We may study the problem of the end of the world from three points of view. First, will the physical globe, our earth, end suddenly without warning? This has been frequently prophesied. Several years ago a so-called prophet in the eastern United States, I believe in Pennsylvania, convinced his followers that the world would end on a certain morning. They sold or gave away all their belongings and at the approach of the predicted hour, followed their prophet to the top of a hill and there awaited the coming of the end. The daily press blazoned this in headlines at the time. It must have been a fearful anticlimax for that little band when they had to march down the hill again, while the earth still proceeded on its accustomed course around the sun.
A study of what the cyclic law has brought about in the past would prevent a short-sighted misreading of visible signs and portents. It would include a very exact knowledge of time periods, coupled with the teaching that there are no "accidents'; but that all visible events, including disasters, are a part of the action of invisible intelligences acting through this visible world and consciously following the dictates of an even higher law. In other words there are no real accidents, and we may rest assured that our earth will be protected until its work of evolution is ended.
The second way in which the world may end is a personal or rather a psychological end. This is more prevalent than most of us may realize, particularly in our present days of trial when so many are faced with the loss of all that they hold dear. In the biblical story of Lot's wife we may read a hidden meaning which points toward such an end of the world. When Abraham and his nephew Lot parted company, Lot chose the plain near Sodom and Gomorrah as his portion. When Sodom was to be destroyed for its wickedness the Lord decided on account of Lot's righteousness to save him and all his family and followers, and he told them to go to another place. The Lord warned them, however, not to look back at the destruction of the city. Only Lot's wife disobeyed and, looking back, was turned into a pillar of salt. Doubtless this story is susceptible of interpretation in various ways. It may, for example, point this warning: that if we cannot look ahead no matter what comes, if we insist on looking back and living in the past, we are enacting the role of Lot's wife, and whether we realize it or not we are no longer really living but merely existing.
Perhaps more people than we know of are psychologically disconnected to some degree and have not the resiliency, the inner power, to go forward. There are some who have never left a few blocks in a city which is home to them, or a town, or a circle of friends or relatives; there are some who have centered their whole world in one person, so that if deprived of their familiar environment or those they love, the joy of life is over and the world for them is at an end.
Isn't it quite evident that when human beings accept the fundamental truth of the cyclic progression which denies any real end, when they realize that life and change or motion — seemingly abstract teachings — are vital facts here on earth, and learn to direct their attention and center their hearts on that within them which is beyond space and time, yes, and even beyond motion or change — isn't it quite evident that then and then only will they reach out beyond cyclic ends and grasp the secret of ever-cycling onward LIFE?
The third way in which we may consider the end of the world, carries us into the intricacies of the teachings concerning Rounds and Races. We may consider the periods of evolution called Rounds as great cycles or vibrations or outbreathings within the Unknowable. These great cycles or rounds flow one into another on a grand scale, themselves built of minor cycles which we call Races, these made up of still smaller sub-cycles, until we reach the cycles which we call civilizations. The greatest civilizations we know of, the Egyptian, the Greek, the Roman, etc., history tells us have had their beginning, reached a culmination, and then declined. Why? A wit once said that as soon as we are born we begin to die. Civilizations carry their own decay within. If we bear in mind that civilizations are made up of units or men, it becomes simple for us to understand that until men, who are vital centers, become more evolved or enlarge their consciousness, the civilizations which they build are bound to fall. A civilization, a Race, or a Round, while protected by and a part of greater beings, are not organic living centers in the same way that man is. Every unit or man making up a civilization is therefore vitally important, and any one of us, no matter how seemingly obscure, who keeps up the good fight, holds fast to what is good and refuses to recognise and give power to the selfish part of our human nature, is helping to leaven the whole mass of humanity.
The greatest example of an ending on a grand scale is the story given to us principally in H. P. Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine of the great Atlantean Fourth Root-Race, which preceded our Aryan Fifth Race. Simultaneously with the decline of the race the earth itself changed or "ended," with the gradual sinking of coast lines and a change in great land masses, which culminated in the submerging over night of the Atlantean island of Poseidonis. But even here there was no finality. The progressed units of the last great race — each race takes approximately 9,000,000 years to run its course — are reborn into the new race. Those who drop behind become a part of the backward races which carry on the energies of the dying race, in this case the Atlantean, to its gradual end.
The continual activity of all life may be summed up in one line: panta rhei, everything flows — the famous saying of Heraclitus. Life and motion are synonymous, and the manner of this flowing life is not straight ahead forever but in a seemingly circular course of endlessly flowing open circles or spirals. Nothing is static, everything flows — this habit of nature brings about constant changes or endings, but there is never an end.
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE