All events are cyclic and, perceptible or not, there is an upheaval at the beginning of each cycle as we enter upon a new stage of our journey to broader perceptions. Preparations for the transition into the 21st century, which is rapidly approaching, have taken a century and more, for in reality they draw on knowledge accumulated over millions of years. Looking back we see that the events which ushered in the 20th century destroyed what was pass\ae to make room for the new. Groping and searching, many people did not know how to deal with strange new ideas. Certainly most saw the ups and downs, the pleasant and unpleasantness around them, but gave it little thought. Others wanted to orient themselves precisely and understand what was going on. They read books and magazines, and talked to those with more experience. Nevertheless, experience itself has to be acquired by each individual.
During the search for understanding, people either absorb what they are exposed to, reject it, or are torn by doubts. Again and again, each one of us has to decide which path to choose. One great poet clothed this decision in the following words:
Each path is just a path, and it is no offense to oneself or others to let it go when the heart demands it. Look carefully at each path, try it out, and study it as often as required — and then ask yourself, yourself alone: is it a path of my heart? If so, then it is a good path; if not, then it is a useless one.
These words are a touchstone because each individual is the sole judge of what constitutes right action.
In the last hundred years enormous technical and scientific changes have impacted our thought and lives. Century after century we have investigated the principles behind nature's laws, but only with the upheaval leading into the 20th century could Western man, with the help of new instruments and methods, enter more deeply into the secrets of nature to search for its building blocks and the origin of the universe. Nonetheless, our discoveries still belong to the observable world, and people generally are satisfied with that.
While we prefer to derive knowledge through repeatable empirical experiments, new/old perceptions are increasingly entering public discussion, though they may take a while to find general acceptance — in the scientific sense, everything must be proved objectively. For example, science previously had separated spirit from matter, and divided matter into innumerable lifeless building blocks. We are hearing more frequently now that spirit and matter are one and that between them are many planes. Again, the belief that there is no single point in the universe without life is gaining currency. According to ancient thought the universe is an organism sustained by pneuma, the cosmic breath which brought everything into existence, so that life is everywhere — coming, staying a short while, and then withdrawing, only to return anew. This process begins with monads or spiritual centers. Then come atoms, minerals, plants, and animals until, through experience, the human stage is reached. Beyond that come the gods and super-gods, and so on infinitely towards the incomprehensible.
At a certain evolutionary stage, however, mankind began to become self-responsible. Mind emerged and responsibility with it: on the one hand, to develop toward the spiritual and, on the other hand, to feel responsibility toward the lower kingdoms. The responsibility not to exploit those subordinate to us rests precisely on our intellectual superiority. In the long run nature allows no separateness since one divine heart beats within the many different beings comprising the cosmos. No one can exist without all others because everything is interdependent: these thoughts must come to the fore if we are to avoid a tremendous upheaval.
The idea is emerging that there must be both spiritual and intellectual types of thinking. Ratiocinative thought uses the brain and can be easily expressed in words. Spiritual thinking is primarily an intuitive process which lies far beyond the intellect. Most knowledge comes through the mind, but some may be attained in brief moments of insight into spiritual planes. Such may occur in a flash as the veil concealing the secrets of nature is lifted slightly. Then nothing is separate, everything is ONE, as if we were merging with infinity. This is a moment of upheaval for the individual. Eventually we must raise ourselves to the spiritual plane because ultimate reality can be experienced only through individual intuition and extended by spiritual insight.
When the ancients longed for more knowledge, they withdrew into the solitude of the mountains or forest to meditate on the interdependence of nature. Their experiences were based on direct insight through observation of self and nature. Nowadays, while scientific experiments can be repeated by anyone familiar with the exact experimental procedure, spiritual experiences often remain unique to the individual. But why can't the scientific and the spiritual be united if the world is one single organism? If man is an image of the cosmos, doesn't he have to be an image of all processes within that cosmos?
Even if more refined instruments let us enter ever deeper into matter and the universe, there are still boundaries to our research. We do not yet realize that these boundaries are erected by our own ethical behavior. The acquisition of experience and knowledge is our human duty and opportunity, but ethics must be included in the equation. The knowledge gained should not profit only an individual or small group; it must serve all beings. And only if the ethical prerequisites are met can we continue going forward on our evolutionary path. We are entitled to move upward when we have made ourselves ready through self-effort to receive more, to be more, to take on more responsibility. Our life and will must conform to the maxim of Kant that the keynote for everyone must be the starry heaven above him and the moral law within him.
Those who champion these old/new concepts need to do everything possible to carry this knowledge into the next millennium as unsullied as possible, to pass it on through this renewed period of upheaval. Those who resolve seriously to serve mankind should remember, as comfort and incentive, the words attributed to H. P. Blavatsky:
There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a road, and it leads to the very heart of the Universe: I can tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that opens inward only, and closes fast behind the neophyte for evermore. There is no danger that dauntless courage cannot conquer; there is no trial that spotless purity cannot pass through; there is no difficulty that strong intellect cannot surmount. For those who win onwards there is reward past all telling — the power to bless and save humanity; for those who fail, there are other lives in which success may come. — Collected Writings 13:219
The basic requirements of this consciously chosen spiritual path are: devotion, an ideal, and the performance of one's duty in daily life. The performance of duty brings inner peace; fear and inner strife disappear. If we are not true to an ideal, there will be no advancement. As long as the ancient ethical rules and way of life are fulfilled, success will come in time, irrespective of whether the individual knows it or not. And this success lies in an expansion of consciousness which finally leads to initiation — to a decisive upheaval marking a major transition in the personal life.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 1999. Copyright © 1999 by Theosophical University Press)
All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family, and each one of us is responsible for the misdeeds of all the others. I cannot detach myself from the wickedest soul. — Mohandas K. Gandhi