Of the most notable thing about the present day is that we are in an era of change. In every field of thought, science, economics and international relations, as well as in every phase of work-a-day living, the old standards have given way to new. Even historical values have shifted due to new research in anthropology, archeology and geology, while the interchange of Occidental and Oriental literature has effected a revolution in religious and philosophical concepts.
These changes in the mental and spiritual areas have naturally created considerable disturbance all over the world, precipitating anew the age-old conflict between the "change-resisters" and those progressive thinkers who would break through the stereotyped concepts of the past and welcome the future just appearing above the horizon.
As nothing new comes into being without opposition and the consequent suffering of birth-pains, whether it be a new idea, a new concept or a new religion, so any such world-change causes equivalent upheavals. No wonder that Mother Earth herself often seems in turmoil. What we are witnessing is after all a "resurrection." And strange as it may seem, the intermingling of Eastern and Western peoples during World War II, by service men and civilians alike, compelled an exchange of language, cultures, history, and concept. The discovery of a whole new art and literature focused itself in what might be called a mass desire for further knowledge, from which arose the demand for an expanded research in comparative religion and philosophy in college and university. The many evening classes and summer sessions held, due to popular demand, with books and magazines alike dealing with these and allied subjects, are signs that a healthy inner change is taking place.
Hand in hand with this is an enlarged and deeper study of Western orthodoxy found in history, ritual, symbol and allegory. Our leading thinkers are recognizing that Christianity can no longer be considered the one and only religion, but must be viewed in proper relation to others, both as regards time and importance. While it may be the latest to date, the human race has many millions of years ahead of it; and just as each civilization of the past has had its own sacred scriptures and religious leaders, just so will civilizations of the future have theirs. Nothing stays frozen in time, and this applies to all evolutionary fields, be they physical, mental or spiritual. Time flows, and all life flows with it. Just as historians trace the rise and fall of civilizations, so students of comparative religions trace the cyclical waves of religious thought and concept running parallel. All tell the same story. The surface may seem different, due to language, custom and psychological approach or background, but researchers, finding the same fundamental teaching in all, are discovering that Christianity has its roots far back in time. In fact, Jesus said as much when he told the populace that his message was not his own, but "His who sent me."
Parallels are also found in the lives of the world reformers and spiritual leaders, such as Gautama the Buddha who gave out the body of teachings now collected and called Buddhism; Sankaracharya, whose teachings are imbodied under the Adwaita-Vedanta; and the Master Jesus, who gave the Hither East and the Occident the great moral and spiritual code now called Christianity. In other words, the selfsame ethics, allegories and symbols currently used in the Occident are not only found in every world-religion, but are recognized as giving us a great historical and spiritual heritage.
Does this mean then that Christianity is nothing but mere mythology, without historic or spiritual authenticity? No! Just the opposite. Being the most recent great world-religion to appear on the scene, it could contain the greatest heritage. If it did not have an inner core of moral strength, it could not have withstood the degradation of superstitious misuse, the misinterpretation through thousands of translations and partial destructions; plus the anathemas and "book burnings" of the past ages — ages of spiritual darkness which we are at last leaving behind. The same may be said of every world-system of religious thought, as impartial study of comparative religions is revealing. Truly, this is resurrection — a resurrection of long lost knowledge, bringing with it a greater vision and a deeper understanding.
Along with the great scriptural epics of the world, the miraculous and mythological play their parts, likewise showing the same fundamental identity insofar as the central events in the lives of the World Teachers are concerned. All had a "Virgin" birth, displayed extraordinary wisdom in their youth while discoursing with their Elders, underwent a long period of study, and after a life of material and personal denial disappeared for a time, to reappear and "teach" with the Voice of Authority. All performed miracles as they went about the countryside preaching and giving succor to those in need. The traditional stories concerning their "descent into the Underworld," their "Crucifixion, Death and Entombment," followed by their "Resurrection" and "Transfiguration" are practically identical. Surely if the central core of the teaching is also identical there must be some simple universal teaching behind the allegory. What then is the truth? The lack of an adequate and soul-satisfying explanation leaves many students skeptical if not bewildered, for it is frightening they say to feel that what they have been taught to revere has turned out to be a house of cards. But on mature reflection it is seen that running through all myths and allegories, and binding them together throughout enduring time, is the single, golden thread of Truth.
What has held humanity's heart throughout unnumbered ages? It is the timeless story of spirit, the undying spark at the root of all things, which periodically imbodies itself in matter in order to help and finally raise that matter to its own divine status. This is the heritage left by every World Teacher: the simple, central story around which all the religious ritual, symbol and legend of the Earth have been woven.
Spirit is, of course, self-generated, hence Virgin born,' and its descent into matter or 'hell' is one of deliberate sacrifice. Following traditional allegorical language, it 'crucifies' itself, 'descending' from its high plane, to be 'entombed' in matter. Toward the close of its long sojourn in the material world, which is 'death' to the Spirit, it is 'raised from the Dead,' and leaving the material 'tomb' is 'resurrected,' to return again to its own realm. In so doing, it carries with it the purest elements of matter, which in the Christian Scriptures are symbolized by the two thieves, one of whom Christ said he would see in Heaven, the other representing the gross residue. At the close of the mystical story, matter has become 'transfigured.'
The idea of Spirit intermingling with matter and yet retaining its own identity appears in all the World Cosmologies. The Gita tells of Krishna building the universe from a portion of himself and yet remaining separate. We also read in Hindu writings of the "Outbreathing" of Brahma that worlds and universes might be formed, and of his "Inbreathing" when they disappear. In the Hebrew Genesis the Spirit of God or Elohim moved across the Waters of the Deep, and "created" the firmament, and at the end of manifestation all is said to be drawn or rolled up "like a scroll."
The Hebrew Testament contains many references to wanderings of the people, following some leader such as Abraham from their 'old' city or land to a 'new' one. The idea of an 'old' and 'new' Jerusalem appears often, the old representing the material life and the new the spiritual life. A common theme in the world's allegories is that of a future 'city' filled with peace, love and beauty, with buildings and streets of gold and precious gems — highly embellished stories of Spirit acting as a leaven in the material worlds, and by its purifying action bringing about a "resurrection" into an etherealized state.
From the individual angle, we find the World Teachers each exemplifying the teachings, and each being a personification of the Heavenly Spirit come to Earth in human form, to lead a people into a life of righteousness. Their message is always the same: "Come unto Me," "I am the Way and the Life." They all admonish their flock to give up the distractions of worldly life, in order to be reborn into the life of the Spirit. All stress that the mere reading or intellectual understanding of the scriptures will not lead to salvation, but only by applying the precepts to daily living will this be achieved. By following the still small voice of the Christos Spirit within, by living the teaching, one is led into the new state of being. This "living the life" is the only proved method by which one is finally able to break through the "tomb" of the lower self, and experience a "resurrection" into a life similar to that of the Great Ones, who assure us that they are examples of what we should and can become.
Today we see this same spiritual alchemy working anew, acting as a catalytic agent, and causing a turbulence it is true, but with it a spiritual dissatisfaction which will lead to healthy inner growth. It is the Voice of the Soul of the world's population, crying out in the wilderness of confusion, and asking for the Light. The Soul of Humanity seeking freedom from the "tomb" of a darkness that has held the earth in bondage for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Yes, we are witnessing the death throes of one great period and the rebirth of another, bringing with it a "resurrection" of the spiritual life of man, a resurrection in its truest and deepest sense.
(From Sunrise magazine, April 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)