Mankind has always had noble ethics, precepts and "commandments" drilled into him from earliest childhood — but why should they be accepted? Some are told for the sake of justice, for the accumulation of riches, power or happiness. However, man's reason and inherent acquisitive nature can easily argue that the opposite of truth and right give all of these and more. Numberless examples could be pointed out of "success," not only of individuals, but of states, by means of tyranny, sweeping aside the rights of others, and stealing in all its forms. Men who have tried to base their thoughts and actions on the noblest precepts of the ages have had to struggle constantly against the "rebels" — not only outside of themselves, but within their own natures.
The natural conflict between that part of us trying to live for the common good, rights and progress of others, and the very strong part living for self-gratification and aggrandizement, etc., will never be settled in a court of justice, or by weapons of war, or by tirades from pulpits. For every person has to discover for himself an answer — satisfying to his own type and character — to the perennial question as asked in Plato's Republic: "Why should we be just?" To which no answer will ever be acceptable which is based on decrees, bludgeoning, or fear.
Churches of all faiths have long exhorted men with the promise of a future "heaven or hell" and by their interpretations of the teachings of the great Leaders such as Jesus the Christ, Buddha, Lao-Tse, Zoroaster, Quetzalcohuatl, etc. To a part of us this has been sufficient, conjoined as it is with every man's inner "Voice of the Conscience," that something which we seem to have inherited from immemorial time. Seneca, a Stoic philosopher of Rome in the First Century, has described its function and effect on man thus:
And if you see a man unterrified with danger, untainted with lustful ideas, happy in adversity, calm and composed amidst a storm, looking down as from an eminence upon man, and on a level with the gods; seems he not a subject of honor? As the rays of the sun reach, and with their influence pierce the earth, and yet are still above in the body from whence they proceed; so a mind, great and holy, and thus humbled, to give us a more adequate knowledge of divine things, dwells indeed with us, but still adheres to its original.
This inner sense of justice, derived from the "God within," has to be firmly silenced by the acquisitive part of our natures during the moments or life-times that may be spent in self-gratification — as far as it is possible to do this without being 'caught' by the law of the land. Let us not fool ourselves into believing that this is not a powerful element in our lives, although, of course, all are not blatant examples! How can we best turn this tremendous reservoir of force and power that is used by the materialistic acquisitive element of our natures to the use of the inner, truly divine part of us — from selfishness to real brotherhood?
Suppose we ask a man what he really wants in life; and: why? He will soon find himself face to face with three questions which must be answered first, if he is truly to reach his goal in life based on all the urges that are trying to find expression in him. He must come to some kind of realization as to what he is, why he is here, and where he is going. This has always been dangerous ground for anyone primarily interested in his own welfare at the expense of others; so much so, in fact, that such a person sooner or later begins to deny all religious and philosophical concepts. He is forced by the very nature of selfishness to become a solitary hermit from the world of ideas, and eventually from his fellowmen, as a natural consequence of the false sense of separateness which the "me and mine" attitude will engender if carried to the extreme.
The universality of beliefs and codes of ethics are an inescapable proof that no man can long evade the laws of justice which are basically the very essence of what we may call Nature, the all-encompassing body, both inner and outer, of the Universe of which we are integral parts. Why should we be just? In the final analysis we have no choice, everything in Nature which tries to live unto itself — ends up by itself and either destroys itself or is destroyed. No man-made law is involved, so no avenue of escape exists. We all intuitively know that something far bigger and grander than man, throbs and has its being throughout the Cosmos. And as that Cosmos obviously pulsates with life and harmony, anything within it which runs counter to the Cosmic Being, of necessity has to be sooner or later transmuted, or, as the Buddhists say, destroyed and 'ground over' into basic material from which another try at the great Cycle of evolutionary growth of consciousness may be undertaken. If this were not true, the Cosmos would soon be put "out of joint" which is inconceivable to even the biggest egotist imaginable.
The seeds of the laws of Being have been cast far and wide throughout the ages by many inspired Teachers, so that when any man is ready to consciously strive to work with Nature, he cannot fail to find his kind of 'seed' lying waiting for him, whether it be in one of the great living schools of thought, or in some fragments of long forgotten religions and philosophies, perhaps only recently brought to light. For the laws of justice have been found to be ever the same, no matter what the age or type of civilization, but the 'clothes' through which they are expressed come in every hue and shape.
There have been many and terrible fratricidal wars and schisms over the interpretations given by men to the great Truths of Being, or between exponents of some particular man-made creeds or dogmas, but mankind today is showing definite signs of rebellion at being treated as children, led and exhorted, blindfolded by others with self-ordained or priest-ordained power. This growing realization of each man's inherent right to question and to think for himself is dealing a body-blow to creeds and dogmas; and the day is fast nearing when all will recognize the "God within" as taught in all religions and philosophies, which will make all men "come of age" and hence begin to self consciously direct their own lives and growth towards the true spiritual brotherhood of all — a natural corollary of the inner divinity of each.
Plato's question "Why should we be just?" is eternal, for it can only be answered by each man himself with what help he can find through the writings of the many great Teachers of mankind conjoined with the lessons learned from his daily life and experiences. The truth of this can be known to man as these same Teachers have said, by striving upon retiring, to assimilate the actions and events of the day just lived — the good and the bad — and thus becoming better equipped for the role he will be called upon to play on the morrow.
Truly the World of today, with its rapid, world-wide communications, has revealed more of the "Light" to be found scattered over the face of the earth than has ever been seen before in recorded history. The challenge resulting therefrom has devolved on the heads of every individual member of the human race; the challenge to sift and to assimilate what is his, and — to use it.
(From Sunrise magazine, May 1952; copyright © 1952 Theosophical University Press)