THE AQUARIAN TIDE
Let us prepare, and let us study Truth in all its aspects, trying not to ignore any of them, if we do not wish, when the hour will have struck, to fall into the abyss of the unknown. It is useless to rely on chance, and to await the approaching intellectual and psychic crisis with indifference if not with total incredulity, saying to oneself that if worse comes to worst, the tide will carry us quite naturally to the shore; for there is a strong likelihood of the tide stranding but a corpse! The battle will be fierce, in any case, between brutal materialism and blind fanaticism on the one hand, and on the other philosophy and mysticism –that more or less thick veil of the Eternal Truth.
It is not materialism that will have the upper hand.
La Revue Theosophique, March 1889
According to the ancient maxim of Protagoras, “Man is the measure of all things; of things that are, that they are; of things that are not, that they are not.” However interpreted, this evidently implies that every individual and collective crisis is a crisis of self-concept, self-reference and identity. It further implies that every response to a crisis is shaped and prefigured by factors within human nature. At root, one’s ontological estimate of humanity and one’s cosmological calculation of the position of man relative to Nature will determine one’s capacity to respond creatively in any situation. It should be common sense that the expression of wisdom in human life cannot exceed the sum-total allotted to man by Nature. Nonetheless, the measure of human wisdom postulated by any human being or culture may be seriously defective or needlessly self-constrained. As practical self-knowledge inevitably involves self-reference, the human being who gives short measure to humanity will not be able to draw upon the full potential of human nature. The individual who seeks to integrate the Logoic principle of cosmos with the essential being of man in Nature can remain inwardly open to the whole measure of wisdom attainable by man. It is a paradox of human self-consciousness that Nature will always negate vanity, though it cannot negate despair without human assistance.
This asymmetry in human consciousness, with its awesome implications for pessimism and optimism, arises out of the basic distinction between the evolutionary and involutionary arcs of manifestation. The upward progress of humanity along the evolutionary arc ascending towards self-conscious realization of Spirit depends decisively upon human initiative. It is part of the tragedy of the modern age that, offered the Promethean fire of wisdom, it has chosen instead to bind itself into servitude to Zeus with the gilded chains of kamamanasic desire. Offered the call of the Christos, capable of resurrecting Lazarus from the dead, the western world adopted instead the self-mutilating worship of the cross of matter. Like Procrustes caught in his own clumsy contrivance, for nearly two millennia the West has suffered spiritual deprivation through its self-imposed idolatry of psychic materialism. Since the fourteenth century, the Great Lodge of Mahatmas has sustained a cyclic effort to ameliorate this anguished condition. The culmination of this effort, adjusting the entire range of human principles, was planned to coincide with the Avataric impulse accompanying the Aquarian Age and profoundly affecting the future races of humanity.
Thirteen years before the beginning of the Aquarian Age, in an essay entitled “The New Cycle”, addressed in French to a European audience, H.P. Blavatsky powerfully spelt out the choices open to the West. By the latter decades of the nineteenth century, certain divisions of society and thought had already become acute. Millions were caught up either in the spiritual materialism of orthodox religion, or the soulless materialism of mechanistic science. Throughout the seventies and eighties of the Victorian era, a tremendous debate had blown up around human evolution, with science and religion drawing up lines on opposite sides. Going beyond the closed terms of this dilettantish debate, H.P. Blavatsky drew attention to what had already been noticed by a variety of writers, especially in Russia; namely, what she called the death-struggle between brutal materialism and blind fanaticism on the one side, and philosophy and mysticism on the other. This fierce battle, she affirmed, would be the crucial issue of the twentieth century, and, she prophesied:
Everyone fanatically clinging to an idea isolating him from the universal axiom – “There is no Religion higher than Truth” – will find himself separated like a rotten plank from the new ark called Humanity. Tossed by the waves, chased by the winds, buffeted by this element so terrible because unknown, he will soon find himself swallowed up.
La Revue Theosophique, March 1889
H.P. Blavatsky was actually sounding a grave and compassionate warning that those souls unable to enter the current of the future would be discarded by Nature. In the 1890’s, and increasingly throughout the twentieth century, the growing perception of this fateful choice has instilled a tremendous fear in a despairing element within the human race. Instead of discovering brave and powerful responses to the challenge of the future, that minuscule percentage of the human race which is terrified, for karmic reasons, that it has no future, has developed literature and thought, a full-blown psychology of doom. Through the power of the printed word, and later the electronic media, and with the aid of pathological art and pessimistic fiction, this vociferous minority managed to transfer its psychological ailments to vast numbers of human beings. Entire societies have become caught up in this pathology – in Vienna before the First World War, and even more acutely after the war; in France before the Second World War, and especially during the war and after; and in pre-Nazi Germany. The pathology converged in England during the late 1930’s in a literature of bitter disenchantment. It appeared in Russia, particularly during the early days of the Stalinist era, in pessimistic poems and novels, to be somewhat eclipsed by a more heroic stance in the later 1940’s and 1950’s. It has reappeared in England in recent decades, and it has been a constant problem in post-war America. Like the deadly emanations of the upas tree, it spreads its contagion wherever hapless individuals are neither self-inoculated through spiritual resolve nor actually immune through the protection of vital ethical traditions.
Through many forms of scholarship and literature, and a system of semi-institutionalized opinions and manipulated media, a modern system of negative thought-control fosters and diffuses a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. This entire phenomenon in fact represents the death-throes of those elaborate structures of psychology and philosophy rooted in the ideas of ontological scarcity and bourgeois materialism. The present manifestation is a long shadow cast by the seventeenth century where the power of the Catholic Church, particularly on the Continent, cramped those philosophers who sought to celebrate the human spirit. In trying to comprehend human nature, thinkers of the seventeenth century were unable to remove themselves from an obsession with original sin. As this notion became secularized and disguised through sociology and psychology, it came to pervade the intellectual life of the nineteenth century. And as an unsolicited and unsuspected term of debate, it crept into the twentieth century in every field of thought affected by theories of behavioural conditioning. In every case, it shrinks the conception of Nature and of human nature. But, ultimately, all such stultifying and self-crippling conceptions of man are doomed. Parasitic and vampiric, their borrowed and vicarious life may continue for a while, but they will become increasingly irrelevant to the human condition.
Already, millions are tired of nihilists and misanthropes and are stimulated instead by the positive urges of their own sporadic intuitions of the Divine. This is especially true in America, where mass belief is rarely registered by the media, which bases its claims upon limited surveys and the pronouncements of self-appointed experts who speak gibberish while presuming to represent the American spirit. Indeed, throughout the world, human beings refuse to be trapped within negativism. H.P. Blavatsky spoke of the time “when the flame of modern materialism, artificial and cold, will be extinguished for lack of fuel.” The evidence of this can be seen in the decaying heart of the cities which were once the centres of civilization. In Paris and London, New York and Los Angeles, materialistic entrepreneurs and purveyors of the doctrine of inescapable selfishness are finding it difficult to find living human fuel to sustain the structures of human confinement. Their children simply will not go along. They would rather do almost anything else. Like Ahab bound to the sounding whale, the materialist is fast becoming lonely and hopeless, though at times angry and desperate.
It is not easy for the human soul to shake off the yoke of materialism, for even with a strong conviction in the immortal soul, one may unknowingly retain mental habits that are materialistic. Any concern for spiritual progress for oneself must, therefore, be rooted out and dispelled as a pernicious form of a spiritual materialism. Any tendency to identify with the physical body, or act for the sake of oneself as a separative entity in order to gain spiritual gifts and advantages, is incompatible with conscious life in spirit, as opposed to matter. To conceive truly of the Atman and Atma-Buddhi, the light of the Universal Spirit and the Divine Self, one must shun all separative thinking. It is to this contrast of the living and the dead within human nature that H.P. Blavatsky referred when she wrote:
The Spirit of Truth is at this moment moving upon the face of these black waters, and, separating them, forces them to yield their spiritual treasures. This spirit is a force that cannot be either checked or stopped. Those who recognize it and feel that this is the supreme moment of their salvation, will be carried by it beyond the illusions of the great astral serpent.
Those who are vitalized by the vigorous current of spiritual energy can enjoy states of consciousness and peak experiences that transcend the personality. Freed from the thraldom and tension of self-concern, they will become happy that other human beings exist, thrilled that there are babies on earth, and convinced that where there is a larger view, there is always hope.
Owing to the relentless pressure of the age, it is more and more necessary to abjure separative thinking and join the larger perspective of the majority of mankind. The intensity of the struggle happily compels individuals to choose. Those who pretend to remain indifferent to the prospects of the future only doom themselves to the “arid wastes of matter . . . to vegetate there through a long series of lives, content henceforth with feverish hallucinations instead of spiritual perceptions, with passions instead of love, with the rind instead of the fruit.” Unless they scorn selfish assumptions, they will come to resemble the squirrel on its ceaselessly revolving wheel, whirling round and round chewing the nut of nihilism. But once spiritual starvation and material satiety move them to forget self, they will recognize the necessity of an intellectual and moral reform. The privilege of beginning this fundamental reform within oneself, and working for its fulfilment on behalf of other human beings, is extended by the Brotherhood of Bodhisattvas to every true friend of the human race.
This reform cannot be accomplished except through Theosophy, and, let us say it, Occultism, or the Wisdom of the East. Many are the paths leading to it, but Wisdom is forever one. Artists foresee it, those who suffer dream of it, the pure in spirit know it. Those who work for others cannot remain blind before its reality even though they do not always know it by name. It is only the light-headed and empty-minded, the selfish and vain drones deafened by the sound of their own buzzing who can ignore this high ideal.
Whilst many have dreamt of ideal wisdom, some actually know it. They know it in their bones and in their blood; they have tested and tasted it; they have found that it works, and made it the basis of their thought and their lives. In the best cases, they have made it the basis of their unlimited devotion to the interests of others, and in the unselfishness of their service they have become invulnerable and indifferent towards the world and its evanescent opinions.
This is a very high state indeed. But in contemplating it, one should not fall prey to self-recrimination and recurring doubt. To do so would only reaffirm the contagious materialism that one wishes to leave behind. It does not matter at what level a human being approaches Divine Wisdom. Even if one can embody only one percent of the ideal, one must hold fast to the conviction that what is real in oneself and can be realized in practice is the only element that truly counts. This alone must be taken as the focus of one’s concentration. Whilst it is always possible at any given time to say that one can only do so much, and no more, it is also always possible to enjoy and contemplate the ideal in meditation. The ideal can, and must, be separated from the limitations of incarnated existence. Thus, two different types of development emerge. First of all, one is intensifying through devotion to the ideal the architectonics of one’s thought with regard to the ideal. This will be elaborated in devachan after death in the celestial condition of dreams of goodwill and creativity which can cut grooves in the karana sharira, the causal body, and affect lives to come. At the same time, one may recognize in other aspects of the vestures, particularly in the linga sharira or astral form, that one is unfortunately enslaved by many habits.
Under the karmic curve of the present life, one cannot enormously increase one’s power of concentration however much one tries, because one lacks the strength to resist negative forces. Therefore, whilst maximizing development within the present lifetime, individuals must also recognize how little they can do and consequently how modest and honest they must be in the day to day walk of life. By understanding this dual process affecting both the present life and future lives, one can awaken a balanced courage and a spirit of unconditionality in one’s commitment to an ideal.
To take the first step on this ideal path requires a perfectly pure motive; no frivolous thought must be allowed to divert our eyes from the goal; no hesitation, no doubt must fetter our feet. Yet, there are men and women perfectly capable of all this, and whose only desire is to live under the aegis of their Divine Nature. Let these, at least, have the courage to live this life and not to hide it from the sight of others! No one’s opinion could ever be above the rulings of our own conscience, so, let that conscience, arrived at its highest development, be our guide in all our common daily tasks. As to our inner life, let us concentrate all our attention on our chosen Ideal, and let us ever look beyond without ever casting a glance at the mud at our feet.
It may be natural enough and even nutritionally sound for children to eat a little dirt, but it is unnatural and unhealthy for adults to savour the mentally negative or psychically muddy. They must rather train themselves always to look beyond, towards the stars and towards the future. By gazing towards the radiant though distant summit of enlightenment, they can keep their heads above the waters of chaos. By learning to float, by learning to tread water, they can begin to swim, and even to deal with the shifting tides of the psychic nature. Under karma, these forces work differently for different people. Some can concentrate on that which is universal and impersonal for long periods of time; others find that they cannot do so for more than a few minutes at a time. Again, the length of meaningful meditation is less important than the authenticity of the attempt. The more one can calmly accept the limits of one’s abilities, the more those limits will expand. Here as everywhere the greater one’s application the greater one’s results. And like many physical habits, these mental exercises must be established at an early age. What is easy for the young is not so easy for the old. If one acquires healthy mental habits whilst young one should be grateful for the auspicious karma. If one does not recognize the need for a mental reform until later in life, again, one should be grateful for the recognition itself, as for the counsel required to carry out the reform. One must desire reform, and having embarked upon it, persevere with courage. One must become a true friend of oneself and strive without guilt, enjoying progress, without falling into the anxious traps that began with ‘original sin’. Like Job, one must learn that one’s burden is neither greater nor less than one can bear, and thus become receptive to every form of good.
As Pythagoras taught, spiritual courage arises out of the conviction that the race of men is immortal. From the soil of its lunar beginnings to its ultimate dwelling-place beyond the stars, humanity follows the cyclic path of transformation wherein each element of human nature is transmuted into a self-conscious aspect of Divine Wisdom. The acquisition and unfoldment of knowledge of these elements in man and in Nature is an essential component of the collective spiritual progress of the race. The vivifying ideal of wisdom itself is inconceivable apart from the practical acquisition of knowledge, and the perfection of human nature is thus impossible where the mind-principle is either degraded or defamed. It is the peculiar demerit of materialism enforced through the dogma of original sin that it attempts to accomplish both these negative ends at once. Thus in the last century, H.P. Blavatsky had to oppose materialism in both religion and science. Owing to concretized conceptions of progress connected with a unilinear view of history and a shortsighted enthusiasm about technological change, it was very difficult in the latter part of the nineteenth century to challenge a prevailing blind faith in science. Nonetheless, H.P. Blavatsky prophetically anticipated the demise of this faith, which would take place in Europe because of the First World War. She also anticipated and stimulated a series of revolutionary scientific changes in the early decades of the Aquarian Age. Since then, even at a popular level, people have begun to assimilate something of quantum theory and theories of light, much that was implicit in the work of Einstein, Eddington and the early biologists. They have come to see that most of the nineteenth century categories of science are obsolete and irrelevant. This perception was already common in Europe in the 1920’s and 1930’s, but was considerably slower in coming to America, which is perhaps the last colonial country left on earth and usually moves about thirty years behind Europe in acknowledging significant shifts in thought.
After the Second World War, America tended to nurture an adolescent glorification of technology, but even this was challenged in the 1960’s, and most thinking individuals discovered that they could not return to their earlier blind faith in technology. Unfortunately, this has produced an actual obstacle to understanding how the fruits of contemporary science and technology, for example micro-electronics, can be used to extend the effectiveness of human potential. Attitudes in America, unlike those in Sweden or Japan, are often polarized by mass society. Science and technology are met with a sluggish indifference or an incapacity to understand how they may be put to constructive use. Through the powerful blandishments of economics, however, there has recently been an enormous increase in the numbers of people seeking training in the use of computers, so much so that the facilities of educational institutions have been sorely taxed.
What is important and unusual in these developments is that people have set aside their former blind faith and begun to learn whatever skills are needed to put science and technology to use. Instead of reinforcing and reinvigorating outmoded conceptions of science, many have now learnt how to use the media to acquire information about cosmology and astronomy, about the earth and the oceans, about the body and the brain. Suddenly Americans, like Russians over the past thirty or forty years, have become more aware of the spiritual implications of science. They have begun to understand that the best science forces a rethinking of one’s view of human nature, human potential, and the place of man inthe cosmos. Once the spirituality of advanced science is recognized, there can be no return to a merely materialistic interest in technology. Men and women are now concerned with the creative noetic uses of scientific knowledge, and also with the raising of scientific questions that go to the heart of human existence. The largest questions in science always prompt honest disagreement and ultimately a ready recognition of ignorance.
Today, as was not true of the nineteenth century, enough is known in every field of science to recognize that what is known is a minute fragment of what is possible to know; leading scientists distinguish themselves in their fields only by admitting that they know next to nothing about fundamentals. Physiologists cannot penetrate all the miracles of the human brain. The finest physicists admit that almost nothing is known about the ultimate nature of matter. The best astronomers readily allow that they know little of the depths of outer space. The foremost biologists remain modestly silent before the mysteries of embryology. All of this is consonant with the vital keynote of the Aquarian Age, and extremely hopeful for the future of humanity. It is to this keynote that H.P. Blavatsky made reference when she declared:
…you Occultists, Kabalists, and Theosophists, you know well that a word as old as the world, though new to you, has been sounded at the beginning of this cycle…you know that a note, never before heard by the men of the present era, has just been sounded, and that a new kind of thought has arisen, fostered by the evolutionary forces. This thought differs from all that has ever been produced in the 19th Century; yet it is identical with what was the keynote and the keystone of every century, especially the last one: “Absolute Freedom of Human Thought.”
As more and more people become aware of what the best minds of every age have always known – that they have hardly touched the threshold of the unknown – they will, paradoxically, be thrown back upon themselves. The willingness of people to become self-dependent is an important sign of the inception of the Aquarian Age. It is becoming progressively more difficult to convince people through statistical polls that what several million people think is necessarily true. Many individuals now prefer to think for themselves. As the antiquated machinery of thought-control breaks down, individuals are now discovering within themselves a willingness to exercise their own faculties. As they discover the challenge of true self-reliance, they become less blindly acquiescent to narrow scientific or religious dogmatism. With every increment of mental, moral and spiritual freedom gained, grand vistas of human possibility are opened before them. Even though the average human being uses much less than ten percent of the brain’s potential, and even less of the heart’s, the tide has begun to turn. Even though many still live like spiritual paupers, well below their potential means, they have begun to recognize their possibilities and the need for initiative in improving the human condition. Relinquishing the mummeries of the past, they have begun to understand that only through developing the natural powers of concentration and spiritual attention can they enrich their collective future. Through the joy and the beauty, the dignity and the self-respect, that come from self-discipline, they can alchemically quicken their creative faculties and thereby tap the potential energies of the higher mind and heart. Thus, following the small old path depicted in every religious tradition and intimated in every authentic myth, each good and true human soul may discern the spiritual possibilities of the Aquarian Age and stay abreast of the vanguard of humanity.
BY RAGHAVAN IYER
Hermes, January 1983
Published by permission of theosophytrust.org.