"My Philosophy & My Religion"
by Ralph Waldo Trine
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The author does not aim to present any system of philosophy, but rather to point out some facts of life that he found true and valuable, that may be of help to others. Likewise in regard to religion - truly conceived and lived, it is a tremendous force in connection with the affairs and problems of common everyday life.
Although I am using the word Philosophy according to the conception, or rather the definition, of Sir Wm. Hamilton—The study of effects by their causes—I am not aiming to present any "system" of philosophy as such; but rather to point out some facts of life that I have found true and valuable, that may be of help to others.
So likewise in regard to Religion—truly conceived and lived, it is a tremendous force in connection with the affairs and problems of our common every-day life. Were I to attempt even to use any but simple common language, it would be like the story told recently by the sister of a friend who is practising dentistry in the south. There she does not ordinarily take colored people, but sometimes does. One day a colored boy was in the chair. She reached the point where she squeezed the hot air from the little bulb into the tooth. "Do you feel that air?" she said. Looking up he said, "That air what?"
We are all in life's play whether we will or not. The other day this little incident was related by a friend at our house: There was a little gathering of friends one evening, and during the course of the evening someone proposed that they play a game—The Game of Faces. "It's this way," said he, "Tom, here, will be the judge, and at the end of five minutes he will tap the bell, and will award the prize to the one making the homeliest face and holding it for the greatest length of time." At the end of the five minutes Tom tapped the bell and said, "Well, I award the prize to Mrs. McManus here." "Oh, 'tain't fair' said she, "I wasn't playing."
We are all in the play, the game, the life; and the better we know the rules—God's eternal laws—the better equipped we are to play our parts well.
In youth we dream—and it is well. Later, amid perplexities, problems, work, and even ruts, we are apt to lose the vision. There is philosophy as well as poetry in that single little stanza by Edwin Markham:
"Great it is to believe the dream
When we stand in youth by the starry stream;
But a greater thing is to fight life thru
And say at the end, 'The dream is true!' "
This Place: Amid the Silence of the
Centuries With the Oldest Living Things
It is good to be here alone—and yet not alone. The very tree under which I write towered majestically into the same azure sky, when that from which the Cross of Calvary was hewn and spiked was a mere sapling. The squirrels of how many generations ago played in its branches, when Abraham herded his sheep on the plains of Hebron—yes, before Abraham was even born. It is a fitting place to meditate, and to formulate one's thoughts upon a subject that after many delays, and many drawings back, I have finally decided, and as simply as possible, to put into form for the printed page.
I believe that one should be able to have his best thoughts and do his best work in the midst of any surroundings. It is certainly an ideal attainment or condition. Nevertheless I like the long uninterrupted stretches of time for certain things. So I have left my home in the Hudson River valley, almost in sight of the great metropolis, and have come for a change to California.
There for a number of years I planted, and pruned, and tended my trees, planned and built roads, and mingled at times with the life and the thought and the rush of the great city. There I wrote occasionally when I felt I had something worth writing. A lover always of the open, and work in the open, there is scarcely a stone wall, or the edge of a grove, or a hillside within a radius of several miles of the home-spot on the hills up from the Hudson, where I haven't worked—and Vito, my dog, knew every spot as well as I. Many an hour—big splendid fellow, part St. Bernard and part Setter—after exploring the various leads and trails round about he has slept in some secluded spot, always though but a few feet away, and as the day drew to its close he would patiently await the summons: "Well, Vito, let's go home." The next morning, however, he was just as eager to go as ever.
Changes now and then are good for one. I have left even the Painted Desert, the Enchanted Mesa, the Grand Canyon, with their matchless beauty and their wonderful inspiration, and their clearly written tales of how portions at least of this world in which we live, have been formed. Living close to it—but a few miles away—I have followed an almost irresistible impulse for a portion of this work, to come to a spot quite as wonderful in its way as those just mentioned—the Big Basin—the home of the Sequoia Semper-virens, the oldest living thing on our planet.
As a young man, having pushed my way, with a good many patient waits, some hardships, but always with a glad anticipation, through a Western college, and after spending some time as a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University, I acted as a special correspondent on the Boston Daily Evening Transcript, when that splendid man, Edward H. Clement, was its Editor-in-Chief. A part of my work one summer was reporting the proceedings, chiefly the addresses, of a summer Conference in a neighboring state. Among the speakers at the Conference were Joseph Le Conte, John Fiske, Swami Vivekananda, Edward Everett Hale, Joseph Jefferson—also Frank B. Sanborn, that unique old New England type, one of the last surviving members of the old Concord School of Philosophy. What a memory if Emerson had been there also!
Although I then lived in a little cabin that I built for myself on the edge of a pine-grove, I found that I could do my work quite well and still mingle with those of the Conference, because I was reporting what others had said. But when it comes to formulating one's own thoughts, I like the quiet, the far-away open stretches, the long uninterrupted periods of time better.
* * * * *
It was near here that Le Conte lived, and thought, and wrote. It was near here also that Prentice Mulford lived, gained some of his most valuable experiences, and wrote—and in the meantime no one has written better than he along the lines of the inner powers and forces. It was about that time that I became interested in his writings. I recall also Joseph Jefferson, superb and most lovable of men, speaking of his debt to Prentice Mulford, saying that he had started him in his interest along the lines of the inner powers and forces, which, outside of his profession, had become his chief interest in life—and the great benefit they had been to him.
I remember distinctly also his telling how for years he had made it a practice of never beginning any performance without spending a few moments in the quiet in the wings, or in his dressing room, in a conscious mental and spiritual effort to establish a bond af sympathy between him and his audience. He found that by this conscious effort he could always make it an actuality, and then his work was easy.
After opening himself in this way he spoke also of this fact, which I shall always remember—the fact that for years he had made it a practice never to undertake any performance without endeavoring to make himself feel as nearly as possible, that it was the first time that he had ever presented that particular play, and to give it the care in every detail that such presentation would call for. It is a great lesson for all—and a partial explanation at least, why the world has known but one master-player of Rip Van Winkle, The Rivals, The Cricket on the Hearth. In seeking the best environment for this particular piece of work in hand, I am but following the examples of better men.
We recall also how the Master Teacher almost continuously took Himself away from the multitude to the quiet of the wilderness or of the mountain-side—and for a distinct purpose we are told. With His supreme aptitude for the things of the spirit, this is one of the reasons, I think, why He was able to find, to live, and to give to the world—though so feebly understood—one and the most essential, of those two great fundamentals of life, that constituted His life and His mission; a great principle which I hope to show later is life and light and power-bringing, to all who will earnestly set about to understand and to appropriate the teachings of Jesus, rather than the varied and therefore conflicting theories about Jesus. It is the difference between truth and the power that results from truth, and mere matters of opinion.
I have already made mention of methods of work of better men. I have only recently read again those wonderful pages by Emerson on Self-Reliance. So shot through are they with evidences of a wonderful insight and power, and although written many years ago, they are so thoroughly in keeping with our best findings of today that I can scarcely refrain—I will not refrain—from reproducing here a paragraph from another book:
I shall always remember with great pleasure and profit a call a few days ago from Dr. Edward Emerson of Concord, Emerson's eldest son. Happily I asked him in regard to his father's methods of work—if he had any regular methods. He replied in substance: It was my father's custom to go daily to the woods—to listen. He would remain there an hour or more in order to get whatever there might be for him that day. He would then come home and write into a little book—his "day-book"—what he had gotten. Later on, when it came time to write a book, he would transcribe from this, in their proper sequence and with their proper connections, these entrances of the preceding weeks or months. The completed book became virtually a ledger formed or posted from his day-books.
What a place here to get into the very heart of Nature itself—the very soul of the universe. One is here alone with the Great Mystery, yet one is not afraid. A sense of security broods over all—of absolute care and protection. One cannot help but worship and to pray, for in the infinite calm that broods over all, it is so easy as Jesus said, when in connection with prayer He gave this injunction: "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father in secret, and thy Father who seest in secret shall reward thee openly."
There is no better way to know the Great Mystery and to become acquainted with it, than by living alone with it, and by nestling close to its bosom—unafraid. Sir Christopher Wren stamped his genius, which was his personality, upon St. Paul's in London, and Michael Angelo his upon St. Peter's in Rome. But here the Great Mystery has wrought directly, and no man has interfered. This great giant raises its farthermost tip over three hundred and twenty feet above where I sit. It is close to thirty feet across. It has outlived over three hundred generations of men—and it may be young even yet.
How easy to believe that the groves were God's first temples, and how prone one is to wish that they still were—if that were possible—as one wanders through these cloistered aisles. Surely if the heart be humble, and the longing great, and the self forgotten, one can get a blessing more than of the earth, because Divine—and perchance a message for his fellows.
Whether on account of its beauty of form or content I know not, but that couplet of Whitman has been with me all afternoon—and what added meaning it takes on here: "I laugh at what you call dissolution And I know the amplitude of time."
The afternoon is coming to its close. The days are shorter here in the Basin, because the trees are so tall. The evening shadows are coming—and with them here come the wild deer down the mountain side. They come into the Basin to sleep at night, for here they are protected—and how quickly they come to know where man is a friend or an enemy.
There is a wonderful sense of fraternity and companionship between man and the wild things when they are alone. There is a wonderful sense of companionship between man and all animals when they are alone. There are four tonight. They will sleep here in the Basin, and I shall not be alone—I wonder though which will be up first in the morning.
It is a belt which was left as a great depression with towering sides, extending a few miles back from the coast—at this particular spot back from Santa Cruz—where the great trees, the Sequoia Sempervirens, escaped the destruction of the ice age. It also had great power in withstanding through the centuries, the ravage of the elements fire and water and likewise storm.
Even destroyed by fire for example, there is a "ring of life," between the outer and the inner bark, the cambian layer—the outer bark is sometimes 10 to 12 inches thick—and from this ring of life new shoots or sprouts are sent forth, that grow to be in time the same enormous trees.
So that where the old giant stood, a new family of trees has come forth, making a circle that corresponds with the outer circumference of the parent tree. The space between, which is where the old tree stood, is called the crater—the remains of which in many cases can still be seen. There is one here that indicates that the giant tree was 80 feet across, another between 50 and 60 feet. What the height must have been, when the one standing, 26 feet in diameter, is over 300 feet in height, and what their ages must have been, when the above one is 4,000 years old, can well be left to the imagination.
But after all, the interesting thing is that the life in the one now standing—through the little sprout that came forth from the inner-life ring under the parent tree's bark—is the life that was the life, in the giant tree. This is what I mean when I say: Here amid the silence of the centuries, with the oldest living things in the world.
As I lay out under the stars last night I was filled with awe and amazement as I looked long into the heavens. I had never realized so fully the vastness of the universe. The stars that I beheld—the nearest of which, Centauri, is 25,000,000,000,000 miles away—of which there are millions; each one has its place in a solar system of its own, each in and always in its place, and all governed by a law as definite and regular as is our own little planet, as it turns on its axes or swings around the sun.
And there are thousands of worlds there greater than our own, that have traveled their courses and with absolute precision in reference to other bodies belonging to their system, for untold eons of time. The sun that is now setting, or that seems to set, and was so thought to by the other children of nature who lived in this same Basin ages ago, is more than a million times larger than our earth, and even it is but a bit in the vast mechanism around us; for there are millions of other suns in space, each giving warmth and heat and light to its own, in conjunction with which the Eternal Law has placed them.
What may be the condition of life and civilization, each of its own kind there, we know not. It is scarcely reasonable to suppose, however, that our little world is the only one that is inhabited. This, however, we do know—that our own world is a modest little body, and when credited with its relative size and importance in the great universe of which it is an integral part—a very little speck.
Of what importance, then, are we, who inhabitate it! And yet that we are able to measure and to know these facts, and to go on from knowledge to greater knowledge!
And what a place here where one is brought so concretely face to face with age—time and age, age and time—to contemplate anew the vast ages that have passed since our own planet began taking form, and through the long eons gradually assumed its present form, and to contemplate the great forces that are at work today, and will be in the same way for untold ages to come.
Equally mysterious it is and awe-inspiring, when we know the facts, to throw the mind back and to contemplate the processes at work when life first appeared on the earth—and then animal life, crude and scarcely discernible at first, followed by forms more and more complex, until man in his primitive beginnings—those primitive children of nature, our long-down-the-ages ancestors—appeared. The traditional six thousand years recede and dissolve away, when we reach the point where we are able to read the story so clearly written in the very rocks and in the formation of the very earth itself, which tells us that the earth has been hundreds of millions of years in the making up to its present point.
And as we read the story of man, written in the same way, supplemented now by illuminating archaeological discoveries, and as we trace him as he slowly makes his way up the fret altar stairs of God, we find that we have to go back almost infinite ages in time. And even after civilization came into concrete form, civilization has succeeded civilization, the cities of one buried beneath the cities of the ones following. In one case we have found four civilizations, the ruins of each buried beneath the ruins of those that succeeded them, the same as will be other civilizations in the world today, when like ages have passed. We should be very thankful in connection with what we do know. We should be very humble in connection with what is yet to be known. We should be very humble in reference to the future, when we contemplate the superior type of man that will dig among our ruins—for the process of evolution is still going on. The Power is continually evolving higher and higher forms.
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