Nicholas Weeks – USA
[This article is based on a talk given in April 2010 at the Krotona Institute in Ojai, California by the author. References to Echoes of the Orient are from the revised version, 2009-2010.]
Now some thoughts on human perfectibility. Some object to spiritual perfection because it sounds like a final status, with all change or progress ended. I have not found this taught in the original Theosophy of HPB or WQJ. Even if this were the case, consider the many thousands of incarnations involved in becoming a Buddha or Bodhisattva, for example. Then, many manvantaras more helping the spiritual advance of all beings; boredom is not in the future.
Here is some of what William Quan Judge wrote on perfection:
“On this plane of ours the spirit focalizes itself in all human beings who choose to permit it to do so, and the refusal to permit it is the cause of ignorance, of sin, of all sorrow and suffering. In all ages some have come to this high state, have grown to be as gods, are partakers actively in the work of nature, and go on from century to century widening their consciousness and increasing the scope of their government in nature. This is the destiny of all beings, and hence at the outset Theosophy postulates this perfectibility of the race, removes the idea of innate unregenerable wickedness, and offers a purpose and an aim for life which is consonant with the longings of the soul and with its real nature, tending at the same time to destroy pessimism with its companion, despair.
In Theosophy the world is held to be the product of the evolution of the [Unknown eternal] principle..., from the very lowest first forms of life, guided as it proceeded by intelligent perfected beings from other and older evolutions, and compounded also of the egos or individual spirits for and by whom it emanates. Hence man as we know him is held to be a conscious spirit, the flower of evolution, with other and lower classes of egos below him in the lower kingdoms, all however coming up and destined one day to be on the same human stage as we now are, we then being higher still.” [Echoes II 136]
In another passage Judge responds to a lament that so very few ever become perfect:
“It has never been a secret doctrine that 'but few among mortals strive for perfection and out of those only one in ten thousand reaches the end desired.' These words are to be found in the Bhagavad-Gītā, [ch. VII, śloka 3.] But even if we did not have the direct statement in the Bhagavad-Gītā, the fundamental Theosophical doctrines compel us to the conclusion that many will fail to reach immortality. Since, however, the same doctrines teach us to analyze and determine as to what 'many' or 'us' means, we find that the theory under discussion applies solely to the lower or strictly human ego and not to Spirit. The object, therefore, of reincarnation is that all the possible egos may have the chance to become immortal by uniting themselves with Spirit. If they do not, they lose. But further yet, it is laid down that the periods of evolution succeed each other in endless succession, and all who are 'left over' unsaved at the end of any one of such periods are taken up again, in the succeeding evolution, for the purpose of working up to perfection. Thus in every Manvantara numbers of egos reach perfection, for that period is very long as mortals count years. I say 'numbers' because in fact the number is very large, although, if compared to the entire whole, they may not seem to be many. This is what Theosophists are working for — not only to reach perfection themselves but to help all other men to do so likewise. And they should remember that whether they like it or not, the laws of life will bring them upon earth again and again until they believe in the doctrine, and acquire aspiration, and turn both into action.” [Echoes II 267]
This great enterprise of Sublime Perfection and Brotherhood “rests upon the essential unity of the whole human family”; so let us ponder on what Judge writes about Unity.
“Underlying the doctrines of Theosophy is one fundamental proposition, namely, ‘the essential Unity of all life and being.’ Manifestation of life is differentiation of this unity, the purpose of differentiation is evolution, and the destiny of evolution is the return of all manifestation into its source and original unity.
Of the manifestation of life there are two phases, poles, or aspects, the descent of Spirit into matter and the ascent of matter into Spirit. The infinite variety of gradation in development between these two poles marks the degree of differentiation from the Unity, in its downward or upward course. This universal truth of the essential unity of all life and being throughout nature [was the basis upon which was grounded the ideal undertaking that] provided a vehicle for [Theosophy’s] dissemination. Therefore the T.S. was founded for the purpose of establishing a practical working center for the exposition of these [Theosophical] doctrines, but foremost with the object of the amelioration of human affairs, to point out the identity of interest, the common source of origin, the relative position in life to the rest of nature, and the probable destiny of the human being in the grand scheme of evolution....
It is the aim of the T.S. to bring to the notice of those who are inclined to admit the spiritual nature of man and his progressive evolution, that on another plane of existence, a plane which partakes of a wider field of consciousness and which lies within the capability of development in every individual, that on that higher plane there is a spiritual unity, a Universal Brotherhood of mankind, and on that plane of being there is no separateness from homogeneous existence; and further that no permanent progress is possible through fostering the illusion of separateness, and that man’s true duty at all times and in all circumstances is the love of his kind and the preservation of harmony around him. It is with the endeavor to learn something concerning our position in life and our spiritual relation to each other that we come together... to exchange our observations and experiences.
It is premised that man is the product of an advanced stage of evolution, which is demonstrated by his possession of the more developed faculties of perception and consciousness compared with other organisms, his capability of analysis of physical nature, his inherent sense of moral duty, and his aspirations to know his relative position in cosmic evolution.
The spiritual unity of mankind is the basis of our moral life. Regard, consideration, love, kindness are qualities which are exhibited and practiced intuitively during the greatest part of daily life; the voice of conscience which meddles in every thought and act is indicative of a brotherhood founded upon the sympathy of man for man, which is a fundamental fact of human nature.
When we observe the great intelligence and justice with which the minutest object in nature is governed, we can draw inference by analogy and apply to the human being. The same conditions prevail; the great universality of government, embracing all and moving all with inexorable certainty in obedience to one law and design, the interdependence of everything, suggest the unity of all.
Unity of life and being means brotherhood of all the units which make up that unity of life and being, and it is the conscious realization of this unity, the universal, all-pervading principle of brotherhood, that lends a basis and meaning to the phenomena of life and existence.
Besides, the degree of relative brotherhood of mankind to itself must be closer than to anything else, because humanity is composed of one kind of units (more or less), and in the same stage or degree of development, at least as compared to other kingdoms in nature.
This essential unity of all being, however, becomes only realizable in the ratio in which consciousness on a higher plane is awakened, and this superior consciousness regards our present conception of all separateness apart from the whole as an illusion, because there it is no separation in reality; it only appears so to us on our present plane of consciousness. Therefore this tenet, although it is a fact in nature, is not so easily demonstrable on physical lines, because the problem itself transcends perception on this lower physical plane; in other words, it cannot be seen or heard, felt, smelt, or tasted, nor sensed with any physical instrument; still it is a fact which is at once plausible by conceding to the human being spiritual life at all, and perfectly realizable to those who have penetrated beyond the veil which surrounds gross matter.
Although the consciousness beyond the veil of matter may be very limited for us at present, cultivation of the mystic side of our nature will open vistas undreamed of, and widen our consciousness....Man leads a dual life even in the waking state. In every thought and deed is a dual aspect. The first and most pressing one... is that which concerns our personality, the second how it affects our relations with the world at large...If the predilections of the personality predominate, the result will be correspondingly selfish; if, on the other hand, the ideal aspect is duly regarded, the act will be corresponding to, and mean, better intuition. [Intuition] is the ideal side of man’s dual life, a state of higher consciousness, the exploration of which will greatly expand the conception of the part man is playing in the drama of life, and that Ideal Unity or Universal Brotherhood of mankind is a fact and the notion of the separateness of humanity is an illusion.” [“Theosophy and the T.S.” Echoes I, 179-83.]
Now Mr Judge gives the Theosophical view of our Higher Self and the environment; a very different view then our conventional one.
“What then of environment and what of its power over us? Is environment Karma or is it reincarnation? The Law is Karma, reincarnation is only an incident. It is one of the means which The Law uses to bring us at last to the true light. The wheel of rebirths is turned over and over again by us in obedience to this law, so that we may at last come to place our entire reliance upon Karma. Nor is our environment Karma itself, for Karma is the subtle power which works in that environment. [All that is other than Ātman or Higher Self is the effect or fruit of Karma.]
There is nothing but the Self [which designates the Supreme Soul] and its environment. The Āryans for [environment] use the word Kośas or sheaths. So that there is only this [Ātman] and the various sheaths by which it is clothed, beginning with the most intangible and coming down to the body, while outside of that and common to all is what is commonly known as environment.”
Buddhists call this the “effects environment”, that is, the karmic effects or fruits which put us within the suitable family and society, based on our actions in past lifetimes.
“How unphilosophical... it is to quarrel with our surroundings, and to desire to escape them. We only escape one kind to immediately fall into another. And even did we come into the society of the wisest devotees we would still carry the environment of the Self in our own bodies. [That environment] will always be our enemy so long as we do not know what it is in all its smallest details. Coming down then to the particular person, it is plain that [the] part of the environment which consists in the circumstances of life and personal surroundings is only an incident, and that the real environment to be understood and cared about is that in which Karma itself inheres in us. [In other words, our lower principles or sheaths.]
Thus we see that it is a mistake to say — as we often hear it said — 'If he only had a fair chance; if his surroundings were more favorable he would do better,' since he really could not be in any other circumstances at that time, for if he were, it would not be he but someone else. It must be necessary for him to pass through those identical trials and disadvantages to perfect the Self; and it is only because we see but an infinitesimal part of the long series [of incarnations] that any apparent confusion or difficulty arises. So our strife will be, not to escape from anything, but to realize that these Kośas, or sheaths, are an integral portion of ourselves, which we must fully understand before we can change the abhorred surroundings. This is done by acknowledging the unity of spirit, by knowing that everything, good and bad alike, is the Supreme. We then come into harmony with the Supreme Soul, with the whole universe, and no environment is detrimental.
The very first step is to rise from considering [or worrying about] the mere outside delusive environment, knowing it to be the result of past lives, the fruition of Karma done, and say with the Upanishad: ‘All this Universe has the Deity for its life. That Deity is the Truth. He is the Universal soul. He Thou art...! ̓ “[Chāndogya-Upanishad, ch. 6; “Environment” Echoes of the Orient I, 33-4]