Edward Carpenter.

Pagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning online

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He says: "But if you leave it alone it will become clear of itself."
That muddy water of the mind, muddied by all the fooUsh
little thoughts which like a sediment infest it — but if you leave
it alone it will become clear of itself. Sometimes walking along
the common road after a shower you have seen pools of water
lying here and there, dirty and unsightly with the mud stirred
up by the hoofs of men and animals. And then returning
some hours afterwards along the same road — in the evening
and after the cessation of traffic — you have looked again, and
lo! each pool has cleared itself to a perfect calm, and has become
a lovely mirror reflecting the trees and the clouds and the sunset
and the stars.

So this mirror of the mind. Leave it alone. Let the ugly
sediment of tiresome thoughts and anxieties, and of fussing



290 PAGAN AND CHRISTIAN CREEDS

over one's self-importances and duties, settle down — and pres-
ently you will look on it, and see something there which you
never knew or imagined before — something more beautiful
than you ever yet beheld — a reflection of the real and eternal
world such is only given to the mind that rests.

Do not recklessly spill the waters of your mind in this direction
and in that, lest you become like a spring lost and dissipated in the
desert.

But draw them together into a little compass, and hold them still,
so still;

And let them become clear, so clear — so limpid, so mirror-like;

At last the mountains and the sky shall glass themselves in peaceful
beauty.

And the antelope shall descend to drink, and the lion to quench his
thirst.

And Love himself shall come and bend over, and catch his own like-
ness in you.i

Yes, there is this priceless thing within us, but hoofing along
the roads in the mud we fail to find it; there is this region of
calm, but the cyclone of the world raging around guards us
from entering it. Perhaps it is best so — best that the access
to it should not be made too easy. One day, some time ago,
in the course of conversation with Rabindranath Tagore in
London, I asked him what impressed him most in visiting the
great city. He said, "The restless incessant movement of
everybody." I said, "Yes, they seem as if they were all rush-
ing about looking for something." He replied, "It is because
each person does not know of the great treasure he has within
himself."



How then are we to reach this treasure and make it our own?
How are we to attain to this Stilling of the Mind, which is the
secret of all power and possession? The thing is difficult, no
doubt; yet as I tried to show at the outset of this discourse,
we Moderns tnust reach it; we have got to attain to it — for
the penalty of failure is and must be widespread Madness.

The power to stiU the mind — to be able, mark you, when
you want, to enter into the region of Rest, and to dismiss or
command your Thoughts — is a condition of Health; it is a
condition of all Power and Energy. For all health, whether

1 Towards Democracy, p. 373.



REST 291

of mind or body, resides in one's relation to the central Life
within. If one cannot get into touch with that, then the life-
forces cannot flow down into the organism. Most, perhaps all,
disease arises from the disturbance of this connection. All mere
hurry, all mere running after external things (as of the man
after the water-streams on the mountain-top), inevitably breaks
it. Let a pond be allowed calmly under the influence of frost
to crystallize, and most beautiful flowers and spears of ice will
be formed; but keep stirring the water all the time with a
stick or a pole and nothing wiU result but an ugly brash of half-
frozen stuff. The condition of the exercise of power and energy
is that it should proceed from a center of Rest within one. So
convinced am I of this, that whenever I find myself hurrying
over my work, I pause and say, "Now you are not producing
anything good!" and I generally find that that is true. It
is curious, but I think very noticeable, that the places where
people hurry most — as for instance the City of London or Wall
Street, New York — are just the places where the work being
done is of least importance (being mostly money-gambling);
whereas if you go and look at a ploughman ploughing — doing
perhaps the most important of human work — you find all his
movements most deliberate and leisurely, as if indeed he had
infinite time at command; the truth being that in dealing
(like a ploughman) with the earth and the horses and the weather
and the things of Nature generally you can no more hurry than
Nature herself hurries.

Following this line of thought it might seem that one would
arrive at a hopeless paradox. If it be true that the less one
hurries the better the work resulting, then it might seem that
by sitting still and merely twirling one's thumbs one would
arrive at the very greatest activity and efficiency! And indeed
(if understood aright) there is a truth even in this, which — like
the other points I have mentioned — has been known and taught
long ages ago. Says that humorous old sage, Lao-tze, whom
I have already quoted: "By non-action there is nothing that
cannot be done." At first this sounds like mere foolery or
worse; but afterwards thinking on it one sees there is a meaning
hidden. There is a secret by which Nature and the powers
of the universal life will do all for you. The Bhagavat Gita
also says, "He who discovers inaction in action and action in
inaction is wise among mortals."

It is worth while dwelling for a moment on these texts. We
are all — as I said earlier on — involved in work belonging to



292 PAGAN AND CHRISTIAN CREEDS

our place and station; we are tied to some degree in the bonds
of action. But that fact need not imprison our inner minds-
While acting even with keenness and energy along the external
and necessary path before us, it is perfectly possible to hold the
mind free and untied — so that the result of our action (which
of course is not ours to command) shall remain indiflEerent and
incapable of unduly affecting us. Similarly, when it is our part
to remain externally inactive, we may discover that underneath
this apparent inaction we may be taking part in the currents
of a deeper life which are moving on to a definite end, to an
end or object which in a sense is ours and in a sense is not ours.
The lighthouse beam flies over land and sea with incredible
velocity, and you think the light itself must be in swiftest move-
ment; but when you climb up thither you find the lamp abso-
lutely stationary. It is only the reflection that is moving.
The rider on horseback may gallop to and fro wherever he will,
but it is hard to say that he is acting. The horse guided by
the slightest indication of the man's will performs all the action
that is needed. If we can get into right touch with the immense,
the incalculable powers of Nature, is there anything which
we may not be able to do? "If a man worship the Self only
as his true state," says the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad, "his
work cannot fail, for whatever he desires, that he obtains from
the Self." What a wonderful saying, and how infallibly true!
For obviously if you succeed in identifying your true being
with the great Self of the universe, then whatever you desire
the great Self will also desire, and therefore every power of
Nature will be at your service and will conspire to fulfil your
need.

There are marvelous things here "well wrapped up" —
difficult to describe, yet not impossible to experience. And
they all depend upon that power of stilling Thought, that
ability to pass unharmed and undismayed through the grinning
legions of the lower mind into the verj' heart of Paradise.

The question inevitably arises, How can this power be ob-
tained? And there is only one answer — the same answer
which has to be given for the attainment of any power or
faculty. There is no royal road. The only way is (however
imperfectly) to do the thing in question, to practice it. If you
would learn to play cricket, the only way is to play cricket;
if you would be able to speak a language, the only way is to
speak it. If you would learn to swim, the only way is to practice
swimming. Or would you wish to be like the man who when



REST 293

his companions were bathing and bidding him come and Join
them, said: "Yes, I am longing to join you, but I am not
going to be such a fool as to go into the water //// / know how to
swim!"

There is nothing but practice. If you want to obtain that
priceless power of commanding Thought — of using it or dis-
missing it (for the two things go together) at will — there is no
way but practice. And the practice consists in two exercises:
(a) that of concentration — in holding the thought steadily for
a time on one subject, or point of a subject; and (b) that of
effacement — in effacing any given thought from the mind, and
determining not to entertain it for such and such a time. Both
these exercises are difficult. Failure in practicing them is certain
— and may even extend over years. But the power equally
certainly grows with practice. And ultimately there may come
a time when the learner is not only able to efface from his mind
any given thought (however importunate), but may even
succeed in effacing, during short periods, all thought of any
kind. When this stage is reached, the veil of illusion which
surrounds all mortal things is pierced, and the entrance to the
Paradise of Rest (and of universal power and knowledge) is
found.

Of indirect or auxiUary methods of reaching this great con-
clusion, there are more than one. I think of life in the open
air, if not absolutely necessary, at least most important. The
gods — though sometimes out of compassion they visit the
interiors of houses — are not fond of such places and the evil
effluvium they find there, and avoid them as much as they can.
It is not merely a question of breathing oxygen instead of
carbonic acid. There is a presence and an influence in Nature
and the Open which expands the mind and causes brigand
cares and worries to drop off — whereas in confined places foolish
and futile thoughts of aU kinds swarm like microbes and cloud
and conceal the soul. Experto Crede. It is only necessary to
try this experiment in order to prove its truth.

Another thing which corresponds in some degree to living
physically in the open air, is the living mentally and emotionally
in the atmosphere of love. A large charity of mind, which
refuses absolutely to shut itself in little secluded places of
prejudice, bigotry and contempt for others, and which attains
to a great and universal sympathy, helps, most obviously, to
open the way to that region of calm and freedom of which we
have spoken, while conversely all petty enmity, meanness and



294 PAGAN AND CHRISTIAN CREEDS

spite, conspire to imprison the soul and make its deliverance
more difficult.

It is not necessary to labor these points. As we said, the
way to attain is to sincerely try to attain, to consistently practice
attainment. Whoever does this will find that the way will
open out by degrees, as of one emerging from a vast and gloomy
forest, till out of darkness the path becomes clear. For whom-
soever reaUy tries there is no failure; for every effort in that
region is success, and every onward push, however small, and
however little result it may show, is really a move forward,
and one step nearer the light.



n

THE NATURE OF THE SELF

The true nature of the Self is a matter by no means easy to
compass. We have all probably at some time or other attempted
to fathom the deeps of personality, and been baffled. Some
people say they can quite distinctly remember a moment in
early childhood, about the age of three (though the exact period
is of course only approximate) when self -consciousness — the
awareness of being a little separate Self — first dawned in the
mind. It was generally at some moment of childish tension —
alone perhaps in a garden, or lost from the mother's protecting
hand — that this happened; and it was the beginning of a whole
range of new experience. Before some such period there is
in childhood strictly speaking no distinct self -consciousness.
As Tennyson says {In Memoriam xliv):

The baby new to earth and sky,

What time his tender palm is prest
Against the circle of the breast,

Hath never thought that "This is I."

It has consciousness trvdy, but no distinctive self-consciousness.
It is this absence or deficiency which explains many things
which at first sight seem obscure in the psychology of children
and of animals. The baby (it has often been noticed) experi-
ences little or no sense of fear. It does not know enough to
be afraid; it has never formed any image of itself, as of a thing
which might be injured. It may shrink from actual pain or
discomfort, but it does not look forward — which is of the essence
of fear — to pain in the future. Fear and self-consciousness
are closely interlinked. Similarly with animals, we often wonder
how a horse or a cow can endure to stand out in a field all night,

295



296 PAGAN AND CHRISTIAN CREEDS

exposed to cold and rain, in the lethargic patient way that
they exhibit. It is not that they do not feel the discomfort, but
it is that they do not envisage themselves as enduring this pain
and suffering for all those coming hours; and as we know with
ourselves that nine-tenths of our miseries really consist in look-
ing forward to future miseries, so we understand that the absence
or at any rate slight prevalence of self-consciousness in animals
enables them to endure forms of distress which would drive
us mad.

In time then the babe arrives at self-consciousness; and,
as one might expect, the growing boy or girl often becomes
intensely aware of Self. His or her self-consciousness is crude,
no doubt, but it has very little misgiving. If the question
of the nature of the Self is propounded to the boy as a problem
he has no difficulty in solving it. He says "I know well enough
who I am: I am the boy with red hair what gave Jimmy Brown
such a jolly good licking last Monday week." He knows well
enough — or thinks he knows — who he is. And at a later age,
though his definition may change and he may describe himself
chiefly as a good cricketer or successful in certain examinations,
his method is practically the same. He fixes his mind on a
certain bundle of qualities and capacities which he is supposed
to possess, and calls that bundle Himself. And in a more
elaborate way we most of us, I imagine, do the same.

Presently, however, with more careful thought, we begin to
see difficulties in this view, I see that directly I think of my-
self as a certain bundle of qualities — and for that matter it is
of no account whether the qualities are good or bad, or in what
sort of charming confusion they are mixed — I see at once that
I am merely looking at a bundle of qualities: and that the
real "I," the Self, is not that bundle, but is the being inspecting
the same — something beyond and behind, as it were. So I
now concentrate my thoughts upon that inner Something, in
order to find out what it really is. I imagine perhaps an inner
being, of 'astral' or ethereal nature, and possessing a new range
of much finer and more subtle qualities than the body — a being
inhabiting the body and perceiving through its senses, but
quite capable of surviving the tenement in which it dwells —
and I think of that as the Self. But no sooner have I taken
this step than I perceive that I am committing the same mistake
as before. I am only contemplating a new image or picture,
and "I" still remain beyond and behind that which I con-
template. No sooner do I turn my attention on the subjective



THE NATURE OF THE SELF 297

being than it becomes objective, and the real subject retires
into the background. And so on indefinitely. I am baffled;
and unable to say positively what the Self is.

Meanwhile there are people who look upon the foregoing
speculations about an interior Self as merely unpractical. Being
perhaps of a more materialistic type of mind they fijt their
attention on the body. Frankly they try to define the Self
by the body and all that is connected therewith — that is by
the mental as well as corporeal qualities which exhibit them-
selves in that connection; and they say, "At any rate the Self
— whatever it may be — is in some way limited by the body;
each person studies the interest of his body and of the feelings,
emotions and mentality directly associated with it. and you
cannot get beyond that; it isn't in human nature to do so.
The Self is limited by this corporeal phenomenon and doubtless
it perishes when the body perishes." But here again the con-
clusion, though specious at first, soon appears to be quite in-
adequate. For though it is possibly true that a man, if left
alone in a Robinson Crusoe life on a desert island, might ulti-
mately subside into a mere gratification of his corporeal needs
and of those mental needs which were directly concerned with
the body, yet we know that such a case would by no means
be representative. On the contrary we know that vast numbers
of people spend their lives in considering other people, and often
so far as to sacrifice their own bodily and mental comfort and
well-being. The mother spends her life thinking almost day
and night about her babe and the other children — spending
all her thoughts and efforts on them. You may call her selfish
if you will, but her selfishness clearly extends beyond her per-
sonal body and mind, and extends to the personalities of her
children around her; her "body" — if you insist on your defi-
nition — must be held to include the bodies of all her children.
And again, the husband who is toiling for the support of the
family, he is thinking and working and toiling and suffering
for a 'self which includes his wife and children. Do you
mean that the whole family is his "body" ? Or a man belongs
to some society, to a church or to a social league of some kind,
and his activities are largely ruled by the interests of this larger
group. Or he sacrifices his life — as many have been doing of
late — with extraordinary bravery and heroism for the sake
of the nation to which he belongs. Must we say then that
the whole nation is reaUy a part of the man's body? Or again,
he gives his life and goes to the stake for his religion. Whether



298 PAGAN AND CHRISTIAN CREEDS

his religion is right or wrong does not matter, the point is that
there is that in him which can carry him far beyond his local
self and the ordinary instincts of his physical organism, to
dedicate his Hfe and powers to a something of far wider circum-
ference and scope.

Thus in the first of these two examples of a search for the
nature of the Self we are led inwards from point to point, into
interior and ever subtler regions of our being, and still in the
end are baffled; while in the second we are carried outwards
into an ever wider and wader circumference in our quest of
the Ego, and still feel that we have failed to reach its ultimate
nature. We are driven in fact by these two arguments to the
conclusion that that which we are seeking is indeed something
very vast — something far extending around, yet also buried
deep in the hidden recesses of our minds. How far, how deep,
we do not know. We can only say that as far as the indications
point the true self is profounder and more far-reaching than
anything we have yet fathomed.

In the ordinary commonplace life we shrink to ordinary
commonplace selves, but it is one of the blessings of great ex-
periences, even though they are tragic or painful, that they
throw us out into that enormously greater self to which we
belong. Sometimes, in moments of inspiration, of intense
enthusiasm, of revelation, such as a man feels in the midst of
a battle, in moments of love and dedication to another person,
and in moments of reUgious ecstasy, an immense world is
opened up to the astonished gaze of the inner man, who sees
disclosed a self stretched far beyond anything he had ever
imagined. We have all had experiences more or less of that
kind. I have known quite a few people, and most of you have
known some, who at some time, even if only once in their hves,
have experienced such an extraordinary lifting of the veil, an
opening out of the back of their minds as it were, and have
had such a vision of the world, that they have never afterwards
forgotten it. They have seen into the heart of creation, and
have perceived their union with the rest of mankind. They
have had glimpses of a strange immortality belonging to them,
a glimpse of their belonging to a far greater being than they
have ever imagined. Just once — and a man has never for-
gotten it, and even if it has not recurred it has colored all
the rest of his life.

Now, this subject has been thought about — since the begin-
ning of the world, I was going to say — but it has been thought



THE NATURE OF THE SELF 299

about since the beginnings of history. Some three thousand
years ago certain groups of — I hardly hke to call them philos-
ophers — but, let us say, people who were meditating and think-
ing upon these problems, were in the habit of locating them-
selves in the forests of Northern India; and schools arose there.
In the case of each school some teacher went into the woods
and collected groups of disciples around him, who lived there
in his company and hstened to his words. Such schools were
formed in very considerable numbers, and the doctrines of
these teachers were gathered together, generally by their dis-
ciples, in notes, which notes were brought together into little
pamphlets or tracts, forming the books which are called the
'Upanishads' of the Indian sages. They contain some extraor-
dinary words of wisdom, some of which I want to bring before
you. The conclusions arrived at were not so much what we
should call philosophy in the modern sense. They were not so
much the result of the analysis of the mind and the following
out of concatenations of strict argument; but they were flashes
of intuition and experience, and all through the ' Upanishads '
you find these extraordinary flashes embedded in the midst
of a great deal of what we should call a rather rubbishy kind
of argument, and a good deal of merely conventional Brahmanical
talk of those days. But the people who wrote and spoke thus
had an intuition into the heart of things which I make bold to
say very few people in modern life have. These 'Upanishads,'
however various their subject, practically agree on one point
— in the definition of the "self." They agree in saying that
the self of each man is continuous with and in a sense identical
with the Self of the universe. Now that seems an extraordinary
conclusion, and one which almost staggers the modern mind
to conceive of. But that is the conclusion, that is the thread
which runs all through the 'Upanishads' — the identity of the
self of each individual with the self of every other individual
throughout mankind, and even with the selves of the animals
and other creatures.

Those who have read the Khandogya Upanishad remember
how in that treatise the father instructs his son Svetaketu on
this very subject — pointing him out in succession the objects
of Nature and on each occasion exhorting him to realize his
identity with the very essence of the object — " Tat twatn asi.
Thai thou art." He calls Svetaketu's attention to a tree. What
is the essence of the tree? When they have rejected the external
characteristics — the leaves, the branches, etc. — and agreed



300 PAGAN AND CHRISTIAN CREEDS

that the sap is the essence, then the father says, "Tat twam asi

— Thai thou art." He gives his son a crystal of salt, and asks
him what is the essence of that. The son is puzzled. Clearly
neither the form nor the transparent quahty are essential. The
father says, "Put the crystal in water." Then when it is melted
he says, "Where is the crystal?" The son replies, "I do not
know." "Dip your finger in the bowl," says the father, "and
taste." Then Svetaketu dips here and there, and everywhere
there is a salt flavor. They agree that thai is the essence of
salt; and the father says again, "Tat twam asi." I am of course
neither defending nor criticizing the scientific attitude here
adopted. I am only pointing out that this psychological identi-
fication of the observer with the object observed runs through
the Upanishads, and is I think worthy of the deepest consider-


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Online LibraryEdward CarpenterPagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning → online text (page 23 of 25)