Part 4 - Robert Browning's "paracelsus" II
THEOSOPHY, Vol. 24, No. 4, February, 1936
(Pages 151-154; Size: 12K)
(Number 5 of a 7-part series)
THE poem of Paracelsus is a mine of information to the student of philosophy, religion or science, for the "sacred knowledge" which was the goal of Paracelsus' quest is a synthesis of all three. But however illuminative this poem may be to the mind, its true value is never perceived until it is read with the eyes of the heart.
During the long evolutionary journey of the Soul, a point is reached where mere brain knowledge no longer satisfies, where a philosophy is demanded which feeds not only the mind, but the heart as well.
"For men begin to pass their natures bound,
And find new hopes and cares which fast supplant
Their proper joys and griefs; they grow too great
For narrow creeds of right and wrong which fade
Before the unmeasured thirst for good."
There is one aspect of this poem which is particularly valuable to those who have reached this point. Paracelsus was one who thirsted for the real, aspired toward the highest, and attained to supreme wisdom; and he tells the story of his trials, his failures, and his final triumph, to help those who are still in the midst of the battle. The Philosopher, the Occultist and the Warrior-Soul speak in turn through Browning's words, encouraging the efforts of every aspirant through the example of one whose aspiration and determination burgeoned forth into full-blown attainment.
The quest for the "sacred knowledge" would be in vain were there not Those who possess it and teach it; Those who have accumulated the wisdom of the ages and carefully preserve it against the ravages of time. The very laws of evolution demand the existence of individuals who have progressed farther along the path of knowledge than ourselves, whose minds and hearts are more replete with understanding and compassion than our own.
"Such men are even now upon the earth,
Serene among the half-formed creatures round
Who should be saved by them and joined to them."
Who has a better right than Paracelsus to speak of men like these? Was he not himself one of the stones that form that Guardian Wall? The meaning of his words is unmistakable:
"I am not blind to my undoubted rank
When classed with others. I precede my age.
And whoso wills is very free to mount
These labours as a platform whence his own
May have a prosperous outset."
The mission of Paracelsus was the same as that of every other Servant of Humanity: to show the Path to those whose eyes could see. His doctrine was identical with that of every other great Teacher: the doctrine of individual responsibility. His charge was "to impart the spirit which should instigate the search for Truth," and he boldly lit his torch in the midst of his darkened, creed-ridden age, knowing full well that persecution, ingratitude, perhaps a martyr's death would be his lot. He knew in advance how the blind and foolish world would dissect and disparage the truths won for them with his life's blood. And yet, realizing all this, he pledged himself to the task that lay before him:
"And why should I be sad or lorn of hope?
Who shall succeed if not one pledged like me?"
The world is ever attacking us with one hand, seducing us with the other. There comes a time in every man's life when, wearied with these eternal buffetings, he stops and questions: "Is this the only Path? Must I ever move in circles, gaining naught but pain and anguish from my efforts?" When this question is asked in all sincerity, the answer comes:
"There is a way;
'Tis hard for flesh to tread, imbued
With frailty -- hopeless if indulgence first
Have ripened inborn germs of sin to strength."
This Path is not for the timorous or the faint-hearted, nor for the individual who is too cowardly to face his own lower nature without flinching. Only the Warrior-Soul can stand undismayed before the frailty of his own flesh, contemplate with dispassion the ugly fruits of his past misdeeds and still say:
"I will fight the battle out; a little spent
Perhaps, but still an able combatant."
The Path of the Warrior-Soul is guarded at every step by faithful sentries whose questions must be answered before the aspirant can proceed along his way. At the very entrance to the Path he is confronted with a question which will decide his fitness for Occultism and gauge the possibility of his future success. At the very first gate the sentry of the Higher Self approaches him and asks:
"Wilt thou adventure for my sake and man's,
Apart from all reward?"
He cannot pass beyond this gate until he has declared the nature of the motive which prompts him to knock for admittance. Is it the desire to gain something for himself, or the unselfish longing to be the better able to help and teach others? Does he seek for knowledge so that great powers will come to him, or does he seek to
"...know, not for knowing's sake,
But to become a star to men forever."
Unless the pure motive of altruistic service is uncovered in this preliminary process of self-examination, it is better to leave Occultism alone. From the very moment the Path is entered, the disciple must begin to live not for himself, but for the world. From that time on, the divine motive must become the basis of every thought and action, and he must pledge himself to serve without thought of reward.
If the desire for service exists in the heart today, the seeds that produced it must have been planted long ago; for such seeds as these cannot sprout and come to fruition within the span of one short life. It is said in the Voice of the Silence that no Arhan1 becomes one in that birth when for the first time the Soul begins to long for final liberation. Like Paracelsus, each one must look far back into the dim recesses of the past for the cause of his present desire to serve and for the reason of his present incapacity to serve more efficiently. Such introspection may bring out a thought like this:
"At times I almost dream
I too have spent a life the sages' way,
And tread once more familiar paths. Perchance
I perished in an arrogant self-reliance
Ages ago; and in that act a prayer
For one more chance went up so earnest, so
Instinct with better light let in by death,
That life was blotted out -- not so completely
But scattered wrecks enough of it remain,
Dim memories, as now, when once more seems
The goal in sight again."
One of the worst snares along the Path of Discipleship is the one which is here described as "arrogant self-reliance." Many a failure can be traced to an arrogance bred in the soil of a false sense of self-importance, and the annals of discipleship are filled with many a blotted page containing
"The sad rhyme of the men who proudly clung
To their first fault, and withered in their pride."
Behind each one of us there lies a desert strewn with the dry bones of past mistakes and failures, for Nature has no rubbish-heap where forgotten follies may be burned to ashes. The wise man sees this fact, reviews his past mistakes, extracts what experience he can from them, and uses it to fertilize and enrich the soil of his present endeavor. Although discouragement may assail him, it is not allowed to overpower him, for he knows there is only one real failure -- to stop trying.
"You think it strange
I should profess to have failed utterly,
And yet propose an ultimate return
To courses void of hope; and this is because
You know not what temptation is, nor how
'Tis like to ply men in the sickliest part."
The man who shrinks like a crushed snail within the carapace of discouragement will never reach the goal. "The Path that leadeth on is lighted by one fire -- the fire of daring, burning in the heart." The fire that makes him dare today was lighted long ago, at some far-off altar where the Soul first took its vow of service. This sacred vow can never be forgotten by the Soul, despite the difficulty of impressing it upon the mind. The day will come when it will pierce through the dense opacity of the brain, and then the man will rise with determination to
..."hold straight on,
For now 'tis all or nothing."
The poem of Paracelsus should fire every one who reads it with this determination. It should impart to every reader the spirit which instigates the search for Truth, making him another "wanderer" on the small old Path that leads to the "sacred knowledge." As these wanderers increase in number, the age will be prepared for the re-emergence of such men as Paracelsus, whose dying lips framed the promise:
..."If I stoop
Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud,
It is but for a time. I press God's lamp
Close to my breast; its splendour, soon or late,
Will pierce the gloom. I shall emerge one day.
You understand me? I have said enough?"
COMPILER'S NOTE: I added this footnote; it was not in the article. If it doesn't paint an accurate enough picture, or is incorrect, I hope the Editors of THEOSOPHY magazine will spot it and point it out to me, so that I can make the necessary corrections.
"Arhan" means an initiated Adept at some high level.