We are fairly used to the idea of man as a pilgrim. We speak of man as an earthly pilgrim, and sometimes as a heavenly pilgrim when we mention his soul, but we seldom hear him described as a cosmic pilgrim.
Orthodox Western religions have a way of forgetting the cosmos! The soul is pictured as engaging on a pilgrimage from sin and darkness to freedom, purity, and eternal light in God. But where is this God? Is he not sitting at the heart of every being and every atom which helps to form that cosmos? The sun blazing in our sky, along with the other suns which we see as stars -- are they not simply gigantic streams of his consciousness pouring out into the visible world? Are they not true "sons of God" who have made a faithful pilgrimage through whole lifetimes of many universes until they have become open gateways to the eternal Presence, capable of sustaining solar systems of planets? And are not the planets themselves composed of living beings of all grades, all partaking of the same nature? Having the same divine fire in their own hearts they are just younger pilgrims, living and moving and having their being within the essence of the older and mightier ones, the mightier ones dwelling within other ones mightier still, which we humans cannot see even as stars!
The real sun, the actual spiritual being which the true sun is, dwells in another universe. What we see as the sun is only its effect or reflection on our material level of cosmic life. Its real self lives in the divine level of the cosmos, in the spiritual universe which is the root of the material one. "In my Father's house are many mansions": the cosmos is the Father's house, containing many mansions.
Ours is a pilgrimage of expanding consciousness. We possess in ourselves points of awareness, centers of life, which correspond to every mansion in the cosmic house, the home of the unknowable divine spirit and its children; and the purpose of the long struggle of evolution is to open out those points of awareness and of life which are quite different from the life and type of thought and feeling which we are aware of at our present stage of growth. We possess all centers of being because we humans arise out of the spiritual cosmos, precipitated from its heart, woven out of its many fabrics as it expresses itself on planes that range from highest spirit to densest matter.
Neither did we individuals or the human race as a whole begin our pilgrimage with the present lifetime of the earth. We are children of the Father's house, from all eternity of the past to all eternity of the future. Earth itself is also a child of the Father, and the visible planet is its physical body. It has immensely long periods of life and activity and then passes into what we call death for long periods of rest.
In some far back lifetime of earth, when we were expanded sufficiently in consciousness to express ourselves in the mineral state, we could organize and sense the outer world only through a little group of mineral cells. We were the rock and soil and plant substance, and probably sparkled and shone among the jewels in the necklaces of great ladies -- for there would have been a "human" kingdom then as now, who would still be as far ahead of us, and perhaps now reigning in the heavens as suns and planets!
When Mother Earth had lived through that life cycle of hers in which we were mineral, she fell asleep, taking with her all the kingdoms of nature of which she was formed. Where there had been a planet, complete with continents and seas, people and beasts, rolling along in space, there was seemingly now no planet -- the "dewdrop had slipped into the shining sea" -- silence and mystery, profound spiritual sleep for a time that would seem to us like "forever." Not really so, for once more the cosmic dewdrop was precipitated into tangible existence, like moisture condensing on a blade of grass, and we and all the kingdoms came flowing in, out into manifestation, and gradually built up the full planetary life again. But this time we found ourselves on a higher level. Our experience as minerals had enabled us to bring forth more of our latent power and a more active consciousness, so we manifested in the freer and more active plant world. After another long life and rest period of our native earth, we opened another door of perception by experiencing animal life.
It may not always take a group of lives a whole planetary lifetime to work through a kingdom of nature; the time may vary greatly. Also individual lives within a kingdom may require longer or shorter time than the rest of their group. Still, after the planetary sleep they all wake up at their own particular stage and carry on from there -- and so we get the exquisite spiral pattern of evolution.
With expansion into human perception, obviously an immensely more complicated body is required. Our marvelous brain and nervous system are the result of the urgent need of the spirit within to make contact with and pour out its influence into the world of matter. Henceforth awakens the self-aware yearning to re-find our divine source, the self-directed pilgrimage with a purpose in view.
The effort now must be to bring forth our spiritual potential and make its atmosphere an actuality in the common round of daily experience. If enough of us could do this the human condition would alter radically. We are told that the end of the present embodiment of our earth will see us humans functioning in bodies of light instead of our solid physical forms. By then our consciousness will be global in extent -- we shall actually experience the consciousness of other globes and kingdoms of nature. Everything will have a new look. "We . . . look for new heavens and a new earth" (2 Peter 3:13).
The divinities inspiring the sun and stars may not be aware of us as separate persons, but they feel the call of all the living beings in their own universes and send out continual streams of helpful influence. It is up to us to become good receiving sets and pick up this influence. It is stepped down through holy channels, beautiful beings nearer to our own sphere of thought than the sun himself, for it has to assume a form more familiar to human minds before we can absorb it.
This spiritual beauty behind the universe is not really so far away. There is one of these beautiful beings for every man, woman, and child in the world, forming the core of his or her nature. It also is a cosmic pilgrim, advanced far beyond human status. The personal human entity is its child, and it will inspire and guide him if he becomes quiet inside and allows it to do so. "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).
Once or twice during my own life something has happened to push my ordinary mind out of the way, and partially open a little door into an entirely different knowledge, a most lovely, satisfying knowledge. During those few rare moments one knows that even the most painful and miserable earth life is worth while because of the golden joy and beauty which come after and before it and indeed are all around it. In my case it can only have been a faint and feeble seeping through into the everyday mind of the presence of other dimensions, but I can assure anyone of its very surprising reality and the quality of sweet sanity and wholeness it carries with it.
As for the problem of the existence of misery and evil, I find the theosophical explanation is the most satisfying: We humans, in our present condition of earth life, can see and feel only a very small cross section of cosmic life and development. There is matter which is millions of times more dense and gross than any ever seen in our laboratories, and the worlds made of this matter and the beings which form and live in these worlds are equally gross and dense. And there is matter millions of times more fine and spiritual than any we have ever seen, and the beings and worlds made of this delicate matter are the gods and their spiritual dwellings into which we have not yet evolved. The whole cosmos is made up of living, growing beings, whose progress is endless both behind and before, so that they are always opening out into new fields of consciousness. There will always be "good" and "evil," because there will always be more relatively undeveloped beings coming along.
Strangely enough, it is only during those ages-long periods of what we would call "death" of the worlds that perfection can be touched, for then all beings and things sink into the spiritual heart of Being where perfection lies. As soon as there is even a slight appearance of form, there is imperfection, for form means limitation. Imagine trying to confine all the qualities resting in the infinite, even in the glowing form of a being so mighty as our life-giving sun! This wonderful being is but a temporary crystallization of some of the aspects of infinity, although if we could sense its consciousness it would seem to us to go beyond the limits of our greatest dreams of ultimate perfection. There is always more beyond -- the infinite could never be fully manifested.
Each individual human nature is in itself so varied and so deep, and during its ancient incarnations has contacted and acted upon so many different levels of life, often in a detrimental manner because of its comparative ignorance and lack of development, that it has set going a vast network of reaction from the rest of nature and humanity, thus weaving around itself a most intricate web of destiny. In our blind descent into matter we have dealt unwisely and unkindly with the living stuff of the universe, both spiritual and material, and its answering movement in our direction causes us what we call suffering. Harmony must be restored. We have to learn to work along with our karma, an exceedingly hard task, for it means accepting all life's miseries and very quietly setting to work in the midst of them to change our attitude of mind, our quality of thinking. By persistently seeking the intuitional power behind the intellectual mind, which is the help given by our higher self, we find out how to apply its wisdom and live in it hour by hour while the unhappiness and stress of daily affairs flows over us.
There are many painful lessons to be learned. We have mistaken physical strength and well-being, success, nice family surroundings, and other things for the greatest good, little knowing what lies within us. We need to realize the immensity of our own destiny and the powers we deal with along our daily track. We must learn that the things we prize so much are partly the ever-changing appearances of the outer garments of our being, and partly the equally ever-changing scenery of our journey -- the prince of this life may be the beggar of the next. They will come and go like the tides of the sea, for our cosmic way leads through all experiences. We have to evolve the ability to stand above them all interiorly, while doing our full duty outwardly. Much of our confusion is due to our present inefficiency in dealing with our cosmic situation, and much of this is caused by ignorance of our true nature.
Religions can help in this when properly understood. The world religions are, each one, at the source, a dynamic spiritual effort to make an impression on the consciousness of man. The attempt to follow their teachings forms the first exercise in control of the emotions and mind, and the gradual freeing of ourselves from our intense absorption in material affairs. But great care and discrimination are needed in studying any religion, as one and all have suffered much mutilation, mistranslation, and misunderstanding down the centuries.
At the present moment we seem to be left entirely on our own spiritually, but that state of affairs is largely an illusion. The powers of light are always active on our behalf, but we must fully play our part, otherwise no help can be effective. If we were supported too much we would never be of any value as living forces. The initiative lies with us.
A few lines from Rabindranath Tagore are fitting here:
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not look for allies in life's battlefield but to my own strength.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but hope for the patience to win my freedom.
Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone; but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure. -- Fruit-Gathering, LXXIX
Our life is an act of invocation. Whether we are aware of it or not, whether we like it or not, every act and thought, the taking up of an attitude of mind, is a mystic act of invocation, and draws the unseen powers to our aid or our undoing, so our position is really one of immense power and potency, even now.
(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1989; copyright © 1989 Theosophical University Press)