On the occasion of a short visit of a friend from the United States to our German town, a small group of us got together for an exchange of thoughts. It is now more than two years ago, and yet our discussion is as alive and meaningful to me as if it had taken place only yesterday. The sun seemed to shine more brightly than usual that day, warming and opening our hearts, bringing about such a harmony of mind and spirit that one would be tempted to speak of our talk as a dialogue of the soul.
Our conversation centered around our individual philosophy and its practical application in our everyday lives, and from there we naturally moved on to world-wide problems and the many attempts made to unravel and solve them. But experience shows ever and anew that, in spite of all the serious struggles for social improvement and all the humanitarian efforts made with the best of intentions, the results are rarely lasting and viable. And why? Because they are true children of our time, built mostly on compromise, concessions, on a balance of power interests. Only in very rare cases are the actual needs the sole deciding factors. Since the problems themselves lose their priority, the solutions suffer from a lack of air — spiritual air — and are asthmatic, ineffective and inadequate.
Actually our current difficulties are not new, they only present themselves differently. They have occupied generations before us and will cause distress and oppression to many generations in the future. This will continue until we learn to use that master key: "You are gods; live accordingly." What is really needed, therefore — next to the recognition that help must be provided — is a basic attitude of charity, such as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, whose essence is genuine brotherhood and spirituality. Only the reform of all reforms, the reform of our entire way of thinking, can bring about a fundamental change in daily life.
The rapid flow of events, which make headlines today but tomorrow have already been overtaken and become meaningless, led us to the question: What, in this hectic, tumbling stream, is actually of importance for the individual? And the consensus was: "To learn!" It could not have been expressed more simply or more to the point. No reference here to commands or prohibitions, moral codes or dogmas, but to an assimilation of experience; it was an appeal to the higher nature of man, to his discrimination and judgment. Such qualities, presupposing a measure of inner maturity, enable us to recognize things as they really are; and, in addition, to see the basic forces active in daily life and in the manifold life forms in their proper setting. By these means we may distinguish between the essential and the nonessential, between the temporal and the eternal. How refreshing is this attitude which alerts us to the inner faculties of the individual, when contrasted with so many other trends of thought that hold out the pacifier of dependence to questioning man and try to lull him to sleep.
This was our point of departure, then: "to learn." It does not refer to the kind of learning that is drummed into us, to a simple absorbing of catalogued knowledge thought out by others, but appeals to the yet latent potential of self-knowledge within us. This time-tested method teaches us to look for and find the Ariadne thread, which may lead us directly and in a natural manner out of the labyrinth of theories to the still, small path, to the fount of strength in our own nature.
The struggle for illumination is an aeons' long process of learning and unfolding, of assimilation and shedding. It involves going astray frequently and in many ways, but also brings joyous discoveries and rediscoveries. Successes and defeats, all are eloquent witnesses of silent battles. Looked upon from the highest watchtower, it is a pilgrimage from ourselves back to ourselves, in order to bring to fruition and perfection that which has been our natural potential since time began.
There is no compromise possible. The foremost requirement in all efforts is to become more perfected human beings. Here lies our divinely appointed and specifically human task: to work on ourselves. And here also it becomes clear that both in our everyday life and in our inner, spiritual life it is essential that we forget ourselves and fulfill the tasks before us with an openness and clarity of vision. We see things better as they are when we do not have to think at every step along the way about our ego, that narrow, confining and transient "I."
Every situation in life, every decision we make, calls upon us to develop and activate our innate spiritual. In doing so, we gradually eliminate the feeding ground in which our desires and passions are rooted. Only by selflessly giving ourselves will we find our true self, our divine source, and thus recognize our brother. For the enlightened soul regards no creature, no blade of grass, no blossom, no butterfly, is anonymous; it will know the inner unity of all creatures, the brotherhood of all beings, whether this shows itself in the immeasurable worlds of the stars, in the eternal unchangeable laws of nature, or in the shining eye of a child that is shouting with joy. Each manifested form carries the seal of divinity, its magnitude, its creative energy, its life force; it derives from the One and, since this oneness is indivisible, contains everything within itself.
How much talk there is at present about freedom, human rights and human dignity! But what is freedom? Does it mean merely outward liberty, the opportunity to do what one wants? Who can say of himself that he is free, when he is pulled this way and that by desires and emotions; when appetites, inclinations and disinclinations hold him in chains and he is not in control of his own decisions? Licentiousness, which people today like to pass off as freedom, never leads to self-reliance and mastery of life. It is a sign of decadence.
He who purifies his desire is in command of his own personality, now torn hither and yon. When we are no longer subject to the demands of our lesser self, we are at one with the law that reigns supreme, i.e. our will is then in harmony with the cosmic will. Here lies true liberty, not only bringing us happiness, but increasing proportionally to our understanding of eternal truth.
In the ancient words of the Bible, the light of truth shines in the darkness and the darkness comprehends it not. Equally so, the individual who has not yet gained insight, may be said to live in a shell, where he finds comfort and gratification. But he who has awakened to the inner life is strong within himself and, recognizing the shell for what it is, is at peace. Therefore the sages of all times taught: "If you choose wisdom, all other things will be given to you at the right time." Yet, a superficial understanding is not enough to fathom its universality, its height and its depth. No seed kernel can thrive in a vacuum, not even the seed of wisdom. It needs the nurturing soil of a dedicated heart. The recognition of truth is neither a gift nor a legacy. It is a revelation that comes to us when we ourselves have created the necessary prerequisite for it — by forgetting ourselves, by seeking truth for truth's sake and by serving our fellow men.
It is a law of nature that the human mind can encompass lofty principles only when it raises itself to their level. Never can there be a higher spiritual awareness without an inner awakening, no awakening without life, no life without growth. Each of us, in his own way, has to fulfill the task that has been form-fitted to him. In the words of Goethe:
Let none be similar to another,
But each be like the Highest.
How can that be done?
Let each be perfected in himself.
Even though the goal — perfection — is still very far distant, our next step towards it lies in this moment, in the next decision. The goal can be attained by each of us; if it were not so, none of the Great Ones could have preceded us on this road. Seen with the eyes of the spirit all this hectic activity, all fermentation, conflict, toil and struggle are nothing but a ceaseless becoming, nothing but evolutionary change. It is an unfolding of spiritual forces, an expansion of consciousness, and, parallel to it, a refining of the material aspect.
In all fields of thought there are continuous changes and ever-new additions, compelling us to listen and to think. Theories come and go, wisdom is eternal. Since there is only one truth, there can be but one wisdom, though of course expressing itself in manifold ways, much as the sunlight in differing surroundings shines with varying intensity.
When we turn the spotlight on man as the main actor in the drama of life, we see in him an unspeakable longing for more humaneness, for inner peace, for his true home which has become so alien to him. Are not these hopeful perspectives? What is it that makes us so often act against our better judgment and against our reason, so that we do the very things which in others we regard as moral weaknesses? It is selfishness, that central driving power of our lesser nature, which in its narrowing and cramping effect causes us so much suffering, ever asserting itself, fighting for small, fleeting advantages, for esteem, for power — although each of us knows from a hundred different experiences that "worldly fame is nothing but a gust of wind, blowing now here, now there."
We all are aware of the fact that a man's happiness does not depend on his theoretical knowledge or on his earthly possessions, but on how much love he has in his heart; yet we do not live according to this insight. Again and again egotism obscures our total view. Not only do we put our personality in the center, but we even identify ourselves with it instead of with our imperishable divine essence. In this attitude we tackle all our problems from the wrong angle — and we end up in a culs-de-sac.
What, then, is the great necessity for ourselves and for our living together with one another? The road lies within: it is living in highest harmony with nature's laws, it is love become manifest, not bound to outer activity, but expressing its true value in our way of thinking and feeling. If we listen to the song of life, we will find our own inner voice again. Gradually we will free our mind of useless ballast and enable the power of our indwelling spirit to flow through us unencumbered, so that we become an instrument in its service. Then we will know that the underlying force which guides us is the divine love that embraces all beings, the source and destiny of all.
(From Sunrise magazine, January 1973. Copyright © 1973 by Theosophical University Press)