The voices of stones. The wall of a church and the wall of a prison. The mast of a ship and a gallows. The shadow of a hangman and of an ascetic. The soul of a hangman and of an ascetic. The different combinations of known phenomena in higher space. The relationship of phenomena which appear unrelated, and the difference between phenomena which appear similar. How shall we approach the noumenal world? The understanding of things outside the categories of space and time. The reality of many "figures of speech." The occult understanding of energy. The letter of a Hindu occultist. Art as the knowledge of the noumenal world. What we see and what we do not see. Plato's dialogue about the cavern.
IT seems to us that we see something and understand something. But in reality all that proceeds around us we sense only very confusedly, just as a snail senses confusedly the sunlight, the darkness, and the rain.
Sometimes in things we sense confusedly their difference in function, i.e., their real difference.
On one occasion I was crossing the Neva with one of my friends, A, with whom I happened to have had many conversations upon the themes touched on in this book. We had been talking, but both fell silent as we approached the fortress, gazing up at its walls and making probably the same reflection. "Right there are also factory chimneys!" said A. Behind the walls of the fortress indeed appeared some brick chimneys blackened by smoke.
On his saying this, I too sensed the difference between the chimneys and the prison walls with unusual clearness and like an electric shock. I realized the difference between the very bricks themselves, and it seemed to me that A realized this difference also.
Later in conversation with A, I recalled this episode, and he told me that not only then, but always, he sensed these differences and was deeply convinced of their reality. "Positivism assures itself that a stone is a stone and nothing more," he said, "but any simple woman or child knows perfectly that a stone from the wall of a church and one from a prison wall are different things."
It seems to me also, that in considering a given phenomenon in connection with all the chains of sequences of which it is a link, we shall see that the subjective sensation of the difference between two physically similar objects—which we are accustomed to think of only as poetic expression, metaphor, and the reality of which we deny—is entirely real; we shall see that these objects are really different, just as different as the candle and the coin which appear as similar circles (moving lines) in the two-dimensional world of the plane-man. We shall see that things of the same material constitution but different in their functions are really different, and that this difference goes so deep as to make different the very material which is physically the same. There are differences in stone, in wood, in iron, in paper, which no chemistry will ever detect: but these differences exist, and there are men who feel and understand them.
The mast of a ship, a gallows, a crucifix at a cross-roads on the steppes—these may be made of the same kind of wood, but in reality they are different objects made of different material. That which we see, touch, investigate, is nothing more than "the circles on the plane" made by the coin and the candle. They are only the shadows of real things, the substance of which is contained in their function. The shadow of a sailor, of a hangman, and of an ascetic may be quite similar—it is impossible to distinguish them by their shadows, just as it is impossible to find any difference between the wood of a mast, of a gallows and of a cross by chemical analysis. But they are different men and different objects—their shadows only are equal and similar.
And if we take men as we know them—the sailor, the hang-man, the ascetic: men who seem to us similar and equal—and consider them from the standpoint of their differences in function, we shall see that in reality they are entirely different and that there is nothing in common between them. They are quite different beings, belonging to different categories, to different planes of the world between which there are no bridges, no avenues at all. These men seem to us equal and similar because in most cases we see only the shadows of real facts. The "souls" of these men are actually quite different, different not only in their quality, their magnitude, their "age," as some people like now to put it, but as different in the very nature, origin and purpose of their existence as things belonging to entirely different categories can be.
When we shall begin to understand this, the general concept man will take on a different meaning.
And this relation holds in the observation of all phenomena. The mast, the gallows, the cross—these are things belonging to such different categories, the atoms of such different objects (known only by their functions), that there cannot be a question of any similarity at all. Our misfortune consists in the fact that we regard the chemical constitution of a thing as its most real attribute, while as a matter of fact its true attributes must be sought for in its functions. Could we broaden and deepen our vision of the chains of causation the links of which are forged by our action and our conduct; could we learn to see them not only in their narrow relation to the life of man—to our personal life—but in their broad cosmical meaning; could we succeed in finding and establishing a connection between the simple phenomena of our life and the life of the cosmos; then without doubt in these "simplest" phenomena would be unveiled for us an infinity of the new and the unexpected.
For example, in this way we may come to know something entirely new about those simple physical phenomena which we are accustomed to regard as natural and obvious and about which we think we know something. Then, unexpectedly, we may find that we know nothing, that everything heretofore known about them is only an incorrect deduction from incorrect premises. There may be revealed to us something infinitely great and immeasurably important in such phenomena as the expansion and contraction of solids, electrical phenomena, heat, light, sound, the movements of the planets, the coming of day and of night, the change of seasons, a thunderstorm, heat-lightning, etc., etc. Generally speaking, we may find explained in the most unexpected manner the properties of phenomena which we used to accept as given things, as not containing anything within themselves that we could not see and understand.
The constancy, the time, the periodicity or unperiodicity of phenomena may take on quite a new meaning and significance for us. The new and the unexpected may reveal itself in the transition of some phenomena into others. Birth, death, the life of a man, his relations with other men; love, enmity, sympathies, antipathies, desires, passions—these may unexpectedly receive illumination by an entirely new light. It is impossible now to imagine the nature of this newness which we shall sense in familiar things, and once felt it will be difficult to understand.
But it is really only our inaptitude to feel and understand this "newness" which divides us from it, because we are living in it and amidst it. Our senses, however, are too primitive, our concepts are too crude, for that fine differentiation of phenomena which must unfold itself to us in higher space. Our minds, our powers of correlation and association are insufficiently elastic for the grasping of new relations. Therefore, the first emotion at the rising of the curtain on "that world"—i.e., this our world, but free of those limitations under which we usually regard it—must be of wonderment, and this wonderment must grow greater and greater according to our better acquaintance with it. And the better we know a certain thing or a certain relation of things—the nearer, the more familiar they are to us—the greater will be our wonder at the new and the unexpected therein revealed.
Desiring to understand the noumenal world we must search for the hidden meaning in everything. At present we are too heavily enchained by the habit of the positivistic method of searching always for the visible cause and the visible effect. Under this weight of positivistic habit it is extremely difficult for us to comprehend certain ideas. Among other things we have difficulty in understanding the reality of the difference in the noumenal world between objects of our world which are similar, but different in function.
But if we desire to approach to an understanding of the noumenal world, we must try with all our might to notice all those seeming, "subjective" differences between objects which astonish us sometimes, of which we are often painfully aware—those differences expressed in the symbols and metaphors of art which are often revelations of the world of reality. Such differences are the realities of the noumenal world, far more real than all maya (illusion) of our phenomena.
We should endeavor to notice these realities and to develop within ourselves the ability to feel them, because exactly in this manner and only by such a method do we put ourselves in contact with the noumenal world or the world of causes.
I find an interesting example of the understanding of the hidden meaning of phenomena contained in The Occult World in the letter of a Hindu occultist to the author of the book, A. P. Sinnett.
We see a vast difference between the two qualities of two equal amounts of energy expended by two men, of whom one, let us suppose, is on his way to his daily quiet work, and another on his way to denounce a fellow creature at the police station, while the men of science see none; and we—not they—see a specific difference between the energy in the motion of the wind and that of a revolving wheel.
Every thought of man upon being evolved passes into the inner world, and becomes an active entity by associating itself, coalescing we might term it, with an elemental—that is to say, with one of the semi-intelligent forces of the kingdom.
If we ignore the last part of this quotation for the moment, and consider only the first part, we shall easily see that the "man of science" does not recognize the difference in the quality of the energy spent by two men going, one to his work, and another to denounce someone. For the man of science this difference is negligible: science does not sense it and does not recognize it. But perhaps the difference is much deeper and consists not in the difference between modes of energy but in the difference between men, one of whom is able to develop energy of one sort and another that of a different sort. Now we have a form of knowledge which senses this difference perfectly, knows and understands it. I am speaking of art. The musician, the painter, the sculptor well understand that it is possible to walk differently—and even impossible not to walk differently: a workman and a spy cannot walk alike.
Better than all the actor understands this, or at least he should understand it better.
The poet understands that the mast of a ship, the gallows, and the cross are made of different wood. He understands the difference between the stone from a church wall and the stone from a prison wall. He hears "the voices of stones," understands the whisperings of ancient walls, of tumuli, of mountains, rivers, woods and plains. He hears "the voice of the silence," understands the psychological difference between silences, knows that one silence can differ from another. And this poetical understanding of the world should be developed, strengthened and fortified, because only by its aid do we come in contact with the true world of reality. In the real world, behind phenomena which appear to us similar, often stand noumena so different that only by our blindness is it possible to account for our idea of the similarity of those phenomena.
Through such a false idea the current belief in the similarity and equality of men must have arisen. In reality the difference between a "hangman," a "sailor," and an "ascetic" is not an accidental difference of position, state and heredity, as material-ism tries to assure us; nor is it a difference between the stages of one and the same evolution, as theosophy affirms; but it is a deep and IMPASSABLE difference—such as exists between murder, work and prayer—involving entirely different worlds. The representatives of these worlds may seem to us to be similar MEN, only because we see, not them, but their shadows only.
It is necessary to accustom oneself to the thought that this difference is not metaphysical but entirely real, more real than many visible differences between things and between phenomena.
All art, in essence, consists of the understanding and representation of these elusive differences. The phenomenal world is merely a means for the artist—just as colors are for the painter, and sounds for the musician—a means for the understanding of the noumenal world and for the expression of that understanding. At the present stage of our development we possess nothing so powerful, as an instrument of knowledge of the world of causes, as art. The mystery of life dwells in the fact that the noumenon, i.e., the hidden meaning and the hidden function of a thing, is reflected in its phenomenon. A phenomenon is merely the reflection of a noumenon in our sphere. THE PHENOMENON IS THE IMAGE OF THE NOUMENON. It is possible to know the noumenon by the phenomenon. But in this field the chemical reagents and spectroscopes can accomplish nothing. Only that fine apparatus which is called the soul of an artist can understand and feel the reflection of the noumenon in the phenomenon. In art it is necessary to study "occultism"—the hidden side of life. The artist must be a clairvoyant: he must see that which others do not see; he must be a magician: must possess the power to make others see that which they do not themselves see, but which he does see.
Art sees more and farther than we do. As was said before, we usually see nothing, we merely feel our way; therefore we do not notice those differences between things which cannot be expressed in terms of chemistry or physics. But art is the beginning of vision; it sees vastly more than the most perfect apparatus can discover; and it senses the infinite invisible facets of that crystal, one facet of which we call man.
The truth is that this earth is the scene of a drama of which we only perceive scattered portions, and in which the greater number of the actors are invisible to us.
Thus says the theosophical writer, Mabel Collins, the author of Light on the Path, in a little book, Illusions. And this is very true: we see only a little.
But art sees farther than merely human sight, and therefore concerning certain sides of life art alone can speak, and has the right to speak.
A remarkable attempt to portray our relation to the "noumenal world"—to that "great life"—is found in Book VII of Plato's Republic. 1
Behold! human beings living in a sort of underground den; they have been there from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained—the chains are arranged in such a manner as to prevent them from turning round their heads. At a distance above and behind them the light of a fire is blazing, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have before them, over which they show the puppets. Imagine men passing along the wall carrying vessels, which appear over the wall; also figures of men and animals, made of wood and stone and various materials; and some of the passengers, as you would expect, are talking, and some of them are silent!
That is a strange image, he said, and they are strange prisoners.
Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?
True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?
And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?
Yes, he said.
And if they were able to talk with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
And suppose further that the prison had, an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy that the voice which they heard was that of a passing shadow?
No question, he replied.
There can be no question, I said, that the truth would be to them just nothing but the shadows of the images.
That is certain.
And now look again and see how they are released and cured of their folly. At first, when any one of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to go up and turn his neck around and walk and look at the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then imagine someone saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now he is approaching real being and has a truer sight and vision of more real things,—what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them,—will he not be in a difficulty? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
And if he is compelled to look at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take refuge in the object of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?
True, he said.
And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast and forced into the presence of the sun himself, do you not think that he will be pained and irritated, and when he approaches the light he will have his eyes dazzled, and will not be able to see any of the realities which are now affirmed to be the truth?
Not all in a moment, he said.
He will require to get accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; next he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars; and he will see the sky and the stars by night, better than the sun, or the light of the sun, by day?
And at last he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him as he is in his own proper place, and not in another, and he will contemplate his nature.
And after this he will reason that the sun is he who gives the seasons and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?
Clearly, he said, he would come to the other first and to this afterwards.
And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?
Certainly, he would.
And if they were in the habit of conferring honors on those who were quickest to observe and remember and foretell which of the shadows went before, and which followed after, and which were together, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them?
Would he not say with Homer,—
"Better to be a poor man, and have a poor master," and endure anything, than to think and live after their manner?
Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than live after their manner.
Imagine once more, I said, that such an one coming suddenly out of the sun were to be replaced in his old situation, is he not certain to have his eyes full of darkness?
Very true, he said.
And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who have never moved out of the den, during the time that his sight is weak, and before his eyes are steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable), would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he comes without his eyes; and that there was no use in even thinking of ascending: and if anyone tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender in the act, and they would put him to death.
No question, he said.
This allegory, I said, you may now append to the previous argument; the prison is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, the ascent and vision of the things above you may truly regard as the upward progress of the soul into the intellectual world.
And you will understand that those who attain to this beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs; but their souls are ever hastening into the upper world in which they desire to dwell. And is there anything surprising in one who passes from divine contemplations to human things, misbehaving himself in a ridiculous manner.
There is nothing surprising in that, he replied.
Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees the soul of any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And then he will count one happy in his condition and state of being.
162:1 "The Dialogues of Plato," Transl. by B. Jowett, Vol. II, pp. 341-345, Chas. Scribner's Sons, N. Y. 1911.
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