Mankind and a Living Earth

By Sarah Belle Dougherty

So many of the terrestrial and solar influences which form our being and shape our lives remain invisible to us because we do not see ourselves as part of a living system. To think of the earth as a conscious entity does not harmonize with the traditional Western mindset which equates physical with real. Nevertheless, the earth as a self-regulating, living system which can react to maintain a critical balance is beginning to receive serious consideration in certain scientific circles. Such a concept cuts at the heart of the long-held axiom that the earth is an unconscious, fortuitous lump of matter with no overall life or being of its own.

Yet why should we suppose that the earth is an insensate stage upon which chance organic and inorganic activities are played out? There is nothing improbable about the earth being an evolving entity whose growth is intimately linked to the development of the human and other kingdoms of nature, as well as to geological and climatic changes. Seen from space, our planet does not look like a lifeless thing; it has an organic quality that we feel, quite independent of the life of the many plants and animals on its surface.

The ancients held that invisible energies underlie the earth's physical activity and that its structure sets the pattern for man's being. Everything is built on the same general principles, applied to various evolutionary stages and conditions, and life and consciousness are universal. Man is not unique in his makeup and attributes: he is a microcosm and the planet, solar system, and universe are macrocosms. This does not imply that the earth is an enlarged human being. What a planet is analogically closest to -- a divinity, an animal, or an electron -- we can only speculate. But whatever earth's consciousness may be, we physically form part of its body, just as cells and atoms make up the human body while remaining individual organisms with their own evolutionary history, life cycle and, indeed, consciousness. Our cells and organs live and evolve under the overall stamp of our humanhood, often affected by our mental and emotional states and by contact with the world surrounding us: bacteria and viruses, food, fire, the sun's rays, other people, and so on. In the same way, the earth's denizens are affected by its life processes and consciousness, by the other planets and its solar and galactic environment.

These physical and psychological relationships formed the original basis of astrology. The ancient wise men who cast their consciousness forth into the universe and into the depths of their being, built up and confirmed a body of knowledge about the interconnections of man, earth, and solar system which they taught in the Mystery-schools of antiquity to those spiritually and intellectually prepared. This ancient science was not publicly divulged, nor did it involve fortune-telling; it was a way of presenting the relationship of the earth to the kingdoms forming it and to the rest of the universe.

The earth then is far more than its physical crust, interior, atmosphere, and magnetosphere; it is a being with vitality and consciousness, existing in an environment filled with matter and energies, astral and vital outflowings, and the consciousness of planets, suns, and galaxies. To exist as an individual entity the earth must deal with imbalances brought about by its environment and by the activity of the minutiae forming its body. One would expect man, the other kingdoms of nature, earth itself, and the other planets all to have roles in provoking or contributing to the earth's "immune response" to what threatens its well-being. Looking at mankind, we see that time and again concentrated physical and psychological activity has eventually led to barrenness, a period of rest and recuperation for portions of the globe where civilizations once flowered in what are now deserts. Traditions tell of repeated destruction of lands and of much of ancient humanity who worked too strongly against the natural currents of the planet. The birth of new lands and races is also a recurring theme. These races come and go, according to Hindu figures, at regular times which derive from the planet's evolutionary course. For we, after all, are an integral part of earth's being, rather than it being a mere prop for our activities and evolution.

It is noteworthy that cataclysmic floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions are traditionally connected with both the destruction and appearance of races and continents, so that geological changes are tied to the evolution of both humanity and the globe in accordance with cycles in the earth's evolution. H. P. Blavatsky in her Secret Doctrine also mentions phenomena such as reversal of the magnetic poles, shifts in the earth's axis, and ice ages as part of the life experience of the planet and solar system. Thus climate and geological activity are all linked with the evolution of earth, the kingdoms that form it, and the functioning of other planetary bodies. Some of these connections are common knowledge. Tides have long been traced to the gravitational pull of the moon, sunspots have been correlated with certain changes in climate, and earthquakes attributed both to the movement of tectonic plates and possibly the influence of the large planets. Such events may at the same time be related to the collective actions, thoughts, and feelings of mankind who, as a part of the earth, bears as direct a responsibility for some natural cataclysms as for the scourges of war, massacres, and destruction of the environment. Earth's activities are part of its evolution as well as mechanisms to reestablish equilibrium.

Of interest, too, are some of the figures that have come to us from the scientist-sages of antiquity. The Brahmanical records of India indicate that a few million years ago the earth passed the midpoint of its life cycle. Just as a universe is breathed forth, expanding materially, growing ever more physically dense and elaborated, and then is breathed in again, the physical being refined into increasingly ethereal and spiritual substance, so with an individual planet. The emphasis is shifting from the physical forms of earth's various components to their more refined elements as the earth moves into the second half of its life span. Human beings, as part of earth, will be called upon increasingly to develop their intellectual, intuitive, and spiritual side or be left behind the evolutionary processes of the planet, individually or collectively. If we are to remain active participants in earth's future growth, we must stay in consonance with the planet; to do so means turning away from the material and self-centered to the spiritual and universal currents within ourselves. We need increasingly to harmonize our individuality with the larger individuality of earth's higher consciousness.

Human evolution is anchored in the evolution of the planet and is in large measure determined by it, especially as to time periods and the nature of our physical body which is so closely linked to surrounding terrestrial conditions. Even our psychological and mental development is tied to cycles, to terrestrial and planetary influences. Humanity exists as a small but vital part of the earth, absolutely dependent on its life and processes. Viewing our planet as a mere "thing" has led inevitably to abuse of nature, now magnified by irresponsible use of industrial and chemical technology. Recent international treaties to protect the environment may indicate that, at least when imminent danger threatens, most of us are willing to take some responsibility for our actions to insure a livable planet. But beyond controlling abuses, we need to look to the earth with more penetration to discover how it functions and maintains its health if we are to go forward with the planet. Year by year the interlinking of each part into a living whole is becoming more widely recognized in many fields. In farm management, for example, there is a growing interest in stewardship, as farmers find working with nature the most productive, efficient, and economical course both in the long and short run.

As individuals in any sphere, we can open ourselves to feeling the impulses and the needs of the earth, both outer and inner. We can each look to our lives in terms of our place in an organic system much greater than ourselves to see how we can help form healthy tissue rather than becoming part of a cancerous growth -- either to be destroyed by the earth's immune system or be responsible for the destruction of our host-parent and ourselves. Perhaps by our protective attitude and actions we can even become part of the earth's immune system, helping to defend and maintain the planet we all share. Then we will discover the real purpose of human life on earth as active, conscious partners with the globe we help to form.

(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 1988. Copyright © 1988 by Theosophical University Press)

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