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The Consciousness of the Atom
Lecture V - The Evolution of Consciousness

Last week we studied, very inadequately, the evolution of man, the thinker, the tenant of the bodies, and the one who uses them during the cycle of evolution. We saw that he was the summation of the evolutions which had preceded him. We led up to our study of that evolution in two previous lectures in which we considered first the substance, or atomic matter prior to its building up into a form, or the tiny atom before it was incorporated in a vehicle of some kind. Then we studied the building of forms by means of the great law of attraction, which gathered the atoms together, causing them to cohere and vibrate in unison, and thus producing a form, or an aggregation of atoms. We came to the recognition that in atomic substance we had one aspect of the Godhead, of the Deity, and of the central Force or energy of the solar system, manifesting under the aspect of intelligence, and we saw that in the form aspect of nature another quality of the Deity became manifest, that of love or attraction, the cohesive force which holds [98] the form unified. Then we studied the human being, or man, and noted how in him all the three divine aspects met; and recognized man as a central will manifesting through a form composed of atoms, and demonstrating the three qualities of God, that of intelligence, of love-wisdom, and of will or power.

Today we are stepping out of the matter aspect of manifestation with which we have been dealing in the previous lectures, into the consideration of the consciousness within the form. We have seen that the atom may be regarded as the central life, manifesting through a spheroidal form, and showing the quality of mind; but the human atom may also be considered as a central positive life, utilizing a form and demonstrating the different qualities we have enumerated; and then we said that, if we were right in our hypothesis about the atom, if we were right in considering the human being as an atom, then we might extend this primary conception to the planet, and say that within the planetary atom there is a great Life, manifesting through a form, and showing specific qualities whilst working out a specified aim; and we extended this same concept also to the great sphere of the solar system, and to the Deity Who indwells it.

Let us take up the question of consciousness itself, and study the problem a little and concern [99] ourselves with the reaction of the life within the form. If I can thus give you a few general ideas in line with what has been said earlier, I shall be able to lay another stone upon the structure I am endeavoring to build.

The word consciousness comes from two Latin words: con, with; and scio, to know; and means literally "that with which we know." If you take a dictionary and look up this word you will find it defined somewhat as follows: "The state of being aware," or the condition of perceiving, the ability to respond to stimuli, the faculty of recognizing contacts, and the power to synchronize vibration. All these phrases might be included in any definition of consciousness, but the one I want to lay emphasis upon this evening is that which the Standard Dictionary gives, and which I have quoted earlier. The average thinker who takes up the majority of the textbooks dealing with this subject is apt to find them very confusing, for they divide consciousness and the state of being aware into numerous divisions and subdivisions, until one is left in a state of complete bewilderment. Tonight we will only touch upon three types of consciousness, which we might enumerate as follows: Absolute consciousness, universal consciousness, and individual consciousness, and of these three it is only possible, really, to define two in any way with clarity. [100]

Absolute consciousness, to the ordinary thinker, is practically impossible of recognition. It has been defined in one book as, "That consciousness in which everything is, the possible as well as the actual," and concerns everything that can be possibly conceived of as having occurred, or occurring, or going to occur. This is, possibly, absolute consciousness, and from the standpoint of the human being is the consciousness of God, Who contains within Himself the past, the present, and the future. What, then, is universal consciousness? It might be defined as consciousness, thinking time and space, consciousness with the idea of location and succession involved within it, or, in reality, group consciousness, the group itself forming either a greater or a lesser unit. Finally, individual consciousness may be defined as just as much of the universal consciousness as a separated unit can contact and can conceive of for itself.

Now, to understand these vague expressions - absolute, universal, and individual consciousness - it might be helpful if I endeavored somewhat to illustrate. It might be done as follows: In our earlier lectures we have seen that we must consider the atom in the human body as a little entity, a tiny, intelligent life, and a microscopic, active sphere. Now taking that little cell as our starting-point we may get, by its means, some concept of what these three types of consciousness [101] are, by viewing them from the standpoint of the atom and man. Individual consciousness to the tiny atom in a man's body would be its own vibratory life, its own internal activity, and all that specifically concerns itself. Universal consciousness to the little cell might be considered as the consciousness of the entire physical body, viewing it as the unit which incorporates the atom. Absolute consciousness to the atom might be considered as the consciousness of the thinking man who is energizing the body. That would be to the atom something so remote from its own inner internal life as to be practically inconceivable and unknown, yet it nevertheless sweeps into the line of its will the form and the atom within the form, and all that concerns them. This idea has only to be extended to man, considered as an atom or cell within the body of a great Entity, and one can then work out along similar lines this conception of a threefold consciousness. It might here be wise if we were to come down and consider more practical matters than absolute consciousness.

Occidental science is coming gradually to the conclusion of the esoteric philosophy of the East, that consciousness must be predicated not only of the animal and of the human being, but that it must be recognized also as extending through the vegetable on into the mineral kingdom, and that self-consciousness must be regarded as the [102] consummation of the evolutionary growth of consciousness in the three lower kingdoms. It is not possible in the short time now at my disposal, to go into that most fascinating study of the development of consciousness in the animal kingdom, in the vegetable kingdom, and its appearance also in the mineral kingdom; we should find, should we do so, that even minerals show symptoms of awareness, of reaction to stimuli; that they manifest signs of fatigue, and that it is possible to poison a mineral and to murder it, much as you can murder a human being. The fact that flowers have consciousness is being more readily recognized, and articles of very deep interest have been published on the consciousness of plants, opening up a very wide range of thought. We have seen that in atomic matter the only thing that we can safely predicate is that it shows intelligence, the power to select, and to discriminate. This is the predominant feature of consciousness as it manifests through the mineral kingdom. In the vegetable kingdom another quality appears, that of sensation or feeling of a rudimentary nature. It is responsive in a different way to the mineral. In the animal kingdom a third reaction appears; not only is the animal showing signs of sensation in greatly increased degree to the similar response in the vegetable kingdom, but it also shows signs of intellect, or embryo mind. Instinct is a recognized faculty of all animal units, and [103] the word comes from the same root as the word "instigate." When the power to instigate begins within any animal form it is a sign that an embryo mentality is beginning to manifest. In all these kingdoms you have different grades and types of consciousness showing themselves, whilst in man you have the first symptoms of self-consciousness, or the faculty in man whereby he becomes aware that he is a separated identity, that he is the indwelling impulse within the body, and the one who is in process of becoming aware by means of these bodies. This has been long taught in the East, and "esoteric philosophy teaches that everything lives and is conscious, but that not all life and consciousness is similar to the human," and it also emphasizes the fact that "vast intervals exist between the consciousness of the atom and of the flower, between that of a flower and a man, between that of a man and a God." As Browning has said: "In man begins anew a tendency to God." He is not a God yet, but a God in the making; he is working out the image of God, and will some day produce it in perfection. He is the one who is seeking to demonstrate the subjective, divine, threefold life through the medium of the objective.

The method of the evolutionary development of consciousness in a human being is but a repetition on a higher turn of the spiral, of the two stages which we noted in the evolution of the [104] atom, that of atomic energy and of group coherence. In the world at present can be seen the human family at the atomic stage of manifestation, leading on to a goal not yet achieved, the group stage.

If there is one thing apparent to all of us who are in any way interested in the faculty of awareness, and who are in the habit of noting that which passes around us, it is that of the different grades of mentality which we meet everywhere, and the different types of consciousness among men. We meet people who are alert, alive, aware of all that is going on, keenly conscious, responsive to thought currents of various kinds in human affairs, and conscious of contacts of every kind; then we meet people who seem to be asleep; there is apparently so little that interests them; they seem utterly unaware of contact; they are yet in a stage of inertia, and are not capable of responding to much outer stimuli; they are not mentally alive. One notices it, also, in children; some respond so quickly, while others we call stupid. It is not really that one is more or less essentially stupid than another; it is simply due to the inner stage of evolution of the child, to its more frequent incarnations, and the longer period that it has been occupied in becoming aware.

Let us now take the two stages, the atomic and the form stage, and see how the consciousness of the human being develops, bearing ever in mind [105] that in the human atom is stored up all that has been gained in the earlier stages in the three lower kingdoms of nature. Man is the gainer by that vast evolutionary process which lies behind him. He starts with all that has been gained therein latent within him. He is self-conscious, and has before him a definite goal, the attainment of group consciousness. For the atom of substance the goal had been the attainment of self-consciousness. For the human being the goal is a greater Consciousness, and a wider range of awareness.

The atomic stage which we are now considering is, for us, a peculiarly interesting one, because it is the stage in which the majority of the human family find themselves. In it we pass through the period (a most necessary one) of self-centeredness, that cycle in which the man is principally concerned with his own affairs, with that which primarily interests him, and lives his own intense, internal, vibratory life. For a long period back of us, and perhaps at the present stage (for I do not believe that many of us would feel insulted if we were not regarded as having attained perfection, or having achieved the goal), we are most of us intensely selfish, and only mentally interested in the things that are going on in the world, and then probably because our hearts are touched, and we do not like being uncomfortable, or we are interested because it is the fashion; and yet, [106] in spite of this mental attitude, our whole attention is focused upon the things which concern our own individual life. We are in the atomic stage, intensely active in connection with our own personal problems. Watch the throngs in the streets of any great city, and you will see everywhere people in the atomic stage, centered entirely in themselves, occupied only with their own business, intent upon their own pleasure getting, desirous only of having a good time, and only incidentally occupied with affairs which concern the group. This is a necessary and protective stage, and one of essential value to every unit of the human family. The realization of this, therefore, will surely lead us all to be patient with our brothers and sisters who may so often irritate us.

What are the two factors whereby we evolve in and out of the atomic stage? In the Orient for many ages the method of evolution has been regarded as a twofold one. A man has been taught that he evolves and becomes aware first by means of the five senses, and later through the development of the faculty of discrimination, coupled with dispassion. Here in the West we have primarily emphasized the five senses, and have not taught that discrimination which is so essential. If you watch the development of a little child you will become aware, for instance, that a baby develops the five senses in a certain [107] ordered sequence, usually. The first sense it develops is hearing; it will move its head when there is a noise. Then the next sense to be noted is that of touch, and it begins to feel about with its little hands. The third sense which seems to awaken is that of sight. I do not mean by this that a baby cannot see, or that it is born blind, like a kitten, but it is often several weeks before a baby consciously sees and looks with recognition. The faculty has always been there, but there has been no realization. So it is with the graded expansions of consciousness and realizations that lie ahead of man today. In these three paramount, or major senses, hearing, touch, and sight, you have a very interesting analogy to and connection with the threefold manifestation of Deity, the self, the not-self, and the relation between. The self, occultly, hears and responds to vibration, thus realizing Itself. It becomes aware of the not-self, and of its tangibility, through touch, but it is only when sight or conscious recognition comes in that the relation between the two is established. Two more senses are utilized by the self in making its contacts, those of taste and smell, but they are not so essential to the development of intelligent awareness as are the other three. Through these five senses we make every contact that it is possible to make upon the physical plane; through them we learn, we grow, we become aware, and we develop; through them all [108] the great instincts are evolved; they are the great protective senses, not only enabling us to contact our environment, but also protecting us from that environment.

Having, then, learnt to be intelligent units by means of these five senses, and having, through their medium, expanded our consciousness, we reach a certain crisis, and another factor comes in, that of intelligent discrimination. Here I am referring to the discrimination which a self-conscious unit demonstrates. I refer to that conscious choice which you and I evidence, and which we will be forced to utilize as the power of evolution drives us on to the point where we will learn to distinguish between the self and the not self, between the real and the unreal, between the life within the form, and the form which it uses, between the knower and that which is known. Here we have the whole object of evolution, the attainment of the consciousness of the real self through the medium of the not-self.

We pass through a long period or cycle of many lives, wherein we identify ourselves with the form, and are so one with the not-self that we recognize no difference, being entirely occupied with the things which are transient and impermanent. It is this identification with the not-self which leads to all the pain, dissatisfaction, and sorrow in the world, and yet we must remember that through [109] this reaction of the self to the not-self we inevitably learn, and finally break loose from the impermanent and the unreal. This cycle of identification with the unreal parallels the stage of individual consciousness. As the atom of substance has to find its way into some form, and add its quota of vitality to a greater unit, so through the evolutionary development of consciousness the human atom has likewise to reach a point where it recognizes its place in a greater Whole, and shoulders its responsibility in group activity. This is the stage which a great number of the human family are now approaching. Men are realizing, as never before, the difference between the real and the unreal, between the permanent and the impermanent; through pain and suffering they are awakening to the recognition that the not-self suffices not, and they are searching without and also within for that which will more adequately meet their needs. Men are seeking to understand themselves, to find the kingdom of God within themselves, and through Mental Science, New Thought, and the study of psychology they will arrive at certain realizations which will prove invaluable to the human race. The indication is therefore to be found that the form stage is rapidly approaching, and that men are passing out of the atomic period into something infinitely better and greater. Man is beginning [110] to sense the vibration of that greater Life within Whose body he is but as an atom, and he is commencing, in a small way, to make a conscious response to that greater call, and to find possible channels whereby he can understand that greater Life which he senses, but as yet does not know. If he persists in this, he will find the group to which he belongs, and will then change his center. No longer will he be limited by his own little atomic wall, but he will pass beyond it, and become, in his turn, a conscious, active, intelligent part of the greater whole.

And how is this change brought about? The atomic stage was developed by means of the five senses, and through the utilization of the faculty of discrimination. The stage at which a man awakens to group realization, and becomes a conscious participant in the activities of the group, is brought about in two ways: through meditation, and through a series of initiations. Now when I use the word "meditation" I do not mean what is perhaps usually understood by that word, a negative, receptive state of mind, or a state of trance. There is much misconception these days as to what meditation really is, and there is a great deal of so-called meditation which has been truly described by a person not so long ago, as "I shut my eyes, and open my mouth, and wait for something to happen." The true meditation [111] is something that requires the most intense application of the mind, the utmost control of thought, and an attitude which is neither negative nor positive, but an equal balance between the two. In the Eastern Scriptures the man who is attempting meditation and achieving its results, is described as follows - and from a consideration of these words may come much help and illumination to us: "The Maha Yogi, the great ascetic, in whom is centered the highest perfection of austere penance and abstract meditation, by which the most unlimited powers are attained, marvels and miracles are worked, the highest spiritual knowledge is acquired, and union with the great Spirit of the universe is eventually attained." Here this union with the group life is held to be the product of meditation, and there is no other method of attainment.

True meditation (of which the preliminary stages are concentration upon and application to any particular line of thought) will differ for different people and different types. The religious man, the mystic, will center his attention upon the life within the form, upon God, upon Christ, or upon that which embodies for him the ideal. The business man, or the professional man, who, during his hours of work, is one-pointedly centered upon the matter he has on hand, and who keeps his attention fixed upon the particular problem [112] he has to solve, is learning to meditate. Later on, when he comes to the more spiritual aspect of meditation, he will find that he has covered the hardest part of the road. The person who is reading a difficult book, and reads with the full force and power of his brain, getting at that which lies behind the written word, may be meditating as much as it is possible for him to meditate at this time. I say this for our encouragement, because we live in a cycle in which books about meditation are found. All of them embody some aspect of the truth, and may be doing much good, but they may not embody that which is best for any particular individual. We need to find our own way of concentrating, to ascertain our own method of approach to that which lies within, and to study for ourselves this question of meditation.

I would like here to sound a word of warning. Avoid those schools and methods which combine forms of breathing exercises with meditation, which teach different types of physical postures, and teach their students to center their attention upon physical organs or centers. Those who follow these methods are heading towards disaster, and apart from the physical dangers involved, and the risk of insanity and nervous disorders, they are occupying themselves with the form, which is limitation, and not with the spirit, which is life. The goal will not be achieved that way. [113] For most of us the intellectual concentration which results in mind control, and the ability to think clearly and to think only that which we wish to think, must precede true meditation, which is a thing few people know much about. This true meditation, which it is impossible for me to enlarge upon here, will result in a definite change of polarization, will open up to man ranges of experiences undreamed of hitherto, will reveal to him contacts that as yet he does not realize, and will enable him to find his place within the group. He will be no longer confined by the wall of his personal life, but will begin to merge that life within the greater whole. He will no longer be occupied with the things of selfish interest, but will give his attention to the problems of the group. He will no longer give his time to the culture of his own identity, but will seek to understand that greater Identity of which he is a part. This is really what all advanced men are beginning more or less to do. Little as the average man may realize it, great thinkers, such as Edison and others, arrive at a solution of their problems along the line of meditation. By a brooding concentration, by a constant recollection, and by strenuous application to the particular line of thought which interests them, they produce results, they tap the inner reservoirs of inspiration and of power, and bring down from [114] the higher levels of the mental plane results which benefit the group. When we ourselves have done a certain amount of work along the line of meditation, when we are cultivating group interest and not self-interest, when we have developed physical bodies that are strong and clean, and emotional bodies that are controlled, and not swayed by desire, when we have mental bodies that are our instruments and not our masters, then we shall know the true meaning of meditation.

When a man has made his contact through meditation with the group to which he belongs, and becomes, therefore, ever more and more group conscious, he is then in a position to take what are called a series of initiations. These initiations are simply expansions of consciousness, brought about with the help of Those Who have already achieved the goal, Who have already identified Themselves with the group, and Who are a conscious part of the body of the Heavenly Man. With Their assistance, and through Their aid, a man will gradually awaken to the realization that is Theirs.

There is great interest everywhere today in this subject of initiation, and an over-emphasis has been laid upon its ceremonial aspect. We need to remember that every great unfoldment of consciousness is an initiation. Every step forward along the path of awareness is an initiation. [115] When an atom of substance was built into the form, it was for that atom an initiation. It became aware of another type of force, and its range of contact became wider. When the consciousness of the vegetable and animal kingdom merged, and the life passed from the lower kingdom into the higher, that was an initiation. When the consciousness of the animal expanded into that of the human being, still another great initiation took place. All the four kingdoms have been entered by an initiation, or through an expansion of consciousness. Ahead of the human family lies now the fifth, or spiritual kingdom, and it is likewise entered through a certain initiation, as can be seen by those who intelligently read their New Testament. And in all these cases these initiations have been brought about by the help of Those who already know. Thus we have within the evolutionary scheme not great gaps between one kingdom and another, and between one state of awareness and another, but a gradual development of consciousness, and one in which we, each one of us, have had and will have our share. If we can remember this universality of initiation we shall have a better proportioned point of view in connection with it. Every time that we become more aware of our environment, and our mental content is increased, it is an initiation on a tiny scale. Every time [116] our horizon widens, and we think and see more broadly, it is an initiation, and herein to us lies the value of life itself, and the greatness of our opportunity.

One point I wish to make here is this: every initiation has to be self-initiated. That final stage when definite help is brought to us from outside sources is not achieved because there are great Beings anxious to help us, Who come to us where we are and seek to lift us. It comes to us because we have done the necessary work, and nothing can stop it coming. It is our right. Those who have achieved can and will and do aid and assist us, but Their hands are tied until we have done our share of the undertaking. Nothing therefore that we do to increase our usefulness in the world, no steps that we take to build better bodies, no effort that we make to gain self-control and to equip our mental body, is ever lost; it is all something which we are adding to the total we are piling up, which will some day bring us to a great revelation, and every hourly, daily effort that we make, swells the tide of energy which will sweep us to the portal of initiation. The meaning of the word "initiation" is "to go into." It means simply that an initiate is one who has taken the first steps into the spiritual kingdom, and has had the first series of spiritual revelations, each one of which is a key to a still greater revelation. [119]