Brotherhood and the Individual

by Mark Davidson
I have put off this quest, recognizing in it the most hazardous of journeys. To wage war on oneself is never a comfortable thing.

Many of us classify brotherhood as a utopian fantasy having very little to do with everyday life. It is felt as a much wanted dream by most, but one that is too impractical for the world as we know it today, requiring some kind of monklike existence, passionless, and disinterested in the affairs of man. It is something for tomorrow, for our children and our children's children. As long as our minds persist along these lines it will be impossible to see that the call for brotherhood is a very real and down-to-earth plea. Not only would brotherhood in practice alleviate many of our worldly sufferings, it would also accelerate our understanding and knowledge about the purposes and truths of nature.

The requirements we must fulfill in order to achieve this state of mind can be very simply laid before us. We need to live actively by moral and ethical principles: charity and forgiveness, patience and compassion, honesty and responsibility, to name but a few. These virtues, so easily mentioned, are among the most difficult and greatest of human achievements. And yet, for ages we have challenged the notion that such altruistic attributes could ever effectively lessen the world's problems. Instead it would seem we have tried every possible selfish motivation for living. Greed and hate, power and revenge, jealousy and lust have served only to create a world full of physical and mental poverty. Realizing now, if we can, what havoc these pursuits have wrought in our souls, can we not attempt to redirect our motivations and endeavors toward a more humanitarian cause?

While individual ideas of implementing brotherhood may be misconstrued at times, innate responsiveness to the ideal is universally felt among mankind. Each of us, from our own personal perspective, will understand this concept uniquely. From the reservoir of these thoughts will emerge themes common to all: a tolerance and acceptance of the differences implicit in our species, and an understanding of the oneness or inner connectedness of ourselves and all living things. Our emphasis will be shifted from the good of the one to the good of the whole because we will realize that we are brothers and, therefore, must grow up through life's experiences together as a collective humanity.

Paradoxically, however, none of this wholeness and oneness can be realized until every single person undergoes a transformation in his own soul. Nobody can legislate personal salvation. To know brotherhood and be a member of its company requires a self-knowledge which can only be born out of our own suffering and experience. If we look to others to satisfy our notion of what the world should be, we inevitably tread a disappointing path — looking without for the peace we desire within. Depression, pessimism, skepticism, and negativity become our "dear friends." We forget what we've told ourselves, that brotherhood begins at home, with us. We also forget that this means not to look for results or the fruits of our actions but to keep steadfast to those convictions we know to be true. Unless we do so, brotherhood stands outside of us, distant, chaste, and unapproachable. At some point we have to look at the person we dislike through different eyes, with a different kind of insight: look at him and examine ourselves; look at him and feel the discomfort, trace its roots — they lead in but one direction. If we can see that the source of this discomfort, and what it is that triggers our lesser natures into action, resides in ourselves, then we will have won a measure of self-knowledge. The battle thus being waged, let us not falter. Rather let us discover the satisfaction that comes from consciously trying to live up to the challenge, a fuel of sorts for the fire that burns within us. For there is a fire, a vitality in these passions of ours. This vitality in essence is what moves us through time and space along our evolutionary journey. Therefore we do not want to lose or pacify this energy, but we need to discipline and refocus it into more enlightened behavior patterns which serve a better end.

We slowly come to know by these self-examinations that much of what we attribute to another's actions are really the result of our own reactions, the outcome of what we have chosen to feel emotionally, or to think intellectually. The ability to learn and comprehend the true nature of things is a faculty which we alone control. At no time are we without the opportunity to make the changes in our life that can fundamentally alter our perceptions of the world around us. This is possible because we carry as our human burden — a burden of salvation, however — the responsibility of choice. Never are we without the power to choose the course of our actions. This is a potent tool we own, one not yielded by the gods to any kingdom below that of man. The changes we need to bring about in our lives are within our means to achieve. Our free will gives us the capacity to make decisions and therefore to plot our destinies. Just as the choices we make over the duration of any one life mold us into what we become, so it works analogously for many lifetimes. Our choices have for so long been equivocal, some positive and others negative, lacking direction or commitment. Blinded by selfish motivations we have not developed the insight to understand that it is the very decisions we make on a day-today level that go into the making or breaking of human brotherhood. As simple as all this may seem it is nevertheless tremendously difficult to implement in our lives.

There is a maxim which goes as follows: In order to help another we must help ourself, and in order to help ourself we must help another. The meaning of this and the answer it affords can be understood only by one whose quest is that of brotherhood.

(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1987. Copyright © 1987 by Theosophical University Press)


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