Path of Vision; pocket essays of East and West/Part Second, 8

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FROM the revolutionary turmoil and shifting, transitory conditions that are common to-day to both the Orient and the Occident, something is bound to arise to bridge the gulf that otherwise exists between them. The backgrounds of popular movements are different, to be sure, but the central settings are the same. The starting points are not identical, but the end in view is unmistakable in both worlds. The Oriental, under a staggering burden of traditions, is suffering from too much conformity; the Occidental, under an ever increasing burden of legislation, is suffering from too much restraint. And while the one would reform his religion, the other, his laws, the object sought by both is the freedom of the individual.

But there is this difference in the aspirations of both people: the freedom of the individual is still the supreme end with the Oriental, in spite of all his present-day nationalist movements, while with the Occidental it is only a means to an end. Self- conscious to a degree of violence, we in the West proclaim our material needs; but the people of the East, in spite of their growing revolt, remain sub-consciously spiritual.

We have done away with religion, or the formulas, at least, of religion, which fettered and stunted the mind; we shall do away with the laws that impose upon us any material limitation or restraint. And thus, in absolute freedom only shall we succeed in the 'pursuit of happiness.' But the Oriental, however rebellious, will never look upon happiness as an object of pursuit. He is not capable of ever becoming downright material or absolutely unreligious.

Now, if we do not, though enjoying absolute freedom, succeed completely in the pursuit of happiness, if we should even fail, which is a common experience, what have we, having destroyed the bridges of the soul behind us, what have we, I ask to turn to for comfort and consolation? Obviously, in this sense, the Oriental has the advantage. The Mohammedan, for instance, who is seeking to-day political and religious emancipation, may cease to go to Mecca on a pilgrimage, may deny the authority of the Khalif of Islam, may become a monogamist and a free-thinker, but he will continue to go to the mosque and though he has to stuff his ears with cotton against the pulpit pulings of a fanatical sheikh. He will continue to believe in Allah the author and the border-guard, so to speak, of human freedom. And should he 'pursue' happiness, instead of walking indifferently in its path, he will do so in his usual manner, that is casually, leisurely, and even circuitously. And should he fail, he has always something higher to pursue. In reverence and awe he will continue to seek the divine, which even in the darkest depths of fatalism, never loses for him its potency and grace.

In India the antithesis is more pronounced—the parallel more interesting. The Hindu says, I am a part of the whole, which is God. The European is a part of the whole, which is the social system or the political machine. But whether as a citizen or a yogi, the individual has ceased to exist. And of the two absorbing, non-entitizing mediums, the political and the religious, no two right-thinking people will disagree as to which is nearer to the ideal of the soul. Personally, if I am to be effaced as a human entity, I prefer to submit to the spiritual process, whether it be based on a dogma, a vision, or a truth. And in this, I am not contenting myself with an illusion, as it might be supposed; on the contrary, I am pursuing the practical course of wisdom.

But complete effacement is not possible in either case. Nature is against it; super-nature, or the supreme source of the light within us, frowns upon it. I am a part of the All, but I am free. And my freedom ends necessarily where the freedom of the All, whether God or the State, begins. This deep truth, which the Mohammedan recognizes, has been overlooked in India and is scorned to-day in Europe and America. The anarchy of caprice prevailing in that part of the world is not better nor worse than the anarchy of thought prevalent in the western world. And strange as it may seem, the tendency of both people is to succeed each other in their failures as well as their triumphs. But the manifest destiny of the world is fortunately bound with the spirit of enlightenment and culture.

Hitherto, the political state with the Hindu, like the divine state with the European, has been more or less negligible. Hence the material supremacy of the one and the spiritual abnormalities of the other. Hence, too, the failure of both as individuals. For whether in Nirvana, in Fatalism, or in the State, the dwarfing and effacing tendency is the same. If the citizen, therefore, could be taught to appreciate the yogi's abstractions and the yogi, the citizen's political creed,—if a compromise between them and a rapport are possible,—there is hope for the accession of the individual to his primal state, where he will retain his pristine dignity and maintain himself as a human entity in the divine and political systems of the world, without being below or above them, subordinate or superior. He will build within their boundaries, the castle, the fortress of his freedom.

But to build it on a political fiction is as bad as building it on a religious chimera. For whether as an instrument in the hands of a government or in the hands of a spiritual hierarchy, man is equally a slave. Indeed, the 'part-of-the-whole' idea, when announced and accepted as a dogma or a law, is a libel upon humankind, an insult to its innate nobility. No, the individual is not a means to an end.

What avails it to know that I am free, if I can not realize this freedom in a definite, specific existence? But can it be realized wholly by a revolt only against a hierarchy or a state? It depends upon the nature and scope of the revolt. If we are concerned in breaking the fetters that are fastened upon our bodies and souls by external agencies only, we are doomed to failure. But if we become aware of the fetters, which we, in the sub-consciousness of centuries of submission, have fastened upon the spirit within us and strive to free ourselves of them first, then we are certain to triumph.

For freedom of the spirit is the cornerstone of all freedom. And this can be attained only by realizing its human limitations and recognizing its divine claim. It might be said too that freedom is to spirit what gravity is to matter. It is inherent in it and limited, yea, fettered by it. To know and recognize this truth, is to rise to the highest form) of freedom. Epictetus the slave was free. Socrates in prison was nevertheless free. Jesus on the cross was absolutely free.

But this transcendentalism, some will object, is not practical with the modern spirit of progress. It is the metaphysical philosopher's idea that freedom of the spirit is only the consciousness of freedom. If this were so, to follow the objection, then the Hindu has attained the ideal state and our modern civilization is a hollow mockery. In a sense, this is true. But the freedom of the Hindu, who is steeped in spiritual cant and quackery, is nothing now but a sublimated resignation. Nor would he be better off, if, in his triumph of revolt, he substituted it for political freedom. His salvation, the salvation of man, is in the recognition of the divine link between the two. To detach them or to seek only the realization of one of them, has the tendency of making of man either an ogre or a myth. If the one is made the complement of the other, however, nay, if spiritual freedom is recognized as the basis of political freedom, the highest degree of emancipation is then possible.

Further, to make my meaning plain. I am free to go the length of my freedom, I admit. But is it not a common human experience that doing so, I reach a point where I find myself powerless, where I realize that I am imprisoned in time and space? Here are my material limitations; and only knowledge or the recognition of my spiritual potentialities, can save me from the pangs of sorrow and disappointment. Indeed, there is in man an infinite possibility of spiritual development. And if only for this reason, he should not be sacrificed to the state or to a spiritual hierarchy or to the species.