Life is consciousness; and everything in the universe, in some degree, is alive. "Dead matter" is a misnomer. Even mineral particles, uniting acid and alkali to produce a salt and again dissolving, or combining in plant life and again separating through decay, are conscious of attraction and repulsion. The plant consciously seeks nourishing earth and refreshing moisture, turns its face toward the sun's gracious light and warmth and, seeming to die, is reborn in its seedlings. The acorn, without remembering its parent tree, is conscious enough of its oakhood to express the hereditary family traits.
Nor does man ever really die. The cosmic chemistry which unites positive spirit and negative matter at his birth, and anon separates them at his death, is dealing with indestructibles, to work out striking dramatic changes in a continued performance of conscious existence. Human life is the consciousness the individual soul experiences through a brain and an animal body. It is a three-fold experience — physical, mental, and spiritual. The real man is conscious through his body of heat and cold, of pleasure and pain, of hunger and satisfaction, as are the animals. Then, mentally conscious, he not only knows things as do the animals, but he knows that he knows, and thus has the light of reason. Moreover, he is spiritually conscious, to some degree at least, if he is "all there." Perhaps he is spiritually conscious only during deep sleep, when he is not aware of his body senses and even his restless brain is at rest. Though he seldom awakes with memory of this higher experience, he has been as certainly conscious during deep sleep as he has been alive.
This higher sense of selfhood is little realized or understood as a rule, because it is not cultivated in relation to ordinary life of body and brain activities. Life is sacred, as well here as hereafter. It would seem sacred at all times if the best in human nature was exercised one-half as much as are thoughts and feelings of brain and body. Even the meanest of men who sought the best in himself by putting a high motive into every act and thought, soon would know that nobility was native to him. Harmony and unity prevail where the soul comes from; but ignored and treated as an exile here, it becomes numbed with the prevailing discord and separateness through which it vainly tries to make itself known. How can we be conscious of the best self when our selfish neglect and cynical doubt of its existence keep it chilled and starved and unconscious in its relation to the everyday level of personal experiences?
When the soul takes on a garment-body at birth, this veil of flesh makes its earth-life a cosmic game of blind man's buff. Fresh from a life of conscious reality of truth and light, of joy and liberation, where it knew itself to be, "for it is knowledge," it is fearlessly confident of finding itself even when blinded by the flesh. The reality of the soul-life is the larger, freer, happier consciousness, whose vague memory ever haunts our higher moments. The real self brings something of this with it into the old game of blind man's buff, which the children of men are ever playing here. This it is which gives helpless, unthinking little babes their strange power to inspire the tenderest, deepest feelings, and to refresh the weary, wounded players with renewed interest in the baffling game.
Certainly it is something other than the babe's weak, unskilled body and unawakened mind that makes it so lovable, and that radiates a subtle atmosphere of purity and peace and trust. Before its consciousness becomes largely located in its senses, sensations, and opinions, it is more conscious than are those around it of the larger life that precedes birth and follows death.
All scientific ideas about the new-born being a mere bundle of fresh human material, blank inside, and with everything to learn, fall short of the facts and fail to satisfy that innate sense of the truth which knows more than it can prove in words. These ideas fail to account for that self-centered, vital germ of consciousness which from the first begins, like a flower, to force its way through a dense body of earth and a strange atmosphere of brain-mind. Wordsworth says truly that "heaven lies about us in our infancy." The divine nativity of the new-born makes it feel so "at home" in an atmosphere of love that it knows its devoted mother long before it knows how consciously to use its body or its mind. This intuitive response to unselfish love argues for a like high quality of feeling, and for that rare wisdom of unity which finds itself in others. Even the wiseacres often are self-deceived in their loving. The young not only sleep more, but sleep more peacefully than their elders, as if this indifference to surroundings left them freer to live in the receding memory of their foregone happiness.
These tiny new-comers begin the earth-life of blind man's buff with a happy trust, just as older children merrily accept blindfolding to enter into the little game of thus trying to find their playmates. The eyes, fitly called the "windows of the soul," take in at a glance a world of things that all the other senses together report far more slowly and less certainly. Open-eyed, one is so strongly impressed by the form, color, sound, texture, odor, etc., of what he sees, and also by the relations of different things and persons, that he is sure he can identify them with eyes shut. But when blindfolded in the game, the position and relation of everything seems to be changed and distorted. His playmates' voices take on strange tones. The typical turn of a chum's head, or the familiar glance that speaks from another's eye, or the composite of personal details, or the more intangible ensemble of individuality — all these left out of his mental pictures, leave them meaningless or mutilated. As he stumbles over unexpected obstacles, and eagerly grasps at empty air, finds his fellows suddenly grown taller or shorter or distorted, or even estranged, he begins to think that everything has gone wrong and everyone is at fault, and all are conspiring to baffle and defeat him. He does not distrust his own senses or his stock of opinions — certainly not; that would be so unscientific.
Each one plays the game — both the cosmic and the childish one — according to his make-up. Few keep up the confident, merry zest with which they begin. The personality plays with cunning, irritation, resentment, ambition, deceit, revenge, with indifference and sloth, or with all the sordid passion of activity. Then, with increasing confusion, it tries to hide its defeat by a reckless or cynical pretense that the game has no meaning anyway, and is not worth while. The Real Player takes his bumps and bruises, falls and failures, calmly, patiently, and as clues to the safe and sure course to follow. He is not deceived by his mind and his senses; but remembering himself and his fellow-selves as seen in reality, he intuitively perseveres to work out the game and regain his larger vision, plus an added power from the experiment he is making.
(From Sunrise magazine, August 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)