from The Theosophist Feb 1960

How to Change the World

Hugh Shearman

Members of the Theosophical Society are often concerned about the betterment of mankind and about the part that their Society can play in this; and naturally enough they tend at times to measure their own effectiveness influencing mankind by such a criterions as the circulation of Theosophical literature or the attendances of the public at the Society's meetings. In such a view there is the implication that the world is to be changed from outside, that by advice, exhortation or expostulation mankind will be won over from unwisdom to wisdom.

Others in the Society have held that at its meetings a creation of good "thought forms" goes on, and these impinging upon the minds of persons in the neighborhood, will gradually open up and influence those minds in a useful and helpful way. But there is in this also the idea that mankind is to be helped from the outside.

Up to a certain point the effectiveness of these activities need not be in doubt. Our literature and our lectures often do alight upon fruitful soil in the minds of sympathetically disposed how far we ourselves are open and receptive to the literature and lectures of other people and how far we are prepared to heed the opinions they express. On the whole we have developed a fairly thick protective armour against other people's bombardment of us with ideas; and it is natural to assume that most other people have similar defences against our ideas. By the thoughts of others we are, of course, very much influenced unconsciously; and we may reasonably assume that, if we ourselves really do some thinking, we in turn influence other people by our thought forms, vibrations or otherwise.

But the most effective way of influencing and bettering mankind is still more occult or more esoteric than the projecting of ideas by word or in print or by thought. And this more occult possibility is beginning to be recognized a little in the world at large.

There is a tradition that at a time in the now very remote past a group of great and wise People from another planet undertook to bring about the advancement and betterment of terrestrial humanity. We are not told that They gave lectures or distributed leaflets or even that They conducted study circles for the formulation of helpful thoughts. What we are told is that They formed a completely harmonious group among Themselves and that They joined humanity, became as it were members of humanity. Earth's humanity forms a collective entity, and this little group of illustrious Individuals became part of that collective entity, allowed the essential qualities of Their own natures to be added to that collectivity.

Today we are recognizing many collective or group entities within the larger field of collective humanity. Psychologists, particularly Jungian psychologists, have familiarized us with the idea of a collective unconscious, the whole vast undeveloped potential within and behind the human race; and we have come also to recognize many lesser collective entities, some more deep and permanent than others.

Thus, during the second World War, German prisoners of war were studied by psychologists because, although they were quite cut off from Germany, they were still believed to be grounded in a German collective unconscious and could thus provide substantial evidence as to feeling and psychological condition among the German public at home. We have also mounting evidence that the quality of attitude and living that is put into the collective unconscious of a community will in due course emerge into active effects. An interesting example of this is provided by a number of fairly advanced communities where the abolition of capital punishment was followed by a decline in the number of capital crimes. What ceased to be put into the collective unconscious of the community ceased to emerge from it. In less advanced communities this might not work so obviously, since the seeds of morbidity and violence are here being implanted in so many other ways. On a smaller scale we find the emergence of a common pattern of group behavior or feeling wherever people are united at some level in their natures as some kind of collective entity, as family, club, enthusiasts for a particular hobby, age group, factory personnel and so on.

Human evolution seems indeed to be a change form the ground of one kind of group entity to the ground of a different kind of group entity. We begin our individualization when we emerge from the animal kingdom; but we do not surely complete the process of individualization until we become Adept members of the Great Brotherhood which is also collective, but in an entirely different way from the collectivity of the sub-human kingdoms. Wild Nature is a series of group entities made up of great numbers of similar organisms functioning under the unconscious uniform guidance of instincts. The Brotherhood is a union of uniquely dissimilar Individuals functioning together because they are consciously one. Most of earth's humanity are still fairly close to wild Nature in the collectivities which they form, for though these have often a more or less substantial element of deliberate and conscious choice in them, they are also grounded on large unconscious factors.

The first step towards consciously attempting to complete our individuality is no taken by intensifying our separateness but by merging it in a new kind of collectivity. "Before the disciple shall be permitted to study "face to face", wrote Madame Blavatsky, "he has to acquire preliminary understanding in a select company of lay disciples". These disciples "while studying must take care to be united as the fingers on one hand ... Whatever hurts one should hurt the others, and if the rejoicing of one finds no echo in the hearts of others, then the required conditions are absent and it is useless to proceed ... The co-disciples must be tuned by the guru as the strings of a lute, each different from the others, yet each emitting sounds in harmony with all".

When the Theosophical Society was founded it was said that "the Theosophical Society was chosen as the corner stone; the foundation of the future religions of humanity. To achieve the proposed object a greater, wiser and especially a more benevolent intermingling of the high and the low, of the Alpha and the Omega of society, was determined upon". In other words a new kind of collective entity was to be created. Among the many group entities of mankind it was to have distinctive key qualities, both extensive an intensive.

But the influence, effectiveness and character of a group depend upon the essential qualities of those who are its members. "The essence of the higher thoughts of the members in their collectivity must guide all action in the Theosophical Society". The transformation of a group takes place through the motivation of those who form it being changed from unconscious to conscious. The individual or the small group who, by joining a hitherto mainly unconscious and instinctual collectivity, can contribute to it a nucleus of clear-sighted self-consciousness, can exert an enormous transforming influence upon it.

That was surely why that small group of enlightened Individuals, in order to transform terrestrial humanity; deliberately became members of that humanity deep inside its collective being, forming a nucleus of self-conscious enlightenment within its hitherto instinctually motivated group soul, and thereby establishing the Source from which the streams of wisdom have ever since flowed.

It is through the quality of our very being that we play our most effective and influential part in any group or collectivity that we join. It is from that quality of being, innate and unique, that our action ought to spring. But the most exalted and effective of all Those who joined earth's humanity was One who is not described as performing any action, being sometimes referred to as the Silent Watcher. We who come into the Society are not ready just to watch in silence; but some among us perform a wonderful work of silent transformation in the various groups and communities into which we have been born.

The writer of this article has lately had news of the passing of such a member of the Society. She had lived all her life in the industrial city in which she was born and where for half a century she supported the work of the Society. Simple, benevolent and gifted with much wise insight into human nature, she helped people without interfering with them. Never able to appear on lecture platforms or come before the public, she exercised that power which makes us "appear as nothing in the eyes of men". The teachings of ancient occultism and the indications of modern psychology unite to make it by no means fantastic to suggest that she may have made a substantial transformation in the quality and tone of the whole collective life of that city, not so much by bombarding the city with thought forms but perhaps by a process which might be likened to the way in which an electric current in a primary coil induces a current in the surrounding secondary winding.

All this is not in the least to disparage the value of writings and lectures and the use of organs of publicity; but it may be suggested that these activities are most effective in transforming the world when they proceed from a deep, stable and intelligent quality of being rather from a surface anxiety to convert people to the same opinions as oneself. A lecture, too, is more than an opportunity to convey information or ideas; it is an opportunity to bring into being a collective entity, a group consciousness of a self consciously benevolent and enlightened order. A good speaker transforms his audience into a group of friends and, by his essential attitude and through the relationship he establishes, evokes in them the best qualities of his own nature.

An executive approach to changing the world is necessary at its own level; but it is not enough. Public executive capacities are placed in the hands of few, and those who hold these capacities in their hands often find themselves singularly powerless; but the power to change the world through that which we have in common with it and that which we essentially are is in the hands of the humblest individual.