What does brotherhood mean to you? Brotherliness in the larger sense is the ability to get on with people — brothers after all are people; and all people are our brothers, for brotherhood lies in the organic unity of the human race physically and, above all, spiritually. Universal brotherhood is not something to be made but rests on the order of nature, and it is our blindness which prevents us from recognizing this fact. Mankind is one body and individuals are the constituent cells: when one is damaged all feel the impact. Civilization will never alter until all of us realize that harmony of life will never be attained as long as one part of civilization is at loggerheads with another. While it may take ages to bring human life in accord with universal brotherhood through the application of the law of love, the immediate response of people to the many disasters which assail the world gives evidence that the law of love is operative. This opening of hearts to the suffering of others is a natural working with the divine intelligence in the universe.
In order to experience this feeling of brotherhood one has to practice it in daily life, which is especially hard to do with some of the characters we come up against whose behavior hardly speaks of love and tolerance but rather of hate, vindictiveness, carelessness, and indifference. Still, it is by example only that the message of love and tolerance eventually goes home: the constant presence of a compassionate example must make some impression, a warming of the heart.
We can help the evolution of humanity by opening our hearts so that we may consciously work with the divine universal intelligence. All the great religions were founded on the ideas of love and service. Many of them have become corrupt and, whilst purporting to teach these high ideals, in fact do not practice them.
Scientific thought is inclined to admit the physical unity and common origin of all beings, but most scientists think that we perish after one life on earth. How can the ideal of brotherhood be maintained on such a basis? Many people are prepared nonetheless to sacrifice themselves in the service of others and, though they would deny this, their noble acts are proof of the influence of their spiritual selves. Where do we get our mental and spiritual capacity from? We realize, when we think upon this, that we get our spiritual development from all the previous lives we have lived. We also realize that it is our spiritual development which is the most important part of our lives. It is in fact our spirit — the god within — which dictates, or should dictate, our behavior towards our fellowman.
If we are to progress along spiritual and not merely materialistic lines, the practice of brotherhood will become even more necessary as we go forward into the twenty-first century. The human races are becoming more intermingled due to improved transport facilities, making the living of brotherhood an urgent necessity. This is particularly apparent where an ethnic community is intent upon setting up its own way of life and insulating itself against all other lines of thought. While we have no wish to force others into our way of thought, we may still have an earnest desire to bring about the brotherhood of all, irrespective of color, race, or creed. The great question that faces every thoughtful human being is: How can this be accomplished? A writer in SUNRISE gives a hint:
Why not begin by searching for the common ground among people of different beliefs? This could bring about a cross-fertilization of ideas and approaches that could stimulate a more widespread practice of brotherhood. At this most important time of cyclic change it is our duty to renew the commitments in our hearts to work towards universal understanding, love, and peace. Nothing, not even the smallest act, goes unrecorded. Through our thoughts and through our actions we can help uplift the whole of humanity.
We all know how difficult it is at times to love our brother when his ideas and behavior are diametrically opposed to our own; but we have to love enough to call forth in others their highest aspirations. Just as we are all composed of atoms which embody the divine essence, so all people, however unprogressed we are, are expressions of divinity. In the long journeyings of the atoms through the limitless expanse of the universe, there is a flowering of essence when the cycles of material embodiment are complete, and time merges into eternity. Jacob Boehme saw this process as nature's great mystery.
When the nadir of matter is passed in the long peregrination of beings, then starts the uphill climb to reach the divine source into which all is absorbed, where everything becomes One. This takes aeons of time, but time is limitless — only humans place restrictions on time. As we are all one — brothers in the widest sense of the word — so on this long journey we are not alone, for our inner god goes with us all the way, a source of light and inspiration. We are at one with the essence of the Nameless One.
Even though brotherhood is the basic structure of the universe and nothing is impossible, we have to do the growing and aspiring ourselves — no one can do it for us. Our basic enemy is ignorance. Theological doctrine and dogmas have caused separation of religion, science, and philosophy, a separation of man from nature, from the divine, of one religion from another, of nation from nation. Fortunately we see a breaking down of barriers and a mixing of ideas between different peoples so that a feeling of brotherhood begins to stir amongst nations and humankind. We are beginning to think and be conscious of our obligations and duties towards our fellowmen. One thing is certain: there is a human commitment to universal nature which cannot be divided, for all its lives make up a complete whole. Knowledge of our deep bond with nature — and that everything affects everything else is a step toward complete realization of brotherhood.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 1990. Copyright © 1990 by Theosophical University Press)