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Pages (PDF): 45
Publication Date: 1905
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It has been the customary and perhaps inevitable method of writers on Pantheism to trace its main idea back to the dreams of Vedic poets, the musings of Egyptian priests, and the speculations of the Greeks. But though it is undeniable that the divine unity of all Being was an almost necessary issue of earliest human thought upon the many and the one, yet the above method of treating Pantheism is to some extent misleading; and therefore caution is needed in using it. For the revival of Pantheism at the present day is much more a tangible resultant of action and reaction between Science and Religion than a ghost conjured up by speculation. Thus, religious belief, driven out from “the darkness and the cloud” of Sinai, takes refuge in the mystery of matter; and if the glory passes from the Mount of Transfiguration, it is because it expands to etherialise the whole world as the garment of God. Again, the evanescence of the atom into galaxies of “electrons” destroys the only physical theory that ever threatened us with Atheism; and the infinitesimal electrons themselves open up an immeasurable perspective into the abyss of an Unknowable in which all things “live and move and have their being.” Therefore it matters little to us, except as a matter of antiquarian interest, to know what the Vedic singers may have dreamed; or what Thales or Xenophanes or Parmenides may have thought about the first principle of things, or about the many and the one. For our spiritual genealogy is not from them, but from a nearer and double line of begetters, including seers— in the true sense of the word— and saints, for both are represented by Kepler and Hooker, Newton and Jeremy Taylor, Descartes and Spinoza, Leibnitz and Wesley, Spencer and Newman. And even these have authority not through any divine right of genius or acquired claim of learning, but because they illumine and interpret obscure suggestions of our own thoughts. Indeed, to the sacrament of historic communion with the past, as well as to the chief rite of the Church, the apostolic injunction is applicable: “Let a man examine himself; and so let him eat of that bread.”
Suggestions of Nature.
Obeying that injunction, any man possessing ordinary powers of observation and reflection may, in the course of a summer day’s walk, find abundant reason for interest in the speculations of historic Pantheism. For the aspect of nature then presented to him is one both of movement and repose, of variety and harmony, of multiplicity and unity. Thus the slight breeze, scarcely stirring the drowsy flowery the monotonous cadences of the stony brook, and the gliding of feathery flecks of cloud across the blue, create a peace far deeper than absolute stillness, and suggest an infinite life in which activity and repose are one. Besides, there is evident everywhere an interplay of forces acting and reacting so as mutually to help and fulfil one another. For instance, the falling leaves give back the carbon they gathered from the air, and so repay the soil with interest for the subtler essences derived therefrom and dissolved in the sap. The bees, again, humming among the flowers, while actuated only by instincts of appetite and thrift, fructify the blooms, and become a connecting link between one vegetable generation and another. The heat of the sun draws up water from ocean and river and lake, while chilly currents of higher air return it here and there in rain. So earth, sea, and air are for ever trafficking together; and their interchange of riches and force is complicated ten thousandfold by the activities of innumerable living things, all adapting themselves by some internal energy to the ever varying balance of heat and cold, moisture and drought, light and darkness, chemical action and reaction. And all this has been going on for untold millions of years; nor is there any sign of weariness now.
Sympathy thus awakened with the old Pantheistic Aspiration to find the One in the Many.
In the mood engendered by such familiar experiences of a holiday saunter, it may well occur to anyone to think with interest and sympathy of the poets and seers who, thousands of years ago, first dared to discern in this maze of existence the varied expression of one all-embracing and eternal Life, or Power. Such contemplations and speculations were entirely uninfluenced by anything which the Christian Church, recognises as revelation. Yet we must not on that account suppose that they were without religion, or pretended to explain anything without reference to superhuman beings called gods and demons. On the contrary, they, for the most part, shared, subject to such modifications as were imperatively required by cultivated common sense, the beliefs of their native land. But the difference between these men and their unthinking contemporaries lay in this; that the former conceived of one supreme and comprehensive divinity beyond the reach of common thought, an ultimate and eternal Being which included gods as well as nature within its unity. So, for them, Indra, Zeus, or Jove were mere modes of the one Being also manifest in man and bird and tree.
The Védas and Related Literature.
Every race possessing even the rudiments of culture has been impelled by a happy instinct, which, if we like, we may call inspiration, to record in more or less permanent form its experience of nature, of life, and of what seemed the mysteries of both. To this inspiration we owe the sacred books of the Jews. But it is now generally recognised that an impulse not wholly dissimilar also moved prophetic or poetic minds among other races, such, for instance, as the Egyptians, the Chaldaeans, and the Aryan conquerors of India, to inscribe on papyrus or stone, or brick or palm-leaf, the results of experience as interpreted by free imagination, traditional habits of thought, and limited knowledge. Of this ancient literature a considerable part is taken up by the mysteries apparently involved in life, conduct, and death. Most notably is this the case with the ancient Indian literature called the Védas, and such sequels as the Upanishads, Sutras, and— much later— the Bhagavad Gîtâ. This collection, like our Bible, forms a library of writings issued at various dates extending over much more than a thousand years.