Recently I received a letter from a young man describing an experience he had had:
Many never (in this lifetime) find divinity within themselves, but I "see" it daily. To me there is no question as to its being the divine. It leaves me with no choice but to seek the spiritual path, and after the line is crossed, there is no turning back.
Before, I lived in isolation, felt misplaced spiritually and, trying to fill the void, filled my life with attachments. Now I feel part of the divine, connected with the whole enchilada. Now I realize the most important thing in life is living life — a good life!
His is no idle claim. A serious study of comparative religions reveals that such experiences are possible; that any of us in time can become receptacles for the same Divine Presence that infills the advanced intelligences who guide and protect living beings.
To help us understand how this is possible, the wise of many cultures offer a variety of explanations. Most of them start with a description of the beginning of the world and proceed to describe the laws that govern the mechanics of the inner and outer realms of being. They define this beginning as a gradual emanation from Divinity, an expanding or unfolding of what had been infolded during previous periods of manifestation, just as humans express in each incarnation talents developed and karma accumulated in past lives.
Some schools describe this emanational unfolding of divine Intelligence as taking place through various "circles" or levels of spiritual, ethereal, and material existence, with each circle filled with beings suited for its level of experience. Christians are familiar with this idea from Dionysius' Celestial Hierarchy. This hierarchy consists of ten categories of celestial Intelligences which are born of and descend from Divinity through ten levels or states of being. From the divinely-spiritual to the ethereal-material, the divine energy is passed from those nearest God, the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones, to Dominions, Virtues, and Powers, and on to Principalities, Archangels, and Angels who minister more directly to human beings. Each class, living on its own level or world, works its wonders as it receives, and in turn transmits to those below, the Divine Essence.
Greek mythology presents a similar succession with its series of gods, titans, demigods, divine heroes, and heroes. In fact, their legends mention the time when gods walked among men, helping, bestowing gifts, and teaching the laws and skills of civilized life. Then even the humblest peasant "never turned a stranger from the door lest he be a god bearing gifts." We cannot always do that today, but we can be watchful for gifts which come in the form of ideas and opportunities.
The Stoics presented this idea of the descent and manifestation of divinity in scientific terms, as did the Hindus with their teaching of the unfolding of the tattvas or elements of nature. Such presentations help us visualize how our life and world are interlinked with invisible beings, ranging from gods to elementals, and how invisible worlds interpenetrate ours. Diogenes Laertius summarized the Stoic cosmogony as follows:
God [theos] is one and the same with Reason, Fate, and Zeus; he is also called by many other names. In the beginning he was by himself; he transformed the whole of substance through air into water, . . . adapting matter to himself with a view to the next stage of creation. Thereupon he created first of all the four elements, fire, water, air, earth. . . .
The world, they hold, comes into being when its substance has first been converted from fire through air into moisture, and then the coarser part of the moisture has condensed as earth, while that whose particles are fine has been turned into air, and this process of rarefaction goes on increasing till it generates fire. Thereupon out of these elements animals and plants and all other natural kinds are formed by their mixture. — Lives of Eminent Philosophers, tr. Hicks, II.7.136, 142
This conception is similar to that presented by theosophy today, which describes how the planetary spirit, coming into being from its nirvanic rest with its burden of monads from past imbodiments, passes through each of the phases of the elemental kingdoms. As it does so, it makes patterns or molds that will provide, during ensuing ages, the home for the mineral, plant, animal, and human kingdoms.
Enlarging on these ideas from a theosophical viewpoint, we can speak of seven elements or stages. In the beginning, the nameless One, the Pleroma or "fullness," produced from itself an offspring, also nameless because beyond human comprehension. This nameless child emanated the essence of the aether, which contained within itself the seeds or potential of the lower elements. Aether then unfolded from itself the spirit or primary essence of fire — not the fire we know but its essence which consists of its innumerable fiery seeds and beings. Fire advanced through its aeons-long evolutionary cycles, becoming increasingly more dense and material and expressing itself through all the planes and subplanes of the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical worlds.
During this process, the element of fire unfolded from itself the essence of air. And air, running through its evolutionary courses, eventually concreted and materialized itself into the quality of air we are familiar with, which surrounds and sustains us. All the while air carries within itself the essences of fire, aether, the nameless One, and its child, as is evidenced even in its most material aspect in the beauty and power and symmetry we see all around us, especially in rainbows, sunsets, sunrises, and the peaceful glory of the night sky.
Air, in like manner, produced the principle of water, which eventually materialized sufficiently for us to perceive it as the liquid that waters our crops, quenches our thirst, nourishes, cleanses, and cools life on Earth and, in addition, helps to provide the energy that spawns much of our advanced technology.
Finally, from water, the element earth was born and serves as the foundation and vehicle of water, air, fire, aether, and the nameless ones. Not only is our planet the container of the elements, but so are we. Throughout our being their presence sustains life, promotes growth, and when our cycles are completed, they withdraw: dust to dust, water to water, air and fire to air and fire, and the highest elements to their divine source.
In the case of our planet, according to the Stoics, when its term is completed there is a gradual indrawing of the elements: earth liquefies and passes into water, water aerifies, air ignifies, and all are withdrawn back into their source. There then ensues a period of rest, after which the process is repeated for another cycle of development.
Similar explanations of the world's formation were popular among medieval theosophers, Fire-Philosophers, Kabbalists, Rosicrucians, and freethinkers, and we find it elucidated in their writings along with mention of the particular influence and characteristics of the elemental beings: salamanders of fire, sylphs of air, undines of water, and gnomes of earth.
With the Hindus Brahma, the Evolver-Creator, expands and brings into being innumerable invisible and visible worlds and their inhabitants, who live their lives and eventually are enfolded or breathed back into the bosom of the Supreme. In the West, Hermes Trismegistus expressed this same idea in terms appropriate for his time:
True, without error, certain most true; that which is above is as that which is below, and that which is below is as that which is above, for performing the marvels of the Kosmos. As all things are from the One, by the mediation of One, . . . so all things arose out of this One Thing by evolving . . .
This is one way of saying that when we understand ourselves, we will possess a blueprint by which we can understand any and every being and level of life, for living beings, from the lowest to the highest, are rooted in Divinity, have similar qualities, essences, and patterns of action, differing only in degree of expression. All are enlivened by the same energy, governed by the same laws, interact, and will eventually return to the same divine source.
What a vision this presents! Look at ourselves: each part of our nature is a shadow of the shadow of the Most High, an expression of the Divine. Divine intelligence and force — as far as they are able — flow throughout our whole composite nature. No wonder Shakespeare exclaimed through Hamlet:
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! — Act II, scene ii
Buddhists tell us that from an unknowable, illimitable Void or Fullness all issues forth; also, that from this Void all creatures are born and are fashioned through the eons of various substances. As this divine force flows through each part of our nature, seeds of potential are awakened, nurtured, and developed. They convey this mighty process in four words: Om mani padme hum! (Om, the jewel in the lotus) — that is, the jewel, divinity, is within and expresses itself through the unfolding phases or "petals" of the cosmos, be that cosmos a universe, human, or any sentient being.
They further describe this transmission of divinity as Avalokitesvara, which manifests on our level in heroic deeds and works of genius, and also in our daily expressions of its beauty, truth, and loving kindness. Over the ages, Avalokitesvara became personified, first as a male divinity, then as Kwan Yin, Goddess of Mercy and Love, who is the friend, guide, and protector of all living beings. Exquisite statues imbodying this ideal grace gardens and museums the world over. Some are carved of jade, others cast in bronze or made of fine porcelain. In a few, Kwan Yin is depicted with eight arms to suggest the many ways she brings comfort to those in need, inspiration to the discouraged, and enlightenment to those who aspire — all in keeping with the bodhisattva ideal: never to seek salvation until every creature has been delivered from pain. Mystically Kwan Yin is our higher self, our Guardian Angel. At first, we tend to envision this as something outside, an angel on our shoulder or one that unexpectedly appears as a friend in time of need. Gradually we become aware that Divinity is our real self.
The Mesoamericans symbolized Divinity as a Feathered Serpent. Feathers of rainbow-colored queztal birds suggest the highest expression of Divinity, and serpents, who dwell on and in the earth, the lowest. Every year, at the spring and autumn equinoxes, viewers behold a magnificent serpent of light and shadow materializing on the north fa\ccade of the Pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza. As they watch, this serpent — its body composed of seven luminous triangles — slowly descends the pyramid stairs until it reaches the lowest, and there rests its great stone head. This seemingly miraculous vision, created by skillful artisans to orient the sun's light onto the pyramid's steps, illustrates the descent of the Divine which ever seeks to awaken humankind to the wisdom and love that flows from the sun directly into the soul.
The Mayans of Yucatan still express their love daily in such phrases as In Lak'ech Yelir, "I am another yourself," "I am you, we are the same." This is the basis of the brotherhood every religion seeks to promote: the recognition that we are all children of the Divine which we instinctively seek to express. Indeed, we are temples of God, and the Spirit of the Highest does dwell within us!
One more instance is taken from a commentary on the Desatir:
For in everything, and in every action thou hast Me with thee: and findest My light in every thing and in every place: and perceivest the grandeur of the Unity of My Being by all its shadows: and comprehendest all the splendor of My existence, and hearest My word from all in every thing, since all are in search of Me: . . . and art nigh unto Me. — p. 68
How can we become aware of this divine force? How can we open the channels to its Presence? Every religion offers answers, telling us to spiritualize our lives, practice the age-old virtues, or simply love one another. For love is the Divine Presence, the energy that brings into being the joy that fills our hearts, the inspiration and understanding, and the recognition of the unity of all things. Love is the energy by which the lilies in the field express their beauty, by which animals and insects, flowers and trees, minerals and the elements express the wonders we behold.
The divine Krishna reminds us of this. When he was about to depart, he assured those who loved him that whenever they thought of him, he was there, dancing with them the great Dance of Life. What a beautiful thought! Divinity — our Divinity — is here, dancing with us the great Dance of Life!
Christ also declared: "I am the way, the truth, and the life," a thought Robert Browning immortalized in his poem, "Paracelsus":
Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things, whate'er you may believe.
There is an inmost centre in us all,
Where truth abides in fulness; and around,
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect, clear perception — which is truth.
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Binds it, and makes all error: and to know,
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendor may escape,
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without. Watch narrowly
The demonstration of a truth, its birth,
And you trace back the effluence to its spring
And source within us; . . .
For him, the Divine Presence resides within the heart of every being.
(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1999; copyright © 1999 Theosophical University Press)
Truth has no special time of its own. Its hour is now — always. — Albert Schweitzer