The Evolution of Life and Form

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The Evolution of Life and Form

By Annie Besant

Evolution of Form

My Brothers,--We are now to concentrate our attention on the phenomenal side of the universe, that is, on the varied appearances that surround us, whether those appearances be visible to the physical eyes or not; for we must remember that the principle of form is to be found in every stage of the manifested universe, and that when the phrase "the formless world" is used, the word "formless" is only true in relation to the worlds below the one so spoken of. All higher worlds are "formless" regarded from below, that is, regarded by the organs of perception which are fitted for exercise in the lower world; but if a person has developed the capacity to respond to the vibrations in any given world of manifestation, then that world to him is a world of form and not of formlessness. Everywhere manifestation implies form, however subtle may be the matter which composes it; and you may remember that it is said in the _Vishnu Purâna_ that the one characteristic of matter which is always present is extension, that is, the capacity of taking form, of being shaped in a definite way.

Now before we take up the details of evolution, there are one or two great principles that I want to ask you to keep in mind; for we shall never be able to understand the complexity of detail, if we take it as a series of isolated details; we need to classify these under certain fundamental principles and then, those principles being clear in the mind, we can easily, as it were, pack every detail into its appropriate pigeon-hole in our thought. I shall not trouble you this morning at all with that threefold division of the evolving life with which we dealt yesterday. We can, for our work now, treat life as a unit, speaking of the Divine Life as Íshvara, and of the reflection of that life in man as the Self. We will keep these two terms to avoid confusion: Íshvara as the Divine Life which is the source of evolution; the Self as the human life which is gradually evolving. And we need these two distinguishing names, without going into any of the sub-divisions that we dealt with yesterday in connection with life, in order that we may be able to see how forms are shaped, and to which principle, if I may say so, we are to refer the special modifications.

The next thing that we must realise is the respective functions of these sources of life; one working through the whole kosmos, and therefore coming to man as a part of that kosmos, the other working in man as an individual through the early stages and transcending individuality at the close. The great life of Íshvara as it rolls outwards, building the universe of forms, expresses itself, as we have seen, by a certain series of vibrations, and every modification in the form is the result of an impulse coming by way of vibrations from the ensouling life. Now the point that strikes us most in this manifestation of Íshvara, as we study it, is the unutterable patience of it. We are impatient for results, He never. We are impatient for results, because, limited by time, we crave to see the outcome of our action; He being the eternal is unspeakably patient, set upon perfection and careless of the time which that perfection may take in evolving. For the evolution of forms this patience is absolutely necessary; when we come to think, we see that any impatience in the evolution of forms would mean the over-rapid breaking up of the forms. The form is comparatively rigid as compared with the life. If the life vibrates too rapidly for the form which it is evolving, the form will shatter under the stress of those vibrations. Let me give you a very common illustration to show you what I mean; a tube of glass, or an ordinary lamp-glass if you like, has a certain note to which it vibrates; and if that note be sung near the lamp-glass, you will hear the note sound out independently from the lamp-glass, as though the lamp-glass were singing; the glass has vibrated in answer to the vibrations of the sound sung to it, it having the capacity of that vibration in it, and thus it reproduces the note. If you increase the force of that note, if you continue vibration after vibration, beyond the point at which the glass is able to respond, your glass will shiver into pieces, shivered by the force of the effort to respond to vibrations beyond its limit of rigidity. I only take that as an illustration, as a picture; it is true in every world of form; and if Íshvara were to send forth vibrations too swift, too subtle for the form which He is ensouling to respond to, that form would be shivered into pieces, and its evolution would be stopped; nature would have again to begin to build a similar form in order to again reach the point which it had already reached. This patience of Íshvara is the thing that strikes us first as we study the evolution of forms. How slow are the changes, how gradual the modifications, what thousands of successive forms are worked in, how wellnigh imperceptible are the changes in their minuteness, although so great when we look at them in the mass; that is one great principle to bear in mind.

Another great principle is the double and parallel action of Íshvara and of the evolving Self. Íshvara is present in the Self of man that is formed within Him. Every evolutionary impulse in the earliest stages comes directly from the life of Íshvara, and as He moulds the form without, He gradually strengthens the centre that He is building up within. His object is to make that centre the image of Himself, self-sustaining; but enormous reaches of time are needed for the building; as He shapes the forms, He builds the centre; and as He builds that centre, and it becomes more and more active, answering to the vibrations that He transmits to it from the outer world, it begins to take on a little action of its own and to send out vibrations, as we may say, on its own account. As this double action goes on within the form, more and more does that evolving centre begin to control the form within which it is developed. As this power of control develops and increases, He withdraws more and more of His directive energy as Íshvara; the energy drawn from Him is now beginning to work _quasi_-independently in the separated centre that He has been building, until at last that centre reflects Himself, and is able to be self-existent by the very life that it has drawn from Him. If this conception be a little abstract, let me give it again in a concrete form. There is one symbol that the sages have used over and over again, in order to express this wonder of the brooding life of Íshvara making an image of Himself and giving to that image the possibility of independent life. It is the symbol of the mother and the child within the womb. As the life of the mother passes into the child that is building within her, transmitting to that new form all the nourishment which is necessary for its growing life, the whole life of the child is dependent on the mother and the life-streams that nourish it are drawn from her own life. The building goes on, and on, and on, till the new centre of life has grown strong, but not until that centre can hold itself together amid the vibrations of the outer universe, is the new form with its ensouling life sent forth on its own independent course. So does the brooding mother-life of Íshvara envelope the children of His love, and so does He nourish them, building them within Himself as the ages pass, until they are able to hold their own centres in the illimitable life of the One, the Supreme. That is another principle which you have to remember throughout the details of the evolution of form.

One other that has two divisions and then the statement of our main principles will be sufficiently complete. There are three aspects, we recollect, which the evolving Self has to unfold. We must add to this a comprehension of the nature of these aspects, when externalised; for we did not yesterday, for lack of time, glance quite precisely at the in characteristic outer mark of each aspect of life. As these aspects modify the evolution of form, the form cannot be understood unless its relations to the aspects of life be realised. We have, as we know, to show forth Knowledge, Bliss, and Being. These will come out as powers into the world of form as evolution reaches its later stages, and the form will be able to express those powers of the evolving life. Knowledge, showing forth through form, has as its power Intelligence; Bliss, shown forth through form, has as its power Love; Being, shown forth through form, has as its power Existence; so that the fundamental aspects may be said severally to manifest as the powers of intelligence, of love, of existence. Otherwise put, the nature of intelligence is knowledge, the nature of love is bliss, the nature of existence is being. The intelligence, love and existence of our worlds are the manifested Knowledge, the manifested Bliss, and the manifested Being of the Self. That is the outward aspect of the Self as the other is the inner aspect, and these characteristic natures seek their expression in form. This expression is sought cosmically and individually, alike by the life of Íshvara and the life of the Self. Cosmically they make the planes of the manifested universe, the five planes on which we are evolving. That which manifests as existence, the power of Being, has as its form the Akâsha of the higher realm; that which manifests as love, the power of Bliss, has as its form of matter Vâyu; that which manifests as intelligence, the power of Knowledge, has as its material Agni. These are the three fundamental manifestations in form. The other two are reflections: That which is love, reflecting itself in the lower form of matter--the denser matter of Varuna--takes on the aspect of desire and passion, and becomes kâma. That which is existence, reflecting itself on the yet grosser form of Prithivî, shows forth what we call objective reality. See how the planes correspond, the one with the other. Try and make a picture of a mountain reflected in a lake; and if you have that in your mind, you will follow exactly the way the reflection takes place. There is no reflection of intelligence because it is the central quality; the intelligence is the centre of the five, two are above it and two are below it. It is the central region, the pivot on which the whole has to turn. If you look above to the higher regions, we find love and existence showing themselves forth as the powers of Bliss and Being. That is as it were, the mountain. Now look at your reflection in the lake; the middle part of the mountain is reflected half-way down in the water. The shore is the dividing line between object and image, and represents the intelligence; below that, half-way down, will come the reflection of love showing itself as emotion and desire; then we see the highest peak reflected in the deepest depth of the lake, the existence above, the power of the real Being, reflected below in the plane of physical matter as that illusory existence which man calls real. Try and keep that picture, for the principle of reflection from above to below is one of the keys to understanding both above and below. It helps you to see why emotional love passes into devotion, and how, in the passing from emotion into the higher love which is devotion, it passes from the kâmic plane to the buddhic, where bliss is the distinguishing characteristic; and you will understand why action, the most illusory of things, has to us the sense of reality. It gives that peculiarly definite sense of reality to us because it is the reflection of the real, of the existence of which it is the lower form.

Now these are the principles. Let us try to carry them out in our evolutionary study; for if you hold firm to the principles, the study of detail, of forms, will seem less confusing, less complex and less difficult; you will not lose your way among the trees, when once you have looked down on the forest as a whole; that is a simile I once heard from Professor Huxley, as illustrating principles and details, and it is a suggestive one.

We begin then the detailed evolution of form; it is like a great circle traced downwards and upwards. There is a great difference between the downward arc, the one-half of the circle, and the upward arc, the other half of the circle. In the one case, coming downwards, Íshvara imparts qualities and attributes; in the other half, going upwards, He builds the qualities and attributes into vehicles. These are the two great differences between the downward and upward arcs. In the downward, matter takes up qualities; in the upward, matter is formed into vehicles, or sheaths, or bodies, whatever may be the term we prefer. A process of specialisation goes on, up to a certain point. After a time the specialised materials are drawn together and combined into a vehicle, an organised unity, serving as a tabernacle for the Self. First comes differentiation, and the first step to that is to impart qualities to matter. Let me remind you, as the subject is so difficult a one, what is meant by tattvas, the fundamental forms of matter, and recall once more that passage in the _Vishnu Purâna_ where their evolution is described, and where it is stated that the tanmâtra of sound produces A'kâsha; that is, a modification of the consciousness of Íshvara produces the form of matter that we call the atom of A'kâsha; that atom has a mere film of subtlest matter for its envelope, and the vibrating life of Íshvara for the force within. Then we are told that A'kâsha generates another tanmâtra which is touch, and that, enveloped, permeated by A'kâsha, produces the film of denser matter which is called Vâyu, the two tanmâtras and the A'kâsha being the generating force.

This goes on through the whole of the five stages, so that when we get down to the physical plane, we find an atom showing a wall of denser matter, within it the involved life and without it the magnetic field, made up of the higher tanmâtras and their atomic sheaths. The Prithivî atom hence consists of its own tanmâtra plus the matter and the life of Apas; the matter and life of Agni; the matter and life of Vâyu; the matter and life of A'kâsha: so that on the physical plane, the physical atom is a mass of five interpenetrating spheres in which is present as life the whole of the matter and the life of the worlds above it, the envelope, or wall, of the physical atom alone showing forth any characteristics of the physical world--a fact inexpressibly important for evolution. For, each of those sheaths or koshas--as the student of Vedânta calls them, and there is no better word--every one of them is latent in and around the physical atom; and in the upward evolution, every one of them becomes active and strong as evolution proceeds, sheath after sheath being vitalised. How could these koshas, or sheaths, of ours learn to respond to the vibrations of the evolving life, unless every one of them was latently present in us, waiting to be brought into activity? The root of that possibility lies in the atom itself, with all its interpenetrating spheres of life and matter, the sheaths that are within it and around it. That is not the only thing which we understand; as this conception grows clear, we understand a phrase that had often puzzled us in the old days, that "the spirit is senseless on the plane of matter." What does that mean? The spirit, the very essence of consciousness, senseless and helpless on the plane of matter! Why? Because if you take spirit as pure spirit, the intermediate sheaths are not there by which the matter-vibrations are able to reach it, and without these sheaths it is unable to receive and respond to the vibrations of physical matter. It remains unconscious of their very existence, there being no bridge by which they can pass over and affect that life. This is really a perfectly simple statement of Madame Blavatsky's, but it is one that I have heard challenged over and over again as entirely meaningless, as conveying no idea, for how could consciousness be unconscious in any region? A little more knowledge would make us less rapid in our condemnation of our betters. That idea, then, we will take to help us in the first conception of how evolution can take place.

Now let us look how, in the downward arc that we spoke of, Íshvara is imparting qualities. According to the nature of the vibrations that He sends and of the matter that answers to them will be the quality imparted. As to the idea that difference of vibrations implies a difference of manifestation, let me buttress myself on the great reputation of Sir William Crookes. He issued, two or three years ago, I don't remember the exact date, in 1896 I think, a table of vibrations, confined of course to the physical world; a very interesting table, giving a series of classified vibrations and pointing out which were known to science, and gave rise to what we call sound, light, electricity, and so on, the difference of vibratory frequency, and the subtlety of the matter in which the vibration was set up, giving rise to a particular impression, received and answered by a sensation in us.

That is the principle which I am now applying to our system as a whole. According to the density of the matter will be the rapidity of the vibrations which that matter is capable of expressing; Íshvara sends out vibrations, and the mânasic matter, we will say, is thrown into corresponding vibrations or waves of a frequency identical with those of the life-impulse sent out from Him, so far as it is capable of responding, a limit being set by its fineness on the one side and by its density on the other. Its limit of fineness is the atom of the plane. Its limit of density is the coarsest aggregation of these atoms in the densest solid of the plane. If we take the physical plane for a moment, we have solid, liquid, gas, ether, finer ether, finest ether, and atoms. The lower five are related to the five senses in man as they are at present developed on the physical plane. These five correspond to the sense-organs and the senses that work through them, as is suggested in the names of the tanmâtras. The Solid is related to the sense of Smell; Liquid to the sense of Taste; Fire to the sense of Sight; Air to the sense of Touch; and A'kâsha to the sense of Sound. Nov these are not stated in the order given by the western scientist, but I have no time to go into the reason for the difference and to show you where his outer observation fails, because he is not able to trace beyond the limits of his senses into a finer working; in dealing with our Vâyu and A'kâsha, he classes them together, and his air is our Agni. These senses and their evolution belong to the upward arc. Coming downwards, Íshvara only gives the power to matter to respond to these particular vibrations, and these vibrations are connected on the physical plane with the sub-divisions that I have just mentioned, the different sub-divisions of matter, solid, liquid, gas, and so on, corresponding in the sense-organs to the senses.

Coming downwards, beginning on the mental plane with Intelligence--missing the two higher ones of Existence and Love--He sends out vibrations to make the matter of the mental plane answer, and the vibrations with which that matter answers, that is, a certain range of vibrations, are called mental or intelligent. You may say, Why? Just for the same reason that in Sir William Crookes' tables definite names are given to the different classes of vibrations, which produce sound, light, etc., names are given in order to express a certain limit of vibratory force; within one set of limits the vibrations affect the ether, give "light," and the eye receives them. Similarly, vibrations that fall between certain limits of vibratory frequency affect the matter of the third plane, and when they are received by an organ fitted to focus them in a centre, thus giving rise to self-consciousness, we call that organ Mind, and the action through that Mind, Intelligence. The mere name is as arbitrary as any other name, and we class these under mental, just as a certain range of etheric vibrations is classed as light, is received by an organ fitted to focus them that we call the eye, and the action through that eye is vision. If we are to talk at all, we must have names to describe different classes of phenomena, and we use the word mental or intelligent to describe the range of vibrations working in the particular kind of matter of which, in the upward evolution, an organ is builded that we call the Mind. So, again, to the vibrations that He sends out into the next coarser form of matter, called Apas, or astral, we give the name Sensory. He imparts to them the quality of responding to pleasure and pain, and as He makes this downward sweep He brings into renewed existence on each plane Devas, or beings which have as their characteristic manifestation the quality of their own plane; thus the Devas of the mental plane have the quality of intelligence as their chief peculiarity, and the Devas of the next lower plane have as their chief quality feeling, or the power of sensation, and those of the lowest plane have as their chief quality action, activity. Each Deva class shows out specially the quality of its plane, and inasmuch as these Devas draw into their own bodies the matter of the plane in which they live, they help on its evolution; for they draw it in, use it and thus develop it, and throw it out again into the general reservoir, just as man draws in physical matter, uses it in his body, and again throws it out into the physical world. As that process goes on and on and on through the ages, the whole of that kind of matter we call mental passes through the bodies of these Devas, takes on to itself the habit of responding readily to the vibrations of intelligence, and thus becomes ready for building into the mental body of man. The matter of the astral plane is builded into the bodies of the Devas of that plane until it takes up this habit of more and more definitely responding to pleasure and pain, when impacts are made on it, and thus can be used for the building up of the sensory bodies of the lower world. On each plane this downward sweep brings into activity these classes of Devas, making the intermediate links which are to work in the building of forms. The essence of the building of forms by a Deva is that he builds them of the matter of which his own body is composed. Prepared by that earlier evolution, qualities being developed in the downward sweep of the life of Íshvara, matter is, in the upward arc, gathered into definite forms, the bodies of plant, animal and man: thus definite vehicles are made, by which the highest consciousness can communicate with, and receive vibrations from, the lowest world.

Let us now, having taken this very rapid sweep downwards, begin to climb upwards. Each kind of matter is now seen to possess certain qualities. Every physical atom has a number of sheaths interpenetrating and surrounding it, the sheath of astral matter with its power of responding to sensation, the sheath of mental matter with its power of responding to intelligence, as well as the sheaths, if they may be called so, of the two higher, Love and Existence, that will not be brought into activity for a long, long time. All is there. Íshvara now begins the great stage of brooding action that I spoke of the building up of a centre, and it is His first work to build physical forms out of this prepared material, all the Devas of the physical plane being ready to act as His agents, working under His impulse and under the direction of the Lord of the Devas of the physical plane. All these innumerable intermediate agents are wanted; for innumerable are to be the forms, and every one of them has to be builded.

The building of the physical bodies begins with the formation of the minerals. As a mineral body is formed, perhaps some crystal, the crystal of an element or a salt, a definite form is built up by a Deva of the physical plane. He takes up the material of his own body and such material of the physical plane as is of similar nature to himself, and he begins shaping these crystalline forms. He builds them on the lines of the life-energy sent out by Íshvara Himself, those lines which Science calls the axes of the crystal, "imaginary" lines; "imaginary"--aye; but they are from the creative imagination of Íshvara, that is far more potent than the lower matter in which He builds. That lower matter follows the creative imagination of the Lord, and these imaginary lines govern the shaping of that crystal that is builded by the Deva. Tyndall believed not in the working of the Devas, yet when he was lecturing on crystals to a popular audience in Manchester he declared that as he pictured to himself the building of a crystal, he found himself imagining tiny architects at work, placing every atom with exact precision, with all the intelligence and skill of a human architect, employed in making a building. Tyndall was speaking better than he knew. His imagination was answering to the truth more keenly than he realised. For it is the privilege of the man of genius who loves truth as Tyndall did--who was willing to break up every fetter of dogma rather than be a traitor to his conception of truth--to unconsciously intuit the truth that he seeks, so that his words give out a higher meaning than he dreamed of. Tyndall was wise in recommending what he called the scientific flight of the imagination, for that power of imagination is a most useful thing. Never clip the wings of your imagination when you are employed in your scientific work; for it may often give you glimpses of truths that without its aid you would never find. Thus the Devas work and build crystals, and those crystals have some remarkable properties. Professor Japp tells us that some crystals turn a polarised beam of light in a particular way; and he declares that in some of these forms there is a power which is directive and somewhat akin to the intelligence of man. Truly is it akin to human intelligence, inasmuch as it is the parent of human intelligence, the latter being the child that is developing the parental powers. This building goes on through stages on which we must not tarry, through the whole of the mineral world, gradually giving to matter the power to change shape between larger and larger limits without losing cohesion. This is what is called plasticity, the power of changing shape without disintegration. Matter also gains that which science speaks of as elasticity. Now what is elasticity? Not, as people generally think the mere power of elongation, calling a thing elastic that can be pulled out like a piece of India-rubber. An elastic body in the popular sense is not an elastic body from the scientific point of view, and, strange as it may sound, glass is much more elastic than India-rubber. Yet the glass does not elongate and is brittle. The proper definition of elasticity is the power of recovering the original form after distortion, and matter gradually acquires this power. As life develops, the equilibrium of the compounds that make up the form becomes more and more unstable, while at the same time the general cohesion of the form increases; when we come to the higher forms, such as the body of man, we find a power of maintaining the central position greater than we find in any other form, together with an increased plasticity and elasticity; so that a man can adapt himself to the cold of the polar regions, and to the heat of the tropics and of the equatorial zone, without losing his body, in a way that no lower animal can match, that is, he has the power of adapting his physical body to surrounding conditions to a greater extent than is the case with any other form. Coming back to the mineral kingdom we left, let us take the next stage; Íshvara can now expand and modify His material a little more than was originally possible without breaking it up. He begins the moulding of the vegetable kingdom, and there also he sets axes of growth, as "imaginary" and as real in their controlling force as in the crystal, though they are not always quite as easy to trace, they are nevertheless there. All the vegetable matter is built in according to these axes, and the natural classification of plants is largely determined by the numerical relations of the parts; thus the law of number shapes the form. As the matter becomes more plastic and yields more readily to the indwelling life, the higher members of that kingdom begin to show the dawning of sensation. That is due to the beginning of the vivification of the next sheath above the physical, composed of what we call astral matter, that which goes to make part of the manomaya kosha of the Vedântin. We see in that a growing susceptibility, an increasing sensory power, very slight in the vegetable world, but still present, and developed much more largely where the vegetable has a long experience of separated life. Take for instance a tree that has endured for centuries, and let me just trace the stages in which the dawning sensation is found, and even a dawn, though I hardly venture to use the word, a dawn of mental quality. That life in the tree responds to the vibrations received from outside, of cold and heat, of wind and rain, of sunshine and storm, and as the physical sheath is built up and developed by the action of the Devas working upon it, the etheric matter in it is continually thrown into vibration by the changes in temperature, light, and electrical conditions. The vibrations in the ethers that enter into the physical body are passed on to the atomic sub-plane, and as the atoms of the physical plane have their spirals made of the coarsest matter of the plane of Apas, or astral matter, a slight quivering is caused in that coarsest matter of the astral plane, and that sets up a little movement in the tree, responded to by the indwelling life by sensation, a massive and general feeling of pleasure or pain.

Have you never walked through a forest, and felt as though all nature were enjoying the sunshine? This sensation of pleasure is shown still more strikingly when the hot season comes to its ending, and the first rains fall on the thirsty ground, and the well-nigh withering vegetation sends out a conscious thrill of joy and life renewed. The very trees and bushes rejoice as the rain comes down upon them with its message of life and of hope. At such moments we recognise that the vegetable world is sensitive, although the sensation be widespread, that which is called massive in character.

Forgive me if for a moment I here digress, to say that this fact is one of the reasons why we owe a duty to the vegetable world, not needlessly to cause sensations of dawning suffering. We live too carelessly, my brothers, in this world which is all-living, where there is no atom that is dead, and especially is this sad here in India, where once there was so strong a reverence for life. That is now, alas, beginning to pass away. You are forgetting that all life is Íshvara, that according to the stage of His lower self-evolution is the power of response that is given to the form. In the old days, I remember how, when man took his food, he met the food with gracious greeting because it was sacrificing its life in order to build, through that sacrifice, his own. Though it did not possess the higher powers of sensation as we find them in the animal, but only the lesser sensation powers of the vegetable world, still, even then, he met it with reverence, as a sacrifice which was being made to him, and took it with gratitude and with love; that lower life was yielding itself up to him for his up-building. But to-day, so lost is that gentle grace in many of our Hindu people, that they not only disregard the sacrificed lives of the vegetable kingdom, but also those of the far more sentient forms which Íshvara has developed in the animal kingdom of His world. We find men who wear the outer shape of the Hindu, who have his colour, his form, his face, who boast themselves of their descent from antiquity, who hold themselves therefore in thought above the western nations, forgetting the life of the Self in this sentient creation, and nourishing their bodies with the bodies of their lower brethren, without showing any sense of the sacrifice made, or feeling even a passing gratitude for the life which is given for them.

Let us come back to the tracing of our forms. Íshvara, brooding over the evolving forms, continues His patient work--patient, that the form may never be broken by an overstrain, but may be slowly developed into a vehicle of the life that ensouls it. In every form He lives, evolving it, but He limits with illimitable patience His manifestation of life to the poor capacities of the form, that it may grow and not be destroyed. Do you remember an old story of the ancient days, in which most of you would be ashamed to acknowledge belief, for are you not graduates and men of western knowledge? Though descendants from the old time, you have naught to do with it, but I, who was trained in the West, I have no feeling of shame in acknowledging my belief in the strange things that come down to us from the times when truth was less veiled than it is now. So I dare to recall the story to you, although you may think that it is but a fable or legend. There was a boy who believed in Vishnu or Hari, in whom his father believed not, Prahlâda he was named; and that boy went through many trials, but in all his faith in the Supreme defended him; at last his father, scoffing, said, turning to a pillar in his room: "You tell me that Hari is everywhere: is He in that pillar?" "O Hari, Hari!" cried the boy, and forth from the pillar in the form of a Lion burst an avatâra of Vishnu and the pillar was shivered into pieces. Truly is He everywhere, in every particle of matter; there is no one particle from which He cannot come forth in all the might of His Godhood, in all the majesty of His Deity. But He will not, because if He did, the form could not bear that revealing, and would shiver into pieces as the God appeared. A profound truth, even if you regard the story as an allegory, a truth which teaches us what evolution means.

Thus Íshvara worked on age after age and æon after æon, with that marvellous patience of which I spoke, until matter was made sufficiently plastic to build it into the form in which His highest life was to begin its development, the form of man; building that form, He begins also to strengthen very much the centre which the form is for a while to protect. Let me say in passing one thing that I have omitted, that whenever a form has reached its highest possible point, its limit of expansion, He breaks it, in order that, in a new form better adapted, the ensouling life may continue to grow; for He knows when to break as well as when to hold; He knows when to destroy as well as when to preserve; and the moment that the limit of a form has been reached, and its matter can yield no further, He bursts the form asunder, that its materials may recombine themselves, under the impulse of life, into a more plastic organism, and that the life may thus gain further evolution, ensouling a higher form more fitted for the expression of its increasing powers. We call this breaking of the form death, and we fear and shrink from it, and if people talk to us of death, in the flush of our life, it comes as a jar and a shock. But, as I told you in the beginning, you may see very plainly that death is that beneficent aspect of Íshvara, which breaks a form that has become a prison, in order to give the life a new form in which it may continue to grow; He breaks the rigid form when it can develop no further, and gives the life the plastic form of a baby, that may be shaped more easily by the moulding forces of the life within it, yielding itself to every impulse from within. It seems then, that when we see things rightly, we should hail death as birth rather than as death. For looked at from the side of life, every death is a being born into the higher possibilities of a new shape that will adapt itself to the growing life.

When man begins his long pilgrimage, a form is ready for his ensouling, prepared to receive and to respond to the impulses which come to it from the physical, astral and--to a small extent--from the mental planes. His physical atoms are considerably evolved, the sensory sheath is working actively, and there is a very imperfect lower mental sheath; these have been built up through the evolution of the animal realm. Do not fall into the mistake of the western way of thinking, and say that man descends from the animal; that is not true. It is only a fragment of truth half seen and thereby distorted. What is true is this: that the matter of his lower vehicles has been prepared by evolving through the stages of the elemental, mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, in order that it may be builded into the form of man; that _in previous kalpas_ forms had been evolved that might fairly be described as half-ape, half-human, that were never occupied by the triple Self, and that therefore belonged to the animal, not to the human kingdom; that in the present cycle the human form evolved, as a fœtus evolves, passing rapidly through the lower stages on the way to the human, as in pre-natal life, and it therefore has stamped upon it the stages through which it has passed. I have been going over, roughly and swiftly, those stages through which the matter of which the body is composed has gone in the past, and you will see that the true theory of evolution is different from the somewhat crude view that there is a regular succession of births from the animal into the man. The matter has been made plastic in the animal, but man in his form is the result of a higher working; the germ of his life can never develop into the animal, but only into the human, because more has been infolded into it, and that germ must unfold along a line which is that of direct human growth. Remembering that, to prevent a possible misconception, we turn to the human centre that is now definitely formed. We speak of its encircling form as the causal body, or Karana Sharîra, the form by which the Self is limited; the Karana Sharîra is not the Self, remember, but is the containing vehicle of the triple Self, and the organ of one aspect of that Self, the aspect of knowledge, shown forth as intelligence. This sheath is important, being relatively of a permanent nature, and it goes on from birth to birth; death cannot touch it, birth cannot modify it; it is the treasure-house or receptacle of all the qualities acquired by experience through human evolution, and passes through the whole cycle of re-incarnations; it is the special _human_ characteristic. The form begins to adapt itself more and more to the life, and here comes in a growing difficulty. The characteristic of the life of man is the life of the intellect; this the specifically human part of evolution; but the life of sensation is far more vivid and tumultuous in the beginning, and the earlier stages of form are adapted to answer to these impulses. You may ask, why not give the man at once a mental body only, in which to work out his evolution, why must he struggle through the evolution of this body of sensation? Because, if he misses that stage, he will not be able to make up the links which are necessary for the continuity of his consciousness. At a later time the perfect man is conscious on all planes from Nirvâna downward to the physical, from the physical upwards to Nirvâna. On every plane in unbroken continuity of consciousness the Jîvanmukta lives and works. There is no link lacking. If, then, the man does not establish, in the building of his body of sensation, certain centres or, as they are called, chakras--that drawing into centres which is the work of the upward arc, as giving qualities is the work of the downward arc--if he does not draw the powers of sensation into definite centres in the sheath of his astral body, he will not have the links which he requires to receive impacts from the astral plane, and through which he can send out thrills of consciousness in order to impress it, rule it and guide it. That is why there is so much delay in the savage condition, where the life of sensation is supreme; these astral chakras are being builded up as centres of the senses, and they are built firm and strong; the outer organs, the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the skin, these are merely the necessary organs in the physical body for the expression of consciousness through these chakras.

If we take, for a moment, a swift survey of the evolution of forms, we shall find that the building of organs follows the exercise of life-functions; in the earliest forms there are no organs, but the functions of life are present and active; the creature breathes and assimilates, circulation goes on; but there are no organs for digestion, no organs for breathing, no organs for circulation; the whole body does everything. But as evolution proceeds and definite organs are formed in the physical body, in the nervous system, and as later, in the astral body, chakras or astral centres of sensation are formed--as this goes on, we find a more specialised being developed with definite organs. Always the organ comes after the function, and through the organ the function expresses itself more and more perfectly. That is a fundamental principle. And do not forget that in this you are on what is thought the safer ground of western science. You do not find an organ appearing before the development of its function. You always find the life-impulse first, and then the moulding of the matter into a shape which enables that impulse to express itself more perfectly. If we trace evolution from the amœba upwards we find differentiation and specialisation becoming more marked the whole way through, yet man himself turns round, and with the very brain which has been formed under the vibrations of intelligence he reverses the whole process, and asserts that thought is produced by the brain; but every organ is formed as the organ of a function, it is produced by life, and is not its creator.

This process goes on until the necessary organs are made and the nervous system is linked to the chakras in the astral body, chiefly through what is called the sympathetic system. There are certain nervous cells of a peculiar kind in that system, of which modern science does not say much, beyond giving you the forms and contents, and these are the links between consciousness in the physical body and in the sensory body. Then come the chakras already spoken of as the centres for the working of consciousness in the astral body. A similar process goes on in the mental body under the action of thought-impulses, and there we have also an organised body able to respond to different kinds of thought, and thus to serve consciousness as its organ for expression in the mental world. As we grow mentally we build our organs for consciousness.

Coming to this building of form practically, we learn that we organise the body of sensation to higher purposes by checking the life-impulse as it runs out to the object of the senses. These objects gradually turn away from the abstemious dweller in the body, it is written, and as the lower world ceases to attract, the higher world begins to use the form for nobler ends. If we desire to increase mental power, we must practise steady thinking, and check the rovings of intelligence over the phenomenal world. As a matter of fact, many people never really think at all; what they call their thoughts are nothing more than the reflections of other people's thoughts to which their consciousness responds; their minds are looking-glasses, not productive organisms; most men's minds, I fear, are looking-glasses reflecting objects that are before them, and contemplating these reflections a man says to himself: "See! how I am thinking!" when he is only repeating the thoughts of others. Now we are not to be mere looking-glasses; when the objects of the outer world give rise to images, the mind is to work on them, analyse, re-arrange, combine; thinking is the work of the mind itself on the mental images supplied through sensation, the working on the materials which have been gradually gathered by experience. As soon might you call a loose heap of bricks that you see in the compound of a house, a building, as call the reflection of other people's thoughts, your thinking. That is only the material for thought. Thinking is the work of the architect, of the builder that builds these bricks into a definite edifice, and until we have built up thoughts in our minds, we have no right to arrogate to ourselves the name of thinkers. Practise then this independent thinking; it is hard; you will not know how hard until you try it. Never let pass a day without reading something that gives you material for thought. No matter if the book be not religious; if it be only intellectual, that will make you stronger in intellect. Even leaving spirituality aside with its nobler possibilities, take some great book worthy of being thought over, not a newspaper, not a sensational novel, not a child's book, but a BOOK--an original book, on a real topic; what Charles Lamb called a book. Read, but do not read much, perhaps not more than a dozen or twenty lines; think these lines over and over and over for at least thrice as long as you have taken to read them slowly. Do that every day regularly, and do not miss it. You find time for your dinner; why, if you can find time to feed your body and to talk, can you not find time to feed your mind? Then your mind would grow. If you do that as an experiment, say for three months only, never missing a day--for if you miss a day, you will slip back and lose the value of the automatic action of your mind--do that for three months as an experiment, as a scientific man makes an experiment, and thus train yourselves for three months in power of close attention and thought, and at the end of the three months, you will be startled to find how much these powers have grown. When you have put yourself through this experiment, then you will not want a lecturer to tell you about the value of such self-discipline, for you yourself will have proved it to be good. Take one faculty after another to train; train your reasoning faculty, your memory, your power of comparison and contrast. Take up a faculty, just as any one takes up a study that he is working at, and work at it until you are an artist in that particular faculty.

That is how form is builded, when the human Self is beginning to co-operate with the work of Íshvara, when the centre is beginning to take the control of its vehicles. It rationalises its workings, and builds and modifies them step by step. When this has been done for many lives, then comes the life for Yoga; then the man may be taught how to make more rapid progress, and how to vivify the inner and subtler sheaths of his being by certain practices, that will be taught him the moment he is ready--but that will never be taught him until he _is_ ready, nay though he range the world over in search of a Guru, or live the life of an ascetic in the cave or in the jungle. That is not enough, so long as his desire is unconquered, so long as his mind is still restless. When the senses are dominated, when the mind is controlled, and not before--but then, as certainly as before there will not be the coming--a Guru will appear who will take that man by the hand and lead him along the path that is narrow as the edge of a razor, that may only be trodden by the controlled in sense and by the steady in mind, for the fall either to the one side or to the other means delay for many a birth to come. Then is developed that aspect of Bliss which shows itself outwardly as love; a faint reflection of that bliss is felt in many stages of meditation, and joy has birth within you, wells up within you, enwraps you fold by fold, until you in yogic trance reach the true A'nanda, which is the essence of beauty, and makes you quiver under its subtle vibrations of ineffable delight. And later, later still, at a stage that you may reach, when all is purified through long evolution, there comes the rising into the highest, where the subtlest matter becomes the vehicle of that developed centre, now no longer a circumference restraining and necessary, but an obedient vehicle which will serve when it is wanted and fall away when wanted it is not. As it is written that in the A'kâsha there is every possibility of form, so the life that has reached Self-existence is a being that garbs itself in any form by gathering the A'kâsha around it. Thus it may develop vehicle after vehicle until the whole of the human series is builded for use, but none of them is prison for limitation; then we say that the man is a Jîvanmukta, He is free, and all matter has become His servant, to use when He has need of it, to cast aside when He needs it not; every region of the world is His to use, no region of the world is its own to bind Him; He is liberated, and as the liberated Self He may, if He will, still work for His brother men, remaining, as Shrî Shankarâchârya taught us, until the end of His age, in order to lift humanity more rapidly on its upward climb. Thus are formed Those who are the co-workers of Íshvara in the helping of humanity, who, having gone through all suffering, throw everything they have gained at the feet of the Lord, who turn back to the world, never again to be bound by it, but still responding to the compassion which is the very life of Íshvara Himself. As long as Íshvara wills to remain in manifestation, so long does He whose will is one with that of Íshvara, will also to remain. He has nothing to gain, nothing to learn, nothing to take that any world can give Him; but He stands beside His Lord as an organ of the expression of the highest life, existing no longer for anything that He takes, but as the channel of the life of God. That is the prize of our calling, that the goal on which our hearts are fixed.

 

 

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