The concept of cycles is fundamental to Theosophical philosophy, which posits that everything, from the minutest particle or energy to the largest cosmic system, is subject to the law of cycles. It is also called the Law of Periodicity.
A cycle is a sequence of events that continuously recur according to the laws of nature. Examples are the regular beating of the heart, the ebb and flow of the tide, the rotation and revolution of planets, the seasons of the year, and other natural phenomena. The study of cycles has long been the subject of scientific inquiry in physics, geology, and astronomy; and much of our knowledge of cycles in nature comes from those disciplines. A correct understanding of cycles gives us a tool to predict both natural and social phenomena. For instance, studies have been made regarding suspected cycles in wars and crimes. Research into cycles found in nature have led to discoveries that help us to predict and prepare for disturbances that may affect agriculture, communications, and other human activities. One example is the cyclical nature of sunspots, which have strong electromagnetic effects on the earth’s atmosphere, affecting our communication systems. Such studies have led to a resurgence of interest in the law of harmonics, known since the time of Pythagoras, wherein natural and social phenomena appear to follow a cyclical pattern that is a multiple of specific time periods or distances.
Cycles in Theosophy. Esoteric philosophy, however, extends such studies further than science does, including such matters as birth and rebirth, human races, the rise and fall of civilizations, and the emergence and disappearance of globes and solar systems. The doctrine of cycles is one of the three fundamental propositions of esoteric philosophy taught by Helena P. Blaqvatsky in The Secret Doctrine: “The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically ‘the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing,’ called ‘the manifesting stars,’ and the ‘sparks of Eternity.’ . . . ‘The appearance and disappearance of Worlds is like a regular tidal ebb of flux and reflux’.” This indicates, she explains, “the absolute universality of that law of periodicity, of flux and reflux, ebb and flow, which physical science has observed and recorded in all departments of nature. An alternation such as that of Day and Night, Life and Death, Sleeping and Waking, is a fact so common, so perfectly universal and without exception, that it is easy to comprehend that in it we see one of the absolutely fundamental laws of the universe” (SD 1:16-7).
The concept of cycles is a vital key to the understanding of the various phases of the evolution of human and nonhuman beings, as well as of the origin and destiny of planets and solar systems. It provides support for a larger philosophy of life based on the purposeful nature of cyclical patterns.
Macrocosmic Cycles. A basic doctrine in Theosophical philosophy is the perpetual manifestation and dissolution of universes. Every stage of manifestation has both an active and a dormant or latent aspect. These are equivalent to the manvantara (active period) and pralaya (rest period) of Hinduism. Theosophical literature generally adopts the Hindu system of measuring these periods, from the “Age of Brahma” (311,040,000,000,000 years) down to a minor cycle or YUGA.
Theosophical cosmogony includes teachings about planetary chains, rounds, globes, and human races. Human existence is part of a stupendous process of manifestation and progression, which has cycles within cycles. Thus, for example, our present humanity is but the fifth of seven root races that appear and disappear in our globe, the Earth. Our globe is but one of seven globes, wherein life activity or life waves transfer from one globe to another in succession for seven rounds, completing one chain. The CHAIN to which the Earth belongs is but one of seven chains in our PLANETARY system. The cycles involved in the various stages and substages of this cosmic process follow basic laws and patterns, such as the septenary law.
Other examples of macrocosmic cycles involve the appearance of avatars in human history, the precession of the equinoxes which is said to augur major changes in human society, and the rise and fall of civilizations (such as ATLANTIS and LEMURIA). It is on the basis of these purposeful cyclical patterns that Theosophical philosophy predicts, for example, the appearance of two more root races on earth who will have additional faculties not generally possessed by present humanity, or that certain nations will still rise or decline. H. P. Blavatsky points out that such predictions are not prophecies: “It is simply knowledge and mathematically correct computations which enable the WISE MEN OF THE EAST to foretell, for instance, that England is on the eve of such or another catastrophe; France, nearing such a point of her cycle, and Europe in general threatened with, or rather, on the eve of, a cataclysm, which her own cycle of racial Karma has led her to. The reliability of the information depends, of course, on the acceptation or rejection of the claim for a tremendous period of historical observation. Eastern Initiates maintain that they have preserved records of the racial development and of events of universal import ever since the beginning of the Fourth Race” (SD 1:646).
Microcosmic Cycles. On the human level, cycles are manifested in such phenomena as life and death, reincarnation, sleeping and waking, as well as collective social phenomena, such as crime, wars, and epidemics. Included in the microcosmic cycles are the life cycles of animals, plants, and minerals, down to the minute biological cycles in cellular life and cycles at the atomic and subatomic levels.
An important cycle in human life is that of birth, death, and rebirth, wherein the higher self in human beings periodically enters into physical incarnation, grows, dies, and spends a period of gestation and assimilation in between physical lives before repeating the process. This cycle of REINCARNATION is progressive in nature, leading to the awakening of deeper levels of consciousness latent in human beings.