What makes the chick break its egg and emerge into the cold surrounding air? What causes the infant to make the stupendous effort it takes to be born? Have you ever noticed how the threadlike tendrils of the bottlebrush unwrap themselves from a tightly wound bud until they stand out straight like little bristles? or seen the delicate fragrant stars of the honeysuckle as the dentellated petals form first a tight cone of waxy white before peeling off in five directions? The immediate physical events are fairly well understood, but there is no accounting for them. That is an ever-present enigma.
When its curiosity begins to take verbal form a child goes straight to the root of the matter, asking the direct question, "Where did I come from, Mommy?" And the child is disappointed in the stock answer it usually receives, whether the stork or a gooseberry bush, or the more clinical answer of today's world. The same question comes up in adolescence, expressed or not, but with even greater urgency: "Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life, or of anybody's life?" The lack of a satisfactory answer can cause a trauma so severe that young people have been known to end their lives from frustration.
An ongoing debate has "evolutionists" and "creationists" waging a war that neither is equipped to win. One camp consists of those who favor the popular so-called Darwinian theory based on the survival of the (physically) fittest, and who have bludgeoned their way into a temporary supremacy of "scientific" theory, claiming common ancestry with apes; while the other camp postulates a hypothetical creation out of nothing by a remote Personage abiding somewhere "upstairs." Any alternative possibility is left out of the reckoning.
Yet there are alternatives. It stands to reason that the truth must be acceptable both to science and religion. A philosophy that fails to satisfy either approach must be in some way erroneous. There are many sources of knowledge, numerous scriptures and mythologies that relate the course of events from the first appearance of our present world system. These are not limited to one bible or one scientific theory, nor to any single belief system, thought by its adherents to be infallible and complete. Only the most ancient and universal traditions can give a comprehensive overview of what really took place at the beginning of time and provide guidelines by which the human race can live and progress toward the next phase of its development.
Certainly, the humanity of today did not come full-blown into the human kingdom without undergoing preparatory stages of growth. Our human awareness must once have been confined in the most elementary forms until, outgrowing those forms, we established our right to assume bodies of a more advanced nature. This does not mean that our bodies have mutated from lower life forms. That would be a clumsy way to grow. The shapes used must have been tailored to the need for ever more advanced instruments. Dwellers in each kingdom have evidently developed one major and many minor characteristics of their kingdom, while obedient nature supplies the vehicles most fit to improve the means of expressing the souls or egos which inhabit the bodies. As the questioning child intuits, a human being is not merely a body. The body is the instrument used to contact the matter around us. The toddler who asks "Where did I come from?" is not asking where his body was formed. He wants to know whence he (his self) came into this new environment.
It should have occurred to the theorists of both camps that neither creation nor physical mutation is all right or all wrong. If, as the creationists claim, God is omnipresent, simple logic would demand that divinity reside everywhere: in every remotest galaxy and in every atomic particle. This is supported by traditional myths and religious scriptures. It means that in every entity, in you and in me, there is a divine principle, and a divine purpose. Hence we humans are a product of the same divine impulse which has brought about all phenomena, known and unknown, of physical nature and, more importantly, the nonphysical properties that are the cause and motive power that impel action and selection in conscious beings. That impulsion is not entrusted to some remote father figure at a safe distance in the sky but is a natural urge stemming from the depths of our own spiritual being, the divine energy that impels us to grow, to learn, and to approach our innate divinity with love and reverence.
How should we live as human beings? If we still feel the lack of a job description, an instruction booklet, consider that we have added to our arsenal — to the cohesiveness of the mineral, the upward striving of plants, and to the emotions of animal nature — a wonderful faculty of reason. Even if we fail to discern the guidelines we possess, life goes on and the human system, spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical, acquires experience, the raw material from which wisdom is distilled. We may find ourselves in the doldrums of apathy for a time or overwhelmed by life's physical demands, but even then, without our conscious cooperation, we still grow and mature from birth to death. We evolve, literally: i.e., we unroll our human characteristics from within outwards in a cyclic pattern, like the petals of a flower, and gradually exhibit more of the qualities that belong to us. Our divine source may be largely forgotten in our preoccupation with daily chores, but it faithfully remains our inspiration and the source of all our doings. The impulse is filtered through our personalities, which may be modified and adapted to our desires and requirements. How much more effective this evolutionary unfolding could be, if men and women chose to cooperate in the natural maturation that must inevitably take place.
So, what is it that evolves? In the kingdoms below the human we see adaptations that have apparently taken place to fit needs and circumstances. Plants and animals are able to adapt the body to some degree and over time acquire characteristics better suited to their needs. But human beings change very little in our substantial form. We are not so dependent on our physical construction. Except for size and color, we are essentially very much alike all over the globe and have been throughout the period of history that we can survey, nor have any radical changes in the human form been noted. Human beings do not improve their hearing by growing elephantine ears or fly on batlike wings. When such accoutrements are needed they are manufactured artificially to serve the required purpose by the inventive ability of the human mind and creativity. All changes and growth in the human kingdom take place in the consciousness. What evolves is the inner nature, guided and inspired by the divine impulses that filter through the spiritual soul, for that is our essential being, the intangible source that stimulates truly human, humane behavior.
All sacred scriptures and mythologies tell the same story of the world's composition and of the responsibilities that pertain to the human state. From the cradle to the grave we are constantly adding to our store of experience and consequently altering the condition of our mind and memory, bringing to bear a larger perspective and understanding with each new vicissitude met in the course of our living. None is exempt from change. Our consciousness never ceases its exploration of the realms of thought, though we may choose either to grow from it or to limit ourselves to transitory material pursuits. In the first case we may, like the great ideal figures, Christs and Bodhisattvas, choose to work with nature, take a deliberate hand in furthering the spiritual destiny we share, and develop the qualities that can be expressed when a human being forgets personal demands and enters the service of the divine warrior in the heart.
This is not an impossible task but one that has been undertaken by others and successfully accomplished by a few. When Odin's warriors are entertained in Valhalla, or the Greek heroes gain the Elysian fields, they have earned this right by overcoming — "slaying" — the personal nature and assuming the role of champion in the cause of humanity's evolution. When the teacher Jesus reminded his followers that "Ye are gods," this was not flattery but a simple statement of fact, for we are gods — not in our personal egos but in potential development. We evolve all the time, not in body but in mind and soul, gaining with every thought and desire new insights and increased understanding or, conversely, debasing our nature and shrinking our horizon to near extinction of the humane consciousness which distinguishes man from beast.
Evidence for that innermost self is something we each have to discover for ourselves. It is that which causes the toddler to ask his unanswerable question; and it is that which keeps the insatiable hunger in the heart, the irresistible urge to find our spiritual identity with the divine self of the universe. We are all on that voyage of discovery. Our compass and charts are in our higher nature, where we can find that unfailing guide with which the gods long ago endowed our kingdom of life, investing their blessing in the future of mankind.
The choice is ours: whether to diminish our humanity until we serve no purpose but our own, a detriment to the cosmic universe we help compose, until the conscious self shrinks into nonentity and is ground on the mill of the gods; or alternatively we have the glorious prospect, by dedicating the soul in service to the divine destiny that awaits the human race, of extending our awareness to blend in scope with the universal gods and become worthy to help them govern the cosmos.
(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1995. Copyright © 1995 by Theosophical University Press)
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