THE SPIRITUAL PLIGHT OF MANKIND
THERE is no wonder that men take to religion, even if they have to invent one. Voltaire has said that religion is the solace of the weak. Nietzsche has repeated it in substance. Be that as it may, the weak need some support, and I would not take their religion away from them, even if I knew well that it was only an illusionary product. Religion has been a haven of refuge for millions who mourned and suffered. It is undeniable that it has generally been the unhappy who sought surcease from sorrow in any religion which happened to be near them. And who can blame them? A drowning man will grasp at a straw.
The world is full of darkness, pain and grief. That fact could not be kept from the noble prince Siddhartha, secluded as he was in his father’s palace. And when he saw it in all its ghastly features staring him in the face, he went forth, filled with compassion to seek a remedy. Every individual in the world must seek the Path for himself, and walk upon it for himself.
Spiritual darkness broods over the world and all men are sick from it. Spiritually, and often physically, the whole of mankind are sick, blind, deaf and dumb and covered with sores. Cancers of moral corruption eat their way slowly into the vitals of the human race. Not a man escapes, entirely. Truly the world is in a “lost condition.” This is a theological term, but we may use it, because it is most applicable to the situation. Every man is not only sick, but he is lost in a dense wood, a tangled forest, without path or compass, no sun and no stars; because he is blind. Moreover, he is suffering from the worst case of amnesia ever known. He has no recollection of his original home or inheritance. In this deplorable condition, he wanders on from year to year. In addition to this mental and spiritual plight, many are suffering from physical ills, heart-sick, worn and weary. This is a picture of the great majority of the human race in some degree or other. Are they not lost? They stumble on, generally hopeless, pressing their weary way, they know not whither, and sometimes by the way they stop and pray. But there is no response from the rocks and the trees, and their gods are as silent as the cold, distant stars. Each night drags by and the day brings on increased weariness. They cry for bread and there is nothing but stones. We are not speaking of the favored few but of the masses of the poor and ignorant. Are they not lost? Even the majority of the rich and highly placed are not happy. Here and there an isolated individual laughs, while others seek relief in mad passion. This picture is not too dark. If you know the world as this writer has seen it during the last seventy years, you will agree. But why am I calling attention to the dark side of life? In order that I may point to the remedy. Nearly all men, in addition to their other troubles, are beset on all sides by the five enemies, the passions,—driven by them under the lash, sometimes almost to madness. This affects the rich as much as the poor. When they cry for appeasement, for a little comfort, a little moment of respite, they mock their victims with a tantalizing drop, a crust, sometimes a moment of deceptive pleasure, and then they drive them on through the long days and the maddening years. The young grow old in the vain search for a little light, an hour of peace. Every-where there is a constant fever of unrest, a never-ending search for what they never find. Most of them do not even know for what they are searching.
If some dear optimist feels inclined to blame me for telling this truth, for painting a dark picture, let her know, that I am diagnosing the case with one hand, •while I hold the remedy in the other. I am not a pessimist. Neither do I believe it wise to shut one’s eyes to plain facts. Where is the man who can say he is happy? If any one is a little less burdened to-day, “who can say but to-morrow may find him again deep in the shadows? Where is the man or woman who can claim immunity from sin and the passion? Moral strength is practically nil, except in the case of a few superior souls. Of spiritual light there is no more than a feeble glimmering, a flickering candle here and there in the universal darkness. The bulk of humanity has neither morality nor spirituality. The masses are really sick, groping their uneasy way toward an unknown destiny. There is no freedom, not even physical freedom. Who can say he is master of his own body? The entire race are but driven slaves. Truly the condition of mankind is deplorable. Men struggle up and down the world in a fever of unrest, all the while crying for something, they know not what. And then a few turn to religion for relief. If a man attains a little preeminence in some of the virtues, he is seized by one or more of the tormenting passions and again dragged down to the common level. If not that, he is always trembling on the verge of collapse. There is no rest. From youth to old age, cares and anxieties multiply, while the black angel stands always in the background awaiting his day and hour. There is no security. Wealth, health, power, momentary pleasures pass in a flash and are gone. Happiness? Where is it? Who can say that he has not a single heart-ache, or worry? Last of all, a man faces that dark unknown —at which he shudders and wonders. The great reaper mows him down and the night falls upon him mingled with his kindred dust.
At best life offers only a few pleasant sensations, a brief delirium of power, a mad moment of passion. Then comes the lonely silence, the long silence, out of which no voice of consolation reaches those who are left behind. Is it any wonder that in such a plight men turn to religion? Is it surprising that many desolate souls seeking peace of mind and spiritual light, rush away to some convent or to some jungle cave? That is better than suicide. Religion is a very good anesthetic for the dull pains of life. But who can say that it cures the disease?
Pressed by the common ills, the great majority seek one of three points of refuge; they either set up the mournful dirge of the pessimist, or rush into the mad whirl of the bacchanalian revel, or they take to religion. Of the three, the last is surely the best. No good to sit down and cry. No good to complain and indulge in self-pity or find fault with others. Still worse it is to commit suicide. It is always “Better to endure the ills we have than fly to others we know not of.” It is useless to preach pessimism to people with healthy liver and good stomach. They simply will not have it. A tor-pid liver and a constipated bowel have led many people to seek comfort in religion or to hate their neighbors.
If a man plunges into the whirl of passionate sensations, he emerges with bankruptcy staring him in the face Always he is met with the stern demand:— “Please remit.” Every kiss has its price. Every pleasure comes with the bill attached and sooner or later he is pressed to pay, pay, pay! We watch the passing show. We chase after the mirage. Finally the disillusioned soul goes out in search of Reality. He is so tired of the sham and the counterfeit. But where shall he find Reality? Frequently he turns, like Noah’s dove, homeward again, finding no resting place in the whole world. Nothing but a dreary waste and turbulent waves. At last the seeker comes to realize the aptness of the Master’s picture of the man, in mid-ocean in a small boat, tossed and drenched by gigantic waves with imminent death staring him in the face. This explains the situation confronting most of the human race. The more enlightened man feels much as Silenus did when asked by king Midas what was the best fate for man. He replied:
“Pitiful race of a day! Children of accidents and sorrows! Why do you force me to say what were better left unheard?— The best of all is unobtainable—not to be born at all. The next best is to die early.”
Many brave souls have quivered upon the brink of destiny with such an outlook. Many have gone voluntarily back into the darkness.
Dr. Julian Johnson- “The Path of the Masters” (pp 23-27, pub. 1939)