A great deal has been recently written in regard to the Brotherhood of Man. It is a frequent theme in many directions, and is liable to repeat the experience so often seen, so seldom understood. “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” is as good a slogan for the mob, the priest, and the gibbet as any other. “Brotherhood” may serve as the slogan of the devil. There is a brotherhood of thieves, of assassins, of thugs, no less than of humanity. There is thus both a true and a false meaning to the word “brotherhood,” just as there is to every other word. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that there is one true meaning, and that all others, all uses and applications other than that, are false.
Sometimes great reluctance is shown in admitting the fact that all mankind are brothers, and even when a tacit assent is given there are certain explicit qualifications and exceptions. As though the assent or the denial of puny man could alter a fact in nature. Though every being in the universe turned Cain; and though every man’s hand were raised against every other, till the earth steamed with blood and rotted with gore; the last survivor of the race in the holocaust of humanity would have to face the fact that every silent victim was and is his brother.
Not only is every human being thus akin, but this kinship is a basic and universal principle in nature, and extends to all life, to every thing that breathes, that walks, or flies, or crawls. Indeed, there is nothing else but life; it is diffused everywhere, and it is One.
A mere intellectual assent to this broadest and clearest fact in nature is but the beginning of wisdom. Such assent marks a degree of intelligence, but is in no sense meritorious. It hence follows that the profession of belief in the Universal Brotherhood of man carries with it no necessary virtue, any more than profession of Christianity makes one necessarily Christ-like. In fact, there is a close similarity in these two cases both as regards nature and results.
The first and only binding principle of the present T. S. is said to be the Universal Brotherhood of man without the least qualification or reservation. “To form a nucleus of Universal Brotherhood” summarizes the entire object and aim of the Society. It is not the mere announcement of the universal fact already referred to that constitutes the motive of the T. S., nor does the admission of the fact by the individual on joining the society constitute him a theosophist. A true theosophist is one who recognizes the fact of brotherhood and who aims continually without the least pretense or self-deception to conform to the principle and requirements of Universal Brotherhood. The measure in which different individuals may succeed in this constant conformity in thought, word, and act will necessarily differ. No one who makes a sincere and determined effort can altogether fail, no matter how great his natural selfishness may be, and no one can make the least honest effort in that direction without being bettered by just so much.
To profess belief in the universal brotherhood of man, therefore, by any fair and intelligent construction involves two things. First, an intellectual assent to brotherhood as a fact; and second, a determined effort to act in accordance with the implied relation at all times and in all circumstances. It does not imply that any one professing such belief has reached the point of perfection; that he is always reasonable, just, and charitable; but it does imply that he is using his best endeavor to become so; and such an one will learn from his own failures and lapses into passion and selfishness how difficult a task he has undertaken. Self-conquest alone can satisfy the ethical claims of the Brotherhood of Humanity. As a rule, the members of the T. S. understand this principle and exercise it to a far larger degree than a certain class of their critics. Brotherhood does not imply that falsehood may not be exposed, or misstatements denied, for herein lies a large part of the advocacy of truth. It does, however, imply charity toward the faults and mistakes of individuals, even of our enemies and traducers. All that has been said relating to the T. S. and the Brotherhood of man equally applies to Christianity. Pure Theosophy is but another name for genuine Christianity; self-conquest and altruism being the aim in each, and being equally the basis whence arise the regeneration of man and the true illumination of the understanding.