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The Hill of Discernment

By Alfred Trevor Barker

The Evolution of the Soul

The result of Theosophical study should be that that inner something which H. P. B. called the Real Man should come to predominate over the exterior form and take possession of it, and thereby become in a real sense of the word the Captain of the ship. It is something which those who have taken the pursuit of spiritual things seriously must have glimpsed to a larger or smaller extent: a realization that comes, after a certain period of study and effort along the lines of the spiritual life, as a result of inward and upward striving. It is an inflow of energy and inspiration from the higher part of their being, which enables them to steer the ship of their own life with a sense of conscious direction which they never had up to that moment.

I wonder what this title, "The Evolution of the Soul" signifies to you. Probably if you have not had the inestimable privilege, as we believe it to be, of studying the Theosophical philosophy, you will be saying to yourselves that the evolution of the soul has reference to the development and growth of something within a man, and you will probably leave it at that. But to the Theosophist, immediately you talk of the evolution of the soul a vast picture presents itself — not of man alone, but of the whole universe. One of the fundamental statements of the Theosophical philosophy is that the whole universe exists for but one purpose, and that is the evolution of the soul.

What is meant by that statement? For there is another one that goes side by side with it: that every entity in the universe either was a man, or is a man at the present time, or will be in the future. This idea of the whole universe existing for the evolution of the soul immediately suggests that Soul is everywhere present: that life and spirituality and consciousness are present at every point in space; that there is no such thing at all as dead matter anywhere. Therefore to the Theosophist, when he thinks of this problem of the growth of the soul, it signifies the unfolding of Divine powers and capacities in the life which is everywhere present, even in that which scientists call inorganic matter. That means that we are not merely concerned in our thought with the problems of man and his growth and development, but we realize that the whole of the Universe of which we are a part, is a living entity, bound together in one indissoluble unity in all its parts, in all its kingdoms, and united by the unfolding intelligence which is indwelling in every atom of which it is composed.

Think of the vast ocean of space in which this Universe "lives and moves and has its being." Everything proceeds forth from it, and one day will return into it again. But immediately you think of evolution and growth you wonder, Where did it all begin? Actually what is the origin of a solar system? Well, if you look at the Universe in toto as a vast plane which is periodically the playground of numberless Universes which come and go incessantly, then you realize that the birth and death of a man, the birth and death of a planet, is a process not different from that of the birth and ultimate dissolution of a solar system. Therefore, when we study man himself, we realize that there is something within man which is eternal, which is undying, and which is, as it were, a seed of life into which everything returns at the end of any one of his excursions into manifested existence, such as a single human incarnation. There is that into which all this outward manifestation that we call a man is indrawn; and then at a single moment in time, under cyclic law, that seed — that divine spark, if you will — fructifies: puts forth its energy, and once again, evolving and growing from within without, a little child is born, and the entity that we call a man emerges once again on the stage of human life. I would like to suggest to you the thought that exactly the same process takes place in the evolution of a universe or a solar system. There is a germ within the root of a solar system which periodically fructifies in exactly the same way.

Evolution, according to Theosophy, proceeds in three streams. We must not merely regard it as an evolution of form. If we do we should be materialists. That is why the scientists' search to answer the riddle of evolution fails, because they do not realize that it is not a problem of the unfolding, development and differentiation of species of physical forms at all. It is essentially a problem of the evolution of the soul: the indwelling life within the form. Yet they came very close to the true solution of the problem of evolution when they discovered that the embryonic stages of the evolution of the foetus recapitulate all the kingdoms of nature. They deduced from that that this human form of ours has actually descended from animal ancestors. Yet there is no greater illusion in the world than that; and it is absolutely necessary when attempting to speak upon Theosophical doctrines concerning evolution, to draw a sharp line of distinction between the philosophical and religious conception of the evolution of the soul on the one hand, and the scientific ideas of Darwin, and the evolution of human forms from animal ancestors, on the other hand.

I said a moment ago that evolution proceeds in three streams. These are, the spiritual, the intellectual, and the physical; and in man these three streams become evident and provable to ourselves. We can observe these three streams if we observe ourselves. We know that we have an external form; and if we delve deep into ourselves we realize the existence of the intellectual and thinking part of us that H. P. B. called the Real Man; and then, if we delve still deeper, we realize that there is a sovereign immortal spiritual principle, brooding over and illuminating the two lower principles; and it is that which is the fountain and origin of all the inspiration which any man at any time ever became the recipient of.

The beginnings of life in any solar system, and the origin of any individual man, must be a subject of the profoundest interest to any thinking person. You remember the words of Edwin Arnold in The Song Celestial:

Nor I, nor thou, nor any one of these,
Ever was not, nor ever will not be,
For ever and for ever afterwards.
And probably there is no one who ever began the study of Theosophical teachings who was not profoundly perplexed about this riddle of the eternity of life, of this beginningless and endless existence which we are attempting to show forth the characteristics of.

I would like to try to elucidate a little. What does it mean when we say to ourselves that we as spiritual beings never have a beginning and we can never have an end? Does it convey anything to you or not? Here is the answer that Theosophy gives. You cannot separate yourself in thought from all the other beings of the universe, and especially you cannot separate yourselves from that to which you owe your origin. What is the origin of an individual man? It is what the New Testament called his Father in Heaven — not in the sense of any personal God according to the teachings of the churches; but there was that spiritual principle which the Avatara of the New Testament declared himself to be at one with; and it is exactly the same for any one of us. There comes a time when we realize that we ourselves owe our origin to — we are indeed the children of — that divine part of us. See how this links on to the question of "Never was I not, and never shall I hereafter cease to be."

There are three streams of evolution: spiritual, intellectual, and physical, and the physical and objective part of us is but the child or manifestation of the Inner Man, and that Inner Man is in turn the child of the spiritual part of us; so that you can say that an outer form of a universe, of a planet or a man, signifies an indwelling entity, eternally linked to and the expression of a spiritual being behind it. The divine entity, which is the parent of a man, for example, is in every case a God — "so many men on earth, so many Gods in heaven." The men that we are today — fallible, erring, but striving upwards to union with those deities — what were we yesterday? Obviously if evolution is a truth, then there was a time aeons ago, when we were actually passing through and struggling out of the beast kingdom, as today we are passing through and struggling to emerge from the human kingdom into something higher. Do you see the point? That entity which at one time was imbodied in the kingdom of the animals, is today, as a result of its inward growth and development, imbodied as a human being.

And the divine being, that immortal entity which is the inspiriting force behind the evolution of any being or world or system: what about it? There was a time when it was a thinking man, when it too looked to its divine parent. So you see that life and consciousness is a hierarchy of being and existence. There are many entities within man. Man is not just a simple being: he is a very complex entity; and those beings, if we look within ourselves, exist on a hierarchical principle; and that Golden Chain, that Sutratman, that thread of eternal consciousness on which our whole being is strung, has no possible beginning and no possible ending, for it is rooted in the very fabric and structure of the Universe itself.

Just think to yourself of this chain of life: eternal because ever being, that is strung upon that thread and is progressing to higher and higher states of being. The man that we are today, tomorrow will have won his way, if he runs the cosmic race successfully, up to that higher stage of being where he in his turn will have become the inspiriting force behind the men of tomorrow. So the men of today emerge at the end of a great world period of evolution as perfected God-men, fully self-conscious, fully developed; and when the time comes for the manifestation of life in a new period — a new world period — then the humanity of the last period become the leaders, spiritually speaking, of those who will emerge on the stage of human life in that period, who were ensouling the world of the animals during the preceding world period. So the evolution of the soul presents a rather complex picture, if I may so express it.

Lastly, I would like to leave this thought with you and invite you to raise questions on all those many aspects of the doctrines of evolution that I have left unsaid, and that last thought is this: if, in the unfolding of the powers within man it is possible for us to unfold spiritual and intellectual and psychical powers equal to those of the highest entity that the mind of man can conceive of, think of the noble and grand picture of the great Teachers of the human race, as they are recorded in religious history, for example, those who are virtually God-men. If those beings have truly trodden the ways of men, they show forth an ideal, they hold up a lamp, which shows us that what they have done we must necessarily be able to do and to achieve one of these days. Why? Because it is a fundamental of this philosophy that there are no special privileges in nature for any being in the Universe, except those that the individual has won by his own efforts and striving. Therefore the Mahatma and all great souls possess the powers that they do over space and matter simply because they have found the way as a result of a long series of lives of bringing forth the virtually omniscient powers of their own spirits, and have acquired full control of their own mechanism of consciousness. It is actually that goal that humanity is set in its evolutionary progress to unfold from within itself: that spiritual power by which the human, thinking entity within us is raised into indissoluble one-ness with the divine principle of his being. That is the goal of all Theosophical and spiritual endeavor; and those Teachers of the human race who now hold the lamp of spiritual truth for us, at one time stood exactly where we stand today. They are men like us: but spiritual men, who know because they have realized the power of the Divinity that lies at the root of their being.



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