Today it is my privilege to meet a group of students of a very friendly nation, a nation closely related to our own and congenial to us in their feelings and thoughts.
When I see young people like you I have to acknowledge the fact that I am a generation older which is a pity, for you are original and full of possibilities. Our generation when it was young — often right, often wrong — at least had the unique experience after the first World War of freeing ourselves from many of the prejudices of the past. This task you have taken over successfully, as well as pioneering in new fields. In our case, our elders were greatly shocked not only when we so strongly disapproved of them, but by the manner in which the ideas which had been conceived by the pioneering minds among themselves suddenly and so generally burst into the bloom of practice.
The generation to which I belong has now grown sufficiently old and settled to have made already grave mistakes in its turn. It would be folly to presume that yours by the time you are twenty years older will not have made any. However, you can at least learn from our mistakes; it is so often in this form we pass on warnings from generation to generation.
The great task is yours to accomplish. Today we are facing a world which rapidly changes its aspects. Perceptibly there is taking place a greater interdependence of mankind, a unification of the world. Each one of us must of necessity remain keenly alive. Although a great variety both in historic background and in character is inherent in the human race, and will always be so, yet the solidarity of all mankind is becoming more and more a practical reality — due in large measure to the ease of communication with other parts of the world, as well as to science and its investigations, as you university students know better than I.
To be ourselves, and yet part of a greater, yes, of a world community — this is the idea which dominates our atmosphere and fills our minds.
If there is any near-at-hand task that wants tackling by your generation, it would be to build a new, united, free Europe. Its blueprint may not be clearly drawn up as yet, but the urgency of building it is obvious. Within a quarter of a century we in free Europe will either all be living in the same house or — we will be dying in the same ruin.
Quite irrespective of the existence or not of any exterior threat to free society, the inefficiency of the present organization — or rather lack of organization — of Europe, with the functioning of its many borders and barriers, prevents the possibility of a prosperous future. If petty self-interest dominates our mentality, both in our private and in our national spheres, then there cannot be any future for our continent; whereas if we join hands and help each other, Europe not only can gain abundance of material riches, but can spread a wealth of cultural values, sustained by moral strength.
With the spirit of this second half of the twentieth century we cannot go on living in structures designed in the nineteenth or even eighteenth centuries. The spirit moves, grows quickly, and you never know in what form it will appear next. But the forms of previous stages are always materially blocking the way, never allowing the necessary space for the edifice required for today — which would mean for us truly an edification.
Continually we must test our valuation of ideas by life's essential values. In other words, we have constantly to re-evaluate our basic concepts. Do we realize that this implies that there has to come a spirit of sacrifice? It is a crystal-clear fact that a greater unity of Europe as well as of the world cannot be achieved without sacrifices. One could say: If we are to build Europe, we have to cement it then with sacrifices, made from the debris of relatively small buildings, which necessarily must be pulled down in order to make place for the greater structure.
We have to imbue our minds and spirits with the facts as they are, in order to be prepared mentally and spiritually to face those problems which you too will doubtless encounter in due time in your careers, and about which you will have to form your opinions as well as define your attitudes.
Facts and necessities — they are a challenge. They demand that each of you meet them with the top effort of your intelligence and ability. They arouse the strongest feeling of responsibility of any one and may one day claim all your activity — and even more, for their deeper and philosophic background will fully seize hold of you as a religious being. Life now, and in the nearest and the nearer future, requires from any responsible human being his all.
Don't you ever believe the utterly un-democratic and un-Christian idea that "an ordinary person" without predominant social status has no influence. The more that one, by the urgent call of the facts and necessities of life, has become active in his very soul, the more will he be able to call up and inspire the souls of his fellowmen — and this in a great circle around him, in fact without limits. To every human being God has given a unique set of possibilities, and also a unique capability to rise to the challenge they present. But each one has to find his own philosophy of and attitude toward life — each in his own place, from his own base of operations.
You as university-students have your own particular responsibility, which you accepted when you chose an intellectual career. This implies that you are willing to be the thinkers of society — a great and wonderful vocation. In the first place it teaches you to criticize; among other things, you are learning to criticize yourselves, something which may free you from taking yourselves too seriously — the beginning of all wisdom. Now intelligence can never take the place of wisdom. However great it may be, human intelligence should know its own limits, and yield, if necessary, to the more enlightened spheres of the human spirit — just as science during the last decades has already been requiring for further progress the high strata of genius, inspiration and those other qualities which can give wings to the spirit.
Wings to the spirit — this is the need of our time, if ever we are to free ourselves from the narrow barriers formed by our own small horizons.
When you are young, the world is yours. You expect from life a great deal of happiness; and, on the other hand, mostly you want to do good, such a lot of good — maybe change the whole world for the better. To be happy and to do good — how wonderful that seems. However, life is not like this. It is when one is happy that one is selfish and least inclined to sacrifice. But when one is unhappy, one understands the troubles and sufferings of others and is willing to share one's last assets with another. An unhappy person who is hard to others, is, we all feel, particularly repulsive; and the other and most envied extreme, a person both happy and good is more than a saint.
All this is just the most common knowledge, known, or instinctively felt, by everyone, but I think too seldom squarely faced. Although it may be quite depressing for those who have not yet suffered much from life, there is comfort. Personally I find that there is a God who leads our lives, and who sets the balance for every one of us between joy and hardships with such love and wisdom as is inconceivable to us. It is a general experience that there is no greater joy than that felt after we have made a sacrifice for somebody else — or for a cause we believe in.
A great cause is in the air. It is impossible yet to define its outlines, the difficulty being that it is still so intangible. Its name, however, is known: this is Brotherhood. When a great part of Holland was struck by a terrible disaster, from all over the world spontaneous help poured in — here brotherhood revealed itself in a solidarity, the like of which nobody has ever seen before. Denmark was among the first to help in both an overwhelming and efficient manner.
What has this magic of brotherhood meant? I do not know. All I know is that it was a fact. I know also that whatever one has proved himself capable of, and whatever he has achieved, nobody can take away from him. Thus it was revealed that a living international solidarity is already in existence.
If we do not cooperate in this great family of mankind, if we are not conscious of our cohesion and of our solidarity, we will perish in a world that has become as interdependent as it is now, and which is becoming even more so. But if we rise above our petty little horizons of ignorance and self-interest to those of the knowledge of universal interest; if in cooperation we give a fair chance to the unique qualities of everyone, we will not perish at all, but on the contrary, will open the door to unlimited possibilities. In this manner we can win the future. Those consciously aware of this will have to take the lead, so that in time all may fall into step.
The struggle to win the future is hard, but is our struggle of the now-living, and you are soon going to bear the brunt of it. An enormous responsibility, in the face of history, is yours; a fact that provides you with an opportunity so grand as never to have been experienced before.
(From Sunrise magazine, May 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)