An Episode in the Soul's Journey

By John Van Mater, Jr.

A sapling in the garden was given a lot of nurturing. It grew well and soon was nearly four feet high. Then one day during a gale huge branches from a nearby tree fell on it, snapping the little trunk at its base. It appeared to have died. What a terrible consequence after such care! Yet, next spring the young tree sent up new and vigorous shoots -- after all had seemed lost. It grew and again reached, even surpassed, its former height and fullness. What strength and vitality and will must have resided unseen in those roots for it to regenerate itself!

A year later another storm broke off additional branches from the young tree's unfortunate neighbor, sending them crashing down. Again the situation seemed hopeless, for the sapling's trunk lay pushed nearly flat, and on one side its branches were cleaved off. Upon examining it, however, I discovered that the trunk was not broken, only bent, and when I had cut away the heavy limbs oppressing it, it began to spring up straight once more. It was as if a new little tree had been reborn from its former self, tougher and more resilient as a result of these adverse experiences. Though seemingly ruthless and cruel, nature had tested its very essence, or soul, and then allowed it to continue to grow into a fine tree.

If this be true of trees, what of ourselves?


A tragedy occurred to an acquaintance. He was in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down, on a respirator for an indefinite period, but fully conscious. We are impelled to ask, why should it have ever happened? Yet in the hospital such events are not exceptional; the intensive care units are filled with similar cases. Of course it hits you harder when you know someone in such a plight. In many cases such accidents result from negligence, or abuse of drugs, alcohol, or some other traceable cause. But often, too, there is no apparent reason, just a horrible, senseless accident.

I find great comfort in a recognition of the immortal aspect of man, in a philosophy that takes account of his spiritual nature, the true Self; also, that all of us are part of the universal harmony and that nothing is fortuitous or blind. Such a philosophy brings to an incident like this a larger and deeper significance, not to mention the promise of a compassionate resolution. To recognize that the universe is a living entity with its divine essence in all things, helps me to consider its working to be just and wise, enabling the human soul, through spiritual influences, to outgrow its limitations. Everyone must work out his own karma, most of which would have been generated in the course of many other lives in addition to this one. We are all interconnected, so that each of us is not only responsible for his own character but how it affects others.

It becomes evident that innumerable courses are followed and habits formed as a result of expressing or bringing forth both the finest attributes of soul and the selfish side with its failings. We must certainly have a mixture of the two as a product of this duality. Would it not stand to reason that if one abused himself and slipped under the influence of the lesser side, disregarding conscience or any of the nobler impulses, harm would result both to himself and others? Also, the more ingrained these thought habits become, the stronger the effects. What of the new causes that result from such choices, particularly when one knows something of what is right and wrong? Might not these causes -- set in motion by misdirected use of will and mind emerge with compelling force in the field of action, if not in the same life, then in a subsequent one? At the same time the spirit-self is seeking every opportunity to urge the soul back into balance, so that later on the individual may recover and change for the better.

It can only be an advantage for the one undergoing the trauma and suffering to awaken and come closer to his spirit and thus gain strength from his own inner resources. This is just one possibility that might result. The greatest tragedy is the unexamined life, lived unaware, filled with selfish thought and desire, where little in the way of spiritual growth can be achieved. In the eyes of nature this would be worse than an event which leaves the body useless, or cuts the life short, yet enables the soul to work out or dissolve certain holds of the lesser self, thus removing an impediment to progress. In this way one can certainly reap greater rewards in the next or some future life.

Even if the body is broken down with little or no chance of recovery, as long as the soul remains unconquered and full of inner resolve there is always hope and new opportunity. Whenever we reach into the heart of ourselves to become more altruistic in thought and act, and love of all dominates our motive, we weaken the hold of matter and become more inwardly alive, more human. It is of great importance to view the whole person, particularly the enduring qualities within, and not be misled by outer appearances. Though perhaps obscured for a time through a tragic episode in the soul's journey, the deathless Self endures.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1985. Copyright © 1985 by Theosophical University Press.)

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