The Individual and the World

By James A. Long

We are living in an age of Iron, at a point when the god-essence in man is struggling to move out of its deepest involvement in matter toward a higher level in the hierarchy of life. The tendency toward inertia is strong; the effort required for us to evolve and go forward is even greater. We can thus understand the trend, so universally present, to find easier pathways, short cuts, or some imagined deliverer to carry or relieve us of our natural responsibilities. Torn between the impulse to grow and the weight of inertia, many yield to inaction or indifference; compromises are sought as temporary palliatives. But how few of these compromises are truly measures of relief.

We must recognize that what we are experiencing are not mere surface ripples from the winds of destiny, for these are but outer effects of the deep inner stirrings of the soul of mankind in its struggle to free itself from bondage. However complex the interrelations of races and nations may appear, the common denominator is this search for freedom — freedom for each human being to find his natural level in life, unhampered by the accepted dogmas of past eras, whether those dogmas be economic, political, scientific or religious.

In times of world crisis there is always the danger that civilization may move backwards, and that is why our responsibility is so great. But I cannot agree that the present world situation is a discouraging one. In fact, the very obstructions and difficulties that appear so negative are, in my view, the outer evidence of the movement of a positive inner force. It is true that world tensions have not abated, but it is because and not in spite of them that I feel there is a tremendous opportunity for humanity as a whole to make a major stride forward.

People everywhere are being shocked into a searching penetration of society's collective consciousness and the foundations upon which it rests. They are asking themselves, what were the seeds that grew into the harvest we are reaping? What elements of ignorance created the false attitudes and useless conflicts that exist at this crucial period of our century? We must seek and establish new guides, new criteria, with which to build our future — guides and criteria anchored in a more universal perception of truth. Many are recognizing this, and working with intelligence and energy toward that end. When news commentators speak seriously of the need for "soul-searching" in the relationships among countries; when they lay emphasis on the "great moral principles of human society" as the basis for enlightened government, there is no real cause for dejection.

It may be difficult for us to see beyond the maelstrom of social and political crises, but this is what we must try to do if we would intelligently contribute to the upbuilding of civilization. Most of us, however, keep ourselves so close to the numerous world problems that we lose the broad perspective needed to perceive the genuine transmutations that are taking place in this caldron of change in which the human family finds itself.

Withdrawing somewhat from the immediacy of global unrest and the critical spiritual issues facing us, not excluding the moral confrontations we individually must meet, let us ask ourselves: "Is all this new? Has man never experienced the travail of growth before?" The force of these conjectures compels us to make a further transition of consciousness so that we may see the greater horizon which encompasses the many cycles in the life-wave of human souls reincarnating on this very old globe of ours. We must turn to the long past, to what must have been our racial beginnings when man first became a thinker, conscious of his humanhood. The effect of that primeval illumination has remained as the eternal motivator of all his thoughts and deeds. Since the fire of his mind was lighted all his aspirations have been directed toward the attainment of his ultimate destiny — the fulfillment of the purpose for which he came to this planet. What is this purpose? To become ever more like unto the cosmic Intelligence of which he partakes, and which sacrificed a portion of itself so that henceforth man would bear within him the divine flame of inspiration.

This is indeed a vast panorama, but one that will help us find some semblance of meaning behind the world scene. In this atmosphere of greaterness, we can appreciate more fully nature's way of training her families of life, and especially man. Many nations and races have risen and fallen in the process of time, and many more will do so before we attain our true heritage. We are witnessing today the alchemy of an expanding consciousness bringing to birth a new era for mankind.

This is why we must reorient our vision, lift it from a local to a world perspective. The great awakening that is surging through humanity as a whole is demanding that we view all problems in the light of karma, for everything that occurs is the result of some thought or deed set in motion some time in the past. In other words, the universal law of karma comprehends the entire procession of actions and reactions which brings about the just and natural effects of causes previously initiated.

Clearly, then, every one of the billions of human souls that have been reimbodying on this earth during thousands upon thousands of millennia must have developed countless attractions and repulsions, and set in motion innumerable causes which under the right conditions will express themselves as effects. What is more, not only have we been and are fully responsible for our own thoughts and acts, but also we have been and are even now sharing in the effects that our thinking and acting have had on others.

But let us not consider karma as a merciless round of reaping and sowing, with no chance to get out of the squirrel cage of past error. Not at all, for life moves in spiral fashion, never in a closed ring or circle. All of us have no doubt experienced many hundreds of life episodes. For what better way for the permanent element in us to mature than by having the opportunity to return again and again to earth, not only to meet the effects of our past actions but to sow new and more creative seed for future harvests?

If we can grasp the promise of this larger view, we will feel the grand sweep of destiny that is moving civilization forward on its evolutionary path. There will be times of suffering, of course, because again and again we have upset nature's balance by wrong thinking. We can imagine what an immense amount of karma each soul, to say nothing of nations and races, has engendered in the past, so that inevitably there is a backlog of karma that will some day have to be expended. But karma is neither good nor bad, any more than nature's laws are either good or bad — they are impersonal, working ever towards the re-establishment of harmony from the disturbed equilibrium.

None of us can tell what portion of our unexpended karmic reserve will come to fruition in this or in another life. For example, if we could look down the corridors of time and perceive the hidden karma of an individual, it is more than likely that we would discover seeds, sown perhaps millennia ago, which are only now finding expression in his having been born at this particular period. The situation is far too complicated to view correctly from the foreshortened viewpoint of one lifetime. Actually, there is a vast intermingling of karmic threads from ages past: there is a world karma, karma pertaining to races, to nations, family karma as well as individual karma — all working together in a most marvelously intricate pattern.

Human nature changes slowly, and we all have a tendency to think that if only the other fellow would behave there would be no further problems. However, the liberation of mankind from its many scourges cannot be left to a few in key positions, for it is the responsibility of each one of us. The more individuals in every continent who in their personal lives become self-reliant, spiritually and psychologically, refusing to seek refuge in acquisitiveness and self-centeredness, the sooner will humanity step into new areas of thinking. We need not embrace a wild type of unorthodoxy that runs counter to the fundamental basis of civilized living. I am talking about dissolving the crystallization and orthodoxy in our spiritual thought processes so that we approach life and its complexities from the higher vantage point. In this way the nobler karma of mankind will make itself felt.

It is an enormous responsibility that the world faces today, which means that each human being who helps make up humanity must likewise face squarely the challenge within his own conscience.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, December 1997/January 1998. Copyright © 1997 by Theosophical University Press.)

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