IN this chapter I set out to describe as clearly and accurately as I can what it is that, in my view, we really experience in the distinctively human activity which may be called 'religion' in the best sense. My conclusion will be that, though it is possible to say with some confidence that the object of worship is not this, and not that, it is impossible to say anything positive about it save that it is that which we worship, and that it is in some manner superhuman. I shall try also to describe the kind of effect, a very far-reaching effect, that religion tends to have on our behaviour.

In doing this, I lay myself open to criticism and ridicule from two sides. The anti-religious person will protest that I am allowing far too much weight to certain seductive but illusory experiences which, as I myself have admitted, can be plausibly explained in terms of modem psychology; and that all such attempts to rehabilitate religion are pernicious. The religious person will say that I give no evidence that I myself have any acquaintance with the actual religious experience; or that at best I misinterpret, and indeed shockingly falsify, such feeble gleams of religion as have occurred in my life.

In an earlier chapter I suggested that religion was essentially a self-oblivious admiration or worship of something other than oneself and other than mankind. Now some tell us that, if we must worship anything, we should worship humanity, and nothing else. If this means simply that we should love our fellow human beings, in the Christian sense, and that we should cherish the achievement of the human species, and take as our supreme practical goal the improvement of our species and the perfecting of the human mind, I agree that in this sense we should 'worship' humanity. But for some of us this is not what worship means. We cannot worship humanity, simply as humanity. We can, I think, in an important sense be loyal to, or even love, mankind. But worship, in the strict sense, can be given only to something superhuman, something conceived as altogether of a higher order than ourselves, or than the most excellent of our fellow men. If there is nothing of such a kind, then there is nothing fit to be worshipped, nothing fit to be regarded with that very special and intense kind of admiration which worship is.

There is, indeed, one sense in which we may worship humanity. We may worship it either as a part of, or an expression of, something more than humanity, something in essence superhuman. Some of those who profess to take humanity as their highest object of loyalty do, I think, unwittingly regard humanity in this way. Others do not. They merely feel kindliness and pity or admiration for their fellow men.

Let us consider in more detail what 'worship' of humanity involves. The starting-point is sheer 'love of mankind'. Now loving involves knowing the object of your love. Even though you may not be able to describe it, you must, in some sense, know it. You cannot love an individual human person unless you know something of him or her, unless you have a lively vision of him or her as a unique experiencing individual; and you cannot love mankind unless you know something of mankind. Still less can you worship it as having superhuman significance, unless you know something about it as a whole pattern of lives, unless you have a lively vision of it, not simply as a crowd of persons but as a world-wide adventuring host whose career is age-long. You must think of the persons that together make up mankind not merely as little selves, longing for all sorts of private joys and on the whole making a sad muddle of their lives, but as, each one of them, a pioneer in the great common enterprise, into which all are born, but which very few have even dimly understood. You must think of them as striving and blundering hither and thither, and hurting themselves and one another terribly in this almost blindfold adventure. You must think of each one as trying, in his own short life, to live fully, but as failing almost entirely, either through ignorance as to what full living really means, or through cowardice, or through adversity. You must think of them as animals whose nature has in it some rudiments of a much more alive nature, of the truly human nature, which mayor may not some day come into existence, but must in any case be the goal of human endeavour. You must think of these animals which we call men as uncomfortably living a kind of life which is neither entirely animal nor entirely human, as alternately hating themselves for being mere animals and hating the disturbing sparks of humanity in them. You must realize something of the long and varied career which has brought them up to their present stage. You must form some idea of the ways in which our human nature must change and enrich itself, if it is to become more human. And, above all, you must prize this great theme not merely for its culmination but for its every phase.

One who can hold all this together as a clear vision of mankind may be very deeply moved by it. He may feel for the strange multitudinous thing, mankind, the blend of admiration and tenderness and pity which is love. He may also feel, vaguely perhaps but strongly, that mankind is more than all the successive populations of the world. He may feel that its adventure is in some sense a sacred adventure, even perhaps one small episode in a universal crusade whose object in the long run is to fulfil whatever potentiality of life or mind or spirit there is in the cosmos. He may think of mankind as not simply an end in itself but an instrument whose true end is to produce the music of the fully awakened spirit. He may feel that man, conceived in this way, should be the one object of our loyalty. He may perhaps even feel that what matters most in the universe is this age-long adventure of waking into the most clear-sighted and large-hearted aliveness, of waking into the full, the true 'humanity', whether this is to be achieved by our own species or by beings alien to ourselves in remote parts of the universe.

Yet there is something else to take into account, something more difficult to describe. The worship of mankind or, as I would rather call it, loyalty in the human enterprise, is indeed part of the true and wholly satisfying and most alive kind of worship; and Christian love of our fellow men is also part of it. But I at least cannot feel that love of our fellows and loyalty in the great adventure of mankind together make up the whole of religion. For, after all, to worship mankind is only to worship ourselves. For mankind is nothing but all of us together, striving in our different ways to make the best of life. Indeed, even to worship a loving God is really to worship our own nature made perfect. All the characters which are attributed to a benevolent and almighty and omniscient deity are idealizations of the distinctively human capacities. That is just where the trouble lies. We are so easily trapped into thinking that our own nature, perfected, is the finest thing there is, or can be.

When a man is in the mood of unqualified loyalty to mankind, the thought may occur to him that, sooner or later, even if men do succeed at last in making the really splendid human world which at present we can only dimly imagine, that ,world will almost certainly be destroyed. There are many ways in which it might come to an end, but one way, if the others are avoided, seems almost inevitable. Our sun will cool, and his planets will be frozen. Even if men were to escape from the solar system, which is unlikely, wherever they were to go, they would be faced sooner or later with a cooling universe. Since all the stars are cooling, man must sooner or later be frozen to death. Of course, there may be intelligences in other worlds. There may be other kinds of life and mind, with different physical requirements from our own and different dispositions. The stars themselves, for all we know, may have minds. Even a galaxy may conceivably be the body of a single intelligent and desiring spirit. Nevertheless, vitality, on whatever scale, can only exist, so far as we can see, where energy is available for vital processes. And sooner or later energy will no longer be available.

Of course, the theory that the universe is doomed to final quiescence and death may be false. Though at present physical nature is running down like a clock, it may some day be wound up again; or it may be all the while undergoing a rewinding of which we know nothing. But we should certainly face the possibility, even probability, that there is a final state of quiescence and death.

And whether this dependence of life and mind on available energy is absolute or not, the idea of it is a very purging and enlightening idea. When a man is in the mood which is simply loyal to mankind, or to life, or to mind, he feels that this final destruction is nothing but a hideous disaster. In loving a person, one may long that the other should be young for ever and never die; and in the same way one may long that mankind, or at least some kind of fully awakened mind, should go on for ever and never fall into decay.

But there is another way of feeling about the final destruction of mankind. It is a way that has much in common with the mood of science at its best and the mood of art. Modern science, even though it may have done much harm in other ways, does at least help one to stand outside oneself. It inclines a man to regard himself, and indeed the whole of mankind, with the quiet, almost reverent interest of a scientist who watches the behaviour of stars or micro-organisms. This calm scientific observation is perhaps, for some, the first step toward the mood which I shall describe; but the mood itself is far more than this, for it is a mood of very keen feeling. It is more like the intense admiration which we may feel for a work of art.



As was noted in the chapter on art, the spectator at a stage play may find himself feeling in two very different ways about the play. The first is this. He sympathizes with the hero, and the heroine, and all the persons who are 'on the right side', and he wishes them to be successful in their enterprises. When their enemies succeed in thwarting them, he is indignant. If it is a tragic play, and in the end the hero comes to grief, he longs for a more cheerful ending. He wants to be told that the hero 'lived happily ever after'. We all know this mood of sympathy with the 'good' characters of a play.

The other way of feeling about a play is not so common, and not so easy. In this mood, though the spectator sympathizes with the hero, and indeed with all the characters, he cares most about the play as a play. I do not mean that he is interested to see how far and in what manner it fulfils the formal principles of dramatic art, but that he feels the playas a whole. If the spirit of the play is tragic, he wants it to fulfil its tragic nature. Although at the same time he grieves for the suffering persons, he delights in the terrible relentless way in which the opening situation of the play develops into the final tragedy. He recognizes that if this play had ended happily after all, it would not have been true to itself.

Now even towards the human race and its great story, a man may feel in these two different ways. Sometimes he may feel sympathy alone, just the longing that the life of mankind may be always happy and triumphant, and have no tragic end. But sometimes he may feel himself rising above this sympathy, and finding a strange and deep delight in the great story which includes, not only man's painful struggle into more awakened living, but also his fated downfall. In this mood a man feels that somehow humanity's career would not be a complete and rounded thing unless it included not only growth and triumph but also degeneration and destruction. He is now caring not simply for mankind but for the universe, or at least for the universe so far as it is revealed to him, or for the whole matrix of things within which mankind is seen to play some part. He discovers that this seeming whole of things, though it lies mostly far beyond the reach of his understanding, does at least show itself to him as excellent, and that the rise and fall of mankind is necessary to its excellence. He is not merely resigned to this fate, he is deeply glad of it. He seems perhaps to see the cosmos as a vast darkness sprinkled with millions of 'universes', each one a cluster of millions of stars. He thinks of our sun as one among the myriads; and of the little earth, the grain on which we spend our lives. He thinks of the long history of living things on the earth, and of the recent yet very remote beginning of man. He thinks of man's strange, troubled, blundering career, of the hosts of individual men and women of all the ages, striving for all sorts of ends suffering, loving, groping for they know not what. He thinks of the promise of man's nature, the possibilities that may be realized some day; and also of the expected end. He thinks dizzily of the potentialities of those myriads of stars, of possible worlds and mental types, and of the steady cooling and dying of the whole. He is overwhelmed by all this vastness, not merely of space and time and the multitude of things, but the vast possibilities of mind. He is overwhelmed, but he is deeply glad that it all is, and that he himself has a part in it. He is eager to play his part, however much it hurts him, simply because it is a part. And of mankind as a whole he feels, equally, let us play our part, however pitiably yet gladly, for at least it is a part in this beautiful, this most excellent theme.

In a stage play the actors and actresses are not really suffering. They are only portraying the behaviour of suffering. The spectator may appease his sympathy with the persons of the play by remembering that, after all, they are 'only pretending '. (Indeed, he cannot appreciate the play as a work of art unless he regards it all the time not as real life but as a product of artistry.) Now the drama of mankind is real life. The, suffering and joy of all human beings in all ages is no mere pretence. In this case a man cannot appease his sympathy by telling himself that after all this pain is not real. It is terribly real, and no theory can ever explain it away. Then surely to delight in and admire a world in which there is so much pain must be utterly heartless. And yet in the mood which I am describing a man cannot help admiring it. Moreover, he feels very strongly that in this delight he is being not less but much more alive than when, he feels sympathy alone.. How can this be?

We must not shirk the issue. We must not try to persuade ourselves that the pain and evil in the world is not so very great after all. We must realize it as fully as we can. And sometimes the mere imagination of it can crash upon us with appalling weight, so that we are overwhelmed with terror and compassion and indignation. How can such a diabolical universe be beautiful?

Yet with horror we feel that after all it is beautiful. The conflict between its hideousness and its beauty defeats us. But let us now think of the suffering of the world as though it were the suffering not of others but of ourselves. Let me think of it as my suffering, and you as yours. This, I believe, is the enlightening way to think of it. It does not after all seem impossible that my suffering should be part of the scheme of things, a factor in the dreadful beauty of the universe. Many Christians, no doubt, feel in this way. Christian piety, of course, accepts the view that human suffering is included within the perfection of the universe, and is permitted by the all-loving God; but in the Christian theory our suffering is only compatible with that perfection and with God's goodness if, in some manner, however indirect, we are compensated for it. This seems to me a wholly unjustified and, indeed, irreligious, qualification. It is one which follows inevitably from the attempt to think of the object of worship in terms of human personality. For if God is a person, he must be judged by the standards of human morality; and if he permits suffering to go unrecompensed, he must be condemned.

When anyone suffers pain or sorrow, he feels most often that the thing which has befallen him is simply bad, hideous. And yet there is a certain mood in which he may find himself strangely rising above his own suffering, and delighting in its very painfulness, or rather in the whole situation within which his pain is a part. This he can only do while he is mentally very alert and sensitive; and unfortunately the pain itself is likely to cripple his mind; so that if it increases beyond a certain point he loses this strange insight, and becomes simply a tortured animal.

Think of a bird living in a forest of great trees. Imagine that the forest catches fire. The bird is forced by the flames to soar up out of his familiar world of leaves and branches into a greater world above the tree-tops, a world of sky and space and distant mountains, a world whose floor is the burning tree-tops. Let us pretend that, when our symbolical bird finds himself under the sky with the burning forest beneath him, he suddenly wakes up to be more than a bird, and to his own surprise finds this new world very beautiful, with its wide sky, its floor of burning forest, and his own fluttering terrified self in the midst of it all. If the flames are too fierce, if they reach up too high, the bird is caught by them, and his feathers are burnt, so that he drops out of the new world into the fire. But so long as he actually maintains himself in the upper world, he can somehow accept with peace, and even with ecstasy, the possibility that he may presently sink and be destroyed.

In this parable, then, the bird stands for a human mind, and the flames are pain and sorrow. Some birds are stronger fliers than others and (let us suppose) can rise above flames which would have caught the weaker fliers. Some minds are more able than others to rise above their pain and sorrow. Many, perhaps, can never even reach the tree-tops, never for a moment escape into that vaster world. Some merely glimpse it before they collapse. Some, like great eagles, can rise above the most terrible agonies and griefs; but probably for each one there is a point beyond which he cannot go, at which he is caught by the flames, so that he drops headlong into his pain, and loses all vision of that strange celestial beauty.

It is not only in pain that a man may have that vision. It comes, no doubt, as often in joy. The bird, let us say, may soar above the tree-tops for very joy of life, or to sing to its mate. But if the vision, which is itself joyful, comes in the course of ordinary joyful living, it is likely to be confused with the more familiar joy. If it comes in pain, it stands out clearly by contrast. The sufferer notices that, though he is feeling pain, he is also, surprisingly, feeling a strange, a dreadful delight in the beauty of the universe which includes both pleasure and pain; or perhaps I should say, in order to avoid implications about the whole of things, simply the beauty of his experienced world, with all its actuality of victory and defeat.

Now it seems to me that this way of feeling, which I can only describe as a sense of the severe beauty or rightness of existence, is a part at least of what men call religion. It may come during our personal pain or during our personal joy, or it may come when we are thinking of mankind, or when we are deliberately trying to see the pattern of the whole within which mankind is one small happening. It may come through the realization of the aliveness of another person, especially one for whom we feel deep affection. It may come in a moment of sheer animal perception or action, when we are not at all concerned with the universe as a whole or with mankind or with any loved person. In such a case we may be tempted to interpret the experience by saying that the minute particular event seems to be a window through which the 'spirit of the whole' confronts us. But probably what we ought to say is simply that the event vividly reveals its own exquisite rightness or beauty, that, indeed, wherever we turn (in this unique mood) we find the same underlying rightness or beauty; and that when we think of the whole cosmos, so far as it is possible for us to conceive it, we find in the theme which it seems to embody the same most excellent beauty .

Christians take this experience to be a sense of the presence of their loving God. It is indeed an experience of the presence of something which commands worship; but such an experience alone is no evidence that the something is an almighty person, and loving. Are we entitled to say that in this experience, which does seem to have a reference beyond itself, we have actually a glimpse of the whole of things; and that the whole of things, which includes not only the stars and the great spaces and ages and all the intricacy of atoms and electrons but also the myriads. of minds in all their subtle varieties of dullness and brilliance, somehow reveals itself as very beautiful? Unfortunately the statement that we actually glimpse the whole is scarcely more credible than the statement that we find ourselves face to face with God.

Whatever it is that confronts us, it does not appear as favouring man. Indeed, it seems to the frank observer entirely careless of man, and of all the purposes of mankind. But whether it really is so or not, or whether there is even any sense in which it could be so, we simply do not know. In this mood, strangely, we do not want it to care for us, for we ourselves are entirely careless of ourselves, and of mankind, save as instruments of worship. We do not worship it for being in any sense like ourselves, or friendly towards us, but for being itself. We may sometimes have a strong sense that it is alive, and infinitely more alive, more splendidly alive, than we ourselves. It may indeed be so. But how can we possibly know? Probably to say, 'There is God', and to say, 'There is no God', and again to say, 'The Whole is a living conscious Whole', and to say, 'It is not so', are all equally false; so unreliable is our thinking. But what matter? In the mood which I am describing we feel. strangely, that whatever is in fact the truth about the universe, that must somehow be the best possible, even if we are too stupid to explain how it can be so.

It is important to realize that in this experience, which seems to me the essence of the religious experience, there is, first, direct apprehension of some particular event or situation, great or minute. This objective situation presents itself as having a character to which the appropriate response is worship. But this worshipful character, though given in the particular event, does seem in some sense to be significant of very much more than the particular event. Even if it is not a window through which we see the Whole, it is, or seems to be, a window through which we see far more than the particular perceived or conceived event. But what that 'more' really is we cannot say.

If the foregoing account is correct, we may say that religion is a mental or spiritual attitude of admiration, or praise, or worship, of a unique beauty and significance which may be discovered in or through any shred of existence, and in the whole of existence experienced by man. It is the ecstatic apprehension of a kind of beauty or rightness which may be called 'superhuman', in the sense that it is alien to, and superior to, every human activity, even the activity of worship, which this beauty itself awakens in man.

Though the object of worship is itself seemingly indifferent to man, the apprehension of it may have a far-reaching effect on conduct. However it is interpreted, it tends to issue in a subtle blend of earnestness and detachment. It, and not (I submit) merely their theoretical and comforting interpretation of it, inspired the early Christians to face martyrdom without feeling hate for their tormentors, but only compassion. It made Christianity in its prime a greater power in the world than Communism alone can ever be. It demands on the one hand loyalty to man, to the ideal of creating the fully awakened personality, and on the other worship, and detachment from man. Communism preaches human loyalty, but not worship. In general and in comparison with the early Christians, the modern world may be said to have a far clearer and more comprehensive idea of the implications of human loyalty, but far less of the impulse to worship. This is chiefly due to the fact that worship has been brought into disrepute by the failure of Christianity. And this failure itself was due to the fact that Christians, early and modern, have confused their worship with theories which have come to seem improbable and puerile.

In our day, and in the setting of our modem world-situation, the religious experience tends to give rise to a conviction as to what the aim of mankind should be. Men, we are convinced, ought to strive to become more and more able to perceive and delight in this strange beauty of existence; and also they should strive to contribute new and finer beauties to it from age to age by making a more alive world of men and women. For human lives seem to be in some sense parts of the music of existence. And the delight which human minds take in this music is itself a feature of the music. But though we feel very strongly the need that mankind should fulfil its half-formed nature, we feel also that when at last, in spite of all man's effort, the human world begins to wither and die, this ending, which is disaster to mankind, is really no disaster for the music of the whole. It is just the grave but fitting end of one theme in the music.



In the mood which I am trying to describe we feel all this with complete certainty, and with a delight which is deeper than any other delight. But we may be mistaken. Indeed, it seems that in some way or other we must be mistaken, since this account of our religious experience is self-contradictory. We say almost in the same breath that the adventure of man ought to be heroically pursued to victory, yet that it is bound to be defeated in the end, and that, in spite of its defeat, the universe is perfectly beautiful. Is not this sheer nonsense? Some one is sure to ask us what exactly it is that delights us in a universe in which minds are so helpless and so tortured, in which, moreover, there will soon be no minds at all. Really, he may say, this is very queer music, which is beautiful although it is full of hideous discords, which consists simply in whatever happens, and is, moreover, in some strange way good in itself whether anyone enjoys it or not.

We have to admit that it is indeed strange. But there it is. This contradiction between, on the one hand, admiration of the known universe as in some sense perfect, excellent, wholly beautiful, and on the other hand, loyalty to the enterprise of man to spiritualize himself and his corner of the universe, lies in one form or another at the heart of all the great religions. It is at bottom the contradiction between fate and love; between, on the one hand, the acceptance of fate, or of 'God's will', and, on the other, the love of human persons, or devotion in the cause of life's struggle to become fully awake. And this devotion and this love are the roots of all morality. Well, there it is. We cannot give up either side of the contradiction, and yet we cannot solve it. When we have stripped religion of all precarious intellectual interpretations, all questionable doctrines, we are left with this dilemma. There is no solution visible to minds of our own half-developed type. All we can do is to be honest with ourselves, admit that our intelligence is defeated, and yet cling most earnestly to both sides of the dilemma.

But our critic will smile at us. He will probably tell us that our delight in the universe can easily be explained by psychology without any muddle-headed notion that the universe itself, or existence itself, is beautiful or good. This delight of ours, he may say, is really just a sense of our own well-being, which we mistakenly 'project' upon the universe. Through some cause or other, he suggests, we are feeling extraordinarily 'fit' or alive, mentally; and, observing the universe, we find it after all a splendid place to live in, and so we call it beautiful. That we should sometimes have this sense of well-being in the midst of pain or fear or sorrow is doubtless strange, but not incomprehensible. Our trouble may happen to act on us as a tonic. It may be very nasty medicine, and yet it may make us more alive. Perhaps, for instance, our lives happen to have been too easy; and unwittingly we have acquired a deep and gnawing shame because we have never had to 'face the stern reality', and therefore have not really lived. When, at last, trouble comes and we face it with courage, we may have a glorious sense of being at grips with things. This delight in our own aliveness, we may be told, can become like a golden haze around us. We see the universe always through this glamour, and so the universe itself seems golden, beautiful.

Another way in which our critic may explain away our worship of the whole of things or of the beauty of existence, is to say that, like the puppy that grovels before a big dog, we have an instinct to bow down before anything very great and terrible, and that in all worship men are merely giving themselves the satisfaction of grovelling, either before the universe or before the idea of some God. A more sinister explanation is possible. In all of us there are deep-laid impulses of cruelty. Civilization forbids us to satisfy these impulses fully and frankly. And because they are thus repressed, they afford us an overwhelming and bewildered delight when we contemplate the cruelty of the universe.

There are many other ways in which our sense of the beauty of existence may be explained and explained away. All these explanations are at bottom the same. They consist in saying that we do not really delight in the universe, or in existence, at all, but in the fulfilling of some impulse or need of our own; and that we mistake our sense of personal well-being for a sense of the beauty of the world. But can this kind of explanation be true? As was said in another connexion, the experience to be explained seems to be so much richer, more subtle, more awakened, than any of the impulses that are offered as its explanation, or than all of them together. Yet in our present state of ignorance and confusion we cannot but allow that some such explanation may, after all, be the true one. Of course, to anyone who has actually experienced existence in the religious way these plausible psychological explanations all seem far-fetched, almost comic, almost as fantastic as it would be to explain a picture by giving an account of the food which the artist had eaten every day since his birth. He cannot but question whether the psychologist really comprehends the kind of thing that he is undertaking to explain. Are we really such fools that we mistake the fulfilment of primitive impulse for delight in the universe, or in objective existence? In this experience we do indeed feel a great surge of vitality in ourselves, but we seem able to distinguish quite clearly between our own aliveness and the beauty with which we are confronted. And again, though we do indeed want to bow down before this greatness, we do not worship for the mere satisfaction of grovelling. It is no more true (and no less) to explain the genuine religious admiration as a kind of grovelling than to explain the puppy's grovelling as a rudimentary kind of worship. And as for cruelty, we do indeed admire the universe partly because of its terribleness, but 'we do not simply delight in evil itself. We delight in the whole pattern of existence, within which evil is a dread but needed part.

After all, though psychologists have made many important discoveries, they have not yet been able to describe our minds at all clearly or fully. They cannot even agree amongst themselves as to what the ground plan of our nature really is. It may very well be that there is a kind of experience which they cannot yet distinguish from other, seemingly similar, but really very different experiences. Under these circumstances, which ought we to trust, this seemingly most vital or awakened of all experiences or modern psychology? Those who have seen objective existence in this way can no more doubt their perception of it than, in full sunshine, they can doubt the light. We may describe it wrongly. We may be unable to say anything useful about it to other people. Let us remember always that we may be very seriously misreading our vision when we call it a vision of the beauty of the whole of things, or even a vision of the beauty inherent in all existence. For human minds are constantly deceiving themselves. Nevertheless, for us who see it, that beauty itself or rightness itself or excellence itself is simply there before us. And though, indeed, we may misinterpret it, we cannot deny it.

However, we may perhaps be able to appease the psychologist by using his language. We may begin by agreeing that always what satisfies men is an environment suited to their nature. Then we may go on to remind the psychologist that the environment itself moulds human nature in conformity with itself. Through this influence, man seems to be constantly developing distinctively human capacities of appreciation adapted to the kind of environment which his distinctively human percipience discovers. Thus it comes that the environment most suited to our more awakened nature is after all this strange universe.

This is only another way of saying that the universe itself evokes in us the capacity of discovering and appreciating in it a kind of beauty which we could not otherwise have seen.

Those who have this experience of the beauty of existence, are sometimes dismayed by the knowledge that after all they may be deceiving themselves, that, though they cannot help believing their own eyes when they see this terrible-beautiful whole, they may be deluded. But they should not be dismayed. They should face this possibility. They may, indeed, be, after all, merely 'projecting' their own delicious well-being upon the universe. But so far from disheartening them, this doubt should turn their faith into a gallant adventure, of which the outcome is uncertain.



For anyone who sees things in this way, it is this experience, this ecstasy, that makes life most worth living. So long as he can keep it in view, nothing can dismay him, nothing can turn him wholly aside from striving after the way of life that the' beauty of existence' somehow seems to demand of him. It does not really demand anything of him but that he should be what he is, that he should be as fully alive as he has it in him to be. And this, of course, he will be. But the perception of the universe in this way changes a man. It makes him be different from what he was without it. Seeing things thus, he can no longer be merely a little greedy frightened self. He cannot even be merely a loyal servant of mankind. He will try to be that, but he will be something more also. He will, of course, eagerly, though perhaps ineffectively, strive to order his whole life so as to advance the great human enterprise; but in his heart of hearts he will be always quiet, and deeply glad whatever happens; because, in however dim and confused away, he sees, or seems to see, something of the whole theme of existence, and accepts it with joy.. Mankind he sees as a very little part in that great theme, and himself and all his striving as a very little part in the life of mankind. His own life and the life of all human beings, and the whole career of mankind, are seemingly doomed to incomplete fulfilment. He greatly longs for fulfilment for himself and mankind. Yet more deeply, because of the beauty of the theme, he welcomes fate.

Lest the upshot of this chapter should seem to be sheer supine fatalism, let me repeat that this ecstatic acceptance of fate can, and I believe should, lead the mind not to passivity but to vigorous action. Mysteriously it can breed in conduct its very opposite, the emphatic resistance of evil, the will to take part effectively and without capitulation in the endless struggle for the awakening of the spirit in each individual and in the world as a whole, the will to fight for the truly human against the brutish, for life against death, for right against wrong. Let us always remember that these two attitudes of mind, which seem to our half-formed intelligence to be logically in conflict, can in practice be mutually supporting. Ecstatic acceptance, in the depth of one's own being, demands in the life of action absolute devotion to the cause of the militant spirit.

If examples are needed in support of this contention, the lives of Jesus and of Gautama Buddha may be cited as the supreme illustrations of the unity of acceptance and moral action. Nearer our own time we find the philosopher Spinoza exemplifying with strange perfection in his own life the union of courageous moral action and ecstatic acceptance, or, as he called it, 'the intellectual love of God'.

In our modern age the great common goal of all moral action must be, in some sense, revolution, world-revolution. The awakened mind has somehow to achieve at once both acceptance and the zeal of the revolutionary. In so far as a man falls short of acceptance, his zeal becomes fanatical, doctrinaire, callous, blind, and in the last resort inadequate to the needs of world-revolution. In so far as he fails in courage and loyalty to the revolutionary cause, the religious ecstasy of his acceptance is poisoned. This is perhaps a mystery, but it is true.



Let us construct a myth to symbolize this and other contradictions.

All striving, whether of animal or man or any more exalted being, may be thought of as in some sense the striving of the cosmical spirit to wake, to achieve beauty, to be aware of its achievement, and to rejoice in it.

For beauty, there must be striving; and for striving, resistance. There must be the inertia of that which we call matter. There must be the sluggishness, the obtuseness, the callousness, of the less alive and the less awakened, ever thwarting and blindly torturing the more alive, the more awakened, in its effort toward further awakening. For fullness of beauty, the cosmos must include the whole gamut of triumph and tragedy upon every level of the spirit's life.

Let us conceive that at some date in the history of the cosmos, whether future to us or past, an all-knowing and all-praising mind does awaken as a result of past striving, does find the cosmical process very beautiful.

Let us further suppose that by its own creative activity, by the adventure of its own life, it completes the cosmical beauty, that it perfects the cosmos, and rejoices in its own crowning achievement.

Let it subsequently, through the physical degeneration of the cosmos, decay and vanish. Let the whole cosmos die.

Embryonic minds such as ours cannot know that this is so. But if it is so, all is well, even though we cannot know it.

We, for our part, achieve but little, know but confusedly, enjoy but obtusely. We cannot judge whether the cosmical process is, in fact, a perfect thing or not. We can be assured only that there is beauty scattered within it; and also pain and very great evil. And we know, we feel it in our depths, that we must strive for the awakening. It is our part always to strive, seldom to triumph.

Though we cannot see the whole form of the cosmos, to see its beauty, we are, in fact, capable of that commanding and unintelligible ecstasy of worship, that seemingly unjustified conviction of the perfect rightness of all existence as a whole and in every part. Whence this experience?

Time and space, though indeed real features of the cosmos, are not in reality just as they appear to us. Much in our experience suggests that we do not apprehend them truly and fully. We may well conceive that a more awakened mind, though it would not pronounce them mere illusion, would not be limited by them as we are limited. Let us then suppose that in our strange ecstasy of worship we obscurely participate in the ecstasy of that perfected mind, which, in the future or in the past, but also eternally, crowns and fittingly enjoys the whole drama of the cosmos, including its own downfall.

We may suppose also, if we will (since time is so strange a thing) that the very mind which at some date awakens as the result of cosmical striving, and crowns the cosmos with its creative achievement and its delight, is also the eternal and all-creative source of the whole cosmos.

If this be so, then the glorious goal of all striving, which in the process of time is momentarily achieved and lost, is yet also the indestructible and basic fact in the eternal reality of the cosmos. In the terms of this myth, the beauty of the cosmos is absolutely the outcome of the effort of all the individual spirits of every order, each striving according to its limited vision. But also it involves the inconceivable sum of agony, defeat, treason. To our minds in their blindness, this huge evil may well seem to mar the cosmical beauty. But to the perfectly awakened mind of the cosmos (let us suppose), to the mind which at some moment of cosmical time knows all, crowns all, and rejoices in all, even in its own impending degeneration and misery, the huge evil of the cosmical process is acceptable as a needed part of beauty; for to this mind it is evident that the goal of all striving, namely perfected beauty and complete awakening, is achieved. The perfectly awakened mind at last sees clearly that, though the defeat and agony of the myriad beings of the cosmos are irreducible facts, they are also needed factors in the excellence of the cosmos.

We may say further, within the terms of our myth, that when any individual spirit, or any race, or any living world, gallantly strives to realize the best that is in it, but is defeated, it may yet find peace in the ecstasy of acceptance; and in the thought: This striving was demanded for the cosmical beauty, and so also was this defeat. But when any individual or race or world fails through baseness or weakness of will, and betrays its own best vision, still we must say: This issue, and even this betrayal, were demanded for the cosmical beauty. Yet shame to that betrayal! For its source was not the will for the fullness of beauty, which alone is the motive of the spirit.

In some such terms we may, if we will, construct our myth. But let us never for a moment forget that it is of our own making, and that almost certainly the reality is not as we conceive it, even when we take into account all that we experience, and use our intelligence sincerely upon it.

Chapter 14

Chapter 12

Waking World Contents