A crisis is brewing: a battle of unsuspected gravity is being waged right now, not on land or sea, not in the air, but in the arena of human nature. Humanity is changing, evolving; we are becoming a new species which differs in many respects from our forebears — not perhaps in physique but chiefly in mental bent and in a new kind of receptivity. It is a mutation which precedes physical changes. These may come later but they are spearpointed where we live: in the mind and soul of each one of us.
Change is the very essence of life and goes on perpetually. Nothing is stationary, nothing is constant. All things evolve either in the direction of physical complexity or, inversely, toward greater spirituality and comprehension: the cyclic pattern of flow favors alternately the growth of matter and that of consciousness. We note this shift in emphasis also in the progress of a child, who fluctuates between startling spurts of physical growth and phases of increasing mental acuity.
The determining factor in our lives is what we think. Therefore, the biggest difficulty educators face is determining what to teach children. These future world citizens need guidance, no question of that. What they do not need is to be colored by the prejudices of their elders or be fed opinions and faulty reasoning. A good deal of our information has come to us neatly packaged and labeled orthodox and acceptable, so that we tend to ignore its true credentials. It may be true, but it may also be dangerously misleading.
If "dangerous" seems too strong a word let us consider what is the most important thing in life. To many it is life itself: we live in order to live; we are educated to "make a living." No wonder so many find that kind of circular reasoning less than satisfying! A great many teenage suicides are related to the feebleness of that argument: the mind rebels against it and, unless someone can give a better cause to inhabit this world with its perils and sorrows, many potentially valuable human beings want no part in it.
As a whole, humanity is still at a stage of rebellious adolescence, but even within the compass of that stage we recognize striking contrasts: at one extreme are the rigidly orthodox who cannot bear to deviate by a hair's breadth from accustomed ruts; at the other the foolhardy who will experiment with any- and everything at whatever cost; and in between are stages covering every type of psyche and character. With all the varied systems of belief, investigation, experimentation, and thought available today, it requires sound judgment to detect what is valid and what harmful, what favors our development into an ideal humanity and what panders to the cravings of the selfish animal a human being is only too often thought to be — unfortunately with reason. Even the simple pattern to which evolution is usually reduced points to a progression from less to greater, which makes it reasonable to expect that human consciousness is to evolve onward into the godlike soul foreseen by scriptures, myths, and by the wise of all ages. "Be ye therefore perfect, . . . ." would be a cruel injunction if it were not a realistic prospect.
To achieve it does, however, require further evolution. In our time it is a common error to mistake learning for growth and mental acrobatics for progress, something which has caused a lot of confusion. Regardless of what we believe or know, or believe we know, there is within each one of us a just sense of the fitness of things, arising in a super-self which is completely dependable, and it is by appealing to and extending the scope of this inner self that we grow greater, not by coating our minds with secondhand opinions. A human being is not just a container into which facts or fiction can be poured and forever congealed. A human being is a consciousness center which is perpetually being modified by experience. It perceives, reasons, feels, senses, envisions, imagines, and intuits an ever changing sequence of events, each bringing increased awareness and a new understanding. Often the most telling impact comes from simple things: the song of a bird on a golden morning, the swish of waves, or murmur of the wind. They make us feel more serenely the majesty of the world within and around us and help us penetrate beyond appearances to a more basic level of ourselves.
The effort must however be made from within: to see, the eye must be directed to the object and the brain be made aware of the vision; to smell the rose we must approach it and inhale its fragrance. To understand the mysteries of life we must ask questions that are relevant and, when answers come, we have to be alert to recognize them. Not only do we learn from our surroundings, the answers we are looking for are often found in the interior reaches of consciousness, and then only if we have the desire and determination to penetrate those sacred chambers.
Paradoxically the current crisis is due to popular recognition of the natural urge to improvement because, along with awakening idealism, it has caused a proliferation of questionable techniques for many kinds of altered awareness, and the results may range from quietism and lethargy to perilous experimentation with the body's vital fires. Evaluating a system of thought is not easy, but there are guidelines that can help. These are generally dictated by common sense, and foremost among them is the criterion: Does a doctrine or philosophy give the individual who pursues it the freedom to draw his own conclusions and make his own decisions to the best of his judgment? and — even more important — will it help him become a better human being, more self-reliant and with a larger scope of sympathies and understanding? The reasoning behind this is that, just as the mineral, vegetable, and animal parts of the globe are evolving upward and forward, enlarging the range of their activity, so we humans are forever enlarging our sphere of concern and compassion. Any philosophy worth living by should further this natural evolution.
The first step is to evaluate our motive. There is no question but that the individual receives the equivalent of what he commits. Most potent in opening the "inward eye" is self-forgetfulness: forgetting our personal desires in an overriding urge to be of service to the whole we help to form extends the understanding as nothing else can, because it is the love shining forth from the soul which causes it to grow toward the universality it ultimately must encompass. A wise injunction is to maintain a constant inner awareness of our most sacred ideals even while we give full attention to the duty of the moment. This awareness of the spiritual presence in the heart combined with conscientious performance is a form of meditation that helps keep us poised and balanced in even our most mundane dealings.
The current crisis strikes us forcibly when we see somebody in the process of seeking techniques for advancement act with unconscious thoughtlessness, even cruelty, toward others: the man who wants to learn how to expand his consciousness, to gain wisdom and further his personal progress, while subjecting his family to serious inconvenience and discomfort, or the woman who is so concerned with her own meditation and its consequences that her child is neglected and deprived of love. Such examples are not uncommon, though it may seem incredible that anyone can so lose all sense of proportion. There is probably no ambition so deadly as "spiritual" vanity. It is infectious too and can severely inhibit the natural progress of the human race.
How long a road lies between the desire to improve ourselves as human evolvers and our evolution into the next higher species, commonly called angels, gods, or devas! We can no more discern them now than the flea can know the dog it inhabits. That there are more evolved beings than the human is evidenced by the vastness of surrounding cosmos, but between us and the stars there must be many stages, just as there are many stages within the human compass. We cannot even suppose that in this life we represent all of our potential. If we could see our karmic past in its entirety since we entered the human kingdom and could foresee all that remains to be mastered before we enter the lowest kingdom of the gods, many who blithely expect to gain "cosmic consciousness" and other altered states of awareness would be more chary in their quest and more humble in their expectations.
The fashionable ambition to advance spiritually makes progress more difficult than it need be, for the emphasis on personal growth, even for a private sense of achievement, is a vanity that effectively nullifies the good intentions that may have initiated the effort. The very desire to gain something personally acts as a barrier adorned with endless mirages that lead the would-be mystic far astray. The danger lies not in the external world but in ourselves. Only the enemy within can undo us. We play our roles every day as evolving beings: we select our interests, preferences, and ideas; we make our choices on the basis of our convictions; this is our human responsibility for, as we collectively are our planetary being's conscious soul, the level of its quality rises or sinks with us. It is not only physically that we can injure our earth; we may do greater harm, and greater good, by the kind of thoughts and feelings we encourage in ourselves and others: whether they are outward-directed — toward the good of all — or selfward-tending determines whether we enlarge or shrink our effectiveness as human beings.
Three are the main methods by which we grow: we observe and remember, we reason from experience, and we intuit some measure of truth by fitting each new awareness into the tapestry we have been weaving since far back in the past. With every addition we apply our innate sense of the fitness of things, the rightness or wrongness of moral issues — a constant adjustment of the soul preparing it for further evolution, until in time we shall surpass the human phase of development and take on the measured rhythm of eternity: gods in truth as well as in potential.
(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1987; copyright © 1987 Theosophical University Press)