The three principal objects of the Theosophical Society as laid down in the books are: First, “To form a nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, color, or creed.” Second, “To promote the study of Aryan and other Scriptures, of the world’s religions and sciences, and to vindicate the importance of old Asiatic literature, namely of the Brahminical, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian philosophies.” Third, “To investigate the hidden mysteries of Nature under every subject possible, and the psychic and spiritual powers latent in man especially.”
The three divisions are but three roads leading to one goal, but as St. Paul, in enumerating the theological virtues, declared that “the greatest of these is charity,” so of the three objects of the Theosophical Society the greatest of these is Universal Brotherhood, the others but side-paths leading into it. The study of Oriental literatures and religions will enlighten the intellect, and the study of the hidden mysteries of Nature will develop the psychic powers, but the endeavor to promote Universal Brotherhood will assist more directly the growth of that altruism which alone can affect the spirit, and which is, indeed, the “charity” of which Paul spoke.
The outside observer who inquires as to the objects of Theosophy, as soon as he hears “Universal Brotherhood” mentioned immediately objects that there is no need of a Theosophical Society to teach us this, that Christianity has always taught it, that even agnostics and Jews and Mohammedans practise it, and that, in fact, it is a great piece of presumption for theosophists to suppose they can make anything original out of so threadbare a doctrine. To which we would reply, in the first place, that truth never can be new, that the poet spoke of her with absolute assurance when he said “The eternal years of God are hers”, and that that eternity stretches as far into what we short-sighted mortals call the Past, as into what we are pleased to term the Future, and when we learn to know the eternal verities, we shall realise that upon the dial of the Absolute there are no figures, because beyond the realm of Illusion there is no Past, no Future, only one everlasting Present.
The power and weight of truth are in its age, not in its newness; in the way that it appeals to our hearts as something that we have always known but somehow have unaccountably lost sight of; something that we greet like a dear friend we rejoice to see again after long absence. Therefore we will not try to claim novelty as a characteristic of the doctrine of Universal Brotherhood.
But we may claim a certain freshness in the method of our teaching. Universal Brotherhood as taught by the churches has too often far too much of the “elder brother” element in it, of a certain virtuous condescension of the truly good towards those so far beneath them in physical and moral qualities that they can afford to demonstrate the height of their own position by the amount of effort they make to stretch a helping hand towards those whom they acknowledge as their “brethren in the Lord”. Outside of this rather indefinite location, the brothers occupy the usual uncomfortable position of poor relations.
Brotherhood as taught in the churches is founded generally upon a physical basis. It implies equality, but not identity; men are brothers because they have similar organs, passions, capabilities, a common lot; because they share the great experiences of birth and death and a possible immortality. They are a collection of similar units, an agglomeration of shells upon the shore of Life. But they are not one thing; each has his personality which shuts him out from his kind by inclosing him within the limits of self; and between man and man that barrier of personality is ever firmly set; come as near as they can, the consciousness of the I and the Thou is ever between them.
But in Theosophy the fundamental doctrine is that of absolute identity. These outward shows of things are but illusion, a deception of our senses, themselves but a fleeting image on the screen of Time. As life departs, our bodies fade and crumble into dust, our mental faculties fail and disappear, our desires and our passions perish with the organs that gave them birth; — what remains? Only the Spirit of man, which is the Spirit of God. And Spirit — however inadequate our conceptions of it must necessarily be — we all acknowledge to be one and indivisible, the Great Reality, the Everlasting Truth; Infinite, and therefore formless and identical, whether it send its pulsating life through man or crystal, through zoophyte or star.
Only by recognizing this absolute Unity of Spirit can we possibly understand the real meaning of the doctrine of Universal Brotherhood, and realise that it means, not the equality of men, but the identity of Man. Only when we learn to think of man as a whole, as a collective being, of which, each one of us forms a more or less insignificant part, as the separate cells in our bodies make up that physical machine which we think of as our own, only when we can grasp this idea of identity instead of equality, shall we begin to see what “The first object of the Theosophical Society” really implies.
It implies a common association for a common good, it implies subordination of the individual to the whole, and it implies the annihilation of self, the breaking down of the limitations of the physical, mental, and psychic Egos that the Spirit may be all in all. When these barriers are at last thrown down, and the soul realises that the limitations which have hampered her never had a real existence, but were painfully built up by herself out of one false conception after another, then indeed she realizes her freedom, and knows herself as one with the Divine. And when the lover of mankind has learned (as in Jellaleddin’s poem) that in the house of the Spirit “there is no room for Me and Thee“, but that his brothers are himself, then in that soul has been attained the first great object of the Theosophical Society. He has learned his lesson, learned to feel the great heart of the universe beating in his own breast, learned to rejoice in the joys of others and to bear their sorrows as his own, learned that he is but one cell in that great Being called Humanity, and that the functions of that one cell improperly discharged will ruin the harmony of the whole organism. The doctrine of Universal Brotherhood, then, teaches us at once a great moral and a great spiritual lesson. It defines our position not only as part of a great working community, but as part of the Divine Spirit that animates that organisation. So closely linked is every part and parcel of the mighty whole called Man, that no one of us can afford to neglect our small portion of the great work, the bringing of harmony out of chaos, of perfection out of imperfection. For the law of analogy holds good throughout the universe, and as the object of our individual existence is to return, a glorified and perfected consciousness, to that great Fount of Being whence we sprang, so Humanity as a whole must purge away the evil, dominate the physical, and become a God. To this end we must all work, and as each of us recognises more fully the identity of Man, each year as it closes will bring nearer the end of the Dark Age, and the time when the Divine Voice can say in the highest, “Let there be light.” Then indeed that time shall come upon earth that the poet has described as the Golden Year, and then
“Shall all men’s good
Be each man’s rule, and universal Peace
Lie like a shaft of light across the land,
And like a lane of beams athwart the sea,
Thro’ all the circle of the golden year.”