This study is basically the work of an esoteric Christian bishop who wrote in the first half of the twentieth century. He wrote several books and many articles which were circulated to a small circle of esoteric Christian students. Before his death he expressed the wish that his writings not be reprinted, since there were some elements that he felt needed to be changed but knew he would not be able to revise in his remaining life-span. As a result his writings are virtually unknown. Although understanding and respecting the bishop’s opinion, it has seemed to us that an edited–and occasionally expanded–version of some of his essays would be of great profit to students of esoteric Christian wisdom. However, we are leaving their authorship without attribution, as we feel he would prefer that.
We hope that you will profit from them as much as we have.
We must begin with God, because God is the beginning of everything, and the end. Who or what is God? Who or what do we mean when we speak of God? That is the question that we must consider first of all.
During the long, long story of the human race very many ideas about God have been believed and taught. We need not concern ourselves with all of these; in fact, we could not if we tried, because we do not know what all the different peoples and teachers and races and tribes have believed about God since human beings began to think and to argue. But of the ideas that have been held in comparatively modern times, that is to say, in the last four or five thousand years, by the most civilized people that have lived on the earth during that time, certain broad classifications may be made which will help us to understand wherein people have mainly differed from each other in their ideas of God.
There are, broadly speaking, three main classes of belief, namely Theism, Deism, and Pantheism. We will look at each of these separately.
Theism is a Greek word and really means “God-ism,” from the Greek word for God, which is Theos. The Theists believe that God is an Infinite Being Who has created everything. But He is more than just a Being. He is a Person Who knows and loves and cares as well as creates. He creates by an act of will, and He sustains what He has created and is creating by a continual effort of will. He has also planned what He has created and is sustaining, and that implies that He has, or is, perfect Mind as well as Perfect Will and Power. More than that, He loves what He has created with perfect and unending love, and is willing to have contact and communication with such of His creatures as are able to perceive Him and communicate with Him–that is to say, with beings who have sufficient intelligence-intuition to reach out to Him in some way or other, and to understand what He can reveal to them about Himself and about themselves, and about all the rest of creation.
That is the idea of the Theists. Good examples of them are the Jews, the Moslems, and most Christians. Their main idea is that God is quite distinct from what He has created, and is utterly beyond and above it, but He is very fond of it, and is always trying to help people who have sufficient intelligence-intuition to understand what He is doing and what He wants. In technical theological language, God in this view is both Infinite and Personal.
Deism is a Latin word, and it also means God-ism, from the Latin Deus, which means God. But the ideas of God which the Deists hold are rather different from those of the Theists. The Deists also believe that God is the Being Who made the world and all other worlds and everything that is in the world and belongs to it, both visible and invisible. They think that He is utterly beyond us and infinitely great, but, so far as they can ascertain His feeling, He is not particularly fond of the universe that He has created. He has given it laws–the laws of nature–and left it to look after itself, and does not Himself interfere any more. On this view, miracles, though not impossible, are not to be expected and do not often, if ever, happen. And whatever help human beings want in their efforts to be good and sensible people, and to live together happily, and to understand the universe in which they live and its Maker, and eventually to become perfect, they must get from their own natural reason and from the light that is in them. It is no use for human beings to pray and worship. God is too great and too big to be concerned with the prayers of human beings, and, besides, there is no need for them to pray; all that they have to do is to be up and doing, and to use their own wits and their own powers. That, roughly, is what the Deists think.
Deism has not been systematized to the same extent that Theism and Pantheism have; that is to say, there are not many great religious systems like Christianity or Islam that can be described as definitely Deistic. Deists do not usually organize themselves, but are usually found as individuals or philosophical schools or sects. However, the former State religion of China, Confucianism, is a basically Deistic religion. The ancient Greek and Roman Stoics were primarily Deistic, and much of the philosophy of the great Greek philosopher Aristotle may be described as Deistic. So was the teaching of some of the so-called Christian heretics, such as the Nestorians and the Pelagians, but they had no significant or lasting influence beyond even a generation.
The main point to remember about the Deistic idea of God is that it separates God from man very sharply. God is a Person, but rather like a very great man, not infinite and not very loving. The God of the Deists is rather cold and not very lovable; nor does He seek to be loved.
Pantheism is another Greek word meaning “All-God-ism.” In its baldest form Pantheism asserts that the universe and God are the same; that God is everything and everything is God. More philosophically stated, it teaches that there is only one eternal and infinite substance of which all things are modifications with no permanent individual existence. The English poet, Pope, has well expressed the central idea of Pantheism in his Essay on Man:
All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body nature is, and God the soul.
The idea is that we are all parts of God, yet not detached from God. God is all that is and much more. God is working a purpose out gradually and progressively. He is Himself that purpose, and we and all others are God working that purpose out. On this theory creation is still going on, and we cannot tell at present when, if ever, it will be finished. Pantheism is found today in the philosophy of India, but if we look closely at the mystical traditions of all religions we will find some form of Pantheism at least hinted in the words of all illumined souls.
Which is True?
Now, which of these three modes of belief is the truth–Theism, Deism, or Pantheism? Actually they all contain elements of truth which, if extracted from each one, will enable us to get as near to the intellectual expression of truth as we can expect to get with our very limited human intellects. We must remember that it cannot be intellectually proved that there is a God at all, any more than it can be intellectually proved that there is not. In this matter we have to rely on our intuition–that is to say, on an inner perception of truth. And that is why meditation is the very essence of our spiritual quest. When it is suggested to us that there is a cause of everything that exists, we feel that statement is true, though we cannot prove it by argument or mathematics. That inner consent to a proposition is intuition.
There is something in all of the three forms of belief about God that we have considered which we intuitively can feel are true. This, for instance:
God is simply unimaginable–inconceivable. If the universe is as vast as scientific research reveals it to be, then how unimaginably great must He be Who is the Cause of it all. When we think of God in this way we are thinking of what philosophers call the Absolute, that is to say, the One Who is infinite and independent of everything; the Self-existent. The Absolute is at the back of all universes, the uncaused Cause of all. We cannot imagine Him, so we had better leave off trying. That really is what we mean by God. And that is what the best Theists and Deists have in mind when they speak of God as infinite; and that is what the Indian Pantheists have in mind when they think of “One only Essence without a second” or Brahman.
But if we cannot imagine Him, He is not of much use to us for practical purposes. It is not much use attempting to worship, still less to pray to, that which we simply cannot imagine. What we want to discover is the God Who made us and knows us and looks after us. When Jesus spoke at the end of his earthly career of having been in the glory of God before the world existed and of returning to God, he was speaking on behalf of us all–and most especially when he declared to God: “Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
For although God is the Infinite Absolute, He is a Person, as well. That is to say, He wills and loves and thinks as we do (for we are His image and likeness), only very much more so. Thus He is our God and Father–though immeasurably more than that. He made us and is still making us. We have come forth from Him and we are returning to Him. We are of the very same essence as He. We are fragments of Him, yet not divided off or separated from Him. “For in him we live, and move, and have our being,” since “by him all things consist” (Acts 17:28; Colossians 1:17). It is He Whom our Lord Jesus lovingly called “Father,” and taught us to do so as well in the Lord’s Prayer. We can worship Him and pray to Him as much as we like without having the feeling that He is so great and so far off that He cannot possibly take any notice of such little beings as ourselves. For being infinite, He is beyond the distinction of “too great” or “too small.” And being all things, He must of necessity see us as His own–indeed, His own self. He knows all that is going on in our world. We are all in His consciousness, and His life is our life; we derive life from Him. We are part of Him and connected with Him, so that we can draw as much as we will and as much as we can on His power and love and wisdom. We are all in Him, and the Whole of Him is in or behind each of us. He is “all in all” (I Corinthians 12:6; 15:28; Ephesians 1:23). He is all in all–panta en pasin; Totu in Omnibus. And our efforts to draw on His strength and love and wisdom, our efforts to reach back or up to Him, our efforts to be at our best, to be spiritual rather than material, are efforts to get back to our own source, our origin, our Father. That is what He wants us to do, and those efforts of ours, which constitute our religion, are His efforts within us to regain His own level. “Our hearts are ever restless till they find their rest in Him.”
That is the supreme essence of the teaching of Theists, Deists, and Pantheists combined. And it is that which our intuitions, purified by meditation, will assent to as truth. It is of God in this sense that we should ever be aware in both heart and mind–He Who is both The Absolute and Emmanuel: God With Us.
All Are True
So the Theists are right when they think of God as infinite. The Absolute is infinite. And the Deists are right in saying that we cannot understand what He can be, and that we ought to rely on our own resources more than many Theists do. And here the Pantheistic view comes to our aid and reconciles the other two where they disagree. The Pantheists tell us that our own strength and our own resources are God’s strength and God’s resources, so that in relying on them we are really relying on Him. The Pantheists again agree with the Theists in that they tell us that God is transcendent as well as immanent; that is to say, that He is infinitely beyond and above every manifestation of Himself as well as within those manifestations. He is above all, as well as in all and through all. And it is to Him as above us and beyond us that we lift up our hearts when we worship and lift up our minds when we pray. And it is He, the Transcendent God, the Father Who loves us, and, in response to our efforts to worship Him or reach up to Him, pours down His love upon us in such volume as almost to overpower those efforts of ours. Our efforts release His love and His power and bring them pouring down upon us, though we are rarely aware that it is so. That is what we mean by God–Infinite, Personal, Transcendent, and Immanent.
A Pause For Reflection
Before passing on to the subject of creation, there are some points that were hinted at in the preceding exposition and whose further consideration will be of great value to us. Obviously there is no way to encompass God in human words and concepts.
In writing about the love of God–and therefore of God Himself, since “God is love” (I John 4:8,16), as the Beloved Disciple tells us–the poet wrote:
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade–
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Therefore such a brief outline as has been given must suffice for us who seek for the Divine Gnosis–direct knowledge of God–rather than the barren intellectualizations of exoteric religion. For our process of spiritual discovery must be an internal one based on meditation and other esoteric Christian practices. To be a Gnostic (esoteric) Christian is to be a knower of God through Christ. Nothing less.
Already it has been stated that God “has, or is, perfect Mind as well as Perfect Will and Power.” This is a virtually perfect seed-statement of the Triune Nature of God which is symbolized by the expressions Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in relation to the transcendent aspect, the guiding consciousness aspect, and the dynamic energy aspect of God. These aspects correspond to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–the Holy Trinity.
There is One Absolute Being and Life that is manifest in all things, the Sole Source of all that is. Yet, despite this absolute unity, there is a Trinity of Being called by the metaphorical names Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is the Transcendent Absolute, inconceivable, unnameable, and unknowable in essence. The Son is the Immanent Absolute, conceivable, nameable, and knowable through mystic union, which is accomplished solely through the sanctifying, transmuting power that is known as (and is) the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, the Manifester of all things visible and invisible according to the will of the Son and (ultimately) the Father.
The Father is beyond designations of gender, but the title is deeply and exclusively symbolic. The Son, however, Who is also Father (John 14:9; 10:30) in a Mystery, is the eternal Positive, the Almighty, the All-Ruler (Pantocrator), as infinitely personal as the Father is impersonal–though both are Persons. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3).
Furthermore, “No man hath seen God [the Father] at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18) through Jesus Christ of Nazareth, in whom there dwelt “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).
This was accomplished through the action of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Feminine principle of the Godhead–Who is the Divine Negative to the Son’s Divine Positive and Who manifested on earth through the all-holy Virgin Mary.
In all Hebrew texts, as well as all Aramaic Christian texts of the first centuries of the Church, the Holy Spirit is designated as “She,” as the Mother aspect of divinity, completing the economia of the Son as the (knowable) Father aspect of divinity. It is Her power which effects the passage of the sons of men to the status of sons of God (John 1:12), for as the Son is Life, the Holy Spirit is Living–the dynamic aspect of that Life.
Together, the Son-Father and the Holy Spirit-Mother brought forth all worlds, the “many mansions” spoken of by Jesus (John 14:2). And into these worlds they brought forth from the bosom of the transcendent Father the individualized consciousnesses or souls, creating for them vehicles (bodies) according to the realms of their dwelling, making them in their own image and likeness: male and female (Genesis 1:27). And having brought them forth and set them on the path of evolution back to the infinite bosom of the Father, they ceaselessly call: “Come,…take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17), and in the drinking become Divine.
In summation: the Father is divine Will; the Son is divine Thought (Logos); and the Holy Spirit is divine Act. And the Three are One. This is important to know, for by understanding the Trinity we can understand ourselves, since we are images of the Trinity and possess the same aspects and attributes.
Communicating With God–The Implications
Right after the statement about God possessing (and being) mind, will, and power, it was further set forth that God wishes to communicate directly with those of His creatures who have the will and the capacity to do so, and to reveal Himself unto them. Throughout the Bible we find continual affirmation of the possibility of our seeking and finding God. Saint Paul, when speaking to the philosophers of Athens, said that God had created the human race “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27). This little sentence tells us some infinitely wonderful truths.
First of all, as has been said, our very reason for existing is the search for God. This being so, only when we are seeking God are we in any way being real or true to ourselves. And only those things in our life which facilitate or foster that search are real or true. No wonder, then, that the world is filled with misery and futility. Human beings can produce nothing but misery and futility when they do not consciously and with dedication seek God. Yet, human beings are very good at creating diversions and various forms of psychic anesthetics to distract themselves from their tragic lack and to deaden the awareness of the sufferings that result from their estrangement from God–and therefore from their own true self. But a time comes when no diversions really work and the reality must be faced: God is the only goal of human life; and to be human we must seek Him.
The second truth is that we must “feel after him;” that is, our reaching out for God must be intuitive–far removed from the mind games of theology and the labyrinth of external action. Although theology and right action have their place, they are only aids to the search, however much exoteric Christianity tries to make them substitutes for seeking God. Consequently, from the very first step on our journey to the Divine we must learn to “be still and know” (Psalms 46:10) and to hear the “still small voice” (I Kings 19:12) within. And to follow that above all. For we can mistake the meaning of scriptures–and even the words of the wise–but that inner knowing and inner speaking of “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) cannot fail to bring us safely into the haven of God.
The next clause of the verse says that those who “feel after” God shall “find Him.” No exceptions or qualifications are made. The simple principle enunciated by Jesus holds: “Seek, and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7). The holy prophet Isaiah also said with happy simplicity: “Seek ye the Lord;” and with God He covenanted: “Yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee” (Isaiah 55:6; 26:9). David told Solomon: “If thou seek him [God], he will be found of thee” (I Chronicles 28:9). In his hymns David sang: “Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord;” and “Seek the Lord, seek his face evermore” (Psalms 105:3,4). It cannot be accidental that all these are the words of but one person: him Whom we know as Jesus of Nazareth–in his previous incarnations. (See Robe of Light.)
The final point of Saint Paul’s words to the Athenians is that God “is not far from any one of us.” This, too, is without exception. There is no one to whom God is not indeed “nearer than the near”–especially for those to whom He is also “dearer than the dear.” With this fact in mind David also sang: “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him” (Psalms 145:18). Implied here is the truth that although God is always with us, it is only those who call upon Him that experience Him as near. That is why he also wrote: “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God” (Psalms 14:2). So the search for God is particularly the activity of those who understand–that is, the Gnostics.
God And Man
Saint Paul’s assertion tells us something about the nature of God and the nature of man. If there was not a common nature to both it would be impossible for us to see and know God. This unity of nature is reflected in David’s declaration: “In thy light shall we see light” (Psalms 36:9). In the greater Light that is God the illumined sees the lesser light of his own spirit and eventually realizes the identity of the two. God Himself has said to us: “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:13,14). And even more: “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me” (Proverbs 8:17).
In India they often say: “When a man chooses God, you can know that God has first chosen him.” David, too, knew this and in his praise of God sang: “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek” (Psalms 27:8). For this reason, too, we should not doubt our eventual success in spiritual life. If God did not call us we would not be seeking Him, for our search is the result of what David meant when he sang: “Deep calleth unto deep” (Psalms 42:7). For in the quest for God, Like calls unto like.
The prophet Amos told his hearers: “Seek the Lord, and ye shall live” (Amos 5:6), for the search for God is the very impulse of life itself, as Saint Paul asserted in his discourse to the Athenians. Before that, Jesus had defined eternal life in His great prayer on Maundy Thursday evening, saying: “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God” (John 17:3). Once again we see the absolute necessity for our seeking of God. But it is a necessity of joy, hope, and love, based on the assertion of Saint Paul that God “is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Especially since “there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast…prepared thine heart to seek God” (II Chronicles 19:3).
We will now consider the making and evolution of the creation–of all existing things. No one can very well deny that the universe exists, because we can perceive a considerable portion of it with our five senses. But we must remember that there is much more in the universe than that which we can see and hear and touch. We know from the teaching of science that sight and sound are just the impact of vibrations on the retina of the eye or the drum of the ear. It is the same with the organs of the other senses–taste and touch and scent. We can perceive objects outside ourselves by means of our senses, if their rate of vibration is not above or below certain rates of vibration. Anything that vibrates at a higher or lower rate than that is imperceptible by us. We cannot see it or hear or taste or feel or smell it, but it does exist, nevertheless. It is obvious that there must be much more in the universe than that which we now perceive, much that we do not perceive only because our senses cannot experience their rates of vibration and we have not yet developed any other senses or organs of sense than those five. Some few people have developed two other organs of sense–namely, the pineal gland and the pituitary body in the head–and such people are what we call clairvoyants and clairaudients. They see and hear very much more than other people see and hear, and it is largely because of their clairvoyant investigations and research work that we know as much as we do about the universe and what is in it, and how it came into existence.
You may remember the lines in Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” That is very true, and an inquiry into the nature and the conditions of those “more things” forms a very interesting and fascinating study, to which we shall return later when we come to consider the subject of angels and other invisible beings and things. Just now, however, we must try to understand how and why God has created, or is still creating, the universe, for we must now assume that it is the work of God, though that cannot be proved.
The universe is certainly the work of someone, and if God is not the Creator of it, then the universe is its own creator, and we may as well call the universe itself God. But it is better and truer to suppose that the Creator is greater even than His creation, and that the Absolute Being is the Creator, and that He never did not exist, whereas the universe had a beginning in time.
How It Happened
It is difficult to understand the method of creation, because the universe is so vast; but it will not be amiss to recount what we do know from both the physical and the esoteric sciences.
The material of which the universe is made is ultimately that which scientists call the “ether of space.” When this began to be or how the Absolute produced it we cannot possibly tell, but we may conclude that He produced it somehow from Himself. We do, however, know something about its nature and its properties, thanks to the researches of scientists. Its density, we are told, is 10,000 times greater than that of water, and its mean pressure is 750,000 tons to the square inch. We must assume (for we cannot know) that at some time before the universe began to exist some great Being poured His spirit or breath or force into all or part of this ether of space, and so made it throb with life. The effect of this breathing is that an uncountable number of “bubbles” was formed within this ether. The atoms which our chemists speak of are formed of vast aggregations of these bubbles. This is the material which God finds ready to His hand when He begins to make a universe.
We must imagine, then, that God first marks out the sphere in space in which he is going to make or create a universe. We cannot tell in detail how He marked it out, but plainly the universe occupies a certain definite space, so we may conclude that that space has somehow been marked out. We may perhaps conceive of God as in some way, which in its details is beyond our understanding, holding back by His mighty power the stupendous pressure of the ether of space, and so preparing the sphere which is to be occupied by a universe, appropriating for His purpose just that quantity of material (atoms) that He will need. He is Himself within this sphere, and at the same time far beyond it. The sphere consists of many more dimensions than the three with which we are familiar, namely, length, breadth, and thickness. If we can imagine more dimensions than those three, well and good; we are that much nearer to the truth. If not, we must be content to imagine the space or sphere occupied by the universe in only three dimensions.
Within this sphere He sets up a tremendous vortex–a whirling motion which sweeps all the bubbles into a vast central mass, which is the nebula from which the many solar systems slowly evolve. Into this revolving vortex He sends forth a succession of impulses, seven impulses one after the other, the result of which is that the bubbles are gathered together into more and more complex aggregations, the densest, namely, the physical atom, consisting of an aggregation of 14,000 millions of these bubbles. This pouring forth of power is the work of the third Aspect of God, usually described as the Third Person of the Trinity, or God the Holy Spirit (Mother). She is the energy or power of God at work in creation, or one aspect of that power. In the course of ages She thus produced in the sphere which is the universe matter in seven degrees of density, the finer penetrating and transcending the denser matter. (Although we are using the term “matter” in the following exposition, we should keep in mind that the word “energy” would be just as appropriate.)
Forms Of The Creative Energy-Matter
The seventh or densest form of matter is that which we call physical matter. We know it in three forms–the solid, the liquid, and the gaseous; and there are four other forms of it, subtler or finer than the gaseous, with which we are not familiar, because it is too fine or rarefied for us to perceive. Physical matter is thus itself found in seven degrees of density, and similarly the other six forms or states of matter, which we shall consider, all consist of seven sub-states or sub-conditions of the same matter; but we shall not stop to consider the sub-states, but only the main state or form in each case. There are thus forty-nine states or conditions of matter in the universe, namely, seven main conditions, of which physical matter is the seventh, and each of those seven consists of seven sub-conditions: the densest of all is physical matter in the solid condition, such as the matter of which stones are made; and the subtlest or finest is so fine, so spiritual, that no human beings can have any notion of what it is like. We know about it because we have been told of it by those of perfect enlightenment, and because it seems so reasonable and intelligible.
The sixth may be called the matter of the emotions or feelings, sometimes described as astral matter. The fifth is the matter of the thoughts, which may be called mental matter; the three highest sub-conditions of this form consist of matter in the condition in which the higher thoughts work, such as philosophical thought, and the four lowest sub-conditions are the conditions of a lower and more concrete type of thought. The fourth is intuitional matter, that is to say, the matter in which that intuition works, which was mentioned in the previous section on God. When we know something quite clearly without using our brains and reasoning powers, we know it because our intuitions see right into it. In the case of a person, we see right into that person’s thoughts and feelings and know them as we know our own. The third is spiritual matter, and so are the second and the first; but we have so little experience of these three at present that we cannot understand them very well. When we are further evolved and more spiritual than most of us are now we shall understand them better.
The Seven Planes Of Nature
These degrees of density in the matter of the universe are generally described as the seven planes of nature. They fill the universe, which is thus a much more splendidly arranged entity than we should imagine if we thought of it as consisting only of the suns and planets. We see these bodies because they are composed of dense physical matter; but they are not entirely separate from each other; they are connected by matter of the finer degrees, which we cannot see, but without which we should not be able to see anything at all beyond the earth’s atmosphere. If there was just nothingness outside the earth’s atmosphere there would be no material along which the light waves and heat waves could vibrate, and so no impression of sun, moon, and stars could ever reach us, not even the heat of the sun.
It is so important for our purpose to have as clear an idea as we can of these seven planes that a table will help us, especially for future reference when considering other subjects. But it must be remembered that the higher planes penetrate the lower; they are not in nature arranged one above the other as they are on paper. They are:
In passing it will be interesting to notice that we human beings exist in all these planes, and that we have coverings or vehicles on each plane composed of the matter of that plane. The physical body is that which we usually call the “body”–the body with head and arms and legs that we know so well. But that is not our only body; we have six others in addition, but the others are made of matter which we cannot see or feel, and, therefore, we do not pay much attention to them or even, as a rule, know of their existence. But they are there, and when we die we lose the physical body, but we continue to live in the other six bodies, which means that we really do not die at all.
The Work Of The Holy Spirit In Creation
The arrangement of the matter of the creation in these seven degrees or planes is the work of God the Holy Spirit. It is Her creative activity. If She were for a moment to desist from that activity everything would at once cease to be; there would be nothing in the universe but the ether of space and God; it would be just as it was in the beginning, a condition which is picturesquely described in the Bible thus: “Darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). The ether of space is like a heaving mass of water until the Spirit of God moves upon it and organizes it. But even that ether of space and everything that is made from it is God. There is nothing but God anywhere in the universe, and yet God the Absolute must be supposed to stretch even beyond the limits of the universe. God the Absolute is limitless.
Out beyond the shining
Of the furthest star
Thou art ever stretching
Thus it seems that God, by means of the Holy Spirit, the Creator Spirit, is continually at work upon the material of the creation, which is itself part of God. He is continually manufacturing, so to speak, fresh chemical elements by means of which creation becomes more and more wonderful. The Holy Spirit is sometimes described as the arm or hand of God because She is God in action, and this activity is the process of material evolution. The characteristic of the Holy Spirit is thus seen to be boundless energy, yet not blind mechanical energy. It is energy combined with dignity and intelligence. It is the energy that proceeds not from a machine, but from a living Person–for the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person. Yet such a Person as no human being is or can be so long as he is just a human being.
The Work Of God The Son In Creation
The Holy Spirit does not work alone upon the creation of the universe. She works in close collaboration with the Second Person of the Trinity, Who in Christianity is known as God the Son. However, in relation to creation, the Holy Spirit is Mother and the Son is for all practical purposes the Father. Together they comprise the Creative Godhead. Just as the Holy Spirit may be described as God stretching down an arm to do the work of creation and to give life and organization to the universe, so God the Son represents the Wisdom-Love of God coming into the creation. Wisdom may be said to consist of knowledge and love combined, and therefore to speak of Wisdom-Love may be rather redundant. If wisdom is itself a combination of love and knowledge, then, strictly speaking, it is not necessary to speak of wisdom and love, joined by a hyphen, as the special characteristic of God the Son. But it is so important to remember that the love of God is manifested by and expressed through God the Son, and the word Wisdom by itself is so often thought of as being just knowledge and nothing more, that it will better express what we mean if we speak of Wisdom-Love than if we were to use the word Wisdom alone. Wisdom-Love, then, is the force or quality of God which God the Son brings to work upon the creation and evolution of the universe.
There is no special organ in the human body for the expression of Wisdom-Love in the same way that the arm is the special organ of activity and energy. We must, therefore, imagine God the Son as Wisdom-Love without an organ to represent Him. His work is mainly twofold: The first main work of the Son is to gather together the living matter at every level into forms and to hold the forms together. This is the work of love. Love is found everywhere in the universe; it is at work in every atom; it is to be found in the centripetal force which draws and holds atoms together, making molecules, compounds, and, indeed, all the forms of life that we know–rocks and stones, trees and plants, and the bodies of animals, birds, creeping things and human beings, as well as the greater bodies, such as suns and planets and their satellites. Love is at work also, where we more easily recognize it, in that personal attraction which draws and holds human beings one to another, and, to a less extent, animals to each other and to their human friends. Whether unconscious, conscious, or self-conscious, the force that draws and holds different objects or persons together is the force of Love, and it is that force which the Second Person of the Trinity brings to bear upon creation and evolution.
The second main work of the Son is to distribute fragments of Himself into these forms, and to develop consciousness in them. These fragments are the spirits which inform the lives of all beings, human, sub-human and super-human, and so make them conscious. Thus God the Son sacrifices Himself continually, so that from Himself other beings may come into existence. This is the eternal sacrifice of the Son of God symbolized in the Christian religion by the death of the Son of God on the cross. His death is His burial or immersion of Himself deeper and deeper in matter, in the rock and the tree, as well as in the human being and the angel. He dies that we may live, and He continues to die until all those fragments of Himself, which have come forth into these lower worlds, shall have re-ascended to oneness with Him as self-conscious beings, quite perfect, completely one with each other and with Him, and yet quite distinct from one another. So by His death on the cross of matter we have life, and by His death we are saved or redeemed from our bondage to the lower nature. Thus God the Son ceaselessly pours forth His love, and by His wisdom He “mightily and sweetly” orders all things. This point is naturally difficult to understand, because our brains are not accustomed to thinking of such matters, but the more we think of it the clearer it will become.
It must be understood that this work described here as twofold for the sake of clearness is really one and the same work. The Son of God holds the forms together and pours into the forms fragments of Himself which are the spirits within the forms, but He does the two simultaneously, so that it is the fragments of Himself, the spirits within, that hold the forms together. When the spirit leaves any form, then that form ceases to be a center of consciousness, dies and immediately begins to disintegrate. If it is a very large form, such as a planet, it takes ages to disintegrate. If it is a comparatively small form, such as a plant or the body of an animal or human being, it disintegrates in a few days or weeks. The body or form dies, but the spirit cannot die, and when the spirit withdraws from one form it clothes itself sooner or later in another, and so spiritual evolution proceeds side by side with material evolution. As the spirit within develops its powers, it clothes itself in better and more efficient forms of its own kind.
Such is the work of God the Son in creative evolution, and such is the way in which at this stage He and the Holy Spirit work together. The Holy Spirit is the Life-giver, giving life to all matter. The Son is the Love-giver and the Consciousness-giver, holding together forms and bodies made of living matter so long as He needs them for the evolution of spirits within those forms, which spirits are fragments of His own being. This truth is symbolized in the Christian religion by the virgin birth of Christ the Son of God. The matter is the virgin mother; the Holy Spirit descends upon the matter and gives to it life; and the offspring of this union of the Holy Spirit and the virgin matter is the Son of God, Who is the love-principle and the center of consciousness at the heart of every living form. Thus the Son of God is born into our world “of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.” You who read this are, in your inmost heart, He, and so is every one around you.
The Son and the Holy Spirit together keep the whole universe alive and in motion. If They were to withdraw from the creation, the whole creation would fall to pieces; there would be nothing but a vast sea of lifeless matter or a conglomeration of bubbles of ether, as it was in the beginning of creation. And this is true of the planet earth and of the solar system as a whole, of the way that these are formed and kept living, and of the way that millions upon millions of seemingly separate lives or centers of consciousness, such as ourselves, come to exist in the universe, to evolve to God-like perfection and become one again with the Son of God, Whose fragments they are, and is equally true of all the other millions of suns and their planets in this unthinkably vast creation of which our solar system is but as a single atom.
More On The Trinity
A little more must be said at this point about the Persons of the Trinity, because that is a fundamental truth taught not only by the Christian religion, but by practically every great world religion, and recognized as an essential basis of thought by many philosophers. The word “Person” is a very difficult word to understand and to explain, especially when it is used of the different aspects or functions of the Deity. Etymologically it is derived from the Latin word persona, which means the mask which an actor wore to give him the appearance of some other character whom he represented in a play. But that does not help us much, because the word very soon lost that original meaning, and came to be used to designate any character in real life or in fiction. So it came to be used to describe that which distinguishes one character from another, that which gives to a man or woman his or her distinctive character. It is in this sense that the word is generally used now.
When we speak of a person we mean a man or woman who is a rational being with his or her own special characteristics. But when we speak of the Persons in the Godhead, we do not mean that they are like human persons. They are that, but very, very much more than that. We mean rather to distinguish them from mere functions or from mechanical forces. When we speak of God as personal we do not intend thereby to reduce Him to the level of a human person, but to exalt Him far above the level of forces, such as the wind or electricity, which is the level to which many people would reduce Him when they refuse to think of Him as personal. It would be untrue to think of God as a big human being, but even that would be better than to think of Him as a big machine.
What, then, we mean when we speak of God as a Person is that, however inconceivably greater than a human being He is, He is at least as much a person as the greatest of human beings; that is to say, that He has a will and intelligence and that He loves. And when we speak of the three Persons in the Trinity we mean exactly the same of each of Them–namely that although They exercise force, They are not just forces or functions. Rather, They are eternal distinctions within the Godhead, each One of whom may be thought of as a Person exercising a distinctive function. They are not three Gods, but, as it were, one Threefold God. In these pages we are thinking of the God of all creation as One God in Three Persons, the inconceivable Trinity of Persons in the Absolute One.
Once more, then, we will try to summarize the work or function of these Persons in the creation and evolution of our universe and all that is in it. God the Father plans the creation in His mind, and He wills it. He is the Great Architect of the universe. From the moment that He wills it, it begins; and so long as He wills it, it exists and will exist. God the Son pours forth His love, and by so doing He sacrifices Himself to the extent that fragments of His very being are sent into the system to hold together and inhabit forms of life made of matter of varying degrees of density to which the Holy Spirit has already given life. And the Holy Spirit, at the same time that She continually gives life to all matter, directs and organizes the evolution of life and form at every level. The Father is the Willer and Ruler; the Son is the Lover and Sacrificer; the Holy Spirit is the Life-giver and Organizer. And these Three are eternally One.
The Purpose of Creation
Now we are in a position to examine the interesting and very practical question: Why has God created anything at all? Why did He not remain just as He was without anything but Himself, and so save Himself and us all the trouble and the pain that are involved in this vast and complicated process of creation and evolution?
To attempt an answer to the second part of the question first: there really is nothing but God Himself. The created universe is not something outside the being of God and apart from Him; the whole creation is within His being, and the process of its evolution is an activity within Himself. To compare a very great thing with a small thing, the whole process of creative evolution is to God as the process of creating a thought, filling it with feeling, and projecting it in some action is to us. We cannot help that process, we are continually doing it, it is our nature so to do; so also God cannot help creating, it is His nature so to do. There is at least one thing that even God cannot help doing: He cannot help doing what it is His nature to do, and it seems to be His nature to create. It is not more trouble for Him to create a universe than it is for us to create a thought and to carry that thought into action–and no more pain. So far from it being pain to God to create, it is all joy; He does it because of the joy of doing it. To get some faint and far-off idea of God’s reason for creating, watch the actions of some boy or girl or of some young animal, full of joy and energy. If you watch long enough you will see the boy or girl or animal bound and leap with joy. That is the joy of living. The joy comes from God, and it expresses faintly at this far-off level the joy that God always feels and expresses in creative activity.
It is thus possible, from our own experience of life, to understand God and the reasons and motives for what He does. We ourselves are rooted in God, and we have only to turn back into the depths of our own nature to realize to some extent why He does what He does. In creation He is externalizing His own bliss.
Pain And Suffering In Creation
At the extremity of His creation, that is to say, at the point in creation at which we human beings have arrived, and earlier at the animal stage, there is some pain and suffering. But it is His suffering. Our pain is His pain. We are part of Him, and in us God suffers. He foreknew it and we in Him foreknew. But such was the joy of creating that He, and we in Him, took little notice of the pain that would inevitably ensue just at our present level and went ahead with the Great Work. The Apostle said this of Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Saint Paul presented the perspective we should have–and which God had before us–when he wrote: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). If a boy wishes to rescue his ball from a prickly hedge he takes little notice of the scratches that must inevitably be his lot in the process. He wants the ball, and the trifling pain involved in the process of getting it cannot be compared with the joy that will be his when he has succeeded. So it is with God. He wants a creation peopled by perfect beings, and the joy of making such a creation and evolving such beings altogether outweighs the pain that by comparison with the joy is but slight, and, even so, is only for a time, and only in this plane, at the extremity of His creation. “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (II Corinthians 4:17).
Our affliction, which seems to be so heavy and so hard, is so mainly because we see it isolated and out of relation to the larger whole of which it is a part. If we could see it in its true relation we should see it in its true proportion, as only a temporary matter, and existing only at the extremity of the being of God. We shall do well, also, always to remember that our pain, such as it is, is God’s pain; “in all our affliction He is afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9, paraphrased). On this line is to be found the true solution of the problem of pain. Pain is not really so bad as it seems. But for us in our limited condition it is bad enough, and our right attitude with regard to it is, whilst never losing sight of the larger view, to pour into the fields of suffering, whether in the human or the animal kingdoms, all the love that we possess, and to seek by all possible means to remove the causes of suffering where those causes are discoverable and removable.
Yet There Is Joy And Love
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy [cometh] in the morning”(Psalms 30:5).
Pain is a fact and an unpleasant fact, but we must not allow it to divert our attention for long from the larger and more absorbing fact–the fact, namely, that in creation God is externalizing His own bliss. We shall better understand that point also if we draw deeply upon our own experiences of life. What is to us the greatest bliss of all? To that question, as with one voice, human beings of all times and nations almost shout the answer: “the bliss of loving.” That, too, is an indication of the quality of the thought of God which is His creation. His creation proceeds from love, and continues throughout the whole process in love, and it will end as a completed effort of love. Most people know something of the longing of love. They know what it is to experience a sense of incompleteness. They need a friend, a companion, or many friends and companions with whom they may share their own happiness, and who will give in return as much as they can of their particular bliss. That experience, too, that desiderium amoris, that longing of love is the love that God in us experiences. Our love is His love. When we love we are most Godlike, for God is all love. Now, if we know what it is to love our friends, our parents, our family relations, anyone, or if we know what it is to be without love and to long to love, we know something of God’s love; only a little, perhaps, but enough to answer the question: Why did not God remain forever alone, with none but Himself in His universe?
God never was alone. There have forever been distinctions of Persons within the being of God. There has always been relationship in God, even before creation was begun. Yet that was not enough. This relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had to be extended to give sufficient scope for the abounding love of God. And we and all other created beings, and beings in process of being created, are an extension of the Trinity, as we have been trying to show. We human beings have already reached the stage in evolution at which we can to some extent appreciate the bliss of loving; the stage at which we can know what it is to love, at which we can appreciate the gift of love and the power of love, and can pass it on as we receive it to more and more of our fellows. By so doing we are loving God, and, as we come to love more and more of our fellows, and to love them all more and more completely, we experience a more complete oneness with them, and, though we do not always realize this, a more complete oneness with God.
The Desire Of God
All that spells Bliss. And that is what God wants. God wants millions and millions of beings who shall be completely able intelligently and self-consciously to receive His love, to pass it on to all others, to receive it from others and to give it back to Him. So, without such perfect beings, without such as ourselves, as we shall be when our evolution is completed and we are perfect, God may be said to be incomplete, just as we are incomplete if we have no friends to receive our love, to pass it on to others and to give it back to us.
We need not conceive of any other reason for creation than that, and we need not look for any better reason. And since that is the true reason, then it would seem that there need never be any end to creation. When one creation has been completed others may be begun and so on ad infinitum. Since God’s love is infinite, then it follows that the expression of it must be infinite also, and the beings necessary for its infinite expression likewise infinite.
In a brief study such as this, we can do no more than just indicate the most important and striking features of such a vast process as that of the creation or evolution of a universe. Between the coming forth of God the Son from the bosom of the Father (John 1:18), and the appearance of man on this earth of ours, there are many stages which we must simply skip. Those who are interested in the evolution of the forms of life will find the story of the intermediate stages carefully worked out and explained in The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky, the greatest occultist of modern times. (We recommend that you obtain the reprints of the first edition that are published by The Theosophy Company of Los Angeles, California, and The Theosophical University Press of Pasadena, California.) This masterwork treats of both the origins of the cosmos and of man from the esoteric standpoint. Thomas Edison kept The Secret Doctrine by his bed and read from it every day, using its principles in his scientific work. Here we are confining ourselves more to the subject of life itself rather than with the forms in which the life is clothed, since our purpose is fundamentally religious, and religion is concerned more with life than with the form.
“What is Man?…”
What, then, is a human being or man? That is our first question. To some who read this it may seem a very simple, and even an absurd, question. But it is not so simple as it seems. In fact, it is very difficult indeed to find the complete answer to the question, and we are not likely really to know all that man is until we ourselves become perfect or completely evolved men. You who read this are much greater than you seem to be. You are not your body; that has been provided for you by your parents, but your parents did not make you when they provided an infant body for your use, and during the infancy of that body you had not really very much to do with it. In those early days the body was too young and tender to be of much use to you until it was about seven years old; then you began to find it more and more useful for your purposes, and were able to express more and more of your self through it. But you were always distinct from, and much greater than, your body. You are a spirit; your body is a form of matter. You never did not exist and never shall have an end; your body began when it was conceived, and it will disintegrate and come to an end, as such, soon after it dies. It dies; you can never die. Nor are you your feelings or emotions. You can control your emotions if your will is strong enough to do so; if it is not, then your emotions control you. But you are not they.
Nor, again, are you your thoughts or your mind, which is your thinking instrument. You are much greater than your mind. You speak of your mind and your thoughts as though they were something belonging to you, and you are right to so speak; they are yours, but they are not you. Who or what, then, are you? The question, you see, is not so simple as at first it seems. Something will have been gained, at any rate, whether or not these pages succeed in making clear to you what a human being is, if you realize that whatever you may be you are not your body, nor your feelings, nor your mind, nor anything else that you describe as yours. Do not let the assurance make you conceited, but be sure that you are something far greater than you seem to be. You are a god in the making. God Himself has declared this through the mouth of David, saying: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalms 82:6).
In The Beginning…
Now let us return to the point where it was said that God the Son, coming forth from the Father, brought with Him the spirits which are the true selves of all human and superhuman beings. You are one of those spirits. You, your very self, or, as they say quite accurately in Latin, thou the self–tu ipse–art one of those spirits. And the purpose of this descent– first of a part of the spirit to form the soul, and then of a part of the soul to form the lower self (in a manner to be described soon)–is that the spirits may gain definition and distinction one from another, and may gather such experience as can only be gathered by dipping down lower into matter.
God the Son descends from the Father to the second of those planes previously mentioned, bearing with Him, or in Him as part of Himself, you and all the other millions of spirits who are to form our humanity and other kingdoms of life evolving on parallel lines with the human kingdom. At that level God the Son is undifferentiated spirit–that is to say, He, with all the spirits in Him, is one substance or essence. Then differentiation begins. These spirits cannot as such descend lower than to that second plane. They are vibrating at too rapid a rate for existence in the denser matter of all the levels below the second plane to be possible. The matter of the lower planes could not reproduce the spirit vibrations; therefore the spirits remain on the second plane, but they dip or drop a portion of themselves first to the third plane, then to the fourth or intuitional, and then to the upper levels of the fifth or mental plane, clothing themselves with the matter of these successive planes in their descent. On the third plane they, being the express image of the threefold God, also show forth themselves as triple or threefold spirits. Of these three aspects one remains always on the third plane, and that we usually describe as the spirit in man. The second aspect descends to the fourth or intuitional plane, and we speak of it as human intuition; the third descends to the higher mental level, and it is generally known as the intelligence in man. Thus the spirits, which are the offspring of God and, like their Father, are personal beings, possessing the faculties of will, love, and intelligence, are enabled to exercise those divine faculties at lower levels than their own by dipping portions of themselves to those levels. Such portions, which at the upper levels of the mental plane are embodied in what are often called causal bodies, are human souls or egos, and their causal bodies are provided for them in an interesting manner by another process, which we must now try to follow.
Making A Beginning
During the early stages of evolution, before man existed, the spirits, at their very exalted level, brooded over the gradual evolution of life in these lowly forms. Slowly and gradually the evolution of life proceeds through the mineral and the plant or vegetable kingdoms until the animal kingdom is reached. In these earlier kingdoms there is a gradual unfoldment of life and consciousness. At the animal stage, consciousness has reached a comparatively high level of development–much more developed, for instance, than in the plant and mineral kingdoms. There is consciousness at those levels, too, but so dim as to be hardly perceptible. (According to an Eastern saying, consciousness “sleeps in the mineral, dreams in the plant, wakes in the animal, and becomes self-conscious in man.”) These waves of life which form the lower kingdoms are ripples which come successively from the Second Person of the Trinity; the wave which is now ensouling the animal kingdom came forth from God the Son earlier than the waves that are now ensouling the plant and mineral and still lower kingdoms. Similarly, the wave which now gives life to us human beings is earlier in time than the animal wave. So long as creative evolution lasts, so long do these waves and ripples of life proceed in succession from God the Son.
Thus the Divine life involves itself more and more deeply in matter. That is the eternal sacrifice of the Son of God, by which the worlds are continually sustained. At the lower levels–that is to say, in the mineral kingdom and in elemental kingdoms below the mineral, which we cannot see–this indwelling life is like the pressure of a vast mass of undifferentiated souls. But gradually, as separate forms appear, this mass of souls is divided and becomes in the mineral kingdom many masses of souls, and then it is still further differentiated, becoming in the plant and animal kingdoms many group-souls. At the animal level many animals form a group-soul–that is, an aggregate of similar souls, a kind of “soul pool” in the sense we mean when we speak of a “gene pool.” That is, we do not mean that a single conscious entity is running many bodies simultaneously, but rather that many souls are so united in consciousness at their particular stage of evolution that they function as virtually one. Anyone who has observed a herd of animals or migrating birds has seen the manifestation of this. All the individual animals move together as though but one mind was guiding them. That “mind” is the group-soul. The higher the level of evolution reached the fewer the animals to any group-soul. There may be millions of gnats or minnows in a single group-soul, but only a score or so of dogs, cats, horses, elephants or monkeys to one group-soul.
Evolution Of Form And Consciousness
From this there comes into view the principle of evolution, that the form evolves side by side with the indwelling life and consciousness. The more evolved the life within, the more finished and complex the body or form which encloses the life. But at every level, even in a mass of earth or rock, there is some life and consciousness; at the lower levels it is mass-soul or world-soul; at the higher, that is, at the plant and animal levels, it is group-soul.
The animal both is and is not a soul. Each animal, as we know animals here, is a separate entity, possessing life and consciousness, but not self-consciousness. But it is only as embodied that an animal is separate from other animals of its kind. When the body, say of a collie dog, dies, that collie dog-soul joins the remainder of the souls of its group and so ceases to have a separate existence. When a puppy, kitten, foal, or other young animal is conceived and born, the body is ensouled by some of the soul of its group, and when it dies that soul is, so to speak, poured back into its group-soul; in this way the group-soul evolves through shared experience, and in the course of time the group-soul of, say, a thousand wolves or tigers becomes the group-soul of, say, a score of dogs or cats. But a human soul always remains separate from other human souls. The body dies, and the human being remains after death the same human being that he was before. The human soul is not poured into a human group-soul. That is a very important difference between an animal and a human being–the human being is a person, a separate individual; the animal is not. How this difference arises we will now consider.
The Human Soul
When an animal has proceeded so far in its evolution that it is ready to enter upon the next stage, which is the human stage, it does not, when its body dies, pour back its soul into its group-soul as other animals do. Instead it remains separate, and when the time is ripe that soul becomes a kind of vessel or body into which there descends another outpouring of life, this time from the first Aspect of the Deity, or, as He is called in the Christian faith, God the Father. It is as though the soul of the animal becomes a cup or chalice or grail into which is poured the wine of the divine life; it is at this moment that that shaft of life from the spirit, which has already descended two planes, flashes down to the higher levels of the mental plane to join the ascending animal soul; and so the human soul is formed. Thus the animal soul transfers to the human soul all that it has learned in its long evolution upwards, and itself becomes a body for that human soul. This body, which is known as the causal body, must not be confused with the physical body. The causal body is invisible except to clairvoyant sight. It exists on the higher levels of the mental plane, which is the fifth plane of the seven already described.
The creation of the human soul in this manner is no doubt the truth in the scriptural account of creation, where it is said that “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). Perhaps even more meaningful is the illuminated statement of David: “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Psalms 2:7). This outpouring differs from the other outpourings from the Third and Second Persons of the Trinity, as already described, in that in this case there is a separate outpouring of the divine life for each separate being on his entry into the human kingdom, whereas in the other outpourings there was a stupendous outrush of life and power affecting and ensouling matter in the mass. When an animal reaches this stage in its growth and, uniting with the descending spirit, forms a human soul, it is said to individualize. The animal now ceases to be an animal and becomes a person, a separate individual soul.
Thus every man is made. You who are reading this have been made in this way long, long ago. In a sense you can say that you have been an animal, and before that a tree or plant, and, still earlier, a precious stone or a mass of rock, because the qualities that you acquired in those early stages were handed over to the human soul, which is you, at the moment when you individualized. But in a sense also it is not true to say that you were once an animal, a plant, or a stone, since the triple spirit from above, the spirit-intuition-intelligence, which is the real you, did not pass through those early stages of lowly life, but descended from above at your individualization.
What We Must Know
To sum up, then, what we have attempted to describe by all this: it is above all things necessary that we should realize that we human beings are not our bodies, nor our feelings, nor our minds. The real You is the individual spirit, which is a portion of the Divine Spirit. If you need a definition of the spirit, it would perhaps be a true description of him (or it) to say that he (or it) is Will and Love and Wisdom and Activity; or, if you prefer to keep to a Trinity: Will, Wisdom-Love, and Activity. That is the real You. But that spirit dips or projects an arm of himself downwards and forms the human soul. This soul in the same way, in a manner still to be described, dips or projects an arm of himself right down to our material level, and that projection of the soul is what is usually called the soul of a human being. Sometimes, and perhaps more accurately, it is described as the lower personality or lower self; it is what you have usually thought of as yourself. But in reality you who read this are only a portion of your soul, which soul is only a portion of the spirit, which is You. This being so, it is quite true to say that you are a far greater being than you seem to be, and very much older. Your soul began its life ages before your present body was born, and the spirit which is You never had a beginning. It is god within God.
Never the Spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never;
Never was time it was not; end and beginning are dreams.
(Bhagavad Gita 2:20; Edwin Arnold translation)
Before leaving this part of the main subject it will be as well to point out another principle of the divine plan of evolution that emerges in connection with the making of man. It is that at a certain stage of evolution, and perhaps all the way through, the evolution of life at the lower levels is assisted by more highly evolved life at higher levels. Thus the animal, when he reaches the level at which he becomes the human being’s pet or friend, is enormously helped by that close contact with lives higher than itself. The affection that humans pour out upon elephants, horses, dogs, cats, etc., stimulates the affection in them to an enormous extent, and at the same time their intelligence is quickened and stimulated as they try to understand and to please their human friends. So, too, when highly developed human beings are really kind to less developed human beings, the evolution of the latter is very greatly assisted by such kindness. So God does His work. He arranges that at certain stages He shall have this help. But, alas! too often men are unkind to the animals, and generally in the past the more developed men have been indifferent rather than tenderly kind to their less developed human brothers.
Similarly, when human beings reach the later and higher stages of human evolution they are very greatly assisted by Superhuman Beings, or Just Men Made Perfect (Hebrews 12:23), Who help Their younger brethren to pass from the human to the superhuman stage of evolution. But this is a matter of so great importance and of such interest that it must be reserved for fuller treatment later.
A Note on Some of the Terms Used So Far
In view of the popularization of the terms of modern psychology, the terms which in this study are used to describe the human being at different levels of manifestation may be somewhat confusing. It will perhaps remove the confusion to some extent if we attempt to state the corresponding terms of modern psychology side by side with the terms which have been and will be used in this book.
In these considerations the “lower self” or “lower personality” is used of that part of the self which is awake and active in our material world. In modern psychology this seems usually to be described as the “conscious self.”
The term “soul” in our exposition denotes a much larger self or portion of the self than the lower personality. In modern psychology that which is denoted by such terms as the “fore-” or “pre-conscious self,” or the “subliminal consciousness,” seems to come near to the idea which the term “soul” is intended to denote here. The term “spirit” denotes that highest or deepest level of life and largest layer of consciousness which rests upon and in God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. It is the life which Saint Paul describes as being “hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). It is too large and too far within to be explored by the externalized human mind, but those who meditate will in time find that its obscure recesses contain the fountain of that mysterious energy or life-force which penetrates and vitalizes the whole superincumbent structure that we call the human being. Also within it, at a much lower level than that of the “spirit”–somewhere between the levels occupied by the soul and the lower personality respectively–float about what one writer has called “the uneasy and rebellious prisoners known as ‘repressed complexes.’”
The term employed by modern psychologists for the highest level or stratum of human life and consciousness appears to be the “unconscious self.” By that term they mean that it is not fully conscious at this level of material embodiment, though, of course, it is fully and marvelously conscious at its own level.
The Evolution of Man
We have now reached in our inquiry the most interesting stage of evolution, the stage at which we ourselves are now toiling in our upward climb. It is at this stage that the need for practical religion is first felt, and where its practice helps evolution so greatly. “Religion” is derived from the Latin word religare, which means “to bind back.” So religion involves both the realization of our spiritual estrangement and a conscious effort on our part to reestablish oneness with God, our source or origin. Such an effort can only begin at the human stage of evolution, because not until that stage is reached is there any self-consciousness; and it is only self-conscious beings who can know either that they have come forth from God or that they are returning to God–or even that there is or can be or may be any such Being as God. Consequently, none below the level of the human stage can consciously practice religion, either in thought, devotion, or action. (Subhuman beings do, however, readily respond to spiritual vibrations and definitely manifest an intuitive awareness of the sacred in both animate and inanimate form.) But at the human stage the effort to understand what the great process is–as well as the purpose of our own existence and the existence of all the universe–becomes possible. The impulse to pour out our homage, however feebly, to someone when we contemplate the wonder and the beauty of creation, and the effort to conduct our lives in accordance with the laws of evolution–that is a conscious effort to get back to our origin, and that effort is the essence of religion. Therefore to be truly religious in this sense is also to be truly human.
It is to help you, who read this, to understand something of those laws of evolution, and to urge you to take your own evolution into your own hands that these truths are being presented to you. What, then, are the laws of evolution at our stage, and how are we to conduct our lives in accordance with those laws? To the attempt to answer those two main questions the next few pages will be devoted.
The Human Soul
The soul, which was formed at individualization in the manner just described, is the subject of evolution, and is a greater being than that part of him which he dips down to the level at which we are living here and now in these physical bodies, yet he is not by any means perfect. It is in order that he may acquire perfection in all respects that he makes excursions into these lower regions. There are certain qualities which can only be acquired by coming into a physical body–such qualities, for instance, as definiteness, accuracy, precision, and independence. Therefore, when the human soul has been formed, that soul at once begins to learn the lessons of the human stage of evolution by dipping down a portion of himself first to the lower mental plane, where he gathers round him a body of mental matter which we cannot see. Then he dips down still lower to the astral plane, where, again, he gathers together a body of astral or emotional matter, which, again, we cannot see. Then from that level he begins to push down into the infant body which has been produced from the bodies of his parents. In thinking of this stage of a human being’s life on earth, it should always be remembered that it is the baby body that is so young and tender, not necessarily the soul that is waiting to use that body. This will become more clear if we proceed to another stage in our explanation.
A human being, as we know him, is thus a soul who has dipped a portion of himself down to the lower mental plane, then to the emotional plane, and finally to the physical plane. And at each of these levels he has clothed himself in a body formed of the matter of that plane. Now this process of the involution of the soul into bodies is not a matter of a single occurrence only; it is done hundreds and hundreds of times. The soul comes back over and over again to this world of ours, or rather, he sends a portion of himself into this world again and again, determined to gain mastery over the matter of these lower planes, and to acquire the special qualities which can only be acquired at this level. This process is usually known as reincarnation. It is the soul which reincarnates, but it is not the same portion of the soul which comes every time. (By “portion” the bishop means a portion of the virtually infinite number of traits, abilities, and powers of the evolving soul. Therefore the temporary personality of the incarnating soul can be seen to differ from life to life–sometimes greatly.) That would hardly be possible. (That is, it would be impossible for the soul to manifest all of its qualities or traits in a single, necessarily limited, incarnation.) Therefore, when we speak of ourselves and of others as having lived many earlier lives on this earth, what we really mean is that the soul has many a time before this time sent down a portion of himself into what we call incarnation. “Incarnation” is a Latin word which simply means “in the flesh.” So reincarnation means coming back to life in the flesh. It is the soul, that larger being, who comes back again and again, or reincarnates.
The History Of The Soul
Let us now try to follow the process from the earlier lives to the later. At first the ego has very little control over his bodies. At that stage the soul is only just beginning his work at the human level of evolution, and consequently his bodies–mental, astral, and physical–are not yet by any means refined. We, too, have had such elementary and unrefined bodies in the past. In the earliest stages the soul finds himself practically a prisoner in his dense physical body–he is cribbed, cabined, and confined within it, and to a very large extent he is its slave. It controls him because he is too weak to control it. The body goes its own way, and the right and proper way for a body to go is to get as much as it can for itself. That is the law of evolution for matter. It must grasp and acquire particles from outside if it is to continue to exist. If it ceases to do this–to breathe and to eat, to acquire and to get–it ceases to exist. That is the law of evolution for matter and for material forms. And in the earlier stages of life that, too, is the law of growth for the lower types of life, for plants and trees and animals and birds. But that is not the law of growth for human beings. At the human stage another, opposite law begins to demand attention. The law of evolution for spirit is that it must give if it is to grow. It is the essence of love that it must pour itself out; it must sacrifice. If it did not, it would not love. And love is the quality which of all qualities marks the spiritual being; love is the very essence of spirit which is God.
Thus it is plain that throughout the human stage of evolution conflict is inevitable. It is right that it should be so, for conflict is the means of evolution at this particular stage. Nothing has gone wrong with the plan which God is working out. This conflict is due to the entry or “fall” of spiritual beings, the law of whose growth is the law of sacrifice–“each for all”–into the world of matter, of which the law of acquisition or getting–“each for himself”–is the law of progress. The conflict produced by this entry into a material body within the material world is described by Saint Paul. “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man [the soul]: but I see another law in my members [material body], warring against the law of my mind [i.e., soul], and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin [selfishness] which is in my members [body]” (Romans 7:22, 23).
These two laws are contrary one to the other, but each is right and very good in its own sphere. Material forms could not increase by the law which governs spiritual growth, nor could spiritual beings increase or grow under the material law. If matter sacrifices it suffers loss, and if spirit “seeks her own” it ceases to evolve. The result of the conflict is that man, by striving, gradually gains a mastery over matter and, in learning to control it, he learns how to make it serve his spiritual ends: the higher subdues the lower. Man leads captivity captive (Psalms 68:18), and by so doing he, himself, throughout the period of conflict, grows stronger, more accurate, more balanced, and more clearly defined as a soul. For it is the soul who, through the lower personality, engages in this conflict and learns its lessons. The body is allowed to live its life according to the law of its growth–that is, it is allowed to eat and drink and acquire. Otherwise it would cease to exist. But it loses its position as the dominant partner in the union of soul and body, and is brought more and more under restraint–and finally under complete restraint–by the will of the soul within.
Such, briefly stated, is the condition in which every human being at present finds himself. From first to last the struggle continues for hundreds of earth lives extended over tens–or even hundreds–of thousands of years. The human stage is the stage of the severest strain and acutest tension. Animals have not reached it and the saints and angels have passed it, but we are in the midst of it. We all know it very well, for we are all still at work at this stage. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17). The higher and the lower are continually in conflict. We know it very well, and we have known it–that is to say, our souls have known it for hundreds of thousands of years. And the end is not yet. But by now we may hope that most of us who are interested in these things have turned the corner and passed the midmost point, and that the powers we have gained in the past will stand us in good stead in the conflict which is still ahead of us before we can reach the end of the human stage of evolution, and be “men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). In all this time we have over and over again fallen below our own best. That is to say, we have known what is right and done what is wrong. And that was sin.
The Certain Future
But we need not worry about past failings too much, for it is inevitable that in this long process of intense strain and conflict we should have again and again fallen into sin. We can expect that, both of ourselves and others, and it is wrong either to blame others for their past sins or to despair of ourselves because of our own. We should simply set our teeth and go on and on with the struggle, and help others as much as we can help them, and as much as they will allow us to help them. Let us say with Saint Paul: “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14).
The end is a certainty. Our complete victory is the certain end of it all. It is certain because God–and we in God–have willed it. But that end will not be reached without our continued effort, because it is we who have to become Godlike at every level. And the only way to become Godlike is to will it at every level, from the highest level of our true self in spirit to the lowest or physical level where we now live our life in the physical body.
The Understanding Of Life
This idea of evolution through successive incarnations helps us to understand human life as we see it all around us, and explains many a difficulty which is not so well accounted for in any other theory. We see human beings at all stages of evolution. This is because they have reached the human level at very different times, a vast interval of time separating the entry on the human stage of those who are now most advanced from the entry of the least advanced. Quite obviously we are not all equal in our present stages of development. Though we do not now see any of the Cyclopean monsters who once inhabited this earth, since none are now so little evolved as that, yet we do find very many people who are certainly very primitive, and some even savage. And the great mass of people are just ordinary people, neither very good nor very bad. They are living their lives just as they come, without much thought about either the future or the past. There is no great effort on their part to subdue the body and its desires and to make it obey the will of the soul. They take life as it comes; they do what they like when they like, so far as the laws of the lands in which they live allow them. Their bodies still very largely control them, and not they their bodies, though they have passed the stage at which they had no scruples whatever in their efforts to satisfy their own hearts’ lusts. They live life after life, perhaps a hundred lives or more, without making any appreciable progress; but there is some slight progress all the time, though it is so slight that it is scarcely appreciable in any one life. Such as these form the great bulk of humanity. They have still a long way to go, and it is the business and the privilege of any of us who consider that we have got beyond that stage to hurry on with our own evolution, so as to be more capable of stimulating these to great effort and of helping them when they respond to the stimulus.
Then there are others who have quite definitely taken themselves in hand and are fighting a battle royal against the imperious demands of the lower appetites. These are the people in whom the soul is awake and stirring and making his presence felt. They are the “converted” people. They have turned from carelessly living “after the law of a carnal commandment” to seriously trying to “live by the power of an endless life” (Hebrews 7:16). They have begun to think. They have caught some vision of the plan and of the path in front of them, of the joy of sacrifice and of at-one-ment with other souls at or below their own level, as well as with the Great Ones who have gone ahead of them, and finally with God Himself. They may, and often do, fail, and fail badly; but they are seriously trying, and when they fail they pick themselves up and go on again. Such people are keenly, and even passionately, interested in religion, in philosophy or science, in music or art, in social service or in politics which are concerned with human welfare as a whole, and not merely with the welfare of just one small section of the human race. These souls are inwardly awake and will soon attain. Outwardly they are generally calm, serene, and patient. Inwardly they are determined, happy, and confident–determined not just to get their own way, but to conquer their own lower selves and to become more efficient cooperators with God. Some of them, the more advanced among them, are on the verge of attaining. They may be the great and famous people of the world, or they may be quite unknown–that depends on their mode of evolution. But, whether well known or little known, those who are on the verge of attaining are inwardly on fire with a great desire to help the whole human race along to better things.
Levels Of Evolution
So we find our brethren in the world around us. They are at all stages of growth, from the primitive aborigine to the nearly finished saint, sage, ruler, or genius of some civilized nation. They have all come forth from God; they all are God at their core; they will all be one with God again in some far-off future. Since they have come forth not simultaneously, but in successive waves, they appear now in our world at very different levels of development. It is estimated that the number of lives necessary for the human being to be made perfect is between seven and eight hundred. The least developed of our brethren, therefore, may have lived only fifty or a hundred lives on earth, whereas the most refined and cultured of them may have already completed seven hundred lives. No wonder, then, that there are such differences of culture and spiritual development. We must not blame those that are in the rear of human evolution. Why should we blame them? We were all at that level once, and they will all reach our level, and still higher levels in due time. It is as unreasonable to blame a savage or a sensualist for being what he is, and no better, as it would be for a man or woman of fifty years of age to blame a boy or girl for being still in the teens. It is useless and unprofitable to blame anyone for anything. It is not our business to blame, but to help, and to make ourselves better able to help.
For us, then, the law of our evolution is sacrifice. “Each for all” should be our motto. The human race is a single unit, and what is really good and right for each is that, and only that, which will be good for the human race as a whole. Broadly speaking, selfishness is the main evil from which we need to free ourselves, and loving-kindness the great good that we need to acquire. Our efforts from now onwards need to be directed to the task of learning to forget ourselves entirely in the service of mankind as a whole, and of making our lives all love, even as God is all love.
The Origin of Evil
Before attempting to answer the question “What is right and what is wrong?” we must consider a certain difficulty which often stands in the way of a frank and free discussion of that question. It is the difficulty connected with the problem of the origin of evil. Sooner or later everyone who thinks will find himself confronted with this problem. In all ages of which any literary record has come down to us that problem seems to have puzzled the deepest and sincerest thinkers that the human race has produced, not one of whom can be said to have solved it entirely. It is a very interesting problem, and its true solution will doubtless be discovered as we grow in knowledge. At present we are all very, very ignorant, relatively speaking. That great English genius, Isaac Newton, the discoverer of the profound laws of gravitation or the attraction which material bodies, great and small, exercise upon each other, said that the knowledge so far acquired by scientists was but as a few pebbles on the shore. That is true. Compared with what still remains to be known, the knowledge that any one of us, even the Newtons amongst us, presently possesses is a mere nothing. We must, therefore, be patient. When we cannot solve a problem such as this problem of evil, we must not assume that there is no solution of it; still less must we jump to a false conclusion when we have not sufficient facts at our disposal to form a conclusion at all. We must wait and see.
The problem, briefly stated, is this: How is it that in a creation which God, the Absolute One, has designed and is creating there is any such thing as evil, or any possibility of it? How is it that there is all this evil, which we know to exist all around us–in human beings, in the lower animal kingdom and, so it seems, in invisible beings? If God is good–and only one who is good is worthy to be called God–why did He allow evil to enter into His work? If we had been God, we sometimes say, we would not have allowed any evil, with all its attendant suffering in the human and sub-human kingdoms, to come into creation; we would not have created the locust, the cobra or the diphtheria bacillus, nor would we have allowed the instinct which impels the cat to torture the mouse; still less would we have allowed evil to take possession of human beings. Perhaps not. If we, being neither greater nor wiser than we are here and now, had had to create a universe, we might have designed it differently. But then almost certainly we would not have made the success of it that God will have made by the time that He has finished it.
Our knowledge being so limited, we need not and cannot expect to find the entire solution of so perplexing a problem so long as our knowledge is thus limited. But that is no reason why we should not strive to increase our knowledge and so get nearer to the solution. We will only venture to make a few suggestions which may serve as a useful guide to any who feel that they must pursue the problem as far as they can–suggestions which may commend themselves to the intuition more than to the intellect. In the first place, we suggest that there can ultimately be only one God, and He must be good. There cannot be two Absolutes–one good and the other bad. Even to speak of two Absolutes, or of one Absolute, as being either good or bad is absurd. If instead of “Absolute” we speak of “Cause,” our language will be less absurd. Whatever else we may mean by God, we mean at least the first cause, or the uncaused cause, of all that is. There can be only one such first cause, not two.
There have been teachers, notably in Persia (Iran), who in their attempt to solve this problem to have taught that there were two first causes, one the cause of good, and the other the cause of evil. This teaching is generally known as Dualism. The Christian religion has always opposed this teaching, and so have the greatest teachers of any religion or philosophy that the human race has produced, or that have come to the world from beyond the human race. Whatever be the true solution of the problem, Dualism is not it. Ultimately there can be only one God or first cause. That suggestion we leave with confidence to the intuition.
Then, following from that, we may safely proceed to reason that, however ill things at our level may seem to be, all is really well at the source. We know that good is good, and evil is bad. How do we know? By intuition. The God in us knows–the God in us being good. We want the good even when we do the bad. It is the God in us that knows the good and wants it. If God were not wholly good we should not know that good is good, nor prefer good to evil. From that we may proceed still further and say that evil, which sometimes seems so real, is either a delusion, or that, if it is as real as it seems, it is at least only a passing phase–it cannot last, for only that which has God in it can last. Further still, we may go along this line of reasoning and say that even if it is real it is only real at our level. Evil is only on the surface. Beneath the surface, and not so very far beneath, either, there is only good. That which we know as evil–such as envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness–never proceeded from God as such. That which we know as evil here originally proceeded from God as good, but it has been perverted or twisted out of shape on the way down to our level through the seven planes of matter. From the information we are able to gather from those who know about the soul, whose permanent habitat is the upper level of the fifth or mental plane, there does not seem to be evil there, except in some very rare cases. Imperfection may be found there, but not evil. The soul–in the sense of the higher self–of what we would call an evil person is without the evil that is so conspicuous in his character as we know him–that is, in his lower self. In his case the lower self has not yet developed the opposite and corresponding good that is in the higher self.
We are well aware that these suggestions cannot be substantiated on purely intellectual grounds, nor do they pretend to be a complete solution of the difficulty. We cannot prove them, but we claim that the first suggestion, namely, that ultimately there can be only one God, and that He must be at least as good as the highest goodness that we can conceive, commends itself to the intuition; and that the remaining suggestions seem to follow from that starting point. Therefore, if in reasoning we find ourselves heading towards the conclusion that God is evil, we may as well say “which is absurd” and start afresh on another line of reasoning with other premises. And at least let us be sufficiently humble to admit to ourselves that after all we do not know very much at present, not nearly enough to come to such conclusion as that God is not good, or that He is impotent.
Right and Wrong
We are now in a position to turn our attention to a more practical question–namely, what for us is right and what is wrong? If the main teaching of the previous pages be true–the teaching that God is working out a great purpose and that we ourselves are within that purpose–then obviously, as soon as people reach that level of development at which they are capable of apprehending that truth, the highest good and the greatest wisdom for them is to order their own lives in accord with that purpose so far as they can discover it. All, therefore, that tends to assist evolution, which is the unfolding or working out of God’s purpose, is right and to be practiced. All that tends to hinder or delay evolution is wrong and to be avoided. That is a simple proposition–so simple that it seems at first sight almost absurdly unnecessary to state it. Yet it is probably because this simple, almost self-evident truth is overlooked–possibly because it is too simple to be noticed–that so many learned people often get involved and entangled in complicated arguments when they attempt to discover for themselves and to teach others what exactly is right and what is wrong. On this main point let us keep to this main proposition: namely, that to live and work in intelligent accord with God’s plan and purpose is right; and to live and work in opposition to that purpose is wrong.
What Is The Purpose?
Let us, then, consider what in the main is God’s plan and purpose. The answer to this question, too, is really simple if we can believe that there is only one God and that He is wholly good. The plan is, on that hypothesis, to bring all seemingly separated beings to a condition of conscious oneness with each other and with God. That condition is described in the Christian religion as the Atonement, which simply means At-one-ment. That condition, when it is realized, will be a condition of perfect love, for the consciousness of oneness is love. All, therefore, in our life and conduct that springs from love and is inspired by love is good and right. Contrariwise, all that springs from hatred and is inspired by hatred is evil and wrong.
There are degrees of love and degrees of hatred. We may love more or less and we may hate more or less. We may love at one moment and hate at another moment, or we may love some people in some degree and hate others in some degree. But love and hatred in themselves are qualities which differ in kind from–and are entirely opposite to–each other, the one being always good and the other being always evil. Without going further into detail, that very simple proposition may be taken as a safe guide throughout the whole of life. With that proposition or principle as a guide, we never need be in doubt as to what, broadly speaking, is right and what is wrong for us. However, we must realize that self-satisfaction is not love. Rather love–as it proceeds from God, and as we have to learn to express it in our lives–is self-sacrifice and not self-satisfaction, though there is a lofty satisfaction in sacrificing the lower self in the interest of those whom we love. So to do the right when we see it, and to avoid the wrong when we know it, is a very much more difficult matter–as every one who reads this is well aware.
A Matter Of The Soul
The difficulty arises from the weakness of the soul in the embodied condition at our present state of evolution or development. All through the human stage of evolution we are learning to cooperate intelligently with God’s purpose. We are learning to be godlike on this lowest material plane of nature, which is the plane of life in physical bodies. The animals are in a very different condition, living by instinct. Unlike us, they are not discovering the purpose of their existence and gradually learning to cooperate intelligently with that purpose, which is God’s purpose. They are not self-conscious as we are. We can teach an animal a good deal, but we cannot teach an animal anything about the purpose of its existence, or how to consciously live its life in accordance with that purpose. That tremendous lesson can only begin to be learnt when the human kingdom is entered, and a “living soul” or man is formed (Genesis 2:7). And that soul in its earliest stages as a living soul or man is very ignorant and very weak. He gradually learns and gradually gains strength. In his earliest incarnations he makes many, many mistakes. He does the wrong over and over again, and suffers for it. He is, in his ignorance, opposing the purpose of God, though he himself is, in essence, a fragment of God dipped down into a body to do God’s work and to learn this very lesson. That being so, God is not angry with him when he makes mistakes–why should He be? The suffering that comes to him when he makes mistakes is not a punishment inflicted on him by God. It is simply the inevitable result of opposing the purpose of God. When someone falls from a tree he experiences pain, but the pain is not a punishment. Nevertheless, because of the pain he learns to be more careful when in the future he climbs trees. So human beings gradually learn not to do the things that have painful results. They gradually learn in this way what is right and what is wrong, what is in accord and what is out of accord with the great plan of God. And by avoiding the wrong they gain greater strength to do the right. But it takes many, many lives on earth, with intervals of assimilation of earth’s lessons in between, to learn the lessons and to gain strength.
Cause And Effect
It is the soul who learns and who grows gradually stronger. Sometimes the painful effects of wrongdoing do not follow immediately upon the doing of the wrong. They may not even follow in the same life. But the soul sees the connection between the effect and the cause, however widely these may be separated, and he makes a note of it. Then, when the lower personality (perhaps even in a still later life) is inclined to do again the wrong deed, the soul sends down warnings, and these warnings are what we call conscience. The soul may neglect to send the warnings or, if he does send them, the lower personality may take no notice of them and do again the same wrong deed. Then more pain follows. This may happen–and often does happen, as we know only too well–over and over again, even when we know that an action is wrong. We must always suffer for such action, even though in the lower personality we may not always be able to connect the suffering with the wrongdoing. But the soul knows, and gradually in this way he gains knowledge and acquires strength, and impresses his will more and more upon his lower personalities in successive incarnations. Thus we grow, wiser and wiser and stronger and stronger. It is all splendidly arranged, and perfectly just. When we are right, then happiness follows.
To be or to do right is to be in accord with God’s plan. And the realization of God’s satisfaction as His plan takes the shape that He wants it to take is happiness. And when we are wrong, then pain follows. To be or to do wrong is to be out of accord with God’s plan, and so not only not to experience God’s satisfaction, but to meet the opposition of God’s purpose to our actions–and that is pain. This law never fails. It is the law of cause and effect, and is generally known as the law of Karma, an eastern word which means action and implies reaction. It is very just, and it is very effectual. Under that law we learn what exactly is right and what exactly is wrong–and, more than that, we learn to avoid the wrong and to choose the right, and so we acquire strength.
That we are still weak in certain respects only means that we have not yet learnt all the lessons of human life. But, though we all are weak in some respects, we must remember that we are not altogether weak. At the stage at which most of us are now we have acquired a considerable amount of strength. We have lived many hundreds of lives already, and in that time our souls have gained a great deal of knowledge and experience, and have acquired many of the qualities which they seek to acquire as the result of repeated incarnations. We do not now behave as savages behave. We could not do so. Nor are we generally coarse, vulgar, obscene, and filthy; still less are we “earthly, sensual, and devilish” (James 3:15). We have long since left those stages behind, and we are not really likely ever to return to them again. But still we need to acquire other qualities before we can pass from the human to a yet higher kingdom. And for this we need still greater strength of will, for we still have to avoid at higher levels the wrong, which for ages we have neither recognized nor sought to avoid.
Entry into the Kingdom of Heaven
This book is being written with the idea of helping the readers understand religion and to practice it. Anyone who is sufficiently interested in the subject of religion to study this, as well as other writings on religion and spiritual life, is almost assuredly at a level of evolution at which a great effort now will take him near to the topmost rungs of the ladder which lead from the human to the superhuman kingdom. It is for such as these now literally to “lay hold on eternal life” (I Timothy 6:12, 19). They need now especially to turn their attention to the cultivation of the finer qualities of human character, and more especially to the cultivation of spiritual consciousness, and become established in it. So that just as now it is quite impossible for them to lapse into savagery, so it may become equally impossible for them to turn aside from the path that leads unto life eternal.
This being so, we are now in a position to trace the course of human evolution at its final stage–that is, at the stage which leads from the human to the superhuman kingdom. This stage is generally known in mystical theology as The Path. There is a clear reference to it in the Christian gospel, where Our Lord Jesus said: “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). The book of Job speaks of “a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen” (Job 28:7). That is, there is a way that neither the highest development nor the subtlest interior sight can perceive on its own–by purely natural evolution. Rather, it is revealed by God unto those who say to Him, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek” (Psalms 27:8), for “Thou wilt shew me the path of life” (Psalms 16:11). Those who walk that path discover for themselves that “the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Psalms 4:18). There are references to the same concept in the sacred literature of other great religions, especially in Taoism which is based on the idea of The Way (Tao).
“Few there be that find it.” In any generation those who find this Path and tread it are certainly few compared with the great mass of beings who form the human race, yet we must never lose sight of the great fact that all human beings will one day find that Path and tread it to its end: the Kingdom of Heaven.
Much has been said already about the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. It is an expression which occurs frequently in the Christian Gospel in the words of the Lord Jesus Himself.
What Is It?
The Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God is the whole of that condition of consciousness which lies immediately above and beyond the stage of merely human consciousness. It is an inclusive term for those stages of evolution, however many there be, beginning at the point where the human soul becomes conscious of his own divinity, and continuing by higher stages to so intense a realization of oneness with God as we, who are only at the human level, could not understand, even if it could be told to us. For us at present such an explanation of the term is surely sufficient. We use the term the Kingdom of Heaven for that which lies above and beyond our own human kingdom in much the same way as we use the terms The Animal Kingdom, The Plant Kingdom, and The Mineral Kingdom for those levels that lie immediately below our own. It is obviously difficult for one who has not as yet experienced the conditions of the Kingdom of Heaven, even at the level immediately ahead of the human kingdom, to give any really satisfactory account of those conditions to others who likewise have not yet experienced them. Nevertheless, something profitable may be said about those conditions, and we may attempt some sort of description of the life of that Kingdom–which, even before we attain to it, our imaginations may picture with eager anticipation.
We can at least get some idea of those conditions of enlarged consciousness by a comparison of our own human consciousness with the consciousness of an animal. Take the most intelligent type of animal that we know, such as a dog or a horse, and bring it into a picture gallery. It will have no appreciation whatever of the beauties that we can see there. Similarly our animal friends cannot understand in the least such things as motor cars, machinery, television sets, literature, and even games. Their consciousness is not large enough to comprehend them. Some of them seem to appreciate music to some extent–just to the extent that it seems to please them, but that is all. Most of them have the capacity for making friends both with other animals of their own kind, with a few of other kinds, and with us human beings–even to the extent of sacrificing their lives for their human friends. That friendship of animals for us is something to be greatly admired and enjoyed and to be profoundly thankful for. Yet, after all, in spite of their capacity for friendship, how little of the life of even a child can the most developed animal understand. The consciousness of an animal compared with that of a human child is very, very limited. And equally limited is the consciousness of even a well-educated, highly-civilized human being compared with that of a superhuman being, such as a saint or an angel. If, then, we can imagine a being whose consciousness is as much more fully developed than that of a human being as the consciousness of a human being is wider and fuller than that of an animal, we will have some idea of the condition of consciousness of those who are now in the Kingdom of Heaven.
But even so, the idea that such a comparison will present will be an idea only of the extent of a superhuman being’s consciousness, not of its quality. To arrive at some sort of idea of the quality of consciousness of a member of the Kingdom of Heaven we must again draw on our imagination. Using the knowledge that we already possess of the end and aim of human evolution, we may picture a collection of people in whom those qualities which we aim at acquiring have been perfectly developed. Further, we may picture them living and working together with a single aim and as a single unit. The end and aim of our human evolution is that we may realize and appreciate our oneness with God and with each other. That will be our condition when we have fully developed those godlike qualities that we know are in existence deep within our own being, and that by our actions and reactions in the world in which we live are gradually being brought to the surface. As regards its quality, a complete realization of oneness marks the condition of the consciousness of those who belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Struggling Up The Ladder
The strife and confusion that we know so well–both within our own individual souls and in our relations with others–are due to the lower self or personality of each one of us which, it should be remembered, is but a fragment of the soul working continually for its own separate interest, and not for the interests of mankind as a whole. This condition of strife, as we described earlier, is due ultimately to the law of material growth–“each for himself”–warring against the law of spiritual evolution–“each for all”–in one and the same person, and to the confusion at the physical level of the differing currents of evolution. That condition of strife is all over, passed and done with, by the time a human being leaves behind him the human kingdom and enters the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition in which there is no strife.
In an earlier stage upon the way to the Kingdom, the lower personality is, so to speak, drawn up into the life of the soul, and this union is made more complete during the further stages along the way. Someone at those stages is still a human being, though he is on the Path that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven. But he is such a human being as looks out upon life–his own life and the lives of others of the human kind–from the standpoint of a soul, and no longer from that of a fragment of a soul very largely dominated by the material conditions of his embodied life. For at the stage in which he enters upon the superhuman stage, the soul is itself drawn up into the life of the spirit, and at that moment realizes and becomes conscious of his own divinity. That is to say, he who was but a human being, such as ourselves, then becomes fully conscious on all the planes of nature below the second plane. (See the diagram of The Seven Planes of Matter on page 15.) He remains himself, and yet he is at the same time all others as well. He is conscious in all other centers of consciousness as well as in his own. Such is the consciousness of oneness, God Consciousness.
The Citizens Of The Kingdom
Bearing this in mind, it is possible now to conceive the quality of the consciousness of those, however many there be, who now form the Kingdom of Heaven. There may be millions, yet they are one. All strife with others has been left behind before the Path was entered or whilst the Path was being trodden. And strife within themselves is no longer necessary, or even possible. For, though they continue to evolve, the critical stage of evolution–the stage of severest conflict between the spiritual and the material, the human stage–has been safely traversed and left behind. They are many, and yet they are one and act as one. They are distinct from each other, and yet they never act, think, or plan, as we so often do, each for his own interests and for his own advantage. Such self-interestedness at that level is altogether unknown, and is indeed impossible. That is the main difference, as regards quality, between the condition of life in the Kingdom of Heaven and the condition of life, as we know it so well, in our human kingdom.
As to the number of those who have attained to the Kingdom of Heaven we cannot have any idea. But those who know of these matters tell us of a thin stream in every age passing from our world to theirs. May we soon be of that number!
The Work Of The Kingdom
Before we leave this fascinating subject it must be pointed out that not all who attain to the Kingdom of Heaven engage, in that condition, in the same work. Some, it is true, have as their main work the helping of us, their younger brethren, who still form the human race. Such as these are the Saints and Masters. Others have work to do outside the human race and beyond the planet Earth. Others, again, join the Angelic evolution, and still others may pass right outside the creation and return into the Bosom of the Father, the transcendent realm beyond all relativity whatsoever, where all evolution is forever at an end.
Furthermore, they are not all at the same level. There are many stages of evolution beyond that which leads from the human to the superhuman kingdom. “From glory to glory” (II Corinthians 3:18) they pass on and on to heights and states of consciousness which we cannot possibly conceive. It is important to remember this, especially in view of the consideration of the nature and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we must attempt almost immediately.
Such, very briefly and fragmentarily, is the condition of consciousness, both in extent and quality of superhuman beings, such as the Saints, Masters, and Angels. Such, too, it should never be forgotten, is the condition into which we who are now human are invited to press, saying with Saint Paul: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
The Kingdom of God is within us, we are told by our Lord Jesus (Luke 17:21), and in the light of what has been described so imperfectly here, but so much more perfectly by other writers, especially the saints themselves, we can see how true is that encouraging assurance. The Kingdom of God is within us, and we are also told to take it by storm (Matthew 11:12). That is to say, to labor to develop the qualities which are essentially those of the Kingdom of Heaven, and which, when developed, will admit us, so to speak, automatically to the fellowship of our elder brothers: a fellowship which is described as “The Communion of Saints,” our Lord Jesus and our Mother Mary being “the Saints of Saints.”
Christ Our Lord
We will now consider the position of Christ Our Lord in our human life, and especially in our religious life. The religious life may be defined once more as the conscious and intelligent effort which human beings make, in whatever way, to realize their oneness with God, the Source of all life, and with each other. This effort may be made by deep thinking, by sheer devotion, or by intense love for our visible fellow-creatures, human and sub-human. The most effective–indeed essential–practice, though, is meditation. Faith in all cases precedes such effort, for faith is the belief, conscious or subconscious, intelligent or instinctive, that there is a source of all life Who may as well be called God as anything else, and that union with Him, as with our fellows, is possible. And that such union, when attained, will be the complete satisfaction of the deepest longings of the human soul. There is an instinctive longing for such union within every human heart, and to some extent it seems to be present as an instinct in sub-human life also. “The heart is restless till it finds its rest in God,” said Saint Augustine in the fourth century, and the same instinct was likened by Giordano Bruno in the sixteenth century to water seeking to regain its own level. The human spirit is the water, and its own level is God, with Whom the human spirit intelligently or instinctively seeks to unite itself. That restless desire is faith, and the conscious effort to satisfy that desire is religion.
It will be obvious at once to anyone who thinks of such matters for a moment that such a universal longing, however obscured or subverted it may seem to be in certain persons and at certain stages of human evolution, is a very important factor indeed in human evolution. The purpose of the religious systems, which from time to time have been founded in the world by the will of God, is to train and rightly to direct this fundamental instinct, and by so doing to lead multitudes of human beings to their Source. That is the work of Our Lord Jesus Christ–as is the work of all great Faiths–Hindu, Buddhist, Parsi (Zoroastrian), Jewish, Mohammadan–as well. Jesus the Lord is the loving and merciful Shepherd of all His sheep. “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11).
A Wider View
God has arranged the guidance of the religious longing in all mankind for union with Him. And He has provided that guidance Himself through establishing the various religions of the world, either through incarnations of God (avatars) or through illumined Masters. (For an explanation of the nature of divine incarnation, see Robe of Light.) Through that divine incarnation known as Jesus of Nazareth God Himself founded the great Christian religion, through which after two thousand years He still evokes the devotions of millions in East and West–drawing all that is noble and godlike in them to the surface and so hastening their spiritual growth. In Jesus perfect divinity and perfect humanity were joined. Therefore Saint Paul, exhorting the early Christians to manifest the same status as Jesus, could say: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
The Power Of The Ever-living Christ
Jesus brought forth into the world that divine force which is known as the Apostolic Succession, the continuing operation of the Holy Spirit in and upon the disciples of the Lord Jesus. If we would have some idea how stupendous that force is we need only look at the utter immediacy of Christ in the world today, however exoteric and fragmentary most Christianity has become. Its survival in the face of such erosion and domination by often utterly unworthy people–which its enemies delight in pointing out–demonstrates the divine character of Christianity and the continuing efficacy of the Apostolic Succession. Our Lord Jesus was only present in the outer world–that is, embodied upon the earth–for thirty-three years, of which thirty were spent out of the public eye. (More than half of his life was passed in India with the great Masters whom we know as “the wise men” who visited him after his birth. See The Christ of India.) Some scholars feel that His public ministry did not last for much more than one year–two at the most. Think of it–just one year, or at the most three years, of public work and teaching–and what an effect! For two thousand years people in their millions have been drawn to Him and are still drawn, and by being drawn to Him are lifted in their evolution nearer to God. Compare the effect of His short visit with that of any great figure in secular history that we know. There is no comparison. No great figure of an ordinary human being can hold human beings in such multitudes for so many centuries as He has done. It is marvelous–the magnetism, the spiritual power of such a Person. Remember, too, the conditions of the world for which His Christian religion was intended–especially those of the West and the Middle East.
During these two thousand years human beings in western bodies have been developing especially the lower mind–the scientific, concrete “left-brain” mind. Now that mind, which is of course an essential development in the human soul and must necessarily be developed at some stage in human evolution, is notoriously “the slayer of the real.” When it is strongly and disproportionately developed, what chance has religion, which plays upon the intuition, the higher mind and the subtler emotions as a breath of wind plays on the strings of a harp? It would seem to have no chance at all and, as we look over the history of Europe during these past twenty centuries, very often it has seemed to have been “clean forgotten like a dead man out of mind.” Yet it has always revived again; and what fruits it has borne! what saintly characters! what music! what art! what literature! what loving-kindness and graciousness in the midst of barbarism, darkness, ignorance, cruelty, and selfishness! What a force to have produced such an effect! No ordinary man–no, nor any extraordinary man–however great as a man, could possibly have done that. The Christian Church is right to proclaim that He is a Divine Man. He certainly is, but He was once human just as we are (again, see Robe of Light and The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ). Long, long ago He lived as we are living now. Life after life He lived until He had learnt all the lessons that embodied life has to teach. Then, long ago, He became superhuman, and still passed on and on till He reached such a level as He has now reached–a level which is far beyond our ken. Thus, though He is now divine at every level, though He is completely one with the Second Person of the Trinity, yet He knows all our experiences, our sins, our sorrows, and our joys, for He was Himself human before He took “the manhood into God.”
The divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ is a perfectly true teaching, but the teaching of exoteric Christians that He alone of human beings is divine is a teaching which can be supported only by those who maintain that the Theistic idea of God, as earlier discussed, is the only true idea. But, as we saw in that section, that is not the only possible idea of God, nor, in the opinion of esoteric Christianity, is it the idea which comes nearest to the truth. Since we do not wish to involve ourselves in theological controversies, we will leave it at that without going into the labyrinthine theologizings of the exoteric Christian Church at any greater length. Yet it is necessary to say just so much, because the esoteric Christian teaching on this point is so unacceptable to many good and sincere exoteric Christians.
The Christian Religion
It now remains to show what are the special features of that religion with which the readers of these pages will be most familiar–namely, the Christian religion. A religion such as the Christian religion is both a teaching and a life. It both shows to people what is the plan of life, as God has designed it, and extends to them the necessary help or grace to live their lives in accordance with that plan. We will attempt to show in summary form how in the Christian religion the plan of God is unfolded, and in what doctrinal formulæ it is presented to the human mind. Also presented will be the various means by which grace or spiritual power is brought down from higher to lower levels, and extended far and wide over the levels at which human beings in the incarnate state live their lives.
For our present purpose we may leave on one side the great doctrines which describe the being of God and the nature of Christ, for these have already been considered earlier. It is sufficient to say that in the Christian religion the doctrine of the Trinity is distinctly taught; that the idea of God which finds most favor amongst Christians of all varieties, both now and in the past, is the idea which has been described as Theism; and that Christians of all ages and of all shades of opinion are at one in the belief that Christ is “very God of very God” and “of one substance with the Father.” We do not suppose that any who are able to accept the teaching so incompletely–because so briefly–outlined in the earlier sections as substantially true will have any difficulty in giving their assent to the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ–at any rate, in the simple form in which they are here expressed, though they may not be at all prepared to accept the teaching of Theism as the truest possible definition of the being of God. But we must now consider the application of those teachings in the Christian form to the life and progress of humankind, for it is in this application that their interest for us chiefly consists.
There are two main doctrines which sum up the whole of the teaching of the Christian Faith concerning God’s dealings with man and man’s relation to Christ and to God. These are the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Redemption. We will consider these separately for the sake of greater clearness, though it will be seen as we proceed that there must be some overlapping and interlocking.
The term “Incarnation” is almost invariably used for the coming of God the Son in the flesh in the form of Jesus Christ. The word, as we have already seen, is a Latin word which means “taking flesh” or “coming in flesh.” But to use the term as referring exclusively to the coming of Christ in the body of Jesus of Nazareth is to narrow the natural meaning of the term quite unnecessarily. Yet those whose idea of God is the Theistic idea–the idea, namely, that God is quite distinct from His creatures, could not conceive of the Incarnation of the Son of God in any other way or as applying to more than one human person. That narrowing of the idea of Incarnation to a single person, even though that Person be so great a One as our Lord Jesus Christ, is an instance of a great truth being deprived of its full value by the inability of western man to visualize God except through left-brain spectacles. If, however, our idea of God is that He is in all and that all is in Him–the idea which is usually described as Pan-entheism, and which has been presupposed in these considerations–the term Incarnation as applied to the Son of God will have a fuller meaning than it has for our exoteric Christian brethren.
The Incarnation in this theory applies to all that long process of the descent of the divine life into matter, deeper and deeper into plane below plane of the seven planes of matter, till it becomes almost completely lost or dead within the densest form of matter, as we know it in the mineral kingdom. Then it begins to rise, on the opposite side of the ellipse of evolution, and passes through the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom, and so reaches the human level. All that vast process of involution and evolution is the process of the Incarnation of God the Son. That mass of spiritual life, undifferentiated on the second plane of nature, becomes differentiated in his descent into matter and so into human flesh. That, and not just the birth of a single individual in a physical body, is the Incarnation of God. Thus the Incarnation in this larger sense involves the gradual self-limitation of God, and that is His eternal sacrifice whereby the worlds in His creation are formed and are continually sustained. His is the life outpoured, which is the sustaining life immanent in every atom of the universe.
At this point the idea of Incarnation shades off into the idea of Redemption. Redemption to the majority of Christians means a certain transaction whereby Christ has rescued human beings from a condition of sorrow here and suffering, both here and hereafter, which has been caused, in this theory, by sin–both the hereditary taint of sin and the repeated transgression by every man of the moral law. This transaction was effected by Christ’s sinless life, by His willingness to die, by His crucifixion and resurrection, literally conceived, by His ascension to oneness with God the Father, and by the distribution from that exalted level of spiritual gifts and graces to His followers of any and every generation and of all ages. But redemption, like incarnation, has a larger and fuller meaning than this. In the larger sense it refers to the continual lifting up or reclaiming of the lower self to the level of the higher self, a process which continues, as we have seen, throughout the human stage of evolution and to some extent through the subhuman stages, until man “ascends” from the human kingdom to take his true place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Throughout this process the Christ principle in man is at work within every man.
The Dual Meaning Of Christ
It must be remembered that the term “Christ” is used in the Christian Scriptures and constantly in Christian literature in two senses. It is used to describe the Second Person of the Trinity in His creative activity. In this sense esoteric Christian teachers constantly speak of “the Christ principle” in the universe, of “the cosmic Christ” and of “Christ in us.” The term is also used to describe the great Being, the Messiah (“Christ” being the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”), the World Teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Who founded the Christian religion. In both senses it is true that Christ is our Redeemer or Savior. Christ as God in the wider of these two senses is the Spirit within us, our true Self, the life within the human spirit. As such He is always, throughout the period of evolution, influencing that portion of Himself which is the human soul; and that soul is always influencing that portion of himself which is the conscious self in every man’s waking life. It is in this sense that Christ dies to save those fragments of Himself which are ourselves. His incarnation deep down into physical matter or flesh is truly His continual death, crucifixion, and burial. But as man gradually evolves and emerges from his earlier condition of ignorance, material selfishness and sin, it is the Christ in him Who rises from this death of sin and limitation.
So, too, Christ in the other sense, Christ the Messiah, our great Elder Brother (See Hebrews 2:17 and Romans 8:17.), is also our Redeemer. For by his tremendous achievement in rising to his present level, being always one with us, he lifts us with him, though we do not feel that he is lifting us. And by his power and grace, which he sends to us in the manner to be described in the next section of this study, He also attaches us closely to himself at all levels, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual, and so reclaims us from our bondage to earth conditions. So he redeems and saves us from our bondage to sin and selfishness, which in some degree is the condition of all human beings until they reach the point in which the soul is drawn up to the level of the spirit, with which it then becomes one, and can sin no more. (See I John 3:9, and 5:18.) That ascension marks man’s complete salvation or redemption from the relatively lower life, which he has lived before then, both as a soul and as but a fragment of a soul in material embodiment. The idea of salvation from punishment and the “wrath of God” need never be entertained, nor even considered.
The Essence Of Christianity
Incarnation, Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, Redemption–the ideas connoted by these familiar terms constitute the Christian “deposit of faith;” upon this “deposit” Christian teachers and believers for the first thousand years (more or less) of Christianity built an elaborate system of theology which has influenced the thought of practically all the people of European origin during the second thousand years. We are all familiar with it. It is taught in the exoteric churches and at Sunday schools, and it is expounded in the hymns with which we have been familiar since childhood. But the substratum of it all is the Truth of involution and evolution, which, in the earlier part of this book, we have tried to make plain. The “deposit of faith,” as defined by exoteric Christianity, is found to break down at many points in the light of higher knowledge, and to be unsatisfactory from many standpoints. Well, let it go. It does not matter. All that matters is that God is working a great purpose out, that His purpose is evolution, and that He cannot fail. That is the essence of the Christian Faith considered as a Faith. But Christianity is also a life, and it is to its life that we must now turn our attention.
Christianity As Spiritual Power–The Sacraments
The Christian religion is not only a philosophy of life–it is also a power which helps those who are receptive to spiritual influence to live the life that it teaches. We have already attempted a very brief outline of Christian philosophy, and it was claimed for this philosophy that it is the same as that which underlies all the great religious faiths. The key-conception of this philosophy is evolution. Evolution is the working out of God’s purpose. Slowly the great purpose is being unfolded age by age. There is a great force within the universe, and within every atom of it on every plane, which causes this gradual unfoldment. That force is the God-force, which “mightily and sweetly ordereth all things.” But, as we have already seen, God has provided that at certain stages the force from within shall be met by a force from without, both making for the same end. The combination of these two forces obviously must assist evolution enormously at those levels and in those people where the two forces meet and can work together.
There is within us human beings, as in all other beings, the divine force at work. It is irresistible, yet it does not force a way. It is gentle in its working. It will wait until the person in whom it works is ready to let it work rather than compel that person to submit to it. We speak of the force as “it,” but it is really God. Sooner or later that force from within will achieve its purpose in every human soul, but not by compulsion. At every point in the whole vast universe that force is operative, but at the human level it delays, it hangs back, until the human soul is ready to recognize it as right and good and to cooperate with it. For such as these there comes the mighty aid of the spiritual force which is conveyed to human souls through the initiatic rites of religion. In the Christian religion the Sacraments are a major means by and through which this spiritual force is brought down from on high to our level.
There are several Sacraments or means of grace in the Christian Church. The Protestant sections of Christendom only recognize two sacraments, and to those two they do not attach much importance–they think of them rather as symbols of events than as channels of grace (spiritual power). The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other sacramental Christian churches, on the other hand, attach the very greatest importance to them, for they see in them not merely symbols or signs, but symbols which are in part that which they symbolize. In theological language they are efficacia signa–signs or symbols which carry their effect with them. It is this view which we propose now to expand.
The Sacraments have been handed down from generation to generation throughout the centuries, from the very beginning of the life of the Christian Church. The Lord Jesus himself directed his first disciples to use them and to hand them on to others wherever they established groups of Christian initiates. This receives confirmation from the fact that millions upon millions of people through the centuries have found in their own experience that the Sacraments really are vital means of spiritual help. The Sacraments are alive with the life of Christ. This can be distinctly experienced by those who have developed their inner perceptions through meditation and participation in the Sacraments. The Lord Jesus Christ uses the Sacraments as means by which his life and his power, proceeding from his exalted level, is brought down to our level and distributed far and wide. By these means spiritual forces are both poured out upon individual Christian initiates and, in the case of the Eucharist (or Mass), are spread over the world, blessing and uplifting as many people as are receptive to them.
The Sacraments are so designed and arranged as to meet and to help human beings at every stage of the initiatic life. The first Sacrament is Baptism. The effect of Baptism is to deaden the influence of bad tendencies and strongly to stimulate the seeds of good–both of which the individual has incurred from former incarnations, as well as this present one. At the same time a special guardian angel is linked to the life of the newly-baptized for the protection of his interior evolution.
Baptism And Confirmation
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him” (Matthew 3:16). As with our Lord, so it is with us. Immediately after the cleansing effects of Baptism which clear away so many inner obstacles, the Sacrament of Confirmation (known in the Christian East as Chrismation) is conferred to fill us with the divine light of the Holy Spirit. The Archangel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Here, too, we are like her. Through Confirmation we are truly “filled with the Holy Spirit” so that our own Christhood may be conceived with us and in time brought forth unto our perfection. To assist in the accomplishing of this, centers of inner powers within the body–known in Yoga as “chakras”–are anointed with sacred Chrism (divinely empowered oil) to purify, attune, empower, and awaken them for the conveying of higher consciousness to the initiate. The spirit, the intuition, the mental nature (both higher and lower), the emotional nature, and the physical body are all strengthened and stimulated with force from on high by this Sacrament.
Although the Sacraments have an immediate effect, they also have a long-range effect–for the rest of the initiate’s life as he perseveres in the path of conscious spiritual evolution. This is especially true in regard to Baptism and Confirmation. But in all the Sacraments it is Christ our Lord Who pours the grace through the Sacraments, and it is faith and preparation which appropriates it. Faith cannot create the grace–Christ alone can do that. And Sacraments, administered by those who have themselves been set apart and empowered through the great Sacrament of Priestly Ordination, are his chosen channels for the distribution of his deifying spiritual power.
The Anointing Of The Sick
“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). The Sacrament which is known as the Anointing of the Sick is the carrying out of this counsel of Saint James, the first Master of the Christian community in Jerusalem. By anointing the sick person with healing oil that has been specially magnetized by a bishop, and by laying his hands on the sufferer while invoking the healing powers of Christ, a priest confers this Sacrament–not only for the healing of the body, but also for the healing of the emotions, intellect, and will. “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up” (James 5:15).
The Sacrament of Ordination is in a sense the key to all the other Sacraments, and for this reason it has been left until the last, though perhaps it would have been more appropriately placed at the beginning of this section. Holy Orders, or Ordination, is the Sacrament at which the power to administer all the Sacraments is conferred on certain chosen candidates. There are three grades or degrees of Ordination: bishops, priests, and deacons. At every ordination it is the bishop who confers the Order, whether it is to the diaconate, to the priesthood, or consecration to the episcopate. And the outer form of the Sacrament is the laying on of hands.
The inner side of it is very interesting, and for those who receive Holy Orders very solemn indeed. At the laying on of hands the Lord himself links the inner principles of the candidate closely to himself. By “inner principles” is meant the higher mind, the intuition, and the spiritual faculty. The link is made with the higher mind in the case of a deacon, with the intuition in the case of a priest, and with the spiritual faculty in the case of a bishop. The purpose of this inner linking is not that the man, whoever he is, may have the honor and joy of being thus linked to the Lord for his own sake (though, of course, it is a very high honor indeed), but that through the man thus ordained the Lord himself may do what is necessary at every Sacrament to make that Sacrament a real channel for his power. The Lord is really the officiant at every Sacrament, not the priest or bishop. The minister, of whatever degree, is for this purpose part of the Lord himself, providing the material apparatus which the Lord needs for the distribution of his power and blessing far and wide at our level.
The handing on of the grace of Orders and of the power and authority to administer Sacraments is confined to bishops. The power to do this has been handed on by the laying on of hands from generation to generation, since the time when our Lord himself founded the Christian religion. This continuity is generally known as the “Apostolic Succession.” The principle to be borne in mind is that at every Sacrament the ordained minister acts only by virtue of his inner link with the Lord Jesus Christ. He is, so to speak, for this purpose an instrument, with mind and hands and voice, for the Lord to use.
From the foregoing it will be seen that Sacraments are very real and important means to effect our ultimate evolution unto divinity. The thousands of saints produced by the Sacraments of the Christian Church in both East and West–indeed, throughout the world–are the proof of this.
The Supreme Sacrament
“Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (Matthew 13:33). The Holy Eucharist, the Mass, is the supreme Sacrament, for it is specifically the Sacrament of Love–a love so great, so free, and so giving, that in it we receive the total being of Christ our Lord to act as a divine leaven within us that in time will bring us “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). That is, through Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist we are enabled to become a Christ–as Jesus of Nazareth did before us. The Eucharist is important, also, in that it is the most frequently administered and has the most widespread effect of all the Sacraments. To explain it at all adequately it will be necessary to consider it separately further a little later on. All that need be said about it at this point is that it is intended to benefit not only those who participate in the transformative rite, but the world and its inhabitants, visible and invisible. Mystics have told us that the Holy Eucharist extends its effects even beyond this material plane and sweetens all the worlds with the love and light of Christ.
The Holy Eucharist
A vast mass of literature has been written on the subject of the Holy Eucharist–also known as Mass. At every Eucharist celebrated by a priest or bishop who has been empowered through the Apostolic Succession there are two main features. There is, as in every other Sacrament, the helping of the individual communicant, and there is also in this Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist the distribution of spiritual help and power throughout the world and the inner planes as well. For in the Eucharist Christ descends directly upon the earth, and in that re-incarnation of our Lord his blessing, power, peace, and healing grace floods through every atom of the planet and those within its life-sphere. It is no wonder then that the Irish have said for centuries: “Only the Mass matters.” For it is the sacrament of life.
The Heart of the Eucharist
The central point of the Eucharist is the Prayer of Consecration, in which the elements of bread and (unfermented) wine are transformed from elements of earth into the very divine light and life–the Consciousness–that manifested as the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, the bread and wine are transmuted into the living consciousness of Christ which takes the form of bread and wine, as two thousand years ago it took the form of a human body in Bethlehem. Thus in the Holy Eucharist we do not receive literal flesh and blood, but rather the Life and Consciousness that is Christ the Lord. And this becomes assimilated into our own life and consciousness, thus bearing us further along toward the goal of our own Christhood.
Greater love than this there could not be, and greater love than this shall never be–that we, the children of the Kingdom, should come to live with Christ’s own Life. The bread and wine become very truly channels and vehicles through which the life of God Himself is brought directly and immediately into our life. This is the wonder which is sometimes called “transubstantiation.” It is indeed miraculous–that is to say, the exchange of bread and wine for Christ Consciousness is effected in accordance with laws of nature which are far beyond the ken of ordinary human beings. But it is not beyond the ken of the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit Who work the wonder at every Eucharist. When this wonder occurs, the whole place becomes filled with power and blessing from on high. It is filled with the divine life that now has taken on the forms of bread and wine. And this spiritual force and blessing begins to spread abroad, ultimately reaching every particle of “the earth and all that therein is” (Psalms 146:6).
The Purpose of the Eucharist
This is one of the main purposes of the Eucharist. It is as though a shaft were driven through a dense cloud overhanging our earth, and through that shaft a brilliant ray of sunlight were to reach us from regions far above the cloud and then to be spread abroad laterally on our side of the cloud. That is the Lord’s way of spreading his blessing and giving his help. This Sacramental method was instituted by him as a very effective means of imparting his love to all. Further, each one who receives Holy Communion at the Eucharist enters into very real union with Christ–both Jesus Christ and the Cosmic Christ. If this communion with him is repeated week after week or day after day, it must inevitably have the effect of so stimulating the communicant’s real inner life that he increasingly reproduces in his own life the nature and character of the Lord himself–thus experiencing what Saint Paul meant when he spoke of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
Universal blessing and individual union with Christ are the two essential features of every true Eucharist. The Lord himself comes to us in his divine status and spreads his heavenly life upon all the world. And he unites himself with every communicant and in this way, especially if this union is repeated continually, he assists the evolution of the communicant’s inner life to an extent that we cannot estimate, enabling the Initiate of Christ to say in the words of the First Ode of Solomon:
The Lord is on my head like a crown.
And I shall not be without Him.
They wove for me a crown of truth,
And it caused Thy branches to bud in me.
For it is not like a withered crown which buddeth not;
But Thou livest upon my head,
And Thou hast blossomed upon my head.
Thy fruits are full-grown and perfect,
They are full of Thy salvation. Alleluia.
See also: The Yoga of the Sacraments