Universal Brotherhood – August 1898

WORKING FOR THE SELF — James M. Pryse

To the word "unselfishness" I have an unquenchable antipathy. The word "altruism" is offensive alike to philosophy and to etymology. When anyone talks of "working for others" and "living for others," I consider his phrases to be meaningless cant; for such "working for others" is not a reasonable thing to do, and to "live for others" is wholly impossible. I regard altruism — "otherism" — as a pernicious doctrine, the negation of true self-existence, put forward by people whose intellects have become so warped by the dogma of a personal Deity that they declare him to be the only self-existent Being and deny the self-existence of man, whom they declare to be merely a "creature" or created being. Denying that man is a creature, and rejecting the dogma of "otherism," I affirm the Self.

It is quite evident that all action arises from self-interest, nor can we conceive of any other possible source of action. Each individual must necessarily act from his own centre; and in order to shift that centre of action he would have to transfer his individuality along with it. To "live for others" one would have to cease existing individually and become merged in those "others," a useless transfusion such as may be accomplished with dividual life-forces, but which is impossible to be performed with the individual Life. Again if it is wrong for a man to work for the advancement of his own personal interests, where is he morally the gainer if he takes to "working for others" in order to further the personal interests of those "others"? There would seem to be less excuse for him if he went out of his way to aid and abet others in their "selfish" efforts than if he had merely been "selfish" on his own account. He would be like the newly "converted" maiden who, when the revivalist persuaded her that her jewels and finery "were weighing her down to hell," went and gave them all to her younger sister.

And why should "doing good to others" be any more meritorious than doing good to one's self? Equally in both cases it would be doing good. Every act is preceded by an incentive or motive; otherwise the act could not be originated or performed, for there would be no impelling principle. Now, when one does, of his own volition, any act for the benefit of another person, the incentive must necessarily reside in himself, and not in the other; consequently he is in reality acting for himself. After all, it is not actual unselfishness, but only selfishness through another. The fontal energy, whether of will, of longing or of desire, wells up from the depths of his own being, no matter into what channel it may be diverted. The mother sacrifices herself for her child because it is her child. Who lays down his life for his friend, does so because it is his friend. However noble and praiseworthy such deeds may be, still they do not constitute unselfishness; for always they are blemished, sometimes even vitiated, by the notion of possessing. Often the love for another is narrower and more pernicious than even self-love; for a man will perpetrate unjust acts to further the interests of one whom he loves which he would scorn to become guilty of in the furtherance of his own interests. A person who is becomingly modest about his own attainments may be the veriest braggart about the accomplishments of some one on whose friendship he prides himself, or who is related to him by family ties. A man who appreciates the good qualities of himself falls into self-conceit, becoming contracted, mean and detestable; but pride of family, of class, of sect, of race, is only self-conceit on an enlarged scale. It is not appreciation of the good qualities as such, but merely the self-satisfaction of regarding them as possessions. Yet man never really possesses anything; he can only hold things in trust, and that usually for but a brief season. He is the world's beggar, and there is nothing that he can claim as his own; even his body is borrowed from the elements, nor can he retain possession of it. Death deprives him of it, and restores it to the elements whence it was derived. If he cannot retain the outer form which he calls himself, how can he lay claim to others, calling this one "my child," and that one "my friend"? This mistaken notion of ownership may make parents so tyrannical in attempting to control the destiny of their child as to cause their hapless offspring to wish that somehow he could have been born an orphan; one's friend may monopolize him so tenaciously as to arouse yearnings for the less oppressive society of a mere acquaintance or even of a stranger. That ingratitude is so common is due to the patronizing spirit with which favors are usually bestowed; the self-reliant person forced to accept the favor shrinks from this suggestion of his inferiority, hesitating to appear grateful lest that be taken as an admission of a claim against him, while the servile person, in his covert resentment at the superiority of his patron, becomes an ingrate, and actuated by a vague feeling of hostility may do him an evil turn.

Altruism is a wrong philosophy of life, for it is an assertion of the separateness of human beings. Now, the real basis of ethics, the initial point of all true philosophy, is the oneness of all living beings; the many are illusory manifestations of the One, upon which they are dependent, and without which they could not exist. Altruism is a moral arithmetic that ignores the unit. The dogma of a personal God is in effect an assertion that the unit has no relation to numbers, and that the numbers are derived from zero: God, the One, is apart from the universe, and the universe had to be created out of nothing. Starting with this error, every attempt to solve any problem in life necessarily leads to a reductio ad absurdum. A rational system of morality cannot be upbuilt on such a fictitious foundation. It is clearly evident that before there can be the many there must be the primal unity, and that every being and thing in the multiform universe derives its individual existence from this unity. There is but the one and only Self for all beings. Right action comes from referring all one's thoughts and deeds to this ever-present, all-pervading Self. A man should not work for himself nor for other selves; he should work solely for the Self.

It is true that what a man thinks, that he becomes; yet usually the lives of men are nobler than their creeds; for there is in the mental realm of each man an element of intuitive, unformulated thought from which he derives his inspiration, and which is more potent than any formulated beliefs in prompting him to be virtuous, generous and benevolent. His reasoning may be a mere process of revolving in his brain-pan the concretions of thought, the corpses of ideas; but always the free and living aether is there, vibrant with impulses from the Self universal. He becomes spontaneously "unselfish" just to the extent that he becomes ministrative to his real Self. Every good man is a philosopher in action, even if his intellect has not been trained to philosophy. Broad sympathies, philanthropy, generosity and helpfulness spring from this recognition of the unity of life. Only in an age when this unity is so far lost sight of as to render possible the coining of such a word as "altruism" could a professed philosopher make use of so absurd a title as "the synthetic philosophy." Philosophy is synthesis in the highest and most inclusive sense; and science is but the particular application of it to the different departments of nature. Morality is philosophy applied to human conduct. People speculate as to what will be the religion of the future. If there is to be a religion of the future, it will be equally as fallacious as the religions of the past. True religion does not belong to the future or to the past, but is the changeless spirit of Truth; it is eternal, and therefore in its fullness known only to the Immortals. It manifests through the lives of men, not through their professions of belief. Every good deed performed by any individual for the benefit of his fellow-beings is a revelation of God through man, more eloquent than all the bibles. They only are Christians who tread the path that the Christ trod; none are Buddhists save those who follow in the footsteps of the Buddha. And the divinity of the Buddhas and the Christs is in this, that they do nothing of themselves, but that through them the One Self is the doer. He who acts from personal motives, however great his deed, however wide his influence, is merely a man; but whoever acts from universal motives, even in the minor affairs of life that have seemingly little importance, is more than man; he is, like the Galilean, a Theanthropos, a God-man, for it is the God-self within him that performs the deed. And in such actions there is no thought of merit or of reward, no notion of separateness from "others"; it is simply the divine Love irradiating among men, as freely and ungrudgingly as the sun sends its light into space.

It is not enough that a man should love his fellow men. A man may do that, and toil with seeming unselfishness in his philanthropy, but only to accomplish more harm than good, and even to bring about his own destruction. If, in "working for others," he persists in regarding them as really other than himself, he may be excluding the dictates of the One Self, shutting himself off from the source of true inspiration, and deadening his intuitions, thus losing the guidance that alone can render his effort effectual. To repudiate the supreme source of individual strength is to call in the lower elemental forces, the fires that burn but give no light. Thus it sometimes happens that the philanthropist whose purpose is not sufficiently high, even though his life is pure and his labors unselfish, opens the door to these lower psychic forces, becomes "mediumistic," and is preyed upon by astral influences, the earth-bound souls and nameless creatures called into existence by the evil thoughts of men, to which his purity of life makes him all the more vulnerable. It is unsafe to abandon one's own individuality, or to go astray from one's own duty in seeking to assume the duties of others. The human individuality is Deity focused in man, and it is not to be thus rashly cast aside. Even the physical body is sacred, to be devoted to the purposes for which the individuality takes upon itself the outer existence; whoever profanes it, or becomes guilty of suicide either by intentional violence or by sinful perversion of the bodily functions, meets with heavy penalties. But to destroy one's outer life is as nothing compared with the abandonment of the inner life. And it is a desecration of that interior Self to seek merely "to do good" on the outer plane of activity while at the same time ignoring the Good and averting the eyes from the Beautiful and the True. A man who does not understand his own nature, has no grasp of the real purpose of living, and does not perceive the inner causes which are outwardly manifested in suffering and sorrow, is not well equipped for humanitarian work. Public "charities" are largely a failure. In such work the left hand usually has a detailed report of what the right hand is doing. Too often there are Judases who have the carrying of the box, and the poor get but a small share of what is thrown into it, and that only after the sacrifice of their self-respect. It is indeed Christian to look after the orphans, but it is most decidedly unchristian to herd them in asylums and to array them in uniforms of Satanic ugliness. If men would but turn their eyes toward the Light which is within themselves, there would no longer be this futile striving in the darkness, this hopeless groping with helpless hands. If they would but work for the Self which is within them, there would then be no need of charities, no notion of helping others, no delusion of self and other selves; for then the great Self would be working through each and for the whole, and the prime cause of human misery would be done away with forever. That cause is the Satan which beguiles men into the belief that they are separate from God and from their fellows; and when that Satan of separateness is dethroned, mankind in a divine unity will be God's own Son arisen, white-robed, star-crowned, and holding in his hand the keys of Death and of the world of Gloom; immortal in beauty, truth incarnate, goodness triumphant, humanity will itself be the work of the ages perfected in the divine Selfishness of the One Self who says, "Thou shalt worship no other Gods but me."


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