[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]
Through inaccuracies of expression, or through over-enthusiasm in envisioning our godlike ancestry, we, i. e., Theosophical speakers and writers, sometimes antagonize nature-lovers by giving the impression that we claim no kinship with the beast-kingdom. It is true that we reiterate that all Nature is one; that we are brothers with all entities in the Universe, and similar pleasantly vague statements; but sometimes when trying to handle scientifically the question of human and beast evolution, we are apt to express ourselves in terms of contempt for our younger brothers — a most untheosophical attitude, as every Theosophist will admit if he stops to think. One wonders whether this is a natural reaction against the widespread acceptance of the Darwinian theory, or whether, perhaps, seeing in our own lower nature a rather pathetic distortion of the innocent antics of the beasts, we wish to assure ourselves and others that there is absolutely no resemblance or connexion.
The fact is that there is a very close kinship between ourselves and the beast-kingdom; only it is the reverse of what the modern evolutionist supposes. The human race was their predecessor and in a sense their creator. We helped to bring them into being; we originally provided the mechanism by which they found existence on this plane. And more than this, certain psychological elements thrown off by man are even today absorbed by the beasts. Thus through the ages we have nourished them, not only with the stuff, the life-atoms, of which their physical bodies are builded, but with the substance of their ethereal bodies and of their intermediate principle.
It must be remembered, however, in connexion with our being their "creators," that what might seem far-fetched or even ridiculous when thought of in terms of man as he is today, with his more or less fixed and supposedly well-regulated physical body, and fairly well integrated inner principles, becomes a natural sequence of events in the varied pattern of evolutionary history when we study with an attempt at intelligent understanding man's makeup, capacities, and environment at the time of his appearance on this globe, and the transitional formative stages through which he passed to his present position and capacities. (1)
Further, when we speak of nourishment received by the beasts from us, we have to keep in mind a law of Nature very often overlooked: Every kingdom receives its grosser sustenance from below — from lesser beings of its own kingdom, or from those of the kingdoms less evolved than itself. Thus among the beasts, the fox will feed upon the luckless rabbit; the eagle on the little birds; the little birds on the lowly worm; horses, cows, and sheep, on grass and herbs; while at the same time all beasts are nourished in part by the elements of the mineral kingdom, as also are we. Yet while it is true that every kingdom receives its grosser sustenance from below, all must be nourished from above as well, in order to preserve the soundness of their constitutions. We humans are nourished by divine beings; but in our egotism we imagine that the food of inspiration we receive from above is a sign-manual of our own superiority — even when we misuse it. The beasts are more humble; they make no claims. Observe how the ox has served man since history began; how the horse acknowledges man's superiority and authority; how the dog worships man as a god! It is because all kingdoms are dependent upon each other, and each upon all, that life continues throughout the Universe; that the vital circulations of the universal organism are maintained; that cosmic health and harmony can be restored where in places they have been disturbed — just as the healthy blood-flow in the physical body helps by constant renewal of tissue to heal a flesh-wound.
Naturally those kingdoms that are "adjoining" each other in the hierarchical scale have the closest links of dependence one with the other. One could hardly expect a super-god to feel more than a remote affiliation with a molecule of sulphur, let us say; but as between man and beast the case is different, for clearly the beast is man's close relative. Speaking in terms of manvantaras, it is not so very long ago that the natural psychical barriers which now make a definite line of demarcation between these two kingdoms, were non-existent, at least as regards man and the other mammalia. Man, the superior being, at that time threw off cells providing a ready opportunity for the building of physical forms for the animal kingdom. And though, when once launched, these animals proceeded to evolve as independent minor stocks; and though through man's innate capacity the evolutionary gap between the classes of beings in time became impassable, nevertheless in the admittedly less dramatic, but certainly fundamental procedures of present-day cosmic functionings, man still provides a necessary part of the life of the kingdom below him, for certain of his psychic emanations find a suitable habitat in the constitution of the beast and help to build it up. Some of these emanations have been evil, and have helped to sustain the venomous snake, the fierce tiger, the greedy vulture. Others, fortunately, have been benign, and have nourished the comely and gentle beasts. It is well, when we shrink from what we find vile in the animal kingdom, to reflect upon our own responsibility in the matter.
Probably without man the beasts would not exist; just as we should not long exist if the gods were to disappear from the universe, because, having then lost our godlike qualities, we should perish, being the most helpless of beasts.
It is thus seen that the human stock assumes the role of parent to the beasts rather than their child; he is their ancestor rather than their descendant. This is esoteric science, but science nonetheless — not merely a philosophical speculation. The most far-sighted anthropologists of the near future may consider it not unscientific to employ the Theosophical scheme of evolution at least as an hypothesis; since in any case their own theories are mere hypotheses; and there has never been a single crumb of fact gathered by science that is in opposition to the esoteric evolutionary teaching.
The so-called rationalist would rather believe the modern materialistic theory than accept as his ancestors the "pallid couple" in the Garden of Eden. While those more religious-minded cannot leave God out of the story of evolution. Thus the battle periodically rages between these two schools of thought; but both may eventually find that while they had been wrangling, there had been at hand all the time another and nobler evolutionary scheme, more scientific than their science, more mystical and spiritual than their religious belief, a scheme which embraces the truth behind both dogmas. On the one hand it impels us to grasp our divine heritage, while on the other hand it teaches us, or should teach us, the respect that is due to our younger brothers, the beasts.
The story of evolution as told in Theosophy justifies and explains our upward reaching after the stars. It also justifies and explains our love of so-called "nature," our love of the lower kingdoms. It shows this love to be no freakish sort of thing, a human perversion, but the very natural recognition of our kinship with them.
Yet the word "love" is here used in the best sense. It in no wise suggests that offensively sentimental handling of pets that is so often nothing but a using of them as an outlet for the satisfaction of one's emotional nature. Love does not have to show itself in over-effusiveness of any kind, as we know full well from an intelligent study of human relationships. To love animals truly one must first understand our relation and responsibility to them. Our attitude towards them should not be an aggressive one. They merit by all means our most conscientious and loving protection, but we should not attempt to psychologize them into an aping of humanlike intelligence; for the peak of their evolutionary growth is over for this manvantara. And how do we know to what extent our misplaced attentions may be a meddling with energies in retardation or recession, for which interference we shall have to make restitution in another life-cycle?
When the student of Theosophy takes into consideration the various factors in the question, as above outlined, he no longer implies, in his vigorous protest against the Darwinian theory, that it is the beasts themselves that we object to. Secure in his own position, he graciously acknowledges their kinship with us and their place in the universal family of beings; and his teaching of the Theosophical doctrine of evolution will foster in his fellows that feeling of genuine love and protection for our younger brothers which is of the nature of true compassion.
1. See The Esoteric Tradition, Volume I, chapter x. (return to text)
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