Ourselves and Others

Alice Meunier McIlvaine

The variety of thought habits and the confusion of aims and ideologies among all of us stand in the way of real understanding between ourselves and others. But there are certain fundamental and universal principles, which if understood, can help us arrive at reciprocal affection and respect.

We may say: I am hungry. I want a sandwich. I desire this or that.

Or we may say, reasoning from the evidence in front of us perhaps: I think man is more than his body. I believe in this or that philosophy or religion.

Or again, feeling deeply and wishing to help, we might say: I wish to God I could do something to better the condition of humanity. I aspire to be something greater and nobler than I am.

Here we see three different selves speaking. Now which of these is our real self? We have a self in common with the animals; they too desire things, but they don't think or reason in the same way that we do; they don't rationalize that the world is round or that the angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are equal, nor do they think religiously or philosophically. So this cannot be our real self.

We may reason and reflect on many levels, and it is this which especially distinguishes man from other forms of life. There are, of course, a great many kinds of reasoning and mental functions; we not only visualize, but can plan and organize; or we can calculate mathematically. We can also analyze philosophically about either the world or ourselves, as well as the relationships of ourselves and others.

There is also that in us which aspires, which loves impersonally without thought of returns, which lives for others, and thinks and feels, not in our limited personalities, but in humanity.

Those three selves are in each of us. We are well aware that unless we take the lowest, the desiring part, in hand and discipline it, help it to evolve and become finer, we can harm both ourselves and others, and this, physically as well as mentally. Doesn't that suggest that these different selves are there to evolve? And that such evolution is the purpose of life, of nature — the thing the universe is doing, that it exists for?

Anyone who wants to believe that this process of evolving begins at the birth of his body, and ends with the death of that body, may do so; but he must have queer ideas as to the economy of the universe. It would be like a book that begins half way down page 308 and ends in the middle of a sentence. Evolution, so far as man is concerned, suggests the possibility that the human thinking self may school both the physical and its related emotions and desires, and that the noblest self may school and inspire the thinking self. Surely a very real possibility, for thinking persons are able definitely to train and educate their more material selves. They can hold this part of themselves in check and direct their different energies so that they come to desire ever finer things out of life. Does it not follow that the highest self which is truly divine can also educate and raise the ordinary human self, strengthening and deepening it?

How do we do it? First by being the human thinking self rather than the unguided or uncontrolled physical emotional self. This we can do by directing our thoughts and interests into creative and constructive channels, toward that self that lives for others. It is this that is the motivating force of evolution.

If we believe the teaching of Jesus, the kingdom of God is something we can get into any moment, because as he said, it is within us. "Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you." Religion has too often made it a place we may get to, if we are fortunate, when we are dead; but Jesus when he used those words meant a state of consciousness each one of us could come to know about and experience here and now. There is such great hope in this ancient and universal concept, which in its essence all races of men have entertained. Here is the power within ourselves to evolve and develop the highest human qualities and to find in them the strength and the vision to do the good we would like to do.

We read of many who sacrificed their lives for great causes, as Joan of Arc did to free France. But the fact that she sacrificed her life's experience — gave her body to be burned — indicates that her body was not herself. Her Self was something behind and above body that decided to give up these things, not herself, for the cause she believed in; because the Self-most-self of Joan of Arc is something higher and more inward still. It is — Compassion, the self of her country.

There is still a bigger self in us than the self of our country. It is the self of humanity. The man who has really found himself lives in and for humanity. He is never able to rest content until suffering in the world is eliminated; he feels it not his duty so much as his ardent desire to fight that which causes the suffering, human ignorance — that ignorance which makes us identify ourselves with the lowest in us.

We have seen then that our inmost self is universal; that the most real man is the most compassionate man; the biggest man is the man with the biggest and widest sympathies. Simple as these ideas may seem, they could influence our civilization much more than they do if we knew how to make them more a part of our way of life. In some civilizations there has been a greater understanding than we seem to have today of how we can evolve and how ordinary people can come to realize great inner strength and depth of perception.

It was the tradition in those civilizations to encourage from childhood the philosophy of brotherhood, and to discourage a rampant growth of personal ambition, personal feelings and desires. In this way at least the child was given every opportunity to become a man in whom the habit of subordination of his personal or lesser self to his thinking and aspiring self was well established. We too often think that our own likes or dislikes are acceptable principles for us to act upon, and this frequently results in a vindictive kind of rivalry rather than the real spirit of good sportsmanship.

In the Orient one hears the temple bells. They are not like our churchbells that flurry out their peals impatiently and triumphantly; instead, a low, deep, round, clear note booms out, drifts along the valleys and steals into your consciousness. And when the tone is dying, out it booms and sings and rolls again, and lifts you yet higher, until you feel that sometime it will shatter the visible world and reveal what is behind it, reveal the villagers, everyone, ourselves included, as spiritually and morally strong persons.

When we understand ourselves in this revealing way we begin to understand others. In the Chinese language there is the word Jen which is written first with a stroke which looks like the numeral one, and then two horizontal strokes. The first element stands for man and the two horizontal lines stand for the numeral two.

Man + Two
The Individual and the Plurality
You or I and the People of the World

The right relation between a man and the world, according to the Chinese way of thinking, is then reciprocal affection and respect, or, Ourselves and Others. The world is seeking as never before the constructive human relationships which will bring permanent peace and security to human life. These relationships are nourished by a sure knowledge of man's spiritual possibilities and of his place with others in nature's vast scheme of unfoldment. Like the temple bells, this knowledge shatters our outer world and reveals the reality and universality of man's most real self.

(From Sunrise magazine, March 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)

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