Justice: The Keynote of Life

By Sarah Belle Dougherty

What is justice? Debate on this issue has continued for centuries. Plato's Dialogues, written almost 2,400 years ago, contain many familiar views: justice as the will of the strongest (might is right); the rule of law established by the State; conventional piety; revealed divine will; and commonsense notions of what is fair (though these differ from one society and time to another). In such opinions justice is imposed on individuals by outside authority. In his Republic Plato argues that justice is harmony among the various portions of a whole, all subordinate to the most spiritual and each performing its proper task in relation to the whole. Here justice is a state of being.

Looking within we recognize, as Plato did, that each person is formed of several distinct elements. We can notice physical, vital, appetitive, emotional, mental, and spiritual facets and, at the limit of perception, our point of union with divinity. We are each like the earth, an organic system of diverse groups working together to form a unified whole. Just as with the relationship between the earth and its kingdoms, so every part of our constitution changes and grows as it evolves along its own lines; yet each remains an indispensable part of the human being it helps form and is closely interrelated to all other human elements. When one aspect of us becomes too dominant or recessive, or usurps the role of another, then the whole person is thrown out of balance. When every aspect of human nature plays its proper role under the direction of the inner divinity, harmony results, which is what Plato referred to as justice.

We may wonder, what is the natural basis for such a harmony? One way to imagine it might be as a keynote struck by the divine part of us, a vibration which both expresses and forms the basis of our selfhood. Similarly, there is a planetary keynote sounded by the divine aspects of the earth at its inception. This divine tone reverberates all through its being, and each terrestrial unit expresses an overtone of the primal note. Because of this, a natural harmony exists among the lives of earth, whether atoms, minerals, plants, animals, humans, or divinities, so long as each resonates with the divine unifying vibration.

Looking deeper, a keynote pervades the solar system, struck by the divinity whose physical form is the sun. The galaxy too, represented traditionally by the zodiacal constellations, has its characteristic note which underlies the tone of the solar system. Various entities belonging to the solar system or to earth express one or another galactic or solar overtone most strongly, and together they compose a complete harmony. These vibrations are not merely mechanical effects, but are expressions of consciousness and of divine vitality and individuality. In ancient times these cosmic vibrations were sometimes referred to as the Logos, Verbum, Word, or Vach; or, again, as light.

As individuals we are miniature galaxies, and our inner divinity strikes the keynote for the many subordinate centers and entities that compose us. These join in our vibratory quality, as do the thoughts and feelings we harbor — actually real energies and entities which receive the impress of our individual note as well as the content and direction we give them. When all our elements are in tune with the divine, we feel, think, and act in harmony. When one or more of our consciousness-centers slips out of tune with our essential selfhood, our thoughts, feelings, and actions will tend toward disharmony. Our task as evolving beings is to open the entire self to this divine keynote, thus not only tuning our whole being, but also coming into harmony with the rest of our fellows, our planet, solar system, and even galaxy. Doing this, we begin to perceive reaches of ourselves which extend beyond the farthest we can now imagine.

In human society, justice is this divine harmony among individuals and among groups. Too often missing in modern discussions of social justice is humankind's spiritual oneness in origin, essence, and destiny — which makes each person inwardly part of every other in a very real sense. After all, human beings are not animated bodies evolved primarily through physical processes, but are the expression of divine beings whose existence goes back beyond the dawn of galactic genesis. In the course of evolution we have built into ourselves a tremendous reservoir of karma — species, group, and individual especially "collective" karma which the entire species has contributed to and has suffered from. We see the evidence of this backlog of karmic consequences in the inequities of class, race, and sex that bedevil mankind today as much as in the past. Such universal and rank injustice is a manifestation of inner disharmony arising from widespread past attitudes and actions of selfishness and exploitation. It is the expression of a long-term imbalance in humanity, collectively and individually, which has built powerful molds or habits on every plane of activity.

If social injustice is rooted so deeply in the human past, what can we do to ameliorate the situation? The New Testament remarks, "know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Buddha's prescription to end human suffering was to recognize its existence and acknowledge that it had a human cause with a cure any individual could understand and implement. What was this cure? To individually reestablish inner harmony through thought, speech, deeds, way of life, and mental and spiritual practices in harmony with spiritual reality. Buddha did not seek to impose a scheme of reclamation upon society as such, but to encourage each person to reclaim him- or herself through a consciously chosen and practiced rapport with the heart of the universe, which is identic with the spiritual essence of the individual. In this way dharma or justice would naturally be fulfilled and manifested.

In the Gospels, Jesus took a different approach, enjoining love of ourselves, our neighbors, and each other. Practicing such love — for the just and unjust, good and evil alike — brings the spiritual into human life. It requires harmonizing the ordinary self with divinity, whether considered within or outside us. As with Buddha's prescription, it results in expressing celestial harmony in the individual and eventually in humanity as a whole. This emphasis is reminiscent of the bodhisattva ideal in Mahayana Buddhism, where compassion is the driving force behind the inner life.

The coexistence of unity and individuality is a great paradox, transcending the capacity of the human mind. We experience this mystery in ourselves: we know we are both a oneness and an association of separate though interdependent parts. Through our experiences we learn and grow, eventually realizing that disharmonies are evidence of imperfectly evolved beings, within and outside us, who because of their imperfection are at times out of harmony with the internal and external keynote of divinity.

The missing principle in most treatments of nature and man is the inner, causative factor behind physical forms — factors of consciousness and spirit. As human beings we need to recognize that our consciousness derives from and depends on the earth and its kingdoms because, as part of the planetary whole, we mirror our cosmic parent. Our inner and outer roles as planetary citizens are closely related to each other. To create outer harmony, there must first be inner harmony. How we acquit ourselves as individuals, as societies, and as a species will depend upon our ability to recognize the inward aspects of life and to begin participating consciously and compassionately in the spiritual, mental, and psychological symphony which is the earth, humanity, and ourselves. In creating this harmony, we will achieve inner peace, love for others, and true justice for all.

All the evidence — a universe of it — points to its existence. To fathom or understand it seems way beyond us mortals. To try to resist it seems insane. To trust that no evil will befall ignores daily experience. Equally daily experience shows that we often confuse the two, i.e., what is good and what is evil for us.

(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1993. Copyright © 1993 by Theosophical University Press)


Sunrise Back Issues Menu