Except when we feel a sizable earthquake this planet seems to be a stationary, dependable solid when in fact it is nothing of the kind: it is a porous conglomerate of particles floating in an immense seeming vacuum, held by invisible threads of attraction to the center or heart of the solar system. We too would be drifting around space, did not the soles of our feet adhere by magnetic force to one of the layers of the globe we live in. We walk on the lithosphere at the bottom of the atmosphere, which is surrounded by several greater spheres, the largest we know being an immense orb of magnetic plasma.
As for being stationary, Earth covers about sixty-seven thousand miles of its orbit in an hour not to mention its dizzy speed keeping up with the sun as it hurtles through the galaxy. In addition, people in the tropics are orbiting Earth's center at close to a thousand miles an hour. And the atoms that compose us are also rushing about at incalculable speeds. Where in all this swift motion are we, and what is our purpose in being there? Poised between infinities, we human beings are compounded of atomic worlds and help to form an unimaginably vast cosmos, ranging over endless, beginningless space where universes come and go during endless, beginningless duration.
The twentieth century has seen more breakthroughs of knowledge than any in recorded history — though it is salutary to bear in mind that recorded history goes back only a fragment of time compared to the unrecorded history that preceded it. No one can say with any certainty when the thinking kingdom of Earth — humanity — began its self-conscious career of discovery and self-governed evolution. Theories abound, more or less short-lived, and philosophies too, as well as numerous belief systems, but we should remember that
Any physical theory is always provisional in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. . . . On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory. — Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time: from the Big Bang to Black Holes, p. 10
People today have outgrown last century's attitude, when any new scientific hypothesis demanded and usually received unquestioning acceptance. We have all seen too many convictions overridden by new discoveries. Another popular scientific writer, Louise B. Young, agrees that "Scientific theories are working hypotheses rather than creeds." On the subject of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle she states that
scientists, while paying lip service to the "order from disorder" principle, have continued to pursue their research on the assumption that nature is orderly. . . . What they say in words does not matter.
And she expresses clearly what more and more scientists are concluding with increasing certainty:
The order that we find in nature is a characteristic of both nature and the human mind because man is an integral part of nature. — The Unfinished Universe, 1986, pp. 173, 180
When we start thinking about life and our reason for living, we are sooner or later forced to realize that beings and things do not just happen, they are caused. Nor are they altogether caused by environment. They follow the lead of an intangible inner self and they alter to fit its demands.
One might begin by considering that humanity is as much a part of globe Earth as are the volcanoes, oceans, and atmosphere. While people generally agree that human forms, marvelous organisms though they are, belong to the physical globe and remain there, biodegradable, when the consciousness departs, few stop to consider the waves of lives which surge round the planet as anything more than collections of biological organisms, born to procreate and then to die. Louise Young not only proposes an ongoing creation where humanity has its place but hints at life as something more than a singular occurrence ended by inescapable death:
Recycling is an important part of the evolution of Form; as long as creation is not complete, it provides the raw material needed to build the next phase and the next.
Death and dissolution are inevitable aspects of this process. If death did not occur the substance of life would have been frozen in the earliest simple stages of formation. . . . when death comes a well-filled life is rounded out in time — completed, not finished, because nothing that has been can be nullified. It remains an essential part of the tapestry that is being woven in the warp and woof of space and time. — pp. 134-5
This tapestry and its design were well known to the wise old myth-makers of prehistory whose task it was to devise stories that would guide future generations in their quest for meaning in existence. They were the graduates who had experienced human life in former eons. To them humanity was not just physically a part of nature; human consciousness too was part of the consciousness of our universe, human mind a member of its macromind, the human soul a fragment of the solar soul. We share the yearnings, the elation, and the sensibilities that cosmic nature holds, but scaled to human proportions. For instance, love is the human expression of the gravitation that in a cosmos binds heavenly bodies in rhythmic everlasting dance.
Not for nothing did the myths relate the human race with the gods. In Genesis, for instance, the elohim created mankind (male and female) in their image, and in the Norse myths we have a clear account of how Odin with his two brothers made humankind out of their own substance, Odin endowing man and woman with spirit, Lodur with vitality and will, and Honer with intelligence, faculties which are these gods' own distinguishing characteristics.
One of the teachings in the Eddas tells of three "rivers of lives": the first stream was of consciousnesses seeking experience, growth, wisdom; it sprang from the well of the past and may be equated with karma; the second was of different kinds of creatures — what we call the kingdoms of nature — species of life forms that provide suitable apparel for the consciousnesses; the third was matter — inchoate, undefined substance which assumed whatever shape was demanded of it. Together these rivers make up all the evolving beings that comprise a world and supply the principles commonly known as spirit, soul, and body.
All are as intrinsic in the natural world as the physical tangible bodies. Any thinker is aware that no biological organism alone can produce the grand ideas of a Plato, the vision of an Einstein, or the music of a Beethoven. Yet the true value of the human race lies in those intangible, indestructible attributes which cannot be measured or analyzed but which endure long after the generating causers have left the planet. We today still profit by the ideas of Plato, are uplifted by the music of Beethoven and set pondering the philosophic implications of relativity.
Within the global ecosystem each of the kingdoms contributes to the one that precedes it. Minerals, soil and water feed the vegetation; together the mineral and vegetable kingdoms nourish the animal; the animals in combination with minerals and vegetables supply the needs of the human species.
Is this the end of the road? Does not the human species have a contribution to make, a cosmic function to perform? Do not we serve some greater self? Knowing, as we do, that every least earthworm performs a service to the world it inhabits, filling its own niche in the symbiotic whole, would it not be the height of absurdity to deny a purpose and design to mankind, whose endowments are far greater? Surely it is our function to supply the "nectar" and "ambrosia" that nourish the divine beings that imbody in nature.
What are these needs of the gods and how are we to supply them? We are prevented from seeing this duty by our blindness to the inward worlds we live in. For we do inhabit intangible spheres of thought and feeling far more completely than the physical world wherein we eat, sleep, procreate, and die. We not only think and feel and dream incessantly; by our thoughts and feelings we affect others, many of them people and animals, gods and plants that we have no knowledge of. What we reflect on today will serve our own and others' memory tomorrow, cause joys and sorrows to the yet unborn.
Once we recognize our place within the planet we help compose, we can see our relevance as components of the solar system and find, not surprisingly, that we are a certain portion of it. We represent in some degree its intelligence and will. It could be said that we are its self-consciousness — at least in its early stages. We are conscious of being conscious, and we are able to guide our own growth and development, choosing healthful or hurtful ways of thinking, feeling, and behavior. When Louise Young says, "The universe is becoming conscious of itself " (p. 149), could she mean that the grand evolving cosmic soul is engaged in a pilgrimage much like our own, gaining experience and growing in ways we know nothing of? The instinctive human urge to sacrifice to the gods has validity. Devoid of ritualism it means to "make sacred" our lives in the service of those consciousnesses that infill the generous hosts of light that surround us in space, nor can we afford to neglect our role as guardians and custodians of the kingdoms which follow and look up to us, much as we follow and look up to the gods who with larger vision no doubt emulate their divine superiors.
We know so little of those glistening spheres, even physically. The most recent major discovery and one which has caused a great stir in astronomical circles is that of John P. Huchra and Margaret J. Geller of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, who in a painstaking survey of fan-shaped slices of sky found that on a vast scale the universe appears to have a spongy texture. ("Astronomers Go Up Against the Great Wall," and "Mapping the Universe," Science, vol. 246, 17 November 1989, pp. 885 and 897-903.) The map of their observations "looked like a slice through soap suds": huge voids surrounded by "a network of sheet-like structures," some of them forming a "Great Wall" that runs across the entire survey. It is an immense coherent shape whose extent is limited only by the size of the survey. Is our cosmos perhaps a tiny part of a foamy wave crest on some celestial ocean?
There is no reason why we should assume that all of space contains only what we recognize as matter, or even a uniform distribution of star stuff. Could there not be as great a variety in cosmic space on a proportionately vast scale as there is in a human or other organism, which contains such diverse substances as delicate brain tissue and rock-hard tooth enamel, not to mention such properties as imagination, artistry, and joy?
If indeed our utmost vision extends only to what on cosmic levels would correspond to a finite object as these discoveries suggest, perhaps all visible worlds comprise a mere organ in some titanic body, while planetary, solar, galactic intelligences of proportionately grander scope and sublimity occupy their respective forms, seen and unseen. To them we may be comparable to some degree of subquarks on an electronic earth. How can we then help or hinder the consciousnesses imbodied in those immensities by anything we think or do? A reasonable question if we forget how interrelated all things are. A virus can lay low the sturdiest athlete, and an inspiring thought can elate a nation and make history.
The more we ponder the relations of living things, the more we recognize that consciousness is central to existence. This applies not only to the human phase of evolution's endless ladder; it is equally valid for galactic and molecular beings. Divorced from the wholeness of the universe we are nothing, but as vital members of inner as well as outer worlds, we have inestimable treasures to offer which — when of appropriate quality — nourish and sustain the gods.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1990. Copyright © 1990 by Theosophical University Press.)
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