We are born, we live, we die. What happens in between — before, after, during? Are we alone? Are we part of a chain of beings, a hierarchy? Where do we fit in the cosmic scheme? The starting point to understanding is asking questions like these.
Beginning with the physical human being and taking a micro-look, we are all built of parts and pieces, systems and organs. Each of these in turn is built of cells, which are built of atoms, then of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Each of these is built of even smaller lives, and on it goes . . . without end. Similarly, if we start again with the physical human being and go outward, taking a macro-approach, we see that we are part of a family, a community, a city, a state, a nation, a world, a solar system, a galaxy, a universe, and so on . . . also without end.
That is the way we see physical existence manifest around, above, and within our bodies. But the basis for ourselves and the visible world is not physical manifestation. It is spiritual existence. The spiritual and physical are one in fundamental nature, opposite poles of the same continuum. Between the two are various degrees of spirit-substance. The major religious philosophies speak of these gradations in different terms. The Apostle Paul spoke of them as body, soul, and spirit. In theosophy they are often classified into seven distinct interpenetrating essences.
These distinct yet coalescing elements or principles originate with the divine, which is connected with — and indeed is one with — all other beings in the vast cosmos we call home. Then we have the spiritual/intuitional aspect of our higher nature. Next comes the mental, which is dual. Its higher component is the truly human part of us that endures from life to life, while the lower part is connected with our emotional or animal nature and disperses at death. The spiritual aspect is formed from the divine, and the mental from the divine and the spiritual together. This upper triad represents our individuality which retains our learned characteristics from death to rebirth. The lower, impermanent quaternary of our being is formed of our emotional nature, which registers our reactions to the worlds we experience; our life force, the energy which propels us forward in existence and manifestation; our ethereal model or astral "body," which in turn acts as the paradigm for our familiar physical body.
This system of human organization is repeated, mutatis mutandis, in all the hierarchies within and outside the human frame. Each unit is built up in a similar fashion, some aspects lying latent until the appropriate opportunity for self-expression arrives. The minute microcosm of the atom on its own scale resembles the humbling macrocosmic display we see above us in the clear night sky, and in time will evolve to become it. We ourselves have been microscopic lives and are now on our way to becoming fully human. The next step for us is to become selfless helpers of humanity, and then gods watching over various parts of the universe, until one day we become a solar system like our own, and eventually a galaxy.
This grand vision opens to us our world, where we sit in the middle of duration. We are a circle with its center everywhere and its circumference nowhere. An integral part of the cosmic life, extending infinitely inwardly and outwardly, we are intimately connected with all of creation. As Francis Thompson wrote, "thou canst not stir a flower, Without troubling of a star." Because we are under ultimate control of the center of our own being, our divine self, each of us is in complete control of ourselves. It may not always seem that way, especially when things go against what we would like to believe is right for us. However, all the actions we perform return to meet us again, in the cause and effect scenario . . . the only system of perfect justice. In this karmic system, complete and all-pervading, we are bound only by our approach to life and the path we create for ourselves.
As we move through each moment we make innumerable choices. When we make them in harmony with the universe, working with nature in her grand task of directed, creative evolution, we move with the great flow of life. These actions have helpful effects. When we make choices that are not aligned with the surging stream of life, those ripples in the calm pool of cosmic equilibrium come back to us as future experiences to learn from. Once we conquer our less evolved tendencies and perform action in concert with the natural accord, we move on to other lessons awaiting us in the universal evolutionary and hierarchical array.
As our knowledge and wisdom flow forth from the well within, rise in the hierarchy we must. Our journey thus far has brought us to exactly where we are today — Now, this very moment. We have made ourselves to be what we are, and will continue to do so. We can change who we become according to our insight into ourselves and into the cosmos surrounding and informing us. All the sparks of divinity who work together to monitor and move forward the vast cosmic continuum work in sympathy with nature, and utilize our own thoughts and actions to light the path for us. It is our choice whether we move quickly and easily or slowly and with difficulty. We are individual beings on a journey to the true center of ourselves, with the circumference of our wake washing through eternity and meeting us literally every step of the way, in every moment . . . Now.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2004; copyright © 2004 Theosophical University Press)