Certain new elements are coming into the life of the world for which no exact parallel is to be found in the history that we know. But indeed, in respect to knowing history we are sadly limited: a few thousand years gives no real perspective. So where are we to read precedents for what is to come? Are we concerned in what is to come? Indeed we are, for there is no isolation for anyone, splendid or otherwise. The whole past of humanity is our own past, its future our future; just as the present of humanity is our own current state of being, from which we cannot escape. The moods of all men impinge on our consciousness, day by day.
Yet does any person reap the entire harvest of the world in the fragment of a century that elapses between his birth and death? Who is there that goes out and leaves nothing that he can learn, nothing that he can do? We shared the fate of Rome and Babylon; and we shall share the fate of America and Europe, too, whatever it may be. Rome and Babylon -- why, there were untold ages that we participated in before the first stone was laid of either of them; humanity was hoary before Menes was born, before Stonehenge was built, or the Pyramids; and each one of us was then, as now, a unit of humanity. And we have not yet given the lie to Solomon -- there is nothing new under the sun, not even air travel or worldwide intercourse. We should find them all, probably, if we could see back far enough.
It is only a temporary fad to look upon civilization as but a few thousand years old. Someday we shall put it at a few million, and find nothing to take away our breath in the estimate. Not so long ago orthodoxy put the creation of the world and man at about 4000 bc; and in the autumn, when apples were ripe! Fact and discovery have been winning millenniums of antiquity for humanity since then, and every millennium most grudgingly acknowledged by the learned makers of opinion, the creators of dogmas.
The nineteenth century blossomed marvelously with materialistic knowledge. Discoveries of the more subtle forces of nature -- steam, electricity, and the rest -- opened up a new world, or so changed the face of the old one that life in it came to have a wholly different aspect. Prophets of the ape and the amoeba arose, who won half the temple of world thought from the old orthodoxy and set up an altar to a new one, that of materialistic science. Let's have something you can see and feel, and if necessary kick, they said -- and wallowed in barren materialism. Of course it was in great part a reaction against an almost equally barren dogmatism that claimed to be spiritual. So opinion goes back and forth like a ball between two tennis players.
Then in the midst of it all, in the 1840s, another reaction began, and has gathered head ever since. Inward worlds were glimpsed, yet worlds perilous for the most part; investigators were attracted by the glamors of psychism, but went forth armed only with complete ignorance. Better to set out for the North Pole in a canoe. Like an inflowing tide came psychism, astralism, trailing wrecked lives, sorceries, the inevitable results of psychic dabbling.
The following statement of Katherine Tingley is pertinent:
We are indeed at a pivotal point of our world's history, and we are called upon to act our part nobly, wisely, courageously, dispassionately, and justly.
What a pivotal point today is! Here is man, a selfish creature in his desires, who with merely this physical globe to deal with has built for himself a hell bad enough, we think. And now these new psychic realms are fast opening to him, with their own weapons a thousand times more dangerous. Can we wonder at the awful growth of psychological illnesses, of ruined lives? What is it all coming to? Are we not called upon to act our part nobly, wisely, courageously, and justly? This is the time when sane, balanced characters are needed -- those with understanding of the world's conditions and of their own nature.
We might appreciate the perils of the time better if we knew something of the history of the forgotten races. We read of the fall of Rome, Greece, Babylon, Egypt, and the rest, and can tell what conditions seem to have brought those nations to ruin. They were in many respects the very conditions that obtain in the civilized world today: selfishness, luxury, ignorance, vice. Every great discovery of the age gives to mankind a new weapon, a new means of doing good or ill, and as long as selfishness predominates, more ill than good will be done. War is made more terrible; even the press may be used to poison minds rather than to enlighten them.
Beyond all the new material weapons for evil -- which could yet be instruments for good -- there is the uncharted psychic world. Where of old your "honest murderer" needed to bludgeon you on the head and leave clues for the detectives, now the way is easy for him to hypnotize some weakling and laugh at the law. Caesar Borgia and Pope Alexander VI might pride themselves on their poisons; but their methods were puerile and their weapons crude and barbarous compared with those that might have been used had they turned to psychism to play the devil in. So I venture to say that nations fall through their own weakness and not by the hand of barbarians or foreign foes.
We have to look still farther back to find anything like a real parallel for modern conditions. We have to study literatures, including the works of Plato and Blavatsky, that describe the fall of the Atlanteans -- the race that left many of those cyclopean ruins all over the globe which research cannot account for. That the entire surface of the earth was known to them is proven by the fact that their monuments, their buildings and gigantic statues, are to be found in practically every country.
There was a period in their history, it is hinted, when material civilization had been brought to a wonderful point of richness, splendor, luxury; when mechanical science had been made to yield up its arcana in the service of outward needs and pleasures; when all that we know now of technology, and more, perhaps, was known and applied. And to this people, too, came the time of the budding-forth of psychic powers, faculties, and senses; when they began to function in ghostly and to us viewless worlds. They had been selfish and luxurious on the physical plane; now they became guilty of spiritual iniquities, wickedness in high places, deadly sorceries. Magic crept in in lethal and soul-destroying forms, menacing the future of their humanity and man's abiding-place, this earth. Nature, very patient with man, came to abhor him; she lost her patience and let loose her great waters; she made the Atlantic, and rolled her billows over the fields and proud cities . . .
We may take that as an allegory, if we wish to; but to a considerable number of ancient thinkers it was sober history. Allegory or actual fact, it is full of lessons for us today. Then, as now, mankind was at a critical point in its history; with us it is not yet too late to turn. But we must have wise men who will help us turn the currents of human thought and action into constructive channels.
Consider the life of an individual: how he grows from childhood into youth, and from the shelter of home and school to adulthood, to face the world and make his place in it. Consider his equipment of ideas, the various threads and sources of motive that go to make his being and character, that are to be his instrument, his means, his criterion of life.
There will be, naturally, all the passions and desires of the animal man; also the notion that he is something separate from his fellows, something that has to get ahead, to win this and that for himself. No doubt he will be aware that behind these most external parts of him is a mind that can think; more or less active, too, there will be sundry virtues or their potential -- generosity, courage, magnanimity, constancy, patience. Entering further into his nature, he may become aware of a soul that watches his life, a divine something that waits to be called upon and brought into daily activity. And he might go within further and still further, and come upon diviner and diviner threads, till he arrives at deity itself: but where does he learn to look inward for these higher things? They must be searched and striven for, and only the strong attain victory over the unruly passions, the trumpery thoughts, the instinct of selfishness, of separateness.
The direction of thought and aspiration has to be turned, so that instead of wasting our lives on fooleries, we shall play upon the heights and lighten the path ahead. We must have an education that shall hold up the goal of service to all; one that shall fit our youth for that service, and not that of winning only wealth and position. We must have a literature that shall paint the warfare of the human soul to obtain self-mastery and the will to express perfectly its divinity. We must spark alight the imagination of the world with the knowledge of human unity, of the hidden and innate godhood of mankind, of the grand possibilities that lie waiting to be unfolded by all who have the courage to live as though they knew they were divinely born.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1999; copyright © 1999 Theosophical University Press)