THE TWELFTH LESSON – SPIRITUAL EVOLUTION
The beautiful doctrine of Spiritual Evolution, that gem in the diadem of the Yogi Philosophy is sadly misunderstood and misinterpreted, even by many who are its friends. The mass of uninformed people confuse it with the crudest ideas of the ignorant races of Asia and Africa – believe that it teaches that the souls of men descend into the bodies of the lower animals after death. And under the guise of high teachings regarding Reincarnation, many promulgate theories holding that the soul of man is bound to the wheel of human rebirth, and must live in body after body – whether it will or not – until certain great cycles are past, when the race moves on to another planet. All of these misconceptions, however, are based upon the real truth – they are the truth, but not the whole truth. It is true that the soul of a brutal, selfish, bestial man, after death, will be drawn by the force of its own desires toward rebirth in the body of some of the lower and more beast-like races of man – it has failed in its class work, and has been sent back to a lower grade. But the soul that has once reached the stage of even primitive Manhood, never can sink back into the plane of lower animal life. As bestial as it may be, it still has acquired something that the animal lacks, and that something it can never lose. And likewise, although the race – as a race – must wait until certain periods are reached before it may move onward, yet the individual who has risen beyond the need of immediate rebirth, is not compelled to reincarnate as a man of the present stage of development, but may wait until the race “catches up” to him, as it were, when he may join it in its upward swing, the intervening period being spent either in the higher planes of the Astral World or in conscious temporary sojourn in other material spheres, helping in the great work of the evolution of all Life.
And, so far from the spiritually awakened Man being compelled to suffer continuous involuntary rebirths, he is not reborn except with his own consent and desire, and with a continuance of consciousness – this continuance of consciousness depending upon the spiritual attainment reached. Many who read these lines are partially conscious of their past existences in the flesh, and their attraction to this subject is due to that semi-consciousness and recognition of the truth. Others, now in the flesh, have varying degrees of consciousness, reaching, in some cases, a full recollection of their past lives. And, rest assured, dear student, that when you reach a certain stage of spiritual awakening (and you may have reached it even now) you will have left behind you unconscious rebirth, and, after you have passed out of your present body and after a period of spiritual rest – you will not be reborn, until you are ready and willing, and you will then carry with you a continuous recollection of all that you choose to carry with you into your new life. So cease this fretting about forced rebirth, and stop worrying about your fancied loss of consciousness in future lives. Spiritual attainment is slow and arduous, but every inch gained is so much further on, and you can never slip back, nor lose the slightest part of what you’ve gained.
Even those who are reborn, unconsciously, as are the majority of the race, are not actually reborn against their will or desire. On the contrary, they are reborn because they desire it – because their tastes and desires create longings that only renewed life in the flesh can satisfy, and, although they are not fully conscious of it, they place themselves again within the operation of the Law of Attraction, and are swept on to a rebirth, in just the surroundings best calculated to enable them to exhaust their desires, and satisfy their longings – these desires and longings thus dying a natural death, and making way for higher ones. So long as people earnestly desire material things – the things of the flesh and the material life, and are not able to divorce themselves from such things at will – just so long will they be drawn toward rebirth that these desires may be gratified or satisfied. But when one has, by experience in many lives, learned to see things as they are, and to recognize that such things are not a part of his real nature, then the earnest desire grows less and finally dies, and that person escapes from the operation of the Law of Attraction, and need not undergo rebirth until some higher desire or aspiration is appealed to, as the evolution of the race brings new eras and peoples. It is as if one were to soar away up above the atmosphere of the earth – beyond the sphere of the earth’s attraction – and would then wait until the earth revolved beneath him and he saw, far below, the spot which he wished to visit, when all he would have to do would be to allow himself to sink until the force of gravity exerted by the earth would draw him to the desired place.
The idea of compulsory rebirth is horrible to the mind of the average man, and rightly so, for it violates his intuitive sense of the justice and truth of this great law of Life. We are here because we wished to be – in obedience to the Law of Attraction, operating in accordance with our desires and aspiration – yes, often, longings – after our departure from our last fleshly tenement, and the period of rest which always follows a life. And we will never be anywhere else, or in any other life, unless by reason of that same law, called into effect in the same manner. It is quite true, that the period between lives gives us an opportunity to receive the higher knowledge of the Spirit more clearly than when disturbed by material things, but even with this additional aid, our desires are often sufficiently strong to cause us to reject the gentle promptings of the Spirit, as to what is best for us (just as we do in our everyday lives) and we allow ourselves to be caught up in the current of desire, and are swept onward toward rebirth in such conditions as to allow us to manifest and express, those desires and longings. Sometimes, the Spirit’s voice influences us to a degree, and we are born in conditions representing a compromise between the Spirit’s teaching and the grosser desires, and the result is often a life torn with conflicting desires and restless longings – but all this is a promise of better conditions in the future.
When one has developed so far as to be open to the influence of the Spiritual Mind in his physical life, he may rest assured that his next choice of rebirth will be made with the full approval and wisdom of that higher part of his mind, and the old mistakes will be obviated.
As a general statement of truth, we may say that those who actually feel within them that consciousness of having always existed and of being intended for an endless existence, need fear nothing on the score of future unconscious rebirths. They have reached the stage of consciousness in which, henceforth, they will be aware of the whole process of the future incarnations, and will make the change (if they wish to) just as one changes his place of residence, or travels from one country to another. They are “delivered” from the necessity of the unconscious rebirth, from blind desire, which has been their portion in the past, and which is the lot of the majority of the race.
And now after this long preamble, let us see what Spiritual Evolution, as taught by the Yogis, really means.
The Yogi Philosophy teaches that Man has always lived and always will live. That that which we call Death is but a falling to sleep to awaken the following morning.That Death is but a temporary loss of consciousness. That life is continuous and that its object is development, growth, ‘
unfoldment. That we are in Eternity Now as much as we ever can be. That the Soul is the Real Man, and not merely an appendage or attachment to his physical body, as many seem to regard it. That the Soul may exist equally well out of the body as in it, although certain experience and knowledge may be obtained only by reason of a physical existence – hence that existence.
That we have bodies now, just because we need them – when we have progressed beyond a certain point, we will not need the kind of bodies we have now, and will be relieved of them. That on the grosser planes of life far more material bodies than ours were occupied by the soul – that on higher planes the soul will occupy finer bodies. That as we live out the experiences of one earth life, we pass out of the body into a state of rest, and after that are reborn into bodies, and into conditions, in accordance with our needs and desires. That the real Life is really a succession of lives-of rebirths, and that our present life is merely one of a countless number of previous lives, our present self being the result of the experiences gained in our previous existences.
The Yogi Philosophy teaches that the Soul has existed for ages, working its way up through innumerable forms, from lower to higher, – always progressing, always unfolding. That it will continue to develop and unfold, through countless ages, in many forms and phases, but always higher and higher. The Universe is great and large, and there are countless worlds and spheres for its inhabitants, and we shall not be bound to earth one moment after we are fitted to move on to higher spheres and planes. The Yogis teach that while the majority of the race are in the unconscious stage of Spiritual Evolution, still there are many awakening to the truth, and developing a spiritual consciousness of the real nature and future of Man, and that these spiritually awakened people will never again have to go through the chain of continued unconscious rebirth, but that their future development will be on a conscious plane, and that they will enjoy to the full the constant progression and development, instead of being mere pawns on the chessboard of Life. The Yogis teach that there are many forms of life, much lower than Man – so much lower that we cannot conceive of them. And that there are degrees of life so far above our present plane of development that our minds cannot grasp the idea. Those souls who have traveled over the Path which we are now treading – our Elder Brothers – are constantly giving us their aid and encouragement, and are often extending to us the helping hand – although we recognize it not. There are in existence, on planes beyond our own, intelligences which were once men as are we, but who have now progressed so far in the scale that compared with us they are angels and archangels – and we shall be like unto them sometime.
The Yogi Philosophy teaches that YOU who are reading these lines, have lived many, many lives. You have lived in the lower forms of life, working your way up gradually in the scale. After you passed into the human phase of existence you lived as the caveman, the cliff dweller, the savage, the barbarian; the warrior, the knight; the priest; the scholar of the Middle Ages; – now in Europe; now in India; now in Persia; now in the East; now in the West. In all ages, – in all climes-among all peoples – of all races – have you lived, had your existence, played your part, and died. In each life have you gained experiences; learned your lessons; profited by your mistakes; grown, developed and unfolded. And when you passed out of the body, and entered into the period of rest between incarnations, your memory of the past life gradually faded away, but left in its place the result of the experiences you had gained in it. Just as you may not remember much about a certain day, or week, twenty years ago, still the experiences of that day or week have left indelible traces upon your character, and have influenced your every action since – so while you may have forgotten the details of your previous existences, still have they left their impress upon your soul, and your everyday life now is just what it is by reason of those past experiences.
After each life there is sort of a boiling down of the experiences, and the result – the real result of the experience – goes to make up a part of the new self – the improved self – which will after a while seek a new body into which to reincarnate. But with many of us there is not a total loss of memory of past lives – as we progress we bring with us a little more of consciousness each time – and many of us today have occasional glimpses of remembrance of some past existence. We see a scene for the first time, and it seems wonderfully familiar, and yet we cannot have seen it before. There is sort of a haunting memory which disturbs. We may see a painting – some old masterpiece – and we feel instinctively as if we had gazed upon it away in the dim past, and yet we have never been near it before. We read some old book, and it seems like an old friend, and yet we have no recollection of ever having seen it in our present life. We hear some philosophical theory, and we immediately “take to it,” as if it were something known and loved in our childhood. Some of us learn certain things as if we were relearning them – and indeed such is the case. Children are born and develop into great musicians, artists, writers or artisans, from early childhood, even though their parents possessed no talents of the kind. Shakespeares spring from the families whose members possess no talents, and astonish the world. Abraham Lincolns come from similar walks of life, and when responsibility is placed upon them show the greatest genius. These and many similar things can be explained only upon the theory of previous existence. We meet people for the first time, and the conviction is borne upon us, irresistibly, in spite of our protests, that we have known them before – that they have been something to us in the past, but when, oh! when?
Certain studies come quite easy to us, while others have to be mastered by hard labor. Certain occupations seem the most congenial to us, and no matter how many obstacles are placed in the way, we still work our way to the congenial work. We are confronted with some unforeseen obstacle, or circumstances call for the display of unusual power or qualities on our part, and lo! we find that we have the ability to perform the task. Some of the greatest writers and orators have discovered their talents “by accident.” All of these things are explained by the theory of Spiritual Evolution. If heredity is everything, how does it happen that several children of the same parents differ so widely from each other, from their parents, and from the relations on both sides of the house? Is it all heredity or reversion? Then pray tell us from whom did Shakespeare inherit – to whom did he revert? Argument after argument might be piled up to prove the reasonableness of rebirth, but what would it avail? Man might grasp it intellectually and admit that it was a reasonable working hypothesis, but what intellectual conception ever gave peace to the soul – gave it that sense of reality and truth that would enable it to go down in the valley of the shadow of death without faltering, with a smile on its face? No! such certainty comes only from the light which the Spiritual Mind sheds upon the lower mental faculties. The intellect may arrange the facts, and deduce a course of action from them, but the soul is satisfied only with the teachings of the Spirit, and until it receives them must feel that unrest and uncertainty that comes when the intellect unfolds and asks that mighty question “Why?” which it by itself cannot answer.
The only answer to the query “Is rebirth a fact,” is “Does your soul recognize it as such?” Until the soul feels of itself that the theory is true – because it coincides with that inner conviction, there is no use in arguing the matter. The soul must recognize it for itself – must answer its own question. It is true that the presentation of the theory (we call it a “theory” although the Yogis know it is a fact) will awaken memories in the mind of some – may give them the courage to consider as reasonable the half-formed thoughts and queries which had floated around in their minds for years – but that is all it can do. Until the soul grasps and “feels” the truth of rebirth, it must wander around working on the subconscious plane of life, having rebirth forced upon it by its own desires and longings, losing consciousness to a great extent. But after the soul has begun to “feel” the truth, it is never the same, it carries with it memories of the past, sometimes faint and sometimes clear – and it begins to manifest a conscious choice in the matter of rebirth. Just as does the plant work on the sub-conscious plane, and the animal on a semi-conscious plane and the man on the gradually increasing planes of consciousness, so does man gradually evolve from the sub-conscious stage of rebirth, on to the semiconscious plane, and then on and on, increasing his consciousness from time to time, until he lives on the conscious plane, both in his physical life, and during the rest period, and in the new birth. There are men among us today (few, it is true, but many more than most people imagine) who are fully conscious of the past existences, and who have been so since early childhood, only that their days of infancy were passed in a dreamlike state, until their physical brains were sufficiently developed to enable the soul to think clearly. In fact, many children seem to have a dim consciousness of the past, but fearing the comments of their elders, learn to stifle these bits of remembrance until they fail to evoke them.
Those who have not awakened to the truth of rebirth, cannot have it forced upon them by argument, and those who “feel” the truth of it do not need the argument. So we have not attempted to argue the matter in this short presentation of the theory. Those who are reading this lesson are attracted toward the subject by reason of interest awakened in some past life, and they really feel that there must be some truth in it, although they may not as yet have arrived at a point where they can fully assimilate it.
Many of those upon whom the truth of the proposition is borne home by their inmost feelings or fragmentary recollections evince a disinclination to fully accept it. They fear the idea of being reborn without their consent or knowledge. But as we have stated to them, this is a groundless fear, for, if they are really beginning to “feel” the truth of rebirth, their period of sub-conscious manifestation on that plane is passing away.
Many say that they have no desire to live again, but they really mean that they would not like to live just the same life that they have – of course not, they do not want the same experiences over again – but if there is a single thing in life that they would like; a single position they would like to fill; a single desire that they feel needs to be satisfied in order to make them happy, then they do really want to live again to secure the missing thing. They are here because they wanted to be here – or had desires which cried for satisfaction – and they will live again in just the circumstances needed to gratify their desires or wishes, or that are likely to give them the necessary experience for higher spiritual growth.
To the student of this subject of Spiritual Evolution, a great world of interesting facts open itself. Light is thrown upon history and the progress of mankind, and a most fascinating field of research is presented. We must resist the temptation to go into this branch of the subject, as it would lead us in attractive paths which we are forbidden to take up in these elementary lessons owing to the lack of space. We may find room, however, to say a little about these matters.
The earth is one of a chain of planets, belonging to our solar system, all of which are intimately connected with the others in this great law of Spiritual Evolution. Great waves of life sweep over the chain, carrying race after race along the chain, from one planet to another. Each race stays on each planet for a certain period, and then having developed, passes on to the planet next highest in the scale of evolution, finding there conditions best suited for its development. But this progress from planet to planet is not circular – it resembles a spiral, circling round and round and yet rising higher with each curve.
Let us suppose a soul dwelling upon any of the planets of our planetary chain, in a comparatively undeveloped state of spiritual growth – occupying a low place in the scale of evolution. The soul gains the experiences coming to it in that stage, in a number of incarnations, and then is swept away toward the next highest planet in the chain, together with the rest of its particular race, and is reincarnated there. In this new home it occupies a plane distinctly in advance of the one occupied in the last one – its entire race forming the nucleus of a new race there, some being pioneers while the others follow after. But still this advanced stage (as compared with its stage on the planet just left behind it) may be much lower in the scale of progress than other races dwelling on the same planet with it. Some of the races, lowest in the point of evolution on this earth, may have been much nearer the highest stage of development on the last planet inhabited by them, and still they have progressed greatly by the change – the highest on a lower planet perhaps being less highly developed than the lowest on one farther along the planetary chain. Many of the races that formerly inhabited the Earth, traces of whom we occasionally find, have passed on to a higher stage of development. History shows us that race after race came to the front in the earth’s development – played their part upon the stage of action – and then passed on – where? The occult philosophies furnish the missing link of explanation. And our race has grown from the stone – age stage – and still further back – and will continue to progress – and will then pass on, making way for some newer race which may be even now sending out pioneers from some other planet.
This does not mean, necessarily, that each race that history tells us of has passed from the earth. On the contrary, occultists know that some, and in fact most of the races known to history, have incarnated in some of the races today. The confusion is explained by the fact that each race has several sub-races, which really belong to the main race. For instance, occultists know that the ancient Egyptians – he Romans – the Greeks – the Atlanteans – the ancient Persians, etc., etc., are now living on this earth – that is the souls which formerly incarnated in these races, are now incarnated in some of the modern races. But there are other races – prehistoric races – which have passed away from the earth’s attraction entirely, and have gone on to the higher planes of action in the higher planets. There are a number of planets lower in the scale of progress than our earth, and there are several higher, toward which we are moving. There are of course, other solar systems – other chains of suns – other sub-Universes (if we may be pardoned for using the term), and all this is ahead of every soul, no matter how lowly or how humble.
Our race, at present, is going through a most important period of evolution. It is passing from the unconscious stage of spiritual development, into the conscious stage. Many have already attained their conscious stage, and many more are awakening to it. The whole race will ultimately have it, this being precedent to their moving on. This gradual awakening to spiritual consciousness, is what is causing all this unrest in the world of thought, this breaking away from old ideals and forms – this hunger for the truth – this running to and fro after new truths, and old truths restated. It is a critical period in the history of the race, and many hold that it implies a possible division of the race into two sub-races, one of whom will be possessed of spiritual consciousness, and will move on ahead of the remaining sub-race of slower brothers, who must work up by degrees. But the race will again be united, before it finally passes on from the earth, as it is bound together by the Law of Spiritual Cause and Effect. We are all interested in each other’s progress – not only because we are brothers but because our own soul must wait until the whole race develops. Of course the more rapidly developed soul does not have to be reincarnated simply because its slower brother has to do so. On the contrary the highly developed soul spends a long period of waiting on the higher planes of the Astral World while its slower brother works out his evolution in repeated births, the sojourn in the higher planes giving the developed soul great happiness and benefit, as explained in other lessons. Many of these “waiting souls,” however, choose to sacrifice their well earned rest, by coming back to earth to help and uplift their brethren, either in the form of Astral Helpers, or even by a deliberate and conscious rebirth (which is not needed for their development) they deliberately taking on the body of flesh, with all its burdens, in order to assist their weaker brothers toward the goal. The great teachers of the races, have been largely composed of these self-sacrificing souls, who voluntarily “renounced heaven” for the love of their fellow man. It is very hard to imagine what a great sacrifice this is – this coming back to a comparatively low developed civilization, from a high plane of spiritual development. It is like Emerson doing missionary work among the Bushmen.
Toward what goal is all this evolution tending? What does it all mean? From the low forms of life, to the highest – all are on The Path. To what place or state does The Path lead? Let us attempt to answer by asking you, to imagine a series of millions of circles one within the other. Each circle means a stage of life. The outer circles are filled with life in its lowest and most material stages, each circle nearer the center holding higher and higher forms – until men (or what were men) become as gods. Still on, and on, does the form of life grow higher, until the human mind cannot grasp the idea. And what is in the center? The brain of the entire Spiritual Body – The Absolute – God!
And we are traveling toward that center!