One of the fundamental propositions of the Theosophical teachings is the oneness of all things, large and small. That is to say, the identity of all, the similarity of character and function, and the fact that each and all have a common origin and a common destiny.
To understand the natural and fundamental workings of a universe seems a tremendously difficult thing; but if this fundamental proposition is used in the understanding, the whole plan works itself out before the eyes as simply and beautifully as a country landscape unfolds itself to the traveler who looks down into a valley from the top of a mountain side.
"In order to become the knower of ALL SELF, thou hast first of self to be the knower." This quotation from The Voice of the Silence furnishes the clue to the riddle. Man himself is a composite being; the universe, of which he is a part, is likewise composite. If we can arrive at some understanding of what composes man, then we will be on the highroad to a comprehension of all things greater and smaller than man.
Theosophy postulates the Seven Principles, dividing them into a higher triad and a lower quaternary: pure spirit, spiritual soul, and human soul for the former, and animal soul, vitality, astral body, and physical body, composing the latter.
Our passions, desires and material and selfish yearnings all of course reside in our lower principles. We do not have to be magicians to see these different principles at work in man. We know instinctively when his spiritual self or principles are in control and working through him, and when they are overlaid and crushed almost out of existence. We know, too, very easily when his animal self is superimposed and has taken possession, and so on. The value of this knowledge is this: that it gives us an understanding and sympathy and a hope, a tremendous hope. The understanding lies in the knowledge that however badly an individual behaves, there is somewhere in his makeup something better, that given suitable conditions might be stimulated into life; and the understanding comes from the fact that in all of us lie the potentialities for good and ill, for spiritual and unselfish actions, and also for the display of passion, desire, greed, lust and so on.
Now, to refer again to our fundamental proposition. If these principles exist in individuals as individuals, then we can look for their counterpart in society, that is to say in man as a family — the human family. We can readily trace the seven principles in humanity if we can look upon humanity as a giant individual or entity.
The best and noblest ideals that are the expressions of different peoples, never mind what race or nationality, can be regarded as the spiritual and divine principles working their way through. The lower principles manifest themselves in those classes of society which typify the clever people (purely brainy people), and those in whom greed for power and for money and possessions are the most vital characteristics; also those in whom lust and passion and cruelty and selfishness hold their sway; and then lowest in this scale come those who are held in total bondage by material things and whose higher selves are almost obliterated.
There is this to be considered: that while man himself as an individual (multiplied some millions of times) possesses these principles, all portrayed and manifesting themselves so completely, then just so long will society, all society, share these characteristics and manifest them in this way.
In Letters that Have Helped Me, W. Q. Judge says:
I am not separate from anything. . . . I am my friends, . . . I am my enemies; . . . I am the poor and the wicked; I am the ignorant. . . . All this in my nation. But there are many nations, . . . I feel and I am them all, with what they hold of superstition or of wisdom or evil. All, all is myself.
And so it is that the cumulative aggregated different principles manifesting themselves in individuals, form these powerful forces which we see actually working through different sections of peoples. To put it crudely and to take a specific example: Why have we always with us a criminal community? The answer according to the Theosophical teachings is that while we each, as individuals, have any tendency, however small, towards greed, selfishness, intolerance, jealousy, etc., then we are bound to find this tendency working itself out per se and as an evil force in society — that is to say, in a portion of the community in whom these principles happen to be predominant.
But this is what we must remember and take to heart: that it is just an extension of ourselves, and we each and all are partly to blame, and are responsible for it. Not until we have eradicated these tendencies from our own natures will these undesirable conditions vanish from our midst. We can all help, providing we banish selfishness and intolerance and fear from our makeup. The true lesson to be learned is that we must first put "our own house in order," and the rest will surely and inevitably follow.
Let us aim at perfection and we may get a glimpse of the real joy of spiritual life, and say with Thoreau:
The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little Stardust caught, a segment of the rainbow, which I have clutched.