The world is sick of war and desires peace, yet wars and preparations for war continue. People wish to banish enmity and to usher in an era of friendship, yet rivalry and hatred perpetuate hard feelings which separate man from man. Many believe in and talk about Brotherhood, but we see everywhere the failure of unity and harmony.
In the modern world, nationalistic forces have overpowered internationalism, and Universal Brotherhood is looked upon as Utopian—fanciful talk of impractical idealists. Partial brotherhoods have so usurped the place of Universal Brotherhood that the very concept of cosmopolitan internationalism, of humanity as a unit, one grand family, seems fanciful.
Theosophy not only says that Universal Brotherhood is a fact in Nature, but goes further and shows how it can be brought about by each one practising it in his own life. The first and most important of the Three Objects of the Theosophical Movement is to form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour. What are the obstacles we have to overcome, what the pitfalls we have to avoid, if we desire to be brotherly to others, if we wish our community and our nation to live in unity and harmony with other people and other countries?
First, there is the concept of race. On every continent, in one form or another, the problem exists. It is caused by the spirit of arrogance. White people arrogantly believe themselves to be superior to the coloured people. There is no justification for this whatsoever. Next, there is the bar erected by the concept of creed and religion. Religions divide man from man as perhaps nothing else does. Thirdly, there is the obstacle to Brotherhood caused by the existence of castes and classes. Indians suffer from it most atrociously. In the West, this obstacle to Universal Brotherhood takes other forms. Finally, there is the obstacle that sex raises. The feminist movement is now a world movement. The stuggle of women against the oppression and tyranny of male dominance, while justifiable, has raised new problems for the entire social order which need to be sorted out.
These four—race, creed, caste and sex—offer grave obstacles to the emergence of a World-State, to the building of an International Order, to the practice of Universal Brotherhood. Shall we then give up all hopes of realizing Universal Brotherhood? By no means. The principle to understand is that of unity in diversity. Diversity is not inimical to Brotherhood; our human understanding, or rather misunderstanding, of what brotherhood, harmony and unity mean, is at fault.
Let us see this same truth in another and more practical way. Each one of us is desirous of practising brotherhood, of becoming friendly with the world at large. What then is the difficulty? The difficulty is twofold: one inheres in us, the second inheres in others. Take the first: We want to be friendly with others, but on our own terms and conditions. We want to get and to give as we determine, without recognizing the right of others to determine for themselves. This is the difficulty inhering within us. The second difficulty is that we do not desire to be friendly and brotherly with some, not because we have some weakness, but because those others have blemishes and vices. We do not want to hob-nob with thieves and robbers, we do not want to break bread with drunkards and drug-addicts, or to keep company of liars and vagabonds. But we should not shrink from them or hate them. We may feel sorry for them, but while they are in that condition it is most difficult to befriend them. First, we do not actually know how to handle thieves and drunkards and vagabonds; and secondly, we ourselves are not pure enough, strong enough, wise enough, to risk contamination. Evil company corrupts the good; it may very likely bring about our moral fall. Unless evildoers resolve to give up their vice, and begin to practise purity and brotherhood, we can do little for them directly. But we can ever and always work indirectly to free them from their wickedness.
The same problem arises in another shape. We understand that we cannot directly and actively befriend the wicked evildoers; but what about the ordinary men and women? There are other people in the world besides evildoers—religious people, social people, political people—how can we help them? What is to be our attitude to them? How to be brotherly to those who are sectarian or bigoted in one sphere or another and who do not see their way to practise Universal Brotherhood? There are very many people in the world who are social snobs, or consider their race and religion superior to all other races and religions, or are full of self-righteousness and take a superior attitude. Such people very often demand from us co-operation without giving us co-operation. They would have nothing to do with us if we steadily show our interest in Universal Brotherhood. It is not that we do not want them, it is that they do not want us, unless we become sectarians like them.
Are not such narrow-minded people very similar to those whose weaknesses and vices are visible and patent? The weakness of the bigoted is a moral and mental fault. Because fanaticism passes for faith, dogmatism for conviction, sectarianism for piety, and nationalism rfor patriotism, people do not distintguish truth from falsehood. Very large numbers of people are sectarians—politicians are sectarisns; so-called religious people are sectarians; and there are others. Sectarianism is so widespread that most people do not even recognize that it is a great evil.
And so the practical question confronts us: How shall we begin to live the life of Brotherhood? Are there fundamental principles that Theosophy offers for our guidance and use? If one is prepared and determined to practise Universal Brotherhood, how should he start? Granting one is determined to give co-operation to others and not only demand it from others, how should he commence?
Theosophy says to the individual—begin with yourself. As a starting point, recognize that both those classes of people, the evildoer and the sectarian are your brothers, though their ways are not your ways, their attitude not your attitude. Each one of us has his own moral weaknesses, his own mental deficiencies. As we purify ourselves, we make the work of the wicked and the vicious more difficult for them. Similarly, as we ourselves remove all species of sectarianism from our constitution, as we ourselves practise brotherhood by rising above the limitations of creed and religion, caste and race, we help the sectarian and the fanatic to overcome his defects, to change his attitude. This principle has been enunciated by every great philosopher and reformer. Confucius has said: "Robbers disappear from a kingdom where the king is honest." This sounds so strange, so impractical, that people listen, shrug their shoulders and pass on. But the metaphysical basis of the doctrine should be understood.
Take the human body. Is there a single particle of matter that we can call exclusively our own? The very matter that composes my body now was in the body of some other human being sometime ago. When a body dies and the particles separate, they go to build other forms of life. Matter being indestructible and forms of matter ever changing and rebuilding themselves, the body of each of us is affected by the body of all others. An ill body increases the mass of human illness. Modern science recognizes this in the case of contagious diseases, but Theosophy goes much further and says that all health and ill-health is contagious. Physical contact and physical proximity bring about direct interchange, but as we are all using the same matter, as we all live and breathe and have our being on the same earth, there is among all of us indirect interchange which takes place in spite of distance and time. Science recognizes direct exchange. Theosophy adds the principle of indirect exchange. This might be called the manifestation of brotherhood in Matter. It is both direct and indirect.
Turn to the Mind. Our thoughts and ideas, our attitudes and opinions, are most powerful agents for spreading virtue or vice. This is partly recognized. A great writer's thoughts affect human nature. Everyone admits that; but all do not see the very law which operates. Let us ask a simple question to ourselves: In what way, by what method, do the ideas of a book we are reading touch us, affect us? A noble book ennobles its reader; a worthless book degrades its reader. But how? What is it that happens? If we did not know Chinese and took up a Chinese book, and our eyes looked at the pages, we would not be affected. Only when with our mind we understand a book—i.e., the thoughts of its author—do its contents directly affect us. This is the law of attraction through consubstantiality. Similarly, the teachings of Theosophy that are being repeated through the written or spoken word, touch and impress our mind. There is a more intimate connection between all students of Theosophy than they generally recognize. They are united by something that affects and touches them directly and that something does not touch and does not affect except indirectly all others. This might be called the manifestation of brotherhood in mind. By matter and by mind the whole of humanity is closely united. In other ways also all members of the human kingdom are bound together, for weal or for woe, in good ways as in bad ways.
The whole of nature is of one substance. In the human kingdom we are not only of the same substance in body but also of the same essence in soul. Our bodies are different, though of the same substance; so also our souls are different though of the same essense. Substance and essence, or matter and spirit, which go to form man are the same for all, though in the process of evolution bodies and souls fashioned out of that substance or matter, and essence or spirit, are different.
Let us get this idea clearly and most difficulties will disappear. The health or ill-health of our body affects the general health of humanity. Our virtues and our vices likewise affect the sum-total of human morality. Our ignorance or enlightenment affects the entire mind of the race. Therefore it is necessary that we remove from within ourselves the two great enemies to Universal Brotherhood—vice and sectarianism.
When an individual undertakes this task, he finds that ranged against him are these two enemies who are organized and united among themselves. Thieves and robbers unite to plunder; the immoral congregate at the same place: the drunkards at a toddy shop, the gamblers at the gambling den. Similarly, the speculators are in the share market, politicians at their party's meets, Christians in their churches and Jews in their Synagogues. Both the vicious and the sectarian have come together and like "birds of a feather flock together." Therefore he who desires to give up his vice, to overcome his weakness, to free himself from sectarianism, must seek the company of those who, like himself are aspiring and endeavouring to practise Universal Brotherhood.
Because there were sufficient men and women actuated by the desire for an unsectarian life, the Theosophical Movement was inaugurated by Madame Blavatsky. Its primary object was to gather together in a single association men and women the world over who desired to practise Brotherhood. The Theosophical Society was never meant for those who only believed in Universal Brotherhood, but was established especially for those who earnestly desired to practise Brotherhood without distinctions of race, creed, sex, caste, colour or condition.
The principal task of the United Lodge of Theosophists is to give knowledge of that Philosophy which helps people to purify themselves, to grow in virtue, to break the fetters of sectarianism, to unfold the spirit of enlightenment which makes the whole world kin. No one can rise without knowledge and without aspiration. And to knowledge and aspiration must be added the strength that comes from companionship. The task of attaining true knowledge and practising Universal Brotherhood is so lofty, so absorbing, that there is neither time nor inclination for the Lodge as an Association to take part in any political or social work. The few who are volunteers in the army of Universal Brotherhood fully recognize that they too have their own weaknesses, their own limitations; but supporting each other, standing hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder, they derive support and joy from their colleagues and co-students, all of whom are ensouled by the same Immemorial Philosophy. They know that within themselves is that spirit of Truth and Compassion which will enable them to help the helpless, to befriend the friendless. They recognize the truth of the ancient teaching of the Gita (VI, 31-32): "He, O Arjuna, who by the similitude found in himself seeth but one essence in all things, whether they be evil or good, is considered to be the most excellent devotee."
They also derive inspiration from the blessings of another kind of spiritual companionship. If mind attracts and affects mind, surely soul attracts and affects soul. Studying and practising the Philosophy of Universal Brotherhood, they feel and they embody more and more the influence of those who are the Elder Brothers in the human family. These Great Souls are not religious priests or sectarian patriarchs. They are Lovers of Men, Compassionators of Orphan Humanity, Instructors of the aspirants to Wisdom, Servants of Great Mother Nature—above race and religion, above caste and creed. Their Religion, their Philosophy, their Science, is founded on the principle of Universal Brotherhood.
In history and in our own experience there is abundant evidence that the Bhagavad-Gita is right in saying "spiritual knowledge includes every action without exception," and that it is to be attained by means of devotion. Ignorant men who had no access to books have by their inward sense perceived the real truth of things, not only those round about them, but relating to the larger concerns of nature. Jacob Boehme was wholly unlettered, but he knew the truth. His writings show an acquaintance, not to be then gained from books. In Germany today are men known to me, who, more unlearned yet than Jacob Boehme was, know many things still mysteries for our learned theosophist who can boast of college education. The reason is that these men have attained to devotion, and thereby cleared away from before the eye of the soul the clouds of sense whose shadows obscure our view of truth. I do not decry or despise learning; it is a great possession; but if the learned man were also a devoted one in the sense of the Bhagavad-Gita, how much wider would be the sweep of his intellection no one could calculate.