|Ananda India Home | Listen to Music | Daily Inspiration | Order Books|
Path: One Man's Quest On the Only Path There Is
by J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda)
"Who Am I? What
the world's a stage," Jaques says in As You Like It. Few people
realize how little their personalities represent them as they really are.
Emerson wrote, in "The Over-Soul," "We know better than we
do. We do not yet possess ourselves, and we know at the same time that we
are much more. I feel the same truth how often in my trivial conversation
with my neighbors, that somewhat higher in each of us overlooks this by-play,
and Jove nods to Jove from behind each of us. Men descend to meet."
Every man in his soul is divine. He merely persuades himself, by concentration on his outer life, that he is a baker, banker, teacher, or preacher; that he is rude or sensitive, athletic or lazy, genial or solemn. He sees not that all these are but roles, reflections of the likes and dislikes, the desires and aversions that he has accumulated over incarnations. What has once been acquired can as surely once again be shed. The outer self changes endlessly. Only in his inner Self is man changeless and eternal.
Much of my life seems, in retrospect, almost as though it had been planned for me. Certainly my experiences up to this time in my narrative reflect, basically, the lessons I needed to learn. It was perhaps due to this same "suspicious Someone's" plan for me that I spent the better part of the next year working with the Dock Street Theater, in Charleston. The various roles I acted, quite unprofessionally, on its stage, taught me to stand back from myself mentally, to observe this peculiar specimen, Donald Walters, acting out his normal daily role as a young American male of somewhat cheerful disposition, an aspiring playwright, and a more or less perennial innocent abroad.
My associations at the Dock Street Theater helped me, in time, to see the shallowness of all role-playing, whether in or out of the theater. For most of the people I met there were always "on stage"; they based their very self-esteem on how well they could pretend. A year spent with them added immeasurably to my yearning for values that were true.
I arrived in Charleston toward the end of June. The Dock Street Theater, I learned, had closed for the summer months, and was not scheduled to open again until September. I took a room in a small boarding house where I received lodging and three generous meals a day for only ten dollars a week. The atmosphere was pleasantly familial. Most of my fellow boarders were students at The Citadel, a nearby college for men. The friendship of congenial companions my own age threatened for a time my intentions of devoting myself to writing. Rationalizing the threat, I told myself that, as a budding writer, I needed to absorb all I could of local color. Aside from a few scattered poems, my "accomplishments" now were limited to a succession of parties, outings to the beach, and merry bull sessions where everything was discussed from politics to girls to local gossip.
Gradually I expanded my frontiers to a study of the way people lived on various levels of Charleston society. I went everywhere; met people in every walk of life, explored some of the dingiest "dives," and was a guest in several prominent homes.
Charleston was a small city of some 70,000 people. I found it possible to discover within its narrow boundaries a representative cross section of America. With the middle and upper social strata, and to a lesser degree with the lower, I was already somewhat familiar. But those lower strata which I now encountered were an eye-opener. I'm referring not to the poor, whose simple dignity often gives the lie to that condescending designation, "lower class," but to people, some of them actually wealthy, whose meanness of heart and narrow outlook condemned them to lives of criminal greed. Included among this type were the owners and operators of sordid speak-easies, which posed as fronts for still-more-illicit gambling rooms upstairs, and (one suspected) for other hush-hush activities as well. These people projected an almost visible aura of dishonesty, of cold brutality and evil. Some of them, as I say, were wealthy, but their riches had been acquired from feeding on human desperation.
Equally sordid were the lives of most of the people who frequented these places. For the customers, too, were out purely for what they could get for themselves. Their conversation reflected a hardness; their brittle laughter crackled like ice. Such people were the perennially homelessin consciousness, if not in fact. They were men and women who wandered aimlessly from city to city, seeking transient jobs and still more transient pleasures; individuals whose character was fast losing distinction in the blur of alcoholic fumes; couples whose family lives were disintegrating under jack-hammer blows of incessant bickering; lonely people who hoped blindly to find in this wilderness of human indifference just a glimpse of friendship.
Everywhere I saw desolation. This, I reflected, was the stuff of which countless plays and novels had been written. Why this preoccupation with negativity? Is great literature something merely to be endured? Who can possibly gain anything worthwhile from exposure to sterility and hopelessness?
Yet these, undeniably, were a part of life too. Their effect on me spiritually, moreover, proved to some extent wholesome. For the awareness they gave me of man's potential for self-degradation lent urgency to my own longing to explore a higher potential.
I took another stab, consequently, at attending church. I even enrolled in a church choir. But soon I discovered that this was only exchanging one kind of sterility for another. The church atmosphere was more wholesome, no doubt, but partly for that very reason it was also more smug, more resistant to any suggestion that some higher perfection might be attainable.
Civilized man prides himself on how far advanced his present state is beyond that of the primitive savage. He looks condescendingly on tribal cultures for their practice of endowing trees, wind, rain, and heavenly bodies with human personalities. Now that science has explained everything in prosaic terms, modern man considers himself wiser for the loss of his sense of awe. But I'm not so sure that he deserves congratulation. It strikes me rather that, dazzled by his own technology, he has only developed a new sort of superstition, one infinitely less interesting. Too pragmatic now to worship, he has forgotten how to commune. Instead of relating sensitively to the universe around him, he shuts it out of his life with concrete "jungles," air conditioning, and "muzak"; with self-promotion and noisy entertainments; and with an obsession with problems that are real for him only because he gives them reality. He is like a violin string without a sounding board. Life, when cut off from broader realities, becomes thin and meaningless.
Modern technology alienates us from the universe, and from one another. Worst of all, it alienates us from ourselves. It directs all our energies toward the mere manipulation of things, until we ourselves assume almost thing-like qualities. In how many modern plays and novels are men idealized for their ability to act with the precision, emotionlessness, and efficiency of a machine. We are taught to behave in this world like rude guests, gracelessly consuming our host's offerings without offering him a single word of thanks in return. Such is our approach to nature, to God, to life itself. We make ourselves petty, then imagine the universe petty also. We rob our own lives of meaning, then call life as a whole meaningless. Smug in our unknowing, we make a dogma of ignorance. And when, in this "civilized" smugness of ours, we approach the question of religion, we address God Himself as though he had better watch His manners if He would be worthy of a place on our altars.
After a month or so of paddling in the waters of Charleston's social life, I finally decided that I'd exposed myself quite enough to cross sections of a society whose members seemed at least as ignorant as I was. None of my new acquaintances had contributed anything positive to my search for meaning. And of "local color," I felt that I had seen altogether too many browns and greys.
My own "purism," of course, held a certain smugness of its own. Had I been less rigidly critical in my attitudes, I might have attracted more uplifting human associations. Or I might have discovered in the very people I was meeting qualities truer than I dreamed. On the other hand, to do myself justice, it was to a great extent with the very aim of overcoming such rigidity in my own nature that I had made it a practice to mix with so many different types of people.
Toward the end of the summer I moved out of my boarding house to a small apartment at 60 Tradd Street. Here I began writing a one-act comedy titled Religion in the Park. Bitter as well as funny, the play concerned a woman who wanted to live a religious life, and who eagerly sought instruction from a priest, only to have him discourage her every devotional sentiment with his careful emphasis on religious propriety. Meanwhile a passing tramp rekindled her fervor with tales of a saint who, he claimed, had cured him of lameness. Here at last was what she'd been seeking: religion lived, religion experienced, not couched in mere social customs and theoretical dogmas!
But, alas, in the end the tramp proved a fraud. An alcoholic, he had merely invented his tale in the hope of coaxing a few easy dollars into his pocket.
This woman's hope and subsequent disillusionment reflected my own spiritual longings, and the skepticism that continued to prevent my actual commitment to the religious life.
An interesting sidelight on that one-act play is that the "saint," according to the tramp's story, lived in Californiathe very state where I was later to meet my guru. Could I have been aware, on some deep level of my consciousness, that that was where my own destiny lay? Once as a child, while crossing the Atlantic, I had met a boy from California. I remember thinking as I heard the name, "That is where I must go someday." Years later, when first contemplating that trip to Mexico, I had considered briefly whether I might go to California instead. Then I had put aside the idea with the verdict, "It isn't yet time." Emerson's words come back to me now, more in question than in certainty: "We know better than we do." Had I known?
When the Dock Street Theater opened in September, I went there to seek affiliation with it, but was told that the only way I could do so officially was to enroll as a student in its drama school. Counting myself well out of the academic scene, I asked if I might not be given some other status. Finally the director permitted me, partly on the strength of my new play, to affiliate with them as an "unofficial" student. Under this arrangement I was able to study stagecraft in the evenings, and at the same time to devote my days to writing.
During the following months I acted in a variety of plays, mingled freely with teachers and official students, and served in a number of useful, if more or less nondescript, capacities. These activities gave me some understanding of the business of staging plays, particularly in a small community theater. As an actor, however, I'm afraid I was something of a disaster. "This isn't me!" I kept thinking. "How will I ever learn who I really am, if I keep on playing people I'm not?" From a standpoint of my intended profession as a playwright, however, the experience was worthwhile.
The daylight hours I spent by myself, at first writing, and then, increasingly, thinking, thinking over my old problems: What is the purpose of life? Who am I? Hasn't man a destiny higher than (I looked about me in desperation)than this? Most important of all, what is true happiness? How can it be found?
During the time that I spent writing, I threw myself into the task of developing the techniques of my craft. Curiously perhaps, for a budding playwright, I wrote no plays at this time; I wanted to keep my mind flexible to pursue new directions in stagecraft as they presented themselves in the theater. Instead I wrote poetry, and soughtstillto develop a sense for poetic speech in drama. I also pondered the theater's potential for inspiring a far-reaching spiritual renaissance. To this end I studied the plays of the Spanish playwright, Federico García Lorca, to see whether his surrealistic style might be adapted to induce in people a more mystical awareness.
My probing thoughts, however, led one by one to a dead end. How much, after all, can the theater really accomplish? Did even Shakespeare, great as he was, effect any deep-seated changes in the lives of man? None, surely, at any rate, compared with those which religion has inspired. I shuddered at this comparison, for I loved Shakespeare, and found little to attract me in the churches. But the conclusion, whether I liked it or not, was inescapable: Religion, for all its fashionable mediocrity, its sham, its devotion to the things of this world, remains the most powerfully beneficial influence on earth. Not art, not music, not literature, not science, politics, conquest, or technology: The one truly uplifting power in history, always, has been religion.
How was this possible? Puzzled, I decided to probe beneath the surface, to discover what deep-seated element religion contained that was vital and true.
Avoiding what I considered the trap of institutionalized religion, of "churchianity," I took to walking or sitting for hours on end by the ocean, pondering its immensity. I watched little fingers of water rushing in among the rocks and pebbles on the shore. Did the vastness of God find personal expression, similarly, in our own lives?
The juxtaposition of these thoughts with my daily contacts in and out of the theater filled me with distaste. How petty seemed man's desires compared to the impersonal vastness of infinity! The loftiest aspirations of most of the people around me seemed mean, their values to an incredible degree selfish and ignoble. Egos pitted themselves against other egos in childish rivalries. My fellow students insisted that such behavior laid bare the realities of human nature: So, in fact, had declared the modern dramas they admired, and, far from bemoaning these "realities," they gloried in them. Aspiring actors that they were, they prided themselves on pretending selfishness, "rugged egoism," indifference to the needs of others, and rudenessuntil the pretense itself became their reality.
My associates of those days helped me spiritually more than I was capable of realizing at the time. The more they mocked me with their insistent claim, "This is life!" the more my heart cried, "It isn't! It can't be!" And as the urgency of my cry deepened me in my own search, I grew to understand that what they termed life was nothing but living death.
This isn't to say, however, that sordidness has no objective reality. God was trying to get me to see, rather, the depths to which man can sink, without Him.
One evening outside my apartment I met a fellow student walking in a daze, scarcely able to tread a straight line. At first I thought he must be drunk, but then I noticed dried blood on his forehead. Evidently there was something more serious amiss. I led him indoors. Between long pauses of mental confusion, he related the following story:
"I was sitting quietly on a park bench, enjoying the evening air. I remember hearing footsteps approaching behind me. The next thing I knew I was lying on the grass, slowly returning to consciousness. My coat and trousers were gone. So was my wallet.
"Minutes passed. Dazed as I was, I had no idea what to do. Then I saw a police car parked on the far side of the park. Relieved, I staggered over to it and explained my predicament. Naturally, I assumed they'd want to help me.
"Well, can you guess what they did? They arrested me for being indecently dressed! At the police station I was put into a jail cell without so much as a chance to protest.
"For some time I tried to get them at least to let me make a phone call. Finally they made that much of a concession. 'Just one call,' the sergeant said. I phoned a couple of friends of ours, who came over with fresh clothing.
"Nowwould you believe it?our friends are in jail, and I'm out!" Shaking his head incredulously, "I still don't understand how it all happened."
What had happened, I learned later, was that these friends, infuriated at the policemen's indifference, had cried, "You don't even seem to care that a crime has been committed!"
"You're under arrest!" bellowed the police sergeant.
Our friends resisted this further outrage, and were set upon by all the policemen in the room, beaten up, and thrown into jail. My injured friend, meanwhile, was released, presumably because he was decently dressed now, and told to go home and forget the whole thing. It was hardly fifteen minutes later that I met him wandering about, dazed and confused.
I returned with him immediately to the police station. As we entered, wild screams were issuing from a back room. Moments later a couple of policemen emerged, dragging a screaming black woman across the floor by her heels. They dumped her unceremoniously in front of the sergeant's desk, where she passed out. One of the men, evidently considering her silence disrespectful, fetched a rubber hose and beat her with it on the soles of her bare feet until she regained consciousness and started screaming again. Satisfied, they dragged her into the jail and flung her, still screaming, into a cell. The remainder of the time we were there I heard her moaning quietly.
Throughout this grim episode the rest of the policemen in the room, about fifteen of them, stood about, laughing. "I haven't had this much fun in years!" gloated one of them, rubbing his hands together.
Obviously, to reason with such brutes was impossible; I therefore tried getting information out of them. The sergeant finally gave me the name of some judge whose word he required, he said, "Before I can release those hoodlums." It was already late, but before the night ended I succeeded in getting the judge out of bed, and our friends out of jail.
From this utter mockery of justice I at least learned a salutary lesson. First, of course, I reacted with normal, human indignation at such brutality. But subsequent reflection convinced me that injustice of one kind or another is inevitable in this world. For aren't all of us to some extent lost in ignorance? Blind as I myself was, what right had I to blame others, simply because their blindness differed from my own? My first thought had been, "We need a revolution!" But then I realized that what was needed was a new kind of revolution: religious, not social.
Religion. Again that word! This time I was being pushed toward it by human injustice instead of pulled by my own longing for some higher good. I began now to wonder if evil weren't a conscious will in the universe. How else to account for its prevalence on earth? for the cruelty of man to man? the brutality of the Nazis? the terrors that millions suffer under communism? How else to explain the appalling twist of fate that causes the good intentions of many who embrace communism to result in human debasement, slavery, and death? What, outside of a renewed, widespread return to God a spiritual revolutioncould correct the almost unimaginable wrongs in this world?
I gave much thought at this time to communism as a force for evil. My parents had returned from Rumania with tales of Russian atrocities. Our Rumanian friends there were suffering under the new regime; some of them had been deported to slave labor camps in Russia. Surely, I thought, the common argument against communism, that it is inefficient, misses the point altogether. What is truly wrong with it is not that its top-heavy bureaucracy results in the production of fewer material conveniences, nor even that it denies men their political rights, but that it treats materialism(12) itself as a virtual religion. Denying the reality of God, it sets up matter in His place, and demands self-abnegation of its adherents much as religions do everywhere. For committed communists, the shortage of material goods reveals, not the inefficiency of their system, but the measure of their willingness to sacrifice for "the cause." Believing in nothing higher than matter, they see spiritual valuestruthfulness, compassion, loveas utterly meaningless. They feel morally justified, rather, in committing any atrocity, as long as it advances their own ideological ends. Their motto is, "In every circumstance, think only what is best for the cause."
Theirs might be called a religion of unconsciousness, of non-values. It does offer, however, a pseudo-moralistic rationale for the materialistic values of our age. For this reason, I'm afraid, its teachings will continue to spread, until men everywhere embrace another, truer kind of religion, one that places God, not matter, at the center of reality.
Pursuing these thoughts, I found myself for both objective and subjective reasons, for the sake of mankind generally as well as for my own personal development, drawn to the conclusion that what I wanted, what all men really needed, was God.
With ever more pressing urgency the question returned to me: What IS God?
One evening, taking a long walk into the gathering night, I deeply pondered this problem. I dismissed at the outset the popular notion that a venerable figure with flowing white beard, piercing eyes, and a terrible brow presides over the universe, with its billions of galaxies. But, I thought, what about the abstract alternatives that more thoughtful people have suggestedvague definitions such as "Cosmic Ground of Being," which leave one with little to do but close the book and see what is playing on the radio? No, I thought, the God I was seeking must be a dynamic force, one that could transform my life, else there was no point in seeking Him.
Well, then, I continued, if He was a force, might He possibly be a blind force, sort of like electricity? I'd heard Him so described. There would, of course, be little point in calling such a force God. But in any case, the argument didn't hold together. For if God was blind, whence sprang human intelligence?
Materialists I knew claimed that everything, including intelligence, evolved quite accidentally out of random combinations of electrons. According to them, the universe isn't marvelous at all. It only seems marvelous to us because, in the long struggle for survival, man happened to evolve a capacity for wonder as one of the conditioned responses of his emotional mechanism. But this proposition I had long discarded as absurd.
We all know the signs of exceptional intelligence in man: the bright, alert expression in the eyes, the prompt responses, the general air of competence. An intelligent person may pretend successfully to be stupid, but a stupid person can never successfully pretend to be intelligent. What then of the universe, revealing as it does so many signs of an extraordinary intelligence? The intricate organization of stars, atoms, and creatures, the amazingly exact laws on which the cosmos operatescould a mindless force have created these? Impossible! Only egotists, surely, in their desire to claim the highest intelligence for themselves and their kind, could overlook the evidence all around them of an intelligence far mightier than their own.
Continuing this line of reasoning, I thought, if the wonders of creation are the outward signs of a conscious, intelligent Creator, then surely one of the most wonderful of such signs is intelligence itself. Indeed, if human and animal consciousness manifest the principle of intelligence, and if God, as Universal Intelligence, is that principle, then human intelligence is a manifestation, however imperfect, of God!
Suddenly I felt I was very near to solving my problem. For surely, I reasoned, if God's intelligence is manifested through man, then the Lord cannot exist wholly outside His creationlike some heavenly traffic cop, I thought wryly, from a distance directing human lives here below. If to any degree we, in our intelligence, manifest His infinite intelligence, this can only mean that we are a part of Him.
What a staggering concept!
A further thought came: If our lives and consciousness are His manifestations, might it not be possible for us, by deepening our awareness of Him, to manifest Him more perfectly?
I recalled the days I had spent watching the ocean surf breaking into long, restless fingers among the rocks and pebbles on the shore. The width of each opening, I reflected, determined the size of the water's flow. Similarly, if the deepest reality of our lives is God, might it not be possible for us to chip away at the granite of our resistance, and thereby to widen our channels of receptivity to Him? And would not His infinite wisdom then, like the ocean, flow into us more abundantly?
If this was true, then, obviously, we should seek above all to develop ourselves, not in worldly waysesthetically or intellectually or pragmaticallybut spiritually, by developing that aspect of our nature which is closest to God, so that He might enter into and enlighten our consciousness. If we begin there, then perhaps the Divine Ocean will actually assist us to broaden our mental channels.
I realized now that religion is far more than a system of beliefs, and far more than a formalized effort to wheedle a little pity out of God by offering Him pleading, self-condemning prayers and propitiatory rites. If our link with Him lies in the fact that we manifest Him already, then it is up to us to receive Him ever more perfectly, to express Him ever more fully.(13) And this is what religion is all about! True religion consists of a growing awareness of our deep, spiritual relationship with God! What I had seen thus far of religious practices, and turned away from in disappointment, was not religion definitively practiced, but the merest toddling first steps on a stairway to the stars! One might, I reflected, devote his entire life to such religion and still have an eternity of development to look forward to. What a thrilling prospect!
This, then, was my calling in life: I would seek God!
Dazed with the grandeur of my reflections, I hardly knew how or at what hour I found my way home again. "Home" at this time was a large, five-room apartment on South Battery which I shared with four of my fellow drama students. On my return there I found them seated, chatting in the kitchen. More or less automatically, I joined them for a cup of coffee. But my thoughts were far from that convivial gathering. So overwhelmed was I by my new insights that I could hardly speak.
"Look at Don! What's there to be so solemn about?" When they found that I couldn't, or wouldn't, participate in their merriment, their laughter assumed a note of mockery.
"Don keeps trying to solve the riddle of the universe! Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!"
"Ah, sweet mystery of life!" crooned another.
"Why, can't you see?" reasoned the fourth, addressing me. "It's all so simple! There's no riddle to be solved! Just get drunk when you like, have fun, shack up with a girl whenever you can, and forget all this craziness!"
"Yeah," reiterated the first, heavily. "Forget it."
To my state of mind just then my roommates sounded like yapping puppies. Of what use to me, such friends? I went quietly to my room.
A few days later I was discussing religion with another acquaintance.
"If you want spiritual teachings," he remarked suddenly, "you'll find all your answers in the Bhagavad Gita."
"What's that?" Somehow I found this foreign name strangely appealing.
"It's a Hindu Scripture."
Hindu? And what was that? I knew nothing of Indian philosophy. This name, however, the Bhagavad Gita, lingered with me.
If religion was a matter of becoming more receptive to God, it was high time, I decided, that I got busy and did what I could to make myself receptive. But how? It wasn't that I had no idea how to improve myself. Rather, I saw so much room for improvement that I hardly knew where to begin.
There was the question of my psychological faults: intellectual pride, an overly critical nature. No one, myself included, was happy with these traits in me. But how was I to work on them? And for that matter, were they entirely unmixed evils? Was it wrong, for instance, to think? Was it wrong to stand honestly by the fruits of one's thinking, regardless of the opinions of others? And was it so wrong to be critical of attitudes that one's discrimination declared to be false? People who were more concerned for their own comfort than for my spiritual development condemned these traits in me outright. But to me it seemed that there were aspects of my very faults that must be deemed virtues. How was I to sift one from the other?
Contemplating my more socially admissible virtues, I saw that the very opposite was true: In some ways these assumed the nature of faults. My compassion for the sufferings of others, for example, prompted me to try to help them beyond my own capabilities. How else to account for my desire to help them through my writings, when I didn't even know what to write? Here again: How was I to sift truth from error?
Was there any way out of my psychological labyrinth?
Even on a physical level, the possibilities for self-improvement seemed bewilderingly complex. I read in a magazine advertisement the names of several famous people who had been vegetarians. Vegetarians? Was it really desirable, or even possible, to live without eating meat? Again, I read somewhere else that white flour is harmful to the health. White flour? Heretofore, a hamburger on a white bun, decorated with a thin sliver of tomato and a limp wisp of lettuce, had been my idea of a balanced meal. It seemed now that there were all sorts of opinions on even so basic a subject as diet.
Finally, bewildered by the sheer number of the choices before me, I decided that there could be but one way out of my imperfections: God. I must let Him guide my life. I must leave off seeking human solutions, and give up defining my search in terms of human relations.
And what of my plans to be a playwright? Well, what had I been writing, anyway? Could I, who knew nothing, say anything meaningful to anyone else? I had deluded myself for a time with the thought that perhaps, if I were vague enough, I might write works with cryptic messages that others would understand, even if I myself had no idea what those messages were. But now I realized that in this thought, common as it is among writers, I had not been honest. No, I must give up writing altogether. I must give up my plans to flood the world with my ignorance. Surely, out of very compassion for people I must leave off trying to help them. I must renounce their world, their interests, their attachments, their pursuits. I must seek God in the wilderness, in the mountains, in complete solitude.
I would become a hermit.
And what was it I hoped to find, once I made this renunciation? Peace of mind? Inner strength, perhaps? A little happiness?
Wistfully I thought: happiness! I recalled the pure happiness I had known as a child, and lost in the pseudo-sophistication of my youth. Would I ever find it again? Only, I thought, if I became simple once again, like a child. Only if I forsook over-intellectuality, and became utterly open to God's love.
I pursued this line of thinking for a time, when a new kind of doubt seized me: Was I losing my mind? Whoever had heard of anyone actually seeking God? Whoever had heard of anyone communing with Him? Was I completely lunatic, to be dreaming of blazing trails where none had ventured before? For I knew nothing as yet about the lives of saints. Vaguely I'd heard them described as people who lived close to God, but the mental image I'd formed of them was of no more than ordinarily good people who went about smiling at children, doing kind deeds, and murmuring, "Pax vobiscum," or some such pious formula, whenever anybody got in their way. What demon of presumption was possessing me that I should be dreaming of actually finding God? Surely, I must be going mad!
Yet, if this were madness, was it not a more solacing condition than the world's vaunted "sanity"? For it was a madness that promised hope, in a world bereft of hope. It was a madness that promised peace, in a world of conflict and warfare. It was a madness that promised happiness, in a world of suffering, cynicism, and broken dreams.
I knew not how to take even my first steps toward God, but my longing for Him had by now become almost obsessive.
Where could I turn? To whom could I look for guidance? The religious people I had met, the monks and ministers, had seemed quite as lost in ignorance as I was.
It occurred to me that I might find in the Scriptures a wisdom those men had overlooked. At least I must try.
And what of my plans to become a hermit? That path, surely, I must follow also. Ah! but where? how? with what money to purchase life's essentials? with what practical knowledge to build, plant food, and otherwise fend for myself? Was I not, after all, a mere fool dreaming impractical dreams? Surely, if practical steps had to be taken, there must be a more pragmatic solution to my dilemma than drifting off to an existence for which I was utterly untrained.
At this point, Reason stepped onto the scene briskly to resolve my dilemma.
"There's nothing wrong with you," it asserted, "that vigorous, healthful country living can't cure. You've been spending too much time with jaded city people. Get out among simple, genuine, good country folk if you want to find peace of mind. Don't waste your life on impossible dreams. Get back to the land! It isn't God you want; it's a more natural way of life, in the harmony and simplicity of Nature."
Ease, in fact, not simplicity, was the heart of this message. For God is so mighty a challenge that the ego will cling to almost anything, rather than heed the call to utter self-surrender.
And, weakling that I was, I relented. I would heed Reason's counsel, I decided. I would go off to the country, commune with Nature, and live among more natural human beings.
Materialism, in this context, refers to the philosophical theory that
all phenomena, including those of the mind, must be attributed to material
"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the
sons of God." (John 1:12.)