Theosophy – July 1897

PRINCIPLE OR SENTIMENT? — J. W. L. Keightley

The sentiment of Brotherhood is one thing; the principle of Brotherhood is another. The one is a phase of emotion; the other is a fact throughout Nature. The principle is a constructive force in action; the sentiment, inadequate, partial and restricted, weakens, hence destroys. Unless we are able to discriminate between them in our daily lives, we shall risk to tear down where we would build; more, we shall risk many a benign possibility of the future, for is not this the supreme cyclic moment wherein, as in some titanic laboratory, the elements of future attainment are brought together? The principle will combine where the sentiment would scatter them.

By the principle of Brotherhood is meant the building power, the unifying force. It constructs by means of the harmony of contraries. Compassion is its name of names, its law of laws, and not its attribute. In that this principle flows forth to all from Nature's inmost heart, harmonizing all to one consenting whole, the infinite mercy of its action stands revealed. We come to understand why a teacher, speaking for his entire fraternity, said to a would-be pupil that it is their business to humanize their nature with compassion.

In the harmony which exists between apparent contraries lies a wise and simple teaching. Forms may differ, formulae may diverge, but let the chord of the mass be identical; let the same binding vibration exist; let the mental tendency or the spiritual gravitation be similar, and we shall find a central harmony and likeness in the most dissimilar appearances. The principle of Brotherhood will then have ample expression. Chemical relations at the one pole of Being and the relations of human minds at the other pole, alike serve to illustrate this broad fact. All at once we see that Brotherhood lies, not in the divergences, not in the differences, but in the identity of a central truth, a common factor in whose presence those differences are minor, are without essential meaning. In the presence, as it were, of a divine unity, these temporary divergences are without force and weight. Thus compassion, in the presence of the spiritual identity of all Being, overlooks the clouds obscuring our sun-natures, and has but a single, universal care; that care, to assist the sun of the Self to shine forth.

This "spiritual identity of all Being" is another way of phrasing Universal Brotherhood. By the use of the word "spiritual" we transfer the conception to the plane of force per se. If we are to establish a clear distinction between the principle and the mere sentiment, some practical, working definition of the principle must be found; and it must hold good in every department of life. From the world of the mineral to the world of mind we must be able to identify it at every step. It is then evident that this principle can only be expressed in terms of force, for only through the media of underlying forces can all the planes of life be said to intercommunicate. The principle we seek is then readily found, for:

That which in the mineral kingdom is the binding force holding the molecules together around a common centre:

That which in the world of bodies is the equilibrating force, maintaining or preserving their interaction during "life," and after "death" coordinating the separating atoms to larger processes of life-action, returning each constituent of matter, of force or of substance to the cosmic storehouse whence it was drawn:

That which in the world of human action finds expression in the social, the communal, the cooperative, the conservative and preservative instincts, however misused:

That which in the world of thought becomes visible as the intuition of an immortal essence and of the identity of all souls with the Over Soul:

These are all varying modes of one binding force, of one underlying unit of consciousness, seeking with never dying compassion to harmonize all these world-wide differences with itself — the Self. Everywhere to assist this ultimate expression is the work of the true Brotherhood.

The conception of unity in diversity lies at the root of the human mind. Warped and selfish instincts distort its features. Noble lives are those whose clear vision has seen that we must work for the good of the whole if we would advance the race, that we must continually bind, harmonize, equalize and equilibrate, often attaining some united result by means of the interaction of contraries, rounding each orbit to a central aim. They have seen that the tangent is unproductive. True, the master-builders have pulled down in order to build, but what have they demolished? Forms, creeds, habits of thought, erroneous ideas. Never persons; individuals never. Their use of force is necessarily impersonal, working as they do with Nature, and not against her. When men have hardened the living truth into a dogma, by the very laws of life that truth which is alive and vital must presently find another vehicle of expression, expanding with the expanding mind of man. Then the master-builders, arriving one by one along the centuries, attack these old devitalized forms, as the air attacks cast-off bodies exposed to its action; as the earth, the water, and the fire do. Imitating this natural action of the elements, the servants of Nature assist the disintegration of each rejected chrysalis of thought, aiding that thought — the escaping life itself — to soar where once it crept. Teaching and living the law of individual responsibility and freedom of choice, they have applied themselves only to the dispersion of false ideals; they have not attacked persons, but have left these to the law. For the Wise know well that man is not homogeneous, and, meeting the divine in each with the divine, they have endeavored to humanize the bestial with compassion, and failing, have veiled their eyes awhile. Their hearts they veil never.

When we thus attain to the idea of the impersonal nature of force, we begin to understand why it has been said; (a) That the true disciple must feel himself to be but a force in nature and "work on with her"; and (b) That the first exercise of the selfish (or "black") magician is to hypnotize individuals. On the one hand, impersonality; on the other hand, personality carried to its highest degree. On the right, an endeavor to assist the central perfection of Nature: on the left an effort to centre Nature around one's self.

The law of cycles has its inevitable sweep and sway. With that the master builder works and must work, though nations fall. There are cataclysms he cannot avert, convulsions which he cannot impede but which he may shorten by hastening and intensifying their action. In truth he knows — and the knowledge averts sorrow — he knows that only outer forms can fail. The land may sink beneath the seas, bodies may disperse to the elements; but the national spirit lives and re-incarnates, the national mind finds its outlet and manifestation in lands remote, emerging from the waves, in bodies more adapted to the continuous mental development of the human soul.

It remains for us to establish some touchstone whereby we may know the absence of this impersonal spiritual force from our lives, or its presence in them. This touchstone is found in the tendency of a person, an act or a thought. Our judgment will not be infallible, but the constant effort to make it by this larger light, clarifies the mental vision. A teacher is quoted as having said: "Judge the act, but not the actor." Is not this but another way of expressing the idea that we should observe the separative tendency of others and of ourselves, while presuming to judge and condemn no fellow being?

We have all of us seen persons whose main trend is towards unity, harmony. Not all their acts have borne an impress so divine. Yet their tendency is constructive. Whether in secluded homes they create an atmosphere of tranquillity and duty; whether they flash through the world clearing, as by the action of light, a way for truth and justice, they are ever units of the binding force, sharers of Nature's action. They have abandoned self. This is true of the simplest home maker as of the great patriots and reformers. The test of either is the question: Did they build or did they destroy? But no surface judgment must be brought to bear. Napoleon warred, but to raise the model of a wider freedom; to open out, amid prejudice and privilege, a broader path for human thought and human endeavor; his victories were eloquent for peace. Grant battled, but it was to bind his divided nation together in a more liberal and more lasting union. Before the profound mystery of human progress we are forced to admit that a just judgment of mankind is rarely possible to us: we know not what star has overshadowed the agents of destiny.

Once again, we have all of us met persons whose tendency is distinctly separative. Home, creeds, parties, movements, they struggle for supremacy of action in one or all of these and rend all alike. The sphere of destruction is theirs. They combine, only to explode. What they cannot break down, they condemn. The more inoperative their condemnation, the more insistent it becomes, until the moral sense is blunted and they condemn upon hearsay only; they have lost sight of that basic rule of the truth lover, never to make a statement of fact except upon their own personal knowledge. They lead, only by the power of their personality; when this wanes, they are but names and ghosts. It must ever be so. Whenever the human mind has sown the giant weed of self, cultivating that under the sounding titles of genius or talent, power or charm; whenever the individual force is used for personal ambition and not in the all-embracing ends of Nature's harmonious plan; whenever the individual arrays the Personal Idea against the Ideal Nature; then Nature herself provides the antidote, the force reacts, the individual loses power and minds enslaved are all at once set free.

How then shall we know when this separative force is set in action, whether by another or by ourself? Can we not see when a person is attacked and when a principle? Can we not discern that action which aggrandizes a personality from that which upholds an ideal? Do we not know when the divine in man is encouraged and when the personality is praised? When the lower nature is bidden to look upward in hope, and when disdain and self-righteousness strike it lower still? Ah, yes! We are not so much at ease in our restricted mental atmosphere that we feel no exhilaration from a purer air.

Coming now to the question of the principle of Brotherhood and the mere sentiment thereof, I would point out that the sentiment may exist as a parasitic growth upon the true principle, threatening to stifle that in its false embrace. Sentimentality never discriminates. It advocates a "mush of concession." It rejoices in the exercise of emotion; loves to "feel good" to "feel kind"; to lisp the sugared phrase, the honeyed hope. It never knew that in Justice dwells a higher Brotherhood. Music, light, the enthusiasm of the crowd or of the personal mood are its stimulants. It delights in fictions, as a false peace, an impossible equality. It pays no heed to spiritual harmony; has no respect for the fitness of things: ignores the laws of force; violates the underlying spirit of persons and acts; has no care but for its own expansion, no aim but to bubble and spill. Better than the vast diapason of Nature it loves the tinkle of its own slender tune. It must see itself in evidence and in its own way does quite as much harm as the combative use of the separative force. Why? Because it is, in fact, one mode of that same force. It seeks — what does it seek? Self-gratification, self-exhibition, the generous pose before its own mental mirror. It hesitates not to tread where angels fear to trespass, but goes giddily about its self-assumed task of uniting spiritual dissimilars, heedless what delicate balance of force it disturbs. Its vanity would seek to bind peace and war together; to merge, as only the ONE can do, the two poles of life into the circle, and because its passing sensations can bestow an emotional fraternity upon the most divergent acts or personalities, it fancies it has equalized all. This maudlin streak manifests in most of us and its test is the same as the test of a more spartan virtue. The sentiment of Brotherhood attaches to persons. It views a man as a simple unit, not as a congeries of forces, praises him as if his light were single and white. A principle is too cold and abstract a thing to kindle this facile flame. And that is our fault. When we have made the principle warm and vital with our abounding love, our daily heart-living of it, then, and then only can we complain if it draws not the love of others as a star attracts a star.

Whenever an act or a thought threatens the unity of that sacred cause to which we are pledged, it becomes our duty to suppress these in ourselves as to refrain from supporting them in others. For, I repeat, we cannot act alone; each must be wise for the rest. Moments will come when we must fulfil that other duty of pointing out the disruptive tendency of some proposed action. Then go forward in God's name. Do not fear to offend sentiment; fear only to be unjust. Having done our duty, we may leave that to the law while with our fellows we work on at other tasks. Remember that many an impulse apparently amiable has its root in self-esteem. The wish to ease a personal friend at any cost can do as much harm to the spiritual unity of our movement as hatred and malice can do: partiality is a separative agent and hath its back-stroke. There are times when it were better to follow our comrades in a mistake, giving up our own view with the larger aim of preserving harmony, for in such case those who guide the movement can use this harmonious force for great ends and can at the same time re-adjust the mistaken action. It were a far more difficult task to readjust those who quarrel in the cause of peace. Forces are forces, they are not to be gainsaid, not all the "sweetness and light" that sentiment ever uttered can abate one atom of their power, once we have evolved them. It is from our motives that they have birth and color; guard vigilantly the fountain of force in the heart.

Nor shall we fear to be loyal to our leaders, past and present. Smile the critics down; tell them we praise, not the leaders, but their work. Are they not embodied principles? When loyal expression is a force of far-reaching power in the grasp of the masters of forces, shall we withhold that aid? I trow we will not withhold it. Our Society was never so large, so vigorous, so united and harmonious as it is today, and the force which it represents is the outcome of the lives of our leaders; their vital power, their constructive energy. That we praise, that ancient building spirit, we, followers of that through many times and lands. Shall we not trustingly follow still, being ware of our own personal tendency, distrusting mere sentiment and, looking higher, looking deeper, discern in justice, in calmness, in patience and in compassion that universal principle which is the only true Brotherhood because it looks only at the spiritual identity? Let us make no pact with the spirit of disruption, for we are the trustees of the future, a far-reaching spiritual responsibility is ours.


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