Essays from "The Theosophical Path" by Talbot Mundy

An Answer to Correspondents

By Talbot Mundy

January 1925

I admit it was a greatly daring editor who first published OM as a serial in Adventure, a magazine which, though it stands for manliness, omits religious subjects as a rule. It was a daring firm of publishers who brought the story out in book-form last November. OM treats of a mystery that to one half of the world, the whole of the eastern hemisphere, is concrete fact, however many explanations of it may be current; whereas to the western half it sounds not mystery so much as a mere fairy-tale. And it is the western half of the world that buys books in English.

However, both the magazine and the book publishers now admit that their daring must have been a sort of inspiration; while I, the author of the story, have been swamped under a mass of correspondence, to the greater part of which I have not yet had time to reply (and to none of it adequately).

The amazing part of it is this: that among all of the hundreds of letters I have received about the book, not one finds fault with it. I had expected to be deluged with abuse and ridicule!

I wrote the book from knowledge; but I did not know there were so many people in the western hemisphere not only willing but apparently quite eager to accept an explanation of life's handicap based solely on what Asia calls the Ancient Wisdom. I am almost tempted to believe -- perhaps to hope -- that prejudice and dogma are not after all so firmly seated on the throne of Christianity as the professional religionists would have us think.

Has the world gone mad, that it accepts my book? Or is it waking up? Or am I dreaming? All I know is, that the book is being widely read. The answer must be left to wiser heads than mine.

The East has known, for no man knows how many centuries, that there exist (and always have existed) individuals -- known variously as the Keepers of the Ancient Wisdom, Teachers, Masters, Gurus -- who, from philosophic heights attained by heroism of self-mastery in former lives, keep watch over the world, inspiring it, whenever opportunity presents itself, with pure, uplifting thought. These men (and they are men, not spirits) have attained to greater heights of evolution than the rest of us have glimpsed. They live apart from the world, and so have always lived since long before such history as we find recorded in the western text-books; and this, less from dread of defilement by the world's dense thinking than because of the uselessness of mingling with a crowd that crucifies, idolizes or prevents all teachers whom it fails to understand. On one point all who know of these men are agreed: that they are practical, and faithful to the vast responsibility entailed by knowing more than others know.

I am reliably informed that at this present time the home of the Masters is in Tibet, that country being difficult of access and affording them the opportunity they need to think and move and have their being in an undisturbed calm, beneath whose unruffled surface they persist in pauseless effort to induce into the world high thinking and its consequences, purity of living; since through purity alone comes true enlightenment.

But this may give a false impression of them. They are manly men, not meditative fakirs. Except that they are human they resemble not at all the popularity pursuing 'swamis,' self-styled 'mahatmas' or 'yogis' who posture on rocks for the plaudits of ignorant people -- or who cross the Atlantic to pocket the dollars of fools. They do not advertise. They shun the fawning adulation of the mob as sedulously as they keep aloof from its vindictiveness and passion. To them, I have been told, all forms of selfishness appear ridiculous, since selfishness contains its own destroying agent, and to them there is no profit under the sun except in benefiting others.

Their religion, as I understand it, recognising thought as the precursor of all deed, and regulating thought as the precursor, consequently in the last analysis is wholly one of deeds and of abstaining from such deeds as might, by their inherent selfishness, destroy the harmony of others. No life like that could possibly be lived without more wisdom than is given to the ordinary run of men. None, surely, will deny that wisdom is a stark necessity if one is to discriminate between what benefits humanity at large and what does not. Reforms, 'revivals,' social crusades and all familiar attempts to legislate or wheedle nations into righteousness are self-destroyed inevitably by the lack of wisdom in their frequently too energetic advocates. It was Solomon, I think, who is supposed to have advised us to seek wisdom first.

I have been told -- and I believe it -- that these Masters have, by high unselfishness and self-control in former lives, attained to higher wisdom than the rest of us can understand. If so, then we show less wisdom than we might, if we should challenge or resent their privilege of keeping to themselves. If they are so wise that in spite of all our modern methods of inquisitive research they can retain aloofness and can pass among us, when they so please, utterly unrecognised, it serves no useful purpose to deny their right to do so, or, in the alternative, to argue they do not exist.

I can imagine (who cannot?) that multitudes of higher forms of life exist of which nine-tenths of us at present have no cognisance. But ignorance proves nothing. I am sure, for instance, that in every realm of art and science there are men innumerable who know more than I do, but my ignorance of what they know does not disprove their knowledge. Rather they serve as an avenue through which I may attain their knowledge, if I will.

When we behold art, do we stultify our own intelligence by arguing that the artist knew no more than we? Or, because we have never seen the artist, do we deny that art exists? Or, because we see fraudulent copies of art, do we deny that there are many artists whose integrity is above dispute?

Admitting as, for one, I do admit that there is high philosophy abroad among us, that is freshening our thought and working like precipitating acid on our outworn, half-abandoned creeds; maintaining that philosophy necessitates philosophers to bring it into being, as it were; and so admitting as, for one, I do admit, that the existence of the Masters is no myth but an established certainty; conceding at the same time, as we must, that if they do exist they must be wiser than the rest of us in order to escape the searchlight of our pitiless publicity (the name preferred by persecution-mongers); what avails then to pit our ignorance against their wisdom and insist, with the world at large, that they are non-existent or that they are selfish not to satisfy our curiosity by coming out of their seclusion and, with magic, entertaining us. Doubtless they know better than to do it -- or do it they would. Theirs is the prerogative of wisdom.

What is magic? It is certainly not humbug, though we know too well how many humbugs pose among us as magicians, in the same way that too many cacophonists claim the title of musician and too many doctors mutilate our bodies in the name of healing. The exposure of a thousand tricksters never has disproved one truth, though many a magician has been branded as a fraud because, for lack of enough wisdom, and perhaps because of vanity, he has displayed more knowledge of the esoteric laws of nature than the prejudices of the human mind permit to any man. Knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing.

A century ago would radio not have been magic? What of Newton and his laws? And what of Galileo? Would our fathers have believed it possible to transmit by a mechanism, through the aether without wires, the pictures of events within a half-hour of their happening? Can there be any object other than to glorify our ignorance, in stubbornly denying that there might be men who know how to project their thought without the intervening agency of a machine?

The handicap of all humanity is fear. We are afraid to lift ourselves above the ruts in which we run, and glance into the storehouse of the Infinite. A century ago (and less) it was religion under which we covered up our eyes and hugged our totally illogical conservatism. Now with flattery we fool ourselves that science has uncovered all laws and the portals of all knowledge. What the licensed and accredited observers of the shadows of the real say is true, we must believe or else be damned. And being damned by fellow-men is much more comfortless (because more real) than the hell our ancestors believed in!

We are still, like the fabled ostrich with its head stuck in the sand, absurd conservatives, for we conserve not much else than our own opinion of ourselves -- no pleasant one, at that, maintaining as it generally does that we were born in sin.

But of the Masters I am told on good authority that they conserve the Ancient Wisdom, which is something not so worthless as our theories of God-appointed and prenatally implanted vice.

Presuming, as I think the preachers mostly do, that there was wisdom in the ordering of all this universe, and that the stars that keep their courses, and the flowers that obey the summons of the spring, have not entirely lost their contact (yet, in spite of jazz and boot-leg liquor!) with the First Cause, that obeyed the Wisdom, that impelled them forth; presuming that; admitting, as we must, that we ourselves are not wise, or our affairs were better ordered; yet admitting, too, that most of us would like to be wise and would cherish wisdom if it might be had without too much self-sacrifice -- to me it does not seem too far-fetched to presuppose that Wisdom does exist.

And since we rather dimly and sporadically long for it, particularly when the aftermath of unwise deeds propels us into gloom, I think it logical (and surely some agree with me) that contact with the Ancient Wisdom never has been absolutely broken. If it had been broken, we could hardly be aware of its suggestive thrills.

We search, or rather, some of us still search among the animals in far-off lands for that weird figment of imagination called the missing link, to prove material evolution. Why not -- in the name of manhood, why not search at least as far afield for proof of spiritual ancestry? The dignity would certainly be greater, and the shock less numbing to our morals, to discover ourselves linked in spiritual evolution to the Gods, instead of, as the scientists would have us, chained to a material progression with the apes.

A spiritual link there must be. Otherwise, whence come the streams of spiritual thought that in our calmer moments of reflection raise us higher than the animals? Life, we nowadays agree, is a becoming. What of those who have become? If there is progress, where are those who have progressed?

To a believer in the very modern, unauthenticated doctrine, totally impossible of proof and more illogical than any other phantasy invented by the mind of man, that we are doomed to one earth-life, and only one, whereafter we are dead and done with this world, it is manifestly difficult to think, and almost an impossibility to understand that in the order of the universe evolving hierarchies fill the realms of evolution, stage beyond stage.

But whoever dares -- and two-thirds of the world does dare -- to open up his mind and think that possibly, perhaps, this earth-life that we now live is a short link in a chain of many lives, past and to come, lived and to be lived on this self-same earth, the purpose of them all the same, that by experience we may evolve into a higher spiritual type; whoever dares to let imagination wander in that realm of thought can see, at least the possibility, that higher types of men, who have preceded us along the path of evolution, may exist among us, though unrecognised, and through familiarity with purer wisdom than our own may make our own ascent less difficult.

We may imagine that such men would no more mingle with us socially than would our own least prejudiced and most enthusiastic advocates of the equality of man permit themselves to live with cannibals. We may imagine, too, that they would much bestir themselves to raise us by the best means from the moral mud, wherein we cheat, recriminate and fight; and, being wise, that they would go about it with more wisdom than our own brass-band enthusiasts display when they set forth to educate the heathen in his blindness.

I am told -- and I believe it --- that the password to association with the Masters is no spoken word at all, but stark integrity, that they can recognise as instantly as trainers see the good points of a horse.

It is of such integrity, and of the Path that leads up to association with such men, that I wrote my story OM; and of all the things in life that have amazed me, first is this: that in this said-to-be-materially minded western hemisphere so many men and women have not only read the book, but have agreed to like it, and to ask for more of the same character.