A survey of the field of human consciousness as far as it can be made by the study of philosophies and the output of thought makes us ask how far has mankind, in our Western civilization, concerned itself about its spiritual future as an active and ever unfolding adventure? And how many have taken seriously Jesus' words to his disciples as they find them in their Bibles: "Ye are gods!"? Of course we can understand that the multitudes, to whom the struggle for existence is the most engrossing thing, can hardly be expected to have thought of very much beyond the immediate responsibilities of this world. But a few, the great philosophers and thinkers, have always been at the question: What is man? What is his origin and destiny? They have not been satisfied with one life, followed by an eternity vaguely beautiful but static.
A present-day philosopher, Martin Buber, who has only recently been translated from German into English, remarks:
The special dimension in which man knows himself as he can know himself alone, remains unentered, and for that reason man's special place in the cosmos remains undiscovered.
— An admission that he made after an exhaustive study of the philosophic systems of the greatest thinkers since Aristotle. Some, like Pascal, or even Kant, have been terrified at the immensity and the mystery. Even Martin Buber is forced to conclude:
The question about man's being faces us as never before in all its grandeur and terror — no longer in philosophical attire, but in the nakedness of existence. No dialectical guarantee keeps man from falling; it lies with himself to lift his foot and take the step which leads him away from the abyss. The strength to take this step cannot come from any security in regard to the future, but only from those depths of insecurity in which man, overshadowed by despair, answers with his decision the question about man's being.
He quotes another philosopher, Heidegger, to say:
No age has known so much, and so many different things, about man as ours . . . and no age has known less than ours what man is.
And yet, listen to this from another thinker, Scheler:
We are the first epoch in which man has become fully and thoroughly "problematic" to himself.
There indeed is a gleam of hope. It means that man's inquiry into the mystery of his own nature is becoming more general. There have been, as we know, in the West, all through the centuries, occasional great minds who intuited some part of the truth about man: there was Giordano Bruno, there was Jacob Boehme, Spinoza, Pico della Mirandola, Albertus Magnus, Paracelsus, William Blake, and the great and wise Goethe who envisioned man in a higher evolution "sharing the joys of the gods as blessed co-creative powers."
But these men were not widely understood or listened to in their time, and the unavoidable impression remains with us that some of our cleverest philosophers have been like men groping in the dark.
The poets have often been men of intuition, with flashes of insight into ancient truths. Offhand we can think of Whittier and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, both of whom gave us fleeting glimpses of reincarnation; Tennyson, on whose bed-table at the time of his death, was found H. P. Blavatsky's The Voice of the Silence; Keats, who wrote of this world as a school for the soul on its long pilgrimage; and Poe, who in his Eureka worked out a scheme for the birth of universes which is very close to pure Theosophy.
And Walt Whitman is so rich in bold and far-reaching ideas that he is in some respects the greatest genius of them all. This is one of his unforgettable inspirations:
This day before dawn I ascended a hill and look'd at the
And I said to my spirit, When we become the enfolders of those
orbs, and the pleasure and knowledge of everything in them,
shall we be fill'd and satisfied then?
And my spirit said No, we but level that lift to pass and
Some systems of mysticism, such as Quietism, have led men to go within, but have rarely given breadth and definiteness to man's conception of his spiritual possibilities and responsibilities. They have, indeed, led to spiritual selfishness, and are even capable of a certain sensuous quality. The subjective no doubt is needed in man's efforts to evolve, but it must be balanced by the objective, the turning outward towards others in mutual solidarity. The Master K. H. spoke of Quietism as "that utter paralysis of the soul."
In the nineteenth century, civilization, or at least one phase of it, had reached a climax of materiality. It was necessary to remind men that they could not remain static behind their ramparts of materialism. Thus it is ever with civilizations: as is pointed out in a magnificent passage in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett:
. . . at the very point of material perfection, that is when a civilization is ripe to fall, because it can no longer give man scope to develop his spiritual possibilities. Men have to be urged along the path of spiritual development, reminded of their destiny.
It is like the old tale in the Arabian Nights:
The princes and the princesses had built their palace and it was perfectly appointed, and surrounded with gardens and filled with every invitation to pleasure and delight; when an old mysterious woman visits them, and tells them, Yes, it is all very beautiful, but it will never do as it is: they must go in search of some further treasure that she names. So they leave it all behind, and one by one take up their long pilgrimage again.
We have to build up civilizations — we need them as vehicles to develop our creative genius and to implement our earth-experience; but then we become too engrossed in the thing we are creating and forget all about the object of it or our destined goal.
H. P. Blavatsky was able to shake loose the shackles that bound us in a spiritual sleep. She did it by superhuman labors, as we know; but she left with all those who were moved by "love of collective humanity" a grand philosophy of the universe to pass on to mankind. She turned the clear waters of Universal Wisdom into the turgid stream of Western thought, and gradually a clarification is taking place. Men are beginning to think in terms of humanity on the human plane; in terms of the universe on the scientific plane.
The terms used in the teaching of definite doctrines in Theosophy are capable of as exact an interpretation as the terms in science: and when we describe man's composite nature as having in it elements of the material, the psychic, the mental, the spiritual and the divine, and that these principles are simply small replicas or portions of the same principles as they exist in the universe; these are as much scientific truths as any that come out of our laboratories.
Man will not always be man. Already some men (a very few) have come into association with greater men, adept in Wisdom, who are on the verge of becoming more than human. They are the guardians of the race, the vanguard of humanity in its upward march. The technical teachings of Theosophy have a place and a name for them; these teachings also describe the hierarchical grades of still higher beings whose activities are ever more grand in their scope, until we reach the high divinities for whom only the stars are a fit abode.
All these, as evolution proceeds, man can become, once that he gains the realization of his spiritual possibilities and the secret of bringing them forth. As this growth proceeds, more and more deeply will he intuit the meaning of H. P. B.'s words in The Voice of the Silence:
"Knowest thou of Self the powers, O thou perceiver of external shadows?"