The Path – November 1890


Evolution is an unfolding of that which is within, the development of a potentiality. Involution is an infolding of that which is without.

I wish to show briefly that from the simpler affinities of the mineral world to the highest planes of existence, there is a continuous evolution of will and conciousness, of idea and intellect, and that this evolution takes place through a series of vehicles which are successively built up and cast aside.

A potentiality is a tension or tendency toward the production of a result, meaning also the power of effecting that result under suitable conditions. A grain of gunpowder has the potentiality of explosion, of evolving suddenly a quantity of gas due to the chemical combination of the elements mixed together. These elements had been separated from combination, and the return to that condition is like the release of a spring.

This is an example of the evolution of a few simple combinations due to the potentialities or chemical affinities of so-called elements. In chemical evolution weaker combinations perish, being torn apart by the more powerful attractions of the atoms for new mates, while a large amount of mechanical energy is made manifest. In the gunpowder, for instance, the saltpeter or nitrate of potassium disappears or perishes as such, yielding its different elements to form new compounds with the carbon and the sulphur. The saltpeter molecule is like a package in which a considerable amount of oxygen is compactly put up, held together by two other elements, the nitrogen and the potassium, which serve as binding material.

By a "molecule" the chemist means a definite group of atoms, or combination of elements. An atom is an exact and still simpler relationship of force and space, the real nature of which is not understood. It is the unit portion of an element and beyond this cannot be described.

All commercial transactions are exchanges of packages, using this word in its broadest sense, and all packages are made up of retaining or binding elements and those retained or held together in more or less permanent relationship.

The package consists of the case and the goods contained. The case after serving its turn passes back to the plane of being from which it was temporarily evolved, while the goods taken from it are made the vehicles of higher uses to perish in their turn.

Strange as it may seem, we will find upon reflection that there is absolutely nothing which has any value in itself. Value is based wholly on an estimate of that for which the article valued can be exchanged. The idea of exchange must not be limited to its narrow commercial sense; for an article used is at some time worn out or decays, exchanged for whatever its use or existence has brought, whether this be material or otherwise.

This result again is valued in like manner for what it can produce, but always in a direction toward the unevolved portion of our being. Whether by few steps or many, each of us must reach, somewhere within, the boundary of that shadowy land of vague aspiration and unrest.

Some men will reach this region at lower levels than others, according to their evolutionary stage.

A packing box is broken up, used as fuel or decays, passes into ashes and gases, to be again absorbed by growing plants or trees to furnish material for future boards, string, or paper.

The goods contained may be food, clothing, books, or pictures.

The food, which is but packages of energy, derived from the affinities of the mineral kingdom through vegetable or animal vehicles, is quickly consumed in the construction and maintenance of that most perfect of packing cases, the human body. The clothing is worn out in encasing it. The books and pictures are but the shells of ideas which form the nutriment of the mind, which itself is but the shell, medium, or vehicle of the higher spiritual ego with its transcendent faculties. Of what this again is the vehicle, we cannot tell, except by repeating vague words, which to those on higher spiritual planes may be full of meaning, but to the ordinary man convey only the impression that there are cycles of being far above, or rather within, our present conceptions.

We have, then, a series of vehicles, sheaths, or packing cases, grade above grade, the contents of each being utilized in the fabrication or evolution of the next higher, so that the production of the highest summarizes the uses of all.

The mineral or purely chemical kingdom, with its affinities, with its crystalline, liquid, and gaseous states, is the simplest manifestation of form and tendency, of energy and direction. By the mineral kingdom, it must be remembered, is meant not merely crystals, rocks, and ores, but all unvitalized matter, whatever its temporary condition.

This department of nature has been considered by most, even of non-materialists, as purely mechanical or machine like, with no trace of the self-centered will so evident as we go higher. The certainty with which the mineral Will (otherwise known as chemical affinity) is exercised has given rise to this impression.

In the vegetable kingdom the sub-consciousness of nature manifests itself most clearly.

The plant gives all the evidence of a consciousness of its own that its structure and its fixed condition allow. Its tendrils follow and entwine lines of support. Its shoots, and even individual leaves, will constantly readjust themselves towards the light, no matter how often displaced. Potatoes in a dark cellar will send their sprouts for yards toward the knot hole or crevice through which a solitary ray finds entrance. Roots nose out nutriment and will grow straight toward some dainty morsel; when it is reached they will follow its outlines closely. On the other hand, a wind-shaken tree on a crag hooks its roots over every ledge and into each crevice, no matter how barren, and thickens its bark on the side most needing protection.

At night plants sleep, and if deprived artificially of rest give signs of exhaustion. Sensitive and insect-catching plants have distinct rudiments of a nervous system which is affected by anaesthetics. Sensitive plants sometimes become so much excited by violent winds as to lose sleep for several nights afterward.

The animal, having powers of locomotion, is able to give evidence of consciousness that cannot be questioned. The development of intellectual consciousness, or what is commonly called reason, is the object and highest attainment of the animal kingdom.

In the human kingdom intellectual consciousness reaches higher levels, and spiritual consciousness is developed.

In the evolution of the whole series, destruction and creation, disintegration and integration, go hand in hand and are opposite faces of the same thing. One looks toward the past, the other to the future. Each operation both of nature and art will appear under one aspect or the other, as interest or habit makes us look on the side facing the past or on that which looks toward the future. Each structure, whether natural or artificial, is a factory or tool which elaborates material for the uses of a higher grade, and wears away in this production; or, it is a package. In other words, each structure is a vehicle, a maker of vehicles, or both.

This may be illustrated by the destructive and constructive operations involved in building a house.

Trees are cut down and destroyed that boards, mouldings, and the elementary forms of wood work may be constructed. These are sent from the saw mill and await the further operations of the carpenter, who, as he saws and chisels would be looked upon, from the stand point of the boards, as a destroying angel, but from that of the master builder as a subordinate creative power.

The crystalline structure of the mineral is destroyed in the smelting furnace, that bars and sheets of iron or other metal may be formed. These again are destroyed in the manufacture of nails, screws, locks, and other hardware. These elements of construction are delivered in neat packages by the hardware merchant to the builder. The packages are broken up and the contents distributed as required.

In these operations we find destruction less and less radical as we ascend the scale, until the higher elements of construction are simply fitted into place after being divested of an enclosing case. The apt Scriptural illustration of "living stones" will occur to some.

We must turn to the living world for fuller illustration. The hard and crystalline rock is split and crumbled, destroyed as rock and crystal, under the influence of vegetable life. Its soluble elements are absorbed by roots; others as soil form a medium for nutriment. The gases of the air disappear as such, lose their mobility, and become parts of the solid structure; fluids are imprisoned in cells and sap vessels. The white sunbeams sink into the leaves, and the green rays only are rejected. What has become of all the energy conveyed by these vehicles?

A seed that a sparrow might devour evolves the giant red-wood tree, heaving a hundred tons of timber into mid air, withstanding the blasts of centuries.

It would be folly to suppose that the small germ contained this immense amount of energy, to say nothing of the annual crops of seeds produced by the same tree, each of equal capacity. The seed of the tree contained barely enough raw material, stored-up capital, so to speak, to form the first tiny pair of leaflets and a thread-like root.

It held something far mightier than the greatest store house of crude forces could contain; it held the idea of the great tree, a directive and guiding principle, which, though invisible and imponderable, was in touch with the material world through a point of matter. This idea by multiplication or reflection of itself could fill a continent with similar trees.

The idea or astral type creates neither energy nor matter, but directs the mindless energies of matter so that they seem to our material eyes to build up of themselves those great living temples in the construction of which "neither the sound of axe nor hammer is heard". How clumsy our machine and hand-made houses seem in comparison.

Animal life must depend upon plant forms and plant principles as food, for no substance unorganized by plant life is nutritious in the smallest degree. The consumption of flesh comes to the same thing, except that the labor of turning over and selecting from a considerable amount of vegetable matter has been performed by another set of digestive organs.

The mineral forms are altered or destroyed by the plant that the imprisoned forces may be stored and turned to account in its own structure. The animal kingdom, including man in his animal aspects, stands in the relation to the vegetable kingdom that the vegetable does to the mineral. At each transference there is a selection and rejection; finer forces are stored up and less crude material as we ascend the scale. New wants and affinities develop. The animal is content to feed, reproduce its species, and die. Many men are content with the same routine, or feel but vague and faint impulses for anything higher. A more advanced type of humanity spends body and life in the pursuit of ideas; the hunger of a growing something within directs the actions and experiences of the body and absorbs such of the results as accord with these higher affinities.

Let us go back to the grain of gunpowder which was taken as a familiar type of compactly-stored energy. This mixture, like other explosives, derives its peculiarity simply from the fact that the stored-up energy when let loose by combustion is expended suddenly; not that it contains more, or even as much as, hundreds of other substances; much of our food, for example. The affinities of most things cannot be let loose suddenly. There is a great difference between the bursting of a reservoir and the slow trickling away of its contents; but the same amount of horse power is expended in the end.

The tree slowly digesting mineral matter obtains the power which lifts its bulk and spreads its leaves. It creates none. Gunpowder used as a fertilizer will furnish some of the elements needed in plant food, and the same energy usually expended in sudden disruption and destruction may be slowly used in suitable channels of construction.

Let us look more closely and we will find at each stage a triad or threefold aspect of the one. The affinities of matter are not blind. They are selective in the most exact and literal sense. Each element is but the working of an idea. The idea is one in all space; its multitudinous kaleidoscopic reflections give us the countless atoms distributed throughout space.

The will force guided by this idea is the energy of which so much has been said.

This abstract or ideal form and quality, and this will or energy, are both lodged in and manifested through something we call matter. Matter without these would be not only inert but unmanifested, therefore imperceptible and even unthinkable. No one of the three can be conceived to exist without the other two.

The Sanskrit terms for these three elements of existence are Prakriti, Purusha, and Fohat; the latter being the manifesting energy.

On all the planes of being we find this threefold unity. Each atom of matter has something corresponding to body, soul, and spirit.

Its selective affinities or ideal characteristics are its Purusha or Spirit, the basis of its being is Prakriti, its Body. The soul of the atom is the Fohatic force linking the dual or polar opposites of its being.

We marshal an army of atoms and call it a battery; the collective will-energy of this army, directed through a channel, is called an electric current.

Through all Nature the scheme of evolution must be threefold, corresponding with its triple unity. One part of it relates mainly to the physical side of existence, another to the spiritual, and the third or linking intermediate stream is the intellectual or Fohatic.

As said in the Secret Doctrine, "Each of these three systems has its own laws, and is ruled and guided by different sets of the highest Dhyani or Logoi. Each is represented in the constitution of man, the Microcosm of the great Macrocosm; and it is the union of these three streams in him which makes him the complex being he now is."

Most students of evolution seek an explanation of its phenomena from the materialistic stand-point. Ascent of structure and intelligence appears to them due rather to a push from below than a pull from above. Some are forced above the heads of a struggling mob of life forms, or, in scientific language, "Evolution is due to the survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence among many spontaneous variations."

This idea, although of value in a limited way, cannot alone cope with the great problem.

If for the word "spontaneous," with its suggestion of accident, we substitute the word "Karmic", signifying cause and effect due to the free will of organism, this expression of the law of survival and progress is true in a far wider and less material sense than ever Darwin dreamed, and yet is not half the truth.

It will be found that the Eastern idea of Pralaya and Manvantara, of the periodic emergence of the universe from the potential and subjective condition to the actual and objective, gives a clue to a more complete philosophy, and will be accepted in time by many who now push it aside as a dream of the Oriental imagination.

The evolved and perfected men of a previous Manvantara, those who have survived the struggles and temptations of many material lives, have climbed heights that to us seem cold and shadowy, laden with the rich sheaves of knowledge and experience. Faithful in few things, they have been made "rulers over many things". The white ray of the Absolute manifesting through them in their realms of light and power is divided into prismatic beams of creative intelligence. They are the brothers gone before, whose "footprints on the sands" of a previous manvantara have encycled a great Round of existence.

We have seen that construction and destruction are opposite faces of the same thing. So are evolution and involution; the evolving creature feels more clearly the influence of higher planes as it rises. As its nature expands and unfolds it involves or builds into itself the higher strength and light, becoming fit for still further progress. In its turn it becomes the transmitting agent to those lower than itself.

As self-conscious will develops, the being becomes responsible. The law of cause and effect reacting upon a responsible being is termed Karma. Even the shining Hierarchies of creative intelligence are linked to us by Karmic bonds, as we are to each other and to lower forms of life.

It is not as the survivor in a selfish struggle for existence that man becomes the crown of visible creation, nor is his intellect simply an envolved and superlative cunning which has enabled him to get the better of tooth and claw, and with club or rifle for a scepter make his throne upon the apex of a heap of combatants.

He does stand the highest visible representative of that chain or ladder of intelligence which above us is a path of light and below rests upon dull earth.

He is himself the way, the path, that ladder. Its rounds are man that has been, is, and will be.

Evolution, according to the Huxleys and Spencers of today, is but a jarring and aimless medley, without definite theme or movement.

As its truths reach us through the Theo-Sophia it becomes the true "music of the spheres," a majestic symphony, whose complex and perfect harmonies thrill through the cycles of eternity.

The Path