The soul of humanity is adolescent and, like any adolescent, it possesses the characteristic powers and frailties of youth. It has passed through the initial phases of learning to cope with material existence on this plane of the universe much as the child learns to use its senses to hear, see, and to walk and talk. Peculiar to this phase of life is our preoccupation with experimental science and technology. We have learned to manipulate the earth's substances to a marked degree. Physical science — knowledge about these substances — is widespread. By experimentation much has been learned about our physical surroundings but our picture of the world is still incomplete. Like any adolescent, the collective soul of mankind is subject to the untamed feelings of half-grown youth when emotions run riot, mind is burgeoning, and all the potentialities of the inner, psychological or soul-nature await fuller development. Many people, nations too, think and act in childish fashion. A few rare individuals outstrip the norm and serve to show what mankind may and should become.
The fact that humans are mammals does not mean that we are beasts. True, there are human beings who act in bestial fashion, who live almost wholly in their animal nature, for there is in the human constitution an animal soul which, if given free rein, will cause bestial behavior. The superior side of human nature is a spiritual soul whose promptings of love and wise compassion are felt by every normal human being and which is capable of making a man or woman think, speak, and act in godlike ways.
Man has been called a religious animal. While this definition has some merit, for the human physical organism has much in common with the other mammalia, humankind has distinctive characteristics in addition to those of our younger brothers the beasts. The main and important difference lies in the inner endowments of the human being — endowments which no other mammal is equipped to exercise. It has been argued that a dog's devotion or a horse's intelligence can surpass some human characteristics. This is true on the animal level, which we share with the speechless mammalia, but at the human stage of growth the mind, when coupled with the spiritual faculties and governed by the intuition, far eclipses any comparable endowment of the kingdoms that are not yet human.
This accounts for the basic human need to understand ourselves and the world we help compose. Every individual goes through a phase when a process of self-discovery assumes an urgency that will not be denied, when the mind is directed to examine the known and to explore the unknown. This process takes on a markedly dual character. It can lead to mindless compliance with expediency, or it can lead to a prolonged search for true values which are applicable to all the vicissitudes of living. The search itself constitutes a way of life leading to the maturation of the soul, which then exhibits qualities of character peculiar to the man or woman whose instincts are to live for the benefit of his fellows.
When matured, humans will possess faculties of splendor and divine inspiration that characterize the truly human being. Spiritual intuition is our common link with higher kingdoms — the gods —and enables us to consort with the universal soul, whose powers are as yet unseen, unheard, but which may be contacted through our noblest inspiration when we have the courage to venture into the deeper recesses of our nature, where abides the enduring Self.
Human evolution differs from that of the less evolved kingdoms in that we are no longer confined to physical adaptation for survival as are the animals and plants. The human race is developing faculties of a nonmaterial nature: on the human level of life the qualities of mind and spirit play a primary role. What follows physically is secondary. The deciding direction of a life hangs in the balance when the adolescent soul determines whether his life is to be an asset or a liability to the human race as a whole. The composite soul in human nature is torn between animalistic urges and divinely inspired idealism. If the latter is chosen, the consciousness is inspired with leanings toward altruism, self-forgetfulness, and a love of beauty, with insights expressing themselves in appreciation and often creation of various forms of art, poetry, and music. It is noteworthy that many of the recognized, and unrecognized, great composers and poets produced some of their most inspired work in their early years. One characteristic of youth is acute sensitivity to beauty. The sense of wonder and awe with which we respond to beauty is non-transferable. It cannot be explained or even described, and yet, even while tastes differ widely, it is the most universal of reactions to the natural world.
One physicist, Dr. Brian Swimme, expresses this forcibly in a book with the unlikely title The Universe is a Green Dragon. He writes:
We see the singular beauty that has been achieved through violence in the cosmic and earthly realms. We do not know yet if the same will be the case in the human. Indeed, through the millennia of civilization, humans have seldom stopped and reflected seriously on whether or not we are beneficial additions to Earth's system of life. Self-absorbed, we focus on our own survival and on explorations into our innate powers. We never developed a larger perspective by which to evaluate our activities, a perspective that included stars, planets, and all other life forms. This limited world-picture is precisely what is ruining us as a species. — p. 72
One of the characteristics of pubescence is an intense egocentricity. The individual teenager is markedly self-centered, and the collective soul of humanity reflects this trait. The human stage of growth evinces this tendency to the point where we have become a menace to our own survival. The depredations committed in the name of material progress have brought us to the brink of disaster by inflicting on our environment destructive procedures which are making it all but impossible to recover the health of our mother Earth.
The religious instinct is undoubtedly the most fundamental of human qualities. It plays a very large part in growth and accomplishment. Every one of us sooner or later demands to know what life is all about and what our own role is in a universe which abounds in evidence of harmony, purpose, and direction. The individual adolescent rebels against the constraints placed on his independence by parents and teachers who tend to impose norms that satisfy themselves. Just so does the collective human soul rebel against what it considers needless and autocratic tyranny, and so wants to break the natural laws that apply whether we agree with them or not. It demands to make its own decisions, often disregarding the larger environment and the common good, while at the same time chafing against whatever does violence to its ideals. When the search for freedom stems from those ideals —which arise in a natural and wholesome religiosity — it is justified, though misunderstood by rigid orthodoxy.
There is a vast difference between religiosity — a natural endowment of every normal individual — and the superstitions that often pass for religion. True religiosity is a natural instinct to revere life in all its expressions, recognizing our inborn need to love and comprehend other lives by extending our sensibilities to include them. This religious urge is thwarted when an artificial surrogate is accepted and expressed in blind belief and ritualism — less demanding than the search for truth which finds responsive echo in the heart. Such a religion can be, and very often is, practiced without dedication or understanding, even without thought, leaving to a priest or guru the task of balancing the scales of justice.
Many modern scientists are turning to philosophy in an attempt to understand and explain the world and humanity's function within it. Professor Paul Davies in his The Mind of God seeks to define in logical terms, not to solve, the mystery of the universe and our human place within it. He writes:
if one perseveres with the principle of sufficient reason and demands a rational explanation for nature, then we have no choice but to seek that explanation in something beyond or outside the physical world — in something metaphysical — because, . . . a contingent physical universe cannot contain within itself an explanation for itself. What sort of metaphysical agency might be able to create a universe? It is important to guard against the naive image of a Creator producing a universe at some instant in time by supernatural means, like a conjuror pulling a rabbit out of a hat. . . . creation cannot consist of merely causing the big bang. We are searching instead for a more subtle, timeless notion of creation which, to use Hawking's phrase, breathes fire into the equations, and thus promotes the merely possible to the actually existing. This agency is creative in the sense of being somehow responsible for the laws of physics, which govern, among other things, how space-time evolves. — p. 171
There is a vast treasure of truth to be found in the traditions of our ancient world, where the traces left by mature humans of past ages point the way to growing understanding. In every age there have existed such rare individuals, wise men and women, whose footprints on the sands of time are discernible on the many paths leading to the peak of human experience. Evolution is an ongoing process — we still face a long program of "growing up." This requires the maturation of inner humanity, independent of any physical changes that may or may not occur. Such changes may follow, they do not precede, the growth of mind and spirit.
As humans we have access to a transcendent splendor in our innermost being, if the idealism and self-reliance which belong to our adolescence and the energy of our soul-youth are applied to further the natural progress of our kind toward the status of gods which awaits us. At this, the learning phase of our development, we have not only the right but the duty to explore all sources of knowledge, physical, psychological, and spiritual, in order to discover our place in the cosmic scheme of life and be able to fill it. This means that we are responsible agents in the universal whole, and that the consciousness of humanity is a powerful and responsible factor in the life of the larger system of evolving worlds. We are an intrinsic part of the planet we inhabit and it is largely up to us to determine the future course of this small but significant part of the solar system.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1993; copyright © 1993 Theosophical University Press)
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The humanness of life depends above all on the quality of man's relationships to the rest of creation — to the winds and the stars, to the flowers and the beasts, to smiling and weeping humanity. — Rene Dubos