The evolutionary urge of the human being, that irresistible impulse to push forward along the Lighted Way "from darkness into light, from the unreal to the real, and from death to immortality," is a divine attribute inherent in all created forms and for which the human mind can give no satisfactory explanation.
The life of the evolving personality may be divided into five progressive steps, which are determined by the condition of the indwelling spiritual flame and the quality of the light that is being radiated.
It should be realized, however, that although these stages are here only sketchily indicated in a few paragraphs, their sequence actually covers innumerable incarnations, spread over vast periods of time which may be reckoned in terms of millions of years. Especially during the early stages of existence, man's development is extremely slow, and it is only when nearing its culmination and when the soul is beginning to take hold, that a marked increase in the rate of unfoldment will occur.
Furthermore, students should realize that the classification as set out below is artificial and is merely given to provide an overall picture of the general process of development. The procedure will vary considerably from soul to soul, both in rate and characteristics, and in some instances the periods described might partly overlap or even show a somewhat simultaneous development.
The First Period -- the recognition of man as a human being dates from that prehistoric time when animal man was provided with an individual soul, and thus gained self-consciousness -- he was individualized. In this early stage man was still polarized purely in his physical body and was learning to control it by means of the desire or emotional body. This corresponds with the ancient historical periods of Lemuria and Atlantis. During this period man as yet had no knowledge or awareness of any higher existence, and his aspirations did not go beyond pandering to the lusts and pleasures of the flesh.
This period may be compared with that of a child between the ages of one and seven years. At this stage the inner flame of the soul is as yet hardly noticeable to the Teachers of the race, and only appears as a small pin-point of light, and the driving force of evolution is still largely instinctive.
The Second Period is characterized by a polarization in the emotional body, and is associated with the first signs of an awakening lower mind of desire. This occurred during the later Atlantean days. With the mind beginning to permeate the personality, the desires no longer remain solely focused on the physical life, but become directed towards the astral level, and a capacity arises for a deep love and unreasoning devotion for those exhibiting greater intelligence and wisdom, or in wild and unreasonable hatred towards some associates. The balance which the reasoning mind will later achieve is, however, still lacking and the life during this period will therefore be characterized by emotional extremes. The mental aspect is unfolding, but the man is still dominated by the emotions .
If this period is symbolically compared with that of a single life, it will correspond with the life of a child of seven to 14 years old -- the period covering adolescence and the maturing of the child. The inner light of the soul remains dim during this stage, and still hardly noticeable.
The Third Period is that vital phase when the mind is being developed, and the life is polarized in the mental body.
The man by now has full control of the physical body, and each incarnation provides better equipment, with the accent primarily on the quality of the brain as the instrument of the mind. Simultaneously the emotional body becomes more refined in its life of desire, and instead of as in the past turning downwards to the material for its satisfaction, it now tends upwards, and desire becomes transmuted into aspiration - at first mental aspiration, till later there comes an awareness of the existence of the subjective worlds. The man also becomes conscious of the joys of the intellect, and therefore ever strives for greater adequacy of the mind.
Meanwhile the divine spark of the soul, which for so long has remained dormant, has commenced to glow and to develop into a small flame. This spiritual fire is permeating the body of the soul, supplying it with warmth, radiating its energies, and allowing the soul to gain in consciousness on its own plane. The physical brain, however, does not yet become consciously aware of impressions issuing from this indwelling force. This period will correspond with the individual age of between 14 and 20 -- the reaching of adulthood.
The Fourth Period is that wherein the Personality, as a co-ordinated whole, is for the first time being recognized -- the three lower bodies, the physical, emotional and mental, have become synthesized into a single working unit under mental control. The consummation of the personality life has been attained and its attention is now being consciously focused towards the soul.
This is the stage where the disciple is born, and where he takes his first hesitant steps on the Path. He has become aware of his duality; he comes to the realization that his whole being will finally have to become centered in the soul, and that the soul must come into complete control of the lower planes. He therefore commences to work on this transmutation and the expansion of his consciousness; he finds this a laborious and painful task, marked by constant reverses and which can only be achieved by dedication and persistence. He finds that his most effective tools in this demanding task are study, meditation and service to his fellow man.
In the course of these struggles, and without the disciple being aware of it, his inner fire has systematically been receiving more fuel and is now burning so much brighter that the inner light is beginning to attract the attention of the Masters. This marks the maturing adult stage of 28 to 35 years.
The Fifth Period marks the consummation of the human being on the physical plane. It is the stage where he enters the Path of Initiation -- initiation into the conscious recognition of the spiritual worlds.
Through sustained meditation, supported by its two helpmates, study and service, the disciple is increasingly making direct contact with the soul's vibration, and more and more the soul-consciousness is being incorporated to include the lower planes. The soul light is burning ever brighter, and its radiation is lighting up the disciple's Path.
During this period the polarization shifts entirely from the Personality to the Soul until, towards the end of the fifth stage, liberation is complete and the man is set free. The next step is that the polarization shifts even higher, to become centered in the Spiritual Triad, but this only occurs after the Third Initiation.
The fifth period may be compared with the symbolic age of 42.
It is often found that disciples become impatient or discouraged with their slow spiritual progress, but it should always be remembered that all truly esoteric effects are slowly achieved, and that only after consistent and painstaking work. Should a man make apparently rapid progress in any one incarnation, this will be due to the fact that he is only recapitulating that which has already been acquired in earlier incarnations, and that he is preparing for his next arduous task.
The whole path of spiritual evolution is therefore a successive range of expansions of consciousness, of recognitions and succeeding revelations, until the world of matter and form stand revealed in the light of the soul, and illumination is achieved. The disciple then gradually establishes his conscious life in the subjective world, the world of reality; his sense of values becomes radically changed and his time and capacities are devoted to higher objectives.