Sometimes it seems that the brotherhood of all mankind has become an accepted idea, almost a cliche. Yet in taking a mental journey round the world, the violence and oppression committed by one group toward another, and by one person toward another, is often the most conspicuous feature of human affairs. We feel moved to ask, if brotherhood is indeed a fact in nature, why isn't it more obvious, why this never-ending conflict? Since human actions grow out of thoughts and feelings, perceptions and experiences, it is here that the causes of the present widespread distress and disharmony lie.
How do we perceive the world? Generally we think of it as a complex system formed of innumerable separate physical units: people, animals, plants, inorganic structures. In our everyday thinking and feeling we are keenly aware of our individual existence apart from others, and of observing our surroundings from a unique position in space and consciousness. Nonetheless there are many indications that reality actually consists of an all-encompassing unity where, in the words of the poet, "thou canst not stir a flower without troubling of a star."
We need not seek exotic sources to discover such testimony. In 1954 screenwriter J. Allen Boone wrote Kinship with All Life* about the dramatic change he experienced in his life once he no longer viewed himself either as separate from, or superior to, other life forms. (*Republished by Tree of Life Publications, Joshua Tree, CA, 1990.) The book describes in detail why and how he developed respect for animals' consciousness and their integrity as feeling, living beings fully equal to himself. In caring for a remarkable, highly-trained German shepherd, he eventually was able to experience two-way communication by letting go of his preconceptions of what a dog is and allowing himself to enter a receptive, meditative state open to the consciousness of other beings. Not only did he successfully communicate with such creatures as dogs, ants, and flies, but he tells of others able to communicate even with one-celled organisms.
Results such as these are difficult to replicate at will because the state of mind of the human beings involved is a determining factor; it is not merely a question of meeting certain physical or mechanical criteria to produce a given outcome. Why was Boone able to communicate when most of us are not? Because, he says, he began to look beyond the physical and realize that a being is its inner consciousness. Further, he realized through personal experience that in this inner realm all forms of life are one rather than separate: each being is in fact interlinked in the most fundamental way with every other. Only our human egoism and mental habits, he concluded, cut us off from our fellow beings.
The case seems similar with the other kingdoms of nature. Books such as The Secret Life of Plants have popularized research indicating plants' sensitivity to the thoughts and feelings of those around them, whether human, animal, or fellow-plant. Other findings suggest that the difference between organic and inorganic forms is one of degree rather than of complete separation: minerals show elementary reflex responses characteristic of organic forms. From this standpoint, life and consciousness are fundamental and cannot be limited to only a few favored forms of existence in the cosmos. Even today many who live in cultures that are in closer contact with nature presuppose such an inclusive outlook.
This broad outlook, so markedly different from our accustomed world picture, presents a realm of interconnected beings bathed in a common ocean of consciousness on which all draw and to which all contribute. Bodies are the temporary physical foci for consciousnesses which, far from being isolated form one another, are constantly interacting. Mystics in many times and places testify to the essential oneness underlying ordinary "reality." Whether called spirit, God, the unconscious, or left unnamed, a sense of union or unity with something within/beyond is felt by those who allow their perceptions to transcend the physical and the egoic. If all beings are expressions of one transcendent source, identical with it in their inmost being, no entity is essentially superior or inferior to another. Each is of equal inner worth and standing, regardless of its current phase of evolutionary expression.
If there is such an intimate connection among animals, plants, and people, how very much closer must we as human beings be to one another? The physical differences — of sex, race, color, and nationality, creed, social standing, and wealth — that form the basis of so many prejudices, opinions, beliefs, and policies are actually of least importance. They are temporary conditions assumed by the inner self like the clothing we wear from day to day, paling into insignificance beside our shared humanity. Humanity forms an integral portion of the organism that is the earth: an essential expression of one aspect of its being. Together we all have an important planetary role to fulfill, just as the vegetable and mineral kingdoms do. To play our part effectively, we must better understand the universe we inhabit and begin to shape our lives in accordance with this deeper insight.
How can one person help bring about a better world? The transforming force in human life arises from within, from our perceptions, because we are basically embodied consciousnesses rather than animated bodies. Recent scientific theories point to the incremental influence of entities anywhere in space or time on the "morphic resonances" or psychoastral molds that affect all. Thus the consequences of our thoughts and feelings, as well as the acts they spawn, are more far-reaching than most of us dare think. They are not mere abstractions but the most basic causal realities responsible for creating the "habit" called human nature, and the norms of life and thought.
We can counter the tide of violence and hatred — forces rooted in human exclusivity and self-centeredness. Striving to go beyond concentration on physical forms to an awareness of the inner reality of the world and its beings is a strong, positive contribution to the welfare of mankind globally. Transcending limited psychological and mental habits allows us to perceive the world more directly and dispel the illusions produced by our physical senses. Removing the blinders of egoism and ignorance leads eventually to personal experience of our oneness with all others. The heartfelt conviction that the visible world is the expression of an underlying unity that infills all consciousness, lives, and forms, not only exposes the illusion behind the many wrongs wrought in the name of our apparent separateness; it also acts powerfully on inner lines to strengthen the myriad forces for compassion and justice throughout the world.
(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 1992. Copyright © 1992 by Theosophical University Press)