by T B H
THE Theosophical Society has always placed in the forefront of its programme, as its first and most important object, the formation of the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood, without distinction of race, creed, caste or sex. It would doubtless be incorrect to say that this object of the Society has been entirely overlooked in the West, but it is to be feared that not a few members of the Society have accepted it as an amiable formula, to which no objection could be raised, and have turned their attention almost exclusively to the two remaining objects. And yet, without some attempt to understand the true meaning of this Universal Brotherhood, it is idle to expect that any great services can be rendered to the cause of Theosophy. It may be useful to see whether any explanation can be given of the reason for the neglect of this first object, and whether such light may be thrown on its meaning, as may render the idea a living reality to many who now but faintly grasp its significance.
In the first place it may be said, that in many enlightened Western minds, there was already a familiarity with the idea thus enunciated. Christianity has always taught the “theoretical” equality in the sight of God, of all true believers, and politically the dogma of “equal rights” is practically beyond the reach of attack. The abolition of slavery, the extension of representative government, the spread of education, and perhaps also, in some degree, the influence of the scientific as opposed to the religious theories of the origin and destiny of man, have all combined to render this idea by no means difficult of apprehension, at least intellectually. Further its acceptance in this sense has not necessarily entailed any different view of the duties and responsibilities of life. In the East it cannot be said that this is the case. In India, the stringency of caste regulations causes class distinctions to assume a very definite form, while religious hatreds, if not more bitter than with us, enter more directly into the life of the people, and interpose stronger barriers between man and man than in Europe or America. Hence an Indian theosophist must, before he can accept the first object, even in its outward form, modify to some extent his intellectual conception of the relations in which he stands to the rest of mankind, and he will in his life give practical proof of the change. In his case the acceptance of the outward form can only follow on the appreciation of the inner meaning; that which results is that his theosophy is firmly founded on the principle of the Universal Brotherhood.
On the other hand, in the West, a familiarity with the external side [Page 213] seems, in many cases, to have prevented any attempt to go below the surface, and to have caused men to be satisfied with vague philanthropic sentimentality, effecting nothing, and leading nowhere.
What then is this Universal Brotherhood, which is the main spring of Theosophy ? and what are its results ?
Socialism as preached in this 19th century it certainly is not. Indeed, there would be little difficulty in showing that modern materialistic Socialism is directly at variance with all the teachings of theosophy. Socialism advocates a direct interference with the results of the law of Karma, and would attempt to alter the dénouement of the parable of the talents, by giving to the man who hid his talent in a napkin, a portion of the ten talents acquired by the labour of his more industrious fellow.
Neither is it true that in practical benevolence is the whole idea of universal brotherhood exemplified, though doubtless that unselfish and unceasing work for the good of mankind, which is true philanthropy, must of necessity be one result of it. The philanthropist may be, and no doubt often is, a true theosophist in all but name, though there is still much of what may be called unintelligent benevolence, the result of a mere emotional impulse; and again there is much that is the result of very decided and very narrow sectarian views, to which it would be absolutely impossible to apply the epithet universal. The devotion and self-sacrifice shown in many individual instances by Christian missionaries of various denominations, may be taken as fairly exemplifying philanthropy both of the unintelligent and the narrow type. They are prepared to make any sacrifice for what they believe to be the ultimate good of humanity, and in that sense are practising what some others only preach, namely true unselfishness, but they are often hampered by an intellectual inability to view both sides of the question, and fail thereby to acquire that understanding of, and sympathy with the difficulties and the wants of those whom they are endeavouring to aid, which are necessary preliminaries to any work of lasting usefulness. In a word, they too often fail to realise that unity in mankind which truly underlies all individualism. But having said so much, it must be added that an understanding of the real meaning of “Brotherhood” must entail active benevolence, that is to say work for others in some form or other, upon every one who does not wilfully thrust aside the obligation.
Where then are we to look for the explanation, and how are we to understand the spirit which must animate all true theosophists, if they are to realise and follow out the first rule of the Society ? Not surely on the physical plane. Not by an attempt to force on the intellect as a fact to be accepted, or more truly a pill to be swallowed, a belief in similarities, equalities or identities, which have no existence. Only a realisation of what truly constitutes man can help us to form a conception of what brotherhood means.
Man is a complex organism as he exists on our earth today. He is [Page 214] partly transitory, partly eternal; in one sense the creature of circumstances, in another the creator of his own environment. But the true man, the underlying individuality is a reflection of the Divine. We are able to discern physical beauty, even when clad in rags. Is it impossible that we should also recognise the beauty of the soul, though it be for a time veiled beneath a gross material body ? The physical body is indeed nothing but the garment of the ego, the true man; that momentarily suited to his needs and his deserts, the livery of his servitude, which must be worn, in ever changing forms, till the moment of his final emancipation. It is then beyond the physical, beyond the intellectual man, that we must look for that fraternity, arising out of unity and equality, which cannot be found on the purely material plane of existence. The divine soul of man, in which is posited his true individuality, is the real man, the immortal ego, which, through the accumulated experience of many earth lives is marching onward through the ages to its goal, reunion with the Infinite. What matters then the outward semblance, which our senses know as man ? Our aesthetic perception may shrink from the rags, the dirt, the ugliness which belong to the physical environment. Our moral nature may revolt at association with vice, with low selfish courses of life, but within and behind all this we must endeavour to realise the continual presence of the immortal ego, one with us, as with all humanity, as sharing the divine nature, and ever struggling, as we are struggling, on the upward path that leads to the realisation of the Absolute. As Carlyle says in Sartor Resartus.“Mystical, more than magical, is that communing of Soul with Soul, both looking heavenward; here properly Soul first speaks with Soul; for only in looking heavenward, take it in what sense you may, not in looking earthward does what we can call Union, Mutual Love, Society, begin to be possible”.
It may be objected that in some cases it is impossible to recognise even the glimmerings of those higher aspirations, which are the tokens of the presence of the soul, the immortal ego. Such cases, however, must be comparatively rare. Still there are beings — it is almost impossible to call them human — who have so persistently concentrated all their efforts on the gratification of their lower consciousness, as to sever the frail link which binds them to their higher selves. Then the true man is no longer present in the human form, and brotherhood becomes an impossibility. But we may in truth almost ignore the existence of this type of mankind, for even when an intellectual materialism seems to be the sole ruling principle, we dare not deny the presence of that capacity for higher things which must exist in all who can still truly be called men.
Surely then it is in this view of our relations to our fellow men, that we shall find that guiding influence which may enable us to rise above the sordid considerations of our ordinary earthly existence. It is no [Page 215] sectarian belief that is here advanced; it is the essence of the teaching of Jesus, as it was of Gautama; nor is it a mere formula, to be accepted as an article of faith, and then laid on the shelf. Once understood, it must influence all who have sufficient strength of purpose to fight their own lower selfish personalities, and must lead them to the practical realisation of their aspirations towards true unselfishness and active benevolence.
But there lurks a danger even in the use of the word unselfishness. It has been the text of sermons from every pulpit in Christendom for centuries, and with what small results ? No doubt the duty nearest at hand must not be neglected, and it is the duty of every one to do what he can to render those about him happier. But many stop there and consider that all their work consists in the practice of self-abnegation in their own small circle. Does not the broader view of human life here set forth suggest a new sphere of usefulness, and therefore of duty ? It is for every man to determine what he can do for the good of humanity; all are not equally gifted, but all can do something. Some theosophists appear to be satisfied with intellectual study, or the development of their own spiritual nature, and neither of these two courses is to be neglected; but something more must be done. “It is more blessed to give than to receive”, and the acquirement of knowledge brings with it the obligation of spreading it. This is work from which none need shrink, and all who truly desire to work for Theosophy, which is in the highest sense “the religion of humanity”, will find the work ready to their hand, and be able to assist in bringing the Light “to them that sit in darkness”.