Fundamental truths of science, philosophy and religion are outlined in symbols left by the ancients, but we do not avail ourselves of this wisdom, largely for three reasons: we are unaware of its existence; we do not want the abstract knowledge it embodies; or we are unwilling to comply with the terms required for its comprehension. We might know that a fortune awaited us on a certain island; we might want it; but we would still have to develop an ability to swim to attain it.
False belief about anything is like an opaque veil shutting us from the truth; anything not in accord with a fixed view simply is nonexistent for us. The generally held theory of straight-line evolution, that survival of the fittest over a long period of time has resulted in the gradual development of non-thinking monkeys into thinking men, precludes recognition of the fact that myths and ancient symbols may have profound and even factual meaning. For how could such a low mental type know and record astronomical information that we in the West have only recently discovered; possess psychological intricacies we are just becoming aware of; arrive at a knowledge of the origin of the universe and man unknown to us? Yet we do find prehistoric evidence of all this, and therefore thinking and wise men must have existed millions of years ago.
Great civilizations are born, mature, age and pass away just as an individual does in one incarnation. But even if we do recognize that thinking men as intelligent as we are, or perhaps more so, have lived on earth for ages and left records of their learning -- in symbols, rock inscriptions, pyramids and myths -- often we are reluctant to follow through the implications of this idea. We fail to see the relationships that abstract truths may have to our very concrete lives, our wants and needs and problems. This is all the more strange, because it is a reality that our ability to come to terms with our desires, to meet our needs and solve our problems, derives from our understanding of abstract truths.
A symbol is something which stands for an idea or ideas -- often the information locked up in one small sign or drawing would require a volume to explain its meaning. Ancient Egypt had a drawing of two birds sitting in a tree, one eating the fruit of the tree while the other looked on. This is a graphic illustration of the duality of the manifested cosmos, and of man because he is one small atom of nature, a microcosm, and shares in its characteristics and potential. One end of a magnetized bar is positive and the other is negative. Cut it in two and each half will have a positive and a negative end. Divide these as many times as we wish, and each resulting piece will be positive at one end and negative at the other. Every segment exhibits this particular characteristic of magnetism that the whole has. We see duality all about us; pairs of opposites, light and darkness, high and low, youth and age, wisdom and ignorance, happiness and sadness, kindness and cruelty, warmth and coldness, manifest and unmanifest.
As the two birds sit in the one tree, so two centers of consciousness abide and function in man, one busily engaged in eating the fruits of activities and experiences in this world of matter, the other looking on, guiding and guarding and, hopefully, 'saving' by transforming and raising to its own estate its child, man, the actor on the stage of life. We are this actor and, in our innermost essence, we are also this guardian angel, for "I and my Father are one." When a prodigal son tires of "feeding on the husks that the swine do eat," he can arise and go unto his Father and become as that Father.
The understanding that all men are dual in nature, part matter and part spirit, enables us to understand our inner conflicts and those of our fellow men. We then face failings and errors in ourselves and others for what they basically are, an area of ignorance, and we hold fast to the real person, the spiritual end of the human magnet.
(From Sunrise magazine, May 1974; copyright © 1974 Theosophical University Press)
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