Forks in the Road

By Elsa-Brita Titchenell

Invariably we stand in the center of our field of vision surrounded by a more or less clear horizon. The human stage is certainly not the peak of the Jacob's ladder of existence. How could it be when in our moments of silent musing we often sense the beckoning of something higher and know that we have had an encounter with some subtle world wherein our spirit is at home? And we can hardly doubt that higher life forms exist when we look into the starlit sky. What brings into our heavens radiant beings that interact with so much disciplined commitment, galaxies clustering like cells in some gigantic organism? Can these be haphazard assemblages of cosmic dust, a mere spectacle without cause or purpose and with ourselves as sole spectators, having so precisely organized measured motions, yet without organizer or plan?

Ours is a crucial point in the evolutionary process for, as choosing, volitional intelligences, we have awful power in our minds. Before us the road forks repeatedly and at every step we select our future, singly and as the race of mankind. One act performed again and again molds the character in time, causing it to be drawn into appropriate conditions wherein we may correct, improve, develop, and eventually perfect the portion of the universe that is our self. At every instant we stand between the poles of our attractions, oriented either toward the universal, deathless core of life in divine fulfillment of our destiny, or alternatively, to the momentary gratification of our mortality, to earthly treasures which perish with the form. We are just beginning in this human grade of life to assume the task of guiding our own evolution. The lesser kingdoms have not reached this autonomy; and the higher types of conscious expression, with far greater freedom and scope, imbody in those majestic and harmonious forms and movements we can observe but cannot comprehend.

Ours is the turning point, where suddenly (by cosmic standards) we have choice, selectivity, and discover with dismay that we are answerable for our mistakes. We can plan and direct our course within the school of life, which offers a rich curriculum. Nature provides the classroom -- in our case, earth; supplies us with daily lessons -- the circumstances of our lives which arise one by one as the result of all our past choices since the mind was awakened in the early days on this globe. Our fellow students help us and we help them, exchanging notes and services. Before us always are teachers and preceptors who exemplify what our human life can be and some day will become. Then they -- the Christ-like Buddha figures of our race -- will be free to move on to greater spheres of life.

Human intelligence has been regarded as a more or less haphazard by-product of physical brain growth and development, because human beings were considered to be animal bodies with unusual abilities, and nothing else. But if brain development is the result of the growing mind's demand for an improved instrument to work through, which seems to be the case, this would put a very different complexion on the total picture of the world. If puny man is in part intelligence -- a non-physical yet nonetheless very real force -- the containing universe cannot be lacking it. And if mind, then why not spirit, why not infinite reaches beyond, divinities unimaginable?

While the science of psychology is beginning to probe the finer elements of human nature and to discover hints of a spiritual factor in man, there are some technical practitioners of that science who use every means of publicity to gain personal popularity by pandering to the weaknesses of people and advocating conduct unworthy of human beings. Also the field of entertainment trades on the hedonistic and divisive tendencies of the animal nature in man, while the human is neglected. This is largely due to the widespread belief that human nature is its animal propensities and appetites. Yet anyone who has given some attention to his own inner wisdom must feel distressed by the emphasis on all that is unworthy in these and other fields of public interest.

It is of course true that the human kingdom possesses certain traits in common with the animal; we also have in us vegetable and mineral elements, and so do the animals. Each kingdom or wave of lives retains as automatic functions the characteristics they previously perfected when imbodied in those beneath, while each is engaged in evolving forth new features that belong to its present condition. As humans we are well aware of developing our minds, of learning and growing inwardly in understanding. Only the human race on our globe is able consciously to direct its progress because it alone possesses the consciousness of self and is therefore able to learn from its mistakes. We are still in process of bringing into active function, and will in time perfect, certain distinctively human properties which animals, even the most intelligent of them, do not have and cannot at their present stage acquire. These properties are not physical. The specialized features that make the animal kingdom so immensely varied are devices not needed by the human species but which provide an outlet in the animal world for the life force to express itself. We have no need to fly like bats or blend into the background like chameleons. We are structurally almost uniform without much physical variation. This is because we have other outlets for creativity and the natural urge to grow in our potential for evolving infinitely more comprehensive consciousness.

The gap between human and animal is far wider than has been observed in the past by anthropologists who confined their observations to physical proficiencies such as the ability to devise and use tools in a word, technology. Yet this is the least of our insignia of advancement beyond animal status. Far more vital are the purely human properties: the capacity for abstract thought, the ability to grasp principles and appreciate moral values. What distinguishes us most of all from beasts is self-awareness, for in that lies the key to continued deliberate, purposeful growth. Part of this is our sense of duty and responsibility; sympathetic understanding -- being able to put oneself in the place of another; imagination -- the marvel of being able to grasp intangibles, and to pass on information; the esthetic sense; the faculty of receiving and giving inspiration by means of art, speech, or writing -- these among others are the qualities of our kind whose worth is perpetuated and which increase with the passage of time. We today still glean treasures of heart and soul which elated people who lived long ago, and we are able to conceptualize a world of the future.

Indeed, we are preparing our legacy of the future and shall in time be helped or hindered by an environment whose climate of thought and custom we are presently creating. There is no call for us to permit current norms to dictate our conduct and erode our judgment. We are free to select our values, and it is our human duty to do so. As we become more fully in control of ourselves and our situations, this duty will grow with our understanding -- not by the coercion of any outside force, but by the natural expansive comprehension of our selves. We are not dumb, driven cattle. We are human beings in command of eternities to come. We make our choices at every step as the road ever forks before us -- between self-indulgence and competitiveness on the one hand, and on the other, the intuitions of the soul whose silent voice urges toward selflessness and universality. To disregard this inner monitor is unwise; it is the fruitage of untold ages of experience and earned through suffering. For one who heeds its promptings, the world becomes transformed, and he progressively more attuned to its reality. Many are searching for this inward way, some hoping to gain and unwilling to give, not realizing that the way is altruism. Others, even if uncaring whether they find it, are well embarked on it already simply by living for others and forgetting themselves. Our combined quality is that of humanity as a whole, so that the influence we each exert even in our own small environment is vital. Sufficient numbers of lives lived with purposeful self-governance and altruistic concern for the world would lend a formidable impetus to humankind's forward momentum.

  • (From Sunrise magazine April/May 1982. Copyright © 1982 by Theosophical University Press)

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