What people generally call God or Deity is one aspect of LIFE—the Omnipresent Principle which invisibly functions in the atom as in the cosmos, and which abides as the Self in the heart of every creature. Another aspect of LIFE is Law. People speak of the laws of God, the laws of Nature. It would be more accurate to speak of God as Law. God, Life, Self, are not different from Law; they are Law.
Theosophy says that there is not an inch of space in the boundless expanse we call the Cosmos where Law does not operate. There is no lawlessness in Nature anywhere. Everything in the vast universe comes to birth, advances to maturity, declines to death, to come to birth again, through, by and under Law. We may see the activity of Law sometimes, we may not perceive it at other times; but known or unknown, perceived or unperceived, Law operates everywhere, at all times. This Law has many modes of expression; these modes are intricate, and not understanding them fully people become confused. Thus modern scientists are disputing as to whether the Law of causation is absolute or whether it operates in a restricted way. While modern science is changing and arguing, the ancient science of Theosophy holds to the ageless teaching that Life manifests as Law, by Law, under Law; that the universe is not lawless, and that rigid justice rules the world—not only the world of matter, but also the world of morals and feelings, of mind and thoughts.
So the first idea to grasp is that Life and Law are two aspects of one and the same reality and therefore both are coeval and coeternal. The one Law of Life binds the entire universe. Just as even man-made law binds any human society, so also the Law operating in Nature binds the whole of Nature in one divine rhythm or harmony. The poet Shelley says:
Nothing in the world is single;
That is an occult truth. One Divine Law binds all men and women, all kingdoms in Nature, the whole of the Universe.
Next, Theosophy teaches that the primary and most striking expression of this Law is the law of periodicity. It says that wherever we examine Nature, there we find effect rooted in its cause. Each cause in producing its due effect marks a period of time, short or long, and this time forms a cycle. The law of periodicity means that a period elapses before the cause produces its effect; the period begins with the generating of a cause and ends when its effect has worked itself out. Take a simple example: We shall go to sleep tonight—because we woke up this morning. Between our waking and our sleeping there is a period of time—it is a cycle. Similarly each one of us is going to die—because we came to birth; between coming and going, birth and death, is a period we call life.
So cycle means a period of time. We call it a cycle, which means a circle, because the end of the effect meets the point at which the cause started. The symbol of the cycle is a wheel—the Greek kuklos or the Hindu chakra. The Chakra of Vishnu represents the Grand Cycle—made up of many cycles of manifestation—a period during which Vishnu performs his function, completing that which he began. So too Krishna says that he incarnates cycle by cycle.
We need to get hold of the general principle that everything in the universe has a beginning and an end; some things live long, some things have very short lives. In every kingdom there is birth and death, beginning and ending, and that makes a cycle. We have astronomical cycles—day and night, one year of 365 days, the sidereal year which is a little over 25,000 years. A month of 30 days is a solar cycle; but there is the lunar month of 28 days. We have four seasons, but in ancient Iran they had six seasons. These are all astronomical cycles. There are also other types of cycles. The important factor to note is that all things, all events, all beings move by Law and begin and end their existences in definite periods. Short periods combine to make longer periods—days make a month, months make a year, years make yugas, and so on.
It is sometimes asked: When was the first beginning? Theosophy answers that there was no first beginning. Which came first—the hen or the egg, the mango tree or the mango seed? Can we have a mango tree without the seed? There never was a first day. Yesterdays and tomorrows are both numberless. There was a first day for any one particular body of man; there was a first day for any particular hen, or any particular egg; there was a first day for any particular mango tree or mango seed; but there never was a first beginning. There is a succession of events—beginningless and endless. Each cycle of time, short or long, is a period of life for any thing, any being. The life-period of a human body is, say, 70-80 years; the life-period of the waking consciousness of man is, say, 14 to 18 hours; the life period of the entire universe is a Maha-Kalpa; however long (it runs into 15 figures), it is still definite. Even a Maha-Kalpa begins and ends.
The Secret Doctrine teaches the progressive development of everything, worlds as well as atoms; and this stupendous development has neither conceivable beginning nor imaginable end. Our "Universe" is only one of an infinite number of Universes, all of them "Sons of Necessity," because links in the great Cosmic chain of Universes, each one standing in the relation of an effect as regards its predecessor, and being a cause as regards its successor. (S.D., I, 43)
Each universe is an effect caused by a previous universe. It is the Law inherent in the universe that brings it to life, maintains it in existence and dissolves it into non-existence. Prabhava and Pralaya, starting-forth and dissolution, are true for the universe as birth and death are true for all things in the universe. Appearance and non-appearance, manifestation and non-manifestation, are the results of Law, and that Law works in the vast universe as in the tiny atom; it also works in our body, as in our mind.
This Law of Periodicity or Cycles is expounded in ancient Indian texts in great detail. Yugas and Manvantaras, Kalpas and Maha-Kalpas are known to every student of Hinduism. In Zoroastrianism also the Great Cycle called "sovereign time of the long period" is recognized. It is said to be 12,000 years long; but these 12,000 are divine years, explains H.P.B. in The Theosophical Glossary. There are clear indications of various other cycles in Zoroastrianism where the time concept had important developments round the term Zervane Akarne.
Let us turn to the practical and ethical side of the subject. Cycles in Nature have an intimate connection with the fate of the soul. Cycles and destiny are so close that we generally speak of cycles of destiny. Chakra and Karma represent the round or circle of birth and death. In the Gita, Krishna defines Karma as "the emanation that causes the existence and reproduction of creatures" (VIII, 3). Again: "At the end of a kalpa all things return into my nature, and then again at the beginning of another kalpa I cause them to evolve again" (IX, 7). This act of emanation is called Karma unless there is a being to make it, and in Pralaya there are no beings; they have merged into the nature of Krishna; they are asleep. At the dawn of a Manvantara they awake, and then they continue their Karma, their tasks, in a new universe, taking up the thread of the last universe when and where they stopped.
This is an important as well as a practical idea. In Nature, the Great Cycle is divided into two: the semicircle of activity called Manvantara, and the other half-circle of rest called Pralaya. This is the basic principle of the Law of Cycles—activity and rest. Therefore we have activity during the day and rest during the night; activity after the birth of the body and rest after the death of the body. Active Karma, new action of body, of mind, of soul, is possible only during the day, during incarnation, during Manvantara. In Pralaya as in Devachan, as also during the night, there is no new Karma, no new action, for body cannot act in sleep. Similarly, the mind cannot generate new thoughts in Devachan, it can only assimilate what it has already generated. So also the soul cannot act and make progress during Pralaya; it can only assimilate what it has experienced in the past Manvantara. "The night cometh when no man can work," it is said, and it is a true statement. Therefore, day, incarnation, Manvantara, are called periods of preparation; and night, after-death states, and the condition in Pralaya are called periods of assimilation.
Apply this teaching to the most important cycle affecting the human soul. It is the cycle of reincarnation, or successive lives of the soul in a body on earth. The cycle of reincarnation is the cycle of the human soul. That cycle of reincarnation is very long and during it the evolution of the human soul takes place. The soul grows through repeated births or successive lives on earth. This process of reincarnation is dual and is made up, like all other cyclic processes, of two periods—period of activity and period of rest, incarnate and discarnate conditions, life in the body and then life without a body.
Life in the body is like day when we are active; life after death is like night when we rest. When the soul is active in the body it generates Karma, but after death it cannot generate new Karma. It means that when we are living in a body as we do now, we can use our will freely, we can choose any course of thought or action; but once we pass through "the gate of death" we are not able to do that, we are not able to determine our course—because then the aspect of fate predominates. Whatever we have gathered of experience, whatever thoughts and feelings we have generated, are there for us to work with and work upon, but no new cause can be set in motion.
Hence Karma or destiny functions in a twofold manner: The Law of Karma, like the Law of Cycles, has active and passive aspects. Karma is destiny, and the destiny of each one of us has two fundamental aspects: free will and fate. Free will is the active aspect of Karma, fate is the passive aspect. Each one of us possesses the will which is free; we are free to choose, free to determine; but, once having made our choice and our determination, we are no more free; we are bound by our own choice and our own determination. We are free to eat what we like, but having eaten we are bound to digest or face indigestion; we are free to select our own friends, but having selected them we are bound to be affected by them; we are free all the time to sow whatever seeds we choose, but we are bound to reap the harvest of our own sowing.
Thus, the suty of the Law of Cycles teaches us that during life, when we are using the body, we have full freedom to think and to feel, to speak and to act, but we must be prepared to receive the effects and the reactions of all our choices. We can change the course of our actions, we can change our mind, we can change our character during life, not after death. Free will can be used now; after day the night comes and our dreams every night or in the long sleep of death cannot be controlled by our will.
Thus the evolution of the soul takes place by active choice during life and by passive assimilation after death. Therefore we call this life in the body the period of choice.
The greatest choice on the part of the soul is when it chooses to mould and to shape its own fate; when it chooses to think along a particular noble and spiritual line. The lives of most people are purposeless; the lives of some people have a narrow and selfish purpose; only a few souls choose to make their own purpose the Great Purpose. Theosophy teaches that the human cycle of reincarnation which decides the fate of the soul has for its greatest influence the perception by the soul that it, and none else, is the maker of destiny. That conviction is the starting point of success; without it, the soul goes round and round and Yugas and Kalpas start and end, and the web of Karma holds a prisoner and a slave.
In life, we have the chance to go right or to go wrong. Theosophy gives definite instruction about the use each one of us can make of the Law of Cycles. Useful and practical help can be found in W. Q. Judge's article "Cyclic Impression and Return and Our Evolution" (U.L.T. Pamphlet No. 24). He explains how every thought and feeling, every mood and mode of life, arises and subsides. This Law not only works in the mighty expanse of the Universe; it also functions in the small affairs of our daily lives. People who suffer from moods will learn to control them by understanding the Law of Cycles. Just as the lunar cycle affects ebb and tide, the course of many diseases and so on, so also our changing thoughts and passing feelings rise and fall, making their influence felt in many ways.
When we are able to master the small cycles of our own moods, good or bad, of our own elations and depressions, we are able to understand the mystery of the Great Cycles. The Great Masters are Masters of Cycles, who know the infinite division of time in the small as in the large. We are helped by them to lift ourselves from the dark cycle of Kali Yuga, our Iron Age—hard as iron, black as thick smoke. Knowledge comes from those who know that here and now men and women like ourselves can break the evil influence of Kali Yuga by choice—choice to learn, choice to apply, choice to serve others to learn and to apply. "Choose what ye will serve," it is said. Let us choose to serve the Path of Purity which Zarathushtra taught, the Path of Love which Jesus taught, the Path of Divine Sacrifice which Krishna taught; and thus choosing aright we shall come to Them—who are Lords of Purity, Love, Wisdom and Sacrifice.