This doctrine of the perfectibility of man is easily comprehended by some men, but is extremely difficult for others—due to centuries of dissemination of the degrading and infamous doctrine that man is originally sinful, basically defective, inherently imperfect. If it may be said of man, the microcosm of the Universe, it may also be said of the Universe, the macrocosm: This universe is originally sinful, is inherently imperfect, was damned from the beginning—all the rest is merely carrying that sentence into execution. Yet no one would think of maligning the universe in this manner, even materialistic scientists have more respect than that for the mysteries of Nature.
The whole story of original sin is a monstrous, priestly invocation of the power of evil, making deliberate appeal to man’s fear. This is a dreadful crime. For man, through ignorance, listens to the priestly voice; listening, he becomes a slave when he should be free. Better to be the worst sinner who ever lived upon this earth, than to be a man who, in the name of the Most High, demands the moral obedience, the intellectual servility, the spiritual blindness of millions through their love. For the man who is a forthright sinner damns only himself, whereas the man who preaches original sin (“sin” merely by being born!) damns at its source the current of divinity that should flow through a human life.
Why is a man willing to assume this burden of guilt handed to him by priests? Partly, no doubt, because he is ever-conscious of his many failures to live up to his better impulses and higher aspirations; but in greater measure, it is due to emphasis on outward action, especially on forms of worship, rather than on inner motive. Thus, one man may feel “guilty” because he is not perfect, though another may throw off all responsibility for himself because he is “just a poor, miserable sinner—so what can you expect?” Both are wrong.
Theosophy says that each man must live his own life, not another’s: must do his own work, attend to his own duties, accept his own responsibilities. Howsoever more enriching or rewarding the life may seem to a man, he is not free to try to live that life until he has fulfilled himself in his own place. Take an example from mechanics: a cam, with its axis off center, gives eccentric motion, or a back-and-forth movement; whereas a wheel has uniform rotation in one direction. The cam is constructed for a specific purpose, has a definite function which is just as important in its place as the work of a wheel is in its. Each belongs just where it is. So with a man! each man belongs where he is, and nowhere else.
Yet a man is, so to say, an intelligent cam. He can see that he is a cam because his axis is off-center—that is, his principles are not in line, his motivations are not “true” to the center of his being, the Higher Ego. Must he, then, always remain a cam, seesawing back-and-forth, never going directly toward his goal? Theosophy says, No: a man may, by studying the principles expounded in Theosophy, by observing the “principle” from which he acts, by cleansing his mind of personal bias, and purifying his motives of selfish intent, gradually shift his “axis” toward the true center. Slowly the “cam” approximates the wheel, whose uniform rotation and motionless hub symbolize perfection in action.
The doctrine of the perfectibility of man synthesizes the fundamental concepts of Theosophy: that there is one source of life and consciousness pervading the universe; that life and consciousness move according to a law inherent in them; that self-conscious beings progress by effort directed in accordance with these laws. Great Nature has herself impelled us far along the road of evolution. We can see that however inferior we may be to the highest being, we can already conceive even if we cannot BE; we can already imagine, even though we cannot yet embody. However short we may fall from the high ideal of the Soul, the Spiritual Being, the Perceiver, yet we can see that we stand far, far higher in the school of life than our brothers in the lesser halls of learning. In the great school of life the lowest of men is immeasurably higher than the highest animal. The lowest animal is immeasurably higher in the scale than the highest of the vegetable kingdom. And what a godsome monarch is a green-leafed plant on a stony hillside creeping forth from a crevice in the rock, compared with the mineral kingdom! Then, when we think of the voiceless air and of the immense, silent and, to us, untrod spaces that fill most of the universe visible to us, we can see that the humble dust under our feet represents an immense graduated advance over what, to us, is a void.
In the seemingly infinite gradations of beings making up the universe, we call those men who have attained perfection in action “Adepts.” Adepts are facts in Nature, and ideals for men to emulate. This emulation consists in studying to know one’s self, and in working for Humanity. As we learn more and more of the philosophy that these Adepts first tested, then formulated and preserved, and finally presented to the world through H. P. Blavatsky, we find ourselves gradually growing in human stature. Despite recurrent failures, despite interims of passivity, perhaps even despite wayward wandering, we find ourselves becoming better human beings.
The ability to improve one’s nature a little proves the ability to continue improvement. Given the process of reincarnation, there is no necessary stopping-point save the “perfection” of this Great Day of evolution. This is the “logic” of the doctrine of perfectibility. It becomes fact for those who attain.