The teachings of Theosophy deal for the present chiefly with our earth, although its purview extends to all the worlds, since no part of the manifested universe is outside the single body of laws which operate upon us. Our globe being one of the solar system is certainly connected with Venus, Jupiter, and other planets, but as the great human family has to remain with its material vehicle — the earth — until all the units of the race which are ready are perfected, the evolution of that family is of greater importance to the members of it. Some particulars respecting the other planets may be given later on. First let us take a general view of the laws governing all.
The universe evolves from the unknown, into which no man or mind, however high, can inquire, on seven planes or in seven ways or methods in all worlds, and this sevenfold differentiation causes all the worlds of the universe and the beings thereon to have a septenary constitution. As was taught of old, the little worlds and the great are copies of the whole, and the minutest insect as well as the most highly developed being are replicas in little or in great of the vast inclusive original. Hence sprang the saying, "as above so below" which the Hermetic philosophers used.
The divisions of the sevenfold universe may be laid down roughly as: The Absolute, Spirit, Mind, Matter, Will, Akasa or Aether, and Life. In place of "the Absolute" we can use the word Space. For Space is that which ever is, and in which all manifestation must take place. The term Akasa, taken from the Sanskrit, is used in place of Aether, because the English language has not yet evolved a word to properly designate that tenuous state of matter which is now sometimes called Ether by modern scientists. As to the Absolute we can do no more than say IT IS. None of the great teachers of the School ascribe qualities to the Absolute although all the qualities exist in It. Our knowledge begins with differentiation, and all manifested objects, beings, or powers are only differentiations of the Great Unknown. The most that can be said is that the Absolute periodically differentiates itself, and periodically withdraws the differentiated into itself.
The first differentiation — speaking metaphysically as to time — is Spirit, with which appears Matter and Mind. Akasa is produced from Matter and Spirit, Will is the force of Spirit in action and Life is a resultant of the action of Akasa, moved by Spirit, upon Matter.
But the Matter here spoken of is not that which is vulgarly known as such. It is the real Matter which is always invisible, and has sometimes been called Primordial Matter. In the Brahmanical system it is denominated Mulaprakriti. The ancient teaching always held, as is now admitted by Science, that we see or perceive only the phenomena but not the essential nature, body or being of matter.
Mind is the intelligent part of the Cosmos, and in the collection of seven differentiations above roughly sketched, Mind is that in which the plan of the Cosmos is fixed or contained. This plan is brought over from a prior period of manifestation which added to its ever-increasing perfectness, and no limit can be set to its evolutionary possibilities in perfectness, because there was never any beginning to the periodical manifestations of the Absolute, there never will be any end, but forever the going forth and withdrawing into the Unknown will go on.
Wherever a world or system of worlds is evolving there the plan has been laid down in universal mind, the original force comes from spirit, the basis is matter — which is in fact invisible — Life sustains all the forms requiring life, and Akasa is the connecting link between matter on one side and spirit-mind on the other.
When a world or a system comes to the end of certain great cycles men record a cataclysm in history or tradition. These traditions abound; among the Jews in their flood; with the Babylonians in theirs; in Egyptian papyri; in the Hindu cosmology; and none of them as merely confirmatory of the little Jewish tradition, but all pointing to early teaching and dim recollection also of the periodical destructions and renovations. The Hebraic story is but a poor fragment torn from the pavement of the Temple of Truth. Just as there are periodical minor cataclysms or partial destructions, so, the doctrine holds, there is the universal evolution and involution. Forever the Great Breath goes forth and returns again. As it proceeds outwards, objects, worlds and men appear; as it recedes all disappear into the original source.
This is the waking and the sleeping of the Great Being; the Day and the Night of Brahma; the prototype of our waking days and sleeping nights as men, of our disappearance from the scene at the end of one little human life, and our return again to take up the unfinished work in another life, in a new day.
The real age of the world has long been involved in doubt for Western investigators, who up to the present have shown a singular unwillingness to take instruction from the records of Oriental people much older than the West. Yet with the Orientals is the truth about the matter. It is admitted that Egyptian civilization flourished many centuries ago, and as there are no living Egyptian schools of ancient learning to offend modern pride, and perhaps because the Jews "came out of Egypt" to fasten the Mosaic misunderstood tradition upon modern progress, the inscriptions cut in rocks and written on papyri obtain a little more credit today than the living thought and record of the Hindus. For the latter are still among us, and it would never do to admit that a poor and conquered race possesses knowledge respecting the age of man and his world which the western flower of culture, war, and annexation knows nothing of. Ever since the ignorant monks and theologians of Asia Minor and Europe succeeded in imposing the Mosaic account of the genesis of earth and man upon the coming western evolution, the most learned even of our scientific men have stood in fear of the years that elapsed since Adam, or have been warped in thought and perception whenever their eyes turned to any chronology different from that of a few tribes of the sons of Jacob. Even the noble, aged, and silent pyramid of Gizeh, guarded by Sphinx and Memnon made of stone, has been degraded by Piazzi Smyth and others into a proof that the British inch must prevail and that a "Continental Sunday" controverts the law of the Most High. Yet in the Mosaic account, where one would expect to find a reference to such a proof as the pyramid, we can discover not a single hint of it and only a record of the building by King Solomon of a temple of which there never was a trace.
But the Theosophist knows why the Hebraic tradition came to be thus an apparent drag on the mind of the West; he knows the connection between Jew and Egyptian; what is and is to be the resurrection of the old pyramid builders of the Nile valley, and where the plans of those ancient master masons have been hidden from the profane eyes until the cycle should roll round again for their bringing forth. The Jews preserved merely a part of the learning of Egypt hidden under the letter of the books of Moses, and it is there still to this day in what they call the cabalistic or hidden meaning of the scriptures. But the Egyptian souls who helped in planning the pyramid of Gizeh, who took part in the Egyptian government, theology, science, and civilization, departed from their old race, that race died out and the former Egyptians took up their work in the oncoming races of the West, especially in those which are now repeopling the American continents. When Egypt and India were younger there was a constant intercourse between them. They both, in the opinion of the Theosophist, thought alike, but fate ruled that of the two the Hindus only should preserve the old ideas among a living people. I will therefore take from the Brahmanical records of Hindustan their doctrine about the days, nights, years and life of Brahma, who represents the universe and the worlds.
The doctrine at once upsets the interpretation so long given to the Mosaic tradition, but fully accords with the evident account in Genesis of other and former "creations," with the cabalistic construction of the Old Testament verse about the kings of Edom, who there represent former periods of evolution prior to that started with Adam, and also coincides with the belief held by some of the early Christian Fathers who told their brethren about wonderful previous worlds and creations.
The Day of Brahma is said to last one thousand years, and his night is of equal length. In the Christian Bible is a verse saying that one day is as a thousand years to the Lord and a thousand years as one day. This has generally been used to magnify the power of Jehovah, but it has a suspicious resemblance to the older doctrine of the length of Brahma's day and night. It would be of more value if construed to be a statement of the periodical coming forth for great days and nights of equal length of the universe of manifested worlds.
A day of mortals is reckoned by the sun, and is but twelve hours in length. On Mercury it would be different, and on Saturn or Uranus still more so. But a day of Brahma is made up of what are called Manvantaras — or period between two men — fourteen in number. These include four billion three hundred and twenty million mortal, or earth, years, which is one day of Brahma.
When this day opens, cosmic evolution, so far as relates to this solar system, begins and occupies between one and two billions of years in evolving the very ethereal first matter before the astral kingdoms of mineral, vegetable, animal and men are possible. This second step takes some three hundred millions of years, and then still more material processes go forward for the production of the tangible kingdoms of nature, including man. This covers over one and one-half billions of years. And the number of solar years included in the present "human" period is over eighteen millions of years.
This is exactly what Herbert Spencer designates as the gradual coming forth of the known and heterogeneous from the unknown and homogeneous. For the ancient Egyptian and Hindu Theosophists never admitted a creation out of nothing, but ever strenuously insisted upon evolution, by gradual stages, of the heterogeneous and differentiated from the homogeneous and undifferentiated. No mind can comprehend the infinite and absolute unknown, which is, has no beginning and shall have no end; which is both last and first, because, whether differentiated or withdrawn into itself, it ever is. This is the God spoken of in the Christian Bible as the one around whose pavilion there is darkness.
This cosmic and human chronology of the Hindus is laughed at by western Orientalists, yet they can furnish nothing better and are continually disagreeing with each other on the same subject. In Wilson's translation of Vishnu Purana he calls it all fiction based on nothing, and childish boasting. But the Free Masons, who remain inactive hereupon, ought to know better. They could find in the story of the building of Solomon's temple from the heterogeneous materials brought from everywhere, and its erection without the noise of a tool being heard, the agreement with these ideas of their Egyptian and Hindu brothers. For Solomon's Temple means man whose frame is built up, finished and decorated without the least noise. But the materials had to be found, gathered together and fashioned in other and distant places.
These are in the periods above spoken of, very distant and very silent. Man could not have his bodily temple to live in until all the matter in and about his world had been found by the Master, who is the inner man, when found the plans for working it required to be detailed. They then had to be carried out in different detail until all the parts should be perfectly ready and fit for placing in the final structure. So in the vast stretch of time which began after the first almost intangible matter had been gathered and kneaded, the material and vegetable kingdoms had sole possession here with the Master — man — who was hidden from sight within carrying forward the plans for the foundations of the human temple. All of this requires many, many ages, since we know that nature never leaps. And when the rough work was completed, when the human temple was erected, many more ages would be required for all the servants, the priests, and the counsellors to learn their parts properly so that man, the Master, might be able to use the temple for its best and highest purposes.
The ancient doctrine is far nobler than the Christian religious one or that of the purely scientific school. The religious gives a theory which conflicts with reason and fact, while science can give for the facts which it observes no reason which is in any way noble or elevating. Theosophy alone, inclusive of all systems and every experience, gives the key, the plan, the doctrine, the truth.
The real age of the world is asserted by Theosophy to be almost incalculable, and that of man as he is now formed is over eighteen millions of years. What has become at last man is of vastly greater age, for before the present two sexes appeared the human creature was sometimes of one shape and sometimes of another, until the whole plan had been fully worked out into our present form, function, and capacity. This is found to be referred to in the ancient books written for the profane where man is said to have been at one time globular in shape. This was at a time when the conditions favored such a form and of course it was longer ago than eighteen millions of years. And when this globular form was the rule the sexes as we know them had not differentiated and hence there was but one sex, or if you like, no sex at all.
During all these ages before our man came into being, evolution was carrying on the work of perfecting various powers which are now our possession. This was accomplished by the Ego or real man going through experience in countless conditions of matter all different one from the other, and the same plan in general was and is pursued as prevails in respect to the general evolution of the universe to which I have before adverted. That is, details were first worked out in spheres of being very ethereal, metaphysical in fact. Then the next step brought the same details to be worked out on a plane of matter a little more dense, until at last it could be done on our present plane of what we miscall gross matter. In these anterior states the senses existed in germ, as it were, or in idea, until the astral plane which is next to this one was arrived at, and then they were concentrated so as to be the actual senses we now use through the agency of the different outer organs. These outer organs of sight, touch and hearing, and tasting, are often mistaken by the unlearned or the thoughtless for the real organs and senses, but he who stops to think must see that the senses are interior and that their outer organs are but mediators between the visible universe and the real perceiver within. And all these various powers and potentialities being well worked out in this slow but sure process, at last man is put upon the scene a sevenfold being just as the universe and earth itself are sevenfold. Each of his seven principles is derived from one of the great first seven divisions, and each relates to a planet or scene of evolution, and to a race in which that evolution was carried out. So the first sevenfold differentiation is important to be borne in mind, since it is the basis of all that follows; just as the universal evolution is septenary so the evolution of humanity, sevenfold in its constitution, is carried on upon a septenary Earth. This is spoken of in Theosophical literature as the Sevenfold Planetary Chain, and is intimately connected with Man's special evolution.