Copyright © 1965 by Theosophical University Press.
Question — Last term several of us students met together once a week, and we had some lively sessions, our views ranging from the most materialistic and even atheistic to the metaphysical. But always we ended up against a stone wall. Regardless of our scientific knowledge, or what our religious backgrounds were — there were a few non-Christians among us — the one question remained unanswered: who is man?
Comment — Who is man? If we knew who we are, from the divine core of our being to the outermost vehicle, the physical body, we would have solved the mystery of Life — in all its phases. Why do you suppose the Oracle at Delphi gave answer in those now immortal words — Know Thyself! Why were they carved over the portal of the temple of Apollo except as a daily reminder that if one would master the secrets of nature, he must first master himself.
If we were to say that man is part atom, part galaxy, we might come as close to the truth as St. Paul did when he told the Corinthians that in man there is a "natural body" (psyche) and a "spiritual body" (pneuma), and that the first Adam "was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit." We rather glibly speak of ourselves as being composed of body, soul, and spirit, but we do not really know what this means. Actually we are far more than this; mind, intuition, desire, all sorts of qualities, make up man.
Question — That was just the difficulty. We tried to compare the New Testament with Buddhist philosophy, but we got hopelessly confused. We also delved into Hindu thought, and tried to link what they call the atman or Self with the "Spirit" of St. Paul, which seemed to work out. But when we got to the ordinary part of us, it summed itself up like this: how can we handle this bundle of forces playing through us? Just who are we and what is our link with the bigger scheme of things? That's what we want to know.
Comment — We must not expect at once to know all the particulars regarding the evolution of man, or of the universe in which we are a necessary part, however insignificant we may feel when compared to the Milky Way. We can perhaps catch a glimpse here and there of the broad panoramic sweep of the process of creation, and by so much sense our kinship with and participation in the eternal Mystery. The birth of man, as much as the birth of a galaxy of stars or an atomic universe, is an act of wonder — and never a prosaic thing.
How then can we handle this bundle of opposing forces in ourselves? Do you remember Paul's letter to the Romans, in which he described the "warring of the members" in man? "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." How universal an experience: the good we feel deep in our hearts we want to do, we often don't do; and those very qualities of character that we know are now beneath us, we still want to indulge in. Why is this?
Man is truly part atom, part galaxy; but there is more to the story of creation than the blending of the atomic and the galactic. From the mysterious interaction of spirit and matter there comes forth a "soul-vehicle" in which every living being finds its natural field of action. Thus in reality all things — from the atomic worlds and sub-worlds, through the mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms, right on out to the galaxies in space — have at least a threefold expression: "body," their material form, whether electron or star; "soul," their vehicle of consciousness or self-expression, however rudimentary or unaware from the human standpoint this may appear; and "spirit," their essential root in Deity.
Question — Do you mean that every one of us really is a portion of God? It is refreshing to feel the vigor of a philosophy that presupposes God as within us. We have for so long been taught of our ape-ancestry; or worse, that we were miserable sinners, worms in the dust from which Adam was formed.
Comment — Deity, or a portion of the Divine Intelligence, is our root-essence, and were it not for that we would not be here, suffering and enjoying incarnation on this planet in our solar system, and traveling along within the larger destinies of the galaxies which make up the metagalaxy in which we, and the tiniest sub-electron, do live and move and have our very life.
But we must not get so far up into the superstellar reaches of thought that we lose our footing on earth! Our present responsibility is to meet here and now the challenge of this rapidly moving age of scientific expansion, and to control and develop the energies of our soul and spirit, our mind and aspirations, so that they will in time radiate clearly the light of the divine sun within us.
Moreover, let us drop from our consciousness forever this "worm in the dust" concept. That is absolutely false, and has no place in the vocabulary of Man, the Thinker. Nor has the ape-ancestry theory ever been proved! There is as much against it, evolutionally speaking, as for it; and far more to disprove it when we view man not as his body but as a flaming Intelligence imbodied on earth in order to learn the lessons of material existence. While it is a fact that our physical constitution has developed slowly through the eons to the highly refined mechanism it is today, neither the Divinity within nor the Promethean fire of our minds could have grown out of an ape! Have we ever considered the possibility of the ape (and the monkeys too) being offshoots of man's indiscretions in the early history of the race? That is what certain ancient traditions suggest; it is worth serious consideration, even from the standpoint of the physical development of the early primates. Why is it that of the mammalia man's body is the most primitive and unspecialized, while his mind and the inner energies of his soul have developed in extraordinary ways, and there appear no limits to his power to evolve?
Question — I never thought of it that way before. But where does our mind fit in, and all those strange yet real intimations that we are something more than our ordinary emotions and feelings?
Comment — What makes man different from the atom or the rose? What gives him that sense of awareness of himself, that quality of self-consciousness that separates him from the lower kingdoms, and which makes him at once the despair of himself and the glory of creation? Mind — active, dominant, creative. You recall how the serpent told Eve that if she and Adam would but taste of the fruit from the tree of knowledge they would not die, but would become as gods, knowing good from evil. The mind of man was here touched into the flame of awareness by the Promethean ember — itself a spark from the central fire of the cosmic Mind — and the knowledge of right and wrong came into being; and, most important, the recognition of moral responsibility to choose wisely and in harmony with nature.
The point of no return had thus been reached as far as man's evolutionary trek was concerned. No longer could he drift contentedly with the slow-moving rivers of progress. Henceforth he must be up and doing, meeting the challenge of directing his own growth, and by trial and error learn that whatever he sowed he would have to reap, in cycle after cycle of experience. Who then is man? Briefly, he is both Knower and deluder of himself: the choice is his.
Question — What do you mean by that? That we are both Knower and deluder?
Comment — Paul's references to soul and spirit and to man's having a "natural body" and a "spiritual body" told only part of the story. The ancient Greeks viewed man as sometimes having four, and at other times seven qualities; but let us take the four basic principles as they conceived them. Besides pneuma or spirit, they spoke of nous, which they called the Knower or mind-principle, which in turn used psyche, the soul, and soma, the body, as its means of growth and experience on earth.
Now it is nous, the Knower, which is that portion of man's nature that can command knowledge of himself and of the universe when its energies are directed towards spirit; but when ruled by psyche, it becomes the deluder. The old saying "Mind is the slayer of the Real" is at times all too true because, when influenced by the lower emotions, the deluder is in charge, and cunning, greed, and tyranny in many forms take possession.
Mind thus is bipolar; at once the slayer and the liberator. A broader knowledge of the spectrum of qualities which make up man, and which likewise flow through the cosmos, is required if we are properly to relate ourselves to the earth on which we live, and understand intelligently how to meet all these forces that impinge upon us.
Question — That is a very intriguing phrase: spectrum of qualities. Do you mean that we are composed of seven qualities, like the seven colors of the spectrum?
Comment — Why not? We may even speak of ten as the ancient Egyptians did, but let us use the seven as it harmonizes easily with what we are familiar with in nature, such as the seven notes of the scale, the seven colors of the rainbow, the seven days of the week, etc. What were these seven principles of man called? By various names, which can be rendered something like this: the divine; the spiritual-intuitional; the mental — itself bipolar, with its higher part aspiring toward the spiritual, its lower aspect leaning toward the next "color" in succession, called desire; then the vital life-forces, which in turn enliven the model-body or blueprint on which the physical body, cell by cell, is built.
Who then is man? Man can rightly be called a spectrum of radiating energies, held together by the dominating essence of his divine core, the Father within, which in turn is rooted in the cosmic Divine Intelligence which pervades every living unit in space.
It is significant that our word spirit is from the Latin word for breath (spiro, to breathe), just as the Greek pneuma also means breath or spirit. Now several of the archaic philosophies conceived of the great outbreathing and inbreathing of Deity as the days and nights or periods of activity and rest of worlds. Thus Motion was the essential characteristic of Deity, and when God wished to bring forth a universe, the "spirit" of the Elohim (literally, ruah, breath) moved over the face of the Deep; the breath of divine life quickened into manifestation this whole universe, and all the sleeping seeds of divine force, whatever their grade, were breathed forth from Darkness into Light.
Question — This throws quite a different light on our Christian teachings. That verse we had to learn from Genesis: And the Lord God formed man of the dust and breathed into him the breath of life. How does that relate to St. Paul's statements, and also to the seven qualities of man?
Comment — "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (neshamah); and man became a living soul (nephesh)." In the first two chapters of Genesis are references to three distinct qualities of breaths or outbreathings from Deity or the Lord God: neshamah, the "breath of life" corresponding generally to the pneuma or "spiritual body" of Paul; ruah, the breath or spirit of the Elohim which brings forth the world, and in man is the quickener of self-conscious life, hence often linked with the Greek nous, the Knower; and nephesh, the "living soul," analogous to the psyche or "natural body" or ordinary human soul; all three breaths or qualities holding together and in-spiriting the shell or physical body.
Now relating this to the seven qualities or spectrum of energies which is man, we could say that St. Paul's "body" comprises the three lowest: the vital forces, animating the astral matrix, or model-body, around which the physical form patterns itself. The "soul" may be said to embrace the fields of desire, emotion and mind, but not the highest reaches of mind; while the "spirit," as a ray from the divine essence, is the spiritual-intuitional principle, itself powerless to function on earth unless united with mind for a workable vehicle of expression.
When we know that the chemical elements on earth are found likewise in the body of the sun, is it so difficult to imagine that if one could take a spectrograph of the energies of a man's soul and spirit, as well as his mind, desires, and aspirations, the identic lines would show up on the spectrograph of the inner energies of the solar god that animates the physical orb? If the old Hermetic axiom is correct — "As it is below, so it is above" — then surely the same fundamental energies ranging from the divine to the physical in man must likewise enliven and flow through every manifested thing. All the evidence of logic and analogy points to the selfsame spectrum of qualities throughout the entire cosmos: octaves of radiant energy, expanding out into the depths of space, and inwards into the worlds within worlds of the atom.
Question — Science has moved forward so swiftly that we know a tremendous amount about the galaxies at one end of the gamut of life, and also about the intricacies of the atomic world, but we find it hard to achieve perspective with this constant acceleration of knowledge. How do you think St. Paul would have handled our situation with his correspondents?
Comment — No one could say, but I really do not think he would have been over-alarmed. He probably would have urged us to face the basic issue: will we succumb to the "earth, earthy," that self-centered portion of ourselves which leads downward; or will we rise to the demands of the Knower within and live creatively, dedicating our knowledge to noble ends? A healthy reappraisal of man and his place in a growing and living universe has been long overdue.
The mind itself is a dynamo of radiant force, and when held in check by the spiritual and intuitional energies can inspire to enlightened thought and action. But as we know only too well, the lower tendencies of mind allow the desires to pull it hither and yon, so that the horses of our senses get the bit in their teeth and run wild. As the Upanishad said, in the chariot sits the master within, the divine essence, and it is up to us to see to it that the charioteer or spiritual-intellectual driver wisely holds the reins of our mind so that the horses of our desires will lead us in the direction of our true goal.
If science and its immensely enlarged fields of study had done nothing more than take off our theological blinkers, it would have earned the gratitude of the Protectors of mankind, that long line of spiritual titans who come periodically, as did Krishna, Christ, and Buddha, to reawaken in man his spiritual vision and stimulate anew his longing for truth. Our new knowledge of the universe is providing increasing evidence that, however much a part of us is clothed with the "dust" of earth, we are in truth a "quickening spirit."
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