Mysteries of Mind and Memory

By Elsa-Brita Titchenell

A unity in incredible diversity is a universe: microworlds too tiny to discern join to form stars and planets, themselves miniatures of greater worlds that combine in measureless strings of galactic superclusters to span all we know of space. So grandiose a program and one so marvelously devised leaves reason at a loss. What unimaginable consciousness is acting with what purpose through all the lesser consciousnesses such a plan demands? Certainly no human mind could have contrived a cosmos, but we could and did bring into being our human properties which present a dim reflection of that vast intelligence. In fact we find ourselves always in the middle of whatever we observe: centered in space, centered in time, centered in kind and size, as we must be if we are surrounded by infinite extension, eternal duration, and countless grades and qualities of existence.

We have some awareness of the wonder that surrounds us only because we have developed the rudiments of mind. That fathomless container of all, so capacious yet so fragile and unpredictable, is the most mysterious factor in our lives. No doubt the sublime intelligences which planned and shaped the worlds have types of awareness utterly beyond our imagination, just as we have insights and perspectives unknown to the less evolved kingdoms of earth. We are no better or worse than they, merely more experienced than the animals and plants and far less so than the gods. All live by virtue of being conscious, whether their apprehension is by our standards elementary or adept.

Every being grows from within to perfect its faculties and at the right moment there arises the dream of mind. Dimly does it smolder in the minerals, which have little power but a high degree of inertial resistance. It becomes more apparent in plants, whose differences in character and symbiotic relationships rouse our admiration. The great variety of animals covers a wide range of awareness. Obedient to instinct, even the least of them perform remarkably, while the higher mammalia are often surprisingly precocious. Nevertheless, between their semiautomatic reactivity and human mentation lies a profound gulf — not of intrinsic difference but of understanding, self-knowledge, and enlightenment born of experience. Humankind developed its prehuman faculties in remotely ancient worlds, where we no doubt underwent the stages which now pertain to succeeding kingdoms of lives, but the capacity for abstract thought, philosophic reasoning, spiritual insight — also diabolic cunning — begins in our present world with the human kingdom as does the freedom to choose among options.

There can be no coercion in the use we make of this boon or of the freedom it gives us to choose our course. Free will is not a privilege; it is a necessary tool for without it we should be puppets unable to exercise judgment and discrimination. There can be no goodness where evil does not have equal odds.

The very reflexive consciousness which makes us human also opens doors for us to gain the kind of awareness that must grace the gods. We learn by emulating those who precede us in evolution and who, with protective regard for their younger kin, have given us what they can of means to understanding. After teaching the early races the skills they needed to survive and the intelligence to improve, they entrusted their wisdom to immortal myths, legends, and enduring historic narratives. The inspiration of a Sermon on the Mount or of an Edda, of a Bhagavad-Gita or of a Mabinogion, is the harvest of some few grand souls, whose enterprise gained them a deeper understanding than we normally possess.

From the beginning of time the basic truth behind all outward seeming must have been in existence and when mind became functional in humankind we had the tutoring gods as inspiration. That we must now earn wisdom for ourselves is perhaps the most difficult thing for most of us to grasp. If evolution were the product of learning, a textbook would suffice to bring perfection and virtue to all humans. Yet we know that this is not so, which makes the mystery of mind all the greater.

We may well ask what is its function? One could say that truth presents three faces, and that three main avenues lead to a vision of reality. Information satisfies one of them: the intellect; if we add to this a genuinely empathetic understanding we perceive a second aspect of the trinity. To approach its wholeness, however, demands a spiritual commitment of such intensity that ordinary human nature could not endure its force. It would bring to a focus no less than the pure passion of a Jesus at Gethsemane, a determination like that of Gautama beneath the Bo tree, to engender the annealing fire that restores the self to its divinity. So far is this passion removed from the common human condition and from the heat of the lower nature that they are seen as polar opposites. Contemplating it helps us realize the gulf that separates us from the gods. They alone know the bitter cup that, drained, becomes sweet waters of immortality.

The Greek philosophers taught that effective living came of association with the Muses. They are the nine daughters of Mnemosyne, who represents Memory of eternities past, and are fathered by Zeus, universal consciousness. Originally they were all one in Mnemosyne; only in manifestation did they separate. It is our task to reunite them in a sympathetic comprehension of the universal whole which would meld the human being with its divine source.

The nature of these nine disciplines gives us a clue to their usefulness in human evolution. Mnemosyne is of course our ability to retain what comes to our attention. Without it, there could be no progress as all new ventures of the mind build on already acquired experience. Mnemosyne is therefore the basis of all whereof the mind is capable at any juncture and lets evolution in each cycle continue from where it left off at the end of the soul's previous tour of duty. So the nine Muses depend on her for their existence and, based on remembrances past, enlarge our present consciousness.

Urania, Muse of astronomy, is awareness of our place in surrounding space and of the cyclings of the orbs that mark time within eternity.

Polyhymnia (or Polymnia) sings hymns to the gods; she gives us our sense of awe before the cosmic mystery in which we play a small but vital part, while Clio, the Muse of history, places us in time and makes it possible for us to know where we stand in the evolutionary progression.

On every level of life the motions of atoms, mortals, and worlds are exemplified by Terpsichore. There can be no existence, nothing would stir, were it not for this constant dancing presence; nor would life be possible without the harmonious musical vibrations personified by Euterpe. Each time we are born we enter the sense-field of Erato, who entices the impressionable soul and wrings the heart, bringing us shifting fortune with its portions of sorrow (Melpomene) and joy (Thalia), as we become engrossed in material existence. When at last the soul rouses itself from the allurements of the senses, it is inspired to deeds of valor and self-conquest by Calliope, Muse of epic poetry, and enters upon its purposeful and truly human destiny within the larger destiny of the evolving world.

"Desire first arose in IT, which was the primal germ of mind." So states the Rig Veda. If desire brought the germ of mind, awareness, conscious cognition, then that most mysterious and valuable germ is being nurtured and encouraged throughout the universe. The earliest impulse in the beat of eternity surely bore forth the makings of our own thinking faculty as part of the divine intelligence which planned the cosmic scene. Nevertheless, that primal germ might have lain dormant for eternities — perhaps it did -- until those who had already completed their human phase of evolution in an earlier world-life returned to spark that possibility in us. Perhaps they owed us a debt of karma from some ancient past, perhaps the gains they had long since made included such profound compassion that they were constrained to share with us the blessing of their achievement by arousing our latent faculties.

This destiny of compassion is foreshadowed even now. Whereas singly and apart we are at best immature and undeveloped thinkers, taken together our minds combine to form a great intelligence, a near-godlike consciousness, but we have an altogether distorted picture of what our human genius really is. On one hand we belittle ourselves by disregarding our potentially divine comprehension and, on the other, we exaggerate our cleverness by vaunting the technological devices we have produced. Yet these are no more than an application, one of many possible applications, of the knowledge which is truly science. We have also fallen into the trap of taking credit for knowledge and skills we do not possess when we make glib claims that "we" have landed on the moon and have sent spacecraft to the outer planets.

Who is this remarkable "we"? Did you do it? Did I? "We" in this case represents the combined teamwork of thousands of people, each of whom has expertise on one small segment of the total puzzle. Human genius lies not in space travel or nuclear power plants; it lies in the capacity for cooperation, for sharing, that brings amazing results which nobody could bring about alone, and which have very little to do with knowing or understanding. The veriest dolt can switch on the light when somebody else has constructed the generator that sends electricity flowing along the wires.

All extant religions and mythologies are relics of the many versions of reality or truth that have been expounded since humans began to think self-consciously. In every age a few inspired teachers and guides reiterate over and again that it is possible for human beings to grow into angels, dhyanis, gods, and that this is no more miraculous than the growth of an embryo into an adult. No more natural future can be expected than that we shall become as purposefully and capably aware members of cosmic life as now we are of this small planet. The modern promulgation of what is today called theosophy is not unique, though it is relatively newly dispensed in its present form. It remains, as it always has, the suggestive inspiration that can encourage people to think for themselves, to use their god-given minds and let their innermost heart be heard in the council chamber of the soul. The say-so of others has no validity in that court, nor can any imposed belief usurp the truth that will be heard. All that restrains us from thinking our own thoughts, living our highest ideals, and being our best is the indolence which belongs not to our humanity but to our less evolved nature which cannot help but retard our progress.

It takes courage to be one's own arbiter, and determination to pursue the search for truth without general approbation and encouragement, but the effort is itself a source of joy and satisfaction.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1988. Copyright © 1988 by Theosophical University Press.)

Back Issues Menu