Pivotal Point in History

Kenneth Morris
We are indeed at a pivotal point of our world's history, and we are called upon to act our part nobly, wisely, courageously, dispassionately, and justly. — Katherine Tingley

Certain new elements are coming into the life of the world, for which no exact parallel is to be found in the history that we know. But indeed, in respect to knowing history we are sadly limited: three thousand years gives no perspective to speak of, and our knowledge of those three thousand is hardly more than contemptible. We learn nothing of a time when practically the whole surface of the earth was open to commerce and travel; when you might go one better than Prospero with his Ariel in the matter of flashing messages round the globe, when China and Peru might be on speaking terms, and humanity taking to the navigation of the sky. So where are we to read precedents for what is to come?

Are we concerned in what is to come? No, says your self-centered man; I shall be dead and gone. What do I care about posterity? he asks. What has posterity done for me? So a one-life doctrine lands us in the quags of foolishness. Posterity might do all in the world for us, if we had the sense to consider it rightly; it might even make men of us; even something more than men. The whole past of humanity is our own past; the whole future of humanity is our own future; the whole present of humanity is our own present state of being, from which we cannot escape.

Do we reap the whole harvest of the world in the fragment of a century that elapses between our birth and our death? Who goes out, and leaves nothing that he can learn, nothing that he can do? We shared the fate of Rome and Babylon; and we shall share the fate of America and Europe too, whatever it may be. Rome and Babylon — why, there were untold ages that we shared in before the first stone was laid of either of them; humanity was hoary before Menes was born, before Stonehenge was built, or the Pyramids; and each of us was still a unit of humanity. And we have not yet given the lie to Solomon: there is nothing new under the sun — not even aerial navigation, worldwide intercourse, or wireless telephony; we should find them all, probably, could we look back far enough. It is only a temporary fad in opinion that civilization is but a few thousand years old. Some day we shall put it at a few million, perhaps; and find nothing to take away our breath in the estimate. Not so long ago every kind of orthodoxy put the creation of the world and man at about 4000 B. C; and in the autumn, when apples were ripe. Fact and discovery have been winning millenniums of antiquity for the race since then, and every millennium most grudgingly acknowledged by the learned makers of opinion, the creators of the orthodoxies.

The Nineteenth Century blossomed marvelously with materialistic knowledge. Discoveries of the less subtle forces of nature — steam, electricity, and the rest — opened up a new world, or so changed the face of the old one, that life in it came to have a wholly different aspect. Prophets of the Ape and the Amoeba arose, who won half the temple of world-opinion from the old orthodoxy, and set up an altar to the new one — the orthodoxy of materialistic science. Superstition was drummed out ignominiously; ghosts and magic and gods and fairies and the soul of man, they all had to go. Let's have something you can see and feel, and if necessary kick, said the Nineteenth Century; and wallowed in an orgy of barren materialism. Of course it did not represent any truth, new or old; it was merely the reaction from an almost equally barren dogmatism that claimed to be spiritual. So opinion goes backwards and forwards like the ball between two tennis players; as for arriving at anything like truth, who asks that of it?

So it was that in the midst of the Nineteenth Century another reaction began, and has gathered head since then, and goes on increasing. Orthodoxy in science banned superstition, and launched a Bull at the Unseen. Inward worlds were opening, yet worlds perilous for the most part; investigators were attracted by the glamors of psychism, and went forth to investigate, armed only with complete ignorance. Better to set out for the North Pole in a coracle or a canoe. What had orthodoxy in knowledge to say? Sometimes nothing but a sneer; which was neither here nor there; sometimes, according to her supposed principles: Push forward the investigation. So in came psychism, astralism, trailing wrecked lives, sorceries, vice, uncleanness: the inevitable results of psychic dabbling.

From this standpoint only, what a pivotal point it is! Here is man, a selfish creature in his desires, who with merely this physical material world to deal with, has built for himself a hell bad enough, some think. Just working through the energy of man, selfishness has built up the present conditions: the misery of the poor, the armed camps of Europe and elsewhere, now and again breaking out into the purpose they were intended for, war; it has brought about unrest everywhere, strife everywhere. And now this new psychic world is being opened to it, with weapons a thousand times more dangerous than any physical or intellectual weapons. What is it all coming to? Are we not indeed called upon to act our part wisely, courageously, dispassionately, and justly? Is not this the time when sane, balanced characters are needed — when men with understanding of the world's conditions and of their own nature are needed? Is there not now the pressing need for heroes, strong and wise, to guide humanity through this wilderness?

We should appreciate the perils of the time better if we knew the old history of the world, the history of the forgotten races. We read of the fall of Rome, Greece, and Babylon, Egypt, and the rest, and can tell what conditions brought those nations to ruin. They were in many respects the very conditions that obtain in the civilized world today. There were selfishness, luxury, ignorance, vice; all those we know; and we, too, have them all. But we have a thousand elements of danger that they knew nothing of. Every great discovery of the age gives to mankind a new weapon, a new means of doing good or evil; and as long as selfishness predominates, more evil is going to be done by means of them than good. We invent airships; and immediately fall to calculating how warfare may be made more terrible thereby. The press can be used for poisoning men's minds just as easily as it can for spreading enlightenment; indeed, more easily, much more easily, since selfishness is in the world. Rome knew nothing of these conditions, yet succeeded in achieving her downfall without them. And then, beyond all these physical and material new weapons for evil — which might be weapons only for good — there is this opening psychic world. Where of old your "honest murderer" needed to bludgeon you on the head, and leave clues for the detectives, now he can do the work by hypnotizing some weakling, and laugh at the law. Cesare Borgia and Pope Alexander VI might pride themselves on their poisons; but their methods were puerile and their weapons crude and barbarous compared with those that might be used today. Nero went the limit (so they say) in vice, according to his light; but supposing the psychic world had been open to him to play the devil in? I venture to say the ruin of Rome would have been even more spectacular, more complete, more miserable than it was; because nations fall through their own weakness, and not by the hand of barbarians or foreign foes; and their own weakness is always the result of their selfishness and vices, and the punishment always, in the long run, fits the crime.

No, we have to look farther back to find anything like a real parallel for modern conditions. Tradition tells us of the fall of the race of the Atlanteans — the race that left many of those cyclopean monuments to be found all over the world, which research cannot account for. That the whole surface of the globe was known to them is proven by the fact that their monuments, their buildings, and gigantic statues, are to be found practically in every country. There was a period in their history when conditions like our own prevailed: when material civilization had been brought to a wonderful point of richness, splendor, luxury; when mechanical science had been made to yield up its arcana in the service of outward human needs and pleasures; when all that we know now of science, and more, was known and applied, and men built better, traveled faster, communicated with the ends of the earth with less trouble and paraphernalia, navigated the sky with as little danger as one might navigate a mill-pond, and made war with weapons that killed their thousands. And to this people too, came the time of the budding-forth of psychic "powers" (so-called), faculties and senses; when they began to function on ghostly and to us viewless worlds. They had been selfish and luxurious on the physical plane; now they became guilty of spiritual iniquities, wickedness in high places, deadly sorceries. Magic, that had doubtless been ruled out by scepticism in their particular nineteenth century, crept in to their twentieth in lethal and soul-destroying forms. They menaced the whole future of humanity and humanity's abiding-place, this earth. Nature, very patient with man, came to abhor them; she lost her patience; she let loose her great waters; she made the Atlantic, and rolled her billows over their fields and their proud cities. . . .

You may take that as an allegory, if you wish to; whether allegory or fact, it is full of lessons for the men of today. Then, as now, man was at a pivotal point in his history; we may be within a few hundred, perhaps more, or less, years from the threat and danger of such a crisis: with us it is not yet too late to turn. But we must have heroes; we must have wise men that will take action, and the right action. We must turn the currents of human thought and action into the right channels.

Consider the life of a man: how he goes from childhood into youth, from youth into manhood, and out from the shelter of home and school to face the world and make his place in it. Consider his equipment of ideas, the various threads of motive and the sources of motive that go to make his being and character. Disentangle them a little. That "himself" is to be his instrument, his means, his criterion of life. There will be, naturally, by heredity, all the passions and desires of the animal man. There will be the great idea that he is something separate from his fellows; something that has to get on, to win this and that for itself. There will be, behind these most external parts of him, a mind that can think; more or less active there will be sundry virtues or possibilities of virtues — generosity, courage, magnanimity, constancy, patience. Going further in, there will be a soul that watches his life, a divine something that waits to be called upon and brought into daily activity. And you might go in farther and farther, and come upon diviner and diviner threads, till you arrived at Deity itself: but where does he learn to look inward for these things, these higher things? They must be searched and striven for; the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by will, and the strong attain it; but the passions, the trumpery thoughts, the instinct of selfishness, of separateness, like the poor, are with us always.

The imagination of the world has to be turned, so that instead of wasting itself on fooleries, it shall play upon the divine heights and lighten the path to them. We must have an education that shall hold up the goal of service to mankind, and not that of winning only wealth or position; and that shall fit the children for that service. We must have a literature that shall paint the warfare of the human soul to obtain self-mastery, the ambition of the human soul to express perfectly its divinity. We must infect the imagination of the world with the knowledge of human unity, of the hidden and innate divinity of man.

(From Sunrise magazine, May 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)

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