The LIFE of CONTEMPLATION versus ACTIVITY
—By A Disciple
The first glimpses of divine revelation, the first rapture of spiritual discovery —usually have their birth and early growth ...in an outward silence or solitude, and an inward serenity. This experience was the motive that activated the founders of monasteries and hermitages, who thus hoped to produce conditions favorable to meditation and spiritual perception. The early flowers of illumination must be guarded ...against the bitter frost of worldly life and the devouring flame of skepticism. To safeguard their purity and their sweetness, to perpetuate their unearthly beauty ...is the only wish of him who has felt their ecstatic unfoldment in his heart. He knows that their preciousness, their rarity, their healing loveliness ...are worth every sacrifice, every precaution, every devotion. Impelled by this sense of duty and an overpowering ...love for the first "fruit of holiness" —the first glimpse of divine treasures— men and women throughout the ages and in every land ...have left their homes, their possessions, their families, all the allurements and hopeful possibilities of their world. Many have cast off —in a moment— the shackling habits of a lifetime ...in order to be freer to serve and to preserve —the sacred lotus within them, whose fragrance caught them unaware and drowned them in sweetness and dynamic bliss. Rather than lose the new consciousness of inner light and beauty; rather than relinquish hold upon the dazzling, thrilling power of divinity; rather than give up possession of the new-found soul ...the neophyte is ready to cast into oblivion not only all earthly belongings, but also all habits, all mental prejudices, even all instincts of self-preservation or self-love. This overwhelming change ....embracing the material, physical, mental and instinctive habits of his life, is of course only made possible thru a perception, however faint, of Reality—and unreality therefore vanishes and can present no claims to his consideration. He cannot feel the hold of any earthly power or of his own separate existence, because he has in some measure touched the Omnipresent Fountainhead of life, and has dissolved himself in the embrace of the "Tremendous Lover."
This realization of the uniqueness, the gain beyond all other gains, the ever-renewing bliss of spiritual awareness ...has been and always will be, the upholding principle ...the indomitable drive behind the sacrifices, the austerities, the discipline and the self-abandonment of the true seeker. He may have only intellectual or scientific conviction. He may have deeper emotional causes for his allegiance to his Creator. He may have deep spiritual perception—but whatever his experience, he would not exchange his sense of spiritual values for any conceivable or inconceivable lure.
This then is the high resolve, the exalted purpose and experience of him ...who first glimpses the divine horizon. No solitude can be too vast, no sacrifice too much, if by such means ...the sweet serenity of the soul, the sacred inspiration, ...may be maintained.
The aim of the hermit in the wilderness, or of him who is strong enough to spiritually progress against worldly obstacles, is finally ...to feel the divine lamp within them ...lit with an eternal flame, beyond the possibility of any extinguishment.
To this end the claims of activity and of solitary contemplation, offer themselves. Is work or mediation ...the best path to eternal blessedness? The Bhagavad Gita sheds much light on this problem.
"Two schools of wisdom:
First, the Sankhya's
Which doth save in way of works
Prescribed by reason.
Which bids attain by meditation
Yet these are one!
No man shall 'scape from act
By shunning action;
And none shall come by mere renouncements
"Live in action! Labor!
Make thine acts thy piety,
Casting all self aside,
Contemning ...gain and merit;
Equable in good or evil."
Who doeth work ...rightful to do,
Not seeking gain from work,
That man, O Prince! Is Sanyasi and Yogi
—Both in one.
And he is neither
Who lights not the flame of sacrifice,
Nor setteth hand to task.
Regard as true Renouncer
Him that makes worship by work,
—For who renounceth not work
...Works not as Yogin. So is that well said:
`By works the votary doth rise to faith.'"
The lives of thousands of Saints ...answer it. Jesus and Buddha did not feel that their spiritual riches exempted them from worldly toil. They travelled and taught and worked, giving their own lives as example and inspiration to the seeking world. The Christian Saints and martyrs were indefatigable workers, ready to serve their fellowmen at all costs. The greatest masters of India teach that final liberation is possible only thru selfless service to others.
"Therefore, thy task prescribed
—With spirit unattached— gladly perform.
Since in performance of plain duty
Man mounts to his highest bliss.
By works alone
Janak and Ancient Saints
—Reached blessedness! Moreover,
For the upholding of thy kind,
Action thou should'st embrace.
What the wise choose
—The unwise people take;
What best men do ...the multitude will follow."
The Gita further assures us that ...detachment from results—will free us from otherwise inescapable duties of Karma:
"He that acts in thought of Brahm,
Detaching end from act, with act content,
The world of sense ...can no more stain his soul—Than waters ....mar the enamelled lotus-leaf.
With life, with heart, with mind
...Nay, with the help of all five senses
—Letting selfhood go—
Yogins toil ever towards their souls' release.
Such votaries, renouncing fruit of deeds,
Gain endless peace."
The reason for this emphasis on work and service lies not in what the giver gives, as much as what he receives. The work itself may not be great, or if great in results, it may not be lasting. Or it may call out only misunderstanding. The work of a saint or a reformer may be apparently undone by his followers. Or disaster may pursue his disciples. Some will say these results are evil, that the Master would have helped himself and even the world more by remaining in solitude. But the answer is, that the merit of work —lies not so much in its results— which are inevitably intertwined with the disintegrating effects of time and circumstance ...the merit rather —lies in the opportunity it affords to the seeker ...to manifest, to prove, to demonstrate, to fulfil and express ...the divine attributes of his being.
His virtues are won in solitude perhaps, or at least by self-discipline, self-denial and meditation, (for the gifts of eternity —the deathless light of realization and reality— are not bestowed lightly nor lightly won) but they are not permanently and unalterably his own ...until they are tested in the fire and crucible of action —of outward expression. Activity for a noble cause, whatever it may be; service for anyone save himself; these alone afford opportunity to hammer virtue into imperishable forms, to express the inner nobility ...to conquer the material by spiritual forces.
The Creator's hand moves invisibly, present everywhere and always ...to uphold His creation and bring His work to perfect fulfillment.
"Look on Me,
Thou Son of Pritha!
In the three wide worlds
I am not bound to any toil
...No height awaits to scale,
No gift remains to gain,
Yet I act here!
And, if I acted not,
Earnest and watchful
That look to Me for guidance
—Sinking back to sloth again
Because I slumbered—
Would decline from good,
And I should break Earth's Order
And commit her offspring unto ruin."
We are His instruments —the medium of His expression— we serve Him and the purposes of His creation by balancing work with meditation ...by translating spiritual values into material manifestations.
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