Ay, the moment has arrived in the history of our Western world when a new religion is on the verge of breaking forth and spreading like wild-fire among us.
One cannot yet prophesy what world-deep rapture this religion will bring. But this, surely, one can prophesy. It will be a religion that will help individual men and women to shake themselves free from the factious, shallow, vulgar, sneering humour of the commonplace world. It will be a religion of intense gravity and intense earnestness. It will be a religion that actually worships the sun, the moon, the earth, the sea, the wind, the seasons. It will be a religion that strips off the hot, feverish, gregarious, over-human garments of the other religions. It will be a religion that could be shared by the non-human consciousness of trees enjoying the rain, of crows sailing across the sky, of cattle grazing in the fields, of fishes poised motionless in the river, of vipers basking in the sun, of ancient cosmogonic rocks breathing the air and feeling the magic of moonlight. In my own. symbolic words it will be a religion of the “ichthyosaurus-ego.”
It will be the most sacramental and the most ritualistic religion–but at the same time the most subjective one–that has ever existed; for every morsel of food and every drop of drink will be exquisitely godlike to it! Sleep, with all its mystical intimations, will be the greatest of its sacraments. Indolent, idle, dreamy, care-free thoughts will be the incense of its casual breath. Leisure will be its cathedral-court, and sensuous sensation its high-altar! Its piety will be drawn from the organic atavisms of planetary life, its ritual from the long centuries of human experience. Its moral virtue will consist in just being “kind” in the most simple of all senses, and in this alone! The best-remembered, though not the best-loved, of all its many gods will be the ultimate First Cause; and the great daimon Chance will be its Holy Ghost.
All the practical rules given by Epicurus aim at conducting man to happiness by controlling passions and desires. The wise man is easily satisfied. He sees that little is necessary for supplying the wants of nature, and for emancipating from pain; that imaginary wealth knows no limit, whereas the riches required by nature may be easily acquired; that the most simple nourishment affords as much enjoyment as the most luxurious, and is at the same time far more conducive to health; that therefore the restriction of wants rather than the increase of possessions makes really rich; and that he who is not satisfied with little will never be satisfied at all. He therefore can like Epicurus live upon bread and water, and at the same time think himself as happy as Zeus. He eschews passions which disturb peace of mind and the repose of life; considering it foolish to throw away the present in order to obtain an uncertain future, or to sacrifice life itself for the means of life, seeing he can only once enjoy it. He therefore neither gives way to passionate love, nor to forbidden acts of profligacy. Fame he does not covet; and for the opinions of men he cares only so far as to wish not to be despised, since being despised would expose him to danger. Injuries he can bear with calmness. He cares not what may happen to him after death; nor envies any one the possessions which he does not himself value.
The afternoon sunlight pervaded the room with a quiet beauty. The interior looked to me like an old picture, with something of the home charm of the finest Dutch art, and more of the remote grace, the haven-like serenity, so beloved of the early Italians. I noticed a long ray of sunlight slant across the flowers and waver into a shadowy corner, where it moved like a golden finger, and seemed to point out or lead forth unexpected vagaries of light and shade. When I glanced at my companion, I saw that his gaze was arrested by the same vagrant sunbeam. He began to speak in a low voice about gold: the gold of nature; above all, the chemic action of golden light; and how it was “the primary color of delight” throughout nature and in nearly all art.
The most uneducated peasant or factory-hand, if he has developed an original and sensitive response to life, is in reality more cultivated in the truest sense of that term than many a college-bred professor. And the more deeply cultivated a person is the fewer will be the books he will read. For he will gather the great select spirits of the ages about him and meddle very little with contemporary fashions. He will carry the Sonnets of Shakespeare in his pocket as he goes to his office. Secreted in his desk in his office itself will be found Bayard Taylor’s translation of Faust, or Lang, Butcher and Leaf’s translation of Homer; and, who knows, if on his way home he will not debouch down some side-street to a second-hand book-shop and purchase there some stray volume of Matthew Arnold’s poetry.
I am inclined to think that one definite result of such a person’s concentration upon the great humanists of the world will be the development in him of a certain philosophical skepticism which will be turned just as frequently upon the latest dogmas of science as upon the oldest dogmas of religion! I am inclined to think that although he will love to skim over the gnomic pages of the great metaphysicians he will treat each particular thinker rather as an artist than as a discoverer of pure truth. I think he will visualize his “hard facts” for a month or so, shall we say, according to the vision of Hegel, and then, for another month, transform them according to the vision of Spinoza or of Schopenhauer!
While I cannot believe that we live in a world of chance, any more than Darwin could, yet I feel that I am as free from any teleological taint as he was. The world-old notion of a creator and director, sitting apart from the universe and shaping and controlling all its affairs, a magnified king or emperor, finds no lodgment in my mind. Kings and despots have had their day, both in heaven and on earth. The universe is a democracy. The Whole directs the Whole. Every particle plays its own part, and yet the universe is a unit as much as is the human body, with all its myriad of individual cells, and all its many separate organs functioning in harmony. And the mind I see in nature is just as obvious as the mind I see in myself, and subject to the same imperfections and limitations.
From The Sixth Booke of the Faerie Qveene, Canto IX, Stanza XXX (1590), by Edmund Spenser.
It is the mynd, that maketh good or ill,
That maketh wretch or happie, rich or poore:
For some, that hath abundance at his will,
Hath not enough, but wants in greatest store;
And other, that hath litle, askes no more,
But in that litle is both rich and wise.
For wisedome is most riches; fooles therefore
They are, which fortunes doe by vowes deuize,
Sith each vnto himselfe his life may fortunize.
I hold it ever,
Virtue and cunning were endowments greater
Than nobleness and riches: careless heirs
May the two latter darken and expend;
But immortality attends the former,
Making a man a god. ‘Tis known, I ever
Have studied physic, through which secret art,
By turning o’er authorities, I have,
Together with my practise, made familiar
To me and to my aid the blest infusions
That dwell in vegetives, in metals, stones;
And I can speak of the disturbances
That nature works, and of her cures; which doth give me
A more content in course of true delight
Than to be thirsty after tottering honour,
Or tie my treasure up in silken bags,
To please the fool and death.
(The word cunning is used here with its older meaning of dexterity or knowing.)
When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressive creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and opens ways for better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it and shows there are still more pages possible. The world would stagnate without him, and the world would be beautiful with him; for he is interesting to himself and he is interesting to others. He does not have to be a painter or sculptor to be an artist. He can work in any medium. He simply has to find the gain in the work itself, not outside it.
From A Chinese Garden of Serenity (1959), by Hung Tzu-ch’eng, translated by Chao Tze-chiang:
The radiant sun and the blue heaven may suddenly be blotted out by claps of thunder and strokes of lightning; a sweeping windstorm and a furious tempest may quickly end with a resplendent moon and a clear sky. How, then, can the Ether be in the least coagulated or the Great Void be in the least obstructed? The human mind should be of this nature.
From A Jack Kerouac Romnibus, Letter to Myself, September 5, 1945.
I have my own private god . . . my private god is my art. I don’t believe in the vague general concepts of God and Art — too many fumbles and fools are blind to allow such generalities any meaning. God, the general concept, knows them . . . but they don’t know Him. My art, my god. This is King in my soul. Then there are the princes or demigods of my private religion. October is top prince of them all. October to me is more than a month, it’s an ecstasy. I can reach a fuller understanding with this immense prince than with people.