The Theosophical Forum – November 1938

THE FABLE OF THE "MEMBERS" (1) — A. E. Urquhart

Aesop, the wise and witty Greek writer who lived more than two thousand years ago, told in one of his pointed little stories, of an alleged quarrel between the various members or parts of the body, as to which ranked first in importance, each in turn boasting ridiculously of its superiority over the others. The story, of course, was intended to carry a lesson to some of the great men of the day, who were even then, in their personal pride and vain-glory, engaging among themselves, in the dissensions which ultimately destroyed the unity of Greece, and brought down her splendid civilisation to the dust. Yet the story has a much wider application than the temporary one for which it was written, for it illustrates the truth taught in Theosophy, that neither man nor any other being in all Creation can live to itself alone, but that all existent things are bound together by underlying laws of unity and harmony, which cannot be broken except under penalty of disorder, suffering and unhappiness.

To understand this fact, we turn to the Theosophical explanation of the structure of life, which shows that the entire Universal economy is built or arranged as an organic unity, each part being not only an essential adjunct to every other part, but also an essential component of the whole. This law runs throughout all existence whether on the lowly scale of the atomic, physical structure of things, or on the higher phases of nature which we call consciousness and intelligence. Even in the structure and workings of the living human body, as Aesop so aptly discerned, this principle shows itself with striking clearness. Every tiny atom in the fabric of the body has its part to play in the well-being of the organ which contains it. Every organ likewise has its particular essential part to play in promoting the harmonious functioning of the body as a whole. Thus every lower part, by the very nature of things, serves all that is greater than itself. The greater reciprocates by being the link which holds each lower part in harmonious association with its neighbours. Health is nothing more nor less than the efficient operation of this fundamental law of spontaneous, mutual interchange throughout the body. Disease exists only when the law is broken.

The purpose of Theosophy, we repeat, is to point out the existence of certain basic principles or laws which run through the whole fabric of life. If this is so, then we should be able to discover the above described principle repeated in other aspects of our lives. Surely we cannot fail to do so. Consider for instance the example chosen by Aesop. Do you not see, as clearly as Aesop saw, that the laws of organic unity apply as literally in the life of a nation, as in the physical constitution of its individual citizens? In terms of the nation, you and I are the "atoms." Our hometown or county, in which we accept the burdens of civic duty is the "organ" which we serve. The towns and counties, in their united aspect, make up the "body politic" of the nation. Reciprocally, the national organisation returns benefit to the towns and counties by instituting and controlling educational, legal, and other general services whose application is wider than that of any particular town or county. The civic authorities, in turn reciprocate to the citizens in terms of local services, and the preservation of peace, law and order within their own areas. Thus the organisation of a nation is good or bad according to how well or ill it expresses these basic principles of mutual service. Peace, freedom, happiness, progress (the "health" of a nation) exist where all parties high and low, shoulder ungrudgingly the full burdens of their respective positions. On the other hand, poverty, strife, crime and discontent are the disease of the body social, arising where mutual service and obligation have been ignored, and personal greed, vainglory, and self-interest allowed to hold sway. It was the beginnings of such undisciplined individualism that Aesop sought to stamp out in the civilisation of his own time. He failed, and the glory of Greece died out in internal turmoil. Are not our nations today (and likewise that wider "nation" which is all humanity) suffering from exactly the same sort of trouble arising inevitably from unbridled self-seeking among all classes of the community?

The constitution of the family group expresses the same law of organic unity. So does the natural organisational system of a factory or a Theosophical Lodge, and a ship's crew, or a school. And in each case the penalties arising from undisciplined selfishness are the same, namely, chaos, deprivation, inefficiency, unhappiness. Remember also, that no organic unity of which we are "part" (and we are all part of many such in our complex lives) needs to claim all our lives, all our service, for itself — only such part as reasonably belongs within its particular scope. Thus undoubtedly a large part of our lives must be devoted — and should be devoted, gladly and willingly — to the wide variety of duties proper to our age and stations. Yet an important part and particularly the part within ourselves, should remain free for the development of our own individuality. It is, if you like, our wider duty to the whole Universal Organism, that we should maintain a free mind, free thoughts, and a courageous experimental attitude toward the deeper things of life. To such a man, life may be full of duties, but he can never be a slave, for he has that which is beyond the reach of tyranny — a free soul.


1. Reprinted from Y Fforwm Theosophaidd, July, 1938. (return to text)

The Theosophical Forum