A Study in
George Sidney Arundale
First published 1926
Dr Arundale was International President of
the Theosophical Society (Adyar) from 1933 to 1945
The Glorious Task
From depth to height, from height to loftier height
The climber sets his foot and sets his face;
Tracks lingering sunbeams to their resting-place,
And counts the last pulsations of the light.
Strenuous by day and unsurprised by night,
He runs a race with time, and wins the race;
Emptied and stripped of all save only Peace,
Will, Love, a threefold panoply of might.
THERE seem to be two aspects of Nirvana - the potential and the self-conscious - with gradations of unfoldment between. Potential Nirvana is Nirvana asleep, or at the most stirring in its sleep, perchance half-dreaming; but only asleep, for there is no death. The lower planes, especially the physical, are dreamlands - Nirvana in potentiality surely, for nowhere is it non-existent. Self-conscious Nirvana is awake, alive, beginning to use its faculties.
When fully self-conscious it is completely realized on all its planes, and perhaps on all lower planes, too, in a way which I am not yet able to understand. In one sense, all is Nirvana. In one sense, there is no unreal. In one sense, all is awake and alive; there is no dreaming. All is living, stirring, striving. In all things is Nirvana unfolding. In the seed lies concealed the flower, in the acorn the oak. Yet in terms of time, breaking the Eternal Now into its constituent Past, Present and Future, there is a process of unfoldment, and we must dream our picture before we can immortalize it on the canvas of the Eternal.
I should like to add that as I look back upon the threshold of
Nirvana, before actual entry or unfoldment, I remember a specific preliminary
testing - though at the time I did not at all realize it to be such - to ensure
that the release from their imprisonment of the wider powers shall as far as
possible be attended by no danger either to the individual or to the outer
worlds. Such testing seems to be the law of all spiritual transitions; and a
successful outcome confers, as it were, the password whereby admission is
gained into an inner court of the
It is true that even after their conferment provision is made against a possible misuse, such provision existing, so far as I am aware, even at exalted levels - where it is not, I take it, a question of misuse, but of certain interferences needing the introduction of unusual force. But the wider powers would not be conferred at all without some definite assurance - tempered, of course, by considerations of human frailty. Fortunately for human frailty the opening of the new powers is very gradual; only the lowest sub-plane coming within range, probably for some considerable time, and even then only by degrees.
In the beginning the pressure is of the gentlest, but even the gentlest pressure of Nirvanic consciousness has a tremendous reaction upon all lower bodies, and quite transforms the physical, at all events from the standpoint of the waking consciousness and of the physical relation between the individual and his surroundings. The magic wand of Nirvanic consciousness touches all things and makes them new.
As I have already said, there is, therefore, very great need for calm deliberateness. It would be so easy to allow the pendulum of one’s being to overswing to either extreme. Extreme ecstasy, depression, irritability, indifference to outer things, absorption in the inner - all these and other extremes would not be at all difficult to reach, so surging are the forces playing through me. I must use my new powers with great vigour, yet with great restraint.
I must take life easily, yet strenuously. Myself a whirlpool of force, I must remain a great centre of peace. I must needs live in the midst of storms, for I belong to storms, being of the band of pioneers. And as one grows, the seaworthiness of one’s ship is tested in the alternations of calm and hurricane. We must be seaworthy, built of storm-proof spiritual substance, which accepts alike the gentle pressure of the unruffled sea and the furious beatings of storm-lashed waves. I am reminded of Rudyard Kipling:
When, with the gale at her heel, the barque lies down and recovers -
Rolling through forty degrees, combing the
stars with her tops,
What says the man at the wheel, holding her
straight as she hovers
On the summits of wind-screening seas,
steadying her as she drops?
Behind him the blasts without check from the
Pole to the Tropic pursue him,
Heaving up, heaping high, slamming home, the
surges he must not regard
Beneath him the crazy wet deck, and all
Ocean on end to undo him;
Above him one desperate sail, thrice-reefed but
still buckling the yard!
Under his hand fleet the spokes and return, to
be held or set free again;
And she bows and makes shift to obey their
behest, till the master-wave comes
And her gunwale goes under in thunder and
smoke, and she chokes in the trough of the sea again -
Ere she can lift and make way to its crest;
and he, as he nurses her, hums!
These have so utterly mastered their work
that they work without thinking;
Holding three-fifths of their brain in reserve
for whatever betide.
I have written that I have seemed to absorb Nirvana more than I seem to have been absorbed. I have just had an interesting experience indicating the truth of this, and suggesting either that there are early tests in connection with Nirvanic consciousness, or that, after a certain realization of its glories, a choice is offered between remaining in them for an indefinite period, as one is entitled, and apparently renouncing them.
The experience must be related more or less in the symbolic form in which it came through to the physical brain. Evening after evening I have shaken myself free from the shackles of the lower bodies and I have roamed in splendid regions, climbing from peak to peak of consciousness, standing on great summits of Buddhic and Nirvanic bliss. Morning after morning I return from these cherished pilgrimages and assume again the vestures of what now seems to be a prison-life. Plunge again and again I must into these shadow-worlds, groping my way about, amidst confusion and clashing sounds of discord and of strife. Great is the strain of continual readjustment, and of the constant contrast between the Peace above and the War beneath. Are there no prospects of release?
May I not let the lower worlds go? Have I not done with them? If I may leave them for the time, may I not leave them for all time? True, I am not unhappy, for there is work to do, and the Wardens of the Gates of the lower worlds are kindly. But at times I long for Nirvana unbroken by these constant descents into what seem to be the dungeons of life. I seem so terribly shut off from the wonders I know in the higher worlds, the glorious worlds within, with a sunshine and freedom in such vivid contrast with the darkness and restriction of these lower spheres.
I am resigned, of course, more than resigned, eager, keen, enthusiastic in my duties in these dungeon places … and yet … I cannot forget what I have known and have sought feebly to describe to you. And because I cannot forget, I sometimes long the more. It may be a weakness, but if you knew what I knew, if you had been where I have been, you, too, might find the weakness excusable, or at least understandable. So, now and then, only now and then, enters the thought: Can I not quit these prison-worlds? Is not final release now possible?
Can I not escape my prison? Is release
impossible? I would be finally free as all in Nirvana are free. I would for ever bask in the eternal sunshine in which they bathe. I too would for ever wander in that Elysian region, growing and yet so indescribably at rest, so free from all the irksomeness of prison life and discipline. As I thus yearn, suddenly the way of escape opens.
From without a whisper comes: “Be it as you will. A friend will open to you for the last time your prison gates. Enter into freedom and return no more.” And as I realize the wonderful possibility, there seems to come upon me the sense of a
great expectancy without, of a great welcome waiting for me as I cast off for the last time my - “prison fetters” is the word that comes - and yet, looking back; I see that these fetters are in reality more vows than fetters, so I almost feel constrained to write prison-vows rather than prison-fetters.
But at the time I do not think of them as vows. They seem fetters, and I am impatient to be rid of them. I resolve I will be free, and as I so resolve the barriers fall away, and I find myself issuing forth again into the indescribable glories of unutterable freedom. How beautiful is the welcome of all things to me! How merged in them all I feel - one with all things, one with the myriad happinesses of the myriad lives around me, one with their myriad ecstasies, one with their myriad swayings in utter bliss to those Divine harmonies with which the very air is vocal. I am one with this stupendous Symphony, and add my own ecstasy of gorgeous being to those other
ecstasies which seem to ascend like incense
to the very throne of God Himself.
I have entered Eternity. The past is for ever behind me. I am delightfully lost in the rapture of pure being. I am. And in these two words is a fathomless, limitless ocean of bliss supreme. But stay! What is this that I hear? What sounds are these that enter into my joy? Can it be - yes, it is - the call of my prison-worlds. But what have I now to do with my prison-worlds? They are behind me, and never need I return to them again. As I realize that I am free, so gloriously free, I feel how wonderful it is to know my safety in the power of this freedom. No power from prison-world can draw me back, for the power of my freedom transcends all other power below. For a moment again I lose myself in rhythmic ecstasy, and then - what is this strange thing which has come upon me?
Am I dissatisfied with such a freedom? Am I, it seems impossible, beginning to want to return? It is true. Across the infinite spaces I have placed between myself and the far-off prison-worlds, come to me the cries of those whom prison-fetters still are binding. Can I honourably ignore them? Yes; and yet I cannot ignore them. Let this freedom, this ecstasy, go. I will have none of it while prison-worlds still call - prison-worlds of every kingdom, prison-worlds of the worlds, of systems, of universes. And as I thus resolve, I find myself apparently turning away from my bliss, and all Nature round me watches my return in solemn stillness, and, I must add for truth’s sake though I shrink from writing the words, almost as if in homage.
Back, back, I go, and at last I am at the doors of that prison-world I left so recently, but which seems an eternity away from me. The doors open. I enter. And as I enter, it is as if I heard: “You went to your freedom as was your right, for you have won it. The call of freedom came, and your ears were ready to hear, for you had fulfilled many of those vows the Monad made in the beginning of time, and in their fulfilment their fetters must needs drop away. Yet for many of your comrades from long ago the fetters still remain; and you have done well to heed the cry which came to you across the empty spaces. No bliss, however rapturous, must ever dull the ear to the cry of suffering and need; rather must it make the ear more sensitive, and the feet more speedy to succour.”
And so I find myself back in the old routine of prison-life, and am content, for I am needed where I am. But what is this change which has come about? Surely I am not still in prison? Is there a mistake? Have I left the cry unheeded? I look around me. The age-old prison-world is round me. Yet I am different. I have not returned alone. Something glorious has returned with me,
and in its magic the imprisonment seems no imprisonment.
It is imprisonment, and yet it is not. Slowly upon me dawns the fact that while the form is there, the life has become free. I dwell a free man in the form. No longer am I bound upon it. No longer need I return to it life after life its slave, though I may return its master. Form has become the servant of my life. Another miracle of transubstantiation, for within the forms freedom has been substituted for necessity. Have I not brought Nirvana back with Me? Have not the swaying ecstasies of Divinity-attuned rhythm entered into my very being, thus abiding with me even in the prison-worlds? All I thought I must leave is with me for ever. There is no loss in renunciation, only gain. There is no loss in sacrifice, only gain. And this gain is the supreme gain of gains - the gain of added Unity, and of the Love, the Wisdom and the Power which are its threefold aspect.
As I wake back in this prison-world, these words ring through me: “Take with you into your old home the gifts of the new. Take Nirvana with you as you have experienced it, and live in it in as deep fulfilment within all prison-worlds as you have lived in it in so great an ecstasy without. Know that there is no Nirvana from which to return, you have but to realize Nirvana where you are, for it is everywhere and always. Nirvana is no place, but a Truth - the glorious Reality in the Unreal, the great Eternal in all Time, the mighty Life in every form. Nirvana is the birthright and inheritance of all. Having entered into it yourself, inspire others to seek it by becoming a living reflection of its splendid Peace.”
“Creation’s Lord we give Thee thanks
That this Thy world is incomplete;
That battle calls our marshalled ranks,
That work awaits our hands and feet.”
If he shall day by day dwell merciful,
Holy and just and kind and true; and rend
Desire from where it clings with bleeding roots,
Till love of life have end:
He - dying - leaveth as the sum of him
A life-count closed, whose ills are dead and quit,
Whose good is quick and mighty, far and near,
So that fruits follow it.
No need hath such to live as ye name life;
That which began in him when he began
Is finished: he hath wrought the purpose through
Of what did make him Man.
Never shall yearnings torture him, nor sins
Stain him, nor ache of earthly joys and woes
Invade his safe eternal peace; nor deaths
And lives recur. He goes
Unto Nirvana. He is one with Life,
Yet lives not. He is blest, ceasing to be.
The dewdrop slips Into the shining sea!
The Light of
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