Theosophical University Press Online Edition
The One Life
The Universe a Living Organism
Duality of Spirit and Matter
Involution and Evolution
Life's Riddle is a compound of many problems such as the following:
Why is there so much suffering in the world?
Why so much injustice?
What is the purpose of life?
Is there a life after death?
Have we free will or are we the puppets of destiny?
Are we responsible for our acts — shall we reap what we sow?
Is this a haphazard universe, governed by blind forces, or is there a plan behind it?
The writer has found an answer to these and many other questions regarding life in a system of ancient teachings which has existed from time immemorial. These teachings, that have been known under the name of the "Ancient Wisdom," or the "Wisdom Religion," have existed in all ages and in all countries, but have often and for long periods of time been obscured from the world. Yet they have always been preserved and have at intervals been reissued to illumine and guide mankind on its upward journey.
After each new presentation these teachings remain pure for a period, but gradually they become warped by manmade dogmas and opinions and their true inner meaning is lost. They must then be given out anew in language suited to the new time in which they are issued. The latest such restatement of the ancient teachings was begun by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society for this purpose in 1875. The Ancient Wisdom, clothed in modern language, is known today under the name Theosophy.
In the following will be presented some of the ancient teachings that furnish a solution to many of the problems of life and show that Man is not a helpless pawn ruled by blind forces, but that he has the power of choice and freedom of action, and is therefore responsible for his acts, in due time reaping all that he has sown. They show also that there is a purpose in life, and that Man faces a glorious destiny.
A brief outline of some of the Ancient Teachings will first he presented; later some of these will be taken up for further discussion.
The first proposition of the Ancient Teachings is the most difficult to present, for it deals with something infinite and therefore not easily grasped by our finite minds, and still less easily expressed in words. The general teaching is, however, that back of the material, visible universe that we know, there is an Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless and Unchanging Principle: a Divine Life-Essence, that is the unseen cause of the visible universe and all life in it. (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. I, pp. 14-17)
This Universal Divine Essence is eternal and unchanging. But when a Material Universe comes into manifestation, then this Universal Life emanates or differentiates individualized units from its own essence, and every such life-unit, or "Monad" as it is called, enters upon a Pilgrimage of Evolution in the new universe that is just coming into being.
The Universal Divine Essence, then, is the fountain and origin of all life. Every evolving Monad has at its innermost core a ray of this Divine Essence, just as a sunbeam has its origin in the sun and carries with it some of the sun's essence. The ancient Hindu scriptures express this idea:
As a single sun illumines the whole world
even so the One Spirit illumines every body. — The Bhagavad-Gita, chap. 13
The ancient teachings state that the Universe as a whole is a living organism and that every individual life within that Universe is linked with the Universal Life, is in fact an inseparable part of that life.
The various forms of life that we see in Nature appear to be separate from and quite independent of one another, but the Ancient Wisdom tells us that this independence exists only in the outward, material form, vehicle or body in which the Monad is embodied for the time being. Behind this outward form they are not independent of each other, but simply different manifestations, different expressions of the same Universal Life, inwardly united with one another on the invisible planes of Nature.
As a group of islands seem to exist independently, yet are all outcroppings of the same Mother Earth hidden but connected beneath the water; as the fingers of one hand, though free to some extent, are yet united in the same hand; as the leaves of one tree, though leading their separate existences are yet parts of the greater unit, the tree, so also is every life in the Universe part of the One Universal Life. The link that binds the individual to the Universal Life and therefore to all other individual lives, "the stem of the leaf," is the ray of Divinity at the core of every being.
This doctrine that all beings are emanations from the One Universal Life is found everywhere in the world and is recognized in such expressions as: "God is everywhere," "God is in all things." It is the "One in all," the One Life expressing itself through the vast variety of forms that we see in the Universe.
But since the Universal Divine Essence extends throughout infinite space and the whole must embrace all its parts, it is equally true that we are "All in One," or as St. Paul puts it in speaking to the Athenians:
" . . . in him we live, and move and have our being: a certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." — Acts XVII, 28
In parentheses St. Paul admits that the doctrine was already known among the Greeks. The fact that all life-units have emanated from the same Universal Source is the basis for the ancient teaching that "Brotherhood is a fact in Nature."
To sum up: Everything in the Universe is alive and "All are . . . parts of one stupendous whole, whose body Nature is and God the Soul." (Alexander Pope)
When a period for manifestation of an outward, visible Universe is at hand, the One Life Essence appears under two contrasting aspects: Spirit or Consciousness on one hand, and matter or vehicle on the other. Spirit and Matter, however, are not independent realities, but are the opposite poles of the One Reality, so that even matter is not without life and consciousness of a lower order; and Consciousness must have a vehicle of matter, whether gross or ethereal, in order to express itself as individual Consciousness. In more evolved entities Spirit dominates, while Matter dominates in those less evolved. But in every case, as the Hindu scriptures express it:
There is no matter without spirit and there is no spirit without matter.
As a lens is necessary to focus diffused sunlight into a bright, active center, so is a body or vehicle of matter necessary to focus a ray of the Universal Mind as individual Consciousness. A large, perfectly transparent lens will produce a much stronger concentration of light than a small lens of uneven transparency or rough surface. So also will a highly evolved body or instrument admit a more perfect manifestation of the indwelling Consciousness than a less perfect instrument.
All through the manifested Universe we see this duality of Spirit and Matter. Spirit or Consciousness cannot, however, act directly on gross matter, and the Ancient Teachings tell us that there are many intermediate forces and energies that form the connecting links between these two, thus enabling Spirit to control the body in which it functions. This will be discussed further on.
The Teachings regarding Evolution and Involution can best be understood by tracing the origin of these two words. They both come from the Latin verb volvere, "to turn, to roll." The prefix "e" means "out, or away from," while the prefix "in" has the same meaning as in English. Evolution therefore means to unroll or unwrap something that is wrapped up or rolled up, while Involution means the process of wrapping or rolling up something that has been unrolled. The following illustration may help to explain.
In ancient times books were not printed on flat sheets of paper and bound into volumes such as we have today. The information was inscribed on rolls of parchment, called scrolls, and when these were read, they had to be unrolled so as to expose the writing. As the reading proceeded, the lower end of the scroll was unrolled, or evolved, exposing the hidden writing, while at the same time the upper end of the scroll was rolled up, thus involving, and hiding what had so far been read.
When the One Life manifests a portion of itself as a visible Universe, it does so by alternately evolving its two aspects of Matter and Spirit. In the beginning of a cycle of manifestation, Matter is evolved, as there must be a sub-stratum or foundation provided for the higher evolution that is to follow. This is exemplified in the early stages of a planet's existence when Matter dominates the scene and no higher life is discernible. Yet the Ancient Teaching tells us that even in the rock there exists a form of life — of a very low order, not life as we ordinarily think of it, but still life of a kind. In this case Matter dominates and Spirit is almost completely dormant or involved. This is Evolution of Matter and Involution of Spirit.
As the process unfolds and Life and Spirit have had time to exert their influence on Matter; the latter loses some of its grossness and becomes more complex, as matter in the bodies of plants, animals and humans is more refined than matter in the rock. In the Animal and Human Kingdoms, Life and Spirit gradually gain the ascendency as Matter loses some of its retarding influence on Spirit. This is Evolution of Spirit and Involution or recession of the gross aspect of Matter.
The Evolution of Spirit, then, is always accompanied by a simultaneous Involution of Matter. In the same way the Evolution of Matter is accompanied by an Involution of Spirit, just as the unrolling of one end of the scroll is accompanied by the simultaneous inrolling of the opposite end. The purpose of life is growth, development, expansion of Consciousness, the rising from lower states of being to higher ones, and this advancement is accomplished through the process of Evolution.
The innermost center or core of every life-unit or Monad is a Ray or emanation from the One Universal Life. It is this Ray that originates and vitalizes every form in Nature. Through its inner connection with the Universal Life it has within itself latent possibilities for infinite growth and development. From this Ray comes the upward urge, the driving and impelling force that is the hidden cause of all evolution.
Every individual Monad must, in the course of its evolutionary pilgrimage, inhabit all the various forms of Nature beginning with the lowest, gradually advancing through eternities of time and the various kingdoms, until it is ready to inhabit the higher forms. In each embodiment the Monad gains the experience and learns the lessons which that particular embodiment has to offer. When the lessons of that embodiment have been learned and there is no longer any need for experience in that type of body, the upward urge within the Monad causes it to seek higher forms in order to continue its evolution. In its new embodiment with its altered environment, the Monad has different experiences and develops different faculties, until these faculties operate in relative perfection. Then another forward step is taken, and so on, ad infinitum.
The various forms of Nature in which the Monad embodies itself may be likened to the rungs of a ladder, up which the evolving Monad climbs. Figuratively, the highest rung of one ladder takes the climber to an imaginary platform, a temporary goal, where he may rest and recuperate from his effort. But the urge from within allows him no long respite and he soon discovers that his platform supports another "evolutionary ladder" which he now begins to climb to reach the greater heights he dimly perceives above him.
We see below us on the Ladder of Life, Monads in an ever ascending scale of Evolution, reaching from the atom and the minerals to Man. All these Monads are heading towards the Human stage in an upward march that embraces time periods of incomprehensible duration. The Ancient Teachings tell us that there are above Man other Ladders, leading to heights inconceivable, which some day, in ages to come, Man shall begin to climb. The possibilities for growth are infinite, and Man's destiny is far greater than he can picture.
Evolution, then, is endless, but it is not one continuous, uninterrupted climb. There are temporary stopping places, relative beginnings and relative endings, but there never was a first beginning and there never will be a final end.
It will be noted that the subject of Evolution as presented by the Ancient Wisdom differs from the Darwinian Theory. According to the latter it is the forms of Nature that change, through a process of "natural selection" and "the survival of the fittest," by imperceptible degrees from one form into another. The Ancient Wisdom, on the other hand, states that the forms of Nature are relatively stable, although they do undergo some exceeding slow changes. But the real actor in the drama of Evolution is the indwelling Monad, and a distinction is made between this Monad and the vehicle or body it inhabits.
The Monad "migrates" through the ages, from lower to higher forms, up through the Kingdoms of Nature, until after aeons it reaches the Human Kingdom.
To summarize: The Ancient Wisdom looks upon Evolution as an unwrapping or unfolding process by which latent possibilities, inherent in the Monad, gradually find expression. As the Monad advances and inhabits higher forms, a greater unfoldment of its latent faculties becomes possible.