Editorials by Sangharakshita


Meditation on a Flame

This editorial first appeared in The Maha Bodhi, October 1958

Formless yet having shape, expanding and contracting, yeilding to the force of currents to avoid extinction, giving forth its own nature always; this is a flame. Potentially ever present in the world, actual only where it has been kindled by some external hand, it may be small and weak like that of a candle, liable to be blown out by a draught too strong for it, or immense and spreading, using all air currents merely to augment itself and against which they have no other power.

As with an actual flame, so with the flame of the spirit in man: it is always potential, not always actual, but in virtue of his human status it must be there waiting for the hand that strikes the match and kindles it into being. Starting at first weak and flickering, liable to extinction should the draughts which are the adversities and obstacles of life, prove too strong, it may yet learn to yeild and alter itself, ever changing its shape and so come in time to be able to use life's adversities to augment itself by conquering them, until the man, instead of railing against his hard lot, thanks all those who make life hard for him, because they offer him the means for his own development.

But there is one thing a flame needs to remain actual: it must be fed constantly from without itself. The fuel of man's spiritual flame are events, stimuli, without which he must become a fossil, a being dead while yet technically alive. When man loses his sense of wonder at and interest in the things and works of nature, he is dying - and how few retain their sense of wonder after childhood is past, for the cares of the world and the wrong sense of values attributed to things material, slowly but surely extinguish the flame, withdrawing its fuel until, with a last feeble flicker perhaps at something more than usually startling, it finally dies away - and what is left of the man? A body, an intellect, some emotions, but where is the spirit? It has returned to the potential state and only a match can re-ignite it.

This is the condition of the greater part of so-called humanity today, dead in life, with spirits potential only, lacking fuel and not responsive to the match that always hangs over them.

If too many flames flicker and die away, with what will the world be lighted?