THE CANDLE OF VISION
The aspiration to light up the candle of vision derives from that light itself. This constitutes the hope of man. Herein is a redemptive truth amidst painful conditions of obscuration in which shallow conceptions of reality leave so many without the minimum means for psychological survival. The smoke of delusion rises from the fire of craving and fills the surrounding atmosphere, inducing a drowsy heaviness which makes clear thinking impossible. It inhibits cool concentration upon the correct performance of even simple tasks, and prevents people from exchanging honest words of warmth. Beyond this mental darkness shines Buddhi, the divine spark in the secret heart, the light of spiritual discernment, the core of the calmest noetic awareness attainable by every human soul. Even in the hour of extreme hopelessness a person may seek authentic glimmerings of devotion to a "dateless and deathless" reality hidden behind the veils of matter. Such moments of awakening could become the basis of lighting up one's latent higher consciousness that overbroods the shadowy personal self identified with a name and form and a network of illusions.
The hope of self-transformation cannot become self-sustaining without a firm foundation in philosophical principles. Until the mind is raised to that level of concentration and universalization where it can retain impersonal truths as living realities within its storehouse of thoughts, it cannot become a pure mirror of cosmic ideation. Unless the heart is nourished by a never-ceasing love for beings other than one's little self, there is a sterile lack of creativity. The great Theosophist and poet A.E. – George William Russell – recognized that unless the imagination is purified by being withdrawn from "self-satisfying fantasy," and reaches beyond itself, it will be impossible to light up the pristine ray of true vision. A mature honesty is needed in our appraisal of our self-limiting mentality, our frantic emotions which exaggerate our shadowy self-love and our weaknesses of will which hinder continuity of consciousness. Such self-scrutiny can use the light of higher analysis to burn out those crystallized accretions in the astral vehicle which prevent the candle of vision from becoming a stable source of illumination.
When alight, the candle in the heart is capable of shining with a powerful flame, descended from on high, deathless and indestructible. The Spiritual Sun in every man, the Atman, is the eternal witness, unconditioned and free, independent of any thing or being and self-sustaining, streaming forth through the light of Buddhi. Every human being is capable of understanding these ideas because each is an immortal soul that has been through a long pilgrimage of over eighteen million years. All men and women are fallen divinities. Each must have a sufficient desire to light up the path, but not for one's own sake. Any who seek the vision for themselves alone will never find it. This is the law of life and nature, and it is equally the law of humanity. People may steal their way through adventitious aids such as herbs or drugs into what they imagine as "magic casements in faery lands forlorn." Poets like Keats spoke meaningfully about the power of divine dreaming, but though this may induce intermittent participation in the supernal realm of imagination – "Many goodly kingdoms have I seen and they stretch both far and wide," such fortuitous flights cannot light up the candle permanently as a steady flame in the surrounding darkness.
Nature's laws, which are impartial and impersonal, are served by a long lineage of illustrious teachers. As a boy of seventeen, A.E. came to sense this, and later spoke of his inmost experience in his remarkable book, The Candle of Vision. His authentic account could give hope to all the sad victims of a social system that compounds common weaknesses, portraying like a magnifying mirror the scars that so many would like to forget. A.E. knew that which all true poets and mystics see: the Golden Age is here and now. It is not lost in the past and it is not latent in futurity. If it is not recognized here and now, one will not know what it means. Whoever, throughout the regenerating cycles of the seasons, cannot see nature in her Golden Age, will not become a cheerful servant of those enlightened beings who have perfected the powers of compassion, concentration, and the spiritual will. This force is not directed towards earthly results, but it is precise and infallible in relation to universal and supreme good. Anyone may become a helper, but each must first become a learner from nature. A.E. tried to do this and wrote about his efforts:
A.E. knew that it was difficult, but he did not give up. Men who have silently suffered for the sake of others do not give up, while those who have never known real suffering rarely get started. Whether in ghettos or in so-called smooth places, those who have truly known pain realize that there is no panacea. Others forfeit the fruit of their sufferings by anodynes which prevent any permanent learning of lessons. Those who persist, as A.E. quietly persisted, come to know what the ancient teachers taught: that no man need ever despair if he will only persevere. "I remember incidents rather than moods, vision more than ecstasy. How can I now, passed away from myself and long at other labours, speak of what I felt in those years when thought was turned to the spirit, and no duty had as yet constrained me to equal outward effort?" He then experienced what many people now sense but before which they find themselves bewildered and feel unworthy:
We all know of places where to breathe the beneficent scents of nature is a sacred privilege. In those who are receptive, they arouse soul memories of another age, when spiritual Teachers were able to walk openly and teach many. These Initiates are always at work but in ways that are only sensed by those who love the whole of humanity and are willing to persist in their secret search. "To touch Earth was to feel the influx of power as with one who had touched the mantle of the Lord." Anyone who plants a tree in a proper spirit knows what this means. Perhaps the best therapy for people in trouble is to become patient gardeners. "Thought, from whatever it set out, for ever led to the heavenly city." Anyone who has a beautiful thought can make it his true friend, taking him further in quest of the heavenly city. Despite falling and stumbling, one can start anew. A.E. knew that all deep feelings are incommunicable. We become awkward when we try to express them. We do not know how to command the appropriate utterance for our deepest feelings. "We have no words to express a thousand distinctions clear to the spiritual sense. If I tell of my exaltation to another, who has not felt this himself, it is explicable to that person as the joy in perfect health, and he translates into lower terms what is the speech of the gods to men." It is impossible to convey that which in its inviolate core we must most honour, and to do it proper homage means that we will never treat it as our exclusive possession. The moment we think the vision is only ours, we degrade our life and treat our spiritual discoveries like parcels of real estate which can be owned and fenced. In the spiritual realm there is neither property nor appropriation, and only those who do not appropriate are ready to receive. A.E. learnt from his friend, William Quan Judge, the teaching enshrined in that stanza of the Ishopanishad which subsequently became the favourite of another seeker, M.K.Gandhi: Renounce the whole world and then enjoy it.
We must live as if there is a tremendous sanctity to everything we touch – bathing is a sacrament, eating is sacred, sharing the presence of other human beings is a privilege. These are among the forgotten truths which need to be re-kindled in contemporary society, but through quiet compassion for those who are weak and sick and not through empty talk of soul-force. The innate decencies of ancient cultures can be brought into a vibrant conception of soul-civility in daily life. Individuals become truly cultivated by learning to greet the whole of life with respect and reverence. Those who deeply think about this and want to make radical changes in their lives would be willing to bid a firm farewell to the shallow conventionalities of a decadent culture. It is cruel and wrong to mock human beings caught up in it. It is necessary to feel compassion but at the same time to assume a position of non-cooperation with those who revel in the feverish celebration of all that is false. This requires the cool courage which comes through serene contemplation.
When one calmly reflects upon something beautiful, some vision of the future, noble ideas and images, a plenitude of thoughts arise and one's imagination takes wings. It soars upwards like Shelley's skylark and then descends to that point in space and time where, in the words of Shakespeare, it can "give local habitation and a name" to resonant images. This is a mirroring of the divine activity of the mighty Masters of creative imagination who ceaselessly work with precision, purity and perfect control for the sake of universal good. Many poets and creative artists in moments of inspiration have intimations of their spiritual consciousness. Similarly, all men and women enter every night into a sublime state of dreamless consciousness where even for a few moments they enjoy glimpses of divine wisdom. These then become filtered through the Kama Manas – the desiring and rationalizing mind attached to a false sense of self – so that on waking up there is a vague feeling that something wonderful came to one in sleep. But there is also a painful awareness of its loss. Before going to sleep one should prepare one's mind, body and heart, and, above all, one's own highest longings for union with the immortal and sovereign spirit. With assiduity in devotion and in practice, one can eventually enter at will into the state of pure, universal consciousness. In the beginning, if one would like to test oneself, one may go to sleep with one idea and see if it can be maintained intact throughout sleep so that one wakes up with that idea. In this way, one can attain an increasing measure of continuity of consciousness in daily life.
Those who submit themselves to tests of this calibre know that the journey is arduous but that every effort counts. Again and again, a point is reached upon the path where suddenly stasis and control are lost because one finds waves upon waves of titanic psychic energy flooding in upon the mind. One sees various images that are dark and fearful as well as fascinatingly beautiful images. These have some relative truth but no real spiritual knowledge as they are feeble compensations for the frustrations of living. At the same time, they may be long shadows cast by divine visions which are always self-transcending. A.E. speaks of this when he depicts Dante's vision of Beatrice. One sees an endless variety of seemingly lovely pictures of women or men, and ethereal entities of every kind. But they do not add any meaning to a person's life or bring one any closer to other human beings. If one keeps the chela's daily ledger, one will detect significant patterns over a period of time. Through recognition of these patterns one will gain some clues in relation to one's unconscious fantasies and fears, whether they originated in childhood or in previous lives. One may also discover clues concerning the recent past as well as the present.
The more one reads inspired passages in scripture and poetry, the more one nourishes oneself with noble ideas and images, the more the imagination will be enriched and intensified. In 1964 the National Association of Independent Schools selected R.K.Narayan's Gods and Heroes as one of the ten books most effective with school children in America. Many such books have since been published on the myths and legends of ancient cultures. In the education of the future, as well as now for those under-developed minds, unwarmed hearts and famished souls who never had this enrichment in childhood, books could be chosen which evoke ennobling images. Psychologists in France have commented upon the profound feeling for purity among adolescents all over the world. The purer the force of love, the more sacred every expression becomes. Purification of the imagination is most needed in an age of profanation. The only way a person ever learns is, in Gandhi's phrase, by making experiments with truth in daily encounters.
As the imagination is stirred and the candle of vision is initially lighted, the flame reveals inverted images of objects. If we could conduct in consciousness Newton's experiment and put two mirrors one beside the other, the inverted images would re-invert themselves. There are seven planes of consciousness, and human beings in general live mostly below the fourth. Plato taught that there are successive reflections, and every image is a reflection of that which is prior to it. The neo-Platonists stressed that the visible man is an imperfect shadow of his true self. Every time we think, "This is me," we must recognize that what we see is merely a mayavic shadow of that which is behind it. A human being is rather like the Egyptian sphinx. What do the face and the form of the sphinx suggest about the human soul? What does it convey about the long journey and divine descent of the immortal soul of man, through its projected ray, into a series of vehicles and incarnations? At the highest level, a human being is a self-conscious monad within a translucent alabaster vase, suffused with golden light. The monad is imprisoned within grosser sheaths, which result in obscuration, distortion and fragmentation of consciousness.
At the beginning of our quest for clarity of vision, it is very important to determine carefully the subject of meditation. We must choose the finest, noblest ideas that we can find as themes for calm reflection. Those who have made the ascent many times and descend with ease, take off and land with complete control, do not need to discriminate strenuously among objects as they enter readily into states of consciousness that transcend names and forms, objects and beings. When they meditate deeply on the colourless, attributeless light of Atman, they are able to see the one light not only in every colour but in every one of the sub-colours. They can see it in all its permutations and combinations, and make precise discriminations in regard to moral qualities, because colouring has to do with the moral propensities of classes of elementals which are modifications of a single homogeneous substance. When a man of meditation gains complete control over that homogeneous substance beyond form, colour and limitation, then he has effortless command over Kriyashakti, the creative power of ideation and imagination.
Two metaphors could be of help here, used both by Emerson in his essay on friendship, and by A.E. A true friend is as luminous as the diamond, but also as variegated as an opal. A.E. similarly spoke about the clarity of the diamond and the colouring of the opal when communicating his own experience:
Hermes, July 1977