With this post we conclude the series on the place of the ideal in the development of the mystic. The previous post is here.
The fourth aspect of the ideal is when one idealizes a person. One man sees his ideal in his child, in his mother, in his father, ancestor, or friend, in his beloved, or in his teacher. No doubt this ideal is greater than all others, for in this ideal there is a miraculous power: it awakens life and gives life to dead things. There are, however, difficulties in following this ideal to the end, for when we idealize a person, naturally he cannot always come up to our expectations, for our ideal moves faster than the progress of this living being. Besides, when one idealizes a person one wishes to cover one’s eyes from all his shortcomings. One wishes to see only what is good and noble in him. But there come moments when the other side of that person is also seen, for goodness cannot exist without badness and beauty cannot exist without the lack of it. Very often beauty covers ugliness and ugliness covers beauty; very often goodness covers evil and evil covers goodness; but both opposites are always present. If not, man would not be man.
An idealist will see all that is good and beautiful in the one he idealizes, yet he keeps the object of his ideal before his eyes. His mind can idealize, but his eyes cannot remain closed. His heart takes him to heaven, but his eyes hold him fast on earth and there is always a conflict. And when it happens that the person whom one has idealized falls short of the goodness and beauty which one had expected him to possess, then one becomes disheartened, and one wonders whether there is anything in this world that could be ideal.
We see that emotional people are apt to idealize quickly, but are also apt to cast down the object of their idealization quickly. To keep up an ideal which is living on earth and which is before one’s eyes is the hardest thing there is, unless one has such balance that one will never waver, and such compassion that one is able at one’s own expense to add to the ideal all that it lacks. This is the only way in which one can hold on to a living ideal; otherwise, what happens is that one says during the waxing of the ideal, ‘You are so good. You are so kind. You are so great,’ and during the waning of the ideal one says, ‘But you are unjust. You are thoughtless. You are inconsiderate. I am disillusioned. You are not what I expected you to be.’ It is so natural, and at the same time it is not the ideal which has fallen. The one who has fallen is the one who climbed the ladder of the ideal and went too high, and then he has to come down again till he stands on the same level as before.
Also belonging to this fourth aspect of the ideal is the idealizing of a historical or legendary person, of a dramatic character of the past, a personality who is not before one. This one can maintain better, for it gives one scope for adding all the goodness and beauty one wishes to add. And at the same time it will never disappoint one, because it will never appear different from that which one has made of it in one’s heart. The gods and goddesses of the ancient Egyptians, Indians and Greeks were made to represent certain types of character, and in order that a worshipper might be impressed by a certain character, these gods and goddesses were held up as objects of devotion, as something to keep before one, as an ideal. Besides the great prophets and teachers and saviors of humanity have been the ideals made for centuries by writers, by poets, by devotees, by thinkers, as good and as beautiful as they could be made. No doubt others have looked at them differently and have held the ideal of someone else to be less than their own. Nevertheless, the benefit that they derived from devotion to such an ideal lay in the seeking of a character, of a certain beauty, of a virtue, which would always help them to arrive at that stage which is the desired goal of all beings.
The fifth aspect of the ideal is God, the perfect ideal, an ideal which cannot change, which cannot be broken, which remains always steady, for the reason that God is not within man’s reach. If God were within his reach then he would try to test Him, too! It is just as well that He is not. It is in this ideal that one finds life’s fulfillment, and all other ideals are but stepping stones, steps towards this perfect ideal, an ideal which shows no sign of imperfection; for God is goodness, God is justice, God is might, God is intelligence, all-knowing, God is all beauty, God is everlasting.
To a mystic the ideal is his religion, and he looks upon every person’s ideal as a religion. He respects it, before weighing and measuring and analyzing what ideal it is. The ideal itself is sacred to a mystic, and thus it is the central theme of his life; it is in the ideal that the mystic finds both his way and his goal.