Adequately to understand the theosophical teaching of evolution requires the laying down of the general principle of the derivation of all entities whatsoever from a divine source, not in any sense as the children or creations of a personal deity, but as the emanational evolution of quasi-conscious sparks from the heart of our own particular universe. Theological thinkers in days preceding the Christian era considered this to be the divine hierarch of our own special universe.
In our inner hunting for "God" -- to use the popular term -- we may ask ourselves, where is deity? Where is the divine? Vain question! It is a specimen of the logical weakness of the human mind which, because itself is a limited thing, always seeks for limits and bounds, and has the greatest difficulty in translating into human words the godlike conceptions of the spirit indwelling in man.
We reject as unworthy of a spiritually-minded man, of a truly logically-minded man, any conception of the divine less in grandeur than man's inmost intuition of boundless infinitude; therefore we reject the idea usually passing under the term of a "personal God." Personality is limitation; even individuality is limitation. The divine is neither personal nor individual; and yet what can we call it? Assuredly it is not a he or a she. What can we call it but IT -- a term with us signifying the deepest reverence, and arising out of an instinctive refusal to attach personal pronouns to the profoundest and sublimest conception of the human spirit.
The question of the divine is a problem only so far as men have made it so. It is a matter of understanding causal spiritual -- or rather divine -- relations. We must all solve this problem for ourselves. The mere acceptance of the dicta of some other man will in itself lead us nowhere. It may possibly help us in the first steps of our studies as a mere rule of action, until we ourselves learn to enter within the arcana of our own spiritual being and thus know causal relations from individual experience. This can be done by anyone who will fulfill the conditions required. There is but one method of understanding the inner nature of the self and its links with the divine, and that is experiencing it by entering into it.
Show me a place where deity is confined and I will show you a limited entity! No, the divine is boundless, is subject to no places of limitation, is nowhere, because everywhere -- nowhere in particular because everywhere generally. Therefore the search for the divine can take only one form, follow one path alone; and that is inwards, along the pathway of the spirit, because this is the path of understanding, the path of conception, the path of inner realization, and the path of union and communion.
It is a vain and foolish imagining to suppose that the divine exists extracosmically, outside the bounds of anything. But when man searches the inmost recesses of his own nature, the deepest of the deeps of his own spirit-soul, then indeed does he come nearer and nearer as that search advances farther and farther, towards some realization of what that Light is which illumines the fields of space. He thus advances constantly towards an ever-growing conception of the divine, through endless fields of wisdom and expanding consciousness throughout all duration, which is boundless, beginningless, endless. That is the key to the theosophical teaching regarding the divine.
When the Christian intuits this, he speaks of it as the immanent Christos, and he speaks aright. The followers of all the great religious and philosophical systems -- the Mahayanists of Buddhism, the Taoists of their own classical period, the Neoplatonic thinkers and mystics of the Hither East, the followers of the profound Vedanta and other Hindu systems -- all have known the truth and practiced this inner communion. Why is it then that so many of the Christian scholars and researchers -- more so in times preceding the advent of the theosophical philosophy, which has so largely elucidated these questions for the Western world -- why is it, I say, that those old-fashioned thinkers have called the religious beliefs of other times and likewise of those more modern men who did not accept their particular brand of belief, godless or atheistic?
In the early days of Christianity, Christians were tried by pagan judges for disobedience to the laws, and not because they refused to acknowledge or follow the state religion. These Greek and Roman judges called the early Christians atheoi -- "atheists" or "godless" in the etymological sense. Atheist at that time was no term of such reprobation as it is now. It then meant those only who refused to accept the gods of the popular state religion. The fact was that these ancients, in their broad-minded polytheism, cared little or nothing what the individual beliefs of the Christians were, and the term atheist was merely distinctive, perhaps ironical, scarcely derogatory. But they cared a great deal whether or not these Christians were obeying the laws of the state, quite apart from their religious beliefs.
When the Christians gained power with the downfall of the brilliant Mediterranean civilization, when Christianity grew by leaps and bounds and became the predominant faith, then the Christians in their turn called the still remaining adherents to the old religion atheists, because these latter accepted not the Hebraeo-Christian Jehovah. Yes, this term atheist merely means: "You don't accept my God; therefore you are an atheist." Very likely the 'atheist' in his turn could retaliate justly and say: "You don't accept my God; therefore you are the atheist."
In the Western world and nowhere else -- and only because the real knowledge which Jesus gave to his followers was soon forgotten after their Master's passing -- there are in religious thought three or four ideas as to how teaching concerning deity should be formulated. One is called deism, that is to say the doctrine accepted by those who believe that there is a personal God, but One who is apart from the world which He has created; that He takes no interest in it in particular; and that that universe which He created in some very mysterious manner runs itself.
The second theory, which fundamentally is the same in principle, is called theism. This is the doctrine of those who accept a personal God transcending the physical universe, yet a God who takes a most lively interest in the universe which He has created, and in the beings which He created to inhabit that universe.
The third specimen of belief, or disbelief, as regards deity is what is called atheism, which is the belief held by those who say that there is no God at all.
The fourth belief, which is misunderstood most deplorably, is called pantheism. This is the doctrine of those who say that the universe is inspirited with an impersonal life comprising universal consciousness and which exists in every particle, infinitesimal or cosmic, of that universe, and which universal life is the background of that universe; that this universal life is the source and also the ultimate destiny of every one of such infinitesimal or cosmic entities.
Theosophists may be called pantheists, provided that the word pantheism is used in the following way. We are pantheists in the sense that we recognize a universal life infilling, inspiriting everything, so that nothing is apart or separate or extra-vagrant, for such cannot be if this life be universal and boundless.
H. P. Blavatsky defines the position as follows:
For to be one [a theosophist], one need not necessarily recognize the existence of any special God or a deity. One need but worship the spirit of living nature, and try to identify oneself with it. To revere that Presence the invisible Cause, which is yet ever manifesting itself in its incessant results; the intangible, omnipotent, and omnipresent Proteus: indivisible in its Essence, and eluding form, yet appearing under all and every form; who is here and there, and everywhere and nowhere; is ALL, and NOTHNG; ubiquitous yet one; the Essence filling, binding, bounding, containing everything; contained in all. -- The Theosophist, vol. I, no. 1, October 1879, p. 6
If the divine is anything, it is boundless. Nothing can exist without it. It is everywhere, but nowhere in particular; for if it were it would be a limited thing. Therefore we say that the divine is the All, and no thing -- the All, because otherwise it would be less than boundless; no thing, because it has no limitations. It is not a thing, nor a being, nor an entity, in the sense that these words usually have.
The English poet, Alexander Pope, when he says:
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
uttered a most astounding fallacy from the theosophical standpoint. Man, "know thyself" -- gnothi seauton -- was an archaic Greek motto written over the portico of one of the temples of the oracle of Apollo of Delphi. "Know thyself," is indeed the injunction; but why are we so enjoined? It is because in knowing ourself, in looking within, in going farther and farther into the depths of our being, we come ever closer and closer -- but never can we fully attain it -- to the universal life.
The divine can be understood by looking within, along the path of understanding, along the path of comprehension, along the path of intuition; for the very root of man's spiritual nature is that divine itself, our spiritual origin, our impersonal parent, the source of our essence. From it we sprang in the far distant aeons of the illimitable past on our cycling journey downwards into matter; and to it shall we return in the far distant cycles of the future -- but then as full-grown spiritual adults, fully-developed spiritual monads. Having left it in the morning of time as unself-conscious god-sparks, we shall return to it as self-conscious divinities. It is we, and we are it. It is the inmost self living at the core, at the heart, of each one of us; at the heart of all that is, of all entities that are, because fundamentally it is everything.
As a man thinks thoughts, which are ensouled things, because they are matter and yet spring from a spiritual being, so, speaking in symbolic form, the divine sends forth from itself sparks of its own fire, and each one of these sparks contains in itself the root of self, selfhood, self-consciousness, growing ever greater, ever larger, ever expanding, never reaching an ultimate, but always marching towards it in constantly growing greatness of consciousness and beauty. Man, therefore, is the temple expressing as far as he may, by means of the building of the spiritual vehicle within, the vast and ineffable glories of the divine -- of the Inexpressible. In man's inmost nature is the very heart of deity.
There is an old Sufi tale -- and I quote it here on account of its beauty and aptness of application -- which sets forth the story that a soul once came to the portals of the House of God, and knocked. And the voice of God issued therefrom in tones of reverberating thunder: "Who knocks?" And the soul answered, "I"; and the same thundering volume of sound again issued from the crypts of the House of God, saying "Who is I! I know thee not." And the soul turned sadly away and wandered for ages and ages, and finally, having learned its lesson through suffering and experience, it returned to the House of God, and again knocked. Again came the thunderous volume of sound, "Who knocks?" And the soul answered, "Thou knockest." And then a whisper, inaudible to the ears, yet filling all the spaces -- the whispering of truth -- issued forth from the Temple of God, and said: "Enter into thine own."
The moral here is that there is no longer separation, no longer division, no longer the contrast between the inmost and the outer, nor between "I" and "Thou," between the god within and the very imperfect vehicle which says, "I, I, I"; but a full recognition by the spiritual adult, by the spiritual monad, of its own self, its own source, answering in the voice of the silence, "Thou knockest!"
The divine exists everywhere, is everywhere, in "vessels of honor" and in "vessels of dishonor," to use the Christian expressions. "Vessels of dishonor" are such only because the evolving entity in which this god-spark is enshrined, is a living entity, learning its lessons, and having its modicum of free will, and temporarily having chosen a path branching off to the 'left-hand'; while the so-called "vessels of honor" are they which, exercising their free will and power of choice, have chosen the path branching to the 'right-hand.'
Every smallest spark, every infinitesimal particle or corpuscle which in their aggregate infill the universe -- indeed, are that universe itself and existing therein in incomputable multitudes -- every one of these living entities enshrines a spiritual monad, a spark of the universal life.
Monads are spiritual beings, self-conscious, self-motivated, self-impelled god-sparks, fully self-conscious for the manvantara, that is to say for this great cycle of planetary life; and such a monad exists at the core, at the heart, of every specific corpuscle or infinitesimal, and they are infinite in number literally. These infinitesimals, these atoms, these shrines of the monads, offspring each one of them from its parent monad, are elemental entities beginning each its upward march, as a thought will spring from the mind of man; for thoughts are things, and are ensouled.
These multitudes of living entities, following each one its own pathway of evolutionary development, begin any particular line of evolution in the heart of the divine hierarch of their own particular hierarchy, pass downwards through the manifold and various stages of matter, rise again when the turn of a particular cycle has been reached, and again reenter the bosom of the divine, from which each sprang in the beginnings of that period of evolutionary time. But the evolving entities along those particular waves of life have grown. They have advanced; they are farther along the path than they were.
Evolution is not a mere mechanical process of putting brick upon brick, of stone to stone. That alone would be but a piling up of substances. The procedure of evolution includes that in degree, but more than anything else it is the building of a manifesting vehicle capable of expressing the innate powers of the spiritual monad. It is the unwrapping or unfolding of latent or dormant or sleeping powers. It is the building of living temples of self-expression which grow nobler with every step taken forwards.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes puts it in his poem, "The Chambered Nautilus":
Build thee more stately mansions, O my Soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!
This word monad is no new term to the Western world. It has been well known for ages. The Pythagoreans used it. Plato occasionally used it also, but he was a Pythagorean likewise in the substance of his teachings. Leibniz chose it as the term by which he designated his self-expressing centers of consciousness, mirrors of the macrocosm. Giordano Bruno, the unfortunate martyr, likewise taught of monads, for he was a Neoplatonist of the later times. With him the monads were the ultimate spiritual particles of all beings or things, each entity having a monad at its heart or core; in other words, being the offspring of that monad, the monad being its origin or source and manifesting through the various veils of matter which enshrouded it, these veils were its vehicles of expression built from itself, from its own substance.
Thus these various veils or vehicles through which the monad expresses itself, whether it be on higher planes or lower planes, are themselves entities on the upward path as offsprings of the life-giving and originating monad which they express, though of course inferior to it, their parent -- inferior I mean in spiritual grandeur and evolutionary development.
Just as the mind of a man expresses itself through his physical brain, a part of his body, so do these various vehicles or veils express each according to its capacity the powers of the monad which they enfold or enshrine. As the physical body is composed of cells, in their turn composed of atoms, in their turn composed of still smaller particles, so these other veils, inferior to the monad, are themselves in their turn composed of entities inferior to the veil of which they are the infinitesimals. Thus there is no particle in all space that is not a living being.
A god manifests through the spiritual part of man, through his spiritual soul, and this god, this spiritual entity, this jiva or "life," to use the Sanskrit term, is the monad. On its own plane it is a self-conscious god. Not deity, but a god, a spiritual entity, a divinity as the ancients would have said, a spark of the universal life.
Next, the spiritual soul through which the monad manifests in the human economy, is also a living entity, built by the monad. It is the child of the monad, and is itself growing, destined in its turn to pursue nobler paths of evolutionary development, in time becoming a monad; in other words, reaching that state of sublime capacity and power when all the barriers of matter have been surmounted, so that the inner spiritual sun may shine forth through it in full splendor and glory.
This spiritual soul, again, possessing and manifesting its divinity -- the monad -- in its turn works similarly through another sheath inferior to it, through another soul which is another entity manifesting that spiritual soul, as the spiritual soul manifests the monad. This child of the spiritual soul is the human soul.
The human soul likewise is an entity on its upward way, growing, which means expanding, overcoming the barriers or dissolving the veils, so that the sunlight from above may stream through the open doors of the inner temple at the heart of its being, and thus manifest its transcendent powers and faculties. This process of self-expression and overcoming barriers is evolution.
The human soul in its turn is enshrined within another veil, a living entity still lower in the scale, but made necessary for the manifestation of the human soul by the more material world in which this still lower one, its vehicle, must work and function, if the human soul is to have communion with these stages of matter. This vehicle or sheath or veil, or soul -- call it what you will -- still lower than the human soul, is the vital-astral soul, or the animal soul. It is, likewise, a growing thing, born from the human soul, its parent, learning its lessons by its links with the human soul above and its connections with the more material world below.
This animal soul in its turn is enshrined in the vehicle or carrier or sheath or veil which it has built for itself and from itself, by evolving forth or unfolding its inherent tendencies or urges or capacities or faculties, in other words its character; and this last house or veil of all is the physical temple, the physical body.
Thus the monad or jiva, the cosmic life-center, is in the highest reaches of itself, the divine; and in its lowest reaches it is a body ultimately built from its own substance.
The human body should be considered as a holy thing, because it enshrines a spiritual entity, which in its ultimate reaches is a god, a divinity, which nothing can pollute or stain, or hinder in its workings or turn aside from its path of self-expression. Yet the physical vehicle can become so impure, the physical temple can be so soiled with stain, that it would seem to be more meet that it serve as a sty for swine than for the presence and dwelling of the inner splendor of the illuminating divinity within.
These are not poetical phrases. This is the teaching of the ancient wisdom, the meaning of which is to be taken literally; not the words, because words are treacherous often on account of ambiguity.
This physical temple of the living god within is composed of still smaller entities called cells, these cells in their turn being built of entities still more minute called atoms, and these in their turn are composed of corpuscles or of entities still smaller, the electrons and the protons, etc. And these electrons are themselves composite things, built of infinitesimal lives still smaller.
As every smallest atom or corpuscle of this vast organism of the cosmos, the universe, is the offspring of the cosmos, its child and therefore a part of its own being, the ineluctable laws of reason and intuition tell us that every such atom or corpuscle must have in itself everything that the All contains -- not in bulk, but in capacity of development, in potency, in faculty, sleeping or dormant, in possibility of realization, in principle. Consequently, as man is likewise an intrinsic part of this organism, an inseparable portion thereof, no more able to free or separate himself from it or wander away from it than he can annihilate himself, we see that in the human heart abide all the issues of life.
Therefore if you want to know what the divine is, if you want to know something of the vastness of the fields of the spiritual spaces, then search earnestly within yourself. Treading these fields of space in thought, you will find that you can reach no ending; and in thus entering within yourself, striving steadily forward into your own being inwards, you will have set your feet upon the still, ancient, small path, which leads directly to the heart of the universe.
This is the only pathway by which human consciousness may forever approach the divine, without ever being able to reach it fully of course, and without ever being able to understand it in its infinite ranges. But there is an ever-expanding consciousness and comprehension of ever larger and larger fields of its action, and it is thus that the understanding of it grows ever more and more sublime.
Every one of us can do it if we will: we can enter these sublime spaces of our own inner spiritual being, because intrinsically each one is a pathway leading to the heart of the universe, from which flow out and forth all the forces governing the universe, and whose effects we are in the phenomenal appearances of that universe surrounding us -- varied, manifold, multitudinous as they are.
When a man's heart and mind are penetrated with the conception of the fundamental and perfect unity of all things in the vast organism of the cosmos, then he will realize that this cosmos is the field of universal life, of universal consciousness, manifesting in every smallest particle of space; and that it is also the field of an ineffable and boundless love -- assuredly not love as we weak human beings understand it, but that intrinsic character of the Inexpressible, whose nature and functions we but vaguely conceive and hint at by our human word love. It manifests in the atom as attraction. It manifests in the cells and other smaller bodies as the force of coherence and cohesion. It manifests in the framework of the cosmos as that marvelous power which holds the universe in union, all parts in mutual sympathy and harmony, each to each, each to all, all to each; in human beings as spiritual love, and in beings higher than the human as something so beautiful that our human minds can but adumbrate it and call it self-sacrifice for others and for all.
These three, life, consciousness, and love -- the Hindu expresses by his famous phrase, Sat Chit Ananda -- which in reality are but one, may give some idea of the nature of the Inexpressible, the all-encompassing divine origin, source, destiny, pathway and final aim of all beings, to which man raises both heart and mind in wordless reverence.