[From a talk delivered to an April 2002 gathering of scientists, doctors, and educators at Council Grove, Kansas.]
There is a hunger in every human heart, which nothing can satisfy or appease . . . a hunger for the real, a hunger for the sublime. It is the nostalgia of the soul, of the spirit-soul of man. The source of this longing is the homesickness brought about by the soul-memory of our spiritual abode, whence we came and towards which we are now on our return journey. — G. de Purucker
The motto of the Theosophical Society, satyan nasti paro dharmah, translates roughly as "There is no religion higher than truth." A worthy sentiment — this poor world is starving for truth. But what is it, where shall we look for it, and how can we recognize it when we come across it? When we're spiritually hungry, truth is the food we need. When we're in pain, truth is in whatever dulls our suffering. When we're in extreme pain, however, we're unconcerned about the quality of what we find. In the broadest sense, the healthier and more whole we are, the deeper the truth we can experience and embrace — and discovering and following truth is the divine path.
Truth is certainly a slippery subject, but generally speaking theosophy suggests that to be true, an idea must be true on all levels and at all times. Therefore we are encouraged to study ancient and modern religions, sciences, and philosophies, "comparing them . . . with an unbiased mind" to see through their surface differences to the wellspring of truth they all flow from. Theosophical philosophy also encourages us to look deeply into our own customs to discover the roots we share in the ancient wisdom. Any and every spiritual principle can be explained by countless illustrations taken from world thought. By continually referring to ancient religious systems, H. P. Blavatsky demonstrated that we have the same spiritual and physical origin — what Martin Luther King, Jr., called "the interrelated structure of reality." Considering how many floods, trinities, and virgin births we find in traditions throughout the globe, it becomes apparent that the more universal a symbol or principle is, the more truth it embodies.
Let me share something about my personal search for truth, wholeness, and awareness. I've come to learn that theos-sophia means "divine wisdom" but when I was growing up, I didn't know that divine wisdom was anything a mere human might actually connect with. To my youthful understanding, God and Santa Claus were interchangeable, far away, and endowed with magical ways of seeing me. Though I was taught that God was omnipresent, I wasn't conscious of all the gaps that I felt were between Divinity and me until one day they snapped shut. Written in large gold letters on the wall of the church I attended were the words, "God Is Love." These were designed to be comforting, but I found them depressing: why would a loving God allow (much less create) illness or hate? What is wrong with this picture?
Haphazardly I started searching for answers, little realizing I was taking all my narrow preconceptions with me. Reincarnation seemed possible, but I wasn't certain what the point was (and the extreme poverty found in India, where belief in reincarnation is widespread, was worrisome). Karma made sense in a limited way, but created as many questions as answers for me. I was neither here nor there with polytheism. The way I saw it, if monotheism could be described as a single cosmic cookie, polytheism seemed like a lot of little cosmic cookies. What would be the difference? I was slowly gathering pieces of plausible truths, but they were free floating and full of question marks.
My husband and I searched together for years, stumbling through religious literature and New Age groups, picking up clues along the way, but never finding the keystone that held it all together, the one that connected the mystical with the scientific, philosophical, and practical. Then I got pregnant. With my daughter's birth was born a sudden urgent need to know where she came from. Theosophy's premise that every mathematical point in space is a potentially evolving spark of consciousness, and that there is no such thing as dead matter, was a huge eye-opener. Being a bit of a natural animist (talking to plants and whatnot), this went along with what I'd always felt to be true. But looking back it's clear now that at first I understood this to apply only to the kingdoms below the human (probably due to all those years of hearing about an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient Being above). What exploded the glass ceiling between me and infinity was the idea that there are a countless number of varying grades of consciousness in nature, in every direction. Just as human consciousness is far above an amoeba's, so there are beings whose consciousness far exceeds ours, in every possible measure and degree. And I got it: there are no gaps in the universe, no chasms between Divinity and humanity, and no final endings.
Each spot in space, every aspect of every plane (gross or subtle) is an evolving aspect of divine consciousness interconnected in a grand living chain of being. When I grasped this insight, I connected with the forward motion of it all: not only is every aspect of nature growing and progressing, but nature herself evolves, earth evolves, the universe evolves. My previous static vision of a huge, know-it-all God cracked into billions of pieces — or perhaps I should say it pulsed into new life. Instead of being surrounded by things, I was surrounded by breathing, growing beings — deities — and we were traveling the path of universal life together. Divinity became the ground of being, not a far-away, fixed ideal that required a long-distance commute.
In my brain, karmic and reincarnational cycles suddenly synchronized themselves smoothly into the wheels and gears of this eternal learning process. Imperfections and failures were redefined as unfinished business and temporary consequences — not the scheme of a devil or an unloving God. Mistakes? A necessary part of the learning curve of consciousness. The empty space that had been between God and me was suddenly filled with universes of intermediary consciousnesses, and instantly I felt both further from and closer to Divinity: closer because there is no place to get to, and further away because I can't keep that experience and vision alive every second. And so the divine path for me is a circling around being and becoming.
The lack of truth in our lives leads to real suffering, but this isn't due to a lack of information — if we were to ask any group of people for a list of spiritual virtues, they would have no trouble compiling a catalogue of them. It's as if our pathway is obscured, as if we lost the map to the wholeness of our experience. But if we've misplaced it individually, collectively the world has kept it for us. Mythologies and religions all over the globe preserve a story so alike in outline that it must point to a common reality, and this can be our guide. It tells, over and over again, how the Divine gives a part of its own nature to create or become the universe. These traditions reveal how the universal becomes the particular, how immortality brings forth mortality, or how the One becomes the many.
In the same way that the colors of the spectrum are invisible till separated by a prism, our inner nature is unseen until differentiated by self-conscious reflective thought. We are multidimensional beings in a continual state of becoming, constantly nourished by our divine nature. But just as our earthly body cannot withstand the temperatures of a volcanic eruption, the psyche or soul cannot withstand the eruptive force of pure spirit without layers of protection to mediate the power. These layers of consciousness are themselves realms or worlds of being which each pilgrim of eternity must pass through on his evolutionary journey to actualize them within his own being. Each of the aspects in the following list represents a principle of our nature, and also of surrounding nature's souls, worlds, and vehicles.
Divine: universal shared link to Unknowable Mystery, to the cosmos within and without, "I am."
Spirit: vehicle for direct divine cognition, nonrational, intuitive, seat of unconditional love.
Mind: the thinker, rational thought, self-conscious reflection, ego, "I am I."
Desire: aspiration, attachment, irrational, colorless, motivating.
Vitality: life force, breath of spirit expressed on all planes, radiating force of divinity.
Astral: model, blueprint.
Physical: material, exclusive.
This "map" of human nature is one synthesis of others which can be found in the world's great traditions. It outlines, very generally, stages from spirit to matter that all beings have in potential. We can use it to orient ourselves, to choose where to focus our awareness. It's as invisible yet as effective as latitude and longitude lines: non-existent in one sense, yet providing tremendously useful information for determining precisely where we are. Spiritual evolution is about actualizing and purifying each of these realms so they may become transparent to divine spirit. We can think of this list as a kind of sketch of our spiritual journey, or as just one octave of it. In an infinite universe, we can image that there are an infinite number of octaves above and below, embedded, nested, and enfolded, but without any real boundaries. Each principle is itself practically infinite, with tremendous variation.
The listing of our sevenfold nature can also be symbolized circularly as long as we keep in mind that we are in no way trying to enclose infinity. Divinity can be designated as the outermost circle or the innermost, depending on whether we consider the innermost to be the most physical, narrow, and limited realm, or think of it as the most divine, from which flows forth streams of inspiration enlivening all the other realms of our being. We may then imagine this center as the light of conscious awareness, which expands and contracts. Or we may consider the whole to be a seed, which on every plane grows and produces more seeds.
Studying such operations engages all aspects of our mind. H. P. Blavatsky once said that theosophy is "for those who can think, or for those who can drive themselves to think," but she also cautioned us to go slowly, to exercise and develop the mind and intuition in a disciplined and gradual way. Following the path of the jnana yogi, discovering the divine through wisdom and knowledge, we enter an ancient path of knowledge, from gods, sages, and Mystery schools right down to our present day. Such studies refine our inner nature in a way ordinary studies don't.
And the wonder of it is that truth reveals itself continuously. If we are starving for it, we need to sharpen our perceptions, listen harder, look deeper. Sometimes what we choose to call hidden or secret is more a function of our own insufficiency than of any deliberate act to conceal. Consider the following story, a favorite of mine, whose author is unknown: Back when the telegraph was the fastest method of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse Code operator. Answering an ad, he entered a large, busy office filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background. A sign on the receptionist's counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office. The young man filled out his form and sat down with the other applicants in the waiting area. After a few minutes, he stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked in. Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. They muttered among themselves and assumed that the young man had made a mistake and would be disqualified. Within a few minutes, however, the employer escorted the young man out of the office saying, "Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has just been filled. All the time you've been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse Code: 'If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.' None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. The job is his." This story brings to mind something R. D. Laing once said: "The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds."
It's up to each of us to discover and then follow that part of the divine path that we can fully embrace. Spiritual growth is about increasing our awareness, and maps such as the seven principles can help. The danger, however, is that at first we know these maps are substitutes for something real, but then we forget. We all know when we use a street map to get to a party that the party doesn't take place on the map. But when we use sacred scriptures to help us reach the Divine, the lines get blurred. The great messengers of mankind did not claim to be the ultimate Divinity, they always pointed elsewhere, and it's our task not to mistake the pointing finger for the moon, or the map for the party. Whenever someone quotes his or her teacher to prove something is true, or waves a scripture in my face, I detect confusion between the treasure map and the treasure. Sharing our treasure maps with each other is about pointing in the direction of truth, not about defining truth.
H. P. Blavatsky's goal was to show that there is order in the universe and to help us find our rightful place within it. To do this we must gain confidence in our own spiritual intuitions, those private, secret stirrings of the soul, and then we must find the commitment to follow the divine path — wherever it takes us. Sacred scriptures are as alive to us now as they were thousands of years ago because we are individually following the same byways, repeating the same processes, as those who first wrote them down. It's a privilege and an honor to follow in their footsteps.
(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 2002; copyright © 2002 Theosophical University Press)
We boast our light, but if we look not wisely on the sun itself, it smites us into darkness. The light which we have gained was given us, not to be ever staring on, but by it to discover onward things more remote from our knowledge. — John Milton