Our Basic Challenge

By James A. Long

What can we most readily do to bring nearer to fruition an active expression of universal brotherhood? In thinking of the vast numbers of our fellow human beings today in whose hearts there is the longing for understanding, for light, and for a more brotherly way of approaching basic problems, one realizes how great is our individual responsibility.

Just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with the step nearest the traveler, so does every accomplishment have its simple beginning. The seeker after truth, contrary to the average belief, does not make his discovery in the fields of exploration, in books or in experiments, but solely within himself. Just so can we achieve the goal of brotherhood, by beginning ourselves with that which is closest at hand.

All life is based upon a threefold expression of action or living: right ideals or morals; right plans to use in expressing these ideals; and right living, or the carrying out in our daily experience of these enlightened principles. Our greatest source of strength lies in the fact that truth does exist in the universe, and that there is a vast ocean of knowledge and wisdom within reach of all: deep enough in its center to satisfy the most profound thinker, yet so shallow at its shores that even a child may understand.

Our journey is leading us to the broad field of a universal fraternity, not to a particular or limited acreage of brotherhood. Since the yearning for a more active expression of this ideal is manifest in the learned as well as in the most simple, surely there is a way whereby the needs of all can be met. What was it, in the final analysis, that directed us to the way? Was it not the bright light of another's understanding, the light of compassion displayed by one of our fellow human beings whose path we crossed? For the moment, at least, that one became a signpost for us, an animated expression of an enlightened heart, who by his or her innate character silently pointed to our own inherent possibilities and the way toward their development.

It follows naturally, therefore, that he who would be "conqueror of the world" must first be conqueror of himself. Our first duty then must lie with ourselves: the unfolding from within of the divine essence of brotherhood in order that its influence may not only be felt by our daily associates, but act as a stimulus toward the turning of their hearts in the same direction.

Nature works its wonders in the silence, and so we, even though immersed in the daily grind of routine affairs, can ever be silently but surely lighting the pathway around us. The more veils of illusion we destroy in our own nature, the brighter will our light shine; and eventually we too may become a signpost to others, a beacon more brilliant, more penetrating, and more vitally potent with beneficence than the brightest star in the darkness of night.

(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2003; copyright © 2003 Theosophical University Press)


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A capacity for self-recollection — for withdrawal from the outward to the inward — is in fact the condition of all noble and useful activity. If the sailor did not carry with him his own temperature he could not go from the pole to the equator, and remain himself in spite of all. The man who has no refuge in himself, who lives, so to speak, in his front rooms, in the outer whirlwind of things and opinions, is not properly a personality at all. He is one of a crowd, a taxpayer, an elector, an anonymity, but not a man.
He who floats with the current, who does not guide himself according to higher principles, who has no ideal, no convictions — such a man is a mere article of the world's furniture — a thing moved, instead of a living and moving being — an echo, not a voice. The man who has no inner life is the slave of his surroundings, as the barometer is the obedient servant of the air at rest, and the weathercock the humble servant of the air in motion. — Henri Frederic Amiel