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'Theosophy - What's it all about?' - Chapter 8, Evolution by Self-Effort
by Geoffrey Farthing
'A brief summary of a wonderfully exciting and vitally important subject.'
We have earlier considered a little of the metaphysics of Being. We have seen that everything proceeds in cycles of a duration from the infinitely small, microseconds to the infinitely large, of millions of years. There is a universal rhythm, or infinite series of rhythms depending on what we are considering, of activity and rest. There is the inconceivably great cycle of the involvement of Spirit into the Matter down through (or out through) all the states, levels or grades of existence, into the infinitely diverse and more and more complex. This involvement proceeds by stages through matter as such, to its association with forms, as organisms, from the simplest animalcule to the most highly specialized, the human body.
The energy inherent in everything is Life energy. There is only One Life in the Universe. This is the subjective centre of everything and this Life is, to use the only suitable if misleading word available to us, intelligent. 'Creation’ proceeds from the Universal Centre by way of orders of intelligences, beings or entities of and at the various grades of being, out from the more subjective realms when regarded from our everyday characteristic point of view, into the physical world. We have seen something of the, 'education' and development of matter and form during it use by units of life indwelling in them for the time being.
Some of these orders of beings or creative hierarchies have been responsible for the development, in long past ages, of the vehicles of perception and action of present day Man. This means that his physical, emotional and mental principles were prepared for him during the aeons while the life waves moved up through the kingdoms of nature. The process of man's assuming these principles however, is gradual and proceeds according to the cyclic
law. Over vast periods of time, the units of spirit, sometimes called monads, eventually to become fully developed men, work their way, so to speak, by usage into these vehicles. As they do this they become more and more conscious on the levels on which for the time being they are operating. Inthe small cycle this process is the one whereby Egos periodically take possession of a body at birth and then discard it at death. This is the process of reincarnation as previously described.
In the big cycle the process is that, spread over millions of years, of which coming into birth after a 'heavenly' rest between lives, is a very rapid recapitulation. In the very early stages the monads assume amorphous and unorganised 'bodies' of astral material which is unaffected by the severe climatic conditions of an earth in its later cooling stages. Organization and densification of these ethereal 'bodies' slowly takes place and eventually a physical body is acquired, with a method of reproduction reminiscent of plants and single celled animals. This develops into a sexually reproduced body, primitive, and of an animal-like appearance. This in its turn, in long ages of time, becomes the human body as we know it now.
During this lengthy process and for a very long time, the animal soul and the spiritual or human soul were separate. Man lacked the bridge of mind and all that that means. He was irresponsible. (He was still in Eden.) Soon after reproduction had become sexual (Adam and Eve), he was endowed with mind by great beings who possessed it. (He had eaten the apple.) He became then a complete man but his faculties were largely latent. It needed the experience and effort of many lives to bring them even to our present day stage of unfoldment. This descent of human monads into bodies corresponds to the even longer and larger process of the involvement of Spirit into Matter.
So far as humanity as a whole on our globe, the Earth, is concerned, this process of involvement reached its nadir or lowest point when what in Theosophy is termed the Fourth Root Race reached its point of highest development (it is said that the high cheek boned, Mongolian peoples, are the physical type descendants of this race). At this
point, in human history, the lowest point of materiality was reached. Spirit was as "cabin'd and confined" in physical bodies as much as it is ever going to be. The process of involvement or involution for mankind on our Earth was complete. In terms of the life span of our globe, we are not far from that time, but another process has now begun. It is that of the evolution of man as a spiritual being. This means the gradual growth of the spiritual qualities of intelligence, wisdom, love and will, and their increasing expression in his lives as he develops. This process is accompanied by the unfoldment of consciousness on to, or into, the higher levels of being. As this happens the man's powers of action, response and comprehension grow and he is aware of this slow growth.
The word evolution now has two meanings for us. One is the gradual development in time of materials and forms to provide ever more responsive and effective vehicles for the indwelling life, and the other is the gradual unfoldment of the powers of that indwelling life. Until the 'man' stage is reached, the former process is that more or less, of Darwinian evolution. The expression 'until the man stage is reached' should not be thought of in terms of time but of development. On any life-bearing globe during its period of activity, various lines of development are taking place simultaneously. The story of man's development, that is of his vehicles, is as old as or older than that of our Earth. The archetype of his body, developed by the creative Hierarchies on a previous globe, existed from the formation of our physical earth, on the astral plane, and became the pattern for, and preceded all mammalian forms on our planet. This archetype is the familiar one of a head, two arms, a trunk and two legs, common to all our mammals. Whether the two arms are used as fore legs or the spine is elongated to form a tail, is not of primary significance. It is well known that the embryonic development of a human body recapitulates during its gestation period all the basic stages in the evolution of animal life. It really does more than this. It passes through the whole process of the development of form, that is through the plant kingdom as well as the animal. As the embryo grows through the various
stages it also recapitulates the various ways of reproduction used by the more primitive organisms and creatures, i.e., those of fission, budding and egg-laying, all of which in the remote past of man's history have been used by him too. The remote past here means periods of time not yet normally ascribed by science to man's development and it should not be taken to refer to him in his physical, present type of body.
It is interesting to note that this theory completely opposes the more conventional and generally accepted one. We now see the pithecoid forms as being derived from the man-form archetype and at some stage separating away from the main stream of development. It was not the other way round, so it looks as if the search for a missing link has no meaning. There is no missing link. The story of how the apes and monkeys came to be is told in The Secret Doctrine. It is too long to go in to here.
Only very briefly and in a rudimentary way are the wonderful and vast processes of involution and evolution touched on here, but it gives a slight foretaste of the scope and depth of, and an insight into, the tremendous field of operations of the One Life in a Universe.
So far we have been looking at the processes of nature in which the ordinary man is necessarily passive and about which he can do nothing. He inherits his body and takes for granted his inner life of emotion and thought. He, as an individual has up to this point been quite unaware of the long formative processes that have gone to make him as he is. He has willy-nilly been subjected to all these great cyclical processes which have evolved him to what he is now.
At this stage it is worth reviewing what he now is. He is an entity, self-conscious at the physical level of being, with vehicles of consciousness more or less organized and active at the physical, emotional and mental levels. In rare cases he experiences by way of unusual inspiration, comprehension and compassion, some flashes of operation at the higher levels of being. He has moments of illumined understanding and deep insight. His powers on these latter levels are more latent than actual. Nevertheless he does possess
the means, that is all the vehicles and powers necessary, whether organized and active or latent and germinal, for him to operate in full consciousness from the lowest to the very highest level of Being. In this he is different from all the animals. In them the bridge of mind between the lower principles and the higher spiritual ones is unformed. Man has, as it were, a 'Jacob's Ladder' to Heaven with all the rungs in place. It is up to him to use it if he wants to.
The title for this section is 'Evolution by Self-Effort' but we have seen that man has so far been passive to the process. He has not known what has been occurring to him. Where then does self-effort come in? It comes in by way of the development of his faculties and the consequent unfolding of consciousness. This needs closer examination and some explanation.
Earlier we have said that the indwelling life 'educates' matter, forms and bodies by its use of them. This use is what constitutes living, for our purposes particularly living in a physical world, and living necessarily means experience.
Much of this experience gathered in many lives and 'digested' between them, manifests as instinct, as an innate inborn sense dictating the natural behaviour in animals and man. Instinct comprises much of what in man has come to be called by psychologists the subconscious. In its place in this category of our unconscious functions comes the regulation of internal bodily functions, which are automatic, and also that instinctive behaviour such as our self preserving immediate reactions to sudden dangerous external stimuli.
Together with these subconsciously prompted actions and reactions, we also have reactions to the events and circumstances of ordinary life which impress themselves on our personal memories and condition us to certain behaviour patterns. In other ways we are compelled to those basic actions which are necessary to provide food and shelter for the survival of ourselves and those dependent on us. In yet other cases we are compelled to action by desire or aversion. So, if we are living and wish to remain
so, and maybe enjoy ourselves or do some good, we must act.
Now every action demands some effort. Effort here is used to cover every kind of striving or action, no matter how it arises. It includes the internal effort of making a decision, overcoming laziness, the initiation and sustaining a course of action until the envisaged end is attained. The word effort is used in a psychological sense as well as that of the expenditure of physical or mental energy or the doing of work, which is a manifestation of the result of effort. Effort does not necessarily involve strain. Strain arises from wrong attitude, maybe towards some unsuspected resistance, whether from within ourselves or externally. Internal obstacles can arise from some conflict within ourselves. External resistance can come from other people opposing our projects or from difficulties and problems inherent in what we have set ourselves to do. If we are going to get, do or be what we want then we must make a sufficiently strong effort and maintain it as long as is necessary. The words desire, determination and effective action and perseverance summarize what we have been talking about. The chief motivator to action is desire in anyone of its many forms.
When we come however to the matter of evolution by self-effort, a higher prompter, the Will, becomes operative. Will can be regarded as sublimated desire. The Will can check desire-prompted action. It is the basis of real self control. It is the highest of our divine faculties. Desires provide the energy for their accomplishment. The Will empowers us to achieve our ends.
So we see then the exigencies of worldly life call forth effort from us. We see that the putting forth of effort develops the strength of the abilities that are being used. The ends of evolution as they relate to the growth of our abilities and the development of our faculties are being furthered. Society also advances by the efforts of its members. Witness the great intellectual advances, particularly in the scientific, productive and commercial fields now taking place at an unprecedented rate, on an unprecedented scale. This development stems from the efforts men are
making to raise their standard of living, but in general it is only the material standard of living they are concerned with. There is a great growth of intellectual powers as a result of the effort too, but a negligible moral one. We examined this development and its long-term ramifications in the first chapter. We saw that this exclusive preoccupation with material wealth and amenities led to progress in that one direction but it omitted altogether what we could now call spiritual development.
This exclusive attention to things material reflects into our relationships with people in the sense that we regard them, too often coldly, in the nature of things, sometimes as possessions. Do we not tend to exploit them for companionship, for affection, encouragement, amusement and so on? So much so that if we are deprived of them we become lonely. People provide us with diversion and with problems both agreeable and disagreeable, but they fill our time for the most part. The ordinary business of life, of working, eating and sleeping occupy most of the rest. We need people, possessions and something to do, in an almost compulsive way. To a very large extent life 'lives' us instead of our living life. We are, so to speak, so involved in it as to be hypnotized by it. Our responses to it are automatic in the sense that we react to people and events according to how we have been conditioned by experience. We act according to type, according to our natures or character. Our efforts produce their effects in, so to speak, the horizontal plane and we stay there so long as we do not know any differently or are content to stay there. There is, however, the vertical direction in which we not only can but, for our full development according to the evolutionary plan, must proceed. Ordinary life efforts help only incidentally in this. How then do we proceed, if we would hasten our evolution? Why should we attempt to hurry on what in the long run we shall accomplish anyway? What prevents our starting?
To take the last question first, it is our ignorance not only of the processes but of the very possibility of spiritual evolution that prevents our giving the matter any attention or doing anything about it. As to why we should make the
attempt, surely the answer is in one word, suffering. There is a staggering weight of suffering in the world. All of it could surely be attributed ultimately to ignorance, ignorance of the nature of life, of the Law, of evolution, of salvation by self-effort.
This ignorance unfortunately is not only of the masses of peoples but of our leaders. It would take too long to deal here with the urgent need for a full realization of these truths and an assumption of full personal responsibility. The world situation shows up some of the effects of this ignorance, exemplified in our present-day competitive nationalism and commercialism, and all it means. The general boredom and loneliness of old people is another quite different result. The effect of ignorance and superstition in religion is still another. This is instanced by the bloody dissensions and riots which accompany so many political quarrels, ostensibly on religious grounds. The inhuman atrocities of the gas chambers and concentration camps of the last war period with their consequent immeasurable suffering are further examples of incredible ignorance and resulting callousness. So the tale of woe on a stupendous scale goes on. In the small scale of individual life, the worry of attaining and maintaining a place in the commercial race and the striving for security all come within our meaning of suffering. Even elementary school examinations are a grave anxiety and pain, not only to some children but also to their parents. The world is not kind. Ignorance and greed account for most of our troubles. They are responsible for that scourge of society we call competition.
Our purpose in citing these examples is to justify the case for making some effort to become more understanding, and, out of real regard for our fellows, co-operative instead of competitive. Any effort so made is in line with the long-term plan for mankind. It must have its alleviating effects however small, and we just start with and on ourselves. The majority of mankind is still more or less on the downward arc of involution touched on earlier. What is written here will at best be a matter of interest only for them, if that. It is primarily written for the relative few who are on
the ascending arc, for those who are beginning to grow in the vertical direction and who are able and willing really to think. In the hope that when once they know in what direction to make the effort they will want to do so and so help to reduce humanity's intolerable burden of suffering.
This may sound very big talk and although some few who read this may make the effort, it may initially be only to benefit themselves, but their growing perceptions and deeper insights, so developed, will soon lead them to be aware of the larger field of activity needing their effort. They will then be only too willing to make it.
From what has previously been said about the Law, it will be obvious that men must make this evolutionary effort, individually by, if not for, themselves. No one else can do it for them.
What must we do? Surely, first familiarize ourselves with this all embracing, mentally satisfying philosophy of Truth we call Theosophy. Such a study will not in itself present us with Truth but it will develop faculties not otherwise used. It will enlarge and unfold consciousness. From the depths of consciousness and being will come, each to himself, the guiding light of what he must do. Eventually the Will will begin to function and the Will enables a man to assume control of his vehicles so that they operate to his bidding effectively.
We all have access within ourselves to the Truth. Potentially we are all centres of light and sources of enlightenment in an otherwise spiritually dark and benighted world. Surely it is a great work to help bring to fruition the great plan for our stage of evolution. We can at least try.
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