By W. T. S. Thackara
"Student," an ancient maxim from the Jewish Qabbalah reads, "open wide thine eyes upon the visible, for in it thou shalt find the invisible." Old truisms often prove wisest and have endured because experience has demonstrated their validity. In this particularly apt thought we find a touchstone used by seekers of knowledge throughout history. There has never been a people or a time when probing into the ultimate mysteries of life in one fashion or another has not occurred. This is preeminently true of our own scientific era in which the search for answers about the beginnings and development of the universe and man gets considerable encouragement and support. Yet a peculiarity of our age, especially in the West, has been the tendency to polarize our explorations either into the physical or metaphysical realms, and then often to become rather dogmatic about our beliefs.
Only recently have a very few researchers, in physics, astronomy, and the "parasciences" begun to verify what could prove to be links between the two spheres. However promising this trend may be, the division continues to run deep; and we still find unresolved the whole constellation of ideas and explanations about human and universal origins and evolution.
What is man, where did he come from, what is the pattern and purpose of life, and what is the life worth living? Both the religious and scientific communities have spokesmen who speak positively for their representative views. But, for the mind trying to evaluate these impartially, there would at times appear to be two different realities, two mutually exclusive truths. Ever since Descartes, many people suffering from the effects of this dichotomy have attempted to convince themselves, and others, that the statements of science and religion must be judged independently, although when compared these may nullify one another. Even as experts scrutinize the different versions separately, difficulties are found that are yet to be sufficiently addressed. Specifically, the most vociferous debate today involves the conflict between the Darwinian (and later) explanations of evolution and the so-called creationist model from the Old Testament. Neither side has persuaded the other, nor does resolution seem likely. And most assume that no other possible interpretations exist which will satisfy both scientific and spiritual criteria. (See "Evolution vs. Creationism in the Public Schools," The Humanist, January/February 1977, pp. 4-24.)
It is with these thoughts that we welcome an updated republication of a book which, commending to everybody the advice of the ancient Qabbalah, offers such a comprehensive alternative, and leads the reader into an exceedingly thoughtful discussion linking man and the universe, matter and consciousness, and science and religion.
Man in Evolution by G. de Purucker is a multifaceted work whose luster stems from its unique approach: a coherent and rational blending of modern scientific observations and empiric analysis with ancient intuitions of the inner nature and esoteric history of man. The book is also an easy-to-read essay on science and its methods, a guide to philosophy, and an exploration of the intrinsically spiritual possibilities within man.
Truth is shown to be one, and we are told that whether we enter its precincts through the halls of science, philosophy or religion, there should not be -- in fact, cannot be -- contradiction among any of these paths. Common sense agrees. Blind faith is tabu, and we are not required to believe, or disbelieve, in all the conclusions of Darwin and his successors, or in a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. On the contrary, while basic assumptions of both are found wanting, some points do have merit. But we are not left in a vacuous limbo either, for the author presents the theosophical outline of man and his history which derives from the matured experience of generations of "philosopher-scientists" of a different order -- adepts in wisdom whose existence has often been intuited but who remain generally unknown in history. This may sound novel to some in our modern, educated world, yet the adepts' knowledge is of record and can be tested against and found to tally with nature's facts, such as we know them.
With all this Dr. de Purucker does not hesitate to make plain the good sense of St. Paul: for each of us to "prove all things and hold to that which is good." Although it can be very helpful to study the thoughts, research, and experience of others, ultimately, the only way to really know anything of the truth, is by individually experiencing it, by actually becoming what we need to know. This does not condone license nor unprepared journeys into uncharted frontiers, but suggests that we learn by living, striving, and seeking to embody in our present circumstances the very "higher" qualities of character by which a genuine insight is made possible.
Yet we should not be afraid of nor doubt our ability to know truth. In Dr. de Purucker's view, truth exists; and the universe in toto as manifested in its structures and operations is that truth. Man -- for that matter, every life-unit being an integral and vital part of the universe therefore possesses in potential all the powers and possibilities of the universe, including the ability to unfold the faculty of understanding truth. This is a fundamental axiom of the theosophical approach to life, and the entire exposition of the book rests and builds on it.
Immediately we perceive a wedding of physics with metaphysics: the whole domain of consciousness is added to the customary physical biological interpretation of evolution, and spirit is given substance rather than abstraction. The discussion thus turns to whether consciousness is a phenomenon of electrochemical combinations, or the reverse: that matter and its transformations reflect the activities of 'mind' -- atomic, human, cosmic. The author holds decidedly to the latter. In support, he forwards the evidence of nature in the light of reason. With cogent logic, anthropological and biological findings are compared with the testimony of ancient and modern theosophical doctrine and in many respects appear to be in agreement, revealing an extraordinarily illuminating and hopeful picture of man and the universe.
A human being, as well as every creature, is held to be far more than body and physical consciousness; he is essentially a spiritually creative individual, periodically fabricating and embodying in self-made vehicles of matter and mind so that he may express and hence unfold his latent divinity. This is what the word evolution literally means: the unrolling, unwrapping, making manifest what is potential within, all according to nature's laws. To illustrate both the key idea and the fact that the concept of evolution does not date only from 1859 with Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, Dr. de Purucker cites another Qabbalistic axiom: "The stone becomes a plant; the plant a beast; the beast a man; and the man a god." It is the inner being evolving forth and embodying in each of these vestures who climbs the ladder of life -- not the vesture which transforms itself into the next higher. There is no doubt whatsoever that an evolutionary pattern encompassing billions of years is a reality, says the author, but it is the present scientific explanations of how it occurs and the effects these hypotheses have on our perceptions and quality of life that are in contention.
In the theosophical view, every unit in the universe from atom to galaxy is instinct with life -- the organizations are also organizers -- and the whole of it is evolving teleologically, that is, with purpose, tending towards greater perfection both of consciousness and the texture and form of its vehicles. For those kingdoms which are appercepptive -- self-aware -- growth is no longer purely automatic, but rather each individual assumes an increasing responsibility to work out his own destiny: helped, but not carried, by the more advanced who have traveled the "ancient pathways" before.
The field of life on this planet earth provides the appropriate setting where the evolutionary experience for the family of kingdoms belonging to it can naturally occur. "Selection," "mutation," "adaptation," etc., are seen as secondary operations affecting, though not fully explaining, the process. The fossil record, sketchy and imperfect as it is, as well as other paleontological data, do not confirm the scenario of blood, tooth, and claw in the competitive "struggle for life" as the total picture. On the contrary, Dr. de Purucker points out that there is as much if not more evidence denoting mutual cooperation, upon which innumerable life-systems depend for their existence.
Nor does the fossil record -- or embryological, molecular, or other data -- unquestionably prove uniserial, end-on evolution from atom up to ape, with man the direct progeny of some, up to now unknown, pithecoid ancestor. Citing illustrations from comparative anatomical structures in conjunction with biogenetic law, the author perceives a quite different picture. Man's skeletal and muscular architecture is more primitive than that of the simian stocks, and since it seems to be one of the axioms of evolutionary theory that specializations do not revert back to their primitive form, a reasonable inference is that the monkeys and apes are a departure from, rather than the progenitors of, the early human races. Man, i.e. genus Homo, showing primacy in development, came first.
In view of more recent findings, such as those of Finnish paleontologist Bjorn Kurten, this deduction is far less startling to some scientists today than in 1888 when the thesis was re-presented and clarified in The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky. Furthermore, it is stated that "man," not as he is now, but as he was scores and even hundreds of millions of years ago, preceded not only the simians, but physically was the repository of the kingdoms below him -- the lower phyla each developing along its own evolutionary lines away from this "protohuman" parent trunk of the tree of life. Here, then, the vexed question of the discontinuity, the vast gaps in the fossil record of the ascending series of life-forms up to man finds a logical and supportable explanation. It is to be understood, of course, that the primordial human stock in its origins was of extremely simple structure -- more ethereal than physical, and resembling in shape the ovoid feature recapitulated by the embryological protoplast of man today. As he developed, new types of increasing complexity diverged from him, becoming in time the various genera of species we are presently familiar with. Using this as background, Dr. de Purucker then traces man's links with all the kingdoms -- spiritual, psychological, as well as genetic -- showing an intimacy of relation that urges one to review seriously the responsibility he shares with everyone else in promoting the welfare, growth and protection of all creatures including himself.
We may well ask about the value of reading a book whose material was originally delivered in the form of lectures in the late 1920s -- especially in the light of the plentiful and revolutionary discoveries in paleoanthropology, DNA research, etc., made since that time. The author points out that theosophical principles are unchanging, and it is these he wished primarily to relate, comparing and contrasting them for purposes of illustration with the then prevailing scientific theories. As a matter of fact, the "accepted" evolutionary picture today is far more compatible with that of theosophy. In this connection, the reader is provided with two valuable appendices: one by Charles J. Ryan, comparing the geological time scale of contemporary science with the theosophical chronology; and the other by Blair A. Moffett, summarizing recent scientific findings in various disciplines which in many instances tend to substantiate the book's thesis.
The net effect of Man in Evolution will of course vary with each reader, and will depend largely upon his background. For those reared in the atmosphere of the current scientific explanations of human origins or for those who have sought in traditional theology the spiritual element they feel to be lacking in the former, the theosophical history of man may present both a challenge and are solution. Although it appears to be a radically new concept of life, we are told that, like the heart of man, it is as old as the living being we call earth.
More remarkable, however, is the fact that we are encouraged not to be content even with these ideas. No matter how well they may answer the questions we have of life, these are thoughts derived from another's experience, not our own. Life itself, we are assured, will be -- and indeed is -- the proof of their validity. By discriminating search, first within ourselves, and then in nature, as well as into the sacred and legendary lore of the world, we shall find confirmed that all beings -- from elemental to galactic and beyond -- are divinely-sprung creatures of infinite potential in the process of becoming greater expressions of the divinity within. Thus, in the very effort of search, each of us will be fulfilling, in part, the evolutionary mandate that is ours.