(Condensed from a talk given in the Temple, Theosophical Society, Point Loma)
If we could see the inner causal factors of the world-wide unrest of the present day, and watch their operations from a vantage point of a century or two ahead, it is very probable that we would diagnose what is going on in the world today as the gradual coming to birth of a new civilization, a new order of things, arising Phoenix-like out of the ashes of its own previous form of manifestation.
It is difficult for us to see this from our present point of view, because we are lacking the necessary perspective, unless, perchance, we happen to belong to the comparatively few people who are impersonal enough to take a detached view of the events of our own lifetime, and project them as it were against the background of spiritual ideals which are working silently but with immense power behind the illusory appearance of things.
The importance of the present era, which is unquestionably the critical point of more than one century of Occidental civilization, does not consist in the wide-flung political and economic upheavals which we are living through; these and many other events are but effectual results of an inner change through which human consciousness is passing in this age of complete and thoroughgoing revaluation of ideals.
It is this change in human consciousness that manifests itself outwardly in the seeming — and indeed real — breaking up of outworn molds of thought, the crumbling of long-cherished ideals, the downfall of once strong religious, philosophical, and scientific dogmas. Human consciousness is about to be reborn into a new world of thought, and this rebirth has of course its unavoidable birth-pains.
It should be distinctly understood, and constantly remembered, that Theosophy has naught to do with political changes; but it has everything to do with those subtle inner changes of consciousness which affect human minds and hearts, and bring about a more spiritual outlook, a greater vision of inner Realities. This change in outlook is apparent everywhere in the world.
If we consider present-day Religion, we shall see that the churches are unable to supply that spiritual anchorage which so many are seeking. So the people are turning in other directions, notably in scientific directions. The difficulty which organized religion finds in appealing to the people is that this appeal necessarily demands the believing spirit. But the creeds of the churches have ceased to be really believed in; and when belief or faith ceases, the prestige of the churches goes with them. Hence, in order to re-establish its appeal, the churches gradually became scientifically-minded, so as to meet the demand for scientific explanations on the part of the masses. Some of the most progressive churches weave into their work strands of mysticism and Theosophy, gradually becoming halls wherein some of the simplest Theosophical truths are being proclaimed. This is a good sign, and the future may see these churches actually become halls of Theosophy.
When we consider Science, we see that the merely mechanical interpretation of the universe is unable to bring satisfaction to the spiritual aspirations of the human heart. Science, materialistic science, we mean, is breaking up its own molds of thought through the soaring spiritual vision of some of its greatest exponents. Because of them mainly, and under the continuously rising tide of spirituality, science of the present day becomes more and more religious and truly mystical. The fervor of many a scientist is a typically religious fervor, to be sure.
When it comes to Philosophy, we see the gradual infiltration of Oriental ideals and ideas into the barren soil of Occidental intellectual-ism; hence Philosophy also is gradually becoming more spiritualized, more mystical, to meet the demands of a new generation.
These three chief manifestations of an inner change of consciousness are not by any means haphazard. There is a plan behind them, and a guiding hand. The new world of thought which is being born will be characterized by a slow and silent blending of genuine age-old Oriental mysticism with the achievements of Occidental thinking, and in this process of amalgamation and mutual fructification the Theosophical Movement is one of the primal and most important factors at play. As a matter of fact, it is one of the chief objectives of our work, namely, to bring about a gradual synthesis of the three aspects of human consciousness — the religious, the scientific, and the philosophical — into one complete and soul-satisfying philosophy of life, wherein spiritual values will play a paramount role, and stimulate and guide mankind towards the realization of its noblest mission.
There is one aspect, however, of human consciousness which neither organized religion, nor the self-emancipating science, nor even otherwise serious philosophical trends of thought in the Occident, lay any emphatic stress upon — an aspect of consciousness so important nevertheless that without it everything else is devoid of any sound foundation and is destined to collapse sooner or later in a sea of horror. This aspect is represented by Ethics.
Organized religion is unable to provide the scientific and philosophical basis for the need of ethics, and to show why ethics is essential to progress and growth. Science, on the other hand, is unable to provide the spiritual and devotional foundation for ethics, as it has not yet acknowledged the spiritual background of the Universe and Man. Hence this subject is usually sidestepped and avoided, or merely touched upon in vague and goody-goody terms, which bring no conviction and no satisfaction to any thinking man or woman.
Yet in spite of the world-wide prevalence of selfishness which lies at the bottom of the barbarism of the present Occidental civilization, and breaks out periodically in fits of high international fevers, when our verdant meadows and dales are transformed into slaughter-houses of legalized murder: in spite of this selfishness and greed, there are indications of softer breezes blowing from some inner and hidden recesses. There is a growing realization in many parts of the world that entrenched selfishness of purpose, brutal gratification of egotistical cravings, and the mad hunt for the acquisition of mere material possessions, to the complete disregard of the interests of one's neighbor, is after all the easiest and shortest road to spiritual, intellectual, and moral bankruptcy. Violence is the surest sign of moral weakness; it may be a sign of muscular strength; but history has shown that intrinsic values are in direct proportion to the development of moral, not of muscular, fibers. From this growing realization, there arises today a revulsion of feeling pointing to the fact that ethics will slowly become a subject for serious thought and constructive thinking, coupled with a fresh application to daily life.
It is only a complete and soul-satisfying philosophy of life, however, that can give a sound reason and a solid basis for the need of ethics — and it is precisely this that Theosophy can do and actually does. It teaches that Ethics is rooted in the very structure of Nature, hence rooted in the very structure of Man himself, who is an integral part of Nature; that the only way to a lasting civilization of spiritual worth, is by leading a life of brotherly sympathy and compassion for the souls of men; that we are responsible for both the welfare and the misery of others; that we have a sacred duty towards all those who are weaker than we, weaker and more helpless; that self-dedication to the cause of suffering mankind is the noblest mode of life; that the code of a spiritual and ethical life, and the philosophical and religious foundations worthy of a new civilization, are to be found in the accumulated wisdom of past ages, in the treasures of knowledge handed down to our times by the greatest sages and seers that mankind has produced; and that, finally, to repeat the inspiring and soul-stirring words of Katherine Tingley, "Selflessness attains; selfishness defeats: men's possibilities are in direct proportion to their ability to see beyond themselves and to feel for others."