One of the most fundamental propositions of the perennial philosophy is the universality of cyclic growth. This means that the cycles of the cosmos are reflected within us: we are all sparks of eternity, periodically coming into being, evolving more of our potential, and then returning to our parent star. Of course many would find this hard to believe. Cosmic cycles have to do with the development of the universe, with the movements of the stars and planets; how could their evolution be reflected in ours?
As we look more closely at the process of growth itself, we find a common denominator of universal proportions. From the planets and the stars to every kind of life on Earth every one goes through progressive stages of development from lower forms of organization to higher forms. But what is it that guides this growth from one stage to the next? The potential for more highly organized levels of development must be contained in the lower levels that precede them, but this potential cannot be found on the physical plane. Matter cannot organize its own transformation. Something else must guide the process, something beyond matter. This in its turn must also be organized by something higher, and that by something even higher. So all manifested evolution begins with the lowest forms — but it is organized by the highest levels of being.
For example, it is commonly thought that we begin life as a single cell, which then divides and multiplies itself into a cluster of identical units. But as we make our way to the womb, our cells begin to differentiate, to specialize in order to perform different functions. There is nothing in our physical body to guide this kind of growth. All our cells have exactly the same genetic material, and yet they continue to specialize in more and more intricate ways. These patterns of growth cannot be found on the physical plane because they exist on higher non-material levels, and it is here that each human life has its true origin.
Emanating from the oneness of the all-embracing Source, we first come into being as a spiritual ray. This ray knows the essential outline of the unborn child to come — in fact it overshadows the way we grow from the time of our conception. It impresses the elemental forces that shape our first germinal sphere of life, and it guides us through a series of outer and inner transformations. Each stage in our external formation provides a vehicle for the development of our inner nature, which in turn prefigures the next transformation of our outer nature. These stages are actually miniature reflections of nature's formative evolution, in which all of us took part. These archaic cycles are reflected within us because we build our very being on their foundation. We need to remanifest embryonic vehicles from every kingdom that we helped to form, so they can help to build our composite nature.
When we exist as a single cell, and then divide into a cluster, we are retracing the structural molecular consciousness that predominates in the mineral world — which is needed by our material body. When we implant ourselves in the lining of the womb, sending down a network of roots to take in nourishment, we are reliving the experience of vegetative vitality that prevails in the plant kingdom — which is needed by our bodily functions. As our implanted embryo becomes firmly rooted in its matrix, it is enclosed by a thick capsule of tissue, and within this shell we undergo a radical and accelerated metamorphosis. A brain begins to form, together with a spinal cord enclosed by a long and tapered projection — the same structure in an animal embryo would become a tail. Folds of tissue grow at the base of the head — the same kind of folds are seen in embryonic fish and develop into gills. We are passing through the prenatal changes that animals undergo because an animal nature is an essential part of our constitution: it gives us the instinctive desire to satisfy our physical needs.
As we take on the form of a human child, our outward metamorphosis slows down and our inner growth accelerates. This involves much more than our internal organs — we are rapidly increasing our potential to work through vehicles of the mind. We are filling in the outlines laid down through many ages of evolution, building the capacity to identify with our perceptions and create a sense of self. This is the mental identity we use to think about ourselves. It is the vehicle in which we live as human beings. And it will grow more and more inclusive as we are driven by the primal urge to regain our essential oneness.
What do we perceive as we round out this formative cycle as an unborn child? Since we are still very close to the unity of the spirit overshadowing our growth, unity colors our first perceptions. We are largely at one with our physical world, for the womb is naturally devoted to our comfort and safety. Yet our world also includes the nonphysical nature of the mother, who has a hierarchy of principles we are intimately in tune with. Her vitality is more important to our sense of oneness than her material being. Her emotions, which act on her vitality, are even more significant. And the thoughts that arouse her emotions are more important still.
There are painful aspects on all these levels that can instantly endanger our sense of oneness. By excluding these aspects from our identity, we begin to build an illusory sense of unity around the limited forms we feel at home with, which become increasingly limited as we descend into matter. As this occurs in ever smaller realms of our unfolding nature, it foreshadows the vehicles we will work through in the next round of our development.
We are born with the prototype of our material identity: our first sphere of physical consciousness. This shadowy prototype is built up by the unfolding levels of our composite nature as we gradually equate our self more and more with our material body. Having manifested all we can of our material identity, we go through a round of vitality: the energy that underlies our own activity becomes our focus. When our focus shifts again, we enter the round of our desires and the emotions that go with them. This is the lowpoint of our descent into matter, for nothing surpasses the power of desire in creating the illusion that our existence depends on the outward forms of life. It is in fact so powerful that it helps us to manifest all the higher spheres of awareness in this cycle. We are soon thinking of our self as the things we desire, having intuitions about them, and even feeling at one with them. Yet these higher spheres bring us ever closer to the next round of development — and it is here that our parents, teachers, and those who show a thoughtful concern for our growth can actually raise our consciousness by making the intimate bond that inspires us to identify with them. Their examples lead us to form our first conceptual identity much sooner than we would without their inspiration.
This begins a remarkable phase in our evolution. Our sense of self is modeled after those we bond with in our thoughts. Evolving along the same lines, our role-identity allows us to put ourselves in the situation of others' physical appearance, their vital energy, their desires and emotions. We can develop understanding for the way other people think, appreciate their vision of the truth, and actually be one with them in thought. But we can also stay attached to certain models to the exclusion of all others. The rules by which they live may be used to condemn all those who have a different point of view. We may even sever our bonds of identity with others and identify with our own exclusive thinking.
These more complex vehicles of the mind are so diverse because we choose the ones that suit our purposes. Without a single unifying purpose, our sense of self can work through a wide variety of vehicles, including those developed in other stages of our growth. We never lose any of our previous spheres of awareness, for each of them is incorporated into the next more inclusive sphere to serve as its foundation. But exclusive thoughts can suddenly bring them to the surface and let them dominate our behavior. How quickly we forget ourselves as mature adults and act like immature children! What we really need at this present stage of our development are role models with a unified vision, a worldview that allows us to stop identifying with limited outward forms so we can sense the fundamental inner unity of all life.
Such a view may seem beyond the scope of what we see in our daily existence. But in trying to understand a unified worldview, we might do well to consider ourselves essential parts of an evolving world. Looking to science for an explanation of the origin of our planet, we find theories that are all based on a materialistic view of life, and so cannot explain what has guided Earth to develop a living environment. There is no physical model for the creation process, and such a matter-based model will never be found — because creation is a process of emanation through a hierarchy of non-material levels.
Earth begins by manifesting as a planetary spirit, the first ethereal veil that emanates from the all-embracing unmanifested Source. Working through this emanation are the highest spiritual beings. They have a memory of the more material spheres: they know the fundamental outline of the planet yet to come. This outline is impressed upon the elemental forces as the most essential patterns of energy which shape the natural world. Following these patterns Earth evolves a continuous succession of less ethereal vehicles until it reaches the cyclic limits of its material manifestation, when it evolves another series of increasingly spiritual vehicles.
These are the evolving globes or states of being of Earth's manifestation. Each one builds on the foundations laid by those that have gone before. The first shadowy prototype is built up by a series of lower energies following the outline impressed upon them by the planetary spirit. After each succeeding wave of life helps to fill in the lower levels of the outline, each in its turn begins to fill in the prototype of the world that is to follow.
The elemental kingdoms are the first to be outlined. Then come the kingdoms of the mineral world, the plants, the animals, humanity, and the spiritual world. These kingdoms will be the vehicles of the entire family of Earth, and every vehicle-kingdom is built up by all the life-waves passing through it. The outlining itself is began by the highest spiritual beings, who trace the spiritual qualities on every level of each composite nature. They are followed by the human centers of awareness focused on creative intelligence, who build the potential to organize individual expressions of consciousness. The animal life-wave energizes the force of desire which concentrates awareness. These prototypes are completed by beings whose energies shape material forms and those that crystallize the lowest forces into matter itself.
Having manifested to the full extent of our potential in this ethereal and embryonic stage, all of us that make up the family of Earth come full cycle to pass beyond both matter and spirit. We leave the realm of form in time and space and are reabsorbed within the unmanifested Source. Here we can assimilate the divine aspects of our first planetary round of life, until we are attracted back into another cycle of evolution.
We may wonder at the staggering complexity in this view of Earth's formation. What could possibly coordinate it all? The hierarchical unity of nature — the same unity that coordinates our amazing metamorphosis in the womb. Like every living being, Earth is made up of hierarchies of lesser beings. Yet its inner-most essence is an individual spark of eternity — its essential self. This is what holds all its hierarchies together, for it emanates through every one and finds expression through them. We are among the hosts of lives inseparably linked with this great planetary spirit. As individuals we have cycles of our own, but as essential parts of one evolving Earth, we are like wheels within wheels: we all evolve together.
We are now ready for a second turn within the "great wheel" of life. The force that brings us back is our attraction to the karmic seeds we sowed, especially the individual attachments that were part of our identity. Waiting for us are the subtle vehicles created in Earth's first round of development. But now the process of reimbodying begins with the least evolved centers of life which feel the strongest pull of matter. The first to be drawn into this second planetary round are the elemental forces, directly followed by those entities that inform the mineral world. Since they feel at home in the most physical realms of nature, they evolve at an accelerated pace. This acceleration declines with each succeeding wave of life, as they reimbody in the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom, and humanity. The last to manifest are the beings who inhabit the spiritual world. They are attracted only to the highest levels of each globe as it undergoes the process of materialization. They descend more and more slowly into matter, until the lowest sphere in this cycle exhausts its potential to develop outward forms. At this point the whole Earth begins to evolve more spiritual states of being as the life centers informing its kingdoms develop their inner nature.
On this spiritual arc the order of evolution is reversed in the unfolding of inner unity. It is here that the highest beings accelerate into each new realm of the spirit, while the less evolved are held back by the limitations of their consciousness. Those who continue on this spiritual ascent must learn to be at home with ever larger realms of nature, each one more inclusive than the one before. When the highest sphere in this cycle unfolds all its spiritual potential, then once again the entire Earth is absorbed within the all-embracing Source.
These patterns are repeated in the cycles that follow, and are reflections of the grand cycle of Earth's entire chain of development. Just as one state of being sets up karmic forces that prefigure the next, the members of an entire life-wave who seek their level in one kingdom will gradually unfold their potential to reimbody in the next higher kingdom. Our stages of growth in this life — from spirit to matter and then back again to spirit — are also reflections of greater cycles. In every planetary round there is a descending arc in which outward forms are increasingly developed, followed by an ascending arc in which the inner nature is developed. Likewise as the rounds progress, there is an overall descent into greater materiality and then an overall ascent toward greater spirituality.
The first round is an embryonic period in which the material vehicles of every kingdom are fashioned. As we and the other life-waves reimbody in these vehicles in the second round, we are ready to develop the subtle energies that shape these forms. During the third round our principles unfold their vitality. And completing our descent into matter, we find ourselves in the fourth round with our focus on desire: the force that impels us to seek attachments to the outward forms of life.
The force of desire is especially powerful in this phase of evolution because of the simultaneous influence of descending arcs at every cyclic level. The fourth round is Earth's most material stage of life. The fourth globe — the physical globe we inhabit — is its most material state of being in this stage. Of all the life-waves evolving on this globe, humanity has become the one most willfully attached to matter. And it has done this while going through four of its root-races or evolutionary cycles, becoming more and more attached to the matter side of life.
At this point we still have the intrinsic urge to find our true self, the formless Spirit beyond all material forms. Yet this urge is crippled by the exclusiveness of our attachments, and many of us are kept from developing our creative mental and spiritual faculties. We still need much more experience at this level in order to discover how inadequate desires are in defining our identity. Such experience is necessary before any center of consciousness can evolve through the ever more inclusive realms of the spiritual arc. Those who cannot develop this spiritual potential are left behind by the evolutionary stream. So they are taken into the matrix of creation in a dormant and unmanifested state, to wait for the time when that cycle comes again. Yet there are some who unfold their inner spiritual potential well before the rest and actually belong in a following planetary round. Since they do not need the experience of evolving up the ascending arc with the rest of their life-wave, they can choose to extinguish all connection with manifested life on Earth — to be absorbed in the pure consciousness of cosmic being. Or they can choose to remain in the world — as servants of evolution itself.
Here are the role models with a unified vision: the ones who make the choice to serve the whole. We find them in every human race, on every globe, and in every cosmic cycle. Whenever they have seen us crippled on the evolutionary path, they have made the intimate bond that put us back into the stream of life. They have given us bodies, vitality, and instinct. They have given us themselves as the light within our mind. They have inspired our humanity, our spirituality, and our divinity. But most of all they have imbodied the ideal of fellow feeling that has moved us to identify with them. By reflecting on their thoughts and actions and seeing how these work in our own lives, we are actually prefiguring our growth in the great cycles to come. We are shaping the vehicle of our most creative thinking, the capacity to see relations between everything and synthesize them into an integrated whole. We are outlining our greatest intuitive sense, which sees our Self in all things. And we are nurturing our own embryonic divinity, caring for it in the womb of our most thoughtful state of mind: our concern for the entire family of Earth.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1995. Copyright © 1995 by Theosophical University Press)