by B P Wadia
© 2003 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet Malmö
Our knowledge is the amassed thought and experience of
innumerable minds: our language, our science, our religion,
our opinions, our fancies, we inherited. Our country, cus-
toms, laws, our ambitions, and our notions of fit and fair
— all these we never made; we found them ready-made;
we but quote them. — EMERSON
People are always talking about originality; but what
do they mean? As soon as we are born, the world begins
to work upon us; and this goes on to the end. And after
all, what can we call our own, except energy, strength, and will? If I could give an account of all that I owe to great predecessors and contemporaries, there would be but a
small balance in my favor. — GOETHE
"Originality" is prized and honored by our civilization. Are we not overlooking what many thinkers, some of them profound, have asserted — that nothing is said, written, or imagined, that has not been anticipated by men in the past? Man has been called an imitative creature. He walks in the paths trodden by others. Even those who are famous as original thinkers or writers have, often unconsciously to themselves, "stolen" ideas from others. Literature is full of "coincidences" which some call plagiarism — the pilfering of another person's "brain property." Is there any writer who is not a plagiarist in some sense? Is there a book but is the shadow of another volume? Is there anything that is not the reflection of something that exists somewhere in some form in the infinitudes of space?
Emerson's essay on "Quotation and Originality" offers very important truths; they will lead sincere and earnest minds to a "new" line of thought. Emerson writes: —
"By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote. We quote not only books and proverbs, but also arts, sciences, religion, customs, and laws; nay, we quote temples and houses, tables and chairs, by imitation. The Patent Office Commissioner knows that all machines in use have been invented and re-invented over and over; that the mariner's compass, the boat, the pendulum, glass, movable types, the kaleidoscope, the railway, the power-loom, etc., have been many times found and lost, from Egypt, China, and Pompeii down...
"The highest statement of new philosophy complacently caps itself with some prophetic maxim from the oldest learning...
"If we confine ourselves to literature, 'tis easy to see that the debt is immense to past thought. None escapes it. The originals are not original. There is imitation, model, and suggestion, to the very archangels, if we knew their history. The first book tyrannizes over the second. Read Tasso, and you think of Virgil; read Virgil, and you think of Homer; and Milton forces you to reflect how narrow are the limits of human invention. The "Paradise Lost" had never existed but for these precursors; and if we find in India or Arabia a book out of our horizon of thought and tradition, we are soon taught by new researches in its native country to discover its fore-goers, and its latent, but real connection with our own Bibles."
How do our thoughts arid images emerge in our own consciousness? How do they come from others? How is it that our ideas and inventions which we value as "original" can be traced to older roots — that in reality they are but reflections of what men before us have thought, maybe aeons ago?
One aspect of the invisible counterpart of the visible universe is a picture gallery, a library wherein are to be found our ideas and images, our fantasies and fancies. It has its higher phase or aspect, Nature's Noble Archives, the Æther-Akasha of the ancients. The archetypal Ideas shine in Akasha, and radiate their reflections from within and above in a denser medium called the Astral Light by the European mystics such as the Rosicrucians, the Fire-Philosophers, etc. Paracelsus, Boehme, St. Martin, and others were familiar with the truth of its existence and its influence on humankind.
Professor H.H. Price of Oxford University has written of the concept of a third realm intermediate between mind and matter as having "long been familiar in the philosophy and cosmology of the Far East; and something not unlike it is found in Neo-Platonism... Perhaps if we reject it out of hand ... we are merely being parochial."
His "ether of images," "like matter in being extended, and yet like mind in that it retains in itself the residua of past experiences" is obviously none other than the Astral Light.
Our memory in the present is related to this sphere in more than one way. From it come the "bolts from the blue," the sudden flashes of premonition and hunches. The Akasha is the Divine Astral, and its lower and gross counterpart absorbs and retains our thoughts and images. Says H.P. Blavatsky: —
"Occultism teaches that no form can be given to anything, either by nature or by man, whose ideal type does not already exist on the subjective plane. More than this; that no such form or shape can possibly enter man's consciousness, or evolve in his imagination, which does not exist in prototype, at least as an approximation."
Men of today need to recognize their "vast mental indebtedness," not only to the knowledge and experience of the ancients, but also to Living Nature. Goethe had the humility and the insight to admit his indebtedness to many: —
"What would remain to me if this art of appropriation were derogatory to genius? Every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand things: wise and foolish have brought me, without suspecting it, the offering of their thoughts, faculties, and experience. My work is an aggregation of beings taken from the whole of nature; it bears the name of Goethe."
Applying rightly a thought one finds in a book need not imply the mental inferiority of the borrower. "Only an inventor knows how to borrow." True talent, a Sage has said, "will become original in the very act of engaging itself with the ideas of others." Shakespeare is a classic example. The plots, the characters, and the major part of the incidents of his plays he borrowed from others, yet he is considered "more original than his originals." He transformed the dross of previous novella into the gold that shines in his dramas and carries the hallmark of his originality. "The bees pillage the flowers here and there, but they make honey of them which is all their own," says Montaigne. The Dhammapada exhorts us to be like them: —
"The bee gathers honey without injuring the scent or the color of the flower. So should a silent one (Muni) live his life. (Verse 49)"
Let us then take all knowledge to be our sphere, for truth is the monopoly of no individual. What does matter? Great Ideas, noble Truths, and true Sentiments. These are immortal. Their source, their authorship, is of passing interest. The long line of Sages and Seers, rightly described as Lords of Meditation, have been the mediators between the Divine Archetypal Ideas and the human creators who use Their Wisdom-Light.
B. P. WADIA
From "Thus have I heard", pages 145-49. Utgiven av Indian Institute of World Culture, 1959.
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