– by “Ion of Delphi”
(from “The Theosophical Path,” Dec., 1929)
In the early days of the Theosophical Society I was residing in India. H. P. Blavatsky was there, and I was caught in the general curiosity aroused by her wonderful personality, becoming interested in the philosophy she propounded, and in the existence of the Mahatmas, those wonderful men living in the fastnesses of the Himalayas and beyond.
I had the means and the leisure to indulge a hobby for botany and geology, so, keeping my purpose strictly to myself, I determined, while ostensibly following my scientific tastes, to spend a considerable time in those parts of the mountains where rumor indicated the presence of some of those great men.
In six successive seasons I had gained much valuable information in the line of my hobby, but no knowledge whatever of the whereabouts of the Mahatmas. The seventh year I determined would be my last – and it was, in an unexpected way. The hotel in which I was staying caught fire one evening while I was but a short distance away, and in rushing back to my room in an endeavor to save my valuable manuscripts and specimens, I stumbled upon a Hindu servant lying overcome by the heat and the smoke. I managed to get him out of the building, but by that time my only chance for saving my property had gone, and I had to stand by in grim resignation and witness the ruin of my loved labor of many years.
As I stood watching, my resolve definitely took shape that I would abandon my hope of finding the Mahatmas. I stayed at the house of a friend that night, and rose very early next morning with the full intention of completing my arrangements for departure. As I stepped outside, a Hindu, whom I knew well as an employee in the local bank, seemed to be waiting for me. He greeted me respectfully; and then his next words made my heart leap and thump in my breast:
“I am directed to say that you may come and meet one of the Great Lodge if such is still your wish. If you will come immediately, everything you need for the journey is provided at the edge of the town, and your friend within the house will be duly informed of your absence and safety.”
The first impulse of caution brought the question into my mind: “How am I to know whether — ?” Before I had time to finish the unspoken question the messenger said: “One must trust intuition in these matters.” I started and stared at him silently.
. . . . After several hours of travel we were still on ground quite familiar to me. “Indeed,” I thought, “it would be difficult to find any unfamiliar place within a day’s journey of my last headquarters.” But as we traversed a tortuous path along a rocky spur, a blinding rainstorm descended suddenly upon us. Still we pressed on, and in half an hour it had ceased. “Where are we now?” was my first thought as the sun became visible by glimpses. “Are we going back the way we came? The sun is on my right instead of on my left as before.” But we were on totally unfamiliar ground. I tried to get my bearing by the higher peaks, but the clouds had gathered there.
My pride was piqued. I grew weary and irritable, and in spite of all my efforts to the contrary and against my better judgment, all the pettiness possible to human nature seemed to rise in me and distort the simplest happenings. “What can be the matter with me?” I pondered as we continued; and I was so self-absorbed in my mental turmoil that it was startling to come suddenly upon a wonderfully pleasant spot, well shaded, and with comfortable buildings of the bungalow type here and there in appropriate places. Several young men, quiet and studious-looking, were to be seen engaged in various duties. “Effeminate!” was my terse and critical estimate of them.
We entered one of the houses, and I was invited to rest. “It would be well,” said the one who brought me food and a change of clothing, “not to leave the house just now. In an hour one will come who will guide you.” I thanked him, but with a mental reservation, made no promises. I recall with shame even now that in half an hour I had left the house and proceeded to wander along in the shade of the trees.
Apparently there was no one about to hinder me, and I walked along with the deliberate intention of seeing all there was to be seen, presently, in a beautiful glade, coming upon an immense boulder standing alone. Going closer to examine it, I found set upon the face of it, at a height of about nine feet, a large bronze plaque. It was perhaps eighteen inches wide and more than that in height, oval-shaped, and with a design that I could not easily make out. Standing at an appropriate distance, I concentrated my attention upon deciphering it.
I became conscious of a vague uneasiness. What was it the plaque reminded me of? Yes, I remembered: it was the time when a sudden turn of fortune had brought me my wealth. There had been a choice as to whether I should enjoy it for myself or — . But confound it! what had that to do with my present purpose – I intended to know what design was on the plaque.
But whatever the figures or characters were, they eluded me. What was the matter with my eyes: now the plaque seemed to be moving! Yes, it had changed into a living, glowing heart. Grand organ music flowed from it, inexpressibly sad. It beat upon me; it weighed me down; the woe of the world was in it; the deep, questioning sorrow of millions; the weary sobbing of misunderstood children; this and more, and still more; until I sank upon my knees, and was pressed backward upon the ground, gasping, and with an unsupportable weight upon my heart. Heavier and heavier it became, until the great boulder itself seemed to be bearing upon it, and I cried out in agony.
And then I saw one of the young men, whom earlier in the day I had dubbed effeminate, step between me and the plaque, facing it and standing there steadily. Gradually the weight lifted from me; but I lay without power to move. Someone took me by the arm, and a quiet voice said, “Come, my son!” I arose trembling, and with the assistance of a venerable old man, went back to the house. When, with the tenderest of care, he had placed me in a comfortable chair, I was so overwrought that I burst into a sobbing that I tried in vain to control.
Presently the old man said: “For whom are those tears? For yourself or for — ?” The unfinished question called forth something stronger in me, and in a little while I grew silent, – and then, inwardly in some manner, more silent, and yet more silent – until my consciousness merged into some vast quietness of being in which the old man and I seemed to converse wordlessly. And from that I passed into a deep slumber.
Next morning, as I stepped from the house, the preparation for my departure was before me. I knew without a word being spoken that I was to return. It was just. The old man bade me a kindly farewell, and I was too depressed to do other than thank him for what kindness had been shown me. He replied: “One who considers a human life of more value than his beloved labor of many years is worthy of regard.”
As I turned to go, an idea occurred to me, and I said: “Perhaps, after all, I have met a Mahatma.”
He answered gravely: “Is that so very important? Is it not of far more value that you have come by a greater knowledge of yourself? And if I should say to you I am a Mahatma, would that make me one, either in your eyes or in the eyes of the Great Law? And if I should say I am not one, could that alter the facts of being?”
“I think I see your meaning,” I said. “One who has sufficient insight to recognise a Mahatma does not need to ask that question.”
He smiled and said, “To see that truth is better than to see a Mahatma.” I returned, haunted by a desperate sense of failure, but with an intense resolve to make my life tell in the helping of my fellows.