A PRAISEWORTHY characteristic of Silver Birch was that no matter how difficult or obscure a subject put to him he always had at his command a superb and instant answer. Indeed, the beloved guide welcomed the points which some lesser beings might have dodged.
Journalist A.W. Austen, a circle member for some years told of a remarkable question-and-answer session between this world and the next.
“What do you consider to be the most urgent reform that is necessary in the world?” Austen asked.
“That is a very hard question,” Silver Birch admitted, “for all over your world there are injustices that cry out to be remedied. There are wrongs that shriek to be righted; there are so many pestilential blots on your civilization that it is hard to know where to make a start. But the most urgent reform, as I see it, is to get rid of the needless poverty, desolation and misery which is the fate of countless thousands. When there is so much, that any should be denied the very fundamentals of material existence is very wrong.”
“The greatest reform that cries out for accomplishment is to redress the disparity between those who have too much and those who have not enough. How can you reach souls to find themselves when their poor, pitiable, emaciated physical bodies are not a fitting temple for the spirit of God to dwell therein? We are not blind to the prime necessities of your physical selves and our mission is to bring to your world those conditions of living which enable body, soul and mind to find the realities necessary for their existence in a state of happiness and well-being.”
Next Austen asked the wise spirit teacher, “If you were a dictator what would be your first reform?” But Silver Birch would not even consider the possibility of his being a dictator.
“I cannot put myself in a position where I would have a world of puppets at my disposal,” he said, “for that is contrary to the Law as I know it. It is not through dictatorships, through enforced commands which must be obeyed in fear and trembling lest dire punishment awaits, so that peace, harmony and happiness can come to your world. You cannot set the world right by a series of ordinances that must be immediately obeyed. The chaos caused by years and years of confusion can only gradually become clarified and even then only through goodwill, the desire to be of real helpfulness imbuing all those who are the leaders of mankind.”
“Neither I, nor any other who claims to be a spiritual teacher, could ever act as a dictator, for our whole mission is to awaken the slumbering conscience, to teach the dormant spirit to arise and claim the inherent gift of the Great Spirit that is on its own. Only thus will true happiness and peace and concord come to your world. No one person on earth can reach that stage of perfection where he is entitled to rule over others and his words to be obeyed as implicit commands decreed by infallible authority.”
Here Austen asked Silver Birch what he considered to be the most necessary step in Britain’s relations with other countries.
“This country of yours has a great mission to perform, for it is destined to give a lead in bringing peace and also in staving off many of the disasters that threaten so many countries,” answered the guide. “But it will have to remember that before there can be peace in your world there will have to be a spirit of self-sacrifice and service. Unless those who see with the eyes of discernment are prepared to make concessions, are prepared to give that which is not necessary for their own happiness and well-being but would enable other countries to find solutions to their problems - unless a lead is given in that direction, your country will fail in its mission.”
“Some countries have too much; some have too little. You are rich in many things and where other countries are poor in those same things you could arrange a means of exchange that would enable problems to be solved without the shedding determination based upon obstinacy to say, ‘What we have we hold.’ Unless you are prepared to give, you cannot receive.”
“Are you thinking of colonies?” Austen interposed.
“Yes, everything,” he said. “The land, the sea, the air - those do not belong to countries; they belong to the Great Spirit of all life. His spirit is expressed in His children, and they should receive, as part of their natural heritage, all that is necessary for their well-being, their development, their unfoldment and their experience on earth, so that when they lay down their burdens when death comes they are ready to die, equipped, prepared for the greater life in the world of spirit.”
Often Silver Birch spoke of a New World, one without war where a spirit of brotherhood would be expressed.
To Austen, this seemed “an optimistic view.” His point was that the world would always contain those at varying stages of evolution. With the hope of clarifying the position, he asked Silver Birch if he agreed that “creation is continuous and that ‘new’ souls - as opposed to reincarnated souls - are constantly being born.”
“The Great Spirit is infinite, and so the process of creation is infinite,” he replied, “progressing always in its multitudinous expressions from imperfection to perfection, from immaturity to maturity, through all the countless grades of evolution. That process is timeless. It had no beginning, it has no end, for it belongs to infinity. It is part of the infinite Great Spirit, and that self-same spirit finds its expression in human life at varying stages of unfoldment. But when you speak of ‘new’ souls, do you mean that something begins which had no existence before?”
“Yes,” Austen confirmed.
“That is impossible,” said Silver Birch, “for all life is based on preceding life. Life gives birth to life, constantly expressing itself in many forms. Spirit, unevolved because it has no earthly contact, finds expression in your world through suitable instruments fashioned by you, as you provide physical bodies commensurate with the spirit which has to use it so that it can possess that earthly education necessary for its evolution. It is new insofar as its earthly experience is concerned, but it is not new in the sense that it had no existence as spirit before it expressed itself on earth. Spirit is the stuff out of which all life is made; spirit is the primary substance of creation; spirit, as spirit, has always existed and will always exist.”
“That excludes, of course, those who return to earth for further experience. But, omitting those who reincarnate and dealing only with those who incarnate for the first time, they had no individuality, no human consciousness before their physical expression. Human consciousness only begins with earthly expression. It is the body of matter that supplies the vital link which enables the spirit to become aware of itself as individual consciousness.”
Austen asked the guide whether he would hazard an opinion on the proportion of “new” to “old” souls among those who are being born.
“It is impossible to give any answer to your question that would be even approximately correct,” he replied. “But I would say the proportion is fairly equal.”
“In that case,” said Austen, “there will always be on earth those who are more evolved and those who are less evolved.”
“Yes,” agreed the guide, “otherwise evolution would not be taking place. Try to understand that life, because it is life, cannot ever be static, for that way lies stagnation. Life is rhythm, motion, progress, unfoldment, development, the reaching out towards perfection all the time. Unless there were constant gradations of life, unless there was a constant pilgrimage on the rungs of the ladder of progress, life would not be life. It is in the variety of evolution, with its multitudinous stages of development, that life becomes life.”
“If all were at the same stage, if perfection were attained, if there were no necessity for further striving, no need for new attainments, no need for still greater expression, then the incentive to live, to achieve, would gradually become extinct. The motivation of life is always onward, striving to reach out to clasp that which is at present beyond its grasp. And it is always in the striving, in the attempt to conquer, seeking to triumph over difficulty, that the spirit finds itself and God is at work amongst you.”
Arising from the spirit answers, Austen wanted to know whether less evolved souls would always cause trouble in the world and retard progress
“Yes, but always remember this, that what you call unevolved souls are really unevolved by comparison with those who are more evolved.” said the guide. “As your standard becomes higher, so you recognize that those you considered were evolved are not so evolved as you thought they were. All the difficulties of your world, and indeed those belonging to the lower strata of my life, are caused wholly and solely by selfishness, greed, avarice, self-interest in all its expressions.”
“There will be always some less evolved than others. How else would you have it? Would you have all humanity reaching the same stage of evolution at the same time? Would you have every human being moulded to the same pattern at the same point of progress at the same time? Would you reduce all life to a state of monotonous equality in regard to its development? Would you have only light and no shade? Would you have only sunshine and no storm? Would you have only virtue and no wickedness? Would you have laughter and no tears? How would you regulate your world unless it be through an infinite variety of expression?”
Austen suggested to Silver Birch that, in view of the many differences in evolution that must always be present, his description of the New World seemed to be too optimistic.
“No, the New World is born,” the guide declared, “born in agony of birth, with a baptism of tears and misery and sadness. But the New World is here. Its rays are beginning to pierce the fog of your world. But even in this New World all will not have been achieved. There will be plenty to remedy, to improve, to strengthen. There will still be weakness to be overcome, there will still be troubles to be eradicated. But there will be a new basis for life. Much of the needless misery, much of the needless deprivation, much of the needless starvation and sadness will have gone. The basis of life will be changed, for gradually selfishness will be overthrown and service will reign in its place.”
“But is it not true that we shall only get what we deserve?” Austen queried.
“Yes, the New World will come more quickly or more slowly, as more of you help us or hinder us in our efforts to co-operate with you,” said Silver Birch. “You will not get more than you deserve or less than you deserve, for so perfect is natural law in its expression that its scales are always evenly balanced. They are weighted down neither on one side nor the other. I tell you of conditions that are operating and, as they continue to operate, what will be changed. Do not forget that you will reap in your world the harvest of countless generations of labour wrought by many pioneers, idealists and reformers, who made sacrifices to advance the lot of mankind.”
To Austen it seemed unfair that some “new” souls should be born into conditions that were far better than those into which other “new” souls had similarly been born. Could Silver Birch explain the apparent injustice?
“They will be born into a better world, but more will be expected of them in consequence,” he said, “for they will not have to fight the fights that others have had to win in days gone by. It is purely a matter of comparison. Remember this always, no man cheats the laws of the Great Spirit. At no time can you alter in any way by one hair’s breadth what you deserve. Reward and punishment are fixed and immutable, determined only by your conduct in your life. There is no favouritism, there is no evasion. Divine justice is perfect in its expression. You will find that you will receive just what you have earned - not one whit more, not one whit less.”
“That is how we ought to want it,” Austen commented.
“That is how men and women of courage should desire it,” said Silver Birch, “not to have rewards they have not earned or punishments they have not deserved. You should be prepared to endure the punishments that you deserve and carry upon your shoulders the responsibilities that you have created. It was all said in the Bible -- ‘Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for what a man sows that he will reap.’ And I cannot say it any better than that.”
“The laws that are made in your world may favour some unduly and punish others needlessly. There may be privileges that come because of rank or title or high position. But these will not obtain in the world of spirit. Every allowance will be made. The soul will register just that stage of attainment that it has reached by its life in your world - no higher, no lower. Just what you have made yourself to be, that you will be when death calls you to another life.”
Next Austen asked Silver Birch what should be the attitude to spiritual or divine guidance received by individuals who sit alone in the silence.
“There is no spirit, however exalted, in my world who would desire you to accept his teachings without consideration, without pondering and without reflection,” he replied. “We do not desire automatons who will mechanically perform all that is said. Our mission is to increase your own sense of responsibility, to stimulate the divine that is within you, to enable you to have even greater command over your reasoning faculties. God speaks to you through your mind. Whilst it is true that the kingdom of heaven is within, the mind is also God’s kingdom - or should be.”
“Never do anything which your reason rejects. Enthrone reason as your guide. We would never suggest to you that you perform tasks that are foreign to your common sense. Ours is a mission of co-operation. We strive to make you aware of the infinite qualities that you possess, many of them so dormant that they never find expression. We want you to find yourselves, your real selves, so that you may order your lives in such a fashion that the Great Spirit is expressed through you. If you receive promptings, if you receive what seem to be messages in the silence that urge tasks upon you, do not perform them if your common sense objects. Only those who have reached a certain standard of spiritual attainment can be sure of the prompting that comes to them in the silence.”
“It is better that you work with us, once you have learned to trust us and are convinced that our mission is to serve you and through you to serve humanity. We have striven to demonstrate that we are experienced in the knowledge of spiritual laws, that ours is a divine mission that seeks always to bring the richness of spiritual truth within your grasp. Is it not better that you should co-operate with known intelligence of proved worth rather than that alone, unguided, you should seek to penetrate what is the unknown? What would your answer be?”
Austen told the guide he considered it always to be better to know with whom one is speaking.
“That is so,” said Silver Birch. “When the teacher has proved his ability to teach, why not utilize his services that are freely offered you? When a soul has reached the stage of development when he is aware of all who seek to inspire him and to commune with him from the world of spirit, then there are no difficulties to be overcome. But all humanity is at different stages of evolution.”
Still the two-world debate continued. Austen admitted that to him it seemed there was a limit to the sacredness of life. Taking it to an extreme, it seemed to him “foolish to suggest that the life of a germ is sacred if by sparing it we endanger the life of a human being.” Would the spirit mentor enlighten him on this point?
“Where does consciousness begin?” asked Silver Birch. “Has the germ consciousness? Has a snake consciousness? Has a flea consciousness? Has a microbe consciousness? They have not in the sense that you understand consciousness, the awareness of oneself. Consciousness is the knowledge of what you are, who you are, what you could be. That consciousness is not resident in germs. Where there is conscious life you have creation at work, and it is wrong for you to interfere with that consciousness and to prevent it from having the fullness of expression in your world to which it is entitled.”
This answer did not satisfy Austen who reminded the guide that animals did not possess consciousness as defined, but we were taught it was wrong to kill them.
“Below individual consciousness, in the animal life there is a group consciousness,” he said. “Below animals, the group consciousness ceases to function. There is no consciousness in a germ.”
“Is the germ capable of feeling pain?” asked Austen.
“No,” said Silver Birch.
“Then are we to be guided by whether pain is involved in killing?” was the next question.
“The guide is consciousness,” said Silver Birch. “Where there is consciousness, it is wrong to kill. You should allow the fullest freedom to all human beings to enjoy life in all its expressions, so that its richness may reach them and equip them for death, the liberator into the world of spirit. But because your world is a changing world, you are often compelled to interfere with the rights of others because you desire to help them. Your motive, sincerely, honestly and truthfully is to serve.”
“I say that because of vivisection. To me, that is wrong. It is often cruel and it is needless and it fails also to achieve its object. But I know that there are many who perform vivisection, not because they wish to inflict cruelty on animals, but only because their desire is to help humanity. They think that they can gain knowledge which will help them in their conquering of disease. Their motive is sincere.”
“But where there is needless killing, where there is slaughter of animals solely to satisfy human appetites, where beautiful birds are shot in the name of sport - then there can be no justification. Life is sacred, life is of the Great Spirit. When life becomes conscious and takes human - and even, in its lower stage, animal form - it should be entitled to be treated with sacredness. Life should not be held cheaply, for life is the Great Spirit in expression. You have no power to create life, therefore you should not seek to destroy its means of expression.”
“Realize this, that when we are asked questions to which there can be no answer of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, we do try honestly to give you a point of view that will help. I have no desire to be arbitrary, I only want to be of service. It may be that you could find apparent contradictions in answers given at different times, but then we are dealing with different phases of the subject.”
“And remember also I make no claim to infallibility. I do not say that I have reached the limit of all knowledge and wisdom. I, like you, am human still. I, too, strive after perfection. I, too, have weaknesses to conquer. I, too, have progress to achieve. I do not say that what I tell you represents final truth. I only tell you what I know and, if I do not know, what I believe. If the views that I express cause disagreement, that is all to the good, for then we can reason with one another. You can add your stock of wisdom to mine and in considering these problems we can learn from one another and help one another to a greater understanding.”
“Co-operation does not only mean that we should try to help you, but that you should also try to help us. I do not want it to be assumed that at any stage, when a problem arises, you say, ’Consult Silver Birch, consult Red Cloud, consult White Hawk, and what they say is final.’ That is not so. We will give you the knowledge at our disposal, but remember we make no claim to infallibility. If we fail to stimulate you into thinking for yourselves, then we have failed in our mission.”
At this juncture, Austen suggested to Silver Birch that to some the knowledge of life after death might tend to cheapen life on earth; they might consider that if life could not be destroyed there was less harm than they previously thought in killing.
“Have we not always taught that increasing knowledge brings increasing responsibilities?” asked the guide. “Because you have this knowledge, you have a greater responsibility in the way you use it. Your standard of life must be higher because of knowledge and, if it is not, then you yourself will pay the price. You cannot cheat. You cannot pretend once knowledge is vouchsafed to you. Once you understand the Plan, and the pattern of life has been made clear to you, it should give you an increasing responsibility of your duty to your neighbour, to your world and to yourself. Life should be richer, more sacred, and the desire to serve should burn brightly within you.”
“If knowledge does not do that for you, then you do not possess it. It has passed you by, for if you fail to apply truth when you know truth, your spirit is impoverished and you are the sufferer. The laws of the Great Spirit cannot be cheated, not even by philosophical quibbles. What you call Spiritualism should make you aware of your place in the scheme of life. If it does not, you have not learned its lessons and must pay the price. Do not blame truth if you do not understand it. Blame yourself, for truth is still true even though it has not penetrated through to you. Truth is not altered by argument. Because it is truth, it is true.”
When Austen similarly interviewed White Eagle, the guide of Bertha Hirst, he could not explain to Austen the tie between people and their guardians, as he confessed he had never considered the question. So Austen asked Silver Birch whether he could answer it.
“It is a tie of spiritual affinity,” he said. “Sometimes that happens when there is a blood relationship at all. Wherever there is a mutual interest, based upon the tie of affinity between kindred spirits, then the guardian or guide - call it what name you like - is able to render service because the attraction is there. The greater the bond of spiritual affinity, the closer is the proximity between the guardian and its charge.”
Remembering that Silver Birth had said earlier in the interview that individual consciousness does not exist before the soul is incarnated into matter, Austen wondered how it could have developed characteristics sufficient to create a spiritual affinity.
“That is something that is so hard to express in your earthly language,” said the guide. “There is a bond that can be determined from the moment of conception. The tiny germ cells that, when they coalesce, provide the physical vehicle of life, possess within themselves all the qualities that later find expression in the mature earthly body. So, too, does the spirit possess in miniature the spiritual qualities that will also find expression.”
“Did that mean that our evolution was determined insofar as we had to evolve along certain individual lines but could choose our own rate of evolution?” Austen asked.
“Certain things are fixed, by virtue of the body at your command and by the spirit that incarnates into that body,” said Silver Birch. “Irrespective of rebirth, the law that determines the invasion of that body by spirit also to a large extent determines the expression. I do not want that to be construed into saying that everything is predestined, but in a world of law human life conforms to law. There are variations, but in the main much has to be fixed.”
“The rate of evolution depends essentially on the free will of the individual, but obviously there are limits within that earthly incarnation. That depends upon the use he makes of opportunity, but he is limited, for example, to the extent that he could not achieve perfection. There is a quality in the spirit that is known to advanced souls in our world, and the appointment of a guardian is dependent upon the affinity of spiritual interest between them.”
“Do you mean that guardians are appointed by somebody else, and it is not a choice of a charge by the guardian?” Austen queried, probing further.
“Yes, they are appointed always,” said Silver Birch. “There is law in my world, much more rigidly than in yours. The harmony between them is determined because the qualities are known at the beginning. The headmaster of a school, if he knew the latent qualities of all the children entrusted to his charge, and knew the capabilities of the teachers he had, would know which children should be under the tutors of each teacher. Unfortunately, the factors are not always known in your world - but they are in ours.”