from The Theosophist September 1958
On the Watch-Tower
In the Theosophical Society there is a core of members who regard the Society not merely as a source of `inspiration, interest and information, a congenial meeting-ground for diverse types of people or a pleasant way of spending time. They regard it as a work to be done for humanity; and some regard it as work to which they are specially commissioned upon a high Authority, and feel that, in serving humanity in this way, they are also serving an inner life or power that is to be intuitively or mystically apprehended within the Society.
It is those who regard the Society in one way or another as a work to be done, a service to be fulfilled without reference to self, who are its main source of strength.
It is such people whose patience and insight carry the work forward in times when the superficial enthusiasm of the less deeply engaged members is tending to flag. It is such workers who have unobtrusively withdrawn the work into the silence of their hearts in times of persecution only to bring it forth again into the open when persecution ends, the flame being brighter than before. And, as well as these strongest and staunchest workers, there are others who draw nearer year by year to the standard of strength and stability that these have established.
The strength of a good Theosophical worker comes from the fact that he does not depend for encouragement or stimulus upon external results.
The Tree and the Fruit
The success of his activity is measured for him by its quality and its relevance to his inner experience and not primarily by its immediate overt fruitage of results.
To be indifferent to external results would alone lead merely to carelessness and ineffectiveness. Results do not matter and are less important ; but the best results in our work are not obtained by concentrating anxiously upon bringing them about solely by external means. They are the fruit and not the tree. If we keep thinking of the fruit and at the same time neglecting the tree, the fruit itself will presently deteriorate in quality. The tree in this case is our inner life and deeper purpose, and the fruits for our Society may by increased activity and useful influence. The inner life and the deeper purpose must be experienced and cultivated before outer activity and influence can be brought about in the best way and on sure foundations.
The member, whose work for the Society is grounded upon an experience of inner purpose, is not worried by a recession in membership or by various material difficulties. There may be much trouble and suffering through these things, but there does not have to be anxiety or disappointment if the workers is established n the true purpose the work.
Certain fruits of action are likely for the present to denied altogether to the Theosophical worker. He will not receive praise or recognition for what he does, or the recognition will obviously be of a kind that does not matter and is of no value. Indeed the glow of personal admiration can at times be a chilling indication of failure. For example, if an earnest worker gives a lecture in which he tries to convey something that he has deeply felt and valued, and if at the close of the lecture everybody praises him and tells him how wonderful he is, he has obviously failed to some extent; for he has attracted attention to his own personality and not to the message which he had to give. The praise is neither good nor bad; it is simply irrelevant. The message of Theosophy and the work of the Theosophical Society are not personal matters, not yours or mine of anybody's. They belong to a whole that is vastly greater than any personality.
If personal approbation is irrelevant to our work, so is personal condemnation, whether of ourselves or of others. Our behavior springs from our condition and stage of psychological growth, and while we may often have to draw other people's attention to their obligations, it is no more useful to be angry with them for their shortcomings than to be angry with a child for not being grown- up. A frequent inconvenience suffered by Theosophical workers is the failure of others a keep promises that they make. This usually arises, not from any malice, but from people's immaturity and their failure to be really in control of their own lives and impulses. Without condoning a default, it is more useful to seek out ways of helping the guilty party to avoid its repetition than to condemn it indignantly. And if we ourselves do things that are an annoyance to others, it is more useful to find out how we gave rise to disharmony than to try to defend ourselves and argue that we were right.
Sometimes a Theosophical worker is placed in a position of great isolation and has, as it were, to hold an outpost in the work. He may also be profoundly isolated in his own home and family and social background. It this happens, it should be accepted that this is the role that the work requires of that worker.
It is the quality of our acceptance of a situation that is important and not the transformation of that situation into something, that may be personally more congenial. IT is useless to think "If only I had some understanding person to help me, or only I had more time and money to devote to the work!". If that is our situation, it is obvious that what the work ask of us is that we should go on without a helper or without time and money. While the work of the Society is a prime duty to the Theosophical worker, it is equally important that for its sake he should himself grow into a good Theosophist, and he will do that best when drawing upon the resources of his own character rather than upon outer circumstances and other people.
Sometimes a devoted worker finds himself in a place where, in spite of his best efforts, the membership of the Society is declining and the work seems likely to die out altogether. Often, if he will keep right on to the end , a new group of people will appear and take up the work. But some times the work is actually going to die our for a while in a particular locality, probably because of the prevailing condition of the community there. In such a case it is the task of the worker at that place to conduct as prolonged and efficient a rearguard action as he can, recollecting that it is by the quality of our work now that we lay a claim up on the future. The Theosophical worker has to be one of whom it can be said: "Winning or losing, he played the game".
It has sometimes happened that a Theosophical workers has found himself to be the only person to attend a meeting that had been arranged. His obvious task then is not to lament the absence of others but to go on and hold the meeting alone, pursing such studies and meditations as he feels to be suitable to the occasion. Whatever overt results may ensue, he will know, if he grounded upon the inner life and intention of our Society, that his thought is not wasted at such a time.
Looking away from the occasional difficulties and frustrations of individuals, it can be seen that our work as a whole has made great headway and exerted a great influence upon the world since the Society was founded. Something has already been achieved whose results no human calamities, vicissitudes or baseness can ultimately efface. To that growing success every hard or lonely struggle of an isolated worker is an effective contribution; and , in recognizing this fully, he can discover that he is not really alone at all. Loneliness arises only from measuring our lives and work by anxiously and competitively personal standards. If, by forgetting ourselves in the work, we lose sight of these personal standards, we can discover that we are members of a great company and can never be lonely.
Theosophical work also involves much drudgery and much outwardly unrewarding attention to innumerable small details. If the drudgery is approached with an attitude of openness, accepted and unremittingly dealt with, there comes through it a certain inexpressible experience of detachment and power and a gradually appreciable deepening of the inner nature.
It might be said that the purpose of the Theosophical Society is to change or transform human nature.
Changing Human Nature
This is, after all, the only effective way of changing the human world and bringing into outward and active manifestation that Universal Brotherhood of Humanity which we recognize as a reality but which for so many is still only a vague transcendental hope or not even that. And the one part of the totality of human nature which we are most directly responsible for changing is our own nature.
As well as being many other things, the Theosophical Society is thus a training-ground for human character, and its service is a discipline through which the profoundest lessons may be learnt. Theosophical workers can discover this according to the measure of the sacrifice they make for it. That it should be a school for heroes and a means of educating true saints was the intention of its Founders. It is open to any member to take up the challenge which that intention offers. And a major part of the challenge may lie in the fact that all his fellow members have a perfect and admitted right to be neither saintly nor heroic.
In changing his own character, the Theosophical workers may be wise to remember that one of the greatest sources of possible loss of balance is not his vices but his virtues. Any capacity which he may have - organizing ability, psychic, capacity, knowledge of some special subject, some particular form of goodness or reliability - may be asserting its great importance, obliterate a balanced appreciation of the wholeness of things. This can easily happen when a person has some form of psychic sensitiveness. The range of things which he perceives by means of that sensitiveness - usually a very much narrower rage than he realizes - seems very important to him, and he can lose his sense of proportion very badly. Many other capacities- a clear, analytical mind, special experience of some subject, a special devotion to some aspect of truth - can equally cause him to make a fool of himself and betray the wisdom to which he profess to aspire, if he lets the personal importance of such a capacity run away with him. Safety lies only in self-effacement and the unremitting service of something greater than self.
One of the great difficulties of the Theosophical worker seems to be indecision. He often sees that he ought to work, feels that he has a duty to work, and yet does not it gladly. He may therefore fall back upon repeating platitudes and living to some extent in terms of platitudes, but this will not make him happy.
Indecision often takes the form of doing some good and worthy kind of work which is nevertheless not the work that most urgently requires to be done.
It is good work and will bring some fruit of appreciation, commendation and good results, but it is not really the best work in the circumstances. It has been said that the good is the enemy of the best. In the Theosophical Society it is often the conventionally and respectably good rather than the actively bad which from time to time defeats and stultifies the best. Indecision causes people to evade the real heart of the matter, but they continue from habit and sense of duty to put up a very solid display of good work from which the high lights of more essential achievement are nevertheless absent.
These crises of indecision arise from failure to recognize and experiment honestly with that law of sacrifice which is the essence of Theosophical work. By that law the old pattern of personal value and preferences must be abandoned before a new is known and enjoyed. We have had the great good fortune through our studies in the Society to come to know that there is something beautiful, new and unknown awaiting us, that there are fresher fountains and wider spaces than are known to the narrow conventions and orthodoxies; but we have to move on and lay living claim to that unknown, abandoning the known that has kept it from us and us from it.
It is essentially fear of the unknown and dependence on the known that create that bleak and barren state of indecision. Fear, therefore, is to be sought out and brought to the surface in our lives and dissipated, and dependence is to be recognized and challenged as to its worth. It is not enough that our Theosophy should come to us on good authority. We shall never be happy until we bring it to the test of living experience and find that sacrifice is a reliable way of life . Then we shall be happy and effective workers and not merely dutiful ones.
More Hugh Shearman