Our Spiritual Heritage

By Bill Dougherty

Many people view mankind's heritage as the sum total of ideas, social organizations, and material circumstances bequeathed to us by prior generations. Such a view emphasizes the limited and very personal view of the individual as a one-time-only event in space and time -- a fleeting, relatively insignificant expression of transcendent yet fundamentally indiscernible forces that impel humanity as a whole toward some ultimate goal. The materialistic scientist, for instance, might see mankind driven by evolutionary circumstances to achieve ever greater understanding and mastery of matter in order to improve his physical comfort and safety in an indifferent universe. A devout Christian might see the workings of the universe as the expression of God's plan for man's redemption and glorification through an eternal reward for a good life on earth. An animist might be ever on guard lest he somehow offend the numberless friendly and hostile spirits influencing nearly every event in his life.

There have always been, however, those who see themselves, not as the frail and transitory spark of a single lifetime, but as the perennial re-expression of an eternal divinity, a unique spiritual being who embodies repeatedly in order to know and more perfectly express his limitless potential for love and understanding. This inner god informs and motivates the life of the outer man -- that all too self-conscious human personality we often mistake for the totality of ourselves. As Jesus reminded us, within this human temple dwells a living god. This divinity is the source of the real continuing existence of the individual. It is our true and imperishable self.

Since our ordinary selves are direct expressions of this inner divinity, we are in every sense formed in God's image -- the image of our own inner god. Thus it should come as no surprise that our quest for understanding is actually an attempt, as Plato remarked, to recollect or recall to our self-conscious awareness that which is already known to us inwardly -- which is, in fact, the knowledge of our spiritual selves. Paradoxically, this spiritual realization is attained not so much through the mind as through the heart, which strives and aspires to reach out to relieve and comfort the suffering and loneliness of others. Clearly, in all great accomplishments it is our heart that drives us onward and transforms adversity into triumph. Likewise, the selfless love that informs our concern for others multiplies our personal efforts a thousandfold. Just as a great mind can amaze us, just so a human heart burning bright with the fire of spiritual love -- the heart of a Buddha, a Jesus, a Master, or ourselves -- can transform the world.

As day follows night, as the planets revolve around the sun, so time and again, lifetime to lifetime, our inner god leads us into embodied existence to learn how to exist in loving harmony with one another and the universe. Ultimately we will learn so well that we will effectively help to create that harmony which guides the inner life of every aspiring soul, and hence become a self-consciously creative spiritual being in our own right.

This, then, is our true spiritual heritage: not books or ideas, not monuments of stone or culture, but the love and sympathy we share for and with all. Indeed, when our experience and love become too great for human expression, when our conscious link to our inner god becomes too powerful for an imperfect human form to contain, then truly will we pass out of the limitations of this human temple and ascend to the brotherhood of the gods.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, February/March 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Theosophical University Press)

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