It is always a privilege to me to visit an elderly lady and her husband, for each time I enter their small home I feel the warmth of their atmosphere. She has been bedridden for years because of an incurable illness, and he takes care of her with admirable patience and devotion. She looks at you with her sparkling, kind eyes out of which an inner peace radiates as gentle starlight beaming in the darkness. Not one complaint ever passes her lips. Our talks are never dull, for both of them are interested not only in daily affairs, but also in religious questions. Generally the wife does not participate in the conversation, but again her eyes speak more clearly than words ever could.
The other day, when we had been philosophizing about the enigma of death, they told me that another grandchild had been born in their family. "Listen," he said, "before the small child is born the parents have prepared for its arrival in many ways, and the baby is welcomed and greeted with love. It seems to me it will be the same after death which is, after all, just a birth in another field of consciousness. There too we are 'expected' and, we could say, accepted with love. I am satisfied that the so-called hell is actually within ourselves as a condition of feeling, and therefore, as a place, here on earth. There is no reason to fear death. But," he added with a smile, "of course there is quite a difference between getting acquainted with these words, and becoming familiar with the thought behind them."
I was in full accord with him, and asked whether he believed we would remain forever in that area of consciousness behind the portals of death. After some hesitation be replied that we might return to earth. He had to think again of his newly-born grandchild, he said, and of the statement of St. Paul's that we reap what we sow -- which would have to take place here. The ancient concepts of karma and reincarnation, about which we hear so much these days, proved to be quite attractive to him, for they made many of life's riddles and seeming injustices understandable. Yet, he felt, it is not always possible or even wise to insist on reasoning it all out with our mind.
This reminded me of a thought of Plotinus who, in treating of the three ways of acquiring knowledge, feeling, dialectics, and intuition, regarded the last as higher than the mind, as absolute knowledge based on the identity of the knower and the known. My host nodded in agreement, "Plotinus said some very wise things. He also wrote that all forms of existence radiate out from the unspeakable One, while there is at the same time a contrary impulse which pulls everything inwards to the center from which it sprang. He called love our protecting spirit. Without it, the centrifugal force would overpower us and chase our soul far from its origin to the cold extremes of matter and multiplicity. The wise man recognizes the idea of the good in himself, and develops it by turning to the sacred place of his own soul."
In the course of his many years my friend had come to the conviction, notwithstanding limited schooling, that "many things can be known and discerned by the heart, for there I have found understanding of the purpose of life. I believe that is what Plotinus referred to when he spoke of the sacred place of the soul; for the divine is indeed in man, even though the soul may wander far from its origin."
On my way home I could not help but reflect on how we each possess free will and thus have, every moment, the privilege of choice to direct our consciousness downwards or upwards -- by which the soul either moves farther away from its divine source, or in its search comes closer to it. By our own efforts we can become more sensitive to the radiating essence of the divine spark which is in the deepest of our heart. Is this not the kernel of the ageless warning to humanity: to watch out for one-sided development, a warning certainly applicable to our time of scientific and technological advances in which we could so easily forget the doctrine of the heart?
It is true that we should not condemn science and technology as such, but only the way in which they are tending to estrange man from himself and dominate his consciousness. I myself am not too worried, for there are, after all, too many positive forces active in the world. Quite a few young people -- co-builders of the present and the future and scientists show quite clearly their intuitive feeling that man has to unfold the essence of the heart and let it penetrate and surround his mental activities.
It comes down to the simple fact that self-improvement is the key so that, without expecting immediate results and regardless of the degree to which we succeed, we may put the spiritual harvest of all that is good in us on the common altar of mankind. Thus we shall cooperate with the forces in nature, of which we are an integral part, and bring about a more enlightened society.
My friend and his wife are, together with thousands all over the world, in their way living exponents by what they are: their atmosphere. They give us courage and confidence in man's innermost self, as well as great expectations as to the heights he may attain by unselfish striving and dedication, both on this earth and beyond. Yes, there are "flaming intuitions" in us which have to be constantly kept alive. Our dream of today can be the reality of tomorrow. It has already started.
(From Sunrise magazine, June 1971; copyright © 1971 Theosophical University Press)