"The Eternity of the Pilgrim" is like a wink of the Eye of Self-Existence . . . "The appearance and disappearance of Worlds is like a regular tidal ebb of flux and reflux." — H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine 1:16-17
I myself never was not, nor thou, nor all the princes of the earth; nor shall we ever hereafter cease to be. — Bhagavad-Gita, ch. 2
Iwould like to invite you on a journey which leads far away from our everyday lives, away from the small and limited consciousness of routine, from the seeming truths and illusions of the outer world to which we are accustomed. It is a journey to the inner aspects of the universe based on the wisdom of the ancients, traces and records of which may be found in the religions, myths, and traditions of all peoples if we are but prepared to open our eyes and ears, and refrain from mocking with the arrogance of our modern civilization.
In the Proem to her Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky defines three fundamental propositions which underlie the entire wisdom-teaching about cycles. First,
An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable Principle on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought — in the words of Mandukya, "unthinkable and unspeakable." — 1:14
In this Principle we all have our origin — from the minutest atom to galaxies and beyond — and to It we eventually return, the eternal source and end of each cycle of manifestation and dissolution.
The second proposition speaks of
The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically "the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing," called "the manifesting stars," and the "sparks of Eternity." — 1:16
The third proposition postulates the fundamental unity of everything. Since we all spring from the same root and return to it again, we are one in essence. During cyclic manifestation we are individualized and differ from each other, but it is only the persona — the Greek word for "mask" — which differs. Fundamentally we are one with all that lives in the universe.
These three propositions put our existence into a context which far transcends our human limitations. According to ancient teachings there is no absolute beginning or ending, only periodic becoming and disappearing. Let us try to glimpse these sublime cosmic wheels the ancients have told us about. The numbers cited here are only crude approximations designating, not so much exact measures in human years, but rather the character or length of a cycle in proportion to other cycles. For these universal rhythms are brought about by intelligent forces and beings, and can be influenced in many different ways.
As human beings, the average human life of about 72 years is the measure of all things for us. Yet this is merely the lifespan of the physical body — the least evolved and most material aspect of our constitution. Our physical body is but a tool which serves the real self, the human monad or center of consciousness, in expressing itself on this material plane. Still, our body is filled with cycles which reflect the universe around it. There is, for instance, the cycle of menstruation, which corresponds to the lunar rotation. Our heart beats about 72 times a minute, or 4,320 heartbeats an hour (the figures 4-3-2 with added zeros appear in several important human cycles, as we shall see). Again, on average we breathe 18 times a minute, which makes 25,920 breaths a day. This interesting figure is repeated in the precessional cycle of the equinoxes, also called a "Platonic year," which lasts 25,920 years. It is divided into twelve equal parts corresponding to the signs of the zodiac, each twelfth forming a Messianic cycle of 2,160 years.
Let's look deeper within to the body's building-blocks. Materially a cell is an aggregate of atoms and molecules, but it is much more than an accumulation of chemical elements. According to theosophical traditions, cells are built up as we are: they live, have intelligence and feelings appropriate to their plane, and create their own individual fate according to their inner development. Within the body, cells perform different tasks depending on their appointed position. They submit to the greater whole and serve the entire body; but at the same time they have their own life, consciousness, and individual evolution. They maintain their energy, protect themselves against attacks, fence themselves off from and communicate with their environment, and come into being and disappear.
Cells demonstrate another important characteristic of life: as an integral portion of a greater entity, even if unconsciously so, each cell carries the overall design within itself, physically in the form of DNA. Its individual evolution consists of bringing forth ever more this inherent plan of the whole. In doing so, it gathers more and more experience, and these contacts of its monadic consciousness with lower planes result in evolution.
This concept also applies to us as human beings. We are cells in a greater being, yet because of its magnitude we are unconscious of the fact. Notwithstanding, we also have within ourselves the plan of the whole. The same principle may be applied to a planet, a sun, an atom, an electron, the citizens of an electron — whatever we like. Everything that lives evolves through cyclic becoming and dissolution, and behind each physical expression is a monadic center of consciousness.
But let's go further and look at the atoms which make up cells and other substances. What marvelous creatures they are! How could we deny consciousness to them? They are constantly moving. They have properties and characteristics which they maintain. Matter, such as wood or stone, may appear solid, but in reality this is only a transient form, an illusion. If in thought we enlarge the atoms of a piece of wood, and make their nuclei as large as tennis balls, the distance between atoms would be several hundred kilometers. And the concentration of mass in the atom is very close to the conditions found in the solar system. The nucleus contains 99.946% of the mass of the atom, while our sun contains 99.8% of the mass in the solar system.
Indeed, the microcosm resembles the macrocosm, only the duration of vibrations — i.e., of cycles — is of differing magnitudes. The outer forms are subject to constant change — nothing remains as it is — but the centers of consciousness behind the forms retain their individuality. They are the endless manifold hosts of entities undergoing their pilgrimage as we do, from atom to galaxy. Looking more closely, we recognize ourselves as the hierarch of the unbelievably striking cosmos of our body. In it cells form the galaxies and super-galaxies, atoms correspond to solar systems with electrons for planets. All are inhabited, in an incomprehensible way. Our pulse passes through this micro-universe, our thoughts and feelings influence it. We stamp ourselves on its cycles: we are the deities who reign over all the becoming and dissolution of our body's entities — without being conscious of this process.
All the myriad forms of life, all these wheels within wheels, small wheels joining together to form larger ones! From a human life, we can pass on to ever smaller cycles, ever subtler and less discernible to us — waking-sleeping; breathing, the heart beat; changes of cells, atoms, and its building-blocks and inhabitants. We, on the other hand, are as mysterious to these entities as they are to us. Our body dissolves into nothingness if we journey past the plane of cells and atoms to that of the citizens of the electrons who look into the endlessness of our body filled with shining "stars." To the eye of the electron-citizen, our body appears as a seeming void. Perhaps we are overcome by the same feeling as this inhabitant of the electron when we look into the night sky and are overwhelmed by the awe of creation and its magnitude. We experience nature, inspired by the intuitive feeling that we are part of this whole.
Bright Ring of Star Birth around a Galaxy's Core (NGC 4314, Hubble Space Telescope, G. F. Benedict, University of Texas/NASA). The inset photo (McDonald Observatory) shows the region of this stellar nursery — a spiral cluster within a spiral galaxy.
Let's consider our planet for a moment. Like a human being, the earth is more than a physical entity — it has inner aspects, its being manifesting through different qualities of cosmic substance. The Hindus call the lifetime of a planet a day of Brahma, with a duration of
4,320,000,000 human years (note the sequence 4-3-2 which we found in the number of human heartbeats). They hold that 1,972,000,000 years have passed away, so that the life of our planet is almost half over — while modern theosophical literature maintains that the most material point was passed several million years ago. In the first half of this cycle of development, the earth experienced an evolution of matter and an involution of spirit as it descended into matter. This trend manifested in ever greater differentiation of species and in the natural synthesis of heavier chemical elements.
Humanity runs through its development on earth under the influence of many cycles. For example, a new Messianic cycle of 2,160 years is opening, as the spring equinox moves from Pisces to Aquarius. The result is a corresponding change in the quality of our times and thought-life. As many traditional forms of human coexistence are thrown aside, we need to reshape our attitude towards our fellow human beings and find new ways to further common interests. It is of great importance for all of us to cooperate, to shape new rules and patterns of thought out of ancient ethics, and thus help mankind to work with nature once more, while leading individuals back to the sacred sources of their being. We must not only demand human rights, but recognize human duties as a basis for the next millennium and beyond, expressing the timeless, universal wisdom-teachings in modern language and, above all, learning to live them.
The transition from one cycle to the next is always a critical point. When there is a change between day and night, when season follows season, when sleeping and waking blend together, when yin and yang are in harmony, when neither male nor female dominates — it is only then that the necessary pattern for life, consciousness, recognition, and evolution comes forth. We constantly experience such transitions — but not consciously.
But we feel the effects not only of minor cycles such as the end of a century or millennium, or the precession of the equinoxes. According to theosophy, humanity has reached the most material point of its development, or a minute step beyond, because the earth's lifespan is half over. We and the earth are in a long-term transition stage as the whole process of development on this planet changes direction. We are beginning once more to ascend the luminous arc of evolution: an evolution of spirit and an involution of matter. Some chemical elements already reflect a slight refinement of matter and so have become radioactive, changing into lighter elements in order to reestablish stability.
On its evolutionary journey our spiritual monad has descended to the deepest depths of matter for this cycle and has, on a planetary time scale, only an instant ago transited the critical balance point between spirit and matter. The newly gained faculty of self-consciousness is now the driving force of our evolution. Our further development offers unspeakable vistas, where we may become like the most godlike men. Cycle upon cycle we may progress along this luminous arc, using our unfolding facilities for the benefit of others in a brotherly and impersonal way. To the degree we succeed in doing this, we will express ever more of the greater whole to which we belong.
This is our locus in the universe, which presents us with our responsibility and our task — no more and no less. The vision before us reveals a majestic path of evolution, ordered by cycles replacing, supplementing, and overlapping each other. Through them we may learn to handle our smaller daily cycles better; and the changes we see around us, which some interpret as threatening disasters, may actually be necessary and helpful turnings of evolutionary cycles. Let us accept these challenges and make of them what we can. As Sir Edwin Arnold wrote:
Stars sweep and question not. This is enough
That life and death and joy and woe abide;
And cause and sequence, and the course of time,
And Being's ceaseless tide,
Which, ever-changing, runs, linked like a river
By ripples following ripples, fast or slow —
. . . . .
Pray not! the Darkness will not brighten! Ask
Nought from the Silence, for it cannot speak!
Vex not your mournful minds with pious pains! . . .
Each man his prison makes.
Each hath such lordship as the loftiest ones;
Nay, for with powers above, around, below,
As with all flesh and whatsoever lives.
Act maketh joy and woe.
What hath been bringeth what shall be, and is
Worse — better — last for first and first for last;
The Angels in the Heavens of Gladness reap
Fruits of a holy past. — The Light of Asia
(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1999; copyright © 1999 Theosophical University Press)