The Upbuilding of Real Life

By Gertrude van Pelt

Theosophy, however conceived, brings one face to face with the real issues of life. It may be constructive or (in a sense) destructive; it may be an intellectual guide or an inspirer of song, verse, or pictorial art; it may be an avenging judge, or the gentle companion and friend; but whatever it is, with unerring precision it leads to the eternal verities. It throws off the husks and reveals the kernel within. It uncovers the vampires of vice and corruption, eating at the heart of national and individual life, and tears to shreds their borrowed garments of purity. It opens up vistas of glory and beauty which awaken the sleeping faculties in the hearts of men. Those who shun the truth, dislike it, and attack it with virulence. Those who hunger and thirst after truth, embrace it, and find in its ever-expanding horizon, in its unfathomable depths, in its infinite heights, those forces which make for the upbuilding of a real life.

Under its searching illumination, Nature throws off her mask, and shows that it is not in any of her outward manifestations that her secret heart lies hidden. All of these may vanish in a night, while that of which they are the flower remains untouched. And in its light, the accomplishments of man, however great, are lifted from their throne as objects themselves of final attainment and perceived as instruments through which the goal may be reached. "The universe exists for the experience of the soul."

Nature is infinite in her resources in stimulating to effort. Man's struggles to produce glorious monuments of art and architecture, to invent new devices for comfort, to create inspiring works, thinking always to rest content if the ambition is realized, but Nature smiles behind her veil and whispers that in the struggle lay the purpose, in the effort these could induce and produce. For each one dies at his appointed time or, unhappily, before it, and what is it alone that he retains? Whole nations, even races, disappear off the face of the earth, and their achievements in matter, however sublime, are, like the crystal palace of ice, wiped away by time. Only enough records of their greatness are preserved by the guides of this planet to tell their story to future races and keep unbroken the history of man's pilgrimage.

All the phenomenal universe comes and goes, yet man, the eternal, remains. Stripped of all his accessories, robbed of all his imagined supports, deprived of all his accustomed incentives to action, he stands, just what he has made himself, no more and no less. And when life blossoms again, and again he finds himself on the arena, his power to meet the events which confront him is just what he has made it. One thing alone, of all those which he fancies he ever has or ever can possess, is his -- that indefinable yet comprehensive thing, his character.

Nature works upon the lower forms of life. A higher power than the stone has formed it; the trees, the flowers, even the insects and beasts are plastic materials in the hands of the great potter. Through It, in unthinkable time, the bodies are formed for man. He enters the Temple prepared for him, and Nature who has been supreme, now bows before the mystery. She sees before her not alone the world-stuff to be fashioned, but the very creative spark. No longer can she mold unaided. It becomes her office now to furnish the opportunities for the entering man, who has before him the herculean task of evolving the human mind. No outside force alone can make him. The creative seed is itself within him. Every event, every circumstance, is something to be met and acted upon by him, the creator of his own destiny. Whether ignorantly or consciously, he works in the illimitable and exhaustless laboratory of nature and therein slowly but surely fashions -- character. Human laws may be framed and forgotten; temples may be reared and crumbled; whole races may pass through their allotment of sorrow, despair, and joy, and be no more; continents may rise and sink; but character, by means of which all these things are formed and colored, character -- as part of man, the immortal -- endures.

The seriousness of this would be sufficient, were the results only good or negative; but when one reflects that they are potent for evil or for good, words fail to express its import. For the necessity of forming character is something which can be escaped by no one, not even for a moment. Every instant, whether apparently active or otherwise, each one is forming his character. It is one of the inevitable facts of nature. Every thought is leaving its imprint, every breath is carrying its influence, making the personality of today different from that of yesterday. In strenuous as in careless moments, whether apparently striving for self or another, the secret motives are at work behind, like tools of inevitable precision in the hands of their master, man, chiseling on the indestructible human mind -- clearing, purifying, and enriching it; or clouding, degrading, and contaminating it. These marks may appear to be ineffective; but under the sway of impulse, in moments of crisis, in the crucial periods of life, they all come forward to decide the issue. With resistless force they assert themselves, leaving the actor aghast and asking with horror, "Is it indeed I, who did this thing?" or, haply, standing in silent awe and gratitude, thanking the beneficent power which worked through him. Sooner or later it becomes evident that nothing can be hid.

As our civilization is but the outcome of national character -- the aggregate of the character of the units -- all reforms of whatever kind, except the reformation of character, can have no lasting results. All this perhaps no one disputes. The trouble is that while none object to the reformation of others, but few are willing to reform themselves. And so the wheel of sorrow ceaselessly revolves. For whatever laws we make can be evaded. Whatever systems of adjustment we may devise can and will be undone by be very forces which called for their need. As long as unbrotherliness is in the heart, the strife between men must grow more intense. As long as our selfishness breeds criminals, no improvement in prison discipline can check their growth. As long as the desire for honesty is not stronger than the desire for gain, no supervision of business can keep it sweetly clean. Patent nostrums without end are offered, and we live in a Babel of ideas. We are lost in a multitude of issues, when in truth there is but one. Why reform forever on the surface? An ethical veneer may cover systems rotten to their core.

It is this thorough, basic method that theosophy enforces. It touches the root of the disease. It holds the power to awaken the soul and purify the stream of life at its source.

  • (From The Theosophical Path 3:160-62, September 1912)

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