Like the dog in Jack London's novel, man stands between two powerful forces that pull in opposite directions: either to respond to the "call of the wild" and thereby follow the impulses of his material nature, or to listen to the voice of his Eternal Self and follow the road that leads to true humanhood. The dog but follows natural instinct, living in accordance with the rule of animal nature. With man it is different; he has raised himself above the spiritually passive state of the animal. Because of his quickened intellect, man has awareness of spiritual potential. He has freedom of choice: whether to drift like a straw in the wind, or to raise himself by strength of will into a positive force for spiritual good.
The purpose of our sojourn on Earth then is to so refine man's animal nature that the higher capacity of spiritual intelligence can manifest. At our present stage of development most of us manifest but a faint reflection of our innate potential, being as yet too heavily governed by desire and selfishness. The challenge is age-old, but ever new. How soon we shall achieve our real humanhood depends entirely upon how efficiently we develop our inner qualities of soul and spirit so that they become the guiding factors in our lives.
We see right here the significance of the word evolution: to unfold, to bring to light, that which is hidden. Let us consider man's development from a microscopic seed to the grown man. In the embryo man begins his existence without apparent human characteristics, but gradually as the instrument — the body and brain — develops, the more clearly do the truly human characteristics appear. In the great majority of us, however, the development of soul and spirit does not reach too far. But always there have been a few whose inner qualities have so dominated their lives that they have become benefactors of humanity, lighting a pathway out of the jungle of spiritual darkness. What have the Master Jesus, Gautama Buddha, Lao-tse, Plato, Beethoven and others not meant for the progress of mankind!
In every human seed, the soul and spiritual characteristics lie latent, and cannot shine forth until the instrument has been so evolved that it will allow the 'light' to penetrate. The development of these higher potentialities does not stop with the attainment of mature age, but through the meeting of the challenge of life man may become constantly more sensitive to the powerful, though silent, voice within himself.
"As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Some 2500 years ago the Buddha declared the same truth: "Man is his thoughts." A truth that is so commonplace that we give it little heed. Yet if what most occupies a man's thoughts will determine what he will become, in other words his future destiny, does it not behoove us to watch warily as to what type of thoughts we open the door of our mind, and whether we should not exercise the right to turn away those of destructive or negative type? And what about the host of thoughts which are neither very good nor very bad, but usually induce a shallow state of mind? Too often their quality is weak, inferior, mirroring what we are in our immaturity. Nevertheless, because of habitually using our minds as their playground, they have worn deep grooves in our character, so deep in fact that we too often have neither the strength nor will-power to get out of those grooves. Nevertheless, however much we fail, the desire for the true and the good is so firmly anchored in every human being that it does lie within our power to choose the pattern of our outer as well as our inner life. We have but to allow our spiritual strength to grow in the soil of truth and goodness, and this takes place first and foremost in our thoughts, for thought is the motivator of action.
Why is one man great and high-minded, while another's character is mean and paltry? It cannot depend alone on heredity, on education or environment, for too many of the world's greatest geniuses have grown up from childhood in extremely difficult circumstances. A man's character then must depend on something individual — something essentially peculiar to himself — independent of material circumstances. Of course environment affects each one of us, but only in the degree of our development, not in the quality of character that we express. The great men, the noblest figures, who through the ages have worked for the good of humanity, developed the ability to do their work not without a large measure of spiritual struggle. But always they returned to the challenge until their battle was won, and they had achieved true spiritual stature.
In our present stage of evolution the qualities of self-forgetfulness and true love of humanity are all too slightly apparent. But we need not feel discouraged, for Nature's way is constantly to urge toward their development, if need be through suffering and pain. And if we consciously live our lives in such a way that they are a blessing to our fellow-men, we shall find that spirituality will appear as naturally and as quietly as the flower opens its petals to the warming rays of the sun.
Throughout all the great religions runs like a "red thread" the truth that man in his inmost is immortal and divine, a spark, so to say, from the highest spiritual force in the universe. As Herbert Spencer phrased it:
Among the mysteries that become stranger the more we think about them, there will always be mentioned our absolute certainty that we are in perpetual contact with an infinite energy from which all things have emanated.
Herein lies the proof of universal brotherhood — linked as we are by unbreakable bonds, units in diversity. Through our connection with the highest spiritual powers of the Universe, the possibilities for development are limitless. The glorious figures of history who have proved the truth of this have purposefully and consistently done good for the sake of good, without one thought of personal gain. Each of them has given but one rule: Live to benefit all.
(From Sunrise magazine, September 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)