SPIRIT, MIND AND MATTER
The “midway point of evolution” is that stage where the astral prototypes definitely begin to pass into the physical, and thus become subject to the differentiating agencies now operative around us. Physical causation supervenes immediately on the assumption of “coats of skin” – i.e., the physiological equipment in general. The forms of Men and mammalia previous to the separation of sexes are woven out of astral matter, and possess a structure utterly unlike that of the physical organisms, which eat, drink, digest, etc., etc., etc. The known physiological contrivances in organisms were almost entirely evolved subsequently to the incipient physicalization of the 7 Root-Types out of the astral – during the “midway halt” between the two planes of existence. Hardly had the “ground-plan” of evolution been limned out in these ancestral types, than the influence of the accessory terrestrial laws, familiar to us, supervened, resulting in the whole crop of mammalian species. Aeons of slow differentiation were, however, required to effect this end.
The Secret Doctrine, ii 736
Human beings hold within themselves the keys to their own growth, both as individuals and as a species. The chief gain behind the resuscitation of the concept of evolution, since the nineteenth century, is the greater sense of human responsibility towards the whole of Nature. Understood rightly, the idea of spiritual evolution opens up avenues of authentic creativity which are also the means of fulfilment of the sacrificial dharma of humanity. To see the basis of moral responsibility and human freedom in the idea of evolution, however, one must let go the baggage of anthropomorphic religion and materialistic notions of Nature. In the long run, it makes little difference whether one conceives of man as the adventitious special creation of a supernatural god or as the equally adventitious product of a fortuitous concurrence of atoms. In either case, one has divorced quintessential self-consciousness from the root of Nature. One view regards the position of humanity in Nature as a kind of Babylonian captivity, to be resented and endured until the arrival of an unsolicited apocalypse and an undeserved deliverance. The other sees mankind as a transitory quirk of cosmic probabilities, like a wave formed in and out of the waters of the open sea, which seems engaged in a struggle for survival and stasis that is ultimately as meaningless to itself as to the element into which it will again be dissolved. Each of these views distorts the fundamental Teaching of Gupta Vidya.
Ancient wisdom holds that there is a fiery spark of divinity latent in every human being, and that each person can, through the quickening of that fire, rise in consciousness to a condition exalted above but never alienated from all the intelligent hosts and hierarchies of differentiated Nature. This realization of freedom involves no break in the moral solidarity between Man and Nature. Rather, it is accomplished through steps of sacrifice towards all other beings. Nor is there anything accidental about the power which involves Man in differentiated Nature and which makes possible his mastery of it. That power is the radiant light-energy of the Atman, reflected and refracted in all the planes and principles of Nature and Man. Nor is there, according to ancient wisdom, anything fortuitous about the origin of Man. All humanity and all Nature are sprung from the same root substance. That substance is not blind and inert but refulgent with intelligence, suffused with the divine radiant energy of the Atman. Thus, the substantial solidarity of humanity and the rest of Nature is equally a moral and intelligent solidarity with all living beings. There is no gap between the human sense of self-consciousness and purpose and the cooperative and compassionate impulses that guide all of Nature.
Any account of the evolution of Man and Nature which does justice to both must strike a balance between the unique and essential meaning of human existence and the uninterrupted continuity of Man and Nature. Typically, orthodox religious theories of the origin of Man tend to isolate humanity from Nature, whilst modern biological accounts of human evolution tend to obliterate the precise role of human self-consciousness in Nature. Philosophically, both accounts treat human existence as accidental. In the one case, Man is the product of an arbitrary act of an anthropomorphic god superimposed upon Nature; in the other, Man is the result of an arbitrary accident of atoms. Neither view establishes any real connection in principle between Man and Nature. As H.P. Blavatsky remarked:
The occult doctrine, is, we think, more logical. It teaches a cyclic, never varying law in nature, the latter having no personal, “special design”, but acting on a uniform plan that prevails through the whole manvantaric period and deals with the land worm as it deals with man. Neither the one nor the other have sought to come into being, hence both are under the same evolutionary law, and both have to progress according to Karmic law. Both have started from the same neutral centre of Life and both have to re-merge into it at the consummation of the cycle.
The term “evolutionary law” may be thought of as a bridge between immortal, divine and unmodified self-existence in eternity and the complex, differentiated realm of time-bound existence and circumstance. Evolutionary law bridges eternity and form, expanding the germinal potential in the neutral centre of Life into a series of manifestations in time and space. Yet the nature and potentiality of that centre cannot be deduced or derived through any enumeration of the forms or transformations of form that arise from it. Instead, it is necessary to rise in consciousness to a direct cognition of that centre through a universalization of one’s consciousness. From that pristine perspective one can survey the vast panoply of forms in Nature, experiencing their continuity from within without. Whilst Gupta Vidya rejects materialized conceptions of biological evolution, it has always held that the human form, and all its parts, originated through a series of transformations that are perfectly continuous with the rest of Nature.
It is not those who teach the transformation of the mineral atom through crystallization – which is the same function, and bears the same relation to its inorganic (so-called) upadhi (or basis) as the formation of cells to their organic nuclei, through plant, insect and animal into man – it is not they who will reject this theory, as it will finally lead to the recognition of a Universal Deity in nature, ever-present and as ever invisible, and unknowable, and of intra-Cosmic gods, who all were men.
Perfected human intelligence is an integral part of Nature, inextricably interwoven with all its many processes of transformation. Thus, the differentiations of Nature are by no means incompatible with the uninterrupted solidarity of Man and Nature. In a sense, anthropomorphic religion suffers from a false sense of modesty. Perfected human intelligence is vastly more important in Nature than human beings are readily able to conceive. At the same time, human intelligence is a sacrificial expression of universal divine intelligence, and its purposes are simply part of universal Logoic volition. Whilst nineteenth century evolutionary theorists may have sought to reject the cruder teleologies of medieval religion, they still viewed the categories of volition in narrowly personal terms, and so could not conceive that the impersonal fabric of Nature was the veil of the divine intelligence in Man.
The whole trouble is this: neither physiologists nor pathologists will recognize that the cell-germinating substance (the cytoblastema) and the mother-lye from which crystals originate, are one and the same essence, save in differentiation for purposes.
It is the differentiation and elaboration out of itself of that essence which produces the panoply of gross and subtle forms in Nature. The logic of the process of crystallization in the mineral kingdom is analogous to the logic of the process of the elaboration and formation, out of organic nuclei, of cells. The transformations of primal vital energy into morphological units in the kingdoms of Nature, together with the processes of metamorphosis taking place in those kingdoms, are invariably the expression of a unified law of evolution. That law, however, is not single and simple, but complex and composite. This much should surely suggest itself to even the casual observer of the physical universe. It is still more obvious if one considers all the intricate developments of intelligence on the invisible planes of abstract ideation and astral substance which witness the interplay of potentials and powers that give rise to every possible type of being. Innumerable are the species of being unknown to us at this point in evolution, either because those forms have disappeared or because those beings have withdrawn from the sight of human beings as constituted at present.
When one thinks of the living expression of the philosophic problem of the One and the many, one will naturally become suspicious of any simple linear theory of merely physical evolution. This, of course, was the problem with the early models of evolution developed in the nineteenth century, particularly Darwin’s. Drawing upon a variant of simple Aristotelian teleology, Darwin’s model benefited from the method of classification pioneered by the great Swedish biologist, Linnaeus. Darwin himself, out of his wealth of observation, tried to put all these different species into a single simple theory. He himself was a remarkably curious man, a true naturalist, who became an ardent explorer and a voracious reader. Like other leading thinkers of his day, he was aware that neither geological nor biological formations, neither flora nor fauna, were unchanging. But as soon as he sought to put their present varieties and past transformations into a single theory, he became entangled in gross over-simplification. Unfortunately, Darwinists are strangers to the tentativeness that Darwin himself rightly felt towards his own formulations.
Darwin was primarily concerned to describe a mechanism broad enough to account for the variation among the types of life. This fascination with mechanical processes, and the effort to impose them upon life at every level, was characteristic of nineteenth century thought. Alfred Wallace, who wrote at the same time as Darwin, developed an alternative model of biological evolution somewhat influenced by the thought of Lamarck. Working on the Continent, Lamarck had pointed towards the existence of some kind of inward impulse within living forms which works gradually to transform them. The celebrated paradigm of this process is found in the giraffe, which, by reaching upward over a long period of time, somehow willed itself to lengthen its neck. According to Lamarck, this had to be explained by some internal factor in evolution, something not reducible to the lottery of heredity or to the cruel vagaries of the environment. This innate creative impulse in Nature, Lamarck believed, could be exercised by a creature in its life, thereby affecting subsequent generations. To some extent, these ideas interested Wallace, who attempted to integrate them into his own account of the precarious evolutionary struggle for survival. But all Lamarckian theories of evolution which seek to connect learning with biological transformation must eventually come to terms with the “learner’s paradox” set forth by Plato in the Meno.
Unless one approaches the problem of learning, whether in man or beast, with a philosophic clarity, it will appear that learning is either impossible or unnecessary. As a result of empirical thinking over the past century, very few theorists, however interested in the ideas of Lamarck, have been able to formulate convincingly the idea of an intelligent inward principle in evolution. Instead, they have largely succumbed to reductionist, behavioural accounts of individual learning that cannot do justice to the processes of evolutionary transformation. Darwin himself, though capable of understanding some things outside a model of monistic materialism, was nonetheless not metaphysically inclined. In the end, he had a deep intellectual fascination with the problem of subduing the largest possible amount of empirical evidence to a single general hypothesis which would explain the struggle for existence and survival in an ever-changing environment. Thereby, he unwittingly provided a tremendous brake upon modern man’s reverence for the rich complexity of Nature. It is therefore common for Darwinists to point to the variety of forms of life as a kind of wastage in Nature. Since the variety of Nature is seen as the random result of a mechanical process, it is impossible to attribute meaning to any of its specific products. The appearance and disappearance of species are seen as random incidents in the wastrel career of a prodigal Nature.
Gupta Vidya, by contrast, conceives of evolution as having a unified plan and a unitary logic. But it does not think of that evolution as linear. Instead, it depicts a complex cyclic unfoldment from the invisible to the visible. Based upon a theory of different planes of consciousness and different states of matter, it holds that there must be a continuity between these planes extending from the divine Monad. This source is the Logos in the Divine Darkness, before worlds are emanated, which encompasses all the forms, both subtle and gross, within those worlds. There must be a continuity between the supreme potential of many worlds in that divine pre-existing cosmic Logos and the intelligence that one finds in the smallest insect. Every living and changing creature is connected to the primary differentiations on the plane of Akasha. Given the primal Logoic radiation at the root of the cosmos, there is subsequently an evolutionary process connecting the most spiritual and the most physical, the most abstract and the most concrete, the most eternal and the most ephemeral. It accommodates different rates of growth on different planes of consciousness and matter. This can be understood only if one refuses to imprison oneself within a hard-and-fast dichotomy between ideation and substance, spirit and matter, consciousness and form. One must recognize that there is one unitary essence which, at different levels, generates the polarity and interplay of spirit and matter. In fact,
There are several “protyles” in Nature, corresponding to the various planes of matter. The two sub-physical elemental kingdoms, the plane of mind (manas, the fifth state matter), as also that of Buddhi (sixth state matter), are each and all evolved from one of the six “protyles” which constitute the basis of the Object-Universe. The three “states”, so-called of our terrestrial matter, known as the “solid”, “liquid”, and “gaseous”, are only, in strict accuracy, SUB-states. As to the former reality of the descent into the physical, which culminated in physiological man and animal, we have a palpable testimony in the fact of the so-called spiritualistic “materializations”.
Ultimately, spirit is matter in its subtlest sense; matter is spirit in its densest sense. There is One Universal Life, force, energy, essence, which transcends all the dichotomies that arise from the physical senses. Owing to the conditioning of human consciousness through its physical activity, the very means of recognizing what is visible or gross or specific or concrete, in opposition to that which is general, abstract, invisible and ethereal, is distorted and dichotomized. When perception is full, these false divisions are discarded. Instead, one can perceive the multiple and intertwined lines of evolution, understand their relation to each other and to their unmanifest origin. To detect this continuity within the kaleidoscopic variety of living forms is to recognize the meaning of different forms and different rates of progress.
This reflection upon the unreality of the polarity between consciousness and form must not be allowed to ossify into a static idealism. Instead, it should be the starting-point for a meditation upon the possible changes in the relationship between spirit and matter in manifestation. For it is through an understanding of this shifting dynamic balance that one may discover the keys of self-conscious creativity and evolutionary growth. The sense of evolutionary initiative which is involved here is so metaphysical that it must initially be understood in terms of some supremely suggestive metaphor. Hence all those traditions which conceive of Nature as a consummate artist, or the Logos as the grand architect of the universe. Nature is not blind. Nor is it the servant of some capricious and extra-cosmic god. Subject to neither an imposed theology nor an invented teleology, Nature unfolds from within. The potential in invisible Nature includes ideation and subtle energy, the spiritual will to create which is identified with Kamadeva, the creative power of that which was at the very dawn of manifestation. This creative designing energy in the heart of the cosmos does not act arbitrarily and then disappear. Once released, it becomes present in every member of an entire series of transformations. It continues to abide within every spiritual atom and Monad. The atomic energy of the atoms of the physical plane is merely a reflection of the One Universal Life-energy that is inherent in the subtlest planes of substance and ideation. In every subtle atom in Nature, there is memory, will and sensation.
Naturally, these terms should not be understood in the narrow context of mundane human expressions of sensation, memory and will. To do so would be to corrupt philosophic pantheism into crude idolatry. Even during the nineteenth century, vitalism was seen as a major conceptual alternative to mechanism. Whilst contemporary thinkers are little closer to understanding life-atoms and the life principle in universal Nature, microbiologists and particle physicists are becoming progressively impressed by the immense intricacy and complex intelligence that is reflected in every single particle, atom and cell. But still they cannot make sense of this at the micro or at the macro level. How is the intelligence in the atom to be connected to the intelligence in the human brain and heart? By beginning with the metaphor of the artist, the designer and the architect, who marshals matter in line with the designs of intelligence, who produces forms with beauty, merit and function, one can gain some sense of the needed continuity between spirit and matter. It is necessary, however, to go beyond the stage of imaginative metaphor if one would understand the evolution of natural forms of life. One cannot cooperate with Nature until one solves the riddle of that creativity within one’s own inner vestures. If one would become a true creator, then one must first, as the saying goes, “meet one’s Maker”. That Maker does not lie outside oneself.
The design and formation of the living being is a complex process occupying myriads and myriads of years of a gradual descent of spirit into matter, an involvement of consciousness in form. In principle this process is no different from that known to creative human beings who meditate upon some germinal plan. They know that the great work of imagination and creativity extends over many lifetimes. It requires evolving oneself, evolving other human beings and evolving new modes and new possibilities. True human creativity starts at a fluidic proemial level, free of over-elaborate detail. It intensifies the central idea behind the vision until, working in time with the cycles of Nature, there comes a gradual shaping and consolidation. The imagination can be bodied forth into the manifest form of the vision. In order to retain a high degree of fidelity to the original idea while achieving precise degrees of concretion, there must be a continuous purging and purification of the field of motivation and ideation. Above all, there must be a tremendous mastery, through the use of silence and secrecy, over all the invisible forces that are auspicious to gestation. To work in this way is to emulate Nature. Nature works in secret, especially on the causal plane, just as seeds in the soil germinate below the surface. Within these invisible processes there is a mysterious absorption and osmosis of subtle light-energies from the sun and the moon. Living forms on earth are nourished not merely by the visible physical soil, but also by the magnetosphere surrounding the earth.
If this is true of the good gardener of Nature working on the physical plane, it is doubly true of the wisdom of Nature throughout the evolutionary process. Prior to the present Round and to the present physical plane, Nature traced out the astral prototypes of all her kingdoms in subtler fields of matter. Before the shifting balance of spirit and matter reached the mid-point of evolution, Akashic ideation was translated by the Lunar Pitris into the astral matrix that is presently veiled by a thin veneer of physical form.
The fish evolved into an amphibian – a frog – in the shadows of ponds, and man passed through all his metamorphoses on this Globe in the Third Round as he did in this, his Fourth Cycle. The Third Round types contributed to the formation of the types in this one. On strict analogy, the cycle of Seven Rounds in their work of the gradual formation of man through every kingdom of Nature, are repeated on a microscopical scale in the first seven months of gestation of a future human being. Let the student think over and work out this analogy. As the seven months” old unborn baby, though quite ready, yet needs two months more in which to acquire strength and consolidate; so man, having perfected his evolution during seven Rounds, remains two periods more in the womb of mother-Nature before he is born, or rather reborn a Dhyani, still more perfect than he was before he launched forth as a Monad on the newly built chain of worlds. Let the student ponder over this mystery, and then he will easily convince himself that, as there are also physical links between many classes, so there are precise domains wherein the astral merges into physical evolution.
It is possible for Man, involved in the highest Promethean demiurgic creativity of Kriyashakti, to emulate this process of Nature. Rooted in the silence and secrecy of the unmanifest, one may self-consciously unite oneself with and draw upon the divine creative agencies that are at the origin of Man and the cosmos. To understand this is to place the entire physical plane in proper perspective, gaining a fresh insight into its aggregate continuity with subtler planes of matter. As soon as one acquires a direct sense of the meaning of the involution of spirit into matter, one’s conception of evolution is transformed. One is no longer concerned with quixotically tracing out physical continuities between fossil forms and questing for missing links. Instead, one’s attention will be redirected from the past towards the future, and towards human possibilities as yet unrealized. This is a tremendous challenge to the imagination. It restores the idea of the plenitude of potential in Nature, and it rescues one from Epimethean empiricism. All too often, the effort to seek explanations amounts to nothing more than a concern to explain away what exists. At best, such efforts may help to codify and classify natural forms imperfectly; never can it help one to create and anticipate the myriad possibilities within the mind of Nature and matter. This much is clear, both philosophically and practically. Those who become classifiers and historians of design are hardly ever those who create or design themselves. To study and serve Nature is not at all the same as classifying and categorizing her. Like the medieval authors of angelologies or the collectors of butterflies, too many people suppose that classification is comprehension. Mutilation of Nature does not amount to mastery over her.
The Promethean task of the future evolution of humanity has nothing to do with such lifeless and destructive misconceptions. It involves the rejection of all linear thinking captivated by exterior forms. One must learn to think of evolution on multiple lines, to distinguish between the spiritual, intellectual and material threads of evolution in Nature. Cosmogenesis and anthropogenesis must be seen in terms of eternal duration and periodic time. Gupta Vidya teaches of seven Rounds or circlings of seven globes, six of which are invisible to perceivers on any one plane. Since present humanity is on the fourth globe of the earth chain, the first three and the last three globes of that chain are invisible to present humanity. Human beings see only that which is consubstantial with the physical senses. Through limits of perception they run the danger of foreclosing the possibilities of Nature. To counter this, one must develop a sense of the larger picture. One must gain some theoretical understanding of the seven Rounds, which extend over millions upon millions of years and provide arenas for gradual evolution to take place on a series of planes of matter. Before the nineteenth century, Western thinkers found it virtually impossible to conceive of either Man or Nature as older than about six thousand years. Nowadays it is becoming easier to contemplate that some anthropoid forms associated with the evolution of man existed nearly eighteen million years ago. All such developments are helpful. They are still, however, far from any clear recognition that human intelligence antedates the origin of the solar system. The entire field of eighteen million years of self-conscious human existence upon this earth is but a tiny fragment in relation to all the Rounds involved in the earth chain and the even vaster expanse of cosmic evolution in general.
Nevertheless, a careful study of the Teachings of Gupta Vidya in regard to the Rounds and Races of humanity on the present earth can be of great help in restoring individual initiative. Unlike any unilinear theory of evolution restricted to the physical plane, the cyclic interplay of spirit and matter in manifestation carries with it an inherent sense of timing and opportunity. Considered broadly, humanity is at the mid-point of an immense evolution. There has been a vast descent of spirit into matter and there will be an equally vast reascent of matter into spirit. If one studies a diagram of the seven globes of the earth chain arranged in a circle, one may intuit something which applies not only to the long period of human evolution but also to the life cycles of a single individual. The same evolutionary logic is equally applicable to the conscious spiritual growth of the individual. Instead of seeing the descent of spirit into matter in terms of some sort of Fall linked to sin, one should come to see human beings as gods who are fallen only in the sense that they have become obscured. They have through the density of matter merely become forgetful. This should be seen as a sacred and sacrificial process necessary for evolution to work itself out fully on the plane of physical matter. To see this, however, is also to understand that there is another side to the process.
If there is an involution of spirit into matter, there must be an evolution of spirit out of matter which carries with it all beings in a conscious return to the source. This return to the source is enacted at a microcosmic level every time a human being meditates, but it can be done much more self-consciously. To do this, to become one with the true “Maker” within oneself, one must die to the cries and pleadings, the fascination and noise, of the exterior physical world. The tragedy of many people is that they find no reason to be glamorized by the world, but at the same time they remain terrified of the inner life. They shy away from the lonely abyss of meditation. Fearful of their own fallibility, lacking confidence in themselves and Nature, they are lost between two worlds.
This confusion may be understood as the collective effect of the reversal of momentum from involution to evolution. If one had a cooler understanding of the logic of the process, one could see that the gradual descent of spirit into matter which occupied the first three Rounds and the first half of the Fourth Round is now being replaced by the opposite process. Because humanity is now in the Fifth Root Race out of seven Races in the Fourth Round, it is already somewhat past the mid-point. If one would serve the evolutionary future of mankind, one must withdraw attention from the creation of the cosmos and man in the past and redirect it to the future. If one would move forward in evolution, one must grasp the fundamental shift that is taking place between the transformations through which man passed on the descending arc – which is centrifugal for spirit and centripetal for matter – and those he prepares to go through, henceforward, on his ascending path, which will reverse the direction of the two forces – viz., matter will become centrifugal and spirit centripetal.
During the descending cycles of manifestation, spirit works centrifugally by diffusion of light in every direction. Matter, on the other hand, works by concentration and condensation, becoming harder and denser and absorbing into itself various essences. This process confuses human beings. They experience a distinct gap between spirit and matter, are seemingly caught in what is purely the shadowy side or external aspect of Nature. But having passed the mid-point at which astral potentials are merged into physical forms, humanity is moving towards a comparable future point when physical existence will dissipate and evaporate through a remerging into subtle substance. On the ascending arc of the process, matter will become what spirit was. Matter will become more etherealized, looser and less concrete. It will begin to etherealize itself; spirit, on the other hand, will be characterized by greater freedom in inner concentration. As spirit is freeing itself from confinement in the grossest matter while matter is etherealizing itself, consciousness is becoming more individuated on the plane of ideation yet more universal in its sentient contact with all of manifestation. Spirit is drawing itself more and more inwardly into itself, and so recovering the pristine potential and potency of the Logos that was and is at the heart of all life and Nature. If the descending arc of evolution is compared philosophically to the One becoming the many, then the ascending arc may be viewed as the many rebecoming the One. This applies to universal collective consciousness, spanning all humanity and every kingdom of life, as well as to every human life.
The possibilities of individual growth and refinement of consciousness are coextensive with the evolutionary and involutionary possibilities of Nature as a whole. This will never be grasped by a merely retrospective and materialistic view of evolution. It is the persistent challenge that lies before the pioneers of the humanity of the future. Guided by the brilliant light of the Avataric star, pilgrim humanity is even now embarking upon the long, slow, upward return journey to its divine origins. In the far distant future, in the Seventh Race of the Seventh Round, every unit will reawaken to the divine unity and the divine wisdom that underlies the cosmos and Man will be restored. Even now, for those with an eye to the future, there is a perceptible brightening in the hidden heart of humanity. New modes and models are being gestated in the Akasha. These may be perceived through the silence of devotion and meditation by all those who wish to make themselves the true servants of humanity and the wise custodians of Nature’s rich resources.
BY RAGHAVAN IYER
Hermes, September 1984
Published by permission of theosophytrust.org.