The dream of Brotherhood is not new. For centuries the establishment of brotherhoods in various fields has been the dream of reformers, of religious teachers, individuals and groups of individuals. Today the word "brotherhood" has become so hackneyed a term that one rather hesitates to thus define the tie which binds all mankind; yet the basis for this age old dream must lie in the recognition of the ideal that men should live as brothers; that men should live harmoniously with each other, doing nothing that would injure their fellows, as they would not wish their fellows to harm their own households or interests. I think there is within the human heart (the average human heart that we know) the ineffaceable conviction that this is the truest and the highest rule of life. Just why we fail so miserably in its application is another story.
Again and again groups of men and women have tried to realize and to demonstrate a brotherhood of common interest. Too often, if not always, men have gone about it as though brotherhood were a thing that could be created by this or that experiment, usually based upon a material foundation which crumbled under the weight of divergent desires and differences of opinion or policy of the individuals concerned. On-lookers, unwilling to risk the experiment, are ready to avow that "it just can't be done," and they seem to have much evidence to back up their argument. Surely no one is so foolish as to think that any group of people picked at random will be able to live together in complete harmony of taste and aspiration, even though they be mutually honest and sincere. It is not necessary that people live in physical propinquity to demonstrate the principle of kinship, which I believe Theosophists generally consider to be the acme and the sub-stratum of human solidarity, the life-blood of human existence. Understanding, sympathy, a willingness to help where help is needed assuredly does not depend upon our living under the same roof with, or following the same line of work as those who need the help and the understanding that we can give. But it does require a consciousness of the need — a recognition of the law which operates from the beginning to the end of the evolutionary drama.
This has to do with human brotherhood, human kinship. In order to understand this more fully one must come to look upon men and women not as the bodies that enjoy or suffer the experiences of life, but as the invisible spirit, the consciousness that dwells within and motivates these bodies. Man — the real man — is a spiritual being. His body is the house he lives in, the headquarters from which he works out into this particular field of human activity and progress.
Theosophists are concerned with Brotherhood, not merely a brotherhood, although the formation of an active brotherhood among men is one of the objects of the Theosophical Society. Brother — brotherhood — does not even imply identical forms, identical tastes or even similar capacity. "Brother" indicates a common parentage, a common lineage, a common heritage for all that is included in that term, which is just exactly the Theosophical meaning of Brotherhood. When the term Universal Brotherhood is used, it means just that — the one universal source of all that the Universe contains, the one common parentage of all humanity, and the relationship and inter-relation, the inter-blending of man with every other entity under the shining sun. We absorb, we breathe in, we breathe out, and blend ourselves with all the reaches of the Universe, whether we will or no. We barter and exchange, as it were, with every kingdom or plane of Nature. Think even of the physical transmission of the life energy and see where it leads you — back and back to a point beyond which the mere intellect cannot go. "Dead matter" has been, or is fast becoming consigned to the limbo of disproven theories. The teaching that every atom is animated by a conscious life center is fast coming to the fore in the minds of thinking people. This has been a familiar teaching to students of Theosophy for years.
Looking at the universe as a living, pulsating galaxy, can you not feel that running through every fiber of it there is a flow of consciousness which to every atom seems reality, differing, of course in degree? Man, the most highly evolved entity on the globe, partakes more fully of the creative impulse of this spiritual force, and stands more closely, more consciously related to the source from which he comes. The source, the parent, being universal, omnipresent, immutable, and all men partaking of the essence of this parent, how can we deny kinship, our common heritage and destiny, our union with the universal? How can we, with any logical basis of reasoning disclaim the solidarity of the human kingdom or hierarchy? Whether we live together in this family or that, in this group or another, in one nation or another; this does not alter our common spiritual parentage, our kinship with other men living in other groups and other nations. The same consciousness — the same life-blood — pervades and persists, varying only in objectives and capacity. Mark Twain is credited with having said that it made no difference to him whether a man were black, white or yellow — Chinese or Hottentot — he was human — he could be no worse.
Perhaps the vilest thing in the universe is a person who has lost hold of his human, spiritual birthright, and who from standing a little lower than the angels has degraded his humanity to lower than the beast. Yet humanity as such stands as a solid phalanx in the march of evolution. As our humorist philosopher indicates, all are human — no worse — no better. Human blood, human consciousness flows through all, as the invisible currents of magnetic energy flow through and bind together every particle of the visible universe. Ugly as the job may seem to some, it is up to man to lift man — humanity — into a higher and cleaner state of consciousness; into a state of consciousness that will recognize and try to express the high purpose of his being. No man or group of men can ever attain the high estate of true manhood by standing on the shoulders of other men. With his own shoulders he must help to lift the load. The whole mass must be raised, but how?
Individual salvation might be an easy way out, if it worked, but it does not satisfy the awakened soul. There is the long trail of natural evolution, the other extreme. Life itself — the experiences of life — have a way of grinding one in the mills of circumstance and necessity, often bringing one to a point where he determines that he will arise and return unto his father's house. That is one way of redemption; a long, hard way, but it is a way. Then you have the story of the little leaven that leaveneth the whole lump. The larger the lump I presume the more leaven becomes necessary, and the world as we know it is quite an appalling lump. One man against the world seems helpless. One man alone could scarcely reawaken the spiritual faculty in this thing we call humanity. But one spiritually awakened man, one man who recognizes and understands even intellectually the common, divine source of the whole manifested universe may help some other individual or group of individuals to a recognition of this basic, steadfast truth. One man may bring to the minds and hearts of a few others a recognition of the fact that we are not the playthings of an extraneous super-natural God, but part of, heirs and co-workers with, the Spiritual Builders of the Universe; may inspire a few men to action that befits a kingly race. It may be possible for one man to do this much. In time those so awakened may light a fire in some other minds, may inspire the will in other hearts as those who have gone before have awakened our own. Ultimately — (not tomorrow or the next day or the next) the flame of understanding and the force of an awakened spiritual will may be found in a majority of men. The leaven will then have become the dominating force and tendency. I see no other way.
A natural burden, a natural responsibility seems to rest upon the so-called few — "The most excellent men," be they of one race or another, of one religion or of no religion at all. Quoting Krishna — " . . .for whatever is practiced by the most excellent men, that is also practiced by others. The world follows whatever example they set." (1)
Who are "the most excellent men"? That is the point to ponder. Perhaps they are those who occupy positions of influence and trust, the so-called leaders in the affairs of the world. Much could be said on the power of their example — the influence that they exert for good or ill, but of this each one can decide for himself. Just look about and picture what the status of human kind would be if the majority even of these "most excellent men" lived up to the qualities and the actions that we recognize as belonging to true manhood — if their wisdom, their justice and their compassion were commensurate with their position and influence.
"The most excellent men." Perhaps it means those (even as you and I) who have even a faint glimmering of the working of this law of brotherhood, those who even partially awakened to the high significance of human life and opportunity, those who but faintly realize the indissoluble unity that encompasses not only humanity, but the whole universe.
At any rate, the responsibility of passing on to others what knowledge of beauty and truth we may have — of trying at least to lift the mass by individual effort — of adding our bit to the leaven, rests upon those who see the light and recognize the need. Brotherhood, as I see it, was established when the world began. It is up to man, the most highly conscious entity on the globe, to recognize this law and live accordingly, instead of trying to dodge the issue or break down the inevitable.
I can leave you with no greater appeal than that made by William Q. Judge at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, "Live with one another as brothers, for the misery and the trouble of the world are of more importance than all the scientific progress that can be imagined. I conclude by calling upon you by all that humanity holds dear, to remember what I say, and whether Christians, Atheists, Jews, Pagans, Heathen or Theosophists, try to practice Universal Brotherhood, which is the universal duty of all men."
1. Bhagavad- Gita. W. Q. J. Recension, p. 25. (return to text)
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