Who is man? A god in process of becoming or a biological sport, a chance production of life in a cosmos otherwise void of intelligent, sentient beings? How singular that we should have forgotten our lineage when we are sprung of the seed of divinity, our souls assigned each to its "native star," as Plato tells us in his Timaeus (secs.41-2), and when there is not a single atom in the immensities of space but is a consciousness-point instinct with life and the will to grow. Have we forgotten that we are gods currently housed in human temples; that our destiny is linked with that of every other human being; that we are, in fact, participants together in a cosmic procession of unfoldment that bonds us equally with the atoms of our body as with the courses of the stars and, by that token, with the heart of Infinity? As G. de Purucker wrote:
Life is endless, has neither beginning nor end; and a universe is in no wise different in essentials from a man. . . . Consider the stars and the planets: every one of them is a life-atom [the monadic life or divine spark animating every atom within the cosmos] in the cosmic body; every one of them is the organized dwelling place of a multitude of smaller life-atoms which build up the brilliant bodies we see. Moreover, every sparkling sun which begems the skies was at one time a man, or a being equivalent to a human, possessing in some degree self-consciousness, intellectual power, conscience and spiritual vision, as well as a body. And the planets and the myriads of entities on the planets encircling any such cosmic god, any such star or sun, are now the same entities who in far bygone cosmic manvantaras [cycles of manifestation] were the life-atoms of that entity. — Fountain-Source of Occultism, p. 112
There is thus an intimate and strongly forged relationship on all levels between galaxies and humans: if, according to astrophysics, the chemical atoms of our physical constitution are formed in the interior of stars, would not the life-atoms of our mind and spirit be kin to those of the gods who use stars for bodies? Out of the darkness of chaos and the void, the firmament of stars, sun, moon, and planets came forth — and man too, his body formed of the dust of stars, his spirit born of divinities who gave him life. To what else did the Qabbalah refer when it depicted those who came after the divine dynasties as "shooting down like falling stars" to enshrine themselves "in the shadows" and inaugurate our present earth and its humanities. (Cf. The Secret Doctrine 2:487)
When the universe came into being, the human kingdom was only one of several families of monads (Gk monas, one, single), individual atoms of light or sparks of divinity, who entered realms of matter for a grand purpose. We endure throughout the manvantara or world cycle — not our bodies, not our minds, but in the monadic core of our being which is stamped with our unique essence. It is this monadic essence that spans the cycles of births and deaths, that urges our reincarnating ego to incarnate again and again in order to evolve forth ever more of its intrinsic quality. In other words, because our divine monad has to gain experience firsthand, it periodically widens and deepens its perceptions by animating every life form of ethereal and material substance it encounters along its evolutionary route; all the while it sparks into ever fuller awareness the life-atoms of the many-faceted constitution it will use as its means of enrichment.
As monads, then, we have already evolved through many different phases of life, taking form ages ago in the mineral kingdom. When we exhausted the experiences of the mineral world, we imbodied as plants, in a variety of trees and flowers and, when we could no longer find adequate expression in the vegetable kingdom, our monads took birth life after life in the animal kingdom, in all kinds of animal bodies. Finally, the divine essence within us was ready to assume the responsibility of humanhood, and to know that we are thinking beings. Ignited by the flame of mind, we went forth as true humans, enlightened in part, and blinded in part by material desire.
In the beginning we had on "garments of light," as the Qabbalah phrases it; but as we descended the arc of matter we put on heavier and heavier "coats of skin" until we all but obscured our light source. We were as exiles from our divine home, having forgotten who we were and what our purpose was. So involved had we become with outer things (and still are) that we identified ourselves and our hopes and dreams with externals rather than with the inner life. According to the Mahabharata, the great epic of India, we have just passed the halfway point of the life of Brahma or, as the theosophic teachings express it, the lowest point of the evolutionary arc, and have begun the rise toward spirit. This means that as a life-stream of egos we have passed the nadir and have begun the process, however slow our progress may seem, of shedding our coats of blindness, of matter.
In coming down the evolutionary arc ("down" and "up" are used for lack of better words), of necessity we attracted to ourselves more and more material atoms in order to build bodies suitable to the ever more material worlds we would be living in. We see this happening on a small scale in each human life. A child-to-be instinctively draws to itself atoms of life, of energy, to build its body. As its mind begins to awaken, it eagerly seizes everything before it — not selfishly, but because it has to gather to itself the life-atoms it needs in order to grow. The drive to seize for itself continues until the body is adult — though the tendency often persists longer than it ought. If it does, the current of growth mentally and psychologically may become egocentric and selfish. The time will come, as the cycles fulfill their course, when the family of man, along with earth and its kingdoms, will have shed their physical bodies, revealing once again the garments of light in which they were originally clothed.
There is but one pattern in nature, one purpose in view: the quickening of matter with the flame of spirit. As long as the focus is on producing material vehicles, spirit is recessive, in the background. Once the work of building vehicles is over, the explosive energy of spirit assumes command, its radiating force intensified. We are all radioactive: atoms, rocks, humans, and stars. A supernova, in ejecting its matter-particles, releases a thunderous burst of light far into space; just so, every time we transmute the iron of our nature into the bright essence of spirit, we irradiate the thought-world far and wide. It may be only a gleam, unseen by ourselves, but light is light, and wherever it shines it illumines the darkness. When at length we reach the top of the evolutionary arc, we will have evolved from within our full potentialities. We will be as gods walking the earth, having learned everything this planet can teach us. The end of our earth-experience will have arrived, and we will pass into a long rest.
But not forever — there is continuous ebb and flux, endings and beginnings, the death of old worlds and old experiences and the bringing to birth of new worlds, new experiences. As the cycles proceed, our human life-wave or family of monads will seek imbodiment on other planets or spheres until we have mastered all there is to be known in our solar system. In the long distant future we humans will have become suns, each with its own family of beings, while our present sun perchance will be the temple of a still greater solar being. In fact, we are "constantly affecting the destiny of the suns and planets of the future," and when we in turn shall have become suns, "then the nebulae and the suns around us will be the evolved entities who now are our fellow human beings. Consequently, the karmic relations that we have with each other on earth . . . will most assuredly affect their destiny as well as our own." (G. de Purucker, Fountain-Source of Occultism, pp. 112-13) An awesome intermeshing of karmic links among all families of monads — from atomic to stellar and beyond!
The implications are profound: just as we humans after long association with animals, plants, and minerals are intimately tied in with their life cycles (scarcely an unmixed blessing, so casually have we exploited our younger brothers), just so the gods, by virtue of their having lived and worked among us during our formative period, are bonded with us forever, their influence and destiny irrevocably linked with ours. Reciprocity of responsibility and of caring would seem to be a dominant motif in nature's economy.
Such a perspective offers a very different view of man and his origins from those held by creationists, who adhere to a literal interpretation of Genesis, and also by evolutionists, the majority of whom regard Homo sapiens as having evolved from simian or anthropoid stock. As is often the case, truth appears to lie somewhere in the middle. Along with most religions, theosophy is in accord with the concept that man and all the kingdoms are "imaged in the Divine" — a spark of godhood being the fount and origin of every life form. Theosophy equally recognizes the presence of an orderly evolutionary progression, from less to greater — not by chance, but moved by intelligent, conscious agencies.
Charles Darwin was a remarkably gifted man with a deep religious sense, yet with respect to his speculative theories, particularly that of man's origin, he was surprisingly unscientific in presenting his case that the human mammalia followed the monkeys and apes on the ladder of stocks. (The Descent of Man, p. 155) The genealogical tree from protozoon to man, when impartially examined, shows numerous gaps in the scale of beings — too many "missing links." There is no hard fossil evidence for claiming a "straight-line-of-descent" from amoeba through monkeys to apes to Homo sapiens. (Cf. Francis Hitching, The Neck of the Giraffe: Where Darwin Went Wrong, chapter 8, "Monkey business," pp. 199-224; also Eldredge and Tattersall, The Myths of Human Evolution, pp. 45-6)
Penetrating questions continue to be asked. The caldron of debate is impelling "a growing number of evolutionary specialists to go back to the drawing board: to the fundamentals of patterns and forms of nature." (Hitching, p. 221) They are starting from scratch, letting the chips fall where they may, so that they disclose what is and expose what is not. It is not our purpose here to report on the several new evolutionary hypotheses or interpretations of fossil finds that are currently under examination. Suffice to note a provocative statement by the late Finnish paleontologist, Bjorn Kurten:
Man did not descend from the apes. It would be more correct to say that apes and monkeys descended from early ancestors of man. The distinction is real: in the traits under consideration, man is primitive, apes and monkeys are specialized. — Not From the Apes, p. vii
This statement, as far as it goes, accords with the theosophic model, although that expounded by HPB and Purucker goes a good deal further. They maintain that the simians and apes are offshoots or descendants of man as the result of a series of miscegenations, that is, mating of humans with animals; and that this occurred during the very early stages of humanity's racial experience, before the line of demarcation between human and animal stocks had become sharply drawn.
In Man in Evolution, a critique of the evolutionary theories that scientists since Darwin had propounded through the 1930s, Purucker analyzed the biological and anatomical evidence and showed that the physical form of man is beyond doubt far more primitive than that of the simians or other primates. As scientists have never found any anatomical characteristic to go backwards, but always forwards, obviously the most primitive features are the oldest; and as the bodies of monkeys and apes in significant ways are more specialized or evolved anatomically than man's body is, they must have come after man.
Rather than looking for fossil links, Purucker suggested that the real missing link in scientific theory is that of consciousness, the dynamic element behind the evolution of forms, human or other; further, that man was the origin, the parent and source of all species lower than himself. In brief, he takes man back to some prototype or original parent when the human stock had a semi-ethereal or astral form, from which over the ages many cells were cast off. These cast-off cells later developed along their individual lines to form the lower stocks.
It is ironic that since the publication of The Descent of Man most scientists along with the general public have taken Darwin's hypotheses as facts, instead of regarding them, as he had hoped, as theories to be tested and proved or disproved in the light of further investigation. The result has been to consolidate the materialistic view of life, rendering a grave disservice, particularly by the notion that we are merely evolved apes. Rightfully the creationists object to this, but their vision of man is equally limited by their dogmatic stance. We need to visualize ourselves as we really are — divinities who have been animating all manner of bodies for many aeons. Certainly in earlier imbodiments we — as monads — no doubt used a fish form, a reptile form, and a bird form before we imbodied in a mammal form. And if indeed we did use an apelike form in an earlier round of experience, this does not mean that we descended from the apes in this present cycle. The distinction, while subtle, is an important one to note.
Some anthropologists and paleontologists, in an endeavor to solve the many anomalies in current evolutionist theories, have suggested the likelihood of there being intelligent agencies behind the evolution of all species. They reason there must be some directing influence protecting and guiding the intricate and highly organized lower forms of life. Even so, they cannot account for the sudden marked changes that occurred in the human stock. What mysterious factor, they ask, precipitated the extraordinary leap in consciousness from that of animal to a creative, artistic, and original thinker? What happened?