Danielle Audoin – France
In these troubled times when we may have doubts about humanity’s ‘progress’, we have reason to enquire, in the light of theosophical teachings, about man’s place in the universe. The Buddha, Shankaracharya, Madame Blavatsky and other teachers have said that birth in a human body is a very precious opportunity –‘the greatest to which a sentient being can fall heir’. For man is the only sentient being conscious of himself, gifted with that consciousness which enables him to ask himself questions. Man alone can enquire about the significance of life. He alone can understand the process of evolution and cooperate with it. He alone can follow the path of self-transformation. Between Heaven and Earth, between the heights and depths of manifestation – in him alone there can be the full flowering of consciousness.
Animals and even plants are gifted with a certain consciousness, but not with self-consciousness. It is in man that self-consciousness awakens. It manifests first as respect mingled with fear when he is confronted with the forces of Nature. Simple, primitive man is conscious of his situation between heaven and earth. He fears heaven and respects earth. He has the sense of mystery and is capable of wonder. Such was humanity before the development of mind. This applies also to certain peoples spared by civilization.
When mind develops and with it a strong feeling of separateness, self-consciousness manifests in essentially self-centered preoccupations, and so-called civilized people imagine themselves to be the masters of earth and set out to conquer space. The feeling of wonder and the ability to marvel are blunted.
For those who have in some measure sensed the limits of the intellect, those in whom a deeper consciousness is beginning to awaken, questioning is no longer verbal. It becomes observation – not observation based on personal interest and therefore superficial, but silent observation, with the awakening of the sense of mystery and of the ability to wonder.
It may be paradoxical, but the awakening of consciousness involves a period of spiritual darkness, during which man seems to lose all contact with heaven and earth. According to the teachings, this is a necessary stage so that the mind may develop and be transcended. For it is not a matter of remaining childish but of again becoming child-like, of regaining in full consciousness that purity of the child or of humanity in its childhood which alone opens the door to wonder. But there is a great difference between the purity of the child who has not yet developed the feeling of the T and that of the sage who has gone beyond it. The path is long from the one to the other. But it is possible, even in the present stage of our evolution, to shorten the path of return through profound observation of heaven, earth and man.
Living imprisoned in the narrow field of our fixed ideas, our personal feelings and our unceasing activity, we see around us most of the time only ugliness and chaos. But if we happen, if only for a few moments, to escape from selfish concerns, we may discover that manifestation is fundamentally Beauty, Truth and Goodness. That discovery is wonder.
There are special places where one is gripped by the beauty of Nature. But beauty is in fact everywhere, more or less hidden by man’s works, by the distortion and pollution of ‘civilization’. In reality, all earth is beauty. What is considered ugliness is always of man’s making. Nature may show wild, dry and terrifying aspects. But within all that there is profound beauty, a sometimes gripping dimension of splendor, as in a desert, where beauty is completely unadorned. The essence of Nature is beauty. If only we open our eyes, we shall have no need for exotic holiday tours to see it, no need to travel the world in search of it. We can go from wonder to wonder in our surroundings, just as they are, without wishing to escape, without discontent or frustration. We have only to realize that ugliness is merely superficial and artificial. Behind the most ordinary forms, there is a beauty which one can see if one is pure enough, if one does not cast the shadow of one’s self-centeredness on the world. Certain mystics have said that, for them, all is light, as if each object were lit up within. What seems dull to the man of the world has extraordinary meaning for him who sees. He who sees beyond the surface of things can seize the beauty of earth everywhere.
If the essence of Nature, of earth, is beauty, the essence of the universe symbolized by heaven is Truth. There is nothing in the universe which is not in accord with law. The movement of the planets, the solar systems and galaxies is perfectly ordered and in flawless harmony. Where there is order and harmony there is truth. When we look at the starry sky we are seized with wonder before the mysterious immensity of the universe and we forget for the moment our little preoccupations and the importance we attach to ourselves. Unfortunately, we are too often fascinated by the lights of the city and no longer look up into the sky. Perhaps we could try to pierce the layer of clouds or pollution, like a plane rising in flight, and wonder at the cosmic order and the truth which is the essence of the universe.
Nature is beauty, the universe is truth. Standing between the two, between heaven and earth, man is goodness. The true man is fundamentally goodness. Not man as he appears in his personality, but the true Being – by whatever name we call him: Divine Spark, Atma, Buddha Nature, Christ in Us, and so on. He is goodness. All ill-feelings belong to the personality, misled by the sense of. the T which is separateness. This superficial layer hides the true nature of man. We get caught in the trap of appearances, we see only the surface of our brother men, our own surface, and we begin to despair of humanity’s future. In those who can perceive or feel that fundamental goodness, there is infinite compassion for all human beings without exception. Here again, it is a matter of piercing the veil of appearances and awakening consciousness at a deeper level, where every relationship may become a source of wonder.
The flowering of consciousness is revealed in the awakening of that faculty of wonder which blossoms when the heart is pure, that is, without selfishness. Life as a whole is beauty, truth, goodness. We do not see it because our self-centeredness makes us blind. It casts its darkening and deforming shadow on all that surrounds us. For that reason only he whose heart is pure is able to feel wonder, like the child, humanity in its childhood and the sage. As far as we are concerned, we do not see the world as it is but the projection of our own inner world, chaotic, confused and so very limited. Being above all concerned, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, with ourselves, we cut ourselves off from earth and heaven, which could be for us a constant source of wonder.
The path of return is therefore marked by self-forgetfulness which restores man’s contact with heaven and earth and reconciles Him with life. The ability to wonder removes despair, not only because it casts light on the world around us but also because it opens us to the Divine Energy which pervades heaven and earth.
Man has a vague idea of his interdependence with heaven and earth, but he limits it to physical life, the health of the body and the viability of our planet. He does not feel or even think that his spiritual awakening is closely connected with his becoming aware of his unity with heaven and earth. Man’s spiritual heart is like the heart of the atom, elusive, immaterial, but living and dynamic. There is, in the depths of our being, in our real Self, a powerful source of energy – the energy of the One Life. When we isolate ourselves in our separative little I, we have only very limited energy. If we throw down the protective barriers around the I, we renew contact with Divine Energy.
That energy may be drawn from earth as from heaven. We tend to turn only to heaven to implore help and mercy and to fancy that spiritual progress consists in leaving earth for heaven. But Divine Energy comes both from below and from above. One cannot separate them. So he who turns away from earth, whether consciously or not, receives nothing from heaven. Likewise, he who gives his attention only to earth is deprived of the gifts he might receive from heaven. One cannot open oneself to one part of life and close oneself to another. Our attitude is either one of openness – and then we are open to everything – or it is not, and our supposedly heavenward glance is only a semblance.
In the ability to wonder and the openness for the penetration of Divine Energy, the intellect plays no part. It is silent because the I has ceased to exist. And in that silence there sounds forth the beginning of a reply to the fundamental question about man’s role in the process of evolution. If man can be conscious of what surrounds him to such an extent that he marvels, if he can receive the energies stemming from the heights of heaven and the depths of earth, then he is the link between heaven and earth and his role lies in restoring harmony between them, in making earth a living reflection of heaven. Indeed, this reflection comes about first in him, in his very act of observing.
We tend to think of earth as samsara, illusion, suffering, and of heaven as nirvana, bliss. But samsara and nirvana are both experiences of life. When we torture ourselves, or drown in our emotional problems, that is samsara. When we are at peace and our relationships are harmonious, that is nirvana. We vacillate continuously within ourselves between samsara and nirvana, which we unconsciously associate with earth and heaven. When we see around us only chaos, ugliness and evil, that is samsara. When we see beauty, truth and goodness in a human being, an event, a natural phenomenon, that is nirvana. We should not consider earth a place from which to escape in order to find truth elsewhere. The aim of the spiritual search Is to find truth in this world, to change our sight so that it can go beyond appearances and penetrate into the heart of things. Then all we see will reflect perfection. Thus we should consider earth as the reflection of that one universal consciousness eternally evolving, a reflection which the human mind cannot perceive in its perfection. It is not the reflection which is imperfect, it is the way we see it.
So it is in himself that man can and must bring about that harmony between heaven and earth. He should so act that the Divine, which is his own deep nature, is reflected undistorted in his thoughts, feelings and actions. Thus he can link with what is above and what is below in the vastness of manifestation – not by trying to change others, not by trying to alter what seems to be wrong around him, but by bringing about that inner harmony. As a result of the unity of life and resultant interdependence, man by changing himself changes the whole universe. He changes it first for himself: the universe will appear to him more and more in its truth, its coherence, its beauty. He changes it also for others, by rending the veil of human inertia, by breaking the vicious circle of self-centered thoughts, feelings and actions in which humanity is imprisoned.
Thus the question arises how man is to bring about such a transformation, how he is to leave his more or less petty – and always limited – personal universe, to awaken to the universe in its wholeness. In other words, how is he for the first time to succeed in leaving the vicious circle of habit? It is not a matter of seeking a method but of developing a questioning attitude which might lead to conscious awareness, which would in itself be a transformation.
We are continually agitated and, paradoxically, that agitation prevents us from being flexible. For we always follow the same beaten tracks. From a spiritual point of view, there is no progress, very little evolution. Perhaps we should try – for at first an effort is necessary – not to let one activity follow another without pause, the term ‘activity’ including here words and thoughts. There is no relaxation in our lives. Now, relaxation is absolutely essential for wonder and the conservation of energy.
Relaxation is not laziness. In laziness, we listen to ourselves. In relaxation, we listen to the other, not only the other as a fellow human being but the other in the sense of our environment, the conditions of our life, circumstances, and so on. Relaxation means abandoning our personal preoccupations for the time being, not out of negligence but because a moment comes when we give up seeking by ourselves the solution of the problems in which we are entangled. Then we let go. We no longer fight against ourselves or against others or events. And if we can totally and sincerely let go, something happens, a light flashes forth, the situation takes on quite a different significance, we perceive order.’ Things fall into place without opposition and also without exclusion. The human is no longer opposed to the Divine. Earth is no longer opposed to Heaven. There is an inclusive, all-encompassing vision. This happens only when the I is silent. For the I, with its incessant activity, is what blocks vision. To let go means to become like a child again, abandon the pretense of the I, purity being the absence of pretense or self-affirmation. It means to be nothing – and in that nothingness to find All.
Thus, as consciousness flowers, man is the first witness of Earth and Heaven. Then he links the two. Finally, he realizes that he is the fusion of Heaven and Earth. With this realization, he acts according to the harmony of the universe, at the same time allowing himself to disappear in the All from which he comes.
[The article above was previously published in The Theosophist, y1996 v118, October p15]