The mental principle distinguishes human beings from animals. We share the first four principles with the lower forms of life, but when the fifth principle began to unfold in prehistoric times we reached an important stage of our journey. We felt our humanity manifesting within us.
There was no violent change or marked transition from the consciousness of the fourth principle into that of the fifth. These principles shade into each other and blend as do the colours of the spectrum. As intellect unfolded it faintly illuminated the fourth principle and endowed instinctive life with reason. Simple consciousness shaded into self-consciousness. Without our intellect and only the four principles well developed we would have passions but no reason, emotions but no intellect, desires but no rationalised will.
In some animal species, the fourth principle has attracted to itself the lowest shading of the fifth principle, and those animals manifest signs of simple reasoning. However, the first sign of the real unfoldment of the fifth principle, intellect, is the dawning of self-consciousness. In order more fully to understand this, let us consider what consciousness really is.
The lowest form of consciousness is not much more than mere sensation. Life in the early stages is almost automatic. The mental function is almost entirely along subconscious lines, and is only that which is concerned with the physical life and satisfaction of primitive wants or needs. This primitive consciousness developed into what psychologists' term simple consciousness. Simple consciousness is an “awareness” of outside things, a perception and recognition of things other than the inner self. The conscious attention is turned outward. There is no capacity to think of hopes, fears, aspirations, plans and so forth and then compare them with the like thoughts of others. There is no ability to gaze inward and speculate upon abstract things. Things are taken for granted and no questions are asked.
With the advent of self-consciousness human beings began to form a conception of the “I”. They began to compare themselves with others and to reason about it. We as self-conscious beings take mental stock, and draw conclusions from what we find in our minds. We think for ourselves, we analyse, classify, separate, deduce. As we progress in the development of our intellect we think out things for ourselves, and pass along new and fresh suggestions to our instinctive minds. We rely upon our own minds rather than blindly accepting that which comes from the minds of others. We create for ourselves and are no longer mere mental automatons.
Through thousands of centuries of human life, aspiration and growth, sprang the world of men and women as it is today, with all its achievements and possessions.
Self-consciousness is a thing easy to comprehend, but difficult to define. One writer has expressed it well when he says that without self-consciousness a creature may know; but only by the aid of self-consciousness is it possible for him to know that he knows.
With this unfoldment of the intellect came the beginnings of all the wonderful achievements of the human mind of today. While these achievements are great they are nothing to what is yet before us. In our unfoldment, as we receive more light from the next highest principle, the spiritual mind, we will achieve things as yet undreamed of. Just think, intellect is third from the highest in the scale on the principles of man. There are two principles as much higher than intellect, as intellect is higher than the principle below, instinctive mind. We should not allow the pride of intellect to blind us.
According to the occult doctrine, once the self-consciousness was awakened into being and the “I” was felt and recognised, the real awakened life of the soul began. We do not refer to the life that comes after the spiritual awakening, that is a still higher stage, but to the mental awakening of the soul to the “I” consciousness. This is the stage where the Soul first began its waking existence in flesh. The soul had to meet new conditions and had many obstacles to overcome on the journey to spiritual adulthood. And so the journey continues for us on the path. It may seem like it at times but there is no real going backward on the path. Slow as the progress may seem, each of us is moving steadily forward.
There are a number of lessons to be drawn from the subjects of the instinctive mind and the intellect and this is as good a place as any in which to consider them.
One of these lessons is that the awakening of intellect does not necessarily make a person a better human being, in the sense of being “good.” While it is true that an unfolding principle or faculty will give an upward tendency to a person, it is equally true that some people are so wrapped up in the material side of things that the awakened intellect only tends to give them increased powers to gratify their low desires and inclinations. We can choose to descend to the depths of which an animal would never go. Animals are governed solely by instinct, and their actions, so prompted, are perfectly natural and proper. Animals are not blamed for following the impulses of their nature. People, in whom intellect has unfolded, know that it is contrary to their highest nature to descend to the level of animals or lower. Intelligence added to desire and cunning has the potential to cause much damage in the world. We have many such examples in the world around us today.
All occultists know that there are consequences for misuse of power, which will result in the soul having to spend many weary years in retracing its steps over the backward road it has trodden while having the additional burden of a sense of being out of place and time. Even for such a soul there is escape, in time.