Every human being has a particular type of character, good, bad, or indifferent, and he is, or rather should be, anxious to improve it and shape and mould it according to the pattern prescribed in the great Scriptures of the world. Each one of us is becoming something every day and every hour, some deliberately and wisely; others just drift unconsciously to themselves. Theosophy lays great stress on the building of character because our moral nature belongs to the permanent aspect of our being, which, after death, can be assimilated by the Higher and Divine Triad.
All good and evil things in humanity have their roots in human character, and this character is, and has been, conditioned by the endless chain of cause and effect. But this conditioning applies to the future as well as to the present and the past. Selfishness, indifference, and brutality can never be the normal state of the race—to believe so would be to despair of humanity—and that no Theosophist can do. Progress can be attained, and only attained, by the development of the nobler qualities. (The Key to Theosophy, pp. 232-33)
This indicates clearly why it is necessary for us to cultivate virtues and build our character. Since human beings alone generate causes because of self-choice, they and they alone are responsible for the present chaos in the world, for the abnormal state in which they live their lives from the cradle to the grave, many times worse than animals. Parents and teachers alike seem to be anxious to see the development of noble traits in the young, but they have not succeeded because of lack of correct knowledge of the Eternal Verities. Madame Blavatsky further points out in the same book.
School training is of the very greatest importance in forming character, especially in its moral bearing. Now, from first to last, your modern system is based on the so-called scientific revelations: "The struggle for existence" and the "survival of the fittest." (The Key to Theosophy, p. 264)
It is necessary, therefore, to teach children the basic concepts of life, what it is, how to live it and what the final goal is. Just as it is necessary for a navigator to learn all about longitudes and latitudes, about weather and atmospheric conditions and how to cope with them, about the geography of different countries, etc., to steer his ship safely in stormy waters or calm, so also to cross the ocean of sansara and reach the other shore successfully one must have correct knowledge to steer the course of one's life deliberately. Unfortunately, at the present time, both in homes and in schools this knowledge is not taught. Parents and teachers do not themselves set the example and so children fritter away their time and energy in wrong directions.
Character is not endowed by someone but has to be built little by little, beginning on the plane of the mind, because thoughts are the seeds of Karma. Just as the whole technique of music, whether it is vocal or instrumental, rests on the seven notes or seven sounds, so too character has to be built according to certain rules as given by the great Teachers and not in a haphazard way. It is essential to recognize that each one is born with certain traits and tendencies, desirable or undesirable, full of merit or demerit, in terms of his previous incarnations. So it is the responsibility of each to curb the evil and develop the good in his physical, mental and moral make-up, keeping in mind always the unity and interdependence of all beings and the need for a harmonious development in all aspects of one's being. Man, the Eternal Pilgrim, has passed through many, many forms of life on different planes; he has lived incarnation after incarnation, was born to different parents, in different countries and climes, under different circumstances; therefore naturally he has developed various characteristics. Each one, now and here, uses them well or misuses them, takes advantage of the opportunities or neglects them, now going through fleeting pleasures and then through passing sorrows, none the wiser.
If children are taught that the purpose of life is to progress towards the goal of perfection in co-operation with our fellow pilgrims, helping and serving them at every turn, understanding the law of our own being, living in harmony with nature, then, naturally, life would become a song, a melody, instead of a cry as it is at present. "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect," said Jesus. The wisdom and compassion of the Father in Heaven have to be expressed and manifested in our daily life, and this can be done by building the character from the spiritual point of view. Good character shows forth in every event, in every contact, in every test and trial, and not only on special occasions. Competition in school and college life, home or business life, should always be replaced by co-operation. Then, and not till then, true unity and harmony can be established in every sphere of life.
We have been given the pattern of good character by all the great Teachers, and each can select for himself according to his requirements what he needs to build within himself and what he has to curb and control. The Teachers can but point the way; the effort has to be put forth by oneself. In this connection, the divine and demoniac qualities of the Sixteenth Chapter of the Gita need to be understood. Character cannot be built in seclusion, by going away from home and friends and kin. It is through human contact that character can be built and beautified. Nor can character be built overnight. It has to be a constant and continuous process, both on the physical and on the mental plane. Mr. Judge gives valuable advice on the subject:
You can solidify your character by attending to small things. By attacking small faults, and on every small occasion, one by one. This will arouse the inner attitude of attention and caution. The small faults and small occasions being conquered, the character grows strong. (Letters That Have Helped Me, p. 134)
Students of Theosophy are responsible in a more direct way for generating good causes, forming good habits and building a good character. In a general way this will affect all in a beneficial manner, but to carry out Theosophical work the student-practitioner has to become a pure channel for the inflow of the Divine Light, for the reflection of Divine and Archetypal Ideas. Masters need companions to carry out Their Work in this world of ignorance and darkness. The purer and the clearer the channel, the easier for the Waters of Wisdom to flow without obstruction to inspire and instruct other pilgrim-souls.
Moderation should be the underlying thread of the Divine Discipline. As Krishna instructs Arjuna in the Sixth Chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, "The meditation which destroyeth pain is produced in him who is moderate in eating and in recreation, of moderate exertion in his actions, and regulated in sleeping and waking." Thus, the two extremes should be avoided, and, walking the middle path, one can shape and build one's character. Ideas rule the world. If ideas and ideals were kept on the highest plane, appropriate actions would naturally follow. Then the body, mind and spirit would be more and more unified. The head, heart and hands would work in unison, and the individual would become more and more an integrated being. Disintegration seems to be the order of the day. What is needed is an entire transformation of the person through right attitude and right behaviour; then and then only can one establish real harmony within oneself and unity in the outside world.
Not only do we have the teachings to help us in building our character but we also have the glorious example of great figures down the ages, the embodiments of unity, harmony and integration, who, through their own efforts, have reached the summit of Enlightenment, who work with one mind, one will, one feeling, and who wait and watch for those who are clear-eyed enough to see their true destiny, and noble-hearted enough to serve the great orphan, Humanity.
It is said that a wise man rules over the stars; but this does not mean that he rules over the influences which come from the stars in the sky, but that he rules over the powers which exist in his own constitution.