Timeless insights, timely re-sights
“All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
This quote strikes us as paradoxical: If the thought is ours, how could it have been stolen by the ancients who existed before us and our thoughts? Yet Emerson’s point resonates with thoughtful people. We sometimes get a striking thought and feel elated at having come up with something so brilliant, so incisive, so original. But then we discover, to our consternation, that the thought has already been phrased by some ancient thinker. So, we feel as if that ancient has stolen our thought. “Stolen” not in the sense that they plagiarized our idea, but in the sense that the originality we had thought as ours was actually theirs.
This quote also resonates with a principle integral to spiritual growth. While studying spiritual texts and molding our lives accordingly, we sometimes find that the ancients have worded something that echoes our experience. Or rather, our experience shows their words to be profoundly true. Gita wisdom refers such resonance as realization. A contemporary word with a similar sense is epiphany, a moment of sudden and sublime insight. While any insight can be called an epiphany, spiritual realization refers to the insight that is a re-sight – we see demonstrated in life the truth that we have seen taught in wisdom-texts. That which is a reality, when we understand it to be a reality, we get realization.
For helping us gain realizations about the spiritual realm, which is not accessible through our senses, the Gita offers the process of yoga. Yoga practice streamlines and sublimates our consciousness, thereby tuning us to perceive higher truths. The Gita (09.02) indicates that those who practice its teachings realize those teachings.
When we get a yogic realization, rather than we getting an insight and then finding that the ancients had already got it, we read their insight and then experience it to be true. Chronologically, these two are different. But essentially they both reflect a similar principle: truth is timeless; and in the discovery of truth, ancients and moderns, and indeed all people, are in harmony.
Ultimately, the deepest, highest insights that we are capable of – insights about our essential identity and ultimate purpose – are neither stolen by the ancients from us, nor borrowed by us from them. Those truths are timeless and transcendental. They exist at the innermost core of our being and rise to our awareness as we evolve spiritually. The opportunity for such spiritual evolution is open for all people at all times.