The doctrine of cycles is a most important, fascinating, and illuminating subject. In studying it, we find a logical and comprehensive law which bears an intimate relation to our daily lives, and also has a universal range of operation. It not only concerns the details of our whole life, but it applies to everything and to every being in the universe. In short, the law of cyclic recurrences proves to be the principle or regulator for timing the events and operations of everything, visible and invisible, in mind and in matter, in time and in space. We find in it, at last, a reason why things happen when they do. The ancients well understood the vast sweep of the natural law of periodicity, and they included it in the cosmic scheme of unity when they said: "As it is above, so it is below."
Cycles are so common that we take them for granted as much as we do the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the solid earth under our feet. We cannot imagine what our world would be like without the familiar repetition of light and darkness every twenty-four hours, of the year's regular seasons - these things that keep pace with the planet's daily rotation and its yearly course round the sun. We, too, follow the same rhythmic course of action, going to sleep at night and awakening next morning for another turn of activity. Likewise, on a larger scale, we round out a lifetime. We begin with the misty dawn of infancy which, merging into childhood's awakening, expands into youth's bright morning, and so on to the noonday meridian of mature years. Next comes the turn on the arc of that one life, and we gradually slow down, to sink to rest with the lengthening shadows of old age. But the pulsations of the spiritual self deep within us never cease, whether we are imbodied here or are freed from earth. When death releases us from the body, then a new cycle of rebirth begins in the soul's homeland.
After death, our better self awakens in higher realms of being where it is infilled with beautiful visions and blissful, refreshing rest that give strength and courage for another term of earth-life lessons. Thus we come back, again and again, with a newborn infant's fresh body and brain, ready for another round in working out our splendid destiny. Meantime, our uncounted lives are like small epicycles on the majestic arc of the solar system's lifetime. Thus, likewise, do countless universes come into being. After their vast cosmic sweep of a manifested life period reaches its apex, the movement is set toward the end of that wheeling. Finally, the imbodiment of the whole universe dissolves in the ocean of space for a cosmic rest wherein all prepare for another, grander round of manifesting life.
In the passing moments we see the time-atoms, so to say, the revolving units of time-measure. Their rhythmic recurrences are like pulsations of time flowing steadily during the life period of a universe with all its interrelated wheels within wheels of time, space, and consciousness. The human pilgrim is a spark of the divine Flame, descending through all realms of matter, to reascend through a perfected humanhood to godhood, cycling back to divinity.
A cycle means a ring or "turning." It is not a closed ring, but a continuous rounding course, expanding and advancing, so that the path of its previous round is covered with a broader sweep of progress. A typical example of cyclic growth is found in the expanding curves of the chambered nautilus, and even in the shape of the common snail shell. A craftsman will find suggestive lines in a spiral spring, or will see a more perfect symbol in the progressive curves of a helix spring.
However, no symbolic form can begin to picture the intricate movement and complex character of the countless wheels within wheels of time, of conditions, and of conscious unfolding life that are always operating together. Universal motion follows a spiral course upon all planes of being, physical and superphysical. The same evolutionary pathway is continued through the material, the mental, and the spiritual realms. Does not the run of everyday life show the interplay of the activity of our body, mind, and spirit?
The greater cycles include numerous lesser ones of various sizes, characters, and interacting influences, as we shall see. There is nothing haphazard in all this, because everything moves with the coordinate precision of intelligent guidance. We are in a universe of natural law and order. We know that nature does not move by disorderly and causeless leaps and bounds. The child does not grow up in a day, nor does winter change to summer overnight. Each thing and each event plays its part in some greater round by proceeding along its own course which is karmically adjusted to the whole.
The general overlapping and intermingling of cycles stands out clearly in the familiar overlapping changes and events of daily life. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow all run along in a continued story. Our own sense of our identity, at its full in the present, is also the meeting point of a receding past self and of an oncoming future selfhood. The periodic recurrence of karmic conditions from past lives explains much of the puzzling state of our world's conditions. While our modern civilization has reached a certain climax of a brilliant intellectual and materialistic evolution, the old order of things generally, in government, science, religion, business, etc., is passing away. The struggles of the outgoing cycle mingle with the birth-pangs of a new one which will open the way for a saner and better balanced progress. Those who are wise may read an open challenge in the signs of the times. There is danger in holding back and clinging to the outgrown standards of individual and collective life. Those who invoke the finer forces of their own nature will go forward, sharing in the mighty urge of the current of universal life flowing onward through everything and every creature.
In many ways, present conditions seem like repetitions of those which prevailed in the heyday of Roman power and knowledge, preceding the decline and fall of the empire. There is the same lack of that equalizing spiritual growth which is essential for the natural balance of great mental and material gains. Evidently, we have also reached the safe limits in our control of the forces of mind and matter. These forces, neutral in themselves, are potent for good or evil. Used for the benefit of humanity, they work for the welfare of all; used selfishly, they react in disintegration and destruction. But we need not repeat the mistakes of the past. The time has come for humanity to become more wholly human by bringing forth the finer and nobler qualities and powers from within its own nature.
Without question, the present time is a critical one. But if we face the responsibility of it, open-eyed and honestly, it is seen as a time of unusual opportunity. Human beings are essentially spiritual beings who can control the energies which their selfishness utilizes for their own undoing. We can transfer the same power into vitalizing a better and more timely order of world affairs. For a new cycle of inner light and peace and progress is already dawning behind the obscuring storm-clouds which darken the outlook. In the light of mankind's common origin, mutual interests, and final destiny, it is time to leave childish things behind, and to go forward with the new cycle.
It is also a stimulating and liberating thought that we are all journeying through the universe in such good company, for every planet and sun and star is the body or dwelling of some bright celestial being. "A friendly universe" is no mere figure of speech, but is literal truth. The whole scheme of things is so perfect, so just, and so natural, that the only question is: How could it be otherwise?
The doctrine of cycles imbodies a scientific, philosophic, and religious basis for a comprehensive philosophy of life itself. And the deeper one goes in any and in all lines, the more evident becomes the mystic and vital unity between man and great nature. Thus, in the periodic recurrence of human imbodiments, with such harvesting of its past conditions as may free the personal field for wiser sowing, the human soul evolves its innate powers, with the natural purpose of becoming more than merely human. All the currents of life - cosmic and terrestrial - are flowing towards realms of greater light and greater perfection of forms, of more intelligent ideas and of more spiritual ideals.
Each person as a self-conscious unit is in his own place in the general stream of the human race which is moving on at an average speed to fulfill its planetary career during the seven ages of the earth's life. However, each one is free to train himself to run ahead of the mean average pace. The results of such self-directed efforts appear among us, in different degrees, as superior men, geniuses, masters, and saviors. Somewhere in our future we shall reach the racial "moment of choice," the outcome of which will decide whether the individual will go on and complete the great planetary round on the ascending arc. If he is unprepared to keep up with any grade of the trained climbers, he will fall behind, stranded on some sandbank of time. There he must await another great cycle to continue his evolution with the slow unfolding of a new humanity. The point is that the divine impetus manifesting throughout the cosmos is keyed to progress; man, being an integral part of the universe, must go with it, however much he delays and thereby wrongs himself. The "cycle of necessity" is inevitable. Thus, the origin of ethics is not a man-made ruling, but it is a reality woven into the very fabric of the universe.
In the justice of the natural law the final moment of choice is but the summing up and balancing of the daily choice of right and wrong through many lives of using free will as a self-conscious being. At present, man is the human battlefield of his own dual mind which is fighting for selfish, personal ambitions and desires on the one hand, and for spiritual thought and impersonal feeling on the other. We all have our pet weaknesses which are so unworthy of our best traits. The general trend of our dual thoughts and impulses seems to play upon our minds and feelings automatically, because each is a cyclic repetition of its own kind. They are the elements of our self-made character. Each one of them is vitalized with our own life-force, and it gains strength every time it returns and is given play. If our thoughts and feelings are petty and selfish, their quality of jealousy, envy, anger, hatred, suspicion, deceit, colors our reaction to both new and old associations and conditions. We instinctively express our character.
If we have vitalized the opposite traits of generosity, kindliness, sympathy, love, trust, aspiration, sincerity, and the like, these also return to us on their ennobling rounds. Our dual impulses both use the brain-mind to make a case for right and wrong in the inner struggles between conscience and desire. When we decide aright, our lower nature loses the strength that is gained by our better side. In recognizing this power of creating a noble character, step by step, we find opportunities of winning point by point in meeting the routine affairs of daily life. These seemingly small victories unite their force and make us equal to the larger issues which try our souls severely. Even the failure to win at times may count as success, for the person who keeps on trying builds up his moral strength and diffuses something helpful into the very air around him.
Every day is a new beginning for all, no matter what the past has been. To unfold, to advance, to become is the natural and vital impulse of everything and every being. The most dreary and difficult life outwardly may be a cycle of opportunity for the inner self to show its heroic courage and impersonal power. In Emerson's words, "The Soul knows only the Soul; the web of events is the flowing robe in which she is clothed."
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Theosophical University Press)