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A Vision of the Aquarian Age
Sir George Trevelyan


First published in 1977 by Coventure UK and in 1984 by Stillpoint USA
This book is out-of-print, now available only on this website
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4  School of Earth


THE GENERAL POSTULATE we must consider and at least entertain (not necessarily believe or accept) is that the universe is shot through with living intelligence, that matter is derivative from creative spirit, that the true nature of man is a droplet of the divine source and that the human mind can experience itself in lifted consciousness as part of a stupendous whole.

If we posit the spirit as an eternal being, we must necessarily conclude that it existed before we were born as individuals. It descends into incarnation, in other words, as an already developed entity. The implications of this premise are immense. Firstly, it offers a very different perspective to those of materialistic culture on the question of survival after death. At a single leap, we can perceive that life is inextinguishable, that the drop of divinity cannot be eradicated. If the kernel of man is eternal and imperishable, survival becomes axiomatic – simply because there can be no death in the sense of the extinction of man's integral, quintessential being. One asks whether one believes in the all-encompassing Oneness only when one has already lost it; if one knows it, the question does not even arise, simply because it is not a matter of belief, but of the certainty that accompanies direct knowledge. In the same way, uncertainty of survival after physical death will be rendered irrelevant if we recognise that the spirit is an eternal drop of divinity.

A much more important problem is pre-existence. Whereas desire for survival derives from personal preoccupations, pre-existence introduces much graver issues of responsibility and purpose. When a child asks where it came from, it is really asking, "What is the memory I have of a wonderful world of light?" It is not, despite the assumptions of our materialistic culture, asking for premature information about sexuality and the so-called "facts of life". Memory of a world of wonder may well survive through childhood, for, as we have said, the de scent into a body at birth is a descent into drastic limitation and constriction. To contemplate this diminution is staggering. An immortal soul, heir to all the breadth of untrammelled consciousness – a free spirit able to range serenely through the wide realms of spirit, to rise towards the spiritual sun, to move blithely in the "country of the summer stars" – an entity of such majestic proportions must now undertake to enclose and confine itself within a puny physical frame. When we contemplate a newborn child, it is inappropriate to say, "Look at this tiny soul". What we are contemplating is, on the contrary, a mature and perhaps great soul entering and occupying a tiny body. We falsify the truth if we identify the majestic developed soul with the puling, crying little body. Here, developing before our eyes, is the miracle of the formation in matter of a vehicle which can carry an eternal spiritual being. A Leonardo, a Saint Francis, a Napoleon is a colossal being, a peak of humanity; but each has to submit to limitation within a bodily frame. There is equality in the physical, but not on the soul and spiritual level. We are not our bodies. Rather, we live through our bodies and discard them when their usefulness ceases.

We must learn to see birth as, in a true sense, a descent into the tomb of a body, and death as the release again into light and expansion of awareness. The earth plane is obviously full of difficulties, and its pressures on the free spirit are enormous. The senses, as we have seen, are but filters. We must recognise these restrictions, through which the soul must pass once it enters the narrow gate of birth. From freedom to move at the speed of thought, it is confined to the painfully slow pace of bodily progress. We could, after all, hardly carry on our daily concerns at the flashing speed of free spirits like Ariel. And if we contemplate the stupendous process occurring in the growth of a baby, we will not be surprised that there are troubles in growing up – particularly when the eternal soul has failed to find a body really suitable to its needs. This may be a clue to many of the maladjusted or mentally handicapped children of our time. They need not be weak-minded or backward. They might, on the contrary, be highly advanced souls who have failed to find a suitable body, and therefore the spirit cannot truly incarnate, cannot accommodate itself comfortably to its physical frame and nervous system.

Poets so often express for us these profound truths. Thomas Traherne, for example, writing in the early 17th Century, de scribes his faculty for remembering his life not only in the womb, but even before. It is perhaps no mere coincidence that Traherne's works were lost and only rediscovered in the late 19th Century, an age which could at last begin to understand and appreciate them. For – if we accept what he offers us – we have in some of Traherne's work a firsthand account of pre-existence. In the poem "The Praeparative", there is a verse, obviously referring to the embryo, which ends:
Such, if we can accept Traherne's testimony, is the experience of the free soul before entering bodily limitation. It provides much food for thought for parents and teachers, and intensifies our sense of wonder. In the same connection, it is worth reconsidering Wordsworth's well-known "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality in early Childhood":
The dying of the vision, however, is not the final end. It is followed by a rebirth in our later years. Our task now is to revive "the vision splendid" and to grasp with the knowledge of the heart the tremendous implications of Wordsworth's in tuition and Traherne's memory.

This task of our later years can alter our attitude to old age. We have seen that we are not justified in speaking of the new born child as a 'tiny soul'. The soul is immortal and therefore does not age. And for that very reason, we should not speak of an ageing person as a 'poor old soul'. The earthly sheath may begin to break down as years advance, but the spiritual being which inhabits it and uses it should then be freeing itself from the fetters of body and personality. The later years of life should be an experience of mounting anticipation before what the future holds. Once we recognise that so-called death is but a release from limitation, and that the eternal being has possibilities of endless exploration and advance, we will understand how vitally important the later years of life are. It is lamentable that so many approach the Great Transition with so little preparation for it. They are like students entering a university of the spirit without even troubling to take one 'O' Level examination. And such inadequate preparation makes a difference, for the spirit carries with it into the beyond only that which it has been able to spiritualise through its faculties and its creativity on earth.

It is a marvellous dispensation of fate that in our era, medical advances have given us a dozen free years, more or less, to harvest the experience of a lifetime and prepare for the future. This has never before occurred on so large a scale in the entire course of human history. Until recently, life, save for the fortunate few, has consisted of nurture followed by toil to the point of utter exhaustion. But now, our whole attitude towards retirement and old age can change as we awaken to the unreality of death and the supreme hope proffered by the eternal quality of life. We can now come to realise that it is infinitely worthwhile for the future of the soul to develop spiritual understanding and keep alive the creative faculties in preparation for passing on to the planes of wider awareness after the body has been abandoned. In consequence, our attitudes towards the process of ageing will greatly change. We will begin to see the establishment of clinics or nursing homes dedicated to the joyful passage into the beyond. Instead of hushing up death as if it were something not quite 'nice' to mention, we will face it in all its grandeur, and people will learn to accept the release it offers with anticipation, relief and joy. As W.B. Yeats writes in one of his most famous poems, "Sailing to Byzantium":
This verse offers the true key to adult education in later years. To Yeats, Byzantium represents a higher level of consciousness, a totally different dimension of being and reality, as well as a wonderful symbolic city. We may perhaps say that the singing school of the soul is not only study of its past achievements, but also the living ideas from the eternal plane which break into our consciousness with illumination, inspiring us with a vision of the worlds of spirit. As T.S. Eliot writes:
If we accept the working hypothesis that the kernel of man is a droplet of divinity, and therefore immortal, we will obtain a more profound understanding of Blake's dictum:
This again implies purposeful descent for the sake of an educational experience. Only in the field of gravity can we learn certain lessons, and the trials we undergo are a strengthening of the soul to enable it to "bear the beams of love".

We might well ask why the descent into matter should be so necessary. The answer is that each soul must pass through the initiatory experience of separation, isolation and aloneness. We must undergo the agony of being – at least apparently – cut off from the divine, an agony that can only be experienced in the gravity field of earth. Man is a spiritual being who has been given the divine gift of free will. For this reason, he has been called the 10th Hierarchy.
Possessing this God-like attribute, man has the opportunity of developing as a free moral being, so that he may return to the divine of his own free choice. Thus man has been called 'the experiment of God'. The world of matter, ruled by gravity, is the setting necessary for this experience of separation and exercise of free will. Only by separation from the divine and from the realms of light can man discover his freedom. And his spiritual guides must undoubtedly watch with some anxiety what man does with his self-consciousness and the freedom that attends it. He must prove himself worthy of the gift conferred upon him.

The divine purpose seems to be that man should have the opportunity of growing into a companion and co-creator with God. To date, however, he has tragically abused the trust re posed in him. Isabella, in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, describes our failure thus:
The 'glassy essence' is of course the light-filled higher self belonging to the eternal worlds of spirit. Of this, man is 'most assured'; it is not a figment of his imagination. But man must pass through the long and arduous phase of self-consciousness, taking his full measure of power, satisfaction of desire, aggression and egoism, suffering and loss, before he discovers that his true and eternal task is to reunite with his higher self and work for the development of his eternal spiritual individuality, which can expand into consciousness of the cosmos and of God.

Each of us, therefore, must accept the inevitable ordeal of loneliness and its attendant suffering:
Thus laments the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge's profound allegory. We are each of us that mariner, voyaging through life, having committed some sin symbolised by the shooting of the albatross. With the curse around our neck, our 'ship' held up in the doldrums, we incur the nightmare of life-in-death. But when, from the heart and through our own initiative, we turn towards the true beauty and unity of life surrounding us, the curse is dispelled, a fresh wind blows, the ship speeds towards "home", and the mariner, passing through a blessed "sleep of death", is released into a higher state of consciousness.

If the earth plane is indeed the great training ground of the soul, it is unlikely that we should come here only once. One life is hardly sufficient to reap all the harvest of experience that earth can offer. If the nature of the soul is eternal, more over, its being so entails that we were already alive as developed entities before we were born. And from this it follows that we must choose voluntarily to descend into the earth vibration when there is a soul-lesson to be learnt. Furthermore, the consciousness of the very Earth-Being itself is evolving, and, within it, the racial consciousness of mankind. It is illogical to em brace the theory of evolution while denying that man's consciousness and spiritual being evolve similarly from age to age. In every epoch, there are vital lessons which can only be learnt by taking the plunge and re-entering bodily existence with its accompanying experience of separation. History, to hark back to our previous analogy, may be likened to a great school. We must move from class to class, allowing each to offer its unique lesson. No one would presume to believe that by entering the 4th form for one term we are qualified to sit for a diploma.

This concept of the School of Earth was developed first by the German philosopher Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in a treatise on 'The Education of the Human Race' written in 1780. Lessing's essay was one of the first coherent exoteric expressions of the doctrine of reincarnation to appear in modern Western culture. He concludes his work with the splendid query, "Is not the whole of eternity mine?" If we ask ourselves the same question, adult education may truly become an endless adventure!

That we return to earth repeatedly has always been accepted as axiomatic in the East. There, however, the concept has been linked with the 'wheel of rebirth', a return into incarnation again and again until desire has at last been transcended. Buddhism, for example, sees suffering as the specific product of desire, and freedom from suffering is achieved when desires cease. Then the soul is released to move on to Nirvana.

Since its widespread appearance in western culture and consciousness at the beginning of this century, the idea of re incarnation has itself evolved. While many now find the general principle acceptable, opinion differs about a number of more specific details. Given the western preoccupation with individuality, for example, there is often a rather superficial desire simply to find out 'who one was' in a previous life. Such crude oversimplifications of an immensely complicated issue should be avoided. Any form of guesswork or speculation is unjustified and even dangerous, for it can only lead to self-deception, frequently based on arrogance and wishful thinking. The subject must be approached only with great reticence and discretion. Rudolf Steiner, in his early investigations, showed what advanced spiritual knowledge and technique were required for conscious research in the field. Edgar Cayce, the American sensitive, showed how many of our illnesses arise from happenings in earlier lives and how often cures can be achieved if the true source is disclosed. Granted, then, that conscious communion with teachers in the 'beyond' can sometimes offer useful indications as to earlier lives. But one can only conclude that – while it is valuable to grasp the general principles of re incarnation – little is to be gained by mere spurious curiosity. The requisite knowledge will be forthcoming from the higher worlds as and when it will prove necessary and helpful.

Nevertheless, because the West has always been more absorbed with individuality than the East, it is fitting for our western minds that evolutionary thinking should colour our understanding of reincarnation. Consciousness evolves from age to age, and this consciousness is carried in individual souls. Each, therefore, can enter the stream of earth life as a creative deed to lift the race as a whole one step further. We descend not merely to undergo experiences for the benefit of our own souls, but to throw ourselves creatively into the great task of human development. Thus, the eastern "wheel of rebirth" is, in the West, transformed into a spiral staircase leading ultimately to "a new heaven and a new earth". There is a certain nobility about this conception. For those not drawn to the spiritual world view, there is, of course, no obligation to accept the postulate of repeated earth lives. For many, however, that postulate brings illumination and accounts for the gross differences in individual misfortune or opportunity. The breadth of vision it implies lifts us above cruder materialism, bringing into our thinking a broader pattern of spiritual evolution. The eternal entity of man – existing from the beginning as an archetypal idea in the mind of God – begins at a certain stage to embody itself in the evolving physical body. Thus we arrive at two distinct yet concurrent streams of evolution. One produces a body ever approaching the ideal pattern of the original archetype. The other governs the spiritual development of the individual spirit, which dips for experience into a body, is re leased by death into wider consciousness, then plunges again into another sojourn on earth. In this way, the human spirit, while perfecting itself, simultaneously takes a creative part in the evolution of the body, which is the temple of earthly life.

An integral part of the picture of reincarnation is Karma, the Law of Compensation. "As ye sow, so shall ye reap". This is not to be understood as a blind working out of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth". Its true corollary is the principle, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", which, in very similar words, has been promulgated as the basic law for life by all founders and prophets of all the great religions. If man could adhere to this dictum, world harmony could indeed be achieved.

Everything we do, whatever its moral value, brings its compensation, either in this life or a subsequent one. Perhaps we can understand the principle more effectively in psychological terms. A certain weakness or predisposition in our character, for instance, draws us into situations and contacts which amount to temptations. If we "fall", the flaw responsible is strengthened and the same pattern will repeat itself until at last we become conscious of it and can overcome it. "To him that overcometh will be given the crown". And if, in one life, the necessary step has not been taken, it must be confronted again in the next. The principle is supremely logical. We bring trials and ordeals upon ourselves, and they can assume an infinite number of forms. If we indulge in self-pity, if we merely moan and complain about our misfortunes, if we wonder vindictively why "this should happen to us", it means we have not yet awakened to the significance of the law of compensation. Once we understand this law, on the other hand, we can adopt the courageous view that we are total cause of all we are and all that happens to us. Then we can discern our troubles and suffering as a species of soul training. They come to have for us a purgatorial quality, which, if correctly accepted, will enable us to take a further step in our inner development. What we are talking about, then, is an immense educational process designed to lift mankind from a low level of awareness into full self-awareness and self-knowledge. In every lifetime, we have the opportunity to lift ourselves further from the morass of sensual experience into clearer and purer consciousness. And we must remember that our destinies are presided over by intelligences far more advanced than ourselves. Study of the way the law of compensation works suggests a pattern of great subtlety and justice. It is said that "destiny is always kind".

The setback that afflicts us, though it may appear meaningless misfortune, must be treated as part of this developing pattern. Thus perceived, it provides us with the strength to endure it, and grow with it.

If we have badly wronged another in one life, it may be necessary to expiate the deed by returning to earth and meeting the same person in a later life, where we might, for example, make some great sacrifice on his behalf. Until this is accomplished, our own soul is held back in its upward journey towards the light. And ultimately, the advanced soul, having wholly transcended self and egoism, will be filled with a compassion and love for all being. At that point, it will no longer need to return to earthly incarnation for further training. If it does so, that will be only for the sake of pure service to the race.

Love, in short, is the solvent of Karma, which, we must remember, is not an inexorable law of punishment. Rather, it is a loving influence working on the souls of men until they can awaken to the spirit. Then there will truly be "joy in heaven" at the triumph of a soul which has genuinely "come through".

To grasp something of the working of the principle of reincarnation and Karma is essential if we are to understand history. This principle opens a vista that illumines both the life of the individual and that of the folk-soul – for we are all linked to our national or cultural Karma.

To summarise what we have said, the eternal essence of the human being makes a descent into a series of earthbound lives, thus building up a personality with which to confront the pressures of the world. The whole "object of the exercise" is, through long experience and suffering, to master and dissolve this lower self and transmute the soul into an organ in which the Higher Self, the true spiritual being of man, can operate. The ordinary personality is obviously too ephemeral to reincarnate. But at death we carry forward a seed of real individuality which, developing in the life between death and rebirth, can, when time is ripe, make the descent again.

If we could develop the capacity to remember down the corridors of time, we might recall the earlier ages of mankind as our own personal experience. In consequence, the principle of reincarnation and karma profoundly enhances both the interest and relevance of history. In a significant sense, we are history, since the core of our being has been present in earlier epochs. And as greater understanding of the subject is acquired, we may expect important light to be thrown on many fields of research.

There is reason to believe, moreover, that souls incarnate in groups. Therefore, it is highly likely that those to whom we are drawn as friends, close colleagues, partners in love or marriage, or parent or child, are souls with whom we were together in previous lives. This concept, if accepted, greatly enhances our respect for our own group of close contacts and helps us to face the difficulties of personality inherent in the trials of earth life. – Pre-existence implies that a soul chooses voluntarily to incarnate. At the same time, the spiritual guides and the Higher Self help us in the period before birth to find the right access into earth life. And this would entail, among other things, choosing our parents. Though such an idea might appear ridiculous at first, maturer consideration reveals it as a possibility which adds to the majesty of human life and the respect in which we hold the other fragments of divinity with whom we jointly participate in the earth struggle.

At this point, it would not be out of place to quote some verses from a poem by Robert Frost, "Trial by Existence":


Next:  5  Death – The Great Adventure

This way! Click me and I'll take you to the next page!
A Vision of the Aquarian Age
Sir George Trevelyan


First published in 1977 by Coventure UK and in 1984 by Stillpoint USA
This book is out-of-print, available only on this website
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© Copyright Sir George Trevelyan and estate, 1977 and 2001. This book may be downloaded and printed on paper in single copies for personal use and study only, in a spirit of fair play and without financial transaction. .