The word "evolution" is the best word from a Theosophical standpoint to use in treating of the genesis of men and things, as the process which it designates is that which has been always stated in the ancient books from whose perusal the tenets of the Wisdom Religion can be gathered. In the Bhagavad Gita we hear Krishna saying that "at the beginning of the day of Brahma all things come forth from the non-developed principle, and at the coming on of Brahma's night they are resolved into it again", and that this process goes on from age to age. This exactly states evolution as it is defined in dictionaries, where it is said to be a coming forth or a development. The "days and nights of Brahma" are immense periods of time during which evolution proceeds, the manifestation of things being the "day" and their periodical resolution into the Absolute, the "night."
If, then, everything is evolved, the word creation can only be properly applied to any combination of things already in existence, since the primordial matter or basis cannot be created.
The basis of the Theosophical system is evolution, for in Theosophy it is held that all things are already in esse, being brought forth or evolved from time to time in conformity to the inherent law of the Absolute. The very next question to be asked is, What is this inherent law of the Absolute? as nearly as can be stated. Although we do not and cannot know the Absolute, we have enough data from which to draw the conclusion that its inherent law is to periodically come forth from subjectivity into objectivity and to return again to the former, and so on without cessation. In the objective world we have a figure or illustration of this in the rising and setting of the sun, which of all natural objects best shows the influence of the law. It rises, as H. P. Blavatsky says, from the (to us) subjective, and at night returns to the subjective again, remaining in the objective world during the day. If we substitute, as we must when attempting to draw correspondences between the worlds, the word "state" for locality or place, and instead of the sun we call that object "the Absolute", we have a perfect figure, for then we will have the Absolute rising above the horizon of consciousness from the subjective state, and its setting again for that consciousness when the time of night arrives, — that is, the night of Brahma. This law of periodicity is the same as that of the cycles, which can be seen governing in every department of Nature.
But let us assume a point of departure so as to get a rapid survey of evolution Theosophically considered. And let it be at the time when this period of manifestation began. What was projected into the objective world at that time must have been life itself, which under the action of the law of differentiation split itself up into a vast number of lives, which we may call individual, the quantity of which it is not possible for us of finite mind to count. In the Hindu system these are called Jivas and Jivatman. Within these lives there is contained the entire plan to be pursued during the whole period of manifestation, since each life is a copy of the great All from which it came. Here a difficulty arises for studious minds, calling for some attention, for they may ask, "What then do you do with that which we call 'matter', and by and through which the lives manifest themselves?"
The reply is that the so-called matter is an illusion and is not real matter but that the latter — sometime known in Europe as primordial matter — cannot be seen by us. The real matter is itself only another form of the life first thrown out, but in a less perfect state of differentiation, and it is on a screen of this real matter that its inner energies project pictures which we call matter, mistaking them for the real. It may then be further asked, "Have we not been led to suppose that that which we supposed was matter but which you now say is an illusion is something absolutely necessary to the soul for acquiring experiences of nature?" To this I reply that such is not the case, but that the matter needed for the soul to acquire experience through is the real unseen matter. It is that matter of which psychic bodies are composed, and those other material "things" all the way up to spirit. It is to this that the Bhagavad Gita refers where it says that spirit (purusha) and matter (prakriti) are co-eternal and not divisible from each other. That which we and science are accustomed to designate matter is nothing more than our limited and partial cognition of the phenomena of the real or primordial matter. This position is not overturned by pointing to the fact that all men in general have the same cognitions of the same objects, that square objects are always square and that shadows fall in the same line for all normal people, for even in our own experience we see that there is such a thing as a collective change of cognition, and that thus it is quite possible that all normal people are merely on the single plane of consciousness where they are not yet able to cognize anything else. In the case of hypnotizing, everything appears to the subject to be different at the will of the operator, which would not be possible if objects had any inherent actuality of their own apart from our consciousness.
In order to justify a discussion of the Theosophical system of evolution, it is necessary to see if there be any radical difference between it and that which is accepted in the world, either in scientific circles or among theologians. That there is such a distinction can be seen at once, and we will take first that between it and theology. Here, of course, this is in respect to the genesis of the inner man more especially, although theology makes some claim to know about race descent. The Church either says that the soul of each man is a special creation in each case or remains silent on the subject, leaving us, as it was once so much the fashion to say, "In the hands of a merciful Providence," who after all says nothing on the matter. But when the question of the race is raised, then the priest points to the Bible, saying that we all come from one pair, Adam and Eve. On this point theology is more sure than science, as the latter has no data yet and does not really know whether we owe our origin to one pair, male and female, or to many. Theosophy, on the other hand, differs from the Church, asserting that Paramatma alone is self-existing, single, eternal, immutable, and common to all creatures, high and low alike; hence it never was and never will be created; that the soul of man evolves, is consciousness itself, and is not specially created for each man born on the earth, but assumes through countless incarnations different bodies at different times. Underlying this must be the proposition that, for each Manvantara or period of manifestation, there is a definite number of souls or egos who project themselves into the current of evolution, which is to prevail for that period or manvantara. Of course this subject is limitless, and the consideration of the vast number of systems and worlds where the same process is going on with a definite number of egos in each, staggers the minds of most of those who take the subject up. And of course I do not mean to be understood as saying that there is a definite number of egos in the whole collection of systems in which we imagine evolution is proceeding, for there could be no such definiteness considered in the mass, as that would be the same as taking the measure of the Absolute. But in viewing any part of the manifestation of the Absolute, it is allowable for us to say that there are to be found such a definite number of egos in that particular system under consideration; this is one of the necessities of our finite consciousness. Following out the line of our argument we reach the conclusion that, included within the great wave of evolution which relates to the system of which this earth is a part, there are just so many egos either fully developed or in a latent state. These have gone round and round the wheel of rebirth, and will continue to do so until the wave shall meet and be transformed into another. Therefore there could be no such thing as a special creation of souls for the different human beings born on this earth, and for the additional reason that, if there were, then spirit would be made subservient to illusion, to mere human bodies, So that in respect to theology we deny the propositions, first, that there is any special creation of souls; second, that there is, or was, or could be by any possibility any creation of this world or of any other; third, that the human race descended from one pair.
In taking up the difference existing between our theory and that of science we find the task easy. Upon the question of progress, and how progress or civilization may be attained by man, and whether any progress could be possible if the theories of science be true, our position is that there could be no progress if the law of evolution as taught in the schools is true, even in a material sense. In this particular we are diametrically opposed to science. Its assumption is that the present race on the earth may be supposed to belong to a common stock which in its infancy was rude and barbarous, knowing little more than the animal, living like the animal, and learning all it knows simply by experience gained in its contest with nature through its development. Hence they give us the paleolithic age, and so on. In this scheme we find no explanation of how man comes to have innate ideas. Some, however, seeing the necessity for an explanation of this phenomenon, attempt it in various ways; and it is a phenomenon of the greatest importance. It is explained by Theosophy in a way peculiar to itself, and of which more will be said as we go on. — Evolution, W.Q.J., p. 145.
1. Extracts from THE PATH, Vol. V. (return to text)
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