We, who are here, take life for granted. Comparatively few of us ever ask why and how we came here. Those who lean toward pure materialism over-simplify the answer by a cold evaluation of the outward behavior of matter. They fail to recognize and apply to Nature and the cosmos a basic law evident in human life which is that thought always precedes or causes action. If there were not some animating Spirit, the world would consist of dead matter only, still, dark, immobile. Life of any kind would be non-existent. Emerson, over a century ago, said: "Matter is a phenomenon, not a substance."
The materialist will claim that matter is the product of energy and that it can be resolved into energy. But the very presence of energy indicates that there must be an energizing factor which is an inherent quality of all matter. A state of complete inertia is unthinkable.
The atom is a microcosm, a world in miniature. Within it is a source of energy far beyond the wildest dreams of our forefathers. Associated with this energy is an Intelligence. Certainly the electrons, traveling in their neatly appointed orbits, do so according to immutable law. The marvelous organization displayed within the atom is overshadowed by the formation of protoplasm, the basic substance of all organic life, plant or animal. It is inconceivable that this event, which took place during the early history of our planet, could have occurred without plan or purpose. No chemist has yet been able to synthesize the extremely complicated molecule of protoplasm. It defies structural analysis because, being a living substance, it is necessary to destroy it in order to break it down into its elementary components. It is the principal component of the individual cells, the units of life. In this transition from inorganic substance to organic life lies the unassailable evidence of the immanent presence of an all-pervading Mind. It is as if the very cosmos had a soul, a thinking Intelligence.
There is radical disagreement in our concept of God and the soul. In orthodox circles only human beings are credited with the possession of a soul. The root of this concept is found in the literal interpretation of the scriptures of western civilization. According to Genesis, "God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (2, 7) The same source makes no mention of a soul in the beasts of the earth. We are beginning to realize, however, that all living beings on the earth are animated by the same breath of life, including man. Fechner (1801-1886), the German philosopher and psychologist, considered God as the soul of the universe which embraces all other souls.
It is strange that man still refuses to judge objectively things of the spirit. He clings tenaciously to traditional beliefs without raising the slightest questions. Only occasionally a pioneer has the courage to brush aside tradition and venture forth into the unknown.
We must think of God as an indwelling Spirit, inseparable from the cosmos. As Fechner expressed it, we must think of God as the Soul of the universe. Inasmuch as this Soul is the Animating Power of matter it follows that all life is the manifestation of this same Soul. Our own soul then is a manifestation of the Universal Soul. This must be true also of all manifestations of life. The ancients revered trees as habitations of the Spirit. In the light of our present reasoning they were not so far wrong. In fact, some measure of truth can be found in most beliefs in the so-called supernatural. For example, the belief in the immortality of the soul is not entirely untenable if we qualify the meaning of the word immortality. Reason does not permit us to accept the tenet of everlasting life for a select group to the exclusion of others. Neither can we accept the belief in personal survival after death nor the resurrection of the body. There is no evidence to support these beliefs nor the belief in a hereafter in the dogmatic sense.
However, life is eternal in the sense that it will manifest itself whenever and wherever conditions are favorable and the necessary elements are present. There is good reason to believe, for example, that organic life exists on the planet Mars. The dark patches look like vegetation and the geometric lines, which astronomers believe are canals, look like the handiwork of intelligent beings. It is difficult to accept the belief that, out of the billions of visible cosmic bodies, the earth should be the only one to support organic life. Eliminating the concept of time from our thinking, it is quite possible to conceive that cycles of evolution, such as our earth and the solar system are passing through, have taken place in the past. The time will doubtless come when our solar system will be destroyed or become dark and cold and all organic life will cease on our earth. Surely life will go on elsewhere under favorable conditions. In this sense there must be a "hereafter," but certainly not in the sense that a special "heaven" is reserved for all the individual human souls who have ever lived on the earth.
It can be accepted as an axiom that anything that has a beginning must also have an end. Our body, having been conceived and born, must inevitably die. Our personality, therefore, passes out of existence with the body. The Life Force within us, however, that Spirit which animates us during our lifetime, lives on forever. It existed before our body appeared and most certainly will continue to exist unto all eternity.
History and tradition must never be accepted as the final and absolute truth. The only constant factor in the world is change, and Truth, like all else, is subject to the evolutionary process of change from one condition to another. The change in one lifetime may be so slight as to be imperceptible. For example, the surface of the earth is constantly altering. Some changes, such as result from volcanic action, are sudden and cataclysmic. Generally they are so slow that centuries may pass before they become noticeable. It is claimed that the entire Atlantic coast-line is sinking at the rate of 1 inch per century. At this rate it will take millenniums before the New York bay will reach Times Square.
We must be prepared and have the courage to accept as true only that which has passed our critical judgment. We cannot be dogmatic about anything. We must free our mind from all traces of superstition and learn to view life objectively. We must lift ourselves mentally out of this transitory existence into the cosmic realm of eternity. Thus, instead of spending our lives in a vale of tears, hoping for happiness in heaven, we become actually the instruments of the Cosmic Intelligence, making our heaven here on earth. Our life, instead of being measured in terms of years, becomes a conscious phase of eternity — a joy, a challenge and an adventure.
In being selective in our judgment of truth we can accept the true and beautiful from any source and leave by the wayside those things which offend our reason. Some of the by-products of religion, such as art, music and architecture, contain eternal verities which are a joy forever. We would not be true to ourselves were we to reject the true and beautiful because we disagree with their source.
The knowledge that our breath of life is actually God's spirit within us enables us to lead useful lives so that we can face the future unafraid.
(From Sunrise magazine, June 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)
Many have come to the clear personal perception that — as they would put it — the true self cannot be destroyed by the crisis of death, for its position is such that it rides above that crisis. This conviction gives them a further answer to the question about the possibility of the free sacrifice of life for a cause, which we find so common today in the armies of materialistic societies. Indeed, that willingness to die is present wherever we have human nature at its best, as in the pursuit of new paths in medicine and in other phases of science and its applications. There never have been wanting men who were ready to die for the sake of man. For, as we now see, in freely rejecting life, there is a self that is rejected and a self that rejects. In rejecting life for the sake of a higher good, the self that rejects unconsciously lays hold on what is more valuable, and more durable, than the life itself that is rejected. — William Ernest Hocking