Reproduced from "The Theosophist" August 1996 issue. (Convention 1995 Symposium, Adyar)

What does Theosophy say on our Relationship with the Downtrodden?

Abraham Oron

Mr. Oron is President of the Covenant Lodge, Tel Aviv, Israel.

Looking around us at the world today, we can observe an extensive play of polar opposites in the conditions of human beings. There are very few countries in which we do not find poverty and slums on the one hand and the most extravagant riches and luxury on the other. One may think that poverty and hunger do not exist in the rich western countries, but the weak and downtrodden constitute a major element in the disease of the planet and human society all over the world.

We have a planet that is full of beauty and richness, but it suffers from a very dangerous disease which is separation and selfishness or lack of relationship. This disease, which affects not only man and all other forms of life, has its source in human society, where it manifests as selfishness, hatred, greed, pride, ambition and so on. As one of the Masters puts it in The Mahatma Letters:

Nature is destitute of goodness or malice; she follows only immutable laws when she either gives life and joy, or sends suffering and death, and destroys what she has created... The real ill proceeds from human intelligence and its origin rests entirely with reasoning man who dissociates himself from Nature. Humanity, then, alone is the true source of evil.

It is not Nature that creates disease, but man. Who are the downtrodden? They are the weak minorities in every country, who are looked upon as foreigners, as not 'one of us' -- with strange clothes, strange customs, strange religions. There are those who are downtrodden because of their poverty. They were born poor, or became poor because they could not succeed in our highly competitive society. And there are also the sick and disabled. The list is very long. In The Mahatma Letters, the Master says again:

For it is 'Humanity' which is the great Orphan, the only disinherited one upon this earth, my friend. And it is the duty of every man who is capable of an unselfish impulse to do something, however little, for its welfare. Poor, poor humanity! It reminds me of the old fable of the war between the body and its members; here too, each limb of this huge 'Orphan' -- fatherless and motherless -- selfishly cares but for itself.

The rich countries are trying to solve this problem by allocating more budgets, which is good in itself. But when they fail, they blame it on those whom they have tried to change and re-educate, saying that the latter did not make enough effort. Of course, money is important. But money without true relationship, without a heart, is doomed to fail. What is needed is a combination of money and heart. The downtrodden feel themselves to be outcasts and have no sense of their own worth. In order to care for them, understanding and empathy--which are qualities of the heart--are required. But the problem is that one cannot buy these very precious qualities: they are hard to find in governmental bodies or even social services. If there is not enough heart in a certain society, it cannot bridge the gap caused by the feeling of separation and fear, originating in the mind. The goal of the future spiritual social server is beautifully stated by HPB in The Voice of the Silence:

Let thy soul lend its ear to every cry of pain like as the lotus bares its heart to drink the morning sun. Let not the fierce sun dry one tear of pain before thyself hast wiped it from the sufferer's eye. But let each burning human tear drop on thy heart and there remain, nor ever brush it off, until the pain that caused it is removed.

To sum up, the problem of the downtrodden is caused by a lack of real relationship between the strong and the weak in every society. And it will exist as long as ignorance about the nature of the self and the illusion of separateness hold sway over the minds of men. To be happy while others are suffering is the outcome of not knowing who one is, of identifying oneself with the form and the senses, and forgetting or ignoring life--the One Life that lies asleep in the mineral, that is dreaming in the plant, and slowly awakening in the animal, until it becomes self-conscious in the human being. There is nothing but life, Divine Life, taking the shapes appropriate to the stations it passes through at every moment. Self-knowledge is of course the final remedy for all the problems created by the illusion of separateness, as it brings one to the realization of the oneness of all life that flows through each and every form.

The role of Theosophy is to teach simply and practically the science of self-knowledge, of discrimination between the unreal and the real, thus bringing about the change that will finally bridge all the gaps in human society.