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The Progress of Humanity
Alfred Percy Sinnett
An extract from Esoteric Buddhisn
THE course of Nature provides, as the reader will now have seen, for the indefinite progress towards higher phases of existence of all human entities. But no less will it have been seen that by endowing these entities, as they advance with ever-increasing faculties and by constantly enlarging the scope of their activity. Nature also furnishes each human entity with more and more decisive opportunities of choosing between good and evil. In the earlier rounds of humanity this privilege of selection is not fully developed, and responsibility of action is correspondingly incomplete. The earlier rounds of humanity, in fact, do not invest the Ego with spiritual responsibility at all in the larger sense of the term which we are now approaching. The Devachanic periods which follow each objective existence in turn, dispose fully of its merits and demerits, and the most deplorable personality which the ego during the first half of its evolution can possible develop, is merely dropped out of the account as regards the larger undertaking, while the erring personality itself pays its relatively brief penalty, and troubles Nature no more. But the second half of the great evolutionary period is carried on on different principles. The phases of existence which are now coming into view, cannot be entered upon by the ego without positive merits of its own appropriate to the new developments in prospect; it is not enough that the now fully responsible and highly gifted being which man becomes at the great turning-point in his career, should float idly on the stream of progress; he must begin to swim, if he wishes to push his way forward.
Debarred by the complexity of the subject from dealing with all its features simultaneously, our survey of Nature has so far contemplated the seven rounds of human development, which constitute the whole planetary undertaking with which we are concerned, as a continuous series, throughout which it is the natural destiny of humanity in general to pass. But it will be remembered that humanity in the sixth round has been spoken of as so highly developed that the sublime attributes and faculties of the highest adeptship are the common appanage of all; while in the seventh round the race has almost emerged from humanity into divinity. Now every human being in this state of development will still be identified by an uninterrupted connection with all the personalities which have been strung upon that thread of life from the beginning of the great evolutionary process. Is it conceivable that the character of such personalities is of no consequence in the long-run, and that two God-like beings might stand side by side in the seventh round, developed, the one from a long series of blameless and serviceable existences, the other from an equally long series of evil and grovelling lives? That surely could not come to pass, and we have to ask now, how do we find the congruities of Nature preserved compatibly with the appointed evolution of humanity to the higher forms of existence which crown the edifice?
Just as childhood is irresponsible for its acts, the earlier races of humanity are irresponsible for theirs; but there comes the period of full growth, when the complete development of the faculties which enable the individual man to choose between good and evil, in the single life with which he is for the moment concerned, enable the continuous ego also to make its final selection. That period - that enormous period, for Nature is in no hurry to catch its creatures in a trap in such a matter as this - is barely yet beginning, and a complete round period around the seven worlds will have to be gone through before it is over. Until the middle of the fifth period is passed on this earth, the great question - to be or not to be for the future - is not irrevocably settled. We are coming now into the possession of the faculties which render man a fully responsible being, but we have yet to employ those faculties during the maturity of our ego-hood in the manner which shall determine the vast consequences hereafter.
It is during the first half of the fifth round that the struggle principally takes place. Till then, the ordinary course of life may be a good or a bad preparation for the struggle, but cannot fairly be described as the struggle itself. And now we have to examine the nature of the struggle, so far merely spoken of as the selection between good and evil. That is in no way an inaccurate, but it is an incomplete, definition.
The ever-recurring and ever-threatened conflict between intellect and spirituality, is the phenomenon to be now examined. The commonplace conceptions which these two words denote, must of course be expanded to some extent before the occult conception is realized; for European habits of thinking are rather apt to set up in the mind an ignoble image of spirituality, as an attribute rather of the character than of the mind itself, - a pale goody-goodiness, born of an attachment to religious ceremonial and of devout aspirations, no matter to what whimsical notions of Heaven and Divinity in which the “spiritually-minded” person may have been brought up. Spirituality, in the occult sense, has little or nothing to do with feeling devout; it has to do with the capacity of the mind for assimilating knowledge at the fountain-head of knowledge itself - of absolute knowledge - instead of by the circuitous and labourious process of ratiocination.
The development of pure intellect, the ratiocinative faculty, has been the business of European nations for so long, and in this department of human progress they have achieved such magnificent triumphs, that nothing in occult philosophy will be less acceptable to Europeans themselves at first, and while the ideas at stake are imperfectly grasped, than the first aspect of the occult theory concerning intellect and spirituality; but this does not arise so much from the undue tendency of occult science to depreciate intellect, as from the undue tendency of modern Western speculation to depreciate spirituality. Broadly speaking, so far Western philosophy has had no opportunity of appreciating spirituality; it has not been made acquainted with the range of the inner faculties of man; it has merely groped blindly in the direction of a belief that such inner faculties existed; and Kant himself, the greatest modern exponent of that idea, does little more than contend that there is such a faculty as intuition - if we only knew how to work with it.
The process of working with it, is occult science in its highest aspect, the cultivation of spirituality. The cultivation of mere power over the forces of Nature, the investigation of some of her subtler secrets as regards the inner principles controlling physical results, is occult science in its lowest aspect, and into that lower region of its activity mere physical science may, or even must, gradually run up. But the acquisition by mere intellect - physical science in exelsis - of privileges which are the proper appanage of spirituality, - is one of the dangers of that struggle which decides the ultimate destiny of the human ego. For there is one thing which intellectual processes do not help mankind to realize, and that is the nature and supreme excellence of spiritual existence. On the contrary, intellect arises out of physical causes - the perfection of the physical brain - and tends only to physical results, the perfection of material welfare. Although, as a concession to “weak brethren” and “religion” on which it looks with good-humoured contempt, modern intellect does not condemn spirituality, it certainly treats the physical human life as the only serious business with which grave men, or even earnest philanthropists, can concern themselves. But obviously, if spiritual existence, vivid subjective consciousness, really does go on for periods greater than the periods of intellectual physical existence in the ratio, as we have seen in discussing the Devachanic condition, of 80 to 1 at least, then surely man’s subjective existence is more important than his physical existence, and intellect is in error when all its efforts are bent on the amelioration of the physical existence.
These considerations show how the choice between good and evil - which has been made by the human ego in the course of the great struggle between intellect and spirituality - is not a mere choice between ideas so plainly contrasted as wickedness and virtue. It is not so rough a question as that - whether man be wicked or virtuous - which must really at the final critical turning-point decide whether he shall continue to live and develop into higher phases of existence, or cease to live altogether. The truth of the matter is (if it is not imprudent at this stage of our progress to brush the surface of a new mystery) that the question, to be or not to be, is not settled by reference to the question whether a man be wicked or virtuous at all. It will plainly be seen eventually that there must be evil spirituality as well as good spirituality. So that the great question of continued existence turns altogether and of necessity on the question of spirituality, as compared with physicality. The point is not so much “shall a man live, is he good enough to be permitted to live any longer?” as “can the man live any longer in the higher levels of existence into which humanity must at last evolve? Has he qualified himself to live by the cultivation of the durable portion of his nature? If not, he has got to the end of his tether.
It need not be hurriedly supposed that occult philosophy considers vice and virtue of no consequence to human spiritual destinies, because it does not discover in Nature that these characteristics determine ultimate progress in evolution. No system is so pitilessly inflexible in its morality as the system which occult philosophy explores and expounds. But that which vice and virtue of themselves determine, is happiness and misery, not the final problem of continued existence, beyond that immeasurably distant period, when in the progress of evolution man has got to begin being something more than man, and cannot go on along the path of progress with the help only of the relatively lower human attributes. It is true again that one can hardly imagine virtue in any decided degree to fail in engendering, in due time, the required higher attributes, but we should not be scientifically accurate in speaking of it as the cause of progress, in ultimate stages of elevation, though it may provoke the development of that which is the cause of progress.
This consideration - that ultimate progress is determined by spirituality irrespective of its moral colouring, is the great meaning of the occult doctrine that “to be immortal in good one must identify oneself with God; to be immortal in evil with Satan. These are the two poles of the world of souls; between these two poles vegetate and die without remembrance the useless portion of mankind” [Eliphas Levi]. The enigma, like all occult formulas, has a lesser application (fitting the microcosm as well as the macrocosm, and in its lesser significance refers to Devachan or Avitchi, and the blank destiny of colourless personalities; but in its more important bearing it relates to the final sorting out of humanity at the middle of the great fifth round, the annihilation of the utterly unspiritual Egos and the passage onward of the others to be immortal in good, or immortal in evil. Precisely the same meaning attaches to the passage in Revelation (iii 15, 16): “I would thou wert cold or hot; so then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”
Spirituality, then, is not devout aspiration; it is the highest kind of intellection, that which takes cognizance of the workings of Nature by direct assimilation of the mind and her higher principles. The objection which physical intelligence will bring against this view is that the mind can cognize nothing except by observation of phenomena and reasoning thereon. That is the mistake - it can; and the existence of occult science is the highest proof thereof. But there are hints pointing in the direction of such proof all around us if we have but the patience to examine their true bearings. It is idle to say, in face, merely for one thing, of the phenomena of clairvoyance - crude and imperfect as those have been which have pushed themselves on the attention of the world - that there are no other avenues to consciousness but those of the five senses. Certainly in the ordinary world the clairvoyant faculty is an exceedingly rare one, but it indicates the existence in man of a potential faculty, the nature of which, as inferred from its slightest manifestations, must obviously be capable in its highest development of leading to a direct assimilation of knowledge independently of observation.
One of the most embarrassing difficulties that beset the present attempt to translate the esoteric doctrine into plain language, is due really to the fact, that spiritual perceptiveness, apart from all ordinary processes by which knowledge is acquired, is a great and grand possibility of human nature. It is by that method in the regular course of occult training that adepts impart instruction to their pupils. They awaken the dormant sense in the pupil, and through this they imbue his mind with a knowledge that such and such a doctrine is the real truth. The whole scheme of evolution, which the foregoing chapters have portrayed, infiltrates into the regular chela’s mind by reason of the fact that he is made to see the process taking place by clairvoyant vision. There are no words used in his instruction at all. And adepts themselves to whom the facts and processes of Nature are familiar as our five fingers to us, find it difficult to explain in a treatise which they cannot illustrate for us, by producing mental pictures in our dormant sixth sense, the complex anatomy of the planetary system.
Certainly it is not to be expected that mankind as yet should be generally conscious of possessing the sixth sense, for the day of its activity has not yet come. It has been already stated that each round in turn is devoted to the perfection in man of the corresponding principle in its numerical order, and to its preparation for assimilation with the next. The earlier rounds have been described as concerned with man in a shadowy, loosely organized, unintelligent form. The first principle of all, the body, was developed, but it was merely growing used to vitality, and was unlike anything we can now picture to ourselves. The fourth round, in which we are now engaged, is the round in which the fourth principle, Will, Desire, is fully developed, and in which it is engaged in assimilating itself with the fifth principle, reason, intelligence. In the fifth round, the completely developed reason, intellect, or soul, in which the Ego then resides, must assimilate itself to the sixth principle, spirituality, or give up the business of existence altogether.
All readers of Buddhist literature are familiar with the constant references made there to the Arhat’s union of his soul with God. This, in other words, is the premature development of his sixth principle. He forces himself right up through all the obstacles which impede such an operation in the case of a fourth round man, into that stage of evolution which awaits the rest of humanity - or rather so much of humanity as may reach it in the ordinary course of Nature - in the latter part of the fifth round. And in doing this it will be observed he tides himself right over the great period of danger - the middle of the fifth round. That is the stupendous achievement of the adept as regards his own personal interests. He has reached the further shore of the sea in which so many of mankind will perish. He waits there in a contentment which people cannot even realize without some glimmerings of spirituality - of the sixth sense - themselves for the arrival there of his future companions. He dos not wait in his physical body, let me hasten to add to avoid misconstruction, but when at last privileged to resign this, in a spiritual condition, which it would be foolish to attempt to describe, while even the Devachanic states of ordinary humanity are themselves almost beyond the reach of imaginations untrained in spiritual science.
But, returning to the ordinary course of humanity and the growth into sixth round people, of men and women who do not become adepts at any premature stage of their career, it will be observed that this is the ordinary course of Nature in one sense of the expression, but so also is it the ordinary course of Nature for every grain of corn that is developed to fall into appropriate soil, and grow up into an ear of corn itself. All the same a great many grains do nothing of the sort, and a great many human Egos will never pass through the trials of the fifth round. The final effort of Nature in evolving man is to evolve from him a being unmeasurably higher, to be a conscious agent, and what is ordinarily meant by a creative principle in Nature herself ultimately. The first achievement is to evolve free-will, and the next to perpetuate that free-will by inducing it to unite itself with the final purpose of Nature, which is good. In the course of such an operation it is inevitable that a great deal of the free-will evolved should turn to evil, and after producing temporary suffering, be dispersed and annihilated. More than this, the final purpose can only be achieved by a profuse expenditure of material, and just as this goes on in the lower stages of evolution, where a thousand seeds are thrown off by a vegetable, for every one that ultimately fructifies into a new plant, so are the god-like germs of Will, sown one in each man’s breast, in abundance like the seeds blown about in the wind. Is the justice of Nature to be impugned by reason of the fact that many of these germs will perish? Such an idea could only rise in a mind that will not realize the room there is in Nature for the growth of every germ which chooses to grow, and to the extent it chooses to grow, be that extent great or small. If it seems to any one horrible that an “immortal soul” should perish, under any circumstances, that impression can only be due to the pernicious habit of regarding everything as eternity, which is not this microscopic life. There is room in the subjective spheres, and time in the catenary manvantara, before we even approach the Dhyân Chohan of God-like period, for more than the ordinary brain has every yet conceived of immortality. Every good deed and elevated impulse that every man or woman ever did or felt, must reverberate through æons of spiritual existence, whether the human entity concerned proves able or not to expand into the sublime and stupendous development of the seventh round. And it is out of the causes generated in one of our brief lives on earth, that exoteric speculation conceives itself capable of constructing eternal results! Out of such a seven or eight hundredth part of our objective life on earth during the present stay here of the evolutionary life-wave, we are to expect Nature to discern sufficient reason for deciding upon our whole subsequent career. In truth, Nature will make such a large return for a comparatively small expenditure of human will-power in the right direction, that, extravagant as the expectation just stated may appear, and extravagant as it is applied to ordinary lives, one brief existence may sometimes suffice to anticipate the growth of milliards of years. The adept may in the one earth-life [In practice, my impression is that this is rarely achieved in one earth-life; approached rather in two or three artificial incarnations.] achieve so much advancement that his subsequent growth is certain, and merely a matter of time; but then the seed germ which produces an adept in our life, must be very perfect to begin with, and the early conditions of its growth favourable, and withal the effort on the part of the man himself, life-long and far more concentrated, more intense, more arduous, than it is possible for the uninitiated outsider to realize. In ordinary cases, the life which is divided between material enjoyment and spiritual aspiration - however sincere and beautiful the latter -can only be productive of a correspondingly duplex result, of a spiritual reward in Devachan, of a new birth on earth. The manner in which the adept gets above the necessity of such a new birth, is perfectly scientific and simple be it observed, though it sounds like a theological mystery when expounded in exoteric writings by reference to Karma and Skandhas, Trishna, and Tanha, and so forth. The next earth-life is as much a consequence of affinities engendered by the fifth principle, the continuous human soul, as the Devachanic experiences which come first are the growth of the thoughts and aspirations of an elevated character, which the person concerned has created during life. That is to say, the affinities engendered in ordinary cases are partly material, partly spiritual. Therefore they start the soul on its entrance into the world of effects with a double set of attractions inhering in it, one set producing the subjective consequences of its Devachanic life, the other set asserting themselves at the close of that life, and carrying the soul back again into re-incarnation. But if the person during his objective life absolutely develops no affinities for material existence, starts his soul at death with all its attractions tending one way in the direction of spirituality, and none at all drawing it back to objective life, it does not come back; it mounts into a condition of spirituality corresponding to the intensity of the attractions or affinities in that direction, and the other thread of connection is cut off.
Now this explanation does not entirely cover the whole position, because the adept himself, no matter how high, does return to incarnation eventually, after the rest of mankind have passed across the great dividing period in the middle of the fifth round. Until the exaltation of Planetary Spirithood is reached, the highest human soul must have a certain affinity for earth still, though not the earth-life of physical enjoyments and passions that we are going through. But the important point to realize in regard to the spiritual consequences of earthly life is, that in so large a majority of cases, that the abnormal few need not be talked about, the sense of justice in regard to the destiny of good men is amply satisfied by the course of Nature step by step as time advances. The spirit-life is ever at hand to receive, refresh, and restore the soul after the struggles, achievements, or sufferings of incarnation. And more than this, reserving the question about eternity, Nature, in the intercyclic periods at the apex of each round, provides for all mankind, except those unfortunate failures who have persistently adhered to the path of evil, great intervals of spiritual blessedness, far longer and more exalted in their character than the Devachanic periods of each separate life. Nature, in fact, is inconceivably liberal and patient to each and all her candidates for the final examination during their long preparation for this. Nor is one failure to pass even this final examination absolutely fatal. The failures may try again, if they are not utterly disgraceful failures, but they must wait for the next opportunity.
A complete explanation of the circumstances under which such waiting is accomplished, would not come into the scheme of this treatise; but it must not be supposed that candidates for progress, self-convicted of unfitness to proceed at the critical period of the fifth round, fall necessarily into the sphere of annihilation. For that attraction to assert itself, the Ego must have developed a positive attraction for matter, a positive repulsion for spirituality, which is overwhelming in its force. In the absence of such affinities, and in the absence also of such affinities as would suffice to tide the Ego over the great gulf, the destiny which meets the mere failures of Nature is, as regards the present planetary manwantara, to die, as Eliphas Levy puts it, without remembrance. They have lived their life, and had their share of Heaven, but they are not capable of ascending the tremendous altitudes of spiritual progress then confronting them. But they are qualified for further incarnation and life on the planes of existence to which they are accustomed. They will wait, therefore, in the negative spiritual state they have attained, till those planes of existence are again in activity in the next planetary manwantara. The duration of such waiting is, of course, beyond the reach of imagination altogether, and the precise nature of the existence which is now contemplated is no less unrealizable; but the broad pathway through that strange region of dreamy semi-animation must be taken note if, in order that the symmetry and completeness of the whole evolutionary scheme may be perceived.
And with this last contingency provided for, the whole scheme does lie before the reader in its main outlines with tolerable completeness. We have seen the one life, the spirit, animating matter in its lowest forms first, and evoking growth by slow degrees into higher forms. Individualizing itself at last in man, it works up through inferior and irresponsible incarnations until it has penetrated the higher principles, and evolved a true human soul, which is thenceforth the master of its own fate, though guarded in the beginning by natural provisions which debar it from premature shipwreck, which stimulate and refresh it on its course. But the ultimate destiny offered to that soul is to develop not only into a being capable of taking care of itself, but into a being capable of taking care also of others, of presiding over and directing, within what may be called constitutional limits, the operations of Nature herself. Clearly before the soul can have earned the right to that promotion, it must have been tried by having conceded to it full control over it own affairs. That full control necessarily conveys the power to shipwreck itself. The safeguards put round the Ego in its youth - its inability to get into the higher or lower states than those of inter-mundane Devachan and Avitchi - fall from it in its maturity. It is potent, then, over its own destinies, not only in regard to the development of transitory joy and suffering, but in regard to the stupendous opportunities in both directions which existence opens out before it. It may seize on the higher opportunities in two ways; it may throw up the struggle in two ways; it may attain sublime spirituality for good, or sublime spirituality for evil; it may ally itself to physically for (not evil, but for) utter annihilation; or, on the other hand, for (not good, but for) the negative result of beginning the educational processes of incarnation all over again.
The condition into which the monads failing to pass the middle of the fifth round must fall as the tide of evolution sweeps on, leaving them stranded, so to speak, upon the shores of time, is not described very fully in this chapter. By a few words only is it indicated that the failures of each manwantara are not absolutely annihilated when they reach “the end of their tether,” but are destined after some enormous period of waiting to pass once more into the current of evolution. Many inferences may be deduced from this condition of things. The period of waiting which the failures have thus to undergo, is to begin with, a duration so stupendous as to baffle the imagination. The latter half of the fifth round, the whole of the sixth and seventh have to be performed by the successful graduates in spirituality, and the later rounds are of immensely longer duration than those of the middle period. Then follows the vast interval of Nirvanic rest, which closes the manwantara, the immeasurable Night of Brahmâ, the Pralaya of the whole planetary chain. Only when the next manwantara begins do the failures begin to wake from their awful trance - awful to the imagination of beings in the full activity of life, though such a trance, being necessarily all but destitute of consciousness, is possibly no more tedious than a dreamless night in the memory of profound sleeper. The fate of the failures may be grievous first of all, rather on account of what they miss, than on account of what they incur. Secondly, however, it is grievous on account of that to which it leads, for all the trouble of physical life and almost endless incarnations must be gone through afresh, when the failures wake up; whereas the perfected beings, who outstripped them in evolution during that fifth round in which they become failures, will have grown into the god-like perfection of Dhyân Chohan-hood during their trance, and will be the presiding geniuses of the next manwantara, not its helpless subjects.
Apart altogether, meanwhile, from what may be regarded as the personal interest of the entities concerned, the existence of the failures in Nature at the beginning of each manwantara is a fact which contributes in a very important degree to a comprehension of the evolutionary system. When the planetary chain is first of all evolved out of chaos - if we may use such an expression as “first of all” in a qualified sense, having regard to the reflection that “in the beginning” is a mere façon de parler applied to any period in eternity - there are no failures to deal with. Then the descent of spirit into matter, through the elemental, mineral, and other kingdoms, goes on in the way already described in earlier chapters of this book. But from the second manwantara of a planetary chain, during the activity of the solar system, which provides for many such manwantaras, the course of events is somewhat different - easier, if I may again be allowed to use an expression that is applicable rather in a conversational than severely scientific sense. At any rate it is quicker, for human entities are already in existence, ready to enter into incarnation as soon as the world, also already in existence, can be got ready for them. The truth thus appears to be, that after the first manwantara of a series - enormously longer in duration than its successors - no entities, then first evolved from quite the lower kingdoms, do more than attain the threshold of humanity. The late failures pass into incarnation, and then eventually the surviving animal entities already differentiated. But, compared with the passages in the esoteric doctrine which affect the current evolution of our own race, these considerations, relating to the very early periods of world-evolution, have little more than an intellectual interest, and cannot as yet by any contributions of mine be very greatly amplified.
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