I have often been asked what good, what practical, honest-to-goodness good the Theosophical Society does in the world. It has been said to me: Why, you people preach and preach and preach and preach the most beautiful things. But what practical good do you do? This is what Theosophy does, what the Theosophical Society is trying to do, and what we Theosophists are trying to do: We are trying to give unto men a light by which they can live. We are trying to change the hearts of men to feel for their fellows, to be in sympathy with their fellows instead of against them. We are trying to give unto our fellow men a philosophy of life based on the wisdom of the ages, which will make their own lives upright so that they live them in rectitude, in justice to themselves, and in justice to others. We are trying to change men's hearts and we are trying to change their minds. Now if you can show me anything more wonderful than that, more practical, than that, I should be glad to hear.
Isn't it obvious that the reason we have trouble is because the world does not know what to do? They are all hunting for truth, hunting for the way out. Why? Because their hearts are broken; they do not know what to do because their hearts have been shut up in selfish questing, grasping "for me" and "my part." It is altruism, brotherhood in thought and act, the old-fashioned teaching, the decent treatment of man by man, which will bring peace on earth and heaven amongst us.
You have often heard me say that it is ideas which rule the world, which make and unmake civilizations, which ennoble or which degrade human life; and it is precisely in the dissemination of the beautiful ideals I have just alluded to, and the finding of proper soil in the hearts and minds of men for these ideas, that the Theosophical Society and its members are mainly engaged. Eschewing politics of every kind or color, utterly nonsectarian in principle as we are, our Work when once understood should be sympathetically received by kindly and thoughtful men everywhere; for we interfere with no man's life, we are strictly obedient to the laws of the country where we live, and we strive to bring back to men the philosophical, moral, religious, and scientific vision and hope, apart from any kind of dogmatic teaching, that the world for ages has lost.
That is our Work mainly, and it is intensely and grandly practical. By changing men's ideas we change their lives; and by changing their lives to happier and better things, in time such work will change civilizations. I repeat that ideas rule the world; and if you look around you, you will find this axiomatic truth substantiated everywhere, for men are thinkers as well as feelers, and their actions and their lives follow the ideas they cherish most strongly.
But I must say this: Let us apply to ourselves first what we ascertain to be the remedy for the world's ills — correct our own lives instead of trying to hammer our ideas of what is right into the heads of those who do not agree with us, just making more wretchedness in the world. Reformers are so very desirous of reforming the other fellow. It is so ungenerous. They want to reform other men in politics, in religion, in philosophy and science, and in their lives. How few of us try to reform the reformer! I, you. Nobody kicks so badly at reformation as does the reformer himself. A great man does not attempt to reform the other chap. He has work enough to reform himself. It is the consequence, the results, of his teaching and life which reform those who have heard, who have had the ears to hear.
And right here I believe is the largest part of the work of the Theosophical Movement: to set a current of thought and feeling moving in the world; but primarily, to see to it, each one of us, that the center from which this energy flows is right. The way to reform things is to begin on yourself, reform yourself. Be an example and others will follow. It is contagious, beautifully contagious.
Do you know, I believe the curse of the world today is that men have got it in their heads that they are going to correct the other fellow. It is a mental, a psychological, curse that is afflicting us all. Now please do not misconstrue my words to mean that we should allow evil free play and just sit by and let others work injury upon their fellows. I don't mean that at all. All organized human society must protect itself against evil-doing. My point is that we should not try to correct the other fellow, but that we should try to correct ourselves. There you have all the Law and all the Prophets; and I tell you, the example of a man who begins on himself is contagious unto others, because he has reason with him, he has justice with him, he has right with him. His actions are not wrong; they are not warped, distorted, twisted. His actions are upright, clean, straightforward. When we deal with our fellow men we are dealing with reasonable and feeling human beings; and it is my firm conviction that the good in human nature far outweighs the evil. I for one have never found it to fail that when I appeal to my brother man to treat me as I want to treat him, he responds. I let him feel that I am sincere and that I am not going to try to correct his faults and impose my own opinions on him, my short-sighted views, my small and selfish feelings on him. I simply silently ask him to treat me as I want to treat him, and it never fails. Believe me!
The way of correcting evil in the world is not by putting more into it, thus adding to the store of horrors and wickedness in the world. Violence breeds violence, hatred arouses hatred; evil-doing other men resent and won't have it. And if they are small- minded men they will react by trying to do evil unto you. If they are men of larger intelligence they will try to put you where you belong for your evil-doing — and with a good deal of that feeling! I think the proper way to correct the evils in the world is by beginning on ourselves, and to leave the other fellow alone. Be an example unto the world, be a light unto the world, think what you believe, live what you preach, and leave the other fellow alone to work out his destiny.
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