Immortal? Who doubts it? A few despairing souls dare to breathe the thought that if we keep on as we are going, mankind may actually destroy itself and leave the world a vast and mutilated graveyard. But most of us don't believe this.
Anne Douglas Sedgwick wrote in one of her letters, "That terrible human race, intent, as everywhere nowadays, in sawing off the branch they sit on!" But even she only imagined a bad tumble. There would always be the good solid earth beneath the branch to catch us.
It is true that some say our children's children may never know the comforts of "civilization" that we have known; that they may be born into a sterner world, a simpler one, one where the problems will be those of building again from rock-bottom; where there will be no place — and no inclination — for the million excrescences that we now find essential to living. Not the motor car but the plough, they say, may again be the symbol of our activity. Who knows? All this may come to pass. But something rebels within us when we hear it said that the human race will destroy itself.
We admit, yes, that civilization will crumble, old cultures be forgotten; that war may continue to decimate the nations; that famine, flood and earthquake will take their toll of human life (of human bodies) in the future as they have done in the past. But the human race itself? It cannot die!
Is there any basis in fact for our faith in our racial immortality? Or does it merely mean that we are not willing to face the worst? Let us examine our beliefs and see if we are justified in our faith.
If human souls are created, generation after generation, by a Deity, what guarantee have we that the supply may not suddenly be cut off? How can we be sure that such a Deity may not find a better and more grateful planet to populate? Why need we even expect to wait for a final reckoning on the Day of Judgment? Surely the Divine Plan is not bound by our expectations! Or if, on the other hand, we believe that man is merely a highly organized mechanism that somehow stumbled upon something called "life', what is to prevent the mechanism failing on a major scale to reproduce itself, as has happened to smaller human groups in the past where the women have become sterile and the race simply died out? Why should we stake everything on the infallibility of a machine?
Or perhaps we have never quite bothered as to what man is or how he gets here: whether he is a soul or just a machine: and yet our fellow men mean something real to us. We take, let us say, a vital interest in what they do, think and say. We perhaps even instinctively feel that in harming them we should be harming ourselves.
Here we have the three main classes into which most intelligent men of the West can be naturally grouped; and not among the members of any one of these three classes do we find a logical basis for a belief in the immortality of the human race. Yet, however we may have explained ourselves to ourselves — or failed to do so; however irrational or inadequate our viewpoint as to the status of the human race, we still cling to the belief — more than that: we take it for granted, that the human race will continue into the future, no matter how fearfully and persistently we seem bent on our own destruction.
We are willing to sacrifice much in order that those coming after may enjoy. It never occurs to us to think there may be no more coming after. We labor in the scientific laboratory in perfect faith that generation after generation will follow along our lines of research and investigation, discovering secrets of nature that are still dreams for us. We never doubt that there will be those following us to carry on the traditions of the human race. How can we explain this inherent, this undying faith?
There is only one answer; and it is as near to us as is the beating of our own heart. But many do not know this; only their faith speaks for them. We are the answer to our own question. The immortality of the human race is bound up with the immortality of the individuals of the race.
Let us expand this thought with a teaching from the Ancient Wisdom. At a very remote period in the past, a vast group or association of spiritual beings, linked together from immemorial time by the close bonds of a common origin, a common objective, and a common type of development, came to live upon this earth. We are that mighty host, the great Human Family. Our hierarchy is made up of a definite number of individuals. Not all of this hierarchy are present here at one and the same time, however, because our earth-existence represents only a small arc of our circle of life. We are in constant circulation from the invisible worlds into our visible one and out again; and probably those on earth at any one time represent but a hundredth part of the complete group.
Like the flocks of wild geese that follow with one will the airways of the earth, north to south and south to north with the changing seasons, this host of human egos enters and leaves the earth again and again in continuous wheelings. But with us there is one unbroken circle of beings. Each child that is born, each soul that passes the doorway of so-called death, marks the forward motion of the slowly turning wheel of life.
We prepare the fields of earth-life for incoming egos who must cope with the results of our mistakes. We sow seeds of war, disintegration, economic instability, even anarchy, and our brother-selves whom we bring into life as our children, must carry on. But does it all end here? Do we escape to a happier and better realm (or are we perhaps "snuffed out'?) leaving a broken world behind? No. As surely as we have been on earth once we shall turn earthward again; and so finely adjusted is the equilibrium of Nature, that we shall find the world we return to strangely like the one we left behind. History repeats itself because we repeat ourselves.
Does the historian ever guess, when he points out the parallels between our problems, our fads, our amusements, our arts, our economic systems, and those of past periods in Greece, Rome, Egypt, India, Babylon — does he guess that what he has stumbled upon are the records of a group of beings who hanker after the pursuits that so absorbed them here on earth, and being unable to stay away from the scenes of their former activities, keep returning to take up again their unfinished work? "The same old human nature!" laughs the historian. Yes indeed, because it is the same egos returning again and again, making the same mistakes, showing the same heroisms, moved by the same ethical principles, whether taught by a Confucius, a Buddha, or a Christ; loving and striving, scheming and sacrificing, always in the same old way. — Yet not quite the same either; for slowly out of the confused meaninglessness of it all; out of the tantalizing half-meanings that disturb our consciousness and will not let us forget, there gradually emerges an understanding of the purpose of our repetitive earth-existences. Through fluctuating cycles of ascent and descent our sight is gradually clearing; and even in these days, amid the bewildering confusions of conflicting wills, there are those who can cast their inner eye along the crests of centuries and see the immortal human race at last triumphant in the conquest of — itself.
When we issued forth from that great Mystery, that ineffable Splendor, which some peoples have given name to and others have left nameless, we had no knowledge of our differences, only of our oneness; when we entered earth-life we grew to recognise our differences and forgot our unity. We have been developing here as Individuals, and each such Individual has marked out the boundaries of his own little circle of consciousness. Yet as we follow our natures deep to their source we find the little circles merging into the One again; and it is this great circle of unity that we could not break even if we would.
Our common destiny is to be again — consciously where before it was unconscious — this circle of unity. And because the destiny of each one of us is bound up with the whole, we cannot perform an act, much less think a thought, without affecting to some degree every unit of that whole. Beneath the clash of race hatreds, with an urge more potent than our greed for power, our passion for supremacy, our egotisms and our separative and destructive conflicts, there works a common will, the will of our own spiritual selves who know not the heresy of separateness. This will is working towards a mighty destiny for the human race, the realization of an actual spiritual Brotherhood operative upon earth.
The immortal nature of man is bound to win in the end because it has the weight of a cosmic principle behind it — that of Universal Brotherhood, the essential unity of all life with the One Life. With this thought in mind let the unpopular idealist of today, wherever he may be, take heart. Let each act of sympathy and consideration for others, every manifestation of courage or endurance, every proof that comes to his attention that human beings can still exemplify the principles of justice, understanding and compassion — let all of these be registered in his mind and heart as unmistakable signs that the immortal spirit of man is at work. That which is immortal can never be overwhelmed in the long cycle.