Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Brotherhood — A Fact in Nature
Outward Indications of Unity
Indirect Evidence of Unity
The Stumbling Block Is Selfishness
Does Selfishness "Pay"?
An Appeal to the Selfish
Ethics Based on Nature's Laws
Unity Is the Cause — Brotherhood the Effect
Answers to Some of the Riddles of Life
The Golden Age of Brotherhood
[W]hen men have no standard of right and wrong, which they can prove to be based on natural law, there is always widespread immorality, not sexual immorality alone, but also political immorality, social immorality, ethical immorality in general. In such case men have no guide in life, and the consequence will be corruption, deceit, self-seeking, war and all the other evil things that follow in the train.
Our Theosophical doctrines give to man not only a great and sublime hope, but they also give to him ethical principles, by which he will live, and a grand philosophy, which adequately explains those principles. Hence, wars will automatically cease when the world is finally Theosophized; corruption in high places and in low will become an awful memory of the past. This regeneration, among other things, is what we are working for. This . . . is one of the fundamental reasons for the founding of the Theosophical Society. — G. de Purucker (The Theosophical Forum, Feb. 1932)
Brotherhood is a fact in Nature declares the Ancient Wisdom. This affirmation is based on the inner spiritual unity of all life. Every life-unit or Monad is an emanation from the One Universal Life, which is the unseen cause behind the visible universe.
We human beings constitute one group of Monads, linked with one another through a common origin and a common destiny — fellow travelers with a common goal. The basis for harmony and cooperation already exists therefore, and a brotherhood in actu is the natural and normal relationship between men.
The extent to which our spiritual unity is recognized depends on our development and differs vastly with different individuals.
Indifference to the suffering and hardship of others shows a lack of spiritual development. A sense of oneness, compassion, fellow-feeling and sympathy for the one who suffers shows a realization of inner unity. A witness to an accident, although not affected physically, may feel sick and even faint as a result of this feeling of inner unity with the victim.
When we see or hear of some heroic deed, or some act of self sacrifice, some duty done in the face of difficulty or danger, we experience a warmth of heart, and a renewed faith that there is something noble or divine in our fellow men. There is a chord in our nature that responds when a true note is struck by someone else, and why should this chord vibrate in unison with the note struck unless there is something of divinity in all human hearts?
The separateness we feel outwardly is not as complete as may appear on the surface. When we step on a bus or a train for instance our safe-keeping is in the hands of those who drive these conveyances. Our life may depend on the mechanic who repaired our auto and when we are riding in it, our life is almost as much dependent on the care of other drivers as it is on our own. When we cross a bridge or use an elevator we are entrusting our lives to those who designed and built it. What we do affects others and what they do affects us. We are our "Brother's Keeper," and he is our "Keeper," and we are responsible to each other for our acts.
In Nature we find that certain animals such as bees and ants have developed a type of group-consciousness for they form large colonies in which they cooperate for the common good. As a result the colony prospers and the individual units are enabled to survive, which they could not do if working for themselves alone.
We human beings find ourselves placed by Nature as parts of various combinations such as families, towns, nations, etc. As members of these groups we do much of our work collectively. We recognize that we are parts of something greater than ourselves and that there is something to be gained for the individual and the group by such cooperation.
The human body is a marvelous example of cooperation between various cells and organs, all working together for the benefit of the body as a whole. Unwittingly man copies Nature's method of cooperation when some great public work has to be done and finds that he profits thereby. He then joins with others to form what he calls an "organization" with someone as its "head" and various committees and subordinates to carry out the details, much as the organs in the body perform their various functions. When we refer to our community or state as a whole and call it the "social body" or the "body politic" we sub-consciously recognize an inner fact.
Whatever the objective, whether religious, political, scientific, commercial or other, and whether the motive be selfish or altruistic, men realize that they can accomplish more by acting collectively than they can by acting as individuals.
We can not expect much evidence of unity on the outer plane, where our separateness is most pronounced; yet, as we have seen, indications that we are in some way united with one another are not entirely lacking. The real oneness of all life is to be found on the spiritual planes of Nature, however, and since the ordinary man has not as yet become conscious on these planes he is unable to prove this unity by direct observation.
Outward and direct indications of oneness may not be plentiful, but there is an abundance of indirect evidence that we are not separate, for we see the disastrous results that follow when men act selfishly and contrary to the laws of harmony.
These laws can not he broken with impunity for they are self-enforcing. If we are to build a stone arch the stones must be shaped and placed according to the laws of mechanics. There is no outward authority to force us to obey these laws, but if we fail to do so, the arch will collapse. Neither does Nature compel us to live in harmony with our fellow-men, but failure to do so results in the collapse of a well organized society, just as failure to observe the laws of mechanics results in failure of the arch.
We see examples of this on every hand, in the small and in the great, in the family and the community, in the nation and internationally. Selfishness and disregard for the rights of others practiced by some individuals brings suffering and unhappiness and increased burdens on others. With every passing year our oneness becomes more and more apparent. Modern inventions have brought us all so close together that acts of selfishness and aggression, which formerly were localized and passed unnoticed outside of a small circle, now affect the whole human race. If an aggressor nation attacks a weaker neighbor in some remote part of the world, we may think that it does not concern us, but before the chain of events thus set in motion comes to rest, we may have been dragged into the conflict and found that it did concern us too.
The ideal of Brotherhood has always appealed to man's imagination. In his better moments he dreams of the Millennium and something within tells him that it is not an unattainable Utopia, but that some day it shall become a living reality.
The ethical teachings of the great religions also teach Brotherhood. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus urges men to practice unselfishness, forgiveness, generosity, to love one's neighbor as oneself, to apply the Golden Rule in everyday life and thus make Brotherhood a living reality. Other spiritual teachers have taught the same ethics.
It is generally agreed that the simple teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, if taken seriously and applied in practice, would be sufficient to establish Brotherhood, and man's failure to do this has not been due to a lack of ethical teachings on the subject.
The altruist and the humanitarian do take these teachings seriously and seek to benefit their fellow men without selfish motives. Many sincere attempts have been made by religious and other groups to practice Brotherhood, and if it were not for such efforts by people of good will this world would be in a far worse condition than it is. But those who try to practice Brotherhood meet with difficulties. They have to deal with others, who by their selfishness hamper the efforts for Brotherhood, and make these ineffective.
It is the selfish man who causes the strife and disharmony in the world. He too has had the ethical teachings of religion presented to him, but has ignored them for ages past and is doing the same today. Unless he can be induced to change his selfish attitude, Brotherhood will not become a reality. Evidently ethical teachings, wonderful as they are, are not sufficient to accomplish this when standing alone and are ineffective where they are most needed.
The selfish man feels that selfishness offers immediate and concrete advantages, while the benefits resulting from altruism are uncertain and may never materialize. He sees others practice selfishness with apparently favorable results and hence concludes that selfishness "pays" better than altruism and that is his reason for acting selfishly.
Selfishness and crime can not be eliminated as long as man believes that they are profitable. Unless it can be shown that they are unprofitable and injurious to man's welfare, selfishness, corruption and crime will continue, become more aggravated and eventually wreck our civilization as they have done with so many others in the past.
The elimination of selfishness, then, depends on eliminating the profit motive behind it, and the solution of the problem of selfishness depends on the question: Does selfishness pay?
If we are to profit by selfishness we must get from others more than we give in return, or better still "get something for nothing." We must be able to reap benefits that we have not earned and we must be able to escape the consequences of our evil deeds.
It will be noted that all success gained through selfishness is based on the assumption that we can reap benefits without sowing, and sow evil without reaping, in other words, it depends on our ability to defy the Law of Cause and Effect. If we can defy this law, we can profit from selfishness. If not there can be no profit in selfishness.
To demonstrate that human actions are governed by the Law of Cause and Effect, therefore, is to demonstrate that there is no profit in selfishness, and hence no reason to practice it.
Anyone who accepts the Law of Cause and Effect must reject selfishness as a means of gaining advantages.
Anyone who acts selfishly, hoping to gain thereby, proves by his action that he does not believe in the Law of Cause and Effect. He may pay lip-service to it, but by his act he says in effect: "I am sure I won't have to suffer from the evil effect of my deed. There may not be any effect at all, and if there is I can side-step it." An evil act can only be based on a belief that the evildoer can escape the consequences of his act, in other words on his ability to defy the Law of Cause and Effect.
The selfish man lives on a lower plane than the altruist. His consciousness is centered in his Personality and he is therefore more aware of his physical separateness from his fellow men, than he is of his spiritual oneness with them. The ethical appeal of religion goes over his head. If we hope to change his selfish attitude, we must deal with him on the plane where he functions; we must appeal to his self-interest.
The Law of Cause and Effect, besides appealing to the altruist, also has an effective appeal to the selfish man.
When the selfish man becomes convinced that he shall reap what he sows, he realizes that any act he performs to the benefit of someone else, will inevitably result in a similar benefit returning to himself and that in benefiting others he therefore also benefits himself.
Similarly he realizes that any suffering he may have caused, any harm he may have done to another, shall also return to him, and that in injuring others he therefore also injures himself. Under these conditions it is only common sense to practice Brotherhood and avoid injuring others. To do otherwise is to act contrary to one's own interest. The knowledge that we shall reap what we sow has a double effect; it restrains selfishness and promotes Brotherhood.
It is the illogical notion that we are here for one single earth-life that misleads man into believing that he can gain advantages through selfishness. Seen in the light of Karma and Reincarnation it is apparent that such gains are only temporary and imaginary. Instead of being real they are no more advantageous than the incurring of debts, which eventually must be repaid.
The importance of the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation in their effect on human behavior can not be overestimated, for they hold the solution to the problem of selfishness, the greatest obstacle to human progress.
When the selfish man realizes that altruism is advantageous to him, he will begin to practice it. We can not expect him to alter his character all at once, for old habits and thought-forms are difficult to change. His first attempts will be made with a view to the benefits he expects to derive therefrom. His motive is still selfish, but the direction of the selfishness is reversed; it no longer injures others, it benefits them. He has made a start in the right direction, which is better than no start at all, and he has not stored up future trouble for himself.
The results so far as direct benefit goes may be disappointing, but he has opened a new door to the better side of his nature. He has the novel experience of making others happy, and this brings happiness to him in return.
As he gradually advances in his evolution, the happy experience of benefiting others will be its own reward, or blot out all thought of either reward or punishment. Altruism will then become the natural way of life.
In his effort to determine the validity or truth of a doctrine man has three methods by which he can investigate the subject. These are religion, philosophy and science and each of these reveals a different phase of the subject under consideration. If a doctrine is true it must have an explanation that is satisfactory from all three of these viewpoints.
In its religious aspect the doctrine must satisfy man's moral intuitions, his aspirations and longings for a higher, nobler life; it must teach him how to adjust his life in harmony with his fellow men. But religion alone, without philosophy and science can lead to dogmatism and superstition.
In its philosophic aspect the doctrine must satisfy man's reason and logic. But philosophy without religion and science can lead to cold and barren intellectualism remote from human understanding and sympathy.
In its scientific aspect the doctrine must harmonize with established facts and laws of Nature, but unless it also satisfies man's religious aspirations, his reason and logic, its presentation is incomplete and may lead to irresponsible materialism.
"There is no religion higher than Truth" says the Ancient Wisdom and adds that there can be no conflict between true religion, true philosophy or true science. A doctrine that fails to satisfy all three methods of investigation is either erroneous or incomplete in its presentation.
When we seek to determine why ethical teachings have not had a greater influence on man's behavior than they have, we find that they have been presented from the religious viewpoint only. What is lacking is a philosophy that shows why man should practice ethics and a science to demonstrate that this philosophy is based on facts in Nature.
The doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation give the philosophic basis on which ethics rest. These doctrines in their turn are based on Nature, for science has demonstrated that the material side of Nature is governed by law, and reason and logic tell us that this law must apply everywhere in the universe.
If we examine ethical teachings we find that even if they do not refer to the Law of Cause and Effect, they are based on it. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches men to "first seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness" and then the needs of the body will be provided for. What is "the Kingdom of God and his righteousness" but to practice unselfishness, generosity, in brief to live according to the Golden Rule? Such actions must have their effects, for Nature will react in kind to our actions, and the effects are bound to return to us. Therefore Jesus says in effect: Give, and the getting will take care of itself, a statement that is based on the Law of Cause and Effect.
There are many old aphorisms or rules pertaining to human conduct that have been passed on from generation to generation, because men feel intuitively that they are true. When analyzed it is found that they too are based on Karma.
"The more you give, the more you have, that is the law of love" is one such saying. The more we give out, the more we do unselfishly and without seeking reward, the more good Karma we have "stored up" for ourselves, to be reaped in the future.
"Honesty is the best policy" is another. Both honesty and dishonesty will bring their appropriate effects in accord with the Law of Cause and Effect. The former naturally will be favorable, while the latter will be unfavorable, hence honesty is the better policy.
Another aphorism tells us that "It is only what you have given away that you can hold in your cold dead hand." What we have given away without receiving compensation Karma is bound to return to us in due time.
Man's intuition tells him that there is truth in these old sayings, but his reasoning mind must also be convinced of this before he will put them into practice.
Religion teaches ethics.
Philosophy shows why man should practice ethics.
Science shows that ethics are based on the laws of Nature.
Taken all together they give the knowledge and understanding that are necessary to make Brotherhood a reality.
As stated previously the basis of Brotherhood is the oneness of all life. When this oneness is fully realized, Brotherhood will follow of its own accord. It will come as the outward manifestation of a condition that already exists on inner, spiritual planes of Nature.
It is man's failure to recognize this unity that leads to all the strife and disharmony in the world. In his inner Higher Nature man feels a bond of union with his fellow men, and when he is under the influence of this feeling he acts in harmony with them. A great calamity of Nature brings out this better side in man and he recognizes immediately his duty to help those in distress.
But he has not yet evolved to the point where he recognizes this unity when the suffering and hardships take a less spectacular form. He then isolates himself by retreating into the shell of the lower self-hood and takes refuge in the separateness that exists there. He does not realize that the separateness, by which he tries to shield himself, is a delusion caused by the fact that his vision is limited to the material plane of Nature only, but fails to inform him of the unity that exists on inner planes.
If he had the inner vision, he would see that his isolation was no more real than that of a tenant in a large apartment house, who takes comfort in the thought that a fire in someone else's apartment is no threat to his own security.
We do live in "the great apartment house of Nature" and "a fire in any apartment," if not checked, will ultimately affect all. As nations we are beginning to learn that our peace, liberty and prosperity depend on other nations also enjoying these privileges; that an attack on one of our sister nations is an attack on all, that "the fire in our neighbor's apartment is our fire."
As man evolves and becomes more fully aware of the links that bind him to his fellow-men, he can no longer feel indifferent towards them. His understanding of their problems and hardships becomes so vivified, so keen that they seem like his own problems and hardships. He would have no peace of mind until he had done all in his power to bring relief to those in need.
When we have reached this point the "Social Body" will no longer be a mere figure of speech, it will be a living reality. In such a society slum conditions and lack of opportunity for the underprivileged and other social injustices would be looked upon as diseases of the Social Body and everything possible would be done for the elimination of these, just as an individual would seek to cleanse and heal a festering sore lest it bring disease to the rest of the body.
Members of such a society would not compete with one another for selfish advantages, but rather cooperate in an effort to contribute something to the common welfare. Instead of the jungle law "each one for himself" the motto would be: "each one help those less advanced than himself" and there would be no one to fall behind in the march of progress. Even the least has something to give, and the laggard of today may, after lives of effort, be the leader of the future and then return the help that was rendered him.
Brotherhood will not come as the result of any artificial man-made arrangement imposed from without, but it will come when men realize their oneness with their fellow-men. They will then act and live as the brothers, which in fact they are. When this takes Place the Kingdom of Heaven will no longer be a utopian dream, but a living reality "on earth as it is in Heaven" or on the spiritual planes.
If the idea that selfishness is profitable has resulted in the prevalence of selfishness, it is evident that the idea that selfishness never can be profitable, but always must be injurious, will result in the elimination of selfishness. This result will not come all at once. The Law of Karma, on which the idea is based, would have to be understood and assimilated first. In matters like these we should "think in centuries" to quote a Theosophical Teacher, rather than in years and decades.
Let us go forward a hundred years in imagination and let us assume that during those years the doctrine of Karma has been understood and assimilated, first by the serious minded and thoughtful, and from them gradually imparted to others until it finally has permeated all strata of society. It will then be accepted as a self-evident fact, just as we today accept the law of gravitation, and it will be taught in our churches and schools.
The children growing up in such a society would imbibe from their earliest years, from parents and all their elders, the idea that they are responsible for all their acts and that they shall inevitably suffer for any injury they may cause others.
Can there be any doubt that these ideas would produce a generation of individuals with their selfish tendencies largely under control? Think of the advantage of just the negative aspect of Karma, the restraining effect it would have, and think of the suffering and misery that humanity would be spared thereby!
Once selfishness is subdued, the higher faculties in human nature will be liberated and begin to express themselves. Add to this the positive assurance that Karma gives that the benefits we sow shall also return to us, and can there be any doubt that the result will be harmony and good will among men — the first step towards Brotherhood?
We can now return to the questions presented in the beginning of this volume, which make up part of the "Riddle of Life," and see how they are answered by the teachings of the Ancient Wisdom.
A summary of these answers is given below.
Why is there so much suffering in the world?
It is the result of men's wrong thinking, wrong living and wrong acting in the past. It is Nature's reaction to our lack of self control, our selfishness and the suffering we have caused others. It is not inflicted on us by any extraneous power, or by chance; we brought it on ourselves.
If we persevere in right thinking and right acting suffering will gradually cease.
Why is there so much injustice?
There is no injustice. The circumstances in which we find ourselves, the experiences we meet, we have made for ourselves. It is only our belief in the single earth-life theory that prevents us from recognizing the justice of all that happens to us.
Have we free will or are we the puppets of destiny?
Man has free will or freedom of choice. His character, which seemingly guides his choice, he has made for himself. By changing his character he can change his destiny. His destiny being self-made, he is not predestined by anything outside of himself.
Are we responsible for our acts -- Shall we reap what we sow?
Man is a free agent with a sense of right and wrong. He can act as he chooses, but he can not escape the consequences of his act. He shall reap what he has sowed, no more, no less; no better, no worse.
Is there a life after death?
There is. Death is but a sleep — the real Man still lives. All that was best and most lovable is eternal. Age is but a condition of the body — the Soul never grows old. The life of the Ego is continuous and it exists after death as it also did before birth.
Birth and death are portals through which the Ego passes as it changes from one state of consciousness to another. At death the Ego recedes from an active self-conscious state to a passive dream state. After a long rest-period the Ego returns to the active, self-conscious state through the portal of birth.
Reincarnation is the master key that solves most of life's vexing problems.
What is the purpose of life?
Evolution, growth, unfolding of latent faculties. A rising from imperfection to perfection, a gradual advance towards union with man's Inner God, with infinite possibilities for growth when that union has been attained — an ever closer approach to an ever advancing ideal.
Life is a school in which it is never too late to learn. What is mastered in one life will return that much easier in the next reincarnation.
Is this a haphazard Universe governed by blind forces, or is there a plan behind it?
The visible Universe is an embodiment of a portion of Universal Consciousness, which on this plane expresses itself through an infinite variety of life-units or Monads in different stages of development. All these monads are at present advancing their evolution in the various Kingdoms of Nature. They are slowly rising from lower to higher states of existence, those below Man advancing towards the human stage, and Man beginning his evolution towards the Christ-stage.
In this plan, according to the Ancient Wisdom:
Perfection is the goal.
Evolution is the method.
Duality furnishes the working tools.
Karma is the teacher, and
Reincarnation provides the time.
The un-self-conscious god-spark or Ray of Divinity, that in the beginning emanated from the Universal Life, has to pass through all forms of life, gain self-consciousness in the human kingdom, then rise higher along the Ray of Divinity until it rejoins its divine source, where, still retaining its identity as a self-conscious being, its consciousness becomes universal.
This marks the end of our present evolutionary period, but not the end of evolution. The Monads that have successfully completed this stage of evolution, then enter a long period of rest, after which they begin a new period of evolution on a still higher plane, thus continuing their ascent to higher and higher states of consciousness ad infinitum.
A subject so vast as that treated of in this volume can not be adequately covered in so small space. It is only presented here as an outline in the hope that it will lead the inquirer to study some of the great works on Theosophy, such as H. P. Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine, G. de Purucker's The Esoteric Tradition, Man in Evolution and other works by the same authors. They contain the information man needs to understand life and the part he has to play in it.
The following quotations are from the pen of H. P. Blavatsky, the founder of the modern Theosophical Movement.
The chief point is to uproot that most fertile source of all crime and immorality — the belief that it is possible for men to escape the consequences of their own actions. Once teach them the greatest of all laws, Karma and Reincarnation, and besides feeling in themselves the true dignity of human nature, they will turn from evil and eschew it as they would a physical danger. — The Key to Theosophy, pp. 243-4.
If Theosophy, prevailing in the struggle, its all-embracing philosophy striking deep root into the minds and hearts of men; if its doctrines of Reincarnation and Karma (in other words, of Hope and Responsibility) find a home in the lives of the new generations, then indeed will dawn the day of joy and gladness for all who now suffer and are outcast. For real Theosophy IS ALTRUISM, and we cannot repeat it too often. It is brotherly love, mutual help, unswerving devotion to Truth. If once men do but realize that in these alone can true happiness be found, and never in wealth, possession, or any selfish gratification, then the dark clouds will roll away, and a new humanity will be born upon earth. Then the Golden Age will be there, indeed. — Lucifer, Vol. IV, No. 21, May 1889, p. 188.