Theosophy is an all-inclusive philosophy; not to be separated from it is the Theosophical Movement, whose objective is the practical realization of this philosophy in life. The philosophy and the movement are one, though all the problems of students have their source in a separation between the teachings as such and their practical applications.
Take the problems which revolve about the condition and welfare of the masses. Since the dawn of known history the plight of the masses has been the issue-making factor in the rise, growth and decay of nations and civilizations. This is no less true today than in the ages of the trackless past. Did humanity possess a larger perspective of history than the few thousand years which mark the remotest limit of our records, then the repeated mistakes of the past would be so impressed on our present age that men might at last resolve to build their civilization on a securer foundation. Man’s initial mistake is to separate the welfare of the masses from that of the more progressed part of mankind; the result has been that the so-called classes have been plagued by the poverty and the suffering of those whom they have chosen to regard as their inferiors, while the “classes” found that, do what they might, they could not separate themselves from their more unfortunate and ignorant brothers.
What are the masses but fellow-pilgrims in the journey of all towards divinity—pilgrims whose rate of progress might be slower than those who think themselves well-advanced in the race of life? As a matter of fact, with the exception of a mighty few, the bulk of the pilgrims are moving almost shoulder to shoulder, man’s delusion of superiority arising from the fact that external circumstances are regarded as indicia of spiritual progress. In their mad competition for the material and ephemeral prizes of life, men have thrown away the Jewel of Great Price—a prize which by its very nature must be shared with All, since the very instant one attempts to monopolize the philosopher’s stone, it is lost; such is the impersonal law of life.
The woes of the world and the misery of the masses have their source in the refusal of men to share their gifts with their fellows. No true teacher of the science of the soul has ever barred anyone from the sphere of his compassionate efforts. When the Great Message reaches humanity, attempts are made by certain individuals and classes to appropriate the teachings for themselves. They would fence in Wisdom very much as men stake off land and claim it as exclusively their own. The spirit capable of the one is also capable of the other. Does a man seek to keep divine knowledge for himself, all he gets are the external husks, the shell from which the spirit has departed; no sooner does a man stake off a choice plot for himself, than he finds himself a prisoner in his own enclosure. The only possessions which do not possess us are those which can be shared by all. “Desire possessions above all. But those possessions must belong to the pure soul only, and be possessed therefore by all pure souls equally, and thus be the especial property of the whole only when united.”
The dark side of nature ever tries to simulate the work and the methods of the Masters of Compassion. Deception carries on its nefarious work with the tools and in the name of Truth; and the unwary, which includes the great masses of men, have been ensnared over and over again. No one has ever founded a party, or a sect without loudly proclaiming that it was done primarily in the interest of the masses. No despot or dictator, political or religious, ever imposed his will on the people without protesting great solicitude for their welfare. Avowed enemies the masses never have had; but Oh, for a savior to rescue them from their self-imposed friends! Torquemada considered himself the friend of the souls of those he burnt at the stake; and so has every demagogue, who, while pretending to champion the cause of the people, has used them to further his own insatiable ambition. It is through their needs and their aspirations that the masses of mankind are exploited by those who prefer to use their knowledge and position selfishly.
Man can never hope to remove the errors of the past until he first sees these errors in their true light. He can only really see them when he gets a proper perspective, and so judges of their true value in relationship to the whole picture of life. Theosophy alone furnishes such a perspective in its three basic propositions and objects. Universal Brotherhood is the immediate vision of the oneness of all life; the realization of this vision is the attainment of universal self-consciousness—the union of the individual self with the self of All.
While “profane” history cannot go back for more than a few thousand years, and can trace the rise and fall of but a comparatively few civilizations such as Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, Theosophy records in its annals the growth and decay of nations and empires which flourished in a remote past, when, according to most scientific teachings of our day, human life had not even begun on this globe. History has repeated itself, not for thousands, but for millions of years. The law of cycles is the Key which will unlock more than one scientific mystery. Once grasped, the doctrine of cycles will not only enlarge our historical perspective a thousand-fold, and so enable us to appraise accurately the actions and bases of past civilizations; but it will make us realize that no matter how remote the past, or whether we have any concrete records or not, the same impersonal and inexorable laws determine the birth, life and the death or immortality of Man. Theosophy’s final assertion is that there are no special privileges anywhere in the boundless Kosmos and that all must progress “by self-induced and self-devised efforts”; that we are as we are both as individuals and as a Race because of our doings in the immemorial past.
No problem is new. Every tendency, every idea, every attitude which exist among us today, have had their precursors and prototypes at the very dawn of our cycle of evolution. The panorama and the drama of evolution set forth in the cosmogony and anthropogenesis of the Secret Doctrine are nothing more than our own biography. We were there all the time in one condition or another. Life is beginningless and endless and in studying the evolution and history of a nation, an age, a planet or a solar system, it is our past and our future that we are considering all the time. The plot of the drama of life is the same everywhere and in every age, though the scenery, the setting and the scale on which the drama is enacted may differ from age to age. When man knows himself, as admonished by the Delphic oracle, he knows the whole of life—past, present and future.
Study of the past misses its mark if it does not teach us how to live in the present and how to build for the future. What is history’s one outstanding lesson? Is it not the utter futility of selfishness and separateness? In spite of all the learned disquisitions of our university professors and textbook writers, even a child, if untainted by mere learning, has a direct perception of the truth that selfishness is the root of all evil. Brahmin and Sudra, capitalist and laborer, master and slave are in the same boat. When one or the other rocks that boat, the lives of both are endangered; and when one or the other upsets that boat, they both go down. It is the mad scramble for the choice seats that rocks and finally upsets the ship of life—the foolish voyagers having lost sight altogether of the haven towards which they were all bound. That haven can only be reached when each one from his place works in unity with all the others for the success of their common glorious adventure. No one can separate himself from the common lot. The plight of the masses and the equal suffering by reaction of the others is due to the stubborn idea that the distinctions of race, creed, sex, condition and organization are divinely ordained, and constitute fixed divisions in Nature, instead of intermediate states in the march towards perfection. A more responsible attitude towards the masses will arise only when the whole of humanity shall awaken from the maya that mankind was created and divided into masters and slaves. “Accept your inferiority,” says Brahmin to Untouchable, “for such is the order of life”; and the poor slave is in mortal terror of the dire consequences here and hereafter of even an unintentional offence to his Lord and Master. Priestcraft everywhere first subdued man in his inner spiritual and religious nature, and when man’s soul no longer was his own, every other form of exploitation and enslavement was made possible. But periodically the worm turns and strikes back blindly; and wars, pestilences, famines and revolutions take their terrible toll. Nothing is ever settled unless it is settled right. After every social cataclysm, when the time for readjustment and reconstruction arrives, Man patches up a peace and the same errors are repeated over again. At best men deal with the immediate and external causes of their difficulties, losing sight entirely of the Central Cause from which all has arisen.
Theosophy may be defined as a philosophy of causes. As any particular cause can be traced back to a prior cause, so finally there is a Central Cause “from which all emerged, around and towards which all gravitates, and upon which is hung the philosophy of the rest.” Theosophy works from the inner and spiritual planes of being and on these planes are seen the workings of the laws of unity and harmony. The tragedies of life arise from losing sight of the inner laws of harmony when we descend to the realm of separative life. Instead of a dispassionate and impersonal evaluation of life, passion and personality divide man from man, the strong enslaving the weak.
Unless all indications fail, a new light is dawning upon the masses of mankind—a light which is being born from the travail and the suffering which followed in the wake of the recent cataclysmic war. The Great War brought in its train far more than politicians and statesmen bargained for. They did not bargain for the Russian Revolution and similar upheavals on a smaller scale in other lands. They did not bargain for the fierce reaction against the various religions, the cant and hypocrisy of the self-styled rulers and leaders of the masses. Theosophy has nought to do directly with politics, but every political and social upheaval which makes for the freedom of man’s soul is part of the Theosophical Movement and must receive the sympathy of all true Theosophists. But sympathy is not enough—Theosophists must give these struggles direction, that the energy evoked be not merely expended in destructive channels.
Now more than at any other time does the world need the doctrines of karma and reincarnation; without them, the aroused masses will either sink into a blind, gross materialism, or again fall prey to the cunning of the sacerdotal caste. The truths implicit in the teachings of karma and reincarnation will not overwhelm the intelligence of a child, and were it not for the fact that the minds of the masses are poisoned by the dogmas of religion, they would have a direct perception of the reign of individual and collective responsibility throughout the boundless universe. No one would then seek power without a realization that he will be answerable throughout all eternity for the use made of that power. All would realize that there is only one safe way to use any power—for the good of all. All would then understand that nothing of an external nature, no mere change in the form of society can ever bring peace and contentment to the nations and races of the earth. It is only by the purification of the inner man through right knowledge, that we can solve all the problems of life and make of brotherhood more than a mere declaration of intention, whose practical attainment is forever deferred to some more convenient time in the future.
Much of the Karma, with which the more favored in intelligence are burdened is due to the mistreatment of such peoples as the American Indians and the African Negroes. Many of our racial problems, our crimes, and the general conditions of the slum population of our European and American nations might very well be the karmic retribution for the misuse of our intelligence and power in enslaving and exploiting them. The only way to work off this karma is by a complete reversal of past policy, in setting an example for good to less advanced brothers, thus saving them from setting up causes, in their turn, for consequences terrible and far-reaching.
The fact that so many classes of beings are evolving together on this globe ought to suggest to any thoughtful person that their destinies are interrelated, in spite of the fact that some may be further advanced on the ladder of evolution.
Man is not to be separated from any part of life, whether that life is on the rungs above or on those below. Man is the whole ladder and he cannot afford to despise any part of it. So wrote Mr. Judge, on page 18 of Letters That Have Helped Me:
I was reading a book and looking around within myself to see how I could enlarge my idea of brotherhood. Practice in benevolence will not give its full growth. I had to find some means of reaching further, and struck on this, which is as old as old age. I am not separate from anything. “I am that which is.” That is, I am Brahma, and Brahma is everything. But being in an illusionary world, I am surrounded by certain appearances that seem to make me separate. So I will proceed to mentally state and accept that I am all these illusions. I am my friends, — and then I went to them in general and in particular. I am my enemies; then I felt them all. I am the poor and the wicked; I am the ignorant. Those moments of intellectual gloom are the moments when I am influenced by those ignorant ones who are myself. All this in my nation. But there are many nations, and to those I go in mind; I feel and I am them all, with what they hold of superstition or of wisdom or evil. All, all is myself. Unwisely, I was then about to stop, but the whole is Brahma so I went to the Devas and Asuras; the elemental world, that too is myself. After pursuing this course awhile I found it easier to return to a contemplation of all men as myself.