There is an ancient tradition which holds that every form of existence is a vehicle of consciousness. From the mineral kingdom and the elements of nature to the planets and the stars — all have some kind of awareness. Every one responds to life in very subtle ways that are beyond our human senses. There are living forces whose awareness is much more basic than ours and whose responses are far more limited. There are also those who are more evolved, who are responsive to a much broader spectrum of nature — to the kingdoms above as well as those below.
As all of life is evolving up the same evolutionary scale, our own centers of consciousness have passed through every lower kingdom, unfolding our potential and developing the vehicles to express it. During this passage we experienced life among the elemental forces of nature, in the body of the earth, and through the vehicles of plants and animals. Even in our present human form there are centers of awareness in us that are intimately linked to other kingdoms. These centers are especially sensitive to other forms of life because they are still very close to them in their evolution.
One way to get a sense of this closeness is to look more intently at things that we are truly fond of. However these things exist in our physical perceptions, they also live in our thoughts and emotions, with intangible qualities very real to us. We may even catch ourselves responding to them as if they were alive. It is not unusual to have such a relationship with the earth, with the actions of water, wind, and fire. Could we be sensing the vitality of the invisible beings that inform the elements of nature?
We might also have a special fondness for a certain form of matter. A geological formation, a giant rock, a precious stone — these and other members of the mineral kingdom attract us for many reasons. We often resonate with their energy, their beauty, their majesty, or their peace. There may be times when we feel that they consciously respond to their surroundings, to light and heat, darkness and cold, to changes in the weather, and even to our own emotions. If we sense no response at all, has our natural fondness been replaced by some artificial preoccupation?
This same question could apply to the beings of any kingdom. Our mind can be so dominated by private, abstract thoughts that we fail to sense any of the life around us. The one thing that always frees us from this domination is our concern for other lives. This not only broadens our own awareness, it raises the consciousness of the beings we care for. Think of the plants and animals that are especially dear to us and all the ways they react to our presence, our actions, and our states of mind. Their behavior represents a growing awareness, and we human beings are helping them evolve it.
Yet who is helping us in our evolution? What higher beings have such concern for humankind that their thoughts and actions uplift our hearts and minds? These are the spiritual teachers of humanity, the inspirers of wisdom and compassion, the great sages and seers who openly share their vision with the world, and those who lead a secret life of service. The founders of the world religions, the initiators of philosophic thought and scientific study, the great-hearted souls who awaken our deepest aspirations — who can measure the influence such teachers have? It may be so pervasive that whenever we are open to it, our awareness can be touched by theirs in a flash of illumination. We may not recognize them in their physical form, and some of them may lead a conscious existence that we cannot physically perceive, yet within us is an awakening center of higher consciousness which is very close to them. And they are helping us unfold it.
The whole purpose of life appears to be this process of unfolding one's inner potential, which is closely linked to those who have already developed that potential. We evolve through our concern for other lives — both above and below us — because we are intimately connected to them. Our own lower nature is built around evolving centers of awareness which are actually still part of the lower kingdoms of nature. In caring for animals, plants, and the earth, we are literally caring for our own family. Our higher self essentially belongs to the realm of the spirit. As we foster the link between us and the great souls who elevate the human race, they inspire us to awaken our own godlike possibilities.
What is the nature of this godlike power? An unlimited concern for life. There are beings who have unfolded such wisdom and compassion that they fully recognize the oneness of all they survey. These are the guardians who watch over all that lives in every cycle of the earth. As the most spiritual inspirers of mankind, they guide us in secret and invisible ways, calling forth the greatness lying dormant in each of us, the greatness that springs from a caring heart and an understanding mind.
Still, we are told, there is one who surveys even more, who watches over all the lives of this globe. Ages ago before the minds of infant humanity were quickened, there was one who had already unfolded a deep sense of all-pervading oneness, who cared very much for the lower kingdoms and also had a sense of being linked with the gods. When those divine beings were moved by their compassion to quicken the minds of humanity, this great soul became the first truly enlightened human being, the first to give up the blissful oneness of pure consciousness for the sake of all who need divine inspiration. This human hierarch has lived through the ages as a self-conscious force among us, a presence that is so responsive and so caring that it watches all of us in silent compassion. Whoever has been divinely inspired has felt the influence of this wondrous being who is at one with the highest in each of us, the link between us and divinity, the summit of our own hierarchy and our connection with the gods.
Ultimately, there is no end to this perspective of evolving consciousness. Above us are ever larger spheres of growing awareness, just as there are ever smaller spheres below. There is even an evolving hierarchy within us — the hosts of lives that make up all the levels of our composite nature. Each of these inner "kingdoms" has its own way of responding to what it perceives, and all are learning to interact with other forms of life and to be more sensitive to other beings. Yet one of them has the potential to help or hinder all the rest — the kingdom of the mind.
Whenever our mentality is preoccupied with physical perceptions, thoughts tend to dwell on the limitations of matter. Our reality crystallizes into solid visible forms that have no deeper meaning, as we depend on our most limited senses to learn about the world. Such an attitude can freeze the growth of other faculties, whose vitality we need in order to avoid apathy and boredom, or a cold and rigid outlook. Yet even this restricted mentality has the seeds that could vitalize our existence. A single caring thought can give physical form a much larger reality, it can make us more responsive to what is truly alive. Compassionate thoughts can often reveal insights into the real meaning of life, for we identify with the object of our care. The more inclusive this identity, the more we recognize that the same vital force is present in every living thing.
Intuitions of this kind are higher beings in the kingdom of the human mind, as they raise the conscious quality of our thoughts. They are our own inspirers of wisdom and compassion. They can lay the foundation for a lifetime of insights into science and philosophy, and can initiate us into the profoundest religious experience. Such intuitions of unity have the power to influence our entire awareness. We may not recognize their effect on our lives, and some of them may work to change us in invisible ways — yet they are living spiritual guides, leading us ever closer to their vision of oneness.
Still there is a part of our mind that sees even more, the part that cares the most but must look on in silence. At one with our total nature, our own Silent Watcher has understanding for all our limitations, but sees beyond them to our boundless potential. With infinite compassion our deepest mind watches how we cling to our illusions, placing most of our concern on our bodies, our emotions, and our intellect. Yet in the midst of all our faults there are times when we can sense that the deepest part of us is looking on, not only at our illusory view of life, but also at our real self. This is the self that is gradually unfolding in our consciousness, the self that feels for others because it senses our innermost connection. Whenever we are moved to let go of things that separate us from our fellow beings, we are following the gaze of the Great Initiator within us. We are awakening to the realization of who we are.
This understanding is born in our concern for those around us. It evolves as we learn to respond to our hidden identity, within us and in every living thing. It manifests in our relationship with everything we love. It permeates our thinking as a mysterious living force, connecting us with a universe of infinite thought. It is our link to the great ones who inspire the mind, to the guardians of the spirit, and to the divinity of silent care in whom we live and move and have our being. How close are we to this divinity? We are only a thought away.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1994; copyright © 1994 Theosophical University Press)