(Canadian Theosophist, April 15, 1939)
The River of Becoming
By Christmas Humphreys
"It is odd," said Max Born in The Restless Universe, "to think that there is a word for something which, strictly speaking, does not exist, namely, rest." Rest, in fact, is merely slightly less activity, for even that which is to the senses "still" is moving at tremendous speed in space.
Sabbe sankhara anicca, said Gotama the Buddha. Truly all compounded things, all "aggregates" - and science has yet found nothing "pure" - are subject to anicca, change. Our senses tell us that our bodies change each moment of the day from birth to death. So do our clothes and furniture, our friends and habits and our means of livelihood. So do our larger selves, our clubs and circles and societies; so does the nation and the race to which we belong. Even the "everlasting hills" are subject to anicca, and the world we live in and the sun which gives it life had sometime a beginning and will ultimately die. No less does the law of change embrace comparatively immaterial things. Our loves and hates, our joys and fears are as changing as the weather, and thoughts, when analyzed in terms of consciousness, are found to be more fleeting still. The Indian philosophers who developed the message of the Buddha into a system of philosophy carried the process of self-analysis to extremes, but they certainly proved, two thousand years before the Western science of psychology was born, that that which alone entitles man to say of himself `I am,' his consciousness, is itself impermanent.
The process of thought is a process in all its parts. Just as the countless pictures which comprise a film are thrown on the screen by a powerful light, so consciousness makes visible the endless stream of thoughts which pass at immense speed through the mind. Yet this projecting light itself arises from successive flashes of life, in this case known as electricity, which alternates between the poles which in the East are called the Pairs of Opposites.
Again, just as the personality, including consciousness, is a changing aggregate of changing parts, so is the soul, or character, the elusive factor which gives meaning to the whole. As Emerson wrote, "the soul of man may not sleep but must live incessant. Not in his goals but in his transitions Man is great; and the truest state of mind rested in, becomes false." In truth, "there is no abiding principle in man."
The metaphysical basis of anicca lies in that primordial Duality which is the highest conceivable aspect of the ONENESS which it is foolish to attempt to name. As H.P. Blavatsky points out in The Secret Doctrine, this "Beness" can be symbolized under two aspects, absolute abstract Space, the father of all form, and absolute abstract Motion, which is unconditioned Consciousness. Hence the essence of Life is movement, and form is but the robe of life. These primal ultimates, Life and Form, are the warp and weft of the changing pattern of existence, and the complexity of their relationship informs the littlest aspect of the daily round. The movement of form is circular; the form of life is perpendicular, and these two symbols are the parents of all others yet devised by man. The cycle of form is invariable, moving from birth through growth to maturity, and thence through decay to death. Life on the other hand, has only two directions, up and down, moving either to More or Less, towards its periodic Source, or from it. These two symbols, the circle and the line, respectively female and male, are the two nodes of manifestation. Inspired by the upward direction of the line, the circle strives to rise, and its efforts form a spiral, the symbol of progress. The interrelation of these symbols reveals an infinitely complex flux of becoming, in which Life, the immortal, ceaselessly builds and uses, discards and destroys the forms essential to its self expression. For the Life-force is the manifestation of that absolute, abstract Motion which is the creative aspect of the Absolute, even as absolute abstract Space is reflected downwards in the matter which is spirit's complement. These two, which yet are one, are thus the first and last of the Pairs of Opposites. Life, the superabundant passionless, relentless onward flow, is meaningless, unmanifest, invisible without the resisting and therefore molding limitations of its other aspect, form. Yet because Life is movement and movement involves change, it is rightly said that Life is a Becoming and progress a becoming More. Wherefore the wise man welcomes life with open arms, and cries to himself and all awakened to their destiny - "Walk On" and then, "Walk On," and then again "Walk On!"
The law of change implies that no man is the owner of anything. At the most he can possess, yet is it truer to say that by certain articles and thoughts he is possessed. All this is foolishness. As the Tibetans say: "Seeing that when we die we must depart empty-handed, and the morrow after our death our corpse is expelled from our own house, it is useless to labor and to suffer privations in order to make for oneself a home in this world." All of which the Chinese express more pithily in saying: "Life is a bridge. Pass over it, but build no house on it." But just as it is futile to covet or over-value personal possessions, whether wealth or titles, knowledge or ideals, so is it futile to attempt to preserve unchanged existing forms, whether of art or social structure, education or the interrelations of mankind. He who refuses to swim with the stream will be flung on the shore, from which with helpless, angry eyes he will watch the stream of life flow by. Life moves from what it is to what it wills to be. All that exists must die, by reason of the fact that it has come to being. Hence the truism; the cause of death is birth.
Life is limitless and therefore fills all forms. It fills and uses alike an atom or a solar system, and goes on fulfilling itself within that form, and thereby filling that form, until the moment of repletion bursts the form, and while the life is released to inform a new and larger vehicle the older form, as form, forever dies. Thus life is the cause of death, and in its killing builds anew. But the paradox remains that form is inconceivable apart from life. The very form when dead is still alive, and expressing the same life in another form; hence the truth of the tremendous principle - There is no death.
Life, the resistless, works through an infinite complexity of forms, one of the most potent being principles. A principle is as much a force as the Niagara Falls, and far more dangerous, for the latter can only crush men's bodies, while the former can slay men's minds. Yet a man of principle is a man alive, atuned to the flow of life and not its forms. The principle of Truth, for example, is the Absolute made manifest subjectively; the principle of Good is the Absolute in its objective form, while Beauty is the principle of true relationship, the invisible third factor which enables the mind to perceive and understand duality. To the man of form the relationship between the parts of "things" is meaningless, without significance. To the man of principle the correspondence of the form's design to the pattern of the Universe produces Beauty, which is Life made manifest in the design of form.
Thus Life and Form, the ultimate antitheses, unthinkable, apart, are unified in Beauty, their relationship. To the aggregation of such forms there is no end. A cathedral, for example, is the product of a dozen arts, each perfect in themselves. In the same way a humble eggshell is composed of forms of life of delicate perfection, and these in turn consist of countless atoms, each elaborately built about a central focus which, in the last analysis, is only a form of force. Thus form, when driven to the wall, reveals itself as life, even as life, in the subtlest guise we know it, radiation, is the subject of unvarying laws of wave-length, range and potency, which are in fact the attributes of form.
All man's material productions are the child of thought, the creative because life-process of the mind, even as the forms of Nature are the product of the Universal Mind. As the Patriarch Wei Lang proclaimed: "The essence of Mind is intrinsically pure; all things, good or evil, are only its manifestations, and good deeds and evil deeds are only the result of good thoughts and evil thoughts respectively." One of the oldest Buddhist Scriptures opens with the words: "All that we are is the result of what we have thought; it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts," and recently Sir James Jeans wrote: "Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter; we are beginning to suspect that it is the creator and governor of matter." Thus every act, which is of the realm of matter, was born of an idea. It is therefore a thought-form, that is to say, a life-form. All facts are equally mind-begotten, and alike have no importance. What matters is their significance, and this pertains to the realm of spirit, which is Life.
The world of life is the world of causes; facts, events and circumstances are effects. The wise man, therefore, pays immense attention to all causes, basing them on principle, and leaves with confidence the law of Karma to take care of the effects. These effects are subject to the laws of form, and one is the law of Cycles, of periodicity, of flux and reflux, ebb and flow. These Cycles do not move in circles, but themselves obey the law of progress, which uplifts the circle into a spiral, as already explained. It has been noted that a given point in a wheel, after making a complete revolution of descent and ascent, moves on again from its starting point, but the next revolution takes it so much further along the road. Men and movements, empires and ideas are born and die and are then reborn again according to the cyclic law which brings them back, not to the same point on the circle but to a point above it, or below, for though the pendulum of form swings evenly, Life has its own ideal, and steadily raises the whole towards its own essential mystery. For the purpose of Life is becoming, a re-becoming of itself, with something gathered from the process of becoming which was not manifest before. Obeying, without understanding it, this inner law, man climbs the mountain step by step, content, if he is wise, with an ever receding ideal, for an end achieved is dust and ashes in the mouth; only the climbing is worth while. Achievement is at the best a pause for breath on the upward climb, for Life allows no halting, and ever cries from higher up the hill - "Walk On!"
Thus Life is a relentless movement, blending its everchanging forms in a vast kaleidoscope. Through all three planes of body, mind, and spiritual becoming, in three dimensions and the illusion we call time, Life moves unceasingly, and every form exists or perishes according to its sovereign will. The fool resists the process of becoming, but the wise man plunges into the river joyously, abandoning the foolish quest for certainty in a restless world of change. He would say with the late Mr. Edmond Holmes in one of his Sonnets to the Universe,
I find life's treasure in this endless quest,
And peace of mind in infinite unrest.
The fearful man objects that life is merciless. It is, and rightly so, for mercy is a quality invented by the human mind to supply the deficiencies of human judgment and of man-made law. The laws of Life are perfect, and dispassionately just. Life reeks not of the individual, who either obeys its laws and moves to the ever More, or resists the flow and is smashed accordingly. If the whole of self be opened with a willingness and yearning to be filled, Life the superabundant will reply unstintingly, but if the gates of self be closed, the pressure at the gates will rise and rise until the resister yields at last to the Beauty-Wisdom-Love that seeks to enter in. Then will Life so fill the form that it will shatter it, only to build a palace more commodious, and when its gates in turn are closed with selfishness, lay siege to them anew. Not until no self remains that can be filled does the individual cease from suffering; only when the resistant self has died for ever can the true Self welcome Life with joyous heart, and ride the River of Becoming onward to the Shoreless Sea.