Brotherhood: Pattern in Nature

By Sarah Belle Dougherty

Brotherhood is generally accepted as a noble sentiment, a grand ideal, but personal and international events show how frequently it is disregarded. Our egocentricity and sense of separateness often blind us to the fact that the universe is a webwork of mutual dependence and reciprocal relationships, and that brotherhood is inherent in this reality.

Certainly the brotherhood of man is obvious from a global perspective. Looking at the planet as a whole, our individual differences shrink to almost nothing, and humanity emerges with its common interests, responsibilities, and destiny. In this context our unbrotherly actions stand out as unnatural — not only those directed toward members of mankind, but also those affecting our "little brothers," the other life forms that make up Mother Earth. Modern scientific research is making us more and more aware of ourselves as part of a delicately balanced, living system which cannot be altered to suit our convenience without effects ranging from minor to catastrophic for ourselves and our environment. On the material level the earth itself is forcing us to reexamine the basis of our actions toward our surroundings and to either respect the intrinsic interdependence of each with all or suffer increasingly severe consequences.

In spheres other than the physical it is equally true that "no man is an island." Our thoughts and emotions have a profound effect on those around us, and most of the meaning in our lives comes from direct interactions with others. Going beyond this, even unvoiced thoughts and feelings are not confined within us, but are real energies. In fact, the psychological impact of each of us on the rest of mankind is much more pervasive and influential than our physical impact. We unconsciously affect many people we never meet who are open to the psychological currents that we are sending, and we in turn are affected by others. We live bathed in this intangible atmosphere, giving and taking, and by our contributions color by so much the consciousness field of the entire human race.

Spiritually, our relationship to each other is still more intimate. In the theosophical philosophy, the inmost aspect of each living being originates from and is part of the same divine source. This makes us, not merely closely related, but actually identical in essence with our fellowmen, the universe, and the countless lives that compose it. This perception of unity lies at the heart of the mystic path, which culminates in the conscious experiencing of oneness with our divine source. Mystics and sages are those who succeed to a limited extent; those who achieve a fuller union have become Buddhas and Christs. This is the destiny that awaits us all as human beings, once we learn to live in accordance with the inner patterns of the universe.

What a different world it would be could we but act with nature instead of against it. A moment-to-moment awareness of our oneness with other human beings would prevent much of the misery that feeds on self-centeredness, exploitation, violence, neglect, and bigotry. While we can find many ways of reaching this goal and helping to relieve human suffering, individually and through organizations, our greatest opportunities and responsibilities lie in transforming our own lives. In this light Jesus's injunctions to "love one another" and "love your neighbor as yourself" are not utopian, but rather the most practical remedy for the problems that plague mankind.

The difficulty, of course, is to let go of the self-limiting habits of thought and feeling which so often determine our behavior, and instead to draw upon those deeper currents that flow from and to the divine being within us. Such a task requires sustained effort, and we are bound to make mistakes and sometimes even seem to go backwards despite all we do. Yet if we continue to try, and are willing to examine our actions and reactions constructively, in time our lives will reflect our highest aspirations to an ever greater extent. For it is by acting upon our heartfelt convictions that we will eventually awaken in our everyday mind and feelings the direct awareness of universal brotherhood, and so harmonize the more superficial portions of our consciousness with the inner seer who is already in tune with the oneness of mankind and of all nature.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1984. Copyright © 1984 by Theosophical University Press.)


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