Portrait of Madame Blavatsky resized


No Religion Higher Than Truth

Evolution of the Soul
Isis Unveiled Study Series
Part 4 of 10

Theosophy Magazine
Vol. 5, No. 8, June 1917
pages 355 - 363

The accompanying article is made up of textual extracts from Isis Unveiled, topically and sequentially arranged. The page references from which the statements are taken, are given at the conclusion of the article. –EDITORS.

ESOTERIC philosophers held that everything in nature is but a materialization of spirit. The Eternal First Cause is latent spirit and matter from the beginning. While conceding the idea of such a God to be an unthinkable abstraction to human reason, they claimed that the unerring human instinct grasped it as a reminiscence of something concrete to it though intangible to our physical senses. With the first idea, which emanated from the hitherto-inactive Deity, the first motion was communicated to the whole universe, and the electric thrill was instantaneously felt throughout the boundless space. Spirit begat force, and force matter; and thus the latent deity manifested itself as a creative energy.

When; at what point of the eternity; or how? the question must always remain unanswered; for human reason is unable to grasp the great mystery. But, though spirit-matter was from all eternity, it was in a latent state; the evolution of our visible universe must have had a beginning. This mystery of first creation, which was ever the despair of science, is unfathomable, unless we accept the doctrine of the Hermetists. Though matter is co-eternal with spirit, that matter is certainly not our visible, tangible, and divisible matter, but its extreme sublimation. Pure spirit is but one remove higher. Unless we allow man to have been evolved out of this primordial spirit-matter, how can we ever come to any reasonable hypothesis as to the genesis of animate beings?

The esoteric doctrine, then, teaches, like Buddhism and Brahmanism, and even the persecuted Kabala, that the one infinite and unknown Essence exists from all eternity, and in regular and harmonious successions is either passive or active. Upon inaugurating an active period, an expansion of this Divine essence, from within outwardly, occurs in obedience to eternal and immutable law, and the phenomenal or visible universe is the ultimate result of the long chain of cosmical forces thus progressively set in motion. In like manner when the passive condition is resumed, a contraction of the Divine essence takes place, and the previous work of creation is gradually and progressively undone. The visible universe becomes disintegrated, its material dispersed; and “darkness” solitary and alone, broods once more over the face of the “deep.” To use a metaphor which will convey the idea still more clearly, an outbreathing of the “unknown essence” produces the world; and an inhalation causes it to disappear. This process has been going on from all eternity, and our present universe is but one of an infinite series which had no beginning, and will have no end.

The successive existence of an incalculable number of worlds before the subsequent evolution of our own, was believed in and taught by all the ancient peoples. The Hindu doctrines teach of two Pralayas or dissolutions; the one universal, the Maha-Pralaya, the other partial, or the minor Pralaya. This does not relate to the universal dissolution which occurs at the end of every “Day of Brahma,” but to the geological cataclysms at the end of every minor cycle of our globe. A partial cataclysm occurs at the close of every “age” of the world, which does not destroy the latter, but only changes its general appearance. New races of men and animals and a new flora evolve from the dissolution of the precedent one.

As well as man, and every other living thing upon it, our planet has had its spiritual and physical evolution. From an impalpable ideal thought under the creative Will of Him of whom we know nothing, and but dimly conceive in imagination, this globe became fluidic and semi-spiritual, then condensed itself more and more, until its physical development. Our physical planet is but the hand-maiden, or rather the maid-of-all-work, of the spirit, its master. The allegorical curse under which it labors, is that it only procreates, it does not create. And this curse will last until the minutest particle of matter on earth shall have outlived its days, until every grain of dust has, by gradual transformation through evolution, become a constituent part of a “living soul,” and, until the latter shall reascend the cyclic arc, and finally stand — its own Redeeming Spirit — at the foot of the upper step of the spiritual worlds, as at the first hour of its emanation. Beyond that lies the great “Deep” — A MYSTERY. The ancients were philosophers, consistent in all things. Hence they taught that each of these departed worlds, having performed its physical evolution, and reached — through birth, growth, maturity, old age, and death — the end of its cycle, had returned to its primitive subjective form of a spiritual earth. Thereafter it had to serve through all eternity as the dwelling of those who had lived on it as men, and even animals, but were now spirits.

Eternity is pointed off into grand cycles, in each of which twelve transformations of our world occur, following its partial destruction by fire and water, alternately. Of these twelve transformations,1. [Footnote 1. These “transformations” refer to the greater and lesser Zodiacal cycles which mark the numerous geological changes on the septenary globes during the immeasurably long course of evolution, and must also include such changes as occur in the passage of life from an old planet to a new one as in the case of the moon and our earth. –(EDITOR THEOSOPHY.)] the earth after each of the first six is grosser, and everything on it — man included — more material, than after the preceding one: while after each of the remaining six, the contrary is true, both man and earth growing more and more refined and spiritual with each terrestrial change. When the apex of the cycle is reached, a gradual dissolution takes place, and every living and objective form is destroyed. But when that point is reached, humanity has become fitted to live subjectively as well as objectively. And not humanity alone, but also animals, plants, and every atom. After a time of rest, say the Buddhists, when a new world becomes self-formed, the astral souls of animals and of all beings, except such as have reached the highest Nirvana, will return on earth again to end their cycles of transformations, and become men in their turn. If there is a developed immortal spirit in man, it must be in everything else, at least in a latent or germinal state, and it can only be a question of time for each of these germs to become fully developed. Logic shows us that as all matter had a common origin, it must have attributes in common, and as the vital and divine spark is in man’s material body, so it must lurk in every subordinate species. The Hermetists held every particle of matter contains within itself a spark of the divine essence — or light, spirit —which, through its tendency to free itself from its entanglement and return to the central source, produced motion in the particles, and from motion forms were born. As by gradual progression from the star-cloudlet to the development of the physical body of man, the rule holds good, so from the universal ether to the incarnate human spirit they traced one uninterrupted series of entities. These evolutions were from the world of spirit into the world of gross matter; and through that back again to the source of all things. The “descent of species” was to them a descent from the spirit, primal source of all, to the “degradation of matter.”

The pre-existence and god-like powers of the human spirit were believed in by most all the sages of ancient days. The slow development from pre-existing forms was a doctrine with the later Rosicrucians. The Platonic philosophy was one of order, system, and proportion; it embraced the evolution of worlds and of species, the correlation and conservation of energy, the transmutation of material form, the indestructibility of matter and of spirit. The Pythagorean Monad, which lives “in solitude and darkness,” may remain on this earth forever invisible, impalpable, and undemonstrated by experimental science. Still, the whole universe will be gravitating around it, as it did from the “beginning of time,” and with every second, man and atom approach nearer to that solemn moment in the eternity, when the Invisible Presence will become clear to their spiritual sight. When every particle of matter, even the most sublimated, has been cast off from the last shape that forms the ultimate link of that chain of double evolution, which, throughout millions of ages and successive transformations, has pushed the entity onward; and when it shall find itself reclothed in that primordial essence, identical with that of its Creator, then this once impalpable organic atom will have run its race, and the sons of God will once more “shout for joy” at the return of the pilgrim.

The doctrine of the immortality of the soul dates from the time when the soul was an objective being, hence when it could hardly be denied by itself; when humanity was a spiritual race and death existed not. Toward the decline of the cycle of life the ethereal man-spirit then fell into the sweet slumber of temporary unconsciousness in one sphere, only to find himself awakening in the still brighter light of a higher one. But while the spiritual man is ever striving to ascend higher and higher toward its source of being, passing through the cycles and spheres of individual life, physical man had to descend with the great cycle of universal creation until it found itself clothed with the terrestrial garments. Thenceforth the soul was too deeply buried under physical clothing to reassert its existence, except in the cases of those more spiritual natures, which, with every cycle, became more rare. And yet none of the pre-historical nations ever thought of denying either the existence or the immortality of the inner man, the real “self.” Only, we must bear in mind the teachings of the old philosophies: the spirit alone is immortal — the soul, per se, is neither eternal nor divine. When linked too closely with the physical brain of its terrestrial casket, it gradually becomes a finite mind, a simple animal and sentient life-principle. The cycle is moving down, and as it descends, the physical and bestial nature of man develops more and more at the expense of the Spiritual Self.

Man before being encased in matter had no use for limbs, but was a pure spiritual entity. Hence if the Deity, and his universe, and the stellar bodies are to be conceived as spheroidal, this shape would be archetypal man’s. As his enveloping shell grew heavier, there came the necessity for limbs, and the limbs sprouted. If we fancy a man with arms and legs naturally extended at the same angle, by backing him against the circle that symbolizes his prior shape as a spirit, we would have the very figure described by Plato — the X cross within the circle. The grand cycle includes the progress of mankind from its germ in the primordial man of spiritual form to the deepest depth of degradation he can reach — each successive step in the descent being accompanied by a greater strength and grossness of the physical form than its precursor. But while the grand cycle, or age, is running its course, seven minor cycles are passed, each marking the evolution of a new race out of the preceding one, on a new world. And each of these races, or grand types of humanity, breaks up into subdivisions of families, and they again into nations and tribes.

The “coats of skin,” mentioned in the third chapter of Genesis as given to Adam and Eve, are explained by certain ancient philosophers to mean the fleshy bodies with which, in the progress of the cycles, the progenitors of the race became clothed. They maintained that the god-like physical form became grosser and grosser, until the bottom of what may be termed the last spiritual cycle was reached, and mankind entered upon the ascending arc of the first human cycle. Then began an uninterrupted series of cycles or yogas 2. [Footnote: 2. This is evidently a typographical error. The correct word is yugas. –(EDITOR THEOSOPHY.)] the precise number of years of which each of them consisted remaining an inviolable mystery within the precincts of the sanctuaries and disclosed only to the initiates. As soon as humanity entered upon a new one, the stone age, with which the preceding cycle had closed, began to gradually merge into the following and next higher age. With each successive age, or epoch, men grew more refined, until the acme of perfection possible in that particular cycle had been reached. Then the receding wave of time carried back with it the vestiges of human, social, and intellectual progress. Cycle succeeded cycle, by imperceptible transitions; highly-civilized flourishing nations waxed in power, attained the climax of development, waned, and became extinct; and mankind, when the end of the lower cyclic arc was reached, was replunged into barbarism as at the start. Kingdoms have crumbled and nation succeeded nation from the beginning until our day, the races alternately mounting to the highest and descending to the lowest points of development. These cycles, according to the Chaldean philosophy, do not embrace all mankind at one and the same time. Draper observes that there is no reason to suppose that any one cycle applied to the whole human race. On the contrary, while man in one portion of the planet was in a condition of retrogression, in another he might be progressing in enlightenment and civilization. Whether or not the men of science are willing to concede the correctness of the Hermetic theory of the physical evolution of man from higher and more spiritual natures, they themselves show us how the race has progressed from the lowest observed point to its present development. And, as all nature seems to be made up of analogies, is it unreasonable to affirm that the same progressive development of individual forms has prevailed among the inhabitants of the unseen universe? While they made no attempt to calculate the duration of the “grand cycle,” the Hermetic philosophers yet maintained that, according to the cyclic law, the living human race must inevitably and collectively return one day to that point of departure, where man was first clothed with “coats of skin;” or, to express it more clearly, the human race must, in accordance with the law of evolution, be finally physically spiritualized. We must go deep indeed into the abstruse metaphysics of Oriental mysticism before we can realize fully the infinitude of the subjects that were embraced at one sweep of the majestic thought of its exponents.

Modern science insists upon the doctrine of evolution; so do human reason and the “secret doctrine,” and the idea is corroborated by ancient legends and myths, and even by the Bible itself when it is read between the lines. We see a flower slowly developing from a bud, and the bud from its seed. But whence the latter, with all its predetermined programme of physical transformation, and its invisible, therefore spiritual forces which gradually develop its form, color, and odor? The word evolution speaks for itself. The germ of the present human race must have pre-existed in the parent of this race. Physical man, as a product of evolution, may be left in the hands of the man of exact science. None but he can throw light upon the physical origin of the race. But we must positively deny the materialist the same privilege as to the question of man’s psychical and spiritual evolution, for he and his highest faculties cannot be proved on any conclusive evidence to be “as much products of evolution as the humblest plant or the lowest worm.” If those who believe in the evolution of spirit as firmly as the materialists believe in that of matter are charged with teaching “unverifiable hypotheses,” how readily can they retort upon their accusers by saying that, by their own confession, their physical evolution is still “an unverified, if not actually an unverifiable hypothesis.” The former have at least the inferential proof of legendary myth, the vast antiquity of which is admitted by both philologists and archæologists; while their antagonists have nothing of a similar nature. For a belief to have become universal, it must have been founded on an immense accumulation of facts, tending to strengthen it, from one generation to another. The universe is the combination of a thousand elements, and yet the expression of a single spirit — a chaos to the sense, a cosmos to the reason. In the Mysteries were symbolized the pre-existent condition of the spirit and soul, and the lapse of the latter into earth-life and Hades, the miseries of that life, the purification of the soul, and its restoration to divine bliss, or re-union with spirit. The sacred numbers of the universe in their esoteric combination solve the great problem and explain the theory of radiation and the cycle of the emanations. The lower orders before they develop into the higher ones must emanate from the higher spiritual ones, and when arrived at the turning point, be re-absorbed again into the infinite. The key to the Pythagorean dogmas is the general formula of unity in multiplicity, the one evolving the many and pervading the many. This is the ancient doctrine of emanation in few words. Even the apostle Paul accepted it as true. “Out of him and through him and in him all things are.” This is purely Hindu and Brahmanical. The present earth-life is a fall and a punishment. The soul dwells in “the grave which we call the body,” and in its incorporate state, and previous to the discipline of education, the noetic or spiritual element is “asleep.” Life is thus a dream, rather than a reality. Is not this the idea of Maya, or the illusion of the senses in physical life, which is so marked a feature of Buddhistical philosophy? Basing all his doctrines on the presence of the Supreme Mind, Plato taught that the nous, spirit, or rational soul of man, possessed a kindred nature, or even homogeneous, with the Divinity, and was capable of beholding the eternal realities. The basis of this assimilation is always asserted to be the pre-existence of the spirit or nous. The greatest philosopher of the pre-Christian era mirrored faithfully in his works the spiritualism of the Vedic philosophers who lived thousands of years before himself, and its metaphysical expression. Thus is warranted the inference that to Plato and the ancient Hindu sages was alike revealed the same wisdom. So surviving the shock of time, what can this wisdom be but divine and eternal?

What was a demonstration and a success in the eyes of Plato and his disciples is now considered the overflow of a spurious philosophy and a failure. The scientific methods are reversed. The testimony of the men of old, who were nearer to truth, for they were nearer to the spirit of nature — the only aspect under which the Deity will allow itself to be viewed and understood — and their demonstrations, are rejected. The whole of the present work is a protest against such a loose way of judging the ancients. To be thoroughly competent to criticize their ideas, and assure one’s self whether their ideas were distinct and “appropriate to the facts,” one must have sifted these ideas to the very bottom. It is idle to repeat that which we have frequently said, and that which every scholar ought to know; namely, that the quintessence of their knowledge was in the hands of the priests, who never wrote them, and in those of the initiates who, like Plato, did not dare write them. In no country were the true esoteric doctrines trusted to writing. Therefore, those few speculations on the material and spiritual universes which they did put in writing, could not enable posterity to judge them rightly, even had not the early Christian Vandals, the later crusaders, and the fanatics of the middle ages destroyed three parts of that which remained of the Alexandrian library and its later schools. Who, then, of those who turn away from the “secret doctrine” as being “unphilosophical” and, therefore, unworthy of a scientific thought, has a right to say that he studied the ancients; that he is aware of all they knew, and knowing far more, knows also that they knew little, if anything? This “secret doctrine” contains the alpha and omega of universal science; therein lies the corner and the key-stone of all the ancient and modern knowledge; and alone in this “unphilosophical” doctrine remains buried the obsolute in the philosophy of the dark problems of life and death.

Thus it is that all the religious monuments of old, in whatever land or under whatever climate, are the expression of the same identical thoughts, the key to which is in the esoteric doctrine. It would be vain, without studying the latter, to seek to unriddle the mysteries enshrouded for centuries in the temples and ruins of Egypt and Assyria, or those of Central America, British Columbia, and the Nagkon-Wat of Cambodia. If each of these was built by a different nation; and neither nation had had intercourse with the others for ages, it is also certain that all were planned and built under the direct supervision of the priests. And the clergy of every nation, although practicing rites and ceremonies which may have differed externally, had evidently been initiated into the same traditional mysteries which were taught all over the world. As cycle succeeded cycle, and one nation after another came upon the world’s stage to play its brief part in the majestic drama of human life, each new people evolved from ancestral traditions its own religion, giving it a local color, and stamping it with its individual characteristics. While each of these religions had its distinguishing traits, by which, were there no other archaic vestiges, the physical and psychological status of its creators could be estimated, all preserved a common likeness to one prototype. This parent cult was none other than the primitive “wisdom-religion.” We can assert, with entire plausibility, that there is not one of all these sects — Kabalism, Judaism, and our present Christianity included — but sprung from the two main branches of that one mother-trunk, the once universal religion, which antedated the Vedic ages — we speak of that prehistoric Buddhism which merged later into Brahmanism.

Many and various are the nationalities to which belong the disciples of that mysterious school, and many the side-shoots of that one primitive stock. The secrecy preserved by these sub-lodges, as well as by the one great and supreme lodge, has ever been proportionate to the activity of religious persecutions; and now, in the face of the growing materialism, their very existence is becoming a mystery. But it must not be inferred, on that account, that such a mysterious brotherhood is but a fiction, not even a name, though it remains unknown to this day. Whether its affiliates are called by an Egyptian, Hindu, or Persian name, it matters not.

Most assuredly, no one could expect to find, in a work open to the public, the final mysteries of that which was preserved for countless ages as the grandest secret of the sanctuary. But, without divulging the key to the profane, or being taxed with undue indiscretion, we may be allowed to lift a corner of the veil which shrouds the majestic doctrines of old. The key must be turned seven times before the whole system is divulged. We will give it but one turn, and thereby allow the profane one glimpse into the mystery. Happy he, who understands the whole!

NOTE.–The volume and page references to Isis Unveiled, from which the foregoing article is compiled, are, in the order of the excerpts, as follows: I, 428; I, 429; II, 264-5; II, 424; II, 420; II, 455-6; I, 330; I, 433; I, 258; I, 285; I, 251; I, 257; I, 238; I, 212-13; II, 362; II, 366; II, 469; II, 263; I, 293-4; I, 6; I, 294; I, 295; I, 296; I, 297; I, 152; I, 153; I, 155; I, 612; I, xvi; I, xiv; I, 7; I, xvi; I, xiii; I, xi; I, 424; I, 510; I, 271 fn.; I, 511; I, 561; II, 216; II, 123; II, 307; II, 460; II, 461.




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