On Becoming Fully Human
Magazine Article: Theosophy in Australia, June 2004
The human being is one of Nature´s myriad expressions—unique, gifted with mind, yet a being of mystery with heights yet to be scaled.
What does being fully human imply? To the world at large, being human may be different from the vision of humanity which is portrayed in the Perennial Wisdom tradition. Being human, to many, may imply a certain dominion over the earth, leading to competition, aggression and exploitation—with a little kindness thrown in. Some may think that humanity is at its pinnacle now. But one theosophical writer, Emily Sellon, has even spoken of humanity as incipient, implying that most of our evolution, or perhaps the most significant phase of our evolution, is yet to come.
Whatever the case may be, it seems we have a long journey ahead. In this context, it is useful to bear in mind one of the most well-known comments in The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett from one of his spiritual teachers, ‘… it is “Humanity” which is the great Orphan, the only disinherited one upon the earth, my friend.’ (Mahatma Letters, chronological edition, Letter #15)
What are the characteristics of an orphan? If humanity is an orphan then it is somehow cut off from its parents, its bloodline. In a broader sense, we could assume that humanity is severed from its roots, its spiritual bloodline or spiritual inheritance. In this sense, we might say that many humans seem to be cut off from their roots. If this is truly so, then in the main we are devoid of that sustenance which might propel us eventually towards the refined air of Atman, Self, pure consciousness, our essence. For it is from this, the core of our being, that all of the human principles are said to emerge and ultimately return. As Shirley Nicholson has written, ‘We travel from our home in atman into the world to gain experience and return to that home enriched by the journey.’ Therefore, becoming fully human involves a journey—one of monumental proportions.
What is the essence of this journey? We might describe it as the unfoldment of inner wisdom as a result of worldly experience, which is certainly not something that can take place during the course of a single life. Are we alive to the journey? How do we create an opening in order to access that core of our being which is at once the beginning and end of our journey—we might even say, our spiritual birth right? We will consider here:
The human being as a living system
Creating an opening for renewal to take place, and
Some speculative thoughts on what becoming fully human might mean
The Human Being as a Living System
Our International President has used the term ‘human regeneration’ as the essence of all theosophical work. To regenerate means to ‘breathe new life’ into something. Perhaps that is what happens during the later stages of human evolution. That which is old ultimately has to become new. Therefore, being alive, truly living, is an intimate part of the regenerative process.
Rohit Mehta has mentioned that living systems are sources of regeneration. He observed that, according to the principle of entropy in physical science, everything in the universe is running down steadily toward thermodynamic equilibrium, or death and extinction. This running down involves an irreversible loss of energy. However, he quotes the late Ilya Prigogine who, he said, provided hope. Prigogine said that order and organisation can arise ‘spontaneously’ out of disorder and chaos, through the process of ‘self-organisation’. Therefore, a reversal of the flow of energy can take place in a self-organising system, but not in a mechanistic one.
According to Rohit Mehta, a self-organising system is one which is living. With a machine, fresh energy has to be given from outside. But in a living organism we have self-organisation. For example, he points out that it is possible for a human body to heal a wound (we could add, at least one that is not too large). And then he made some important observations: ‘A living system is open, not closed.’ In other words, there is a free exchange between itself and the environment, along with a certain flexibility. A living system may bend when required, but soon recovers its original state. Also, it is vulnerable, in fact extremely fragile, appearing as though it will break but being prevented from breaking by its inherent strength. A living system gets back its lost energy and, in fact, contains the secret of regeneration.
The human body has quite remarkable physical regenerative abilities, in various ways— provided, of course, that it is properly sustained and fed appropriately by its environment. For human spiritual regeneration we may be able to draw parallels with this description of a living system, which requires a different kind of sustenance. What might be the requirements of a human living system which contains the potential of spiritual renewal?
Open/free exchange: We have been told that in a living system there is a free exchange with the environment. Consider for a moment that spiritual regeneration requires a mind (which is the pivotal point of a human living system) that is not closed off from its environment, which allows a free flow of ideas and perceptions — tempered, hopefully, by viveka or spiritual discernment. It is said that the awakened faculty of manas and its attendant self-consciousness makes us uniquely human. A living mind can develop great capacity. Somehow we need to be able to take the world within. Ultimately, to use HPB´s terminology, the human mind can ‘embrace the universe’.
Flexibility: A living system, Rohit Mehta said, may bend when required, but soon recovers its original state. Is it possible to become inherently flexible? This is reminiscent of that beautiful statement in The Voice of the Silence which says that the stalks of the holy germs which sprout and grow unseen in the disciple´s Soul wax strong at each new trial, bend like reeds but never break. When we become rigid, life does not flow, we create barriers to life, we can become brittle and perhaps snap, unable to cope with life´s many changes which seem to have proceeded almost exponentially in recent decades.
Vulnerability/Strength: According to Rohit Mehta, a living system is vulnerable, even fragile, yet inherently strong. We have here, of course, a paradox, which is also the language of the spirit. Therefore, by analogy, human beings need two things: We need strength in order to sustain the inevitable transmutation of the personality so that the inner being can emerge. This strength, it is suggested, is gained through the trials and challenges of life. But we also need an opening of the heart in order to become vulnerable, to be able to temper that strength with compassion and sensitivity.
So attributes such as an open mind, flexibility, strength and vulnerability, provide an environment in which renewal can take place. This is no mere poetic fancy. One meaning of ‘regenerate’ is to ‘inspirit’. The regenerate human being is therefore a person who is inspirited, in whom the spiritual nature is awakened, a dynamic living system of a high order. Perhaps, in this sense, we could say that most human beings are not yet fully living systems.
Keys to Creating an Opening for Renewal
How do we create an opening to renew ourselves and become fully alive?
The term ‘Divine discontent’ will be familiar to many. Somehow, discontent seems to be an important element within the human spiritual journey. But there is discontent— and then there is discontent! Often discontent can result in destructiveness. However, as Rohit Mehta pointed out, regeneration can take place only through individuals who are afire with constructive discontent — not those who are well adapted to the prevalent environment. Therefore, complacency or satisfaction with our lives is not likely to lead to fundamental change. It is also clear that the nature of this discontent should be constructive rather than destructive. The spiritual journey requires a certain orientation away from worldly things while, for most of us, remaining and acting in the world. Some might take the extreme step of monastic life but for most spiritually aware individuals, the trick is to be able to live a fairly simple and discerning life within the noise of worldly culture.
N. Sri Ram perhaps echoed this need for discontent when he wrote ‘that which is static cannot create’. It follows that if we are too content, renewal is not possible. He wrote: ‘Theosophy should be to us a creative force, a wisdom which re-creates ourselves. In those who are able to receive its fire into their hearts the transformation begins. At present we are vessels of clay, opaque, lacking strength and lustre, a non-conducting medium.’ That which is opaque does not transmit light, cannot be a conveyor of light. Therefore, if we are clay-like or opaque, the light of subtler realms cannot enter our consciousness, let alone be transmitted by us.
It seems that creating space for an opening occurs gradually at first, perhaps fed by this level of constructive discontent with the world or our circumstances. But that opening or bridge will become wider when the process of discontent becomes increasingly conscious, tempered by altruism. It also seems that life doesn´t get any easier at this point! As Madame Blavatsky wrote on the subject of spiritual progress (CW, Vol. VI, p. 331):
From the Vedas and Upanishads to the recently published Light on the Path, search as we may through the bibles of every race and cult, we find but one only way,—hard, painful, troublesome, by which man can gain the true spiritual insight. The true Adept, the developed man, must, we are always told, become — he cannot be made. The process is therefore one of growth through evolution, and this must necessarily involve a certain amount of pain.
Therefore, the process has its painful challenges, especially during the later reaches of the human journey. Also, it is clear that we are not made fully human by some outside agency. Rather, this is a conscious process for each individual. Help is available up to a point, from spiritual teachings or spiritual teachers. However, life itself ultimately provides the conditions for the opening or bridge to be made manifest, in order for human spiritual evolution to proceed.
What is this bridge or, should we say, this opening? In theosophical terminology a word which is commonly used is antahkarana (sometimes called antaskarana). HPB describes it as the path or bridge between the higher and lower aspects of manas, which serves as a medium of communication between the two. But it is also said that this term relates to several such bridges or openings between a number of centres in the human being, links of ‘vibrating consciousness-substance’. This gives us a sense that an antahkarana is very much alive, in motion.
If an antahkarana can unite certain centres within the human being, then it somehow performs a binding function. This is reminiscent of fohat, that essence of kosmic electricity or kosmic consciousness, which is said to be ever-present from the beginning until the end of a universe, that living universal energy which also has a binding or uniting effect on life. In a similar way, a permanently open antahkarana can bind us to our higher or inner nature, reuniting us with our Source.
When that antahkarana which bridges the two aspect of manas opens us to the interior of the mind, great creative human insights can occur — insights into science, insights into life, truth, and so forth.
The question arises: How do we create this opening, this bridge? The process may occur more consciously when the mind has the ability to be aware but quiet, such as in times of reflective contemplation or meditation. In fact, this antahkarana may open and close quite regularly in a person whose focus of consciousness is not fully immersed in the material world.
Radical Development / Purification
Does the acquisition of powers assist the process of renewal?
HPB has a very interesting answer to this question, which is relevant here. Some might think of the journey towards adeptship as a cumulative process—developing additional faculties and powers. However, this is what she has to say:
Many persons seem to think that adeptship is not so much the result of radical development as of additional construction; they seem to imagine that an Adept is a man who … acquires first one power and then another; and when he has attained a certain number of these powers is forthwith dubbed an adept. (H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, VI, p.333)
Uncompromisingly, she calls the acquisition of powers in order to become an Adept a ‘mistaken fancy’, while acknowledging that ‘powers’ such as clairvoyance and travelling out of the body do tend to fascinate the most. The TS, she observed, was not founded to teach new and easy paths to the acquisition of ‘powers’; rather, its mission is to ‘re-kindle the torch of truth so long extinguished for all but the very few, and to keep that truth alive by the formation of a fraternal union of mankind; the only soil in which the good seed can grow’. It is said that certain inner powers develop in the course of evolution anyway. If we seek to develop them, it is probably premature. How wise to focus, instead, on creating a union of humanity, the ‘only soil in which the good seed can grow’ — that seed which does not sprout from the soil of the personal self.
HPB used the term ‘radical development’ in this quotation as a contrast. What might this mean? That which is radical is fundamental or primary. So radical development could be considered as that change or development which makes way for our fundamental or primary nature to emerge.
We may surmise that the permanent opening or bridge to our inner nature, the antahkarana, is formed by radical development, which involves the purification and transmutation of what already exists within us, rather than adding to our store of qualities, powers and abilities.
This brings us to another key to renewal, which is an intimate aspect of radical development …
Rather than acquiring powers, our first and most important task is surely to see ourselves truthfully. Sri Ram gave some hints about this in a talk called ‘A Revolution in Oneself’. He observed that we need to be aware of what is within our consciousness in the first instance, before radical change (HPB´s ‘radical development’) can take place. He likened the reactions and ideas present in the mind to a kind of sack with varied contents, with its mouth nearly closed, packed with information about the world. He suggested that our thinking moves largely around and in between these ideas. This perspective might not, in fact, be too far fetched. By turning the mind inside out we empty it, so that it is no longer the mind as we know it but a pure expanse of consciousness with nothing adhering to it. Then we can clearly see what is there. Even if we cannot turn the mind inside out permanently, perhaps we can try it at least temporarily when a problem presents itself. This may assist considerably with self-understanding.
Sri Ram went even further. He said that when everything the mind holds is let go of, then the consciousness, which is indestructible and extraordinarily elastic, is restored to its original condition, without any distortion, free of association with past contents, pure and capable of reflecting truth. This might seem to us almost an impossibility, but meditative moments could help gradually prepare us for this type of mind. In any event, for most of us it is probably a gradual process.
This brings us to one more key to renewal:
It is Sri Ram´s next comment which is perhaps the most important:
The mind´s condition, when pure, is one of humility, in which alone there is the possibility of wisdom.
What does humility actually mean? It does not mean self-deprecation, which implies that we might really like to be more important. Rather, humility is likened by Sri Ram to the darkness of an extraordinarily sensitive photographic film or plate in which everything is truly reflected. He describes it as a state of ‘masterful negativity in which everything positive within its field is automatically comprehended’. Therefore any assertion of oneself has to cease for humility to exist. This, then, is the state in which the antahkarana to our inner nature can be fully opened: through purity and a genuinely humble nature.
Six possible keys to renewal have been suggested here: discontent, effort, opening, radical development/transmutation, self-observation and humility.
Becoming Fully Human — What Might it Mean?
These keys might be of assistance. Yet part of the wonder of the journey to full ‘humanhood’ is that in many ways it is a mystery which draws us onwards. It clearly involves the cultivation of a different mode of living. The Perennial Wisdom teachings may help us, but they need to be seamlessly integrated into our lives, rather than impounded by our minds. There is another thought from Sri Ram which is pertinent here:
Theosophy has to be understood in the heart, but it must issue through the hands — that is, in acts in various ways. In other words, it has to transform our living. We have to live differently … bring into each individual act of our lives, a new quality … Therefore, every department of life can be illuminated, can be beautiful, can be spiritualized, re-created, put into new shape, by this wisdom which we call Theosophy. (‘The Theosophical Revolution’)
The journey to our full humanity is therefore a series of re-creations, rebirths, renaissances, transformations involving every department of life.
We have the potential to give each aspect of our life a new form, to spiritualise it, to re-create it. But if we regard each expansion of consciousness as a fixed achievement on which we can build, then we have missed the point. For it seems that transformation is a qualitative experience rather than quantitative in nature. As an analogy, we can think of a body of water as a symbol for a human being. The quantity of water does not vary. However, we can change it by running it through filters. Each filter consists of some type of quality. However, we cannot quantify exactly how much filtration needs to take place before the water (us) changes qualitatively into the most perfect representation possible of what it is essentially.
In a similar way, the evolving human being may eventually tend to adopt an increasingly qualitative, rather than a quantitative, approach to life.
As a new quality of consciousness occurs through one transformation, it seems that something else dies or disappears or, at least, is transmuted. Ultimately, when we die to the old or that which is impermanent, we transmute or change our nature, open ourselves to what we are essentially, to that aspect of our nature which is more lasting. Each human being ultimately brings forth, through svabhava — self-generation or regeneration — his or her uniqueness.
When Does Human Renewal Take Place?
It would seem, from our literature, that more dramatic transformations of consciousness occur as a result of our experiences in physical life, but in silence, not uncommonly after some kind of interior storm. As Light on the Path says (p.37):
Look for the flower to bloom in the silence that follows the storm; not till then. … not until the whole nature has yielded and become subject unto its higher Self, can the bloom open. Then will come a calm such as comes in a tropical country after the heavy rain … And in the deep silence the mysterious event will occur which will prove that the way has been found. … The silence may last a moment of time or it may last a thousand years. But it will end. Yet you will carry its strength with you. Again and again the battle must be fought and won. It is only for an interval that Nature can be still.
So the process is repeated again and again until, from an incipient human being, a fully realised human being emerges. Each of us, if shown an image of what we might become as a fully realised human being, might even find that we are totally unrecognisable. Such, it seems, is the extent of the regenerative effect of becoming fully human.
What, then, does it mean to be fully human? We might tentatively say that to be fully human is to realise our uniqueness, to live totally differently with a pure mind and a genuinely humble nature, to be a ‘mere beneficent force in nature’, to use HPB´s words. It is to open ourselves to the life of the universe, to be a living system, to be what we are naturally, interiorly, ever vitalised by that which is unchanging and stainless. Self-centredness with its attendant aggression, self-justification, ambition and so forth, would be transmuted into Self-centredness, being firmly established in that within us which is universal, yet unique. The inspiring teaching that Mahatmas or Great Souls exist, suggests that it is possible eventually to experience a deep and abiding joy which will remain unshaken by life´s vicissitudes. Such a human being will indeed be a potent centre of peace, expanding into further vistas of evolution that we can scarcely imagine. Then the orphan will reunite with its true bloodline, its spiritual heart. Then—only then—will we know who we truly are.
Barker, A. Trevor (transcrib. & comp), The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, chronological edition, TPH, Philippines, 1993.
Blavatsky, H.P., ‘Spiritual Progress’ in H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Vol. VI, reprinted from The Theosophist, May 1885.
Blavatsky, H.P., Theosophical Glossary, The Theosophy Company, Los Angeles, 1966.
Collins, Mabel, Light on the Path, TPH, Adyar, 1982.
De Purucker, Gottfried, Occult Glossary, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, 1972.
Mehta, Rohit, ‘The Secret of Regeneration’, in Theosophical Digest, TPH, Philippines, 2nd Quarter 1998.
Sellon, Emily, The Pilgrim and the Pilgrimage, Wisdom Tradition Books, The Theosophical Society in America, Wheaton, 1996.
Nicholson, Shirley, ‘Who am I? What Does it Mean to be Human?’ in The American Theosophist, Late Summer 1995.
Sri Ram, N., ‘A Revolution in Oneself’, in The Theosophist, March 1965.
Sri Ram, N., ‘The Theosophical Revolution’, in Theosophy in Australia, December 1951.
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Linda Oliveira is National President of the Theosophical Society in Australia.