Evolution is the oldest teaching in the world, and misconceptions and misunderstandings of it are as old as man. To many people, doubtless, the ideas suggested by “evolution” are more or less a mixture—very little that is clear, definite, coherent. A great gulf exists between the teachings of Theosophy and those of Western religion and science on evolution; so great a gulf, indeed, that neither the confirmed religionist nor the bigoted scientist will ever overpass it, for both the religious man and the scientific man have to disregard many of the asserted facts of Theosophy if they are to remain true to the limitations imposed by their respective theories.
Theosophy teaches the progressive development of everything, worlds as well as atoms. It teaches that this development has neither conceivable beginning nor imaginable end, and that all evolution is spiritual and intellectual, as well as physical. All forms of existence are not the same as our own, nor is our present form the form in which we have always dwelt or in which we will always continue to dwell.
These statements, though brief and simple, are such as anyone can understand; but what a prospect they throw open before us! They require that we grasp clearly the idea that “inside” all physical evolution—not inside in a geographical or locational sense, but just as an idea is in a word, in what a man says or does—so within all matter is Intelligence. The matter may be coarse or fine, simple or complex. So also, the intelligence may be limited or vast; it may be vast, but of low grade; or it may be of a very high order, yet of limited manifestation here. But we must get the idea firmly in mind that within all forms, all matter, all physical evolution, there is intelligence; and that this intelligence, or these “minds,” are in evolution.
Theosophy teaches that physical evolution and intellectual evolution proceed apace—intellectual evolution standing to physical evolution as cause to effect. But behind all, we have Life; whether Life in an atom—which causes the atom to evolve, to accept one combination and reject another—Life in the plant, Life in a solar system, or Life in space. Behind the physical form called “matter,” behind the mental form called “mind,” stands no form at all, but the creator and inhabitor of all forms, physical or super-physical—the changer and the destroyer of all forms. So if in religion or science there were any true perception of the facts in nature, we would find all men interested in the question of the Evolver.
This Evolver is called by many names: in Theosophy it is called gods or devas, monads, atoms, elementals, etc.; in St. Paul’s theogony, Gods, angels, principalities, and powers. According to their characteristics and forms, these evolvers are called men, animals, plants, minerals, sylphs, undines, fairies, nymphs, gnomes, devils, etc. Yet every one of these “beings,” says Theosophy, is now a man, was once a man, or will become a man.
H. P. Blavatsky said that the idea of Monotheism (a super-being) and that of Polytheism (super-beings) are not irreconcilable, for the real object of evolution is first, last, and always, spiritual. She said that physical and intellectual evolution stand to spiritual evolution as the treads and risers of the stairway: ways and means in the process of the unbroken series of the various manifestations of Life by which divine beings are evolved. So metaphysically there is the descent of man into incarnation from the state called Spirit, to which we all go between two lives in a body. We exist there as Soul. We leave that state because we perceive our own past; and, perceiving it, we also perceive our mistakes, and desire to rectify them. This idea at once draws the man out of the plane of Spirit onto the plane of thought. This marks a descent in mind, but an ascent in matter, because on that plane our thoughts mold matter into the form of our ideas. First the descent, then the ascent; first the involution, then the evolution.
From the spiritual point of view, incarnation represents our imperfections, not our perfections. In the state of perfect knowledge and vision which we call Spirit, we see our imperfections and we see where we can better them. But, once incarnated, the man forgets much of this high knowledge. Although he has within himself the power to evolve, he does not have the knowledge to direct the power wisely. There must, then, be those who will remind him, great Teachers who will point out the way.
One of these great teachers was Krishna. In the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna says that there are four classes of people in whom he interests himself: the afflicted, the searchers for truth, those who desire possessions, and the wise. Yet all of us are afflicted, or will be; all of us are searchers for truth in some direction; all of us seek possessions of some particular kind or nature; all of us are “wise” to some extent, to some degree, upon some subject. So we are among those who “interest” the Teacher—for not only Krishna in ancient India pointed his message to these four classes, but so also did Jesus in his day, and H.P.B. in our own; not to the curious, not to the acquisitive, not to the heedless, not to those who assume an attitude of moral irresponsibility, nor yet to the mentally lazy. Let us try to discover, then, why the great teachers addressed themselves to the four classes mentioned by Krishna.
Affliction, suffering, is usually the first thing that makes a man ask “why” in a really demanding way. It may be intense and prolonged physical suffering that causes a man to search; it may be emotional suffering caused by the loss of a loved one; it may be the “pangs of conscience”; or that most terrible suffering of all—the discovery that what a person has relied on as utter and final truth is in reality a delusion and a fraud. The afflicted one, then, is brought by his suffering to a point where he will listen to the teacher. He then becomes a searcher for truth—not instigated solely by the need for relief from suffering, but motivated by the desire to learn.
Those who desire possessions have this lesson to learn: that there is no limit to wealth in the three fields of physical, intellectual, and spiritual experience, and that there is no barrier in nature to the acquisition and enjoyment of all the wealth there is, if the wealth has been rightly earned and is rightly used. But when a man has come this far along the way, he has passed, so to say, into the fourth grade of the School of Life, and is prepared to become one of the “wise.”
The wise have found out that the vaults wherein men store the treasures of life—what we call faith, belief, religion—are not secure. They have found out that material wealth and intellectual wealth are valueless in themselves. They have gained at least the negative wisdom of knowing the not-true, and are thus able to recognize true teachers and true teachings. These, and these alone, are ready to assume responsibility for their further evolution, to become Self-conscious Evolvers. These, and these alone, may arise and say with conviction, Resurgam—I will return!