Will my tiny spark of being wholly vanish in your deeps and heights?… Thro’ the gates that bar the distance comes a gleam of what is higher.
Tennyson’s last poems.
IN conclusion let us take a rapid survey of the ground that we have traversed, and envisage what lies ahead. Our views have begun to enlarge in all directions, rising from attention to the earth only, to comprehend what is happening in the infinite cosmos of which the earth is an integral portion, and to penetrate the interstices of the very atoms of which it is composed. We find one system of laws throughout, ruling both the great and the small ; the earth is no special exception. So now we are beginning to feel impelled to extend the same cosmic enlargement to the domain of life and mind. We seek for the imperishable, the perfect, the substantial; and in space itself we find those attributes. That, and not matter, is our permanent habitation; therein we find the physical vehicle which we use now, and shall continue to use for ever.
Our material bodies wear out and have to be left behind; no material objects are permanent, they always decay sooner or later, but the soul of a thing is not in the material presentation.
The material side of a picture is canvas and pigment, nothing else would be detected by a microscope; but to such an examination there is no "picture," the "soul" or meaning — the reality — has evaporated when the material object is contemplated in that analytical manner. So it is with our bodies; dissected they are muscle and blood-vessel and nerves — a wonderful mechanism; but no such examination can detect the soul or
Mind utilizes and dominates matter; it uses it for purposes of demonstration and achievement, employs it as a vehicle of manifestation, but it is a deadly mistake to identify thought and personality with any assemblage of atoms.
The brain is a pulpy mass of matter, mysteriously contrived so as to re-act to thought, to receive and transmit impressions; but the brain does not think, it does not plan, nor see, nor hear. Only the mind does these mental things, the brain is its instrument. Without it, and its nervous and muscular co-ordination, we should be powerless to move matter, and therefore powerless to speak or write or convey our impressions or express our thoughts.
Our whole material body is an assemblage of atoms cunningly put together so as to make a structure of wonderful ingenuity and beauty of adaptation; every part is allotted to its proper function, and we live here and now by the co-operation and harmonious working of the whole. That is how we live here on earth, and how we make ourselves known to others who are in like case.
The particles which compose our body were collected together from vegetable and animal substance, and arranged by the indwelling or psychic entity which may be called life or soul, and which we do not pretend fully to understand. But therein lies the self, the character, the memory; not in the mechanism.
The ear does not hear, it is the instrument of hearing: in itself it is
mechanism, as a telephone is mechanism. The eye does not see, any more than a photographic camera sees; it is we who see and hear, by means of these receiving instruments. They get stimulated by vibrations, and strangely enough we can interpret those vibrations.
We interpret sense-indications into a landscape, or a work of art, a poem or painting. When we listen to speech, all that we receive is vibrations of the air : the senses of animals receive just the same, but they have not the mind to interpret.
The faculty of interpretation is amazing. By certain ingenious devices we have just learnt how to interpret ether waves into harmony and sense. To confuse our real existence with the instrument is merely stupid.
The very shape of the body depends on nothing material, it does not depend on the nature of the food supplied, as the shape of a crystal does : the same food could equally well have made a chicken or a pig. There is no personal identity in the particles, or in their aggregation; the personal identity belongs to the soul, the vivifying animating principle which put them together and which allots to each particle its office.
The protoplasmic cell which enters the blood in the course of digestion goes to some part of the tissues and is there arranged according to its locality. In one place it will contribute to a nail, in another to a hair, in another to a muscle or the skin. Wound the skin, it is soon restored; cut a nerve, it heals up
again. Marvellous is the process — utterly beyond our conscious power. Who by taking thought could grow a toe-nail, or a tooth, or a hair!
The physics and chemistry of the process can be studied, but the guiding, indwelling, immanent power eludes our ken. All is obedient to law and order; the laws can be formulated, the process observed and described by skilled observers; but that is only the mechanism. So might we study the structure of a bridge, or an engine, or a wireless set, but the conceiver or designer would not be visible.
To identify the animating power with the material vehicle is to stultify ourselves and to shut our eyes to reality. A violin or an organ is an instrument: but the music requires a musician. We ourselves are not matter, we use matter and discard it; the body is our instrument, it only lasts for a time and then has to be buried or burnt; it has served its turn and its particles may now serve another organism.
We ourselves never enter the tomb; we continue an uninterrupted existence. We may probably have another mode of manifestation — another body in that sense — though no longer made of matter; the old material body is dead and done with, it will never be resuscitated by us. There is no resuscitation of a corpse, once it is completely dead: that would be no glorified resurrection; that would be either a strange inexplicable miracle, or else a mere
Those who have limited themselves to a material view of existence, and closed their eyes to reality, necessarily take a very low and limited view of human destiny, and think the idea of survival nonsense. If the brain is the mind, if all memory is stored there, if it is not only the instrument for reproducing and manifesting thoughts and ideas, but is the actual human being — a strange notion — then indeed we are feeble ephemeral creatures, living our thousand months and then returning to the dust whence we came. A futile sport, without permanence, without meaning. All our hope and faith and charity, all our joy and sorrow and self-sacrifice, going for nothing, blotted Out and ceasing as a tale that is
To such theorizers the only notion of survival would be resuscitation of the bodily mechanism, an attempt at which is rightly called necromancy, a dealing with the corpse. There have been times when it was really believed that the graves would yield up their dead, that there would be a general resuscitation, and that our poor discarded worn-out agglomerates of earthly particles would be collected together and be tortured or petted to all eternity. Emancipate yourselves from so gross a superstition.
In contrast to that, what is the truth? The truth is that we ourselves are not subject to mortality, that we do not decay or wear out, that we have a permanent existence beyond the life of the material fleshly organism which we inherited from the rest of the animal creation; that it is the animating, controlling and dominating spirit which really constitutes ourselves, and that this persists apart from the accidents which can happen to the body, subject only to those evils which may assault and hurt the soul. We are able to ascend to heights unspeakable, and to descend to corresponding depths.
The permanent human element is the character — the will. That is what determines man’s destiny. We have risen above mechanism, we are not coerced, we do not run in grooves like a tramcar, we are free to direct our course; we sit at the helm and can choose our path. Many of us are content so long as we keep clear of obstacles and spin along the highway, but some can do more than that; they have, as it were, wings: they can soar above the troubles of vulgar life, at least for moments; they can rise into freedom and beauty, they can sing and rejoice and encourage the plodders to share in the ecstasy and the beauty and majesty of the universe, of which they are beginning to catch more than a fleeting
The splendid outlook which lies before each individual, when he is ready to perceive it, can be extended, with differences, as a hope and an inspiration to the future of the human race on this planet. This earth is a region of struggling and aspiring souls, hampered and yet strengthened by their disciplinary association with matter. Man as we know him is a recent product of evolution, he has not yet learnt how to manage wisely his material environment, he is sadly mistaken about the relative importance of things. But inspired writers have assured him that he can work out his own salvation; the seeds of good-will have been planted, and when they begin to bud and blossom future generations will inherit an earthly paradise worthy of the long labour of preparation and suffering and effort which are its early stages, its embryonic condition. The earth will yet be truly a heavenly body, and the Kingdom of Heaven is within our ultimate grasp.
Man is not fully developed man as yet, when only a few out-top their fellows; the time will surely come when all will be able to realize their birthright. Much of the present unrest is a groping after higher things, a feeling that this world cannot be all; that education and leisure are objects worth struggling for, that there are prizes beyond the present scope of the average man. Terribly mistaken are some of the efforts: selfishness dogs and damages the ideals; but sooner or later all this can be rectified.
Mankind is barely civilized as yet, we have much leeway to make up; but there is plenty of time. For the individual and also for the race there is a magnificent prospect ahead; and if we set our faces firmly towards the Right, and seek for the guidance which is certainly forthcoming; if we try to ascertain what is really the meaning of existence, and get our wills right with that effort which seems to us divine; then beyond these voices we shall attain to peace and to the service which is perfect freedom.
I speak of help or guidance. That, too, is a reality; it is not forced upon us, but it can be ours if we ask for it. Multitudes have lived and striven on the earth, and they are not extinct. There is plenty of room in this great universe, in which nothing real goes out of existence. It may go beyond our ken, but it never ceases to be. Even the atoms of matter seem permanent. Every fraction of energy is conserved; there is no destruction: only change. So it has been with all who have lived; and we know how some of them, even while still here, have energized and suffered to help humanity.
Think you they will labour no more, will rest and leave us in neglect and loneliness? Not so! We are not alone; we are only some of the agents who are striving after better conditions. A mighty army is at work; not at the work of destruction, but at the work of regeneration, stimulation, help, and guidance. They have not abandoned the conflict, they are in it still; regarding it now from a higher standpoint, seeing and lamenting our blunders, and ready to lend a helping hand. All doubtless subject to a Higher Power beyond our conception, which yet works by law, and by physical means, and by agents, in ways which we cannot fathom, but can gladly acknowledge. The destiny of the individual depends largely on himself. The destiny of the race depends upon us and upon those who have gone before. We are co-workers together. That happier state which is called the Kingdom of Heaven is the aim and goal; it is to be reached on earth some day. Towards that end immortal powers are working. Unruly wills retard it, greed and strife oppose it; but surely the powers of good are the stronger and in the end will prevail.
This is a wonderful and beautiful earth; this episode of earth-life is plainly of tremendous importance in the scheme. Some day our ideals will be realized, some day humanity will rise nearer to the possibilities which we now begin to see are within its scope. For already mankind has produced Plato and Shakespeare and Newton, like mountain peaks which catch the rising sun before the valleys and the plains; and when the average man has reached this altitude, what will the peaks be then?