The Evolution of Life and Form

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The Evolution of Life and Form

By Annie Besant

Functions of the Gods

My Brothers:--Those of you who are familiar with your own sacred literature will know how great a part is played therein by those spiritual Intelligences who are spoken of as the Devas, or Gods. As I said yesterday, the existence, the presence, and the working of these Intelligences in the administration of nature, in the carrying out of the will of Íshvara, are recognised in every great faith that the world has known. The Hindu speaks of them sometimes as Suras, sometimes as Devas; the Hebrew, the Christian, the Mussulman, speak of them as Angels and Archangels, making the distinction between the higher and the lower; the Zoroastrian also recognises their work, speaking of them as Feristhas; and so, in each of the great religions, we find the presence of these workers in the Kosmos recognised, and we see their functions defined. Now it is exceedingly important, especially perhaps for the Hindu, to understand how wide is the area of their working, how general their functions, for no subject perhaps is more often made a subject for attack by those who desire to injure the ancient religion of India, than the actions of the Gods as detailed in the sacred books. You will continually find that those actions are being misunderstood or mis-represented. The mis-representation, one may always hope, is not deliberate and conscious. It is due to the general materialism of the age. It is due to the fact that men who believe in a religion nominally do not realise the effect of that religion in their consciousness. So that while a man may say that he believes in Angels and Archangels and so on, he leads his life as though they did not exist. Among our Christian brothers there is considerable difference of opinion with regard to these Angels. In the different sections of the great Christian community, the vast majority of those that profess Christianity--making up the old Greek Church, sometimes called the Eastern Christian Church, and those who are numbered in the Roman Communion, the Roman Catholic Church, the two ancient Churches which have preserved an unbroken antiquity and an unbroken tradition from the time of Christ and His Apostles--have maintained and maintain, uninjured and complete, the ancient belief in the ministry of angels. They really lead their lives as recognising the part that is played in the world by the angelic hosts, and not only do they regard the Archangels as the great rulers of animated nature--the seven chief Archangels taking the place of the seven Gods in other faiths--but they also recognise the lower host of angels as concerned continually in administering natural laws, in guiding human evolution; and indeed they go so far as to say that every individual man is in special charge of a guardian angel, who ministers to him from the cradle to the grave, who tries to help him in danger, to advise him in temptation, to protect him in peril, to ward off all the evils levelled against him, and who, helping him through the gateway of death, accompanies him on the other side through the invisible world, until he surrenders up his charge into the hands of Christ Himself. The Protestant communities, however, breaking off as they did, roughly and abruptly, from the ancient tradition, full of occult truth, have lost, among many other valuable things, this real belief in the work of the angels. Most members of the Protestant communities, while they acknowledge the existence of the angels and vaguely regard them as "ministers of God," have no very definite idea of the part that they play in the world. They do not address them, as do the Roman Catholics and the Greeks. They do not pay them reverence and homage day by day, or look on them as helpers, as intelligences superior to themselves, always willing to render assistance. Practically the angels have passed out of their lives, so far as any conscious realisation of their presence is concerned; and I cannot help thinking that the loss is a very serious loss when you are dealing with spiritual evolution; the whole idea of the Supreme tends to become degraded and anthropomorphised when the intermediate agents are forgotten, and when every petty concern of human life is, as it were, thrown directly under the immediate superintendence of the Supreme. We must not, of course, in recognising the working of the Gods, or the Devas, as I shall call them for the rest of the lecture, lose sight of the unity of the Supreme Deity. We do not, in Hinduism, deny or ignore the existence of Íshvara because we recognise the hosts of the Devas; we do not cloud our belief in the One because we recognise the innumerable hosts of the ministers of His will; there is nothing more against the unity of God in the recognition of the hosts of the Devas, than there is in recognising the diversity of men, yet it is not pretended that we are clouding the unity of the Divine Existence when we recognise the hosts of individuals who make up the whole of humanity. It is mere prejudice or ignorance that makes any one think that because the Hindu recognises the action of the Devas, therefore he has lost his belief in the One Existence beyond even Íshvara Himself, in the fundamental unity that underlies diversity. What he does is, that instead of regarding the world as superintended by an extra-kosmic God, separated as it were from His universe, with a mighty gulf existing between Him and it, he sees in Íshvara the manifestation of the one Life that pervades and sustains all, he sees in Íshvara the one Root out of which all separated existences spring; and he sees, stretching between himself and that Supreme, innumerable hosts of Intelligences, step after step, rank after rank, and he looks to climbing up that celestial ladder until he also stands at its very top; for he knows that he also is divine, although as yet in an early stage of evolution, and he recognises the more highly evolved divinity above him, as he recognises the divinity in the stone beneath his feet, in everything that exists in this universe of God.

With that beginning, so that our study may not lead to a misconception, let us pass on to ask what are the functions of these Devas, of these Intelligences, who work in the world. You will at once realise that the functions must be very different, according to the grade of the Devas that we may happen to be studying. Through the whole of the Kosmos they are working. Some are very lofty, some are very little evolved above the level of humanity. One great difference there is between us and them, that whatever may be the grade of their mental, emotional, and spiritual life, they do not, normally, use a physical body. That is a clear mark or line of separation. The being functioning as man, while spiritual, intellectual and emotional, uses a physical body, in order to carry on the activities connected with the physical world. All the hosts of Devas are without that physical covering or vehicle; they normally use as their vehicle a body which belongs to the particular region in the universe in which their normal activities lie. Suppose, for instance, that a Deva belongs essentially to the spiritual world, he will normally use a spiritual body; if he wants to function on the mânasic plane, he will create for himself a temporary mânasic body, drawing together for this purpose the matter of that plane and holding it as his vehicle during the period of his functioning thereupon; if he wants to function in the kâmic region, he will draw together the material of that region and make of it for himself a temporary body; if he wants to function visibly in the world of man, he will draw round himself the matter of the physical plane, and make for himself a body suitable to the immediate purpose that he has in view. So with every other grade. The Devas of the mânasic world use normally the mânasic body, and create the kâmic or physical body as they may want a temporary vehicle. Those of the kârmic region use the kârmic body normally, and create a physical vehicle when they require it. Thus, in every case, the Deva's ordinary body is composed of the matter of the region of the universe to which he belongs; but he has always the power to create any vehicle that he needs for carrying out any purpose with which he is charged. This will perhaps suggest to you one reason for the great variety of forms which a single God may assume. Those whose inner sight is developed, who can see in the regions which to ordinary men are invisible, say that the Gods use many forms. And some of their forms have come down traditionally, described originally perhaps by a great ?ishi, preserved by his disciples, then thrown into some form of earth, or stone, or metal, painted or sculptured as the case may be; then such an image of the God is handed down generation after generation, and represents that Deva under that particular form to his worshippers. We find many forms for one Deva, just because of the fact that the God makes the form he wants for the particular work he has upon hand, and that none of those forms bind him. They are merely transitory vehicles created for a definite purpose. Some of these forms are indeed relatively permanent, partly because of the worship which is addressed to them. For the Deva will often graciously use a particular form in order to meet the thought of his worshippers. Suppose for instance, taking a lofty example, that Shrî K?i?h?a willed to reveal Himself to some Bhakta of His, in order that that devotee might have the joy of consciously realising the presence of his Lord, He then most certainly would clothe Himself in the form which that Bhakta was in the habit of worshipping and which drew up the deepest emotions of his heart. For these forms are taken for the very purpose of stimulating devotion, for the very object of attracting the heart by presenting the illimitable Deity in some conditioned form which the concrete mind of man is able more or less to grasp, to understand, to admire and to worship. You cannot love the void of space. You cannot fix your heart on the depths of infinity; you deceive yourself if, with your limited intelligence, untrained even in the lowest forms of Yoga, you think that you can realise Brahman, the Supreme. Too often when we speak of THAT, no real thought responds to our speaking; the lips speak, not the intelligence or the heart. Step by step we have to climb from the manifested to the unmanifested, and, in His compassionate love, God veils Himself in forms of beauty to attract the human heart, in order that the human heart may rise adoringly to His Feet, and that some portion of His life, pouring down thereinto, may enable the Self of the worshipper to realise even partially its unity with Him.

The Devas, then, in their many ranks and divisions, perform functions according to their grade. Speaking generally, their work in the world is to guide evolution according to the design of Íshvara. That really sums up their functions, although we are going to study them in detail. I say nothing of the vast functions of the higher Devas that lie beyond our knowing, beyond the teaching that ?ishis have given. I deal only with those lower functions that are concerned with our world, and with the solar system of which our world is part. Taking that limitation, suitable to our ignorance, we can study some of the functions of the Gods within the limits of our solar system.

Speaking generally, as I said, that function is to guide evolution, to adapt, to correlate, to carry out the living will of the Supreme, and to carry out that will by bringing together in time and space all the agents and conditions necessary for carrying it out. There is only one supreme Will that guides the universe, and that Will points steadily to progress, to the goal set forth for the universe, the goal towards which it is evolving. Unchangeable, stable, perpetual, that Will knows no swerving; to use a Christian phrase, "there is no shadow of turning" in that immutable Will. The universe rolls along the road traced out by the Divine Will. It cannot be diverted from that road; it cannot change its path; that is the law of the universe, the law on which we rest with faith unshakable. But in the working out of the law in this universe where men are evolving--men in whom is the germ of that same sovereign and imperial Will of God, man being made in the Divine image and containing within himself the germ of the Divine powers--in this universe, as man evolves, wills also evolve which are separate, personal, individual. All the confusion in the world of man is due to this evolution of the separated wills that do not recognise their root in God, but try to follow their own diverse ways, and want to move after their own separated fashions; so that in the world of man, as nowhere else in nature, you have discord instead of harmony, clash instead of peace, struggle and war instead of tranquillity. The world of minerals obeys the compulsion of the law; the world of vegetables obeys the compulsion of the law; the world of animals obeys the compulsion of the law; but when man arises, man in whom the Supreme is to be developed after he has climbed through the lower stages, in man there awakens the germ of the will, and the separated wills bring about the discord which will yet end in something greater and richer than the harmony of the stones, of the vegetables, of the animals. For when human evolution is over, millions of separated wills will join in one mighty chord of harmonious union, and that union of the wills that voluntarily give themselves is mightier in its powers, more beautiful in its expression, than compelled obedience can ever be. The music that humanity sends up to God, in all its varied melody, is a far more perfect expression of Divinity than can be drawn from the monochord that we find in the lower kingdoms of nature; but you will readily understand that when these warring wills arise, something, some one, is wanted in order to adapt, to correlate, to bring about equilibrium among the contending forces, so that the one purpose may be steadily subserved. Let me take a concrete illustration. Suppose I had here a ball which I want to move. That ball can be moved along a straight line in innumerable ways. I might give it a single impulse in the direction in which I want it to move; and it would move straight on in that direction following my primary impulse. So would the universe move if it contained only minerals, vegetables and animals, if there were no clashing wills within it, if it were within the iron grip of compulsion, which never in any fashion could be resisted. But I can equally well drive my ball along that straight line, if I know enough of physics, by correlating different and opposed forces. I may send two forces against it at a particular angle, and if my angle be properly measured according to the strength of the forces, then the ball will travel along the same line by the interaction of the two forces as well as by the impact of the one; and I may bring three, or four, or five, or a million forces, to bear upon that ball, and still it will move along that one definite line, if only the forces are calculated and balanced so that their resultant shall always be a force along that straight line. That balancing is one of the functions of the Gods. They take these warring wills, these different directions that are being impressed, as it were, on the rolling world that is going along the road of evolution; they balance, adapt, and correlate them, and thus always keep the world travelling along the straight line, always bringing about the same resultant, the accomplishment of the Will of the Supreme; without them, these wills of ours would work infinite confusion, and the world would never complete its evolution, would never roll upwards to its place at the Feet of God.

We find the Gods discharging other functions which subserve the same purpose. They mould the forms in which the growing life is to express itself. Evolution depends upon the growing power of the unfolding life, but it needs forms whereby that growth shall be carried on. These forms are moulded by the Devas, so that the life, which breaks by expansion its containing form that is out-worn, may have another form into which to go fitted for the capacity that was evolved in the form it has out-grown. We shall find also that they break up forms as well as build them; being always fixed on the one object of serving the evolution of the life. Then again they act as teachers, as guides, as councillors, to those that have gone beyond the normal evolution, that are the first fruits of the human race. Not acting as teachers directly to the masses, they take the more advanced human beings in charge, directly instruct them, test them and try them, as presently we shall see. So that while the general purpose is the helping forward of evolution, this help is rendered in a million ways, according to the needs of the time.

Now, in the past, this working of the Gods was recognised, and the sacred books are full of it. They showed themselves continually among men, they carried on their work, as it were, in the full blaze of day. But now no longer do they show themselves to men at large, and many have forgotten even their existence, and very many people, even in India, materialised by the thought in which they have been trained, are half ashamed to say that they believe in the existence and the working of the Devas. The unbelief makes no difference, save to those who disbelieve. The working of the Gods remains ever the same. They are ever busy in carrying out the Supreme Will. Only they do not show themselves, and to those alone who recognise their existence and their work will they manifest themselves. If in the old days they showed themselves as they do not now, it was because men then had reverence and love and were willing to bow down to those who were wiser and greater than themselves; because then democracy was not reigning; because then the ignorant did not think themselves equal to the learned, nor did man deem himself equal to the Gods. In those days, because they could help they came to the helping; but they will never come visibly again to earth until men have learnt to reverence once more what is above them, and to understand their place in the Kosmos, to worship as well as to command. The Gods work all the same. They are not deprived of their functions by our folly, by our conceit, by our ignorance. Only they work unseen, and we forfeit the sweet comfort of their visible presence, the strength and joy of the old heroic days, the dignity of conscious companionship with the Immortals, the ever-renewed assurance of super-physical life. Not one death that happens on our earth, but a God has struck away that body whose work is over; not one "natural catastrophe," but a God has guided it to the happening; not one help given to a man in need, but a God is the agent behind the visible helper; not one answer to the cry of man in his distress, that is not the response of a God to human sorrow. Everywhere they are working. Everywhere they are bringing about what we see as dead mechanical nature. Every phenomenon is the veil of a God, and there is nothing done in which an Intelligence does not take part.

Seven are the great Gods below the Trinity, below the Trimûrti. Every religion, again, acknowledges these Seven. The Christian speaks of the "Seven Spirits that are before the throne of God." The Zoroastrian tells us of the seven Ameshaspendas who rule the world. The Chaldean spoke of the seven great Gods. Five only are working and two are concealed, for the universe is in process of evolution and only five stages of it have been reached. Therefore only with regard to five can we definitely speak as to working. The two concealed are beyond our knowing; they are related to future stages of the evolution of the Kosmos. But the five we will now consider. Their names in connection with their functions you know well enough. They are connected with the tattvas of which we were speaking yesterday--the Lord of A'kâsha, Indra; the Lord of Air, Vâyu; the Lord of Fire, Agni; the Lord of Water, Varuna; the Lord of Earth, sometimes called Kshiti (various names are used for him); each of these great Gods has what we may call one region marked out for his working. The matter of that region is the matter in which he works; but in addition to that, each one is represented in the realms of the others by a sub-division on which his impression is especially made. These are the great kosmic planes that I have spoken of marked off from each other by the tattvas. But if we come down to the physical plane, dealing only with Prithivî Tattva, we shall then find that that is also seven-fold in division and that we have physical solid, physical earth or Prithivî, physical water or Apas, physical fire or Agni, physical air or Vâyu, physical ether or A'kâsha. Each of these great Gods works on each plane through the medium that corresponds to the region which belongs to him in the Kosmos as a whole. How often we see those correspondences as it were printed in physical nature. We have light with its seven sub-divisions as seen in the solar spectrums showing the seven colours, and the scale with its seven notes. Colours and notes alike result from vibrations, and are determined by the number of vibrations occurring in a unit of time. As the universe is built by vibrations, colour and sound are factors of the universe at large, and every region is said to have its own colour; the God of that region has his colour--dependent on his vibratory force--which he imprints on the region over which he rules; so that if a ?ishi looks at the solar system from a higher plane, he not only hears the seven fundamental notes of music, making "the harmony of the spheres," but he sees a gorgeous display of colours, as the sphere of every great Deva with his own colour interpenetrates the others, yielding an iridescent splendour of interfering radiances, the marvellous "rainbow that is round the throne of God." Such mystic expressions have lost their meaning for the majority, because the sight of those who wrote them is but little developed in these days, and few are they who can see as the seer saw of old.

Each of these great Gods has under him a host of subordinate Gods who carry out his decrees. The constitution of an ordinary state will give you a very good picture of the government of the solar system. We have at the head an Emperor or an Empress; then the officers who represent that supreme authority in separate divisions of the realm; there is the one central authority over the whole, and the officers who wield it in different areas of the Empire. Then these officers are graded in rank, and we have higher and subordinate Ministers, Judges, Magistrates, in descending order, each with a smaller and smaller district to administer, the functions of each becoming more limited as you descend the official ladder; and each responsible to his official superior. That is really a very good picture of the government of the solar system; the head of all is Íshvara Himself; His Viceroys are the great Gods, each with his own vast area over which he rules, and each with his official hierarchy under him, until you come down to the lowest Devas, who carry on the work in the limited area of a village of the solar system.

Such is the outline, then, of the functions. The next thing to grasp is, that, when we see on this plane in which our consciousness is working--the physical plane--any one of these fundamental forms of manifestation, we should try to realise the presence of the God behind the material phenomenon. Not a fire that burns upon the earth, whether the fire of the volcanic mountain, whether the fire ranging through the vast forest, whether the fire burning on the household hearth, or on the sacrificial altar, that is not Agni in manifestation, with the possibility of his powers coming into visibility. They were not dreamers, they who bade you of old keep safe the fire, the household fire which husband and wife at the bridal kindled, and which, when the life of the married was over in the home, they still carried out into the forest; they carried with them the fire, and it took with them the presence of the God, who through the household life had blessed, had guided, had given prosperity and made the final withdrawal from the household life possible and desirable. That is one of the many truths which modern India is losing.

But when these things were believed in, and the ceremonies connected with them were carried on, then nature worked in a definite order, and there were not the same continual irregularities that we have in our modern days. By that harmonious working between man and the Gods, nature answered to man as man answered to nature; while man did his duty, nature in her turn did her duty also; the failure of rain, the failure of crops, the failure of sunshine, the presence of plague, or of any other form of human misery, was seen as having its root in the failure of humanity; and man turned dutifully to that which he had neglected, and thus readjusted the balance which his irregularity had displaced. Let us try and see, as an example, one concrete working in what we call natural evolution. We will turn to the great God Varuna. He works through water; every manifestation of water is his, whether on the physical or on any other plane, in any of the forms that it may take, for what we call "water" is naturally the lowest, coarsest manifestation, his physical body, as it were. He works with it in nature in endless ways--to dissolve, to combine, to dissociate. When we take the greater workings, how very grand is the conception we may gain of the might of the God. Come back with me, far back, into the past, ere humanity had taken form; there see the world as it then was; see how, as fire and water, Agni and Varuna are working on every material to fit the world to be the birthplace of the yet unborn humanity. See how Varuna is working in order to prepare what is wanted of mountain and of valley, of river and of plain; see the might of his work as well as that of his brother Agni, in apparent clash but really in harmony; fire and water meet, explode, and toss up a mountain-chain where before there was none; see how he gathers snow on the mountain peaks, and gradually fills with masses of this snow, frozen into ice, the mountain ravines made by the combined volcanic action; see how the slow ploughing begins; ploughing, ploughing and ploughing again, as the mighty God works onward in the form of glaciers, grinding his furrow through the earth, and preparing for the future; see, ages later, how the channel cut out by the glacier is filled by the tumbling cataracts from melted snow, and a turbulent torrent rolls downwards, and against its resistless waves nothing is able to stand; the valley dug out by the plough of the ice is filled with water, and from it the soil is gradually deposited, which in the future will make fertile land for crops in order that man may live. Then Varuna binds his waters into a narrower and narrower channel, until there is mountain range and valley and a river flowing through it: and he carries his river downwards and pours it into the sea and his brother Agni draws it up again to form the clouds. There has come by that mighty action, destructive as it seems in appearance, the building of the plain and the valley where men shall live and love, where children shall be playing, where horses shall graze, where corn shall grow and ripen in the sunshine, and where, on the peaceful banks of the river, men shall worship the God who made possible their happy life.

We talk about the "cruelty of nature." Let us try and understand what this cruelty means. The world now is inhabited. Crowds of men are here, and lo! the river, that made the habitation of the valley possible and keeps it fruitful, now overflows its banks and the mighty flood sweeps away village and town, men, women, children, and cattle, and only desolation is left behind. What is this? Is this horror a divine working? What is this that Varuna has done? Varuna is working for evolution. His thought is not fixed on the forms in which the life is cabined, but on the life that is evolving within them, which can make for itself new forms. When those men are swept away, it is only the breaking of the forms that happens; the life up-springs uninjured and set free; for the body is the prison-house of the evolving life, and if the prison doors were never thrown open, we should be in jail all our lives and make no progress for the future. The God to whom form is nothing and life everything, to whom form is but a changing, convenient vehicle, and the life that moulds the form is the one thing that is worthy of thought, he strikes away the form when its purpose is completed; to him such destruction is the act of mightiest charity; it is the deed most helpful to evolution. We err, my brothers, when we look on death with eyes that are full of tears, with hearts that are breaking. Death is he who brings us to a higher birth, and who sets free the imprisoned soul; it is the liberation of the bird confined within the limits of a cage, enabling it to soar upwards into the heavens, singing, as it goes, with joy at the freedom it has recovered. Does that seem strange? Let us take an illustration from the _Mahâbhârata_:--

There was a council among the Gods in Svarga, how some of them would take incarnation upon earth for the sake of helping men at a great crisis in the world's history. Great men were needed, and the question arose whether some of the Gods were willing to bind themselves within the limits of human form, in order to give special help to human progress; among those who were needed for the work that was coming was the son of Soma Deva, Varchas, as he was called, and the Gods desired that this Deva should be born on earth. Soma Deva hesitated. He was not willing that his son should leave him and the heavenly life, and although he finally consented that he should be born as Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna, it was only on the condition that he should live but for sixteen years, and be killed in the great battle of Kurukshetra. You say, what a strange view of life! What an extraordinary condition for love to make, that this youth should die at the age of sixteen, in the very flower of his dawning manhood, should die a death of violence. Yet that was the will of the one who loved him best, for heaven sees with different eyes from earth. Soma saw the life, and cared not for the form; to a God the form is a prison, death is the gaoler that liberates; hence the condition was made that only for sixteen years might the divine youth live a human life, and then "my son of mighty arms shall come back to me," and that from a battle field, dying gloriously in the midst of the fight.

Do you know that sometimes the swamping of a civilisation by a natural convulsion--such as the going down of Atlantis below the waves of the ocean that we now call the Atlantic, the wiping out of the whole nation or race--is the best proof of love that the Supreme Íshvara through His intermediate agents can show to the lives therein embodied. For there are stages in the world's story where man is so passionately set on a line of action that is against his real progress, when he so determinately sets his desires on objects that hold him back and delay his evolution, that the only mercy that the Gods can show him is to break his form in pieces, and give him as it were a new start for the evolving of himself--the life. Sometimes I have felt, as I have gone through some of the miseries of our great cities in the West, when, in the pursuance of my duty, I have gone with breaking heart through the slums of eastern and southern London, or through those of Glasgow, or Edinburgh, or Sheffield, as I have noted the types of men and women around me, as I have seen the human almost veiled by the brute, and humanity degraded well-nigh beyond possibility of recognition, that no appeal for help was fitting save one that would set free that imprisoned life. I have felt that nothing save the destruction of the forms could give any hope for those imprisoned within them; that for those men and women, as they were, degraded, brutal, drunken, profligate, their very forms with the impress of the animal, the best mercy that God could show them would be an earthquake that would swallow the whole great city and set free the lives pent hopeless within it. For not one life would be lost, not one life would pass away, but they would be set free to go into somewhat less unplastic forms and give scope for that divine working towards evolution, which is in extreme cases only possible when the forms, forms of evil, are gone. We speak sometimes of the training of children being easier than that of grown-up people, because they are more plastic. So also the Gods want oftentimes the child-ego in the plastic form instead of in the prison-house grown rigid by age; and they therefore break that environment in order that the young life may grow.

Another great function of the Gods is the dealing with the karma of nations, "collective karma," as it is sometimes called. Suppose a nation is acting in its collective capacity--I am not now thinking of the individuals brought into it by their individual karma but of the nation acting as a unit--and suppose it commits a crime against another nation. There has been one working of karma so tremendous during the last year, that I will take it as an illustration--Spain. Some centuries ago Spain was at the summit of her power; mighty was she among the western nations. There was sent to her, in order to help her forward, the gift of new knowledge. It came truly in a somewhat unacceptable guise, for it came from Arabia, with the stamp of Muhammed upon it; it was brought by the children of Islâm; they brought the light of science with them, and, as they established themselves in southern Spain, they gave that light to Spain. Universities were established. Large classes were formed. From every part of Europe men come crowding to the Schools of Cordova, and there they learnt the beginnings of the Science that has since grown into so mighty a tree in western lands. What did Spain do? Spain called up against these Moors, and against the Hebrews--who also were learned in the learning of the East--the frightful weapons of the Inquisition, the stake, the rack, the dungeon, the torture of exile. Who can count the hundreds of thousands driven out from home, the broken families, the miseries, the poverty and starvation intolerable, which marked the expulsion of the Jews and of the Moors from Spain? Still her karma of success was not complete. Across the Atlantic ocean she sped, Italy lending one of her sons for the glory of the Spanish Empire. In the wake of the ships of Columbus there followed the ships of the conquerors of America, full of Spanish soldiers. I cannot dwell on the story of the conquest of Mexico, and the still more terrible conquest of Peru; I have no time to wring your hearts, as I might, with the tale of the destruction of a great civilisation, of the killing out of the last exquisite traces in Peru of one of the most perfect civilisations that our world has ever known, of the crushing of the gentle Indian race there by chains, by imprisonment, shut out from the glorious Sun whose children their Incas were. Too gentle to struggle, accustomed only to a life of flowers, of music, and of sunshine, they were crammed into caves that they were made to dig in ancient cliffs, dying by thousands upon thousands in the digging out of the gold and silver which their Spanish conquerors demanded, until the very name of the ancient nation perished, and only a few scattered Peruvian Indians remained to represent what was one of the fairest civilisations of the world. Such was the karma made by Spain in the days of her glory, and the horror of her conquests sank into the oblivion of the past. But do the Gods forget? Nay, their memory is perfect. They are the administrators of the divine law, and give the harvest to the sowers. From the very country which they outraged, from the very land that they conquered, a new nation springs up as the centuries go on to take up the old struggle between the two hemispheres, and to-day we have seen America and Spain closing again in the death-grip, but the scale of balance is now weighed down on the other side, and America becomes the karmic agent for working out the woes of the Aztecs and the Peruvians, and for driving from the western hemisphere the nation that there outraged humanity in the centuries gone by. Thus the Gods are needed to bring nations together to balance up these accounts between the races, and so to restore equilibrium once again. Thus they work, using men as their agents, and they bring about these national results. Partly they do it by bringing to birth, at a particular time, men whose individual karma fits them to be the agents of the collective karma of the nation. What was more striking in the Spanish war which has just closed, than the absolute incapacity shown by the men who were the rulers of Spain? Whence came they? They were men who in the past by their individual karma had fitted themselves for the sorry fate of incapable rulers, and they were guided by the Gods to take birth in the families which give rulers to Spain, in order that, by their weakness and ineptitude, by their cowardice and their want of foresight, they might serve as men to lead their nation to destruction, the fitting instruments for the working out of Spain's evil karma. See also how at the fit time great men arise to lead a nation to victory. These men are also chosen by the Gods beforehand because of their individual karma, and they are brought to birth in the place and at the time when they are wanted for the working out of the collective karma of a nation. Not by chance is a man brought into the world, not by the compulsion of a dead law, or of a blind necessity; the Gods are working here with an intelligence that foresees and guides, and they choose for the accomplishment of their ends the men whose own karma fits them to be their agents for the work in hand, and then guide them to take birth at the place where that karma can subserve the collective karma of their people.

This also is true in a much more limited way with regard to the working of individual karma. Sometimes you must have wondered how, with all the interfering activities of men, the karmic law could work out with undeviating justice; it is because the Gods are guiding the working. You see somewhere a man who is starving and if you misunderstand karma--as too many of you do, to the shame of India, in a land where this teaching is of immemorial antiquity--you turn aside from that starving man and say that it is his karma to starve and perish; in those hardened hearts of yours you use the will of God as a cover for your own selfishness, for your indifference and your lack of love. That man's karma to starve? Aye, and therefore he is starving! But if a Deva guides you to the place where your brother is starving, it is because he would make you the agent of his beneficence to that man whose evil karma of the present moment has been exhausted by his suffering; the Deva thus says to you: "Man, your brother man is starving, give him the relief it is his karma to receive, and be my agent in carrying out the law." But if you refuse the God, if, blinded by ignorance or indifference, you turn aside and will not carry his message to your brother, he will not for that be thwarted, he will find some other agent, or, as a last resource, he will do it himself by some act that may seem miraculous in the eyes of the blind, for the purpose of the God may not be blocked; but for those who have refused to act as his agents, who have refused to act as his messengers, they have made for themselves the karma of being left unassisted when the hour of their own need shall strike in the future. For the administrators of the good law forget not; every debt is collected, every creditor is paid in full. But you may say that it does not follow that a man's karma is exhausted when you meet him; true, but that is not your business, it is the business of the guiding God, and he will frustrate the physical aid if the karma be still evil. If you have that opportunity given you of making good karma, you have all the merit of your willingness to act, you have all the virtue of your readiness to sacrifice; but if it is not yet his time to be relieved, you will not find the object of your charity; by circumstances, as you will say, he will have been taken outside your reach. Leave you the Gods to do the work of the Gods, the administration of the law; do you that charity, that love and compassion, which it is ever their will that man should show to man. We cannot break the law; we cannot change their purpose; but we have the choice of co-working or refusing, and on that our individual karma depends.

Then we find further that Devas bring people together and carry them apart, always for the working out of their individual karmas; that men are guided to places and positions at definite times, according to those circumstances which, by their karma, they must meet.

Now men are related especially to one or other of the great Gods, by the constitution of their bodies visible and invisible. That gives them a special affinity for one Deva rather than for another. For instance, the lower hosts of Devas who, we will say, belong to Agni, build into a man's invisible and visible bodies, the kind of matter in which that God normally works. That gives the man a relationship to that particular God. Every man is connected with a special manifestation of God, to whom by his constitution and evolution he should turn. Unhappily ignorance has so widely taken the place of knowledge, that it is difficult for a man to discover to which Deva he is thus related. I have not time to work that out but you will see how thoroughly it supports the ancient idea that men rightly worshipped different manifestations of the Divine, and profited by such worship.

But we must hurry on with this outline, for we have yet to deal with the more highly evolved souls, and on your understanding this last part of our subject will depend your power to defend our sacred literature when it is attacked by those who do not understand it. Therefore I will ask you to follow it carefully, and you can apply the principles that I will illustrate by special stories in a hundred other cases.

The Devas, in their relationship to the more advanced human lives, have that function of teaching that I have alluded to, and also the function of testing and trying them, to see how far they are worthy and reliable, testing all their weak points in order that those weak points may be gotten rid of, trying them, where there is a germ of vice still remaining, in order that that germ of vice may be eradicated. Let us try to realise the nature of that working. Suppose we see a man who has made great progress. He is approaching the end of his births. In that man there is some germ of evil still remaining that has not been brought out yet into manifestation by the working of karma. He is going to be liberated, but he cannot be liberated while that germ remains. What shall be done with him? That germ of evil must be hastened to its ripening. It must be made to grow more quickly than otherwise it would grow. It must be gotten rid of, at any cost of pain, of anguish, and of temporary degradation, and the God will take such action as will ripen that germ and bring it to fruitage; so that, the man acting as he would act when that germ had been ripened by evolution, may suffer the results which would follow from the error, and by such suffering may get rid of that evil in his nature, which would otherwise have prevented him from attaining liberation.

Let me give you a story for each of these to make the action clear. You see that a man is strong; well and good; but that strength must be tested to see if there be a flaw anywhere; if there is a rope on which the life of a man is going to depend, he holding it and descending a precipice, that rope must be pulled and tested to see if there be any weak point in it which might break when the man's body is hanging upon it, so that he would fall. There may be a flaw in the rope, and not till it has been tested will the man risk his life upon it. How much less then will the Deva risk the progress of an advanced man on a virtue not strong enough to bear every strain? He will test it with every possibility of strain, until it has proved itself strong enough to bear the weight which it may be called upon to hold up. We will take our stories from the _Mahâbhârata_, which you all know, or ought to know. Arjuna was seeking to get divine weapons; he was to be a great leader in a battle still in the future. We are at the time of the thirteen years' exile, and you may remember that he spent many of these years in the search for these weapons. During his search, he sought Maheshvara, who had promised to give him His own weapon, and he performed many austerities in order that he might come pure into the presence of God. One day as he was performing worship, a wild boar came along; at the same time a hunter appeared, a hunter of a very low caste, a hunter of the hills. Now you remember that Arjuna was a Kshattriya, and he accordingly caught up his bow to shoot at the wild boar; the hunter also raised his bow to shoot at the wild boar. Two arrows went from the two sides and the boar was struck dead. Arjuna was very angry at the interference of this low-caste hunter, and cried: "How dare you shoot at the wild boar which was mine?" and he began to quarrel and to threaten to slay him. Said the hunter: "If you wish to fight, fight"; at that, Arjuna showered his arrows on the hunter but they all fell off from him. The hunter, laughing, said: "Excellent! Excellent! go on! go on!"; and Arjuna hurled at him weapon after weapon, but everything failed. Arrows fell off him, everything broke against him--trees, rocks, everything; he remained untouched and uninjured, until at last He showed Himself as Mahâdeva, and praised the man who had held his own against the God. Thus He tried Arjuna's strength; could he be sent to Kurukshetra with celestial weapons if his strength were too little for the fight? Try him against the Divine potency, limited in order to be faced and fought; when his courage is found to be dauntless and his strength sufficient, then send him to Kurukshetra tried and proved, able to lead his men to victory.

Take another case, more difficult. Yudhishthira is sad at heart; he is struggling, has failed, and is in danger. Drona is there, leading the hosts of his enemies, and he has been driven by him from the battle-field. No one is able to stand against Drona; every one flies before the face of that mighty warrior; he turns back every attack. What can be done? Yudhishthira is in despair. Is he to be conquered? A stainless king was this son of Pându, one of the noblest and most blameless figures that ancient literature paints; but with a strain of weakness in him which in critical times would sometimes show a too great readiness to yield, too little of the Kshattriya's power of standing alone against any force that might be brought to bear against him; a little germ of weakness was there, that had in it the possibility of a fatal fall. Shrî K?i?h?a is there, the great Avatâra, and Bhîma comes rushing up from the battle-field saying that he has slain an elephant, whose name is the same as the name of the son of Drona. If Drona hear that his son Ashvatthâmâ is dead, he will drop his weapons, he will let go his enemy; no further will he fight when his beloved is gone. "I told him that Ashvatthâmâ was dead, but he would not believe me; he sent me to you saying that Yudhishthira is a devotee of truth, he will not tell a lie for the sovereignty of the three worlds. If he says Ashvatthâmâ is dead, I will believe." Terrible is the strain; mighty the force brought to bear against the man who has a weakness in him; and Shrî K?i?h?a, standing by him, watching him steadfastly, advises him to utter that which is not true. God advises this almost blameless man to tell a lie? How strange the scene! Yudhishthira, yielding to Shrî K?i?h?a, tells the falsehood, and Drona lets fall his weapons and is killed. If the story stopped there, we might well be puzzled. If Yudhishthira's life was no further told, we might well ask: what is this that we have studied? But when we remember that one of the great functions of the Teacher, the Gurudeva, is to bring out any weakness inherent in His pupil, because otherwise that weakness will keep the man tied, and he will not be fit to be liberated, we pause and read on. When that lie was spoken, the chariot of Yudhishthira sank downwards to the ground, no longer able to support itself, truth having been violated. And as years went on, the bitterness of that memory of a falsehood remained; the sorrow of the slaying of the preceptor by a lie ate deep into the heart of the king; he never recovered from it, he never got rid of its effect; over and over again, he breaks from his repose in anguish; "I have slain my Guru." The sorrow worked and the shame, till the anguish purified that noble soul from the last stain of weakness; and when the Great Journey is over, when wife and brothers lie dead behind him and he utters not a word of protest against the death of his beloved, when he stands ready to ascend to heaven, when only one living creature remains with him, the dog who had followed after him faithfully through all his wanderings since he left his capital, when that dog remained his sole companion, trusting his master's love faithfully unto death, then comes down a mighty God and stands beside him. "Your time has come; mount on my celestial chariot, and ascend in your body unto the heaven where you have won the right to sit and reign." Will he now yield to the invitation of the God? He said: "This dog is here; he has trusted to my protection and I cannot leave him alone; I must take him with me." The God answered: "Dogs have no place in heaven; dogs are unclean, no place for them is there; you have left your dead brothers behind, and your wife when she perished; why should you remain still with this dog?" "They are all dead," he answered "for the dead, the living can do nothing. This creature is still living and has sought my protection; I will not abandon him." "Nay," the God said, "be not so foolish; leave the dog there." But Yudhishthira stood firm; he was strong enough to stand against the God, and to show righteousness and fidelity to the poor brute that had placed his love in him; unless he might take the dog with him, he would stay on the earth and do his duty. Such lesson had he learnt from his fall; such is the result of the working of Shrî K?i?h?a on his evolution. We can see this same working throughout the whole of that struggle. Trace Shrî K?i?h?a through the pages of the _Mahâbhârata_, and you will find that He never deviates from one steady purpose--to bring the great struggle to a foreseen ending, where justice shall triumph and the Kshattriyas of India shall disappear; He was at once destroying injustice and preparing for the future of India, breaking down the iron wall of her warring caste that ringed her around with safety. There is a particular aim in everything that He does, and you will see that His purpose is immovable, if you study carefully. He is working towards its accomplishment the whole way through. Look at the way in which He steps in when His strength or protection is needed; see how He tries to stimulate the Pândavas to do their duty, and only takes their place when they fail. See the case where Shrî K?i?h?a having promised that he would do no battle, Arjuna falters before the face of Bhîshma and has no heart to strike; you remember how sad was the struggle. Arjuna was not able to strike harshly at Bhîshma, the greatest of all men and all warriors, perfect in Dharma, the grandsire and the teacher of all. "How can I slay him?" insisted Arjuna; "I remember when as a child soiled with dust, I climbed on to his knees and throwing my arms around him called him 'Father,' and he said to me, 'I am thy father's father.' How can I bring myself to slay him?" And you will remember how Shrî K?i?h?a Himself told him not to shrink, 'bade him slay him.' Hard was the task; Arjuna's memory was too strong for him; he only fought in appearance with restrained might, not with vigour, until at last Shrî K?i?h?a saw that He must stimulate this man to do his duty, and to fight, though it were against his old teacher himself; He throws down the reins of His horses, takes the whip, and leaps down from the chariot, and with the whip He rushes through the brunt of the battle to attack Bhîshma Himself. Ah! that sight is hard for Arjuna; it appeals to him as Kshattriya, and duty is remembered instead of emotion; throwing his arms round Shrî K?i?h?a to stop him he says, "Go back! Go back! and drive me yet again, and I will do my duty even to the slaying of Bhîshma." Now what does that mean? It means that the purpose of the God will be accomplished, whether or not a man is found to do it; that evolution will proceed, no matter who may falter or who may hinder; that while evolution will go on under the Will of God, individual progress depends on individual co-operation with that Will; that God evolves His agents by setting them to His work, and that their progress depends on the extent to which they are able to receive the impulse that He imparts. Only one other case I will take to show you how Shrî K?i?h?a worked when the force was too great for Arjuna to meet, when He saw Arjuna could do nothing with all the valour at his command, that no force of appeal, no stimulus, could enable him to defend himself. One weapon was thrown that might not err in its aim, one weapon a celestial weapon that He had given as a boon, when He waked from His thousand years of sleep. That weapon was cast against Arjuna. Arjuna could not avert it. Alone of all the weapons in earth and heaven, that weapon must go to its ending, and Arjuna would have been slain in the midst of the battle. What can be done? He could not cut it with the arrows from Gândîva, he could not use against it any of the mighty weapons that the Gods had given him. This was the weapon of the Supreme, which nothing was able to oppose. Shrî K?i?h?a then, at that last moment, as the weapon flies straight at the breast of the warrior throws Himself in front, and, as it strikes His bosom, it knows its Master and is changed into a garland of flowers. So also with the chariot on which He drove. He bade Arjuna first get down. He bade him take his weapons, and until Arjuna had left it, Shrî K?i?h?a stood there immovable, He would not stir; and the moment He left it the whole chariot burst into flames, for only His presence had kept it together, He who was the Lord of fire, as well as the Lord of all else. You see, my brothers, how fruitful is the study of this subject, when you are dealing with the sacred literature; how you may be able to explain it to men of your own faith, and defend it against the attacks of men of other creeds. Do not defend it with bitter words, do not defend it with harsh language, do not defend it with wrath in your mind, and indignation making your tongue poisonous; but remember that where ignorance attacks, it is the duty of knowledge to defend; and that when that which ignorance attacks is the spiritual food of millions, every man of knowledge should spring forward to defend it, lest the ignorant of that faith should swerve, when they see the truths in their books assailed by those who do not understand.

That then is the outcome of this lecture. I ask you to remember that in every stage of your life, Gods are around you. No karma that you make, that they will not remember; no appeal that you utter, that they will not answer. If for a moment no answer seems to come, or if sorrow that you shrink from falls upon you, remember that the hand of love allows it thus to fall, and that in bearing that sorrow bravely, you are swiftly working out your own deliverance. You are to be men, not children, in the future; men-sons of the living Íshvara whose image you are, and not babies that He must for ever carry in His arms. He asks from you the strength of men to help the Gods. He is evolving you as the agents for His future universe. You may delay, if you will. You may lose time, if you will. Kalpa after Kalpa, you may remain at a low stage. If so you choose, He will not force your will; but your wisdom lies in letting His Will work in you to your swift and perfect evolution, that you may have the joy of carrying out that Will in other worlds, of consciously being His agents under other conditions; for men are Gods in the making, and we are preparing to discharge the functions of the Gods.

 

 

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