The term "Universal Brotherhood" is no idle phrase. . . .
If it be a dream, it is at least a noble one for mankind. — K.H. to A. P. Sinnett
The dream of a world order where people of different ethnic, social and religious origins might live under one universal law of harmony and justice is not new with us; it has been a recurrent ideal of the ancient world with varying degrees of realization, in Sumeria, China, India and Egypt, as well as in Greece and Rome. And no doubt in other civilizations a 'union of all men' has been attempted whenever a certain maturity of fulfillment had been attained.
What do we envision today when we speak of universal brotherhood? The hoped-for condition where all nations and races would continue their own lines of development, worship after their own fashion, administer in freedom their affairs, social and political, and yet, as human beings, feel inwardly linked by the powerful bonds of an inner oneness of origin, children of the divine sun who is our common father, It all sounds so simple and natural that one wonders why the idea never achieved the support it merits. If a census were taken of the deepest hopes of every man and woman on our globe, an overwhelming majority would say: give us peace, give us a world order that is benevolent and just to all, and we will abide by it.
Or would we? Maybe we think we would, but can we be so sure that when it comes to the actual living of our ideals we would make the required sacrifices? To begin with we would have to jettison our prejudices, for neither strong aversions nor strong preferences have any place where genuine accord is the goal.
A look at history may be salutary, especially if we can discern the continuing return of cycles weathered in previous eras — cycles that bear a signal resemblance to our own — where the tumultuous succession of outer events was often so disruptive that then, as now, the cry for a brotherhood, a union of peoples, was heard throughout the known world. I am thinking particularly of 4th century B.C. Greece, of the young Macedonian who had been tutored by Aristotle in the noble ideals of Greek philosophy and the art of statesmanship. (Alexander was to differ widely from his master's advice in one important area, that concerning the relation between Greeks and Asians. Werner Jaeger comments: "A sidelight is thrown on his views . . . by the fragment of a letter to Alexander in which he [Aristotle] advises him to behave towards the Greeks as a leader and towards the barbarians as an absolute and unlimited monarch, to which they were accustomed; to treat the former as friends and equals, and the latter as 'animals or plants' (frg. 658)." Cf. Aristotle, Fundamentals of the History of his Development, p. 259.) It is not our purpose to detail the brilliant military triumphs of Alexander that brought the Persian Empire to heel, and one after another the surrounding countries under his rule. Rather we would point out that, despite the terror of his exploits and his unwarranted acts of violence, there was a thread of decency and a seasoned recognition that an empire to be successfully administered must respect the right of the conquered to worship the god or gods of their choice, and continue their state and municipal functions as custom dictated. And further, as a kind of background music, he carried with him a dream: the dream of one world, of a brotherhood of peoples who would live together as equals, citizens of one commonwealth.
Homonoia — of one mind, of one nous — a 'union of hearts' as some translate the term. An ideal lived by Zeno the Stoic to such an extent that when he died, the Athenians ended their encomium with these words: "He made his life a pattern to all, for he followed his own teaching (Hellenic Civilization, Tam and Griffith, p. 330). Long after his death, in Rome the Stoics — notably Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius — saw in his Ideal State the universalizing influence that could touch men's souls everywhere. They stressed the oneness of all, not for political gain, but because they saw human beings as sparks of the one Mind-essence, the Mind-fire or divine Intelligence that ignited the whole of cosmos into life and consciousness.
Did Alexander accomplish what he set out to do? Politically he failed in that many of the captive peoples broke away soon after his death. Culturally, economically and in the field of communication, for he had instituted a road system for ease of commerce and the mingling of men — the tidal wave of Hellenism left its inimitable impress from Gibraltar to the Punjab. Historians of recent decades have provided additional insights into the complexity of his many-sided character. His nature, on the one hand, a compound of tenderness, generosity, and self-restraint in personal habits, and, on the other, of utter callousness which, when activated by his uncontrollable temper and an insatiable ambition to have his will obeyed, made him a devil incarnate. Yet so seemingly preordained were his victories, that one could hardly blame him for believing at times that his will was indeed god-inspired — especially in the climate of an age when relations between gods and men were still regarded as a possibility. In his private character, Alexander clearly was not equal to his dream. In fact, he fell far short of it, with serious defects in virtue and in the essential ingredients of spirituality. And yet, equally clearly, in wielding his power to accomplish his ends, progress was stimulated.
Such personages, as the experience of history confirms, are 'agents of destiny,' bringers of certain objectives into force that under ordinary circumstances might take centuries to come to pass. They may or may not be aware of their role. But, for the appointed term, their peculiar temperament and character, not alone their strengths but also their weaknesses, evidently make them useful as instruments for precipitating needed changes in the destiny of nations. Whether those changes are beneficial or destructive cannot be easily seen at the time; it may take hundreds of years before a true evaluation can be made. Yet even out of the most disturbing events good will ultimately result, despite the tragic fact that individuals or whole peoples caught in the karmic avalanche may stiffer irreparable reverses. One thing is sure: the past lives in the present, and the future is the past-present unfolded. Every seed sown ripens; every cause set in motion produces its like effect. justice, harmony, equilibrium will eventually be restored, for every soul in time — whether in this or in another life — reaps precisely what belongs to it. It could not be otherwise, for man reaps himself, none other.
It is a curious pattern that emerges from even a cursory review of past civilizations. Time and again it is as though a dual karma were at work: externally, a massive conquest of new territory by colonizing waves sweeping in and causing severe repercussions on the indigenous inhabitants, who finally absorb (or are absorbed by) their conquerors; internally, in concert with the influx of migrating peoples, a quiet yet potent seeding of new ideas which, mingling with the old, often produces an enriched culture that may have an influence for centuries.
Alexander's vision may have been prompted largely by political necessity so that, as God-King and Emperor, he could rule with the least dissension and unrest. We cannot know. Yet he gave undeniable proof of the reality of his feeling for all at Opis — a year before he was to die of fever at the height of his power — by offering Persians high commands in his army and other honors formerly held only by Greeks and Macedonians. The latter mutinied, until he assured them, "I make you all my kinsmen." He then invited them to a mighty banquet, at which the 9,000 guests drank together from a huge silver bowl — "the libation being led by Greek seers and Iranian Magi." At the close, Alexander "prayed for peace, and that Macedonians and Persians and all the peoples of his Empire might be alike partners in the commonwealth (i.e. not merely subjects), and that the peoples of the world he knew might live together in harmony and in unity of heart and mind — that Homonoia which for centuries the world was to long for but never to reach." (Alexander the Great, W.W. Tarn, pp. 116-17.)
The cycling centuries may show the dream to have been stillborn, but so profound an influence did the one-world idea have in the Hellenic age that kings, envoys, generals and all in responsible posts, urged their peoples to work for peaceful relations among one another. Women too espoused the cause, for at that time, at least among the educated, they had a large measure of freedom. In certain areas, worship was paid to Homonoia, now personified as a goddess. Later, under the Romans, her image was minted in gold coin, but by then any hope for a genuine 'union of hearts' had vanished.
But not forever. Seed-ideas of this nature do not die; they lie fallow, maybe for centuries, to fructify when the rains of caring are sufficiently abundant. We must here record Alexander's foresight in founding the city which still bears his name, a world-polis of commerce, for free and friendly intercourse among all peoples of the oecumene or 'inhabited world.' Is it just coincidence that after his death, Ptolemaeus, his faithful bodyguard and one of his most devoted generals, should have become king of Egypt? The dynasty of the Ptolemies would transform Alexandria into a world-polis of the mind and spirit, with the establishment first of a Museum and later of a Library to house the "works of beauty" of scholars, philosophers, poets, and artists of many lands of past, present and future centuries. A Center that was no mere repository of static ideas, but a viable organism with a threefold role of "sanctuary, museum, and university."
Then again, we find myth and fable keeping the idea alive through Iambulus' account of his seven-year stay on an island near India, where the inhabitants called themselves "children of the sun," and also named their seven islands after Helios. In this Sun-state, all the people lived together, contributing their talents and skills that the whole might flourish, no one receiving honors or advantages above another — a labor of love where "the highest value is placed upon internal harmony." All branches of learning were encouraged, including a study of the stars and planets and their interrelations to each other and to the sun. Of course, as expected, fabulous details abound, but the theme song is Homonoia — a brotherhood, or union of spirit, that springs up spontaneously, not from coercion. (Cf. Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History, II, 55-60.)
In the third century A.D., another powerful impetus was given to Alexander's dream through Ammonius Saccas. So distressed was he at the disputes arising among the adherents of the many religious and philosophic systems then prevalent in Alexandria, that he formed a school for the purpose of gathering together the stray threads of theosophic wisdom in order that there might be a coherent and pure stream of ancient truth taught once again. His pupils were enjoined to silence; nothing could be written down. His followers were expected to be exemplary in their personal lives. Ammonius' life equaled the nobility of his teaching so that his followers spoke of him as theodidaktos, 'godtaught,' meaning by this that he had experienced the sacred communion with his inner god. Plotius, one of his pupils, subsequently recorded the essence of his master's thought — later known as neo-Platonism, because derived largely from principles enunciated by Plato and Pythagoras. It is common knowledge that neo-Platonic ideas strongly influenced Christianity, through those church fathers who had been trained in youth in the philosophies of Greece.
Perhaps Alexander, after all, did achieve the work he had to do. Not a country, not a people, from proud Persian to cultivated Hindu but felt the impact of the Greek genius, with the intermingling of spiritual and material ideas from East and West a significant by-product. In the process, Greece proper, as well as Macedonia, and later Rome, responded to the Semitic, Persian, Egyptian and Indian heritage. A fusion of spiritual, intellectual and artistic values that was to have a marked effect on the Messianic impulse behind the coming of Jesus — the Savior or Messiah figure who would speak to the dream of a brotherhood of all men in new tones; who would reject the sophistries of the intellectuals and the mummery of existing ritual; who, more than any other in those immediate centuries, would demonstrate by his life that the 11th Commandment could work if men would but grasp its beauty and apply its saving principle.
What has prevented this noble ideal from taking solid root? Human nature changes slowly, often to our despair; but also to our benefit, odd as this may sound, for we are compounded not only of failings; our strengths equally endure. Fortunate it is that inborn in the soul is an infallible touchstone by which we may test what is essentially sound and what is false; more, what is inwardly right for us, and what is not. We dare not overlook the potency of free choice. What man's genius is so superlative that he can with impunity impose his will — however glorious a vision he may have — upon other human beings.
The weakness of the Homonoia of the Greeks, of the Ideal State of the Stoics, of the eclectic theosophical system of Ammonius, or again, of the brotherhood fostered by every well-intentioned organization even today, does no t lie in the principle of unity, but in its adherents. Brotherhood, harmony in thought and deed, sincere respect among individuals, and among nations and races, cannot be imposed from without. It has to grow quietly, individually, in the silence of the soul. Every human being, then, is as deeply responsible as every other to weed out his own tares of ambition and self-seeking and to see that the seed of universalism is nurtured by the sunlight of altruistic purpose.
We are all inextricably linked together. What an Alexander does or an Ammonius, what you and I think and do in the small circle of our personal lives, leaves its impress on the inner currents of world-consciousness. The memory bank of the soul — and of our earth-being as well — retains for all futurity the quality of our thoughts, our aspirations, our lofty as well as our mean desires. What we have laid up in the treasury of ourselves in former eras, wherever we were incarnated — in Greece or Parthia, in Iceland or China, Africa or Peru — is with us now, prodding, illuminating, guiding.
Today it is as though the longing of the countless millions of human souls, who have ever yearned in past lives for a universal concord of peoples, is demanding that this time we make it work. "I and Thou are One" has been sung by Hindu sage, Sufi poet, and the bards of every age. Now we must invest this truth with meaning; it must become a turning point in our aspirations. Our challenge is dual: on the one hand, we have steadfastly to be true to the mandates of our inmost self; on the other, we have so to widen our sympathies and the horizons of our understanding that Love wells forth without hindrance, to eradicate separatism and distrust. Then, and only then, will we know this oneness, this Homonoia, this union of hearts and minds — not as an intellectual or social accommodation, but as a living, breathing inflow-outflow of life-consciousness, enfolding suns and stones as it does every one of us.
If this be but a dream, it is the noblest we can live for, and one well worthy of every human being's finest energies.
(From Sunrise magazine, October 1974; copyright © 1974 Theosophical University Press)