REINCARNATION, CIVILIZATION, AND HISTORY: by John van Mater
The material for these remarks may be found in H.P. Blavatsky’sSecret Doctrine, supplemented by the writings of Dr. de Purucker, who was a most profound student of her works. This is not to imply that we would make a dogma of The Secret Doctrine, or claim that it contains all the law and all the prophets. But this remarkable work constitutes a major restatement of the principles of the ancient wisdom or esoteric philosophy. One could speak at length about the manner in which The Secret Doctrine was conceived and written, and how it might be studied. Suffice to say the principles it expounds and the mysteries it implies add up to infinitely more than we students may encompass in a single lifetime. Studying it leads to a larger awareness of the structure and operations of the cosmos and man’s relationship to it. These few words are designed to let you know where my roots are. Now the story of man cannot be understood without considering the birth of the planet of which he is an inseparable part. As man and the other kingdoms achieve their evolution, so does earth achieve its form and its reimbodiment. The elemental forces, the mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms, and the kingdoms of the gods – all are essential to one another and to the whole. We are to earth what cells, the life force, and thoughts are to man. Thus from the very beginning of our planet’s reimbodiment all the kingdoms were present, not as they now are, but as seeds about to unfold. So let us for a few moments consider in the roughest outlines the manner in which the ancients described the birth of worlds, which they looked upon as cosmic beings, whether speaking of universes, suns, or planets. When such a birth commences, as is the case with man, there is no form, the energies and characteristics of the systems of worlds about to come forth have been inrolled, dormant, sleeping for ages. The Hindus and other cultures give figures for the lifespan of planets and suns and other cosmic entities. Planets, they said, live for 4,320,000,000 years, and this lifespan is called their manvantara. The time spent in its rest period or death or pralaya is also given as 432,000,000 years.
When the time arrives for our world to reawaken, it does so on a very ethereal level. First the godlike beings and the elemental forces issue forth, laying the ethereal pattern for the inner and outer aspects of the earth to be. This is followed by the awakening of the lower kingdoms, human, animal, vegetable, laying the tracks, so to say - all this still on the higher planes. The life of a planet takes place in a series of pulsations or rounds. There are seven such rounds. We are presently in the 4th round, the most material of our planetary life cycle. Henceforward our earth will grow increasingly less material until the end of its lifespan. As the lesser kingdoms build for themselves more and more appropriate bodies to work through, the earth itself assumes its shape, its circulations, and its energy flow, inner and outer, that we associate with this living planet of ours, of which we and all the lesser lives are the living parts. The birth of a world is directly analogous to the birth of a human being. Just imagine, out of a single cell or vital centre, sometimes termed in Hindu nomenclature a laya centre – through this centre flow all the living forces that will produce in time an adult human being with all his or her inner and outer circulations, intelligence, feeling, consciousness. It is astounding, it is not – all this unfolding from within or rather through a microscopic germ cell. A human being reincarnates. Not by happenstance, but by law, following steps and stages laid down in the inner fabric of the human stock ages and ages ago when man was evolving his present form from the astral, globular shape it once had. Earth achieves its expression by means of all its lesser lives, just as man achieves his physical incarnation by means of all his atoms, molecules, compounds, cells – all contributing to form the fluids, tissues and organs of his bodily phases, all energized by the life forces or prānas and infilled with emotional and mental activities; and all of these in turn energized by the indwelling consciousness. And so it is with the planet. As its kingdoms alter, evolve, grow more material, so does earth achieve the various phases of its reimbodiment. We will be taking a long journey, backwards and forwards in time. We will be discussing questions I have lived with most of my life. I have found them interesting. I hope you do too. These questions are such as What is history? Who are the historians? What is civilization? What qualifications are needed to assess the accomplishments of the past? We will go into these subjects and shed the light that I believe reincarnations throws upon them. For reincarnation does explain history and civilizations in a manner that opens up doors. In defining what civilization is, we have to be very liberal. After all, some tribe up in the Amazon
Basin has its customs, morals, and self-sufficient life, and on its level that is its civilization. If we ask what is a high civilization, here again we have to be very careful. We would like to think that high civilizations produce great art, buildings, literature, as indeed they do. But what about some nomadic people grazing their flocks over the hillsides, leaving no great structures; but a kindly people with a high moral code. They might live their long span and disappear leaving scarcely a trace. Yet in all those things that make life sane and worthwhile, they are civilized. So we have to be careful in defining civilization. But I believe we usually associate high civilizations with eras that produced lasting creations of one kind or another. In order to contact the past we are dependent upon historians. So we have to ask a number of questions in this regard. History is the ebb and flow of civilization over the long millennia. Tracing it, seeking to understand and record it – that is the job of the historian. It can be asked, however, can an era be confined in a book? To what extent can any book reflect the age it pretends to describe? Writing history is an enormous undertaking. The historian is after all not omniscient. He would have to be a student of literature, an engineer and scientist, an expert in law and government, a connoisseur of the arts, a linguist, one familiar with the worlds’ religions, myths, and symbols: one who grasps and understands all the ramifications that civilizations expand into, in order to do justice to an age. The historian is limited in a number of ways. First and foremost, by the preconceptions of our own time. Each age wears its particular glasses, tinted with its preoccupations. We can see this clearly if we think back a few hundred years, when it was held that the world was created some 7 – 8,000 years ago. So that our outlook upon earth and man and our dating of history had to be limited by that stricture. Science put an end to this insofar as earth and the life of earth is concerned, now saying that earth is perhaps 4.3 billion years old, and the life of earth perhaps hundreds of millions of years. Now, however, we have a different set of strictures. Now we believe life sprang from non-life and clings precariously to the surface of our dead world, which like a billiard ball floats around the sun. The original protoplasm by its own unaided efforts, in contact with its environment, and in competition with its fellow enzymes (or whatever they were), has proliferated over the millions of years into all the life we know through the various kingdoms, growing more and more complicated, organizations of matter and organizations of organizations. What is now being said, if you boil it all down, is that in the last analysis man is an aspect of matter. Matter is the reality; consciousness, mind, creativity, the ethical instinct – all these things are aspects of matter. When the body dies, that is the end. Thus man, as the crowning glory of the evolutionary process has to be the most recent production of the evolutionary procedure. Hence in dating early civilizations, we cannot push things too far back in time, 10-15,000 years at most, otherwise it would not fit into the picture of humankind groping its unaided way upward from savagery to civilization in very recent times. So every age has its preconceptions and strictures – you can see from what has been said that we are not exempt. Indeed not, even though we are not conscious of it. Today matter is king, everything is a byproduct of matter. Therefore when we go back to study an earlier civilization that may have had other premises than ours, we encounter difficulties. These earlier people, let us say, may have held that consciousness is the reality, matter an illusion. They may have looked upon this as a living world, a living universe, including the forces that animate it and the laws that guide it. Now it would be very difficult for a scientifically trained researcher or historian to quite understand such an era with all the ramifications that such beliefs would have proliferated into. He would, perhaps without realizing it, damn it with faint praise. Who can be free of preconceptions when looking into the past. It is not easy. Often the main problem is lack of evidence. Man is one of the main destroyers of this evidence. When the classical world ended with the onset of the Christian movement and later that of the Arabs, much of its literature was burned and many of its other achievements shattered. It is estimated that between 80 and 90% of the output of the classical mind was burned when the various great libraries were consumed. Imagine heating the baths at
Alexandria with this priceless heritage! Three-quarters of a million scrolls – history, philosophy, religion. It was like pulling a shade down between us and what went before. So man is one of the main destroyers of his own history. Of course nature does her share, shaking down our structures, bringing on changes of climate, raising some lands, flooding or submerging others. If man uses up the soil, desert may encroach, leaving a barren wasteland where once a great people lived and flourished. There were of course notable historians among the ancients themselves, and their works are particularly valuable, where they have survived, for they were on the spot, so to say. I would like to point out another source of history now much downgraded. The myths and legends of mankind, often passed on by oral tradition for 100’s perhaps 1,000’s of years. These come down to us like a racial memory. We should study and compare them. They all speak of man’s immense age, of sunken lands formerly occupied by civilized man, of superior beings who taught mankind. The universality of these legends and epics coming down to us out of the darkness of prehistory has to be explained. If they were merely the products of human fancy, they would have diverged in a bewildering fashion. Instead from all parts of the world, among cultured and so-called primitive peoples, we find human and cosmic evolution described. They speak of divine kings who taught early man the arts and sciences and other aspects of civilization. Every people had its flood story, its Ark and Noah; every land its Prometheus or Lucifer. So we should study seriously these ancient accounts of our prehistory. Now we will get into the subject about the rise and fall of civilizations. Civilizations like all things are born, wax powerful, reach a zenith in creativity and power, undergo their Victorian era, so to speak, and finally the seeds of their own decline make their appearance or spring up in the newer generations, and they slowly ebb away. Or perhaps they may rumble up and down for a while, but eventually they disappear. Or they may be overrun by a people less civilized than themselves. This has occurred many times in history. All human institutions do this, all organizations, all beings — even suns and universes. All are born, live out their lives and finally die — and as the old traditions teach, are eventually reborn. Corporations, you may have noticed, achieve success, but eventually, if they fossilize, become unable to cope with new conditions and are swept aside by the ongoing life. Even you and I as we grow old tend to fossilize- if we are not careful, and finally retreat or retire into the background with comments on how life and people are not what they used to be! We have to ask ourselves: Where is the evolution in the rise and fall of civilizations? Take the classical world here in the West, which had its flowering first in Greece, then in
Alexandria, and then the
Roman Empire. As
Rome declined the light of civilization gradually died, culminating in the onset of the so-called Dark Ages, a period which by comparison with what had gone before was dark indeed insofar as human achievement, education, artistry and creativity were concerned. From civilization into abject ignorance, where is the evolution in that? If as science maintains our own evolution is from parent to son to grandson, and so forth, our genetic inheritance, in other words, you would think there would be a continual rise in civilization. But instead we find all cultures are born, achieve a zenith, and die, replaced often by a people far lower in their civilized efforts — but not always. Is there such a thing as the evolution of civilization? I have thought long and hard on this and have concluded that we do not have enough historical overview to judge this matter. We have high periods here, high there, but often with no genetic connection. It is unfair and unjust to compare the high points of one culture with the low point of another, which we often do in our unconscious arrogance. Now let us bring reincarnation into this picture to see if it will give us some insights. Reincarnation is simply the idea that we live many lives, and that in any life we are what we have made ourselves in former lives under the law of cause and effect or karma. Our blemishes we put there, our talents we have earned. And what befalls us, if we believe in law and not in chance, is also of our own making. We are OURSELVES, in other words, and are now making ourselves into what we will one day become in this and in future lives. All this presupposes that there is an enduring part that lives in each person, each planet, each atom, something that survives and gradually evolves through repeated reimbodiments, something within, in the case of man a higher self or reincarnating ego, in which is stored the wisdom of experience. Evolution, thus, is the process by which the potentials of this divine essence may unfold. We humans have unfolded that which makes us human; we are at the human stage of our evolution. The animals have unfolded that which makes them animals, and so forth. Someday in a future planetary cycle the higher animals may develop from within themselves that which will make it the natural step to slip over into the human kingdom, as many did in the early part of this present planetary reimbodiment, according to H.P. Blavatsky. Let me say that these ideas are not laid upon you. They are thrown out for your consideration. We have no wish to try to convince anyone of anything. We feel it worthwhile to discuss ideas such as these, for they are valuable, insightful. We are all learners, and we learn from each other. Often religious and philosophical ideas are looked upon as sacrosanct, not to be discussed in mixed company. Perhaps we should bring them out into the sunlight and share them, see what they truly are, these beliefs that make up or are supposed to make us our most cherished views of life and death. Well, that is quite an aside; let us return to our theme. Evolution from the theosophic point of view extends through repeated reimbodiments or reincarnations. Not only in the human kingdom, but among animals, plants, even atoms and worlds. It is not a scientific heresy to describe that a sun is born, lives, and dies. The only heresy might be to describe, as we do, that the sun will in time be reborn, with its worlds visible and invisible. Just as man has his invisible parts, so also the sun with its systems planetary and other worlds and their inhabitants. This is a living universe, and we are living parts of it. Now let us see what insights reincarnation may give us in the study of history and civilization. In the first place, it is my belief that an age is the people living in it and the destinies or karma they are working out. The great souls of the Periclean Age in Greece are what made the Periclean Age. Had those creative minds not been present, there would not have been a Periclean Age. That is a fact with nothing essentially unscientific about it. Every stage in the unfoldment of a civilization offers opportunities for the development or expression of the souls coming into incarnation. Souls with great creativity will naturally be drawn to eras where they may express that creativity, unless karma forbids it for one reason or another. So in each era people express what they are, and thus each age assumes the tone and characteristics of the people in it who are expressing what they are. If the preponderance of souls are primitive, it will be a primitive age, and so forth. With respect to scientific evolution, there are what I feel are rather telling arguments against the notion that we inherit our SELVES from our parents. I do not believe I inherited my SELF from my parents. I am my SELF. Souls are attracted to parents with whom they have karma to work out, previous associations, deep, intimate relationships. These souls coming in select from the gene potentials of their parents what is necessary to express what they are, modified by karma, of course. There is no chance involved. Thus the ten children of a large family will be ten different people, talent-wise, character-wise. Ten different souls coming to birth, each with its own characteristics. There may even be a wide diversity physiologically, that is, in appearance. All this does not downgrade the role of the parent. Here are two people who long for a child and now have one, an old friend from out of the past. The parents are given the great opportunity to give this soul a proper start in life, an environment and a training that will allow the child to unfold its potentials and creativity. I believe such a view enhances the role of the parents. Now another thought in passing: If reincarnation is a fact, then we were some of the ancients. Sometimes when we look back in history the people of those times look strange to us. Perhaps they seemed to believe differently than we do today, different customs, different lifestyle. But if we were the ancients, then these ancients must have been very much as we are. And I believe this is true. I think the average person from age to age is very much like we are today. He has his loves and his hates, his trials and his problems. But he is trying to do the best he can with what he has and is. That is, the average decent human being. Civilizations in many ways are like fireworks on a new year’s eve celebration. They blossom into flame, illuminate their eras. They last a certain time, but eventually die down and night takes over. In the meantime, other efflorescences have taken place around them. The problem is there often appears to be no connection between their blossoming or civilization and those that went before or came after. Even those in close proximity, such as Greece and
Rome. We say Rome just took over much of the Greek culture, and that is certainly true in part. But the Greeks expressed their civilization as Greeks, quite separate the different from the way
Rome expressed itself.
Rome did take over some of the beauties of the Greek world, but
Rome made its own mark. It was a different set of souls, not Greek souls, but Roman souls, with a Roman stamp. Thus though civilizations may influence one another, each has its own birth and flowering and does its own thing, so to say. The nations to follow will be an entirely different set of souls, often with no genetic relationship. I am an outdoor person, and every year I go to the same river for a few days if I can manage it. I find the same pools are there, somewhat modified by the Spring runoffs. But the river is essentially the same from year to year. One wades in the coolness or sits on the bank, and the water is flowing by, and it has often occurred to me that this that I am so fond of, this beautiful river — well, its substance is flowing away constantly, yet it remains the river. Human races are the same, I think. The individuals of the race are constantly being born and dying, the substance of the race is coming in at one end and going out the other without pause. Yet the race retains its stamp, its marked characteristics. It may change slowly, it may evolve, rise to power or sink into obscurity, but it retains a certain individuality. It is all very interesting and mysterious. So civilizations are like streams, the souls come and go, but the nation remains for its span of time. Mankind consists of a wide variety of souls. We have those who are perhaps below the norm, or maybe greatly so, even depraved. Then the forerunners who are geniuses in a variety of fields — literature, art, science. And above these are those developed in many ways in an all-round fashion, the wonderful Goethes, Schweitzers, van der Posts, and more like them in every age. Then the great spiritual philosophers, Plato, Pythagoras, Plotinus, Proclus, Porphyry — to name a few from our classical West — whose ideas have affected their own and succeeding ages in a most profound manner. Above these, even, are the great teachers, those superb examples of human evolution. Those Buddhas and Christs, who represent what each of us may one day achieve in the course of many incarnations of evolution — in the spirit of the words of Jesus, that: “These things that I do, ye also shall do, and even greater things.” It is difficult to imagine what would have been the fate of mankind if these great ones, these “Compassionators”, had not given of their essence for the sake of us all. So there are many types of souls connected with the human race. We might ask ourselves: Why the ups and downs of civilization? They seem to rise only to die, as the flowers do, as everything in this manifested world seems to do. But why is this the case with civilizations? Well, it strikes me that when a civilization is born or a nation emerges, it attracts to itself those souls that have that karma and those abilities to express. When it is a time for pioneering, those types come in. Hardy souls like those in our country that worked their way across the wilderness. The administrators come in at the appropriate time, come in by karma. Also the law-givers, artisans and artists, and the creative efforts begin to flower. The military also enters into the picture. In time the nation reaches its zenith of power and influence. Now the citizens no longer have to struggle for their ideals and freedoms. They suffer from a surfeit of worldly things. These come to them on a silver platter. A new type of soul comes to birth, softer, more effete. Gradually the seeds of decline set in, and in due course the nation will ebb away. I believe reincarnation sheds a wonderful light on this subject, because at every stage in the development of a nation, the souls come in whose destiny is such as to fulfil the destiny of the nation at that point. This also applies to the nation’s decline. In the decline of Rome some of the Caesars were actually depraved. Caligula, who had his favourite horse raised to the consulship and given a golden stall. It is difficult to conceive of the head of a huge empire behaving in such a fashion. Of course
Rome was so well built that it took a long time on the way down, Centuries. Civilizations simply cannot continue to rise and rise for very good reasons, the way I see it. Take the hordes that followed Genghis Khan when he slaughtered his way across Asia, hesitating (luckily for us) on the borders of
Europe. Then there was his grandson Tamerlane who swept through
Asia Minor pulling down some of those grand old cities stone by stone. Can you imagine such a thing? Now these often cruel souls who followed their cruel leaders were human souls like we are. They will reincarnate, and when they do, they will bring themselves and their karma. It will not be sweetness and light. The seeds they sowed were not seeds of calmness, deliberation and forbearance. Their seeds were seeds of violence, and they will bring on violent karma. Now if civilizations continued to rise and rise, where would be the place for these types with different brands of karma. That is why the world is fragmented at times. Here a high civilization, but over there more violent types expending themselves. Hence we have the rise and fall, the birth, growth, zenith, decline, and death; sometimes a violent death, but not always so. It seems to be nature’s way. Everything follows these rhythms: seeds sprout, grow, flower, and in the Fall wither and die. Nations, corporations, suns. But when they die, that is not the end, for the souls return to build anew. It is my understanding that although there are a finite number of human monads or souls connected with the family of man, only a small number are in incarnation at any one time. The vast majority are undergoing their after-death states, which may last many, many times longer than the years spent in incarnation. But the population of earth varies considerably within certain limits. At present souls appear to be crowding in, which may continue for a while. But there are other times when large portions of earth lie fallow, and mankind is reduced in numbers. From the standpoint of the reincarnationalist mankind is very, very old indeed, millions of years old. His civilizations stretch back into legendary times. If we would study comparatively the myths and epics of mankind and give some credence to them, we would find these old accounts describing civilizations on continents now sunken. They contain many types of suggestive material that should be taken seriously; not always literally, but the spirit of them, the essence. These legends are the only memory we have of these older periods obscured by intervening catastrophes, natural and human. They have survived with all the races by oral tradition. For any records would have been destroyed in the often violent interregnums that have intervened. H.P. Blavatsky held that these old myths were designed by teachers, adepts, who wove into them the teachings of the ancient wisdom. They may therefore be interpreted on many levels. She mentions seven ways or avenues of understanding locked up in them: spiritual, intellectual, psychological, physical, and so forth. Place against this outlook the words of prestigious Sir Moses Finley of Cambridge, an exponent of “scientific history,” in one of his books. “…Few anthropologists view the invariably oral traditions of the people they study with the faith shown by many ancient historians. The verbal transmittal over many generations of detailed information about past events or institutions that are no longer essential or even meaningful in contemporary life invariably entails considerable and irrecoverable losses of data, or conflation of data, manipulation and invention, sometimes without visible reason, often for reasons that are perfectly intelligible. With the passage of time, it becomes absolutely impossible to control anything that has been transmitted when there is nothing in writing against which to match statements about the past. Yet what about the universality of these accounts located at the antipodes from one another?”Ancient History, by M.I. Finlay, Viking Penguin, NYC, 1986, page 16. I believe present day conceits are perhaps the greatest barrier to understanding older cultures. We should be more open to the way other peoples have thought. Every age believes that now at last we are in the full sunlight of understanding. Now at last we know how it all happened — having downgraded or even disregarded other types of evidence that may be staring us in the face. We shall have to rise above these limitations if we wish to know the mysteries of our ancient past or the intricacies of the ancient mind. Another more specific reason why it is sometimes difficult for researchers to understand ancient civilizations is, I believe, because these older peoples taught almost without exception that this is a living universe, that life is everywhere, in the atom and the sun, in the wind and in the majestic oceans. Today we hold that this is a dead universe, life an accidental byproduct of matter that has somehow struggled forth. We desperately need a broader definition of life, for it would give a perspective on our place in the universe and on this earth, and enlarge our concept of history. If our universe is a living being, and our sun and earth also, we then see ourselves as children of the living cosmos, blood of its blood, life of its life. This implies that there are beings above man and beings below the plant kingdom. If man enshrines a divine spark, we can truly believe we were present when the earth was born and the morning stars sang together, as it says in the Book of Job. We would realize that hierarchies of beings superior to us, gods if you like, form the inner fabric of the cosmos. Without their guiding and sustaining influence, nature would become a meaningless chaos. They instigate or ideate the design of nature’s working and are the forces behind its inbuilt healing system or ineluctable return to harmony, sometimes termed karma. Fortunately evolution is in wiser hands than ours — thank Goodness! At this point I would like to digress for a brief discussion of the races of man and their subdivisions as given by H.P. Blavatsky and Dr. de Purucker. The ancients divided the human history into many cycles related to the cosmic clock — Root races, sub-races, family races, tribes, nations, cycles of 500, a thousand, many thousands of years. Let us go briefly into this subject. The life-cycle of humanity on this physical globe of ours is divided into seven great root races. Each root race is divided in turn into seven sub-races, and each sub-race into seven family races. These in turn consist of seven national race cycles, each of which is built of seven tribal races consisting of seven of what we normally look upon as nations, termed by HPB a tribal generation. One of the ways by which the Hindus calculated the races and their subdivisions was to start with the figure for the ideal life of a human being, some 72 years, somewhat as follows: seven generations of men make up a nation, a cycle of some 500 years. Seven of these nations in turn go to form a tribal race, which endures some 3,600 years. Seven tribal races form what HPB termed a national race, enduring for a precessional cycle of 25,920 years. The term national race is misleading, for she it not referring to a nation as we normally understand that word, but a whole congeries of nations within the span of seven tribal races. Seven of these national races constitute a family race, which endures some 180,000 years. Seven such family races form a sub-race, and seven sub-races form a root race. We shall give examples of these later. We are presently in the fifth root race nearing its midpoint or iron age or kali yuga. The fourth race which preceded us was termed by the Greeks the Atlantean race. And the third root race is called Lemuria, a word devised by a scientist named Sclater, who in his effort to trace the origin of the Lemur, an apelike creature, found they existed in
Madagascar and also in
South-East Asia. He concluded that a continent must formerly have existed where the
Indian Ocean now is. And he named this sunken continent Lemuria. The first two root races were more astral than physical, and their life span was much, much longer than the third, fourth, and fifth root races. During these earliest root races man’s bodily phases were in the process of being evolved. All this is described in the Secret Doctrine, as well as in the various Purānas of India. By the middle of the third root race this process was completed and several remarkable events took place. There occurred the division into the two sexes, something remembered in the Bible, the Popul Vuh, in fact in nearly all the religions and mythologies throughout the world. It is worth recounting another important event that took place just before and following the middle of the third or so-called Lemurian root race. Physical man was ready, and the time arrived for his inner nature, in particular his mind, to be awakened. This was achieved by the incarnation in man of his own Higher Self, thus inflaming his nascent mind into self-consciousness, a characteristic that differentiates man from the higher animals. The Hindus termed this event the descent of the mānasaputras or sons of mind. Among the Greeks you will remember how Prometheus stole fire from the gods, the fire of mind, and brought it to man, for which he was punished by Zeus, chained to Mt.
Caucasus. He was eventually freed by Heracles, who symbolically represented perfected man. For it is only as man perfects himself that he will free his inner god or higher self. The Christian traditions treat of this same event in a most interesting manner. We have Adam and Eve representing the human race leading an idyllic but mindless life in the Garden of Eden. Comes now Lucifer, the so-called fallen angel. What a marvellous word is Lucifer, meaning light-bringer. Matches used to be called lucifers, strike them and light comes forth. Well, comes now Lucifer to the Garden who tempts Eve with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and she and Adam did eat thereof. Thus early humanity achieved self-conscious mind through the intercession of a higher being, the Promethean Lucifer. After this awakening there could no longer be an
Eden, for man now had the power to choose, he knew right from wrong, he was responsible, he could sow and reap karma in a far more potent manner than heretofore. In a surprising and interesting manner this event in human history was instituted by a famous anthropologist. Dr. Loren Eiseley speaks of going down a hall in one of our great museums of natural history. On one side of this hall were depicted the supposititious ancestors of man, commencing with some higher primate and ending up as modern man. Dr. Eiseley was not convinced. Somewhere along the way, he said, there must have occurred a sudden mitosis of the brain cells. Before this event man was no more than a superior animal; after it he became a self-conscious, reasoning being. Nearly all ancient traditions speak of this era as the time when divine instructors lived among men, impressing on their plastic minds certain root ideas that remain to this day. They also taught man the arts and sciences. These superior beings or adepts are sometimes termed Divine Kings, ruling by the right of their own effulgent divine nature. But the cycle was still on its downward swing into matter, and gradually as the fourth race came on, these instructors withdrew, at the same time founding the Mystery Schools which preserved the noble wisdom. Tradition has it that these schools exist even today, although in our time they are not as openly professed as they were in the classical world of the West and in other places. It is said that the Atlantean or fourth root race was the most material of the races. They produced magnificent civilizations. Some of this is hinted at by Plato in one or two of his Dialogues. As Atlantis approached its midpoint, the seeds of our present or fifth root race began to appear. It is from the midpoint of the previous or parent race that springs the following race. This midpoint is sometimes termed the Iron Age or kaliyuga, a time when life grows increasingly intense. Time presses and the lower and higher elements separate out. Finally the seeds of the race to come are isolated geographically, while the old race in ever diminishing numbers runs out its course. The seeds of our fifth root race had its home in Central Asia, and in the course of thousands of years a congeries of civilizations flowered during the halcyon time of its Golden, Silver, and part of its Bronze age — to term these cycles as did the ancient Greeks. Hesiod of Greece who lived some 800 B.C. wrote that we are now in the fifth race just entering the Iron Age thereof. A rather amazing confirmation of what other cultures have also said in different parts of the world, including
Central America. We are approaching the midpoint of our fifth root race and have entered our kali yuga or iron age, which commenced according to the Hindu figures with the death of Krishna in 3102 B.C. The iron age is due to last 432,000 years. In the course of time forerunners of the sixth root race will begin to appear and come on in increasing numbers. In contrast with the fifth root race where the fifth or mental principle predominated, the sixth race will unfold more of the buddhic principle or spiritual insight. Hence the phrase the sixth sense. Before closing this aspect of our subject, it might be interesting to try to figure just where we are in the fifth root race. According to Blavatsky we are in the fourth sub-race; and the family race that is now predominating is the Caucasian. The national race to which we belong is the European, which has run through 9,000 of its 25,920 year cycle. The tribal race presently dominating is the Germanic, and of its life span of some 3,600 years it would seem that somewhat over 1,000 years have elapsed. H.P. Blavatsky and Dr. de Purucker give some examples of the various types of races which may clarify the subject. Examples of a family race would include the original inhabitants of the so-called
New World, that is, pre-Inca, pre-Aztec, and Mayan. This American family race in its 180,000 year life span must have included all the lesser cycles we have discussed before. No doubt as the final islands of the Atlantean civilization began to sink, immigrations into the New World may have come from both the Atlantic and the Pacific, bringing an influx of languages and customs, which undoubtedly accounts for the fact that according to Dr. Kroeber North and South America “contain more native language families than all the remainder of the world.” It is patently absurd to believe that all these diverse peoples could have come across the Bering Straits and worked their way southward for thousands of miles and still preserved the language diversity that the discoverers of the
New World found here. Another example of a family race would be the Mongolian taken on a large scale, including the Chinese, Manchus, Japanese, Lolas, Tibetans, Burmese, and so forth. Still another example would be the coloured peoples of Africa, which form an amazing diversity of languages, cultures, and physiological types. Examples of the national race of 25,920 year cycle would be the European, now one third done, including all the races of Europe — Poles, Germans, French, Swiss, Russians, Greeks, Bulgars, English, Scandinavian, Netherlanders, Spanish, etc. A tribal race would be such as the Slavic, which would include the Russians, Poles, Czechs, Bulgars, and so forth. Still another example of a tribal race would be those New World civilizations in full swing when
Columbus came to the
Americas. Another tribal race is the Teutons, such as the Germans, Scandinavians, English, French, plus the Goths, Visigoths and Vandal strains that settled
Spain. Now H.P. Blavatsky’s teachers mention how complex is the subject of cycles, for races overlap races; and the new race is born from the midpoint of its parent. This means that the old race and the new co-exist side-by-side for a time. In other words the transition is not cut and dried, but blurred and gradual. All great civilizations result from the mixture of peoples. There is no such thing as a pure race. The English, for example, are a mixture of indigenous inhabitants, plus the Celts, Romans, Saxons, Norse,
Normans, plus others, I am sure. And even coming into that Isle may have already been an admixture from heaven knows where! The congeries of civilizations in
India and the
Middle East all resulted from a mixing of racial strains. Our own country and the
New World in general is in process of creating new races of various types. Perhaps another family race of 180,000 years will arise, or possibly a cycle of 25,920 years will commence, composed of various tribal and national units, each of which will have its day in the sun. It is well to bear in mind that often as the midpoint of a cycle approaches, especially the midpoint of a larger cycle that nature conspires to give earth a rest. She accomplishes this in all the ways familiar to students of geology, such as soil depletion leading to the creation of deserts; also changes of climate, even submergences of portions of lands, the flooding of others, or the raising of lands and consequent changes in climate. As the European culture approaches its midpoint, H.P. Blavatsky speaks of such changes occurring in the Old World. On a much larger span of years, the lands now occupied by our fifth root race as it approaches its midpoint will unquestionably undergo vast changes, some gradual, some catastrophic, just as did the old Atlanteans as described by Plato, whose continents broke up over the long millennia and were replaced by new lands clean and free of the old emanations. It seems to me more likely that it is the characteristics residing in human souls working out the karma they have in common that produces the stamp of a nation or the characteristics of a racial family. We are drawn together by karma. This implies other lives in which karma has jointly been sowed and reaped, perhaps many times. So that the builders of nations, for example, are not so much making something for the first time, but remaking together what they had previously participated in creating in the past — hopefully this time along more generous and peaceful lines. We can easily see from these remarks how long it will take the human family with its wide variety of incarnating souls with their divergent karma — how long it will take to advance or evolve into more grand and brotherly areas. Here and there, as in the past, there will be golden ages, but interspersed with darker times, often violent and involving suffering for all concerned. On the positive side, we must not ignore the power of spiritual leadership. I personally believe leadership has influenced history enormously, with its power to inspire and to build, or on the negative side to tear down and destroy. But the time will surely arrive when, as W.Q. Judge wrote, the climate of human life here and there will draw into incarnation the old jñanis, initiated ones, adepts, wise men, to assist in raising our earth life to a higher level. Meantime mankind must reap what it sows, each individual facing himself. For the greatest god in the highest heaven cannot step between man and his karma, between cause and effect, although the great ones, it is said, seek always to ameliorate the situation as karma permits. Earth has seen many flowerings of man’s greatness; earth has had to suffer many of man’s depredations. But mother nature is still in command. In time she will strike her balance. If man abuses earth, then parts of earth will become unliveable. Think of the titanic forces humankind is sending forth: the diverse forces of our technological civilization, man’s hates, antagonisms, jealousies, greed. Also great emanations such as the forces of love, forgiveness, brotherhood, generosity, understanding. Nature absorbs it all and will eventually react. No wonder there are times when earth seems to shake man like a dog its fleas. Because it is the end of a time, and a new time must emerge. Perhaps a glaciation will occur covering a whole hemisphere under thousands of feet of ice, lying fallow so that it can become revivified. Or portions of continents may slip under the oceans and/or others rise. So when the ancients spoke of man they were meaning man and all the life of earth, including the earth itself, the sun and universe. Thus when researchers go out into the forests of
Central America and see a Mayan stele standing there like a lonely sentinel, they read upon it about the age of man into the millions of years. And these scientists say: “These Mayans were a wonderful people, highly developed in astronomy, medicine, architecture. They recorded the phases of Venus, and had a calendar superior in many respects to our own. But when it comes to man’s history, one can see how superstitious they were, for they gave man’s age into the millions of years.” It is a lack of communication. These Mayans were talking about the history of the world and man as a part of this living world from the outset. When you look at it from their point of view, it is all quite logical. It is a valid counter explanation to the one that scientists put forth, which restricts man’s civilized life to a mere 15,000 years or so. The substance of history is the souls of mankind that appear again and again, reaping and sowing from life to life, from age to age. What is the future of mankind? Well, just as it has taken the reincarnating souls of humanity a long, long time to reach where we are now, so it will take many, many more incarnations for mankind to realize its destiny. The human race will begin gradually to achieve its potentials. The time will one day come in some era in the far future when a true brotherhood will be realized. The future of man is to become truly human. Even more, to bring into human life the wise influence of his innate divinity. The examples of the Christs and Buddhas, as said earlier, illustrate what we too may one day achieve. If you will bear with me, I would like now to add a brief postscript to these remarks. H.P. Blavatsky writes that “The universe exists for the experience of the soul.” These words are so very profound and like all droplets of wisdom appear so very simple. They summarize the cosmic process. The universe exists for the experience of the soul. Amid the rise and fall of empires, with their leaders both wise and depraved, the common ground is that all are souls on the pathway of unfoldment. We hear only of the large figures, some inept, some golden with wisdom and love. The greatest heroes are never known. These are the common persons from age to age. One does not need to be notorious to grow, merely sensitive to his noteworthy Inner Self. There is more genuine spiritual growth in a parent who had learned to live for others, than there is in the tyrant preening himself before the public gaze. Actually civilization seems to be more the work of men’s hearts and aspirations implemented by intellect, and this usually produces the fruits of art, literature, and law. Aids to more comfortable living may also be devised — though this last is very relative indeed as can be seen in our present technological excesses; and by no means is such the sole yardstick of genuine achievement. Our material accomplishments will contribute their good share to the inheritance of posterity, but meanwhile it is they, strangely enough, which often stand in the way of our appreciating the true stature of ancient peoples, as well as some of our fellow men today. Back of gadgets, back of culture and civilization, even, is man. And the greatest and most enduring contributions of modern times may turn out to be the world-wide extension of individual human rights and the bringing together of all mankind into a brotherhood of thoughtful reciprocity. Of all the civilizations which have flashed their lights across man’s horizon — all that we can remember at least — our own may be unique in its global recognition of what is due each human soul. The very struggles which appear to be shaping are reflections of the awakening spirit of all men; and this pressure from below is breaking up the confining crust of tyranny, formalism and orthodoxy, much as growing seeds burst through the earth.
We can add depth to our thinking by allowing the man-made barriers between us and the ancients to dissolve; by climbing down from our pedestals and identifying ourselves with all people in all times who, to be sure, were engaged in the same purposes that involve us today. What may be needed perhaps is a fusing of the science of history with the poetry of history, a merging of the factual approach with the imaginative and spiritual. He is mistaken who feels those ancient builders in far off lands were savage folk urged on by crude and distorted beliefs into a life quite foreign from our own. Suffering and pain were as poignant then as now; and the starry sky gladdened the heart of Homer’s shepherd thousands of years ago, just as the far-flung constellations awaken reverential music in our hearts today. There is genuine value in looking at history as a stream of individuals like ourselves flowing out of the legendary past down the centuries to the present. Indeed, many believe these ancients were ourselves. And why not? Perhaps man does not return again to the scenes of his striving, bringing back his genius, which is himself; returning with the blemishes and talents, adolescence and maturity, which mirror themselves in the rise and fall of civilizations. Waves of culture sweep in and ebb away; darker ages succeed those in which the light of progress has shone resplendent. A living tapestry of magic and meaning. The past beckons to us in pantomime, its figures insulated by those glassy and often opaque walls which time, prejudice and human limitation put between the present and what has gone before. We see ancient legions moving, the lines of battle are drawn, but the clash is muffled, the cries of agony stilled. Crusades are launched, races enslaved, empires formed, great cities built, but the panorama is voiceless. Yet today’s sun was shining then. In olden times there were gentle breezes and falling rain and growing things, loves and hates, hunger, happiness. It is said that time softens — how true! In time all the sharp outlines melt away, the living sounds are quiet. We inquire: what makes up our civilization, what is the real stuff of it? It is the brotherhood of the people — the suffering, warring, laughing, praying, loving people. In days gone by it was the same. Well, we have made a long journey here today, backward and forward in time, as we said earlier. We have attempted to show the rise and fall of man’s cultures against the background of a living earth and a living cosmos, guided by superior beings. We have suggested that reincarnation gives us insights into the panorama of history, for it pictures man as an immortal pilgrim with a spark of the divine in his heart of hearts. All the potentials of this divine source reside within him — and also in all other beings and even forces and worlds: in the bird winging its way through the blue sky, in the lightning and the storm, and in our beautiful earth so patiently nourishing its kingdoms. It occurs to me to add that the knowledge of our divine ancestry and the brotherhood of all life brings with it responsibilities. Those of this persuasion can no longer go through life impulsively and unthinkingly. For we have put our feet on a path, and the first step on this path is to live not for ourselves, not for our own aggrandisement, but to benefit mankind.
The above is the text of a lecture given to the Theosophical Society Pasadena. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Theosophical Society Pasadena.