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Behind The Veil

HUMANITY, says Comte, consists more of the dead than of the living. We who are now here are the veriest fragment of those who have looked upon the sun. Life is a glimpse and a vanishing. The crowd that rolls in and out of London every day is as great this year as last, but its constituents have altered. Vast gaps would yawn in it were it not for fresh recruits. Uno avulso non deficit alter. The newcomer fills the vacant place. But the vanished ones, what of them ? They were so completely one with us, so much at home in our midst. Their laughter is still in our ears, the light in their eye haunts us. They were more to us than all the world, and now.

The journals are full of news, but of these there is no word. The earth is a Babel of noises, but on this one side the silence is absolute. Our planet rolls in space from end to end of its vast orbit ; the solar system itself is sweeping, with us in it, toward an unknown bourne, but never are we carried within sight of that undiscovered country into which our beloved have passed. How well the heavens keep their secret ! No, it is not the world's uproar that plays havoc with our nerves. It is its maddening silence, where we pant to hear a voice.

There is no subject on which the teacher of to-day, who is supposed to have any message for his fellows, is more eagerly questioned than this, of what, for us and ours, lies behind the veil. We all have such heavy stakes in this venture. If we have reached the middle age, half our friends are already over the border, and in a few years their lot, whatever it is, will be ours. What is the outlook P Is there any new light on this theme P In one respect we note a striking change of position in the educated mind of today. If it has not discovered any fresh ground for belief, it has very clearly recognised the futility of what, not so long ago, were regarded as very excellent reasons for disbelief. We have in view all that has been said on the negative side, from Lucretius to Schopenhauer, and it is surprising how little it amounts to. The French encyclopaedists imagined they had settled the question. Their arguments to us are simply amusing. We turn, for instance, to Diderot's Entretien d'un Philosophe, and find our philosopher talking as follows : "If you can believe in sight without eyes, in hearing without ears, in thinking without a head, if you could love without a heart, feel without senses, exist when you are nowhere and be something without extension and place, then we might indulge this hope of a future life." Could a more parochial view of things be imagined than this? Spinoza might have taught our Diderot better. Anyone with the smallest modicum of philosophic imagination could picture for himself beings in other spheres to whom the connection of thinking with a brain would be as impossible as that of thinking without one appeared to the encyclopaedist.

The whole negative argument from material-ism, is, in fact, out of date. We are beginning to realise that the problem of a life to come is involved in a new way with the problem of the life that is. " Behind the veil" relates to " now " as much as to " then." To the instructed eye the material world by which we are encompassed is itself a veil, from behind which a partially hidden reality dimly shows. Plato's enigmatic utterance about matter, xnecvv *ev"So "matter the true falsity," stands here for us as the shadow of a truth. What we think we know of the visible world is largely a projected image of ourselves. The "thing in itself" behind the show our senses create for us is an unsolved riddle. The supposition that the universe amounts to just what our five senses report would be a philosophy worthy of Bumbledom. For ought we know a thousand new senses might be created in us, and each find outside its answering world. And the senses we have stop short on a track they have not half traversed. There are colour and sound vibrations going on perpetually around us of which our eyes and ears report nothing. What, on the one side, lies beyond the millions of stars revealed by our telescopes, and, on the other, beyond the minutest visible open to our microscopes P We are left without a guess. All we know is that we are in the midst of a system of infinite life and potency, where every advance of our powers of perception reveals new depths and possibilities of being. The veil that hides things from us is not death. It is our own limitations.

The sense of the visible as only the shadow of a greater reality behind comes with more difficulty to some races than to others. The Western peoples are not specially gifted on this side. Theirs has been largely a material mission. To root themselves solidly on the planet, to learn its surface laws, to enrich themselves by the clever manipulation of its forces, this has been the Western function. The East gained an earlier sense of what lay beneath. The world's great religions are Oriental. Egypt lived thousands of years before Christ in the acutest perception of an invisible world. In its Vedanta philosophy India also, in a far antiquity, beheld the world as phenomenal, resting on a Divine which alone was real, declaring man's hold on immortality to be in the surrender of what in him was earthly and transitory. But no race of man, whether in East or West, is permitted to escape this discipline. Sooner or later, after our first intoxicating experience of the visible, does it dawn upon us that all this is only a screen. The very senses that linked us at first so firmly to earth turn traitor to it later, and cry " illusion ! " The world is in this respect a Church, whose teaching and ritual none may evade. As friend after friend departs, and our own years tell their story, life becomes more and more a vast expectation, a wait till the curtain shall be raised. That humanity, spite of itself, is drilled always into this attitude is, for those who see any purpose or coherence in life, a sufficient hint of what is yet to come.

While these thoughts have been with humanity, as it seems, almost from the be-ginning, there are considerations belonging specially to our own time which point all in the same direction. Evolution, for instance, gives us life as a perpetual ascent. Each grade of being takes in all that is beneath it, with some-thing of its own added. Man, as we know him, sums up in himself the laws and forces of inorganic matter, the vital principles of vegetable and animal life, together with a whole higher world of his own. His organism, by its subtle magic, transmutes air and water, vegetable and animal, into its own superior form. Why should not this ascent continue ? Why should not the inner economy of the human spirit contain, in its turn, a principle by virtue of which the essentials of the personal human life shall be lifted to a yet higher term, in a yet higher sphere ? The argument gathers weight in proportion to the values which are being dealt with. If matter, as we now know, is indestructible, preserving its being through infinite changes of form, what is there in the nature of things to forbid our belief that its nobler partners, spirit and personality, are no exceptions to this rule P And when to all this we add the considerations opened by the later evolutionary researches, showing as they do that the lower organisms are practically immortal ; that death has come in as part of the struggle towards a higher structure--come in, that is, not as the lord and tyrant of life, but as a fellow-labourer working towards its furtherance we realise how the evidence accumulates which bids us look for higher fruitions, as well as for the solution of our enigmas, "Behind the Veil."

There is one side of this theme which we hesitate to touch. The subject of spiritual communications from the unseen has been too often the hunting-ground of the religious adventurer, of those who exploit the human yearning for purposes of their own. The world seems hardly yet sufficiently trained, either scientifically or morally, for a safe exploration of this enchanted land. Yet things from this side have swum into human ken which refuse to be ignored. More and more are they arresting the attention of the leading minds. It was Kant who said of ghostly appearances : " For my part, ignorant as I am of the way in which the human spirit enters the world and the ways in which it goes out of it, I dare not deny the truth of many of such narratives." The late Professor Sidgwick held that the evidence of the apparition of persons at the point of death to others at a distance amounted to scientific proof. On the question of the actual communication between spirits of the departed and those now living, the result of the researches of a London committee of eminent men of all schools of thought, appointed some years ago for this purpose, was sufficiently suggestive. Its finding, in substance, was that communications were made which could only be accounted for on the supposition of an invisible personal agency; but that this agency, in the majority of instances, seemed in point of intelligence to be below the normal human level. The plain inference from this would seem surely to be, that the souls we have known and loved when disengaged from the body enter upon spheres of being too refined and too remote to be cognised by our mortal sense, and that those within reach are only inferior or degraded types.

What we have mainly to note is that life's silences and separations are a purposed discipline. The pains here are the spirit's " growing pains." The heavens are mute, not because there is nothing to say, but because the time is not yet. Meantime our business is to develop more and more that spiritual sense which gives us, here and now, the vision of life in its wholeness. "Heard you not that sweet melodious music ? " said Jacob Behmen to his son, when dying at Gorlitz. There is a more than mortal music already audible to attuned ears. The elect souls are already free of the world behind the veil. They are on pilgrimage towards that fatherland. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. . . . But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly."

( Originally Published 1903 )

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