It is a matter of the deepest interest for every thinking man to obtain as clear an idea as possible of the way in which the progress of the world is wrought out in the kingdoms of Nature, and especially to realize how man — the king of Nature — advances toward that ultimate goal of perfection which is his destiny.
The ancient Wisdom Religion is the basis of all the real knowledge which man possesses, whether that knowledge be scientific or religious. This Wisdom Religion, or Theosophy, teaches that all progress is accomplished in revolving stages, or successive periods of time and experience; that these periods occur in exact harmony with each other, and that they bear definite relations to the effects accomplished in them severally. The law which governs these periods has been known for many ages as the Law of Cycles.
By the study of this Law of Cycles we learn that natural progress of all kinds does not occur in one steady stream, like the rush of a railway train on a straight track, but on the contrary, it proceeds by a spiral or screw-like course, in which the same points are successively and continually reached on higher circles of existence. It might, perhaps, be compared to the flight of an eagle, which soars upward in circles one above the other, until lost to sight in the vault of heaven. An onlooker would apparently see a periodic return to nearly the same place, but it is clear that the soaring bird occupies a more distant position on every turn of the circle in its spiral flight upward.
These cyclic periods are so well defined in our everyday experience, that we are apt to pass them by, without recognizing their importance. Every day is a cycle, in which we pursue almost the same round of duty, and every day is followed by a night or period of rest in which the circle of twenty-four hours is rounded off and completed. Month by month, in a larger cycle we find similar occurrences in our business and home circles. Year by year we follow the same round of occurrences in Nature, so that spring, summer, autumn and winter promote the well-being of each other, and minister to the perfect whole of which they form successive phases. All these are well known to us, but because by habit we have grown familiar with them, we fail to perceive that herein lies a great secret of the world’s advancement.
By pursuing the subject we may discover that the Law of Cycles rules every phenomenal experience in the world around us, that it governs even our states of passing happiness or misery, and rules also what men call life and death. Thus the continuous growth of Nature and of all beings is divided and punctuated by successive periods of rest and activity, or, to express it more completely, by rounds of birth, growth, subsidence and rest.
Of the forgotten cycles which men once knew all about, probably the most interesting to us is the cycle of life and death. Many centuries ago, the great philosophers and the wise ones of the earth taught this great Truth. The records of their teachings are found in many an ancient manuscript and rock inscription of old civilizations. Today more than two-thirds of the people of the earth make it a central point in their religious belief.
We are all familiar with the beginning and end of man’s appearance here. He comes upon the scene as a little child, grows into activity, attains his full strength, becomes feeble, and finally departs. We look upon the body through which he has functioned and we say: “He is gone.”Could we look further, we should know that he has but retired from the scene for a short period. He will soon return in a new body to carry on his continuous existence, and so on and on through successive lives, reaping each time what he has previously sown — until the final perfection.
Thus, as in other kingdoms of Nature each appearance of man on the scene of physical life is qualified and conditioned by the circumstances of those which preceded it, and the character of the man, which is the expression of his soul, his very self, progresses towards the goal of divinity, which is his potential inheritance.
Students of history have found that there is a periodic recurrence in the history of great empires. The fortunes of some great nation have been identified with each century of recorded history. Generally speaking the foundation of the power of the nation has taken place near the beginning of the century, and its waning or downfall has occurred near the close of the hundred year period. In Europe these periods of prosperity have succeeded each other, in Spain, Austria, Holland, France and England. There can be but little doubt that the twentieth century will be an era in which the American people will show an example to the rest of the civilized world, — an example founded upon the principles of humanitarian unselfishness and human Brotherhood.
Extending our view still further we cannot avoid perceiving that the very continents of the globe are successively the fields of an intense activity, and of a comparative desolation. Recent discoveries have shown conclusively that on the desert plains and hills of Arizona and New Mexico — once flourished cities, larger and more populous than the largest cities of the present day. Systems of irrigation existed ages ago in these Western States of America, constructed with the highest engineering skill. There is not the smallest doubt that where now is little but desert, once teemed a busy, educated and civilized people. And do we not see that period coming once again? Do not our daily papers continually announce new conquests of the forgotten desert which show a rapid return of the old cycle of past ages? Is it too much to expect that again the whole of Western America will — as in former ages — become completely re-established in the service of man, and will once more be the residence of teeming millions!
Such are the cycles which are easily recognized and commonly accepted.
So with man, by breath divine
Lifted like a transient wave
On life’s sea, in line on line
Rolls to break upon the grave.
Races, empires towering rise,
Each in turn, collapsing dies,
Schools and systems, proudly heave
Soon like them no vestige leave,
Far along the shore of time
Swells and sinks the sounding chime,
Gathered back in calm repose,
To the depths from whence they rose,
All are still.1
Yes, it is true that, for a time, all sink to rest and are still, but in the cycles of Nature all rise again into renewed activity.
The teachings of the Wisdom Religion show that at stated and regular intervals in the world’s history have occurred great reforms in the political, social and moral ideals of the people. These great reforms have been introduced by those who ever stand behind the scenes of world-life, ready to help when circumstances permit. The teachings of these great ones have been identical. They have always been founded upon the enduring truths of Theosophy. Such a teacher was Krishna, who appeared in India five thousand years ago, laying the foundation of the greatest world reformations of which we have record. Such a one was Gautama Buddha, who lived exactly twenty-five hundred years ago, and whose teachings have survived to the present day, through all the misconceptions, and degradations which they have endured at the hands of his followers throughout the centuries. Six hundred years later came Jesus with the same message and the same purpose of the regeneration of mankind.
A reference to these periods, each of which was a time of stress and trial in the history of the race, and a comparison of them with the present period, leads to the conviction that a crucial time in the world’s history is at hand when great reforms may be expected. Thoughtful consideration of the events of recent times amply confirms this. The last century was remarkable for great advances in man’s conquest with the forces of nature, and in his means, of intercommunication. Every part of the globe is now practically in instantaneous contact with every other point of its surface. Each nation can immediately feel the pulse of every other.
The facilities thus acquired have produced an increased desire for freedom from the bonds of medievalism and selfishness of all kinds. Politically, socially and morally every nation of the world is in the throes of a struggle with those forces which prevent human advancement towards happiness and liberation of soul. As these struggles become more and more evident, the onlooker perceives that now is the time of harvest, for all potentialities which men have been gathering for ages. The forces of evolutionary upliftment have been acting wheel within wheel, cycle within cycle until man stands today potentially nobler, more intellectually gifted, more far-seeing than ever before. One thing alone is wanting to complete the unfoldment, viz: that he shall put into practice what he has been taught throughout the ages; that he shall establish the bond of Brotherhood as the central feature of all his dealings with his fellow men; that the welfare of the community and the race shall stand in the place of the welfare of the individual. Thus the era of greed and selfishness will end and a new era of love and sympathy will dawn.
Then will men recognize that Life is one, eternal and indivisible. Both as regard the individual and the age, there is an everlasting continuity. That which has been sown must be reaped. Death must be followed by resurrection.
1. Mrs. Prideaux.