C.W. Leadbeater.

A Textbook of Theosophy online

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ascend to carry back into himself the result of the experiences so
obtained. His real life, therefore, covers millions of years, and what we
are in the habit of calling a life is only one day of this greater
existence. Indeed, it is in reality only a small part of one day; for a
life of seventy years in the physical world is often succeeded by a period
of twenty times that length spent in higher spheres.

Every one of us has a long line of these physical lives behind him, and the
ordinary man has a fairly long line still in front of him. Each of such
lives is a day at school. The ego puts upon himself his garment of flesh
and goes forth into the school of the physical world to learn certain
lessons. He learns them, or does not learn them, or partially learns them,
as the case may be, during his schoolday of earth-life; then he lays aside
the vesture of the flesh and returns home to his own level for rest and
refreshment. In the morning of each new life he takes up again his lesson
at the point where he left it the night before. Some lessons he may be able
to learn in one day, while others may take him many days.

If he is an apt pupil and learns quickly what is needed, if he obtains an
intelligent grasp of the rules of the school, and takes the trouble to
adapt his conduct to them, his school-life is comparatively short, and when
it is over he goes forth fully equipped into the real life of the higher
worlds for which all this is only a preparation. Other egos are duller boys
who do not learn so quickly; some of them do not understand the rules of
the school, and through that ignorance are constantly breaking them; others
are wayward, and even when they see the rules they cannot at once bring
themselves to act in harmony with them. All of these have a longer
school-life, and by their own actions they delay their entry upon the real
life of the higher worlds.

For this is a school in which no pupil ever fails; every one must go on to
the end. He has no choice as to that; but the length of time which he will
take in qualifying himself for the higher examinations is left entirely to
his own discretion. The wise pupil, seeing that school-life is not a thing
in itself, but only a preparation for a more glorious and far wider life,
endeavours to comprehend as fully as possible the rules of his school, and
shapes his life in accordance with them as closely as he can, so that no
time may be lost in the learning of whatever lessons are necessary. He
co-operates intelligently with the Teachers, and sets himself to do the
maximum of work which is possible for him, in order that as soon as he can
he may come of age and enter into his kingdom as a glorified ego.

Theosophy explains to us the laws under which this school-life must be
lived, and in that way gives a great advantage to its students. The first
great law is that of evolution. Every man has to become a perfect man, to
unfold to the fullest degree the divine possibilities which lie latent
within him, for that unfoldment is the object of the entire scheme so far
as he is concerned. This law of evolution steadily presses him onward to
higher and higher achievements. The wise man tries to anticipate its
demands - to run ahead of the necessary curriculum, for in that way he not
only avoids all collision with it, but he obtains the maximum of assistance
from its action. The man who lags behind in the race of life finds its
steady pressure constantly constraining him - a pressure which, if resisted,
rapidly becomes painful. Thus the laggard on the path of evolution has
always the sense of being hunted and driven by his fate, while the man who
intelligently co-operates is left perfectly free to choose the direction in
which he shall move, so long as it is onward and upward.

The second great law under which this evolution is taking place is the law
of cause and effect. There can be no effect without its cause, and every
cause must produce its effect. They are in fact not two but one, for the
effect is really part of the cause, and he who sets one in motion sets the
other also. There is in Nature no such idea as that of reward or
punishment, but only of cause and effect. Anyone can see this in connection
with mechanics or chemistry; the clairvoyant sees it equally clearly with
regard to the problems of evolution. The same law obtains in the higher as
in the lower worlds; there, as here, the angle of reflection is always
equal to the angle of incidence. It is a law of mechanics that action and
reaction are equal and opposite. In the almost infinitely finer matter of
the higher worlds the reaction is by no means always instantaneous; it may
sometimes be spread over long periods of time, but it returns inevitably
and exactly.

Just as certain in its working as the mechanical law in the physical world
is the higher law, according to which the man who sends out a good thought
or does a good action receives good in return, while the man who sends out
an evil thought or does an evil action, receives evil in return with equal
accuracy - once more, not in the least a reward or punishment administered
by some external will, but simply as the definite and mechanical result of
his own activity. Man has learnt to appreciate a mechanical result in the
physical world, because the reaction is usually almost immediate and can be
seen by him. He does not invariably understand the reaction in the higher
worlds because that takes a wider sweep, and often returns not in this
physical life, but in some future one.

The action of this law affords the explanation of a number of the problems
of ordinary life. It accounts for the different destinies imposed upon
people, and also for the differences in the people themselves. If one man
is clever in a certain direction and another is stupid, it is because in a
previous life the clever man has devoted much effort to practise in that
particular direction, while the stupid man is trying it for the first time.
The genius and the precocious child are examples not of the favouritism of
some deity but of the result produced by previous lives of application. All
the varied circumstances which surrounded us are the result of our own
actions in the past, precisely as are the qualities of which we find
ourselves in possession. We are what we have made ourselves, and our
circumstances are such as we have deserved.

There is, however, a certain adjustment or apportionment of these effects.
Though the law is a natural law and mechanical in its operation, there are
nevertheless certain great Angels who are concerned with its
administration. They cannot change by one feather-weight the amount of the
result which follows upon any given thought or act, but they can within
certain limits expedite or delay its action, and decide what form it shall
take.

If this were not done there would be at least a possibility that in his
earlier stages the man might blunder so seriously that the results of his
blundering might be more than he could bear. The plan of the Deity is to
give man a limited amount of free-will; if he uses that small amount well,
he earns the right to a little more next time; if he uses it badly,
suffering comes upon him as the result of such evil use, and he finds
himself restrained by the result of his previous actions. As the man learns
how to use his free-will, more and more of it is entrusted to him, so that
he can acquire for himself practically unbounded freedom in the direction
of good, but his power to do wrong is strictly restricted. He can progress
as rapidly as he will, but he cannot wreck his life in his ignorance. In
the earlier stages of the savage life of primitive man it is natural that
there should be on the whole more of evil than of good, and if the entire
result of his actions came at once upon a man as yet so little developed,
it might well crush the newly evolved powers which are still so feeble.

Besides this, the effects of his actions are varied in character. While
some of them produce immediate results, others need much more time for
their action, and so it comes to pass that as the man develops he has above
him a hovering cloud of undischarged results, some of them good, some of
them bad. Out of this mass (which we may regard for purposes of analogy
much as though it were a debt owing to the powers of Nature) a certain
amount falls due in each of his successive births; and that amount, so
assigned, may be thought of as the man's destiny for that particular life.

All that it means is that a certain amount of joy and a certain amount of
suffering are due to him, and will unavoidably happen to him; how he will
meet this destiny and what use he will make of it, that is left entirely to
his own option. It is a certain amount of force which has to work itself
out. Nothing can prevent the action of that force, but its action may
always be modified by the application of a new force in another direction,
just as is the case in mechanics. The result of past evil is like any other
debt; it may be paid in one large cheque upon the bank of life - by some one
supreme catastrophe; or it may be paid in a number of smaller notes, in
minor troubles and worries; in some cases it may even be paid in the small
change of a great number of petty annoyances. But one thing is quite
certain - that, in some form or other, paid it will have to be.

The conditions of our present life, then, are absolutely the result of our
own action in the past; and the other side of that statement is that our
actions in this life are building up conditions for the next one. A man who
finds himself limited either in powers or in outer circumstances may not
always be able to make himself or his conditions all that he would wish in
this life; but he can certainly secure for the next one whatever he
chooses.

Man's every action ends not with himself, but invariably affects others
around him. In some cases this effect may be comparatively trivial, while
in others it may be of the most serious character. The trivial results,
whether good or bad, are simply small debits or credits in our account with
Nature; but the greater effects, whether good or bad, make a personal
account which is to be settled with the individual concerned.

A man who gives a meal to a hungry beggar, or cheers him by a kindly word,
will receive the result of his good action as part of a kind of general
fund of Nature's benefits; but one who by some good action changes the
whole current of another man's life will assuredly have to meet that same
man again in a future life, in order that he who has been benefited may
have the opportunity of repaying the kindness that has been done to him.
One who causes annoyance to another will suffer proportionately for it
somewhere, somehow, in the future, though he may never meet again the man
whom he has troubled; but one who does serious harm to another, one who
wrecks his life or retards his evolution, must certainly meet his victim
again at some later point in the course of their lives, so that he may have
the opportunity, by kindly and self-sacrificing service, of
counterbalancing the wrong which he has done. In short, large debts must be
paid personally, but small ones go into the general fund.

These then are the principal factors which determine the next birth of the
man. First acts the great law of evolution, and its tendency is to press
the man into that position in which he can most easily develop the
qualities which he most needs. For the purposes of the general scheme,
humanity is divided into great races, called root-races, which rule and
occupy the world successively. The great Aryan or Indo-Caucasian race,
which at the present moment includes the most advanced of Earth's
inhabitants, is one of these. That which came before it in the order of
evolution was the Mongolian race, usually called in Theosophical books
Atlantean because the continent from which it ruled the world lay where now
roll the waters of the Atlantic ocean. Before that came the Negroid race,
some of whose descendants still exist, though by this time much mingled
with offshoots of later races. From each of these great root-races there
are many offshoots which we call sub-races - such, for example, as the Roman
races or the Teutonic; and each of the sub-races in turn divides itself
into branch-races, such as the French and the Italians, the English and the
Germans.

These arrangements are made in order that for each ego there may be a wide
choice of varying conditions and surroundings. Each race is especially
adapted to develop within its people one or other of the qualities which
are needed in the course of evolution. In every nation there exist an
almost infinite number of diverse conditions, riches and poverty, a wide
field of opportunities or a total lack of them, facilities for development
or conditions under which development is difficult or well-nigh impossible.
Amidst all these infinite possibilities the pressure of the law of
evolution tends to guide the man to precisely those which best suit his
needs at the stage at which he happens to be.

But the action of this law is limited by that other law of which we spoke,
the law of cause and effect. The man's actions in the past may not have
been such as to deserve (if we may put it so) the best possible
opportunities; he may have set in motion in his past certain forces the
inevitable result of which will be to produce limitations; and these
limitations may operate to prevent his receiving that best possible of
opportunities, and so as the result of his own actions in the past he may
have to put up with the second best. So we may say that the action of the
law of evolution, which if left to itself would do the very best possible
for every man, is restrained by the man's own previous actions.

An important feature in that limitation - one which may act most powerfully
for good or for evil - is the influence of the group of egos with which the
man has made definite links in the past - those with whom he has formed
strong ties of love or hate, of helping or of injury - those souls whom he
must meet again because of connections made with them in days of long ago.
His relation with them is a factor which must be taken into consideration
before it can be determined where and how he shall be reborn.

The Will of the Deity is man's evolution. The effort of that nature which
is an expression of the Deity is to give the man whatever is most suitable
for that evolution; but this is conditioned by the man's deserts in the
past and by the links which he has already formed. It may be assumed that a
man descending into incarnation could learn the lessons necessary for that
life in any one of a hundred positions. From half of these or more than
half he may be debarred by the consequences of some of his many and varied
actions in the past. Among the few possibilities which remain open to him,
the choice of one possibility in particular may be determined by the
presence in that family or in that neighbourhood of other egos upon whom he
has a claim for services rendered, or to whom he in his turn owes a debt of
love.




Chapter VIII

THE PURPOSE OF LIFE


To fulfil our duty in the divine scheme we must try to understand not only
that scheme as a whole, but the special part that man is intended to play
in it. The divine outbreathing reached its deepest immersion in matter in
the mineral kingdom, but it reaches its ultimate point of differentiation
not at the lowest level of materiality, but at the entrance into the human
kingdom on the upward arc of evolution. We have thus to realize three
stages in the course of this evolution.

(a) The downward arc in which the tendency is towards differentiation and
also towards greater materiality. In this stage spirit is involving itself
in matter, in order that it may learn to receive impressions through it.

(b) The earlier part of the upward arc, in which the tendency is still
towards greater differentiation, but at the same time towards
spiritualization and escape from materiality. In this stage the spirit is
learning to dominate matter and to see it as an expression of itself.

(c) The later part of the upward arc, when differentiation has been finally
accomplished, and the tendency is towards unity as well as towards greater
spirituality. In this stage the spirit, having learnt perfectly how to
receive impression through matter and how to express itself through it, and
having awakened its dormant powers, learns to use these powers rightly in
the service of the Deity.

The object of the whole previous evolution has been to produce the ego as a
manifestation of the Monad. Then the ego in its turn evolves by putting
itself down into a succession of personalities. Men who do not understand
this look upon the personality as the self, and consequently live for it
alone, and try to regulate their lives for what appears to be its temporary
advantage. The man who understands realizes that the only important thing
is the life of the ego, and that its progress is the object for which the
temporary personality must be used. Therefore when he has to decide between
two possible courses he thinks not, as the ordinary man might: "Which will
bring the greater pleasure and profit to me as a personality?" but "Which
will bring greater progress to me as an ego?" Experience soon teaches him
that nothing can ever be really good for him, or for anyone, which is not
good for all, and so presently he learns to forget himself altogether, and
to ask only what will be best for humanity as a whole.

Clearly then at this stage of evolution whatever tends to unity, whatever
tends to spirituality, is in accord with the plan of the Deity for us, and
is therefore right for us, while whatever tends to separateness or to
materiality is equally certainly wrong for us. There are thoughts and
emotions which tend to unity, such as love, sympathy, reverence,
benevolence; there are others which tend to disunion, such as hatred,
jealousy, envy, pride, cruelty, fear. Obviously the former group are for us
the right, the latter group are for us the wrong.

In all these thoughts and feelings which are clearly wrong, we recognize
one dominant note, the thought of self; while in all those which are
clearly right we recognize that the thought is turned toward others, and
that the personal self is forgotten. Wherefore we see that selfishness is
the one great wrong, and that perfect unselfishness is the crown of all
virtue. This gives us at once a rule of life. The man who wishes
intelligently to co-operate with the Divine Will must lay aside all thought
of the advantage or pleasure of the personal self, and must devote himself
exclusively to carrying out that Will by working for the welfare and
happiness of others.

This is a high ideal, and difficult of attainment, because there lies
behind us such a long history of selfishness. Most of us are as yet far
from the purely altruistic attitude; how are we to go to work to attain it,
lacking as we do the necessary intensity in so many of the good qualities,
and possessing so many which are undesirable?

Here comes into operation the great law of cause and effect to which I have
already referred. Just as we can confidently appeal to the laws of Nature
in the physical world, so may we also appeal to these laws of the higher
world. If we find evil qualities within us, they have grown up by slow
degrees through ignorance and through self-indulgence. Now that the
ignorance is dispelled by knowledge, now that in consequence we recognize
the quality as an evil, the method of getting rid of it lies obviously
before us.

For each of these vices there is a contrary virtue; if we find one of them
rearing its head within us, let us immediately determine deliberately to
develop within ourselves the contrary virtue. If a man realizes that in the
past he has been selfish, that means that he has set up within himself the
habit of thinking of himself first and pleasing himself, of consulting his
own convenience or his pleasure without due thought of the effect upon
others; let him set to work purposefully to form the exactly opposite
habit, to make a practice before doing anything of thinking how it will
affect all those around him; let him set himself habitually to please
others, even though it be at the cost of trouble or privation for himself.
This also in time will become a habit, and by developing it he will have
killed out the other.

If a man finds himself full of suspicion, ready always to assign evil
motives to the actions of those about him, let him set himself steadily to
cultivate trust in his fellows, to give them credit always for the highest
possible motives. It may be said that a man who does this will lay himself
open to be deceived, and that in many cases his confidence will be
misplaced. That is a small matter; it is far better for him that he should
sometimes be deceived as a result of his trust in his fellows than that he
should save himself from such deception by maintaining a constant attitude
of suspicion. Besides, confidence begets faithfulness. A man who is trusted
will generally prove himself worthy of the trust, whereas a man who is
suspected is likely presently to justify the suspicion.

If a man finds in himself the tendency towards avarice, let him go out of
his way to be especially generous; if he finds himself irritable, let him
definitely train himself in calmness; if he finds himself devoured by
curiosity, let him deliberately refuse again and again to gratify that
curiosity; if he is liable to fits of depression, let him persistently
cultivate cheerfulness, even under the most adverse circumstances.

In every case the existence of an evil quality in the personality means a
lack of the corresponding good quality in the ego. The shortest way to get
rid of that evil and to prevent its reappearance is to fill the gap in the
ego, and the good quality which is thus developed will show itself as an
integral part of the man's character through all his future lives. An ego
cannot be evil, but he can be imperfect. The qualities which he develops
cannot be other than good qualities, and when they are well defined they
show themselves in each of all his numerous personalities, and consequently
those personalities can never be guilty of the vices opposite to these
qualities; but where there is a gap in the ego, where there is a quality
undeveloped, there is nothing inherent in the personality to check the
growth of the opposite vice; and since others in the world about him
already possess that vice, and man is an imitative animal, it is quite
probable that it will speedily manifest itself in him. This vice, however,
belongs to the vehicles only and not to the man inside. In these vehicles
its repetition may set up a momentum which is hard to conquer; but if the
ego bestirs himself to create in himself the opposite virtue, the vice is
cut off at its root, and can no longer exist - neither in this life nor in
all the lives that are to come.

A man who is trying to evolve these qualities in himself will find certain
obstacles in his way - obstacles which he must learn to surmount. One of
these is the critical spirit of the age - the disposition to find fault with
a thing, to belittle everything, to look for faults in everything and
everyone. The exact opposite of this is what is needed for progress. He who
wishes to move rapidly along the path of evolution must learn to see good
in everything - to see the latent Deity in everything and in everyone. Only
so can he help those other people - only so can he get the best out of those
other things.

Another obstacle is the lack of perseverance. We tend in these days to be
impatient; if we try any plan we expect immediate results from it, and if
we do not get them, we give up that plan and try something else. That is
not the way to make progress in occultism. The effort which we are making
is to compress into one or two lives the evolution which would naturally
take perhaps a hundred lives. That is not the sort of undertaking in which
immediate results are to be expected. We attempt to uproot an evil habit,
and we find it hard work; why? Because we have indulged in that practice
for, perhaps, twenty thousand years; one cannot shake off the custom of
twenty thousand years in a day or two. We have allowed that habit to gain
an enormous momentum, and before we can set up a force in the opposite
direction we have to overcome that momentum. That cannot be done in a
moment, but it is absolutely certain that it _will_ be done eventually, if


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Online LibraryC.W. LeadbeaterA Textbook of Theosophy → online text (page 7 of 11)