WHAT IS LIFE?
In this issue of the Newsletter we will look at this most fundamental of all questions:How do we perceive life, and how deeply do we understand this energy that lies at the very heart of human existence? How we answer these questions affects how we think about the many issues that arise today:the beginning and ending of life, birth and death, the right to life, the right to a good death, when to sustain life, and when – or if – to terminate life.
These questions are no longer discussed only in the hushed tones of the physician’s office; they are now dealt with in the public square and everyone is invited to state their opinion. World Goodwill, however, does not take a specific position on many of these issues like abortion or euthanasia. But we do try to provide a deeper, esoteric perspective on the nature of life. More than ever there is a need to deepen our understanding of these issues so that the opinions of each of us are based on what we believe to be closer to the truth as it is revealed today. But all of these questions stem from the most basic question of all: What is Life?
To be honest, and given our present general level of consciousness, we human beings may never be able to understand this question with absolute truth. All we can do is try to bring together what some of the leading minds and traditional teachings have revealed about life down through the centuries. To advance our understanding about what life is, we would like to turn to the metaphysical teachings presented in the books of Alice Bailey. They offer a perspective beyond the generally accepted materialistic view that prevails today. These are not dogmatic assertions, but are offered as ideas for pondering. If they ring true to your intuition then let them enhance the depth and quality of your mind and your decision-making.
From a metaphysical perspective, then, what is Life? This view sees life as a distinct, all-pervasive electrical1 energy that interpenetrates and animates all forms – from the minute atom of substance to a human being to the planet as a whole. “Life is one and naught can ever take or touch that life”. Life, from this perspective, does not arise or originate from a particular form. It is given to form by God; it is the one Life that breathes into all forms. Even when forms such as human or animal forms are destroyed and die, life remains. Life exists quite apart from forms of any kind. Thus the energy of the one Life is the same life expressed through a diamond, a rose, an oak tree, a dog, a horse, a human being or a human soul, all are expressions of the creative activity of Life.
Perhaps another way to illustrate the one Life is through its relationship to the divine Trinity which can be expressed in many ways, such as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; or Spirit, Soul and Matter. Life in this case is described as “that fourth something which hovers behind all manifestation and behind all objects, all qualified expressions of divinity and which is hinted at in the Bhagavad Gita in the words: ‘Having pervaded this whole universe with a fragment of Myself, I remain’”(Esoteric Astrology, p. 592, emph. added).
When does Life begin?
There seems to be much uncertainty about the answer to this question. The prevailing opinion seems to be that as far as human life is concerned it begins at the moment of conception. And where consciousness is focused and identified at the dense physical level, life would seem to begin when the development of the human form begins.
But in view of the above metaphysical perspective, life—whether expressed in a human form or not—would have no beginning, or for that matter, no end either. Life is. It is always present and cannot be taken away. The energy of the one Life is present before conception—in the egg and in the sperm and in the very atoms that make up the molecules and cells. When the egg and the sperm join together, the life energy they carry is passed on in the process of cell formation, which, if allowed, will eventually grow into a human form, or the form of an animal or a plant, as the case may be. There is only the beginning of a new form.
It is important to understand the differentiation between the energy of life and the substance of the form. Life is a constant flow of electrical energy, while forms are temporary expressions through which life manifests at the dense physical level. So for example, when we use the term “human life”, we are describing a human form with a consciousness provided by the soul and both are animated by the energy of the one Life.
The Rights of Human Life.
The sanctity and rights given to a human life are of a particular value bestowed by human societies. But it is a value determined by a limited understanding of what a human being is. If life has no beginning or end, as posited by the metaphysical view, then does this affect the value given to life? To answer this question more fully we have to provide a more complete picture of thehuman being by including the factor of the soul and the part it plays in the creation of human life.
With all the discussion today about human life, the beginning and ending of life, and the purpose of life, there is little mention of the existence of the human soul and the direct part it plays in the life of a human being. Here again the metaphysical perspective is helpful. Without the inclusion of the soul, human life is incomplete. In fact, it is the very presence of the individualised soul that makes one human. Our humanness doesn’t arise out of the physical cells in the body. The soul, incarnating in the body, provides much of all human intelligence. The soul, it is said in the Bailey writings, takes possession of the fetus only during the fourth month of pregnancy, at the time of the “quickening”. Before then, the heart and the brain of the fetus are not sufficiently developed for life and consciousness to be anchored in the head and in the heart, respectively. The soul needs to wait for the “vehicle” to be made ready by the creative process before it can begin to think and act as a recognised human.
The soul stands as a mediating agent between God as Spirit and physical man or woman. It represents the middle position in the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit or Spirit, Soul and Matter. The soul endows a human being with the capacity for consciousness. From a metaphysical perspective that incorporates a belief in reincarnation, it is the soul that incarnates in a particular human form, lifetime after lifetime. It has a particular purpose to work out in line with the Plan of God in each life experience. The soul is essentially the individualised self that enters into the physical body at the time of birth and leaves the body at the moment of death. The body is simply the “vehicle” through which the soul expresses a certain quality of consciousness during its time in the physical world.
In view of this factor of the soul, how does this affect the question of when does life begin? Life as pure electrical energy, it seems, has no beginning or end, it is ever present. And the soul is the immortal being, immortal self, that provides continuity from life to life in a physical body. That being is you, who never really dies, who has “everlasting life”, and has experienced the transition of birth and of death many times. If this is the case, if this esoteric perspective provides some degree of truth, then wouldn’t this alter the way one thinks about the very controversial issues surrounding birth and death?
The Rights of the Unborn
Do these rights start at the moment of conception, or at the moment of birth, or sometime in between? This is a question that we cannot truthfully answer because the question of rights differ from society to society. There are no universal rights attached to a developing fetus.
What is universal, however, from the spiritual perspective, is the fact of the one soul and the creative process set in motion at the moment of conception. If unimpeded, these forces will play out automatically according to spiritual law and will usually result in a live human being. But the inherent right for that fetus to develop and come to birth is often the choice of the soul, and sometimes, we are told, if the “vehicle” is not developing according to the plans of the soul for that particular life, it may terminate the process and the fetus will be still-born. So the issue of “rights” from the point of view of the soul may not be so firmly fixed. It sees each individual life as a brief experience in a long series of lives and is more influenced in its decision by karma and the divine Plan than by rights. We might say that the soul is an agent of the divine evolutionary impulse, but each soul has the right of choice in determining when, where and how to incarnate in a human body.
There is a similar choice at what is called the end of life as well; another issue that needs more insight today. In the natural course of living, the moment of death may be the choice of the soul. The withdrawal can be slow or rapid. But whatever the timing, the results are the same even in the case of an accident or suicide or in war or by execution—the self, the soul is released from the hold of the physical form. It returns to its overshadowing source. That immortal self crosses into a greater measure of life. Death is but a transition from one state of consciousness to another.
How does this affect the strongly held belief in the sacredness of life? Isn’t this belief focused more on the sacredness of the body and the close identification we have with the outer personality? Yes, there is a sacredness to this personal expression of life. As an individualised creation of the soul, the personality existence has a certain plan and purpose related to the divine Will. This greater sacredness of God’s Will within Creation should enable us to expand our focus of thought to include this greater purpose. This view demands of us a far more inclusive identification with the underlying purposes of life.
One might ask here, in view of the widespread destruction of human, animal and vegetable forms by so called “acts of God”—hurricanes , tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, etc.—are these forms held in the same sacred esteem as we give to “human life”? The question is often heard, Why does God allow the death of so many people? The ultimate answer may be beyond our ability to understand. But, here again, from a metaphysical perspective, all forms within Creation are temporary and constantly evolving. With the cyclic actions of the soul, the human body may not be given the same degree of priority as we tend to give it. As we exist in time and space, this is the only personality life that we know; but not so to the soul. To the soul, if the physical body is terminated or dies “prematurely”, then that is not such a tragedy; it may simply mean an interruption in the plan the soul has for that particular life—a plan and purpose that can be continued in the next life, in another body.
All this may sound rather sterile, unloving and uncaring, given the way we value human life today with the strong, affectionate relationship we have with loved ones, born and unborn. But with the spiritual, metaphysical way of understanding human life—towards which human consciousness is evolving—we are challenged to grow into and express a new depth of life where the greater love of God prevails. It is a love that we must eventually know and serve.
As it stands today, birth, death and life itself seem to be imprisoned in a dense tomb. All existence seems to begin and end at the dense physical level. This view has created a situation in which a strong focus on the form has led to a total control of human thinking by the material forces—forces which tend only to separate and divide. This imprisoned view needs to be liberated, and the all-inclusive love of the soul is the liberating force. If human consciousness and identity can shift upward to align with the soul, then we will see that human beings are much more than just a physical body; they are creative agents through which the soul radiates divine glory.
1. The use of the term “electrical” here is much wider than the conventional physical sense. See for example Alice Bailey, A Treatise on Cosmic Fire Section 3; Lucis Publishing (1951).
The World Goodwill newsletter is available in a wide range of European languages. For some time now, we have been contemplating the possibility of widening World Goodwill’s outreach, and it seemed to us that the most important region of the world where we could make this effort is the Middle East.Read More