The Theosophical Forum – November 1938

"MAN, KNOW THYSELF!" — Arthur A. Beale

What a mystery is man, what a miracle! Whether we stand silently in contemplation before the temple of the Delphic oracle, which bears the above injunction, or in awe before the Egyptian Sphinx — each making the same demand upon us — innately we know that there is a quest which man is destined to pursue. For that purpose we are here on earth, and each day, each life, brings us nearer the end of the trail. Each thought, each act, each success or failure, opens a new door, disclosing a new revelation for us.

The Human Kingdom brings an awakening of self-consciousness; but of what are we self-conscious? We might say, very little in the first stage; for as W. Q. Judge hints in The Ocean of Theosophy, the building of a memory is required before man becomes conscious of "personality." Man is born with a clean mental slate; he has no recollection of preceding events. Yet memory comes fast enough, impelled by experience in the Cycle of Necessity.

What is this memory but the subtle impress on our personal astral plane of the events of our life? For the requirements of sheer existence — the feeding on air and food — and the inrush of pranic forces or life-currents, bring once again the "children" of our past existence rushing back to us, even as steel filings rush to the magnet: each of our past offsprings comes home soaked with retributive memories of past deeds, good, bad, or indifferent. Step by step a new vehicle grows, called by psychologists the sub-conscious self, but perhaps better described as a psyhco-mental apparatus. Each life we have to build this up from the start; but in no short time it acquires respectable dimensions and we begin to think, act, and judge.

It is in the tender years of life that direction, outside guidance, and discipline are as essential as during the time when in the ancestral early Third Root-Race stage man required the overshadowing nurture of the gods. That is why the doctrine of free self-expression at this stage is so pernicious. Infants and children have very little to express other than the most primitive instincts of animal appetites, selfish cravings, and personal vanity, which if not curbed produce prigs and egoists, finally resulting in crooks and gangsters. This, then, is the time for parental care and love, and for the school-room; in fact for the guidance of maturer experience instilling self-restraint.

The child learns by imitation of wise example more than by unexplained precepts. How wise should be the child's preceptors! How little do we realize the import of wise training and discipline during our youth: perhaps we only realize it when much valuable time has been lost.

This, then, is the period of personal self-consciousness: it is the realization of the mighty "I am I" — my dignity, my strength, my possessions — all maya. or illusion, however. But in the fulness of time (if it ever comes; some never seem to come to it) a new self-consciousness arrives, an expanding consciousness of duty to others, as part of ourselves, and with it a consciousness of responsibility, of power, of humanity, of choice. This is the dawn of individual self-consciousness.

This new inflow of consciousness comes to man during the period between seven years and puberty: a time one might speak of as the incarnation of mind, or ego-consciousness; a time when the ego begins to take control; the moment of illumination when the mental ego teaches, urges, suffers, and inspires. But we as personalities have free choice. If we listen to the mystic presence, seek its aid, obey its precepts, submit to guidance, all is well: we blossom into human beings and are ensouled, conscious. If we disregard it, seeking only the offal of personal gratification, then the impress of these delinquencies is made upon the very atoms of our being and they pass out as karmic residues, to abide the cyclic turning of the wheel: to come back to us for fresh assimilation.

So we come to see how memories stir up dreams, illuminated by imagination, forming pictures, and the whole built up into a fabric of human life forming the basis of morality and ethics. With ethics comes responsibility, involving and shaping emotions into concrete human attributes, inspiring trends, building up destiny. Some emotions are depressing, some akin to warnings, others bring freedom, peace, and beauty in their wake.

Hence the personality with the body and its systems of nerves, circulation, lymphatics, muscles, etc., all interblended, forms the battle-ground of this mighty array of opposing forces. Into it are poured karmic elements: lives, life-atoms, all the phases of the pranic currents trembling in the nerves, blood, lymph, and air-streams: food for the internal glands called endocrines. From the endocrines tiny units are weaved called hormones, which are instinct with personality. Into these streams is suffused another and higher stream of consciousness, through avenues provided from higher sources, at the invitation of our best aspirations. Our spiritual mind may color the life-streams, shaping and changing them into spiritual instinctive creative impulses. So in the fulness of time a new Mind is formed, a vehicle for a Bodhisattva.

The Theosophical Forum