The Hidden Work of Nature
First Published 1915
Never, in the history of mankind, has there been a time as to-day when it could be so truly said that,
old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
is true that “the man in the street” knows of no such great change ; life for
him moves as of old in its fixed grooves, and if the world’s progress has
multiplied for him life’s conveniences, it has also multiplied for him life’s
needs. Change to him is largely a matter of a surplus of comforts over pains,
and in this regard the old order has changed but little for him. But the man in
the library, the laboratory, the studio, the pulpit, is aware of the great
change, and he knows that it began with the work of Darwin and his school.
The importance of the work of modern scientists lies in the fact that they have marshaled for us the events of nature into an orderly pageant of evolution. What exoteric religion has not been able to do, science has achieved, and that is to show Life as one. Technological trinities of Creator, Creation, and Creature, or dualities of God and Man, have not unified life for us in the way science has done. Mysticism alone, with its truth of the Immanence, has revealed to men something of that unified existence of all that is, which is the logical deduction from modern evolutionary theories.
When we contemplate the pageant of nature, we see her at a work of building and un-building. From mineral to bacterium and plant, from microbe to animal and man, nature is busy at a visible work, step by step evolving higher and more complex structures. Though she may seem at first sight to work blindly and mechanically, she has in reality a coherent plan of action. Her plan is to evolve structures stage by stage, so that the amount of time needed by a given creature for its self-protection and sustenance may be less and less with each successive generation. The higher the structure is in its organization and adaptability, the more time, and hence more energy, there is free for other purposes of life than sustenance and procreation.
Two elements in life arise from the perfection of the structural mechanism which the higher order of creatures reveals. First, they have time for play, for it is in play that such energy manifests as is not required for gaining food and shelter. The second element manifests itself only when human beings appear in evolution, and men begin to show a desire for adaptability. Adaptability to environment exists in the plant and in the animal, but it is in them purely instinctive or mechanical; with man on the other hand there is an attempt at conscious adaptability.
When this desire for adaptability increases, nature reveals a new principle of evolution. To the principle of the survival of the fittest by a struggle for existence, she adds the new one of evolution by interdependence. Therefore we find human units aggregating themselves into groups, and primitive men organizing themselves into families and tribes.
Once more this means a saving of labor and time in the material struggle for existence. Some of both is now at nature’s disposal, to train men to discover new ways of life and action. To the play of the individual, there is added a communal life which makes civilization possible. For civilization means that some individuals in a community are dissatisfied with what contents all the others, and that therefore they are burning with a zeal for reform, and the spirit of reform sooner or later is inevitable in evolution. The survival of the fittest can only come about by that mysterious arrival of the fittest which no scientist can explain. Nature now ushers in “the fittest” in the few who are planning for reform. For reform means that organisms will consciously adapt themselves more and more to the exigencies of environment, for to each successive change to greater adaptability nature has something new to give.
Thus individual men and women become nature’s tools; she works with their hearts and minds and hands to create social and political activities. Religion and science and art appear among men; the struggle for existence is no longer nature’s sole means for bringing to realization her aim ; interdependence of units, and therewith reform, are the means which she uses now.
Then it is that nature proclaims to men that message which she has kept for them through the ages. It is the joy of social service. Strange and unreal, as yet, to most men is the thought of such joy. But evolution has only lately entered on this phase of her work, and ages must yet elapse before social service becomes instinctive in men as are now self-assertion and selfishness. That day must inevitably be the handful of reformers today are as the “missing links” of a chain which stretches forward from man to superman. As, from the isolation and selfishness of the of the brute, nature has evolved the interdependence of men, so too, is self-sacrifice the next logical step in her evolutionary Self-revelation.
A more inspiring picture there could hardly be than this, of nature at work on her building and un-building. Yet there are not a few dark shadows in the picture. So long as the individual lives only the few brief years of his life, so long as nothing of him remains as an individual after his death, there is a ruthlessness about nature which is appalling. Where is today “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome”? Some day there must be an end to nature’s work, in this planet at least where we live. There are dead suns in space, and some day our sun will die out, and every satellite of his will be a frozen world. Careful of the type, nature truly builds form after form, and will build for many an age yet to come. There is indeed a far-off event “to which the whole creation moves”, but it is to that state when living organisms shall lack the warmth from the sun which they need for life.
So long as we contemplate nature’s visible work only, not the greatest altruist but must now and then feel the shadow of great despair. That which alone makes life and self-sacrifice real and inspiring to great souls — the thought and the feeling that their work will endure forever — is lacking when we consider nature’s work in the light of modern science alone. Yet many an altruist would be content to die, and be nothing thereafter, if he could but feel that nature had some pity for his fate. Well the poet voices the feeling which arises from the conception of nature, or of a deity who is as passionless as nature; -
is pleasant, and friends may be nigh,
Fain would I speak one word and be spared ;
Yet I could be silent and cheerfully die,
If I were only sure God cared;
If I had faith and were only certain
That light is behind that terrible curtain.
It is here that Theosophy steps in to continue the work of science, and explain the true significance of nature’s manifestations. As modern science points to nature’s visible work, so Theosophy points to a Hidden Work of Nature.
There is a hidden Light which reveals to men that nature is but one expression of a Consciousness at work ; that this Consciousness is at work with a Plan of evolution; and that this Consciousness carries out its plan through us and through us alone. The moment that we realize the significance of this message of the Hidden Light, that men are immortal souls and not perishable bodies, we begin to see that, while careful of the type, nature is not less careful of the single life too. For then we see that nature’s latest phase, a fullness of life through social service, necessarily involves the recognition of men as souls; for it would be useless for nature slowly to fashion a reformer, unless she could utilize his ability and experience for greater reforms in the future.
That his specialized abilities shall not be
dissipated would surely then be logical, in a nature for which we postulate an
aim which persists from age to age.
It does not require much profound thought or speculation to deduce from this view of nature’s work that men live for ever as souls, and that, through reincarnation, they become fitter tools in nature’s hands to achieve her purpose of evolution. Let but reincarnation be considered a part of nature’s plan, and at once the tragedy of nature transforms itself into an inspiring and stately pageant. For then the future is ourselves ; it is we who shall make the glorious utopias of dreams; we who painfully toil today to fashion bricks for nature’s beautiful edifice in far-off days; we, and not others, shall see that edifice in its splendor, and be its very possessors. Though the spirit of action of the best of us is ever a sic vos non vobis, “thus ye work, but not for yourselves”, yet in reality, like bread cast upon the waters, our work shall greet us ages hence, and we shall then be glad that we have toiled so well now.
So comes to us the message of the Hidden Light that nature is consciously going from good to better, from better to best, and that she works out her splendid purpose through us, who may become her ministers, or must be her slaves.
The spirit of reform, then, being a part of the evolutionary process, the next point to note is that in all effective reform there are two elements: first the reform is brought about by individuals working as a group, and second, the group has a leader. It is fairly easy to understand the grouping of individuals to co-operate for a common aim as a part of nature’s evolutionary plan; their united action but expresses the social instinct. But it is perhaps less easy to see that nature selects the leader, and sends him to a particular group to crystallize its dreams and plans into organization and action. Yet this is the message of the Hidden Light — that a leader does not appear by a mere concatenation of chance circumstances, but only because he is selected for a particular work, and is sent to do it. For a leader does not come in evolution as a “sport” – a passing variant produced nobody knows how; he is fashioned by a slow laborious process lasting thousands of years. Life after life, in a process of rebirth, the would-be leader must earn his future position by dedication to works of reform ; by little actions for reform as a savage, by larger actions as a civilized man, he trains himself for the role which nature has written for him.
If we look at reformers in the light of reincarnation, we shall see that their present ability to lead is simply the result of work done in past lives. Since biologists are agreed that acquired characters are not transmissible, we must look for that rare inborn capacity to lead, not in the heredity of the organism, but in a spiritual heredity which is in the life and in the consciousness of the individual. This is exactly what reincarnation says ; the individual acquired his ability to lead today only be endeavors to lead many a past life, and by partial successes at least in so doing.
Furthermore, the Hidden Light reveals to us that each present movement for reform was rehearsed in many a primitive setting long ago, with the present leaders and their coadjutors as actors. We need but look at the reform movements for the amelioration of the lot of the working classes in Europe, to see how the leaders of today in the various countries were tribunes of the Plebs in Rome, or “demagogues” in Athens, or leaders of the masses in Carthage. Nay, furthermore, it is not difficult to note how some of the politicians and statesmen of Greece and Rome and elsewhere, who worked to abolish abuses and to free the oppressed, have changed sex in their present incarnations, and are with us today as leaders of the various suffragist and feminine movements of the world. Where else but in past lives did these women learn the tactical strategy and mastery of leadership which they evince in their campaigns for reform? Why should certain men and women, and not all, labor and toil for their fellow-men, renouncing all and coveting martyrdom, unless they had learnt by past experiences the glory of action for reform? For the born leaders in every reform are geniuses in their way ; they go unerringly to an aim, with the conviction of success ; where did they develop this faith in themselves? They are in reality the “missing links” from men of today to the supermen of the future, and it is nature herself with her Hidden Work who has so fashioned them life after life.
So nature plans and achieves, and the stately pageant moves on. But her purpose is not achieved slowly and leisurely , adding change to change; she does not bring about a new order of things by an accumulation of small changes. Nature goes by leaps, per saltum; and as in the biological world crises appear, and nature makes a leap and ushers in new species, so too is it in the world of human affairs. Though there is a slow steady upward movement for progress through reform, yet now and then there is a crisis in the affairs of men. Then things happen, and after the crisis is over, there is, as it were, a new species of human activity. Reform takes a new trend, and a whole host of new reforms are ushered in to make life fuller and nobler.
One such crisis in human affairs came in Palestine, with the coming of Christ. For though men knew not that it was a crisis, though Greece and Rome dreamed and planned of philosophy and dominion without end, a dawn had begun of a new era, and an age was ushered in, in the heyday of which Greece and Rome should be mere names. Christ ministered in Palestine, spoke to peasant and priest, and gave His sermons “on the Mount”, and a few men knew not then that with his message He gave birth to new species of idealism in action. But after two thousand years have elapsed, we of another generation can see that when Christ lived in Palestine, and the Roman Empire was beginning its day of glory, then indeed was the beginning too of the end of a world of thought and action — of that “glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome” – and that Christ gave His message not so much to the men of His day as to those who were to come.
So too was it in India, six centuries before Christ ; another “dreamer” appeared, Siddhartha, Prince of the Satya clan. Men listened to Him and loved Him and followed Him, but they little dreamed that He was in reality building an Empire of Righteousness, which even after twenty-five centuries should embrace within it five hundred millions of souls. To the critics of His time, he was but another “Teacher”, one of hundreds then living in India pointing out “The Way.” It is only after the lapse of centuries that later generations knew that He was a teacher of teachers, a Flower on our human tree, the like of which had never been.
Every so often, then, there is a climax in human affairs, and always such a climax is preceded by an age when men “dream dreams.” In Palestine, prophet after prophet dreamed of “the great and dreadful day of the Lord,” before Christ came, and proclaimed its coming and worked for it. In India, many a sage and philosopher prepared the way with his solutions for the message of the Buddha.
In every such climax, small or great, the resolution of the crisis comes through the intermediary of a Personality. For as nature weaves the tangled knot of human fate, “nowise moved except unto the working out of doom,” she plans too the Solver of the knot. For every crisis which is of her planning, she has prepared the Man who holds the solution in his heart and brain.
In this out twentieth century, men dream dreams as never heretofore. East and West, North and South, the machinery of human life grates on the ear, and there is not a single man or woman of true imagination who can say, “God’s in his heaven, All’s right with the world!” De profundis clamari better describes the wail of every nation. Millions are spent on armies and navies, while the poor are clamouring for bread ; and statesmen themselves are wringing their hands that they cannot give a nation’s wealth back to the nation in hospitals and schools and fair gardens and clean habitations. For there are “wars and rumors of wars.” The spirit of charity grows year by year, but it seems as though charity but added patches to a rotting garment, and the more the patches which are put on the more the rents appear. Strife between capital and labor, race hatred between white and brown and yellow and black, a deadlock between science and religion, and more than all else, the increasing luxury of the few and the increasing misery of the many, these are but a few of the problems facing philanthropists today.
Every reformer realizes, in whatever department he works, that for lasting reform a complete reconstruction is needed of the whole social structure, if poverty, disease and ignorance and misery shall be as a nightmare that has been but shall never be again. All are eager for reform ; thousands are willing to co-operate. But none knows where to begin, in the true reconstruction. Each is indeed terrified, lest in trying to pull one brick out of the social edifice, to replace it by a better, he may pull the whole structure down, and so cause misery instead of joy.
This is the crisis present before our eyes, confronting not one nation, but all. “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord,” is true today as never before.
Everywhere, in every department where men work for reform, mean are looking for a Leader. Where is He whom nature has selected,in whose mind is the Plan, in whose is the spirit and in whose hand is the Power? Let him but appear, let him but say, “This is how you shall work,” and thousands will flock to Him in joy. And it is this message of the Hidden Light that He is ready, for when from the hearts of men a cry goes forth, from the bosom of God a Son shall come. The world is in the birth throes once again for the coming of the Son of Man, and the young men who see visions today shall in their prime find Him in their midst, the Wonderful, the Councillor, the Prince of Peace.
an age, when God has need of him,
Shall want its man, predestined by that need,
To pour his life in fiery word and deed,
The great Archangel of the Elohim.
When He, whom the world waits for, and whom nature has planned to come “unto this hour,” shall appear, what will be His work? What but to carry on nature’s work one step further? The day is past when men can go forward with competition as their cry of progress ; nothing lasting can now come for men unless it is brought about by interdependence and co-operation. The best of men today see the inevitable coming of this new age, when men shall be sons of God in deed and not merely in name; but their cry for altruism and co-operation is as a voice cast in the teeth of the tempest. They can but gather round them here an enthusiast and there a disciple ; but they accomplish little, for they lack the character which compels the world to listen. Till comes that Personality who is not of one nation but of all, whose message is not for this century alone but for all others to come ; till then the dawn of the new day will drag its slow length along. But when He comes, then indeed what He says and what He does will be the proof to us that it is He and not another, whom nature has planned to be the Shadow of God upon earth to men, the Savior who is born unto them this day.
once more shall the Hidden Light be revealed to men, that Light that “shineth
in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” Then science shall be our
religion, and religion our art ; then shall we cease to be nature’s slaves, and
enter upon our heritage, and become her councillors and guides. Then shall we
know, not merely believe, that behind the seeming pitiless plan of nature there
is a most pitiful Mind, careful of the type and careful of the single life too.
Nevermore shall our eyes be blinded by passionate tears as we look at the
misery of men, and feel the utter hopelessness of its effective diminution ;
for we shall know that nature but veils an Eye that sees, a Heart that feels,
and a Mind that plans, for One shall be with us to be a Martyros, a
Witness, of that Light that shineth in darkness, even when the darkness
comprehends it not.
He will call on the many to co-operate in all good works “in His name and for the love of mankind”; He will teach them the next lesson which nature has planned for them, the joy of neighbourly service. But to a few He will give the call to follow Him through the ages. For He comes to usher in a new age ; that age must be tended and fostered decade after decade, century by century, till the seed becomes the tree and the tree bears flowers, and by the perfecting of man comes the fulfillment of God. As He is nature’s husbandman, so will he need helpers in those fields from whence alone comes the Daily Bread for men.
The many will love Him for the peace and joy which He will bring ; but a few will answer the call to follow Him life after Life, toiling, toiling in a work seemingly without end. To these few alone will be it given to know the inwardness of the message of the Hidden Light. It is that nature keeps her diadems not for those who reap happiness in her pleasant fields and gardens, but for those who co-operate with her in her Hidden Work, and try “to lift a little of the heavy karma of the world.” For this is Nature’s Hidden Work, to weave a vesture out of the karmas of men which shall reflect the pattern given her from on high ; and the weaving halts, unperfected, till through the actions of all men there shall shine one great Action. When the perfect vesture is woven for him who desires it, and the karmas of all men act in unison, then, and not before, will come “that day” when Nature can say to all men, as now to her God : “I am in my Father, and ye in me and I in you.” Unto that hour she toils at her Hidden Work, and it is the Hidden Light which reveals to men her process of evolution as she shapes in moulds of dust immortal Sons of God.
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