Recently I reread Victor Hugo's Les Miserables — society's unfortunates. It was depressing. The conditions in France were simply terrible; not only the poverty, but the general spirit of degradation and injustice that could pursue an individual from birth until his dying day. Even strong souls who appeared wholesome and well-intentioned were often caught in the negativism of that environment.
Comparing those times of ignorance, callousness and lack of insight into man's nature with our own period, we can see that mankind has gone forward. Feelings of a genuine brotherhood are beginning to manifest universally, within the entire human vehicle. No longer are there isolated nuclei of elite thinkers shielded from contact with the great mass of men and women. A giving and receiving on all lines is taking place everywhere. Erich Fromm, the American psychologist, says that the only chance man has of becoming an instrument of greater constructive forces is by understanding more and more the meaning of brotherhood, for then will he begin to feel his fellow humans as a unity with himself.
To read a book like Victor Hugo's is a little like looking back into the debilitating atmosphere of the past; and then, when we step over into the present and look forward, as it were, into the future, we come to a whole new acceptance of life, an acceptance that increases our trust in the positive forces within humanity. They are a reality.
I was thinking about this the other night as I listened to a request concert on our national radio. By way of introduction, the conductor related an experience he had had the previous week. A few days before last Saturday's program, he had received a telephone call from the director of an old folk's home who told him that an 87-year-old man, bedridden and ill, was a regular listener and in his loneliness had found much pleasure in these musical evenings, and that he had asked if this week he might hear a certain piece by Brahms. The conductor explained to the director that he had already recorded the program and therefore it would be impossible to alter the arrangements, but he would certainly include the Brahms selection the next time.
The conductor gave no further thought to the matter until the day before the scheduled concert when suddenly, he told us, he experienced a sort of intuitive demand within himself, that he must help the old man in the home. So be changed everything, and instead of using what he had previously recorded, played the entire Brahms piece. The next evening it traveled on the ether to listeners all over Sweden's long land. One listener especially was very, very happy.
A few days later the director of the home again telephoned the conductor, this time to thank him, and to tell how this very old man had died that Saturday night, with the radio beside him playing his favorite music — had died with a gentle, inexpressibly peaceful expression on his face. "Never before have I been so grateful," said the conductor, "that I had followed that urge and acted at once. Next week would have been too late."
When I heard this, I too experienced a little of the profound gratitude the conductor had felt. In his spontaneous response to a soul-impulse he had brought to himself and to a stranger, peace, atonement and harmony. This, it seems to me, is strong evidence, actual scientific proof, that a fulfilling of one's inmost responsibility to another reacts on the deeper cosmic harmony. One simply must bow to truth. In following the ethics of the heart, we find the way to that ineffable harmony that exists in all living things. Yet to partake of it we must have complete trust in our higher self. Then it is like opening wide a door to the solar radiance so that it may purify, periodically, our spiritual pores.
In all ages, the really great spirits have pointed the way in this direction, but humanity has preferred "bread and spectacles," outer show, bondage to authority, and all that appeals to the externals. Yet are there really any values other than mans own trust in and relationship to his inner divinity? Some may respond to the intuitive mandate within and in so doing may find it leading to an outwardly dramatic condition of poverty and suffering; others may tread a different path and gain both outward and inner respect. Whatever the individual destiny, behind it all, in the fateful karmic role that each of us assumes, surely there lies a deeper spiritual directive whose task it is to help us understand more and more of what we truly are. Life is remarkable; in its deeps singularly beautiful and sublime.
I am thinking of another quite different example: that of our late beloved king. His career as monarch was certainly no bed of roses. But what did he do? He began by realizing his "duty first," which meant to him that every person he met was a fellow being. He penetrated the really difficult in nature's profound mystery, and this utter humility of character resulted in a powerful and creative giving and receiving in everything he did. Children and old people, all categories of men and women, opened their hearts to him, not as King of Sweden, but in recognition of him as a human being. His thoughts sought always to express in his private and public duties the ancient message of peace and good will, Without realizing it, he became a figure of light and hope to all.
No, the future is not so dark. Constructive currents are flowing within the net of arteries that suffuses the consciousness of the whole of humankind — linking all nations and races, all people everywhere, in a brotherhood of spirit emanating from the depths of awakened hearts.
(From Sunrise magazine, November 1973; copyright © 1973 Theosophical University Press)