Nature proclaims on every hand, here on earth and in the spaces above and in our own nature within us, that imperfection is the rule and that the action of multitudinous, free, but still imperfect wills is the cause of the contrarieties and differences so prevalent in our world. We see imperfection everywhere, in many degrees, and human nature manifests it as much as anything else. Nothing is perfect in this lower universe of limitations, which is the garment of divine perfection, to use an old metaphor. Yet it is through and by these limitations that we learn, because these limitations arise out of the imperfect nature of the beings surrounding us — beings like ourselves, living and learning and advancing towards that sublime goal which, paradoxically, recedes into greater distances the nearer we seem to approach to it.
We are indeed learning creatures, living for the present in our intermediate natures, in what we call our human soul, and thus linked to the spirit above and within us, which is the divine spark which we essentially are; and this human soul is again linked to and in the body which each one of us has, manifesting through it, and thus expressing itself on this plane and learning its lessons here.
The spirit within or rather above man, his essential self, can no more manifest directly upon matter and move it — although spirit and matter are in essence one — than, let us say, electricity can manifest immediately in and drive an electric car along the road without the proper mechanical apparatus as intermediary. Similarly is it with the intermediate psychological nature of man, between the spirit above and the vital-astral-physical framework of this earthly body. Similarly is it as concerns the divine and the physical or material universe: there must be intermediate stages or grades of more or less ethereal substances between these, furnishing the links between them.
The divine in its essence is transcendent and above the material universe, even as the spirit of man is transcendent or above his intermediate and vital-astral-physical nature, and the forces flowing from his spiritual nature are transmitted to him more or less imperfectly, according to the degree of evolution that has been attained by the intermediate nature, the human soul.
It is the teaching of theosophy that between the divine and the phenomenal universe which we sense with our physical apparatus of understanding there is a vast congeries or collection or aggregate of hierarchies, in their turn composed of steps or degrees, or scales of beings and things, interconnecting, without disjunction or separation, indissolubly bound together. These hierarchies are not merely infilled with living entities, but are themselves composed of these living entities. Without them they would not be, because these living entities are they.
The modern theory of the cosmos, as outlined more particularly in astronomical science, gives us a good picture of the hierarchical structure of the cosmos from the standpoint of the physical plane. Our universe (that is the space comprised within our galaxy) is not the only universe. There are myriads of universes, similar in physical nature to our own, existing outside the bounds of the Milky Way. Each one of such universes we may call a cosmic molecule composed of the various solar systems which we may call cosmic atoms; while the planets which revolve around any central solar luminary are like cosmic electrons. Our earth is one of such cosmic electrons, so far as our own solar system is concerned. It is an atomic planet forming part of the aggregate of our solar system, which in its turn is one of the atoms of our own universe — a cosmic molecule.
The greater universe is thus a vast organism, a living entity, a quasi-infinitude of worlds, which together form the cosmic molecules of some vast entity surpassing human imagination. And just as in man the atoms which form his body are ensouled by the man himself and yet themselves are living entities, possessing in the minute all that man possesses, so the cosmic atoms and cosmic molecules — the "island-universes" which bestrew space — are ensouled by the life of the vast supergalactic entity, and yet are themselves living beings.
The physical body of the universe is but the united manifestation and effect of these hierarchies of invisible beings as we sense them in their work; and so in turn man's body is representative of such a hierarchy, composed of the multitudes of little lives which form that body. Subtract those little lives from that body, and what remains? There is no body. It is these little lives which are the body, which manifest the man; and he is the oversoul of these hosts of infinitesimals which form his vehicles or bodies, outer and inner. He in his higher self is also their divine inspiritor, invigorator, and vitalizer. The rule of unity is universal.
It is along any hierarchy, great or small as the case may be, in all its steps or grades or stages, that are transmitted the spiritual and divine powers flowing from within, which hold any universe in their grip, which govern its actions, which motivate its procedures, which actually form it and make it what it is; and each such hierarchy is the manifestation of an individuality, of the hierarch, the supernal entity at the head of any such scale or ladder of life or of being.
But is this hierarch "God"? If so, then there are many Gods, as the ancients truly said; because such hierarchies are numberless, as is obvious; interlocking, interwoven, interacting, and forming the vast fabric and web of life, which in its aggregate is the universal cosmos surrounding us. Of this we have but vague and indistinct glimpses, such as our physical senses can give to us, and such as our mind and heart and soul interpret, and more or less correctly in accordance as we are more or less illumined from above by the spirit within, our inner sun of consciousness.
Whence, indeed, come the worlds which light up the spaces of heaven? Whence comes man? From within. They come forth from the invisible outwards into the visible, manifesting the forces which they imbody, and which send them forth on their various and respective works and destinies. And remember that it is spiritual beings who, by and through one side of their nature which by analogy we may call the vegetative side, provide these various forces which play through the phenomenal seeming of the universe around us. Yes, all the forces which appear in nature spring from them, for in one sense we may say they are ultimately those forces themselves. For what are they? Are they separate or different from the universe which they inform? In no case whatsoever. It is these spiritual beings who ensoul the cosmos, the universe. It is they who are the inner worlds, actually composing them in their vegetative aspects, for these inner worlds are their inner vehicles for self-expression, even as man, the true man, ensouls his body, his physical encasement, as well as his inner bodies.
The worlds and we sprang from the heart of Being; and we, in the inmost of the inmost, in the deepest depths of our natures, are that heart of the universe. In it are all things, all mysteries and the solutions of all mysteries, wisdom ineffable, because it is the eternal universal life, boundless, inexpressible, unknowable. An ultimate we may never reach; always are there veils to pass behind into the greater splendors.
What governs the coming forth into visibility of these worlds and of man; what governs their retreat or withdrawal again into the darkness when their courses have been run — darkness to us, but the light to them? These worlds, and man as well, are brought forth through the working of the self in its various vehicles on and in the various planes or spheres of the invisible universe. The self manifests in all these planes or spheres, passing, during the cycle of its progress, from the highest of our hierarchy through a graduated series of stages or degrees to the most inferior or lowest, and in each along its own particular cycle. Then, when the depth of progression into matter has been reached, we foolish men of the Occident, knowing no better, call the effects that we cognize the full splendor of material activity. Thus are we blinded by the maya or illusion of things.
But when the "downward" cycle has run its course, when any cycle of any living entity during its evolutionary progress reaches its lowest point, then begins the "ascent" — not a retrogression in the sense of a turning back and a retracing of the old footmarks with new steps. No, the path ahead is inwards and back to the source whence we and the worlds — our mothers — originally came, but improved, grown, evolved.
When we finally reach the ultimate destiny for that particular cycle of manifestation, which is our return to the source spoken of, then the worlds and we both rest, each according to the effects produced during that cycle of evolution. When we have rested, slept, if you like, we begin anew another cycle of manifestation; we repeat what we did before, but on still higher and nobler pathways, because we ourselves, and the worlds in which we live and of which we are the children, are then more evolved than before. There is a beautiful old mystical saying, that the "sparks of Eternity," the worlds, are scattered anew with lavish hand by the universal Mother on the fields of space in order to run another course.
The whole course of evolution consists in one procedure fundamentally, and that is the building of ever-better vehicles for manifesting the inner light. That process of self-origination and self-building of fitter vehicles we call evolution. After all, the building of vehicles is merely the effectual aspect. Evolution strictly in its etymological sense means the unfolding of potencies which have been infolded in previous cycles of being and which await the appropriate times and fields for their expression. Evolution thus is the unpacking of inner faculties and powers and forces, and the finding of a field for their manifestation.
Our modern physical sciences have lost two extremely important keys which the old wisdom always taught to its students. The first of these keys is: look within, if you would know the truth, for you are the only pathway to that truth. The second key is equally important and its application follows upon the use of this first key. It is the consciousness, and therefore the recognition, that the universe is not merely an ensouled organism, but that this world of the outer seeming is the garment of Reality and that all things have their origin in invisible space and proceed therefrom in individual cyclic journeyings for self-development, outwards into the visible, finally to return into the worlds within, but as grander and nobler entities than they were before. And further that this cycling is carried on by means of a hierarchical unfolding of a series of vehicles on each and all the planes of being, each vehicle itself a living entity capable of expressing the powers and faculties of the hierarch which emanated it forth.
Think of the infinite around us, filled with its hosts of hierarchies: the infinite spaces in the large, and the infinitesimal spaces in the small! An old and wise axiom of the Qabbalah, the theosophy of the Jews, says: "Student, open wide thine eyes upon the visible, for in it thou shalt see the invisible." We should indeed so see the invisible had we only developed our inner eyes; and this we can do. For this faculty of seeing, this power of vision, comes from within, from a union of the inner part of the human constitution with its root, the divinity lying at the heart of things; which heart is the All if reduced to principles by rigorous analysis.
Every human being is a pathway leading to the divine, the only pathway that there is for each incarnate spirit to follow, his only pathway to utter truth. What we receive from others may be helpful, or indeed unhelpful, depending upon the way in which we take it and our understanding of what we take. But if we desire truth and truth alone, if we wish to know ourselves and the wondrous mysteries within us rather than the phenomena only of the outward world, then we must follow that still, small path which leads inwards and onwards and upwards forever.
Thoughts such as these bring into the human spirit a sense of the marvelous power of our understanding when properly directed and used. Human dignity takes on new and worthier aspects. We grow too great for mean and paltry things, for we recognize instinctively the working of the god enshrined in the core of our being — the living Christos within, the awakened Buddha, Isvara "in the seven-gated temple of Brahma," to follow the Hindu's own beautiful phraseology. Whatever the terms in which we express this sublime truth, the conception is the same.
But while this conception gives us true intellectual and spiritual dignity, while it raises our spirit in contemplation of the vastness and the wonders of the cosmos that surround us, it likewise teaches us modesty. We grow less critical of our fellow men and of their mistakes; we grow kindlier and more charitable. Our hearts warm with the understanding that all men — indeed all things, the vast hierarchy of our cosmos — are fundamentally one, linked together for divine purposes; not the purposes of a personal God, but the purposes of the infinite divinity in the hearts of all beings: a principle of consciousness too great to be personal, in its fullness incomprehensible to us, vast even beyond our imagination, and yet being that, as the Christian apostle Paul said, in which "we live, and move, and have our being."
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2000; reprinted from Man in Evolution (1941), chapter 21, copyright © 1977 Theosophical University Press)