We have all seen people get emotionally heated over the fact that nothing is being done about this, that and the other thing, and they would revolutionize the world from the outside in, which is an impossibility in the first place, and push that fester — whatever it was that was troubling them — back inside, as you would heal a boil from the outside, only to have it come out later with interest compounded. That isn't the way. We must deal with causes, not with effects. We are experiencing the ills of the body of humanity, and these ills must be cured from within.
Mankind is progressing beyond the idea of national borders, and it is our task as men and women to recognize not only our individual responsibility but our opportunity to exemplify that we are brothers, regardless of race, or nation, or color. We cannot change the outer conditions overnight, nor in a decade, a quarter of a century, a century, nor even in a millennium, but we can head in that direction; and to the degree that we, as individuals, recognize and work with and cling to that inner unity, to that degree will we influence the hearts and minds of those with whom we come in contact, without our having to say a word.
We must think of the world situation today in its true perspective. I myself cannot become all hot and bothered about this or that nation, race, or situation, because each is only one small aspect of the whole picture. We must think of all our brothers, everywhere, and observe the three fundamental forces operative in the universe: that which creates, that which preserves the status quo and that which destroys. We must view the situation, not by the words of the politicians, not by the words of the religionists, or the scientists or anybody, but by the unfoldment of their actions and their effect upon the world. Then we can see what is creative and for the benefit of all, and what is destructive and for the benefit of the few; what is heading humanity toward real progress, and what toward stagnation or destruction. That is the way I think we should look at it. We cannot possibly consider one aspect without considering its relationship to all others.
Before going further I would like to make clear my concept of that law of retributive justice called karma, or the reaping of what is sowed. People sometimes speak of good karma; bad karma; pleasant or unpleasant karma. To me there is no such thing as good or bad karma. This law of justice brings a reaction to every action and thought that we have, and the results, the effects, are nothing more nor less than opportunity, pure and simple. The reaction, or the result of an action, once it finds itself in an effect, is dead. The only thing that can possibly give further life to it is our wrong reactions to that effect. We cannot tell the world the thoughts that we have, but we can exemplify our reactions to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. That is the key. Karma as opportunity gives everybody the same possibility of growth.
Why are we here, as individuals, or as the human race? We as individuals and we as a whole human race are here in this school of life to learn the lessons of life. The only teacher that any of us has is life, that's all. There are no other teachers, really, in the sense I am speaking of: humanity must evolve through that which it has before it. The only way we can learn, the only way that we can possibly help the divinity that is within the heart of each one of us to unfold, is by allowing the qualities of our whole constitution to become more like that divine spark that is at the core of us; and the only way we can do that is by meeting with understanding the effects of former acts and thoughts. The only thing that will help us to understand them is to experience them, and when we experience them, if we are foolish enough to do nothing constructive about them, then by our reactions and our revulsion from the so-called unpleasant circumstances, we extend these experiences further and further until finally we wake up and realize that we are objecting to nothing in this world but ourselves. Now I don't consider that, as many do, a heavy load to bear. All we need do is to recognize the fact and temper our reactions to the circumstances we find ourselves in, if we are to meet those circumstances with the right attitude. It makes no difference how much misery any individual in this lifetime is suffering, because as stated in the Christian axiom: God fits the burden to the shoulders.
Point out an individual or a group of individuals, or a nation, that has a heavy karmic load on its shoulder, and you will point out automatically a strong soul. The individual who is going through real hell, a real daily initiation, is a strong soul who has earned by the strength of his inner aspiration, the right to test the metal of himself to the core.
If we are self-consciously working on this job, don't you see the marvelous opportunity we have to affect the hearts and minds of our fellowmen? We are not going to do it with billboards, headlines, or any words at all. We are going to do it by the very manner in which we react to the circumstances Life finds us in. Reacting creatively and with a will to correct past errors we will automatically impress upon the consciousness of those with whom we come in contact the quality of our reaction, and give them some inspiration, however little, to try to do likewise.
(From Sunrise magazine, October 1953; copyright © 1953 Theosophical University Press)
The only assurance that we are not missing the one opportunity lies in making the most of every opportunity; in treating every day as if it were the one eventful day of life; in doing every piece of work as if upon our fidelity depended all our future lives. — Abraham Lincoln