The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself. — Attributed to Chief Seattle
Looking at our earth, Gaia, it's hard not to recognize that we belong to each other. All of us are in the below photo somewhere, and looking at it this way helps remind us that we're all in this together, literally — however many paths there may be interiorly, in very many ways we are all on the same path. Observing the picture closely, we see a living being, ensouled as we are, evolving and growing just as we are. As she evolves, we evolve, and vice versa.
But what are we evolving towards? Sacred texts often proclaim that the supreme goal is perfection. For example, the Prajnaparamita Sutra, one of the most important Mahayana Buddhist teachings, tells of six perfections (of giving, morality, patience, vigor, concentration, and wisdom), but are we to believe that there is a level of morality or patience which cannot be improved? The Bible also tells us, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Perfection means that no further evolution is possible and clearly implies a final and ultimate ending. One wonders, then, if perfection is a factual reality or a functional concept; an achievable goal or a valuable target? As we consider the immensity of our universe, visible and invisible, can we really imagine a once and forever conclusion, a final episode beyond which no further chapters are written, an infinity that ends?
Theosophy speaks only of temporary endings, relative perfections, and mini-completions until the next phase of the journey begins. With its implication that something has been completed, perfection is always context related, and in an infinite universe how could there be a final perfection any more than a final number? So while we can journey towards transitory boundaries, limited resting points, and momentary perfections, theosophical philosophy holds that at the heart of our pilgrimage there is endless progressive becoming:
The Secret Doctrine teaches the progressive development of everything, worlds as well as atoms; and this stupendous development has neither conceivable beginning nor imaginable end. Our "Universe" is only one of an infinite number of Universes, . . . each one standing in the relation of an effect as regards its predecessor, and being a cause as regards its successor.
The appearance and disappearance of the Universe are pictured as an outbreathing and inbreathing of "the Great Breath," which is eternal, and which, being Motion, is one of the three aspects of the Absolute —Abstract Space and Duration being the other two. When the "Great Breath" is projected, it is called the Divine Breath, and is regarded as the breathing of the Unknowable Deity — the One Existence — which breathes out a thought, as it were, which becomes the Kosmos. . . . So also is it when the Divine Breath is inspired again the Universe disappears into the bosom of "the Great Mother," who then sleeps "wrapped in her invisible robes." — H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine 1:43
This was written in 1888 when Western science believed that there was only one galaxy in the universe — ours. In her writings H. P. Blavatsky goes to great lengths to describe how the universe always acts according to principle, and one of those principles is that anything that manifests does so periodically, cyclically. "Manifest" refers to anything that comes into form — thoughts, ideas, feelings, as well as visible physical forms. From such an understanding of cycles, we can unfold the philosophy of karma (cycles of action) and reincarnation (cycles of rebirths).
The very nature of spirit expressing itself through matter is cyclic motion. The alternation of night and day, light and dark, is so deeply connected to our sense of sequential time that it is easy to forget that these are planetary rhythms arising out of earth spinning round its axis. The illusion of stillness is so real as we sit in a room that it is easy to doubt that Gaia, and we along with her, are spinning at about 17 miles per minute, roughly 1,000 miles per hour (25,000 miles per day) at the equator. Meanwhile the being we call the solar system is speeding through space at 125 miles per second around its galactic center. Wobbly earth, and you and I, are scurrying around the sun, careening through more than 580 million miles of uncharted space each year — all the while being carried within our Milky Way Galaxy spacecraft shooting along at 200 miles per second. As we mark off our birthdays and anniversaries we may think of our days, our lives, our years as continually circling back around again to where they started, but we are actually participating in a journey through brand-new territory in space: every second we are in a new place, though we are given the gift of familiar landmarks, the equinoxes and solstices.
Reflecting on this we can see that everything — souls, thoughts, people — has its own rhythm and motion. The earth cycling the sun, the moon circling the earth, and the seasons that come from these whirlings and turnings, parallel the birth, flowering, death, and rebirth cycles we participate in psychologically, intellectually, and spiritually. Cycles within cycles: our blood pulsates, our breathing circulates, and nightly we move through sleep cycles. As children of the sun, moon, and earth, we participate with them in ongoing cycles of evolution and involution, inner and outer, which flow from and are in sync with the universal pulse of the cosmos, which in turn has the heart of the heart of divinity as its central sun. Considering the similarity of the structure of an atom to the structure of the solar system, we can even imagine how our bodies are composed of miniature solar systems, each made up of innumerable lives. In fact, three or four days after a human egg is fertilized, it has divided and multiplied and grown itself to look like a small planet.
Just as each of us considers ourselves to be one being, so too is the solar system a being. In the Hindu tradition our entire solar system is called the Egg of Brahma, and may be looked on
as an enormous ovoid aggregate body poised in space; and were some astronomer on some distant globe in the stellar deeps to see our Egg of Brahma, and were he to see it from the proper superior plane or world, our entire solar system would appear to him as an ovoid body of light — as an egg-shaped irresolvable nebula. . . . composed of concentric spheres centered in the Sun, and each one of these spheres is a cosmic world. Its heart — the heart of each one of them — is the Sun. The world or sphere of our Earth is one such, and surrounds the Sun as a sphere of dense substance, and the nucleus in this sphere or egg, for such it is, is what we commonly call our Earth. Such also is the sphere of Mercury, such is the sphere of Venus, such is the sphere of Mars, also of Jupiter, also of Saturn . . . — G. de Purucker, Four Sacred Seasons, pp. 10-11
Earth's orbit, then, is not just an invisible pathway, but actually describes the outline of earth's being. The body of the planet we see is a temporary focus for the spiritual and material forces of that being. The orbit of the earth lies within the orbit of Mars as one nesting doll lies within another, not like the fixed crystalline spheres imagined by some, but more like interpenetrating realms permeating each other. As Ezekiel said, "wheels within wheels." Mars' orbit lies within Jupiter's like the layer of an onion, and the solar system's orbit around the galactic center describes yet another level or realm or world of consciousness, alive with an infinite number of consciousnesses.
Looking at our spiral galaxy, we can begin to understand what the Prajnaparamita Sutra may be referring to when it speaks about "all the conscious beings in this billion-world system." Each planet, moon, and star is an expression, a temporary focus, of a cosmic being manifesting on various worlds or realms and peopled by entities and consciousnesses — concentric spheres each including all the others. Such is the evolutionary and revolutionary structure of the universe, the one around us as well as the one within us. We humans are cells in the body of the earth, solar system, and galaxy; and just as our body is built of living consciousnesses, so too are we each a living piece of planet earth. We may think of ourselves as living on the earth, but we are living within it as we live within the sun. The stars are millions of miles away, invisible to us during the daytime; nevertheless some aspect of them is always present — unseen, far away, but present.
Life is the circulation of cosmic spiritual consciousness, but when we try to pinpoint exactly where we are in this process, we come up with only partial information. As William Q. Judge remarked: "We point the telescope at one of our sister planets, and knowing that its light takes five minutes or more to get to us, we must be continually directing the glass to a point in space where the planet is not, and by no possibility can we point to where it actually is. Still, for all this uncertainty, many complicated and definite calculations are based on these observations of mere illusions" (Echoes of the Orient 1:443).
The real person is invisible. We each could lose an eye, or a limb or two, and still be ourselves (it's curious to ponder how much of our physical body we could misplace and still be present). We are essentially invisible beings manifesting through a variety of vehicles of spirit, thought, and desire, and we are also cosmic voyagers. When incarnation on earth begins, we wear one-celled "space" suits. Our bodies change, our vehicles change, life goes on. Like the sun which attracts the planets into their orbits, our divine sun collects and keeps all the aspects of our being in one coherent whole. We are each like a solar system with spiritual forces pouring through our inner divine sun. And very often we are also like those telescopes Mr. Judge wrote of, outwardly pointing towards where the Real is not, forgetting to turn inwards to the invisible sun at the heart of our being. We must always peer deeper, look below the surface of our present understandings, as life is infinitely complex. There is no final ending to these cycles, no ultimate once-and-forever perfection, but an ongoing series of ever-perfecting processes.
Discovering that nature repeats herself continuously is very comforting. Somehow she is both endlessly creative and endlessly repetitive as to form and function. Just as the Hermetic axiom predicts, every earthly structure is itself made up of smaller structures echoing and repeating the design, transcending and including all those below. Every life too is made up of a temporary concentration of smaller lives, like Arthur Koestler's idea of a holon: "an entity that is itself a whole, and simultaneously a part of some other whole." Everything is alive and a life. The divine journey is not about freeing ourselves from nature, because human nature, mother nature, and cosmic nature are all one. It's about freeing ourselves from the illusion that they are essentially different. The divine path is about enlarging our focus to include not just earth and her orbit, but all the planets in our entire system. It's about shifting our personal center of gravity, our center of small self-focus, and relocating it in the divine sun.
The path to this relocation takes commitment, compassion, and consciousness. I think the difference between walking the divine path consciously and walking it unconsciously involves the same kind of transformation as the shift in consciousness which happened when the West's understanding of the cosmos shifted from earth-centered to solar-centered. The path towards perfection is to re-experience this shift, this enlarged focus, on every level of being — not just once, but continually. And perhaps rather than striving to journey towards an imaginary or temporary perfection, we may try to experience a kind of perfect journey, for while we may be less than perfect travelers, so too are the gods, our companions. After all, we are all in this together.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2003; copyright © 2003 Theosophical University Press)
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed. — Albert Einstein