Here to return to
IN order to retain a livelier image of all this and a more exact memory, let us give a last glance at the road which we have travelled. We have put aside, for reasons which we have stated, the religious solutions and total annihilation. Annihilation is physically impossible; the religious solutions occupy a citadel without doors or windows into which human reason does not penetrate. Next comes the theory of the survival of our ego, released from its body, but retaining a full and unimpaired consciousness of its identity. We have seen that this theory, strictly defined, has very little likelihood and is not greatly to be desired, although, with the surrender of the body, the source of all our ills, it seems less to be feared than our actual existence. On the other hand, as soon as we try to extend or to exalt it, so that it may appear less barbarous or less crude, we come back to the theory of a cosmic consciousness or of a modified consciousness, which, together with that of survival without any sort of consciousness, closes the field to every supposition and exhausts every forecast of the imagination.
Survival without any sort of consciousness would be tantamount for us to annihilation pure and simple and consequently would be no more dreadful than the latter, that is to say, than a sleep with no dreams and with no awakening. The theory is unquestionably more acceptable than that of annihilation; but it prejudges very rashly the questions of a cosmic consciousness and of a modified consciousness.
Before replying to these, we must choose our universe, for we have the choice. It is a matter of knowing how we propose to look at infinity. Is it the moveless, immovable infinity, from all eternity perfect and at its zenith, and the purposeless universe that our reason will conceive at the farthest point of our thoughts? Do we believe that, at our death, the illusion of movement and progress which we see from the depths of this life will suddenly fade away? If so, it is inevitable that, at our last breath, we shall be absorbed in what, for lack of a better term, we call the cosmic consciousness. Are we, on the other hand, persuaded that death will reveal to us that the illusion lies not in our senses but in our reason and that, in a world incontestably alive, despite the eternity preceding our birth, all the experiments have not been made, that is to say that movement and evolution continue and will never and nowhere stop? In that case, we must at once accept the theory of a modified or progressive consciousness. The two aspects, after all, are equally unintelligible but defensible; and, although really irreconcilable, they agree on one point, namely, that unending pain and unredeemed misery are alike excluded from them both for ever.
The theory of a modified consciousness does not necessitate the loss of the tiny consciousness acquired in our body; but it makes it almost negligible, flings, drowns and dissolves it in infinity. It is of course impossible to support this theory with satisfactory proofs; but it is not easy to shatter it like the others. Were it permissible to speak of likeness to truth in this connection, when our only truth is that we do not see the truth, it is the most likely of the interim theories and gives a magnificent opening for the most plausible, varied and alluring dreams. Will our ego, our soul, our spirit, or whatever we call that which will survive us in order to continue us as we are, will it find again, on leaving the body, the innumerable lives which it must have lived since the thousands of years that had no beginning? Will it continue to increase by assimilating all that it meets in infinity during the thousands of years that will have no end? Will it linger for a time around our earth, leading, in regions invisible to our eyes, an ever higher and happier existence, as the theosophists and spiritualists contend? Will it move towards other planetary systems, will it emigrate to other worlds, whose existence is not even suspected by our senses? Everything seems permissible in this great dream, save that which might arrest its flight.
Nevertheless, so soon as it ventures too far in the ultramondane spaces, it crashes into strange obstacles and breaks its wings against them. If we admit that our ego does not remain eternally what it was at the moment of our death, we can no longer imagine that, at a given second, it stops, ceases to expand and rise, attains its perfection and its fulness, to become no more than a sort of motionless wreck suspended in eternity and a finished thing in the midst of that which will never finish. That would indeed be the only real death and the more fearful inasmuch as it would set a limit to an unparalleled life and intelligence, beside which those which we possess here below would not even weigh what a drop of water weighs when compared with the ocean, or a grain of sand when placed in the scales with a mountain-chain. In a word, either we believe that our evolution will one day stop, implying thereby an incomprehensible end and a sort of inconceivable death; or we admit that it has no limit, whereupon, being infinite, it assumes all the properties of infinity and must needs be lost in infinity and united with it. This, withal, is the latter end of theosophy, spiritualism and all the religions in which man, in his ultimate happiness, is absorbed by God. And this again is an incomprehensible end, but at least it is life. And then, taking one incomprehensibility with another, after doing all that is humanly possible to understand one or the other riddle, let us by preference leap into the greatest and therefore the most probable, the one which contains all the others and after which nothing more remains. If not, the questions reappear at every stage and the answers are always conflicting. And questions and answers lead us to the same inevitable abyss. As we shall have to face it sooner or later, why not make for it straightway? All that happens to us in the interval interests us beyond a doubt, but does not detain us, because it is not eternal.
Behold us then before the mystery of the cosmic consciousness. Although we are incapable of understanding the act of an infinity that would have to fold itself up in order to feel itself and consequently to define itself and separate itself from other things, this is not an adequate reason for declaring it impossible; for, if we were to reject all the realities and impossibilities that we do not understand, there would be nothing left for us to live upon. If this consciousness exist under the form which we have conceived, it is evident that we shall be there and take part in it. If there be a consciousness somewhere, or some thing that takes the place of consciousness, we shall be in that consciousness or that thing, because we cannot be elsewhere.
And as this consciousness or this thing cannot be unhappy, because it is impossible that infinity should exist for its own unhappiness, neither shall we be unhappy when we are in it. Lastly, if the infinity into which we shall be projected have no sort of consciousness nor anything that stands for it, the reason will be that consciousness, or anything that might replace it, is not indispensable to eternal happiness.
That, I think, is about as much as we may be permitted to declare, for the moment, to the spirit anxiously facing the unfathomable space wherein death will shortly hurl it. It can still hope to find there the fulfilment of its dreams; it will perhaps find less to dread than it had feared. If it prefer to remain expectant and to accept none of the theories which I have expounded to the best of my power and without prejudice, it nevertheless seems difficult not to welcome, at least, this great assurance which we find at the bottom of every one of them, namely, that infinity could not be malevolent, seeing that, if it eternally tortured the least among us, it would be torturing something which it cannot tear out of itself and that it would therefore be torturing its very self.
I have added nothing to what was already known. I have simply tried to separate what may be true from that which is assuredly not true; for, if we do not know where truth is, we nevertheless learn to know where it is not. And perhaps, in seeking for that undiscoverable truth, we shall have accustomed our eyes to pierce the terror of the last hour by looking it full in the face. Many things, beyond a doubt, remain to be said which others will say with greater force and brilliancy. But we need have no hope that any one will utter on this earth the word that shall put an end to our uncertainties. It is very probable, on the contrary, that no one in this world, nor perhaps in the next, will discover the great secret of the universe. And, if we reflect upon this even for a moment, it is most fortunate that it should be so. We have not only to resign ourselves to living in the incomprehensible, but to rejoice that we cannot go out of it. If there were no more insoluble questions nor impenetrable riddles, infinity would not be infinite; and then we should have for ever to curse the fate that placed us in a universe proportionate to our intelligence. All that exists would be but a gateless prison, an irreparable evil and mistake. The unknown and the unknowable are necessary and will perhaps always be necessary to our happiness. In any case, I would not wish my worst enemy, were his understanding a thousandfold loftier and a thousandfold mightier than mine, to be condemned eternally to inhabit a world of which he had surprised an essential secret and of which, as a man, he had begun to grasp the least tittle.