The next step in the ascending scale of life-forms is occupied by the polyps, which are found in water, fastened to floating matter. The polyps fasten themselves to this floating matter, with their mouths downward, from the latter dangling certain tentacles, or thin, long arms. These tentacles contain small thread-like coils in contact with a poisonous fluid, and enclosed in a cell. When the tentacles come in contact with the prey of the creature, or with anything that is sensed as a possible enemy, they contract around the object and the little cells burst and the tiny thread-like coils are released and twist themselves like a loop around the object, poisoning it with the secreted fluid. Some of the polyps secrete flint-like tubes, which they inhabit, and from the ends of which they emerge like flowers. From these parent polyps emerge clusters of young, resembling buds.
These bud-like young afterwards become what are known as jelly-fishes, etc., which in turn reproduce themselves–but here is a wonder–the jelly-fish lay eggs, which when hatched produce stationary polyps like their grandparent, and not moving creatures like their parents. The jelly-fishes have a comparatively complex organism. They have an intricate system of canal-like passages with which to convey their food and oxygen to the various parts. They also have something like muscles, which contract and enable the creature to “swim.” They also possess a “nervous system,” and, most wonderful of all, they have rudimentary eyes and ears. Their tentacles, like those of the parent-polyp, secrete the poisonous fluid which is discharged into prey or enemy.
Akin to the polyps are the sea-anemones, with their beautiful colors, and still more complex structure and organism, the tentacles of which resemble the petals of a flower. Varying slightly from these are the coral-creatures, which form in colonies and the skeletons of which form the coral trees and branches, and other forms, with which we are familiar.
Passing on to the next highest family of life-forms, we see the spiny-bodied sea-creatures, such as the sea-urchin, star-fish, etc., which possess a thick, hard skin, covered by spines or prickly projections. These creatures abound in numerous species. The star-fish has rays projecting from a common centre, which gives it its name, while the sea-urchin resembles a ball. The sea-lilies, with their stems and flowers (so-called) belong to this family, as do also the sea-cucumbers, whose name is obtained from their shape and general appearance, but which are animals possessing a comparatively complex organism, one of the features of which is a stomach which may be discarded at will and replaced by a new one. These creatures have a well defined nervous system, and have eyes, and some of them even rudimentary eyelids.
Ascending the scale of life-forms, we next observe the great family of the Annulosa, or jointed creatures, which comprises the various families of the worm, the crab, the spider, the ant, etc. In this great family are grouped nearly four-fifths of the known life-forms. Their bodies are well formed and they have nervous systems running along the body and consisting of two thin threads, knotted at different points into ganglia or masses of nerve cells similar to those possessed by the higher animals. They possess eyes and other sense organs, in some cases highly developed. They possess organs, corresponding to the heart, and have a well-developed digestive apparatus.
Note this advance in the nutritive organism: the moneron takes its food at any point of its body; the amoeba takes its food by means of its “false-feet,” and drives it through its body by a rhythmic movement of its substance; the polyp distributes its food to its various parts by means of the water which it absorbs with the food; the sea-urchin and star-fish distribute their food by canals in their bodies which open directly into the water; in the higher forms of the annulosa, the food is distributed by a fluid resembling blood, which carries the nourishment to every part and organ, and which carries away the waste matter, the blood being propelled through the body by a rudimentary heart. The oxygen is distributed by each of these forms in a corresponding way, the higher forms having rudimentary lungs and respiratory organs. Step by step the life-forms are perfected, and the organs necessary to perform certain definite functions are evolved from rudimentary to perfected forms.
The families of worms are the humblest members of the great family of the Annulosa. Next come the creatures called Rotifers, which are very minute. Then come the Crustacea, so called from their crustlike shell. This group includes the crabs, lobsters, etc., and closely resembles the insects. In fact, some of the best authorities believe that the insects and the crustacea spring from the same parent form, and some of the Yogi authorities hold to this belief, while others do not attempt to pass upon it, deeming it immaterial, inasmuch as all life-forms have a common origin. The western scientists pay great attention to outward details, while the Oriental mind is apt to pass over these details as of slight importance, preferring to seek the cause back of the outward form.
On one point both the Yogi teachers and the scientists absolutely agree, and that is that the family of insect life had its origin in some aquatic creature. Both hold that the wings of the insect have been evolved from organs primarily used for breathing purposes by the ancestor when it took short aerial flights, the need for means of flight afterwards acting to develop these rudimentary organs into perfected wings. There need be no more wonder expressed at this change than in the case of the transformation of the insect from grub to chrysalis, and then to insect. In fact this process is a reproduction of the stages through which the life-form passed during the long ages between sea-creature and land-insect.
We need not take up much of your time in speaking of the wonderful complex organism of some of the insect family, which are next on the scale above the crustacea. The wonders of spider-life–the almost human life of the ants–the spirit of the beehive–and all the rest of the wonders of insect life are familiar to all of our readers. A study of some good book on the life of the higher forms of the insect family will prove of value to anyone, for it will open his or her eyes to the wonderful manifestation of life and mind among these creatures. Remember the remark of Darwin, that the brain of the ant, although not much larger than a pin point, “is one of the most marvelous atoms of matter in the world, perhaps more so than the brain of man.”
Closely allied to the crustacea is the sub-family of the mollusca, which includes the oyster, clams, and similar creatures; also the snails, cuttle-fish, slugs, nautilus, sea-squirts, etc., etc. Some are protected by a hard shell, while others have a gristly outer skin, serving as an armor, while others still are naked. Those having shells secrete the material for their construction from the water. Some of them are fixed to rocks, etc., while others roam at will. Strange as it may appear at first sight, some of the higher forms of the mollusca show signs of a rudimentary vertebra, and science has hazarded the opinion that the sea-squirts and similar creatures were descended from some ancestor from whom also descended the vertebrate animals, of which man is the highest form known today on this planet. We shall mention this connection in our next lesson, where we will take up the story of “The Ascent of Man” from the lowly vertebrate forms.
And now, in closing this lesson, we must remind the reader that we are not teaching Evolution as it is conceived by modern science. We are viewing it from the opposite viewpoint of the Yogi Teaching. Modern Science teaches that Mind is a by-product of the evolving material forms–while the Yogi Teachings hold that there was Mind involved in the lowest form, and that that Mind constantly pressing forward for unfoldment compelled the gradual evolution, or unfoldment of the slowly advancing degrees of organization and function.
Science teaches that “function precedes organization,” that is, that a form performs certain functions, imperfectly and crudely, before it evolves the organs suitable for the functioning. For instance the lower forms digested food before they evolved stomachs–the latter coming to meet the need. But the Yogi Teachings go further and claim that “desire precedes function,” that is, that the lowly life form “desires” to have digestive apparatus, in order to proceed in the evolutionary scale, before it begins the functioning that brings about the more complex organism. There is ever the “urge” of the Mind which craves unfoldment, and which the creature feels as a dim desire, which grows stronger and stronger as time goes on.
Some yield more readily to the urge, and such become the parents of possible higher forms. “Many are called, but few are chosen,” and so matters move along slowly from generation to generation, a few forms serving to carry on the evolutionary urge to their descendants. But is always the Evolutionary Urge of the imprisoned Mind striving to cast aside its sheaths and to have more perfect machinery with which, and through which, to manifest and express itself? This is the difference between the “Evolution” of Modern Science and the “Unfoldment” of the Yogi Teachings. The one is all material, with mind as a mere by-product, while the other is all Mind, with matter as a tool and instrument of expression and manifestation.
As we have said in this lesson–and as we shall point out to you in detail in future lessons–accompanying this evolution of bodies there is an evolution of “souls” producing the former. This evolution of souls is a basic principle of the Yogi Teachings, but it is first necessary that you acquaint yourselves with the evolution of bodies and forms, before you may fully grasp the higher teachings.
Our next lesson will be entitled “The Ascent of Man,” in which the rise of man–that is, his body–from the lowly forms of the vertebrates is shown. In the same lesson we shall begin our consideration of the “evolution of souls.” We trust that the students are carefully studying the details of each lesson, for every lesson has its part in the grand whole of the Teachings.