What do you answer when someone asks you, "Do you believe in God?" The question is on a par with "How high is up?" If you don't know what the questioner thinks of when he says "God," you cannot give a valid answer. In any case what you believe or what I believe or what the Archbishop or High Lama believes isn't going to affect the way the universe is constructed or by what agencies.
Considering how ingenious we are when it comes to devising physical conveniences, we human beings are astonishingly unreasonable about our innermost convictions. Yet these concern us most intimately and dictate all our actions. We may not examine our motives or even be aware of them but our characteristic habits of thought are what determine all our decisions. They in fact constitute our faith. What those habits of thought are depends in large part on our heredity and surroundings. With or without intent we are indoctrinated in childhood by parents and teachers.
Only fifty years ago every religion was uniquely right, and its believers generously sent missionaries to convert the benighted in other lands. There were Buddhist missionaries in the West and Christian missionaries of various denominations all over the globe. (Whether converts benefited is here beside the point.) Since then an alembic has been at work on human thought and there has been a marked change in the thinking of the average person. Whether this has come about as the result of the promulgation last century of a portion of the secret doctrine — either through the book of that name or by the persuasive influence on world thought of its facts and philosophy — or, perchance, by sheer coincidence, the result has been powerful. Closed minds have opened, people have begun to think, to reason, to philosophize; more and more people are tending to question the views of their elders and to think for themselves, even having the audacity occasionally to draw their own conclusions about life, its purpose, and the validity of long-established dogmas! Wonders of nature are being more closely examined and a new reverence for the intelligent arrangement of the natural world has been gaining ground. Most momentous, the idea of brotherhood among all beings has by now almost surmounted the tacit assumption of superiority or inferiority of groups of people, racial or religious, of former days.
Ideas that once were alien have become increasingly familiar, and more and more readers and thinkers are voicing amazement at the similarities in creeds and myths of the most separated of times and areas. More than that, they are discovering that the underlying theme supporting all these myths and creeds may well be identical. The God-Creator of all creatures has given way to a divine influence, all-pervasive and harmonious, as a perpetual backdrop to our existence — a conscious volition existing of itself and containing us. This has made the producer of the cosmic drama seem more accessible, while the ever unknowable sustainer of all is more majestic and awe-inspiring than any localized or personalized god.
Since the earliest ages we know of, people have recognized the existence of invisible forces in nature and given them names or designations to fit their respective characters or functions. The age immediately preceding our own was singular in having tried to deny the rich heritage of religious mythology which represents these forces in symbolic language. In fact, many people still feel a bit embarrassed by the unseen, and refuse to give credence to whatever nonphysical events force themselves on their attention from time to time. And they do. Only, in the pride of our physical prowess we have lost our perspective and with it our companionable rapport with the spirits that animate forests, lands, and waters. The life they express has for us been largely stamped out, run over by the wheels of progress.
In regarding as superstition dryads, gnomes, and undines, we forget that we owe them our lives, that without a fair representation of animal and vegetable entities we could not survive, and that without minerals we could find no foothold on the planet. The dwellers in these subordinate kingdoms have a claim on our attention and our care, something we are only recently beginning to acknowledge.
If we admit the reality of feelings, of knowledge, or of thoughts, of magnetism, or friendship, or any of the "things in heaven and earth" that Horatio failed to dream of; and if we sense beauty, sadness, joy, and grief, we must know, as our remote ancestors did, that we are living in a world where these things have existence. Human properties such as courage or cowardice, kindness, duplicity, honesty, were also given appropriate epithets in legendary lore, and in time they acquired a life and personality of their own. These many unseen components were given proper names by the psychologists of long ago, which in time became Proper Names. We know them by these, and in sophisticated ignorance regard them as "gods" or "idols" worshiped by our "uncultured" ancestors, who didn't know any better. So may our ids and libidos and moods be regarded by future scientists when they (we) look back on twentieth-century mankind from the pinnacle of our (then) advanced state — always provided anything more than plastic containers remains to be excavated. Other functions we use without much conscious control: digestion, the growth of a foetus — these we gratefully leave to nature. We hobnob with mysteries all the time, in dealing with other people, their characteristics and properties, and our own.
As time goes on, unless we drastically cut short our tenure on this planet, there will be more intricate decisions to be made, more to be known and understood, more discernment needed to find positive, constructive ways of progress. "No man is an island" was never truer than it is today, and by tomorrow we may be even more dependent on one another as our globe shrinks even further and our awareness becomes increasingly comprehensive.
How to prepare for the challenges to come? We need no additional beliefs or persuasions to befuddle an already confused humanity. What is needed is wisdom, understanding, and the vast compassion of soul that comes from these. Science has made a good beginning and, at least in some areas, points toward a better relationship between the human race and its companion kingdoms. Some disciplines already show signs of an affinity with philosophy and together they can evoke a religious reverence for the sacredness of life-enlarging insights. The goal of research should then be for humans to become integrated as co-creators with the grander being we compose together with the natural world and, where motive is altruistic, there will be ultimate success. The kingdoms beneath ourselves we know, and a sense of responsibility for their welfare is gaining on the ruthless expediency of the past; the higher forms of life are relatively unknown, for we have neither the eyes to see, nor the wits to understand planetary, much less kosmic, individuals which share space-time with us. Our future task will be to concentrate on humanity's progress as a conscious, intelligent life form advancing in tandem with the lesser and the greater that follow and precede us on their various stages of evolution.
We are born loving. When intelligence comes in we analyze and take apart; we become separate, self-conscious, and independent. In time we again find, but now with knowledge and deliberation, that we are rooted in common ground and, carrying the thought a step further, we rediscover our oneness with the indivisible whole. When this is known to us, we recognize the truth and value of the unifying messages brought by those who have surpassed the human stage and who have returned to share with us their hard-earned gains of wisdom.
There can be but one truth, but if it is to comprise the immensities of kosmic being, we obviously can none of us claim to possess more than some tiny fragment of it. Nor can anybody else. Even the portion we may glimpse has many facets, and everyone sees it from a different angle. And so the claims to truth are as numerous as the claimants. At a certain stage of maturation there comes a crisis when the thoughtful human being is confronted with basic questions concerning existence. Why am I living? What is the meaning of it all? Is there really a god and, if so, what kind of god? Do I as an individual have a place and a purpose in the universal organism? What, if any, is the universal plan?
No truly human being can escape that moment of doubt and decision. It assails every thinker, lightly in each life, more forcefully in some incarnation when the soul is ripening. One, who has agonized enough to break through the cloud of unknowing, earns a satisfying philosophy which grows with him throughout his present life and in times to come. It is not a gift, not a belief received from others — such a faith is merely a hand-me-down opinion — but an achievement won by the evolving soul after who knows what intense inner struggle. It is the greatest continuing source of inspiration in his life for, although it provides no final answers, no triumphant laurels on which the soul can rest, it opens doors of insight, gives mind a super-vision, an ultra-knowledge. In short, it reveals his lineage as one among the gods — those infinite ranges of powers that maintain the balance of force and resistance on every level of the universe, in outer space and in the inner spaces. In the responsive and responsible human soul it is the intelligence that ennobles existence and can reflect the spirit that dwells in even the meanest of mankind.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1989; copyright © 1989 Theosophical University Press)