring to understand the lower by itself. This is the error of physical science from first to last.
In truth, any given thing is only to be understood by reference to the purpose, end, motive, the ideal which is to be realised through it. The egg is to become, or may become, the fowl. By itself it is more or less of a mystery. Man is in truth a spiritual being, and the true significance of his struggles is only to be understood in the light of the fullness of soul-life which is to come out of them. This is the profoundest truth of evolution, it is the solution of the problem of evil.
For evil is the manifestation of the lower when there is a higher, the pursuit of inferior methods when there is a superior way. In man the human is added to the animal. That which would have been right for the animal becomes the passion which tests man in his spiritual growth. It is through the contests of lower and higher that man finally comes to consciousness.
The clue to the whole is the discovery that contrast, conflict, is essential to evolution, at least up to a certain point; and that in so far as man is conscious of his forces he may transmute the same energy which would have been spent on the lower plane into the higher life.
Suppose, for example, that someone approaches me in anger, and with show of violence. The natural tendency of the animal in me is to give back violence for violence. But if I pause for a moment to consider I disconnect my wire, as it were, from the lower motor and attach it to a higher. I adopt an attitude of forgiving peace, I make only a gentle reply; and thus lift the spirit of the whole occasion. Here, in a word, is the whole process of transmutation.
When we see the meaning of it all, the whole aspect of life is changed. It is no longer good and evil at war, but lower and higher, both essential to evolution, and both furthering our progress in so far as we rightly understand and wisely adjust. Here is the unity of life once more.
In truth, then, as we saw in Chapter IX., there are two types of consciousness. When we understand these we have the key to the situation. On the lower level the mind is more or less conditioned by the body. The mind feels certain pains, tendencies, moods, and temptations, and thinks these are of the truer self. On the higher level these conditions are transcended, the mind knows that these are lower than the truer self, and therefore it does not judge by them.
(1) Here is an astrological prophecy, for example, foreboding ill, and perfectly true on its own plane. (2) But here are higher powers which are as superior to the stream on the lower level as love is superior to hate. (1) Here is consciousness absorbed in pain, and (2) here is consciousness dwelling, not on the process, but on the outcome.
(1) Here is a mood which inspires doubt, fear, despondency; and (2) here is another which looks through it to the sunlight beyond. Once understand this relationship, learn how your moods are conditioned, and it is only a question of time when you will be able to live continuously in the superior realm, whatever comes. Then that which would once have been a temptation will be an opportunity for strength. A fear is an idle zephyr. A doubt is a ripple on the surface.
An annoyance is a source of amusement. A curse is a blessing. A selfish sentiment is known as such and permitted to slay itself. Each and every time the soul takes its clue from the ideal, calmly settles down in trust, isolates the consciousness from the lower, thus drawing away its power; and lets “things work.’’ The secret is, live on the higher plane, push through, out and above, glide over, hold to the ideal, see the end, transcend the means, trust, wait, rest, “dare all nor be afraid.’’.
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”
Thus there is a twofold clue to the wise attitude towards life. On the one hand, there is right philosophical thinking about the universe, in terms of law, order, unity, evolution, and consciousness. On the other hand, there is the spiritual realisation of what the life, the power, is, who we are and what we are here for. There is first right understanding, then right adjustment. The course of life is traced to the inner world, the power of individual thought and action.
Then the personal life-stream is traced out into the universal where no man liveth unto himself. The philosophically spiritual life, then, is one wherein every moment is lived with more or less vivid consciousness of what we are all existing in. It is inspired by the concrete sense of the divine presence, the holiness of things. It ever has in remembrance the fact that we are dwellers in eternity, that whatever we are or may be called externally we are souls within, sons of God.
Here is the standard by which to judge all questions, settle all difficulties. We should ask, Is this worthy of a son of God? Am I adjusting all things with reference to the highest standard I know? If so, then all things may be permitted to fall into line; we may let things drop into a secondary place, while ideas, deeds, occupy the first.
There will be a gradual inner advance, a refinement; and a consequent transcending of minor objects of interest—the old man will die for want of attention while the new grows stronger day by day.
What sort of ideal should one keep before the mind? The ideal of constant advancement, of ever-widening circles, while enjoying the benefits of all our natural and social relations. The spirit is first, the inner life, the gifts of wisdom and love are at one’s disposal. Here one sees more in a flash than can be carried out in years. Then there is the manifestation through form, the slower carrying out through the intellect; and the yet slower response of the physical organism.
It is important to remember that we move at these three different paces—the quick-acting spirit, the moderate, opposing intellect, and the sluggish body. The soul must have patience while the new vision is being taken into the understanding. It should be yet more lenient with the slowly regenerating body. We need times to “catch up with ourselves,” as someone has said. Many of our difficulties arise from neglect of this evolutionary, leavening process.
This fact and the fact of our lower and higher consciousness are two of the most important facts of the spiritual life.
Thus the most persistent characteristic of our discussion is the many-sidedness of man, or, in other words, the fact that we must look at all things from a two-fold or relational point of view. There is a polarity or duality running through things which in the end is the surest clue to unity. Our life begins in consciousness, yet consciousness is nothing without relation to man, to nature, and God. The infant discovers the world and other selves, then itself, by contrast and relation.
Our entire knowledge is developed by comparison of relations, by contrast. By contrast everything is distinguished. Thus we put darkness against its opposite, light. We separate worthy from unworthy actions, truth from error, selfishness from love. We are constantly turning from opposite to opposite. Life is a series of opposites, actions and reactions, inner and outer, up and down, male and female, centripetal and centrifugal. If we regard this duality as a warfare, life is a mystery for us.
If we see the dependence of opposites, life is for us a living unity. One member of the duality could no more be taken from man’s inner life than the centrifugal or the centripetal force could be withdrawn from the solar system. It is essential to human existence and evolution that lower and higher exist together. Man vibrates between the two and thus little by little discovers the meaning of his contrasted experiences.
The great discovery is the one already referred to, namely, that the only way to understand the lower is by reference to the higher. Nature is incomprehensible alone; it must be seen in relation to God whom it manifests. Man’s body is unintelligible without the soul. The soul cannot be known without the Over-soul. The strife usually called “evil” is not then a warfare of good and evil forces; for that which tries to pull us down is as necessary as that which is eager to lift us up.
We entirely misunderstand if we condemn the one as good and the other as evil. Either force carried to excess brings pain. Virtue becomes vice if carried too far. Vice also becomes virtue by reaction from excess. The friction resides in neither force alone; it is the lack of adjustment between them. The real meaning of our long vibration between extremes is our search for harmony.
If we could attain such adjustment as the harmony which the revolutions of the planets exemplify we should scarcely know that there are two forces. Harmony is the perfect balance of opposites; it cannot exist without the two.
Let us then understand this duality through and through, as a law of life. Let us seek first that calmness which spares us the petty frictions of life, then gradually attain adjustment. Since it is the little interior friction, the mental worry and the nervous tension which wears us out, we should pause and let down the tension, take off the strain.
Inner poise we must have if we would be outwardly at peace; and poise is a balance of opposites, a nice adjustment such that we move along with the stream of life, instead of against it. We are neither impatient nor indolent. We are not trying to manage the universe. We are not pushing society. Nor are we urging our own life forward in a wilful way. We are taking the pace at which the universe is going, content to let God take His own time.
We desire above all that His will, not ours, shall be done. Thus we move out from the deep centre of consciousness to measured deeds of expression, service, love. This is not only the secret of health but the secret of wise life as a whole. All the friction is worthwhile which leads the way to this splendid result.
The whole of life is an adjustment to forces which play upon us from outside and the resistance which they meet within. Our inner life is not only a duality of lower and higher, but each inner contrast corresponds to an outer condition. We are like spheres whose surfaces present varying combinations. We start out in life, ignorant of our many-sidedness. Now we brush against this person, now against that one. Friction results where we dislike, harmony where we like.
We are inclined to choose only the pleasant, but in due time we learn that the greatest growth sometimes comes from the mastery of dislikes and frictions. Even when we draw closer to those we love there is friction, till we learn to bear and forbear. If on one side of my social sphere I am too easily influenced, I may by taking thought overcome my weakness and grow strong. If on another side I use pressure, I must substitute love.
Thus I continue to clash or to harmonise, until on all sides I have touched the world. Each time the clue to harmony is this duality of inner and outer. The soul is not independent, not adequate by itself. It must have an environment. The environment calls out the soul, and the soul contributes to the environment. Neither one is intelligible without the other.
The essential is a calm, philosophical view of the situation, so that as we brush against people and things we will know what this contact means, know that first of all the result of the relation will depend upon ourselves, but that the personal self is not all. In all relations we must take the two factors into account, the inner and the outer. For nothing stands by itself, “nothing is fair or good alone.” The goodness of things, their beauty is found in relation.
Life does not exist for one end alone but for many, in organic harmony. Life is a discipline of the understanding, as well as a training ground for the will; a world of the heart and a world of the head. It is for beauty, truth, expression, society, and many other ends; and to attain all these one must have manifold interests, and subdivide one’s time. The ideal is the perfect whole, balance, proportion.
We must therefore round out our being, and feel in harmony with, apprehend the larger whole of the universe. This is the profoundest outcome of our discussion. The concretely given in its eternal totality is the perfect whole. There is no heaven-by-itself, no real-in-itself. Reality is what it is found to be through all these appearances, forms, and symbols. Eternity is nothing without time, and time is nothing without eternity. Nothing is to be scorned, everything is to be included.
Only we must remember that it is the perspective of the whole which reveals reality. That which is neither fair nor good alone is both good and fair in proper relation. It is when we sunder things, try to understand them by themselves, that we fall into difficulties. Separateness brings selfishness with all its attendant ills; the truth, love, beauty, is found through union.
Most of our theoretical difficulties arise through abstraction; to know what the living reality is we must turn back to life. This is as true of the hermit in his cell as of the speculative metaphysician in his study, the capitalist or the labourer. Co-operation is the law of life and only through co-operation may we expect success or harmony.
Study things in immediate relation to their environment, then, if you would really know them. Study an author in the light of the age in which he lived. Do not study your own or another’s virtues or vices apart from their opposites. Do not see the faults alone, but also the ideals which are being realised through them. Understand yourself as a child of your age. See how part contributes to part all through life.
See mind and matter working together, man and woman, democrat and republican, nation and nation, race and race. Live in thought with the whole of the great organism, expand your being to joyful oneness with it all.
In practical life this organic philosophy is the opposite of asceticism and the condemnation of a part of life as mere appearance or evil. It points to the fitness of things, the goodness of everything in proper relations. It inspires enjoyment in nature as well as happiness in inner contemplation. One does not take less but more pleasure in being with people, more delight in all phases of life.
There is a sense of freedom that the old bondage is thrown off, that one can now enjoy the present life for its own sake. Even materialism has its lesson. The materialism of the day is in a sense the delight of man in the resources of the earth. These he could not enjoy while matter was under pious condemnation. Nature may now be freely studied as a part of the great revelation of God. Man need fear nothing. There is nothing to run away from.
Cowardice is now out of fashion (asceticism was cowardice). We now propose to face the whole of life, pursue it through to the end and find all there is in it, and all for the glory of God.
The chief point that I would emphasise in this chapter is the inter-relatedness of all things. I have called this relation “organic,” but the figure is partly incorrect, since that would imply that the universe is one living being. All figures are inadequate to express the co-operative dependence of God, man, and nature, as a whole; and the miniature relationship corresponding to this in the soul of man. Man is more than an organ; he is a creator.
Will, thought, action, art, contemplation, and the rest are more than organs in man. But the dependence is as close as that of the hand upon the eye, or the dependence of the heart on the lungs. The intimacy of relationship is the great thought. All our life contributes to each moment. Every sentiment, every perception in our minds is dependent on the divine life. We are sharers in a social life. Hundreds and thousands constantly labour for every blessing which we enjoy.
No man liveth unto himself. All are indissolubly bound together. The ethical life is the natural consequence of this discovery. Our hearts should be deeply touched with gratitude that we thus share a common life, that millions serve, and that we can also serve. Each of us has a contribution to make and each in turn is a means of fuller expression of the divine ideal. Here as elsewhere, no one ideal includes all. The world exists for the glory of God, yet God exists for the world.
In a sense man’s life is chosen for him, yet in another sense he is free to add to the sum of ideas and accomplishments. No one conception is large enough to contain the entire truth; we must immediately qualify every statement by that which supplements it. This is the profoundest truth alike of philosophy and religion. We must worship with both the head and the heart, and also through self-denial (devotion).
All the bibles are needed, the whole of the vast visible universe, and all the inner lives of men, to express the grandeur and perfection of God. Each of us is capable of knowing and beholding all this, from his own point of view. Thus each in a sense is a trend of thought, a point of view of the divine mind. Fortunate are we if we rise to the height of this realisation, if we bear with us the knowledge that “in him we live and move and have our being.”
All is well if we have the right clue, if we judge the lower by the higher, if we regard the universe from the point of view of God, if we remember that each day we live we are environed by an eternal kingdom in which the Father is indissolubly related to the soul.