The Quest of the Spirit Chapter Two

(Henceforth I will post two chapters per month– editorial comments will appear in February about the first half of the book)

CHAPTER TWO-BEING A BRIEF SURVEY OF SOME OF THE FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEMS

§ l.  Time:  Space:  Movement:  Form:  these are the cardinal features of the eternal reality. Time and movement are the same, viz.: Duration. Form and Space are the same, that is, imply each other; and the whole, inter-related, and co-dependent, are relative terms to express the one ultimate and fundamental fact of existence- which is Life. These cardinal features are accepted as undeniable facts of  experience. A metaphysic that would deny the reality of any one of them is unworthy of any sane thinker. Nevertheless, we are reminded that there are those who would question each and all. “Doubting Castle” is no myth, but a mighty fortress in the wilderness of the mind, and many there be who dwell therein. There   is   also   in   that strange  and “hollow land” a great shrine most wondrously fashioned by cunning craftsmen, called the Cave of Solipsism, in whose sub-mundane gloom there is reflected nothing but the images of self. Each worshipper, being his own idol, is blind to everything but the phantasmagora of his own creating.  The atmosphere is mephitic! Let us pass on!  We have not forgotten the days of captivity on “Devil’s Island,” and need a breath of pure ozone from the sea.

§ 2. What am I myself?  We think of organic life, and at once, the matter of fact mechanical intellect answers, “An organism.”    Quite true, an apt word, a rhythmic expression that sounds so   grand, comes   so   near · to   the   body, and yet carries the mind so far beyond.  And we ask, what kind of an organism? Turning the spiritual light of intuition upon the lens of intellect, we dimly see, through their penetrating rays, the machinery at work behind the outward screen of matter. So viewed, man is an individual vortex of vital activities in the psychical stream of life-a microcosm within the macrocosm of Being- a living centre of self-consciousness upon  the shoreless  ocean  of the  sub-conscious­ a focus, wherein myriad rays of the intermingling relationships of the world converge, react upon this psychical vortex, and  create a living light. This illumination is “the magnetic field” of consciousness, or sphere of mind, wherein memory, thought, and feeling have their birth.

We are dazed with the vision! We are in the presence of one of the innermost secrets of life I But, before we can grasp its meaning the whence? the why? it is gone. The movement has escaped us. A veil is thrown across the sight.  The intellect reassumes control. And there remains unanswered, the age-long question: “Whence?” whose apparent simplicity marks a problem of world-wide complexity.

Myself! How shall we question this microcosm of mystery, and bring this self-conscious organic unity of spirit and matter to an inward revelation of itself?  Some things, or features we already know, and some, as yet, we only feel through that subliminal sense of inward evidence. We have before us a form, constantly changing as a whole, yet retaining a continuous identity of self-hood. Subject to dissolution as a unit in the struggle for existence, yet possessing the possibility of survival through measureless eons of time which can only be voiced in words as the gift of immortal life. Verily we have much to learn. That ancient Delphic command: “Know thyself” is the task of Eternity.

§ 3. What is the consciousness of myself?­ that which sits enthroned upon the egoism of the I? There is no permanent unchangeable I; no imperishable ego of the self. This is the great illusion-to be more fully considered in a later chapter.

Reflect! The child thinks as a child, lives in the mental atmosphere of pure innocence and acts in consequence. Later he is a different being; he has become a youth, has all the romantic dreams of youth. Experience in the world has tarnished the mirror of his mind.   In no sense of the word can these two be caIled the same individual. There is only one link that continues the identity.  In manhood, again, the youth has disappeared. He has become to a great extent disillusioned. The romantic possibilities of earlier years turn out to be the impossible, and are relegated for safe keeping to his castles in the air, to be dreamed over again when he has reached that second childhood that hopes for their realisation in his children’s children.

Remember this:   There is an eternity behind us, as well as an eternity before us. If the indestructible ego is a fact, this monad must, also, have existed from all eternity; must have already passed through innumerable existences; hence, without change, must be the same in child­ hood, youth, and manhood.   This we know is not a fact. We are distinctly different in thought, deed, and ability. There is but one link which binds the changing states from infancy to age into one continuous identity, and that is memory. We have no memory of  any previous state of existence; therefore this I of myself is a very fleeting personality.   The consciousness of the I of myself is limited to the memorable period of the life which I now live; and this consciousness is growing and changing daily, nay, every minute of existence. It is not a. static ego looking on; not .an indestructible monad gathering experience in the world, to be sealed and signed, and then stored up in the pantechnicon of the sub-conscious for future use.

The I of my conscious self is memory; that which we remember is a part of this self; and the charioteer which is the centre around which these memories drape themselves is the only ego we possess in a conscious form. The form of. this consciousness is that magnetic field of psychical awareness of which we have already spoken. But there is a deeper, much more fundamental self than this surface field of awareness, and questions regarding this sub-conscious self, and our relations with the subliminal order of being will come before us anon.

§ 4. What is Truth? Truth, like life, assumes many forms. Truth is a conception, an idea. of consistency in statement.   It is the observation of a fact, or of the co-ordinated result of a series of facts.  It is a perception of the meaning of the facts of experience to ourselves. Every truth, under whatever form it appears, is founded upon some order of facts. For instance, the psychical facts of religious experience- are just as true, on their own plane, as the physical facts of science are upon theirs.  Natural appearances are more real to our senses than are the abstract realities behind them to our intellect. In the fervour of religious ecstasy, the saint may have visions. They may be real in the sense of being visions of a super-physical order of reality, or they may be the hallucinations arising from pathological conditions. Under any circumstances they are true for the seer as a form of experience. Finally, Truth is the expression of Reality to the mind.

§5.  What then to us is reality in a world of relativity? The answer is simple and direct:­ Reality is Life. There is no reality in the universe apart from the changing complex movements which are the  manifestations  of  life; and the meaning of life for each living soul can only be found in that centre of our being wherein lieth the Kingdom of God.  The whence, the why, and the whither can only be surveyed from that centre. The wider our horizon, the broader the view, and the deeper we can extend our feeling of life, the greater is the grasp of Truth.

Truth and Reality, for man here on earth as a centre of consciousness, consists in the flow of life in the appearances of things as they surge to the surface of his sphere of awareness, and materialize themselves into the facts of experience. It is quite true that below, or behind this flux of phenomenal appearance, there is a deeper reality- the   ceaseless   push   of the invisible spirit-the ever-changing impetus of life as it arises from the psychical ground of Nature. But this ground is no unknowable mystery; it is what the appearances proclaim it to be  a continuum of infinitely complex movements and relationships in which we are carried along, unconscious of the whirl, through the majestic shadow-land of  Nature.  And these shadows are to us the realities of Life; for our conscious centre is our only direct, unimpeachable witness as to the truth, or falsity of things; our only undisputed view-point of the world and its content. From this standpoint, it is seen that things are true and therefore real, only upon the plane of their appearance, whatever that plane may be: The idea of there being some arcane centre of Reality at the “back o’ beyont,” where all appearances disappear, and the fundamental truth, alone, comes to the surface, we have already judged to be  metaphysical absurdity, or  mystical  delirium.  The universal life has no centre apart from the psychical centre of each self-conscious being.

§  6.  Are there “Things in themselves “?

Let us re-state the question squarely. We mean a thing in itself and by itself, apart from its relationship with the rest of things. If the atomic theory of matter which postulated the eternal duration of the separate individual atoms, had been an absolute truth, then, these atoms would have been “things in themselves” independent of any series of relation they might form with the rest of the world; hence, static and unchangeable, so far as structure and qualities are concerned.

In other words, the atoms of physical science were “things in themselves” reduced to a conceptual point. We now know that they are not simple elements, but on the contrary possess a highly complex organisation. So far as material bodies are concerned, the “things in themselves” have vanished into the ether of space.  There are, however, other and more subtle conceptions of the reality of “things in themselves.”

One of the central ideas of Kant, and the foundation of much of his metaphysics, is that we cannot know things as they really are, that we live in a purely noumenal world, from which all true knowledge of the objective reality is excluded.

“Nothing,” says Kant, “which is intuited in space is a thing in itself.”    He further declares “that space is not a form which belongs as a property to things; but that objects are quite unknown to us in themselves; what we call outward objects, are nothing but mere representations of our sensibility, whose form is space, but whose real correlate, the thing in itself, is not known by means of these representations, nor ever can be.” (The italics are ours.)  Here the “thing in itself” means, of course, the original object, as it is, independent of the thinking subjects cognition.  “For instance, a tree or a waterfall is not a thing in itself, but the appearance of a thing in itself. The colours of the rainbow, in fact all colours, sky, clouds, rocks, or living beings are sensations only. They are subjective appearances representing objective realities, but they are not those realities themselves. The world of sense around us is woven into the web of consciousness from the warp and weft of our sensations. It is mere appearance. This is not a question concerning which there is any doubt; it is simply a matter of fact.  But the question arises: Can we know things as they are independent of sensation? Science is engaged with the problem, and with strangely remarkable results. Take colour, for instance: light is a sensation of vision; but what is the objective process that takes place when the human eye perceives light? This question, the physicist answers, by eliminating in his mind the sense element, and by describing the facts of the process in terms of matter and motion. Objectively considered, his answer is: A certain vibration in the ether.” But the truth of such an answer depends not only upon the reality of the ether, but upon many other things besides which are purely hypothetical. “In this instance, we may reasonably suspect that the physicist is simply substituting an intellectual conception for the sense impression; whereas, the reality of the subjective image depends only upon the indisputable fact that appearances appear, and that these appearances correspond with objective form. To the senses, the reality of a thing consists in that feature of its existence which we call matter; but it is not the matter, but the form this matter assumes that  makes  the   thing   that   which   it really is. That objective phenomena can be described   in   terms of form, or process, Kant himself would not have denied, but his fundamental error consisted in thinking  that  the formal quality of nature was purely mental and merely subjective.

Not one word can be said against the statements of Science as to the modus operandi whereby the objective world becomes known to us through our sensory organisation. All serious thinkers have long ago abandoned the idea that there is an independent entity incamated within; [1 Dr. P. Carus], that the eyes are the windows of the body through which the soul looks out upon the extemal world; and that this metaphysical entity is the thing that thinks through the medium of the brain as its organ, or sounding-board. All such conceptions, together with the various schemes of metempsychosis, must be relegated to the obsolete intellectual transcendentalisms of the past. But what must be protested against is the substitution of a scientific conception of process for the reality behind the appearance, and then calling the appearance a sensation merely, an illusion of the senses. By this scientific and philosophical method, pure conceptions are given for things, and replace direct experience with ideas of causes. To cap the climax, these intellectual models of process are held up as the reality of the phenomenaI world. We know the appearance to be real upon the plane of its appearance- there is no psychical illusion going on within the lens of a camera.   But we do not know and we have no certain means of knowing, that the conceptions of science are anything more than a. working-model of possibility, a. rational explanation of process in terms of matter and motion. As time advances, they may, and in all probability will, turn out to be, like so many other cherished ideas of the great, “a figment of the brain.”

Let it be understood, distinctly, that process of becoming is not the same thing as that which becomes- that the operations of Nature are not barely mechanical, but psycho-mechanical-that motion is one sort of reality and the product quite another. For instance, the physicist’s explanation of the so-called reality behind the sensations of light is only (if it be a. fact) the reality of the modus operandi, and not the thing in itself. The true reality is the light itself.

And all that the light means to life must be included in a true conception of the whole reality.

The web of woven tapestry is entirely different from the loom and raw material from which it came; the physiological process of vegetable­ growth different from the resulting vegetation. The process in the oak and the blade of grass is the same, but the reality is widely different. To try to make reality out of an operation, and fiction out of the product, is to ascribe “The Origin of Species ” to a process of physiological activity, and the mind and soul of Darwin to an imaginary appearance.

Appearances appear; and these appearances, within our conscious centre, possess an unique reality of their own of which the process behind is only a small part of the whole. Neither process nor appearance are things in themselves, but a complex, being of one tissue with the whole continuum of Nature.

As we write these words, a brilliant rainbow spans the sky. We look, and to our sense of sight and feeling, it is a beautiful and wonderful thing, yes, a reality; a snap-shot with the camera confirms belief in its objective existence.   The form is something   more than a   subjective image; it is a formal reality of relationships; for, apart from sun, cloud, sky, and an invisible ethereal medium, the rainbow would have no objective existence.   But the rainbow, as it shines within our own sphere of consciousness, is indescribably more than sun, cloud, sky, and vibration in the ether.   The majestic arch spanning the heavens- the glorious bands of colour with their inter­mingling divisions, realised in the mind-though invisible to the sight- the  richness  of  effect upon the entire environment, which words fail to express, surely, all these must be weighed. Now, while the objective reality before us embraces these features-is indirect relation to them, there arises within us an invisible but richer content: wonder, grandeur, mystery, and thetic pleasure. These must ever be included in a true measure of the whole of the reality to which the object gives birth. Before we realise the true meaning of reality to conscious being, a synthetic vision of the whole, together with our thoughts and emotions, must be taken.

Features or qualities abstracted from things, are not things, but only features and qualities;  so that the final abstract of these abstractions, far from being the inmost reality of the thing in itself, is only the skeleton of a reality-and not even a  real skeleton,  but  only the  conception of a skeleton, utterly unreal to the whole of  the object dissected.

In order to get down at once to the root of the subject, we will illustrate our meaning:  Let us admit for a moment that we have a piece of gold before us, the reality of which, beyond all knowledge, appears to be a thing in itself. Very well! How shall we prove the absurdity of this conception! Only by asking ourselves what are the qualities of gold! And we know these qualities because we have associated certain features of matter together and given them names which express to our mind certain definite qualities, so that when we find a certain particular group of these qualities in combination, they always pre­ sent the same form of substance. Now, the subjective object of our consciousness must correspond, in every important particular, with the objective reality, because, under every possible change of time and place, gold, when it appears, always presents the same features. This permanent correspondence could not obtain without equally permanent reality behind it- could not appear to our consciousness as the same. All word-jugglery aside, this is a fact! The reaIity of everything in existence, in the same manner, can be known through its formal qualities.  Begin to eliminate in your mind colour, density, ductability, etc., one after the other, and  the thing we call gold instantly disappears from sight; ceases to exist, because those features which made it what it was vanish with the abstractions; and with such disappearance, the thing in itself is reduced to an unsubstantial idea. The subjective images in the conscious centre are true reflections, particular features of the objective world of the realities in space.   Name, form, and quality are the psychical garments in which reality arrays itself before the conscious mind. Without these, there is nothing. The abstract movement is not the reality itself, but the vital impulse from which reality is born.   The “thing in itself ” has no existence outside of the heads of those who think it.

There is, however, a still deeper and richer content in the psychical reality of our conscious awareness than we can find in the abstract, bare appearance of the objective thing. This deeper life is the flow of the sub-conscious strata of our being. This is ever rising to the surface to mingle with and enrich the illuminated centre of the mind with countless ramifications  of   thought  and [This is not “Parallelism,”] feeling connected with the direct object in view. But this is a noumenal embroidery- a world of our very own- having no existence, in the form we perceive it, outside of ourselves; though it is as real and complex as the greater world to which it is related, and of which it forms an indissolvable part.

In summing up our thought upon this triune riddle of appearance, reality, and things in themselves, we are convinced, beyond the shadow of a doubt, of the existence of an external objective world which corresponds in all its important features with the world of our sensations. We are, also, equally certain that the psychical element- the sphere of consciousness enriches and idealises much that it receives from without, and that the mighty abyss of our sub-conscious self, also, adds to and improvises, so to say, with forgotten experiences of the whole of our racial past, whenever some objective reality attracts that self to the surface, thus enabling it to well up and be recognised by the conscious centre.         At the same time, undoubtedly, our limitations of sensibility leave out of our direct cognition a wealth of content existing in the whole of the objective reality-a richness of existence that we  may never be able to fathom.

§  7.   MATTER:         It seems almost unnecessary to say anything regarding the problem of matter after denying the existence of things in themselves. We will, therefore, only add that it is a concept to account for the physical reality of the cosmos. Matter is that part of the universal movement that appeals to our consciousness through the physical senses as solid and real by reason of its inertia and resistant qualities. Upon this plane of its action it is quite true. Speaking comparatively, matter is a descending, condensing movement; life, on the contrary, is an ascending, expanding movement.            Flowing in opposite directions, there arises resistance, friction, struggle, and its consequences.

Matter is the dying energy, the defeated residuum of the cosmic strife, slowly sinking into the tomb of time to weave the crystallised garments of equilibrium and death.  In this mausoleum of matter lie the vanquished forms of the fight, sleeping until the day of resurrection shall come.

But Life- the eternal victor- conquers, only to save. The formative mother-spirit broods over the vanquished and from the congealing shroud of death snatches the reeling forms of inertia, and transforms them into living substance from which she weaves the organic web of life. So the victor slays, only that she may bring forth a higher form, a greater life.   Life, the spinner of the web, is ever at work to realise itself. The web of existence, from single cell to sphere of self-consciousness, is the cosmic tapestry of Expression that issues from the living looms of time.

§ 8. COSMOS OR CHAOS? What then, in view of the foregoing, are we to think of the world order? Is it a cosmos, or a chaos?

As a whole, it is a cosmos of unknown limitations and innumerable dimensions of activity-a. psychical whole. Our own world of matter and sense is limited to one aspect only- a universe of three dimensions. But there are other dimensional aspects of reality to which our ideas of time, space, and motion do not apply. To the mortal mind of humanity, the nature of the ground is such that it would, perhaps, be more correct to describe this cosmos as chaos, because of the turmoil, contradictions, and unpredictable contingencies that are ever surging to the surface in Nature.

According to our conception of the terms, in life, there is neither logical sequence nor mathematical movement. What we know and describe as disorder, disease, suffering, and failure are as natural and firmly rooted in the ground as order, health, pleasure, and success. This ground, as before stated, is alogical and subconscious. Good and Evil, in themselves as such, are our own creations, arising from our consciousness of difference in relative states of being. But this difference is real, not imaginary. It is the expression of the strife and resistance of opposing forces, or interests, if you will, in which might alone is victor. Disorder in Nature is only some­thing which differs from our conception of order. Everything in existence, by virtue of such existence, is endowed with the inalienable right to continue to live. Below the state of self-consciousness, there is neither cruelty nor immorality in themselves. Selfishness, on this plane, is merely the struggle to survive. It is the ground immediately below the human attainment; and it is from this realm of being that the great conflict between mind and matter arose which terminated in the victory of mind.

When self-consciousness dawned in the bra.in of primitive man, a new order of energy was born into the world: henceforward there was a spiritual power of purposive direction towards definite ends.

So the universe, ever in a state of Becoming, is ever more conscious, and its operations more rational.

§ 9. The survival of the human personality beyond the grave now craves our serious attention. To the writer the question:  “Is it possible for the individual consciousness of the soul, to continue in a super-physical state of being after death?” can no longer arise.    It was answered in the affirmative many years ago; under circumstances which rendered self-deception, telepathy or fraud upon the part of others utterly impossible.      Here we must be personal. This experience came at a time when thoughts and work lay in a wholly different direction: when spirit communion, if it occupied a place in the mind at all, was certainly in the back-most of the back seats of the brain; for the “I” was entirely unconscious of entertaining such ideas. A brief statement of all the necessary facts of the experience will be found in Appendix I “A case of Spirit Identity.” It is only necessary here to point out, that coming without prejudice, as it did, with no self-seeking wish to father the issue, there was no self-deception. There was no tricky form of mediumship; no dubious clairvoyance describing symbolic images that might have any meaning and be construed to any end. On the contrary a genuine vision was perceived by a normal person in good health. A clearly defined personality appeared almost as objective as any other of the surroundings. I distinctly heard the voice speaking, (or I imagined I did) giving names, dates, and other important items, not necessary to recount here.  And the result? a complete verification of every detail. In view of proposition “7” that Reality is the verification of experience. I accept this and affirm as sincerely as I can affirm any experience in my life that the communication received was a reality; that the soul of a departed person did appear- hence   survived   death.      What is possible in one instance is possible in others.  Since that time scores of instances of identity have crossed the path of my research, but none that stands out so clearly as this. This is the one unique gem in a vast collection. But it has one tiny flaw. It is not perfect  when  studied  from an orthodox religious point-of-view. For purposes unknown to us, some other order of spiritual intelligence may have impersonated the mother. But the absence of any conceivable reason for deception, and the fact that the message was fraught   with   momentous consequences and formed the turning-point  in  a  career,  compels  me to reject any idea of deception. The consequences, at any rate, have been nothing but beneficial to those concerned.

The possibility of the survival of the human peronality beyond the grave, then, is assumed in the chapters which follow; and this tremendous fact makes all the difference in the world to the philosophical attitude of a thinker’s mind.

A philosophy of life which neglects to take account of the super-normal facts of psychical research, together with the facts of religious experience, fails most lamentably to justify its name. Ere the close of the present century it will become as obsolete as medieval scholasticism.

§ 10. We now come to the final and so far as the writer is concerned, the central and only vital problem of the quest for truth. “What shall I do to inherit   eternal   life?”-Mark   x.  17.     

A long familiarity with, and study of various oriental forms of mystical and religious philosophy convinces us quite clearly that each race must work out its own redemption along the special lines of its own psychical evolution.  The Vedanta, the Sufi, and the Buddhist philosophies are adapted exclusively to what may be called the Asiatic temperament.      We may cull precious gems from each form of thought, but the spiritual fabric for the European mind must be fundamentally Gothic (to use a metaphor) in its psychical structure.  Though the end to be attained is the same for each, their racial idiosyncrasies are radically different and demand religious conceptions that are in perfect harmony with that special psychical constitution of mind which has been evolved through long ages of thought, work and environment. In the last part of the book we have attempted to give the essence of a spiritual truth that will reveal the results attained to those who have eyes to see.

The language used there is necessarily allegorical. Only in images which require spiritual interpretation can spiritual things be spoken of.

“The King’s Highway,” far from being fiction, is the outcome and record of a spiritual experience. It is the mystic “way of the cross” entered upon only by those who, in addition to an unbiased mind, have proved through experience, the worthlessness of the purely material rewards which the world of to-day has to offer in exchange for life.   It is the “Path of Light” for the soul free from the greatest of all earthly illusions: the illusion of self.

To know, and to be able to feel that the human soul is not a separate unit of existence, but one with the soul of the universe, is to obtain a deathless grip upon the universal reality, and realise that there is nothing absolute but LIFE-the Formless.    All below this pure spiritual principle is manifest through form, and all forms are relative. The human soul is but a living chalice in which coruscations of the spirit rise to the surface of consciousness. As forms of consciousness, we are one with the forms in so far as the spirit of life manifests through us; yet separated from, though related to all other forms of being.   He who grasps this idea will apprehend the writer’s meaning of infinite unity in a world of relativity. Perceiving this, the illusion of ” things in themselves” will vanish. The soul is then free.   It may enter the “Path of Light” and partake of “The Gospel which is glorious!”