Ever since man tasted of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good, and evil, as it is recorded in the Christian Scriptures in the Garden of Eden story, man has been on his own. At that time he became self-conscious. From then on he was responsible to the fullest degree for everything he thought, everything he said, and everything he did. This being cast from the Garden of Eden is normally misunderstood completely. Nevertheless, if we dig beneath the surface of the story we can find great truth there and great guidance.
What is the basic truth underlying the Garden of Eden story? It is simply this: Every one of us from that point on in the evolution of the human race found ourselves in a position where we were following a star, a star which perhaps it has taken lifetime after lifetime even to begin to understand. That star has been called by many, many names. Let us call it for the sake of this brief article a spark of divinity, that divinity which some call God and others call by other names. But by whatever name we call it, we have since that time by our own efforts and through our own actions and decisions been trying to find that happiness, that surcease, that guidance which we know is somewhere and which we seek, however unconsciously we think we are following that course of action. By trial and error man has for ages been making his mistakes, some profiting by them, others not. That we have progressed there is no doubt, but our progression has been very, very slow.
Down through these ages at various points in the experience of humankind there has come from time to time what seemed to be a new light from outside, this new light taking the form of some of the great religions of the past and the most recent of these has been that brought with the Christian era some two thousand years ago as it is presented through the life of the Master Jesus. Now if we look into these great religions of the past and get to the core of them we find running through each one the same theme, the same light, the same truth, the same guidance, the same finger pointing to the same thing. To define this that we find at the core of every great religion, of every really great philosophy, is very simple. It amounts to nothing more nor less than the finger pointing to the pathway of real character building. All of the great Teachers of the past have presented their stories, in their times, for their peoples, around this same theme: self-conscious character building; whether it be of the individual, of the family group or of the nation, all of them brought to the fore of their teachings and their efforts this same simple theme: character building.
In one sense of the word we can think of that period referred to in the Garden of Eden story as a sunrise in the life of mankind. It followed the dawn of recognition in the consciousness of man that he has a responsibility, an individual responsibility which went hand in hand with his recognition of his own self-consciousness. If we follow as best we can the progress of humanity through the many ages since that time — through a glimpse of the various civilizations in the world that have risen and fallen, and risen and fallen, and the various characterizations of these different civilizations as they progressed as the sun progresses from east to west — we can readily discern what has been taking place in the true heart, in the real character, in the real consciousness of mankind as a whole. We must agree that it has been a very, very slow process, but the tides of human destiny ebb and flow and ebb and flow just as the tides of the ocean rise and fall; just as the tides of the universe come and go.
During the course of these ages we have learned from our histories and other studies that periodically there were individuals, outstanding individuals, who may be considered as forerunners of what this race can be. These individuals we might say have found the sunrise in their own individual consciousness, and having recognized it have made the effort to help others find the sunrise or bring about that rising of the sun in their lives. But these great souls found it very difficult to attract many. In nearly every instance there were always but a few. Nevertheless, mankind of their day did absorb, if unconsciously, some of the true spirit of their efforts. And so down through these many thousands of years we follow humanity to its present day.
We have heard during late years, especially during the past decade or so, many, many voices crying out both in the written word and in the spoken word that the world is doomed and that civilization is headed towards destruction. We do not think so. In fact, we feel sure that the reverse is the case. We do not feel inclined to be alarmed when the tides seem to be running on the ebb; when human affairs that confront us from day to day seem not to appear as a golden age. Perhaps we expect too much. Perhaps we are doing nothing ourselves about it except bemoaning the fact that the world is not in a better position.
Why haven't we done anything about it ourselves? Well, it is easy to say: what can I do? I am just one lone individual, one little citizen in this whole hodgepodge of humanity. What can I do to affect a world situation?
Friends, you can do something; you can do much, much more than you realize. Think just a bit over the real significance of the Garden of Eden story. Think what it means when one begins self-consciously to realize that he is the master of his own destiny; the ruler of his own fate. We do not have to go far to have this idea verified in all of the sacred writings, whether they be Christian, Buddhist, Hebrew, Mohammedan or any other.
Yes, we are masters of our own fate and completely so. We can control every circumstance and our reaction to it by the proper use of our inherent basic spiritual faculties. We individually can bring about by our own efforts a glorious sunrise in our own lives through a process of character building self-consciously conducted from day to day that will contribute a great deal, a very great deal, to the progress of humanity as a whole.
We do not consider this a fantastic thing in any sense of the word. This process of character building, as we have indicated, is outlined in every sacred scripture. As an example, what did the Master Jesus say when asked the question as to how he performed the miracles which he was performing? He said this, if you will recall: It is not I that do these things but the Father that worketh within me and these things that I do ye shall do also and even greater things. Now what did he mean by that? He meant in reality that that spark of the divinity which some call God, and some call by some other names, resides within the heart of each one of us, and the things that the Master Jesus did which were considered miracles we can do also and even greater things. Can't you see what he held out as a goal for us to attain, what goal stands at the end of an effort of character building such as the Master Jesus outlined in the Christian Scriptures?
That goal is not for the select few. Not at all. That goal rests there for each one of us. Each one of us can and will someday bring about a sunrise in our lives and that sunrise, once it comes, will light the way to future progress not only of the individual but of the whole human race. To the degree that you and I and our fellowmen self-consciously go to work on this simple job of character building, to that degree will we be making the whole of humanity move forward towards that golden age that has been spoken of quite often in the past by many great Teachers.
This will not come about quickly, and in the process of its development there will be as before, rising and falling tides in the affairs of men. But we feel as the Master Jesus felt, that just as that spark of divinity can be unfolded in the life of a single individual, that same possibility resides in the whole of humankind; and even though it may take time, every effort that you and I and our fellowmen make to bring this about is an effort toward the realization of that golden age.
It is for that purpose that this magazine is being published, so that we can be consciously taking part in this process of helping our fellowmen to realize that each one has an opportunity to bring about a sunrise in his life and in doing so he will participate actively and consciously in forming the nucleus of a brotherhood that will reach far beyond the lip-service given to the word in past generations.
Not only will there be a nucleus of such a brotherhood in one part of the globe but the effort will ultimately and must by the very forceful laws of spiritual attraction affect and reach out from nation to nation so that in the end there will be a nucleus in every national unit of civilization that will be so unified and so spiritually strong that there will then be a possibility of truly seeing the end of strife and stress and wars and rumors of war. Then mankind will begin to find itself on the pathway originally intended for it when, as in the Garden of Eden story, it was cast out on its own responsibility to become self-consciously that which we call the spark of divinity.
(From Sunrise magazine, October 1951; copyright © 1951 Theosophical University Press)