It is said that "to err is human, to forgive divine"; however, being human means more than just making mistakes. We need to know who and what we are, to understand what we mean when we call ourselves human, and not merely animal, plant, or rock. To find the key to our humanness we have to look within the nature of ourselves — at the structure that underlies the external material forms. We are thinking animals, composite beings with many voices in our heads. To discriminate among these often conflicting elements of ourselves, we have to be able to make meaningful choices in a manner we will ultimately not regret.
Within all living and apparently inanimate things there is a mystery whose solution is said to liberate us from suffering and give the entity who possesses this knowledge supreme bliss. MAN KNOW THYSELF has been the advice of sages throughout the ages — for within lies the kingdom of heaven. So what do we need to know about ourselves that can give us internal peace and guide us in our daily lives to become a force for good in the world?
Let us first look at what we are. All sentient life needs a vehicle or body to exist. This is the area we are most familiar with as we can see, touch, and interact with the material forms around us. To give and maintain the shape of these vehicles the body is surrounded by a model body — this is less obvious but still logical as things keep their shape in spite of the continuous movement and dying off of cells. Vitality or a vital force animates and allows motion — a substance not often considered as a unique and separate subdivision within the whole life form. But these three aspects, although interesting, are merely the necessary underpinnings for the field where inner growth and experience are played out during a life. Equipped with the necessary vehicular tool, an entity is as yet incomplete; the really fascinating part is where the inner growth and action take place!
In understanding living entities as composed of multiple parts, often taken as seven in number, four aspects are still needed to complete a living being. Desire, the force which impels us to action comes next: colorless in and of itself, it is the spark from which action is born. 'When desire arises it is the decision whether to satisfy the desire or not which is at the root of action (even apparent inaction is action, as the choice is to remain with the status quo for the time being). This leads us immediately to the arena where action takes place, choices are made, and conflict resolved — namely the MIND. Here we do our thinking, decision making, and commands for bodily action have their origin, etc. Since choice means there is more than one route we can take, it implies that the mind can be divided into at least two aspects — a higher and a lower mind — with a third inherent in the fact that there is an element in the middle weighing the pros and cons of the situation in order to make a decision. The lower mind is more closely linked to the desire principle, the higher to the, as yet unexplored, universal or godlike part of ourselves, called spirit by the Christians. This godlike aspect can also be subdivided into two: the buddhi or transformer between the mind (manas) and the atman or breath — that part which links all entities to the divine source of all. Seven parts to a wonderful whole, namely:
Mind, Human Soul
Passions and desires
Astral or Model Body
When we now ask: "What does it mean to be truly human?" it becomes clear that the answer can be found in the choices we make as individuals. The alignment of the mind will determine what the ultimate fruit of a choice will be. Further, the moment we add to the equation the concept of reincarnation — the idea that everything, from smallest subatomic particle to largest galactic cluster and beyond, is an evolving entity, growing, gaining experience through ongoing embodiments interspersed by periods of rest — the scope and consequences of our actions take on a wider vista. Gone is the hopelessness of failure; tomorrow is verily another day, and the joy found in right action takes on an infinite and warmer appeal as we feel the pulsation of a dynamic universe in which we are an intimate part. More importantly, realizing that we are all pilgrims together on a journey through eternity, time becomes an ally.
By itself reincarnation would be meaningless if there were no means by which harmony could be restored after disruption. Karma is a name given to the law of cause and effect. Neither an avenging angel nor an indulgent god, it is the impersonal law that insures tempered growth and helps us find the truth within ourselves. We are our own masters bearing full responsibility for all of our acts, always learning and changing — motion or change being the one constant. As a river finds its own pathway to the ocean, so in lifetimes of effort we also find our own pathway to our divinity; but like water which does not run uphill, we find our path within the universal law of harmony which we learn to understand through suffering the consequence of incorrect action (just as stubbing our toe teaches us to avoid the bookcase).
Being human, we are in a special evolutionary position — having eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we are able to speculate on who and what we are and make self-conscious choices. The significance of this is clearly stated in the Bible where God says: "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: . . . he [God] placed . . . a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:22-4), thus protecting nascent man from precocious knowledge before he had grown to godlike stature. We have, in fact, taken a quantum leap from unself-consciousness to become embryonic gods. Once we are able to pass the "flaming sword" by learning to walk in the "ways of righteousness," we will have found the tree of life and eaten of its fruit — thereby discovering, understanding, and knowing ourselves as we really are. "Man know thyself" will no longer hold a mystery.
So, what guidelines can we follow to pursue the quest for the tree of life? What do we have to do so we can become truly human and grasp our legacy and heritage? The way is surprisingly simple: to love thy neighbor as thyself! Doing this is not easy, "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Galatians 5:17). To accomplish anything takes effort, practice, diligence, and dedication, and to live in the best manner possible takes exercise and guidance.
There are keys that we can use to help give birth to the god within each of us. Altruism is the first step. To be altruistic is never to withdraw our inner support from those who err: we are all learning together and change is ever present in this and future lives; we are all linked in divinity and the clouds of ignorance will eventually lift. We must primarily eradicate the sin out of our own acts. Surely suffering teaches us the effects of actions, and to do the same thing to another is to make us doubly guilty, for we can no longer plead ignorance as to the effect of the act. Patience, kindness, and empathy are all positive attributes of altruism.
Without impersonality, altruism cannot find a place in our lives. While we allow the passional and egoic self to have unrestricted sway over our lives, we cannot place the welfare of another ahead of our own. Reactions to events will always be emotional instead of arising out of the cool, yet lovingly warm, part of our higher mind. Weighing action dispassionately requires us to take a step back from the fray so as to analyze the cause and consequences of our choice. There is truth in the saying "act in haste and repent at leisure." How can we choose wisely when our vision is blinded by passion? Learning impersonality, keeping our passions under control, are virtues that bring peace of mind and stop us from committing unbrotherly acts.
Impersonality brings with it the ability to do our duty in the best possible way. No longer waiting for the whims of fame and fortune or the recognition of others, we can go about the business of living to the best of our ability. Not looking to the fruits of action, we can use our mind as the powerful tool it is to weigh our actions, not against the values of a material world but in the light of an evolving god. In time our choices will become acceptable to the inner god and more kindly and compassionate to our fellow humans. We cannot serve two masters, and training ourselves to take the time in all situations to recognize the nature of the choices we are about to make (or have just made) will help us develop the voice of our higher self so that we can hear it ever more clearly. This is the only scope of our actions — our own duty; we cannot know what the past is that has brought us and others to the point where we now are. Love and compassion we can give in abundance, but the duty of others is as sacred to them as ours is to us. To do their duty is to neglect our own. The paradox here is that we should always stand ready to help another — this is our duty — but only when it is help and not unsought interference.
In doing our duty we take responsibility for ourselves and our lives. This is the area over which we have complete control: how we react, what we fill our minds with, how we use our time and greet those around us is totally at our own discretion. Within the context and contents of our minds we have total freedom — no one can, or should, control the mind of another. Here in the most turbulent circumstances we can retreat and find that inviolable space, that sanctuary where we can contact our immortal spirit and find regeneration. Sacred within each living entity, the divine portion is accessible to each according to the measure of awareness. The light of divinity shines at all times, being obscured from our vision only by passion and ignorance; it illumines us at any time we care to change our ways. As potential gods, we are closer than ever to the kernel around which we have built our coats of skin. Slowly, through evolution and selfconsciously choosing our direction, we are again unwrapping the package and becoming reacquainted with ourselves — but this time we will be able to recognize what before we only felt was there. As Job triumphantly exclaimed: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee" (42:5). Job is not unique; each of us can unveil our inner god — all it takes is to become truly human. Our divine heritage, like the prodigal son's, is to return to our Father within and find ourselves again.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1991; copyright © 1991 Theosophical University Press)