Humanity and the Archangels: Perspectives on the Unique Opportunity of Human Incarnation
As human beings on a spiritual path it is inevitable and natural that we develop an understanding of the nature of being human. In fact, most religious and philosophical systems contain some essential teaching about what it means to be human, and what relevance being human has to our spiritual path. For instance, the Abrahamic traditions of the West – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all take as a key source the Book of Genesis from Old Testament or the Hebrew Tanakh. A central story about the origins of humanity as told in Genesis is that Adam and Eve are the original humans, but that due to a transgression against God, they incur Original Sin and are cast out of Eden, thus setting up the conditions for our current experience of being human beings. In this story, experiencing being a human being such as we have historically and do today is seen as an unfortunate and unnecessary consequence of a Fall, a mistake made by the first humans. Another aspect of this perspective is that another type of being – angels – have not experienced this Fall (except for Lucifer!), and so are superior to humans in that they remain in a state of grace which humans have lost and must try to regain.
Of course, various other religious and philosophical traditions around the world hold a wide variety of other beliefs about the origin and nature humanity. These beliefs play an important role in shaping how practitioners of these traditions relate to being a human being, and certainly influence their approach to spiritual practice.
During my own explorations of human nature over the years, the spiritual significance of the human condition has continually deepened. Several traditions have extolled the ‘precious opportunity’ of a human birth or incarnation, and I have grown to not only concur with this view, but have also experienced an ever-deepening insight into why this is the case. This view does not see the human kingdom as the result of a Fall or Original Sin per se, for instance, but rather as a unique opportunity for spiritual growth.
I will not take time here to explore the broader richness of why, in my understanding, human incarnation is such a profound opportunity for spiritual growth. Instead I will focus on two main themes – the fact of the spiritual significance of the human kingdom, including some indications how widely this point of view is held (though certainly not universally). And also how interesting it is that many widely independent sources not only hold this view, but specifically the idea that even great intelligences such as Devas or Archangels do not, according to many sources (as I will show below), have the same potential for the depth and fullness of God-consciousness or enlightenment that humans do, if these various types of beings have not at some point passed through and fulfilled the potential of human evolution.
Of course, such views may be simply an expression of the anthropocentric viewpoint so common throughout past world cultures and spiritual traditions up until the more modern era. But my explorations lead me to feel that this is not the primary reason for this widespread appreciation of the unique potential of human beings. Part of the reason I am inclined to agree with this view of the special opportunity afforded human beings is that even many modern mystics and sages continue to confirm this view. Another is that the reasons for this being so, as quoted below from various sources, are quite similar to each other in many ways. The essence of this will become clear in the several examples given below.
The following are quotes from a variety of mostly modern sources – Christian, Hindu, Sufi, Buddhist and modern esoteric. All of these quotes have been specifically selected because they not only affirm the positive value and purpose of human incarnation, but also because they all contrast human spiritual potential with that of the Devas or Archangels.
Bhai Sahib, 20th Century Sufi master, teacher of Irena Tweedie:
“On a certain point on the way of Devayan (the path of the Devas), Devas have to stop; they cannot go further, but man can. No limit for man… he has all the possibilities which can be developed to the utmost degree. But don’t think Devas are low; some are very much higher than (ordinary) man. All respect to the Devas! You must not think that they cannot realize God; but there is a limit for them; no limit is for man… man is the king; he has in him the germ of everything.” (Daughter of Fire, p. 411)
Sri Chinmoy, 20th century Hindu teacher, disciple of Sri Aurobindo:
“If a being from that world (Devas or Angels) wants God-Realization, Self-Discovery, it has to take a human body, whereas we do not need any other form to realize God. This is the advantage that we have. Although we are full of suffering, limitation and ignorance here, this physical world offers the only opportunity to realize the Supreme. Beings from every other place must come down here to realize God.”
“In the whole universe, in all of God’s Creation, man is unique because next to man is total perfection, complete unveiling consciousness. Man is unique because he has the absolute potentiality to realize God…. There are thousands of Cosmic Gods (Devas, Archangels, Asuras, etc.) But these Gods are not superior. They are all supernatural entities in the (higher) worlds with capacities higher than ordinary men. But they do not make (as much) progress because they do not care to enter into the world for the transformation of their nature. They have to come into a human body and accept life like us with its bondage, suffering, suppression and humiliation if they wish to evolve.
“We are more evolved in the sense of our aspiration to God-realization. They are in a world of joy and delight, which we do not have. Our joy is very limited. The fact is they are happier; but happiness is not God-realization.”
Stylianos Atteshlis, aka Daskalos, 20th century Christian mystic and esotericist:
“Prior to passing through the Human Idea, humanity is an Archangel within the Archangelic Orders. Before their expression, Human Beings and Archangels, as Holy Monads (Spirits), differ little from each other. Later, however, when they (humans) return to be within Absolute Beingness, the difference is great. Archangels cannot obtain Super Self-consciousness in any of their expressions. This is because they have their Being within the Eternal Now and are exposed to various experiences without being able to make comparisons. Conversely, Human Beings as Prodigal Children are fully exposed to the worlds of duality, and are therefore able to develop a keen sense of individuated Self-consciousness. Such considerations inspired Paramahansa Yogananda to say, ‘The human form is higher that the angel form. Man is the highest being in Creation because he aspires to freedom’.
It is the Soul which distinguishes humans from other Beings, for Archangels have no need of a Soul as they each belong to a communal Order. It is the Soul that harbors the Divine Individuation of each human Spirit-Soul-Ego when we return to our Father. The Soul is the womb of Super Self-consciousness.” (Esoteric Practice, pgs. 32-3)
Lorna Byrne, Christian mystic, visionary and activist:
“The angels and I have talked about the differences between humans and angels many times. I still feel embarrassed to say that angels are creatures but that they are not created in His (God’s) image. We humans are superior to angels because we have a soul. The angels insist that I must say this and not be embarrassed about it.
I have been shown the connection that exists between God and the angels. It’s as if God’s light runs along a thread of light. It’s as if a thread of light runs along a thread from God to each angel. Angels would not have this light without their connection to God. Angels have a deep desire to receive this light constantly and this is why they serve God unconditionally. Angels are answerable to God at all times. They do not have free will like we do, but they do help to create the conditions in which we can enjoy this unique gift.” Stairways to Heaven, pg. 235
H. P. Blavatsky, 19th century esoteric teacher, co-founder of the Theosophical Society:
“The Doctrine teaches that, in order to become a divine, fully conscious god, – aye, even the highest – the Spiritual primeval Intelligences (Devas or Archangels) must pass through the human stage.” (SD Vol. I p 106)
“Man’s uses of life should be such as neither to animalize nor to spiritualize, but to humanize Self, before he can do so he must be born human, not angelic.” (SD Vol. II p. 246)
“The air is full of Souls,” states Philo, “they descend to be tied to mortal bodies, being desirous to live in them”, because through, and in, the human form they will become progressive beings, whereas the nature of the angel is purely intransitive, therefore man has in him the potency of transcending the faculties of the Angels.”
Although these are a few short quotes from this source (The Secret Doctrine, written by Blavatsky under inspiration from her teachers Mahatmas Morya and Kuthumi), the entire book continuously emphasizes this theme, and in fact the whole second half of The Secret Doctrine is called Anthropogenesis, and explores a rich understanding of human nature, our relationship to other forms of life such as Archangels, and the special nature of the human kingdom. This is perhaps the most esoteric and in-depth treatment of this subject I have encountered.
“All sentient beings have Buddha-nature. That being the case, do all beings in the five realms, such as hell beings, hungry ghosts, (or animals, asuras and devas) have the capacity to work toward enlightenment? No. Only a “precious human life” has a good basis to work toward enlightenment.” The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Chapter 2
This notion of the preciousness of a human birth is widely taught in Buddhism, and is part of a system of practice called The Four Mind Changings, or the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind Toward the Dharma. These four thoughts are: the precious opportunity of a human birth; the truth of impermanence and death; the truth of karma; and the truth of samsara, the endless cycle of duality and suffering if we don’t awaken. Contemplating these truths helps to strengthen our understanding of our situation as beings in samsara and increase our motivation to seek liberation and enlightenment, and support others to do the same.
I have put these quotes together to help us strengthen our sense of what it means to be a human being, to sense more clearly the purpose of human incarnation, and to deepen our appreciation of the important opportunity offered us in having a human incarnation.
Of course, by emphasizing comparing humans to Angels I do not mean in any way to diminish the various orders of Angels. As Bhai Sahib says in his quote above, “All respect to the Devas!”. Many types of Archangelic or Devas are very beautiful, loving and enlightened beings. Yet we want to appreciate that even these great Intelligences support and rejoice in our choice to embrace human incarnation and the path to full enlightenment.