Giving or Getting?

By Reginald Machell

What is our mission on earth? That is a question that each person has to meet in some form, even if he refuse to put it into words, or even though he decline to think about it at all. The question is there for him to answer, and he answers it with his life. He may indeed never have given it a thought, but he has given it an answer by the way he is living. The same is true of the person who thinks and talks a great deal about the purpose of life: it is his actual way of living that is his real answer to the voiceless question that nature puts before him when he enters the natural world, and that question remains with him till he quits the sphere of human action and returns to his spiritual condition.

There are two great ideals of life that answer this question. The one is the ideal of giving; the other is that of getting. Altruism and egotism, self-sacrifice and self-aggrandizement: these are the two ideals between which each person must choose, and does choose, whether he will or no. For he must act in some way, and his acts are his life, whatever his explanation of his acts may be; and his life shows his choice, even though his words and wishes seem to point another way.

But what is giving, and what is getting? What is it that enables a person to choose whether he will be a giver or a getter?

It is said "the divine give," and to become divine we must act divinely. How is this possible if we are but human? Simply by the fact that the divine is universal and is potentially present in every person. But while we are human, we each can shut our eyes to our own inherent divinity and act as if we were animals of that strange kind that materialistic science has invented, animals free from the restrictions of natural law (which is the expression of the divine in nature) and not bound by the higher law of the human kingdom.

This false ideal of man as a creature of matter, soulless, less than an animal, the willing slave of his own passions, knowing no law but desire and no limitation to his greed or lust but that imposed by mere force — this degrading ideal places us in the region of chaos, where the unconscious atoms blindly obey the laws of chaos, which is matter in its lowest and simplest stage of evolution. This ideal in practice makes one absolutely selfish and absolutely unmoral. While such a one thinks he is growing great and strong in his self-development, he is in reality falling at every step back on the path of evolution towards chaos, to be again the sport of the titanic forces of primitive nature.

But the divine give. How can a person give unless he has first gotten something to give? There lies the real point of interest in the whole subject, for it forces us to ask: what can we really get? what do we really own? and what can we give?

Property, wealth, position, are so little ours that in a moment we may lose them all by no fault of our own; nor can we really give these things to others (as all who think deeply know), for there is no real or permanent possession of things possible in the world as we know it.

The only real possession a person can have is that which he has made a part of his own character, a part of himself. A brave man can give courage to others, a cheerful man can give hope, a generous man can give love, a capable man can give efficiency, a true poet, musician, artist, or orator can give inspiration. A religious man can give devotion or just such other qualities as his religion has developed in him. A person can give what he is because that is all he has to give. And our mission as human beings is to give, because our destiny is to become divine: Divinity is the goal of human evolution.

(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2000; copyright © 2000 Theosophical University Press)


Current Issue Menu