Writings of Ernest Egerton Wood
An Extract from Natural Theosophy
First Published 1930
TWENTY-FIVE years ago, when I was a comparatively young theosophist (that was in the days when young theosophists were meant to be seen, not heard), I wrote a book dealing with every aspect of Theosophy from a natural point of view. It was some months before I could induce any elderly theosophist of my acquaintance even to turn over the pages, but at last one locally revered, if somewhat testy, elder consented to look through it. After some little time he returned it to me with slightly disparaging remarks about my presumption — apparently what was new in it was not true, and what was true in it was not new, and in the main it erred on the side of not being true, With the beautiful humility of the young theosophists of those days I put the visible results of six months’ strenuous thinking into the fire, though there were also invisible results which remained indelibly stamped upon my personal brain and character. I have since realized that my old acquaintance, though very respectably full of knowledge, was not really a theosophist, and did not even know what Theosophy meant, so after many years I have set myself once more to write upon natural Theosophy.
Let us think to the fullest possible extent of all the people in the world at this moment. Some are in cities, some in the country. Some are on the land, some on the sea, some deep in the mines, some few flying about in the air. Some are dressed, some undressed. Some are well-fed and busy with gossip; others are half-starved and busy with common duties and work. One man does not know how the rest of the world lives, and even to think of it in imagination comes to him with rather a shock of surprise. It seems so strange that all those people can be doing all those things, and can be so completely engrossed by them.
With this picture before the mind I ask the question: Can it be that all the different things with which all these people are concerned are of no importance, that God or Nature has arranged the things of life with such futility that in order to reach what is really worth while — happiness and perfection — people must put aside all that life, all those things and the feelings and thoughts which they engender, and must take to something else, some particular and special mode of activity or thought ?
Some so-called religious authorities have said so again and again, and have prescribed out of millions of possible activities one or two which alone, they declare, can lead to salvation or happiness, and have denounced the rest as a waste of time, if nothing worse. But with the picture of the full life of the millions of people in all their variety before our mental vision we see the absurdity of these narrow paths, the impossibility of these stupid prescriptions. On the contrary, we see that all experience is good. All these millions of whirling atoms, making their ever-changing forms, like pictures in the glowing embers or in the clouds or, if you like, even in the tea cups, are awakening in the people who experience them a response to truth or the completeness of life as surely as there is a meaning in these printed words, which in themselves are only funny marks.
This reverent attitude towards all experience is the theosophic life. Thousands of years ago Theosophy was declared to be the knowledge that man is never sundered from God. Theosophy is the belief that man can know God, and more than that, that man is knowing God. We cannot lay irreverent hands upon this vast creation, and say: “Away with you, mocker, tempter, seducer who would imprison our souls and stifle our lives.” Subjectivism is no Theosophy, but is a denial of the divine only one degree less egregious than that which prevailed in the Dark Ages of Europe, when it was said that both the world of nature and the mind of man were the seat of the devil, and the less we had to do with either the better.
We recognize the wisdom of primal impulses, such as that of the man in the street who defines his life (if ever called upon to do so) not as a set of thoughts and feelings, but as the interplay on that line of time where his
consciousness meets his experience. He might say: “ My life ? I drink, and fight, and fall down and get up again, and a policeman takes me away.” The common man is suspicious of subjectivism — with just cause,
Every development in human consciousness — of the will or love or thought — calls into real being the material partner in our life, so that at each step the two fit perfectly, like a man and a woman dancing together as one being. Suppose that I have done some work, such as that of designing and building a house. In course of time the house is worn away or falls down. The work was not lost, because while I was consciously building the house I was unconsciously building my character, developing my capacity for thought, feeling and will. But my future life will not consist in the mere passive enjoyment of these qualities of consciousness. Those qualities will come forth to meet a new arrangement of the world, which will once more exercise them according to their new condition, and will provide new difficulties or problems or tasks which will still further cultivate their strength. My world grows greater as I grow stronger, and I expect that the whole world will become my world when I have harmonized my consciousness with all consciousness. We have no reason to anticipate either perfection or happiness in separation.
In all the world there is greater life than that which we already know, and it is ever ready to flow into us. We cannot contemplate the beauty of a sunset without afterwards being more harmonious or peaceful, and thereby stronger than before. This is what I mean by God — the greater life all round us, which is ever at hand to give us its truth, its unity and its beauty, We do not know the extent or the height of that greatness, but to know it as ever-present is to rejoice in all experience and drink the very nectar of life.
The truth of this attitude is evident even in common things. If a man invents a motorcar according to principles which he has thought out in his mind, he will learn in what particulars his thoughts were accurate, and will at least to some extent correct the erroneous part of them, when he tries the machine out on the road. Meditation is one part of learning and experience the other, and between these two our consciousness must constantly pass, like the shuttle in the loom.
It is the sign of a theosophist that his devotion is complete. He is a knower of God everywhere, and therefore he accepts all experience willingly, while others prejudge every item of it according to their pleasure and pain, or the comforts and discomforts of the body, the emotions and the mind. I knew a man who met with a serious motor accident which kept him in bed several months; when he was getting better he told me he was very glad that it had happened, because it had caused him to learn to love the members of his family more than before. A man thrown into prison might , say: “ Now I have an opportunity to meditate”.
There is always something worth while that we can do, and thereby be active, positive, alive. There is always something to be gained by willingness. Said Epictetus: “There is only one thing for which God has sent me into the world, namely, to perfect my own character in all kinds of virtue, and there is nothing in all the world that I cannot use for that purpose.”
The theosophist should be free, because no experience happens contrary to his will. He should be free also because he knows the unity in the life as well as in the form. Thus if I have no carriage and must walk, and I see another man who has a carriage and can ride, and is happy in riding, can I not enjoy the fact of his happiness ? If it is a question of possessions, all things are mine which my brother men are enjoying for me. This is to be a theosophist. It is not fantastic, but simple fact, and the only liberation.
No one can narrow down Theosophy into a religion, a creed, or a church, without destroying it in the process. It is true that many theosophists (not all) believe in reincarnation and karma as laws of nature, but belief in those laws does not make people theosophists. It is, knowledge of the presence of God or the larger life which makes the theosophist, and it is because we are theosophists first that most of us can easily believe in reincarnation and karma afterwards. Because we value experience we consider that there should be more of it.
I doubt if anybody, were he to search to the bottom of his heart, would acknowledge belief in a religion, that is to say a special set of actions or thoughts prescribed as leading to union with God. The basis of religion is intuitive in every one of us. It is seen in our instinctive response to beauty, to truth and to goodness, which is goodwill or unity. What do we want more than goodness, truth and beauty, and will we not accept them everywhere ?
In our consciousness truth is understanding, goodness or unity is love, and beauty is peace and calm strength, which is the same as freedom. The world perpetually educates us in these powers, and when we have them we find that we live more, and in so doing create goodness, truth and beauty through all our acts. This creation is union with the one will; therefore in it man finds his unchanging happiness.
It is the part of our reason to recognize that all things are beneficial; of our love, that all persons are helpful; and of our will, to rejoice in the adventure of life.
This is natural Theosophy. Within it there is room for all sciences, popular or occult, for all art, religion, philosophy, and common life. It is for all men, for it is the understanding of life — theos being life, and sophia the understanding. This is the Theosophy of ancient India and the early Mediterranean world, and it has also been the Theosophy of modern times for those who have not confused the part with the whole and mistaken some departments of knowledge for the whole truth, and some limited activities for life itself.
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