[Lucifer, Vol. IV, No. 19, March, 1889, pp. 87-88]
The first object of the Theosophical Society being to promote the principle of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, how can it be reconciled with the aim that, at the same time, it presents in life to every individual being:—the duty of developing his Higher Self, by the sacrifice of every selfish desire, by the conquest of all material interest, for the mere purpose of attaining a higher spiritual perfection, in order that this perfection should transform our faith in the spiritual world into sight and knowledge, and give us “life everlasting.”
How can one practice altruism and philanthropy, when one devotes one’s life to the cultivation of the inner spiritual being and the attainment of total indifference to the physical world?
Can there be a compromise? Can one divide one’s existence, and serve two principles at once? Now if the first, which is the altruistic principle, be taken as a beacon for one’s activity, which is the right way to apply it? If neglecting all personal interest, one works for the welfare of people, by trying to give them a happier earthly existence, may not the accusation be raised against one that it is too materialistic to work
only for the practical welfare of people, as if men were born merely for enjoyment?
This reproach will be evaded if one holds to the theory that presents the reign of the moral law as the aim of an altruist . . . But what is the right criterion for one’s judgment? . . . Can anybody be certain enough of possessing the real knowledge of truth, to demand blind submission to it from others? And what right has anyone to believe that his opinion must be accepted on authority—when he himself can err? If the Christian principle of giving away everything one possesses to the poor were universally practised, there would be no poor in this world to be benefitted; or rather there would be nobody who would want to possess any wordly goods, and so the benefit of civilization would be lost? This seems very irrational. If, by a firm conviction in one’s spiritual immortality, and complete indifference to all practical benefit in this world, a certain calmness of mind, can be attained, but through moral suffering, has one a right to impose it upon others? To try to show them that all that makes the enjoyment of life is but temporary and illusive; that we are on the eve of losing everything we love; would not such thoughts darken the existence of the majority, and deprive it of all energy for action in practical life? In such a case, what is the use of our faculties and talents, which must have a physical plane to act upon? Must they be neglected and stifled in order to give the spirit the liberty and the means to devote itself to the attainment of self-perfection, and the study of the higher spiritual knowledge that gives immortality?
5/17 February, 1889,
Petersbourg, Petite Morskaia.
The questions asked and the difficulties propounded in the foregoing letter arise mainly from an imperfect acquaintance with the philosophical teachings of Theosophy. They are a most striking proof of the wisdom of those who have repeatedly urged Theosophists to devote their energies to mastering, at least, the outlines of the metaphysical system upon which our Ethics are based.
Now it is a fundamental doctrine of Theosophy that the “separateness” which we feel between ourselves and the world of living beings around us is an illusion, not a reality. In very deed and truth, all men are one, not in a feeling of sentimental gush and hysterical enthusiasm, but in sober earnest. As ail Eastern philosophy teaches, there is but ONE SELF in all the infinite Universe, and what we men call
“self” is but the illusionary reflection of the ONE SELF in the heaving waters of earth. True Occultism is the destruction of the false idea of Self, and therefore true spiritual perfection and knowledge are nothing else but the complete identification of our finite “selves” with the Great All. It follows, therefore, that no spiritual progress at all is possible except by and through the bulk of Humanity. It is only when the whole of Humanity has attained happiness that the individual can hope to become permanently happy—for the individual is an inseparable part of the Whole
Hence there is no contradiction whatever between the altruistic maxims of Theosophy and its injunction to kill out all desire for material things, to strive after spiritual perfection. For spiritual perfection and spiritual knowledge can only be reached on the spiritual plane; in other words, only in that state in which all sense of separateness, all selfishness, all feeling of personal interest and desire, has been merged in the wider consciousness of the unity of Mankind.
This shows also that no blind submission to the commands of another can be demanded, or would be of any use. Each individual must learn for himself, through trial and suffering, to discriminate what is beneficial to Humanity; and in proportion as he develops spiritually, i.e., conquers all selfishness, his mind will open to receive the guidance of the Divine Monad within him, his Higher Self, for which there is neither Past nor Future, but only an eternal Now.
Again, were there no “poor,” far from the “benefits of civilization being lost,” a state of the highest culture and civilization would be attained, of which we cannot now form the faintest conception. Similarly, from a conviction of the impermanence of material happiness would result a striving after that joy which is eternal, and in which all men can share. Throughout the whole letter of our esteemed correspondent there runs the tacit assumption that happiness in material, physical life is all-important; which is untrue. So far from being the most important, happiness in this life of matter is of as little importance in relation to the bliss of true spiritual life as are the few years of each human cycle on earth in proportion to the millions and millions of years which each human being spends in the subjective spheres,
during the course of every great cycle of the activity of our globe.
With regard to faculties and talents, the answer is simple. They should be developed and cultivated for the service of Humanity, of which we are all parts, and to which we owe our full and ungrudging service.