16. VEGETARIANISM – THE COMMON SENSE OF IT (1)
THERE are three terms which, together, will form the keynote of the remarks I have to offer on the subject which has brought us here. These terms are Common Sense, Common Custom, and Ideal of Perfection. Ringing the changes on them, I propose to show that, novel and eccentric as the exclusive use of a vegetable diet may seem to the generality of people about us, it has a complete justification in Common Sense; that in using flesh-food we are blindly following, not Common Sense, but Common Custom; and that for rational beings, not custom, but an Ideal of Perfection founded in Principle, is the proper guide of life.
We are accustomed to believe – especially since the doctrine of Creation by Evolution has gained ground among us – that we necessarily, by the very fact of our coming later in the world's history, surpass our ancestors in knowledge and wisdom. But it has to be remembered that the ladder of Evolution – if indeed there be such a ladder – must, like any other ladder, be as capable of being descended as of being ascended; so that we must find some reason, beyond the fact of our having come at a later age, for regarding ourselves as at a higher level. Now, one thing is certain. If the common sense of the ancients led them to regard the vegetable kingdom as the best suited to supply man with his food, and our common sense leads us similarly to regard the animal kingdom, there must be a serious difference either between their constitutions and ours, or between their conception of Common Sense and ours. Of course, we may at once give up the former of these two alternatives, and conclude that, somehow, the conception of Common Sense has undergone a change.
Now, not only is this exactly what has occurred, but the cause of the change is to be found in the respective diets of the two periods. The ancients, living – as we consider – purely,
took the correct view as to what constitutes Common Sense. The moderns, living – as we consider – grossly, take a wrong one. We, eating dead animals, call that Common Sense which represents the agreement of the great majority of men – the opinion, that is, of common folk; while the ancients, eating living herbs and fruits, called that Common Sense which represents the agreement, not of all men, but of all parts of Man. (1)
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Having defined Common Sense as the consensus of all the constituent elements of man, we are met by the further question: What are those elements? That is to say: What is man? This is a question which cannot be evaded; for, unless we know what man is, we cannot possibly determine his proper diet. No mere description of the physical form or its characteristics suffices to answer this question. We feel that we are something more than forms, and are not content to be described simply as of the order mammalia, having two hands and two feet, stature erect, such and such organs, and so forth. We consider that he is a poor sort of man who is one in form only; and that the human form, to be valid, must, like other forms, be fitted up – must have a man inside it, and that to make a man there must be the qualities as well as the form of a man.
So far there is agreement between our Common Sense and that of the ancients. But theirs excelled ours in that it enabled them to say positively, of certain knowledge, what the moderns either cannot say at all, or can say only speculatively. I speak, of course, of the representative men in the two periods – those whose knowledge forms the standard and measure of their age. That, then, wherein the ancients excelled the moderns in this relation was their ability to recognise all those different spheres or regions in existence whereof man and the universe are alike constituted, whereas the modern world can recognise but one only, and this the outermost and lowest, namely, the physical or material. (2)
Now, in this simple statement [concerning the four great divisions of man], we have a clear account, divested of symbolism, of that which constitutes the subject of all true religions, the theme of all true Bibles, and the object of all true Churches. Developing, first, the consciousness of his physical and lower nature, man falls wholly under the dominion of this, is ruled by Sense, the animal is uppermost, and Matter is, for him, God. This is his "Fall"; and it is said to occur through the Woman, because it comes of the fall of the Soul beneath the control of the body, instead of her being governed by the Spirit; and as the Soul is the true mother of the man, she is mystically called "the Woman." The reversal of this process, which consists in the removal of the seat of the Will from the body to the Soul, constitutes what is called the Redemption. So that Redemption is equally of "the Woman." For then the lower elements of the man are in due subjection to the higher, and the Spirit is all and in all. And as it is through impurity of desire and habit that the Soul falls under the power of the body, so it is through purity of desire and habit that she rises towards the Spirit, and becomes at length indissolubly united with it, to that final perfectionment of the man which is, mystically, termed Christ.
As the Scriptures proceed to declare, the fall of the Soul beneath the power of the body, and the loss of the intuition of Spirit, are at once as cause and consequence to each other. Of the Soul thus debased, and the body with its passions made exclusive ruler, the offspring is always Cain, the murderer and even the torturer of his brethren, human and animal. And when Abel, who, as the minister of the Soul and her intuition, represents the prophet, offers to God the "firstlings of his flock," namely, the "Lamb" of a pure and gentle heart, comes to rebuke him, he is forthwith slain by Cain, or the priest, who, as the minister of sense, offers of the "fruits of the ground" or lower nature, and instead of the Spirit, worships the Letter, thus making himself an Idolater. (1)
The same spiritual truth recurs again and again in the Sacred Books, under various allegorical representations. One of these, for instance, is that of the Deluge. In this, after a period of declension into utter materialism, mankind again, under a flood of intuition, attains, as the height of perfection, the full consciousness of his spiritual nature. But no sooner
does he come down from the mount of purification and regeneration, than he betakes him to grossness, bloodshed, and idolatry. And when, in consideration of his having brought his system down to so low a state that it can hardly thrive on the pure sustenances proper to it, he is permitted to use a lower mode of diet, he pleads, as we constantly find people doing, this permission as an excuse for declining to make any effort to recover his lost altitude! The Wilderness is now so pleasant to him that he refuses to return to the Garden! Besides, are there not set angels with flaming swords to drive him back should he make the attempt! People have yet to learn that she in reference to whom it is said:
"The lion will turn and flee
From a maid in the pride of her purity,"
is no other than the Soul bent upon restoring his lost perfection to the man she animates. And in this quest, not only will "lions" flee from her, but angels will aid and protect. No, the only impediments to the regaining of paradise by us are, not the angels, but the demons of that bottomless pit, our own lower nature. This part of us it is which, having sole recognition, desires to keep all for itself, and does its best to withhold us from attaining that Common Sense of our whole nature, which includes the perceptions and recollections of the Soul and Spirit, and requires of us that we so order our manner of living as to involve no shock to our moral sense.
But it is not only because bloodshed is repugnant to our moral part that we thus reject a diet of flesh. It is also because, owing to the nature of the substance itself, man cannot become upon it the best that he has it in him to be in respect of any part of his nature – because, that is, the bodies of dead animals are not the stuff of which to make the best man or woman; and we consider it the paramount duty, owed alike to themselves and to God, of all men and women to make themselves the best that they have it in them to be, and thus to turn to the best possible account the portion allotted to them of the universal life and substance. It is to this end that Nature is ever working – to evolve out of the elements of existence a perfect humanity – a humanity, that is, which constitutes a perfect manifestation of the qualities of the
Divine Spirit underlying and
pervading Nature. It is a remarkable coincidence, whether accidental or
designed, that the term Man should of itself indicate the nature and purpose of
the universe. Creation is Manifestation; all things are elements in Humanity;
and Nature is a diffused
But to this highest of ends our own co-operation is indispensable. Man is free to make himself after the image either of God or of devil, and the world a heaven or a hell; but he must take the consequences of his choice. Neither Nature without nor the Spirit within can make the man as they would, unless he supply them with the fitting materials – pure thoughts, pure desires, pure deeds, pure food and drink. These last are as necessary as the first, and without these last the first are impossible to him.
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The direction in which to amend our practice in respect of diet will best be shown by citing the practice of those who, attaching supreme importance to it, have made a practical study of the question. For, as you must understand, we come before you with no new-fangled or untried notions, but relying on actual experience of ourselves and others. For Vegetarians have, in all ages, been that which is the especial boast of the scientists of this age – namely, experimental philosophers; though they have not – as is the especial disgrace of the scientists of this age – sought their ends regardless of the cost to others, and therein by means immoral and illegitimate. No, the typical vegetarian – whether a Pythagoras, a Zoroaster, a Buddha, or any other of the many redeemers of this kind – always, while admitting the necessity of painful experimentation, considers the sole legitimate subject thereof to be himself. Claiming the noblest titles of man – Freethinker and Free-liver – he proves his claim to the first, not, as do the usurpers of it in our day, by suffering his thought to operate in one direction only, namely, outwards to matter, negation, and the void, and there binding it fast. No, he proves his claim to be Freethinker by suffering his thought
to range in all directions open to thought, from the outermost to the innermost, from appearance to reality, from Matter to Spirit, from all things to God.
And he is Free-liver, not as they who ordinarily usurp the title – the veriest slaves of all that tends, not to make, but to destroy life. But he proves his claim to be so-called by refusing to make mere custom his rule, and following the ideal of perfection, dictated to him by the agreement of every region of his fourfold nature – the Common Sense of the Whole Man. And, according to the unanimous testimony of thousands of years – of even more than the world's whole historical period – he shows that his success in thus attaining to the best that he has it in him to be has been in proportion as he could sustain himself on the highest and purest products of the vegetable kingdom – the fruits and grains, and these ripened or baked in the sun, and with their vital magnetism unimpaired by exposure to fire. The nearer the approach to this diet, the greater the health, strength, activity, and endurance of the body and mind; the lucidity and serenity of the soul; and the plenitude and satisfaction of the Spirit.
But while such is that only Perfect Way which leads to the restoration of the Intuition and the realisation of the Ideal, it must not be supposed that results in any degree equal to these are to be obtained as a matter of course through any kind of dietary however admirable. Not only is a long course of physical renovation often necessary to fit the instrument – the organism, that is – for the higher duties required of it, but the man himself must be duly disposed and capable in order to use his instrument to the best purpose. The body is not us, but ours; and no mere renovation of the organism will change a disposition or supply an intellect. Nevertheless, no effort in a right direction is ever really wasted. For even though no other result follow, we are the better for having made it. And now that we know absolutely – thanks to the faculties recovered through a return to the basis of nature and her way of perfection – that man is not only a permanent being, but is also the creator of his future self and conditions, whether here or hereafter, we know that every real gain, however small, is a permanent gain, and that, therefore, if we
do not sooner or later become and have all that we want in the way of perfection, the fault will be our own. And that which is true of the individual is true also of the general. The way of perfection is the same for all. But while Society at large cannot attain perfection save through the perfectionment of the individuals which compose it, individuals can attain perfection irrespectively of Society at large. All that is needed is love, knowledge, faith, and courage.
(195:1) >From a MS. of Edward Maitland.
(196:1) Here follow definitions of "Humanity," "Man," and "Common Sense," as defined in the article Vegetarianism in its Higher Aspects, p.159 ante (see pp. 160-162 ante).
(196:2) Here follows an account of the four great divisions of man as in the article Vegetarianism in its Higher Aspects, p. 159 ante (see pp. 162-163 ante).
(197:1) See Biographical Preface, p. 28.